Saturday, February 20, 2010


. Saturday, February 20, 2010

I'm not attending the final day of ISA because I'm sick and exhausted. Here what I found interesting:

1. Social scientists who use the Chinn/Ito KAOPEN measure of capital account openness need to at least consider using a different measure. David Steinberg and Sebastian Karcher argue pretty forcefully that it doesn't measure what it intends to measure, and that it is especially poor for political scientists. I'd share the paper, but I can't find an online version. If I do, I'll share it.

2. There were a lot of panels, roundtables, and general discussion about the financial crisis and what it means, what the international response should be, etc. These were generally horrible. In one roundtable, poor Benjamin Cohen actually had to defend the assumption that states are the appropriate unit of analysis in discussing international reforms from some unreconstructed Marxists who wanted to end capitalism and the state system as a response to the financial crisis. Cohen also rightly argued that the fundamental cause of the crisis was the macroeconomic imbalances that led to the global savings glut. Unfortunately, he was unable to offer a solution better than expanding the IMF's surveillance capacity to "name and shame" states that run persistent imbalances. Perhaps I'm daft, but I don't think the problem is that China hasn't been named and shamed enough for currency manipulation and favoring domestic industries in tradable sectors

3. On another panel, someone suggested that we should expect Canada to lead the way toward intl financial regulatory reform since the US/EU had lost legitimacy. Even if that were true (maybe) or possible (nope), the speaker acknowledged up-front that he had no idea why Canada's financial system was so much stronger, but that it was probably the "culture". Well, that solves that; now let's just get every major financial center to adopt Canada's culture and the world will be fixed. At least until the Great Tim Horton's Collapse of 2015. (It's coming...)

4. Someone (who I think was Rorden Wilkinson) mentioned something that nobody seemed to want to hear: including "normative concerns" in our discussions on how we can reform the international financial system doesn't actually mean what people usually think it means. What it really means is shutting off access to credit to poor people, thus making them poorer. This is the very thing that the CRA and the mortgage-interest deduction sought to counteract.

He used a great analogy, where he described Graceland as a relatively modest home by 21st century Anglo-American standards. This is because of the extension of credit to poorer people, and that only occurred because of the dreaded "financial innovation". If we make finance more "vanilla", as many want, what we're really doing is cutting off the poor.

Some people may be fine with that on paternalistic grounds, or for cost/benefit reasons, but the audience clearly was not. They thought "distributional concerns" meant "kill the bankers" not "reduce the number of opportunities available to the poor". Maybe Wilkinson isn't right about all of that, but it's certainly something to think about.

5. True story: at one point, James Vreeland left a happy hour gathering, then re-appeared about 10 minutes later with Mardi Gras beads around his neck. No one knows how or where he got them.

6. The blogging roundtable. It was fun, and thanks to the other panelists and audience members for letting me on. Thanks to Alex for reproducing most of the highpoints here; to Drezner and LGM for links (still nothing from Walt -- those in attendance will know what I mean -- but it's not as if that's surprising); and to Stephanie Carvin and Peter Feaver for questions. A few thoughts post-mortem:

a. It wasn't explicitly said, but should have been, that there is more than one type of blogosphere. There's even more than one type of academic blogosphere. So when Nye and Walt argued against snark, it's because they view blogging as somewhat analogous to op-ed writing in places like the NY Times. When Carpenter, Drezner, and Farley defend it, it's because they've all been blogging every day for many years, and view it is a completely different medium than op-ed writing in MSM outlets. I agree with the latter, but that's probably because I've been conditioned to expect different things from blogs than from other media. The idea that one of my posts should be read similarly to a NY Times op-ed is ludicrous to me.

But that's not the only difference. It's also a question of intent. Walt clearly wants to have a big role in the public debate along a fairly narrow dimension (his posts are almost exclusively on Israel, Af-Pak, Iraq, or Iran), and that is a big motivation for why and what he's writing. Nye also seems concerned primarily with how blogs fit into the D.C. policy echo chamber. As I mentioned at the panel that is not my motivation for blogging at all, and my guess is that that is only marginally why Farley, Carpenter, and Drezner blog.

b. I feel like I missed an opportunity to stress how small our community is. The roundtable participants (and questioners like Feaver and Carvin) aren't the *only* IR bloggers in the world, but we probably represented a fair quorum, and almost all of the heavy-hitters (which doesn't include IPE@UNC; I think Drezner was alone on the panel in noticing our blog before the event, and I highly doubt that's going to change much.). It's a fairly small community overall; in IPE it's even smaller. If we're concerned about the lack of influence the profession has on public discourse and policymaking, then we should create our own media by using the tools available to us. Blogging is one of those. This is why the debate is being driven by economists and talking heads rather than political scientists; it's about marketing, not expertise. This is related to point 'a.' above insofar as blogs should seek to be entertaining and well-written rather than just formal and proper.

The point is that Ezra Klein is not influential because he's in the Washington Post; he's in the Washington Post because he's influential. Same with the FP bloggers. If we, as a discipline, want a higher profile, one way to get it is to cultivate our own garden. I, for one, think that we in IR -- esp. IPE, natch -- have a lot of value to add to the discourse. Not just for policymakers, but also for our students, the broader public, and each other. The blogosphere is valuable only insofar as it is useful as a learning tool; precisely who learns from it (policymakers, journalists, undergrad students) is somewhat less important.

(Although, I do agree with Walt: most academics probably don't have anything interesting to say to a broad audience. That's probably okay, but it's dumb to then turn around and complain that nobody is listening.)

Overall, I was very happy with the blogging roundtable. It was well-attended and a lot of fun. I don't think it was productive in any real sense but that's fine. The implicit assumption of the roundtable -- that blogs are a good and useful medium -- was never questioned at all. I found that odd. I'd like to think it's because everyone agrees that blogging is awesome and cool, but it's probably more that there was a bunch of self-selection in the crowd.

(Edited slightly for clarity at 9:15 pm)


Thomas Oatley said...

Platform matters. Though, I think we might agree that Ezra is influential because Ezra is influential.

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