Saturday, December 31, 2011

For the Itinerants

For the itinerants out there, we have the opposite problem of my favorite movie character, Jack. As we go from one year to the next, you'd do well to watch "The Family Man" and think about where you fall out with all of the forces pulling on your life. We've chosen to live as itinerants. But we're not doing it to live for P.K. Lassiter. Far from it. These are a few lines near the end of the movie. If you haven't seen it, you should. It may change your perspective. It isn't a complex movie, but I think I finally figured it out.

-Don’t take Annie out of a school she loves. Don’t move us out of a house we’ve become a family in...

Maybe I was being naive but I believed we’d grow old together in this house. That we’d spend holidays here, have grandchildren visit us here. I had this image of us all grey and wrinkly, me working in the garden, you repainting the deck...

Things change, right? People change...


If you need this, Jack, I mean really need this, I will take these children from a life they love, and take myself from the only home we’ve ever shared, and move wherever you need to go. I’ll do that because I love you...

I love you, Jack. And that’s more important to me than our address...

Kate smiles lovingly at Jack...she walks over to him, kisses him gently on the forehead.

-I choose us.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Leading Change and Managing Stasis

It has been a while since I posted my two missives on leadership and management in the military.  Overall, they were well received, but could use some refinement.  I'll lay out some caveats, then talk about what I've learned from a cursory dive into the literature, then discuss how this impacts my recent commentary about the institution, the budget battle, and Goldwater-Nichols.  I'll break this up into two posts, the first covering the background, the second talking about the application.

First, some caveats.  This message is targeted at the battalion-level and above, though some of its lessons could be used at lower levels.  Overall, I think we do a decent job of leadership at the small unit level and real management is not required for the most part in smaller formations.  Second, my background is from aviation, which brings significant requirements for management at the squadron/battalion level.  We have our own maintenance in the Marine Corps, a significant budget/flight hour program to manage, plus the detailed training and qualification of hundreds of aircrew, for a C-130 squadron.  This perspective is different than a ground-based battalion, however I still think that the unit sizes require management and leadership.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Kennan, Morality, and Leading by Example

In writing about the early formation of American foreign policy, historians Robert Tucker and David Hendrickson contrasted the dichotomy between the roles of crusader and exemplar. Early statesmen like Thomas Jefferson believed that America should stick to the exemplar role. They feared that if America became a crusader for her principles, she would sully herself in the effort and therefore lose the unique qualities she sought to impart on the rest of the world. Nonetheless, even these early statesmen of a country much less powerful in the world than we are today were unable to resist the crusading impulse. With the release of a new biography, much attention has been placed on modern statesman George Kennan. The author of containment, Kennan might be cited by those setting up new cold wars around our globe. They should read carefully, however, as Kennan had words of warning in the Long Telegram that would provide the basis for his “X” article in Foreign Affairs. “[W]e must have courage and self-confidence to cling to our own methods and conceptions of human society.” He saw America’s strength in its power of example and its self-confidence.

Kennan took up this issue again in a 1985 Foreign Affairs article entitled “Morality and Foreign Policy.” He urged America to concern herself with the “interests of the national society” it governed, particularly “military security, the integrity of its political life and the well-being of its people.” This, in and of itself, was such a daunting task in Kennan’s mind that the government would have little capacity for other issues. This was a warning. He specifically stated that, “Democracy, as Americans understand it, is not necessarily the future of all mankind, nor is it the duty of the U.S. government to assure that it becomes that.” He indicted the tendencies of special interests pursuing their moral objectives as a major cause of America’s crusading bent, and of our overextension, stating that it was a duty to limit the country’s commitments to those which it had a reasonable chance of actually and predictably influencing the international environment. He was skeptical, however, (as am I) that this capability for influence was nearly as broad as many thought it.

Nonetheless, the country’s crusading bent had produced military spending “badly out of relationship to the other needs of its economy,” representing no less than a “national addiction.” He condemned the “feeling that we must have the solution to everyone’s problems and a finger in every pie…”

Instead of moralizing crusades, Kennan suggested an inward focus and some humility. “A first step along the path of morality would be the frank recognition of the immense gap between what we dream of doing and what we really have to offer, and a resolve conceived in all humility, to take ourselves under control and to establish a better relationship between our undertakings and our real capabilities.”

While some may quibble, claiming that his approach is immoral because it seeks to be amoral, or that it is too hard-nosed and unsympathetic, or that we ignore moral issues at the peril of our military security, I think that his call for humility and realistic appraisals of our capabilities is spot on. His missive should be required reading for all budding cold and hot policy warriors.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Neller Responds

If you have followed my back and forth with LtGen Neller in the Marine Corps Gazette, you must read his article in this month's edition.  There is no blueprint for action, but he admits that the institutional leadership must listen to the "young turks," adapt where required, and explain their stance where they cannot adapt.  I don't think things will get better any time soon.  There are a whole host of toxic and incapable "leaders" that need to face the hatchet, or the firing squad, but won't.  And the politics and posturing only get more intense as the budget fights loom.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Security Cooperation: Understanding Our Partners

"Don't point this at me."
I work in the realm of security cooperation these days, which is much in vogue as we talk about drawing down our combat adventures.  In security cooperation, we seek to both prevent conflict by helping to build capable and responsible militaries, while also building partners' capacity to take up the fight with us or for us if needed.  This is all well and good if we maintain attainable expectations, but when we imagine that we can take our partners places they won't go, this leads to frustrations on both sides and vast misspent resources on our side.  Some of the background in the following post is taken from my forthcoming book, War, Welfare & Democracy: Rethinking America's Quest for the End of History, due out from Potomac Books in 2012.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The World According to Winnie the Pooh

I just watched the Winnie the Pooh movie with my wife and daughter.  Here's what I got out of it.  Unlearned people defer to leader figures who pretend to know more than they do, but really don't.  The leader figures, straining to understand things they cannot, tend to overblow evidence and create monsters, which reinforces their leadership role.  They blunder about in the woods for some time and in the end, end up doing more harm to themselves than anyone else does.  I think I need to take an extended vacation.

Monday, October 17, 2011

More on Leadership - You Have to Be a Leader Too

See my latest on the subject at this post.

While my post about leadership and management was generally well received and got record views, my rhetorical flourish put some people off while also supporting my thesis in a way.  Critics have characterized managers as meek block checkers and the sorts that ensure the TPS reports are duly filed and go on "making the ham sandwich" for higher headquarters, no matter how ridiculous the demand for the ham sandwich is.  Another comment was that managers manage things while leaders lead people.  These criticisms underline that we in the military know so little about management and are so put off by it due to bad management, that it is tantamount to being a dirty word.  Furthermore, I downplayed leadership in the post for several reasons.  One, military officers are steeped in rhetoric and education on leadership.  If you don't already "get it" to some degree by the time you're a mid-level company grade, you're probably a hopeless case.  Two, I'm an anonymous typist on here for most of you, so my focus on management may make me sound like a meek bean counter wannabe manager-as-leader.  I take leadership very seriously and I'm the last guy, in my mind anyway, to keep my head down and do the TPS reports.  In my billets, I did try to manage our metrics well and keep the blocks green, but I also stood up to stupidity to the limits of propriety (and sometimes maybe a little beyond).  Most importantly, I tried to make sure that we created the reality of the intent behind the green blocks and that this reality took priority over good numbers.  I think I'm a better leader than manager, and if I can't be equally good at both, I'd rather be better at leadership.  Third, in the blog post I focused on management and dissed leadership-as-a-parlor-trick to make a rhetorical point.  When you add all these together, I'm not saying that military officers should be managers first.  I'm saying that we collectively have a big leadership claw and a tiny little management claw.  What is more, we are not making an effort as an institution to develop the management claw.  The situation is so bad that management is seen pejoratively among many officers.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Lessons in Military Leadership: Learn to be a Manager

Update: I've answered some comments and added some thoughts in a new post here and hereA few years back, I was on a flight from Muscat, Oman to Spain. I was seated next to an Omani gentleman in his dishdasha and traditional Omani cap and gazed at the book I was reading, Joseph Nye's The Powers to Lead. In nearly perfect, British-accented English, he asked me about the book. I do not remember the details of the conversation, except that he dropped what I would later realize was a bombshell on me. He said something to the effect of, "Leadership is not that important.  Managing is what is really critical, and difficult." As a Marine officer, steeped in propaganda about leadership from the earliest days of my training and education (ductus exemplo being the motto of Officer Candidates School), I dismissed this as the mumblings of someone who didn't get it. I mean, clearly the guy was a pretty well to do businessman and he was going to Europe for business, but still, he didn't understand what leadership really meant. I've rethought my position since then.  Military officers as a class are atrocious at management.  This is the root cause of many of our most significant problems in the military today.  Caution:  This post is slightly rambling, but you're getting it for free on a Saturday.  Maybe a more focused and edited version may show up in the Marine Corps Gazette or other publication someday.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Whither the Public Weal?

During my whirlwind trip to DC this week, I was able to spend a few hours on the Mall, during
which I visited the fabulous National Gallery of Art. One of the most powerful displays in that impressive collection is
August Saint-Gaudens' tribute to Robert Gould Shaw. Shaw was the commander of the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, an all-black regiment immortalized in the movie Glory, in which Shaw was played by Matthew Broderick. The dramatization of Shaw's death in battle at the head of his African-American unit is an impressively moving piece of cinematography. The monument carved by Saint-Gaudens, though, is the greater artistic feat.

Two copies of his work exist, one outdoors in Boston and one in the National Gallery. I have yet to see the Boston monument, but the one in the National Gallery is breathtaking, dominating a room at one end of the gallery with its huge figures and flawless gold finish. Saint-Gaudens took inspiration from a painting by the French painter, Jean-Louis Meissonier, entitled Campagne de France 1814, showing Napoleon at the head of a mounted column in the snow, with infantry marching in the background. Saint-Gaudens, seeking to make his work as life-like as possible, used a host of African-Americans of varied ages as studies, with amazing effects in the finished work, the first one to depict African-Americans realistically in a monument.

For its main inscription, Saint-Gaudens chose the motto of the Society of the Cincinnati, OMNIA RELINQVIT SERVARE REMPVBLICAM - He forsook all to protect the public weal.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Black Hole of Real Thinking

Reading the Saturday Financial Times, I came across an article by Tyler Brule at the end of the Life & Arts section.  In reference to meeting with US corporations in New York, he bemoans the difficulty of deciphering "what marketeers have been attempting to say with their special language that borrows too much from a Pentagon strategy book rather than daily English."  This is not meant to complement the literary talents of the Pentagon.  Rather, it is an indictment of the shallow and jargon-filled collection of buzz words and platitudes that Pentagon strategy statements have become.  The combination of simplistic statements of strategic guidance and overly complex, specialized, and deterministic decision-making and planning models make for a muddle of policy that officers often place far more faith in than is warranted.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Labor Productivity and the Recession

What happened to labor productivity during the recession?  The data are thought provoking. I created these charts from the International Labor Comparisons data at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Productivity by Worker (USD at 2000 value)
Productivity by Hour (USD at 2000 value)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Beyond the Rentier State - The Distributive State in the Arab World

After living in the Gulf, I started working on a paper about the "distributive state":  that model the Gulf states use to parlay their rents into social and political stabilities.  That model is running into some problems today, but its guiding logic is salient in how Gulf rulers are attempting to deal with unrest there.  These are my thoughts from about 4 years ago.

In the past decade, Gulf city-states have burst onto the world stage, striving to become international centers of political, economic, and social activity.  The blossoming of the Gulf has encouraged real and rhetorical speculation that rapid economic development will result in prosperity, liberalism, and stability in a tumultuous region.  These bold hopes ignore a number of formidable obstacles laid plain by an examination of the unique case of state formation and the ruling paradigm in the Gulf.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Explaining American Foreign Policy

As I continue to work on my book, forthcoming from Potomac in 2012, I am trying to explain the suboptimal results of American foreign policy, in particular her foreign adventures after the Second World War.  This is a first draft of the preamble to the chapter that deals with the issue.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Invincibility, Omniscience, and Infallibility - The Foundations of American Foreign Policy

A chorus of defense punditry is rising in astonishment at how a CH-47 Chinook with dozens of Navy SEALs on board could have been shot down by the lowly Taliban (nicely summed up here at Time's Battleland blog).  The questions range from tactics, techniques, and procedures (how did they put themselves in a vulnerable position, where were the escorts, couldn't they have prevented the shootdown), to command decisions and resourcing (why so many in one bird, why not an MH-47 or H-60), to technological (why don't we have laser beams that can blind the shooters, was this some new improved enemy weapon).  Even Max Boot weighs in from the Wall Street Journal, arguing indirectly (only just indirectly) that the tragedy is a product of the Obama administration's decision to draw down the number of troops in Afghanistan, and suggesting between the lines that we can expect more of this as special operations forces are relied on more heavily.  This chorus exposes the bases of American foreign policy thought:  invincibility, omniscience, and infallibility.  Pundits, politicians, and even generals believe that we can achieve far more than good sense would suggest.  The disbelief at the CH-47 shootdown demonstrates that our foreign policy community is delusional.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Can the F-35B Turn Inside its Critics?

As Defense budget debate mounts, look for the Marine Corps' F-35B short-takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) to be the wounded duck taken out first.  A leader in The Economist, "Coming Up Short: The Future of the Joint Strike Fighter,"  recommends axing the STOVL variant:  "It has been the main cause of the technical and weight problems that have bedevilled the program.  Having been put on two-year 'probation' by Mr. Gates in January, this version should be put out of its misery."  This spells big trouble for the Marine Corps' vision for itself.  As I will discuss shortly, it need not be a tragedy for the Corps.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Sun Goes Down on Another Home

The boxes are packed and the truck comes tomorrow.  The sun goes down on our home in San Diego for the last time.  Tomorrow, all the things that made it our home will be gone in a truck and the place becomes just a house once again.  The regularity of moves in the military is a blessing and a penance in one as no good deal goes unpunished in this lash-up.

San Diego is particularly hard to leave.  The rolling, rocky hills, the moderate coastal weather, the foliage that alternates between the soft corduroy brown bleached under the summer sun and the lush green of the winter rains all remind me of the Mediterranean.  As the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish said, "Unfortunately, it was paradise."

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday - La Maestranza

Photos linked from

The golden evening light spilling over the top of the ring and scattering across the golden dirt of the ring.  The taunts, the crowd, the trumpets, the bells on the horses.  Then it is all over, and the tightness pent up in the ring bursts slow motion out of the opened doors.  The cars, life going on down the wide boulevard stir the air as you move out, drawn to gaze toward the river and down the tree-lined street.  You drink in the open air, turn left, then are sucked back down the narrow streets, toward the heart of the city.  You walk toward the promise of the night and the hope of the heartfelt flamenco of true gitans.  At the end of the lane, before you disappear from the sight of the open boulevard and the river and the cleanness that comes with it, you stop.  Cinco Jotas is in front of you, warm and inviting, but after seeing the machismo of the corrida, you turn to the right and enter the clean, spartan bar with the open doors and the zinc counter tops and order a caña .  The Cruzcampo so cold that it leaves a metallic hint of the tap.  The men in the bar nod, maybe one smiles, and they do what has been done for years beyond memory.  You look at the pictures covering the wall of the drama that has passed across the street.  Maybe one more as the cloak of night begins to fall.  You nod your goodnight to the bartender, step out, and stop on the busy corner.  You look left once more, past the ring, across the open boulevard, and to the river where the last red light of sunset is chased away by the arc lights.  Then you swiftly pivot right, moving with purpose down the narrow alleys into the night ahead.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Education and Employment - The Gulf Challenge

Saudi Labor Minister Ghazi Al-Ghosaibi serves burgers at a Jeddah Fuddruckers to encourage Saudi employment.

As the Gulf kingdoms face down increasing, but still low levels of discontent related to the “Arab Spring,” they are scrambling both to pay off their citizens and to find them decent jobs.  Higher education in the Gulf has been insufficient, as many nationals do not require college education for the public sector jobs they covet.  For those who do attend college, their job skills often do not match employers’ needs.  For example, although a great deal of technical projects are being started in the Gulf, the proportion of science and engineering graduates there lags behind even other Middle Eastern states.[1]  In Saudi Arabia, 82 percent of nationals in the private sector are high school graduates or less.  Forty-six percent have a middle school education or less.  Only 0.76 of the private sector work force (5,774 nationals) holds a masters degree or higher, despite the fact that 19,000 expatriates with such education are currently working in the Kingdom.[2]

Rulers across the Gulf have recently set about improving their educational systems.  Qatar, which had one of the weakest primary and secondary systems in the world, commissioned a RAND study and adopted the experts’ recommendations for overhauling the system in full.  Using the country’s prodigious wealth, the Emir has attracted six top American universities to the new Education City on the outskirts of Doha, moving faculty and staff from the U.S. to ensure the educational experience lives up to the branding.  The Emirates and Saudi Arabia have funded similar grand projects and all the Gulf states have turned toward improving their higher education in some form.[3]

Monday, July 4, 2011

Leo Africanus

When I lived abroad a few years back, a friend sent me Amin Maalouf's fantastic book "Leo Africanus."  I was looking up a citation in the book today for a quote I used in Chapter III of my forthcoming book and flipped to the book's concluding page.  The words there are the perfect closing of a story told by a father to a son.

"When men's minds seem narrow to you, tell yourself that the land of God is broad; broad His hands and broad His heart.  Never hesitate to go far away, beyond all seas, all frontiers, all countries, all beliefs.  For my part, I have reached the end of my wanderings.  Forty years of adventures have made my gait heavy and my breathing burdensome.  I have no longer any desire other than to live long peaceful days in the bosom of my family.  And to be, of all those that I love, the first to depart.  Towards the final Place where no man is a stranger before the face of the Creator."

We Mutually Pledge to Each Other Our Lives

"And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

I spent a good portion of 2010 in Afghanistan, where I commanded the Marine Corps' detachment of KC-130s.  During my time there, 284 US servicemembers were killed in action, and 110 of their coalition allies.  Ninety-nine US Marines were killed, along with 4 Navy corpsmen, all of whom my detachment flew from the forward operating bases to a main base for their final flight back to America.

We would receive the call, often midday when the fighting was worst, that an "Angel Run," or later in the year a "Hero Run," was coming up.  We knew another Marine had been killed in action.  Some of these Marines were shot or hit by shrapnel from mortars or RPGs in direct combat with the elusive enemy.  More often, their bodies were torn apart quite literally by improvised explosive devices, IEDs.  These hidden, faceless killers were all over Helmand Province, maiming Marines by the handful.  The amazing advances in our body armor and the speed and quality of our medical care meant that double, even triple amputations, wounds that would have surely been fatal in earlier wars, were survivable in some cases.  I go to the Naval Medical Center in San Diego sometimes and am struck by the number of young Marines moving about the place on crutches, in wheelchairs, and with prosthetic legs.  In other cases, the trauma was just too great and we would get the call.  Helicopters flew their mangled bodies from the field to a forward operating base where they would be prepared for movement and placed in metal transfer cases.  This often took hours, so we often picked them up after night fell.

After a day of shuttling cargo and passengers around Helmand Province, the crew would be told what time the Hero Ceremony would go.  We would land at the FOB and shut down.  Other traffic was kept away.  An eerie silence fell over the night, the only time in 24/7 operations that the place was quiet.  We sat in the dark at the back of our empty airplane, waiting.  The loadmasters prepared the cargo compartment and hung a flag, illuminated only by flashlights.  In the dark, we would hear first footsteps in the gravel as Marines began to show up, then the brakes of an MRAP or HMMMWV ambulance.  We took our places at the end of the aircraft, then silently two ranks formed, one on each side of the ramp, stretching out into the night toward the hearse.

Once in place, the formation was called to attention.  The chaplain said a prayer for the departed, then the transfer case was carried between the ranks and into the waiting aircraft.  Once the transfer case had been gingerly placed in the aircraft, the formation was dismissed and Marines were welcomed to pay their last respects.  As aircrew, we stayed in place as these Marines came up in twos to have a last moment with the deceased.  In some cases, these mourners were senior leadership from the unit.  Other nights, it was the Marine's friends that had come in at the end of the patrol or operation.  It was heart-rending to hear their labored breathing in the night.  On occasion, visibly wounded Marines would be there, I imagined they were at the point of injury, perhaps wounded by the same blast.  I can only imagine their thoughts.  Lives changed forever.

As I stood there, I thought about the body, most likely mangled and certainly still warm in the transfer case.  Life left that body under the burning Afghan sun while parents, children, spouses, and friends slept half a world away in America.  They woke that day like they would any other.  Potentially, as this lifeless body was being loaded into the KC-130, they were receiving the dreaded knock, the uniformed silhouettes outside the window, the denial, the reality of lives forever changed.

As the last mourners crunched through the gravel and into the darkness, we brought the aircraft back to life, starting the power unit, bringing the lights back on in the night, closing the ramp and door, and clambering into our seats for the flight home.  Under a new callsign, we departed into the night and flew to the main base in near silence.  Upon arrival to our parking, my detachment would be waiting to repeat the ceremony as the transfer case was carried into a mortuary affairs truck for further processing before the final flight on a massive Air Force aircraft back to the US.

The journey takes all through the National Military Mortuary at Dover AFB, Delaware, then on to hometowns and final resting spots.  Some end up in local cemeteries and others in the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery.  I have friends in both.  The local cemeteries seem somehow more natural.  Arlington is a grand but haunted place, especially Section 60.  This is the section where the new war dead are buried.  If you have visited Arlington as a tourist, you will have come through the main gate and seen the crowds boarding trams to the historic sites.  Once through the main building, take a left instead and walk on in quiet.  Few are headed this way.  You will pass a parking lot where funeral processions marshall, then a few empty fields, as I remember.  Section 60 is down a few blocks this way, at the edge of the cemetery.  The plot looks across the river to the capital, where the decisions that planted these young men were made.  The ground is still soft and torn where these bodies were interred.  Trinkets and mementos adorn the few trees in the plot, sit on the headstones, or next to them.  The birthdates on the headstones mostly postdate all the other wars to which monuments have been erected in the cemetery and the surrounding city.  The dates of death still echo in the memory.  Casting your eyes about at the harvest, especially if you know some of them, your soul aches.

One night after one of my hero flights landed, I stepped in to help carry the transfer case.  The handle was surprisingly narrow and unadorned.  It transmitted the weight sharply into the palm of my hand as we lifted it into the waiting truck.  This is the weight a Nation should feel when it chooses courses of foreign policy.  This is the weight of the pledge made in our Declaration of Independence.  This anonymous weight, however, cannot compare to the crushing burden shouldered by the family and friends of the young departed heros of our military adventures.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


The other day, I visited another grand old port:  Venizia.  This one was far grander than the one at Angra, although the opening of the New World and the route to India played no small part in marginalizing Venice as grand master of Mediterranean trade.  The grandeur of Venizia is breathtaking, especially as one emerges from the warrens of the narrow city alleys into the broad spaces of the Piazza San Marco, with the palace of the Doge, the grand tower, and the splendidly tiled Basilica.  Walking through this square and to the water's edge, one may focus on the gondolas or the massive Church of San Giorgio Maggiore across the protected waters.  The real focal point, however, should be the Dogana da Mar, to the right as one faces the Adriatic.

The Dogana da Mar was home to the customs house of the Venetian Empire, which drew much Mediterranean trade through its port, taking a tax for its protection.  As I stood looking at the amazing scene, I thought about how this power center predated the one I saw a few weeks ago at Angra (that of course an outpost of the real center in Portugal).  I also thought about the commonality of the great buildings surrounding me with the great buildings of other civilizations I have visited.  Each was built by a political power center that created an environment amenable to and relatively safe for the flourishing of commerce.  In turn, that power was able to draw significant revenues from this commerce in some form of taxation.  Until recent times, those revenues were turned into greater power capabilities, along with the  visible trappings of power that created a sort of cultural hegemony that perpetuated peoples' acquiescence to that status quo... until eventually the pyramids (literally or figuratively) became unsustainable, or a new power center and new patterns displaced old, and the grand buildings faded into history.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Perils of a Two-Speed Union

I always learn a lot from cab drivers, if only by hearing perspectives first-hand.  My latest lesson came from a cab driver in northern Italy.  This older gentleman had been a project engineer for a very prestigious German corporation, but when it moved he chose to eschew the big city life and stay home, taking over his father's cab.  Such a choice would be virtually unthinkable in the U.S.  This gentleman was no stereotypical welfare state European as imagined by American minds, though.  A question about local cuisine prompted a lengthy and welcome lesson on Italian history.

"Italy is imaginary," the cab driver told us.  He explained the familiar story of the geographic lines that historically divided the peoples of Italy into separate entities, often organized as city-states, each of which had its own dialect, or even its own language.  A town 15 kilometers away from his, he asserted, really had its own language that he could not understand.  I do not know enough about Italy to know if these dialects are still widely known, but I do know that this was the case in many of the countries of Europe until the not-too-distant past.  The Discovery of France, by Graham Robb, is a wonderful story of the localism of France, for example.  So, the cab driver continued, it was only during football matches or questions of national insults that he declared himself Italian, thumping his chest with the word.  Otherwise, identity was much more local.  This is no surprise.

But add to this a political and economic dimension and perhaps the local particularities are growing.  The north-south split in Italy has long been recognized.  Robert Putnam, for example, wrote about it in Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy, for example.  Our driver continued, explaining about the hard working nature of the north and the industry there, yet, "Our taxes are the highest in all of Europe.  They all go to Rome, and foof," blowing in his hand he mimicked their disappearance.  Politics, he suggested, had failed in their accountability to people like him, the voters.  Instead, the various local and regional iterations of the mafia, along with the Vatican, held veto power over the political realm and kept it in a dysfunctional stasis.

This is only one perspective, but it is representative of a larger sentiment that resents the redistribution of progressive tax policies.  This engenders support for what The Economist calls "secession of the successful."  This thought is applicable from the level of local municipal policies, where the rich (from California to Brazil and elsewhere) choose to provide their own services through private contract, whether in the form of schools or gated communities with security, to countries (e.g. the feelings of this northern Italian), to international unions like the E.U. where Germans bemoan the redistribution of their structural funds to profligate southern European states.  Where unions are perpetually two speed, I do not see how this centrifugal force can be counteracted.  Even so, respected academics addressing, for example, the imperative for the EU to accept the immigrants coming from the North African disaster, insist that Europe will have to figure out how to make the best of the situation and accept these unskilled refugees, while completely ignoring the existing centrifugal forces that reside within the union.  The confluence of these issues with upcoming domestic elections in Europe may prove explosive.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Changing Distribution of Per Capita GDP Over Time

Another way of looking at the data I'm working with on GDP per capita at PPP.  The below graphic shows the distribution of GDP per capita in 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010, and forecasts for 2015.  Using per capita figures takes out the disparity in population size, showing a truer measure of prosperity.  I broke the distribution of incomes down into blocks of 5000.  That is, the plot for 5000 represents all countries with a per capita figure of 5000 or less.  In the chart, you can see that the world is growing more prosperous:  Fewer countries reside at the lower end and are spreading out across the distribution.  There is also a "lump" breaking away from the pack in the middle income category between 1980 and 2000.  Between 2000 and 2015, that middle income lump is splitting into two.  What is harder to see on this plot (I'll work on it) is that there are a few mega-rich states (the leader being the oil and gas sheikdom of Qatar) running far away from the pack.  The line trailing out is at zero, but the few bumps on their way to 115,000 are individual countries breaking far ahead of the pack.

In the second figure, each country's per capita GDP is plotted in sequence.  Here, the jumps in the line show discontinuities between groups of countries with the growing peak at far right showing those few mega-rich states.

The data show that the world is clearly growing richer, but also that it is doing so at several speeds.  This should be no surprise.  It does, however, heighten inequality between countries.  Instead of being mostly poor and remaining that way, countries are growing richer, but at different rates.  While this is a good outcome, for some (cynics, realists, and opportunists) it is a second-best outcome after growing rich right now quicker than everyone else.  Also, while individuals may be content as they grow richer, inequality in progress alters regional and global power structures, which may have some disconcerting effects for zealots that will be manipulated by populists or opportunists.  Inequality may drive discontent and may drive conflict, even in a world that is getting richer across the board.

All data is from the IMF's World Economic Outlook dataset.

Distribution of Per Capita GDP at PPP in 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010, and 2015
Per Capita GDP at PPP Plotted Sequentially

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Visualizing Inequality

Stemming from a comment on my last post, I've put together some preliminary data on inequality.  The first two figures concern interstate inequality.  The charts are based on the IMF's World Economic Outlook dataset.  I've charted four different measures of data variation:  standard deviation, variance, skew, and range.  I have divided some of the parameters by factors of ten so that all can be charted on the same axis.  The intent is to show the trend in the data.  All measures of inequality are on the increase except for skew, which is relatively static, but positive.  This means that the tail of the distribution is on the right.  That is there is a larger group of low-income countries and a smaller group of higher income countries.  The first figure shows the measures for GDP at purchasing power parity (PPP) for all 185 states in the dataset.  The second figure shows the measures for per capita GDP at PPP.  The statistics are not very fancy.  If anyone has any comments for better measures, I'm all ears.

Causality is a different question, but I would argue that, for many reasons, countries benefit from global competition and trade differently, leading to increases in interstate variation.  Within some countries, economic development lowers inequality, while in others it sharply increases it.
Measures of variation of GDP at PPP
Measures of variation of per capita GDP at PPP

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Thoughts on Globalization from the Azores

Patio de Alfandega - Linked from Wikipedia in Portuguese

Accidents of geography, the Azores Islands are the verdant peaks of nine towering mountains in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  Situated at the confluence of the African, North American, and Eurasian tectonic plates, the islands are a product of the volcanoes that spurted from these seams.  Centuries ago, these scars on the seam of the earth helped link the continents together commercially under the leadership of the Portuguese Empire.  The museum at Angra do Heroismo on Terceira Island boasts that Portugal led the way to globalization.  While this is a stretch, it is certainly true that Portugal presided over the widest trade network to the time, and the Azores were a critical pivot.
The islands hosted major trading and resupply ports for the routes linking Europe, Africa, North and South America, and even India.  The explorer Vasco da Gama stopped in Angra on the return trip from his expedition to India.  His brother, Paulo, who had grown sick on the journey, died in Angra and is buried in a church there.  Standing at the Pátio da Alfândega (Customs Courtyard), which overlooks the port and is flanked by an imposing cathedral (the Igreja da Misericórdia) and the old customs house, one can imagine the bustling activity as caravels came and went to exotic destinations, as well as the mainland ports of Europe, bringing all manner of wares.  The port and the city are sleepy, now, as global trade has moved on.  Even the airbase there, once a necessary stopping point for military and commercial aircraft alike, is used much less.  Technology and new trends in trade are the hallmark of the new wave of globalization.  While they make many new champions, some nodes become obsolete and decay.  More than just the Azores, the North Atlantic as a whole is becoming passé in some minds as trade thickens between the global south.  Far from being a great equalizer, globalization lays some old heroes low while exalting others.  Some, too, remain untouched by this wave, as they have been by past waves.  It seems that, if anything, globalization and rapid development heighten inequality within and across borders.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Saudi Oil Sinkhole

Friday's Financial Times reported on Saudi Arabia's booming oil consumption, which threatens to eat ever larger portions of its vast production.  Saudi currently uses 3.2 million barrels of oil per day, making it the eighth largest petroleum consumer in the world.  The chart above uses 2009 data, which is the latest dataset available from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, at which time Saudi's consumption was only 2.4 million barrels per day.  The 30 percent increase over the past two years is not reflected in the chart.  If reforms are not enacted, Saudi consumption is projected to grow to 8 million barrels per day in 2028, against a current production that bounces around 9 million barrels per day.  By comparison, the U.S. consumes 18.8 million barrels daily.  When you consider the population of each country, the U.S. uses only half of what the Saudis do per capita; despite being a far more advanced economy with greater industrial and transportation needs.  In the 2009 dataset, Qatar, UAE, and Kuwait outstripped Saudi consumption per capita, but it seems that Saudi has since caught up to all but Kuwait.  All but Oman and Bahrain use far more than the U.S.  A significant culprit in this is the subsidies that Gulf states pour into energy for domestic consumption, encouraging wasteful practices (like having an indoor ski slope in one of the world's hottest and driest places).  Yet, the Gulf monarchs are probably not eager to remove these props at a time when they are especially sensitive to stirring up any more public dissent.  The problem with the current Gulf model of development is that it is predicated on heavy industries, opulent developments with lush grass in the middle of the desert, massive buildings, and so forth, all of which require petroleum to fuel and run on utilities that are heavily subsidized. Once these supports are removed, the model will change entirely, making it far more difficult to sustain a model that has already been over-speculated.

What is more, these sectors are staffed largely by expatriate specialists (from the West and some high-skilled professionals from the developing world) and laborers (mostly from south Asia).  The heavy industry and real estate projects are an attempt to balance the oil sector with new rent opportunities.  Unfortunately, the projects are not creating sufficient job opportunities for local nationals with respect to their skill level and desired mode of employment.  That is, the local educational systems are not putting out enough skilled professionals to displace those upper level expats, while the locals do not want to do the labor that will displace the low-skilled expats.  The transformation required is significant and will take some time to enact.  Really, it will be a generational change and likely will be significantly destabilizing until a new mode of socio-economic and political organization is found in the Gulf.

The data comes from the U.S. Energy Information Administration for consumption data and World Bank and U.S. Census Bureau for population statistics.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

More Charts - GDP Shares 1990-2016

Here are some more charts to ponder.  These ones are drawn from IMF data, showing various countries/groups percentage of global GDP, first at current dollars, then at purchasing power parity (PPP) from 1990 to 2016 (IMF forecasts after 2010).

The charts show the declining share of world GDP of the advanced economies (83% 1990, 63% today, 58% projected 2016), the Euro area (25, 19, 16), and the U.S. (27, 23, 20).  In contrast the BRICs (5, 18, 22), emerging Asia (5, 15, 19), and particularly China (1.8, 9.5, 12.4) are on the rise.  You'll note that China's numbers certainly don't come close to America's, but the gap has been closed very quickly.  Also, India, one of the BRICs, still lags in the single digit percentages even into mid-decade.

At PPP, the numbers read a little differently, largely owing to the distortions in currency valuations, particularly the Chinese renminbi.  This has the U.S. with a smaller share (24, 19, 17) and China with a significantly larger percentage (3.9, 13.6, 17.99).  The Euro area, too, has a smaller percentage (21, 14.5, 12.4), while the advanced economies as a whole (69.2, 52.3, 46.5) dip below the 50 percentile range by the end of the forecast period.  These are significant statistics that point to the relative decline of both the U.S. and particularly her allies in the face of emerging world powers.  Throughout the period, U.S. GDP has risen significantly on both measures, so the U.S. is not in absolute decline.  Its absolute economic power continues to grow, but the emerging world is closing the gap.

Current dollars


Friday, May 6, 2011

Labor Participation Rates - Updated

Look at these trends for civilian labor participation rates from the Bureau for Labor Statistics.  Time period covered is 1948 to 1Q 2011.



Total Population

If the images don't come through, here's a quick description.

Labor force participation rate for both sexes peaked at 67.1 percent in 1997-2000, declining thereafter to a low of 64.7 percent in 2010, bringing participation down to a level last seen in 1985.  When you look only at males, removing the effect of more females joining the workforce over time, the trend is shocking.  Labor force participation has been on a steady decline since 1948, when it stood at 86 percent, to today’s rate of 70.4 percent (1st quarter 2011).  Women’s participation climbed steadily through most of the period from around 33 percent in 1948 to a peak of 60 percent in 1999 and 2000.  Their participation, too, has trailed off slightly since then to 58.3 percent in the first quarter of 2011.

Participation began to drop in 2Q 2001, before the recession and before 9/11.  So what explains this inflection point?  9/11 did not sharpen the drop.  The overall rate remained in the 66 percent range until 4Q 2008 (with one previous dip to 65.9), when it began a steady decline to the current 64 percent.  So the recession sharpened the drop, but did not start the decline.  I need to do more research to come up with plausible explanations, which I'm sure have already been offered.

Here's a chart of compensation per hour increases from Greg Mankiw's blog (see right side menu for a link).  This shows a sharp drop in the rise in compensation per hour starting at around 2000, roughly coinciding with the beginning of the decrease in labor force participation.  What caused the drop-off of wage increases?  Is it related to the change in participation?  Previous inflection points in this chart came when labor force participation was still increasing or steady.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Time of Violence

A major theme of my new book is inequality.  No socialist am I, however I believe that inequality is a driver of instability and conflict.

E.H. Carr, who is strangely characterized as both the author of the textbook of realism, The Twenty Years' Crisis, and a leftist, spoke to this in his work.  He wrote, "The inequality which threatened a world upheaval was not inequality between individuals, nor inequality between classes, but inequality between nations."  On the last page, he concluded, "The more we subsidize unproductive industries for political reasons, the more the provision of a rational employment supplants maximum profit as an aim of economic policy, the more we recognize the need of sacrificing economic advantage for social ends, the less difficult will it seem to realize that these social ends cannot be limited by a national frontier..."  Yet, the national welfare state, or the lip service paid to it, does delimit these social ends at a national frontier.  Thus, we have extremely sharp gradients of inequality across borders, leading to a great degree of insecurity and instability.  Here, I am not arguing for global communism, but only making an observation.

At the same time, inequality is growing within nations at a significant rate.  These trends, combined, yield a growing feeling of insecurity, political polarization, and violence.  This was noted by Hector Abad Gomez, a Colombian doctor and human rights activist, in the last article he penned before militants assassinated him in 1987.   “We are living in a time of violence.  A violence born of the feeling of inequality.  We could do away with violence if the world’s riches, including science, technology and morality – those great human creations – were distributed more evenly across the Earth.  This is the singular challenge facing all of humanity today.”[1]

Consider the following, summarized from a recent OECD paper.

From the mid-1980s to the late 2000s, while income grew in OECD countries by an average of 1.7 percent per year, countries’ top earners’ incomes grew faster than those at the bottom of the economic ladder, leading to growing inequality.  On average in OECD countries, the top 10 percent of the population earns 9 times that of the bottom tenth.  Israel, Turkey, and the U.S. have a 14 to 1 ratio, while in Chile and Mexico, the inequality is 27 to 1.  This inequality can be measured by a statistic called the Gini coefficient, where a zero means perfect equality and 1 means that one individual earns all the nation’s income.  This coefficient increased in 17 of 22 OECD countries during the period in question.  Interestingly, some of the more equal countries, such as Finland, Sweden, and Germany, recorded the largest jumps in inequality, meaning that the level of inequality is converging between the 0.25 and 0.35 levels.[2]

[2] “Growing Income Inequality in OECD Countries:  What Drives It and How Can Policy Tackle It?” OECD Forum on Tackling Inequality, (Paris, May 2, 2011),, (accessed May 4, 2011), 5-6.

[1] Hector Abad Gomez, “De Donde Proviene La Violenca,” El Mundo, (Medellin, Colombia: August 26, 1987).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

KC-130J Harvest HAWK

Video from the DoD of the Marine Corps' new weapons mission kit on the KC-130J, called Harvest HAWK.  No engagement footage in this video, but the kit has gotten a lot of business over the past several months.  This story talks about the plane going "winchester" (expending all its ordnance) on a recent mission.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

New Gazette Article

My latest article came out today in the Marine Corps Gazette and can be found here.

The first paragraph is below, the rest can be found at the link, along with a list of references.

A decade of war has focused Marines’ minds on insurgency, culture, and the permutations of modern irregular warfare, but the Nation’s greatest strategic threats lurk between the lines of economic stories from the developing world and just beyond the future years defense program. The debate over the future of the Marine Corps is shaped largely by our recent history and attractive concepts, such as fourth-generation warfare.1 While tactics and technology are important, they must be predicated upon a strategic understanding of the world and states’ policy goals within it in order to be successful. The dominant feature of today’s strategic environment is socioeconomic transformation in the developing world and concomitant change in the world’s power structure.2 This transformation will prevail over most of this century, affecting patterns of warfare in all intensities. America, still the clearly predominant power, is seeing its relative advantage over other states decline. The Marine Corps, in concert with the Navy, must orient itself on the rising poles of economic and military power in the Indo-Pacific theater, with the primary tasks of securing this economic center’s vital littoral and maritime lines of communications and acting as a credible and sustainable deterrent force against hostile actions by regional powers, particularly China.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Survival Article

The Jan-Feb edition of Survival, the journal of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, included my article entitled "The Socio-Economics of Geopolitical Change." I am working on a second book project on this topic, which the essay is drawn from. The book, of course, will be much more comprehensive, but the thrust is the same. The abstract is below:

The hope engendered by the end of the Cold War's great power struggle was quickly dashed by a progression of seemingly disjointed setbacks in the form of economic crises, regional wars based on nationalism and ethnicity, and global crime and terrorism. These varied challenges stem from the transformation of the post-war global political economy of bounded capitalism, in which domestic social welfare policies mitigated the rapid spread of an international liberal economic order. This status quo, created by the United States and ts partners, is in flux as epochal demographic and economic changes remake the international system. Social welfare plays a central role in this transformation, as developed states struggle to pay for their systems and governments' incapacity stokes citizens' discontent in developing states. Any attempt to deal with coming challenges must address the deeper social and economic transformations at work, rather than focusing piecemeal on their symptoms.