Since I was a young boy studying global political economy armed with little but an Economist subscription and a smile, I've noticed that, at some point, every country and their neighbor tries to do something to create their own Silicon Valley. Whether it's Great Britain, China, France, Brazil, or even North Korea, it seems as though every country in the world is trying to hit upon the right policy formula to create their own hub of high-tech innovation and entrepreneurship.
tax avoidance value-added created by Silicon Valley, this is no surprise. At the same time, all of this is the IPE equivalent of Gretchen Weiner's efforts to coin urban slang in Mean Girls:
I don't mean this in a "HA HA HA, you stupid non-Americans!!" way. I'm pretty sure that the conditions that created the actual Silicon Valley had more to do with serendipity, fortuna, and happy accidents than any conscious set of policies (though see here for my deeper thoughts on this subject).
Which brings me to Russia's efforts to grow its own version of Silicon Valley. It launched Skolkovo Innovation Hub, a pet project of Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, and then paid MIT a boatload of money ($300 million) to set up a school and design a curriculum to attract Russia's best and brightest. High-profile western firms like Cisco have gotten involved. In all, the Russian government has thrown an estimated $4.2 billion at this project.
So how's it going? Well, Courtney Weaver and Charles Clover have a Skolkovo update over at the Financial Times. Here's how it starts:
Just over a month ago, Tony Blair and Colin Powell were sitting in Moscow’s towering World Trade Centre, helping Kremlin officials brainstorm how they could attract more investment to Russia. A few storeys above them, employees of Skolkovo, the government’s flagship high-tech project, received a few visitors of their own.
At 9.30am on April 18, more than a dozen agents of Russia’s domestic security agency stormed Skolkovo’s office, confiscating mobile phones and removing reams of paper.
Skolkovo was meant to be Russia’s answer to Silicon Valley – a Kremlin-sponsored technopark with research centres for the world’s leading science and technology companies. But over the past few months it has found itself caught in the crossfire of Russian politics, causing those involved to question the project’s future....
People close to Skolkovo, including [Kremlin "gray cardinal" Vladislav] Surkov, have suggested that the volume of charges and their highly public airing are signs that the investigations are not part of an anti-corruption drive but are politically motivated. The crackdown comes amid a power struggle within the government between more liberal ministers led by Dmitry Medvedev, the prime minister and former president, and hardliners who are pushing back against the pet programmes of Mr Medvedev’s presidency, the most visible one being Skolkovo.
So, a few things:
1) Here's a thought: if you are trying to woo high-tech foreign direct investment and your go-to guys are Tony Blair and Colin Powell, then you can pretty much forget trying to clone Silicon Valley. Only Russian politicians could envision the following script playing out:
SILICON VALLEY MOGUL: Set up a major investment in Russia? Yeah, they've got the human capital, but the downside risk is massive. It's government by diktat, and Putin blows hot and cold with foreign investment. There are too many ways we can lose our lunch.
EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT: Pardon me, but I have Colin Powell on the line. He says he'd like to talk to you about investing in Russia.
SILICON VALLEY MOGUL: Did you say Colin Powell???!!! Hold my calls for the next hour. It's not every day you get to hear the business musings of a man who has limited business experience and hasn't been in office for close to nine years!!!
2) Correct me if I'm wrong, but any time Putin and Medvedev have a policy disagreement or turf war, Putin wins. Why, if you're negotiating some kind of Russian venture, would you ever feel secure with any arrangement with Medvedev?
3) Wait, scratch #2 -- even if you cut a deal with Putin's men, would you ever feel secure about it? As I said at the outset, it's hard enough trying to incubate an innovation hub in the best of circumstances. Trying to do so with a government that doesn't understand the words "credible commitment" makes it damn near impossible.
Am I missing anything?
So last week there was some interesting data clean-up in the foreign policy blogosphere, and some less interesting commentary on it. Let's dive in!
Max Fisher posted an item at the Washington Post relying on World Values Survey (WVS) data to generate a global map of racism. He found a Foreign Policy write-up of a Kyklos paper that two Swedish economists published that relied on WVS data. Fisher's map was based on a response to one question:
The survey asked respondents in more than 80 different countries to identify kinds of people they would not want as neighbors. Some respondents, picking from a list, chose “people of a different race.” The more frequently that people in a given country say they don’t want neighbors from other races, the economists reasoned, the less racially tolerant you could call that society.
Fisher constructed a global map based on the responses to that query, a map that contained some striking findings. Western countries seemed to be far more tolerant (or far savvier at answering this survey question). Countries such as Pakistan seeming to be way more tolerant than India and Bangladesh, for example.
Fisher's post generated a lot of attention (full disclosure: I tweeted about it) -- so much so that some social scientists started to look at the WVS data and found some serious issues with it. The Fletcher School's Ashirul Amin, for example, dug into the data found that the reason for the seemingly low tolerance of Bangladeshis was a data entry error on the World Values Survey site -- the number of "tolerant" and "intolerant" respondents were reversed for one particular year.
Other social scientists, including Steve Saideman, also weighed in with methodological criticisms.
Going further, Siddhartha Mitter pointed out ways in which different nationalities view "race" as a different kind of social construct, thereby making inter-country comparisons a problematic exercise.
The biggest problem, of course, is that “race” is impossible to operationalize in a cross-national comparison. Whereas a homosexual, or an Evangelical Christian, or a heavy drinker, or a person with a criminal record, means more or less the same thing country to country, a person being of “another race” depends on constructs that vary widely, in both nature and level of perceived importance, country to country, and indeed, person to person. In other words, out of all of the many traits of difference for which the WVS surveyed respondents’ tolerance, the Swedish economists – and Fisher, in their wake – managed to select for comparison the single most useless one.
The reason I'm blogging about this, however, is where Mitter went after lodging these criticisms. According to him, the fault lies not with the data entry, but with the foreign policy blogger:
The problem here isn’t the “finding” that the Anglo-Saxon West is more tolerant. The problem is the pseudo-analysis. The specialty of foreign-affairs blogging is explaining to a supposedly uninformed public the complexities of the outside world. Because blogging isn’t reporting, nor is it subject to much editing (let alone peer review), posts like Fisher’s are particularly vulnerable to their author’s blind spots and risk endogenizing, instead of detecting and flushing out, the bullshit in their source material. What is presented as education is very likely to turn out, in reality, obfuscation.
This is an endemic problem across the massive middlebrow “Ideas” industry that has overwhelmed the Internet, taking over from more expensive activities like research and reporting. In that respect, Fisher’s work is a symptom, not a cause. But in his position as a much-read commentator at the Washington Post, claiming to decipher world events through authoritative-looking tools like maps and explainers (his vacuous Central African Republic explainer was a classic of non-information verging on false information, but that’s a discussion for another time), he contributes more than his weight to the making of the conventional wisdom. As such, it would be welcome and useful if he held himself to a high standard of analysis – or at least, social-science basics. Failing that, he’s just another charlatan peddling gee-whiz insights to a readership that’s not as dumb as he thinks.
Cards on the tale: earlier in the post, Mitter indicates he doesn't think much of Foreign Policy bloggers either, so I'm pretty sure he won't think much of my own musings here. And I understand Mitter's anger about a misleading map coming from an outlet that generates a lot of eyeballs. That said, his critique is off-base for two reasons.
First, in this instance, the primary fault lies not with foreign policy bloggers, but with academics. It's not like Fisher commissioned a bogus survey and then wrote up the findings in a misleading manner. Rather, he relied on a survey that goes back three decades and has been cited pretty widely in the academic literature. He got to that survey via an academic article that got through the peer-review process. Almost all journalists not in possession of a Ph.D., going through that route, would have taken the data as gospel. It's not clear to me why Mitter thinks a full-blown foreign correspondent would be better versed in the "social science basics." Would Mitter have expected, say, Ryan Avent or Matthew Yglesias to have ferreted out Reinhart and Rogoff's Excel error, for example? I'm all for better education in the ways of statistics and social science methodology in the foreign affairs community, but methinks Mitter is setting the bar extraordinarily high here.
Second, the blog ecosystem "worked" in this particular case. Fisher posted something, a bunch of social scientists looked at the post and found something problematic, and lo and behold, errors in the data were discovered and publicized. As I've opined before, one of the signal purposes of blogging is to critique those higher up in the intellectual food chain. I understand that Mitter would prefer that the original error never take place. By its very nature, however, the peer review process for blogging takes place after publication -- not before. That's a bit messier than the academic route to publication -- and, because Fisher has a larger megaphone, one could posit that with great traffic comes great responsibility. Still, I suspect that anyone who titles a post "The Cartography of Bullshit" probably wouldn't want too heavy of an editorial hand to be placed on their prose.
At the heart of Mitter's lament is his untested hypothesis that foreign affairs blogging has caused the decline in research and international reporting. This strikes me as more correlation than causation, however. Furthermore, it implies that they are substitutes when in fact they are complements. The source material for a lot of foreign affairs blogging is academic research and in-depth international reportage. If Mitter wants to see a better informed public, then there needs to be as much focus on the quality of the primary source material as in the quality of the transmission mechanism.
Am I missing anything?
UPDATE: Mitter has responded in part here, and at more length in a constructive comment to this post. Both are well worth reading, and put some more context into his original post. He's getting to some interesting tensions about the nature of expertise and "publicity" in a changing media landscape that are worth mulling over before responding.
Paul Krugman is a very smart and very annoying person. Over the past few years he's been hammering away at political and economic advocates for austerity policies with unmitigated glee and derision. He does so with a brio and condescension that some people can find off-putting -- but that doesn't mean that he's wrong.
After pummeling "austerians" for much of the essay, Krugman then endeavors to explain why so many policymakers and pundits still favor such policies:
The turn to austerity was very real, and quite large.
On the face of it, this was a very strange turn for policy to take. Standard textbook economics says that slashing government spending reduces overall demand, which leads in turn to reduced output and employment. This may be a desirable thing if the economy is overheating and inflation is rising; alternatively, the adverse effects of reduced government spending can be offset. Central banks (the Fed, the European Central Bank, or their counterparts elsewhere) can cut interest rates, inducing more private spending. However, neither of these conditions applied in early 2010, or for that matter apply now. The major advanced economies were and are deeply depressed, with no hint of inflationary pressure. Meanwhile, short-term interest rates, which are more or less under the central bank’s control, are near zero, leaving little room for monetary policy to offset reduced government spending. So Economics 101 would seem to say that all the austerity we’ve seen is very premature, that it should wait until the economy is stronger.
The question, then, is why economic leaders were so ready to throw the textbook out the window.…
Everyone loves a morality play. “For the wages of sin is death” is a much more satisfying message than “Shit happens.” We all want events to have meaning.
When applied to macroeconomics, this urge to find moral meaning creates in all of us a predisposition toward believing stories that attribute the pain of a slump to the excesses of the boom that precedes it—and, perhaps, also makes it natural to see the pain as necessary, part of an inevitable cleansing process. When Andrew Mellon told Herbert Hoover to let the Depression run its course, so as to “purge the rottenness” from the system, he was offering advice that, however bad it was as economics, resonated psychologically with many people (and still does).
By contrast, Keynesian economics rests fundamentally on the proposition that macroeconomics isn't a morality play—that depressions are essentially a technical malfunction.
Now this sounds a little far-fetched -- I mean, it's not as if pundits and policymakers can be that economically illiterate, right?
And then, as if Krugman planned it all along, along comes Michael Kinsley in the New Republic -- responding to a different Krugman essay that makes similar points -- with an essay titled "Paul Krugman's Misguided Moral Crusade Against Austerity." I think one of the points Kinsley is trying to make is that the policy divide between austerians and anti-austerians in Washington isn't as great as Krugman portrays. That's likely correct in Washington. During debates this year, even austerity "advocates" like John Boehner have made noises about not wanting to turn off the fiscal tap too soon, and even austerity "critics" like Barack Obama have talked about the need for fiscal rectitude. So yes, even austerity's critics sound austerity-curious at times.
Still, the guts of Kinsley's essay are … problematic. Some highlights:
It’s easier to describe what the anti-austerians believe than the austerians themselves. Anti-austerians believe that governments around the world need to stop worrying about their debts for a while and continue pouring money into the economy until the threat of recession or worse is well and truly over. Austerians want the opposite. But what is the opposite? Is President Barack Obama, for example, an austerian? To Republicans and conservatives, no: He pushed through a stimulus package of almost a trillion dollars early in his first term, and remains a symbol of “big spending.” To liberals and Democrats, yes: They feel we need a second and much larger stimulus and Obama has let us all down.…
Austerians believe, sincerely, that their path is the quicker one to prosperity in the longer run. This doesn’t mean that they have forgotten the lessons of Keynes and the Great Depression. It means that they remember the lessons of Paul Volcker and the Great Stagflation of the late 1970s. “Stimulus” is strong medicine—an addictive drug—and you don’t give the patient more than you absolutely have to.…
Krugman also is on to something when he talks about paying a price for past sins. I don’t think suffering is good, but I do believe that we have to pay a price for past sins, and the longer we put it off, the higher the price will be. And future sufferers are not necessarily different people than the past and present sinners. That’s too easy. Sure let’s raise taxes on the rich. But that’s not going to solve the problem. The problem is the great, deluded middle class—subsidized by government and coddled by politicians. In other words, they are you and me. If you make less than $250,000 a year, Obama has assured us, you are officially entitled to feel put-upon and resentful. And to be immune from further imposition.
Austerians don’t get off on other people’s suffering. They, for the most part, honestly believe that theirs is the quickest way through the suffering. They may be right or they may be wrong. When Krugman says he’s only worried about “premature” fiscal discipline, it becomes largely a question of emphasis anyway. But the austerians deserve credit: They at least are talking about the spinach, while the Krugmanites are only talking about dessert. [Emphasis added.]
OK, so, a few things:
1) No Republican or conservative, anywhere in the United States, will claim that Barack Obama is an austerian. I'm just gonna assume that this is a typo and move on. [Editor's note: The typo has been cleared up on the New Republic's website, and the block quote above has been corrected.]
2) Stagflation in the 1970s was caused primarily by an inward shift of the aggregate supply curve due to a surge in commodity prices, particularly energy. Some central banks responded with accommodating monetary policies that accelerated inflation even further. Fiscal policy was an innocent bystander to this whole shebang. So I honestly don't know what the hell Kinsley is talking about.
More importantly, the current macroeconomic climate is really, really different from the 1970s. Inflation was a Big Bad Problem during that decade. It is not a problem right now. If inflation were spiking, then a genuine debate could be had on macroeconomic policy options. But that's not the case.
3) In his final paragraphs, Kinsley has managed to epitomize the exact critique that Krugman has served up.
The irony of this whole thing is that the Congressional Budget Office's recent figures put the lie to Kinsey's hidden assumption that the federal budget deficit is getting bigger and bigger. Right now it's shrinking at the fastest rate in postwar economic history.
The CBO also warns that the deficit will start to balloon up again due to entitlement spending, which suggests that Kinsley has half a point about thinking through entitlement reform. The thing is, that's a structural problem, not a business cycle problem. Kinsley et al. are acting as if the current fiscal climate demands immediate budgetary actions. And it doesn't -- it really, really doesn't.
Look, I think Paul Krugman has a few policy blind spots. His method of argumentation alienates as many people as it attracts. But he's not wrong when he's talking about austerity. In his response, Michael Kinsley has managed to embody the conventional wisdom in Washington -- and in doing so, embody every policy caricature of Paul Krugman's worldview.
Am I missing anything?
An awful lot of international relations can be dispiriting. A glance at the Syrian conflict reveals its awful humanitarian toll, which stands in stark counterpoint to the coldly realpolitik nature of great-power foreign policies toward that country. My point is, it's very easy to feel beleaguered when studying world politics.
But then, every once in a while, comes a story that cries out for its own theme song.
Yesterday the Russians busted an American spy. The Washington Post's Will Englund and Greg Miller provide the straight reporting:
An American diplomat accused by Russia of spying for the CIA was ordered to leave the country Tuesday after a highly publicized arrest that seemed designed to embarrass the United States and its premier intelligence service.
The expulsion of Ryan C. Fogle was announced by the Russian Foreign Ministry, and footage on state-run television showed him wearing a blond-streaked wig and a baseball cap as he was held facedown and handcuffed.
The Soviet-style episode came just days after U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry visited the Russian capital in an attempt to soothe diplomatic tensions over the conflict in Syria and the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing.
A statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry, which appeared intended to put the United States on the defensive, said, “While our two presidents have reaffirmed their willingness to expand bilateral cooperation, including between intelligence agencies in the fight against terrorism, such provocative Cold War-style actions do not contribute to building mutual trust.”
For somewhat droller reporting on the incident, one needs to surf over to the New York Times, where it's clear that David Herszenhorn and Ellen Barry just enjoyed the dickens out of filing this report:
The circumstances of Mr. Fogle’s unmasking seemed bizarre, even given the long, colorful history of spying by the Soviet Union, Russia and their rivals.…
[T]he Russians released the videos and photographs of Mr. Fogle’s assortment of props, which also included two pairs of sunglasses, a pocketknife and a protective sleeve made to shield information held on the electronic chips now routinely imprinted on passports, transit passes and identification cards.
He also carried a decidedly un-smart phone that from a distance looked like an old-model Nokia. Unlike its counterpart in the “Get Smart” television series, it was not built into the bottom of a shoe.
The most recent comparable spy folly came at the Russians’ expense. In 2010, the American authorities arrested 10 “sleeper” agents who had been living in the United States for a decade, posing as Americans. Some were couples with children; some had well-developed careers in real estate and finance.
What they had not done was send any classified secrets back to Russia, and when they were caught they were not charged with espionage but with conspiring to work as unregistered foreign agents. They were eventually expelled to Russia in a swap that included the Kremlin’s release of four men convicted of spying for the West.
If Americans then wondered exactly what sort of high-level intelligence the Russian government had expected its operatives to find while living humdrum lives in places like suburban Montclair, N.J., the case of Mr. Fogle seemed to pose its own curious questions:
What exactly did he expect to accomplish with a shaggy, ill-fitting wig that seemed to fall off his head at the slightest bump? And why would a counterterrorism officer, trained by the Russian special services, need a letter describing how to set up a new Gmail account without revealing personal information?
Perhaps the overarching question was just: Really?
Looking at the details of what Fogle ostensibly had on him, it's hard to take this event seriously at all. The letter in particular is just one or two Nigerian princes away from looking like a spam email.
The other reason it's hard to take the arrest seriously is that it appears that neither was it a sensitive intelligence operation, nor will it affect bilateral relations all that much. If Fogle's endeavor was truly significant, it's doubtful that the FSB would have gone public like this -- instead, it would have strung out the operation as long as possible in an effort to deceive the United States. And Fogle won't be rotting in a Russian prison, as he' has already been expelled. Post-capture, both Russian and U.S. officials are playing down the incident.
More generally, this won't affect the bilateral relationship -- which, at this point, is based on the occasional mutual interest (counterterrorism), the more frequent clashing interest (Syria, energy), Vladimir Putin's calcified state of feeling aggrieved at the hands of the United States, and the Obama administration's conscious decision to not get drawn into petty rhetorical games with the Russian leadership.
No, instead, one must stand back and gape in wonder at how reality breeds fiction, which then breeds reality. As the NYT story referenced, the last public espionage story involving Russia and the United States involved the placement of deep-cover Russian intelligence agents in U.S. suburbs, which didn't produce much in the way of intelligence, though it did lead to at least one lad magazine pictorial. That scandal, in turn, inspired former CIA officer Joe Weisberg to create FX's The Americans, a truly outstanding show about deep-cover Russian agents operating in the United States during the early Reagan years. And while I cannot recommend the show highly enough, one of the few farcical elements of it is the number of wigs that the lead characters used during the first season. Ostensibly, the lead male character, played by Matthew Rhys, has such extraordinary wig work that he's able to woo and marry an American FBI employee!! It makes Fogle's wigs seem pretty crude -- so crude one wonders if they were planted by Russia's FSB.
The closing of the first season of The Americans played one of the best Cold War-tinged songs ever written, Peter Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers." That song was perfect for the closing scene because it matched the emotional heft that the show managed to serve up for all of the main characters. Alas, in comparison this scandal seems to feel far more farcical. Readers are thereby warmly urged to suggest what song should accompany this particular espionage episode. I, for one, would suggest this little ditty.
Am I missing anything? Seriously, am I -- is there anything serious to draw from this case?
I've read and blogged a bit on conspiracy theories, and the basic conclusion I've come to is that they are like weeds in a garden. Without careful tending and ample sunlight in the public sphere, they are all too easy to sprout up -- and next to impossible to eliminate once rooted in the soil.
They're really hard to eliminate if they turn out to contain a nugget of truth, however:
For more on how this particular scandal is not limited to an Internal Revenue Service field office, click here.
Nor does it address the fact that the same IRS office that inquired into Tea Party organizations also apparently investigated groups with ties to Israel:
The same Internal Revenue Service office that singled out Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny also challenged Israel-related organizations, at least one of which filed suit over the agency’s handling of its application for tax-exempt status.
The trouble for the Israel-focused groups seems to have had different origins than that experienced by conservative groups, but at times the effort seems to have been equally ham-handed.
Look, there's no easy way to say this: The U.S. government has just given intellectual cover for every paranoid group in the country to articulate why their conspiracy theory has been validated. The thing is, now everyone else must give some patina of plausibility to those beliefs, no matter how bats**t crazy they sound at first glance.
As Politico reports, the Obama administration's political levers at the IRS are near infinitesimal. That really doesn't matter, however. This is now a political problem. Unless the White House finds a way to indicate that it's taking these scandals seriously and fixing the problems, this will be the defining meme for Barack Obama's second term.
So last week was a pretty interesting one in wonkworld. Whether it was a disturbing week is in the eye of the beholder.
To recap: Last Monday the Heritage Foundation released a report claiming that proposed immigration reforms would cost north of $6 trillion. This report received a lot of pushback from liberal, libertarian, and conservative policy analysts.
As the debate fragmented into myriad sub-debates, one eddy focused on one of the co-authors, Heritage senior policy analyst Jason Richwine. As the Washington Post's Dylan Matthews unearthed, Richwine's Harvard University dissertation was titled "IQ and Immigration Policy." In it, he made the arguments that 1) Hispanic immigrants have lower IQs than white Americans, 2) that difference is partly due to genetic differences between the races, and 3) these differences will not dissipate with successive generations. You can figure out Richwine's policy conclusions for yourself. Dave Weigel at Slate also discovered that Richwine had contributed to a "white nationalist magazine" on the side.
Needless to say, Heritage started backpedaling as furiously as possible from Richwine. They made it clear that Richwine's dissertation was not a Heritage work product and that they didn't endorse it. Then, last Friday, the final boom came: Richwine "resigned" from Heritage. I put that in quotes because, given the circumstances, there's no earthly reason he would have resigned without some serious pressure from those above him at the think tank.
So, what does this all mean? Three thoughts:
1) Hey, so it turns out that ideas do matter in public policy. Not just any ideas either, but the quality of the ideas. This isn't to say that politics aren't involved in what happened this past week -- this is totally about political self-interest as well -- but the incomplete and distorted analysis that Heritage provided left it very vulnerable to pushback.
2) A few immigration skeptics on the right, such as Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin, have decried what they see as intellectual PC-thoughtcrime run amok. Malkin in particular decries the "smug dismissal of Richwine's credentials and scholarship." Now, to be blunt, this is just a little rich coming from someone who has not been shy when it comes to smug dismissals of Ivy League credentials in the past. That said, whenever someone goes from anonymous to the focus of a white-hot media scrum to fired inside of a week, I get queasy. Was there a rush to judgment here?
I'd break this down into two steps: First, whether Heritage acted appropriately, and second, whether Richwine's work merits the mantle of brave truth-teller. On the former, well, this is a key difference between a think tank and a university. Think tanks are trying to influence public policy, and the taint of having someone dabbling with the racist fringe on the payroll is a difficult one to erase. So, yeah, it shouldn't be all that shocking that Richwine is no longer working at Heritage, whereas university professors who say or write controversial things stay on the payroll.
As for the quality of Richwine's dissertation, the primary defense that Malkin et al. offer appears to be the caliber of Richwine's dissertation committee. From Malkin's post:
No researcher or academic institution is safe if this smear campaign succeeds. Richwine’s dissertation committee at Harvard included George Borjas, Robert W. Scrivner Professor of Economics and Social Policy. The Cuban-born scholar received his PhD in economics from Columbia. He is an award-winning labor economist, National Bureau of Economic Research research associate, and author of countless books, including a widely used labor economics textbook now in its sixth edition.
Richard J. Zeckhauser, the Frank P. Ramsey Professor of Political Economy at JFK, also signed off on Richwine’s dissertation. Zeckhauser earned a PhD in economics from Harvard. He belongs to the Econometric Society, the American Academy of Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine (National Academy of Sciences).
The final member of the committee that approved Richwine’s "racist" thesis is Christopher Jencks, the Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy at Harvard's JFK School. He is a renowned left-wing academic who has taught at Harvard, Northwestern, the University of Chicago, and the University of California, Santa Barbara. He edited the liberal New Republic magazine in the 1960s and has written several scholarly books tackling poverty, economic inequality, affirmative action, welfare reform, and yes, racial differences (The Black White Test Score Gap).
The willingness of Republican Gang of 8'ers to allow a young conservative researcher and married father of two to be strung up by the p.c. lynch mob for the crime of unflinching social science research is chilling, sickening, and suicidal.
These are serious people doing serious work.
I must confess that Malkin's lament made me think of this:
This is not to denigrate Richwine's dissertation committee. Still, as someone all too familiar with the Ph.D. life, let's just say that an argument based solely on authority is not convincing. I've perused parts of Richwine's dissertation, and … well … hoo boy. Key terms are poorly defined, auxiliary assumptions abound, and the literature I'm familiar with that is cited as authoritative is, well, not good. It's therefore unsurprising that, until last week, Richwine's dissertation disappeared into the ether the moment after it was approved. According to Google Scholar, no one cited it in the four years since it appeared. Furthermore, Richwine apparently didn't convert any part of it into any kind of refereed or non-refereed publication. Based on the comments that Weigel and others have received from Richwine's dissertation committee, one wonders just how much supervising was going on.
3) This whole affair should be a cautionary tale to Ph.D. students and profs alike. For the grad students -- particularly those planning on going into the policy world -- your dissertation will follow you for the rest of your life. Don't think you can just grind one out barely above the bar and it won't matter. And if you're puzzled why your advisor or a member of your dissertation committee is acting all anal retentive about some aspect of your thesis, there's a good reason. Our dissertation students follow us for the rest of our careers. The last thing we want as advisors is to get a phone call from a reporter asking us why we let some dubious piece of work skate through. It's our asses on the line as well.
Am I missing anything?
Over the weekend Niall Ferguson got himself into intellectual hot water over an off-the-cuff response to a question about Keynes in which he suggested that Keynes didn't value the future too much because he was gay, had no heirs, and therefore didn't care about future generations. Now, Keynes's writings here and here would betray the claim that he didn't care about the future. And the whole "someone who's gay must have a reduced shadow of the future" stereotype is hackneyed in the extreme. So, Ferguson was doubly wrong -- and to his credit, he offered up a real apology (not an "I'm sorry if this offended anyone" variant) pretty quickly.
Critical wounds run deep, however. In response to a lot of online discourse that noted his prior observations on Keynes's sexual orientation, Ferguson penned an open letter in the Harvard Crimson. Some highlights:
I was duly attacked for my remarks and offered an immediate and unqualified apology. But this did not suffice for some critics, who insisted that I was guilty not just of stupidity but also of homophobia. I have no doubt that at least some students were influenced by these allegations. Nobody would want to study with a bigot. I therefore owe it to students—former and prospective—to make it unambiguously clear that I am no such thing.
To be accused of prejudice is one of the occupational hazards of public life nowadays.…
Not for one moment did I mean to suggest that Keynesian economics as a body of thought was simply a function of Keynes’ sexuality. But nor can it be true—as some of my critics apparently believe—that his sexuality is totally irrelevant to our historical understanding of the man. My very first book dealt with the German hyperinflation of 1923, a historical calamity in which Keynes played a minor but important role. In that particular context, Keynes’ sexual orientation did have historical significance. The strong attraction he felt for the German banker Carl Melchior undoubtedly played a part in shaping Keynes’ views on the Treaty of Versailles and its aftermath.…
What the self-appointed speech police of the blogosphere forget is that to err occasionally is an integral part of the learning process. And one of the things I learnt from my stupidity last week is that those who seek to demonize error, rather than forgive it, are among the most insidious enemies of academic freedom.
Now there are two things going on here. First, to what extent does a person's biography affect his or her role in history? And second, just who are these "self-appointed speech police of the blogosphere"?
Ferguson is correct on the first point in general, though I'm not so sure about this particular instance. I'm in the middle of Jeremy Adelman's magisterial biography Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman, for example. One would be hard-pressed to suggest that Hirschman wrote what he wrote about without paying some attention to his life story. So it is entirely appropriate for a historian to talk about Keynes's personal background in trying to suss out why he argued what he argued.
The thing is, Ferguson keeps eliding important details when he talks about the effect of Keynes's sexual preferences on his policy pronouncements. Take the claim that Keynes's attraction to Melchior affected his views on Versailles. Eric Rauchway points out some additional facts not in evidence:
Keynes made early calculations for what Germany should pay in reparations in October, 1918. In “Notes on an Indemnity,” he presented two sets of figures – one “without crushing Germany” and one “with crushing Germany”. He objected to crushing Germany because seeking to extract too much from the enemy would “defeat its object by leading to a condition in which the allies would have to give [Germany] a loan to save her from starvation and general anarchy.” As he put in a revised version of the same memorandum, “If Germany is to be ‘milked’, she must not first of all be ruined.”
Keynes also worried that too large a reparations bill might distort international trade. “An indemnity so high that it can only be paid by means of a great expansion of Germany’s export trade must necessarily interfere with the export trade of other countries.”
The point of mentioning it is that Keynes developed these concerns prior to going to the negotiations and meeting Carl Melchior.
So even if Ferguson is right on general principle, he's misleading on this particular point.
It's the last paragraph of Ferguson's letter that's quite … quite … 2004 in its formulation. Just who are these "self-appointed speech police of the blogosphere" anyway? The most damning indictments of Ferguson's past discussions of Keynes's homosexuality, Ferguson's more contemporary and woefully wrong economic predictions, and Ferguson's recent intellectual dust-ups come from either Business Insider or the Atlantic. Other prominent online critics of Ferguson over the past week have been Justin Wolfers, Paul Krugman, Brad DeLong, and Rauchway. That's three full professors of economics and a full professor of history.
Ferguson's rhetorical trick here is to try to denigrate the content of their criticisms by pointing to the medium. It's a cute gambit in public discourse, and I suspect it will make him and his acolytes feel better. Intellectually, however, that dog won't hunt.
As much fun as it is to dissect Niall Ferguson -- and I won't lie, I've had a lot of fun at his expense -- this sort of thing gets tedious after a spell. So, please, Niall, try to wade into more interesting intellectual waters the next time you make a mistake.
Oh, and stop claiming "academic freedom" as a shield to protect you from public critiques of something you said at an investment conference. That's not how academic freedom works.
Am I missing anything?
As Uri Friedman has chronicled elsewhere at FP, yesterday Dennis Rodman took to Twitter to engage in some outreach to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with respect to an American "tried" for espionage in the Hermit Kingdom:
I'm calling on the Supreme Leader of North Korea or as I call him "Kim", to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose.— Dennis Rodman (@dennisrodman) May 7, 2013
Now I can only assume that "Kim," will react to such a moving plea by releasing Bae immediately.
This got your humble blogger to thinking: If only Twitter had been invented earlier, think of the humanitarian catastrophes that celebrities might have helped avert. Had Twitter arrived with, say, the end of the Cold War, this alternative history would likely have produced the following example of preventative celebrity tweets:
1) "Yo yo yo Saddam, don't bake in the Kuwaiti dessert when you could be chillin' with me in Cabo!! Peace out!!" -- Vanilla Ice (@VanillaIce), January 3, 1991
2) "The Big Aristotle knows that Hutus and Tutsis can get along. So I'm asking them to stop the madness. And go see Kazaam two years from now!!" -- Shaquille Oneal (@SHAQ), April 23, 1994.
3) "The Muscles from Brussels is asking my old drinking buddy "Slobo" to pay up on his bar bet and negotiate a peace deal for Bosnia." -- Jean-Claude Van Damme (@JCVD), November 1, 1995.
4) "WHASSSSSSSSSSSUP???!!! Hopefully no more anthrax attacks. Seriously, whoever's doing that should stop, man." -- Jonathan Taylor Thomas (@JTTtruth), September 30, 2001.
5) "I'm really happy for you, imma let you finish, GWB, but Putin is one of the best strongmen of all time, and he should stop cracking down." -- Kanye West (@kanyewest), May 3, 2005.
Readers are welcome to suggest other lost tweets out there in the comments.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.