Sunday, December 17, 2006

Seeking a Foreign Policy Strategy

Here's another fine Post column by another Tufts University academic. Daniel Drezner (who, by the way, has a fine blog) discusses various proposals for an overarching organizing principle for US foreign policy. I have to note once again that his summary of the Fukuyama position looks strikingly like my own position. Have I become a neoconservative? Help!? Damn you for your sensibleness, Fukuyama!

Culture Studies

The Washington Post has an interesting column today on the role of culture in political and economic development, written by the head of the Culture Matters Research Project at Tufts University, where they have been surveying global cultural practices and how they affect developing nations.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Brits Have Had Enough

CSM reports that Britain is abandoning the phrase "war on terror", and looks into the general muck-up Bush and Blair have made of British-American relations. If there's anyone Bush has screwed over more than America, it's Britain. Somewhere deep in his heart, Tony Blair has to know what an incredible mistake he made casting his lot with Bush. So much for the "Special Relationship". It may be some time before we see that meme revived.

Also a TimesOnline column by Matthew Parris gives probably the best assessment of the Baker report I've seen so far. Parris notes that most of the recommendations in the report are bunk and have no hope of success. That, he says, was never the point. There is no success to be had anymore. But this is a plan that responds to both success and failure in exactly the same way: withdrawing the troops. Quote:
The plan itself won’t work. As the BBC’s eloquent and curiously underrated Washington correspondent, Justin Webb, put it on the radio this week, “it is the tone” not the detail of Baker’s report that is important and new.

That’s true. The tone says: “We’ve lost.” The tone says: “We should have seen this coming.” The tone says: “All we can do now is play a losing hand.” General Sir Mike Jackson, former Chief of the General Staff, missed the point magnificently this week when he worried aloud that the trouble with a set deadline (of 2008) was that we might have to quit without having achieved our war aims. Poor, upright, soldierly Sir Mike has not realised that that is the whole idea.

But Mr Baker has, and furious neocons realise it too. The term realpolitik has become a cliché in media treatment of the ISG report this week but the irony is this: Baker’s conclusions are anything but realistic: they represent unrealism of the most fanciful kind. His route map is to La-la Land. He knows it. His report is the sugar. The pill is Defeat.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Insurance Industry as Environmental Activist

The Washington Post has a good story insurance adjustments for climate change. The author could have done a better job of parsing out how much this is actually focused on climate change and how much is just a reaction to the insurance industry getting pasted by Katrina (or whether and to what extent those are actually different stories). I'm also a little curious as to why the insurance industry refuses to offer insurance at all to high risk areas rather than just raise prices to cover the increased risk. Risk markets are, in general, pretty interesting stuff. I'm looking forward to my insurance course next semester.

Having recently visited the Outer Banks in North Carolina, I find it a little shocking that the insurance industry is just now waking up to the fact that it is a disaster waiting to happen. It is essentially just a big sand bar sitting off the coast that people have built houses on. I can't say I have a lot of sympathy for people who view one of those houses as a good vehicle for retirement investment. Might as well take that money to Vegas...

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Other Side of Hugo Chavez

Hugo Chávez played into American caricatures with his anti-Bush campaign at the UN, but it bothered me in the aftermath of the speech to hear certain US officials and commentators refer to him as some sort of tyrant or dictator. We would do well to recall the he is, in fact, wildly popular in Venezuela. Current polls have him beating his opponent in tomorrow's election by a 2-1 margin. Like most South American countries Venezuela suffers from an immensely unequal division of wealth (the article cites one claim that the poverty rate in Venezuela is 70%). Chávez has redirected oil wealth to provide education, health care, and basic sustenance for the nation's many impoverished citizens. It's far from clear whether Chávez's policies will accomplish much in the long term, but he has at least taken steps to address the problem, which itself represents a change from past leadership.

In posts past I've wondered what is the proper means to address the lingering impacts of colonialism in South America and other developing regions. Even a hardened libertarian like Nozick calls for redistributive policies where an allocation of resources was achieved through means not consonant with Lockean justice in acquisition. Until the recent wave of populist leaders was elected in South America redistribution of this sort was likely impossible as the wealthy by and large controlled the levers of power. Now that it is possible, the West and the international development institutions (the UN, IMF, World Bank) appear to have little interest in providing assistance, guidance, and advice in this process. This sort of pure redistribution is heretical to modern economic principles, but I think we need to recognize these situations as a special case, one where the general principles don't apply well (which is why all these populist leaders were elected in the first place). I don't know if what Chávez is doing is right, but if it's not I wish we could respond with constructive criticism rather than blanket condemnations...