Corporate Republicans v. Corporate Democrats

by Henry Farrell on August 23, 2007

“John Edwards”: reminds me of why I’d vote for him in a heartbeat, if I had a vote in the forthcoming primaries.

It’s not just that the answers of the past aren’t up to the job today, it’s that the system that produced them was corrupt — and still is. It’s controlled by big corporations, the lobbyists they hire to protect their bottom line and the politicians who curry their favor and carry their water. And it’s perpetuated by a media that too often fawns over the establishment, but fails to seriously cover the challenges we face or the solutions being proposed. This is the game of American politics and in this game, the interests of regular Americans don’t stand a chance.

Real change starts with being honest — the system in Washington is rigged and our government is broken. It’s rigged by greedy corporate powers to protect corporate profits. It’s rigged by the very wealthy to ensure they become even wealthier. At the end of the day, it’s rigged by all those who benefit from the established order of things. For them, more of the same means more money and more power. They’ll do anything they can to keep things just the way they are — not for the country, but for themselves.

… The choice for our party could not be more clear. We cannot replace a group of corporate Republicans with a group of corporate Democrats, just swapping the Washington insiders of one party for the Washington insiders of the other.

[nb. that this is a purely personal statement – I have no idea of where those of my fellow CT-ers who live in the US stand on this]

The British Museum

by Jon Mandle on August 23, 2007

I recently visited the British museum for the first time. The very little I saw really was astonishing. I found it surprisingly moving, in fact – especially the Rosetta Stone, for whatever reason. But despite the sense of amazement, I also had the gnawing and depressing feeling that the last 3500 years of human history really just boils down to one damn war after another. Another (related) feeling was the more inchoate discomfort with how all that stuff managed to arrive in London.

In chapter 8 of Cosmopolitanism, Kwame Anthony Appiah asks “Whose Culture Is It, Anyway?” He points to an ambiguity in the term “culture.” Sometimes it refers to artifacts – “whatever people make and invest with significance through the exercise of their human creativity.” Other times it refers to “the group from whose conventions the object derives its significance.” He struggles with the relationship between these two senses of the term – specifically with the question of the return of ancient cultural artifacts to people who claim them as their “cultural patrimony”.

Appiah has lots of sensible and interesting things to say on the issue. He holds that it is “a perfectly reasonable property rule that where something is dug up and nobody can establish an existing claim on it, the government gets to decide what to do with it.” But the government should think of itself as a trustee “for humanity”. This cosmopolitan perspective breaks any kind of special tie to geographic location. “However self-serving it may seem, the British Museum’s claim to be a repository of the heritage not of Britain but of the world seems to me exactly right.”

But he also quotes Major Baden-Powell (founder of the Boy Scouts), who after looting the palace of the Asante King Kofi Karikari in 1874 1895 [thanks, rea – see comment 14.] wrote: “There could be no more interesting, no more tempting work than this. To poke about in a barbarian king’s palace, whose wealth has been reported very great, was enough to make it so. Perhaps one of the most striking features about it was that the work of collecting the treasures was entrusted to a company of British soldiers, and that it was done most honestly and well, without a single case of looting.” Appiah obviously recognizes this as theft, and wants a negotiated restitution, but this is because “the property rights that were trampled upon in these cases flow from laws that I think are reasonable. I am not for sending every object ‘home.’ … I actually want museums in Europe to be able to show the riches of the society they plundered in the years when my grandfather was a young man … Because perhaps the greatest of the many ironies of the sacking of Kumasi in 1874 is that it deprived my hometown of a collection that was, in fact, splendidly cosmopolitan.”

There certainly is something very attractive about the ideal of a grand cosmopolitan museum, whether in London or Kumasi. But I just couldn’t shake the thought that most of the artifacts were taken with an attitude that Britain – as opposed to the world – was entitled to them.

The sources of international law

by Henry Farrell on August 23, 2007

As an international relations scholar (sort of; I began in comparative politics, but gradually shuffled sideways into IR) who believes that international law can be a meaningful constraint on state action, I’m somewhere between “Dan”: and “John”: on the question of whether the US should (or should want to be) bound by international law. The core insight of international relations is that international politics differs from domestic politics because there isn’t any actor with a monopoly on the use of legitimate violence to enforce the law. Thus, whatever international law there is flows from states or from organizations created by states. This doesn’t mean that international law doesn’t exist or that international law can’t have some degree of relative autonomy from states (international organizations aren’t perfect agents of states, and have some wriggle-room to shape law in ways that states might not initially have intended). It does mean that international law is fundamentally limited by the willingness or unwillingness of states to enforce it, except under relatively unusual circumstances (such as the European Union). However, within these limits, quite a lot is possible.

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Comments policy

by Chris Bertram on August 23, 2007

It seems like a reminder of our “comments policy”: is in order. (Maybe we should have a permanent link to it from the front page.)

Should the sheriff be above the law?

by John Q on August 23, 2007

Daniel Drezner (supported by Megan McArdle and Glenn Reynolds, but not by Brad DeLong) has responded to my criticism of his claim that the US should be able to invade foreign countries whenever its “vital national interests” are threatened. Drezner narrows the gap between us a bit, saying that most members of the FPC are more skeptical about the effectiveness of military force than they used to be (though of course, plenty of members in good standing are pushing for a war with Iran that’s even more certain to fail than the war with Iraq), and saying

there is a big difference between not taking force off the table as a policy option and advocating its use in a particular situation. As Quiggin observes, force is a really messy option and carries horrendous costs.

That’s where the agreement ends, though. Drezner dismisses my concerns about international law, quoting James Joyner’s observation that the UN Charter prohibiting war has mostly been observed in the breach. Joyner only mentions the US, but Drezner goes on to claim that

This applies to every other state in the international system as well. Quiggin wants international law to be a powerfully binding constraint on state action. That’s nice, but what Quiggin wants and what actually happens are two very different animals.

A couple of questions arise here. First, is Drezner’s claim that the international law prohibiting aggressive war is a dead letter factually correct? Second, would the US (more precisely, the people of the US) be better off if the option of unilateral resort to (non-defensive) war was taken off the table or at least put further out of reach?

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Self-fulfilling assumptions

by Chris Bertram on August 23, 2007

Megan McArdle has a new blog over at the Atlantic, and, browsing through it I notice that “she comments”: on “John Q.’s recent remarks about Drezner”:, foreign policy etc. The following caught my eye:

bq. Many economists (not all) might agree that it would be lovely if we lived in an Edenic utopia in which everyone did the best for society without thought of themselves. But almost all economists recognize that self-interest is a powerful force that must be dealt with, and therefore that economic policy must be designed on the assumption that people will try to maximise their own good, rather than society’s. Similarly, foreign policy assumes that states will act in their own interest, and try to design a foreign policy that works within that constraint.

I have three reactions to this. The first is that McArdle’s description of the possible motivations for individuals is just absurdly simplistic: people either maximise their own good, or society’s, and since the latter suggestion is silly, we must work on the basis that of the former. Huh? How about intermediate possibilities, such as that people have a good that they try to realize, but that they also recognize constraints on the reasonable pursuit of that good (such as that other people have lives to live, have rights etc.). The second is that her justification for the self-interest assumption for states isn’t a simple consequence of her self-interest assumption for individuals. If individuals were straightforward maximizers of their own good then states would act in ways that reflect the self-interested action of the most powerful individuals within them rather than the (long term? short term?) interest of the state itself. Maybe there would be convergence, and maybe not, but McCardle isn’t entitled to the conclusion that states act self-interestedly on the basis that individuals do (if they do). My third reaction is that, as “Bruno Frey”: and others have argued, the self-interest assumption turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Design a system on the assumption that people will act to maximize their individual good and they will act on that assumption. They’d be crazy not to: why hold back from the trough when the rules of the game assume that everyone will be pushing their own snout forward? But this proves nothing fundamental. A system designed on the basis of a certain level of solidaristic or community spirit may well foster such attitudes, especially if we have effective mechanisms for punishing those who act greedily or selfishly.

DNS 2.0

by Maria on August 23, 2007

My ICANN colleague, Kieren McCarthy, has written an interesting piece on the ICANN Blog about types of new top level domains (e.g. .com, .info). He dusted off a 1997 proposal to put .firm, .store, .web, .arts, .rec, .info and .nom in the domain name system (DNS).

What strikes me is the taxonomic approach of what we now think of as Web 1.0. The TLDs considered ten years ago were attempts to organise the Internet from the top down by category and generic activity type. If and when a process for approving new TLDs begins next year (it’s subject to a vote by the ICANN Board, probably in October), it won’t yield anything like this organised and thematic approach.

Rather than creating a hierarchy of meaning, we’ll see an explosion of ideas pushing up from below. About the only new TLD proposal we know we’ll get is .berlin, which has put a glint in the eyes of city managers and tourist authorities all over the world. We don’t know which new TLDs will be created, but as Kieren says they’ll probably be things like .blog, .news, .coffee, .google and the like, i.e. services in search of a market and branding efforts by companies, cities and pretty much anything you can think of.

The predominantly English-speaking technical cadre that looked at this issue 10 years ago only came up with one non-English TLD (.nom) which was still pure ASCII text. Today, the global technical community is working hard to smooth the way for internationalised domain names, i.e. names in non-Roman characters.

It’s clear that the Internet will start changing as soon as the new TLDs begin to appear. What’s not as obvious is how ICANN may change. Just as the European Economic Community was fundamentally altered by conceiving and administering the Common Agricultural Policy, ICANN may itself be changed by the new gTLDs programme. The CAP is a bad example substantively, as it was designed to shut competition out. The DNS isn’t a way to organise the world’s information, but is a tool people can use to organise and express themselves. I hope the new gTLDs will give expression and form to communities and interests around the world that use the Internet but don’t yet see themselves in it.