Friday, June 16, 2006
Is politics really a beauty contest?
Today I received the following e-mail request from Niclas Berggren:
Several studies document that beauty plays a role in the labor market: beautiful people earn more than others. Three economists are conducting a study to see whether there is a beauty premium in politics as well, such that beautiful candidates have greater electoral success. You, humble readers of daniel drezner.com, are hereby invited to participate in the study, run by Associate Professor Niclas Berggren (The Ratio Institute), Dr. Henrik Jordahl (Uppsala University) and Professor Panu Poutvaara (University of Helsinki).
Just how much do Democrats and Republicans differ?
In a previous post on partisanship, I asserted the following:
This is where I break ranks with both [Tom] DeLay and [Marc] Schmitt -- I don't think Democrats and Republicans disagree on the first principles of governing. I'm not even sure they disagree on second principles. There are policy differences, to be sure -- but Carl Schmitt (not relation to Marc) does not travel well to these shores.Evidentiary standards in the blogosphere are pretty low, but still, I should probably back up this assertion a bit.
Now I can, thanks to Greg Mankiw, who posts the following:
John McCain gave a speech to the Economic Club of New York yesterday....As fate would have it, two months ago Hillary Clinton gave a speech to the Economic Club of Chicago about similar issues.
If one takes Clinton and McCain to be the standard-bearers fopr their respective parties in two years -- a stretch, but not a wholly unreasonable one -- it would be useful to compare and contrast the content of the two speeches.
CLINTON ON GLOBALIZATION: "[T]oday we have no choice about whether or not to embrace globalization. It is happening. We can't pretend it's going away. We can't wish it away. It is occurring. But as in earlier times, we do have a choice about how we deal with globalization and the competitive threat that it poses. We can choose to unleash the power of innovation and enterprise in ways that promote our economic growth and our values so that all Americans share in the prosperity."
MCCAIN ON GLOBALIZATION: "[D]espite all the defeatist rhetoric, America is the world’s biggest exporter, importer, producer, saver, investor, manufacturer and innovator. Americans do not shy from the challenge of competition: they welcome it. Because of that, we attract foreign investment from all over the world. Our government should welcome competition as the people do, and not resort to mindless protectionism.
While we embrace free trade, it is important to recognize that trade can lead to painful dislocations for some individuals. We must remain committed to education, retraining, and help for displaced workers all the while reminding ourselves that our ability to change is a great strength of our nation. We cannot let fear and the appeals of protectionists lead us backward."
CLINTON ON FISCAL POLICY: "Now, I think a return to fiscal discipline, living within our means, is essential for our long-term health. It is also critical to whether or not we control our own destiny as a nation.
Over the long-term and maybe the median term, red ink fiscal policies will undermine America's competitiveness. We have to ask ourselves whether our taxing and spending policies are in line with our economic goals. Do we have the right priorities and values in the federal budget?....
You know, we can do this. But we've got to forge a new bipartisan consensus. In the 1990s we did have tremendous economic growth underpinned by economic policies geared toward deficit reduction. That's why I support a return to pay-as-you-go budget rules in the Congress.
Every institution needs rules. And when the pay-as-you-go rules expired, all bets were off in the Congress. One of the ways we were able to obtain a balanced budget and a surplus in the Congress in the 1990s was you could not cut taxes or raise spending unless you could pay for it. A very old fashioned idea, but one which I hope we can begin to return to."
MCCAIN ON FISCAL POLICY: "While booming entitlement spending threatens us in the long run, our short term fiscal situation is terrible as well. In the past six years, government spending has gone from irresponsible to utterly indefensible. The numbers should shock us, and government’s indifference to them should shame us. According to the latest figures, spending in the 2005 fiscal year was $683 billion higher than it was in 2000. If we had simply held spending growth in check we would not have a budget deficit today.
Some of this money has necessarily been spent on the war on terror that was unexpected and has been obviously and hugely expensive. While at the same time we know we must focus most of our defense spending on tomorrow’s threats, not yesterday’s. But when Ronald Reagan increased defense spending to win the Cold War, he slowed non-defense spending growth at the same time. This time, we have fallen again for that most alluring delusion, we have tried to have our cake and eat it too. Non-defense spending, often on the most unnecessary projects, is out of control.
Legislators pass pork-filled bills without the fear of public retribution or presidential veto. Federal spending, and the special interest earmarks that destroy the budget process and waste taxpayer dollars by the billions continues at a breakneck pace. Sadly, we haven’t reformed the bankrupt “tax and spend” policies decried by Ronald Reagan. We have, it is now evident, merely replaced them with a new and even more insidious scheme of “borrow and spend.”
We are fooling no one, my friends. Inevitably, the bill will come due. In the mean time, we rack up big debts. With those debts come higher and higher interest payments each year. Instead of spending the tax payers’ dollars on real priorities, more and more of them will be devoted simply to keeping the bill collectors at bay. Bills that perpetuate wasteful spending should be vetoed – not some of them, all of them."
CLINTON ON ENERGY INDEPENDENCE: "We need a national energy strategy that is more than one line in the State of the Union. Energy costs hurt everyone's bottom line. And over the past 30 years, the ups and downs of the global oil market have cost the U.S. economy $7 trillion -- enough to pay off almost all of our national debt. The U.S. chemical industry says national gas price hikes over the last two years alone have cost it $10 billion and $50 billion in sales lost to cheaper foreign competition. Meanwhile, the average family is spending 75 percent more on transportation costs than it did five years ago.
We need a drive for smart energy that starts right now. The way to reduce our oil addiction is through technology, and we need a much more aggressive strategy. We have a National Institutes of Health. Why don't we have a National Institute of Energy? I think we need a major energy research program similar to what President Eisenhower did after Sputnik went up because we are suffering through what might be called -- and some have -- silent Sputnik. And the energy issue is one of those.
If we had a major energy research program, it would create a portfolio of cutting edge energy research technologies that would reduce our oil dependence, increase our efficiency and reduce green house gas emissions."
MCCAIN ON ENERGY INDEPENDENCE: "Recent events have also made it clear that rising energy costs and our dangerous dependence on an unreliable supply from unstable parts of the world is potentially crippling to our economy. When Wall Street wants to limit risk, it diversifies. The obvious approach to resolve our energy problems is to increase and diversify our sources of power and look for ways to reduce our demand. We have promising technologies in development, but also proven alternatives at hand – the most obvious of which is nuclear.
Genuine improvement in our energy security, must respect markets and avoid the temptations of nearsighted politics. While it is tempting to assail windfall profits and executive compensation, it is not a substitute for a viable and long-term energy strategy. We will never be fully independent of global energy markets. But we must work for the day that energy supply volatility no longer imperils our economy and our security."
Is it just me, or is there a lot of similarity here?
To be sure, these quotes do not mean that Clinton and McCain are carbon copies of each other. If you read the speeches back-to-back, you see Clinton keeps mentioning fiscal discipline, but the bulk of her policy proposals are about substantive increases in "infrastructure" spending. McCain seems more emphatic about deficit reduction, but as Mankiw correctly points out, he's a bit vague on the details. Clinton wants to subsidize manufacturing; McCain doesn't. Read the two speeches yourself and see if you can spot other differences (and, for the record, I strongly prefer McCain's speech on the points of divergence).
The differences, however, are one of small degrees, not orders of magnitude. They are not differences of first principle.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
How to make people read about economic concepts
Megan McArdle has two posts today on economics that are worth checking out -- both for their substantive content and for the excellent way in which she lures readers who might be put off by economic jargon into perusing them anyway.
For example, in this post on comparing the U.S. macroeconomic situation to the developing world, there is this great passage:
It is common, and silly, for people worrying about America's current account deficit to make statements like this:Check out this post on stagflation as well. It's a moment of convergence between Megan and Kevin Drum.If the US were a developing nation, it would have been IMFed by now.And if I were Anna Nicole Smith, I would have absolutely ENORMOUS . . . vacation homes. This is not very relevant to my current summer plans.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
In honor of Flag Day....
The Senate is going to vote today on a flag-burning amendment, an act that even the conservative base knows is meaningless. Seriously, is this really a problem in this country? Utah Senator Bob Bennett points out the obvious: "The only time there's any significant amount of flag burning is when the flag amendment is introduced and people go out and burn flags in opposition to the amendment."
If you must think about this kind of nonsense, go read this Julian Sanchez post about the proposed constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning. And then try to think of an even sillier amendment to the Constitution and post it in the comments.
UPDATE: Thanks to the reader who linked to this John Scalzi post from last year on this very topic.
Fewer Americans are going postal
Frances Williams reports in the Financial Times about some interesting trends in workplace violence in the developed world:
Physical and psychological violence in the workplace is on the rise worldwide and has reached “epidemic levels” in many industrialised countries, according to a study published on Wednesday by the International Labour Organisation.Here's a link to the ILO press release, as well as the introductory chapter. I wouldn't describe the data cited in the report as "patchy" so much as "completely incommensurate between countries."
Putting that caveat aside for a moment, would any readers like to posit why workplace violence appears to be on the decline in the Anglosphere but on the rise elsewhere?
Seth Mnookin has started up a blog on his web site that's worth checking out if you like the Boston Red Sox, baseball in general, and savvy media criticism.
UPDATE: In other blog news, Matthew Yglesias is clearly making a buck off of his blogging and discovers to his irritation that he has to pay the government some of it.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
For the philosophers in the audience....
Luc Bovens has a fascinating article in the Journal of Medical Ethics about whether strict pro-life activists -- i.e., those who are as concerned about embryonic death as they are about fetuses -- can ethically endorse the rhythm method as a means of family planning. Why?
Pro-lifers oppose IUDs because their main mode of operation is to make embryonic death likely. Now suppose that we were to learn that the success of the rhythm method is actually due, not to the fact that conception does not happen—sperm and ova are much more long lived than we previously thought—but rather because the viability of conceived ova outside the HF period is minimal due to the limited resilience of the embryo and the limited receptivity of the uterine wall. If this were the case, then one should oppose the rhythm method for the same reasons as one opposes IUDs. If it is callous to use a technique that makes embryonic death likely by making the uterine wall inhospitable to implantation, then clearly it is callous to use a technique that makes embryonic death likely by organising one’s sex life so that conceived ova lack resilience and will face a uterine wall that is inhospitable to implantation. Furthermore, if one is opposed to IUDs because their main mode of operation is to secure embryonic death, then, on the assumption that one of the modes of operation of the pill is to make embryonic death likely, one should be equally opposed to pill usage. This is essentially Alcorn’s argument and assuming that the empirical details hold, consistency does indeed drive IUD opponents in this direction. If, however, our empirical assumptions about the rhythm method hold, then one of its modes of operation is also that it makes embryonic death likely. And if embryos are unborn children, is it not callous indeed to organise one’s sex life on the basis of a technique whose success is partly dependent on the fact that unborn children will starve because they are brought to life in a hostile environment?This rests on the belief that the rhythm method works because of embryonic death rather than a failure to fertilize an egg in the first place. Amanda Schaffer's article in the New York Times about the Bovens paper discusses the scientific lay of the land on that question.
I have no idea whether Bovens' empirical assertion is correct -- but if it is, it would seem to pose a very interesting quandry for some pro-life activists.
UPDATE: The comments tend to run towards the distinction between sins of omission and sins of commission. Just to be really subversive, try applying that framework to this question and see if your views remain internally consistent.
The Bush administration's whack-a-mole on data privacy
In less than a month, the Bush administration has had two gaffes on the security of electronic data.
Energy Department officials have informed nearly 1,500 individuals that their Social Security numbers and other information may have been compromised when a hacker gained entry to a department computer system eight months ago, a spokesman said Monday.
In which direction is Bush headed?
As of late, George W. Bush has suffered a few bad
So what does the future hold? There are two takes on the web today.
The American Spectator recently published a special issue devoted mostly to detailing the litany of Bush sins. One recent book (Impostor, by conservative columnist Bruce Bartlett), a forthcoming book (Conservatives Betrayed, by right-wing activist Richard Viguerie), and innumerable op-eds (e.g., "HOW THE GOP LOST ITS WAY," by Reagan biographer Craig Shirley) condemn the president as an ideological turncoat.Meanwhile, John Dickerson at Slate notices a small countertrend:
Boy, that Josh Bolten is good. Since taking over as White House chief of staff, he has successfully installed a new spokesman, landed a Wall Street wizard to run the Treasury Department, killed the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, got the Iraqis to form a government, and brought about the exoneration of Karl Rove. Political observers search for a turning point. When the narrative is written, Bolten's promotion will seem like the moment everything changed for the White House.So is the wheel turning or not?
My two cents is that it actually doesn't matter. In 2004, the residue of George W. Bush as the resolute post-9/11 leader was strong enough for him to eke out an electoral victory. I suspect the hangover from the Iraq occupation will be so massive that there is little Bush could do between now and November to affect the Republicans' political fortunes.
But I could be wrong... and I welcome readers telling me that.
Monday, June 12, 2006
Rauch, realpolitik, and realism
Rauch argues that current policymakers should pay more attention to realism -- which requires him to define the term and then explain why it's been neglected:
[T]he United States would do well to recall and learn from President Kennedy. But which President Kennedy? The idealist who made the speeches, or the realist who made the decisions?Much as I admire Rauch's writings, there are a few problems with this column, and at the risk of stepping into some paradigm wars, I think it's worth pointing them out:
1) The far left and right aren't the only ones to embrac realism. Rauch overlooks a gaggle of sober, respectable policymakers and public intellectuals who would be considered realists. Brent Scowcroft and Henry Kissinger certainly fit this mold.The Bush administration may not be pursuing a strictly realist foreign policy, but its behavior suggests they're well aware of the concept that Rauch is trying to promote.
The tragicomedy of North Korea
In the Financial Times, Demetri Sevastopulo, Stephen Fidler and Anna Fifield report that Kim Jong Il would like the United States to pay more attention to North Korea now, please:
North Korea is preparing for a possible test of an intercontinental ballistic missile with the potential to hit the US, according to Washington officials.The title of this post aside, there's actually nothing funny about this... unless your mind wanders involuntarily to certain movie musicals.
Team America references aside, the most obvious indication that this is serious is that the South Koreans are not downplaying it:
Ban Ki-moon, South Korea’s foreign minister, last week said the preparations were of “great concern” – comments that underscored South Korean anxiety given that Seoul has traditionally played down the chances of any inflammatory actions by the North. The official said the US wanted to avoid creating a crisis because “ that is what North Korea wants”.
Sunday, June 11, 2006
What happens when I go on vacation
I am toying with a new concept, namely The Work Vacation. Pick some exotic locale and bring your laptop. Write your book and blog as usual. Go out every now and then to see some sights. In essence seeing sights replaces the time at home you would spend doing chores and taking care of family.This is almost but not exactly what my vacations are like.
Indeed, the joke in my family is that the only difference between me working and me on vacation is that I read a slightly different set of books.