Development and Underdevelopment–the Commanding Heights

We addressed the topic of development and underdevelopment in POLI 1100 this week. Amongst the many issues covered, we started to explore some of the alleged causes of economic growth and development. Why is there still such disparity in income and economic growth around the world, not only between countries, but within? Why have countries in the global “South” lagged behind, for the most part, their counterparts in the global “North”? There are various answers to this question and we addressed a couple of them in class. I showed clips from a fantastic documentary series put together by PBS, called (and based on the book of the same name) The Commanding Heights. All the information you’ll need is at the PBS website. Fortunately, each of the three 2-hour episodes has also been uploaded (in its entirety) to the Internet. From the narration at the beginning of the first episode, we learn that

This is the story of how the new global economy was born. A century-long battle as to which would control the commanding heights of the world’s economies–governments or markets.

I encourage you to watch all three episodes.


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?

Reagan to Gorbachev–“Tear Down This Wall”

Getting ready for our mock German election tomorrow has me thinking about the German political system, the respective political parties, and German reunification.  It reminded me of this famous speech by President Ronald Reagan at Brandenburg Gate in (West) Berlin.

Nicolae Ceausescu and the Cult of Personality

Today in introduction to comparative we discussed various coercive tactics available and generally used by authoritarian and dictatorial leaders.  One of them is the cultivation of a “cult of personality.”  Nobody was better at it than the late (executed) Romanian Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.  This clip from youtube is a treasure as it shows the dictator’s last public speech; within hours both he and his equally loathsome spouse, Elena, had been executed.

Note a couple of things; first, the dramatic banners, huge photographs of the ruling couple, and other similar accoutrements of the public celebrations of a totalitarian regime.  Note also the massive crowds. In totalitarian systems (as opposed to authoritarian ones), every thing is politicized and one’s presence at events such as this would be expected.  Apathy is not allowed, and it is considered reactionary.

The second fascinating phenomenon is when the crowd (or portions thereof) begins to whistle and jeer its disapproval while Ceausescu is speaking.  The voice on his face as he realizes that he has lost the crowd is absolutely fascinating.  Rarely in history is an event like this captured for posterity.

40th Anniversary of the Prague Spring and Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia

 This Spring marks the 40th anniversary of the Prague Spring–a domestic, Czech-led liberalization and democratization movement in the former Czechoslovakia–and the subsequent Soviet military invasion of that former communist state.  As Czechs sang and wrote their way towards a regime Czechs would describe as “Communism with a human face”, Leonid Brezhnev–the leader of the Soviet Union–rolled Soviet tanks onto the streets of Prague to put an end to Alexander Dubcek’s reforms.  This was the first concrete foreign policy manifestation of the “combating of anti-socialist forces,” which came to be known as the Brezhnev Doctrine.

Euronews has an interesting report on the commemoration of the Prague Spring, which has been uploaded to youtube.  I encourage you to take a look.

Russian Journalist found Murdered

Freedom House, a prominent NGO that monitors and assesses the level of civil and political rights and freedoms in the world, downgraded Russia’s status in 2004 from Partly Free to Not Free.  This is part of the legacy of Vladimir Putin’s rule in Russia.  Another part of the legacy has been the dramatic number of journalists killed in Russia over the last decade.  Most of these journalists had either been working on, or had reported stories about, corruption in the government and business elite.

Here is the report from Euronews about the latest Russian journalist to be killed:

russian_reporter.jpgA Russian journalist has been assassinated in Moscow. Ilias Shurpaiev, who worked for the state-run Channel One, was found dead in his flat. He had apparently being strangled with a belt and suffered stab wounds. Shurpaeiv, a native of the mostly Muslim Dagestan province, was the author of several reports on the Caucusus region.

More than a dozen journalists have been killed in contract-style killings in Russia since 2000.

Economic Growth and Pollution in Budapest

In intro to comparative, in a few weeks time, we’ll cover developments in the post-communist world of Eastern Europe. Here is an interesting report from one of my home towns (I lived and studied in Budapest for a year in the late 1990s) that looks at the effects of economic growth on first lowering and now raising levels of pollution in the majestic Hungarian capital.

budapest.jpg Climb into the Buda Hills and look back at the flatlands of Pest and the pollution is obvious: a yellow-gray cloud that blankets the Hungarian capital much of the time.

Indeed, 19 years after the collapse of communism, Budapest’s air quality has become a problem again. Pollution exceeded recommended levels 115 days last year, 80 days more than permitted under European Union (EU) guidelines. [of which Hungary is a member.] In late December and early January, the capital experienced one of its most prolonged smog events in a decade.

When communism imploded in 1989, Budapest’s air was atrocious. With their two-cycle engines, fleets of Trabant automobiles spewed black clouds of lead-laden exhaust, while city busses and industrial facilities pumped eye-stinging emissions into the air. During the 1990s the air cleared as factories installed pollution controls, leaded gasoline was banned, and newer, cleaner Western cars replaced dirty Soviet ones.

But in recent years, those gains have been reversed as many Hungarians now drive to work from increasingly far-flung suburban areas. Lead and sulfur dioxide have been replaced by dangerous concentrations of tiny exhaust particles.

“We’ve exchanged [Victorian-era] London-type smog for Los Angles-type smog,” laments Janos Zlinszky of the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe. “The nature of our environmental problems is shifting.”

Across east-central Europe, a region once blighted by Communist-era pollution, economic development is bringing on a new set of environmental problems and, in some cases, bringing back old ones.

Human Trafficking–Katia’s Story

A confluence of events–globalization, technological and communications advances, and halting (or no) democratization–has led to an unprecedented rise in global human trafficking. States and governments have been unable to make a dent in this growing trade, where human beings are sold like cattle to be used as indentured servants and sex slaves. Here is a documentary about one such person, Katia from Ukraine, whose husband’s friend kidnapped and sold her in Turkey, whence she was moved to western Europe where she was forced into prostitution. (The documentary is in five parts. Here is part one.)

Winter 2008 issue of Orbis dedicated to “Assessing Democratic Transitions”

Just a note to remind me that the Winter 2008 issue of Orbis has a symposium on entitled “Assessing Democratic Transitions Today.” Here is the partial table of contents:

Introduction Adrian A. Basora
Must Democracy Continue to Retreat in Postcommunist Europe and Eurasia? Adrian A. Basora
The Tasks of Democratic Transition and Transferability Valerie Bunce
Ukraine: Lessons Learned from Other Post-Communist Transitions Mykola Riabchuk
Central Asia: U.S. Bases and Democratization Alexander Cooley
East and South East Asia: Lessons from Democratic Transitions Tom Ginsburg
Can Outsiders Bring Democracy to Post-Conflict States? John R. Schmidt