Daniel Clausen

Finding Creativity

..
Isaac Asimov (1965), via Wikimedia Commons

The subject of creativity has been on my mind lately. As part of my dissertation research, I had to look at theories of policy entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are said to be many things — risk-takers, charismatic, disruptive.

But they are also said to be creative. They have insights on resources and constraints that lead them to act differently than their peers.

Diligence Contra Creativity?

We could say the same about scholars. Some scholars are like entrepreneurs, trying to revolutionize their discipline with bold new approaches. Some of these insights work, while others flare out.

Other scholars are less adventurous. They prefer to work within well-defined research traditions and grind out modest contributions. Even within this group of scholars, however, I often find that — at least in their own minds — they see themselves as creative.

But all researchers, no matter what field, soon find that diligence is the key to success. Without it, you get nowhere. Coding data, writing and rewriting, formatting bibliographies — without the ability to handle the minutiae of research and scholarship, you are nowhere. You have nothing.

And perhaps all this diligence does something to your creativity. Perhaps it makes you more guarded, less bold. You learn to write and think defensively. And perhaps these habits of mind inhibit your ability to make new breakthroughs.

Finding Creativity

I’ve been trying to rediscover my creative self. I’ve also been trying to write something meaningful on creativity. It’s hard. And perhaps it’s something I haven’t been attacking creatively enough (or shouldn’t be attacking at all).

Many things have been written on creativity (some of them not all that creative). But my favorite quotes on creativity come from an Isaac Asimov essay I was recently introduced to. The origin of the article itself is fairly interesting. It was the result of an official, government-sponsored project to think creatively about a very difficult problem. I encourage anyone reading this to check it out.

What’s interesting about the 1959 essay is its cynicism toward government-sponsored creativity sessions. Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, there were all sorts of reports and media condemnations of the intelligence community’s failure to connect the dots — in a broad sense its failure to be creative. It’s bizarre to charge a government bureaucracy with a failure to be creative — as if creativity can be produced through a bureaucratic process. And in the aftermath of the attacks, the government sponsored a slew of workshops with “creative types” (novelist, actors, directors, and other eccentrics) in order to “red team” more possible scenarios.

Thinking about these sessions in light of the Asimov article is interesting because Asimov is skeptical that creativity can ever be the product of a governmental process. But he does have a few key sections where he suggests some ways that creative outputs may occur through government funding. Again, I encourage you to go right to the source material.

Eccentricity and its Limits

Here is one quote from the article that got me thinking:

“A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance. Since he occurs only rarely, he must seem eccentric (in at least that respect) to the rest of us. A person eccentric in one respect is often eccentric in others.”

My first thoughts on this quote have to do not with creativity but with the limits of rational judgment. Let’s say we are able to get a bunch of eccentric/genius types together. And let’s say one out of twelve has a very useful idea. Would we be able to pick out the one good idea successfully?

My answer: I don’t think so.

This is based on observation. We frequently see someone who is right about the next big event or who was warning us about some danger that was about to occur. They are usually columnists, commentators, think tank scholars, or something of the like. But typically we only find out who is right after the event has occurred.

So, not only can we not know which eccentric is the right eccentric, but we (or they) only benefit from their eccentricity if they are willing to put their ideas into practice or risk something they have to make their eccentric ideas work or to get noticed — as entrepreneurs do.

Since entrepreneurs often fail, they need to have either extraordinary insight or they need to be people of “considerable self-assurance” who take risks in spite of the consequences of being wrong.

Isolation and Unconscious Thought

Here is another quote that got me thinking:

“My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it. (The famous example of Kekulé working out the structure of benzene in his sleep is well-known.)”

Isolation? I’m not sure isolation is necessary. Especially in my research on political entrepreneurship, the eccentric types need lots of exposure to their natural environment. Insights come from “continually working at it,” but usually in a social context. For some types of breakthroughs, isolation might be necessary, but for myself I prefer to work with others, especially when I’m stuck on a problem. Isolation might make people weird, but not necessarily in a way that provides useful insights about things in the world.

The part that rang most true for me was the idea of the mind shuffling information, even when “not conscious of it.” I’ve become a true believer in defocused concentration. N.N. Taleb, the famous thinker on antifragility, has talked about the benefits of walks. I find that menial tasks often have the same effect. When I am doing something that requires little thought, but involves lots of motion, I can often have a mental breakthrough. (There is actually an episode of the Big Bang Theory where Sheldon put this theory to work by trying to come up with a breakthrough by working as a busboy at Penny’s restaurant.)

For some reason, I get insights right before I go to sleep. Actually, I get them at the very moment where my mind begins to relax and slip into unconsciousness. This has become so annoying that I’ve just left a notebook by my bed so I don’t have to get up again and walk to my laptop.

Brainstorming Sessions — Real and Fake

A while ago, (I can’t say particularly where or when) I read about a certain government department holding brainstorming sessions. I tried to picture what this must have been like. My mental image was not of a real brainstorming session, but of a bunch of government bureaucrats sitting around, floating mildly interesting ideas with little risk, moments of uncomfortable silence, some obligatory back-slapping, and then calling it a day.

Again, I don’t think a real brainstorming session can occur in a place like a government bureaucracy, or even a large corporation for that matter. Eccentricity in those kinds of contexts can be dangerous. (Maybe if it was a corporate advertising agency. Maybe.)

So here is my last quote:

“But how to persuade creative people to do so [get together for a creativity session]? First and foremost, there must be ease, relaxation, and a general sense of permissiveness. The world in general disapproves of creativity, and to be creative in public is particularly bad. Even to speculate in public is rather worrisome. The individuals must, therefore, have the feeling that the others won’t object.”

This is where academia often fails. Conferences, peer review, and other such academic conventions work against creativity. Usually, the only way around these inhibitors is to avoid them for a while. You have to find a context where genuine creativity is rewarded, and that can be difficult. An academic conference of like-minded individuals looking for a breakthrough might work better than some of the conferences I’ve been to (where scholars spend more time avoiding being wrong).

Like-minded scholarly communities help. Parties help. Talking with sympathetic friends helps. I’m also encouraged by the number of forums that have opened up for scholars to do “official bull-shitting” like blogs and web journals that have more flexible editorial requirements and allow speculative essays.

Another idea, keep a journal with ideas only you’ll ever read. (I guess isolation can be productive!) Then when something is ready to come out of the journal, let it out.

Creativity Finds You

Here is my simple definition of creativity: the mental state of childlike wonder.

If that is the case, then you need to find ways to put yourself in mental states where it’s okay to be odd, unique, experimental — and just plain wrong. It’s difficult to find those spaces as an adult, but not impossible. The problem is that many places within the university are not such spaces. Many places in public life are not such places. They are places of adulthood and consequences. They are places of diligence.

Creativity is what happens when you stop trying so hard.

Vincent Dreher

Seven years in crisis: Some questions for the Eurozone

DER SPIEGEL 29 2015Recently, German media entered uncharted territory. While conservative newspapers have always identified the Greek government’s profligacy as root cause of the ongoing crisis, the liberal press had maintained more balanced positions. Yet on July 9, 2015, the weekly DIE ZEIT asked: ‘The Greek trap – the crisis-ridden country has a culture inimical to achievement. How can it be overcome?’ DER SPIEGEL proclaimed (in its July 11 issue) the necessity of ending the German romanticization of its arcadia in Attica. The title read: ‘Our Greeks – rapprochement with a strange people’.

Since when has culture advanced as main explanation for a country’s (economic) misery? How can shortcomings in a state bureaucracy be taken to explain an entire people’s failure of achieving prosperity and societal welfare?

In logical consequence of this narrative, the subsequent Eurozone-Greece agreement of July 13, 2015 figured as ‘the most intrusive economic supervision program ever mounted in the EU’ (FT). The drastic measures alongside the required ‘ownership’ of reforms revealed the deep mistrust in Greek institutions. The source of most, if not of all, failures was located in the Greek government’s incapacity, or reluctance, to accept conditionalities and implement reforms.

Unit labor costs and competitiveness in the Eurozone

This is yet another instance of misinterpreting the symptoms of a disease rooted in the fundamental misalignments within the Eurozone. There have been idiosyncratic issues in Greece (reporting failures, unsustainable debt since 2010), just as there have been home-grown issues in other crisis-hit member states contributing to the current escalation. However, these problems represent only the tip of the iceberg. It is not the misbehavior of individual governments, let alone cultures, which underlie the seven-year-old crisis. It is persistent failures in the economic governance of the Eurozone. Recent data from other Southern members are hailed as heralding the end of misery (EC, Reuters, FT, WSJ). The following discussion will demonstrate to the contrary: as long as the shortcomings in the institutional set-up of the Euro and the failures of member state coordination of fiscal policies persist, the crisis will continue. Greece today, who tomorrow?

Unit labor costs, the ratio of total labor costs to productivity, are interpreted as the best approximation of an economy’s competitiveness. Judged by these standards, today’s Germany is competitive. This is not merely due to its superior productivity though. German multinationals as well as the famed Mittelstand are very capable. But the great divergence of unit labor costs compared to Southern European economies was due to wage restraints and welfare cuts, beginning with Schröder’s Agenda 2010 in the early 2000s (Mickey Levy, Flassbeck, Spiecker, The Economist). Addressing ‘the sick man of the Euro’, the reforms (and other factors) put the German economy ahead. This was achieved, however, at the cost of society’s lower strata and its Euro partners, as evidenced by subsequent divergences in balance of payments across the Eurozone (Gavin Davies). Bound by the Euro, others could no longer devalue their national currencies to improve competitiveness. During the decade of the European boom, no one seemed to worry. Southern economies expanded strongly, while Northern capital was flowing in and financed investments and consumption. Consumption of Northern, of German goods for that matter. Apparently unnoticed, Eurozone’s North and South diverged.

Since the onset of adjustment programs across Europe, however, unit labor cost convergence has moved center stage. Yet this is not a joint effort – i.e. via wage restraint, reforms and export-orientation in the South combined with wage increases, fiscal expansion and domestic consumption in the North. Instead, the benchmark has been set by Germany and Northern Europe, and the others are asked to adjust. During the past years, Southern economies have undertaken enormous efforts. Greece, above all, is the star pupil (OECD, Economonitor). But to little avail. And even if the recent recovery across Europe (except Greece) proved sustainable – when every Eurozone member strives to become  ‘competitive’, who will act as counterpart? The German ‘Sparpolitik’ in the 2000s was offset by Southern expansion. Who is buying now, when everyone is saving?

The structure of the Eurozone and the European Central Bank

Divergences of unit labor costs, clouded by the boom, were further reinforced by the ECB’s single nominal interest rate. Paul de Grauwe and Notre Europe argue that increasing inflation in booming Southern economies lowered real interest rates, thereby rewarding further economic expansion. The reverse was true for the North, which still profited of huge export-gains. Additionally, due to increasing real exchange rate spreads the prices of comparable products across member states diverged, making Northern manufacturing more and more attractive (Vistesen, Dadush, Wyne). Hence economic dynamics pushed states further into imbalances, not merely the often denounced human fallacies. Where is the public discussion about these curious, and obviously significant, dynamics?

A second issue identified by de Grauwe is the lack of a lender of last resort. Since the late 19th century, any central bank’s mandate has included the provision of unlimited liquidity in times of financial panic; not so in the Eurozone. When the financial crisis hit Europe, each member had to clean its own doorstep. Capital fled to presumably safer Northern countries and Southerners dried up. The lack of affordable refinancing forced spending cuts, thereby inducing immediate austerity programs. The cuts diminished GDP, which made servicing debt even harder. And only then the European austerity programs were devised and implemented. The question arises: were state budgets ultimately unsustainable and Southerners righteously punished for profligacy? Or did they simply look weaker relative to Northern neighbors, which were favored by investors in times of uncertainty? Evidence points to the latter. Nevertheless, these are the discussions we Europeans should hold.

The Eurozone is not ready for the challenges ahead

Despite improvements in financial governance, such as the banking union or the ECB’s perennial setting of precedents, the economic structure of the Eurozone has seen little of the desperately needed changes (e.g. Hans Tietmeyer, Euractiv). As long as there is not some kind of fiscal union, as long as there are not some kind of common Eurozone debt instruments, the inherent fragilities persist. Furthermore, the majority of European policymakers remain bound to their national constituencies – why should they care for the whole of Europe, when their electoral mandate stems from a fraction of the people?

We need a European debate. A debate about the flawed narrative that the Greek government’s profligacy is said to have caused the economic and political crises; a debate concerning the interpretation of the crisis as a mere lack of competitiveness (what about the European welfare state by the way?); and a debate with regard to the absurd claims about “cultural” limits to economic growth.

Vincent Dreher is a PhD student at the Berlin Graduate School for Transnational Studies. He works on the Political Economy of International Money and Finance, with a focus on international institutions.

Kai Striebinger

Neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’ – Re-Focusing the debate on Coup Outcomes

Dadis_Camara
Dadis Camara, who led the Coup in Guinea 2008 and briefly was the country’s president (Image credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia)

Recent blog posts by Sebastian Elischer and Alexander Noyes have revived the debate whether Coups d’Etat – the accession of the military to the presidency of a country – are ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ I argue that this discussion is not very fruitful. While those who argue that Coups can be ‘good’ sometimes refer to the consequences of Coups for the overall political regime, most of those who say that they are ‘bad’ make a principled argument saying that perpetrating a Coup is, in itself, bad – regardless of the consequences.

Only the first understanding allows probing into the effects of Coups. In order to evaluate their effects on the (violated) core feature of democratic regime (the selection of a head of state or government), it is useful to understand how and why military governments stay in or withdraw from power. This opens the research agenda to include military internal, domestic, and international factors.

Principle versus consequences

The confusion in evaluating whether Coups are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ stems from two different points of measurement. In one perspective, the act is evaluated; in the other, its consequences are measured. If the core of democracy is defined as accession to the presidency via free and fair elections, then the act of a Coup itself cannot be democratic. It is a violation of a democratic principle and therefore – by definition – ‘bad for democracy’. But if the purpose of a Coup is considered, then a Coup might make a regime more ‘democratic’ after some time at least.

This latter point warrants expansion: most countries where top executive leaders are determined through elections have a constitutional provision to use violence to prevent the abuse of power. Article 20(4) of the German Basic Law, for example, reads: “All Germans shall have the right to resist any person seeking to abolish this constitutional order, if no other remedy is available.” This is an attempt to prevent the rise of another autocratic regime. Such clauses recognize that formally democratic systems (selection of head of state via elections) may erode into political systems where the rights and institutions that the democracy is supposed to protect are systematically violated. In such a situation, a Coup d’Etat can theoretically lead to a system where fewer violations take place. While the act itself violates democratic principles, the purpose aims to protect them, and therefore can be justified. If this second understanding is adopted, then it is an empirical questions what effects Coups d’Etat can have on the nature of political systems.

While it is relevant to inquire about the overall effects of military government on the liberty of the press, the respect for human rights, or economic performance, for example, the main question in order to determine whether there is a chance for establishing a democratic form of government via free and fair elections is whether the military stays in or withdraws from power. The question is thus no longer about an overall effect on ‘democracy’ (which is determined by many other factors as well such as the independence of judicial institutions or a free press), but rather centered on the military itself.

When does the military stay in power after a Coup d’Etat, and when does it withdraw?

When re-centering the attention on this question, three explanatory factors come to the fore. The first concerns the role the other soldiers play. Whether a military is united and features values of civilian supremacy is likely to impact on whether it will reduce its involvement in government after a Coup d’Etat. In the thirteen Coups d’Etat in West Africa from 1990-2014 (without the Coups in Guinea-Bissau), this explanation does, however, only have limited leverage. In about half the cases, the setup of the military does not explain its continued rule. A clientelist military in Guinea in 2008 withdrew from power, while a similarly constituted military in Togo in 2005 held on to power and the Coup President is still ruling today, for example.

Other domestic actors, especially the extent to which they can exert pressure on the military in government shapes the governments’ decision to withdraw from or stay in power. The examples of Guinea and Togo show, however, that extended pressure by civil society actors is necessary but not sufficient to enable a military withdrawal. This is only possible in conjunction with the involvement of external actors who are jointly voicing their preference for military withdrawal.

External actors do play an important role. They can, for example, use coercive power in order to remove the military leadership from government – as has been done after Coups in Sierra Leone in 1997 and Guinea in 2008. But they can also adopt a variety of negative material incentives (such as an arms embargo or travel and financial restrictions) but also positive material incentives (such as an increase in Official Development Assistance or unconditional loans) as well as positive and negative immaterial incentives. They also engage the military leadership in processes of persuasion appealing to their considerations of appropriate behavior.

Domestic and external actors need to be united in their responses

The effect of such instruments depends, however, on the unity among external actors. When China provides a 100 million dollar grant to the military government in Guinea, then the suspension of official development aid by the US, the EU, and EU member states to the fraction of this amount is unlikely to have any (material) effect on the leadership. But it is true that China does not always support military governments (in Mali, for example, it contributed troops to the UN peacekeeping mission). Neither is it the case that ‘Western’ powers and organizations always support military withdrawal (France’s involvement in Niger 1996 is a case in point).

Next to individual countries, international organizations have to be considered as well. African organizations like the African Union or the Economic Community of West African States have far-reaching mandates to react to Coups d’Etat and have used these extensively to contribute to a decrease in the degree of military involvement. They act on par with the traditional external actors on the continent.

Whether Coups ‘are good or bad’ is thus not the most interesting question. It is more fruitful to ask under what conditions and how the military leadership withdraws or stays in power after a Coup d’Etat. Especially the unity of a domestic opposition and external actors are shaping this decision – almost regardless of military internal factors. Under what situations military withdrawal contributes to free and fair elections or broader results such as economic development, good governance, or more equality would need to be subject of another research agenda.

Kai Striebinger wrote his PhD dissertation on the question how and under which conditions international actors contribute to the decision by military governments to either withdraw from or stay in power after Coups d’Etat in West Africa (1990-2014). He is currently a researcher at the German Development Institute.

Mathis Lohaus

Why the German Intelligence Community Infuriates Me

One and a half years ago, I wrote the following about the German (BND) and the U.S. (CIA, NSA…) intelligence services in comparison:

(…) I think there is a marked difference in self-perception between the two nations. I don’t think anyone in Germany even wishes to have an equally powerful and expensive intelligence apparatus. Maybe I’m extremely naive, but I doubt wiretapping foreign heads of state is high on the BND’s agenda. (…)

Of course this was written in the context of the revelations about NSA and CIA operations that infringe on civil rights around the world. I still believe that (i) German agencies probably are less intrusive than their “Five Eyes” counterparts, and (ii) that public opinion in Germany is more critical of surveillance than in the United States.

...
Sign at the BND construction site (2008), CC-BY-SA by Schmidt/Richter on Wikimedia Commons

Recent news, however, have led me to re-evaluate my standpoint. While I still wish for “my” intelligence agencies to respect civil rights and the rule of law, most importantly I would really appreciate more professionalism on their side. I mean, you really can’t make this stuff up:

  • The construction site for the new BND headquarters in the center of Berlin was vandalized: after thieves removed a couple of faucets (!!!) from the upper floor, water kept leaking for hours
  • …leading to millions of euros in property damage (FYI: the new HQ is expected to cost >1.3 billion)
  • Nobody noticed anything. And this is not the first incident: In 2011, the top-secret construction plans were stolen or “went missing”…

Ironically, there is a German figure of speech that refers to particularly tight security as “wasserdicht” (waterproof). Of course people on Twitter are having a lot of fun with this and other bad puns. Check out the #watergate and #BNDleaks hashtags. Another particularly fitting yet hard to translate one is #läuftbeimBND.

On a more serious note, I am deeply worried about what goes on in the German intelligence community.

  • Domestically, the investigation of the NSU terrorism against immigrants suggests that the “Verfassungsschutz” (homeland security) was paying informants who not only failed to prevent or investigate any of these terrible crimes, but were present at the scenes of murders and then lied about it at court.
  • Internationally, it seems clear now that there is no concerted effort to curtain U.S. activities on European soil, despite all the symbolic outrage. The “no-spy treaty” was hot air, which is not surprising. New revelations about the British GCHQ or the U.S. services violating the rights of European citizens have not led to any serious response as far as I can tell.
  • (My working hypothesis is that several past German governments owe a lot to U.S. support in Afghanistan, which makes it very difficult to criticize these agencies.)
  • The parliamentary investigative committee on NSA/CIA surveillance is under multiple lines of attack:
    • witnesses and experts are extremely tight-lipped, and the BND routinely “forgets” and “loses” documents
    • three members of the committee have stepped down for unclear reasons
    • everything is obscured by lawyers and engineers claiming ignorance of each others’ field, which leads to almost farcical Q&A sessions
    • the security of the committee’s internal lines of communications is questionable: someone intercepted the package carrying the encrypted phone used by the committee chairman on its way to be serviced.
    • (Netzpolitik.org offers very extensive coverage of these events [in German], often supported by leaked documents.)

I am no conspiracy theorist, I am not against intelligence services per se, and I also know that politics are complicated. But this combination of blatant negligence when it comes to civil rights (in the country that spawned both the Third Reich and the Stasi!) with strategic and operational incompetence is infuriating.

Mathis Lohaus

Predicting the Effects of TTIP, or: Whose Crystal Ball Can We Trust?

In a paper called “TTIP: European Disintegration, Unemployment and Instability”, economist Jeronim Capaldo argues that there are flaws in four prominent studies on the effects of the proposed TTIP agreement between the U.S. and the European Union. The problem is two-fold. First, all studies use similar models and data, which means that they all share the same set of assumptions and should thus not be treated as independently reaching similar conclusions:

Methodologically, the similarities among the four studies are striking. While all use World Bank-style Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) models, the first two studies also use exactly the same CGE. The specific CGE they use is called the Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP), developed by researchers at Purdue University. All but Bertelsmann use a version of the same database (again from GTAP).

A detailed discussion of the shared heritage of the different CGE models can be found in a paper by Werner Raza and colleagues (pp. 37-49), which Capaldo cites.

He then goes one step further and alleges that the underlying econometric models are simply false, or at least inappropriate. According to him, CGE models rely on several flawed assumptions:

  • High labor mobility is supposed to allow workers in less competitive industries to switch to those that benefit from trade liberalization, which are assumed to grow enough to absorb the new workforce.
  • Overall, the gains for workers with the right skills are supposed to outweigh the losses for others.
  • The model assumes that new trade between countries/regions is created (rather than diverted from elsewhere, which would be a zero-sum result).

While I have no training in economics and don’t know the econometrics literature, I realize that all large-scale models of social science need to rely on simplified assumptions. Nevertheless, it seems to me that Capaldo has a point. If his account is correct, then European policymakers should look for more diverse academic input. More generally, if the most widely used models really are blind to potential downsides for labor, then that goes against the interest of European citizens. (As they ought to be very loss averse when it comes to employment as well as skeptical about the distribution of pay-offs from economic gains.)

So how do we come up with an estimate that pays more attention to potential negative effects? Capaldo uses the UN Global Policy Model (GPM), which models economic activity as demand-driven, explicitly models different regions, and includes an estimate of employment. (Again, I lack the knowledge to assess how this works and how much sense it makes.) In this model, unemployment and household income are projected to deteriorate in the long term (2025) for several European countries, as aggregate demand is lowered due to trade diversion (see pp. 10-19 for this and other findings).

capaldo-figure4
Jeronim Capaldo, “The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: European Disintegration, Unemployment and Instability”, Global Development and Environment Institute Working Paper No. 14-03, October 2014, p. 14.

Capaldo is pretty transparent about the limitations of this approach:

  • the non-TTIP baseline scenario (which serves as a comparison) might be wrong
  • the chosen model might be as ill-specified as the ones he is criticizing
  • policy responses down the road are not included (and that’s hardly possible)
  • …and the paper completely ignores the investment dimension of TTIP (which is a weakness shared by the CGE models, according to Raza et al., p. 49)

So the headline “TTIP will lead to a loss of 600,000 jobs” does not really do the paper justice, although the author himself uses pretty strong language in the conclusion.

No matter which forecast turns out to be better in the end, this discussion shows that policy decisions should not rely on a single strand of academic analysis. There is a lot of uncertainty involved in these negotiations, and I don’t see how there can be a confident forecast of net effects.

One final note for the political debate in general: TTIP opponents should not forget that the status quo will not necessarily be maintained or improved just by inaction. The people likely to lose from TTIP are probably heading for difficult times anyway, leading to questions about how to compensate them. Whether European leaders will decide in favor or against TTIP, they are making high-stakes bets on how globalization will play out over the next decades.

Thanks to Zoe for pointing me to the study. And if anyone can add insight regarding the comparison between the different models, please let me know!

Zoe Williams

Investor-State Dispute Settlement in Europe

In the last few months, criticism of  TTIP’s proposed investor-state dispute settlement  (ISDS) provision has become  so mainstream that even The Economist is questioning whether it’s such a good idea. More to the point, some of the biggest players this side of the Atlantic have also come out against it, largely it would seem, mirroring public sentiment.   French officials now claim that TTIP is a no-go if ISDS is kept in, while Germany has spoken out against its inclusion in TTIP, and has gone so far as to backtrack on agreements already made, saying that they want ISDS scrapped from CETA, the EU-Canada free trade agreement (which, until recently, nobody outside of Canada seemed to care about).

The perception of the  threat that ISDS poses is connected to the different health, food and environmental standards in Europe and the US. ISDS allows investors to sue host state governments for unfair or discriminatory treatment, and critics argue that investors will use arbitration (or even the threat of it) to force Europe to lower its regulatory standards based on treaty provisions. As proof of the potential for investors to employ ISDS to attack regulatory standards, critics frequently cite the cases of Philip Morris v. Australia, in which the tobacco company is suing over the country’s decision to require plain packaging of cigarettes, and Swedish energy company Vattenfall suing Germany over Merkel’s nuclear phase-out.

A threat does exist, as investors, and more importantly, arbitration lawyers are expanding the use of investment arbitration. As this article/advertisement  written by arbitration lawyers suggest, there is money to be made by actively looking for “innovative” uses for ISDS.

However, others argue that Europe’s sudden distrust of ISDS is hypocritical. European states, or at least European investors, have been a driving force behind ISDS in the past. The first Bilateral Investment Treaty was signed by Germany (with Pakistan) in 1959, and since then,  EU member states have signed at least 1400 BITs. Between 2008-2014 alone, EU investors made up 53% of all claimants in investor-state disputes.

Of course, more interesting to critics is likely the track record of EU states as respondents in these lawsuits. So here’s a breakdown of the cases Europe has faced so far, based on my own research.

eu

 

Here we see the EU member states which have been respondents in arbitration cases. The majority are transition economies, although Spain, Germany, Belgium and the UK have also been faced lawsuits. The concentration of disputes in formerly Communist countries is not surprising, given the logic that has (up until TTIP and CETA) governed BITs. That is, these agreements have usually been signed by pairs of countries between which the investment generally flows only in one direction – most often from developed to developing countries (or at least countries perceived to have unreliable domestic courts).  In other words, when the US and the Czech Republic signed a BIT in 1991, the implicit goal was to protect US investments in the Czech Republic. On the other hand, Western European states and the US have not found it necessary to sign BITs between themselves, as both sides have been confident in the domestic courts and investment climate of the other. At least, until now.

industries

The above shows the industries most often implicated in investor-state disputes involving EU members. How does this compare to investment disputes worldwide? At the global level, electricity and other energy, as well as oil, gas and mining, are the industries that see the greatest number of disputes. Not surprising, given that these industries are often politically interesting already. Extractive industries seem to attract  a range of governance problems, while public utilities are often are privatized to the detriment of low-income consumers.   What appears to be Europe-specific here is the concentration of cases in media and health insurance (although both relate to a number connected cases in Czech Republic and Slovakia).

measures

And here we have a breakdown of the state “measures” which are triggering disputes in Europe. The top two categories are the very specific measure of canceling an agreement, permit, or license of an investor, while the second category – regulatory change – encompasses a range of measures  which effect an entire industry or even the general public.

Finally, how litigious are US companies? Of the 561 known arbitration cases listed on UNCTAD’s IIA database, 124 cases, or 22%, involve US investors.  It’s impossible to know how often US investors will use ISDS under TTIP, if the agreement ultimately includes the provision. All we can say for certain at this point is that if it is left in, a great deal more of global FDI flows will suddenly be covered by ISDS.

Note: Edited to add French dispute to graph which had previously been left off.

Sören Stapel

German-speaking political science and social media

Social Media Bandwagon
Source: Matt Hamm / Photopin / cc

Two months ago, the German-speaking blogosphere organized a blog carnival, directly following the Zeitschrift für Internationale Beziehungen’s symposium on the web 2.0. and social media in the International Relations profession. In the symposium, social media were approached as both an object of study, and a professional means to network and reach out to the general public. The symposium called for a reaction from the various German-speaking bloggers. And we got them. My initially planned contribution to the carnival never materialized when the work plate simply got swamped with editorial work on an edited volume, reviews of a book chapter, a data collection project, the preparation of field research, and me actually being on field research mission. So, this blog post should be considered a late addition to this little party.

Some of the contributions fleshed out part and parcel of bloggers’ experiences in general. Others reflected on the late arrival of German speakers to the use of social media for professional concerns and possible (negative) consequences (see Ali’s intro and collection of links, in German). Yet, it strikes me that an important question has been missing from the discussion: How much social media engagement of German-speaking political science researchers is out there? Continue reading

Sören Stapel

Dealing with the African Governance Transfer Tangle

AU HQ
AU Commission headquarter and Peace and Security Council buildings in Addis Ababa.

At the end of October, when the streets in Ouagadougou were filled with protesters calling attention to a reverberating crisis that is not unique to Burkina Faso, the African Union convened the 3rd High Level Dialogue on Democratic Governance in Africa in Dakar, Senegal, themed “Silencing the Guns: Strengthening Governance to Prevent, Manage and Resolve Conflicts in Africa”. This was the third workshop in a series of meetings organized under the auspices of the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) of the African Union Commission. While the inaugural High Level Dialogue in November 2012 was broadly framed as “Governance and Democracy in Africa: Trends, Challenges and Prospects”, the follow-up consultations focused on constitutional order and the rule of law in 2013 and the governance-conflict nexus this year.

The High Level Dialogue is meant to bring together actors involved in the promotion and protection of governance standards in domestic contexts: AU organs and officials, actors from the regional economic communities, civil society, African citizens, and numerous stakeholders. These dialogues will hopefully initiate and promote the exchange of ideas and best practices amongst various governance actors, and help develop a common understanding and mutual support in fighting the governance gap in Africa’s domestic contexts. The consultations involved a social media campaign. Documents can be retrieved from the DPA’s Scribd page and some buzz was created via Twitter – see #DGTrends and #SilencingTheGuns. [The very informative DGTrends Website has been off for some days now.] Continue reading

Salvador Santino Jr Regilme

Human Rights Research in Political Science

santinoHR

Despite the fall of the Berlin Wall and the apparent triumph of liberal democracy, human rights abuses remain pervasive in many parts of the world. State-sanctioned abuses such as extra-judicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances, and political imprisonments are still widespread in some parts of contemporary Asia, Latin America, and Africa — in particular, even in those countries that are self-proclaimed liberal democracies. What causes state-initiated human rights abuses? What is the current state of political science literature with regard to the causes of human rights norm compliance?

Taking stock of our knowledge about the topic is not only important for academic reasons, but it is also a crucial task toward better global governance of the human rights regime. On that regard, the table below from Google books Ngram Viewer shows the annual frequency of usage of the term “human rights” in millions of digitized books; it reveals that the increase in usage started sometime around the late 1940s, perhaps just right after the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

ngramHR

In a recent article in Third World Quarterly, I provided a critical survey of contemporary scholarship on the causes of human rights norm compliance and deviations. The article revisits the state of the literature in comparative politics and International Relations with regard to the causes of human rights abuses. Notably, comparative politics scholars focus on intra-national variables as they explain variations in human rights compliance over time, while International Relations scholars emphasize the overwhelming importance of transnational and systemic variables. Thus, I argue that we have yet to see more systematic studies that examine the links between transnational and domestic factors as they jointly produce variations in human rights compliance over time.

The empirical implication of my argument is that the human rights crisis in the Global South (e.g. post-9/11 Pakistan) cannot be solely explain by pinpointing either the internal governance problems of the Pakistani state or by zooming into the failures of transnational civil society movements to put pressure on the government. On that regard, the article enumerates some pathways the current social science scholarship must traverse in order to better understand the causal underpinnings of human rights abuses in the developing world. If my arguments are correct, then the policy implication is clear: in many cases, human rights crises in the Global South ought to be posited as a global governance problem that requires the cooperation of transnational and domestic actors.

In addition, students and scholars of human rights might find it useful to also refer to other important and very recent works on the topic: Emilie M. Hafner-Burton’ Making Human Rights a Reality; Thomas Risse and colleagues’ edited volume called The Persistent Power of Human Rights: From Commitment to Compliance; Sonia Cardenas’ Conflict and Compliance: State Responses to International Human Rights Pressure; David Karp’s Responsibility for Human Rights; Courtney Hillbrecht’s Domestic Politics and International Human Rights Tribunals; and Cindy Holder and colleagues’ Human Rights: The Hard Questions, among others.

Finally, these recent pieces of scholarship could provide us a better understanding of the causes and the consequences of human rights abuses, which in turn, could give us a stronger foundation for crafting effective public policies for stronger human rights compliance.

Mathis Lohaus

Introducing the DIY Standing Desk

Last year, political scientist Chris Blattman wrote about his attempt to reduce back pain by working with a standing desk:

That eminent scientific outlet, LifeHacker, informs us that sitting is killing us. My ridiculously good back doctor and the Columbia ergonomics office assured me this is not all hype, and that a standing desk would probably be a good move.

It has been. I enjoy the standing more than I expected. I do not get tired. My back has never been better, though weaknesses with my home desk option do bother it a little. Crucially, I discovered a trick for ensuring my feet never hurt (…).

In his blog post on the issue, he discusses the pros and cons for a number of desks costing between a few hundred and a couple of thousand dollars. But what if you’re looking for a very cheap way to see if a standing desk works for you? After all, back pain can become an issue long before you have tenure the financial means to buy specialized office equipment, and not every employer will be willing to help.

As an inspiration for grad students around the globe, here is the “Do-it-yourself Standing Desk”, as created by my colleagues Patrick, Maurits and Zoe.

standingsdesk
The DIY Standing Desk in action… all you need (in addition to the regular desk) is two crates and a surface for mouse and keyboard.