Category: Political Science

Krugman: Illiberal Demagogue

Paul Krugman used to be a liberal economist; no longer.  His abandonment of economics has long been plain, Krugman’s abandonment of liberalism was announced in yesterday’s commentary on China.

What really upset me about Krugman’s column is not the bizarre economics but the illiberal politics.  In the last twenty years China’s economic growth has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and nearly unspeakable deprivation.  China’s abandonment of communism is one of the great humanitarian events of all time.  And what does Krugman have to say about this improvement in well being?  (I paraphrase).

‘Watch out.  Now is the time to panic. Their gain is your loss.’

It’s hard to over-estimate how awful Krugman’s column is.  Consider this:

China, unlike Japan, really does seem to be emerging as America’s strategic rival and a competitor for scarce resources… 

‘Strategic rival’ is the kind of term that would-be Metternichs throw about to impress their girlfriends but what does it mean?  Everyone is a competitor for scarce resources.  Even those nice Canadians compete with Americans for scarce resources.  Are Canadians a strategic rival to be feared? 

The real question is how do rivals compete?  Do they compete with war or by trade?  China is moving from the former to the latter but shockingly Krugman prefers the former.  Exaggeration?  Consider this statement:

…the Chinese government might want to control [Unocal] if it envisions a sort of
"great game" in which major economic powers scramble for access to
far-flung oil and natural gas reserves. (Buying a company is a lot
cheaper, in lives and money, than invading an oil-producing country.

So what does Krugman recommend?  Blocking the bid for Unocal.  In other words, support China’s fear that they may be cut off from oil and encourage the invasion of an oil-producing country.

Nothing can harm the prospects for world peace more than the vicious
idea that we do better when they do worse. The Chinese and Americans people already have enough mercantilists,
imperialists and “national greatness” warriors pushing them towards conflict, what we need on this issue are liberal economists like the wise Brad DeLong who writes:

It is very important for the late-twenty first century national
security of the United States that, fifty years from now,
schoolchildren in India and China be taught that America is their
friend, that it did all it could to help them become rich. It is very
important that they not be taught that America wishes that they were
still barefoot and powerless, and has done all it can to keep them so.

How is it that Brad DeLong and I should agree so completely?  It is because neither of us has forgotten our heritage as economists.  Here then is the enlightened humanity and wisdom of the first liberal economist

Each nation foresees, or imagines it
foresees, its own subjugation in the increasing power and
aggrandisement of any of its neighbours; and the mean principle of
national prejudice is often founded upon the noble one of the love of
our own country. The sentence with which the elder Cato is said to have
concluded every speech which he made in the senate, whatever might be
the subject, ‘It is my opinion likewise that Carthage ought to be destroyed,’
was the natural expression of the savage patriotism of a strong but
coarse mind, enraged almost to madness against a foreign nation from
which his own had suffered so much. The more humane sentence with which
Scipio Nasica is said to have concluded all his speeches, ‘It is my opinion likewise that Carthage ought not to be destroyed,’
was the liberal expression of a more enlarged and enlightened mind, who
felt no aversion to the prosperity even of an old enemy, when reduced
to a state which could no longer be formidable to Rome. France and
England may each of them have some reason to dread the increase of the
naval and military power of the other; but for either of them to envy
the internal happiness and prosperity of the other, the cultivation of
its lands, the advancement of its manufactures, the increase of its
commerce, the security and number of its ports and harbours, its
proficiency in all the liberal arts and sciences, is surely beneath the
dignity of two such great nations. These are all real improvements of
the world we live in. Mankind are benefited, human nature is ennobled
by them.

Subsidy Suckers

Depressing article from the Washington Post on the rise of lobbyists.

The number of registered lobbyists in Washington has more than doubled
since 2000 to more than 34,750 while the amount that lobbyists charge
their new clients has increased by as much as 100 percent…The lobbying boom has been caused by three factors, experts say: rapid
growth in government, Republican control of both the White House and
Congress, and wide acceptance among corporations that they need to hire
professional lobbyists to secure their share of federal benefits…

Lobbying firms can’t hire people fast enough. Starting salaries have
risen to about $300,000 a year for the best-connected aides eager to
"move downtown" from Capitol Hill or the Bush administration. Once
considered a distasteful post-government vocation, big-bucks lobbying
is luring nearly half of all lawmakers who return to the private sector
when they leave Congress, according to a forthcoming study by Public
Citizen’s Congress Watch.

No doubt this will create more calls for reform but the truth is we will never get the money out of politics until we get the politics out of money.

How much is politics in the genes?

In the study, three political scientists – Dr. John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska, Dr. John R. Alford of Rice University and Dr. Carolyn L. Funk of Virginia Commonwealth – combed survey data from two large continuing studies including more than 8,000 sets of twins.

From an extensive battery of surveys on personality traits, religious beliefs and other psychological factors, the researchers selected 28 questions most relevant to political behavior. The questions asked people "to please indicate whether or not you agree with each topic," or are uncertain on issues like property taxes, capitalism, unions and X-rated movies. Most of the twins had a mixture of conservative and progressive views. But over all, they leaned slightly one way or the other.

The researchers then compared dizygotic or fraternal twins, who, like any biological siblings, share 50 percent of their genes, with monozygotic, or identical, twins, who share 100 percent of their genes.

Calculating how often identical twins agree on an issue and subtracting the rate at which fraternal twins agree on the same item provides a rough measure of genes’ influence on that attitude. A shared family environment for twins reared together is assumed.

On school prayer, for example, the identical twins’ opinions correlated at a rate of 0.66, a measure of how often they agreed. The correlation rate for fraternal twins was 0.46. This translated into a 41 percent contribution from inheritance.

As found in previous studies, attitudes about issues like school prayer, property taxes and the draft were among the most influenced by inheritance, the researchers found. Others like modern art and divorce were less so. And in the twins’ overall score, derived from 28 questions, genes accounted for 53 percent of the differences.

But after correcting for the tendency of politically like-minded men and women to marry each other, the researchers also found that the twins’ self-identification as Republican or Democrat was far more dependent on environmental factors like upbringing and life experience than was their social orientation, which the researchers call ideology. Inheritance accounted for 14 percent of the difference in party, the researchers found.

Here is the nasty clincher:

The researchers are not optimistic about the future of bipartisan cooperation or national unity. Because men and women tend to seek mates with a similar ideology, they say, the two gene pools are becoming, if anything, more concentrated, not less.

Here is the full story.

Should only the blind vote?

Psychologist Alexander Todorov of Princeton University
had volunteers look at black-and-white photographs of House and Senate
winners and losers from elections in 2000 and 2002, and the competing
candidates prior to the 2004 contests. The faces had to be unknown to
the participants; images of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., John
McCain, R-Ariz., and John Kerry, D-Mass., for example, were immediately

“It was just on facial appearance, it could not be influenced by any other information,” Todorov said in an interview.

The study (reported here) found that the candidate perceived as more competent was
the winner in 72 percent of the Senate races and 67 percent of the
House races.

The primary distinguishing factor appears to be that voters do not like babyfaced men (a round face, large eyes, small nose, high forehead and small chin).
Competency appears to be associated with facial maturity.  But are the voters correct in their biases?  It would appear not:

In fact, studies by Zebrowitz and others have shown that
babyfaced men are actually more intelligent, better educated, more
assertive and apt to win more military medals than their mature-looking

Research in the area of facial impressions has implications for
political marketing, social decision-making and even the democratic
process, Zebrowitz believes. "The data we have suggest that we’re not
necessarily electing better leaders – people who are actually more
competent, though we are electing people who look the part."

Randall Parker at FuturePundit opines:

Democracy is flawed because humans are shallow and superficial.
Maybe blind voters make better decisions. Anyone up for restricting the
voting franchise to the blind only? Ugly talented candidates would fare
much better. Think about it.

Does the EU still have a core?

"There is no other country in Europe that will be as deeply affected by the ‘No’ as Germany," said Ulrike Guérot, senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. "The French are no longer in a position to lead as part of a tandem… but Germany, because of its history, cannot claim leadership in Europe on its own."

Here is further discussion.  I’ve long thought that a "no" vote would be a very serious event.  Read Timur Kuran on preference falsification, not to mention Malcolm Gladwell on tipping points.

My next question: What does equilibrium look like when you have two major currencies, each of which must fall in value vis-a-vis the other?

The public choice economics of Star Wars: A Straussian reading

The only spoilers in this post concern the non-current Star Wars movies.  Stop reading now if you wish those to remain a surprise.

The core point is that the Jedi are not to be trusted:

1. The Jedi and Jedi-in-training sell out like crazy.  Even the evil Count Dooku was once a Jedi knight.

2. What do the Jedi Council want anyway?  The Anakin critique of the Jedi Council rings somewhat true (this is from the new movie, alas I cannot say more, but the argument could be strengthened by citing the relevant detail).  Aren’t they a kind of out-of-control Supreme Court, not even requiring Senate approval (with or without filibuster), and heavily armed at that?  As I understand it, they vote each other into the office, have license to kill, and seek to control galactic affairs.  Talk about unaccountable power used toward secret and mysterious ends.

3. Obi-Wan told Luke scores of lies, including the big whopper that his dad was dead.

4. The Jedi can’t even keep us safe.

5. The bad guys have sex and do all the procreating.  The Jedi are not supposed to marry, or presumably have children.  Not ESS, if you ask me.  Anakin gets Natalie Portman; Luke spends two episodes with a perverse and distant crush on his sister Leia, leading only to one chaste kiss.

6. The prophecy was that Anakin (Darth) will restore order and balance to the force.  How true this turns out to be.  But none of the Jedi can begin to understand what this means.  Yes, you have to get rid of the bad guys.  But you also have to get rid of the Jedi.  The Jedi are, after all, the primary supply source and training ground for the bad guys.  Anakin/Darth manages to get rid of both, so he really is the hero of the story.  (It is also interesting which group of “Jedi” Darth kills first, but that would be telling.)

7. At the happy ending of “Return of the Jedi”, the Jedi no longer control the galaxy.  The Jedi Council is not reestablished.  Luke, the closest thing to a Jedi representative left, never becomes a formal Jedi.  He shows no desire to train other Jedi, and probably expects to spend the rest of his life doing voices for children’s cartoons.

8. The core message is that power corrupts, but also that good guys have power too.  Our possible safety lies in our humanity, not in our desires to transcend it or wield strange forces to our advantage.

What did Padme say?: “So this is how liberty dies, to thunderous applause.”

Addendum: By the way, did I mention that the Jedi are genetically superior supermen with “enhanced blood”?  That the rebels’ victory party in Episode IV borrows liberally from Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will”?  And that the much-maligned ewoks make perfect sense as an antidote to Jedi fascism?

Why the Chets Get on Top

A correspondent writes to Brad DeLong, Why do the Chets of the world get on top?  You know the type, she writes,

Chet is a hail-fellow-well-met sort, cracking jokes all the time… Chet is tall, probably tan, and has big white teeth like a mouthful
of chiclets…. Chet is a member of country clubs, and has a thin wife, and two
adorable kids…Chet has an incredibly high opinion of himself. He is confident to
the point of arrogance, but friendly, outgoing. There is one thing Chet is not,
ever, in my experience, and that is particularly bright.

I like Brad’s answer:

… there are four relevant human capabilities here: the ability to master
details, the ability to quickly grasp what the salient issues are and follow
them through to their conclusion, the ability to work like a dog, and the
ability to size up people–figure out quickly who will actually produce
something useful and who will not, who will hang tough and who will easily bid
more, who will soften if wooed and who will stay hard-nosed. Next to nobody has
all four or even three of these capabilities in world-class measure. Fewer
people than you think have even two. And for someone who has one of the other
three–mastery of detail or skill at analysis or the ability to work like a dog
for ungodly periods of time–mastery of Chet-hood is a very valuable and
lucrative skill.

The correspondent is asking about investment bankers but the discussion applies equally well if not better to politicians.

Pushing the model a bit further I suggest that detail mastery, analytical thinking and working like a dog are more open to meritocracy than sizing people up because to size people up it helps to get them to like you and that is more culturally bound than the other skills.   Minorities may rise to the top more quickly in fields that emphasize the first sets of skills than in those that emphasize the latter.  Birth in general, connections etc. are also more important for the latter set of skills.  Thus in America, it’s Chet not Vijay even though Indian Chets surely exist in just as high a proportion as WASP Chets. 

What do the Iraqi insurgents want?

Rather than employing the classic rebel tactic of provoking the foreign
forces to use clumsy and excessive force and kill civilians, [the Iraqi rebels] are
cutting out the middleman and killing civilians indiscriminately
themselves, in addition to more predictable targets like officials of
the new government. Bombings have escalated in the last two weeks, and
on Thursday a bomb went off in heavy traffic in Baghdad, killing 21

More generally, the insurgency does not appear to have put forward any program or unifying vision; read more here

I have no particular expertise on the empirics, but from a game-theoretic point of view I can think of seven possible "strategies" at work:

1. Chaos is seen as a path to a new Sunni dictatorship.

2. The goal is not to impose a particular solution on Iraq, but rather to punish the U.S. for intervening, by making matters look bad. 

3. The attacks are fundraising events, just as one might hold a cocktail party for donors.  They help the rebels attain focality and make the headlines; the attacks are not domestic political tactics per se

4. Deliberate amorphousness is the best strategy against a determined and powerful United States.  U.S. public opinion must not be able to identify a discernible enemy.  Perhaps the U.S. is most likely to quit Iraq if we view the Iraqis as "crazy," or "not deserving of freedom."  We are less likely to stop thinking about a visible opponent, such as bin Laden.

5. Unlike Bob Lucas’s modeled rational expectations agents, Iraqi insurgents do not hold the "true economic model" in their heads.  Young men at war are notoriously overconfident.  Just as some al Qaeda members thought the U.S. was a weaker opponent than the Soviet Union, the Iraqi insurgency has some similarly crazy view of the world.  What we perceive as failure simply does not deter them much.

6. The insurgency is smaller than we think.  The violent actions we observe are the "noise" of a minority within a minority.  There is no rational explanation, but we had underestimated how much havoc a small group can wreak.

7. The insurgents are simply mad (how’s that for high-powered game theory?), read Jane Galt.

Unfortunately, all of these are possible, and in various combinations.  Nor do they point to any common direction in terms of policy recommendations for a response.

Will France ratify the EU Constitution?

Right now the betting market says the chance is a bit more than forty percent.  The site, with regular updates, is here.  Here is Lynne Kiesling on whether France should ratify. 

My take: The Constitution violates many of my political ideals, if only by further cementing a non-accountable Brussels bureaucracy.  Nonetheless the EU is a godsend for Eastern Europe, if only by making democracy permanent there.  We cannot take that for granted, mostly because Russia has not yet achieved political equilibrium.  The benefits for Eastern Europe dwarf any impact on the in-any-case sluggish Western Europe, so let’s root for a smooth constitutional process.  The EU will have plenty of time to fall apart later on.

Addendum: Here is a better (more permanent) link, thanks to Chris Massey for the tip.

Bonuses for good governance in Madagascar

Mr. Ravalomanana became president [of Madagascar] and quickly became a favorite for his businesslike style [TC: he was earlier a dairy tycoon].  The president grades his cabinet members, granting the best ministers bonuses far greater than their measly government pay and firing the worst.  The economy, which shrank 13% during the turmoil in 2002, has begun to recover although inflation has been a worry recently (WSJ, 18 April, p.A6).

I doubt if this kind of bonus scheme can work more generally, although it remains an interesting question why not.  I suspect that it requires an honest and disciplined president, combined with questionable cabinet members who otherwise will not do the right thing.  How often do you see that exact combination? 

Over time I expect the payments to shift to cabinet members who support the president.  Even a benevolent leader will see reason to make the payments in this fashion, but I fear the move toward outright corruption.   A private business, in contrast, gains more simply by having subordinates march in tune with the CEO.  But we have never worked through all the relevant differences in the two cases.  Surely some MR readers would like to see a bonus for Timothy Muris (former FTC head) and a fine imposed on…well…take your pick.

By the way, Madagascar is now the number one poster child for Bush’s Millennium Challenge Account.  I know they have wonderful and highly underrated music, but didn’t they have a civil war just a few years ago?  I am not yet ready to be bullish on this one.

Rich Man, Poor Man; Rich State, Poor State

Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science is one of my favorite new blogs.  It is primarily written by Andrew Gelman, a professor in the Departments of Statistics and Political Science at Columbia University.

A recent post looks at the difference between red and blue states and red and blue individuals.  We all know that in the recent election poorer states tended to vote Republican while richer states tended to vote Democrat.  On the basis of the famous maps many people jumped to the conclusion that poorer individuals were voting Republican (Nascar Republicans) while richer individuals were voting Democrat (trust fund Democrats).  But the inference is a fallacy, the ecological fallacy.  In fact, high-income individuals, as opposed to high-income states, vote Republican with greater likelihood than low-income individuals (the effect is not huge and it may be declining but it is significant).   

It’s even true that rich counties tend to vote Republican with greater likelihood than poorer counties.  Gelman links to this graph which nicely illustrates the ecological fallacy.  The three lines show that within each state higher-income counties are more likely to vote Republican but when you look between states the correlation between income and voting Republican is negative.  (Click to enlarge).




Claims my Russian wife laughs at (a continuing series)

Start with the idea that the United States can no longer really be regarded as a "new nation."  There is no doubt that America is singularly lacking in ancient chateaux and schlossen…But this scarcely constitutes evidence of youth.  The first settlers arrived when James I was on the throne and England was not yet Britain.  Galileo was offered a chair at Harvard University, which was founded in 1636, before Charles I had his head cut off.  The Declaration of Independence was signed a century before the unification of both German and Italy…Many of the traditions which define Britain as an old country in the minds of admiring Americans — the pomp and circumstance of empire, the rituals of Charles Dickens’s Christmas, Sherlock Holmes’s deer-stalker hat – were invented a century after the American constitution.  "The youth of America is their oldest tradition," Oscar Wilde quipped more than a century ago.

At least I think it is true.  That is from The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge.  This book is the best introduction to the history of the so-called "American Right."  It is a worthy successor to George Nash’s earlier tome.