From the monthly archives:

November 2010

Pre-emptive capitulation, part 1

by John Quiggin on November 30, 2010

In comments on my post 10 days ago canvassing the possibility of a pre-emptive capitulation by Obama and the Congressional Democrats, Marc asked

When this doesn’t happen, can I ask for a mea culpa on your part?

Somehow, I don’t think I’m going to have to deliver on this.
[click to continue…]

Ireland and European Integration

by Henry on November 30, 2010

I’m a bit surprised not to have seen anyone making this point, but one obvious consequence of the current situation in Ireland is that European integration (to the extent that it is driven by Treaty change) is dead for the foreseeable future. New Treaties – if they are to be passed, not only require unanimity, but have to pass through two veto points.

First, they have to get a majority vote in a referendum in Ireland. This is thanks to a legal ruling (the Crotty ruling) that Treaty texts which have constitutional implications (which any Treaty involving significant further integration obviously _would_ have) require popular assent in a referendum. Given popular anger at the way that the bailout has been structured, I imagine that the chances of Ireland voting ‘yes’ to any new European initiative are close to zero.

Yet even if somehow the Irish people could be persuaded to say yes to some initiative – perhaps because it put in place a more equitable system of fiscal transfers in the case of crisis – it would have to pass through the second veto point – the German Constitutional Court. The Court has made it clear in recent rulings that it is not prepared to countenance major new initiatives that might e.g. “shift responsibility for decisions over fiscal policy”: to the EU level. In other words – any more equitable system of economic governance is likely to be vetoed.

It is extremely hard to envisage Treaty changes that could get a yes vote in Ireland. It is next to impossible to imagine any new Treaty that could _both_ get a yes vote in Ireland, _and_ survive scrutiny in Karlsruhe. Hence – the process of ‘ever closer union’ through Treaty change is effectively dead. One can imagine other mechanisms of change (drift, policy incrementalism, ECJ rulings) coming into play, but they are unlikely to result in any very obvious changes except over the very long run.

Survey of adjuncts and other contingent academic labor

by Michael Bérubé on November 29, 2010

My apologies for not posting this earlier:  the Coalition on the Academic Workforce is trying to collect data on the working conditions of graduate students, postdocs, and contingent faculty in the United States.  To that end they’ve created a survey that you can fill out <a href=””>on an Internet near you</a>.

The CAW <a href=””>explains</a>:

<blockquote>The Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW) invites all members of the contingent academic workforce in U.S. colleges and universities to participate in this survey. The survey inquires about course assignments, salaries, benefits, and general working conditions as members of the contingent academic workforce experience them at the institutional level. We invite participation from all instructional and research staff members employed off the tenure track, including faculty members employed either full- or part-time, graduate students remunerated as teaching assistants or employed in other roles, and researchers and post-doctoral fellows.</blockquote>

<blockquote>Most of the data on the working conditions of the contingent academic workforce—particularly data about salaries, benefits, and course assignments—exist in large data sets that have been aggregated and averaged at the national level. Consequently, the similarities and differences that contingent academic workers experience across different institutions and institutional sectors, geographic regions, and disciplines become obscured. This survey aims to examine salaries, benefits, course assignments, and general working conditions as contingent academic workers experience them at the institutional level. The survey will collect institution- and course-specific information to create a more textured and realistic picture of contingent academic workers’ working lives and working conditions.</blockquote>

<blockquote>It is our hope that sufficient numbers of respondents will complete this survey to permit developing a rich dataset that will help CAW and its member organizations advocate on behalf of professional compensation and working conditions for the contingent academic workforce.</blockquote>

The CAW asks you to fill out the survey by November 30, 2010.  Fie on me for leaving this to-do task til after <strike>Diwali</strike> Thanksgiving, but if you’re one of those instructional and research staff members employed off the tenure track in the U.S., please take a moment to help out with this important project.  Thanks.

Growing your way out of recession

by Henry on November 29, 2010

One of the problems of a small country like Ireland is that the intelligentsia’s level of economic literacy tends to be pretty low. This “column”: by Stephen Collins (the Irish Times’ political correspondent, and an astute judge of electoral politics) is a good example of the problem.

bq. TAOISEACH BRIAN Cowen insisted last night that the debt burden on Ireland under the terms of the EU/International Monetary Fund bailout would not cripple the country as his political opponents are claiming but would instead put it on the road to recovery.

bq. He pointed out that the assumptions underlying the plan mean that, at its height, the burden of debt will be 102 per cent of gross national product, roughly where it was in 1992/1993 when Ireland was on the cusp of the Celtic Tiger period. Cowen recalled that, back in 1985, the debt burden on the shoulders of the Irish taxpayer was considerably worse than it would be under the EU-IMF programme for Ireland announced last night. Of course, his confident predictions are based on the assumption that the programme will work and that the targets set out in it will be met both in relation to the public finances and to the banks. Ultimately, it will all depend on whether the doom merchants are proved right and the European Union lurches into a crisis from which it will never recover or whether normal economic and political conditions are gradually restored.

bq. Back in 1987, few people believed the Bruton/MacSharry budget introduced at one of the lowest points in Irish history would within a few years have led to the Celtic Tiger economy. Good luck as well as courageous political decision-making underpinned that transformation and both elements will be required if the programme is to work as planned.

bq. … Another issue that did not get serious traction in the talks was the simplistic call to “burn the bondholders” for which German chancellor Angela Merkel has to take a lot of responsibility. The European Central Bank was adamantly opposed to the notion as any such move would threaten the financial stability of Europe. It is ironic that the zealots of the US Tea Party movement and many of those on the left in Ireland share a common belief in “burning bondholders” and damn the consequences. The lesson of the Great Depression of the 1930s was that taking that kind of approach leads to widespread bank failures and national economic collapse which, in turn, threatens the democratic foundations on which our society is built.

The problem is that this argument is based on soothing but quite nonsensical assumptions. It takes as a given that Ireland’s growth rate from the mid 1990’s through 2008 or so reflected “normal economic and political conditions.” They didn’t. Ireland was playing catch-up with the developed industrial democracies – and during catch-up, one can hope for very high growth rates thanks to under-utilized resources. Even if the world’s economic system were magically to restabilize overnight, one could not expect to see a return of the conditions under which Ireland was able to eliminate its earlier debt overhang. And anyone with a smattering of understanding of the basics of economic growth would know this.

Unfortunately, the more plausible outcome is the one presented by “Kevin O’Rourke”: in which emigration and fiscal burden lead to a vicious cycle.

bq. In the long run, migration sets a floor to Irish wages. It has been thus ever since the Famine of the 1840s, and I don’t believe that the Irish have become less mobile in the last 20 years. Now, a lot of Irish wages are still high by international standards, but eventually as ‘internal devaluation’ proceeds, and as peoples’ living standards are lowered as a result of tax hikes and cuts to public services, it seems inevitable that the ‘migration constraint’ will start to bind again. … If the left hand side of this equation falls too far below the right hand side, people will leave until equilibrium is re-established. … There are fixed costs to running a state, and the debts we are now being saddled with are not population-dependent. You don’t have to be Paul Krugman to see the potential for some pretty nasty feedback loops here.

Update: “More on Collins”: from Kevin O’Rourke.

The University of Strategic Optimism

by Chris Bertram on November 29, 2010

Via @leninology

Sort of a cross between Tobermory and Skynet

by John Holbo on November 29, 2010

Following up Henry’s post, let me do my part to not add much to the Wikileaks story. A while back I had an idea for a Wikileaks-extrapolated SF story … [click to continue…]

The Tobermory Effect

by Henry on November 29, 2010

My small addition to the piles of verbiage on the newest Wikileaks revelations is to suggest that Saki’s classic short story “Tobermory”: tells you most of what you need to know. Tobermory – the story of a cat that learns to talk, is really about how a small group of people deal with the collapse of the polite fictions through which they paper over individual self-interest and mutual dislike. No-one guards what they say in front of a cat, leading to consternation when Tobermory suddenly learns the English language.

“What do you think of human intelligence?” asked Mavis Pellington lamely.

“Of whose intelligence in particular?” asked Tobermory coldly.

“Oh, well, mine for instance,” said Mavis with a feeble laugh.

“You put me in an embarrassing position,” said Tobermory, whose tone and attitude certainly did not suggest a shred of embarrassment. “When your inclusion in this house-party was suggested Sir Wilfrid protested that you were the most brainless woman of his acquaintance, and that there was a wide distinction between hospitality and the care of the feeble-minded. Lady Blemley replied that your lack of brain-power was the precise quality which had earned you your invitation, as you were the only person she could think of who might be idiotic enough to buy their old car. You know, the one they call ‘The Envy of Sisyphus,’ because it goes quite nicely up-hill if you push it.”

Lady Blemley’s protestations would have had greater effect if she had not casually suggested to Mavis only that morning that the car in question would be just the thing for her down at her Devonshire home.

Diplomacy, even more than early twentieth century English house-parties, requires hypocrisy. Both diplomats and leaders pretend respect and even affection for regimes that they dislike and leaders whom they despise. When a source can definitively give the lie to these public remonstrations, it is obviously likely to lead to considerable friction (not necessarily because the target did not know he, she or it was detested – but because _public expression_ of this detestation becomes an insult that cannot easily be discounted or ignored. If a number of prominent states had been hit by these revelations, there might be sufficient collective incentive to sweep the embarrassing bits under the Axminster. But that’s not the case here. I imagine that there are some very interesting conversations happening in State (a few blocks from my regular office) right about now.

Diplomacy, intelligence, sophistication

by Chris Bertram on November 28, 2010

One method of getting a psychological assessment of the national character of potential antagonists would be to go to a local bar and ask people, any people. A few glasses of scotch would be a lot cheaper than the cost of intelligence and diplomatic services, and would doubtless come up with similar “results”: .

75 Tips for Getting a Better College Education.

by Harry on November 28, 2010

I’m sure we’ve had some discussion like this before, bemoaning the bad manners of undergraduates, but I can’t find it. Anyway, the other night I got one of those emails from unknown students which just starts “Hey” and continues with some request (usually to be admitted to one of my oversubscribed classes). My immediate reaction is to ignore (that was my wife’s advice) but this time I just decided to do something different. I wrote back explaining the over-subscription situation, and finished with this “By the way, you might want to address people you haven’t met more formally in future: I don’t find it irritating but many will” (which is a lie, I do find it irritating, but there’s no need to tell her that). My original version had more verbiage in it, but my 14 year old (whose missives to teachers are like business letters) told me to take it out on the grounds that “she’ll never do it again, but she’ll be scared to meet you”.

I was prompted to do this by Andrew Roberts’ book The Thinking Student’s Guide to College: 75 Tips for Getting a Better Education (see tip 53). The central idea of the book is that students need a map of how to get the most out of college, and that lots of them arrive not understanding key things. Why not just make it explicit for her?

[click to continue…]

Austerity in the UK*

by John Quiggin on November 28, 2010

Visiting London briefly, I’m struck by both the drastic nature of the cuts being proposed by the Coalition government, and the bitterness of the response. By comparison, the austerity measures being proposed by most eurozone governments seem both less regressive and more sustainable in the long run, and the demonstrations in response to be much more in the nature of normal politics, with an element of street theatre.

I haven’t had time for a detailed analysis, but a quick comparison of the eurozone cuts listed here, and the measures proposed by the Coalition seems to me to bear this impression out. Maybe it’s just lack of detail in the eurozone list, but (except maybe in Ireland) there seems to be nothing like the mass withdrawal of public services and the focus on punishing the poor for the crimes of the rich that is the hallmark of the Cameron-Clegg regime.

This, again, seems to me to cast doubt on analyses that focus on the role of the EU and the euro. As far as I can see, UK policy is essentially unconstrained by the EU and is driven by the demands of ratings agencies and the financial sector generally. On the plus side, the Bank of England has been more expansionary in monetary policy than the ECB, but it’s been equally supportive of fiscal austerity which is the main problem.

* My intended allusion doesn’t jump off the page as I’d hoped, but UK political and social discussion has, to this visitor at least, a distinct late-70s air at present.

Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet

by John Holbo on November 28, 2010

Here’s my pre-X-Mas best books for kids #1 top recommendation: Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series. Volumes 1-3 are out so far. So start with The Stonekeeper [amazon]. How they can sell a 200 page full-color graphic novel for under $7 and turn a profit is beyond me.

You can find preview material here. One word about the prologue to volume 1: it’s disturbing because the dad dies. My daughters (ages 6 and 9) almost gave up because that scene upset them so much (note to self: don’t die in car accident). But then it turns into a ripping yarn with a girl hero. Both girls are now of the considered opinion that the Amulet books are ‘the best books ever’.

Check out the rest of Kibuishi’s site – his gallery gives a good sample of his style. I’m thinking about buying my daughters a print for their wall. Maybe ‘the walking house’. Which is the final page from The Stonekeepers. I’ve enjoyed the Kibuishi edited Flight books for several years already. Here’s the preview page for vol. 7. “Premium Cargo” is the best story! Daisy Kutter was good Old West Steampunk fun, but Amulet raises the bar. Not that the story is new. Kid enters strange magical world, turns out to be The Chosen One With A Special Power, has to fight the Dark Power with the help of a small band of fellow fighters and scrappy sidekicks. But it really bounces along in a clever and good-hearted way. Solid dialogue, distinctive characterizations. Nice mix of humor and seriousness and action and sweeping visual spectacle. Stylistically, and world-design-wise, Kibuishi owes a lot to a lot of folks, from Jeff Smith to Hayao Miyazaki. But he’s got his own style, for sure, and it’s a distinct pleasure just to flip through the pages.

Non-Zombie in Milwaukee (weather-permitting)

by Harry on November 25, 2010

Given the irritation at JQ’s short notice for his zombie talk, I thought I’d give more notice for my own talk at the UW Milwaukee Philosophy Department, on Justice in Higher Education, next Friday (December 3rd)[1]. It’s a more public-oriented talk than I imagine the other talks in their colloquium series (from extremely eminent scholars) have been [2], hence the unusual step of highlighting it here. Like JQ, I like meeting CT readers (even including those in my own field who know me from CT rather than from my scholarly work), and welcome feedback on the ideas I’ll present.

[1] I have been warned that for the past three years the first Friday in December has seen blizzard conditions between Madison and Milwaukee, so bear that in mind when planning…

[2] when I previously gave a talk at UW Milwaukee, thinking that my more mainstream work was more appropriate than my education related work, I gave a paper on democracy, only to be greeted with disappointment that I was not talking about education, which is one of many things I like about the department.

Joke Memo?

by Harry on November 25, 2010

Via Laura at 11D, a bizarre, and surely either fake or drunken, memo. Penelope Trunk says she has verified the (excellent if true) Kimba Woods side of this. But the original memo cannot be real, surely?

Zombies in London

by John Quiggin on November 25, 2010

I’m speaking at the London School of Economics tonight, basically recapping my Zombie Economics book. It’s a bit late notice, but in case any London-based CT readers are interested, I thought I would give the event a plug here.

Details here

Dellepiane and Hardiman on Ireland in the crisis

by Henry on November 24, 2010

While there has been a lot of interesting work by economists on Ireland’s crisis over the last year, there hasn’t been much on the _political economy_ of the crisis. This “piece”:, written this summer by Sebastian Dellepiane Avellaneda and Niamh Hardiman at University College Dublin, is the best that I’ve seen, and is particularly excellent on the interaction between Economic and Monetary Union and domestic decision-making structures. I’ve patched together extracts Brad-De-Long style into a short quasi-narrative below the fold, but if you are interested, you should really download and read the original piece.

[click to continue…]