Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Once More on Military Capabilities

I previously introduced a new measure of military capabilities, \(M\), which is intended to capture the size and sophistication of a nation's military relative to prevailing standards of the day, here.  Some legitimate concerns were raised about how the scores were calculated, so I adjusted the measure.

The real question is how to normalize the raw military data to reflect prevailing standards of the day.  In my previous two attempts, I did this through the use of arbitrary constants.  This is unsatisfactory for a variety of reasons.  I've decided to instead base the \(M\) scores on 5-year moving averages.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

If Institutions Matter a Little, They Matter a Lot

A strong correlation between cooperation and membership in international institutions is not enough to establish that international institutions cause cooperation.   If we're to claim that institutions matter, we need to at least identify mechanisms by which institutions might promote cooperation among actors who would otherwise be disinclined to cooperate with one another.  The mere fact that such mechanisms can be articulated does not itself tell us whether the correlation is causal, but it lends a certain measure of plausible to causal interpretations that would otherwise be lacking.

Indeed, scholars have identified a variety of such mechanisms, from raising reputation costs to solving coordination problems to monitoring compliance and thereby overcoming information problems.  But even committed neo-liberals will generally grant that these arguments merely identify ways in which institutions provide a little push that can make the difference when (and only when) states almost meet the conditions under which cooperation would occur in an anarchic world.  And if that's all that institutions do, then they can't really matter all that much, can they?

Actually, yes.  

If you grant that international institutions matter at the margins, you've already conceded that they make a big difference to the overall level of cooperation we can expect to observe in the international system.  Look below the fold for an explanation.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Breaking Down Bueno de Mesquita 2005

This series has focused so far on interstate crisis bargaining.  There are some important pieces that I still want to cover in that area, but for now, let me turn my attention to terrorism.

In "Conciliation, Counterterrorism, and Patterns of Terrorist Violence," Ethan Bueno de Mesquita seeks to explain why governments offer concessions to groups that engage in terrorist violence despite the tendency for violence to increase afterwards.  If offering concessions only invites more terrorism, as appears to be the case, what reason could governments possibly have for doing so?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Some Thoughts on Voting (UPDATED)

Suppose I invite you to bet with me on the outcome of some large set of random trials.  I'm a bit of a jerk though, so I'm offering you terms that are a tad unfair.  I'm going to make a prediction about the number of trials that turn out a certain way, and if I'm right, you'll owe me $120, while I'll only owe you $100 if I'm wrong.

If I told you that the set of random trials would be 6 million rolls of a fair die, with my bet being that the number of 6's that will be observed will be greater than 3 million, you'd be a fool to turn down the bet.  Sure, there's more in it for me if I win than there is for you, but you don't need to be a statistician to know that the odds are overwhelmingly in your favor here.

If, on the other hand, I told you that my prediction is that the number of 6's observed will be more than 1 million, you'd be well-advised to decline my bet.  If I offered you fair terms, that might be another story, but there's too much uncertainty here for the terms I've offered to be attractive.

The two scenarios I described clearly differ in that respect.  But let's look at this from another angle.  What are the odds that the very last roll of the die would have made the difference between my prediction being correct or not in the two cases?  Without going into too much technical detail, the answer is that it would be a teeny tiny bit higher in the latter case, but scarcely different from zero in either case.  We're talking 6 million random trials, after all.

What's the point of this?