Friday, January 27, 2012

Good Reasons and Bad Reasons to turn to ABM

A few people have asked me my thoughts on agent-based modeling.  I do have some, and you can find them below the fold, but let me preface my remarks by saying that you should no more trust what a game theorist says about agent-based models than you should trust what an agent-based modeler says about game theory -- which, as I'll argue below, means you probably shouldn't trust it very much.

For that reason, I have asked Kyle Joyce, a good friend of mine who teaches Complex Adaptive Systems at UC-Davis, to write a guest post responding to this one.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Actually, Dr. House is Not My Role Model

Vikash Yadav over at the Duck writes:
House is the most rational person in the world; House is a complete drug addict. These two statements are not a contradiction within the parameters of the show. House is a calculating, self-interested, rational utility maximizer par excellence. His utility is pleasure and his pleasure is avoiding pain... and of course getting more pleasure. He is Bentham's man; he is John Stuart Mill's homo-economicus; he is a neo-liberal fantasy in the flesh. House is not a complete human being by any stretch of the imagination and yet this is the human being idealized by rational choice theorists.
Clearly, this is meant to be a light-hearted post.  I get that.  And I don't have any against Yadav.  I usually find his posts to be interesting and insightful.  What follows is most decidedly not intended to be a criticism of him, but of the view he expresses here -- which I think is shared by many.  I'm simply using this post as an impetus to beat a horse that, to my continued dismay, seems to still have some life left in it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How Not to Write Referee Reports

There's a lot of very good advice out there about how to do it right.  See here, and here, as well as the links therein.  But I'm a crank, so I'm going to focus on what not to do.  (See also here.)

Is China a Security Threat to the US?

Beckley's article has sparked an interesting debate about whether China is actually catching up to the US.  Drezner provides characteristically insightful comments here.  Erik Voeten over at the Monkey Cage weighs in on a few points here.  Both are relatively receptive to Beckley's claim (though Voeten, like me, takes issue with some of the specific points Beckley lays out).  What really caught my attention though is Voeten's point here:
Yet, this also points me to the biggest problem I have with this article: the intellectual strait-jacket it imposes that forces us to see world politics as a zero-sum game.
So, if we believe that China is catching up, then [according to Beckley], mercantilism is the only answer. This neither reflects the conventional wisdom nor prudent policy advice. China “catching up” does not equal China “taking over the world” nor does it equate a future world where Americans can expect to be catering to their Chinese overlords. This may be the view of some alarmists but mainstream analysts can think of many good reasons to maintain a liberal international economic policy even if China is catching up.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

This is What Bargaining Looks Like

US-American Indians Edition

The new issue of AJPS contains a fascinating article by Arthur Spirling, "U.S. Treaty Making with American Indians: Institutional Change and Relative Power, 1784-1911."

I saw an earlier version of this at Polmeth.  And the paper is indeed primarily a methods paper.  But readers of this blog may be interested in what the analysis the data Spirling compiles from the roughly 600 treaties negotiated between the US government and the American Indians tells us about bargaining.

Friday, January 20, 2012

How Not to Think About China's Rise

In a new article in International Security, Michael Beckley claims that the Chinese Century is a myth.  This has attracted the attention of Andrew Sullivan.

There's a lot of information in the article.  I'm not going to engage all of it.  Suffice it to say that Beckley's careful argument deserves close attention, and by no means does it rise or fall on the basis of the one point I'm going to hone in on.  Let me be clear that my goal here is to nitpick with one particular aspect of his argument: Figure 1, which Sulllivan reproduced in his post.  It is not, by any means, the entirety of his argument.  But it's perhaps the most eye-catching.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Stop Asking "Do Sanctions Work?"

Whenever someone proposes responding to a crisis with sanctions, the first response is that sanctions don't work.  Then there's a flurry of media stories asking the question "Do sanctions work?" or "Can sanctions work in [country x]?".

There are three good reasons why we should break this cycle.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Democracy, Intelligence, and War Outcomes

One of the primary reasons I am skeptical about the putative link between democracy and victory is that I don't see any compelling reason to expect it to be true in the first place.*

Most of the arguments for why democracies should win their wars more often are actually fairly intuitive at first glance.  But when you dig deeper, you realize that there are some problems.  The selection effects argument, which R&S put more emphasis on than the war-fighting effect (I may have more to say about the war-fighting effect at some point) ultimately rests upon a decision theoretic view of the world (see this post).  To their credit, R&S are upfront about this.**

What happens if we assume, unlike R&S, that politics actually has distributional consequences (remember Lasswell -- politics is about who gets what), and that states may use either war or negotiation to allocate disputed goods?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Re-Upping My Predictions for Afghanistan

I've made some predictions in the past on this blog, and my track record is, admittedly, mixed at best.  So take this with a grain of salt.  But, for what it's worth, I'm repeating, and clarifying, my expectations for Afghanistan.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Diversionary Conflict

Nothing brings a people together like a common enemy.  One of the most consistent findings in the literature on presidential approval is the "rally-round-the-flag" effect, or the tendency for the public to suddenly decide that their leader has been doing a wonderful job during times of crisis.  The greatest example of this is 9/11, but it's a general phenomenon.

Ever since this was discovered, scholars have worried that presidents might have an incentive to go out looking for a crisis when things aren't going so well for them domestically.  Instances where leaders enter into crises in order to divert the public's attention away from domestic problems are known as diversionary conflicts.

Sometime this week, I hope to finally wrap up what I hope will be my last set of revisions on the last paper I will ever write about the topic.  (When I do, I'll post a link.)  In anticipation of that, this post offer's a layman's version of the arguments my co-author, Daehee Bak, and I present in attempt to demonstrate that there's nothing to see here.

Monday, January 9, 2012

What Does That Mean?

I'll be teaching American Foreign Policy again this semester for the first time in a few years.  And though I've already decided not to use any textbooks, I'm looking through some of the ones that publishers have sent me, and fighting the urge to vomit.

Am I teaching political science, or some mix of high school civics, diplomatic history, and current events?

Of course, that's the poli sci textbook market in general.  Nothing unique to AFP.  The one thing I am finding that resonates through most AFP texts that I don't find in other undergrad texts (at least in IR -- I can't speak for American politics) is the emphasis on American exceptionalism.  It's not just a topic most feel the need to cover, which would be perfectly understandable.  Rather, it seems that most texts on the market have a lurking, implicit assumption in favor of American exceptionalism.

And the more I think about it, the more I find that I'm not even entirely sure what the word means.

Bargaining and Conflict Over Natural Resources

To judge by what I've seen in some recent working papers and published articles, there's still a lot of confusion out there about what "rationalist" explanations for war (read: simple crisis bargaining models) do or do not predict empirically.*  It seems a lot of people think that all Fearon told us is that war is more likely when there is more uncertainty or when power is shifting rapidly, and that all other factors lie outside the scope of "rationalist" explanations for war.

An easy mistake to make.  I'm not judging anyone here.  As a grad student, I believed something very much like this, and told a fellow grad student of mine that bargaining theory told us that natural resources shouldn't affect the likelihood of war.  But I couldn't have been more wrong.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Proposal Power, Revisionism, and Initiation

The ultimatum has become the workhorse of theoretical analysis of crisis bargaining.  Partly, this is just because it is the simplest bargaining protocol, and we've come to believe that it's important to allow for the possibility of bargaining.  But some of us would go so far as to say that it is justifiable to assume away the possibility of counteroffers, for various reasons (more on that below).

If you're willing to buy that, though, you might nonetheless ask: does it matter who the proposer is?  Under the ultimatum protocol, one side has all the bargaining power.  Not just in the literal sense that they choose the terms of the agreement, but in the more meaningful sense that this ensures that the responder will never receive an outcome that is even the tiniest bit better than their outside option.

Usually, we put no thought into this.  Depending upon the question you want to ask, it may not actually make any difference.  But, other times, it does.  So how do we decide who plays what role?  Should/does proposal power correspond to revisionist aims (i.e., dissatisfaction with the status quo), as I assume explicitly here?  Should/does proposal power correspond to being the side that will be the initiator of armed conflict, as Slantchev explicitly assumes here?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Are Democracies Better at Maximizing Security?

As regular readers have no doubt noticed by now, while I do very much believe that domestic politics plays an important role in shaping international outcomes, I'm a skeptic when it comes to the many glorious and wonderful things IR scholarship has allegedly demonstrated about democracy (see here, here, here, herehere, here, here, here, and here).  But as I've done many times in the past, I'm going to, for the duration of this post, take these claims at face value and focus on an unappreciated logical implication of even the most optimistic of accounts.  I won't even question whether democracies really do select themselves into conflicts that can be won quickly and easily (really, I won't, not even parenthetically).

In their book, Reiter and Stam claim not only that democracies win the wars they select themselves into, but that "the attributes associated with democratic institutions, those that provide for personal liberty, freedom of expression, and collective material growth of common citizens, [are] also the same attributes that, in the worst of times, allow states to provide for their national security as well."  That is, "[i]t would appear that democratic nations not only might enjoy the good life of peace, prosperity and freedom; they can also defend themselves against outside threats from tyrants and despots" (page 2).

We can have our cake and eat it too.  What's not to love?

Miscellaneous Links (updated again)

A longer list than usual, but it's been a while since I posted one of these.  As you can see, I've been thinking a lot about Iran lately.  I'll probably have more to say about that soon.  For now, I'm still trying to sort out my thoughts.

Iran and 9/11

Many of you may already be aware of this.  I somehow was not, until a friend mentioned it on Twitter.