Several months ago I was asked to participate in a conference being hosted by the British think tank, Chatham House, to generate ideas for G20 leaders for the London Summit, which will take place on Thursday.  The mandate we were given was to write a very short (3,000 word) piece that made a tangible proposal about the area we were assigned to for incorporation in the summit agenda.  I was asked to write on IMF reform, one of the themes of the upcoming summit.

My proposal was that the UK government voluntarily give up its chair on the Executive Board of the IMF.  I argued that there were a number of reasons to do so, despite the obvious political difficulties.   This included using the G20 to focus on something they had a proven track record (IMF reform), focusing the summit on global governance reform, allowing the UK to shape the debate about representation of Europe in the IMF going forward, etc.

The idea proved not only to be provocative (which I expected), but also popular (which I did not).  It attracted a quite a bit of attention at the seminar itself, and in subsequent G20 discussions, and became the leading idea presented by Chatham House in their press release about the report.

As such, it was picked up quite broadly, and I have been fielding media requests to talk about the idea, and about the summit more generally, since Chatham House announced the release of the report on Friday.

While I am almost 100% sure that the UK will not offer to give up its single seat on the IMF board on Thursday (though I would love to be wrong about this), I still think that the idea has merit.  The G20 summit has been massively hyped, and there is very little agreement between even the US and Europe about what should be in the communique.   That is in part because the G20 is not the right context to be making promises about new regulatory frameworks or coordinated fiscal action – in part because of the diversity of the membership.  But it is definitely the right place to talk about righting global governance to take into account the increasing importance of developing countries – because of the diversity of the membership –  and to reduce / consolidate the over-representation of Western, and particularly European, players in institutions like the IMF.

Conveniently, addressing this global governance issue also goes some way to help solving the problem of how to find more funding for the IMF at this critical moment.   With a bit of flexibility from the UK about the future configuration of voice at the IMF, they may be able to secure the sort of massive increases in IMF reserves the US and Europe has been calling for, as China and other developing countries may be willing to put forward more funds.

And of course it prevents the summit from looking like a complete waste of time, which is not likely, but is possible, if tangible points of agreement cannot be reached.



March 26, 2009

“Deglobalisation: ugly word, scary concept and now painful reality.”  Thus began an article in yesterday’s Financial Times, the fourth time this week that I’ve seen the term “deglobalisation” crop up in the newspaper.   But what does deglobalisation mean?  And is it really happening?

If globalisation is, as LSE Professor David Held has defined it, “the expanding scale, growing magnitude, speeding up and deepening impact of transcontinental flows and patterns of social interaction,” what is deglobalisation?  Diminishing scale of cross-border social and economic interaction?  Slowing down of the growth of that interaction?  Shallow interactions?

The press to date seems to be using it to talk about dimishing scale of finance and trade flowing across borders.  The article I cited above was particularly concerned that the WTO has estimated that global trade will decline by 9% this year, the largest drop since World War II.  But as the article goes on to point out, this is because of decreased demand, not because of a significant surge in protectionist measures.   Does the reason for the slow down matter if the result is less global trade?  Is it still deglobalisation?

It seems to me that the answer is no.  If world leaders, citizens, NGOs, businesses and a variety of other actors remain committed to the idea of a more interconnected world, then a decline in demand of imports doesn’t imply deglobalisation.  In fact, neither does a slight up-tick in marginal measures of protectionism (like “Buy American” clauses or tariffs on the basis of environmental protection), if leaders continue to pursue trade liberalisation through the WTO and regional arrangements.  I haven’t seen any sign to date that post-crisis financial regulatory frameworks will significantly diminish the flow of capital across borders either. A slow down in capital flows at the moment would be linked to demand and risk perception, not regulation.

As researchers of anti-globalisation protestors have pointed out, people who started out against globalisation have become advocates of “alternative globalisations.”  It seems to me more likely that the current financial crisis will not turn globalisation advocates into deglobalisers, but perhaps create more people who subscribe to ideas of alterantive globalisation.  When faced with the prospect of closed borders and a deglobalising world, the slogans and ideas of once radical protestors begin to look more moderate.

Drive to save the world

March 16, 2009

On my five minute walk from the tube station back to my house today, I counted 5 Prius sedans either passing by or parked on Elgin Avenue: that’s a Prius a minute.  And while these seems to represent a massive increase in the number of Prius I’ve seen in London, they aren’t nearly as many as in for example, Palo Alto, California, where I noticed last year that the hybrid car was as ubiquitous as Starbucks take-away cups and iphones.

While London leads on many trends (music and strange fashions being two of them), we often lag the US on other trends.  Take for example movies.  Movies are always released a month or so later in the UK than in the US – much to the disappointment of visiting friends who see movie advertisements in the tube for things that they’ve already seen.  The Prius could be one of these products to lag.  But will the Prius ever be as popular in London as it is in Palo Alto?

Toyota announced in May last year that they had sold 1 million Prius models globally, but  Europe accounted for only 130,000 sales.   This is despite the fact that environmental consciousness is generally higher in Europe, and fuel efficiency standards are higher.  In fact in London, the Prius is a neat way to avoid paying the “congestion charge:” a fee of £8 daily charged to any passenger car entering central London.  The mayor included the Prius as exempt because of its hybrid engine and high fuel efficiency.  So why are Prius sales still much lower in Europe than in the US?

My walk from the tube to the house provided the answer.  In London, the Prius is BIG.  Compared to the average European car, the Prius is “super-sized”, a bit like a venti Starbucks latte in a land of Illy espresso cups.  In fact, a number of popular, small European cars get even higher fuel efficiency than the Prius: the new Fiat 500, the Smart for two, the super-cute Citroen C2, and several others.  And most of them have two additional bonus: they cost a lot less, and are easier to park in small European spaces.  Thus, Toyota might do better with it’s new hybrid mini-car, the iQ, which is the same length as the Smart, but seats 4.

Of course, Prius sales could expand regardless as it becomes a status symbol.  In my neighbourhood, driving a Prius is probably the equivalent of pushing your baby in a Bugaboo stroller (which really are ubiquitous).  In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s the same demographic driving both over-sized vehicle.  Tomorrow I’m going to be on the look-out for passing Pri-i with Bugaboo’s in the back, and venti Starbucks take-aways in the cup holder…

Blogger’s Block

March 13, 2009

Those of you who read this blog frequently won’t need to be told that I currently have a specialised form of writer’s block… blogger’s block.  Since my last post on 4 March, I haven’t had the inspiration  to post anything.  Today, contemplating this failure to feed my blog, I detected a trend.

This is my second blog.  My first blog was created to keep me sane during the long period I spent on bedrest during my pregnancy with N.  About half of the nine months I was pregnant, I was confined to bed, which nearly drove me mad.  On the suggestion of a close friend, I started a blog, and used it to discuss a mix of things about pregnancy, politics and later, parenting.  But at some point I got tired of it, and ran out of ideas.  Writing became a chore rather than something I initially enjoyed very much.

Interestingly, I started that blog in September 2007, and wrote the last substantial post on 14 March 2008.   I started this blog on September 11 2008, and hit a wall this week.  Almost the exact same period.  Perhaps there is a natural limit to the number of months one can blog without running into writer’s block?

Of course I haven’t decided to close the Interdependence Complex.  The material on this blog lends itself to greater longevity as the topic has expanded from my life to the global polity.   But if I post a little less frequently these days, feel free to browse the archives of Inbedded Autonomy (the name of which comes from the corruption of another political science term).   While IC is on a mini-break, IA makes for some good reading.

Blogology 101

March 4, 2009

Do academics make good bloggers?  I don’t stay up at night worrying about this, but as I run across an increasing  number of blogademics, I have started to wonder whether academics should be blogging at all, mostly because they sometimes write posts like this one or design graphics like the one above.  But they do have a) a lot of opinions, b) a lot of practice writing (though not always in a style suited to blogging) and c) access to a lot of good, and new, information and analysis.  

What I’ve discovered through a lot of browsing is that academic bloggers vary quite a bit – some are great and readable and some are Greek to the uninitiated… or just plain weird (as many academics tend to be).  Being a good social scientist, I’ve tried to capture the main axes of variation.  In the meantime, if you want to see a list of academics out there in the blogoshpere, here you go.

1) How famous is the academic in question?  The more famous the academic, the more serious the blog, and the more likely it is that most posts are links to things they’ve written elsewhere.  A good examples of this is Harvard Economics Professor Dani Rodrik’s blog, which is very serious indeed.   Though there are exceptions: a quick tour of Brad DeLong’s blog reveals that it is weird and kind of silly, and Willem Buiter’s blog Maverecon, although having been picked up by the Financial Times, maintains its own very particular style (see here for him refusing to apologise for this).   Those of us who are less famous, can write silly posts about eating breakfast and our nannies without fear of damaging our reputations (much anyway).

2) Are they an economist? The least penetrable blogs, or those with a particularly strong agenda, seem to be authored by one.  The Monkey Cage, a blog which I enjoy but you may not, is an exception to this rule: it is written by often impenetrable political scientists who like graphs (as do I, but the general reader might find them quite tedious).  Note that they recently explored other blogademics as well.  I like their newest post on the current state of IPE.  But again, if you’re wondering what IPE is, you might not want to read this post.

3) How old are they?  Closely related to one above, the older the academic in question, the more likely the blog is to be institutionalised, and therefore in my opinion, uninteresting.  If you can afford to have a graduate student write your posts, your blog is unlikely to be one I want to read.

So which are my favourite blogademics?  Like I said, I like the Monkey Cage, even though it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.  And I particularly like Chris Blattman’s blog, which I think is a nice mix of academic info and random things that interest me.  And am I allowed to publicise other LSE blogs?  Because a colleague has one I like…

Thanks to this academic blogger for the graph, which I actually think is very interesting…