Thursday, December 23, 2004

Some light reading for your holiday week

I'm still resolutely on sabbatical -- but as I'm typing this in my favorite bar in North Carolina, I do have a few minutes to kill. So here are two articles worth checking out:

1) The first is Nicholas Thompson's story in Legal Affairs on the controversy that four economists (Dartmouth's Rafael La Porta, Yale's Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes, Harvard's Andrei Shleifer, and the University of Chicago's Robert Vishny) are generating among legal scholars about an interesting empirical finding:

According to research published by a group of scholars beginning in 1998, countries that come from a French civil law tradition struggle to create effective financial markets, while countries with a British common law tradition succeed far more frequently. While the scholars conducting the research are economists rather than lawyers, their theory has jolted the legal academy, leading to the creation of a new academic specialty called "law and finance" and turning the authors of the theory into the most cited economists in the world over the past decade.

Read the whole thing. I've seen this stuff before, and Thompson does a solid job of characterizing the contours of the debate. For me, it boils down to whether their causal logic is correct or whether their observation is a contemporaneous correlation caused by an unobserved causal variable.

2) Andrew Higgins looks at whether American influence is on the wane in new EU entrants like Poland in the Wall Street Journal. Higgins is overstating the case a bit. Of course a new EU entrant is going to pay more attention to the EU. Somehow I don't see the WSJ running a similar post-CAFTA story with the headline, "At Expense of E.U., Nations Of North America Are Drawing Closer." And the bit on Ukraine drawing Poland closer to the EU is puzzling, since the US and EU have acted in concert on that front.

That said, this section is sobering:

Washington's ebbing influence in this most pro-American swath of Europe reflects a broader phenomenon this series of articles has explored: Some of the largest challenges facing the U.S. now flow from the sources of its great power.

Its democratic domestic politics can leave it deaf to even its closest friends abroad. America's sheer size and might breed resentment and, in the geopolitical marketplace, stir competition. Its economic example spurs Europe to band together to compete. Its faith in elections prompts an effort, in Iraq and Afghanistan, to impose democracy through arms. For many abroad, America's goals inspire, but its actions often exasperate.

"America failed its exam as a superpower," says Lech Walesa, the former Solidarity trade-union leader who became Poland's first post-Communist president. "They are a military and economic superpower but not morally or politically anymore. This is a tragedy for us."

Mr. Walesa laments what he sees as America's squandered leadership because he thinks the EU isn't ready for prime time. Encompassing 25 nations and 450 million people, it struggles to find a common voice or mission: "Even bird-watching clubs have a clear set of goals" -- but Europe, he says, doesn't.

When Lech Walesa starts speaking ill of the U.S., it's time for DC policymakers to think just a little harder about the costs and benefits of their foreign policy approach.

That's all -- enjoy the break!

posted by Dan at 03:58 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (1)