Price Signals and Publishing

Today, I received notification that Contemporary Security Policy has accepted an academic article on Australian defence and national security policy I coauthored with Deakin University’s Ben Eltham.


Eltham also wrote for Australia’s New Matilda on the late economist Gary Becker and price signals:


Becker’s idea of “human capital” has been among his most influential. This is the notion that getting an education is, in a very real sense, investing in yourself. “If you’re in an environment where knowledge counts for so much, then if you don’t have much knowledge, you’re gonna be a loser,” he once said.

Attitudes like this make Becker the patron saint of neoliberalism. As no less a thinker than Michel Foucault observed, Becker saw the rational individual as an “entrepreneur of himself, being for himself his own capital, being for himself his own producer, being for himself the source of his earnings.


Juxtaposing what we wrote with Eltham’s analysis offers insights about academic publishing.


Research managers have adopted Becker’s advocacy of human capital. This means that academic publishing is often judged on three output measures: (1) journal rankings; (2) academic citations; and (3) the government income a university receives for each academic’s publication.


This has some subtle effects on academic publishing. Fields like anthropology or political science — which require fieldwork or extensive modelling — have different publication rates than some laboratory-based science. The latter enables researchers to publish more papers. This creates a Matthew Effect or Winner-Takes-All dynamic: more income is generated and hopefully more academic citations will occur. These outcomes are examples of Becker’s pricing signals: each publication becomes an output of workload activities (for cost and business process management) and a monetisable income stream (for J-curve patterns in entrepreneurial venture capital: an academic will generate more value as their career unfolds).


These price signals have anchoring, disposition, and representativeness biases that can lead some research managers to potentially misjudge the effort involved in getting a paper published. This is where Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s heuristic of having ‘skin in the game’ as a published academic author can be important to facilitate judgments. In our case, Eltham and I spent 18 months writing at least three drafts. We had to rewrite sections for two changes in Australia’s federal government. We had to address new literature. Our special issue editor also edited the paper. I edited the endnotes twice. We got extensive, critical, and helpful comments from three knowledgeable reviewers. I also got feedback during an international conference panel — where I met the journal editor — and from seeing other panels on parallel research programs.


This also involved a lot of effort and coordination that formal workload models often do not capture.


Narrow interpretations of these price signals can also ignore cumulative learning effects. Eltham and I learned several things in writing our just accepted paper. We self-funded the research as academic entrepreneurs. An earlier article draft had a comparison of United States, United Kingdom, and Australian defence and national security exercises that might become a separate article. We started to co-develop a microfoundations model of strategic culture that first arose when Eltham recommended I read Dan Little’s Microfoundations, Methods, and Causation: On the Philosophy of the Social Sciences (Transaction Publishers, 1998). I learned a lot about national security and recent Australian policymaking innovations: a socialisation process.  These are just some examples of what occurred over an 18 month period.


Often, research managers bring up price signals in terms of value creation. However, can be in the narrow sense above of a journal ranking; citation metric; or a dollar value for income generated. Whilst these are important they are only part of the full spectrum of potential value creation that can occur when academic coauthors collaborate on a research article or a project. Yet the conversation is often as if tools like Real Options valuation or Balanced Scorecard reporting (which acknowledges learning) were never created. The problem isn’t the use of managerial frameworks: it’s that they can be used in a shallow and superficial way for less-optimal outcomes.


Collectively, these challenges mean that academics and institutions alike never realise the full spectrum of potential value creation from an academic publication. Becker saw investment. Foucault saw entrepreneurship. I see the potential for knowledge commons arbitrage. Perhaps that’s why academics enjoy the international conference circuit so much. Sometimes the potential value creation can be more like work-life balance: Taleb wrote Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder (New York: Penguin Press, 2012) in solitude, to distill his life experience as an options trader and his love of classical philosophy. Read it on your next study leave period.

21st September 2012: Paper Abstracts for International Studies Association’s Annual Convention 2013

Coauthor Ben Eltham (a PhD candidate at University of Western Sydney and rising star in Australian national affairs journalism for Crikey and New Matilda) and I have two papers accepted for the International Studies Association‘s annual convention in San Francisco in 2013:


Australia’s Strategic Culture and Constraints in Defense and National Security Policymaking


Scholars have advanced different conceptualizations of Australia’s strategic culture. Collectively, this work contends Australia is a ‘middle power’ nation with a realist defense policy, elite discourse, entrenched military services, and a regional focus. This paper contends that Australia’s strategic culture has unresolved tensions due to the lack of an overarching national security framework, and policymaking constraints at two interlocking levels: cultural worldviews and institutional design that affects strategy formulation and resource allocation. The cultural constraints include confusion over national security policy, the prevalence of neorealist strategic studies, the Defence Department’s dominant role in formulating strategic doctrines, and problematic experiences with Asian ‘regional engagement’ and the Pacific Islands. The institutional constraints include resourcing, inter-departmental coordination, a narrow approach to government white papers, and barriers to long-term strategic planning. In this paper, we examine possibilities for continuity and change, including the Gillard Government’s forthcoming ‘Asian Century’ whitepaper and 2013 defense whitepaper.


(Thanks to Wooster College’s Jeff Lantis for coordinating the Strategic Culture panel that this paper is on.)


Complexity, Model Risk, and International Security


International security thinking has evolved beyond initial research in the early-to-mid using the chaos and complexity sciences. Firms including Kissinger & Associates, Pimco, The Prediction Company (now part of UBS), Roubini Global Economics and Stratfor have created new models to understand catastrophic/tail risks, and to profit from geopolitical flashpoints such as the current speculative bubble in rare earths, China’s growth in the Asia-Pacific region, and the greater involvement of multi-national corporations in the international political economy. This paper builds on the work of scholars in international security and the sociology of economics and finance, journalists, and hedge fund and risk management practitioners, to address how these new models have diffused into hybrid academic-commercial environments, how they construct new social realities, and ‘model risk’. We focus on structural micro-foundations: to what degrees and under what conditions do the assumptions underlying these new risk models correspond to real-world phenomena like geopolitical flashpoints? Are these phenomena measurable? Are the relationships between them robust? We examine as a case study the Anonymous hack of Stratfor in December 2011, Stratfor’s planned hedge fund StratCap, and Stratfor’s reaction including its hiring in March 2012 of Atlantic Monthly journalist Robert D. Kaplan.

22nd March 2012: Predictions & National Security

Driving In The Dark (2011)


The US-based Center for a New American Security has a 2011 report on prediction and national security:


In Driving in the Dark: Ten Propositions About Prediction and National SecurityDanzig examines the nature of prediction in national security and offers strategic recommendations for how the U.S. Department of Defense can improve its predictive capabilities while also preparing for predictive failure. Danzig recommends that the Department of Defense adopt new strategies to improve its predictive abilities while also preparing to be unprepared. He suggests narrowing the time between conceptualizing programs and bringing them to realization; building more for the short-term and designing operationally flexible equipment; and valuing diversity and competition. Policymakers will always drive in the dark, but by adopting these recommendations, they may better respond to unpredictable conditions and prepare the United States for unforeseen threats.


The report will interest program managers and strategic foresight analysts.

6th February 2012: Peter Feaver on Obama’s National Security Record

Peter Feaver‘s book Armed Servants (Boston: Harvard University Press, 2005) is a masterful study of civil-military relations.


I reach different conclusions, though, to Feaver’s Shadow Government critique of the Obama administration’s national security record.


Feaver argues:


1. Obama’s foreign policy successes have come when he has followed Bush policies; his failures have come when he has struck out on his own.


Here, Feaver quotes an argument that Thomas Friedman first raised. Friedman makes several assumptions:


(A1) Obama’s campaign rhetoric would translate into Obama administration policy;

(A2) Bush’s policies have traceable continuity with Obama administration actions; and

(A3) Obama is responsible for operational and scoping failures.


A1 is unrealistic to succeed: few campaign promises survive their impact with the Beltway. There is too much bureaucratic interest to keep Guantanamo Bay operational, for instance. A2 and A3 enable Republicans to engage in George Lakoff-like framing games: juxtapose Bush’s success (A2) with Obama’s failures (A3). This is brilliant if you’re a Karl Rove-like political consultant. Except, as Thomas Ricks pointed out, Obama wasn’t responsible for failures like the 2003 Iraq War decision. (Or, North Korea going nuclear and the problems with the Non-Proliferation Treaty regime.) As Feaver knows, administrations can have both political continuity with their predecessors and can adapt to emergent security dilemmas. A3 introduces civil-military tensions, coordination problems amongst government departments, and the challenge of translating strategy into implementable operations. There’s the genesis here of an interesting academic journal article.


Feaver then suggests:


Obama has made relatively effective use of the tools and instruments of power that he inherited from his predecessor — it raises the question, what new tools and instruments of power is Obama bequeathing to his successor?


This very interesting question also has several assumptions:


(B1) Political administrations and the United States President (executive power) shape the ‘contexts of use’ of instruments of power.

(B2) The instruments of power are transferable between different political administrations.

(B3) Instruments of power are capabilities that can emerge, develop, be sustained, or decay over time (diachronic orientation).


The late Terry Deibel’s book Foreign Affairs Strategy: Logic for American Statecraft (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007) is one of the best conceptual analyses on instruments of power and B3: diplomatic, informational, military and economic. Regarding B2, the Bush administration’s record will remain debated: it re-engaged with counter-insurgency for Afghanistan and Iraq; reviewed intelligence after the September 11 attacks and the 2003 Iraq War decision; and failed to deal with A.Q. Khan’s covert nuclear proliferation network. But other capabilities might have developed regardless of the political administration assumed in B1: the legislative and judicial branches can shape the scope and use of instruments of power;  Stephen Brooks’ Producing Security (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007) makes the case that multi-national corporations can affect innovation and threat perception; and P.W. Singer’s Wired for War (New York: Penguin, 2009) documents how robotics research for drones has taken decades. As Feaver concedes, many of the capabilities he mentions were developed in the Clinton administration and a few can be traced to the Reagan administration and earlier. Likewise, the Obama administration’s focus on Special Operations Forces capabilities recalls John F. Kennedy’s nurturing of SoF capabilities. E-diplomacy is one capability that has matured during the Obama administration (if you believe it has credibility); so has a renewal of the United States-Pacific alliance structure.


Feaver asks:


So, the Republican nominee should ask, in what ways will Obama’s successor have a larger and more powerful toolbox than the one Obama got to use?


Obama is constrained by the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and by the fallout from the 2007-09 global financial crisis. So, a potential incoming Republican or a second term Obama administration might face more of a clean slate, and more demands to renew the United States’ national economic infrastructure. One challenge to a Republican administration would be how to deal with Obama’s multi-lateral approach.

6th January 2012: On PMs and the National Security Apparatus

Andrew Carr blogged at The Interpreter on Australian national security policy:

While sometimes there are inevitable delays, Gillard has run a more efficient ship-of-state than her predecessor, leading me to believe that it is a disinclination for a centralised security office in PM&C that better explains the delays. This not only fits with Gillard’s lower level of passion for foreign policy than Rudd, but hopefully also a recognition that the system Rudd established didn’t work.


From my email reply to Carr:

The Rudd Government’s related foreign policy achievement was its 2008 National Security Statement which promised a regular NSS and budget. The Gillard Government has not acted on this promise. The missed reform opportunity was to develop a comparable mechanism to the US Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act (1986) which has mandated the White House’s regular NSS to US Congress.

Rudd’s National Security Adviser had a coordination role but never the power of its US equivalent or the National Security Council staff. It is still unclear (to me) how the NSA role also interfaces with Office of National Assessment responsibilities for whole-of-government estimative assessments.

Whilst Rudd had operational problems, as an ex-diplomat he understood the need for NSS reform; the need for a whole-of-nation grand strategy; and (possibly) the budget and resource allocation issues. He acted on a decade of national security debate, to move beyond the Howard Government’s emphasis on counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency and effects based strategy. PM&C may not be the appropriate vehicle for (centralised) grand strategy formulation. But devolving these responsibilities back to the Deparment of Foreign Affairs & Trade and Defence Department won’t necessarily help, either. DFAT remains underfunded for the diplomatic and economic challenges ahead. The Defence Department’s Force 2030 whitepaper (2009) continues to be debated and until Rudd’s NSS in 2008, the defence whitepapers were de facto national security policy. With the exception of the 1986 Dibb Review and the 1987 statement, the defence whitepapers have not fully addressed grand strategy conceptualisation. Both departments pursue their respective interests and instruments of power at the expense of a coordinated grand strategy, and at the risk of institutional capture.

In contrast to the Goldwater-Nichols Act reforms, Gillard’s current (in)actions on the NSS, NSA role and annual national security budget suggests a different conclusion: strategy drift.


Alternatively, it could just be Gillard’s rollback of Rudd’s national security initiative.

A Rejoinder to Bernard Keane’s ASIO Claims

During a 2006 Monash postgraduate class on intelligence analysis our adviser made several observations on how the Australian Security Intelligence Agency (ASIO) is misrepresented and misunderstood. The ‘S’ stood for domestic security not secrecy. ASIO had an accountability and audit regime at multiple levels: legislative limits, the Treasury budget process, appeals processes, external audits and supply contract review, and reporting to the public and to bipartisan government committees. Australia’s intelligence resources were mo stly deployed in military agencies for signals intelligence. Finally, media coverage of ASIO rarely evolves to the sophistication seen in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Bernard Keane’s Crikey article ‘The Answer is ASIO‘ (24th February 2010) risks continuing this trend in media coverage of intelligence issues. I want to illustrate below how Keane’s own arguments can be interpreted as having their own “deeply-flawed logic” in his accusations of Labor’s “security propaganda.”

Continue reading “A Rejoinder to Bernard Keane’s ASIO Claims”