Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Here's another bad "study" from Foreign Policy

I don't generally have a very good opinion of Foreign Policy magazine. They're kind of like Foreign Policy-lite and I have a feeling they try to say provocative things in the hopes of ratcheting up page clicks or subscriptions. Unfortunately, these types of things often make them rather clownish.

Enter today's offer: Foreign Policy's 5th annual failed states index. These sorts of indices are rather useless since they paint broad strokes and therefore wouldn't actually be useful to foreign policy practioners but for some reason, they keep pumping them out like they're foreign policy's answer to US News's annual College Rankings. Back in grad school, I remember reading the index then and thinking that it had been rather foolishly produced (with a rather poor methodology). Apparently, things haven't gotten any better.

One thing I know for certain - only someone who has never visited and knows very little about Colombia could suggest the country is in danger of being a failed state. Security wise the government controls the vast majority of the country although the guerilla still manages to attack population centers from time to time (but not in any of the big cities). The suggestion that the guerilla represents, today, a viable threat to the functioning or longevity of the government is laughable. Economically, Colombia has largely been unaffected by the global economic crisis. Growth is still over 5% and foreign investment continues to rise. Politically, the country faces no crises of government or legitimacy, the president continues to be the most popular president in South America, and democratic processes are well respected (although politically motivated violence continues).

Looking at the list, Foreign Policy has decided that Bolivia is more stable or less at risk than Colombia. Curious since they continue to face a serious political crisis that threatens to tear the country in two. I'm sure there are others, like Venezuela or Honduras, that are much lower than Colombia that could be debated out.

I think that, behind all the fancy sounding explanations of why their methodology is oh-so sophisticated, Foreign Policy suffers in this compilation by giving equal merit to the 12 social, political, economic, and military variables that they use to evaluate state stability. Some factors matter more than others. In the case of Colombia, a booming economy, military control of the vast majority of the country, and political legitimacy matter much, much more in determining if the country is at risk of being a failed state than, say, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs). Yet, Foreign Policy makes no attempt to evaluate which factors are the most important. Thus, Colombia's high rankings in IDPs, for example, bumps it way up above Honduras or Venezuela, countries that don't really have IDP problems but do have a host of other problems that more directly challenge the legitimacy or ability of the state to funtion.

Well, I won't quibble any further on a "study" that, aside from mass consumption, is utterly useless. Instead, I'll just conclude that again, Foreign Policy has generated page views by producing faux scholarship and I'll wonder if they did it on purpose.



Post a Comment

<< Home

Political Favorites
Guilty Pleasures
My Global Position