Monday, September 28, 2009

"Unemployment Problems Are Worse Than Meet the Eye"

As the opinion-makers turn their attention away from the global economic crisis of the last two years, Douglas McIntyre of 24/7 Wall St. offers a much-needed reminder that the problem isn't over, least of all with regard to unemployment (and the ratio of job-seekers to job openings, a record worst)-and that continued troubles in that area could portend rather more difficulty ahead.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Summer 2009 Parameters

The Summer 2009 issue of Parameters came out back in August.

This issue includes a pair of two-article sections.

The first, on Chinese security and foreign policy, is comprised of "Is There a Civil-Military Gap in China’s Peaceful Rise?" by Andrew Scobell (of particular interest to those wondering about the contradictions between China's rational realpolitik and the more provocative actions and rhetoric coming from inside its policy establishment), and "China’s New Security Strategy for Africa" by Jonathan Holslag.

The second, presented under the heading of "A Paradigm for Future War," offers a pair of pieces addressing the networked world we live in, "Caught in the Net: Lessons from the Financial Crisis for a Networked Future" by Gautam Mukunda and William J. Troy; and "An Ever-Expanding War: Legal Aspects of Online Strategic Communication" by Daniel Silverberg and Joseph Heimann.

John W. Bauer also offers his analysis of Russian policy toward Korea in "Unlocking Russian Interests on the Korean Peninsula" by John W. Bauer (with a focus on the potentials of an enhanced economic relationship between Russia and South Korea), while John A. Wahlquist offers a robust critique of torture-by-any-other name in "Enhancing Interrogation: Advancing a New Agenda."

Finally, P. Michael Phillips deconstructs our dark age future in "Deconstructing Our Dark Age Future." Phillips attributes such views to an irrational response to the decline of U.S. hegemony, and a simplistic view of the post-Westphalia international order which makes non-state actors loom larger than they should in the view of analysts. (In my view he's right about both factors, and his attempt to provide some perspective, particularly in regard to the second factor, is welcome, but much else is at work besides-the mediocre economic performance of most of the world since the 1970s, the scale of the present ecological challenges, and the "resurgence" of the irrational in politics, while the depth of cultural and technological changes worries onlookers across the ideological spectrum, albeit in different ways.)

This issue also offers the customary rich collection of reviews of recent security-related literature, both in the "Editor's Shelf" section, and in the pages devoted to the "Book Reviews". Much of it adds to already considerable bodies of literature on well-established subjects-there are four books on various aspects of World War II, three on the Iraq war, two concerning al-Qaida and the struggle against it, and one volume each about the Civil War and the Korean War.

However, a good many also address less frequently essayed matters, the more intriguing of which (at least to me, given my interests) include Zoltan Barany's Democratic Breakdown and the Decline of the Russian Military and Brendan Simms's intriguing "revisionist" study of British policy From The War of the Spanish Succession to the American Revolution, Three Victories and a Defeat.

There are also two highly publicized books (e.g., works you're likely to see promoted on the current affairs-oriented talk shows) about the place of the U.S. in a changing world, Andrew Bacevich's inward-looking The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, and Fareed Zakaria's outward-looking The Post-American World, both of which are about what you'd expect if you're familiar with these authors.

The New (Spring 2009) Issue of Parameters
5/16/09

Friday, September 25, 2009

An Energy Security Reading List

As of late, energy issues have been receiving much less attention than was just the case a summer ago, the great price shock that began in 2003 having been on the wane since its climax last year, and other dangers to the global economy having captured much more attention.

Nonetheless, despite the suppression of rising oil consumption by those rising prices, and more recently, the general hard times, the essential issue remains, and is still being written about-while much of the earlier literature remains relevant. EnergyBulletin.com has recently offered a handy round-up of it in an annotated bibliography of notable writings on the question of energy security going all the way back to 2001 (which, I'm pleased to note, includes my 2008 article in Survival).

As the list's author, Rick Munroe notes, the "list is by no means complete, nor does it include the growing body of literature on the military/security aspects of climate change," but it does offer a good collection of notable works, while offering handy links to online editions of much of this material, and for anyone interested in the issue it is well worth checking out.

Revisiting Head to Head
9/25/09
New and Noteworthy (JAXA and Space Solar, "Drones to End Era of Fighter Pilots"?, Menacing Space Rock, Paul Krugman and Intellectual History)
9/21/09
The Real Unemployment Rate
9/8/09

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Revisiting Head to Head

Lester Thurow's book Head to Head: The Coming Economic Battle Among Japan, Europe and America (New York: Morrow, 1992, pp. 336) is perhaps the first serious book on economics and business I looked at, and reviewing it now is a powerful reminder of how different the last two decades have been from the expectations current then.

His book cast the first half of the 21st century as a three-way competition between economic quasi-blocs—the United States/NAFTA, a German-led European Community (which he pictured potentially stretching all the way to the Pacific as it incorporated the former Soviet Union, with the help of a Marshall Plan for Eastern Europe) and Japan-as the post-World War II GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) died.

His bet was on the EU because of the sheer size of its market, and the range of competencies it could bring to bear, though he also expected the U.S. to address many of the problems that the "declinists" of the 1980s and early 1990s (correctly) identified-deindustrialization, unsustainable trade deficits, the drag on the economy of a bloated and underperforming health care system, low educational standards and underinvestment in infrastructure-while the world economy went on to greater growth in the 1990-2030 period than it saw in the 1950-1990 era.

Instead of dying, GATT survived and flourished, becoming institutionalized in the World Trade Organization. Meanwhile, China and India, which Thurow dismissed as certain to be of little importance in this period, emerged as economic heavyweights (though not without serious problems or obstacles in their paths). Japan stagnated in the 1990s, while Euroskeptics disdainful of the continent's way of doing business, despite a penchant for gross exaggerations (and outright intellectual dishonesty), found sufficient ammunition in the realities of the EU to flourish. (The disparity in GDP growth between continental Europe and the U.S. in the 1990s and 2000s, for instance, virtually disappears when the figures are adjusted for higher U.S. population growth, the expenses of German reunification, and the greater outlays the U.S. makes for questionable results in areas like health care, for instance.) Certainly the idea of the EU launching a Marshall Plan for Eastern Europe seems wildly implausible in hindsight, and almost twenty years on, the inclusion of Russia in the organization seems remote.

Additionally, worldwide global economic growth has only continued to suffer, in the 1990s and 2000s running far below the levels seen in the 1960s, 1970s and perhaps even the 1980s, such weak growth as has occurred (which according to the calculations of Alan Freeman may have barely kept pace with population growth) unraveling in the economic contraction that has dominated business news these last two years.

This left the U.S., despite its failure to deal with the problems he identified (all of which have got worse in the view of most of those observers willing to acknowledge their existence), and its being no exception to the pattern of unimpressive growth rates for the period (excepting the now-long faded "tech" boom of the late 1990s) looking the winner, and the "Anglo-Saxon way" (in labor relations, for instance) appearing to be the only way.

Still, given the pieties of our times, Thurow seems refreshingly frank about the limits and failings of markets in theory and in practice, and of the weaknesses of the economic model favored by the U.S. (and Britain), while his observations about the deficiencies of the track on which the U.S. economy was clearly moving in the 1980s seem to have been validated by the problems it continues to face today. It is also well worth remembering that even if Germany and Japan have not performed as well as had been hoped earlier, they remain great industrial powers, and great exporting nations, as the U.S. continues heading in the opposite direction with its deindustrialization and ever-larger trade deficits. There can be little question that despite doing quite a few things wrong, they've also done quite a few right, and that the debate over the path to prosperity-reopened during the recent global contraction, but closing again fast as opinion-makers breathe sighs of relief-is nowhere near over.

Monday, September 21, 2009

New and Noteworthy (JAXA and Space Solar, "Drones to End Era of Fighter Pilots"?, Menacing Space Rock, Paul Krugman and Intellectual History)

Updates have been few in the last month or so, but Raritania-fast approaching its one-year anniversary-remains very much alive.

Noteworthy recent items include:

* An update on Japan's space agency's interest in space-based solar power, which will be the subject of an experiment scheduled for next February.

* A relatively long and comprehensive article about the planned roboticization of the U.S. armed forces from Edward Helmore of The Guardian, focusing on the shift from manned aircraft to drones. (There is some exotic stuff here, but readers should remember that the most radical bits of futurism here refer to developments anticipated for the 2040s, three to four decades from now-and apparently premised on Ray Kurzweil-style hype for what the technology can do.)

* Several news reports in the last month regarding the shortfall in funding for NASA's mission of identifying and tracking potentially dangerous asteroids in Earth's vicinity, including these pieces from Wired.com, Space.com, and New Scientist. (Given the sheer volume of defense spending, that the $800 million needed for the program should be so hard to come by strikes me as nothing short of appalling.)

* Paul Krugman's presentation of a bit of intellectual history in his recounting of the course the conventional wisdom in the economics profession has taken up to its present state in the New York Times. (While well worth a read, I have to qualify my recommendation by saying it gives too short a shrift to the push and pull of real-world politics on the profession-in my view far more important than the "aesthetics" of free market theory.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Real Unemployment Rate

Last Friday, as usual, the Bureau of Labor Statistics issued the unemployment figures for August, offering more bad (if unsurprising) news just before-as it happened-Labor Day weekend.

The U-3 rate is up to 9.7 percent, a new high in the course of the recent downturn, while the U-6 spiked even higher, by a full half point, to 16.8 percent-meaning that more than one in six members of the labor force are now included in that broader category of "labor underutilization."

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