Political Science


That is from Ian Bremmer on Twitter.

The game-theoretic dynamic of such situations is of course not always a happy one.  Pro-semi-autonomy views in Hong Kong feel desperate and are losing leverage.  China feels it can play tough, because it sees it is gaining influence.  And the equilibrium is…?

China fact of the day

by on September 26, 2014 at 5:51 am in Books, Political Science | Permalink

…the size of the Chinese government and party bureaucracy is surprisingly modest…In this respect, the Chinese communist Party is similar to previous Chinese dynasties as far back as the Han, which ruled the vast Chinese empire with a modestly sized civil service.

…China has only 31 government and party employees per thousand residents.  The number of civil servants per thousand residents in France is 95, in the United States, 75, and in Germany 53.

You will note that these numbers exclude state-owned enterprises, which in China are extensive although shrinking in relative terms.

That is from the new and excellent Nicholas Lardy book Markets Over Mao: The Rise of Private Business in China.  In my view the truth lies somewhere between the arguments of Lardy and the thesis of Joe Zhang, see the first Amazon review for Zhang’s critique of Lardy, plus Zhang’s comments here.  Here is Scott Sumner criticizing Zhang.

From Joe Palazzolo at the WSJ:

There is no research yet on whether the use of risk evaluations in sentencing has aggravated, for example, the gap between sentences for black and white men for similar crimes.

Ms. Starr said the disparities created by risk measures are evident. “When it comes down to it, these assessments stand for the proposition that judges should sentence people longer because they were in foster care as children or had too many bouts of unemployment,” she said.

Christopher Slobogin, a Vanderbilt University law professor, said the alternative was potentially worse. “At least these risk-assessment instruments don’t explicitly focus on race or poverty, unlike what might occur in a sentencing regime where judges are making risk assessments based on seat-of-the-pants evaluations,” he said.

Some observers, such as U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf in Nebraska, say age or race should be considered if doing so yields a more accurate measurement of risk. He wrote in a blog post last month: “If race, gender or age are predictive as validated by good empirical analysis, and we truly care about public safety while at the same time depopulating our prisons, why wouldn’t a rational sentencing system freely use race, gender or age as predictor of future criminality?”

There is more here.

Dylan Matthews says yes.  He cites their mixed-member proportional representation, their unicameral legislature, and monarchy.  He left out the biggest advantage of New Zealand government — not very much federalism!  Admittedly, more populous countries cannot achieve that same outcome with equal ease.

I also would make a case for preferring the earlier New Zealand Westminster system to proportional representation.  What is really the advantage of giving those small parties — not all of which have a fully responsible sense of governing — leverage over their pet issues?  The process of coalition formation decreases accountability and blurs what elections are really about.  PR makes more sense in fractious or ethnically split countries, where various groups require a sense of representation.  New Zealand has long had separate arrangements for special Maori representation, and in any case Kiwi PR has not evolved to be primarily about giving Maori added voice (the ostensibly “Maori party” holds only two seats).  To the extent such additional voice is desirable, it can best be done other ways.

Jeremy Waldron on Nudge

by on September 23, 2014 at 11:08 am in Books, Education, Philosophy, Political Science | Permalink

Waldron is one of my favorite contemporary philosophers, here is one bit from his NYRoB essay:

More reassuring, I think, would be a candid assessment of what might go wrong with nudging. One of Sunstein’s many books (from before his time in the White House) is entitled Worst-Case Scenarios. Could we please have something like that as a companion to Nudge?

I am afraid there is very little awareness in these books about the problem of trust. Every day we are bombarded with offers whose choice architecture is manipulated, not necessarily in our favor. The latest deal from the phone company is designed to bamboozle us, and we may well want such blandishments regulated. But it is not clear whether the regulators themselves are trustworthy. Governments don’t just make mistakes; they sometimes set out deliberately to mislead us. The mendacity of elected officials is legendary and claims on our trust and credulity have often been squandered. It is against this background that we have to consider how nudging might be abused.

The full piece is here.  By the way, there is a new Cass Sunstein book out, which I have not yet read, Valuing Life: Humanizing the Regulatory State.

The Twitter pointer is from Michael Clemens.

In 1960, 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats said that they would feel “displeased” if their son or daughter married outside their political party. By 2010, those numbers had reached 49 percent and 33 percent. Republicans have been found to like Democrats less than they like people on welfare or gays and lesbians. Democrats dislike Republicans more than they dislike big business.

And this:

To test for political prejudice, Shanto Iyengar and Sean Westwood, political scientists at Stanford University, conducted a large-scale implicit association test with 2,000 adults. They found people’s political bias to be much larger than their racial bias. When Democrats see “joy,” it’s much easier for them to click on a corner that says “Democratic” and “good” than on one that says “Republican” and “good.”

To find out whether such attitudes predict behavior, Iyengar and Westwood undertook a follow-up study. They asked more than 1,000 people to look at the resumes of several high-school seniors and say which ones should be awarded a scholarship. Some of these resumes contained racial cues (“president of the African American Student Association”) while others had political ones (“president of the Young Republicans”).

Race mattered. African-American participants preferred the African-American candidates 73 percent to 27 percent. Whites showed a modest preference for African-American candidates, as well, though by a significantly smaller margin. But partisanship made a much bigger difference. Both Democrats and Republicans selected their in-party candidate about 80 percent of the time.

That is from Cass Sunstein.

This is the new and fantastic book by Arthur M. Melzer and the subtitle is The Lost History of Esoteric Writing.  It is the best book I know on esoteric writing and its history and furthermore it is clear and to the point!  (I think)

Melzer starts his chapter eight with this quotation from John Toland’s eighteenth century Pantheisticon:

[Esotericism is] practiced not by the Ancients alone; for to declare the Truth, it is more in Use among the Moderns.

Here is another bit from the book:

To begin with, we need an author who, in his interpretations, is willing to follow the very un-Straussian injunction — often found on mathematics exams — “show all work.”  We need to see, once or twice, how the sausage is made.  The best writing for this purpose that I am familiar with comes from an appropriately un-Straussian source: Stanley Fish.  His “Georgics of the Mind: The Experience of Bacon’s Essays” is a brilliant and nuanced exercise in textual analysis that openly displays, at every stage of Fish’s encounter with the text, what he thinks and why he thinks it.

…Another excellent and highly communicative reader…is Robert Connor.  His Thucydides is a very sensitive reading of Thucydides’s great history, a reading openly arrived at and clearly conveyed.  In conjunction with this, one should also read Clifford Orwin’s superb The Humanity of Thucydides.


Just hours after Scotland voted “no” to independence from the United Kingdom, Catalonia’s regional parliament announced on Friday that it had passed a law, which Catalan leaders say authorizes them to hold a non-binding “consultation” on independence from Spain in November.

The law was passed with a vote of 106 to 28.

Spain’s central government and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, however, categorically oppose Catalonia’s campaign for a referendum, as the Spanish constitution doesn’t allow referendums that don’t include all Spaniards.

There is more here, and much more here.  My view is that we’ve been getting lucky on these European political events — in relative though not absolute terms — and sooner or later that streak of good fortune is bound to end.

Many political unions subsist on creative ambiguity.  That is, if the right question were posed, and the citizenry forced to answer it definitely, political order might spin out of control.

Canada, Belgium, and indeed the entire European Union seem to be organized on this basis.  It’s not quite that everyone thinks they are getting their way, but rather explicit concessions are not demanded for each loss of control embodied in the broader system.  Certain rights are held in reserve, with the expectation that they probably will not be exercised, but they can nonetheless influence the final bargaining equilibrium.

Most international treaties rely on some degree of creative ambiguity, as do most central banks, with their semi-promises of bailouts but “not too much not too certain you know” as the default.  You might like the mandated outcome (or not), but I doubt if it would improve political discourse in the United States to have an explicit thumbs up vs. thumbs down referendum on abortion.

Many partnerships and marriages rely on creative ambiguity too.  Should the Beatles have forced Lennon and McCartney to specify who had the final say over each cut?  That probably would have led to a split in 1968 and there would be no Abbey Road.  Must parties to a marriage specify the entire division of chores and responsibilities in advance?

We find the same in many academic departments.  Things can be going along just fine, but once the department has to write out an explicit plan for future growth and the allocation of slots across different fields or methods, all hell breaks loose.

Question posers and agenda setters have great power.

All praises of democracy must be embedded in a broader understanding that a) formal questions can be destructive, and b) we cannot be allowed to pose questions without limit, at least not questions which require explicit, publicly verifiable, and commonly observed answers.

Once a question is posed very explicitly, and in a manner which requires a clear answer, it is hard to take it off the table.  There is thus an option value to holding these questions in reserve, which means that the expected return from the question has to be pretty high to justify changing the agenda in a hard-to-revoke manner.

I am thus not impressed by claims that a “yes” vote for Scottish independence would represent “the democratic will of the people.”  It might just be a question which should not be asked in such a blatant form.

This article, by the way, argues quite well that the current independence referendum is not really democratic at all.  Who gets to vote, and who not, is quite arbitrary.  Maybe they first should have held a referendum on that?

Here is the latest:

David Cameron faces a “bloodbath” at the hands of Tory MPs after all three parties pledged to continue high levels of funding for Scotland if it rejects independence.

The Prime Minister is facing mounting dissent among English backbenchers after promising that Scotland’s special funding arrangements will continue even when the country is given control over its own taxation and spending.

One Tory MP said the promise to Scottish voters, issued by Mr Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg in the Daily Record newspaper, “smacks of desperation”.

Under the Barnett formula, devised in the 1970s by Labour Treasury minister Lord Barnett, spending is allocated according to population size, rather than the amount each country actually needs.

Critics say this gives Scotland an unfair share of government spending and even Lord Barnett has called for it to be replaced.

According to research at Stirling University, England loses around £4.5 billion of public spending every year because the money is handed to Scotland instead

In other words, this story will not end with a “no” vote from Scotland, unless it is strongly decisive.  Regardless of the result, allowing this referendum to go forward likely will go down as one of the greatest unforced errors in recent times.

Following ONS definitions, the official Scottish Executive figures give public sector employment in Scotland as 580,000 in 2012, having fallen slightly from its peak of 600,000 in 2009 (see Table 1). The 2012 figure represents 23.5 per cent of the total employed population. But there is good reason to suppose that these figures are a considerable underestimate given the amount of out-sourcing and publicly-funded but ‘non-state’ employment. Buchanan et al. suggest that adjusting for these boundary problems would inflate the figure for Scotland (for 2007) by almost a third, from the official figure of 580,000 (including financial institutions) to 772,000. As it happens, the official 2012 figure is the same as the official figure for 2007,  so adjusting the later figure in the same proportion would suggest again a total of 772,000, 31 per cent of the total in employment. These figures seem broadly compatible with those provided by the Centre for Cities on a city basis, which give the Dundee figure as 38 per cent and that for Glasgow as 30 per cent.

This growth of public sector employment is part of the process of de-globalisation evident in Scotland as an accompaniment to de-industrialisation.

That is from Jim Tomlinson, there is more here, via www.macrodigest.com.

The author is Joe Zhang and the subtitle is Is China’s State Capitalism Doomed?  Here is the summary of his conclusions:

1. The state sector remains the dominant part of the Chinese economy.

2. In the past decade, China has erased most (if not all) of the liberalization of the previous two decades.  As a result, the state sector has become more dominant than it was a decade ago.

3. The state sector enjoys widespread public support in China, contrary to perceptions in the West.  there are political, social and cultural reasons for this “strange” situation.

4. The state sector and SOEs are constantly adapting to the public demand for transparency and efficiency.  As a whole, they do not necessarily underperform the private sector.  Indeed, due to systematic discrimination against the private sector, there is evidence to the contrary: the state sector has had a better financial track record in the past three decades.  Indeed, it is not fair to make comparisons given the unleveled playing field.

5. The many challenges China faces today need a robust and well-funded state sector.  At least that is, in my judgment, what the Chinese government and most members of the public think.  These challenges include social inequality, overpopulation, environmental damage, and the depletion of global resources.

I do not agree with every claim in this book, especially the normative ones, but this is one of the better places to go for a look at how the Chinese economy actually works.  Or doesn’t, as the case may be.

Could Scotland just borrow more? I am all for borrowing to cover temporary reductions in income, due to recessions for example, which is why I have been so critical of current austerity. However, as the IFS show, North Sea oil income is falling long term, so this is not a temporary problem. Now it could be that the gap will be covered in the longer term by the kind of increases in productivity and labour supply that the Scottish government assume. Governments that try to borrow today in the hope of a more optimistic future are not behaving very responsibly. However it seems unlikely that Scotland would be able to behave irresponsibly, whatever the currency regime. They would either be stopped by fiscal rules imposed by the remaining UK, or markets that did not share the SNP’s optimism about longer term growth. So this means, over the next five or ten years, either additional spending cuts (to those already planned by the UK government), or (I hope more realistically) tax increases.

There is more here, more Keynesian than I would present my own version of some of those those arguments, but in any case he makes many good points.

There is a new research paper by David E. Broockman and Daniel M. Butler (pdf), the abstract is this:

Politicians have been depicted as, alternatively, strongly constrained by public opinion, able to shape public opinion if they persuasively appeal to citizens’ values, or relatively unconstrained by public opinion and able to shape it merely by announcing their positions. We conduct unique field experiments in cooperation with legislators to explore how constituents react when legislators take positions they oppose. For the experiments, state legislators sent their constituents official communications with randomly assigned content. In some letters, the representatives took positions on salient issues these constituents opposed, sometimes supported by extensive arguments but sometimes minimally justified. Results from an ostensibly unrelated telephone survey show that citizens often adopted their representatives’ issue positions even when representatives offered little justification. Moreover, citizens did not evaluate their representatives more negatively when representatives took positions citizens opposed. These findings suggest politicians can enjoy broad latitude to shape public opinion.

I suppose Alex Salmond is one current leader who understands this, Putin is another.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Samir Varma, who also cites coverage from Wonkblog.

PredictWise and Betfair both say 28.4%.   Last I checked, that is.

Hat tip goes to David Rothschild.