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Project Syndicate

Project Syndicate produces and delivers original, high-quality commentaries to a global audience. Featuring exclusive contributions by prominent political leaders, policymakers, scholars, business leaders, and civic activists from around the world, we provide news media and their readers cutting-edge analysis and insight.

Articles by Project Syndicate

One Hundred Days of Disquietude

April 28, 2017

The convention of assessing a national leader’s first 100 days is said to date back to Napoleon, by way of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Whereas Napoleon’s 100 days before Waterloo were a profile in hubris, and FDR’s first 100 days a portrait in hope, Donald Trump’s presidency has been so wayward and uncanny that no single word seems to come close to capturing its essence.Still, two main schools of thought about Trump’s presidency have emerged. One school sees a callow narcissist who, after suffering a string of embarrassing defeats during his first weeks in office, is reluctantly accepting on-the-job training and adopting more mainstream positions. According to this view, White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon, the administration’s “alt-right” avatar, will continue to be marginalized by figures such as National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Trump’s embrace of NATO (which he had called “obsolete” during the campaign) is similarly reassuring, as is the influence of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner (despite Kushner’s inexperience, almost complete public silence, and lack of any definitive achievements as the Trump family consigliere).

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Problems from Hell

March 24, 2017

In her 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide, Samantha Power condemned the United States’ failure to intervene to prevent or halt some of the twentieth century’s worst mass atrocities. But, as Power herself would later find out when she served as US Ambassador to the United Nations in the Obama administration, intervention is rarely a straightforward choice. Today, as growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula threaten to plunge the region into turmoil, that lesson looms larger than ever.In her book, Power captured the destructive dynamics that are often set in motion when national or religious chauvinism and state failure coincide. Her title borrows from Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State during the post-Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. “The hatred between all three groups – the Bosnians and the Serbs and the Croatians – is almost unbelievable,” Christopher said. “It’s almost terrifying, and it’s centuries old. That really is a problem from hell.”During periods of rapid technological and economic development, the atavistic impulses underlying such problems can seem anachronistic. “History” may feel as though it is finally giving way to “progress” – an ideal that is incompatible with wholesale bloodletting, forcible depopulation, and refugee crises.

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Trump’s Economic Labyrinth

March 10, 2017

Donald Trump’s economic-policy agenda during the 2016 US presidential election campaign was a political Rorschach test: where his supporters saw a bold new design for robust growth and greater prosperity, many others in the United States and around the world saw only a cynical blob of dodgy proposals and crossed lines. Now that Trump must deliver to Congress an outline of his 2018 fiscal-year budget priorities, he and his advisers have no choice but to trade in the campaign inkblot for a governing blueprint. And yet, in his first address to Congress, Trump offered few policy details, even as he called on the assembled representatives and senators to help him “restart the engine of the American economy.” Trump may finally be coming to grips with the headaches that await him as he tries to articulate and enact his economic-policy agenda. An early preview came when Republicans in the US House of Representatives released their plan to fulfill their longstanding vow to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s signature 2010 health-care reform. No sooner had the House Republicans unveiled their hastily drafted bill than it came under withering attack from all sides – including from members of their own party.

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Mourning in America

February 10, 2017

In her 1969 book On Death and Dying, the Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross famously described five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. After a tumultuous year in which the United Kingdom decided to quit the European Union and Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, many people have been left in a state of mourning. A deep sense of loss attends the realization that America might no longer serve as a pillar of global stability, economic openness, and social progress.Bereavement follows no singular formula, of course, but as politicians, businesspeople, and citizens around the world grapple with our new age of uncertainty, they are experiencing some – or perhaps all – stages of grief. These sentiments are undoubtedly becoming more acute with each passing day of Trump’s incendiary presidency. With each new off-the-cuff tweet, executive order, and truth-challenged speech, it becomes increasingly unlikely that the international order or the global economy will come through the Trump era unscathed.Worse still, there is no guarantee that an emotional reckoning will yield the practical solutions that the world needs to combat toxic populist politics. Over the past few weeks, Project Syndicate commentaries have shared insights that complement each of Kübler-Ross’s emotional stages.

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PS On Air with Nina Khrushcheva

February 2, 2017

[Listen to the podcast here.] Nina
Khrushcheva, Professor at the New School, discusses truth, Russia, and
the future for US-Russian relations with PS contributing editor John
Andrews, Krister Paris from the Estonian newspaper
Eesti Pärvaleht, and
Arnout Brouwers from Holland’s
de Volkskrant.

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The God of Carnage

January 27, 2017

The Apocalypse didn’t arrive with Donald Trump’s inauguration as US president, but the rhetoric of divine wrath surely did. Rather than adopt the soothing or soaring cadences of Washington, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Kennedy, or Reagan, Trump’s inaugural address invoked “carnage,” “God’s people,” and the “righteous public.” He sounded less like Andrew Jackson, the 1830s populist US president to whom his supporters compare him, than the Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards preaching his terrifying sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”For Trump, of course, the “sinners” are not the adulterers and idlers Parson Edwards had in mind. They are the businesses, domestic opponents, and foreign leaders who have rejected “America first.” They are, in short, the “establishment,” much of which was in the congregation. As four of Trump’s five living predecessors – Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama – looked on, he defined their legacy as one of unmitigated greed, self-dealing, and corruption by an entrenched Washington elite that had immiserated ordinary Americans and brought the US to the brink of ruin.This was no mere continuation of Trump’s incendiary campaign rhetoric. He immediately began eviscerating his predecessors’ policy legacy.

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2017: Through the Populist Looking Glass

January 6, 2017

A new year is supposed to begin in hope. Even in the darkest days of World War II, New Year celebrations were sustained by the belief that somehow the tide would turn toward peace. There was vision then, too. Writing after the fall of France in 1940, Arthur Koestler insisted that the “whole problem was to fix [Germans’] political libido on a banner more fascinating than the swastika, and that the only one which would do is the stars and stripes of the European Union.” Others, too, were already imagining the international institutions and domestic reforms – enfranchisement of women in France, the British National Health Service, the United States’ GI Bill – that would ground the post-war global order.The start of 2017 offers no such consolations. This year, the main question is whether the post-war order, now in its eighth decade, can be sustained once US President-elect Donald Trump takes office on January 20. Trump has repeatedly signaled that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a kindred spirit whose efforts to influence Western countries’ elections, subvert the EU, and restore a Russian sphere of influence that includes Ukraine and much of Eastern Europe will face few US impediments.

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PS Ten Most-Read Commentaries on World Affairs 2016

December 31, 2016

Britain’s Democratic FailureKenneth Rogoff says that the real lunacy of the Brexit vote was the absurdly low bar for success.Putin is No Ally Against ISISGeorge Soros believes that Russia’s leader is intent on destroying the EU – and explains why he may succeed.The Closing of the Academic MindChris Patten warns that the main threat to universities in the West now comes from within.The Meaning of BrexitJeffrey Sachs views the UK’s decision to leave the EU as a signal of the need for a new kind of globalization.

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Trump and the End of the West?

December 9, 2016

“If Donald Trump’s victory in the United States’ presidential election was an earthquake, then the transition period leading up to his inauguration on January 20 feels like a tsunami warning,” says Spain’s former foreign minister, Ana Palacio. But the warnings have sounded the loudest across the Atlantic of late, with populists in Italy and Austria mounting fresh challenges to the stability of the European Union and its common currency.Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s defeat in the referendum he called to reform Italy’s creaking constitution had been anticipated, but the opposition’s margin of victory was unexpectedly large. While Renzi has submitted his resignation to Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, a caretaker administration is expected to be formed. That would leave the populist Five Star Movement – which led the “No” campaign in the run-up to the referendum – to wait until February 2018 to try to capitalize on its surging popularity in a general election. And time may yet prove the populists’ undoing: Alexander Van der Bellen’s victory over the far-right Norbert Hofer in the re-run of Austria’s presidential election (on the same day as Renzi’s defeat) suggests that greater familiarity with the populists may dilute their appeal.

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Waiting for Trump

November 25, 2016

Like the tramps in Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot, Americans and people around the world are nervously anticipating Donald Trump’s looming presidency. Of course, unlike Godot, Trump will arrive, and everyone knows when. But, like the stranded Vladimir and Estragon, emotions are running high and changing at dizzying speed, alternating between fear, resignation, black humor, and desperation for any ray of hope in the words and actions of the president-elect.Indeed, as with Beckett’s play, the meaning of the public display that Trump has made of forging his administration is hard to pin down. “Speculation about Trump’s likely foreign and domestic policies is rampant, but little if any of it is meaningful,” says Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Campaigning and governing are two very different activities, and there is no reason to assume that how he conducted the former will dictate how he approaches the latter.”Haass is probably right, but the fact is that, aside from some softening of Trump’s rhetoric, signs of hope have been almost non-existent in the transition so far. Yes, Trump has backed away – at least for now – from his threat to appoint a special federal prosecutor to investigate his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

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What Will Trump Do?

November 13, 2016

All US presidents come to power – and exercise it – by assembling and sustaining a broad electoral coalition of voters with identifiable interests. Donald Trump is no exception. Trump’s stunning election victory, following a populist campaign that targeted US institutions, domestic and foreign policies, and especially elites, was powered by voters – overwhelmingly white, largely rural, and with only some or no postsecondary education – who feel alienated from a political establishment that has failed to address their interests.So the question now, for the United States and the world, is how Trump intends to represent this electoral bloc. Part of the difficulty in answering it, as Project Syndicate’s contributors understand well, is Trump himself. “The US has never before had a president with no political or military experience, nor one who so routinely shirks the truth, embraces conspiracy theories, and contradicts himself,” notes Harvard’s Jeffrey Frankel. But, arguably more important, much of what Trump has promised – on trade, taxation, health care, and much else – either would not improve his voters’ economic wellbeing or would cause it to deteriorate further.This paradox lies at the root of some unsettling scenarios.

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Does Economic Pain Really Explain Populism?

October 28, 2016

With the menacing prospect of a Donald Trump presidency in the United States fading fast, other problems – both economic and political – are reclaiming the world’s attention. This is no surprise for Project Syndicate’s commentators. Their analysis of populism has rarely been confined to particular examples like Trump, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, or Britain’s Brexiteers.Instead, most have understood the need to focus on populism’s defining traits, rather than dwelling on specific cases. As Andrés Velasco, a former finance minister of Chile, argues, the populist phenomenon, wherever it is found, “rests on a toxic triad: denial of complexity, anti-pluralism, and a crooked version of representation,” and each facet must be addressed.From this perspective, the question raised by Trump’s impending defeat is not why he lost, but whether, as Anatole Kaletsky of Gavekal Dragonomics asks, “the revolt against globalization and immigration” will “simply take another form.” And, like many Project Syndicate columnists, he challenges the question’s underlying premise.

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Is Populism Being Trumped?

October 15, 2016

Is the populist tide going out? The last fortnight has given democrats everywhere reason to cheer – or at least to sleep a little better.For starters, Donald Trump’s bid for the US presidency is being buried by a cascade of damning revelations, including that he has not paid any federal income tax for perhaps two decades, and that he feels entitled by his fame to assault women – call it droit de célébrité. Many Republican leaders have finally had enough, repudiating their party’s presidential nominee in an effort to preserve its House and Senate majorities.In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s anti-immigrant referendum failed to attract sufficient turnout. Orbán says that he will nonetheless seek to constitutionalize the result; but the fact that more than half of the electorate stayed home suggests that his Svengali-like hold on voters may be slipping.And in Poland, enormous nationwide protests, led by women, forced Jarosław Kaczyński’s Law and Justice (PiS) party to withdraw a bill that would have criminalized virtually all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest. After a year of hollowing out Poland’s institutions and concentrating power in his own hands, Kaczyński, the unelected master of Polish politics, may have overreached, as he did in 2007, when he was Prime Minister.

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A World Besieged

September 30, 2016

A week, it is said, is a long time in politics. It certainly proved far too long for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Syrian client, Bashar al-Assad, to honor the ceasefire both had just accepted. Instead of humanitarian relief for Syria’s shell-shocked citizens, the world is seeing what the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy calls the “urbicide” of Aleppo: “massive, random, indiscriminate bombings” that Russia and Assad’s forces “have resumed with a vengeance in and around what was once Syria’s most populous city.”Of course, nothing in the world today compares to the horrors of Aleppo. But if any word best characterizes the world economy and geopolitics, “besieged” fits the bill. Europe, says Anatole Kaletsky of the consultancy Gavekal, confronts “five simultaneous crises,” including “Brexit, refugee flows, fiscal austerity, geopolitical threats from East and South, and ‘illiberal democracy’ in central Europe.” Beyond the West, argues Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, it “is difficult to overstate the risks were North Korea,” which this month detonated its most powerful nuclear device yet, able to deliver a nuclear weapon on an intercontinental ballistic missile. Indeed, former US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R.

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Untruth and Consequences

September 16, 2016

How the almost mighty have fallen. For the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), the past fortnight has been a series of reckonings for corners cut, untruths told, and hubris unchecked. Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff is the mightiest to fall, having been impeached and removed from office for fiddling the national budget. Yet despite her eviction from power, the country’s vast corruption scandal rumbles on, with former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva now indicted for corruption and Edoardo Cunha, the parliamentary speaker and the man who initiated Rousseff’s impeachment, himself now evicted from his post and facing his own corruption charges. In South Africa, the African National Congress, which has been in power without interruption since apartheid ended a generation ago, has suffered a series of humiliating defeats in local government elections, largely owing to corruption charges swirling around a badly weakened President Jacob Zuma. With opposition coalitions now running a number of South Africa’s most important cities, there is growing talk of an ANC split in the not-so-distant future. The other BRICS are faring little better.

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Summer’s Unhappy Returns

September 2, 2016

The end of August is, across much of the northern hemisphere, the time for what the French call la rentrée – the return to work and resumption of normal routine that comes with summer’s end. It is typically a period that alloys melancholy with renewal and gusto for what lies ahead.Not this year. For policymakers, August failed to bring about a return to anything like normalcy in the global economy or world politics, much less to generate a sense of renewal. On the contrary, most Project Syndicate commentators see a policy landscape littered with old ideas that don’t work, and even older ideas known to cause significant harm.Unorthodoxy UnlimitedBy the time central bankers from around the world convened last week at their annual gathering in Jackson Hole,

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The Governance Games

August 19, 2016

As happens every four years, the world is transfixed by the Summer Olympic Games. Yet even the brilliance of Usain Bolt, Simone Biles, Wayde van Niekerk, Katie Ledecky, and so many others has not obscured the dirty underside of the Olympic Movement – the self-serving governance of the International Olympic Committee. Lucy Marcus of IE Business School gets straight to the point: “Thanks to the IOC,” she says, the Olympics now “embodies some of the most prominent problems the world is facing today, from inequality to exploitation to sheer hypocrisy among our leaders.” The IOC disregards the athletes’ interests, to the point that it permitted the Russian team to compete in Rio de Janeiro, despite recent revelations about Russia’s official doping program and the World

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Globalization RIP?

August 6, 2016

Beyond the rancor and taunts heard at last month’s Republican National Convention, something even more ominous could be heard: the last rites for globalization. To adoring hoots, Donald Trump, the party’s presidential nominee, denounced US participation in international trade deals, and the foreign policy he sketched would pull the plug on the entire US-led liberal international order within which globalization has flourished. Should Trump enter the White House, globalization would not undergo a retreat; it would suffer a rout.

Half a world away, G20 finance ministers met almost simultaneously in Chengdu, China, where they made revitalizing globalization a priority for 2016/2017. The fact that all of the major advanced and emerging economies fear for the future of global openness suggests the degree to which surging support for populist challengers has imperiled existing rules and structures.
For many Project Syndicate commentators, globalization seems trapped in a pincer movement: assailed from one direction by those who claim that it has created a reserve army of economic losers lorded over by a small cadre of winners, the infamous 1%; and besieged from the opposite direction by unscrupulous politicians who, feeding on economic resentment, attack it in the once discredited language of nationalism, of blood and soil, of herrenvolk.

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Lies, Liars, and Lawlessness

July 22, 2016

When it comes to contempt for democracy, the rule of law, and simple fidelity to truth in public life, examples have crowded in from around the world in recent weeks: a failed coup in Turkey; China’s rejection of an international tribunal’s decision invalidating its expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea; the Chilcot Inquiry’s report on Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War; Donald Trump’s formal nomination as the Republican Party’s US presidential candidate; and the terrorist massacre in Nice.It is as though a generation’s worth of latent symptoms – the erosion of Turkish democracy under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, China’s flouting of international law, Western leaders’ dishonesty in the run-up to the Iraq War, the US Republican Party’s flirtation with white supremacy; the rise of homegrown terrorists – manifested simultaneously. As a result, what were regarded until relatively recently as discrete events in specific contexts are increasingly viewed in the light of broader regional or global trends. This change in perspective may provide at least a glimmer of hope, for it is only by discerning these trends –and understanding what’s driving them – that we can begin to devise ways to counter them.

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Britain’s Long Goodbye

July 10, 2016

Two weeks after Britain voted to withdraw from the European Union, the shock waves rumble on unabated. Prime Minister David Cameron’s resignation triggered a contest for the leadership of the Conservative Party that is as vicious and duplicitous as the “Leave” campaign. A bare-knuckle leadership fight has engulfed the opposition Labour Party as well. It is as though some atavistic contagion has now infected Britain’s political class.Project Syndicate commentators have been asking just how far this infection may spread, and what its impact will be on Britain, Europe, and the wider world. Few have found anything remotely positive to say about the domestic, regional, and global consequences of Britain’s ill-conceived choice.Fooled BritanniaApparently stunned by the magnitude of what they had done, within hours of the announcement of the outcome of the June 23 “Brexit” vote, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, the Leave campaign’s leaders (along with Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party), began abandoning their promises. The government should take its time in negotiating Britain’s exit; there would not be £350 million ($453 million) a week to spend on the National Health Service; of course all EU migrants would be allowed to stay.Their shameless retreat reflects the Leave campaign’s recklessness.

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The Resistible Rise of Populism

June 10, 2016

What’s behind the swelling tide of populism-cum-nationalism seen in almost every corner of the globe? Why do so many yearn for rule by strongmen (or, in the case of France’s Marine Le Pen and Peru’s Keiko Fujimori, strong women)? For Project Syndicate commentators, the question is not only what’s driving the phenomenon, but also what can and should be done to confront it.What’s Popular About Populism?Some people, says former Chilean finance minister Andrés Velasco, “blame runaway globalization; others blame income inequality; still others blame out-of-touch elites who simply don’t get it.” But the truth seems to be that all three have played a part.That underscores a basic point made by Harvard’s Joseph S. Nye: The catalyst for populism lies as much in those being led as in the ideas and characters of the populist leaders. “A Russian public anxious about its status; a Chinese people concerned about rampant corruption; a Turkish population divided over ethnicity and religion: All create enabling environments for leaders who feel a psychological need for power.” Similarly, in the United States, “[Donald] Trump magnifies the discontent of a part of the population through clever manipulation of television news programs and social media.

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Populists and Productivity

June 3, 2016

NEW YORK – Since the global financial crisis erupted in 2008, productivity growth in the advanced economies – the United States, Europe, and Japan – has been very slow both in absolute terms and relative to previous decades. But this is at odds with the view, prevailing in Silicon Valley and other global technology hubs, that we are entering a new golden era of innovation, which will radically increase productivity growth and improve the way we live and work. So why haven’t those gains appeared, and what might happen if they don’t?
Breakthrough innovations are evident in at least six areas:
ET (energy technologies, including new forms of fossil fuels such as shale gas and oil and alternative energy sources such as solar and wind, storage technologies, clean tech, and smart electric grids).
BT (biotechnologies, including genetic therapy, stem cell research, and the use of big data to reduce health-care costs radically and allow individuals to live much longer and healthier lives).
IT (information technologies, such as Web 2.0/3.0, social media, new apps, the Internet of Things, big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality devices).
MT (manufacturing technologies, such as robotics, automation, 3D printing, and personalized manufacturing).

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The Donald Trump Show

May 27, 2016

It’s Not Gonna Be Great
Bill Emmott, who, during his years as Editor of The Economist, endured numerous legal spats with Trump’s Italian doppelgänger, Silvio Berlusconi, thinks that countries “must hope for the best but prepare for the worst” in the event of a Trump administration. Above all, they must bolster “their alliances and friendships with one another, in anticipation of an ‘America First’ rupture with old partnerships and the liberal international order that has prevailed since the 1940s.”
But Trump is throwing as many verbal hand grenades at the economy as he is at America’s alliances and post-World War II global institutions and rules. For Benjamin J. Cohen of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Trump’s views on finance and economics, particularly his recent suggestion that “the US should negotiate with its creditors to buy back much of its debt at a discount,” are “the product of a fevered imagination.”
As Cohen rightly points out, “even the hint of a default would jeopardize the government’s credit rating and raise the cost of future borrowing.” And, beyond the direct costs, “the dollar’s role as an international currency would be jeopardized, which in turn would severely impair America’s superpower standing.

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China’s Pakistani Outpost

May 26, 2016

BERLIN – Like a typical school bully, China is big and strong, but it doesn’t have a lot of friends. Indeed, now that the country has joined with the United States to approve new international sanctions on its former vassal state North Korea, it has just one real ally left: Pakistan. But, given how much China is currently sucking out of its smaller neighbor – not to mention how much it extracts from others in its neighborhood – Chinese leaders seem plenty satisfied.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has declared that China and Pakistan are “as close as lips and teeth,” owing to their geographical links. China’s government has also called Pakistan its “irreplaceable all-weather friend.” The two countries often boast of their “iron brotherhood.” In 2010, Pakistan’s then-prime minister, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, waxed poetic about the relationship, describing it as “taller than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel, and sweeter than honey.”
In fact, wealthy China has little in common with aid-dependent Pakistan, beyond the fact that both are revisionist states not content with their existing frontiers. They do, however, share an interest in containing India. The prospect of a two-front war, should India enter into conflict with either country, certainly advances that interest.

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Education Cannot Wait

May 19, 2016

LONDON – “Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man you have seen, and ask yourself if this step you contemplate is going to be any use to him.” These words, spoken by Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, should be taken as a test of our sincerity, and as a challenge to our complacency, when considering the fate of the 30 million children displaced from their homes by civil wars and natural disasters.
More boys and girls have been uprooted by crisis than at any time since 1945. They are likely to spend their school-age years without entering a classroom, their talents undeveloped and their potential unlocked. There are now 75 million young people whose education has been interrupted by conflict and crisis. Yet urgency – and international law, which mandates the education of all displaced children – fails to inspire action.
Displaced children are more likely to become the youngest laborers in the factory, the youngest brides at the altar, and the youngest soldiers in the trench. Without opportunity, children are vulnerable to extremists and radicalization. Every year, close to a half-million girls are trafficked and vanish.
The fate of these dispossessed is tethered to the thinnest of lifelines. When disaster strikes, what can only be described as a begging bowl is handed around the world’s donor community.

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The Evidence on Education Reforms

May 17, 2016

DHAKA – It is almost universally agreed that more education is good for society. But it turns out that some popular educational policies achieve very little, while others that are often overlooked can make a huge difference.
Reducing class sizes would seem to be an obvious improvement; but by itself, smaller class size has not been shown to boost educational performance. Likewise, extending the school day seems an easy way to ensure that pupils learn more; but research finds that time spent in school matters considerably less than what happens there.
And new research for the Copenhagen Consensus Center, the think tank I direct, highlights the counter-intuitive fact that equipping classrooms with additional textbooks or computers is no educational silver bullet, either. As part of a project seeking the smartest policy choices for Bangladesh, Atonu Rabbani of the University of Dhaka shows that technology-aided teaching has a mixed record. Providing pupils with computers made some impact in India, but little in Colombia. In the United States, introducing computers has even been detrimental when not backed by parental supervision and teacher guidance.
This finding is supported by a recent OECD study, which revealed that over the last decade there has been no “appreciable improvement” in student achievement in the rich countries that invest most in technology for education.

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The Queen’s Chinese Guests from Hell

May 17, 2016

NEW YORK – “Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl, but she doesn’t have a lot to say,” Paul McCartney sang nearly a half-century ago. Now, in her 90th year, Queen Elizabeth II suddenly seems determined to put the lie to that idea.
At a spring garden party on the grounds of Buckingham Palace – the most genteel of settings imaginable – the British monarch recently laid into the entourage that accompanied Chinese President Xi Jinping to London on his 2015 state visit. In a recorded conversation with a Metropolitan police commander, Lucy D’Orsi, the queen called the Chinese officials “very rude,” and expressed sympathy for D’Orsi’s “bad luck” in having to deal with them.
For one thing, according to D’Orsi, Chinese officials walked out of one meeting in London with her and Barbara Woodward, the British ambassador to China, threatening to call off the entire visit. As for the queen, her joint ride down London’s Mall with Xi in a horse-drawn carriage was apparently nearly crashed by a Chinese security official posing as an official translator.
Of course, cultural clashes during high-level international visits are not out of the ordinary. In 2009, when US First Lady Michelle Obama briefly placed her hand on the queen’s back during a reception, the British media snorted that one must never touch the sovereign unless she extends her hand. George W.

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Clarifying Europe’s Refugee Problem

May 16, 2016

MADRID – Even by European Union standards, the response to the so-called refugee crisis is a mess. This seems to defy logic: While the crisis is certainly a challenge, human rights – and, indeed, refugee protection – are embedded in Europe’s DNA. Moreover, the EU’s aging and demographically challenged member states need immigrants. Yet, instead of spurring solutions, the current crisis has been bringing out all that is ugly, feckless, and dysfunctional about the European project. What happened?
As is so often the case with the EU, the problem is a lack of clarity. The blurring of the lines between refugee and immigrant has made it virtually impossible to make compelling arguments in favor of proper refugee protection or more effective immigration policy. This has thwarted honest and constructive discussion, allowing those who peddle fear and nativism to gain ground.
The conflation of immigrants and refugees was probably not the result of malicious intent. Following the introduction of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy toward refugees last September, a raft of reports emerged offering economic and demographic arguments within which her decision could be framed. But such arguments actually poisoned the idea of refugee protection: The focus on the potential economic role of refugees inadvertently reinforced the view that they were, in fact, economic migrants.

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Turning Crisis into Success in Germany

May 13, 2016

BERLIN – According to an early May opinion poll by ARD DeutschlandTREND, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party’s popular support now stands at 15%, up from around 5% a year ago. Can this dangerous trend be reversed?
The AfD’s rise since last summer has been the direct result of the surge in the number of refugees – close to one million in 2015 – entering Germany. After all, the party has made opposition to admitting refugees the centerpiece of its platform, which also includes antagonism toward the European Union and a very conservative social program, to which an openly sectarian religious component was added at a May 3 party convention in Stuttgart.
Yet Germany’s broad political center continues to hold. The center-right Christian Democrats and their allies still have the support of about 33% of the electorate; the center-left Social Democrats have 20% support; and the Green Party is backed by some 13%. Even the Free Democrats have clawed their way back from hard times, and now have about 6% support.
In short, moderate political forces still enjoy the support of more than 70% of Germans – in contrast with, say, Austria, where the far right was able to gain 36% in the first round of presidential elections.

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