June 19th, 2021

Aspiration

GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE

Earlier this week, global leaders at the G7 summit signed a "green belt and road initiative," which offers funds to low income countries for sustainable investment. The agreement comes in the face of a $15 trillion global infrastructure investment gap, which threatens to compound resource and climate-based inequalities.

In a 2018 introductory article, GAVIN BRIDGE, BEGUM ÖZKAYNAK, and ETHEMCAN TURHAN consider the global politics of green investment.

From the piece:

"Energy infrastructures draw together and advance the material interests of specific actors and groups across multiple scales. It is in this multi-actor and multi-scalar context, then, that a resurrection of debates on energy has to be understood: in some contexts energy policy reflects the reassertion of the national state as an economic actor (i.e. resource nationalism in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador). In others, it signals the rise of a populist and authoritarian form of economic nationalism (i.e. Turkey, Poland, India), where energy projects are harnessed to claims for national security in ways that occlude the particular interests of private capital and suppress dissent. In countries that embraced economic liberalization in the energy sector (such as the UK), claims for the national importance of new energy infrastructure reflect concerns about growing import dependency and the way energy systems are no longer ‘nationally’ contained. Elsewhere, it is an artefact of international agreements signed and ratified by nation-states.

It is important that social science research on energy better understand these complex intersections between energy infrastructure and the political economies of national development. Claims about the national significance of infrastructure ‘do political work’ by, for example, licensing state intervention in energy systems, establishing political authority, and marginalizing criticism. In many countries, energy policy-making remains centralized and divorced from public participation. Questions about who bears the costs of power stations, pipelines and other energy infrastructures deemed ‘critical’ to national security or development now animate calls for more inclusive and sustainable energy systems. Energy infrastructure also enables and sustains particular forms of political economy. This includes, for example, the importance of electricity transmission systems, gas pipelines and storage facilities to constituting wholesale energy markets and enabling the adoption of economic liberalization policies in national energy sectors. Chile’s introduction of wholesale markets for electricity in 1978, and comprehensive electricity and gas sector privatization in the UK beginning in the 1980s illustrate how infrastructures for circulating gas and electricity have been a key experimental site for economic deregulation and the introduction of market principles, commercial logics and private capital into national economies. Infrastructures for energy have been a key frontier in the evolution of economic organizational forms—around markets, finance, labor organization and techno-scientific expertise—that transcend the energy sector, such that they can be considered integral to the reproduction of economic power."

Link to the text.

 Full Article

June 18th, 2021

Investment and Decarbonization

A conversation on investment strategies for the green transition

In late March, the Biden administration announced the $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, with approximately half of the sum dedicated to fighting the climate crisis. While the legislation would mark sea change in federal action to avert climate catastrophe, many have argued that it falls dramatically short of the amount required to usher in a green transformation of our infrastructure and energy systems.

Responding to this large investment gap, a recent Phenomenal World essay by Anusar Farooqui and Tim Sahay proposes a plan for a public ratings agency for green finance, which would “be mandated to assess the economic viability and contribution towards decarbonization of project proposals” and “serve as a public signal for the state, investors, cities, and firms to back, fund, and undertake projects that are both viable and contribute significantly to decarbonization and resilience against climate change.”

 Full Article

February 3rd, 2020

Winter Night

VARIABLE DEPEDENCE

Debating the merits of large- and small-N studies

Sample size does more than determine the sort of methodology appropriate for a given study; theorists of social science have long pointed out that the number of case studies considered determines the sorts of questions researchers can analyze and the structure of their causal claims.

A 2003 paper by PETER HALL takes these debates further. In the context of comparative political science, Hall argues that the sort of methods researchers use should be consistent with their beliefs about the nature of historical development. From the paper:

"Ontology is crucial to methodology because the appropriateness of a particular set of methods for a given problem turns on assumptions about the nature of the causal relations they are meant to discover. It makes little sense to apply methods designed to establish the presence of functional relationships, for instance, if we confront a world in which causal relationships are not functional. To be valid, the methodologies used in a field must be congruent with its prevailing ontologies. There has been a postwar trend in comparative politics toward statistical methods, based preeminently on the standard regression model. Over the same period, the ontologies of the field have moved in a different direction: toward theories, such as those based on path dependence or strategic interaction, whose conceptions of the causal structures underlying outcomes are at odds with the assumptions required for standard regression techniques.

The types of regression analyses commonly used to study comparative politics provide valid support for causal inferences only if the causal relations they are examining meet a rigorous set of assumptions. In general, this method assumes unit homogeneity, which is to say that, other things being equal, a change in the value of a causal variable x will produce a corresponding change in the value of the outcome variable y of the same magnitude across all the cases. It assumes no systematic correlation between the causal variables included in the analysis and other causal variables. And most regression analyses assume that there is no reciprocal causation, that is, that the causal variables are unaffected by the dependent variable. The problem is that the world may not have this causal structure.

Small-N comparison is therefore far more useful for assessing causal theories than conventional understandings of the 'comparative method' imply. Precisely because such research designs cover small numbers of cases, the researcher can investigate causal processes in each of them in detail, thereby assessing the relevant theories against especially diverse kinds of observations. Reconceptualized in these terms, the comparative method emerges not as a poor substitute for statistical analysis, but as a distinctive approach that offers a much richer set of observations, especially about causal processes, than statistical analyses normally allow."

Link to the piece.

  • "Except for probabilistic situations that approach 1 or 0 (in other words, those that are almost deterministic), studies based on a small number of cases have difficulty in evaluating probabilistic theories." Stanley Lieberson's 1991 overview of the causal assumptions inherent to small-N studies. Link.
  • Theda Skocpol and Margaret Somers on "The Uses of Comparative History in Macrosocial Inquiry." Link.
  • Jean Lachapelle, Lucan A. Way, and Steven Levitsky use small-N process tracing to "examine the role of the coercive apparatus in responding to crises triggered by mass anti-regime protest in Iran and Egypt." Link. Andrey V. Korotayev, Leonid M. Issaev, Sergey Yu. Malkov and Alisa R. Shishkina present a quantitative analysis of destabilization factors in 19 countries during the Arab Spring. Link.
 Full Article