Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Movement Is a Blessing

The EI is moving to Wordpress, mostly so I can foist even more of my writing on unsuspecting friends.

This site will still be available for archives, and in the beginning, I'll probably link back frequently to posts here.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

In Memoriam

No cartoon today, but still wanted to post an image. I don't have an scanned pictures of my grandfather, who died Tuesday, or even an obituary yet (it's been hard to pull stuff together this week), so I'll have to settle for some pictures of the Air Force Memorial. My grandfather joined back when it was still called the Army Air Corps, and flew in WWII and the Korean War, then took on a more diplomatic role.

He served for 30-odd years, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel before retiring to Philadelphia and becoming the man I knew as my grandfather: A man who was incredibly smart, informed, and well-read, who could be distant and awe-inspiring, but still took the time to walk his oldest granddaughter around the streets of Philadelphia to explore quite possibly every major historical building there was (and there are a lot). He's who I first remember taking me to the Philadelphia Art Museum, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin's House and the Philadelphia Bourse.

He rescued turtles, got stalked by pigeons (funny family story), made the best split pea soup I've ever had (but sadly, never taught me the recipe), dressed impeccably in Brooks Brothers (although he favored Bermuda shorts and tall socks in the summer, which always amused me) and drove a Volvo which is about as old as I am (and I was honored to drive until just recently when I bought my own car).

And I loved him. Rest in Peace Grandpa.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

US Governors to Plot Climate Fight at Yale

Is it just me or does that headline sound like the governors are getting ready for a food fight at one of Yale's dining halls?

According to Reuters, via Planet Ark, at least five governors including Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger from California and Democrats Rod Blagojevich from Illinois and Jon Corzine from New Jersey will meet at Yale University on Friday to discuss 'uniting the developing markets for trading of credits representing carbon emission reductions.'

Most of the facts aren't particularly new or exciting, since the governors have been at this since the winter and many states already have their own commission on climate change, but two paragraphs gave me pause:

The reality is that the states are designing the true US climate policy," Terry Tamminen, an environment and energy adviser to Schwarzenegger, said about the meeting.
Tamminen said even if the federal government moved quickly to regulate greenhouse gases the states would remain the de facto makers of US policy on greenhouse emissions because a federal plan would take years to develop. "We don't have time to wait," he said. By many counts, the United States is the world's top greenhouse gas emitter.

I could be mistaken here, since I attended public schools in the US, but, isn't that how federalism works? This reminds me of the snafu at the EPA over California's emissions controls back in December.

Monday, April 14, 2008

No Words

Torture as motivation?

From the New Republic's blog, the Plank:

Workplace Motivational Techniques to Avoid

The Washington Post has a story you don't see every day:
No one really disputes that Chad Hudgens was waterboarded outside a Provo office park last May 29, right before lunch, by his boss.

There is also general agreement that Hudgens volunteered for the "team-building exercise," that he lay on his back with his head downhill, and that co-workers knelt on either side of him, pinning the young sales rep down while their supervisor poured water from a gallon jug over his nose and mouth.

And it's widely acknowledged that the supervisor, Joshua Christopherson, then told the assembled sales team, whose numbers had been lagging: "You saw how hard Chad fought for air right there. I want you to go back inside and fight that hard to make sales."
You really have to read the whole thing, which discusses the lawsuit that Hudgens has filed against his employer. Christopherson sounds sort of like a cross between John Yoo, Bill Lumbergh in Office Space, and Kevin Kline's character in A Fish Called Wanda:
Hudgens alleged that if the 10-person sales team went a day without a sale, members had to work the next day standing up; Christopherson took away their chairs. The team leader also threatened to draw a mustache in permanent marker on the face of sales people for "negativity," Hudgens said. Christopherson kept on his desk a piece of wood, "the 2-by-4 of motivation," he said.
Christopherson did not know the term [waterboarding], either, Brunt said: "He thought it had something to do with water skiing."He said Christopherson told the executives that he was inspired by reading about the Greek philosopher Socrates, who is said to have once held a student's head under water, then told him he must want to learn as badly as he wanted air.
Strangely enough, under Utah law, Christopherson's idiocy may work to his benefit, since Hudgens can only collect the damages he's seeking if he can demonstrate the employer's "conscious and deliberate intent" to inflict injury.

--Josh Patashnik

The New Republic Knows Me Far Too Well

Sigh. So true. I am stubbornly resisting the TNR bookshelf, since I just had to prune my reading list for the fifth time in four months. April's reading:

Apollo's Fire - Michael Sims
Walking on Water - Madeleine L'Engle
Mistress of the Art of Death - Ariana Franklin (primarily because she has my sister's first name)
A Year without Made in China - Sara Bongiorni
Chasing the Flame - Sam Powers

plus whatever IR/econ pdfs I've accumulated over the past few months.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Quick Links

A bunch of links from the past two weeks that I just haven't gotten to writing about:

The Monkey Cage asks: Is the American Public Realist?

Making Sense of Darfur's three-part series: Wither the Darfur Mediation?
Part I
Part II
Part III

The Economist on the politics of malaria and disease.

Ann Jones' and the International Rescue Committee's "16 Days in Cote d'Ivoire", an exploration of gender-based violence.

The Irrationality of Homo Ekonomicus. Hat tip: Aquanomics

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Congressional Report Cards

Citizens for Global Solutions has released their 2008 Congressional Report Card. On the website, the Report Card is searchable by state. A Voting Guide is available as well.

I don't always agree with CGS' recommendations (for instance, I'm not sure what exactly the point of H.R. 6 Energy Policy/Passage was, and I know I'm definitely suspicious of a 'mandate the use of 36 billion gallons of ethanol by 2022') but it is a nice round up for those for whom these matters count (either to vote for or against).

Sadly, my lovely home state of Virginia didn't do all that well.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Reading List Additions

I need more time in the day.

Hat tip: Chris Blattman

Ghana, Next Victim of the Resource Curse?

The Washington Post today has a lengthy article in the A section about Ghana's new-found oil wealth:

Ghanaians are struggling for a way to grow one of Africa's most stable democracies into one of its most prosperous, while blunting the corrupting power that has made oil a curse for so many of its neighbors.

Oddly enough, I was just talking about the similar situation in Nigeria at dinner last night.

Many countries in Africa have abundant natural resources in the form of oil, gold and other precious metals, timber and diamonds and other gems. However, most of them also fall victim to the 'Resource Curse', the paradox by which countries with an abundance of natural resources tend to have less economic growth than countries without these natural resources. Primary causes include:

  • Conflict
  • Rentier State
  • Corruption
  • Distribution of Benefits (between state/investors, between state/citizens, between regions)
  • Distortion of Labor Markets/No Investment in Human Capital
  • Lack of Economic Diversification

While the last two are important, in Africa, the first four tend to dominate.

Sierra Leone is a classic example. Sierra Leone has a multi-ethnic, bi-polar demography. Out of twenty different ethnic groups, two, the Temne in the north and west and the Mende in the east and south dominate their respective regions and the other ethnic groups therein. In a majoritarian presidential system such as Sierra Leone’s, the ethno-political blocs are strengthened, becoming the final determinant of political access. Sierra Leone is also home to vast alluvial plains of diamonds. 'Mines' here are not the big, deep holes of South Africa and Botswana, but rather fields and rivers where diamond concentration is high.

From a paper I wrote at SAIS last year:

Despite the difficulty of controlling the mining and export of diamonds in an alluvial plain, the vast wealth [available] drastically increases the potential costs of losing. The unwillingness of either hinterland region to submit to another, or for either to submit to the Krios [descendants of freed British slaves] in the capital, diminishes in light of potential costs of relinquishing control of the diamond mines. Thus, while Sierra Leone is nominally a multi-party state and has held elections, the losers always fail to respect the outcome and constantly agitate to overthrow the government.

The Sierra Leonean state did not act reassert its control of the diamonds trade. Under [Siaka Stevens, President during the 1970s] Lebanese merchants gained control of some of the official diamond trade, and most of the unofficial trade. As cultural outsiders, they offered little threat to his political power, and also maintained vast international networks for trade. By virtue of his office, Stevens was able to grant mining and exporting concessions, for which the Lebanese supported Stevens financially.

Stevens’ course of action had two negative results. The first is that the Lebanese merchants eventually formed their own security forces to provide protection, and lessen their dependence on Stevens. However, because Stevens had weakened the military in order to prevent against military-led coups, he could not challenge the new paramilitary groups, often made up of gangs of poor miners. The second result was the chronic shortage of state revenue. By 1988, official exports of diamonds amounted to only $22 000. In contrast, Lebanese exports had an estimated value of $250 million. The result of the under-funding was that the state was unable to provide public services or investment, and lacked the resources to take action on problems of credit, debt management, or diamond, gold and commodities smuggling. The elites were unaffected by the precipitous decline of the Sierra Leonean economy during the 1980s, but the citizen population became restive. In 1985, Stevens handed off power to Joseph Saidu Momoh, who was welcomed as a source of change.

In 1989, Momoh tried to gain better control of the diamond industry. The government approved a proposal by the Dallas, Texas company Sunshine Broulle to take over the failing state diamond firm. Sunshine Broulle fielded security forces in an extensive and exclusive mining zone, which helped marginalize rival politicians running illicit mining operations. However, Momoh used Sunshine Broulle’s operations to spare the expense of building capable but politically risky institutions to enfold and undercut political rivals and collect state revenues. By relying on foreign firms who were dependent on concessions, the central government failed to develop its own capacity and so instead weakened its ability to withstand political challenges when those firms left, as Sunshine Broulle did in 1992. Additionally, local dissatisfaction increased each time outsiders were brought in to manage economic resources, thereby perpetuating the exclusion of the Sierra Leoneans from economic gain.

Ghana itself is no stranger to natural resource wealth, due to the concentration of gold veins in the Ashanti region, but again, most of those profits benefit foreign investors.

However, there is hope. Botswana provides a good model of a state and its citizens benefiting from natural wealth. From the same paper:

Diamonds were not discovered in Botswana until after independence. The government approached the negotiations with de Beers with the goal of negotiating fiscal arrangements which would yield maximum revenue in order to fund economic growth. Initially, negotiations favored de Beers, but as de Beers made more investments, it became less able to abandon its projects. Also, neither the government nor de Beers correctly estimated Botswana’s available resources, leading de Beers to commit to longer time frames than it originally envisioned.

The Botswana government is a competent bargaining agent and so while it began with one third of the shares of the operation, it used the discovery of new mines to renegotiate the original contract in the later 1970s, eventually controlling up to 60 percent of its mining operations. The revenues from the diamond mines provide substantial revenue with which to fund development projects. These include funding health facilities, schools; provide clean, pipe-borne water to every community, and otherwise raise the physical standard of living.

In addition to its bargaining powers, the government is also a competent macroeconomic manager. Despite the downturn in diamond profits during the 1980s, the government was able to initiate new development programs, including the Financial Assistance Program which aimed to shift manufacturing jobs from urban areas to the countryside in order to boost the rural economy. While the benefits of Botswana’s economic growth are still uneven, and the government receives widespread criticism in particular for its treatment of the San people of the Kalahari, Botswana now boasts a per capita income of over $3000, making it a middle income country, and one of the richest in Africa.

Botswana isn't nearly perfect, or even very liberal; through various cultural traditions and institutional choices, it has deliberately limited the effectiveness of civil society. The kgotlas system [a process by which the community nominally decides policy, but really serves as public relations events to consolidate support for the elites’ decisions] already diminishes the expectation of citizen participation by presenting tribal, and now government policy, as fait accompli. The provision of public services further reduces any need citizens might have to lobby the government. However, it is stable and developing, and is increasingly coming under criticism from indigenous groups, and progress continues to build a strong civil society.

Ghana is not a country I know much about, but it is stable, and seems to do well in international rankings. Of course, these aren't the only factors in play: there is no local hegemon to stabilize the region (and its neighbors don't have the most promising history), it is not as demographically homogenous as Botswana, and I really can't speak on the state-civil relations at all. But, with good management and democratic participation, much is possible. I'm cautiously optimistic.