A Discussion on the “Kingmakers” of American Politics

American Legislatures are far more white and male than the population as a whole. Women make up 51% of the country’s population but only 25% of legislators are women. African Americans and Hispanic Americans are 13% and 17% of the population respectively, but only make up 9% and 5% of our legislatures. Moreover, according to a 2015 report from the National Conference of State Legislators, “since 2009, the advances of women and blacks in legislatures have stalled.”

That may have changed slightly in the aftermath of the 2018 midterms, which elected a record number of women and minority congresspersons. However, the fact remains that American legislatures do not reflect the populations which elect them.

Professor Michael G. Miller of Barnard College is working on one possible explanation why that might be the case: Party chairs at the county level don’t think that minority candidates can win elections. Along with two colleagues, Professor Miller is conducting a nationwide study of these party chairs to see how these local party mandarins penalize minority candidates and how much that affects whether people will make their first forays into electoral politics. Our Director of Operations, Clayton Becker, recently sat down with Professor Miller to ask him about his work. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of that interview.

Clayton Becker:

So first off, what is the book about and what brought you to this particular project?

Michael Miller:

The book we’re working on right now, it doesn’t have an actual title yet, but the title that we started with was “Kingmakers,” right? Because we became interested in this idea of local partisans making decisions that rippled out throughout the political system. So, both parties are organized down to the county level and there’s a county chairman in place in almost every county in America. And those people are responsible for going to people in their community and encouraging them to run for that–make that first political campaign. So we recognized that if the people, the chairs, the people who are responsible for encouraging citizens to become candidates, if they were putting their thumb on the scale in a way that even they weren’t in touch with, if they had latent bias, be it, you know, race or gender or something else, class, that we would get candidates that they prefer because those are the people that get encouraged.

So if they’re the only people, if it ends up then that the candidate pool is disproportionately white and male, then you’re going to have candidates who are disproportionately white and male, and victors who are disproportionately real white and male. And that goes all the way up into Congress and the Senate and even the Presidency. And so we set out to really capture the extent to which these chairs did harbor these biases and found that candidates of color are significantly–that the electoral chances of candidates of color are significantly downgraded by chairs of both parties, but we didn’t observe effects for women.

Clayton Becker:

So you’ve mentioned in the past that there aren’t really differentiating factors based on political affiliation, but are there differences in other respects?

Michael Miller:

The effects are completely immune to county context for Republicans. It’s a completely flat line. The effect does diminish for Democrats as a county becomes less white, but the point estimate is negative for the vast majority of American counties, something like 90%. I would have to look at the exact number. But suffice it to say that even for Democrats, this effect lingers regardless of the demographics of the county.

Clayton Becker:

And do you think that that’s just a latent bias effect or do you think it has more to do with concerns of electability as we always hear about?

Michael Miller:

So one of the things that once we got these results back, we started talking about them, and decided to develop this into a book instead of just one paper. So, we’ve been going all over the country and actually showing these results, to the party chairs and asking them to explain, and we mostly get a story about electability. And to the extent that chairs will, we’ll talk about this. And the story, will be something like, well, “I’m not sure if voters would…” It’s a straight up identity politics story. So it’s pretty difficult for them to say something like, “well, our county is overwhelmingly white. I just don’t know how voters would react to a black candidate.” But, we also have observed a dynamic in which we are having typically very frank and thoughtful and candid conversations with Southern chairs. And Northern chairs–Northern Republicans specifically are much more likely to say things to deny the importance of racism, to say things like they don’t see race. And so we have observed, qualitatively, a really interesting dichotomy between Northern and Southern Republicans.

Clayton Becker:

So politicians in the South in particular, are more open about why they’re choosing white candidates?

Michael Miller:

It’s not that, I would also not call county chairs “politicians.”

Clayton Becker:

Sure. Fair enough.

Michael Miller:

It’s that they are more prepared and thoughtful about the role of race in their community, so they’re, they’re aware of it. If you ask, a southern Republican chair, you know, how do you explain this finding that we got, you’re going to get a thoughtful answer that spans 50 years of history in the town and they will tell you that race has been an issue not only in the community but also in the Republican Party and that they are conscious of it and actively trying to fix it. Some of them expressed frustration about their own inability to do better. But in the North, we have been accused of in infusing the research with our own liberal professor agenda, things like that. We have not seen that in the South. And so it seems like it is a dynamic that is not prevalent in the South and actually really seems to be isolated around one particular state. That I can’t name.

Clayton Becker:

Fair enough haha. Demographically speaking, I know you said that it’s flat in terms of Republicans, but on the Democratic side, does it being say a majority-minority county, have any effects…like for Los Angeles County or Prince George’s County, Maryland?

Source: Doherty, David, Conor Dowling, and Michael G. Miller. 2019. “Do Party Chairs Think Women and Minority Candidates Can Win? Evidence from a Conjoint Experiment.” The Journal of Politics. Forthcoming. 

Michael Miller:

So this paper is on my website, the top paper on my website. If you go all the way down to, let’s see page 21, you can see exactly what the effects are for Democratic chairs. So right here is where there is no penalty. So, you’ll see that it has to be 30% black before the estimate for Democratic Chairs crosses zero. Well, there’s not very many counties in America that are 30% black. We have the figure in the paper somewhere; it’s something like 10% of American counties or something like that. But look at this line for Republicans, you could not devise a flatter curve. It’s literally flat.

Clayton Becker:

Absolutely. So, basically the takeaway from that then is the county needs to be overwhelmingly African American before these party chairs will select an African American candidate? Or before they even become slightly more likely to do so?

Michael Miller:

The outcome is who they think can win. So their judgment where they would not downgrade a black candidate–they would stop downgrading a black candidate at that 30% mark. Right.

Clayton Becker:

That’s pretty scary actually.

Michael Miller:

The experiment that we did in this paper is designed to recover their latent feelings. We didn’t ask them about their overt thoughts.

Clayton Becker:

That’s actually incredibly disheartening.

Michael Miller:

No downgrades for women though. So that’s the good news.

Clayton Becker:

What do you think is the defining factor there between minority candidates versus women in the downgrading the latency biases? Is it just like historical context or something else?

Michael Miller:

What our interviews reveal is that particularly in rural areas, what this comes down to is that you’re talking with people who just haven’t had a deep relationship with someone of a different race and that’s what the chairs themselves are telling us. So if you ask them to explain why they don’t think their voters would support a black candidates, they will say something like, “well, we just don’t have African American people here.” Which implies that there is no interpersonal connection, you don’t have that shared lived experience. It’s not true with women. When you observe women run and win you develop different thoughts about their potential candidacies, these chairs are also telling us pretty clearly that they believe that women are actually harder working candidates and so they are making a judgment based on what they’ve observed from women who have run. The point estimate for women is actually positive in our experience. It’s not statistically significant, but it’s positive, which implies that chairs are making a positive judgement about them.

Clayton Becker:

And do you think that’s reflected in the number of women candidates we saw in the last election cycle? Or do you think that’s just an outlier?

Michael Miller:

I’m not sure that people coming out of the woodwork to run for Congress has anything to do with our results because our people are mainly recruiting for a local races, things like Sheriff and County Commission and State Legislature. People who come out and run for Congress I think very often are not being recruited by those local people. Only some of them are.

Clayton Becker:

So when we talked a little bit earlier at the beginning about this idea that the disproportionate number of white male candidates are coming up because of this like local party chair, bias against them. What effect do you think that has, if any, on the national level races?

Michael Miller:

The effect is gradual. It’s a bench effect. So, where do you get your congressional candidates from? Usually state legislatures. You get your Senate candidates a lot of the time from the US House. And so if we’re putting white males on our city councils and our county commissions and our state legislatures, then that trickles up, was our theoretical expectation.

Clayton Becker:

And how has that worked out in the results?

Michael Miller:

The only place can observe any effect is right here in the experiment. And then from the rest of that it’s just kind of extrapolating that recruiting dynamic as a potential cause contributing to the overwhelmingly white male flavor of American legislatures.

Clayton Becker:

So, are lower—I don’t want to say lower status—but state legislatures and county boards, are those even more white and male then Congress or is it about the same?

Michael Miller:

Depends on the state. There’s actually a wide, wide range on that. But I think if you add up all state legislative seats in America then the demographics look pretty much pretty close to Congress. I think women are doing a little bit better these days after the last election, but they’re pretty close.

Clayton Becker:

So the last thing that I wanted to ask is, do you think there is a way to convince these party chairs or to change this dynamic, where we get more minority candidates, at the lower levels and build a larger bench for a legislative branch that actually looks like America does today?

Michael Miller:

I don’t know. That’s one of the things we’ve been asking chairs. Because we thought, well maybe just telling them about this is enough, educating them about what’s going on. What the chairs have told us is that, “look, it sounds great to go and recruit candidates of color. I don’t have any.” And that is a real practical problem in many, many rural American counties, particularly in the northern states. Even if they would make concerted efforts to diversify their candidate populations they just, they can’t find folks, they can’t identify folks in their community to run. And so the chairs, many of the chairs are telling us that they really do have a supply problem.

Clayton Becker:

So you’d say then that the base of the problem there, aside from the biases and latency problems and all of that, it’s just there aren’t enough people who want to run for Congress from those communities?

Michael Miller:

People who want to run for office run for office in general? Yeah. But the chairs go farther and say that there’s just not enough people. The literal count of racial minorities is so low in their counties that it’s hard for them to identify potential candidates. Now, from there we could extrapolate things about socioeconomics or whatever. “Are you only looking for certain kind of profession?” But that’s what they’re telling us.

A Review of “The Mafia and Terrorism: Identifying and Analyzing a Negative Relationship between the Mafia and Terrorist Attacks in the Italian State” by Danielle Marion French

Reviewed by Associate Editor Emily Eget 

French’s “The Mafia and Terrorism: Identifying and Analyzing a Negative Relationship between the Mafia and Terrorist Attacks in the Italian State” explores the interaction between organized crime and terrorist groups, hypothesizing that networks like the mafia have a negative relationship with terrorists. This hypothesis is in contrast to what French assumes is the consensus among the Italian government, which combats terrorism with the same units that tackle organized crime. French chooses Italy as the paper’s case study, with Italy’s unique position having an extensive history of organized crime and their lack of terrorist attacks in comparison to other European countries.

In the Literature Review, French states that the first possible avenue to study the relationship between organized crime and terrorism is their amalgamation: how each are gradually becoming more like one another. However, according to French, the second avenue is most relevant to the project’s mode of study: regarding the relationship as interaction between distinct groups. This interaction can be positive (as in the case of alliances, most commonly through drug and weapons trading), negative (competition from differing objectives and intrusion of terrorists on pre-existing illegal infrastructures), or neutral (negatives and positives balance out).

French conducted her research using units of groups rather than individuals, with a focus on the Sicilian, Campanian, and Calabrian Mafias. French adopts both qualitative and quantitative analysis to evaluate the relationship between the mafia and terrorists. In her qualitative analysis, French uses document analysis and direct observation to gain insight into mafia attitudes, statements of mafia leaders, and the mafia entanglement within the state and among citizens. French discusses the theoretical approach with predicted factors for a negative relationship: the mafia hierarchical structure, mafia self-sufficiency/inner-group loyalty making it unnecessary to incorporate terrorists, the mafia’s nationalist tendencies, and the mafia’s reliance on the state terrorists aim to destroy.

For French’s quantitative analysis, she uses the number of terrorist attacks in a region-year raw count as the dependent variable and a proxy measurement of mafia presence as the independent variable, over the time period 2001-2015. French used population and GDP per capita as controls, as highly populated and urban areas are more prone to terrorism. French acknowledges the shortcomings of this research, as the chosen proxy of confiscated mafia goods is imperfect. Some regions could simply have better confiscation measures in place, while others may lack confiscated goods because the mafia is deeply entrenched in the state overseeing such task forces. French’s research amounted in a significant P value for a negative coefficient with mafia presence, a significant P value for a positive coefficient with population growth, and an insignificant P value for a positive coefficient with GDPpc. This result aligns with French’s original hypothesis: a greater mafia presence is associated with less terrorist attacks.

French’s research aspires to influence counter-terrorism policy and advocates separating enforcement efforts from those dealing with organized crime. French emphasizes that the government currently believes in a positive relationship between organized crime and terrorist activity, and their efforts to curb organized crime to curb terrorism may be counterproductive. However, French does recognize the limits of her research in the overall picture of counterterrorism. Italy only only serves as a very specific case study, and her research only focused on terrorism defined as attacks.

A Review of Valeria Balza’s “Domestic Food Policy and Urban Unrest: Unpacking the link between global food prices and sociopolitical stability”

Reviewed by Associate Editor Astrid Wik Hallaraaker

Since the turn of the millennium, global food prices have steadily increased, at times hitting levels not seen since the 1970s. Lower-income countries, where staples make up a large percentage of people’s total expenditures, have particularly been made to feel the effect of this, whose citizens have frequently taken to the streets to protest against their increasing deprivation.

However, statistical data nonetheless tells us that there is no direct, unequivocal relationship between economical deprivation and recurrence of public protest. By attempting to explain this observation in “Domestic Food Policy and Urban Unrest: Unpacking the link between global food prices and sociopolitical stability,” Valeria Balza enters into conversation with a large tradition of scholars. Whilst political regime types have been given importance as part of the larger political opportunity structure for protesting, Balza’s main contribution lies in her reintroduction of the state as a key agent. National governments have the potential to moderate the effect of global price shocks on the local population, and she in fact confirms that the nature and degree of government response is statistically significant for the frequency of public protest. She also claims to find that all else equal, autocracies face lower incidences of urban unrest following government interventions.

These findings appear to have important repercussions for how governments ought to act following global price shock. It is therefore unfortunate that Balza’s methodology only partly manages to back up her hypothesis. After having proven through a quantitative analysis that pro-rural policies cause a higher incidence of urban unrest in the 55 African and Asian cities she studies, she proceeds to claim that “this paper finds the effect of government distortions to agricultural markets on urban unrest contingent on regime type.” However, rather than keeping pro-rural government intervention as a constant and thenlooking at the contingency of regime type, she takes democracies’ generally less rural-friendly policies as sufficient to prove her claim. She thus substitutes “type of government intervention” for “regime type” as her variable, which completely undermines her explanation that regime type matters regardless of the nature of their market intervention.

However, the author’s uncritical division of regime types into a simple binary might in any case have undermined the explanatory salience of her findings. Since she aims to explain her findings in reference to regimes’ relative fear of electoral sanctions, it is a serious flaw that we cannot know in any greater detail the extent to which these elections succeed in holding their politicians accountable. Balza ends her essay by recognising “the complexities of food policy systems and fluctuating global prices—especially when combined with local economic and political grievances.” Ideally, we would see this recognition of complexity reflected in her consideration of political institutions necessarily shaped by their own, contextual specificities.

A Review of “Blackened Fertility”

Reviewed by Associate Editor Nikki Shaner-Bradford

In Osaremen Okolo’s investigation of the myth and reality of fertility amongst African American women, “Blackened Fertility: The Lasting Discourse of African American Female Reproduction After the Civil Rights Movement,” Okolo contrasts the concept of hyper-fertility that is forced upon African American women with surprising statistics about the prevalence of infertility amongst these women. She illustrates the progression of this narrative of hyper-fertility along with the socially accepted concept of the Welfare Queen, concerns of overpopulation (in particular the growth of nonwhite populations), and the results of this ideology as translating to forced sterilizations and the development of widespread but oft-ignored fertility challenges.

Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of Okolo’s research is her examination of the role of popular media in both contributing to and refuting these ideas. In particular, she notes that part of the aim of her work was to amplify the voices of black women whose gynecological health was simultaneously exploited, fictionalized, and overlooked. She does this by noting two magazines for and by African American women, Essence and Ebony. It was these publications that aimed to target issues specifically within that community that discussed concerns over infertility, birth control, black female identity, and the overpowering voices of black men within the conversation of black reproduction. The complicated history of being an African American woman within a country that often actively suppressed that identity meant that ideas about birth control and sexual empowerment in the wake of forced sterilizations and the hyper-fertility narrative were inherently controversial. Okolo emphasizes the importance of providing space for women to create their own narratives, however, for her paper concludes that this suppression and popular narrative have contributed to a lack of fertility treatment offered to and sought out by black women.

Along with this analysis of media and popular culture, Okolo traces the legislative debates and political platforms that contributed to the rise of this narrative. She discusses the was in which the image of hyper-fertility was projected upon the African American mother through political manipulation and exploitation of the idea of the Welfare Queen as an ideal scapegoat for other societal issues. She discusses the rise of this narrative with the Reagan administration, and the way in which this rhetoric undermined the reproductive agency of African American women around the country.

The strength of Okolo’s writing is in her ability to contrast this complex and overlooked history with the current reality of infertility and inaccessibility for proper healthcare amongst African American women. It is clear through her thorough examination of this history that these issues not only persist, but build upon their past. She draws a clear correlation between the historical narrative of hyper-fertility amongst African American women and the notable inequity in fertility care today. Ultimately, Osaremen Okolo eloquently discusses a complex and important issues while both illustrating the development of the problem and the current reality that remains.

A Review of “Prisons, HIV/AIDS, & Digital Patients”

Reviewed by Associate Editor Upasna Saha

Nadya Kronis’ “Prisons, HIV/AIDS, & Digital Patients: Governing the Health of Carceral Citizens Between Abandonment & Care” touches on a number of important modern political issues. By looking at primarily HIV/AIDs patients, it considers how telemedicine functions for incarcerated individuals, the impacts of mobile health, or mHealth, on non-incarcerated communities (most of whom tend to include members of marginalized groups), and the connections between these phenomena. Kronis believes that these two groups are very interrelated and much can be learned from applying to the findings of one to the other.  

Kronis begins by discussing the history of medical services in the prison context, focusing on privatization, access, and quality control. She then moves to discuss how the relationship between healthcare and prison is reflective of Michel Foucault’s concept of biopower, power which is manifested through the control of a group’s health. Kronis also brings up the concept of carceral citizenship, considering the rights an inmate has, namely to healthcare, when they enter the prison system. As she continues to explain how the positives and negatives of telemedicine in the incarcerated context, she also raises questions related to the format of the technology itself, the difficulties currently and formerly incarcerated individuals face in accessing healthcare, and how the broader concepts of racism and prejudice factor into this relationship.

In the later half of the essay, Kronis looks at the use of mHealth in a non-incarcerated context, particularly in a relatively less affluent African-American community. Here, her focus becomes more centered on whether mHealth has lived up to the standards its creators and other scholars have claimed for it. Kronis finds that, while mHealth does certainly have its beneficial effects, issues of accessibility and clinical success nevertheless do still persist.

I sincerely applaud Kronis for her focus on issue of such serious relevance to today’s world; much more research should be done in this vein so that health insurance companies, policymakers, and non-profit organizations will better know how to provide more effective healthcare to both incarcerated and non-incarcerated individuals in the future. Unfortunately, I felt as though Kronis’ paper read very much like a pro-con list, in that she simply explained what worked about telemedicine and mHealth and what needed to be improved. It would have been more illuminating had she also considered the fundamental issues behind the applications of these technologies, and perhaps what could be done to better them in the future. I also felt that the theoretical lens employed with the Foucault, while certainly interesting, did not really come up much, so I would have preferred either if had been taken out or if it had factored more greatly into the subject matter. Finally, while I thought that the discussions of both communities were compelling, I wished greater connections between them – wish is what Kronis had set out to explore – were ultimately made. Still, these considerations notwithstanding, Nadya Kronis brings a well-researched, passionate voice into a field that, particularly given the political climate of today, cannot nearly be discussed enough.

Review of “Gerrymandering in Ohio’s 9th District”

Reviewed by Associate Editor Peter Rutkowski

Gerrymandering has long been utilized as an unfair strategy in order for one political party to gain control of a district within a defined region, often creating divisions between people of varying socioeconomic classes or races. Kimberly Hill, in her paper Gerrymandering in Ohio’s 9th District: Ideological Effects, explores this very concept.

Hill begins by discussing how the Republican Party strategically was able to redraw voting lines as a part of the REDMAP project, thus winning state legislatures before the 2012 federal elections. In her paper, however, Hill chooses to look beyond just the causes of gerrymandering; she determines that it’s important to analyze the effects of gerrymandering upon representative ideology. Her literature review discusses the ways in which redistricting affects policy outcomes. It is noted that most of the literature argues that there are “perverse” effects to redistricting and certainly to gerrymandering; however, Hill is careful to point out that some authors argue that majority-minority divisions have even led to more substantive representation for minority voters.

Of course, in this paper’s title is a specific district. Indeed, the author utilizes the Ninth District of Ohio, a district that has been redrawn and modified so much that it is nicknamed the “Snake on a Lake,” to analyze representative ideological shifts. Also, Hill mentions that she chose this specific district because its representative Marcy Kaptur (D) has won incumbency since 1983. And since then, three separate redistricting processes have occurred — in 1990, 2000, and 2010. Using the theories discussed in her literature review, Hill hypothesizes that Kaptur would become more ideologically liberal as her district became increasingly urban or populated with a higher concentration of minorities.

In order to test her theory, the researcher takes a data-driven approach to analyze Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s voting patterns. She uses a table and multiple graphs that summarize the composition of the district in terms of race (black and hispanic are tabled and graphed), medium income, and median age in four-year increments from 1893 to 2017. With this data, Hill discusses potential and theorized voting outcomes that could arise based on the data.

Next, Hill looks at another quantitative factor named the DW NOMINATE score. This measurement analyzes the level of ideological liberalism or conservatism that a representative represents with their voting patterns. Using data plotted on another graph, it’s clear that Representative Kaptur went from voting slightly liberally to more liberally over each election cycle — this could mirror her district’s composition, potentially representing an effect on the ideology of her constituents on her own voting patterns. At the same time, data from the NAACP Rating, the Federation for American Immigration Reform Ratings, the NARAL Pro-Choice America Ratings, the NRA Ratings, and the League of Conservation all suggest either that there was no observable shift in Kaptur’s voting patterns or that Kaptur became more ideologically liberal just on certain issues over time. At the same time, Hill acknowledges that it’s difficult to tell whether or not Kaptur was shifting her voting (at least difficult to determine without speaking to Rep. Hill in person) as a result of a change of her own ideology or as the result of her adjusting in order to secure her incumbency in voting cycles.

In her conclusion, author Kimberly Hill discusses the importance of continuing to research her ideas and theories, perhaps looking at other districts, particularly those where cases of gerrymandering have been investigated. Certainly, she argues, there is a correlation between voting patterns and the ideological makeup of a constituency — its effects on representative ideology just still have yet to be explored more deeply.

Review of “Blackened Fertility”

Reviewed by Associate Editor Sam Baron

In “Blackened Fertility: The Lasting Discourse of African American Female Reproduction After the Civil Rights Movement”, author Osaremen Okolo attempts to shed light on the invidious and false narrative of blackened “hyper-fertility”—the idea that African American women are more likely to be fertile and reproduce than their white counterparts. In the paper, Okolo finds that contrary to the popular narrative of “hyper-fertility”, African American women are actually less likely to be fertile than whites, and have an increased likelihood to encounter fertility issues while trying to conceive.

Okolo argues that the proliferation of this misconception of blackened “hyper-fertility” was widespread even before the Civil Rights Movement, and thus its provenance has largely racist underpinnings. Despite empirical evidence suggesting the narrative was false, Okolo points out that the “hyper-fertility” narrative became so pervasive throughout American society that the phenomenon was even cited in official government documents, legislation, and reports. Okolo further argues that because of this gross mischaracterization of black fertility, African American women suffered immensely not only socially, but also when seeking out fertility treatment and resources. She substantiates such claims with interviews with former government officials in charge of instituting policies which further promulgated the supposed veracity of the narrative, and while doing so, she notices a distinct lack of voices from African American women themselves.

The paper proceeds in a chronological fashion, first beginning with a brief introduction of the narrative, and then continuing onto a discussion around the “threat” of black overpopulation in the years following the Civil Rights Movement. In Part II, Okolo builds off the fear of black overpopulation to reveal that the United States government instituted a policy of sterilization of many poor African American women. And how ultimately in Part III, the Clinton Administration further institutionalized the “hyper-fertility” narrative as a weapon to paint African American women as “Welfare Queens” in order to mass mobilize its political capital for welfare reform to achieve the Administration’s paramount goal of a balanced budget.

Although Okolo presents an original, well-sourced and in many ways, captivating paper on the struggle for recognition of African American women’s fertility, the paper leaves much to be desired. In many instances throughout the paper, Okolo writes in an almost polemical fashion, harshly critiquing the misguided policy that supported the basic tenets of the false “hyper-fertility” narrative. She also often injects her opinion into places where the research she cites speaks for itself, thereby undermining the legitimacy of her argument.

In aggregate, however, Okolo does an excellent job at elucidating the impact of a harmful narrative which affects many African-American women today.

Trade and the Environment: A Dichotomy

Reviewed by Associate Editor Debbie Leung

There has long been a debate about the priority between economic growth and environmental conservation, with recent cases such as the Trans-Pacific Partner agreement. Ngoc Bao Pham Stefany in Trade and the Environment: A Dichotomy attempts to observe the correlation between free trade and environmental protection in the context of globalization by drawing on panel data of more than 170 countries. She first explains the four different channels through which trade influences the environment: income, composition, scale and technique effects, then elaborates on the 2 main existing opposing hypothesis that pinpoint the relationship between trade and environmental outcomes: gains from trade and race to the bottom. Next, she puts together the various indicators for trade and environmental impacts and analyzes their relationship based on the empirical results, upon which she draws her conclusion on relationship between trade openness in context of developmental level and environmental outcomes and puts forth recommendations to strike a balance between economic growth and environmental protection.


She first establishes the effects of the four channels through which trade impacts the environment by reviewing existing literature. Income growth, as she explains, is modeled in the Kuznets Curve, which indicates that pollution increases with increasing income per capita but the positive trend reverses when the income per capita reaches $8000 or above. Composition factor states that countries specialize in certain sectors with different pollution composition and could have both positive and negative impacts on the environment. The scale effect, however, posits that trade harms the environment as it facilitate more economic activity while the technique effect indicates that trade brings environmental benefits via worldwide green technology transfers. She also presents the two main theories about the impact of international trade on environmental protection. The “gains from trade” theory proposes that Trade can contribute positively to the environment through technique and income effects and policy convergence, known as “California Effects” in which powerful nations prod smaller nations into improving environmental policy through trade forum. On the other hand, the “race to the bottom” theory believes that trade openness and investment will lower environmental standards as countries would loosen their domestic regulations to increase their export competitiveness.


In trying to quantify the correlation between free trade and the environment, Stefany first introduces the different indicators of a country’s economic and environmental performance: Yale Environmental Performance Index (EPI) for a country’s environmental outcomes, ranging from water and sanitation, air quality, forest, biodiversity, climate, energy and more; GHG emissions for emission of air pollutants; import and export ratio over GDP for trade openness; GDP per capita and its square for national income given the hypothesis of the Kutznet Curve; political rights index from the Freedom House for political rights; and domestic trade in value added (TiVA) as % of gross export data. Using four tables to analyze the relationship between trade ratio and EPI (with and without TiVA) and that between trade ratio and GHG emissions (with and without TiVA), though Stefany concludes the correlation as insignificant given the constraints of her data, she explains trade openness alone does not account for the changes in environmental performance, trade openness in the context of development level influences environmental outcomes: as countries improve their development level, more trade openness can lead to better environmental outcomes and less greenhouse gas emissions. This is because their higher development level enables countries to take advantage of clean technology to reduce pollution, aligning with the Kuztnets Curve and the gain from trade hypothesis.


In light of her conclusion on the relationship between trade openness in context of developmental level and environmental outcomes, Stefany suggests the solution to environmental protection is not to limit trade; rather, we should focus on improving the level of development around the world so that countries can use their increasing income and technology transfer to enhance environmental outcomes. In Stefany’s view, this development process can be ultimately facilitated by trade.

A Review of “A New Europe Will Be Born” by Matt Wayland

Reviewed by Associate Editor Matt Wayland


In “A New Europe Will Be Born”, Conor Pfeiffer examines how James Baker, George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of State, served as a key actor during the period of diplomatic maneuvering that precipitated German reunification. Pfeiffer’s goal in the paper is to emphasize Baker’s role in shaping the post-Cold War European security environment, a role which, in Pfeiffer’s opinion, has lacked sufficient analysis and appreciation.

One of paper’s most important elements is that Pfeiffer is able to offer unprecedented access to the “Baker Papers”, a set of Baker’s notes and memorandum that are housed at Princeton University. By incorporating Baker’s shorthand into the essay itself, Pfeiffer is able to both represent how the statesman thought and worked, and demonstrate how he was able to transform broad principles and priorities into concrete diplomatic action.

The paper proceeds chronologically, tracing the major developments during the process of reunification. One important caveat that Pfeiffer points to in his literature review is that reunification itself was not a historical inevitability – thus the emphasis on the individual actors as being responsible for the outcome. Important developments within the heady years of 1989 and 1990 that Pfeiffer points to include the December 1989 speech delivered by Baker in Berlin from which the paper derives its title, the two-plus-four formula that Baker supported and ultimately became instrumental to the final treaty, and the settling of questions about NATO’s eastward expansion. Both bilateral and multilateral negotiations provided different kinds of forums and thus challenges for the American diplomats. Fortunately, within the American decision-making apparatus itself, centralization and cooperation facilitated success. Pfeiffer notes that the National Security Council enjoyed an amicable relationship with Baker’s State Department that allowed for coherent American leadership in rapidly changing world.

Despite Pfeiffer’s extensive research and engaging retelling of history, the paper is not without its shortcomings. In its effort to establish Baker as the central player in the drama of reunification, the paper has an understandable tendency to narrowly lionize Baker at the expense of a more balanced and academic approach. Despite the paper’s best efforts, it still feels impossible to envision harmonious German reunification without the dynamic leadership of West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl or Soviet Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev. Nevertheless, for foreign policy wonks and those interested in contemporary history, Pfeiffer’s cogent analysis definitely holds interest. Moreover, it provides a model for the kind of transformative outcomes that intelligible and reasoned American foreign policy can yield at a present moment increasingly defined by its opposite.




Examining Activist Strategies

Reviewed by Associate Editor Akanksha Ashok

Farris Peale’s Indifference and the Ivory Tower attempts to qualify and explain the strategies of apartheid divestment activists at Harvard and Columbia in the 1980s. These activists pushed the two universities to divest from investments in South Africa that supported apartheid. While Columbia divested fully, Harvard’s partial divestment stands out in stark contrast to Dartmouth, Georgetown and the entire University of California system (which withdrew three billion dollars of investments). By comparing Columbia and Harvard, Peale attempts to understand the gap in the administration’s response to divestment movement, and identify strategies that made complete divestment possible at Columbia.

Peale draws upon interviews and articles in The Harvard Crimson and The Columbia Spectator to construct coherent narratives of student activists and administrative responses. Her analysis suggests that outcomes at Harvard and Columbia were due to the differing structures of the two organizations heading the divestment movement. Harvard’s South African Solidarity Committee (SASC), despite having a democratic and non-hierarchical approach, seems to have been less effective than Columbia for a Free South Africa (CFSA) in persuading administration to divest fully. SASC remained a largely white organization with, as Peale notes, existing racial power structures replicated within. By contrast, CFSA’s more diverse population and prominent South African members made it more credible.

Structural differences aside, CFSA and SASC’s largest difference was a tactical one. CFSA had the distinct advantage of appealing to moderate students through a multistep process of education, appeal to administration through student votes, and eventual protests and barricading. Going through this process gave CFSA a way to cater to a base of moderate students and administration in a way SASC’s anti-administration and association with purely leftist student groups did not. In fact, Peale suggests that SASC ended up alienating a moderately conservative student body that should have otherwise been its broadest support base.

Indifference and the Ivory Tower provides an interesting study of divestment activism. In the context of Columbia and its Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movements, one may wonder how effective the tactics presented by Peale are. The caveat, however, is that Peale’s research cannot account for administration and their motivations as actors. While Peale acknowledges this and suggests further research in the area, activists and their narratives do not exist separately from their administrations and circumstances. Perhaps a study of the makeup and motivation of Harvard and Columbia’s administration would allow Peale to establish a more causal relationship between CFSA and SASC’s structures and the different outcomes of divestment.