Friday, August 25, 2006

Also related to the topic of misperceptions, anInteresting Article in Foreign Affairs on whether the "terrorist threat" actually exists.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

One bit of rhetoric that comes up in a number of discussions, publications, and articles is the belief that America is more "Capitalist" than other (Western) nations. This assumption is nearly universal, pointed to as the reason for America's faster rates of GDP growth compared to other developed countries, and also impacts our perception of other nations. However, I would like to put the idea out there that America's economy is not much more capitalistic and "free-market" than Europe's. If we assume the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom is a reasonable indicator of how free-market a nation is, then we see that at least one large European country (Britain) is more free-market than the US, and several small ones (Ireland, Iceland, Luxembourg, Estonia, Denmark) are as well. A number of economies that are occassionally demonized for being over-regulatory are also close to the US on this scale (such as Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands). And if we can accept that government interference can be localized to specific areas of the economy (such as healthcare) without making the economy less "free-market" as a whole, then we may realize that the US is not the fortress of free enterprise it is made out to be.
I am not trying to say that the US is less capitalistic than other nations. Its rhetoric is among the most pro-market of any country. Its populace is generally individualistic and pro-market, and it has been one of the most stalwart supporters of neoliberal economic policies throughout the world. In a number of industries, there is a lot less government regulation in the US than in Europe, and a lot more innovation. Nevertheless, the widespread conception that America is far more free market than its European counterparts false. This begs the questions of why this opinion exists and how it is perpetuated in the face of economic reality.
Now, the first of these questions--why this opinion exists--is largely a historical one, and will not be treated in much detail here. I claim that it goes back to the centuries-old conception that contrasts the individualistic, materialistic, and culturally primitive Americans with the historically grounded, intellectual, cultured Europeans. We can see this contrast even before DeToqueville, and it has played an important part in the trans-Atlantic dialogue ever since. This comparisson is happily accepted by all sides, both those who idealize American culture and those who romanticize Europe. In any case, I find the question of how this perspective is perpetuated to be more interesting. And my initial hypothesis is that it is perpetuated by a focus on certain areas of economic activity--healthcare, welfare, and taxation. In all these areas, Europe's main economies are generally considered to be more anti-market than the US. And it is because the debate over these government programs combines references to Europe, market forces, and capitalism in general that the US has come to see itself as a capitalist nation and its european counterparts as "liberal democracies".
This blog has existed for a week or two now, and I've decided it's time to re-evaluate its aims. I've been looking around exciting world of the internet (and the blogosphere in particular), and I see a lot of repeated stories. News about Israel-Lebanon gets repeated, news about the Bush administration gets repeated, and news about other hot-button issues get repeated. The problem is that most of what makes it onto the news is blog-worthy, but still centered around particular events--a journalistic bias which means that we ignore large sections of the world, important parts of our culture, and just about everything else that doesn't make it into "news" form. The goal of this blog will not be to repeat interesting news which can be found elsewhere, but rather to examine society, our worldviews, and other items of interest in ways the reader might find novel, interesting, or challenging. I will post "news", on occassion, but only if I feel that the news' importance is not being recognized, or if that news provides some insight into other areas.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Here is an article from the Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2006 about Hezbollah's growing strategic threat to Israel. In retrospect, it makes for a fascinating read, provides some insight into Israel's thought process, and also examines some possible courses of action Israel could have taken. However, it is important to note the lack of actual conflict between Hezbollah and Israel--some mainstream media has portrayed Hezbollah as engaging in missile fire at Israel before the recent conflict, which is clearly not the case.
Also to note is that the article is probably at least a little pro-Israel, and may be exaggerating Hezbollah's willingness to attack Israel (it neglects to mention Hezbollah's non-military roles in Lebanon).
Information about the situation in Lebanon before the recent conflict is much harder to find nowadays, but I think the article does a good job of telling at least part of the story.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Before I start, a word on my perspective:
I am an undergraduate at a (relatively) prestigious american university. I am on course for a major in sociology. I am interested in just about everything. My political agenda is closest to that of the libertarian party, but I am currently aligned with the democratic party.
This blog will be very strongly influenced by the sociology I am reading and have read, but its topic will not be sociology per se. It is, instead, an attempt to explore the topics I am encountering in a sociological manner.
My goal is to post 3 times per week. That may be wishful thinking.