Friday, January 18, 2008
Managing the bureaucracy....
Henry Farrell summarizes an interesting blog exchange between Timothy Burke and Brad DeLong on the proper relationship between leaders and bureaucracies.
[O]ne of the interesting bits of information to come out of the Iraq War so far has to do with why US intelligence was so off about Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. People who want to argue that intelligence was purely concocted for political purposes are too simplistic, people who want to reduce it all to the will of Dick Cheney or a few neocons are too simplistic, people who want to make it a sincere mistake are too simplistic. Some of what strikes me as actually involved includes:Now DeLong:
Tim Burke is both right and wrong. He is right: courts are the natural habitats of deceitful courtiers who tell the princes exactly what the princes want to hear, the people on the spot who control implementation matter in ways that the people around polished walnut tables in rooms with green silk walls do not, and the movement of information through bureaucracies does resemble a game of telephone with distortions amplified at every link.And now Henry:
I’m with Brad on this, but I want to go one step further. The very fact of ambiguous motivations and uncertainty about what the people at the top really want can be a crucial source of strategic power for those people. By combining ambiguous information about the motivations of those in power with implicit incentives to please them, powerful people can strategically shape the things that underlings do and do not do, without ever specifically demanding that they do anything....My take: there are cross-cutting effects in the relationship between bureaucracies and "courts" as Brad puts it. No doubt, bureaucrats will want to please their superiors, and that can affect the kinds of information that they receive.
On the other hand, there is an large and robust literature in political science on the fact that bureaucracies can also resist, evade, or sabotage the policy preferences of their political superiors. Indeed, this came up earlier this week in the Nevada debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton (NOTE: if anyone can find a shorter YouTube clip that only encompasses the first 7 minutes, post it in the comments):Hillary Clinton's concern with bureaucratic evasion mirrors the Bush administration's utter and complete conviction, when they came to power in 2001, that they faced a hostile and ideologically biased bureaucracy. Being embedded in said bureaucracy at the time, I think the Bushies were about 15% correct and 85% incorrect, and this led to some horrible policymaking processes. An interesting question going forward is whether Clinton would display the same kind of organizational pathologies.
To be clear, Brad and Henry are correct to say that leaders should be wary of eager-to-please courtiers, and should be willing to pulse the system in order to get alternative sources of information. The irony of the Bush administration, however, is that in the case of intelligence gathering, Cheney and Rumsfeld did precisely this very thing. In their case, however, it was because they thought the intelligence apparatus' inherent risk aversion was preventing them from drawing the conclusions that they had already drawn about Saddam Hussein. And, as Hillary Clinton's statements suggest, this is hardly a GOP phenomenon.
One last quick thought: I don't really buy Farrell's strategic ambiguity argument -- or, at least, it was at best a minor key in this administration. George W. Bush is a lot of things, but "ambiguous" ain't one of them. And it's Bush's decisions that, in the end, set the tone for the administration. One of the biggest problems with liberal critiques of the Bush administration has been the assumption that Bush has been from the nose by Cheney, Rumsfeld, neocons, etc. Bull s**t. The president has been the decider.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Old-time prediction markets
In my latest Marketplace commentary, I pointed out that the accuracy of prediction markets would improve as they went more mainstream. Essentially, as markets widen and deepen, their informational efficiency should improve.
I had assumed that we would need to wait for the future for this to happen. However, Paul Rhode and Koleman Strumpf provide some fascinating evidence from the past in thieir paper, "Historical Presidential Betting Markets." The highlights:
This paper analyzes the large and often well organized markets for betting on presidential elections that operated between 1868 and 1940. Over $165 million (in 2002 dollars) was wagered in one election, and betting activity at times dominated transactions in the stock exchanges on Wall Street.Hat tip: The Monkey Cage's John Sides.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Reason #342 why Election is the greatest movie ever made about American politics... ever
Thank you, Slate.
Radio, print, web -- it's a media whoredom triple play!!
My latest commentary for Marketplace is now available online. It's about the fallibility of political prediction markets.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Let's see, today we've already blogged about the "erection theory of British foreign policy."
As an antidote, here's a link to my latest Newsweek column, which suggests that, "the competitiveness of the 2008 presidential election itself might already be augmenting America's soft power."
Here's how it closes:
[N]ot all dimensions of the 2008 campaign have been good for America's image abroad. With the exception of McCain, the Republican field has been obsessed with who sounds tougher on immigration issues. The Democrats have been less exercised over this issue, but when the topic turns to trade, it has been a race among the candidates to see who can bash China first.I'd previously blogged about this question here.
A snow day bloggingheads
My latest bloggingheads diavlog -- with Henry Farrell -- is now online at the brand-spanking new bloggingheads site. We talk a lot about the 2008 campaign in all its facets.
Go check it out!
Feminists, prepare for your field day
Gideon Rachman's most recent Financial Times column opens with a query about Hillary Clinton's lust for power. And then we get to this section:
I got an insight into the thrill of power recently, when I had lunch with a friend who had helped to handle a national emergency in Britain, working from the emergency bunker known as Cobra – which sits beneath the Cabinet Office near Downing Street.Discuss.
UPDATE: You have to love a comment thread that contains the phrase: "Look, I'm as pro-erection as the next guy, but...."
Monday, January 14, 2008
Let's save everyone the trouble of reading Paul Krugman for the rest of 2008
We’re heading into a recession (ignore what I've said before -- this time I'm sure).Repeat twice a week until about, I'd say, mid-August.