Grits and Tamales

Life in the Deep South, by Gabriel Aguilera

Category Archives: Research Notes

Senior Scholars and Their Review Essays

There is a special place in heaven for those senior scholars who produce those indispensable review essays that provide guidance for our own detailed reading and examination or, more often the case, allow us to take a brief tour of an intellectual battlefield that we must often teach but we will never have time to explore in great depth.

Some of my favorites, in no special order, are by Scocpol(1), Doyle(2), Dominguez(3), Betts(4), and Gourevitch(5). There are many more, of course, but I thought I should all take a minute to give thanks for some of my favorites.

This morning, I reread “Conflict or Cooperation? Three Visions Revisited,” by Richard Betts (Foreign Affairs, Nov/Dec 2010, 186-194). I was stunned once again at how good an essay this is, not only in its excellent and balanced summary, critique, and synthesis of books by Fukuyama (Conflict or Cooperation), Huntington (Clash of Civilizations), and Mearsheimer (Tragedy of Great Power Politics) but also with the durability of the author’s perspective.

From the vantage point of 2010, Betts concluded: “The problem is that Davos-style liberalism and militant neoconservatism have both been more influential than the three more profound and sober visions of a Fukuyama, Huntington, and Mearsheimer.”

True as this was, it is far less true today and my fond hope is that President Obama will get the credit he deserves for being a profoundly sober leader whose prudential realism, anchored in a measured Kantian liberal internationalism, has revealed neoconservatism for the reckless enterprise that it was when the country became unhinged after September 11.

The question I have is whether President Clinton will be as prudent and restrained? I’m afraid that she’ll be too eager “to do something” and will be talked into dipping her toes into quagmires by the generals and admirals that she has worked so assiduously to woo since joining the Senate. My hope is that all that wooing was just good politics and networking.

(1) Skocpol, “A Critical Review of Barrington Moore’s Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy.” Check it out here.

(2) Doyle, Doyle. 1983. Kant, liberal legacies, and foreign affairs. Philosophy and public affairs 12 (summer and fall): 205-35, 323-53.

(3) Dominguez, “Samuel Huntington and the Latin American State” can be had here.

(4) “Conflict or Cooperation? Three Visions Revisited,” by Richard Betts (Foreign Affairs, Nov/Dec 2010, 186-194).

(5) Peter Gourevitch, “The Second Image Reversed.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Crash Course on Mexico (In Books)

I recently wrote a review of Shannon O’Neil’s fine book on US-Mexico relations. It got me thinking what handful of books I would assign if I wanted to assign a brief crash-course on Mexico, with a focus on politics, society, and political economy?

First, I would assign Nora Hamilton’s “Mexico: Political, Social and Economic Evolution,” which is an excellent tour of the topics in the title. Up next is Leslie Bethell’s “Mexico Since Independence.” It is a collection of narrative historical essays by top scholars, bringing the reader up to speed through most of the PRI regime. It’s concise and in-depth, which is hard to do in a single volume. I have been re-reading this piecemeal lately and have found even more illuminating than when I first read it grad school. With this rich background in hand, I would next assign Haber et. al. “Mexico Since 1980.” This is a neat but hard book, but it will help the student think systematically about Mexico’s future, why deeper economic and political reforms are so challenging and difficult to implement and why deep changes are possible albeit unlikely today. Last, Shannon’s “Two Nations Indivisible: Mexico, the United States, and the Road Ahead” of course provides the best recent take on US-Mexican relations and the way forward.

Maurer

Nora Hamilton

Two Nations Indivisible

Mexico Since Independence

On Profit-padding bank stabilization

“Profit-padding regulation” was coined by Rosenbluth and Schaap (IO, 2003). I’ve just built on this to say “profit-padding bank stabilization,” which I think is more descriptive of what we are talking about. This, by the way, is the card President Obama has chosen to play in the U.S. in the wake of the current crisis.

The idea is that you buy up banks’ bad assets and you drop rates close to zero. Big banks raise their fees and gauge consumers (and students), they make big profits. Now, in theory, this provides big banks incentives to not do stupid things (i.e. take on excessive risks), since they are making big profits in order to get healthy again. However, it seems that banks are doing stupid things and demonstrating lots of hubris, egging on the likes of Senators Warren, Caldwell and McCain to introduce tougher regulation to reduce their risky behavior (bankers are thumbing their noses, btw).

Why might they be doing this, hubris and stupidity aside? [It has been famously pointed out in what has become a cliche for political scientists that stupidity is never an interesting analytic category] One possibility, which should be sending chills up our spines, is that banks are “gambling for resurrection” because  banks are still in rotten shape, essentially bankrupt or barely profitable, and are being kept afloat by a combination of accounting magic, regulatory forbearance, easy money, and the fact that there is something of a modest recovery underway. Think of the gambler who has lost all his cash and has moved on to the credit card to try to make up what he has lost.

Constraints on the Prudential Regulation of Weapons in America

Matthew Shugart makes an important observation that we all need to ponder: “…I will note that roughly parallel stories can be told about gun law reforms in Canada and Australia, I believe. What do these countries have in common? Parliamentary democracies, hierarchically organized parties, and nothing remotely like our filibuster (or like our Senate, for that matter).  Yes, political institutions matter.”

This keen insight on institutional constraints is important to digest because pundits are hammering President Obama for his lack of political leadership and will do so again, when in the end, not much will happen. Their clarion calls for political leadership and reform are too visceral and unrealistic. Realistically, it’s not hard to conclude that the social/cultural fabric of America cannot at this time be sufficiently transformed to root out and regulate weapons prudentially. Put a different way, no amount of political leadership will solve the problem. (By solve, I mean to significantly reduce the likelihood of these events happening again). There are too many guns out in civil society and fully one-third of the country – Alabama included — believes that Obama and Democrats are out to take them way. Add to this the organized vested economic and political interests that oppose reforms.

There is not enough political capital in heaven and earth for Obama to implement change we can believe in on this issue.  If he pursues this insoluble challenge vigorously it will sop up all or most of his political capital.  As I have said before, he will need most of his energy to wind down the war in Afghanistan, deal with mercurial North Korea, managed the ongoing European financial crisis, pursue nuclear nonproliferation, pass immigration reform, implement health care and bank reforms, work with Mexico on drug violence, reform entitlements, and much more.

A President has only so much time and energy to tackle big problems and the prudential regulation of weapons is an important one for America.  My estimate, though, that the road to weapons reform is littered with too many traps that would trigger a cultural war that radical republicans would welcome.

Latino Voting Behavior — Some Stuff to Read via Stephen Nuño

Someone asked me for a short list of what they should read on Latino voting behavior.  So I asked a pro.  My pal Stephen Nuño came up with this list:

2008 election and where Latinos may have mattered
Page 6
Latino ideology and opinion:
Based on their book, The Future is Ours: Minority Politics, Political Behavior, and the Multiracial Era of American Politics.
Su Casa Es Nuestra Casa: Latino Politics Research and the
Development of American Political Science- Overview:
Identity and public opinion:
http://www.latinovotemap.org/map/

A site that helps measure impact for 2012:
To Stephen’s list, I like this one too on the browning of America.

The Politics of the Stimulus: Two Views

Ezra Klein has a long but excellent post on the Obama Administration’s response to the economic crisis.  Krugman responds here.  I think Klein is right about the politics and Krugman takes him to task on the economics and rightly nails the Obama Admin for adopting conservative fiscal talk and, more generally, not making a stronger case politically.   I have faith in Obama’s team ability to learn and my bet is that they’ll play this well heading into the 2012 election.

Those of us who have devoted lots of time thinking about the politics of banking crises knew that this time it would not be different.  Not in a context with big capital inflows, big debt, and lax prudential regulation.

Europe, by the way, is exactly where we were with the first stimulus discussed by Klein and Krugman in their essays.  I believe it is the appropriate analogy.  They approved a financial package that too small to ward off speculation beyond the short run, though they did approve as much as was politically possible at this time.  Essentially, their banks are broke and their forthcoming financial crisis will produce a recession that is likely to be deeper than ours.  The Great Recession will continue.  Italy, Spain, Greece, etc will drop the Euro.   During the first year of Obama II we will finally get the massive stimulus we will need.  Maybe.

Leyzaola Calms Down Tijuana

This article from the New Yorker explains why Tijuana calmed down.  This guy Leyzaola is a bad ass.  He also seems to be something of a sociopath.  Reminds me of FDR’s crack when he appointed Joseph Kennedy to head the SEC: It takes a crook to catch a crook.  In this case, it takes an SOB to hunt down SOBs and there will be lots of collateral damage.  There is simply no neat way to conduct these operations, at least not when police and judicial institutions are rotten to the core.

The author responds…

On 9/23/2011 3:29 PM, Gabriel Aguilera wrote:

Dear Professor:

I wanted to make one comment and raise one question at the end of your
talk, which I enjoyed immensely.

(Author) Thanks.

I was surprised that your model pretty much treats war and peace as
exogenous.  Geography matters, it seems, only with respect to economic
organization but not the security dilemma, at least not as IR types
have articulated this concept.  Paradoxically, as the war makes states
school of scholars has long argued, where the security dilemma is more
intense states will have incentives to build states all else equal.
In Latin America, there is seems to be a high correlation between
external threats (i.e. and a more intense security dilemma) and more
robust states (Mexico, Chile, Cuba, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Southern
Brazil,&  Argentina).  Overall, the the security dilemma in Latin
America has been rather benign.

Yes. We don’t have as much on international relations. This is because we wanted to draw the line somewhere and also build heavily on our past research. I personally think that several dimensions of international relations are very important for long-run political development. Having said that I am not convinced that the standard Tilly/Herbst line is fully convincing. In other words, I think that external threats can have very different effects depending on domestic politics and history. In particular, external threats and external interventions appear to have led to a very dysfunctional path of state development in sub-Saharan Africa, which is one of the international dimensions on which we spent some time in the book. But much more needs to be done, and that’s an area of future research for me.

I was going to ask about the title of your book: “Why States Fail.”
Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to why states in Latin
America generally don’t fail when prima facie circumstances suggest
strongly that they should.  Colombia, Peru, and Cuba come to mind as
states that should have failed and yet did not do so.  Today we can
add Guatemala to the list of states that should fail.  Why did things
not fall apart in these states?  I have a Huntingtonian read of your
thesis, which I believe is consistent with what I understood from your
presentation: both inclusive as well as exclusive regimes are
incredibly resilient.  Both provide order if not creative destruction
and rapid economic growth.

Well, the title should really be “why some nations fail and some nations succeed” but that’s not a very catchy title.

But your impression is right that we do put some emphasis on the emergence of political centralization (or what Huntington would call “emergence of order”), and both inclusive and extractive institutions lead to political centralization to some degree, and this is a topic we develop in some detail in the book, going back so far as the Neolithic Revolution to start thinking about the roots of this. But I did not have time to talk about this in this short presentation unfortunately.

Last comment: I buy the argument about political institutions not
being what they appear to be and Mexico is, as you noted, a terrific
illustration that is comparable to the U.S. South.  Mexico’s
transition to democracy, on the surface, puts is in one of your bad
diagonals.  Inclusive political institutions + Exclusive economic
institutions.  In fact, the electoral institutions in Mexico remain
heavily biased in favor on vested interests: organized labor and
monopoly capital, public and private.  They remain, in short,
exclusive as you noted.  That said, electoral competition is very real
and is beginning to loosen up the economic institutions.  There has
been movement on anti-trust.  There have been noises about changing
electoral institutions in significant ways.  My guess is that this is
being prodded along by the drug war, which has focused attention on
the state and its performance as voters are getting ready to flock to
the polls next year.

I agree.I think Mexico up to the 1990s is a textbook case of extractive institutions. But things are changing. I agree with you entirely that politics has changed to a significant degree and there is real electoral competition (whereas there wasn’t really any of it during PRI’s domination). But it’s a difficult transition because many dangers remain. In fact I think drug wars are a significant danger because they do threaten the ability of the centralized state to enforce law and order throughout its territory. But I think here too things are not as bad as they first appear. Part of the reason for the spike in drug related violence right now is that the existing equilibrium has been disrupted. So with some luck things may be improving on that score too, though of course there are huge costs that some innocent people are paying in the process.

Noel Maurer on Central America

Interesting post on Central America and the drug wars.  Why is Nicaragua better at fighting off the bad guys than other Central American States?  I comment on Noel’s Post.

On Why States Fail (Robinson & Acemoglu)

I wanted to make one comment and raise one question at the end of your
talk, which I enjoyed immensely.

I was surprised that your model pretty much treats war and peace as
exogenous.  Geography matters, it seems, only with respect to economic
organization but not the security dilemma, at least not as IR types
have articulated this concept.  Paradoxically, as the war makes states
school of scholars has long argued, where the security dilemma is more
intense states will have incentives to build states all else equal.
In Latin America, there is seems to be a high correlation between
external threats (i.e. and a more intense security dilemma) and more
robust states (Mexico, Chile, Cuba, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Southern
Brazil, & Argentina).  Overall, the the security dilemma in Latin
America has been rather benign.

I was going to ask about the title of your book: “Why States Fail.”
Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to why states in Latin
America generally don’t fail when prima facie circumstances suggest
strongly that they should.  Colombia, Peru, and Cuba come to mind as
states that should have failed and yet did not do so.  Today we can
add Guatemala to the list of states that should fail.  Why did things
not fall apart in these states?  I have a Huntingtonian read of your
thesis, which I believe is consistent with what I understood from your
presentation: both inclusive as well as exclusive regimes are
incredibly resilient.  Both provide order if not creative destruction
and rapid economic growth.

Last comment: I buy the argument about political institutions not
being what they appear to be and Mexico is, as you noted, a terrific
illustration that is comparable to the U.S. South.  Mexico’s
transition to democracy, on the surface, puts is in one of your bad
diagonals.  Inclusive political institutions + Exclusive economic
institutions.  In fact, the electoral institutions in Mexico remain
heavily biased in favor on vested interests: organized labor and
monopoly capital, public and private.  They remain, in short,
exclusive as you noted.  That said, electoral competition is very real
and is beginning to loosen up the economic institutions.  There has
been movement on anti-trust.  There have been noises about changing
electoral institutions in significant ways.  My guess is that this is
being prodded along by the drug war, which has focused attention on
the state and its performance as voters are getting ready to flock to
the polls next year.

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