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.
A standard take on how energy affects world politics is Tom Friedman's "First Law of Petropolitics" -- the belief that high energy prices cause energy exporters to act in more belligerent ways. What if the opposite is the case, however?
The Atlantic's Charles Mann has a long, winding cover story on the growth of non-traditional hydrocarbon energy reserves -- shale gas, methane hydrate, and so forth -- and what that could mean for world politics. The good parts version:
Shortfalls in oil revenues thus kick away the sole, unsteady support of the state—a cataclysmic event, especially if it happens suddenly. “Think of Saudi Arabia,” says Daron Acemoglu, the MIT economist and a co-author of Why Nations Fail. “How will the royal family contain both the mullahs and the unemployed youth without a slush fund?” And there is nowhere else to turn, because oil has withered all other industry, Dutch-disease-style. Similar questions could be asked of other petro-states in Africa, the Arab world, and central Asia. A methane-hydrate boom could lead to a southwest-to-northeast arc of instability stretching from Venezuela to Nigeria to Saudi Arabia to Kazakhstan to Siberia. It seems fair to say that if autocrats in these places were toppled, most Americans would not mourn. But it seems equally fair to say that they would not necessarily be enthusiastic about their replacements.
Augmenting the instability would be methane hydrate itself, much of which is inconveniently located in areas of disputed sovereignty. “Whenever you find something under the water, you get into struggles over who it belongs to,” says Terry Karl, a Stanford political scientist and the author of the classic The Paradox of Plenty: Oil Booms and Petro-States. Think of the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic, she says, over which Britain and Argentina went to war 30 years ago and over which they are threatening to fight again. “One of the real reasons that they are such an issue is the belief that either oil or natural gas is offshore.” Methane-hydrate deposits run like crystalline bands through maritime flash points: the Arctic, and waters off West Africa and Southeast Asia.
In a working paper, Michael Ross and a colleague, Erik Voeten of Georgetown University, argue that the regular global flow of petroleum, the biggest commodity in world trade, is also a powerful stabilizing force. Nations dislike depending on international oil, but they play nice and obey the rules because they don’t want to be cut off. By contrast, countries with plenty of energy reserves feel free to throw their weight around. They are “less likely than other states to sign major treaties or join intergovernmental organizations; and they often defy global norms—on human rights, the expropriation of foreign companies, and the financing of foreign terrorism or rebellions.” The implication is sobering: an energy-independent planet would be a world of fractious, autonomous actors, none beholden to the others, with even less cooperation than exists today.
Voeten's post at the Monkey Cage goes further.
The fact that China and the U.S. both currently rely on oil imports may be an important stabilizing force as it creates a shared interest in stable global oil markets and thus in ensuring that the Oceans are navigable, the Middle East is relatively stable, and that rules and norms whose violations could trigger instability are obeyed. Energy independence has long been thought to free U.S. foreign policy from undesirable constraints. But would the world be more stable if the U.S. had fewer constraints on how it exercises its foreign policy?
As if on cue, the Financial Times' Richard McGregor and Ed Crooks report that the Obama administration is starting to think about how to use the country's new energy bounty in
Although the energy department is the decision maker, the issue is being debated at senior levels in the White House which sees energy exports as giving the US new geopolitical leverage.
In a little-noticed speech in New York in late April, Tom Donilon, the White House national security adviser, said the new energy bounty allowed the US “a stronger hand in pursuing and implementing our international security goals”.
Mr Donilon said increased US and global gas production could break the link between the gas and more expensive oil prices and “weaken control by traditional dominant natural gas suppliers”.
The White House is also promoting gas as an alternative fuel to oil and coal as a way to reduce greenhouse emissions.
All of this has Walter Russell Mead a bit giddy, but let's go back to Mann and Voeten's point. Assuming that the extrapolations pan out -- and it's worth remembering that five years ago those projections looked very different -- will declining energy prices trigger an arc of instability?
Color me a bit skeptical. First, energy is hardly the only resource that imbricates the great powers with the rest of the global economy. The global value chain does that on its own quite nicely, thank you very much, and a glance at the new Trade in Value Added data makes that clear.
Second, if Donilon's speech was any indication of what new energy reserves would mean for U.S. foreign policy, I'd say retrenchment was not in the cards:
[R]educed energy imports do not mean the United States can or should disengage from the Middle East or the world. Global energy markets are part of a deeply interdependent world economy. The United States continues to have an enduring interest in stable supplies of energy and the free flow of commerce everywhere.
We have a set of enduring national security interests in the Middle East, including our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security; our global nonproliferation objectives, including our commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon; our ongoing national interest in fighting terrorism that threatens our personnel, interests and our homeland; our strong national interest in pursuit of Middle East peace; our historic stabilizing role in protecting regional allies and partners and deterring aggression; and our interest in ensuring the democratic transitions in Yemen, North Africa and ultimately in Syria succeed.
Furthermore, as the FT article suggests, the United States sees the change in natural gas as a way to expand exports into Latin America. This doesn't sound like a county that wants to retreat into autarky.
Third, there is one way in which reduced exports might make life easier for Middle Eastern governments -- in the short term. That region has the highest level of energy intensity in the world, in no small part because gas and oil are cheap and subsidized. Declining demand from elsewhere allows these governments to continue to provide cheap energy at home. From both a climate change perspective and an economic reform perspective, this ain't good news. But it does augment political stability.
Finally, this is a slow-motion change in the global energy picture. North America has moved the furthest down the road on this revolution -- Japan, China and Europe are just starting. So energy exporters have a fair degree of warning about what's coming. This doesn't mean that they'll use the lead time properly. Still, one of the reasons for building up sovereign wealth funds and the like is to insure against the time when the energy fairy disappears.
What do you think?
Your humble blogger has been traveling a lot, so it was only this a.m. that I got around to reading Marc Lynch's blog post on "How Syria Ruined the Arab Spring." It's pretty gripping stuff:
[T]he Syrian nightmare has destroyed the spirit of fun, hope, and positive change of the early Arab uprisings. The promise of the Arab Spring has given way to Syria's highly visible and protracted violence, divisive identity politics, focus on international intervention, crushing of expectations, fragmentation of the media landscape, state failure, and strategic proxy warfare.
Now, Marc knows way more than I do about the region and has literally written the book on understanding the Arab Spring. His points about the changing media landscape in the region are fascinating. But if I could go all blogger for a second, can I point out the ways in which I think there's some gross exaggerating going on in this post?
First of all, let's be clear that Syria was hardly the only Middle Eastern country to experience a violent blowback to the uprisings. Iran cracked down almost immediately after the first protest broke out in early 2011 -- indeed, it cracked down so effectively that after that January the country disappeared from the Arab Spring narrative.
Now, one could argue that Iran is not an Arab country, so what happens in Persia stays in Persia and doesn't taint the Arab Spring. Bahrain certainly is Arab, however, and there was a pretty brutal crackdown there as well. It was far less bloody than in Syria, but it was a crackdown nonetheless and a significant part of the counter-revolutionary trend that Lynch highlights. And what happened in Bahrain was merely the most egregious example of repressive acts that occurred across the Persian Gulf.
Second, Lynch argues that "the Syrian war has also created an opening for al Qaeda and jihadist trends, which earlier Arab uprisings did not." This is likely true with respect to Tunisia and Egypt ... but it is less true with respect to Libya. And if the counterfactual is a world in which Syria doesn't descend into civil war, one could envision a scenario where al Qaeda elements simply decided to target the next-weakest state in the region instead. That likely would have simply meant a larger AQ presence in Libya.
Third, Lynch notes that Syria transformed the media narrative from one of spontaneous revolutions to one of bloody internecine warfare, tarnishing the image of the Arab Spring. It's true that war tends to drown out other forms of news, but I wonder if the absence of a Syrian conflict would have led to such a great change in news coverage. Absent Syria, the leading narrative in the region would likely be the myriad ways in which Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy has morphed into the very Arab dictator that he replaced. And I'm not sure that narrative would be any more upbeat.
I suspect that the proxy warfare and media transformation are likely Syria-specific, so I don't want to say that I completely disagree with my FP colleague. Still, the Arab Spring narrative was never quite so pristine as it seems now, and there are plenty of other ways the narrative would have been sullied absent Syria.
Am I missing anything ... asked the IR generalist prepared to be smacked down by the better-informed area expert?
Since gun regulation failed the 60-vote threshold in the Senate, some pundits have trotted out the "failure of presidential leadership" meme. See Maureen Dowd, Ron Fournier, Dana Milbank, or Peggy Noonan for example. To most political scientists -- hell, to most people who've taken an advanced poli sci course -- this a pretty unpersuasive argument. Andrew Rudalevige, Ezra Klein, Seth Masket, Jonathan Bernstein, and Jonathan Chait have all pushed back fiercely on this question.
Now, that said, pushback on the leadership question is difficult for two reasons. First, there's a lot of the political commentariat that wants the world to operate along the Aaron Sorkin Big Speech Theory of Politics. Klein is correct to observe that "the world isn't here to please you," but it's amazing how much wishcasting can make it easy to ignore.
The second problem is that in pushing back, it is too easy for critics to be interpreted as saying that presidential leadership does not exist. So critics should point out moments or opportunities for presidential leadership to better define the boundaries of this concept.
For one example, I give you Randall Archibold and Michael Shear's story in the New York Times about Obama's Mexico trip. The title gives it away: "Obama Seeks to Banish Stereotypical Image of Mexico."
President Obama, in speech to high school and university students here, said Friday that it was time to banish the stereotypical Mexico of violence and people fleeing across borders and embrace the new image of a strengthening democracy and economy.
“I have come to Mexico because it is time to put old mind-sets aside,’’ Mr. Obama said to vigorous applause from hundreds of students at the National Anthropology Museum. “It’s time to recognize new realities, including the impressive progress in today’s Mexico. For even as Mexicans continue to make courageous sacrifices for the security of your country, even as Mexicans in the countryside and in neighborhoods not far from here struggle to give their children a better life, it’s also clear that a new Mexico is emerging.'’
Although poverty remains deep and wages have stagnated, Mr. Obama focused on the positive signs of the economy, including growth measurements that exceed those in the United States, a surge in the manufacturing and technology industries and rising levels of middle class Mexicans.
OK, this matters. As the Chicago Council on Global Affairs demonstrated in their poll this week, Americans have a dim and distorted view of Mexico. Mention that country, and the three issues that spring immediately to mind are drugs, illegal immigration, and the "giant sucking sound" of NAFTA. In point of fact, illegal immigration has slowed to a trickle and outward Mexican FDI has exploded. Mexico's new president is pretty popular, and the next head of the WTO might be Mexican as well. Most Americans know nothing contained in the last two sentences.
One thing presidents can do with their bully pulpit is try to correct public misperceptions that are detrimental to the national interest ... like U.S. views on Mexico. Let's not kid ourselves -- one visit and one speech alone won't do that. But it can start to alter public attitudes on the margins. That's a start -- and very useful example of positive presidential leadership.
Six weeks ago I discussed -- as a dispassionate political scientist -- why the field of political science was good and truly f**ked when it came to Congress. Yesterday, Dave Weigel blogged about this at more length. The depressing parts version:
Attacking government-funded social science is popular, especially on the right. Last week, Texas Republican Rep. Ted Poe and Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul introduced a bill that would change the American Community Survey, sent annually to a random selection of 3.2 million people, from mandatory to optional. If Americans didn’t want to fill it out, even if that would render it mostly useless as data, the private sector would do just fine.
When I asked Poe to explain how that information would be collected without the Community Survey, he said, “There are other ways to get the same information about the dynamics of business, and where to locate a business. You can do it through polling. You don’t have to force people to participate.”
Social scientists don’t agree, but it’s difficult for them to justify their own funding in a time of severe government cutbacks....
The new attempts to claw away at research have gone on for months, and the academics haven’t put up a compelling defense beyond one event on the Hill and the yeoman blogging of some professors like John Sides. “Going forward,” Sides wrote after Coburn’s win, “a coordinated lobbying effort is needed not only to roll back the restrictions on political science but to defend the NSF’s core mission as a promoter of scientific research in the public good, broadly defined.”
So far that lobbying effort doesn’t exist. Instead, Republicans are able to challenge NSF funding in order to pursue long-term political goals without too many people noticing.
To understand further why this will be so difficult, let's go to the video clip of the week, which right now is probably the revenge fantasy of every political scientist out there. Via the Military Times, this is General Ray Odierno chewing out House Representative Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), with the bemused permission of Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon. The chewing out part starts at around 3:30.
Now, watching that clip, it's hard not to conclude that Hunter was taken to the woodshed by Odierno for being an ignorant jackass. That's certainly the conclusion that Gawker, Mediaite, and others came to in promoting the clip.
Now, here's a fun exercise -- what if Odierno had been an irate political scientist rather than a four-star general? I guarantee you that the exchange would have been framed and interpreted differently. Because of the high public respect for the military, when Odierno goes off, people will listen. Not so with academics. Instead of "General smacks down House representative," the headline would have looked more like "Snotty academic preens at elected official."
In fact, we don't need to imagine. Remember this little exchange between House Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and historian Douglas Brinkley from about 18 months ago?
Now, Don Young has all the charisma and grace of a three-month old carton of milk. He's far more insulting and contemptuous of Brinkley in that clip than Duncan Hunter was in trying to walk away from Odierno. The overall effect, however, is different. First, Young's chairman, Doc Hastings, protected Young in a way that McKeon did not protect Hunter, thereby preventing Brinkley from going on a rant.
Second, however, as bad as Young looks in that video, Brinkley doesn't look that much better. He comes off too much like a preening, stuffed-shirt academic.
Unfortunately, that's an occupational hazard. We're trained in graduate school to eviscerate counterarguments and the people who make them. It might be the one sector in the world where Aaron Sorkin-rules of debate hold up. But it only works because everyone in the seminar room or lecture hall understands the context of the debate. That rarely happens when the public peeks in at a YouTube clip of a congressional hearing.
Are there some political scientists who could pull off an Odierno-level smackdown? I suppose it's possible, but I confess to being dubious about its likelihood (suggestions welcomed in the comments section please).
Now, as a political scientist, I should warn you that viral-video-friendly exchanges like the ones linked above rarely shift public opinion. They are one way to frame the stupidity of a particular Congressional jihad, however. And as much as I might fantasize about a Beth Simmons or a Scott Sagan sticking it to Tom Coburn, I'm not confident that it will ever happen.
Am I missing anything? Please tell me I'm missing something...
UPDATE: I received a call in the last hour from Representative Duncan Hunter's deputy chief of staff, who lodged a polite protest over the descriptive term "ignorant jackass," referencing this Politico story. Which is fair enough, but this exchange suggests two things:
1) The staffer didn't read the blog post carefully, because I was using that term to describe how the video made Hunter look -- not whether that depiction was accurate or not.
2) Maybe political scientists blogging/writing for the press actually do have an effect on member of Congress.
While your humble blogger
remains jet-lagged out of his gourd adjusts back to the Western hemisphere, he strongly encourages you to read this fantastic David Barboza story in the New York Times on the predilection in China to use cash for ... well ... everything:
Lugging nearly $130,000 in cash into a dealership might sound bizarre, but it’s not exactly uncommon in China, where hotel bills, jewelry purchases and even the lecture fees for visiting scholars are routinely settled with thick wads of renminbi, China’s currency.
This is a country, after all, where home buyers make down payments with trunks filled with cash. And big-city law firms have been known to hire armored cars to deliver the cash needed to pay monthly salaries.
For all China’s modern trappings — the new superhighways, high-speed rail networks and soaring skyscrapers — analysts say this country still prefers to pay for things the old-fashioned way, with ledgers, bill-counting machines and cold, hard cash.
Many experts say it is not a refusal to enter the 21st century as much as wariness, of the government toward its citizens and vice versa (emphasis added).
Now you should definitely read the whole thing, but a few thoughts here:
1) From a personal perspective, as the occasional visitor to China, I can confirm the wads of cash thing -- but it's a bit more complicated than Barboza suggests. First of all, for U.S. academics at least, the payment isn't in renminbi, but in U.S. dollars. Renminbi is sometimes dispensed for things like per diem reimbursements, but not for honoraria. After all, officially, the RMB is still not convertible to dollars outside of the country, so it wouldn't be very nice to get paid in a currency that is technically useless outside the People's Republic.
There are two other qualifiers here. First, at least with respect to academic honoraria, it's not just China that pays in cash -- so does Japan, for example. Second, speaking as an academic who's received the occasional honorarium, it's friggin' awesome. At some point, someone takes you aside and gives you an envelope stuffed with bills. I know it's impolite to say, but every time it happens, I feel like I'm an earner in Tony Soprano's crew. It's soooooo much more satisfying than getting a check (as is the norm in the U.S.) or receiving a bank transfer
three months later than it should be and only after haranguing someone a few times (as is the norm in Europe).
2) The more substantive point of Barboza's story is how the cash-based system reflects the degree of distrust between the government, Chinese citizens, and the financial system. From a global political economy perspective, this cuts in two directions. On the one hand, it suggests that the effects of a real estate bubble popping in China might have a muted effect on the broad mass of Chinese. After all, if they're holding their assets outside the financial system, then their bigger fear will be currency-gnawing rats (read to the end of Barboza's story) than banks closing.
On the other hand, it's worth reading articles like this whenever someone suggests that the renminbi will soon be a challenger to the U.S. dollar as an international reserve currency. For that to ever truly happen, China's capital account will have to be one hell of a lot more transparent and liberal than it is now. As it turns out, even China's Superbank isn't actually that super once one digs into the numbers. And if Chinese citizens are trying to avoid dealing with China's financial system and the renminbi, then I seriously doubt global capital markets are going to embrace the RMB as a rival to the dollar.
Your humble blogger has spent the better part of his trip to Seoul at a conference co-sponsored by the Republic of Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the East Asia Institute. The topic was "New Strategic Thinking: Planning for Korean Foreign Policy," and I got invited because I edited this a few years ago. I hope that the Korean Foreign Ministry benefitted from it. I certainly learned a few things:
1) No one knows what the f**k the North Koreans are doing. There were representatives from the United States, United Kingdom, China, Japan and South Korea on the panels. I talked to a lot of them informally during breaks and meals as well. No one had any clue why Pyongyang had ratcheted up tensions to the extent that they did over the past two months. About the only thing approximating a consensus was the belief that the North Koreans were in fact bluffing about starting outright hostilities -- which makes their behavior all the more puzzling. In triggering the shutdown of the Kaesong Industrial Park, the North Koreans cost themselves about $90 million a year that they can't afford to lose.
2) Chinese academics are getting more interesting. As recently as five years ago, my eyes used to glaze over whenever a Chinese academic started speaking at a policy conference. The reason was that there was a 100 percent certainty that the academic would simply repeat standard PRC boilerplate that didn't deviate from official government positions. An academic agreeing with one's government is not a sin, but only parroting official discourse is pretty friggin' useless.
Something has changed in recent years, however. Maybe I'm being invited to a better class of conferences, but I don't think that's it. Chinese academics are more willing to openly discuss ongoing debates within the Chinese foreign policy community about the wisdom of a certain course of action. At this conference, Qingguo Jia asserted that the Chinese really were rethinking their relationship with North Korea. Now one can debate whether the Standing Politburo is really entertaining such thoughts, but the fact that there's a public conversation about it is pretty interesting.
3) The best-laid foreign policy plans get destroyed by real-world events. The conference was devoted to how the South Korean government could implement Park Geun-Hye's concept of Trustpolitik that she articulated during her campaign for the presidency. The general consensus was that, at this point, there are very limited ways of building trust with Pyongyang. Furthermore, the likelihood of any confidence-building measures getting scrubbed during the next crisis are very high.
It is to Park's credit that she seems to recognize this and has yanked ROK workers from Kaesong as a signal of South Korea's resolve. Trustpolitik is a great phrase, but I'm dubious of whether it will accomplish anything.
4) It's the little things that matter to build mutual goodwill. That's a fancy way of noting the following: if you are a Caucasian academic in South Korea, can use chopsticks proficiently, and actually like kimchee, your South Korean counterparts will treat you like a god.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.