What do people mean by “small government”?

There’s a big difference between reducing the size of government and reducing the authority of the government, and they’re all too often conflated. In fact, plenty of people saying they want “smaller government” only want an inexpensive government, one that doesn’t tax them too much or redistribute in ways they dislike. Yet some of these same proponents of cheap government are also quite happy to expand the authority or power of the government, from enhanced police and surveillance powers (like warrantless wiretaps), allowing the use of torture, restrictions on abortion or marriage or free speech (say, flag-burning), etc…this could easily be a longer list.

But whether you support these things or not is irrelevant for the point I want to make; “small” governments can outlaw all kinds of things, can restrict a wide-ranging number of civil liberties and human rights—and just because a government isn’t “big” in terms of how much it costs doesn’t mean that it’s not “big” in terms of its authority and ability to interfere in the lives of its citizens. Yes, one could say that it might be harder to interfere with liberties when the government is smaller, but if the money it still does have goes to police power, then that’s not a (terribly) compelling argument. The point here is that people aren’t often clear what they mean by “small” or even “limited” government.

Advertisements

Obama, Romney, and the Taliban

Thanks to Phil Arena, I saw two tweets from Andrew Exum today (both highly recommended blogs, by the way) that caught my eye:

abumuqawama
I wonder if Mitt Romney’s “no negotiations” stance actually strengthens the hand of the Obama Admin. as it negotiates with the Taliban.
1/17/12 6:57 AM
abumuqawama
In a way, Romney is the bad cop to Obama’s good cop in negotiations with the Taliban.
1/17/12 6:58 AM

As it happens, I just finished making revisions a “conditionally accepted” paper (this one) that relates pretty directly to this question (it’s also a topic dealt with in my dissertation and hinted at here, but gated): how does the threat of leadership change affect an incumbent’s international bargaining fortunes? Specifically, the question here is how the threat of Romney (more hawkish than Obama?) winning the presidency affects what Obama can get out of negotiations with the Taliban now.

What does this paper have to say about it? For the most part, the answer to this question turns on two things: (a) the extent of differences between the successor and the incumbent and (b) just how sensitive the incumbent’s electoral fortunes are to bargaining outcomes. I won’t get too heavily into the details of the model, but if we take it that Romney would be more willing to continue the war in Afghanistan than Obama (which we’re going to take the “no negotiations” position to represent), then we’ve got an intriguing possibility: something the paper calls “preemptive appeasement.”

Essentially, preemptive appeasement is softening one’s bargaining position in order to bolster a pliant incumbent in office, forestalling the rise of a more resolute successor that one would rather not deal with. If Romney will fight longer than Obama and the Taliban believe that playing ball with Obama will keep him in office through the next election, then they might well do so—trading some concessions now to increase the chances that Obama stays in office in return for extracting a better deal in 2013 than they would against Romney.

Of course, if they don’t think Obama can be bolstered in office with concessions—or if his reelection becomes a foregone conclusion–then their strategy will switch to one of getting what they can now, striking while the iron is hot, and the prospect of Romney waiting in the wings won’t have as much of an effect. Which is all to say that there may well be a pretty consequential connection between primary season, the pace of economic recovery, the general election, and the war in Afghanistan.

Stay tuned. I know I will.

Will the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation work?

What do you do when you’ve run out of steam on a couple of R&Rs that you should have gotten more done on? That’s right: revive a blog that’s been dormant since February.

Last Wednesday, we saw the announcement that Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation deal, one that will produce an interim caretaker government ahead of new presidential elections. Clearly, Israel’s not happy about this, and on some level we might also wonder why Fatah is, as well, since they’ve not exactly been friends with Hamas since the 2007 split that left the former in charge of the West Bank and the latter in charge of Gaza. So it got me thinking: when would the Palestinian factions go through with this election, and—even if they would—when might Israel nonetheless prevent it from happening?

A quick and dirty toy model follows after the break…

Continue reading