Picking Up the Pieces After Hanoi


March 19, 2019

Picking Up the Pieces After Hanoi

by Richard N. Haass

The collapse of last month’s summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was perhaps the inevitable result of a process in which the two leaders dominated, optimistic about their personal relationship and confident in their abilities. The question is what to do now.

 

NEW YORK – When last month’s summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ended without a deal, the result was not surprising. One or both countries came to Hanoi with a misunderstanding of what was possible.

Image result for Hanoi failed

The United States maintained that North Korea wanted nearly all international sanctions lifted upfront and was not prepared to give up enough of its nuclear facilities to warrant doing so. North Korean officials explained that they were prepared to dismantle the country’s main facility, the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, “permanently and completely,” but only in exchange for a considerable reduction in existing sanctions.

The anticlimax in Hanoi was perhaps the inevitable result of a process in which the two leaders dominated, optimistic about their personal relationship and confident in their abilities. Senior officials and other staff members, who normally devote weeks and months to preparing for such summits, had but a limited role.

The question is what to do now. One option is to try to negotiate a compromise: either more dismantling of nuclear infrastructure in exchange for more sanctions relief, or less dismantling in exchange for less relief.

Although one of these approaches may prove possible, either outcome would be less than ideal. Simply agreeing to give up individual nuclear facilities is not the same as denuclearization. Indeed, it does not necessarily even get us closer to denuclearization, because facilities could be built or expanded as others are being dismantled. Precisely this currently seems to be occurring. Meanwhile, lifting sanctions removes the pressure on North Korea to take meaningful steps toward denuclearization.

So what are the alternatives? Using even limited military force risks escalation, a costly war from which no one would benefit, and a crisis in relations between the US and South Korea. And, given North Korea’s demonstrated resilience, existing or even additional sanctions alone are highly unlikely to be enough to coerce its leaders into abandoning their nuclear program.

Moreover, no matter how much pressure is brought to bear on North Korea, China and Russia will likely do whatever is necessary to ensure its survival, given their strategic interest in avoiding a reunified Korean Peninsula aligned with the US. Hopes that North Korea will collapse under its own weight are thus unrealistic.

Trump seems to harbor the equally unrealistic notion that North Korea will voluntarily give up its nuclear weapons in order to become the next Asian economic tiger. But while Kim wants sanctions relief, fundamental economic reform would threaten his tight grip on power, and giving up his nuclear weapons and missiles would make North Korea and himself vulnerable. He has taken note of what happened to Ukraine, which voluntarily relinquished its Soviet-era nuclear weapons in the early 1990s, as well as to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi.

The status quo, however, is no solution. The current testing moratorium could end; indeed, North Korea is threatening to resume tests and there is evidence it is reconstituting its principal missile-testing site. This may be a bid to encourage the US to show more flexibility, or the North may actually be preparing to restart testing – a step that would likely lead the US to resume large-scale military exercises with South Korea and push for new sanctions. Talks would likely be suspended; we would be back to where we were two years ago but with an overlay of recrimination and mistrust.

Even absent such developments, drift is not desirable. North Korea could use the passage of time to increase the number of nuclear weapons in its arsenal and make some improvements to its warheads and delivery systems without overt testing. There is a big difference between a North Korea armed with a handful of inefficient warheads and inaccurate missiles and one with dozens of advanced weapons that could be mounted on accurate long-range missile systems capable of reaching the US.

At this point, any realistic policy must begin with accepting the reality that complete and fully verifiable denuclearization is not a realistic prospect any time soon. It need not and should not be abandoned as a long-term goal, but it cannot dominate near-term policy. An all-or-nothing policy toward North Korea will result in nothing.

So it makes sense to explore a phased approach. In an initial phase, North Korea would agree to freeze not just the testing of its systems, but also the production of nuclear material, nuclear weapons, and long-range missiles. This would require the North Korean authorities to provide a detailed accounting (a so-called declaration) of the relevant facilities and agree to verification by international inspectors.

In exchange, North Korea would receive the sort of substantial sanctions relief it sought in Hanoi. There could also be an end to the state of war that has existed for the past seven decades, and liaison offices could be opened in Washington, DC, and Pyongyang. But full sanctions relief and diplomatic normalization would come only with full denuclearization.

This might well be too much for North Korea, arguably the world’s most closed society. If so, the bulk of the sanctions need to remain in place; they would be lifted only in proportion to any dismantling – and only so long as the world could be confident that North Korea was not developing new capabilities to replace those it was abandoning. The US could specify which sites, in addition to Yongbyon, need to be dismantled.

Even this less ambitious approach would likely prove extraordinarily difficult. But, given the high stakes and unattractive alternatives in dealing with North Korea, any viable route to a settlement that ensures long-term stability is worth pursuing.

ttps://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/dealing-with-north-korea-after-hanoi-summit-failure-by-richard-n–haass-2019-03

Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, previously served as Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department (2001-2003), and was President George W. Bush’s special envoy to Northern Ireland and Coordinator for the Future of Afghanistan. He is the author of A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.

Lessons from BREXIT


March 10, 2019

Lessons from BREXIT

European citizens need to learn from the Brexit impasse and apply those lessons ahead of and after the European Parliament election in May. That means embracing reforms that advance the three goals that lie at the heart of the European project.

 

PARIS – Never, since World War II, has Europe been as essential. Yet never has Europe been in so much danger. Brexit stands as the symbol of that. It symbolises the crisis of Europe, which has failed to respond to its peoples’ needs for protection from the major shocks of the modern world. It also symbolises the European trap. That trap is not one of being part of the European Union. The trap is in the lie and the irresponsibility that can destroy it.

Image result for BREXIT

Who told the British people the truth about their post-Brexit future? Who spoke to them about losing access to the European market? Who mentioned the risks to peace in Ireland of restoring the former border? Nationalist retrenchment offers nothing; it is rejection without an alternative. And this trap threatens the whole of Europe: the anger mongers, backed by fake news, promise anything and everything.

We have to stand firm, proud and lucid, in the face of this manipulation and say first of all what today’s united Europe is. It is a historic success: the reconciliation of a devastated continent in an unprecedented project of peace, prosperity and freedom. We should never forget that. And this project continues to protect us today. What country can act on its own in the face of aggressive strategies by the major powers? Who can claim to be sovereign, on their own, in the face of the digital giants?

How would we resist the crises of financial capitalism without the euro, which is a force for the entire European Union? Europe is also those thousands of projects daily that have changed the face of our regions: the school refurbished, the road built, and the long-awaited arrival of high-speed Internet access. This struggle is a daily commitment, because Europe, like peace, can never be taken for granted. I tirelessly pursue it in the name of France to take Europe forward and defend its model. We have shown that what we were told was unattainable, the creation of a European defence capability and the protection of social rights, was in fact possible.

Yet we need to do more and sooner, because there is the other trap: the trap of the status quo and resignation. Faced with the major crises in the world, citizens so often ask us, “Where is Europe? What is Europe doing?” It has become a soulless market in their eyes.

Yet Europe is not just a market. It is a project. A market is useful, but it should not detract from the need for borders that protect and values that unite. The nationalists are misguided when they claim to defend our identity by withdrawing from Europe, because it is the European civilisation that unites, frees and protects us. But those who would change nothing are also misguided, because they deny the fears felt by our peoples, the doubts that undermine our democracies. We are at a pivotal moment for our continent, a moment when together we need to politically and culturally reinvent the shape of our civilisation in a changing world. It is the moment for European renewal. Hence, resisting the temptation of isolation and divisions, I propose we build this renewal together around three ambitions: freedom, protection and progress.

Defend Our Freedom

The European model is based on the freedom of man and the diversity of opinions and creation. Our first freedom is democratic freedom: the freedom to choose our leaders as foreign powers seek to influence our vote at each election. I propose creating a European Agency for the Protection of Democracies, which will provide each member state with European experts to protect their election processes against cyber-attacks and manipulation. In this same spirit of independence, we should also ban the funding of European political parties by foreign powers. We should have European rules banish all incitements to hate and violence from the Internet, since respect for the individual is the bedrock of our civilisation of dignity.

Protect Our Continent

Founded on internal reconciliation, the EU has forgotten to look at the realities of the world. Yet no community can create a sense of belonging if it does not have bounds that it protects. The boundary is freedom in security. We therefore need to rethink the Schengen area: all those who want to be part of it should comply with obligations of responsibility (stringent border controls) and solidarity (one asylum policy with the same acceptance and refusal rules). We will need a common border force and a European asylum office, strict control obligations and European solidarity to which each country will contribute under the authority of a European Council for Internal Security. On the issue of migration, I believe in a Europe that protects both its values and its borders.

The same standards should apply to defence. Substantial progress has been made in the last two years, but we need to set a clear course: a treaty on defence and security should define our fundamental obligations in association with NATO and our European allies: increased defence spending, a truly operational mutual defence clause, and the European Security Council with the United Kingdom on board to prepare our collective decisions.

Our borders also need to guarantee fair competition. What power in the world would accept continued trade with those who respect none of their rules? We cannot suffer in silence. We need to reform our competition policy and reshape our trade policy with penalties or a ban in Europe on businesses that compromise our strategic interests and fundamental values such as environmental standards, data protection and fair payment of taxes; and the adoption of European preference in strategic industries and our public procurement, as our American and Chinese competitors do.

Recover the Spirit of Progress

Europe is not a second-rank power. Europe in its entirety is a vanguard: it has always defined the standards of progress. In this, it needs to drive forward a project of convergence rather than competition: Europe, where social security was created, needs to introduce a social shield for all workers, east to west and north to south, guaranteeing the same pay in the same workplace, and a minimum European wage appropriate to each country and discussed collectively every year.

Getting back on track with progress also concerns spearheading the ecological cause. Will we be able to look our children in the eye if we do not also clear our climate debt? The EU needs to set its target – zero carbon by 2050 and pesticides halved by 2025 – and adapt its policies accordingly with such measures as a European Climate Bank to finance the ecological transition, a European food safety force to improve our food controls and, to counter the lobby threat, independent scientific assessment of substances hazardous to the environment and health. This imperative needs to guide all our action: from the European Central Bank to the European Commission, from the European budget to the Investment Plan for Europe.  All our institutions need to have the climate as their mandate.

Progress and freedom are about being able to live from your work: Europe needs to look ahead to create jobs. This is why it needs not only to regulate the global digital giants by putting in place European supervision of the major platforms (prompt penalties for unfair competition, transparent algorithms, etc.), but also to finance innovation by giving the new European Innovation Council a budget on a par with the United States in order to spearhead new technological breakthroughs such as artificial intelligence.

A world-oriented Europe needs to look towards Africa

A world-oriented Europe needs to look towards Africa, with which we should enter into a covenant for the future, taking the same road and ambitiously and non-defensively supporting African development with such measures as investment, academic partnerships and education for girls.

Freedom, protection and progress. We need to build European renewal on these pillars. We cannot let nationalists without solutions exploit the people’s anger. We cannot sleepwalk through a diminished Europe. We cannot become ensconced in business as usual and wishful thinking. European humanism demands action. And everywhere, the people are standing up to be part of that change.

So, by the end of the year, let’s set up, with the representatives of the European institutions and the member states, a Conference for Europe in order to propose all the changes our political project needs, with an open mind, even to amending the treaties. This conference will need to engage with citizens’ panels and hear academics, business and labour representatives, and religious and spiritual leaders. It will define a roadmap for the EU that translates these key priorities into concrete actions. There will be disagreement, but is it better to have a static Europe or a Europe that advances, sometimes at different paces, and that is open to all?

In this Europe, the peoples will really take back control of their future. In this Europe, the United Kingdom, I am sure, will find its true place.

The Brexit impasse is a lesson for us all. We need to escape this trap and make the upcoming European Parliament elections and our project meaningful. It is for Europe’s citizens to decide whether Europe and the values of progress that it embodies are to be more than just a passing episode in history. This is the choice I propose: to chart together the road to European renewal.

Image result for Macron

 

Emmanuel Macron is President of France.

Why Economics Must Get Broader Before It Gets Better


March 9, 2019

Why Economics Must Get Broader Before It Gets Better

By

Even as the public’s skepticism toward their profession has grown, economists have continued to ignore increasingly obvious flaws in their analytical frameworks. A discipline long dominated by “high priests” must now adopt a more open mindset, or risk becoming irrelevant.

Image result for economists have failed

L-R: Stigltz- Hayek- Sowell-Keynes- Sen-Schwartz-Sachs- Friedman

NEW YORK – The economics profession took a beating after most of its leading practitioners failed to predict the 2008 global financial crisis, and it has been struggling to recover ever since. Not only were the years following the crash marked by unusually low, unequal growth; now we are witnessing a growing list of economic and financial phenomena that economists cannot readily explain.

Like Queen Elizabeth II, who famously asked in November 2008 why nobody had seen the crisis coming, many citizens have grown increasingly skeptical of economists’ ability to explain and predict economic developments, let alone offer sound guidance to policymakers. Some surveys rank economists among the least trusted professionals (after politicians, of course, whose trust economists have also lost).

A solid economic training is no longer regarded as a must-have for candidates for top positions in finance ministries and central banks. This marginalization has further weakened economists’ ability to inform and influence decision-making on issues that relate directly to their expertise (or what they would call their comparative and absolute advantage).

The profession owes its deteriorating reputation largely to excessive reliance on its own self-imposed orthodoxies. With more openness to interdisciplinary approaches and the broader use of existing analytical tools, particularly those offered by behavioral science and game theory, mainstream economics could start to overcome its shortcomings.Three recent developments underscore the urgency of this challenge. In the 12 months between the World Economic Forum’s 2018 and 2019 in Davos, those in attendance went from celebrating a synchronized global growth pickup to worrying about a synchronized . Notwithstanding the , neither the extent nor the speed of the change in consensus seems warranted by economic and financial developments, which suggests that economists may have misdiagnosed the initial conditions.

A second area of concern is monetary policy. Professional economists still have not spoken up clearly enough about the challenges facing the US Federal Reserve’s communication strategy, despite the fact that even slight misfires, such as occurred in the fourth quarter of last year, can trigger severe bouts of financial instability that threaten growth. Instead, they have simply continued to embrace the contemporary view that greater Fed transparency is always a good thing.

We have come a long way since the era of former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan’s “Fedspeak” (or, as he put it, “mumbling with great incoherence”). But that raises a new problem: illusionary precision. The Fed now follows every policy meeting with a release of statements, minutes, transcripts, blue-dot plots, and a press conference, signaling to markets a level of sophistication that is scarcely realistic in a world of fluidity and heightened uncertainty.

Rather than simply going along with the view that more is better, economists should be urging the Fed to adopt an approach more like that of the Bank of England, which emphasizes scenario analyses and fan charts. Economists could also be doing more to inform – and perhaps even influence – the Fed’s ongoing review of its policy frameworks and communications strategy. After all, the economics literature on asymmetrical information suggests that greater input from economists outside of the Fed is both appropriate and necessary for ensuring an optimal policy outcome.

A third area of concern is the Sino-American trade conflict, which is more controversial, owing to its political nature. So far, the vast majority of economists have trotted out the conventional argument that tariffs (real or threatened) are always bad for everyone. In doing so, they have ignored work from their own profession showing how the promised benefits of trade, while substantial, can be undermined by market and institutional imperfections. Those who wanted to make a productive contribution to the debate should have taken a more nuanced approach, applying to distinguish between the “what” and the “how” of trade warfare.

These are just three recent examples of how economists have dropped the ball. In addition, economists are struggling to explain recent productivity developments, the implications of rising inequality, the impact of persistently negative interest rates in the euro-zone, the longer-term effects of other unconventional monetary policy measures (amplified by the European Central Bank’s latest policy pivot), and the sudden slowdown in European growth. They also failed to foresee the Brexit saga and the political explosion of anger and alienation across the West in general.

None of this is a huge surprise, given the profession’s embrace of simplistic theoretical assumptions and excessive reliance on mathematical techniques that prize elegance over real-world applicability. Mainstream economics has placed far too much analytical emphasis on the equilibrium condition, while largely ignoring the importance of transitions and tipping points, not to mention multiple-equilibria scenarios. And the profession has routinely failed to account adequately for financial links, behavioral-science insights, and rapidly evolving secular and structural forces such as technological innovation, climate change, and the rise of China.

All of this should tell economists that there is plenty of room for improvement, and that they need to expand the scope of their analysis to take into account human interactions, distributional effects, financial-economic feedback mechanisms, and technological change. But this cannot just be about devising new analytical models within the field; economists also must incorporate insights from other disciplines that the profession has overlooked.

A discipline long dominated by “high priests” must now adopt a more open mindset. That means acknowledging and addressing unconscious biases, not least by making a concerted effort to improve inclusion and diversity within the field. It also means focusing more on inter-disciplinary approaches and distributional effects, and less on the purity of mathematical models, average conditions, and just the belly of distributions. Such structural changes will require more and better intellectual and institutional “safe zones,” so that analytical disruptions can be managed and channeled in productive directions.

Without significant adjustments, mainstream economics will remain two steps behind changing realities on the ground, and economists will be risking a further loss of credibility and influence. In an era of concern about climate change, political upheavals, and technological disruption, the shortcomings of mainstream economics must be addressed posthaste.

 

  • Rick Puglisi  

 

  • Michael Public  
  • Mike Robinson  

 

Will Trump Win a Second Term?


March 8, 2019

Will Trump Win a Second Term?

ttps://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/how-trump-wins-second-term-in-2020-by-elizabeth-drew-2019-03

 

 

Logic would suggest that US President Donald Trump can’t make it through a reelection fight: his base is too small, and he’s done next to nothing to expand it. But Trump’s success at solidifying his base could be his salvation in 2020.

 

WASHINGTON, DC – It seems that every time I write about Donald Trump’s presidency, I pronounce it to be in more trouble than ever. This time is no different: he and his presidency are indeed in more trouble than ever. And yet that may not prevent him from winning again in 2020.

The Burn and the Smart Elizabeth

I used to think Trump might not even finish his first term, much less get a second. Now I’m agnostic. For one thing, the US Justice Department’s questionable view that a sitting president can’t be indicted is an inducement to fight to stay in office. Logic would suggest that Trump can’t make it through a reelection fight: his base, an estimated 35-38% of voters, is too small, and he’s done next to nothing to expand it. And while he has governed for the base, he’s failed to fulfill many of his promises. But logic isn’t a trademark of the Trump Presidency.

Much of Trump’s base is quite satisfied that he’s named two very conservative justices to the Supreme Court, that he’s rolled back regulations on various industries, and that businesses and the wealthy got their tax cut. But business tycoons and the wealthy don’t attend his rallies and cheer his every utterance. Those who do tend to be middle- and lower-middle class voters, to whom he has delivered little other than the satisfaction of yelling at mentions of Democrats and chanting – still – “Lock her up!” even though their target, Trump’s 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton, has said that she won’t run again in 2020.

Trump is America’s first cult President. His followers delight in his insouciance toward the norms of political behavior, his dismissal of “political correctness,” and his skill at taking down opponents (like mocking the ultra-liberal Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, who has claimed native-American heritage, with the sobriquet “Pocahontas”). He skates on the edge of incitement and governs on the edge of danger. His disparaging of the press – a fanatic Trump supporter roughed up a BBC cameraman at a recent rally – satisfies his followers’ suspicion of “elites,” while helping him create a fact-free environment in which his thousands of lies define an alternate reality. His invention of a “national emergency” on the US-Mexico border channels his base’s bigotry (plus his own) and supposedly justifies an unprecedented presidential power grab (bipartisan majorities in Congress don’t agree).

Trump’s success at solidifying his base could be his salvation in 2020 if the Democratic nomination process doesn’t produce a strong enough opponent or ends in hostility. And, though Trump appears to have committed several impeachable offenses – accepting “emoluments,” or gifts or income from foreign sources, and obstructing justice, among others – the Democrats are reluctant to be seen as seeking his removal from office, owing to the fierce opposition of Trump’s base. (Fanatic Trump supporters have threatened literal civil war if their hero is impeached or convicted.) Leading Democrats say that they won’t begin impeachment – or a vote in the House to indict a president on specific grounds – without bipartisan support.

This could be a circular trap: it took some time for any Republicans to accept the possibility that Richard Nixon should be forced to leave office, and Trump’s base is both larger and more institutionalized (through Fox News, among other pillars). By launching a broad investigation of Trump’s private and public actions – the House Judiciary Committee (which has jurisdiction over impeachment) this week sent out 81 demands for more information – congressional Democrats are actually trying to prepare for impeachment. If this doesn’t succeed, the theory goes, they will at least have damaged Trump’s reelection prospects. It would also be useful in case Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s anticipated report does not offer anything helpful. (No one outside that investigation has a clue as to what Mueller has found.)

With an overcrowded field of democrat presidential hopefuls, he may be in The White House beyond 2020.Will he be impeached? That’s the Question to ask.

Some of the figures now called before the committee were suggested by Trump’s former consigliere, Michael Cohen, who, in his own recent open testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, called his former boss a racist, a con man, and a cheat. (Apparently he had also been helpful to the Democrats in closed testimony before the Intelligence Committee.)

Although the oversight committee’s Republican members portrayed Cohen as untrustworthy because he’d been convicted of lying to Congress and will soon go to jail, they noticeably didn’t defend Trump. (Cohen had essentially lied to defend Trump, with his encouragement.) He also offered some evidence and anecdotes that could prove highly problematic for Trump – for example, by suggesting that Trump knew in advance about the first WikiLeaks dump of Democratic Party emails and about the infamous meeting in Trump Tower between top Trump aides and Russian operatives. In the end, a poll showed the public believes Cohen over Trump by 50% to 35%.

There has already been conflict between the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and the White House over the former’s demand for information on why intelligence officials denied Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the high security clearance he needed to carry out some diplomatic tasks – and why they were overruled by the president, a highly unusual (though legal) act. Kushner is suspected of using his public position to advance his private interests, namely raising funds for his family’s real-estate business. More recently, it was revealed that the president ordered that his daughter Ivanka also be given clearance, though this is not required for her job, whatever it is. These are among the wages of Trump running the White House as a family business and of his indifference toward governance norms.

So was the failure of Trump’s meeting in Hanoi with the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. The collapse of the talks on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula was the result of Trump and his aides not preparing adequately – such agreements are often pre-cooked, or at least there are no great surprises – and of Trump’s assumption that his powerful personality and what he sees as a close relationship with the brutal Kim would carry the day.

The failure of the Hanoi summit was to some extent offset by relief that Trump hadn’t given too much away – though he had been on the path to doing so. True to form, Trump and his aides blamed the outcome on the Democrats for holding the Cohen hearing on the same day. And, true to form, they were lying: the hearing date had been set first.

Elizabeth Drew is a Washington-based journalist and the author, most recently, of Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon’s Downfall.

Brexit Is Hell


March 7,2019

Brexit Is Hell

Over time, public conceptions of hell have migrated from the realm of religious belief to that of literature and political aphorism. And nowhere is the idea of eternal damnation as punishment for one’s own choices more appropriate than in the case of the United Kingdom as it hurdles toward the Brexit abyss.

 

PRINCETON – European Council President Donald Tusk recently sparked controversy by saying there is a “special place in hell” for those who advocated Brexit “without a plan.” To angry Brexiteers, the statement epitomizes the unfeeling, moralistic attitude of the European Union technocracy in Brussels. British Prime Minister Theresa May duly issued a statement rebuking Tusk for his remark.

But May’s response scarcely matters. She has already extended her deadline for holding a “meaningful vote” on an EU-exit deal, effectively confirming that she will remain bereft of a plan until the final moments. At this rate, the delays and extensions of Brexit deadlines might well continue indefinitely.

Tusk’s great offense was to offer a banal and universal truth. Whether you are in London, Washington, DC, or anywhere else, it is never advisable to enter into a negotiation without clear objectives and a sense of how the other side will respond. Hence, throughout history, statesmen such as Otto von Bismarck have regarded diplomacy as a chess game. As Bismarck well knew, it is not enough just to move pieces around; one must also anticipate what will come next.

As for the theological language in Tusk’s indictment, one could argue that it is perfectly appropriate for politicians in a largely secularized Europe to speak of hell. After all, even many Christian clergy have moved beyond belief in an afterlife of perpetual damnation. And the Anglican Church abandoned the idea of purgatory back in the sixteenth century, with the .

In Christopher Marlowe’s classic play Doctor Faustus (1592), the title character asks Mephistopheles what a demon is doing in his study instead of in hell. “Why, this is hell,” replies Mephistopheles, “nor am I out of it.” Equally all-encompassing was the atheist Jean-Paul Sartre’s own conception: “Hell is other people.”

What hell implies in a modern political context is open to debate, at least until we have a twenty-first-century Dante to offer a comprehensive eschatology and a new map to the Inferno. In view of former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’ defense of Hillary Clinton’s flawed 2016 presidential bid, for example, hell is the final destination for “women who don’t help each other.” Presumably, Albright did not mean that the 42% of women voters who backed Trump have a fiery future in store for them.

Meanwhile, some Italian journalists have alleged, erroneously, that even Pope Francis has dispensed with the notion of hell. In reality, he has put hell at the center of his vision of humanity. Francis reminds us that hell originally derived from a rebellious angel’s arrogance, or superbia. A vice deeply embedded in the human psyche, arrogance is the act of telling God, “You take care of yourself because I’ll take care of myself,” Francis explained in 2015. Accordingly, “They don’t send you to hell, you go there because you choose to be there.”

Image result for theresa may brexit

Brexit represents precisely this course. If hell is thinking that you do not need others, and that you need only look out for yourself, then the Brexiteers are already there. Those who believe only in themselves see no need to negotiate, because they assume the other side will simply bend to their will.

But in international relations, the assumption that one can regulate everything by oneself creates a hell that others have to live in, too. Hell, in this sense, is what happens when people succumb to the lure of self-determination and “sovereignty,” creating a self-perpetuating cycle of strained relationships and mutually destructive unilateralism. This version of hell tends to last quite a long time indeed, because each side has its own selective memory and wants to punish the other.

While the assertion of sovereignty seems to conjure endless new possibilities, as it clearly has for the Brexiteers, it actually constrains one’s choices. Those who renounce treaties, for example, invite others to do the same, whereupon it becomes all the more difficult to forge any kind of agreement at all. And those who have convinced themselves that they can choose freely among endless unrealized opportunities tend to live in constant regret of what might have been. This is the trap laid by hubris.

Thus, like Tantalus forever grasping at the fruit that is just beyond his reach, the United Kingdom wants to pursue trade deals that its membership in the EU otherwise precludes. Left unsaid is what that would mean in practice. The UK could aim to maximize prosperity by pushing deregulation as far as possible. Yet to trade profitably with other countries or the EU, it would still have to meet their regulatory standards regarding safety, quality, and so forth. Moreover, outside the EU’s regulatory framework, Britain’s newfound freedom would also imply new responsibilities to introduce regulations protecting UK residents.

The real question, then, is whether escape is even possible. If May wanted to be bold, she could issue the following statement: “Brexit is a terrible mistake. The decision was reached after a campaign of lies and malign foreign influence, and it is obvious that its costs will far exceed its benefits. As such, my government has decided not to pursue it any further. Instead, we will commit to working with the EU to address British concerns and prepare for an unpredictable future.”

Such a statement is of course impossible, because May has already paid the ferryman through her previous choices. What awaits her and the UK is more punishment. First, the dismal reality on the ground will be exposed, and it will stand in shocking contrast to what might have been. Then, someone will have to be held responsible. But assigning blame is a punishment in itself. In Dante’s telling, the adulteress Francesca da Rimini spends the rest of eternity incessantly pinning the blame for her actions on everyone and everything but herself.

Brexit augurs a similar national fate. The debates in Westminster and Whitehall show no sign of ever ending, and it is becoming increasingly obvious why: Brexit is eternal damnation.

 

 

The AI Road to Serfdom?


February 23, 2019

The AI Road to Serfdom?

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/automation-may-not-boost-worker-income-by-robert-skidelsky-2019-02

man robot

Estimates of job losses in the near future due to automation range from 9% to 47%, and jobs themselves are becoming ever more precarious. Should we trust the conventional economic narrative according to which machines inevitably raise workers’ living standards?

Estimates of job losses in the near future due to automation range from 9% to 47%, and jobs themselves are becoming ever more precarious. Yet automation also promises relief from most forms of enforced work, bringing closer to reality Aristotle’s extraordinary prediction that all needed work would one day be carried out by “mechanical slaves,” leaving humans free to live the “good life.” So the age-old question arises again: are machines a threat to humans or a means of emancipating them?

In principle, there need be no contradiction. Automating part of human labor should enable people to work less for more pay, as has been happening since the Industrial Revolution. Hours of work have fallen and real incomes have risen, even as the world’s population increased sevenfold, thanks to the increased productivity of machine-enhanced labor. In rich countries, productivity – output per hour worked – is 25 times higher than it was in 1831. The world has become steadily wealthier with fewer man-hours of work needed to produce that wealth.

Why should this benign process not continue? Where is the serpent in the garden? Most economists would say it is imaginary. People, like novice chess players, see only the first move, not the consequences of it. The first move is that workers in a particular sector are replaced by machines, like the Luddite weavers who lost their jobs to power looms in the nineteenth century. In David Ricardo’s chilling phrase, they become “redundant”.

.But what happens next? The price of clothes falls, because more can be produced at the same cost. So people can buy more clothes, and a greater variety of clothes, as well as other items they could not have afforded before. Jobs are created to meet the shift in demand, replacing the original jobs lost, and if productivity growth continues, hours of work can fall as well.

Notice that, in this rosy scenario, no trade unions, minimum wages, job protections, or schemes of redistribution are needed to raise workers’ real (inflation-adjusted) income. Rising wages are an automatic effect of the fall in the cost of goods. Provided there is no downward pressure on money wages from increased competition for work, the automatic effect of technological innovation is to raise the standard of living.

This is the famous argument of Friedrich Hayek against any attempt by governments or central banks to stabilize the price level. In any technologically progressive economy, prices should fall except in a few niche markets. Businessmen don’t need low inflation to expand production. They need only the prospect of more sales. “Dearness” of goods is a sign of technological stagnation.

But our chess novice raises two important questions: “If automation is not confined to a single industry, but spreads to others, won’t more and more jobs become redundant? And won’t the increased competition for the remaining jobs force down pay, offsetting and even reversing the gains from cheapness?”

Human beings, the economist replies, will not be replaced, but complemented. Automated systems, whether or not in robot form, will enhance, not destroy, the value of human work, just as a human plus a good computer can still beat the best computer at chess. Of course, humans will have to be “up-skilled.” This will take time, and it will need to be continuous. But once up-skilling is in train, there is no reason to expect any net loss of jobs. And because the value of the jobs will have been enhanced, real incomes will continue to rise. Rather than fearing the machines, humans should relax and enjoy the ride to a glorious future.

Besides, the economist will add, machines cannot replace many jobs requiring person-to-person contact, physical dexterity, or non-routine decision-making, at least not any time soon. So there will always be a place for humans in any future pattern of work.

Ignore for a moment, the horrendous costs involved in this wholesale re-direction of human work. The question is which jobs are most at risk in which sectors. According to MIT economist David Autor, automation will substitute for more routinized occupations and complement high-skill, non-routine jobs. Whereas the effects on low-skill jobs will remain relatively unaffected, medium-skill jobs will gradually disappear, while demand for high-skill jobs will rise. “Lovely jobs” at the top and “lousy jobs” at the bottom, as LSE economists Maarten Goos and Alan Manning described it. The frontier of technology stops at what is irreducibly human.

But a future patterned along the lines suggested by Autor has a disturbingly dystopian implication. It is easy to see why lovely human jobs will remain and become even more prized. Exceptional talent will always command a premium. But is it true that lousy jobs will be confined to those with minimal skills? How long will it take those headed for redundancy to up-skill sufficiently to complement the ever-improving machines? And, pending their up-skilling, won’t they swell the competition for lousy jobs? How many generations will have to be sacrificed to fulfil the promise of automation? Science fiction has raced ahead of economic analysis to imagine a future in which a tiny minority of rich rentiers enjoy the almost unlimited services of a minimally-paid majority.

The optimist says: leave it to the market to forge a new, superior equilibrium, as it always has. The pessimist says: without collective action to control the pace and type of innovation, a new serfdom beckons. But while the need for policy intervention to channel automation to human advantage is beyond question, the real serpent in the garden is philosophical and ethical blindness. “A society can be said to be decadent,” wrote the Czech philosopher Jan Patočka, “if it so functions as to encourage a decadent life, a life addicted to what is inhuman by its very nature.”

It is not human jobs that are at risk from the rise of the robots. It is humanity itself.

Image result for Robert Skidelsky,

Robert Skidelsky, Professor Emeritus of Political Economy at Warwick University and a fellow of the British Academy in history and economics, is a member of the British House of Lords. The author of a three-volume biography of John Maynard Keynes, he began his political career in the Labour party, became the Conservative Party’s spokesman for Treasury affairs in the House of Lords, and was eventually forced out of the Conservative Party for his opposition to NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999.