Thursday, August 31, 2006

Two Koreas Divided by a Common Language

The International Herald Tribune has a fascinating article on the divergence of the languages spoken in North and South Korea since the country was divided shortly after World War II. The basic problem is the isolation of the two peoples from each other. Combined with the fanatical isolationism and cultural protectionism of the North Korean regime (which had a less fanatical analogue in the South prior to the establishment of consensual government there in the late 1980s), the two societies have been impelled to conduct a controlled experiment in linguistic evolution. (The experiment bears some resemblance, although over a much shorter period of time, to that which lead to the US and Britain becoming, in the words of George Bernard Shaw," two countries divided by a common language.")

The article cites two ways in which the languages have separated. First, in the north, the government has for political reasons constrained the meanings of certain words. The traditional Korean word for "parent" has been reserved in the north for the supreme leader (currently Kim Jong-Il), and is said to mean (with that totalitarian flair that only the North Korean government possesses) "one who gives the people their most valuable political life and blesses them with a love unsurpassed by that of their biological parents." The second is the wide use in the South of foreign, especially English words.

In essence, the Northern regime is engaging in linguistic central planning, while the South has a linguistic free market. As usual, and as I have argued previously in the context of language, the free market will triumph. After reunification (which is likely in the near future) Northerners will speak much more like Southerners than vice versa. And this is because the language of the South is more efficient -- an equivalent amount of information can be expressed with less time and effort. The information in question might be that a company using English in its advertising is cool or that the coming play in the soccer game will be a "corner kick." (To use an example from the article, it is considerably easier to simply transliterate "helicopter" into Korean as in the South than to do what the North Korean government insists on doing, which is to use the Korean for "vehicle that goes straight up after takeoff.")

The article also illustrates the extent to which protected culture is stagnant culture. North Korean dance is apparently little changed from what it was prior to the war. Some South Koreans love to watch the North Korean defectors perform such dances, because for them it is a nostalgic throwback. (One of the most striking things about societies that have abandoned or faced down hard-line communism is the way they romanticize those difficult days. In China, eastern Germany and South Korea there are apparently restaurants or cafés built around Maoist or communist themes, i.e. around the idea that food and service should be awful.) In Hawaii, Japanese-Americans and their temples and businesses still employee Chinese characters of the prewar style, while Japanese themselves now employ characters -- some of which have been simplified -- devised by the Japanese government after the war. Of course, preservation of cultural history is valuable to the extent that any kind of diversity is valuable. But the difference between a vibrant society like the South and a stagnant one like the North is that in the North, archaic culture and totalitarian culture are all the culture there is.

In addition to the utility of the English as a global second language, the tendency of languages to evolve efficiently, and the tenuous nature of the North Korean regime, the article supports one other prediction I have made in the past: the tendency of intellectuals with highly specialized cultural knowledge to resist wherever possible the intrusion of foreign cultural influence. Both governments are apparently working on a joint dictionary to try to preserve the common Korean language. Alas, the South Korean linguists, living in the society where the language has evolved most interestingly, are adamant that the North Koreans be deferred to on matters of linguistic purity. "We negotiate and leave out words with too much of a political problem," said Lee [Jae Kyu], of the South Korean panel of linguists. "We will also leave out many of the foreign words South Koreans have indiscriminately adopted."

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"International Law" vs. National Peace

One of Africa's worst conflicts may be ending. A cease-fire has been announced between the Government of Uganda in the Lord's Resistance Army. The latter is an appallingly brutal rebel group of the sort that has plagued that continent for years. Among their military tactics are the recruitment of children, the brainwashing of soldiers into believing that they are invulnerable to bullets, and the use of mutilation to intimidate local populations. It is only a cease-fire, not a permanent peace. Still, given all the years of bloodshed in the absence of any prior breakthrough of this magnitude, there is reason for hope.

The most interesting development thus far is the reaction of the International Criminal Court. Their main concern seems not to be the viability of the peace but whether or not they will get their hands on LRA leaders. From the BBC article linked above:

The International Criminal Court (ICC) wants the LRA's top officials - among them Joseph Kony - to face charges including murder, rape and forcibly enlisting children. The LRA has abducted thousands of children and forced them to fight since the conflict began.

Against the wishes of the ICC, Uganda offered amnesty to LRA leaders in exchange for the peace talks.

The ICC, like any political organization, seeks to increase its power and authority. If they seriously seek the extradition of LRA leaders to The Hague, they put the entire peace process at risk. Supporters of the ICC view it as the world's conscience, the sole organization fit to stand in judgment of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Unfortunately the ICC, like the UN, is so distant and depends so heavily on the support of nonconsensual governments that any increase in its power is as much a threat to freedom and human rights as a bulwark of it. Sometimes the establishment of judicial review is a tremendous step forward; the US probably functions much better because John Marshall established in Marbury V. Madison that the U.S. Supreme Court was the ultimate referee of whether or not laws pass muster with the Constitution. But Marbury was decided against the backdrop of a constitution built on the principle of checks and balances. The ultimate effect of Marshall's decision was to constrain the other two branches of government in addition to strengthening the judicial branch.

The ICC, in contrast, is far more subject to the whims of realpolitik and hence its power is far more dangerous. It is a floating independent entity in a position to accumulate power by exploiting geopolitical rivalries. (In implication of this hypothesis is that, despite the fact that the US is not a signatory to the ICC, it's jurists will ultimately create a legal rationale to make the US military subject to its jurisdiction.) The ICC sees itself as the guarantor of international law, but the law it seeks to guarantee is a creation primarily of academics and believers in a remote and unaccountable global government. That it would seek to grab power so shamelessly in this instance, if that is ultimately what happens, is as good an indication of that as any.

Monday, August 28, 2006

A Naderite eats Crow

Residents of New Jersey are discovering something amazing – markets work. New Jersey used to have a market for auto insurance that was one of the most strictly regulated in the country. Insurers were forbidden from differentiating to any great extent on the basis of known risk factors. Premiums were also regulated by the state. Lo and behold, insurers fled in droves (State Farm was dropping 4000 customers a month) and drivers were left with among if not the highest premiums in the country. Three years after these restrictions were repealed, the insurance market functions much better. Better drivers (who are most of the population) pay lower premiums, the worst drivers pay higher ones. The New York Times has the story (password required).

Here is the money quote:
"There have to be winners and losers," said Dena Mottola, the executive director of the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group.

But, so far, she said, "we couldn’t find any data to back up that concern."

The New Jersey PIRG, like all PIRGs, is an organization founded at the inspiration of Ralph Nader and fellow consumer crusaders in the late 1960s and 1970s. My college had one, and I remember it best not for any achievements but because it used (and bitterly fought repeal of) the negative checkoff, in which all students “donate” one dollar to the group each term as part of their registration unless they specifically check off a box indicating that they don’t wish to pay that money. Unsurprisingly, they get more money this way. Despite all their high-blown rhetoric, they are every bit as self- (as opposed to “public-”) interested as everyone else.

But I digress. Ms Mottola displays the classic zero-sum view of the world that is so much a part of modern leftist thought, especially among anti-corporate and “consumer” groups. If someone is doing better, the rest of us must be doing worse. The idea – familiar to anyone who has passed basic microeconomics – that freeing restrictions on competition usually enhances total welfare to consumers and producers – is completely unfamiliar to (or disbelieved, despite centuries of historical evidence, by) her. In failing to see any losers (apart from really bad drivers), she sounds like a 14th century astronomer failing to see how the sun does not rotate around the Earth.

But some people never learn. Also from the article:
Consumer advocates, among the most vocal critics of state officials and auto insurers as the insurance situation worsened, have cautiously welcomed most of the changes.

"Over all, insurance is more available," said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, the executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action. But she is concerned that the state now permits insurers to use credit ratings, occupation and education in evaluating risk and she fears that this might increase costs for low-income people.

If credit ratings, occupation and education are correlated with risk (and why would insurers use them otherwise?) then prohibiting their use will once again cause lower-risk drivers to subsidize higher-risk ones, cultivating the same problems all over again. The current, perhaps temporary victory of common sense is welcome, but eternal vigilance is the price of economic sanity.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


In Italy several teams in the top soccer league, including the titan Juventus, have been caught up in a match-fixing scandal. Juventus has been relegated to the third division, but wants to exercise the right available to all Italians to sue to have the judgment overturned.

Not so fast. The governing body of world soccer, FIFA, has threatened to ban not just Italian club teams like Juventus but the Italian national team from international competitions it controls if Juventus pursues the appeal. This is an extraordinary thing in a way – a transnational group is engaged in a struggle with a long-established nation-state over the legal options available to a group incorporated within that nation-state. It is an example of the increasing global phenomenon of transnationalism, whose growth holds both promise and peril for humanity.

The Oxford English Dictionary traces the first use of “transnational” to 1921 (referring to a “transnational economy”), and the first use of the comprehensive word “transnationalism” to 1973. So the idea is nothing new. But the threat transnational groups pose to nation-states is. The transnational moment has arrived. In many ways – in commerce, in international negotiations, and in warfare – the nation-state is being superseded by individuals who (facilitated by lower communications costs facilitated by such developments as faxes, the Internet, and the rise of English as the world's second language) join across national lines to pursue some activity that they find in their interests, often seeking to subvert national governments to their will. On the one hand citizens are employed by large corporations operating in many societies, who face national governments made less and less able by globalization to constrain their employment and sales practices. On the other, citizens form transnational pressure groups (often called, deceptively incompletely, “non-governmental organizations”) to make national-government policies conform to their goals. It turns out that the context of transnationalism makes all the difference with respect to how healthy it is.

One form of transnationalism seeks to pursue private goals through capture of the nation-state. The most well-known transnationalism of this type is the non-governmental organization. People all over the world who wanted to eliminate land mines organized a global campaign to pressure governments to sign on to a treaty doing just that. Feminist groups (and, increasingly, anti-feminist groups) use international conferences in places like Beijing and Cairo. Environmentalists organize conference in Rio de Janeiro and craft treaties in Kyoto to control the conduct of national governments.

It is easy to dismiss NGO transnationalism because of its comically bureaucratic nature; the UN Web site has over 5000 pages on the Cairo population conference. But what makes this form of transnationalism so dangerous is the claim by NGOs that they are "representative" in the same sense that, say, a parliament would be. In fact, an NGO is not representative at all but is instead simply a pressure group – a group of people with similar objectives formed to apply political pressure to a government. They pose as representatives because it sounds nobler, but in fact they are no different from the gun or steel lobby in U.S. politics (save for the holy aura that is sometimes affixed to them by the global media). They seek private benefits through the crafting of government policy – they rent-seek, in other words. Since the ability of political institutions to balance the conflicting desires of various public factions fades as we move from city council to state to national government to the United Nations, the ability of such pressure groups to short-circuit more local politics by going straight to the top is costly. Such centralized decision-making favors those able to quickly organize to wage media and lobbying campaigns, and so the inefficiency of having the UN decide what national governments should do about, say, family law is at least as bad as the inefficiency that allows car producers to lobby much more effectively than car buyers. In both cases, there is on the one hand a small group with much at stake per person, therefore generating much more effective political pressure. On the other is a very large number of people with at least as much at stake in total but very little per person, making their willingness to organize much lower.

So too global political structures can be transnational, and again this favors the highly motivated small group over the dispersed large one. The European Union has been able to amass power over national governments despite substantial public opposition because the governing and intellectual elite believe (accurately) that a more powerful but less politically sensitive EU will enable them to more productively rent-seek than if they must confine their political pressure to national governments with well-developed interest groups to counter them. Sometimes, as in the FIFA case, the rewards to subverting national politics are purely about money. Sometimes, as in the EU case, the rewards are more about power. Even the global jihad movement benefits from the ease of transnational coordination among the highly motivated. It is very easy for jihadis in London, southern Lebanon and Anbar to use modern communications technology to propagandize and recruit new enthusiasts. Plodding nation-states, in contrast, find it much harder to coordinate an effective response they all agree on (especially since each nation's preferred policy is a function of its own unique political dynamics).

The one exception (on balance) to transnationalism as rent-seeking is the multinational (or “transnational,” as critics prefer to call it) corporation. At the national level corporations can and do rent-seek all the time, procuring import restrictions, ethanol subsidies and so on. But the MNC's global reach actually serves to subvert these kinds of inefficient restrictions. To the critics of MNCs they limit the power of nation-states to regulate their behavior (even as the same people are most enthusiastic about NGO transnationalism). But in fact those restrictions typically serve to frustrate mutually beneficial trade – when anti-"sweatshop" activists frustrate the ability of shoe workers in desperately poor countries to gain more control over their own lives, for example. And so the rise of the MNC is so far a tremendous benefit for mankind because global competition and the ease of moving production facilities anywhere limits the ability of pressure groups to rent-seek at the national level. But if such corporations master the art of pressuring the EU or the UN (unlikely in the latter case at least for now, given that the UN and its admirers are more concerned with taxing global commerce than facilitating it), it will be a different ballgame.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Heavenly Kingdom of Jihad

Mark Twain is reputed to have said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. Below are Wikipedia’s accounts of two nineteenth-century wars in the vast civilization of China, the Boxer and the Taiping:

The Boxer:

Boxer activity developed in Shandong province in March 1898, in response to both foreign influence in the region and the failure of the Imperial court's "self-strengthening" strategy of officially-directed development, whose shortcomings had been shown graphically by China's defeat in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). One of the first signs of unrest appeared in a small village in Shandong province, where there had been a long dispute over the property rights of a temple between locals and the Catholic authorities. The Catholics claimed that the temple was originally a church abandoned decades previously after the Kangxi Emperor banned Christianity in China. The local court ruled in a favor of the Church, angering the villagers who claimed they needed the temple for various rituals and had traditionally used it to practice martial arts. After the local authorities seized the temple and gave it to the Catholics, villagers attacked the church under the leadership of the Boxers.

The conflict came to a head in June, 1900, when the Boxers, now joined by elements of the Imperial army, attacked foreign compounds within the cities of Tianjin and Peking. The legations of the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United States, Russia and Japan were all located on the same city block close to the Forbidden City, built there so that Chinese officials could keep an eye on the ministers - the legations themselves were strong structures surrounded by walls. The legations were hurriedly linked into a fortified compound and became a refuge for foreign citizens in Peking. However the Spanish, Belgian, and German legations were not in the same compound. Although the Spanish and Belgian legations were only a few streets away and their staff were able to arrive safely at the compound, the German legation was on the other side of the city and was stormed before the staff could escape. When the Envoy for the German Empire, Klemens Freiherr von Ketteler, was kidnapped and killed on June 20, the foreign powers declared open war against China.

The Chinese Court in turn proclaimed hostilities against those nations, who began to prepare military forces to relieve the besieged embassies. In Peking, the fortified legation compound remained under siege from Boxer forces from June 20 to August 14. Under the command of the British minister to China, Claude Maxwell MacDonald, the legation staff and security personnel defended the compound with one old muzzle-loaded cannon (it was nicknamed the "International Gun" because the barrel was British, the carriage was Italian, the shells were Russian, and the crew was American) and small arms.

Stories appeared in the foreign media describing the fighting going on in Peking. Some were mere rumour or exaggerated the nature of the conflict, but others more accurately described the torture and murder of captured foreigners. Chinese Christians suffered even more greatly, as there were more of them and most were not able to seek refuge in the legations, having to seek shelter elsewhere. Those that were caught were raped as well as tortured and murdered. As a result of these reports, a great deal of anti-Chinese sentiment was generated in Europe, America, and Japan.

The Taiping:

The country had suffered a series of natural disasters, economic problems and defeats at the hands of the Western powers, problems that the ruling Qing dynasty did little to lessen. Anti-Manchu sentiment was strongest in the south, and it was these disaffected that joined Hong. The sect extended into militarism in the 1840s, initially against banditry. The persecution of the sect was the spur for the struggle to develop into guerrilla warfare and then into full-blown war.

The revolt began in Guangxi Province. In early January 1851, a ten-thousand-strong rebel army routed the Imperial troops at the town of Jintian (Jintian Uprising). The Imperial forces attacked but were driven back. In August 1851, Hong then declared the establishment of the Heavenly Kingdom of Taiping with himself as absolute ruler. The revolt spread northwards with great rapidity. 500,000 Taiping soldiers took Nanjing in March 1853, killing 30,000 Imperial soldiers and slaughtering thousands of civilians. The city became the movement's capital and was renamed Tianjing (in Wade-Giles: T'ang-chun) (Heavenly Capital).

The rebellion's army was its key strength. It was marked by a high level of discipline and fanaticism. They typically wore a uniform of red jackets with blue trousers and grew their hair long — in Chinese they were known as Chángmáo (長毛, meaning "long hair"). Large numbers of females serving in the army were also a unique feature that distinguished it from 19th century armies.

Based on his readings, Hong Xiuquan developed a literalist understanding of the Bible, which soon gave rise to a theology very different from the one encountered in the western world. For one, Hong Xiuquan rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. In his belief system, only the Father was truly God; Jesus Christ was the Father's firstborn Son, with Hong Xiuquan himself being the Father's second Son and the younger brother of Jesus (it was said that when foreign missionaries later explained to Hong Xiuquan that Jesus was the Father's only Son, he simply crossed out the word "only".) Hong Xiuquan did not consider the Holy Spirit to be God, or anything more than a "Holy Wind" (as Holy Spirit was formerly, and incorrectly, translated into Chinese by early missionaries). Hong Xiuquan had even bestowed the title "Holy Wind the Comforter" to one of his lieutenants.

Moreover, Hong Xiuquan added a third book, in addition to the Old Testament and the New Testament, to the Taiping regime's Bible.

Within the land that they controlled, a theocratic and highly militarised rule was established.

• The subject of study for the examinations for officials (formerly civil service exams) changed from the Confucian classics to the Christian Bible.

Sound familiar? There are a number of similarities between the Boxers and Taiping soldiers then and the jihadis now. Both had grievances against perceived foreign domination, and made the foreigners their primary targets. (Then, the Opium War and the unequal treaties, including extraterritorial jurisdiction for foreigners; now, support for Israel and the stationing of troops in Islamic lands.) Both showed little respect for whatever international law existed. The Boxers attacked the foreign compound in Beijing, the Iranian “students” sacked the U.S. embassy in 1979 and rioters attacked European embassies in the Mohammed cartoon affair in 2006. Both had extremist ideologies. The Boxers rejected Christianity as an alien threat and the Taiping adopted a heretical strain of Christianity. So too modern Islamists view Christians as heretical polytheists because of their belief in Christianity. Hong Xiuquan’s Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace (太平天國), of which he was the absolute ruler, sounded a lot like the revived Islamic caliphate that Bin Laden seeks to establish. Indeed Hong apparently used a form of self-reference that in traditional Chinese was reserved for the emperor himself, much as Bin Laden allegedly seeks to be some sort of caliph.

But the most striking similarity is how the ideology spread. The worldview of both rebellions, peculiarly mystical though it seems to modern eyes, spread like wildfire in their early days of success. I thought of this when I read this description in the Guardian (to which I was referred by The Belmont Club) of the way the jihad ideology spreads among European Muslims with no poverty or, since they came to the West rather than the West coming to them, "foreign domination" to hang their grievances on. Particularly noteworthy is the role of entrepreneurs for the jihadi ideology, something I have remarked on before:

On Thursday evening, the Guardian witnessed around 3,000 men from as far afield as Great Yarmouth and the Isle of Wight stream through the backstreets of Stratford to the meeting. There, at the gates of a seemingly derelict industrial site, men in fluorescent jackets waved those who are known to the Tablighi Jamaat hierarchy under a security barrier, and into one of three fields that surround a cluster of prefabricated buildings which form a temporary mosque.

As the Guardian entered the complex one person spoke admiringly about the "main man" for the south-east division of Tablighi Jamaat. "We can't call him a prophet," he said. "No one can be a prophet. But when you meet him you'll realise. He's helped a lot of people in Walthamstow to follow the right path, the path of the prophet. He'll talk to you openly this evening and everything will make sense."

The English-speaking room heaved as a sea of faces, white, black and Asian, spilled into the hallway. Most were teenagers and men in their 20s and 30s dressed in Islamic dress, caps and beards. Some came in suits and ties, others in jeans and hoodies. There were old men too, who weaved slowly through to the front of the room, and a few young boys.

After an hour the preacher concluded with a call for followers to join the effort and commit to a trip away. "We must leave our houses, our businesses, our families, for a short period of time, and follow the path of Allah and practise the ways of the prophet, going from mosque to mosque," said the interpreter. "Then [the behaviour] will become second nature to us. We shall go to India and Pakistan for four months to follow these ways."

What Tablighi followers call "the effort" - travelling around the country for three days or 10 days, depending on their level of commitment - is key to the organisation. Once they have completed the first stage, they may undertake a 40-day trip, which is likely to entail travel around Europe.

Finally, a Tablighi member will be given the opportunity to take a four-month journey to Pakistan or India. During their "efforts" members are encouraged to emulate the life of the prophet and show others "the path".

On domestic trips, members are sent to communities where they will have most leverage. In September, for example, students will be sent to universities throughout the country.

No historical comparison is perfect. In the territory they held the Taiping eliminated many of China’s practices with respect to slavery and the bondage of women, for example. The jihad in contrast is completely atavistic, seeking power in an idealized past. And there are two even more striking differences between then and now. The first is the nature of the jihadi ideology. While purely tribal (dividing the world into devout Muslims and everyone else), it seeks adherents all over the world, including and perhaps especially in Western societies. Second, the Chinese rebellions were ultimately crushed by overwhelming military force, by foreign forces in the Boxer case. In an age of nuclear weapons and declining Western ability and desire to use military means to solve international problems (not unreasonably, given what has happened in Iraq since 2003), such a response is almost unthinkable now, unless Islamists launch a strike far more devastating than Sept. 11. The ideology in the West will fade only when the appeal of integration is greater than the appeal of tribal solidarity against the infidel. For many European Muslims that inequality is already satisfied, but for all too many (and maybe more and more as people choose sides.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

No Headscarves Allowed

The blog Islam in Europe, translating a Dutch article, reports that the firing of Muslim female schoolteachers in Belgium for insisting on wearing Islamic head coverings in public schools has been upheld on appeal:

The two teachers who were fired from a municipal school for wearing a Muslim head covering will not be allowed back to work, according to an internal educational board of appeals.

The board has decided that wearing a veil goes contrary to the neurtrality of the municipal schools. It has also decided that school rules apply to teachers and not only to students.

The head of the school system would like to use this decision to start a dialogue with the Muslim community.

There are two ways to think about "separation of church and state". In one, the state, including the publich schools, is neutral toward all beliefs, including secularism. In this model, a teacher of any religion can wear a religious head covering in class. In the other, all religious expression is meticulously scrubbed clean from the public square. While people whose religions don't require head coverings, and people who reject all religious beliefs, are then free to exercise their religions, people whose religions require this sort of modesty are prevented from practicing these beliefs if they want to be teachers. Much of Western Europe has clearly chosen the second approach, and this will come back to haunt them.

The belief seems to be that observant Islam is an anachronism, and that Muslims in Europe should be dragged kicking and screaming into the twentieth century through forced secularization by the state. The European mindset supposes that this will persuade them to see the obvious truth of a post-religious time, but I suspect this will not be the case. Instead, this will mark another milestone in choosing sides.

Muslims in Europe can only be fully integrated when they are free to exercise as much or as little belief as they like, even when they are interfacing with the government. But of course Islam in Europe is sometimes (how often I can't say) a politicized rejection of what Europe is and an assertion that the future there belongs to Islam. The demographic facts in several European countries are such that they fear being overrun by premodern devout Muslims well before the century is out. If extremists, with their zeal and willingness to resort to violence, run the show this fear may be correct. And so secular Europeans feel they have to force Muslims there to abandon these beliefs, which in turn makes Muslims there feel under siege and become more devout. The Belgian "dialogue" with their Muslims does not appear to be much of a dialogue, if we take dialogue literally as two-way conversation. Instead it is essentially "Secularism, take it or leave it." In all likelihood they will leave it, angrily.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Diversity for Show, Diversity for Dough

One of the angriest conversations going on in the West is over how to achieve "diversity" in various organizations. The word is seldom given much thought, with, I believe, most people just lazily assuming that every organization in their society should have a demographic profile identical to that of the larger society around it. That tribal groups specializing in particular activities – Lebanese traders in West Africa, Chinese entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia, motel owners from Gujarat in the U.S. – is a very old pattern escapes their notice.

Pepsico has just announced a new CEO, Indra K. Nooyi. In addition to being female, Ms Nooyi was born in India. (I believe she is now an American citizen.) How does she do in terms of her diversity bona fides? It is hard to say. She is female, which is good. She is nonwhite, which is also good. But, alas, she is Asian, and so as a member of The Model Minority she may not get much credit for that among the sorts of people whose lives revolve around tabulating "executives of color." (When I was in graduate school I once heard a speaker express happiness that so many Asians were at his rally, which was for the creation of a Chicano Studies Center that has since been created after the usual shakedowns. The speaker scornfully referred to the way whites treated Asians not on the basis of their achievements which, compared to the American average, are impressive, but simply as honorary whites." An Asian speaker then agreed that Asians should not see themselves as equals but should get with the whole people-of-color program.)

But I suspect none of this entered into the Pepsico board’s thinking. Ms Nooyi was not put there to satisfy any diversity goals and timetables but because her performance during twelve years at the company suggested to the board of directors that she was likely to be the best candidate for maximizing shareholder value. Indeed her whole career is testimony of the ability of the multinational corporation to be the best friend of equal opportunity the world has ever seen. She began at an Indian textile firm before moving to the Indian subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, and from there to rising up the ranks at the Boston Consulting Group and Motorola. At these firms she is a player on a team with a particular objective, profits, and for all players everything, including prejudice, must be subverted to that. Her skills and achievements are all that matters. (Indeed even harshly criticized anti-American remarks she made in a speech do not seem to have handicapped her much.) The contrast with politics, where separating your group from others is not only not costly but actually an asset, is vivid. Legislatures, school boards and other government entities where all the spoils are zero-sum will never have enough "diversity" to satisfy those whose careers are built on criticizing its absence. But in the meantime the world’s multinationals go on about their business (literally) of having everyone get along so everyone can make money.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Choosing Sides

One of the common threads of the patchwork of Islamist lunacy afflicting the globe is its targeting of any efforts by Muslims and non-Muslims (or different types of Muslims) to get along. The current wave of Shiite-Sunni violence in Iraq can be traced to an attack on a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February. It was designed to foment violence between the two communities, and it has succeeded.

India is a country where, given the difficult demographic hand it has been dealt, people get along well enough by the standards of the developing world. (Certainly in comparison to neighboring Pakistan, where the Hindus were mostly chased out at independence and where Sunni-Shiite violence is common.) But when trains in Bombay are bombed, killing hundreds, not only is increased sectarian tension the result, it is what the bombers are counting on. The encouragement of angry separatism by jihadi entrepreneurs in Europe and other places where Muslims are a minority is designed to cleave Muslims there off the society around them. To do this requires teaching them of their innate differences with everyone else, and the impossibility of reconciling those differences. It is of raw material like this that plots to murder thousands of infidels over the ocean are formed. Even the Sept. 11 attacks are arguably in part an attack on intergroup cooperation, in that the U.S. was on Sept. 10 a society where Muslims integrated peacefully like every other group, perhaps better than anywhere they are a minority. But from the moment the planes hit the towers, a lingering suspicion of them has inevitably lurked in the hearts of many of their fellow citizens.

All of this has the makings of a very disturbing equilibrium. Suppose that there is a society with Muslims and non-Muslims leaving together tolerantly. (Shiites and Sunnis would work just as well.) The Muslim community is ordered by radicalism from most to least. At the left end of the spectrum is the guy who spent six months training in Afghanistan and spends all day downloading beheading videos and bombmaking instructions from the Internet; at the right is the Muslim doctor who sits on the local school board, whose daughter has married a non-Muslim and whose son went to West Point. The government is aware of radical tendencies, and focuses its law-enforcement efforts purely where the danger (which is thought to be limited to isolated, small incidents) is perceived to be. It therefore only monitors the far left end of the spectrum.

One day a spectacular event, say, Sept. 11 or the bombing of the Samarra mosque occurs. People in the other community suddenly realize that the level of danger is much higher than they thought. Given that, they must expand the portion of the spectrum they monitor , because even if less radical Muslims are less likely to go violent, the consequences if they do are much more severe. (In Iraq, it might be new violence by Shiite militias against Sunnis rather than activities by the government.)

But the increased efforts against less radical portions of the populations means that those portions, and even some people more moderate than that, see a threat to themselves based on their tribal identity. The basic genetic imperatives of tribal solidarity that we all have to some extent accentuate this effect, so that more of the Muslim community begins to see itself in opposition to the rest of society. But this in turn requires law enforcement efforts to be expanded even more, because the percevied average radicalism of the Muslim community has increased, which only serves to further radicalize the population.

In this scenario, everyone is acting rationally at all times, and most of the time without being motivated by any intrinsic intertribal hatred per se. But the result is that ultimately most Muslims come to see themselves as oppressed by the rest of society, and most of the rest of society comes to see all Muslims as a threat. Non-Muslims more and more fear what is going on in the mosques and demand that the law do something about it, and Muslims more and more fear what is going on in the FBI, correspondingly becoming more isolated from the society around them.

This is the outcome that separatists in multitribal societies always seek – the radicalization of both communities, which forces even peacefully inclined people to take sides. This serves to increase the importance of (and thus the rents accruing to) the leaders of the separatist movement. And this is the outcome we are probably already seeing in Iraq, where the cooperative center is shrinking by the day in the Shiite and Sunni communities. (And maybe not just there. Today Shiites attacked the offices of a Kurdish party in Baghdad.) And maybe in the West as well. 22 percent of British Muslims (and 31 percent of young ones) believe that the London subway bombings were justified. Indeed, the increased radicalism of Muslim youth relative to their parents (many of the plane-plot suspects came from decidedly non-radical families) may be evidence of this process in action. On the non-Muslim side, about a third of Americans think U.S. Muslims are sympathetic to Al Qaeda, and 39 percent admit to harboring some prejudice. President Bush yesterday made a point of using the phrase “Islamic fascism” which has been floating around the commentariat for quite awhile but is the kind of language the Administration has generally avoided using.

What can be done? There are no easy answers. Increasing the incentives for intertribal cooperation is the most obvious. As I have argued before, unrestricted commerce provides greater opportunity for people to gain from intertribal cooperation. In the survey from USA Today linked above, those who know Muslims personally (with work being one of the best ways to meet them) are considerably less worried than those who don't. But even this is no magic bullet. The refusal to subsidize tribal separatism (e.g., through programs emphasizing static, zero-sum multiculturalism in the schools) can also contribute at the margins. And the simple model sketched above suggests that if the initial skepticism of the other is sufficiently small the unfortunate segregation dynamic may not happen. But ultimately, if people are sufficiently predisposed to fear the other, one event may permanently drive them apart, with potentially grim consequences.

The Daily Mail has a report on a new poll indicating that British sentiments against Islam generally as a threat to Western society are hardening. Perhaps this is a temporary effect of the reports on the transatlantic-plane-destruction plot. But perhaps not.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

"Civic Engagement"

Even more than business with its endless array of management gurus, academia is prone to embrace fads. Sometimes – students taking over university buildings and brandishing rifles – they fade away mercilessly quickly. Sometimes, they linger with important consequences. A current disturbing fad is the rise of something called “civic engagement” as a key part of the curriculum. If it hasn’t already, it is coming to a campus near you.

"Civic engagement" sounds so virtuous; what kind of crabby skeptic could be against it? The Association of American Colleges & Universities has a Center for Liberal Education and Civic Engagement. So what is the center’s mission? Its own brief description (pdf) lays out one of its recent initiatives:

For the period 2003-2005, the Center for Liberal Education and Civic Engagement will focus its grants and activities around a common theme: Journey Towards Democracy: Power, Voice, and the Public Good. Although two-thirds of college seniors do community service or volunteer during college, service does not automatically translate into an understanding of systemic sources of inequities. New research demonstrates that service alone does not provide clear pathways to informed action. To counter that finding, the Center seeks to underscore that knowledge and action can make a difference in the world. A robust democracy and the public welfare depend on an engaged and informed citizenry.

Uh oh. Those of us who have been in academia for long enough know where trails opened by certain phrases will lead. We are entirely confident that inquiries into “power,” for example, will not focus on the desire and ability of university professors to mold (and their success in molding) the political views of their students. Investigation of the possibility that the government has too much power, that entrepreneurship is one of the most liberating forces in society, or that encouraging ethnic and religious obsession is one of the most destructive forces in society will never see the light of day in courses where “civic engagement” is prized. Instead, the usual suspects – large corporations, religious ideologues, those who oppose government remedies for ancient tribal grievances because they fail to recognize their own privileges, etc., etc., - will be trotted out as the source of “power” that generates “inequities” that require “knowledge and action.” Civic engagement, in other words, is a camouflage for encouraging political pressure exclusively along the paths that the most politically engaged portion of the modern university faculty, with its roots in the New Left, chooses.

Perhaps the most chilling thing about the whole “civic engagement” exercise as best I understand it is the hand-waving way in which it transforms“civic engagement” into "lobbying the government." Coaching a Little League team is "civic engagement." Working at a crisis pregnancy center is "civic engagement." Helping channel investment capital to would-be entrepreneurs with no access to it is "civic engagement." But this is not generally what is meant, because these activities require no steps from the state.

Instead, the "civic engagement" initiative blithely assumes that government is a problem-solver, that it must only turn its attention to the problems identified by the left, and that the only reason it hasn't solved these problems yet by increasing taxes yet again to pay for underfunded schools or working for measures to make sure that every tribal group is represented in every occupation in exactly its proportion in the population or whatever the cause du jour is is because citizens aren't paying attention. Underengaged consumerists that they are, they don’t know how to pressure the government to spend taxpayer funds on this or that elaborately engineered, centrally planned remedy. "Civic engagement" as "lobbying for the causes favored by university professors" is ultimately another step down the zero-sum road that pits one social faction against another in warfare over laws and government money. It further cements the idea that social problems are to be passively foisted off on the government rather than solved by citizens on their own initiative. In that sense it is an avenue to further dependency, further strife vented through politics and, given the inability of government to solve problems at any distance from its core competencies (to use a management-guru term), further aggravation of the problems that all that civic engagement was supposed to solve.

Monday, August 07, 2006

On "Objective Journalism"

Big Media has been caught with its pants down again. The wire service Reuters has withdrawn two photographs and fired a photographer for doctoring photographs of the war in Lebanon to make Israeli assaults appear more dramatic than they were. As The American Thinker notes, the most telling criticism of the whole episode, like the CBS memo supposedly composed by a National Guard officer in the early 1970s but in fact looking exactly like a modern Microsoft Word document, was not discovered by Reuters, but by (properly) skeptical news consumers who spotted the fakery immediately. Even now, the scandal hardly generates a mention in the brontosaurus outlets of legacy journalism – the major global television networks, newspapers and magazines – even as it is a huge story in much of the blog world.

The curious thing about these episodes is that they always seem to play out the same way – a story favorable to the global left is found to be fraudulent. This casts strong doubt on any illusion that might remain of media “objectivity.” An objective media would presumably have errors that cause damage at random points on the political spectrum. What is going on here clearly suggests that modern, Officially Credentialed Journalists have worldviews, and that the mistakes they make, whether by omission or commission, tend to promote those worldviews. More concrete evidence for such bias was found by two economists, Tim Groseclose and Jeffrey Milyo, who measured bias by the frequency of citation from think tanks of various points of view, and measured the point of view of those think tanks by how frequently congressmen with externally generated ideological ratings cited them. The New York Times came across as one of the most leftist news producers in America. (The paper, which was subsequently published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics, is here. Only recently, with the lower costs of competitively decentralized knowledge production enabled by the Internet, has this oligopoly been subjected to more competition. And as the scandals demonstrate, so far it is coming up wanting. (Jonathan Klein, a former high CBS poobah, extravagantly demonstrated his ignorance of the possibilities of decentralized fact-checking when he dismissed the criticism over the Bush National Guard memo by arguing that "[y]ou couldn't have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of check and balances [at '60 Minutes'] and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing." The pickings hardly get easier than that.)

The whole idea of objective journalism, itself a relatively modern invention (the crusading journalist, not the studiously impartial observer, used to be the mode), is a mirage, and a costly one at that. Even if journalists were properly trained to be “objective” and are all pure of heart, subconscious bias would prompt them to see, and report, the world as they think it is rather than as it actually is. And of course these assumptions about journalistic training and motives are heroically naïve; journalists are no less self-interested than the rest of us, and they use their influence to try to achieve results they want just as any pressure group putting out a “biased” report or study does.

This puts the news consumer in something of a bind, the best solution for which is to abandon the whole fragile edifice of “objectivity.” He wants information in order to allow him to make better decisions, but he must get information from organizations whose biases and decision-making processes are largely opaque to him. I think that journalists would do better to think of him as like a decision-maker in a court of law – a judge or a juror. (They would also do better to stop calling themselves “journalists” and to start being “reporters again, but never mind.)

In the Anglo-American system, truth is said to emerge from an adversarial process in which each side presents its arguments as vigorously and self-interestedly as possible, even as it has a chance to subject the arguments of the other side to withering scrutiny. The media analogy of this would be that news organizations would be transparent about their biases, and would simply produce whatever information they think best advances their causes. (An alternative legal system is the inquisitorial system, in which the judge decides what information he wants rather than leaving it to the parties to decide what information to represent. Both have their strengths and weaknesses with respect to achieving the right result, but I am unable to think of any media analogy to an inquisitorial system.) This approach - of more or less free production of information, combined with confession of biases and frequent challenging by competitors - is arguably why the scientific method works so well. Any theory must be tested, any experiment must be meticulously described in ways that make it replicable. (Indeed, the failure of some medical researchers recently to disclose ties to drug manufacturers is, properly, seen by medical journal editors as very troubling.)

This does not mean that media reports must be reduced to simple propaganda. One can jettison objectivity – the pretense that one has no beliefs about the state of the world, and must therefore treat them all as equally probable – while still practicing fairness - the responsibility to contact advocates of particular states of the world and get their answer to what you have written. This has always been the model of the British press, in contrast to its lackluster (with declining circulation and viewership to prove it) American counterpart. (When Peter Jennings, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw recently all left their positions in rapid succession I realized I hadn’t watched network news in twenty years.) For all its transparent biases, The Guardian or The Telegraph is fundamentally different from the old Pravda. To the extent that Pravda had biases while claiming it didn't, it is arguably a more accurate model for the modern American press.

In the fair-bur-biased model, a newspaper might still have to get the views of the guy who thinks the earth is flat. But it would not have to treat it equally with the views of the rest of us who think the earth is round. Of course, most questions about the world are not as clear-cut as that. But the cause of allowing citizens to get at the truth, and then in the civic arena to act on what they learn, would be better served by ending the pretense that journalists with their years of training in “objectivity” are simply passive providers of information. It is better they be seen as the passionate activists that they always piously urge the rest of us to be.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

NCAA Rules and NCAA Ethics

Bob Stoops, coach of preseason’s highly rated Oklahoma Sooners football team, has dismissed two players, including his starting quarterback, from the team for violating NCAA rules. As best I understand it they were paid for hours far in excess of those actually worked during the summer. Mr. Stoops is being praised for enforcing the high ethical rules of the NCAA even at significant cost to his team’s prospects. But those rules turn out to be a little less “ethical” than first thought.

To understand NCAA rules it is critical to realize that the NCAA’s primary role is as the enforcement arm of a cartel – in this case, a cartel of college-athletics programs whose output consumers are willing to pay quite a lot for. Cartels limit competition among sellers of products both for inputs such as labor and with respect to output. For example, the NCAA negotiates the lucrative TV rights for its single biggest event, the NCAA basketball tournament, as it does for all other sports save football. Because of a Supreme Court ruling in the 1980s the NCAA does not control TV football rights, leaving those instead to conferences.

And the NCAA does what cartels typically do in other ways too. It controls entry from potentially new competitors by requiring huge investments in facility upgrades and (from the point of view of fans) marginal sports in order to participate in Division I. Just as OPEC has to negotiate production quotas among its members with conflicting interests, the NCAA has to provide some competitive balance by limiting roster sizes of the richer schools, but it doesn’t require perfect balance, with the result that about 20 schools dominate athletics across the board year after year.

And the most important way the NCAA cartel increases member profits is by restricting competition for labor, i.e. players. Fans are inclined to dismiss the complaints of an athlete who gets free tuition, room and board at a time when the sticker price (which many students do not pay) of a college education is tens of thousands of dollars a year. But the marginal product of some of these athletes is far higher than that. When Jameer Nelson took St. Joseph’s to the Elite Eight, as when Doug Flutie led Boston College to a miraculous win over Miami in a nationally televised game on Thanksgiving Weekend, both those schools reaped significant dividends not just during the year in the form of ticket sales, shirts and the like, but also in terms of significantly higher application rates. (Many schools pursue these rewards futilely over years because intercollegiate athletics is so expensive and yet the rewards for great success are so high, a possible example of the destructive excesses of what the Cornell economist Robert Frank calls the“winner take all society.") The artificial restraint of trade to lower wage competition is immediately dismissed as unethical (and is illegal besides) in most commercial activities, but the NCAA gets away with it by describing it as enforcement of an ethical code, namely that athletes should be “amateurs.” But the history of the amateur code is not a particularly inspiring one. It was originally introduced, according to many historians of sport, to limit competition in England from working-class athletes who couldn’t afford to train full-time unless they were compensated for it. The Olympics, once also a bastion of amateurism, has reconciled itself to professionalism since the demise of the Soviet empire (whose full-time yet somehow “amateur” athletes also benefited from the rule).

The idea that the NCAA promotes the virtues of athletic discipline and competition also vanishes under scrutiny. The roster-size limitations they impose mean that few athletes gain these privileges; if the 85th person on a football team benefits from the training he gets even if he never becomes a profession athlete, why wouldn’t the 86th?

The OU players were presumably hired because those who hired them wanted to help the team succeed, because they got a thrill from routine contact with big-time OU football players, and because they thought their presence would increase sales. The hiring of celebrities to endorse products is common, and it is hard to see why college athletes should not at least partly benefit from the celebrity power they and their university employers jointly produce.

A colleague of mine, shortly after our basketball coach was fired, once suggested that our university should simply hire players, pay them and take on all comers from any university. And I think he was right that the problem with college sports is not that they are too professional, it is that they are not professional enough. Allowing colleges to pay athletes explicitly according to whatever the market would bear would be more just for the players, who if they wished could use their compensation to buy an education from the university (and even take payment in kind). The universities could continue their vocational training of athletes, and the product on the field would probably be better. As long as wages were disclosed, fans could decide for themselves, by their willingness to pay for programs that paid and programs that didn't, how much they like adherence to amateurism if it comes at the cost of winning. But the producers, the university cartel, would suffer, and so the NCAA will never allow it.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Refusing to Split the Difference

In a new working paper two business-school professors and a law scholar (David Schkade, Cass R. Sunstein and Reid Hastie respectively) report some mildly discouraging results from an experiment in political deliberation in Colorado. In having leftist residents of a leftist city (Boulder) and rightist residents of a rightist city (Colorado Springs) separately debate several hot political issues, they found that participants ended up more extreme than when they started. The implications for democracy as a means to the good society are not terribly encouraging.

They explain their results in part by a desire to conform to the perceived “correct” opinion in their community, and note that by design the experiment did not generate discussion across the median, in other words between left and right in the same community. But that is part of the problem, in that the reason there was no such dialogue is because each city, because of the increasing geographical self-sorting in American that is going on, consists of increasingly like-minded people. We are not just a land of red and blue states but of red and blue neighborhoods. And even apart from that the literature on the ability of in-group discussion to promote compromise is not particularly encouraging if you think compromise is a good thing.

To be sure, we are not as polarized as we were in, say, 1859 or 1968. But there does appear less willingness to split the difference on many of the most incendiary issues we face. Such all-or-nothing approaches are of course found on the big issues like abortion – opponents will not tolerate encouragement of contraceptives to prevent them; pro-choicers have little interest in parental notification or in the pro-life “crisis pregnancy” facilities that, perfectly legally, encourage expectant mothers to choose, but to choose life. But even a relatively small-bore issue like whether to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge becomes apocalyptic in the political conversation. We might expect that if the Democrats regain the House impeachment hearings will be launched. If they control it by seven or eight seats the president might well be impeached (although the Senate would never remove him). This would give us two impeachments in a decade after having only one for over two centuries.

So what is going on now? In addition to the self-sorting explanation, which I find reasonable, another reason for the decreased unwillingness to talk to the other side in the interests of reaching common ground rather than debating them in the slash-and-burn way to achieve total victory is the nature of political influence these days. In his book Bowling Alone the political scientist Robert Putnam notes that whereas to be politically involved once meant being a member of a party, which was a large hierarchical association involving lots of hands-on activity such as precinct work, nowadays it now means belonging to a series of organizations whose primary activity is to maintain an office in DC to solicit funds and then lobby Congress. Such organizations have a financial incentive in encouraging would-be donors to feel a sense of urgency, and thus talk in terms of the imminent collapse of the national roof. They are able to use the same techniques marketers of commercial products do to "sell" donations to their group. Passive politics is extreme politics, a trend encouraged by the natural tendency to find extreme political talk on cable, the radio and so on to be very entertaining. The author who sells a lot of books due to his (or her) skill with polemical language seldom does so by composing well-crafted paeans to compromise.

Another factor is the growing tendency of politics to be used to address problems for which government is ill-suited. We need the government to defend the nation and build the roads, but should have low expectations when it is asked to manage the family or provide medical care. Charles Murray has noted that the decline of confidence in government has coincided with the rise of the number of things it does, but once a facet of society is the province of the state people turn their energies to politics, and when the problem fails to be addressed as effectively as they assumed they blame the machinations of their political opponents.

In addition to explaining some of the tendency of Americans toward reluctance to compromise, all of this suggests that we should be particularly skeptical of any resort to "global public opinion" as an indication that this or that policy should be followed. Whereas markets rely on competition among large number of people who must place their money where their mouth is, politics relies on large numbers of people who have little incentive to become informed and hence are more easily swayed away from what might be middle-of-the-road views by professional pressure groups representing this or that allegedly aggrieved people. Opinions are free no matter how intense they are. But information collection is costly, and one can have a very strong one on the Indo/Pakistani or Israeli/Palestinian conflict without knowing much beyond what some street demonstrator or website of unknown provenance told you. Because the stakes are so much larger, a tendency toward democracy in international affairs combined with the modern tendency toward extremism inherent in modern public opinion might be a recipe for disaster.