Tag Archives: International relations

When Will the United States Next Have a Transformational President on Domestic Policy?

I was catching up on some of the journal articles I’ve accumulated to read over the last year and I one caught my eye: “Transformational and transactional presidents,” by Joseph Nye, Jr. In the article, Nye makes the case that presidents didn’t matter (as much) to the US developing into a great power as we may have previously thought. Furthermore, Nye makes the case that our definitions of the two types of leadership aren’t clear and that the preference for transformational leaders is misplaced.

One of the parts that I enjoyed about this brief article was how Nye identified that presidents can be transformational and transactional at the same time. How? Because there are many different facets to a presidency and so while a president may be transformational in domestic policy, they might not be in foreign policy. Similarly, they can not be transformational in foreign policy early on in their term, but become transformational in response to external events.

Upon finishing the article, I was left wondering if (when?) the United States will again have a transformational president, with regard to domestic policy. Nye didn’t make this case in the article (but maybe he did in his book?), but based on his definition of transformational leaders, with regard to objectives [seeking major change], President Obama was certainly a transformational president. Obamacare is a sweeping change to the way that the US administers healthcare to its people. At the time, President Obama also enjoyed majorities in both the Senate and the House, so this kind of change was more possible (especially more possible than it is now. Can you imagine Pres. Obama trying to pass anything close to Obamacare with the GOP-controlled House and Senate?)

Given Hillary Clinton’s speech this past weekend, I’m inclined to think that she has ideas about domestic policy that would make her a transformational president. However, based on what’s been written about the likelihood of the GOP to continue to hold the majority in the House (redistricting, etc.), it doesn’t seem like there’s likely to be a Democratic-controlled House for the next few election cycles. It’s possible that the Senate flips back to the Democrats in 2016, but they’d need the House to also make a “big change.” So, it seems that, if there’s going to be a transformational president (on domestic policy), it’d have to come from the GOP.

I haven’t been following too closely the candidates from the GOP side, especially with regard to their domestic policy ideas, but is there a transformational president amongst them? There could be, but I suppose we’ll have to wait and see. If neither party is able to sweep the polls in 2016, we might be waiting for a transformational president on domestic policy in the US until at least the next decade.

ResearchBlogging.orgNye, J. (2013). Transformational and transactional presidents Leadership, 10 (1), 118-124 DOI: 10.1177/1742715013512049

The Pentagon Spends More on War Than All 50 States Combined Spend on Health, Education, Welfare, and Safety

I realize that the US is a big country and it has a lot of land that it needs to defend, but that seems like an unbelievable figure, doesn’t it? More on war than all 50 states spend on health, education, welfare, and safety — combined!

That’s just one of the many alarming statistics that I found in this post from Business Insider from 3 years ago. As it’s 3 years old, I don’t know if the the title of this post remains true, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s far off. I first went digging on this issue because one of the things I’ve been meaning to write about is how much the US spends on defense.

 

As the above graphic shows, the US spends a lot on its military and not just a lot in terms of the amount of money it spends, bit it spends so much more than the country that spends the second most, China. In fact, the US spends more on its military than the next ten countries — combined!

Do you think that the US spends too much on defense spending? If I were answering honestly, I’d have to say probably. According to a Gallup poll from February of this year, a plurality of American seem to agree. And it’s not just average Americans who think the US spends too much on defense, but scholars of international relations.

That’s almost 75% of scholars of international relations who believe that the US spends too much on defense. The post where it comes from even parsed out some of the different types of international relations scholars. For instance, over half of “realists” believe that the US spends too much on defense and “realists” view international relations through the lens that the primary aim of a country (but they would call them states) is survival.

There are probably a whole host of reasons why the US defense budget has inflated to the size that it is. There was one answer I found on Reddit that seemed particularly enlightening:

Because the US military doesn’t just exist to defend the invasion of the physical United States.

As the country with the biggest economy in the world, the US has a vested interest in maintaining a global environment that favorable to its interests.

This means having the power to impose its will (for better or worse) on other countries that act against the US’s interests. To do this the US has to spend an incredible amount of money on research and development to make sure that it has the best military technology while also projecting force abroad to make sure its interests are maintained.

Nonetheless, in a parallel universe, it would be interesting to see how the citizens of the US would survive/thrive in a world where defense budget for the the US is cut in half and that money is redirected to other important areas like health and education.

Canada Needs to Diversify its Export Strategy

During my last semester as an MBA student, I decided to take a class in International Relations theory. It was certainly a challenging class, especially considering I’d never had a course in political science. There was a steep learning curve in the beginning, but I learn very quickly, so I was able to stay right on track with the material. The last paper I wrote for that course had to do with Canada and NAFTA. I don’t think it’s a good idea to share the whole paper (22+ pages), but I thought I’d include pieces of the conclusion. Any hyperlinks below were added via WordPress’s “recommended links” and weren’t part of the original conclusion. Enjoy!

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At the outset, this paper attempted to shed some light on Canada’s relationship to NAFTA. After the literature review and subsequent analysis, there certainly seems to evidence that Canada made the choice that benefitted the country the most [economically] when it signed onto NAFTA. As the [academic] literature has shown, there will continue to be calls for the three North American countries to further integrate. This certainly may help all of the countries of NAFTA, but it is hard to say that with Mexico still far behind the US and Canada, economically. In time, one would expect that Mexico could become a global economic force, but for now, there is still much work to be done. As it stands now, Canada’s main purpose for being part of NAFTA seems to be because the US is involved. As a result, one would expect that Canada would continue to be part of NAFTA and continue to strengthen its relationship with the US. If NAFTA were just an agreement between Mexico and Canada, there probably would not be a NAFTA.

After analyzing the data, one of the most important takeaways is that Canada needs to continue to diversify its exports strategy. The vast majority of Canadian exports are to the US. In the beginning, this was probably out of convenience. The US market is much larger than Canada’s and it is right there. However, as events like the global financial crisis foreshadow the possibility of similar and bigger events, it is important for countries like Canada to ensure that they are not too invested in the success of one nation. If for instance something were to happen to the US such that it pulls them [the US] down into a recession like Japan saw in the 1990s, Canada would undoubtedly be affected. Although, some may argue that if this were to happen, the whole world would probably be pulled into a recession. However, as Canada demonstrated by its resilience during the financial crisis, it is possible to mitigate the effects of a catastrophic event. This is exactly why Canada needs to continue to seek out free trade agreements with other countries. The more free trade agreements that Canada can enter into, the more insulated it will be against a possible economic collapse in the US.

Get a Second Opinion Before You Succumb to the Planning Fallacy: List of Biases in Judgment and Decision-Making, Part 4

I know that I said that I was going to be talking about a new bias in judgment and decision-making every Monday and I know that today is Tuesday. To be honest — I underestimated how long it would take me to prepare for my seminar in International Relations. Aside: if you want to challenge yourself, take a course in a subject which you know very little about and be amazed at how much you feel like you’ve been dropped into the ocean and told to swim! It can be a little unnerving at first, but if you’re into exploring and open to new experiences, it can be quite satisfying. Anyway, so today yesterday I’d planned to talk about the framing effect, but since I so conveniently demonstrated the planning fallacy, I thought I’d talk about it.

The consequence of this post being written/published today is directly related to my falling into the trap of the planning fallacy. I planned for the preparation for my International Relations class to take a certain amount of time. When that time lasted longer than I had anticipated, I had no time left to write about a bias in judgment and decision-making. The planning fallacy is our tendency to underestimate how long we’ll need to complete a task — especially when we’ve had experiences where we’ve underestimated similar tasks.

This is something that even the best of us fall prey to. In fact, one of the biggest names in cognitive biases Daniel Kahneman (Nobel Prize in economics, but a PhD in psychology!) has said that even he still has a hard time with the planning fallacy. Of course, this doesn’t make it permissible for us not to try to prevent the effects of the planning fallacy.

Before we get into ways for avoiding the planning fallacy, I want to share an excerpt from an oft-cited study when discussing the planning fallacy [emphasis added]:

Participants were provided with a series of specific confidence levels and were asked to indicate the completion time corresponding to each confidence level. In this manner, the participants indicated times by which they were 50% certain they would finish their projects (and 50% certain they would not), 75% certain they would finish, and 99% certain they would finish. When we examined the proportion of subjects who finished by each of these forecasted times, we found evidence of overconfidence. Consider the academic projects: only 12.8% of the subjects finished their academic projects by the time they reported as their 50% probability level, only 19.2% finished by the time of their 75% probability level, and only 44.7% finished by the time of their 99% probability level. The results for the 99% probability level are especially striking: even when they make a highly conservative forecast, a prediction that they feel virtually certain that they will fulfill, people’s confidence far exceeds their accomplishments.

There were a lot of numbers/percentages offered in the excerpt, so I’ve also included a visual representation of the data in a graph below. This graph comes from a book chapter by a couple of the same authors, but it is about the data in the preceding excerpt.

 

 

 

 

 

Ways for Avoiding the Planning Fallacy

With the first three biases I talked about, awareness was a key step in overcoming the bias. While you could make that argument for the planning fallacy, one of the hallmarks of [the fallacy] is that people know they’ve erred in the past and still make the mistake of underestimating. So, we’ll need to move beyond awareness to help us defend against this bias.

1) Data is your friend

No, I don’t mean Data from Star Trek (though Data would probably be quite helpful in planning), but now that I think about it, Data (the character) might be a good way to position this ‘way for avoiding the planning fallacy.’ For those of you not familiar, Data is a human-like android. In thinking about this way for avoiding the planning fallacy, think about how Data might estimate the length of time it would take to complete a project. It would be very precise and data-driven. Data would likely look at past projects and how long it took for those to be finished to decide the length of time needed for this new project. To put it more broadly, if you have statistics on past projects (that were similar) absolutely use them in estimating the completion time of the new project.

2) Get a second opinion

When we think about the project completion time of one project in relation to another project, we often think about the nuances that make this project different from that project — and by extension — why this project won’t take as long as that project. Planning fallacy. If you can, ask someone who has experience in project completion in the area for which you’re estimating. When you ask this person, be sure not to tell them all the “various ways why this project is different,” because it probably isn’t and it’s only going to cloud the predictive ability of the person you’re asking. You’re probably going to hear an estimate that’s larger than you thought, but I bet you that it’s probably a lot closer to the real project completion time than the estimate you made based on thinking about the ways that this project was going to be different than all the other projects like it.

If you liked this post, you might like the first three posts in this series:

Quick Thoughts on “The Continuous Reinventing of the Machinery of Government”

I’m into the last semester of an MBA. For my last two electives, I chose courses that could serve me if I chose to be public servant or if I chose to get into the foreign service (I realize those aren’t mutually exclusive areas). My two electives are International Relations and Administration in Public and Nonprofit Organizations. The IR class is certainly challenging as I never had a political science class during my time as an undergraduate. The Public Admin. class has been really fun so far — I’m learning a lot about how the government functions (and doesn’t). I just finished reading one of the chapters for class tomorrow and I wanted to share a few excerpts and some thoughts. All excerpts come from Shafritz’s/Russel’s/Borick’s Introducing Public Administration, 8th edition, Chapter 3, “The Continuous Reinventing of the Machinery of Government.”

“More than 7 million Americans already live in such closed-off communities, and that number is expected to double over the next decade.” (p. 75)

“These new-fashioned feudalists, who are decidedly libertarian concerning the outside world, are surprisingly socialistic concerning the private, inside world of their gated min-cities.” (p.75)

This reminds of something I saw earlier this year. Glenn Beck wants to create his own city. I remember Jon Stewart doing a bit on Beck contrasting his anti-socialistic views for the outside world, but his downright socialistic tendencies when it came to being inside the walls of his city. This has a, “history repeats itself,” kind of feeling to it, doesn’t it? Not the Stewart bit on Beck, but that there’s a push (is there really?) to return to walled-off cities.

“Government entities, once established, tend to last a long time and not change easily.” (p. 79)

While understandable, it seems that there should be more innovation in the government, shouldn’t there? How can we get more innovation in the government, while carefully preserving those agencies that might quickly be lopped off before they’ve had the time to adequately effect the changes mandated of them?

“There is no federal Department of the Environment…” (p. 84)

Doesn’t this seem a bit unfortunate? Pres. Clinton tried to create this department under his administration, but — naturally — was met with opposition. I understand the fear of Big Government, but some things should transcend partisanship. The really twisted part — folks are calling for the Secretary of State to make climate change (!) his top priority! If there were a Department of the Environment, the Secretary of State could focus on other matters concerning the State. This issue seems misplaced. (Note: I should say that I still think it’s important for the Secretary of State to be concerned with climate change, but with a Department of the Environment, the issue would be more appropriately addressed.)

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There are almost 90,000 (!) governments in the United States when you include county, municipal, towns, school districts, and special districts. (p. 86)

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“Because few citizens ride horses to government offices today, it would seem to make a lot of sense to combine many counties and thus realize substantial savings from having fewer county clerks, county sheriffs, county courts, and so on. But which clerk, sheriff, or judge is going to quietly resign?” (p. 88)

This seems like a really important point. It seems to parallel a problem that is often faced in business — short-term profits vs. long-term gains. In this case, it would be taking short-term losses for long-term gains. If the government bought out those employees in areas where it were merging governments, there would likely be a substantial price tag. Although, in doing so, many (theoretically) efficiencies would be realized. Similarly, there would be a great deal of potential entrepreneurs (in those people who were just bought out). Of course, this is hastily laid out here, but it’d be an interesting proposal to have fleshed out.

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I find it odd that special districts have quadrupled since 1942 (now over 37,000), but school districts have shrunk by 90% (from 108,000 in 1942 to approximately 13,000 today). (p. 90-91)

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“Congress has never drawn — as the Brownlow Committee would have liked — a dichotomy between politics and administration.” (p. 105)

“Members thrive on bureaucratic red tape and the opportunities it creates for constituent service. This is why the ombudsman/ombudswoman movement has never gone very far in the US. This function is happily, even joyously, performed by the elected representatives. It is quite literally what their staffs spend most of their time on — because it is the key to reelection.” (p. 105)

Something’s wrong with this picture — assuming that the authors are correct in their assessment (in that this is what most members spend their time on). It reminds me of an idea I’ve heard before where those elected to Congress were only allowed 1 term (2 years) or something like it.

“To reinvent government, you must also reinvent Congress.” (p. 105)

Great idea! How do we do it?

“Privatization is almost always predicated on assumptions about public sector versus private sector efficiency and productivity rates. The burden of proof is often on public sector managers to explain why they are not inferior to private enterprise managers and why they should retain their functions in the face of private sector alternatives. Perhaps no responsibility is greater for public managers today than developing the evaluation and management assessment tools needed to assure critics that public sector programs and enterprises are being managed efficiently and effectively.” (p. 106)

This reminds me of the Project Management class I had this past Fall. The professor would often take us to the dashboards of the federal government showing us those projects that were on-time, behind schedule, under budget, over budget, etc. I wonder if this elaborate check/balance came as a result of those folks who were trying to prove that the public sector was efficient.

Maybe the burden of proof shouldn’t lie with the public sector. Maybe it should be more a of a philosophical debate. Do we think that these services should be provided by the private sector or by the public sector? And then take action from there.