Global warming, or the big chill?

Just when Tom Schelling had almost convinced me that sacrificing a lot of other things now to prevent global warming in half a century probably didn’t make sense on either equity or efficiency grounds, Brad Delong points to a really scary scenario about changes in the Great Ocean Conveyor and the Gulf Stream. Apparently we could be in for a new Little Ice Age, and relatively soon. Once started, it would likely run for centuries, and the winters in the Northeastern US and and in Europe would average about 10 degrees F colder than they are now. The warning comes from the head of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, who presumably knows what he’s talking about. He reports that we’re close to the threshold right now, and that we could see major changes “within a decade.”

Okay, we all know the Kyoto agreement was a crock and that all the other signatories were delighted to have Bush to blame for killing it, rather than having it fall of its own weight. But has anyone in the Bush Administration even thought about what to do instead?

Maybe the idea is to have enough burning oil fields in Iraq and surrounding areas that the resulting airborne particulate matter increases the albedo of the earth. Might work….

WAITING….. I’m waiting for the


I’m waiting for the respectable leadership of the African-American community to denounce Amiri Baraka’s blood libel — is there another word for it? — about the “4000 Israelis” (modified from the canonical “4000 Jews”) who allegedly failed to show up for work at the World Trade Center on September 11.

Of course, I’m still waiting for that same leadership to denounce the anti-Semitic remarks made, not only by Cynthia McKinney and her father, but by the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, after McKinney’s primary defeat in Georgia.

[Sings, badly off key: “I’m so tired, tired of waiting, tired of waiting for yoooo – oooooo – ooooo.”]




The warhawks and warbloggers assure us that the couple of hundred billion it’s going to cost us to invade and occupy Iraq is really spare change in a ten trillion dollar economy. If we need to do it, we can afford to do it.

Actually, that’s right. It is, and we can. I just wish the same folks could remember that principle when it comes to other forms of government spending.

Mitch Daniels wants to save money by cutting back on literacy programs for prisoners, which more than pay for themselves in reduced recidivism. What’s his next bright idea: saving on health care costs by eliminating flu shots? Details here.




From “The Architecture of Theories,” published in The Monist in January 1891.

“There is room for serious doubt whether the fundamental laws of mechanics hold good for single atoms, and it seems quite likely that they are capable of motion in more than three dimensions.”

No, that’s not a misprint. 1891.

How long did you say they’d been doing superstring theory?



Like the proverbial bad penny, the argument about whether Sweden is poorer than Mississippi, thereby demonstrating the superiority of capitalism to socialism (no, really, I’m not making this up; here’s the link to the whole controversy) continues to come back.

John Ray , for example, the Grand Inquisitor who has assigned himself the task of exposing and extirpating the leftist heresy, defends GDP per capita as an “objective” measure of well-being.

A few points in summary:

1. As measured by GDP per capita, Sweden is indeed poorer than the US, though richer than France, Britain, or Germany.

2. Anyone who has visited both Sweden and Mississippi will doubt that the latter is in any meaningful sense richer.

3. Even comparing to the US as a whole, Swedes are, on average, better-educated and longer-lived; these are crude and partial, but still significant, measures of overall well-being.

4. GDP per capita is, as Ray says, an accounting measure of total market-traded or tax-financed economic activity. It was not designed as a measure of net welfare, even net material welfare.

5. Leisure, clean air, safe and comfortable working conditions, personal security from criminal victimization, high educational standards, and highway safety are all aspects of material well-being omitted from the GDP measure. GDP also fails to account for resource depletion, whether of the forests in Brazil or the water table under Phoenix, Arizona.

6. It’s true that any specific adjustment to the GDP measure will involve judgments that are in some sense political. But that does not make GDP an “objective” measure of welfare. Using it that way implies a judgment that the value of leisure hours is zero. That isn’t political: it’s simply wrong.

The whole controversy has been, I submit, silly from its inception. Only the desperate need of some conservatives and libertarians to believe that Sweden, which pursues policies they condemn, must therefore be in terrible shape, explains it. After all, it would have been equally true to say, “After a decade of Thatcherite rule, Britain was poorer than Mississippi,” or “The disastrous policies of the Berlusconi regime have made Italy poorer than Mississippi,” or “The Austrian flirtation with a neo-Nazi government has left it poorer than Mississippi,” since Sweden is richer, on a GDP per capita basis, than Britain, Italy, or Austria. But of course saying any of those things would have been foolish.


Nick Scultz of provides some useful perspective:

First, most people know Sweden from its cities (Stockholm, in particular) but the Swedish countryside is extraordinarily poor and the worst off there have fared extremely poorly in the last few decades.

Quality of life measures can be misleading. For example, critics of the comparison between the two point out how much more leisure time Swedes have. But leisure time is defined as time away from their official places of work.

And that’s a misleading statistic. Given the generous welfare benefits and the differences in immigration policies, Swedes spend a lot of their “leisure time” doing work that Americans pay others to do for them (household chores, etc.)

Also, you have to remember that the reason people feel as strongly as they do about this is that Sweden was THE model of workable socialism in the west – when I was in college in the early 1990s, Sweden was touted by every political science department in the country (save, maybe, Hillsdale or the University of Chicago) as the last best hope for socialism given the failures of Soviet communism. But the overall point is that Sweden hasn’t really “worked” – in terms of being an innovative, growing, wealthy welfare state – as well as some of its loudest champions said it did. A minor

point, but not an altogether insignificant one in a sense.

This isn’t to say that American-style capitalism is the answer. Indeed, I’d probably rather live in Sweden than Mississippi. For what that’s worth.

International Relations heavyweights come out against invading Iraq

Thirty-three leading scholars in international relations and international security published an ad opposing the invasion of Iraq on the New York Times op-ed page last Thursday. It hasn’t gotten much attention in the blogosphere, partly because the balance of discussion here leans hawkish and partly because, as it turns out, the Times rips off its advertisers by not including the texts of opinion ads on its website, so the text and signers list has been unavailable on line.

Download file

It caught my eye because it carried the names of two of my mentors, Thomas Schelling and Carl Kaysen, both of them scarily smart, calm, wise, famous, serious, not chronic signers or doves, and indisputably expert on questions of strategy. (Schelling is the author of the game-theory classic The Strategy of Conflict and of Arms and Influence; Kaysen went from the Kennedy White House to the Directorship of the Institute for Advanced Study.)

My friends who follow IR tell me that the rest of the list is comparably heavyweight, with Mearshimer (who seems to have been the prime organizer), Walt, Waltz, and Glaser apparently especially noteworthy. The group also stands out because several of the signers, including Mearshimer, are distinctly of the “realist” rather than the “legalist” school in international relations; if they say they think a war isn’t in our national interests, that’s what they mean, not that they think war isn’t nice.

So I take it the members of the group are expressing their expert opinion rather than merely lending their prestige to support their political tendencies. That doesn’t mean they’re necesarily right. But it does mean that those of us who know less about these matters than they do owe their views some deference. I observe with concern that the position they’ve taken is more dovish than the one I’ve been tentatively offering; they’re prepared to say that war is not a good alternative even if we can’t force SH to disarm without it. I’d like to know if there are people with equivalent credentials on the pro-war side of the question.

Too much of what is said on the anti-war side of the debate comes from sources it’s easy to dismiss: pacifists, or near-pacifists, and reflexive opponents of anything the US does overseas. Roughly speaking, I’m not really interested in hearing from anyone who opposed the Gulf War or the war that removed the Taliban from power; I can guess where they stand before they say anything, and the net effect of their intervention is probably to build support for Bush.

But this statement, like the testimony of Clark and Shalikashvili, is in a different league. I’m starting to get very queasy about all this; we may be about to bite off more than we can chew.


A friend who does this stuff for a living, and is fully qualified to evaluate the statement, reports that:

1. The list of signers is so heavyweight it could be a sumo team.

2. The arguments don’t hold water. Deterrence is fine if you don’t have any alternative, but a disarming strike is more reliable as self-defense. SH may or may not be fully deterrable, and there’s always the risk that he will pass WMD’s along to Al Qaeda or someone else to use against us without leaving any Iraqi fingerprints. Moreover,

It has become increasingly clear that many regimes in the region, most notably Saudi Arabia, are morally bankrupt and politically untenable over the long term. If we are to be on the right side of history (and protect vital US interests) the US needs to think strategically and creatively about changing the status quo, not preserving it. War against Iraq will be costly, I agree. But costs alone shouldn’t drive US policy. Costs weighed against potential benefits should. In my view, the math argues for war now.


I am deeply troubled by the idea that we should not act unless/until the threat of SH becomes ‘imminent.’ ( A point not made explicitly in the ad but one that lurks beneath the surface). If we believe the ad, we attack only after we or our allies have been hit. Some defense!

A more generous interpretation — that we invade only if Saddam appears to be on the verge of attacking the US or an ally — assumes our intelligence is good, which it isn’t. Remember India and Pakistan in 1998? We learned of the “imminent testing” only AFTER the nuclear devices had already gone off. (It’s kind of like having a burglar alarm that sounds only once you’ve been shot in the head). The “wait until we’re in greater danger” approach also suggests a naive understanding of military operations. We need weeks, if not months, to adequately deploy to the Middle East for any serious invasion. Recommending a quickie “invasion on the fly” in the event things go south isn’t just misguided. It’s misleading. It suggests a false sense of the possible. IR theorists should know better.

So there you have it. Now, the fact that the arguments in the ad aren’t convincing to a professional doesn’t mean that the conclusions are wrong, or that the people who wrote the add don’t have better arguments, or effective refutations to the ones above. But at least someone who understands the issues, and has read the arguments as presented, isn’t convinced, and thinks we ought to go to war.

I’m still in doubt.


Perhaps it might have occurred to you that some of what is written here about George W. Bush’s veracity (vel non) might have some slight taint of partisan bias. Funny, the same thing had occurred to me. So I’m always looking for ways to conduct reality checks.

Consider, then, this story from today’s New York Times

September 28, 2002

Rumsfeld Says U.S. Has ‘Bulletproof’ Evidence of Iraq’s Links to Al Qaeda


ATLANTA, Sept. 27 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said today that American intelligence had “bulletproof” evidence of links between Al Qaeda and the government of President Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

Mr. Rumsfeld said that recently declassified intelligence reports about suspected ties between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi government, including the presence of senior members of Al Qaeda in Baghdad in “recent periods,” were “factual” and “exactly accurate.”

His comments today were the latest in a string of statements this week by senior administration officials – including Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s national security adviser, and Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman – that seemed to raise the prospects of new proof linking Al Qaeda and Iraq.

But in each case, the officials have offered no details to back up the assertions. Mr. Rumsfeld said today that doing so would jeopardize the lives of spies and dry up sources of other information. He also acknowledged that the information he described was probably not strong enough to hold up in an American court.

“If our quest is for proof positive, we probably will be left somewhat unfulfilled,” Mr. Rumsfeld said at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon here. “We’re not going to have everything beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The statements this week by senior administration officials have reopened a debate over the extent to which Iraq has ties to Al Qaeda. The administration had set aside serious efforts to prove this link in favor of a strategy that focused on what it contends is the threat from Iraq posed by weapons of mass destruction.

Administration officials say there is still no evidence to link Mr. Hussein directly to the attacks on Sept. 11 in the United States. Some intelligence and law enforcement officials said today, in addition, that there was little new in what Mr. Rumsfeld and others were describing.

But the new statements of suspected links between Al Qaeda and Iraq happen to come at a time when the administration is trying to muster support both on Capitol Hill and at the United Nations for a resolution backing military action against Iraq, should Mr. Bush chose that path.

Mr. Bush on Wednesday talked about the danger “that Al Qaeda becomes an extension of Saddam’s madness.”

On Wednesday night, Ms. Rice said that “there are some Al Qaeda personnel who found refuge in Baghdad” after the American air campaign in Afghanistan began last October. She also said high-ranking prisoners at the United States Naval Station in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had told investigators that Iraq had provided some training to Al Qaeda in developing chemical weapons.

On Thursday, Mr. Rumsfeld said that contacts between Al Qaeda and Iraq had increased since 1998. “We do have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of Al Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad,” he said. “We have what we consider to be very reliable reporting of senior-level contacts going back a decade, and of possible chemical- and biological-agent training.”

But Mr. Rumsfeld added that the report of training in chemical and biological agents came from only one source. Other intelligence supports that report, but comes from less-reliable sources, officials said.

Even as Mr. Rumsfeld appeared to be offering new proof, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met significant skepticism on Thursday from members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“To say, `Yes, I know there is evidence there, but I don’t want to tell you any more about it,’ that does not encourage any of us,” said Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican. “Nor does it give the American public a heck of a lot of faith that, in fact, what anyone is saying is true.”


So a Republican Senator is not convinced that, on a matter of utmost national importance, “what anyone is saying is true,” where “anyone” includes the President and his top advisors. And he’s prepared to say so out loud.

[So is Josh Marshall, with some convincing detail; but that’s no surprise. Josh does remind us that the atrocity stories that helped build support for the Gulf War turned out to have been fabricated; he doesn’t mention my favorite detail, which is that the story about the babies torn from their incubators and left to die was made up by the PR firm of Hill & Knowlton, with the daugher of the Kuwaiti ambassador presented to a credulous press as a nurse who had witnessed it all.]

Not knowing much about Hagel, it’s hard for me to guess why he said what he said. He’s no dove in general; he supported withdrawal from the ABM treaty, for example. But he has taken a dovish position on attacking Iraq. It seems unlikely that he’s angling for Democratic votes in the most Republican state in the Union. Even if the Iraqi business goes sour, he’s not going to get any thanks from Republicans for having opposed it; loyalty matters more to Republican voters than pescience. Maybe he’s just an old-fashioned Plains State isolationist. Perhaps he got crossways with Bush on a judgeship or a dam or a regional administrator.

But whatever the motive, he was prepared to challenge Bush’s veracity in public. And that challenge hasn’t, as of this writing, provoked much of a fuss: certainly nothing like what happened after Tom Daschle finally snapped back at the Bush’s insults to the patriotism of the Democrats in Congress. (The fuss would have been much bigger if Hagel had accused Bush of corruption or sexual misconduct or illicit drug use; that just testifies to the pervasive cynicism of reporters, politicians, and voters about the standards of veracity in public life.)

One possible explanation: Bush and his crew are in fact habitual liars — or worse, people so indifferent to truth and falsehood that they doesn’t even bother to check, but just make it up as they go along — and are known in Washington to be so. Again, I’m not claiming this as some great revelation; that’s what I’ve thought ever since the campaign, and especially the recount struggle. But it’s nice to have confirmation from a source whose partisan biases, at least, aren’t the same as mine.