They know they were right

by Henry on March 25, 2008

“Alex Tabarrok”:http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2008/03/why-anti-cassan.html puts forward an explanation for why people who were against the Iraq war (and who predicted a housing crisis) haven’t gotten more of a public hearing.

The answer is media incentives. It wasn’t just the experts who were wrong, the majority of the American people got Iraq and housing wrong. The war was popular in the beginning and people continued to buy houses even as prices rose ever higher. So what does the American public want to hear now? The public wants to hear why they weren’t idiots. And who better to explain to the public why they weren’t idiots than experts who also got it wrong?

It’s an interesting argument, but one that I’m highly skeptical about. One of the golden rules of survey research is that questions that ask about the political views that respondents held in the past are likely to get highly inaccurate replies. The reason is that people’s memories are quite malleable, so that they often reshape their recollections of what views they held in the past so that they accord better with the views that they hold today. I’d be prepared to bet a significant amount of money that the number of people who _believe_ that they supported the war back in 2003 is far lower than the number of people who actually _did_ support the war back in 2003. Indeed, I suspect that the number of people who believe that they supported the war back in 2003 is a minority of the US public. Since the Cassandra-backlash effect that Tabarrok is talking about is contemporaneous, and presumably depends on people’s current beliefs about what they thought in the past, this makes me think that something else is going here (and that this something else has to do with the desire of elite actors in the commentariat to hold onto their privileged position in the public discourse).

For your Paranoia vs Incompetence Files

by Kieran Healy on March 25, 2008

U.S. says missile parts mistakenly sent to Taiwan:

bq. The U.S. Defense Department accidentally shipped ballistic missile components to Taiwan, the Pentagon said Tuesday. Four nose-cone fuses for intercontinental ballistic missiles were shipped instead of the helicopter batteries that Taiwan had requested, Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne said.

I suppose the line is that Part No. DSS234SG0-BNO02O235230C93-Z1 is really quite different from Part No. DSS234SG0-BNO020235230C93-Z1.

Two quotes; one from “Wolfgang Munchau”:http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/5fe5773a-f8eb-11dc-bcf3-000077b07658.html?nclick_check=1, the other from “Steve Clemons”:http://www.thewashingtonnote.com/archives/2008/03/america_exporte/, seem to me to resonate in interesting ways. First, Munchau:

Another factor that pushes in the same direction is the weakening of the US financial sector. This has been a crisis of Anglo-Saxon transaction-based capitalism. Not too long ago, it was considered to be vastly superior to the eurozone’s old-fashioned relationship finance. I doubt that in a few years’ time people will continue to assess the relative strengths of the Anglo-Saxon and continental European financial systems in quite the same way. I would also expect the eurozone economy to withstand the economic shocks of the credit crisis in relatively better shape.

Then Clemons:

As TWN readers know, I have been on a lot of international travel lately — to Beijing, Mumbain, Tokyo, Berlin, London, Brussels, and Tel Aviv. In all of these places, I met angry and frustrated finance ministry bureaucrats, central bankers, retail bankers, investment bankers, and other fund managers. All of them had a single message that rang a bit like the US accusing China of shipping out poisoned pet food and lead-paint covered toys. They said American regulators failed. “You exported poisoned financial products.” Most Americans have no idea how low American prestige had fallen in the world before the financial crisis — but for the mother ship of modern day capitalism to fail so badly in managing the social contract between economic stakeholders and the finance industry is yet another enormous blow to America’s ability to compel other nations to do as we do, or as we want.

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Big battle for Basra?

by Daniel on March 25, 2008

From the armchair general department … Back when the surge began, I suggested that one of the ways in which things could go wrong (and of course, there are loads of ways things can go wrong and only one way they can go right) would be:

d) Al-Sadr demonstrates his political nous once more, and calms down his operations, carrying out only enough hit-and-run attacks on US troops to keep his popularity up. Then he forms a nationalist bloc with one or more of the Sunni parties. Political collapse of the Maliki government.

Which was looking rather awfully close to how things were shaping up; while the level of violence was falling, the Maliki government was going nowhere fast politically and the anti-government forces were gathering strength. Furthermore, nobody seemed to really be doing much about this, apart from sitting round congratulating themselves that “the surge is working”.

Now, (and I would be very glad to be proved wrong on this one, as I have very little personal credibility at stake having been right on nearly every other important point about Iraq, and contrary to supposition I would very much like to see a world in which far fewer innocent people were in danger of horrible death on a daily basis), it’s all kicking off, apparently (via Chicken Yoghurt).

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