Blog: Power & Principle

Notes about Power Politics, Power Forwards, & Power tools

The main content of the posts below will relate to the courses I teach.  This site will provide a permanent resource for students to keep abreast of the news, insofar as the core matters of the classes are concerned.  I will try to post a news article at least once a day, and they are generally collected via the aggregator NetNewsWire.

 

One of the keys themes will be that while power is indispensable to the resolution of political conflict, this irrevocable fact breeds disappointment, as it clashes with our principles.  

 

Keep in mind that many of the posts below are early drafts or excised portions of papers whose final product came well down the road from here.  Thus a warning about punctuation, grammar, and inconsistent logic most definitely applies.  

 

Lastly, note that the occasional link or comment on sports, travel, and DIY or outdoors gear will pop up as well, since everyone needs a hobby.

 

Mon

30

Jan

2017

Wins & Losses in the Valley of Mediocrity

Cleveland’s signing of the parrot-toting slugger Edwin Encarnacion was more than a savvy grab by a World Series runner-up looking to bulk up on home runs. It was also demonstrative of a Blue Jays front office that both comically misread the declining long-ball market and revealed the new regime's noncommittal strategic attitude that we all feared.

 

Now I get that a professional sports franchise is a business, and that I as a fan have no right to demand the firm hold a commitment to winning above maximizing revenues. To this end, while Encarnacion leaving will not make the team better, I can see how it could provide some relief to the bottom line. And so the decision to let EE walk and sign Kendrys-freaking-Morales was rational, and therefore at least somewhat defensible.

 

Noted curmudgeon and Rogers-apologist Andrew Stoeten certainly thinks so. Before Christmas he argued on Twitter that fans will pack SkyDome* regardless of whether or not the team wins. Loyalty to the brand, in other words, will outweigh any of this off-season's stumbles.

 

I've had a few weeks to think about this and I'm still not convinced. Is it not true that people like winners? If so, shouldn't this fact be salient to revenue?

 

The idea is intriguing and, it seems to me, should be a pretty clear matter of the empirical record. So let’s fire up the Stata and off to Baseball Reference.com we go!

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Tue

12

Jan

2016

Canadian Defence Spending in Historical Context

I recently wrote a paper looking at Canadian defence spending in historical context.  The frame of the paper was to look at the Harper era, but I used it as an excuse to go all the way back to Sir John A.  I've included here an assortment of a few graphs and the main dataset, saved in Stata .dta format. Data comes from splicing Stats Canada's incomparable 'Historical Statistics' collection with a newer CANSIM series.  The dataset also includes PM and government party, by year.

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Sun

06

Sep

2015

Ignore the Misers

 In the early hours of Wednesday morning, two small boats carrying 23 refugees from the besieged Syrian town of Kobane set off from Turkey's Bodrum peninsula, bound for the Greek island of Kos.  Presumably, their aim was to enter the EU in search of asylum and a new life.  

 

The boats, however, sank.  At least 12 of the passengers drowned, including five children.  One of these was a three-year old boy named Aylan Kurdi, whose body was recovered by the Turkish coast guard laying face-down in the sand.  A Turkish news agency recorded these images and within hours they were on the cover of newspapers worldwide.

 

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Thu

20

Aug

2015

The IR/IDS Divide

I recently had a friend ask me for some advice about graduate schooling and the International Development Studies (IDS) field.  

I’ve done quite a bit of international development over the years (mostly on Africa, and a lot of work on economics more generally).  But most schools offer a distinct IDS stream, one that looks at the issue of development much more intensely than the broad, wide-ranging economics and security elements of the international relations (IR) stream that I took. 

Needless to say, I'm not really one to be asking IDS questions about.  But it did get me thinking about the clear and obvious divide between the IR and IDS camps.

(A lot of classes were cross-listed at Dal, so you’d have members of both streams studying the same material.  But you could tell right away which program one or the other belonged to.  Like there was some sort of self-selection in the seating arrangement.)

I find this gulf a bit strange, because both are certainly coming from the same place: seeking to raise the incomes of the world’s less fortunate.  My hunch is that this split has two, mutually reinforcing drivers.

First is epistemological. Inside IR there is a strong positivist-post-positivist divide, but the former is a clearly ascendant majority.  

(There was some pretty good movement toward post-positivism in the late 1980s and early 1990s—think of Kratochwil, Onuf, Wendt, and the like.  But by the time I hit grad school it's tough not to conclude it ran out of steam.  All the grand talk had been replaced with much more modest aims.  You’re now far more likely to hear about the Adler-Haas and Fearon-Wendt rationalist-constructivist rapprochement than the original full-blown post-positivist objectives of Der Derian and the ‘let a thousand flowers bloom' crowd).

My sense of IDS, on the other hand, is just the opposite: post-positivism dominates from head to toe.  This is just a gut feeling, but if a prof demanded every student in an IDS class include a graph with their paper I'm pretty sure a rebellion would ensue.    

Second is ontological.  Just as the idea of scientific knowledge accumulation rules over modern-day IR theory, so too does the conception of the international system as a series of rational, wealth- and security-maximizing actors.  Here Neo-realists and Neo-liberals, by far the two most dominant streams within IR today, share roughly the same idea of how the world is constructed.  The third, ‘Critical’, school was clearly dealt a traumatic blow with the fall of the Soviet Union.  It tried to stage a globalization-themed comeback when I started undergrad around the time of the WTO ministerial in Seattle.  But, well, that didn’t go anywhere either.  So what you have now is the potential for a natural alliance with IDS and at least part of the IR ruthlessly undercut by recent events and a fallow period for the chief challenger to the Realist/Liberal duopoly.  

In any case, that’s just my sense of it.  And while we're at it, I'll throw in my own take on international development and the two main questions it confronts today:

1. The utility of cash transfers.  The idea is absolutely rife with moral hazard.  And yet, the early evidence seems to suggest that it works (or at least does no worse than all the other aid programs we’ve tried).  Chris Blattman is a good one to follow on this front.  I look forward to all the work that has been directed here in the past few years bearing fruit.  

2. Will the elixir of East Asia’s stunning growth—rapid, successful, and innovative industrialization—be undone by the speed with which technology is doing away with low-skill jobs?  Dani Rodrik has written quite persuasively that the good run we’ve had over the last few decades may not be easily repeated.  I happen to think there’s plenty of reason to believe Southern innovation will keep them in the game, and that there's also the potential for a faster rate of service adoption than observed in the West.  But of course, we shall see.  It’s been an incredible ride so far.

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Mon

24

Feb

2014

Attacker/Defender Combat Posture

As part of my latest book project I've been updating and expanding the battle dataset I put together for my thesis.  It's an awful lot of work, but fun to be back on the old project.  

 

One of the things I've been thinking about is how to better clarify the roles of 'attacker' and 'defender', particularly in regards to how to improve the validity of their coding.  Large-n studies such as mine are usually quite vague when it comes to sorting out which belligerent is which, and my previous work is no different.  

 

I've come up with bi-level way to think about the issue, which I hope better encapsulates the nuances of so fluid an activity as military combat.  The basic idea is that strategic-level oritentation describes the broader ebb and flow of a campaign (who's on the march, who is on the retreat?), while a tactical-level posture coding can for account for the fact that armies invading another country can be surprised, and that retreating armies are capable of dealing their opponents a nasty blow.

I've tried to outline these ideas in graphic form below.  They're actually created in Keynote for iPad, since that's the easiest diagramming software I have/need.  $150 for a Mac/iPad Ominigraffle is far too rich for my blood!

 

In any case, comments and suggestions are most welcome.  I'm always looking for ways to improve methodology.  

 

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Mon

30

Sep

2013

Rebalancing the RCN

A few weeks ago my good buddy David McDonough was quoted in the National Post as arguing for the need to rebalance the distribution of Canadian naval ships between West and East. “Nowadays, the threat on the East Coast is pretty mild, whereas the Pacific is a more dangerous environment.”

 

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Sun

25

Aug

2013

Canada and Peacekeeping

I spent a bit of time today running Peacekeeping.org's massive dataset through the hopper.  My Stata coding was pretty brutish, but it did come up with the accompanying graph pretty quickly.  The dataset covers all UN 'chapter 6-and-a-half' missions from 1991 to the present, for all countries and presented in monthly totals.  I've just reproduced the relative Canadian contribution here.  

In my puttering around the UN DPKO website all I can find are pdf stat releases with a cutoff of about November 1990.  I gather the International Peace Institute (IPI), which runs Peacekeeping.org and built the Peacekeeping Database, gleaned their dataset from these documents.  With a little luck the DPKO will one day issue data on older missions.  In the meantime, I've yet to see a better collection of data on the topic.

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Fri

09

Aug

2013

China: A Satiated Power?

This spring I wrote a paper for the the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada's (DFAIT), under their International Security Research and Outreach Programme (ISROP).  It basically was a chance for me to extend my earlier thinking about China's economy and environment, and take a look at China's domestic security and international position.  

 

What follows are the executive summary, a couple of quick thoughts, and a link to the full text.

 

For anyone interested in the program--and it is a great one--the current ISROP research themes can be found at: 

http://www.international.gc.ca/isrop-prisi/index.aspx?lang=eng

 

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Sun

04

Aug

2013

Canadian Defence Spending

I've been putting together a Canadian Foreign Policy dataset, relying heavily on the early 1980s Statistics Canada Historical Data Series publication (partly because I like navigating a book format, partly because the CANSIM database is such a labryrinth of inpenetrable search returns and a graveyard of terminated longitudinal series).  

 

Some of the series I've constructed are total defence spending and total federal spending.  The following graphs are quick sketches of the expenditure trend, both at the macro scale and over the last few decades.

 

I like using defence spending in terms of the total federal budget because it gives a better sense of relative government priorities

than the more common GDP denominator.  A government cutting EVERYTHING isn't signalling it wants to get away from military spending, it's signalling it just wants to spend less.  Falling defence budgets are just a byproduct.  Budget shares, however, signal a movement in some other direction than military force.

 

Note that it is harder to get government financial data than just GDP, so sometimes this metric simply isn't available.  And of course, if the variable of interest is power potential rather than just foreign policy concern, then GDP is a more suitable measure.  

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Sat

20

Jul

2013

Africa Graphs

Just finished up a chapter on politics in Africa, this time focusing on communications technology, political competition, and a bit of economic development.  As usual, there were a lot more graphs than could fit in the final product.  

 

What follows are a bit of a random collection, but hopefully useful to the reader nonethless.  They were created on Stata and all the associated data is up on the 'Academic Details - Datasets' page.  Sources follow in the captions below. 

 

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Sat

20

Jul

2013

A Few Thoughts on Communication

I've been putting together a historical dataset on communications technology, and have come up with a few ideas about the theory behind it.  What follows is the model I've set up to help guide this research.  

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Mon

03

Jun

2013

My New Favourite Graph

As part of a book chapter I'm writing on ICT and African governance I've been going through some World Bank data on the Sub-Saharan region.  Part of the process is just plugging in some variables and looking at the graphs that come out.  There are always some interesting stories that arise, but this one is by far my favourite.

 

Seems like Naomi Klein--who when I was an undergraduate seemingly sold books like Dan Brown--couldn't have been more wrong.

 

 

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Sun

31

Mar

2013

School Attendance in Europe

I've been working with European population and education data for the period 1850 to 1993, from B.R. Mitchell's 'International Historical Statistics'.  One thing I've found is that instead of a steadily growing share of population aged 5-19 attending school, the results have been much more variable.  

 

This makes sense during the chaotic periods, such as the First and Second World War.  But what I can't understand is why the percentage of Europeans in the school-age cohort attending school would be so much smaller today than during the immediate postwar period.  Could this be some anomaly with the data?

 

Below is an example.  In Austria, school attendance grew until a WWI collapse, and then a WWII collapse.  What seems much more inexplicable is the steep dropoff in the later postwar period.   

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Tue

12

Feb

2013

Advice for Undergrads

By the end of four years of exhaustive studying and an up-tempo party schedule you should emerge from our cherished system of liberal arts education with a head full of impressive dinner party trivia, the capacity to rigorously analyze causal phenomena, and the ability to effectively communicate the results.  Only the former will impress your friends, but all three conspire to give you a leg up in the job market.  By every conceivable measure, the degree you come away with will be to your betterment.  It will improve your earnings potential, provide an added layer of protection when the economy goes sour, give you greater command over your career and professional destiny, even advance your life expectancy.  

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