Wednesday, May 28, 2014

From economic growth to a 'steady state' economy

I don't write a lot here about environmental and resource issues, mostly because I feel I lack the required expertise to say something valuable. But I recently looked at this piece by an Australian philosopher named Rowan (E. Loomis linked to this which in turn linked to it), and it raises some questions that need to be discussed more widely. As Rowan points out, even the most resource-efficient, 'clean' versions of economic growth are not sustainable propositions in the long term: eventually the world will run out of physical space (for the "stuff" that people are using plus the non-bio-degradable "stuff" they have thrown out), and well before that happens raw materials will have been depleted. The way to avoid this is to transition over time to a non-growth, steady-state global economy, while ensuring, or so one would hope, that it is also marked by considerably less poverty and more material equality than the present system. Sounds like a tall order, but the alternatives if it doesn't occur will be very unpleasant. Such a transition might (probably will, I suspect) require the wealthy and the upper-middle-classes in the 'developed' world to give up some of the "stuff" that they currently view as either necessary or desirable props of their existence. 

The alternative to thinking about these issues and doing something about them will be an eventual (note "eventual" not "imminent") collapse of civilization. If it does happen, it will occur, I would guess, several hundred years after I am no longer around. But that isn't too much consolation. Humans, probably uniquely among animals, have the capacity to think about the long-term future, and that really is something more of us should do more often.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Robert Kagan's realist irrealism

From Kagan's piece (h/t S. Lemieux) in New Republic (which I've bookmarked for actual reading, as opposed to skimming, later):
In fact, the world “as it is” is a dangerous and often brutal place. There has been no transformation in human behavior or in international relations. In the twenty-first century, no less than in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, force remains the ultima ratio. The question, today as in the past, is not whether nations are willing to resort to force but whether they believe they can get away with it when they do. If there has been less aggression, less ethnic cleansing, less territorial conquest over the past 70 years, it is because the United States and its allies have both punished and deterred aggression, have intervened, sometimes, to prevent ethnic cleansing, and have gone to war to reverse territorial conquest. The restraint showed by other nations has not been a sign of human progress, the strengthening of international institutions, or the triumph of the rule of law. It has been a response to a global configuration of power that, until recently, has made restraint seem the safer course.
The first sentence is obviously correct: the world is indeed an often brutal place. The second sentence, particularly the second part of it, is  more questionable. And the portion in which the "U.S. and its allies" are credited with the decline of territorial conquest is very, very incomplete (to put it charitably), and w/r/t the GW Bush admin, downright weird. Territorial conquest (of the 19th/20th-cent-and-before sort) has declined because most states (I said "most" not "all") are no longer interested in conquering territory. It's not something their leaders think about and plan for. They know (they have learned) that invading other countries does not, as a rule, tend to solve their problems. That's a main reason why territorial conquest has declined since WW2, imho, though there are also other reasons, which I've written about here before.     

Obama's foreign policy week

A speech at West Point is to be followed by one in Poland: see here. Meanwhile, WaPo ran a one-year retrospective on the National Defense Univ. speech; I haven't read the piece yet but will be posting something on it in the beginning of June. [ETA: Well, maybe. June is shaping up to be rather busy.]

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Two little words

Via this apparently conservative-of-some-sort site:
Columbia University has received nearly $6 million in taxpayer funds that are being used, in part, to create climate change games that include fake voicemails that portray a dire future, including warnings that "neo-luddites" will be murdering global warming advocates by 2035 (emphasis added).
Without reading further, I suspect the two words I've italicized are doing a lot of work here. Why "neo-luddites" would have it in for "global warming advocates" is a question I don't even want to waste time thinking about.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Mem. Day weekend French lesson

I didn't have the patience this evening to read this post on Nigeria, but skipping to its end I saw a note that fighting in Mali has resumed, with a link to an interview (in French) with an historian and W. Africa specialist. Continuing in skim mode, I glanced at the opening bits of the interview, then followed a link to another interview on the military coup in Thailand. The intro to that reads as follows (boldface added):
Entretien avec David Camroux, spécialiste de l’Asie du Sud-Est et maître de conférences à Sciences Po Paris.
Deux jours après l’imposition de la loi martiale par l’armée thaïlandaise, et après plus de six mois d’instabilité politique, le chef de l’armée, le général Prayut Chan-O-Cha, a annoncé jeudi 22 mai à la télévision un coup d’État. David Camroux, spécialiste de l’Asie du Sud-Est, revient sur les tenants et aboutissants de cet événement qui n’est pas si exceptionnel en Thaïlande.
Les tenants et aboutissants -- I had not much idea what that meant. My paperback French dictionary wasn't helpful, but my somewhat bigger hardcover dictionary was. Les tenants et aboutissants de l'affaire = the ins and outs of the case. (Harrap's Concise, rev. ed. 1989, q.v. tenant)

ETA: I see now that I could have just clicked for the English version, but sometimes it's more fun to look things up. (The site is French, and the English trans. appears, from the opening, to be a bit shaky, but "ins and outs" is there.)

Monday, May 19, 2014

Abstract of the day: biased IMF lending policies, 1980-2000

Sometimes an article's value lies in providing evidence for something one might have assumed but couldn't be sure about in the absence of evidence. As in this:
International organizations (IOs) suffuse world politics, but the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stands out as an unusually important IO. My research suggests that IMF lending is systematically biased. Preferential treatment is largely driven by the degree of similarity between beliefs held by IMF officials and key economic policy-makers in the borrowing country. This article describes the IMF's ideational culture as “neoliberal,” and assumes it to be stable during the observation window (1980–2000). The beliefs of top economic policy-makers in borrowing countries, however, vary in terms of their distance from IMF officials' beliefs. When fellow neoliberals control the top economic policy posts the distance between the means of the policy team's beliefs and the IMF narrows; consequently, IMF loans become less onerous, more generous, and less rigorously enforced. I gathered data on the number of conditions and the relative size of loans for 486 programs in the years between 1980 and 2000. I collected data on waivers, which allow countries that have missed binding conditions to continue to access funds, as an indicator for enforcement. I rely on indirect indicators, gleaned from a new data set that contains biographical details of more than 2,000 policy-makers in ninety developing countries, to construct a measure of the proportion of the top policy officials that are fellow neoliberals. The evidence from a battery of statistical tests reveals that as the proportion of neoliberals in the borrowing government increases, IMF deals get comparatively sweeter.
--abstract from Stephen C. Nelson, "Playing Favorites: How Shared Beliefs Shape the IMF's Lending Decisions," Intl. Org. 68:2 (May 2014)

Was it a BJP landslide?

Yes and no. Yes in terms of total seats won (282 of 545; more than that if you count the BJP's alliance partners); no in terms of total vote percentage, which was 31% (at least that's the figure I heard on the NewsHour). The disjunction is explained by the single-member-district system and the fact that relatively few of the BJP's votes were wasted -- i.e., in districts where it lost, it often lost by large margins whereas in districts where it won, it often won by smallish margins. Or so one gathers from an analysis at the Monkey Cage, quoted at the end of this post by P.A. Foster, who includes links to the coverage in various places.

ETA: The map reproduced at the linked post shows the Congress Party, trounced on the whole, did very well in a few places, including the extreme east, which showing may have been a result of fairly harsh recent govt crackdowns -- if I'm not mistaken -- on the long-running armed insurgencies there. Btw, Harvard history professor Sugata Bose ran for a seat as a Congress candidate in W. Bengal; I don't know whether he won and am not taking the time to look it up right now. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Photos from Central African Republic

By a young French photojournalist recently killed there. See here.
P.s. They may not all have been taken in CAR, but I think most of them were.

Is Partition to blame for all the subcontinent's woes?

Isaac Chotiner's review of John Keay's Midnight's Descendants puts, it seems to me, too much blame on Partition for everything that is today less-than-optimal in the subcontinent.  P. O'Neill corrects a specific sentence in Chotiner's review, here.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Imperial visions

In "The Sociology of Imperialisms" (1919), Joseph Schumpeter defined imperialism as a drive for expansion for its own sake:
...whenever the word imperialism is used, there is always the implication...of an aggressiveness, the true reasons for which do not lie in the aims which are temporarily being pursued; of an aggressiveness that is only kindled anew by each success; of an aggressiveness for its own sake, as reflected in such terms as "hegemony," "world dominion," and so forth. And history, in truth, shows us nations and classes -- most nations furnish an example at some time or other -- that seek expansion for the sake of expanding, war for the sake of fighting, victory for the sake of winning, dominion for the sake of ruling. (Schumpeter, Imperialism/Social Classes [pb. ed. 1974], p.5)   
He continued:
Expansion for its own sake always requires, among other things, concrete objects if it is to reach the action stage and maintain itself, but this does not constitute its meaning. Such expansion is in a sense its own "object," and the truth is that it has no adequate object beyond itself. Let us therefore, in the absence of a better term, call it "objectless".... This, then, is our definition: imperialism is the objectless disposition on the part of a state to unlimited forcible expansion. (Ibid., p.6)  
Schumpeter went on to note, among other things, that an "inner necessity to engage in a policy of conquest" could be translated into action only when a "war machine stood ready at hand" (p.61). Schumpeter, as Michael Doyle notes in Ways of War and Peace (1997), exonerates capitalism of any responsibility for imperialism more or less by definitional fiat, and then proceeds to argue that "democratic capitalism leads to peace" (Doyle, p.245).   


The idea of a
Schumpeterian 'objectless' expansion may seem odd, but in The Reactionary Mind (ch.8, "Remembrance of Empires Past") Corey Robin portrays American neoconservatives as, in effect, proponents of such a thing (though he doesn't put it quite that way).  

Robin describes the distaste, even disgust, with which the neocons viewed the Clinton years. These writers (the Kagans, Kristols, and Robert Kaplan, for instance) saw Clinton's foreign policy, with its emphasis on free trade agreements and globalized markets, as "proof of the oozing decadence taking over the United States" (p.172) after the Soviet Union's dissolution.

Robin summarizes the neocons' perspective as follows (p.174; emphasis in original):

What these conservatives longed for was an America that was genuinely imperial -- not just because they believed it would make the United States safer or richer, and not just because they thought it would make the world better, but because they literally wanted to see the United States make the world.
The neoconservatives were indeed repelled by what they viewed as Clinton's lack of virtú (cf. p.173) and 'vision' (not that George H.W. Bush or Reagan had an especially coherent vision either, but that's another story).  However, the casual reader (and probably even the non-casual one) could come away from this essay (and one or two others in The Reactionary Mind) with the impression that only conservatives have been strongly attracted to an imperial and/or militarily assertive role for the U.S.  Robin is aware, of course, that this is not accurate, but his argument that conservatives' attraction to war and imperialism is qualitatively different from that of non-conservatives can result in glossing over the fact that support for an imperial or expansionist or, at minimum, 'pro-active' U.S. foreign policy has not been the sole preserve of the Right. 

Most obviously, Cold War liberals supported and/or designed many of the interventions of the 1950s and 1960s, including but not limited to the Vietnam War; and the aura of macho toughness cultivated by some members of JFK's inner circle is well known. 

To go back further, one finds, for instance, at the turn of the twentieth century that support for an expansionary U.S. foreign policy crossed the ideological and partisan lines of domestic politics. (There was also, of course, an anti-imperialist movement at the time, though it wielded, on the whole, less influence.)

As Walter McDougall observes:

Historians stress the dynamic crosscurrents in turn-of-the-[twentieth]-century American society. Foster Rhea Dulles thought the era "marked by many contradictions." Richard Hofstadter identified "two different moods," one tending toward protest and reform, the other toward national expansion.... But the contradictions are only a product of our wish to cleanse the Progressive movement of its taint of imperialism abroad. For at bottom, the belief that American power, guided by a secular and religious spirit of service, could remake foreign societies came as easily to Progressives as trust-busting, prohibition of child labor, and regulation of interstate commerce, meatpacking, and drugs. Leading imperialists like [Theodore] Roosevelt, [Albert] Beveridge, and Willard Straight were all Progressives; leading Progressives like Jacob Riis, Gifford Pinchot, and Robert LaFollette all supported the Spanish war and the insular acquisitions. Even academic historians of the time applauded the war and colonies (except, in some cases, the Philippines), and elected A.T. Mahan [author of The Influence of Sea Power upon History] president of the American Historical Association. (McDougall, Promised Land, Crusader State (1997), p.120)
Mahan was far from the only intellectual supporter of expansionism, but his book on the influence of sea power, published in 1890 (it was followed by a sequel), had a wide impact. Fareed Zakaria notes:
In the first chapter, which was the most widely read part of the book, Mahan clearly stated his central thesis: as a great productive nation, the United States needed to turn its attention to the acquisition of a large merchant marine, a great navy, and, finally, colonies and spheres of international influence and control. Not only was this necessary, Mahan asserted, it was inevitable, an inexorable step in the march of history. Mahan had expounded on these themes in his lectures at the Naval War College in the late 1880s, and he continued to propagate them through articles, books, and speeches throughout the 1890s. (Zakaria, From Wealth to Power (1998), p.134)
It was not only in the U.S. that Mahan was influential. His book became, in Michael Howard's words, "the Bible of European navies at the turn of the century," from which they took his teaching that the "task of naval power [in war] was to gain 'Command of the Sea,' which made it possible to use the oceans as a highway for one's own trade and a barrier to that of the enemy; and that command was the perquisite of the strongest capital fleet." (Howard, War in European History (1976), p.125)  [For more on Mahan, see, e.g., Philip A. Crowl, "Alfred Thayer Mahan: The Naval Historian," in Makers of Modern Strategy, ed. P. Paret (1986); J.T. Sumida, Inventing Grand Strategy and Teaching Command (1997).]


Is there, as some of the preceding might suggest, a close connection between attachment to a big navy and support for a far-flung, 'forward-deployed', quasi-imperial global role? This is perhaps a less obvious question than one might think. A big navy, for an 'insular' power like the U.S., is probably a prerequisite (necessary but not sufficient) for the maintenance of a global network of military bases such as the U.S. now has. But one might favor a big navy and advocate limiting its use to helping keep sea lanes open and assuring 'command of the commons,' while opposing the network of hundreds of bases (as well as the present and/or future military operations they might facilitate). Another position, of course, would simply be not to support a big navy, or at least not one of the current size. But this opens up a bigger subject, a question for another occasion.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Book note

The opening paragraph of this NYT ArtsBeat blog post mentions Adam Tooze's The Deluge, to be published in November.