Thursday, December 9, 2004
Name the book you're most embarrassed not to have read
In Paris, safe and sound. Panels have been lively and informative.
This Virginia Postrel post reminds me of an old parlor game among academics -- confessing the most important book in your field that you have never read.
I'll confess mine when I return to America.
UPDATE: Je suis revenu à l'Amérique! I'll post about Paris in a bit.
I know at least one New Year's resolution....
Wednesday, December 8, 2004
Au revoir pendant une courte période
One of the quadrennial rituals following presidential elections is a whole series of conferences about "What Does This Election Mean?" For those who attend, it's an opportunity to acquire some semi-useful cognitive frames that sound good at cocktail parties and are even occasionally correct.
For those who are asked to present, this is an opportunity to go somewhere nice on someone else's dime and decompress from the exhaustion created by paying close attention to the election. There's a clear hierarchy of these types of conferences -- the more remote and enticing the locale, the better.
I'm not sure how I lucked into this one, but I'll be in Paris for the next few days to talk about "The United States After the 2004 Election," courtesy of the French Center on the United States. Here's a link to the provisional program.
Informed readers will be well aware that I'm punching above my pundit class compared to the other invitees. I plan on treating this the same way my wife and I did when we went on our honeymoon and stayed at resorts we never could have afforded under normal circumstances -- a mixture of bemused detachment and nervous awe.
Talk amongst yourselves -- or:
The tragedy of the dollar commons?
Brad Setser has the best blogging about the possibility of a drastic decline in the dollar's value/the possibility of the dollar losing its reserve currency status. This Sunday stpry by James Brooke and Keith Bradsher in the New York Times contains a tidbit that worries me in particular:
What bothers me is the concern by Japan that others might be tempted to dump their dollars while they still hold so many of them. The Japanese and Chinese central banks own an enormous part of these dollar reserves, and if they don't move, a precipitous fall seems unlikely. However, both the Russians and the OPEC countries have started to diversify their holdings in favor of the Euro. If non-major Asian countries make the same move, the question for Japan and China is whether there is more to gain from moving first and getting a mediocre return on their dollar holdings or holding on and hoping the dollar slide won't last longer. The temptation to unilaterally defect here is quite powerful.
The beginning of the end of the Bretton Woods system was when the French announced in 1968 that they were going to convert their dollar holdings into gold. One wonders if OPEC and Russia represent a similar harbinger.
Rumsfeld admits that maybe, just maybe, the RMA isn't all it's cracked up to be
As was much commented before the election, this administration has a thing about admitting error -- any kind of error. No politician ever wants to do this, of course, because it means taking a political hit. Sometimes, however, candor is good politics and can even lead to policy learning -- i.e., if you're willing to admit that your current course of action is wrong, it requires a search for a better policy.
So when President Bush announced that Don Rumsfeld would stay on as Secretary of Defense for the next term, my reaction was not completely dissimilar from Josh Marshall's -- on defense-related matters, we're getting four more years of bungled policy implementation. Rumsfeld's belief that the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) requires a transformation of warfighting strategy and tactics is not completely off-base -- however, Iraq certainly suggests that the notion of the RMA really transforming anything related to post-war occupation activities is bogus.
Today's Wall Street Journal front-pager by Greg Jaffe (that link should be good for non-subscribers as well) suggests, however, that even Rummy and the rest of the civilian leadership is willing to admit that mistakes were made. The highlights:
That's not much of a concession by Rumsfeld there, but it does suggest some adaptation.
Read the whole thing -- I particularly liked the observation that, "Commanders in Iraq have found that 70-ton tanks, which literally shake the ground as they move, can help ward off guerrilla attacks simply through intimidation."
And, lest one put all of the blame at Rumsfeld's doorstep, what I found particularly interesting was the motivation behind the Army's partial embrace of the RMA as well:
As for Rumsfeld, he's definitely getting feedback from what James Q. Wilson would call "operators" in the system. Robert Burns has the goods on this for the Associated Press:
I don't envy her job
What do you do if you're the counselor for commercial affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia on the day after Jeddah? The same thing you do every day -- try to drum up interest among U.S. firms in foing business with the Saudis. Jerry Miller of the Manchester Union-Leader reports:
Readers are invited to pick the country where the counselor for commercial affairs would have the most difficult job. This obviously implies that the country is stable enough to have a counselor for commercial affairs.
Tuesday, December 7, 2004
The question that haunts me about Iraq
Six months later, I still believe I'm right about the poor implementation -- but there's no way to know for sure.
Regarding liberal bias in academia...
David Adesnik has a link-filled summary regarding the spate of recent articles discussing ideological homogeneity in the halls of academe. This has prompted a panoply of blog responses, including Timothy Burke (click here as well), Brad DeLong, Juan Cole, and David Vellemen at a new blog, Left2Right, which is a new group blog of left academics musing about "how to speak more effectively to ears attuned to the Right."
Kieran Healy, though not addressing the ideology question, does have a link-rich post on the tribal patterns of academic hiring that suggests how difficult it is for non-mainstream people to get hired at elite institutions -- even if they are more innovative.
[Um, so what does this meme mean to you?--ed] I've blogged about this before here, here, here, and here. I'm not sure if there's anything new to add now, but if I do, it will take some careful crafting -- for reasons that Jacob Levy outlined more than a year ago.]
For the record...
I have not now nor ever have been a member of the Mandinka tribe of Gambia -- but I do have great respect for their theological beliefs.
[Hat tip to M.M. for the pointer]
Monday, December 6, 2004
So does this count as "good" outsourcing?
Whenever I talk to critics about offshore outsourcing, they tell me that the claim by proponents that offshoring addresses the problem of a skills shortage in the U.S. is bogus, that there are more than enough tech workers here to perform the necessary tasks. I don't think that holds for the late 1990's, when offshoring and the H1-B visa craze started, but that's neither here nor there. The point is, they argue that firms have no compelling need to to outsource offshore since the set of necessary skills resides in the United States.
Beyond the IT sector, however, there do appear to be instances where offshoring is a necessary and effective means of accessing a labor supply of specialty skills for which there is a shortage in the United States. Lindsey Tanner reports in the Associated Press of one example in radiology. The highlights:
Two questions on this:
UPDATE: This might be the most bizarre twist on outsourcing I've seen yet -- Europeans emigrating to India to work in offshored call centers (thanks to N.D. for the link)
Equilibrating mechanisms at work
In theory, a declining dollar should help the U.S. balance of trade by making imports relatively more expensive to Americans and exports relatively inexpensive to foreigners. However, the current macroeconomic imbalances cause this equilibrating mechanism to carriy some risks. Among the many fears about the current dollar depreciation are:
Given all of this, it is nice to read about these equilibrating effects at work. Which leads me to today's front-pager in the Wall Street Journal by Emily Nelson and Brooks Barnes:
One can question whether the magnitude of these kind of flows will put a larger dent in the current account deficit. However, there is an intriguing question that this kind of story raises. As previously discussed, American productivity in nontradable sectors such as retail is considerably higher than other parts of the globe, which is one source of lower prices. If transport costs continue to decline, it would be interesting to speculate whether these sectors become an important comparative advantage for the United States on trade matters.
Just a thought.
Open Jiddah thread
Feel free to comment on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Jeddah here. Reuters and CNN seem to have the most comprehensive reports. Also, the Associated Press has this interesting quote from the president:
Given the obvious, deep links between Al Qaeda and Saudi society, doesn't this mean that the terrorists prefer a home court advantage?
CLARIFICATION: In other words, given that a fair share of Al Qaeda are Saudi, wouldn't this attack signal that they're not on the move so much as staying local? I don't think this is what Bush meant by "on the move," obviously, but it's just an odd phrasing choice.
The next Krispy Kreme
As someone who's married to a cereal addict, my view on this might be skewed, but I predict that a year from now Cereality will be talked about the same way Krispy Kreme was a few years ago. It's a restaurant that serves only breakfast cereal and cereal-related products. Here's one story by Howard Shapiro of the Philadelphia Inquirer on the opening of their new eatery near Penn:
According to the company's web site: "If there's not already a Cereality near you, there will be soon. In 2004, we will be opening several new units in a variety of settings." And here's the menu. If they expand to university neighborhoods, this will be huge. Huge.
[Isn't the Krispy Kreme metaphor problematic, given their recent financial troubles?--ed. Nope, it's dead on -- I see a few years of awesome growth, followed by the passing of the fad.]
UPDATE: Several commenters have argued that the Krispy Kreme logic doesn't apply, because cereal can be procured and eaten (more cheaply) at home compared to Krispy Kremes. This may be true -- but I doubt that any home has the variety of cereal choices available at Cereality, or the variety of toppings. Consider a different example -- Coldstone Creamery ice cream parlors. Ice cream can be bought and consumed at home, but that does not prevent ice cream stores from thriving.
One last thought -- these stores would be like gold in airport terminals.
More non-barking dogs in international relations
Last month I pointed out the tendency to focus on the parts of the globe in turmoil, occasionally neglecting non-events in places where everyone predicted turmoil.
Christopher Condon reports in the Financial Times about one of these non-barking dogs:
For fifteen years, a latent worry of East and Central Europe watchers was that Hungarian nationalism would rile its neighbors and trigger sectarian violence. The failure of this referendum is the fitting coda to easing that concern.
Sunday, December 5, 2004
Good dirt on the World Bank
Back in October, I recommended Sebastian Mallaby's The World's Banker -- an intertwined history of the evolution of development policy and a biography of the Bank's current president, James Wolfensohn -- as an excellent read.
Today, I make the case at greater length in the New York Times Book Review. The closing paragraph sums it up:
For the last time -- I really liked this book. I liked it so much it made it an extremely difficult book to review. Reviewing books one finds fault with is easy -- writing an interesting review that contains only praise is a much more difficult task.
The World's Banker comes out at an interesting time -- Wolfensohn has served as president of the Bank for two terms, and the word on the street is that he's angling for a third term. Will he get it? My sources say no -- this is a plum patronage apointment for Bush (the Bank President is by custom an American, just as the IMF president is by custom a European). I've heard three names bandied about for Wolfensohn's replacement, in decreasing order of likelihood:
Here's a link to McPherson's vita, which suggests two things: a) McPherson has the substantive background to do the job; and, b) He's part of the Ford White House mafia -- i.e., Rumsfeld/Cheney.