Thursday, January 09, 2003

Parliamentary procedure doesn't, in general, baffle me; and three months interning on the Hill 'way back when, plus my permanent news obsession, have left me with a moderately clear understanding of Congressional procedures. (My Ph.D. in political science added nothing to that knowledge; I must've been sick the day we covered Congress in class.)

But I have no understanding of the rules governing the Senate organizing resolution. How can it possibly be that committee chairs can't turn over without Democratic approval? Could an outgoing-majority party just hold onto committee chairmanships (and budgets, and majorities) forever? Is this a norm of civility-- "because we like to think of the Senate as a gentlemanly club we like to agree on the rules of the game in advance"? Or is it, as reports seem to suggest, an actual procedural rule that both parties must agree to the organizing resolution?

I remember that in 2000 Lott agreed to an organizing resolution that Republicans were none too happy with, and that it governed the change in party control a few months later. If he'd negotiated harder, could he have gotten a resolution that would have preserved Republican control of committees after Jeffords' switch?

In short: at what point could a floor majority ram through an organizing resolution? Is there any such point? What's the longest it's ever taken to get the resolution approved?

Congress trivia junkies and Congress scholars (overlapping but non-identical groups), whaddayknow?

UPDATE 1: Decided to look around for the answer. What seems to me the relevant section of the Senate standing rules doesn't mention anything about supermajorities or consensus rules. But the words "organizing resolution" don't appear, so I'll keep looking. Elsewhere, I see the following:

ch. 25 section. 4 par. (c) By agreement entered into by the majority leader and the minority leader, the membership of one or more standing committees may be increased temporarily from time to time by such number or numbers as may be required to accord to the majority party a majority of the membership of all standing committees. When any such temporary increase is necessary to accord to the majority party a majority of the membership of all standing committees, members of the majority party in such number as may be required for that purpose may serve as members of three standing committees listed in paragraph 2. No such temporary increase in the membership of any standing committee under this subparagraph shall be continued in effect after the need therefor has ended. No standing committee may be increased in membership under this subparagraph by more than two members in excess of the number prescribed for that committee by paragraph 2 or 3(a).

But that only seems to apply when the sizes of committees are being increased.

UPDATE: Chris Lawrence says that there's nothing especially obscure or exotic going on.

I think the issue is that the organizing resolution, like almost everything else
in the Senate (except, I believe, conference reports), is subject to filibuster.

Since the organizing resolution is your basic party-loyalty activity (like voting for your party's leader for Speaker of the House), the options are: a) one party has 60 votes and can pass the resolution unanimously; b) unanimity, as dictated by agreement between the party leaders, or c) paralysis.

Reader David Isaacson independently suggested the same thing.

Makes sense to me-- except in that it-doesn't-really-make-any-sense-at-all way...

UPDATE AGAIN: This makes rather more sense to me. A Congress scholar who wishes to remain anonymous writes:

Regarding your query, the answer likely lies in the fact that the Senate
is considered to be a "continuing body" unlike the House, which must
pass (or re-pass) its standing rules in each Congress. Only a third of
the membership is new each Congress, so the rules carry over from
Congress to Congress. If you parse the rules closely, you will see that
there is generally little reference to parties (majority & minority).
In particular, there are no rules against having minority party members
chair committees, a condition we witnessed as late as the early 20th C...

Binder and Smith have a good discussion of the continuing body issue in
Politics or Principle (Brookings, 1997). They discuss the issue in the
context of the difficulty of enacting cloture reform (reform of Rule
XXII). As a pragmatic matter, the Democrats won't be able to hold on
the committees indefinitely, but they are trying to extract as much as
they can.

The filibuster seemed insufficient as an explanation; it couldn't account for the continuing validity of the old organizing resolution since, in general, one Congress cannot bind its successor. But the Senate isn't ever binding its successor; it's binding "itself." Very interesting...
There'd something a little odd about Princeton economist Alan Krueger devoting his whole NYT column to plugging the research of currently-on-the-job-market Princeton grad student, Erica Field-- if not for the fact that she's working on a really exciting and important topic, the impact of Hernando de Soto's land-titling reforms on labor market participation in Peru, and for the fact (not mentioned in his column, but apparent from her CV) that he's not one of her advisors.

I'm a big, big believer in de Soto's title-reform agenda for Peru and most of the rest of the developing world. As Krueger notes, the effect Field has found isn't the main one de Soto predicts. But the effects are all of a piece; property titling lends security and stability to the lives of the most vulnerable. It makes sense that protection of basic physical security and protection from invasion precede labor market entry, which in turn precedes credit market entry. More former squatters having regular and documentable sources of income now means more former squatters who make plausible mortgagors in a few years; collateral is a necessary but often not sufficient condition for credit market access, since creditors would rather know how the loan is going to be serviced than to know that they're going to end up foreclosing.

Oddly, Krueger only mentioned Peruvian government studies of the credit market access question, and he reports that there's been no evidence of an improvement yet. But Field's list of working papers includes one on this question, and while the results aren't huge, they do seem to be present.

Do Property Titles Increase Credit Access among the Urban Poor? Evidence from Peru”(with Maximo Torero, mimeo, Princeton University, September 2002)

Abstract: The Peruvian urban titling program provides a dramatic natural experiment for testing the theory that credit rationing can be remedied by strengthening institutions governing property rights and increasing the collateral value of landholdings. This paper conducts an evaluation of early program impact on the likelihood of obtaining formal credit and on the interest rate at which formal credit can be obtained. Staggered program timing within cities enables us to construct comparison groups in program and non-program neighborhoods via propensity score based on observable criteria in loan applications. We then estimate the average treatment effect of property titling on credit access using kernel-based and nearest neighbor matching methods, looking separately at the impact among commercial and non-profit lenders. Our results suggest that among non-profit lenders land titles increase loan acceptance rates by 12% but have no influence on borrowing costs. Meanwhile, loan acceptance rates of both standard commercial banks and informal lenders are unaffected by residential ownership status, although interest rates in commercial banks appear slightly lower for title-holders. We attribute this pattern to the higher profitability of small loans for microfinance lenders with localized strategies for dealing with informational and enforcement costs and to greater public sector familiarity with the government titling effort.

NB: This is not an area of academic expertise for me; I read de Soto's translated works, but those aren't pieces of technical economics. I gather that Field is among the first economists to subject the reforms to rigorous testing; I haven't read her papers, and they don't seem to have been through peer review yet. With that proviso noted, here's the paper Krueger is talking about.

UPDATE: Brad deLong is impressed with Field's work as well.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Every so often bloggers self-indulgently list wacky combinations of search words that have led people to their sites.

My recent results yield some politics, some political philosophy, and some Lord of the Rings stuff (especially Haldir, for some reason-- maybe his name doesn't appear online as frequently as those of most characters, and so this site pops up early on the web searches). The one I really can't figure out combines politics and LotR:

narsil sword pakistan

What on earth was the occasion for searching for these words in combination?

UPDATE: According to reader Bert Wiener:
Pakistan is where a lot of replica
and fantasy 'cutlery' is produced. Perhaps someone is
looking for a site that's producing the shards of
Narsil. Now THAT's a serious collector!

More plausible than anything else I've heard. This year I've been bombarded by catalogs selling replica elven-rings and Lorien-brooches and Sting and so on. I don't remember anything selling a replica of the sword that was broken when it was still broken, though...

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

With the Democratic presidential field almost complete, I offer my first NH primary prediction, 55 weeks in advance. Richard "Eyebrowless Man" Gephardt, who utterly failed to connect with NH voters in 1988, will utterly fail to do so again in 2004. Protectionism, unionism, and midwestern agriculture subsidies just aren't the core issues for NH Democrats. He will finish no better than fifth, behind at least Kerry, Lieberman, Edwards, and Dean. In the 1984 NH Democratic primary there were Democrats who finished behind write-ins for Ronald Reagan on the Democratic ballot. Success for Gephardt in NH will be finishing ahead of write-ins for Bush, and ahead of Al Sharpton; and he might not pull those off.
The NYT has mostly lagged behind the Washington Post on coverage of the Indian trust fund scandal, but it gave the most recent developments the coverage they deserve.
Dan Drezner has a round-up of coverage of the American Economics Association and American Historical Association annual meetings. The last couple of weeks have also, of course, seen the annual meetings of the American Association of Law Schools, the American Philosophical Association (East), and the Modern Language Association (see coverage here). This means grad students in all those disciplines have been going through the hazing ritual known as conference interviews. Dan's happy that the APSA meets at the beginning of the school year because over Labor Day the reporters who write snarky academic-mocking articles are still on their August vacations. I'm happy about it because it means that political scientists are spared that miserable (for candidates and interviewers alike) intermediate step in the job search process...
If you're near a radio, go listen to Tom Palmer, Jonah Goldberg, and my colleage Richard Epstein on WBEZ's Odyssey, discussing libertarianism. UPDATE: So far I've heard mention of Kant, Locke, Pareto, Jeremy Waldron, Joseph Raz, "the crooked timber of humanity" (Isaiah Berlin's favorite phrase), and Cosmo the Wonderdog. UPDATE AGAIN: A couple of thoughts about Jonah and libertarianism. First, Jonah complains that libertarians get a lot of mileage out of emphasizing drugs as an issue (i.e. by appealing to pot-friendly college students). But, in a discussuion of the difference between conservatism and libertarianism, it seems to me that it's Jonah who's getting mileage out of emphasizing drugs, and the supposed libertarian premise that all individuals are always rational that's neatly disproven by drugs. Conservatives have also: supported sodomy laws, opposed gay marriage and adoption, supported censorship of a variety of sorts (Jonah's proud of this), and supported criminalizing scientific research involving the use of stem cells. Conservatives and libertarians also (by and large, not perfectly) disagree about abortion. In none of these cases is the intuition "drugs=irrationality" available as an argumentative shortcut. Second, Jonah complains that libertarians do less policing of the movement's boundaries than do conservatives (or at least the conservatives at NR). It's true that there hasn't been one libertarian organ that has held the quasi-authoritative position that NR has traditionally held among conservatives. When one wanted to know the conservative position on whether Pat Buchanan was an anti-Semite, one went to NR.

On the other hand, libertarian factions have had no shortage of mutual policing, reading each other out of the movement, etc. Picking up the habit from the Ayn Rand circle, many libertarians have been quite eager to declare where the boundaries are. The Rothbard group tried to read Cato and everyone affiliated with Koch out of the movement; Misesians declare Hayekians to be apostates; anarchists vs. minarchists, and so on. I've got my own boundary: the gang of confederatistas and apologists for slavery, police brutality, and immigration restrictions lie outside of it.

I'd've been curious to hear the rest of what Jonah had to say. Who is it he thinks libertarians should have been excluding but haven't been? And what's the argument that all this policing (easily ridiculed as the narcissism of small differences, letting the best be the enemy of the good, the enforcement of ideological litmus tests, and simple factionalism) is an unalloyed good.

ONE MORE UPDATE: Of course, NR's policing of its boundaries sometimes leaves something to be desired. John Derbyshire, anyone?