A Virtual Trip to Myanmar for my Research Methods Class

For IS240 next week, (Intro to Research Methods in International Studies) we will be discussing qualitative research methods. We’ll address components of qualitative research and review issues related to reliability and validity and use these as the basis for an in-class activity.

The activity will require students to have viewed the following short video clips, all of which introduce the viewer to contemporary Myanmar. Some of you may know already that Myanmar (Burma) has been transitioning from rule by military dictatorship to democracy. Here are three aspects of Myanmar society and politics. Please watch as we won’t have time in class to watch all three clips. The clips themselves are not long (just over 3,5,and 8 minutes long, respectively).

The first clip shows the impact of heroin on the Kachin people of northern Myanmar:

The next clip is a short interview with a Buddhist monk on social relations in contemporary Myanmar:

The final video clip is of the potential impact (good and bad) of increased international tourism to Myanmar’s most sacred sites, one of which is Bagan.


Joseph Nye on Shifts on Smart Power

One of the leading scholars of IR theory is Joseph Nye, who teaches at Harvard University. He, along with co-author Robert Keohane, wrote one of the seminal works in IR theory–Power and Interdependence. Here is a short, but interesting TED talk in which Nye explains, amongst other things, the distinction between power transition and power diffusion, the “rise of China” and what “smart” power is.

Excellent blog on Chinese Politics/Political Economy

Victor Shih, currently an assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University, keeps a blog at which he addresses issues related to Chinese politics. The blog deals mainly with topics related to Chinese political economy (an increasingly important topic as the rate for your car/home/student loan is intimately connected to the amount of US Treasury bonds purchased by the Chinese Central Bank) and elite politics in China.

Sarah Palin should have taken PLSC250

Had one of my Introduction to International Relations students been taking questions from Charlie Gibson tonight, s/he would have been well prepared to answer his question regarding the “Bush Doctrine”.  As my students (still?) know, the “Bush Doctrine” was most clearly and forcefully enunciated in the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States.  While there are three major components to the “Bush Doctrine”, the most important of which (at least the one that received the most attention and presented the most radical departure from the part-realist, part-liberal, bi-partisan, pre-9/11 US foreign policy framework was the idea of using preemptive military force, without the need for there to be an imminent threat.

Democratic critics have often charged Bush and his administration with claiming that Saddam Hussein posed an “imminent threat”, but I have yet to see any evidence that anyone speaking for the administration did so.  And it’s not a surprise, as the Bush Doctrine allows the use of force without imminent threat.  Maybe Governor Palin should bring some of those critics along with her to my class.  And if the Republican Party would like to hire a IR tutor for Governor Palin, they’ll find my rates more than reasonable.

Washington Post Reports that China no longer as Attractive an “Outsourcing” Target

The average person may not know the difference between “offshoring” and “outsourcing”, but one would think that it would be a condition of employment for someone who writes for the business section of the Washington Post. In an otherwise informative story on the decreasing attractiveness of China as an “outsourcing” location for US companies, we are witness to another example of a member of the traditional media seemingly uninformed of basic facts.

Outsourcing is simply the idea that a company chooses to have another company produce a good or service rather than produce that same good or service in-house.  Outsourcing has been happening for a long time, and an example is when the Ford Motor Company decided that it would be better to use their productive capacity to produce engines, and outsource the task of making tires to a different company rather than make tires itself.  This helped increase productivity by allowing Ford to concentrate on the making of engines, and have the other company (Goodyear, Bridgestone) focus on making better tires.

Offshoring simply means sending work beyond one’s national boundaries.  Notice that not all offshoring is also outsourcing.  In fact, I have previously read (but I can’t find the source) that most offshoring is, in fact, not also outsourcing.  How can this be?  Well, what happens when General Motors decides to close down a car factory in Flint and make begin producing vehicles in Windsor, Ontario instead?  That production (and the jobs accopanying it) has been offshored (moved to a different country–Canada) but it hasn’t been outsourced, since GM is still producing the vehicles.  Here’s a little chart that will help you understand the difference.

As for the article itself, it demonstrates that rising fuel costs have increased the cost of shipping to such an extent that the potential savings for a US company of producing in China are completely eliminated.  One such company has repatriated production to the US from China (I suppose that’s called “onshoring”?)   We read:

SHANGHAI — Harry Kazazian built his business on sleeping bags that are made in China and shipped across the ocean to the United States, but he realized recently that the math doesn’t work anymore.

With fuel prices at record highs, the cost of sending a standard 40-foot container of goods has gone from $3,000 in 2000 to about $8,000 today, squeezing profit.

So this summer Kazazian, chief executive of Exxel Outdoors, a Los Angeles-based maker of recreational equipment, did something radical: He moved the manufacturing back to Haleyville, Ala.

Soaring energy costs, the falling dollar and inflation are cutting into what U.S. manufacturers call the “China price”– the 40 to 50 percent cost advantage once offered by Chinese producers.

The export model that has powered China and other Asian countries for three decades will be compromised if fuel prices continue to rise, said Stephen Jen, a managing director for Morgan Stanley.

“Globalization has gone a little bit too far. It has overshot,” Jen said. “We’re not saying Asia is going to crumble, but we are saying Asia enjoyed extraordinary conditions in the past. Now the conditions are changing very quickly because of the energy shock, and Asia is coming under pressure.”

The ripple effects have been far-reaching. The trade imbalance between the United States and China — a source of political tension for years — is beginning to right itself as Chinese exports fall and U.S. exports rise. Global trade routes are being transformed, suggesting a possible return to a less integrated world economy.

What is (are) LICUS?

To me, it sounds like a species of tropical plant, but it is an acronym used by the World Bank and other IGOs and NGOs to refer to a specific group of less-developed countries.  According the the World Bank, LICUS, which is an acronym for Low Income Countries Under Stress, are

are countries with weak policies, institutions, and governance.

The World Bank’s IEG (Independent Evaluation Group) set out to evaluate the role of the Bank’s efforts to aid these countries in their bid to develop economically and politically.  From the report:

Home to almost 500 million people, roughly half of whom earn less than a dollar a day, fragile states, until recently known in the World Bank as low-income countries under stress (LICUS), have attracted increasing attention. Concern is growing about the ability of these countries to reach development goals as well as about the adverse economic effects they have on neighboring countries and the global spillovers that may follow.

With their multiplicity of chronic problems, these countries pose some of the toughest development challenges. Poor governance and extended internal conflicts are common among these countries, which all face similar hurdles: weak security, fractured societal relations, corruption,breakdown in the rule of law, and lack of mechanisms for generating legitimate power and authority. As low-income countries, LICUS also have a huge backlog of investment needs and limited government resources to meet them. 

Past international engagement with these countries has failed to yield significant improvements, and donors and others continue to struggle with how best to assist fragile states. LICUS are characterized by weak policies, institutions, and governance. The Bank identified 25 such countries in fiscal year 2005. These 25 countries have a number of similarities: their infant mortality rate is a third higher than that of other low-income countries, life expectancy is 12 years lower, and their maternal mortality rate is about 20 percent higher.

There are also important differences among LICUS. Some grew at around 4 percent per annum during 1995-2003. Others had negative growth rates of a similar magnitude. Some have abundant natural resources, while others are resource-poor. These differences are recognized in four business models that the Bank developed to work with countries in crisis: deterioration, prolonged crisis or impasse, post-conflict or political transition, and gradual improvement.

Countries in light blue are characterized as “core” LICUS countries, while those in dark blue are “severe” LICUS countries.


How much of Your Income is Spent of Food?

Here is an interesting table from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website, which compares food expenditures across different countries of the world.  Notice the wide disparity between the developed world and many developing countries.  I found it particularly noteworthy that Croatians spend fully 1/3 of their income on food.  I can say that I have first-hand evidence that this is true.  The reasons for this are complex (Croatia is not a poor country, at least compared to those countries with which it shares food expenditure characteristics) but have to do with small population size and small farm size, along with an overvalued (for political reasons) currency vis-a-vis countries from which Croatia imports a lot of foodstuffs.

Look at Pakistan!!  Wow!

Table 97
Percent of household final consumption expenditures spent on food, alcoholic beverages, and tobacco that were consumed at home, by selected countries, 20061
Country/Territory Share of household final consumption expenditures
Food2 Alcoholic beverages and tobacco Total household final consumption expenditures3 Expenditure per capita on food2
Percent U.S. dollars per person
United States
ERS estimate 5.8 NA NA 1,848
Euromonitor estimate 7.2 2.0 30,624 2,204
Singapore 8.1 2.3 12,000 975
Ireland 8.2 5.0 22,022 1,812
United Kingdom 8.7 3.6 24,205 2,097
Canada 9.3 3.8 21,526 1,994
United Arab Emirates 10.1 0.6 8,099 816
Netherlands 10.4 3.0 18,593 1,937
Switzerland 10.4 3.6 29,124 3,040
Denmark 10.9 3.6 24,175 2,629
Austria 11.1 2.6 20,666 2,289
Germany 11.2 3.5 19,811 2,226
Australia 11.2 4.1 19,991 2,247
Sweden 11.9 3.5 19,367 2,302
Kuwait 12.0 1.3 11,083 1,324
Finland 12.4 4.8 19,268 2,392
New Zealand 12.5 4.4 15,107 1,882
Norway 12.8 4.3 28,026 3,591
Hong Kong, China 13.0 0.8 15,199 1,979
Belgium 13.2 3.7 19,313 2,546
France 13.9 3.1 19,931 2,776
Japan 14.3 3.1 19,320 2,768
Spain 14.6 3.3 15,724 2,304
Italy 14.9 2.8 18,396 2,745
Malaysia 15.0 1.2 2,412 361
South Korea 15.1 2.6 9,668 1,464
Greece 15.6 5.0 14,469 2,259
Slovenia 15.9 4.4 9,836 1,568
Czech Republic 17.0 8.0 6,723 1,146
Hungary 17.8 8.2 7,239 1,291
Portugal 18.0 4.0 11,533 2,072
Israel 18.1 1.7 10,624 1,926
Estonia 18.4 8.6 6,206 1,141
Latvia 19.0 6.3 5,606 1,063
Slovakia 19.2 4.9 5,777 1,112
Argentina 20.1 3.3 3,325 667
Saudi Arabia 21.4 1.1 3,519 752
South Africa 21.4 4.6 3,146 674
Poland 22.1 7.4 4,968 1,099
Chile 23.7 0.8 4,332 1,025
Taiwan 23.9 2.1 9,961 2,377
Mexico 24.5 2.5 5,293 1,296
Brazil 24.7 1.9 2,915 721
Lithuania 24.9 6.4 5,752 1,432
Colombia 25.5 4.4 1,741 444
Thailand 25.8 5.6 1,809 467
Indonesia 26.7 2.0 979 262
Philippines 27.4 2.1 943 258
China 27.8 2.2 746 207
Ecuador 28.5 5.8 1,144 326
Turkey 28.7 5.1 3,626 1,040
Bolivia 29.1 2.2 715 208
Venezuela 29.4 3.1 2,413 709
Bulgaria 29.5 4.2 2,796 824
Peru 29.6 2.0 2,002 593
Russia 31.4 2.5 3,278 1,029
Turkmenistan 32.7 2.7 798 261
India 33.4 2.3 421 141
Croatia 33.9 4.1 5,281 1,791
Romania 34.6 5.0 4,285 1,481
Kazakhstan 36.6 3.5 2,267 829
Tunisia 36.7 1.0 1,875 688
Vietnam 39.7 2.9 426 169
Nigeria 40.7 2.5 412 168
Pakistan 41.5 2.5 44 18
Egypt 41.5 2.5 1,032 428
Ukraine 43.1 6.4 1,408 606
Jordan 43.6 5.1 1,648 718
Algeria 43.7 2.0 1,204 526
Morocco 44.8 1.5 1,156 517
Belarus 47.3 6.3 1,835 868
Azerbaijan 51.6 2.4 912 471
NA=Not available.
1The data are computed by Birgit Meade (202-694-5159, bmeade@ers.usda.gov), ERS/USDA, EUROMONITOR data, March 2006.
2Includes nonalcoholic beverages.
3Household expenditures for goods and services.