Saturday, April 11, 2009

When the divorce comes (part II)

I previously posted about the problem of structuring the bargaining between SPLM and NCP as the time draws closer to 2011. I've been reading a bit more from the political science literature (the Fearon type stuff) and I must say it is remarkably useless. It is all perfect bayesian equilibrium stuff, which even in economics generates almost no useful insights except in auction theory. I know I am going to piss off all my game theorist friends, but really... in the end almost everything is common sense. For example, I just finished reading a typical paper in this genre, by Bahar Leventoglu and Ahmer Tarar, called "Does Private Information Lead to Delay or War in Crisis Bargaining", in International Studies Quarterly, 2008, which extends some of the work of Fearon and Powell. The model, and all models like this, have to be structured very simply (compared with the real world) because even simple setups generate incredibly complex equilibria. So right away you find yourself knowing that this is, as they say, "just a model." It's fun to decipher the complexity, but when the conclusion, which discusses the "policy implications" contain the following, "third-party actors can help the disputants recognize the possibility of making counteroffers" and "third party actors can help the disputants have a longer time horizon... by reduc[ing] the time between counteroffers," you know the model really indeed was just for fun.

I wonder whether models like this are very much preferable to some of the alternatives. An example of an alternative is the 2008 article of Alex de Waal (yes, I keep harping on him, for no particular reason) "Mission Without End" in International Affairs, which does no formal modeling, and so veers wildly from a bargaining view to an apparent supply and demand view of the "political marketplace". There's a price of something, and a quantity of something, and some actors transacting, but it never is actually specified, which is convenient for the modeler, because then when frost hits Brazil causing the price of coffee to rise legislators in Singapore receive more assurances that long-term corruption relationships will endure. Huh? Exactly.

De Waal's policy conclusion reflects his apparent current predilection against third-party involvement in Darfur (except when he was involved in the DPA) but there's no logic to how it is derived from the model, because in his text he apparently seems to assume that there is only one third-party and that is Save Darfur (ahem, no I meant to say the U.S., a completely independent entity from the mighty Save Darfur puppet-masters, honest). So this third party, in his view, messes everything up- the price of loyalty is higher for the "irritated" Khartoum elite! Never mind that there are a gazillion other third parties involved- from Total, to Deby, to Qaddafi, to China, to Qatar, to Iran, to al-Qaeda, to PricewaterhouseCoopers ...

An aside on de Waal's paper, is the apparent asymmetry between "we" (who respond to discursive reason embedded in articles like this one, and hence might change our political goals in "our" peacemaking operations, because "we" aren't in a political marketplace, did I say bazaar?, haggling over loyalty, did I use the word haggling there?) and "they" (the Sudanese in de Waal's political marketplace who respond only to power and money and apparently never read academic articles and wouldn't respond to them if they did). Phrased this way, one of course immediately objects- surely lots of Sudanese actually do engage in discursive reason and change their political goals as they engage. But then the premise and conclusion of the model-- that third-parties only change the "prices" in the marketplace, for the bad-- no longer seems so compelling.

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