Friday, 14 March 2008

Academics, titles, Germans, and Nazis (oh my!)

Tyler Cowen notes a recently-changed German law (previously shared over on the right and also noted by James Joyner) that made it illegal for anyone with a doctorate from a non-E.U. university to call themselves a doctor.

As someone who’s discussed academic titles excessively in the past, I found this turn of events somewhat interesting, but I found this part of the original WaPo piece more noteworthy:

Under a little-known Nazi-era law, only people who earn PhDs or medical degrees in Germany are allowed to use “Dr.” as a courtesy title.

The law was modified in 2001 to extend the privilege to degree-holders from any country in the European Union. But docs from the United States and anywhere else outside Europe are still forbidden to use the honorific. Violators can face a year behind bars. ...

The German doctor rule has been in effect since the 1930s, but it has been only sporadically enforced in recent years.

That changed last fall, when an anonymous tipster filed a complaint with federal prosecutors against seven Americans at the prestigious Max Planck Society, which operates 80 scientific research institutes across Germany. Federal authorities forwarded the complaint to prosecutors and police in at least three states, who decided to take action.

Shouldn’t all of the laws passed under Nazi rule have been repealed anyway, either during the postwar occupation or the subsequent transfer of sovereignty to the Federal Republic in the west? One wonders what other oddities emanating from Hitler’s Reichstag are lurking in modern German law.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Interesting paper alert

This working paper by Holger Lutz Kern and Jens Hainmueller just crossed the POLMETH wire and may be of some substantive interest—particularly for those who are debating the use of state-subsidized broadcasting into authoritarian states, like the U.S. broadcasts into Cuba and many of the BBC World Service’s foreign-language services:

A common claim in the democratization literature is that foreign free media undermine authoritarian rule. No reliable micro-level evidence on this topic exists, however, since independent survey research is rarely possible in authoritarian regimes and self-selection into media consumption complicates causal inferences. In this case study of the impact of West German television on political attitudes in communist East Germany, we address these problems by making use of previously secret survey data and a natural experiment. While most East Germans were able to tune in to West German broadcasts, some of them were cut off from West German television due to East Germany’s topography. We exploit this plausibly exogenous variation to estimate the impact of West German television on East Germans’ political attitudes using LARF instrumental variable estimators. Contrary to conventional wisdom, East Germans who watched West German television were more satisfied with life in East Germany and the communist regime. To explain this surprising finding, we demonstrate that West German television’s role in transmitting political information not available in the state-controlled communist media was insignificant and that television primarily served as a means of entertainment for East Germans. Archival material on the reaction of the East German regime to the availability of West German television corroborates our argument.

Monday, 3 October 2005

German elections now final

Steven Taylor notes that the disposition of the last seat in Germany’s parliamentary elections has now been resolved, giving the Christian Democrats a 226–222 edge over the Social Democrats in the new Bundestag; as a result, it appears that Gerhard Schröder is backing off his earlier insistence on remaining chancellor, although his SPD is not conceding the party’s claim to the chancellorship just yet.

On a semi-related note, today’s OpinionJournal featured article by Michael Greve argues that Germany’s election proves that proporational representation and cooperative federalism suck. I’m personally unconvinced that either is the case—indeed, the criticisms he levies against Germany’s use of transfer payments could just as easily apply to the United States. Rather, the problems Greve sees are in my mind largely the legacy of the CDU/CSU and SPD’s corporatist policies prior to reunification, which entrenched an inefficient welfare state and inflexible labor market, which have led to the need for reforms now, and effectively marginalized mass participation in politics, giving rise to both the Greens and the far right as important electoral forces.

Tuesday, 20 September 2005

There but for the grace of Duverger

The German elections have come and gone, and the results are Inconclusive; as expected, nobody got an outright majority, but less expected was the inability of the “natural” CDU–FDP coalition to gain a majority, thus leaving Germans with a series of rather unappetizing coalition possibilities:

  • The rather-unlikely “red-red-green” coalition, combining the SPD (Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democrats) with his current coalition partners, the Greens, and the whole lot making nice with the Left Party splinter group (itself a motley collection of ex-Communists and malcontent Social Democrats, including Schröder’s main rival on the left, Oskar Lafontaine).
  • The “traffic light” coalition including the SPD, FDP, and the Greens; also unlikely, as the FDP‘s leader has rejected it according to The Economist.
  • The “Jamaica” coalition of the CDU (the Christian Democrats, led by Angela Merkel, along with their Bavarian sister party, the CSU), the FDP (the Free Democrats, “liberals” in the European sense of the term), and the Greens. Somewhat plausible, if the Greens are willing to put aside their materialist values in favor of the postmaterialist ones they share with the Free Democrats.
  • A “grand coalition” of the SPD and CDU, with either Schröder or Merkel as chancellor. As Pieter Dorsman and Matthew Shugart point out, this is probably the worst of all possible worlds, albeit the most likely outcome.

And, to top things off, things aren’t really settled yet since a neo-Nazi candidate in Dresden died, requiring a postponement of the vote in that constituency; under Germany’s version of the additional member system, this will probably affect the final seat tally for both the CDU and the SPD, even if neither wins the seat.

Where to next? Pieter Dorsman thinks holding another vote may be the most sensible course of action, although I’m not really sure it would change much. My guess is that Germany will try to muddle through, with the CDU and SPD advancing some rather half-assed reforms that please no one… which, more likely than not, will bring us back to this point with another inconclusive election sooner, rather than later.

The comparative angle is advanced by Stephen Karlson, who notes that America’s coalition building is rather less explicit than that of Germany—of course, the muddled result in Germany, I’d argue, is largely because the SPD has failed to maintain its internal coalition. All effective governing parties are coalitions of interests—even in Israel, with easy entry into parliament for any disgruntled splinter group, both major parties (and many of the smaller ones) represent a range of opinion, not a single point in policy space. Here, I think Betsy’s Page gets the causality backwards:

Can you imagine some situation in America when we would have to have a coalition government of Republicans and Democrats running the government together. I’m not talking about divided government between Congress and the president. I’m talking about running the executive branch together. It is just unimaginable. The reason we have two parties is because they disagree fundamentally on how the government should run. And thinking of some coalition between a major and minor party would just move that party more to the extremes. [emphasis mine]

Leaving aside whether Democrats and Republicans “disagree fundamentally” about the operation of government (they don’t… try distinguishing the last four years of Republican rule from the Great Society, and you’ll find remarkable overlap), the two parties don’t exist because of this disagreement—at best, voters disagree, and the two parties try to maximize their number of votes by appealing to likely winning coalitions of voters.

More formally, the U.S. has two parties because of two major factors: our plurality (first-past-the-post) electoral system, and the loose federalism of the party system. Plurality elections do not inevitably lead to two-party systems (ask Canada or the U.K.); however, the added factors of having a relatively nationalized, largely unidimensional policy space (the key issues in America don’t radically differ between New York City and Philadelphia, Mississippi, even if the political position of the median voter in those places does, and people tend to dispute politics on a “left-right” dimension that is just similar enough to that of continental Europe to confuse observers on both sides of the Atlantic) and substantial local and state party autonomy (allowing the NYC and Neshboa County GOP establishment to largely define “Republican” for themselves), effectively ensure a two-party system—even where the barriers to ballot entry are low for new parties.

If the incentives for a two party system melted away, more likely than not our existing Republican and Democratic parties would melt away with them (or at least be transformed beyond recognition). And if you think our parties are bad now, wait until you see the parties led by Maxine Waters and Pat Robertson (or their acolytes) and comprised solely of their true believers. You’ll be begging for a grand coalition then…

Saturday, 17 September 2005

That election in Germany

Thursday, 30 June 2005

German confidence tricks

Here’s a new one: a parliamentary leader who wants to lose a vote of no confidence:

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will call a vote of confidence in the German parliament on Friday as part of his plan to hold early elections.

Schroeder is hoping he will lose the vote of deputies in the Bundestag, a move that would allow him to resign as chancellor and call fresh elections in the autumn—probably in mid-September.

He would then begin campaigning for a fresh mandate to push through tough economic reforms.

There’s some background on Germany’s rather unusual confidence procedures here at Wikipedia (the standard Wikipedia caveat applies)—there are actually two different types of confidence vote, one of which replaces the chancellor (the “constructive” vote that most comparative politics textbooks talk about) and the other of which requests (but does not require) that the president call new elections.

Monday, 16 May 2005

Deutschland spammer alles

Well, that explains all the German spam messages that have been flooding my Gmail account; I swear I had more spam than real messages in my Inbox today when I checked. (þ: Steven Taylor)