The Chronicle Compares College Rankings…

30 Ways to Rate a College – Measuring Stick – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

I like the graph here which displays all of the criteria prominent ranking systems use. Above is just a small bit of that image. But I think the bottom-line here is that it can be useful to look at many different sources, paying attention to their various distinctive criteria, when attempting to form an impression of a school.

Lim on Obama’s Leadership Gap; the NYC Mosque

This is my colleague Elvin Lim on Obama’s lack of leadership on the NYC Mosque issue. Obama is compared to Polonius and we are told that Obama is not being professorial enough. Definitely worth a read:

Out on a Lim: Obama’s Leadership Gap.

The WTO, Summer 2010

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has been central to my research agenda for a long time now. I am currently in the process of completing a book manuscript that examines African participation and influence in global economic governance. I begin with the assumption that they have to work through coalitions, and then proceed to consider how different institutional environments impact their ability to form and maintain such coalitions. I find that those institutional environments can vary in several important ways, including how specific international and regional institutions overlap. For instance, when institutional environments require rule-making to take place across multiple institutions (such as the case of trade-related food safety measures, where rules are made at the WTO, Codex-Alimentarius Commission and elsewhere), then the obstacles to forming and maintaining coalitions increase. And, indeed, we see African states have more difficulties in impacting rule-making in such environments.

Given the centrality of the WTO to most areas of economic governance, I pay close attention to on-going developments in that organization. This past summer, several stories grabbed my attention: the status of the on-going Doha Round of negotiations, Lamy’s attempts to invigorate that round with a “cocktail approach”, and the on-going struggle to reform trade-distorting US domestic cotton support. This post touches on those themes and several others.

Doha Round Status

The Doha Round is not dead, though reports of its demise recur on a regular basis. One needs to remember that multilateral trade negotiating rounds have always taken a long time to conclude (last time, the Uruguay Round began in 1986 and only officially concluded in 1994). Additionally, there are now many more member states and economic power is more diffuse than it was during past rounds. So it should be no surprise that there have been a number of obstacles to concluding the current round of negotiations. Indeed, towards the beginning of the summer, attempts to conclude the Doha Round seemed to take another blow, as the G8 abandoned a pledge to conclude trade negotiations this year. However, some also cautiously report on continued progress, including sources in India (for instance, The Economic Times).

Director-General Pascal Lamy’s recent report to the WTO General Council tries to frame the WTO’s Doha Round and “Aid for Trade” as important contributions to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. However, his main strategy for keeping Doha alive seems to be linked to beverages…

“Shaken, Not Stirred.” Cocktail Approaches to Negotiations

My attention has been captured lately by Director-General Pascal Lamy’s new strategy in multilateral negotiations: the cocktail approach. He seems very excited about it. There are three core ingredients to this cocktail: (1) Chair-led consultations, (2) informal bilateral discussions, and (3) consultations with Lamy. He speaks of these dynamics as occurring both horizontally and vertically. The idea, apparently, is that these ingredients are already here, and that what is needed is for us to shake them vigorously (perhaps Lamy has an affinity for Bond, since he says that simply stirring this favorite cocktail of his is not enough).

Generally speaking, his method would involve:“Chair-led processes within the Negotiating Groups, maintaining an overview of the entire negotiating landscape (transparency and inclusiveness), and smaller groups in variable geometry and bilateral contacts remain necessary and essential –moving towards a more horizontal view of the issues (negotiating groups and the TNC remaining the anchor of the negotiating process).”

This is not the first time a cocktail approach has been used to encourage progress in WTO negotiations. The idea goes back at least to Tim Josling and Allan Rae who describe its application to agriculture negotiations back in 1999. The idea, they suggested,was to take current tariff levels and treat each level with a different modality. For instance, states could eliminate tariffs where current levels are below 5%, but for tarriffs that are extremely high (say, 300%) states may agree to simply allow space for bargaining. In their analysis applying the “cocktail” approach did have some benefit for African states. Their approach was embraced by a number of negotiators in the early phases of the Doha Round and continues to be mentioned today.

Looking at the broader negotiation literature, cocktails have had other metaphorical use. Cocktail can refer to a hybrid approach in negotiating tactics by individual actors intent on pushing or securing an advantage (see Matos et al. 1998).

Cotton

I am also asked, when I speak about the role African states play on the cotton issue, whether they are merely following another state’s lead (Brazil). I always say that this might be the case with dispute settlement, where African states have only acted as third-party supporters of Brazil’s activities. However, African states have clearly been leading players in using cotton as an issue to press for greater advantage in negotiations on agriculture in the Doha Round. If Brazil’s strategy has been to use judicial processes, African states have tried to push for a legislated solution.

This summer it became even clearer that Brazil stands alone on the cotton issue. It seems to have forgotten the rhetoric of how the “South”, including Africa, is hurt by wrong-headed agricultural policies in the industrialized “North”. Indeed, Brazil’s cotton farmers now apparently are being paid US subsidies. In return for not applying WTO-authorised trade sanctions, Brazil has decided to accept payment from the US to its farmers. As the Financial Times notes, this just makes them new stakeholders in the US Farm Bill. This is too bad, as Brazilian sanctions, while generating a number of negative externalities for Brazilian consumers and American exporters, could also have generated positive externalities for Africa’s more needy cotton farmers.

The WTO is not just the Doha Round

While the apparent lack of progress in the Doha Round might seem to signal a lack of commitment by the international community to this organization, it is far from being the case that the WTO’s relevance relies only on that round.

For one thing, the WTO administers a number of international agreements. One of those, which member states do not have to sign, is the Government Procurement Agreement. This agreement tries to encourage transparency and the principle of non-discrimination in government procurement. Signing the agreement ensures formal access to government procurement contracts in other signatory countries. The United States is one of 40 such countries. So, as the Financial Times reported, it is not surprising that China is actively trying to negotiate access to the agreement. Accession requires the consent of the current parties (Article XXIV, 2).

Indeed, the WTO has played a central role in economic disputes between the US and China in recent years. See, for instance, recent US concerns about China’s garments and textiles.

The WTO also plays a central role in many economic disputes between Europe and the United States. Two of those disputes, one about European subsidies for Airbus andanother about tariffs on certain electronic products, both resulted in WTO panel decisions that favored the US, though Europe is appealing at least the Airbus decision.

My colleague, Peter Rutland, has a nice piece in the Financial Times about Russia’s bid to enter the WTO. It is, as he notes, “embarrassing” that Russia is the only major economy not included in the 153-member organization. He notes many of the important obstacles to that bid: some member countries (Georgia) don’t like Russia very much these days, Russian leaders don’t always seem particularly committed to the process, and the United States has raised a number of objections along the way. Rutland’s piece is partly a reminder that some of these and other challenges remain, even as US President Obama announced last month a joint commitment with Russia to see the bid through. I think that much of this analysis is right, but I would add one more obstacle to Russia’s bid: the on-going Doha Round. If Russia were to join, it would also have a major voice in the on-going negotiations (especially if they continue to drag out). Russia is a big enough player that it could upset many of the deals and alliances that have been made over the last decade. That could be both good and bad for progress in the negotiations. But is is unlikely that it would be neutral.

QAC Summer Research

To stay on the theme of the great work our students are doing here at Wesleyan, I wanted to highlight the summer research projects that students completed with our Quantitative Analysis Center.

Each summer, a group of students is given the opportunity to do original research under the guidance of a professor here at Wesleyan. In a certain sense, this replicates for the social sciences what already happens in the sciences here (notably the Hughes program). The summer program culminated this year with a joint poster session that included work conducted by students in the sciences and the social sciences. It was a great fun to walk through Exley Science Center and talk with the students about these great projects, many of which are likely to be published.

Summer: Work, Vacation, and Balance

A popular question I get during the summer is, “how is your break?” I wish that I could say that my “break” was wonderful, but that wouldn’t really answer the question.

The fact is that we don’t really get a break as professors. Summers are when we try to squeeze in all of our major research projects, our side projects in service and teaching, and — just like most people — fit in a little vacation time (about two weeks for me this year) with the family. So my level of activity did not really change much when classes stopped. I still have gone into the office everyday. However, it is very nice to have the change.

So what did my summer consist of? Revising a book manuscript, creating a new web resource for students on writing and research (will be tested this fall and hopefully made public next spring), writing letters of recommendation, redesigning our African Studies website and gearing up for my new administrative responsibilities there. Oh, and trying to stay on top of about six other research papers that I really need to just finish and send out.

And of course, doing this while experiencing all of the joy (and sleeplessness) the parent of a one-year old can experience.

The good news, is that I enjoy all of this!

Odede on Poverty Tours

I’ve been meaning to post on this. Kennedy Odede, one of our majors, was recently published in the New York Times on the subject of “Slumdog Tourism”. It is definitely worth a read, especially if you are a Westerner considering a trip to a developing country. See it as an opportunity to reflect on what it means to travel and interact with people who live under such drastically different conditions. What Kennedy does here is try to have us see and feel the experience of being observed by such a tourist.

I notice Chris Blattman has a few posts on the subject of development, or poverty, tourism. Besides the New York Times, which has covered the issue a couple times, the Christian Science Monitor, also had a nice story a year ago.

Forbes: Wesleyan University is #15

There are lots of college rankings out there. Forbes just released their annual ranking, which is one of the few (the only?) that combines public and private colleges and universities. They claim their index is constructed to focus on the “student’s point of view”. I’m not 100% sure what that means (how do we determine the representative “student” out there?). But one thing I do like about their website (besides Wesleyan’s decent ranking) is that they have a “do-it-yourself” ranking tool that allows you to determine what criteria is important. Unfortunately, there is no way to add in criteria that you might feel is missing.

My new co-authored article on patronage

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David K. Leonard, Jennifer N. Brass, Michael Nelson, Sophal Ear, Dan Fahey, Tasha Fairfield, Martha Johnson Gning, Michael Halderman, Brendan McSherry, Devra C. Moehler, Wilson Prichard, Robin Turner, Tuong Vu, Jeroen Dijkman. 2010. “Does Patronage Still Drive Politics for the Rural Poor in the Developing World? A Comparative Perspective from the Livestock Sector.” Development and Change. (p 475-494)

If one didn’t know any better, one might think that we were trying to set a record for the number of co-authors on a social science journal article. Indeed, the question of author order has come up recently in our discipline. David Lake has suggested we list people in order of their contribution, and I would have to agree that this is the fairest way to go. And when in doubt, listing alphabetically isn’t a bad backup plan. Essentially, this is what happened with our article, though I would suggest that David’s name deserves even greater recognition than simply being listed first.

I am actually very excited to see that co-authorship is on the rise. Fisher et al. noticed this back in 1998 and Lee Sigelman has updated this analysis more recently. I think this is a signal that we are really progressing in our discipline, which is not to say that collaboration is always a good thing. But when done well, it can be rewarding.

For those of you interested in what our article was actually about, here is the abstract:

Is the analysis of patron–client networks still important to the understanding of developing country politics or has it now been overtaken by a focus on ‘social capital’? Drawing on seventeen country studies of the political environment for livestock policy in poor countries, this article concludes that although the nature of patronage has changed significantly, it remains highly relevant to the ways peasant interests are treated. Peasant populations were found either to have no clear connection to their political leaders or to be controlled by political clientage. Furthermore, communities ‘free’ of patron–client ties to the centre generally are not better represented by political associations but instead receive fewer benefits from the state. Nonetheless, patterns of clientage are different from what they were forty years ago. First, patronage chains today often have a global reach, through trade, bilateral donor governments and international NGOs. Second, the resources that fuel political clientage today are less monopolistic and less adequate to the task of purchasing peasant political loyalty. Thus the bonds of patronage are less tight than they were historically. Third, it follows from the preceding point and the greater diversity of patrons operating today that elite conflicts are much more likely to create spaces in which peasant interests can eventually be aggregated into autonomous associations with independent political significance in the national polity. NGOs are playing an important role in opening up this political space although at the moment, they most often act like a new type of patron.

The spread of norms and the UN vote to make access to water a human right

A friend from my Peace Corps days posted on Facebook the UN press release that the General Assembly has adopted a resolution “Recognizing Access to Clean Water, Sanitation as Human Right, By Recorded Vote of 122 in Favour, None Against, 41 Abstentions.”

This isn’t exactly getting major press coverage. And, indeed, just because the UN General Assembly calls something a human right doesn’t automatically make it so, though it can be important in the development of such a norm. Some, however, have argued that it already is a human right. Since we need water to live, and since a right to life is enshrined in the UN Declaration on Human Rights, then perhaps there is already consensus on this? (See the post by Jennifer Vettel at Columbia’s Earth Institute). But 41 nations did choose to abstain, including (please note with appropriate shock) famed human rights-leading Canada. Of course, the US also abstained. As did, apparently, some developing countries who were concerned about incurring greater legal obligations for providing water to their citizens then they could possibly fulfill (see the Huffington Post on this).

So what is the significance of this General Assembly vote? At this point, it seems to me unclear that much will change if change requires politically costly choices. As Iman Kurdi suggests in his post on ArabNews.com, it is unlikely that Israel or Turkey will change or reverse their dam-building, which has infuriated neighbors in the past. So I would expect others interested in building dams (Ethiopia, for instance) are probably proceeding without giving such human rights concerns a second thought. Possibly the biggest impact will be to act as a fundraiser for the UN’s various water and sanitation-related initiatives. As the International Law Observer reports, there is a clear non-binding appeal to states and international organizations to commit resources.

While the impact of the resolution is therefore limited. It does help bring needed publicity and international attention to an important problem. One of my students here at Wesleyan University, Oluwayimika Taiwo-Peters, is tackling this head-on in her home-country of Nigeria this summer. She is visiting local schools as part of a health education program she created, and installing a rainwater catchment system at a local school. Her activities remind me of my old Peace Corps days as a water and sanitation volunteer in Northern Ghana! But the bottom-line is that for many people in Africa — and close to a billion people worldwide — reliable access to safe water and sanitation is an important obstacle to development and happiness. So I will hold out the hope that this norm continues to grow.

And since we are talking about norms, this isn’t a bad place to mention Schrad’s recent book on The Political Power of Bad Ideas, which The Duck of Minerva reviews. The excellent point of the book is to explore how not just good ideas (we need clean water) but also bad ideas (prohibition counts as one of these, in his view) can be spread via advocacy networks. I haven’t read this yet, but Charli Carpenter’s post makes me want to!

Obama, Midterm Elections, and Foreign Policy

I am far from being an expert on American politics and elections. But I do tend to pay attention when they intersect my interests in international relations and I’ve gleaned a few tidbits from my Americanist colleagues: foreign policy preferences can impact voter attitudes (Aldrich et al. 2006); there may be “two presidencies” (domestic and foreign policy), and Presidents have greater control over foreign policy (Wildavsky 1966); and that the President’s party rarely does well in mid-term elections (see Shenkman; in 1991, James Campbell wrote about how the Presidential “surge” is pretty regularly followed by a decline)

So I find it interesting, when procrastinating looking today at the Wall Street Journal’s “POTUS Tracker”, which analyzes how Obama spends his time, that foreign policy and defense seem to be less of a relative priority over the last period as compared with the similar period a year ago (see the images below). The number of such events that engaged Obama’s attention a year ago was apparently 309 and this year for the same period, 265. This, of course, is a crude measure. But it makes me wonder whether Obama is missing an opportunity. While the economy is important, it may be that he should be doing more about foreign policy.

When it comes to his foreign policy record thus far, the reviews are not the greatest. Stephen Walt wrote recently that Obama is “0 for 4” on foreign policy. Richard Haass seems to have a more nuanced perspective but still finds major problems in Obama’s approach to Afghanistan and the Middle East.

My current view is that Obama is doing an OK job with some of this, but there is a lot of room for improvement. Citing success in Iraq–as he has done in recent days–is a good move, but it will take a lot of spinning. He could be bolder on the closing of Guantanamo. (Somehow, I think that Congress would find a way to fund the new domestic facility if he made a realistic threat to close Guantanamo “no matter what”.) Afghanistan may not be an easy sell these days, but Obama should be thinking about other foreign policy opportunities. In particular, I think he needs to find a way to make the US appear as the key leader behind a major successful international initiative. It almost doesn’t matter what it is (environment, human rights, security, trade). But there are several things that would matter here:

  1. This has to be a multilateral initiative
  2. Other states need to seem excited about cooperating with the United States
  3. There needs to be some reasonable chance of success with the initative

I think that if Obama could find this, then he would be fulfilling part of the great hope many Americans had when voting for him. He was supposed to be a game-changer, especially when it came to international affairs. We were to have a President who the international community liked and could get behind. People would like America again. I think such a positive experience with Obama could also change the way he is seen in the upcoming election, though it may already be too late for that.

Or, perhaps I’m wrong. Clinton did well when he focused on the economy. And the world seems to resemble the complicated world that Neustadt (1991) seemed to think that American Presidents would face:

“In a multipolar world, crisscrossed by transnational relations, with economic and environmental issues paramount, and issues of security reshaped on regional lines, our Presidents will less and less have reason to seek solace in foreign relations from the piled-up frustrations of home affairs. Their foreign frustrations will be piled high too.”

From the Wall Street Journal:
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