Benn Steil seems upset.

by Eric on April 29, 2013

The Council on Foreign Relations has a response to my critique of Benn Steil’s Bretton Woods book, in a post by Steil and Dinah Walker. The tenor of the response is conspicuous; Ed Conway notes I “seem to have touched a raw nerve.” Steil himself writes that my criticism is “like being savaged by a dead sheep.”

I’ll set that issue aside for now and just address the substantial areas of dispute here; that is, the gold standard and Pearl Harbor.

The Gold Standard

Of the gold standard, Steil and Walker write,

Rauchway takes specific issue with Benn’s claim that under the classical gold standard “when gold flowed in [the authorities] loosened credit, and when it flowed out they tightened credit,” arguing that this is “at odds with historical evidence.”


And then they insert a graphic showing “that long interest rates did indeed tend to rise when gold was flowing out of the United States and fall when gold was flowing in”, adding, “Economics lesson finished.”

I would extend the economics lesson, or anyway the economic history lesson, further. The US was not the only gold standard country. [click to continue…]

Ricky Locke has written the [lead essay]( for a new [forum]( at the _Boston Review_ which is very much worth reading as an analytic follow-up to Corey’s post last week. Locke takes a decade worth of research (soon to come out as a [book]( on how these problems are endemic to international supply chains, and not fixed at all well by gestures towards corporate social responsibility. It’s particularly interesting that Locke came to this question as someone who hoped and expected to find a different answer

>have these private efforts improved labor standards? Not by much. Despite many good faith efforts over the past fifteen years, private regulation has had limited impact. Child labor, hazardous working conditions, excessive hours, and poor wages continue to plague many workplaces in the developing world, creating scandal and embarrassment for the global companies that source from these factories and farms. That is my reluctant conclusion after a decade studying this issue. Before I turned my attention to global labor standards, I was a student of labor and politics in Western Europe and the United States. I came to the idea of private regulation with the hope that it might be a new, suppler way of ensuring workers fair compensation, healthy and safe conditions, and rights of association.

What is useful about Locke’s analysis (and the analysis of nearly all the participants in this forum) is that it highlights how this is _not_ a problem of national governments making responsible and democratically-legitimated trade-offs between worker rights and economic growth in some imaginary perfectly competitive world marketplace. Instead, it’s about the more self-centered trade-offs that profit-seeking businesses make in complex global supply chains where responsibility for nasty outcomes often (though not always) tends to evaporate away into games of mutual blame and recrimination. As per [Lindsay Beyerstein](, ‘No, Matt Yglesias, Bangladeshi Workers Didn’t Choose To Be Crushed To Death.’ The workers weren’t ever really consulted in the first place, and the organizations through which they might have tried to find some collective voice are weak and prone to corruption.

You can arrive at all sorts of different conclusions about how best to solve these problems. But if you start from some combination of Marty Feldstein and Pangloss 101, you’re never going to recognize them as problems in the first place. More generally, it’s simply unacceptable to fob off calamities as a consequence of the political choices that people have made, without troubling yourself to investigate whether they have actually made the relevant choices in the first place. The attraction of simple comparative advantage analysis, as Matt Yglesias and multitudes of other economic pundits before him have discovered, is that it allows you to form rapid opinions on a topic without actually knowing very much about it.[^fn] The disadvantage is that it allows you to form rapid opinions on a topic without actually knowing very much about it. It’s obviously difficult to have the one without the other.

[^fn]: Other modes of analysis, both on left and right, share this attractive quality.

Pakistan Calling

by Maria on April 29, 2013

As a child of the Cold War, I’m a bit skeptical about how much good comes out of cultural exchanges between countries with either little in common or mutually opposed interests. At the gentlest stroke of the trigger, realpolitik blasts all the carefully cultivated good will and cultural understanding away.

Case in point; after decades of hard work downing vodka and Guinness and agreeing how we all love Tolstoy and Shostakovich, Ireland’s tentative steps towards Magnitsky type measures unleashed an immediate and horribly spiteful threat from the Russian state to bar Irish people from adopting children the Russians don’t want. (Guy Verhofstadt – now leading the European Parliament’s Liberal grouping – has kindly called on other EU member states to unite and stop one of their number being blackmailed and bullied. I appreciate the gesture, though I expect EU solidarity for us will be as forthcoming as it has been for the UK after its recent Chinese blackballing.)

But a project by Anwar Akhtar with the RSA, linking up Pakistan civil society and the UK Pakistan diaspora, looks both worthwhile on its own terms and interesting for the rest of us. Instead of the tired old model of getting elites to talk books and ballet and hoping better relations ensue, Pakistan Calling takes a more targeted and effective approach to cultural exchange.

Pakistan Calling starts from the premise that there’s more to Pakistan than religious extremism, corruption, show trials and assassinations, drone warfare and anaemic responses to natural disaster, and all the other dismal accoutrements of a failed state. It is a platform for film-makers in Karachi and Lahore to show short movies about social enterprises and notable individuals. The films highlight social and economic problems and also the good work being done to tackle them.

A couple of the videos are simple pieces to camera about how the country’s education system or city-planning are simply not good enough. There are also of celebratory films about cities, individuals or projects. One film stands out. In seven minutes of quite beautiful footage, it suggests how the perpetual noise, dirt, itching, bad smells, hunger, loneliness and contempt of being horribly poor can make life seem so cheap it’s almost not worth living. ‘I am Agha’ is about a street child who wishes he could exchange his rubbish-collecting sack for a schoolbag; “I don’t like anything, anyone. This starvation… I only like food and to sleep peacefully at night.”

This project is far meatier and less comforting than your average cultural exchange. The people it’s connecting are community and project leaders in Pakistan and the Pakistan-British diaspora. They already have much in common, culturally, and should have many insights and connections to share with each other to mutual gain and long-term, reciprocal relationships.

If the Pakistan Calling goes into a further stage, it will look at crowd-funding mechanisms for the diaspora and others to invest in emerging social enterprises in Pakistan. I hope they don’t try to reinvent the wheel on crowd-funding, and rather look at how to turn the relationships they are cultivating towards using existing mechanisms.

Pakistan Calling is a good source of curated video from a country most of us know surprisingly little about. At the very least, it’s a timely reminder that Pakistan is more than just America’s No. 1 Public Frenemy.

Strumpet City

by niamh on April 29, 2013

I was reminded the other day how good a book Strumpet City is: it’s being serialized on RTE radio. It seems everyone in Dublin is reading it at the moment. John posted about centenaries and the need to remember, ‘lest we forget’, and there are several important dates coming up in Ireland soon.

Screen Shot 2013-04-26 at 17.05.02The Irish government has set up an advisory group of historians to consider appropriate ways of marking a decade of centenaries from 2012 to 2022. 1916 will be a particularly sensitive one, if they’re to do justice to the Somme as well as the Easter Rising. But it’s 1913, the year of the Great Lock-Out, Ireland’s most dramatic labour dispute, about unions’ right to organize, that’s very much on people’s minds at the moment. The impact of the Lock-Out on the lives of the working people living in Dublin’s appalling tenements forms a central strand of Strumpet City. (I read it not long after it came out and was particularly enthralled by labour organizer Jim Larkin, a real historical figure, pictured left).

Screen Shot 2013-04-26 at 17.04.18

It’s a novel that ranges right across the social spectrum, bringing characters from widely different backgrounds to life most vividly. Dublin had the most appalling tenements in Europe at that time – 30% of the population lived in the slums – with very little industry to speak of, and a lot of casual employment in transportation industries.There’s terrific anger behind the novel, and you’re never in doubt over the culpability of the slum landlords, the hard-heartedness of the key employers, or the smugness of some of the clergy. But the book is considerably more subtle than this might suggest, and there are counterbalancing characters in every context, with differences in interests and outlook as well as in temperament and character. The 1980 TV adaptation is slower-paced than we’re used to now, but it had a whole cast of excellent actors and was marvellously realized. And yet it was the written word – or in this case, the spoken word, beautifully read by Irish actor Barry McGovern – that proved most evocative for me that night, as I dropped what I was doing to follow once again the fate of the most destitute of all the characters, a man of spirit and dignity named Rashers Tierney (pictured here as played by David Kelly, holding his dog Rusty, with Brendan Cauldwell as ‘Toucher’ Hennessy).

The world has been transformed in 100 years and Ireland is now of course a far wealthier country. But the stories about the struggle to make a living and the hardships of life on the edge still have resonance. And although the role and function of trade unions has changed hugely, the importance of being able to organize to defend basic rights is something no-one should ever forget. 

Look Who’s Teaching at CUNY

In case you were wondering about this…

David H. Petraeus, who resigned as director of the Central Intelligence Agency last November after having an extramarital affair with his biographer, will serve as a visiting professor at the City University of New York next academic year, the university announced on Tuesday. [click to continue…]