Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Non-End of Influence

. Sunday, February 28, 2010

Thought I'd toss out this video of Stephen Cohen talking about his book (with Brad DeLong) The End of Influence. The discussion frustrated me, because both discussants kept talking about how important politics was in shaping economic outcomes without ever mentioning how it was important, why it was important, what politics had to do with outcomes, how political incentives shaped history, or really anything substantive about politics. It's difficult to pull out any one wrong thing in it to pick on, mostly because the discussion is too vague to pin down any clear, consistent argument beyond "being in debt is a bad thing for America", but also because there are half-truths and "yeah, but..." moments throughout. And also because it's an hour long and basically everything said in it is incomplete, wrong, or begs a question that it doesn't answer.

For example: the title of the book is The End of Influence, and yet nowhere in the interview does Cohen explain how America has lost its influence or even defend the notion that it has. At the very end he actually says the opposite: that despite the financial crisis nothing much seems to be changing at all. Earlier, he argues that China is unable to use its massive dollar holdings to exert much influence, because that would require domestic political tradeoffs that they are not prepared to make. Umm... if you're giving an interview to promote a book with a provocative title, shouldn't you defend the thesis instead of arguing against it? At least a little bit?

I don't have time these days to actually, you know, read the book (oh summer, come quickly), but if the sentiments expressed by Cohen in this interview (and in the FP book excerpt) are the same as those in the book then I'm with Drezner: I wish they'd talked to some actual political scientists, rather than just pay lip-service to their existence.

(ht: DeLong)


brad said...

Re: "basically everything said in it is incomplete, wrong, or begs a question that it doesn't answer."

For example?

I really can't recall when I have read a less substantive comment than this one...

Brad DeLong

Kindred Winecoff said...

Funny, the next two words after the ones you quoted are "For example", and then I give one. A pretty important one, I think, since I'm accusing your coauthor of arguing against his own thesis.

Or if you don't like that one, maybe you could try this one: if a parallel of the current US/China relationship is the US/Japan relationship of the 1980s (as Cohen claims), then on what grounds are you claiming the end of US influence? Are we all ruled by Japan now?

If you want substantive comments, then make substantive arguments. If you want to say that US policy has become a slave to SWF, then say so. If you want to say that US foreign policy is controlled by China, then say so. If you want to say that politics matters in determining economic policy, then say how it matters. Be explicit. Don't insinuate. And try not to contradict yourself. At least not in the same interview.

I shouldn't have to tell you this.

The Non-End of Influence




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