Saturday, April 21, 2007

On global warming, life will not be fair

Reuters reports the latest trends in CO2 emissons:

China will overtake the United States as the world’s biggest emitter of heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) either this year or next, the International Energy Agency said on Wednesday.

The estimate is much firmer than the IEA’s previous forecast, last November, that on current trends China would overtake the United States before 2010.

”Either this year or next year,” IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol told Reuters, in answer to the question of when China would overtake the United States....

China is set to become the world’s top carbon emitter just as serious talks start to extend the U.N.-sponsored Kyoto Protocol on global warming beyond 2012, potentially heaping pressure on Beijing to take more action on climate change.

A copy of a so-far unpublished Chinese government global warming report, seen by Reuters, rejects binding caps on carbon emissions until the country’s modernisation, by the middle of this century, opting instead to brake emissions growth.

The United States, which pulled out of Kyoto in 2001, would not join a new climate change regime unless it also applied to China and India, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union said on Wednesday.

”There will be no comprehensive global warming legislation coming out of the United States... that does not include limits or a programme for China, India and the rest of the developing world,” Ambassador C. Boyden Gray told Reuters in an interview ahead of an April 30 U.S.-EU summit.

Few Western climate negotiators expect China to accept caps from 2013 but do want to see a timeline for that....

Latest data shows China is building a coal-fired power plant every four days, British foreign ministry official John Ashton said on Monday.

Growth in the emerging Asian giant’s emissions puts in perspective Western efforts to fight climate change, Birol said.

”What we do in Europe may be with good intentions, may be very ethical... but if you put it in terms of numbers its meaning is very limited.”

Read the whole thing.

One could argue -- as China will -- that the U.S. produces far more pollutants per person -- not to mention the fact that the OECD countries are responsible for much of pre-existing pollution in the atmosphere.

However, if this IPCC report is correct, then global warming will have disproportionate effects on the poorer countries of the world. From a bargaining perspective, it will be interesting to see whether this effect will put greater pressure on China than the United States.

posted by Dan at 02:42 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The very thin line between comedy and tragedy

Compare and contrast:




posted by Dan at 05:39 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Who are the go-to economists for the 2008 campaign?

David Leonhardt provides the answer in the New York Times:

For the 2008 campaign, the six leading campaigns have each signed up their first-string economic policy teams. These advisers don’t hold the sway that the political aides do, but they can ultimately have a bigger effect on the world. If the next president is going to reform health care, attack climate change or address middle-class anxiety, the solution is going to be shaped by these policy advisers. As Douglas Holtz-Eakin, John McCain’s director of economic policy, says, “If you’re specific about what you want to do and you win, you have a mandate.”
Read the whole thing to see who's advising who. I'm relieved to see that Obama is getting decent economic advice -- his chief economic advisor is University of Chicago professor Austan Goolsbee.

Leonhardt's conclusion emphasized a point I've made here in the past: The truth is that if you put the economic advisers, from both parties, in a room and told them to hammer out solutions to the country’s big economic problems, they would find a lot of common ground. They could agree that doctors and patients need better incentives to choose effective medical care. They would probably hit upon education policies along similar lines, requiring that schools be held more accountable for what their students are, and are not, learning. They might suggest a carbon tax — a favorite idea of Mr. Mankiw — to deal with global warming. And they would shore up Social Security by reducing benefits for high earners, as Mr. Hubbard has suggested.

Not all of these ideas are politically feasible at this point, but presidential campaigns can change what’s feasible. Here’s hoping that this year’s crop of economic advisers has the courage of their convictions.

posted by Dan at 11:01 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sympathy for a neocon and other musings

My latest bloggingheads duet is up -- this time with Matthew Yglesias.

This was a fun one for me, at least, because the conversation looped back around. Topics include the Virginia Tech shootings, whether one should feel pity for Paul Wolfowitz, the tension between being a presidential candidate and becoming president, and -- of course -- the book.

posted by Dan at 11:48 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Are China scholars bought and paid for by Beijing?

Carsten Holz has a must-read in the Far Eastern Economic Review on the relationship between China scholars and the Chinese state:

Academics who study China, which includes the author, habitually please the Chinese Communist Party, sometimes consciously, and often unconsciously. Our incentives are to conform, and we do so in numerous ways: through the research questions we ask or don’t ask, through the facts we report or ignore, through our use of language, and through what and how we teach.

Foreign academics must cooperate with academics in China to collect data and co-author research. Surveys are conducted in a manner that is acceptable to the Party, and their content is limited to politically acceptable questions. For academics in China, such choices come naturally. The Western side plays along.

China researchers are equally constrained in their solo research. Some Western China scholars have relatives in China. Others own apartments there. Those China scholars whose mother tongue is not Chinese have studied the language for years and have built their careers on this large and nontransferable investment. We benefit from our connections in China to obtain information and insights, and we protect these connections. Everybody is happy, Western readers for the up-to-date view from academia, we ourselves for prospering in our jobs, and the Party for getting us to do its advertising. China is fairly unique in that the incentives for academics all go one way: One does not upset the Party.

What happens when we don’t play along is all too obvious. We can’t attract Chinese collaborators. When we poke around in China to do research we run into trouble. Li Shaomin, associate professor in the marketing department of City University in Hong Kong and a U.S. citizen, spent five months in a Chinese jail on charges of “endangering state security.” In his own words, his crimes were his critical views of China’s political system, his visits to Taiwan, his use of Taiwanese funds to conduct research on politically sensitive issues, and his collecting research data in China. City University offered no support, and once he was released he went to teach at Old Dominion University in Virginia. One may wonder what five months in the hands of Chinese secret police does to one’s psyche, and what means the Party used to silence Mr. Li. To academics in Hong Kong, the signal was not lost.

China researchers across different disciplines may not all be equally affected. Economists and political scientists are likely to come up against the Party constraint frequently, and perhaps severely. But even sociologists or ethnographers can reach the forbidden zone when doing network studies or examining ethnic minority cultures.

[What about academics that rely on U.S. government funding? Isn't that the same thing?--ed. Potentially, and scholars have made this point. Because of the large number of U.S. foundations that can supply independent research funding, however, the effect is much more muted.]

This paragraph stood out in particular:

Article after article pores over the potential economic reasons for the increase in income inequality in China. We ignore the fact that of the 3,220 Chinese citizens with a personal wealth of 100 million yuan ($13 million) or more, 2, 932 are children of high-level cadres. Of the key positions in the five industrial sectors—finance, foreign trade, land development, large-scale engineering and securities—85% to 90% are held by children of high-level cadres.

posted by Dan at 09:00 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (2)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

An open question to faculty readers

According to the Washington Post, there were some warning signs from Cho Seung Hui before he killed more than 30 people at Virginia Tech: "Cho was an English major whose creative writing was so disturbing that he was referred to the school's counseling service, the Associated Press reported."

This fact prompted an e-mail from a colleague that raises a disturbing question:

In 8 years, I've taught hundreds of students. 2 of them so alarmed me by their behavior, I contacted the Dean of Students office to see what could be done. The answer: nothing. The best I got was a half-baked assurance that voluntary counseling would be suggested to one of them (he was an undergraduate who had insisted on taking my graduate seminar, showed up and refused to leave on the first day of class, and then sent me increasingly enraged emails filled with expletives and threats to bring charges against me to the Dean of Students). I ended up having to have a staff member escort me to class in case the student showed up again. He didn't, fortunately. But I didn't follow up and I bet nobody else did, either.

When a faculty or staff member reports disturbing student activity, what is the appropriate response? Can any actions be mandatory? What feedback loops should be regularly instituted? I don't have any answers, but I do have an acute sense of vulnerability -- universities, esp. public ones, are wide open.

All professors have encountered or will encounter this problem in their careers -- the student who seems way too intense for their own good.

That said, I'm also concerned about overreaction. What happened at Blacksburg is a rare event, and red-flagging students just for being intense and weird can create problems as well. [UPDATE: Megan McArdle elaborates on this point.]

Time's Julie Rawe has one story on how different universities are coping with this problem.

A few questions to faculty readers out there, however:

1) Have you ever encountered a student you suspected of being capable of violence on this scale?

2) What action did you take?

3) What, if anything, could or should universities do to improve security?

posted by Dan at 03:06 PM | Comments (30) | Trackbacks (0)

Just a typical Patriot's Day game at Fenway

A little comedy to cope with yesterday's tragedy. The following incident occurred at the Patriot's Day game between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels of Aneheim:

This clip has been in rotation on ESPN for the past day. But kudos to the Boston Herald's John Tomase, who actually tracked down those involved to get at the root causes of the incident:
Jason Sole just wanted to catch a foul ball. Matt Madore was merely trying to eat some pizza....

It turns out Sole had given them grief about having a large pizza in the stands just moments before the at-bat. He wanted to know where they got it.

“He turned around and said something like, ‘Your mother,’ ” Sole said.

“No,” interjected [Sole's girlfriend, Anya] Ho. “He said, ‘The pizzeria.’ ”

Either way, all parties were annoyed.

“They had been giving us (expletive) about it,” Madore said. “Next thing I know, there’s a fly ball to left field and it goes foul and my buddy says, ‘You want some pizza now?’ And he hits him right in the face. Hey, the guy wasn’t paying attention. When you’re in the stands you’ve got to be ready for anything - a foul ball, a flying slice of pizza, everything.”

[Madore's buddy Danny] Kelly, sporting a Patriots jacket, was tossed.

“It was just a stupid thing,” he said. “It’s not something to be proud of. It was just stupidity all around.”

Madore and Sole began jawing - “He has a little bit of a temper,” Ho said - and Madore got the boot, as well.

By the time the eighth inning rolled around, however, most involved couldn’t stop laughing. Sole fielded nonstop calls from friends telling him he was on NESN, which named him “Fan of the Game.” (emphasis added)

Note to self: when taking son to Red Sox game, bring special pizza-protective clothing.

It should be noted that the Boston Globe abjectly failed to cover this pizza incident. [UPDATE: Drezner gets results from the Boston Globe's baseball blog!!!]

The Boston Herald -- politics, sports, and random pizza-throwing incidents. It's all there.

posted by Dan at 09:16 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Tragedies, opportunities, and opportunism

I've blogged long enough to know that when an event like the Virginia Tech shootings takes place, I don't have all that much to say. This is true of many bloggers. Tragedies like this render most insta-commentary completely superfluous.

Eugene Volokh, however, raises a valid question -- is it appropriate to talk about policy immediately after such an event?:

I'm not sure what the answer is, but I thought I'd pose the question here (hoping that at least there's nothing wrong with using the tragedy as an occasion for asking this meta-question). I don't think the answer is clearly "yes, wait," the way it is as to critical obituaries of writers whose work one dislikes; responding to death using unpersonalized policy discussion is different from responding to death using personalized criticism of the dead person. On the other hand, I don't think the answer is clearly "no, go ahead," at least as a matter of first principles; perhaps we ought to have a social ritual of grief and condolences first, policy analysis (even of the most cerebral sort) later, and perhaps the very immediacy of the tragedy may lead to unsound first thoughts about the policy questions.
Orin Kerr is more cautious:
[T]he problem with responding to news of tragedy with policy ideas right away is that we tend not to realize in such situations how often our "proposals" are really expressions of psychological need. It's human nature to respond to tragedy by fitting it into our preexisting worldviews; we instinctively restore order by construing the tragic event as a confirmation of our sense of the world rather than a threat to it.

This means that often we won't pay a lot of attention to the details of tragedies and what caused them. We'll just know deep down inside what happened, and what caused it, and how to stop it next time. Take today's tragic events at VA Tech. If you're committed to gun control, the tragedy probably proves to you that there are too many guns; if you're against gun control, the tragedy probably proves the exact opposite. Given that people will tend to see in events what they want to see, turning to policy right away will come off as rudely "playing politics" to those who don't share your worldview. And obviously this doesn't foster a helpful environment for policymaking, either.

There's another problem, however -- events like today's shootings open up what John Kingdon labels a "policy window" -- a moment in the media glare for policy entrepreneurs to hawk their policy wares.

On the one hand there are first-mover advantages to framing an event in a way that privileges your preferred policies. The conundrum, of course, is that on the other hand, articulating such a frame before the facts are clear carries extraordinary risks of a) creating a backlash by pouring salt on a public wound; b) being labeled as opportunistic, and c) looking foolish as the facts become clearer.

I don't have any grand answers here -- but I'm sure my readers will.

posted by Dan at 10:16 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

China's fifteen months of vulnerability

Seth Weinberger posts about how Mia Farrow was able to pressure the Chinese regime into pressuring the Sudanese government on Darfur. Steven Spielberg is involved. What really matters, however, is that the Chinese leadership will do just about anything to ensure that the Beijing Olympics are a smashing success.

I've blogged before about how the Olympics will affect China's domestic policies. This example suggests that China's behavior between now and the summer of 2008 will nor necessarily reflect their long term foreign policy.

Bear that in mind over the next 15 months.

Question to readers -- given that China will be uniquely vulnerable for a short while, which shift in Beijing's foreign policy would you most like to see?

posted by Dan at 10:06 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Will Paul Wolfowitz stay or go?

From the World Bank's Development Committee communique:

We have to ensure that the Bank can effectively carry out its mandate and maintain its credibility and reputation as well as the motivation of its staff. The current situation is of great concern to all of us. We endorse the Board's actions in looking into this matter and we asked it to complete its work. We expect the Bank to adhere to a high standard of internal governance.
What exactly is "the current situation"? Let's go to Sebastian Mallaby:
The scandal centers on the pay of people around Paul Wolfowitz, the World Bank president. Kevin Kellems, an unremarkable press-officer-cum-aide who had previously worked for Wolfowitz at the Pentagon, pulls down $240,000 tax-free -- the low end of the salary scale for World Bank vice presidents, who typically have PhDs and 25 years of development experience. Robin Cleveland, who also parachuted in with Wolfowitz, gets $250,000 and a free pass from the IRS, far more than her rank justifies. Kellems and Cleveland have contracts that don't expire when Wolfowitz's term is up. They have been granted quasi-tenure.

Then there is the matter of Shaha Riza, a long-standing bank official who is Wolfowitz's romantic partner. She went on paid leave (seconded to the State Department) after Wolfowitz arrived; her salary has since jumped from $133,000 to $194,000. When questions were first asked about Riza's rewards, a spokesman declared that the matter had been handled by the bank's board and general counsel, implying that the bank president himself had not been responsible. But the truth was that Wolfowitz had been closely involved, as a contrite Wolfowitz admitted yesterday.

Treating an anti-poverty institution this way would look bad under any circumstances. But the scandal is especially damaging to Wolfowitz because his leadership had generated questions already. He has alienated the staff by concentrating too much power in the hands of Kellems and the abrasive Cleveland; he has alienated shareholders by presenting half-baked strategy ideas; he has alienated borrowers by blocking loans, sometimes capriciously. Moreover, Wolfowitz has made the battle against corruption his signature issue. He of all people should have thought twice before sanctioning exorbitant pay for his entourage.

In context, the Development Committee statement is pretty damning. The New York Times' Steven Weisman explains:
Though the language was indirect, the message it sent was unmistakable, according to officials who have been meeting in Washington the last few days. “Words like ‘concerned,’ ‘credibility’ and ‘reputation’ are pretty unprecedented for a communiqué from a place like the World Bank,” said an official involved in the drafting of the statement.

At issue in these statements was a crisis arising from Mr. Wolfowitz’s involvement in decisions to transfer his companion, Shaha Ali Riza, to a new job and give her a raise.

Officially, Mr. Wolfowitz and the bank are now to wait for a full report by the bank’s board on his leadership and charges of favoritism in dealing with Ms. Riza, who was employed at the bank until 2005. But bank officials said that in delaying a finding, the board seemed to be buying time for Mr. Wolfowitz to consider resigning.

European officials close to the bank said that if anything, Mr. Wolfowitz’s apparent dismissal of the criticism on Sunday would increase the determination of the wealthy European donor nations of the bank — especially Britain, France and Germany — that he needed to step aside for the good of the bank....

“We have not heard anything that will change our minds,” said April Cave, chairwoman of the association that represents most of the bank’s 7,000 employees in Washington. “He has apologized, but he hasn’t shown how he can restore trust at the bank.”

It should be noted that Wolfowitz has his supporters among African representatives. And lord knows the Bank does not have completely clean hands when it comes to corruption. As the Economist points out, the Bank's ethics board is complicit in giving Wolfowitz the ability to transfer Riza. Click here for Wolfowitz's own explanation. [UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has an editorial that makes these points even more forcefully.]

In theory, I suppose Wolfowitz can try to ride out the media storm. In practice, I don't see how he can continue when he's alienated both the Bank staff and powerful donor countries.

Question to readers -- who leaves first, Wolfowitz or Alberto Gonzales?

posted by Dan at 12:20 AM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (0)