In 1959 South Korea was mired in poverty. By 1979 it had a powerful industrial economy and a vibrant civil society in the making, which would lead to a democratic breakthrough eight years later. The transformation took place during the years of Park Chung Hee’s presidency. Park seized power in a coup in 1961 and ruled as a virtual dictator until his assassination in October 1979. He is credited with modernizing South Korea, but at a huge political and social cost.South Korea’s political landscape under Park defies easy categorization. The state was predatory yet technocratic, reform-minded yet quick to crack down on dissidents in the name of political order. The nation was balanced uneasily between opposition forces calling for democratic reforms and the Park government’s obsession with economic growth. The chaebol (a powerful conglomerate of multinationals based in South Korea) received massive government support to pioneer new growth industries, even as a nationwide campaign of economic shock therapy—interest hikes, devaluation, and wage cuts—met strong public resistance and caused considerable hardship.This landmark volume examines South Korea’s era of development as a study in the complex politics of modernization. Drawing on an extraordinary range of sources in both English and Korean, these essays recover and contextualize many of the ambiguities in South Korea’s trajectory from poverty to a sustainable high rate of economic growth.
In 1959 South Korea was mired in poverty. By 1979 it had a powerful industrial economy and a vibrant civil society in the making, which would lead to a democratic breakthrough eight years later. The transformation took place during the years of Park Chung Hee’s presidency. Park seized power in a coup in 1961 and ruled as a virtual dictator until his assassination in October 1979. He is credited with modernizing South Korea, but at a huge political and social cost.
South Korea’s political landscape under Park defies easy categorization. The state was predatory yet technocratic, reform-minded yet quick to crack down on dissidents in the name of political order. The nation was balanced uneasily between opposition forces calling for democratic reforms and the Park government’s obsession with economic growth. The chaebol (a powerful conglomerate of multinationals based in South Korea) received massive government support to pioneer new growth industries, even as a nationwide campaign of economic shock therapy interest hikes, devaluation, and wage cuts—met strong public resistance and caused considerable hardship.
This landmark volume examines South Korea’s era of development as a study in the complex politics of modernization. Drawing on an extraordinary range of sources in both English and Korean, these essays recover and contextualize many of the ambiguities in South Korea’s trajectory from poverty to a sustainable high rate of economic growth.
This article evaluates the role of United Nations special rapporteurs through a systematic study of the perspectives of mandate-holders. Qualitative interviews with current and former rapporteurs and their assistants reveal that three central tensions inherent in the rapporteur’s task give the rapporteur room for individual experimentation. First, the tension between UN affiliation and independent status allows the rapporteur to determine his/her orientation toward the UN. Secondly, the tension between competing obligations to treat sovereign states as partners and as adversaries forces the rapporteur to develop innovative strategies to address national sovereignty. Thirdly, the tension between the universal scope of thematic mandates and the impossibility of realising that scope enables the rapporteur to travel between specific contexts and international norms. The unparalleled autonomy afforded by the position enables rapporteurs to define rights in real time, responding to situations as they unfold rather than after the fact. For that reason, any reform of the special procedures system should preserve the role’s unique features. Rather than expend political will on ambitious structural changes, reform advocates should focus on increasing funding, resources, and pressure on states to cooperate.
Joanna Naples-Mitchell is a former Undergraduate Associate (2009-2010).Download PDF
This book applies an established analytical framework for health sector reform (Getting Health Reform Right, Oxford, 2004) to the performance problems of the pharmaceutical sector. The book is divided into three sections. The first section presents the basic ideas for analysis. It begins by insisting that reform start with a clear understanding of the performance deficiencies of the current system. Like all priority setting in the public sector, this 'definition of the problem' involves both ethical choices and political processes. Early chapters explain the foundations of these ideas and apply them to the pharmaceutical sector. The relationship of ultimate outcomes (like health status or risk protection) to classic health systems concepts like efficiency, access and quality is also explored. The last chapter in the first part is devoted to 'diagnosis'—explaining how to move from the definition of a problem to an understanding of how the functioning of the system produces the undesirable outcomes in question.
The second part of the book devotes one chapter to each of five 'control knobs': finance, payment, organization, regulation and persuasion. These are sets of potential interventions that governments can use to improve pharmaceutical sector performance. Each chapter presents basic concepts and discusses examples of reform options. Throughout we provide 'conditional guidance'—avoiding the approach of a 'one size fits all' model of 'best practices' in these five arenas for reform. Instead we stress the need for local knowledge of political systems, administrative capacities, community values and market conditions in order to design pharmaceutical sector policies appropriate to a country’s particular circumstances.
The last part of the book is a set of teaching cases. Each is preceded by questions and is followed by a brief note on the lessons to be learned. The goal is to help readers develop the skills they need to deal effectively with pharmaceutical sector reform problems in their own countries.
Using state-level variation in the timing of political reforms, we find that an increase in female representation in local government induces a large and significant rise in documented crimes against women in India. Our evidence suggests that this increase is good news, driven primarily by greater reporting rather than greater incidence of such crimes. In contrast, we find no increase in crimes against men or gender-neutral crimes. We also examine the effectiveness of alternative forms of political representation: large scale membership of women in local councils affects crime against them more than their presence in higher level leadership positions.
Harvard Business School Working Paper No. 11-092, March 2011.Download PDF
Despite all the recent talk of “grand bargains,” little attention has been paid to the unraveling of a truly grand bargain that has been at the center of public policy in the United States for more than a century.
That bargain—which emerged in stages between the 1890s and 1930s—established an institutional framework to balance the needs of the American people with the vast inequalities of wealth and power wrought by the triumph of industrial capitalism. It originated in the widespread apprehension that the rapidly growing power of robber barons, national corporations and banks (like J.P. Morgan’s) was undermining fundamental American values and threatening democracy.
Such apprehensions were famously expressed in novelist Frank Norris’s characterization of the nation’s largest corporations—the railroads—as an “octopus” strangling farmers and small businesses. With a Christian rhetorical flourish, William Jennings Bryan denounced bankers’ insistence on a deflationary gold standard as an attempt to “crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” A more programmatic, and radical, stance was taken by American Federation of Labor convention delegates who in 1894 advocated nationalizing all major industries and financial corporations. Hundreds of socialists were elected to office between 1880 and 1920.
Indeed, a century ago many, if not most, Americans were convinced that capitalism had to be replaced with some form of “cooperative commonwealth”—or that large corporate enterprises should be broken up or strictly regulated to ensure competition, limit the concentration of power and prevent private interests from overwhelming the public good. In the presidential election of 1912, 75 percent of the vote went to candidates who called themselves “progressive” or “socialist.”
Such views, of course, were vehemently, sometimes violently, opposed by more conservative political forces. But the political pressure from anti-capitalists, anti-monopolists, populists, progressives, working-class activists and socialists led, over time, to a truly grand bargain.The terms were straightforward if not systematically articulated. Capitalism would endure, as would almost all large corporations. Huge railroads, banks and other enterprises—with a few exceptions—would cease to be threatened with nationalization or breakup. Moreover, the state would service and promote private business.
In exchange, the federal government adopted a series of far-reaching reforms to shield and empower citizens, safeguarding society’s democratic character. First came the regulation of business and banking to protect consumers, limit the power of individual corporations and prevent anti-competitive practices. The principle underlying measures such as the Sherman Antitrust Act (1890), the Pure Food and Drug Act (1906) and the Glass-Steagall Act (1933)—which insured bank deposits and separated investment from commercial banking—was that government was responsible for protecting society against the shortcomings of a market economy. The profit motive could not always be counted on to serve the public’s welfare.
The second prong of reform was guaranteeing workers’ right to form unions and engage in collective bargaining. The core premise of the 1914 Clayton Act and the National Labor Relations Act of 1935—born of decades of experience—was that individual workers lacked the power to protect their interests when dealing with large employers. For the most poorly paid, the federal government mandated a minimum wage and maximum hours.
The third ingredient was social insurance. Unemployment insurance (1935), Social Security (1935), and, later, Medicaid and Medicare (1965) were grounded in the recognition that citizens could not always be self-sufficient and that it was the role of government to aid those unable to fend for themselves. The unemployment-insurance program left unrestrained employers’ ability to lay off workers but recognized that those who were jobless through no fault of their own (a common occurrence in a market economy) ought to receive public support.
These measures shaped the contours of U.S. political and economic life between 1940 and 2000: They amounted to a social contract that, however imperfect, preserved the dynamism of capitalism while guarding citizens against the power imbalances and uncertainties that a competitive economy produces. Yet that bargain—with its vision of balance between private interests and public welfare, workers and employers, the wealthy and the poor—has been under attack by conservatives for decades. And the attacks have been escalating.
The regulation of business is decried now, as it was in 1880, as unwarranted interference in the workings of the market: Regulatory laws (including antitrust laws) are weakly enforced or vitiated through administrative rule-making; regulatory agencies are starved through budget cuts; Glass-Steagall was repealed, with consequences that are all too well known; and the financial institutions that spawned today’s economic crisis - by acting in the reckless manner predicted by early twentieth-century reformers—are fighting further regulation tooth and nail. Private-sector employers’ fierce attacks on unions since the 1970s contributed significantly to the sharp decline in the number of unionized workers, and many state governments are seeking to delegitimize and weaken public-sector unions. Meanwhile, the social safety net has frayed: Unemployment benefits are meager in many states and are not being extended to match the length of the downturn; Republicans are taking aim at Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and Obamacare. The real value of the minimum wage is lower than it was in the 1970s.
These changes have happened piecemeal. But viewed collectively, it’s difficult not to see a determined campaign to dismantle a broad societal bargain that served much of the nation well for decades. To a historian, the agenda of today’s conservatives looks like a bizarre effort to return to the Gilded Age, an era with little regulation of business, no social insurance and no legal protections for workers. This agenda, moreover, calls for the destruction or weakening of institutions without acknowledging (or perhaps understanding) why they came into being.
In a democracy, of course, the ultimate check on such campaigns is the electoral system. Titans of industry may wield far more power in the economic arena than average citizens, but if all votes count equally, the citizenry can protect its core interests—and policies—through the political arena. This makes all the more worrisome recent conservative efforts to alter electoral practices and institutions. Republicans across the nation have sponsored ID requirements for voting that are far more likely to disenfranchise legitimate (and relatively unprivileged) voters than they are to prevent fraud. Last year, the Supreme Court, reversing a century of precedent, ruled that corporate funds can be used in support of political campaigns. Some Tea Partyers even want to do away with the direct election of senators, adopted in 1913. These proposals, too, seem to have roots in the Gilded Age—a period when many of the nation’s more prosperous citizens publicly proclaimed their loss of faith in universal suffrage and democracy.
This study assesses the relationship between political partisanship and attitudes and behavior with respect to the Swine Flu crisis of 2009 in general, and the US mass vaccination program in particular. I argue that even seemingly non-partisan political issues like public health are increasingly characterized by partisan polarization in public attitudes, and that such polarization is in part attributable, at least in part, to the breakdown of the information commons that characterized the American mass media from roughly the 1950s until the early 1990s. In its place has arisen an increasingly fragmented and niche-oriented media marketplace in which individuals are better able to limit their information exposure to attitudes and opinions that reinforce, rather than challenge, their preexisting beliefs. I test my argument against a variety of data sources, including opinion surveys and state level Swine Flu vaccination rate data.
Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP11-010, January 2011.Download PDF
Climate change is predicted to have huge impacts on rural farmers in
developing countries, as small-scale farmers are particularly vulnerable
to climatic stresses and shocks. Agroforestry, or the use of trees in
the cropping system to improve farm productivity, has been put forth as a
potential strategy to improve farmers’ ability to adapt to future
climate changes. Through a case study in western Kenya, I examine
agroforestry’s role in helping subsistence farmers adapt to climate
change through both qualitative and quantitative analyses. My results
show that farmers are unable to cope with current climatic shocks in a
sustainable way. By examining household responses to the most recent
floods and droughts I find that often households are forced to engage in
erosive coping strategies that threaten their farm’s long-term
productivity. Farmers and the general literature agree that the most
effective way to cope with future climate variation and shocks will be
to improve general livelihoods through increasing farm productivity and
enhancing non-farm incomes. My statistical analyses support my
qualitative observations that agroforestry techniques can improve farm
productivity and household wealth. From these results I conclude that
agroforestry practices have the potential to help farmers adapt to
climate change through improving general household wellbeing in rural
western Kenya. My findings also stress the importance of
location-specific evaluations of effective development strategies and
the need for enhanced community participation in development practices.
To evaluate the distributional impact of remittances in origin communities, prior research studied
how migrants’ selectivity by wealth varies with migration prevalence in the community or prior
migration experience of the individual. This study considers both patterns, and examines
selectivity separately in low and high prevalence communities and for first-time and repeat
migrants. Based on data from 18,042 household heads in 119 Mexican communities from the
Mexican Migration Project, the analyses show that (i) first-time migrants in low prevalence
communities come from poor households, while repeat migrants in high prevalence communities
belong to wealthy households, and (ii) higher amounts of remittances reach wealthy households.
These results suggest that repeat migration and remittances may be mechanisms for wealth
accumulation in the study communities. Descriptive analyses associate these mechanisms with
increasing wealth disparities between households with and without migrants, especially in high
prevalence communities. The study, similar to prior findings, shows the importance of repeat
migration trips, which, given sustained remittances, may amplify the wealth gap between
migrants and non-migrants in migrant-sending communities. The study also qualifies prior
findings by differentiating between low and high prevalence communities and observing a
growing wealth gap only in the latter.
Latin America experienced an unprecedented wave of left-leaning governments between 1998 and 2010. This volume examines the causes of this leftward turn and the consequences it carries for the region in the twenty-first century.The Resurgence of the Latin American Left asks three central questions: Why have left-wing parties and candidates flourished in Latin America? How have these leftist parties governed, particularly in terms of social and economic policy? What effects has the rise of the Left had on democracy and development in the region? The book addresses these questions through two sections. The first looks at several major themes regarding the contemporary Latin American Left, including whether Latin American public opinion actually shifted leftward in the 2000s, why the Left won in some countries but not in others, and how the left turn has affected market economies, social welfare, popular participation in politics, and citizenship rights. The second section examines social and economic policy and regime trajectories in eight cases: those of leftist governments in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Venezuela, as well as that of a historically populist party that governed on the right in Peru.
Featuring a new typology of Left parties in Latin America, an original framework for identifying and categorizing variation among these governments, and contributions from prominent and influential scholars of Latin American politics, this historical-institutional approach to understanding the region's left turn—and variation within it—is the most comprehensive explanation to date on the topic.
Building on Henri Lefebvre’s work on the role of imagination in crafting socially just urban conditions and “rights to the
city,” this paper asks whether new ideas and urban practices can be produced through the use of experimental visioning
techniques. Using empirical evidence drawn from an ideas competition for Jerusalem, one of the world’s most intractable
conflict cities, the paper considers the extent to which the global call to create alternative visions for a just, peaceful,
and sustainable Jerusalem resulted in new strategies considered fundamentally different from those routinely deployed in
conventional planning practice, how and why.
The recent debt deal will slash the defense budget over the next decade.
And if Congress can’t agree on an additional $1.5 trillion in cuts, the
law’s “trigger mechanism” will lead to deeper reductions in military
spending. The initial cuts will not imperil America’s national security,
but the deeper cuts could.
The administration of George W. Bush nearly doubled the defense budget
following 9/11. With the winding down of Mr. Bush’s two wars, we could
cut our ground forces to 1990s levels, reduce the planned purchases of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters,
make greater use of cheaper drones and other technologies, and deal
with the escalating costs of the defense health care system — without
serious damage to national security. Indeed, President Obama’s budget
had already planned for $400 billion in defense savings by 2023.
But it is not enough to tinker with the defense budget. We also need to
rethink how we use our military power. Unlike the state of affairs
during the cold war, the United States and its allies today account for
over 70 percent of world military expenditure. The No. 1 power no longer
has to patrol every boundary and seek to police every country.
Opponents of defense cuts are raising the specter of isolationism and
the weakening of American power. But there is a middle way.
At the height of the cold war, President Dwight D. Eisenhower decided
against direct military intervention on the side of the French in
Vietnam in 1954 because he was convinced that it was more important to
preserve the strength of the American economy. Today, such a strategy
would avoid involvement of ground forces in major wars in Asia or in
other poor countries. While it will take time to extricate ourselves
from Mr. Bush’s post-9/11 strategy, we must start, as the National Security Strategy of 2010
states, “by recognizing that our strength and influence abroad begins
with the steps we take at home.” Eisenhower could have said that — and
no one could accuse Ike of being an isolationist.
Counterinsurgency is attractive as a military tactic but it should not
lead us into a strategy of nation-building in places where we do not
have the capacity to engineer change. The maxim of avoiding major land
wars in poor countries does not mean withdrawing our military presence
from places like Japan and South Korea, or ending military assistance to
countries like Pakistan and Egypt. Some analysts call this “off-shore
balancing,” but that term must mean more than just naval and air force
activity. For example, in Japan and South Korea, our allies pay a
significant portion of the cost for basing American troops there because
they want an insurance policy in a region faced with a rising China and
a volatile North Korea.
Over the course of this century, Asia will return to its historic
status, with more than half of the world’s population and half of the
world’s economic output. America must be present there. Markets and
economic power rest on political frameworks, and American military power
provides that framework. Military security is to order as oxygen is to
breathing: underappreciated until it becomes scarce. That is why the new
bipartisan Congressional commission must provide the revenues that
allow America to continue to play this vital role while avoiding the
trap of overly ambitious nation-building.
Such a strategy is also sustainable at home. The British historian Niall
Ferguson, an enthusiast for empire, lamented at the time of the Iraq
war that the United States lacked the capacity for empire because of
three domestic deficits: personnel (not enough boots on the ground);
attention (not enough public support for long-term occupation); and
financial (not enough savings and not enough taxation relative to public
expenditure). He was correct.
Lacking a stomach for empire or colonial occupation is one of the
important ways in which American political culture differs from that of
imperial Britain. Americans like to promote universal values. But rather
than succumbing to the temptation to intervene on the side of “the
good,” we can do it best by being what Ronald Reagan called “a shining
city on a hill.”
The alternatives we face today are not an untouchable defense budget or
isolationism. A smart strategy for preserving America’s power and global
role will depend on wisely tailoring our foreign policy to fit the
cloth we have. Eisenhower knew this well.
This column is for Ted Forstmann: financier, fun lover, and philanthropist, who died on Nov. 20. But it’s not just for him. It’s to him.
Ted, I’m worried. I wish you were still around to help me get this right. The US is going nuts with populism. That’s always to be expected after a big financial crisis, I know. But this is dysfunctional.
On one side, there are conservative fundamentalists—the Tea Party—who think we can turn the clock back to before the New Deal, if not further. Some of them want to get rid not just of the Federal Reserve but of most of the federal government itself. I have more sympathy with these Teapopulists than with the other lot, the motley crew who want to Occupy Wall Street (call them the Occupopulists). But when it comes to practical politics, this Tea Party has more in common with the Mad Hatter’s than Boston’s.
To begin with, they’ve created a mood in the Republican Party that makes any kind of compromise on our fiscal crisis impossible. We just saw the ignominious failure of the supercommittee, which was supposed to come up with a plan to reduce the deficit. Predictably, each party blames the other side for this flop. Either way, the consequences are dire. First, the markets are spooked, just the way they were by the partisan dogfight over the debt ceiling earlier this year. Second, the country is now on course for more drastic spending cuts in 2013, which could not only slash our defense budget in an irresponsible way but also plunge the economy back into recession.
There’s another problem. Just like the populists of a century ago, the Teapopulists are drawn compulsively to disastrous presidential wannabes. I never asked you what you thought of Mitt Romney, Ted. But I am sure you’d prefer him over the other contenders. Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich—the one thing these people have in common is that they would lose to Barack Obama next year even if the unemployment rate were twice what it is now. Their appeal to the crucial center—to the independents and the undecided—is just too low.
What’s the case against Romney? That he’s a Mormon? Ted, you were a devout Catholic, just as I am a doubting atheist. But this is America. Religion and government are separate. And we tolerate all faiths, no matter how idiosyncratic, provided they tolerate ours too. That he’s changed his mind on hot-button issues? Well, so does any intelligent person. You often did. What is this, a dogmatism contest?
In my favorite spaghetti western, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, there
is a memorable scene that sums up the world economy today. Blondie
(Clint Eastwood) and Tuco (Eli Wallach) have finally found the cemetery
where they know the gold is buried. Trouble is, they’re in a vast Civil
War graveyard, and they don’t know where to find the loot. Eastwood
looks at his gun, looks at Wallach, and utters the immortal line: “In
this world, there are two kinds of people, my friend. Those with loaded
guns … and those who dig.”
In the post-crisis economic order, there are likewise two kinds of
economies. Those with vast accumulations of assets, including sovereign
wealth funds (currently in excess of $4 trillion) and hard-currency
reserves ($5.5 trillion for emerging markets alone), are the ones with
loaded guns. The economies with huge public debts, by contrast, are the
ones that have to dig. The question is, just how will they dig their way
The U.S. needs to do exactly what it would if it were a severely indebted company: sell off assets to balance its books.
There are three different arguments against such asset sales. The first
concerns national security. When Dubai Ports World bought the shipping
company P&O in 2006—which would have given it control of facilities
in a number of U.S. ports—the deal was killed in Congress in a fit of
post-9/11 paranoia. The second argument is usually made by unions:
private or foreign owners will be tougher on American workers than good
old Uncle Sam. Finally, there’s the chauvinism that surfaced back in the
1980s when the Japanese were snapping up properties like Pebble Beach.
How could the United States let its national treasures—the family
silver—fall into the hands of inscrutable Asian rivals?
Such arguments were never very strong. Now, in the midst of the biggest
crisis of American public finance since the Civil War, they simply
Culture counts has long been a rallying cry among health advocates and policymakers concerned with racial disparities in health care. A generation ago, the women s health movement led to a host of changes that also benefitted racial minorities, including more culturally aware medical staff. Many health professionals would now agree that cultural competence is important in clinical settings, but in what ways? Shattering Culture provides an insightful view of medicine and psychiatry as they are practiced in today s culturally diverse clinical settings.Shattering Culture shows the human face of health care in America. Building on over a decade of research led by Mary-Jo Good, the book delves into the cultural backgrounds of patients and their health care providers, as well as the institutional cultures of clinical settings, to illuminate how these many cultures interact and shape the quality of patient care. Co-editor Sarah Willen explores the controversial practice of matching doctors and patients based on shared race, ethnicity, or language and finds a spectrum of arguments challenging its usefulness, including patients who fear being judged negatively by providers from their own culture. Seth Hannah introduces the concept of cultural environments of hyperdiversity describing complex cultural identities. Antonio Bullon demonstrates how regulations meant to standardize the caregiving process such as the use of templates and check boxes instead of narrative notes have steadily limited clinician flexibility, autonomy, and the time they can dedicate to caring for patients. Elizabeth Carpenter-Song looks at positive doctor-patient relationships in mental health care settings and finds that the greates successes in relationships are based on mutual recognition patients who can express their concerns and clinicians who validate them. In this book s final essay, Hannah, Good, and Lawrence Park show how navigating the maze of insurance regulations, financial arrangements, and paperwork compromises the effectiveness of mental health professionals seeking to provide quality care to minority and poor patients.
Few opportunities exist to enter the world of medical and mental health clinics and see how diversity on one hand and bureaucratic regulations on the other are influencing patient care. Shattering Culture provides a rare look at the day-to-day experiences of psychiatrists and other clinicians and offers multiple perspectives on what culture means to doctors, staff, and patients and how it shapes the practice of medicine and psychiatry.
Over the past quarter century, researchers have successfully explored
the inner workings of the physical and biological sciences using a
variety of social and historical lenses. Inspired by these advances, the
contributors to Social Knowledge in the Making turn their
attention to the social sciences, broadly construed. The result is the
first comprehensive effort to study and understand the day-to-day
activities involved in the creation of social-scientific and related
forms of knowledge about the social world.The essays collected here tackle a range of previously unexplored
questions about the practices involved in the production, assessment,
and use of diverse forms of social knowledge. A stellar cast of
multidisciplinary scholars addresses topics such as the changing
practices of historical research, anthropological data collection,
library usage, peer review, and institutional review boards. Turning to
the world beyond the academy, other essays focus on global banks, survey
research organizations, and national security and economic policy
makers. Social Knowledge in the Making is a landmark volume for a
new field of inquiry, and the bold new research agenda it proposes will
be welcomed in the social science, the humanities, and a broad range of
What is it about those robes? They are only flimsy bits of wools,
enlivened in a few cases by some very European lace at the collar. Yet
the moment our Supreme Court justices put them on, a segment of the
concerned public imagines that they have become priests consecrated to
the sacred order of the Constitution.
Recently, Justice Antonin Scalia has been criticized for meeting with a
group of (gulp) conservative members of Congress and accused of participating in an event
organized by the conservative billionaire Charles Koch. Justice
Clarence Thomas has been excoriated because his wife, Virginia, last
year took a leading role in organizing Liberty Central, a Tea Party
offshoot that received anonymous, First Amendment-protected donations
(she has since stepped down). He also belatedly amended 13 years’ worth
of disclosure reports to include details of his wife’s employment.
Justices are required to disclose their income sources and those of
their spouses. But the core of the criticisms against Justices Thomas
and Scalia has nothing to do with judicial ethics. The attack is driven
by the imagined ideal of the cloistered monk-justice, innocent of
worldly vanities, free of political connections and guided only by the
gem-like flame of inward conscience.
It was not ever thus. John Marshall, undoubtedly the greatest chief
justice ever, spent his first month on the court as the secretary of
state of the United States. That’s right, the chief justice and the
secretary of state were the same person — an arrangement permitted by
the Constitution, which only prohibits members of Congress from holding
other offices. Marshall’s most famous decision — Marbury v. Madison,
which established the principle of judicial review — arose from
Marshall’s own failure as secretary of state to deliver the obscure
William Marbury his commission as justice of the peace in the waning
hours of the Adams administration. No one cared.
The political activities of the justices increased over time. Charles
Evans Hughes, who would later become another great chief justice,
resigned from his first stint as associate justice on June 10, 1916, to
run for the presidency on the Republican ticket. Although this
represented a separation from his judicial role, the Republican
convention had begun at the Chicago Coliseum on June 7; Hughes did not
resign until the nomination was in the bag.
In 1948, Americans for Democratic Action tried to draft Justice William
O. Douglas as a Democratic presidential candidate. In their political
literature, they used excerpts from his Supreme Court opinions, which
(his colleagues noted privately) sounded suspiciously like stump
speeches. (In the end, he decided against a run.)
Equally important, in the pre-monastic age, justices often took on
politically charged government responsibilities when the world needed
them. Their experiences in public service not only helped the country,
but informed their subsequent jurisprudence.
Justice Robert Jackson, a valued player in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s
regular poker game (and a hero to many court observers today), took a
year away from the court to serve as the chief prosecutor at Nuremberg, a
presidential appointment. Later, when the Supreme Court had to decide
whether German detainees convicted by United States war crimes tribunals
were entitled to habeas corpus rights, Jackson did not recuse himself.
Instead, he wrote the opinion in Johnson v. Eisentrager, the case that formed the precedent for the extension of habeas rights to the detainees at Guantánamo Bay.
Justice Owen Roberts was chosen by Roosevelt to head the commission
investigating the attack on Pearl Harbor. What he learned made him one
of only three justices to defy Roosevelt and dissent from the court’s shameful decision to uphold the wartime internment of more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans who had been convicted of no crime at all.
The 1970s saw the beginning of a retreat by the justices from public
engagement with national affairs. Some of this was defensive. In 1969,
Justice Abe Fortas, one of Lyndon Johnson’s closest advisers on Vietnam
even while on the court, had to resign after revelations that he had
been on retainer to a financier under investigation for securities
violations. The next year, Gerald Ford, then the House minority leader,
sought unsuccessfully to impeach Douglas for taking money from a
Yet, probably the greater reason for the justices’ growing
circumspection by the early 1970s was that the Supreme Court was taking
its most active role ever in running the nation’s affairs: when the
court ruled against Richard Nixon in the Watergate tapes case, it
effectively forced a president from office. Empowered to break a
president (making one had to wait until Bush v. Gore in 2000), the
justices sought to deflect attention from the obvious fact that they
The disengagement from public life that followed has had real costs.
Isolated justices make isolated decisions. It is difficult to imagine
justices who drank regularly with presidents deciding that a lawsuit
against a sitting executive could go forward while he was in office, or
imagining that the suit would not take up much of the president’s time.
Yet that is precisely what the court did by a 9-to-0 vote in the 1997
case of Clinton v. Jones.
The court’s mistaken practical judgment opened the door to President
Bill Clinton’s testimony about Monica Lewinsky and the resulting
impeachment that preoccupied the government for more than two years as
Osama bin Laden laid his plans.
Today, even the justices’ minimal extrajudicial activities come in for
public condemnation — some of it suspiciously partisan. Does anyone
seriously think Justice Thomas would become more constitutionally
conservative (if that were somehow logically possible) as a result of
his wife’s political activism? It is true that Justice Thomas voted to
protect the anonymity of some corporate contributions in the Citizens United
case. But this vote reflected his long-established principles in favor
of corporate speech. The personal connection was nowhere near close
enough to demand recusal, any more than a justice who values her privacy
should be expected to recuse herself from a Fourth Amendment decision.
After all, Martin Ginsburg, a model of ethical rectitude until his death last year,
was for many years a partner in an important corporate law firm. But
surely no one believes that his career made his wife, Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg, more positively inclined toward corporate interests on the
court than she would already be as a member in good standing of
America’s class of legal elites.
Justice Antonin Scalia, for his part, naturally spends time
with like-minded conservatives including Representative Michele
Bachmann and Charles Koch. But when the brilliant, garrulous Justice
Scalia hobnobs with fellow archconservatives, he is not being influenced
any more than is the brilliant, garrulous Justice Stephen Breyer when
he consorts with his numerous friends and former colleagues in the
liberal bastion of Cambridge, Mass.
A FEW years ago, many insisted that Justice Scalia should not sit in
judgment of Vice President Dick Cheney’s claims to enjoy executive
privilege, noting that the two had been on the same duck-hunting trip.
Justice Scalia memorably explained
that the two men had never shared the same blind. He could as easily
have pointed out that before President Harry Truman nationalized the
steel mills, he asked Chief Justice Fred Vinson, a poker buddy and close
friend, if the court would find the action constitutional. (Vinson
incorrectly said yes.)
The upshot is that the justices’ few and meager contacts with the real
world do little harm and perhaps occasionally some good. Justice Anthony
Kennedy makes an annual trip to Salzburg, Austria, to discuss ideas
with European and other global judges and intellectuals. This contact is
often invoked to explain why Justice Kennedy occasionally cites foreign
law (a taboo for Justice Scalia) and why his jurisprudence has been
relatively liberal on such matters as gay rights and Guantánamo.
It is absurd for conservatives to criticize the cosmopolitan forums
where judges from around the world compare notes. And it is absurd for
liberals to criticize the conservative justices for associating with
people who share or reinforce their views. The justices are human — and
the more we let them be human, the better job they will do. Let the
unthinkable be said! If the medieval vestments are making people think
the justices should be monks, then maybe, just maybe, we should to do
away with those robes.
This paper measures “debt disputes” between governments and
foreign private creditors in periods of sovereign debt crises. We
construct an index of government coerciveness, consisting of 9
objective sub-indicators. Each of these sub-indicators captures
unilateral government actions imposed on foreign banks and
bondholders. The results provide the first systematic account of
debt crises that goes beyond a binary categorization of default
versus non-default. Overall, government behavior and rhetoric
show a strong variability, ranging from highly confrontational to
very smooth crisis resolution processes. In a preliminary analysis
on the determinants of coercive behavior, we find political institutions
to be significant, while economic and financial factors play
a lesser role. These results open up an agenda for future research.
The work of a Harvard history
professor has bolstered the case of a group of elderly Kenyans who are
seeking reparations from the British government for rape, castration,
beatings, and other abuses that they say were part of systematic
colonial-era efforts to suppress Kenya’s Mau Mau uprising.The case passed a critical milestone in July when a British judge
allowed it to move forward despite government arguments that, if the
abuses happened, the current government isn’t liable for colonial
transgressions.The Kenyans are former detainees in British prison camps set up
during the 1950s Mau Mau rebellion, which set the stage for Kenyan
independence in 1963. The plaintiffs allege that their abuse came at the
hands of British jailers in what was a systematic and
government-sanctioned campaign to break the rebellion.Though there had been talk of reparations for colonial atrocities for years, the case was given new life by Professor Caroline Elkins’ Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya.
The book, published in 2005, blended government documents and
eyewitness accounts to tell a compelling story of a horrific, systematic
campaign by the British colonial government to crush the rebellion not
only in the field, but through abuse of those held in camps around the
country.“Caroline’s work has been absolutely fundamental to the case,” said Daniel Leader, a barrister for the London law firm Leigh Day & Co.,
which is representing the former Kenyan detainees. “She was uniquely
responsible for beginning to change the public’s understanding of that
period in history….The victims are forever in her debt. She put their
stories on the map.”It was Elkins’ work, Leader said, that indicated that the abuse was
not only systematic, but known by the British government in London.George Morara, program officer for the Kenya Human Rights Commission,
which has worked to identify plaintiffs who could bring the case before
the courts, said that Elkins’ research built an important foundation
that allowed the case to move forward.“Without her seminal work,” Morara said, “this story wouldn’t have come to the fore.”Elkins’ critics, however, have charged that, though there may have
been abuses in the system, there was no systematic effort by the
government to abuse detainees.The July 21 ruling denied a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds
that the current British government has no responsibility for actions
by the colonial government in Kenya. While the judge didn’t rule on the
merits of the case itself, the decision represents a key victory for the
former detainees.“I have decided that the claimants have arguable cases, fit for
trial,” High Court Judge Richard McCombe wrote in a summary explaining
his judgment. “I emphasize that I have not found that there was
systematic torture in the Kenyan camps nor that, if there was, the U.K.
government is liable to detainees, such as the claimants, for what
happened. . . . I decided that the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office]
have not established that the claimants are bound to fail.”The decision sets up a hearing on a second government motion to
dismiss the case, Elkins said, this one based on a statute of
limitations for such cases. The court can make exceptions to the statute
of limitations, however, and Leader said the plaintiffs will use
examples of other atrocities cases that have been prosecuted long after
the acts were committed to illustrate that a fair trial is possible.
Should the case clear that hurdle, expected in early 2012, Elkins
expects the trial itself to begin next spring or summer.In addition to revelations contained in “Imperial Reckoning,” Elkins
and two other historians acting as expert witnesses have submitted
lengthy reports to the court; they’re also reviewing thousands of pages
of previously undisclosed, colonial-era documents the government has
brought forward because of the case. Elkins said the experts’ review of
these documents has already yielded numerous memoranda that further
substantiate both her thesis of systematized violence and the witness
testimony she collected recounting abuse and torture in the camps.For Elkins, the court decision and the new documents substantiating
her work provide a bit of vindication. Though her book garnered a great
deal of praise in the U.S., winning the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for general
nonfiction, it was also attacked in both Britain and Kenya as inaccurate
and based on unreliable witness testimony.Elkins said she’s grateful for those at Harvard who stood by her
while, as a graduate student, she worked on her dissertation, which was
the basis for “Imperial Reckoning,” and when, as a junior faculty
member, she endured the attacks on her work.In 2006, Morara and the Kenya Human Rights Commission began
interviewing veterans in hopes of bringing a case to British courts.
Three men and two women were chosen, one of whom, Susan Ciong’ombe
Ngondi, has since died. The four remaining plaintiffs, Ndiku Mutua,
Paulo Nzili, Wambugu Wa Nyingi, and Jane Muthoni Mara, are all elderly,
in their 70s and 80s. The case was filed in 2009.The case itself seeks an apology from the British government for
abuse in the camps and establishment of a welfare system for former
detainees, some of whom, Leader said, were unable to have children due
to their treatment. In Kenya’s traditional culture, where children
provide for their elderly parents, detainees’ inability to have a family
leaves them with little means of support, he said.From a historian’s viewpoint, the case is one of what actually
happened versus what people say happened, Elkins said. The government
and its supporters have dismissed the firsthand testimony and eyewitness
accounts of those who suffered, compounding what occurred in the
detention camps decades ago.“It’s now a duel between colonial-inspired history and revisionist
history,” Elkins said. “On top of it all, some have called the people
who survived these horrific tortures liars. The British government
behaved badly in Kenya, and many have continued to do so in an effort to
conceal or minimize colonial abuses.”
On February 19, 2009, CNBC commentator Rick Santelli delivered a dramatic rant against Obama administration programs to shore up the plunging housing market. Invoking the Founding Fathers and ridiculing "losers" who could not pay their mortgages, Santelli called for "Tea Party" protests. Over the next two years, conservative activists took to the streets and airways, built hundreds of local Tea Party groups, and weighed in with votes and money to help right-wing Republicans win electoral victories in 2010.In this penetrating new study, Harvard University's Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson go beyond images of protesters in Colonial costumes to provide a nuanced portrait of the Tea Party. What they find is sometimes surprising. Drawing on grassroots interviews and visits to local meetings in several regions, they find that older, middle-class Tea Partiers mostly approve of Social Security, Medicare, and generous benefits for military veterans. Their opposition to "big government" entails reluctance to pay taxes to help people viewed as undeserving "freeloaders"—including immigrants, lower income earners, and the young. At the national level, Tea Party elites and funders leverage grassroots energy to further longstanding goals such as tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation of business, and privatization of the very same Social Security and Medicare programs on which many grassroots Tea Partiers depend. Elites and grassroots are nevertheless united in hatred of Barack Obama and determination to push the Republican Party sharply to the right.
The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism combines fine-grained portraits of local Tea Party members and chapters with an overarching analysis of the movement's rise, impact, and likely fate.
The good news is that today’s teenagers are avid readers and prolific writers. The bad news is that what they are reading and writing are text messages.
According to a survey carried out last year by Nielsen, Americans between the ages of 13 and 17 send and receive an average of 3,339 texts per month. Teenage girls send and receive more than 4,000.
It’s an unmissable trend. Even if you don’t have teenage kids, you’ll see other people’s offspring slouching around, eyes averted, tapping away, oblivious to their surroundings. Take a group of teenagers to see the seven wonders of the world. They’ll be texting all the way. Show a teenager Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi. You might get a cursory glance before a buzz signals the arrival of the latest SMS. Seconds before the earth is hit by a gigantic asteroid or engulfed by a super tsunami, millions of lithe young fingers will be typing the human race’s last inane words to itself:
C u later NOT :(
Now, before I am accused of throwing stones in a glass house, let me confess. I probably send about 50 emails a day, and I receive what seem like 200. But there’s a difference. I also read books. It’s a quaint old habit I picked up as a kid, in the days before cellphones began nesting, cuckoolike, in the palms of the young.
Half of today’s teenagers don’t read books—except when they’re made to. According to the most recent survey by the National Endowment for the Arts, the proportion of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 who read a book not required at school or at work is now 50.7 percent, the lowest for any adult age group younger than 75, and down from 59 percent 20 years ago.
Back in 2004, when the NEA last looked at younger readers’ habits, it was already the case that fewer than one in three 13-year-olds read for pleasure every day. Especially terrifying to me as a professor is the fact that two thirds of college freshmen read for pleasure for less than an hour per week. A third of seniors don’t read for pleasure at all.
Why does this matter? For two reasons. First, we are falling behind more-literate societies. According to the results of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s most recent Program for International Student Assessment, the gap in reading ability between the 15-year-olds in the Shanghai district of China and those in the United States is now as big as the gap between the U.S. and Serbia or Chile.
But the more important reason is that children who don’t read are cut off from the civilization of their ancestors.
So take a look at your bookshelves. Do you have all - better make that any - of the books on the Columbia University undergraduate core curriculum? It’s not perfect, but it’s as good a list of the canon of Western civilization as I know of. Let’s take the 11 books on the syllabus for the spring 2012 semester: (1) Virgil’s Aeneid; (2) Ovid’s Metamorphoses; (3) Saint Augustine’s Confessions; (4) Dante’s The Divine Comedy; (5) Montaigne’s Essays; (6) Shakespeare’s King Lear; (7) Cervantes’s Don Quixote; (8) Goethe’s Faust; (9) Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; (10) Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment; (11) Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.
Step one: Order the ones you haven’t got today. (And get War and Peace, Great Expectations, and Moby-Dick while you’re at it.)
Step two: When vacation time comes around, tell the teenagers in your life you are taking them to a party. Or to camp. They won’t resist.
Step three: Drive to a remote rural location where there is no cell-phone reception whatsoever.
Step four: Reveal that this is in fact a reading party and that for the next two weeks reading is all you are proposing to do—apart from eating, sleeping, and talking about the books.
Welcome to Book Camp, kids.
Analogies will be drawn in the coming weeks between the recent popular uprisings, most notably in Egypt, and the events beginning in 1989 and continuing into the early 1990s that brought democracy to much of the former Eastern bloc. In what is known as the third wave of democratisation (the first being in the early 1800s and the second being after the second world war), the Solidarity movement in Poland informed the peaceful transitions in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the transition to democracy in Hungary and the reunification of Germany.
It is no stretch to say that the political leadership and leaders of the opposition movements learned from one another throughout the tumult of the 1980s and into the 1990s. Much as social media today has been touted as a spur to democratic movements in the Middle East, pirate radio bombarded the Eastern bloc with information about democratic successes in other countries, as well as the ominous alternative posed by Tiananmen Square. But while the wave following the fall of the Berlin Wall created a period of unprecedented security across the European continent, the current wave of uprisings could create a corridor of failed states stretching from the Democratic Republic of Congo to the frontiers of Europe in southern Turkey.
The "fourth wave" narrative goes something like this: just as a host of communist dictators—Jaruzelski in Poland, Honecker in Germany and Németh in Hungary—were swept away by the third wave, the fall of Bakiev in Kyrgyzstan and Ben Ali in Tunisia and the uncertain perches of Mubarak in Egypt and Saleh in Yemen signal a new wave of democratisation. The continuing crisis in Egypt, Saleh's announcement that he will not seek re-election, the reshuffling of the Jordanian cabinet and whispers of protest in Syria contain the promise of a "1989 moment" throughout the greater Middle East.
But important differences between recent events and the third wave are already apparent. In the third wave, Romania was the only country that experienced a violent transition to democracy. Things look different this time around, in great part because today's nondemocratic leaders took their own lessons from the third wave. Instead of tanks and troops, and top-down repression a la Tiananmen Square the new oppressors of democratisation are the Basij, the "pro-government protesters," the plainclothes security personnel, the agents provocateurs inciting violence and instability.
As the iron curtain began to fall in Europe, leaders such as Honecker and Jaruzelski weighed the costs of violent repression on the stability of their regimes, essentially deciding between increased authoritarianism and liberalisation. If there truly is a "new wave", it is characterised by a group of regimes that have learned to pass the decision between power and stability on to the protestors by creating environments of insecurity and fostering the conditions for state failure through tactics such as throwing open the prison doors and sponsoring thugs engaged in street violence. The opposition movements are left to decide whether to continue to press for their ideal outcome while the apparatus of governance teeters closer to collapse, or to negotiate with the regime while facing the potential erosion of the movement's credibility.
Further complicating this "new wave" is the role political Islam plays in western security circles. The transition of Soviet bloc states into the democratic fold was seen and understood as a victory against an ideological enemy: the vast USSR. The third wave delegitimated the Soviet style of governance as the massive bureaucratic state crumbled under increasing pressure for political liberalisation, both internally and externally. In the "new wave", things are different. In the eyes of the west, the crowds are as likely to be its ideological enemies as are the regimes in power—autocracy in the presidential palace is balanced by the spectre of radical Islam in the streets. Whether these fears are well grounded remains to be seen, but western states look to the electoral successes of Hamas and Hezbollah as establishing a worrying precedent in the region.
And for all the democratising potential of social media, today's improved analogue to Radio Free Europe, its powers are particularised and circumscribed. While it is true that social media have increased the capacity of the population to hold autocrats more accountable, they cannot solve pressing problems such as blocked social mobility and sky-high unemployment rates. Even if today's movements manage to oust dictators and move toward free and fair elections, the frustrations and grievances of the populations supporting the movements will not necessarily be addressed. Such a development might lead to further disillusionment inside the protest movements—and this time with democracy.
The characteristics of this "new wave" matter for reasons that go beyond the potential satisfaction of seeing democracy flourish in new spots on the globe. Where in the past authoritarian leaders clamped down on their populations, snuffing democracy but maintaining security, there seems to be an emerging trend of authoritarian leaders letting their states collapse like poorly built houses of cards, with no guarantee of democracy or security.
While it is possible that the Egyptian uprising may result in a Turkish-style democratic state, a corridor of state failure from Kinshasa to Beirut is also not an unlikely outcome. That such stakes are now in play only underscores the necessity of re-examining the west's historical role in supporting the type of personalistic dictatorships that are now under siege, and the familiar cultural arguments that these states have never been democratic—and lack the capacity ever to be become democratic.
Co-author Wilder Bullard is a research assistant at the Program on New Approaches to Research and Security in Eurasia.
The recent spike in oil prices,
to more than $100 per barrel—and the resulting, predictable outcry over
the return of the $4 gallon of gas—have prompted hurried responses from
policymakers in Washington, eager to do something about constituents’
economic fears. We have seen this movie before—from the 1973 OPEC oil
embargo to the 2008 run-up in costs to nearly $150 per barrel, before
the world economy crashed and demand for petroleum-based fuels shrank.
Throughout those nearly four decades of roller-coaster oil prices, the
United States has accomplished relatively little in the way of more
effective energy policy—and virtually nothing in terms of addressing the
rising threat of climate change, which is tied
to the emissions produced by burning fossil fuels. Perhaps now we can
begin a debate that holds serious promise of making needed gains on both
fronts: a more economically sensible energy policy that puts us on a
much sounder footing to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.The Climate Change ContextThe Obama administration came into
office with ambitious plans to deal with the challenge of climate
change. The president proposed that the United States reduce annual
emission of climate-altering greenhouse gases by 14 percent by 2020, and
by 80 percent by 2050. The House of Representatives, then controlled by
the Democratic party, took an even more aggressive stance: the
comprehensive Waxman-Markey bill, which narrowly passed the House
(219–212) in June 2009, would have required the nation to cut emission
of greenhouse gases by 3 percent in 2012 relative to 2005, by 17 percent
by 2020, by 42 percent by 2030, and by more than 80 percent by 2050.
But the Senate failed to act on this initiative, and in the current
political context, prospects for U.S. climate-change legislation are dim
at best.Earlier this year, the House, now under Republican control, in a
largely party-line vote (244–179) went so far as to decree that the
nation should suspend its support for the periodic international
assessments of climate science conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change (IPCC). There is an irony to this development. IPCC
was established under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
(UNFCC) negotiated in 1992 with active participation by President George
H.W. Bush during the so-called Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The
resulting treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate that October and was
signed into law one day later by President Bush. Regrettably, climate
change is now a partisan political issue.The Economy and the EnvironmentResponding to President Obama’s State
of the Union message this past January, Representative Michele
Bachmann, speaking on behalf of Tea Party supporters, argued that “the
president could stop the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] from
imposing a job-destroying cap-and-trade” market to deal with climate
change; she was referring to the proposed system of tradable permits,
originally embraced by Republicans, as a way to reduce greenhouse-gas
emissions (which would most likely require legislation, not mere
regulatory action). She went on to suggest “that the president could
agree on an energy policy that increases American energy production and
reduces our dependence on foreign oil.”Given that current oil prices threaten the recovery of the economy,
this last point merits serious consideration. Why not take it on and
address it with an integrated response? A thoughtful approach to
reducing our dependence on imported oil could alleviate, at least to
some extent, the threat of disruptive climate change. Properly
implemented, it could also provide a stimulus for the millions of new
jobs needed to get us out of our present economic malaise (an ancillary
objective of the original Waxman-Markey bill).Imports currently account for approximately 60 percent of U.S. oil
consumption: we bought 4.2 billion (42-gallon) barrels of crude oil and
petroleum products in 2009. At the recent $100 a barrel, this implies an
annual expenditure of $420 billion. To put this in context, the total
U.S. trade deficit amounted to $498 billion in 2010. Oil prices hit a
peak of $147 a barrel as recently as July 2008. Few would argue that
prices could not return to this or to even loftier levels in the future:
the price of oil is dictated by international events largely beyond our
control. Think what would happen if the current instability in the
Middle East were to extend to Saudi Arabia. And we are not the only
party in the market for oil. China’s dependence on foreign oil is rising
rapidly: with its economy booming, China has moved from
self-sufficiency in 1995 to importing more than half of its petroleum
and equivalents in 2009, as consumption nearly tripled during that
period. Given this increasing demand, even higher prices are very
likely.The Shortcomings of Ethanol and Energy TaxesApproximately 70 percent of oil
consumed in the United States is used to power transportation. George W.
Bush’s administration set a goal of having up to 7.5 billion gallons of
so-called renewable fuel deployed as an additive to gasoline by 2012.
We have comfortably surpassed this objective already: more than 10
billion gallons of corn-based ethanol were blended with gasoline in
2010.But we accomplished this milestone at significant cost. Refiners
blending ethanol with gasoline benefit from a subsidy of 45 cents a
gallon. Nearly 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop is now used to produce
ethanol—with limited benefit in terms of reducing either oil consumption
or greenhouse-gas emissions, but with significant impacts on the price
of corn as a food (see “The Ethanol Illusion,”
November-December 2006, page 33). We live in an interconnected world
and there are persuasive arguments that the emphasis on growing corn as a
feedstock for ethanol has at least contributed to the recent rise in
global food prices. Why not abolish the corn-ethanol subsidy? This would
not directly affect farmers, because the subsidy is paid to those who
blend the ethanol with gasoline.That would save taxpayers nearly $5 billion a year—and would have a minimal, or even positive, effect on the price of gasoline.If we are to seriously reduce our dependence on imports, we need to
cut back significantly on consumption of oil to fuel our cars, trucks,
and buses. Oil-industry veteran T. Boone Pickens has proposed that we
use compressed natural gas (CNG) as a substitute for oil-based fuels for
large trucks and buses. And indeed, the United States has abundant
sources of natural gas that can be extracted profitably with current
technology from shale—enough perhaps to accommodate anticipated demand
for a century or more—assuming that we can address the related
environmental challenges, specifically the recent suggestion that
production of gas from shale is associated with a significant release to
the atmosphere of methane, a greenhouse gas that is even more
consequential than carbon dioxide.But proposed legislation to implement the plan would require a
subsidy in excess of $500 billion to convert eight million trucks and
buses to CNG—not to mention the infrastructure required to service these
vehicles (think of CNG service stations deployed along all major
highways). CNG could conceivably play an important role on a local
level, for city buses and taxis that could have convenient access to a
limited number of central fueling stations. As proposed, though, the
Pickens proposal is too expensive, and would tend to lock us into a
pattern of continuing unsustainable emission of greenhouse gases from
the transportation sector.Alternatively, we could reinforce market pressure to change fossil-fuel consumption. New York Times
columnist Thomas Friedman has suggested that $4-a-gallon gasoline
represents “a red line where people really start to change their
behavior.” He proposed that “the smart thing for us to do right now is
to impose a $1-a-gallon gasoline tax, to be phased in at five cents a
month beginning in 2012, with all of the money going to pay down the
deficit.” I agree that gas prices are too low—the equivalent prices in
some European countries are now close to $10 per gallon—and in the best
of all worlds his proposal makes eminent sense. Politically, though, it
would appear to be dead on arrival. The predictable response was that
such a tax would hurt the economy and that the cost would fall
inequitably on those least equipped to deal with it. As for a tax only
on imported oil, at current prices, a levy of $20 per barrel would raise
more than $80 billion annually for the Treasury and could accomplish
much the same objective as Friedman’s tax on gasoline—but it may not be
permissible under world trade regulations not to mention the fact that
Canada, our largest supplier, might be expected to register a strong
protest.The Case for ElectrificationCan we come up with a better idea? In
the long run, I believe we need a more efficient, lower-cost, more
sustainable energy alternative to oil to reduce our dependence on
expensive imports—one that would at the same time accommodate our
essential requirements for an energy source for transportation. The
internal combustion engine is intrinsically inefficient. Less than a
quarter of the energy consumed is used to drive the vehicle: the balance
is rejected as waste heat. A better option would be to use electricity
to drive our cars and light trucks. In this case, more than 90 percent
of the energy would be deployed usefully. What this means is that we
could provide the driving potential of a gallon of gasoline by
substituting as few as 8 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity. Given the
current national average retail price of electricity of about 10 cents
per kWh, the implication is that we could drive the equivalent of a
gallon’s worth of gasoline for as little as 80 cents.We would not need a technological revolution to convert the bulk of
our personal driving to electrically assisted propulsion. The Chevy
Volt, for example, is capable of driving all-electrically for
approximately 40 miles using power drawn from a conventional electric
socket. If you wish to drive farther, the car switches to burning
gasoline to generate the necessary electricity on board the vehicle. The
U.S. average car or light truck is driven approximately 12,000 miles
per year—about 33 miles per day. The conclusion: if your personal
transportation needs were supplied by the Chevy Volt, the bulk of your
driving could be fueled by cheap grid-supplied electricity. And the Volt
is but one possibility for the electrically powered cars of the future.
We may anticipate not only plug-in competitors but also pure electric
vehicles as advances in battery technology allow for the extension of
driving range for the latter.Approximately 40 percent of electricity in the United States is
produced using coal, with natural gas (23 percent), nuclear fission (20
percent) and hydropower (7 percent) accounting for most of the balance,
and a small though rapidly growing contribution from wind. Driving your
car using electricity generated from coal could reduce demand for
imported oil, but would represent a step backward in terms of reducing
emissions of greenhouse gases (coal accounts for 40 percent of U.S.
emissions of the most important greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, or CO2).
Using electricity generated by burning natural gas would make a modest
contribution to the greenhouse-gas problem, while power generated using
either nuclear or hydropower would of course be largely free of carbon
emissions.By far the best option would be to drive our cars and light trucks
using electricity generated from a renewable resource such as wind or
solar power. Wind accounted for 40 percent of all new
electricity-generating capacity installed in the United States in 2009
(admittedly, a year when not much new capacity from other sources was
added). Bloomberg News reports that even in the absence of subsidies,
wind is already cost-competitive with coal as a source of new
electricity (6.8 cents per kWh for the former as compared to 6.7 cents
per kWh for the latter) under favorable circumstances (see “Saving Money, Oil, and the Climate,” March-April 2008, page 30).Our country has abundant sources of wind, sufficient to supply our
entire demand for energy for the foreseeable future. But there are two
problems. First, the supply from wind is intrinsically variable: U.S.
demand for electricity generally peaks during the day and in summer;
supplies from wind are typically greatest at night and in winter.
Second, the cheapest sources of wind are located in the middle of the
country, far removed from the highest demand centers on the coasts.There are solutions to both challenges. We could construct a network
of high-voltage direct-current supply lines capable of efficiently
connecting regions of high demand with regions of high potential
supply—a twenty-first-century distribution network extending from coast
to coast and from border to border. This would require, of course, a
significant investment of capital, perhaps as much as a trillion
dollars. To put this number in context: the U.S. gross domestic product
(GDP) in 2010 amounted to $14.5 trillion; national retail sales of
electricity totaled $270 billion; and of course our current bill for oil
imports has been running at the rate of $400 billion. An investment in
an updated transmission system could pay for itself with a modest
surcharge on electricity delivered to the high-demand regions without
imposing a significant burden on consumers in those regions (they might
even save money in the aggregate). Customers in the high-demand regions
already pay a significant premium for electricity relative to the 6.8
cents per kWh currently estimated to produce power from wind in the most
favorable regions. Right-of-way for the proposed distribution system
potentially could be allocated along the existing interstate highway and
rail systems. Think of the jobs that could be created with such an
initiative, not to mention the benefits that would accrue to landowners
providing siting facilities for the proposed new wind farms.Wholesale electricity prices vary significantly over the course of a
day and over the course of a year, responding in real time to variations
in demand. The efficiency of the electrical system could be markedly
improved if the proposed fleet of electrically enabled cars could be
charged at times when demand was otherwise low. Better still, a two-way
connection between utilities and customers could allow cars to be charged when excess electricity was available, and to serve as a power source
when electricity was otherwise in short supply. The batteries of the
cars could provide a valuable means for storage of electricity.
Utilities would be better able in this case to balance supply and
demand, reducing the challenge of integrating a variable source of power
such as wind or solar into the national distribution system, and
minimizing the need to maintain expensive back-up facilities that are
deployed only infrequently to meet temporary increases in demand.The federal government has responded in the past to the need for
investment in the infrastructure required to improve the nation’s
security and to promote economic growth. Abraham Lincoln was responsible
for the extension of the railroad system that opened up the West. The
Eisenhower administration built the interstate highway system. The
Department of Defense sponsored the research that led to the World Wide
Web and the global positioning system. Each of these path-breaking
initiatives was undertaken by a Republican administration. Now, with
thoughtful public investment in our infrastructure, capitalizing on our
significant national resources of renewable low-carbon energy, we can
enhance our national security and reduce our adverse balance of trade,
improve the quality of our environment, minimize the risks of future
adverse climate change, and enhance conditions for renewed growth of our