Oil Prices

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Nice map here (repeated above): Deutsche Bank Map

Couple of things caught my eye:

  1. Nigeria & Venezuela
  2. Of course, Algeria & Libya
  3. Iraq & Iran (which is just been added to the world market)
  4. Kazakhstan
  5. Russia (where the situation is much worse than shown by this map because of their tax system)
  6. Azerbaijan (which just showed up in the news with conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh)

The quote to pull from this article is:

While Nigeria requires an oil price of $85 per barrel to balance its budget in 2016, Kuwait needs only $47 a barrel. If countries used government assets to finance their budget deficits while the oil price was low, Kuwait would hypothetically be able to do this for the next 122 years, while Nigeria could only manage 0.1 years.

 

Screw Theory! We Need More Prediction in Security Studies!

Johnny Carson as Carnac the Magnificent; taken from the January 24, 2005 broadcast of The Tonight Show.

Johnny Carson as Carnac the Magnificent; taken from the January 24, 2005 broadcast of The Tonight Show.

My previous post touched on the apparent analytical bankruptcy underlying the U.S. government’s approach to counterterrorism policy. While many fingers were pointed at the government for this state of affairs, at least one scholar admitted that “the leading [academic] terrorism research was mostly just political theory and anecdotes” which has “left policy makers to design counterterrorism strategies without the benefit of facts.”

So what can be done about this? Well, Michael D. Ward, a Professor of Political Science at Duke University, has suggested a radical solution: test the theories to see if they can accurately predict real world outcomes. Ward recently published an article in the Journal of Global Security Studies (read it now before it goes behind the paywall) arguing in favor of less theory and more prediction in the fields of international relations and security studies.

[W]e need less theory because most theory is an attempt to rescue or adapt extant theory. We need more predictions in order to keep track of how well we understand the world around us. They will tell us how good our theories are and where we need better explanations.

As Ward explained,

[P]rediction is deeply embedded in the philosophy of science… The argument is that if you can develop models that provide an understanding—without a teleology of why things happen—you should be able to generate predictions that will not only be accurate, but may also be useful in a larger societal context.

Ward argued that “until very recently, most of this thread of work in security studies had been lost, or if not lost, at least abandoned.” The reason for this was the existence of a longstanding epistemological disagreement: “Many social scientists see a sharp distinction between explanation on the one hand and prediction on the other. Indeed, this distinction is often sharp enough that it is argued that doing one of these things cuts you out of doing the other.”

For the most part, Ward asserted, the theorists have won out over the empiricists.

[M]any scholars (but few others) will tell you that we need more theory. Doubtless they are right. Few of them really mean “theory” in the sense that I reserve for the term. Few of them mean “theory” in the sense of analytical narratives. Many of them mean “detailed, plausible stories” about how stuff occurs.

In light of the uncomfortable conclusion that more detailed, plausible stories about how stuff occurs does not actually yield more insight, Ward has adopted a decidedly contrarian stance.

I am here to suggest that less is more. Thus, let me be the first to call for less theory in security studies. We should winnow the many, many such “theories” that occupy the world of security studies.

Instead, we need more predictions.

He went on to detail his argument.

We need these predictions for four reasons. First, we need these predictions to help us make relevant statements about the world around us. We also need these predictions to help us throw out the bad “theories” that continue to flourish. These predictions will help drive our research into new areas, away from moribund approaches that have been followed for many decades. Finally, and perhaps most important, predictions will force us to keep on track.

But making predictions is only part of the process. Tracking them and accounting for their accuracy is the vital corollary to improving both accuracy and theory. As Ward pointed out, “One reason that many hate predictions is that talking heads make many predictions in the media, but few of them ever keep track of how well they are doing.” Most, in fact, are wrong; few are held accountable for it.

Of course, the use of empirical methods to predict the outcomes of future events animated much of Trevor N. Dupuy’s approach to historical analysis and is at the heart of what The Dupuy Institute carries on doing today. Both have made well-documented predictions that have also been remarkably accurate. More about those in the next post.

Kursk Book II

Kursk

My Kursk book is back down to $171.80 on Amazon.com, which is below the list price of $195. For a week it was at $275. That was the only week that my book America’s Modern Wars was ranked higher in sales on Amazon.com than my Kursk book. I do consider America’s Modern Wars, being a theoretical analysis of the nature of insurgencies, to be a more significant piece of work than my Kursk book. Still, World War II sells better, even at six times the price.

Next Stop Berlin?

053.#2.1Article in The National Interest by Michael Peck on Russia reconstituting the First Guards Tank Army: Next Stop Berlin

This appears to be in response to us sending a brigade to Europe: U.S. Brigade

We send a brigade…they raise a tank army.

Anyhow, the First Tank Army (later First Guards) commanded by Mikhail E. Katukov plays a prominent role in my book on Kursk. In July 1943 it consisted of the III Mechanized Corps (Krivoshein), VI Tank Corps (Getman…love that name) and XXXI Tank Corps (Cherniyenko). It was better handled that many of the other armored units at the Battle of Kursk.

On page 447 on the book I do have a story of a phone call on the morning of July 6 1943 between Stalin and Katukov drawn from “unpublished memoirs” provided to me by the late Col. Sverdlov.  This may be the only published reference to that phone exchange. It stated:

Vatutin ordered that the First Tank Army, II and V Guards Tank Corps should counterattack Tomarovka. I was against this decision. Why would we move our dug-in tanks two kilometers forward exposing them to the 88mm guns that can destroy our T-34s? Our 76.2mm guns could not reach the German tanks even at the 1.5 kilometer distance! Luckily for me, I received a phone call from Stalin in the morning of 6 July. I told him that it would make more sense to fight German tanks from prepared positions. “Okay,” Stalin said, “You won’t counterattack. Vatutin will call you and tell you that.”

From the bio of Katukov (1900-1976) in my book (whose picture is at top of this post) is a story from Col. Sverdlov:

In 1990, the newspaper “The Red Star” asked me [Col. Sverdlov] to write an “unusual” article about Katukov (to commemorate his 90th birthday). I went to the apartment where he lived—an ordinary nine-story building on the Leningrad parkway by the “Sokol” metro [station] where many marshals and army generals used to live back in the days. His wife Ekaterina received me very kindly. She showed me right away all four spacious rooms of the apartment, which she transformed into a museum: pictures, photographs, Katukov’s things. “Our dacha (summer house) is also a museum now, except that it is only visited by combat friends, but that is very rarely,” she said. And then she dazed me with a phrase coming literally from an unknown person, “He did not have children either with his first wife or with me. He couldn’t. He followed treatments before, during and after the war, but with no results. I was, so that you understand, the “field and campaign wife” from as early as 1941 and loved him a lot. He divorced his first wife right after the war and we got married in 1946.” All of this was said in a burst.

The museum was marvelous, and apparently it was very expensive to set up. It revealed immediately that the woman Katukov spent all the war years with, loved him so dearly that it would make any real man jealous. “I even put a memorial granite plaque on the house at my expense; can one really wait for the government?” Ekaterina added.

It’s true that she said all that was already long ago and well known on Katukov’s combat journey. And there was not one single unrespectful word! When we parted, she gave me Katukov’s memoir “At the Edge of the Main Strike,” written by V. Titov based on archival documents and Katukov’s stories. The book had the inscription, “To F. Sverdlov—in hallowed memory of Mikhail Katukov,” and all this after 14 years after his death! That’s what you mean by the real love of a woman! I will take the liberty to suppose say that she inspired him in the war as well. Perhaps Freud was right?!

For the newspaper article, I only described the museum. I earned some praise and double royalties for the article.