Controlled comparisons

by Henry Farrell on September 19, 2003

Dan Drezner has a new “piece”: up in Tech Central Station. He suggests in passing that the EU, which used to be considered a trade liberalizer, is now an economic and political mess.

bq. Policy processes that generate illogical macroeconomic rules, incoherent foreign policies, insane agriculture subsidies, and interminable constitutional proposals have not showered Brussels with economic glory.

Fair enough. But what about US ‘policy processes’ under the Republicans?

* Illogical macroeconomic rules. “Check”:
* Incoherent foreign policies. “Check”:
* Insane agricultural subsidies. “Check”:
* Interminable constitutional proposals. “Check”:

In theory, the EU should find it much easier than the US to make a mess of things. It’s composed of fifteen argumentative sovereign states, each with its own turf to defend. But appearances deceive: US Republicans to be labouring under no comparative disadvantage at all. They’re screwing things up with quite extraordinary vigour and gusto. Kudos. I seem to remember that once upon a time, people thought that the Republicans too would be trade liberalizers. Word on the street is that they’re not only protectionists, they’re “incompetent protectionists”: Anyway, I’d take eurosclerosis any day of the week, if the alternative were the shambling monstrosity that is Bush’s macro-economic policy.

A Bodyguard of Lies

by Ted on September 19, 2003

Jack O’Toole catches Andrew Sullivan assuming that his readers are too lazy or dumb to click a link.

Here’s Andrew Sullivan this morning on Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark:

Reading this essay by Wesley Clark, I have to say I’m not reassured that he has what it takes to wage a war on terror. If he had been president, the war in Afghanistan would probably not have taken place, let alone the war against Saddam. [Emph. added]

And what did Gen. Clark actually say in his essay about the war in Afghanistan?

Instead of cutting NATO out, we should have prosecuted the Afghan campaign with NATO, as we did in Kosovo. Of course, it would have been difficult to involve our allies early on, when we ourselves didn’t know what we wanted to do, or how to achieve it. The dialogue and discussions would have been vexing. But in the end, we could have kept NATO involved without surrendering to others the design of the campaign. We could have simply phased the operation and turned over what had begun as a U.S.-only effort to a NATO mission, under U.S. leadership. [Emph. added]

Winston Churchill famously said that the truth is so precious that it must be surrounded by a bodyguard of lies.

It seems that much of the right, from George Will (here and here) to Andrew Sullivan to Rush Limbaugh, feels the same way about the Bush presidency.

UPDATE: Ogged points out:

But he’s not lying this time. His point, which he spends the bulk of his post arguing, is that “with NATO” is “probably” the same as “not at all.” That’s likely wrong: Clark doesn’t rule out going alone, he merely expresses his preference—but it’s not a lie.

Ehhhh… I see his point, but I dunno. Andrew is arguing that Clark wanted to hand over operational control, and sacrifice our ability to choose targets and tactics. Here’s Andrew:

Can you imagine having to get every special ops target in Afghanistan approved by 19 different countries, including those who opposed any action against the Taliban? Can you even begin to imagine constructing a case for any action in Iraq under similar auspices? It simply wouldn’t have happened.

Yes, that certainly sounds bad, but it bears no relation to the essay he’s talking about:

In the end, we could have kept NATO involved without surrendering to others the design of the campaign. We could have simply phased the operation and turned over what had begun as a U.S.-only effort to a NATO mission, under U.S. leadership.

Both Andrew and Clark are speaking in hypotheticals, so the word “lie” is maybe a little harsh. Nonetheless, Clark has the facts on his side, and Andrew doesn’t. NATO was distinctly on our side in Afghanistan- they had called upon the common defense clause for the first time in history. (NATO is, of course, heavily involved in the current effort of policing Afganistan.) And who was it, again, that “opposed any action against the Taliban”?

European reaction to the US and British attacks on Afghanistan has so far been positive. France, Germany, Italy and Russia have all stated their support for the alliance…

In France, President Jacques Chirac has said that he will make French troops available to the alliance. Speaking in a televised address, President Chirac said that France had opened its airspace to the US military aircraft and French ships are providing logistical support to US naval forces in the Indian Ocean. However, the French President was adamant that this was as far as French participation would go.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi put his country on a state of alert following the strikes. However, he said that he supported the attack. “Italy is on the side of the United States and of all those who are committed to the fight against terrorism,” he said. He also pledged material help and troops if needed.

The German government has said that it supports “without reservation” the US-led attacks on “terrorist targets in Afghanistan”. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said that Germany will contribute to the action if they are asked and in line with their abilities.

Russia has also pledged its support for the attacks saying that international terrorism should face justice. A foreign ministry statement read on television said that the Taliban regime had become an “international centre of terrorism and extremism”. The statement concluded, “It is time for decisive action with this evil”.

Sullivan’s take seems ludicrous if you read the link or just remember the events of two years ago.

Finnegans Wake II: Rise of the Machines

by Ted on September 19, 2003

I just got spam for generic Viagra that began with this salutation:

ego jackknife blest lachesis piotr catholicism cavemen calcify bedfast bile creedal introduction

I’d imagine that it’s a device to get through the fearsome AOL spam guards, but it’s almost beautiful in its way.

Scruton on Davidson

by Chris Bertram on September 19, 2003

Roger Scruton has a “piece on Donald Davidson’s importance”: in the latest _Spectator_ .

UPDATE: Scruton’s piece is sort of OK, but I wouldn’t have bothered linking had I come across “this fascinating interview of Davidson”: by Ernest LePore first (via “Brian Leiter’s site”:

Struggling with amazon

by Chris Bertram on September 19, 2003

I’ve spent rather more time than I’d like over the past couple of weeks wrangling with Amazon over their stocking of my book. For some reason they’d listed it as “hard to obtain” and therefore subject to a £1.99 surcharge. When I questioned this, I received an email from their customer service people in India saying “yes, we’ve looked at the website and that is the case.” When I pointed out that I too could look at the website but that it was what was said there that was the problem, they replied “yes, we’ve looked at the website and that is the case.” [DO … LOOP] . Anyway, I’m pleased to be able to say, that the surcharge is now gone.

Contingent valuation

by Chris Bertram on September 19, 2003

I’ve spent the past couple of days at the second of a series of conferences with the title “Priority in Practice” which seek to bring political philosophers in contact with more gritty policy questions. It was good fun, there were some good papers and I learnt a fair bit. One of the interesting papers was by John O’Neill from Lancaster who discussed the controversial question of “contingent valuation”, which is a method by which researchers engaged in cost-benefit analysis attempt to establish a shadow value for some (usually environmental) good for which there is no genuine market price, by asking people what they’d be prepared to pay for it (or alternatively, and eliciting a very different set of answers, what they’d need to compensate them for its loss).

Naturally, people often react with fury or distaste to the suggestion that they assign a monetary value to something like the preservation of an ecosystem. They think that just isn’t an appropriate question and that it involves a transgression of the boundaries between different spheres of justice or value. John had a nice quote to show that researchers have been asking just this sort of question (and getting similar tetchy responses) for rather a long time:

bq. Darius, after he had got the kingdom, called into his presence certain Greeks who were at hand, and asked- “What he should pay them to eat the bodies of their fathers when they died?” To which they answered, that there was no sum that would tempt them to do such a thing. He then sent for certain Indians, of the race called Callatians, men who eat their fathers, and asked them, while the Greeks stood by, and knew by the help of an interpreter all that was said – “What he should give them to burn the bodies of their fathers at their decease?” The Indians exclaimed aloud, and bade him forbear such language. (Herodotus, _Histories_ , III).


by Chris Bertram on September 19, 2003

A new Labour (but definitely _not_ New Labour) ginger group has been launched, by the name of Compass. It looks interesting and some good people are involved.

The Emerging Democratic Majority

by Ted on September 19, 2003

Donkey Rising has some amazing results from a recent poll:

It’s been remarked that Bush’s poll ratings in most respects seem to be returning to about what they were prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That’s true and in some cases they’re actually worse. The public is now 10 points less likely to think Bush is honest and trustworthy; 7 points less likely to think he is moderate, not extreme, 6 points less likely to think he is for working and middle class families and 5 points less likely to think he “cares about people like you”. In addition, the public is 12 points more likely to think he has a go-it-alone policy that hurts our relations with our allies.

Similarly, when comparing the ratings on which parties are trusted to do a better job on the issues, Democrats now have the same leads or better that they had prior to 9/11 and Republicans are not doing much better today than they did then. Democrats are favored by 35 points on the environment today (33 points before 9/11), by 26 points on Medicare (26 points previously), by 24 points on health care (21 previously), by 20 points on retirement and social security (16 previously), by 20 points on prescription drugs (22 previously), by 20 points on the federal budget and deficits (just 3 previously), by 12 points on the economy (3 previously) and by 11 points on education (7 previously). For the Republicans, they are favored by 6 points today on taxes (but were favored by 12 points before 9/11) and by 22 points on keeping America strong (but they were running a 16 point lead even before 9/11).

The conclusion is inescapable. Much of the Bush’s political capital from 9/11 has been dissipated. More than anyone would have thought a year ago, the 2004 election seems likely to be fought on the actual merits and demerits of the entire Bush presidency, not just the two months after 9/11. And, in DR’s opinion, that’s pretty bad–extremely bad–news for Bush.

I spent some time looking at the results, and there’s a lot here to make someone like me smile. (Detailed results here, slideshow here.) It was commissioned by Democrats, but it still seems like a useful survey. I don’t see a leftward bias in the sample: 19% of them describe themselves as liberal, 41% as moderates, and 38% as conservatives.

A few things got my attention:

– Between July 2002 and September 2003, the percentage of people who said that they would vote Bush or lean Bush in the next Presidential election never topped 52%. I thought that it would have been higher right after “Mission Accomplished”.

Democrats couldn’t exactly crow- it wasn’t until August 2003 that “the Democratic nominee” got within striking range. (In September, it’s 47% Bush, 45% Democratic nominee.) Still, the landslide talk was probably always misplaced.

– Respondents were asked which of these statements came closer to their views:

“America’s security depends on building strong ties with other nations.”


“Bottom line, America’s security depends on its own military strength.”

50% agreed with the first statement, while 39% agreed with the second.

– On the other hand, the argument that Bush is too conservative in his appointments to the federal courts is an apparent loser. Only 37% agree, while 46% disagree.

– In the most recent poll, for the first time, about as many people said they opposed Bush’s tax cut plan (45%) as favored it (44%).

– From November 2001 until the end of 2002, more respondents said that Republicans were better on the economy than Democrats. That has reversed in a big way- in the most recent poll, 48% of respondents said Democrats were better on the economy. Only 35% said Republicans.

– On the federal budget and deficit, in the most recent poll 47% said that Democrats were better. Only 27% said Republicans.

(I think that this discrepancy is worth highlighting. I’ve been told so many times that Democrats have no credibility on budgetary issues that I had started to believe it. It’s also worth highlighting because 80% of respondents say the federal deficit is a serious problem, compared to 69% who say high taxes are a serious problem.)

– As previously noted, the biggest weakness is the discrepancy between Republicans and Democrats on who does a better job on keeping America strong. 50% say Republicans, 29% say Democrats.

If only there were a Democratic candidate who could overcome that weakness…