Spreading democracy in practice

by Henry on November 29, 2004

The OSCE must be doing something right, given the “loud yelps of dismay”:http://news.ft.com/cms/s/d1af5d44-416b-11d9-9dd8-00000e2511c8.html from Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov in the _FT_ today (warning: hidden behind paywall). Lavrov complains that the OSCE “has deviated from its original objectives” and that “some countries’ approach to the OSCE’s work is increasingly based on obvious double standards.” Dire warnings in diplomatic speak (“the very survival of the OSCE will depend on its ability to capitalise on its comparative advantages”) follow on demands that the OSCE revert to consensus-based decision-making and show a greater sensitivity to national and cultural differences. All of which amounts to a barely-stifled howl of complaint at the OSCE’s role in monitoring electoral behaviour in Ukraine, and blowing the whistle on some of the dodgy goings-on associated therewith. Since the early 1990’s, the OSCE has pioneered a very effective form of “limited intervention”:http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~farrell/Piecing_together.pdf that has helped prevent or mitigate ethnic conflict in a variety of trouble spots, as well as promoting democracy through election monitoring and norm diffusion. It’s clearly working well enough to discomfit the Russians. The final outcome in Ukraine is still up in the air (although it looks increasingly hopeful), but the process is very interesting indeed. It suggests yet again that outside actors can help promote democracy through monitoring, information diffusion and censure of bad behavior when the internal conditions are right. If Ukraine does indeed become a democracy over the next several years (I still wouldn’t lay hard money on this outcome) it will demonstrate that soft power, preventive diplomacy and constructive intervention can work, even in the teeth of vigorous opposition from the regional hegemon. Indeed, it will stand as an important counterexample of successful democracy-building to the mess in Iraq. Too early to say, of course, but worth keeping an eye on.

Legitimation effects

by Henry on November 29, 2004

“Eugene Volokh”:http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2004_11_28.shtml#1101750671 points us to a new “blog”:http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/archives/misc/index.html (no entries yet), which will be co-written by Gary Becker and Richard Posner. This provides a nice opportunity for casual empiricism in the cause of predictive social science. As perusors of the academic blogroll may notice, there are huge disparities between different disciplines (some of this is surely sampling error, but only some). There are lots and lots of philosophy blogs and law blogs, but many other academic disciplines, including economics, seem surprisingly under-represented in the blogosphere. I suspect that one of the important causal factors is legitimation. Junior academics may be unwilling to get involved in blogging. Not only is it a time-suck, but it may seem faintly disreputable – senior scholars in many fields of the social sciences take a dim view of ‘popularizing.’ However if there is a well known senior scholar in a discipline who blogs, it’s much easier for junior people in that discipline to dip their toes in the water without worrying that it’ll hurt their tenure chances. I suspect that this helps explain the explosion of philosophy blogs – the fact that Brian Leiter (who is responsible for a hugely influential ranking of philosophy programs) blogs lowered the entry costs for other philosophers; so too with law and the Volokhs. If I’m right, we should see an explosion in economics blogs over the next twelve months, now that Brad DeLong and other blogging economists have been joined by Becker, who’s as close to a household name as you can be in the dismal science.

Attrition in Iraq

by Kieran Healy on November 29, 2004

Brian Gifford of “Pub Sociology”:http://pubsociology.typepad.com/pub/ has an “Op-Ed piece”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A18882-2004Nov28.html in todays _Washington Post_ arguing that the pressure on the U.S. military in Iraq is much greater than simple comparison to casualty rates in previous wars would suggest:

To better understand the difficulty of the fighting in Iraq, consider not just the current body count but the combat intensity of previous wars. During World War II, the United States lost an average of 300 military personnel per day. The daily figure in Vietnam was about 15. Compared with two per day so far in Iraq, the daily grinds of those earlier conflicts were worse than what our forces are currently experiencing.

On the other hand, improved body armor, field medical procedures and medevac capabilities are allowing wounded soldiers to survive injuries that would have killed them in earlier wars. In World War II there were 1.7 wounded for every fatality, and 2.6 in Vietnam; in Iraq the ratio of wounded to killed is 7.6. This means that if our wounded today had the same chances of survival as their fathers did in Vietnam, we would probably now have more than 3,500 deaths in the Iraq war.

Moreover, we fought those wars with much larger militaries than we currently field. The United States had 12 million active-duty personnel at the end of World War II and 3.5 million at the height of the Vietnam War, compared with just 1.4 million today. Adjusted for the size of the armed forces, the average daily number of killed and wounded was 4.8 times as many in World War II than in Iraq, but it was only 0.25 times greater in Vietnam — or one-fourth more.

These figures suggest that our forces in Iraq face a far more serious threat than the public, the media and the political establishment typically acknowledge or understand. Man for man, a soldier or Marine in Iraq faces a mission nearly as difficult as that in Vietnam a generation earlier. This is in spite of the fact that his contemporary enemies do not field heavy armored vehicles or aircraft and do not enjoy the support and patronage of a superpower such as the Soviet Union. …

The focus on how “light” casualties have been so far rather than on what those casualties signify serves to rationalize the continued conduct of the war and prevents us as a nation from confronting the realities of conditions in Iraq. Even more troubling, daily casualties have almost tripled since before the first attack on Fallujah in April. Conditions are getting worse, not improving. To be sure, American forces are winning the body count. That the insurgency is nonetheless growing more effective in the face of heavier losses makes it difficult to imagine an exit strategy that any reasonable person would recognize as a “victory.”

There is a tension in warblogger rhetoric between the wish to emphasize the great sacrifices that soldiers are making in Iraq and the desire to deride those who worry about the casualties. The former leads them to emphasize the hellish nature of battling guerilla forces in urban settings, but the latter demands they argue that fatality rates are trivial compared to Vietnam or other much larger wars. Brian treats the fact that the U.S. military is the best-equipped, best-trained and best-supported ground fighting force in the world as more than just rhetoric. As he argues, this should force us to see the casualty numbers in a new light.

Fighting Inflation as Class Warfare

by Henry on November 29, 2004

I spent a chunk of the Thanksgiving Weekend reading Mark Blyth’s Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century, on which more later. Before doing a proper post, though, I want to point to an interesting claim that Blyth makes in passing; I’ve seen versions of this argument before, but never stated as punchily. Blyth argues that there is no very good reason why we should be worried about the general effects of inflation on the economy – the empirical evidence shows that there is no statistically significant relationship between growth and inflation for inflation rates under twenty per cent per year, as acknowledged even by inflation bears such as Robert Barro. The argument that moderate-to-highish rates of inflation create real economic costs is, at the very least, contestable. Yet low inflation is one of the shibboleths of modern macroeconomic policy. Why? Blyth’s explanation (borrowing from Brian Barry) goes as follows:

bq. Inflation acts as a redistributionary tax on holding debt. Stock prices stagnate and bond prices increase as bond holders demand a premium to guard against the effects of inflation. Investment is hit as inflation eats away at depreciation allowances and stock yields … In short, _inflation is a class specific tax._ Those with credit suffer while those with debt, relatively speaking, prosper. Given then that the benefits of inflation control (restoring the value of debt) are specific while the costs of inflation control (unemployment and economic decline) are diffuse, the reaction of business, particularly the financial sector, to inflation is best understood as the revolt of the investor class [italics in original]

Thus, Blyth argues that efforts to combat inflation are the result of rent-seeking by a small class of individuals (investors/creditors) with sharply defined interests who are able to push government to protect their investments even when this conflicts with the common weal. Creditors don’t want inflation – especially when it’s unexpected – while debtors benefit from it.I’m not a macroeconomist, but the basics of this argument seem plausible, even if you don’t agree with Blyth’s implied Keynesian alternative. Is there a credible alternative explanation of the clear anti-inflationary bias of most advanced industrial democracies, one that, for example, identifies real social benefits attached to low inflation? Arguments against hyperinflation don’t count, since the causal relationship between middling-to-high inflation and hyperinflation is at best underspecified.

Not loyal to the king…

by Chris Bertram on November 29, 2004

Documents concerning Karl Marx’s life, including a shareholders’ certificate and the police advice on his application for naturalization, “are to go on display”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4042187.stm at the British National Archives in Kew. According to the Metropolitan Police he was a

bq. notorious German agitator, the head of the International Society and an advocate of communistic principles. This man has not been loyal to the King.

Tracking blog coverage

by Eszter Hargittai on November 29, 2004

I have updated the graph that looks at the words “weblog” and “blog” in mainstream print media since 1997. I am sure nobody is surprised to see the large increase during the past year.

The graph represents the results for a search in LexisNexis Academic for “weblog” and “blog” in the General News section of Major Papers from 1997 to 2004 (these searches also turn up results for the plural of these terms). This section includes 47 (53 in 2004) papers from across the world including 24 (29 in 2004) US dailies.[1] The figure shows the change over the past eight years. The 2004 numbers include coverage until November 28, 2004. I also ran the searches for 1995 and 1996 but there was no mention of these terms then either so I decided to follow the suggestion made by a commenter to my previous post on this topic and now just start with 1997.

Please note that this figure does not give accurate information about the total sum of articles on the topic because 1. some articles mention both “blog” and “weblog” and are thus counted in both columns (which also explains why I decided not to stack the two columns on top of each other); 2. I did not do a search for other related terms such as blogger or blogging which may have excluded some articles. Moreover, although for the earlier years I checked each article to verify it featured related content, I did not do this for later years when the numbers became too large (given that this is not a research project, just something I’m doing for fun:). The information on this graph is thus just an estimate of the actual occurance of these words in major print media outlets. Also, because it seems that the General News search of Major Papers in LexisNexis Academic searched more newspapers in 2004 than earlier years, the change in coverage may explain some (although likely not all) of the increase from 2003 to 2004.

(I posted earlier versions of this graph in April, 2003 and May, 2004.)

fn1. It looks like there are quite a few additions/deletions in the LexisNexis Academic database over the years.