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The Problem With Direct Democracy: The Case of California

Fri, 2017-10-20 18:01

By Arun Maira

Direct democracy is now easier than ever. But raw public input without first improving democratic processes is dangerous.

Some people believe that technology can provide the solution for democratic decision-making. When everyone has a smart-phone, all can give their preferences on any issue with the click of a button.

Thus, they say, governments can easily determine what the people want.

Can technology Facilitate Democracy? The Case of India

Climate Change: Can Today’s Societies Make Big Choices?

The Architecture of Democracy’s Processes

The Problem With Direct Democracy: The Case of California

However, for direct democracy to work, those called upon to vote on an issue must understand the implications of the decision proposed.

They must receive explanations of these implications in terms that they understand. And they must be willing to give their time to understand these implications — and not merely vote for what they instantly like.

What can happen otherwise can be learned from the U.S. state of California. A series of direct ballots on various issues has led to a deterioration of democracy in the state.

Each ballot question was explained in thick documents that no one had time to read. Related debates in the media also illuminated nothing more than the hate the opposing parties had for each other.

As a result, the processes of public debate tend to fail to educate the people about the issues on the ballot. Hence, all votes, even of the so-called educated elite, are largely an expression of their personal prejudices.

Technological abuses of and by society

Rapid advances in digital, computational and communication technologies are beginning to have profound impacts on democratic societies. One is intrusion into citizens’ privacy, along with the power of surveillance these technologies give to states and other actors.

Another is the concern with the right to free speech that is being misused by trolls, hate-mongers and other anti-social elements on social media to create an uncivil society. On social media, such people can ‘stuff the ballot boxes’ by using technology to multiply their votes.

Increasingly smart algorithms know ‘who’ each person is and give each person exactly what she wants. They nudge people towards advertisements of products and towards opinions and news that people ‘like’. The efficiency of social media algorithms is a boon for advertisers/sellers and for political campaigners too.

Is tech a tool or a weapon in democracies?

Undoubtedly, the efficiency of algorithms makes life easy for consumers. They need not search too far to get what they want. The problem is that while people get more and more of the ‘same’, they become more isolated from people who do not think like themselves. They no longer hear those across the walls of the boxes into which algorithms have put them.

Thus, social media is exacerbating the problems with direct polling of citizens’ views, rather than easing them. It is accelerating divisiveness in societies, just when, in an increasingly global world, we must learn to live together harmoniously.

As in the 1990s, when private corporations realized that they must fix their process designs before being able to benefit from applying new technology, so too now, the processes of democratic deliberation require more attention.

©2017 The Globalist

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The Architecture of Democracy’s Processes

Fri, 2017-10-20 18:01

By Arun Maira

It is not enough for a democracy in the 21st century to make decisions by up-down majoritarian votes.

Democracies require an architecture of institutions and processes to support them.

Some institutions provide the vertical pillars. Other institutions provide the lateral binders that give strength and stability to the democratic structure.

In the popular discourse about democracy – and while spreading around the idea of democracy, which the West, especially the United States, has made its mission – too much attention has been given to the vertical institutions required for people to elect their leaders.

Too little attention lately is given to the lateral institutions required to create harmony among diverse people.

Can technology Facilitate Democracy? The Case of India

Climate Change: Can Today’s Societies Make Big Choices?

The Architecture of Democracy’s Processes

The Problem With Direct Democracy: The Case of California

Universal franchise, elections and political parties fighting each other to win elections are institutions that enable a society to determine who is in the majority and has the right to govern.

Yes-No votes in a complex world

The problem with majoritarian democracy is that it is not designed to find solutions for complex problems with many points of view.

A government with a majority, especially a large one, can become as authoritarian as a dictatorial one. It can deny minorities their rights for their views to be considered while framing laws and resolving contentious issues. The people have spoken once, it contends, and that should be enough. Now, the people must leave it to the government in power.

A government can then justify the exclusion of the minority because it was elected by a majority.

However, by excluding the views of the many that did not vote for it – and quite often these may even be the majority in first-past-the-post elections – a government reduces its own effectiveness.


In countries where the courts are independent, like in India, those dissatisfied with the governments’ decisions go to courts. However, courts are not set up to find policy solutions to complex problems. Moreover, they must interpret the laws as written.

In India, where I live, ministers of the government have begun to complain that India’s courts are venturing into matters of governance that they should not. This is a sign that something is missing in India’s democracy.

Referendums aren’t the answer, either

When problems are complex, with many interacting forces and several contending stakeholders, good governance requires effective methods for people’s participation. Referendums of the entire electorate give only an illusion of good democracy – that the people have been consulted.

Because the opinions of masses of people must be swayed, politicians on both sides of the referendum typically run populist campaigns that appeal to the basest of instincts. That is the opposite of what should happen. When the issue is complex, voters should be educated about what they are voting for.

Worse, when a simple majority determines how all must go in the future (e.g. 52% versus 48% for Brexit), referendums become yet another example of the problem with majoritarian democracy rather than a good solution.

Healthy democracies need intermediate processes that lie between the open public sphere of civil society and the media on one side and the formal, constitutionally established decision-making institutions, like parliaments and courts, on the other side.

A free public sphere can raise issues. Social media has made it even freer. However, it cannot resolve them because people are not listening to each other.

The formal institutions of democracy have become overburdened, in India and elsewhere. The reason is that the complex issues at hand that are raised in the public sphere have not been pre-digested by intermediate processes and institutions.

The solution: Deliberative democracy

In his book, The Price of Civilization: Economics and Ethics After the Fall (2011), Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, laments that in the United States today, there is little systematic public deliberation and the public’s views are not taken seriously in the political process.

Sachs says that policy decisions are being adopted behind the backs of the public, often in direct contradiction of public opinion. Donald Trump was carried to the top by a wave of resentment among U.S. citizens against elite policymakers and politicians who, those citizens believe, do not understand them and whose arguments citizens cannot understand.

A large trust deficit has emerged between democracy’s formal political establishment and the people. That is true in the United States and in Europe too, where “populist” leaders have been rising on an anti-Establishment wave.

Democracy is shallow when it functions primarily as processes for citizens to vote. In that process, they often only express their preexisting political preferences. That process needs to become deeper so that citizens are engaged in deliberations that enable them to understand the implications of alternative solutions to societal needs.

Such deliberations are more democratic when all citizens are provided information in terms all can comprehend, and when they are able to participate in the deliberations without fear.

Methods must be found to engage citizens, thoughtfully, with issues that matter to them. How should raw public opinions be gathered from diverse constituents of a democratic society and what should be the design of processes for their refinement?

These are critical issues in designing processes for democratic deliberation in the 21st century.

©2017 The Globalist

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Digital Fascism Rising?

Thu, 2017-10-19 18:01

By Dirk Helbing

Can we still stop a world of technological totalitarianism?

Any claim that we humans are (already) contending with a new form of – this time digital – fascism will immediately be discredited as overblown.

No wonder: There are very powerful business forces who each make tens of billions of dollars a year by singing the sweet song of how our existence as individuals, as well as democracy in general, is enhanced by the conveniences of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence.

However, the real issue is whether democracy, such as we know it, can survive Big Data and Artificial Intelligence. We have long entered a world rife with new kinds of behavioral manipulation.

Whether we like to admit it or not, today’s secret services and Big Data companies possess much more data about us than were needed to run totalitarian states in the past. It is unlikely that such power will not be misused at some point in time.

Features of digital societies

Any doubter about my core claim – that we are running into conditions of a new, digital kind of fascism – should consider the following list of features of many modern digital societies:

• mass surveillance,
• unethical experiments with humans,
• social engineering,
• forced conformity (“Gleichschaltung”),
• propaganda and censorship,
• “benevolent” dictatorship,
• (predictive) policing,
• different valuation of people,
• relativity of human rights,
• and, it seems, possibly even euthanasia for the expected times of crisis in our unsustainable world.

That list exhibits all the core aims that fascists in the past were dreaming of.

An English-language video with the author exploring the themes laid out here in more detail, can be found here

We humans have been sweet talked collectively to the point that we don’t even realize this new, digitally empowered kind of totalitarianism.

Saving democracy

Even worse, in the past, the conditions for fascism were usually just found in select countries. In the digital era, the new fascism has reached global dimensions.

If we want to save democracy, freedom and human dignity, an emergency operation is inevitable. Often heard arguments to justify digital fascism – such as the need to fight terrorism, cyber threats and climate change – have been skilfully used to undermine our privacy, our rights and democracy itself.

The emergence of mass surveillance after 9/11, enabled by the Patriot Act in the United States and other laws, has led to the incremental erosion of liberties and human rights. Since the Snowden revelations, we know that there is mass surveillance of billions of people around the world.

But most people still have no idea how pervasive it is, and how it may influence their lives in the future. Billions of dollars have been spent on mass surveillance tools of secret services to hack our computers, smartphones, smart TVs and smart cars.

The estimated amount of data collected about us every day ranges from millions of numbers to Gigabytes of data. As a result, we have ended up with the digital tools for a data-driven, AI-based so-called “benevolent” dictatorship, where big businesses and the state determine “what is best for us.”

Citizens are being targeted, their data collected and consolidated. This is used to create a near complete profile of each person, their nature, habits and preferences. Each profile can contain thousands of specifiers.

Manipulating behavior

As if that weren’t bad enough in itself, these digital doubles can be used to make thousands of computer experiments with our virtual self to find out how our thinking and behavior can be manipulated.

More specifically, our personal data is being applied to customize information such that it will influence our attention, emotions, opinions, decisions and behaviours – often subconsciously – by a technique called big nudging or neuro-marketing.

This ranges from steering our consumption behaviour to manipulating voting behaviour in elections.

In the wrong hands, the misuse of surveillance-based personal data will have catastrophic consequences for us as individuals and for society as a whole. In an explicitly or implicitly totalitarian state, this kind of information could be used to predict and identify those people who don’t agree with certain government policies and sanction them even before they can exercise their democratic rights.

The British secret service, for example, runs a program called Karma Police, which shows where our societies are heading. This Citizen Score, which is currently also tested in China, may be used to run an entirely new kind of autocratic society, or even police state.

According to plans, the Citizen Score would determine the level of access to facilities, products and services. We would be scored or penalized according to our behaviours. Reading critical news or having the “wrong” kinds of social ties, for example, would get you minus points.

Countering digital totalitarianism

To counter this danger of a digital totalitarian state, we must at a minimum ensure:

• a democratic framework of use for powerful cyberinfrastructures,
• scientific use by interdisciplinary teams, considering multiple perspectives,
• ethical use considering human rights and human dignity,
• transparency,
• cyber-security (by decentralization etc.),
• informational self-determination (e.g., with a Personal Data Store),

The door is wide open for global fascism to take hold, unless we take action now. The longer we wait, the harder it will be to fight back, as more – and more intrusive – data are collected every single day, and powerful algorithms are used to predict and – increasingly control – our behavior in its totality.

That is why all of us are well advised to pay attention to well-founded concerns regarding the rise of a technological totalitarianism that – this time – is unfolding on a global scale since the data collectors really know no boundaries.

Concerning global events

Events around the world are quite concerning. The recent German election has just seen the unprecedented rise of a right-wing party, in part promoted by voter targeting and social bots.

Countries such as Spain, Hungary, Poland and Turkey are clearly on the path to more authoritarianism.

Political developments in France, the UK, United States, Japan, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands deserve attention, too. Some of their politicians have started to question human rights. Other people have even openly sympathized with Hitler.

Politics – that means, all of us – must act. It cannot be ignored anymore that civilization, as we built it after World War II, is at stake. Our societies are in a danger of derailing.

It is important to take time to think about the future we really want to live in and to leave old kinds of thinking behind. We need a real public discourse and a positive vision of our future.

Moreover, the old powers must allow change to happen. It’s time to re-invent society, but fascism should be left behind once and for all!

Recommended related reading: We Need Peace Rooms, Not War Rooms

©2017 The Globalist

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Burying Air Berlin: The Curious World of French Pragmatism, German Statism

Wed, 2017-10-18 18:01

By Stephan Richter

The loser in the Air Berlin game, as the government played it, are Germany’s citizens, consumers and air travelers.

We are living in strange times: On the one hand, we have a new French president who decides to throw centuries-long state traditions overboard and instead boldly announces that he wants to pursue Pan-European solutions to problems in his country’s train and shipbuilding industries.

However, while Emmanuel Macron opted for an Italian partner for the battered French navy company FTX France and while France’s proud Alstom railway division with its TGVs was merged with Siemens, the Berlin government – presumably a beacon of market thinking – did the opposite.

It saw to it that practically everything that is of value in the failed, but popular discount airline Air Berlin was offered up to Lufthansa. For all the talk of European unity, European competitors were systematically left in the cold.

Appearing “strategic”

To make matters worse, the German government sought to appear “strategic.” Hence the eager talk about Lufthansa as a “national champion.” Outdated as that concept is, it used to be the refrain of poorly designed moves in French – not German – industrial policy.

This role reversal, though very positive on the French side, is not exactly a welcome development for Germany.

Why is the handling of the failure of Air Berlin so important? Because the political apparatus of the Berlin Republic once again showed its ugly face.

The outgoing grand coalition government of CDU/CSU and the SPD had an easy time aligning their respective partisan interests amicably: the SPD wanted to stand by the Ver.di union, to secure the preservation of virtually all Air Berlin jobs at existing wage levels within the Lufthansa empire.

This hope has now been dashed, both in terms of the number of employees and their pay level. But that does not matter so much, as the mere hope for a better outcome was enough for the SPD to put itself firmly into the Lufthansa camp.

The CDU/CSU, for its part, was keen on Lufthansa as a “national champion,” as the then-transport minister Alexander Dobrindt put it frankly. In the unwinding of Air Berlin, the Merkel government thus operated on the basis of the principles which have been tried and tested in the automotive industry, that is, focusing on the big incumbent(s) in whatever industry it is dealing with.

The losers? Air travellers

And who is the loser in this game? We are – Germany’s citizens, consumers, air travelers. Since we live in a country which features very high levels of taxes and social contributions, we have a strong interest in the fact that flights do not become unnecessarily more expensive.

But that is exactly what Lufthansa will be doing, even according to the admission of its own CEO. Everything else would be a violation of his fiduciary duties to his shareholders.

The Lufthansa camp and its governmental enablers are eager to state that, even with a 94% market share for Lufthansa, there will still be enough competition in Germany. In this context, people like to point to the Bundesbahn as a competitive factor.

However, prior to Air Berlin’s demise, in many cases it was not only faster, but also significantly cheaper to fly Air Berlin than to take the train.

This price disadvantage of the railway runs counter to Germany’s oft-stated objective of being environmentally responsible and thus moving most domestic air traffic to the railway system.

With Air Berlin’s best routes integrated into the LH empire, it is likely that the German railways will profit from a significantly higher concentration in air travel, but in a perverse manner for consumers: The increase in Eurowings ticket prices makes the railways relatively more attractive, because the system’s steep prices are now less steep (when compared to airlines tickets).

The French example

France proves that this can be done differently. While the country is not at all friendly to budget airlines in the domestic market, it gets its railway pricing structure right, based on my experience this past summer.

For example, even TGV tickets booked at short notice were usually priced at below the level of flight prices. In other words, France not only has a much better high-speed rail network than Germany, French pricing policy also gives people an incentive not to get onto the plane.

What is to be done? In the interests of consumers, one can only hope that European antitrust authorities rein in the German government in its collusive stance vis-à-vis Lufthansa. Berlin acted as if Lufthansa (and all airlines) was still state-owned.

Inside the EU, the distinction between the domestic market and the other inner-European destinations should finally be abolished.

The German mentality of circling the wagons, which came to light in the cartel-like stance of Lufthansa and the federal government, is not only embarrassing, but – unless unwound – will cost us consumers dearly.

©2017 The Globalist

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Social Media in China: The Great Distraction

Wed, 2017-10-18 06:07

By Andrés Ortega

Worried about social media helping to create popular movements, China runs an elaborate system of censorship and manipulation.

Apart from its Great Firewall, the Chinese state runs an elaborate system of censorship and manipulation of social media.

It has just proved this by blocking access to WhatsApp on the eve of the important XIX Congress of the Chinese Communist Party and increasing the crack-down on those critical of President Xi Jinping, who is amassing more and more power.

But the authorities are worried less by the criticism than by the social media and networks (in Chinese hands, the Western versions being usually banned) helping to create popular movements. That is something they view as inherently dangerous.

This is so even though criticism can even be useful in Xi Jinping’s fight against corruption and for exposing bureaucrats. What the system simply cannot tolerate is the possible emergence of opposition movements or collective action.

There are now an average of 500 demonstrations a day in China, albeit largely peaceful. The regime believes that the greatest threat emanates not from possible military attacks from foreign powers, but uprisings among their own people that could be triggered by a spark on social media.

Study of censorship

In 2013 Garry King, Jennifer Pan and Margaret E. Roberts from Harvard University published a study of censorship on Chinese social media based on an analysis of 1,400 social media services. Ironically, in China, unlike the West, they are not concentrated in the hands of just a few companies.

The study examined several million posts before the authorities detected, assessed and eventually censored them, either withdrawing them from the Internet or modifying them.

The researchers also sent messages to gauge the reaction of the censors and conducted numerous discreet interviews on the subject. Tens of thousands of censors work at the social media companies – some 1,000 at each service – and at various levels of government. Around 15% of posts are censored.

In another recent study, King and his colleagues go further by confirming, with the figures to prove it, that the authorities are not so bothered about what citizens think or say about them, but about what they might do. The strategic goal is to avoid collective action.

Reverse engineering

To this end, the authorities conduct what the academics refer to as “reverse engineering” which constitutes “the most extensive effort to selectively censor human expression ever implemented.”

But in this new study they delve deeper in their analysis and conclude that rather than responding directly to the dangerous content that may circulate on social media, the Chinese apparatus focuses on distracting people with other subjects.

They do this via pseudonymous and anonymous posts, and some estimates suggest that some two million people are hired to insert this type of information or disinformation in the networks.

They belong to various categories: the censors at each service or company, as mentioned above, the Internet police (the wangjing, with 20,000-50,000 members), the Internet monitors (wanggiuanban) and around 250,000-300,000 people known as the “50c party” (wumaodang) because it is rumoured (although apparently based on no grounds) that they earn 50 cents (or 5 jiao, the equivalent of €0.07) for every post or message they send.

They are a sort of official troll existing at all levels of government. The goal of this program is above all “to reduce the probability of collective action by clipping social ties whenever any collective movements are in evidence or expected.”

Minor dissatisfaction expressed in these networks could convey to a wider audience the idea that it is shared by many others and they might mobilise against it.

King and his colleagues calculate that the regime could be creating and posting 448 million comments per year.

Strategic distraction

The aim is not to enter into debates to rebut arguments and assertions, but rather to achieve a “strategic distraction” that changes the subject, with comments seemingly from ordinary Chinese citizens that are positive about China, its history and the Communist Party or introducing other subjects.

As the legal scholar Cass Sunstein points out in his recent book #Republic, this mirrors the recommendation made by Dale Carnegie 1936 that since an argument can never be won, it is better to change the subject.

The Chinese authorities seem to be in agreement with the U.S. entrepreneur and writer of self-help books, including How to Win Friends and Influence People, which included this advice: distracting people’s attention works better than refuting arguments.

This modus operandi will undoubtedly inspire other authoritarian regimes, provided they have the ability to control the Internet the Chinese system has. But it also reveals the nominally communist regime’s most profound concerns: warding off mobilisations that it fears it will be unable to control or will be obliged to use force to control.

Lest it be forgotten, the demonstrations that were suppressed in Tiananmen Square took place in 1989, long before social media even existed and harnessed the power of algorithms.

Editor’s Note: Adapted from Andres Ortega’s Global Spectator column, which he writes for the Elcano Royal Institute.

©2017 The Globalist

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One Final Offer From the EU to the UK

Mon, 2017-10-16 18:01

By Paul Goldschmidt

As there are no “good” solutions to the Brexit conundrum, it’s time to focus on the practicality of the least “bad” one.

It is becoming clearer by the day that even if “sufficient progress” is made on a divorce agreement by December this year, the time remaining for negotiating and ratifying a “transition deal” will prove insufficient.

If there is not a rapid radical shift in the framework of the Brexit negotiations, the process will die unresolved on March 29th 2019. This will lead inexorably to a deep crisis that is as predictable and therefore unnecessary.

It will undoubtedly cause considerable damage to the UK, but also Britain to hurt the European Union as well.

The least bad solution

It is in this context that the ideas expressed recently in Brussels by the former Irish Prime Minister John Bruton deserve careful consideration. Recognizing that there are no “good” solutions to the Brexit conundrum, he focuses on the practicality of the least “bad” one.

His proposal is to trigger immediately the clause of Article 50 of the Treaty that allows prolonging the initial two year negotiating period (starting from the official notification on 29 March, 2017) by a further 4 years (until 29 March, 2023).

It requires the unanimous approval of the EU 27 (and of the UK) as well as a majority vote by the European Parliament.

There are of course serious drawbacks to the proposal but the advantages seem, nevertheless, far more compelling:

On the negative side:

• It will be difficult for the Brexeteers to swallow as it means a painful delay in – and a possible reversal of – the government’s commitment to implement the results of the referendum.

• It risks splitting the conservative party, leading to a political crisis and open the way for a Labor government. (This might happen anyway, but would become unmanageable if constrained by the current negotiating timetable).

• It postpones for four more years any possibility for the UK to negotiate trade deals with third countries.

• It will be difficult to accept by all the EU 27 because it prolongs the full “membership” of the UK with all its “privileges and obligations.”

• It might prove difficult for the European Parliament (and the 28 Members) to envisage the participation of the UK in the spring 2019 European Parliamentary elections (though there is no legal impediment if the UK remains a member).

• It might interfere significantly with other EU priorities, such as the need for carrying out comprehensive reforms, in particular if the UK is in a position to obstruct such initiatives.

On the positive side:

• It removes immediately the time pressure allowing a more serene atmosphere for continuing negotiations and a more realistic timeframe to conclude them.

• It allows the sequencing demanded by the 27, leaving sufficient time to negotiate and implement the EU-UK future relationship while hopefully removing the need for a “transition period.”

• It allows the UK the necessary time to recruit and train the additional staff it will require to assume tasks previously carried out by the EU, which appears extremely difficult to carry out under the presently defined timetable.

• Removing the need for a formal negotiated and ratified “transition agreement” will save a significant amount of time and effort. Indeed, even if the terms of a transition are agreed, it does not provide any assurances of a successful outcome concerning the future relationship, thus prolonging the uncertainty and encouraging actors to take “irreversible” decisions sooner.

Necessary amendments

If John Bruton’s proposals are to be considered seriously, they will nevertheless require certain amendments to the “status quo ante” that should be included in the Article. 50 prolongation procedure:

• The UK should be granted the formal option to withdraw “unilaterally” at any time during the negotiations, the Article. 50 notification in order to remain an EU Member after 29 March, 2023.

• In exchange the UK would agree, if it exercised its option, to forgo its budget rebate, join Schengen and abandon all of its other opt-outs (including from the Eurozone). Furthermore it would undertake not to trigger Article.50 for a minimum period (15-20 years).

Such demands will certainly be deemed “outrageous,” but an agreement along these lines presents considerable advantages for the UK: the government could offer its citizens (or Parliament) a new referendum with three clear options:

• Approval of the deal as negotiated with the EU.

• Withdrawal from the EU rejecting the proposed deal.

• Exercise of the UK’s option to withdraw the Article. 50 notification in full knowledge of the consequences (see above).

Weighing the options

The third option should be weighed carefully in the light of the problems associated with leaving the EU, the negative consequences of which have so far been muted but are expected to increase significantly as time goes by.

Within the reality of an interdependent multipolar world, it boils down to a choice between exercising a largely “virtual independent sovereignty” and sharing with the other Member States a truly “effective joint sovereignty” in promoting the highly correlated interests of Europe’s citizens on the world stage.

The proposed procedure would also allow the feelings of abuse that have been hurled by both Brexeteers and Remainers at each other, to heal.

It would provide a solid base for facing the future – whether in or out of the EU – with a reunited sense of belonging, overcoming the deep splits that have appeared between generations as well as between various parts of the United Kingdom.

A fully informed consultation of the population would restore the necessary balance between “democracy,” “the rule of law” and “human rights” which are each indissociably intertwined in the pursuit of “freedom” which, as was so well expressed recently by Commissioner Frans Timmermans in relation to the events in Catalonia, form the bedrock of the Union’s values.

An additional benefit of this approach is to put at the center of the discussions the interests of millions of citizens, be it those residing in each other’s territory (whose status will remain in jeopardy until a final agreement is reached) and those – both nationals and aliens – employed by companies whose business is affected by Brexit.

Putting the interests of citizens first

It should be the main purpose of any self-respecting government to put the interests of its citizens ahead of dogmatic or ideological party political prejudices or interests.

Rather than pinning one’s hope on the collapse of the EU as a weak ex post justification for Brexit, it is high time for those responsible for the future of the United Kingdom to think of serious “damage control” and consider calmly solutions, such as the one presented by John Bruton.

If it appears initially to be totally unacceptable, it provides, however, a sensible way of implementing the democratically expressed views of British citizens.

©2017 The Globalist

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Quo Vadis, China?

Sun, 2017-10-15 18:01

By Agnieszka Gehringer and Norbert F. Tofall

Under Xi Jinping, will China opt for a “new totalitarianism,” the current “hard authoritarianism,” turn back to a sort of “soft authoritarianism” or move toward a “semi-democracy”?

Since 1978, GDP per capita in China increased from USD 222.5 in 1978 to USD 7,603.2 in 2014, with the Chinese population growing from 962.2 million to 1,367.8 million over the same period.

The political authority of China’s Communist Party (CPC) is strongly dependent on this economic modernization and poverty reduction. This is why the Chinese government tries its best to avoid any – even temporary – economic slump.

China’s communist government has recognized since at least the 12th Five-Year Plan, passed in 2011, that the Chinese economy is afflicted by serious structural problems.

The plan calls for shifting economic growth away from investment and exports towards domestic consumption, increasing the share of services in the economy and slashing industrial overcapacities, and increasing the share of alternative energy sources.

The overall goal is to move towards a post-industrial service-based economy driven by technical progress.

Can the Chinese leadership succeed?

However, there are doubts whether the Chinese leadership will be able to manage this very complex structural change through the top-down central economic planning. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have been successful, but the majority of other countries failed at this task.

Not much has changed so far about the dominant position of the CPC. It clings to its vision of achieving “economic growth without socio-political freedom.”

True, the modernization of China’s economy encompasses capitalistic methods. However, individualism and plurality of interests are still rejected by the Chinese leadership on the grounds of their incompatibility both with Chinese tradition and with Marxism-Leninism.

Furthermore, since 2013 the CPC has been successful at disciplining the political elite, controlling justice, systematically monitoring society and consolidating its power. And the 19th Party Congress of the CPC, held this month, could further strengthen the position of CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping.

However, the ongoing consolidation of decision-making, the stricter discipline of the CPC, the focus of power on Xi Jinping, together with the need to solve the existing structural problems and financial bubbles could significantly narrow economic freedom and future development perspectives.

Where will China go from here?

China can revert to a kind of “new-totalitarianism,” maintain the current regime of “hard authoritarianism,” turn back to a sort of “soft authoritarianism,” similar to the regime between 1998 and 2008, or it might change to a “semi-democracy.”

In order to put its economic model on sustainable development path, China should allow extensive structural reforms. That would include a path of creative destruction, without CPC’s central conduct and control.

Moreover, although this does not seem to be very probable under Xi’s current path of “hard authoritarianism,” China should push back government interventions. Otherwise, China’s economic development will be hampered.

At the same time, these changes could lead to the loss of the necessary legitimation of the CPC to reign. For the time being, therefore, the Chinese government prefers to further consolidate its power – for instance, through strategies like “one belt, one road” (OBOR).

That economic strategy opens valves abroad to accommodate the accumulating pressures that are mounting at home due to the structural reforms that are undertaken.

It remains to be seen, however, how much time the Chinese government is actually winning through the OBOR strategy. It is plausible to assume that it will not work in the mid- to long-run, either in China or elsewhere.

©2017 The Globalist

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Can Technology Facilitate Democracy? The Case of India

Sun, 2017-10-15 16:44

By Arun Maira

Technology might help countries like India with government services, but it’s no silver bullet for the business of governance.

The Aadhaar project – India’s nationwide, biometrically-supported identity card effort – was a tour de force of innovation and organization. Its purpose was to create a national database that makes it possible to validate the identity of every citizen anytime anywhere in a matter of seconds.

The process was driven forward by the Unique Identification Authority of India, operating under the chairmanship of Nandan Nilekani. He inspired a large network of organizations and individuals to collaborate to provide over a billion Indians with the cards. These individuals were not in one organization under his command-and-control, yet they worked together very well.

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Many technological innovations were combined. Over a billion Indians in towns and villages throughout the length and breadth of India were enrolled with their biometric data.

The successful implementation of the Aadhaar project is now raising some contentious socio-political issues that were beyond the scope of the project.

Data privacy is one. Mr. Nilekani rightly says that how the identity data that is now available is used or misused will depend on other organizations.

The Indian government, for its part, says that Aadhaar is the solution to problems of leakage in many welfare schemes. In its view, it is now possible to ensure that benefits will reach only the intended beneficiaries.

However, a program like Aadhaar — as arbitrary and well-executed it has been — will not provide the answers to questions of who should be the beneficiaries of the programs. These questions require complex and often contentious considerations of deprivations and entitlements.

Complex choices

In India and beyond, the concept of a “universal basic income” (UBI) is being promoted by some economists as the way to side-step complex socio-political questions.

Questions abound: How much is sufficient as a “basic” income? Also, if everyone is to be given this, regardless of whether they need it or not, the total amount the state must provide can be too large for its budget.

What this underscores is that seemingly rational economics cannot side-step emotional, socio-political debates about who should be the beneficiaries of state-provided assistance. Moreover, as much as some people might wish it or advocate it, such complex societal issues do not have digital solutions and technology cannot provide the answer.

No salvation in tech alone

The proliferation of digital communication and computation technologies is raising enormous issues of data privacy and data misuse. India’s Aadhaar project is inevitably embroiled in them.

The regulation of the Internet, social media and other so-called “smart” technologies is a global issue. It will require resolution of contentious issues about citizens’ rights versus government responsibilities, as well as about private property rights vis-à-vis public interests.

Contending principles are involved. Computer calculations will not resolve these matters. Democratic deliberation is required.

Beyond Buzzwords

Lately, “E-governance” has become a buzzword. Technology firms are winning large e-governance contracts from governments in many countries. However, E-governance may be a misnomer for what these firms are assisting governments to do. With so-called e-governance, governments are actually improving service-delivery to citizens.

“Governance,” on the other hand, is a process of making change, shaping policies and taking decisions. What is called “e-governance” may be better described as “e-government.” After all, it deals almost entirely with effective delivery of services by government, rather than subjective and innovative processes of governance.

In designing e-government processes, it seems best to eliminate human interference to ensure fair and consistent services. But for good democratic governance, citizens should speak and be heard. Human participation is the essence of good democratic governance.

Moreover, the purpose of a democratic decision-making process is to take in inputs from many diverse people and to let their interactions produce an innovative, best solution. Imposing a pre-determined solution onto the public is not democracy.

Smarter cities

Take the case of India. In my country, the quality of public services in cities is very poor. Technology can improve service delivery and therefore the Indian government is rightly pushing the use of technology in service delivery processes to make cities “smarter.”

However, a deeper problem — not just in Indian cities — is the lack of a plan that addresses the needs of all citizens and addresses — and possibly resolves — the many trade-offs that must be made democratically to satisfy them.

For example, what should India’s limited road-space be used for? More space for pedestrians? Or space for small businesses that serve local citizens (e.g., hawkers)? Or more space for the movement and parking of cars? Or where should a waste-disposal facility be located? In whose backyard?

These are remarkably universal questions (and decisions to be made). They must be made in every city and every country to make the city we live in a good city for everyone.

Making decisions is not the strong suit of technology. It is better at implementing decisions — or facilitating them. That makes it all the more important to ensure that the democratic processes incorporating technology are sound.

©2017 The Globalist

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Make a Life, Not Just a Living!

Fri, 2017-10-13 18:01

By Gurcharan Das

Passionate, self-forgetting work is the secret of happiness as well as of making a life.

I have long been sceptical if governments could make one happy. Happiness seems to be an “inside job,” a matter of personal attitude. Most of us feel unhappy because of unhappy partnerships or marriages, problematic children, not getting a promotion or more income.

But why should a state not commit itself to ensuring freedom, good governance, jobs, quality schools, health care and absence of corruption? That can vastly improve the wellbeing of its people.

If tiny Bhutan can become world famous for pioneering Gross National Happiness to replace Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of national success, the rest of the world has no excuse for not aiming to do the same.

Not surprisingly, Scandinavian countries rank at the top of the World Happiness Report 2017. America is in 14th place and China ranks 71st.

Surprisingly, Happiness hasn’t grown in China although income per capita has multiplied five times since 1990. The reason could be a decline in the social safety net and recent rise in unemployment.

India, alas, finds itself only in 122nd place, behind Pakistan and Nepal.

The happiness industry

Rankings on many criteria in the World Happiness Report depend on well-being. Since happiness is such an individual choice, it would be better to call it a National Wellbeing Report.

Happiness itself is a vast industry occupying plenty of shelf space in the “Mind, Body, Spirit” section of our bookstores. Personally, nothing makes me feel less cheerful than reading a book on happiness.

Most of this stuff just seems to reflect yet another fad or pie-in-the-sky thinking. Work, almost by definition, is cast as the antithesis of happiness.

Unlike the French aristocracy, which believed the natural state of man is idleness, I think work is essential to happiness. One is lucky if one has the chance to work passionately and enjoy doing what one is good at. I agree with George Bernard Shaw: “Life isn’t about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself.”

How then does one give purpose to one’s work and to life? To answer this question, I sometimes play this thought game with my friends: You’ve just been informed that you have three months to live.

After the initial shock, you quickly ask yourself: How should I spend my remaining days? Should I finally take a few risks? Should I confess my love to someone I have loved secretly since childhood? Should I turn to religion? Or learn to listen to the sounds of silence?

How you plan to live in these presumed last months is how you should live your life.

What is life all about?

Ever since childhood we are told to work hard, get good grades in school so that we can get into a good college, where we are pushed to study “useful subjects.” We land a reasonable job, marry a suitable partner, aim to live in a nice house or apartment and have a nice car; and we repeat the same process with our young.

Until one day in our forties, we wake up one morning and ask ourselves: “Is this what life was all about?” We have stumbled through life, kept planning for the future while life has essentially passed us by.

An unfulfilled life is a tragic loss. No one bothered to teach us the difference between “making a living” and “making a life.” No one encouraged us to find a passion. Very few are lucky to be Mozart who found a passion for music at the age of three.

You know that you found it when your work doesn’t feel like “work,” when time gets distorted and you suddenly find it’s evening and you forgot to eat lunch. You were in the “zone,” as athletes call it.

When one is absorbed in passionate work, our ego tends to disappear. When we act desirelessly, which means not to seek credit or personal reward from one’s work, then we are passionate about work. Passionate, self-forgetting work is the secret of happiness as well as of making a life.

©2017 The Globalist

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The American Un-Society

Thu, 2017-10-12 18:01

By Stephan Richter

The Las Vegas massacre has exposed that the idea of the existence of an American “society” is increasingly becoming pure fiction.

The key lesson from the Las Vegas inferno extends far beyond the cynical action patterns of the National Rifle Association, the omnipotence of U.S. lobbies, or the campaign finance-induced corruptibility of members of the U.S. Congress.

Upon closer inspection, the really frightening fact is that the very idea of the existence of an American “society” is increasingly becoming pure fiction.

A significant share of the people living in today’s United States lacks the will to live together. In contrast to Europe, the desire to stand apart from one another as much as possible is one of the foundational leitmotifs of the country. From early on, settlers have been on the move when they felt someone came too close to them.

The real tragedy of the West is to acknowledge that today’s United States is increasingly becoming synonymous with grotesque levels of inhumanity.

Also published in Germany’s Handelsblatt as Reise ans Ende der Nacht, 6-8 October, 2017.

In that sense, events such as the Las Vegas mass shooting are just sideshows. For a moment, they create an illusion of vowing improvement – until the next morning or the day after, when the defenders of the status quo once again become merciless.

Police brutality

How else would one understand the fact that, half a century after the allegedly fundamental civil liberties reforms, black citizens are now shot down by the police as if they were prey? And essentially without a single policeman having been successfully prosecuted to date? In fact, they often don’t even get indicted.

And how can we in the rest of the world consider a country as a strong civilization that is worth emulation if that country’s preeminent political party, the Republicans, consider it a national sport to deny poorer Americans access to health insurance, with all conceivable and unthinkable means?

The only “good” news in this regard is that this form of discrimination is no longer imposed solely on blacks, but also on the white proletariat. (This term is deliberately chosen; with the lack of social security, lack of paid vacation and the like, any other word would be off the mark).

Whoever wants to admire American-style individualism in the face of such perversions of the political system must also understand how selectively this individualism can be applied. For the most part, it is reserved for the pluto-crats, the uppermost part of the U.S. population’s income pyramid.

The absurd fascination with the “winner takes all” mantra explains why the American dream is increasingly becoming a nightmare. The widespread use of opioids among those who are not well off speaks volumes.

Worse yet, on this frontline of American death, the same absurdity applies as for gun violence: The “civilized” thing to do, proper regulation by the government, could stop many though not all, of the excesses.

Salvaging American society

Having lived in the American capital for thirty years until a year ago, I was recently asked by a prominent European transatlanticist how to save the transatlantic relationship in view of the Trump factor. My reply alarmed my interlocutor: “This is basically impossible. To achieve this, American society would have to be salvageable.”

But this cannot be expected to happen in the foreseeable future. At the core, the Civil War, officially ended in 1865, continues to this day.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the United States is the leading industrial country in which close to half of the population rejects many forms of Western rational thought. The refusal of progress itself is alarming. It bears an eerie resemblance to Germany in the late stage of the Weimar Republic.

As radical as the thesis is, in the rigorous rejection of universally accepted empirical facts of civilized societies — for example, acceptance of evolution and climate change — the Republican half of the American population has more in common with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other fundamentalist Muslim countries than with EU Europeans.

This is the real message that we should be able to hear from the United States, despite the latest pictures.

A tribal United States

For this reason, too, we cannot really be surprised that the United States is more and more characterized by tribal structures, similar to the ones that, with only very brief interludes, have always shaped Afghanistan.

The economic crisis that continues to affect the lower half of the U.S. income bracket intensifies these latent tendencies.

No wonder, then, that it seems impossible to arrive at long overdue compromise. The U.S. Congress is the perfect expression of this collective impotence. Although both houses are extremely well-equipped in terms of staff and the like, and although there is a crying need for common-sense legislation, none has been forthcoming.

This impotence is also reflected in American everyday life, not only among business partners, but even in one’s own neighborhood. People prefer to talk about the latest movies, instead of risking to embark in any way onto the treacherous issue of politics.

Once again, the historical associations that this triggers in the minds of any nation that has lived under totalitarian rule speak for themselves.

There will be no sensible reform

What the Las Vegas incident will once again prove, not just to the American public but to the entire world, is the futility of the belief in sensible reform.

This basically shatters the long-held belief question in much of the world that Americans are dynamic, modern and capable of change. This is also why the people in the rest of the world are well advised to focus more on their own paths.

©2017 The Globalist

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From Land to Sea: Plastic Trash as Far as the Eye Can See

Wed, 2017-10-11 18:01

By The Globalist

Millions of tons of plastics end up in landfills and oceans each year.

1. In Europe, 26%, or 6.6 million tons, of the post-consumer plastic produced in 2012 was recycled, while 36% was incinerated for energy generation.

2. The remaining 38% of post-consumer plastics in Europe went to landfills.

3. In the United States, only 9% of post-consumer plastic (2.8 million tons) was recycled in 2012. The remaining 32 million tons were discarded.

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4. Up to 20 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans each year, imposing an estimated $13 billion a year in damages to marine ecosystems.

5. The bulk of the waste plastic that made its way into the Pacific Ocean in 2010 came from China as well as Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam.

6. The United States was the 20th largest contributor to ocean waste plastic in 2010.

7. Animals such as seabirds, whales and dolphins can become entangled in plastic matter.

8. Smaller pieces can be ingested and transferred up the food chain, carrying chemical pollutants from prey to predator.

9. Many challenges associated with plastics could be addressed by improving management of the material across its life cycle.

10. This includes reducing unnecessary plastic consumption, finding more environmentally friendly packaging alternatives and improving product and packaging design to use less plastic.

11. The Environment Ministers of the G-20 nations have set a global governance goal among their leading economies of reducing and removing marine litter.

Sources: Worldwatch Institute, University of Georgia, The Globalist Research Center.

©2017 The Globalist

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Plastic Consumption: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Wed, 2017-10-11 18:01

By The Globalist

Plastics have been both a gift and a curse from an environmental standpoint

1. Global plastic production and consumer use took off in the 1940s.

2. Today, an average person living in North America or Western Europe consumes 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of plastic each year, mostly in the form of packaging.

3. In Asia, average plastic use is currently just one-fifth that level, at 20 kilograms (44 pounds) per person. That figure is expected to grow rapidly as the region’s economies expand.

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4. Plastics have many tangible benefits. They help to reduce food waste by keeping products fresh longer and allow for the manufacture of life-saving healthcare equipment.

5. They also have large potential for use in renewable energy technologies.

6. Plastics have also improved transportation efficiency. By reducing packaging and product mass compared with other materials, shipping becomes less costly (and less fuel-intensive per item).

7. Vehicles themselves are also less heavy, further improving efficiency. As a result, about 10% of the weight and 50% of the volume of a typical U.S. vehicle today is plastic.

8. Back in the 1960s, vehicles contained less than 20 pounds of plastic.

9. Among the negative impacts, however, are plastic litter, gyres of plastics in the oceans, and the toxic additives in plastic products.

10. The latter include colorants, flame-retardants and plasticizers (such as bisphenol A, or BPA).

Sources: Worldwatch Institute and The Globalist Research Center.

©2017 The Globalist

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Plastic Waste: The World Makes, China Takes

Wed, 2017-10-11 18:01

By The Globalist

China now imports a majority of the world’s annual waste plastic.

1. China takes in more than half of worldwide waste plastic each year, for disposal, re-use or incidental use.

2. Indeed, most plastic scraps from countries with established collection systems eventually flow to China.

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3. The world’s largest economy receives 56% of waste plastic imports worldwide (measured by weight).

4. In fact, much of the plastic collected for recycling in Europe, the United States, Japan and other industrialized countries is shipped to China, as well as to other countries that have lower environmental protection controls for the disposal of contaminants or wastewater.

5. Unfortunately, indirect evidence suggests that most of this imported waste plastic is reprocessed at low-tech, family-run facilities with virtually no environmental protection controls.

6. One secondary use – burning plastic for energy – requires strict air emissions controls to be safe.

7. Burning plastic produces hazardous ash needing proper disposal. Without these measures, it can be highly unsafe.

8. Plastic incineration for power generation is also relatively inefficient.

9. Through its 2010 Green Fence Operation program, the Chinese government has started to work to reduce the number of unregulated waste plastic processing facilities.

Sources: Worldwatch Institute and The Globalist Research Center.

©2017 The Globalist

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Ending Inequality Between Countries: Not By Trade Alone

Tue, 2017-10-10 18:01

By Branko Milanovic

Is a world of approximately equal country incomes really possible to envisage any time soon?

First, even assuming that a world of approximately equal country incomes is feasible and that free trade will bring it about (the latter by itself is very dubious), we have to allow for the fact that income or wage equalization across all countries would imply a decrease, or a very slow growth, of wages for many people in the rich world.

This is precisely the problem with which one grapples today. While trade was an overall “good,” it has hurt many people in rich countries.

The transition to a world of equal country incomes would necessarily involve many bumps along the road and would require finding in rich countries much better ways to compensate the income losers.

This however does not seem to be happening right now. At least I cannot see it.

So the first problem is that equalization of incomes or wages between the countries, led by trade alone, would require massive sacrifices from some groups of workers in rich countries.

The second problem is that income gaps in the world are enormous and it is impossible, under the best of scenarios, that they should be done away with within this century.

Chinese convergence

Consider the most extraordinary, and probably unrepeatable, feat of Chinese convergence. In 1977, the US–China gap in GDP per capita (and probably very similarly in wages) was almost 50 to 1, adjusted for the difference in price levels between the two counties.

(This is based on World Bank data; according to Maddison’s data, the gap was less than half that size, but still a huge 21 to 1).

It is now 4 to 1.

And this is the result of an average growth rate of Chinese GDP per capita of 8.5 percent over four decades.

The gap between Europe and Africa

The gap between German GDP per capita (proxy for that of Western Europe) and Sub-Saharan Africa’s today is 13 to 1. (German’s GDP per capita is about $45,000 vs. population-weighted Sub-Saharan GDP per capita of $3,500; all in purchasing power parity dollars).

With Africa’s population expected to more than double by 2050, do we really see Africa able in the next three or four decades to repeat Chinese growth experience?

Note that replicating Chinese per capita growth and given the projected population growth in Sub-Saharan Africa of 2.4% per annum, would require African countries to grow on average by almost 11% per year for approximately half a century.

And how did Sub-Saharan Africa fare during the last, relatively good, decade? Its overall GDP grew by 4.5 percent per annum.

Thus, even under the most favorable and implausible assumptions of convergence, income gaps are unlikely to be eliminated for at least three to four generations.

The importance of migration

This, in turn, points to the importance of migration. If a borderless, cosmopolitan world is to be achieved (an objective with which I agree, but see enormous political difficulties in reaching it) migration is absolutely essential.

But as economic migration faces increasing obstacles in rich countries (and, it has to be added, not solely because of xenophobia but for economic reasons as well), the ideal of a world “without injustice of birth” (i.e. of being born in a rich or poor country) recedes.

To make my point clear: I am very sympathetic to the borderless world. But to believe that it can be achieved through trade alone, and without significant migration, is unrealistic.

And once we say “migration,” we immediately open the Pandora’s box that the most recent elections in Europe and the United States have shown is a reality, not an imagination.

If we need an “intellectual revolution,” it is not just how to improve free trade agreements, but how to reconcile a very real migration pressure with political realities of rich countries.

©2017 The Globalist

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Catalonia: First Signs of a Return to Reason?

Mon, 2017-10-09 18:01

By Holger Schmieding

Reviving the autonomy deal that foundered in Spain’s constitutional court back in 2010 would find the support of the majority of Spaniards, including the Catalans.

Madrid apologises for the excessive use of police force during the Catalan referendum. Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards take to the streets to demand a dialogue. First cracks appear between the Catalan nationalists.

The news flow over the last few days offers some hope that the conflict about Catalonia can be defused within a few weeks. Unfortunately, the bitter standoff between the two major players in the drama still continues.

Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy and the Catalan regional leader Carles Puigdemont both took an uncompromising stance in media interviews over the weekend. It may first get worse before it gets better.

Two big Catalan miscalculations

By and large, the near-term outcome seems clear, in my view: the Catalan regional government will have to back down.

The reason for this assessment is that, in calling a referendum that violates the Spanish constitution for a cause backed by only half of the Catalan population, the authorities in Barcelona have miscalculated in two major ways:

1. The Catalan supporters of independence are mostly ardent pro-Europeans, like the supporters of the Scottish SNP.

However, their hope that the EU would intervene on their behalf was always misplaced. The EU is essentially a club of its member states, not a club of regions or other entities within the member states.

2. Barcelona has underestimated its economic vulnerability.

In theory, an independent Catalunya could be a viable country within the EU and the euro after an amicable divorce. It is among the most attractive and dynamic regions of Europe.

However, a prolonged standoff during a contested divorce could be an economic disaster for the region. For practical purposes, Catalonia cannot become independent against Madrid.

Catalan businesses vote – with their feet

Last week’s decision of the top two Catalan banks to shift their headquarters to other parts of Spain is just a foretaste of the calamities that could befall Barcelona if it continues to defy the Spanish constitution.

That Madrid may suspend Catalonia’s autonomy according to Article 155 of the Spanish constitution may only be part of what lies ahead.

Just imagine what might happen to public services in Catalonia if Madrid were to order banks to freeze the accounts of the Catalan regional government and all other public institutions in the region that do not abide by the Spanish constitution.

An implicit risk that Spain might withdraw lender-of-last-resort protection from any bank that does not cooperate. Such a move, technical as it sounds, may hit the region harder than any use of the national police.

While the left-wing nationalists from the CUP may not care and even relish an escalating confrontation, most pro-independence forces in Catalonia come from the moderate center-right in economic terms.

As much as they would like to be independent, most of them probably do not want their region – or their own businesses – to go bust in the process.

The Catalan regional parliament may first declare independence by a wafer-thin majority (possibly on Tuesday evening) before the Catalan side fractures eventually. Sadly, an ultimately futile declaration of independence would only escalate tensions without contributing to a viable solution.

Using the big stick?

For the long-term outlook, the real question is whether or not Madrid tries to crush the Catalan pro-independence forces before it starts a dialogue – or starts to talk soon.

A hard line from Madrid would probably prevail near-term. It would carry two major risks, though:

First, the resulting bitterness may strengthen the radical Catalan parties over time even if the Catalan pro-independence forces lose now.

Second, it could undermine Rajoy’s minority government in Madrid. Rajoy may need the support of the Basque nationalists to pass a budget and govern effectively.


In a best-case scenario, Madrid and Barcelona would soon agree to revive the autonomy deal that foundered in the constitutional court in 2010.

With some amendments to take care of the court’s objections, the majority of Spaniards, including the Catalans, would probably approve such a deal on enhanced autonomy.

©2017 The Globalist

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Annulling the Iran Deal: A Dangerous Strategic Mistake

Sun, 2017-10-08 18:01

By Alon Ben-Meir

Trump rendering the Iran deal null and void will irreparably undermine America’s global, moral and political leadership.

The concern that Iran will pursue the development of nuclear weapons once the current Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) deal expires in ten years is legitimate.

However, addressing these concerns cannot be achieved by nullifying the current agreement. That would only strengthen Iran’s resolve to acquire nuclear weapons.

Instead, the United States and its allies (along with Russia and China) should build on the existing deal — so that once it expires, Iran would not simply rush to acquire nuclear weapons, but weigh the benefits of not pursuing nuclear weapons against any strategic advantage it could potentially reap by acquiring such an arsenal.

This approach does not guarantee that Iran will give up its ambition to acquire nuclear weapons. It does, however, offer the international community the time and opportunity to provide Iran with the incentives and prospect of becoming an active, constructive, and respected member of the community of nations, should it remain a nuclear-free country.

Trump’s UN speech

In his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, President Trump stated that “The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it.”

The problem is that Trump is determined to simply undo every piece of legislation passed or executive order issued during President Obama’s tenure, regardless of merit, utility, or effectiveness.

Sadly, the JCPOA is no exception. Nullifying it, instead of certifying that Iran has and continues to fully comply with all aspects of the deal, will precipitate dangerous regional and international repercussions obviously beyond what Trump is capable of contemplating.

The Iranian public was demanding relief from the sanctions before the deal was struck. Iran’s government, for its part, was under intense pressure to resolve the nuclear problem with the United States in order to lift the sanctions and alleviate the public’s economic hardship.

Now that the government is fully complying with the terms of the deal, the Iranian public will support their government’s position even if they suffer greatly from the imposition of harsh new sanctions.

This suggests that the United States cannot count on the Iranians’ future public discontent to pressure their government to negotiate a new deal. Once the deal is nullified, Iran will be free to resume its nuclear program in defiance of the international community (especially because much of its nuclear facilities are still in place).

Nuclear proliferation

That will inescapably lead to nuclear proliferation in the Middle East—exactly what the United States wants to avoid.

Trump’s presumption that he could negotiate a better deal does not hold water. He has yet to demonstrate his so-called negotiating skills when he failed miserably to negotiate even with his own party to pass a new healthcare bill.

Moreover, given that Iran is in full compliance, it will categorically refuse to negotiate a new deal.

The North Korea dimension

The cancellation of the deal will also severely undermine the United States’ credibility, especially at this juncture, when the United States is trying to find a way to negotiate with North Korea over its nuclear weapons. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un will have no reason to trust Trump.

To stop expanding his nuclear arsenal, on which he believes his country’s survival hangs, he needs assurances that the United States is negotiating in good faith—reneging on the nuclear deal will make any prospective negotiations with North Korea to reach a sustainable agreement much harder to conduct.

Allies will not support new sanctions

The United States’ allies France, Germany, and Britain—along with Russia and China, who are signatories to the deal—are sternly objecting to the nullification of the deal and will not support the imposition of new sanctions.

Moreover, abandoning the deal will leave the United States completely isolated, undermine global security, and strain its relationship with allies, which are already under mounting stress because of Trump’s unseemly and erratic behavior.

Should the deal be nullified and Iran end up with nuclear weapons, it will significantly boost its regional sway and further advance its ambition to become the region’s hegemon. That will allow Iran to bully its neighbors.

Moreover, it will intensify the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, prolong the proxy Sunni-Shiite war in Yemen, Iraq and Syria, and further entrench Iran throughout the crescent between the Gulf and the Mediterranean.

It will hinder the United States’ effort to fight violent Islamic extremism as Iran will be far more vested in supporting extremist groups, funding terrorism, and destabilizing the region wherever and whenever it suits its needs.

The Iranian missile program

In addition, Iran will aggressively pursue its missile program and will not be deterred by new American sanctions, which have been a critical tool in pressuring Iran in the past.

Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, the lone ranger who is foolishly pushing Trump to cancel the deal, seems to be completely out of touch about the implications of such an unwise act on Israel’s national security.

Nullifying the deal will be to Israel’s terrible disadvantage, as Iran will put the development of nuclear weapons on a fast track. Based on all estimates, Iran would be able to test a nuclear weapon within a year.

Balance of power in the Middle East

Finally, the cancellation of the deal will dramatically change the balance of power in the Middle East between the Arab states and Iran. It will also have this effect between Israel and Tehran, as it will neutralize Israel’s nuclear shield and leave the country dependent on a precarious nuclear deterrence rather than maintaining its strategic advantage.

Trump should listen to his Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who recently testified before Congress that remaining party to the deal with Iran is in the United States’ national security interest.

Instead of cancelling the deal, which could lead to the above dire consequences, Trump (with the support of the other signatories of the deal) must ensure that Iran continues to fully comply with all the provisions of the deal while putting Tehran on notice that the international community will not tolerate the slightest violation of the agreement.

Trump rendering the Iran deal null and void will irreparably undermine America’s global, moral and political leadership. Trump’s generals know this best, and they should stop him before it’s too late.

©2017 The Globalist

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The Saudi Paper Tiger

Sat, 2017-10-07 18:01

By James M. Dorsey

Far from dominant, Saudi Arabia’s future in the Middle East is that of a second fiddle state.

Contrary to its longstanding perception as a dominant force in the region, Saudi Arabia is fighting an uphill battle. Its future in the Middle East is that of a second fiddle state.

Weaker than Turkey, Iran and Egypt

There are three major powers in the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and Egypt (and also Israel, in certain regards).

Turkey, Iran and, Egypt have what Saudi Arabia does not: large populations, huge domestic markets, industrial bases, highly educated populations, and deep-seated identities grounded in histories of empire.

Other than Turkey and Egypt, Iran also has important natural resources. True, Saudi Arabia has oil and also Mecca, but that is not enough to compete.

Saudi Arabia is a regional power because of past containment policies towards Iran. Once Iran is unfettered, it will unlikely be able to compete for long.

Competing with Tehran

A major aspect of the Saudi-Iranian rivalry is the ideological and religious battle that Saudi Arabia has waged for the past four decades, the fallout of which is being felt across the globe.

Saudi Arabia has invested an estimated $100 billion to promote Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism. To be clear, the bulk of that money did not go to militants. It went to religious, cultural and educational facilities that Saudi Arabia largely did not micro-manage or control.

There are only a handful of countries where the Saudis funded violence: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Iraq and Syria.

To be clear on this point as well: Ultra-conservatism does not by definition breed militancy, but it does create an enabling environment in conjunction with other factors. The key “inflammable” in that equation is a lack of social and economic opportunity.

The old oil order is getting unhinged

The blowback of ultra-conservatism is currently felt in the Saudi kingdom, as is evident in the economic and social transition which the Gulf states are embarking on.

To put the depth of the transition that lies ahead in proper perspective, keep in mind that every person born in the Gulf today is likely to witness the end of oil in his or her lifetime.

Economic streamlining and diversification was long overdue. It was made unavoidable by the drop in oil prices which, in a truly self-defeatist move, was sparked by a Saudi oil policy that focused on market share (remember shale oil?) rather than price.

The path which the Gulf countries have now embarked on is economic reform and limited social change, but no political liberalization. In practice, this amounts to the region’s ruling families unilaterally rewriting social contracts by rolling back the cradle-to-grave welfare state.

The youth factor

To be sure, the reforms, limited as they are, cater to the aspirations of significant segments of the youth who constitute the majority of the region’s citizenry. But they also go against the grain of vested interests and deep-seated ultra-conservatism.

With few exceptions, there is little indication that the reform process is being well-managed, certainly not in terms of the gap between expectations and delivery. In other words, the jury on the reform process is still out.

What makes things more ominous for Riyadh is that nowhere in the Gulf is the legacy of the 2011 Arab revolts potentially more potent than in Saudi Arabia.

This is a function of the country’s size and diverse range of people who have been repressed, regional economic weight and military might. Most of the Gulf may not adhere to Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, but is sensitive to political developments in the kingdom.


The bottom line of all of this is that Saudi Arabia’s current reform mix – the pursuit of short-term, opportunistic policies – will not provide any real solutions.

Without an honest tackling of fundamental problems, the already piled-up mountain of threats and problems is much more likely to expand further, rather than shrink.

©2017 The Globalist

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Striding Tall: US Vs. USSR

Fri, 2017-10-06 18:01

By The Globalist

Did the capitalist United States or the communist Soviet Union experience faster height increases?

1. The average height for a male in the United States who was born in 1980 is 179 cm (70.5 inches). In contrast, a man born in the United States one hundred years earlier, in 1880, was 169.5 cm (66.7 inches).

2. That is a difference of 9.5 cm (3.7 inches), or 5.6%, in one hundred years. The biggest jump in recorded height in the United States was registered in the decade from 1930 to 1940.

3. The height of a man born in the United States in 1930 was 173.4 cm (68.3 inches); whereas in 1940 it was 176.1 cm (69.3 inches) – an increase of 2.7 cm (1 inch).

4. Men in Russia during the Soviet era grew even faster than men in the United States. The average height of men born in 1920, around the start of the USSR, was 167 cm (65.7 inches).

5. The average height for Russian men born in 1970, just 50 years later, was 177 cm (69.7 inches) – an increase of 10 cm (3.9 inches) or 5.9%. (Height did not increase for those born in 1980).

6. In other words, the average height gained by American men over a century was surpassed by communist Russia in half the time.

7. In part, genetics plays an important role in determining differences in height within a population.

8. But human height is also strongly influenced by the level and quality of nutrition during childhood as well as illnesses during the growth phase.

9. Increasing average height is, therefore, a good indicator of improving general living standards.

10. It is also often associated with the shift from low-yield subsistence agricultural economies to industrialized economies with more surpluses — such as the Soviet Union’s transformation.

Sources: The Globalist Research Center, University of Tuebingen, Oxford University

©2017 The Globalist

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Denmark: A Head and Shoulders Above

Fri, 2017-10-06 18:01

By The Globalist

How tall is the tallest national population in the world?

1. Denmark has the tallest average male height in the world today. In fact, they are even taller now than in the recent past.

2. The average height for a man born in Denmark in 1980 is 183.2 cm (72.1 inches).

3. One hundred years earlier, in 1880, the average height of a Danish man was 169.5 cm (66.7 inches).

4. That was 8.1% higher, for an increase of 13.7 cm (5.3 inches) in height in 100 years.

5. Danish men today are on average 4.2 cm (1.6 inches) taller than in the United States and 2.7 cm (1 inch) taller than in Germany.

6. Northern European men in general are tall today. The height of a man born in the Netherlands in 1980 is 182.7 cm (71.9 inches).

7. The height of a man born in Sweden in 1980 is 180.4 cm (71 inches). That is almost the same as Germany at 180.5 cm (71.1 inches).

8. Until about 200 years ago, the average human height worldwide has remained relatively unchanged for thousands of years, hovering around the 170 cm mark.

9. Today, the shortest population, for which data exist, is Vietnam. Men born there in 1980 average just 160 cm (63 inches).

Sources: The Globalist Research Center, University of Tuebingen, Oxford University

©2017 The Globalist

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A Great Leap Upward?

Fri, 2017-10-06 18:01

By The Globalist

In the 20th century, Southern Europe and China experienced height increases along with economic development.

1. Over the last 200 years, human height has steadily increased.

2. The trend was perhaps most visible in countries like the USSR that saw huge, rapid advances in development levels – and 10 cm (3.9 inches) in average male height in 50 years.

3. This phenomenon can largely be explained by rising living standards and resulting improvements in health and nutrition.

4. Southern Europe also saw major 20th century shifts from developing agricultural nations to industrialized countries.

5. The average height for a man born in Italy in 1980 is 174.5 cm (68.7 inches). Back in 1880, it was 163.9 cm (64.5 inches) – an increase of 6.5%.

6. Spanish men born in 1880 had the same height as Italians and grew to a slightly taller average (175.6 cm or 69.1 inches) among those born in 1980.

7. Meanwhile, Greek men born in 1880 were 167.3 cm (65.9 inches) and those born in 1980 are 177.3 cm (69.8 inches), tracking closely with Russian height trends in the same period.

8. In China, the average height of a man born in 1980 is 171.5 cm (67.5 inches) – taller by 6.2 cm (2.4 inches) than the generation of Chinese men born in 1880.

9. During a period of declining heights, the average Chinese man born in 1880 was 165.3 cm (65.1 inches).

10. China eventually turned the decline around during the 20th century and average heights began increasing again.

Sources: The Globalist Research Center, University of Tuebingen, Oxford University

©2017 The Globalist

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