Saturday, August 13, 2005
My thanks to Dan, first of all, for turning his blog over to me this week. There are hundreds of bloggers on the Web today discussing politics and policy issues, but people looking to learn something new, to have the essentials of complex issues clarified or just to read good writing are regularly rewarded by only a few. Dan has been one of those for almost three years now (it will be three years next month), which considering the many other demands on his time is just remarkable.
In a polity grown used to overheated rhetoric it takes a major effort to step so far over the line of propriety that one's own allies object. The National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) made such an effort this week with its television ad charging that John Roberts had been a patron of abortion clinic bombers in the 1990s. The New York Times today asked that NARAL apologize; The Washington Post called the ad a "smear." Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter said NARAL's ad was"...blatantly untrue and unfair." Mildly conservative but pro-choice John Tierney now describes himself as "pro-choice but anti-NARAL."
Well, there's one blow struck for civility: NARAL pulled the ad. But on NARAL's own web site, targeted at its fundraising base, the message hasn't changed at all:
"Roberts argued in support of the violent clinic protesters at Operation Rescue who have tried to block women's access to basic health care services with bombs and threats of murder."
"At the time, Roberts ignored widespread clinic violence and please [sic] from women and state law enforcement."
NARAL is an experienced and competent lobbying organization; its leadership knows it will probably lose the confirmation battle over Roberts. Why the vitriol? Sen. Specter's August 11 letter to NARAL head Nancy Keenan nails the issue in one sentence:
"I have...previously raised questions about using Supreme Court nominations as fundraising events without appropriate regard for the subject matter involved."
The playing to the activist base that Tierney and other commentators criticize as a political tactic is not primarily that. It is instead a fundraising tactic; NARAL used, and continues to use, violent rhetoric to its most committed (or most gullible) supporters, seeking not votes against John Roberts but money for itself.
There are dozens of institutions in Washington doing the same thing. If an issue that can be used as a hook for fundraising doesn't exist, one can be invented. It isn't enough for institutional advocates to be effective; they also have to look busy. An example of this phenomenon in action is legislation passed last year in the House striking down gun laws in the District of Columbia. The institutional advocate behind this is, of course, the National Rifle Association, which has been successful enough on its big issues that it now has to keep the money rolling in by conjuring up new mortal threats to gun rights, in this case local laws and ordinances that have been in place since 1976.
Media coverage of hot-button issues usually skirts this aspect of them. There may not be a good way for a reporter to ask a source who works for one of Washington's institutional advocates whether his employer is only taking a position on some bill or nomination to pay for a new building or a bonus for the senior management. Elected officials have little interest in raising the subject either; facing low-turnout elections in which interest group money and activist voter turnout can be decisive, Senators and members of Congress would have powerful incentives to ignore the self-interest behind institutional advocacy even if they had strong views of their own about the issues in question. And more often than not, they don't.
The easy thing to do is to take institutional advocacy at face value, something most observers of Washington learned long ago is often a mistake with respect to advocacy from business, labor groups or other organized interests with a stake in legislation and government policy. Controversy itself is the stake for institutional advocates, many of which may indeed have other reasons for the positions they take, but all of which need a certain level of alarm, hostility and bitterness in Washington in order to prosper and grow.
Friday, August 12, 2005
Incentives do matter -- the oil edition
With oil pushing $67 a barrel, one might ask what the effect has been on the U.S. economy. The aggregate answer would seem to be a surprising "not much" -- pergaps because, as in the seventies, petrodollars are being recycled back into the U.S. economy.
Brad Setser, however, does observe one subtle change in oil imports from June's trade data:
Brad also has some good things to say about U.S. export performance.
Readers are invited to speculate whether oil at, say $70 a barrel, would have stagflationary effects.
"I was just made by the Presbyterian Church"
It reminds me of an episode from a criminally underrated television series, News Radio. In the "Super Karate Monkey Death Car" episode, Jimmy James needs to read his own autobiography after it was translated into Japanese and then re-translated into English.
And you at home can play this game too!! Just go to Alta Vista's Babelfish page, pick a favorite piece of dialogue, translate it and then retranslate it.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
When negotiations suck eggs....
Time magazine's Romesh Ratnesar has a long story on Condoleezza Rice and her growing foreign policy clout:
For Ivo Daalder, this turn to negotiations is all to the good -- thought that's not because they're guaranteed to succeed:
This all sounds eminently sensible.... except for a one teensy little problem -- what happens if our allies shift their position during the negotiations? Both the Iran and North Korea cases require active consultation and coordination with allies that might, just might, change their minds about what constitutes unacceptable behavior.
With regard to North Korea, there is the tricky problem that South Korea has now decided to back North Korea's demands for a peaceful nuclear program. This is an logical outcome of South Korea's sunshine policy -- a problem that I mentioned two years ago.
Won Joon Choe and Jack Kim explain in the Christian Science Monitor why the South Koreans have been acting in such a peculiar manner:
So, contrary to Daalder, there is another possible outcome from negotiations besides a fair settlement and a shifting of blame -- the possibility that our allies back down leaving the U.S. in the lurch.
[So you're saying screw negotiations, right?--ed.] Alas, no -- for the North Korean case in particular, negotiations are a lousy, rotten option -- until you consider the alternatives -- which Fred Kaplan did last month in Slate:
So my point is this -- the U.S. is favoring negotiations right now not because they're such an alluring alternative -- it's because given our resource constraints and the countries we are dealing with, the negotiation option is the best of a rotten set of alternatives.
I've got my red phone... what about you?
Earlier this week, India and Pakistan announced confidence-building measures tp prevent nuclear war, which include "hotlines between their foreign secretaries and director generals of military operations next month to prevent misunderstandings and reduce risks of mishaps." according to Pakistan's Daily Times.
Yesterday, North Korea and South Korea announced that theu had "successfully tested a hotline on Wednesday aimed at helping avoid naval confrontations in the Yellow Sea by allowing direct contact between the two militaries," according to Reuters.
Quick, before hotlines jump the shark, readers are strongly encouraged to suggest the next pair of enduring rivals that should acquire a hotline.... and no, Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie do not count.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
A very important post about.... my early gender confusion
Well, as a child, I certainly suffered from 1, 2, 4, 5, and maybe 6 (Depends how you define "think effeminately").
If you'll excuse me, I have to go tell my wife and children about my latent homosexual qualities and accompanying gender confusion. I fear that my son will probably cry and feel different.
Readers, talk amongst yourselves -- in particular, how boys who like the "the roughhousing that other boys enjoy" could never be gay.
Hat tip to Giblets at Fafblog, who provides additional tips for detecting future homosexuals in our nation's children:
UPDATE: Another topic for discussion -- did this historical character display gender confusion as well?
The Chinese step closer to currency transparency
That's the message contained in this Financial Times report:
UPDATE: This April 2005 World Economy paper by Michael Funke and Jörg Rahn suggests that even if the renminbi were allowed to float, its appreciation would be far less than many believe.
For the last few weeks the trackback feature on the blog has been out of order. My apologies -- it should be working now.
Tuesday, August 9, 2005
When capital and labor are substitutes
Keith Bradsher has an interesting piece in the New York Times on GM's recent success producing and selling cars in China. The interesting fact is the way in which China's relative abundance of labor altered GM's capital investment:
The depressing fact is that, naturally, GM is punishing the guy that came up with the process and product ideas behind the minivan in the first place:
In a world where local knowledge about consumer demand and the most efficient way to mix factor endowments are important, the GM decision to centralize its management structure seems particularly brain-dead.
Read the whole piece.
UPDATE: A 2003 McKinsey Quarterly essay by Vivek Agrawal, Diana Farrell, and Jaana K. Remes touches on this concept of reorganizing production processes to exploit local factor endowments. The auto sector in China is one example:
These examples point to a big warning sign that should be put on any news story about job creation in offshored sectors in low wage countries:
Your new blog for the day
Through rigorous market surveys, the hard working staff here at danieldrezner.com knows that its readership wants to find blogs discussing foreign aid and economic development. [Well, that and the occasional mention of Salma Hayek--ed]
Without further ado, click over to Private Sector Development Blog, an inelegantly-named but interesting read by Tim Harford and Pablo Halkyard, two economists at the World Bank's International Finance Corporation (that's the bank with the Bank that lends to private sector entities).
Go check out the blog.
Is there a grand compromise on immigration?
Tamar Jacoby thinks the answer is yes. She explains why in the Weekly Standard:
There might be a consensus at the elite level, but I'm very skeptical that this consensus extends down to the populace. Click here for why I'm skeptical.
The interesting question is if Jacoby is correct, whether public hostility would derail any proposed reform.
Monday, August 8, 2005
Will Singapore remain the outlier?
Whenever people start talking about the interrelationships between regime type, the rule of law, economic development, and political corruption, the outlier is always Singapore.
Think that economic development inexorably leads to freedom of the press? Hello, meet Singapore.
Think that authoritarianism automatically leads to corruption? Have you met Singapore?
Think that no government can plug its country into the Internet while still retaining a vast web of censorship? Yes, yes, that is Singapore over there in the corner giving you the raspberry.
[So what do political scientists say whenever the Singapore is brought up as the counterexample to the general rule?--ed.] There are a few options available:
Some of these options are not mutually exclusive.
My thought piece on information technology and regime type takes some steps towards the third position. So I'm pleased to see that Associated Press reporter En-Lai Yeoh is also moving in that direction:
I'm not holding my breath anytime soon for displays of Singaporean people power. But this story suggests that maybe there are limits to how far Singapore's exceptional identity can be maintained.
The CIA meets the Department of Common Sense
Timothy Burger reports in Time on a recent initiative by Porter Goss:
On the one hand, this seems like an excellent idea.
On the other hand, I keep wondering why the hell something like this wasn't instituted, oh,
Peter Jennings, R.I.P.
The longtime anchor of ABC news died on Sunday, four months after announcing he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
His career tracked a lot of recent history, as the ABC obit observes:
I am not and never have been a big network news watcher, but my preference was always ABC, and the Jennings' detached, analytical demeanor was the reason. He will be missed.
Sunday, August 7, 2005
Good news on the whole pandemic thing
I've expressed concern in recent months about the possibility of a pandemic of avian flu emerging from the birds of East Asia. So it's only fair to point out when there is good news on this front. Lawrence K. Altman provides some on the front page of the New York Times:
The law of comparative advantage is not dead
That's the message Jagdish Bhawgati delivered in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Friday, responding to Thomas "The World is Flat" Friedman.
The best rebuttal to Bhagwati's argument, by the way, is not Thomas Friedman, but labor economist Richard Freeman. So go check both of them out.