Voice

So how's the European integration project going?

Your humble blogger is taking a brief break from teaching and zombie book-whoring publicizing recently-released research to start work on new research.  This requires me to be in Europe for the week.  So, for some local color, it's worth asking how things are in the land of the euro, the eurozone, and the eurocracy. 

Last year, during the epth of the Greek crisis, I argued that, "When going backwards isn't an option, and muddling through is no longer viable, the only thing left to do is move further along the integration project." 

Last week, it seemed that France and Germany had come to the same conclusion.  The Guardian's John Palmer provided a cogent summary on the deal that was being negotiated at Friday's European leaders' summit:

Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and the other EU chiefs will sound out the parameters of a breakthrough deal which could take the euro area – at the heart of the EU – towards a de facto economic government. The deal will offer massive financial support for countries under the currency market cosh in return for governments accepting that national economic policy in future will first have to secure the broad approval of the rest of the euro area.

[You must be feeling sooooo vindicated right now!!--ed.]  Oh, you betcha, got this one right on the money... wait, what's this Financial Times story by Peggy Hollinger and Peter Spiegel saying? 

New cracks emerged at a summit of European leaders on Friday, as the prime ministers of several countries raised strong objections to a Franco-German plan that would commit all 17 users of the single currency to co-ordinating their economic policies....

[T]heir initiative triggered a backlash from other European Union leaders anxious to defend their national economic, labour and welfare policies.

In the summit’s concluding communiqué, European leaders also appeared to back off a commitment to give the eurozone’s €440bn bail-out fund new tools to help shore up struggling “peripheral” economies.

An initial version of the conclusions committed the EU to giving the fund more “flexibility” – a code word for new authorities such as buying sovereign bonds of struggling countries on the open market. After extensive debate, that language was taken out, however, and now only binds members to give the fund “necessary effectiveness”, a clear watering-down.

What happened?  The Wall Street Journal's Irwin Stelzer explains:

Most countries profess broad agreement of the need for reforms along the lines Germany is demanding. Yet when confronted with the German-French package—the French have always favored some form of centralized economic management of the EU, including strict regulation and heavy taxation of the financial services sector that is centered in Britain—they balked.

Austria, with one of the lowest effective retirement ages in the euro zone, won't go along with an increase in the retirement age. Portugal won't buy into the end of wage indexation with inflation because it wants to offer a sop to public-sector workers whose wages have been cut by 5%. Neither will Belgium, Spain and Luxembourg. All in all, almost 20 countries at Friday's EU summit objected to the Germanization of their countries for one reason or another. So Germany refused to sign on to an increase in the size of the euro-zone bailout fund. "It was truly a surreal summit," commented Yves Leterme, Belgium's prime minister.

Stezler goes on to predict that there will be yet more Euro-muddling as a result of this deadlock.  I'm sticking to my original prediction, however.  As much as the European periphery dislikes the proposed grand bargain, some form of it will likely be accepted because  the alternative outcomes seem even more unappetizing. 

Developing....

Daniel W. Drezner

The continued hostility to political science

My last post on the role of political science and political scientists in dealing with Egypt generated some interesting responses via the blogosphere, e-mail, comments, etc.  Let's deal with all of 'em. 

First, Apoorva Shah responds with the following:

I’m not blaming what happened in Egypt on political scientists, as the title of his blog post implies. Rather, I’m saying that the methods with which the political scientists in our academy study the world are so rigid that policy makers imbued in such scholasticism did not appropriately react and make immediate policy decisions when our foreign policy was on the line. Simply put, our administration equivocated. I think they were too confused by all the “variables” involved in Egypt: the protesters themselves, Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hosni Mubarak, etc. In other words, their mental multiple variable regressions failed to produce statistical significance, so they sent mixed messages instead....

None of this is to say that we should shut ourselves off from structured thinking about politics and international affairs. In fact, it should be quite the opposite. Our political scientists shouldn’t be hiding themselves behind theoretical models. They should be studying more history, getting on the ground, doing qualitative research. But look at the syllabus of any graduate level “qualitative methods” class, and I guarantee you it will be just as mind-numbing as their quantitative methods courses.

Perhaps a few months or years from now political science will help us clarify what happened in Egypt over this past week, and it may even look back and dictate what should have been the correct U.S. response. But none of the academic work to date helped policy makers make the right decision when it mattered this week. And that’s the crux of this story. In crunch time, the political scientists failed to get the policy right.

On Shah's first point -- that "policy makers imbued in such scholasticism did not appropriately react" -- well, to get all political science-y, I don't know what the hell he's talking about.  What evidence, if any, is there to suggest that Obama administration policymakers were paralyzed by rigid adherence to political science paradigms?  Looking at the policy principals, what's striking about the Obama administration is that most of the key actors don't have much academic background per se.  Tom Donilon is a politico, for example.  Hillary Clinton is a politico's politico.  I could go on, but you get the idea.   

One thing all social scientists want to see is evidence to support an assertion.  So, I'm calling out Shah to back up his point:  what evidence is there that the U.S. government was slow to react because of adherence to "scholasticism"?  Simply responding "but the response was slow!" doesn't cut it, either.  There are lots of possible causal explanations for a slow policy response -- bureaucratic inertia, conflicting policy priorities, interest group capture, poor intelligence gathering, etc.  Why is "scholasticism" to blame? 

Shah's last two paragraphs are also confusing.  Encouraging "structured thinking" requires an acceptance that theories are a key guide to understanding a ridiculously complex world.  Area knowledge and deep historical backgrounds are useful too -- oh, and so are statistical techniques.  The judgment to assess when to apply which area of knowledge, however, is extremely hard to teach and extremely hard to learn.  And, just to repeat a point from that last post, some political scientists got Egypt right.  Whether policymakers were listening is another question entirely. 

A deeper question is why Shah's view of political science is so widespread.  A fellow political scientist e-mailed the following on this point: 

I think there is a deeper problem here.  We political scientists/political economists may be aware of all of this, but I sense that  it is too easy for outside observers to come to the conclusions Shah's post illustrates.  Quick perusal of journal articles and conference papers, some textbooks, and a great deal of current graduate (and some undergraduate) education in the field can easily lead a rational and intelligent observer to conclude that political scientists are indeed only concerned with plugging cases into models, caring mostly about the model and little about actual political dynamics.  (Have you seen conference presentations in which grad students lay out their dissertation models?  Often sounds more like Shah's description than yours.)  Practitioners may share your understanding of the role of theory, but they often don't do a good job of making this clear to non-specialist readers...and I think to themselves.  I'm not sure what to do about this, but I suspect that Shah's kind of reading of the discipline is just too easy to come to and can seem quite reasonable.

Hmmm.... no, I'm not completely buying this explanation, for a few reasons.  First, as I noted in the past, there are good and valid reasons why academic political science seems so inpenetrable to outsiders.  Second, if this was really the reason that the foreign policy community disdains political scuence, then the economic policy community would have started ignoring economics beginning around, oh, 1932.  Economic journals and presentations are far more impenetrable, and yet I rarely hear mainstream policymakers or think-tankers bash economists for this fact [Umm..... should they bash economists for this?--ed.  I'll leave that to the economists to construct clashing formal models debate]. 

Why is this?  This gets to the third reason -- the fundamental difference between economic policy and foreign policy is that the former community accepts the idea that economic methodologies and theory-building enterprises have value, and are worth using as a guide to policymaking.  This doesn't mean economists agree on everything, but it does mean they are all speaking a common language and accept the notion of external validity checks on their arguments. 

That consensus simply does not exist within the foreign policy community, and Shah simply provides another data point to back up that assertion.  Many members of the foreign policy community explicitly reject the notion that social science methodologies and techniques can explain much in world politics.  They therefore are predisposed to reject the kind of scholarship that political scientists of all stripes generate.   This might be for well-founded reasons, it might be simple innumeracy hostility to the academy, or it might be a combination of the two.  I'd love to have a debate about whether that's a good or bad thing, but my point is that's the reality we face. 

Am I missing anything?