18 April 2014


India Shouldn’t Have Elections

Yet it has. More than 800 million people have started voting during five weeks to elect the House of the People (Lok Sabha), which will appoint the Prime minister and the Council of ministers. When India became independent from British colonial domination in 1947, the general opinion was that a democratic regime could not last in such a huge, poor, illiterate, and ethnically varied country. Most prospects were as grim as that of the British tea planter who predicted, “Chaos would prevail in India if we were so foolish to leave the natives to run their own show.” Arend Lijphart acknowledged in 1996 that democracy in India "has long been a puzzle" for political scientists. Adam Przeworski and associates say in their book Democracy and Development (2000) that “What we want to know is how many countries will be ruled by democracies in the year 2030”, and they conclude that “because India has remained a democracy against all odds, we repeatedly predict it as a dictatorship”.
     Indeed, independence was immediately followed by war, provoked by the separation of Pakistan, which caused more than one million deaths. The rule of the dominant Congress Party, under the strong leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, managed to achieve some stability. But the Congress’s governments, which implemented protectionist and interventionist economic policies, presided over a long period of economic stagnation, derisively referred to as the “Hindu rate of growth.” In fact, democracy broke down. In 1975, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (Nehru’s daughter) declared a state of emergency. Civil rights were suppressed, thousands of opposition members were imprisoned, and hundreds of journalist were arrested. However, two years later, Gandhi reestablished legal guarantees and called a new election, which she and her party lost. Back in power at the following election, she was killed by her own guards.
     Since the late 1980s, the political system of India has experienced significant transformations. Single-party dominance has been replaced with a multiparty system, federal coalition cabinets have become the norm, and a high number of state governments are ruled by local and opposition parties. Although some ethnic and territorial conflicts persist, especially in Punjab and Kashmir, at the borders with Pakistan, violent riots have become routine incidents. Open now to foreign trade and investment, the Indian economy has burgeoned. While democracy was established in India in heavily adverse conditions, it has survived and flourished with the help of these political, institutional and economic changes. Near half of all the people in the world who live in democratic regimes are voting there right now.

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24 March 2014

Adolfo Suárez: 
Un héroe trágico
Adolfo Suarez (1932-2014)

Héroe es el que se sacrifica a sí mismo para el bien de los demás. Esto le diferencia del dictador, que hace todo lo contrario, es decir, aprovecharse de los demás, pero también del líder típico, que obtiene tantos o más beneficios que sus seguidores, y del mártir, cuyo sacrificio es inútil. Adolfo Suárez se sacrificó a sí mismo para dejar atrás el pasado y hacer que todos pudiéramos mirar hacia delante, hasta el punto de atreverse a decir, nada menos que en el momento de presentar su candidatura a las primeras elecciones: “Nunca he perseguido en mis acciones de gobierno pedir nada para mí”. Quizá le creímos porque entonces todos éramos más ingenuos, pero también es cierto que ningún político se ha atrevido luego a decir algo así.
      Probablemente el mayor acierto de Suárez en la transición fue no diseñar un objetivo, sino sólo un proceso, cuyo resultado dependería de unas elecciones abiertas –es decir, una ley “para” la reforma política, más que la reforma misma. Su motivación principal fue el deseo de abandonar un régimen político obsoleto y, en sus recordadas palabras, “elevar a la categoría política de normal lo que a nivel de calle es simplemente normal”. Negó que existiera el determinismo histórico y creyó que “el futuro, lejos de estar decidido, es siempre el reino de la libertad, abierto e inseguro”. Mirar hacia adelante, olvidar el pasado –ésta fue su actitud fundamental.
      Muchas cosas nuevas aprendimos todos de la transición. Suárez se adelantó a los estudiosos al analizarse a sí mismo y observar las dificultades de combinar la construcción de nuevas reglas institucionales con la gestión regular de gobierno, la cual sólo puede desarrollarse normalmente una vez las nuevas reglas han sido establecidas. ¡Cuántos países han enfrentado después problemas semejantes! Con metáfora insuperable, señaló que se le pedía “que cambiemos las cañerías del agua, teniendo que dar agua todos los días; que cambiemos el tendido eléctrico, dando luz todos los días; que cambiemos el techo, las paredes y las ventanas del edificio, pero sin que el viento, la nieve o el frío perjudique a los habitantes de ese edificio.” Casi lo consiguió. No está claro si hoy sería posible otra vez.
      Reflexionando después, opinó que su éxito no se había basado en un ansia masiva de libertad, ya que esa demanda era sólo minoritaria. La gente le apoyó, decía Suárez, “porque yo los alejaba del peligro de una confrontación a la muerte de Franco. No me apoyaban por ilusiones y anhelos de libertades, sino por miedo a esa confrontación; porque yo los apartaba de los cuernos de ese toro”. Interpretó así los mejores intereses de su pueblo e hizo de reclamaciones confusas un proyecto viable que casi todos pudieron aceptar.
      Cuando el pasado regresaba para provocar la confrontación y mover el proceso hacia atrás, Suárez trató de evitarlo con su total sacrificio político, es decir, con su dimisión, para evitar que “el sistema democrático de convivencia sea, una vez más, un paréntesis en la historia de España”. No lo fue; pudimos seguir mirando hacia el futuro, tratar de olvidar el pasado.
      Adolfo Suárez no sólo promulgó la amnistía de los conflictos anteriores, sino que propugnó la amnesia. Fue el político más importante de la transición, pero el único que no escribió sus memorias. Ni siquiera cuando había terminado la tarea quiso echar la vista atrás. Olvidó trágicamente, olvidó, olvidó. Afortunadamente para él, no llegó a darse cuenta de que un día acabaría regresando una nueva versión de aquella España eterna que él había querido dejar atrás.

-------------
My book on the transition to democracy in Spain: CLICK

This article in El Pais CLICK
Previous articles in El Pais CLICK


COMENTARIOS

Bravo professor!
Me ha gustado mucho.
Angel Gil-Ordonez

Tots els herois són tràgics. 
O no són herois. Molt bé Josep Mª.
Salvador Giner

Un titulo excelente!
Es curioso como tantos q atacaron a Suarez entonces hoy lo alaban...
Pedro Gete

Molt bo, Josep Mª. "Me apoyaron porque yo los alejaba de la confrontación, no por ansias de libertad".  Lúcid i contra els tòpics que aquests dies es diuen per aquí. 
Una abraçada, 
Francesc de Carreras

M'ha semblat extraordinari per perspicaç, original, profund i alhora àgil.
Carles Castro

Benvolgut amic,
Esplèndid article. M’ha emocionat. “El olvido y el retorno de la España eterna: hemos vuelto dónde solíamos”.
Records,
Juan Jose Lopez Burniol


20 March 2014

How Russia Got to Chair 
the World Government











The current Russian empire is a member of the Group of Eight (G-8), which is the closest thing to a world government that has ever existed, since 1997. The deal to accept Russia in the world directorate involved a new redistribution of imperial areas of influence, by which some former members of the Soviet Union (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) would become members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and eventually of the European Union (EU), as also other countries under former Soviet control in the Warsaw Pact would (Poland, Czech Rep., Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania). This way, NATO and the EU greatly expanded their limits eastwards. But Ukraine was implicitly left under the influence of the Russian empire (as also were Belarus, Moldova, Georgia and other former Soviet republics). Now the deal shows its latent lines of conflict. Ukraine is a disputed frontier between the European Union and the Russian Federation, but the West is formally committed to protect only the Baltic republics, not necessarily other former Soviet republics fighting for freedom and openness.
The world directorate currently known as G-8 was gradually shaped since the early 1970s, when the finance ministers and the central bank governors of France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States began to hold regular meetings to try to secretively manage floating currency rates and coordinating the interventions of the central banks. The first “summit” of the Group, formed not only by ministerial officials on finances, but by the heads of state or government, together with their foreign affairs ministers, took place in 1975. Italy was invited to the first meeting as the temporary holder of the rotating presidency of the European Council, but it managed to stay on as a permanent member. As a kind of compensation on the other side of the Atlantic, Canada was also incorporated the following year, forming, thus, the Group of Seven. The Group also added the European Union as such a few years later, although it kept the G-7 name.
The U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, stated that the G-7 “provided a kind of political directoire of the industrial democracies… it launched a new era of institutionalized economic and political cooperation among the democracies.” Consistently, the G-7 did not consider dictatorial China’s membership. Yet, at the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and during the initial period of liberalization, the G-7 held a number of post-summit meetings with the elected leader of the new Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin, as a “special guest.” After Yeltsin was reelected president of Russia in 1996, the U.S. president Bill Clinton made a move. In his own words:
“I told Yeltsin that if he would agree to NATO-expansion and the NATO-Russia partnership, I would make a commitment not to station troops or missiles in the new countries prematurely, and to support Russia membership at the new G-8, the World Trade Organization, and other international organizations. We had a deal.”
Yeltsin had found the previous formula of separate meetings with the Seven unacceptable, as “it kept Russia feeling like a student taking an exam.” In the G-7 meeting in Denver, Colorado, in June 1997, Russia was formally accepted as a member of what began then to be called ‘Group of Eight’. The Russian president proclaimed: “Russia has been accepted into the elite club of states!”
Russia has never been incorporated into the regular meetings of the finance ministers of the G-7, which currently also includes the heads of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and the governor of the European Central Bank. But Russia has participated in 17 annual summit meetings of the G-8 and hosted one (in St Petersburg in 2006). Now it’s the turn again for Russia to host and chair the G-8 summit meeting, scheduled for June 4-5 in Sochi. Suspending Russia from participating in the meeting, as some other leaders are suggesting, which may imply relocating the meeting itself, is highly risky, as it could be interpreted by Vladimir Putin as a break of the aforementioned deal. If the Western great powers don’t respect Russia membership to the world directorate, Russia may reconsider its commitment to respect NATO membership or neutrality of some countries formerly under its area of influence. Imperial rivalries are reemerging before our eyes.


COMMENTS

Eric Hershberg said...

Nicely done, Josep

Eric Hershberg
American University
Washington, DC


Anastasia Obydenkova said...

Very interesting indeed!


Anastassia Obydenkova
UPF, Barcelona


Salvador Giner said...

Josep Maria, com de costum, la teva sociogia política l'encerta,
perquè és sociologia analítica. La prochaine guerre de Crimée n'aura pas lieu.


Carles Castro said...
Una anàlisi clarificadora.
CCS

23 February 2014

Governing Like Dentists

The ideal of good governance was phrased this way by John M. Keynes: dealing with economic and other collective problems “should be a matter for specialists-like dentistry; if economists could manage to get themselves thought of as humble, competent people, on a level with dentists, that would be splendid!”
      In fact, expert government already exists. Both national states, broad regional organizations, like the European Union, and most global institutions, in spite of, or in parallel to their democratic claims, strongly rely upon independent bodies of nonelected experts to receive advice, make decisions, and implement, supervise and evaluate policies on major issues. Expert rule at the state level includes, for example, the civil service, as well as numerous agencies not dependent on electoral results or party government; the central banks carrying explicit policy mandates out, now with broad international consequences; and the local and global courts that enforce rules of justice. Giving priority to competence over competition is also a hallmark of global institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and a few dozen others. But they have not invented “technocratic” rule; they rather use some of the criteria and procedures that were previously developed at state level. Nowadays, at all levels, many officials with major legislative, executive and judicial powers are recruited by procedures not involving competition in elections or affiliation with political parties. In the expectation of being able to produce regularities and adaptive outcomes, independent bodies use explicit criteria of political independence, technical expertise and honest behavior.
It is still an intriguing question why the rulers of most states have conceded in giving away powers to other institutions formed by nonelected experts. It may well be that traditional politicians at state level have conceded in losing power in order to lighten the agenda under their jurisdiction. In fact the increasingly broader scope of real human exchanges overcome the state rulers’ capability to exert traditional forms of control. State rulers can be aware that they would run high risk if they were made politically responsible for certain processes and decisions that develop beyond their reach. Then, they may prefer to transfer such responsibility to non-elected bodies of experts.
It is clear that in recent decades, traditional state politics has been shaken by the emergence of new issues, people’s new demands, innovative complex technologies and the expansion of economic relations beyond state limits. Many incumbent rulers and politicians may fear that the political agenda can become too broad and certain matters can be difficult to be managed by usual political means. Faced with new issues, non-specialized politicians and diplomats may be uncertain regarding the appropriate course of action in their own political interest. As happened historically with the emergence of judicial independence from both the executive government and the legislature, also inter-institutional rivalry can lead to insulation of certain functions by transferring authority outside the sovereign in order to prevent the rival’s expansion of powers. In the last few decades, as social complexity and globalization increase, so does rulers’ delegation to independent and international bodies of experts. Actually, about the same mechanism may explain the establishment of independent bodies of experts at state level and the delegation of state powers to international and global nonelected institutions. Thus, in different contexts, democratically-elected politicians can choose to place some issues under jurisdictions alien to political party competition and elections in order to be able to focus on fewer, better controlled affairs.
Keynes’ comparison of public decision-makers with dentists may not be that bad after all because, as was widely known, for a long time dentists made a lot of mistakes, caused much pain to patients and were the subject of fear and jokes. But it’s also true that they –like economists and other social scientists—have made a lot of progress, on the basis of learning from experience and using new technical means, to deliver increasingly better services. The fact is that much of the history of progress in policy-making in the last few decades can be described in terms of the transfer of wider and wider policy areas from politics to expertise.

Revised version in Spanish in the daily El Pais:
"La larga agonía de los partidos politicos" CLICK


COMMENTS


Rein Tagepera said...

Yes, I agree. I  wish we could express it in mathematical terms.
But I suspect it has something to do with preference rankings in different cultures:

My victory > my loss > compromise (which is dishonorable)
OR
My victory > compromise > my loss
OR EVEN
Good compromise > my momentary victory (which embitters the other side with whom I  have to deal later on, too) > my loss.


Rein 



Ian Holliday said...

I also have a blog now – much narrower, but I figure I may as well let you know about it.

Best wishes, Ian

Ian Holliday
Department of Politics and Public Administration

The University of Hong Kong

13 February 2014

The Elected King in the White House
By observing the political show in Washington, one can realize how overrated is the Presidency in comparison to its actual powers, and at the same time how effective is the display of its ceremonial and symbolic functions in order to keep an image of the country's unity. This is exactly what kings and queens do. The monarchical origins of the American Presidency left an imprint that is still highly visible, as it is in its Latin American and African imitators.
My article:
'Elected Kings with the Name of Presidents. On the origins of presidentialism in the United States and Latin America'.
Abstract: The leaders of the independence in the Americas chose their institutions in a context of high territorial tensions, which moved them to create a potential anchor in the figure of a powerful central executive. Presidential regimes were endogenously shaped as elected monarchies by rulers who were army chiefs. The military-presidential nexus is not accidental, but constitutive and substantial. Some legacies of those choices include the frequency of military rulers as chief executives and long-standing attempts at life appointments or indefinite reelections by incumbent presidents.
Just published in
Revista Latinoamericana de Politica Comparada, vol. 7, December 2013.
CLICK 


COMMENTS

Richard Rose said...

Josep
If you don't know it you would it interesting to look up an article by Fred Riggs on the presidency, a US/Latin American comparison. Published in the late 1980s, as I recall, and may have appeared in IntlPolSci Review of IPSA--if that was published then,.

RR

Professor Richard Rose FBA
Director, Centre for the Study of Public Policy
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow


From Blog
Yes, Riggs' article is cited in my article.
Actually I met him and we shared a panel in APSA many years ago.
He was a charming Hawaiian guy, I resented his passing away.
Josep

12 January 2014

Scotland vs. Catalonia
or tennis vs. bullfighting

I recently had the occasion to attend a presentation of the plan for independence of Scotland by its first minister, Alex Salmond. I had spoken at the Parliament of Scotland a few years ago, on the occasion of the publication of my book Great empires, small nations: The uncertain future of the sovereign state CLICK. This time the meeting was in Washington, with an audience of a few dozen people, including numerous high officers of the State Department and other government agencies who listened attentively, made precise questions and carefully took notes. The Scottish leader, with great charm, started his speech talking not of independence, but of interdependence in the current world. He gave details of the thousand of Scots by birth who are also proud American citizens. He emphasized his loyalty to NATO, to which, he said, an independent Scotland would increase its contribution. And he presented a detailed, positive plan –more recently published as ‘White Paper’-- for, in case of winning the referendum this coming September, keeping Scotland’s allegiance to the British crown and staying in the United Kingdom for the following 18 months in order to negotiate the re-entrance in the European Union, so not to be left outside for a moment. CLICK 
The contrast with the intellectual level and the usual abrupt tone of the ongoing exchanges between the Catalan and the Spanish rulers was too visible for me to stop thinking of them. A few weeks ago a majority of the Parliament of Catalonia agreed upon calling a referendum in November with two questions and three alternatives, including: the status-quo of high self-government, a would-be intermediate formula of non-independent Catalan state without further clarification, and independence. CLICK 
The question in Scotland is more clear and straightforward about supporting independence yes or not. And yet in that meeting it looked like Salmond, on a background of unfavorable survey polls, almost gave the referendum for lost. It was as if he was thoroughly preparing himself to play a tennis match with the world subchampion. A real display of British fair play style. The same style of dialogue and elegance has been shown by the British prime minister, David Cameron, at dealing with the issue. Taking benefit from the absence of a constraining, written British constitution, Cameron travelled to Edinburgh to sign an agreement with Salmond for the referendum. Nobody can imagine anything remotely similar like the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, traveling to Barcelona to agree with the president of Catalonia, Artur Mas, the call of such a type of referendum.
The crucial difference of the ways by which the two conflicts are developing does not come from the differences between Scotland and Catalonia, but from those between Britain and Spain. The two states are historical great empires that survive nowadays as reluctantly acknowledged multinational countries. But while the leaders of the former, relying upon a very long tradition of freedom and democracy, are still self-assertive and self-assured, the rulers of the latter ride over a collapsing, self-ashamed and highly insecure of itself society. The political reactions of the British and Spanish central rulers to secession threats look flexible and rigid, respectively. But, as is well known, flexibility, like bamboo, is associated to resilience, while rigidity, like the stick, implies fragility.
I am pretty sure that, like the tennis players do, when the match will be over Cameron and Salmond will shake their hands. In contrast, in the dispute between Spain and Catalonia the two sides seem to be playing bullfighting. In some Catalan poems and essays, the mythical Spain had been imagined like a furious Minotaur caged in the labyrinth. But in the current affair the Spanish government is behaving rather like the bullfighter or torero, one that has traditionally relished with bravado and cunning in nailing down lances and spears with barbs on Catalonia, while the Catalan bull is determined to gore him this time. The torero does not want to be caught, but rather to sink the final sword thrust and pithing on the bull. It’s not clear what the ending of the story will be. What is sure is that there will be victims. In a year from now many of those that are often in the news will have disappeared.

COMMENTS

Richard Rose said...

Josep,
Read your Scotland/ Catalonia blog with interest. You have rightly characterised Salmond. What you left out is the English problem. The case against independence is run on fear of the uncertainty of change, rather than as a case for Union.  As and when there is a referendum on should Britain leave the EU, the same argument would apply. 
More than half a century ago, as quoted in the lst edition of my POLITICS IN ENGLAND, Dean Acheson asked: Britain has lost an Empire but not yet found a role. Thatcher had an answer, like it or not. Blair and Cameron just ignore it.

I notice you have references to books worth reading. Here is LEARNING ABOUT POLITICS IN TIME AND SPACE click. It is my memoir just out with ECPR Press. Trust you can find a chapter in there to stimulate a blog. 

RR
Professor Richard Rose FBA
Director, Centre for the Study of Public Policy 
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
www.cspp.strath.ac.uk

John Carlin said...
Muy bueno. Pero lo puedo leer en español?
Sitges-London

Carles Castro said...
Excel·lent reflexió descriptiva. Llàstima que ni els toros ni els toreros llegeixin massa.
Barcelona

Salvador Giner said...
El golf, no el tennis és l'sport inventat pels escocesos. (Per cert, l'únic país on és un esport proletari i popular) 
Una abraçada, 
Salvador
Barcelona

08 December 2013

Best of 2013

BOOKS


Benn Steil: The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order (Princeton)  CLICK

Lawrence Freedman: Strategy: A History (Oxford)  CLICK

Verlyn Kinklenborg, Several short sentences about writing (Knopf)  CLICK


POLITICS

WONKBLOG Ezra Klein’s Blog at The Washington Post  CLICK

For Europe! Manifesto of the Spinelli Group CLICK

President Giorgio Napolitano saves Italy, and Europe!  CLICK


ARTS


VAN GOGH Repetitions

THE PHILLIPS COLLECTION




Alex Prager: Face in the Crowd

Corcoran Gallery of Art  CLICK



           



Gerrit van Honthorst: The Concert











MUSIC







P!nk - Just Give me a Reason  CLICK to listen
Tierney Sutton - After Blue CLICK to listen
Cecilia Bartoli  -Mission, by Steffani CLICK to listen

SPORTS










FC Barcelona, Champion of the Spanish League.
Guardiola's Bayern Munich beats Mourinho's Chelsea at Europe SuperCup.
Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant return to the starting line-up for the Lakers.







22 November 2013

How Much Strategy


As published in the Financial Times, 'Week-End', 
November 23, 2013

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
November 23, 2013
A good guide for any endeavour and life in general

From Prof Josep Colomer.

Sir, I concur with Janan Ganesh in his review of Lawrence Freedman’s book Strategy: A History (“In praise of Plan B”, Life & Arts, November 16) that the author’s central argument seems to be that “strategy is flexibility”. Yet, after reading the book I don’t share the “pessimism . . . about how much anything as man-made as strategy can really achieve in an unknowable world”.

Freedman himself offers a couple of insights that could answer “how much”. Machiavelli holds that “fortune [unpredictable circumstances] governs one half of our actions, but even so she leaves the half more or less in our power to control”. Clausewitz focuses on this second half of our actions under control and observes that the “skill of the greatest commanders may be counterbalanced by a two-to-one ratio in the fighting forces”, which may imply that a strategy composed of skill and force in a one-to-one ratio would be pretty balanced. Combining the two insights, we would have that the achievement of a man-made plan can depend one half on unpredictable circumstances, one quarter on force (including military and economic resources), and one quarter on skill. It looks like a good guide for any military, political and business endeavour, as for life in general.

Josep Colomer, Professor of Game Theory,
Georgetown University, Washington, DC, US

-----------------------------------------------------------------------
This post is kindly dedicated to Rein Taagepera, who began to ask "how much"
COMMENTS

Jorge Dezcallar said..

Está muy bien. Pero en política exterior aun crece más la primera variable 
que depende no ya del acaso sino tambien de fuerzas fuera de nuestro control

09 November 2013


Spies in Washington

The disclosure of mass surveillance programs by former CIA employee Ed Snowden has raised heated accusations to the American and British governments for invading citizens’ privacy and betraying allies’ trust. None of this, however, is very new. What’s new is the scandal for activities that most states have been developing for a very long time.
In Washington I have met a number of spies, indeed. When I arrived for the first time as a visiting professor In the 1990s, I landed provisionally in the office of a colleague that was teaching two courses: “Intelligence” and “Counterintelligence”. By that time I also knew, off campus, a couple of retired embassy officers who kept their Cold War obsessions alive and their pistols at home. But the current people are different: they are young, tech geeks and open minded. A number of my students of the last few years already work in the State Department, the Pentagon or other public offices after having passed heavy security clearances. The next door’s neighbor of a place I was living in a couple of years ago was a lonely woman who, as a kind of introduction, said she worked for an IT or information technology company outside the city. But I soon realized that, in Washington, when you ask somebody what you work on, the “I” in “IT” refers to intelligence more frequently than to information –actually the two words have become almost synonymous. A young guy can typically respond: “IT?”, looking at you as if saying with his eyes: “do you get it?”, “so don’t ask more”. I actually asked a young lady in a crowded party in which there were some people like those whether that was the meaning, and she told me: “nooo”, but also that actually she couldn’t even tell me that. On some other occasion, another lady told me that she had had a six-month external contract with the State Department, in this case genuinely on information technology, and that during the duration of the contract it was forbidden to take photos of her, and even then, three years later, “it was not advisable”.
The headquarters of the National Security Agency (NSA), which is the focus of the current scandal, are in Fort Meade, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, where 35,000 people work. But it also has facilities in other seven states, as well as in other four countries, at overseas military bases and inside American embassies and missions abroad. What do you think that all those young, educated, competent, politically balanced and nice people do? Can anybody really believe that anybody is listening to billions of phone calls or reading billions of internet or text messages? So thousands of jobs would consist in spending hours and hours listening or reading exchanges like: “hey, how are you?”, “hi mom, I love you”, “do you want the bill by mail or by email?”, “can you confirm the appointment with our plumber tomorrow?”, “how was the movie?”, “are you open now?”, “please find our estimate for repairs attached”, “can I make a reservation for dinner of two?”, “what are you wearing?”… The NSA is the largest employer of mathematicians in the country, while it also staffs many computer scientists, engineers and linguists. Of course what most of the current computer scouts do is not reading or listening billions of messages, but designing and using algorithms to trail a few critical terms, names, addresses or codes in order to identify suspicious exchanges for people’s security. According to the polls, a large majority of Americans don’t feel threatened in their privacy, even after the NSA scandal, but rather satisfied with the government’s job in preventing terrorism: in fact, no new attack has taken place since 2001, while a number of attempts have been specifically identified and dismantled on time.
The scandal for the other revelation --that governments spy on governments-- is more hypocritical because almost every government does it and has done it for centuries. Is the current eavesdropping more daring than what Quim Philby and his colleagues did during the Cold War? Or than what Mata Hari was doing during World War I? Or than the mythical Scarlet Pimpernel’s whistle blows during the French Revolutionary Terror? Just to mention a few legendary characters and episodes; the list is vast. From the window of my first apartment in Washington in the 1990s I saw the Russian embassy. The former embassy of the Soviet Union had been abandoned after the fall of Communism because the building was completely bugged by the FBI and the NSA. One day the Russians opened the new embassy to the neighbors for a party. The Cold War was over, but they only showed us a ball room in a kind of box-of-shoes shaped warehouse separated from the main construction within the compound. A few months later, an American spy for Moscow revealed that the United States government had already constructed a secret tunnel under the new Russian embassy.
Espionage on other countries is the foundation of modern states’ diplomacy. The current revelations only show that new technologies permit to do the classical eavesdropping by other means, without bugs on the walls or tunnels, but at long distance and online. The U.S. government certainly keeps spying on foreign governments and organizations, especially regarding terrorism and nuclear arms in the hands of dictatorships. It also spies with economic purposes, as many other governments do too. That the European Union has reacted to the NSA scandal by suspending the negotiations for a transatlantic trade agreement suggests that those incipient talks were also closely surveilled in advance.
The current leaks don’t reveal, thus, anything really new, neither regarding mass surveillance nor espionage among states. What’s new is the scale of the endeavor, as is facilitated by the new ITs. Doubtless, some espionage “has reached too far”, as has been put by Secretary of State John Kerry. When a new technology appears, some things are done just because they can be done. Some eavesdroppers may have thought, like Obama in his campaign: “yes, we can!”. For the same sake, many people show their bowels in facebook, not because they really think they can be of any public interest and in spite of the risks involved for their privacy and intimacy: just because they can. Certainly, the risks of spying are higher the more powerful are the used ITs. But the really new thing is the scandal! Suddenly, after several centuries of giving it for granted, we have discovered that governments spy. And now, for the first time, it’s a scandal.
Espionage, as many other abuses, has been traditionally justified by the “Reason of State”. This was an ideological alibi coined in the seventeenth century, when the absolute monarchies began to display their ambitions of dominance and conquest, and which attained a peak during the bloody 1930s (greatly thanks to the lunacy of German nationalist professor Friedrich Meineke). Espionage was presented as one of numerous supposedly needed requirements of power at the expense of the moral codes of individuals. But the new thing to celebrate is that, in the twenty-first century world, the reason of state is not widely accepted anymore as a justification for spying –nor for other assaults. A first hint came when the United States didn’t really try to chase after Snowden when he flew and took refuge in Russia; after a few routine statements, Obama cordially met Putin in St Petersburg for the Group of Twenty annual summit meeting and they cooperatively agreed on dealing together with crises in the Middle East. The U.S. President looked almost relieved for having found such a nonconflicting exit. Now the German government, the European Union, Brazil, are asking for global cooperation regarding intelligence and espionage. They basically suggest that existing agreements among certain countries not to spy on each other and to share intelligence , such as the so-called Five-Eyes including the most developed former British colonies (the U.S. Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), as well as the Nine Eyes, the 14 Eyes, and an alliance of the 26 NATO-member agencies, are obsolete and should be enlarged. The reason of state is not accepted as a supreme value anymore. More transparency and global arrangements are demanded. I am happy to live in a world moving in such a direction.

An abridged version in Spanish in the daily El Pais: CLICK

COMMENTS

Magnífico artículo. Concuerdo totalmente
Te felicito
Un abrazo,
Jorge Dezcallar
Embajador de España

Very interesting Josep – a similar reaction to my own but with much more foundation!
Steven Kennedy
London

            interessant!
Laia Balcells
Duke University

29 October 2013

The Banality of Power

The impotence of formal political power is widespread. In many countries, technical or caretaker governments, as broad or grand coalitions of multiple political parties also do, limit themselves to implementing earlier agreed international obligations, especially with regard to budget and economic policies. In most democratic countries, discretionary spending is only about 30 % of total public spending; the rest are previous commitments, especially public salaries, pensions, unemployment benefits, debt interests and other transfers and financial items. But the political decisions on discretionary spending are also strongly constrained by long-term programs and moderate continuity. In most cases the actual differences in the allocation of resources between a right-wing and a left-wing government changes less than 5% of GDP. Even the absence of partisan state governments may have only a limited impact on governance. Many parliaments do not legislate by themselves any more, but they basically ratify governmental decrees reflecting international directives.
Some consequences of this shift of power on the downgrading of domestic politics are highly visible, including the banalization of political speeches and electoral campaigns, although the relation of this with the increasing globalization of public affairs has not always been remarked.
In many countries of the world the development of transnational and global processes shows the banality of power; that is, the banality of state-based power regarding many policy issues that were highly relevant in state governments’ agendas just a few decades ago. Many politicians and civil servants exert power in a banal, routine way, without questioning the aims of the orders they receive, especially from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and other international organizations. They might as well say that they are acting by obedience, for lack of freedom to choose, as their political responsibility for their actions has vanished.
However, vanity and the seeking of fame make the political show to go on as usual. The customary gesticulation of domestic politicians persists as if nothing happened. Many party officers replicate old grinds and clichés out of context and relevance. Political parties consume themselves in inward-looking curling. Sometimes the spectacle of politicians keeping their speeches, rhetoric, gestures and other routines while they ignore or pretend to ignore the background of their colossal impotence can be astonishing.
The other consequence is still more scratchy. Deprived of significant policy achievements, the seeking of private interest and the “insatiable avarice”, referred to by David Hume, emerges clearly. Old institutions that have become ineffective survive by deploying new empty ceremonies, but also by becoming a pool for private gains...

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: Rulers of the World: The politics of global institutions

See longer version in Spanish in the daily El Pais: CLICK

18 October 2013

U.S. Government shutdown, 
Chicken game, and Juan Linz

The U.S. government' shutdown and further fiscal fights have been widely labeled as episodes of a Chicken game, in which one of the players wins and the other concedes --in this case, the Democratic President and Senate and the Republican House, respectively. (See, for example, CNN, Bloomberg, etc.).
     Juan J. Linz, whom we are honoring these days, wrote extensively on the conflict-prone institutional relations in a presidential regime of separation of powers such as the United States.
    I can claim to have formally modeled this type of interaction for the first time as a Chicken game in 1995, precisely in a book discussing Linz's work.
Quoting myself:
    "Game theorists have discerned in the Chicken game 'a universal form of adversary engagement', which seems reasonable to apply to the analysis of the relationship between the president and the congress in a separation of powers or presidential regime...
     "Even assuming preference orders of president and congress clearly giving priority to governability, the incentives of electoral competition and the splitting of power between the two institutions produce in their strategic interaction a stable outcome of rivalry and conflict rather than mutual cooperation...
     "An equilibrium is only found in the Chicken game when one of the players imposes his will on the other. The outcome of mutual cooperation and concessions between the two institutions is an unstable outcome. This seems clear enough to give an account of the relationship between the president and the congress on presidential regimes."

See the full article: CLICK
Josep M. Colomer. "The Blame Game of Presidentialism", in Politics, Society, and Democracy: Comparative Studies, eds. H. E. Chehabi and Alfred Stepan. Boulder-San Francisco-Oxford: Westview Press, 1995. 375-392.

COMMENTS

Rob Richie said...
Thanks!
See my Washington Post oped today about an alternative approach about making big tent parties really big tents.. More in the  "American" ethos, we'd argue, with separately elected executives a powerful part of our political culture, down through states and cities. CLICK
"Ranked choice voting" here translates to STV, but we use as an umbrella term that also covers one-winner "instant runoff."
Best,
Rob
Fair Vote, Washington, DC

08 October 2013

Juan J. Linz (1926-2013)













My debts, both intellectual and personal, to Juan Linz couldn't ever be repaid.

Just as a humble little homage, a sample of his influence:

*  Game Theory and the Transition to Democracy (1990 in Spanish, 1995 in English): 
Linz is cited from page 1 to the backcover.

*  "Thinking on the breakdown of many European democracies between the two world wars, Juan J. Linz dissociated the capability of a democratic regime to obtain 'legitimacy', that is, social acquiescence and acceptance on the part of most political and social actors, from its 'efficacy'. Linz presented the argument of the absence of correlation between the levels of unemployment and those of democratic instability in several countries during the interwar period... Reflecting especially on the breakdown of democracies in Germany and Spain in the 1930s, Linz pointed out, in contrast, the role of strictly political factors, such as innovative leadership, organizational strength, ideology, and institutional framework, so that socioeconomic structures appeared as favorable, perhaps necessary, but not sufficient conditions of democratic stability (Linz and Stepan 1978; also Diamond, Linz, and Lipset, 1988).
in Strategic Transitions (2000, p. 135).

* Linz, one of the four most quoted authors (with Brams, Lijphart, and Riker) in Political Institutions (2001).

* My most Linzian piece (which should have been co-authored with him):
The Spanish Pre-Civil War
"Nonmonotonic electoral results in which the loser in popular votes becomes the winner in seats can help to explain high levels of political bipolarization that, under certain circumstances, may lead to revolution, coup d'état, and civil war. This was the case in the Spanish Second Republic, which was established in April 1931 in reaction to the previous involvement of the Monarchy in a military dictatorship...
From: Political Institutions (2001).
Expanded version in Handbook of Electoral System Choice (2004).

*  And my most recent work on Juan J. Linz:'Empire-, state- and nation-building and deconstructing in Spain', in Multinational State-Building. Considering and Continuing the Work of Juan Linz (M-S Derviche & W. Genieys eds., 2008). CLICK