Political Animal

THE POWER OF BLOGGING….Some undergrads

THE POWER OF BLOGGING….Some undergrads at Harvard have started up a new blog-like site called Critical Mass where students can discuss the inadequacies of their professors in the calm, anonymous prose typical of online writing. I can’t check it out since it’s available only to Harvard students, but Matt Yglesias can.

So, Matt, what’s the deal? Your readers await your verdict.


RESENTMENT ON THE DECLINE?….A couple of days ago I suggested that David Brooks might be right when he said that resentment of the rich was no longer a potent force in American politics. Fighting a tax plan on the basis that it benefits the rich doesn’t seem to work these days.

Today Nathan Newman quotes Bill Schneider on CNN, who says that resentment of taxes is also on the decline. In the last couple of years, the number of people who think their taxes are too high has declined from about two-thirds to less than half.

What’s the cause? Reduced tax rates from the 2001 cuts? Stronger sense of patriotism caused by 9/11? Hard to say. Maybe people are just tired of economic issues in general and want to move on.

I’m not sure myself, but it’s an interesting juxtaposition of ideas.


PROSPECT THEORY AND NORTH KOREA….Hooray! More prospect theory!

Dan Drezner uses my favorite economic pastime to analyze Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed in the New York Times today, in which he says we should negotiate with North Korea in hopes that better ties with the West will eventually undermine their isolationism and start to open up their society. Dan thinks that Kristof is engaging in wishful thinking, something that prospect theory suggests will happen when faced with unpalatable choices.

You can read Kristof’s column for yourself, but just for the record here are the alternatives I’ve seen for dealing with North Korea:

  • A military strike. This is obviously risky and is not an option that anyone seems to be seriously advancing.

  • Wait them out. This might work in a decade or two, but nothing I’ve read leads me to believe that North Korea will collapse in the near future. Thus, this tactic would provide them with loads of time to build more nukes, and possibly sell them to other countries or terrorist groups.

  • Threaten to provide nuclear weapons to Japan. This would supposedly scare them (and the Chinese) so badly that they would agree to concessions. I’m not so sure. Even if this were feasible (i.e., Japan agreed to it and Bush made it fly domestically), it would lead to a situation similar to that between India and Pakistan, except even more unstable. Sounds like a bad choice.

  • Withdraw completely and let China, Japan, and South Korea deal with the situation. Same as option 2: it would give North Korea too much time to build up their arsenal.

  • Offer Kim Jong-il and his cronies safe asylum if they just give themselves up. Sounds good, but everything I’ve read about North Korea leads me to believe that they would never agree to this.

This is why I think negotiation is the best option: the others are so bad that even a lousy choice is the best we’ve got. What’s more, with any luck we’ll be able to negotiate something that provides better verification of their compliance without giving up much of anything that’s important to us. After all, what’s the harm of signing a nonagression pact if we don’t want to attack them anyway?

It’s true that this sends a bad message, but North Korea’s peculiar brand of negotiation-by-crisis seems unique in the world. Even if we play their game I don’t think there are many (or any) other countries that have the stomach to follow their example.

Of course, maybe I’m just engaging in wishful thinking. After all, prospect theory suggests that I should.


A CONSERVATIVE LOOKS AT THE DEATH PENALTY….Rod Dreher of NRO’s The Corner writes about the death penalty:

I find the older I get, the more inclined I am to say if err we must, then let us err on the side of life — even if it means suffering scumbags to draw breath until their natural deaths.

I’m getting off the subject here for a sec, but I want to mention something that really got to me. An old man to whom I was close died a few years ago, well into his 90s. On his deathbed, he confessed that he was haunted by his participation in an extrajudicial killing back in the 1930s. He was part of a lynching party organized by the sheriff, who for his own reasons didn’t want to have to worry about the courts. He got the men together, and they hanged this criminal. Well, it came out shortly thereafter that the criminal they hanged was completely innocent. For various reasons, all the men had believed him unquestionably guilty; anyway, the sheriff had told them it was so, hadn’t he? Nothing was ever done to the lynching party, and the incident was forgotten. Sixty some-odd years later, as he lay dying, with an entire lifetime of experience behind him, this is what tormented that old man.

Mind you, our modern prosecutorial and jury system is light years away from a rural lynch mob of the 1930s. Still, the potential for human error, swayed by prejudice, emotion, or plain old fallibility, is always present. Maybe one reason I fear the death penalty is I can too easily imagine myself as part of that lynch mob, trusting governmental authority and carried away by my own emotions, seeing only what I wanted to see, and not aware of my own capacity for error.

Nicely said.