Thursday, March 30, 2006

What's the purpose of the quasi-popular IR book?

I don't catch The Daily Show very often, so this might be a small-N observation -- but it seems to me that he and Stephen Colbert have a much higher ratio of book authors on their show. Not potboilers, either -- Michael Mandelbaum was on Jon Stewart's show plugging The Case for Goliath.

Over at Duck of Minerva, I see that Daniel Nexon caught Mandelbaum's appearance as well -- but this leads him to ask a different question:

I haven't read Mandelbaum's book yet, but based on his comments and the editorial reviews at Amazon, it looks like a pretty standard retread of hegemonic-stability theory as applied to contemporary US foreign policy....

A lot of academics, particularly in the Washington foreign-policy cloud, write these sorts of books. I have no idea about the specific quality of Mandelbaum's book -- for all I know, it is the best example of this kind of argument for a semi-popular audience -- but I'm not sure what to make of this particular subgenre of professorial writings.

So, my question to you all: how should we assess books like Mandelbaum's? I know there is a real role for journalists and academics to take academic theories and bring them to bear on contemporary foreign policy debates, but at what point does derivative work become simply superfluous?

A few replies:
1) Think of the audience. Taking the Mandelbaum book as an example, I seriously doubt that most policymakers have the time or inclination to read the original theoretical work on hegemonic stability theory (Kindleberger, Krasner, Keohane, Lake, Snidal, etc.... well, maybe Kindleberger). Furthermore, HST was generally devoid of normative implications -- which is cdertainly not true of Mandelbaum.

Hayek called popularizers of abstruse ideas "second-order intellectuals." There's a value-added to this project -- though it also carries a danger when the ideas are badly translated.

2) Sometimes fuzzy is better. The advantage of peer-reviewed discourse is that it forces everyone involved to think in a rigorous and analytical fashion, discarding hypotheses or theories that are insufficiently developed. A more popular book can allow more creativity in thinking about how the world works. If these ideas catch on, they force academics to think more seriously about them, even if they would have been discarded if first presented in an academic setting. One example of this is Joseph Nye's "soft power" concept. I have my problems with this idea -- but I can't deny that Nye hit on something ineffable in international affairs that merits further discussion.

3) Don't knock down the strawmen!!. Popular IR books almost inevitably overstate the academic thesis they're propounding. This is great for IR scholars, because it creates a "strawman" version of the hypothesis that authors can cite and then knock down, demonstrating that they've grappled with contending hypotheses. I, for one, am happily citing Mandelbaum's book (among others) as sources for the argument that U.S. hegemony translates into U.S.-preferred international regulatory regimes -- which I then knock down in All Politics is Global.

4) There's money in them thar books. 9/11 and Iraq have amped up the demand for bigthink IR books and the quality of the supply is uncertain. Every author thinks they're going to hit the motherlode. And who are we to begrudge them the effort?

UPDATE: Nick Borst posts another excellent reason in the comments: they're the gateway drug for more rigorous IR scholarship. To cranky codgers like Nexon and I, it is easy to detect when a popular book is riffing off of a scholarly idea. If you're in high school or an undergraduate, however, every idea seems new. It wil be far easier for your average 18 year old to absorb IR theory from Mandelbaum than from those expressly writing for a scholarly audience.

posted by Dan at 10:36 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

While there's a debate over immigration....

I've beeen jamming on a paper I need to finish within the week, which means I haven't been able to cover the whole immigration debate as thoroughly as Mickey Kaus.

[So what's your position?--ed. I think guest worker programs make little economic or political sense. I'd rather vastly expand the legal flows of immigrants who want U.S. citizenship, while simultaneously investing more in border security schemes -- though I'm pessimistic about the latter working terrbly well.]

That said, I can link to this interesting Financial Times story by Richard Lapper on the extent to which Latin America relies on worker remittances as a source of capital inflows:

Migrant workers from Latin America and the Caribbean sent home $53.6bn to their families last year, an increase of 17 per cent on 2004.

The rise – documented in a survey to be announced on Thursday by the Inter-American Development Bank – confirms Latin America’s position as the biggest market in the world for remittances.

For the third consecutive year, remittances to the region exceeded the combined flows of direct foreign investment and overseas economic aid....

An estimated 25m-27m Latin Americans are living and working abroad, 22m of them in the developed markets of North America, Eur-ope and Japan. Mr Terry said migrant workers from the region now made up more than 20 per cent of the labour force in Madrid, Spain’s capital. In the US, Latin American and Caribbean workers constitute an average of 12 per cent of the labour force. “Family by family, worker by worker, migrants are redrawing the map of global labour markets,” Mr Terry said.

Improvements in techniques used to monitor the flows of remittances in part accounted for the sharp rise last year. Many migrants continue to use informal channels, and the total could be more than $59bn.

Countries nearest the US have seen the biggest flows, with Mexico drawing some $20bn of foreign exchange earnings from remittances. The five countries of Central America and the Dominican Republic received $11bn.

Brazil got $6bn, Colombia $4bn and the four other Andean economies a total of $9bn.

Here's a link to the actual IADB report.

posted by Dan at 10:23 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Academics really need this device

David Pescowitz at Boing Boing alerts the hardworking staff here at about a new device that wiould be of great use in the academy:

MIT Media Lab researchers are building a device to help autistic people determine if they're boring or annoying the person they're talking to. The "emotional social intelligence prosthetic device" is a camera that clips on eyeglasses and feeds images to a small computer that uses image recognition software to characterize emotions. If the listener doesn't seem to be engaged, the device vibrates to alert the wearer.
Autistic people should not be the only ones who benefit from this breakthrough. I know more than one colleague who really needs this device.

Click here for more info.

posted by Dan at 10:49 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Kurt Anderson has no beef

Kurt Anderson has an essay in New York magazine entitled, "Celebrity Death Watch." The subhead says, "Could the country’s insane fame fixation maybe, finally—fingers crossed—be coming to an end? One hopeful sign: Paris Hilton."

Intrigued, I read the first paragraph:

On a scale of one to ten, one being the least possible interest in famous entertainers qua famous entertainers, and ten being the most, I’m about a six. Until I recently gorged for days on end, it had been years since I had touched a copy of People or Us Weekly. I skipped the Tonys and Grammys and Emmys. But I do skim three or four New York newspaper gossip columns most weekdays, and I watched E!’s Golden Globes red-carpet preshow, and, of course, I tuned in to the Academy Awards telecast. For years, I’ve thought that the intense fascination with famous people must be about to end—and I’ve been repeatedly, egregiously mistaken. But now—truly, finally—I believe that we are at the apogee, the zenith, the plateau, the top of the market. After 30 years, this cycle of American celebrity mania has peaked. I think. I hope.
So I read on, eager to see what evidence Anderson had compiled to support his argument. But it wasn't until the third-from-the-last paragraph that I found the evidence, such as it is:
The Nielsen ratings for this year’s Oscars were down 8 percent, and for the Grammys 11 percent. During the last half of 2005, the Enquirer’s newsstand sales were down by a quarter and Entertainment Weekly’s by 30 percent. The American OK! is said to be unwell, the magazine Inside TV was launched and killed last year, and a magazine called Star Shop was killed before it launched.
That's it???!!! Good Lord, this kind of evidentiary base makes the Israel Lobby argument look like top-notch social science!!

Even the facts that Anderson presents are bogus. Declining newsstand sales of some celerity mags are meaningless, because of the proliferation of other celebrity mags, like In Touch, Us Weekly, and In Style. Failed magazines are meaningless, since new magazines fail most of the time anyway. Oscar ratings, like Super Bowl ratings, have experienced a secular decline in recent years. And to my knowledge no one has ever cared about the Grammys.

I look forward with bated breath to Anderson's future proclamations of the death of blogs (I beat him to that!!) and why porn has jumped the shark.

posted by Dan at 12:12 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Now this is provocative scholarship

So let's talk about the provocative article written by two academics that has a whole country's foreign policy community in a lather.

No, not that article -- the authors are still ducking the open debate they claim to want. I'm talking about the one that has exercised the entire Russian military-industrial complex.

In the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs, Keir Lieber and Daryl Press make a startling claim about the balance of nuclear terror:

For almost half a century, the world's most powerful nuclear states have been locked in a military stalemate known as mutual assured destruction (MAD). By the early 1960s, the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union had grown so large and sophisticated that neither country could entirely destroy the other's retaliatory force by launching first, even with a surprise attack. Starting a nuclear war was therefore tantamount to committing suicide....

This debate may now seem like ancient history, but it is actually more relevant than ever -- because the age of MAD is nearing an end. Today, for the first time in almost 50 years, the United States stands on the verge of attaining nuclear primacy. It will probably soon be possible for the United States to destroy the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a first strike. This dramatic shift in the nuclear balance of power stems from a series of improvements in the United States' nuclear systems, the precipitous decline of Russia's arsenal, and the glacial pace of modernization of China's nuclear forces. Unless Washington's policies change or Moscow and Beijing take steps to increase the size and readiness of their forces, Russia and China -- and the rest of the world -- will live in the shadow of U.S. nuclear primacy for many years to come....

Since the Cold War's end, the U.S. nuclear arsenal has significantly improved. The United States has replaced the ballistic missiles on its submarines with the substantially more accurate Trident II D-5 missiles, many of which carry new, larger-yield warheads. The U.S. Navy has shifted a greater proportion of its SSBNs to the Pacific so that they can patrol near the Chinese coast or in the blind spot of Russia's early warning radar network. The U.S. Air Force has finished equipping its B-52 bombers with nuclear-armed cruise missiles, which are probably invisible to Russian and Chinese air-defense radar. And the air force has also enhanced the avionics on its B-2 stealth bombers to permit them to fly at extremely low altitudes in order to avoid even the most sophisticated radar. Finally, although the air force finished dismantling its highly lethal MX missiles in 2005 to comply with arms control agreements, it is significantly improving its remaining ICBMs by installing the MX's high-yield warheads and advanced reentry vehicles on Minuteman ICBMs, and it has upgraded the Minuteman's guidance systems to match the MX's accuracy.

Even as the United States' nuclear forces have grown stronger since the end of the Cold War, Russia's strategic nuclear arsenal has sharply deteriorated. Russia has 39 percent fewer long-range bombers, 58 percent fewer ICBMs, and 80 percent fewer SSBNs than the Soviet Union fielded during its last days. The true extent of the Russian arsenal's decay, however, is much greater than these cuts suggest. What nuclear forces Russia retains are hardly ready for use. Russia's strategic bombers, now located at only two bases and thus vulnerable to a surprise attack, rarely conduct training exercises, and their warheads are stored off-base. Over 80 percent of Russia's silo-based ICBMs have exceeded their original service lives, and plans to replace them with new missiles have been stymied by failed tests and low rates of production. Russia's mobile ICBMs rarely patrol, and although they could fire their missiles from inside their bases if given sufficient warning of an attack, it appears unlikely that they would have the time to do so.

The third leg of Russia's nuclear triad has weakened the most. Since 2000, Russia's SSBNs have conducted approximately two patrols per year, down from 60 in 1990. (By contrast, the U.S. SSBN patrol rate today is about 40 per year.) Most of the time, all nine of Russia's ballistic missile submarines are sitting in port, where they make easy targets. Moreover, submarines require well-trained crews to be effective. Operating a ballistic missile submarine -- and silently coordinating its operations with surface ships and attack submarines to evade an enemy's forces -- is not simple. Without frequent patrols, the skills of Russian submariners, like the submarines themselves, are decaying. Revealingly, a 2004 test (attended by President Vladimir Putin) of several submarine-launched ballistic missiles was a total fiasco: all either failed to launch or veered off course. The fact that there were similar failures in the summer and fall of 2005 completes this unflattering picture of Russia's nuclear forces.

Compounding these problems, Russia's early warning system is a mess. Neither Soviet nor Russian satellites have ever been capable of reliably detecting missiles launched from U.S. submarines. (In a recent public statement, a top Russian general described his country's early warning satellite constellation as "hopelessly outdated.") Russian commanders instead rely on ground-based radar systems to detect incoming warheads from submarine-launched missiles. But the radar network has a gaping hole in its coverage that lies to the east of the country, toward the Pacific Ocean. If U.S. submarines were to fire missiles from areas in the Pacific, Russian leaders probably would not know of the attack until the warheads detonated. Russia's radar coverage of some areas in the North Atlantic is also spotty, providing only a few minutes of warning before the impact of submarine-launched warheads....

To determine how much the nuclear balance has changed since the Cold War, we ran a computer model of a hypothetical U.S. attack on Russia's nuclear arsenal using the standard unclassified formulas that defense analysts have used for decades. We assigned U.S. nuclear warheads to Russian targets on the basis of two criteria: the most accurate weapons were aimed at the hardest targets, and the fastest-arriving weapons at the Russian forces that can react most quickly. Because Russia is essentially blind to a submarine attack from the Pacific and would have great difficulty detecting the approach of low-flying stealthy nuclear-armed cruise missiles, we targeted each Russian weapon system with at least one submarine-based warhead or cruise missile. An attack organized in this manner would give Russian leaders virtually no warning.

This simple plan is presumably less effective than Washington's actual strategy, which the U.S. government has spent decades perfecting. The real U.S. war plan may call for first targeting Russia's command and control, sabotaging Russia's radar stations, or taking other preemptive measures -- all of which would make the actual U.S. force far more lethal than our model assumes.

According to our model, such a simplified surprise attack would have a good chance of destroying every Russian bomber base, submarine, and ICBM. [See Footnote #1] This finding is not based on best-case assumptions or an unrealistic scenario in which U.S. missiles perform perfectly and the warheads hit their targets without fail. Rather, we used standard assumptions to estimate the likely inaccuracy and unreliability of U.S. weapons systems. Moreover, our model indicates that all of Russia's strategic nuclear arsenal would still be destroyed even if U.S. weapons were 20 percent less accurate than we assumed, or if U.S. weapons were only 70 percent reliable, or if Russian ICBM silos were 50 percent "harder" (more reinforced, and hence more resistant to attack) than we expected. (Of course, the unclassified estimates we used may understate the capabilities of U.S. forces, making an attack even more likely to succeed.)

To be clear, this does not mean that a first strike by the United States would be guaranteed to work in reality; such an attack would entail many uncertainties. Nor, of course, does it mean that such a first strike is likely. But what our analysis suggests is profound: Russia's leaders can no longer count on a survivable nuclear deterrent.

Needless to say, this article has roiled the Russians just a bit.

How much? Former Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar has an op-ed in today's Financial Times scolding Lieber and Press:

America is a free country and what these two authors wrote in their article, entitled "The Rise of US Nuclear Primacy", is their business. The trouble is, when addressing such a delicate issue, it would be good to understand the responsibilities that go with it....

There are plenty of Russians who have a similar global vision and believe that the US is preparing its capability for a nuclear strike against Russia. However, the publication of such ideas in a reputable US journal has had an explosive effect. Even Russian journalists and analysts not inclined to hysteria or anti-Americanism have viewed the article as an expression of the US official stance. As China is more closed, it is harder to gauge the authorities' reaction, although I fear it may be similar.

Since Soviet times, I have disliked the word "provocation". But if someone had wanted to provoke Russia and China into close co-operation over missile and nuclear technologies, it would have been difficult to find a more skilful and elegant way of doing so. Soviet military planning rested on the concept of the "return-counterstrike". That meant if a threat from an enemy arose, a Soviet nuclear strike would follow. The chances of a comeback for this doctrine are stronger now - which will hardly help strengthen global security.

Over the past few years, I and many colleagues have fought for Russia to maintain a sound economic policy amid high oil prices. Russia's Stabilisation Fund, into which windfall oil taxation revenues have been paid, constituted one element of that struggle. Now I fear the battle is lost. It is not hard to guess where the resources from this fund will now be directed. (emphasis added)

I'm pretty sure that if Lieber and Press were actually the official voice of the U.S. government, this essay would never have seen the light of day. That last thing the DoD would want would be to publicly advertise nuclear primacy, for precisely the reasons Gaidar elaborates.

No, Lieber and Press are doing what academics are supposed to do: generating hypotheses, testing them, and publishing the results,* no matter how uncomfortable the implications. And this implication is particularly disturbing:

Is the United States intentionally pursuing nuclear primacy? Or is primacy an unintended byproduct of intra-Pentagon competition for budget share or of programs designed to counter new threats from terrorists and so-called rogue states? Motivations are always hard to pin down, but the weight of the evidence suggests that Washington is, in fact, deliberately seeking nuclear primacy. For one thing, U.S. leaders have always aspired to this goal. And the nature of the changes to the current arsenal and official rhetoric and policies support this conclusion.
Read the whole thing.

* Even though Foreign Affairs is not peer-reviewed, it should be noted that Lieber and Press the FA essay is an abridged version of a forthcoming scholarly article: "The End of MAD? The Nuclear Dimension of U.S. Primacy," International Security 30, no. 4 (Spring 2006).

UPDATE: Leiber and Press respond to Gaidar in this letter to the editor:

Mr Gaidar believes that these issues should not be discussed openly. We disagree. The wisdom of American, Russian and Chinese nuclear policies should be debated. But doing so requires a clear appreciation of the dramatic new realities of the strategic nuclear balance.

posted by Dan at 11:14 AM | Comments (46) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

My one post about the Card resignation

So Andy Card bows out.... and Josh Bolten bows in.

Over at, Dan Froomkin repeats today's conventional wisdom --- Bush's poll ratings and miscues on Katrina, Dubai, etc., forced him into this move. But this overlooks the deeper cause -- these jobs are just exhausting.

The hours are killer. In this administration at least, White House staffers only get in the news when they've screwed up. There's a reason why, prior to this administration, people had only served an average of two years in high-ranking positions. Time's Mike Allen points out that Card knew this as well:

A wily veteran of Massachusetts politics, Card has been predicting his own departure since Nov. 1, 2001, when he told a Boston audience, "The half-life for a chief of staff is two years... There are very few people who had the experience I am having that survived very long, and that is appropriate. There is no security. I will not vest in the pension system at the White House."
What's amazing to me is not that Card has resigned -- it's that there are so many people who have been working at high levels in this administration for six years and show no signs of leaving.

That said, readers are invited to guess who will be the next high-ranking Bush official to leave.... my money would be on this guy.

Meanwhile, the Salon letters on this topic have taken on a decidedly repugnant tone.

posted by Dan at 08:45 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, March 27, 2006

Why are American firms doing so well?

Sebastian Mallaby has a fascinating column in the Washington Post about why U.S. firms have been outperforming other global firms over the past decade:

Despite all the nostalgia for the era when GM dominated the world's car industry, the heyday of American business may actually be now.

The dawn of this heyday came in 1995. In the two preceding decades, the productivity of American workers had grown more slowly than that of Japanese and European competitors. But in the decade since 1995, U.S. labor productivity growth has outstripped foreign rivals'. Meanwhile U.S. firms' return on equity -- that is, the efficiency with which they manage the capital entrusted to them -- has pulled away from that of Japan, France and Germany, according to data provided by Standard & Poor's Compustat.

Other measures tell a similar story.... The (British) Financial Times publishes an annual list of the world's most respected companies. In 2004 and again in 2005, no fewer than 12 of the top 15 slots were occupied by American firms.

Or consider the database on management quality constructed by Nick Bloom and John Van Reenen of Stanford University and the London School of Economics. This duo organized a survey of 732 medium-sized American and European companies and measured their management procedures against benchmarks of best practice. The result: American firms, including the subsidiaries of American firms in Europe, are simply better managed than European rivals. In fact, superior American management accounts for more than half of the productivity gap between American and European firms....

Competition and meritocracy cannot explain all of America's superiority, however. The U.S. economy has always had these advantages but hasn't always trounced overseas rivals. Nor is it enough to say that Americans work harder than Europeans, since the productivity numbers show that Americans are boosting what they achieve per hour. And anyone who explains America's superiority by saying that the country is more "dynamic" or "creative" is merely relabeling the mystery we're trying to solve.

The best guess about the "X factor" is that America's business culture is peculiarly well-suited to contemporary challenges. American business is not especially good at coaxing productivity out of factory workers: The era when this was all-important was the heyday of Germany and Japan. But American business excels at managing service workers and knowledge workers: at equipping these people with technology, empowering them with the right level of independence and paying for performance. So the era of decentralized "network" businesses is the American era.

Moreover, America's business culture is perfectly matched to globalization. American executive suites and MBA courses are full of talented immigrants, so American managers think nothing of working in multicultural firms. The immigrants have links to their home countries, so Americans have an advantage in establishing global supply chains. The elites of Asia and Latin America compete to attend U.S. universities; when they return to their countries, they are keener to join the local operation of a U.S. company than of a German or Japanese one.

posted by Dan at 07:45 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

Hello, I'm the one-eyed king of my NCAA pool

I'd like to thank the Florida Gators for beating the Villanova Wildcats yesterday. This clinched my victory in my family March Madness pool.

[Uh... aren't there some more games to be played?--ed.] Yes, but because everyone (including myself) had number one seeds like UConn, Duke, or Villanova winning the Final Four games, no one can earn any more points. I didn't do great in my predictions, but as the saying goes, in a land of blind men, the one-eyed man is king.

I do take comfort from the fact that according to, there are very few two-eyed people out there right now:

The Final Four looks nothing like the users of's Tournament Challenge predicted.
More than 1.5 million people participated and of the more than 3 million entries submitted only four -- that's right, four -- picked a Final Four including Florida, George Mason, LSU and UCLA before the tournament started. Over 66 percent of entries had none of the Final Four teams correct and better than 29 percent had exactly two teams correct.

As you probably guessed, George Mason is the team that busted the most brackets. The Patriots were picked in 1,853 entries to make the Final Four, with only 677 putting them in the championship game and only 284 predicting George Mason winning the national championship. UCLA, on the other hand, got the most support -- more than 24 percent of all entries have the Bruins advancing to Indianapolis.

This result also confirms that I know next to nothing about either health care reform or the quadrennial defense review.

UPDATE: It turns out that one of those four correct predictions was an accident -- the person confused George Mason with George Washington.

posted by Dan at 05:55 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The trouble with job retraining

Louis Uchitelle has a must-read excerpt from his forthcoming book The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences in the Business section of the Sunday New York Times. The article covers the fallout of union militancy at a United repair shop in Indianapolis, and what happens when United started outsourcing the work to non-union shops elsewhere in the United States.

Read the whole thing, but here's one section that might give readers some pause:

[J]ob training is central to employment policy. It has been since 1982, when Congress passed the Job Training Partnership Act at the urging of President Ronald Reagan. President Bill Clinton took job training even further, making it available to higher-income workers — including the aircraft mechanics in Indianapolis.

Saying that the country should solve the skills shortage through education and training became part of nearly every politician's stump speech, an innocuous way to address the politics of unemployment without strengthening either the bargaining leverage of workers or the federal government's role in bolstering labor markets.

But training for what? The reality, as the aircraft mechanics discovered, is painfully different from the reigning wisdom. Rather than having a shortage of skills, millions of American workers have more skills than their jobs require. That is particularly true of college-educated people, who make up 30 percent of the population today, up from 10 percent in the 1960's. They often find themselves working in sales or as office administrators, or taking jobs in hotels and restaurants, or becoming carpenters, flight attendants and word processors.

The number of jobs that require a bachelor's degree has indeed been growing, but more slowly than the number of graduates, according to the Labor Department, and that trend is likely to continue through this decade. "The average college graduate is doing very well," said Lawrence F. Katz, a labor economist at Harvard. "But on the margin, college graduates appear to be more vulnerable than in the past."

The Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics offers a rough estimate of the imbalance in the demand for jobs as opposed to the supply. Each month since December 2000, it has surveyed the number of job vacancies across the country and compared it with the number of unemployed job seekers. On average, there were 2.6 job seekers for every job opening over the first 41 months of the survey. That ratio would have been even higher, according to the bureau, if the calculation had included the millions of people who stopped looking for work because they did not believe that they could get decent jobs.

So the demand for jobs is considerably greater than the supply, and the supply is not what the reigning theory says it is. Most of the unfilled jobs pay low wages and require relatively little skill, often less than the jobholder has. From the spring of 2003 to the spring of 2004, for example, more than 55 percent of the hiring was at wages of $13.25 an hour or less: hotel and restaurant workers, health care employees, temporary replacements and the like.

That trend is likely to continue. Seven of the 10 occupations expected to grow the fastest from 2002 through 2012, according to the Labor Department, pay less than $13.25 an hour, on average: retail salesclerks, customer service representatives, food service workers, cashiers, janitors, nurse's aides and hospital orderlies.

As Mark Thoma points out, "the article is more successful at identifying the problems than it is at finding a recipe for solving the displaced worker problem."

posted by Dan at 11:15 PM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (0)

A belated book review

Ten days ago I reviewed William Easterly's The White Man's Burden for the Wall Street Journal. I would have linked to it, but the subscription firewall proved fierce.

Luckily, the University of Chicago likes it when their professors write in the public domain. [All the time?--ed. Well, there are no current links to the London Review of Books, if that's what you're asking.] So here's a link to the review. The key paragraphs:

The foreign-aid community, according to Mr. Easterly, is mostly composed of Planners. They think of development as a technical engineering problem and generate ambitious plans to eliminate the causes of poverty in a multi-pronged intervention. But Planners are embedded in and beholden to rich donors -- large institutions in the West. Thus they lack real-life, on-the-ground feedback, and they lack accountability, both of which would allow them to improve their policies over time. Mr. Easterly prefers what he calls Searchers -- those who learn through trial and error in the field. They can't achieve the ambitious goals set out by Planners, but they can deliver at least some results.

"The White Man's Burden" is one long exercise in demonstrating why the Planners' mentality is wrong and why a little humility is in order: "The West cannot transform the Rest. It is a fantasy to think that the West can change complex societies with very different histories and cultures into some image of itself. The main hope for the poor is for them to be their own Searchers, borrowing ideas and technology from the West when it suits them to do so."

Mr. Easterly shows why many of the development fads of the past 50 years -- the big push, donor coordination, shock therapy -- failed to do much good. He does a nifty job of disproving Jeffrey Sachs's claim that the real problem with Africa is that it is stuck in a "poverty trap" -- i.e., so poor that it cannot generate economic growth on its own. The real problem is bad governance. Aid institutions have not helped matters by doling out grants and loans to corrupt and thuggish regimes....

Lest one think that Mr. Easterly is generalizing unfairly, it is worth noting that he has done something that very few people do: He has actually read the reams of reports churned out by the development community year after year. Déjà vu begins to set in after seeing Mr. Easterly quote from the failed projects of decades ago -- the problems and "solutions" repeat themselves miserably. He has great fun, too, interpreting this turgid prose for the layman. A war is relabeled as a "conflict-related reallocation of resources"; corrupt leaders who raid public coffers create "governance issues."

Be sure to check out Virginia Postrel's review of Easterly from last Sunday's New York Times Book Review. Virginia had a few more hundred words to play with than I did -- and she used them very wisely.

posted by Dan at 09:24 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)