WHAT DID CHARLES SAUNDERS PIERCE

WHAT DID CHARLES SAUNDERS PIERCE KNOW,

AND HOW DID HE KNOW IT?

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?

SWEDEN AND MISSISSIPPI, REVISITED

SWEDEN AND MISSISSIPPI, REVISITED

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.

UPDATE

Nick Scultz of TechCentralStation.com 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.

UPDATE

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.

And

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.

WHY DID CHUCK HAGEL CALL THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION A BUNCH OF LIARS?

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

By ERIC SCHMITT

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.”

[SNIP]

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.

CONCERNING TYRANTS AND GLASS JAWS

Eugene Volokh cites Christopher Hitchens’s analysis of how brutal the Saddam Hussein regime is, even to the dictator’s closest associates and their families.

…this is not a regime that’s likely to inspire loyalty, either in higher-ups or in the man on the street, especially since I suspect that what Hussein does to his henchmen (and I’ve also heard stories of Hussein forcing his subordinates to divorce their wives so that Hussein can briefly marry them), his henchmen likewise do to the public.

This means that if we try to do things by half measures, people will be unlikely to rise against Hussein — they know that if their rising will fail, the results will be breathtakingly awful, for them and for their families. But if we attack with overwhelming might, those who are outside Hussein’s clutches, and who know they won’t fall back into his clutches, will be very glad to be free of him. Will they love us for it? Gratitude is not the most reliable of human emotions. But I suspect that they won’t wage a guerilla war to try to keep him in power.

I would very much like this analysis to be correct. In general, the world would be a better place if those who ruled by terror lost their capacity to resist invasion. In particular, since it seems very likely that we will soon invade Iraq, I hope we won’t run into much resistance.

But my reading of the historical record isn’t encouraging in this regard. Hitler’s first act after establishing his dictatorship was to order the mass slaughter of the brownshirts who had brought him to power, including his close friend Ernst Roehm: the “Night of the Long Knives.” Yet Berlin was defended house-to-house in 1945. The death toll from Stalin’s terror among the Politburo and the Red Army leadership was horrifying; ask the German Sixth Army whether that made Stalingrad any easier to take. Reaching back a little further, losing a power struggle in Tudor England meant going to the headsman’s block, but loyalty to the regime was fierce. It appears that terror, skilfully wielded, can be a quite effective instrument of rule.

According to Nicholas Kristof, the Iraqi regime has encouraged the population at large to arm itself, with an alleged seven million members of the Al-Kuds militia. (A well regulated militia being necessary….) Now it’s possible that Saddam Hussein will turn out to have been deceived, and that those weapons will remain idle, or even be turned against him. But I’m not betting on it.

A NOTE ON AL GORE’S SPEECH

Gore’s speech has generated an exceptionally splenetic reaction from the pro-war crowd. Michael Kelly’s yelp of pure hatred was incomparably the worst I have seen so far:

Gore’s speech was one no decent politician could have delivered. It was dishonest, cheap, low. It was hollow. It was bereft of policy, of solutions, of constructive ideas, very nearly of facts — bereft of anything other than taunts and jibes and embarrassingly obvious lies. It was breathtakingly hypocritical, a naked political assault delivered in tones of moral condescension from a man pretending to be superior to mere politics. It was wretched. It was vile. It was contemptible. But I understate.

But there was lots of piling on. The basic line was that if Gore was a hawk in 1991 and is a dove now, his motive must be crassly political. (Tim Noah gives a detailed analysis defending Gore’s consistency.)

The speech itself was fairly tough on Bush — though never less than polite — but not actually exceptionally dovish. A careful comparison of Gore’s speech with Kelly’s screech should answer the question about which of them is dishonest, cheap, low, wretched, vile, and contemptible.

Gore’s basic points: let’s finish settling with al-Qaeda before going after Iraq; as long as SH is in power, he will go after WMD’s, but the threat isn’t imminent and therefore we have time to build an international consensus rather than going it alone; we have good grounds for attacking Iraq (as a truce violator) that don’t require an open-ended doctrine of pre-emption;action against Iraq should be taken in ways that don’t hurt the project of mounting a global effort against terrorism; the demand that Congress act before the election is substantively bad, and politically motivated; indefinite imprisonment of US citizens on mere presidential say-so is a bad idea; Iraq could be more dangerous to us after we defeat it than it is now, if we don’t do a better job of nation-buildling there than we have in Afghanistan. Therefore:

…the resolution that the President has asked Congress to pass is much too broad in the authorities it grants, and needs to be narrowed. The President should be authorized to take action to deal with Saddam Hussein as being in material breach of the terms of the truce and therefore a continuing threat to the security of the region. To this should be added that his continued pursuit of weapons of mass destruction is potentially a threat to the vital interests of the United States. But Congress should also urge the President to make every effort to obtain a fresh demand from the Security Council for prompt, unconditional compliance by Iraq within a definite period of time. If the Council will not provide such language, then other choices remain open, but in any event the President should be urged to take the time to assemble the broadest possible international support for his course of action.

All in all, it’s a fairly nuanced document, and the savagery of the invective directed against Gore might suggest to the cynical that the war hawks don’t think their case would survive a fair, civil debate.

Still, on the question of whether to strike now, and unilaterally, Gore came down with a clear “No.”

He could be right about this, or he could be wrong. But I hope Ralph Nader, and all the people who voted for him because there was “no real difference” between Gore and Bush, were listening. And I hope they’re satisfied with the result they brought about.

MUST WE HAVE A PRESIDENT WHO INSULTS OUR INTELLIGENCE?

Right. So family income is down and poverty is up. Bush blames Clinton. OK, that’s just normal. But then comes the howler (as reported in today’s New York Times:

“Mr. Bush said today that he remained optimistic. ‘When you combine the productivity of the American people with low interest rates and low inflation, those are the ingredients for growth,’ Mr. Bush said.”

Of course, if output is growing slowly, and productivity is rising quickly, then mathematically it must be the case that hours worked are going down, which means either shorter workweeks or more unemployment. Sound like good news to you? It probably doesn’t to the guy who just got laid off.

As to low inflation, does Bush really not know that serious economists are now seriously worried about the risks of deflation, with prices already falling for most goods and services? (Overall inflation is still in positive territory because of rising costs in education, heath care, and gasoline.) Brad DeLong explains why deflation would be a bad thing, and argues that the threat is substantial. Here’s a quick shortcut through the analysis: does the name “Japan” ring a bell?

Hey! I’m not sweating it; I’ve got tenure, a variable-rate mortgage, and an overfunded defined-benefit pension plan. Bring on the deflation, I say. But those panhandlers can get so annoying!

One possibility is that GWB really is Alfred E. Neumann, and has no idea that the economy could actually be in deep doo-doo. Another is that he understands, or at least partly understands, but just decided to blow smoke up the American people because he thought he could get away with it. That has to be the more likely story.

But doesn’t Bush, or anyone around him, care that the credibility he sacrifices with this sort of nonsense doesn’t magically reappear when he starts to talk about Iraq? Falsus in unum, falsus in omnibus. If he lies about easily ascertainable fact, why should anyone believe him when he starts citing top-secret documents?

Of course, his comment yesterday was of a piece with his entire somewhat non-quantitative approach to economic policy. And I understand that most of the country doesn’t much care. But some of us regard fooling around with the numbers as worse — morally worse — than fooling around with the interns.