Friday, October 15, 2004
About that p-value....
I've received a surprising number of inquiries about whether I've decided on Bush or Kerry for president. When we last left off, my probability of voting for Kerry was at 60%.
Slate is now surveying its contributors over the past year about their voting choices. The deadline is next week, which I'm using as my own deadline for making up my own mind.
After the debates, I'd say my p-value for Kerry is now at 0.8 (i.e., an 80% chance of voting for Kerry). I'm still uneasy about making this choice, because I remain unconvinced that Kerry understands the limits of multilateral diplomacy. Matt Bai's article from last Sunday's New York Times Magazine raises as many qualms as it settles in my mind. Take these paragraphs towards the end:
Now, I'm very sympathetic to the argument that Kerry's diplomatic style would play much better on the global stage than Bush's (click here for some evidence of this) -- and that this improved style would go some way towards advancing America's national interest via greater multilateral cooperation.
But I'm not sure it will go nearly as far as Kerry thinks it will. If the Senator from Massachusetts thinks that improved style, greater diplomatic efforts, concerted multilateral coordination, and even copious amounts of American aid can get India and Pakistan to sign on to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or create a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace, then, well, he's drunk too much of the multilateral Kool-Aid. Bill Clinton -- who epitomizes the kind of diplomatic style Kerry could only hope to achieve -- invested a fair amount of diplomatic capital on both of these flash points, during a time when America's global prestige was greater than today -- and in the end achieved very little of consequence. There are international problems where the conflict of interests are so sharp and the stakes are so high for the affected parties that all the outside diplomacy in the world won't achieve anything. And I can't help but wonder if Kerry believes he can somehow talk radical Islamists into submission.
So I'm troubled by this -- but at this point I'm more troubled by the Bush administration. Robert A. George has a New Republic column that encapsulates a lot of my difficulties voting for the GOP ticket this year. Here's the part that hit home for me:
Given the foreign policy stakes in this election, I prefer a leader who has a good decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I don't like, over a leader who has a bad decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I do like.
If Bush gets re-elected, he and his team will view it as a vindication for all of their policy decisions to date. Whatever groupthink occurred in the first term would pale besides the groupthink that would dominate the second term. Given the tactical and strategic errors in judgment that this administration has made, I have to lean towards Kerry.
My readers have the weekend to try to influence my p-value. As I said, the odds are good at this point that I'll tell Slate I'm voting for Kerry. But I strongly encourage Bush supporters to try and persuade me otherwise in the comments section.
UPDATE: The best effort to persuade me so far comes from an e-mail sent by a former US diplomat who served in both the Clinton and Bush administrations:
ANOTHER UPDATE: One of the sharpest students I've ever taught e-mails a sharp rebuttal:
*YET ANOTHER UPDATE: I'd like to thank the 95% of the commenters who have posted respectful arguments pro and con. I haven't enjoyed a comment thread like this in quite some time.
I'll try to address the more trenchant criticisms sometime this weekend.
MONDAY UPDATE, 11:50 CENTRAL TIME: This is taking longer than I thought, but I'll be posting something in the next few hours.
Thursday, October 14, 2004
The Volkswagen Passat versus rational choice theory
A political science colleague who shall remain nameless e-mailed me the following amusing rant:
My rational, detached conclusion is that Lesson #2 is the causal factor behind Lessons #1 and #3. Furthermore, in this case, I doubt Consumer Reports developed their rating using statistical analysis, and I'd speculate that they may have screwed up their ranking of the Passat -- this is not the first rant I've heard against that car.
Of course, ask me about my experiences with Continental Airlines and all my rationality will just fade away....
I highly recommend reading this in tandem with Maria Farrell's jeremiad against statistics requirements over at Crooked Timber. However, be sure to then check out Kieran Healy's witty addendum.
UPDATE: A note of clarification after reading some of the comments -- I'm not the one who owns a Passat. The Drezner family modes of transportation were made by Toyota and Saturn.
So how are those radical Islamists doing?
Three news/analysis items suggest that radical Islamic groups are facing greater hardships on multiple fronts.
Karl Vick reports in the Washington Post that even the Iraqi resistance fighters in Fallujah have had enough of their Arab brethren coming in and acting all fundamentalist:
In Slate, Lee Smith has a long essay on the motivations behind the Taba bombings, arguing that Al Qaeda's decision to strike there reflects a less appetizing menu of targets:
Finally, Jackson Diehl argues that the Bush administration's G-8 initiative to encourage greater democratic representation:
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Open third debate thread
Feel free to post your thoughts about the third presidential debate here. I might be liveblogging it (and if so, will be updating this post), but my limited attention resources will be split between this debate, the second game of the ALCS, and petty things like taking care of the children.
8:00 PM: I've got the clicker at my side, a baby in my arms, a nervous stomach with Pedro having control problems, and the debate is on.
8:02 PM: God, I’m bored already – both of them are repeating themselves—oh, wait, Bush had some new stuff on Afghanistan and echoed Eugene Volokh. Kerry responds with the "outsourcing to Afghan warlords" line again. UPDATE: Josh Chafetz makes a great point here -- what the hell is Schieffer thinking asking "will our children and grandchildren ever live in a world as safe and secure as the world in which we grew up?" For Americans of my generation, this is a much safer world than when I was growing up. I remember going to sleep worried about the likelihood of all out thermonuclear war breaking out.
8:18 PM: Oh, goody -- Bob Schieffer asks an outsourcing question saying, "forget the statistics, let's consider just one person." THAT'LL generate some useful policy.
Bush gives a decent response on TAA and education.
8:19 PM: Kerry ducks the outsourcing question, but gets off a good line off on the Sopranos.
8:23 PM: Baby sleeping. One stylistic comment -- Bush tonight is using the same mocking tone he adopted at critical moments against Gore in 2000. I don't think he's used this tone in the previous two debates. It was effective then -- I wonder if it will work this time.
8:26 PM: Bush says "I don't know" on whether homosexuality is a choice or not. I think that's the first time either of them has said that in the past year.
8:35 PM: I wonder if it's possible to give a coherent two-minute answer on health care.
8:36 PM: "The President blocked Americans from getting cheaper drugs from Canada." Apparently, that's the one import Kerry supports. [You're being unfair--ed. I'll give Kerry one-and-a-half cheers for saying that he couldn't stop outsourcing.]
I'm surprised that Kerry hasn't hit Bush on disguising the costs of the Medicare bill. Most people across the board abhor that one -- that seems an obvious opening.
8:39 PM: Have the Red Sox drafted an internal memo saying that they'll give the first six innings to the Yankee offense and then they'll crank up in the seventh?
8:41 PM: How much do you think Bush relished the dig about news networks? I'd have loved to have seen Bob Schieffer's face on that one. Bush seems more relaxed this time around.
8:48 PM: I'm switching between the game and this -- Did Kerry just allow that Alan Greenspan supported George W. Bush's tax cuts? This had to have been a response to Bush's answer (which I didn't hear). UPDATE: No, this was a gift from Kerry to Bush -- Schieffer mentioned Greenspan in the question, but it had nothing to do with the tax cuts.
8:49 PM: Kerry keeps harping on declining wages and blaming Bush -- but click here for why I think he's off base here.
8:51 PM: Immigration generate the largest amount of e-mail traffic for Schieffer. But I liked Bush's immediate response to this issue -- he was actually pointing out immigration is a complex issue. He seems relaxed and confident in his response on this one. UPDATE: The guest card idea sucks though -- not shocking that they therefore both support it.
9:00 PM: Stylistically and substantively, I really like Bush's answer connecting education to jobs. Kerry hits back on funding, which is appropriate -- but he doesn't echo Bush's vision on this one.
9:04 PM: Schieffer serve up the "backdoor draft" line -- which Kerry used in both of the previous debates -- in a question to Kerry. Jeez, Tanyon Sturtze has sharper stuff. [But what if it's true?--ed. I think it is, but I having the moderator serve up a campaign line like that in a softball question is stacking the deck -- at least Schieffer could have used a different phrasing.]
9:09 PM: On the last foreign policy question, two things struck me -- first, Bush was smart enough to bring up Kerry's first Gulf War vote to respond to Kerry's response. While both of them are recycling answers from the first debate, Bush seems to have added some new stuff.
Second, Kerry should be angrier in his response to Bush's "global test" crack. I tend to agree that Kerry's initial response was take out of context, and he should be really angrry about this. Instead he rephrases it without emotion as a "truth test." I never thought I would say this, but this is one of those times when Kerry needs to act a little more like Howard Dean.
9:23 PM: Bush's response to Schieffer's question about what they've learned from the women in their lives was very funny: "Listen to them: stand up and don't scowl." UPDATE: Kerry is equally self-effacing -- pretty bold to implicitly talk about marrying money.
9:25 PM: The Yankees weren't supposed to have any starting pitching!!
My quick take -- and bear in mind that I'm not nearly as drenched in health care minutae as I am on foreign policy, so I can't comment on the factual errors committed by both of them -- is that Bush won a debate where both of them missed a lot of opportunities. The key difference between this debate and the last two was that Bush physically seemed more comfortable this time around, seemed to remember his talking points on the questions that had appeared in previous debates, and was better able to project passion on the answers he really cared about (education, immigration, faith). Kerry didn't quite marry style to substance in the same way. However, I certainly don't think Bush won it going away -- and if I were the Kerry team, I'd play Bush's bad memory about what he said about bin Laden for all it's worth. UPDATE: Patrick Belton gives it to Kerry; Jeff Jarvis: "[T]he bottom line of this debate so far: Damn, it's a bad choice."; Virginia Postrel just makes trenchant observations.
I also agree with Kevin Drum:
FINAL UPDATE: I have only three words: Mariano Bleeping Rivera.
FINAL SERIOUS UPDATE: Joe Gandelman reports all of the flash polls give the debate to Kerry. Alas, I fear Matthew Yglesias is correct: the answer I liked best from Bush -- the idea of education as being intimately related to jobs -- probably didn't score well.
Using foreign policy to influence elections
I see the Germans have expressed their ballot preferences for the American ticket in the Financial Times:
This manipulation of foreign policy against a formal ally to provoke a change in government is somewhat distasteful. However, it's not nearly as distasteful as a government's manipulation of its own foreign policy such that it temporarily acts against the national interest in order to get re-elected. According to Mark Mazzetti of the Los Angeles Times:
So, basically, both the U.S. and key European states are fiddling around with foreign policy towards Iraq and Iran in order to manipulate the U.S. election.
The European actions are a venal sin, in that they contradict long-standing norms about overtly attempting to influence an ally's election. However, if the LAT is correct, the Bush administration's actions are more like a mortal sin.
UPDATE: Several commenters have pointed out that nation-states try to influence elections in other countries all the time. My point here is that while this is true, there is a pretty strong norm against this sort of thing taking place among the G-7.
Brad DeLong suggests that the Germans are plainly stating their foreign policy preferences. Except that a few weeks ago they also stated their foreign policy preferences to the Financial Times, and those preferences look pretty different from what Struck told the FT yesterday. See also this Greg Djerejian post from September 30th.
CNN's Chris Burns has more on the aftermath of Struck's interview.
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
IR scholars weigh in against Iraq
A small group of IR scholars called the Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy have amassed 650 signatures from international relations scholars in the United States and allied countries to sign an open letter blasting the Bush administration's foreign policy. This is from the text of the letter:
Before anyone starts claiming that this is just an example of radical academics engaging in Bush-bashing, they should check out the list of signatories. There are some scholars on the list who would be considered by mainstream Americans to be "out there" in their beliefs, but there are also a wide array of realists, rational choice theorists, democratization activists, area experts, and liberal institutionalists. I concur with Henry Farrell -- this is a group that cannot be lightly dismissed.
To answer the obvious question: I did not sign it. In part my reticence to sign comes from a misplaced comparison made in the letter between Iraq and Vietnam; another part of it comes from the failure to articulate an alternative strategy (which, to be fair, was probably impossible with such a diverse group of signatories). The second graf of the letter hints that U.S. force should have been deployed against Pakistan, and I'm not sure that would have turned out any better than what's happened in Iraq. And as my last post suggested, it's just possible that Afghanistan has not suffered too badly from the attention on Iraq. And I seriously doubt that any of the signatories believe that the military resources deployed in Iraq should have been deployed in North Korea.
Another big part is that the letter conflates two different objections to the administration's foreign policy; the initial decision to invade Iraq, and the poor execution of the post-war occupation. I concur with the second assessment, but I still think that had the pre-war planning been a little better, the post-war effects in the region would have been much more positive than negative.
However, in all honesty part of the reason I didn't sign it is that I've been wrong enough about Iraq to be gun-shy in making any declarative statement about the future of U.S. policy in that country, good or ill. I made a fair number of arguments in support of invading Iraq in the run-up to the war, and at least some of them have been proven wrong. I'm used to being wrong, but being wrong on this scale is discomfiting to say the least.
Even if I didn't sign it, however, I've come to reluctantly agree with a fair amount of the letter. So go read the whole thing (there are footnotes and everything!) and tell me what you think.
UPDATE: Many of the comments refer to this as "Monday-morning quarterbacking." However, many of the security scholars who originated this letter also participated in a Fall 2002 paid advertisement in the New York Times op-ed page urging the Bush administration not to invade Iraq -- click here for more.
Comparing Afghanistan and Iraq
Matthew Yglesias has a list of possible explanations for why, in the wake of Afghanistan's presidential election, "fewer resources have brought better results in Afghanistan than have a much larger quantity of troops and cash in Iraq." He's got a pretty decent list of hypotheses -- greater multilateral involvement, better indigineous political leadership, etc. I'd add two big ones, however:
Post your own explanations below.
Why my productivity will be down this month
This month I have to complete one book manuscript and fully outline the next one -- but now I'm going to lose at least four, but probably seven evenings to the American League Championship Series between the Red Sox and the Yankees. David Pinto has a very amusing post outlining the recent narrative arc of the rivalry.
Over at ESPN.com, Sean McAdam lays out why, compared to last year's ALCS, the Red Sox are better and the Yankees are worse. I agree with everything he's written (though I think McAdam ignores the improvement in the Yankee offense with Sheffield and A-Rod representing a major upgrade over Giambi and Soriano in their lineup) -- if the better team wins, then the Red Sox should cruise into the World Series in five games.
Of course, being a Red Sox fan, I can easily find the vulnerabilities in the Red Sox -- Schilling's ankle, Pedro's psyche, Manny's goofiness, and of course the SI jinx. Besides, as Mike Bauman observes, since the start of divisional play in 1969, the same teams have played each other in the ALCS in consecutive years seven times -- with the same team winning in both years of consecutive appearances every time.
So, as I prepare for the stomach-churning, three final thoughts:
1) This may sound like the head of the U.S. Patent Office back in the 1890's who allegedly said that there was nothing left to be invented, but I find it hard to conceive of how this series can top what's happened in the past two years. Readers are invited to suggest the dramatic possibilities.
2) Is it possible that the Sox-Yankees rivalry has become so intense that neither of them will be winning a World Series anytime soon? The problem is that their playoff series are so physically and emotionally draining that they have nothing left for the World Series. The Yankees may have won last year's ALCS, but Yankee manager Joe Torre burned through his entire pitching staff to win Game Seven, and they lost in six to the Marlins. If this series goes to seven games, it's tough for me to picture either of them knocking off the Cardinals in the World Series [What about the Astros?--ed. With apologies to Josh Chafetz, I don't see that happening).
3) One final semi-serious thought -- the League Championship Series could reduce the political implications of tomorrow night's debate. The Sox-Yankees will attract a national audience, and the Cardinals will grab the attention of one semi-swing state. It will be interesting to see the ratings numbers for tomorrow evening.
Monday, October 11, 2004
Random thoughts on the housing market
The Chicago Tribune's Mary Umberger reports on the emergence of a new kind of mortgage:
The basic concern of critics is that: a) this kind of mortgage saddles people with too much debt; and b) the lower per-month costs permits people who are genuinely bad credit risks to get credit, increasing nonperformance rates; and c) a secular increase in housing prices as demand increases.
My gut instinct is that these costs are far outweighed by the benefits of expanding the number of homeowners. Beyond expanding the investing class, this is particularly true if the introduction of this kind of mortgage instrument creates new neighborhoods of homeowners instead of renters. This is Mickey Kaus' territory, but I have to think that there are positive spillover effects from having a critical mass of homeowners in a neighborhood -- a greater investment in preserving social ties, an incentive to increase property values, and indirect feedback effects on education funding.
[But the example in the story is about an old guy buying a house.--ed. Yes, but this points to two other reasons why this is a good thing. First, it means that a lot of homeowners are rationally looking at their homes as financial assets that are currently outperforming other investments. Second, a 40-year mortgage would seem to be a rational response to an increase in lifespan.]
Of course, if we're currently experiencing a housing bubble, then expanding mortgages at this juncture would not be a good thing. But I am cheered by the IMF's recent World Economic Outlook, which includes an essay by Marco Terrones on the global housing boom. The basic conclusion of the piece is that, "The econometric results confirm that real house prices in industrial countries show high persistence, long-run reversion to fundamentals, and dependence on economic fundamentals." and that in the United States, the recent run-up in prices are consistent with this trend.
Sunday, October 10, 2004
The balance of trade in transatlantic romances
Back from Milan and I'm juuuuuuuuuuuust a wee bit tired. However, even in my sleep-deprived state I must confess to the strangest symmetry in who I sat next to on my flights to and from Milan.
On my way there, I sat next to a lovely Italian women who was on the return leg from visiting her American boyfriend -- who was in the American military.
On my way back, I sat next to a lovely American woman who was on the return leg from visiting her Italian boyfriend -- who was in the Italian Air Force.
There's no larger moral here -- it's just a bunch of stuff that happened. But that's some pretty symmetrical stuff.