Saturday, June 3, 2006
The Soccer Wars
That's the title of my essay in Sunday's Washington Post Outlook section. It bears more than a passing resemblance to this blog post from earlier in the week. The punchline:
Soccer will never bring about peace on its own. The flip side is also true -- by itself, soccer cannot start a war. The World Cup, like the Olympics, suffers from a case of overblown rhetoric. Bono's assurances to the contrary, the passions inspired by the World Cup embody both the best and worst forms of nationalism.A few citations, beyond those found in the earlier post. Joschka Fischer's quote about the World Cup can be found in Goldman Sachs' The World Cup and Economics 2006
Here's a link to the Edmans, Garcia, and Norli paper demonstrating the correlation between international soccer losses and poor stock market performance. And here's a link to the 1973 Richard Sipes paper, "War, Sports and Aggression: An Empirical Test of Two Rival Theories" that appeared in American Anthropologist.
For more on the World Cup and international relations, check out Michael Moran's useful and link-rich summary at cfr.org, and Pablo Halkyard's linkfest at PSDblog.
Finally, a thank you to Frank Foer for getting on the phone and chatting with me about Frank Rijkaard spitting on Rudi Voller -- though Frank always enjoys talking about soccer. And let me once again praise Foer's How Soccer Explains the World as a good read regardless of whether you like watching soccer.
And yes, between this and my Newsday op-ed on the World Baseball Classic, I plan on cornering the public intellectual market on sports and international relations. Bwa ha ha ha ha!!!
Thursday, June 1, 2006
Hugo Chavez wants to impoverish the developing world
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez wants OPEC to join his anti-American bandwagon. The Financial Times' Carola Hoyos reports that he hasn't been all that successful:
Ministers of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, the oil cartel, on Thursday united against Venezuela to reject its call to cut the group’s production.Read the whole thing, because there's some interesting bits of info about the possible expansion of OPEC's membership.
For now, however, let's focus on Chavez's bolded statement, because it's pretty much the opposite of the truth. If one posits that the cartel's reason for existence is to keep the price of oil at artificially high levels, then OPEC does little for the third world except to impoverish countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East that are not members of OPEC.
How is Africa fairing with past year's rise in oil prices? Let's check with the African Development Bank:
According to the African Development Bank (ADB), current oil prices will certainly translate into a higher average inflation of 2.6 percentage point for oil-importing African countries in 2006. High oil prices will exert a heavy toll on the finances of many oil-importing African countries. Increasing oil prices spell real economic danger for these countries as many companies faced with higher energy bills may attempt to cut down on cost and one way of achieving this is to lay off some workers. In the event of such a situation, governments of affected countries will see their tax bases eroded. Lay-offs in one sector of the economy could have huge and devastating effects on the entire economy and many African countries already caught up in the throes of an economic crisis, may have to deal with more complex economic and political situations.Hmmm.... what about Asia? Well, the Asian Development Bank is not as sanguine as Mr. Chavez:
The region of developing Asia and the Pacific is potentially vulnerable to high oil prices. It is a large net importer of oil (in this section oil is taken to include petroleum energy products excluding natural gas) and much of its rapidly expanding energy needs are met by oil. Developing Asia produces about 11% of the world's crude oil, but consumes more than 20% of it, and this gap is widening. Economies in developing Asia are nearly as oil intensive in energy consumption and much less energy efficient than most industrial countries. For each unit of gross domestic product (GDP), measured at market exchange rates, developing Asia consumes nearly five times as much energy as Japan and nearly three times as much as the United States (US).Click here to see a more in-depth analysis by the ADB of the effect of higher oil prices on the region.
In fact, let's just excerpt this 2004 International Energy Agency report to see the effect of high oil prices on the non-OPC members of the developing world as a whole:
The adverse economic impact of higher oil prices on oil-importing developing countries is generally even more severe than for OECD countries. This is because their economies are more dependent on imported oil and more energy-intensive, and because energy is used less efficiently. On average, oil-importing developing countries use more than twice as much oil to produce a unit of economic output as do OECD countries. Developing countries are also less able to weather the financial turmoil wrought by higher oil-import costs. India spent $15 billion, equivalent to 3% of its GDP, on oil imports in 2003. This is 16% higher than its 2001 oil-import bill. It is estimated that the loss of GDP averages 0.8% in Asia and 1.6% in very poor highly indebted countries in the year following a $10 oil-price increase. The loss of GDP in the Sub-Saharan African countries would be more than 3%.[Surely Chavez is correct about the Middle East, right?--ed. Er, no. According to this UN Development Program table, the Arab states have actually seen their energy efficiecy per unit of output decline by close to 50% in the past 25 years. Countries like Egypt and Jordan would get hammered as well.]
Hugo Chavez has zero interest in helping the countries of the developing world. And it's a good thing for the developing world that the rest of OPEC chooses to ignore him.
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Will Iran and the United States talk?
President Bush reversed course on Wednesday because it was made clear to him — by his allies, by the Russians, by the Chinese, and eventually by some of his advisers — that he no longer had a choice. [Hey, bloggers could have told him that!!--DD.]This appears to be Kevin Drum's fear as well:
The usual response, if talks are unwelcome, is to demand some kind of obviously unacceptable precondition for the proposed meeting. This forces the other country to make concessions before negotiations have begun, and since no one is stupid enough to do that, it derails the talks nicely....Kevin's overstating things a bit. Despite Iran's desire for talks, their rhetoric has been unyielding since Ahmadinejad came to power. Furthermore, as this Glenn Kessler analysis demonstrates, the Bush administration has actually shifted its Iran policy a fair amount since 2004.
Iran's response, however, does suggest to me that there's room to negotiate:
Iran this morning issued a wary but apparently less than final reply to the Bush administration's offer. "Iran welcomes dialogue under just conditions but won't give up our rights," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said, in remarks quoted by Iranian state television. "We won't negotiate about the Iranian nation's natural nuclear rights but we are prepared, within a defined, just framework and without any discrimination, to hold dialogue about common concerns."....Based on what Rice and the Iranians are saying, there is definitely a zone of agreement to start talks. Tee U.S. acknowledges that Iran has the right to a civilian nuclear energy program, which could obviously include enrichment. However, the Iranians, if they're serious about talks, can acknowledge that recognition without actually engaging in enrichment activities while talks proceed.
What happens next will be a very interesting test of both American and Iranian intentions.
UPDATE: If nothing else, this strategic shift appears to have created a united front at the Security Council, if this AP report is accurate.
Eugene Gholz is more pessimistic about resolving the situation. He makes a strong case. I'm more optimistic than Gholz for the reason he offers -- that by taking this route, the U.S. has augmented the likelihood of multilateral action if Iran refuses to back down. In the end, I think China and Russia will prefer UN action over a nuclear-armed Iran.
Your memorable phrase for today
[N]obody wants to see a forty year old woman licking salt off a guy's neck and coughing up big phlegm balls from the smokes.You'll have to click over to Laura McKenna to see it in context.
When Congress monopolizes the use of hot air....
Michael Hawthorne has a front-pager in the Chicago Tribune about how Congress is serious about ending America's addition to oil.... unless vacation homes are threatened:
The federal government has stopped work on more than a dozen wind farms planned across the Midwest, saying research is needed on whether the giant turbines could interfere with military radar.
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Will the new Treasury Secretary make a difference?
President George W. Bush on Tuesday named Hank Paulson as his new treasury secretary, pending approval from the Senate.Greg Mankiw takes the opportunity to have some fun at Daniel Gross' expense. Gross, in a classy move, acknowledges that, "contrary to the argument I made in April, Bush has been able to find a Class A Wall Street type willing to take the job."
Question to readers: will Paulson hae a seat at the policymaking table, or is he merely going to be a much better salesman than Snow?
Sunday, May 28, 2006
Will Bono please be quiet, please?
Music from U2 is also used in the campaign from Wieden + Kennedy, which carries the theme, "One game changes everything."These ads have induced excitement in some quarters, but at the risk of besmirching Bono's reputaion for saintliness, the claim that soccer stops war is just a bit much for me.
The conflict-reducing powers of the World Cup is based in what happened when the Ivory Coast quaified for this year's cup. As Bono explains in another ad:
After three years of civil war, feuding factions talked for the first time in years, and the president called a truce. Because the Ivory Coast qualified for the World Cup for the first time. Because, as everyone knows, a country united makes for better cheerleaders than a country divided.This sounds great, and indeed, there are tentative signs that the Ivory Coast is trending in a positive direction.
Over the past six years, the Ivory Coast's southern-based regime has fomented hatred of immigrants and Muslims, yet many of the country's best soccer players are from Muslim and immigrant families, so the national team has become an irresistible symbol of unity. At the end of the Abidjan victory parade [for qualifying], the head of the Ivory Coast Football Federation addressed a plea to President Laurent Gbagbo: "The players have asked me to tell you that what they most want now is for our divided country to become one again. They want this victory to act as a catalyst for peace in Ivory Coast, to put an end to the conflict and to reunite its people. This success must bring us together." The party on the streets lasted another whole day....Furthermore, Human Rights Watch just issued a rather pessimistic report on the country:
Government forces in Côte d’Ivoire, their allied militias and New Forces rebels alike are committing serious abuses against civilians with impunity, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. These abuses and the impunity that fuels them raise serious concerns about the potential for violence in the run-up to the October elections....HRW's history of the conflict says nothing about the World Cup qualifying as a trigger for peace.
[Isn't this a bit curmudgeonly?--ed.] Well, part of it is that ESPN's ads don't mention the other times that soccer affected international conflict:
Tensions [between Honduras and El Salvador] continued to mount during June 1969. The soccer teams of the two nations were engaged that month in a three-game elimination match as a preliminary to the World Cup. Disturbances broke out during the first game in Tegucigalpa, but the situation got considerably worse during the second match in San Salvador. Honduran fans were roughed up, the Honduran flag and national anthem were insulted, and the emotions of both nations became considerably agitated. Actions against Salvadoran residents in Honduras, including several vice consuls, became increasingly violent. An unknown number of Salvadorans were killed or brutalized, and tens of thousands began fleeing the country. The press of both nations contributed to a growing climate of near- hysteria, and on June 27, 1969, Honduras broke diplomatic relations with El Salvador.There's also the role that soccer played in igniting the Balkan wars of the nineties:
For many Croats, the war began not in June 1991 but on the soccer field on 13 March 1990. That day Red Star Belgrade met Dinamo Zagreb at the Maksimir Stadium, Zagreb to settle a long standing disputed league title. The Red Star Delije were led by Arkan, the notorious warlord and Serbian ultranationalist.If FIFA, ESPN, and U2 want to claim that soccer -- and yes, I know, it's called football everywhere else -- was the cause of peace in the Ivory Coast, then they should also acknowledge it's less savory contributions to world politics.
UPDATE: Some of the reactions to this post presume that I don't like either soccer or the World Cup. Not true -- I, for one, am hoping that Team USA can build on its excellent 2002 performance, when it advanced to the quarterfinals and then lost to Germany despite outplaying them for 80 of the 90 minutes of the game [not that he's bitter about it or anything!!--ed.]. I simply request that the game not be assigned magical properties that it does not possess.