US President Obama Picks new Head of World Bank

This week POLI 1140 will be focused on the international political economy (IPE). As we’ll learn, much of the international institutional infrastructure for the current global economy was set up at a meeting in July 1944 in the New Hampshire mountain resort town of Bretton Woods. At the meeting, which the ailing economist John Maynard Keynes attended, created the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). (The International Trade Organization, which was planned, never came to fruition, and the General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs (GATT), would later be formed, which has been morphed into the World Trade Organization (WTO). These three institutions–World Bank, IMF, WTO–support the liberal (neoliberal) economic order, each of which provides a different main function.

Yesterday, US President Barack Obama named an academic–Dartmouth College president Jim Yong Kim–as his nominee to head the World Bank. Convention dictates that the USA be given the power to select the World Bank president while European states are given the right to select the head of the IMF.

This definitely counts as an “outside-the-box” pick for Obama. First, Dr. Kim is a global health expert, and not an economist. This may signal a change in direction and philosophy at the World Bank.The New York Times reports:

Highly respected among global health experts, Dr. Kim is an anthropologist and a physician who co-founded the nonprofit Partners in Health and a former director of the department of H.I.V./AIDS at the World Health Organization.

“The leader of the World Bank should have a deep understanding of both the role that development plays in the world and the importance of creating conditions where assistance is no longer needed,” President Obama said Friday. “It’s time for a development professional to lead the world’s largest development agency.”

This move bears watching in the future. It also signals one of the major differences between Democratic and Republican presidents. It is highly doubtful that any of the Republican candidates for president would name somebody with a similar resume as the head of the World Bank.

For a quick video of the creating of the Bretton Woods system, see the video below (the relevant excerpt begins at 36:36).

Helpful series of videos explaining IR theory

If, like many beginning students of IR theory, you are stumped by some of the nuances of the various IR theories, there is a helpful set of videos in which IR experts try to explain the theories in everyday language. (H/t to a student of mine–sensnation–for alerting me to the existence of these videos.)

I’ve posted the video of Caleb Gallemore of The Ohio State University, who talks about constructivism. Among many other insights in this short video, Gallemore stresses that while realists take the existence of what they find in the world as a given–“all states want to increase their power”, “we must stop at a red light”–constructivists understand that the world is “socially constructed” and would ask questions such as these: “what are states?”, “why was red (and not some other colour) chosen as the `stop’ colour?”

Have a look at this, and other videos in this series:

How to read tables of statistical regression results

Next week–January 21st–we’ll be looking at the debate between cultural and rationalist approaches to the analysis of political phenomena. As Whitefield and Evans note in the abstract of their 1999 article in the British Journal of Political Science:

There has been considerable disagreement among political scientists over the relative merits of political culture versus rational choice explanations of democratic and liberal norms and commitments. However, empirical tests of their relative explanatory power using quantitative evidence have been in short supply.

Their analysis of the political attitudes of Czech and Slovak residents is relatively rare in that the research is explicitly designed to assess the relative explanatory purchase of cultural and rationalist approaches to the study of political phenomena. Whitefield and Evans compile evidence (observational data) by means of a survey questionnaire given to random samples of Czech and Slovak residents. In order to assess the strengths of rationalist versus cultural accounts, Whitefield and Evans use statistical regression analysis. Some of you may be unfamiliar with statistical regression analysis, This blog post will explain what you need to know to understand the regression analysis results summarised in Tables 7 through 9 in the text.

Let’s take a look at Table 7. Here the authors are trying to “explain” the level of “democratic commitment”–that is, the level of commitment to democratic principles–of Czech and Slovak residents. Thus, democratic commitment is the dependent variable. The independent, or explanatory, variables can be found in the left-most column. These are factors that the authors hypothesize to have causal influence on the level of democratic commitment of the survey respondents. Some of these are nationality–Slovaks, Hungarians, political experience and evaluations–past and future–of the country’s and family’s well-being.

Each of the three remaining columns–Models 1 through 3–represents the results of a single statistical regression analysis (or model). Let’s take a closer look at the first model–ethnic and country dummy variables. In this model, the only independent variables analysed are one’s country and/or ethnic origin. The contrast category is Czechs, which means that the results are interpreted relative to how those of Czech residence/ethnicity answered. We see that the sign for the result of each of the two explanatory variables–Slovaks and Hungarians–is negative. What this means is that relative to Czechs, Slovaks and Hungarians demonstrated less democratic commitment. The two ** to the right of the numerical results (-0.18 and -0.07, respectively) indicate that this result is unlikely to be due to chance and is considered to be statistically significant. This would suggest that deep-seated cultural traditions–ethnicity/country or residence–have a strong causal (or correlational, at least) effect on the commitment of newly democratic citizens to democracy. Does this interpretation of the data still stand when we add other potential causal variables, as in Models 2 and 3? What do you think?

The Age of Global (In)equality?

Many of the readings from Chapter 9 of O’Neil’s Essential Readings address the issue of global divergence/convergence in economic growth and/or inequality over the last few decades (and even further back than that–i.e., the Pritchett reading). The question comes down to whether there has been more or less inequality over time. Which is it? Well, the answer depends to a large extent on how one chooses to measure inequality. I’ll begin my response to this by quoting a student’s e-mail I received earlier today:

Hello, below is a link to a video showing one aspect or area of convergence.

I don’t know if I agree that countries are converging in regards to wealth and health; after all, Africa still seems very far behind.  I general, yes, countries today are healthier (longer life spans) and wealthier (not looking at inequality) than they were 200 years ago…

…For our purposes, what is the meaning of convergence and divergence?  From Pritchett, he seems to be measuring growth in terms of GDP and concluding that there is divergence between developed and developing nations (i.e. the levels of growth are not coming together, but separating).  What about China and India, who experienced faster or “larger growth” than some developed nations in the 80’s to mid 90’s?  Then with Milanovic, he is talking about inequality – how it is decreasing at the world level (when Indian and China are included) and this shows convergence.  To me, O’Neil seems to be trying to present two sides of an issue; however, I see two separate issues.  One is divergence in economic growth and the other is convergence in equality. I suppose that China’s and India’s economic growth can explain or at least correlate to lower inequality at the world level, but is that the correct way of interpreting Milanovic?  Is he saying that there’s a convergence of equality (or lower inequality gap worldwide), because countries (when including China and India) are converging in regards to economic growth?

Thank you.

This student is essentially correct in his reading of the respective arguments. As I mentioned earlier, which view one takes on the question of the recent direction of inequality convergence/divergence depends upon how one chooses to measure inequality. To put it differently, it depends upon whether your unit-of-analysis is the country or the individual. A Gini Index score that is calculated on the basis of mean levels of national income (or wealth) may not be the same as one calculated on the basis of comparing the wealth of individuals worldwide. In fact, Milanovic tells us that the values are indeed different, and the difference is due mainly to what has happened in China and India over the last two decades or so.


Happy Earth Day

Today is Earth Day, a celebration of our planet and a day to reflect on all that it gives us and all that we do to make it less likely to continue to provide for us into the future. While we are unlikely to be entering a neo-Malthusian period, we are putting an ever increasing strain on the fragile ecosystem. Here, from the Vancouver Sun, are ten things that you can do to make a difference. How many of these are you currently doing? I hereby publicly commit that I will ride my bicycle to work until the end of the semester (that’s only about two weeks from now, but still two weeks is two weeks.)

1. Leave your car at home for a day (or a week or a month) and try walking or biking. If work is too far away to walk, take public transit or carpool. One city bus eliminates the emissions of 40 cars.

2. Turn off the lights, the computer and the television when they are not in use. Using only highly efficient and money-saving appliances can reduce the electricity consumption of an average household to one-10th of the national average.

3. Try eating meat-free at least one day a week. A meat-based diet requires seven times more land than a plant-based diet. Livestock production is responsible for more climate change gasses than all the motor vehicles in the world.

4. Choose foods produced organically, locally and in season. Support your regional farmers and farming industry: buying locally and in season is better for the environment than buying foods that have been shipped hundreds of kilometres to your local market.

5. Put a composter in your backyard or use your green bin to reduce household waste. Composting organics has two key benefits: it reduces the amount of waste going to landfills and when added to your garden, helps nourish soil and plants.

6. Turn off your car’s engine if stopped for more than 10 seconds. If every driver of a light-duty vehicle avoided idling by five minutes a day, collectively, we would save 1.8 million litres of fuel per day, almost 4500 tonnes of GHG emissions.

7. Set your thermostat above room temperature in the summer and below room temperature in the winter. For each degree you adjust, you can save 5% on your utility bill and 1% on your energy use.

8. Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). A CFL uses only 25% as much energy as an incandescent bulb and lasts 10 times longer.

9. The simple act of recycling has more impact on the environment than the average Canadian thinks. The amount of wood and paper North Americans throw away each year is enough to heat five million homes for 200 years.

10. This is a great opportunity to brag. Tell someone what you’re doing to make the world a better place. Support the cause. Encourage them to get involved too.

Source: Earth Day Canada

Risk, Uncertainty–From Governor Weld to the Modern Financial System

Canadian academic Thomas Homer-Dixon (we will read one of his papers this semester in Intro to IR) has written a piece for Canada’s “paper of record”–the Globe and Mail, which is titled “From Risk to Uncertainty.”  Those of you in my intro to comparative politics class will surely recognize immediately the difference between the tho concepts.

Remember when we read the first two chapter of Shepsle and Bonchek on instrumental rationality, the authors used the example of then-Massachusetts Governor Weld.  Weld had to decide whether to run for Governor again, or to commit to challenging Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.  A win there would have given him a nice platform for an eventual presidential run.  Weld, as we know, was operating in a world or risk rather than uncertainty when making his decision, given that there were public opinion polls published that estimated his chances of winning in either election.

What is the difference between risk and uncertainty and how does it apply to the contemporary global financial system (which, by the way, for those of you not paying attention is precariously teetering on the edge of meltdown–you heard it here first!)?

So the rules of the game have now fundamentally changed. Our global financial system has become so staggeringly complex and opaque that we’ve moved from a world of risk to a world of uncertainty. In a world of risk, we can judge dangers and opportunities by using the best evidence at hand [what Shepsle and Bonchek call beliefs] to estimate the probability of a particular outcome. But in a world of uncertainty, we can’t estimate probabilities, because we don’t have any clear basis for making such a judgment. In fact, we might not even know what the possible outcomes are. Surprises keep coming out of the blue, because we’re fundamentally ignorant of our own ignorance. We’re surrounded by unknown unknowns.

Personality Characteristics of Individual Leaders–Hugo Chavez and George W. Bush

In class on Wednesday, we’ll be analyzing the individual level of analysis in international relations. Do individuals matter? In other words, do they have an effect independent of the state and systemic levels, or do individuals lie at the periphery of international relations? Margaret Hermann–a political psychologist–has found that that leaders can be characterized based on a host of personality characteristics. Some of these are nationalism, need for power, need for affiliation, distrust of others, etc. On the basis of a composite of these characteristics, Hermann believed that leaders were more likely to have one or the other of two foreign policy orientations–independent leader, participatory leader. Watch these two clips and think about how you would characterize Chávez’s and Bush’s foreign policy orientations, respectively.

The Global Perspectives box on p. 146 in Mingst, asks the following questions:

  1. Is it personality or policies that have made Chavez popular and powerful? Using Herman’s personality characteristics, how would you classify Chavez?
  2. How has the person of Chavez augmented the power of the Venezuelan state?

The same could be asked of President Bush:

  1. Is it personality or policies that have made President Bush popular and powerful? Using Herman’s personality characteristics, how would you classify Bush?
  2. How has the person of Bush augmented the power of the US state?

Australia and Japan in Whaling row

The Financial Times reports that the Australian Prime Minister has vowed to try to put an end to commercial whaling, which puts him at odds with a Pacific ally, Japan. You can find the whole story here, but here’s an important snippet:

Kevin Rudd, Australia’s new Labor prime minister, on Thursday said his government would pursue all means to end commercial whaling by Japan and other countries, dismissing claims that Japanese hunting is for scientific purposes.

Mr Rudd’s comments, which mark a significant shift in Australian foreign policy, came amid a tense stand-off that has soured relations between Japan and Australia.

The previous conservative government of John Howard, defeated by Labor in last November’s election, had avoided antagonising Japan, one of Australia’s closest allies and most important trading partners, over the issue.

We’ll look at this issue later in the semester when we analyze the state or domestic level. There is an important theory in IR that argues that there is a single, unitary national interest that is fairly consistent over time, regardless of which party or leader is in charge. What is this theory and what are the implications for that theory of the whaling row between the Japanese and Australians?