Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What policies work in Iraq?

I thought it would be interesting for prospective students to learn a bit about the kind of seminars that take place at UPF -- we don't just run undergrad and grad programs, there is a plethora of seminar series as well. One paper in particular caught my eye last week. Eric Chaney (Berkeley) came here on Friday, and talked about his work on Iraqi bonds. Iraq issued new debt after the fall of Baghdad. These are traded worldwide. He argues that you can learn a lot about the stability of the Iraqi government from looking at these bond prices. In particular, he asks if the major "turning points" in the fight against the insurgency show up in bond prices. The punchline - "hard power" doesn't work. Catching, for example, the head of El Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (trumpeted as a major success at the time), hardly shows up in the bond prices at all. The market also wasn't much impressed by the formation of the al-Maliki government. What does matter is "soft power" - evidence of Sunni-Shiite reconciliation, of negotiations with tribal groups, etc. As Chaney notes, the bond price responses offer policy-makers real-time feedback on the type of initiative that works. I think this is really exciting work. Michael Greenstone (MIT) also has a paper using the same data to assess the success of the "surge". Potentially, these methods could improve the quality of decision-making.

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