China: “Autocracies Are Stable”

From the PRC Ministry of TruthPeople’s Daily Online“:

For the pro-America republics, such as Egypt, the United States hoped the authorities would answer the people’s call to end Mubarak’s long-time rule. For the pro-America monarchies, the United States needed to maintain the status quo because of oil interests and the potentially volatile situation in Iran. In those anti-U.S. countries, such as Iran and Syria, the United States would definitely agitate anti-government protests to trigger change.

The author, Zhang Xinyi is the English language Editor of the People’s Daily and a former Olympics News Service manager, suffice to say he’s probably a tad nationalistic or owes to job to guys that are.

The PRC doesn’t seem to get that all of these protests were homegrown, and unrest was inevitable, regardless of later intervention. Or maybe they do get it, and this is a rehash of the Chinese language stories they’re running. Either way to publish this kind of overly simplistic pabulum in English doesn’t do them much good.

Anyone outside of China is clearly aware that whatever the foreign forces in Libya are doing, unrest followed autocracy and clearly preceded NATO fighters.


Strategic Ambiguity? Or Just Incompetent?

In response to Kristof’s post about hugs:

“But weighed against those uncertainties are a few certainties: If not for this intervention, Libyan civilians would be dying on a huge scale”

How huge? Compared to which countries? China? Certainly not. Iran? Not even close.

Libya has 6.6 million people, less than the state of Ohio, roughly 1/3 of the metropolitan area of NY, slightly more than Wisconsin. If we really wanted to achieve the greater good, why not step in the Ivory Coast, which has almost twice the population? Obviously human rights is not the only factor here, why are our messages so freaking simplistic?


Why can’t we just use language that is more realistic about which humanitarian actions we choose? Our track record speaks to the fact that US is the only leading state when it comes to human rights. We often go above and beyond national and strategic interests. Why can’t we just hedge as to when we decide to do it?

If we wouldn’t cloak our FP rhetoric in so much polyanna BS, maybe people would take it more seriously. Something like: “Yes we try to support democracy and prevent genocide, but will only do so with military force when our interests are clear, an exit strategy is cleear, and there is broad international support for it. The US is not the sole guarantor in the world when it comes to spreading democracy, don’t count on us all the time everytime”

Instead we get Obama and Clinton defining human rights as a “vital strategic interest” which makes us look like huge hypocrites, and frankly pretty dumb. The examples of human rights abuses going un-‘punished’ by the US are Legion. Maybe this is the idea; to make others doubt our intentions and create strategic ambiguity. But it will eventually drain the US of any moral authority it may have on issues of human rights and liberties.

China Eyes Japan’s Big…Society

From the East Asia Forum, this is a translated article that originally appeared in IFeng, a Hong Kong based news organization aimed at Chinese readers.

Japan’s big nation and big society was laid down by the restructuring of constitutional government in the middle of last century, and the country has so far seen half a century of great results.

This looks to be a rather pointed rebuke to the CCP, and attempts to link China’s perceived (by the author and/or others) lack of social cohesion to the CCP’s limits on political rights, something Wen Jiabao would probably agree with, or at least somewhat.

According to its wiki page, IFeng is “one of the few privately owned broadcasting companies in mainland China able to broadcast information about events not covered by the government media, such as the coverage on the Rally Against Basic Law Article 23 on 1 July 2003.”

Maybe I’m reading too far into the constitutional argument in this article, but this does seem to be a pretty obvious rejection of the CCP. It’s no surprising to see this coming out of HK, what I’d like to know is what kind of exposure this piece is getting.

Pragmatism and Accurate Political Speech

A rather slight entry from a favorite blog of mine, talking about Cameron’s quote but which could be applied to any number of tone-deaf pronouncements about morality and foreign policy:

There may be a good argument that we should intervene where we prudently can, and that inconsistency and selectivity is an unavoidable part of international relations. But that argument is different and more subtle than Cameron’s latest spasm of morality, elevating one case to a universal doctrine without bothering to think about its implications for our policies elsewhere. 

It is disturbing at this critical moment in world politics to hear our leaders makes statements that are so diplomatically innocent.

Obviously politicians are just that, but there’s very little evidence that this kind of talk is really all that effective at swaying domestic constituencies one way or the other. Voters are pretty reactive when it comes to foreign policy for the most part, so the only real conclusion to make from this is that guys like Cameron actually believe crap like this when they say it.

I wonder if this is just a part of the political process: guys that think like this tend to do well in the electoral side of government and get to make stupid quotes like these while those who actually have the inclination to note the subtle but necessary realities of international politics end up writing behind paywalls.

Defense and Entitelments

With every successive administration, spending increases. The vast majority of this spending is centered around Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and interest on the debt. Mandatory spending is well over 2 trillion for FY 2012, comprising 57% of the budget. Social Security is the largest share of mandatory spending, at around 750 billion dollars. Medicare and Medicaid come to another 700 billion, while “other” mandatory spending is about 600 billion, bringing the total spent to about $3.7 trillion while only bringing in $2.6 trillion.

Defense spending, including Iraq and Afghanistan, will be at almost 1 trillion dollars, when Veterans Administration expenses, NASA, and various State dept. actions are taken into account. Defense spending is not mandatory, which I take to mean it can be changed through appropriation bills, while mandatory spending needs further legislation.

In Wildavsky’s article, he basically dismissed the armed services committees as nothing more than pork projects attempting to get money for their home districts and not having much say as to what our actual foreign policy is. Is this still the case today? If the defense “policy”  being created in Congress is geared towards dispersing pork, what exactly can the public servants in the bureaucracies do besides figure out the most efficient way to distribute the money that has been appropriated to them?

Gates commented a few years back that the DoD could savebillions over the next few years by focusing on procurement procedures, stating “The Department of Defense must set priorities and consider inescapable tradeoffs and opportunity costs”, reflecting the Wilsonian desire for “efficiency” in the implementation of government. If the Secretary of Defense is advocating this, where is the push-back? Probably in the home districts of Congressman that are able to bring home the bacon to the various military bases. Procurement in FY 2010 is estimated to be about 137 billion, a rather small number compared to entitlements, but given Gates’ rhetoric on the matter, it probably has some redundancies that can be cut.

As far as the entitlements go, social security is expected to take in 660 billion in receipts in FY 2012, a number that would be greatly increased if the Social Security base wage was raised to even 150k/yr. Be that as it may, entitlements comprise a much larger share of the federal budget than Defense ($3.7tr. v. $1tr.), although they do bring in over 2.7 trillion in receipts. Medicare fraud  alone costs the US 50 billion, according to Congressman Charles Boustany, and medical insurance $250 billion. These numbers might be viewed suspiciously in that they are an attack from the legislative branch on the bureaucracy, but they do highlight what a huge amount of money is being wasted in the implementation.

But is this due to incompetence or graft? Or neither? How much of this can be put at the feet of the bureaucrats, and how much originates in the text of the laws? Are the civil servants lazy and complacent, or underfunded and under-appreciated by a political culture that has rarely thought about the fine details of governance and administration?

Expensive Labor, Huge Exports

Some uplifting news:

Last year, for the second year in a row, U.S. companies got more work out of their employees while spending less on overall labor costs.

A two-year decline in labor costs hasn’t happened since 1962 and 1963.

Good news, some would say. Or maybe just desserts. US wages were too high to begin with, especially those lazy public sector employees! However, there is no reason that a nation with high labor costs can’t be globally competitive.

In 2007, Germany’s labor costs were around 40 dollars per hour, whereas the US was around 34. Yet both in gross numbers and as a % of GDP, Germany outperformed the US. In terms of productivity, however, the US is still superior. So what gives?

We have a more productive workforce, lower taxes, lower labor costs, and drastically higher unemployment. Yet we get the same party line about hiring: “We’re Waiting on Obama”. It looks like the “small businesses” of American have had long enough to squeeze the blood out of the American turnip. As Frank said: Something’s missing.

China Eyes Jasmine

Why so skittish? Apparently China’s leaky Great Firewall was unable to stop some vague microblog calls for demonstrations around China, termed the “Jasmine Revolution”, a copy of the Tunisian name.

This comes only a short time after Hu Jintao spoke about the coming challenges to “solve prominent problems which might harm the harmony and stability of the society” to a gathering of provincial and minsisterial level functionaries.

However,  it seems that things never really got off the ground, with police and journalists outnumbering protesters. China has historically been very wary of an kind of mass demonstrations, even ones against Japan, as they can cut both ways. They may assuage nationalist sentiment, but run the risk of becoming too xenophobic, as I wrote about in a paper for a class. They can also move away from nationalist sentiment and towards calls for reform, as the NYT reported was happening today.

The messages calling people to action urged protesters to shout “We want food, we want work, we want housing, we want fairness,” an ostensible effort to tap into popular discontent over inflation and soaring real estate prices.

There’s really no way that Beijing is going to allow a movement overtly calling for change (without a nationalist angle) to run its course naturally. In the past it has managed anti-Japanese protests very closely, even ordering organizers out of Beijing in 2003.  There’s no way it will treat a baldly reforming agenda with kid gloves.

If there are any demonstrations this spring they will occur without the slightest tolerance from the PRC.