So while I would like to write that I think the ECB will accomodate the Greek banks regardless of the referendum, I am very reluctant to do so.
At least I am in good company in my wrongness.
So while I would like to write that I think the ECB will accomodate the Greek banks regardless of the referendum, I am very reluctant to do so.
At least I am in good company in my wrongness.
Three months ago, I fretted that the Democrats were unwilling to compromise with the GOP over a human-trafficking bill. The issue was over a provision preventing funds collected under the bill from being spent on abortions for the victims. Given that the U.S. Congress has regularly prevented federal funds from being used for abortions, I thought that this was crazy base-servicing. I also thought that if the Democrats kept this up, refusing to compromise on ideological grounds, it would mean bad things for the Republic.
In comments, I got some pushback.
First my response; then what happened.
George seems to have gotten it right! The two parties compromised by stating that fines would only be used to provide legal services to the victims, whereas health services would come from a separate pot of tax money. The tax money would not fund abortion, but anti-abortion restrictions would not be explicitly extended to non-tax money. Implicitly, of course, the bill would prevent the non-tax money from being spent on abortion because it would prevent them from being spent on any health services.
Which also means that McDevite got it right: this was not a sign of crazy base world. Which is not to say that I do not worry about the Democrats going the way of the Republicans: I do. But this story, at least, ended creditably.
The final results are in. They are not far off what the initial numbers implied. The PRI-Green coalition secured half the seats, so they will need to rope in one additional deputy to pass anything. (Article 142 of the Chamber of Deputy’s internal rules says only that the chamber will vote a second time in the event of a tie.) The Humanists failed to clear the bar. So did the Labor Party, which will take its seats for this Congress but will not contest the 2018 election unless the recounts go their way.
One independent got in under the new rules: Manuel Clouthier. He was elected from Sinaloa’s Fifth District, the fightin’ Fifth! (Sorry.) It comprises the northern half of Culiacán.
Clouthier has an interesting political biography. His father was the PAN’s presidential candidate in 1988. The 1988 election in Mexico was blatantly fraudulent. Early results coming in from rural districts favored Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, the left-wing opposition candidate from what became the PRD. Ministry of Interior officials feared the worst, panicked, and claimed that a computer failure prevented them from releasing preliminary results. A week later, the Federal Electoral Commission declared that the PRI had won with 51.7% of the votes, compared to 31.1% for Cárdenas and 16.8% for Clouthier père.
The PRI needed to legitimize the stolen election; otherwise it risked ignited a cycle of unrest. So it offered the PAN a backroom deal: the PAN would agree to the result and let the paper ballots from the election be burnt. In return the government would reform the electoral code, create an independent electoral institute, and alter the makeup of the Senate from two senators per state to four, with three seats going to the winner and one to the leading opposition party. (This is no longer how the Mexican senate operates.)
As far as we know, however, Clouthier père would have opposed these deals. He refused to recognize the ‘88 result, instead appointing a shadow cabinet in February ‘89. He died, however, in a car accident in October of that same year. There are unattributed stories that Clouthier junior quit the PAN in disgust over the deal with the PRI.
We do know three things. First, Clouthier rejoined the PAN to become a federal deputy but quit again when the PAN refused to put him up for a Senate seat. (Context: until the 2013 political reform, Mexican legislators could only serve one term. By refusing to put him up for Senate, the PAN leadership explicitly told Clouthier that it did not want him around.) Second, in 2012 Clouthier announced that he would join AMLO’s should AMLO win the presidency. Third, Clouthier’s positions are almost cloyingly neutral, save a for a bit about reforming the tax code to let businesses deduct 100% of their expenses.
In other words, he is a rich businessman son of a center-right politician with an emotional affinity for the left but an actual content-free platform, save for a (admittedly sensible) bit that would directly benefit him. It’s almost Filipino!
I am not sure that I would say that more such candidates would be of much benefit to Mexico. The U.S., yes, possibly. But as much as everyone in Mexico hates the parties, the country really is not suffering from a surfeit of party discipline or an inability to make cross-party deals. Other than giving an advantage to rich guys with built-in name recognition, I am not sure how allowing independent candidates is supposed to help.
I am going to have to start talking about the other big independent win soon, I suppose.
Colombia did not redenominate its currency in 2014. The Santos administration says that the plan to chop three zeros off the money continues to be in play.
Short version of what happened: Congress resisted the cost and President Santos decided not to use his considerable legislative power to push the bill through. In February 2015 the country introduced a 100,000-peso bill, temporarily reviving the debate. But for the moment, nothing is in store. Given that Santos has a lot on his plate, I doubt it will happen for several years ... I would be surprised if it happens before the 2018 election.
Hope that helped!
A commonsense definition of “austerity” is “cuts in government spending.” Now, that isn’t quite the correct macroeconomic definition: a cut in spending combined with a bigger cut in taxes is not contractionary. But it matches a good political definition: are countries imposing pain on their populations?
And so, I give you the level of nominal government spending in Greece and the Baltic States, plus Slovakia, because the Slovaks have been incredibly annoying. The figures have been normalized so that 2008 = 100.
Whaddaya know? Greeks have endured austerity beyond anything imagined in the Baltics. Yes, the Baltics are poorer than Greece. But that is not how people feel pain: we are far more averse to losses than to unrealized gains. The pain among, say, Greek pensioners or government employees has been beyond anything the Baltics have seen since the Soviet Union fell apart.
Now let’s look at the other side of the ledger: taxes. How much pain have the Greeks imposed upon themselves in order to pay for their state? As a % of GDP:
My. Puts things in perspective. I really do wish the Balts would just pipe down already. Their countries would be in chaos were things as bad as they are in Greece.
Some smug folks recently insisted to me that if the Baltic states could muscle through the current crisis, than so can Greece. Why are the Greeks so upset about more austerity?
Uh ... well, here is the real GDP of Greece and the Baltic countries, indexed to 2007:
There really is no comparison.
This applies even if we look outside the universe of countries that either are in the Eurozone or peg their currencies to the euro. According to Gabriel Sterne at Oxford Economics:
The decline in Greek GDP has precedents, but only in wars, commodity collapses, and Argentina. Even without exit, it is likely to have been in the bottom 4% of crisis recoveries seven years on if IMF projections for 2015 prove correct. Greece’s $-GDP will likely have declined at least 42% between 2008 and 2015. Below Greece are five extreme cases:
Sterne goes on to argue that this implies that the situation really cannot get much worse in Greece should it be forced into Grexit.
Personally, I still do not understand why an agreement is proving so hard. Greece should not cut pensions or agree to a big primary surplus. The Europeans should agree to roll over debts that will otherwise inevitably go into default. Everyone should then use the breathing room to think about how to reform Greek tax collection and cut Greek debts. Voila.
But no. I really do not understand it. The only logic I can imagine is that they want to scare the bejeebus out of Spanish voters or anyone thinking of voting for a radical new party. What am I missing?
In 2012, we reported about the scandal involving U.S. banks laundering narcotics money going back to Mexico. The scandal caused bankers to get scared. And so, they claim to be pulling back from their cross-border services, hurting everyday Mexicans.
Hmm. The story at the link does show big U.S. banks pulling back, and goes deep into the hassles faced by Columbia professor when they found their accounts had to be shut down. But is it really affecting everyday people?
There do not seem to be any signs that people in the U.S. need to queue up in order to send money to Mexico. Absent a shortage of cross-border money-transfer services, then, one would expect restrictions on money transfers to show up in higher prices. Fortunately, the World Bank records the price of transferring money to Mexico. And they report (as a % of the sum transferred):
There is seasonality, which does make it seem that prices have recently ticked up ... but in context they have not. Moreover, the cost of moving money via non-banks has gone down monotonically, with only a recent bump. This is not surprising, since it would seem weird for a 2012 scandal to cause prices to rise in 2015.
An article from the New York Times says, “While immigrants say they have not noticed broad price increases from companies like Western Union, industry experts say higher costs are inevitable with fewer banks acting as middlemen for money transmitters.” Meaning that maybe costs will rise in the future, perhaps, but they have not yet.
So maybe the new regulations will impact everyday Mexicans. But not yet. And to be honest, probably not ever.
A long time ago, I worked on financial systems. And so, back in 1998, I was called to give some comments to a gathering in Mexico City’s historic district. (I still have the suit I wore, a very sturdy Christian Dior; it isn’t the one in the below photo from December 2014.) I kept my discussion short, since I was well-aware of my ignorance, having just lost a potential job at Columbia University due to overly sweeping claims of knowledge.*
So, still chastised from the New York fiasco, I made only one claim to the gathered dignitaries from the Financial Ministry, the U.S. State Department, the IMF, and the big Mexican banks: shareholders must lose in a bailout. Give away money, write checks, defend depositors, make good guarantees on subordinated debt, throw bags of money at the banks’ creditors. But shareholders must be wiped out.
And so, I am terrified to read today that a federal judge held that the U.S. government was too harsh when it bailed out AIG. The bailout, you see, wiped out the shareholders and ultimately made money for the Treasury while preventing a much worse financial collapse. But wiping out the shareholders, according to the judge, was too harsh. Better to have let the shareholders be ... uh ... wiped out with no public benefit.
It gets even weirder than that. The AIG investors received nothing in damages ... the judge recognized that without the bailout they would have lost everything. But he still held that the government overstepped its bounds. I cannot parse the logic.
Which means one of two things the next time a financial crisis rolls around. One, no direct bailouts. Fun! Why have a second Great Recession when you can go full on to a second Great Depression? Two, bailouts (or bailouts in disguise) that enrich the already prosperous, who will face no consequences for their bad investments. Heck, let’s see just how unequal a modern automated economy can get!
I don’t even have to mention the words “moral hazard” to make this look scary. But since I am on the topic: Moral hazard! Boo!
And so, I give you Judge Thomas Wheeler, a George W. Bush appointee still making the world a worse place. I guess it deserves some sort of prize.
I really need to respond to the comments in the Crazy Base World post, no?
There seems to have been contradictory information on the INE website: the new threshold for a party to retain its official status is 3% of the vote.
Which means that two parties will likely not be with us in 2016. The Humanists are definitely out. (I suspect that this is a good thing.) The Labor Party is in trouble: the current count puts it at 2.91% of the vote This isn’t the first time that Labor failed to pass the bar: it lost its status in 1991, just a year after being founded, but regained it the next year.
The same could happen this time; after all, it is relatively easy to register a party. Or its membership could disperse, moving over to Morena or the remnants of the PRD. Either way, I doubt it matters much; the P.T. has only been important in coalition with other leftist parties.
Here are our latest projections, given the latest recounts:
And here are the projections from Milenio (with the caveat that their figures add up to only 499 deputies):
Soon we will know, but the overall gist is clear. The PRI-Green coalition looks to be just short of a majority, Morena did very well for a new party, and the Social Encounter people look to be here to stay. And the Citizens’ Movement did well, setting us up for a mother of all battles among the left as we approach the 2018 election. (AMLO v. Ebrard? I certainly hope so.)
When I am in Mexico, I smoke more cigars than in the United States. In part, that is because my demand is higher: there are more places in which I am allowed to smoke, and since my family usually doesn’t travel with me, I have more time during which I feel free to smoke.
But my increased smoking is also supply-driven. It is simply easier to get a good smooth cigar, at least to my own personal taste. (I recommend Hoyo de Monterrey, but do note that in cigars as in music and wine, my preferences are rather plebian.) With more good cigars around, I smoke more cigars.
To be honest, the demand reasons outdistance the supply ones. After all, there is a cigar bar right around the corner from my house in Washington, D.C. I could easily set up shop there are work away in a haze of smoke, especially during the summer. Hell, I could light up in the backyard. But I don’t.
The same principle applies to Mexican political parties. Voters might demand more parties because they do not like the existing options.
But institutional factors might also encourage more viable parties to be formed, which will in turn pull voters away from existing parties even with no change in preferences.
In Mexico, the law encourages party formation and provides the new parties with guaranteed resources. And so, more parties are formed. That pulls voters away from the big parties. The new parties disproportionately grab votes from the PRD and PAN for two reasons. (1) They make ideological pitches (an easy way to grab votes) and PRD and PAN voters are more ideological; (2) The PRD and PAN have less efficient machines than the PRI.
Before I continue, let me make two points up front. First, I am proposing a hypothesis which I am not sure how to test. I have no doubt that some of the decline in major-party support is demand-driven, that is, comes from changes in underlying voter preferences rather than the proliferation of parties clamoring for their votes. Second, I am ascribing no normative value to this development: I doubt that Mexico would be better off under a stable three-party system.
Here is how you establish a party in Mexico. First, you get a membership equal to 0.26% of the electoral roll. (You can find a continuously updated roll here.) That’d be about 226,000 people, spread over at least 20 states. You submit that list in January the year before an election. By August, you should have approval by the National Electoral Institute (INE). That gives you immediate access to an annual pot of money worth about US$258 million. (That is per year, not per election.) Each party automatically gets $8.6 million. The rest is divvied up per your vote share at the last election, but for that first period you get $8.6 million. You also get free 250 hours of radio broadcast and 200 hours of television. You do not need to worry about opponents’ broadcast access: private funding is allowed, but the parties cannot purchase additional radio or TV slots although bigger parties are allocated more airtime.
So the barrier to entry is fairly low. You can get your initial membership almost however you want; you can think of that as an investment to get access to the public funding revenue stream.
Of course, you then need to win 2% 3% of the vote in the next Congressional election to retain your perks.* So you need an electoral strategy. You can try replicate the PRI’s machine, but that’s pricey. Easier to try to siphon off voters from the left or the right ... the Greens have grabbed the non-ideological populist spot. Or you can, a la the Humanists, come in with your own ready-made base of support.
Given that democracy only arrived in 1997, this set-up makes fragmentation seem almost inevitable, even if everyone in Mexico thought that things were going along fine. Imagine what the Tea Party would look like under this system. They could try to contest the PAN primary, but that would be hard: it is a national presidential primary with the rules always in flux. Moreover, there are only limited primaries for lower-level candidates. (The link takes you to a very good but 2003 article by Steven Wuhs of the University of Redlands; a slightly more up-to-date analysis can be found here from Kathleen Bruhn of UCSB.) Worse still, the PAN limits primary voting to those who “have been sponsored for party membership by a current member, have taken a course in party doctrine, and have served an apprenticeship as ‘adherents’ before being accepted into active membership.” (Page 7.) Given that the PAN is already pretty centrist, that would make it very hard to tug the party to the right.
Or you could just split off! Boom, the Social Encounter Party.
Ditto, the fracturing of the left. This is more ideological, but in Mexico it is easier to pick up your marbles and leave when the party takes a stance you do not like. Why should AMLO stick with a party that made a squishy compromise with the PRI (the Pact for Mexico) rather than strike out on his own? Boom, Morena.
And even the PRI will lose some to parties with a built-in voter base, who might decide they have more influence outside than in. (The PRI has moved away from open candidate selection.) Boom, Panal, with a built-in voter base from the unions.
Plus, of course, the inexplicable continuing success of the Greens, a party run as a cynical family business.
In other words, the slow breakup of the party system that Alejandro Hope noted may not reflect voter dissatisfaction at all. Rather, it may be an inevitable consequence of how Mexico finances its political parties. The situation is the opposite of my experience with cigars.
Thoughts? There is a good paper here, if you can figure out how to test the hypothesis.
* The law is somewhat confusing. A party needs 2% of the vote to receive any PR seats in the election, but it needs 3% of the vote to retain its status for the next election. Thus, the Labor Party will be able to seat its deputies in 2015, but the party will not be able to contest 2018.
Alejandro Hope pointed out the following dramatic statistic:
PRI+PAN+PRD, porcentaje del voto nacional 1997: 90% 2015: 60%
That is quite a change! So what happened? I punched up the data on Mexican elections from 1997 to date and got the below time series for elections to the lower house of Congress:
Start with the heavy black line. It shows the three-party vote share for elections to the lower house of Congress. That share has been in sustained decline since 2006.
One explanation might be the fragmentation of the Mexican left. To adjust for that, I added back the vote share gained by the Labor Party (which effectively functions as an adjunct to the PRD) and Morena (which is a recent spinoff.) The trend remains.
So I then punched up the vote shares of each of the three major parties and got an interesting result: the PRD and PAN have been losing voters, while the PRI is generally maintaining. In other words, the smaller parties are cannibalizing the traditional right and left parties rather than Mexico’s traditional ruling party.
This is interesting. And it is not consistent with the idea that the fragmentation of the political system is a product of general disillusionment: that, presumably, should have hit the PRI as well, especially considering as its approval ratings are in the toilet.
What does that leave us? The following hypotheses come to mind:
Both of these might be true, of course. Or there may be a third. And hypothesis (2) is pretty vague. I have some thoughts on the matter, but first go read this.
Election watching is fun, even when the elections are as inconsequential as these recent ones appear to have been. Let’s start with the party system. Below is a of the parties, put in “more-or-less” left-right order. I say more of less because some of these parties are really not easy to categorize.
From left to right:
Morena: The name is an acronym for the Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional. The party is Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) pet vehicle. AMLO ran for president in 2006 on the PRD ticket with a moderately left-wing platform. He lost to Felipe Calderón by a hair. Instead of accepting defeat, however, he mobilized mass demonstrations, denounced the new government as illegitimate, and organized a government-in-exile. The low came when López Obrador shouted “To hell with your institutions!” AMLO nonetheless took another tilt at the windmill in 2012, still with the PRD ... he lost with a respectable 31.6% of the total vote. After the election, for reasons which remain unclear, AMLO left the PRD and formed his own party.
PRD: What I’m calling the PRD is actually a coalition between the PRD and the Labor Party, but Labor is very much a junior partner so you don’t lose much by ignoring it. The PRD got shellacked by AMLO’s decision to form a new party. It also got wounded by the fact that it governed the state of Guerrero when the 43 student activists were kidnapped and killed. Add those two blows to the fact that the party currently has no natural leader, and a shellacking was to be expected. But there was also a third, the continuing strength of the ...
Citizens’ Movement: This party got started in 1999 as a sort of Mexican version of the Liberal Democrats: lefty but not too lefty. That did not last. The party followed López Obrador into the wilds of the post-2006 government-in-exile, but refused to join Morena in 2012. This did not please AMLO. The Movimiento Ciudadano has gained oxygen from Marcelo Ebrard’s decision to switch from the PRD. Ebrard was a popular mayor of Mexico City (although the Line 12 fiasco has dented his reputation) and many believe that he could have won the presidency in 2012 had the PRD nominated him instead of AMLO.
In short, the left is split between López Obrador’s pet vehicle, the remnants of the PRD, and a social democratic party that appears to be trying to take on the mantle of the center-left. It is a mess.
Continuing to the right we have:
Humanist Party: I’m at a bit of a loss with these guys. It’s a new party formed by rural politicians from both the PRI and the PAN. It seems to be basically an agricultural interest group party ... and does not seem to be too long for this world since it did not clear the 3% election threshold needed to keep its official standing.
PRI: This is big centrist gorilla of Mexican politics, an amorphous non-ideological blob descended directly from the old dictatorial ruling party.
Green Party: Oh boy. The Green Party is not a green party. It supports the death penalty for kidnapping, which would shock other green parties, and it’s remarkably wobbly on LGBT issues. So green it is not. Nor is it much of a party. Rather, it seems to be more of a family business run by its founder, Jorge González. (His son now heads the party.) The Greens collect election subsidies, get involved in a remarkable number of corruption scandals, and seems to care little about environmental issues. It went into coalition with the PAN in 2000 and now works with the PRI ... and keeps managing to win votes.
Panal: This party was the wholly-owned subsidiary of the teachers’ union run by Esther Gordillo. We discussed it here. President Peña arrested her in February 2013 on corruption charges — in interviews, former president Calderón seems a little defensive that he didn’t move against her during his term. Gordillo’s daughter and a grandson are still in the party; she may be gone, but the party still lives on a manifestation of the union’s power.
PAN: This is center-right grouping that beat the PRI in 2000. The PAN is internally divided. The divisions are mostly personal, but there is also a vague ideological split between social conservatives and economic conservatives ... with the latter further split between moderates and radicals. That said, the economic center of gravity of the PAN is somewhat to the left of the U.S. Republicans.
Encuentro Social: Mexico has experienced social change at blinding speed over the last two decades; same-sex marriage is legal in the D.F., Coahuila, and Quintana Roo. The D.F. has legalized abortion up to 12 weeks. Divorce rates are rising and sexual mores have flipped in what seems like an eyeblink. And so, we bring you the reaction! The Social Encounter Party is dedicated to stopping the scourge of same-sex marriage and abortion.
And there you have the basic panorama for the Congressional parties.
There are also the state elections. There, el Bronco in Nuevo León has gotten all the attention as the first independent to win a Mexican state election. (That is because independent candidates were not allowed until this election.) I could not write this post without mentioning him, of course.
I have been traveling to Mexico. It’s election time!
The midterm elections were held on Sunday. The results are not yet in, but we have enough data to make a prediction.
Now, this is just our prediction here at TPTM: there is a strong possibility that the Green Party will win fewer seats. But it may be useful to explain why the final seat counts will not be known until a few days after the election.
Mexico’s lower house uses a mixed FPTP-P.R. system. 300 seats are allocated on the basis of FPTP geographical districts. An addition 200 seats are allocated by proportional representation. The initial apportionment of those 200 seats does not depend on the apportionment of the geographical districts: if your party gets 10% of the vote, you get 20 seats plus whatever districts you won.
So far, so simple. But there are three wrinkles. The first is that no party can use its P.R. seats to obtain a higher proportion of seats than its vote share + 8%. In other words, if a party wins 200 district seats with 32% of the vote, then it receives no P.R. seats: 200 being 40% of 500. (That said, a party can exceed the vote-share + 8% limit if it wins enough districts; those seats are never taken away.)
The second is that parties can campaign in coalitions. The seats then have to be divided up inside the coalition. The PRI-Green coalition, for example, put up candidates in 250 districts: 192 from the PRI and 58 from the Greens. How many district seats go to which party makes a difference: the PRI cannot win more than 194 seats. (Once you throw out votes for independent candidates or parties that did not clear the 2% threshold, the PRI got 30.9% of the vote. 30.9% + 8% = 38.9%; 38.9% × 500 = 194.) Therefore it would be in the PRI’s interest to insure that the Greens get as many seats as possible.
Our estimate above relies on an unofficial count giving the PRI 29.1% and the Greens 7.06% of the vote; it also assumes that the coalition split its district seats proportionate to each party’s share of the total candidates: e.g. out of the 158 district seats won by the coalition, the estimate allocates 122 seats to the PRI and 36 to the Greens.
The final wrinkle is that for the purposes of proportional representation Mexico is divided into five 40-member electoral districts of unequal size, while our calculations assume one big national district. You can read about the system (in English) from the Mexican authorities here.
All that said, we should be pretty close. The upshot? The PRI does not have an outright majority, but it does in coalition with the Greens and Panal. A good result for President Peña. For Mexico, more mixed. More later, if there is interest, and quite possibly even if there is not!
There is no commonly accepted explanation for why European powers carved up the African continent in the 1880s. Most historians today discount economic explanations: by the 1880s African commodity exports were a sideshow. Rather, the explanations have to do with prestige-seeking by European governments combined with the fact that military imbalances made annexation easy. Related explanations add two sorts of security dilemma: (1) the fear that if one country did not annex an area another would; and (2) local political crises driving expansion as the easiest solution.
Now come Ewout Frankema (Wageningen University), Jeffrey Williamson (UW-Madison), and Pieter Woltje (Wageningen University) to show that African commodity prices enjoyed a sustained upturn between 1845 and 1885. Moreover, that upturn was stronger than for other regions.
This is pretty neat stuff, but as an explanation for colonialism it leaves a lot to be desired. No matter how you slice it, the profits from this trade were pretty small. In addition, we need to know how much of those profits were seized by Europeans even in the absence of formal control — my prior is that it would be a lot. Finally, we would need to know why the scramble waited until the 1880s: after all, the price rise started 40 years previously. (The authors partially address this with the point that French inland expansion started earlier.)
That said, these results do blow a hole in the Hopkins thesis that declining commodity prices caused intra-African wars over the remaining rents, thereby opening the door to European conquest. Neat stuff.