Friday, April 15, 2005
The Bush administration
Looks like the Bush administration is shifting from passive-aggressive to aggressive in trying to get the Chinese to revalue their currency. Andrew Balls and Edward Alden have the story in the Financial Times:
That last bit suggests to me that this pressure won't have an appreciable effect anytime soon. This will irritate the Bush administration but really irritate the European members of the G-7, who blame the United States and the Pacific Rim for the magnitude of current global imbalances.
Will realpolitik sell the EU constitution to the French?
In six weeks, the French will vote on a referendum to ratify the EU constitution. Current polling in France runs about 55% against, and twelve straight polls have had the "no" camp in the lead.
In an attempt to combat this trend, last night French President Jacques Chirac held a nationally televised town hall-style meeting with 83 "young people."
Two things were interesting about the event and its aftermath. The first was Chirac's principal arguments for ratification -- political and economic balancing against the United States. According to the Wadhington Post's Erika Lorentzsen:
In the Financial Times, John Thornhill and Peggy Hollinger provide an even more explicit quote:
The second interesting thing was that Chirac's line of argumentation floundered. Both the BBC and CNN International have recaps of the French media response, and they were not good. From the latter's round-up:
The Economist, among others points out that much of the "no" support might have less to do with the EU constitution and more to do with Chirac's growing unpopularity. However. going back to the FT, it's possible that the two may actually be linked:
Even the Economist acknowledges that, "in contrast to the Maastricht vote, which led to the euro, it is hard to say what is at stake in the EU constitution."
It will be very interesting to see how this plays out over the next six weeks. My hunch is that support for the "yes" side will increase as the vote nears -- and even if the referendum fails, the French can simply schedule another referendum. On the other hand, if the quixotic combination of realpolitik and social democracy doesn't generate majority support in France, then I'm not sure where it will work.
Does anyone in the academy read Saul Bellow?
The common perception of academia is that being a professor is a cushy life. This isn't the post to debate that point, but it's always stuck me that this observation elides a really important fact: getting a tenure-track job at a good university has become increasingly difficult over the years. A ratio of three hundred applicants to one faculty position is not unusual. So even if these are good jobs, there ain't a ton of them to go around.
This fact carries an even greater bite in the humanities. As tough as it may be to get hired in political science, it's a cakewalk compared to getting a position in, say, English departments. I know far too many acquaintances who are whip-smart but drop out of academia because they picked the wrong department to get a Ph.D., and so their hiring market sucks eggs.
The point is, those people who do manage to get the good jobs have to be pretty talented in their area of specialty. Which is a fact I keep reminding myself of this fact whenever I read about an academic saying something stupid about their subject in the mainstream media.
Take for example, this Patrick T. Reardon story in the Chicago Tribune about why "relatively few college and high school courses study Bellow." Here's how Erin G. Carlston, an assistant professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, answered the question:
The really appalling thing about this quote is that, according to Calston's UNC web page, "Prof. Carlston's research interests are in comparative modernisms and especially the intersections between sexuality studies and Jewish studies." She's also working on a book chapter that "looks at the way race, religious confession, and sexuality have been defined in relation to the modern, Western nation-state and notions of citizenship." So it's not like Bellow is completely irrelevant to her area of expertise.
This would be the equivalent of me telling a reporter after George Kennan's death:
Carlston's current research project is a "book-in-progress, Double Agents, considers literary responses to several major espionage scandals of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries." This sounds pretty interesting, actually, and I hope it proves to be a path-breaking work on the subject. Because it's banal statements like the one above that cause me to doubt the way my profession works in practice.
The cyberbalkanization of trivia?
This argument is akin to Cass Sunstein's "cyberbalkanization" hypothesis from republic.com. The only problem is that Curtis contradicts his closing earlier in the piece by observing: "23 years after its American debut, the original [Genus] edition still accounts for a huge percentage of Trivial Pursuit's 80 million units sold." If memory serves, a Genus II edition was also pitched to the generalist. In fact, since most trivia games are played in person, the Internet's effect on this social institution is likely to be marginal.
Thursday, April 14, 2005
Bravo to the public relations staff
The hardworking PR team here at danieldrezner.com has had a good week:
Being compared to cheap labor, getting my name misspelled at cnn.com, and a citation in the Village Voice -- yes, it's been a banner week for the PR staff!!
John Bolton is right about the United Nations
John Bolton's confirmation as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has been in the news as of late (the committee vote for him has been delayed until next week). There's not a lot of love for Bolton among Democrats, Republicans of the Richard Lugar ilk, or, apparently, State Department staffers.
Richard Cohen's column in the Washington Post entitled "Disaster, Not Diplomacy" ably summarizes the conventional take on Bolton. And while I don't want to defend Bolton's record or comportment (see William Kristol for one defense) there is one line of criticism that really bugs the hell out of me. From Cohen's column:
OK, let's get that quote in context. This is from a Democracy Now! web page, which informs us that the original quote came from a Bolton presentation "more than 10 years ago where he was speaking at an event called the "Global Structures Convocation," held on February 3, 1994 in New York":
I don't know if Bolton is a serial bully, I don't know if he'd be a great ambassador to the UN, and I share Jonah Goldberg's concern about the moustache, but I will say one thing -- Bolton's assessment of the United Nations was and is 100% correct. He's not saying the organization doesn't exist -- he's saying that thinking of the UN as a single coherent actor is both factually incorrect and counterproductive to U.S. foreign policy. The United Nations acts in a forceful manner if and only if the United States and other great powers agree that such action is necessary. [What about specialized bureaucracies like the UN Development Program or the World Health Organization?--ed. The more "technical" agencies do have more autonomy, but even in these areas the great power delegations wield effective vetoes and can guide UN actions in these issue areas.] It's telling that a few months after Bolton made this statement, the U.N. decided not to get involved in the Rwandan genocide -- primarily because the U.S. government wanted no part of getting involved.
I might add that most international relations scholars would acknowledge this fact to be true for most international governmental organizations (IGOs) in existence. These organizations -- including the UN -- provide useful fora for negotiation, bargaining, diplomatic coordination, and occasionally collective action. At best, IGO secretariats can, once in a blue moon, try to get an issue or policy option onto the global agenda. But to go from that possibility to thinking of them as truly independent actors is to make a very heroic assumption about the functioning of world politics.
[How strong is this consensus among IR scholars?--ed. It's not unanimous, but let's put it this way. Susan Strange's last book, The Retreat of the State (CUP, 1996), was pretty much devoted to showing the myriad ways in which states were losing their control over world politics to multinational corporations, criminal mafias, etc. When she got to IGOs, however, Strange threw up her hands and conceded that for international institutions, states still rule the roost.]
Perhaps Bolton takes more glee in this assessment of the UN than his critics do -- and that's a normative debate that will not go away. But to chide Bolton for the quoted passage above is absurd. He was making an empirical assessment of the United Nations -- and his assessment was correct.
UPDATE: Note to self -- check out David Brooks before posting on a more regular basis.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Be afraid but not too afraid about the dollar
Longtime readers of this blog will recognize my occasional concern with the size of the trade deficit and the future of the dollar. On this question, economists split into two clear camps -- camp one thinks the current equilibrium -- in which the U.S. runs enormous current account deficits and Pacific Rim central banks provide the financing for said deficits -- is incredibly fragile and that the dollar's value will fall hard, fast, and soon. The other camp thinks that because most actors in the system have a vested interest in seeing the status quo persist, the current equilibrium is more stable than many think, and that over time, the dollar's slow decline will help sort the system out.
Today the International Monetary fund follows up on the World Bank's warnings from last week and says that the current situation is not good. Andrew Balls provides a recap in the Financial Times:
For more on the IMF's reaction, see the transcipt of their press conference, as well as a link to their World Economic Outlook: Globalization and External Imbalances. This quote by Rajan stands out from the press conference:
On the "don't panic" side, James Surowiecki has an essay in The New Yorker concluding that although a hard landing would be bad, it probably won't happen:
Competition has been good for Boeing
The US-EU trade war over government subsidies to Boeing and Airbus -- well, mostly Airbus -- blows hot and cold, it's worth stepping back and seeing how the rise of Airbus has affected Boeing. Fortunately, the Chicago Tribune has been doing periodic stories on this very question in its "Battle for the Skies" feature. The latest installment by Michael Oneal makes two interesting points. One is the extent to which this competition is driven by the extent to which both companies cater and listen to their customers' needs:
The second interesting fact is that Airbus' success has prompted Boeing to do more than have Washington threaten a trade war. They've respnded to the competition by improving their productivity and their customer relations:
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Joel Engel goes Vizzini on the L-word
About once a quarter I'll experience a conversation in which I feel like Inigo Montoya's character in The Princess Bride when he hears Vizzini repeatedly say the word "inconceivable!" after witnessing yet another heroic feat by the masked and dangerous Dread Pirate Roberts. After hearing Vizzini say that word several times, Montoya finally turns to him and says, "I don't think that word means what you think it means."
I'm having an Inigo Montoya moment after reading Joel Engel go all Vizzini on the word "liberal" in The Weekly Standard. Here's a snippet:
Engel's implication -- that all liberals are little Ward Chruchills -- is partisanship gone absurd. Conservative Ramesh Ponnuru makes this point in NRO's The Corner in discussing Engel's litany of non-liberal actions:
In other words -- I don't think the modern incarnation of the word "liberal" means what Joel Engel thinks it means.
Globalization and human welfare
Martin Wolf has a concise summary of globalization's variable effects on the human condition for the past few decades in his Whitman Lecture to the Institute for International Economics last week:
About the only thing I would add is that with regard to economic development, one could say, "________ has not worked well for Africa and much of Latin America" and you'd likely be correct no matter what filled in the blank. And I don't mean that scornfully, but rather tragically.
Monday, April 11, 2005
The crazy life of a city-state
Normally when a country's GDP shrinks by more than five percent
The last two paragraph suggest one reason why Bretton Woods 2 might persist for longer than some predict. If Singapore decides to halt the appreciation of its currency, it's going to buy more dollars.
J. Lo, Conan the Barbarian, and Afghan Idol
You have to think that things are going pretty well in Afghanistan when a major subject of public debate is.... what's on television. Kim Barker explains in the Chicago Tribune:
I can just picture Virginia Postrel smiling at the bolded section.
UPDATE: Barker has a follow-up piece in Tuesday's Tribune on the opening of the first plastic surgery clinic in Kabul:
LAST UPDATE: Oxblog's Afghan correspondent provides an update on the situation on the ground outside of Kabul. Quick summary: "[E]nthusiasm, continued commitment, and some degree of optimism -- these are I think proper attitudes when considering the situation in Afghanistan."
Sunday, April 10, 2005
Real men don't worry about man dates
At a group dinner last night, a male friend who shall remain anonymous said that the first thing he read in the Sunday New York Times was the Style Section. In the Drezner household, that section generally falls under Erika's purview -- much like our division of labor with regard to the Book Review. However, I will often look at an article that my lovely wife recommends. The point is, this declaration from a close heterosexual friend neither surprised nor particularly preturbed me.
Today, however, the front-pager for the Style Section was a Jennifer 8. Lee story about the "man date". Some highlights:
As someone who has gone on the occasional man date, I suspect Ms. Lee might be exaggerating the awkwardness of this particular social institution. Heterosexual men who are unafraid of saying that they read the Sunday Styles section first -- and the men who befriend them -- don't really care what other people think about two men sharing a meal, a movie, or an art gallery.
Next week in the Style Section, I want to read about
UPDATE: to be fair, Mr. Lee changed her name before she became a reporter and did so for reasons having little to do with trendiness. Plus I've been assured by many that she is a very nice person.
This doesn't change the fact that the article is a crock of st, however.