February 19, 2012
Lin-sanity notwithstanding, this is a time of year when I always find myself wanting more as a sports fan in America. The memories of the Super Bowl and BCS Championship game have already started to fade; March madness remains a long way off; pitchers and catchers have yet to report for Spring Training; and both the NBA and NHL have just passed the midpoint of their respective regular seasons. Add that it’s the middle of Winter (even an historically mild one), and these factors combine to make mid February a less than thrilling few weeks.
Lately, I’ve partially solved my urge for non-stop sports entertainment by turning to leagues that have much less popularity and almost no visibility in mainstream U.S. media coverage.
First, during a brief trip to Brazil for a conference, I enjoyed watching some early round action in the Paulistão, or the elite soccer league of São Paulo state. With historically dominant teams like Corinthians, Santos, and Palmeiras, São Paulo boasts one of the most competitive state-level championships within Brazil and usually includes several young players who will become international superstars with household names within a few years (e.g. if you haven’t heard of Neymar yet, just be patient, the teenage phenom will likely figure prominently in the Brazilian national team’s efforts when the country hosts the World Cup in 2014).
Then, the week after I returned from Brazil, I spent a few afternoons watching the final games of the Serie del Caribe, an international tournament that wraps up the Winter leagues in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. The games were tight, competitive and included a number of Major League players who seemed either to have chosen to return home as triumphant stars or to hone their skills among Latin America’s most competitive leagues.
Despite the fact that you’ll never see your local ESPN network cover either of these events, both have a ton of history behind them and tremendous fan-bases (ESPN’s Brazilian and regional Latin American affiliates cover both). They are also extraordinarily competitive and played at a very high skill level.
Latin American soccer and baseball are not the only options. There are also a whole range of winter sports that never show up on U.S. television schedules until the Olympics. In other words, the only thing preventing you from watching terrific, exciting sporting events in the middle of the annual mid-Winter lull is the fact that you would probably either need to pay an inordinate sum for satellite coverage or seek out unauthorized streams on websites that serve sketchy advertisements and mal-ware along with the game.
At the risk of making a very Ethan Zuckerman-esque point, the Internet makes it theoretically trivial to solve this problem, but that theoretical triviality only underscores a much bigger problem in the way our attention is distributed and canalized by a combination of cultural habits and incumbent media networks. In other words, maybe you’d be more likely to watch Neymar and Santos take on Palmeiras if either your local television network would it or if you could easily find a high quality stream broadcasting in English (I also enjoy watching these things online because I get to listen to Portuguese and Spanish language announcers). Indeed, as long as somebody is streaming a broadcast of any of these games anywhere around the world, there’s no practical reason that it isn’t possible to watch that stream anywhere else. But for a whole variety of reasons that I don’t fully understand, that just doesn’t happen yet.
My point is that American sports fans live in a media ecosystem that has not yet figured out what to do with its (long) tail. There has to be a better, less monopolistic solution than satellite and cable providers charging high rates for access to particular sports packages or leagues. This model ensures that only existing fans who are willing to pay to watch teams they already like will ever subscribe to such services, condemning these sports and teams to continued obscurity. Instead, it would be great to see some affordable way for fans to take advantage of existing Internet streams to experiment with new sports, new leagues, and new cultures by tuning into otherwise less popular or less well-known events when their hometown favorites are not in season.
April 14, 2009
USA Today has a really frustrating story about the UN’s abusive misuse of USAID funds for reconstruction projects in Afghanistan.
Basically, if you can think up a malicious way to screw up a development project, the UN probably did it. They built bridges that weren’t stable; “fixed” banks to make their basements leaky; and even siphoned funds into off-shore accounts.
USA Today includes a handy PDF of the USAID report.
For anyone who’s read James Ferguson’s classic The Anti-Politics Machine, this may all sound eerily familiar. Ferguson is a Cultural Anthropologist who teaches at Stanford. While the book is pretty heavy in the social theory department (if you don’t like Foucault, don’t even go there…), it chronicles how systematic failures occur as a consistent by-product of global governance and development organization interventions in the Global South.
This particular catastrophe is a totally different kind of failure than Ferguson talks about, but I think there’s a fantastic study to be done looking at how graft has become a systematic by-product of US interventions in the War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq.
We’ve gotten accustomed to passing off this kind of thing as a symptom or consequence of the Bush administration, but the problem with that explanation is that the phenomenon has replicated across such different bureaucracies and contexts. This is not just a few bad apples, it’s a series of institutions that unintentionally – but consistently – create opportunities for abuse.
April 10, 2009
Tony Curzon Price has a thoughtful piece at Open Democracy in which he examines what he calls The G20’s sins of commission.
I’m interested in a whole bunch of angles that Price explores, but the money shot for all you global governance and development geeks out there is a graph Curzon Price recycles from Paul Swartz at Council on Foreign Affairs Geo-Graphics blog:
Curzon Price goes on to use the graph to make an interesting (and important) claim about the implications of China’s newfound romance with the IFI’s and global regulation.
I, on the other hand, thought it would be kind of fun to play with the graph to try to get a better sense of what may have driven these changes in the IMF’s role over time. Since Swartz doesn’t share the data or source for his graphic, I’m reduced to hacking around with the .jpg in the GIMP (which made for a really fun distraction during a meeting the other day). Apologies for the resulting visual clutter, but here’s the same graph with some new knobs and bits. The bigger dots correspond to the events that accompanied the biggest shifts:
- Margaret Thatcher elected: May 1979
- Black Monday: Dec 1987
- Berlin Wall taken down: November, 1989
- Soviet Union Collapses: December 8, 1991
- Mexican Peso crisis: Dec 1994
- Asian Financial crisis: July 1997
- Brazil devalues the Real: Jan 1999
- Dot-com bubble bursts: March 10, 2000
- September 11, 2001
- Argentine debt default: Dec 2001
- US invades Iraq: March 20, 2003
- Brazil and Argentina pay off IMF debts: Dec. 2005
- Global Recession: October 2008
Some of the things I thought might correlate with sudden changes in the global weight of IMF lending – such as Black Monday (2); the Dot-com bubble burst (8); Argentina and Brazil paying off their debts (12) – didn’t seem to matter at all.
Others – such as Thatcher’s (and Reagan’s) election (1); the Mexican Peso crisis (5); and the 1-2 combo of the Asian (6) and Brazilian (7) financial crises – appear magnified when seen through this lens.
Most intriguing to me is the long steep slide that occurs following September 11, 2001 (9). My inclination is to explain that as the result of a perfect storm that combined the eroding credibility of the IMF (Joe Stiglitz, eat your heart out!) and a real estate derivative and petro-dollar fueled explosion of private lending world-wide. No matter how you slice it, though, there’s no denying that the world financial system has gone through some exceptionally dramatic changes in the last ten years.
Other than that, I don’t have a flashy Theory of Everything to explain all the data here. Heck, as I said, I don’t even have the data. Nevertheless, it’s fun to speculate.
October 31, 2008
Following up on my earlier post in response to this Guardian story that offered an un-attributed claim that Brazil was appealing to the IMF for loans, it now looks like the Guardian wasn’t so much wrong as just a little inaccurate fuzzy on the details. Whereas the original Guardian story had spun the situation as though the wealthy nations of the Global South had come to D.C. with hat in hand, it looks like a totally different situation is in fact unfolding. The new liquidity fund is meant to offer stable “A-list” economies of the South the chance to strengthen their currency reserves in the event that foreign investment flows continue to run dry. According to the WSJ:
The IMF’s new program, called the Short Term Liquidity Facility, would be used largely to pad a country’s reserves, which could help the recipient defend its currency. But the funds could also be used to help recapitalize banks or cover import bills.
The IMF plan is its clearest recognition that its insistence on tough conditions is driving away potential borrowers that might need its help. But the new plan also puts the IMF in the position of deciding who can have money with few strings attached, and who can’t.
The attempt to draw a bright clear line between “responsible” and “irresponsible” borrowers is certainly new. It will be interesting to see where it leads.
Back to Brazil, though.
Reuters (via the Economic Times of India) actually found someone in Brasilia to do some reporting and added the following:
Brazil welcomes a new liquidity fund proposed by the International Monetary Fund to help emerging markets but does not see a need to draw on the funds for now, a source close to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Wednesday.
“I don’t know if we will draw (on the fund) in the future. But we don’t need the money now,” the source said on condition of anonymity. The IMF board is considering a proposal for the Fund on Wednesday and an announcement is expected later in the day.
The Folha de São Paulo added even more critical details in its coverage, also noting that the IMF actions came in conjunction with an announcement that the US Federal Reserve will begin offering Brazil currency swaps at no cost in an effort to help the Lula government pump liquidity into the national economy:
The Central Bank [of Brazil] noted that, “these central banks of emerging economies with responsible fiscal policies and systemic importance,” will now be included in the global network of currency swaps.
The central banks of Australia, Canada, the Euro Zone, Denmark, the U.K., Norway, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.S. Federal Reserve are currently part of that network. (my translation).
The Folha’s account was reiterated by Bloomberg as well, although the New York-based financial news agency did see fit to print at least one offensive, infantilizing quote that portrayed the poor countries of the world as naughty elementary school students:
“The Fed is there to support large emerging markets that have done their homework over the past several years like South Korea, Brazil, Singapore and Mexico,” said Alonso Cervera, a Latin America economist with Credit Suisse Group in New York.
If the central bankers of the world just needed to do their homework in order to build stable economic systems, I’d like to think that Alan Greenspan wouldn’t have had such a hard time.
Anyhow, if I understand this correctly, the actions taken by the IMF and the Fed signal an effort to treat these four middle income countries with an unprecedented level of parity in response to a crisis that has far exceeded anyone’s expectations. The implications for the post-election day Global Financial Summit are intriguing: will the members of the G22 now have a more substantive place at the bargaining table with an embattled Europe and U.S.? If so, will the Southern super-powers use their authority to defend the interests of their less well-off neighbors or will they merely seek a bigger slice of the pie?
October 26, 2008
With the continued decline of financial markets and the threat of radical destablization throughout the Global South, I suspect that a consensus view that the IMF must step in to ensure the solvency of developing countries is already spreading quickly among the punditocracy and major news outlets.
Given the weakened condition of wealthy states and corporations, the IMF will play a major role in any sort of multilateral bailout. Indeed the crisis presents an opportunity for the Fund to resurrect itself after a number of very, very bad decisions made in the Neoliberal 1980’s and 90’s finally came home to roost, bringing shame upon the organization and its ideas.
The question is what kind of an IMF will we get this time around? The critical work of Joseph Stiglitz, Ngaire Woods, and others has provided ample evidence that the Fund’s proclivities for anti-poor policies were not an accident, but a systematic result of the organization’s structure and culture.
Since 2002 (when such positions first gained widespread traction), there has been much talk of reform – a trend which will no doubt continue well past November’s Global Financial Summit – but precious little action.
The U.S. and Europe still retain a ridiculous share of the voting power within the IMF, World Bank, and the WTO, virtually guaranteeing that they will strong arm through whatever solutions they deem fit. While Ambassadors, Trade Representatives, and their ilk may talk a good game about promoting equality through increased multilateral liberalization, the bottom line is that truly equitable trade will not come about without a substantial sacrifice by the traditional “Great Powers” of the West. The recent trend of the U.S. and E.U. pursuing absurd schemes to evade accountability and transparency by undermining global forums also belies any rhetoric of good will.
Does the IMF have what it takes to bring about a true shift in the underlying structures of the global financial system? I doubt it, but it will be revealing to see just how hard Dominique Strauss-Khan (if he holds onto his job now that he has officially held onto his job despite a sex scandal) and his colleagues will try.
October 20, 2008
We have now seen first full week of trading since last weekend’s Euro-American attempt to stop the bleeding in the world’s financial markets. From any perspective, the results have been sobering.
Among the economic punditosphere, some consensus seems to be emerging (sweetheart bailouts = bad); however economists of various ideological stripes still offer competing explanations of the causes and effects of the crisis (for examples, see Tyler Cowen #1 and #2, Daniel Davies, and Arnold King), as well as a whole range of propositions about how to fix it.
Meanwhile, Mssrs. Bush and Sarkozy have announced plans to initiate a sort of Bretton Woods Redux at Camp David after the U.S. elections.
Taken together, these signs suggest that the captains of the global political economy may attempt to plot a bold new course in the coming months. Nevertheless, I remain suspicious that we’re really witnessing little more than a noisy shuffling of deck-chairs on a badly listing ship.
Certainly, the deluge of analogies linking the present era to the time when the Bretton Woods Conference was held are incomplete at best. The original conference did not happen at the first signs of global financial collapse (circa 1930-something), but rather in the midst of the resulting violence and global destruction of World War II (1944).
That era was one in which the U.S. and U.K. could quasi-legitimately claim to represent the core of the global financial system. The result was a naked demonstration of military and economic power thinly disguised as diplomacy. Richard Peet describes in his (richly detailed, but theoretically unsatisfying) book, Unholy Trinity: The IMF, World Bank and WTO how the outcomes of the New Hampshire meetings reflected their origins in back-room deals between U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Harry Dexter White and his counterparts working under Lord John Maynard Keynes. It was no coincidence that the resulting institutional arrangements so blatantly favored European and American interests. The event had been carefully engineered to ensure such an outcome.
What will the upcoming round of global economic talks look like? In a somewhat non-analytical, but nonetheless provocative piece published yesterday morning, DailyKos editor Devilstower gets to the heart of the matter. Here are three key quotes (emphasis added):
“While we are fretting about our plans to restore the broken economy, there’s one point that isn’t making the debates, and only rarely making the news. In many ways, we will no longer be the masters of our own economic ship. The factors that will most affect us in the future may no longer be under our control, or in the hands of those inclined to place our needs very high on their list of concerns.”
“After sixty years of Bretton Woods, the world is looking for a less dollar-centric alternative to our current fiscal system. And they’re not begging for our permission.”
“As the world meets in global summit to “rebuild capitalism,” the United States may host the event, but don’t expect the rest of the world to turn to America for ideas. Instead, they will try and sort out if we are AIG — salvageable, and possibly too large to fail — or Lehman Brothers — a former titan allowed to crash on the rocks.”
I agree with this assessment, although Devilstower’s claim that Europe will play a bigger role this time around ignores a more profound shift in the balance of global economic power. Given their current over-leveraged positions, the U.S. and the E.U. will be forced to cede some authority to the big players and creditors of the Global South (China, India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, U.A.E. etc.). Thus, the analogy between the U.S. and AIG or Lehman is appropriate, but mis-specified: it will not be Europe that decides whether or not to make the call on this nation’s accumulated fiscal warrants.
My intuition is that these summits will look a lot more like the recently collapsed Doha round of negotiations at the WTO. In the foreground, the U.S. and European leaders will carry on a great shadow-play of magnanimity and cooperation. The opening gambit has already been made in the World Bank, where the U.S. has recently surrendered its long-cherished “right” to appoint the organization’s President.
At the bargaining table, however, these same U.S. and E.U. negotiators will flatly refuse to accept the fact that they are no longer the masters of the universe. Instead, they will bully, threaten, and backstab their way to a total impasse – or at best a watered-down statement of “principles” with no real institutional teeth to back it up (sound familiar?). This has been the pattern for a few years now, and I would be pleasantly surprised if it were to suddenly disappear when big issues made their way onto the table.