Economist Dani Rodrik has a forthcoming book that seeks to defend his discipline against common criticisms. But the book may also help scholars of international relations and other social scientists learn to appreciate intellectual diversity within their own fields. From the publisher's description:
Joshua Keating of Slate alleges this morning that the European Union has a "democracy problem." This argument has been around in many forms for many years, but Keating believes that recent Grevents demonstrate that "the EU tends to demand democracy in its members except when it comes to the EU itself." He argues:
...The European project tends to run into problems whenever it’s put to a vote. A proposed EU constitution was scrapped in 2005 when it was rejected by French and Dutch voters. Its replacement, the slightly less ambitious Lisbon treaty, was put to a public vote in only one country, Ireland, which rejected it in 2008. (The Irish eventually voted yes to the treaty the following year after winning some concessions.) The only two countries that held a referendum on adopting the euro, Denmark and Sweden, both rejected it.
I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that this post is yet another mind-numbing entry in the long, depressing debate about policy relevance in the international relations academy. The good news is that it doesn't matter because nobody reads this blog.
A recent Perspectives on Politics symposium on Michael Desch's essay "Technique Trumps Relevance" seems to take for granted the notion that policymakers value qualitative research and not research based on more "sophisticated" methods. This is because Desch and Paul Avey had previously published an article based on a survey of senior U.S. government officials arguing that the academy, to be useful, should aim to give policymakers what they want: more qualitative research. (Don't worry, this post is not at all about picking sides in a methods fight: it's about questioning the reasons that folks fight over these things.)
At The Monkey Cage (The Washington Post), Prof. Greg Gause asks why we do not observe a "strong regional alliance against Iran." He argues that this is an example of what Randall Schweller called "underbalancing," which occurs "when states fail to recognize dangerous threats, choose not to react to them, or respond in paltry and imprudent ways." Gause also suggests an answer to his puzzle: would-be balancers like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel are just too different in terms of domestic political ideology. This is interesting because it contradicts Stephen Walt's 1987 argument that threats trump ideology as motivators for alliance formation.
Yet I don't believe that the extent of balancing we observe in today's Middle East is all that puzzling. Furthermore, it seems to me that even ideologically opposed states are responding just as we would expect them to given the specific kinds of threats that Iran poses to them.
Former Secretaries of State Kissinger and Schultz have published a long article in the WSJ that sets forth a laundry list of reasons to worry about a nuclear agreement with Iran. It's being interpreted as an authoritative stance against the potential deal. But as many have already observed, it can't serve as such because it doesn't examine the consequences of no deal or other deals. In addition, the authors mislead about historical background and about the national interest. From the introduction:
Commentators are abuzz over a government official’s recent assertion that the “root causes” of terrorism must be addressed with economic fixes. Security analysts are talking about it, too. Erin Simpson emphasizes in a response that economic grievances are a poor place to look for a root cause of political violence and that the search for a single cause is quixotic anyway.
Her view is that practitioners may have succumbed to the “root cause fallacy,” which occurs when a phenomenon caused by many factors is mistakenly attributed to a single source.
But the following claim bothers me: “There is no one root cause of civil and political violence, which means there is no one silver bullet solution.” I believe she is right that there is no one “silver bullet” solution to civil and political violence, so that’s not my quibble.
In this week's Friday Puzzler at Political Violence @ a Glance, Barbara Walter covers a new paper in International Organization called "Decision Maker Preferences for International Legal Cooperation." It finds, as a secondary contribution, that many policy elites exhibit poor strategic sophistication as measured by the authors. Walter's puzzle: "Why would any President or corporation appoint a leader whose strategic skills were so poor? And how is it possible for such individuals to rise to the highest ranks of corporate and government decision-making?"
Jonathan Kirshner, professor of international relations and mid-century film expert, has an article coming out in the next issue of World Politics called “The Economic Sins of Modern IR Theory and the Classical Realist Alternative.” I don’t yet have access, but I’m curious to read it mainly because of one passage in the abstract:
“…This relates to another great economic sin of contemporary IR theory: the hyperrationalist turn. Most clearly seen in the influential rationalist explanations for war approach, it reflects the uncritical adaptation of a certain type of macroeconomics: rational expectations theory. But the limits to rational expectations were revealed analytically for decades and ultimately exposed by the global financial crisis.”
I’ve heard Kirshner tie his critiques of international relations theory to the financial crisis before, but I’ve never quite understood the move for the following reason.
...seemingly adopted the view that knowledge was sought for knowledge's sake. This led to a debate between those who believed that remaining aloof from policymakers was the only way to keep their analytical purity and those who believed that purity without relevance made no sense.
At one point in the development of this discipline, according to an experienced observer, its participants
Can you figure out which area this commentary refers to?
Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, as you may know owing to media coverage earlier this year, have a forthcoming paper which argues that "economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence."
The paper is based on an impressive data-collection effort over many years. When asked on The Daily Show if that effort was an attempt to "statistically quantify the feeling that everyone has" about money and politics, the authors agreed. Dani Rodrik's recent article suggests that this work has staying power in public discourse, as it comes months after Gilens and Page appeared on television and long after their article received the explainer treatment at Vox ("The new study about oligarchy that's blowing up the Internet, explained"). Given all the attention, I'm puzzled that nobody seems to talk about one issue in the paper.