On December 5, Nelson Mandela passed away. For political scientists, discussing Mandela’s legacy is of course connected to questions about the role that great leaders can play in world politics. Or, more generally: how to analytically deal with individuals.
Alex de Waal argues that “[t]he way he has become idolized and idealized tells us more about the world’s need for such a figure, than about Nelson Mandela himself.”
Joshua Tucker writes that waiting for great persons to come along and single-handedly push democratization “has the potential to lead to dramatic lost opportunities”.
Also at the Monkey Cage, Stephen Dyson replies: “A worthy goal of science is to provide systematic, rigorous knowledge about issues of social importance. But science should also engage with the moral and empathetic possibilities that come from taking leaders seriously.”
Dan Drezner comments on the WTO: “Why the Trade Deal in Bali Was A Game Changer”. Drezner happily points out that positive news on the WTO are in line with his forthcoming book, which argues that post-Lehman financial governance has worked quite well:
Of course, not everyone shares this view, and there has been no shortage of arguments that say the opposite. One of the strongest data points in their empirical quiver has been the failure of the Doha round of WTO talks to be completed. Indeed, for the past five years, “Doha” has been wonk shorthand for “dysfunctional global governance that accomplishes nothing but gridlock.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that other observers (#1, #2) are not too excited about the outlook for future WTO negotiations.
From the WTO, we move on to finance – and somewhat away from political science. Forgive me, but you will thank me as soon as one of your relatives brings up “the financial system” and/or Bitcoin at the next family reunion. I highly recommended reading the next three items in preparation:
[This book] offers a great example of a dissertation (or a project that began its life as one, at any rate) that speaks to questions lying at the center of the field. Yes, you can write Bad Pun: The Thing That’s Happening Now and How None of The Big Names Have Anything to Say About It, 1990–2008. But you could also think a little bigger.
The question is whether it’s worth being dependent on a growing economy that’s so politically unreliable. So now we’re gonna see whether incipient U.S. rivals will start making the necessary down payments to act on their increasingly justified complaints.
As Benjamin J. Cohen suggested in a talk here at Freie Universität a couple of months ago, what keeps the dollar strong might be the lack of alternatives (rather than the inherent qualities of the global key currency #1). Drezner says we’ll see soon enough which side is right, but I have the feeling that in the absence of clear predictions or thresholds (how do we know “the end of the dollar” when we see it?), this dicussion will drag on for decades.
Well, in August 2011, [my parents’] former home was placed on the market. The asking price was £2,475,000. So a house that had once been affordable by a young, middle-class couple was now being aimed at buyers who were, by any normal standards, very rich indeed. (…) A similar process of exclusion has taken place in education. (…) So my father went to Eton. I went to Eton. And my son goes to Bishop Luffa Church of England comprehensive.
Of cource, these are still nice problems to have compared to most people, and many aspects of social life are certainly better than a couple of decades ago. Yet the overall trends regarding income and wealth in the rich parts of the world, which I’ve covered here earlier, look worrisome basically for everyone below of the very top of the pyramid.
On Friday, Benjamin J. Cohen gave a talk at FU Berlin. Cohen, who is a professor of International Political Economy at UC Santa Barbara, is probably most famous for his work on the Geography of Money. He was invited by the KFG and the International Research Training Group “Between Spaces” to talk about the future of the euro as an international currency.
As the somewhat pessimistic title of the lecture – “The Euro Today: Is There A Tomorrow?” – suggests, this was not meant to be a pep talk for worried Europeans. In fact, Cohen’s short answer to his own question is: No, the euro will not bounce back from its current crisis, but instead face a “long, lingering slide into marginality”.
First, some preliminaries: Cohen was not talking about the future of the currency as such, but specifically about the euro’s role as an international currency: To what extent will it be used by non-members of the eurozone – not as a substitute domestic currency (“dollarization“), but for international purposes? More technically, the question is about the use of a currency as a unit of account, store of value, and/or medium of exchange.
To put it short, the argument here is that the euro is nowhere close to the dollar both in scope (which functions it fulfills) and in domain (where / by whom it is used).