Research Program

Friday Links

  1. Surviving the pandemic, reading Late Victorian Holocausts.
  2. Trump’s social media executive order is just for show.
  3. Building a modern military: the force meets geopolitical realities.
  4. The Good Web Project.
  5. Why the United States will need a new foreign policy in 2020.
  6. How innovation works, with Matt Ridley.
  7. The wealth of generations, with special attention to the millennials.
  8. The end of the backlash to big tech.
  9. Can Christopher Nolan save the summer?
  10. There is only one way we can prevent economic ruin.
Research Program

Thursday Links

  1. Tyler Cowen reviews Stephanie Kelton’s MMT book The Deficit Myth.
  2. Could Donald Trump be re-elected by a major economic turnaround?
  3. Companies reducing their reliance on China must deal with currency volatility.
  4. US says Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China.
  5. How Estonia has moved its government services online.
  6. Will the US face an arms race with Russia and China?
  7. The right-wing legal network now pushing conspiracy theories.
  8. A graduate student solves the epic Conway Knot problem.
  9. What will post-pandemic warfare look like?
  10. Calculating the costs of declining industries.
Research Program

Pop & Silber on Iran/Hezbollah

Hezbollah is one of the terrorist organisations that I identified in my PhD that likely had a viable strategic subculture. Ioan Pop and Mitchell D. Silber have some new insights in a recent article for Studies in Conflict & Terrorism:

Tensions between the United States and Iran/Hezbollah have been on the rise since 2018 when the U.S. administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal. These tensions spiked in January 2020 when U.S. strikes killed Qassem Soleimani the leader of Iran’s IRGC-Quds Force. Furthermore, there is mounting evidence that in recent years, Iran and Hezbollah have sought to create a sleeper network in the U.S. and Western Europe, which could be activated to launch attacks as part of a retaliatory attack. This paper assesses Iran and Hezbollah pre-operational modus operandi in the West derived from court documents and open source reporting of recent arrest of Hezbollah and Iranian agents in the US and abroad. It sheds lights on the recruitment, training, and placement of these agents and the intricacies of their past operations. While it is impossible to predict when, where or how Iran/Hezbollah might retaliate as retribution for Soleimani’s killing, this article argues that there is growing number of indicators and warning signs for a possible attack in the U.S. or against U.S. interests abroad.

Research Program

Farrell on Military Adaptation

Professor Theo Farrell has a new article in the Journal of Strategic Studies on military adaptation in Afghanistan. Here’s the abstract:

Existing studies focus on explaining how militaries adapt in different ways to the challenges of war. However, organisation theory suggests that competition and normative pressure will lead overtime to convergence within particular business and policy sectors, as optimal ways of organizing and operating are learned and emulated. I examine this dynamic in the context of the conflict between the Afghan Taliban and the British Army. That there should be convergence in modes of operation or organizational form between these two very different opponents seems most improbable. Yet, as this article shows, convergence did occur as the conflict wore on.

Farrell’s convergence hypothesis has implications for Blue Team versus Red Team strategic cultures: adversaries and enemies can be closely studied and mirrored in terms of their organisational design (or strategic subcultures).

Research Program

Two New Research Projects

Monash University conferred my political science PhD on 29th April 2020.

I am now focusing on the following two new research projects:

Project 1Formal Models for Strategic Culture, Foreign Policy and Crisis Decision-Making: this project will develop new formal models and process tracing tests of strategic culture (the use of force) to inform decision-makers in defence and foreign policy institutions.

Project 2 – Computational Strategic Culture and Decision Elite Subgroups: this project will integrate computational social science methods (such as agent-based modelling) with the corpus of fourth generation literature and the study of decision elite subgroups (in terrorist organisations, and in the political economy context of hedge funds, central banks, and white collar crime).

I also have recently launched a subscription-based newsletter on my research program.

Research Program

Limits to Building

Marc Andreessen’s essay It’s Time to Build has struck a chord with engineers and the digital innovation community. I’ll comment briefly on Andreessen’s description of left versus right politics. The Marxist left has a group of interesting thinkers including Nick Srnicek, Alex Williams, and Aaron Bastani who have speculative visions but not the mobilisational counter-power yet to bring them fully into being. The centrists are captured in the public service by the New Public Management. The right face regulatory capture by hedge fund, private equity, and venture capitalist interests. The Ayn Rand-influenced libertarians are a niche political subculture on their own. Finally, a decade of austerity budgets, low wage growth, fears of deflation, and growing debt acts as a macro-level dampener on stimulus-driven innovation. To realise Andreessen’s vision we need political will, financing, and market demand.

Research Program

Computational Social Science

I’ve added computational social science to my Google Scholar profile for several reasons. My recently completed Monash University PhD develops a causal process tracing logic for strategic subcultures in terrorist organisations. I want to expand this logic beyond Aum Shinrikyo to other case studies. I also want to look at relevant software including Baysialab and NetLogo. I want to build and test more formal models. Finally, computational social science offers a way to advance methodological insights that will inform my evolving research agenda.

Research Program

What I’m Reading

Computational Thinking by Peter J. Denning and Matti Tedre (Boston, MA: The MIT Press, 2019). In 2004-07, I was a research assistant in the Smart Internet Technology Cooperative Research Centre. One of my biggest discoveries was the computer science literature on computational thinking. I am revisiting this for post PhD research using computational social science methods: creating larger data sets from my PhD framework. This is a useful guide and part of an excellent MIT Press series on foundational concepts for contemporary digital practices.

Understanding Criminal Networks: A Research Guide by Gisela Bichler (Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2019). In my PhD, I looked at the meso-level of strategic subcultures in terrorist organisations. I scoped some future possible research using Bayesian methods. I could also have considered the meso-level insights of Social Network Analysis: Bichler’s guide has some excellent sections on data collection, networked criminology theory, and presenting research to policymakers.

J. Philippe Rushton: A Life History Perspective by Edward Dutton (Oulu, Finland: Thomas Edward Press, 2018). Rushton was a controversial Canadian professor whose life history analysis of human behaviour has influenced the Alt-Right’s ‘race realism’. Independent researcher Dutton provides an analysis of Rushton’s research and his life in terms of r/K selection theory and Differential-K sociobiology, and finds both genius and major ethical lapses. I note in particular that Rushton cherry-picked his data and engaged in serious research misconduct with the Pioneer Fund due to a lack of internal controls.

Nemesis: The Jouvenelian vs. the Liberal Model of Human Orders by C.A. Bond (Perth, Australia: Imperium Press, 2019). There’s now already a collection of books on the Alt-Right neoreactionary political subculture. It’s rarer to find books by Alt-Right theoreticians themselves. C.A. Bond uses Bertrand de Jouvenal’s work – who I first came across in Swinburne University’s former Masters program on strategic foresight in 2002 – to critique the international liberal order and its institutions. This is a useful book for macrohistory thinkers who want to understand contemporary neoreactionist perspectives, and the mobilisation of protesters in the United States against COVID-19 lockdowns.

Research Program

Political Warfare in the Digital Age

Thomas Paterson and Lauren Hanley – two leading scholars in the Strategic Defence Studies Centre at The Australian National University – have a new, must read journal article on political warfare in the Australian Journal of International Affairs. Here’s the abstract:

The digital age has permanently changed the way states conduct political warfare—necessitating a rebalancing of security priorities in democracies. The utilisation of cyberspace by state and non-state actors to subvert democratic elections, encourage the proliferation of violence and challenge the sovereignty and values of democratic states is having a highly destabilising effect. Successful political warfare campaigns also cause voters to question the results of democratic elections and whether special interests or foreign powers have been the decisive factor in a given outcome. This is highly damaging for the political legitimacy of democracies, which depend upon voters being able to trust in electoral processes and outcomes free from malign influence—perceived or otherwise. The values of individual freedom and political expression practised within democratic states challenges their ability to respond to political warfare. The continued failure of governments to understand this has undermined their ability to combat this emerging threat. The challenges that this new digitally enabled political warfare poses to democracies is set to rise with developments in machine learning and the emergence of digital tools such as ‘deep fakes’.

Research Program

Economic Crash Books

Some context for this week’s coronavirus panic and financial market correction:

A First-Class Catastrophe: The Road to Black Monday, the Worst Day in Wall Street History by Diana B. Henriques (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2017). What happened on Monday, October 19, 1987, and what led to it.

A Demon of Our Own Design: Markets, Hedge Funds and the Perils of Financial Innovation (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2008). A leading quantitative portfolio manager notes two causes of the 2008-09 Great Recession or Global Financial Crisis: the use of leverage, and the rapid growth in complex financial assets (such as mortgage debt securities and collateralised debt obligations).

Manias, Panics and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises (Seventh edition) by Robert Z. Aliber and Charles P. Kindleberger (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). An influential history of why manias, panics and economic crashes occur.

Market Madness: A Century of Oil Panics, Crises, and Crashes by Blake C. Clayton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). A behavioural economics view of why oil panices, crises, and crashes occur – building on Robert J. Shiller’s pioneering framework.

The Asylum: Inside The Rise and Ruin of the Global Oil Market by Leah McGrath Goodman (New York: HarperCollins, 2011). How traders and speculators deal with the global oil market and risk-reward decision-making.

Aftermath: Seven Secrets of Wealth Preservation in the Coming Chaos by James Rickards (New York: Penguin, 2019). One of the best well-argued bear cases for a financial crisis or recession in the near future.

World Event Trading: How to Analyze and Profit from Today’s Headlines by Andrew Busch (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009). How event arbitrage traders trade economic crises, pandemics, geopolitical conflict, and other forms of volatility events: they look for tradable catalysts.

The Rise of Carry: The Dangerous Consequences of Volatility Suppression and the Financial Order of Decaying Growth and Economic Crisis by Tim Lee, Jamie Lee, and Kevin Coldiron (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2019). How volatility suppression strategies can create the market conditions for volatility events.

Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral & Drive Major Economic Events by Robert J. Shiller (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019). A behavioural economics perspective on the role of narratives in creating and shaping volatility events.

Adaptive Markets: Financial Evolution at the Speed of Thought by Andrew W. Lo (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019). An influential quantitative finance researcher and quantitative hedge fund consultant outlines his Adaptive Markets Hypothesis – and how it differs from the Efficient Markets Hypothesis.

During my 2002-04 Masters studies in strategic foresight at Swinburne University, I also wrote a postmortem on the 2000 Dotcom Crash.