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#8
From: "Vlad Ivanenko" <vivanenk@uwo.ca>
Subject: On Bergson/ Khrushcheva controversies
Date: Sat, 10 May 2003

Recent JRL issues have been enlivened by exchanges of personal views on two unrelated subjects: the Abram Bergsons legacy and the opinions of Russian migrs on the current American policy. I have found both discussions informative and refreshing. Yet, it appears that the main points suggested by original contributors have been subsequently misplaced and, thus, have not been addressed.

In the first discussion the presenter has expressed his dissenting view on the legacy left by Professor Bergson. He has stated that the most authoritative estimate of the Soviet GNP, the CIAs, provided a poor guidance for policy makers. Since Prof. Bergson worked extensively on the subject, a natural question to ask is whether his work contributed to the wrong estimate or failed to correct for its deficiencies. The presenter has advised the reader that there were intuitive explanations that warned against the CIAs estimate and cited Igor Birmans work as an example.

The consequent contributions have not refuted this argument. It could be true that Mr. Birman had poor presentational skills and failed to convince his audience at Langley. It is plausible that Prof. Bergson excelled in many other things and managed to befriend many famous people. Yet, both arguments do not preclude the possibility that a person who cannot explain himself comes closest to the truth and a person who is often on the top in research can err in a particular instance.

The sufficient evidence to refute the position taken by the presenter may be of the following form. First, it can be shown that Prof. Bergson did not work with the estimation of the Soviet GNP and, hence, was unaware of the problem. Second, accepting the fact that he worked on the subject, the evidence can be presented that he disagreed with the CIAs estimate. Third, if Prof. Bergson worked and accepted the CIAs estimate, it can be shown that his work was more reliable at the time because Mr. Birmans methodology was flawed and he came closer to the truth accidentally.

Unless there is such evidence, the dissenters position is more convincing than that of his opponents.

In the second discussion, the presenter has accused the American administration of being undemocratic and compared it with the Soviet government of 1970s. By all appearances, the discussant has accepted the first proposition and rejected the second. Being involved in comparative economics, I am fully aware that most of international comparisons are built on rather restrictive assumptions that can be freely exploited in the debate. So the rejection is both correct and shallow. An implicit acceptance of the statement that international American policy is undemocratic and should be such is a new and worrisome development.

Let repeat the main steps of the original argument. The presenter has suggested that Iraq is a part of international community and implied that the American administration had to follow the internationally recognized rules of engagement dealing with this country. She has stated that the world public opinion was against a unilateral revision of such rules. Since the American administration has chosen to violate the rules, it has disregarded the world opinion and gone beyond its national mandate as a democratic government.

The counter-argument has a vaguer form but I venture to reconstruct it in the following form. American voters have granted the American administration the authority to manage its domestic policy. Iraqi affairs have turned to be relevant to domestic issues. To address them the American administration has had to intervene abroad. Since the majority of voters have agreed on the need for intervention, the American administration has behaved democratically when it intervened.

I find that the validity of the argument and its refutation are based critically on the definition of democracy. Consider a society that comprises slave-owners and slaves (or proprietors and proletarians, men and women). If only the first group has the right to vote and choose the government and not the second, do we call such a society democratic? Yes, but with a qualifier.

This is the distinction that both participants fail to recognize. The presenter has stated that she feels that her voice as an American voter is ignored and added numerous foreign residents who disagreed with the American policy to the group of the ignored. Her opponent has pointed out that the majority of Americans agree with this policy and that they can freely vote. What is missing here is the concept of the global village and its inhabitants. If there is a group that can vote and choose the village government and all others cannot, do we call the village to be governed democratically?

This question has been implied but not answered specifically in both contributions. This is a pity. The problem of how the world authorities should be chosen and under what rules they should operate is a highly relevant topic today and invites further discussion.

Vlad Ivanenko, PhD economics
University of Western Ontario, Canada

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