Mis Primeras Impresiones de Sevilla y Espana

Estoy muy cansado y por lo tanto voy a escribir mis primeras impresiones cortas de Sevilla y de Espana.  He estado en Sevilla por solo diez horas y en Espana por 15.  En este tiempo he aprendido y percibido las siguientes cosas:

  • el aeropuerto de Madrid es hermoso pero es imposible para navegar.  Estuve afortunado que encontre mi vuelo de conexion
  • Vi un poca de la tierra de Espana desde los aviones y ya se que quiere tomar el tren a Madrid (en lugar de volar) para que puedo ver mas del campo
  • Como muchas ciduades de Europa, la mayoria de las calles de Sevilla son pequenas y tienen bastante espacio para solo un coche
  • Vi mi primera protesta en Sevilla afuera del ayuntamiento.  Yo espero ver mas durante mi tiempo aqui porque de la crisis economica aqui.
  • Finalmente, la vida nocturna ocurre en las calles, donde muchas personas beben, fuman, y hablan a las muy tempranas horas de la manana.  Estoy emocionando para experimentar esto.
Protesta afuera del ayuntamiento de Sevilla
Protesta afuera del ayuntamiento de Sevilla

Ahora es tiempo para dormir.  Manana tengo muchas cosas que necesito hacer.  Ojala que tenga tiempo para escribir sobre ellos.

Hasta manana,


Click the fold for a rough english translation!

Continue reading Mis Primeras Impresiones de Sevilla y Espana

Voy a Sevilla!

Hola todos,

Mañana voy a Sevilla por nueve semanas de inmersión.  Durante mi tiempo alla, voy a escribir mis pensamientos en este “blog” para que ustedes pueden experimentar un poco de España.  Sevilla es el cuarto mas grande ciudad en España y tiene una historia muy interesante porque de su tiempo como un parte del Imperio Islamico.  Estoy emocionado para compartir mis experiencias con ustedes.  Ojala que visiten este blog y disfruten lo que escribiré.

Hasta luego,


P.S. Tambien voy a seguir a escribir sobre las politicas del mundo, y especialmente aquellas de America Latina, durante mi tiempo en Sevilla.   No se preocupe – todo de mi blog no va a ser sobre España.

P.P.S. All future posts about Spain will be written in both Spanish and English so that I can both practice my Spanish and produce a product that is understandable for my American audience.

China: Fracturing the West and Replacing the International System

Australia’s recent defense white paper signals the beginning of a big problem for the United States and the West: China’s rapid ascent is changing how states act.  With a large and growing economy and increasingly capable military, few countries can afford to take an openly hostile approach to Beijing despite the threat China’s rise presents.  This is true even for members of the West, such as Australia, that occupy a privileged role in global affairs via their strong relations with the United States.  What this foreshadows is a day when China can fracture the West by coercing some states to its positions on various issues or during conflicts.  Not surprisingly, this would constitute a significant blow to U.S. power and the West, and represent a major threat to the current system of international organization.

Changing the prevailing international system is a common goal of any rising state, as it seeks to weaken the reigning hegemon and put in place rules and structures to protect its own power.  Currently, global governance is handled largely by the West.  Bound together by shared ideology, past triumphs in war, and high standards of living, the West dominates global affairs in almost every realm, using its military alliances and control over international organizations like the IMF to create global rules and norms that perpetuate its power. Confronted with this breadth and depth of power, Beijing’s policy has long been to bide its time while using the stability provided by the current order to focus on economic expansion.  Yet at the same time, China has not been immune to the desire for change that afflicts all rising powers; it has taken small steps to test the waters for a Chinese-designed international system.  These two waring impulses – to benefit from the stability of the status quo while simultaneously seeking ways to change it – represent one of the central conflicts within Chinese foreign policy at the moment.  While the point at which China’s concerns about control and prestige will outweigh its desire for stability and unfettered growth is hotly debated, at some point China will prioritize changing the international system and act accordingly.

When it comes to affecting change on the international system, China has two choices: it can either go to war in hopes of prevailing and redesigning the system how it would like or use its expanding power and prestige to slowly undermine the status quo by building competing international organizations, exchanging its support on issues of global concern for meaningful reforms in current institutions, and by co-opting states within the West. Since option one (going to war) is out of the question as long as China calculates it is unlikely to prevail in a confrontation with the United States, Beijing is left to pursue option two, undermining the status quo.  As I mentioned earlier, China has taken some steps toward this end.  It has launched or helped found several competing international institutions such as the Schanghai Cooperation Organisation and BRICS grouping, promoted large regional free-trade blocks in Asia, and recently leveraged its increased support for IMF bailouts to wrestle additional voting shares in a soon-to-be-implemented 2010 reform.  The effectiveness of these initiatives is still being debated, as China lacks the soft power necessary to make its version of international governance attractive globally, but the steps it has taken so far were worrisome enough for the National Intelligence Council to highlight their threat in its 2008 Global Trends Report (see pages 37-39 in particular).

While China may experience some success with building alternative international organizations and reforming existing ones, fracturing the West will be a tougher coup to pull off.  The bonds among Western countries are the product of decades of diplomacy, shared sacrifice, and cultural and ideological convergence.  Generations of Western leaders have been taught that the West is the basic building block of their countries’ foreign policy.  It will take time for Beijing to overcome this legacy, especially since any decline the United States experiences is likely to be a slow one.  Although China’s high rate of economic growth relative to the West will allow it to alter the dynamics of global governance simply by diluting the economic and military importance of the United States and Europe, decades from now a unified West will still present a formidable challenge to the emergence of a Chinese-centric international system.

However, this is not to say the cohesion of the West is a given.  The global trade in goods, services, and capital is much freer now than it was during the Cold War, and China represents a significant cog in the newly globalized economy.  It would be prohibitively costly for the world to divide itself into blocs of allies that trade primarily with one another like was done following World War II.  Every major U.S. ally today engages in robust trade with China.  This engagement, bordering on dependence via market access, provides the immediate mechanism for China to break the Western bloc by coercing or enticing specific states into a special relationship with Beijing.

Not surprisingly, the Pacific members of the West will be the most vulnerable to this type of pressure.   In many ways, these states are vulnerable because they lie at the periphery of the West; their geographic positions have long hindered their ability to partake in the West as full members.  For example, because of their distance from the North Atlantic they have never been able to join NATO.  And while Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand all have explicit military alliances with the United States, they are not bound to Europe in the same way.  This reinforces the notion of a two-tiered West, with the United States and Europe representing the core and strength and the Pacific members representing addendums located half way around the world.  As a result of this status and their geographic proximity to and growing economic reliance upon China, states such as Australia have powerful incentives to placate Beijing at the expense of ties with Washington.

As such, it is likely China will focus on co-opting the Pacific members of the West before moving on to fracture Europe’s unity and strain U.S.-European ties.  This is why the recent Australian defense paper is so troubling – it indicates the shift in priorities has already begun in Asia, even amongst long-standing U.S. allies.  And once one country makes such a move it becomes easier for other countries to follow suit.  It breaks the status quo inertia. The potential long-term consequences of this are huge.  If the West splinters, the current system of international governance, and all the benefits that its provides that we take for granted, will be easily undermined and replaced either by anarchy or a different system that shares neither our interests nor our values.  Washington recognizes this, which is why the U.S. pivot to Asia has been accompanied by a corresponding increase in diplomatic attention given to the region as well as a renewed focus on free trade among Western allies in Europe and the Pacific.  Washington is trying to hold the West together.  We better hope it succeeds.

Is Latin America the new Europe?

The United States’ alliance with Europe is a cornerstone of American foreign policy. Europe is the first place Washington looks to for assistance whenever a difficult challenge needs to be confronted, whether it be combating global terrorism, defending human rights, or overthrowing violent dictators.  Likewise, because of their historical role in establishing the prevailing system of global governance and the combined size of their economies, America and Europe often set the global agenda and decide on standards and norms the rest of the world is then compelled to follow.  In short, the two collaborate together to promote one another’s interests and protect the foundations of their power.

But America and Europe haven’t always been this close.  For the majority of its history the relationship between the United States and Europe was one of mutual distrust and oftentimes outright hostility.  Americans today, knowing no other relationship with the Old World, view this as the natural state of affairs, but in fact it was something that took decades of rapprochement to accomplish.  Underlying this reconciliation were two key factors.  The first was the changing distribution of power around the turn of the 20th century.  The long dominant British Empire was facing new competition from rising powers such as the United States, Japan, Germany, and Russia, in addition to its traditional rivalry with France.  Confronted with this influx of new claimants to great power status, Britain was forced to prioritize which countries it would oppose and which it would embrace.  Even the mighty British Empire did not have the resources to fight all these challengers at once, a fact the Admiralty warned the Foreign Office of in a 1901 memo.  It read,

Great Britain unaided can hardly expect to be able to maintain in the West Indies, the Pacific, and in the North American stations, squadrons sufficiently powerful to dominate those of the United States and at the same time to hold command of the sea in home waters, the Mediterranean, and the Eastern seas, where it is essential that she should remain predominant.

Consequently, London initiated a rapprochement with the United States in the late 1890s and a few years later entered into a formal alliance with Japan in 1902.  The result was that Britain was able to focus its attention on the threats to its power in Europe, namely from Germany and Russia.

The second reason for the U.S.-Europe reconciliation, at least at first with the UK, was because of their shared race.  At this time, Theodore Roosevelt and many elites on both sides of the ocean were believers in the popular Teutonic myth that argued Aryan blood was the only civilizing force in human history.  This blood had been diluted in most cultures but remained intact and pure in the Anglo-Saxon lineage.  As the last carriers of this legacy, British and American citizens had a duty to civilize the rest of the world (e.g. White Man’s Burden).  This common race-tie reinforced the belief that Englishmen and Americans were simply estranged members of the same family; it followed then that the two countries should be cooperating rather than competing.  During the Venezuelan Boundary Crisis of 1895, Prime Minister Arthur Balfour spoke for his countrymen when he asserted, “The idea of war with the United States carries with it some of the unnatural horror of a civil war…The time will come, the time must come, when someone, some statesman of authority…will lay down the doctrine that between English-speaking peoples war is impossible.”  Not surprisingly, when the time came to pick sides in the emerging great-power competition, Britain chose to cozy up to the United States.  Or in the words of scholar Stephen Rock,

British leaders began to cast about for friends that might enable them to preserve their most important interests.  For reasons of geography, race, and ideology, the United States, despite its long tradition of Anglophobia, seemed better suited to this role than any other power.

From this initial détente grew a larger U.S.-Europe rapprochement.  Gradually, over the next half century, more and more European states saw the benefit of aligning themselves with the U.S. until, by the time of the Cold War, it was simply second nature.  While these allegiances were always initiated by strategic concerns (WWI, WWII, Cold War, etc) they were informed and maintained by the recognition that the U.S. and Europe are essentially two sides of the same cultural and ideological coin.  With so many people in the U.S. being of European origin or descent, it was only natural for the two sides to see each other as simply estranged kin.  This is one reason why the alliance between the U.S. and Europe has survived for so long following the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Their shared culture and ancestry has kept the two sides close despite the absence of a significant strategic threat.

While the history of U.S.-Europe relations is fascinating on its own, the most interesting part for me is trying to apply its lessons to the future of U.S. foreign policy.  In particular, the U.S.-Europe narrative has convinced me the United States is well situated to carry out a comparable evolution of relations with Latin America; the similarities between today and the turn of the 20th century, while not perfect, are compelling.  To begin with, the strategic environment facing the U.S. today shares many similarities with the one Britain confronted more than 100 years ago.  Washington, like London did, faces the end of a unipolar moment and the rise of several great powers whose ascent it cannot stop.  Forced to choose which rising states it will seek to contain and those it will either embrace or ignore, Washington has so far decided to focus on countering China while promoting the rise of India.  U.S. policy toward other growing powers, such as Brazil, Russia, and Turkey, has been far less coherent.

Most significant though has been the changing demographics of the United States. According to the 2010 census, there are more than 50 million Hispanics living in the United States, comprising roughly 16% of the population and making Hispanics the largest minority in America.  What’s even more astounding is the growth this represents; in 2000 there were only 35 million Hispanics in the U.S., giving a growth rate of 43% between 2000 and 2010.  Furthermore, in 2011, more nonwhite babies were born than white babies.  Given these trends, Census data now predict the United States will have the largest number of Spanish-speaking people of any country in the world by 2050.  If shared race/culture made the U.S.-Europe alliance possible, the same could be true for a U.S.-Latin American alliance.  Every year, the American people look a little more Latin and a little les European.  This shift can be seen in the change in number and percent of foreign-born people in the United States that come from Latin America vs. Europe.

Change in Number
Change in Percent

A similar trend can be seen in the overall population of the country as indicated by the responses of those people who claimed an ancestry in the 1990 and 2000 censuses.

Change in Ancestry

Unfortunately this data is a bit dated as for whatever reason the 2010 census did not contain updated data in these areas.  That said, I feel safe in assuming the trend exhibited here has only accelerated.

Overall, the strategic and demographic conditions exist for a new U.S.-Latin America relationship to develop. Washington needs allies for what is likely to be a prolonged competition with China, and a rising Latin America with many prospering, democratic countries could be a valuable military, economic, and diplomatic partner now and in the future.  Of course not every country in Latin America would currently be receptive to such a relationship, either because they dislike the United States or because they fear taking sides in the U.S.-China struggle, but with enough patience and diplomatic skill, Washington could slowly turn the region into an active partner equal to or greater than Europe in strategic importance.  And to be honest, it may have no choice but to try given the potential size of the Chinese threat.  But that’s a topic for another day.

Census data from:

  • http://www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/c2kbr-35.pdf
  • http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0029/tab02.html
  • http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-02.pdf

Quotes from:

  • Aaron L. Friedberg, The Weary Titan: Britain and the Experience of Relative Decline, 1895-1905 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988), page 171.
  • Stephen R. Rock, Appeasement in International Politics (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2000), page 35.

Other material:

  • Frank Bass, “Nonwhite U.S. Births Become the Majority for First Time,” Bloomberg, May 17, 2012.  http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-05-17/non-white-u-s-births-become-the-majority-for-first-time.html
  • Jesus Ruiz Mantilla, “Más ‘speak spanish’ que en España,” El Pais, October 6, 2008. http://elpais.com/diario/2008/10/06/cultura/1223244001_850215.html

Why blue states should be red and red states blue

A recent NPR story covering the changes in Kansas politics has motivated me to write about the beneficiaries of federal spending.  The report focuses on how Kansas, a state once known for its moderate, tolerant, and progressive polity, has transformed into a bastion of the radical right, with the current governor, Sam Brownback, determined to turn Kansas into a “red-state model.”  Much of the blame for this political mutation, according to NPR, can be traced to the flood of outside money pouring into the state’s elections.  This outside influence has reshaped the political discourse in the state from one of moderate differences to one of hyper-partisan extremes more similar to the rhetoric found in Washington.  At one point in the story, a political scientist from Washburn University in Topeka discusses how Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Boyda lost her re-election bid in 2008.  According to the professor, Congresswoman Boyda lost her seat because she was labeled a “tax and spend” acolyte of the Obama/Pelosi/Reid axis of Democratic evil.  Voters were told this was bad for Kansas and Mrs. Boyda lost to her Republican challenger.  This got me thinking about whether “tax and spend” policies really are bad for Kansas and the disconnect between political discourse and reality in our country.  Assuming that Mrs. Boyda was in fact a proponent of tax-and-spend, was this actually bad for Kansas?  My gut told me no, but I decided to look into it anyway.

According to the conservatives that sling the “tax and spend” slur, Democrats are a naive bunch who believe government can solve any problem.  As a result, they are always asking for more and more money so as to expand the reach of the government into areas where it doesn’t belong.  The solution, according to Republicans, is to dramatically scale back the scope of the federal government by slashing both taxes and spending.  Returning the federal government to a more minimal role in society and the economy will unleash the dynamism of the American people, or so we are told.

Regardless of whether this argument has any merit, I find it interesting that, on average, those who benefit most from federal spending are so adamantly opposed to more of it.  As you can see in the chart below, the majority of states (including Kansas) that receive more than $1 back in federal spending for every $1 in taxes they send to Washington tend to vote for Republicans.  On the other end, those states that receive less than $1 back for every $1 sent tend to vote Democratic.

Federal Spending by State

So, if voters vote with their pocketbooks, they’re doing it wrong!  Granted, it can be hard to trace one’s current economic situation to the level of federal spending in one’s state, but I still find it ironic that those who benefit most from federal spending are simultaneously trying to shrink the government.  If anything it’s the states that currently vote Democratic that should be sick and tired of the government sending all their money to other states. New York should be voting Republican!

I am not advocating for this outcome, however.  No country like the United States could exist peacefully without the transfer of wealth being inherently built into the governing system.  Having some states benefit more from federal spending is the price we as a country pay to remain united and prosperous.  It’s been this way from the beginning and is unlikely to change, nor should it.  In fact, the failure of Germany to embrace the principle of wealth transfer within the European Union is one of the main reasons why the EU remains a stalled, incoherent, mess of semi-integrated nation states.

Yet whereas in Europe the creditor nations are strictly opposed to subsidizing the debtor nations, in the United States the situation is the reverse.  It’s just one more example of how misrepresented and disconnected from reality our politics has become.  Up is down, left is right, bad is good, etc.  And, as the example of Kansas shows, this distortion has the perverse consequence of people voting against their own economic self-interest, which in turn, can warp the national political landscape.  While this phenomenon has received coverage in recent years (most notably in Thomas Franks famous 2004 book What’s the Matter with Kansas), the politics of federal spending has only become more radicalized and detached from reality.  This is a shame because I believe the antagonism that defines the current national conversation on spending could be largely avoided if the facts were more widely known, which is why I am dedicating a blog post to this issue.  As someone who generally believes in a robust role for the federal government, I am eager to see the phrase “tax and spend” lose its status as a pejorative.  It would be nice if someday soon, no one was wondering what’s wrong with Kansas politics.

Some more in-depth articles on this issue (with fancy graphics!): Slate, Mother Jones, Bloomberg, and the Washington Post.

Misplaced Priorities: Free Senior Citizen Tuition

I learned something interesting the other day: In Connecticut, residents over the age of 62 can attend any state university or college tuition-free and with minimal fees.  Normally this wouldn’t bother me.  I am a proponent of affordable higher education and having seniors in class exposes students to unique perspectives they might otherwise not encounter.  However, given the cuts in assistance to state schools over the past few years, and the resulting tuition hikes this has spurred, it strikes me as profoundly unfair and misguided to maintain free tuition for the elderly while our youth have seen their bills increase significantly.  (Note, this does not include room & board for students that decide to live on campus.)

CSU: Connecticut State University system  CCC: Connecticut Community Colleges
Change in In-State Tuition + Fees
CSU: Connecticut State University system
CCC: Connecticut Community Colleges

It’s unclear how many seniors take advantage of this waiver in Connecticut because schools here do not break down their public demographic data by age group beyond the under-25 and over-25 categories.  That said, while I concede it is likely there are relatively few seniors enrolled in state universities, the fact that this waiver continues to exist while young students are being hit with heavy fee increases year after year is a small example of a much larger, national problem: the failure to prioritize our young people.

Perhaps one day I will write a larger blog post about the discrepancy between public spending on the elderly and spending on those 18 and under.  But for now, let me just say that when times are tough like they are today, public benefits should flow to 1) those who they are primarily intended for and 2) those who need them most.  In terms of higher education, this means putting 100% of the available state support toward funding young students.  While those aged 62 and over can certainly benefit from a college education, and society as a whole can benefit from their increase in knowledge, the primary purpose of higher education is to invest in young people.  On the whole, society will benefit far more from educating a 18 year old than from educating a 65 year old.  To fully subsidize senior citizen tuition at state universities, while forcing young students to pay more and more each year, is a shining example of misplaced priorities.

The market for leadership

The recent news about Washington’s interest in advancing free trade, both in the Pacific with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and in the Atlantic with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), has led me to think about the market for leadership in global affairs.  With regard to free trade, it’s well known that the WTO-led global talks have floundered.  The Doha round of negotiations, which commenced in 2001, has faltered over disagreement about agricultural subsidies.  In the absence of a global deal, trade liberalization has been pursued on a bilateral and regional basis.  Today, almost 400 regional and bilateral preferential trade agreements are in place, with the average WTO member belonging to 13.  The failure of the Doha round has led many to question whether the WTO is still relevant as a trade-promoting institution (see this U of Chicago faculty debate on the issue) and likewise, whether the United States, as the architect of the WTO, is capable of guiding the governance of global economics anymore.  However, the recent push by the U.S. to forge massive, precedent-setting free trade deals in both Europe and Asia has convinced me the U.S. is serious about retaining it’s leadership in global economics.

The question is, what changed from the time when Doha began to falter in the mid-00s to the launching of the the TPP in 2010 and the proposal of the TTIP in 2013?  My hypothesis, in short, is that the world has experienced a shift in the supply of global leadership.  Econ 101 tells us that when demand for a good or service exists, someone will step up to supply the desired product.  However, if the supplier has a monopoly on the production of the desired good, it will produce less than the desired amount and charge a higher price.  Additionally, the producer has less incentive to innovate since it faces no competition.  Consequently, more of the economic surplus accrues to the producer, less to the consumer, and some becomes deadweight loss.  In a way, this is how I view the issue of leadership on global trade (and other issues) over the past few decades.

Generally speaking, big changes in global affairs (such as multilateral trade negotiations) are driven by the predominant power(s) at the time.  When the Doha round formally launched in 2001, the United States stood alone as what former French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine termed a “hyperpower.”  At this point in time, with the United States enjoying its unipolar moment, no other country possessed the economic or diplomatic weight to move multipolar trade talks along.  At the same time, U.S. demand for advancing multilateral trade, while genuine, was not as robust as it had been during the Cold War.  With the U.S. economy growing at a healthy rate and a lack of any immediate economic or political rivals, Washington could afford to disregard certain issues.

Today, the situation is different.  U.S. economic growth is anemic and no where near the level needed to return the country to pre-recession rates of employment.  Meanwhile, as the U.S. struggles, China continues to grow at a rapid pace.  From 2001, when Doha launched, to 2012 the Chinese economy increased by more than a factor of six, from approximately $1.3 trillion to $8.2 trillion.  Not surprisingly, as China’s economy has expanded so has its global influence.  Furthermore, the same story can be applied, albeit at a lesser scale, to several other countries (India, Brazil, etc).  The result is that today the U.S. faces a growing challenge to its position as the leader and rule-setter of the global economy.  Returning to the econ analogy, it means the U.S. no longer has a monopoly on global leadership.

Faced with this growing challenge, Washington has responded as any monopolistic supplier would: it has started to produce more of the desired good and in newly innovative ways.  If successful, the TTIP and TPP would be the first and second largest free trade areas in the world.  Moreover, because of their size, the standards they adopt will set a compelling precedent for standards in any future global multilateral trade deal.  Of course both the TTIP and TPP are in the early stages of development, so the fate of this recent trade liberalization push is still unknown.  Will the supply/demand explanation for global leadership continue to make sense in the years to come?  How will China and the other emerging powers respond?  Initial signs are that Beijing knows it is in a competition with Washington to set the global trade agenda.  I’m not sure what the future holds re: global leadership, but it will be interesting to watch and learn.