Your humble blogger is busy
enjoying the fruits of last year's Twitter Fight Club run with day-job activities this Tuesday, so only a quick blog post. A belated congratulations to Chrystia Freeland's Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else for winning the 2013 Lionel Gelber Prize for the best book in internatonal relations last year. As the head of the Gelber jury noted, "Plutocrats took the prize for its immediacy and authority about the future -- the world that we must comprehend and hope to manage in radically new circumstances."
Having been on the Gelber Prize jury this year, I think there was a strong consensus among the panel that Freeland managed two tricky feats in Plutocrats. She wrote a book that was interesting to experts but very accessible to the layman, and she managed to describe the global one percent in a way that did not overly symapthize but still demonstrated some reportorial empathy. That's no easy feat, and well done!
It's a particularly noteworthy accomplishment when one looks at the shortlist of the top five books. Freeland bucked the trend last year, which was that a lot of the best IR books seemed to be about empire. Anne Applebaum's extraordinary Iron Curtain, Kwasi Kwarteng's excellent Ghosts of Empire, and Pankaj Mishra's revelatory From the Ruins of Empire all looked at how great powers tried to create imperial domains in their own image, with devastating consequences to both the imperialists and the subjugated nations. Indeed, the next time someone says that maybe Niall Ferguson had half a point about the virtues of the British empire, tell that person to read Applebaum, Kwarteng, and Mishra (as well as Mishra's devastating takedown of Ferguson in the London Review of Books).
Perhaps most important, each of these authors, using their own styles, nevertheless wrote exceptionally clear and engaging books. I'd encourage all aspiring intellectuals to read Mishra's book as a template, but I doubt most could copy it. I would, however, definitely encourage all Ph.D. students struggling with their dissertations to read Applebaum's book -- it's an exemplar for clear exposition.
Congratulations to Chrystia, and I encourage all readers to peruse all of these excellent books at their earliest convenience.
A little more than two years ago I wrote a blog post entitled "The End of Power?" After riffing on the subject for a spell, I closed with:
So... we live in a world in which more actors have vetoes over systemic change but no actor has the ability to truly compel change. This leads to lots of talk about "G-zero worlds" and so forth.
Just to be provocative, however, I wonder if what's truly changed is the extinction of compellence power as we know it. The primary, ne plus ultra tools of compellence require a willingness to kill, jail, or starve a lot of people. Recent flare-ups like Iran in 2009 and Egypt right now suggest that such actions are possible at the domestic level but pretty damn costly; even authoritarian countries flinch at using brute force on a domestic population. Cross-border efforts are even more expensive in terms of both material and reputational costs.
This isn't the end of power, but it might be the end of one particular dimension of power. I'm not entirely convinced that this supposition is true and am willing/eager to hear counterarguments. That said, I still hereby claim The End of Power as my title, so everyone else just back off, OK?
Well, so much for my claim. Former FP head honcho Moisés Naim has a new book out called... The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn't What It Used to Be. His argument:
Power is shifting -- from large, stable armies to loose bands of insurgents, from corporate leviathans to nimble start-ups, and from presidential palaces to public squares. But power is also changing, becoming harder to use and easier to lose. As a result, argues award-winning columnist and former Foreign Policy editor Moisés Naím, all leaders have less power than their predecessors, and the potential for upheaval is unprecedented. In The End of Power, Naím illuminates the struggle between once-dominant megaplayers and the new micropowers challenging them in every field of human endeavor. The antiestablishment drive of micropowers can topple tyrants, dislodge monopolies, and open remarkable new opportunities, but it can also lead to chaos and paralysis. Drawing on provocative, original research and a lifetime of experience in global affairs, Naím explains how the end of power is reconfiguring our world.
The originality of the argument -- along with the subtitle -- saves Moisés from some serious legal retribution!! Well, that and he asked me to moderate a panel on the topic with him and Fareed Zakaria at the Council on Foreign Relations. Here's the video. Enjoy!
It's now December, which means it's time to start garnering nominations for the 4th annual Albies, so named to honor of the great political economist Albert O. Hirschman.
To reiterate the criteria for what merits an Albie nomination:
I'm talking about any book, journal article, magazine piece, op-ed, or blog post published in the [last] calendar year that made you rethink how the world works in such a way that you will never be able "unthink" the argument.
This year was certainly not a boring one for the actual global political economy, which means it's a good year to write about it. So, please submit your ideas to me. And remember, this is the only year-end Top 10 list that neither Time nor the Atlantic has yet to comandeer. Here are links to my 2009, 2010, and 2011 lists for reference.
The winners will be announced, as is now tradition, on December 31st. In the meantime, readers are strongly encouraged to submit their nominations (with links if possible) in the comments.
Now is the time of year when students go to citadels of higher learning and hopefully learn some stuff instead of getting bogged down in weird cheating scandals. Coincidentally enough, this past month there's also been a lot of talk about how impressionable young people often get enamored with Ayn Rand and isn't that awful or something.
These laments this misses the point of how 18-year olds encountered the world of ideas in college. That is the age when they are expected to seriously think about ideas for the first time. They will crave ideas that will bake their noodle -- or at a minimum, that's the time when they should have their worldviews rocked ever few weeks or so. If not Rand, then whom?
In your blogger's humble opinion, there's another book that is celebrating it's 50th anniversary and remains far more earth-shattering in its intellectual effects. A few weeks ago the Guardian's John Naughton celebrated Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions with an astute essay on its significance. The highlights:
Kuhn's version of how science develops differed dramatically from the Whig version. Where the standard account saw steady, cumulative "progress", he saw discontinuities – a set of alternating "normal" and "revolutionary" phases in which communities of specialists in particular fields are plunged into periods of turmoil, uncertainty and angst. These revolutionary phases – for example the transition from Newtonian mechanics to quantum physics – correspond to great conceptual breakthroughs and lay the basis for a succeeding phase of business as usual. The fact that his version seems unremarkable now is, in a way, the greatest measure of his success. But in 1962 almost everything about it was controversial because of the challenge it posed to powerful, entrenched philosophical assumptions about how science did – and should – work....
Kuhn's central claim is that a careful study of the history of science reveals that development in any scientific field happens via a series of phases. The first he christened "normal science" – business as usual, if you like. In this phase, a community of researchers who share a common intellectual framework – called a paradigm or a "disciplinary matrix" – engage in solving puzzles thrown up by discrepancies (anomalies) between what the paradigm predicts and what is revealed by observation or experiment. Most of the time, the anomalies are resolved either by incremental changes to the paradigm or by uncovering observational or experimental error. As philosopher Ian Hacking puts it in his terrific preface to the new edition: "Normal science does not aim at novelty but at clearing up the status quo. It tends to discover what it expects to discover."
The trouble is that over longer periods unresolved anomalies accumulate and eventually get to the point where some scientists begin to question the paradigm itself. At this point, the discipline enters a period of crisis characterised by, in Kuhn's words, "a proliferation of compelling articulations, the willingness to try anything, the expression of explicit discontent, the recourse to philosophy and to debate over fundamentals". In the end, the crisis is resolved by a revolutionary change in world-view in which the now-deficient paradigm is replaced by a newer one. This is the paradigm shift of modern parlance and after it has happened the scientific field returns to normal science, based on the new framework. And so it goes on.
This brutal summary of the revolutionary process does not do justice to the complexity and subtlety of Kuhn's thinking.
He's right -- read the whole thing. I've blogged before about why Kuhn is equally important to social science here and here. To put this into words that today's millenial generation can comprehend: the effect of reading Thomas Kuhn to 18 year old is like the moment when Neo realizes there is no spoon.
One's education about how science works shouldn't stop with Kuhn -- there have been some worthy responses to him -- but it's a great place to start.
Your humble blogger is now safe and secure in his vacation redoubt, furtiously at work on the definitive textbook of Tourism Studies. When not at work on that vital subject, however, I brought along some other books to peruse while family chaos unfolds around me. In case you're looking for some eclectic reading recommendations, they are:
1) Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo, Poor Economics. Anyone who is weary of the Sachs/Easterly debate on economic development should grab this book and devour it now. I don't think it has all the answers, but it's a very engaging and informative distillation of their randomized control trials and interview work in some of the most impoverished places on the earth. Even if you don't agree with their findings, it's provocative stuff.
2) John Scalzi, Redshirts. Click here and here if you don't know what the term "redshirt" means in science fiction. Scalzi, who has been blogging since the time of mezines, has put together a very intriguing spin on this idea in his latest novel. I'd offer more insight, but I want to enjoy the book as I read it.
3) Gautam Mukunda, Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter. We're gonna be talking a lot about leadership over the next few months. With a few important exceptions, individual leadership has not produced a lot of interesting scholarship in my field. Mukunda, a political scientist at Harvard Business School, will hopefully buck the trend with this book, thereby earning massive royalties in addition to his business school salary. What a bastard.
4) Colson Whitehead, Zone One. A distinguished novelist has written a zombie book. I'm so there.
Blog denizens are strongly encouraged to proffer their own suggested must-reads in the comments section.
I read Chris Hayes' Twilight of the Elites last month and will suggest that you read it too -- it's an engaging read that addresses the question of whether a meritocratic elite can really stay meritocratic over extended periods of time. Hayes thinks the answer is no, and puts together a decent brief for that case. It's a good book in no small part because Hayes acknowledges his inner conflict -- as disgusted as he is with Enron, Lehman, Katrina, Penn State, Iraq and other elite catastrophes, he has peered into the maw of the populists who rail against these elites, and they give him a slight shudder as well.
I bring this up because David Brooks pushes back against Hayes' argument in his New York Times column today. One key section:
The corruption that has now crept into the world of finance and the other professions is not endemic to meritocracy but to the specific culture of our meritocracy. The problem is that today’s meritocratic elites cannot admit to themselves that they are elites.
Everybody thinks they are countercultural rebels, insurgents against the true establishment, which is always somewhere else. This attitude prevails in the Ivy League, in the corporate boardrooms and even at television studios where hosts from Harvard, Stanford and Brown rail against the establishment.
As a result, today’s elite lacks the self-conscious leadership ethos that the racist, sexist and anti-Semitic old boys’ network did possess. If you went to Groton a century ago, you knew you were privileged. You were taught how morally precarious privilege was and how much responsibility it entailed. You were housed in a spartan 6-foot-by-9-foot cubicle to prepare you for the rigors of leadership.
The best of the WASP elites had a stewardship mentality, that they were temporary caretakers of institutions that would span generations. They cruelly ostracized people who did not live up to their codes of gentlemanly conduct and scrupulosity. They were insular and struggled with intimacy, but they did believe in restraint, reticence and service.
Kevin Drum pushes back hard, and correctly in my view, against this argument:
Hayes does a good job of describing all the pathologies of today's meritocratic aristocracy, but his book never seriously addresses all the pathologies of past aristocracies, meritocratic or otherwise. You're left thinking that cheating and corruption and nepotism are somehow unique to the 21st century West. But not only is none of that stuff unique, it's not clear that it's even any worse than it used to be....
Brooks, if anything, is worse on this score. He's careful to admit the problem with the elites of the 19th century, but even so he idealizes them. Sure, the best of the old WASP elites were good people in a noblesse oblige sort of way, but the best of any set of elites are good people. Today's meritocracy is loaded with fine, upstanding citizens. The problem is that they're a minority. But the upstanding folks were a minority back in the days of the WASP aristocracy too.
I'd make one further point, which is that, likely since the start of the Industrial Revolution, elites have felt like insurgents. George Kennan, for example, is as much of a paragon of the Eastern Establishment as you can get -- but he always thought of himself as an outsider.
Most of the obituaries for the public intellectual suffer from the cognitive bias that comes with comparing the annals of history to the present day. Over time, lesser intellectual lights tend to fade from view - only the canon remains. When one looks back at only the great thinkers, it is natural to presume that all of the writers from a bygone era are great. Even when looking at the intellectual giants of the past, current public commentary is more likely to gloss over past intellectual errors and instead focus on their greatest moments. Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man might look wrong in retrospect, but it is not more wrong than Daniel Bell's The End of Ideology. Intellectuals like Sontag or Friedman occupy their exalted status in the present only because they survived the crucible of history. As Posner acknowledges, "One of the chief sources of cultural pessimism is the tendency to compare the best of the past with the average of the present, because the passage of time filters out the worst of the past." It is riskier to assess the legacies of current public intellectuals - their ability to misstep or err remains.
It's always useful to remember that the first thirty centuries of human history was one long slog of poverty, misery and violence. By and large, things have gotten much better. This isn't to excuse the errors of today's elites -- but context matters.
Late last month, Princeton University Press informed me that Theories of International Politics and Zombies had crossed the 10,000 sales mark just six months after its release. By commercial publishing standards, this represents a modest successs. By academic publishing standards, well, it's the kind of thing that makes this sort of behavior very tempting.
Why has it dome so well? Well,
I was extraordinarily lucky it has been marketed in many unusual venues. Still, I suspect the biggest reason for these numbers is that TIPZ is now being assigned in college courses (and in some rather disturbing instances, in lieu of college class sessions). Indeed, its popularity has led to juuuuust a wee bit of blowback from a few students and faculty.
Which leads me to the purpose of this blog post. Consider this an open request to both students and faculty who are using the book ij their classes. Is it useful? Not so much? Too many puns? Not enough? Are there ways to make it more useful for students? I've already received some very positive pedagogical feedback, but negative feedback -- i.e., anything that needs to be changed -- is welcomed as well.
I ask because, more likely than not, I'll be working on a
revised revived edition of TIPZ in about a year or so. Such a revision will, of course, add in more topical zombie references (Both comic book and TV versions of The Walking Dead, or MTV's Death Valley), recent policy developments (the CDC weighing in on the zombie menace), follow-on research, and a fleshing out of additional theoretical paradigms as well. Plus more drawings, because they're awesome.
So, let me know what you'd like to see in the new edition to make it even more useful in a classroom setting. And if you insist on telling me that the text is completely perfect as is, well, I can bear hearing that too.
I know I said I would post by book choices for aspiring senators/presidential candidates yesterday, but current events forced a slight delay. So, you know the contest: "if you had to pick three books for an ambitious U.S. politician to read in order to bone up on foreign affairs, what would they be?" You now know (and are less than thrilled with) the readers' selections. Below are my choices.
My selections were based on three fundamental premises. The first is that politicians do not lack in self-confidence. This is an important leadership trait, but when it comes to foreign policy, some awareness of The Things That Can Go Wrong is really important. So my choices try to stress the pitfalls of bad decision-making.
The second assumption is that trying to force-feed social science principles onto a politico is a futile enterprise -- any decent advisor should provide that role. What's more important is exposing politicians to the different schools of thought that they will encounter in foreign policy debates. As with the zombie book, the idea is that by familiarizing individuals to the different theoretical approaches, they can recognize a realist or neoconservative argument when they hear it. They should then be able to recall how well or how badly these approaches have done in the past, and think about the logical conclusions to each approach.
Finally, these are American politicians, which means that they are genuinely interested in Americana and American history. Books that can connect current foreign policy debates to past ones will resonate better.
So, with that set-up, my three choices:
1) Walter Russell Mead, Special Providence. An excellent introduction to the myriad strains of thought that have permeated American foreign policy over the past two and a half centuries. International relations theorists might quibble with Mead's different intellectual traditions, but I suspect politicians will immediately "get" them.
2) David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest (for Democrats); James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans (for Republicans). Americans have a long and bipartisan history of Mongolian clusterf**ks in foreign policy. Each side should read about their greatest foreign policy mistake of the past century to appreciate that even the best and smartest advisors in the world will not necessarily translate into wise foreign policies.
3) Richard Neustadt and Earnest May, Thinking in Time. Politicians like to claim that they don't cotton to abstract academic theories of the world, that they rely on things like "common sense" and "folk wisdom." This is a horses**t answer that's code for, "if I encounter a new situation, I'll think about a historical parallel and use that to guide my thinking." Neustadt and May's book does an excellent job of delineating the various ways that the history can be abused in presidential decision-making.
Obviously, I'd want politicians to read more books after these three -- but as a first set of foreign policy primers, I'm comfortable with these choices.
If you want to hear more about this, go and listen to my bloggingheads exchange with NSN's Heather Hurlburt on this very question.
To recall the assignment:
[I]f a newly-minted U.S. Senator did want to seriously bone up on foreign affairs, what books should he or she read?....
[I]f you're educating a politician from scratch, you need something relatively pithy, accessible, relevant to current events, and America-centric....
I therefore call upon the readers of this blog to proffer up their suggestions -- if you had to pick three books for an ambitious U.S. politician to read in order to bone up on foreign affairs, what would they be?
Before I get to the reader suggestions, I heartily encourage the rich variety of responses in the foreign policy blogosphere: see Stephanie Carvin, Brian Rathbun, Andrew Exum, Rob Farley, Justin Logan, Will Winecoff, Phil Arena, and Steve Saideman, for starters.
A few of them challenge some of the underlying premises of my question. Arena asks, in essence, "does it really matter?" If IR scholars believe that structural, impersonal factors are what guide American foreign policy, then a reading list won't make a difference. Rathbun implicitly endorses this point in observing that us IR folk basically write books saying that the first image of leadership doesn't matter all that much.
There is an theoretical and empirical response to this. The theoretical response is that even the most ardent structuralist would acknowledge that there is a stochastic element to any political model -- indeed, in most tests, random chance explains more than the non-random model. What books leaders read falls into the stochastic category (we never know ex ante), so any attempt to influence on that factor is not trivial.
The empirical is that we have at least anecdotal evidence that books occasionally do affect the thinking of American foreign policy decisionmakers. Bill Clinton was famously reluctant to intervene in Bosnia after reading Robert Kaplan's Balkan Ghosts. I'd argue that Kenneth Pollack's The Threatening Storm was the most important book-length contribution to the 2003 debate about going to war in Iraq -- because it provided intellectual cover for Democrats supporting the Bush administration. Bush himself touted Natan Sharansky's The Case for Democracy as a book that influenced his thinking on the Middle East.
Exum also asks a fair quesion -- why books?
A lot of the reading material I digest comes from blogs as well as newspaper and magazine articles. A lot of it comes from scholarly and policy journals as well.... I generally find articles in International Security, Survival, Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy, though, to be both accessible and thought-provoking. And asking a senator to read a few articles in Foreign Affairs each month en route back to his or her constituency actually sounds like a reasonable request. So I am not sure I would actually recommend a junior senator read a book so much as I would ask him or her to read a few carefully selected articles or scan through ForeignPolicy.com every other day.
This is a fair point -- if we could get our junior Senator/aspiring presidential candidate to read up on foreign affairs every day. I'm pessimistic about that happening, however, for the reasons I gave in the prevous post.
Also, here's the thing -- oddly enough, politicians want to tell everyone how many Very Important Books they read. Consider Condoleezza Rice's New York Times Magazine interview, in which she stresses that, "[George W. Bush] read five books for every one I read. He read something like 12 biographies of Lincoln in office." Bush is not someone who seemed worried that he wasn't egghead-y enough, and yet even he and his acolytes feel compelled to point out what's on his bookshelf. We might living in a Twitter age, but books still possess some totemic value of intellectual gravitas.
Picayune disagreements aside, I do encourage readers to click through each of the above links to see their book recommendations.
Below, however, is the aggregate list produced by my readers. At least three different commenters recommended or endorsed all thrirteen books below. [And what do you think of the list?--ed. I'm a big fan of many of these books, I confess I haven't read several of them, and there are a few that I think are mind-boggingly stupid. I suspect that would be the same response of any other IR scholar to the list below -- though which ones are "mid-boggingly stupid" would be a furious subject for debate.]
In alphabetical order:
THE TOP THIRTEEN FOREIGN AFFAIRS BOOKS EVERY ASPIRING POLITICIAN SHOULD READ
(As selected by readers of Foreign Policy)
Andrew Bacevich, Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War
Steve Coll, Ghost Wars
Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order
Robert D. Kaplan, Monsoon
Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers
Parag Khanna, How to Run the World
Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy
Walter Russell Mead, Special Providence
John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics
Joseph Nye, The Future of Power
Ahmed Rashid, Descent Into Chaos
Stephen Walt, Taming American Power
Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World
Your humble blogger will be posting his book selections on Monday.
Let the fight/snark in the comment thread.... begin!!
I confess to being fascinated by academic or literary downfalls, so I've been spending the past few days catching up on the imbroglio over Greg Mortenson, his Central Asia Institute (CAI), and his bestsellers Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools.
To sum up: through his books and CAI, Mortenson has popularized his mission to build schools and educate children (particularly girls) in Pakistan and Afghanistan as a way of reducing extremism in that region. Investigative reports by 60 Minutes and Jon Krakauer strongly suggest the following:
1) Mortenson either fudged or flat-out lied about some of the more gripping anecdotes in both books.
2) Mortenson used CAI as a vehicle to promote his books and subsidize his income. CAI covered his travel expenses for book tours and purchased books in such a way to boost royalties for Mortenson. According to financial statenments, CAI devoted more of its budget to Mortenson's promotional tours than actually building schools in Central Asia. Mortenson rebuffed efforts by other CAI employees to impose financial controls on his expenditures.
3) CAI/Mortenson exaggerated the number of schools that were built, and in many cases even if the schools were built, they have been left unused due to a variety of logistical and organizational failures.
Mortenson and CAI have responded with a plethora of media interviews, direct responses and open missives to supporters. Most of these seem pretty feeble to me. When Mortenson says that, "It is important to know that Balti people have a completely different notion about time," you kinda wonder if Mortenson isn't talking about himself.) Official investigations are now under way, publishers are belatedly fact-checking, and some prize committees are very busy wiping egg off of their face.
So, what are the takeaway lessons from all this? Five thoughts:
1) Reading through Krakauer's story, the striking thing is not the extent of Mortenson's deception but rather the fact that it took so long for this to come to light. Mortenson has been a celebrity since Parade profiled him in April 2003. The fact that Mortenson was able to write two best-sellers and enjoy the lecture circuit for eight years despite the surprising number of people who knew there were issues with Mortenson's narrative. The moral of the story is that , even in a transparent Web 2.0 era, myths can trump reality for a looooong time.
2) Even Mortenson's detractors make it clear that they think he's done much good in Central Asia, so this realy isn't a Bernie Madoff-style scam. It does suggest, however, that political analysts who think of NGOs and celebrity activists as pursuing humane policy ends only for altruistic purposes are living in Fantasyland. It's a world of complex and overlapping motives, and no influential actor in international relations is a saint.
3) What's interesting to me about the inaccuracies/fabrications in Three Cups of Tea is that, by and large, they are irrelevant to the larger policy question of whether schools can help reduce violent extremism. Whether Greg Mortenson was kidnapped by the Taliban or not, whether he wandered into a village or not don't really matter from a policy perspective. Based on the amount of
ink pixels being spilled used on these questions, however, it's quite clear that these narrative elements really do matter. As Laura Miller has pointed out in Salon, however, greater attention is being paid to those details than the NGO mismanagement.
This suggests, in many ways, the power that creation or origin narratives have in developing politically alluring policies. CAI ain't lying when they say that, "Greg’s speeches, books and public appearances are the primary means of educating the American people on behalf of the Institute." Coming up with a compelling policy is not always enough to generate action -- narratives matter one whole hell of a lot.
4) Does Mortenson's myths and mismanagement undercut the policy message? To tell the truth, I'm not blown away by Mortenson's policy message -- indeed, it's pretty weak. As Alanna Shaikh points out in FP:
Its focus was on building schools -- and that's it. Not a thought was spared for education quality, access, or sustainability. But building schools has never been the answer to improving education. If it were, then the millions of dollars poured into international education over the last half-century would have already solved Afghanistan's -- and the rest of the world's -- education deficit by now.
Over the last 50 years of studying international development, scholars have built a large body of research and theory on how to improve education in the developing world. None of it has recommended providing more school buildings, because according to decades of research, buildings aren't what matter. Teachers matter. Curriculum matters. Funding for education matters. Where classes actually take place? Not really.
Spencer Ackerman has a detailed, link-rich post at Wired detailing the ways in which U.S. military's COINistas have drunk way too deeply from Mortenson's magical teacup.
In the best defense of Mortenson I've seen, Daniel Glick blogs the following:
But here’s the crux for me. As somebody who has worked in a Muslim country (I was a Knight International Press Fellow working in Algeria in 2006), I know that Americans need a lot of bridge building in the Islamic world. Mortenson has gone where few others have gone, and has put in incredible time and energy to raise awareness, seed schools, and give girls opportunities for education that would not be theirs otherwise. I have no doubt he has done orders of magnitude more good than harm. The same cannot be said for a lot of NGOs doing development work around the world, much less our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hmmm.... maybe. At a minimum, I'd like to see the costs and the benefits of Mortenson's activities weighed very carefully right now.
5) I, for one, look forward to the day when 60 Minutes and Jon Krakauer start looking into the living dead. I will hereby defend every fact, every citation in Theories of International Politics and Zombies to the end of my days, or the end of days, whichever comes first.
Am I missing anything?
Now is the winter of your humble blogger's discontent, only to be made glorious once writing letters of recommendation/grading papers has ceased. After that, I'm looking forward to reading or re-reading the following six books and articles:
1) Charles Kupchan, How Enemies Become Friends. A lot of international relations theory starts off with the basic question of "what causes war?" Kupchan flips this question on its head, asking how enduring rivals decide not go to to war.
2) Ben Wildavsky, The Great Brain Race. The first discussion I've seen of how universities are competing in an era of globalization for the
deepest pockets best minds to educate. Plus, I was a big fan of this series as a kid.
3) McKinsey Global Institute, Farewell to Cheap Capital?. Think of it as a sequel to the global savings glut hypothesis.
4) Tyler Cowen, "The Inequality that Matters," The American Interest, January/February 2011. I think Cowen is overemphasizing the role of finance in explaining rising inequality in the United States (my hunch is that the economics of superstars plays a big role as well), but he raises a very interesting question about whether the financial sector is the Achilles' heel of free-market democracies.
5) The Economist's year-end issue. This is always a treat -- a double issue filled with articles about the interesting and the arcane. This essay on the inefficiency of getting a Ph.D. ("America produced more than 100,000 doctoral degrees between 2005 and 2009. In the same period there were just 16,000 new professorships.") is a must-read for anyone contemplating getting a doctorate.
6) Linda Schlossberg, Life in Miniature. All non-fiction and no fiction makes Dan a dull boy. This delicate first novel, a child's narrative of her mother's descent into paranoia, will be of interest for those policy wonks currently working on the war on drugs: it's a theme that runs through the book. Full disclosure: Linda is a friend and gives a great reading.
two of you who were curious what the cover of Theories of International Politics and Zombies will look like, well, your curiosity is about to be sated:
I can also promise some awesome illustrations in the text.
So I see the blog meme of the month is Tyler Cowen's "the top 10 books which have influenced your view of the world." All the
old cool bloggers are doing it.
The hard-working staff here at the blog likes to keep up with all the latest internet traditions. Having read and watched High Fidelity, I'm keenly aware of all the ways I'd be tempted to go all obscure-y in my references. So, here are my "gut response" books, in roughly the chronological order I encountered them:
1) Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition. My 11th grade U.S. history teacher assigned this book in addition to the standard textbook. It certainly provided a more nuanced view of certain historical figures than you got in the textbook. More importantly, Hofstadter knew how to write well. This was the first book I ever read where it occurred to me that nonfiction could be as interesting to read as fiction.
2) Robert Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation. I didn't know anything about game theory before reading this book for a summer school course. After reading this book I was fascinated by it.
3) Douglas Adams, The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy. A sense of whimsy, of intellectual play, is a necessary condition for staying sane in the universe. Douglas Adams is Whimsy 101 through Advanced Theory of Whimsy. Plus, when I grow up I want to be Oolon Colluphid.
4) Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. A lot of people have put Genealogy of Morals on their lists because Nietzsche was the first person they read who pointed out that morals might have an instrumental and particularistic motivation. I'm not sure Kuhn is completely correct in his vivisection of how science works, but it was only after reading this book that I began to recognize the instrumental, cognitive, and sociological dimensions of scientists.
6) Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. Everyone focuses on the end of this book, with the exaggerated statements about U.S. "imperial overstretch." What hooked me was the first 95% of the book, in which Kennedy went through 500 years of history to demonstrate the essential link between economic power and military power, and the ways in which hegemonic actors ineluctably overreach and overextend themselves. The first chapter, which discusses why Europe and not China rose to global dominance from 1500 on, was what turned me onto economic history. From here I went to David Landes' The Unbound Prometheus, Rosenberg & Birdzell's How the West Grew Rich, Joelk Mokyr's Lever of Riches, etc...
7) Michael Lewis, Liar's Poker. Lewis has expressed befuddlement that people still wanted to go into finance after reading his book -- which makes me wonder if he read what he wrote. True, Liar's Poker is not exactly a paean to finance, but the book does capture the raw energy that comes with the good and the bad of financial innovation. For my own intellectual development, the book was also surprisingly useful: I'll now always be able to say that I got an A+ from Joe Stiglitz for a game-theoretic explanation of some of the phenomena Lewis talked about in the book. The lesson I drew from that; inspiration can come from even the most popular of books.
8) Mancur Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations. This was Olson's sequel to The Logic of Collective Action, and basically argued that over time, political stability breeds interest group capture, which breeds economic sclerosis. I don't quite buy the argument in the same way that I did when I first read it. What was appealing about the book, however, was the elegance of the argument and evidence. It's just a great, simple argument
9) Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War. In the early nineties I spent a year in eastern Ukraine, where sources of entertainment that did not involve vodka were extremely scarce . So I brought two books that I knew I had to read at some point but had yet to finish: the Old Testament and Thucydides. The first one had a great beginning, but I confess that I got bogged down in Leviticus. The second book has held my attention ever since. It's analytical history rather than political science, but the entire tapestry of human behavior is on display in that book. Far, far too many people who consider themselves experts in international relations have read nothing from Thucydides except the Melian Dialogue -- and they are poorer for it.
10) Albert Hirschman, Exit, Voice and Loyalty. I've mined Hirschman throughout my own professional career, and I could have put at least four of his books on this list. This one makes the list for three reasons. First, it's Hirschman's most wide-ranging in terms of its applicability -- it can apply to any organization at any level of society. Second, I relied on it heavily when developing the domestic politics portion of All Politics Is Global. Third, it's a great example of an idea that was simultaneously original but, once you thought about it, became completely intuitive.
Looking at the list, I notice three trends: 1) a lot more nonfiction than fiction; 2) all of these books have clear prose styles -- they are accessible to both scholars and non-scholars; and 3) the books that captured my attention were interesting for their intellectual style as much as their content.
Your humble blogger will be blogging a bit less frequently over the next few days, as he heads off with his family to an undosclosed location thay may or may not involve beaches, lawn chairs, and drinks with fruit and umbrellas in them. Please don't start a trade war while I'm gone.
[Say, what do geek IPE bloggers bring to read on their vacations?--ed.] Why, I'm glad you asked! Here's my light and not-so-light reading for the trip, in no particular order:
1) Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly.
2) Z.A. Recht, Plague of the Dead: The Morningstar Saga.
5) Robert Jervis, System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life.
6) Christopher Golden, ed., The New Dead: A Zombie Anthology.
Readers are warmly encouraged to let me know the order in which I should read these books -- as well as the ones I'm missing on my must-read list.
America could use a truly Whiggish book right about now. More than a year into the Great Recession, it has become much harder to believe in the idea of inexorable progress. The moment is ripe for a counterintuitive, optimistic perspective that shows, despite appearances to the contrary, that the world is getting better and better every day, in every way. Gregg Easterbrook tries hard to satiate our inner optimist with “Sonic Boom.”
You'll have to read the rest of the review to gauge how well Easterbrook did at this task. Here's a small hint, however -- I'd really like to read a persuasive book that advances this argument, because I think it can be done.
Your humble blogger has been suffering from
the Mother of All Stomach Viruses a small medical malady for the last few days, and will be recuperating for the next few. This is unfortunate. There's been a lot of very interesting stuff in the blogosphere about the future of the global political economy -- and I haven't had the energy to write about it.
That doesn't mean I can't link to it, however. Sooo...... I would suggest that you read the following:
1. Jim Manzi's essay on "Keeping America's Edge" in National Affairs -- and the plethora of blog critiques/responses to it. My partial take on this can be seen in this bloggingheads diavlog I had with Henry Farrell right before
this demon virus possessed my GI tract I fell under the weather.
2. Roger Cohen on the recent downturn in the Sino-American relationship;
3. James Fallows on "How America Can Rise Again" in The Atlantic.
4. Rachel Sanderson and Brooke Masters's FT story on how the Basle Committee on Banking Supervision is taking the International Accounting Standards Board to task. Hey, wake up!! Seriously, this is one of those stories about the plumbing of the global financial system that bears watching.
5. Stephen Cohen and Brad DeLong's The End of Influence: What Happens When Other Countries Have the Money. As a review of the neoliberal project and how we got to where we are today, I find it very interesting. As a treatise on what's going to happen now, I'm
wishing they'd talked to a few more political scientists unconvinced.
In short, it's a great time to be studying the global political economy -- now all I have to do is be well enough to writer about it.
I hope to address some of these issues over the weekend -- but for now, I'm going to take Count Rugen's advice.
In the meanwhile, go forth and read, and report back your thoughts.
When someone publishes an op-ed, longer essay, or book, they have to write a tagline. It's usually two sentences describing their title and affiliation, and whatever big projects are associated with them.
After watching the preview for The Invention of Lying, however, I began to wonder what these tag lines would look like if they were brutally honest. With a nod to Megan Mcardle's "Full Disclosure" post from a few years ago, here's fifteen examples I came up with:
And, of course.....
Readers are warmly welcomed to come up with their own brutally honest tag lines in the comments.
Philip Tetlock has a must-read review essay on political forecasting in the latest issue of The National Interest. Tetlock is the author of Expert Political Judgment, one of my all-time favorite books in political science.
Tetlock reviews books by three political prognosticators: Stratfor's George Friedman (who has been mocked just a bit by your humble blogger), FP and Eurasia's Ian Bremmer (who has been panned just a bit by your humble blogger) and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita (who was on your humble blogger's dissertation committee and is therefore the source of much Good and Light in the world).
You'll have to read Tetlock's essay to get his assessment of all three books -- but I do like this one-paragraph summary:
The authors are all entrepreneurial futurists, but each offers a strikingly distinctive approach to prediction. I organize these approaches under three headings: the superpundit model in which readers take it, more or less on faith, that the forecaster has a pipeline into the future not available to ordinary mortals (a category into which I place George Friedman’s The Next 100 Years); the technocratic-pluralism model in which the authors never get around to making falsifiable predictions of their own but do offer readers a pretty comprehensive survey of forecasting mistakes and an inventory of tools for avoiding them (a category into which I place Ian Bremmer and Preston Keat’s The Fat Tail); and the scientific-reductionist model in which the author embraces a particular theory from the social sciences and shows how, if you apply that theory thoughtfully to real-world contexts, you can derive surprisingly accurate forecasts (a category into which I place Bruce Bueno de Mesquita’s The Predictioneer’s Game).
What I found more intriguing was Tetlock's formulation for how to use pundits:
I wonder if such an exercise would actually work. One of the accusations levied against the foreign policy community is that because they only talk to and read each other, they all generate the same blinkered analysis. I'm not sure that's true, but it would be worth conducting this experiment to see whether a Village of Pundits does a better job than a single pundit.
The best thing I can say for the superpundit model is likely to annoy virtually all of that ilk: they look a lot better when we blend them into a superpundit composite. Aggregation helps. As financial journalist James Surowiecki stressed in his insightful book The Wisdom of Crowds, if you average the predictions of many pundits, that average will typically outperform the individual predictions of the pundits from whom the averages were derived. This might sound magical, but averaging works when two fairly easily satisfied conditions are met: (1) the experts are mostly wrong, but they are wrong in different ways that tend to cancel out when you average; (2) the experts are right about some things, but they are right in partly overlapping ways that are amplified by averaging. Averaging improves the signal-to-noise ratio in a very noisy world.... From this perspective, if you want to improve your odds, you are better-off betting not on George Friedman but rather on a basket of averaged-out predictions from a broad ideological portfolio of George Friedman–style pundits. Diversification helps.
OK, so by my calculations, your humble blogger has heard from at least .001% of the Icelandic population in response to my latest book review. By an eerie -- and not conspiratorial!! -- coincidence -- they have been unable to post responses using FP's
f***ed-up somewhat dysfunctional comment software. Sooo... as a special courtesy to Icelandic Friends of Drezner's Blog (IFDB), here are the responses:
1) From Petur Henry Peterson:
You seem, rather naively, to think that this book was written by the Nation of Iceland. You would be better to "follow the money" and realize that its author is one of the people hired and payed handsomely, for what at the best, appears to be to deceive and manipulate Icelanders about the real state of their banking system. Is he going to identify himself and his friends as the culprits, I dont think so. Strangely, the people who were the best and the brightest, now claim to have been totally clueless
(well some of them were and still are ;).
Most Icelanders realize all too well the cause of the meltdown in lax regulations and cronyisms between right wing politicians (and their supporters, the farmers party) and the financial sector, plus a dash or two of nepotism, stupidity, greed, lack of active democracy and a national minority complex.
I think that's supposed to be "inferiority complex" rather than "minority complex," but you get the idea.
2) This one comes from Audur Ingolfsdottir:
I have not read the book myself, and thus have no comments on your analysis on the book itself. However, I must agree with your own second thoughts, on if the last part of the review is perhaps a bit harsh. Not so much because I think Icelanders should not look within to find explanations for the crash last October, but rather you assumption, after having read a book by a single individual, that his analysis are reflective of the "country´s mindset".
The Icelandic public went out to streets, outraged, pounding their pots and pans, which resulted in the government resigning and early elections were called. The director of the financial serveillance authority resigned after huge public pressure. The central bank managers were forced to leave theirs seats, also after great pressure by the public. Hardly any of the people that were in power during and before the collapse are still holding their positions.
Currently the government is going through the very painful process of cutting down costs in the public sector. At the same time, considerable amount of money is being spent in order to investigate the banks, and what went wrong.
So I would say that although there were of course some strong international forces influencing the chain of events, most Icelanders are acutely aware of that a number of things went wrong in our own country, and a lot of work is aheaad to clean up the mess.
These are fair comments, and it would certainly be unfair to say that Jonsson's worldview represents all Icelanders.
That said, I'm not the only one who's picked up on this meme. Both Michael Lewis and Ian Parker sussed out the same vibe when they visited Reykjavik -- and it comes out a little bit in the newest Icelandic PM's recent public statements. Furthermore, the Financial Times recently noted that, "Iceland has a tendency to imagine a British or Dutch conspiracy behind any bad news."
The problem with this kind of label is that it's hard to shake, so maybe this is dogpiling on a small country. I'll merely point out, with respect, that this statement in my book review was not based only on Jonsson's book -- rather, it is emblematic of everything I have read to date about Iceland.
The greatest value of "Why Iceland?" is the window it may open on the country's mind-set. Mr. Jónsson devotes page after page to the international culprits that allegedly helped to scupper the economy. In one chapter it is hedge funds. In another, rating agencies, aiming their malice at Iceland in particular. Finally, it is a cabal of central bankers who, it is claimed, froze Iceland out of the help they could offer and forced it into the arms of the IMF. None of this is convincing. In the end, Icelanders who want to find someone to blame for their woes may want to look at themselves.
That's a bit harsher than I intended -- Iceland is not solely responsible for theire predicament. Still, the lack of self-reflection about what happened is quite extraordinary.
I'm not a big fan of this book, but a great book on this case is dying to be written.
Back in the spring, I hinted that I would be willing to produce a top ten list of must-read books on the international political economy/global political economy (IPE or GPE for those in the know), provided there was sufficient demand.
Judging by the e-mail response, the demand is robust and quite persistent. So I've decided... to postpone that list for another month or two.
Because you're not ready yet.
Let's face it, if you have read this far in the post, it means you're either:
This is great. The thing is, most graduate programs in political economy don't give you that much historical background before throwing the cutting-edge theory and methodology at you. This year I was lunching with some Ph.D. students at one of the top IPE schools in the country, and the students (and some of the professors) made it pretty clear that they didn't know all that much about the topic beyond the tricks of the trade - formal modeling, econometric techniques, etc.
If you're expecting me to go off on a rant here about the uselessness of these tools, well, you're going to be sadly disappointed. There are some pretty good reasons to learn these techniques - among other things, they'll help you to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to what blogs, pundits and public intellectuals are saying about the global economy.
That said, the opportunity cost can be significant - a failure to learn anything about global economic history beyond the stylized facts contained in the most-cited articles. This would be a weird collection of scattered knowledge, ranging from the 1860 Cobden-Chevalier Treaty to the 1934 Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act to the birth of the Washington Consensus.
Soooo..... before you are ready to ready the ten books in IPE that you have to read, you should first read these ten books on global economic history. I'm leaving a lot out here (North and Thomas' The Rise of the Western World; Karl Polanyi's The Great Transformation; anything and everything by William McNeill, Joel Mokyr, David Landes, Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., Joseph Needham; some things by Niall Ferguson, etc.). That's partly because I've slanted this list towards more recent scholarship, and partly because while these books are excellent economic histories, they don't focus as much on the international dimension.
[There are some other newly-released books, such as Liaquat Ahamed's Lords of Finance or Justin Fox's The Myth of the Rational Market, that might very well belong on this list. I'm still in the middle of reading them, however, so the jury is still out.]
Once you imbibe the (sometimes contradictory) information contained in these books, you can look at what the stylized facts contained in IPE books with a much more astringent perspective. It's not a coincidence that the foundational IPE texts are by the twentieth century's greatest economic historians - Eli Heckscher, Albert Hirschman, Charles Kindleberger, and Jacob Viner. Trust me - you will feel much the wiser for it.
The following would be my preferred order of how to read them, but it's hardly the only way to do it:
1. Gregory Clark, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World (2007). I've already tagged this book as an interesting read. If nothing else, the first chapter of this book - "The Sixteen-Page Economic History of the World" - actually matches the audacity of the title. As I said, I don't completely buy Clark's explanation of Malthus + genetics = Industrial Revolution in Great Britain. His attempt to explain away the irrelevance of institutions doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Still, I will say I better appreciated the heyday of mercantilism after reading Clark.
2. Nathan Rosenberg and L.E. Birdzell, Jr., How the West Grew Rich (1986). Perfect when paired with Clark, because Rosenberg and Birdzell present the classical argument for why Western Europe was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.
3. Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997). The third leg in the triad of "why did Europe dominate the globe?" explanations. If Clark focuses on genetics/culture, and Rosenberg and Birdzell focus on institutions, Diamond proffers a geographical determinism. Simply put, he thinks the temperate climate of Eurasia was bound to produce the most sophisticated societies with the most advanced animals, germs, and technologies. Diamond's argument complements rather substitutes for the institutions and culture arguments. If nothing else, it is impossible to read this book and ever buy the ending to War of the Worlds.
4. John Nye, War, Wine and Taxes (2007). David Ricardo's classic example of comparative advantage was English wool for Portuguese wine. Nye explodes the "natural" aspect of this trade, demonstrating how high tariffs against French wine proved a boon to both the Portuguese and English beer distillers. Nye stretches his argument too far at times, but the interrelationship between war, protectionism, and statebuilding is pretty damn fascinating.
5. Douglas Irwin, Against the Tide: An Intellectual History of Free Trade (1996). Irwin's book is more a history of economic thought than economic history, but nevertheless tells a remarkable story: how did the idea of free trade knock off mercantilism, protectionism, strategic trade theory, and other doctrines?
6. Kevin O'Rourke and Jeffrey Williamson, Globalization and History (1999). A lucid, detailed and fascinating study of how the nineteenth century of globalization went down. When anyone argues that the current (fast fading?) era of globalization is historically unique, take the hardcover version of this book and whack them on the head with it. Special bonus book: people who liked this should go on to read Power and Plenty by Kevin O'Rourke and Ron Findlay).
7. Jeffry Frieden, Global Capitalism: Its Fall and Rise in the Twentieth Century (2006). This book is to the twentieth centiury as Williamson and O'Rourke's book is to the nineteenth - except it's written for a wider audience, so it's a more accessible read. Accessible doesn't mean simple, however - this book is chock full of interesting arguments, cases, and counterarguments.
8. Barry Eichengreen, Globalizing Capital: A History of the International Monetary System, second edition (2008). A more narrow work than Frieden's, Eichengreen's book is the starting point for understanding the classical gold standard, the Bretton Woods regime, and
whatever the hell system we have now the Bretton Woods II regime.
9. Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw, The Commanding Heights (1997). Yergin and Stanislaw tell a cheerleader's tale of how the Washington Consensus displaced the old quasi-Keynesian, quasi-socialist economic order that had its apogee and downfall in the 1970s. What's particularly interesting is their argument that what mattered was the content and spread of the ideas themselves, and not some coercive power, that led to the re-embrace of markets.
10. Paul Blustein, The Chastening (2001). Blustein, a reporter for the Washington Post, tells the you-are-there version of the Asian financial crisis and the reaction from the U.S. Treasury Department. If you want to know why Pacific Rim economies started hoarding foreign exchange reserves beginning in 1999, read this book.
OK, readers, which books would you recommend?
The International Studies Best Book of the Decade Award honors the best book published in international studies over the last decade. In order to be selected, the winning book must be a single book (edited volumes will not be considered) that has already had or shows the greatest promise of having a broad impact on the field of international studies over many years. Only books of this broad scope, originality, and interdisciplinary significance should be nominated.
Hmmm.... which books published between 2000 and 2009 should be on the short list? This merits some thought, but the again, this is a blog post, so the following choices are the first five books that came to mind:
I don't agree with everything in these books -- but they linger the most in the cerebral cortex.
So, dear readers, which books do you think are worthy of consideration for this award?
Free books are both a major perk and a major inequity of being a senior professor. Academic publishers send loads of free books to me and my senior colleagues in the hopes that we assign them in class, mention them on the blog, etc. This is a tragic inequality of the academic system, since as a full professor I should, in theory, be able to buy these books Meanwhile, debt-ridden graduate students have to pay for these things.
Yesterday, however, was a real treat, because I got several books in the mail that were written by my friends (at least that's what my Facebook page tells me):
In the category of "book reviews that would fit on Twitter," we have this sentence from Louise Richardson's New York Times Book Review of Michael Burleigh's Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism:
To appreciate the virtues of this book (it is, in its way, an exceptional synthesis), one has to make a conscious and concerted effort to ignore the condescending tone, the incessant sneering, the unsupported assertions and the gross generalizations.
Please do check out Foreign Policy's Book Club discussion of Tom Ricks' The Gamble, his excellent and contrarian follow-up to Fiasco. Here's a link to Marc Lynch's take, and that is followed by Christian Brose.
My take just went up. The point I want to stress:
[T]he ways in which the architects of the surge got their way seems like an exact replay of how the architects of the invasion and initial occupation got their way -- operating through bureaucratic backchannels and endruns, ideologically simpatico think tanks, and -- of course -- Dick Cheney's office. For those of us who want the policymaking process to work, this looks like another fiasco. Petraeus's decision to co-opt the Sunni insurgents, for example, was made without consulting the president. Doesn't that echo J. Paul Bremer's disastrous decision to disband the Iraqi military without consultation? Petraeus, Odierno, and Jack Keane might have been right on the merits, but to get their way they bypassed the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CENTCOM commander, the State Department, and the NSC interagency process. The Gamble argues that these actors were impediments to the right strategy. All well and good, but what is to stop another cluster of bureaucratic "insurgents" from bypassing the chain of command and telling political leaders what they want to hear on, say, Afghanistan, North Korea or Iran? Is there a need for another, more ambitious version of Goldwater-Nichols?
I am not feeling very optimistic about the book's reception. I just don't sense any buzz. Maybe that's because I'm living in Indiana under a foot and a half of snow, but it does haunt me. Far more than passing kidney stones, I feel like waiting on a book release is like a woman waiting for labor--mostly it's dread and regret and the inability to get a decent night's sleep.
I know that's being self-absorbed, but--again--that's why it's like heading toward labor: there is this all-consuming sense of an onrush of something either very good or very bad and you have a hard time sensing the possibility of anything in between those two extremes.
As someone who is also waiting on a book to come out, I sympathize with Barnett's pain. I suspect, however, that his agita is actually worse than a garden-variety book author.
This has to do with the nature of book publishing and the state of the world. When publishing a book, all international relations authors not named Bob Woodward must endure a 3-12 month window during which the book is copyedited, typeset, and then published. During this period, an author can make limited changes to the text -- but nothing significant.
This gap doesn't matter all that much -- unless, of course, one is writing about world politics in a time of flux. In that case, authors feel like a hostage to current events. And because of the financial crisis, I've read an awful lot of first chapters recently that seemed out of date the moment they were published.
In laying out this case, Sachs makes a significant contribution to a peculiar genre of nonfiction: the Great Global Scheme. Economists ranging from Hernando de Soto to Joseph Stiglitz have written in this genre, in which (typically) a great economist diagnoses the world's ills, then proposes sweeping policies to cure them. Political scientists often read the prescriptions with amusement because the author almost always relies on the "political will" of leaders. Indeed, by Page 11, Sachs has already declared, "We don't need to break the bank, we only need common goodwill." This is a polite way of hoping that powerful politicians will ignore powerful political incentives.Go read the whole thing. [This is the second book of Sachs you've been asked to review for a major newspaper. Why not ask a real economist?--ed. I think that's precisely the reason -- as someone not in Sachs' field, I have no fear of saying anything critical.]
[F]or someone who was once the president's confidante, someone he knew and trusted, someone who gave him the opportunity of a lifetime, to write a tell-all while that history is still being made, is not cool. There will be plenty of memoirs coming out of the Bush administration. Most will be cover-your-tushy affairs, as memoirs often are. Some will paint a glossy picture. Some will be critical. But their timing is crucial. McClellan could have published this book in 8 months, when Bush was on his way out the door. But then, he wouldn't have sold as many books. Publishing now may make him a bit wealthier, but it's simply not cool to do to your former boss and your president. Not cool at all.Crowley, of course, made her name by
All this makes for some fascinating, if gossipy, reading. It also makes the reader question Ms. Crowley's assertion that ''through our conversations, Nixon was insuring that his message and his vision would live on after he was gone.'' Ms. Crowley writes that her account (which tends to read like a tape-recorded transcript) was based on ''a daily diary beginning in 1989, of which Nixon was unaware.'' ''The quotes herein are the words of former President Nixon verbatim,'' she goes on. ''His professional and personal disclosures were made in confidence but with the implicit understanding that they would be eventually recounted.'' Would Mr. Nixon have wanted his petty, self-serving remarks about other politicians laid out in print? Would he have wanted his overheard phone conversations preserved for posterity? Would he have wanted his gloating interest in Mr. Clinton's problems exposed? It's hard to imagine that anyone would, least of all Mr. Nixon, with his compulsive desire to rehabilitate his reputation.As near as I can figure, Crowley thinks it's OK to publish tell-alls once the person you have served has left the scene, or if you say only laudatory things about this person (since can't find Crowley berating Ari Fleischer for publishing his memoirs before Bush left office). I'm just going to file thus under the "distinction without a difference" category and move on. UPDATE: Can't resist one historical correction to Crowley's post. She writes, "George Stephanopoulos was the first high-ranking White House official to publish a tell-all while his president was still in office." Actually, no. David Stockman's The Triumph of Politics beat Stephanopolous' All Too Human to it by more than a decade.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.