Saturday, September 18, 2004

There's media bias and then there's media bias

The Economist runs an interesting story on the debate within Islamic societies about their future. This part stood out in particular:

Three years ago, it was only Americans who asked Why Do They Hate Us? The same question is now being asked by Indonesians, Spaniards, Turks, Australians, Nepalese, French, Italians, Russians and others whose citizens have fallen victim to jihadist “vengeance”. The puzzle is how so many Muslims could for so long remain oblivious to the extremism in their midst.

Egypt's leading newspaper, the government-owned daily Al Ahram, provided a clue recently. On September 1st, it relegated to inside pages the brutal massacre of 12 Nepalese kitchen workers by Iraqi guerrillas, who claimed to be “executing God's judgment” against “Buddhist invaders”. A day later, Al Ahram put on its front-page news that rioters in Katmandu, the Nepalese capital, had attacked a mosque—but did not explain what they were angry about. A slip, perhaps, but the omission reflected a pattern, repeated across the Muslim world, of harping on Muslim injury.

There is nothing abnormal in rooting for your own. American coverage of, say, Iraq, is hardly exemplary in even-handedness. The trouble comes with the cumulative effect of repeating a tale of Muslim victimhood, of amplifying it through mosque sermons and manipulating it for short-term political gain. All too many governments have found it convenient to direct their own peoples' grievances into offshore arenas, such as Iraq, and so deflect demands for empowerment closer to home.

Seeing the world through a lens of victimhood has grown into a comfortable habit. So it is that some Arab commentators have explained the kidnapping and murder of foreign civilians in Iraq as the work of American agents.

Suddenly the raging debate about media bias in this country seems.... well, not insignificant exactly, but.... small. On the other hand, it would be an interesting question to see whether the growth of blogs in places like Iran help to correct flaws with the Middle Eastern "mainstream" media.

The article concludes on this vaguely hopeful note:

[T]he sheer nastiness of jihadist violence has begun to generate a powerful groundswell of angry Muslim opposition. The coincidence of the anniversary of September 11th 2001 with the horrific slaughter of schoolchildren at Beslan provoked a chorus of condemnation. This was not only against terrorism, but also against the clerics whose extremist interpretations support that terrorism.

Why, demands a former Kuwaiti minister writing in the Saudi daily Al Sharq al Awsat, have we not heard a single fatwa against Osama bin Laden, when Muslims fell over themselves to condemn Salman Rushdie for writing a “vapid” novel? Who has done more damage to Islam? Muslims must no longer remain silent, declares an editorial in the Egyptian weekly Rose al-Yusef; our fear of speaking out has become the terrorists' fifth column.


posted by Dan at 01:00 AM | Comments (46) | Trackbacks (1)

Friday, September 17, 2004

Your weekend debate on Iraq

What do you do with a country like Iraq?

Andrew Sullivan has plenty o' posts and links with regard to the current stituation in Iraq -- click here, here, here, and here.

Over at the Council on Foreign Relations, Anthony Cordesmann has a frank conversation with Bernard Gwertzman that makes it clear he's none too thrilled with his choice of major party candidates when it comes to Iraq. Here's his response to the question: "Regarding the mistakes you describe in the post-war military planning, were they honest mistakes or should the United States have anticipated the insurgency's resiliency?":

I don't think people could predict firmly what level of insurgency was going to be created. But some of this insurgency could have been avoided in the first place. People did not predict that when the United States went in, it wouldn't secure the country, would leave large areas of the country open, wouldn't secure the arms depots, would allow the government offices to be looted and the economy crippled during the early days after the liberation.

Nobody predicted that we would not attempt to use the better elements of the Iraqi armed forces and police force and essentially try to recreate everything from scratch. But they could predict that the economic aid would be so ideological and so tailored to restructuring the entire Iraqi economy that most of the money would not flow to the Iraqis, and the services they got would be considerably worse today than they were under Saddam Hussein. So, in a way, this has been an interactive process. We've failed at many levels.

And here's his response to the question, "The president is caught up in his own election campaign and he is under heavy attack from Senator Kerry for his handling of the war. What do you think of Kerry's comments?":

Well, I think the problem with Senator Kerry is that virtually everyone can see that we have very serious problems with the major insurgency, that we do not yet have an Iraqi government that Iraqis see as legitimate, and that our aid program, if it hasn't exactly collapsed, is almost totally ineffective in meeting either its short-term or longer-term goals. These are very real problems. The difficulty is that Senator Kerry's criticisms have not as yet been translated into one meaningful suggestion as to how to solve the problem.

Instead, you have vague references to the international community, bringing people in from the outside, a whole host of measures which at best provide token or symbolic progress, but wouldn't solve the problem. And I think there has been at least one mention of a "plan," which is being kept secret if it exists. There is an old axiom in American politics: "You can't beat something with nothing."

Finally, here's Cordesmann's estimate of the chances of putting down the insurgency and establishing a democratic government in Iraq:

I think it is doable and not impossible. But I think we need to understand that the odds for success were 50-50 at best if we had adopted the right course of action after the fall of Saddam. Now the odds are probably one in four. We've wasted a year; we've wasted billions and billions of dollars. We've made serious military, political, and economic mistakes.

For more useful CFR information on Iraq, check out Sharon Otterman's summary of the Sunni insurgency and U.S. plans to deal with it.

posted by Dan at 05:55 PM | Comments (46) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The five challenges to the global economy

Fred Bergsten writes in the Economist about the five looming challenges to the global economy over the next few years:

Five major risks threaten the world economy. Three center on the United States: renewed sharp increases in the current account deficit leading to a crash of the dollar, a budget profile that is out of control, and an outbreak of trade protectionism. A fourth relates to China, which faces a possible hard landing from its recent overheating. The fifth is that oil prices could rise to $60 to $70 per barrel even without a major political or terrorist disruption, and much higher with one.

Most of these risks reinforce each other. A further oil shock, a dollar collapse, and a soaring American budget deficit would all generate much higher inflation and interest rates. A sharp dollar decline would increase the likelihood of further oil price rises. Larger budget deficits will produce larger American trade deficits, and thus more protectionism and dollar vulnerability. Realization of any one of the five risks could substantially reduce world growth. If two or three, let alone all five, were to occur in combination then they would radically reverse the global outlook.

There is still time to head off each of these risks. Decisions made in America immediately after this year's elections will be pivotal. China, the new growth locomotive, is key to resolving the global trade imbalances and must play a central role in future. Action by a number of other countries will be essential to maintain global growth and to avoid deeper oil shocks and new trade restrictions.

Read the whole thing -- and then check out John Williamson's lucid lecture to the Chinese on the merits of various exchange rate regimes. One conclusion:

China is not a natural candidate for a fixed exchange rate against the dollar. It is not small, it does not trade predominantly with the United States, and it is not clear that it is prepared for the renunciation of sovereignty that a truly fixed rate implies. (But it does have an important national interest in avoiding sharp and arbitrary variations in its currency vis-à-vis those of its neighbors.)

posted by Dan at 10:11 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Jagdish Bhagwati really doesn't like John Kerry

Over the past month, international economist Jagdish Bhagwati has started taking some serious pot shots at John Kerry's rhetoric on trade and outsourcing -- despite Bhagwati's self-proclaimed status as a Democrat. This past Monday he penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed (subscription required) that contained the following:

How does one forgive him his pronouncements on outsourcing, and his strange silences on the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations? Indeed, Sen. Kerry, whose views and voting record were almost impeccable on trade, has allowed himself to be forced into such muddled and maddening positions on trade policy that, if one were an honest intellectual as against a party hack, one could only describe them as the voodoo economics of our time.

There seem to be three arguments by Sen. Kerry's advisers that have prompted this sorry situation for the Democrats: First, that the Bush trade policy is no better; second, that electoral strategy requires that Sen. Kerry act like a protectionist, while indicating subtly (to those that matter) a likelihood of freer trade in the White House; and third, at odds with the previous argument, that the U.S. does indeed have to turn trade policy around toward some sort of protectionism (and restraints on direct investment abroad) if it is going to assist workers and reward the unions. Each argument is flawed....

In the end, Sen. Kerry cannot totally jilt his constituencies. He will have to claw his way to freer trade, making him a greater hero in a war more bloody than Vietnam. The unions, in particular, are going to insist on their reward. This is forgotten by the many pro-trade policy advisers and op-ed columnists who argue privately that we should not worry -- because Sen. Kerry is a free trader who has merely mounted the protectionist Trojan Horse to get into the White House. The irony of this last position is that it is, in fact, too simplistic. Besides, it suggests that when President Bush does the same thing, he's lying, but that when Sen. Kerry does it, it's strategic behavior! Is it not better, instead, for us to tell Sen. Kerry that his trade policy positions are the pits -- before he digs himself deeper into a pit from which there is no dignified exit?

Juan Non-Volokh points out that in this op-ed, "Bhagwati is harshly critical of Kerry, but he does not celebrate President Bush's trade credentials." True enough. However, last month, Bhagwati did say much nicer things about Bush (and much harsher things about Kerry) as part of an interview he gave to Der Spiegel:

Bhagwati: The Democratic party is moving towards a kind of anti-globalization attitude, an anti-free trade attitude in particular. I think this is dangerous. Since I finished my book, there has been this debate about outsourcing. Kerry and Edwards are clearly trying to use scare tactics here. At the convention, they got lots of applause whenever they spoke about American jobs being shipped overseas.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: If those arguments resonate at the convention, they might convince voters, too.

Bhagwati: But Kerry and Edwards don't know what they're talking about. If we look at the offshoring of online services like call centers or basic accounting, we're talking about a maximum loss of 100.000 jobs a year to countries like India. That is nothing for an economy this size. The US is a major hyperpower, and yet every time it gets into competition with Mexico, China and India, we work ourselves into a panic. It's like a rottweiler getting scared because a French poodle is coming down the road.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Kerry and Edwards are not just speaking about call centers. Especially in industrial swing states like Ohio, they promise to stop the loss of manufacturing jobs to lower-wage countries like China or Malaysia.

Bhagwati: Here we're not talking about outsourcing but good old foreign investment. There is a huge amount of academic work that shows that this is beneficial to the US. On average, low-value jobs are going out and high-value investment is coming in. In North Carolina, where Mr. Edwards comes from, we have the I95. Along the way, there used be textile firms that have gone out since they can't produce efficiently there. Now the workers are employed by Siemens and several other German companies, with far better salaries. That section of I95, in fact, is now known as the autobahn.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Rhetoric is one thing - but do you think Kerry will actually implement detrimental economic policies if he's elected? For instance, he proposes to give tax credits to companies that create jobs in the US instead of abroad. That can't do any harm, can it?

Bhagwati: It boils down to subsidizing companies when they stay and penalizing them when they go out. If we start doing that, other countries can follow. Everybody will be worse off. Our firms lose comparative advantage if they're stopped from saving costs. A dead firm can only employ dead souls. So we may save 10 jobs by not outsourcing but we will lose the entire 100. Keep in mind, too, that investment from multinationals helps countries like India and Mexico fight poverty. Some sections of Africa sorely need foreign investment. If we Democrats crack down on this, it's not compatible with our notion that Bush and his friends are the nasty guys.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Bush himself is hardly a model free-trader. He imposed highly protectionist tariffs on steel imports right at the beginning of his term.

Bhagwati: He tried to win over voters in crucial industrial states. But he later punched holes into the safeguards, exempting all kinds of products and countries. Once the WTO declared them illegal, he quickly lifted the tariffs. Bush really believes in the capacity of American firms to compete successfully. During the campaign, he keeps stressing that free trade is good for us. He even got a member of his cabinet to say there's nothing wrong with outsourcing. I'm afraid Bush looks very presidential on trade, unlike my own party. (emphasis added)

Question to Kerry suppporters who also support free trade -- if Kerry were to actually get elected, would he prove to be a prisoner of his own protectionist rhetoric, or be able to tack back towards a more trade-friendly position because he burnished his protectionist bona-fides with his campaign rhetoric?

Full disclosure -- Bhagwati is not my biggest fan.

UPDATE: It's all Bhagwati, all the time here at!! Click here for the transcript of a "debate" between Lou Dobbs and Jagdish Bhagwati on PAula Zahn Now earlier this week.

posted by Dan at 12:28 PM | Comments (44) | Trackbacks (5)

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

This strikes me as really bad news

James Drummond and Steve Negus report in the Financial Times that the safest place in Iraq for U.S. personnel is no longer safe:

US military officers in Baghdad have warned they cannot guarantee the security of the perimeter around the Green Zone, the headquarters of the Iraqi government and home to the US and British embassies, according to security company employees.

At a briefing earlier this month, a high-ranking US officer in charge of the zone's perimeter said he had insufficient soldiers to prevent intruders penetrating the compound's defences.

The US major said it was possible weapons or explosives had already been stashed in the zone, and warned people to move in pairs for their own safety. The Green Zone, in Baghdad's centre, is one of the most fortified US installations in Iraq. Until now, militants have not been able to penetrate it.

But insurgency has escalated this week, spreading to the centre of Baghdad. The zone is home to several thousand Iraqis, and on Sunday it came under the heaviest attack since it was established. Up to 60 unexploded rockets were found inside its perimeters after a five-hour barrage.

On Tuesday, a car bomb outside a Baghdad police station killed 47 people, and 12 members of the police and their driver were shot dead in Baquba. The attack was the worst in the city for several months.

The violence in Iraq continued on Wednesday when 10 Iraqis were killed in clashes with US troops using artillery in Ramadi, west of Baghdad. The decapitated bodies of three men, believed to be Arab kidnap victims, were separately found on a highway north of Baghdad.

UPDATE: Douglas Jehl reports in the New York Times that the intelligence community is pessimistic about Iraq's future.

posted by Dan at 11:35 PM | Comments (85) | Trackbacks (9)

Orin Kerr pages the right half of the blogosphere

Astute readers may have observed that I have refrained from posting about Swift Boats, Kitty Kelley, typewriter fonts et al.

While I certainly understand why the rest of the blogosphere is exercised about this stuff, Orin Kerr says what I've been thinking:

[L]et me see if I understand things correctly. A presidential election is less than two months away, and there is a war going on right now in Iraq. The war in Iraq raises profound questions about United States policy with regard to the Muslim world for decades to come. But instead of debating the war that is going on right now, we're debating the war records of the two candidates from more than three decades ago. Wait, no, that's too direct: we're debating one network's story about one candidate's war record from three decades ago. Wait, maybe that's too direct, too: we're debating the fonts on different typewriters that may or may not have been used to write a memo that led to a story about one candidate's war record from three decades ago. Yeah, that's pretty much it.

C'mon, folks: don't we have more important things to blog about?

Now, I take Ramesh Ponnuru's point that bloggers don't have an obligation to do anything -- though that is one reason why some journalists don't like them. And readers should feel free to post comments here on why they disagree or agree with Orin or why these matters are vitally important questions before the republic compared to Iraq or Russia. Really, post away.

But this is the first and last post you will read at about this subject. Because substantively,* I just don't care about any of it -- which is why I feel no desire to write about it.

My one and only political response to all of this stuff is very simple, and echoies Lawrence Lessig: does anyone seriously believe that this election should be decided by what either candidate did more than thirty years ago?

*For the blog paper Henry Farrell and I are writing, I'll confess to some interest in the role blogs have played in framing these stories.

UPDATE: TMH reminds me why I like my comments section, as he makes a decent point:

[O]ther issues, such as Iraq, are clearly more important, but (a) bloggers have less ability to influence them and less incentive to “cover” every development there, (b) most people have already long since made up their minds about the big issues and (c) most undecided Presidential voters don’t seem to care much about them. For better or worse, the thinking seems to be that “undecideds” can more easily be swayed about candidates’ biographies than about the issues. Hence, the re-fighting of the Vietnam War this campaign season.

I don't buy (c) for a minute, but (a) and (b) have some traction.

Check out Baseball Crank, who makes similar points.

On the other hand... those who take the blogosphere as able to influence the media should read Telis Demos' TNR Online piece and ask whether blogs have been consistent in their media critique (though see David Adesnik's critique as well). [UPDATE: Hey, whaddaya know, bloggers have at this -- except that it turns out Demos' story was the one with factual errors. See Stuart Buck and Brian Carnell on this point (hat tip to Crow Blog for the links)]

Oh, and one final point: this post certainly shouldn't be interpreted as a defense of CBS. This Josh Marshall post -- which offers an interpretation that's most favorable to their reporting -- sums it up. "GotterDannerung" indeed.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Orin Kerr responds to his critics. The key part:

My sense is that bloggers are embracing Memogate to the exclusion of other things, as if it were an enormous relief to be able to lose ourselves in the story. The story lets the right half of the blogosphere feast on some of its favorite themes: damn that liberal media, blogosphere to the rescue, etc. Don't get me wrong, those are good themes. But at some point the hearty appetite begins to look like escapism. And I think we've reached that point, if not passed it long ago.

Jonah Goldberg is worth reading on this as well. As is Jeff Jarvis.

posted by Dan at 05:35 PM | Comments (64) | Trackbacks (2)

Why my probability of voting for Alan Keyes is zero

I've tried not to blog about the Illinois Senate race because it's just embarrassing to Republicans, but Noam Scheiber reminds me of this jaw-dropping story by Rick Pearson in yesterday's Chicago Tribune on how Alan Keyes plans to win the race:

Declaring that his campaign strategy is dependent on controversy, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Alan Keyes told the state's top GOP donors at a recent closed-door meeting that he plans to make "inflammatory" comments "every day, every week" until the election, according to several sources at the session.

The sources said Keyes explained that his campaign has been unfolding according to plan and likened it to a war in which lighting the "match" of controversy was needed to ignite grass-roots voters.

"This is a war we're in," one source recounted Keyes as saying. "The way you win wars is that you start fires that will consume the enemy."

Keyes' comments came during a 40-minute address to about 20 leading Republican fundraisers and donors Thursday at the posh Chicago Club. The sources asked not to be identified to prevent additional pre-election controversy within an already divided GOP.

At the session, the sources said, Keyes denied that he has engaged in name-calling in his campaign. But he likened Democratic opponent Barack Obama to a "terrorist" because Obama, a state senator, voted against a legislative proposal pushed by abortion foes, sources said.

Then there's this bizarre proposition:

Keyes also said the repeal of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which created the direct public election of senators, was a "critical" issue of his campaign, the sources said. The Republican contender said the method spelled out until 1913 in the Constitution, in which state legislators chose U.S. senators, would bring more accountability to government.

There's now at least a 60% chance that in this general election I'm going to vote for John Kerry and Barack Obama.

Excuse me, I have to go lie down for a while.

posted by Dan at 01:03 PM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (1)

The CIA's take on intelligence reform

Ted Barlow has a good summary of a talk given by deputy executive director of the CIA Marty Peterson. On Iraq:

In his recounting, the CIA underestimated Saddam’s missile programs, which were more advanced than anyone realized; they overestimated his biological and chemical weapons programs, which he described as “more capabilities than functioning programs”; and they were approximately right regarding his nuclear weapons programs, which hadn’t restarted. In response to a question, he said that he doubted that Saddam had smuggled out WMDs to other countries before the war.

He made the point that the CIA wasn’t involved in the policy decision to invade Iraq, without expressing an opinion about whether it was the right decison. In general, I felt that he was making a good-faith effort to be non-partisan.

On China:

He’s very concerned about China and Taiwan. He says that China is investing heavily in their military, and that we can tell that they’re doing drills that show that they’re learning how to use their new hardware. He thinks that the end result of this activity is likely to be a crisis over Taiwan. He mentioned a converstation with the former Prime Minister of Singapore, who said that China and Taiwan, not North Korea, was the East Asian security issue that he was most worried about.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 12:04 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

The academic kingdom

Eugene Juan Non-Volokh reprints a Fabio Rojas e-mail that characterizes the different styles of legitimate academic work (as opposed to simple plagiarism):

During grad school, I discovered there were two modes of "legitimate" academic work: craftsman and bureaucrat. The craftsman worked alone, or with one or two colleagues, to carefully write papers and books. This is the "classic" scholar approach. When you think of a philosopher mulling over every turn of phrase or a historian carefully citing ancience documents, you are thinking "craftsman."

Much to my surprise, I also learned that a lot of scholars are "Bureaucrats": they have grants, research assistants and a large network of co-authors. This kind of scholar is more like an architect - he designs the overall project, but an army of helpers puts together the final project.

At first I was horrified, but I came to realize that some research has to be conducted in this fashion. You simply can't conduct national surveys all by yourself. At the Chicago Soc dept (where I got my Ph.D.) you had a lot of both. Sociology (and political science as well) produces research that requires huge team efforts as well finely crafted individual work. Lot of mass surveys/experiments as well as carefully argued social/political theory.

I also realized that big name scholars get their reputation by being brilliant craftsmen or by being extremely competent academic entrepreneurs. I grew up worshipping the craftsmen - Ron Coase is a great example - infrequent, but outstanding publications. But now I realize a lot of famous names only produce their quantity because they rely to heavily on assistants.

I don't have any problems with Rojas' two categories, except that they omit two other styles of (mostly) legitimate academic work that characterize a much larger fraction of the profession -- the Recycler and the Importer.

The recyclers are academics who come up with one big theoretical idea, and then try to use that idea to explain every possible phenomenon under the sun. If the idea is a good one, this can prove to be a very fruitful exercise in explanation, providing a sharp theoretical lens to examine puzzles that not been suitably explained. In economics, one could arguably make the case that this is how Gary Becker and Joseph Stiglitz earned their Nobels.

Of course, the problem with recyclers is that sometimes the idea isn't all that great -- and over time, fails to explain even the areas that originally inspired the academic. Alas, this is the more likely outcome for recyclers. The good scholars then go back to the drawing board and try to tweak their original idea, or come up with a new one. The bad ones -- well, they cling to their theories for dear life, often publishing the same idea over and over and over again. Even if the original idea has some merit, most academics recycle their ideas way past the point of diminishing marginal returns.

The Importer is the academic who engages in intellectual arbitrage. They develop an expertise outside their disciplinary boundaries, and then import the ideas, paradigms, and analytical tools culled from these outside areas to explain phenomenon within their discipline. Within political science, for example, most rational choice scholarship was imported from economics. The pioneers -- Anthony Downs, Thomas Schelling -- were economists.

As academic specialization increases, importers can serve a very useful purpose, ensuring that there is some diffusion of knowledge across the disciplinary fields. However, one could also argue that importers are not always discriminating in their tastes, leading to the spread of some dubious, non-falsifiable paradigms across the social sciences and the humanities.

Readers are invited to submit other legitimate styles of academic work -- "hack," "media whore," or "blogger" don't count.

(In next week's installment of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Academic Kingdom, Marlan Perkins and I will examine which of these species are carnivorous!)

posted by Dan at 11:15 AM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (2)

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

WashTech's contribution to the outsourcing numbers

The Ford Foundation has sponsored a study by the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech), a local of the Communications Workers of America (an AFL-CIO affiliate union), in conjunction with the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois, Chicago, on IT employment since 2001.

Their press release paints a grim picture:

The report found that high-tech workers have seen a doubling of unemployment rates in the past three years. The University of Illinois at Chicago conducted the research for the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, a local of the Communications Workers of America.

The report goes on to analyze job growth and unemployment in six key regional high-tech labor markets. For example, San Jose continued to lose more than 14,000 IT jobs after November 2001, and its neighbor to the north, San Francisco, lost 9,300. The unemployment rate faced by San Jose area technology employees still remains high, going from 1% in 1997 to more than 6% by 2002, and in San Francisco from 1.3% in 1997 to more than 8.8% in 2002, the last year for which data are available.

The other labor markets studied are Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Seattle and Washington, DC. Nearly every labor market mirrored the Silicon Valley's experience, with Washington, DC the only location to show positive job growth in the past year.

The report cited offshore outsourcing as contributing to the lack of strong job creation in this sector. (emphasis added)

Here's a link to the actual report, and here is the AP wire report by Allison Linn.

The sum total of the discussion about offshore outsourcing comes on p. 5 of the report:

While there is a lack of current and reliable information on the extent of job losses due to offshore outsourcing, there is little doubt that it has contributed to soaring unemployment rates in the industry. For instance, UIC-CUED analysis of the Current Population Survey
reveals that national unemployment rates for computer programmers was 6.7% in 2003, two years after the end of the recession, compared to 2.5% in 2001. Incidentally, computer programming is also one of the top occupations sent offshore.

That's it -- lots of data about the unemployment picture, one paragraph on the causal connection between offshore outsourcing and that employment picture.

Certainly, their analysis could be correct -- but I have my doubts. One of them is that it's not clear whether their data are accurate -- a point made in Ed Frauenheim's analysis of the report at

In recent weeks, conflicting information has emerged about the job scene for tech professionals....

A survey by a staffing firm found gradually increasing confidence among IT workers in the job market. But a recent study by the Information Technology Association of America trade group found just a "slight" recovery for the IT job market in 2004.

That report concluded that the number of U.S. IT workers rose 2 percent, to 10.5 million, in the first quarter of this year, but demand for IT workers is dropping.

ITAA's report included workers in the internal IT departments of many types of corporations, while the new study for WashTech is limited to companies in the technology industry, such as Internet service providers and software publishers. (emphasis added)

Why is that last paragraph so important? Because if you look at Frauenheim's story about the ITAA report, you find the following sentence: "ITAA said nearly 89 percent of new jobs came from non-IT companies, despite popular fears over mass job loss to outsourcing and globalization." If one really believes that offshore outsourcing is responsible for massive job losses in the IT sector, that last figure is a puzzling one -- because the line that management consultants continually push is that offshore outsourcing is great for firms that don't specialize in IT services and want to subcontract those operations to the lowest-cost provider out there.

If the UIC/CUED study omitted the strongest source of job creation, that's somewhat problematic.

Even the AP report contains the following:

Sung Won Sohn, chief economist at Wells Fargo Bank, said he has seen some evidence that the high-tech job market began improving in the months after this study was completed. Still, he said, those in the software industry have fared better than those in the computer hardware industry.

Overall, Sohn thinks the high-tech industry will rebound, although the new jobs created might require different skills. That still leaves high-tech workers in better shape than other industries, he said.

"I view the setbacks in tech as temporary," he said, "whereas if you're talking about old-style manufacturing, those jobs are gone forever."

Before angry IT workers start posting comments, let's make it clear that I'm not claiming that it's a rosy jobs situation for IT workers. But some of the unemployment numbers sound a bit overstated. And what this report does not say -- indeed, the quoted paragraph acknowledges that that the authors can't say -- is the extent to which offshore outsourcing is responsible. There's no attempt to parse out the relative explanatory power of each possible cause (dot-com bubble, Y2K overhiring, productivity gains combined with slack demand, offshore outsourcing, etc.)

UPDATE: Some of the press reportage of this study has been very good on pointing out the flaws in the report. Barbara Rose's story in the Chicago Tribune has the following:

The American Electronics Association, which represents high-tech employers, agreed with the report's data but said the industry's outlook is brighter than the study suggests.

The group argued it is misleading to measure losses starting in 2001, when employment was near a historic peak.

"There was so much venture capital being thrown at the tech industry, it was a spike, a bubble, an abnormality," said Matthew Kazmierczak, the association's research director.

He said employment has been growing since January in categories included in the study.

Economist Bill Testa, director of regional programs at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said he was not surprised the Chicago region lost 16,400 jobs, including 10,200 after the official end of the recession.

"We really did take it hard in that area," he said. "We were late getting going with a lot of new companies being created near the end of the boom, and we went down hard."

The study defines IT employment narrowly, focusing on software firms, Internet service providers, data processing and computer systems design companies. It excludes high-tech manufacturing and the large numbers of IT jobs at financial-services firms and other companies.

The study identifies 47,000 information technology jobs in greater Chicago. By contrast, a University of Minnesota study identifies 347,000 IT workers in the Chicago area.

"It all depends on the methodology," said Paul O'Connor, executive director of World Business Chicago. "There's still been demand for skilled IT people."

This is from Diane Lewis' Boston Globe story:

Staffing agencies and recruiters in the Boston area said demand is up for individuals with project management experience or unique IT skills but not necessarily for those with basic skills. They said the demand appears to be in the financial services sector.

"A lot of what we are seeing is some demand for software engineers in the financial services area and stronger demand for the infrastructure people," said Aaron Green, president of the Professional Staffing Group, an employee staffing agency in Boston. "We have not seen a lot of demand for software outside of financial services."

posted by Dan at 04:56 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, September 13, 2004

This blog is two years old

Yesterday the blog celebrated its second birthday. Which means it's also the two-year blogiversary of both Jacob Levy and David Adesnik -- congrats to both of them as well. [UPDATE: Jacob is celebrating his anniversary by taking a sabbatical.]

Last year I was happy with a bunch of press mentions and my TNR Online gig. In the past year, the blog has directly or indirectly contributed to publications in the New York Times Book Review, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, and Slate -- not to mention multiple media whoring opportunities at ABC's World News Tonight, NBC Nightly News, CNN International, CNNfn, and a bunch o' radio shows. [That's it?--ed. Well, I got to share several bottles of wine with Laura McKenna and Wonkette as well.... and actually, there are few more items in the hopper that will be announced in the weeks to come. I'm sure there are tens of people who are very excited!!--ed.]

It's good to have the blog!

[So what's your goal for this next year?--ed. It's The Daily Show or bust for me!!]

There will be some slightly deeper meditations on this anniversary a bit later in the week.

posted by Dan at 06:56 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (4)

Must-read interview of the day

Fafnir at Fafblog has an explosive, news-breaking interview with a very key player in a recent political/media scandal. You must check it out.

Must, I say.

posted by Dan at 01:50 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (2)

Charter school update

Last month there was a kerfuffle when the New York Times splashed a shoddy American Federation of Teachers study suggesting charter schools were a buit on their front page. Click here for the roundup.

This month, EduWonk's Andy Rotherham alerts us to a more sophisticated study by Harvard economist Caroline M. Hoxby. This is the abstract:

This study compares the reading and mathematics proficiency of charter school students to that of their fellow students in neighboring public schools. Unlike previous studies, which include only a tiny fraction (3 percent) of charter school students, this study covers 99 percent of such students. The charter schools are compared to the schools that their students would most likely otherwise attend: the nearest regular public school and the nearest regular public school with a similar racial composition. In most cases, the two comparison schools are one and the same. Compared to students in the nearest regular public school, charter students are 4 percent more likely to be proficient in reading and 2 percent more likely to be proficient in math, on their state's exams. Compared to students in the nearest regular public school with a similar racial composition, charter students are 5 percent more likely to be proficient in reading and 3 percent more likely to be proficient in math. In states where charter schools are well-established, charter school students' proficiency "advantage" tends to be greater.

As Rotherham observes:

Rather than the NAEP sample data which has garnered so much attention, Hoxby was able to analyze almost the entire universe of 4th-graders attending charter schools and compare their achievement in reading and math on state assessments to students at the schools they most likely would have otherwise attended. Where 4th-grade data was not available she used 3rd-or 5th-grade data. It's a much more sophisticated study than the recent AFT report.

I await with bated breath the NYT's splashy front-pager on this charter school study.

UPDATE: That breath will be bated for quite some time.

posted by Dan at 11:51 AM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (4)

You say "Department of Homeland Security" I say "massive pork barrel"

Amy Zegart had a must-read op-ed in yesterday's Newsday on homeland security and intelligence reform. Here's one of the disturbing bits:

If we ask how far we have come since 9/11 in terms of safety planning the evidence is not encouraging.

Homeland security funds are flowing, but not to the right places. Since 9/11, Congress has distributed $13 billion to state governments with a formula only Washington could concoct: 40 percent was split evenly, regardless of a state's population, targets or vulnerability to terrorist attack. The result: Safe places got safer. Rural states with fewer potential targets and low populations, such as Alaska and Wyoming, received more than $55 per resident. Target-rich and densely populated states like New York and California received $25 and $14 per person respectively. Osama bin Laden, beware: Wyoming is well fortified.

It gets worse. Over the past three years, the federal government has spent 20 times more on aviation security than on protecting America's seaports, even though more than 90 percent of U.S. foreign trade moves by ship, but less than 5 percent of all shipping containers entering the country are inspected. One recent study showed the odds of detecting a nuclear bomb inside a heavy machinery container were close to zero. As the 9/11 Commission concluded, such a lopsided transportation strategy makes sense only if you intend to fight the last war.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 11:27 AM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (2)