Normative Narratives


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Transparency Report: Anti-Corruption Movements and Populism

World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim called corruption “Public Enemy Number One“:

“In the developing world, corruption is public enemy number one,” said Kim, speaking at an event hosted by the World Bank’s anti-corruption investigative arm, the Integrity Vice Presidency. “We will never tolerate corruption, and I pledge to do all in our power to build upon our strong fight against it.”

“Every dollar that a corrupt official or a corrupt business person puts in their pocket is a dollar stolen from a pregnant woman who needs health care; or from a girl or a boy who deserves an education; or from communities that need water, roads, and schools. Every dollar is critical if we are to reach our goals to end extreme poverty by 2030 and to boost shared prosperity.”

An important step toward fighting corruption and helping more people lead better lives is to build institutions with greater integrity, Kim noted.  He described three key elements in the World Bank Group’s approach:

“First, we need to improve the way we share and apply knowledge about building institutions with greater integrity; second, we need to empower citizens with information and tools to make their governments more effective and accountable; and third, we need to build a global movement to prevail over corruption.”

In addition to governmental action in anti-corruption, Kim called on other partners to join the fight, including the private sector. 

“The private sector has to be part of the solution as well. Oil, gas, and mining firms are increasingly disclosing their contracts with governments. This gives everyone a chance to scrutinize the behavior of corporate and public officials.”

This transparency and accountability approach to development marks a stark contrast from the World Bank of 1990s. The IMF has recently also taken a more context-sensitive approach compared to “Washington Consensus” policies of the 1990s. This trend points to greater policy coherence between the World Bank, the IMF, and the U.N. as the Post-2015 development agenda is finalized.

These organizations have fully embraced the importance of the political economy of development. Without considering “good governance”, economic gains can be embezzled or misused. Corruption retards growth, increases inequalities, and causes grievances which can boil over civil if not regional conflicts. Economic growth and poverty reduction cannot be achieved on a large scale without considering political factors.

Ultimately, there are limits to even what global organizations can accomplish. To sustain social progress, people must be able to hold “duty bearers” (generally governments, but also private sector actors and social service providers) accountable for their human rights obligations. The role of international organizations and governments is mainly an empowering / enabling one–provide access to information, advocate for avenues / institutions to meaningfully voice grievances, and let people-power do the rest.

The anti-corruption push has recently taken hold in a number of countries. Below are a few notable examples:

India:

“Today, the common man has won,” Kejriwal said in a triumphant speech at Delhi’s Ramlila grounds, the very place were huge protests over corruption erupted in 2011, opening the way for the birth of the AAP.

“This truly feels like a miracle. Two years ago, we couldn’t have imagined such a revolution would happen in this country.”

In a December 4 election to the legislative assembly of Delhi, a city of 16 million people, no party won the majority of seats required to rule on its own.

Wearing a simple blue sweater and with a boat-shaped Gandhi cap on his head, Kejriwal pledged to set up an anti-bribery helpline.

“If anyone in the government asks you for a bribe, don’t say ‘no’,” he said. “You report it on the phone number and we’ll catch every bribe-taker red-handed.”

 Kejriwal, who has tapped into a vein of urban anger over the venality of the political class and the neglect of citizens’ rights in the world’s largest democracy, has promised to expand his movement across the country.

Along with a pledge to send Delhi’s corrupt lawmakers to jail, the AAP has also promised free water for every family in the capital and a sharp reduction in their electricity bills.

business lobby group said on Saturday the unorthodox ideology was not important as long as results were delivered.

“We feel that though the promises made by it may look tall, they can still make a good economic sense if the objective … is achieved by bringing in operational efficiencies,” Rana Kapoor, president the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, said in a statement.

Turkey:

The allegations of high-level corruption threaten to undo Mr. Erdogan’s accomplishment of wresting Turkish politics from the military and overseeing a long period of economic growth. Like a Moses in the wilderness, he has led his people from one sort of bondage but appears unable to deliver them to a promised land of transparent government where people are ruled through consensus rather than bullying and threats.

Mr. Erdogan does not know how to play defense. Last weekend, he addressed rally after rally and cursed the “international groups” and “dark alliances” trying to undermine Turkey’s prestige.

The government is treating the crisis as nothing short of a coup by those jealous of its success. This is nonsense.

The opposition it faces has emerged because of the A.K.P’s own lack of respect for the rule of law and a cynical disregard for public accountability. It can no longer hide behind conspiracy theories and bluster.

Indonesia:

Since its establishment in 2002, the KPK (Corruption Eradication Commission) has become, contrary to all expectations, a fiercely independent, resilient, popular and successful institution that is a constant thorn in the side of Indonesia’s establishment.

[In 2009] police arrested two KPK commissioners for extortion and bribery. The charges were dropped after nationwide street protests and a Facebook campaign that gathered one million supporters.

“The KPK’s only friend is the public,” says Dadang Trisasongko, secretary general of the Indonesian chapter of global corruption watchdog Transparency International.

The international business community is watching this tussle closely. Executives surveyed in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2011-12 said corruption remained “the most problematic factor for doing business” in Indonesia.

The World Bank has said corruption across the world costs $1 trillion. No one has done a thorough study of the costs in Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous country and one of the hottest emerging markets with an economic growth rate of 6 percent. The Anti-Corruption Studies Center at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta put the losses to the state at $1 billion over the past five years alone.

Thailand:

Thailand protests are different in the sense that the opposition is arguing for less democracy and less populist economic policies. Opponents of Prime Minister Yingluck’s Pheu Thai party cite corruption as their main grievance.

Populist economic policies, while generally beneficial in the long run, do have a common pitfall of corruption. Populist policies rely on the government signing many contracts for social goods and services. Without proper oversight, these contracts themselves present many opportunities for corruption / embezzlement of tax-payer money.

I do not know if this is what has happened in Thailand, or whether these claims are unfounded (it is worth noting that Thailand does not score well on Transparency International’s “Corruption Perception Index“. Regardless, the Pheu Thai party should consider setting up social accountability mechanisms to allay the fear of corruption.

Anti-corruption measures are themselves populist policies. Enabling people to hold corrupt government officials accountable realizes a key political right. Moving money from corrupt politicians pockets to social services helps fulfill economic and social rights. Therefore, the anti-corruption movement is an indispensable aspect of the human rights based approach to development.

The near universal embrace of anti-corruption measure–from the highest level of global governance to local politicians and their constituents on the ground–bodes well for the Post-2015 development agenda. While much work remains to be done, every anti-corruption / accountability / civilian empowerment policy is a step in the right direction.

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Merry Christmas From NN!

[Pope Francis] The leader of the 1.2 billion-member Church wove his first “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and world) message around the theme of peace.    

“Peace is a daily commitment. It is a homemade peace,” he said.

He said that people of other religions were also praying for peace, and – departing from his prepared text – he urged atheists to join forces with believers.

“I invite even non-believers to desire peace. (Join us) with your desire, a desire that widens the heart. Let us all unite, either with prayer or with desire, but everyone, for peace,” he said, drawing sustained applause from the crowd.

The thread running through the message was that individuals had a role in promoting peace, either with their neighbor or between nations.

Pope Francis continues to break down barriers in hopes of sparking meaningful change in the world. His message of personal accountability in tackling social injustices is meant to stir self-reflection–how do my actions affect those around me? This message is all the more compelling coming from a man who, by all accounts, practices what he preaches.

By reaching out to “non-believers”, Pope Francis reminded me of something a Philosophy professor once taught me. She said that morals and ethics (the “Golden Rule”) underpin all major religions. As a development economist, I can now appreciate the linkages between religion, morals / ethics, and the human rights based approach to development.

I renew my call to challenge anybody trying to sell a strict interpretation of any ideology and / or trying to dehumanize any group with stereotypes / racism. While there are probably obscure lines in most religions which mention fighting those who oppose it’s teachings, these lines are a contradiction to the very principles those religions are based upon.

It is time we rethink what it means to be a pious person. It is not about sectarian beliefs and isolation from / hatred towards those who are different. Piety is about self-reflection, personal accountability, inclusion, reconciliation and social progress. Whether one chooses to pursue this path through organized religion or not, “with prayer or desire”, is entirely up to the individual.

Pope Francis is truly a pious man, hopefully we can all learn from his teachings.

Merry Christmas to all!

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Conflict Watch: To Break Escalating Cycles of Violence in Africa, Follow Mandela’s Example

Neighboring African countries, the Central African Republic and South Sudan, are currently engaged in sectarian conflicts. Due to the proximity of these countries, and the relative instability the region even during peaceful times, these conflicts are likely to have “spillover effects”, leading to greater regional instability:

South Sudan

South Sudanese soldiers fired indiscriminately in highly populated areas and targeted people for their ethnicity during recent fighting in Juba, Human Rights Watch said today. The clashes in South Sudan’s capital, which broke out on December 15, 2013, saw scores of civilians killed and, according to witnesses and victims, soldiers specifically targeted people from the Nuer ethnic group.

The fighting followed deepening tensions between President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and the former vice president, Riek Machar, a Nuer. Victims and witnesses told Human Rights Watch that government soldiers of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and police questioned residents about their ethnicity and deliberately shot ethnic Nuer.

“The awful accounts of killings in Juba may only be the tip of the iceberg,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Government officials – whatever their politics – need to take urgent steps to prevent further abuses against civilians and quickly deescalate rising ethnic tensions.”

“We are deeply concerned that ethnically-based attacks on all sides will lead to revenge attacks and more violence,” Bekele said.

“South Sudanese leaders, especially President Kiir and Riek Machar, need to do all they can to stop soldiers under their control from committing abuses against people, particularly because of their ethnicity,” Bekele said. “The UN Mission should also ensure that it fully implements its mandate to protect civilians and proactively patrol Juba, and flashpoint areas like Bor.” 

Central African Republic:

Christian militias responding to rampant abuses by Muslim armed groups have committed atrocities against Muslim communities in northern Central African Republic, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Concerned countries should immediately bolster the African Union peacekeeping force in the country and support efforts by France to protect civilians, Human Rights Watch said.

The 43-page report, “‘They Came To Kill’: Escalating Atrocities in the Central African Republic,” based on weeks of field research in Ouham province, documents the surge in violence by Christian anti-balaka (“anti-machete”) militias since September 2013. The anti-balaka have killed several hundred Muslims, burned their homes, and stolen their cattle. So-called ex-Seleka forces, former members of the predominantly Muslim rebel alliance that overthrew the government in March, retaliated against Christians with the apparent knowledge of their commanders.

“The brutal killings in the Central African Republic are creating a cycle of murder and reprisal that threatens to spin out of control,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The UN Security Council needs to act quickly to bring this evolving catastrophe to a halt.”

While the anti-balaka describe themselves as self-defense forces aiming to protect their own villages, their actions and rhetoric are often violently anti-Muslim.

The Security Council should immediately authorize a UN peacekeeping mission under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, Human Rights Watch said. It should have a robust mandate and the means to protect civilians, promote human rights, and create an environment conducive to the delivery of humanitarian aid.

“Urgent support for peacekeeping in the Central African Republic is crucial to bring stability to a tense situation, protect the population from abuses, and ensure that humanitarian aid reaches those at grave risk,” Bouckaert said. “The potential for further mass violence is shockingly high.”

Internal struggles, such as the ones facing South Sudan and the CAR, risk turning into full fledged “protracted social conflicts“. The “protracted” element of these conflicts, has yet to be realized, and therein lies the hope for reconciliation. The fact that these conflicts are still in their infancy gives hope for reconciliation over retribution. However, as fighting continues and more legitimate grievances build up on each side, this possible outcome becomes less likely.

It is not that each side does not have legitimate grievances; indiscriminate killings by all sides make continued violence in the name of “retribution” very likely. This would further escalates conflicts , perpetuating “cycles of violence” which over time would turn these new social conflicts into more-difficult-to-end “protracted social conflicts”.

It is up to leaders on both sides of these conflicts to call for ceasefires and try to work out their differences peacefully. To ensure ceasefires are observed–to give reconciliation a chance–the United Nations should strengthen peacekeeping operations in these countries. 

It is no coincidence that I have invoked the rhetoric of one of Africa’s greatest leaders, the late Nelson Mandela. If they possess enough political will (and with some outside peacekeeping support), political leaders can stress reconciliation over retribution, breaking otherwise escalating cycles of violence.  Seeing brother kill brother, Mandela is surely turning over in his grave. Hopefully, his recent death has strengthened his legacy throughout Africa, shaping leader’s responses to these conflicts.


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Transparency Report: Thailand’s Anti-Democracy Protests

Original article:

In a world now accustomed to democratic upheavals, including the Arab Spring and the Saffron and Orange Revolutions, the weeks of political upheaval in Thailand stand out for one main peculiarity. Protesters massing on the streets here are demanding less democracy, not more.

From their stage beneath the Democracy Monument, a Bangkok landmark, protesters cheer their campaign to replace Parliament with a “people’s council” in which members are selected from various professions rather than elected by voters.

The embattled prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, has proposed new elections as a solution to the turmoil. But that is just what the protesters do not want.

In today’s fractured Thailand, a majority wants more democracy, but a minority, including many rich and powerful people, is petrified by the thought of it.

Because a number of the protest leaders are members of Thailand’s wealthiest families, some have described the demonstrations here as the antithesis of the Occupy Wall Street movement. This is the 1 percent rebelling against the 99 percent, they say.

The reality is more complicated — the protesters include rich and poor, Bangkok residents and many people from southern Thailand who feel disenfranchised by the current government and its northern power base. What unites the protesters is the desire to dismantle Ms. Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party, which has won every election since 2001.

The anti-democracy protests, which have been some of the largest in Thai history, call into question the commonly held belief that a rising tide of wealth in a society will naturally be followed by greater demands for democracy. Thailand today is much richer than it was two decades ago, but it is also much more divided.

On the face of it, the crux of the protest appears to be a classic power struggle between a dominant majority and a minority frustrated by its losing streak in elections and its inability to influence national policies in a winner-takes-all, highly centralized system.

But Thailand’s crisis is multifaceted and tightly intertwined with the fact that King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the country’s 86-year-old monarch, who during more than six decades on the throne has been revered to the point of quasi-religious devotion, is ailing and that the country is bracing for his death.

More broadly, Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a leading Thai scholar on the monarchy, argues that Thailand’s protracted political turmoil has been exacerbated by the contrast between a deified king and politicians who appear crass and venal in contrast. “We have an image of monarchy that is flawlessly excellent in everything,” he said in 2010. “If we had not built this image in the first place, we would not have so many problems and complaints with politicians.

Respect for the king, and the notion of his near-infallibility and beneficence, are deeply ingrained in Thais from the earliest years of schooling.

This blog is concerning the legitimacy of protests calling for replacing the democratically elected government with an appointed “peoples council”. There are two central tenets of liberal democracy I will base this analysis on:

1) Liberal democracy is meant to uphold the will of the majority, while protecting the rights of the minority.

2) Everyone is viewed as equal in the eyes of the government; no one person has more or less influence over political outcomes than another.

Based on uncontested election results, and the fact that protesters are not satisfied with the proposition of early elections offered by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, one can assume the protesters represent a minority of Thailand’s population. Based on this article, there is no evidence that the rights of this minority are being infringed upon.

Protesters cannot claim a mismanagement of the economy, as the per capita GNI has more than doubled over the past decade. Thailand’s HDI has been trending upwards for decades, and it’s poverty rates have been going down for years (accompanied by a decline in the Gini inequality index)–the current democratic governance structure surely has some merits.  One particular area of concern is Thailand’s level of perceived corruption / lack of transparency, however a move away from democracy would likely exacerbate this problem.

It seems rather that protesters, unhappy with populist policies that do not directly benefit them, are trying to change the policy making process to one which they can control. Such a move would be a violation of the two tenets of liberal democracy listed above. It would amount to upholding the will of the minority while violating the political rights of the majority. It would also give more power to the desires of select individuals.

To appease the opposition, the government should consider changing its parliament from a “first past the poll” system to a proportional representation system, to ensure a plurality of opinions in policy making. The government should also consider expanding civilian oversight mechanisms, to increase transparency and allay fears of corruption / embezzlement.

To become a more effective political party, the opposition should consider embracing policies which have had success in reducing poverty / inequality while simultaneously increasing economic growth. Such pragmatism is a necessary component for the continued relevance of any political party; in democracies everywhere, parties which do not embrace popular and effective policies tend to fall by the wayside.  

So far, the King and the military have stayed out of this fight, hopefully they will continue to do so and allow the democratic process to fix the unrest it has caused. Thailand should not dismantle its democratic system, which has a long history of effective governance.

 


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Much Ado About a “Do Nothing Congress”

A recent NYT article cast a gloomy picture for those hoping for a Democratic super-majority after the 2014 Midterm Elections.

History says President Obama should brace for another round of midterm election losses next year — and be grateful for the opportunity.

Unlike presidents who never got the same chance, Mr. Obama is in line to become only the fifth president since Harry S. Truman to serve long enough for a second midterm election, and the possibility that his party might hold or gain ground in Congress in his sixth year in office. But the unhappy record of his two-term predecessors — none of whom gained control of either legislative chamber — offers scant comfort about his prospects.

However, there is reason to believe the Democrats may retake the House. Two forces in particular are working in their favor.

1) The Democratic Party is more popular than the G.O.P (Gallup Poll):

The two parties’ favorability ratings are at the lower end of the range Gallup has measured for each, although the GOP has the lower absolute rating. The Democratic Party’s current favorability rating of 42% is similar to what it was during most of 2010 — a year in which the Democrats lost 63 House seats and majority control in that chamber.

Moderates More Likely to Prefer Democratic Party Over Republican Party

While the two parties rely on their ideological soul mates for support — Republicans depend on conservatives, while Democrats lean on liberals — both parties also need at least some support from the political center to win elections. Self-described moderates are more likely to have a favorable image of the Democratic Party (47%) than of the Republican Party (27%), which may prove problematic for the GOP next year in the congressional elections. It is worth noting, however, that moderates typically lean more Democratic than Republican.

Parties' Favorability, by Self-Reported Ideology, December 2013

The Republican Party can hardly claim to have locked up its support among conservatives, who are as likely to have a favorable (47%) as an unfavorable (46%) image of the GOP. Liberals, by contrast, are more unified in their support for the Democratic Party, with 71% viewing the party favorably.

2) People don’t like a “Do-Nothing” Congress:

Trend: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job?

And the 113th Congress is a “Do-Nothing” Congress.

This Friday, the 113th Congress will end its 2013 session with a less-than-distinguished title: one of the least productive ever.

Halfway through its term, Congress has passed 56 laws. By comparison, 10 years ago, the 108thCongress passed 504 laws between 2003 and 2004. A decade before, the 103rd passed 473 laws, according to GovTrack, a site that monitors legislation.

The current Congress’s predecessor, the 112th — thought to be the least productive ever — managed to pass 284. The 113th Congress is on track to underperform even that cohort.

The original “Do-Nothing” Congress, the 80th U.S. Congress, enjoyed a Republican super-majority. By the time the 81st Congress was sworn in, Democrats had taken over the majority in both the House and the Senate.

Now, the fact that Congress is currently split–Democrats have the majority in the Senate, while the G.O.P controls the house–paves the way for much more finger-pointing than in the 81st congressional election. The experts believe only 20 something seats are truly “up for grabs”, and the Democrats need to win almost all of them (17) to take a majority in the House. However, given the relative unpopularity of the G.O.P (both among conservatives and moderates), it would appear that Democrats primed to take many of the undecided seats.

Lots of time still remains before the 2014 midterm elections, and the political landscape can change drastically between now and then. If there is one things you can predict in democratic elections, it is unpredictability.

“I don’t think there are any formulas” for midterm election results, said Ken Khachigian, a former Reagan speechwriter. “We underplay the fact that elections are elections with individual candidates.”


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Movie Review: The Hobbit, and The Symbolism of The Great Eagles

In Honor of the release of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”, I am re-posting a blog I wrote after seeing the first installment of the Hobbit Trilogy.

I saw The Desolation of Smaug already, and it was awesome. I high recommend seeing it in IMAX 3D if possible, it is a truly memorable experience.

Movie Review: The Hobbit, and The Symbolism of The Great Eagles.


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Conflict Watch: Machiavelli, Democratic Transitions, and The Great Recession

Polity IV Regime Types

Global Democracy, 1946-2008

(Disclaimer: This blog is based on generalizations, specific democratic movements deviate by varying degrees from theoretical democratic transitions explored here)

By happenstance, years ago I ended up in an undergraduate elective class at SUNY Binghamton– “Machiavelli and the Renaissance”. Although it was a random elective course from what seems like a lifetime ago, the analyses of Machiavelli’s “The Prince” have stuck with me (particularly, the concepts of virtú and l’occasione).

(I suppose Machiavelli would have said there is no happenstance, and that fortuna dictates the future of men. Furthermore, Machiavelli is regarded by many as a father of modern political science, so these concepts sticking with me is not so coincidental either. But I digress…)

it would appear if they owed anything to fortune except opportunity (l’occasione), which gave them matter into which introduce whatever form they thought good; without the opportunity, their virtú would have been wasted, and without virtú the opportunity would have been in vain…The more the innovator is though of as subverting and replacing a previously existing structure of custom and legitimacy, the more he will have to cope with the contingencies of suddenly disoriented behavior and the greater will be his exposure to fortuna.”

Scholars debate exactly the meaning of Machiavellian virtúbut most agree it has something to do with strength, cunning, and an element of ruthlessness; the characteristics needed to maintain rule in a principality. L’occasione refers to the opportunity for these characteristics to shine through. Fortuna refers to chance, or things outside individual control.

Machiavelli was referring to ideal characteristics of a Prince; during the time he lived, the predominant governmental structure was the principality. I believe these lessons are still appropriate today, in the context of democratic transitions.

In the context of modern political theory and democratic transitions, virtú takes on a different meaning. In the following analysis, virtú refers to the popular sentiment for human rights that underlies attempted democratic transitions. L’occasione refers to the opportunity for virtú to crystallize into a concerted democratic movement.

The virtú of democracy–the human rights based approach to development–is not going away; it is a central foreign policy tool of “Western” powers, and is championed at the highest level of global governance (the U.N.). Furthermore, due to their empowering nature, human rights and liberal democracy are concepts that will continue to be championed by the masses. L‘occasione, however, is fleeting.

I recently wrote how time is an enemy of legitimate democratic grievances. Over time, legitimate grievances are overrun by opportunistic forces seeking wealth / power. However, other forces also oppose democratic transitions.

One of these forces is those seeking to maintain the status-quo; vested interests invoke the specter of chaos and insecurity–the fear of the unknown–to undermine the legitimacy of their opposition.

Another opposing force in the current context–financial constraints due to The Great Recession–has lead to lackluster support for budding democracy movements. It is due to the very nature of democratic governance that The Great Recession has hindered support for democratic movements more-so than it has hindered support from those supporting authoritarian rule.

Financial aid for democratic movements, whether it comes from individual governments or IEOs such as the I.M.F, tends to come with constraining preconditions. These movements need to be able to prove they are legitimate and in control of different factions present in the oppositions. They have to prove they are committed to human rights and liberal democracy. They also have to agree to unpopular fiscal decisions, in order to prove they will be able to pay back loans in the future.

Democracies are accountable to their people (indirectly through freedoms of press / expression / assembly, as well as directly through elections). In the context of The Great Recession, it is difficult to “sell” sending aid abroad with pressing social problems at home and austerity proponents calling for budget cuts. In order to garner support, democratic governments impose conditions on loans to prove they are not throwing money away.

Authoritarian governments are naturally more insulated from domestic concerns. They are also more sensitive to currently authoritarian states transitioning to democracies; they see democratic transitions in the context of the global democratization movement and an existential threat to their survival. Therefore, they are generally willing to provide support under the condition that it will help the incumbent regime stay in power. Furthermore, authoritarian regimes tend to be high organized and built on a system of loyalty; the issues of organization and unity are not present (unlike in the opposing democratic movement).

Democracies tend to be the countries with the highest levels of wealth and standard of living. Therefore, one would expect that democracies would be better equipped to financially support democratic transitions than authoritarian regimes would be to support their allies.

However, there are many contextual realities (addressed earlier in this blog) that buck this expectation. Authoritarian regimes are more insulated from domestic pressures, and believe they have more at risk from losing an ally than democracies believe they have from gaining a new ally.

Democratic transitions need to be supported, or else they will be overrun by opportunistic factions /vested interests who wish to remain in power. Countries do not stay in political limbo for long, either democratic aspirations are realized or a pivot back towards authoritarianism is cemented. Once an opportunity for democratic transition is gone, there is know telling when it will present itself again.

Those supporting authoritarianism do not hold back in their support. A mechanism for supporting budding democratic movements must be established and adequately funded–perhaps alongside the UN Democratic Governance Trust Fund. Failure to do so sends the wrong messages, that the international community does not care about people with legitimate democratic aspirations, and/or that democracy cannot work in certain contexts.

Neither of these messages are true, but the international community must put its money is; as the saying goes, “actions speak louder than words”. Perhaps instead of extending loans, we should consider supporting democratic transitions as part of development aid, money which will be paid back in the future through increased trade opportunities and greater regional / global security


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Monday Morning QB: The Tanaka Effect

The subject of this blog is Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. The MLB pitching market this off-season has been non-existent, as teams looking for top-notch pitching wait to see if Tanaka is an available option. The issue surrounding Tanaka’s potential availability is a proposed rule change for the “posting fee” a MLB team has to pay its Japanese counterpart for the rights to negotiate with a player (original article):

Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka’s baseball future was thrown into flux Thursday when the president of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles told a newspaper that the team might not make the prized starter available to major league teams as a free agent this winter.

Yozo Tachibana told Sponichi that the Golden Eagles might refrain from making Tanaka available through the posting process. Under a proposed system, major league teams would submit maximum bids of $20 million for rights to negotiate with Tanaka, and Tanaka would be free to sign with the club of his choosing among those that meet the threshold.

Previously, major league teams would submit bids and the club with the highest offer would receive exclusive rights to negotiate with the player.

The proposed rules would result in a significantly lower payout to the posting club — in this case, Rakuten — while giving Tanaka a wider range of teams in the bidding. According to reports out of Japan, 11 of Nippon Baseball’s 12 teams agreed to the $20 million maximum fee and the proposed system, while Rakuten was the dissenter.

Officials from MLB and its players’ association are hoping to get Tanaka’s situation resolved as quickly as possible, because his status could have an impact on Matt GarzaErvin SantanaUbaldo Jimenez and other top free agents who might have to wait in line to see how the market for their services shakes out.

Lets consider how this rule change might affect all parties involved:

The Nippon (Japanese) Baseball Team:

As the article clearly states, under proposed rule changes, the posting fee would be capped at $20 million dollars. While multiple teams could post this $20 million dollar fee, only the team which successfully signs the player pays the fee.

$20 million would be a substantial decrease in revenue for the Japanese ball club. Comparable free agents Daisuke Matsuzaka ($51.1 million) and Yu Darvish ($51.7 million) commanded much higher posting fees. The lower posting fee may make the Japanese club reconsider letting their best player go; for $50 million they will likely give up our best player, for $20 million they may not.

The Free Agent:

The financial benefits go to the player in question. The player will command a bigger contract under the proposed system for two reasons:

1) Competition: Under the old system, there was no competition from other clubs once a posting fee was accepted by the Japanese club. The only two options for the Japanese pitcher would be to either sign with the MLB team or reject the offer and return to the Japanese team. Under proposed rule changes, multiple teams will have the right to make offers, and the player can negotiate with any team that makes the posting fee.

For a player in high demand (such as Tanaka), this will bid-up the price of the player as teams compete for their services.

2) Total Cost: Teams generally have an amount (or range) they are willing to spend in order to sign a player. When it comes to Japanese players, this total included both the posting fee paid to the team and the contract signed by the player. With less money now going to the Japanese club, this frees up more money for the clubs to offer the player.

MLB Teams:

As stated before, MLB teams will likely have to offer a larger contract to highly desired Japanese free agents, as they will have to bid against one another. There is another small caveat that should be mentioned here, regarding teams that are trying to get below the luxury tax threshold.

As it currently stands, the posting fee is not factored into the teams payroll and therefore is not counted against the luxury tax threshold. Therefore, a Japanese player is even more attractive to a team that is near the threshold, as it can theoretically sign a higher caliber player while taking less of a payroll hit. This is part of the reason why a team like the New York Yankees is very interested in signing a player like Tanaka.

If the rules are changed, more of the cost of the player will be reflected in his contract, and therefore count as part of a teams payroll / luxury tax burden.

Other Free Agents: 

Often times, players must wait until the most sought-after free agent at a specific position is signed before they start to receive offers. This top free agent “sets the market”, and once they are signed, other players at that position receive offers from teams that could not sign that most sought-after player.

This is likely what we are seeing with the market for pitching this off-season. While many big name players like Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brian McCann have signed lucrative contracts, big name pitchers such as Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez have not. Once the Tanaka situation is resolved (one way or another), expect teams to more aggressively pursue the other available free agent pitchers.

MLB Fans:

Fans may bear the greatest cost of the proposed rule change, if they are deprived of the opportunity to see Tanaka pitch in MLB games.

I do not see this as a likely scenario, but it is something the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles are threatening if the new rule is passed.

Update: Tanaka-claus is coming to town!


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Rest in Peace, Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

As you have probably heard, Nelson Mandela died today; he was 95 years old. He “died peacefully at his Johannesburg home after a prolonged lung infection” according to current South African President Jacob Zuma. Even though the world had plenty of time to come to terms with Mandela’s impending death, it makes his loss no easier to bare.

Mandela was a human rights leader and a proponent of peace and democracy. He showed the world that forgiveness and reconciliation can be more powerful forces than hatred and retribution. He is widely credited with unifying South Africa after its apartheid era. He was and continues to be an inspiration to civil / human rights activists, peace advocates, and progressive politicians / people around the world. He changed the world for the better, and will be sorely missed.

The best way to honor his legacy is to continue to champion the ideals he stood for.