A mess of pottage

by Henry Farrell on April 16, 2005

A very interesting article about the Heritage Foundation, Malaysia, and and sums of money flowing to the Foundation president’s wife in the Washington Post, which I hope to write more about tomorrow or on Monday (there are some interesting and complicated issues that I want to think about a bit more). In the meantime, I want to point out this fascinating little paragraph about the Index of Economic Freedom (previously discussed here and here).

Gerald P. O’Driscoll Jr., former editor of the annual Index of Economic Freedom, published by Heritage and the Wall Street Journal, said that in 2002 Feulner [the president of Heritage] pressed him to give Malaysia a better ranking. When the staff objected, Feulner backed off on changing the ranking, Driscoll said, but changed the text to make it more positive.

Heritage said Driscoll’s account “is incorrect. . . . If Dr. Feulner had any concerns about the Malaysia score, his name would not be on the book.”

As you prefer, you can read this as a testament to the honesty of the Index’s staff, or as damning evidence of Heritage’s intention to cook the books. Either way, it’s a rather interesting datum on the politics behind the Index (and how the text of the Index report is shaped by the political and/or financial interests of its backers).



Matt 04.16.05 at 11:54 pm

An interesting article. Some people like to say that Sept. 11th “Changed everything”. I wouldn’t have thought that extended to the way the Heritage Foundation thought about dictators in Malaysia, but I guess “everything” means everything. Or it was a good excuess to take some money, anyway.


Donald Johnson 04.17.05 at 11:51 am

Slightly off-topic, but I hope some economically literate Crooked TImberite comments on the Bruce Bawer piece in the NYT Week in Review section. In summary, Bawer claims studies demonstrate that the US is much more affluent than Europe. I think the blogosphere dealt with this a couple of years ago and at least partially discredited the claim, but I don’t remember details and am too lazy to google it. Anyway, there’s the claim being made all over again. As someone in another thread said, it’s the standard NYT piece on Europe–they’re all incredibly impoverished socialists and they’re too stupid to realize how bad off they are.


Uncle Kvetch 04.17.05 at 1:15 pm

So Bruce Bawer, the standard-bearer of gay conservatism [sic], is back? Now my joy is complete.

I didn’t buy a Sunday Times today…after the “Man-dates” article in last weekend’s Styles section (and the attendant discussion thereof here on CT), I was thinking that my $3.50 could be better spent in any number of ways. But I was still wavering, thinking that maybe I’d pick one up before the end of the day…y’know, just for Arts & Leisure, and Real Estate…

Thanks, Donald. You just saved me another $3.50.


Tom Maguire 04.17.05 at 5:57 pm

This WaPo story is, at best, incomplete. In addition to demonstrating a financial connection between Malaysia and Heritage, the reporter would need to demonstrate that it was unreasonable for anyone at Heritage to think that Malaysia was improving.

Otherwise, it is entirely possible that in 2001 leaders in Malaysia decided for whatever reason (Foreign investment? The change in US administration?) that improving relations with the US would be a Good Thing, and embarked on a 2 point strategy:

(a) hire conservatives ambassadors to the new Administration to tell the Malaysian story;

(b) institute some cosmetic and/or substantial changes that gave Malaysia a better story to tell.

Did that happen? Did other groups also see changes in Malaysia? We aren’t given enough in this story to draw any sensible conclusion (but that won’t stop some folks!).

Or, another view – here is the CSM from Aug 2002, on post 9/11 relations:

Ties with Malaysia have also warmed considerably. Bilateral relations plunged after the 1999 sodomy and corruption conviction of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad’s political rival Anwar Ibrahim in what US officials said was an irregular trial.

But now even the fiery Mr. Mahathir has lined up behind the antiterror agenda, jailing dozens of alleged militants under the country’s draconian Internal Security Act. Earlier this year, he was rewarded with his first visit to the White House in more than a decade.

Fear of militant Islam in Malaysia, stirred up by the terror war, has also helped Mahathir sideline domestic Islamic political opposition. Opponents have alleged that he’s used the terror sweeps to round up legitimate political activists. Mr. Emmers says such issues, though touched on during Powell’s visit, have been getting much less emphasis from the US.

Last point – all the reporter really has is a difference of opinion – here are Heritage scores; Human Rights Watch (no big change up or down); State Dept 2002 (no big change, but one can find positive flickers.)

And Really the Last Bit – the timeline puzzles me. The Heritage 2005 Inex scores are already available, which suggets that the disagreement about the 2002 score described by the WaPo must have been in early 2002, in the full flush of 9/11. The State Dept report I linked to for 2002 is dated March 2003, a year later. That said, the 2001 report is pretty similar.


Henry 04.18.05 at 12:10 pm

Tom – I agree that there’s no smoking gun here about Heritage’s general relationship with Malaysia – there’s evidence of a policy change towards Malaysia, and (plausible but unproven) speculation that this is linked to the personal financial interests of Heritage’s president. General case: unproven. But where there is something more worrisome – which is why I concentrated on this in my post – is in the shenanigans over the Index. Unless O’Driscoll is lying, this was a personal attempt by Feulner to cook the books on an index that Heritage and the WSJ present as being a neutral measure of economic freedoms. It also was something that clearly caused a high level of discomfort among the Index’s staffers – that O’Driscoll is willing to go public on it (and presumably damage his career prospects quite significantly) suggests strongly that he at least felt that there was something significantly underhand going on. So my take – there is something here – at the very least, an attempt to cook the books on a well known indicator, and a strong whiff (albeit unproven) of underlying skulduggery in the motives for this attempted change.

This said, I think there are some fairly complex questions to be parsed here about the relationship between funding and output for think tanks etc – I’ll be trying to put together a more coherent post over the next day or two, in between grading essays.

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