Category: Political Science
There’s nothing like an election to concentrate the mind, or so says The New Republic.
This spring, the administration significantly increased its pressure on Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman Al Zawahiri, or the Taliban’s Mullah Mohammed Omar, all of whom are believed to be hiding in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan. A succession of high-level American officials–from outgoing CIA Director George Tenet to Secretary of State Colin Powell to Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca to State Department counterterrorism chief Cofer Black to a top CIA South Asia official–have visited Pakistan in recent months to urge General Pervez Musharraf’s government to do more in the war on terrorism….
This public pressure would be appropriate, even laudable, had it not been accompanied by an unseemly private insistence that the Pakistanis deliver these high-value targets (HVTs) before Americans go to the polls in November….The New Republic has learned that Pakistani security officials have been told they must produce HVTs by the election. According to one source in Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), “The Pakistani government is really desperate and wants to flush out bin Laden and his associates after the latest pressures from the U.S. administration to deliver before the [upcoming] U.S. elections.”
The bipartisan committee on terrorism has argued that Congress did not exercise sufficient oversight of the CIA and other intelligence agencies. For a pithy analysis read Daniel Drezner here and here.
More oversight will make the intelligence agencies, however they are structured, more risk-averse. The President or Congress will peep in every now and then, and the agencies will scurry to respond to the emergency of the day. They will work harder not to look bad. This is hardly the best way to encourage imaginative, long-run thinking in defense of our nation.
Excess risk-aversion already happened with Iraqi WMD. One CIA analyst noted: You have to understand,” he said. “We missed the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests last spring. We’re under a lot of pressure not to miss anything else.”
Now you might think that risk-aversion in intelligence is a good thing. Should we not take all possible care to protect America against foreign threats? But bureaucratic risk-aversion is not the same as a secure national defense. It brings groupthink, excess formalism, protecting against yesterday’s threat, and an unwillingness to take responsibility for mistakes. Furthermore it can make effective pre-emption virtually impossible; decisionmakers and their allies will no longer trust their intelligence communities.
Rather than making intelligence agencies more accountable, how about making them more independent? Create some small, elite groups and staff them with the best people we can find. Pay them well. Give them arsm-length protection from political pressures. Treat them like the Federal Reserve, an independent agency renowned for the quality of its staff. Give them a culture of internal pride. Richard Clarke reminds us that: “It is no accident that the only intelligence agency that got it right on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the State Department – a small, elite group of analysts encouraged to be independent thinkers rather than spies or policy makers.”
Sometimes the way to get what you want involves less control, not more control.
Daniel Drezner remains on the fence, concerning the next Presidential election.
He writes about supporting Bush, Kerry, or perhaps a third party candidate (unlikely). But why should he restrict himself to “pure strategies”? Why can’t he support some candidate with some positive probability? How about, for instance, “I support Bush with p = 0.63.” Or “I support Kerry with p = 0.57”, and so on. That way we would know how strong (or weak) his current view is.
We could interpret those p’s in several ways. First, it could be Dan’s current estimate of where his final support will end up. Second, it could be a general measure of expected relative enthusiasm for the candidates.
It is not enough to make up your mind, you should also give the world some sense of your confidence in such judgments. And “Bush with p = .50000001” is a very different story than “Bush with p = .997”. (As an aside, note a potential paradox of voting. How many meta-rational voters, aware of their own fallibility, can justifiably believe that their error-prone participation will improve the final outcome?)
Then a question arises. Once you are playing around with these p’s, you don’t need to have a final point of view at hand. You will have some “p” right now.
Dan writes: “This year I can’t muster even the tiniest amount of enthusiasm for any candidate.” Fair enough, but why not give us a number?
What about me?
Alex is precluded by the Constitution, so can I go with “Dan with p = 0.73”? He is photogenic, and could handle both economics and foreign policy.
Addendum: I enjoy asking people the mischievous question “with what probability do you believe in God?” It is amazing on one hand what strong opinions people have on religion, and on the other hand how ill-prepared they are to come up with an actual number.
“If I could have the answers to five questions in political science/sociology, the appeal of Stalinism to intellectuals would be one of them,” wrote Tyler not long ago. There are few statements, in my judgment, that shed more light on his question than the following passage from the diary of Joseph Davies, US Ambassador to the USSR from 1936-38. (His diaries were later published as Mission to Moscow).
Davies freely admitted that Stalin was guilty of massive atrocities, but admired him anyway for his good quasi-Christian intentions. I kid you not:
Both Germany and Soviet Russia are totalitarian states. Both are realistic. Both are strong and ruthless in their methods. There is one distinction, however, and that is as clear as black and white. It can be simply illustrated. If Marx, Lenin, or Stalin had been firmly grounded in the Christian faith, either Catholic or Protestant, and if by reason of that fact this communistic experiment in Russia had been projected upon this basis, it would probably be declared to be one of the greatest efforts of Christian altruism in history to translate the ideals of brotherhood and charity as preached in the gospel of Christ into a government of men… That is the difference – the communistic Soviet state could function with the Christian religion in its basic purpose to serve the brotherhood of man. It would be impossible for the Nazi state to do so. The communistic ideal is that the state may evaporate and be no longer necessary as man advances into perfect brotherhood. The Nazi ideal is the exact opposite – that the state is the supreme end of all. (Journal entry, July 7, 1941)
This all makes me very glad that Liberation Theology did not come along earlier. A Christian Marxism would have fared far better with the common man.
Larry Bartels has gotten national attention for his work on Bush’s income tax cut, inheritance tax cut, and public opinion. (Here is the full article; here is the digest version; here is what Alex Tabarrok had to say about Bartels). Bartels’ main point is that public opinion verges on contradictory: the public believes that inequality has gone up, agrees that inequality is bad, agrees that the rich should pay more taxes, BUT still supports two tax cuts that mostly benefit the rich.
What Bartels does not seem to realize, however, is that the contradiction he laments is only one of many. Here are a few more:
1. Spending. The public wants less total government spending. In the 1996 General Social Survey, for example, here were the public’s views on cutting government spending:
Strongly in Favor of 40%
In Favor of 41%
Neither in Favor nor Against 10%
Strongly Against 2%
Don’t Know/No Answer 3%
However, the public also opposes cuts in virtually every kind of government spending except for foreign aid! Browse any of the numbers at the GSS webpage by clicking on “subject,” then “spending.”
2. Regulation. The public leans strongly toward less government regulation of business. From the 1996 GSS:
Strongly in Favor of 15%
In Favor of 33%
Neither in Favor nor Against 31%
Strongly Against 3%
Don’t Know/No Answer 3%
But the public is favorable toward virtually all particular forms of regulation. Browse any of the numbers at the GSS webpage by clicking on “subject,” then “economy.”
3. Welfare. 64% believe we spend too much on welfare, according to the excellent National Survey of Public Knowledge of Welfare Reform and the Federal Budget. But only 26% are willing to actually enforce a 2-year limit if welfare recipients would have to take a “low wage that would make it difficult to support a family.” Just 16% favor cutting off benefits to a person who is “unable to get a job” (whatever that means).
Since low-wage jobs are the only ones that former welfare recipients are likely to get (and who should do low-wage jobs, if not former welfare recipients?!), the public is in a quandary. It wants to spend less, but as a practical matter is unwilling to kick anyone off the rolls. In fact, the public heavily favors not only job training, but guaranteed government jobs/community service when the deadline runs out. Yea, that’ll save a lot of money.
The big lesson is that public opinion is not just wrong, but downright silly. On balance, the leftists who hate the Bush tax cuts should be thankful. If the public started being logical, we could easily see spending cuts, deregulation, and American citizens “forced” to take the “demeaning” jobs currently done by illegal immigrants. As Eric Cartman would say, “Sweeeeeeet!”
Alex Tabarrok assures me that one of my most under-rated papers is “The Idea Trap,” published in the June 2003 issue of the European Journal of Political Economy. In this paper, I set up a simple political-economic model with three variables: growth, policy, and ideas. The model is governed by three “laws of motion.” The first are near-tautologies:
1. Good policies cause good growth.
2. Good ideas cause good policies.
The third law is much less intuitive:
3. Good growth causes good ideas.
The inspiration for law #3 was my empirical finding that people with high income growth “think more like economists.”
These assumptions have an interesting implication: there exist “multiple equilibria” – one where growth, policy, and ideas are all good, and another where growth, policy, and ideas are all bad. I call the later “the idea trap,” because bad ideas sustain bad policy, bad policy sustains bad growth, and bad growth reinforces bad ideas. Implausible? Think about any of the world’s economic/political basket cases. How often do the people in those countries admit that their worldview is a failure, and humbly turn to their more successful neighbors? Not often. Or consider: When do crazy demagogues get the most serious hearings? In most cases, when a country is already going down the drain.
In any case, I was recently reading Whittaker Chambers’ Witness, and noticed that his story about communist conversions is directly relevant to my model:
[A] man does not, as a rule, become a Communist because he is attracted to Communism, but because he is driven to despair by the crisis in history through which the world is passing… In the West, all intellectuals become Communists because they are seeking the answer to one of two problems: the problem of war or the problem of economic crisis.
Think about the inter-war period. The problems of war and economic crisis loom large. So what happens in the world of ideas? People flock to a new viewpoint almost guaranteed to make both problems vastly worse! The effects of Communism on economic crisis are all too familiar: famine, chaos, slave labor camps. And of course any country that might go Communist is going to have a lot of trouble retaining domestic capital, much less attracting foreign investors.
The effect of Communism on war is less direct, but the history is pretty clear. The rise of Communism greatly increased the demand for Fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany. By terrifying people, the Communists convinced many to hold their noses and support brutal dictatorships as an alternative. And by allying with Hitler against Poland in 1939, Stalin made Communism the junior sponsor of World War II.
My take: Bad ideas launched the bad policies of World War I, which in turn devastated Europe. The devastation in turn made people like Chambers embrace even worse ideas, leading to even worse policies, culminating in World War II. The only thing that surprises me is that the world ever recovered… but then again, in my model escapes from the idea trap are supposed to be random surprises.
At Tradesports the market prediction of a Bush victory has hit an all-time low.
Blogging is politically important in large part because it affects mainstream media, and helps set the terms of political debate (in political science jargon, it creates ‘focal points’ and ‘frames’). Note that we don’t provide an exhaustive account of blogs and politics – some aspects of blogging (fundraising for parties, effects on political values in the general public), we don’t have more than anecdotal data on.
I would phrase my view as follows. Blogging creates “common knowledge,” even if only among a few at first. Will an idea fly or not? You find out quickly by sending it out into the blogosphere and seeing the reaction. The verdict will be swift and often ruthless, but more often than not fair. And once this common knowledge leaks out to broader and more general communities, the effect is powerful. People will abandon an indefensible idea before it gets started. Or they will jump on the bandwagon right away. They already know how the fight will turn out. In short, the blogosphere is like simulating the larger debate with very swift intellectual mini-armies.
Under this account what matters about the blogosphere is the quick back and forth and the ability to construct rapid-fire dialogues through links. It also means that a better than average debator can influence the broader world by swaying the earlier mini-debate through sheer force of intellect. Of course as the blogosphere gets larger this will become harder to do. The argument will be “thicker,” and arguably less conclusive as well. After all, what if everyone wrote a blog? The debate would not be simulated any more.
What else does it mean for ideas to be evaluated more quickly? Many new ideas will have better chances than before. Throw it out there and see if it sticks; the blogosphere is relatively egalitarian with regard to traditional credentials. Debate-defensible ideas will do better, on average. I hold a number of views that I believe are true, but find difficult to defend in debate on blogs. Either the supporting data are not on the web or the ideas may sound politically incorrect. Ideas that take time to mature, and reveal their full wisdom, may suffer as well.
Print out and read the whole paper; at the very least it is likely to become a mini-classic, maybe more.
The ever-effervescent Jane Galt poses this obvious yet profound question:
…why did we agree to be the world/s policeman? The rest of the developed world essentially opted out of military development in favour of building their welfare states–why didn’t we? After all, we were perhaps the country least threatened by the Soviet Union.
I don’t think the standard imperialist answer holds. Sure, we have done some unsavoury things in order to promote our country’s economic interest, but shockingly fewer such things than any other country I can think of. The US has generally pursued its imperialistic expeditions in ways that are fairly altruistic — either ideological, or in pursuit of broadly stabilising actions such as trying to keep the Middle East fairly peaceful so that oil continues to flow, an action that benefits anpetrological countries far more than the US. Why did we take on the superpower project, and why didn’t we exploit our role as much as we could have?
My take: Even if the rest of the world hates us (debatable, in my view, but let’s say), being the world’s policeman is high status in American eyes. On top of that, most American leaders, and most ordinary Americans, think it is the proverbial “right thing to do,” and think that we do a relatively good job of it. Plus we get some economic benefits, such being able to bribe or bully people to open up their markets or buy our Treasury securities. When relative status, perceptions of right and wrong, and (some) economic self-interests all push in the same direction, the mix is potent. For the clincher, people have strong psychological tendencies to want to feel “in control.” Many people fear flying so much, precisely because they feel they have no control over the risk. Forget about the world, some people even try to control their teenagers, how is that for a laugh?
Or you might pose another, simpler question. How many Presidents run for a second term? Almost all of them. It’s not good for their income, and arguably it is not even good for their happiness. Most look like hell when they leave office. But they like being in control.
The bottom line? Whether you like it or not, America is not going to give up this policeman role anytime soon.
Virginia Postrel says yes; read more here. Paul Krugman suggests Kerry will repeal the tax cut [tax shift, more accurately] to spend more on health care, rather than trying to restore a balanced budget (my words, not his). Can these two luminaries, not always in total agreement, be wrong?
No doubt, if you look at what Kerry says, it sounds like he will spend more than Bush. But the ever-perceptive Jane Galt reminds us that, well…politicians are liars! (Just don’t let on you heard it here…)
I look less at what politicians say, and more at what kind of coalition they would have to build to rule. The high domestic spending of Bush I take as a sign of perceived political weakness (“we need to buy more allies”), rather than a reflection of Bush’s ideology. So in part it depends on what a Kerry victory would look like. But here are a few reasons to think Kerry might be more fiscally responsible:
1. The Republicans will still probably control the House and maybe the Senate too, check out the odds. The political benefits from spending are less, the less you control the content of that spending.
2. The Republicans become more fiscally conservative in opposition.
3. Kerry’s supporters hate Bush, most of all, for what is perceived to be his “Texan-evangelical-grammatically challenged-frat boy” symbolism [just for the record, I don’t buy this picture]. Kerry can appease his base on these symbols fairly easily, just by showing up for work. I doubt if many Kerry supporters are expecting or requiring that a Kerry candidacy would bring a significant movement toward the left on economic policy, above and beyond repealing some of the tax cuts. The left hates Bush so much they would become captives of the center, if Kerry held the presidency. The left would have nowhere else to go (advice to the left: be careful how much Bush hatred you show!)
4. Kerry would be under constant pressure to show that he is “tough” on foreign policy. This will limit his ability to make domestic spending commitments. And if he does well on foreign policy, and appears suitably in charge, he could get reelected without much using spending to buy domestic support. If he is weak on foreign policy, will lots of spending really help him?
5. If Bush is re-elected, it affirms that a Republican can get away with jacking up domestic spending. Such a precedent is worrying for the longer run, not just for Bush’s second term.
6. Have many Presidents moved closer toward their original ideological base in their second terms?
That’s enough raw unfounded speculation for one day. But no, it is not obvious to me that Kerry would be less fiscally responsible than Bush. It’s a judgment call, but let’s not obsess over what candidates say when campaigning. Don’t forget, it was Bush who campaigned on a platform of fiscal responsibility and no nation-building.
Italy is planning to privatize many of its historic museums and buildings:
A portmanteau law affecting all aspects of the Italian artistic, built and environmental heritage was enacted last month. It is the product of three political tendencies. The first dates back to the late 1990s, when a Socialist government wanted to allow the private sector to become involved in a part of Italian life that for 50 years had been dominated by the State, in order to bring greater efficiency and better services to it. The second is the partial devolution of power to regional and local government as result of the electoral reforms of the 1990s, and the third proceeds from a 2001 Finance Act of the current, right wing government that aimed to raise money by the sale of public assets, including historic buildings and State-owned land.
This is a difficult policy issue, as national heritage can be a genuine public good. But the major argument being used against these privatizations is hardly convincing:
The proposal to sell State-owned buildings has been contentious, largely because the State does not know in detail what it owns [emphasis added], and the architectural protection lobbies are afraid that masterpieces may be sold to unsuitable owners.
Here is the full story.
The following table lists how many of the major agencies or departments had their budgets cut in a given Presidential term:
President and Term, Number of Budget Cuts [see the last link in this post for further explanation of the data. I’ve done minor editing and added the boldface]
Johnson, 4 out 15
Nixon, 3 out 15
Carter, 5 out 15
Reagan 1, 8 out 15
Reagan 2, 10 out 15
Bush, George H., 2 out 15
Clinton 1, 9 out 15
Clinton 2, 0 out 15
Bush, George W., 0 out 15
Obviously Reagan II made real efforts in this direction. George W. comes in tied for last with Clinton II. This is a highly imperfect proxy, but when you are 0 for 15 it is hard to blame measurement error alone.
Here is one unnoticed achievement of Ronald Reagan:
President Reagan is the only president to have cut the budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in one of his terms (a total of 40.1 percent during his second term).
I’ve long suspected that many political debates boil down to a relatively small number dimensions or core value judgments. And I believe these values often are rooted in basic personality.
George Lakoff tries to put some meat on these bones. In a nutshell, he sees conservatives as siding with a “Strict Father” model, and liberals as siding with a “Nurturant Mother” model.
My findings indicate that the family and morality are central to both worldviews…What we have here are two different forms of family-based morality. What links them to politics is a common understanding of the nation as a family, with the government as parent. Thus, it is natural for liberals to see it as the function of the government to help people in need and hence to support social programs, while it is equally natural for conservatives to see the function of the government as requiring citizens to be self-disciplined and self-reliant and, therefore, to help themselves.
The linked essay presents the hypothesis in more detail. For more detail, buy Lakoff’s fascinating book, Moral Politics. Note, however, that he definitely sides with the liberal point of view. I would argue, in contrast, that liberals misapply what is good family policy to larger polities, where a stricter and more impersonal approach is appropriate.
My take: I’ve never met an intelligent person who couldn’t come up at least five good objections to Lakoff’s thesis. But Lakoff’s writings make more progress on a difficult topic than anything else I have read to date. They also explain, in my view, why libertarianism, in practice usually ends up closer to the right wing than to the left. “Individual responsibility” is a core moral intuition for most libertarians, and this puts them closer to conservatives, despite the considerable differences.
That all being said, let’s say you realized that your political views followed from your core personality. Let’s say also that personality is something that, in large part, you do not choose. Either you are born with it, or your upbringing shapes you from an early age. Shouldn’t that make you less rather than more confident of your political views? After all, it would be a mere genetic accident that conservative or liberal politics should feel as right to you as they do.
Would you like to live in a Christian nation with government similar to the early United States?
No, it’s not Colonial House (much inferior to Victorian House, by the way) but Christian Exodus
ChristianExodus.org has been established to coordinate the move of 50,000 or more Christians to a single conservative state in the U.S. for the express purpose of reestablishing constitutional governance….ChristianExodus.org is orchestrating the move of 50,000 or more Christians to one of three States for the express purpose of dissolving that State’s bond with the union. The three States under consideration are Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina. The exact destination will be chosen by vote of our membership. Our move will commence when the federal government forces sodomite marriages on our local communities or once we reach the 50,000-member mark, whichever comes first.
If this sounds kinda familiar you may recall the libertarian Free State Project “an effort to recruit 20,000 liberty-loving people to move to New Hampshire.”
Freedom of thought is the most fundamental right. Fortunately, it has been nearly impossible to invade the mind. New technologies, however, do threaten freedom of thought, raising many difficult problems. Should children diagnosed with ADHD who refuse to take Ritalin be refused an education? Should a mentally-ill person be drugged so that they can stand trial? Is hypersonic advertising an invasion of mental privacy?