So this is what it means to be IMFed*

 *A hat tip to @laurenist for the very clever title to this less-than-clever post)

One of the complaints I commonly hear about the study of global political economy is that it's sooooooo boring.  Security studies has guns and bombs!!  IPE/GPE has.... capital adequacy standards. 

Well, I think it's safe to say that events over the weekend have made both global political economy and global governance more interesting: 

Talks on the Greek sovereign debt crisis and French presidential politics were both thrown into disarray after Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, was escorted off an aircraft in New York over the weekend to face sex charges.

Mr Strauss-Kahn was expected on Sunday to appear before a New York court and plead not guilty to charges of committing a criminal sexual act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment, according to his lawyers.

The charges resulted from an alleged incident at the Sofitel Hotel in Manhattan on Saturday afternoon involving a 32-year-old maid who said that she had been sexually assaulted in a $3,000 per night suite in which police found the IMF managing director’s mobile phone. Police said on Sunday night that the maid had picked Mr Strauss-Kahn out of a line-up. Sofitel said the maid had worked for them for three years.

Both the Financial Times and The New Yorker have been all over this since the arrest on Saturday night, and I won't try to replicate their coverage here.  Let's try to parse out a few of the implications: 

1)  The IMF issued a terse statement that boils down to "The IMF remains fully functioning and operational."  This has the whiff of this scene from Animal House -- except that I suspect acting Managing Director John Lipsky and his awesome moustache will do a much better job of keeping everyone calm than Kevin Bacon ever did.  The real tangle would come is Strauss-Kahn -- or "DSK" as he's known in  France -- fights this in court and refuses to step aside gracefully.  It already appears, however, that the IMF won't invoke diplomatic immunity -- and based on past behavior, DSK would likely resign first. 

2)  One does wonder if this scandal will finally upend a decades-long convention that dictates the head of the IMF being a European and the head of the World Bank being an American.  On the one hand, this same kind of talk occurred after Paul Wolfowitz had to resign as World Bank president in 2007, and Robert Zoellick replaced him.  On the other hand, that was a whole financial crisis ago.

3)  So, in the past five years, two heads of international financial institutions have been implicated in scandal.  I'd recommend Swiss authorities take a good, hard look at Bank of International Settlements General Manager Jaime Caruana.  These jobs clearly seem to attract bad seeds.  At this rate, these institutions will make the IOC or FIFA start to look ethical. 

4)  The French reaction to DSK's arrest might cure many Westeners of the schadenfreude they felt in response to Pakistani conspiracy theories surrounding the death of bin Laden.  As Philip Gourevitch blogs

This being France, within minutes of the first news of D.S.K.’s arrest, there were rumors that he was the victim of a plot. Christine Boutin, the leader of the Christian Democrats in France, declared that D.S.K. had been entrapped, although she did not specify by whom, or how—but there was no shortage of possibilities floating in the French ether today: Sarkozy, of course, or Socialist rivals, or else, I heard someone say, the Russians who are unhappy with how he has dealt with them at the I.M.F., or maybe the Greeks, whose economy has self-destructed almost as thoroughly as he now has. You could even find D.S.K. being called the new Dreyfus. In conversations with writers, and reporters, and intellectuals around Paris today, I found that nobody quite believed these fancies, but nobody could resist speculating about them either. D.S.K.’s behavior, in and of itself, was just too suicidal to make sense entirely by itself.

See also Adam Gopnik on these points. 

The real problem with the arrest is that it appears that the only French politician to offer the right response is ultranationalist Marine Le Pen, who correctly observed that given DSK's past indiscretions with women, this was a long time coming.  This will onky boost Le Pen's chances of advancing to the second round of the presidential election.  Richard Brody explains why that's a problem:

The world of French politics is haunted by the 2002 elections: then, backers of the eliminated moderate-left candidate, Lionel Jospin, a Socialist, joined forces with the moderate right to give Chirac an overwhelming victory in the runoff, in a repudiation of the F.N. One of the leading factors in Jospin’s first-round elimination was the fragmentation of the left among candidates from a variety of parties. Now, it’s the unpopular Sarkozy whose party is falling apart, and who is doing his best not to offend the F.N. (as in recent regional elections, in which he expressed no second-round preference between that party and the Socialists), in the hope of siphoning away enough of its voters to slip into the second round instead of Marine Le Pen.

In effect, Marine Le Pen is the spoiler: any candidate she faces in the second round is sure to win (because voters and parties will unify to keep the far-right out of power); she will either eliminate the moderate right or the moderate left.

Elections in which one of the two choices is simply unelectable are unhealthy for democracy -- they lead to malaise and alienation from the democratic process.  Unfortunately, it looks like France is headed in that direction. 

5) I hereby issue a challenge to the readers to come up with their best joke about IMF conditionality and DSK in the comments. 

Daniel W. Drezner

When do foreign policy elites matter?

My post earlier this week on the role of public opinion in the Big Policy Decisions of the past decade has triggered some interesting responses from the international political economy wing of the blogosphere.  See, in order, Kindred Winecoff,  Henry Farrell, Dan Nexon, Winecoff again, and then Phil Arena

Farrell's post in particular connects this contretemps with larger scholarly questions in global political economy and foreign policy decisionmaking:

International political economy scholarship tends to have an extremely stripped down, and bluntly unrealistic account of how policy is made. Typically, modelers in this field either assume that the “median voter” plays an important role in determining national preferences, or that various stylized economic interests (which they try to capture using Stolper-Samuelson, Ricardo-Viner and other approaches borrowed from economic theory) determine policy, perhaps as filtered through a very simple representation of legislative-executive relations.

However, actual work on how policy gets made suggests that this doesn’t work. On many important policy issues, the public has no preferences whatsoever. On others, it has preferences that largely maps onto partisan identifications rather than actual interests, and that reflect claims made by political elites (e.g. global warming). On others yet, the public has a set of contradictory preferences that politicians can pick and choose from. In some broad sense, public opinion does provide a brake on elite policy making – but the boundaries are both relatively loose and weakly defined. Policy elites can get away with a hell of a lot if they want to.

The result is that the relevant literature on policy making (located largely within comparative political economy and a growing debate within American politics) argues that elites play a very strong role in creating policies.

These are fair points -- indeed, Benjamin Page wrote a whole book about the ways in which foreign policy elites in the United States have pursued policies at vatiance with American public opinion. 

So, yes, policy elites matter.  However, I would issue a few qualifiers and questions to Farrell's points. 

1)  Who are we talking about when we talk about "elites"?  The word "elites" can cover an awful lot of individuals.  Many conservatives, for example, snorted at the notion of Krugman scolding elites, since there's no way one can define Krugman as anything but a member of the policy elite.  So... who is part of the elite?  Does it include powerful interest group lobbies, or only policy mandarins? 

In his blog post Farrell seems to imply the latter, which does makes the term more precise.  That said, interest groups are a pretty powerful animal, and they will not get confused by elite policy rhetoric.  Farrell lumps interest group and public opinion stories together in his blog post, and I'm not sure that's right.  When are policy elites simply doing the work of interest groups, and when are they pushing back?  I've seen examples of both, but I haven't seen a generalizable theory explaining when one dynamic trumps the other. 

2)  When does issue salience matter?  Part of the reason I pushed back against Krugman was that two of the three policy choices he stressed (tax cuts, Iraq) were very high-profile, publicly debated issues.  One would assume that public opinion would form a more powerful brake on high-profile issues than low-profile ones.  This is why I didn't push back against Krugman's financial deregulation story. 

Now, Farrell might argue that elites can still manipulate a heck of a lot even on high-profile policies.  This is probably true on some issues, but on others the public can act as an ex ante or ex post brake on policies.  TARP was a bipartisan vote, for example, and a successful policy to boot -- and yet the public backlash against it clearly constrained the Obama administration's policy options in 2009.  Despite Obama's election mandate and majorities in both houses of Congress, the administration scaled back its fiscal policy stimulus below the $1 trillion mark, partly because of fears of how the public would respond. 

3)  When will policy elites split?   The word "elite" tends to assume an undifferentiated group of privileged policymakers, and anyone who has spent time inside the Beltway knows that partisanship matters a wee bit.  When will the foreign policy community (or economic policy community) reach consensus, and when will there be significant opposition? 

Consider Operation Iraqi Freedom, for example.  A commonly-made argument (at least in blog comments) is that the public went along with the war because the Bush administration cranked up its PR machine and shaped mass public attitudes.  OK, but one of the things us political scientists know is that had the Democrats vociferously opposed the invasion of Iraq, public support for it might have dropped.  OK, but now we get to the key questuion -- why didn't Democrats oppose the war with greater vigor?  Part of it might be that a lot of Democratic liberal internationalists agreed with Republican neoconservatives taking out Saddam Hussein.  Part of it, however, is that Democrats feared looking soft on security during the 2002 midterm elections.  Because of that fear, Democratic policymaking elites were not unified -- thereby bolstering public support for the war. 

Now, in this narrative, is public opinion a cause or an effect of the debate that played out among policy elites?  A little of both, I suspect.  I raise this, however, because one of the difficulties with talking about the role of public opinion as a policy constraint (or a policy enabler) is that its role is sometimes buried beneath the more proximate causes.

This is a good blog conversation to have, because it highlights how difficult it is to develop clear and generalizable models of national policy preferences, and the ways in which the fields of international political economy and foreign policy analysis struggle to cope with this complexity.