Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On the Road Again

To Tempe tomorrow for a conference entitled, "Think Locally, Act Globally?" sponsored by the Center for for Law and Global Affairs at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor School of Law. It's a small gathering of about a dozen scholars to explore the prospects and problems of applying Vincent Ostroms' conception, and Lin's Ostrom's application, of polycentric governance to issues of international environmental policy, including climate change.

Background information on the conference can be found here. Among the questions to be addressed:
  • What types of interactions and relationships currently exist among institutions at different scales, and among public and private schemes? 
  • How do international institutions such as UNDP, UNEP and the World Bank interact with small-scale and private initiatives?
  • Can international institutions promote effective collective action at smaller scales, or is such action too dependent on specific local context?
  • Can international institutions learn from small-scale collective action, scaling up local solutions, or is the international environment too different?
  • Can international-local interactions disseminate global norms downward within society, for better implementation? Can they transmit local voices upward, for more participatory and better-informed global policy?
  • How do polycentric governance systems manage their complexity? Can international institutions improve system management?
  • What impacts do different forms of polycentric and multi-scalar governance have on outcomes? Can we identify successful models of interaction and management?
These questions are challenging (to say the least); most of them cannot possibly be answered by a small group of scholars gathered around a conference table in two days of conversation. I'm not sure what other participants expect, but my hope is that the assembled legal scholars and social scientists will find some common ground on terminological and conceptual issues, refine some of the initial questions, and raise new ones. If we manage to do at least two of those three things, I will consider the conference a success, regardless of answers.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Gov. Romney v. Candidate Romney on Environmental Issues

Over at Legal Planet (here) Dan Farber provides a nice table highlighting Romneys' complete reversals on environmental issues over the past decade. This should not be surprising, given the candidate's propensity to play both Jekyll and Hyde on virtually every issue. Voters surely need to ask themselves which Romney would actually govern as president. If we trust what he has said most recently, then those of us who favor a practical, effective, and cost-effective system of environmental protection have much to fear from a Romney presidency. His most recently stated positions on environmental issues render him, as Farber suggests, a "carbon-copy of George W. Bush." Meanwhile, those who believe (erroneously as it happens) that EPA is an out-of-control "job-killing" agency should be pretty happy with a carbon copy of W. But, given Romney's many deviations from his past positions, can they really trust that Romney will maintain his current campaign positions once he takes office?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

In Case You Needed More Proof that the Intellectual Property Bar Is Out of Control

William Faulkner's estate is reportedly suing Woody Allen for a two-line quote (with attribution) in Allen's film, Midnight in Paris (which for the sake of full disclosure, I did not much like). The story is here in today's Independent. It's long past time the courts clipped the wings of the IP legal eagles, curtailed the increasing encroachment of "fair use," and told the descendants of famous authors to rely more on their own creative work for income.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Arsenal 1 - QPR 0

I only saw the second half of this match. From what I heard, the first half displayed more of what we've seen in the last two matches; Arsenal failed to create any decent chances. For most of the second half, the match looked likely to end in a scoreless draw, especially after Santi Cazorla conspired to blast the ball up into the stands from 8 years out, when he was under virtually no pressure from the QPR defense. But the game changed soon after that, when QPR defender Stephane M'Bia intentionally kicked Thomas Vermaelen in the shin, after Vermaelen had shouldered him to the turf (earning a free kick for M'Bia). The referee had absolutely no choice but to show M'Bia a straight red card.

From that point on, the game improved pretty dramatically. The Gunners started getting shots on goal (finally), several of which were very well saved QPR goalie Julio Cesar. The Gunners's goal finally came after a nice cross into the box by substitute Andrei Arshavin (replacing the consistently wasteful Gervinho), which Mikel Arteta managed to put into the net on the third try (seemingly from an offside position). The Rangers also had their chances, and surely would have tied the game but for Vito Mannone in the Arsenal goal.

In sum, Arsenal were fortunate to come out of this contest with three points. Their problems on offense continue, although at least they started getting some shots on goal after QPR were reduced to 10 men (which they have not been doing in recent matches). Almost as important as the result, it was great to see Bacary Sagna and, especially, Jack Wilshire back in the Arsenal squad.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Ostrom Workshopper in the News

David Brooks has a nice column in today's New York Times (here) about the virtue of moderation. The best sentence of the column comes in the penultimate paragraph:
There are some good history books that describe political moderation, like “A Virtue for Courageous Minds” by Aurelian Craiutu, a political scientist at Indiana University.
It's nice to see that, even after Lin Ostrom's passing, Workshoppers are still receiving well-deserved praise for their work. See my post from earlier this year about Aurelian's book here.

Too Much Volatility on Intrade

As we get closer to election day, funny things are happening with the Intrade prediction market. The final debate was on Monday, Oct. 22. Two days later, President Obama's probability of reelection fell from just under 61% to approximately 55% in a single day, followed by a one-day rebound to just under 60%. As of today, he is at 62%, which is higher than he was two days before the final debate. The day-to-day volatility strongly suggests that a small number of players have been trying to move the market for political purposes, which is a risk with these kinds of thin markets. It's difficult to say whether we have seen an appropriate correction of the market (as comparisons with thicker prediction markets, such as Betfair, would indicate) or whether we're just seeing another round in an ongoing contest of tit-for-tat, bloc purchasing of shares  by Democratic and Republican operatives. Whatever the cause, if Intrade keeps showing such volatility in the coming days, it is probably best to ignore it as an indicator of momentum.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Posner Pans Amar's "America's Unwritten Constitution"

The review is here at the New Republic. I have not (yet) read Akhil Amar's new book, but if Judge Posner's many barbs come anywhere near their targets, then his evisceration of the Liberal Professor Amar would be every bit as decisive as his recent takedown of the Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia (see here).

Have I Been Following the Wrong Prediction Market?

Professional poker player and Harvard teaching fellow Brandon Ames suggests that I should be following UK sites such as Betfair and Pinnacle rather the US site Intrade because the later is a thinner market with less sophisticated participants:
Mr. Adams says that Betfair and the sports book Pinnacle, both of which put Mr. Obama’s odds at about 63 percent as of early Wednesday morning, feature more sophisticated market participants.
The full story (here) suggests that some of Mitt Romney's recent momentum in trading on Intrade has amounted to a deliberate effort by a small number of his supporters to shift the market. Because Intrade is  often cited in the US media, a surge in Romney's stock value on that market could (the presumption goes) affect the perceptions of undecided voters.

Kiesling on the Economics of Doping in Cycling

Over at Knowledge Problem (here), Lynne Kiesling has a really good post about the economics of doping in cycling. Below the post, you'll find a comment from your's truly.

Oops, I Didn't Mean to Actually Say What I Think

The journalist Michael Kinsley famously quipped that a "gaffe" is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. More accurately, I think, it's when a politician says what they really think, whether or not it happens to be true. So, when US Senate candidate Richard Mourdock says that a pregnancy resulting from rape was God's intent, that's not a misstatement of what he meant to say, but an accurate statement of his view. Because it was a political mistake to have said it, he is now apologizing for expressing his actual opinion.  Likewise with Romney's now infamous extended comments about the 47% of Americans who are moochers. And President Obama's recent declaration that the private sector economy is "doing just fine" is another example.

The campaign manager's dream of a candidate who never states an opinion that has not been pre-vetted by focus groups has yet to be realized.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Arsenal 0 - Schalke 2

The less said about this Champion's League match, the better. Only 6 shots; just one on target. Two games in a row without a goal. The loud boos from those who remained to the end at the Emirates were fully justified.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Miguel Indurain Raises a Legitimate Question

The five-time Tour de France champion observes (here):

it’s been his own teammates, and in some cases close friends who are pointing the finger at him... can he [Armstrong] be sanctioned like this? Only him?.... Because apparently those who admitted they did the same – his accusers – are going around like heroes. I don’t know what the current legal situation is, it’s changing a lot, but common sense tells me that something isn’t right.”
Indurain expects Armstrong to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Who Won the Final Debate?

The consensus seems to be that President Obama won the third and final debate "on points" (see, e.g., here and here). Traders in the prediction market suggest otherwise. Just before the final debate, Intrade had Obama with an approximately 61% chance of reelection. Right now, he is trading at 57.2% (see here), the lowest level since I began following the Intrade market about six weeks ago. I can't say for sure that Obama's decline is a result of the debate (or the debate alone), as opposed to recent poll numbers showing  Romney gaining strength in swing states. Nevertheless, the Obama camp should be worried, and the Romney camp should be heartened.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Congratulations to No One

No surprise that the UCI has stripped Lance Armstrong of all his titles and banned him for life in the wake of the USADA's findings (see here). UCI president Pat McQuaid, previously a staunch defender of Armstrong (who not coincidentally contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the UCI's anti-doping effort), now maintains that "Armstrong has no place in cycling."

So, who won the Tour de France 1999-2005? No one. The director of that race, Christian Prudhomme, already has announced that Armstrong's victories should not be re-attributed to other cyclists (which would be highly problematic given that nearly all of them were doping, just like Armstrong) (see here).

Will Armstrong spend the rest of his life in the cycling wilderness? I sincerely doubt it. My guess is that within five years, 10 at most, he'll be re-embraced as the champion he was. But there will be a price to be paid: he'll have to confess.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Norwich City 1 - Arsenal 0

I didn't see the game, and am glad of it. What a tremendously disappointing result, especially coming against a team that had not previously won a game in the league all season. There simply is no way Arsenal will challenge for silverware, or for a Champion's League place next season, if they cannot mount more consistently strong performances from week to week. On occasion, they have looked as good as any team in the league; on others, they look as mediocre as they ever did last season.

A result like this, against a plainly inferior opponent, suggests a combined failure of motivation and leadership, which may be the chief consequence of losing top performers from one year to the next.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Will Lance Confess?

This prediction seems about right to me.

You Say Tomato, and I Say ... Say What?

According to a story in today's Telegraph (here) the Dalai Lama concluded a recent speech at Brown University with the following sentence:
 'If you feel these points are not much relevant - not much interest - then forget.'
But according to the official stenographer for the event, he said:
'If you feel these points are not much relevant - not much interest - then fuck it.' 

Knock-on Effects of the Armstrong Case

ESPN is reporting (here) that Rabobank, the Dutch banking giant that is the longest continual corporate sponsor in all of pro-cycling, will pull the plug at the end of this year after 17 years. If others follow Rabobank's lead, the sport conceivably could collapse at the professional level. I suspect, however, that so long as the grand tours, particularly the Tour de France, continue to be organized, they (and other major races) will continue as professional events; the marketing opportunities are simply too great for all potential sponsors to bypass. And, I should hasten to add, as long as there is big money in cycling, there will be doping. Incentives matter!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Next Stop, Madison

I'm off to Madison, WI tomorrow for a symposium sponsored by the Wisconsin Law Review celebrating the work of Professor Neil Komesa. My paper for the conference, "The Varieties of Comparative Institutional Analysis" (available for download from the SSRN here), compares Komesar's approach to comparative institutional analysis to those of other scholars in various social sciences. Here is the abstract for the paper:
This paper, written as a contribution to a festchrift in honor of Neil Komesar, subjects his "comparative institutional analysis" (CIA) to a comparative analysis with various other social-scientific approaches to CIA. 
Neil Komesar is among the very few legal scholars who has taken to heart Ronald Coase's call for comparative institutional analysis (CIA) of alternative "social arrangements." While Komesar has plowed a relatively lonely furrow in the legal academy, scholars from across the social sciences have been engaged in CIA (broadly defined), using various terminologies, methodologies, and evaluative criteria. This paper takes a pluralistic approach to understanding the differences in approach to CIA and seeks to explain them functionally. That is, scholars' preferred definitions of terms like "institution" and "organization," as well as different methods and criteria for comparison, can best be explained in light of the specific kinds of questions they are seeking to answer. 
After delineating and categorizing along two dimensions 17 distinct definitions of the term "institution," as used in the social-scientific literature, this paper examines more closely the two, significantly different, approaches to CIA taken, respectively, by Neil Komesar and the late Elinor Ostrom. The purpose of the comparison is not to argue that one's approach is necessarily preferable to that of the other, but merely to illustrate how differences in approaching CIA may depend on what social phenomena the scholar is attempting to understand and explain, and whether the purpose of the analysis is positive or normative. 
The paper concludes with a call for more cross-disciplinary communication among scholars engaged in various forms of CIA, not necessarily for the purpose of consolidation or standardization, but simply to better understand one another and the possible functional reasons for differences in approach.

Jeffrey Sachs on Acemoglu and Robinson

Here. I'm still trudging my way through Acemoglu and Robinson's massive tome on Why Nations Fail? In light of my comment from the other day (here), I thought I would share with you a trenchant critique offered up by Jeffrey Sachs, economist and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. I concur in Sachs's opinion, also shared with the geographer Jared Diamond (see here), that while institutions matter a great deal for economic success (or failure), they are not all that matter. Geography also matters, if not as much as some geographers (sometimes including Diamond) would have us believe. There is no more reason to be an "institutional determinist" than a "geographical determinist."

More Fallout from the USADA's Case Against Lance Armstrong

Nike has severed its ties with Lance Armstrong, and Armstrong has stepped down as Chairman of Livestrong, the cancer-fighting charity he founded several years ago (see here). Just last year, Livestrong contributed nearly 30 million dollars to cancer research and support  programs. We can only hope that Livestrong continues to thrive despite the disgrace of its founder. It would be a terrible thing if the most important practical effect of the USADA's efforts to bring down Armstrong (and, of course, Armstrong's own personal failings) was to set back funding for cancer research.

Obama Rebounds on Intrade

After last night's debate, Obama's stock is trading this morning above $6.40, indicating a 64% probability of victory (see here). At least according to the Intrade prediction market's more or less instant analysis, Obama won the second presidential debate. (CNN's post-debate poll of debate watchers reached the same conclusion, see here). Of course, polls and predictions are one thing; elections are another. Still three weeks of mud slinging to get through before election day.

UPDATE: Just for a change, I decided to check how actual bettors in the UK are viewing the US presidential election campaign. At Ladbrokes.com (here), Obama's odds of reelection are 4/11, while Romney's odds are 2/1. In other words, if Obama wins an 11 pound wager would earn 4 pounds; if Romney wins, a one pound bet would earn 2 pounds. Obama is a clear favorite at this point.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Lots of Talk, But Little Action on Carbon Capture and Storage

Over at Scientific American (here), David Biello has some depressing news about lack of movement on carbon capture and storage (CCS):
The 2012 survey by industry group the Global CCS Institute found that although nine new projects were announced this year, eight previously announced ones failed, bringing the total number of CCS projects worldwide to 75. Of those 75, eight are in actual operation, storing some 23 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year—or slightly more than the annual emissions of Bahrain—most of it from the processing of natural gas to remove CO2 so the fuel is ready to burn.
CCS is an important, possibly crucial, "bridge" to a low-carbon energy future. Absent some unexpected technological breakthrough, the world is going to remain heavily reliant on fossil fuels (including coal, oil, and natural gas) for at least the next generation (see, e.g., here). CCS is a means of significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from burning fossil fuels, using currently available technologies. It is not inexpensive, however, and is unlikely to be adopted (at least in the US) in the absence of regulatory mandates or taxes that increase the price of GHG emissions for utilities (see, e.g., here).

CCS has been widely acknowledged as an important part of the climate policy mix for a long time (see, e.g., here and here). It's distressing to learn that only eight CCS projects are currently in operation worldwide.

Honoring the Ostroms

Yesterday afternoon the university held an official memorial honoring Vincent and Elinor Ostrom for their many contributions to IU, the wider academic community, and people throughout the world. It was a lovely event, featuring tributes by university administrators, faculty colleagues (not including your's truly - I was honored to serve on the planning committee for the event), former students, and a special tribute from Doug North, who was kind enough to drive (with his wife Elisabeth) over from St. Louis.

The Norths were thoughtful enough to stay through today's separate event, sponsored by the Workshop, at which approximately 100 Workshoppers, coming from as far away as Nepal, India, and South Korea specifically for the events, shared affectionate reminiscences about the Ostroms. It is stunning to realize just how many lives they touched, and how many minds they influenced, around the world during their lives. Immediately after the get together, everyone gathered outside the main Ostrom Workshop building to plant a 6-7 year old burr oak tree in their honor. The burr oak planting was organized by recent and current graduate students in the Workshop.

All in all, it was a lovely set of tributes. Lin and Vincent, I think, would have been gratified by the recognition and outpouring of affection (although Lin probably would have been abashed at all the to-do), but they might well have preferred a bit more contestation.
                                                                                                                             




Monday, October 15, 2012

Three Conferences and Four Trips in Five Weeks

Last week, Columbus, OH for the Eco-summit, where I appeared on a plenary panel honoring the legacy of the late Lin Ostrom.

This weekend, in Chicago to visit family.

Tomorrow and Tuesday, memorial celebrations at IU in honor of both Ostroms. Tomorrow is the big university event, followed on Tuesday by a smaller event for Workshoppers only. More than 300 r.s.v.p.'d in advance for Monday event; and we'll probably have 100 or more at the Tuesday get together. Tomorrow's gathering falls during regular class time for me, but I avoided the conflict by deciding it was a convenient time to have the students take a mid-term exam, which I intend to grade during downtime in Madison later this week.

This coming weekend to Madison, WI to present a paper on "The Varieties of Comparative Institutional Analysis" at a conference honoring Neil Komesar. I just finished a half-decent draft of the paper this evening. If the presentation goes well, I may post the paper next week; if it doesn't go well, I might go back to the drawing board.

By the time I leave for Madison, I should have completed a shorter essay I have to write in preparation for a conference in two-weeks time at ASU in Tempe. The conference is generally about the applicability of polycentric approaches to global and international issues. I plan to write something making the more or less obvious point that all international systems must polycentric, in some meaningful sense of the word, to have any chance of accomplishing anything. The real issue, therefore, is to distinguish between the comparative effectiveness and efficiency of different levels and scopes of feasible polycentricism.

After the ASU conference I have a one-month reprieve before my next trip to a conference and board meeting at NYU. Then, another month until the Winter semester travel begins with the trip to the Association of American Law Schools annual meeting in New Orleans (which I only rarely attend). Because of a very full Winter teaching schedule - 7 credit hours including what will amount to an (almost) new prep - I'm trying to keep travel during the semester to a minimum; though shortly after the semester ends, I have conferences on consecutive weekends in Tel Aviv and Amsterdam. In between, I should be able to get to the UK to visit my daughter who is spending the year studying at the University of Kent in Canterbury.

All of this leads me to wonder, when will I find time to ride my bike. I certainly haven't found any during the  past couple weeks. But hope springs eternal.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

It's Official, Armstrong Doped. Anyone Surprised?

Even if physical evidence is missing, not even Armstrong's most ardent supporters could dismiss George Hincapie's damning, and self-implicating, testimony.

The outcome would be truly shocking, but for the fact that it was pretty damn obvious to anyone following cycling in the 1990s that nearly everyone was doping. Would Armstrong have one one, let alone seven consecutive, Tours de France had he not doped? Certainly not, simply because all of his chief competitors were engaged in the same kind of systematic doping programs that his team employed. In my view, he prevailed on a pretty level playing field. Who knows what might have happened if no one had been doping. Perhaps Armstrong still would have prevailed seven straight times. But we'll never know.

Finally, like several of his toughest competitors (such as Jan Ulrich), Armstrong was a tremendous athlete and cyclist, who trained tens of thousands of miles a year on the bike (some of which was facilitated by the use of banned substances that may have prevented or ameliorated injuries and fatigue). The edge he gained by using performance-enhancing drugs was only marginal, as was the case for other great Tour de France legends going back to the earliest days of the contest, when riders used cocaine to prevent fatigue and dull pain (see here).

The total level of doping in cycling is probably lower today than during Armstrong's era (and maybe ever), but that is not to say that cyclists no longer seek an edge. The positive incentives to dope are all still there, including the money, the fame, the amount of competition, and the sheer bio-physical difficulty of riding long stage races (including back-to-back-to-back mountain stages). All that is holding them back are technological advances and greater intensity in monitoring and detection. Meanwhile, because of the structure of incentives, there is every reason to expect continued improvements in technologies to avoid or defeat detection.

Finally, whatever the effect of the doping scandal on Lance Armstrong's reputation as a cyclist (I personally believe the long-term effect will be negligible), he is and will remain a hero to millions of cancer sufferers and survivors.

Obama Drops Below 60% Probability of Reelection on Intrade

For the first time since I started checking Intrade (here) on a semi-daily basis, President Obama has drop below a 60% probability of reelection according to bettors on the prediction market. He currently stands at 59.3%. It's not clear whether this trend merely reflects the national polls, which have shown Romney gaining ground since the first presidential debate. According to RealClearPolitics (here) today, Romney is actually leads Obama by about 1.3%  in the average of national polls, but continue to trails in most of the important battleground states (though he has pulled ahead in Florida).

Obama is still looking good for reelection, but Romney has definitely made a big push. Can he keep the big mo through the last two debates without (a) making a serious gaffe and (b) without having to explain how his current positions relate to those he took in the primary campaign? Or can the president regain the big mo by treating the next two debates as more the equivalent of press conferences he would rather not attend? Can he make the affirmative case for another four years in the White House? Can he defend his record, while raising questions about Romney's apparent inability to stick to one consistent position on any given issue?

UPDATE: By the end of the day, today, Obama had regained ground, climbing back to just over 60%.

My View of the VP Debate




















My apologies to Spongebob Squarepants and Eugene Krabs for comparing them to two such insipid and cartoonish characters.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

It's "Proof" of Life After Death Because He's a Doctor?

A new book by a neurosurgeon named Eben Alexander is getting a lot of publicity from various news outlets (see, e.g., here). Dr. Alexander, a "faithful Christian, claims to have had a near death experience in which he remained conscious despite the fact that the cognitive part of his brain was severely impaired. What makes his experience supposedly newsworthy is that he is a neurosurgeon who previously did not believe in such near-death experiences.

But why should the fact that he's a doctor (neurosurgeon or otherwise) give his story more credence than the story of any other survivor, who reports such an experience? It shouldn't, according to this excellent article by Colin Blakemore in The Telegraph. Blakemore, like me, remains a skeptic. Why is it, he asks, that so many survivors who report near-death experiences recount stories that more or less precisely fit the expectations of the religions they (but not others) espouse? Why do so few report a trip to hell? Does each individual get the near-death experience he or she would choose, if given several alternatives? Dr. Alexander was accompanied by one stunningly beautiful woman. Perhaps if he were Islamic, he would have been accompanied by 72 virgins. Or, if he were Jewish, like me, perhaps he would have been hounded by his mother.

More importantly, as a matter of science, there is no reason to give extra credence to such a tale because it is told by a doctor, who previously was a skeptic. As Blakemore suggests, "when there is no evidence except the word of the beholder, a scientist’s accounts are no more reliable than those of anyone else. Would we literally believe the contents of a scientist’s dream because he or she has a PhD?"

By the way, you can read Dr. Alexander's biography at the site of an organization he co-founded and chairs called, Eternea: The Convergence of Science & Spirituality

Who's In Charge of Marketing for the USADA?

Why on earth is the USADA issuing press releases about the imminent, but not yet actual, public issuance of its dossier of evidence against Lance Armstrong? It is functioning less like a legitimate adjudicatory process and more like a marketing campaign.

Even if the outcome is correct, I continue to say (as I have said before here and here), the process sucks.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Broken Patents

A truly excellent and extensive article (here) in today's New York Times explores the mess created when a uniform system of patent law is applied to new forms of technological innovation - in this case, computer software - which are fundamentally different from the kinds of innovations the system was designed to foster (such as pharmaceuticals). Software patents are too easy to get; they often serve a primarily defensive purpose to impede rather than facilitate innovation; and they result in billions of dollars worth of unproductive spending on litigation.

Thanks in large part to a patent bar operating under the self-serving but socially misguided mantra that more property rights is always better than less property rights, the patent system is out of control and requires change. The problem, of course, is that the required changes, including differential patent terms for different kinds of innovations, will be fought tooth and nail by the same patent bar that overwhelmingly benefits from the current system's pathologies.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Glad I Missed It

I'm talking about the big Stewart-O'Reilly "debate" yesterday evening. I just looked a few clips from the debate, here. Frankly, I thought they were both insufferable, which is something I've never before thought of Jon Stewart. I couldn't even sit through more than two of the short clips.  (It doesn't give me much hope for the big Biden-Ryan "debate" this coming week, does it?)

Acemoglu and Robinson's Western Euro-Centricism

I've been reading Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson's, Why Nation's Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (Crown Business 2012). I'm up to Chapter 5 and so far underwhelmed by the book's lack of novelty. Perhaps the last ten chapters will change my mind, but so far I don't see that this book adds much to earlier works by Douglass North, Joel Mokyr, and other economic historians, who have, like Acemoglu and Robinson, focused on institutional (as opposed to geographical or environmental) causes of economic success or failure.

That question aside, I need to take issue with something I just read toward the end of Chapter 4, which displays an all too common and casual attitude of Western Euro-centrism. Beginning on page 107, Acemoglu and Robinson argue that Eastern Europe, and specifically Poland, were institutionally backward, as compared with Western European countries at the end of the sixteenth century. Their claim is patently false at least with respect to Poland. Not only did the Poles elect their Kings, as Acemoglu and Robinson acknowledge, but Poland had the largest electorate in all of Europe - the szlachta were an unusually large and economically diverse aristocracy - with a federal form of government comprised of one national parliament and many regional parliaments. In those parliaments, all members of the szlachta had equal voting rights. In fact, virtually all Poles in the sixteenth century, including the sizable Jewish community, had far more religious liberty and civil rights than virtually anyone in supposedly more advanced England or France. (See, e.g., my 1999 review essay from the Michigan Law Review on Poland's constitutional history, here.)

Compounding the problem, Acemoglu and Robinson present a map on page 109 purporting to show serfdom as an important institutional variable distinguishing Eastern Europe, including Poland, from Western Europe, as of 1800. The map they provide is an anachronism, based on current European borders.* As a matter of fact, in 1800 Poland was not an independent country; it did not even exist on the map of Europe, having been partitioned in the 1790s by Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Prussia.

The American Revolutionary War veteran Tadeusz Kosciuszko in 1794 led a revolt against the partitioning powers, which garnered the support of the peasantry after he proclaimed the abolition of serfdom (in the Proclamation of Polaniec). After winning some initial victories against Russian forces. Kosciuszko's uprising was ultimately crushed and the General himself was taken prisoner. The victorious Russians, of course, ignored Kosciuszko's manifesto abolishing serfdom and reintroduced that institution in their new Polish territories.

These are not incidental historical complications. To determine why some countries in Europe managed to create successful modern failed while others succeeded, it is necessary to understand what institutions were actually in place and how they evolved (or were forcibly changed) over time. It's just not good enough to explain that Poland had an aristocracy in 1588 and that Russia still enforced serfdom in its Polish territories in 1800, while France and England managed, through violent revolutions, to overthrow old and archaic institutions.

A more interesting and compelling institutional history of Poland would seek to understand why that particular country failed to sustain economic growth not because it lacked the kind of institutions we associate with modern market democracies but despite its proto-democratic and strongly libertarian (in some cases anarchic) institutions, including, for example the liberum veto (a rule of unanimity for parliamentary decisions).

------------------------------

*The authors present a similarly anachronistic map of Europe on page 291, but a historically accurate map on page 230 to illustrate the extent of rail lines in different European countries in the late nineteenth century. It's hard to imagine why they chose not to use historically accurate maps throughout the book.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

West Ham 1 - Arsenal 3

No time for an in-depth match report today, but Arsenal did well to win this match away at West Ham. Dominating in possession, the Gunners nevertheless looked susceptible on defense. They struggled with the aerial attack of Andy Carroll, who was excellent on the day. Nevertheless, after going down 1-0, very much against the run of play, the Gunners came back strong, scoring a tying goal in the first half - Giroud's first for the club in a Premier League Game from an exquisite cross by Podolski - followed by two excellent goals in the second half, the first by Theo Walcott and the second on a beautiful strike by Santi Cazorla.

Standout players for the Gunners included the usual suspects; Cazorla and Podolski both ran their legs off, Arteta patrolled the midfield as if he owned it, and Carl Jenkinson just keeps getting better and better. But I also have to acknowledge that Theo Walcott had an excellent substitute appearance in the second half, scoring one and assisting on another. He's a great player on his day. If only he could become more consistent (but for how long have we been saying that?).

Correlation May Not Imply Causation, but You Can't Have Causation Without It

At Slate.com (here), Daniel Engber has a terrific piece on the hackneyed phrase "correlation does not imply causation." He examines the origins of the phrase, its ever-increasing popularity among pop-statisticians, and its real limitations as a device for debunking non-parsimonious conclusions.

In many cases, those who casually respond to an analysis by stating that "correlation does not imply causation," as if that ends all argument, are presumptuous. In science (including social science) all knowledge is probabilistic; science (including scientific causation) is always under-determined by the empirical evidence. It is possible, but extremely unlikely, that cigarette smoking does not substantially increase the risk of lung cancer and other diseases. After all, "correlation does not imply causation." The fact is, however, that the empirical evidence in that, and many other cases, is highly suggestive of causation. Even if empirical evidence can never establish causation with 100% certainty, it remains important because it provides a basis for potential or probabilistic causation. And the greater the correlation between evidence and theory/conclusions - the greater the "confidence level" - the higher the probability of a cause-and-effect relation, especially as other potential causes are either ruled out or have much lower probabilities of significance based on the evidence.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Romney Making Inroads

I didn't watch the debates last night (which fact will not surprise regular readers). However, it's clear Romney must have "won" pretty handily. Yesterday morning, Obama's probability of election, according to Intrade was somewhere around 72%. This morning it's at 66% (see here). Can Romney sustain the momentum? Or was Obama's lead heading into the debates large enough that he can win the election merely by playing rope-a-dope (see here), as some are suggesting (see here)?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Eco-Summit 2012

I'm off to the Eco-Summit in Columbus, Ohio after class this afternoon. Lin Ostrom was supposed to be a keynote speaker at the event. Instead, I'm on a plenary panel honoring Lin's work and person. The full program of the conference, which started Monday, is here.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Leonhardt on Obamanomics

Terrific column in today's New York Times (here) by the consistently sharp David Leonhardt on what the Obama Administration got right and, just as importantly, what they got wrong, about the economic crisis they confronted when they took office.

RIP Eric Hobsbawm (1917-2012)

One of the great historians of the last century, Hobsbawn wrote three magnificent books (albeit from a Marxist orientation) about the nineteenth century: The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848; The Age of Capital: 1848-1875; and The Age of Extremes: A History of the World 1914-1991. Each is highly recommended, though none is the only historical treatment you should read about that era.

Here is The Guardian's obituary.