19 April 2012

Nobody cares about foreign policy

Above is a screenshot of the navigation bar from the Obama 2012 Web site.

What's really remarkable about this is that the only mention of international topics comes under the rubric "National Security."

I'm hardly a subscriber to the securitization literature, but there really does seem to be something to the fact that the Obama campaign--which is presumably thinking about how to attract liberal and independents--doesn't think about "Foreign Policy" as a valuable tool to that end. Instead, it thinks about "National Security."

There are two points to be made here for students of international relations.

09 April 2012

Drinking To Prosperity and Freedom [Updated]

The sound, taste, and look of freedom and prosperity.
A Bavarian barmaid serves beer during Oktoberfest.
There is absolutely no reason in the world why I should be asking about the relationship between alcohol consumption and prosperity, human rights, and democracy.

On the other hand, there's data! Thanks to the WTO, it's actually possible to do the sort of social science that horrifies PTJ but which involves numbers and statistics. Ergo, it's science.

So, I start with a simple question. Why do countries vary in their consumption of alcohol? We might think that there are two competing theories. The first is that alcohol consumption is largely culturally determined; the second is that alcohol consumption is a normal good, subject to the sort of demand and supply curves that affect all other goods.

From the first, we might deduce further that more politically liberal countries will see higher alcohol consumption; similarly, countries with more conservative religious traditions--which I operationalize, largely on the back of the envelope, as percent Muslim--will drink less. From the second, we deduce that richer countries will drink more.

(There will be no broad conclusions here, as I largely just wanted to have some experience merging datasets and playing around with some packages in Stata and R.)

We start with exploratory graphs. [UPDATE: I added a second plot, which I think is a little nicer.]

Plot shows alcohol consumption plotted against per-capita GDP.
Alcohol consumption statistics come from the World Health Organization.
Polity Score and Percent Muslim from the Quality of Government dataset.

Plot shows alcohol consumption plotted against per-capita GDP.
Polity Score and Region from the Quality of Government dataset.

08 April 2012

The price elasticity of labor-saving devices

Andrew Gelman passes along a great chart (via here and originally here):

In his post, Gelman praises the cleanliness of the graph, and I think that's fair--it's pretty. However, it's not obviously a great data visualization, since neither the color nor the type of the lines used convey any information beyond making the graph readable, which seems a waste (couldn't the colors had been chosen based on time-to-80% adoption or something?).

Like others, however, I find this a useful spur to thinking. In my case, looking at the S-shaped curves of adoption for most (but not all!) technologies, I thought of diffusion theorizing. In this case, what seems to be driving differential adoption rates is first the fact that relative prices for all of these innovations have fallen really far as per-capita GDP has risen and prices for manufactured goods have fallen. (Consider the "computer" in this context, which has surely changed the most of all of the innovations over time.) 

Second, what is most obvious (to me, anyway) is the profound labor-price elasticity here. 

07 April 2012

I don't think that word means what you think it means

Dear The Atlantic: "Matters" does not refer to anything in that box. Please adjust your editorial standards accordingly.

A Magnum is a period piece

One of the constants in my somewhat protean political affiliations has been a siding with what Europeans conceive of as an American form of justice--which is to say, something that approximates the criminal justice standards prevailing in late nineteenth-century Texas. The less-famous monologue from Dirty Harry expresses this pretty well:
[Harry is getting a dressing-down for his most recent arrest
District Attorney Rothko: You're lucky I'm not indicting you for assault with intent to commit murder. 
Harry Callahan: What? 
District Attorney Rothko: Where the hell does it say that you've got a right to kick down doors, torture suspects, deny medical attention and legal counsel? Where have you been? Does Escobedo ring a bell? Miranda? I mean, you must have heard of the Fourth Amendment. What I'm saying is that man had rights.
Harry Callahan: Well, I'm all broken up over that man's rights! (Source)
So, yes, I like Dirty Harry even as I recognize that this pretty much makes me side with some fairly far right-wing affections. Of course, the world of Dirty Harry is right-wing pornography, in which "git tuff" policies actually work and criminality is a consquence of a diet low in moral fiber.

Now, that being said, it is a great work of right-wing pornography. And that is why I'm delighted to find Dirty Harry Filming Locations, which puts the film into real perspective.

Update: I'm following Dirty Harry with The Hunt for Red October, which is a similarly inflected film about honor, duty, and misguided liberal social systems. That's a joke. But the opening few minutes--with the "Hymn to Red October"--kind of makes me yearn for the bad old days.