Iraq, Political Theory

Brad DeLong. And Georg Büchner.

I’m ill, I know. But this was just too good to not to tell you about –

Ladies and Gentlemen, from the man who sometimes uses some of J. M. Keynes wise words as list-email signature –

„The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else.“

– comes a new and exciting blog entry called – A Brief Dialogue on Behavioral Economics.

Believe me, I checked – it’s not only fun for economists and the like. And even though the dialogue is indeed pleasant Saturday afternoon reading about behavioral economics rather than oenophilia, Prof. DeLong inadvertently explains why most Europeans will always love Bill „Epicure“ Clinton and always be sceptical of George „Moral Clarity“ Bush as well as the policy styles they represent.

Hall: As an ex-Clinton Administration Senior Treasury Official, I think your duty here is clear. You have a strong and unavoidable moral duty to choose a bottle of wine for us to drink…
DeLong: That is a strong point…
Hall: An expensive bottle of wine…
DeLong: I surrender…
Hall: Two expensive bottles of wine…

Clinton and Bush. Danton and Robbespierre. Come to think of it, those two as well as the 9/11-induced „nothing is the same anymore“-discourse favouring „security“ over „liberty“ that has become prevalent throughout the Western world do remind a lot of the great Georg Büchner’s wonderful play „Danton’s Death„, don’t you think? –

Act 1, Scene 6. A room. Robespierre. Danton. Paris.

Robespierre: I tell you, anybody who grabs my arm when I draw my sword is my enemy. His intention is not important. Anybody who gets in my way when I�m defending myself kills me as surely as if he had attacked me directly.
Danton: Where self-defense ends, there murder begins. I don�t see any reason that compels us to keep on killing.
Robespierre: The social revolution isn�t finished. Anybody who goes only halfway with a revolution digs his own grave. The aristocracy isn�t dead yet. The vigorous, wholesome power of the people has to completely replace the wholly degenerate class. Vice must be punished. Virtue has to triumph through the Reign of Terror.
Danton: I don�t understand the word „punishment.“ You with your „virtue,“ Robespierre! You claim you have taken no money, you have incurred no debts, you have slept with no women, you�ve always worn decent clothes and have never gotten drunk. Robespierre, you are disgustingly righteous. I would be ashamed to run around for 30 years with that kind of moral physiognomy just for the miserable purpose of finding other people to be more sinful than I am� Is there nothing in you that doesn�t sometimes, very quietly, secretly whisper: you are lying, you are lying?
Robespierre: My conscience is clean.
Danton: One�s conscience is a mirror in front of which a monkey torments himself. Everybody preens as much as he can, and then goes out and has as much of a good time as he can. What nonsense to get all upset about such things! Every person has the right to defend himself when another person spoils his fun. Do you have the right to make the guillotine into a wash tub for the dirty clothes of other people and to make bowling balls out of their lopped off heads simply because you always wear a freshly ironed jacket? Sure, you can defend yourself when they spit on it or tear holes in it. But what does it matter to you as long as they leave you in peace? If they are not ashamed to act as they do, do you have any right to send them to the grave? Do you think you are the policeman of heaven? And if you don�t have the ability to watch life unfold as easily as can your own dear God, then hold your handkerchief over your eyes.

Robespierre: You deny virtue?

Danton: And vice. There are only Epicureans, some crude, some discerning. Christ was the most discerning. That�s the only difference that I can find among human beings. Every person acts according to his own personality. That is to say, he does what gives him pleasure� Isn�t that right, oh incorruptible one? Isn�t it cruel for me to cut you down to size like this?
Robespierre: Danton, vice at certain times is high treason.
Danton: You can�t prohibit it. For God�s sake, that would be ingratitude. You are too indebted to the existence of vice, mainly for the contrast it provides you. Anyway, to continue with your line of thinking, our quarrels must be useful to the republic. You can�t kill the innocent along with the guilty.
Robespierre: Who says to you that a single innocent person has been killed?
Danton: Do you hear that, Fabricius? Not a single innocent person has died! [He leaves; while exiting, to Paris:] We don�t have a moment to lose. We have to show ourselves! [Danton and Paris leave.]
Robespierre [alone]: Go on and leave! He wants the stallions of the revolution to make a stop at the bordello, like a coachman with his fine steeds. They�ll have enough strength to drag him to the Place de la Revolution. To cut me down to size! To continue with my line of thinking! Wait! Wait! Is that it? They will say that his gigantic stature threw too big a shadow on me, so I had to tell him to move out of the sun�

And what if they’re right? Is it necessary? Yes, yes! The republic! He�s got to go. It’s ridiculous how my thoughts spy on each other�

He�s got to go. Anybody who stands still in a forward-moving crowd is just as big a hindrance as if he moved against the crowd. He�ll get run over. We won�t let the ship of the revolution run aground because of the sick musings and the filthy shoals of these people. We have to cut off the hand that dares to hold us back� even if he starts scratching and biting! Away with a society that stole the clothes of the dead aristocracy and inherited its leprosy!
No virtue! He talks of virtue as if it were the high heels on my shoes! To continue with my thinking! Why do these words keep coming back? Why can�t I get rid of the idea? He points again and again with a bloody finger: there, and there! It doesn�t matter how many rags I wrap around it, the blood seeps through� I don�t know what there is in me that betrays the other side.
[He goes to the window.] Night snores over the earth and tosses and turns in an empty dream. Thoughts, desires, hardly sensed, crazy, formless, which shy away from the light of day now take form and creep into the quiet house of dreams. They open the doors, they look out the windows, they become half real, they stretch their limbs in sleep, their lips mumble� And is our waking only a brighter dream? Are we only sleep walkers? Isn�t our life like a dream, just clearer, more certain, more complete? Why should anyone criticize us for that? In one hour the mind carries out more actions that the primitive organism of our body can manage in years. Sin exists in the mind. Whether a thought becomes action, whether the body carries it out, that is pure chance…“

So if I weren’t ill, I would certainly open a bottle of red right now…

Political Theory, US Politics

Famous Words.

Not that I think the current international crisis is even slightly reminiscent of the danger posed by the Cuba Missile Crisis in 1962, the words JFK used in his speech to the American people are worth remembering in these days.

„Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right-not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom, here in this hemisphere, and, we hope, around the world. God willing, that goal will be achieved. Thank you and good night.“

Political Theory, US Politics

Universal Draft.

The whole Iraq thing makes me think about draft armies.

Going into Iraq or not is not simply a question of removing Saddams WMDs or his entire regime [ note: did anybody see today’s Dubya footage on CNN? He said, and I think I am quoting, „that guy has WMDs. Those are the worst weapons available“. Seriously, I am willing to try not to underestimate W because of his apparent lack of eloquence and good marks in college (like, eg, Norman Mailer and about 95% of Europeans do) but there is a limit to what I can bear in the name of populistic simplification. Quotes like the one above are way beyond that threshold. ] long term energy supply or even helping one of the many oppressed peoples of this world to rid themselves of those villains who pose as their government. It is also a question shaking some of the core values of liberal democracy.

War cannot be regarded as a just another cost category in a diplomatic game. It is not barely an extension of the political – the times of von Clausewitz have long passed. Or so most people, and I think, politicicians, used to think.

The changing geo-strategic landscape during the 1990s led me to the conclusion that large universal draft armies will likely be worse than smaller, professional volunteer armies when it comes to providing international security in a rapidly changing environment. In a world surprised by new varieties of mostly ethnically, nationally, or religiously motivated armed (often distributional) conflicts. The nature of threats to national security had changed, as was most dramatcially illustrated on September 11, 2001. As a consequence, a universal draft seemed no longer justified to many. The most prominent example thereof is certainly the French draft abandonment in 1997.

Small, mobile volunteer armies (navies, air forces) clearly are better equipped and trained than a draft army could ever be. Their professionality allows a peace-keeping and peace-making deployments in areas and conflicts unconceivable for draft armies whose predominant task was to defend their own country.

However, in conjunction with the public’s perceived virtualisation of war (just think of this one image of the flat-screen laden US control cetre in Quatar that CNN airs all the time), a lowered individual risk for the soldiers involved reduces the political risk associated with the pursuit of armed conflicts. Sure, moral convictions will matter to most – to some extent. Chances are, we are wittnessing that war is again becoming publicly perceived of as just another means of politics, just as it was – a long time ago. Of course, from a perspective of Realpolitik (one of the few non violent German contributions to the English language…) the use of military power was, and will probably always depend on a political and economic cost/benefit calculation. But, among many others, the very fact that this was not an acceptable argument kept the costs higher than they seem to be today.

I doubt this sentiment is uniquely American, although the US is clearly the concept’s most prominent advocate at the moment. But I suppose things are going to change in Europe, too. On New Year’s Eve, I bet a German officer that Germany is going to build a first Aircraft Carrier until 2010. This is troubling, of course. The kind of conflicts we are facing today are unlikely to disappear in the near future. Volunteer armies clearly are the best military response – should response be deemed unavoidable. Thus the problem – is the disappearance of draft armies indicating an inflation of „unavoidable“ conflicts? Just as the Vietnam experience demonstrated to the US that non defensive draft soldier deployments are almost unfeasable in a democracy because of societal opposition.

As said above, draft armies would be far less effective in most modern kinds of conflict (well, according to those who pretend to know about these things). So universal draft would not actually solve the problem at hand – how can today’s liberal democracies keep a professional army as well as create new cost categories for decision makers to increase the political risk associated with armed conflicts without a unversial draft?

I have no idea. But I think that is actually a very important question.

German Politics, Germany, Iraq, Political Theory, US Politics, USA

A deeper rift? Some context…

Firstly, a noteworthy article by Robert Kagan concerning the fundamental policy-style differences between Europe and the US, published in May in the Washington Post.

Secondly, The Economist’s analysis of these differences. Thirdly, a paper called „Mutual Perceptions“ by Peter Rudolf of the German Institute for Foreign and Strategic Policy (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), Berlin), presented at a conference of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies on Sept. 10, 2002.

Some key quotes from the latter :

„The American and the European publics, including the German public are also not so far apart in their view of the world. They do not live on different planets, the one on Mars, the other on Venus, as Robert Kagan`s now famous dictum says. Looking at the collective preferences on both sides of the Atlantic, we are no way drifting apart. In their majority, Americans and Europeans do share a positive view of international institutions, Americans are more multilateral than unilateral oriented; Europeans, even Germans, are by far less opposed to the use of military force, although they are inclined to support it for humanitarian purpose and for upholding international law. Although the use of military means for combating terrorism finds support among a majority of people across Europe, the preferred measures to combat terrorism lie – to a greater extent than among Americans – in the economic realm: in helping poor countries to develop their economies. Thus, Americans and Germans do not live on different planets but those neoconservatives do, those – to quote former President Carter – „belligerent and divisive voices“ now seemingly dominant in Washington, those whose vision of America`s role in the world implies a basic strategic reorientation of American foreign policy. Using the dramatically increased perception of vulnerability to asymmetric threats and instrumentalizing the „war on terror“ as the legitimizing principle, the hegemonic – or better: the imperial – wing of the conservative foreign policy elite effectively dominated the political discourse and left its imprint on a series of decisions..“ (p. 2)

„Should the neoconservatives succeed in turning the United States into a crusader state waging so-called preventive wars, German-American relations will head to further estrangement. If the current debate on Iraq is indicative of things to come, the expectation of American neoconservatives that their European allies will in the end jump on the bandwagon might be disappointed, at least in the German case. In their despise of their irrelevant amoral European allies and in their overconfidence in American hard power resources, they simply ignore the value dimension of the current transatlantic conflicts. It is a conflict about different visions of world order.“ (p. 6)

Lastly, for those who can read German, another SWP study – „Preventive war as solution? The USA and Iraq.“ For those who don’t read German, the footnotes are a remarkable collection of mostly English language documents concerning the intra-US-administrative discussion as well as the international one. I’ll probably post some key references later.

Political Theory

Hardwired Hirarchy

Thinking about coordination of human activities I can’t help but wonder – do we have a hardwired tendency for hirarchical coordination? Is there some sort of biological reason for people’s need to have an ordered society?

Is this simply about assigning responsibilities and easily finding the culprit(s) when the damage occurs or could it possibly have something to do with fundamental behavioral tendencies of the animal in us?

If Hayek is right that chaos is more effective and creative but humans can’t lastingly deal with the challenges of that chaos, could there be a biological element to the „centralising“ movements that created vast socio-economic- all-encompassing-monopolistic hierarchies (Communism, Naszim)?

compulsory reading, German Politics, media, Political Theory

High Noon

Well, it was about time. Being a mature liberal democracy with television, it was only a matter of time until there would be a televised duel between the two most serious contenders for Germany’s most important political office, the chancellor.

Yesterday evening, 20:15 was the hour of truth for both contestants. Given that this sort of two-man-show is a new element in German campaigning, it is understandable that both Mssrs. had some trouble to find the right way to deal with the other.

There were no fatal mistakes, no watch-checking, no claims about Eastern Europe being still under Soviet control. Actually, the duel was not actually a duel. The contestants hardly spoke or even looked at each other. Nor did they look at me (or the other estimated 14m viewers, which equals appr. 50% prime-time market share) since cameras, contestants and the two interviewing journalists were placed in a way it appeared the two men simply looked nowhere when they were actually looking at the journalists. Seriously, I wonder if they should pay their campaign advisors.

So the event is the main story. And for all the pundits being interviewed afterwards this was in all likelyhood a very profitable evening. But for the rest of us and for our democracy, the debate (that was not) was not very helpful.

By the way, the (conservative) BILD-Zeitung has apparently decided that Edmund Stoiber won. Actually, a lot of people said that today. Such commentary is a good example of the fact that pessimists tend to be more effetive than optimists, because because their „should be / is“-fraction will always be higher. Stoiber won simply because everyone expected him to perform as abysmal as he did in the first one-hour interview after his nomination as CDU/CSU candidate.

So to sum up, we did a) not learn anything interesting about policy options in the debate (that was not), b) we have a winner because a duel by definition needs a winner and c) unfortunately, that „winner“ only because he tragically lowered expectations by himself. It’s a bit like the soaring approval ratings for George W. Bush after his handling of 9/11. Most people expected him to fail so they were positively surprised when he did not (fail entirely).

Note: It is evident why a televised debate is being introduced in Germany just now, but interestingly, it is less certain than in many previous elections that the voters will get the chancellor the want. Germany is a parliamentary democracy and the public elects the parliament, not the government. As no single party will be able to get 50+% of the votes, they will need to form coalition.

This, in turn, means that the candidate who received the most votes will not necessarily become chancellor. It all depends on the vote distribution between the parties. And given current trends, the FDP might well choose the SPD over the CDU as a coalition partner as they would have more weight in such a coalition. So Schroeder could stay in office despite getting less votes than Stoiber. Now this is a logical possibility of a parliamentary democracy and far less problematic than in the case of the last American election.

From here, the discussion would become increasingly theoretical and thus I will spare you (and me) tonight. Whatever the public says (through elections or otherwise) there is no correct way to translate it into majorities. It’s just an (socialised) agreement.

Political Theory

Is the bottom line really chapter 32, in part VIII of volume one?

Oxford’s Niall Ferguson thinks that Marx’s thoughts about crisis prone capitalism should be given more attention in light of the not so recently past days of „CEOcracy“ and increased income inequality in the US.

But today, Ferguson claims, the class struggle is not waged between workers and owners but between ordinary shareholders and their CEO and controlling oligarchs, so the Marxian acculmulation theory could have a point. In the end, he somewhat loses track and the article becomes more of a summary of recent estimates of American growth prospects. And he never tells us what the consequences could be if the analogy were correct.

But anyway. Could it be true? Could Marx be headed for big comeback in the digital age? I am very sceptical. Altough I do think that he has created a scary seductive beast whose feared return will likely scare this planet for some decades to come.

cinema, Political Theory

Sexy beast.

Sexy BeastOk, just another headline. But this is actually an addendum to the last entry and also a reminder to myself.

At some point I have to tell you why I believe the „new left“ is not sexy in most countries. As a teaser – it’s about the victory of Oliver Williamson over Karl Marx (or at a more fundamental level about the behavioral assumptions both made).

Williamson is right in many aspects but his theory is complex, difficult to apply and assuming things about ourselves we don’t like. Entirely unsexy. Marx is wrong in many aspects, but his assumptions and his theory are appealing to what we want to think about ourselves. Communism is a Sexy Beast. And beware, it probably still bites.

(Note: No need to see „Sexy Beast„. It is only an average film and the only reason I can think of for Ben Kingsley’s Oskar nomination is that the eternal Gandhi continuously shouts entirely incomprehensible English insults. I guess that must have impressed the Academy’s jury.)