Political Science

*The Once and Future King*

by on March 13, 2014 at 2:25 pm in Books, Law, Political Science | Permalink

The author is my colleague F.H. Buckley and the subtitle is The Rise of Crown Government in America.  I am very enthusiastic about this book, which is a comparative study of American and Canadian systems of government with respect to the abilities to produce varying degrees of tyranny, in the former case mostly through the executive branch.  Buckley is himself from Canada and overall favors that system of government.  Here are two excerpts:

That was why McGee and the other Fathers thought Canada the freest country in the world.  When they looked south, they saw a country with more of Constant’s liberty of the ancients, but with less (so it seemed to them) of the liberty of the moderns.  Moreoever, of the former, the right of self-government had been corrupted by political machines and trivialized by elections for dogcatchers.  The high ideals of the American Founders had been forgotten, and McGee thought that their republican virtue, in the era of Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall, was now little more than American braggadocio.

And:

Presidential regimes are more likely than parliamentary ones to turn into dictatorships, and to rank lower on measures of public corruption.  Thus far we have examined two explanations for this: The president is the head of state and symbol of the nation; and he is relatively immunized from accountability to the legislature.  We now turn to a third possible explanation: The separation of powers creates inefficiencies in government that invite the president to step in and correct, and in so doing, to augment his powers and independence from congressional oversight.

I would argue that, for better or worse, a big part of the differences is driven, not only by constitutions but also by the much more active foreign policy of the United States.  I wonder what a true parliamentary discussion of nuclear weapons use would look like.

emptybuild

The boarded up building in the photo sits a mere 6 blocks from the White House on prime real estate but it’s been empty for 30 years! What’s the problem? The building is owned/controlled by the Federal government which often doesn’t even know what it owns, lacks the incentive to control costs and whose bureaucratic strictures make selling difficult even when motivation exists.

From an excellent piece on NPR:

Government estimates suggest there may be 77,000 empty or underutilized buildings across the country. Taxpayers own them, and even vacant, they’re expensive. The Office of Management and Budget believes these buildings could be costing taxpayers $1.7 billion a year.

…But doing something with these buildings is a complicated job. It turns out that the federal government does not know what it owns.

…even when an agency knows it has a building it would like to sell, bureaucratic hurdles limit it from doing so. No federal agency can sell anything unless it’s uncontaminated, asbestos-free and environmentally safe. Those are expensive fixes.

Then the agency has to make sure another one doesn’t want it. Then state and local governments get a crack at it, then nonprofits — and finally, a 25-year-old law requires the government to see if it could be used as a homeless shelter.

Many agencies just lock the doors and say forget it.

The NPR article is excellent but it vastly underestimates the size of the problem. In addition to empty buildings, the Federal government owns/controls millions of acres of land that are worth hundreds of billions and perhaps even trillions of dollars. The land is not being used to its full value or potential even though maintenance costs runs in the tens of billions annually.

That is the new book by Daniel Hannan and the subtitle is How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World.

Oh how one can mock those subtitles about the making of the modern world, heh heh!  Yet this subtitle has a plausible claim to be…true.  Even more shockingly, the subtitle accurately describes the book.

Every time my plane lands in England I shed at least a tear, maybe more, out of realization that I am visiting a birthplace (the birthplace?) of liberty.  This is not a joke and during my trips there I never quite snap out of that feeling, though I am also well aware of all the problems those people have foisted upon the world as well.

I found many parts of this book to be superficial, or perhaps well-known.  Yet often they were superficial and…true.  Here is one excerpt:

To put it another way, the distinction was not between Catholic and Protestant individuals, but between Catholic and Protestant states.

Here is from an Amazon review:

Author Daniel Hannan is a person of English ancestry who was born and raised in Peru then relocated to the United Kingdom as an adult and made a career in politics, including becoming one of the U.K.’s representatives to the European Parliament. His global experience has shown him how unique is our “Anglosphere” heritage of representative democracy, protection of property rights, the sanctity of law, and the inalienable rights of the individual.

This is in some ways an important book, though I do not think it is a book which will satisfy everybody.

For the pointer I thank Daniel Klein.

I don’t feel I have an original or substantive point to make on this matter, but it is worthy of note nonetheless.  I was favorably impressed with Dana Milbank’s opinion piece today.  This is a Richard Nixon-kind of scandal, the CIA does report to the Executive Branch, and so far I haven’t seen the attempt to set things right or even clarify what has happened.  Milbank writes:

If the White House wishes to repair the damage, it would declassify without further delay the report done by Feinstein’s committee — along with the Panetta Review. If the White House won’t, Feinstein’s panel and others would be justified in holding up CIA funding and nominations and conducting public hearings.

Obama also should remove those people involved in spying on the Senate panel and in harassing Senate staffers. First out should be Robert Eatinger, the CIA’s acting general counsel. Previously, Eatinger had been a lawyer in the unit that conducted the interrogation program at the heart of the Senate’s probe. Eatinger, Feinstein said, filed a “crimes report” with the Justice Department suggesting that congressional staffers had stolen the Panetta Review.

If somehow you haven’t been following the issue, here is what is up:

California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, has been an ally of Obama and a staunch defender of the administration during the controversy over the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. So her credibility could not be questioned when she went public, reluctantly, to accuse Obama’s CIA of illegal and unconstitutional actions: violating the separation of powers by searching the committee’s computers and intimidating congressional staffers with bogus legal threats.

The subtitle of his book is Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict.  I am finding this book interesting, here is one good bit:

The call for a greater Syria reflected the prevailing sentiment among Palestine’s Arab intellectuals.  Some notables who were active in the Muslim-Christian Associations wanted an Arab Palestine within the British Empire, but many of the activists and intellectuals, inspired by Faisal’s success, envisaged Palestine as “Southern Syria.”

…There was a good geographical as well as political argument for greater Syria.  As subsequent events would reveal, Palestine lacked natural boundaries, especially in the north and south.  There were looming disputes over water rights that could be avoided by combining Palestine and Syria.

…The British, fearful that the movement for a greater Syria would undercut their hold over Palestine, encouraged Palestine’s Arabs to think of themselves as Palestinian.

Overall the text offers a strongly non-sentimental account, does not whitewash any of the participants in the disputes, and it communicates how much early American policymakers , including Truman, were skeptical about what ended up happening.  Today’s often-unquestioned assumptions were very often historically quite contingent.  You can buy the book here.

When I blame people for their problems, Democrats and liberals are prone to object at a fundamental level.  One fundamental objection rests on determinism: Since everyone is determined to act precisely as he does, it is always false to say, “There were reasonable steps he could have taken to avoid his problem.”  Another fundamental objection rests on utilitarianism: We should always do whatever maximizes social utility, even if that means taxing the blameless to subsidize the blameworthy.

Strangely, though, every Democrat and liberal I know routinely blames one category of people for their vicious choices: Republicans…

Personally, I strongly favor blaming Republicans.  I think 80% of the blame heaped on Republicans is justified.  What mystifies me, however, is the view that Republicans are somehow uniquely blameworthy.  If you can blame Republicans for lying about WMDs, why can’t you blame alcoholics for lying to their families about their drinking?  If you can blame Republican leaders for supporting bad policies because they don’t feel like searching for another job, why can’t you blame able-bodied people on disability because they don’t feel like searching for another job?

Democrats and liberals who expand their willingness to blame do face a risk: You will occasionally sound like a Republican!  But why is that such a big deal?  Maybe you’ll lose a few intolerant hard-left friends, but they’re replaceable.  By taking a reasonable step – broadening your blame – you can avoid the vices of moral inconsistency and moral nepotism.  To do anything less would be… blameworthy.

That is from Bryan Caplan.  As Robin Hanson once opined, “politics isn’t about policy.”

My own view is to minimize blame in all directions, but of course Bryan is correct in pointing out this inconsistency.  Most people are willing to blame those whom they seek to lower in relative status, though I can’t say I really blame them for that.

Elephants are able to differentiate between ethnicities and genders, and can tell an adult from a child – all from the sound of a human voice.

This is according to a study in which researchers played voice recordings to wild African elephants.

The animals showed more fear when they heard the voices of adult Masai men.

Livestock-herding Masai people do come into conflict with elephants, and this suggests that animals have adapted to specifically listen for and avoid them.

The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

There is more here.

The Comparative Constitutions Project has collected data from 720 of the 800 or so constitutions written since 1789. The shortest constitution, for example, is that of Jordan at 2,270 words while the longest is that of India which at 146,385 words is more than twice as long as the next longest constitution and considerable longer than the US File:Magna charta cum statutis angliae p1.jpgconstitution at 7,762 words. The New Zealand constitution grants the fewest rights, namely zero, while the Bolivian constitution grants the most rights at 88.

Among the rights in the Bolivian constitution are “Every person has the right to health.” That does seem ambitious, although I cannot guarantee the translation perhaps it says health care in the original? There are also rights to homes, sewers, and telecommunication services. I cannot go along with those but I do think this is an advance:

Neither the public authority, nor any person or body may intercept private conversations or communications by an installation that monitors or centralized them.

Venezuela offers almost as many rights in its constitution as Bolivia, 81 according to the data. Nevertheless, I think I would feel more secure in my rights living in New Zealand than Bolivia or Venezuela. A constitution with a long list of rights is a bit like a prenup with a long list of rights, looks good on parchment but parchment does not a marriage or a constitution make.

The piece is here, here is one excerpt:

The only case of economic coercion succeeding in a similar case in history was the 1956 Suez crisis. In that case, Britain, France, and Israel withdrew their forces from the Suez Canal following a U.S.-inspired run on the pound sterling. Except that the Suez case is not at all similar to Russia/Crimea. Britain was a treaty ally of the United States; not so much with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The Suez was far away from British soil; the Crimea is just across the Sea of Azov. And, perhaps most importantly, Britain was in a fragile economic state trying to protect a fixed exchange rate. Russia’s economy has its problems, but a shortage of hard currency reserves ain’t one of them.

So the conditions under which sanctions would force Russia’s hand in Ukraine are far from ideal. The proposed sanctions coalition is equally flawed, however, as my FP colleague Colum Lynch has noted. European Union leaders are not exactly keen on the idea of broad-based economic sanctions, for understandable reasons. Britain needs Russian finance capital; the rest of Europe needs Russian energy. France is traditionally the most hawkish country in Europe, but that country is too busy planning to export warships to Russia to organize European sanctions.

And here is Dan’s conclusion:

Sorry, but the fact remains that sanctions will not force Russia out of the Crimea. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be imposed. Indeed, there are two excellent reasons why the United States should orchestrate and then implement as tough a set of sanctions on Russia as it can muster. First, this problem is going to crop up again…

Second, while sanctions cannot solve this problem on their own, they can be part of the solution. Over the long term, Russia does need to export energy to finance its government and fuel economic growth. Even if planned sanctions won’t bite in the present, the anticipation of tougher economic coercion to come is a powerful lever in international bargaining.

My earlier post on Drezner on sanctions is here.

That is the title of a useful article by Matt Qvortrup (or here, both possibly gated).  Here is one excerpt:

To be sure, the British were not adverse to using the referendum as a tactical means of international politics (for example, in the case of the referendum in Moldova in 1857 — where the referendum was a convenient excuse to curb the influence of the Russian Empire after the Crimean War).  Here at the request of the British, a poll was held to unify the two territories Moldavia and Walachia (previously an area that had been under Turkish Suzerainty, though often dominated by Russia) under the name Romania.  However, it should be noted that the referendum was anything but free and fair; “Intimidations and arrests were not infrequent” and up to “nine-tenth of the population were denied the right to vote,” and that the vote only was held after some “bizarres manoevres diplomatiques.”

Here is an older (free) historical book on the employment of plebiscites to determine sovereignty.  Here is the new, well-timed, and not free March 2014 book by Matt Qvortrupp, on same topic.  Qvortrup, by the way, helped design the referendum for South Sudan.

Russia’s takeover of Crimea is already so complete that commercial flights to Kiev from the region’s main airport, located outside Simferopol, the regional capital 50 miles from Sevastopol, now leave from the international terminal instead of the domestic one as they did until last week.

There is more here.

Akos Lada has a new research paper (pdf) on this question:

Does sharing the same religion, civilization or racial proximity lead to more peaceful relations between countries? This paper argues that cultural similarity can actually cause wars, which occur to combat diffusion. This new theory of war combines the models of Acemoglu and Robinson (2006) and Fearon (1995), and shows that cultural similarity can lead to more warfare when old elites are afraid of losing their position to a newly inspired citizenry, as these elites try to destroy the external source of inspiration. The microfoundation for inspiration is derived from revealed information about the income level under given institutions, which are assumed to have positive correlation with cultural proximity. On the empirical side, I present case studies on the 1848 Revolutions, the 2013 Korean Crisis (using content analysis of official North Korean articles) and on the First World War, as well as statistical analysis on all the wars of the last two centuries.

Here is Lada’s blog post on Ukraine and Russia.  Excerpt:

Perhaps because a more democratic Ukrainian government may serve as an example to Russian citizens of how culturally-similar people can be alternatively governed. As history shows, a dictator with an army does not wait for this to happen.

Under one view, credibility is like a chain.  If the United States does not keep one of its public promises, the credibility of the chain falls apart.  In essence observers are using the behavior of the American government to draw inferences about its true underlying type.  A single act of breaking a promise or failing to honor a commitment would show we really cannot be trusted, or that we are weak and craven, and so that characterization of our true type would be applied more generally to all or most of our commitments.

Under a second view, we don’t have that much credibility in the first place.  To be sure, we can be trusted to do what is in our self-interest.  But there is not much underlying uncertainty about our true type.  So we can promise Ruritania the moon, and fail to deliver it, and still the world thinks we would defend Canada if we had to, simply because such a course of action makes sense for us.  In this setting, our violation of a single promise changes estimates of our true scope of concern, but it does not much change anyone’s estimate of the true type of the American government.

Insofar as you believe in the first view, our inability/unwillingness to honor our commitment to the territorial integrity of Ukraine is a disaster.  Insofar as you hold the second view, our other commitments remain mostly credible.

For the most part, I see the second view as more relevant to understanding U.S. foreign policy than the first.  We’ve broken promises and commitments for centuries, and yet still we have some underlying credibility.  Remember those helicopters evacuating Saigon rooftops in 1975?

Still, when it comes to Taiwan, or those Japanese islands, or other Pacific islands, I think the first view plays a role.  That is, I think the world does not know our true type.  How much are we willing to risk conflict to limit Chinese influence in the Pacific?  Whatever you think should be the case, what is the case is not clear, perhaps not clear even to our policymakers themselves.  (In contrast there are plenty of data on the parameters of American preferences toward Middle East and Israel-linked outcomes, and our willingness to incur costs to alter those outcomes.)

That is another way of thinking about why the Ukraine crisis is scary for the Pacific.  It is one reason why the Nikkei was down 2.5% shortly after market opening Monday morning (Asia time) and ended up 1.3% down for the day.  The Chinese stock market did just fine.

That is the new and excellent book by Daniel W. Drezner and the subtitle is How the World Stopped Another Great Depression.  It is largely if not entirely correct, here is a summary excerpt:

A closer look at the global response to the financial crisis reveals a more optimistic assessment.  Despite initial shocks that were more severe than the 1929 financial crisis, global economic governance responded in a nimble and robust fashion.  Whether one looks at economic outcomes, policy outputs, or institutional operations, these governance structures either reinforced or improved upon the pre-crisis status quo.  The global economy bounced back from the 2008 financial crisis with relative alacrity.

I would myself stress two additional points, whether you call them addenda or qualifications is up to you.  First, we now know that the Fed could have done much more in 2008.  I consider this a mistake rather than a mistake in governance, and later the Fed did a great deal to try to make up for this error.  Second, the performance of the eurozone is hardly spectacular, to say the least, and the ECB should have moved to a much looser monetary policy in 2009 if not sooner.  Still, given what a screwy, seventeen-nation system had been set up, and given the severe distributional consequences of four percent inflation in the eurozone, I am surprised the system performed as well as it did.

This Foreign Affairs piece (pdf) is interesting and prescient thoughout, here is one excerpt:

Despite some testy moments, relations between Russia and Ukraine have generally been stable since the Soviet break-up.  There are, however, good reasons to fear these relations might deteriorate.  First, the situation between Ukraine and Russia is ripe for the outbreak of security competition between them.  Great powers that share a long and unprotected common border, like that between Russia and Ukraine, often lapse into competition driven by security fears.  Russia and Ukraine might overcome this competition and learn to live together in harmony, but it would be unusual if they do.

Most of all, Mearsheimer argues that Ukraine should have kept its nuclear deterrent.  Here is my previous post on that topic.

For the pointer I thank Shivaji Sondhi.