Economies in transition
Russian economist Vladimir Popov spoke in one of my classes today on democracy and development in transitional economies. His research focuses on countries which were previously command economies with authoritarian governments, but which have liberalized in terms of legal and/or political institutions. His conclusions were surprising: the countries with less democratization of their political structures showed consistently better econonomic growth, as long as they had liberal legal institutions. That is, the best performers were countries that protected individuals' civil and property rights, but localized political power in a strong central authority.

The conventional wisdom, which most Americans would seem to buy into without question, is that democracy is a sure engine for economic growth. But this just hasn't been the case with transitional countries - the impressive economic success stories of Singapore, South Korea, and to a lesser extent China have been achieved by authoritarian political structures atop rapidly liberalizing legal and civil institutions.

Mr Popov is not arguing that democracy is a bad thing - obviously there are reasons besides economic growth for implementing political reforms! - but it's important to weigh the costs of democracy along with the benefits. Democratic reforms in Russia, for instance, have led to a crippling deterioration of the rule of law, leaving the economy without the vital institutions it needs to grow.

Right now all eyes are on Iraq, and the hope is that a successful democracy will emerge - one that will demonstrate the potential democracy has for the entire Arab world. The neocons have argued that Iraq is a perfect case for democracy, and there's some reason to believe that in this case they're right. After all, Iraq has a highly educated populace, relatively equal rights for women, and even a secular state - all important institutions for economic development.

What's a little muddier is how this strategy will work in countries lacking such a strong institutional framework. It may be disingenuous to claim that democratic reforms will instantly transform the economies of the Arab world. Working to build strong civil and property rights, along with institutions that defend them, might be a more prudent first step.


Institutional design
Matt Yglesias has a highly informative discussion of the Canadian Constitution, in light of the nation building we're about to commence in Iraq. Although I'm not sure why he says this:

[O]ne thing the occupation force in Iraq is going to need to do in order to establish democracy is to write a constitution. This should be done, of course, in consultation with some Iraqi people, but we're still going to need to do it.
I don't see why the Iraqi people couldn't write their own constitution - and in our stated role as liberators, wouldn't it make sense for us to take a back seat to them?

But I do think that the Bush administration agrees with him. Bush himself has voiced an interest in a federated system, mainly to keep Kurdish hands away from the oil in Kirkuk, which would give them too much independence. From an institutional design standpoint, this arrangement would seem to resemble the US system more than some others. Nothing's been said about guaranteed rights though, to my knowledge.

MORE: The Invisible Adjunct also responds.

Written by the victors
Krugman is good, Kinsley is better.

Mad dog litigation tactics
There's plenty more criticism of the State Farm decision at PLA (sorry, no permalink).


Troop movements
This seems sure to disrupt the balance of power in Korea, and it may even be a prelude to war. When Rumsfeld first suggested moving US troops out a couple months back, it looked more like a nudge to get Seoul back in step with Washington - I didn't think it was a real possibility.

American officials say that the high technology, long distance weaponry displayed daily in television broadcasts from the war in Iraq highlight the obsolete nature of the half century old strategy of posting American soldiers on North Korea's border. American officials also bridle at the concept of a human 'tripwire,' or the posting thousands of American soldiers near the border in the belief that the carnage caused by a cross-border attack from the north would outrage the American public and guarantee American participation in a second Korean War.
Would they really expect a second Korean War to look like what we just saw? That seems pretty unlikely, given the strength and organization of the North Korean military.

I think getting US troops out of Seoul could be the prelude to a move against North Korean nuclear facilities - probably a series of airstrikes. In the event of such an attack, US troops in Seoul would immediately become a target for the North Korean army; but if we moved them away (and if the South denied inolvement), it would be political suicide for the DPRK to bombard Seoul. Don't know if this would stop them from doing it anyway, but if they did we'd have plenty of international support to prosecute a fullscale war...

Paradise lost
Well, my euphoria of this morning is gone... it pretty much evaporated when I read this report. What happened to building a strong democracy in Iraq to subvert neighboring regimes by example? No, these guys want to build an empire.

Read all about it
I love the New York Times. Today they have a fascinating article on what goes into the price of wine.

Gone where the goblins go
The news this morning is absolutely stunning - the New York Times headline reads "Jubilant Iraqis Swarm the Streets of Capital." Saddam Hussein is no longer the leader of Iraq! After the resistance we've faced in other parts of the country, I was afraid Baghdad might be much more difficult. Glad to say I was wrong.

Of course the military phase might drag on for a while - there's still Tikrit, and Baghdad may hold nasty pockets of resistance - but the more difficult political work is about to begin. I hope we won't get too cocky... Iraqis are cheering because Saddam is gone, but who knows whether their enthusiasm will extend to US nation building?


The war of rules
Haggai responds (in comments, which unfortunately don't have permalinks) to my post on decapitation strikes and the rules of war:

Our moral outrage over civilian deaths is also dramatically improved from the past. Almost no one in this country was bothered by the massive bombing of German cities in WWII, unlike today where our armed forces take great care to avoid killing non-combatants. Of course it still happens sometimes, as is unavoidable in war, but we certainly aren't targeting them.
Apparently there's some clear reason why civilian casualties are worse than military casualties, but I don't see it. Maybe you could argue that military personnel know what they're getting into, but how do you deal with drafts? I'm guessing not all Iraqi soldiers are fighting because they choose to. Yet it's morally acceptable to kill them, and morally reprehensible to kill civilians. Why?

From a tactical standpoint, it makes sense to concentrate on those who pose a threat. So we're left with a gentlemen's agreement between warring powers, an agreement that it's better to limit the destruction and death to a specific portion of the population. We put on uniforms, wave flags... basically, it's a way of making war more organized. And as we've seen in Iraq, it's a prisoner's dilemma - each side has ample opportunity and incentive to break the rules anyway. Stigma and international law serve as counterweights, but they aren't entirely effective.

The obvious historical explanation for the development of these rules is the monarchies that populated Europe for hundreds of years - since the general population didn't have a stake in government, widespread civilian casualties were extremely dangerous to the leadership. I'm not suggesting the rules that developed were always followed, but I want to point out that they were shaped by a different set of political circumstances than we have today.

What brought all this up was the DoD's targeting of Saddam as part of Iraq's command structure, and the legitimacy of such decapitation strikes. As I mentioned before, the American command structure includes the American people. Does this make them a legitimate military target? The argument that we should only attack those who pose a threat doesn't apply here - citizens in a democratic society are to a great degree responsible for the actions of their leadership.

I don't really have any bold conclusions to draw here, but I do think it's important to be critical of apparently moral institutions like the rules of war.

Live from the Palestine Hotel
Seth Michaels highlights the following quote from this article:

The US admitted it had made "a grave mistake" bombing al-Jazeera and said it had opened fire on the Palestine Hotel after coming under attack from snipers. But that account has been dismissed as "absurd" by journalists working out of the hotel.
What's strange about this is that I knew Al Jazeera was in that hotel - or at least, I knew they'd been operating out of there earlier in the war. Much was made of the fact that the hotel was left standing, while buildings nearby were destroyed by precision munitions.

Political activism
Ezra Klein warned me he was going to put a Gary Hart Meetup sticker/button on his site. I'm not sure I'm ready to participate in this proliferation, but I will add Gary to my blogroll. He's doing an admirable job responding to comments...

So you want to write a weblog...
This blog (via Metafilter) has a powerful message for you.

Reasonable and proportionate
The Supreme Court has thrown out a $145M punitive damage award against State Farm (link via NathanNewman):
"In sum, courts must ensure that the measure of punishment is both reasonable and proportionate to the amount of harm to the plaintiff," Justice Anthony Kennedy said for the majority.
Certainly compensatory damages should be "proportionate to the amount of harm to the plaintiff," but punitive damages? That seems like a strange stipulation. I don't have any legal background, but from a policy standpoint punitive damages should be sufficiently large to prevent the behavior from continuing. For a company like State Farm, with millions of customers (including the writer, unfortunately), punitive damages should be truly massive.

Clearly I can't speak to the legal specifics of the case, but as a principle it seems to me these awards should be based on the potential for similar cases rather than the the amount of harm done to an individual plaintiff.

The most powerful mayor in America
Archpundit makes the case that Daley was right to shut Meigs down:

Last Monday, after the late night demolition, I was critical of Daley for the manner in which he pulled off this stunt, but the shutting down of Meigs is very reasonable. After hearing from the critics of the move, I'm starting to think Daley acted too mildly and should have gone further. The only lame part of Daley's argument is his trying to justify it for security reasons.
I too was shocked by the rabid fanaticism of Meigs supporters... but I still think carving X's into the runway by moonlight was a bizarre move. How could he have gone further? It was an ugly display of power, one he knew he would get away with. That it was a good idea to get rid of Meigs doesn't change that.


Saddam's bad things
Naturally, Lisa English is skeptical of the latest alleged chemical weapons discovery by coalition forces; their veracity as well as their legitimacy as a justification for war are at issue.

Nothing to say here about whether the claims are true, but I don't find the "Aha!" coming from hawks particularly consoling. If Saddam, armed to the teeth with "weapons of mass destruction," hasn't even fired them upon being attacked by a vastly superior conventional force (that, after all, was our trigger in a policy of preemptive nuclear strikes in Europe during the Cold War), it's hard to see how he posed a real threat to us. No, containment would have worked just fine here - at least where the WMDs are concerned.

UPDATE: Another false alarm (link via Counterspin).

The power of balance
Dwight Meredith describes a pattern of "contempt for congress" on the part of the Bush administration. This has been going on for some time now, and it probably doesn't help matters that Congress dodged its responsibility in giving Bush the power to go to war at his convenience. It's good to see they're finally growing a backbone.

Lifted word-for-word
Matt Yglesias links to this article on the dark side of The Agonist. As someone who was reading Sean Paul pretty closely in those first few days of the war, I knew he was lifting things whole from other sources - he definitely presented himself as a filter. But while it occurred to me at the time that it might not be kosher, I think it's fair to say he was acting under extreme time constraints, where some mistakes can be expected. This shouldn't excuse him from responsibility, but to my mind this stuff is a lot less sinister than FOX stealing CNN's shuttle feed, for instance.

Matt also says that he liked the Agonist better before. I did too, as far as blogs are concerned, but the newsfilter service he's provided is immensely important, given the way cable news has been covering the war. It's not clear yet whether he's going to transition back - I know he's discussed the possibility of continuing these rapidfire news updates even after the war - but I do hope he eventually gets back to doing some commentary.

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