Saturday, February 4, 2006
Work, leisure, and productivity
Last Sunday, the Boston Globe's Christopher Shea wrote a counterintuitive article about how well Europe compares with the United States:
In the face of rampant Europessimism, some contrarian scholars insist that European countries can thrive without embracing American-style labor markets (where most people can be fired at will) and relatively lean social programs.Sounds plausible.... until you get to this week's Economist. At which point you discover something very interesting... leisure time in the United States is on the increase:
A pair of economists have looked closely at how Americans actually spend their time. Mark Aguiar (at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston) and Erik Hurst (at the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business) constructed four different measures of leisure. The narrowest includes only activities that nearly everyone considers relaxing or fun; the broadest counts anything that is not related to a paying job, housework or errands as “leisure”. No matter how the two economists slice the data, Americans seem to have much more free time than before.This trend ties into the biggest productivity advantage the United States has over the rest of the advanced industriaized world -- the retail and wholesale sectors. Increases on productivity in those arenas don't only benefit producers -- they lead to significant benefits for consumers, in the form of fewer time and resources devoted to essential household tasks, like shopping for groceries.
In the paper cited by the Economist, Aguiar and Hurst observe that:
The present study focuses exclusively on the United States.... to our knowledge, there are no studies using European data that perform a time-series analysis similar to the one below. This remains an important area for future research.That would be some interesting research. It is possible that heightened U.S. efficiency in the retail and wholesale sectors -- and maybe, come to think of it, the housing sector as well, though economists tend to think about housing productivity in terms of construction as opposed to usage -- means that Americans work more and play more than Europeans.
Oxymoronic headline of the week
I don't know whether the Malaysian Star or Reuters is to blame.
Friday, February 3, 2006
Welcome to the Fed, Mr. Bernanke
As Ben Bernanke took over from Alan Greenspan this week at the Fed -- and let's hear it for financial markets for not freaking out that much about Greenspan's departure -- it seems only fitting to link to Adam Posen's Institute for International Economics brief about what central banks should do when there's an asset price bubble.
Basically, they should do nothing:
Central banks should not be in the business of trying to prick asset price bubbles. Bubbles generally arise out of some combination of irrational exuberance, technological jumps, and financial deregulation (with more of the second in equity price bubbles and more of the third in real estate booms). Accordingly, the connection between monetary conditions and the rise of bubbles is rather tenuous, and anything short of inducing a recession by tightening credit conditions prohibitively is unlikely to stem their rise. Even if a central bank were willing to take that one-in-three or less shot at cutting off a bubble, the cost-benefit analysis hardly justifies such preemptive action. The macroeconomic harm from a bubble bursting is generally a function of the financial system’s structure and stability—in modern economies with satisfactory bank supervision, the transmission of a negative shock from an asset price bust is relatively limited, as was seen in the United States in 2002. However, where financial fragility does exist, as in Japan in the 1990s, the costs of inducing a recession go up significantly, so the relative disadvantages of monetary preemption over letting the bubble run its course mount. In the end, there is no monetary substitute for financial stability, and no market substitute for monetary ease during severe credit crunch. These two realities imply that the central bank should not take asset prices directly into account in monetary policymaking but should be anything but laissez-faire in responding to sharp movements in inflation and output, even if asset price swings are their source.
Thursday, February 2, 2006
When political fiction becomes reality
Brendan Carlin, George Jones and Toby Helm report in the Daily Telegraph that the defeat of Tony Blair's proposed Racial and Religious Hatred Bill was in part due to defections from his Labor party -- and in part due to The West Wing.
Really. I'm serious:
The television series The West Wing about the life and times of a fictional US president was the inspiration for the "rebellion by stealth" that humbled Tony Blair and his Chief Whip, Hilary Armstrong.I actually saw this episode, and remember snorting in derision that this could actually happen. Then again, what do I know -- I'm just a political scientist.
Wednesday, February 1, 2006
My hobgoblin on the State of the Union
If consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, then my hobgoblin is just a bit exercised about Bush's call for energy independence in the State of the Union -- nicely summarized in this Tom Maguire post.
Here are the two parts of the speech that I can't quite reconcile:
1) "In this decisive year, you and I will make choices that determine both the future and the character of our country. We will choose to act confidently in pursuing the enemies of freedom -- or retreat from our duties in the hope of an easier life. We will choose to build our prosperity by leading the world economy -- or shut ourselves off from trade and opportunity. In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting -- yet it ends in danger and decline."Here's my problem -- in what way is the provision massive government subsidies of alternative fuels not another example of import substitution and industrialization? Isn't trying to reduce Middle Eastern oil imports an example of how to "shut ourselves off from trade and opportunity"????
To be fair to Bush, what he's saying might be correct even if it's not internally consistent. Trade on the whole is a good thing, but dependence on oil is bad. Except that a big reason the U.S. has intervened so much in the Arab Middle East for the past 25 years is not just because we're dependent on Arab oil imports -- it's that our allies in Europe and Japan are really dependent on Middle Eastern oil, and we can't afford for their economies to be disrupted either.
As I said at the beginning of the post, I might be harping too much on two pieces of the speech that were meant to address different things. But in fairness to the isolationists, I suspect that they will be the biggest boosters of the President's energy policies.
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan's hobgoblin is also exercised about the SOTU
February's Books of the Month
The international relations book for February is Jeffry Frieden's Global Capitalism: Its Fall and Rise in the Twentieth Century.
About five years ago W.W. Norton started publishing a series of books on international relations theory, written by senior scholars in the field, with the stated purpose of appealing beyond a scholarly audience. Frieden's book is part of this project, and Global Capitalism should makethe Norton people happy. It's a concise, accessible history of international economic relations during the twentieth century -- a period that began with one era of globalization, suffered a thirty year spasm of instability and closure, sought a Keynesian compromise, and then embraced globalization again.
As policymakers and publics deal with the aftertaste of the current era, Frieden's book does a great job of setting the historical table of how we got to the present day. Go check it out.
The general interest book is Marjorie Williams' The Woman at the Washington Zoo: Writings on Politics, Family, And Fate. Williams was a reporter and columnist for the Washington Post, and published political profiles for Vanity Fair. She died of liver cancer in 2005. This book, edited by her husband (Slate's Tim Noah), is a compendium of her published writing, plus some previously unpublished work on her family and her experiences of living and dying from cancer.
Jack Shafer had a lovely elegy for Williams in Slate when she died last year, and I kept meaning to buy the book when it was released in November, but didn't get around to it until a few days ago. And now, even though I have a daunting pile of reading and writing to finish, I can't go a few hours without stealing into her book and soaking up one of the essays.
There are two things about The Woman at the Washington Zoo that stand out. The first thing is Williams' sharp observations about the role that individuals play in politics, and the role that positions of power play in shaping the individual. She has just the right tone -- realistic without being cynical, observational without suggesting that she was above it all, rendering judgments without smacking of partisanship.
The second thing is more humbling -- Williams could write like a song, regardless of the length or topic. Her essay on her mother is the written equivalent of thirty-year old tawny port, exceptionally smooth while still leaving one a bit buzzed afterwards.
So be warned -- read this book only if you have no illusions about being a great writer. As political scientists go, I'm pretty decent at cobbling sentences together in a jargon-free way. After reading Williams, I now know my true place in the literary cosmos -- academic hack.
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Open SOTU thread
Post away your own comments on the State of the Union.
[What about your thoughts?--ed. I'm afraid I have some books to complete -- I'll catch the transcript later.]
UPDATE: This is funny -- at least to me, as my son is now old enough so that we do Mad Libs together.
It's quite the day for multilateralism
The U.S. scored two multilateral victories yesterday. First, the Quartet (the United States, European Union, Russian Federation, and the United Nations) issued a statement on the Palestinian elections:
[T]he Quartet concluded that it was inevitable that future assistance to any new government would be reviewed by donors against that government's commitment to the principles of nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap.Meanwhile, the permanent five members of the Security Council and the European Union adopted a common position on what to do with Iran for now. Kevin Sullivan and Dafna Linzer explain in the Washington Post:
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- along with Germany, agreed Monday night to report Iran to the Security Council over its nuclear program.Judging by Iran's reaction to the news, I think that's a safe estimate (here's a link to the formal statement by the P-5)
Readers are formally invited to speculate about which multilateral entreaty will work better. My money is on the Quartet -- they have far greater leverage in sanctioning the Palestinian Authority than the United Nations has over Iran. At thesame time, though, this FT story by Daniel Dombey , Harvey Morris and Roula Khalaf suggests the EU might buckle on Hamas before the Chinese and Russians do on Iran.
Who gets the Roger this year?
The Academy Award nominations were announced this morning -- click here for the full list.
Last year, I blogged about "a new interactive feature -- who did work that merited a nomination at the very least but got completely shut out." So, who gets a Roger this year???
The hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com has perused the list and.... well, we're having an admittedly tough time dredging anything up. The most glaring omission was Maria Bello as Best Supporting Actress for A History of Violence -- but then again, I wasn't that huge a fan of the movie. Sin City didn't get nominated for anything -- I would have thougt it merited a technical nomination or two, and if you ask me Elijah Wood was far scarier in that flick than William Hurt was in A History of Violence. I would have liked to have seen The Aristocrats nominated for Best Documentary, but I can't get too worked up about that -- especially with Murderball getting a nod.
So, I'll leave it to the readers -- who merits a Roger?
UPDATE: Entertainment Weekly's Popwatch blog has generated a list of its own -- including Joan Allen for The Upside of Anger. Having just seen that movie last night on DVD -- and being a big Joan Allen fan -- I'd argue that she'd have had a better chance if the movie had something resembling a coherent theme or plot.
Monday, January 30, 2006
The conservative take on Off Center
The editors of The Forum -- Berkeley Electronic Press' online-only journal of applied research in contemporary politics -- had an interesting idea for how to review Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson's Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy. They asked the few Republican political scientists they knew what they thought of the book, with the idea that Hacker and Pierson would reply.
While a nice idea, I suspect many people -- including Hacker and Pierson -- got too busy to participate. [UPDATE: Pierson writes in to say that their reply is coming soon!!] Still, you can read my review. And you can read John J. Pitney's as well. They actually complement each other quite nicely.
Here's the key paragraph of my review -- which picks up on a point that Henry Farrell made about the book last fall:
Hacker and Pierson are attempting something unusual and even laudatory in political science (and I say this as a Republican). They are trying to use the tools and data of political science to make an explicitly political argument. This is refreshing, for the dirty little secret of our profession is that there is not a whole lot of politics in the academic study of political science. Most scholarship is written with the attitude of the detached observer; concepts like “blame” or “responsibility” – or even “good” and “bad” – rarely appear in our professional discourse. By injecting normative factors back into their analysis of the body politic, Hacker and Pierson have written a polemic that is light years better than anything Michael Moore or Sean Hannity could ever dream of publishing. This does not mean that their analysis is correct – indeed, Off Center suffers the flaws of most polemics, topped off with a few even bigger flaws. But this is a book that cannot and should not be ignored by either political scientists or pundits.
Hey, I actually do know Jack
Fifteen months ago, Dana Milbank had a Washington Post story that touched on the tension that existed between David Addington, Vice President Cheney's longtime lawyer and new chief of staff, and other national security lawyers in the administration:
Even in a White House known for its dedication to conservative philosophy, Addington is known as an ideologue, an adherent of an obscure philosophy called the unitary executive theory that favors an extraordinarily powerful president....I dredge this up because Daniel Klaidman, Stuart Taylor Jr. and Evan Thomas have written a much fuller account (and some regretfully overripe language) of this tension within the administration for Newsweek (link via Orin Kerr):
James Comey, a lanky, 6-foot-8 former prosecutor who looks a little like Jimmy Stewart, resigned as deputy attorney general in the summer of 2005. The press and public hardly noticed. Comey's farewell speech, delivered in the Great Hall of the Justice Department, contained all the predictable, if heartfelt, appreciations. But mixed in among the platitudes was an unusual passage. Comey thanked "people who came to my office, or my home, or called my cell phone late at night, to quietly tell me when I was about to make a mistake; they were the people committed to getting it right—and to doing the right thing—whatever the price. These people," said Comey, "know who they are. Some of them did pay a price for their commitment to right, but they wouldn't have it any other way."Read the whole thing. I have nothing to add but this -- I've known Jack Goldsmith for many years from his time at the University of Chicago. If you think that Goldsmith is either a RINO or a squishy "must kowtow to all forms of international law" kind of guy, well, then you don't know Jack.
The fact that Addington, Cheney, and by extension Bush managed to force out people like Goldsmith and Comey means that the legal consensus within the administration is way, way outside the legal mainstream.
Oh, and one other thing: Henry Farrell is right. Those who criticized Goldsmith's appointment to Harvard Law School on ethical grounds (click here for one example) have a hell of a lot of crow to consume.
What is it that blogs do?
There's been another spasm of output on whether the blogosphere does anything better or different than the mediasphere.
Arnold Kiling believes that blogs function well as a distributor of information across the ideological spectrum:
Certain information is more valuable to me than it is to others. We can represent this concept by thinking of everyone as being located at different points on a circle. The points closest to you in the circle are people with similar interests. They might be workers in nearby cubicles, or they could be people located at a great physical distance but working in the same field.Meanwhile, Henry Farrell thinks the importance of blogs is not just as a provider of information, but as part of a conversation -- a fact that journalists have yet to comprehend:
The point is that they have very different – and clashing – notions of where authority and responsibility come from. Each newspaper article has the form of a discrete statement, which is supposed to be as authoritative as possible on its own ground. Each blogpost has the form of an intervention in an ongoing conversation – the blogger’s authority rests in part on her willingness to respond to others and engage in argument with them. A blogger who doesn’t respond to good counter-arguments is being irresponsible (of course many bloggers are irresponsible in this way; there isn’t much in the way of formal policing of this norm). These forms of authority are difficult to reconcile with each other, because the latter in large part undermines the former. If journalists start systematically responding to their critics, and getting drawn into conversations about whether or not they were right when they made a particular claim, then they’re effectively admitting that the articles they have written aren’t all that authoritative in the first place. They’re subject to debate and to revision. Thus, in part, the tendency for journalists like Jack Shafer to dismiss criticism from bloggers and their commenters as “organized riots” and lynch mobs. It’s a fundamental threat to their notions of where journalistic authority comes from.Shafer, meanwhile, has a column in Slate suggesting that while journalists might not get the conversational aspect of bloggers, they do recognize the existential threat posed by the blogosphere:
Like the long-gone typesetters, today's newspaper guild members believe that their job is somehow their "property," and that no amateur can step in to perform their difficult and arduous tasks. On one level, they're right. John Q. Blogger can't fly to Baghdad or Bosnia and do the work of a John F. Burns. But what a lot of guild members miss is that not everybody wants to read John F. Burns, not everybody who wants to read about Baghdad is going to demand coverage of the quality he produces, and not everybody wants Baghdad coverage, period. If you loosely define journalism as words and graphics about current events deliverable on tight deadline to a mass audience, the price of entry into the craft has dropped to a few hundred dollars. Hell, I can remember renting an IBM Selectric for $100 a month in the late 1970s just to make my freelance articles look more "professional" to my editors.
Seven different ways of looking at Dog Days
Flying back from a conference today, I finished Ana Marie Cox's Dog Days. Here are my seven different ways of looking at the book:
1) It is the perfect airplane book -- provided you don't have a prurient ten-year old reading over your shoulder;