Methodological Quip – Sequence Analysis and Optimal Matching in Social Sciences

Leonard Seabrooke and Emelie Nillson introduce a novel methodological approach – Sequence Analysis (SA) to distinguish between trends and groups and identify narratives from large clusters of data in their recent Governance article that measures professional skills in the IMF. The approach appears to be a nifty way to examine change and outline sequences when measuring trends and patterns. After that, they deploy Optimal Matching algorithm derived from computer science and genetics to gather ‘sequences of information to assess the degree of similarity or difference among them by using pattern search algorithms.’

The algorithm enables researchers to ‘identify differences in sequences and then the ‘cost’ of manipulating the sequences to transform one into the other by way of insertions, deletions, and substitutions.’ Using these tools, they gather information on the work histories of IMF staffers that have worked in their FSAP program to examine how the nature of staffer’s professional experiences have shifted over the ten year period. They find evidence of more market-oriented managers that have had strong market experiences in the private sector before entering the IMF for this task. This trend provides evidence for the claim that international organizations are capable of instituting strong internal changes and are less isomorphist than imagined. Moreover, the shift towards more private sector staffers and their experiences and knowledge signify the resilience of market-friendly ideas at the apex of international economic governance. IOs are also becoming a locus where professionalisation is being taken more seriously as the demand for specific skills and knowledge acquire precedence over long-held institutional practices and traditions.

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Post Crisis Policy Change within the IMF – Governance Special Issue

The latest version of Governance consists of a special issue that tackles a key issue – policy change within international organisations by considering the IMF. The special issue, comprising of five papers, ‘set out to identify some of the patterns of intellectual, policy, and organizational change at the International Monetary Fund’ since the global financial crisis. It also seeks to map out some of the causal mechanisms that generate such changes within the organization, a key theoretical task for those of us interested in analysing and explaining international policy outcomes. The issues they authors and editors focus on are contentious, areas where there would be expected change given the financial crisis and its legacies.

These areas as fiscal policy, financial sector policy, financial surveillance and role of government intervention. Did change arrive? Yes. As the editors argue, ‘the most radical change has been in the IMF research on the systemic risks posed by the interconnectedness of global banks, followed
by its views on capital controls, the reorganization of its financial surveillance function, its interventions in the austerity versus stimulus debate, and lastly, the Fund’s views of state–creditor relations.’ Areas where relatively little change occurred were the IMF’s policy advice on financial interconnectedness and the treatment of domestic creditors by debtor states.

What then are the causal mechanisms that explain policy change and policy stability. From the issue, change did occur in some policy areas. And it did because of ‘shifts in IMF staff politics, a string of innovations coming from academic and IMF economists, and the emerging economic powers’ creative leveraging of institutional fora both within and inside the IMF.’ Some of these fora include G20 where the rise of other powers and their views with respect to capital controls and state intervention found greater currency. The special issue is definitely a worthy addition to the literature on international organizations that has not explored in detail how policy changes and especially ideational changes occur within rigid bureaucratic structures. Indeed, even change is considered to be surprising in such environments where preferences and views are rather sticky and tend to endure.

All of the papers in the special issue are now published on Governance EarlyView:

Introduction.  Recalibrating Policy Orthodoxy: The IMF since the Great Recession.

André Broome, Back to Basics: The Great Recession and the Narrowing of IMF Policy Advice

Cornel Ban, Austerity versus Stimulus? Understanding Fiscal Policy Change at the International Monetary Fund Since the Great Recession

Kevin P. Gallagher, Contesting the Governance of Capital Flows at the IMF

Daniela Gabor, The IMF’s Rethink of Global Banks: Critical in Theory, Orthodox in Practice

Aitor Erce, Banking on Seniority: The IMF and the Sovereign’s Creditors

Leonard Seabrooke and Emelie Rebecca Nilsson, Professional Skills in International Financial Surveillance: Assessing Change in IMF Policy Teams

2014 Best Books and Essays

2014 was a good year for books. Here’s my top books of the year (the one’s Ive read which are, of course, selective but also reflective of broader trends)

Best Fiction: Undoubtedly, the best novel this past year was Zia Haider Rahman’s dazzling and sweeping In Light of What We Know, story of globalization, war, development, life, love, loss, class that also traverses London, New York, Kabul, and Dhaka. Close second is Akhil Sharma’s Family Life, a story of how an immigrant Indian family copes with their child’s disability after they move to the United States. Heart Wrenching and gutting throughout, the novel considers and unpacks loss and how it is dealt with in everyday situations.

Best Non-Fiction: Atul Gawande’s searing and occasionally moving treatise Being Mortal on the end of life and how we as a society have reduced it to an utterly discomfiting condition, removed from the wishes of the those that suffer the most from it. As always, Gawande’s prose is sparkling. In this book, he adds his family’s painful and emotional ordeal of his father’s death that gives the book and issue a viscerally personal touch. Close second was Peter Baker’s contemporary history of the Bush administration, Days of Fire, that gave readers a birds-eye look at the consequential administration, its times, decisions and blunders, whose effects continue to reverberate in international politics. Another great read was Rian Malan’s My Traiter’s Heart, a spellbinding and moving memoir of the author’s return to his native (Apartheid) South Africa that forces him to deal with his and the country’s greatest demons.

Best Academic Book: I read a lot from University press’s international relations and history sections. The pick of the lot this year was Andrew Kennedy’s The International Ambitions of Mao and Nehru which explores how two larger than life Asian leaders challenged the structures of the international system, albeit in different ways, to forge a new identity for their nation after centuries of oppressive colonial rule. Also a worthy pick this year was Vipin Narang’s Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era that explains the nuclear strategies of regional nuclear powers and why they have picked this strategy over other ones.

Best Long form essays: 2014 was a bumper year for long form essays. I read a lot and but did not get to read even more.

From the New Yorker – George Packer’s incredible and deeply researched profile of Angela Merkel, detailing her origins, rise, role and legacy in Germany; Patrick Redden Keefe’s mindblowing story of how a trader, doctor and a billionaire got entangled in a financial scandal that is riveting to read; finally, Jennifer Gonnerman’s moving story on the disaster that is the American legal system which got a black teenager locked in prison for three years after being accused of stealing a backpack.

From the Caravan – Rahul Bhatia’s great read on the meteoric rise of N Srinivasan atop the Indian and international cricket scene; Hartosh Singh Bal’s intrepid essay on 1984 Sikh riots and its chief progenitors and malefactors; Krish Kaushik’s balanced profile of Shekhar Gupta that situates his rise within a dynamic and increasingly deprave media scene.