Saturday, February 5, 2005

The Federal Reserve tackles the current account deficit

I've been a worrywart about the size of the current account deficit -- but yesterday Alan Greenspan said the currency markets and I should relax. Andrew Balls and Chris Giles explain why in the Financial Times:

Alan Greenspan, Federal Reserve chairman, on Friday played down concerns over the US trade deficit ahead of the meeting of finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of Seven leading countries.

Speaking in London, Mr Greenspan stressed that the combination of market forces and greater budgetary discipline in the US should allow a reduction in global economic imbalances. Officials from other G7 countries repeated calls for more urgent action to address the US's current account and budget deficits....

Mr Greenspan suggested that European companies may soon choose to defend their profit margins as the dollar weakens, rather than protect market share.

If US exporters similarly boosted market share abroad, this would begin to close the trade deficit. “Market forces [appear] poised to stabilise and over the longer run possibly to decrease the US current account deficit and its attendant financing requirements,” he told an audience of business leaders.

Here's a link to the full text of Greenspan's speech. Some highlights:

To understand why the nominal trade deficit--the nominal dollar value of imports minus exports--has widened considerably since 2002, even as the dollar has declined, we must consider several additional factors. First, partly as a legacy of the dollar's previous strength, the level of imports exceeds that of exports by about 50 percent. Thus exports must grow half again as quickly as imports just to keep the trade deficit from widening--a benchmark that has yet to be met. Second, as is well-documented, the responsiveness of U.S. imports to U.S. income exceeds the responsiveness of U.S. exports to foreign income; this difference leads to a tendency--even if the United States and foreign economies are growing at about the same rate--for the growth of U.S. imports to exceed that of our exports. Third, as of late, the growth of the U.S. economy has exceeded that of our trading partners, further reinforcing the factors leading imports to outstrip exports. Finally, our import bill has expanded significantly as oil prices have risen in recent years....

The voice of fiscal restraint, barely audible a year ago, has at least partially regained volume. If actions are taken to reduce federal government dissaving, pressures to borrow from abroad will presumably diminish....

Interestingly, the change in U.S. home mortgage debt over the past half-century correlates significantly with our current account deficit. To be sure, correlation is not causation, and there have been many influences on both mortgage debt and the current account. Nevertheless, over the past two decades, major innovations in the United States have improved the availability and lowered the costs of home mortgages. These developments likely spurred homeowners to tap increasing home equity to finance consumer expenditures beyond home purchase. In contrast, mortgage debt is not so readily available among our trading partners as a vehicle to finance consumption expenditures....

[N]umerous issues that have arisen with respect to the adjustment of the U.S. current account remain unresolved. One is the effect of Asian official purchases of dollars in support of their currencies. Such intervention may be supporting the dollar and U.S. Treasury bond prices somewhat, but the effect is difficult to pin down. Another issue is the influence of still-growing globalization, arguably one of the key factors that has facilitated the financing of the U.S. current account deficit. There is little evidence that the growth of globalization has yet slowed.

The dramatic advances over the past decade in virtually all measures of globalization have resulted in an international economic environment with little relevant historical precedent. I have argued elsewhere that the U.S. current account deficit cannot widen forever but that, fortunately, the increased flexibility of the American economy will likely facilitate any adjustment without significant consequences to aggregate economic activity. That argument will be tested, I suspect, by possibly new twists and turns that will emerge in a seemingly ever-more complex international economic and financial structure.

However, Greenspan footnoted the same article to which Brad DeLong links -- "Expansionary Fiscal Shocks and the Trade Deficit," by Christopher J. Erceg; Luca Guerrieri; Christopher Gust. The paper's punchline:

Our salient finding is that a fiscal deficit has a relatively small effect on the U.S. trade balance, irrespective of whether the source is a spending increase or tax cut. In our benchmark calibration, we find that a rise in the fiscal deficit of one percentage point of GDP induces the trade balance to deteriorate by less than 0.2 percentage point of GDP. Noticeably larger effects are only likely to be elicited under implausibly high values of the short-run trade price elasticity.

If the paper is correct, then the alleged return to fiscal sanity doesn't matter all that much.

Of course, the crux of Greenspan's argument is that European firms can't afford to cut prices to counterbalance an appreciating Euro. He may well be correct, and I hope he's right -- because China won't be devaluing revaluing the yuan anytime soon:

The US has been campaigning strongly for China to unhook its currency, the yuan, from the US dollar as soon as possible. US Treasury Department officials led by John Taylor, the under-secretary for international affairs, pushed their case yesterday during talks with People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan and Chinese Finance Minister Jin Renqing.

The US emphasised that market forces are important and will help China as it grows into the world’s largest developing economy, a senior treasury official said after the talks. The official said the US acknowledged China has taken steps but the US isn’t yet satisfied.

Zhou, however, hinted in his speech that China will be asking for a reprieve. He did not address the issue directly, but said China needed more time to reform its economy – a position Chinese officials have maintained in the run-up to the meeting, where China has guest status.


posted by Dan at 12:10 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Old-time football

I've been happy as a clam not paying that much attention to the Super Bowl hype. It's not that I'm not interested in the game -- it's just that I'm interested in the game and not the two weeks of media overkill preceding the game.

That said, there is one brand of story I always find interesting -- interviews with retired football players who bemoan how the game has changed. A classic example of this genre is legendary Eagle Chuck Bednarik. The Associated Press' Dan Gelston reports that Badnarik doesn't want the current incarnation of the team to win:

Chuck Bednarik holds a grudge only slightly larger than his legacy as the last of the 60-minute men....

He also is protective of his Hall of Fame legacy. While he boasts about playing both center and linebacker for part of his 14-year career, Bednarik is equally as proud to have played on the last Eagles team to win a championship (1960).

That's why Bednarik will be rooting against the Eagles in the Super Bowl against New England. He has no desire to ever see the franchise win another title.

"I can't wait until the Super Bowl is over," said Bednarik, who played for the Eagles from 1949 to 1962. "I hope the 1960 team remains the last one to win. I hope it stays that way."

Bednarik admits he's jealous and resentful about the salaries and spotlight today's players receive, calling them "overpaid and underplayed." Bednarik says he never made more than $27,000 and supplemented his income with an afternoon job selling concrete, earning him the nickname "Concrete Charlie."

Read the whole thing -- I think it's safe to say the Bednarik doesn't pull any punches. He also sounds like the last person with whome you'd want to be stuck in an elevator. [Yeah... think of him as the anti-Salma--ed.]

If Bednarik seems a bit too "old school" for modern fans, SI's Peter King looks at former Los Angeles Ram Jack Youngblood -- whose comeback from injury makes Terrell Owens look like a complete wuss:

Youngblood snapped his left leg in the second quarter of a 1979 playoff game at Dallas, then played the next two-and-a-half games with the leg tightly wrapped. Now, six weeks after surgery to repair a broken leg and damaged ankle ligaments, Philadelphia wideout Terrell Owens will attempt to play Sunday in Super Bowl XXXIX.

I will get to the specifics of Youngblood's tale in a moment. It's a great story, and because it happened 25 years ago, there are probably an awful lot of you out there who don't know it very well, or at all. But I thought the most interesting thing I noticed in conversing with the Hall of Fame defensive end was the edge I caught in his voice when I asked him what sort of advice he'd have for Owens right now, seeing as though there's only been one guy in history to play in a Super Bowl with an honest-to-goodness broken leg, and he was the guy.

"To be honest,'' Youngblood said, "it's hard to compare my injury to [Owens']. He's been out of the game for what, five weeks? He's been convalescing. After four weeks, an amputation should be healed. Shouldn't it?''


Definitely read the whole thing. As someone who has suffered the exact same injury that Youngblood did, let me just say that I'm very impressed with Youngblood's threshhold for pain.

posted by Dan at 12:02 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, February 4, 2005

February's books of the month

This month's international relations book is an easy call -- Stephen D. Krasner's Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy. Since Krasner was appointed to be the State Department's Director of Policy Planning this week, it seems fitting for people to take a look at his most recent sole-authored book.

This would be particularly useful because if there is one thing the DC press corps sucks eggs at, it's parsing out the policy implications of academic writings. For exhibit A, consider Al Kamen's column from a few weeks ago which tried to uncover Krasner's thoughts about foreign policy from his latest article in Foreign Policy. Key paragraph:

[T]hough [Krasner] has long been respected as a premier thinker firmly in the realist camp, his latest views on preventive war seem to be more in sync with the Pentagon's, judging from his article in the most recent issue of Foreign Policy. In that piece, Krasner speculates on what would happen if terrorists set off nuclear explosions here and in New Delhi, Berlin and Los Angeles.

Well, the last thing I would want in a director of policy planning is to have someone who.... plans out contingencies for future world-historical events.

Now, before I anounce my general interest book, would everyone under the age of 18 please go click over somewhere else right now. Go ahead, I'll wait....

OK, adults only? Here's the thing -- I had a general interest book all picked out -- and then I checked my mail today and saw a very thick envelope. In it was a copy of Paul Joannides' The Guide to Getting It On!.

The accompanying note reads as follows:

Dr. Drezner,

With two young children, a wife, a beagle, your academic background, and a blog that's long enough to gag a UN hooker, you need to have a copy of the Guide somewhere on your shelves.


Goofy Foot Press

This is how my life has changed since starting a blog -- in the same week, I can go from appearing on C-SPAN to receiving gratis copies of sex manuals.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I have a small, deeply disturbed following.

[Say, maybe you could put that "blog that's long enough to gag a UN hooker" among your praiseworthy reviews!!--ed. No, no I really couldn't.]

posted by Dan at 05:04 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, February 3, 2005

Speaking of Egypt...

This was one of the more interesting paragraphs in Bush's State of the Union:

To promote peace and stability in the broader Middle East, the United States will work with our friends in the region to fight the common threat of terror, while we encourage a higher standard of freedom. Hopeful reform is already taking hold in an arc from Morocco to Jordan to Bahrain. The government of Saudi Arabia can demonstrate its leadership in the region by expanding the role of its people in determining their future. And the great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward democracy in the Middle East.

The lines about Egypt and Saudi Arabia were nicely phrased, in that they represented a challenge to the regimes there.

Coincidentally enough, the Wall Street Journal has a front-pager by Karby Leggett on Egypt's economic reforms. From the opening, it appears that Egypt's latest prime minister is adopting a much more market-friendly posture:

When Ahmed Nazif was appointed prime minister of Egypt last year, it came as a surprise. Mr. Nazif, 52 years old, was the youngest of 32 ministers in the previous government. His name hadn't appeared on any of the internal U.S. embassy briefs handicapping the leadership race.

What Mr. Nazif did next was even more surprising: He introduced the most far-reaching economic changes in Egypt's modern history, cutting customs tariffs by 40%, signing a trade deal with Israel and the U.S., and chopping income taxes in half. Now he's planning more painful steps. He wants to slash the government payroll and scale back subsidies on everyday goods.

The moves are designed to spur foreign investment and coax Egypt's long-dormant economy to life. "Egypt is open for business," says the Canadian-educated prime minister.

Sounds good -- but what about democracy? Here's where things get sticky:

Economic change doesn't necessarily mean political change. In the wake of Iraq's election, in which voters chose freely from a wide range of candidates, attention is turning to Arab states such as Egypt where the government keeps a leash on political competition. Mr. Nazif argues that if Egypt gives full rein to democracy before prosperity spreads, an "organized minority" -- referring to Islamic fundamentalists -- might take over. He says "nobody in his right mind today would be against democracy" but "when and how is the real challenge."

Egyptian intellectuals and government officials speculate that Mr. Mubarak is hoping for an economic revival to pave the way for his son to take over from him one day. The president has repeatedly denied that he wants to hand power to his son. He has also ruled out significant changes to the political system.

So, what does the U.S. do? Hope that the economic reforms trigger future political reforms, or apply more leverge on the Mubarak regime -- even if a more democratic government might not pursue such market-friendly policies?

posted by Dan at 11:03 AM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (2)

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Comment on the State of the Union -- and then watch C-SPAN!!

Feel free to comment on President Bush's State of the Union address here. Oh, and CNN's Michael Coren reports breaking news -- bloggers will apparently be providing some real-time commentary on the speech!!

Yours truly will not be live-blogging the SOTU -- but loyal readers will be able to hear my thoughts on the speech (and the Democratic response) if you tune into C-SPAN for the post-speech coverage. I'm batting second in their reaction line-up -- Ramesh Ponnuru leads off and Brad DeLong will come third. As These two have clashed in the past, think of me as providing a temporal de-militarized zone of pundity!

UPDATE: Well that was painless -- except for my near-total lack of coherence on the final question.

Quick take:

1) The foreign policy section was stronger than the domestic section;

2) That hug between Safia Taleb al-Suhail and Janet Norwood was the high moment of the evening for me [Yeah, but they got their sleeves tangled up--ed. Yes, but even that small moment of awkwardness was endearing.]

3) I find it depressing that the word "trade" wasn't in the SOTU, and yet Senator Reid brought it up as a negative ("Jobs going to India and China!" but Reid still wants better relations with other countries) within the first five minutes of his response;

4) I'm a bit worried about the mental health of C-SPAN's callers.

Otherwise, Jeff Jarvis pretty much captured my take.

posted by Dan at 03:49 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

So you say that markets dominate the world....

Those who rejoice and those who reject the supposed triumph of market forces in the global economy would be wise to remember that, "Three of the most important prices in the world economy are set by means other than markets." To see which markets these are, read the Economist story from which this quotation is taken.

Of course, that statement is also an exaggeration -- obviously, market forces have a powerful effect on the prices of oil, capital, and different currencies. It would be more accurate to say that these are three markets where governments exercise significant to monopoly control over the supply of the product in question.

posted by Dan at 10:13 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

The perfect storm... of fishing regulations

A minor key in the movie (and perhaps the book -- I haven't read it) The Perfect Storm is that one reason the Andrea Gail was lost at sea is that its evil greedhead owner didn't want to save some money and not pay for upkeep on the boat. Certainly, this is a classic theme in fiction -- the poor working slobs are made to suffer because of the greed of capitalist pig-dogs.

I dredge this up because Kirsten Scharnberg has a story in today's Chicago Tribune about a more recent fishing boat accident that claimed five lives. This time, however, the villain appears to be.... excessive regulaions:

Just days before Christmas, five sailors died off the shores of this fabled New England fishing community. Seas were violent; the ship Northern Edge took on water; the sailors were lost even as wives and mothers lit the traditional candles in the windows back home for them.

Because so many fishermen have died on rough seas in this region over the years, funerals have become as much a ritual as candle-lighting. But what has been different in the case of the Northern Edge is the public outcry that has followed.

Even as federal investigators try to piece together the events that led to the region's worst fishing disaster since the 1991 sinking of the ship that inspired the book and movie "The Perfect Storm," fishermen up and down the Eastern Seaboard have speculated that they already know why the men died. Many pin the blame squarely on a new government regulation that penalizes scalloping vessels and costs them potentially tens of thousands of dollars for breaking a trip and returning to shore before catching their limit--even if they are coming back to find safe harbor from inclement weather.

"Regulations have become so rigid for our fishermen that there is no discretion left to them anymore," said Matt Thomas, the city attorney for New Bedford. "They've started to look at fishing like a science, like something they can study in a lab and a beaker, but that's not the way it works with something as volatile as the Atlantic Ocean."

In the midst of this debate, the body that oversees fishing in the region, the New England Fishery Management Council, met Tuesday in New Hampshire. In response to the uproar, the council voted to temporarily reverse the controversial rule pending a review by regulators at the National Marine Fisheries Service. For now, no penalty will be levied against fishermen who leave before catching their limit for any reason.

Regulations like the one for scallopers have become increasingly common in recent decades. Dubbed the "broken trip" rule, it was put in place to limit the number of trips scallopers make into waters that also contained high numbers of endangered ground fish, which live at the sea bottom, such as cod and haddock that inadvertently get caught in scalloping nets.

Read the whole thing -- regulation is not the only culprit, but it's a biggie. [C'mon, how bad could it be?--ed. Barney Frank thinks the regulations are excessive.]

posted by Dan at 10:10 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

This is just sick. Sick, sick, sick, sick, sick.

I must congratulate Maggie Haberman of the New York Daily News for reporting a story that leaves me pretty much speechless. My only thought: this is not a good day for the Tribe.

[What, no excerpt?--ed. Not with this story -- you'll have to click on it yourself. Here's a link to the less lurid but also less informative wire service account.]

posted by Dan at 10:04 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

The hopes and fears of libertarians in Bush's second term

Back in late November, Reason magazine asked "a variety of pundits, pols, and profs to tell us their biggest hopes and fears for the next four years." Click here to see the answers in the February 2005 edition of the magazine. Contributors include Vernon Smith, Nadine Strossen, Tyler Cowen, Virginia Postrel, Jacob Levy, Heather MacDonald, Glenn Reynolds.... and yours truly.

Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 12:32 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

What would you like to ask Mr. Anonymous?

Because he's giving a talk at the Program on International Security Policy, I'm going to have 45 minutes or so to chat one-on-one with Michael Scheuer -- a.k.a., Mr. "Anonymous", a.k.a., author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terrorism.

I've blogged about the book in the past, but I'll admit that I haven't had time to read the book, nor have I been paying much attention to him since the book was released. So, I'm blegging for good questions from loyal readers -- and I'll be sure to post his answers.

UPDATE: As the graduate student who escorted him to me whispered into my ear, "What a nice, nice man!" I wasn't able to ask him all of your questions, but here are some quick responses (NOTE: I'm summarizing his views; I'm not saying I necessarily agree with them):

1) On what he'd change in Imperial Hubris: Scheuer's biggest regret was that he wasn't harder on the Saudis. In his opinion, the Saudi lobby is as influential as the Israel lobby in influencing foreign policy. He also acknowledged that taking on the Saudis would have blunted charges of anti-Semitism.

2) On Afghanistan: Scheuer doesn't think he's wrong. He argues that the presidential election hardened ethnic cleavages in the country, and the legislative elections in the spring will merely enhance that effect. As for the Taliban, he argues that it took the mujahideen 3-4 years to have the capacity to wage a widespread insurgency against the Soviets. In other words, "Wait a year or two and I'll be proven correct."

3) On the popularity of bin Laden: Scheuer believes that satellite TV is proving to be a major asset for bin Laden, and U.S. policy is also a major source of recruitment. The lack of personnel with training in the Middle East has exacerbated this. For example, the post-Iraq invasion removal of U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia has not mollified Islamic traditionalists horrified at the thought of "infidels" near the holy shrines of Mecca and Medina -- because U.S. forces are still present in Kuwait and Qatar. Even through they may not be in Saudi territory, to Islamists the the Arabian peninsula is what matters, not the modern political borders of Saidi Arabia.

4) On intelligence reform: He ain't happy with what's been proposed -- to be more specific, he finds it outrageous that the 9/11 survivors have had so much influence over the process. "Intelligence reform by Oprah" is the way he put it. Historically, it would have been the equivalent of FDR asking the widows of Pearl Harbor servicemen to revamp intelligence bavk in the 40's.

More later if I get a chance.

posted by Dan at 12:31 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, January 31, 2005

The International Studies Association makes me laugh

The following paragraph is contained in an e-mail I received from the International Studies Association regarding their upcoming annual conference -- which this year happens to be held in Honolulu:

[O]ur colleagues who live in Hawaii wanted... to remind everyone that appropriate dress code in Hawaii is dramatically different from dress code elsewhere. If you've been there before, you know that people dress quite informally. The weather is always warm without being stifling (thanks to the breezes). Virtually no one wears suits or jackets. So, while we don't expect that you will come to panels wearing bathing attire, please feel free to dress informally. This is true even in the evening during receptions and in restaurants.

After reading this, I became convinced I was trapped in one of those ads for TBS asking myself, "is it just me or is so obvious that it's really funny?"

[Other people who don't get to go to a conference in Hawaii might not find this so funny.--ed. Yeah, well, last year's ISA meeting was held at thesame time of the year -- in Montreal. So screw 'em.]

posted by Dan at 06:16 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Post-tsunami India

Sumit Ganguly -- a gentleman who knows a thing or two about India -- has an interesting piece in TNR Online about what India's response to the tsunami implies for India's future. The highlights:

The country--which suffered more than 15,000 deaths in the southern coastal state of Tamil Nadu and the Andaman Islands chain in the northeastern Indian Ocean--has a civilian bureaucracy with a much-deserved reputation as slothful and hidebound. On this occasion, however, Indian bureaucrats belied every popular stereotype. Within hours after the tsunami hit, officials in India's Ministry of External Affairs were on the phone with their American, Japanese, and Australian counterparts, negotiating a division of labor: India would concentrate on providing assistance to its most immediate neighbors, such as Sri Lanka, freeing others to focus on more distant areas.

India is still considered by most observers to be part of the "developing world," a group of countries that frequently depend on assistance from others. But the day after the tsunami, India became the leading regional provider of assistance to others. The country's surprising reaction to the tsunami may signal its coming of age as a regional and even global power--with significant consequences for South Asia and beyond....

What does all this mean geopolitically? First, there is the fact that the left-of-center Congress Party-led government willingly worked with the United States in responding to the tsunami. In the past, such a regime would have gone to great lengths to torpedo any American effort to provide relief in the region. For example, when a massive cyclone hit Bangladesh in 1991, leaving extensive devastation in its wake, India expressed misgivings about the U.S. response, which was called "Operation Sea Angel." These anxieties, a product of the cold-war years, have steadily dissipated over the past decade, replaced by a willingness to work with, and even court, the United States on a range of issues, from anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean to jointly confronting terrorism. Indeed, the growing scope of military-to-military contacts between the two countries over the past several years (a centerpiece of the new Indo-U.S. relationship) made it possible for the two states to play a leading and coordinated role in post-tsunami relief. To be sure, the countries remain at odds over certain issues, such as India's ties to Iran and the brutal regime in Myanmar. But the signs point in a positive direction. For example, in a sharp departure from the past, the ongoing U.S. military presence in Sri Lanka to provide humanitarian assistance has not elicited any visceral, reflexive comments from New Delhi officialdom. The latent suspicion of all American initiatives in the region that until recently preoccupied India's foreign policy elite now appears to be in steady decline.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Thanks to Balasubramani for linking to this recent Fareed Zakaria column. Zakaria also knows a thing or two about India:

To understand how much and how fast India is changing, look at its response to the tsunami. I don't mean the government's reaction but that of individual Indians. In the two weeks after the tidal wave hit, the Prime Minister's Relief Fund, the main agency to which people make donations, has collected about $80 million. After the Gujarat earthquake of April 2001, it took almost one year to collect the same amount of money. And remember that the 2001 earthquake was massive (7.9 on the Richter scale), killed more Indians (30,000) than the tsunami appears to have, and also got intense media attention (Bill Clinton headed the fund-raising efforts). What has changed in these four years is the most important new reality about India: the growing wealth, strength and confidence of Indian society....

20 years of modest but persistent reforms in India have had huge effects. Over the past 15 years, India has been the second fastest-growing large economy in the world (after China), with an average growth rate of 6 percent. Per capita income in the country has almost doubled (from an admittedly tiny base), and more than 100 million Indians have moved out of poverty. The animal spirits of Indian capitalism, long suppressed, have been unleashed.

Gurcharan Das, the former CEO of Procter & Gamble in India, and one of the first chroniclers of these shifts in attitude, told me a story of a poor young teenager he encountered. The boy told Das that in order to succeed, he had three goals. He wanted to learn to use Windows, to write an invoice and to learn 400 words of English. "Why 400 words?" asked Das. The boy explained that that's what it took to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language, the base requirement for admission to an American university. "Now, this guy probably won't get into an American college, but this is the way people are thinking all over India," Das said.

posted by Dan at 02:49 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (4)

From media whore to media elite

According to Crain's Chicago Business (registration required), yours truly is considered to be one of "Chicago's media elite," thanks to

By elite, we don't mean the biggest bosses or the loudest voices. We mean the most important, the people who are the best at what they do, who decide what we read, hear and watch. They're the ones who give Chicago its distinct place in the modern media.

Thanks to Stuart Luman for the write-up -- I particularly like the statement that since I started the blog, I've "gone from obscure egghead to renowned expert." I prefer the term, "renowned egghead," thank you very much.

Oh, and readers are warily encouraged to proffer their opinion about whether the head shot clicked by Crain's photogrpher should replace the one currently greeting people at my home page:


[Glad to see you're making your readers answer the tough questions--ed. Hey, I've got to worry about this s%$# now that I'm part of the media elite!!]

posted by Dan at 12:32 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (1)

The Bush administration thinks about soft power

I've occasionally opined about the question of America's soft power -- whether the concept is useful, and assuming it is, whether it's on the wane.

With the Iraq election, I missed David Brooks's NYT column on Saturday suggesting that Bush administration officials were paying more attention to soft power as well:

The new mood has also brought a resurgence of soft-power thinking. Administration officials are trying to think big about what institutions can be used to implement the freedom agenda the president sketched out in his Inaugural Address.

When you ask exactly which institutions need to be created, they get more than a little vague, but you get a clear sense of their preferences. Bush folks have not developed any new love for the Security Council. Instead, they are much more interested in working with regional groups, like the Organization of American States.

Their favorite kinds of institutions are the kinds they created in response to the tsunami disaster: the kind with no permanent offices and no permanent staff, the kind that is created to address a discrete problem and then disappear when the problem is over. The phrase for this is coalitions of the willing. If you think the Iraq situation soured the Bush team on these sorts of coalitions, you're wrong.

The focus on ad hoc coalitions over more formal institutions will be the subject of a later post -- for now, I would strongly recommend that the Bushies read and absorb Andrew Moravcsik's provocative but well-sourced essay in Newsweek International warning that American soft power is fading fast. Some highlights:

The truth is that Americans are living in a dream world. Not only do others not share America's self-regard, they no longer aspire to emulate the country's social and economic achievements. The loss of faith in the American Dream goes beyond this swaggering administration and its war in Iraq. A President Kerry would have had to confront a similar disaffection, for it grows from the success of something America holds dear: the spread of democracy, free markets and international institutions—globalization, in a word.

Countries today have dozens of political, economic and social models to choose from. Anti-Americanism is especially virulent in Europe and Latin America, where countries have established their own distinctive ways—none made in America. Futurologist Jeremy Rifkin, in his recent book "The European Dream," hails an emerging European Union based on generous social welfare, cultural diversity and respect for international law—a model that's caught on quickly across the former nations of Eastern Europe and the Baltics. In Asia, the rise of autocratic capitalism in China or Singapore is as much a "model" for development as America's scandal-ridden corporate culture. "First we emulate," one Chinese businessman recently told the board of one U.S. multinational, "then we overtake."

Many are tempted to write off the new anti-Americanism as a temporary perturbation, or mere resentment. Blinded by its own myth, America has grown incapable of recognizing its flaws. For there is much about the American Dream to fault. If the rest of the world has lost faith in the American model—political, economic, diplomatic—it's partly for the very good reason that it doesn't work as well anymore.

Read the whole thing -- Moravcsik demonstrates the diminishing allure for America's legal system, economic system, and foreign policy.

As someone who thought of anti-Americanism as a temporary perturbation, I do think Moravcsik is massaging the evidence overstating his thesis a bit. The fact that other countries don't want to adopt America's constitution lock, stock and barrel doesn't mean a rejection the more basic values of liberty, democracy and capitalism. Our serious "soft power rivals" -- i.e., Europe -- look much more like us than was the case during the Cold War. Compared to the values schism that exists between the west and the Arab Middle East, differences over the size of the welfare state or the appropriate electoral system seem trifling Plus, as he notes in the essay, it remains the case that the United States remains popular "in the poorest and most dictatorial countries." This fact has not changed in quite some time -- it's just that there are fewer poor dictatorships than there used to be.

That said, Moravcsik's thesis cannot be quickly dismissed -- he's onto something that Bush officials should consider when talking about soft power.

posted by Dan at 11:57 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (2)

The first step -- but far from the last -- in Iraq

Kieran Healy has an excellent post at Crooked Timber on what needs to happen in Iraq after this first election. It boils down to, "those in power who lose elections have to be willing to step aside," but Kieran says it better than that -- and provides an encouraging example from Irish history.

posted by Dan at 10:15 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

How did the Arab media cover the election?

Hassan Fattah provides an interesting answer in the New York Times:

Sometime after the first insurgent attack in Iraq on Sunday morning, news directors at Arab satellite channels and newspaper editors found themselves facing an altogether new decision. Should they report on the violence, or continue to cover the elections themselves?

After nearly two years of providing up-to-the-minute images of explosions and mayhem, and despite months of predictions of a blood bath on election day, some news directors said they found the decision surprisingly easy to make. The violence simply was not the story on Sunday morning; the voting was.

Overwhelmingly, Arab channels and newspapers greeted the elections as a critical event with major implications for the region, and many put significant resources into reporting on the voting, providing blanket coverage throughout the country that started about a week ago. Newspapers kept wide swaths of their pages open, and the satellite channels dedicated most of the day to coverage of the polls....

For many Arabs, the strong turnout on election day proved a unique opening, one that made the debate on television screens more nuanced. On Al Jazeera, especially, many Iraqis lauded the process even as analysts from other Arab countries and Iraqis tied to the former government of Saddam Hussein denounced the elections for having occurred under occupation, and for having been centered on sectarian issues.

"Things used to be a negotiation between political parties where you scratch my back and I scratch your back," noted one commentator, Abas al-Bayati, on Al Jazeera. "Now, this new government will approach all the parties as having the backing of the people. It will have legitimacy." And that legitimacy should allow the government to face down the insurgents, he added.

With the relative lack of violence, many nerves appeared calmed. Iraqis, especially, may have been emboldened by the coverage.

Read the whole thing. One wonders whether the election coverage will embolden residents of the Middle East beyond the borders of Iraq.

UPDATE: In Slate, Michael Young provides another rundown of how the Middle Eastern media covered the election. It has a great opening paragraph:

If there was one message from the Iraqi election on Sunday, it was that newspapers are often vast repositories of conventional wisdom just begging for demolition. What had been broadly pegged by the media in recent months as a likely "illegitimate" election that might lead to an Iraqi civil war appeared to be nothing of the sort (even though 36 people died and nearly 100 others were injured in insurgent attacks). On Monday, the international press was scrambling to make up for having been so wide of the mark.

This would apparently include the New York Times editorial page, as Andrew Sullivan observes.

posted by Dan at 09:46 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Open Iraqi election thread

Feel free to comment here on today's historic election in Iraq. Both the wire service reports and blog accounts suggest that the turnout has been higher than expected. The Washington Post reports that, "Carlos Valenzuela, the United Nations' chief election adviser in Iraq, told CNN that he believed that overall turnout was considerably 'better than expected.'"

Certainly a 72% turnout represents a pretty humiliating political defeat for the insurgency. [UPDATE: hmmm.... the Financial Times now says turnout estimates have been scaled back to 60%] The Reuters story has the most encouraging detail:

Even in Falluja, the Sunni city west of Baghdad that was a militant stronghold until a U.S. assault in November, a steady stream of people turned out, confounding expectations. Lines of veiled women clutching their papers waited to vote.

"We want to be like other Iraqis, we don't want to always be in opposition," said Ahmed Jassim, smiling after he voted.

Dexter Filkins' account in the New York Times is positively effusive:

[If] the insurgents wanted to stop people in Baghdad from voting, they failed. If they wanted to cause chaos, they failed. The voters were completely defiant, and there was a feeling that the people of Baghdad, showing a new, positive attitude, had turned a corner.

No one was claiming that the insurgency was over or that the deadly attacks would end. But the atmosphere in this usually grim capital, a city at war and an ethnic microcosm of the country, had changed, with people dressed in their finest clothes to go to the polls in what was generally a convivial mood.

Matthew Yglesias acknowledges the turnout but has an odd post declaring, "The important thing to keep in mind, I think, is that if the lack of problems does hold up, that will be a testament to the success of our extraordinary security measures, not to the success of our political project." Actually, I'd say it's a testament to both factors -- though it's certainly true that the political project can't be judged a success or a failure based on only one election.

On the other hand, Yglesias' post is a ray of sunshine compared to this morose Juan Cole post.

posted by Dan at 10:41 AM | Comments (47) | Trackbacks (3)