Saturday, May 31, 2003
# Posted 12:06 PM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 11:21 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 10:26 AM by Patrick Belton
Friday, May 30, 2003
# Posted 7:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Btw, the above article on women's achievement also contains a statistic which says quite a lot about the nature of income inequality in our post-industrial economy:
Better-educated men are also, on average, a much happier lot. They are more likely to marry, stick by their children, and pay more in taxes. From the ages of 18 to 65, the average male college grad earns $2.5 million over his lifetime, 90% more than his high school counterpart. That's up from 40% more in 1979, the peak year for U.S. manufacturing. The average college diploma holder also contributes four times more in net taxes over his career than a high school grad, according to Northeastern's [Andrew] Sum. Meanwhile, the typical high school dropout will usually get $40,000 more from the government than he pays in, a net drain on society.Hmmm. If that income statistic is correct, then I still have $2.44 million to look forward to... (Thanks to A at Rational Explications for the link.)
Also, RS recommends that anyone with a serious interest in inequality take a look at Jeremy Waldron's Liberal Rights, specifically Waldron's essay on charity and the welfare state. If all y'all get a chance to read it, send in your thoughts. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 7:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Today's "Democratic liberals" are big central government statists who are functional isolationists. As such, a political party run by them can provide neither national security nor long term economic prosperity...Sounds like Trent thinks Jimmy Carter was president in the 1990s. Thankfully he wasn't. The fact is that almost all American presidents migrate, over time, to the center. Clinton started out far more to the left than he ended up. His shift reflected both self-interest and the will of the electorate. So don't underestimate the Dems.
This criticism aside, Trent's post is quite thoughtful, definitely worth reading, and full of great links to articles about the Dems and national security. Viva Winds of Change! (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 6:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
In an e-mail, Dan writes that
I'm no Bush lover, believe me, but I think you do him a disservice in your analysis of China.I'll grant that the jury is still out. But I sense that China's participation in the North Korea talks has much more to do with China's self-interest than Bush's diplomacy. As for the talks themselves, I don't think I'll be willing to admit they've accomplished anything until there are some concrete results.
But I really do hope that Bush can put together a deal that puts a permanent end to the crisis on the peninsua. First of all, it would be good for both the US and North Korea. And more importantly, it would set Josh Marshall up for a big "I told you so!" ;) (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 6:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 6:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
For those of us who watch Dowd like hawks, an implicit confession admission is gratifying enough. But the overwhelming majority of NYT readers won't notice a thing. They have better things to do with their time than monitor Dowd's honesty. Thus, I'm glad that NY Daily News columnist Zev Chafets has chosen to expose Dowd in his most recent column. The question is, when will Howell Raines give Chafets Dowd's job?
(Thanks to N for the Chafets link.)
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 4:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 12:00 PM by Patrick Belton
Beauty matters most, though, for reproductive success. A study by David Buss, an American scientist, logged the mating preferences of more than 10,000 people across 37 cultures. It found that a woman's physical attractiveness came top or near top of every man's list.Here's hoping this study was at least some grad student's excuse to get funding to look at lots of women. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
Thursday, May 29, 2003
# Posted 4:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 4:28 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Dan is absolutely right when he says that
a signal virtue of U.S. diplomacy is the ingrained habit of trusting subordinates to innovate and adapt to local circumstances, and then copying those innovations when they work.All I can add to Dan's point is a bit of historical context. According to Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis, the United States' successful effort to transform Germany and Japan rested heavily on local commanders' efforts to adapt American values and institutions to local circumstances.
In most cases, such commanders received no direction from above. According to Gaddis, they simply acted on the belief that the Germans and Japanese deserved exactly the same rights as US citizens had on the homefront.
There was, however, some recognition on the part of higher-ups in Washington that the best way to transform Germany and Japan was to ensure that American soldiers held foreigners to the same standards that they did their fellow Americans. According to John Dower, the foremost American historian of modern Japan, the training films shown to US soldiers departing for Japan emphasized that American values were the key to reform in Japanese society.
If shown today, such films' uncritical glorification of the United States and its values would provoke immediate accusations of cultural imperialism. While I wouldn't recommend the replication of such propaganda today, the fact remains that promoting democracy in Iraq will depend more on the occupation forces' ability to instill democratic values than on their ability to appreciate the local populations' cultural heritage.
Even so, this is not necessarily cultural imperialism. First of all, the values in question are not American or even Western. They are the values shared by democratic nations in Latin America, East Asia, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the Indian subcontinent and even parts of Africa.
Perhaps more importantly, the occupation forces will transmit such values more by setting the right example than by spreading propaganda. Then again, the simple fact of holding elections privileges democratic values over all others.
The critical point to recognize here is that elections provide the Iraqi people a means of expressing themselves. If this sort of fostering self-determination counts as cultural imperialism, then the accusation has become meaningless. As I see it, true democracy cannot be imperial.
All in all, one of the most important reasons that I have much greater faith in the Pentagon's ability to promote democracy in Iraq (as opposed to the State Department's), is that rank-and-file American soldiers have a long tradition of sharing democatic values with all those they encounter. Even our generals and admirals tend to adopt this same straightforward approach.
While American diplomats have often risked their lives and reputations for the sake of human rights, their measured, cosmopolitan approach is not best-suited to countries in need of a total transformation. From where is stand, the best hope for democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan to just let our soldiers do what their grandfathers did in Germany and Japan: be themselves. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 4:07 PM by Patrick Belton
Most of these newly-retired flag officers - like top officials in the supreme court, federal police, and SIDE (Argentine intelligence) - were appointees of President Menem, and generally a thuggish lot. It is somewhat poetic that the SIDE's new chief, thanks to Kirchner, is to be Sergio Acevedo - a man has spent the last several years on a congressional committee staff, bravely challenging Menem and his appointees' cover-up of the role of Iranian intelligence in the 1992 Hezbollah bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. According to the court testimony of an Iranian defector currently in German protection, Menem personally received $10 million from the Iranian government in return for diverting the course of the investigation into the bombings. The story of the investigation, perhaps not surprisingly, has been one of disappearing evidence, unfollowed leads, and the occasional videotape surfacing starring an investigating judge discussing payoffs.
Kirchner's bold act is good news. Argentina, and we as a hemisphere, are much better off without the likes of these in office. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 12:03 PM by Patrick Belton
Gunaratna moves peripatetically among several of the leading centers of counterterror analysis, including his principal affiliation at St Andrew's Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, Israel's International Policy Institute for Counterterrorism, and the US-based RAND Corporation. If you can't find the book, you're lying - it's in a library within two miles of you - but here are two of his interviews in Singapore and PBS's Newshour. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 2:02 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 1:37 AM by Patrick Belton
For another perspective, see the WaPo, which says the pro-western Tehran street is becoming so pro-western that now it's even apathetic about politics too. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
Wednesday, May 28, 2003
# Posted 11:33 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 11:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
As to the "Protestant" DOS being the foundation for capitalism, again, leaving Weber aside, it *is* true that the Microsoft Way has generated entire short-lived cottage industries which have grown up to plug the busted dams and fill the holes and generally fix the glaring weaknesses in their products. Microsoft generates industryI admit it. I am a terrible, terrible bigot. What fair-minded invidual would dare suggest that Catholic Europe of the Middle Ages and Renaissance was a backwards place?
By the same token, who but an unthinking partisan of DOS could deny the tremendous progress made on computer technology in the 1940s, '50s and 60s? It's not as if Bill Gates was responsible for taking computers that once filled entire rooms and transforming them into desktops.
As such, I must repent. Yet as it says in the Book of [Steven] Job[s], it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a Windows user to enter the gates of Heaven. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 10:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Argentine Leader Takes Office, Pledging to Combat PovertyThe constant repetition of the "four presidents in two weeks" motif makes Argentina seem like a banana republic. But in fact, the "four presidents" comment is profoundly misleading.
Fernando De La Rua, elected in 1999, resigned in response to violent protests in December 2001. Because there was no vice-president at the time, the leader of the Senate automatically became president. He refused the office, however, and the Senate later chose provincial governor Adolfo Rodriguez Saa to govern as interim president for 90 days so that new elections could be held. Yet thanks to the Senate leader's 48 hours in office, he is counted as a president.
Rodriguez Saa immediately provoked widespread anger by appointing corrupt ministers and indicating that he would use his position as interim president to position himself as front-runner in the new elections. In response to protests that were actually quite peaceful, Saa left office.
This time, the presidency fell to the leader of the lower house, who also rejected the office. Yet once again, thanks to the 48 hour interval between the resignation of Saa and the selection of his successor, Argentina technically observed the inauguration and resignation of a fourth president in two weeks.
Complex as the December 2001 transition was, the WaPo could've avoided its raft of errors by replacing the last five words of its lede with "Fernando De La Rua, elected in 1999."
Addressing Congress and 12 leaders from Latin America, including Cuba's Fidel Castro, Kirchner promised to reinvigorate Argentina's once-solid middle class, which has been hit hardest by the worst economic crisis in the country's history. But he also appealed for an end to the cronyism and corruption thatMentioning Castro is gratuitous and damning. It's how American reporters imply that the Latin American left is resurgent without providing any evidence to that effect. But the fact is that Castro attends lots of inaugurations, so his presence means nothing.
Next comes the misleading description of "Kirchner's ruling Peronist Party". The Peronist Party is a badly divided party which doesn't stand for much of anything at all. Such internal divisions were so extreme that the party couldn't agree on rules for a presidential primary. As a result, four separate Peronist candidates ran for president, each representing one faction within the party.
Even though Kirchner is no saint, he ran as a reformist outsider bent on challenging the corruption of former President Carlos Menem, who withdrew rather than facing a run off he was sure to lose by a landslide.
However, Kirchner did have the support of current President Eduardo Duhalde, who is known for running a massive political machine whose corruption is second only to that of Menem's. But Duhalde only supported Kirchner after Duhalde's hand-picked successor performed so badly in early polls that he had to withdraw from the election. Once again, the WaPo could've significantly improved its coverage by changing only a few words.
"We want to be the generation of Argentines that restores upward social mobility, but also promotes cultural and moral change and respect for the law,"The repetition of the "four presidents" error suggests that the WaPo doesn't even understand how misleading his dispatch is. While lede senteneces have to be short, there is no excuse for this sort of glaring inaccuracy later in the article.
Despite the lack of a clear mandate from voters, poll results released last week showed that Kirchner has the support of nearly 70 percent of voters. Today he continued to strike the defiant, populist tone that characterized his campaign.Kirchner is getting off pretty easy here. Imagine quoting an American president's inauguration speech without getting any sort of response from the opposition. What might the opposition say? That Kirchner talks tough but will give in to the IMF like all of his predecessors.
Kirchner has proposed a New Deal-like $2.8 billion public works program to create jobs and jump-start an economy that contracted nearly 11 percent last year. Nearly 60 percent of the country's 37 million people live on less than $2 a day, and Argentina's official jobless rate is roughly 18 percent...The Post really needs an opposition quote here. I guarantee that my old boss, Sen. Terragno, would've been happy to provide one. He might've said that there is no way Argentina can afford massive public works and that even if the Congress passes them, the funds will be siphoned off by all sorts of corrupt officials.
Although Kirchner has questioned Argentina's relationship with the United States, he has promised greater cooperation with other Latin American countries, particularly Brazil. Lingering resentment of U.S.-backed free-market reforms helped elect a former metalworker, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, to the Brazilian presidency, and he publicly supported Kirchner during the campaign in Argentina.Resentment of U.S.-backed reforms had almost nothing to do with Lula's election. The Brazilian himself cut a deal with the IMF during the campaign, even though the IMF's demands still consisted of "U.S.-backed reforms". Fact is, American reporters thrive on a strange mix of paranoia about the Latin American left and liberal guilt about the United States' responsibility for its alleged rise to power. Until they get over both obsessions, we're going to get third-rate coverage of the region.
PS Argentina is not a Third World country! But there is no better way to get Argentines' attention than to accuse Argentina of being backward... (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 6:45 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
(If you want actual commentary on the MILF rather than prurient entertainment, see this post by Boomshock.) (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 6:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 6:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
In contrast to the American papers, the Financial Times and The Economist provided top-notch coverage both before, during and after the crisis. I make this claim with a fair amount of confidence because one of the projects I conducted as a Senado intern in Buenos Aires was a review of all articles about Argentina published between July 2000 and June 2001 in the four periodicals mentioned above.
In my final report on the project, I argued that the financial papers' superior coverage of Argentine affairs was not a random event, but rather the direct result of two very different approaches to covering the news.
The Times and thePostrely on one or two full-time correspondents to provide coverage of the whole of Latin America. In contrast, The Economist, the FT and financial news services such as Bloomberg have correspondents in almost every country in the region. Often, these correspondents have enough experience covering economic affairs to provide much more thoughtful coverage than their non-expert competitors.
The reason that the financial papers devote more resources to this sort of thing is that their readers demand accurate news about all those countries in which their capital is invested. If a financial doesn't provide such coverage, it will lose it readers.
In contrast, no one will cancel their subscription to the NYT or the WaPo because of their coverage of Latin America is less than stellar. (Of course, it is entirely possible that the NYT and WaPo provide better coverage of those countries in which foreign investors have little interest.)
The broader lesson of all this is that one has to be especially careful when reading what the papers have to say about any country that isn't the focus of sustained international attention. While the editorial position of any given paper may influence its coverage of Israel or Iraq, one can have a certain degree of confidence in the nuts and bolts of its coverage.
Elsewhere, that isn't the case. To make my point, I am now going to go ahead and fisk the WaPo whose inaccuracies provoked me enough to write this whole post in the first place. However, I am about to go out to dinner, so I will fisk said article in my next post on the subject.
UPDATE: Randy Paul recommends the Miami Herald's coverage of Latin America, which is arguably the best around. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 5:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
I am now embarrassed that OxBlog didn't take the story more seriously at the time. Patrick wondered why two long-serving FBI agents would betray their wives and their country to sleep with a woman who is so profoundly unattractive. I responded that that Lewinsky affair had perilously lowered the standards of American males. In short, OxBlog spun the Leung affair for laughs.
What brought it all back to my attention was this excellent column by the WaPo's Fred Hiatt, who persuasively argues that true significance of the Leung affair is not its exposure of either the vulnerability of the US intelligence community or the hypocrisy of all those Republicans who bashed the Clinton administrion for its China spy scandal.
Rather the Leung scandal is a powerful indicator of just how adrift and directionless the Bush administration's China policy is. On the campaign trail, the President attacked Clinton for the failure of his policy of "constructive engagement" and promised to get tough on China both for its espionage and its human rights abuses.
Bush has done neither. To be fair, it may not be productive to antagonize China given its relatively constructive approach to both Iraq and North Korea. But the Republicans silence in response to the Leung affair shows that the adminsitration isn't even thinking about China.
For example, if it were committed to working with China on the North Korea front, the administration should thoroughly investigate the Leung affair and use it (behind doors) to remind the Chinese that they have to demonstrate their good faith through action, not promises.
Is it possible that the administration has been doing just that, albeit without public knowledge? Possibly, but given the inevitability of leaks within this administration, I find it very hard to believe that this is the case.
I think it's far more likely that the administration is desperate to direct attention away from yet another fiasco that emphasizes the failures of the US intelligence community. And fortunately for the President, Iraq and the Roadmap have largely kept China off the front pages.
Without excusing OxBlog's negligent avoidance of the Leung affair, I still think it is fair to criticize Josh Marshall for presenting the scandal in entirely partisan. From his first post onward, Marshall presented the Leung affair as a partsian issue that exposed Republican hypocrisy.
While that perspective is significant in its own right, I've tended to become somewhat inured to Marshall's constant focus on the scandal of the moment. To be fair, Marshall isn't the only who covered the Leung affair in partisan terms. I think one could direct that charge at most of the mainstream media.
Even conservative columnist Michelle Malkin -- who deserves considerable credit for commenting on her own party's hypocrisy -- approached the Leung affair in partisan in terms.
So why single out Josh Marshall for abuse? Because I know he is capable of so much better. While I usually find myself opposing TPM, its posts often provide the most persuasive argument for Josh's side of a given issue.
At the moment, I hope Josh is working on something other than the Texas Legislature scandal, which has been TPM's cause celebre over the past week or so. While Josh does have a professional interest in writing up unique stories that can advance his career as a journalist, I still think he might do even better by focusing his considerable talents on issues that will have a greater impact on American national security.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 12:29 PM by Daniel
# Posted 1:16 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
I haven't had time to read the whole thing yet (because it is very, very looooong), but I'm really hoping to turn up some evidence of a Straussian conspiracy. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 1:08 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
If your blog is just starting up, definitely think about submitting an entry to the contest. If you run an established blog, than vote for your favorite new entrant.
My votes for the week go to and to Rational Explications for its post on income inequality and to Page Three for its post on Star Wars. Again, I strongly encourage all of you with blogs to vote, since just a few more can make all the difference. Happy blogging! (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 12:37 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
Tuesday, May 27, 2003
# Posted 7:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 6:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
The real question is: How poor is America willing to let its least fortunate be?...Those that advocate assistance to the poor are in essence trying to raise the standard of living for the poor to some minimum standard...I agree that our objective should be to establish a minimum standard of living rather than a minimum share of income growth. At the same time, we have to recognize that what we consider a minimally acceptable standard of living rises over time. Fifty years ago, it was acceptable to live without a washing machine, a television, or a computer. Now it isn't.
That aside there are some reasons to think that the inequality situation isn't as bad as Kevin makes it out to be. CS points out that according to the Census data Kevin cites
"The official income estimates in this report are based solely on money income before taxes and do not include the value of employment-based fringe beneifts nor of gevernement-provided noncash benefits, such as food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, and public or subsidized housing."In other words, Kevin's data provide no indication of the degree to which major government programs have actually mitigated extant inequality. While it's fair to say we should be doing more for the poor, especially in terms of education (remember the President's campaign promise?), one has start by establishing exactly how much the government does for them already.
JV adds that if the top 5% of American households earned $687 billion more than they "should have", much of that $687 will be sent to Washington as taxes, since -- contrary to popular myth -- the rich pay much more in taxes than the poor. (JV kindly provides a link to this page on the Cato Insitute website which has the hard data she is working with.)
On the other hand, if that growth were proportionately distributed in the first place, we wouldn't need the government to collect taxes and redistribute them!
Moving on, JAT writes in to emphasize just how much the changing nature of the family has contributed to inequality. As he says,
Remember, households aren't people. There are two major, major changesAll these seem like good points to me. But to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, I don't even know what I don't know about economics. I sense that the arguments made above are just the tip of the iceberg.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 2:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
The first response I want to talk about is the one from your favorite sociologist and mine, Kieran Healy. Kieran heads straight for the jugular and questions my fundamental premise that "rapidly increasing inequality is an inevitable feature of capitalism," given that entreprenuers always reap the lion's share of the return on their investments.
As I understand it, Kieran's main argument is that top executives have rigged the American economy to ensure that "middle-managers and workers [are] being forced to bear a much larger part of the risk inherent in the capitalist enterprise" even though top executives still take home the lion's share of the profits.
Sounds improbable to me, but I'm going to take Kieran's argument seriously, since his position reflects the good professor's extensive reading on the subject, a bibliography of which is included in his post.
[Btw, don't forget to check out Kieran's clever comment about my post on Marx.]
Next we come to Kevin Drum's own response to my post (which he sent along via e-mail rather than posting it on the web). Kevin says
Good post. At least you addressed the main point of my post, instead of dodging it, as so many have done..."Regulated capitalism" is an interesting phrase, since regulation entails everything from the existence of a central bank to the establishment of a Scandinavian welfare state.
Whereas progressives tend to think of regulation as their rallying cry -- while conservatives denigrate it as a wrench in the capitalist works -- the fact is that even the most committed free marketers have accepted the existence of extremely powerful regulatory bodies such as the Federal Reserve Board.
In fact, I think there's an argument to be made that the simple existence of a legal system with the power to enforce contracts is a pervasive form of regulation. Whereas some might argue that the existence of contract law is the foundation on which the market rests rather than an imposition on it, the existence of market economies in places such as China shows that markets can operative with remarkable vigor regardless of whether contracts can be reliably enforced.
In short, the point I'm trying to make is that regulation is always a question of "how much", not "whether or not".
Anyhow, I'm going to cut off this post right here since I have to run out to meet a friend. This evening I'll start putting up all the great responses that are now waiting in my inbox. Hasta luego!
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# Posted 1:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Steve points to this column by celebrated Italian novelist Umberto Eco, which observes that
The fact is that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh computer and users of MS-DOS compatible computers. I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is counterreformist and has been influenced by the "ratio studiorum" of the Jesuits. It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory, it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach - if not the Kingdom of Heaven - the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: the essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation.Never much of a theologian, what concerns me are the socio-economic implications of Eco's argument. The MS-DOS emphasis on personal responsibility recalls Max Weber's insistence that Protestant thought is the foundation of capitalism.
Given the worldly success of Microsoft, it seems that Weber's analysis may be just as relevant to the information age as it was to the industrial era that came before it. While there is every reason to celebrate the beauty of Macintosh Catholicism, one dare not forget that it alone could not have brought us out of the dark ages. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 12:28 PM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 3:33 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
As usual, I've decided to give Kevin a hard time because he runs my favorite left-of-center site in the blogosphere. Whenever I put up a post that criticizes the Democratic party, liberal policy or anything similar, I try to anticipate Kevin's counterarguments. Of course, Kevin still manages to surprise me and come up with solid arguments that expose flaws in my own logic. And I'm happy to do the same for him.
Now onto the post in question. In it, Kevin rails against the unjust distribution of the economic gains made by the United States over the past 20 years. In general, I am open to that sort of criticism. I do think that the US government needs to a lot more for America's poor. But designing such programs must begin with a solid analysis of why poverty continues to exist in the midst of rapid growth.
As Kevin points out, the top 5% of American households have seen their incomes rise by $687 billion more than one would expect if one made such projection on the basis of population size. In other words,
That means that the bottom 95% — in other words, households making less than $150,000 per year — have gotten $687 billion less than they would have if we had all shared equitably in the economic prosperity of the past two decades...Translation: if increasing prosperity had been equitably distributed, those households — 100 million of them — would have incomes today nearly $7,000 higher than they do.With that extra income, those 40 million Americans without health insurance might be able to afford to protection. Or they could spend more on their children's education. In fact, they could probably do both and still have some cash left over to spend on the simple pleasures of life, such as a fine steak and some good beer.
So, to Kevin's credit, one has to admit that the stakes on this issue are large. But I can't bring myself to agree with Kevin's observation that
It's one thing to say that the rich have most of the money — after all, that's the whole point of being rich. But it's quite another to say that as our country grows ever more prosperous, the rich should actually grow richer at a faster rate than anyone else.Without pretending that the Republicans have done anything to ensure the equal distribution of income growth, one can make a strong case that an unequal distribution is (a) the natural outcome of market interactions and (b) especially likely given the United States' recent transition from an industrial to a service-based economy.
While I don't understand much about economics, I tend to accept that growth in market economies reflects the willingness of those with capital to invest it in projects that carry with them a certain degree of risk. If the projects fail, so be it. If they succeed, those who put up the capital reap a far greater share of the profits than those employees who enjoyed the security of wage-based income.
Writ large, this process ensures that when the economy grows, the rich will always get richer far faster than everyone else. Should the government redistribute such gains? Perhaps. But there is no reason to expect, as Kevin seems to, that the distribution of income growth will be at all proportionate.
Now consider the specific state of the American economy over the course of the past couple of decades. Thanks to the decline of heavy industry, millions of high-paying union jobs -- held by those without a college education -- have ceased to exist. While there seems to be little question that the flexibility of American labor markets has given the United States a decisive advantage over Japan and Europe, one cannot doubt that such flexibility incurs tremendous social costs.
Ideally, the government would sponsor programs that facilitate a workers' transition from an outmoded industrial job to a more viable service-based one. How might such a program work? I don't know. How much might it cost? I don't know.
I don't even know if anyone knows the answers to those to questions (although I am willing to guess that no one on the Republican side of the aisle has spent much time trying to figure it out.)
In light of our transition to a service-based economy, education has become ever more valuable. And while I don't know much about American education, it seems that the American system does quite a competent job of educating those bound for college, while those without much interest in higher education don't get the preparation they need to compete in today's economy.
As such, is there any reason to expect that income growth in a service-based economy will benefit the lower income brackets as much as the top 5%?
One last trend I want to comment on is the changing role of women in the marketplace. Women are now a majority of students at America's colleges. If they haven't already, they will soon become a majority at the graduate level as well.
Unsurprisingly, such women tend to marry men who have achieved a similar or higher level of education. Again unsurprisingly, such well-educated couples tend to benefit disproporitionately from the growth of the United States' service-based economy. So in this instance, feminism seems to be responsible for a definite proporition of the inequality that often gets placed on the shoulders of Promise Keeping GOP legislators.
As should be evident from the arguments above, I have no idea what proportion of income inequality reflects natural trends in the American economy as opposed to Republican policy objectives. What I do know is that Kevin and others like him ought to seriously consider such arguments before asking
And when is 95% of American going to wake up, realize they have been mightily ripped off over the past 20 years, and fight back?That sort of question only leads to elitism and despair on the left, since almost half of those 95% will keep on voting Republican regardless of what the Democrats have to say about the economy. Instead, I think it would be better for all of us -- right, left and center -- if the Democrats sought to gain a few percentage points at the polls by supporting program that promote equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 2:38 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
Underneath each photograph is a brief description of how each soldier died. The descriptions provided considerable support for point made by my friend, Lt. MT, who said that driving is no less dangerous than helicopter transportation, even though the dramatic nature of helicopter crashes inevitably results in extensive media coverage of airborne casualties.
Opposite the page with the photographs, the Post ran a misguided story with a Vietnam-era headline: "In Iraq, U.S. Troops Are Still Dying--One Almost Every Day." As the story thunderously notes, 23 soldiers died after President Bush declared on May 1 that "major combate operations in Iraq have ended."
In a minimal nod to fairness, the Post observes that according to Pentagon officials, the casualty rate in Iraq is little different from the casualty rate in peacetime training. Six paragraphs later, the Post informs us of a far more important fact: that only two soldiers have lost their lives to hostile fire during the month of May. The other 21 fatalities this month were due to accidents, often in traffic.
While our success in Iraq is scarce consolation for those who lost the ones they loved, we ought not forget that their losses were for a cause that many great men and women have died for.
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# Posted 2:14 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
So let's talk about the WaPo. Thanks to the 3 1/2 hour train ride from DC to New York, I had my first chance in almost two years to sit down with an actual print edition of the WaPo. It felt good, but don't even think for a second that I'm going to go soft on Don Graham's crew. When you're #1, you have to prove it day in and day out.
While the lead story for the day was Sharon's victory in persuading Likud to accept the roadmap, the Post devoted far more column inches to the situation in Iraq. Not a bad choice.
The front page led off with features on both Iraqi entrepreneurs in the Kurdish north and tough living conditions for occupation forces. But far more interesting was the Post's decision to head up its "World News" section with an extremely flattering profile of Paul Bremer.
While its nice to see that the mainstream media aren't wedded to their inveterate critcism of the occupation, I have to wonder if this positive coverage of Bremer's efforts reflects his savvy courting of the media as opposed to his actual record on the ground. According to the Post,
Bremer has been in Iraq less than two weeks, but he has already changed the tone and character of the U.S. effort here.That conclusion seems premature. Consider this: the focus of the WaPo profile is Bremer's trip to Umm Qasr to celebrate the unloading of 28,000 tons of rice donated by the United States to the people of Iraq. Given that importing massive amounts of food aid has been an American objective since the beginning of the war, Bremer's visit to Umm Qasr actually highlights the continuity of US efforts rather than Bremer's innovative approach.
In fact, OxBlog has made a consistent point of emphasizing the magnitude of American nutritional aid to occupied Afghanistan, which was the basis of our confidence that the US would do everything in its power to defy critcis' predictions of massive starvation in postwar Iraq. During the war, we devoted constant attention to the status of Umm Qasr and its readiness to receive aid shipments. While Bremer deserves credit for making sure things have worked out over the past couple of weeks, he has hardly changed the "character" of the occupation.
The WaPo is on more solid ground when it talks about Bremer's change of tone. Whereas "the term 'occupation' was taboo" while Jay Garner was in charge, Bremer has come straight out and said that
Occupation is an ugly word, not one Americans feel comfortable with, but it is a fact.Absolutely. America now has its reputation on the line. The Security Council has backed off and decided to let us take responsibility for Iraq.
But to give Bremer sole credit for this change of tone is somewhat misleading. As if to mock his superiors' intense unilateralism, Jay Garner spent his tenure as governor of Iraq fretting that the people of Iraq and Europe would perceive the United States as imperalistic. You have to wonder if Garner really is a Republican.
In light of Garner's preemptive liberal guilt, it isn't all that surprising that American occupation policy became far too laissez faire. Predictably, this led to reporters to criticise the occupation effort while columnists (fairly) called for a more profound commitment to rebuilding Iraq. Moreover, I suspect that widespread emphasis on the chaos in Baghdad persuaded the Security Council to abandon its initial efforts to demand a more substantive role in the occupation. Better to let the US take responsibility for it, after all.
To those conspiracy buffs obsessed with the Straussian domination of American foreign policy, it must seem that the Bush administration wanted there to be just enough chaos in Iraq to ensure that everyone would demand a stronger American hand in Baghdad rather than an immediate withdrawal.
While no one in their right mind should believe that, it is important to recognize that the initial confusion in Iraq entirely defused potential criticism of the occupation as just another manifestation of this administration's supposedly mindless unilateralism. If Donald Rumsfeld actually considered promoting democracy in Iraq a priority, he would now be in a perfect position to pursue that objective with the full support of both the reading public and the journalists who inform it.
But regardless of what Rumsfeld thinks, Paul Bremer may now have the perfect chance to establish his reputation as a kinder, gentler, postmodern incarnation of Douglas MacArthur.
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Sunday, May 25, 2003
# Posted 12:09 PM by Patrick Belton
Birthdays are egalitarian holidays, thus very low-stress. To celebrate, by contrast, a graduation or wedding, one needs to do something - even celebrating Christmas requires, perhaps somewhat technically, at least getting religion - but birthdays come to one and all, and in a wonderfully individuated manner, too. We're told they date, in shamanistic cultures, to fears that evil spirits presented greater dangers to people experiencing changes in their daily life, such as ageing by a year; by surrounding the person with laughter and joy, a person's family and friends would thus protect them from this evil. In less shamanistic and more medieval Western cultures, it was a perquisite of the aristocracy; hence birthday "crowns," in our more democratic age. Irish children (and others) receive "birthday bumps" on the floor while suspended upside down (Israelis get to do it seated, and right side up), Russians receive birthday pies, Argentines get their earlobes pulled (again, once for each year). Birthday cards are a Victorian invention, while the "happy birthday to you" song dates to two American sisters in 1893. The Scandinavians have a number of tender traditions, such as a Norwegian student's dancing in front of a class with a friend on his or her birthday, or a Dane being greeted by presents surrounding his or her bed; Swedes, by contrast, are more likely to get breakfast in bed; all three are wont to fly their national flag on birthdays.
None of this is to give my friends any ideas. I'm just happy to be able to share today with them. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
Saturday, May 24, 2003
# Posted 8:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Rather than respond to the charges levelled against me by Dr. BL, I shall simply reprint the accusations verbatim and let you, gentle reader, decide on their merits. The good doctor writes:
Mr. Adesnik,Please note that the author of this letter is a Zionist communist homosexual.
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# Posted 8:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Even worse, The Economist thinks Paul Bremer's zeal for de-Ba'athification is distracting him from issues that really matter. In the meantime, Shi'ite clerics are doing a surprisingly effective job of restoring basic services, thus undermining American credibility and positioning themselves as kingmakers.
As is often the case, it's hard to know what to make of The Economist's coverage, since its news coverage is often argumentative in style. As I've pointed out before, the coverage of postwar Iraq in other publications is often contradictory.
On the one hand, I tend to have considerable faith in The Economist. On the other hand, its stories on the occupation don't even seem to acknowledge that American officials have done anything other than while away their time in Saddam's abandoned palaces. For example, its article on the overplayed the extent of both the thefts and of US responsibility.
Well, I guess I won't really have any answers for you until I make my way over to Iraq. Oh well.
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# Posted 6:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
So here I am in the Apple Computer store, blogging on a lovely 17" screen. Whatever your stance on the great Mac-Windows debate, you have to admit that Mac's designs are aesthetically brilliant. Even the store itself is designed in a way that makes you feel comfortable.
But I guess you have to approach computers the way you approach signicant others: However nice they are on the outside, it's the inside that matters most. On the other hand, if you're only interested in a short-term relationship, go for the Mac. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 7:58 AM by Daniel
# Posted 1:34 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
Of course, it isn't just ours. It's been nine months since I have seen the lovely Rachel, whom I last saw as a blushing bride in August. And it's been even longer since I've seen 1st Lt. MT, who is back stateside after a tour of duty in Iraq.
Last year at Oxford, we were an inseparable cabal, defending our table in McDonalds from all comers. Mainly, we had to fight off the overeager guy in charge of cleaning the floor, who decided after watching us for hours on end that we would have to get up so that he could clean our turf.
After a barbecue dinner at Red, Hot and Blue, the four of us settled in for a viewing of Eminem's critically-acclaimed performance in 8 Mile. I'd actually started watching the movie on the plane back from England, but didn't have time to finish it before we landed at Newark Int'l.
I was impressed, especially by Eminem, perhaps because of my low expectations. Everyone else admitted that they'd wanted to see 8 Mile but had been embarrassed to rent it alone. In hindsight, the embarrassment may have been justified. On a five-star scale, 8 Mile got the following:
Rachel: 1 Star.
Patrick: 2.5 Stars.
MT: 1 Star.
David: 3 Stars.
So why'd I like it so much? Because it avoided the sermonizing from a movie whose apparent purpose is to make Eminem look like an nice guy and a decent human being. The essential message is that words are better than fists.
But it says that by telling a story rather than by just saying it outright. To back it up, Eminem plays against type by not being a total a**hole. He was actually quite persuasive as a humble, reflective, aspiring rapper.
The movie also does an impressive job of persuading its audience that a white guy who lives with his mom in a trailer could win the respect of an inner-city audience. Frankly, I have no idea what anyone black thinks of Eminem. But within the fictional Detroit of 8 Mile, Eminem's success feels authentic.
The main shortcoming of the film is that is becomes an implicit glorification of Eminem. Not knowing anything about Mr. Mathers, you might think he is really as nice of a guy as his alter ego "B. Rabbit." Rabbit even makes a conspicuous effort to befriend a gay co-worker, as if to repent for his previous Santorum-like remarks.
If you have a night at home with not much else on the agenda, give 8 Mile a try. Peace out, yo!
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Friday, May 23, 2003
# Posted 1:37 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
What makes Carter's argument so compelling is that he grounds it in hard-nosed military terms while leaving aside any ideological considerations. Looks like Phil hasn't forgotten what he learned in his Officer Basic Course. We all owe him one for that.
(Link via Josh Marshall) (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 1:09 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
Meanwhile, Bush's wartime popularity is slowly giving way to a less exceptional state of affiars. Kos things the President's ratings will continue to fall because of the economic downturn. But the real question is, will they fall below where they were before the Iraq debate? I doubt it. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 12:51 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
We wish her family the best in this hard time and thank Ms. Hulette for the humor and grace she brought to squared circle. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 12:44 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
"But if Americans are so ignorant, how did the United States manage to become the wealthiest and most powerful nation on Earth?"My question for Kevin is this: How exactly did we get so big, 290 million and all? It seems that talented immigrants from all across the world have chosen America as their home.
Whereas being Japanese or French or Saudi Arabian is about blood, being American is about believing in certain principles. That is the case precisely because we are a land of immigrants, founded by immigrants.
This aggressively pluralist democratic tradition has been responsible for such foreign policy innovations as the Fourteen Points, the League of Nations, the United Nations, and the Marshall Plan. While giving due credit to British influences on American thought, it is pretty fair to say that no other nation could have come up with such ideas.
Taking a longer view of history, one recognzies that America is the only dominant power ever to befriend the other leading states of its day rather than inciting them to form an anti-hegemonic coalition. Why? Because democratic nations recognize that the United States is not a threat to their existence.
For a more academic approach to the question of American exceptionalism, I strongly recommend Aaron Friedberg's "In the Shadow of the Garrison State", which shows how America's unique anti-statist culture preventing the Truman and Eisenhower administrating from militarizing American society in the opening decade of the Cold War. [See my review on the Amazon page for Friedberg's book.]
In some ways, the exceptionalist argument is offensive because it implies that America is morally superior to other nations. But that is not a position I want to defend. I fully recognize that United States foreign policy has often been the agent of wanton and immoral destruction. In contrast, the foreign policies of Denmark or Belgium have not (at least not recently).
What I am arguing is that American culture is responsible for a number of specific innovations that have amplified American power while benefitting other democratic states as well. While none of this would have been possible if not for favorable geographic conditions, it also would not have been possible without America's singular political culture.
Forgive me for waxing a bit patriotic. But if you can look past that, I think you just might be persuaded. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
Thursday, May 22, 2003
# Posted 7:21 PM by Patrick Belton
If he's lonely, there's a 125-year old gal in Mali he might be interested in meeting..... (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 4:44 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
The specific issue Safire addresses is a proposal to the lift the ban that prevents corporations from owning both newspapers and television channels in the same local market. But more imporant than the details of this rather complicated issues is the logic Safire relies on to reinforce his position. He writes that
The overwhelming amount of news and entertainment comes via broadcast and print. Putting those outlets in fewer and bigger hands profits the few at the cost of the many.Exactly. As a centrist, that is the kind of conservatism that I like because it is pro-market rather than pro-business. While I haven't followed the issue as closely as I should have, I constantly get the sense that this Administration sees the government as an ally of specific firms rather than the protector of the marketplace.
As I see it, this approach runs counter to the small government philsophy that conservatives are so fond of promoting. From where I stand, the most effective and fair way to limit the size of government is to ensure that citizens are equals in the marketplace. In contrast, if the government take sides, the struggle for political influence will turn the capital into a corporate battleground.
While I am not 100% behind Safire's approach to the FCC, I do hope that his brand of conservatism is one that Republicans will began to embrace more openly.
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# Posted 4:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Critics of the UN should note that the French, Germans and Russians were surprisingly supportive of the new resolution despite the fact that the US showed very little interest in compromise. Some might argue that this newfound spirit of cooperation has vindicated the Administration's tough approach to negotations. After all, there is no question that the French, Germans and Russians don't have the stomach for another knock-down drag-out fight.
But American belligerence is only half the story. Its critics on the Council seem to recognize that the content of its new resolution pales in importance compared to the presence on the ground of American and British combat forces. Why fight for favorable language if it won't make a difference in the end?
The better strategy is to give the US and UK the control they want, thus forcing them to accept responsibility if things go wrong. According to a letter to the editor written by a former UN official,
Washington's condescending effort to involve the United Nations in postwar reconstruction is, at one level, little more than an urgent and desperate attempt to resurrect a scapegoat. At first, the Bush administration did not want the United Nations to become involved at all.While the author is probably wrong about American motivations, I think his fear of the UN becoming a scapegoat provides a valid insight into the organizations' mindset at this particular moment.
So, now that Iraq is "Our New Baby", what are we going to do with it?
Last week, the NYT reported that initial plans to create a transitional government in the coming weeks had been cancelled because a lack of confidence in existing opposition groups. But today, the Times reports that Jerry Bremer intends to call together a National Assembly sometime in July. However, Bremer hasn't made clear whether this Assembly will have the powers of a "government" or just those of an "authority."
Meanwhile in the Balkans, Paul Wolfiwitz has decided after a visit to Bosnia that premature elections are a recipe for disaster, since they tend to result in the legitimization of those extremists who rush to organize their supporters in the immediate aftermath of a conflict. What does Jerry Bremer think of that?
I don't know, but I can tell you that I agree with Wolfowitz. While I haven't had to time to learn as much I want about the Bosnia and Kosovo operations, it seems fairly self-evident that Saddam's brutality destoryed all moderate opposition to the regime. Thus, it will take some time for mainstream Iraqis to establish themselves in the political arena. With any luck, today's victory at the UN will persuade the Administration that the world is giving it a fair chance to show that America can, in fact, promote democracy abroad.
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# Posted 2:15 PM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 1:29 PM by Patrick Belton
I note Helms also as a way of recognizing his strong belief in the profession of intelligence, and consequently his strong conviction that the profession's analysis not be politicized. This is an inherently difficult proposition: intelligence is inevitably supplied into policy branches which are preoccupied with pushing visions and agendas, where dispassionate weighing of the latest intelligence briefs is in a realistic world hardly the norm. But the intelligence community suffers enormous losses to its credibility and independence when it moves away from its professional role. Currently, there's great unhappiness in the community of analysts that it is being told by appointees what it "should" come up with (see last week's NYT Week in Review piece by William Broad, abstracted here). It's difficult to assess from a vantage point outside the community how grounded these protests are, but they are troubling. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 12:52 PM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 11:29 AM by Patrick Belton
I am writing in strong protest to the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct, and recommend you do, too. The commission's address is 801 Second Avenue, New York, New York 10017. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 10:56 AM by Patrick Belton
UPDATE n+1: FBI agents have a sketch of a man they are seeking to identify in connection with the bombing yesterday. Initial guesses are that, given the choice of a time, the bomber may have sought to make a statement without hurting anyone. Some 300 rare books in the room underneath the explosion received water damage from water dripping through the floor from fire extinguishers - however, some deft timely freeze-drying has saved all of the books. (Thanks, Glenn!) And our friends over at Kitchen Cabinet got interviewed by the FBI during the last exams of their educational career (I was going to say here's hoping you get extra points for that, but this is Yale, after all - one assumes they can live with an H instead of an H+ if need be.... More importantly, though, a big mazal tov to the honorable Cabinet Members on their impending graduation!)
UPDATE f(n)^2+c (describing a Mandelbrot set - there's no reason updates have to be ordered linearly): The FBI has identified the man in the sketch, whoever he is.... (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 10:03 AM by Patrick Belton
The article raises an important point, argued often by those students of cities who argue for designing American communities more on the aesthetic, pleasant, pedestrian and public lines of Greenwich Village or the New England townships, while less on the sprawlish dimensions of Los Angeles, Detroit, or Northern Virginia. And in turn this point is often toted under the banner of New Urbanism, a school of urban development which has been led by people like Vincent Scully, James Kunstler, Peter Calthorpe, and Peter Katz. (Here's a bibliography, and a charter drawn up by one group of adherents. There's also a faq drawn up by another New Urbanist organization.) Generally speaking, New Urbanism seeks to increase residential density, mix up styles and types of buildings to a greater extent, and more broadly to create a greater number of more pedestrian, public spaces. A remarkably creative friend of ours from Yale, Adam Gordon, has launched a magazine called The Next American City dedicated to fleshing out and expanding on these, and related, ideas; his magazine is an extraordinarily exciting project, and I'm honored to be working on a piece for their next issue. One city which has been very influenced by this school of thought is Montclair, New Jersey - I remember returning back from England to a friend's back yard, then walking through the city's park over to its main street, and thinking that the pleasantness and human scale of the experience was making me revise my admittedly unwarrented low esteem for American suburbs.
That said, I'm admittedly much less expert on urban studies than many of my friends, and I'd be very interested to hear what they have to say on the subject. Rachel, Joey, Adam, Shayna?..... (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 8:40 AM by Patrick Belton
1. "Men 'happy with beer bellies'" (Accompanying photo depicts a decapitated, besuited midriff, fittingly encaptioned "Men appear happy to have big bellies.")
2. "Buddhists 'really are happier'" (this article's happy photo reveals a beaming bespectacled monk).
3. "Sticky moments in 21 years of Superglue" Quote: "Perhaps the most embarrassing visit to a casualty room caused by Superglue was the woman who needed her hands removed from her partner's private parts." (Okay, sorry, I know this is a family blog.....) Interestingly, Professor Kreible's invention was originally known as "liquid locknut" (hold your jokes) and he as "the man who beat vibration." It was much easier being a media celeb in the 50's.
4. "How atom spy slipped security net" All right, this isn't technically speaking a funny headline, but it nevertheless includes the wonderful tidbit that MI5, suspecting Fuchs's nasty tendency to pass secrets to the Soviets, decided to therefore....transfer him to the Manhattan Project, since "he is rather safer in America - it would not be easy for Fuchs to make contacts with communists there" - !
5. "Department of Homeland Security Deputizes Real Mean Dog" Okay, I admit, this one actually did come from The Onion....
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# Posted 3:10 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 2:52 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
The ignorance of Americans about the real world never ceases to amaze me. Ask them what percent of the population is black and they guess it's about a third. Ask them how much they pay in income taxes, and they figure about 50%. Ask them how big the foreign aid budget is and they're off by a factor of 24.While I'm pretty sure Kevin meant that as a rhetorical question, I'm going to answer it anyway. Why? Because condescending attitudes toward the American public have been responsible for some of the most misguided policies in recent history, most notably the Vietnam war.
But first, I have to acknowledge that Kevin's is right when he says that the American public lacks basic information about public affairs. Comparative studies have shown that Europeans consistently score better on factual tests. In fact, polling firms now shy away from 'pop quiz' style questions since they tend to embarrass respondents. [This information comes straight from academic journal articles on public opinion. When I'm back in England with all my old notebooks, I'll dig out the footnotes for y'all.]
But if Americans are so ignorant, how did the United States manage to become the wealthiest and most powerful nation on Earth? The Realist (in the polisci sense of the word) answer to this apparent contradiction is that American power is an accidental byproduct of America's favorable geography and boundless natural resources. But even the Realists admit that this explanation does not account all that well for the United States' success after 1945.
In the opening decades of the Cold War, leading Realists argued that democratic heads of state must ignore public opinion, lest it prevent them from defending the balance of power. In practice, this became a prescription for constant deception, as practiced by Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. Ironically, it was such deception that was responsible for the tragic war in Vietnam, since it was only Johnson's lies that persuaded the American public to stand and fight. [Footnote forthcoming.]
Because of the war in Vietnam, liberals and progressives came to believe that foreign policy must be made democratically. However, in response to the Reagan Revolution, liberals and progressives began to wonder whether the public was actually fit to steer the ship of state.
After all, how could a President who lied so early and so often maintain such constant public support? One theory is that Reagan was simply much more proficient than his predecessors at the art of deception. Yet at the same time it is hard to ignore the genuine passion he inspired. Thus, elitist condescension increasingly became a staple of liberal approaches to foreign affairs.
Liberal reactions to George W. Bush are almost identical to their reactions to Ronald Reagan. In short, they aren't sure whether to blame the President for willful deception or the public for willful ignorance. Of course, Republicans tend to ask the same sort of questions when confronted with a president such a Clinton, who can't even give a straight answer about the meaning of the word 'is' but still had a 60% approval rating.
Thus, one ought to ask how it is that politicians with such deficient records of public honesty manage to build support for their foreign initiatives.
Answering such a question becomes possible if one shifts one's focus from ignorance to values. While the American public may not have much factual knowledge about the world, they have an impressively stable set of preferences and values about how the United States should relate to the world around it.
One might ask how it is possible to have a reasonable opinion if one lacks basic information about world affairs. The best answer I can give is "culture". Americans simply pass on their values from one generation to the next. (Where did such values originally come from? England, mostly. But that's a whole 'nother story...)
The sum total of American values with regard to foreign affairs approximates a combination of the four traditions described by Walter Russell Mead: the Hamiltonian, the Jeffersonian, the Jacksonian and the Wilsonian. Americans tend to favor free trade, democracy promotion, and international law but accept that force is often a critical component of success abroad.
Unsurprisingly, that sort of vague description can't really predict what sort of policy the American public will support in any given situation. But it does explain why the American public never seems to be as far left as the Democrats or as far right as the Republicans. For example, the American public consistently thought that Jimmy Carter spent too little on defense but that Ronald Reagan spent too much.
More recently, the pragmatism of the American public explains why the Rumsfeld/Cheney argument for avoiding the United Nations fell on deaf ears, yet the American public supported the President's decision for war once he made an extended effort to win over the Security Council.
Thus, far from being "screwed up", American foreign policy tends to chart a rather moderate-but-inconsistent course that frustrates ideologues on both sides of the partisan divide (as well as ideologues of the center, such as myself). While it isn't hard to compile lists of American failures abroad, the United States' record has been, more or less, one of considerable success.
As I see it, this success reflects the American electorate's principled pragmatism. Rather than favoring an ideological line, the American public throws its support behind whichever party or politician comes up with the policies best-suited to a given situation.
The greatest limitation of this sort of pragmatism is that it applies only to the most pressing issues of the day. Given the United States' tremendous influence, its officials make countless decisions that affect countless lives abroad but get negligible coverage at home. That is why I plan to dedicate my professional life to foreign affairs. I believe I can make a difference.
But even if all of the starry-eyed idealists such as myself ceased to exist, America would get along just fine. Its people know how to protect themselves while also doing their part to make the world a better place. As such, even the brightest of the pundits should check their condescension at the door.
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