Saturday, August 26, 2006

Bernanke on globalization

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke gave an interesting speech entitled, "Global Economic Integration: What's New and What's Not?" that's worth a gander. Here's his answer to what's new:

Each observer will have his or her own perspective, but, to me, four differences between the current wave of global economic integration and past episodes seem most important. First, the scale and pace of the current episode is unprecedented. For example, in recent years, global merchandise exports have been above 20 percent of world gross domestic product, compared with about 8 percent in 1913 and less than 15 percent as recently as 1990; and international financial flows have expanded even more quickly. But these data understate the magnitude of the change that we are now experiencing. The emergence of China, India, and the former communist-bloc countries implies that the greater part of the earth's population is now engaged, at least potentially, in the global economy. There are no historical antecedents for this development. Columbus's voyage to the New World ultimately led to enormous economic change, of course, but the full integration of the New and the Old Worlds took centuries. In contrast, the economic opening of China, which began in earnest less than three decades ago, is proceeding rapidly and, if anything, seems to be accelerating.

Second, the traditional distinction between the core and the periphery is becoming increasingly less relevant, as the mature industrial economies and the emerging-market economies become more integrated and interdependent. Notably, the nineteenth-century pattern, in which the core exported manufactures to the periphery in exchange for commodities, no longer holds, as an increasing share of world manufacturing capacity is now found in emerging markets. An even more striking aspect of the breakdown of the core-periphery paradigm is the direction of capital flows: In the nineteenth century, the country at the center of the world's economy, Great Britain, ran current account surpluses and exported financial capital to the periphery. Today, the world's largest economy, that of the United States, runs a current-account deficit, financed to a substantial extent by capital exports from emerging-market nations.

Third, production processes are becoming geographically fragmented to an unprecedented degree.4 Rather than producing goods in a single process in a single location, firms are increasingly breaking the production process into discrete steps and performing each step in whatever location allows them to minimize costs. For example, the U.S. chip producer AMD locates most of its research and development in California; produces in Texas, Germany, and Japan; does final processing and testing in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and China; and then sells to markets around the globe. To be sure, international production chains are not entirely new: In 1911, Henry Ford opened his company's first overseas factory in Manchester, England, to be closer to a growing source of demand. The factory produced bodies for the Model A automobile, but imported the chassis and mechanical parts from the United States for assembly in Manchester. Although examples like this one illustrate the historical continuity of the process of economic integration, today the geographical extension of production processes is far more advanced and pervasive than ever before. As an aside, some interesting economic questions are raised by the fact that in some cases international production chains are managed almost entirely within a single multinational corporation (roughly 40 percent of U.S. merchandise trade is classified as intra-firm) and in others they are built through arm's-length transactions among unrelated firms. But the empirical evidence in both cases suggests that substantial productivity gains can often be achieved through the development of global supply chains.

The final item on my list of what is new about the current episode is that international capital markets have become substantially more mature. Although the net capital flows of a century ago, measured relative to global output, are comparable to those of the present, gross flows today are much larger. Moreover, capital flows now take many more forms than in the past: In the nineteenth century, international portfolio investments were concentrated in the finance of infrastructure projects (such as the American railroads) and in the purchase of government debt. Today, international investors hold an array of debt instruments, equities, and derivatives, including claims on a broad range of sectors. Flows of foreign direct investment are also much larger relative to output than they were fifty or a hundred years ago. As I noted earlier, the increase in capital flows owes much to capital-market liberalization and factors such as the greater standardization of accounting practices as well as to technological advances.

To me, the most astonishing difference is number two.

posted by Dan at 09:19 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

This seems like a good weekend topic

Well, I see the blogosphere is ablaze with talk about this Forbes colum by Michael Noer:

Guys: A word of advice. Marry pretty women or ugly ones. Short ones or tall ones. Blondes or brunettes. Just, whatever you do, don't marry a woman with a career.

Why? Because if many social scientists are to be believed, you run a higher risk of having a rocky marriage....

Not a happy conclusion, especially given that many men, particularly successful men, are attracted to women with similar goals and aspirations. And why not? After all, your typical career girl is well-educated, ambitious, informed and engaged. All seemingly good things, right? Sure…at least until you get married. Then, to put it bluntly, the more successful she is the more likely she is to grow dissatisfied with you. Sound familiar?

Read the whiole thing and then coment away.

I'm shocked, shocked that Noer's article, "provoked a heated response from both outside and inside our building." Indeed, after a few days, Forbes felt compelled to publish a side-by-side rebuttal by Elizabeth Corcoran.

Online reaction from Laura McKenna and Jack Shafer, and on a related topic, Bitch Ph.D. Shafer has the key point:

Forbes' definition of a career woman is extraordinarily broad, including any woman who has a college education, works 35 hours a week, and makes more than $30,000. So, if you define non-career women as all the "undereducated" who work part-time and make less than $30K, it becomes painfully obvious why female careerists are more likely to divorce than non-careerists: They can better afford to get out of an unhappy marriage than their sisters.

That may be bad news for all the schmoes getting dumped, but it's great news for the gals. So, go ahead, young ladies. Get your degree. Even go to grad school. Gun for that corner office if you want to and get the guy. If you divorce, make sure to stick him with the shared subscription to Forbes.

I'm sure both Noer and Shafer would point to this Jacqueline Mackie Massey Paisley post to support this argument.

posted by Dan at 08:49 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Thoughts on Iran and oil

That's what you will hear me pontificate about in PJM's Blog Week in Review podcast. The other participant was Gerard Van Der Leun.

Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 01:18 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Who's afraid of peak oil?

With ever-growing attention to the peak oil question, it's worth observing yet again that the U.S. economy has been astonishingly resilient to the high price of oil. Indeed, if I'm reading this chart correctly, the real price of oil has tripled in the last four years -- easily the highest percentage increase in such a short span of time. Last year I wondered if $70 a barrel for oil would have stagflationary effects -- and the answer so far appears to be no.

Raphael Minder reports in the Financial Times that the global economy could be just as resilient:

The world economy will not face a serious inflation problem even if there is a further significant increase in the price of oil, the governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia said on Thursday.

Ian Macfarlane, whose 10-year tenure makes him one of the world’s longest serving central bank chiefs, said in an interview with the Financial Times that he expected inflation to remain under control even if oil rose above its recent peak of nearly $80 a barrel.

“There is of course a lot of anxiety about oil and a lot of attention given to the issue worldwide. But what I find most relevant is that we have been able to absorb the increase in oil prices reasonably well, in a way nobody would have predicted two or three years ago.”

“We have got from $20 to $77, so if we were to go to $90, and people are saying that then all hell is going to break loose, I really doubt it,” said Mr Macfarlane, who steps down next month.

posted by Dan at 12:14 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Text mobs

Mary Jordan has a front-pager in the Washington Post detailing how social movements use text messaging to surmount attempts to contain dissent:

Cellphones and text messaging are changing the way political mobilizations are conducted around the world. From Manila to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, andKathmandu, Nepal, protests once publicized on coffeehouse bulletin boards are now organized entirely through text-messaging networks that can reach vast numbers of people in a matter of minutes.

The technology is also changing the organization and dynamics of protests, allowing leaders to control, virtually minute-by-minute, the movements of demonstrators, like military generals in the field. Using texts that communicate orders instantly, organizers can call for advances or retreats of waves of protesters.

This tool has changed the balance of political power in places where governments have a history of outmuscling dissent. In April, Nepal's King Gyanendra ordered authorities to cut cellphone service after protesters against his absolute rule used text messages to help assemble street protests by tens of thousands of democracy advocates.

The Philippines, widely called the text-messaging center of the world, has led the way. When President Joseph Estrada was forced from office in 2001, he bitterly complained that the popular uprising against him was a "coup de text."

The best part of the story documents a real-time Filipino protest designed to overwhelm the police's ability to disperse it:
At 1:30 p.m. on a recent day, Palatino and three students lingered near the doughnut case in the 7-Eleven on a congested corner of Morayta Street. They stood in the air-conditioned cool, cellphones in hand, waiting for a text....

They knew police had been ordered to disperse unauthorized crowds near the presidential palace and would not hesitate to use wooden batons and water cannons to do it. So organizers wanted to make sure that everyone converged at the same time to make the rally harder to break up.

Soon Palatino's phone was alive with a flurry of texts from coordinators and marchers anxious to start.

One asked: "Are the media here?"

About a dozen TV cameramen and newspaper photographers gathered outside. They, too, had been summoned by text.

At 1:45, Palatino's phone pinged again, this time with the message: "ASSEMBLE RIGHT NOW!"

A smile crossed his face. With a few more taps of his thumbs, he forwarded the command down the text brigade ranks. He sent it to those on his phone list, and each who received it did the same. In seconds, about 1,000 students were in the street, stopping traffic and sending cars and bicycle taxis scattering.

Two students quickly hooked up a public address system to the battery of a vehicle. One by one, leaders climbed on top of it to fire up the crowd. Palatino demanded that President Arroyo do more to end the [unsolved] killings and allocate more money for universities.

"Books, not bullets!" he shouted.

The all-at-once strategy worked: The police were caught off guard. Only a few officers were on the scene, and they quickly pulled out their own cellphones to make urgent voice calls.

Note to self: add to paper on IT's effect on state-society relations.

posted by Dan at 08:22 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

The Howard Cosell of international news

I am happy to cross the partisan divide and state for the record that I am in 100% agreement with Matthew Yglesias:

I'm not sure if you guys know who Richard Quest is, but suffice it to say that based on my rather small level of watching CNN International while traveling he's far and away the most annoying television news personality on the planet.
Naturally, Quest got his own monthly interview show, ‘Quest’, in July.

And if I was the head of CNN, I'd do the same thing -- Quest's voice, mannerisms, and teeth are so.... grating that the overall effect is hypnotic. Whenever I catch him in my travels, it requires a concerted effort to change the channel.

posted by Dan at 05:54 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Those dirty Polynesian rats

I'm a big fan of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, and still need to read his sequel, Collapse. However, Terry L. Hunt has an essay in the latest issue of The American Scientist that calls into question Diamond's central case study in Collapse -- the decline and fall of the Rapa Nui on Easter Island:

In the prevailing account of the island's past, the native inhabitants—who refer to themselves as the Rapanui and to the island as Rapa Nui—once had a large and thriving society, but they doomed themselves by degrading their environment. According to this version of events, a small group of Polynesian settlers arrived around 800 to 900 A.D., and the island's population grew slowly at first. Around 1200 A.D., their growing numbers and an obsession with building moai led to increased pressure on the environment. By the end of the 17th century, the Rapanui had deforested the island, triggering war, famine and cultural collapse.

Jared Diamond, a geographer and physiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, has used Rapa Nui as a parable of the dangers of environmental destruction. "In just a few centuries," he wrote in a 1995 article for Discover magazine, "the people of Easter Island wiped out their forest, drove their plants and animals to extinction, and saw their complex society spiral into chaos and cannibalism. Are we about to follow their lead?" In his 2005 book Collapse, Diamond described Rapa Nui as "the clearest example of a society that destroyed itself by overexploiting its own resources."

Two key elements of Diamond's account are the large number of Polynesians living on the island and their propensity for felling trees. He reviews estimates of the island's native population and says that he would not be surprised if it exceeded 15,000 at its peak. Once the large stands of palm trees were all cut down, the result was "starvation, a population crash, and a descent into cannibalism." When Europeans arrived in the 18th century, they found only a small remnant of this civilization....

When I first went to Rapa Nui to conduct archaeological research, I expected to help confirm this story. Instead, I found evidence that just didn't fit the underlying timeline. As I looked more closely at data from earlier archaeological excavations and at some similar work on other Pacific islands, I realized that much of what was claimed about Rapa Nui's prehistory was speculation. I am now convinced that self-induced environmental collapse simply does not explain the fall of the Rapanui.

Radiocarbon dates from work I conducted with a colleague and a number of students over the past several years and related paleoenvironmental data point to a different explanation for what happened on this small isle. The story is more complex than usually depicted.

The first colonists may not have arrived until centuries later than has been thought, and they did not travel alone. They brought along chickens and rats, both of which served as sources of food. More important, however, was what the rats ate. These prolific rodents may have been the primary cause of the island's environmental degradation. Using Rapa Nui as an example of "ecocide," as Diamond has called it, makes for a compelling narrative, but the reality of the island's tragic history is no less meaningful....

There is no reliable evidence that the island's population ever grew as large as 15,000 or more, and the actual downfall of the Rapanui resulted not from internal strife but from contact with Europeans. When Roggeveen landed on Rapa Nui's shores in 1722, a few days after Easter (hence the island's name), he took more than 100 of his men with him, and all were armed with muskets, pistols and cutlasses. Before he had advanced very far, Roggeveen heard shots from the rear of the party. He turned to find 10 or 12 islanders dead and a number of others wounded. His sailors claimed that some of the Rapanui had made threatening gestures. Whatever the provocation, the result did not bode well for the island's inhabitants.

Newly introduced diseases, conflict with European invaders and enslavement followed over the next century and a half, and these were the chief causes of the collapse....

I believe that the world faces today an unprecedented global environmental crisis, and I see the usefulness of historical examples of the pitfalls of environmental destruction. So it was with some unease that I concluded that Rapa Nui does not provide such a model. But as a scientist I cannot ignore the problems with the accepted narrative of the island's prehistory. Mistakes or exaggerations in arguments for protecting the environment only lead to oversimplified answers and hurt the cause of environmentalism. We will end up wondering why our simple answers were not enough to make a difference in confronting today's problems.

Ecosystems are complex, and there is an urgent need to understand them better. Certainly the role of rats on Rapa Nui shows the potentially devastating, and often unexpected, impact of invasive species. I hope that we will continue to explore what happened on Rapa Nui, and to learn whatever other lessons this remote outpost has to teach us.

posted by Dan at 09:24 AM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Can science solve the stem cell debate?

According to the Financial Times' Clive Cookson, there may be a way to end the ethical debate over stem cell research:

Scientists in the US have created human embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos, a discovery that appears to get round a basic ethical objection to stem cell research.

The breakthrough – published online on Thursday by the scientific journal Nature – could help lead to greater public funding for the field and make it more appealing for commercial investment.

Researchers from Advanced Cell Technology, a US biotech group, have generated stem cell cultures by plucking individual cells from newly fertilised embryos, which are not harmed. Stem cell production until now involved taking larger masses of cells from slightly older embryos, which are inevitably lost.

The discovery “has the potential to play a critical role in the advancement of regenerative medicine”, said Ronald Green, director of Dartmouth College’s Ethics Institute and head of ACT’s independent ethics board.

“It appears to be a way out of the political impasse in the US and elsewhere,” Prof Green added. “I see this as a real opportunity for the Bush administration to address the need for embryonic stem cell lines, while maintaining their ethical position that embryos should not be destroyed to obtain them.”

Here's a link to the actual article in Nature.

The FT article does go one to assert that,"hardline critics of embryo research – such as the US Conference of Catholic Bishops – are unlikely to accept the manipulation even of a single embryonic cell, which they say could theoretically become a human being."

Question to readers: assuming that this is a real breakthrough, will it sway a sufficient number of stem cell opponents to render the debate moot?

posted by Dan at 09:50 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Your photo sequences of the day

Click here.

Then click here.

Thank you, Xavier Sala-i-Martin. And thanks to Tyler Cowen for the links.

posted by Dan at 01:46 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

So much for the single-payer utopia

I've said repeatedly on this blog that health care policy puts me to sleep most of the time. I usually stay awake long enough, however, to hear many left-of-center colleagues praise the Canadian single-payer system to no end.

Which is why I bring up this New York Times story by Christopher Mason:

A doctor who operates Canada’s largest private hospital in violation of Canadian law was elected Tuesday to become president of the Canadian Medical Association. The move gives an influential platform to a prominent advocate of increasing privatization of Canada’s troubled taxpayer-financed medical system.

The new president-elect, Dr. Brian Day, has openly run his private hospital in Vancouver even though it accepts money from patients for procedures that are available through the public system, which is illegal.

Dr. Day, who will assume the presidency in August next year, advocates a hybrid health care system similar to those in many European countries....

opposition to private health care has diminished in Canada, in part because waiting times have more than doubled for certain procedures during the last 13 years, according to the Fraser Institute, a conservative research group.

Debate has been especially heated since a ruling by the Supreme Court in June 2005 gave residents of Quebec the right to pursue private treatment if the province could not provide services in a reasonable time.

Since then, Quebec’s premier and the leaders of British Columbia and Alberta have expressed a willingness to consider solutions that include privately paid medical services, in part because of the court decision but also because of the rising cost of providing free health care. On average, provinces spend nearly 45 percent of their budgets on health care.

In the meantime, private health clinics are opening at an average rate of one a week in Canada.

“The Canadian health system is at a point in history right now where it’s going to be reformed in the wake of the Supreme Court decision,” Dr. Day said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “The concept that the status quo is something that we should maintain is wearing thin, with frustrated doctors and frustrated patients.”

Since its formation in the 1960’s, Canada’s publicly financed health insurance system has been at the core of the national identity.

But in recent years, with waiting times growing and costs skyrocketing, the merits of a larger private component to the health care system has not been the taboo topic it once was.

Before I doze off, do check out Megan McArdle's recent health care post as well.

UPDATE: Many commenters -- and Ezra Klein -- have (justifiably) asked where there is praise for the Canadian single-payer system on the left. So, click here, here, here, here, here, and here.

That said, I should also acknowledge that this is hardly the uniform view of left-of-center policy analysts. For critiques of the Canadian system from Democrats, see this post by Ezra Klein.

posted by Dan at 01:27 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Wikipedia vs. Brittanica

David Adesnik provides an excellent summary of the relative strengths of each encyclopedia. Key point:

Wikipedia has been able to generate so much content -- 1,000,000 in English, compared to 120,000 for Britannica -- precisely because it has so few rules. As Americans know, it is very dangerous to put limits on free speech when that is the essence of what makes you great. Yet some limits are necessary....

let me just suggest that the purpose of Wikipedia isn't necessarily to replicate or transcend Britannica. Vast swathes of Wikipedia content would be considered far too trivial for a "serious" publication like Britannica....

Some might call this a waste of a labor, but I think it's a very good thing. Most people burn out when they don't waste some time on trivial pursuits. But even trivial pursuits often depend on information.... I say, "Viva Wikipedia!"

posted by Dan at 10:02 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

There's more than one way to measure economic prosperity

Following up on recent posts about economic inequality and Wal-Mart, it should be noted that Virginia Postrel has a great column in Forbes about how government figures likely underestimate the welfare gains among the bottom half of the income ladder:

Nowadays, candid and intelligent people--not to mention partisans--tell us that the average American's standard of living has barely budged in decades. Supposedly only the rich are living better, while everyone else stagnates or falls behind.

And today's gloom peddlers can claim to have scientific data on their side. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median real income of a full-time working male rose only 4% between 1981 and 2001, from $44,000 to $45,900 in today's dollars.

If so, you have to wonder who's buying all those flat-screen TVs, serving precooked rotisserie chicken for dinner or organizing their closets with Elfa systems. "Anybody who thinks things are getting worse should go to Best Buy and notice the type of people who go to Best Buy," says economist Robert J. Gordon of Northwestern University.

Gordon is the author of a much-cited study showing that from 1966 to 2001 real income kept up with productivity gains for only the top 10% of earners. What the pessimists who tout his study don't say is that, while Gordon does find that inequality is increasing, he's convinced that the picture of middle-class stagnation is false.

"The median person has had steadily improving standards of living," he says. But real incomes have been understated. The problem lies in how the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates the cost of living.

Which brings us to Wal-Mart:
Price indexes also haven't kept up with changes in what consumers buy and when and where they shop. Wal-Mart's share of the U.S. grocery market is more than a fifth and is growing. Wal-Mart and other superstores charge up to 27% less for food than traditional supermarkets, estimate economists Jerry Hausman of MIT and Ephraim Leibtag of the Department of Agriculture. But the BLS doesn't factor those lower prices into its inflation estimates. It simply assumes that Wal-Mart's price reflects worse service, and ignores the savings.

Government statisticians, Hausman complains, "want to act like accountants, and they don't want to take economics into account at all."

Using ACNielsen data from 61,500 households, Hausman and Leibtag calculate that grocery shoppers are 20% better off--not the full 27%--with a superstore shopping trip. "So some of the food isn't quite as good or the diversity isn't quite as good," says Hausman. "But you still get a huge boost."

Since groceries make up 12% of household spending and as much as 25% for low-income Americans, this distortion significantly understates real incomes, especially at the bottom.

posted by Dan at 12:59 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

Blog debate on government policy and income inequality

Let me recap the blog debate over the extent to which government policy is responsible for increases in income inequality in recent decades, set off by this Paul Krugman column from last week.

No, that would take to long. Let me just link to this Brad DeLong post and this Tyler Cowen post and strongly recommend that you click through.

posted by Dan at 08:39 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

That Lopez Obrador has an interesting political strategy

Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s strategy to reverse the results in Mexico's presidential election is starting to confuse me. Consider this Financial Times story by Adam Thomson:

Ever since Mr López Obrador, leftwing candidate in the election for president on July 2, lost by a razor-thin 244,000 votes to Felipe Calderón of the ruling centre-right National Action party, he has been “fighting to save democracy”....

In a rare interview, Mr López Obrador told the Financial Times at the weekend that not only would his struggle continue but that it would also become more radical and incorporate new acts of “civil resistance” to press his case.

All this has come as little surprise to his critics, who brand the silver-haired 52-year-old simply as an unreformed leftist campaigner with an authoritarian streak and scant regard for legal process.

They would probably be unsurprised, too, to learn what Mr López Obrador is reading: Sources on the History of the Mexican Revolution, a large leather-bound book with gold leaf on the spine. “You have to know history to know what to do in circumstances . . .”, he says before tailing off into silence.

Mr López Obrador has been reading about José Vasconcelos, a prominent revolutionary figure who later put down his loss in the 1929 presidential election to fraud and called on supporters to begin an armed struggle. And like that of Vasconcelos, Mr López Obrador is aware that the story of his own struggle might be retold for future generations.

Never in this country’s history has an opposition movement managed to bring together so many people,” he says. “This is a historic moment because the next few days will define the future of democracy in Mexico, the role of the institutions and respect for the constitution.”....

As a political strategy, however, most analysts believe the call for peaceful civil resistance is a big mistake. The resulting traffic chaos from the blockade of Reforma has annoyed many residents in the capital, which is by far Mr López Obrador’s biggest support base. An increasingly radical strategy may also alienate members of his own party, which did well at the legislative level. Before long, they argue, instead of becoming a new Vasconcelos, he may find himself a lonely – and insignificant – character.

Mr López Obrador admits that “there has been a drain of support” since he began his civil resistance campaign. He also accepts that less than half the population supports him in his struggle. In the capital, for example, he believes he now has the backing of 38 per cent of citizens.

But he insists that he had no option but to challenge the authorities. “You can’t stop them unless you take these kinds of steps. The way to fight fraud and to overcome the news blackout is what we are doing now,” he says. “If we hadn’t taken Reforma [the occupied avenue], we would not exist.” (emphases added)

If this Bloomberg report by Patrick Harrington and Adriana Arai is accurate, the sit-in in Mexico City cost his party votes in Chiapas.

If Lopez Obrador knows that his "permanent protest" campaign is causing him to lose support, and there is no indication that the protests to date are affecting the legal part of the electoral process, how is this Mexican standoff going to end?

posted by Dan at 07:52 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Who's going to McCain McCain?

John M. Broder has a story in today's New York Times on John McCain's efforts to monopolize GOP operatives and policy wonks in preparation for 2008:

Senator John McCain is locking up a cast of top-shelf Republican strategists, policy experts, fund-raisers and donors, in a methodical effort to build a 2008 presidential campaign machine, drawing supporters of President Bush despite the sometimes rocky history between the two men....

Other Republican presidential hopefuls are doing likewise, but Mr. McCain is widely judged to be farther along in assembling the kind of national network necessary to sustain a long, expensive campaign for his party’s nomination to succeed President Bush.

At a point in the election cycle when policy positions may be less important than general impressions, the signal Mr. McCain is seeking to send to the Republican Party is that anyone who wants a place on his bandwagon should jump on now.

“We are a party that gravitates toward front-runners,” said Rick Davis, who was Mr. McCain’s presidential campaign manager in 2000....

His still-informal network includes Richard L. Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state; John A. Thain, chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange; and Sig Rogich, who directed the advertising for the 1988 and 1992 presidential campaigns of Mr. Bush’s father.

He is reaching out to Christian conservatives, who helped sink his 2000 presidential bid, by enlisting the aid of figures like Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. of Utah and former Senator Dan Coats of Indiana, both of whom have strong evangelical followings.

His growing kitchen cabinet spans an array of issues and backgrounds, and includes James Jay Baker, a former lobbyist for the National Rifle Association; Niall Ferguson, a historian at Harvard; and Barry McCaffrey, who was the drug czar under President Bill Clinton.

There is as yet no formal policy council and no regular meetings of the McCain brain trust, aides said. They cautioned that the senator consults widely and that some of those enlisted as advisers or supporters might not play official roles in his campaign, if he decides to run.

Some figures listed as advisers by McCain aides, like Colin L. Powell, the former secretary of state, have been silent in public about their preference, and it is not clear how involved they may become.

Yet the scale and breadth of the list suggest how much time, effort and care Mr. McCain is investing in preparing for a presidential campaign, using the lessons of his race in 2000 and his subsequent effort to rally the party around him.

McCain's list includes a fair number of foreign policy heavyweights -- a telling sign of front-runner status.

This leads to the obvious question -- who's going to play the role of insurgent outsider to McCain's front-runner? At some point, there has to be a media boomlet for a candidate other than McCain. [But the media loves McCain!!--ed. They love a good horse race a lot more... besides, this allows reporters to push the "McCain has changed" meme in the way that rock enthusiasts talk about how they only like early Nirvana.] This candidate will inevitably be painted as an authentic straight-shooter who is somehow more "authentic" than McCain.

According to Greg Mankiw, the only other Republican with an active Tradesports market is Giuliani. While it would be hard to picture neither the frontrunner nor the challenger coming from the Christian conservative wing of the party, it's hardly unprecedented -- look at 1996 or 1988.

Readers are encouraged to offer who they believe will be McCain's McCain. My money is on this man.

posted by Dan at 10:04 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The muted power of transnational capital

If the International Whaling Commission is my favorite international governmental organization, then my favorite international non-governmental organization would have to be the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue. Why? Because despite the impressive membership roster, this group does not appear to accomplish all that much. On issues like data privacy or genetically modified foods, the TABD has repeatedly issued stern proclamations with no effect on the outcome.

Which is why I am unmoved by this Financial Times story by Stephanie Kirchgaessner

Citigroup chairman Charles Prince has urged President George W. Bush to reinvigorate multilateral trade discussions and “identify a way forward” on the Doha round of trade talks.

In a letter also signed by British Airways chairman Martin Broughton on behalf of the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue, the executives said it was “unacceptable” that transatlantic differences over agriculture, representing less than 3 per cent of transatlantic gross domestic product, were dictating progress on increased market access for goods and services that comprise the majority of global trade.

The corporate chiefs said several factors should prompt the administration to revitalise the talks, including the rise of protectionist tendencies, the increase in bilateral agreements between stronger trading nations, and the expiration next June of the president’s trade promotion authority to negotiate trade agreements.

After such a proclamation, any good Marxist would predict that Doha would be reborn. And, as usual, they will likely be wrong.

UPDATE: Henry Farrell disagrees:

I think Dan is wrong here. The main reason that the TABD isn’t very influential in the grand scheme of things is that it doesn’t need to be. Business leaders on both sides of the Atlantic have plenty of access to policy makers without any need to go through the formalities of the TABD....

There is still an interesting question here, which is why businesses with an interest in increased transatlantic and international trade don’t have more impact than they do. But this doesn’t say anything about the structural power of business more generally. Indeed, I suspect that you could tell a reasonably convincing Marxist or marxisant story about how this demonstrates the relative strength of agribusiness as opposed to the internationalist types who make up the membership of TABD.

Henry's point that multinationals have access to policymakers beyond the TABD is well-taken. That said, I do think the failure of transnational capital to pry open the transatlantic market poses a greater challenge to structural Marxists than Henry asserts. To be sure, there are political economy arguments that explain the collapse of Doha and other transatlantic trade frictions as placating agribusiness and other forms of national capital. But these kind of political economy arguments do not mesh well with this part of the Communist Manifesto:
The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.

The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations.

posted by Dan at 09:23 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)