The new dividing line in Western politics


December 16, 2018

The new dividing line in Western politics

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

 

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/12/13/the-new-dividing-line-in-western-politics

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For Stephen K. Bannon, the way to create an enduring populist majority is to combine forces on the left and right. That’s why he was in Italy this year, where parties representing those two sides joined together in a governing alliance. That’s why Bannon hopes to lure some of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) supporters away from the Democratic Party. But the next place we might be watching the rise of a new left-right populism is France.

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The Trio under political pressure come 2019

Thus far, the “yellow vest” protests in France have lacked a party, structure and leadership. But lists of demands have been circulating. At their heart is an unworkable fantasy, such as a constitutional cap on taxes at 25 percent, coupled with a massive increase in social spending. What is striking about these manifestos is that they combine traditional wish lists from the left and right. No wonder, then, that nearly 90 percent of people who back the major far-left and far-right parties view the movement favorably, compared with only 23 percent of people in President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party.

The “yellow vest” uprising has also spread to Belgium, where the fragile governing coalition has collapsed, largely over the issue of immigration. But there again, the protests have the feel of generalized discontent coming from left and right. Just as in France, the United States and Britain, the movement appears to be a rural backlash against urban elites.

The fissure between relatively better-educated urbanites and less-educated rural populations appears to have become the new dividing line in Western politics. “Outsiders” feel ignored or looked down upon and feel deep resentment toward metropolitan elites. It’s part class, part culture, but there is a large element of economics to it as well.

The Brookings Institution has shown that since the financial crisis of 2008, 72 percent of the gains in U.S. employment have accrued to the country’s top 53 metropolitan areas. To understand the structural division this causes, keep in mind that all U.S. cities together contain 62.7 percent of the country’s population but occupy just 3.5 percent of the land. The Wall Street Journal has pointed out that the fate of urban vs. rural America has been turned on its head. In 1980, cities were dysfunctional, crime-ridden and struggling to keep residents from leaving. Today they are thriving, growing and relatively safe, while rural areas are racked with problems. This urban-rural chasm is also true in France, Italy, Britain and many other Western countries.

And it’s likely to get worse. Research by economists Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo suggests that the use of robots does in fact reduce employment, by about six workers for one machine. Further, Acemoglu and Restrepo find that, in the United States, robots have been largely deployed in the Midwest and South. Although metro areas usually have rich and growing creative and service industries, rural America is less likely to be home to centers of technology, entertainment, law and finance. If you go to a rural part of the Midwest, typically the main sources of employment are government and health care (which is also partly funded by the government).

People in these areas are often described as being irrational at the ballot box. In the United States, they vote for a party that promises tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the working class (i.e., them). The New York Times’ Thomas Edsall points out that the 2017 Republican tax law essentially subsidizes companies to automate. In Europe, contradictory proposals are adopted from the left and right. But this might simply reflect a more generalized anxiety, a blind search for someone who promises them a better future.

Image result for Tom Brokaw’s 1998 book “The Greatest Generation”

Tom Brokaw’s 1998 book “The Greatest Generation” is packed with stories of non-college-educated men who lived far from big cities. This was the “real America.” Similar regions across France were once called “la France profonde.” Today they are places of despair.

Image result for Yuval Harari’s new book, “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,”

In Yuval Harari’s new book, “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” the Israeli historian points out that the three most powerful 20th-century ideologies — fascism, communism and democratic capitalism — put the ordinary person at the center, promising him or her a glorious future. But today, we seem to need a handful of brainiacs who will, with computers and robots, chart the course for the future. So in France, in Britain, in the United States, the ordinary person, who doesn’t have a fancy degree, who doesn’t attend TED Talks, who doesn’t have capital or connections, will reasonably wonder: Where does that leave me?

To that question, no one has a good answer.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

 

 

Franco-American Relations: Macron’s recent Charm Offensive is not without risk


May 1, 2018

Franco-American Relations: Macron’s recent Charm Offensive is not without risk

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/macron-trump-visit-ineffective-by-dominique-moisi-2018-04

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If French President Emmanuel Macron’s appeals to Trump’s vanity were producing positive outcomes for along the way, Macron’s efforts might be worthwhile. But to flatter Trump is one thing; to obtain significant diplomatic and trade concessions from him is quite another.

PARIS – For centuries, France and the United States have been friends, allies, and competitors. Both have been world powers; both have been models of liberal democracy; and both achieved democratization through revolution. In fact, France was the first ally of the new US, having provided military support during the American Revolutionary War – the first of many times the countries would collaborate in military endeavors.

On his recent trip to Washington, DC, French President Emmanuel Macron attempted to use this history to reinforce the bilateral relationship today, potentially giving France more influence over US President Donald Trump’s unpredictable administration. But Macron’s affability and bonhomie cannot obscure the fact that the two countries are operating under very different circumstances than in the past, much less ensure any semblance of reliability from the Trump administration.

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During the Cold War, General Charles de Gaulle wanted France to serve as a bridge between the West and the East. This implied being a faithful US ally, in good times and in bad, while acting as something of a fair-weather friend to the Soviet Union and China.

Today, Macron wants France to serve as a bridge within the West: between the US and Europe. This might seem to be an easier task, given the two sides’ shared history and values. And, indeed, it is that history and those values that Macron attempted to invoke, as he established himself as a defender of liberal democracy and internationalism, with language and vision marked by American-style optimism.

Nor is this the first time a French president has acted like an American leader. But Nicolas Sarkozy – who literally coined for himself the nickname “Sarko the American” – was more eager to align himself with George W. Bush, especially when it came to foreign policy. Macron, by contrast, is espousing the values and adopting the rhetoric of Barack Obama.

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French President Emmanuel Macron criticizes Trump in his Address to US Congress

Neither has much in common with Trump, who, in the words of former FBI Director James Comey, acts more like a mafia boss than a US President, and seems utterly disinterested in sustaining US global leadership. The challenge ahead for Macron may thus turn out to be even more formidable than the one confronted by De Gaulle.

If Macron’s visit were a soccer game, it would have included some beautifully executed plays – such as Macron’s speech to the US Congress – before ending in a draw. Beneath the veneer of mutual affection on display in Washington, Macron’s visit was marked by deep disagreements, including over climate change and the Iran nuclear deal.

Macron’s declaration that “there is no Planet B” has not elicited any substantive move by Trump to rejoin the Paris climate agreement. And, despite the mention of a new, enlarged agreement with Iran, Trump continues to embrace the radical visions of his new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and national security adviser, John Bolton.

By establishing a friendly public rapport with Trump, Macron may even have put himself at risk. After all, it will not look good if Macron is closely aligned with a Trump who makes catastrophic strategic decisions or ends up in the jaws of the US justice system. Trump is simply too unpredictable for a close relationship with him to be anything other than a political liability.

If that closeness – those appeals to Trump’s vanity – were producing positive outcomes for along the way, Macron’s efforts might be worthwhile. But to flatter Trump is one thing; to obtain significant diplomatic and trade concessions from him is quite another. And Macron seems to have found success on only one of those fronts.

By establishing himself as a voice of reason, moderation, and responsibility, Macron tried to lay the groundwork for his emergence as a real agent of change. He does not want his legacy to comprise simply powerful speeches; he wants to tackle real issues affecting France, Europe, and the world. But it remains far from clear whether his tactics will work, particularly with regard to Trump.

The question is whether the alternative approach to Trump – the far less friendly, more businesslike approach of German Chancellor Angela Merkel – will produce better results. It seems unlikely, but when it comes to securing actual concessions, at least Merkel cannot do much worse.

GE-14: What is the Economic Agenda?


April 4, 2018

GE-14: What is the Economic Agenda?

by Dr.  Shankaran Nambiar (received via e-mail)

WHAT is at stake in the next general election? There are accusations and counter-accusations being traded. Scandals are being hung for all to see – on both sides of the divide.

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Can one expect a major shift in the economic policy framework? It is not certain if the next government is going to cut the size of the civil service. Or if we are going to have high quality state-financed healthcare as in Norway, Finland or the United Kingdom. Or if higher education is going to be entirely a public sector affair as in the UK or Australia.

It seems that the fundamental economic model is set and will not change. Nevertheless, all political parties are strongly convinced of the importance of free trade, regional integration and the role of foreign direct investment. The implementation and details will vary with each party.The devil, as usual, is in the details.

But there is no doubt that the country needs a clear agenda for economic progress. The principles guiding economic reform have to be re-visited and a framework will have to be designed.

One such list of priorities could be as follows:
» Rolling down government involvement in business
» Prioritising efficiency and the achievement of outcomes
» Creating adequate opportunities for all groups, particularly the disadvantaged
» Ensuring the economic neutrality of the country
» Affirming good governanceImage result for Malaysia in Troubled Times

From One Malaysia to Malaysia TN50–Quo Vadis, Malaysia

A little elaboration is in order. First, government participation in business cannot be ruled out. As economic theory suggests, government participation is necessary in areas that are not attractive to the private sector. The government’s involvement is usually welcome if security issues are at stake; or if the investment is risky but necessary for the public good.

The rationale for government-linked companies to invest in hospitals or private universities is a bit of a puzzle. Why should the government (even if indirectly) get in the business of healthcare and education when it should be supporting the provision of these services?

Second, the efficiency of the public sector has to be further upgraded. This includes public delivery systems (where there has been tremendous improvement in many areas) and it should also include public procurement and the decision-making on projects (particularly mega projects).

Third, the responsibility of the government should be to ensure the fair distribution of opportunities. Prioritising opportunities entirely on the basis of ethnicity can create inefficiencies. It can also de-incentivise targeted agents. People who have been selected to receive benefits can lose the motivation to maximise their performance.

Efficiency and the achievement of outcomes cannot be pushed aside. There is a debate in economics on outcomes versus opportunities. In practical terms, one cannot indefinitely defend creating an opportunity-rich environment with no regard for outcomes.

Fourth, good governance covers a range of issues including institutional integrity, the freedom to voice one’s opinions, being free from violence, transparency and zero tolerance for corruption.

The Rule of Law is a key pillar of good governance. It should stand above position, title, religious belief and political association.

Fifth, it is essential that Malaysia retain its independence and sovereignty.

Razeen Sally, a prominent academic and Sri Lanka observer, is known to have remarked at a conference that Sri Lanka should not become a vassal state of China. The same cautionary comment could be made in a different and perhaps a more general context. Malaysia should resist any attempt to reduce itself into being a vassal state of any superpower.

Politicians claim that Malaysia needs foreign direct investment and that it does not matter where this comes from. This is a naïve argument. There is a difference between an investment made for commercial reasons and one that is made so that a superpower can exert its sphere of influence.

A careful examination is necessary to decide on the economic viability of any foreign investment.

A set of criteria should be established to assess whether foreign investment should be accepted: the rates of return should be acceptable, the use of foreign labour should be allowed subject to need, there should be transfer of technology, and the terms on which loans are offered should not be unfavourable.

Malaysia has to remain economically and politically neutral, a state that is free to pursue its own agenda.If Malaysia is to be a star it needs to develop a more liberal culture in the economic and social spheres.

Dr Shankaran Nambiar is a senior research fellow at the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research. He is author of Malaysia in Troubled Times. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

An American Bull in Asia’s China Shop


November 14, 2017

An American Bull in Asia’s China Shop

By: Asia Sentinel editors

https://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/donald-trump-asia/

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The Donald Trump wrecking ball has now completed its swath across Asia, from Saudi Arabia to Japan. It began on May 20 when he chose Riyadh, the capital of the medieval kingdom and ground zero of Muslim extremism, as his first overseas visit after taking office and has ended with his now-concluded 12 day swing and his embrace of the Philippines’ murderous president Rodrigo Duterte. He took time out to outrage the US’s intelligence community by his fawning embrace of former KGB Colonel Vladimir Putin, who, wide-eyed, told Trump he had nothing to do with sabotaging the US election that brought Trump to power.

Thus far the results have been more dangerous in West Asia, where the young Saudi de facto ruler Prince Mohamed bin Salman has since embarked on confrontations with Iran in Yemen and now Lebanon, actions which appear to please few other than Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s expansionist government.

In east Asia on the other hand, the reaction to Trump has been to gasp at his gaffes and empty rhetoric and try to carry on as though he did not exist. So far the only damage has been to the US itself as it sees the policies of 70 years which have so benefited trade and prosperity in the US itself as well as much of Asia viewed as contrary to US interests. For Trump it appears that the only free trade he wants is ability to plant Trump Towers everywhere from Riyadh to Bali to Manila via Moscow.

The record of the President‘s Asian tour was indeed remarkable, leaving a string of Asian leaders agog at his superficiality. Shinzo Abe was suitably flattering and took him golfing. But the highlight of the visit was a meal which proved that the Donald had little taste for his host nation’s acclaimed foods but needed a large cheeseburger of US-produced beef and cheese to keep him going while Abe looked on, bemused. On trade issues, which he says are so important, nothing significant transpired, with the President focusing on the art of the deal across Asia rather than the structural reforms that the trade regime needs.

China did even better in flattering him with a display of pomp which would give credit to an ancient empire, with Xi Jinping as emperor – an emperor whose growing power is sending tremors throughout the rest of Asia.  But again Trump came home empty-handed on trade.  Promises of US$250 billion of imports to China may well be built on sand. Commercial sales announced totalled US$65 million, many involving goods that Chinese companies buy routinely. Others were merely memorandums of understanding.

A Chinese decision to ease foreign access to financial markets appears to have had no direct connection to the visit. Trump even undercut his own cause by suggesting that China’s huge trade surplus with the US was the fault of the system, not China itself, saying “I don’t blame China. Who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit.”

Instead, Trump blamed past American presidents. By definition this undermined demands of US businessmen for fairer treatment by China – treatment of the type which was the norm in most of its major trade partners. Legitimate US complaints could be ignored.

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His South Korea visit demonstrated just how much his violent rhetoric against North Korea, not to mention his attacks on trade pacts, had already so damaged relations that Seoul succumbed to Chinese economic and diplomatic pressures and agreed to limiting deployment of THAAD missiles.

On to Vietnam and, the APEC meeting in Da Nang showed just how far Trump was out of step with the attempts of the other nations on either side of the Pacific to forge closer economic links and reduce trade barriers. Meanwhile the remaining nine members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, following withdrawal of the US, humiliated Trump while he was in Asia by announcing the revival of the plan, albeit under a slightly altered name.

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If that wasn’t a huge slap in the face for the US from its major Asian allies, more derision was to follow.  Trump proclaimed himself a potential mediator in South China Sea disputes. Reactions ranged from open-mouthed amazement to guffaws of laughter. The only person who seemed to take it seriously was the Philippines’ neophyte foreign minister Alan Peter Cayetano who was quoted saying “We welcome that offer.”

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But at least for Trump he was now headed for the one country in the world where, according to recent surveys, he enjoys more positive than negative views. That certainly fits well in a nation which still gives high marks to President Duterte despite, or because of, a campaign of extrajudicial killings of thousands of supposed, mostly poor, drug users – or, too often – people who weren’t drug users at all, but infants as young as 3 who were murdered mistakenly by police.

Trump remained silent on that topic but meanwhile was able to share with Duterte their mutual disdain for President Obama.  This was certainly no way to win friends and influence people in the rest of Asia which has relatively very fond memories of the thoughtful and dignified former president.

Nor did Trump’s pals-act with Duterte make any dent in Duterte’s preference for Chinese money over asserting the rights in the sea accorded by the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

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The one plus, at least in some quarters, of the visit was Trump’s reference to the Indo-Pacific rather than Asia Pacific, bringing India into the regional equation. This was not in fact new. The phrase had been used by Obama and it accords with history in so far as Indian cultural and trade influence was long bigger than China’s in much of Southeast Asia.

 

But that for now is a sideshow as apparent battle lines are drawn between an east Asian focus on open trade and a Trumpian desire to tear up multilateral pacts in favor of bilateral deals. That would spell the death of US influence in the region. Most likely it will not happen because US business, military and bureaucracy are all more concerned with building US influence to counter China than retreating behind tariff walls. But meanwhile China is tempted to gloat and smaller Asian countries are reluctantly trimming their policies in response to US trade threats and general incoherence.

Mongolia’s Foreign Policy in a Precarious International Setting


October 5, 2017

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Number 399 | October 4, 2017

ANALYSIS

Mongolia’s Foreign Policy in a Precarious International Setting

By Mendee Jargalsaikhan

When global and regional orders change and  tensions among great powers intensify, small states face precarious circumstances. For states like Mongolia, contentious internal politics make skillful, professional management of foreign policy difficult. Mongolia started losing control of foreign policy mostly due to domestic political rivalries among politicians, factions, and parties.  At this moment of great uncertainty, every uncoordinated Mongolian foreign policy move is costly , because the country has little room for maneuvering among its great power neighbors. The situation has become more acute as President Putin has been seeking Chinese friendship since his invasion of the Crimea and as Mongolia’s fiscal situation has deteriorated, making the government financially dependent on Chinese goodwill.

From its democratic revolution in 1990, through the early 2010s, Mongolia became something of a “sweetheart” for Western democracy promoters, mining investors, and international investment bankers. The “scrappy democracy” stood out among post-socialist Asian countries for seemingly institutionalizing democracy through repeated elections and peaceful transitions of government. With the discovery of large coal, copper, and gold deposits in the early 2000s, Mongolia seemed to establish itself as a likely candidate for sustainable development based on natural resources. However, the fiscal profligacy of the mining boom years turned the Mongolian government into a debtor – likely delighting international lenders.

Image result for ulaanbaatar mongoliaGreat Chinggis Khan Square–Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Other international supporters have turned more doubtful on Mongolia’s trajectory.  While Mongolia has consolidated electoral democracy, the rule of law is still weak: well-formulated policies often remain aspirational rather than implemented, and awareness of endemic corruption has undermined trust in political institutions.  Mongolia has managed to secure several mining deals, but institutions are too weak to ensure the necessary stability to make long-term investment agreements pay off for investors and Mongolians alike. The country is in dire need of foreign loans to pay back sovereign debts. Despite these evident challenges neither of the two major political parties has abandoned patronage as a political principle or fought against practices that treat public office as an earnings opportunity.  Even though politicians have called for increased economic relations with OECD members to forge economic ties beyond its immediate neighbors, concrete steps toward intensified economic relations seem to become secondary to parochial interests.

Despite its continued reference to “third neighbors”, Mongolia has lost the trust and perhaps even the interest of distant great powers.  At the same time, these neighbors – particularly the United States, Germany, Japan, and India – have little ability to support Mongolia politically or economically.

This leaves Mongolian politicians to deal with the country’s powerful, populous geographical neighbors: China and Russia.  Mongolians continue to express an affinity towards Russia, but they equally fear a reassertion of the Kremlin’s control. The past 14 months have seen the landslide victory of the Mongolian People’s Party, which has close ties with President Putin’s party, in the 2016 parliamentary elections and the election of Democratic Party candidate Khaltmaagiin Battulga – a wealthy pro-Russian politician and former sambo wrestler – in the 2017 presidential election. Many Mongolians are hopeful that these leaders will develop closer ties with President Putin.  For the Kremlin, Mongolia may be a low priority in dealings with Beijing, compared to bilateral issues such as Central Asia or the Korean peninsula. The Kremlin has lost interest in Mongolia and cannot help the Mongolian government solve its own economic challenges.  Rather, Moscow might pressure Mongolia to support Russia in its crisis-ridden relations with the West, join in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), and delay major economic projects until Russian interests have been secured – demands which will not be supported in Mongolia.

For Chinese leaders, Mongolia is an important neighbor, which has intimate connections with its autonomous regions of Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang, and which causes no major headaches concerning border demarcation, migration, or ‘three evils’ (terrorism, separatism and religious extremism) unlike China’s other 14 immediate neighbors. Xi Jinping’s government has promoted Mongolia as an exemplary case for China’s treatment of its small neighbors and a potential beneficiary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). But, Mongolia’s connection with the Dalai Lama, and deep-seated anti-Chinese sentiments in Mongolia continue to exist. Unsurprisingly, Beijing briefly suspended all political talks with Mongolia in response to the Dalai Lama’s December 2016 visit. This fueled Mongolia’s fear of what economic dependence on Chinese goodwill might imply.

While some Asian third neighbors, most notably Japan and India, seem keen to leverage disagreements between Beijing and Ulaanbaatar for their own agendas, their support has mostly come through words, rather than through actions or investment. With limited alternatives, Mongolian leaders reach out to the IMF and the Kremlin for financial assistance when Chinese help becomes unavailable. Similarly, anti-Chinese political rhetoric has continued to be a useful strategy in winning domestic elections. Clearly, support for the Dalai Lama and anti-Chinese attitudes can be mobilized by populist politicians for their own political gains in the future. Unless politicians and diplomats handle these issues delicately, President Xi’s assertive China may tire of Mongolia, while Mongolia’s hopeful partners – Russia, Japan, and the US – would avoid worsening their relations with Beijing over Mongolia.

Mongolian diplomats need to disentangle foreign policy from domestic political competition. The successful conduct of its foreign policy since the 1990s resulted in settling all major issues with its two neighbors, establishing somewhat ideological links with the United States, OECD members, and India, and increased connections with the EU, OSCE, NATO, UN, and the ASEAN Regional Forum despite Mongolia’s “regionless” fate between two major powers. However, with the commodity boom, Mongolian politicians appear to be conducting their own separate foreign policies – all running to Berlin or Tokyo for political campaign photos and playing multiple roles with foreign investors within the four-year electoral cycle. Now, Mongolia is entering into a difficult situation where the patronage-ridden ruling party in parliament and the cabinet along with a newly-elected, populist president who advocates a pro-Russia policy have further weakened a merit-driven, unified foreign policy. The nexus between Mongolia’s domestic politics and precarious international situation is threatening to the country’s prosperity, stability and progress over the past two decades.

About the Author

Mendee Jargalsaikhan is a political science PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia. He can be contacted at mendee@alumni.ubc.ca.

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