The Hoover Institution recently wrapped up its fifty-fourth retreat. The three-day event, from October 19 through 21, featured talks from Hoover’s distinguished scholars and affiliates.  Below are summaries of presentations from the event, accompanied by links to selected podcasts and chartcasts.

Browse by scrolling through this page, or jump directly to the specific speaker here:

John Cochrane, Morris Fiorina, Jack Goldsmith, Stephen Haber, Victor Davis Hanson, Edward Lazear, James Mattis, Michael McFaul, Condoleezza Rice, Russell Roberts, Kimberley Strassel, John Taylor, and Eric Wakin.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Condoleezza Rice: “It seems the world is spinning off its axis, and it has a feeling of inherent danger”

Condoleezza Rice, the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow at Hoover, gave the predinner remarks to begin the retreat officially, entering to a standing ovation.  Recalling anecdotes from her time in office, her talk focused on the “twin crises” of terrorism and, to use her phrasing, “great powers behaving badly,” particularly China and Russia. Rice argued that these crises have been exacerbated by the United States sending weak signals to other international powers and that it needs to reengage with the world in a major way to right the balance of power. She ended her talk with three prescriptions: first, cancel the defense cuts because the solutions to most problems in the world need the shadow of US power and, in some cases, the credible threat of US power; second, deter Russia from invading the Baltic States by stationing more US troops in the region; and third, support energy infrastructure, such as the Keystone Pipeline, so that the United States could be energy independent and help its allies rely less on the thuggish tactics of Vladimir Putin and world despots.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Jack Goldsmith: “Obama has an incredible war powers legacy”

Jack Goldsmith, a senior fellow at Hoover, discussed the legal aspects of President Obama’s foreign policy in a talk entitled “Obama’s Breathtaking Expansion of a President’s Power to Make War.” He demonstrated how Obama has expanded the constitutional powers to use force, particularly for humanitarian causes as he did in Libya in 2011, Syria in 2013, and the current Iraq and Syria crises in 2014.  He next explained how the Obama administration, despite claiming that the controversial War Powers Resolution is legitimate, has gutted the legislation by defining “hostilities” more broadly than ever before.  Finally, Goldsmith outlined the paradox of Obama’s use of the 2001 authorization to use military force in the current fight against ISIS.  Ultimately, Goldsmith argued, these broad and surprising expansions of the president’s power to make war have led to a pattern of stealth wars, ad hoc decision making, a failure of leadership, and an expansion of “forever wars.”

Watch a chartcast of Goldsmith’s talk below:

Kimberley Strassel: “Republicans will have a delicate balancing act”

Kimberley Strassel, an editor and columnist for the Wall Street Journal, discussed politics in the next two years in a talk entitled “The Consequences of the Midterms.”  Her talk was divided between two elections scenarios: the status quo or a Republican majority in both Houses of Congress.  In the first scenario, Americans can expect two more years of inaction with potentially disastrous long-term results.  In the second scenario is the possibility of small changes, though Republicans would have to prove that they can unite as a party, govern like leaders, generate ideas, while avoiding political debacles such as last year’s government shutdown.  Strassel emphasized that the Republicans could make attempts at targeted changes in important arenas such as energy, tax reform, and immigration through appropriation bills, forcing President Obama to prioritize his agenda.  She went on to say that a Republican Congress could also stem the flow of scandals that has plagued Washington in recent years, such as the IRS, Benghazi, and the Veteran’s Association, as well as limit the effects of components of Obama’s legacy.  More than anything, Strassel argued, one should view the next two years as laying the foundation for the 2016 elections.

Stephen Haber: “The Obama administration is rushing to fix a broken patent system”

Stephen Haber, the Peter and Helen Bing Senior Fellow at Hoover, discussed the US patent system in a talk entitled “Is America’s Innovation System Really Broken? The Patent Reform Debate.” He began by discussing the 2011 patent reform legislation, the biggest move toward patent reform since the 1950s.  Since then, Congress has proposed an additional fourteen patent bills, and President Obama has issued five executive orders and discussed patent reform as a top priority in his State of the Union address. All this concern for patent reform stems from the assumption that the patent system is broken or outdated. Haber then discussed how patent legislation has and has not changed in the past century, arguing that, although the patent system may have been imperfect, it still allowed for the fastest economic growth in recorded history.  It is difficult to imagine that a bureaucracy could and would create a better system.  He ended by discussing the importance of the Hoover research team IP2 for institutionalizing the debate for patent reform.

Edward Lazear: “We are not really recovering at all”

Edward Paul Lazear, the Morris Arnold and Nona Jean Cox Senior Fellow at Hoover, discussed economic affairs in a talk entitled “The Current Global Economy and Implications for Businesses.” He began by showing a graph for gross domestic product (GDP) growth from the end of the Second World War to today, demonstrating that, although we are doing better comparatively than Europe and other developed countries, we would need the unlikely growth rate of 5 percent a year for six years to bring the economy back to the GDP growth trajectory. He went on to demonstrate that the current uncertainty in the world is introducing volatility to the markets but that the data suggest domestic affairs have a greater impact on the market than international events. As he had written in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal a few days earlier, the government’s ability to forecast and develop policy on future predictions is horribly inaccurate.  Nevertheless, Lazear proposed some policy prescriptions to help the market, including fixing the tax code, reducing regulation, increasing trade, controlling spending, and reforming health care.

Morris Fiorina: “When changes come cumulatively, they bring instability”

Morris Fiorina, a senior fellow at Hoover, discussed US politics in a talk entitled “The US Electorate: Shifting Majorities, Polarization, and the 2014 Elections.” He explained that, although we seem to be in an era of indecision and unstable majorities, the United States is not experiencing greater party polarization; rather, it is experiencing greater party sorting, meaning fewer liberal conservatives and conservative liberals in the Republican and Democratic Parties, respectively.  This is partly driven by greater polarization in political elites, although the majority of the population remains constant. Using historical examples as evidence, Fiorina argued that much of this indecision and instability is due to large societal changes, such as economic transformations, globalization, and mass immigration.  If history is any indicator, we are about halfway through our current era of instability. 

Watch a chartcast of Fiorina’s talk below:

James Mattis: “Sometimes we forget that we can get more support by showing people we are with them”

General James Mattis, an Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Hoover, discussed US foreign policy in a talk entitled “The Worsening Situation in the Middle East–and America’s Role.” He began by describing the current state of the world: the breakdown of international institutions, the perception of America withdrawing in the international realm, and a lack of leadership accompanied by an unsustainable fiscal path in US domestic politics.  He argued that this state of affairs is a product of several “crosscurrents,” such as the hatred between Sunnis and Shias, the competition between authoritarian regimes and reformers, and the rivalry between secularists and Islamists.  He warned that the United States needs to appreciate and use its allies, such as the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, by constructing a policy that unites those allies with a sense of purpose and also convinces the American people of the importance of global leadership.  Should the United States achieve such a policy, Mattis argued, it can stop global problems such as ISIS.

Listen to a podcast of Mattis’s talk below:

Victor Davis Hanson: Obama “has a deep suspicion that the influence and power of the United States, while real, has not been earned”

Victor Davis Hanson, the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Hoover, discussed American foreign policy in a talk entitled “The Wages of Neo-Isolationism.” Hanson argued that, since the end of the Second World War, there has been seventy years of engaged US foreign policy with two exceptions: the Carter administration and the Obama administration. He then offered examples and potential explanations for that assertion.  He ended by warning that the next twenty-four months will be the most dangerous in the post—World War II era, particularly in four arenas: Iraq, Iran, and the rise of radical Islam; Putin, Crimea, and the conflict in Ukraine; China and its bullying in East Asia; and Turkey’s ambivalence and the decline of NATO.

Listen to a podcast of Hanson’s talk below:

Admiral William Fallon: “US engagement and leadership in this world is absolutely indispensable”

To close the day, Admiral William J. Fallon presented the predinner remarks, giving a broad, extemporaneous overview of US relations with Asia based on his recent trip to India and other trips to the region. He repeatedly emphasized that the United States is often viewed as a declining power in Asia, which confuses allies and emboldens China, India, and Pakistan.  He argued that China in particular had widely benefited from the Pax Americana but now wished to be internationally acknowledged as a powerful country with the ability to change the rules of the international system.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Eric Wakin: “GoogleBooks is the promise of digitization”

Eric Wakin, the Robert H. Malott Director of Library & Archives at Hoover, discussed digitization of Hoover’s archival materials in a talk entitled “Technology and the Archives: Viruses, Digitization, GoogleBooks—and the End of Paper?” Wakin explained that an archive must both preserve and provide access and that in a digital world both the meaning of preservation and the meaning of access are completely changed.  Preservation can sometimes be a straightforward scan, as with a book or a poster, but other times preservation is more difficult, such as for websites or other ephemeral materials.  Access is an opportunity for an expanded user base as well as a new user experience but also comes with new challenges.  Wakin ended with some thoughts on digital security in the archives.

Watch a chartcast of Wakin’s talk below:

John Cochrane: “If a bag of money blows into the room, are we better off?”

John Cochrane, a senior fellow at Hoover, discussed inequality in the US in a talk entitled “Inequality: Fad or Fundamental?” based on his remarks from the recent “Conference on Inequality in Memory of Gary Becker.”  Cochrane argues that inequality itself is not a problem but rather a symptom of other problems, such as poor-quality public schools or restrictive immigrations legislation. Moreover, as Cochrane systematically explained, inequality is also not a cause of other problems.  He ended with a discussion about why the sudden concern with inequality in the policy world during the past year.

Listen to a podcast of Cochrane’s talk below:

Russell Roberts: “What economics is really about, and what Smith thought it was about, is how to live”

Russell Roberts, the John and Jean De Nault Research Fellow at Hoover and host of the weekly podcast Econtalk, discussed his recently released book How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life. The book is Roberts’s analysis of Adam Smith’s overlooked philosophical work The Theory of Moral Sentiments, available in full text from the Library of Economics and Liberty.  For his talk, Roberts read excerpts from The Theory of Moral Sentiments and then gave his own humorous yet insightful interpretation of the sometimes convoluted passages, using examples such as the Apple Watch and Angelina Jolie.  Ultimately, Roberts argued, our time is the scarcest resource on the planet, and Smith’s work explains how economics can help us thoughtfully and meaningfully use this resource.

Listen to a podcast of Roberts’ talk below:

John Taylor: “I’ve been teaching at Stanford for many years, and this course is one of my favorites”

John B. Taylor, the George P. Shultz Senior Fellow in Economics at Hoover, discussed his experience teaching a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) in a talk entitled “A New Twist on Online Learning about Economics and Policy.”   He began by discussing the process of transforming a lecture class into an accessible online course that was engaging for students, using clips from his MOOC as a live demonstration.  He then spoke about students taking his MOOC for Stanford credit, a first for the university.  He ended with his thoughts on why online learning is not as disruptive as portrayed by the media.  Although the course is no longer available for credit, the materials can be viewed on Stanford’s online learning platform.

Michael McFaul: “We are at the worst moment in Russian relations that we’ve had in forty years”

Michael Mcfaul, the Peter and Helen Bing Senior Fellow at Hoover, discussed the US-Russia relationship in a talk entitled “Our New Confrontation with Russia: Causes and Consequences.” McFaul began by giving an overview of the US relationship with Russia, ultimately arguing that explanations focusing on the international balance of power or US foreign policy are insufficient and that one must consider Vladimir Putin’s particular ideological orientation as a primary cause for the current tensions.  He emphasized that Putin views the world in zero-sum terms, and gave an in-depth analysis of Putin’s personal character and mind-set.  McFaul acknowledged that this perspective on Russia has the advantage of avoiding inevitable and continued conflict with Russia in the long term but that it also means that conflict will most likely continue in the short term as long as Putin remains in power.  In the topic of Russia's current military strength was raised in the Question and Answer period. McFaul recommends this article on the topic, which uses the data to which he referred in his answer.

Listen to a podcast of McFaul’s talk below:

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