Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Contrarian View of NSF Funding (UPDATED)

I'm every bit as tired of lazy attacks on our field that fundamentally misunderstand social science as everyone else is.  I have not a word to say in defense of the Stevens op-ed, and though it's unnecessary to do so, I'll even add my voice to the chorus of those denouncing it (see here, herehere, and here).

But I've also got this strange obsession with internal consistency, and it's making it hard for me to swallow the collective response of political scientists to the threat of having our funding withdrawn.  Symbolic politics is, quite frankly, disgusting.  And, to be sure, that's all the attack from "small government" conservatives (who don't actually want a small government) is.  The thing is, though, so is "but political science is really valuable, so we, like, totally deserve the support of the US taxpayer."

Friday, June 22, 2012

Measuring Military Capabilities

There have been some interesting discussions about how to measure the position of the United States relative to China in the past few months (see here for an earlier take).

One point that has been made a few times, particularly by Beckley, is that we put too much weight on the sheer size of a country. If you took a middling power and added 50 million or so desperately poor, illiterate, starving people, both their GDP and CINC scores (available here, under the National Material Capabilities page of Available Data Sets) would increase dramatically. Yet none of us really believe that such a nation would grow appreciably stronger as a result. It's high time someone proposed a measure that is immune to this criticism.

I doubt it's perfect (in fact, I'm sure it's not), but I'd like to propose such a measure. It focuses exclusively on military components, and so I'm imaginatively calling it M.

Breaking Down Fearon 1997

So far in this series, we've discussed the importance of allowing for the possibility of negotiation if we are to construct a compelling explanation for war (see here), as well as the additional insights that come from modeling the negotiation process a bit more fully (see here and here). I'll have a lot more to say about what happens when we relax various other assumptions from the basic ultimatum crisis bargaining model, but before we go any further down that road, I want to take some time to talk about costly signaling.

The stylized account that one sees entirely too often is that Fearon 1995 told us that war occurs because of information problems, and Fearon 1997 told us that the way to overcome information problems is to rely on costly signaling. In fact, costly signaling has literally become the textbook prescription for peace.\(^1\)

There are a few problems with this account. I won't go into any of them here, though. In a few weeks, I'll be posting a new version of my costly signaling paper. If you're curious about why I'm suggesting that costly signaling isn't the panacea that many believe it to be, I encourage you to take a look when I do.

But for now, let's look more closely at Fearon's arguments.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Party ID Ain't Everything

Whenever I discuss my work on opposition parties, the question of "who is the opposition, exactly?" comes up.  Which is fair enough -- it's an important question, and I often (deliberately) gloss over it.  Truthfully, the best answer would be a messy one.  But if forced to give a concrete answer, I'd say it's the center-left.  Wars fought by democratic states typically begin with support from both the center-left and the center-right, become politically divisive when (and if) the center-left turns against the war, and become hugely unpopular when (and if) the center-right also turns against the war .\(^1\)

To hear Americanists tell it, though, it's obviously the party out of power. Ideology means nothing, party ID everything. Republicans oppose wars fought by Democrats and Democrats oppose wars fought by Republicans. A colleague of mine recently assured me that Democrats are more supportive of the war in Afghanistan than are Republicans for precisely this reason.

A new survey administered by YouGov begs to differ. (There's actually a lot of interesting information here, but I draw your attention specifically to Q12).

Friday, June 15, 2012

Why Iran Will Agree to Cease Enriching Uranium

It's still too early to tell for sure how the crisis over Iran's nuclear program will end, but there are growing signs that a negotiated agreement in which Iran agrees to cease enriching uranium to 20% is fairly likely.

In this post, I'll first briefly discuss what those signs are, then develop an argument for why we might expect such an outcome in the first place.