Back in June the Economist blogged about the Chinese Communist Party's new ideological document and what it means for China's future:
Over the past couple of months, officials around the country have been summoned to briefings about a Communist Party circular known as “Document Number Nine”. Its full contents have not been made public, but by all accounts it paints a grim picture of what the party sees as the threat posed by liberal ways of thinking. The message conveyed at these meetings has been a chilling one: stick to the party line and denounce any dissent.
The strident tone of this document, which is also called “A briefing on the current situation in the ideological realm”, has caused anxiety among liberal intellectuals, and confusion about the agenda of China’s new leader, Xi Jinping. On the economic front, signs remain strong that he wants to speed up the pace of reform.Caixin, a Beijing-based news portal, said on June 24th that a blueprint for this was “finally taking shape” and hinted that it would be unveiled at a meeting of the Party’s central committee in the autumn. It said history would “remember well those who lead China forward on its path to reform”. On the political front, however, the signs are pointing in the opposite direction.
Buried a bit further down in the post, however, there was this:
The message of Document Number Nine can be divined from official accounts of the secret briefings given to officials. Many of these use similar language, which it is safe to assume reflects the wording of the circular. In Yueyang city in the central province of Hunan, for example, officials at such a meeting reached a consensus that because the situation at home and abroad was “complicated and changeable”, struggles in the ideological realm had therefore become “complicated, fierce and acute” (see here, in Chinese). The officials identified several threats, including calls for “Western constitutional democracy” and universal values (as Analects reported here); promotion of “civil society”; support for “neo-liberalism” (an attempt, the officials said, to change China’s “basic economic system”); and endorsement of “Western news values” (an attempt, they said, to loosen the party’s control over the news media and publishing). Such calls, the officials agreed, were “extremely malicious”.
It's the "neoliberalism" attack that intrigues me - because it kinda cuts against the rhetoric/actions that China's new leadership has been talking/taking for most of 2013.
Today the New York Times' Chris Buckley follows up on Document Number Nine... and the report contains similar paradoxes:
Communist Party cadres have filled meeting halls around China to hear a somber, secretive warning issued by senior leaders. Power could escape their grip, they have been told, unless the party eradicates seven subversive currents coursing through Chinese society.
These seven perils were enumerated in a memo, referred to as Document No. 9, that bears the unmistakable imprimatur of Xi Jinping, China’s new top leader. The first was “Western constitutional democracy”; others included promoting “universal values” of human rights, Western-inspired notions of media independence and civic participation, ardently pro-market “neo-liberalism,” and “nihilist” criticisms of the party’s traumatic past.
Even as Mr. Xi has sought to prepare some reforms to expose China’s economy to stronger market forces, he has undertaken a “mass line” campaign to enforce party authority that goes beyond the party’s periodic calls for discipline. The internal warnings to cadres show that Mr. Xi’s confident public face has been accompanied by fears that the party is vulnerable to an economic slowdown, public anger about corruption and challenges from liberals impatient for political change....
[L]eftists, feeling emboldened, could create trouble for Mr. Xi’s government, some analysts said. Mr. Xi has indicated that he wants a party meeting in the fall to endorse policies that would give market competition and private businesses a bigger role in the economy — and Marxist stalwarts in the party are deeply wary of such proposals.
Here's the thing -- it seems that China has hit the limits of its current growth model, and therefore needs to pursue reforms in order to boost long-term growth, which would help sustain the political legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party. As that last paragraph suggests, however, an attack on neoliberalism makes it kinda harder to do that. So a short-term effort to boost ideological consistency and legitimacy would seem to be coming at the expense of longer-term strategies to sustain political legitimacy.
So after reading Buckley's story, I wondered on Twitter how Xi was going to reconcile a critique of neoliberalism while pushing... er.... neoliberal-friendly reforms onto China's economy. Buckley was kind enough to respond:
@dandrezner I'm not sure that he knows, and that's one of the big conundrums of Chinese politics just now.
— Chris Buckley ??? (@ChuBailiang) August 20, 2013
I'd really like China-watchers to weigh in here, because I don't like knowing the answer.
So after I wrote this post about the relatively modest importance of networking at APSA, there were some follow-up posts by Dan Nexon and Erik Voeten that made similar points about networking at APSA. This then triggered cogent counter-posts by Laura Sjoberg, Christian Davenport, and Will Moore about the vital importance of networking at APSA and more generally in the profession -- particularly for scholars who lack "privilege" in one form or another. This in turn, prompted a smart response by Bear Braumoeller.
I encourage political scientists to read all of these posts. Rhetorical kerfuffles aside, I do think there are some swathes of agreement. Both Sjoberg and Davenport note that the "baseline" for success in this field is the caliber of one's research. Davenport's anecdote about "bumrushing" a senior scholar with his packet -- and then prospering from that new network tie -- doesn't happen unless the contents of Davenport's packet are pretty good.
Furthermore, both Davenport and Sjoberg warn against the kind of "networking" that Braumoeller defines/talks about here:
In my experience, when graduate students talk about “networking” at big conferences like APSA, they’re talking about meeting fairly senior and well-known people for the sake of meeting them. My own sense is that there isn’t much value to that practice. Despite being skeptical, I did try it myself once as a graduate student. The response reminded me of stories I’d read about Lyndon B. Johnson. I never tried it again. As a professor, I’ve spent some very pleasant social hours at conferences with various graduate students, but those evenings don’t really have any weight when it comes to hiring decisions and the like.
This is certainly the kind of networking at APSA that I was pushing back on in my original post. But Moore, Davenport and Sjoberg in particular are correct -- there are forms of networking in general that can have value-added to one's career.
Now, onto the emendations and disagreements. First, the reason I've bolded at APSA so far is to stress that this was the scope conditions on the previous posts that were minimizing its importance. Both Sjoberg and Moore, however, stress the potentially significant value of networking as a general rule for particular scholars. I don't disagree -- but since that goes way beyond the scope conditions, this observation is neither here nor there.
Second, in her post, Sjoberg cautions that "I’m not suggesting that networking comes naturally to any of us, or that it is always effective. Certainly, there are more or less effective strategies (ah, the stories I could tell …) and strategies need to be tailored to the situation." I'd challenge Laura to follow up on that caveat, because while she and Davenport stress the benefits of good networking, they don't discuss the risks of bad networking. I have seen ham-handed, anxiety-fueled efforts to connect with senior people at APSA and more generally -- and they can leave some permanent scar tissue on one's career. I have no doubt when Davenport talks about his success in networking, he's telling the truth. But this is because I know Christian, I was colleagues with Christian, and in my experience he could charm Tom Coburn into doubling the NSF's political science budget. The rest of us mortals are a different story. So just as there is an asymmetric distribution of prestige in our small, small world, there's also an asymmetric distribution of social capabilities. I'm curious what Sjoberg and Davenport would advise those who are uncomfortable with schmoozing to do at APSA et al.
A final disagreement: Moore accuses Nexon, Voeten, Braumoeller and me of "believing that advice drawn from [our] experience is universally valuable" when we're all privileged mansplaining white dudes with fancy-pants degrees who work at fancy-pants institutions. We therefore have no comprehension about the utility of networking from a subaltern perspective, and are acting in a pernicious manner by offering a meritocratic fairy tale of focusing just on "the work," when we all know that one's academic station matters.
Now, without going into paroxysms of self-status analysis, let's stipulate that I'm guilty of all those appellations. And I've even pushed this meritocratic point in previous blog posts despite some personal history that suggests other factors might matter in determining one's academic career trajectory. But Will seems to believe that I took my own experiences of networking (or lack thereof) and generalized from them, which suggests that he possesses some Jedi mind tricks with which I'm unfamiliar to get into my head and divine my method and motives. For the record, however, I'd note that my post wasn't based so much on my own grad student experiences as my observations of grad students at my places of employment -- including, hey, those from Will's alma mater -- who twist themselves into neurotic knots trying to ingratiate themselves with their scholarly heroes. At APSA.
That said, I'll concede that, much like blogging, networking can be a possible source of comparative advantage for some emerging scholars, provided you have the tools for it -- and provided that you have good work to talk about once you've established your social ties. Because without the work, this is all a massive exercise in bullshit.
Normally, this is the point where I'd ask if I'm missing anything. With posts about academic politics, however, there comes a point after which the debate resembles the mutterings of the People's Front of Judea, so I'm not going to ask this time around. But I look forward to reading the practical advice of Sjoberg and others.
Your humble blogger has not posted about Egypt during the most recent phase of the Great Unpleasantness. This is partly because Marc Lynch knows a lot more about this topic than I do, and mostly because there are only so many variations of saying "Egypt is pretty much f**ked, and U.S. foreign policy in the region is totally f**ked."
The New York Times' David Kirkpatrick, Alan Cowell, and Rod Nordland do report yet another layer to the worsening situation on the ground:
The judicial authorities in Egypt have ordered the release of former President Hosni Mubarak, who has been detained on a variety of charges since his ouster in 2011, according to state media and security officials on Monday. It remained possible, however, that the authorities would find other ways to keep him in detention and his release did not appear imminent.
Egyptian state media reported that Mr. Mubarak would remain in custody for another two weeks under a previous judicial order before the authorities make a decision on his release. The outcome is likely to be read as a pivotal test of the new government installed by General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi and its desire to replicate or repudiate Mr. Mubarak’s rule.
The development threatened to inject a volatile new element into the standoff between the country’s military and the Islamist supporters of the deposed President Mohamed Morsi as Egypt entered the sixth day of a state of emergency following a bloody crackdown by the military in which hundreds of people have been killed. (emphasis added)
Now, not that there's anything funny about it, but I confess that I laughed out loud when I read the bolded phrase in that story. See, "threatened to inject a volatile new element" is one of those classic Timesian journalese phrases that occasionally highlights the absurdity of "objective" reporting. I suspect 99% of informed observers would have written, "The development will worsen the standoff..." or "The development will inflame the conflict" or "the development is a massive clusterf**k" or some variation of such -- but not the New York Times.
So, anyway... Egypt is pretty much f**ked, and U.S. foreign policy in the region is totally f**ked.
Am I missing anything? Seriously, is there any course of action that the U.S. could take that would improve the situation? Because from David Kirkpatrick, Peter Baker and Michael Gordon's fascinating backgrounder yesterday on ineffective US/EU pressure on Egyptian authorities, the answer appears to be no.
I see that earlier this week there was a small kerfuffle on the effect of the internet on journalism/punditry. See Robert Samuelson grumping his way through this column, followed by Jonathan Chait and Paul Krugman responding.
You've heard a lot over the past 10 to 15 years about the crisis of American journalism, but it's actually been a crisis for American journalists. A lot of people have lost jobs. A lot of people have had to work harder, or work in ways they find less pleasant. Journalism has become more competitive and in some ways less prestigious. It's simultaneously more ideological and more commercial than it used to be. There are a lot of reasons journalists gripe. But the journalism is fine. Not just fine, it's fantastic. More people have easier and cheaper access to more great coverage than ever before. You can delve much deeper into issues than ever before, hear from a much wider range of people, and learn about news faster. There really has been an amazing explosion of journalistic productivity, and voracious readers are way better off than they've ever been. The fact that journalists may not like it is neither here nor there. If an explosion of higher education productivity occurs, the people who currently teach in colleges and universities will find it discomfiting and that should not be the relevant consideration.
I bring this all up because, while the debate about MOOCs focuses on the teaching side of the academy, my experience finishing up my book manuscript speaks to the research side. Simply put, the accessibility of data over the internet has improved dramatically just in the time between writing All Politics Is Global and The System Worked. Back in 2006 I don't remember being able to download usable spreadsheets on IMF or UNCTAD or WEF or Transparency International data while I was writing All Politics Is Global. I was able to do all of that inside of twenty minutes last month, and it was wonderful. I was able to collect information in two weeks that likely would have taken me a year to do back in the 1990s. Furthermore, the internet is now generating its own data that can be useful to scholars.
That's a significant increase in research productivity, and it is truly glorious. So I'd like to thank the Internet for all its help during the writing of this latest book. Yes, this technology is going to complicate my profession for quite some time. But, to paraphrase Yglesias: there are a lot of reasons that academic researchers gripe, but the academic research is fine.
Ah, the American Political Science Association annual meetings are coming up. Which means that political scientists are feverishly emailing each other trying to set up times for coffee/alcohol/food with friends/grad student cohorts/book editors/mooseheads.
Over at Duck of Minerva, Brian Rathbun tried to offer some useful advice for the relative newcomers to APSA. Tried. Unfortunately, Brian wrapped up that advice in, possibly, the worst metaphor ever. Here's the cached copy of the post -- Brian has taken it down, and explains why here. The reactions of Duck commenters to Rathbun's initial post has led to additional posts by Dan Nexon and Laura Sjoberg addressing sexual harassment and gender politics in the discipline.
Lost in the controversy, however, is that once you remove the metaphor, Brian made a salient point that bears repeating (see also Steve Saideman). Very often, graduate students and new-mint Ph.D.s approach APSA as an opportunity to ingratiate themselves with The Movers and Shakers -- i.e., the senior people in the field who are on important editorial boards, prestigious hiring committees, book series, and attend those cocktail parties that everyone thinks are so damn important. Hell, I certainly approached APSA that way when I was at that stage of professional development
back in the 19th century.
In his post, Brian was trying to suggest that there is a better way to network:
It is almost always the case that the young people are the most creative and the most fun to be around. You will learn more. Young people haven’t settled into their intellectual habits and do not take themselves so seriously.... Ask yourself not, WWLT (“What Would Lake Think?), but rather, who is going to be the David Lake in the next ten to fifteen years? When I was an assistant, I found my exchanges with other assistants and associate professors so much more fun than any awkward exchange with the old farts. Never trust anyone under 40! Well, maybe 45.
As a newly-minted member of old fartdom, I wouldn't go quite this far. The key metric here isn't age per se -- it's the extent to which the person is better known for their past work rather than their current work. This tends to be correlated with age -- but it's hardly a lock.
That said, there are the seeds of a sound point here. More generally, I would recommend that younger scholars realize the following when it comes to networking at APSA:
1) The best kind of networking is always -- always -- to research, write and present really good papers. Really.
2) There is a small arbitrage opportunity to be had with the kind of networking that Rathbun is discussing. You can try to make the Milners and the Keohanes and the Lakes of the world remember you. That's a very crowded market, however, and they are bombarded with people trying to Get to Know Them. Instead, connect with the people who seem to be writing/presenting the work that you find to be the most interesting. That's how you'll improve your own ideas -- and then see (1) above.
3) You don't have to network at all. It likely helps your professional development a little bit on the margins, but not nearly as much as you would think. The opportunity costs are small compared to researching and publishing good work. Pour your manic energy into the latter far more than the former, and don't fret that you're missing all the cool parties if you don't feel like schmoozing.
Am I missing anything?
Right now, the final paragraph of The System Worked -- in which I argue that global economic governance has done pretty well and that the great powers have acted pretty responsibly with respect to their international obligations -- reads as follows:
An occupational hazard of international relations observers is that is easier to stress gloomy scenarios than to suggest that things will work out fine. Warnings about doomsdays that never happen carry less cost to one's reputation than asserting things are fine just before a calamity. History is littered with peddlers of optimism who, in retrospect, have been mocked for their naiveté. From Norman Angell's great illusion to James Glassman and Kevin Hassett's 36,000-point Dow Jones average, optimistic predictions that turned out to be wrong stand out as particularly foolish. Nevertheless, there has been excessive pessimism about the state of global economic governance over the past few years. This book has argued that these pessimists have been wrong, and that perhaps a dollop of optimism is in order. Despite considerable economic turmoil and despite some material shifts in the distribution of power, global economic governance reinforced pre-existing norms of economic openness. If past financial crises are any guide, the global economy should be primed for more robust economic growth for the rest of this decade. The open global economy survived the 2008 financial crisis. It will likely persist for quite some time.
Now you have no idea how terrifying it is to write that, for exactly the reasons outlined in the paragraph. I don't think I'm wrong in my prediction - but if I am, I'm gonna be spectacularly wrong, and it's gonna be pretty embarrassing, and sometime in the 22nd century someone at Starfleet Academy will write a clever thesis about the legacy of Drezner's Folly.
I bring this up because Paul Kennedy has an op-ed in the International Herald-Tribune in which he makes some points that are similar to what I'm making in The System Worked.
To historians of world affairs, including this one, the only proper response to this litany of spats, pouting and injured pride is to ask: “Is that all?” Are these the only issues which divide and upset the Great Powers as we enjoy the second decade of the 21st century? And, if so, shouldn’t we count ourselves lucky?...
All of these Great Powers are egoistic, more or less blinkered, with governments chiefly bent upon surviving a few more years. But none of them are troublemakers; nor are they, in any really significant sense, a source of trouble. Would they but realize it, they all have a substantial interest in preserving the international status quo, since they do not know what negative consequences would follow a changed world order.....
If this thesis is correct, and the Great Powers, while sometimes complaining about one another’s actions, generally act in a restrained manner, then perhaps we may look forward to a long period without a major war, rather like the unprecedented peace among the Great Powers that existed after 1815 under the Concert of Europe.
Now, you'd think that having Universally Acknowledged Eminent Thinker Paul Kennedy on my side would make me feel better.... but actually, it's the opposite. See, Paul Kennedy has written a lot, but in international relations scholarship he is remembered for two things:
1) Writing that the United States was about to suffer from some serious imperial overstretch in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers in 1987. A decade later, the United States was the sole "hyperpower" on the planet.
2) Writing in early 2002 in the Financial Times that,
Nothing has ever existed like this disparity of power; nothing. I have returned to all of the comparative defence spending and military personnel statistics over the past 500 years that I compiled in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, and no other nation comes close. The Pax Britannica was run on the cheap, Britain's army was much smaller than European armies, and even the Royal Navy was equal only to the next two navies -- right now all the other navies in the world combined could not dent American maritime supremacy.
One could argue that the United States has been in relative decline ever since Kennedy penned those sentences.
Now these points are unfair to Kennedy. Rise and Fall is an outstanding book, and closer read of the predictions in his conclusion suggest he was pretty prescient about a whole lot of things. And his assessment in the 2002 op-ed is matched by others' analyses -- it was just that he wrote it at the apex of American power.
So this is a battle between my rational and superstitious brains. Rationally, I agree with almost all of Kennedy's analysis - indeed, it's a point I make in The System Worked. Less-than-rationally, I'm worried that I'm wrong, and somehow Kennedy's endorsement of my worldview feels like a bad luck sign. Somewhere, I sense the ghost of Norman Angell is clucking, waiting for company in the Cursed Optimists Hall of Fame.
So yesterday Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto made some news, according to the Washington Post's Stephanie McCrummen:
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto proposed historic changes to this nation’s state-run energy sector Monday, cracking open the door for global oil giants such as Exxon Mobil and Shell to invest in Mexico’s lethargic 75-year-old state oil monopoly, Pemex, the eighth-largest oil company in the world and a symbol of deep nationalist pride.
So, this seems like a pretty big deal, as the Financial Times' John Paul Rathbone and Eduardo Garcia note:
Mexico sits on reserves estimated at 115bn barrels of oil equivalent, comparable to Kuwait’s. Just over half its reserves are non-conventionals, including shale gas, and Pemex estimates that with the right investment and technology about 27bn barrels of deep sea crude could be added to the nation’s proven reserves.
All stages of Mexico’s energy chain – from production and refining to distribution – have remained the legal property of the Mexican people since 1938, when President Lázaro Cárdenas expropriated fields from US and British companies and changed the nation’s constitution.
Although the expropriation is a point of nationalist pride celebrated every March 18, the burden that Pemex faces of being the government’s cash cow – providing a third of government revenues – has led to years of under-investment. Pemex, with $100bn of revenues, is the world’s seventh-largest oil producer, but output has fallen by a quarter to under 2.6m barrels of oil a day over the past 10 years.
Mr Peña Nieto said the reform would reverse that decline, and “provide cheaper energy for all Mexicans”. He said the changes would allow Mexico to boost oil production to 3m bpd by 2018 and to 3.5m bpd by 2025. Gas production would also increase from 5.8bn cubic feet currently, to 8bn cubic feet by 2018 and 10.4bn cubic feet by 2025.
Both stories indicate that between his PRI party and the National Action Party (PAN), Peña Nieto has the votes to get this through the Mexican legislature. So, again, a pretty big deal... but back to McCrummen for some of the details:
[Peña Nieto] proposed constitutional changes that would allow for risk- and profit-sharing partnerships between foreign firms and Pemex, a move aimed at luring the money and technology necessary to exploit Mexico’s immense but hard-to-reach deep-water and shale oil fields. At the same time, Peña Nieto emphasized that Pemex would remain the sole owner and manager of Mexico’s oil.
And back to the FT story for why U.S. oil firms might not be all too keen on these proposed arrangements:
“It’s a pretty solid proposal,” said Duncan Wood, director of the Wilson Centre’s Mexico Institute in Washington DC. “But it will be interesting to see how oil companies take to profit-sharing rather than production-sharing contracts as that may limit their ability to book reserves.” Generally, under US Securities and Exchange Regulation, a company must have a right to produced reserves in order to book them.
My hunch is that, compared to some of the other places oil companies have chosen to invest, Mexico might look comparatively good. Assuming the proposed reforms don't lead to mass mobilization against the constitutional changes, some MNCs are gonna be very interested. Which makes this simply one more data point that suggests interesting things are afoot in the North American energy scene.
Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane have an op-ed in today's New York Times about the dangers of mounting levels of U.S. government debt and Why Something Must Be Done About It. This appears to be a spin-off from their book, Balance: The Economics of Great Powers from Ancient Rome to Modern America.
Now your humble blogger has heard variants of this argument again and again and again and again and again and again and again over the past few years. Let's call the category of authors who promote this argument "debtists." In fact, I've heard it so many times that I have now developed the proprietary ten-point Cassandra Scale to measure the extent to which each individual author hits the erogenous zones of austerity advocates and chattering classes. Let's see how Hubbard and Kane do!!
1) Reference a recent government debt crisis, no matter how invalid the comparison. Is there a small foreign country that is currently facing exploding debt levels? A local government that has just declared bankruptcy? Debtists should warn that the United States is in danger of turning into the next Dubai/Iceland/Greece/Illinois. Do these cases compare with the U.S. federal government? Of course not! But all you need to do is have the reader think that they are comparable cases.
How do Hubbard and Kane do? No small country references, but we do get this in the opening paragraph: "Federal, state and city governments in the United States have lost their fiscal grip, and the saga of Detroit’s bankruptcy is just one example." Note: state and city governments get dropped from the discussion immediately afterwards, for reasons that will go unmentioned. One point!
2) Soberly invoke warnings about national security/foreign indebtedness. The key to this argument is to not just make it about economics, but national security as well. It doesn't matter if this argument is total horses**t -- debtists should invoke the amount the United States owes China or some high-ranking member of the foreign policy community to show that this isn't just about dollars and cents, but the American way of life.
How do Hubbard and Kane do? They check this box off with the very first sentence: "Two years ago, Adm. Mike Mullen, at the time the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that debt was the “single biggest threat to our national security” — not some rogue nation, or terrorist group, but debt." Another point!
3) Invoking the precautionary principle on debt dynamics. On of the tricky empirical issues with warning about exploding levels of U.S. debt is that all the bad stuff hasn't happened. Interest rates haven't spiked, inflation hasn't reared its ugly head, and even deficit-to-GDP ratios have shrunk rather rapidly over the past few years. How should debtists combat this? Warn that things could change at any moment unless we act now. Guarding against the debtopocalypse is like guarding against an EMP. Since both are apparently far more likely than a sharknado, clearly Something Must Be Done. Also, it's an impossible argument to falsify.
How do Hubbard and Kane do? Well, there is this sentence: "What makes the threat of exploding debt especially dangerous is that it’s not like a faucet that can be easily turned down." To be honest, however, this isn't that out there of a statement. No Cassandra point awarded.
4) Reference the fall of past empires. It's always good to compare the United States to ancient Rome, Imperial Spain, or Victorian-era Great Britain as examples of past empires that have collapsed due to debt issues.
How do Hubbard and Kane do? I'm astonished to say that even though this appears to be one of the central themes of their book, it's nowhere to be seen in this op-ed. No point.
5) Relying on long-term debt projections as gospel. Those of us who are old enough to remember long-term budget projections from the early 1990s and early 2000s tend to discount current projections into the future the longer out they go. Debtists, however, should throw caution into the wind and assert that these long-term projections are fact, even if certain background assumptions are in danger of breaking down.
How do Hubbard and Kane do? Pretty well! "The C.B.O. still anticipates a 2015 deficit of $378 billion. And Uncle Sam is heading — and this is the best-case scenario — toward nearly a trillion dollars of red ink every year after 2023. In an effort to alert Congress to the danger, the C.B.O. also publishes a more realistic alternative fiscal scenario that anticipates how much will actually be spent by the Treasury in the coming decade. The realistic scenario predicts $1.76 trillion more in debt than the old baseline." A full point!
6) Fun with numbers. Your average reader is not going to look at a gross debt number and think, "well, wait a minute, what does that mean on a per annum basis?" or "as a percentage of GDP, is that all that bad?" or "are these actual outlays or just theoretical commitments?" Debtists should just use the gross numbers, and the higher the number, the better.
How do Hubbard and Kane do? Meh. If you look at the quote above, they talk about the $1.76 trillion debt increase but don't bother saying that it's over ten years or what it means as a percentage of GDP. I'm not awarding them a point.
7) Fail to mention private sector deleveraging. If the government is assuming higher debt loads in order to allow households and private firms to deleverage, that's a good use of budget deficits. But don't say that!
How do Hubbard and Kane do? No mention of U.S. private-sector deleveraging. A full point!
8) Compare the government to.... something that is not a government. Sure, the U.S. government can print currency if necessary and has a much longer time horizon than households and is not like a private-sector firm in many, many ways. But debtists should use this analogy because it's political gold. Comparing the U.S. government to a bankrupt family or firm invokes all the moral opprobrium without any blowback!
How do Hubbard and Kane do? Bingo. "The federal government continues to analyze Social Security and Medicare through the lens of cash accounting: counting up the costs of new long-term obligations not in the year the obligation is made, but off in the distant future when they must be paid. Private firms must accumulate funds to meet their pension obligations, why not Uncle Sam?" A full point!
9) Heterodoxy to signal that you're not insane. The smart debtist needs to acknowledge that some of their allies might be making some crazy-ass arguments that undermine their overall argument. Rhetorically distancing one's self from these people is a smart move.
How do Hubbard and Kane do? Very well, as they devote a considerable amount of their op-ed to discredit the "starve-the-beast" argument in favor of tax cuts. A full point!
10) Propose crazy-ass plan to solve the problem. Whether it's cutting the budget deficit by approximately "$250 billion a year over the next four to five years," or something even more radical, debtists can't just complain about the problem, they must propose a solution. And the more radical the better! The more "out there" the solution, the more like it seems like the debt problem must be really, really serious.
How do Hubbard and Kane do? They close their op-ed with a passionate argument in favor of, "a 28th Amendment to the Constitution requiring a balanced budget." If I could award them two points, I would.
So, tallying up the figures, Hubbard and Kane's op-ed gets a seven on the Cassandra Scale. Very respectable. Not Niall Ferguson-level hysteria.... but respectable.
Readers are encouraged to apply the Cassandra scale to past and future debtist arguments to see how well they score. It's easy and fun!
UPDATE: As many have pointed out, it would appear that Cassandra was the wrong name for this scale. I was looking for a symbolic name of someone who calls out false warnings when there is no emergency, and it would appear picked a name symbolic of the exact opposite of what I intended. I blame myself -- I should have taken Mythology instead of that Shakespeare course in college.
Sooo.... readers are warmly encouraged to come up with a better name for this scale.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.