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.

Now, before I confess, let me first confess that my list was much more distinguished before I started teaching Classics of IR Theory, not to mention the core sequences at the U of C.

However, at the moment, my answer would have to be.... Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, followed closely by Robert Dahl's Who Governs?.

I know at least one New Year's resolution....

posted by Dan at 04:40 PM | Comments (68) | Trackbacks (4)

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:

1) Check out the new scholar-bloggers -- Becker/Posner and Left2Right. And do remember that they're moving down the learning curve when it comes to the art of blogging.

2) There seems to be a kerfuffle about Natalie Portman. Click on Jonathan Last's Weekly Standard article to start, and then go here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Au revoir!!

posted by Dan at 03:53 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (1)

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:

Mr. Asakawa, 46, is the top official at the Finance Ministry here responsible for managing the largest portfolio of United States government securities in the world, worth a staggering $720 billion. As the dollar has slumped this fall, many investors have started to worry that Mr. Asakawa and his counterparts elsewhere in Asia will be tempted to pare their holdings, perhaps causing the currency to plunge much further and setting off a round of interest rate increases in the United States that could send the global economy into a tailspin.

But Mr. Asakawa, at least for now, says that he intends to keep right on adding American holdings to Tokyo's portfolio.

"We've heard the rumors in the last few days that the Chinese guys, the Indian guys, the South African guys are diverting from dollars," Mr. Asakawa said. "We have no plan at all to divert from our dollar-denominated assets."

Still, Mr. Asakawa admits that he has not been sleeping so well lately.

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.


posted by Dan at 02:16 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (2)

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:

The Iraq attack was built on the premise that speed and high-tech equipment could radically change the way war was fought. Short, swift attacks against key targets -- such as communications stations and headquarters -- could confuse enemy forces and isolate them from their commanders, according to both Army and Defense Department doctrine. If you chopped off the enemy's head, the theory went, the whole body would die. Getting to the fight faster became the focus of modernization plans for the Army and all other U.S. armed services.

Now, the escalating insurgency in Iraq is showing that lightning assaults can quickly topple a regime -- but also unleash problems for which small, fast, high-tech U.S. forces are ill-equipped.

"We're realizing strategic victory is about a lot more than annihilating the enemy," says one senior defense official in Mr. Rumsfeld's office. Victory also requires winning the support of locals and tracking down insurgents, who can easily elude advanced surveillance technology and precision strikes. In some cases, a slower, more methodical attack, one that allows U.S. troops to stabilize one area and hold it up as an example of what is possible for the rest of the country, could produce better results, according to emerging Army thinking.

Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledges that the military, which is still organized "to fight big armies, navies and air forces on a conventional basis," must change in order to deal with guerrilla fighters and terrorists. "The department simply has to be much more facile and agile," he says in an interview. "We have got to focus more on the post-combat phase."

But he adds that the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate the "critical importance of speed and precision as opposed to mass or sheer numbers."

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:

The notion of swift, high-tech wars was first championed by the Air Force in the early 1990s. After the 1999 Kosovo war, the Army began reluctantly to buy into the idea.

Kosovo had been a huge embarrassment for the Army. Gen. Wesley Clark, who led the operation, asked the Army to send 24 Apache helicopters to the Balkans to conduct strikes against Serb forces. The helicopters, accompanied by tanks and heavy Bradley fighting vehicles, arrived later than many expected. They were never employed. Two helicopters crashed during training exercises, killing two soldiers. The tanks were too heavy to cross key bridges.

Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army's chief of staff at the time, came away from the fiasco believing the Army needed to get faster and lighter. New fighting vehicles would rely on information technology and speed to protect them instead of heavy armor. Army doctrine, written after Kosovo, boasted troops using new equipment would "see first, understand first, and act first" allowing them to kill the adversary without being hit.

Among some senior Army officers, though, there was great discomfort with the notion that the U.S. could ever achieve the kind of quick victories that top Army officials and Mr. Rumsfeld seemed to be promising. Even if high-tech surveillance tools could pinpoint the location of enemy tanks, they couldn't find fighters hiding in buildings. Technology couldn't measure the will of shadowy insurgents or the likelihood the populace would resist.

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:

Disgruntled U.S. soldiers complained to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Wednesday about the lack of armor for their vehicles and long deployments, drawing a blunt retort from the Pentagon chief.

"You go to war with the Army you have," he said in a rare public airing of rank-and-file concerns among the troops....

Army Spc. Thomas Wilson, for example, of the 278th Regimental Combat Team that is comprised mainly of citizen soldiers of the Tennessee Army National Guard, asked Rumsfeld in a question-and-answer session why vehicle armor is still in short supply, nearly two years after the start of the war that ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?" Wilson asked. A big cheer arose from the approximately 2,300 soldiers in the cavernous hangar who assembled to see and hear the secretary of defense.

Rumsfeld hesitated and asked Wilson to repeat his question.

"We do not have proper armored vehicles to carry with us north," Wilson said after asking again.

Rumsfeld replied that troops should make the best of the conditions they face and said the Army was pushing manufacturers of vehicle armor to produce it as fast as humanly possible.

posted by Dan at 11:52 AM | Comments (36) | Trackbacks (1)

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:

Just one day after an al-Qaida led band of terrorists invaded the heavily fortified U.S. Consulate in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, killing nine workers, this nation's counselor for commercial affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, was in the Granite State, working to drum up business for New Hampshire companies, interested in doing business in the family-run kingdom.

Nancy Charles-Parker led a roundtable discussion at the Pease Tradeport-based International Trade Resource Center involving nearly three dozen companies eager to do business in the often turbulent nation and other Middle Eastern locations.

With security-related issues on the minds of many participants, Parker did not avoid discussing Monday's killings, which involved the death of staffers she knew and respected.

"All of our people" at the consulate, meaning Americans, "are OK," she told the gathering. "They are understandably shaken up."

Charles-Parker, who left for the Saudi capital shortly after the local appearance, was eager to return to the area to support her co-workers and the families of those killed.

She said for those who fear traveling to the oil-rich Persian Gulf region, "You can sell in Saudi Arabia without being there physically. You can even sell there without going there" by carefully selecting a Saudi-based agent to represent your company's interests in the kingdom....

Asked if she feared for her safety, Charles-Parker, who described herself as a wife, mother and grandmother, responded, "I think it's manageable now."

Charles-Parker, the first women to head the commercial counsel's office at the U.S. Embassy in the Saudi capital, spoke about the role of women in the Saudi culture, saying the country is really two nations, one for men and another for women. There are banks where only men can do business and another separate set of banks for women. Shopping malls also have separate stores for men and women.

Females, including those on the embassy and consulate staffs, are not permitted to drive in Saudi Arabia,, and a man must accompany women who are on the streets.

A female, like herself, who works in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Arab world, must be "culturally sensitive," she said....

In Saudi Arabia, a woman cannot represent a foreign company in negotiations, although one can in other places in the region. In fact, in Saudi Arabia, men are not used to doing business with women.

Despite the cultural differences, Charles-Parker insisted Saudi Arabia is a very good place to do business, in large part because residents have money to spend and they opt for quality and brand names.

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.

posted by Dan at 02:16 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (2)

Tuesday, December 7, 2004

The question that haunts me about Iraq

Mickey Kaus, in responding to a Peter Beinart TNR column points out the maddening problem with performing an autopsy on what's happened Iraq: the cause of failures to date will never be determined:

[There] is the conceit, among Iraq war supporters, that what's gone wrong in Iraq must be the product of administration "bungling." There has been bungling, of course. But it's not at all clear that a lot of the problems we've encountered could have been avoided by the best planning and diplomacy in the world. Maybe there were big problems inherent in the whole project. This is the possibility--that the decision to go to war itself was wrong--that vehement talk of bungling conveniently excludes. (emphasis in original)

I argued back in May that there was a good prima facie case to be made that fault lay with the implementation, not with the ideas. However, I also added:

[W]e can't rewind history and replay Iraq with better implementation. It is impossible to say with absolute certainty that the flaw lay with the idea or the implementation. I clearly think it's the implementation, but I will gladly concede that there are decent arguments out there that the idea itself was wrong as well.

Six months later, I still believe I'm right about the poor implementation -- but there's no way to know for sure.

posted by Dan at 11:32 PM | Comments (33) | Trackbacks (1)

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.]

posted by Dan at 10:25 AM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (2)

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]

For more... er... authoritative information about the Mandinka, click here and here.

posted by Dan at 10:01 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (1)

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:

When a patient in Altoona, Pa., needs an emergency brain scan in the middle of the night, a doctor in Bangalore, India, is asked to interpret the results.

Spurred by a shortage of radiologists in the United States and an exploding demand for more sophisticated scans to diagnose scores of ailments, physicians at Altoona Hospital and dozens of others are outsourcing work.

Over the past few years, the number of nighttime emergency cases was swamping Altoona's seven radiologists.

"Somebody was waking up all night to cover all this extra work," said Dr. Richard Wertz, a radiologist. And while that doctor was groggy, "we didn't have the luxury of that guy taking the next day off."

Using radiologists halfway around the world where it is daytime, "solves that problem for us," Wertz said.

Such moves are part of the telemedicine trend, with technology enabling the speedy transfer of medical data over the Internet to a compatible computer anywhere in the world. That means radiologists in Australia, India, Israel and Lebanon are reading scans on U.S. patients.

Despite fears of some doctors, advocates insist offshore radiology is not stealing U.S. jobs and replacing them with unqualified cheap labor. Most of the doctors are U.S.-trained and licensed, though Indian radiologists generally earn about a tenth of the estimated $350,000 median salary for those in the United States.

More typical is the Altoona situation, which involves doctors such as Arjun Kalyanpur. A U.S.-licensed and credentialed radiologist, Kalyanpur got his postgraduate training at Yale University and runs a two-man service in southern India.

The Pennsylvania hospital is among 40 that use Teleradiology Solutions....

In recent years, demand has far exceeded the supply of radiologists in the United States. A trade journal reported this year that an average of four vacancies existed for each radiology department at American academic centers since 2002.

Two questions on this:

1) I know nothing about the supply and demand of different medical specialties -- is the statement about there being a drastic shortage ofradiologists an accurate one?

2) Assuming that the answer to the first question is "yes," would traditional opponents of outsourcing concede that this case looks like a standard trade story that clearly provides value added to the United States?

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)

posted by Dan at 05:00 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (1)

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:

1) U.S. demand for imports is so inelastic that price increases won't have much of an effect;

2) A sizeable chunk of the U.S. deficit is bilateral trade with China, and the dollar's fall has not affected that exchange rate too much;

3) East Asian central banks will only tolerate so much of a fall before they decide to liquidate their dollar reserves, which would trigger a financial panic/run on the dollar/cats and dogs living together/mass hysteria (see Brad Setser for more on this -- as well as the Economist)

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:

As the dollar has fallen to a 12-year-low against the British pound and an all-time low against the five-year-old euro, Europeans now view the U.S. as one giant half-off sale on everything from clothes to coffee to restaurant meals. Because so many businesses now operate globally, comparison shopping is easy.

At the London outpost of Nobu, the New York Japanese restaurant, a special set meal costs between $136 and $233 per person, at Friday's exchange rate of $1.94 to the pound. A la carte, the monkfish paté with caviar costs $24.29, and the baby spinach with whitefish salad $22.35.

All of which is out of the question for Catherine Watson, a 38-year-old photographer from Cardiff, Wales -- except when she can snap up cheap dollars to pay for the same meal at Nobu in Manhattan. There, one night recently, armed with dollars purchased at about $1.89 to the pound, she and a friend started with the monkfish pate for $17 and the spinach salad for $16. The chef's special dinners in New York are $80, $100 and $120, about 40% off London prices.

"Things seem so cheap that you turn into a bit of the child in a candy store," says Ms. Watson....

The hordes from the Old World streaming across the Atlantic are likely only to increase as the dollar, down about 10% against the pound and down 12% against the euro since April, is expected to fall further in 2005. Basic goods, such as household supplies, clothing and food have long tended to be less costly in the U.S., where sales and big discount chains are more prevalent than in Europe. But the disparity currently is much greater. And businesses, from airlines to hotel chains, are stepping up promotional efforts to portray the U.S. as a shopper's paradise.

Travel from some European countries to the U.S. is up nearly 25% so far this year, says Gabriella Vecchio, international marketing manager at the Travel Industry Association of America.

That pace well exceeds the forecast that the U.S. Department of Commerce office of travel and tourism industries made last April for 9.3 million Europeans to visit the U.S. this year, a 7% increase from 2003. American Airlines says its trans-Atlantic flights are 81.3% full, up 3.9 points from a year ago, and it has added flights as well. In London subway advertising, the airline's slogan is: "America Reduced."

"A weak dollar means bargain holidays," declared a recent article in London's Sunday Times. Other travel sections of British newspapers are filled with stories detailing how Christmas shopping in Manhattan promises savings even after hotel and airfare costs.

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.

posted by Dan at 02:05 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (1)

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:

President Bush said Monday an attack on the U.S. consulate in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, showed that "terrorists are still on the move'' and trying to intimidate Americans.

"They want us to grow timid and weary in the face of their willingness to kill randomly, kill innocent people,'' Bush said. (emphasis added)

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.

Comment away.

posted by Dan at 12:23 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

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:

As suppertime approached last night, the line started to form inside Cereality, the nation's first all-cereal restaurant, just opened in University City.

Plenty of college kids and people who think they are still college kids were finding comfort and sustenance in the ultimate fast food, which comes from a box....

In an age when breakfast is becoming more experimental, when some restaurants find sixth and seventh grains to mix into pancakes and spoon caviars of many colors onto egg plates, plain old cold cereal remains a clear American staple. This is particularly so for many young adults, who may have grown up fleeing into the pantry for some Cap'n Crunch whenever their parents were licking their dinner chops over yucky-looking raw-fish rolls and icky foreign-tasting meats.

Thus Cereality, which opened to hoopla and speeches and live remotes Wednesday and had its first real-world day of business yesterday. It's at 3631 Walnut St., on the same block with Cosi, which was actually serving sandwiches last night at dinnertime, and Penne, the restaurant at the Inn at Penn, where the kitchen staff was grilling veal tenderloins and honey-glazed sea scallops, with nary a box of Frosted Flakes in sight.

But even Angel Hogan, Penne's manager, was impressed with the fare up the street. She'd gone over for a specialty cereal - not the basic Cereality offering of two scoops of anything with one topping for $2.95. Hers was oatmeal with bananas, apple streusel and molasses, "really delicious," she said. "It was like eating in Grandma's kitchen."

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.


posted by Dan at 12:12 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (1)

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:

A referendum in Hungary on granting citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living abroad, a proposal that had divided the country and angered its neighbours, flopped on Sunday because of low turnout.

Of those who voted, 51.5 per cent approved the proposal, but not enough votes were cast to make the referendum count.

Referendums in Hungary are not valid unless either 50 per cent of eligible voters turn out or 25 per cent of those eligible vote one way.

Only 37.4 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots, and, with more than 99 per cent of the vote counted, the total Yes vote equalled only 18.9 per cent of the eligible electorate....

Despite a fiery campaign by proponents appealing to voters to reunite the nation, at least under one passport, most Hungarian citizens were apparently unmoved.

The referendum's rejection will quickly defuse tensions that arose in recent days between Hungary and neighbouring countries that were angered by the proposal, calling it provocative and intrusive....

The result also marks a victory for Ferenc Gyurcsany, Hungary's prime minister. Mr Gyurcsany called on voters to reject the measure or to simply stay at home. His government said the measure would cost the state budget an additional Ft500bn (€2bn, £1.4bn, $2.8bn) annually, or 2.5 per cent of GDP.

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.

posted by Dan at 12:35 AM | Trackbacks (2)

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:

Mallaby has done his homework, interviewing hundreds of World Bank officials, critics and government figures -- including Wolfensohn, whom he spoke to for nearly 20 hours. He has produced a book chock-full of affecting vignettes, and that rarest of treats -- an informed disquisition about public policy wrapped up in a fascinating narrative.

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:

1) Colin Powell
2) Robert Zoellick
3) Gary Edson (the G-7 sherpa at the White House).


UPDATE: Thanks to P. O'Neill for reminding me that John Harwood had some interesting gossip in Friday's Wall Street Journal:

Officials say Michigan State University President Peter McPherson is a dark-horse contender to head the World Bank. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman [Richard] Lugar, angered by allegations of mismanagement, mulls new oversight proposals including more financial transparency and whistleblower protections.

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.

posted by Dan at 01:05 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (1)