Friday, January 7, 2005

There really is a blog about everything

With Robert Zoellick's move to the State Department, the number of possible candidates for World Bank President declines by one.

I would now blog more about this kind of rumor mill -- except there is already a blog devoted solely to this topic. So I'm outsourcing speculation to that site.

This leads me to this Leonard Witt post about the structure of the blogosphere. It's really an exchange between Jeff Jarvis and Lewis Friedland over whether the blogosphere amounts to anything new. Friedland is skeptical:

Blogs like everything else on the net are subject to certain laws of exponential traffic, sometimes called Power Laws. And while there may be 1.65 million Blogs out there that are semi-active, there are a very tiny, tiny handful of those notes that are actually read. And they in fact do control traffic, that's the way traffic on the net works. And to say that because anybody can be a publisher that that opens up a broad range of voices is a delusion really. Yes, new voices will enter the mainstream consistently but they will not be trafficked to simply because they are smart and clever. Some will, but and this is my third and final point, much of the traffic on the net when you start investigating the structure of the Blogosphere and the structure of the net very much represented the horserace political commentary of much of the mainstream media. It’s clever, it’s more up to date, it has more voice, there's more opinion, its sharper; but if you look at the Blogosphere as a whole with some important exceptions much of what it consists of is a lot of he-said, she-said political commentary that is not any different what you would find on the cable news networks.

Click on the link to see Jarvis' response, which I agree with. Basically, it boils down to the notion that there are mass audiences and there are niche audiences -- and different blogs feed different types of audiences. For each audience, a skewed distribution of traffic and links exists -- but just because a blogger doesn't generate Glenn Reynolds' kind of traffic does not automatically render them unimportant.

The fact that David Stevens and Alex Wilks decided to set up a blog devoted exclusively to the search for a new World Bank President -- which, let's face it, is not on most people's radar screen -- is a point for Jarvis.

Anyway, click over there to get and give the best dirt on possible candidates and their odds.

posted by Dan at 05:28 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Here's what I hear about Zoellick

Robert Zoellick will be moving from from U.S. trade representative to Deputy Secretary of State. Here's the Bloomberg report by Glenn Hall:

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick was nominated to the No. 2 post in the State Department as a replacement for Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

Zoellick, 51, whose nomination requires Senate confirmation, would serve as deputy to Condoleezza Rice, President George W. Bush's nominee for secretary of state. They worked together on the National Security Council under President George H.W. Bush in the late 1980s....

Zoellick is "a sensible choice,'' said Harlan Ullman, who taught Powell at the National War College and now serves as an adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based policy group. "He doesn't seem to have the ideological baggage of other people,'' he said. Zoellick "would be seen more in the centrist camp.''

Confirmation hearings in the Senate for Rice are scheduled to begin Jan. 18. A date for Zoellick's hearing hasn't been set.

Ullman said there was speculation Bush might choose John Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control, to fill the No. 2 spot at the department as Bolton often is the department's most outspoken critic of countries such as Iran and North Korea.

Bolton is not expected to remain in his current position, after failing to secure the deputy position, a State Department official said on the condition of anonymity.

Zoellick may prove even more helpful than Bolton because of his effectiveness in keeping a bureaucracy in line, said Gary Schmitt, president of the Project for the New American Century, a Washington-based policy study group.

That kind of control could mean Rice and Bush will face less dissent from the higher ranks of the department, Schmitt said.

"Zoellick is one tough nut when it comes to managing things,'' Schmitt said. "The bureau will be managed, that's for sure.''

Schmitt's approving comments suggest that Matthew Yglesias might be jumping the gun in claiming that the neocons lost this round -- though it's equally possible that Schmitt is just spinning.

Matt points out the difficulty in deciphering Zoellick's own political preferences:

I've heard it said that he's a principled free trader who's just happened to lose a lot of internal battles with the White House political team, but I've also heard it said that he's a committed mercantilist whose views have made it hard for the White House economic team to get a proper hearing for their views.

To which Brad DeLong replies:

For the record, I have heard neither of these things said. What I've heard said is that Zoellick was relatively ineffective as USTR, and in meetings was more interested in figuring out what the High Politicians wished to hear than in giving good counsel.

I assume Brad is hearing that after reading the Ron Susskind book.

For the record, what I've heard about Zoellick at USTR is that he did the best he could with a weak hand -- i.e., Bush was never willing to commit significant amounts of politial capital in favor of more vigorous trade policies. Perhaps you could blame Zoellick for being unable to persuade Bush otherwise, but I suspect henever got the chance. Given this constraint, Zoellick worked hard to keep the Doha round on track while simultaneously attempting "competitive liberalization" as a policy. Given the policy environment he was operating in, I'd give Zoellick a B+.

As for Zoellick's deep thoughts on foreign policy, I would recommend his article "A Republican Foreign Policy" in the January/February 2000 issue of Foreign Affairs. It was the less-noticed companion piece to Condoleezza Rice's essay in the same issue.

Here's one section from Zoellick's article:

Five principles distinguish a modern Republican foreign policy. First, it is premised on a respect for power, being neither ashamed to pursue America's national interests nor too quick to use the country's might. By matching America's power to its interests, such a policy can achieve its objectives and build credibility both at home and abroad. U.S. policy should respect the histories, perspectives, and concerns of other nations, but it should not be paralyzed by intellectual penchants for moral relativism. All states do not play equally important roles. Given America's responsibilities in the world, it must retain its freedom to act against serious dangers.

Second, a modern Republican foreign policy emphasizes building and sustaining coalitions and alliances. Effective coalition leadership requires clear-eyed judgments about priorities, an appreciation of others' interests, constant consultations among partners, and a willingness to compromise on some points but to remain focused on core objectives. Allies and coalition partners should bear their fair share of the responsibilities; if they do, their views will be represented and respected. Similarly, to have an effective U.N., the key nations that compose it must recognize that their actions -- not their speeches and posturing in an international forum -- will determine whether problems can be solved.

Third, Republicans judge international agreements and institutions as means to achieve ends, not as forms of political therapy. Agreements and institutions can facilitate bargaining, recognize common interests, and resolve differences cooperatively. But international law, unlike domestic law, merely codifies an already agreed-upon cooperation. Even among democracies, international law not backed by enforcement mechanisms will need negotiations in order to work, and international law not backed by power cannot cope with dangerous people and states. Every issue need not be dealt with multilaterally.

Fourth, a modern Republican foreign policy must embrace the revolutionary changes in the information and communications, technology, commerce, and finance sectors that will shape the environment for global politics and security. Because of these changes, people's aspirations -- to exercise their free will and transform their lives -- are rising in all corners of the globe. Communities of private groups, whether organized for business or social ends, will achieve results far beyond the reach of governments and international bureaucracies. The United States can leverage this dynamism to open minds and markets. America's foreign policy must promote these global trends. It must take practical steps to move the world toward greater freedoms and human rights. It should link itself to the agents of change around the world through new networks of free trade, information, and investment.

Finally, a modern Republican foreign policy recognizes that there is still evil in the world -- people who hate America and the ideas for which it stands. Today, we face enemies who are hard at work to develop nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, along with the missiles to deliver them. The United States must remain vigilant and have the strength to defeat its enemies. People driven by enmity or by a need to dominate will not respond to reason or goodwill. They will manipulate civilized rules for uncivilized ends.

posted by Dan at 05:08 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, January 6, 2005

So you want to influence public opinion....

If you had an idea and wanted to insert it into the national debate, where would you publish it? In other words, what are the most influential media outlets in the United States?

Almost a decade ago, I had a conversation about this topic with someone who had served in the government at a pretty high level and was clearly on his way up the media ladder. His response was that on foreign policy questions, there were only four outlets that mattered: Foreign Affairs, the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Which I've used as a rule of thumb.

Turns out that Erdos & Morgan conduct an annual survey on this kind of question -- although it deals with influence writ large rather than specifically influencing foreign policy. Last month the 2004-5 results were released -- and the Council on Foreign Relations is very excited about it:

Foreign Affairs has been ranked the most influential media outlet in the United States, according to a new study of U.S. opinion leaders conducted by Erdos & Morgan, the premier business-to-business research firm. The findings place Foreign Affairs ahead of all other magazines and newspapers - including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Economist - as well as all broadcast media....

The Erdos & Morgan 2004-2005 survey represents the views of over 450,000 American thought leaders who shape policy and opinion in the public and private sectors. It is the best-known and most widely used survey of opinion leaders in the United States, and documents where they get the information they use in their work.

Here's the top 10:

Foreign Affairs
CQ Weekly
The New York Times
The Wall Street Journal
The Economist
Harvard Business Review
The Washington Post
The New York Times Sunday Edition
The New England Journal of Medicine

A few things worth noting:

1) I'm surprised that no broadcast media cracked the top 10.

2) One wonders how individual blogs would do if they were added to the survey (I'm assuming they weren't, since this is targeted at large-scale advertisers. If Henry Copeland is smart, though, he'd pay to see that some blogs were added to the list). I doubt they would crack the top 10 -- but I could see one or two of them cracking the top 25.

UPDATE: Someone has e-mailed me this press release in which the New York Times makes similar claims to Foreign Affairs. However, read this comment -- which suggests that basically the NYT and Foreign Affairs are using slightly different interpretations of "influence" -- and both publications have some substantive claim to this mantle.

posted by Dan at 05:58 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (3)

My kind of big aims

The signature aspect of the current president is his belief that incrementalism is bunk. George W. Bush clearly believes that great achievements come from grand, uncompromising visions. If some of them fall by the wayside (mission to Mars, anyone?), so be it. But if even a few of these visions comes to fruition, then Bush can be viewed as both a successful politician and a world historical figure.

I'd be more excited about this if it wasn't for the concern I had about both the rank ordering and actual implementaion of these visions. Like Andrew Sullivan, I'm leery of the fact that tax fairness and Medicare reform were shunted aside in favor of Social Security reform -- one reason why I haven't blogged at all about the latter.

Still, if a politician adopts this style and seems to have is priorities in order, it can be damn inspiring.

Which brings me to the governor of California and his State of the State address. John M. Broder recaps it for the New York Times:

A little over a year after Arnold Schwarzenegger did an end run around politics as usual in the recall election that made him governor of California, he is embarking on a new campaign against the status quo here.

In his annual State of the State address on Wednesday night, the governor called on the Democratic-controlled Legislature to enact a fundamental overhaul that would include that most sacred of political cows, the way Congressional and legislative districts are drawn.

Mr. Schwarzenegger proposed turning over the drawing of the state's political map to a panel of retired judges, taking it out of the hands of lawmakers who for decades have used the redistricting process in a cozy bipartisan deal to choose their voters and cement their incumbency. He threatened to take the issue directly to the voters if the Legislature does not act on the plan in a special session he called for.

Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, noted that of the 153 seats in the California Congressional delegation and Legislature that were on the ballot in November, not one changed party hands.

"What kind of a democracy is that?" he asked in his address....

Although Mr. Schwarzenegger rode to office as the action-figure anti-politician ready to take on the entrenched interests in Sacramento, little has changed in the political culture here. Well-heeled interests still set the agenda, and the state still faces a huge budget gap.

The governor made clear in his address that he seeks to change all that. He endorsed a controversial proposal to convert the state's public employee retirement system from a traditional pension plan to an employee-directed program similar to the 401(k) plans often used in the private sector. He proposed a constitutional amendment that would impose automatic across-the-board spending cuts if state spending grew faster than revenues. And, calling California's public schools a disaster, he proposed that new teachers be paid based on merit, not just seniority.

He warned that if the Legislature did not heed his call, he would take his program to the voters in a special election, as he did last year to secure passage of a $15 billion bond to help balance the state's budget.

"If we here in this chamber do not work together to reform the government," the governor said, "the people will rise up and reform it themselves. And, you know something, I will join them. And I will fight with them."

The proposals will be hugely controversial. Democrats have already indicated they will oppose the redistricting plans. State employee unions will balk at what they will call the privatization of the state pension fund. Teachers' unions will scream about merit pay. The Legislature, much of whose financial support comes from just those well-organized interests, is likely to hesitate to enact any of them.

Mr. Schwarzenegger learned in his first year in office that he was most effective not when negotiating with balky legislators but when campaigning at shopping malls and on television. His televised appeals helped pass his borrowing plan and sink well-financed ballot measures to expand Indian gambling and to soften the state's tough three-strikes sentencing law.

This year, aides said, the governor will devote his considerable star power and high approval ratings to trying to change fundamentally the way the state does business.

Side note: is it just me or when the New York Times uses the word "controversial," it's always code for, "a person or idea that we here in the newsroom believe is wrong"?

I don't know enough about the pension proposal to comment on its worthiness. [UPDATE: Dan Weintraub has some thoughts.] But the other two priorities sound great to me.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum depresses me by not supporting Arnie's proposal.

posted by Dan at 12:19 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (2)

Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Imagine the following help wanted ad....

WORLD BANK PRESIDENT: Must attempt to eradicate poverty, AIDS, corruption, and illiteracy in developing world within five-year term. Desired skills include working knowledge of economics, management training, and the ability to cooperate and listen to G-7, IMF, NGO community, and the developing countries. People skills a plus. American citizenship a prerequisite.

Christopher Swann reports in the Financial Times that James Wolfensohn is out:

The search has begun for a new World Bank president, with James Wolfensohn indicating that he would leave that post after 10 years when his term expires in June.

The US Treasury on Monday said Mr Wolfensohn had not sought a third term at the bank, and that discussions with shareholders to try to determine his successor had already begun....

The post has historically been held by an American, but there may be pressure from developing economies for a wider range of candidates. Some poorer countries were disappointed when Rodrigo Rato, the European nominee, was tapped to be managing director of the International Monetary Fund in May 2004, beating Mohamed El-Erian, an Egyptian and a former member of the fund staff, now head of portfolio management at Pimco, the fund manager.

But World Bank watchers do not expect a break with tradition. Among Mr Wolfensohn's most widely mentioned possible successors are Robert Zoellick, the US trade representative; John Taylor, Treasury undersecretary for international affairs; Christine Todd Whitman, former director of the Environmental Protection Agency; and Colin Powell, US secretary of state.

The FT is being kind -- the BBC reports more accurately that, "Privately, [Wolfensohn] had let it be known that he would like to serve another five year term, but his lobbying efforts in Washington have failed."

I blogged last month about some of these candidates to replace Wolfensohn. The two I did not mention then were Taylor and Zoellick. Based on this Washington Post story by Mike Allen and John F. Harris on Whitman's forthcoming memoirs, I think it's a safe bet that Bush won't be too eager to appoint her to any position anytime soon (link via NRO's Ramesh Ponnuru. As for Taylor, my sources suggest that his lackluster performance in the G-7 process might prove to be a stumbling block (and there is the small matter of Taylor having advocated for some interesting IFI reforms in the past).


UPDATE: Paul Blustein's story in the Washington Post has other candidates, including, "Randall L. Tobias, the administration's global AIDS coordinator" and "Carla A. Hills, a former U.S. trade representative."

posted by Dan at 12:12 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (2)

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Today's tempting trailer

I've blogged before about the seductive temptations of good movie trailers. Every once in a while they pan out in the form of a great film -- The Triplets of Belleville, for example -- but all too often their promise doesn't translate into a great film.

Still trailers should be appreciated on their own terms, and the one that I confess to clicking on a fair number of times in recent days is Sin City. Click here to see the trailer. Based on the great Frank Miller's comic books and directed by Robert Rodriguez, the entire aesthetic of the trailer looks way cool -- in a way that Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow did not.

The movie comes out in April -- so we'll see.

posted by Dan at 03:29 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

January's Books of the Month

The general interest book for January comes from the pen of my colleague Charles Lipson: Doing Honest Work in College: How to Prepare Citations, Avoid Plagiarism, and Achieve Real Academic Success. This is really two books in one. The second part of the book is a quick guide to citation ctyles across the myriad disciplines. This section is more accessible than the Chicago Manual of Style, which makes it great for undergraduates.

[Yes, but this is the general interest book, not the "specifically for undegraduates" book!!-ed] Ah, yes, but the first part of the book is devoted to the Three Principles of Academic Honesty, which are laid out on the first page of the book:

  • When you say you did the work yourself, you actually did it.

  • When you rely on someone else's work, you cite it. When you use their words, you quote them openly and accurately, and you cite them, too.

  • When you present research materials, you present them fairly and truthfully. That's true whether the research involves data, documents, or the writings of other scholars.
  • Lipson's book is intended for undergraduates, but in light of the rash of plagiarism that exists among professors -- particularly at the Harvard Law School for some reason -- these maxims should not only be imbibed by undergraduates [What about outside academia?--ed. An excellent question for the commenters -- are these rules appropriate for non-academic forms of employment that require research and writing? My gut says yes, but I'm curious to hear counterarguments.]

    The international relations book for January is Franklin Foer's How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization. While I started this book last October, I only finished it over the break.

    Foer doesn't really provide a theory of globalization -- God knows there are enough of those already. Foer does something better -- he uses soccer as a lens to discuss the ways in which nationalism coexists, conflicts, and occasionally compliments the economic interdependence underlying globalization. The book consists of a series of national vignettes, some of which are fascinating (why Brazilian soccer retained its corrupt practices despite the best efforts of foreign direct investors) and some of which are counterintuitive (Berlusconi's soccer club mirrors his presidential style -- and this is a good thing for both Italian soccer and Italian democracy). Given recent developments, the chapters on Ukraine and Iran are also worth checking out.

    Oh, and if by any chance you happen to be a Catalan nationalist, buy the book -- the effusive praise Foer heaps upon his favorite team FC Barcelona, is a veritable paean to the wonders of the Catalan people's ability to express their identity without any of the uglier downsides of nationalism (see the chapter on Bosnia for that outcome).

    posted by Dan at 12:50 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sunday, January 2, 2005

    Other sourcing trends

    If 2004 was the Year of Offshoring, 2005 might be the Year of Homeshoring. CNET's indefatigable Ed Frauenheim reports that, "a number of companies are turning to a new method to meet call center challenges: getting workers to handle calls from their homes." That story was based on an IDC report, An Alternative to Offshore Outsourcing: The Emergence of the Home-Based Agent -- a bargain at $3500.00 for just seven pages!! Or, you could look at the summary in this press release. Key paragraph:

    [A] number of companies are turning to a new sourcing model called "home-shoring" or "home-sourcing" to address call center challenges that sometimes arise, such as the need for superior agent quality, frequent turnover, and the seasonal nature of the business. IDC believes that in certain situations, by moving some work stations into agents' residences, companies can boost productivity and efficiency while continuing to reduce costs.

    Similarly, Kamil Z. Skawinski reports for CCN Magazine that "several companies have recently sprung up in rural areas of the U.S. offering a variety of onshore outsourcing services." Click here for one example, Rural Sourcing.

    Finally, Adam Kolawa offers advice to IT professionals about whether their jobs could be outsourced offshore in Information Week. Apparently, "although outsourcing may seem widespread, the jobs of many IT professionals are difficult to outsource and essentially immune to it."

    posted by Dan at 11:40 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sexing up offshore outsourcing

    Great, just great. Bruce Bartlett says in the Washington Times that yours truly is "an indispensable blogger" on matters of international trade, "especially outstanding on the so-called outsourcing issue and excels in staying on top of the research in this area."

    So now I've got expectations to meet. How do I satisfy my expectant readership? [Sex up the topic!!--ed.]

    With that suggestion, it's worth highlighting a McKinsey Quarterly analysis which concludes that even in a world where offshore outsourcing is possible, location still matters a great deal. This is especially true when trendy undergarments are involved:

    We found compelling evidence that in a number of cases, offshore manufacturing isn't all it's cracked up to be. One reason is that for many manufacturers, the importance of direct labor is declining rapidly. Since it often accounts for just 7 to 15 percent of the cost of goods sold, hard-goods and high-tech manufacturers often say that wage rates are hardly the most critical determinants of their overall economic performance.

    Consider the case of one fashion apparel company based in Los Angeles. Its 1,500 workers, paid at rates well above the minimum wage, make casual wear in an old, multistory downtown brick warehouse. The executives view labor costs, currently 3 percent of the retail price of these goods and heading lower, as a secondary concern to the company. If it were to move its operations offshore, logistics costs might well swallow up any savings from lower wages. Another example: A consumer electronics manufacturer we interviewed has stripped away roughly 60 percent of its labor costs from production and reduced lead times from weeks to days. Even if an offshore competitor drove down its own labor costs close to zero, this manufacturer would still have an insurmountable advantage in logistics—a fact that has emboldened the company to reverse-engineer low-end Chinese goods for manufacture in California.

    Since keeping plants near customers shortens lead times, it facilitates greater responsiveness to changing market conditions. The Los Angeles apparel maker can fill orders for up to 160,000 units in 24 hours, since the entire supply chain--including weaving, dyeing, and sewing—is located downtown. The company carries less than 30 days' worth of inventory and could even become a build-to-order producer. Another Los Angeles garment maker produces hand-sewn fashion accessories with a lead time of less than five days.

    This kind of speed can be a competitive weapon--and its absence a trap. In the fashion apparel industry, with its spiky, unpredictable demand, the five-month lead times that accompany offshore production can leave manufacturers with excess inventories of fading styles or shortages of hot items. When a brief fashion craze ended before one California designer's shipment of goods had arrived from China, for instance, the company was left with a boatload of velvet knickers that could be sold only at a high discount. And with mass retailers penalizing suppliers for late orders by as much as 2 percent a day, the cost of miscalculation can be high....

    Not that all U.S. manufacturers should make their goods at home; offshoring will always be a valuable component of manufacturing strategies. And for companies that make goods such as socks or spark plugs--for which demand is stable, inventory-holding costs low and labor a high proportion of total costs--overseas production in low-wage countries is a very attractive idea.

    Nonetheless, offshoring often isn't the right strategy for companies whose competitive advantage comes from speed and a track record of reliability. And with buyers in advanced markets like California becoming more sophisticated--demanding shorter product life cycles, quicker delivery, and lower inventory costs--slow, unreliable manufacturers forgo valuable opportunities to gain market share or revenues. (emphasis added)

    Read the whole thing.

    UPDATE: Gary Rivlin penned a less-sexy but similar-themed piece on Dell's decision not to engage in much offshoring in a New York Times piece behind their archive wall. Fortunately, the Charlotte News Observer republished it. Key paragraph:

    Dell's decision to expand its U.S. manufacturing presence, however, has nothing to do with patriotism. Executives here say their decisions are based on the bottom line as well as on geography; it is simply more efficient to stamp out computer equipment closer to the customer. "The reason we continue to manufacture in the United States is that it's the optimal place to do so, and we can do it most cost effectively," said John Hamlin, who oversees Dell's consumer line.

    posted by Dan at 11:25 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

    I have a small, deeply disturbed following

    So I was checking out my Amazon Associates report on what was purchased at via And now I'm haunted.

    Occasionally I think, "Exactly what did I post that made some reader decide to purchase these items via my website?"

    Unfortunately, most of the time I fret about what I posted to trigger this purchase.

    The horror, the horror.

    posted by Dan at 10:30 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)