Trump’s Rogue America


June 7, 2017

Trump’s Rogue America

by Joseph E. Stiglitz

Dr. Stiglitz, recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2001 and the John Bates Clark Medal in 1979, is University Professor at Columbia University, Co-Chair of the High-Level Expert Group on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress at the OECD, and Chief Economist of the Roosevelt Institute. A former senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank and chair of the US president’s Council of Economic Advisers under Bill Clinton, in 2000 he founded the Initiative for Policy Dialogue, a think tank on international development based at Columbia University. His most recent book is The Euro: How a Common Currency Threatens the Future of Europe.

https://www.project-syndicate.org/columnist/joseph-e–stiglitz

America will suffer under Trump. Its global leadership role was being destroyed, even before Trump broke faith with over 190 countries by withdrawing from the Paris accord. At this point, rebuilding that leadership will demand a truly heroic effort. We share a common planet, and the world has learned the hard way that we have to get along and work together. We have learned, too, that cooperation can benefit all.–Joseph E.Stiglitz

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America will suffer under Donald J. Trump

Donald Trump has thrown a hand grenade into the global economic architecture that was so painstakingly constructed in the years after World War II’s end. The attempted destruction of this rules-based system of global governance – now manifested in Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the 2015 Paris climate agreement – is just the latest aspect of the US president’s assault on our basic system of values and institutions.

The world is only slowly coming fully to terms with the malevolence of the Trump administration’s agenda. He and his cronies have attacked the US press – a vital institution for preserving Americans’ freedoms, rights, and democracy – as an “enemy of the people.” They have attempted to undermine the foundations of our knowledge and beliefs – our epistemology – by labeling as “fake” anything that challenges their aims and arguments, even rejecting science itself. Trump’s sham justifications for spurning the Paris climate agreement is only the most recent evidence of this.

For millennia before the middle of the eighteenth century, standards of living stagnated. It was the Enlightenment, with its embrace of reasoned discourse and scientific inquiry, that underpinned the enormous increases in standards of living in the subsequent two and a half centuries.

With the Enlightenment also came a commitment to discover and address our prejudices. As the idea of human equality – and its corollary, basic individual rights for all – quickly spread, societies began struggling to eliminate discrimination on the basis of race, gender, and, eventually, other aspects of human identity, including disability and sexual orientation.

Trump seeks to reverse all of that. His rejection of science, in particular climate science, threatens technological progress. And his bigotry toward women, Hispanics, and Muslims (except those, like the rulers of Gulf oil sheikhdoms, from whom he and his family can profit), threatens the functioning of American society and its economy, by undermining people’s trust that the system is fair to all.

As a populist, Trump has exploited the justifiable economic discontent that has become so widespread in recent years, as many Americans have become downwardly mobile amid soaring inequality. But his true objective – to enrich himself and other gilded rent-seekers at the expense of those who supported him – is revealed by his tax and health-care plans.

Trump’s proposed tax reforms, so far as one can see, outdo George W. Bush’s in their regressivity (the share of the benefits that go to those at the top of the income distribution). And, in a country where life expectancy is already declining, his health-care overhaul would leave 23 million more Americans without health insurance.

While Trump and his cabinet may know how to make business deals, they haven’t the slightest idea how the economic system as a whole works. If the administration’s macroeconomic policies are implemented, they will result in a larger trade deficit and a further decline in manufacturing.

America will suffer under Trump. Its global leadership role was being destroyed, even before Trump broke faith with over 190 countries by withdrawing from the Paris accord. At this point, rebuilding that leadership will demand a truly heroic effort. We share a common planet, and the world has learned the hard way that we have to get along and work together. We have learned, too, that cooperation can benefit all.

So what should the world do with a babyish bully in the sandbox, who wants everything for himself and won’t be reasoned with? How can the world manage a “rogue” US?

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel gave the right answer when, after meeting with Trump and other G7 leaders last month, she said that Europe could no longer “fully count on others,” and would have to “fight for our own future ourselves.” This is the time for Europe to pull together, recommit itself to the values of the Enlightenment, and stand up to the US, as France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, did so eloquently with a handshake that stymied Trump’s puerile alpha-male approach to asserting power.

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“…the rest of the world cannot let a rogue US destroy the planet. Nor can it let a rogue US take advantage of it with unenlightened – indeed anti-Enlightenment – “America first” policies”– Dr. Joseph E.Stiglitz, Columbia University

Europe can’t rely on a Trump-led US for its defense. But, at the same time, it should recognize that the Cold War is over – however unwilling America’s industrial-military complex is to acknowledge it. While fighting terrorism is important and costly, building aircraft carriers and super fighter planes is not the answer. Europe needs to decide for itself how much to spend, rather than submit to the dictates of military interests that demand 2% of GDP. Political stability may be more surely gained by Europe’s recommitment to its social-democratic economic model.

We now also know that the world cannot count on the US in addressing the existential threat posed by climate change. Europe and China did the right thing in deepening their commitment to a green future – right for the planet, and right for the economy. Just as investment in technology and education gave Germany a distinct advantage in advanced manufacturing over a US hamstrung by Republican ideology, so, too, Europe and Asia will achieve an almost insurmountable advantage over the US in the green technologies of the future.

But the rest of the world cannot let a rogue US destroy the planet. Nor can it let a rogue US take advantage of it with unenlightened – indeed anti-Enlightenment – “America first” policies. If Trump wants to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement, the rest of the world should impose a carbon-adjustment tax on US exports that do not comply with global standards.

The good news is that the majority of Americans are not with Trump. Most Americans still believe in Enlightenment values, accept the reality of global warming, and are willing to take action. But, as far as Trump is concerned, it should already be clear that reasoned debate will not work. It is time for action.

Remembering Anthropologist Joel S. Kahn


June 6, 2017

Remembering Anthropologist Joel S. Kahn

http://www.newmandala.org/remembering-joel-s-kahn/

 

Joel S. Kahn passed away after a long illness on 1 May, 2017.

Joel had a remarkable career, one marked by an enduring commitment to anthropology, Southeast Asian studies, and comparative social sciences. In recognition of his achievements, Joel was elected a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia in 1995.

Foremost in our minds, though, remains his commitment to the nurturing of young scholars in the field. His considered advice and counsel, dispensed with wisdom and farsightedness, marked his impact on students. As a supervisor he was the calm captain steering PhDs, sometimes at the risk of going astray, back on course to successful completion. Joel’s generosity of ideas and professional support continued beyond our PhDs, as Joel maintained close intellectual and personal ties with many of his former postgraduates.

Joel received his own PhD in Social Anthropology from the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1974. He taught briefly at Goldsmith’s College, London from 1972-1974, and at University College London from 1974 to 1986, before moving to Australia to take up the Chair of Anthropology at Monash University from 1986 to 1992. He was appointed Professor of Anthropology at La Trobe University in 1992, a post he held until his retirement in 2007.

As an anthropologist he was always ‘at home’ in multiple places and his fieldwork took him to Indonesia and Malaysia often. In Southeast Asia he found academic collaborators and students to work with him, making lasting friendships and leaving intellectual legacies. In addition, Joel held a number of visiting positions, including Professor of Anthropology at the University of Sussex (1998-2000), Visiting Professor, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore (2004), Visiting Professor in the Department of Sociology and William Lim Siew Wai Fellow in Cultural Studies, National University of Singapore (2010), as well at Humboldt University, Berlin, and Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Anthropology can be a solitary endeavor and Joel was blessed to have found a partner in life and academic pursuits in Maila Stivens. From the early work amongst the Minangkabau in Sumatra to later work in urban Malaysia, they managed to work together, travel together, and remain together.

 

After his retirement, Joel was appointed Emeritus Professor of La Trobe University and Honorary Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne from 2011-2016.

He never stopped working, or pursuing the great questions of our time. Joel’s scholarship was marked by a critical, comparative approach to modernity. An abiding concern in his work was the need to apply a critical and comparative approach to the analysis of the social and cultural constitution of modernity. Joel did not spare anthropology and modern social theory from his critical gaze; emblematic of his writing is an appreciation of how anthropology is implicated in the culture of modernity and its exclusionary dynamics. His critique of universalising logics, concepts and rights was a hallmark of his work. This lead on to further endeavors to make room for alternative worldviews, be they based on class, race or cultural differences.

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These themes are apparent across the spectrum of Joel’s writings and were a uniting thread across the breadth of interests apparent in his monographs. In general, Joel’s writing can be grouped under the following themes: critical, comparative studies of class and economy (Minangkabau Social Formations: Indonesian Peasants and the World Economy, Cambridge University Press (1980)); the anthropology of modernism and modernity (Constituting the Minangkabau: Peasants, Culture and Modernity in Colonial Indonesia, Berg (1993); Culture, Multiculture, Postculture, Sage (1995); Modernity and Exclusion, Sage (2001)); cosmopolitanism and nationalism (Other Malays: Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism in the Malay World, Asian Studies Association of Australia in association with Singapore University Press, NIAS Press and University of Hawaii Press) (2006)) and modernity and religion (Asia, Modernity, and the Pursuit of the Sacred: Gnostics, Scholars, Mystics, and Reformers, Palgrave (2015)).

Joel helped shape a path forward for anthropology to be critical and situated firmly within its ethnographic field, putting the onus on anthropologists to engage seriously with their interlocutors in an intercultural field or interstitial space we create together. His call for a cosmopolitan anthropology has been heeded and anthropology continues to push the boundaries of what that can mean. Many of Joel’s writings on this subject have had a profound impact on Southeast Asianists and projects to rediscover cosmopolitan histories in times of heightened national and exclusionary discourses. His focus on the quotidian rather than elite cosmopolitanism also redirects how anthropologists in the region have thought about identity and multiculturalism. More importantly, it drew attention to the long history and continued ability of ordinary people to transgress state sanctioned identities.

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Joel was a prolific writer. In addition to publishing 60 journal articles and book chapters, he wrote six sole-authored monographs and edited six books, including (with J.R. Llobera) The Anthropology of Pre Capitalist Societies, Macmillan (1981); (with F. Loh) Fragmented Vision: Culture and Politics in Contemporary Malaysia, Allen and Unwin (Asian Studies Association of Australia series), US edition, University of Hawaii Press (1992); and Southeast Asian Identities: Culture and the Politics of Representation in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (jointly published with Taurus, UK and St Martins Press, USA) (1998).

 

Joel has left a rich and deeply textured set of writings that will continue to resonate and provide insight in the future. His profound knowledge of anthropology, social theory and popular culture gave rise to Joel’s singular ability to see their entanglement in the social and historical processes of modernity both here in the global North as well as the global South.

Joel’s former postgraduates and colleagues will miss his generosity, support, and intellectual acuity. Our lives, too, will be duller without his sense of humour and keen, wry observations on life. Our deepest sympathy go to Joel’s wife and fellow anthropologist, Maila Stivens, as well as to their daughters, Sophie and Jess. Joel cherished his family and, in recent years, the addition of two young grandchildren brought him great joy.

Pictures reprinted with kind permission of Maila Stivens

Dr Gerhard Hoffstaedter is Senior Research Fellow (DECRA) at the University of Queensland.

Dr Wendy Mee is Senior Lecturer and Convenor of Sociology at La Trobe University.

ASEAN: The Meanings Behind Words


June 6, 2017

ASEAN: The Meanings Behind Words

by Bunn Nagara@www.thestar.com.my

AUGUST 8 this year is the 50th anniversary of ASEAN.

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ASEAN season is already upon us, with member nations busily hosting international seminars, workshops and conferences about the regional organisation.

Some of these events were held in close succession in Kuala Lumpur recently. As a prime mover and founding member of ASEAN, how can Malaysia and Malaysians do any less?

Chief among these was ISIS Malaysia’s Asia-Pacific Roundtable (APR), the largest annual event of its kind in the world: a Track Two (non-official conference on official security matters) convention on current regional concerns.

Anything concerning ASEAN would involve concepts, terminology and inevitable layers of diplomatic nuances behind and between them. It is an established ASEAN sub-culture.

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Thus, the first APR session saw two former ASEAN Secretaries-General on the panel concluding by looking back on the term “constructive engagement.” One of them denied a suggestion that he had coined the term.

Participants seemed to have forgotten that “constructive engagement” was the positive spin President Ronald Reagan gave to continued US dealings with Apartheid South Africa, in the face of international criticism and calls for a boycott.

Later, when Western criticism was aimed at ASEAN members for dealing with the pariah nation of military-ruled Myanmar, ASEAN leaders replied by calling it constructive engagement too. Verbal jousting runs both ways.

However, this did not sit well with a younger and more idealistic generation of ASEAN leaders at the time. A cabal of younger ministers then, including the one on the recent panel, cast around for another term.

One called for ASEAN’s “constructive intervention” in Cambodia which seemed then to have a disintegrating coalition government. It was a bit much for ASEAN’s Old Guard, strictly abiding by the principle of non-intervention.

Another ASEAN leader called instead for “constructive interactions,” which would soften the interventionist element. However, it did not seem to go anywhere. Yet another ASEAN leader advocated “flexible engagement.” But then it seemed too wobbly to be effective.

Finally, ASEAN and its leaders settled on “enhanced interaction,” which contained all the right positive notes without any conceivable setbacks. And so the work of regional diplomatic wordplay was done.

However, the situation on the ground in Myanmar, Cambodia and elsewhere remained much the same. The problems abated only with time, and with these countries’ eventual accession to ASEAN membership.

More ASEAN terminology arose from attempts to bring ASEAN to the people of south-east Asia. ASEAN’s albatross had long been the closed intergovernmental nature of its being, operating essentially for elites to sustain the status quo.

In time, a sense of ASEAN’s mortality prompted efforts to make ASEAN “people-oriented” or “people-centred.” Unfortunately, undue confusion reigned.

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A view persists that “people-oriented” came first, which then developed progressively with Malaysia’s urging into the more substantive “people-centred.” Another view presumes the opposite.

These terms originated in the recommendations of two separate panels appointed by ASEAN to provide inputs for the prospective ASEAN Charter: The Eminent Persons Group (EPG) and the High-Level Task Force (HLTF).

Some academic references add to the confusion by tracing these terms only to 2008. Others cite how several hopeful civil society groups responded positively by offering their views, but found the EPG indifferent and only the HLTF was encouraging.

A closer examination would reveal the opposite. The HLTF seemed officious while the EPG, chaired by former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Tun Musa Hitam, was more positive.

The result was the 2006 EPG document “Report of the Eminent Persons Group on the ASEAN Charter.” This 49-page report contains one reference to “a people-oriented ASEAN” and three subsequent references to “a people-centred organisation.”

This may have served to credit Malaysia for spearheading a humanistic approach to a new improved ASEAN. But it was also enough to worry undemocratic ASEAN regimes, only too mindful that their leaders were occupying positions that were not the will of the people.

These leaders could just about tolerate “people-oriented,” which would still mean top-down changes they could control, but “people-centred” would be too much for them. Ordinary citizens could well get the idea that they could choose their government.

Upon closer inspection, however, a serious tussle within ASEAN between the two terms did not develop into a full-blown affair. Documents such as the 2015 “Kuala Lumpur Declaration on a People-oriented and People-centred ASEAN” contain both terms.

The terms that would unite all ASEAN leaders, whether budding democrats, residual autocrats or hybrids somewhere between, relate to ASEAN’s “centrality” in occupying the “driving seat.”

This involves ASEAN’s aspirations to exert an influence outside its immediate region. Such ASEAN-led institutions as the 18-member East Asia Summit and the 27-member ASEAN Regional Forum already exist for this purpose, even when sometimes seeming rudderless.

The problem may not be in the choice of metaphors, but in what the metaphors unwittingly imply, reveal or foretell.

Centrality (leadership) may not come with being in the driving seat, and driving the vehicle may not mean deciding on the destination. This is as true of a chauffeured VIP limousine as of a common taxi or a bus.

Passengers who pay decide where they wish to go, and passengers who pay more also decide on how to get there. Not least among ASEAN’s concerns is whether member nations have sufficient economic clout to decide on the region’s destiny.

South-East Asia as a region is a subset of the larger East Asia, where major global powers roam. How do AAEAN members measure up in a time of growing interest from China, Russia, India and Japan, besides the US?

Then came a term for this region not unique to ASEAN: “arms race.” Typically, it was from conference participants unfamiliar with the region’s security situation. Government officials everywhere dislike the term either because it calls undue attention to their arms trade, with or without shady deals, or it alarms and scares off investors for fear of regional instability.

But seriously, is there an arms race in this region? There are clearly increased defence budgets for several countries, but does that necessarily amount to an “arms race”?

The same question had been asked some 25 years before with even greater intensity. And the answer, from the late Australian security specialist Prof Des Ball, was a firm no.

I then published a paper in Singapore explaining why there was no arms race here. There is still none today, not even after half a century of ASEAN – perhaps partly because of Asean.

As some conference participants explained, increased defence budgets do not equate squarely to increased arms purchases. The bulk of defence expenditures typically pay for the salaries, allowances and benefits of personnel.

A “race” is a competitive relationship between two or more players. Even when arms purchases grow, the motivation could just be having more to spend, or some threat perception or contingency – whether justified or not.

Unless and until the sole or primary motivation is to outdo the other country or countries in arms acquisitions, there is no race to speak of. There is still no reason for such a race.

Even if all the 10 ASEAN countries can put their military strength together, and double it, that would still be no match for the major global powers in East Asia.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.

 

Trump’s Diplomacy of Narcissism


June 5, 2017

Trump’s Diplomacy of Narcissism

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-diplomacy-of-narcissism

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The problem with “America First” is that it describes an attitude, not a purpose. It substitutes selfishness for realism.

It implies that nations can go it alone, that we stand for nothing beyond our immediate self-interest, and that we should give little thought to how the rest of humanity thinks or lives. It suggests that if we are strong enough, we can prosper no matter how much chaos, disorder or injustice surrounds us.

America First leads to the diplomacy of narcissism, to use what has become a loaded word in the Trump era. And narcissism is as unhealthy for nations as it is for people.

Perhaps the best approach to the problem as it affects us both individually and collectively was offered by Rabbi Hillel, who lived in the century before the birth of Christ. Hillel’s lesson to us began with two questions: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?”

Precisely. All of us should be prepared to stand up for ourselves. We are patriots because we love our own land in a way we can love no other. But we live in a world of more than 7 billion people and nearly 200 countries. Does our nation not stand for something more than its own existence? Can we possibly survive and prosper if we are only for ourselves?

A constricted view of identity encourages destructive ways of thinking and, paradoxically, actions that reduce the United States’ long-term influence. Almost as disturbing as the irresponsibility of President Trump’s decision to abdicate U.S. global leadership on the environment by pulling out of the Paris climate accord was the language he used to justify it. He cast the United States — our beloved republic — as stupid and easily duped, not the shaper of its own fate but the victim of invidious foreign leaders whom he cast as far shrewder than we are.

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“The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris agreement — they went wild; they were so happy — for the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage,” Trump declared. “A cynic would say the obvious reason for economic competitors and their wish to see us remain in the agreement is so that we continue to suffer this self-inflicted major economic wound.”

Really? Our very best friends in the world, starting with Canada, were just trying to scam us? The climate pact was not even a little bit about staving off a catastrophe for the planet we all share? Should we take no pride in helping nudge the environment in a better direction?

And does Trump truly believe that President Barack Obama and the leaders of General Electric, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google, IBM, BP, Disney and Shell are naive idiots? One more question: How could what even Trump had to concede is a “nonbinding” agreement bring about all the horrors he described?

A diplomacy of narcissism is of a piece, to borrow from the historian Richard Hofstadter, with the paranoid style of this president. In his statement, Trump spoke of “foreign lobbyists” who “wish to keep our magnificent country tied up and bound down by this agreement.” He painted our nation as a pitiful heap of insecurity. “At what point does America get demeaned?” he asked. “At what point do they start laughing at us as a country?”

If anyone is laughing after Trump’s decision, it is our actual enemies and adversaries. They welcome a U.S. leader who wants to rip up or weaken alliances and other forms of collective security that our own practical visionaries, since the days of Harry Truman, Dean Acheson and George Marshall, put in place to advance our purposes.

Tragically, this choice was partly driven by selfish political motives. This only reinforces how narrow a definition of self-interest is in play here. Trump seems to realize how much trouble he is in from the metastasizing Russia story. So he sought to appeal to his political base, shrunken though it is, by re-embracing his “nationalist” side. He said he’d pull out of the Paris agreement and, by God, he did it! Doesn’t that make him look strong?

Quite the opposite. The genuinely strong regularly ponder Hillel’s second inquiry, “If I am only for myself, what am I?” I don’t expect Trump to be troubled by this question, but as a nation, we cannot give up asking it.

The Real Crisis in North Korea–A Perspective


May 21, 2017

The Real Crisis in North Korea–A Perspective

by Gianluca Spezza

PhD candidate at the International Institute of Korean Studies, University of Central Lancashire, and founding contributor at NK News

https://www.irinnews.org/opinion/2017/05/18/real-crisis-north-korea-not-one-you%E2%80%99ve-been-hearing-about

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The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has been in the news a lot lately, with the DPRK testing new missiles and the United States moving a naval strike group off the Korean peninsula. The commentary almost always revolves around strategic issues, especially North Korea’s nuclear programme.

In focusing so narrowly on the country’s military and its leader, Kim Jong-un, however, the debate largely overlooks the North Korean people.

This has two major implications. First, it perpetuates an image of the country that is not in line with reality. In fact, the younger Kim does not enjoy the kind of monolithic influence held by his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, or his father, Kim Jong-il. Power structures in North Korea began to disintegrate under Kim Jong-il and are now widely ramified. Security apparatuses are no longer under one single point of command; neither are military corps. This is something that the administration of US President Donald Trump seems to be oblivious to, but it should take into account when formulating policy.

Second, and most important, the world’s myopic attention to Kim Jong-un precludes recognition of the nearly 26 million people that live in the country. They represent the true issue at stake, once the current regime – which is living on borrowed time – is gone.

What do we know about DPRK and its people?

Oddly enough, since the early 1990s the international community has accumulated a larger knowledge base on North Korean society than intelligence agencies have ever had on its military. Yet, most media insist on reporting obsessively on the latter. This is shortsighted.

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The Hermit Nation–Kim and his Military Men

The questions we ought to ask instead, if we are to understand where the country is headed, are: What is the current state of North Korea? What do we know about its society and economy? What kind of country will emerge once the regime is gone?

These questions matter, because with each crisis, the possibility of regime change or collapse becomes more real. With that, the risk of a humanitarian catastrophe increases, and neither South Korea nor China are well prepared to respond.

North Korea represents an anomaly, for both aid organisations and experts of international politics. But things are changing.

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For a long time, the country may have deserved its moniker of the hermit kingdom. But today, after 22 years of humanitarian assistance and development, the DPRK is an aid-dependent country, stuck in a paradoxical situation. Its economy crashed in the mid-1990s and never recovered, while its social indicators went from good, to terrible, to decent over the last two decades.

The North Korean development indicators for children’s welfare, as well as immunisation and education, are well above countries with a much higher GDP, but the economy does not reflect this relatively healthy development status. The DPRK produces very little of value, and its people find survival in the black market rather than state-provided jobs.

North Korea, in other words, has the economy of an underdeveloped country, with levels of social development of a middle-to-high income country. It is time to take a look at the country beyond military parades.

How did North Korea get so poor?

Upon the demise of its first leader, Kim Il-sung, in 1994, the DPRK faced a combination of domestic and international factors that negatively affected all sectors of society and state institutions. External circumstances included the loss between 1991 and 1993 of its main allies and economic partners, the Soviet Union and China. In addition, in 1993, China started to demand payments at regular market rates for oil and fuel, which had until then been provided at very low prices and constituted the main source of energy for the DPRK.

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In this rapidly changing international scenario, the DPRK, which had become heavily dependent on subsided trade with its former communist partners during the Cold War, found itself with no economic safety net. At the same time, the country was hit by a series of droughts and floods, along with a sudden shortage of energy sources. This devastated an agriculture system almost entirely dependent on chemical fertilisers and mechanised irrigation.

With diminishing amounts of food, the effectiveness of the Public Distribution System that regulated the allocation of basic goods decreased gradually, forcing the population to seek alternative means of subsistence. Housewives, factory workers, doctors, nurses, teachers and students alike had to fend for themselves in order to secure food and heating material during winter.

The crisis caught many North Koreans by surprise, and it was aggravated by economic mismanagement. It should be noted that the Public Distribution System did not collapse altogether, but the degree of functioning of the system varied between different provincesBetween 1994 and 1998, GDP declined by almost half. This, in combination with the progressive dysfunction of the PDS, severely reduced access to food, medications, and primary goods, leading to a famine and to the general deterioration of the population’s ability to withstand further calamities.

The economy: China dominates

Today, it is safe to say that, in effect, China runs North Korea’s economy. Chinese currency is widely used in the unofficial markets that have mushroomed around the country since the crisis of the mid-1990s.

China gets the lion’s share of trade with North Korea and provides the bulk of its food and energy. Luxury items, if and when they manage to come into the DPRK, do so from across the border region of Yanbian or Chinese ports.

To be sure, North Korea does have a few economic niches, but these too are largely influenced by China’s presence. The DPRK’s significant mineral resources are almost exclusively exploited by Chinese companies, and Chinese visitors make for the majority of customers in North Korea’s trade fairs and Special Economic Zones.

In other words, simply by looking at the economy of North Korea, one could surmise that as long as China is there to support it, the country could muddle along with no substantial changes for a very long time. A look at North Korean social indicators, however, offers a different perspective.

Demography is destiny

The key indicators of a country’s state of health and future prospects are its social statistics, particularly those on demographics. According to combined data from the Central Bureau of Statistics in Pyongyang, the World Bank Institute, and the UN gathered in 2008, and data by UNICEF gathered in 2014, the DPRK’s average population growth rate for 1990-2004 was 0.9 percent, or equivalent to that of upper middle-income countries. The same data provide trends for 2004-2020 that place growth at 0.4 percent, or equivalent to that of high-income countries.

At the same time, North Korea’s birth rate dropped to 16 per 1,000 people in the late 2000s – the level of middle-income countries – whilst the fertility rate is slowly approaching the levels of most Western countries. It sits between parity – two children, which is the minimum requirement for a population to continue replacing itself over time – and one child or none per couple, which is deemed not enough to avoid extinction in the long run. The latter is where Germany, Italy, and most EU countries are at present.

What does this mean for the future of North Korea?

If we read population increase as an indication of economic and social stability, the DPRK looks further removed from the so-called “failed states” it is often compared to – like Somalia, Yemen, or South Sudan – which are all on the verge of famine (or, in the case of parts of South Sudan, already experiencing it). North Korea is in fact undergoing the same “cradle crisis” that characterises advanced countries, from Japan to Germany.

However, the same statistics, viewed from the standpoint of overall death rates and infant mortality rates suggest the DPRK is right there with low-income countries. Its average death rate is as high as 11 per 1,000 people, and rates of infant mortality that have not yet fully recovered from the 1990s crisis.

This has a number of implications: North Korea doesn’t have the problems that South Korea has at the moment, with an increasingly aging population placing stress on the social welfare system. As a matter of fact, the DPRK welfare system has been simply downsized and slowed to a minimum since the 1990s. Today, North Koreans live on average six to eight years less than South Koreans and about nine years less than the Japanese.

In Malthusian terms, this means that the government has less to worry about in the short-term. Considering the chronic economic stagnation, most North Koreans alive today could well get old before they even have a chance to elevate their economic status.

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At the same time, with a slow but steady recovery from the famine and the crisis of the mid-1990s, the DPRK seems to have reached a level of relative social comfort at which most middle-to-high income countries stop having enough children for the maintenance of native population. At this stage, they will slowly begin to fade out unless they adopt open immigration policies – an option that is unpopular in South Korea and Japan, and next to impossible in the DPRK.

If the trend continues – and the figures from 2008 and 2014 suggest it will – North Korea may one day run out of people to maintain its workforce. That would be one more reason for the regime to push towards reunification. While its rival state south of the demilitarised zone is also growing older, it is still twice as populous, and immensely richer by comparison. Still, if nothing changes at the economic level, any effort of reunification will require the equivalent of a mini-Marshall Plan for the entire peninsula.

This is the real North Korean conundrum: The country has faced challenges it is hard to imagine any other regime surviving: famine, floods, droughts, economic collapse, energy shortages, sanctions, and leadership changes. This has left a North Korea that is a mass of contradictions.

Few consider that the country making headlines for its nuclear technology has a basket case economy, but also one of the highest literacy rates in the world. There is no other country with such low economic indicators that can at the same time build and at test nuclear devices and achieve universal literacy, while still being aid-dependent.

Is aid the answer?

To explain the North Korean anomaly, we have to look at the nature of aid itself with three key questions: What is aid? Why is aid provided? Is it accomplishing what it is supposed to?

From an economic perspective, we can think of aid as a measure of socioeconomic welfare, like the one used for families and individuals, but on a much bigger scale. Welfare policies are supposed to work as a safety net in times of emergency – fostering growth and preventing recession when families and individuals go through hardships. At any rate, welfare is conceived to be a temporary measure and aid doesn’t come for free.

Aid represents an extension of foreign policy from donor states to recipient nations. Donors and international organisations expect recipients to correct their course and adopt policies that move them towards a free market economy, and adherence to international treaties on human rights, environmental protection and sustainability.

North Korea has become chronically dependent on aid since the mid 1990s. Yet, it has remained impervious to outside pressure for change. When it shows any degree of compliance with international norms, it does so only in fields where its interests converge with those of international organisations. Education and environmental protection are two examples.

On the other hand, North Korea has no relationship with global economic bodies like the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund. It makes no concessions on the issues of nuclear proliferation and allows no inspections from human rights organisations. But its population does require foreign assistance in order to survive.

The socioeconomic emergency that swept the country between 1995 and 1999 was rooted in a combination of political, climatic, structural, and geopolitical factors. By 2005, the government declared the food emergency to be over and asked a number of NGOs – but not UN agencies – to leave. Nevertheless, the country has continued to rely on foreign assistance, just as the UN agencies at work in the DPRK kept monitoring a situation that requires periodical emergency assistance, year in-year out, in combination with development programmes.

If North Korea were a family, or an individual who has been in need of aid for 22 consecutive years, would this be considered normal? It’s unlikely. Yet, aid needs to reach the people of the DPRK on a yearly basis or a new humanitarian emergency may break out, according to the UN.

There is a consensus among humanitarians that as the North Korean people have no say on their government policies, they should not be the ones suffering the consequences. Therefore, the international community has responded with aid. However, a look at what North Korea has become since 1995 reveals that aid has not made North Korea strong enough to stand on its own.

This is the most pressing problem with North Korea, aside from its periodically aggressive military posture. The country needs aid because what once was a functioning infrastructure for a command economy, in which the state plays the primary role, has ceased to exist. More than this, it needs important economic and political reforms. Currently however, North Korean politics withhold economic restructuring and growth. At the same time, aid agencies and donors tend to look at technical issues and do not tackle the lack of political decisions that could steer the country away from perpetually looming humanitarian disasters.

 A new approach?

Aid has been invaluable in pulling the country out of the humanitarian catastrophe of the mid-1990s, and it has helped North Korea maintain decent levels in development indicators such as health and education since then on. But aid cannot help the country provide a decent standard of living on its own for its people. That can only be done through political reform.

The real political story about North Korea today is that the “Stalinist fortress” – the impenetrable polity devoted to hardline communism – is no longer Stalinist, nor a fortress. North Korea scholars and South Korean government experts concur in saying that Kim Jong-un holds a fraction of the power that his father and grandfather wielded.

The elites that have emerged from two decades of black market activity are aware that there are only a few obstacles to a reunification that could see them prosper, while lifting millions of North Koreans out of poverty. These factors are their “political guilt” (for they contributed to keeping the country in a state of repression over decades), and the risk of losing whatever wealth they have accumulated.

If the United States and South Korea could agree to leave some of these families in power, providing them amnesty, they could ask in return for a soft removal of the Kim family, and open the door for a gradual economic rebuilding of the country. Financial incentive, or the lack thereof, in North Korea is the key issue. The average annual income in North Korea is a little below $1,000. In the South, it is over $30,000. No amount of foreign aid can ever bridge this difference.

The G20’s Time for Climate Leadership since Donald Trump’s America won’t


April 30, 2017

The G20’s Time for Climate Leadership since Donald Trump won’t

by Teresa Ribera*

*Teresa Ribera, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) in Paris, was Spain’s Secretary of State for Climate Change.

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/g20-climate-change-in-trump-era-by-teresa-ribera-2017-04

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At the start of 2016, the United States was well positioned to lead the global fight against climate change. As the chair of the G20 for 2017, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been counting on the US to help drive a deep transformation in the global economy. And even after Donald Trump won the US presidential election, Merkel gave him the benefit of the doubt, hoping against hope that the US might still play a leading role in reducing global greenhouse-gas emissions.

But at Merkel and Trump’s first in-person meeting, no substantive statements were issued, and their body language made the prospect of future dialogue appear dim. Trump’s slogan “America first” seems to mean “America alone.”

By reversing his predecessor’s policies to reduce CO2 emissions, Trump is rolling back the new model of cooperative global governance embodied in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The countries that signed on to that accord committed themselves to sharing the risks and benefits of a global economic and technological transformation.
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“Trump’s climate-change policy does not bode for US citizens”–Teresa Ribera

Trump’s climate-change policy does not bode well for US citizens – many of whom are now mobilizing resistance to his administration – or the world. But the rest of the world will still develop low-carbon, resilient systems. Private- and public-sector players across the developed and developing worlds are making the coming economic shift all but inevitable, and their agendas will not change simply because the US has a capricious new administration. China, India, the European Union, and many African and Latin American countries are still adopting clean-energy systems.

As long as this is the case, businesses, local governments, and other stakeholders will continue to pursue low-carbon strategies. To be sure, Trump’s policies might introduce new dangers and costs, domestically and worldwide; but he will not succeed in prolonging the fossil-fuel era.

Still, an effective US exit from the Paris agreement is a menacing development. The absence of such an important player from the fight against climate change could undermine new forms of multilateralism, even if it reinvigorates climate activism as global public opinion turns against the US.

More immediately, the Trump administration has introduced significant financial risks that could impede efforts to address climate change. Trump’s proposed budget would place restrictions on federal funding for clean-energy development and climate research. Likewise, his recent executive orders will minimize the financial costs of US businesses’ carbon footprint, by changing how the “social cost of carbon” is calculated. And his administration has already insisted that language about climate change be omitted from a joint statement issued by G20 finance ministers.

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Congrats, Tan Sri  Dr. Jeffery Cheah of Malaysia and Prof. Dr Jeffery Sachs, The Earth Institute @Columbia University,  New York for this initiative. If we cannot take care of Nature, don’t expect Nature to protect us.–Din Merican

These are all unwise decisions that pose serious risks to the US economy, and to global stability, as United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently pointed out. The US financial system plays a leading role in the world economy, and Trump wants to take us all back to a time when investors and the general public did not account for climate-change risks when making financial decisions.

Since 2008, the regulatory approach taken by the US and the G20 has been geared toward increasing transparency and improving our understanding of possible systemic risks to the global financial system, not least those associated with climate change and fossil-fuel dependency. Developing more stringent transparency rules and better risk-assessment tools has been a top priority for the financial community itself. Implementing these new rules and tools can accelerate the overall trend in divestment from fossil fuels, ensure a smooth transition to a more resilient, clean-energy economy, and provide confidence and clarity for long-term investors.

Given the heightened financial risks associated with climate change, resisting Trump’s executive order to roll back Wall Street transparency regulations should be a top priority. The fact that Warren Buffet and the asset-management firm Black Rock have warned about the investment risks of climate change suggests that the battle is not yet lost.

Creating the G20 was a good idea. Now, it must confront its biggest challenge. It is up to Merkel and other G20 leaders to overcome US (and Saudi) resistance and stay the course on climate action. They can count as allies some of the world’s large institutional investors, who seem to agree on the need for a transitional framework of self-regulation. It is incumbent upon other world leaders to devise a coherent response to Trump, and to continue establishing a new development paradigm that is compatible across different financial systems.

At the same time, the EU – which is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome this year – now has a chance to think about the future that it wants to build. These are difficult times, to be sure; but we can still decide what kind of world we want to live in.