The answer is no, not really. But it is interesting that democracies show no sign of the Marxist definition of exploitation, whereas non-democracies do.
In need a new tag for posts like this one.
The answer is no, not really. But it is interesting that democracies show no sign of the Marxist definition of exploitation, whereas non-democracies do.
In need a new tag for posts like this one.
He points out that so far the impeachment has been a good thing: markets have risen and Interim President Michel Temer is known as a “dealmaker” who can manage Congress.
But! Temer has a hard row to hoe. He needs to restore fiscal stability while retaining social inclusive policies: i.e., income redistribution that actually redistributes income and gives people a stake in their polity. How can we know whether he can do that? Well, take it from the source:
In Brazil in Transition, my coauthors and I pose three questions to help us assess whether a leader such as Temer has what it takes: does he know what policies are needed to recover from the shock? Can he coordinate a coalition that includes economic and political actors as well as citizens to embrace those policies? And is he trusted and does he possess moral authority?
Lee doesn’t come out and say it, but his tone is negative. (He even briefly feints in the other direction, sardonically pointing out that at least you have to admit that Temer isn’t afraid of controversy.) His conclusion:
His early moves may please markets, but to satisfy Brazil’s diverse citizenry, he will need to demonstrate that he is not abandoning social inclusion. On this as well as his own fate in the ongoing corruption scandals: the jury is still out.
As for me, well ... I think the list of questions is an excellent one. The answers to the three are maybe, probably not, and hell no. The jury is certainly out, but there are a lot of signs coming out of the box.
Meanwhile, buy the book.
I don’t understand western Virginia either, but that’s a post for another day.
West Virginia is in the middle of a budget meltdown from low commodities prices. The governor does not want to further tap the rainy day fund, which has $784 million. I can understand that. But I do not understand the politics behind legislators in a poor and racially homogenous state refusing to countenance any tax hikes. The alternative is “closure of eight State Police detachments and 87 trooper layoffs; 350 jobs eliminated across colleges and universities and closure of at least four community college campuses; and layoffs of 166 workers at state hospitals.”
The state Senate passed a series of taxes imposed on tobacco, driving and professional services: dead so far in the House. Where they are mulling a $100 million tax break for oil and gas, the same industry which created the problem. Tax revenue from coal and gas falls, so cut revenue further from coal and gas, in the hope that the industry comes back for a future increase in fiscal dependency on coal and gas. Huh?
I am astounded to say this, but West Virginia could learn from Ecuador.
But the real question is: what’s driving anti-tax mania in West Virginia? Somehow I doubt that it’s Keynesianism, which makes little sense in the context of economies as open as the typical American state. And I have trouble imagining that voters can be bamboozled by slick campaign ads when they see cuts affecting services they need. So what’s going on?
The first round of the Argentine presidential election threw up a surprise: the center-right mayor of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri, came within a hairs-breadth of Daniel Scioli, the candidate of the leftist ruling coalition. The result forced the election into an unexpected run-off between the two leading candidates. Macri is now believed to have a very good chance of winning the run-off tomorrow. Macri and Scioli are far apart on many issues. The markets, certainly, think that the election matters: Argentina dollar-denominated bonds due in 2017 jumped 10% on the first-round election results. The Merval stock market index rose almost 5%. Analysts have predicted an additional rally of as much as 30% if Macri pulls out a victory.
In other words, this election matters. And one of the ways it matters is in energy policy. But the way it matters is a little odd. Actually, a lot odd.
Short version: if you like big oil companies, then you should love Peronism! The Kirchners are the best thing for Big Oil since, I don’t know, the Iranian Revolution?
Longer version: The Kirchner administration (2003-07) and the first half of the following Fernández administration (2007-date) did everything they could to make life difficult for the upstream sector, culminating the nationalization of Repsol YPF in 2012. Since then, though, the Argentine government has been running hard in the other direction, handing out windfall past subsidy to the upstream sector. (The government resolved the Repsol expropriation in a way that satisfied the oil companies.) In petroleum, those windfalls run pretty far downstream.
A bit more detail:
In short, the left-wingers in the Casa Rosada are in the midst of engineering a massive wealth transfer from Argentine consumers to hydrocarbon producers. ¡Viva Kirchnerismo!
So where is the populism in modern-day energy Peronismo? Electricity. Electricity prices have been controlled since the 2002 crisis. The government authorized a 72% rise in 2013, but that still left average retail prices around 1¢ (U.S.) per kilowatt-hour. At those prices, the only way to keep the lights on has been to pump public money into electricity generators and distributors. (See below; the 2015 figures are my estimates from Argentine nominal GDP data provided by a private consultancy combined with data on electricity subsidies for the first six months of the year.) They have been more successful than Venezuela’s monumental incompetents, but there have been growing brownouts and the utilities are facing bankruptcy despite the subsidies.
There are subsidies and they are not unaffordable … but like most electricity subsidy schemes, they benefit the middle class and the rich rather more than the poor.
Scioli would keep the hydrocarbon subsidy schemes in place. That would be awesome for oil companies. He would also likely keep the electricity subsidies in place for as long as the country can afford it. Which could be a long time, if he gets public spending in order elsewhere. It isn’t how I would spend the national fisc — and it begs the question of how you limit consumption in the absence of price signals — but it won’t arrive at Bolivarian levels of crazy for a few years yet.
Macri would scrap the upstream subsidies. His chief energy adviser is Juan José Aranguren, the head of Shell Argentina, and Macri has said that he intends to appoint Aranguren to a cabinet-level post if he is elected. Aranguren is long-standing critic of the Fernández administration’s energy policies. I’ve met the man — he has a refreshingly German level of bluntness about him — and I have little doubt that he will unwind the web of controls and subsidies.
Argentina being Argentina, this is one of the few cases around the world where an openly right-wing policy immediately redistribute billions of dollars downward. ¡Viva Aranguren!
Electricity policy under Macri is less clear. His political party, the Republican Proposal, has an in-house think tank called Fundación Pensar, and Fundación Pensar’s energy policy head, Sebastián Scheimberg, has publicly stated that electricity subsidies need to be removed. But that would hurt a lot of people very quickly, including a lot of poorer people. (Saying that the subsidies benefit the middle class and rich more is far from saying that they don’t also help the poor. They do. A lot.) And Macri got burned from a price hike during his time as mayor of Buenos Aires. Since punting and waiting for another opportunity to score is an option, then I think that is exactly what he will do. He might surprise with a social tariff, but I do not think it will be a priority.
Happy election watching tomorrow!
Consider: whomever wins the Argentine presidency is going to have to manage a rough transition. They are unlikely to come out smelling of roses. The blue market has lasted longer than I expected, in part because the government has made it fairly easy to get blue market pesos, but a devaluation is coming. Another commodity-price boom does not look probable. Inflation will have to be contained or run up to Venezuelan levels.
In short, the new president is likely to be less-than-popular when the 2019 election rolls around.
And who better to come back and take over from those repulsive reactionaries of the right? Cristina Elisabet Fernández de Kirchner!
Which makes me want to ask better observers of Argentina: is there evidence that Cristina is not giving Daniel Scioli (her party’s candidate for president) the support that he might expect? I mean, it just seems so obvious and so Argentine ...
Mexico’s Peña administration reminds me a little of America’s second Bush administration: every time something good comes out of it they seem a little surprised and try to walk it back. For the Bush administration we have the examples of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 or the Energy Policy Act of 2005, both awesome ideas turned into dog’s breakfasts. (And later fixed, I should add.) For the Peña administration, we have the sugary soda tax. (Among other things.)
The Mexican congress passed the 10% tax on soda in 2013. Consumption crashed. Mexicans drank 163 liters of soda per year, 40% more than Americans. (Soda is one of the few products that Americans consume using the metric system, so I’ve left it in liters.)
There was some debate about the effect of the tax. Would producers pass it on or would they absorb it? If they passed it on, how would consumers respond to a relatively small price shift? After all, inflation in Mexico has been running at about 4% per year for a decade, so consumers might just shrug off a 10% increase in prices as part of the inflationary background noise.* Or they might just jones their Cokes filled with genuine cane sugar so much that they suck up the damage.
Well, we found out. Consumption went down 12%. Awesome sauce! Excellent! So you would think that the tax would now be raised to the 20%-30% level.
Nope. The Chamber of Deputies just voted to cut it back to 5%. That sound is my head hitting my desk for the second time in a week.
The bill went through on a vote of 423-33, but that doesn’t quite capture what happened. The soda tax cut was slipped into the overall revenue bill with no debate at all. Then a PRI-PAN alliance blocked any attempt to amend the legislation.
But I guess it is okay because the PAN minority leader, Marko Cortés, tells us that the tax cut will only apply to low-calorie soft drinks.
Man, this is awful. Vote PRD, I guess.
Earlier I praised the New York Times; now I bury it.
It should not be a shocker that U.S. coverage of Canadian affairs is pretty bad, but this one takes the cake. New York Times headline from today, page 12: “Most Noticeable Change Under Trudeau Could Be Abrupt Shift in Tone.” Most of the tone-shifting the article discussed had to do with the tone inside Canada (or between Canada and countries not called the United States) so the piece was not a bit of American navel-gazing.
OK, fine. But what does the article say in paragraph 2?
“Mr. Trudeau has promised some major policy changes, among them legalizing marijuana, dropping out of the American-led bombing campaign against the Islamic State and deficit financing to pump up the economy and rebuild infrastructure.”
Given that Mr. Trudeau has an outright majority in the lower house, these things are likely to happen. (Canada’s senate, thank the Lord, is not like the American one.)
So let me say that, no, the tone is not going to be the most noticeable change under Trudeau. For crying out loud.
This was Politico-level bad.
Tonight, Victor Menaldo sleeps happy in Seattle. Not because he cares who won the Canadian election. Victor is from Queens and lives in Washington State; he is not entirely clear that Canada is a country. No, Victor sleeps happy because Canadian voters, in their infinite wisdom, upheld Duverger’s law, which is, in the words of Prof. Menaldo, the “one insightful rule” that political science has given to the world.
To recap, Duverger’s law states that democracies that vote by geographical district where the biggest vote-getter wins will have two-party systems. The reason is that voters won’t want to waste their votes on no-hopers, so third parties will struggle. If, for example, voters really hate one particular party, then they will vote for whatever second party looks most likely to defeat the hated one. They won’t want to risk having the evil ones win by wasting their vote on a no-hoper party, even if that party most closely fits their preferences.
And that is what seems to have happened in Canada! Defying the polls, left-leaning Canadians did not split their votes between the Liberals and the New Democrats. Rather, they broke Liberal at the last minute, handing an outright majority to that party.
So now my friend Victor can sleep easy, knowing the Duverger has regained ground in England and seems to have proven itself in Canada. As a political scientist, his job is secure.
At least until some damn bloody voters somewhere else decide once again to ignore the law. Man, political science would be easy if it weren’t for all those, you know, voters!
Four years ago this week, I had a debate with John Quiggin over at Crooked Timber. Briefly, he said that dictatorship was on the way out as a form of government. I sharply disagreed. Four years seems like a reasonable amount of time to circle back and ground-truth.
Here is the original post. Take a moment to click through, so that we’re all agreed on definitions. Good? Okay, then: Who are the world’s remaining dictators, and have their numbers changed since 2011? The 2011 list is below, with original comments in italics and 2015 updates in parentheses.
Angola: Dos Santos has been the President nonstop since 1979. There are significant limits on his power, but IMO he qualifies. (Dos Santos celebrated 35 years in power last year. NO CHANGE.)
Azerbaijan (NO CHANGE)
Belarus (NO CHANGE)
Cambodia: Hun Sen, a bland and retiring little man, has ruled unchallenged since the middle 1980s. (He rules still. NO CHANGE.)
Cameroon: Paul Biya since 1982. The country has kept the trappings of a democratic republic, including opposition parties, but Biya is in charge and he’s not going anywhere. (He hasn’t gone anywhere. NO CHANGE.)
Chad (It’s still Idriss Déby. NO CHANGE.)
Congo Republic (NO CHANGE)
Congo, Democratic Republic: President Kabila, son of the late President Kabila, is likely to stay in power for the foreseeable future. He’s in a tie with Aliyev of Azerbaijan for youngest dictator — they’re both just 40. (And now they’re both 44. But otherwise, NO CHANGE.)
Cuba: Raúl, not Fidel. It’s surprising how many people think it’s still Fidel. (NO CHANGE.)
Djibouti (NO CHANGE.)
Equatorial Guinea: This is a nasty one. Doesn’t get much attention, of course. (It’s still nasty. NO CHANGE.)
Eritrea: Afewerki is another nasty one. A shame, since his rule started with really high hopes. (NO CHANGE.)
Ethiopia (Ethiopia’s long-term dictator Meles Zenawa died in 2012. However, his successor, Hailemariam Desalegn, has been governing in much the same manner — centralized one-party rule with no public opposition or criticism. In May 2015 Ethiopia held parliamentary “elections”; the ruling party won 90% of the seats and its allies took the rest. Ethiopia’s human rights record continues to be dire, and it looks like Desalegn has settled in for the long run. NO CHANGE.)
Kazakhstan (NO CHANGE.)
North Korea (Supreme Leader Kim died in late 2011, and was replaced by his son, Supreme Leader Kim. NO CHANGE.)
Rwanda (NO CHANGE.)
South Sudan: I’m jumping the gun here, because the country of South Sudan is just a few months old. But President Kiir has already made it pretty clear that he’s not going anywhere. (And he hasn’t. Four years later, Kiir is a post-colonial African dictator in the classic style. But the country is in the middle of a civil war, and therefore by definition not stable. So ... CHANGE.)
Sudan (NO CHANGE.)
Syria: At least for the nonce — I think Assad has a decent chance of sticking around. (And four years later he is still around. You can argue whether he’s a proper dictator, though, as he has now lost control of about half his country’s population and ¾ of its territory. I’ll give this CHANGE.)
Tajikistan (NO CHANGE.)
Turkmenistan (NO CHANGE.)
Uganda: To nobody’s surprise, President Museveni won a fourth term a few months ago. (And he’ll likely win a fifth next year. NO CHANGE.)
Uzbekistan (NO CHANGE.)
Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe, still hanging in there at age 87, has been the world’s oldest dictator for a while now. (And, good grief, he’s STILL hanging in there at age 91. NO CHANGE.)
So, of 24 clear dictatorships in 2011, two have perhaps slipped out of that category — South Sudan is in the middle of a civil war, and Syria’s Assad has lost control over much of his country.
Did we overlook anything in our original list? Gambia has a good case: Yahya Jammeh came to power in a 1994 and shows no sign of leaving soon. So did Burkina Faso, but Blaise Compaoré fled at the end of 2014. Acting retroactively, that would make Burkina the third country to have left dictatorship since the original post.
Have any new dictatorships been added? We would say yes, three. Two of these are pretty minor and one is not minor at all. The minor ones are Fiji and Togo, both of which I listed as borderline cases back in 2011. In Fiji, the Prime Minister operates within what looks like a British-style constitutional framework, but a permanent legislative supermajority, a hand-picked judiciary and an unfree press means he can basically rule at will. In Togo, President Gnassingbe has just won another “election” and looks good to stay in power indefinitely.
The not so minor one is Russia. Back in 2011 I said that Russia was authoritarian, but not a dictatorship. But in the last four years, Russia has become dramatically more illiberal, power has been ever more centralized, multiple critics and opponents of the regime have been prosecuted, imprisoned, or murdered outright, and the cult of personality around Putin has grown extreme. All of these things were just getting started in 2011, but they’ve moved very rapidly since. At this point we think it’s reasonable to call Russia a dictatorship.
We also have two new borderline cases. The small one is Burundi, where President Pierre Nkurunziza plunged his country into unrest after what looks to have been a power grab. He hasn’t established full control, however, so it’s not a dictatorship and looks unlikely to become one. The big one is Venezuela. A while back, we argued that the Polity IV database had jumped the gun by classifying the country a dictatorship. It still isn’t there yet — President Maduro does not rule by decree and he is facing contested legislative elections in December. But the trend since Chavez’s death has been sharply authoritarian. The government has banned opposition candidates, refused to permit foreign observers, and arrested opposition leaders. We hesitate to call it a dictatorship yet, however — partly because this trend is fairly recent, and partly because it is not clear how much power is really consolidated in President Maduro’s hands. The December elections should provide strong evidence one way or another.
In summary: two medium-size countries have fallen out thanks to ongoing civil wars. One small one has ousted its dictator. Meanwhile two small countries and one large important country have joined the club.
In other words, dictatorship does not seem to be on its way out as a form of government.
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!
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!
I’m at a conference in California. (My boy is on the Mall with his uncle, watching the bombers fly low overhead. I would rather be there. “Shall we go to the airplane store and buy a B-24?” ) My colleague, Victor Menaldo, a Queens native currently resident in Seattle, bemoaned the state of party politics in the U.K.
Victor: “Political science has given one insightful rule to the world and those damned Brits have to go and break it.”
The rule to which Victor refers is Duverger’s law, which states that democracies that vote by geographical district where the biggest vote-getter wins will have two-party systems. The reason is that voters won’t want to waste their votes on no-hopers, so third parties will struggle.
Canada and India had already weakened the law, although political scientists could finagle them in by claiming both were characterized by regional duopolies, the exceptions being when one duopoly was replaced with another. (As may be the case in the recent Alberta election, for example.) But the damned U.K. persisted in having more than two major parties.
But now the voters have had their say, and they wiped out the third parties in England! (In Scotland, they appear to have wiped out the second party as well.) The Conservatives won 41% of the vote and 60% of the seats. Labor Labour got 32% of the vote and 39% of the seats. That is 99% of the seats between them.
As for smaller parties? UKIP got 14% and one seat, the Greens 4% and one seat, and the Lib Dems 8% and 6 seats.
The first real question is whether the Liberal Democrats can survive. My guess is yes, they have a de facto duopoly in their surviving constituencies, but they have also hit their high-water mark.
Consider the following data. Of 2.1 million Liberal Democratic votes across England, only 112,913 of them were cast in constituencies where the Liberal Democrat won. 95% of votes were wasted. Now, they remain competitive in many of the 47 constituencies that they lost, so their English voters may not decide the party is a lost cause. But they have been hit. And flip side of a potential return to office in 47 constituencies is that they are quite vulnerable in four of their remaining seats: to Labour in Leeds NW and Sheffield Hallam; to the Conservatives in Southport, Norfolk North and Carshalton and Wallington. Which means that they are vulnerable to a swing towards either party unless they can re-energize their base elsewhere.
Unless they can find a way back into government in 2020, then Duverger’s law predicts the long-term decline of the Liberal Democrats.
For UKIP, the numbers were even worse: of 3.6 million UKIP voters nationwide, only 19,642 voters cast ballots for the one winning candidate in Clacton: 99% wasted votes. Moreover, at least the Lib Dems have a history of showing that they can win outside their current 6-seat English redoubt. UKIP does not have that.
Duverger’s law therefore predicts that the UKIP vote should melt down by the next election.
The same logic holds for the Greens. If Duverger’s is correct, then they should have hit their high-water mark.
And of course the defectors should be going to the two major parties. So their share of the English vote should rise from 72%.
So let this blog take a risk and vote for Duverger’s! We say that England returns to two-party politics. (To be honest, I am actually doubtful that Duverger’s is correct, but I will take a stand for my buddy Victor!)
Hold us to account, readers! Or tell us why we’re wrong.
The New Democratic Party just won in Alberta. Rachel Notley will be the new premier.
This is not unlike the (old) Democratic Party winning in Texas. The Wildrose Party is as conservative as the Texas GOP. Meanwhile, the former ruling Conservatives may have had “Progressive” appended to their name but they weren’t progressive in any serious way.
I get the impression that the swing may have really been a vote against low oil prices. Alberta has been hammered far more than Texas. But I am not sure! Can anyone explain Albertan politics or point me in a good direction?
It is strange sometimes to wonder how my life might have been different had the Alberta job that I rejected in 1998 been on the table in 1997, before I got the offer from ITAM. I suspect that I would have taken it. I am very glad that I didn’t, but I have to say that I still wonder how things would have turned out.
It is also strange to contemplate that Alberta would clearly be better off as part of the United States. Weirdly enough, the U.S. would also be better off with Alberta as a state. Simply put, Alberta would pay fewer taxes to Washington than it does to Ottawa, but the new state would still be a net payer into the federal system. Moreover, Alberta would be spared the economic problems that would come with independence; namely painful exchange rate choices.
... this is just crazy hyperventilation.
For the last few weeks there have been three models in the running:
1. The Greek government is calling the Germans Nazis because they figure Grexit is coming no matter what and they want to get the populace riled up as a distraction from the disasters, or
2. The Greek government will cave so cravenly on the substance that they want to have it on the record books that they supplied some expressive goods for a few weeks’ time, namely insulting the Germans and claiming that the Troika is dead and buried, or
3. The Greek government is simply full of out-of-control, ideological maniacs.
Right now it is looking like #2 — however unlikely it may sound as a model of retrospective voting and intertemporal substitution — is closest to reality. What the relevant legislatures will go along with, however, still remains to be seen. Arguably the insults and posturing have narrowed the possible bargaining space by hurting feelings all around.
Seriously, Professor Cowen? There are several other options, you know. I really would like you to explain your logic. I still don’t understand why a Greek default would lead the ECB to sink their banking system. And if that’s what you think will happen, I still don’t understand why I shouldn’t consider that to be an expression of out-of-control ideology from a bunch of maniacs in Frankfurt and Berlin.
Help! I am honestly confused.
Here is a rather more sedate look at the same events.
By now I suspect anyone reading this is well aware of the Nisman saga in Argentina. For those of you who are not, Chris Hayes had a pretty good synopsis:
But that isn’t the weirdest thing. Nor are President Fernández’s weird rambling Facebook posts the weirdest thing. Not even her bizarre tweets are the weirdest thing. No, the weirdest thing, if correct, is a story for which I have not been able to find corroboration. According to Mercopress, when the House Foreign Affairs Committee announced that it would send a group of low-level staffers to Argentina to find out what the hell was going on, Ambassador Cecilia Nahon delivered an angry message saying: “Argentina will not tolerate any United States intervention in the investigation of prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s death, and will consider any attempt as an interference in the country’s domestic affairs and a violation of Argentine sovereignty.”
If true, and I am not yet sure that it is, that would be an incredibly dumb response to a pro-forma investigation by a House committee. It makes it sound like they are worried. But if they are, then they should not show that they are.
But then again, this is the administration of the president that publicly mocked the accents of her Chinese hosts when trying to whomp up investment from that country. So who knows? The political incompetence is interesting to watch ... but I have the luck to not be Argentine. I suspect I would feel more strongly about it if I were; there is a reason why the apocryphal Chinese curse is considered a curse.
There is one recent Japanese scandal which does on its face indeed seem scandalous, even by the lax standards of this glorious hemisphere ... but which upon further investigation seems to be the opposite of a scandal.
Yoichi Miyazawa, the trade minister, got in some trouble last week because his people spent public money to frequent an S&M club. Meh. The amount was only $170. Of course it should not have been expensed, but neither should $170 in tickets for the Equalizer.
But that’s not the non-scandal. The non-scandal is that Minister Miyazawa turns out to own 600 shares in Tepco. Tepco, you might recall, is the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. And Miyazawa’s ministry would ultimately be responsible for regulating Tepco. A clear scandal!
Well, maybe. Miyazawa owned those shares before the 2011 tsunami.
In other words, after taking an 80% loss the Minister Miyazawa has held on to some flatlining shares. It does look bad, I will admit, and he should sell them. But a serious scandal this really is not. Or am I missing something?
Over at Charlie’s place, a fellow named Cdodgson brought up the split between the Czech Republic and Slovakia as an example of a “peaceful secession from more or less democratic states which the people involved don’t regret and don’t want to reverse.” The context, of course, was Scotland.
The basic description is true. The Velvet Divorce was peaceful and the countries were more-or-less democratic. But the Velvet Divorce holds few lessons for Scotland.
The history of the Velvet Divorce does however hold lessons for the Velvet Divorce: namely that it was a sleazy breakup of a perfectly functioning country that benefitted no one save the two politicians who arranged it and forced it through: Vaclav Klaus and Vladimir Mečiar. Neither of them did their country any good, before or after the split.
Did the January 1, 1993, division of Czechoslovakia reflect popular opinion? Of course, the answer has no bearing on the benefit of small states or the morality of breaking up democratic polities, but it is interesting ... because it didn't! In 1991, polls showed only 9% of Czechs and 15% of Slovaks favored a split. (Page 252.) By December 1992, support had risen ... to only 36% of Czechs and 37% of Slovaks.
Moreover, Czechoslovakia already showed a rather impressive level of decentralization: in 1992, the federal government controlled only 22% of public spending. (See Table 6.1.) An additional 0.5% of spending went through the federal government to the two states via federal grants. (Table 6.5.) It is true that fiscal grants from the federal government had dried up as an almost accidental response to de-communization. That might have annoyed some Slovaks ... only the polls didn't show it.
The deal was hashed out between Klaus and Mečiar with no popular input. Neither politico was a particularly admirable person. Both leaders refused to hold a referendum because they believed that they would lose.
A continuing federation would have eventually led to more fiscal transfers. It also would have ended Mečiar's ambitions. So Klaus threw out the poorer chunk of the country and Mečiar escaped the limits of the federal system. Win-win for them.
Did the split leave anyone else better off politically or economically? On the Slovak side, the answer is pretty clearly “no,” although the country managed to survive the Mečiar years. It came close to some ugly outcomes, though. (See Hungary for a bad but-still-not-worst-case example of the bullet that Slovakia dodged.)
Lose-lose for everyone else. Trade collapsed despite a customs union, and both countries went through a painful adjustment. (Page 60.) It worked out OK in the end, but at grave risk to democracy and the gratuitous sundering of a political community. The Czechs and the Slovaks certainly seem to feel that it was pointless: two decades later, only 41% of Czechs and 29% of Slovaks think the Velvet Divorce was the right thing to do. Given status-quo bias, those numbers are astoundingly low.
There is a value in democratic political communities. They bind people through something more than impersonal market exchanges. It is hard to see why they should be broken up unless they are turning undemocratic (which would include systematized ethnic discrimination) or have such histories of intercommunal hatred that they cannot be made to work without violence.
It may be the case that some members of a democratic community have so soured on the others that they wish to share none of the responsibilities of being in a community. But that is parochial and cramped.
To return to Scotland: the breakup of Czechoslovakia was nothing like the proposed breakup of the United Kingdom. It had no popular support (unlike Scottish independence), led to great economic dislocation for both new countries (unlike Scottish independence, which will likely have no impact on England), occurred in a situation of low fiscal transfers (unlike Scottish independence), led to a near-breakdown of democracy in one of the countries (unlike Scottish independence), and did not occur after several decades of divergent policy preferences (unlike Scottish independence).
Comparisons between Scotland and Slovakia are best avoided, I think, unless the discussion is solely focused on short-term economic effects.
Over at Charlie’s place, two fellows named Tim and Barry raised the old canard that Scottish secession will lead to unending Conservative control of not-as-great Britain. They were unconvinced by (or ignored) the evidence contained in the previous post.
Are they right? After all, U.K. elections are decided using first-past-the-post. National vote shares matter only inasmuch as they translate into victories in individual constituencies. In the United States, for example, Democrats can win the national House vote by almost 2% and still lose the chamber, which is what happened in 2012. Is the U.K. similar?
Short answer: no.
Longer answer: losing Scotland knocks Labor down to 217 seats, versus 306 for the Tories. Parliament shrinks from 650 to 591. That means Labor needs to capture 45 seats to outsize the Conservatives and and 79 to gain an outright majority.
Is that doable? Well, the way to find out is to look at Tory constituencies and ask how much of a swing would be needed to flip the weakest 45 and the weakest 79. If the required swing is huge, then the Tories would indeed have a lock on the 2015 election sans Scotland.
And whaddaya know? The Conservatives are facing at least 82 swing seats. See here and here and here. Translation: It won't take much of a swing to knock the Tories off their perch. The polls are already showing a 7-point swing even if Scotland walks away. If the Liberal Democrats remain the number-three party, then Labor will not a hard time putting together a winning coalition in 2015. The rise of UKIP, of course, is more worrying ... but only if it wins enough seats to put together a majority with the Conservatives.
To sum up: the U.K. parliament is more responsive to the popular vote than the U.S. House of Representatives. Even without Scotland, Labor would be able to win a parliamentary majority as long as it remains ahead in the popular vote. And right now, it is ahead in the popular vote in England and Wales.
This is amateur psephology, of course. I welcome data that shows why the above analysis is wrong. (And I think I now need a British Isles tag.)
If Scotland votes to leave the U.K., then Brussels has made it clear that it will also leave the European Union. Scotland would need to apply like any other potential member state.
But what about the rest of the U.K.? Would it vote to leave the E.U. without Scotland? Many observers are worried.
I do not think that they should be.
The Tories will be up for reelection in 2015, unless there is a vote-of-no-confidence. That election will be weird. The Scottish government wants to wrap up the independence negotiations by March 2016, so Scots might still be able to vote in the U.K. election.
That said, it would entirely reasonable for Parliament to disenfranchise Scottish voters before then. Would that swing the 2015 election to the Tories?
Probably not. I played with the crosstabs from this poll. Here are the results:
|Weight||Weight w/o Scotland||% Tory||% Labor||% UKIP|
My general impression from the literature is that the district boundaries in England (I mean England England) generally favor Labor, even after the recent redistricting. So Labor is likely to win. Labor opposes holding a referendum on the European Union. That would make Brexit moot.
Moreover, my gut feeling, which could be entirely wrong, is that allowing Scotland to secede will kill Cameron and hurt the Tories at the election. After all, Cameron allowed the election to happen and Cameron took off the option of giving Scotland the powers of your typical Canadian province. So he really will be to blame.
Absent some sort of black swan, Labor will be more likely to win, and Brexit will be moot.
This analysis fails if the Tories pick someone popular to replace Cameron. But I have no idea who such a person would be.
On the other hand, if the Tories pull off reelection, then Britain is likely out of the E.U. The above analysis, from this poll:
|Weight||Weight w/o Scotland||% Brexit||% E.U.|
Any Cameron-replacement is likely to demagogue the Europe issue and the voters south-of-the-border will be pissed. The momentum will be towards withdrawal and the polls will likely move that way.
But I would bet against a Tory election victory in the wake of Scottish secession, and thus against Brexit. Investors and bankers relax! The Labor Party will save you.
On the other hand, I think that the Spanish government is going to be much bolshier about letting Scotland in than I did a few months ago … they won’t veto, but they will drag things out, and Scotland is going to hurt.
There was that shock poll, yes. But we saw something similar in the Mexican presidential campaign. The official stance of this blog is unchanged. Although the gap is closing, we would still strongly bet against a Yes vote for secession.
Calling Sam Wang!
Anyway, there is another discussion to be had about whether Scotland should secede. Charlie Stross tries to draw some conclusions about the general desirability of small states here; I show incredulity and confusion about his argument here and here.
Sadly, Charlie has disabled Livejournal commenting, but I would encourage more participation, if only to help me understand what it is exactly that he is arguing.
Crispin Sartwell has an interesting critique of the left-right distinction in The Atlantic.
I think he’s right that the left-right distinction doesn’t make sense. I also, however, think two other things. First, it doesn’t matter. In extremis the distinction is meaningless. In practice, however, that means nothing. At any given time, political coalitions do make sense. Burkean conservatives may switch sides, as would egalitarians and democrats and cultural conservatives and the supporters of entrenched power. I am not sure why we should care that these coalitions change over time.
More importantly, Sartwell completely loses all credibility when he writes this: “The welfare state is more pervasive now than it was a century ago, and we now have institutions like compulsory public education. These are achievements of the left, programs they are still trying enhance, but have they actually resulted in more equal societies? Quite the contrary, I believe: They have led to ever-more-frozen hierarchies. The mainstream left is a technocratic elite, with a cult of science and expertise and an ear for the unanimous catchphrase. This is anything but a meritocracy; it an entrenched intergenerational class hierarchy.”
There are two problems with this paragraph. The first is when he claims that public education has not resulted in more equality. That is simply false. Goldin and Katz are the go-to resource here, but I challenge Prof. Sartwell to produce evidence that the expansion of public education has been inegalitarian in any country in any time period.
The second problem is in the penultimate sentence. I believe him that so-called meritocracies lead to unfair inequality: I am a great believer in the Rawlsian veil of uncertainty. (How could I not be, given the wide range of outcomes in my own immediate family?) But the reference to a “cult of science” is bizarre and gives the game away. He wants you to believe that expertise is a meaningless social construction. To add insult to injury, he wants you to believe in an “ear for the unanimous catchphrase” without defining what that means or providing evidence that it exists. Me, I have no idea what he is talking about, although it sounds like a bad thing. Which is his rhetorical point.
It gets worse. Sartwell’s next paragraph is: “Whatever the right is, it runs aground in contradiction similarly in its treatment of its own sacred concept ‘liberty,’ which is hard to hold in solution with opposing gay marriage or marijuana legalization, or with a thousand dimensions of the contemporary surveillance/security state.”
Sartwell could explain that liberty is incoherent, in the sense that a poor person is not free. But he does not. Rather, he takes a rather boringly conventional libertarian stance.
So ... he believes that public education has not increased equality, that expertise is meaningless, and that old-fashioned conservatism is stupid.
And I call bullshit. Sartwell is peddling garden-variety yawn-inducing libertarianism. Either that or his essay was badly composed. I am sympathetic to that problem! My own blog writing is generally badly-composed, although I would be more careful if asked to write for The Atlantic.
Am I wrong? I am happy to be schooled, including by Prof. Sartwell himself. (I deliberately refrained from googling his name before writing this; all I know is what is in the article.)
UPDATE: Googling has now occured, what with the Bosnia-Nigeria game not being as interesting as the earlier two matches today. Here is Sartwell’s blog. It is ... uh ... I am not sure what to say.
Panama-Venezuela relations remain at an all-time low because of the money that Venezuelans owe Panamanians. Venezuela’s capital controls are the reason the debts have not been paid. Panama responded in three ways. First, various forms of moral suasion, which are continuing but useless against the Maduro administration. Second, a case at the WTO, which is continuing but very slow. And third, a threat to publicize the moneys that corrupt Venezuelan officials have hidden in Panama ... which has sunk like a stone and disappeared.
Via Randy McDonald comes the likely reason: wealthy Venezuelans are continuing to move to Panama. Some of them are assuredly hiding money from the Venezuelan government, ill-gotten or not. Moreover, banking secrecy is the kind of thing that it is hard to half-violate without spooking clients from elsewhere. And, finally, the fact is that if the Maduro administration were going to respond to the Panamanian threat it would have already responded. Since Panama has no other real arrows in its quiver, it loses no credibility from not following through on its threat.
Plus, there is a new administration in Panama, from one of the two opposition parties. It is not bound by statements from the previous presidency. Venezuela is a scary place and an economic wreck, but it is a wreck in a very Venezuelan way. Panamanians rightfully discounted attempts to frighten them into thinking that the (conservative) opposition would create such a mess at home ... although President-elect Varela does intend to impose price controls on food.
We will continue to bring you more news in the Panama-Venezuela spat as it continues.
The two papers have very different definitions of what it means to replace a constitution. Cordeiro, for example, dates Argentina’s constitution to 1853. (Page 6.) Negretto, on the other hand, dates the current constitution to 1994. Who is right?
Negretto uses two definitions for a “new” constitution. First, did the framers claim that it was new? Second, in cases of doubt, were the changes enacted by a constitutional convention?
The first definition is a problem for Argentina. You can find popular references to the “Constitution of 1994,” but the callers of the constitutional conventional of 1994 were very explicit that the purpose was to amend the existing constitution. In fact, the text of the Congressional resolution calling for the convention starts with: “It is declared necessary the partial reform of the national constitution of 1853 including the amendments of 1860, 1866, 1898 and 1957.”
It should be noted that all of the above-mentioned reforms were passed by means of constitutional conventions called by Congress.
Moreover, it should be noted that there was no way to change the Argentine constitution without calling for a convention! Here is a translation of Article 30 of the constitution as it stood before the 1994 reform: “The Constitution can be amended in all or some of its parts. Congress shall declare the need for reform by a two-thirds vote of its members; but no amendment shall be carried out without a Convention called for that effect.”
As for the 1994 reform, they held elections to the required Convention on April 10, 1994. Congress set out the terms of the election in Article 10 of the resolution calling for the amendments. The Peronists received 37.7% of the vote and 44.6% of the seats; the Radicals got 19.9% of the vote and 24.6% of the seats. (See page 26.) The convention then put meat on the bones of the reform that Congress had passed.
It seems to me that Argentina is still governed by the Constitution of 1853 and has, in fact, amended its magna carta rather less than us Americans.
In short, Negretto is wrong. Oh, he is right by his own definition ... but that definition implies that the only way to amend the Argentine constitution is to replace the Argentine constitution. Since the Argentine congress can and does constrain constitutional conventions, that does not seem to be a reasonable definition.
I do not know enough about the other cases in his data set, but I would worry that his results depend on similar arbitrary definitions.
Maybe I should not have recommended the essay on democracy. I read it while playing with my boy. I am re-reading it now. And it has this:
“Plato’s great worry about democracy, that citizens would ‘live from day to day, indulging the pleasure of the moment,’ has proved prescient. Democratic governments got into the habit of running big structural deficits as a matter of course, borrowing to give voters what they wanted in the short term, while neglecting long-term investment. France and Italy have not balanced their budgets for more than 30 years. The financial crisis starkly exposed the unsustainability of such debt-financed democracy.”
WTF? No no no no no it has not! Both countries have entirely sustainable debt loads. Even given that they have abandoned their own currencies they have sustainable debt loads.
What in the name of God is the author talking about? The essay is a weird mash. Lots of good points, some subtle, with the occasional bizarroland statement that reads like it was tossed out there to make sure the Tories (and Republicans) keep reading.
By the way, Alex Harrowell, we still need you.
The Economist this week has an interesting essay on democracy. It ain’t bad. I recommend reading it. But it also has this insane part:
“This postmodern tsar has destroyed the substance of democracy in Russia, muzzling the press and imprisoning his opponents, while preserving the show — everyone can vote, so long as Mr Putin wins. Autocratic leaders in Venezuela, Ukraine, Argentina and elsewhere have followed suit, perpetuating a perverted simulacrum of democracy rather than doing away with it altogether, and thus discrediting it further.”
What the f--k? We have already presented the evidence that Venezuela is still democratic, albeit barely. That said, the comparison with Russia isn’t unfair.
But Argentina? Seriously? For real? Is there doubt that Argentine elections are free and fair? No. Is there doubt that the Peronistas would leave office if they lost an election? No. And if you don’t believe me, take the word of the same people who lumped Venezuela with Ethiopia. They give Argentina a polity score of 8. That is the same as Belgium and the Czech Republic, and twice Russia.
It is a headscratcher of a sentence. What was the author thinking? Or is it just cool for Economist writers to parrot Newt Gingrich?
The Monkey Cage was an awesome group blog. It brought serious political science research into the mainstream. It was all good.
And then it became part of the Washington Post.
Which gets us to an odd series of posts that attempts to convince the reader that American political polarization ain’t so bad. We can start with a post entitled “Gridlock is bad. The alternative is worse,” by Morris Fiorina of Stanford. Great scholar, great work ... but the argument is strange.
First, it assumes that the political parties would behave as they currently do under a more parliamentary-like electoral system. That makes no sense. One overreach followed by electoral disaster and that would be the end of that.
Second, to make his case that the parties left unfettered would do crazy things he writes, “The 2012 Republican platform plank stated essentially: never, no exceptions. The Democratic platform plank stated the opposite: any time, for any reason.”
Hmm. The GOP platform wrote:
Not a platform that I would support! And I would agree that point (5) effectively bans all abortions. But I would, no? Read objectively, this is to the right of median public opinion, but it is not off the charts. Of course I believe that it’s folderol, given the enthusiastic anti-abortion and anti-contraception actions of GOP-controlled state legislatures. But it sure is a sign that the national party understands the dangers of getting too far out in front of public opinion.
And the Democrats? Even less:
And that’s all she wrote.
So where does Fiorina’s characterization of the party platforms come from? You got me. He is a great scholar with a great book on polarization. But this was not written as a serious post. It has a slatepitchy feel: let’s devil’s advocate against the conventional wisdom. That has a place, I have been known to do it myself ... but it belongs not on the Monkey Cage that I used to love.
A worse post is Rob Ford’s “In America, polarization is a problem. In Britain, it could be a solution.” (This is the Rob Ford of the University of Manchester, not the other guy.) I have much to say about this, but I would rather make a public call for Alex Harrowell to come over here and fisk it for us. I will say simply that even if Ford is correct (Alex, we need you!), then I am not convinced that you have a problem if the only by-products are falling voter turnout and the rise of a rather silly buy aggressively anti-racist bunch of twits.
Now, as befits that great nation, the Canadian entry into the series is sober and serious. Richard Johnson of UBC limits himself to pointing out something that non-Canadians may not have realized: Canadian parties have become more polarized, whereas Canadian voters have not. That is the Monkey Cage I used to love: rigorously confirming the conventional wisdom (as AFAIK the above is the conventional wisdom in Canada) is a worthwhile initiative, Canadian or otherwise.
Anyway, earlier posts in the series are not slatepitchy, and some in fact argue against the American and British arguments mentioned above. And I do not want anyone to take this as a criticism of Fiorina or Ford. Like I said, I have done the same thing. And many counterintuitive pitches are indeed correct. But these two are odd.
Let me caveat the rest of this post with a reiteration of the fact that I am not a defender of the Venezuelan government. Nor should you be. Mark Weisbrot, a smart fellow, makes a bit of a fool of himself by trying. (One of our commentors makes a rather better effort, but ultimately fails.) I am on the record as thinking that the current bout of violence and repression is both the government’s fault and rather inexplicably stupid.
Had Maduro held his calm, the violence would have been minimal and passing. The fact that he did not and put gasoline on the flames comes as a surprise to me.
In short, the Venezuelan government is run by incompetents. But is it a dictatorship?
To my surprise, I discovered on Caracas Chronicles that one of the most-prominent political databases, Polity IV, says yes, the Bolivarian Republic is a dictatorship.
What is Polity IV? In the words of Anabella Abadi and Bárbara Lira it is “a project of the Center for Systemic Peace, which codifies characteristics of political regimes in order to classify them — in opposite extremes — as ‘Institutionalized Democracies’ or ‘Autocratic Regimes’. To formulate the indicator, Polity IV considers the election mechanism for the Executive Power (meaning regulations, competition and open participation); institutional constraints on the exercise of power by the Executive Power; and the degree of regulation and political competition.”
It is a good database; I have used it myself in academic work. But something seemed odd about the rapid decline in Venezuela’s polity score after the establishment of the Bolivarian Republic:
So I decided to dig into the numbers and see what was going on.
The basic polity score has two components: democracy and autocracy. The total score is determined by subtracting one from the other. In 1998, when Hugo Chávez first won election, the democracy score was 8 and the autocracy score was zero, for a total score of 8. That made it a solid democracy: France was 6 in 1958 and ranks at 9 today.
So what happened?
Well, in 1999 the score dropped by one. The fall was due to a fall in the “executive constraints” score from 6 to 5, presumably as a result of the new constitution. The highest value is 7. By definition, the index gives all parliamentary systems a value of 7, since the legislature can depose the executive. The U.S. also gets a score of 7, since the president cannot introduce legislation. A value of 5 is defined as “substantial constraints on the executive” and still falls well within democratic norms. (Page 24.)
There is a little bit of wiggle room here since a ranking of 6 on “executive constraints” is just an intermediate placeholder. In other words, the difference between 6 and 5 is not defined. But to be honest, the drop was fair: the 1999 constitution gave the president the power to dissolve the National Assembly, which is a powerful tool. (One might not consider executive constraints to be the best measure of democracy and quibble with the way parliamentary systems get the highest score, of course.)
OK, then, fall in 1999 explained. No problem.
In 2001 the score falls again by one point. This time, the fall in the was due to a fall in the “competitiveness of participation” score from 4 to 3. This variable is a little odd. The top value is 5, or “competitive.” OK, gotcha. A value of 4 is an ill-defined transitional category. A score of 3 means that “parochial or ethnic-based political factions that regularly compete for political influence in order to promote particularist agendas and favor group members to the detriment of common, secular, or cross-cutting agendas.” (Page 26.)
I am not entirely sure that I understand what that means in the Venezuelan case.
Even if I did, the fall does not have to do with the Second Enabling Act of 2001, under which the Assembly gave President Chávez temporary decree power. That should have changed the executive constraint score, not the political competitiveness score. (The law did not change the executive constraint score because the Act was constitutional; moreover the previous constitution contained a similar provision.) Anyway. the Second Enabling Act had been preceded by the First Enabling Act in 2000.
But what did happen in 2001 to cause the fall in the “competitiveness of participation”? I do not know. The drop is a bit mysterious. Not necessarily wrong, but not immediately obvious. Help?
In 2006, the executive constraint variable drops by another point. Now, one problem is that a score of 4 is still an undefined transitional category (page 24) but it seems justifiable. The Bolivarian Republic is still a point above the early years of the French Fifth Republic on the executive constraint tip, meaning that Hugo Chávez was more constrained than Charles de Gaulle.
A bigger problem is that the drop seems a little inexplicable. The Chavistas won a two-thirds majority in 2005, so the timing is off. Is it the scale of the Chavista presidential victory in ‘06? A score of 4 still involves an independent judiciary and some legislative autonomy, so it is not unreasonable, but it has a Potter Stewart feel to it.
Thus, 2006 is when Venezuela loses its status as an institutionalized democracy, but not as a democracy. Such a loss does indeed pass the Potter Stewart test, even if the timing is odd.
I am not entirely sure I understand it, but it is not unreasonable. Opinions on what happened in 2006? Right move, wrong timing?
Things fall apart in 2009, though, and that is where I get confused.
First, the summary. The polity score plunges eight points from 5 to −3. How do we get there?
How reasonable are these changes? From most to least:
The putative −3, on the other hand, puts Venezuela with Ethiopia, Jordan, Burma, and Tajikistan and one point worse than Angola, Chad, Mauritania, Sudan, Togo and Singapore.
All ten of the countries in the above sentence are far less democratic than Venezuela. For all the incompetence of the Maduro government, a score of −3 does not pass the smell test.
Am I wrong?
So it isn’t likely to happen.
And now it is less likely to happen with E.U. Commission President José Manuel Barroso saying what we all knew already, which is that an independent Scotland would have to apply for E.U. membership, just like Iceland or Norway. The negotiations will not be easy, even through Madrid will likely agree to allow the application.
I am opposed to Scottish (or Catalan or Texan or Québécois or Regiomontano or Camba or whatever) independence because I am opposed in-general to secession from democratic states. First, secessionism generally requires a cramped nationalism that is too close to tribalism for comfort. Second, it smacks of democratic failure: you don’t like national policies, but instead of trying to build a majority to change them you pack up your marbles and leave. Finally, it is (albeit probably not the Scottish case) selfish, a way for richer people to dissolve their historic bonds of community with poorer ones.
I read the Crooked Timber thread. The positive arguments for smaller states boiled down to (1) We do not like the way that the U.K. votes as a whole, so screw it; or (2) nationalism, just because. (By that definition, I should be a huge proponent for the Republic of New York and New Jersey Only with the Annoying Bit of New York Removed and Maybe Horse Country Too.)
If there are unreconciliable historical wrongs in play, then I could be persuaded to support the partition of a notionally-democratic state. For concrete examples, see Ireland circa 1922, Algeria circa 1961, or Kosovo circa 2008. But those are extraordinary cases that involved a horrible combination of long-standing ethnic discrimination and very recent bloodshed. Moreover, electoral democracy in the modern sense was a recent arrival to all three mother states: the U.K. in 1918, France in 1958, and Serbia in 2000.*
Absent that, however, I say no. Secession should be off the table.
But I might be wrong to say no! Counterarguments very welcome.
* The Fourth Reform Act of 1918 introduced more-or-less universal suffrage to the U.K., although female suffrage remained limited until 1928. The French Constitution of 1958 granted full voting rights to all Muslim residents of the Algerian departments. Slobodan Milošević fell in 2000, after which Serbia (which remained notionally united with Montenegro until 2006) has held basically free elections.
The thing that has always gotten to me about the Venezuelan government under Chavismo has been the incompetence. It is just a mess. You did not need to have electricity shortages caused by freezing rates to the extent that power consumption became free. (Rates have been frozen since 2002. Electricity in Venezuela costs 0.11 bolívares per kWh — at the black market exchange rate, that’s ... uh ... 0.13 cents. This is down from 18.4¢ when the government froze rates.) You did not need to create a crazy exchange rate scheme. You did not need to allow inflation to accelerate. You did not need to send all this money overseas to no political benefit.
The problem isn’t that the goals of the Bolivian Revolution necessarily involve a bad economy or high crime or a stupid foreign policy. It is that they cannot figure out how to accomplish whatever goals they may have. Hell, if you tasked me with building socialism or uniting with Cuba or whatever, I could do a better job. It’s just a mysterious incompetence.
Which brings us to the recent tragic deaths. It is terrible. But demonstrations do get out of control. So it would be very easy for the government to regret the deaths, blame the protestors and continue its crackdown without screaming treason and issuing warrants for opposition leaders. Or censoring Twitter ... which gains you nothing but bad press.
Why ratchet things up? One possible answer, consistent with everything else, is incompetence. Chávez was never incompetent at domestic politics. Maduro is not so skilled. So maybe he is just making mistakes.
Or perhaps he is acting quite deliberately. Javier Corrales, a very smart guy, thinks that ratcheting up the tension will allow Maduro to unite his coalition.
For that to be true, however, you would need to believe that the one-two punch of the economy and crime was on the verge of destabilizing his coalition.
So ... how would know whether that was true?
One of things I teach my students is that it is very important to know what you don’t know when operating in a foreign country. If you have a native-level understanding, great! Play the political game. But if you don’t, then it’s best to be completely hands-off (e.g., letting local partners do the work) or stay away.
The worst thing is to think you understand something you don’t.
This is a problem that Canadians often suffer.
Our case on the Keystone pipeline highlights this problem: TransCanada was prepared for national resistance to the pipeline, but never expected a problem with deep-red Nebraska. But they got one! Oh, boy, did they get one.
Our HBS case goes through that all in depth, but Karl Sigwarth, a former student, just sent me a great story in McLean’s that tells it all far more readably. (Cases, remember, are meant to be slightly cryptic!)
My favorite part:
Back in his office tower in Calgary, Alex Pourbaix, the affable, rosy-cheeked head of pipelines for TransCanada, still marvels at how a western Canadian oil company came to be so hated by ranchers in Nebraska.
“TransCanada didn’t just dream up the route out of thin air,” he insists. But Nebraska landowners could never understand why the company didn’t simply follow the route of the first Keystone project, along the far eastern edge of the state, out of the Sand Hills and away from the aquifer. The new path struck them as so illogical that some believed only secret ulterior motives could explain it. “What we’re really afraid of is that once the tar sands run out, they are going to be piping into the aquifer to get the water so that they can export the water to other areas of the country or overseas,” speculated one Nebraska farmer, Art Tanderup.
Pourbaix was amazed by the mistrust. “I don’t even know what to say to that.”
Now, heavy opposition to anything coming anywhere near the Ogalalla was super-predictable, as anyone who has ever read The Amazing Spider-Man knows:
You just don’t mess with anything iconic enough to make it into a comic book.
That’s serious advice, by the way. It was utterly ridiculous for TransCanada to be taken by surprise at the Nebraskan opposition. They could have avoided the whole damn thing by starting with the route they eventually chose. (The green line below, instead of the yellow.) That would have also gotten the route approved at the federal level before the opposition had a chance to mobilize.
But they were just too arrogant, failing to realize that their southern neighbor was in fact an entirely different country. No American would ever do that!
Well, the energy certainly looks closer to the PAN proposal than the first pass from President Peña. Peña’s proposal left all the details to the enabling law; this reform pretty much spells out that the industry is being thrown wide open. Pemex is clearly reduced to just an operator among many. Moreover, there was no sovereign wealth fund in the Peña proposal; now there is one.
The reform keeps a ban on concessions might be meaningful were it not for the fact that the transitory articles refer to “licenses.” Licenses are the what the petroleum industry generally call concessions nowadays. There is no difference and I pity the lawyer who tries to find one.
So what happened? Well, on November 2nd, we wrote, slightly paraphrased, “With PRD support off the table, there are two possibilities. The first is that the PRI holds firm against political reform, but swings right on energy. The second is that the PRI relents on political reform, figuring that it still will have a good shot at the presidency.”
We thought the first to be the less likely outcome ... but that seems to have been what has happened.
The title of this post is lifted directly from Mexfiles, which has a post on the reform that you should all go read. It goes into some depth about the possible effect of allowing limited re-election and the federalization of election regulation.
It is also an awesome title. When Porfirio Díaz first assumed the presidency, in 1876, his slogan was “Sufragio efectivo, no reelección.” (“Effective suffrage, no re-election.”) Díaz duly stepped down in 1880. He then ran again and won in 1884. And 1888. And 1892. And 1896, 1900, 1904, and 1910.
The joke was that Díaz had simply misplaced a comma the first time around. Instead of ¡Sufragio efectivo, no reelección!, he had meant to write, Sufragio efectivo no, ¡reelección!
(A useful chronology of the Porfiriato can be found here.)
Anyway, at Mexfiles they are pointing out that the new reform is pretty limited. State elections (which are relatively clean now) will become slightly cleaner. (One of the bigger changes is that INE will be now be able to overturn elections in which the parties exceed their spending limits.) Meanwhile, deputies and senators will become very slightly freer from party control. (Very slightly.) Good mayors will be able to win re-election, but not enough to let them create political machines. In all, a sort of halfway house.
I agree with Federico. The reform seems important only because the PAN made it the price of energy reform. What I do not understand is why the PAN cares. After all, it is a little weird to say, “Give us something unimportant [political reform] in exchange for something that we really really care about [energy reform]!”
The whole thing strikes me as political kabuki, a way for the PAN to pretend that it isn’t just automatically approving whatever President Peña sets out.
The energy reform is moving apace. As you know, the PAN linked energy reform to political reform ... and so, political reform is also moving apace. It moved yesterday out of a Senate committee to the full floor, where it passed today by an overwhelming margin of 106 to 15.
So what was in this motherhood reform? You can find the text here, but it runs 244 pages. (You can also look for it here.) The constitutional changes themselves take up 35 pages. That’s a lot. Below, as a public service, we here at TPTM summarize the amendments for you. The constitutional reform of 2013:
Reforms Article 26 to create a “National Social Development Policy Evaluation Council,” which is probably as pointless as it sounds;
Reforms Article 29 to remove the ability of the Secretary of State or Attorney General to veto a presidential declaration of a state of emergency;
Reforms Article 35 to federalize election supervision by changing the name of the Federal Electoral Institue to the “National Electoral Institute,” which will now in be charge of state elections as well as federal. We are not doing this amendment justice, however — the changes are rather large and deserve a post of their own;
Reforms Article 54 to raise the threshold for a party to receive proportional-representation seats in Congress from 2% to 3%;
Reforms Article 59 to let senators serve two terms and deputies four, with no party-switching allowed;
Reforms Article 69 to require the President to submit a National Public Security Strategy to the Senate in his or her first year in office. (A reform to Article 76 says that if the Senate does nothing, then it should be considered approved);
Reforms Article 73 to require that electoral fraud be punishable by prison. More profoundly, should there be a “coalition government” (see reforms to Article 89 below) then Congress will gain the ability to approve all cabinet ministers save the heads of the Department of Defense (e.g., the Army) and the Department of the Navy;
Reforms Article 74 to make the finance minister require approval by a vote of the Chamber of Deputies;
Reforms Article 83 to shorten the lame-duck transition from five months to three, moving the date the president takes office from December 1 to October 1;
Reforms Article 89 to explicitly allow for coalition governments. It also states that cabinet nominees will assume office when they are nominated; should Congress fail to ratify their position they will then step down. The exact text of the new section is worth translating:
Section XVII: At whatever moment the President may opt for a coalition government with one or several of the political parties represented in the Congress of the Union. The coalition government shall be regulated by its respective convention and program, which shall be approved by a majority of the members present in each chamber of the Congress of the Union. The convention shall establish the causes under which the coalition government shall be dissolved.
Reforms Article 102 to make the Attorney General into an independent post appointed for a nine year term from a list of candidates approved by a two-thirds vote of the Senate … although, contradictorily, it also allows the President to remove him or her at will subject only to getting one-third of Congress to agree;
Reforms Article 115 to allow county mayors to serve two terms, among other reforms designed to insure cleaner local elections.
We are unconvinced that the ease on re-election will have a transformative effect on Mexican politics, especially since California-style legislative term limits will remain in place. In fact, other than the federalization of all elections (something the United States should imitate) it is not clear that any of these changes are particularly major, save possibly the idea of the coalition government. (Which still seems a little odd.)
But perhaps we are wrong and this is bigger than it looks! Thoughts?
Mexico’s three parties split three ways on constitutional reform.
Interestingly, the PAN introduced its reform before the President, moving on July 31, 2013. President Peña sent his proposal to the Senate on August 12. (The PRD published its relatively vague statement a week after the President, on August 19.)
Public opinion is at best unclear. In September, polls showed 52% of the population in favor of the President’s proposal, but only 15% “strongly” favored the reforms. Moreover, 61% opposed allowing Pemex to sign profit-sharing contracts with private companies.
So how is the battle shaking out? First, the PRI and PAN wound up at loggerheads over a new tax bill. The PAN walked out over last-minute provisions raising the top income tax bracket from 30% to 35%, a hike in the border state VAT to 16% from 11%, and a 5% tax on junk food. (The maquiladora industry also screamed that they would now have to apply for a VAT rebate rather than simply not paying it.) The final bill had to be passed with PRD support.
Now the PAN insists that it will only support energy reform if the PRI agrees to a series of political reforms. (You can find the detailed constitutional proposal at this link. Among much else, it includes the re-election of senators (once) and deputies (3x) and a run-off presidential election should nobody garner 40%+ of the vote. President Peña got 39% last year.)
With PRD support off the table, there are two possibilities. The first is that the PRI holds firm against political reform, but swings right on energy. We wind up with more radical reform akin to the one in the previous paragraph. The second is that the PRI relents on political reform, figuring that it still will (a) have a good shot at the presidency; and (b) be able to maintain control over its congressional delegation even with term-limited re-election.
My prediction is the second. The PAN reform is still a large bone for public opinion to swallow. It could easily trigger mass demonstrations, or worse. Moreover, the benefits would be limited, at least in petroleum. Foreign companies will still likely want to form joint-ventures with Pemex in the deepwater, and onshore development is likely to move slowly even under a new PAN regime.
Moreover, from the point of view of your average Mexican, it does not matter if the PAN is correct! Let’s assume that its reforms trigger a massive tight oil boom in northern Mexico, a veritable explosion of hydrocarbons. After all, the northern range is an extension of the Eagle Ford shale. Well, estimated breakevens in the Eagle Ford are $75-$85 per barrel. Many of the big companies have failed to make it work in South Texas. The implication is that even if production explodes, there will not be huge windfalls to tax away. Now, gas production could be a different story. Mexico needs natural gas. But the faster and easier way to decrease gas prices in Mexico is to import more from the United States.
That means that the PAN reform will be, in the short-term, all political cost and no benefit. It is hard to see the PRI signing on to that, especially since it is not clear that the PRI shares the long-term vision.
The most probable outcome is something like the PRI reform, tied to political reform. The less likely outcome is that the PRI tacks right to give us a radical Panista reform. It is also possible that nothing will happen, and we will get something like the PRD reform.
Call me in a few months, tell me how I did.
In theory, the transitory articles in Mexican constitutional amendments are self-executing temporary orders designed to insure that the amendment is actually implemented. In other words, they are transitory: once executed, they are obsolete
To my lay eye, some of the transitory articles in the proposed Panista energy reform do not look particularly transitory. The notable offenders are articles 4, 5, 6, 11, and 16. It would logically appear that either they are not transitory, or they are close to meaningless, the Mexican equivalent of a signing statement.
Other transitory articles, it would seem, are transitory in that they refer to a single Congressional implementing action ... but it would also seem that some of them should not actually be transitory. For example, Article 9 gives Pemex a preference as an operator over other companies. Except, well, if its transitory then future Congresses could change the resulting law, no?
Finally, Article 7 requires both the current president and the next one to execute a ten-year program designed to take the federal government’s dependency on oil revenues from today’s ~59% of current revenues to half of the investment earnings of the Oil Fund. I guess that is transitory, but over 10 years? Moreover, after those ten years the 50%-of-Fund-earnings appears to be a permanent cap. So why is that not in the main text?
Transitory articles are not mentioned in the body of the Constitution, so no help there. Which must mean one of three things. (1) Transitory articles are not really transitory; (2) Transitory articles are transitory, but contain a lot of meaningless verbiage; or (3) I am really not understanding something.
The answer is (3), of course. Are there any lawyers here who can explain?
Juan Linz has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention in the blogosphere recently. Linz wrote that presidential regimes tend to break down because of irreconciliable conflicts between the executive and the legislature.
Many observers, not least Matt Yglesias, have interpreted Linz as stating that the problem is that presidential system allow for gridlock between the executive and the legislature, especially when the parties are ideologically coherent and commited. Kind of like, uh, the modern United States. So are we doomed now that our parties have become European-style organizations?
Well, maybe. The cross-country data is mildly supportive of the presidentialism = bad hypotesis, but is by no means a slam-dunk. Moreover, while presidential regimes are more likely to break down there is really rather little evidence that the reason was gridlock between the executive and the legislature.
The closest parallel to the current American situation is Chile in the early 1970s — but it is not very close. In the 1969 election, the People’s Union (Unidad Popular) got 60 out of 150 seats in the lower house. The Christian Democrats got 57 and the National Party received 33. The next year, Salvador Allende (the People’s Union candidate) won a plurality of the presidential vote, throwing the election to Congress, where he won with Christian Democratic support. (The Nixon Administration tried to prevent his election but failed.) Allende started a program of widespread nationalizations using existing legal authority under a 1932 law that allowed for the temporary requisition of basic goods when in the public interest. (The law also allowed the executive to put companies into temporary receivership should they be closed by a strike.) In October 1972, the Supreme Court ordered the President to obey lower-court orders overturning some of the nationalizations; Allende refused.
In March 1973, the opposition won the Congressional elections. The Christian Democrats aligned with the National Party to form the Democratic Confederation, which took 55.6% of the popular vote and 87 out of 150 seats. (The People’s Union got the rest.) Congress first attempted to amend the constitution, which failed. It then tried to impeach Allende, but could not get the requisite ⅔ majority. In May, the Supreme Court again reprimanded the President. At this point, Congress went on record asking for a coup. The coup happened on September 11, and its leaders proceeded to disband Congress and jail or “disappear” many of the legislators who had called on the military.
In short, the Chilean crisis was caused by a President who overstepped his authority and disobeyed the Supreme Court and resolved by a military that believed itself above the law. Suffice it to say that this does not characterize America’s current situation.
What about Argentina? Well, Argentina has had a lot of coups since the first one in 1930. In 1930, President Hipólito Yrigoyen’s party had comfortable majorities in both houses. The 1943 coup was against a dictatorship. The 1955 coup overthrew the elected Juan Perón — but Perón’s party controlled Congress by overwhelming margins. As in 1930, gridlock was not the issue. In 1962, the miltary overthrew President Arturo Frondizi: in that case, the prompt was Frondizi’s loss of several governorships to the Peronists in the ’62 elections. Again, gridlock was not the issue. The 1966 coup kinda sorta maybe if you squint could be gridlock-related — but really had more to do with President Arturo Illia’s confrontation with American oil companies. And 1976? That one was against President Isabel Perón’s supposed inability to defeat Communist guerrillas. Her coalition controlled Congress; once again, gridlock was not the issue.
What about Brazil? Well, the Revolution of 1930 took down an oligarchical government with an extremely limited electorate. Not really comparable. The 1964 coup knocked out a left-wing government with American support. It is true that Congress did not support President João Goulart. It is also true, however, that for his first three years Goulart presided over a parliamentary system in which power resided with Prime Minister Tancredo Neves. In 1963, a referendum restored President Goulart’s executive power: the result was paralysis. In that sense, the ’64 democratic breakdown is consistent with the hypothesis that presidentialism causes gridlock causes democratic failure. The problem is that the parliamentary system tried beforehand was doing no better at resolving the country’s political conflicts.
Colombia? Well, the 1953 coup happened after President Laureano Gómez seized dictatorial power. Gómez, in turn, won the 1950 election because the opposition boycotted it. Again, gridlock not the problem.
Let’s turn then to Mexico. Uh … no, let’s not. The 1910 revolution got started against a dictatorship. Porfirio Díaz government was many things, but gridlocked was not one of them. (In fact, Congressional votes were all unanimous after 1893.)
I could go on around the other countries of the Western Hemisphere, but the pattern is similar. Divided government is not the cause of most democratic breakdowns in Latin America. Chile 1973 is the closest, but that is one event, with little resemblance to the government-by-crisis currently affecting the United States.
So breathe easy America! We will get through this. How, you ask? Well, if the GOP keeps this up, it will lose a lot of elections, even with our gerrymandered House of Representatives ... and there is a lot of ruin in the United States. The worst-case scenario on the debt ceiling is pretty bad, and I would certainly a 5-10% fall in GDP and the corresponding human suffering a failure of the United States. But in the unlikely event that the Republicans take us there, they will not be in a position to take us there again.
The news from Europe today concerns the birth of the new British royal heir. I actually don’t think the news is that big: the only place my wife and I have heard it discussed is on television. That’s it. None of the nurses in her hospital have mentioned it. None of the cops I meet in the morning could care less. Ditto the gym, the coffeehouse, the sports bar. Zero zip nada except for Chris Matthews.
More important political news from Italy has been obscured. It seems as though the current Italian government wants to neuter the Senate.
The official position of this blog is that Senates are a bad thing. Of the ones reviewed here, the U.S. and the Philippines have the worst; Argentina’s and Brazil’s are pretty bad; Canada’s is redeemed only by its relative lack of authority. Only Mexico and Colombia have halfway-decent upper houses, and even those are still halfway-indecent.
On paper, the Italian senate is not terrible. Each region gets a number of seats proportional to its population. The coalition with the most votes (even if not a majority) in the region then gets 55% of the seats from that region. Bizarrely, the national voting age is 18, but for the Senate it is 25.
But in practice, it’s a problem. In the lower house the coalition with a plurality of votes automatically gets at least 55% of the seats. The government therefore has an automatic majority. (In most parliamentary systems the government usually gets a majority, although not always. Minority governments are generally considered a problem and usually short-lived.) In the Senate, however, the government is not guaranteed a majority. Unless a coalition can be cobbled together, you run the risk of having the government collapse. Moreover, even when a government is formed, bicameralism slows down decision-making.
So now the current Italian government is trying to neuter the upper house! I approve. How can they do that, might one ask? Well, simply, if the Senators believe that replacing the Senate with a weaker body is in the interest of their party, then they will vote for the reform.
Nonetheless, success is unlikely ... but it sure beats the way the Canadian government wants to strengthen its Senate.
I just read a very good essay by Andrew Mwenda in a Ugandan newspaper. (I am not in Uganda.) Here is the conclusion:
Could post independence governments in Africa have performed better? Perhaps, but at a price; they should have aimed at preserving their limited capacity; using it only sparingly. Instead, most governments in Africa moved fast to elaborate public functions. Botswana avoided this mistake perhaps because it had had an almost absentee colonial state. This could have reduced the demands for rapid africanisation. But acting like Botswana would have been a purely technical response to what was actually a burning political problem.
The nationalist struggle for independence emerged to challenge legally sanctioned exclusion of Africans from state power outside of traditional institutions in colonial Africa. That was its fuel. Upon independence, the first demand therefore was rapid africanisation. Although technically disastrous, it was politically popular. The second demand was derived from the first. Africans wanted to take public services to the wider population. Few governments would have survived by resisting this demand.
Political pressure for africanisation undermined the meritocratic systems of external recruitment and internal promotion that allowed the civil service to uphold its high standards. Rapid elaboration of functions without existing capacity made a bad situation worse. What was politically right was technically disastrous. And in our ethnically heterogeneous polities, promoting social inclusion – even on the face of things – was more politically desirable than sustaining technical competence. The problem is that it eroded competence and allowed cronyism and corruption to flourish. Politics is costly and Africa had to pay that price.
Many African elites focus on technical failures in Africa and ignore the political compromises that brought that failure. In other words, the price of political compromise was technical failure. It is possible that if such compromises had not been struck, many states in Africa would have collapsed under the weight of civil war. It is remarkable that African leaders who inherited fictions of states left behind by colonial rule were successful at creating a common national consciousness. This has sustained the sovereignty and territorial integrity of these nations. Today, few states in Africa have fallen apart like Somalia. In others, the state may not be omnipresent yet, but the concept of nationhood has gained a lot of ground.
Click the link and read the whole thing!
I find this a fascinating hypothesis. How to test it? Ted Miguel provides partial evidence from the Kenya-Tanzania border. The border sliced through the same diversity of ethnic groups on both sides, yet villages on the Tanzanian side find it much easier to muster collective action and raise resources to provide public goods than otherwise identical Kenyan counterparts. Ted’s work, however, just indicates that nation-building strategies can work. It doesn’t quite get at Andrew Mwenda’s hypothesis.
I wish I saw an obvious way to operationalize the hypothesis. Calling Suresh Naidu!
OK, I got some emails about Colombian membership in NATO. The rumors are true: President Santos did float a trial balloon about joining the organization. NATO, unsurprisingly, said no. NATO would have said no regardless, but it was useful that the North Atlantic Treaty states that new parties to the organization have to be in Europe. Article 10:
The Parties may, by unanimous agreement, invite any other European State in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area to accede to this Treaty. Any State so invited may become a Party to the Treaty by depositing its instrument of accession with the Government of the United States of America.
The country will sign a cooperation agreement with NATO, but it is still not clear what that means. NATO says, however, that all cooperation agreements are the same, and you can find out what the organization says about said cooperation here.
NATO member or not, Colombia and the U.S. are close allies. We have a free trade agreement. Small numbers of U.S. troops operate in-country. The Colombian supreme court overturned an agreement giving the U.S. access to Colombian bases (see page 39 of this CRS report) but the U.S. still builds facilities there. (The text of the agreement can be found here.)
And the U.S. is surprisingly popular. Here is Latinobarómetro’s 2009 results on the question, “Does the U.S. treat your country with respect?”
SIDE OBSERVATION #1: It is interesting that Venezuelans place themselves in a category with Uruguay and Brazil, and not with their Bolivarian comrades in Bolivia, Ecuador and Argentina. My hypothesis is that it reflects Venezuelan polarization: all Venezuelans know that relations between the U.S. and Venezuela are bad, but many more Venezuelans take the American side than do their compatriots in the other big Bolivarian countries.
Here are the results to a general question on the state of bilateral relations:
SIDE OBSERVATION #2: The Venezuelan results are consistent with my hypothesis: everyone knows that relations with the U.S. are terrible, but many of them blame their own government.
SIDE OBSERVATION #3: A large subset of Mexicans are uniquely suspiscious of the United States, and uniquely prickly about national sovereignty. In fact, the U.S. treats Mexico with at least as much respect as Colombia (likely more) and relations are at least as good as with Colombia (likely better). But for understandable historical reasons, Mexicans don’t see it that way.
Finally, the Colombian results appear to hold over time. It is not just a phenomenon of the Obama-Santos relationship.
In short, even though Colombia will not be joining NATO, it has a uniquely close relationship with the United States. Moreover, that special relationship is supported by Colombian public opinion, and thus likely to endure.
None of this is to say that the U.S.-Colombian relationship is necessarily good for Colombia. The jury is out on that one, although if there is demand I will present some evidence that it just might be bad.
In comments, Tzintzuntzan asks about the procedural rules in the Colombian congress. What are the rules by which the legislature makes the rules? Who controls them?
This is something often overlooked when Americans examine foreign countries. It’s an odd oversight, since procedural rules define American politics more than most places. In the Senate, the need to get 60% to pass anything is a procedural rule. In the House, the Speaker’s near dictatorial control over what bills get to the floor is a procedural rule. And don’t get me started on the baroque rules governing the conference committees that reconcile bills passed by both houses. In short, American politics is entirely incomprehensible if you don’t understand the procedural rules.
The same applies (albeit generally to a lesser extent) to other countries. If you don’t understand the rules by which the legislature makes the rules, then you can’t understand their politics.
Fortunately, Royce Carroll (Rice) and Mónica Pachón (Uniandes) have studied the issue for Colombia. Who controls the legislative agenda? Where are the vetoes?
The U.S. president, as Barack Obama knows all too well, cannot introduce legislation directly. Now, it is usually easy for a President to get a sympathetic legislator to introduce a bill, but he or she cannot force Congress to vote on it. Speaker Boehner or a coalition of forty Senators can kill anything before it even comes up for a vote.
Not so in Colombia! Here, the President can directly introduce legislation. Article 200 of the constitution (English here, Spanish here, and note that in context “gobierno” is used in the British sense and ought to be translated in American English as “administration”) lays out the authority:
This article has been interpreted very broadly.
In addition, the President can force votes on his or her bills within 30 days. In fact, they can force a vote within 15 days by invoking a joint session of Congress. Better yet, they can skip committees and insure that the House and Senate debate the same initial version of the bill.
But there is a snag. Bills can be amended on the floor. So the President needs to pay close attention to the legislative process in both chambers. If the House and Senate amend bills differently, then a conference committee will determine its final shape ... and the President of the Republic has no direct authority over the committee.
So who does? The answer: each chamber’s three-person Board of Directors. They are elected to one-year terms, by secret ballot. Each Board consists of one president and two vice-presidents, with (by tradition) the president coming from the majority coalition and the veeps from the largest minority parties. These guys serve pick the conference committee, and these are the guys that the President needs on board to get his or her bills through the Congress. In fact, they pick all committees, so getting any bills through Congress requires their assent.
The board presidents are, to get back to Tzin’s question, the equivalent of the U.S. Speaker. The one-year limit, however, insures that the Colombian congress produces no Willie Browns. Me, I think that is a bad thing, but mileage may vary.
What is the upshot? First, presidents in Colombia have a good-but-not-perfect legislative track record. (See page 17.) President Pastrana got 85% of his major bills passed. President Uribe got 79% passed in his first term, and 57% in his second. Presidential bills generally, however, take a lot longer than 30 days to pass: the average is actually 224.
Congress, however, maintains a lot of influence over the process. Carroll and Pachón calculated the proportion of characters that changed between the first version of a bill and the last. For presidential initiatives, 54% of the bill (among passed laws) changed throughout the process. For legislative initiatives, however, the proportion was only 26%. (See page 20.)
The unanswered question, however, is why presidential bills change more than Congressional ones. There are three hypotheses.
Hypothesis 1: The conference committees run the show. They change presidential bills more than ones introduced by their fellow congresspeople.
Hypothesis 1 is probably wrong, or at least incomplete. If it were correct, the changes to presidential bills should mostly happen in the conference committee. Conference committees, however, change only 14% of presidential bills. Most changes occur on the floor.
Hypothesis 2: The only kinds of congressional bills that can pass are uncontroversial motherhood issues.
Hypothesis 2 is also probably wrong. It is true that congressional bills usually fail: none passed under Pastrana and only 36% in Uribe’s first term. But congresspeople introduced such significant (and successful) pieces of legislation as the Violence Against Women Act, the Congressional Ethics Act, and a law allowing the confiscation of property from convicted criminals.
Hypothesis 3: The Board of Directors exercise control early on over congressional bills, but though means other than the conference committee. (Of course, the threat of an unfriendly conference committee might lead the executive to roll over on amendments earlier in the process.)
This one seems to fit the facts. The Board of Directors (in Spanish, the “mesa directiva”) are very powerful. Their power is limited, however, by the fact that they serve only one-year terms.
The upshot is that the President of Colombia can work even with the kinds of fragmented Congresses produced by Colombian electoral law as long as he can get a friendly Board of Directors. He can even work with the Senate. Barack Obama should be so lucky.
Tzin, does this answer your question?
But this is not to say that all is well with Colombian politics. More on that if there is interest.
Finally, I will have a good thing to say about a senate!
This blog is on record trashing the senates of America, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, and the Philippines. It has been slightly kinder to the one of Mexico, but only slightly. So, finally, here is a senate that I can support.
Under the Constitution of 1991, Colombia has two houses. The House of Representatives is elected by district. Each department gets two representatives, plus an additional one for every 250,000 people. The representatives, however, are not elected from geographic districts. Rather, they are elected by proportional representation at the level of the department. For example, Bogotá divvies up its 18 representatives according to the percentage of the vote taken by each party in Bogotá. La Guajira, then, does the same thing with its two representatives. (The geographic division of the 164 representatives can be found here.)
The 100 members of the Senate (actually 102, since two Senators represent indigenous communities) are also elected by proportional representation, but according to their percentage of the national vote. Voters vote separately for the two chambers.
Now there may be problems. First, proportional representation might not be the best way to organize a legislature under a presidential system — but given the train-wreck that is the American legislature, I would hesitate to make big claims about that. Moreover, Colombia is a country where it is vital that small political minorities receive direct representation.
Second, the actual system of proportional representation used is one of the worst (see page 6 here) advantaging small parties. Basically, they divide the number of votes cast by the number of seats. That becomes the magic number. Every party that gets above that number gets a seat. If it gets more than twice the magic number it gets two. More than three times the magic number, then it gets three. Any fractions over the magic number are thrown away. Then the smaller parties get any remaining seats in order of their vote tallies. Bigger parties get slightly fewer seats than they should and some tiny parties can sneak in. This is a problem for the smaller House districts, but does not really apply to the Senate, since the magic number there is a relatively small 1% of the total vote.
Finally, the benefit of a two-house legislature is unclear. There is a case that checks-and-balances are good, but multiple veto points can also empower minorities.
None of these three objections strike me as compelling.
Colombian politics has a lot of problems, of course. (Is there interest in the recent politics of Bogotá?) And in a perfect world I would not pick the Colombian system for the United States. (Although I would take it over our own crazier system in a heartbeat!) But similar to the way Mexico has made its Senate more functional by using proportional representation to dilute its undemocratic features, Colombia has made its Senate more functional by using proportional representation to make it more democratic.
But I will say that the problems of Colombian politics owe little to the constitutional design of the Senate. (These political scientists agree: their reforms mostly involve changes to electoral law, not constitutional design.) Moreover, in some ways the Senate is better designed than the House. So, finally, an upper house in the Americas that I can support.
At least sort of. The idea that legislators can vote by secret ballot strikes me as nuts. But that problem applies to both Colombian chambers, not just the Senate.
I am a very new observer of Colombian politics. Thoughts?
UPDATE (June 13): The Santos administration just announced that it intends to redenominate the currency by the end of 2014.
President Juan Manuel Santos has long wanted to chop three zeros off the Colombian peso, which trades around 1,800 to the dollar. Except for Paraguay, the next weakest in Latin America are the colón and the Chilean peso, which bounce around 500. (Wikipedia has a list of the smallest-value currency units here.) In October 2011, the proposal failed in the Senate by a vote of 41-15. In September 2012, the President reopened the idea, but by February 2013 it was clear that it was not going to happen in this legislative session. The idea remains current, however, and I will not be surprised if it comes back after the peace talks with the FARC are sorted out.
Redenominating the currency is not crazy: France got rid of two zeros in 1960; Israel revalued by a factor of 1,000 in 1986 as did Russia in 1998; Peru hacked off six zeros when the sol replaced the inti in 1991; the next year Argentina cut four zeros off when the peso replaced the austral; Mexico sliced off three in 1993; Turkey hacked off six in 2005; Mozambique redenominated by three orders of magnitude in 2006; Ghana introduced a new cedi at 10,000-to-1 in 2007; and Venezuela chopped off three in 2008 with the introduction of the bolívar fuerte.
The direct cost of introducing a redenominated currency would not be insignificant. In 2010, the Colombian government estimated it around $123 million. (In a sign of the problem with high-denomination currencies, that number turned into $123 thousand on an English-language website!) Printing new bills is cheap: 84% of the cost would come from minting new coins. There would also be an additional $32 million spent in advertising and explaining the change, for a total cost of $155 million.
(Side note: in Ghana, coins were basically out of circulation by the time the government proposed redenominating the cedi. Since coins had to be reintroduced anyway, the monetary cost of redenominating was tiny.)
So why bother? The issue is understudied, but the economics literature (such as it is) focuses on credibility. Few currencies (I am tempted to say none) are denominated in hundreths or thousandths of a euro for long-standing historical reasons. Rather, it comes about either because of a burst of triple-digit inflation (say, Mexico in the 1980s), outright hyperinflation (say, Argentina) or a long period of relatively moderate double-digit inflation (like Colombia; see the below chart.)
So the big economic reason to redenominate, then, is to reiterate that the inflationary period is over, kaputsky, finis. Over here, the Banco Central de Venezuela states four reasons that boil down to making mental math easier and one which says “Leave behind the consequences the history of inflations of the past had on the currency.”
Layna Mosley at UNC-Chapel Hill tried to figure out why countries redenominate. She hypothesized that credibility might be a reason, of course, but she also thought that conservative governments would be also be more likely to redenominate for reasons of national pride. Her evidence was supportive, but not compelling.
Colombia, however, mostly fits her model. (You can read the Colombian authorities’ reasons for wanting to change.) In addition to standard discussions about credibility and easier math, the central bankers mentioned the feel-good pride effect from having a serious currency valued at around half a dollar (or euro or real) instead of some teeny tiny amount. “There is possibly a positive psychological impact since it reduces the gap between local and foreign currency denominations.”
That fits the Mosley model. The final reason, however, does not:
“A countrywide redenomination exercise would also mean all citizens had to exchange their currency, and this could potentially shed light on the country's vast shadow economy. It is thought that drug cartels which operate in Colombia trade mainly with greenbacks. However, officials do not have any definitive figures that prove the extent to which pesos are used in drug trade, and a wide-scale currency exchange could help in this respect.”
And that, ultimately, is why I think Colombia should redenominate.
I am in Colombia for many reasons. One is to start a big research project. Another is because I like the country. But the main one was to attend a conference on mining put on by the Universidad de los Andes.
El Tiempo reported on the conference. Here is a translation of part of their report:
“In his presentation, Noel Maurer, a professor at Harvard Business School, said ‘there is no curse’ from the resources created by mining discoveries. For him, there is no evidence from any country where either democracy or development has severely deteriorated after an increase in income generated by mining activity.”
That is worded a little more strongly than I would like (you can find some evidence of a resource curse in Nigeria and Zambia, and it is unlikely that the 1997 crisis would have unseated Suharto at a time of high mineral prices) but it does about sum up my opinion. To be fair to El Tiempo, they added my caveat in this tweet.
Lina Holguin of Oxfam-Québec tweeted in response to my caveat, “Congo, Chad and Niger...????” I would answer by saying that while all three countries are poor and unstable, there is no evidence that they would be less poor or less unstable without natural resources ... with an additional caveat that natural resources may have increased violence in particular regions of Congo. Possibly.
El Tiempo also tweeted a few other quotes from yours truly. First: “The decrease in Venezuelan democracy started before the oil boom.” Second, a somewhat misquoted, “No resource boom has affected countries rich in resources.” (I am mildly unhappy with that one: my argument was only about democratic stability.) Third: “Colombia ought to avoid wasting the current mining boom.”
While my discussion was about democracy, that last quote is correct: lots of countries have blown resource booms, leaving them no better off than they entered. Colombia should avoid that. Of course, that is something easier said than done!
Finally, let me end by presenting the (weak) evidence for a resource curse in Zambia.The red line measures the country’s Polity score, a commonly-accepted measure of democracy. The blue line measures the government’s real direct income from the copper industry; the green line measures the percentage of government revenues from copper.
Zambia’s polity score dropped precipitously between 1968 and 1972, while copper revenues boomed. The country then democratized in 1991, after a period of prolonged low copper prices. The argument would be that copper revenues made it easier for Kaunda to establish a one-party state, while the period of low prices was essential to see the fall of that state.
The rub, of course, is that lots of countries in Africa followed the same trend around the same time. (See the below chart.) But you cannot rule out a curse for Zambia.