Book Review–Madeleine Albright: Fascism: A Warning


July 9, 2018

Madeleine Albright: Fascism: A Warning

The former US Secretary of State decries the global rise of authoritarianism in her new book, Fascism: A Warning, and talks about Trump, Putin and the ‘tragedy’ of Brexit

“The book is a cry of anguish about the global resurgence of authoritarianism and a lament over the decay of the liberal internationalist politics to which Albright has devoted her career. The work is also an act of homage to her father who wrote books about the perils of tyranny and worried that Americans were so accustomed to liberty – so “very, very free,” he wrote – that they might take democracy for granted. She quotes Primo Levi – “Every age has its own fascism” – and makes her case with observations about the autocrats she has dealt with and brisk histories of past dictators and the horrors that they unleashed. A devil’s portrait gallery includes Benito Mussolini, the original fascist, and Adolf Hitler, the most destructive. Then there’s Donald Trump.”–Andrew Rawnsley

Madeleine Albright has both made and lived a lot of history. When she talks about a resurgence of fascism, she says it as someone who was born into the age of dictators. She was a small girl when her family fled Czechoslovakia after the Nazis consumed the country in 1939. After 10 days in hiding, her parents escaped Prague for Britain and found refuge in Notting Hill Gate, “before it was fancy”, in an apartment which backed on to Portobello Road. Her first memories of life in London are of disorientation. “I didn’t have a clue. My parents were very continental European and I didn’t have siblings early on. I felt isolated.” As Hitler unleashed the blitz, “every night we went down to the cellar where everybody was sleeping.”

She has since been back to the redbrick block in Notting Hill. “I rang the doorbell of the person who lived in the apartment – it was a lot smaller than I remember it. I asked a stupid question: whether the cellar still existed. They said: ‘Of course the cellar exists.’ So they took me down and I had this moment – the green paint was exactly the same. I remember the green paint.”

It was decades later that she discovered that, though she was raised a Catholic, her parentage was Jewish and many of her family had been murdered in the Holocaust, including three grandparents.

From Notting Hill, the family moved out of central London to Walton-on-Thames, where they shared a house “with some other Czechs”. The bombs fell there too, but she enjoyed “every minute” of this part of her childhood. “I went to school and we spent a lot of time in air raid shelters singing A Hundred Green Bottles Hanging on the Wall.” It was less terrifying than it might have been because “my parents had a capacity of making the abnormal seem normal”.

She became “a movie star”. The Red Cross wanted to do a film about a refugee child. “So I was the refugee child, and they gave me a pink rabbit as my pay.”

The wartime British were “very hospitable” – up to a point. “The British would say: ‘We’re so sorry your country has been taken over by a terrible dictator. You’re welcome here. What can we do to help you and when are you going home?”

Her father, the diplomat Josef Korbel, was with the Czech government-in-exile. She recalls him refusing to take shelter from the bombers because he had to finish writing a broadcast for the BBC. After Hitler’s defeat, Korbel took the family back to their homeland in the belief that Czechoslovakia would re-establish itself as a democracy but the country was soon gripped by another form of totalitarianism. After a Soviet-backed coup installed a communist satellite regime in 1948, the family fled again, this time seeking asylum in America and settling in Colorado. “Maddy”, as her classmates called her, was now 11. In America, people welcomed immigrants by saying: “We’re so sorry your country has been taken over by a terrible system. You’re welcome here. What can we do to help you and when will you become a citizen?” She pauses for a beat, then adds: “And that was different about America at that time.”

Albright’s early work as a journalist and a foreign policy scholar drew her into politics. In 1978, she sat on the National Security Council when Jimmy Carter was President and later represented the US as the country’s Ambassador at the United Nations. In 1997, Bill Clinton made her Secretary of State, the highest government office achievable under the US constitution by someone not born in America. She was the first woman to lead US foreign policy.

The future US secretary of state Madeleine Korbel with her father, the diplomat Josef Korbel, mid 1940s.
The future US Secretary of State Madeleine Korbel with her father, Josef Korbel, photographed in America, 1945. Photograph: The Life Picture Collection/Getty Images

 

Over four years as America’s chief diplomat, her life and views were again shaped by encounters with tyranny. She engaged with Kim Jong-il, father of North Korea’s current jailer-in-chief, and found him, she recalls in her new book, cordial, courteous and “pretty normal for someone whose father’s birthday is celebrated every year as the ‘Day of the Sun’.” Slobodan Milošević, the Serbian autocrat, “did not fit the stereotype of a fascist villain” and liked to “act the innocent” even as his security forces attempted the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. Hugo Chávez, the late ruler of Venezuela, was “very charismatic” and initially seemed to hold promise for his country when he supplanted “a bunch of tired old men that were very elitist”. When Recep Tayyip Erdoğan first came to power in Turkey, he was a refreshing change from rule by people “who live in big houses, or occasionally the military”. “These people initially did have some feel for the working class and then power went to their heads – all of them.”

One chapter of her new book is about Vladimir Putin, whom she found to be “so cold as to be almost reptilian” but also a man of considerable, if dark, talents. “He’s very smart. He’s played a weak hand really well. He has a larger agenda which is to separate us from our allies and it begins by separating central and eastern Europe from western Europe.”

With the benefit of hindsight, she accepts that the west was slow to understand that Russians felt utterly humiliated after the cold war and ready to succumb to a nationalist strongman promising to make them great again. She recalls a Russian man complaining: “We used to be a superpower and now we’re Bangladesh with missiles.” Putin, she tells me, “has seen himself as the redeemer of that man”.

I wonder whether her first-hand encounters with despots had led her to identify any common personality traits. She laughs: “I’ll tell you – you’ll be surprised when you hear this – they seemed different when I met them.” She cites the example of Viktor Orbán, the self-styled “illiberal democrat” who rules Hungary. She first came to know him in the 1980s during Hungary’s struggle for liberation from communist dictatorship. “He was everybody’s favourite dissident. He was funded by George Soros to go to Oxford. He’s the one who started Fidesz, the youth party. The age limit for the youth party changed as he got older,” she adds with her hallmark waspishness. Orbán’s transformation in office has taken her by surprise. “I didn’t, I don’t think any of us saw this coming.”

Where we might be going is the chilling theme of Fascism: A Warning. The book is a cry of anguish about the global resurgence of authoritarianism and a lament over the decay of the liberal internationalist politics to which Albright has devoted her career. The work is also an act of homage to her father who wrote books about the perils of tyranny and worried that Americans were so accustomed to liberty – so “very, very free,” he wrote – that they might take democracy for granted. She quotes Primo Levi – “Every age has its own fascism” – and makes her case with observations about the autocrats she has dealt with and brisk histories of past dictators and the horrors that they unleashed. A devil’s portrait gallery includes Benito Mussolini, the original fascist, and Adolf Hitler, the most destructive. Then there’s Donald Trump.

She agrees that we ought to be careful not to casually throw around the F-word lest we drain the potency from what should be a powerful term. “I’m not calling Trump a fascist,” she says. Yet she seems to be doing all but that when she puts him in the same company as historical fascists in a book that seeks to sound “an alarm bell” about a fascist revival.

She frequently nudges the reader to make connections between the President of the United States and past dictatorships. She reminds us who first coined the Trumpian phrase “drain the swamp”. It was drenare la palude in the original, Mussolini Italian. She quotes Hitler talking about the secret of his success: “I will tell you what has carried me to the position I have reached. Our political problems appeared complicated. The German people could make nothing of them… I…reduced them to the simplest terms. The masses realised this and followed me.” Sound familiar?

Madeleine Albright with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Pyongyang,2000
Madeleine Albright with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Pyongyang,2000, his first ever meeting with a US administration official. Photograph: Chien-Min Chung/AFP/Getty Images

 

I suggest to her that the book struggles to offer a satisfactory definition of fascism. “Defining fascism is difficult,” she responds. “First of all, I don’t think fascism is an ideology. I think it is a method, it’s a system.”

It is in his methods that Trump can be compared with, if not precisely likened to, the dictators of the 1930s. Fascists are typically masters of political theatre. They feed on and inflame grievances by setting “the people” against their “enemies”. Fascists tell their supporters that there are simple fixes for complex problems. They present as national saviours and conflate themselves with the state. They seek to subvert, discredit and eliminate liberal institutions. She reminds us that they have often ascended to power through the ballot box and then undermined democracy from within. She is especially fond of a Mussolini quote about “plucking a chicken feather by feather” so that people will not notice the loss of their freedoms until it is too late.

In her book, Trump is one nasty plucker. She labels him “the first anti-democratic president in modern US history”. Those Trumpians who know their history might retort that previous American presidents have been accused of being enemies of democracy, including some who have become the most revered holders of the office. Abraham Lincoln was charged with tyranny by his opponents during the civil war. So was Franklin D Roosevelt when he was implementing the New Deal.

Trump is different, she insists. Look at his attacks on the institutions of liberal society as he Twitter-lashes the judiciary and the media. “Outrageous,” says Albright. “It was Stalin who talked about the press being the enemy of the people.

“I also think Trump does act as though he’s above the law.” He lies without shame, she says. He threatens to jail political competitors. He foments bigotry. He lavishes admiration on autocrats like Putin and by doing so encourages the worldwide drift to authoritarianism. Observe also, she adds, how Trump exploits a crowd.

“He uses rallies in a strange way. We all, most of us that are public people, have somebody interrupting our speeches. There’s always somebody yelling something. And the question is: what do you do about it? Sometimes people are just escorted out or you don’t pay any attention to it. What is fascinating in watching Trump is he loves the people yelling and he uses them so that it looks as though he is having conversations with the people on TV. Trump is, I think he’s actually really smart – evil smart, is what I think.”

The founding fathers endowed the US with a constitution that was forged to protect the country from leaders with tyrannical impulses. America has survived some dreadful presidents. When Trump is gone, does she not think it possible that we will eventually look back on him not as a crypto-dictator, but as an embarrassing spasm?

“In the book I write that there are people who say this is alarmist. It is. That’s the purpose. I’m concerned about complacency about it. This is a very deliberate warning.”

The fear that Trump induces in American liberals is matched by the alarm he arouses among the United States’ traditional allies in the democracies. From Nato to the World Trade Organisation, he threatens to rip up institutions that have ordered the planet over many decades. Albright argues that the doctrine of “America First”, which “conceives of the world as a battlefield in which every country is intent on dominating every other”, encourages a Darwinian competition of tribal nationalisms. During her time as Washington’s chief diplomat, Albright was an unabashed exponent of America as the global beacon of liberty: “the indispensable nation”, as she once called her country. Should Europeans conclude that Trumpian America has become an unreliable ally? Regretfully, she agrees.

“At the moment, it is hard to say to any European that the US is a reliable ally, which makes me furious because I do believe in the importance of American engagement. I always thought we were reliable.”

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright shakes hands with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Budapest, 2000.
With the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Budapest, 2000. Photograph: Attila Kovács/AP

 

 

True, the international architecture established in the late 1940s does require “refurbishing”. Institutions founded seven decades ago “need fixing”. Trump “does have a point” when he complains that Americans pay a lot more to sustain Nato than do the European countries, which rely on the defence pact for their security. The trouble with Trump, though, is “he sees it all as transactional, as if it were a hotel where you keep raising the price and if you want to stay there, you’re going to have to pay. That is not what it’s about.

“There’s no sin about updating these things, but I don’t understand, I truly don’t, what the purpose is to destroy the system. What is the purpose of having destruction as an ideology?”

The Trumpian rampage through the international order has been particularly challenging for Britain, which clings to a conceit that it has a special bond with the United States. Trying to navigate any sort of relationship, never mind a special one, has been a nightmare for Theresa May. This week Trump will land on these shores, where he will be greeted by hot protests on the streets and British officials in a cold sweat. “It’ll be interesting to see how he deals with the Queen since he really doesn’t like women,” remarks Albright. “He’s unbelievable to Angela Merkel.”

The Queen, who has a lifetime of experience dealing with strange and unsavoury characters, will probably handle Trump with her customary glacial implacability. May is the one facing the biggest challenge of Trump management. Can Albright, who teaches international statecraft at Georgetown University, offer the prime minister some guidance?

“I have no idea,” Albright confesses. “I don’t have advice. The device, theoretically, is to tell him how wonderful he is. And to agree with whatever he says – and that’s distasteful. He is unpredictable except when people flatter him and allow him to dominate. I know what it’s like to be in diplomatic discussions with people that you don’t respect. You do begin in some kind of civilised way, but ultimately you have to say what you think.”

Memo to Mrs May: say what you think. It may not get you anywhere with Trump, but at least you will preserve your self-respect.

Albright is a friend to the country which took in her family when she was a young girl, but believes that true friends owe you their candour. She’s clear that Brexit – “an exercise in economic masochism that Britons will long regret” – is a terrible mistake.

“I happen to think it’s a tragedy. I’m not sure how or why it happened. I think some of it was miscalculation. From an American perspective – and this is somewhat selfish and self-centred – the UK has always been our bridge to the continent and very important in all kinds of aspects.” Burning down that bridge is not sensible. “I think it’s unfortunate, I really do.” Much of politics and diplomacy is a story of “unintended consequences of decisions and this is one of the big ones”.

Had Albright had her way, the world would not be riding the wild rollercoaster that is Trump. He would have been sent back to reality TV and Hillary Clinton would be in the White House. She was a vigorous campaigner for her old friend and Albright’s passion got the better of her when she coined the phrase: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” That landed her in some trouble during the 2016 campaign. Like many of Hillary’s chums, she is defensive about the campaign’s failure and still struggling to make sense of it. “Hillary did win the popular vote,” she points out.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright introduces Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at a campaign event at Rundlett Middle School, in Concord, N.H., Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016
Campaigning for Hillary Clinton in 2016. ‘There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” Albright said. Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

 

That she did, but it is scant consolation really.

Germany has had a female leader for more than a decade. Britain is on its second female Prime Minister. A woman has never been President of the United States. Does America have a problem with women in politics?

“Must have,” she replies. “I don’t understand it, frankly. We are very good at being No 1 in many things and yet we are not in this and I don’t know the answer. Because there are certainly very qualified women.

“When my name came up to be Secretary of State,” she recalls, “you would think that I was an alien, you know. People actually said: ‘The Arabs won’t deal with a woman.’”

Her friend Hillary was, in CV terms, one of the most qualified people to run for the White House.

“Ever. No question about it. Right.”

More qualified than Trump or indeed Obama.

“I think she would have been a remarkable president. And I think that it’s very disappointing. It’s something that we all talk about. I don’t know the answer.”

At least part of the explanation for Clinton’s defeat was not to do with gender. It was failing to understand the forces powering her opponent. Clinton notoriously called his supporters “the deplorables”. Albright sounds similarly guilty of seeing the world through an elitist’s prism when she writes in her book: “Globalisation… is not an ideological choice, but a fact of life.”

Opponents retort that globalisation is an ideological choice. It was a very good choice for transnational corporations, for prosperous members of western societies, and for many developing countries which have seen their growth accelerated by free trade and the exchange of technology. Globalisation turned out to be – or has certainly come to be seen as being – a very bad choice for less affluent sections of western societies. Many folk felt dislocated and disadvantaged. Lecturing them that globalisation is just “a fact of life” – so suck it up – was surely one of the incitements for those people who voted for Trump, who chose Brexit and who support the rightwing populists surging across Europe.

“It isn’t just favouring the rich,” she insists. “Most of us are beneficiaries of globalisation, but a lot of people were not prepared for it in terms of their skill-set and we didn’t consider that enough.”

She also concedes that globalisation is “faceless” and “everybody wants to have an identity”.

“But it’s one thing to be patriotic, it’s another if my identity hates your identity and then it’s nationalism and hyper-nationalism. That’s the very dangerous part.”

Albright is a sage woman, but also one taken by mortified surprise by the turn the world has taken. In common with most liberal internationalists, she hadn’t expected the arc of history to bend in this dark direction. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, liberal capitalist democracy was thought to be irreversibly triumphant. Francis Fukuyama even wrote a book entitled The End of History.

History had other ideas. I suggest that it is not good enough for liberal internationalists to simply bewail Trump and his fellow travellers. They need to examine what they got wrong. Maybe there were too many complacent assumptions that the world had become permanently safe for democracy.

“I don’t know whether complacent [is the right word],” she says. “We were all initially enthusiastic, but then we became euphoric.” One conclusion she draws is that “democracy is obviously harder than we think.

“Democracy is not the easiest form of government. It does require attention and participation and carrying out the social contract. And it doesn’t deliver immediately. What we have to learn is how to get democracy to deliver because people want to vote and eat. But it just took me 10 minutes to explain it and that’s the problem.

“The things that are happening are genuinely, seriously bad. Some of them are really bad. They’re not to do with Trump; it is the evolution of a number of different trends. All the various problems that we have, they can’t be solved by simple slogans. But it’s easier to listen to some simple slogan.”

Albright is far from alone in worrying about the future of liberal democracy. This anxiety is felt more acutely by a woman who was born in the time of Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin, who reached the peaks of international diplomacy when freedom seemed ascendant and has since observed the unraveling of so much hope. At the end of our conversation, I am left unsure whether she thinks democracy has the resilience to survive this testing time.

“You ask if I’m an optimist or a pessimist,” she responds. “I am an optimist who worries a lot.”

That is probably as sensible a position as any in today’s troubled and troubling world.

Fascism: A Warning is published by William Collins (£16.99).

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jul/08/madeleine-albright-fascism-is-not-an-ideology-its-a-method-interview-fascism-a-warning?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+Collections+2017&utm_term=280518&subid=13072209&CMP=GT_US_collection

Should Economists Make Moral Judgments?


May 26, 2018

Should Economists Make Moral Judgments?

At least since the days of John Maynard Keynes, professional economists have not had to worry too much about the moral implications of their technical work. But that is quickly changing with the global march of illiberalism, and economists now must ask themselves hard ethical questions before dispensing policy advice.

Image result for John Maynard Keynes

 

BUDAPEST – I recently attended a PhD seminar in labor economics at the Central European University in Budapest. In it, we considered whether the Hungarian government’s scheme to focus on long-term unemployment is working efficiently, and we raised a host of technical problems for the doctoral candidate to address.

But I came away disturbed by the experience, wondering whether professional economists (particularly in the West) need to reassess the moral and political context in which they conduct their work. Shouldn’t economists ask themselves whether it is morally justifiable to provide even strictly technical advice to self-dealing, corrupt, or undemocratic governments?

To be sure, reducing long-term unemployment would alleviate a social evil, and possibly ensure a more efficient use of public resources. Yet improved economic performance can shore up a bad government. This is precisely the dilemma confronting economists across a range of countries, from China, Russia, and Turkey to Hungary and Poland. And there is no reason to think that economists in the “democratic heartland” of Western Europe and North America won’t face a similar dilemma in the future.

 

Over time, economists have offered three different moral or political justifications for their technical work. The first, and simplest, justification simply assumes that the “powers that be” (the ultimate recipients of their work) are “benevolent despots” in the mold that John Maynard Keynes described (though Keynes did not consider the British bureaucrats of his time to be despots).

Image result for milton friedman

In the 1970s, this defense was challenged by economists at the other end of the Western political spectrum, who pointed out that bureaucrats were a supplier lobby like any other. As such, they will always have an interest in expanding their own individual and collective importance, regardless of whether it maximizes social benefits. This assumption led economists to become “intervention skeptics” who preferred market-based solutions for any problem where the need for regulation was not obvious.

Between these two positions, most economists have been content to ply their trade on the assumption that, however self-interested bureaucrats might be, they are subject to oversight from democratic politicians whose own self-interest is to get re-elected by keeping voters satisfied. So long as the economist’s technical solutions to policy problems are offered to officials with democratic legitimacy, according to this view, there is no cause for political or moral concern.

In fact, even economists in communist dictatorships could proffer their best technical advice with a comparatively clean conscience, because they were convinced that introducing more market-mediated outcomes would inject efficiency into planned economies and increase the sphere of individual freedom. This was true even in the Soviet Union, at least after Nikita Khrushchev’s accession to power in the 1950s.

But now, for the first time in many decades, economists must consider the moral implications of giving good advice to bad people. They are no longer exempt from the moral quandaries that many other professionals must face – a classic example being the engineers who design missiles or other weapons systems.

Image result for The IMF Building in Washington DC

 

The new moral dilemma facing economists is perhaps most stark within international financial institutions (IFIs) such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization, where economic mandarins with significant influence over public policy earn their living.

After the fall of Soviet-style communism, the IFIs admitted Russia and the other former Soviet republics (as well as China) on the assumption that they were each on a path to embracing democracy and a rules-based market economy. But now that democratic backsliding is widespread, economists need to ask if what is good for authoritarian states is also good for humanity. This question is particularly pertinent with respect to China and Russia, each of which is large enough to help shift the balance of world power against democracy.

That being the case, it stands to reason that democratic countries should try to limit the influence of authoritarian regimes within the IFIs – if not exclude them altogether in extreme cases. But it is worth distinguishing between two kinds of international institution in this context: rule-setting bodies that make it easier for countries with hostile ideological or national interests to co-exist; and organizations that create a strong community of interest, meaning that economic and political benefits for some members “spill over” and are felt more widely.

Image result for the world trade organization

Among the IFIs, the WTO is an example of the first type, as is the United Nations among international political institutions. The European Union, on the other hand, is the preeminent example of a true community of interests. And the IMF, the World Bank, and many UN agencies lie somewhere in between.

From this categorization, we can derive guidelines for economists to follow when advising authoritarian regimes. Advice or scholarship that allows authoritarian governments to avoid conflict with other countries would be morally acceptable in most cases. After all, as Winston Churchill famously observed, “jaw-jaw” is better than “war-war”. A good example would be research into how best to share scarce freshwater among Middle Eastern countries.

On the other hand, economists need to take great care when providing advice or conducting research with clear policy implications for authoritarian governments. Economists should not be in the business of helping authoritarian regimes advance nefarious ends on the back of stronger economic growth or resources saved. That probably means not giving advice to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on how to reduce long-term unemployment.

Needless to say, every case will be unique, and economists will have to decide for themselves. As in the past, some may even embrace authoritarianism. But for the profession as a whole, the moral consequences of translating economic analysis into practice can no longer be ignored.

The U.S. Wants Back in the TPP?


April 2, 2018

The U.S. Wants Back in the TPP?

Asia is moving on without America when it comes to trade — and could be better off for it.

by Keith Johnson

The U.S. Wants Back in the TPP? Good Luck With That.

With the U.S. bailing out, the remaining 11 countries forged ahead and signed a revised Pacific trade pact in Santiago, Chile, Mar. 8, 2018. (Claudio Reyes/AFP/Getty Images)

With the U.S. bailing out, the remaining 11 countries forged ahead and signed a revised Pacific trade pact in Santiago, Chile, Mar. 8, 2018. (Claudio Reyes/AFP/Getty Images)

More than a year after withdrawing from a big Asia-Pacific trade pact, the Trump administration keeps talking about rejoining it on its own terms. But the Asia-Pacific countries that were eager a year ago to hold the door open for the United States are now busy building their own trading order — without Washington at all.

Image result for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and TPP

The United States will consider re-entry to the Trans-Pacific Partnership once Washington accomplishes its goals on other trading relationships, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (pic above) said while on an official visit to Chile. Hey, get real Asia is not waiting for you to make up your mind.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is the latest Trump administration official to talk up the prospect of returning to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the sprawling trade deal that was the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia and the first target of U.S. President Donald Trump’s demolition job.

Earlier this month, speaking in Chile, Mnuchin said Washington would “definitely” be open to rejoining the pact — once all the administration’s other trade deals were taken care of, and provided the trade accord could be rewritten to be more beneficial to the United States. (U.S. trade officials declined to say what those revised conditions might be.)

And Larry Kudlow, a former television commentator who was named Trump’s top economic adviser, said this month that the United States could lead a “trade coalition of the willing” to counter China’s trade heft and abuses — almost the very definition of the TPP that Trump walked away from early in his presidency.

But that ship seems to have sailed. The remaining 11 countries from the original TPP signed a slightly slimmed-down version of the accord earlier this month in Chile, suspending a score of controversial provisions that the United States had insisted upon. Member countries are already in the process of ratifying the deal, which could go into effect early next year.

Many of the member states shudder at the idea of re-opening contentious, yearslong negotiations just to try to coax the United States back into the club.

Many of the member states shudder at the idea of re-opening contentious, yearslong negotiations just to try to coax the United States back into the club.

Chile’s outgoing president said last month that Washington would have to take the revised deal as is if it wanted back in. And a top Canadian trade official said the United States would get no special treatment if it wanted to rejoin. Even Japan, which wants the United States back in, warns Washington against renegotiating the whole thing.

“Is there a chance in hell anyone wants to reopen the thing to get the U.S. back in? Not under a Trump administration,” says Mike Callaghan, a former Australian Treasury official and economic advisor to the prime minister, now at the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based think tank.

That’s partly because many countries in the Asia-Pacific region are already inking new, ambitious trade deals left and right even as the Trump administration struggles to tweak existing pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the free trade deal with South Korea.

Japan, Australia, and New Zealand are close to signing free trade deals this year with the European Union. Canada just did the same, and Mexico is close to its own deal with the EU, while Southeast Asian nations hope to sign their own EU deal. Singapore, meanwhile, is inking trade pacts with a bevy of Latin American countries.

But domestic politics also play a big part in the reluctance to open up the Trans-Pacific Partnership all over again. Countries such as Japan, Australia, and Vietnam first had to sell their publics on the original deal — which included a lot of unpopular provisions Washington insisted on — only to see the pact’s sponsor back out early last year. Then they had to salvage an 11-member pact during another year of tough negotiations that only concluded at the beginning of this year.

“They’ve designed a deal they are determined to put into effect,” says Wendy Cutler, who spent three decades as a U.S. trade negotiator, including leading talks on the TPP. “They’ve gone through two traumatic episodes. There’s not much stomach for more,” says Cutler, now vice president of the Asia Society Policy Institute.

The revised TPP — now formally known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership — is smaller and leaner than the original accord. Without the United States, it covers only between 13 and 18 percent of the global economy, rather than 40 percent. That will mean smaller trade benefits for everybody.

But the new TPP is also an easier pill for many Asia-Pacific nations to swallow, which should make ratification and longer-term support easier to secure. 

But the new TPP is also an easier pill for many Asia-Pacific nations to swallow, which should make ratification and longer-term support easier to secure.

Gone for now are 22 provisions that U.S. negotiators had insisted on but that were unpopular with potential partners. Those included protections for pharmaceuticals, longer patents and extended copyrights, and some extra protections for corporations against national governments.“Almost by definition, the suspended parts cover topics that were controversial to the TPP-11 members, otherwise they would not have been suspended,” Callaghan says.

And the revised pact is also open to new members — and not just the eventual return of the United States. Countries such as South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Taiwan have all toyed with joining the revised TPP, as have Colombia and even the United Kingdom. (Chile’s new president, Sebastián Piñera, even resuscitated the notion that China could eventually join the pact, though Beijing would have to slash tariffs, open up its markets, and boost its labor and environmental standards.)

The open nature of the new accord is important, because member countries could see even greater benefits from new arrivals than they could have seen in the original 12-nation deal with the United States on board. The Peterson Institute for International Economics estimated that a TPP-16 that included Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, and the Philippines could offer $486 billion in benefits for member countries, compared with $465 billion from the original deal.

“From an economic point of view, a TPP-16 would be better for them than the original TPP,” Cutler says.

“From an economic point of view, a TPP-16 would be better for them than the original TPP,” Cutler says.

Of course, several key countries — including Japan and Vietnam — don’t have a separate free trade deal with the United States. Roping Washington back into a sprawling Asian trade pact would be an easier lift than trying to sign separate bilateral trade deals and would also bring greater economic benefits, the Peterson Institute found. Former Japanese economic officials tell Foreign Policy they expect the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying to find some way to convince the Trump administration to re-embrace the deal.

For other countries, like Australia, joining the TPP alongside the United States in the first place, or coaxing Washington back in, is not ultimately about trade; Canberra already has a free trade pact with the United States. Rather, Callaghan says, it’s about making sure the United States stays engaged in the Asia-Pacific region as China flexes its economic and military might.

“For Australia, the driving force behind the TPP was not so much access to the U.S. market as locking the U.S. into the Asian region,” he says.

For Cutler, who saw previous Congresses and presidents change their minds on trade pacts they once vilified, the mere fact that Trump administration officials keep talking about rejoining the TPP is encouraging. U.S. presence in the pact would advance many of the administration’s professed goals, she says, from prying open Asian markets to pushing back against China’s heft. And ratifying a big trade deal would only require one bruising battle with Congress, while a series of bilateral trade deals will mean going back to the Hill again and again.

“It’s important that the United States makes positive signals, compared with a year ago,” Cutler says. “Over time, they might come to understand the value” in the trade pact.

Keith Johnson is Foreign Policy’s global geoeconomics correspondent. @KFJ_FP

CPTPP is good for Malaysia


March 22, 2018

CPTPP is good for Malaysia

https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters/2018/03/21/cptpp-will-be-good-for-malaysia/

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Malaysia’s MITI Minister Dato’Mustap Mohamed

THE Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the rebranded TPPA, was finally signed by 11 countries on March 8.

The pact had earlier raised anxiety among certain parties that it would jeopardise Malaysia’s sovereignty and undermine the well-being of its citizens. But if we look at the bigger picture, the pact will benefit the country in the long run because our economy depends largely on trade activities.

According to Moody’s last week, Malaysia would be the biggest winner from the deal as the CPTPP covers a market of nearly 500 million despite the absence of the United States.

This fact was reinforced by the Peterson Institute for International Economics’ (PIIE) research, which showed that the CPTPP would benefit palm oil, rubber and electronics exporters like Malaysia with export access to new markets including Canada, Peru and Mexico.

Looking at current data by the Malaysia External Trade Develop­ment Corporation (Matrade), Malaysia’s dependence on trade is undeniable, recording RM935.39bil in exports last year and RM838.14bil in imports. Malaysia enjoyed a trade surplus of RM97.28bil.

The electrical and electronics sector remains the top exporter accounting for 36.7% while palm oil products stood at 5.8%. Malaysia is also currently the largest producer of gloves, controlling almost 65% of the world market.

In view of this, the CPTPP will encourage existing manufacturers to expand as it provides access to new or untapped markets. It will indirectly reduce our reliance on the US market as well.

Ahmad Shahir Abdul AzizUniversiti Sains Malaysia

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READ: http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/model-trade-deal-con –by Dr Kwame Jomo Sundaram

Samuel Huntington, a Prophet for the Trump era


March 3, 2018

Sometimes a prophet can be right about what will come, yet torn about whether it should.

Robert Carter for The Washington Post; based on photos by Steve Liss/The Life Images Collection/Getty Images (Huntington) and Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters (Trump)

President Trump’s speech in Warsaw, in which he urged Europeans and Americans to defend Western civilization against violent extremists and barbarian hordes, inevitably evoked Samuel P. Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” — the notion that superpower rivalry would give way to battles among Western universalism, Islamic militance and Chinese assertiveness. In a book expanded from his famous 1993 essay, Huntington described civilizations as the broadest and most crucial level of identity, encompassing religion, values, culture and history. Rather than “which side are you on?” he wrote, the overriding question in the post-Cold War world would be “who are you?”

So when the President calls on the nations of the West to “summon the courage and the will to defend our civilization,” when he insists that we accept only migrants who “share our values and love our people,” and when he urges the transatlantic alliance to “never forget who we are” and cling to the “bonds of history, culture and memory,” I imagine Huntington, who passed away in late 2008 after a long career teaching at Harvard University, nodding from beyond.

It would be a nod of vindication, perhaps, but mainly one of grim recognition. Trump’s civilizational rhetoric is just one reason Huntington resonates today, and it’s not even the most interesting one. Huntington’s work, spanning the mid-20th century through the early 21st, reads as a long argument over America’s meaning and purpose, one that explains the tensions of the Trump era as well as anything can. Huntington both chronicles and anticipates America’s fights over its founding premises, fights that Trump’s ascent has aggravated. Huntington foresees — and, frankly, stokes — the rise of white nativism in response to Hispanic immigration. He captures the dissonance between working classes and elites, between nationalism and cosmopolitanism, that played out in the 2016 campaign. And he warns how populist demagogues appeal to alienated masses and then break faith with them.

This is Trump’s presidency, but even more so, it is Huntington’s America. Trump may believe himself a practical man, exempt from any intellectual influence, but he is the slave of a defunct political scientist.

Huntington’s books speak to one another across the decades; you find the origins of one in the unanswered questions of another. But they also reveal deep contradictions. More than a clash of civilizations, a clash of Huntingtons is evident. One Huntington regards Americans as an exceptional people united not by blood but by creed. Another disowns that idea in favor of an America that finds its essence in faith, language, culture and borders. One Huntington views new groups and identities entering the political arena as a revitalization of American democracy. Another considers such identities pernicious, anti-American.

These works embody the intellectual and political challenges for the United States in, and beyond, the Trump years. In Huntington’s writings, idealistic visions of America mingle with its basest impulses, and eloquent defenses of U.S. values betray a fear of the pluralism at the nation’s core. Which vision wins out will determine what country we become.

To understand our current turmoil, the most relevant of Huntington’s books is not “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” (1996) or even “Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity” (2004), whose fans reportedly include self-proclaimed white nationalist Richard Spencer. It is the lesser-known and remarkably prescient “American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony,” published 36 years ago.

In that work, Huntington points to the gap between the values of the American creed — liberty, equality, individualism, democracy, constitutionalism — and the government’s efforts to live up to those values as the central tension of American life. “At times, this dissonance is latent; at other times, when creedal passion runs high, it is brutally manifest, and at such times, the promise of American politics becomes its central agony.”

Whether debating health care, taxes, immigration or war, Americans invariably invoke the founding values to challenge perceived injustices. Reforms cannot merely be necessary or sensible; they must be articulated and defended in terms of the creed. This is why Trump’s opponents attack his policies by declaring not only that they are wrong but that “that’s not who we are.” As Huntington puts it, “Americans divide most sharply over what brings them together.”

[Yes, Trump is a populist. But what does that mean?]

The book looks back to the Revolutionary War, the Jacksonian age, the Progressive era and the 1960s as moments of high creedal passions, and Huntington’s descriptions capture America today. In such moments, he writes, discontent is widespread, and authority and expertise are questioned; traditional values of liberty, individualism, equality and popular control of government dominate public debates; politics is characterized by high polarization and constant protest; hostility toward power, wealth and inequality grows intense; social movements focused on causes such as women’s rights and criminal justice flourish; and new forms of media emerge devoted to advocacy and adversarial journalism.

 

Huntington’s clash has been caricatured as a single-minded call to arms against Muslims, and certainly the argument is neither so narrow nor so simple. He is probably more concerned with China and fears a “major war” if Washington challenges Beijing’s rise as Asia’s hegemon. Yet the threat Huntington sees from the Muslim world goes far beyond terrorism or religious extremism. He worries of a broader Islamic resurgence, with political Islam as only one part of “the much more extensive revival of Islamic ideas, practices, and rhetoric and the rededication to Islam by Muslim populations.” Huntington cites scholars warning of the spread of Islamic legal concepts in the West, decries the “inhospitable nature of Islamic culture” for democracy and suggests that Islam will prevail in the numbers game against Christianity. In the long run, “Mohammed wins out,” he states. “Christianity spreads primarily by conversion, Islam by conversion and reproduction.”

[Why America is terrible at making the world a better place]

The vision evokes the zero-sum rhetoric of Trump political strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who was a force behind the administration’s travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries, and of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who authored a 2016 book heralding a multi-generational U.S. conflict against Islam’s “failed civilization.” Huntington, at least, has the grace to consider two sides of the clash.

“The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism,” he writes. “It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power. The problem for Islam is not the CIA or the U.S. Department of Defense. It is the West, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the universality of their culture and believe that their superior, if declining, power imposes on them the obligation to extend that culture throughout the world.”

He does not regard Western values as universal. They are ours alone.

While Huntington foresees an America roiled by self-doubt, white nationalism and enmity against Islam, he does not predict the rise of a Trump-like leader in the United States.

But he would have recognized the type.

Consider his earliest books. In “Political Order in Changing Societies” (1968), Huntington examines how Latin American, African and Asian countries in the throes of economic modernization struggled to adapt their politics and incorporate new groups with new demands. The result, Huntington explains, was not political development but “political decay.”

And what sort of authorities personify this decay? Across the developing world, Huntington saw “the dominance of unstable personalistic leaders,” their governments rife with “blatant corruption . . . arbitrary infringement of the rights and liberties of citizens, declining standards of bureaucratic efficiency and performance, the pervasive alienation of urban political groups, the loss of authority by legislatures and courts, and the fragmentation and at times complete disintegration of broadly based political parties.”

These self-styled revolutionaries thrive on divisiveness. “The aim of the revolutionary is to polarize politics,” Huntington explains, “and hence he attempts to simplify, to dramatize, and to amalgamate political issues into a single, clear-cut dichotomy.” Such leaders attract new rural voters via “ethnic and religious appeals” as well as economic arguments, only to quickly betray their aspirations.

“A popular demagogue may emerge,” Huntington writes, “develop a widespread but poorly organized following, threaten the established interests of the rich and aristocrats, be voted into political office, and then be bought off by the very interests which he has attacked.” Such interests include those of the leaders’ close relatives, he explains, because for them “no distinction existed between obligations to the state and obligation to the family.”

Huntington’s “The Soldier and the State” (1957), a study of civilian-military relations, is instructive on the self-regard of such leaders, especially when the author contrasts the professionalism of military officers with the imperiousness of fascist strongmen. “Fascism emphasizes the supreme power and ability of the leader, and the absolute duty of subordination to his will,” Huntington writes. The fascist is intuitive, with “little use or need for ordered knowledge and practical, empirical realism. He celebrates the triumph of the Will over external obstacles.”

[How does Donald Trump stack up against American literature’s fictional dictators?]

Such obstacles take the form of popular protests against unpopular leaders. Today, some writers even find solace in our national upheaval, arguing that the activism and energy Trump’s election has wrought will strengthen U.S. democracy. But in a book titled “The Crisis of Democracy” (1975), Huntington examines a time of similar civic resurgence, and is not encouraged by the outcome.

“The 1960s witnessed a dramatic renewal of the democratic spirit in America,” Huntington writes. Not yet dismissive of identity politics, he praises the “markedly higher levels of self-consciousness” and mobilization on the part of African Americans, Latinos, students and women in that era, noting that “the spirit of equality [and] the impulse to expose and correct inequities were abroad in the land.” The problem, he explains, is that the political system also became weighed down by popular mistrust, however deserved, of American institutions. “The vitality of democracy in the 1960s,” he writes, “raised questions about the governability of democracy in the 1970s.”

The biggest questions involved the highest office. “Probably no development of the 1960s and 1970s has greater import for the future of American politics than the decline in the authority, status, influence, and effectiveness of the presidency,” Huntington writes. He fears that a delegitimized executive threatened not just national cohesion but national security. “If American citizens don’t trust their government, why should friendly foreigners? If American citizens challenge the authority of American government, why shouldn’t unfriendly governments?”

Huntington was writing in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, and now the current White House faces its own crisis of credibility. Trump, so obsessed with his electoral victory that a framed map of the 2016 results was recently spotted in the White House, would do well to heed warnings about governability.

“Once he is elected president,” Huntington writes, “the president’s electoral coalition has, in a sense, served its purpose. The day after his election the size of his majority is almost — if not entirely — irrelevant to his ability to govern the country. . . . What counts then is his ability to mobilize support from the leaders of the key institutions in society and government.”

It feels odd to write of Trump as a Huntingtonian figure. One is instinctual and anti-intellectual; the other was deliberate and theoretical. One communicates via inarticulate bursts; the other wrote books for the ages. I imagine Huntington would be apprehensive about a commander-in-chief so indifferent to a foreign power’s assault on the U.S. electoral system, and one displaying so little of the work ethic and reverence for the rule of law that Huntington admired.

What makes the professor a prophet for our time is not just that his vision is partially reflected in Trump’s message and appeal, but that he understood well the dangers of the style of politics Trump practices.

Where they come together, I believe, is in their nostalgic and narrow view of American uniqueness. Huntington, like Trump, wanted America to be great, and came to long for a restoration of values and identity that he believed made the country not just great but a nation apart. However, if that path involves closing ourselves off, demonizing newcomers and demanding cultural fealty, then how different are we, really, from anywhere else? The central agony of the Trump era is that rather than becoming great, America is becoming unexceptional.

And that’s not a clash of civilizations. It’s a civilization crashing.

Books cited in this essay:

  • The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations by Samuel P. Huntington. Belknap Press. 534 pp. 1957.
  • Political Order in Changing Societies by Samuel P. Huntington. Yale University Press. 488 pp. 1968.
  • The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission by Michel Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington and Joji Watanuki. New York University Press. 220 pp. 1975.
  • American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony by Samuel P. Huntington. Belknap Press. 303 pp. 1981.
  • The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel P. Huntington. Simon & Schuster. 368 pp. 1996.
  • Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity by Samuel P. Huntington. Simon & Schuster. 428 pp. 2004.
*Carlos Lozada is the nonfiction book critic of The Washington Post. He has also served as The Post’s economics editor, national security editor and Outlook editor. Previously, he was managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine. Follow @CarlosLozadaWP

Tech and Higher Education


February 21, 2018

Tech and Higher Education

Universities pride themselves on producing creative ideas that disrupt the rest of society, yet higher-education teaching techniques continue to evolve at a glacial pace. Given education’s centrality to raising productivity, shouldn’t efforts to reinvigorate today’s sclerotic Western economies focus on how to reinvent higher education?

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CAMBRIDGE – In the early 1990s, at the dawn of the Internet era, an explosion in academic productivity seemed to be around the corner. But the corner never appeared. Instead, teaching techniques at colleges and universities, which pride themselves on spewing out creative ideas that disrupt the rest of society, have continued to evolve at a glacial pace.

Sure, PowerPoint presentations have displaced chalkboards, enrollments in “massive open online courses” often exceed 100,000 (though the number of engaged students tends to be much smaller), and “flipped classrooms” replace homework with watching taped lectures, while class time is spent discussing homework exercises. But, given education’s centrality to raising productivity, shouldn’t efforts to reinvigorate today’s sclerotic Western economies focus on how to reinvent higher education?

One can understand why change is slow to take root at the primary and secondary school level, where the social and political obstacles are massive. But colleges and universities have far more capacity to experiment; indeed, in many ways, that is their raison d’être.

For example, what sense does it make for each college in the United States to offer its own highly idiosyncratic lectures on core topics like freshman calculus, economics, and US history, often with classes of 500 students or more? Sometimes these giant classes are great, but anyone who has gone to college can tell you that is not the norm.

At least for large-scale introductory courses, why not let students everywhere watch highly produced recordings by the world’s best professors and lecturers, much as we do with music, sports, and entertainment? This does not mean a one-size-fits-all scenario: there could be a competitive market, as there already is for textbooks, with perhaps a dozen people dominating much of the market.

And videos could be used in modules, so a school could choose to use, say, one package to teach the first part of a course, and a completely different package to teach the second part. Professors could still mix in live lectures on their favorite topics, but as a treat, not as a boring routine.

A shift to recorded lectures is only one example. The potential for developing specialized software and apps to advance higher education is endless. There is already some experimentation with using software to help understand individual students’ challenges and deficiencies in ways that guide teachers on how to give the most constructive feedback. But so far, such initiatives are very limited.

Perhaps change in tertiary education is so glacial because the learning is deeply interpersonal, making human teachers essential. But wouldn’t it make more sense for the bulk of faculty teaching time to be devoted to helping students engage in active learning through discussion and exercises, rather than to sometimes hundredth-best lecture performances?3

Yes, outside of traditional brick-and-mortar universities, there has been some remarkable innovation. The Khan Academy has produced a treasure trove of lectures on a variety of topics, and it is particularly strong in teaching basic mathematics. Although the main target audience is advanced high school students, there is a lot of material that college students (or anyone) would find useful.

Moreover, there are some great websites, including Crash Course and Ted-Ed, that contain short general education videos on a huge variety of subjects, from philosophy to biology to history. But while a small number of innovative professors are using such methods to reinvent their courses, the tremendous resistance they face from other faculty holds down the size of the market and makes it hard to justify the investments needed to produce more rapid change.

Let’s face it, college faculty are no keener to see technology cut into their jobs than any other group. And, unlike most factory workers, university faculty members have enormous power over the administration. Any university president that tries to run roughshod over them will usually lose her job long before any faculty member does.

Of course, change will eventually come, and when it does, the potential effect on economic growth and social welfare will be enormous. It is difficult to suggest an exact monetary figure, because, like many things in the modern tech world, money spent on education does not capture the full social impact. But even the most conservative estimates suggest the vast potential. In the US, tertiary education accounts for over 2.5% of GDP (roughly $500 billion), and yet much of this is spent quite inefficiently. The real cost, though, is not the squandered tax money, but the fact that today’s youth could be learning so much more than they do.

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Universities and colleges are pivotal to the future of our societies. But, given impressive and ongoing advances in technology and artificial intelligence, it is hard to see how they can continue playing this role without reinventing themselves over the next two decades. Education innovation will disrupt academic employment, but the benefits to jobs everywhere else could be enormous. If there were more disruption within the ivory tower, economies just might become more resilient to disruption outside it.