November 23, 2008
Ever since the announcement of the discovery of Brazil’s Tupi oil field earlier this year, I haven’t really taken the time to think about the political implications of the new-found reserves. This article from the Christian Science Monitor is suggestive in that regard. Unfortunately, the piece hews to a decidedly optimistic storyline about how the income will pay for new social welfare programs. That’s all well and good, but let’s take off the rose-tinted glasses long enough to consider at least a few of the less attractive alternatives.
I share the view that Brazil’s new-found oil wealth will bring about transformative changes within the country’s economy, its state, and its society. The infusion of cash will indeed open up untold opportunities for closing Brazil’s notorious wealth gap. It will also further entrench Petrobras – already one of the largest firms in the Global South – as a worldwide energy-production leader. To the extent that these opportunities are managed effectively, Brazil will gain in influence, wealth, and international prestige.
However, to the extent that the Petrobras windfall is managed poorly and generates unanticipated spillover affects, it could easily produce a catastrophe. The sudden surge in income will likely give Petrobras executives and investors even more political clout than they already have, leading to increased opportunities for corruption (already a neverending problem in Brazilian politics), graft, and nepotism within the state. Furthermore, only an immense amount of well-channeled political goodwill can prevent the expansion of Petrobras from encroaching on the political interests of Brazil’s other burgeoning industries and its most vulnerable citizens.
This is not about simple optimism or pessimism, but rather about the realities of imbalanced petro-economies. The reasons why other oil-rich nations have such a horrendous track-record in terms of political accountability, transparency, and inequality has a lot to do with the pressures that a burgeouning state-owned energy sector tends to place on the rest of the state and private sector. Just because Brazil has enjoyed sustainable growth and social progress since the mid 1990′s does not mean that it has somehow “advanced” beyond the point at which its oil might prove more troublesome than its worth.
November 14, 2008
November 11, 2008
The Federal Reserve is refusing to identify the recipients of almost $2 trillion of emergency loans from American taxpayers or the troubled assets the central bank is accepting as collateral.
The Bloomberg story goes on to quote Barney Frank spouting a bunch of nonsense about it not being so bad if “the fed gets a haircut” on these loans, but that logic misses the forest for the trees.
Bad information about the state of the Fed’s credit offerings will only breed mistrust and doubts among the rest of the market’s participants. The Treasury is correct to assume that making this knowledge public will destabilize some firms. However, if the Treasury actually wants to improve things in the long run they will seek more transparent procedures since a market with grossly distorted information does not benefit anyone.
November 10, 2008
Kudos to The Guardian‘s Rafael Behr, he’s written a really thought-provoking story on class tensions and political preferences in British cities.
The story details how politicians and marketers are using data-mining techniques to target particular voter/consumer groups through a large data-base called Mosaic:
Mosaic sorts people into 11 categories, sub-divided into 61 types. Each is defined according to shopping preferences, age range, family structure and values. I am curious to see where I fit in, so Professor [Richard] Webber punches in my postcode. ‘E30: New Urban Colonist – Younger, high-achieving professionals, enjoying a cosmopolitan lifestyle in a gentrified urban environment.’
Professor Webber winces. He didn’t come up with the names, he explains, and would have preferred not to use a metaphor of colonisation. I can see why. It makes me sound like a yuppie conquistador, setting sail for the inner city and decimating the indigenous population with my imported gastro-pub virus. The actual categorisation is more prosaic, and precise. The computer guesses that I shop at Waitrose, where I buy organic vegetables. I am likely to be white and 25-34 years old. I probably read The Observer. New Urban Colonists make up 1.36 per cent of the population.
This is a quintessentially New Labour way of looking at social division: not as a story of competing classes, but as a patchwork of consumer segments. The Mosaic headings are reminiscent of those emblematic voters – ‘Worcester Woman’ and ‘Mondeo Man’ – who were explicitly wooed and won over by Tony Blair in the run-up to the 1997 election.
Since the Obama victory is all-but-guaranteed to spark a growth industry in electoral social-networking tools, I wonder how the new tools will transform the uneasy class alliances that underly British politics today.
November 10, 2008
Brace yourselves for a flurry of promises and diplomatic hand-waving as the world prepares for this weekend’s global financial summit.
The NYT reports that the G20 wants a bigger say in the global economy. Problem is, the global financial summit is not designed to achieve far-reaching structural changes of the sort G20 leaders such as Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva are seeking.
The European Network on Debt and Development suggests that Europe will bring lofty ambitions to the table as well, but precious little in the way of concrete mechanisms or meaningful procedural reforms to affect change.
My sense? Prepare for disappointment. As Aldo Caliari points out, the timing and form of President Bush’s economic summit is designed to undermine ongoing negotiations at Doha and avoid the transparent and multilateral approach of the United Nations. As such, the whole affair is looking depressingly similar to the original Bretton Woods meetings of 1944. Until the U.S. and Europe show the political maturity to surrender some authority and embrace a truly multilateral process we will get a lot of fluffy proclamations but few substantive changes.
Don’t get me wrong, I suspect that there will be some impressive sounding stuff that comes out of this weekend’s meetings. I have no reason to believe, however, that it will be anything like the kind of democratic, equitable sorts of reforms to global trade and finance that the world so deeply needs.
November 9, 2008
I’ve been devoting my writing time to finishing a short article during the last few days.
That doesn’t totally justify my lack of posting, but it does explain it…
November 7, 2008
I’m slogging my way through Newsweek’s lengthy seven-part series on the presidential campaigns.
Lots of little tidbits and illustrative quotes make these pieces an entertaining read, but the most striking thing is the editors’ attempt to cast the candidates into made-for-TV character molds.
November 6, 2008
While Henry Farrell probably didn’t intend this CT post from last week the way I’m going to respond to it, I still think it’s interesting to consider his suggestion that election junkies had bigger, faster, and better access to news and information during this campaign.
Eszter Hargittai’s research would suggest that for most of us it’s not how much information the Internet makes available, but rather the accessibility of the information that counts. So was the information Henry talks about accessible?
The best answer probably depends on who you ask. Like so many others, I loved me some Nate Silver simulations throughout the last few weeks, but I don’t pretend to understand the ins and outs of Silver’s computational wizardry. Similarly, I religiously followed the composite polls at Pollster.com, Daily Kos, and RCP, but balk at the fine points of curve smoothing and best fit graphing techniques.
In this sense, I wonder how Joe-Internet-Surfer coped with the Habermasian equivalent of TMI?
November 6, 2008
Nader confirms that he’s a racist dinosaur with nothing but empty rhetoric and a whole lot of misguided egotism:
Shame on everyone who voted for this clown.
November 6, 2008
The experience of Barack Obama’s victory last night was emotionally overwhelming and I still haven’t quite sorted out what to write about it yet.
In the meantime, something caught my attention as I got out of a taxi to walk through Harvard Square on my way home at about 1am last night:
The honking and shouting could be heard for several miles. Now, I know perfectly well that Cambridge and Harvard are not proxies for anything (approximately 90% of the city voted for Obama), but it was still exceptional to see people literally dancing in the streets over the outcome of the presidential election.
The scene was repeated elsewhere in Boston as well as in other cities: in Washington, D.C. in front of the White House; in New York in Times Square; in Philadelphia, Tulsa, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Detroit; and even in Sydney, Australia. Everywhere, jubilant crowds took to the streets to express their excitement.
Such repossessions of urban public space provide a fitting metaphor for Obama’s win. Citizenship has its etymological roots in the Ancient Roman notion of “a right to the city.” For many of us who have longed for new leadership in this country, casting a vote for a victorious Obama was an affirmative form of political self-expression that had been inaccessible for over a decade. For a single day, many millions of people engaged in an immense public ritual of electoral democracy through which we momentarily gained access to a renewed sensation of ownership over the collective fate of the nation.
In this sense, the occupation of urban streets is as a literal manifestation of the President-elect’s symbolic appeal and his ability to embody the aspirations of his supporters. This appeal is not unique to Obama, but the extent to which he has elicited passionate commitment on the part of so many American citizens is something I have not seen in my lifetime. When consistent with your personal views, such collective passion is awe inspiring. In contrast, the fervent beliefs of your oponents cannot help but ring hollow.
It is inherently difficult to pinpoint the source or cause of the emotional connection some many people feel to Obama the public figure. I suspect that it has a little bit to do with his biography, a little bit to do with his public persona, and a lot to do with the radical form of hope he has come to represent in the wake of the Bush administration.
No matter where it comes from, I am grateful to have experienced a small piece of it last night.