Friday, October 6, 2006
Matthew Yglesias drinks wine; I drink pink lemonade
My latest bloggingheads diavlog -- with Matthew Yglesias -- is now available online. Matt's beverage of choice is wine -- mine is lemonade.
The topics covered include:
And, as I said in the diavlog, everyone reading this blog should go online and check out the pilot episode of Friday Night Lights. The entire show is shockingly good -- particularly Connie Britton
Let's stop the hyperventilating about Hugo Chavez
Far from being a pariah, Venezuela is increasingly in step with the world. Thanks to deep wells of anti-Americanism and Chávez's dogged diplomacy among the developing world, he's managed to build a large, loose coalition of states aligned not just against the United States, but against the liberal world order that is the real bedrock of American hegemony. Chávez's goal is not to destroy the American economy--cutting off our supply of oil from Venezuela would do more harm to Caracas than to us--so much as to replace the structures by which we hold sway over the world economic community. And while it makes headlines to talk about Chávez's military (and paramilitary) aspirations, his real successes--and his real threats--exist in the economic, rather than the military, realm....Look, I can doom-and-gloom the demise of freer trade with the best of them, but in the thinking about existential threats to the world trading system, Hugo Chavez does not come to mind.
The key facts about Chavez's policy initiatives are as follows: 1) Sure, Chavez has signed a lot of trade deals -- but most of them are of the pissant variety. $200 million? Big whoop.
2) Sure, Chavez wants to diversify his imports and exports away from the United States -- but he's not going to succeed.
3) Sure, Chavez wants Mercosur to do his bidding -- but he can't, since Brazil is the key veto player in that trading bloc. Lula might not be America's biggest fan, but he's not really anti-American either.
Hugo Chavez is an irritant, but it's silly to paint him as the big bad wolf of the global political economy.
Thursday, October 5, 2006
So what's going on in Ukraine?
Crooked Timber's Maria Farrell went on a study tour organised by the 21st Century Trust and the John Smith Memorial Trust to see what's going on in Ukraine nearly two years after the Orange Revolution. The group decided to create their own blog to record their thoughts on the trip.
If you're interested in the country, go check it out.
Wednesday, October 4, 2006
The most interesting spin control of the year
Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) has come up with an interesting line of argumentation to protect himself from the Foley fallout: From Ray Long's story in the Chicago Tribune:
The Illinois lawmaker who oversees the Congressional page program said Wednesday that teens who participate are "safer in our program than in a lot of homes."Am i reading this incorrectly, or is Shimkus actually claiming that large numbers of parents of being so negligent that they'd be more likely to overlook a sexual predator than the United States Congress?
So much for Ahmadinejad's soft power.
While President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is busy running a high-voltage campaign against the United States and its policies, Iranians are wondering whether he will ever make good on election promises to crack down on corruption and distribute Iran's vast oil revenues more equitably.Other polls seem to generate similar results: "Last year Ahmedinejad’s approval rating was 60%. Now it is down to 35%."
These findings suggest to me two things: 1) Fareed Zakaria might be onto something.
2) If push comes to shove, the administration is wrong to reject gasoline sanctions. Those sanctions would bite the precise segment of the population that benefits from Ahmadinejad's regime.
The quickest way to dynamite the WTO out of existence
The Center for Global Development's Lawrence MacDonald blogs about Joe Stiglitz's new idea to
Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz urged at a CGD event that U.S. trade partners ask the WTO for authority to impose countervailing duties on exports of U.S. steel and other energy-intensive products that benefit unfairly from Washington’s refusal to join the Kyoto Protocol limiting carbon and other greenhouse gasses....For a full transcript of Stiglitz's talk, click here. For an article-length treatment by Stiglitz, click here.
Stiglitz's proposal probably would improve the global warming situation -- but not the way he thinks. Assuming the WTO Appellate Body was willing to destroy itself, here is the chain of events that would improve the environment:
1) The WTO rules against the U.S.A.;I'm thinking that there are better ways to solve the global warming problem.
This, by the way, is one of the basic problem I find with the parts of Making Globalization Work that I've read. There is a decent diagnosis of some of the ills caused by globalization -- but for a man who spent the past decade and a half in policymaking circles, he seems oddly oblivious to the massive political externalities many of his proposals would create.
UPDATE: My colleague Joel Trachtman explains why Stiglitz's plan is a legal non-starter.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Greg Mankiw critiques another of Stiglitz's policy prescriptions.
Tuesday, October 3, 2006
My one post about Mark Foley
It's time for this blog to stop talking about sexy topics like trade policy and move to the serious, weighty, and potentially boring question of whether former U.S. Rep Mark Foley committed the legal act of pedohpilia or was just plain creepy.
UPDATE: Oh dear, this AP story is close to Hastert's worst nightmare:
A senior congressional aide said Wednesday he told House Speaker Dennis Hastert's office in 2004 about worrisome conduct by former Rep. Mark Foley with teenage pages -- the earliest known alert to the GOP leadership.Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.
What I asked the USTR
Alas, I was unable to access the internet this morning, and so had no opportunity to view the range of questions that I could relay one to the USTR (it would have been Zathras'). However, the following exchange did take place:
ME: There seems to be a catch-22 on reviving Doha. Other countries won't negotiate seriously with the United States unless they believe that we can get TPA renewed. At the same time, the only way that TPA is likely to be renewed is if Congressmen seen the outline of a Doha deal. How does one escape this conundrum?So, call me skeptical on the odds of Doha being completed anytime soon. I should stress that this isn't Schwab's fault... it's the hand she was dealt.
One last thought: As David Kane has observed, both Schwab and I are graduates of Williams College. When I was intriduced to the ambassador, I mentioned that we shared the same alma mater. And, for just a brief second, the wised-up, cautious face of a politician was replaced by the joyful look of recognition when one Eph recognizes another Eph.
Monday, October 2, 2006
Submit your question to the U.S. Trade Representative!!
Tomorrow I'll be a panelist for an AEI symposium, "The World Trading System after the Collapse of Doha: The WTO, Developing Countries, and Regionalism." The highlight will be a speech by the Honorable Susan C. Schwab, U.S. Trade Representative.
Other panelists include former under secretary of Commerce Grant D. Aldonas, AEI's Claude E. Barfield, former undersecretary of State Alan P. Larson, And Georgetown law professor Daniel K. Tarullo.
I believe I'll be dining with the USTR before her speech. So, readers are encouraged to submit concise, issue-appropriate, and polite questions to pose during the lunch hour.
UPDATE: OK, the lunch is over -- I'll be posting an after-action report later this evening.
Sunday, October 1, 2006
Does America have a social policy deficit?
I just noticed that Francis Fukuyama sorta joined the blogosphere -- he's occasionally posting over at The American Interest's blog.
In this post from last month, he issues a provocative question that remains relevant:
What is it that leaders like Iran’s Ahmedinejad, Hezbollah’s Nasrullah, and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez have in common that vastly increases their local appeal? Anti-Americanism and an aggressive foreign policy are of course components. But what has really allowed them to win elections and cement their support is their ability to promise, and to a certain extent deliver on, social policy—things like education, health, and other social services, particularly for the poor. Hugo Chavez has opened clinics in poor barrios throughout Venezuela staffed with Cuban doctors; Hezbollah has offered a complete line of social services for years and is now in the business of using Iranian money to rebuild homes in the devastated south of Lebanon. Hamas in Palestine, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and Evo Morales in Bolivia all have active social agendas. Organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas do not merely lobby the government to provide social services; they run schools and clinics directly while out of power.I do think Frank is overstating the problem here. First, it shouldn't be that shocking that local leaders have the ability to craft social policies that resonate better in the short run than the United States.
Second, all you have to do is read Bill Easterly to become immediately wary of anything that smacks of a "Wasington Consensus" on health and education in the developing world. I'm pretty confident that such an animal does not exist.
Third, and most important, the one element that would belong in anything resembling a Washington Consensus on social development would be an intensive focus on educating women and providing them with greater health choices. How many conservative societies in the developing world are going to be truly receptive to that kind of program?
Finally, one of the few Bush administration policy innovations that does get kudos across the ideological spectrum is the Millennium Challenge Corporation. No one pays attention to it, however. Why? Well, it's been a bit slow in dispensng aid, and, oh, yes, there's Iraq.
That's the thing about big foreign policy screw-ups -- unfortunately, all the soft power in the world can't erase them.
The CPI bias at work in Burger King
For the past six weeks or so there' been an egaging, intermittent blog debate about CPI bias. That is, to what extent has technological innovation improved standards of living so much that the effects are understated in measuring year-to-year or decade-to-decade comparisons of the U.S. economy -- and whether, concomitantly, inflation measures lke the Consumer Price Index are overstated.
The debate is less about whether CPI bias exists, but how big it is, whether its effect diffuses across all income strata within the economy, and its political implications. See this Megan McArdle post for the libertarian take, and this Brad DeLong post for the social democratic take.
My take is similar to Megan's, but I haven't blogged about it because it can be very difficult to articulate the extent to which technology has converted what used to be luxury goods into normal goods.
And the I opened my son's BK Kids Meal....
The toy in my son's meal was an Open Season-themed radio. Not just an ordinary radio, but one that hooked around the ear, making it look like a kids version of a cell phone earpiece. The battery is included. You can take a gander at it by clicking here and then clicking on "Toys".
Thirty years ago, when I was a child, this would have been a $20 ($68.71 in 2006 dollars) birthday gift that would have made me the coolest kid on the block. It is now an afterthought, a free, promotional gift as part of a $4.00 kids meal that is affordable to 99% of all American households.
If that seems hard to grasp, here's another way of looking at it -- I predict that by the time my son is my age, Burger King will include the equivalent of an IPod Nano in every kids meal.
Does the CPI incorporate some of the effects discussed in this parable? Certainly it does, in the form of the declining cost of radios. Does it incorporate all of them? No -- the increasing sophistication of the toys contained within kids meals is not included.
Readers are invited to submit other examples on a par with my son's kids meal as examples of how previously exotic technologies have become practically throwaway commodities.