18 October 2014

Academic Writing Stinks

Although it is already broadly read, I think this piece by Steven Pinker should be chowed, swallowed and digested by every scholar.

"Together with wearing earth tones, driving Priuses, and having a foreign policy, the most conspicuous trait of the American professoriate may be the prose style called academese. An editorial cartoon by Tom Toles shows a bearded academic at his desk offering the following explanation of why SAT verbal scores are at an all-time low: “Incomplete implementation of strategized programmatics designated to maximize acquisition of awareness and utilization of communications skills pursuant to standardized review and assessment of languaginal development.” In a similar vein, Bill Watterson has the 6-year-old Calvin titling his homework assignment “The Dynamics of Interbeing and Monological Imperatives in Dick and Jane: A Study in Psychic Transrelational Gender Modes,” and exclaiming to Hobbes, his tiger companion, “Academia, here I come!” No honest professor can deny that there’s something to the stereotype." Steven Pinker: READ

My five cents:
How a successful novelist in Spain who tried to approach academic literature understood the game:

"At one time I believed that 'understanding' meant quite more than what happened to me, although I was actually understanding like the others. As that was not enough for me to satisfy what I thought 'understanding' would be, I believed that I had not understood and that those who said they understood had seen a much clearer light, and some figures much sharper than me. Over the years I began to suspect that when others say they really understand they are actually seeing that vague glow, these contours of smoke, those blurred shadows that I never would have dared designate as 'understanding'."

Original in Spanish:
“En otro tiempo yo creía que ‘entender’ quería decir bastante más de lo que a mí me pasaba cuando en verdad estaba entendiendo igual que los demás, y como eso no me bastaba para satisfacer lo que yo pensaba que sería ‘entender’, creía que yo no había entendido y que los que decían que habían entendido habían visto una luz mucho más clara y unas figuras mucho más nítidas que yo. Al cabo de los años empecé a sospechar que cuando los demás dicen que entienden en realidad están viendo ese vago resplandor, esos contornos de humo, esas difuminadas sombras que yo nunca habría osado antaño designar como ‘entender’.”
Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio
Vendrán más años malos y nos harán más ciegos (1992).


Rein Taagepera said...

1) I had to cut the 6-line first sentence by Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio
into smaller pieces, be fore I could make sense of it.

2) I find Perspectives on Politics very hard read. 
Yet its goal seemed to be  making pol sci findings accessible to a wider audience, including practicing politicians.
"I would argue that in this endeavor this journal falls appreciably short of it presumable goal-setting."
[English translation: "Fat chance."]


28 September 2014

Can England Be a Federation?
After the referendum in Scotland and the awareness that the territorial distribution of power across the United Kingdom is not well settled, proposals have emerged to create an English parliament. However, England encompasses about 85% of the population of the UK, which would make a federal-type arrangement too asymmetrical and highly unlikely to be accepted by the Scots and survive. The problem looks similar to the one with Ireland in the past, which, after Irish independence, left the legacy of a long conflict and the current special status for Northern Ireland.
    Many two-unit federations have failed as a consequence of the large group’s dominance and the small group’s choice of secession. Cases in modern times include the following: In America, after the early independence of four Vice-royalties from the Spanish empire: Argentina with the separation of Paraguay and Uruguay; Colombia with the separation of Ecuador, Venezuela, and later Panama; Peru with the split with Bolivia; Mexico with the separation of Guatemala and, immediately afterward, the rest of Central America in dispersion. In Asia and Africa, after independence from the British empire: India with separation by Pakistan; Pakistan with secession of territorially separated Bangladesh later on; South Africa with secession by Namibia; Rhodesia (which became today’s Zimbabwe) with secession by Zambia and Malawi; Ethiopia with secession by Eritrea; Sudan with secession of South Sudan. During the First World War, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian empire collapsed by self-determination of numerous previously dominated units. The successor of the latter, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was initially a federation of only four remaining territories: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Transcaucasia; after territorial expansion, it was organized into fifteen republics and numerous autonomies, regions, and areas, as well as officially recognized nationalities and ethnic groups, but Russia always contained more than 51 percent of total population and two thirds of the territory, which eventually led to its split into fifteen countries. In Eastern Europe, Czecho-Slovakia ended with secession of the latter; and the Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia split into seven republics.
     In contrast to the frailty of two-unit, polarized federations, successful experiences usually encompass high numbers of units. With territorial pluralism, none of the units can reasonably feed its ambitions of becoming the single dominant one, thus leaving the small communities to develop their own ways within the union. The best examples of how a very large territory can be structured in a federal-like manner are the United States, with 50 units, and the European Union, with 28 states (and about 100 regional governments) so far. The challenge for the large United Kingdom is to adopt a sufficiently pluralistic structure, certainly preventing any unit from including more than 50% of total population.


Hector Schamis said...
But the Latinamerican cases of failed two unit federations, wasn't the problem that they were NOT such, precisely? That is, that there wasn't enough devolution, as the Scots would put it, from the center, thus, leaving them with no other option to secession? I mean, Uruguay, Paraguay, Ecuador, Bolivia, there was no federation there, that's my point, be them many units or just two.
My two cents. Thanks for sending along.
Washington, DC

14 September 2014

Why a so dis-United Kingdom 
This week there will be a referendum in Scotland about independence from the United Kingdom. Survey polls predict a tight, uncertain result. One can wonder how the United Kingdom has become so increasingly disunited.
In short: Too simple institutions and too much concentration of power have lead to polarization between the British central government and the Scottish government.

This was predicted quite a while ago.
From my book Political Institutions: Democracy and Social Choice (Oxford 2001):
“In the mid 18th century, the political regime of England was considered to be the best example of 'one nation in the world that has for the direct end of its constitution political liberty' founded on the principle of separation of powers (Montesquieu, 1748). In contrast, by the mid 20th century, political students widely agreed that the United Kingdom was 'both the original and the best-known example' of the model of democracy based on concentration of powers (see, for example, Lijphart 1984).” 
How this evolution from wide institutional pluralism to high concentration of power took place?
“For some time after the union with Scotland in 1707, the central government in London respected Scottish autonomy, especially in matters of religion, private law, and the judiciary system. Britain was also highly decentralized in favor of local governments at least until the early 19th century.
“However, with the steady expansion of voting rights during the 19th and 20th centuries, the popularly elected House of Commons came to prevail over the nonelected King and House of Lords. But the Commons were elected by means of a highly restrictive electoral system based on plurality rule, typically producing a two-party system and single-party Cabinets. Thus, democratization implied increasing concentration of powers in the hands of a single-winning actor, the party in Cabinet, and, more precisely, the Premier. The regime was dubbed an 'elective dictatorship', in contrast with the previous model of limited government. Unification in national government caused increasing centralization. Whereas some traditional Scottish institutions were curbed, Ireland seceded before it could be dominated, in 1920. Later, violent conflict in Northern Ireland led to the suppression of the local Assembly by the central government in 1969. Local governments were weakened by the central government through the 1980s, including the abolition of the Greater London Council.
“Major institutional reforms in favor of reestablishing pluralism were only initiated at the initiative of those excluded from power during a long period without governmental alternation. When the Labourites went back in government, they promoted the corresponding institutional reforms… Regional Assemblies and governments were created in Scotland and Wales (the latter with no legislative or taxation powers) since 1999 …
“However, a few remarks are relevant.
“First, the absence of provisions for the establishment of regional governments across England might induce either unified government (if the national government party obtains a majority in the regions) or bipolarization between the central and the Scotland governments, rather than inter-regional cooperation.
“Second, although the House of Lords was deprived of most of its hereditary members, it was not replaced with a corresponding upper chamber of territorial representation, which also reduces the opportunities for multilateral exchanges.
“In short, the fate of the new vertical division of powers in the United Kingdom may depend on the further extension of decentralization to other regional units and the development of institutions of multiregional cooperation.”
ADD 2014: As nothing of this has happened, then, as predicted, polarization between the central government in London and the Scottish government has increased, up to the present point.

LINK to the book Political Institutions CLICK


Rein Taagepera said...
Cameron saying in Edinburgh that he would be "heartbroken" if Scotland left may have sealed the issue.
He vividly reminded me of a Moscow colleague who around 1990 told me that the Russians loved the Estonians so dearly they did not want the Estonia to leave.
I responded that escaping such love was a prime reason for escaping the union. Imposed love is rape.                         
The Scots may well feel the same way.  
FYI my "The Second Crimean War: When Decaying Empires Strike Back" 

Ivan Bofarull said...
There is abundant business literature (Michael Porter) that explains what a “stuck-in-the-middle” company is like: unable to define a clear strategic position (neither differentiation nor cost). Some have applied this theory to globalization: companies or brands too small to be a global player, too big to be a local player. Countries may not escape from this dilemma. Some nation-states seem too small to tackle global challenges, but too big to deal efficiently with local issues. Being “big” means having to deal with costs of complexity, for instance, cultural diversity within your borders. Being “small” means having to deal with gaining access to greater networks and alliances in order to influence the global agenda or doing business globally. In an increasingly networked economy, complexity management is more demanding (for instance, globalization reasserts local identities), while access to global networks is easier. From the business rationale, it would make sense for the UK or Spain to split and form a network of smaller states, including Scotland and Catalonia, as long as these remain united –networked- in a larger entity, namely a reinforced United States of Europe, able to become a top-notch player at the same level as the US or China.
Ivan Bofarull
ESADE Business School, Barcelona

Salvador Giner said...
JM, sense canviar de sobirà (reina), ni moneda (encara imprimeixen les seves), ni església oficial (ña Kirk de sempre), ni bandera (Creu St Andreu), ni dret privat (sempre vigent i legítim), ni algunes de les millors Universitats, etc. etc. En saben.
[Without changing the sovereign (Queen) or money (they still print its own) or official church (the Kirk always) or flag (St Andrew's Cross) or private law (always valid and legitimate), or some of the best Universities, etc. etc. They know.]

04 September 2014

Europe speaks German
After the European Parliament elections in May, the Union has completed the renewal of its top officers. The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, is German; the maternal language of the new president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, is German-based Luxemburgeois and, as many of his compatriots, he tends to speak out in German; and the only foreign language in which the new president of the European Council, the Polish Donald Tusk, is fluent is German. I guess German is going to be the most common daily language at the top of the European Union. Even the Italian Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, tried once to speak in German to the European Parliament. They will also have Ms Angela Merkel at hand. Remember that she can also speak in German with the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, as he learned the language when he was a KGB agent in the last years of East Germany. Just in case new signals were needed of the current leadership of Germany in building the Union.
* * *
See my new website: CLICK

12 July 2014

In the summer,
the clock of the South is reversed


Two weeks ago, at the beginning of the winter, the clock on the facade of the Congress of Bolivia in La Paz has been reversed. Its hands turn left and the numbers have been inverted to go from one to 12 anti-clockwise. Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca, doubtless addressing the rest of the world, dubbed it the “clock of the south”. He said the change has also been made to get Bolivians to treasure their heritage and show them that they could question established norms and think creatively: “when it’s summer in the North it’s not summer here –he specified--, and the time, like the weather, must also be the other way around.” 

Of course, coordination in the measurement of time is a universal public good from which everybody can take benefit. The Bolivian “creative thinking” reminds me an insightful observation by Jon Elster about changing coordination norms:
A minimal definition of a well-ordered society is that its drivers stop when they see a red light… In Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards found it unacceptable that red should mean ‘stop’. They wanted the system of traffic lights changed to make red signify ‘go’. Chou En-lai was allegedly willing to go along with the proposal, until his driver told him that red lights were easier to notice in the dark and in bad weather.”
(Jon Elster, “When Communism Dissolves”, LRB, 1990)


11 June 2014

Piketty disregards Pareto, Zipf

Thomas Piketty's best-selling Capital in the Twenty-First Century is rich and innovative in data, although the author’s management of some sources is now being discussed. Another matter is that his findings could be illuminated by previous work that he may have overlooked. Some light could possibly be cast over the issue of wealth distribution, for instance, from the tradition of literature on “rank-size distributions”. According to the so-called “Zipf’s law” (for the American linguist George K. Zipf, who popularized the idea in the 1940s), remarkable regularities can be observed in the distribution of disparate resources, whether population in cities, frequency of word usage --and also wealth among individuals and groups, which is Piketty's topic. 
        Zipf’s basic formula is:

Sk = S1/ks

which means that the size of the k-th unit in rank equals the size of the first unit divided by k (raised to power s). A simplified formula makes s=1, which would mean that in a population divided in groups of equal number of individuals the share of wealth in the hands of the second wealthiest group would be half the first, the share of the third group would be one third of the first, and so on. The higher the value of s, the more unequal the distribution; the formula can, thus, be adjusted for empirical data in order to fit the basic values and confirm (or not) a regularity.

         Let’s assume that a certain population can be divided in ten deciles. Zipf’s cumulative distribution looks like the Figure above. The data presented by Piketty would fit the cumulative distribution derived from s=2 rather well. This means that the top 10 percent of the population would accumulate about 62 percent of total wealth. But even more interesting is that the top 20 percent would get about 81 percent.
         The latter values are extremely close to those postulated by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed in early 20th century that 20 percent of the population owned 80 percent of the land in Italy (and viceversa, of course: the remaining 80 percent of the population owned 20 percent of the land). Pareto’s “80:20 law”, which could be considered, in retrospect, a case of Zipf’s law, has been used to understand many phenomena. [For instance, as a personal aside, in working with a research team I noted that we had written 80 percent of a paper in a certain, relatively brief amount of time, but that to complete the remaining 20 percent (which required an apparently minor effort at searching for a few new data, filling gaps, drawing Tables and Figures, footnoting, referencing, and above all, solving a few disagreements) was taking much longer].
         Piketty's main point is that the distribution of wealth in a few most developed countries has become more unequal in the last twenty years. But his data show that it’s still significantly less unequal than it was one hundred years ago, when Pareto presented his findings on the distribution of income and wealth among the population. Piketty does not mention Zipf and discusses only the so-called Pareto’s coefficients to compare the income of different fractions of the population, but he doesn't mention the 80:20 law.

Thomas Piketty said...
Dear Josep, 
The point is that there's no 80-20 law: wealth inequality does vary a lot over time and across countries; they always tend to have Pareto-Zipf forms (as a first approximation), but with huge variations in coefficients; so what needs to be explained is the change in inequality, not the stability. 
Ecole d'Economie de Paris/Paris School of Economics

Rein Taagepera said...
Most interesting.
I have tried to find the reason behind the rank-size distribution, but could prove it only for special cases. 
Moreover, a lognormal distribution of wealth cannot fit the rank-size pattern, and vice versa.
All this is unpublished.
University of California, Irvine, and university of Tartu, Estonia

Jean Leca said...
It seems to me that Piketty is right. According to an economist friend. Zipf's law is just a manner to put the data in order. It is not a causal model whereas Piketty's is causal, thus open to disconfirmation, and I suspect it'll be disconfirmed very soon.
Jean Leca
SciencesPo, Paris

The interesting thing is that there may always be some regularity in any distribution. Even if inequality changes, it may do it by keeping some pattern (as for changing only the power s in Zipf's formula). Why there are not, for instance, flat segments or irregular slopes not following any formulaic pattern in a distribution?

03 June 2014

This article is published in Spanish in the daily El Pais: CLICK

To the new King of Spain: 
Do like in Italy

The abdication of King Juan Carlos has been compared with those of the Queen of the Netherlands and the King of Belgium last year. But the new King Philip VI could take more inspiration from the Head of State of Italy. The Italian Republic is a parliamentary regime, in which the Head of State has ceremonial powers, such as in Spain, but not only. Like the Italian Constitution, and like the great majority of those in European parliamentary systems, the Spanish constitution states that the Head of State must also arbitrate and moderate the regular functioning of the institutions. This task has been greatly missed in Spain in recent years, when the Parliament, the Government and the Judiciary stopped functioning in accordance with their constitutional missions. Now is the time when the new Head of State could use its powers to facilitate a new wave of recovery and renewal.
The Italian President, Giorgio Napolitano, has been an example of courage, skill, sense of duty and good service to citizens, from which the Spaniards could derive much benefit. Two and a half years ago the Italian government, buffeted by a series of scandals and the prosecution of its leader, was paralyzed in front the country's economic crisis and pressures from the European Union. The Head of State then removed the Prime Minister and appointed in his place a highly reputed independent professional with experience in prestigious European institutions, who formed a government with the best specialists in each field, without a single member of any political party, but won nevertheless the support of 90 percent of Parliament. The new government was also supported by the leaders of the European Union and the United States. Italy has since had its best period of government in modern history.
According to the electoral timetable, a new election was called after a year and a half (more or less the same time remaining now in Spain to the deadline for a new call). Following that election, resistance to change by the traditional political parties made ​​it impossible the formation of a parliamentary majority, which would have required a grand coalition with members of the two major parties. But this was formed a few months later, at the cost of a shake-up of the party system . Meanwhile, President Napolitano had appointed a committee to develop public policy proposals formed by ten experts, some of which became part of the new government. It is quite remarkable that all this experience took place in a country that was known as a "party-cracy", ie, by a degree of control of party leaderships on public institutions equal or even higher than usually reported in Spain. The biggest advantage of an initiative of the Head of State is that it comes from outside the political parties, so it can be especially effective in inducing reforms that also affect the party system.
As a result of that process, the current Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, heads a Cabinet of independent experts and members of the parties of the cente-right and the center-left, which, among other results, has confirmed the removal of Italy from the European Commission’s list of Southern European countries placed under the Excessive Deficit Procedure. His party has obtained the best result of all governmental parties in Europe in the recent election to the European Parliament, which may suggest that economic restructuring and legislative reforms may also accompany new policy normalization.
According to the Spanish Constitution, the Head of State may dismiss the Prime Minister, dissolve parliament, call elections, appoint a new Prime Minister, as well as the ministers proposed by the latter, personally chair meetings of the Council of Ministers, issue governmental decrees, promulgate laws and, according to the Prime Minister appointed by him, call referendums on political decisions of special importance. It is generally expected that the Head of State use these capabilities according to the election results. But in an emergency situation --as is undoubtedly the Spanish-- the powers of the Head of State are to be used, as in the Italian case, according to the letter of the constitution.
Although not required by the constitution, and if only for ceremonial courtesy, the current Prime Minister should put its resignation to the new King. The formation of a government of broad multiparty coalition, a new agreement with Catalonia, sending signals of renewal and optimism to induce capitals in exile to return and to attract new foreign investments, could be the 23-F of King Philip VI [on 23-F 1981 King Juan Carlos stopped a military coup d’etat]. That is, his legitimation, not by dynastic or constitutional reasons, but by the results of his action. Like his father needed more than thirty years ago, the new Head of State will need a legitimation of this type by a large majority of Spanish society, as well as by the international scene, to consolidate his office in the years to come.
Josep M. Colomer was Prince of Asturias Professor at Georgetown University.

Many of the numerous comments received are private messages, so as an exception to the norms in this Blog a selection of them are reproduced without revealing the authors.

splendid article, Josep.  I imagine it will elicit quite a buzz.....
wow, that *is* interesting...

Dear Josep,
What a clever article in El País today. I wish the new King were considering this scenario. 

Dear Josep,
Thank you very much for your updates - it is always interesting to follow you:-)

I agree entirely with you about Napolitano's successful tenure as President.

Could you mobilize your high standards of logical thinking and gathering of good empirical data to help us to deal with the dual problem of the possibility and virtues of leadership and of  expertise + coalitions? In France to-day the dearth of leaders and the failure of majority rule are glaring, and there is no room for a Napolitano since, despite what De Gaulle wanted, the president is not "above parties" since he is now both a tool and a product of the party system. And I am not so sure that expertise, albeit invoked and called upon as if it was the new soul of the city, is more than a fetish empty of meaning by dint of being constantly manipulated by the rulers and ruled alike

Josep esta muy bueno. Se lo mandaste al príncipe?

le costó pero te hizo caso al final
Bueno, ahora has pasado a ser consejero real!!!

Estupendo el artículo.  Espero que escuche!

Echo en falta estos análisis. Hay un sector de la izquierda que hoy intenta monopolizar el debate (estéril, me temo) proponiendo un referendum Monarquía/República, ignorando el papel transformador que puede asumir Felipe VI en el actual escenario. Ni siquiera está probado que la fórmula de la República acabe per se con la actual arquitectura de los partidos, las prácticas caciquistas, and so on. Las repúblicas latinoamericanas son un claro ejemplo.

Estás proponiendo, en esencia, que el nuevo Rey exceda sus atribuciones legales para que la política evolucione en el sentido que consideras debería hacerlo. Me preocupa mucho que la mejor intelectualidad repite así el error de la generación del 98, haciendo propuestas rupturistas de las que en seguida va a desengancharse con otro "No es eso" orteguiano. 

Pedir que el nuevo rey se ponga a nombrar gobiernos, influir en gabinetes, y, en última instancia decidir "políticas" me parece lo último que necesita España, y más aún la monarquía.

Ahora veo un poco más lo que propones, como una alternativa al cul de sac al que vamos directos en la situación actual. Yo creo que el "régimen" (como lo llaman ahora) es más robusto de lo que parece. Yo sí veo instituciones que cooperan, y veo posibilidades para una futura gran coalición en Madrid, y veo factibles gobiernos de coalición en casi todos los sitios, muy sanos por otra parte... (es verdad que es preocupante el ascenso de propuestas "maximalistas", pero en esto España está muy por detrás de otros lugares).
Gracias en cualquier caso por hacernos reflexionar, 

Interesante artículo. Lo primero que debería hacer el nuevo rey es admitir la urgencia de la situación.

Bastante sorprendido con el artículo. Me "atrevo" a no estar de acuerdo en muchas cosas. 

Ets tú qui ha fet abdicar el Rei? ;)

Amb un any de retard sobre el teu anunici; 
i ara gobierno de tecnocratas? 
o eleccions a Espanya abans del Novembre? 

Mal art. S entendra a mes malament probablement  Puc acceptar el que es part d un antinc consens.  Pero funcions que es legitimen amb l eleccio, no. 

Excel.lent!!! Els monàrquics ens sentim recomfortats per articles com aquest.

Un paral·lelisme molt perspicaç. Jo també he pensat que aquesta seria la sortida, però no tenia tan clar l'instrument ni les possibilitats constitucionals. Felicitats un cop més.

28 May 2014

A more consensual, less partisan Europe

Half of the nationalist, anti-Union seats in the European Parliament come from the two countries with the oldest and highest achievement in building a nation-state: France and Great Britain. Still, for a sizeable minority of citizens in those countries, the accomplishments of their nations are more appealing than the still in the process, uncertain union of European lands. In contrast, the nationalist reaction has been contained in the axis of the former Holy German and Roman Empire, that is, in late comers to nation-building Germany and Italy, where the incumbent government’s parties have won the European election. Although with more difficulties, this has also been the case in the largest failed nation-state, Spain, in spite of the huge economic depression and social disaggregation the country has suffered in the last few years. For most people in these and in most European countries, the union of Europe is certainly more appealing than the nationalist closings and rivalries of the past.
    The emergence of a few, dispersed, mutually envious nationalist parties will not change the basic working of the European Parliament. Almost every major decision has always been made by broad consensus among the three largest parties, the center-right Populars, the center-left Socialists, and the intermediate Liberals, which will still gather together more than 62 percent of the seats in the new chamber. Multiparty cooperation relies upon broad consensus on economic policy, as has been shown by the management of the crisis by state governments led by any of the three parties, and by the diffusion of grand coalition governments (including in Germany and Italy, among other countries, and possibly also in Spain in the not remote future). The rise of the extremes will make this centrist coalition even more frequent and compact.
   The typical Europe-wide policy consensus is the opposite of the alternation of single-party governments and adversarial politics that was characteristic of the –today most probably extinct— British demeanor. But the typical Europe-wide consensus is also different from the United States checks and balances model. In the U.S., the mutual checks between the two parties in the Presidency and in Congress lead to frequent deadlocks and make decisions feasible only when party discipline is broken (as happened, for instance, with the approval of the annual budget a few months ago). In the European Union, multipartism facilitates sustained, moderate cooperation. The broad three-party majority in the Parliament is even broader in the Council, as almost all the country governments forming the Council are led by members of those three parties. The formation of the Commission with people selected by their technical expertise rather than by their party affiliation will also reflect, as always, this broad, stable majority support.
   Political party competition is likely to decrease also due to some characteristics of the new challenges of the EU’s agenda. A common market and its common currency were relatively easy to be built by broad consensus as everybody was entitled to expect to obtain benefit from them. But attaining a fiscal union and a banking union implies higher levels of inter-state conflict and more clearly identifiable winners and losers. The agreements on these matters will have to be based, more than ever, on technical expertise, rather than on adversary partisan proposals. And the decisions will have to be shared, as has happened in the last few years, by both unelected bodies of experts, such as the European Central Bank, indirectly selected top officers, such as those of the Commission, and the broad, centrist, multiparty majority in the Council and the Parliament.
   So, against the fuss in “instant” media which are always looking for surprises, the near future of the European Union is highly predictable. Political party competition is not going to be a significant feature of the system. Expert rule and consensus policy may even increase.

19 May 2014

India: Modi didn’t win
                                                                                                                  A ballot in India
Many media have greeted the results of the India’s election as a “landslide victory” for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by the next Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. The BJP is allocated an absolute majority of seats in the lower house of Parliament, a threshold that no party had achieved in the last thirty years. As also happens in the aftermath of British elections, all news focus on the distribution of seats among parties. It’s not as easy to find information about votes. In fact, the winning party received only 31 percent of votes, but an absolute majority of 52 percent of seats (a two-thirds overrepresentation). The incumbent, defeated Indian National Congress received more than 19 percent of votes but it’s allocated less than half that proportion of seats, barely 8 percent.
These awkward results are mainly the product of the British inherited electoral system, based on single-member districts by plurality rule. As frequently happens in that kind of system when multiple parties compete, parties that may have received more than 30 percent of votes in some districts have obtained zero seats because some other party got a few more votes and monopolizes the district’s representation. This time the overrepresentation of the largest party is extreme (together with a few large regional parties, they are given 30 percentage points more in seats than in the votes received).
In a previous post in this Blog, I said that democracy in India has survived and flourished, against all odds, thanks to certain political, institutional and economic changes, such as that “previous single-party dominance was replaced with a multiparty system and federal coalition cabinets have become the norm”. These features facilitated political inclusiveness of different groups of the population in a so huge and varied country, but they are going to disappear during the next few years.
When the electoral results were made public, Modi proclaimed: “I am a magician”. He will, indeed, need something close to magic to govern effectively without the support of almost 70 percent of the Indian voters –those who didn’t vote for his party.


Rein Taagepera said...
The world made the same mistake regarding Hamas.
The longterm outcome depends on whether Modi is willing to understand that he was the first choice of only 31 %  and has to earn the goodwill of relatively neutral citizens who voted for other parties. 
Unfortunately, leaders often like to forget about awkward vote percentages.
U. California, Irvine

Robert Richie said...
Great post! Just tweeted it out.
best, Rob
FairVote, Washington, DC

Alfred G. Cuzan said...
I enjoy your postings.  I do find the title of this item puzzling.  The fact is that Modi and his party did win, and by any measure a 19% showing for the incumbent Congress Party is a crushing defeat.  The disproportionality of the electoral system, and the difficulties that Modi faces governing such a disparate country, are separate issues, unrelated to who won or lost.
The University of West Florida, Pensacola, FL

Ken Newton said...
Dear Josep,
I read your blog on Modi election result with great interest. It highlights a point made with great clarity in a recent article (CLICK) by Professor Otto I.Q. Besser-Wisser that the next and higher phase of development in advanced states is a form of democracy that is election and party free, and much the better for it.

Ken Newton (on behalf of Besser-Wisser and Prunk)
University of Southampton, UK

06 May 2014

Gary Becker

Gary Becker in his seminar at the University of Chicago, 
which I attended in 1988-1989

He was intellectually fearless
University of Chicago President Robert Zimmerman

The Economic Approach to Life
(My article in El Pais, Madrid, October 14, 1992)

By giving the Nobel Prize to Gary Becker, the Swedish Academy has confirmed two things: the intellectual triumph of the Chicago school in economics and the diffusion of the economic approach to the other social sciences. To give the Nobel to two outstanding Chicago boys in two consecutive years was not usual in the diplomacy of the award, which was prudently guided by balances among countries and schools of thought. But after last year [1991]’s prize to Ronald Coase, this time [1992] it has not been to a distinguished retired author, but to its most active intellectual leader.
       Gary Becker’s classical work is Human Capital, where he develops theoretical bases of human decisions for investment (and not only consumption, as it was assumed before) in education, professional training, migration and health. But Becker is better known for his applications of the so-called economic approach to other fields of human behavior. Every time Becker has opened a new field of study, he has been accused by sociologists, political scientists, legal scholars and anthropologists of “imperialism” of the economic science. Yet what he holds is that “economics” is only an approach to observe and understand the world, and not a subject limited to the allocation or exchange of material and monetary resources.
       The author of this note has had the privilege to see Becker working live and direct and to participate in the seminar that he leads with sociologist James Coleman at the University of Chicago, in an atmosphere of really interdisciplinary work, insatiable curiosity, analytical rigor, pitiless attack to mistakes, and the joy and pleasure of thinking. I can witness that Becker is as capable of destroying, brilliantly, unmitigatedly and in a few minutes, a paper by a prestigious colleague backed by several years of work, as he is of listening for hours to an unknown foreigner who presents a sketch on something on which he has never written, bothering himself with writing comments and being right on target for its further revision.
       With the tools of the economic method (the assumption that individuals have stable preferences and are utility maximizers, enter in interactions and produce market equilibria), Gary Becker had already addressed a hot issue in the United States of the late 1950s, The Economics of Discrimination. Becker showed then that free exchanges among people from different races harms only the employers of the minority group (in that case, blacks) and the workers of the majority group (whites), who are the supporters of discrimination, while the complementary groups get benefits from tearing color barriers down.
       Beyond his theoretical conceptualizations, Becker’s work is guided, thus, by the request to address relevant problems of the society of his time. For instance, in his writings on crime, he assumes that the criminal will take into account not only the legal penalty of his action, but also the probability not to be arrested, which moves the reader to revise the calculations about the proportionality between penalties and crimes and to pay more attention to police effectiveness.
       His own biography, which includes early widowhood and a second marriage, helps understand the emergence of another of his concerns, as presented in A Treatise on the Family, where he models the selective matching of partners in marriage markets, the demand of children, divorces and intergenerational inequality and mobility.
       In an early, less cited article of 1958 Becker already applied the model of market exchange to the relations between parties and voters, an approach that became dominant in more recent times. The Nobel Prize certainly back[ed] all this line of work and [gave] incentives to pursue its development.

 MORE on Becker in Spanish CLICK - CLICK

02 May 2014

Rein Taagepera:
Old rockers never retire!

Rein Taagepera has received the Constantine Panunzio Distinguished Emeriti Award of the University of California system (10 campuses) for outstanding scholarly work performed since retirement.
     Taagepera’s contributions to political science are among the most important ones in several decades to honor the word “science” in the name of the discipline. He has tried and keeps trying to change the methodological emphasis in the social sciences in a major way. His intellectual crusade is in favor of logical models with the capability to make quantitative predictions, which is the standard in any “normal science”. Taagepera has achieved to be acknowledged that this should also be the standard in the social sciences. He is better-known for his innovative contributions to the analysis of the relations between electoral systems and party systems, but actually this is only one of the several subjects in which he has successfully applied his methodology, others including population growth, arms race, and the importance of the question of size to explain historical empires, countries, cities, trade, assembly, party systems, etc.
     I knew of Rein Taagepera in 1989 from his striking book Seats and Votes, with Matthew Shugart, which changed my view about how political science could be a normal science. Shortly thereafter, in 1991, I was invited to a meeting of experts in Tallin organized by the Government of Estonia a few weeks after independence, and I was shocked when all the foreign guests were given an informative book on The Baltic Republics in which the only signed piece was the preface by Rein Taagepera. I realized that he was probably the most famous Baltic-born person living abroad, but nonetheless marveled that the rulers of the new independent countries had not chosen as their introducer, say, a military hero, a patriotic poet or a sport champion, but a political scientist! A few months later he would also become a candidate for President and an active local politician in favor of a well-designed and effective democracy.
     After that, and when he was already officially retired, we met for first time at an annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, as both of us were members of the ‘Representation and Electoral Systems’ section. Over the years, I visited the University of California, Irvine; he visited, at my invitation, the Pompeu Fabra University, in Barcelona, where his lectures attracted an unusual degree of attention from people from the departments of Economics, Political Science and Sociology; we appeared jointly in a panel at a conference of the European Consortium for Political Research in Budapest; we published journal articles in a symposium edited by him; and, especially since my move to the United States, we have been in permanent touch, sharing many comments, reviews, insights, questions and interests.
     A few years ago, Rein Taagepera obtained the maximum academic recognition in international political science: the Johan Skytte Prize, awarded in Sweden, which pretends to be the “Nobel” of political science. I think two keys of his success are his training as a physicist and his early retirement.
     His studies in physics provided him an outside point of view to really existing political and social sciences that has proven crucial to identify their relative weakness and to point out fruitful ways to pursue further research. In contrast to many scholars who completed standard studies in political science and followed a standard career in standard institutions, he has not been victim of previously shaped research programs condemned to repeat the same habits, mantras and myopias of previous generations. When he emphasizes the importance of thinking and imagining logical connections among variables before using mathematical tools, he is being the real scientist. When he calls the attention about the link between high scientific rigor and practical relevance, he is providing the best service to both science and society against irrelevant ivory towers.
     His retirement at 60 has proven extraordinarily fruitful, as is acknowledged now with the Panunzio award. Taagepera has published many more books and articles in the last twenty years than in the previous longer period with full-time jobs. During the most recent period his main focus has moved from Estonian and Baltic republics, which nevertheless he has not abandoned, to the search of scientific findings of more universal value. Many of his more recent successful publications were in fact cooked for several decades, but they have blossomed in the last few years. For instance, he had already published an article titled “a physics-inspired introduction to political science” in the 1970s, but he has completed and made publicly available his basic textbook only two years ago. As he says, the presentation of a paper in a conference in Belgium in 2005 (at 72) “was a breakthrough moment” leading to his book on Making Social Sciences More Scientific, which became an instant reference; his 2007 book Predicting Party Sizes presents the results of all his previous work on electoral and party systems and adds quite a lot, which presumably triggered the Skytte Prize; in an article in 2008 he has finally found a use for a mathematical model that –he says-- has “puzzled him since high school”; and in 2014 (at 80) he has just published “one of his top achievements” (a model of world population growth). Taagepera also has several unpublished book manuscripts and a number of papers in the making, some of them on new topics, which he has disseminated among a few colleagues and former students in search of collaboration and further work.
     The social sciences will still receive additional great benefits from Rein Taagepera if he can stay “retired” this way for another twenty or more years!
More on Rein Taagepera in this Blog: CLICK