I’m Moving

For every one of the sixteen years I have held a Ph.D., I have been a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Beginning with my seventeenth year, I will be at the University of Chicago, with a joint appointment in the Department of Political Science and the Harris School of Public Policy. It is a bittersweet moment. I have lived in Madison longer than anywhere other than my hometown of Lincoln, Illinois. My wife, our son, and I have a community of friends and colleagues that runs deep. At the same time, life is short, and Masha and I have both been offered wonderful opportunities that we could not pass up. For anyone who is interested—and to head off the creative explanations of Political Science Rumors—let me explain my reasons.

First, I should be clear about what this decision is not. I am not fleeing Scott Walker (who is, um, no longer governor), department politics, university governance, or anything of that sort. The University of Wisconsin and its Political Science Department are healthy. Anyone who gets a chance to work or study here should take it. You will have amazing colleagues and a supportive work environment. And you will live in arguably the best college town in America. (I know of what I speak, having lived in nearly all the great college towns: Ann Arbor, Berkeley, Cambridge, and Madison.)

One more summer on the terrace

In short, this is all pull, no push. To understand the pull, it helps to understand me. As a scholar, I identify as both a comparativist and a political economist. At Chicago, I get to fully indulge both sides of my personality. Mornings? I’m in the Political Science Department. Afternoons? I’m at Harris. I’m having my cake and eating it too.

On top of that, it is useful to know that Chicago is investing heavily in political economy. There is a lot of hiring being done in the department, to join the already great group at Harris. Other plans are afoot. From the top down, there is a determination to make Chicago the preeminent center for the study of political economy. Stay tuned.

Finally, there is Chicago. Masha and I both miss the big city, and Chicago is our favorite big city in the country. I grew up downstate, with grandparents in the Chicago suburbs. My parents still live in Lincoln—from Chicago, a train ride rather than a drive away. (Here Scott Walker does briefly enter the picture: no high-speed rail to Madison, alas.) We want to walk to the Seminary Coop Bookstore after work, to have season tickets to the Chicago Symphony, to see the Cardinals beat the Cubs at Wrigley Field (whoops: there’s the downstate boy), and to raise our son in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in America.

Farewell, Madison. I will miss you. Hello, sweet home Chicago. I can’t wait.

John Dingell, Heresthetician

In one of two or three previous lives, I worked on Capitol Hill in the early 1990s as a legislative assistant to the member of Congress from my home district. It was a heady experience. I had always loved politics, and while my own political views were evolving—ultimately contributing to my decision to move overseas and try something else—I enjoyed seeing politicians at work and up close. For much of that time I lived on upper Connecticut Avenue, and on Sunday afternoons I would bike up to Politics and Prose to see in person the newsmakers who had been on television that morning.

John Dingell was then the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. I remember first hearing him speak during a floor debate over something or other. I was not blown away. Like many newcomers to politics, I confused rhetorical mastery with political effectiveness. I am sure Congressman Dingell gave many fine speeches over the course of his long career (best remembered may be his riff on “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”), and he emerged in his final years a skilled practitioner of the tweet. Be that as it may, his remarks that day were not designed to persuade. How, I wondered, could such a clumsy speaker have risen to a position of such power?

John Dingell was a master not of rhetoric but of what William Riker famously termed heresthetic: the art of political manipulation, or of “structuring the world so you can win.” I got a glimpse of this during an Agriculture Committee markup of a bill over which Energy and Commerce had partial jurisdiction. Chairman Dingell showed up to ensure that some language was removed from the draft legislation. Seated on the dais in the Agriculture Committee’s main hearing room, he gave the most perfunctory speech in opposition to the language that one could imagine. The only sentence that really mattered came at the end, when he stated (roughly—this was 25 years ago), “And I come here with the proxies of the members of the Energy and Commerce Committee to vote against this onerous provision.”

The proxies…”How many proxies does the chairman bring with him?” asked Kika de la Garza, the genial chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. Dingell slowly looked around the room before answering. “Let’s just say: enough.” The provision was struck without a vote, and the staff in the room declared their collective intention never to play poker with Congressman Dingell.

Riker recognized political manipulation as among the most important of the arts—one that could be learned from instruction as well as from practice. With John Dingell’s passing, we have lost one of our best teachers.

Producing (Not Writing) Your Own Book

I like to think of myself as an article writer who writes the occasional book. With my dissertation book, I did things the standard way: I wrote the manuscript, which upon completion of review I submitted (as LaTeX and supporting files) to Cambridge University Press for production. It was a hard experience. Numerous errors crept in during the typesetting process, which a kind employee at Cambridge and I spent a week cleaning up. (I think we caught them all.) A typical error: aa+b rendered as a/a + b. Ugh.

Second time around, when I wrote my textbook, I did the typesetting myself. My primary motivation in doing so was to ensure the printed accuracy of what I had written, but I had also noticed that some texts were set better than others, and I wanted some control over the process. I knew quite a bit of LaTeX at this point (if you feel more comfortable in Scientic WorkPlace or LyX, this is not for you), and it was not difficult to do the typesetting, once I understood the process.press.jpg

Memories of this flooded back recently after a conversation on Twitter with Jelena Subotic and Anna Grzymala-Busse. Much of my experience was idiosyncratic (a particular publisher, a certain type of manuscript), and some of it may be out of date. At the same time, some of these lessons (e.g., with respect to producing indexes) are likely useful even to those who are happy to let the press do most of the work.

Here, for anybody in a similar position, is what I learned. Caveat emptor.

Negotiate the process in advance with your publisher. With my textbook, we agreed that I would produce the proofs, the copy/production editor would mark up the proofs by hand, I would enter changes directly in LaTeX—this process iterated until we were both happy with the product. (In addition to language edits, my editor would suggest that I move a figure over a few pixels, etc.) I submitted a PDF file for printing. I also provided the LaTeX and supporting files, just in case I got hit by a bus and something needed to be changed, but they weren’t needed and likely never opened. This all worked in part because I had an exceptionally good editor…if you have a very technical manuscript, you might ask if they keep a copy editor in reserve for that sort of work.

Don’t reinvent the wheel: find the document class that your press uses. For me, it was cambridge7a. You will make many changes from the default set, but it’s a place to start.

Ask the production company to produce the front matter (title and copyright page) and back matter (e.g., list of other books in a series).

As much LaTeX as you know, there will inevitably come a moment when you need to do something you don’t know how to do. Cambridge has a support line at texline@cambridge.org. Other presses may have something similar.

You are saving the press money by doing the typesetting yourself. They may be willing to increase your royalties in return.

Finally, if you are enough of a perfectionist to consider typesetting a book yourself, you may also want to produce your own index. It is a good thing to consider: you know your book better than any professional indexer will, and you will save the time otherwise spent cleaning up nonsense entries. In LaTeX this primarily involves inserting \index commands at the appropriate place in the manuscript and then compiling. Think BibTeX: the process is similar. In my case, I also wanted an author index, which is truly automatic if you have used BibTeX for references, although it requires a Perl script and a bit of customization if you are working with natbib. Check out my notes for doing this on Windows and Mac OS: I switched from the former to the latter between my first and second book. There is almost certainly a cleaner way to do this—mine uses the deprecated package multiind, still available at CTAN. If you get lost…I don’t know. I found most of this somewhere online.

Drawing the Wrong Lessons from Socialism

I have just forced myself to read the CEA report on “The Opportunity Costs of Socialism.” Personally, I rather prefer Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty for a palatable introduction to actually existing socialism. But a couple of observations.

Somewhat surprisingly for an economic analysis, the CEA report confuses the costs of transition to socialism (e.g., collectivization-induced famine) with the efficiency losses associated with the consolidated, “classical” socialist system. Assuming, as the authors do, that “democratic socialists” don’t mean to go so far and anyway couldn’t hurt a flea, the latter costs are more relevant to any institutional comparison. But one of the big lessons of socialism is that its incentive problems generalize. Capitalist economies are not immune, for example, to the ratchet effect or soft budget constraints. The question is whether institutions exist to minimize those problems.

This leads to the second error in analysis. It is not enough to study socialism. One also needs to study the transition from socialism. For if the big lesson of socialism is that state ownership and bureaucratic coordination do not work (well), the big lesson of postsocialist transition is that markets do not work (well) without supportive state institutions and regulation. The CEA report thus falters in situating economies along a single dimension of more or less “freedom.” One can have more market and more state at the same time. Or less of each (see, e.g., Ukraine).1Frankly, it is disspiriting to think that “socialism” may be the frame within which economic debate takes place in coming years. But if that is to be the case, we would do well to draw the right lessons from the socialist, and postsocialist, experience. In the meantime, if the CEA is going to return to the debates of the 1930s, it would do well to remember the maxim that Roosevelt saved capitalism from the capitalists.

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  1. Check your intuition: Which had larger bureaucracies in the 1990s: OECD countries or transition countries? Compare Figures 1 and 2 here.

#TrumpPutin

Typically lurking just below the surface, the question of whether Vladimir Putin has anything on Donald Trump has dominated public discourse since the Helsinki summit and the American president’s declaration that he believes a former KGB agent over his own government. It is a fair question—one that we have every reason to think Robert Mueller and his team are investigating. But from a policy perspective, the relevant point is that Trump is behaving exactly as we would expect if Putin were in possession of kompromat. From the denigration of American institutions to attacks on American allies to his behavior toward Putin himself, Trump’s policy reads like Putin’s marching orders. There is remarkable consistency in this approach, such that reasonable people can be forgiven for thinking that some ulterior motive is at work. That may or may not be the case, but we don’t need to be certain that Trump is compromised. We should simply stop being surprised that he is acting as if he is.1

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  1. Game theorists will recognize this argument as a practical application of Lemma 1 in Fudenberg and Levine’s (1989) work on “Reputation and Equilibrium Selection in Games with a Patient Player.”

Is Formal Theory Back?

In blurbing my text on Formal Models of Domestic Politics, David Laitin expressed what I then only dimly perceived to be the book’s ambition:

My expectation is that Scott Gehlbach’s Formal Models of Domestic Politics will become the standard text for courses in positive political economy housed in political science departments. My hope, given the clarity of exposition and the engaging examples of the principles in the exercises, is that this text will make such courses more stimulating and spur a new interest in positive theory in our discipline as a complement to the econometric revolution.

A worthy goal, no doubt—but was the ambition too lofty? The text indeed sold well; I had a growing list of instructors who had adopted it for classroom use. Yet all the energy in the discipline seemed directed toward empirical work. Graduate students who ten years before might have been writing down their first models were instead writing preanalysis plans. Among those who did become formal theorists, there were complaints of editors desk-rejecting theory papers that lacked an empirical component (while not rejecting empirical papers unmotivated by formal theory). Formal theorists retired or moved on from top institutions without being replaced. I began to wonder if the more modest ambition for my book should be to preserve a bit of intellectual history.

A chance observation at last month’s MPSA meetings led me to reconsider the state of the field. At the lunchtime editorial-board meeting for the Journal of Theoretical Politics, my friend Maggie Penn reported that attendance at formal-theory sessions was higher than she had seen in years. Could it be that young political scientists were gravitating back to formal theory?

Hearing from me of this promising sign, and confirming that his course enrollments suggested the same, Andrew Little offered (as is his wont) a theory. Now more than a decade into the identification revolution, students have learned to be skeptical of findings from observational data. At the same time, they have discovered that experimental work is difficult and expensive. Each lesson has increased the relative attractiveness of formal theory.

That’s the demand side. On the supply side, recent editorial changes seem to have expanded opportunities to publish formal theory in the discipline’s top journals. (The accompanying figure—thanks, Anton Shirikov—depicts the prevalence of formal-theory papers in the top three disciplinary journals over the past decade.) Most notably, at the JOP, Sean Gailmard as field editor has excelled at shepherding theory papers through the review process, including work by many young scholars. The APSR also seems to have opened its doors a bit—though some of that may have occurred toward the end of the previous editorial regime. (Our count suggests little obvious change at the AJPS.)

These are encouraging trends as I sit down to work on a second edition of Formal Models of Domestic Politics. (To come: a new chapter on nondemocratic politics, new models for existing chapters, and new exercises.) Time will tell whether they hold.

What is Socialism? (2018 edition)

Farah Stockman at the New York Times has the story of the emergence of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) as a force within the Democratic Party. Ten years after “socialist” became a slur with which to paint Barack Obama, many Democratic candidates are embracing the label—a consequence, no doubt, of Bernie Sanders’ strong showing in the Democratic nomination race. But what does “socialism” mean in 2018?

Socialism, as historically practiced, prioritizes state ownership of the means of production, with an emphasis on bureaucratic rather than market coordination of the economy. Softer versions might allow for worker rather than state ownership, with a concomitant lessening of bureaucratic control. As far as I can tell, the DSA’s normative ideal lies toward the Menshevik end of the spectrum—at a minimum, they reject Soviet-style central planning. The organization is, nonetheless, more than just a proponent of Scandinavian-style social democracy, even if it often endorses policies that would move the United States in that direction.

Democratic socialists are socialists, and they would be recognized as such by an older generation of voters raised during the ideological conflict of the Cold War. But much of the electoral energy behind “democratic socialism” comes from younger voters (a substantial share of millennials express a preference for “socialism” over “capitalism”), some of whom would likely be surprised by what the term means to others.

I teach a course in “Socialism and Transitions to the Market“—basically, what happened in Russia and Eastern Europe between 1917 (1945) and 2000. On the first day of class, we define terms, beginning with the big one. What is socialism, I ask? To a person, students respond by emphasizing equality of distribution and a social safety net—in short, Sweden. Ownership of the means of production never comes up until I propose that, for purposes of this course, we define socialism as the political-economic system of countries that called themselves socialist. (János Kornai is our guide for the first part of the semester.) In that system, the state (typically) owns the means of production and economic coordination is (predominantly) bureaucratic.

Here’s the thing: Most young Americans know “socialism” only from Bernie Sanders, and Bernie Sanders didn’t run on a platform of nationalization. (Medicare for All is not the British National Health Service.) As a consequence, I believe, there are many “socialists” today who are little aware of the historical meaning of the term.

Traditional socialists likely find themselves in the position of Protestant clergy who discover that their congregants believe in salvation by good works—grateful that the pews are full, but wondering if anybody is listening to the sermon. Meanwhile, many older citizens must be aghast at the rise of “socialism” at home, thirty years after it was vanquished abroad. All the while, young people are going their own way, as young people do—lending new meaning to an old term as “socialism” enters the 21st century.

Serendipity

My paper with Paul Dower, Evgeny Finkel, and Steve Nafziger on “Collective Action and Representation in Autocracies” is out in the most recent issue of the APSR. It’s the latest installment in a project on reform and rebellion in Imperial Russia that, for me, never would have happened had I not ventured into the library stacks during my first year at UW. I have long since forgotten what I was looking for, but I clearly remember what I found: a multi-volume chronicle of peasant unrest in 19th-century Russia, compiled by Soviet historians working during the Khrushchev Thaw.

I immediately understood the value of this chronicle as a data source, but it took some time to identify questions that the data could answer. Eventually, and in collaboration with an amazing group of coauthors that also includes Tricia Olsen and Dmitrii Kofanov, those questions came to me. Since then I have enjoyed a very productive period exploiting this completely unexpected data source. I tell audiences: If you like this paper, then the moral of the story is that you should get your own books from the library. (And if you don’t, then send a graduate student to get them for you.)

Imagine my dismay, then, to discover that a library master plan is circulating at UW that would move a majority of campus collections to a closed-stack facility in neighboring Verona. The plan promises quick delivery of anything that might be located off campus, but that presumes that one knows what to order. I had no idea that the Soviet chronicle existed. Even had I seen it in the catalog, I would not have known that it contained thousands of detailed entries of peasant unrest, such as this account of resistance to brutal treatment by an estate steward:

The library master plan notes that fewer and fewer volumes are being checked out from the library. To which I say: The best way to accelerate that trend is to move books off campus so that nobody knows that they exist.

I have worked in libraries, in Russia, with rapid delivery but limited access to the stacks. I was always glad to be home. I hate to think that one of the distinguishing features of the American university could be lost here.

Anyway, the story is not over, the battle not yet lost. A petition circulates; faculty and graduate students (especially in the humanities) are raising a hue and cry. One friend suggests that we all check out a hundred books, of varying levels of obscurity, to signal our concern and to scramble any algorithm intended to determine which volumes should remain on campus. That might work—and even if it doesn’t, those obscure books may provoke some good research projects.

Last Lecture

It is a tradition at UW for faculty to attend the last lecture that a colleague gives before retirement. Today it was our turn to send off Byron Shafer, Hawkins Chair of Political Science and author of numerous books on American politics—most recently, The American Political Pattern: Stability and Change, 1932-2016.1 Byron’s lecture centered on this monograph’s thesis that the past 85 years of American politics can be neatly divided into four distinct eras: the High New Deal Era (1931-1938), the Late New Deal Era (1939-1968), the Era of Divided Government (1969-1992), and the Era of Political Volatility (1993-present). Each era is characterized by a particular party balance, ideological polarization, and substantive conflict, which together imply a policy-making process that is distinct from that in other eras.

We live in the Era of Political Volatility (no kidding), in which the parties are remarkably balanced (neither Republicans nor Democrats have a lock on the presidency or Congress), politics is extraordinarily polarized, and substantive conflict is waged in what seem to us familiar terms. The policy-making process that emerges may seem horribly gridlocked, but Byron asserts that in fact average output is similar to that in other areas—it just comes in spurts during the first two years of a presidency, in bills loaded up with unrelated items, passed with partisan majorities before the president’s party inevitably takes a drubbing in the midterms.

My question for Byron was this: To the extent that he mentioned Trump at all, it was to suggest that the current political moment is just a continuation of the era that began with Bill Clinton and the Gingrich Revolution. Could he entertain the notion that we have entered a new epoch? His response: It takes some distance to know that you have passed from one era to the next. That said, if, as seems likely, the Democrats seize control of at least one house of Congress this year (and especially if Trump then wins reelection), it will seem like just more of the same.

This is a remarkably different telling from the contention among many comparativists that Trump’s election, and his conduct as president, represent the rise of a new American populism and the decline of traditional democratic norms. But it seems to me that there is a way to square the circle. The old norms have been in decline since Newt Gingrich beat Ed Madigan 87-85 in the race for minority House whip. Trump is just the logical conclusion of this process. What is yet to be seen is whether the current political moment leads to a permanent scrambling of any of Byron’s three inputs (substantive conflict seems most likely, with a protectionist Republican in the White House) and consequent remaking of the policy-making process. This assuming, of course, that the basic constitutional framework that Byron takes for granted remains intact.

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  1. Also, and you wouldn’t know it from his wardrobe, the only member of the department to have attended the Woodstock Festival in 1969.

Not According to Plan

David Bordwell—the William Riker of film studies—writes:

It’s a commonplace of film history that under Stalin (a name much in American news these days) the USSR forged a mass propaganda cinema. In order for Lenin’s “most important art” to transform society, cinema fell under central control. Between 1930 and 1953 a tightly coordinated bureaucracy shaped every script and shot and line of dialogue, while Stalin frowned from above. The 150 million Soviet citizens were exposed to scores of films pushing the party line.

True? Not quite.

Who says? Maria Belodubrovskaya, to whom I happen to be married. David again:

New books

Maria (“Masha”) Belodubrovskaya’s Not According to Plan: Filmmaking under Stalin draws upon vast archival material to argue that filmmaking, far from being an iron machine reliably pumping out propaganda, was decentralized, poorly organized, weakly managed, driven by confusing commands and clashing agendas. Censorship was largely left up to the industry, not Party bureaucrats, and directors and screenwriters enjoyed remarkable flexibility.

Filmmaking under Stalin, in other words, never worked as planned. Directors tried and failed to make films that wouldn’t be banned. Party officials tried and failed to build a mass culture industry. By the end of Stalin’s reign, the Soviet film industry was releasing fewer than a dozen films a year—a far cry from the Soviet Hollywood that was envisioned in the mid-1930s. Underlying this failure was an institutional environment that generated perverse incentives for all concerned. But the institutions didn’t come from nowhere. They were themselves products of Communist ideology—an ideology that proved largely incapable of producing useful propaganda, at least in this medium.1

Not According to Plan is a landmark in the study of film history and what Masha calls the “institutional study of ideology,” if I do say so myself—but I don’t need to, as others are saying it. Intrigued? Listen to Masha discuss the book on 1869, the Cornell University Press podcast.

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  1. Scholars of communism will recognize an affinity to János Kornai’s characterization of the socialist system, in which the ideology of the governing party gives rise to particular institutions, which in turn dictate incentives. Notably, this is not the prevailing model in political science, where the equilibrium analysis of institutions has a strongly functionalist feel (e.g., institutions exist because they solve a commitment problem).