Category Archives: Almond Comparative Politics Today: ATF 5/e

Who Governs Lebanon?

Lebanon's Prime Minister, Saad al-Hariri, waves to the crowd at a political rally.

Lebanon's Prime Minister, Saad al-Hariri, waves to the crowd at a political rally.

Incumbent Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri will remain in his post as head of a caretaker government in Lebanon, according to a report by the BBC yesterday. Lebanon had been poised to enter a period of political deadlock and uncertainty, and the Arab League described the situation in Lebanon as “tense,” after eleven ministers from Hariri’s ruling coalition resigned last week. The ministers, all of whom have ties to the powerful Hezbollah party, are angry about plans by a United Nations-backed tribunal to indict several of its members for their alleged involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was also the father of current Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. Their decision effectively dismantled the government of national unity [glossary] that had been in place since 2008.

Lebanon appears to be entering a prolonged period of political stalemate which, unlike the longstanding stalemate in Belgium, will likely paralyze the country. The country is sharply divided along religious and sectarian lines and has a history of civil conflict. The National Pact, the informal agreement that has governed Lebanese politics since 1943, mandates that the top three political posts in the country be allocated on the basis of religion, with the country’s president be a Maronite Christian, its Prime Minister be a Sunni Muslim, and its Speaker of the Parliament be a Shi’a Muslim. The Pact also reserves half the parliament for Christian parties and half for Muslim parties. 

Further, neighboring powers, including Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, have regularly intervened in Lebanese affairs.

The current political standoff in Lebanon is more than a simple problem of coalition [glossary] politics. Hezbollah, the favored party of the country’s Shi’a population, is more than an opposition party. It is also the most powerful military force in the country and frequently operates as a government in its own right, operating its own satellite television station and providing social services like subsidized housing and welfare support to people across the country. Internationally, Hezbollah’s paramilitary wing has been a strong opponent of Israel.

If al-Hariri is unable to re-establish a majority coalition in the parliament—a situation that appears highly unlikely, given Hezbollah’s strong opposition to the release of tribunal findings—Lebanon appears likely to remain in a political quagmire. Neither side can form a ruling coalition without the support of the other, but neither side appears willing to compromise.

But concerns also run deeper. Many domestic observers are cautioning that the political standoff could turn violent, rekindling tensions remaining from the Lebanese Civil War. And if that takes place, it is possible that Israel would feel compelled to intervene, as it did most recently in 2006, resulting in the displacement of some 1.5 million people in northern Israel and southern Lebanon  More broadly such a conflict would also endanger the ongoing talks with the Palestinians. Unlike the political stalemate in Belgium, which has been unable to form a ruling coalition in its national parliament since elections in July 2010, the political stalemate in Lebanon appears both more fragile and more dangerous.

The Future of Sudan and Africa’s Artificial States

Voter Registration ahead of South Sudan's Independence Referrendum.

Voter Registration ahead of South Sudan's Independence Referrendum.

On January 9, 2011, the people of southern Sudan will take part in an unusual election that will determine the future of their conflict-ravaged country. They will vote on whether or not they will continue to be part of Sudan, or whether they will break away and form their own, independent country of South Sudan. Rarely have such decisions been taken lightly. While the breakup of the former Eastern European state of Czechoslovakia into two separate states (the Czech Republic and Slovakia) was relatively peaceful, far more often the question of Secession leads to violent efforts to preserve the existing distribution of power. In Biafra (Nigeria), East Pakistan (Bangladesh), Chechnya (Russia), Eritrea (Ethiopia), Kosovo, Bosnia, and even in the United States during the U.S. Civil War, efforts by one group of people to break away from another and form their own state are often met with a sharp—frequently violent—response.

Most observers believe the people of South Sudan will vote in favor of independence, and the international community has slowly begun to mobilize in anticipation. But there will be many issues to deal with: citizenship and nationality, distribution and control over natural resources, security, international treaty obligations, currency and trade, just to name a few. Complicating the situation is the distribution of Sudan’s oil resources. While the oil reserves are located primarily in the southern part of the country, the pipelines to ship it out of the country and sell the oil flow through the north. Any peaceful transition will have to address these complicated issues.

Far more likely, unfortunately, is the possibility of a protracted conflict. Ahead of its break from Ethiopia, Eritrea fought an extended war of independence (lasting from 1961 to 1991). After a referendum and peaceful separation in 1993, the two countries went to war in 1998, fighting along their disputed border. The war, which lasted a little more than two years, cost Ethiopia and Eritrea—two of the world’s poorest countries—hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of casualties.

International observers are mobilizing to prevent a similar occurrence in South Sudan. George Clooney has lent his star power to support an initiative by the United Nations and Harvard University to use satellites to monitor developments in southern Sudan,  hoping to prevent genocide there. Meanwhile, former South African President Thabo Mbeki has called for unity and a peaceful transition, noting that many African states face similar challenges.

The broader challenge for African states rests in the artificiality of their national borders, many of which were set as a result of colonial interventions by European states. Peoples were combined and divided by national boundaries that were convenient for European powers, but bore little resemblance to the lived realities of the people themselves. Consequently, historical rivals were often combined into a single state, while peoples with shared histories and identities were frequently divided into separate states. For several decades after independence, the solution was essentially to ignore the problem. In 1963, the Organization of African Unity formally endorsed the borders established by colonial authorities nearly 100 years earlier. Such a move was perhaps politically necessary. Rather than reopening old wounds and engaging in a divisive discussion of redrawing political boundaries, they chose to go with what was there. But that decision also left many artificial states intact, with populations that desired autonomy an independence. There may be, in other words, many other South Sudans waiting to declare their own independence in an ever fragmenting map of Africa.

Economic Development and Intellectual Property

Chinese Solar Panel Production

Solar Panel Production: One of the areas China has been accused of engaging in development-through-copying.

Development has long been an elusive challenge. Despite more than sixty years of theorizing, debating, modeling, and discussing, I think a compelling case can be made that we really still don’t understand how and why development takes place. Sure, we understand the basics: corruption is generally bad, loans and foreign investment are insufficient, and so on. But there’s much, much more that we don’t really understand: How are democracy and development related? Is there a resource curse? What are the necessary conditions for economic growth? And so on.

So when Chris Blattman blogged on Chinese development last week, I read it with particularly interest. Blattman noted the negative coverage the Chinese purchase of a Spanish company received in the New York Times. According to the NYT,

The story of Gamesa in China follows an industrial arc traced in other businesses, like desktop computers and solar panels. Chinese companies acquire the latest Western technology by various means and then take advantage of government policies to become the world’s dominant, low-cost suppliers.

Blattman then goes on to deconstruct this narrative, noting that “there is nothing dark or nefarious here [just] good hold fashioned industrial policy at work.” He notes that the story of Chinese development-through-copying echoes previous patterns of development, including Europe in the 19th century, Japan after the Meiji Restoration, and the Asian Tigers in the 20th century.

Indeed, copying has long been a tool for developing countries to catch up with the industrial leaders of the day. For this reason, developing countries often afford much weaker intellectual property protection than developed countries. Weak IP protection, in other words, was frequently used as a developmental tool. As the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment noted in a 1986 report,

There have been political tensions between nations whose role as producers of intellectual property allowed them greater access to such products, and nations that imported technology products, and had only limited access to them.  When the United States was still a relatively young and developing country, for example, it refused to respect international intellectual property rights on the grounds that it was freely entitled to foreign works to further its social and economic development.

Ironically, however, today weak IP protection is often cited as a significant barrier to technology transfer. Further complicating the situation, the development of a uniform system of intellectual property protections deployed globally through the World Trade Organization also serves to preclude this avenue of development-through-copying.

Foreign Policy’s Top Global Thinkers

President Barack Obama, No. 3 on the Foreign Policy list of the top 100 global thinkers.

President Barack Obama, No. 3 on the Foreign Policy list of the top 100 global thinkers.

Foreign Policy has released its annual list of the top 100 global thinkers. It’s an interesting mix of political and economic reformers, environmentalists, and elected and unelected officials. While we might quibble about some of the rankings, the list nevertheless makes for some interesting reading.

More Better Research

A protestor at Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity asks for sane research.


A protestor at Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity asks for sane research.

Duncan Green

has a great entry this week on the need to rethink development research. Noting that every development report (not to mention every student thesis) seems to end with a call for more research, he asks if such a call is justified. Is there any area, he rhetorically asks, where we need less research? He offers  an interesting proposal, though, to rethink where we need more research. Rather than focusing on specific issue areas, he suggests we develop more thematic approaches that cut across traditional issue areas.

Meanwhile, Texas in Africa raises some great questions over the nature of research and proof, asking do social scientists think? The debate, which centers on the nature of proof in development planning, provides useful advice for all social scientists. Both are recommended reading for students of political science.

Quantitative Easing and Global Hyperinflation

Street cleaner sweeps worthless German Marks into the gutter.

Street cleaner sweeps worthless German Marks into the gutter.

Apart from the U.S. elections, the news last week was heavily focused on the decision of the U.S. Federal Reserve to inject some $600 billion into the economy by purchasing treasury bills. The policy, referred to as quantitative easing, is a tool of monetary policy [glossary] intended to address the ongoing economic malaise in the United States. Because interest rates are already near zero, the traditional monetary policy of reducing interest rates is not viable.

The move has provoked considerable discussion, not least because it risks stimulating inflation, as Alex Evans at the Global Dashboard notes. The policy will certainly cause a decline in the value of the U.S. dollar, promoting U.S. exports and encouraging greater investment. The broader challenge, as Robert Reich observes, is that a dual economy system is emerging in the United States. On the one hand, the financial economy is doing well. The Dow has had its ups and downs, but the sharp declines of 2008 appear to be in the rear view mirror. On the other hand, the economy of American workers continues to be in the doldrums. Unemployment appears to be stuck at just under 10 percent, real wages are frozen, and workers continue to be skittish about future employment prospects. Will Bernanke’s efforts to stimulate the economy work? It depends on who you are. Financial markets may worry about the inflationary effects of quantitative easing, but the policy of keeping interest rates near zero has certainly been positive. For workers, however, monetary policy may not be as effective as fiscal policy [glossary]. Sustaining unemployment benefits, for example, may be more effective as an economic stimulus. But such a policy is politically untenable, particularly after the mid-term elections. However imperfect, quantitative easing may be the only policy tool left to address the ongoing economic crisis in the United States.

Elections and U.S. Foreign Policy

U.S. President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

U.S. President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

There was a great deal of virtual ink spilled last week to discuss how the midterm elections would affect U.S. foreign policy. Bruce Stokes, Richard Haass, Steve Walt, and Daniel Drezner, among others, all chimed in. The emerging consensus seems to be that it will make little difference. As Daniel Drezner pointed out, the election his neither about foreign policy nor has foreign policy been a central—or even a tangential—concern. A former professor of mine once said that foreign policy will never win an election for you, though it can certainly lose one. This year, it did neither.

In general, there’s a great deal of wisdom here. President Obama still controls the foreign policy apparatus of the United States, and Congress has long been hesitant to intervene. But despite assertions that Republican control of the House and their increased minority in the Senate will make little difference, there are a couple of areas where change may be afoot.

First, the START Treaty—the new arms control agreement between the United States and Russia. The agreement would replace an arms control agreement that expired in December, and would impose new limits on the number of warheads and launchers possessed by both countries. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the agreement by a 14-4 vote in September, which cleared the way for a vote by the Senate as a whole. Harry Reid has previously indicated that a vote on the treaty was unlikely before the end of the session, which forces the ratification vote into the new Congress. Ratification would require 67 votes—a tough feat in a Senate suspicious of administration efforts in this area.

Second, climate change. In June, the House narrowly approved a climate change bill that would develop a version of cap-and-trade in the United States. The initiative stalled in the Senate, and now appears unlikely to receive a vote before the end of the session. Given the lack of support for climate change legislation among Republican lawmakers, efforts to develop a comprehensive policy governing greenhouse gas emissions in the United States appears to be ever less likely. And with that decline, U.S. initiatives to address climate change at the multilateiral level also appears increasingly bleak.

A Non-Multicultural Germany

A Turkish Parade in Berlin

A Turkish Parade in Berlin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week asserted that multiculturalism had “utterly failed” in Germany. Her comments, offered as part of a broader speech to young members of the Christian Democratic Party, provoked sharp debate. And it was a somewhat surprising development, given Merkel’s history of trying to placate both sides of the argument by simultaneously calling for stricter integration standards for immigrants while simultaneously calling for the public to accept the religious freedom of immigrants, particularly the existence of mosques.

In a sense, the German debate echoes similar debates in the United States, where concerns over the “Ground Zero” mosque have stoked anti-immigration and anti-Muslim sentiment. Recent polls in Germany show that 1/3 of the population believes the country had been “overrun by foreigners” and over half believed that “Arabs are “unpleasant people.”

Other German leaders reflected this sentiment. Earlier this month, Horst Seehofer, head of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, called for Germany to halt immigration for Turks and Arabs on the grounds that they have difficulty assimilating into German society. And in August, Thilo Sarrazin, who is a member of the governing board of the Bundesbank, Germany’s equivalent of the U.S. Federal Reserve, published a book in which he claimed that immigration from Turkey and the Arab world had made Germany “more stupid” and that Arab and Turkish immigrants had no useful function “except for the trading of fruit and vegetables.”

But the problem of integration in Germany is complicated by the nature of German citizenship and the history of Turkish immigration. German citizenship is based on the principle of jus sanguine, or right of the blood. This means that individuals acquire their citizenship from the based on the nationality of their parents rather than from the country in which they were born (jus soil). As a result, millions of ethnic Turks, born in Germany as the children of workers who migrated to Germany in the 1960s to satisfy German demand for labor under the Gastarbeiter (Guest Worker) program. These ethnic Turks grew up in Germany, attending German schools, speaking the German language, and often even adopting German customs and traditions. But because of the principle of jus sanguine, they were not entitled to German citizenship.

Changes to German citizenship laws passed in 2000 were intended to rectify the worst instances of this. Under the new law, a person born in Germany to parents who had legally resided in Germany at least three years prior to their birth and who does not have citizenship in another country can apply for German citizenship after they turn 23 years of age.

But, as in the United States, recent economic difficulties have sharpened tensions between eh various ethnic communities that comprise the country. In Germany, Turks have become the target for economically disenfranchised Germans. In the United States, Hispanics and Muslims have played a similar role. But rather than rejecting multiculturalism as the problem, perhaps the underlying issues of alienation and economic disenfranchisement should be the target of public policy.

Addressing Climate Change

UN Climate Change Conference

UN Climate Change Conference

Clive Crook

has an interesting analysis of the New Republic’s recent editorials on the political economy of climate change. The short version is that the disconnect between climate change rhetoric and reality has undermined policy proposals to limit the impact of dramatic climate events. This is not to suggest that anthropogenic (human-driven) climate change is not occurring. It is, but its impact is difficult to assess and probably less-dramatic and immediate than climate change scientists have warned. To make matters worse, the impact of efforts to address climate change—by, for example, increasing the cost of polluting activities through taxes or regulation—are felt immediately. The consequence is that it becomes relatively easy to mobilize individuals to oppose legislation addressing climate change but it much more difficult to mobilize them to support it.

What we’ve done to date is to treat carbon emissions—one of the primary drivers of climate change—as a negative externality [glossary] and to attempt to establish policies which force firms and consumers to internalize those externalities. Cap-and-trade does this by creating a market in carbon emissions and requiring firms to purchase the right to emit carbon. Not surprisingly, most firms, especially those which already emit high levels of carbon, oppose such a policy. As The Economist’s Free Exchange blog notes, the introduction of a cap-and-trade system in the United States appears dead for the foreseeable future, given strong opposition by Republicans who will likely regain control over the House of Representatives in the fall.

Ultimately, the challenge of addressing climate change can best be understood as a collective action problem, in which the incentive for each rational actor (be it a state, a firm, or an individual) is to do nothing and to free ride [glossary] on the efforts of others to address the problem. This is because of the nature of efforts to address climate change. Preventing climate change is a classic example of a public good [glossary]. And because it is impossible to exclude someone who has not paid for a public good from benefitting from that same public good, the rational course of action for any individual actor is to free ride on the efforts of others.

At the domestic level, public goods are often provided by the state. National defense for example, is provided by the state because of its nature as a public good. Historically, fire prevention services might also have been considered a public good. But at the global level, the anarchic nature of the international system increases the incentives for states to free ride on the efforts of others, and the provision of global public goods is consequently much more contentious.

The solution is to change the way we think about the problem. According to Michael Shellengberger and Ted Nordhaus, long-term public investment in green energy provides a better alternative. Rather than increasing the cost of carbon emissions, reducing the cost of green energy is more politically palatable. There are problems with this solution to be sure. As the Free Exchange blog notes, research subsidies will likely not address the low-hanging fruit of easy, low-cost changes that have a minor (but important) impact. Further, absent changes which force the internalization of carbon price externalities, the incentives for green energy production are likely to be less dramatic than they might otherwise be. But in the political climate in which we currently operate, green energy subsidies might be the only path towards a more sustainable energy policy.

Smaller Government, Bigger Government: The Grass is Always Greener

James Kwak at The Baseline Scenario has a great discussion of income inequality in the United States today.  Citing a short paper by Michael Norton and Dan Ariely, Kwak breaks down the actual, estimated, and preferred income distribution as stated by respondents to the survey conducted by Norton and Ariely. According to the results, Americans perceive income inequality in the United States to be far more equal than it actually is, and desire it to be more equal still (see figure below). As Kwak summarizes, Americans want to be more like Sweden.

Actual, Perceived, and Preferred Level of Wealth Distribution inthe United States.

Actual, Perceived, and Preferred Level of Wealth Distribution inthe United States.

Ironically, however, developing the level of distributional equality that exists in Sweden is predicated on paying higher marginal taxes and accepting a much greater level of government involvement in the economy, two things that recent developments in American politics suggest are not on the front burner.

There’s another irony, however; one captured by Jon Stewart’s “Mob Swap” proposal last week. Across Europe, governments have been engaged in efforts to reign in the welfare state, to introduce a greater efficiency and reduce government debt burdens. These moves have provoked protests across Europe. Last week alone, 100,000 people took to the streets of Belgium to protest cuts in government spending, millions took part in protests in France challenging a proposal to increase the retirement age, and workers shut down the London underground. Meanwhile, Americans are protesting against expanded government programs, including the Troubled Asset Recovery Program (TARP) and the Obama health insurance reforms. The grass, it appears, is always greener!