From the Peter Peterson Foundation:
- Ukraine interim president warns of “separatism risk” – I don’t believe that there’s any such risk, but it’s obviously useful to the new government to propound such a risk as an excuse for a crackdown on Yanukovych supporters
- “On libertarian stupidity and the Civil War“
- Bitcoin at Liberty Forum
- Interested in speaking at PorcFest or running an event?
There was a brief moment a few years back when concerns over the size of the budget deficit were leading to some discussions of the long-term fiscal imbalances and the potentials for a grand bargain. But with last month’s budget deal, the debt is no longer on the agenda. As Alex Seitz-Wald notes in National Journal:
While it’s easy to miss the disappearance of something, the change is glaring if you know where to look. You can see it on the House and Senate floors where, last month, Republicans uttered the word “debt” just 225 times, down from 3,188 mentions in July 2011, according to the Sunlight Foundation. You could see it in President Obama’s latest State of the Union address, which mentioned budget deficits almost two-thirds fewer times than his 2011 speech.
None of this should be a surprise, of course. Election season will soon be upon us and one can be certain that no one wants to run on the promise to cut universal entitlements and/or raise taxes when there are all those hot button issues to exploit and so many babies to kiss. Just don’t tell the babies about the problems they will face in adulthood.
The government and the opposition in Ukraine have begun to shoot each other, leading to 26 deaths overnight. The Ukrainian army is being mobilized, and protestors have started to storm police stations and arm themselves. Could Ukraine be facing civil war?
Several factors point to a high likelihood of civil war. The first is the existing violence. Most civil wars are preceded by low-level internal violence. On the other hand, only a minority of armed conflicts with at least 25 battle deaths eventually escalate to civil war intensity (at least 1000 battle deaths). Still, the Libyan and Syrian civil wars provide recent examples of mass protests that escalated to armed conflict and then to civil war.
The second factor suggesting high violence risk is that rebels have a geographic base in the west of Ukraine. Some reports hold forth that the Lviv region has “declared independence” from Ukraine, but this is misleading. The Lviv regional council has declared sovereignty over its territory to the exclusion of the Ukrainian central government, but it is apparently open to reconciliation if a negotiated solution can be found. Still, when rebels have support of local political authorities, they are far more capable of inflicting large-scale damages on the government, because they have access to police weapons and, even more importantly, tax revenues.
The third factor suggesting high risk of escalation is external involvement. Russian support of the Ukrainian government will diminish rebel capability, but the European Union is preparing sanctions against the Ukrainian government. It is easy to imagine that Russia would send troops to assist the Ukrainian government if necessary; it is inconceivable that NATO or individual European governments would send troops to assist the rebels. Thus, the likelihood of external involvement tells more in favor of Ukrainian government capability than rebel capability. Still, what matters for conflict escalation is not necessarily preponderance of capabilities as such, but asymmetric information about capabilities. If the Ukrainian government is wrong (or the opposition thinks they are wrong) to think that Russia will send troops, it may take a harder line than necessary to reach an agreement that the opposition could countenance – and so far this indeed seems to be happening, as from all reports Yanukovych is not taking negotiations very seriously.
Nevertheless, several factors diminish the likelihood of civil war. One of the factors diminishing the likelihood of civil war is that ideological and ethnic divisions in Ukraine, while serious, are not truly deep as in multiethnic or multireligious societies like Burma, Lebanon, and Syria or highly unequal, sharply ideologically polarized societies like Venezuela, Colombia, and Bolivia. It is extremely unlikely that any region of Ukraine will actually try to secede (save perhaps Crimea’s ethnic Russians), and no Marxist-Leninist insurgency is on the cards either.
Ukraine is a relatively well-off country, and GDP per capita is one of the strongest factors associated with civil peace. That association likely reflects something about institutional quality, rather than affluence as such. Ukraine’s institutions are fragile and contested, but not collapsed as in much of sub-Saharan Africa.
Finally, Continue Reading »
Reporters without Borders has issued its annual World Press Freedom Index (map here, discussion here). The US has tumbled to 46, just above Haiti. To place things in context, the US was 17 in 2002 when the first index was published.
As Reporters without Borders explains:
Countries that pride themselves on being democracies and respecting the rule of law have not set an example, far from it. Freedom of information is too often sacrificed to an overly broad and abusive interpretation of national security needs, marking a disturbing retreat from democratic practices. Investigative journalism often suffers as a result.
This has been the case in the United States (46th), which fell 13 places, one of the most significant declines, amid increased efforts to track down whistleblowers and the sources of leaks. The trial and conviction of Private Bradley Manning and the pursuit of NSA analyst Edward Snowden were warnings to all those thinking of assisting in the disclosure of sensitive information that would clearly be in the public interest.
I was just taking in a few minutes of the Olympics when I saw a new Walmart ad touting its pledge to purchase $250 billion of American-made products (or perhaps more accurately, its ”pledging [of] $250 billion to products purchased from American factories”). Roll the tape and see for yourself:
It is a bit odd to see Walmart pitching this “Made in the USA” message while blaring a song (“Working Man”) by the non-American band Rush!* It really made me chuckle to see Walmart undercut its mercantilist-esque theme by choosing the best product for what it is trying to accomplish – just like most of us – and that product is made by non-Americans!
Of course, I generally don’t care where my products (or music) come from as long as they meet my needs (price, quality, etc). Just like Walmart with its music selection, the wise consumer choooses products no matter where they come from and just says yes to free markets without any mercantilist-induced guilt.** Isn’t it enough for Walmart to tell us that it is awesome at providing quality goods at low cost? That is the Walmart I want to shop at (and do). Moreover, I don’t think Walmart really cares from whence its products come – it is just trying to play to nationalist sentiment during a nationalist event like the Olympics. But I’m not buying that product, even when produced with the help of the great power trio from Canada, Rush.
* Ok, technically Canadians and all other peoples of the Americas are American. But we all know that Canadians hate to be confused with Americans to their south (hence the ever-present Canadian flag on their backpacks when they travel abroad). Moreover, the term American is commonly understood to mean citizens of the USA - or put another way, members of American society (that community that resides roughly between Canada and Mexico). So my critique is reasonable – especially since Walmart is making the “Made in the USA” argument, not the made in NAFTA argument!
** People should be allowed to choose inferior or pricier products due to nationalist/protectionist sentiments. But that doesn’t necessarily make such choices good ones from a narrowly economic perspective. And even if you care about American “competitiveness,” such loyalty to American-made products can, in the long run, undercut American businesses. We’ll all be better off choosing free trade (and read that with the sound of the Rush song “Free Will” in your head).