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When Good Democracies Do Good...And When They Go Bad

by cskendrick Mon Apr 24th, 2006 at 08:11:40 PM EST

On account this is at the heart of all matters related to both the conduct of American foreign policy, and the worldwide reaction to it, and why so much room has been given to the Bush administration to diverge from democratic norms, on the premise that at the heart of it all, the United States of America has, is and always will be a free society.

Why this credit card has been accepted by the powers of the planet for so long is precisely the topic of discussion here.

We cover a lot of political theory, here. It's tangentially related to the diary about the US-Israel alliance. It is, ultimately, a far more important topic.

To walk away stunned, even floored, is not the intended effect. It is the only possible effect.

Saddle up. Lock and load, and learn something about why you love freedom and trust strangers in foreign lands with yours more than your own government, because a man figured out exactly why over two hundred years ago.

Powers that share affinities are more probable to form alliances those with no affinties at all

This is derived from human psychology, which is strongly inclined to form, maintain and expand relations among affinity sets than across such boundaries. This tendency, of course, is directly counter to microeconomic theory, which in a nutshell models similar roles (producers v. producers, or consumers v. consumers) as adversarial, while dissimilar roles (producers and buyers) at least have the potential for non-zero-sum gains (the concept of comparative advantage).

Economic theory is next to useless in explaining breakdowns in communication, sharp increase in aggression following such a breakdown, and decisions to break rather than make goods and services (and the human beings that both produce and consume them).

Superior lines of communications between open and free societies

Let's try a different topic: Why democracies don't fight other democracies...usually. Why? Because cross-border constituencies form --- civilian leaders, military leaders, pen pals, Internet chat rooms, all the wonderful blending of diverse personal, professional, political and economic interests that happens with two open societies with the Kantian freedoms of movement, expression and association enshrined.

Why democracies work at interstate state peace with other democracies? Because their mutual openness facilitates the formation of these affinity groups across boundaries.

And if you do well enough at it, you wind up with something that looks a lot like, well, a federation of closely-entertwined representative democracies, an identity that transcends nationalism. A United Europe, in other words. Or perhaps, in a more legalistic framework, a United States.

Okay, what about outside of the democracy-versus-democracy situation?

To a weaker extent, this same affinity process occurs among similar modes of nondemocracy, but sans full openness and protection of basic political liberties (movement, expression, association), the affinity is more likely to break down.

Now, in the exercise presented Saturday night, we were discounting the regime variable entirely, and focusing on power components as gauges of affinity, as determined by gross sociological characteristics or local geographic or eonomic endowments (some good, some bad). The premise is that more similar circumstances generates more probability of affinity.

Now, if two peas in the same pod, as it were, happen to have chosen radically divergent modes of constitution or public policy (ex, two portions of the same country, one abolishing slavery, the other clinging to the so-called peculiar institution), well, that's different.

What's interesting to me is that despite an original interest in regime and religion-based dyad pairs as a predictor of war and peace (I wrote my master's thesis on this topic), that the affinity criteria used here predict as well as they do.

One suspects that combining the approaches would yield especially interesting advice -- for example, that of the countries that structurally line up best with Israel in the Middle East, one of them happens to be Iran, which is clearly not in danger of being a friend of the state of Israel, and vice-versa, due to longstanding constitutional and public policy choices.

Intragroup rivalry is rarely violent. When it is, it's really, really bad

Still, I think such wars tend to be rare, as the lines of communications are less prone to amibiguity and misunderstanding (I imagine Iran and Israel understand each other close to perfectly), therefore miscues are less likely to become missteps, and crises less likely to erupt into warfare. However, when such wars occur, they are far more likely to be serious conflagrations.

That, in summation, is how I'd reconcile the matter of affinity tending to produce alliances, with fewer breakdowns among the club but once serious differences in policies emerge and continue, some sort of resolution has to occur. More often than not, states with a structural (especially those with both structural and regime) affinity will work it out. When they do not, the recriminations, perception of moral affront and betrayal exacerbate the violence should the hypothetical war occur.

That is also, in my opinion, why civil wars in structurally homogenous states are exceptionally bad in terms of loss of life and property. But that is definitely out of scope.

On the game theory angle

I think, contrary to conventional wisdom, that Israel in fact is making do with a next-best alternative in its current alliance relations, by having the United States as a patron power. I think Israel is in many ways more aligned with Europe, not only by the gross criteria that I utilize but by subtype of democracy. Finally, the Europeans have valuable (and expensive) experience getting once-hostile ethnic and religious groups to coexist.

What the Americans bring to the table, of course, is an unmatched power to make annoying nation-states go away. What is not realized is if the legendary post-World War II skill of the Americans to refashion old enemies into fast friends is still alive and well and living in Baghdad...because much of the world thinks not.

However useful a tool to have in the kit, this is not an asset that Israel needs exclusively, and what I think Israel needs far more is resources to engage its neighbors in matters of mutual importance -- bringing more water out of the earth, or the sea, or from hundreds if not thousands of miles away. On such projects, Europe has proven skill, as well as the ability to send troops to the aid of allies, both in Europe and farther afield. In comparison, the American contractors have had negligible success in getting Iraqi oil production back to prewar levels; this does not raise confidence, either from a technical or a security standpoint.

Ergo, I think the Israelis are starting to look around for a new set of best friends.

If I understand the game corectly, it is now a question is what the Americans will do, on their own recognizance, to 'win' the game, with the outcomes being that either America remains the first, dominant ally of Israel, imposing Israel's second (actually, third) choice on it, or becomes what Europe is currently vis a vis Israel: a second opinion, and a not always welcome one.

Or, set a different way: I think the way Israel thinks of the United States now is probably on par with the mild distrust that America and the core European countries feel about one another now. From the Israeli perspective, it's astonishing that the Americans once openly debated whether or not troops should/would be sent to help Israel in event of attack by its Arab allies, when no such question (to Israel's perception) was ever voiced if the Warsaw Pact had ever broken through the Fulda Gap and marched on the Rhine.

It's the sort of hearsay that makes a country's government want to hedge its bets.

Regarding Limits of Applicability

No construct with human decisionmaking can possibly be applicable to all cases, combination of cases, circumstances, or eras. Human beings are volitional particles, and as such prone to make decisions just to flout predictability, once the rules of the game are recognized.

From that, much more follows.

More on the notion that  Israel would find it less and less beneficial in the current situation to befriend the Americans.

I think Israel likes the Americans best when American troops are not in the Middle East, at which point the US becomes less of a facilitator for Israeli security and more a competitor for influence and attempted control of events. Since the Europeans are much more hesitant to do any such thing in the current era, and possess significant military resources of their own, this might make moving Europe closer to the head of the negotiating table a good move for Israel. The risk, of course, is that any such switch (Americans leave, Europeans move in, as it were) will invite testing the strength and resolve of the alliance.

My Opinion on governmental decision making and optimization thereof

Transactions costs are high; once locked in, alliance partners tend to stay `married to the position', as they say in stock trading, and what was optimal at the time, or based on the information available, may grow stale very quickly, and yet the `marriage' persists....until it falls apart catastrophically. Or lets go back to the affinity model: As with human individuals, states and societies in a relationship maintain an irrational attachment that persists long past the point at which information justifying close ties is revised downward.

Peer competition among Human individuals

I'd say that strong players in the same affinity set vie for dominance and influence within the group, in order to direct policy in competition with other groups. Within the affinity set, there exist mutually-recognized limits, accepted modes of discourse, conflict and escalation, incentives for behaviors that are profitable or at least benign toward the interests of the group at large. There are also means of discipline, demotion, sanction and eviction of persons who either do not or will not respect the customs and norms of the affinity set...or simply cannot compete, therefore cannot contribute. There is an inertia, supported by the sunk cost of acceptance and recruitment of a given individual, and an expectation (or perhaps irrational, due to the social attachment), that makes human affinity sets hesitant to kick people out the door even in the face of repeated evidence that perhaps it would be a good idea to do so. One reason is the latent of emotional, even physiological discomfort at the prospect of stress related to the eviction of a member of one's team, or staff, or church, or class, or country. The other is a stress at the prospect of an angry and destructive reaction on the part of the person being cut loose; entire books have been written on how to dispose of political enemies, deal with incorrigible relatives or relationships, or terminate employees.

Peer competition among Human societies

The frequency of new alliance opportunities is far lower, the costs of detachment of one alliance and switching to another far greater. Many moving parts (human beings) are involved, all of which will be migrating from an old alliance preferences to new ones at different speeds and intensities...some will be moving even more closely to the old regime. Thus, changing interstate relationships generates peril of crisis within the affinity set, as well as uncertainty about motives, risk of miscues, misunderstanding, missteps and war between states as an old alliance is set aside and a new one taken up. Think of human gossip as a live-action quantum simulation, trying to parse out the implications of the prom king and prom queen breaking up. Then apply this metaphor to the flurry of diplomatic and intelligence-gathering activity in the wake of any shakeup in either the politics of a major world power, or the implications of a falling-out between, say, the United States and Iran following the ouster of the Shah. It is of a piece...simple at face value, but massively complex in practice. I mean, have you ever had to deal with hearsay? There's no more intricate and frustrating a phenomenon to model in all of social science.

Risk of policy shift = risk of alliance shifts

It's ever been the case; that's why governments, especially democracies, country-watch so intensely. Even more than human individuals, governments do not like surprises, are willing to spend a great deal of their socety's time, money and if need be lives to get the information it feels entitled to in order to avoid surprises. In other words, states are incredible busybodies, the least of which has a wide array of means at its disposal to get its questions answered by subjects and foreigners alike. This information flow goes both ways, as governments, like human individuals, process data and contribute suggestions and incentives, not always solicited or welcome, to other governments, about how they should/should not do such-and-such if they really want to get the most value out of a given deal, or piece of legislation, or public statement. Smaller groups than nation-states do this exact same thing, too - corporations, religious organizations, expatriate groups, professional associations, the Boy Scouts...and of course, the various and sundry cliques at the local high school.

Regarding democracies and optimal decision making

Some question if democracies, especially American-style forms with deliberately sluggish checks and balances, are the optimal mode of governance.

I say, hell effing yeah. It's when we kick these principles to the curb that we suffer. But you decide for yourself:

Optimal decisionmaking is first and foremost a function of clear, abundant and accurate observations of reality, reinforced by two-way discussion of mutual interests, values to derive at a set of choices. Then comes the decision itself, keeping in mind the talents, resources, connections, energy and creativity of the rest of one's affinity set, be it a company, political party, or nation-state. Reconciling a priori and post priori dissensions about policies and implementation and lessons learned and distribution of responsibility, risks and rewards among group members is just the mechanics of management; important - and impossible without good data and good, open discussion of its value to decisions based on same.

Short form: Closed, autocratic societies possess relatively high costs to decisionmaking; information is often gathered by unreliable means or, out of fear of punishment for gaps in coverage, simply made up by gatherers. Analysis is curtailed by an orthodoxy of interpretation that incentivizes telling the leadership cadre what it wants to hear. This both contrains and distorts the range of options provided to the leadership. Ergo, only exceptionally wise kings and dictators thrive/

Whereas within or among open, democratic societies, the cost of intelligence gathering is low and the quality of coverage high, open debate of interpretations and validation of assumptions takes place on an ongoing basis, and the leadership is given (a) more options and (b) since responsible to the citizenry, they have a high incentive to go with externally-validated reason rather than viscerally satisfying impulse. That, and in systems where checks and balances exist, there is even less likelihood of even mediocre leaders produce a dangerous outcome. Thus, in an open and democratic society, the chief danger comes not from lazy fools, who can be contained or removed readily enough, but from energetic and dedicated enemies of the very mechanisms that give democracies a higher likelihood of positive policy outcomes, because such mechanisms work against the policy preferences of the leadership.

When good republics go bad

In such instances as these, we see democracies go mad, and under the cover of the general assumption that such `mad republics' are still free and operating under democratic norms, much mischief is set in place, many concessions granted, until the time comes to dispense with the fiction and subsequently even the illusion of freedom.

We have seen this process unfold before, the most infamous and thoroughly-studied case being the rise of the National Socialists during the 1930s. There is no reason to expect that the rise of Hitler was idiosyncratic to Germany, as democracies have failed worldwide many times since, and in about the same fashion. In weaker states, the threshold of failure in democratic institutions is easier to cross, but that does not mean that strong democracies cannot go mad, as well.

However, better to live free and run the risk of madness, than be born insane, and endure in chains.

On the simplicity of economic and social models - Simple in mechanism, complex in execution

Human behavior is elementary in mechanism, complex in execution. We are volitional particles, that can partly change the `physics' by which we respond to stimuli, and partly cannot. En masse, this character can be more safely abstracted, and the changes in direction and resultant invalidation of old rules of thumb and predictive models, and the hurried development and introduction of new ones, are episodes that happen far less frequently than with human individuals, on the order of years and decades, rather than days and months. But never for a moment can human social behavior be safely assumed as wholly deterministic, or wholly discretionary, nor can the behavior of societies and states, as they are composed of human individuals who operate in this fashion.

The chief lesson of social science, one that most social scientists miss, and by that I mean everyone from economists and psychiatrists to sociologists and public policy wonks, is that no model is universal in scope, that all paradigms are in some manner case, time and parameter-specific, and that this applies even to the much-vaunted notion that democracies never fight other democracies.

Regarding US- EU competition, and emergent large-scale strife among democracies.

Why this example? Because if democracies ever go head-to-head, this is the new bipolar struggle.

Under the old paradigm, if countries long recognized as representative democracies begin to discuss the risk of conflict, even war, among themselves, it is perhaps a sign that one or both sides of the dispute have since ceased to be functional democracies. And that is a matter of grave concern.

Yet there is also another theory, that the robustness of the so-called democratic peace is in significant measure dependent upon a heterogeneity of regime types. In other words, that in a world where all states were functional democracies, human beings being the irascible and contentious creatures that they are would fall upon some other mode of discrimination, to differentiate between who was friend and who was foe, that in the absence of juxtaposition with a clear and present danger the cohesion within an affinity set, even among democracies, begins to break down.

If so, Immanuel Kant's prediction of Perpetual Peace would be frustrated, as a world of elected regimes produces, say, a pair of irrendentist regimes quarreling over the same piece of land, with majorities in both democracies fully supporting policies aimed at the subjugation or destruction of the rival state, with the constituencies of each highly intolerant of elected leaders who even raise the possibility of partial or complete abandonment of territorial goals, no matter what the compensation for doing so may be.

In a world with hundreds as opposed to dozens of democracies, democracies will go mad at about the same rate, but for a larger population, and therefore instances of democracies fighting one another will happen, a track record of breakdown will be noted, and the tacit trust that free peoples have in the good sense of other free peoples will wear down, as well. And at that point, the distrust, preparations for war, even with other republics, will creep in, and in time whether or not a given government was voted into power will not matter much.

After all, back in classical Greece, it was not an issue at all. The wars happened, regardless...though less often than between democracies and oligarchies.

Who are we to deny the 4's their right to express themselves? :)

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)
by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Mon Apr 24th, 2006 at 08:28:48 PM EST
Too much good stuff... I'll let it ferment for a while...

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 25th, 2006 at 04:58:15 AM EST

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)
by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Tue Apr 25th, 2006 at 07:01:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd actually love some data to support (or modify) this one:

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 25th, 2006 at 07:05:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
for a multipolar world.

PS - Brazil in the long run may have more in common with Africa than with the rest of Latin America. Just an FYI.

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)

by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Tue Apr 25th, 2006 at 08:08:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Game Theory?  Optimal Outcomes?  As our Yiddish friends would say, "Oi."  Do we have another economist/mathematician/international-affairs-guru on our hands? ;)

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Tue Apr 25th, 2006 at 10:24:22 AM EST
And a really entertaining one at that.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 25th, 2006 at 10:30:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, and that is a rare find.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Tue Apr 25th, 2006 at 10:44:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)
by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Tue Apr 25th, 2006 at 10:48:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 25th, 2006 at 10:48:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm compiling your worldwide alliance prediction data. Will figure out how to present it sometime later today/in the middle of the Euro-night. :)

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)
by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Tue Apr 25th, 2006 at 10:49:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Questions for you (the grey spots): what's up with Central Asia (extending to the Caucasus, Iran and Pakistan?. What's up with the Central America/Caribbean area? Where do Canada, Australia and New Zealand fit? And Japan and Korea?

Are any of the putative regional blocks hopeless? (ASEAN, Arab League, African Union) Is Mercosur the core of South America?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 25th, 2006 at 10:55:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The check's in the mail. :)

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)
by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Tue Apr 25th, 2006 at 01:41:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't get the comments on US-EU competition, which to me looks very similar to competition between New York and California or Nebraska and Kansas or, say, Sweden and Norway.

The two competing parties are so similar as to be virtually indistinguishable...

by asdf on Tue Apr 25th, 2006 at 08:09:05 PM EST
Sorry, no. The differences between NY and CA, or between any of them and NE or KS are stark, and yet much smaller than the differences between the US and Europe.

If you had made a point that within-group differences (among US states and between EU countries) may be larger than cross-group differences (between EU and US) I might be willing to entertain it, but even that may not be so clear-cut. In the previous diary by cskendrick and the comment threads he gives a number of measures according to which the US and the EU are not so similar.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Apr 26th, 2006 at 05:54:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In comparative analysis the outcome of the analysis very much depends on which indicators you are using and how accurate these indicators are in telling the story.  The impact of rather few indicators on greater entities such as the EU and the US are often somewhat influenced by other hidden indicators.  In short the bigger the entity the more complex it is to measure the accuracy and the impact of those few indicators.  The causal effect could be spurious, seem to have an effect, but in reality it has no or very little impact on the analysis.  

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.
by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Wed Apr 26th, 2006 at 02:09:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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