Category: Political Science

Mexico fact of the day

Number of Mexicans in the USA who voted in the recent (Mexican) Presidental election: 28,000.

I find this to be remarkably low.  58 percent of those voted for Calderon, although presumably the small number of voters corresponds to a strong selection effect rather than a representative sample.

Here is one account, although it does not look into the reasons for non-voting very deeply.  Thanks to Sergio Hernandez for the pointer.

Todd’s academic bureaucracy bleg

Todd Zywicki asks:

I’m looking for literature analyzing academic bureaucracies, especially
from a public choice-type perspective. The parallels with government
bureaucracies seem obvious in terms of empire-building and
budget-maximizing proclivities, but I haven’t been able to turn up any
good resources that gives me a good model and analysis of the problem.

Leave your suggestions in MR comments, also check the unusually quiet VC readers.  I’ll recommend Henry Hansemann on non-profits, plus that JPE article on why tenure allows professors to hire smart people without fear of being laid off because of the new competition.  Who is the market-oriented researcher from the south with all the papers on academic rent-seeking?  Let’s not forget Tullock’s The Organization of Inquiry or Buchanan’s Academia in Anarchy, that rant against the 1960s. 

The quest for control is often more important than budget maximization, but arguably the same is true in political bureaucracy as well.  Budget maximization is an overrated hypothesis.  Status also often plays a larger role than budget, especially in research universities.

My view is that the gains from making the most productive people autonomous (i.e., tenure) outweigh the costs from all the resulting nonsense, but of course that is a self-serving attitude.  Unlike in a political bureaucracy, a small percentage of the workers produce most of the valued outputs.  So if many people shirk, tenure doesn’t actually waste that much in terms of resources.

And why do good universities need those silly silly endowments? 

The best paragraph I read yesterday

Apart from the part from War and Peace I read on the plane, here is tops:

Above all, a classical liberal needs to identify, expose, and counter
the marketing strategies and tactics that are used to expand
government. Both political parties play up fears in order to sucker us
into ceding money and power. Just as certain citizens’ groups are known
for exposing the false advertising of corporations, we need to expose
the false advertising of politicians.

That is Arnold Kling, here is the full argument.

What a great paper, what a blah abstract

Corruption is believed to be a major factor impeding economic development, but the importance of legal enforcement versus cultural norms in controlling corruption is poorly understood. To disentangle these two factors, we exploit a natural experiment, the stationing of thousands of diplomats from around the world in New York City. Diplomatic immunity means there was essentially zero legal enforcement of diplomatic parking violations, allowing us to examine the role of cultural norms alone. This generates a revealed preference measure of government officials’ corruption based on real-world behavior taking place in the same setting. We find strong persistence in corruption norms: diplomats from high corruption countries (based on existing survey-based indices) have significantly more parking violations, and these differences persist over time. In a second main result, officials from countries that survey evidence indicates have less favorable popular views of the United States commit significantly more parking violations, providing non-laboratory evidence on sentiment in economic decision-making. Taken together, factors other than legal enforcement appear to be important determinants of corruption.

Here is the paper.  I might have tried the following:

During a period of diplomatic parking immunity, the average Kuwaiti diplomat to the United Nations racked up 246 parking violations.  No Swedish diplomat had any parking violations.  This paper explores how that might possibly be the case.

China Threat?

Fred Kaplan has a good piece in Slate on the role the China threat plays in American defense politics:

Every day and night,
hundreds of Air Force generals and Navy admirals must thank their lucky
stars for China. Without the specter of a rising Chinese military,
there would be no rationale for such a large fleet of American nuclear
submarines and aircraft carriers, or for a new generation of stealth
combat fighters—no rationale for about a quarter of the Pentagon’s
budget. In Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s Quadrennial Defense Review,
released this past February, the looming Chinese threat is the explicit
justification for all the big-ticket weapons systems that have nothing
to do with fighting terrorists or insurgents.

Read the whole thing for an assesment of China’s true capabilities.  Even more important is that rich, capitalist nations are much less dangerous than poor, communist nations.  Consider how well China has treated Hong Kong.  Moreover, democracy will not be long in coming to China.

Thanks to Fred Hamden for the pointer.

Is autocracy bad for growth?

Gordon Tullock frequently tells me there is no good economic argument for democracy, if we adjust properly for economic variables such as the absolute state of development.  After all, much of the European miracle occurred under non-democratic conditions, not to mention the golden ages of China or modern Singapore.  But now Kevin Grier and Mike Munger argue from the empirics that democracy is better for economic growth.  In particular:

New dictatorships grow very slowly, and very old dictatorships grow very slowly. But durable dictatorships in the middle years actually grow nearly as fast as democracies. A nonlinear specification fits almost exactly.

It is a tricky question which economic models of autocracy this is consistent with (try your hand at this in the comments).  Here is part of the paper’s abstract:

In this paper we study a large unbalanced annual panel of 134 countries covering the period 1950 – 2003. We show that autocracies grow almost one percentage point slower than non-autocracies, holding constant the effect of regime length on growth…

I usually tell Gordon that the costs of keeping out democracy are prohibitive for most contemporary societies; that alone should tip the balance in favor of democracy.  Sources of economic power and sources of political power have to stand in some sort of equilibrium relationship if stability is to persist.  Singapore is an exception because it is a) very small, b) disciplined by world markets to an extreme degree, and c) its citizens realize that its "democracy" would otherwise collapse into identity politics of the three major ethnic groups; they therefore do not demand so much democracy.

Gordon never agrees.  Here is the paper and further discussion.  More importantly, here is Kevin on stereo equipment and tubes.

The Great State of Northern Virginia

Competitive federalism has many advantages.  Citizens can move to communities that better reflect their preferences for public goods, they can vote with their feet, thereby penalizing poorly performing governments, and they can serve as a salutary example for others by trying out new ideas in governing.   

Yet, in 1789 the United States had 13 states and four million people.  If the number of states had grown as fast as the number of people or if
we in the United States had about the same amount of federalism as do
the contemporary Swiss we would today have about 1000 states.

I think we need more states.  If 1000 sounds extreme why is 50 the magic number?  And why is 50 the magic number when the population is 150 million as when it is 300 million?

James Buchanan (my colleague not the one who was President) once asked, "Who will join me in offering to make a small contribution to the Texas Nationalist Party?  Or to the Nantucket Separatists?"  I side with Jim, in saying sign me up!

The Fox News Effect, revisited

Earlier today I reported on a "new" study of how Fox News influences voting patterns; the authors concluded:

We find a significant effect of the introduction of Fox News on the vote share in Presidential elections between 1996 and 2000.

On Wikipedia, however, you can find this link, to a May 2005 version of the paper, by the same authors.  (An alert reader, "MN," pointed me to this.)  Then the authors concluded:

We find no significant effect of the introduction of Fox News on the vote share in Presidential elections between 1996 and 2000.

Hmm…there is much to be said for changing your mind.  Given my motivated dentist and my forthcoming trip to Chicago, I don’t have the time to get to the bottom of this discrepancy, but comments are open in case you can explain how and why the two papers differ.  I am glad I titled that earlier post "Fox News Seems to Matter".

Addendum: Mark Thoma had noted the same a few days ago.

Fox News seems to matter

Does media bias affect voting? We address this question by looking at
the entry of Fox News in cable markets and its impact on voting.
Between October 1996 and November 2000, the conservative Fox News
Channel was introduced in the cable programming of 20 percent of US
towns. Fox News availability in 2000 appears to be largely
idiosyncratic. Using a data set of voting data for 9,256 towns, we
investigate if Republicans gained vote share in towns where Fox News
entered the cable market by the year 2000. We find a significant effect
of the introduction of Fox News on the vote share in Presidential
elections between 1996 and 2000. Republicans gain 0.4 to 0.7 percentage
points in the towns which broadcast Fox News. The results are robust to
town-level controls, district and county fixed effects, and alternative
specifications. We also find a significant effect of Fox News on Senate
vote share and on voter turnout. Our estimates imply that Fox News
convinced 3 to 8 percent of its viewers to vote Republican. We
interpret the results in light of a simple model of voter learning
about media bias and about politician quality. The Fox News effect
could be a temporary learning effect for rational voters, or a
permanent effect for voters subject to non-rational persuasion.

Here is the link and paper.

War & Peace & War

The core theses of this book are straightforward:

1. Some societies face multiethnic frontiers, and they respond by developing higher levels of cooperation.  You have to bind together to clear out and kill those Indians.

2. Eventually the result is empire.

3. Empires decay.  They wallow in luxury and the preconditions behind their previously high levels of cooperation go away.

4. The ability to cooperate is the key variable in human history.

So argues Peter Turchin — a professor of ecology — in his recent War & Peace & War: The Life Cycles of Imperial Nations.  Imagine Jared Diamond’s method extended into the formation of empires and the origins of war, with a dose of Hari Seldon, and you have this book.

In addition to the broader theses, Turchin takes on why Europe stayed disunited after the collapse of the Carolingian Empire (disunity was the default setting), why the eastern and western parts of the Roman Empire took such different courses (the Eastern Empire was largely a new creation), why the fall of the Roman Empire has earlier roots than you think (the frontier changed in nature), and why the Russians have been so obedient to tyrannical rulers (egalitarian structures, combined with a frontier).  The author does not shy away from bold claims, nor does he give much attention to possible counterexamples; try his other books for further support but don’t expect your doubts to be resolved.

Some of the sentences scare me: "Cliodynamics predicts complex dynamical behavior for historical empires, with shorter cycles embedded within longer cycles, and so on [sic]." 

If you judge a book by its vulnerability to criticism, this one makes for easy pickings.  But Tolstoy wasn’t crazy, Ibn Khaldun is more important than you think, and Turchin will tell you why.  Recommended, especially for those who like fearless and speculative minds.