My photo
Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, Chapel Hill, Boston, Istanbul, Calgary, Washington DC, Austin, Tunis, Warszawa and counting

Thursday, February 28, 2008

La puissance ou la mort

Surtout parce que ayant une bibliographie en trois langues est cool mais également parce que j'avais pensé que une perspective française serait intéressante sinon nécessaire au point des vues des relations trans-atlantique et du développement d'une politique étrangère et militaire commune. Il faut admettre quand même que j'ai triché avec ce bouquin-là. Je ne l'ai pas fini.

Christian Saint-Étienne dans La puissance ou la mort. L'Europe face à l'empire américain offre une analyse de la situation mondiale politique et à la fin donne son avis comment les Européens dévraient réagir face au déclin relatif des États-Unis et l'émergence de la Chine. C'est cette partie que je n'ai pas lue, l'analyse de Saint-Étienne enfin n'était pas assez convaincante pour que j'aie eu envie de passer deux heures en plus lisant ses propositions.

Son livre, à mon avis, est surtout écrit pour le monde non-academic et pour cette raison on y trouvre trop de populisme, des citations simplistique et une analyse très superficielle. En plus, je ne suis simplement pas d'accord avec certain de ses conclusions. Par exemple, il croit que le monde sera dominé par une autre pair de supers puissances (les États-Unis et la Chine) commençant environ en 2020. Moi au contraire je crois qu'on revient dans une situation similaire de l'Europe après la défaite de Napoleon. Alors, une balance de puissance avec plusieurs joueurs (les deux déjà nommés, l'Europe, l'Inde, même le Brésil peut-être), un monde multipolaire enfin , pas bipolaire.

Alors, il faut pas que vous le lisez.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Exposé 2

A second version of my exposé for my Magisterarbeit (master thesis). I am not very happy or confident about the theoretical part yet, but I need to actually start producing something. What can I say apart from that? 17 pages of notes, 10 books, lik 20 articles and I could keep on reading forever. If this wasn't so much fun, it would be depressing.

Monday, February 25, 2008

War Against the Panthers

I finally finished Huey P. Newton's War Against the Panthers: A Study Of Repression in America (his doctoral dissertation) this evening. Only a couple of words about it here, because (a) it is relatively short, (b) very descriptive only, and (c) not all that exciting to read. Newton's opening is very strong where he explains how he does not consider the US a democracy, because of '[1] social and racial cleavages which have historically been the source of division and bitter antagonism between sectors, and [2] the inherent and long-standing distrust held by America's ruling class of any institutionalized democracy involving the mass population.'

Quite obviously, Newton, (and understandably considering his experiences) exaggerates the relevance of oppression as a means of governing the United States, but he makes a very coherent and convincing argument. While this argument is not completely swaying, it does result in sympathetic interest and a desire to further one's knowledge in this 'other' side of American history. The Haymarket incident, Emma Goldmann, AIM, the FBI's activities against civil rights leaders and the Black Panther Party all do show a shocking lack of democratic institutions in the United States until well into the 1970s.

Newton after this historical summary just enumerates the ways in which the BPP was attacked by government agents (CIA, FBI, IRS, local police). I cannot verify most of his claims, but from what I can gather (or know as of right now) his general point of the BPP having been unjustly repressed is very valid.

In the end a truly interesting story, even if I would prefer reading something more comprehensive and less tedious and factually dominated about this. Mainly, because I feel like the dark sides of American history are gladly (and too easily) glossed over in today's society (where girls with teary eyes sing the national anthem before a basketball game rejoicing in their patriotic souls without really reflecting on what it is they are endorsing and praising).

International Relations & Scientific Progress

This book was a wonderfully smooth read, that I enjoyed throughout the few days that I had the honor of perusing it. Read it, your life will be worth more for it once you are done.

Actually, touch this book only if you really feel the need to be put in your place, if you really want to dwell on your stupidity and incomprehension of political science. Patrick James' International Relations & Scientific Progress - Structural Realism Reconsidered is possibly - rivaled by Joyce's Ulysseus maybe, but I never actually finished that - the most complicated book I ever read. Another author (Barry R. Posen) had referenced to structural realism as an interesting theory in order to explain the European build-up in military capability. So I had stumbled upon this oeuvre.

Again, I had a really hard time getting through this, a really hard time. James focuses less on structural realism as a theory, but seemingly spends more time on the theoretical determination of theories, of scientific valid and sound propositions. He recounts numerous criticisms of realism in its differing varieties. Not knowing all (or even most of) these varieties nor their criticism I read the first 100 pages of this book understanding maybe a third (talking about a frustrating experience by the way). This lack of understanding is not really due so much to the vocabulary that he utilizes (even though that is quite thought-provoking (to put it positively) as well), but due his multiple references and most of all to the ridiculously abstract discussion James leads.

In later parts, when he actually explains what he considers to be the best (and most recent) version structural realism, the book becomes a lot clearer and might actually have helped me some, but I will need to look at this theory again from another angle, sorry Patrick.

Just really quickly, one of his main points is that unit (countries/states) analysis is not sufficient as these micro-micro relations (as he calls them) do not reflect the aggregate of actions in international relations. He proposes a sytemism analysis that also includes macro-micro and macro-macro relations and thus including structure (bipolarity, multipolarity...) and interdependent developments.

He identifies six aspects as defining structural realism:
state centrism (as the most relevant actor in the international field)
rational choice (the actors, the states)
security seeking (again, the states)
anarchy (in the international system)
status undifferentiated by function (I am still working on that)
structure as capability distribution (virtually economic and military power distribution all over the world)

I am not going to discuss this further, mainly because I move on very thin ice here, but I will definitely come back to this, after having read more.

Friday, February 22, 2008

End The War

So, basically every (pseudo or truly) left-wing person on this campus is of the opinion that the US needs to 'end the war in (or on I guess) Iraq.' SDS organized a demonstration to that extent in the Pit yesterday, most people I know here probably wholeheartedly agree. Now, I am definitely left-leaning (well, maybe not just leaning, but you get my point, long live Rosa, Karl, Rudi and Daniel!) as well, but this is just plain bullshit.

First, the US cannot 'end' the war in the first place. Iraq has been enduring a simmering civil war, pulling out American troops will not stop extremists from trying to topple a (more or less) secular regime. The slogan per se is just ridiculous thus. You could compare this to some extent with the Vietnam War where the 'end' of the war by the Americans led to two more years of fighting followed by North Vietnamese troops conquering Hanoi, or Afghanistan where the 'end' of the war by the Soviet Union led to an everlasting civil war, which only the Taliban kind of ended, for better or worse, but that is besides the point really. An occupying (and to some extent) stabilizing power such as the US in Iraq is simply not capable of ending a war which it - inadvertently - caused but cannot control.

Second, let us assume for a second the US is going to crouch back home like a dog with its tail stuck between its hind legs. Let us also abstract for a second from the impact on the perception of American power and how serious countries like Sudan (Darfur!) will take American threats. What will most likely happen in Iraq? As of right now there is Shiite-dominated government (with a Kurdish president). The Northern part of the country has to some extent emancipated itself from the rest of the country and most Sunnis are clamoring for more political power having realized that Al-Qaeda was not a good ally for them to have in the reordering of Iraq after Saddam. These Awakening Councils (of Sunni ex-resistance fighters) have contributed significantly to the (relative and very limited) increase in safety in Iraq over the last few weeks/months. With forced coherence by the Americans falling away now what would happen to this instable power triangle?

The Kurds almost assuredly would try to either become independent or at least segregate themselves even further from the rest of the country. They have decently organized armies (yes, more than one, if they became independent and had no common enemy anymore, the stability of Kurdistan itself would be questionable) and would want (or need) the oil sources around Mossul for economical survival. Also, they would probably try to make most Arabs leave their territory (especially Mossul again were Saddam had been trying to create an Arabic majority). The Shiites, unchecked by American power, would dominate the central government, most likely not feeling any need to include the Sunni-minority in a power-sharing deal. The Awakening Councils and their members, the Sunni militias that patrol for peace and against terrorists as of right now, would they be happy to agree to a situation in which decisions on their political and economical future would be made by a solely Shiite government? Most likely not, their natural response in fact would be to take up arms against this (perceived or truly) repressive government.

Additionally, Iran would try to increase their influence in Iraq through supporting their Shiite 'brethren', Saudi-Arabia would feel the need to support their fellow Sunnis in order to maintain some kind of a balance of power. The Kurds in Turkey (and Syria?) and the PKK still active in Northern Iraq would be beleaguered by a desire to create a Great-Kurdistan, which of course Turkey would not accept. Turkey would also without an American presence feel a lot less inhibited in its incursions into Iraq to fight the PKK.

Did I forget something? I hope not. I think not. I realize this is not the most coherent argument ever, I did not want to spend too much time on this. But this is a challenge to all those of you who say the US needs to 'end the war' now. Tell me why. Tell me why it would be better for the Iraqi people if the US disappeared. Because I just don't see it.

One last note, I was against this invasion (read my older entries), I think the Bush administration grandiosely screwed up with it in more than one sense, but we have to deal with the world as it is, not as we would want it to be. So, again, I hope some of you will find counterarguments for why the American devil needs to get out of Mesopotamia.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Sub-Prime Crisis

Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff in Is the 2007 U.S. Sub-Prime Financial Crisis So Different? An International Historical Comparison make the argument that the current financial crisis is in fact very much related to earlier ones all over the world. They try to show this through a comparison with data from eighteen crises ranging from 1977 to 1994. Their graphs generally speaking show developments from a point in time (t-4) four years before the onset of the crisis (T) to three years after its climax (t+3). The US crisis of course is different in the sense that we currently are at T. Rogoff and Reinhart then try to make the readers aware of how these other crises in general played out, and, yeah, it is not a pretty picture. In regard to housing prices, real GDP growth per capita, public debt and the current account balance as a percentage of GDP, developments between these eighteen financial crises (especially the so-called five big ones) are eerily similar. A fall in housing prices analogue to earlier cases would mean a loss in value of another 25%. Public debt (and thus really inter-generational borrowing) would in this case also increase significantly (as a side note, as much as I would vote for Democrat just because I abhor religion, xenophobic tendencies, and nationalism, what does an Obama (or Clinton) presidency coupled with Democratic majorities in both Houses mean for the American budget balance and free trade negotiations (see Obama's remarks on NAFTA in today's NY Times).

Finally, the only truly diverging statistic the authors show are real equity prices. Here, prices should have started falling already, yet instead have risen even from t-1 to T. What does this mean then? Rogoff and Reinhart propose as a reason that "the US Federal Reserve [has] pumped in an extraordinary amount of stimulus in the early part of the most recent episode." Whether this is true or not, the relevant question for me would be whether this just means that a decrease in value will occur later than expected (and possibly higher because the value is unnaturally high?) or whether it can be avoided through this stimulus (doubtful somehow, as the Fed cannot simply feeding 'the beast', right?).

Questions, over questions, the social sciences are just wonderful, we really have no clue what's going on, but are very eloquent at making educated guesses. That is why I love it I guess. In any case, it does not look good for the American economy (and by extension the next American president (less important) and the rest of the world (more important)).

Monday, February 18, 2008

World Economics and andere Zeitverschwendungen

The glory of collecting information, of acquiring knowledge that will most likely never be relevant to my future profession or life is one of my favorite pastimes. I will keep on the ball in this regard, no worries my dear reader masses. So yeah, From World Banker to World Venture Capitalist: The US External Adjustment and The Exorbitant Privilege by Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas and Hélène Rey is part of my - futile I know, but trying in vain seems less lame than not trying and as Townes would put it: 'it seemed easier than waiting around to die' - attempt at understanding the system of world economics that we live in.

Most everyone will have heard about the gigantic American capital account surplus (and its complementary current account deficit), yet what shocked me (even if I had heard about it before) was the extent to which the US still benefits of an 'exorbitant privilege' (in DeGaulle's words) by virtue of functioning as a currency reserve for the rest of the world. This essay was very technical and mathematical, and I am sure I missed as much information as I actually gleamed from it, but basically the authors show that the nature of foreign American liabilities and assets are quite different. In simple terms, the US receives low-risk, low-interest money (government bonds for example) while investing in (relatively) high-interest, high-risk projects (through FDIs mainly). This results in the US paying less interest to the world than its own investments generate even though these assets abroad are smaller in absolute terms than the foreign-owned ones on US soil (figuratively speaking). Think about this for a second. Anybody want to lend me 10 bucks on 3.61% interest and in turn receive 9 bucks from me on 5.72% and keep this going over a couple of decades?

Two additional aspects of this. First, an exchange depreciation of the dollar actually increases American assets. This, because most foreign liabilities are denominated in dollars, while 70% of the foreign assets are denominated in other currencies. 'Hence a 10% depreciation of the dollar represents, ceteris paribus, a transfer of around 5.9% of GDP from the rest of the world to the US.' Second, if investors lose trust in the dollar (because of a self-fulfilling fear of depreciation), this will result in a super-sized problem for the US (and the rest of the world in extension, considering how dependent on the American economy we all are).

What I am furthermore wondering is whether the EU (well, the Euro area) would in this case (or already is in the process of doing so) be capable of taking over this role of the safe monetary haven for the rest of the world and thus also the beneficiary of this system of the provision of liquidity.

The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers

Paul Kennedy's monster work, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers - Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 had been referenced by a lot of the guys I had read before. It is a crazy book because of the detailed look it takes at power politics over a period of 500 years. I have to admit that I don't want to get into describing this book too much because any short blog entry would barely scratch the surface anyway and not give the amount of information provided by Kennedy justice. Thus, in only a few sentences:

Kenedy's main argument is that economic change and military prowess go hand in hand and that in the long run economic might determines military might and thus shapes the politics of the Great Powers. Disappointing, even if Kennedy surely cannot be blamed for that, was the fact that the book was written before the fall of the USSR, thus some of the analyses are completely irrelevant for today. Nonetheless I felt that his book helped me to develop a better understanding of the politics of power and war of the last 500 years (and especially and most relevantly of the 20th century).

Don't read this book just out of boredom, but if you do pick it up, it will provide with a wealth of information, the only downside of which might be that it proves once again how little we really know.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The End of the American Era

Nomen est omen, Charles A Kupchan's The End of the American Era - US Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twenty-first Century deals with the demise of American hegemony. Kupchan tries to offer up a grand strategy for the US to adopt, similar to Roosevelt's vision for the post-war world and opposed to the failed position of isolationism the US took after the 1st World War. This normative side of his argument, I found a lot less interesting than the analytical parts. In parts he details exactly what the American government should do to allow for a smooth transformation to a new world system ("The US is faced with a challenge that few great nations have managed to pull off – accepting the rise of alternative power centers and willingly ceding influence to them.").

Most interesting for me was that he believes Europe to be the primary challenger arising for the declining hegemon. He bases this on a future development of European integration that might be overtly optimistic at times, but his general argument makes sense. With the US increasingly pulling out troops from Europe and restricting interventions in Europe (due to a lack of interest (=isolationism) in regional conflicts non-threatening to the US (Macedonia, 2001), military over-stretch (Iraq) and rising expectations in European contributions to security and defence measures), the EU needs to start developing capabilities to patrol its own backyard - which it failed to do in Bosnia and Kosovo.

The US response to this, the emergence of a balance of powers (very much in the development still admittedly) has been ambivalent to say the least. While expecting the EU to shoulder a bigger financial and manpower burden, it has expected to remain a firm leader of the West. This dilemma is what I want to explore further and I am looking forward to it :)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The OECD Jobs Study

The OECD Jobs Study - Facts, Analysis, Strategies (1994) was a lot less dray than it sounds. It is pretty short (around 60 pages), but very informative and in a very compressed way gives an outlook of unemployment how it has changed in OECD countries over the last decades and how it governments should respond to it. Most of the policy recommendations seem to be geared towards continental European states, even if the report does not directly say this, it feels that way considering the criticism leveled at these states in regard to their employment performance.

Important is a distinction made in the beginning between structural and cyclical unemployment - the latter of which Keynesian policies can smoothen out, the former of which needs to be tackled through microeconomic changes. As the names suggest cyclical unemployment rises and falls with economic recessions and booms, while structural unemployment remains steady no matter the economic performance of the specific country as it is due to institutional arrangements more than anything else.

Over the last few decades diverging trends have been discernible, while the United States has managed to decrease unemployment rates since the 1960s/1970s, the European states' rates have increased over the same time-frame. In general it can also be said that young people are more often unemployed than older ones, countries with strong apprenticeship systems are the exceptions for this rule. I wonder how Germany's position in this regard has changed though, considering the gloomy manner in which 'das Ausbildungssystem' has been discussed over there in the last few years. The second major problem of European states lies in the predominance of long-term unemployment in their systems. Thus, in the EU area (before even the accession of even the EFTA states) more than 40% of general unemployment is long-term (meaning lasting at least 12 months), while for the US it is only 11%. The reason for this wide disparity lies in the low rate of inflow into employment in Europe (coupled with low inflows into unemployment), while the US shows signs of a high rate of flow into employment (and unemployment). The EU area has a problem involving the hiring of employees.

The above-mentioned diverging trends in unemployment rates in the US and EU are explained by an increase in productivity in the EU coupled with non-functioning labor markets (see the hiring problem detailed above). In this context I have to admit that I was wondering about the validity of this study for today, mainly because Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands are three prominent negative outliers for these problematic labor markets, all of whom have significantly reformed since.

Not only have unemployment rates risen though, employment participation rates in most of Europe and Japan have not kept pace with developments in North American and Oceania. This is due mostly to Southern outliers (Italy, Greece, Spain) with traditional low female participation rates and continued encouragement for women to stay at home. Another factor are the early retirement schemes still popular in Germany today, that were used a means to avoid the cliffs of firing-legislation in the 80s and 90s mainly.

Finally, corporatist wage negotiations or Unions in general have prohibited European countries from responding to increased competition (globalization as lame as that argument has become) and pressure on low-skilled through wage adjustments. English-speaking countries have responded through a widening of wage differentials. Adjustment to this move away from demand for low-skilled workers in Central Europe has thus taken place through higher unemployment. While this argument made sense to me, what baffled me was the assumption that wage differentials have not increased in Europe as I know they have at least over the last 20-30 years. Possibly this trend was not as discernible as it is today in 1994. The downside for American workers has been that their real wages have in fact decreased, pointing to the possibility of a trade-off between unemployment and a 'living wage' (and the avoidance of the 'working poor').

The authors of the OECD Study then go on to suggest some remedies for this development in unemployment rates. Firstly, they argue for a stable macroeconomic environment (limiting public debt in order to avoid the crowding out of private investment through high interest rates & low levels of inflation), even while admitting that good macroeconomic policy is necessary but not sufficient for an improvement on the employment front. Thus, structural adjustments are necessary as well. Their suggestions here are:
  • A move away from social security contribution to indirect taxes (TVA), which would increase employment through limiting taxes' impact on the labor market's demand function.

  • An increase in wage differentials would allow adjustments through wages instead of unemployment rates (apparently there is some cross-country evidence for this). As already mentioned above this prompts the question of how to treat the so-called 'working poor', basically this, to me, seems to be a moral question that every society needs to answer for itself and not just an economic one.

  • Unemployment protection should be limited as it also provides a disincentive for companies to hire employees.

  • Labor market policies need to become active (and not passive as in providing income for the unemployed), to provide education, training and improve job skills in general. This especially in light of the fact that the life-long job has become a thing of the past in most OECD countries (Japan still being an exception to some extent).

  • In general education measures need to be improved, especially for children from disadvantaged parts of the societies, to counter the increased loss of low-skilled jobs. This applies to pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary education.

  • Finally, unemployment benefits should be lowered to provide greater incentives to take on a new job.

All in all, most of the analysis and suggestions seem very solid and sensible. Some of the questions I feel should not be left only for economists to discussed, as the level of solidarity of a society, the wage-level of its lowest paid workers and such, should not be considered under economic merit alone.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The post-modern state and the world order

Robert Cooper is a career diplomat who is nowadays working for the European Council and directly responsible to Javier Solana (talking about a job I would want to do). His book (more like an essay really) The post-modern state and the world order was super interesting. It does not contain any ground-breaking (or maybe it did back then (1997), but it describes the post 1989 very, very accurately, including a prediction of the emergence of failed states and terrorist organizations harbored in these as a threat to the world.

Cooper separates the world in three parts. The post-modern world (basically the EU, to some extent the US) where the rule of law (based on self-restricting treaties) in inter-state interactions is dominant, military power is not a viable solution to problem-solving and borders are increasingly irrelevant. The modern world which describes the world as Machiavelli and Clausewitz knew it, with war a method of politics, borders subject to change, and traditional nation-states competing with each other (unlike the post-modern world where competition takes place more on an economic and individual level). Finally, the pre-modern world, which describes failed states such as Somalia and Afghanistan. These states, where no one holds a monopoly on violence, should in (cruel if you want) realpolitischen terms be left alone, since they cannot bother anyone. Yet, in today's society this is not possible due to two reasons. Firstly, the impact of newspaper reporting and popular pressure to act in case of suffering, murder or (worst of all) genocide. These interventions are usually very limited in nature, simply because it is difficult to estimate their true value for the intervening state (especially considering the flighty nature of public opinion which, after the death of a few soldiers, can rapidly swing against any intervention). Secondly, the aforementioned non-state actors who in an asymmetrical war can hurt virtually anyone (remember this was written before 2001).

A very descriptive, very good and accurate essay. Check it out if you care to find out more about the world as it is today.

Die grossen Maechte

Leopold von Rankes Werk Die grossen Maechte war eines der Buecher, welches ich als Fussnoten in anderen Werken fand und als potenziell relevant und interessant einstufte. Vor allem hatte ich nichts dagegen mal wieder ein Buch auf Deutsch zu lesen (geht halt immer noch ein bisschen schneller), gebracht hat mir es aber leider nichts oder wenig.

Von Ranke beschreibt die Welt wie er sie im Jahr 1833 wahrnimmt, das Schwinden der Dominanz Frankreichs auf dem Kontinent, welches Napoleon kuenstlich durch eine komplette Mobilisierung noch einmal nach hinten verschieben konnte. Das Aufkommen Englands und (wichtiger fuer ihn) das langsame Anwachsen eines mehr oder weniger geeinten Deutschlands. Ich fand es als kleine Geschichtsstunde ganz interessant, es war eine nette kurze (60 Seiten) Ablenkung, mehr (leider) nicht.

World Systems Analysis

I finally laid hands Immanuel Wallerstein's World System Analysis - An Introduction (thanks Steve) as I didn't want to read his trilogy as a way of introduction. I had a surprising grasp or pre-understanding of his theory through his essay collection The Decline of American Power and Arrighi's take on this concept. To recount again - in a simplified manner - the argument is that there is a dominant capitalist system in place ever since the 15th/16th century, which has as a goal the endless accumulation of capital. It moves in systemic cycles, moving from one hegemony to the next (with phase A seeing a rise in power, phase B a decline and a shift to a new hegemonic power). We obviously are in phase B of the American hegemony. Unlike most other social scientific attempts at explaining the world the state is not the unit of analysis, also the approach is unidisciplinary (no artificial separation of anthropology, economics, political science, sociology...) and finally the world system in this theory is of longue duree but not inevitable and endless.

Wallerstein's main point thus accordingly is that the 'endless' accumulation of capital is slowly coming to a natural end (because of an steady increase in taxes, external costs (environmental destruction for example) and the price of resources). I still am not too sure about this point, but am honestly for the time being more occupied with trying to tie this into my master thesis and how European emancipation of American dominance is tied into all this. Obviously, the general point is clear, American hegemony is dwindling (the twilight of the unipolar world to put it more poetic), Wallerstein's theory in the end is based too much on economic theory to be very useful in what I want to focus on in military and defense and security policy. I thus still need a logically and truly applicable theory to relate to the creation of the CFSP.

Nevertheless, if y'all ever become bored read through Wallerstein's introduction. Highly interesting and logical and applicable to some extent. Definitely food for thought and thus recommendable.