Political Science

I don’t quite mean “the best novel,” rather I mean “the best novel as a novel of bureaucracy.”

There is Franz Kafka, but I find his writings more theological and fantastic than insightful about bureaucracy per se.  Besides, his short stories are his best work and the novels do not have proper endings.

There are post-war Eastern European novels galore, where to start?  In the First Circle?  Still, communist bureaucracies are no longer so typical, so I am not ready to award any of these novels first prize.  Gogol’s earlier Dead Souls also stands out as a Russian candidate.

Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is in the running, as are John Le Carre, Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace.  Here is a discussion of Dickens, Orwell, and other classics.  Here is a jstor-gated survey of the topic.  There are plenty of novels about universities, very few of which I can endure.

The Chinese have an entire genre of “bureaucracy literature.”  And perhaps bureaucracy in science fiction is deserving of its own post.

In any case, my clear first choice pick is Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers, which I started reading a few days ago.  Here is the first sentence of the Amazon.com review:

This 1857 sequel to The Warden wryly chronicles the struggle for control of the English diocese of Barchester. The evangelical but not particularly competent new bishop is Dr. Proudie, who with his awful wife and oily curate, Slope, maneuver for power.

So far I am finding that just about every page has insight about bureaucracy.  Trollope, by the way, had extensive experience working for the Post Office in England and Ireland, and furthermore he missed out on a major promotion.

What else am I forgetting?

Emilio Depetris-Chauvin suggests a possible answer:

Using monthly data constructed from futures markets on presidential election outcomes and a novel proxy for firearm purchases, this paper analyzes the response of the demand for guns to the likelihood of Barack Obama being elected in 2008. Point estimate suggests the existence of a large Obama effect on the demand for guns. This political effect is larger than the effect associated with the worsening economic conditions. This paper presents robust empirical evidence supporting the hypothesis that the unprecedented increase in the demand for guns was partially driven by fears of a future Obama gun-control policy. Conversely, the evidence for a racial prejudice motivation is less conclusive. Furthermore, this paper argues that the Obama effect did not represent a short-lived intertemporal substitution effect, and that it permanently affected the stock of guns in circulation. Finally, states that had the largest increases in the demand for guns during the 2008 election race experienced significant changes in certain categories of crime relative to other states following Obama’s election. In particular, those states were 20% more likely to experience a shooting event where at least three people were killed.

The published paper is here, via Kevin Lewis.

That is the new China initiative to rebuild the Old Silk Road along modern principles.  The plan is a bit of a grab bag, but seems to include the following:

a. A deepwater naval base in Pakistan, plus a $42 billion aid/investment package for Pakistan.  Here is some background on what already has been done.

b. A Chinese route to the sea through Myanmar and Bangladesh.

c. Northern shipping routes to Europe, through the Arctic, as the ice melts.

d. A rail line from Zhengzhou through Russia to Hamburg (already running, a 17-day trip).

e. Power stations and manufacturing plants for the Central Asian republics, in return for gas supply.  This infrastructure transfer is also supposed to limit excess capacity in China by sending infrastructure abroad.

f. A railway and highway to connect China to the Arabian Sea.

Arnold Kling, telephone!  Are these sustainable patterns of trade and specialization?  Or are they slated to be proverbial white elephants?  Does anyone know?  Bueller?

A few points are striking here.

1. Much of this seems to be defensive geopolitics.  Most of China’s oil supply, and much of China’s trade, runs through the Straits of Malacca.  This plan, assuming it can be well-executed, affords China a good deal of protection.  Yet that insurance does not add growth on top of the status quo, which currently is an open, well-functioning (mostly), trade channel at the Straits.  At best it would hold a future catastrophe at bay for China.

2. The gravity equation in international trade economics suggests that countries trade much more when they are “near each other.”   But what does proximity in this context mean exactly (pdf, an interesting trade paper by the way, on the “death of distance” theme and where it fails)?  The most successful gravity models cite “distance between national capitals” rather than “distance between closest borders.”  For evaluating this plan, that difference matters a great deal!  I say distance between capitals is likely the more relevant variable, all the more for an economy dominated by state-owned enterprises.

3. The idea of easing excess capacity by sending infrastructure to other countries seems unlikely to succeed.  Other than gas, how much do these countries currently have to offer China?  And how much infrastructure can be transferred how quickly?

4. China’s economic growth has been dominated by the coasts, and the Great Canal, for approximately one thousand years; today Xi’an is a backwater for instance, although in the Tang dynasty it was possibly the most advanced city in the world.  Can this now-deeply entrenched pattern — water transport beats land transport — be reversed by a lot of government spending?

5. To date China’s main external ally is North Korea, even though China is the world’s second largest economy.  How well will relations with all these other nations evolve, and what does that mean for the value of those investments?  Sri Lanka already has decided to redo its deals with China, and it doesn’t seem China can bully them out of that, though read this update.

During my China visit, I heard repeatedly that this New Silk Road plan will limit the pending decline of China’s growth rate.  Each time I expressed skepticism about that prospect, my words were met with great dismay and, I felt, disbelief.  Yet I do not see how these pieces are supposed to fit together as a growth-boosting enterprise.  They do seem well-designed to extend China’s political influence in the western direction, and to transfer more contracts to state-owned firms.  But to raise living standards for most of the Chinese people?  I don’t see it, or even see it coming close.

The new issue of Econ Journal Watch is online at http://econjwatch.org.

In this issue:

Evolution, moral sentiments, and the welfare state: Many now maintain that multilevel selection created a sympathetic species with yearnings for social solidarity. Several evolutionary authors on the political left suggest that collectivist politics is an appropriate way to meet that yearning. Harrison Searles agrees on evolution and human nature, but faults them for neglecting Hayek’s charge of atavism: The modern polity and the ancestral band are worlds apart, rendering collectivist politics inappropriate and misguided. David Sloan Wilson, Robert Kadar, and Steve Roth respond, suggesting that new evolutionary paradigms promise to transcend old ideological categories.

Evidence of no problem, or a problem of no evidence? In 2009, Laura Langbein and Mark Yost published an empirical study of the relationship between same-sex marriage and social outcomes. Here Douglas Allen and Joseph Price replicate their investigation, insisting that conceptual problems and a lack of empirical power undermine any claim of evidence on outcomes. Langbein and Yost reply.

The progress of replication in economics: Maren Duvendack, Richard W. Palmer-Jones, and W. Robert Reed investigate all Web of Science-indexed economics journals with regard to matters concerning replication of research, including provision of the data and code necessary to make articles replicable and editorial openness to publishing replication studies. They explain the value of replication as well as the challenges, describe its history in economics, and report the results of their investigation, which included corresponding with journal editors.

A Beginner’s Guide to Esoteric Reading: Arthur Melzer describes techniques and devices used in esoteric writing.

Symposium:
Classical Liberalism in Econ, by Country (Part I): Authors from around the world tell us about their country’s culture of political economy, in particular the vitality of liberalism in the original political sense, historically and currently, with special attention to profession economics as practiced in academia, think tanks, and intellectual networks.

Chris Berg:
Classical Liberalism in Australian Economics

Fernando Hernández Fradejas:
Liberal Economics in Spain

Mateusz Machaj:
Liberal Economics in Poland

Patrick Mardini:
The Endangered Classical Liberal Tradition in Lebanon: A General Description and Survey Results

Miroslav Prokopijević and Slaviša Tasić:
Classical Liberal Economics in the Ex-Yugoslav Nations

Josef Šíma and Tomáš Nikodým:
Classical Liberalism in the Czech Republic

EJW Audio: W. Robert Reed on Replication in Economics

Agreement has been reached on the controversial wage agreement for members of four Icelandic unions. This means that major strike action will be called off.

The Icelandic Union of Commercial and Office Workers (VR), the Commercial Federation of Iceland (LÍV), Flóabandalagið and Stéttarfélag Vesturlands have agreed to a final version of the agreement and the characteristic aroma of waffles has filled the negotiation venue.

Making waffles is a traditional Icelandic way of marking and celebrating the successful conclusion of negotiation of this type.

The story is here, good photo of political leadership.  Note that some of the unions were asking for fifty percent pay hikes and threatening strikes, I believe they did not get everything they were asking for.  Yet not all is well and one can only hope that more waffling is in order:

Wage disputes remain ongoing with the Icelandic Nurse’s Association, the Icelandic Association of Academics (BHM) and the Icelandic Professional Trade Association (SGS) and strike action planned by members of these unions remains on the timetable.

For the pointer I thank Peter Kobulnicky.

The author is Michael North, and this new and excellent book, when it comes to the earlier centuries, emphasizes the role of Swedes and Germans in shaping a region of prosperity and trade.  The most interesting section (starts p.239) is about the 1920s, when the Baltic nations underwent a radical deindustrialization, due to their severing from the Russian empire.  That is when they deviated from the Nordic economies, which for the most part continued their industrialization.

I also recommend Sverre Bagge, Cross & Scepter: The Rise of the Scandinavian Kingdoms from the Vikings to the Reformation.  If nothing else, this book will make you wonder if the recent success of the Nordic nations are in fact so deeply historically rooted after all.  As North (p.205) points out: “Industrialization arrived in all of these countries relatively late.”  Tom Buk-Swienty’s 1864: The Forgotten War That Shaped Modern Europe is a good book on how and why Denmark lost so much territory to Prussia/Germany.

That is the new Anders Aslund book, and it is instructive throughout.  Here are a few things I learned:

1. 80 percent of Ukrainian youth receive higher education of some kind.

2. Ukraine has the world’s highest rate of pension expenditures as a share of gdp, at about 18 percent, circa 2010.  Most of that is old age pensions, and that is for a population with a relatively short lifespan, 68.5 years, 122th in the world according to UNDP.

3. At the time of publication, Ukraine’s public expenditures stood at 53 percent of gdp.

4. “Ukraine is running out of money…”  OK, that one I already knew.

5. “No economy has fared as poorly in peacetime as Ukraine did from 1989 to 1999.  For a decade, Ukrainian GDP plummeted by a total of 61 percent, according to official statistics.”  Some of this, however, was offset by the growth of black markets.

6. Crimea is no longer included in Ukraine’s formal measure of gdp, although Donbas is still included.

1. You cannot build and sustain a polity on the idea of redistributing wealth to take advantage of differences in the marginal utility of money across varying wealth classes.

2. The ideas you can sustain a polity around often contradict the notion of socially arbitraging MU differences to try to boost total utility.

3. The MU argument, in isolation, is therefore rarely compelling.  Furthermore its “naive” invocation is often a sign of underlying weakness in the policy case someone is trying to make.  The proposed policy may simply be too at odds with otherwise useful social values.

4. This is related to why parties from “the traditional Left” so often lose elections, including in a relatively statist Europe.

5. That all said, sometimes we should in fact take advantage of MU differences in marginal increments of wealth and use them to drive policy.

6. Figuring out how to deal with this tension — ignoring MU differences, or pursuing them — is a central task of political philosophy.

7. The selective invocation of the differential MU argument — or the case against it — will make it difficult to improve your arguments over time; arguably it is a sign of intellectual superficiality.

In 2012 economists at the University of Auckland published research establishing clear correlations between family circumstances and incidents of child abuse or neglect. “No one realized we were sitting on such rich data in terms of its predictive power,” says Rhema Vaithianathan, who led the research. “We can find children who are at considerably elevated risk, and we can find them at birth.”

And:

Using data from welfare, education, employment, and housing agencies and the courts, the government identified the most expensive welfare beneficiaries—kids who have at least one close adult relative who’s previously been reported to child safety authorities, been to prison, and spent substantial time on welfare. “There are million-dollar kids in those families,” English says. “By the time they are 10, their likelihood of incarceration is 70 percent. You’ve got to do something about that.”

Moving closer to home:

Jennie Feria, who oversees risk assessment for L.A.’s Department of Children and Family Services, says one idea is to rate families, giving them a number that could be used to identify who’s most at risk in the way lenders rely on credit scores to determine creditworthiness. “The way we may use it, it’s going to be like it’s a FICO score,” Feria says. The information, she says, could be used both to prioritize cases and to figure out who needs extra services. “It’s at the very early stages, because we don’t know how we’re going to use it yet exactly.”

It will be interesting to see how that one develops.  The article is by Josh Eidelson.

My research convinced me that bounty hunters were an effective part of the American justice system so I have long favored using large bounties to find international terrorists. In 2008 the Washington Post argued that Bounties were a Bust in Hunt for Al-Qaeda:

So far, however, Rewards for Justice has failed to put a dent in al-Qaeda’s central command. Offers of $25 million each for al-Qaeda founders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have attracted hundreds of anonymous calls but no reliable leads, officials familiar with the program say. For a time, the program was generating so little useful information that in Pakistan, where most al-Qaeda chiefs are believed to be hiding, it was largely abandoned.

“It’s certainly been ineffective,” said Robert L. Grenier, a former CIA station chief in Pakistan and former director of the agency’s counterterrorism center. “It hasn’t produced results, and it hasn’t particularly produced leads.”

I wasn’t impressed with that argument at the time and now Seymour Hersh says it wasn’t torture or the billions spent spying on the world that led to bin Laden’s discovery but a bounty:

…the CIA did not learn of bin Laden’s whereabouts by tracking his couriers, as the White House has claimed since May 2011, but from a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer who betrayed the secret in return for much of the $25 million reward offered by the US…

I can’t evaluate Hersh’s larger claims but I find this part of the story plausible.

 Addendum: The time I went bounty hunting in Baltimore.

One of the perennial worries about immigration, especially from libertarian/conservative types, is that it will corrode the foundations of a free society. Using the Economic Freedom of the World Index, Clark, Lawson, Nowrasteh, Powell, and Murphy find no evidence for this fear. Countries that accept more immigrants tend if anything to grow in economic freedom:

The economics literature generally finds a positive, but small, gain in income to native-born populations from immigrants and potentially large gains in world incomes. But immigrants can also impact a recipient nation’s institutions. A growing empirical literature supports the importance of strong private property rights, a rule of law, and an environment of economic freedom for promoting long-run prosperity. But little is known about how immigration impacts these institutions. This paper empirically examines how immigration impacts a nation’s policies and institutions. We find no evidence of negative and some evidence of positive impacts in institutional quality as a result of immigration.

The published paper is here.  An ungated version is here.

Bryan Caplan considers this question in a very useful blog post.  He serves up these hypotheses, though I think without committing to any particular one of them:

1. Despite their rarity and absence on the front lines of politics, self-conscious libertarians still strongly shape mainstream conservative politicians’ economic policies.

2. Self-conscious libertarians, though rare, have still managed to sharply shift public opinion in a libertarian direction.

3. Self-conscious libertarians, though politically impotent, are a symbol of what’s wrong with American politics.

And then there are the stories the critics won’t embrace, but perhaps they’re true nonetheless…

4. Libertarians, unlike mainstream conservatives, openly defend many unpopular views.  Intellectuals who want to loudly champion popular views have to engage libertarians because there’s hardly anyone else to argue with.

5. Libertarian arguments, though mistaken, are consistently clever enough to get under the critics’ skin.  The purpose of the criticism is not shielding the world from bad ideas but giving the critics some intellectual catharsis.

6. Libertarian arguments are good enough to weigh on the critics’ intellectual consciences.  They attack libertarians to convince themselves that we’re wrong.  And they keep attacking us because they keep failing to fully convince themselves.

But I see more options.  Consider a simple model where bureaucracies maximize output, and try to produce correct output.  In my view, the more mainstream thinkers criticize libertarians so much because a) it helps them generate output, and b) they think they have the better arguments.   There is a clear target, easily explained (not always correctly explained, however), and very often the target can be taken on with a minimum of detailed empirical investigation.  Furthermore the arguments against the libertarian often position the critic in a favorable ideological space, especially for left-wingers: “look, there are people who believe this, better come ally with me!”

If we are talking about “The Left,” the libertarian is about the most welcome intellectual opponent there is.  The real scourge, correctly or not, is the common sense morality of the center.  That’s right, the people who favor and distrust big government at the same time, the people who think the poor deserve welfare support but only so much, the people who distrust intellectual elites and cosmopolitanism, the people who side with police more than they ought to, and yes the people who think Medicare is more based on just deserts than is Medicaid.

That set of views does not describe me well, but the funny thing is — unlike with both far left and libertarian ideas — we do in fact know you can build a workable polity from them.  The libertarians are so much more of a tempting opponent.

I thought so at first, upon seeing the election results with strong SNP dominance.  But upon further consideration, I’ve changed my mind.  Here’s why:

1. A ruling British government simply doesn’t have to allow another referendum.  Or they can time a referendum in a favorable manner, or insist on more favorable conditions the next time around, such as allowing Scots who live in England to vote.

2. Independence advocates realize that if a referendum fails a second time around, they will never get a third chance.  So they will hesitate before moving forward again.

3. Holding 56 out of 59 seats is a pretty sweet lock for SNP.  There will be a temptation to settle for the current form of electoral competition, rather than face a newly competitive Scottish national politics, or face being the backers of another failed referendum.

4. For many Scots, voting for SNP may be a substitute for independence (“we want to be as Scottish as possible, except…and who better to safeguard that Scots heritage politically?”) rather than a path toward independence.  SNP itself stressed that a vote for SNP was not a vote for independence, and every now and then, believe it or not, political parties should be taken at their word.

Arguably Brexit could prompt a quick and strong desire to secede, but otherwise I am betting on the Union to continue.

It is basically statist vs. classical liberal, and it is strongly uni-dimensional.  Those are the main lessons from a new and interesting paper by Jennifer Pan and Yiqing Xu:

We offer the first large scale empirical analysis of ideology in contemporary China to determine whether individuals fall along a discernible and coherent ideological spectrum, and whether there are regional and inter-group variations in ideological orientation. Using principal component analysis (PCA) on a survey of 171,830 individuals, we identify one dominant ideological dimension in China. Individuals who are politically conservative, who emphasize the supremacy of the state and nationalism, are also likely to be economically conservative, supporting a return to socialism and state-control of the economy, and culturally conservative, supporting traditional, Confucian values. In contrast, political liberals, supportive of constitutional democracy and individual liberty, are also likely to be economic liberals who support market-oriented reform and social liberals who support modern science and values such as sexual freedom. This uni-dimensionality of ideology is robust to a wide variety of diagnostics and checks. Using post-stratification based on census data, we find a strong relationship between liberal orientation and modernization — provinces with higher levels of economic development, trade openness, urbanization are more liberal than their poor, rural counterparts, and individuals with higher levels of education and income and more liberal than their less educated and lower-income peers.

Here is some NYT coverage of the piece.  Here is some good Foreign Policy coverage.  Currently this is the most downloaded piece on SSRN.

*Guantánamo Diary*

by on May 9, 2015 at 12:33 pm in Books, History, Law, Political Science | Permalink

That is the recent book by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who has been held at Guantánamo for many years.  This is a classic of prison literature, and I will teach it next year in my Law and Literature class.  Almost every page is interesting:

It is just amazing that the FBI trusts the Jordanians more than the other American intelligence agencies.

And:

I don’t know any other language that writes Colonel and pronounces it Kernel.

His written English is quite good.  Definitely recommended, and the heavily redacted nature of the text enhances the reading experience rather than detracting from it.  Here is a good review from The Guardian.