Friday, December 9, 2005
Books worth buying
The hard working staff here at danieldrezner.com has noticed a trend in recent e-mails, along the lines of, "Say, Dan, what books would you recommend for the holidays?"
Well, I can't help much with the holiday-themed books. What I can do is recommend the books I've been reading recently:
Ian Urbina, Life's Little Annoyances: True Tales of People Who Just Can't Take It Anymore. Back in March I blogged about one of Urbina's New York Times stories about the small rebellions against petty annoyances. Urbina's story must have struck a nerve -- six months later he's got a short book chronicling more examples. Do check out his website at www.lifeslittleannoyances.comThat's all for now -- read those and report back while I wend my way to Hong Kong.
The ne plus ultra in outsourcing
David Barboza of the New York Times wins my Outsourcing Outrage of the Year award with, "Ogre to Slay? Outsource It to Chinese" :
One of China's newest factories operates here in the basement of an old warehouse. Posters of World of Warcraft and Magic Land hang above a corps of young people glued to their computer screens, pounding away at their keyboards in the latest hustle for money.Read the whole thing. This is the perfect outsourcing story to generate outrage among perennially indignant. Why?
1) The story highlights the apparent sloth and excessive affluence of Americans that inflames the passiuons of the puritanical left and right;I eagerly await the first calls for legislation banning this kind of offshore outsourcing.
Thursday, December 8, 2005
I'm always the last to find out....
Virginia writes, "I don't expect to win, but I do hope to beat Dan Drezner." I'm getting creamed, so this is indeed a possibility.
[Any way to boost your numbers?--ed. Well, Megan McArdle has a foolproof approach to getting votes: "Please go vote for us. Because if we don't win, I'll cry. Big, fat tears rolling out of my dewy green eyes, staining my porcelain cheeks as my body racks with sobs. No one wants that." Alas, you have neither green eyes nor porcelain skin--ed. No.... but think of my lovely wife, who has green eyes, porcelain skin.... and dimples that disappear when she's sad. Vote for me -- don't make my wife's dimples go away. Oh, man, that's low--ed.]
This week in the Ahmadinejad follies...
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the gift that keeps on giving as far as I'm concerned. According to Reuters's Paul Hughes, Ahmadinejad put his foot in his mouth in Saudi Arabia today:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday expressed doubt the Holocaust took place and suggested the Jewish state of Israel be moved to Europe.I confess to being confused with Ahmadinejad's actual policy towards Israel -- does he want to relocate it to Europe or just wipe it off the map entirely?
UPDATE: The AP's Ali Akbar Dareni has a long story nicely detailing the variors international and domestic actors who have had it up to here with Ahmadinejad. The list includes the U.S., Europe, Russia, Saudia Arabia, the IAEA, Iranian moderates, and "[e]ven some of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's conservative allies." This quote, however, is really priceless: "Saudis fumed Friday that Iran's hard-line president marred a summit dedicated to showing Islam's moderate face by calling for Israel to be moved to Europe."
Our comparative advantage in risk
Paul Blustein frets in the Washington Post that many developing countries are heading for another financial bubble:
International money managers are pouring funds at a record pace into the emerging markets of Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. Cash is gushing into mutual funds that specialize in emerging markets, and billions of dollars more are flowing into such countries from giant insurance companies and pension funds.Lachman's article is mostly about Latin America -- but this paragraph captures his jitters pretty well:
What is also surprising is how little attention Latin American investors seem to be paying to the gathering storm clouds over the global economy. How long do they think that global economic growth can be sustained at its recent pace with international oil prices likely to remain at their currently heady levels? Or how long do they think that international commodity prices will remain well bid in a world in which the Chinese economy slows under the weight of its deep macro-economic imbalances and in which Europe stagnates at a time of internal dissension and policy paralysis?There appears to be an enormous irony in the pattern of global investment flows right now. As Alan Greenspan recently noted, there has been a decline in the home bias of investment:
The decline in home bias is reflected in savers increasingly reaching across national borders to invest in foreign assets. The rise in U.S. productivity growth attracted much of those savings toward investments in the United States. The greater rates of productivity growth in the United States, compared with still-subdued rates abroad, have apparently engendered corresponding differences in risk-adjusted expected rates of return and hence in the demand for U.S.-based assets....The irony is that this home bias is affecting U.S. investors as well -- the Blustein article demonstrates that even as massive sums of savings from the developing world are making their way to the safe haven of the United States, institutional investors in this country are channeling more funds to the developng world.
Does this make any sense? Most people would instinctively say no, and Blustein's implication in his article is that this crazy. My hunch is that it makes a fair amount of sense, because U.S. capital markets and financial institutions possess both a comparative and absolute advantage in coping with risk. This allows them to place large bets in developing country equity markets and earn a higher rate of return than those investing in the U.S.
Then again, I don't have large sums of money invested in the Turkish stock market. Large, wealthy investors are heartily encouraged to post comments on how sanguine they feel about global equity markets.
Wednesday, December 7, 2005
Everything you always wanted to know about trade but were afraid to ask
Foreign Affairs has just released a special issue pertaining to all things about multilateral trade -- no subscription required. Contributors include Jagdish Bhagwati, Peter Sutherland, Carla Hills, and Charlene Barshefsky,and William Cline.
The common assertion that agricultural liberalization in rich countries would bring large benefits to LDCs is mistaken. These states -- many of them poor African countries -- benefit from the current regime because they can sell their exports at the high EU prices and buy imports at the low world prices. (Cotton is perhaps the sole exception: U.S. subsidies hurt poor countries because the EU tariff on cotton is zero and therefore its internal price for cotton is the same as the world price.) Gains to those developing countries not in the Cairns Group would accrue principally from their own liberalization. The principle of comparative advantage applies just as much to agriculture as to industry. Moreover, because developing countries do not currently enjoy trade preferences in one another's markets, they stand to gain from access there.Bergsten's essay provides an autopsy of the underlying political pressures that ail the Doha round:
The main problems that undermine the prospects for a successful Doha Round, however, lie outside the negotiations themselves. Three factors stand out: the massive current account imbalances and currency misalignments pushing trade politics in dangerously protectionist directions in both the United States and Europe; the strong and growing antiglobalization sentiments that stalemate virtually every trade debate on both sides of the Atlantic and elsewhere; and the absence of a compelling reason for the political leaders of the chief holdout countries to make the necessary concessions to reach an agreement. Progress on each front is necessary for the Doha negotiators to have a chance of succeeding.[Sure, the Foreign Affairs essays tell you what the elite thinks. But what about average, ordinary, hard-working Americans?--ed.] Well, then, scoot on over to the German Marshall Fund's latest survey results on how Americans feel about trade and poverty reduction. Some of the more interesting results:
Despite broad agreement (73%) that freer trade helps to boost prosperity, clear majorities in France (74%), Italy (65%), Germany (59%), and the United States (57%) believe that freer international trade decreases total jobs in their country. In a related question, 37% of European and 46% of American respondents favor protecting domestic jobs by raising tariffs, even if this means higher consumer prices....UPDATE: One last article worth reading -- Christina Davis makes the paradoxical argument in the International Herald-Tribune that the prospects for trade liberalization would improve if the Hong Kong meetings failed:
Patching over the differences in order to avoid headlines about a negotiation collapse would send the wrong signal. It would allow leaders in France to think that they can coddle the farm sector with exceptions for every special product and still pretend to care about development goals. It would allow leaders in Japan to believe that they can refuse a 100 percent ceiling on agricultural tariffs and still say they are committed to upholding the world trade system. It would allow the United States to continue spending $19 billion annually on its farmers while pointing fingers at other governments who fail to liberalize.
Tuesday, December 6, 2005
I'll be on the radio tonight
From 9-11 this evening I'll be one of the guests on Extension 720 with Milt Rosenberg on WGN Radio this evening. The other guests will be the lovely and talented Eszter Hargittai and fellow U of C blogger Sean Carroll from Cosmic Variance.
[So whatcha gonna talk about?--ed. According to Milt's blog, "[they] will discuss their forays into blogging, examine blogs as a cultural phenomenon, and relate how their blogs have influenced their life and our world." Draw your own conclusions. UPDATE: Sean's conclusions: "the view of the blogosphere we'll be offering will doubtless be narrow and unrepresentative, but fascinating nonetheless." How can you pass that up?]
George Carlin probably wouldn't call this a sport
God bless the trend reporters at the Los Angeles Times -- particularly Jeffrey Fleishman, who has a story on a brand new sport -- chess boxing:
Martin "Amok" Thomas is jabbing a right, but Frank "so-cool-he-doesn't-need-a-nickname" Stoldt is as elusive as a ribbon in the wind. He can't be hit.The World Chess Boxing Organization provides more detailed rules:
In a chessboxing fight two opponents play alternating rounds of chess and boxing. The contest starts with a round of chess, followed by a boxing round, followed by another round of chess and so on. In every round of chess the FIDE rules for a ´Blitz game´ apply, in every boxing round the AIBA rules apply with the following extensions and modifications: In a contest there shall be 11 rounds, 6 rounds of chess, 5 rounds of boxing. A round of chess takes 4 minutes. Each competitor has 12 minutes on the chess timer. As soon as the time runs out the game is over.And, of course, there is a chess boxing blog. If you're interested in participating in a sanctioned chess boxing match, click here!
[I detect some mild mockery in this post;you really want to piss off the chessboxers?--ed. On the contrary, this could sell. Thirty years ago no one took beach volleyball seriously, and now it's a professional sport.... that advertises on blogs. So would you ever watch chess boxing?--ed. Er, probably not -- but I could be tempted to watch celebrity chessboxing. Just think of Naomi Watts vs. Salma Hayek. Yes, just think......]
Monday, December 5, 2005
Political science enters the White House
Scott Shane had a New York Times front-pager on Sunday about the chief architect of the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" that was released earlier this week. Turns out it's a political scientist that I know:
There could be no doubt about the theme of President Bush's Iraq war strategy speech on Wednesday at the Naval Academy. He used the word victory 15 times in the address; "Plan for Victory" signs crowded the podium he spoke on; and the word heavily peppered the accompanying 35-page National Security Council document titled, "Our National Strategy for Victory in Iraq."This is roiling elements of the mainstream media and liberal blogosphere. It's telling that the Indianapolis Star, running the same NYT story, has as its headline, "Iraq plan appears intended to win the war at home" (the NYT has the more neutral "Bush's Speech on Iraq War Echoes Voice of an Analyst"). Laura Rozen, for example, scoffs that, "The strategy is mostly designed as PR for the American public." The indictment would seem to be that the Bush administration is more concerned with the domestic politics of the Iraq war than with actually winning on the ground in Baghdad.
As someone who's been more than a little displeased with the administration's handling of Iraq, let me state that this charge is absolutely true. The implication that this is somehow misguided is a bunch of horses**t.
Yes, this week's events were aimed primarily at a domestic audience. But that's because, as Shane points out in the Times piece, the military already knows what its mission is in Iraq -- doing everything possible to supply security in the short run and training the Iraqis to provide security in the long run (with logistical and air support from the U.S.). For all the analogies to Vietnam that are floating around, the administration's actual plan is almost a Vietnam in reverse -- to move from 1968 (having U.S. forces doing the bulk of the fighting) to 1961 (having U.S. forces providing a training, advisory, and logistical role). As Fred Kaplan points out in Slate, this goal has actually started to seep into the military's strategic culture. One could even argue that this plan has achieved quite a bit.
Now it's true that there are other plans out there for consideration. It's also true, as James Fallows points out in the December Atlantic, that the administration didn't really have an actual plan until the summer of 2004, and the administration deserves all the hell it can catch for that Mongolian cluster-f**k. But the plan it has now has been in place for some time. John Dickerson points out in Slate that this fact is bedeviling certain Democratic critics:
There are reasonable grounds for criticizing the Bush/Casey strategy for dealing with the insurgency as flawed. It may be too little too late, or it may be based on rosy assumptions. But Kerry doesn't challenge it on any substantive basis. He can't, because to do so would acknowledge that Bush is offering a solution to the problem of U.S. troops inspiring insurgents.Which brings us to the purpose of this week's events.
The assumption underlying Feaver and Gelpi's hypothesis is so simple that it's never stated in the article -- if a sufficiently large majority opposes an ongoing military intervention, any administration will have to withdraw regardless of the strategic wisdom of such a move. This is why, I suspect, the administration reacts so badly whenever it deals with domestic criticism about the war -- it recognizes that flagging domestic support will translate into a strategic straitjacket (though do read Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard for a more.... creative explanation).
The Feaver/Gelpi solution to this conundrum is to have the President spell out a clear definition for victory. And my suspicion is that they're right -- so long as that definition contains criteria that can be verifiable by non-governmental sources.
So, yes, in part what happened last week was an exercise in public relations. But it was also a completely proper use of PR.
Blegging for help on Hong Kong
I'll in Hong Kong all next week to take a first-hand look at the World Trade Organization's Ministerial Conference. I'll be representing the Geman Marshall Fund of the United States as an "NGO observer" -- those of you who have read my scholarly work on globalization can drink in the rich ironies of that designation pour moi.
Anyway, while I won't have oodles of free time, I might have the occasional hour or two off. So I'm asking you, good readers, to fill me in on what must be seen and done in Hong Kong, or even Shenzen. Sure, the New York Times' Keith Bradsher provides some useful tips, but I have every confidence that the collective intelligence of danieldrezner.com readers can improve on Bradsher's advice.
UPDATE: Hmmm.... Justine Lau and Frances Williams have a report in the Financial Times implicitly suggesting that the NGO protestors might get a bit unruly:
Peter Yam, the police director of operations, said he expected at least three large demonstrations to take place, each of which could draw as many as 10,000 people.
Do the insurgents really want the U.S. to withdraw?
Time's Michael Ware has a long profile of the Iraqi insurgency and U.S. strategies to cope with it. The single most depressing sentence: "After 31 months of fighting in Iraq, the U.S. still can't say for sure whom it is up against."
The basic thrust of the article is that the U.S. believes that a fair amount of the insurgency consists of "Sunni rejectionists," an odd word choice given that they are nevertheless interested in participating:
The vast majority of those groups fall into a category the military dubiously refers to as Sunni "rejectionists." Mostly Baathists, nationalists and Iraqi Islamists, they oppose the occupation and any Baghdad government dominated by Iraqis sheltered from Saddam by foreign-intelligence agencies, such as Iran's or the U.S.'s. But they don't oppose democracy in Iraq. Many voted in the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum and have plans to participate in the Dec. 15 election. Few see a contradiction between voting and continuing to battle U.S. forces. "I voted in the referendum, and I'm still fighting, and everybody in my organization did the same," says Abu Marwan, the Army of Mohammed commander. "This is two-track war--bullets and the ballot. They are not mutually exclusive."Here's the most revealing paragraph:
Evidence of shifts within the insurgency in some ways presents the U.S. with its best opportunity since the occupation began to counter parts of the Sunni resistance. Adopting the long-standing attitudes of secular Baathists, some Sunni leaders tell TIME they have lost patience with al-Zarqawi and would consider cutting a political deal with the U.S. to isolate the jihadis. "If the Americans evidenced good intent and a timetable [there's that word again--DD] for withdrawal we feel is genuine, we will stand up against al-Zarqawi," says Abdul Salam al-Qubaisi, spokesman for the Association of Muslim Scholars. "We already stood up against him on the Shi'ite issue, and if he doesn't follow us, it will be a bad path for him." Baathist insurgent leader Abu Yousif, who has met with U.S. intelligence officers, says, "The insurgency is looking for a political outlet--once we have that, we could control al-Qaeda."Color me skeptical about these assertions, for one simple reason -- the Sunnis will be the big losers when/if the United States were to withdraw. It would be irrational of them to give up the extralegal strategy of insurgency, precisely because such a tactic has garnered them influence beyond their number to date.
Assume the withdrawal goes well. in any electoral democracy, the Sunnis will lose because they are vastly outnumbered by the Shia and the Kurds. Now assume the withdrawal goes poorly -- the insurgents will face a Shia majority pefectly willing to use extralegal means to ensure that they control the levers of power. Either way, the insurgents are better off right now than they will be when the Americans leave.
The one possibility of a U.S. withdrawal contributing to the Sunnis laying down their arms is if there's some kind of grand bargain behind the scenes in which the Shiite parties basically pledge to keep their militias from engaging in any kind of a pogrom -- but if I was Sunni, I'd take my chances playing cat-and-mouse with the U.S. military instead. Indeed, my strategy would be not to engage with U.S. forces at all, but do as much damage to Shia-predominant military units as possible.
[What about the possibility that Iraqis are now in the mood to vote for secular, non-sectarian parties?--ed. Again, great for the Sunnis, if true -- but the disturbing thing about both the Time piece and the Christian Science Monitor story linked above is that neither of them have any hard data -- just assertions by the reporter. Also remember that the supposed beneficiary of this secular trend -- former PM Iyad Allawi -- just got pelted with shoes in Najaf.]
Sunday, December 4, 2005
It's good to look at the big picture every once in a while
I've blogged previously about the fact that there has been a secular trend in the world towards reduced interstate and intrastate violence -- i.e., there's a lot less war going on. Oxblog links to a new endeavour -- the Human Security Report, which is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and the governments of Canada, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, and the U.K. The overview is chock-full of heart-warming statistics:
[So, is there any bad news?--ed.] Sure -- the rate of reported rapes has more than doubled in the past eight years. [Couldn't that also be, in an odd way, a good thing? Rapes might not be more frequent so much as that they are now reported, which implies a greater acceptance of the notion of rape as acrime?--ed.] The optimist in me would like to agree with this, but the fact that the doubling has taken place in the last seven years makes me very suspicious. One would assume that improved reporting should lead to a slow secular increase (which is the long-term trend) rather than the current spike. Unless a big country like China or India suddenly improved its data collection, that spike is definitely worrisome. UPDATE: Thanks to Kevin Drum for the link. Some of the commenters are suggesting that this peaceful trend ended in 2001. I'm happy to report that this is not true -- it's just that some of the data listed above ended in 2001. Overall, let me quote from Gregg Easterbrook's TNR essay on this subject from six months ago:
Everyone agrees that the worst moment for human conflict was World War II; but how to rank, say, the current separatist fighting in Indonesia versus, say, the Algerian war of independence is more speculative. Nevertheless, the Peace and Conflict studies name 1991 as the peak post-World War II year for totality of global fighting, giving that year a ranking of 179 on a scale that rates the extent and destructiveness of combat. By 2000, in spite of war in the Balkans and genocide in Rwanda, the number had fallen to 97; by 2002 to 81; and, at the end of 2004, it stood at 65. This suggests the extent and intensity of global combat is now less than half what it was 15 years ago.