Why Socrates couldn’t hack it in today’s public schools


November 27,2017

Why Socrates couldn’t hack it in today’s public schools

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-socrates-couldnt-hack-it-in-todays-public-schools/2017/11/24/6a549974-c98a-11e7-8321-481fd63f174d_story.html?utm_term=.3762afd97241

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David R. Kahn retired in June from Sandy Springs Friends School in Sandy Springs.

Retired at last, after 36 years teaching at a private school just north of Washington, I’d like to offer some advice from “Mr. Chips.”

In June, when I taught Plato’s “Dialogues” to my last students in my last class, I told them that what Socrates said some 2,500 years ago is just as relevant today. Some of the definitions might have shifted a bit — what Socrates meant by “piety” is not quite what we mean today — but what lies behind the word choices is every bit as important.

Then it occurred to me that the old boy is probably better off dead.

What would happen, I wondered, if we hired Socrates to teach in a modern high school? He probably would get in trouble with the counselors for beating up on the students’ self-esteem — never giving them an answer, just pointing out where their arguments failed.

“If Euthyphro never experiences success, how can he ever come to understand piety? You need to ease up there, Soc.”

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Socrates did not run a student-centered classroom. It’s clear that Socrates was capable of dealing with only one type of learner. The learning specialists would be all over him for that.

When Phaedo asked about the nature of the afterlife, weren’t Socrates’ “questions” a bit . . . constrictive? Had Phaedo been allowed to write a poem, create a mobile, or cut out and paste up the front page of an imaginary newspaper that one might read when one gets . . . wherever . . . Socrates could have appealed to Phaedo’s “multiple intelligences ” and Phaedo could have “experienced success.”

Crito found it difficult to accept Socrates’ definition of justice. It’s a strict one, all right. No problem, says today’s academic adviser: Drop the class. You don’t want it lowering your grade-point average, and you don’t need the dialogue to graduate.

Charmides and Socrates discussed the meaning of self-control. That’s easy, says the school nurse: There is no such thing. Everything is biologically determined. Charmides can’t be held responsible for most of what he does. As soon as we get his medications figured out, maybe then. The counselor agrees. As does the learning specialist.

Timaeus would have been glad to write his three-page paper on the nature of the physical world, due today, but he had another paper due for his creative writing class and he hadn’t felt inspired. And he has a test tomorrow. Plus, those pesky college essays are hanging over his head, so his parents have called him in sick today. He will be in this afternoon for the soccer game, though.

Meno has his college essays done, has no tests or papers coming soon, and is ready and eager to talk about the nature of virtue. But he has a field trip, so he’ll be gone all day. But it’s Tuesday, a “B day,” so Socrates’ class doesn’t meet anyhow. Maybe tomorrow?

No — tomorrow Meno and all of the sophomores are meeting all day with the group from Spartans Are People Too! They’ll break up into small groups, form some affinity groups, paste some Post-it notes on the walls and publish their ideas online. Maybe we could ask Meno to come in after the game?

Nah. He’ll be tired. After all, he’s the goalie. The poor guy. All those balls coming at his head.

ASEAN leaders should embrace 4IR for another 50 years of peace, growth


November 24, 2017

ASEAN leaders should embrace 4IR for another 50 years of peace, growth

by Jayant Menon and Anna Fink, ADB

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/11/09/asean-looks-to-the-fourth-industrial-revolution/

The 10-member ASEAN is celebrating this year its 50th anniversary.
The 10-member ASEAN is celebrating this year its 50th anniversary.

When the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) gather for their 31st Summit in the Philippines this week, they will also celebrate “ASEAN@50” – testimony to ASEAN’s endurance and durability, as the longest-running regional grouping of developing countries in the world.

A major item on the agenda will be regional security and addressing the rising tide of terrorism.  This takes ASEAN back to its roots, having been born as a politico-security pact during the Vietnam War in 1967.

Indeed, ASEAN’s role in sustaining peace and stability in Southeast Asia is often undervalued, if not overlooked. It’s easy to see why. War cannot go unnoticed but peace can, easily. ASEAN deserves its share of the credit for delivering the peace dividend. Moving forward, its economic success may depend on a different kind of revolution.

Inclusive, innovation-led growth

The summary of Key Outcomes from the 49th ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting in September noted that the overall thematic priority of this year’s Summit would be “Inclusive, Innovation-led Growth”.  This would be supported by three strategic measures: increasing trade and investment, integrating micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) into global value chains, and developing an innovation-driven economy.

The trade slowdown appears to have bottomed out, and there are early indications that both domestic private investment and foreign direct investment are showing promising signs of recovery in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, and continue to increase impressively in the Mekong countries. To sustain this growth, reforms will need to continue. Achievements on tariff liberalization have been partially offset by a rise in non-tariff measures which are a much more significant barrier to trade.

  Innovation-driven ASEAN economy must address 4IR

A new and growing trend in cross-border investment involves MSMEs, so much so that the last ASEAN Investment Report took this as its theme. And an innovation-driven economy has to address the challenges and opportunities presented by the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

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All three strategic items are linked, especially the last two, as discussed in a joint Asian Development Bank-World Economic Forum report titled, What does the 4IR mean for ASEAN Regional Economic Integration?, to be presented to leaders at the upcoming Summit.

The report notes the differing level of preparedness of member countries, negatively correlated to their level of development, and how this may widen rather than narrow development gaps if not addressed.

4IR brings challenges and opportunities

One of the major challenges of the 4IR will be the loss of jobs caused by automation and increasingly advanced robotics and artificial intelligence. Jobs losses will affect some countries more than others. Low-skilled, repetitive jobs (such as assembly line workers) are most at risk, but increasingly service jobs (such as business process outsourcing) will be threatened.

As an immediate response, enabling greater mobility of unskilled workers would curtail unemployment in sending countries and help sustain growth in receiving countries, while also helping counter growing economic inequality within and between countries.

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In the medium term, new industries will grow and workers will need new skills. Investing in improving human capital must start now. The skills needed extend beyond technical capabilities to include creativity and innovative problem solving. What’s more, the accelerating pace of change calls for adult training and life-long learning not just early-life education. In addition, mutual recognition agreements must expand to cover new occupations, while expediting the harmonizing and streamlining of employment visas.

Integrating MSMEs into global value chains

One of the major opportunities of the 4IR, as highlighted in the report, is the potential of “disruptive technologies” to empower MSMEs. More than 90% of enterprises within ASEAN are MSMEs and they provide most of the employment in member states.

MSMEs are often constrained by lack of access to business and financial services. Blockchain technology has the potential to dramatically increase the security of cross-border financial transactions and logistics even in countries where these services are relatively underdeveloped. This technology has the potential to benefit the smallest firms in the poorest countries of ASEAN.

The rise of online marketplaces also provides platforms for MSMEs to access regional and global markets.

  4IR can help integrate ASEAN MSMEs into global value chains

The 4IR, therefore, provides an opportunity for ASEAN to meet its goal of greater inclusion by integrating MSMEs into global value chains. But it also presents a challenge to the region to invest in human capital to continue to trade and attract investment, and to enable innovation-driven economies.

Given the unequal impact of new technologies in the region, the promotion of inclusive growth must also be seen as a key pillar in underpinning peace in the region. Growing economic inequality could quickly contribute to social unrest and political instability.

Embracing the 4IR, and inclusive, innovation-led growth will be essential to securing another 50 years of peace in ASEAN.

Jayant Menon is Lead Economist in the Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department at the Asian Development Bank, and Adjunct Fellow of the Arndt–Corden Division of Economics, The Australian National University.

Anna Fink is Economist in the Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department at the Asian Development Bank.

This blog was first published as an op-ed by the Jakarta Globe, Singapore Business Times, Phnom Penh Post, Agence Kampuchea Presse, Myanmar Times, Philippine StarEast Asia Forum, Daily Star (Bangladesh), and the Bangkok Post.

Trump EAS Philippines Miss: Does It Matter for US Asia Policy?


October 27, 2017

Trump EAS Philippines Miss: Does It Matter for US Asia Policy?

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Earlier this week, reports begun surfacing that U.S. President Donald Trump, while preserving his ambitious inaugural five-country trip to Asia next month, would cut short his trip and miss out on some mulled engagements including the annual East Asia Summit (EAS) in the Philippines. Though Trump missing the EAS would unquestionably be an unfortunate development, it also needs to be put into proper perspective within the broader context of U.S. Asia policy and where this new administration is.

Trump’s EAS Philippines miss would no doubt be both an unwelcome challenge and a missed opportunity, as I have argued before (See: “Why Trump Should Go to EAS and APEC in the Philippines and Vietnam”). Even though he may only be missing some of the engagements on his trip, given the skepticism surrounding whether or not the administration would follow through with its announced visit in May, any deviation from the schedule was almost sure to exacerbate uncertainties about a new administration’s commitment to multilateralism in general and in ASEAN in particular. Trump will also have lost a valuable chance to personally show up and advocate for the kind of more action-oriented EAS that Washington has been pushing for over the past few years.

And though Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and even Barack Obama have all canceled Asia engagements before as well, there arguably could not be a worse time for such an unwelcome challenge and missed opportunity. This year marks both the 50th anniversary of ASEAN’s founding and the 40th anniversary of U.S.-ASEAN relations. And with Chinese President Xi Jinping coming off the high of the 19th Party Congress, the sensationalist headlines about Chinese inroads in Asia in the face of U.S. uncertainty would write themselves. Though the actual picture is far less dire and much more complex, this would not be the first time that perceptions have created their own reality (See: “China: New White Paper, Old Asia Conundrum”).

At the same time, the significance of Trump missing this year’s EAS in the Philippines also needs to be put into proper perspective that takes into account the wider progress the United States has made on multilateralism in its Asia policy over the years, the broader shape of the Trump administration’s commitment to the region to date, and the challenges inherent scheduling U.S. presidential travel to Asia under the unique set of circumstances the Trump team faces.

 

Understanding the Historical Context 

First, Trump’s EAS miss should not detract from the wider progress made in terms of where the United States stands on multilateralism in its Asia policy. For decades, Southeast Asian officials had to live with episodic U.S. attention to and involvement in regional multilateral institutions as a fact of life, with U.S. officials not only missing parts of ASEAN summitry but even privately and at times publicly chiding the slow pace of their development. This tendency was rooted not just in a series of scheduling difficulties, but ambivalence by Washington about the extent to which it wants to prioritize multilateral approaches relative to bilateral alliances and partnerships as well as those that lie in between these two extremes, including minilateral ones.

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Though that debate continues today, the Obama administration deserves credit for significantly narrowing its contours by institutionalizing some U.S. commitments to multilateralism (See: “Why the US-ASEAN Sunnylands Summit Matters”). Joining the East Asia Summit and annualizing U.S.-ASEAN Summits effectively added an annual Southeast Asia visit to the calendar of the U.S. president, settling a contentious issue over whether Washington would ever agree to arguably the most valuable indicator of high-level commitment to multilateralism: the president’s time. The tradeoff, recognized even then by U.S. and ASEAN policymakers, was that there would essentially be an annual debate about whether a sitting U.S. president would and could follow through on this commitment, grafted on to the U.S.-China scorecard that has tended to dominate the headlines over the past few years.

That is a tough bar for a president to clear, as even Obama discovered when he had to miss EAS once back in 2013 in the wake of a government shutdown. Trump’s miss no doubt carries greater weight given his personal skepticism about multilateralism at the outset and the fact that this is his first Southeast Asia voyage. But the silver lining is that as a result of the Obama administration’s institutionalization of this commitment, it now allows Southeast Asian officials greater room to hold Washington accountable for a single miss rather than it simply being dismissed as a scheduling problem as it had been prior to that, and to keep it engaged subsequently.

As a case in point, visiting Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., politely framed Trump’s EAS miss in terms of this annual institutionalized commitment, noting that he hoped that the Trump would attend next year. Though whether this will occur or not is still unclear, Trump’s acceptance of a visit to Singapore in 2018, the miss this year, and the centrality of Singapore to wider U.S. Asia policy, would seem to suggest that the odds are quite good on the face of it, which would at least be a corrective for the miss this year (See: “What’s Next for US-Singapore Ties Under Trump?”).

The Evolving Shape of Commitment

Second, Trump’s EAS miss should also take into account that the U.S. president’s visits and engagements therein are just one manifestation of any administration’s commitment to multilateralism and Asia more generally. Given the doomsday scenarios set out by naysayers at the outset of the Trump administration, the level of engagement with Southeast Asia and ASEAN has actually been quite good, with four Southeast Asian leaders given White House meetings in under a year, a Special U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial convened in Washington, D.C. in May, and key U.S. officials including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis emphasizing the importance of ASEAN to Trump’s Asia policy while out in the regions (See: “The Truth About Trump’s Asia Commitment Problem”).

The engagement record extends to the ASEAN chair and EAS host the Philippines as well, which is now being led by President Rodrigo Duterte (who himself has not exactly been a huge fan of multilateralism) (See: “The Truth About Duterte’s ASEAN South China Sea Blow”). Though challenges remain and uncertainty over the potential fallout from a Trump-Duterte summit lingers, U.S.-Philippine ties themselves appear to be on a relatively more stable trajectory due to some hard work done at the working level since the rocky start when Dutere first came to power (See: “What Will US-Philippines Military Exercises Look Like in 2018?”).

Keeping a single engagement in perspective is important not only get a broader sense of the administration’s commitment to multilateralism so far, but also to hone in on the more serious limitations beyond a visit. As I have been arguing for months, the chief challenge for the Trump administration’s approach to Asian multilateralism is not the absence of individual engagements, but how these will fit into a more coherent strategy that has a broader role for ASEAN (See: “The Ticking Clock on Trump’s Asia Strategy”). To its credit, the administration appears to have recognized this, with ASEAN increasingly being incorporated into a wider conception of a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific which Trump is expected to outline in Vietnam.

To be sure, this approach to multilateralism pales in comparison to both the breadth and depth of the engagement we saw under the Obama administration. But it is worth emphasizing that it is still early days. As I have noted before, though administrations are often caricatured as being “bilateral” (George W. Bush) or “multilateral” (Barack Obama), in practice these are not as mutually exclusive as they are portrayed and all presidents tend to find their own balance of different approaches over time. Bush, for instance, started with securitizing APEC and selective attendance at ASEAN meetings but ended by knitting bilateral trade deals into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and paving the way for greater U.S. diplomatic engagement with ASEAN that deepened far more under Obama, a nuance often missed in some superficial accounts.

The Dynamics of Presidential Travel

Third and finally, those familiar with the planning around U.S. presidential travel know that any assessment of the significance of a Trump EAS Philippines miss needs to take into account the unique set of circumstances that this new administration finds itself in along with the personality of Trump himself. Given the Trump administration’s lack of progress on its domestic agenda with the 2018 midterm elections looming and with so many challenges in a tumultuous and fragmented world – including a weakened but still dangerous Islamic State, simmering Middle East, resurgent Russia, and a frail Europe – some were surprised when the White House unveiled earlier this month that Trump would be spending nearly half a month – from November 3 to November 14 –on a crammed five-country trip across Northeast and Southeast Asia. For perspective, Obama, a bigger fan of these sorts of overseas trips and likely a performer at ASEAN-led summits than Trump, had even his longer Asia voyages last around just a week.

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Beyond the length of the trip itself, U.S. presidential trips are scrutinized all the way down to particular legs or engagements, and this one is no exception. Even when the White House had announced the schedule earlier this month, some had already begun to worry that one of the Southeast Asia legs would end up being cut entirely, that there would not be enough time for some of the bilateral engagements, and that Trump might be too worn out to last through some regional meetings (a true test of stamina, as those who have attended them know well). Seen within this context, if Trump ends up just missing EAS, preserving some of the other existing engagements that are encouraging including the delivery of a strategy speech in Vietnam and bilateral meetings in the Philippines and Vietnam (the latter requires additional travel from Danang where APEC is held), that would actually still be quite a strong message of U.S. commitment to Southeast Asia given the circumstances.

Trump missing the EAS would unquestionably be an unfortunate development for his administration’s evolving approach to multilateralism and overall Asia policy. But a true and fair assessment of its significance so early on in a new and unconventional administration is also not possible without sufficient attention to historical context, wider current developments, and the structural constraints of policymaking.

Emigration as Liberation


September 25, 2017

Emigration as Liberation

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

http://www.bakrimusa.com

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Dr. M Bakri Musa–A Prolific Author, Essayist and Public Intellectual

Many attribute America’s dynamism and openness to its tradition of accepting new immigrants, current Trump-stirred anti-immigrant hysteria notwithstanding. The hitch in that presumption is whether the very process of emigrating–the uprooting of oneself from one’s familiar surroundings to seek an uncertain future elsewhere–contributes to the opening up of one’s mind or whether it is the reverse? That is, only those who are already open-minded would consider immigration. In short, what is cause and what is effect?

This issue is complicated by the dynamics of immigration today being so much different from what they were a century ago. Ease of travel and communication has much to do with the change. Today someone from China immigrating to America does not face the same emotionally-wrenching decision as those “shanghaied” to work on American railroads of a century ago. Today’s immigrants could Skype or Facetime their relatives back in the village upon landing at San Francisco airport. They could also return for visits during the New Year and other holidays. Even those who had been forced to leave their native country, as with the Vietnamese refugees, are now able to return freely to their land of birth.

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This age of globalization is also referred to as the Age of Migration because of the unprecedented number of people moving across borders either individually or in groups as refugees.

There is angst in Malaysia today (and elsewhere in the developing world) over the “brain drain,” the emigration of its talented citizens. The mainstream media and blogosphere are filled with stories of individuals having to make supposedly heart-wrenching decisions to leave the country of their birth. Those personal dramas and emotions are contrived, and a bit of a stretch.

The experiences of today’s immigrants are in no way comparable to what their earlier counterparts had to endure. Unlike them, present-day immigrants are able to make many trips home or have face-to-face chats via Web camera, not to mention frequent phone calls. Many still hold on to their old passports and retain their properties in the old country. In short, the emotional trauma of immigration, if there is any, is nowhere on the same scale as what those who came before them had to endure. The experiences of the Vietnamese and Somalians should give comfort to current refugees from places like Syria and Afghanistan.

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Both Malaysian Prime Ministers–Abdullah Badawi and Najib Razak–were chosen by Dr. Mahathir to screw Malaysia to the ground so that he can look good. In doing so, Mahathir destroyed his own legacy. The lesson to learn is : Never be selfish. –Din Merican

This is especially true of immigrants under the “brain drain” category. Their relocation is akin to an extended sojourn abroad and an opportunity to earn a better income, as well as to widen their experiences and perspectives. Because today’s émigrés return home many times, those visits home become occasions for them to relate their new experiences. That in turn helps those at home to have similar “foreign” experiences, albeit vicariously. That too can be mind-liberating on both parties.

Again, modern technology comes to the rescue; it softens if not eliminates the trauma of migration.

The virtual reality that digital technology delivers may lack the sensory and physical components but it still delivers the essence. The images of the carnage perpetrated by a suicide bomber in London carried on your cellphone in the comfort and safety of your palm may not have the smell of burnt flesh, nonetheless the sight of blood, maimed bodies, and screaming victims captures the brute reality close enough.

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The Prime Minister and his Deputy Zahid Hamidi –Quality of Leadership?

Digital technology is the transforming invention of our times. As such, access to it should be a basic public service, made free or affordable. It should be considered a public good in the same manner as highways, healthcare, and utilities.

Take for instance highways; it would be hard to consider a country developed without cars and roads. At the same time, both are major killers and destroyers of human life, as well as deleterious to the environment, but those are not reasons not to have cars and roads. Likewise, the digital highway; there are recognized dangers, the obvious being fraud, gambling, and pornography. Again, those are not reasons to ban or limit the Internet. Instead the focus should be on educating citizens on the dangers, just as we do with cars and highway users.

I venture that the broad-mindedness and increasing assertiveness of Malaysians in recent years, especially among the young, is attributable to the fact that Malaysia is an open society and its cyber world remains uncensored. That is one of the few enduring legacies of Mahathir despite his second thoughts lately on Internet freedom. Now that we have tasted freedom albeit only in the cyber world, there is no turning back.

Technology–The Liberator and Great Equalizer, says Dr. Bakri Musa


September 19, 2017

Technology–The Liberator and Great Equalizer

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

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The challenge for Malays and non-Malays in this global era is to cultivate an open mind because the alternative means depriving yourself of new opportunities.–Dr. M Bakri Musa

Modern technology, specifically digital, brings us to the outside world, and it to us. Today what happens in the isolated caves high in the mountains of Kabul can be recorded on a cell phone and then posted on the Web for the whole world to see. Even a repressive regime like China could not control the dissemination of images of its tanks bulldozing innocent citizens back at Tiananmen Square in 1989, though not for lack of trying.

The success of the Arab Jasmine Revolution owes much to this digital revolution. Through social networks like Facebook and Twitter, ordinary citizens communicated with each other in real time to organize massive demonstrations that brought down powerful leaders like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.

I assert that the digital technology is a much more powerful and consequential instrument of liberation than the AK47, hitherto (still is) the favorite with not-so-bright revolutionaries worldwide.

Eygpt’s Hosni Mubarak was derailed not by a gunman, like his predecessor Anwar Sadat, but by a social revolution made possible by the online social network. If there were to be a leader of that movement, it would be Google executive Wael Ghonim. Unlike earlier Arab revolutionaries who were military officers, this guy was, for lack of better word, a geek. What an incredible achievement what he had done! No one could have predicted that Hosni Mubarak, who only a few months previously was the most powerful man in the Arab world, would face charges of premeditated murder for the deaths of those protestors.

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Digital technology is not the only modern agent of liberation. Modern transportation has reduced if not removed the barrier of geography. Today I can fly from San Francisco to Kuala Lumpur in less time than it took my sister to get from Kuala Pilah to Teachers’ College in Kota Baru via Malayan Railway back in the 1950s.

Travel, in so far as it affords one the opportunity to experience different cultures and realities, can be liberating. While the digital revolution might afford a virtual reality on the convenience and safety of your sofa, travel lets you experience reality in its raw, unfiltered physical form.

The liberating effect of travel works both on the traveler as well as the host. This liberating result, however, is not guaranteed. Seeing how the rest of the world operates may not necessarily open up minds; in some it would result in the exact opposite.

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The Chinese Emperor of the 15th Century sent out explorers out to the vast Pacific and Indian Oceans. Far from opening up Chinese minds, those exotics foreign expeditions merely reaffirmed their smug superiority that they had nothing to learn from the barbarians outside, a manifestation of a collective “confirmation bias” at the societal level.

The Chinese were so confident of their superiority that they eschewed the need for further foreign explorations. They went further. They ordered the dismantling of their advanced and massive maritime infrastructures and banned the building of boats, declaring that to be frivolous and resource-wasting exercises.

Meanwhile the Europeans continued with theirs. The scale was considerably much less, their ships pale imitations of the Chinese. The length of Columbus’s flagship Santa Maria was less than half the width of Cheng Ho’s.

Unlike the ancient Chinese, the medieval Europeans had no pretensions of grandeur; they explored the world with an open mind. They had no delusions about their ways being the best; instead they observed in those foreign lands things they could take home, like tea and spices. It did not take them long to recognize the enormous potential in trading those commodities by introducing new culinary experiences to European palates. The Europeans also soon discovered that the Chinese had a voracious appetite for opium, which the Brits could secure with ease from India. Lucrative commercial domination soon led to the political variety, and thus colonialism was born.

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Why one culture reacted a certain way and another, the very opposite, is intriguing. In the final analysis, it boils down to a culture’s openness to new ideas and experiences, its collective open mindedness. The ancient Chinese had closed minds; the medieval Europeans, open.

Today some foreigners arrive in a new country, and on encountering an alien culture would retreat, fearing it would “contaminate” their pristine values. They would close ranks and congregate in their own little ghettoes, refusing to integrate with the native majority. We see this in America as well as Malaysia.

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“…the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Technology and Digitization) is empowering the empowering the economically disadvantaged by giving them access to digital networks, increasing the efficiency of organisations, improving medical care with personalised drugs and providing a technological solution to climate change”.–Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, President, The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.

 

Others view their new experiences as open opportunities and endless learning. Some are simply grateful to be given a new lease on life after escaping the wretchedness of their native land. Eastern Europeans who came to America early in the last century were grateful and thus more than eager to join the American mainstream. They readily gave up their old ways to integrate as quickly as possible into their new society. They learned English quickly and changed their names to make them sound more Anglo-Saxon, with Pawlinsky morphing into the less jaw-breaking Paul.

Even when they were actively discriminated against, and the early Jews, Irish and Italians in America definitely were, they continued to adopt American ways. They did not rush to build Italian or Jewish schools; instead they built their own English schools so their children would not be handicapped in integrating into mainstream American society. They did not consider such actions as repudiating or denigrating their own culture. Far from it! They realized that their own culture and ways of life would more likely survive if were to thrive and be successful in their adopted land.

Today St. Patrick Day and Octoberfest are celebrated more exuberantly in Chicago and Milwaukee respectively than in Dublin or Berlin.

It is tempting to attribute the contrasting reactions of early immigrants to America from Europe to later ones from Asia and Latin America to the differences in circumstances that prompted them to emigrate. The Europeans were forcibly thrown out of their native lands through pogroms or wars. In contrast, recent Asian and Latin American immigrants cross the border voluntarily, for the most part (the South Vietnamese being the most recent notable exception). The Europeans did not ever want to return to their homelands. By contrast, many recent Hispanics consider their stay in America temporary, remaining just long enough to accumulate some money so they could return and live comfortably back in their native land. As such, they do not feel compelled to learn English or in any way integrate into American society.

A similar “temporary abode” mentality occurred with immigrants from China and India into Malaysia early last century. Brought in by the colonials to work the tin mines and rubber plantations, their mindset was to work hard, accumulate enough savings, and then balik Tongsan (return to their motherland, China). Hence there was little need to learn the local language or adapt to local culture. They remained insular, xenophobic, and closed-minded.

They were completely different from the Chinese men and women who much earlier voluntarily settled in the Straits Settlement, the Peranakan. They absorbed many of the elements of Malay culture, including the language and attire. They were not obsessed with balik Tongsan. When the British were in charge, those Chinese learned English; in independent Malaysia, they worked with the majority Malays.

The challenge for Malays and non-Malays in this global era is to cultivate an open mind because the alternative means depriving yourself of new opportunities.

A New Course for Economic Liberalism


July 17, 2017

A New Course for Economic Liberalism

by Sebastian Buckup

Sebastian Buckup is Head of Programming at the World Economic Forum.

How policymakers can manage the opposing forces of economic diffusion and concentration.

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The New Man in France–President Emmanuel Macron

Since the Agrarian Revolution, technological progress has always fueled opposing forces of diffusion and concentration. Diffusion occurs as old powers and privileges corrode; concentration occurs as the power and reach of those who control new capabilities expands. The so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution will be no exception in this regard.

Already, the tension between diffusion and concentration is intensifying at all levels of the economy. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, trade grew twice as fast as GDP, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. Thanks to the globalization of capital and knowledge, countries were able to shift resources to more productive and higher-paying sectors. All of this contributed to the diffusion of market power.

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But this diffusion occurred in parallel with an equally stark concentration. At the sectoral level, a couple of key industries – most notably, finance and information technology – secured a growing share of profits. In the United States, for example, the financial sector generates just 4% of employment, but accounts for more than 25% of corporate profits. And half of US companies that generate profits of 25% or more are tech firms.

The same has occurred at the organizational level. The most profitable 10% of US businesses are eight times more profitable than the average firm. In the 1990s, the multiple was only three.

Such concentration effects go a long way toward explaining rising economic inequality. Research by Cesar Hidalgo and his colleagues at MIT reveals that, in countries where sectoral concentration has declined in recent decades, such as South Korea, income inequality has fallen. In those where sectoral concentration has intensified, such as Norway, inequality has risen.

A similar trend can be seen at the organizational level. A recent study by Erling Bath, Alex Bryson, James Davis, and Richard Freeman showed that the diffusion of individual pay since the 1970s is associated with pay differences between, not within, companies. The Stanford economists Nicholas Bloom and David Price confirmed this finding, and argue that virtually the entire increase in income inequality in the US is rooted in the growing gap in average wages paid by firms.

Such outcomes are the result not just of inevitable structural shifts, but also of decisions about how to handle those shifts. In the late 1970s, as neoliberalism took hold, policymakers became less concerned about big firms converting profits into political influence, and instead worried that governments were protecting uncompetitive companies.

With this in mind, policymakers began to dismantle the economic rules and regulations that had been implemented after the Great Depression, and encouraged vertical and horizontal mergers. These decisions played a major role in enabling a new wave of globalization, which increasingly diffused growth and wealth across countries, but also laid the groundwork for the concentration of income and wealth within countries.

The growing “platform economy” is a case in point. In China, the e-commerce giant Alibaba is leading a massive effort to connect rural areas to national and global markets, including through its consumer-to-consumer platform Taobao. That effort entails substantial diffusion: in more than 1,000 rural Chinese communities – so-called “Taobao Villages” – over 10% of the population now makes a living by selling products on Taobao. But, as Alibaba helps to build an inclusive economy comprising millions of mini-multinationals, it is also expanding its own market power.

Policymakers now need a new approach that resists excessive concentration, which may create efficiency gains, but also allows firms to hoard profits and invest less. Of course, Joseph Schumpeter famously argued that one need not worry too much about monopoly rents, because competition would quickly erase the advantage. But corporate performance in recent decades paints a different picture: 80% of the firms that made a return of 25% or more in 2003 were still doing so ten years later. (In the 1990s, that share stood at about 50%.)

To counter such concentration, policymakers should, first, implement smarter competition laws that focus not only on market share or pricing power, but also on the many forms of rent extraction, from copyright and patent rules that allow incumbents to cash in on old discoveries to the misuse of network centrality. The question is not “how big is too big,” but how to differentiate between “good” and “bad” bigness. The answer hinges on the balance businesses strike between value capture and creation.

Moreover, policymakers need to make it easier for startups to scale up. A vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem remains the most effective antidote to rent extraction. Digital ledger technologies, for instance, have the potential to curb the power of large oligopolies more effectively than heavy-handed policy interventions. Yet economies must not rely on markets alone to bring about the “churn” that capitalism so badly needs. Indeed, even as policymakers pay lip service to entrepreneurship, the number of startups has declined in many advanced economies.

Finally, policymakers must move beyond the neoliberal conceit that those who work hard and play by the rules are those who will rise. After all, the flipside of that perspective, which rests on a fundamental belief in the equalizing effect of the market, is what Michael Sandel calls our “meritocratic hubris”: the misguided idea that success (and failure) is up to us alone.

This implies that investments in education and skills training, while necessary, will not be sufficient to reduce inequality. Policies that tackle structural biases head-on – from minimum wages to, potentially, universal basic income schemes – are also needed.

Neoliberal economics has reached a breaking point, causing the traditional left-right political divide to be replaced by a different split: between those seeking forms of growth that are less inclined toward extreme concentration and those who want to end concentration by closing open markets and societies. Both sides challenge the old orthodoxies; but while one seeks to remove the “neo” from neoliberalism, the other seeks to dismantle liberalism altogether.

The neoliberal age had its day. It is time to define what comes next.