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.”

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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.

Reflections on Achieving the Global Education Goals


February 15, 2019

Reflections on Achieving the Global Education Goals

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In today’s deeply interconnected world, the benefits of strong and inclusive education systems are far-reaching. A quality education gives people the knowledge they need to recognize the importance of safeguarding the planet’s finite resources, appreciate diversity and resist intolerance, and act as informed global citizens.

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NEW YORK – Throughout my life, I have seen the power of education. I have witnessed how quality education for all can support the creation of dynamic economies and help to sustain peace, prosperity, and stability. I have also observed how education instills in individuals, no matter their circumstances, a strong sense of self, as well as confidence in their place in the world and their future prospects.

We know that each additional year of schooling raises average annual GDP growth by 0.37%, while increasing an individual’s earnings by up to 10%. If every girl worldwide received 12 years of quality education, lifetime earnings for women could double, reaching $30 trillion. And if all girls and boys completed secondary education, an estimated 420 million people could be lifted out of poverty. According to a 2018 World Bank report, universal secondary education could even eliminate child marriage.

In today’s deeply interconnected world, the benefits of strong and inclusive education systems extend even further. Education gives people the knowledge they need to recognize the importance of safeguarding the planet’s finite resources, appreciate diversity and resist intolerance, and act as informed global citizens.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals, created in 2000 to guide global development over the subsequent 15 years, gave new impetus to efforts to ensure education for all. From 2000 to 2015, primary-school enrolment in the developing world rose from 83% to 91%, reducing the number of out-of-school primary-school-age children from 100 million to 57 million. Moreover, from 1990 to 2015, the global literacy rate among people aged 15 to 24 increased from 83% to 91%, with the gap between men and women declining substantially.

But much remains to be done. Globally, at least 263 million children were out of school in 2016. This includes half of all children with disabilities in developing countries. Furthermore, half of all children of preschool-age – the most crucial years for their cognitive development – are not enrolled in early-childhood education.

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The situation deteriorates further in conflict zones, where girls are almost two and a half times as likely to be out of school as their peers in stable countries. And this does not cover the estimated 617 million children and adolescents of primary and lower-secondary-school age – 58% of that age group – who are not achieving minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics.

To help close these gaps, the successor to the MDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals, also emphasizes education. SDG4 commits the world to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all – essentially to harness the power of education to unlock every person’s potential. Despite the scale of the challenge and the diverse barriers that can restrict and disrupt learning, we know what an effective strategy would entail.

First, to be a true force for change, education itself must be transformed in response to the realities of accelerating globalization, climate change and labor market shifts. While advanced technologies – such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and blockchain – raise new challenges, they may be able to play a role in improving educational outcomes. Digital skills must be part of any curriculum, and new alliances with the tech sector – which can provide valuable insights into these topics – should be actively pursued.

Second, an inclusive and lifelong approach, focused on reaching the most marginalized and vulnerable populations, is essential. As UNICEF’s Innocenti Report Card 15 shows, this does not mean sacrificing high standards. In fact, as the report points out, children of all backgrounds tend to do better when they are in a more socially integrated school environment. Such an inclusive approach will require sharing best practices and investing in what is proven to work. Meanwhile, development partners must provide long-term support that emphasizes capacity-building and institutions, and balances humanitarian, economic, and security imperatives.

For education systems and services to be truly inclusive, however, they must also leave no one behind, such as refugees. UNESCO’s latest Global Monitoring Report estimates that refugees have missed 1.5 billion school days since 2016. While eight of the top ten hosting countries, including several low- and middle-income countries, have shouldered considerable costs despite the strain on education systems to ensure that refugees attend school alongside nationals, most countries either exclude refugees from national education systems or assign them to separate facilities. This entrenches disadvantage and hampers social integration. The two landmark global compacts on migration and refugees adopted by UN member states last December point the way toward addressing this challenge.

Achieving the needed educational transformation will require far more financing than is currently on offer. As it stands, the global annual funding gap for education amounts to nearly $40 billion. Closing this gap will require not just increased domestic financing, but also a renewed commitment from international donors.

Everyone has the right to an education. Upholding this right – and achieving SDG4 – will require well-designed strategies, coupled with a prolonged commitment to implementation and effective cooperation among all relevant stakeholders. The UN and its agencies will continue to support such actions, as we strive to ensure that no one is left behind.

 

 

Trump, Macron, and the Poverty of Liberalism


January 24, 2019trump macron

Trump, Macron, and the Poverty of Liberalism

by

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/trump-macron-inequality-and-trust-by-kishore-mahbubani-2019-01

If liberals want to defeat populists, there is only one route: regain the trust of the voters that form much of their base. The choice for liberals is clear: they can feel good by condemning their opponents, or they can do good by attacking the elite interests that have contributed to their opponents’ success

 

DAVOS – No Western liberal would disagree that Donald Trump’s election was a disaster for American society, while that of Emmanuel Macron was a triumph for French society. In fact, the opposite may well be true, as heretical as that sounds

.The first question to ask is why people are engaged in violent street protests in Paris, but not in Washington, DC. I have personally experienced these Paris protests, and the smell of tear gas on the Champs-Élysées reminded me of the ethnic riots I experienced in Singapore in 1964. And why are the protesting? For many, at least initially, it is because they didn’t believe that Macron cared for or understood their plight.

Macron is trying to implement sensible macroeconomic reform. The proposed increases in taxes on diesel fuel would have reduced France’s budget deficits and helped lower its carbon dioxide emissions. His hope was that a stronger fiscal position would increase confidence and investment in the French economy so that the bottom 50% of society would eventually benefit. But for people to endure short-term pain for long-term gain, they must trust their leader. And Macron, it appears, has lost the trust of much of that bottom 50%.

By contrast, Trump retains the trust and confidence of the bottom half of US society, or at least the white portion of it. At first sight, this seems strange and paradoxical: the billionaire Trump is socially much further from the bottom 50% than the middle-class Macron is. But when Trump attacks the liberal and conservative US establishments, he is seen as venting the anger of the less well-off toward an elite that has ignored their plight. His election may, therefore, have had a cathartic effect on the bottom 50%, which may explain the lack of street protests in Washington or other major American cities.

And these Americans have much to be angry about. Most tellingly, the United States is the only major developed society where the average income of the bottom half has not just stagnated but declined markedly, as Danny Quah of the National University of Singapore has documented. Even more shockingly, the average income of the top 1% was 138 times that of the bottom 50% in 2010, up from 41 times higher in 1980.By contrast, Trump retains the trust and confidence of the bottom half of US society, or at least the white portion of it. At first sight, this seems strange and paradoxical: the billionaire Trump is socially much further from the bottom 50% than the middle-class Macron is. But when Trump attacks the liberal and conservative US establishments, he is seen as venting the anger of the less well-off toward an elite that has ignored their plight. His election may, therefore, have had a cathartic effect on the bottom 50%, which may explain the lack of street protests in Washington or other major American cities.

And these Americans have much to be angry about. Most tellingly, the United States is the only major developed society where the average income of the bottom half has not just stagnated but declined markedly, as Danny Quah of the National University of Singapore has documented. Even more shockingly, the average income of the top 1% was 138 times that of the bottom 50% in 2010, up from 41 times higher in 1980.

There is no single explanation for why inequality in the US has rocketed while the economic interests of the bottom 50% have been ignored. But we can obtain at least a partial answer by looking at the two principles of justice that Harvard philosopher John Rawls articulated in his famous book A Theory of Justice. The first principle emphasizes that each person should have “an equal right to the most extensive liberty,” while the second says that social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are to “everyone’s advantage.”

The undeniable fact is that Western liberals have emphasized the first principle over the second in both theory and practice, prioritizing individual liberty and worrying far less about inequality. They believe that as long as elections take place and people can vote freely and equally, this is a sufficient condition for social stability. It follows, therefore, that those who fail economically do so because of personal incompetence, not social conditions.

Yet there was no doubt when China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 that “creative destruction” in developed economies would follow, entailing millions of job losses. These economies’ elites – whether in the US, France, or elsewhere – had a responsibility to help those who were losing their jobs. But no such help was forthcoming.

For this reason, liberals may have made a strategic mistake by focusing their anger on Trump himself. Instead, they should ask themselves why much of the bottom 50% trusts him (and may yet re-elect him). And if they were honest, liberals would admit that they have effectively let the bottom half of society down.

If liberals want to defeat Trump, there is only one route: regain the trust of the voters that form much of his base. This will require them to restructure their societies so that economic growth benefits the bottom half more than the top 1%. In theory, this can be done easily. In practice, however, major vested interests will invariably seek to block reform. The choice for liberals is clear: they can feel good by condemning Trump, or they can do good by attacking the elite interests that contributed to his election.

.If liberals can do the latter, Trump’s election would be seen by future historians as a necessary wake-up call, while Macron’s merely created the illusion that all was well. These historians might then conclude that Trump’s election was ultimately better for American society than Macron’s was for France.

 

 

The Euro turns 20


January 13, 2019

The Euro turns 20

The euro’s first 20 years played out very differently than many expected, highlighting the importance of recognizing that the future is likely to be different from the past. Given this, only a commitment to flexibility and a willingness to rise to new challenges will ensure the common currency’s continued success.

euro banknotes

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/four-lessons-from-euro-s-first-20-years-by-daniel-gros-2019-01

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BRUSSELS – Twenty years ago this month, the euro was born. For ordinary citizens, little changed until cash euros were introduced in 2002. But in January 1999, the “third stage” of Economic and Monetary Union officially started, with the exchange rates among the original 11 eurozone member states “irrevocably” fixed, and authority over their monetary policy transferred to the new European Central Bank. What has unfolded since then holds important lessons for the future.

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In 1999, conventional wisdom held that Germany would incur the biggest losses from the euro’s introduction. Beyond the risk that the ECB would not be as tough on inflation as the Bundesbank had been, the Deutsche Mark was overvalued, with Germany running a current-account deficit. Fixing the exchange rate at that level, it was believed, would pose a severe challenge to the competitiveness of German industry.

Yet, 20 years on, inflation is even lower than it was when the Bundesbank was in charge, and Germany maintains persistently large current-account surpluses, which are viewed as evidence that German industry is too competitive. This brings us to the first lesson of the last 20 years: the performance of individual eurozone countries is not preordained.

The experiences of other countries, such as Spain and Ireland, reinforce that lesson, demonstrating that the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and a willingness to make painful choices matter more than the economy’s starting position. This applies to the future as well: Germany’s current predominance, for example, is in no way guaranteed to continue for the next 20 years.

Yet the establishment of the eurozone was backward-looking. The main concern during the 1970s and 1980s had been high and variable inflation, often driven by double-digit wage growth. Financial crises were almost always linked to bouts of inflation, but had previously been limited in scope, because financial markets were smaller and not deeply interconnected.

With the creation of the eurozone, everything changed. Wage pressures abated throughout the developed world. But financial-market activity, especially across borders within the euro area, grew exponentially, after having been repressed for decades. For example, eurozone member countries’ cross-border assets, mostly in the form of bank and other credit, grew from about 100% of GDP in the late 1990s to 400% by 2008.

Then the global financial crisis erupted a decade ago, catching Europe off guard. The first deflationary crisis since the 1930s was made especially virulent in Europe by the mountain of debt that had been accumulated in the previous ten years, when countries had their eyes on the rear-view mirror.

Of course, the eurozone was not alone in being taken by surprise by the financial crisis, which had started in the United States with supposedly safe securities based on subprime mortgages. But the US, with its unified financial (and political) system, was able to overcome the crisis relatively quickly, whereas in the eurozone, a slow-motion cascade of crises befell many member states.

Fortunately, the ECB proved robust. Its leadership recognized the need to shift focus from fighting inflation – the objective the ECB was designed to achieve – to curbing deflation. Ultimately, the euro survived, because, when push came to shove, leaders of the eurozone’s member states expended political capital to implement needed reforms – even after blaming the euro for their countries’ problems.

This pattern of demonizing the euro before recognizing the need to protect it continues to unfold today – and it should serve as a second lesson of the last 20 years. Italy’s populist coalition government used to speak bravely about flouting the euro’s rules, with some advocating an exit from the eurozone altogether. But when financial-market risk premia increased, and Italian savers did not buy their own government’s bonds, the coalition quickly changed its tune.

In fact, the eurozone’s economic performance has not been as bad as the seemingly endless stream of bleak headlines implies. Per capita GDP growth has slowed over the last 20 years, but not more so than in the US or other developed economies.

Moreover, continental European labor markets have undergone an under-reported structural improvement, with the labor-force participation rate increasing every year, even during the crisis. Today, a higher proportion of the adult population is economically active in the eurozone than in the US. Employment has reached record highs, and unemployment, though still high in some southern countries, is continuously declining.

These economic realities imply that, even if the euro is not particularly well loved, it is widely recognized as an integral element of European integration. According to the latest Eurobarometer poll, support for the euro is at an all-time high of 74%, while less than 20% of the eurozone’s population opposes it. Even Italy boasts a strong pro-euro majority (68% versus 18%). Herein lies a third key lesson from the euro’s first two decades: despite its many imperfections, the common currency has delivered jobs, and there is little support for abandoning it.

But probably the most important lesson lies elsewhere. The euro’s first 20 years played out very differently than many expected, highlighting the importance of recognizing that the future is likely to be different from the past. Given this, only a commitment to flexibility and a willingness to rise to new challenges will ensure the common currency’s continued success.

 

Daniel Gros

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Daniel Gros is Director of the Brussels-based Center for European Policy Studies. He has worked for the International Monetary Fund, and served as an economic adviser to the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the French prime minister and finance minister. He is the editor of Economie Internationale and International Finance.

 

Japan First


January 13, 2019

shinzo abe japanese flag

Japan First

Japanese nationalists, starting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, need no encouragement to follow US President Donald Trump’s example. But if they do, they will echo the worst aspects of contemporary America – and throw away the best of what the US once had to offer.

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TOKYO – Even whales have now been affected by US President Donald Trump. This year, Japan will withdraw from the International Whaling Commission and resume commercial whaling. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s conservative government claims that eating whale meat is an important part of Japanese culture, even though the number of Japanese who actually do so is tiny compared to a half-century ago. And leaving the IWC will mean that Japanese whalers can fish only in Japan’s coastal waters, where the animals are relatively few.

The truth is that the decision was a gift to a few politicians from areas where whaling is still practiced, and to nationalists who resent being told by foreigners in international organizations what Japan can and cannot do. It is an entirely political act, inspired, according to the liberal Asahi Shimbun, by Trump’s insistence on “America First.” This is a matter of Japan First. Even though Trump is unlikely to mind, Japan’s insistence on whaling is bad for the country’s image.Abe, himself a staunch Japanese nationalist, has a complicated relationship with the United States.Image result for nobusuke kishi and Abe


Abe, himself a staunch Japanese nationalist, has a complicated relationship with the United States.Like his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, also a nationalist who was arrested as a war criminal in 1945, but who then became a loyal anti-communist ally of the Americans, Abe does everything to stay close to the US, while also wanting Japan to be first. One of his dreams is to finish his grandfather’s attempt to revise the postwar pacifist constitution, written by the Americans, and come up with a more patriotic, and possibly more authoritarian document that will legalize the use of military force.

Abe, himself a staunch Japanese nationalist, has a complicated relationship with the United States. Like his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, also a nationalist who was arrested as a war criminal in 1945, but who then became a loyal anti-communist ally of the Americans, Abe does everything to stay close to the US, while also wanting Japan to be first. One of his dreams is to finish his grandfather’s attempt to revise the postwar pacifist constitution, written by the Americans, and come up with a more patriotic, and possibly more authoritarian document that will legalize the use of military force.

Japan has to be a stalwart American ally. Germany and Italy, the other defeated powers in World War II, have NATO and the European Union. Japan has only the 1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security with the US to protect itself against hostile powers, and the rise of China terrifies the Japanese. That is why Abe was the first foreign politician, after British Prime Minister Theresa May, to rush to congratulate Trump in person in 2017.

In some important ways, Japan has benefited greatly from being under America’s wing, and from the postwar constitution, which is not just pacifist, but more democratic than anything the country had before, enshrining individual rights, full suffrage, and freedom of expression. Constitutionally unable to take part in military adventures, except as a highly paid goods producer during America’s various Asian conflicts, Japan, rather like the countries in Western Europe, could concentrate on rebuilding its industrial power.

But the democracy that Americans are still proud of installing after 1945 has also been hindered by US interference. Like Italy, Japan was on the front lines in the Cold War. And, like Italy’s Christian Democrats, Japan’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party benefited for many years from huge amounts of US cash to make sure no left-wing parties came to power. As a result, Japan became a de facto one-party state.

This led to a kind of schizophrenia among Japan’s conservative nationalists like Abe. They appreciated American largesse, as well as its military backing against communist foes. But they deeply resented having to live with a foreign-imposed liberal constitution. Like the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal in 1946, in which foreign judges tried Japan’s wartime leaders, the constitution and all it stands for is seen as a national humiliation.

The Japanese right would like to overturn much of the postwar order, established by the US with the support of Japanese liberals. Abe’s revisionist project does not only concern the pacifist Article 9, which bars Japan from using armed force, but also matters like education, emergency laws, and the role of the emperor.

To change Article 9, the current coalition government would need support from two-thirds of the Diet, as well as a popular referendum. After his landslide election victory in 2017, Abe has the required parliamentary majority. Whether he would win a referendum is still doubtful, although he has vowed to test this soon.

On education, he has already won some important victories. “Patriotism” and “moral education” are now official goals of the national curriculum. This means, among other things, that obedience to the state, rather than individual rights and free thought, is instilled at an early age. It also means that the history of Japan’s wartime role, if taught in classrooms at all, will be related more as a heroic enterprise, in which the young should take pride.

In the past, the US, despite all its own flaws and criminal conflicts, still stood as a force for good. An ideal of American openness and democracy was still worthy of admiration. At the same time, again as in the case of Western Europe, dependence on US military protection has had a less positive affect. It made Japan into a kind of vassal state; whatever the Americans wanted, Japan ends up having to do. This can have an infantilizing effect on politics.

In the age of Trump, America is no longer so dependable. This might at least help to concentrate Japanese minds on how to get on in the world without the Americans. But the US has also ceased to be a model of freedom and openness. On the contrary, it has become an example of narrow nationalism, xenophobia, and isolationism. Japanese nationalists need no encouragement to follow this model. If they do so, Trump certainly will not stand in their way. They will echo the worst aspects of contemporary America – and throw away the best of what the US once had to offer.

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