Reimagining Security and Rethinking Economics

April 7, 2018

Reimagining Security and Rethinking Economics

Image result for Reimagining Security and Rethinking Economics
US President Donald Trump signs trade sanctions against China–Making a Non-Issue  into a Global Probem–Trump’s Economics

Economic and financial issues nowadays tend to be discussed in intellectual silos, by specialists who give little mind to security concerns or the interplay between national and international objectives. But sooner or later, economists will realize that global security demands a new approach, just as it did in the interwar period.

PRINCETON – Now that the world is facing a trade war and the growing possibility that the West could find itself in a real war, we would do well to reconsider the lessons of the interwar period.

Many of today’s economic and security disorders are frequently attributed to the 2008 global financial crisis. In addition to exposing the flaws in conventional economic policies, the crisis and its aftermath accelerated the global rebalancing from the Atlantic to the Asia-Pacific region, while fueling political discontent and the rise of anti-establishment movements in the West.

Image result for Reimagining Security and Rethinking EconomicsDr Buckminster  Fuller is a creative genuis, thinker and builder

Likewise, the Great Depression of the 1930s is usually thought to have produced a seismic shift in economic thinking. According to the conventional narrative, policymakers at the time, having vowed never to repeat the errors that led to the crisis, devised new measures to overcome their economies’ prolonged malaise.

The conceptual and institutional reordering of economics that followed is usually credited to one towering figure: the British economist John Maynard Keynes, who published The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money in 1936. Keynes also orchestrated the 1944 Bretton Woods conference, which led to the creation of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the post-war global monetary order.

According to Keynes’s collaborator and biographer Roy Harrod, Keynes enjoyed a god-like presence at the Bretton Woods talks. But some of Keynes’s other contemporaries, notably the British economist Joan Robinson, always doubted that he deserved so much credit for ushering in the new order.


After all, the real reason that Keynesian thinking took hold was that its method of calculating aggregate consumption, investment, and savings proved invaluable for American and British military planning during World War II. With consistent national accounting, governments could make better use of resources, divert production from civilian to military purposes, and curtail inflationary pressures, thereby maintaining consumption and staving off civil unrest.

Image result for Sir Roy F.Harrod

The same tools turned out to be just as useful in reorienting the post-war economy toward higher household consumption. But the point is that the revolution in economics, followed by the economic miracles of the post-war era, was a product of wartime calculation, not peacetime reflection. Pressing security concerns and the need to ensure domestic and international stability made policymakers more willing to challenge longstanding economic orthodoxy.

This era holds important lessons for the present. Nowadays, many economists complain that the financial crisis did not prompt a serious rethinking of conventional economics. There are no modern-day equivalents to Keynes. Instead, economic and financial issues tend to be discussed in intellectual silos, by specialists who give little mind to security concerns or the interplay between national and international objectives.

Still, as in the interwar period, there are security threats today that will make rethinking economic assumptions necessary, if not inevitable. Though the financial crisis did not lead to a holistic intellectual reckoning, three broader challenges to the liberal international order since 2016 almost certainly will.

The first challenge is the existential threat of climate change, which will have far-reaching geopolitical consequences, particularly for areas already facing water shortages, and for tropical countries and coastal cities already experiencing the effects of rising sea levels. At the same time, some countries will enjoy temporary gains, owing to longer growing seasons and increased access to minerals, hydrocarbons, and other resources in polar regions.

Ultimately, reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will serve the common good. But, without an international mechanism to compensate those most at risk of a warming planet, individual countries will weigh the trade-offs of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions differently.

The second global challenge is artificial intelligence and its foreseeable disruption of labor markets. AI threatens not just employment but also security, because it will render obsolete many technologies that states use to defend their populations and deter aggression. It is little wonder that larger powers like the United States and China are already racing to dominate AI and other big-data technologies. As they continue to do so, they will be playing an increasingly dangerous and unstable game, in which each technological turn could fundamentally transform politics by rendering old defenses useless.

The third challenge is the monetary revolution being driven by distributed-ledger technologies such as block chain, which holds out the promise of creating non-state money. Since Bretton Woods, monetary dominance has been a form of power, particularly for the US. But alternative modes of money will offer both governments and non-state actors new ways to assert power or bypass existing power structures. Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are already disrupting markets, and could someday alter the financial relations on which modern industrial societies are based.

In the new political geography, China, Russia, India, and others see each of these challenges as opportunities to shape the future of globalization on their own terms. What they envision would look very different from the model of the late twentieth century. China, for example, regards AI as a tool for recasting political organization through mass surveillance and state-directed thinking. By replacing individualism with collectivism, it could push global politics in a profoundly illiberal direction.

Image result for Harold James is Professor of History and International Affairs at Princeton University

Fortunately, there are alternative paths forward. In rethinking economics and security, we will need to develop an approach that advances innovation within a framework of coordinated deliberation about future social and political arrangements. We need to apply human imagination and inventiveness not only to the creation of new technologies, but also to the systems that will govern those technologies.

The best future will be one in which governments and multinational corporations do not control all of the information. The challenge, then, is to devise generally acceptable solutions based on cooperation, rather than on the destruction of competing vision.

*Harold James is Professor of History and International Affairs at Princeton University and a senior fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation. A specialist on German economic history and on globalization, he is a co-author of the new book The Euro and The Battle of Ideas, and the author of The Creation and Destruction of Value: The Globalization Cycle, Krupp: A History of the Legendary German Firm, and Making the European Monetary Union.

Polarizing Politics in Trump Land

April  4, 2018



Image result for Mike Mineham

The NRA controls The White House and The  US Congress. Fact or Fiction (Fake News)? Student activism may change that.

Polarization of extremes in politics is nothing new. But political polarization seems to have hit a new low in the USA.

This is because the National Rifle Association (NRA) is taking aim at the teens who were the survivors of the February Parkland school shooting in Florida.

These teens and their activism on gun policy have now become the target of the NRA and its supporters, who claim that the Democrats are using these student survivors as pawns to advance the Democratic agenda of tighter restrictions on firearms.

The NRA’s most outspoken board member is the musician Ted Nugent, who says the protesting students are liars and are soulless:

Ted Nugent is also notorious for inviting the then Presidential Candidate Obama to “suck on my machine gun” in 2007.

CNN provides more details about the Fox News host, Laura Ingraham, who attacked one of the Florida high school survivors, and then found that advertisers were deserting her show:

CBS News reported on the 2nd April that at least 15 companies have now pulled their advertising from Ingraham’s show in protest after her criticism of Parkland High School Senior David Hogg.

Polarization in America is most noticeable in reactions to news outlets themselves. According to the American Pew Research Centre, 9 out of 10 Democrats now say that criticism of leaders by news outlets helps prevent these leaders from doing things that they shouldn’t. But only 4 in 10 Republicans agree. The other 6 out of 10 argue alternatively that this criticizm stops leaders from doing their job.

This divergence is a 47 point gap, and it’s worsened dramatically since the Presidency of George W Bush, when the same gap between Democrats and Republicans about news media was only 27 per cent.

It’s interesting to speculate on the reasons why this chasm has widened, and why there is now so much toxicity. Perhaps the Trump mantra of ‘fake news’ is contributing. Perhaps the confrontational politics of President Trump are another causal factor. Or perhaps the way Trump uses the power of the Presidency to publicly pursue his own vitriolic vendettas might be yet another accelerant.

Image result for gun culture in america


But whatever, targeting school kids who have just survived a massacre in which 17 of their school friends were killed, well, that’s an all time low that should be out of bounds for even the NRA. Especially the NRA, which at other times, is at pains to project its image of law abiding citizens trying to protect the Second Amendment.

Image result for gun culture in america

I can’t help feeling that America is becoming another victim. The politics of viciousness now seem to be the norm.

And anyway, what sort of a culture is it that kicks kids when they’re down? I would say this is a careless culture, because these kids and their supporters will step up to the ballot box very soon.

Malaysian Joker

March 20, 2018

Image result for Zahrain Mohamed Hashim

I know Malaysian Ambassador to Indonesia Dato Seri Zahrain Mohamed Hashim very well. We have been close  friends for a long time. At one time, we were in Parti KeADILan Rakyat helping Anwar Ibrahim who was leading the coalition Pakatan Rakyat of PKR, DAP and PAS for GE-12 in 2008.

For reasons of our own, we left PKR. Dato Zahrain rejoined UMNO while I chose to remain a private citizen and a strident critic of the Najib  administration. We have remained close friends and we did not let politics divide us.

When he was appointed our Ambassador to Indonesia, he consulted me about the nature of the job, and sought my advice. I told him to accept the appointment but added that the job would be a challenging one since it would involve representing the elected government and the country at the same time. His duty, I said, was to do a professional job.

On the basis of the feedback I got from my Indonesian friends and associates, he is a good Ambassador with close ties to the business community, the media, the politicians, civil society leaders, and the Indonesian Foreign Ministry. While we may disagree on many issues, we have been have not allowed our differences to affect our friendship. In my opinion, Dato’ Seri Zahrain is not a Malaysian joker. He is our country’s Ambassador appointed by our King to represent Malaysia.–Din Merican

Malaysian Joker

Despite the probe into 1MDB in several countries, there is “no case” against it and all allegations involving it are part of a “political game”, Malaysian Ambassador to Indonesia Zahrain Mohamed Hashim said.

“There is no case. The police, MACC and the attorney-general have studied (the 1MDB case) and found there are no elements of fraud. It is the same case in the Parliament.

“There is no theft involved, no missing funds and no illegal flow of funds from 1MDB. 1MDB is formally still in business,” he was quoted as saying.

Zahrain also said that it has been established that no money from 1MDB – started by the government to develop investment and business – had been channelled into Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s personal account, as alleged in a report by TheWall Street Journal.

The RM2.6 billion in Najib’s account was instead a gift from a Saudi Arabian donor, he stressed.

Zahrain also questioned why US authorities did not liaise with their Malaysian counterparts if they were “sincere” in addressing the 1MDB issue.

Our comment

There is a simple question to be put to the latest joker to dance naked on behalf of Najib  Razak. If the Attorney General’s report exonerates 1MDB, then why was it unconstitutionally declared an Official Secret?

Furthermore, if “there is no case” how does he describe the civil case in the US, now pending whilst the criminal side of the investigation gets under way?  If there is no action, how does he describe the forceable seizure of the yacht Equanimy in Indonesia and Jho Low’s jet in Singapore?

If no imprisonments, how does he explain the present incarcerations of Khadem Al Qubaisi, Mohammed al Husseini and Prince Turki in their various jurisdictions?  All were key players in the 1MDB scams.

And why are Jho Low, Casey Tang, Jasmine Loo, Nik Faisal et al all on the run afraid to show their faces?  Why did Jho Low buy himself a St Kitts & Nevis Island passport?

Lastly, why did Riza Aziz’s personally owned company Red Granite Pictures just plead a deal with the US authorities and pony up US$61 million, in a plain admission that the money was – as stated only too clearly in the DOJ submissions – stolen from 1MDB?

Sadly, the Malaysian government has now evolved into a fully fledged criminal enterprise and its representatives have been transformed into gangsters of the sort that deny even the most glaring and obvious facts when challenged.

If the people want to be governed by such shameful shysters it is up to them, but they ought not to forgive these thieves and liars for attempting to steal the election as well as the country’s wealth.

Will Malaysia’s Islamization Change Course?

March 9, 2018

Will Malaysia’s Islamization Change Course?

Pundits are betting that Prime Minister Najib Razak will win Malaysia’s upcoming election. To end the Islamist one-upmanship in which the country has been mired in recent years, the opposition – now allied with Najib’s predecessor and former mentor Mahathir Mohamad – must win one-third of the seats in parliament.

PENANG – Malaysia is just a few months or even weeks away from its most contentious election in decades. Mahathir Mohamad – Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister, whose rule ended in 2003 – is, at 92, working with opposition figures he once repressed to prevent his former protégé, the controversial Prime Minister Najib Razak, from securing another term. But breaking the 61-year winning streak of Mahathir’s former party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), will not be easy.

In fact, the pundits are still betting on Najib, with one pollster predicting that the incumbent could regain a two-thirds parliamentary majority, enabling him to amend the constitution. Mahathir has just a few months to change the political dynamic, by leading the opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan (PH), and replacing the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS) with his new party, the Malaysia United Indigenous Party (PPBM), as the primary alternative to UMNO.

While the PAS has only about 15% electoral support, it has managed to push the UMNO to implement elements of its nationalist-religious agenda. A strong enough showing by PH in the next election, however, would expose the PAS as politically dispensable, potentially freeing Malaysia from a toxic game of Islamist one-upmanship.

The impact of that game should not be underestimated. In recent years, religious intolerance has been on the rise in once-secular Malaysia. For example, the Arabic word for God, Allah, widely used by Arab and Indonesian Christians, is now reserved for Muslim use only. More alarming, the Home Ministry has banned a wide range of books, from the Indonesian translation of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species to the writings of the Islam-friendly Western scholars John Esposito and Karen Armstrong.

The rise of a strict and exclusivist Islam in Malaysia reflects international trends and domestic dynamics. Ethnic-majority Malays – who were marginalized during colonial times, but now enjoy constitutionally guaranteed preferential treatment in the economy and education – must, by definition, be Muslim. The persistence of their favored status hinges on the UMNO’s political dominance, or so UMNO claims.

Image result for Malaysian Burka Woman

Woman in Full Burka and Niqab Sits Next To Young Teen in Head Scarf, Genting Highlands, Malaysia

While early UMNO leaders were anti-clerical, the party’s success in eliminating its leftist and liberal rivals left PAS as the face of the Malay opposition. When the modernist Mahathir came to power in 1981, Islamism became the PAS’s most effective ideological weapon against the UMNO.

And, indeed, the PAS leader, Hadi Awang, then a young and charismatic cleric, advocated a radical stance, labeling any Muslim who supported the UMNO an “infidel,” because the UMNO government had supposedly “perpetuated the colonial constitution, infidel laws, and pre-Islamic rules.” Hadi’s message helped to create a deep divide between the two “kinds” of Muslims, to the extent that villages would have two mosques, two cemeteries, and two clerics to lead prayers and officiate at ceremonies.

Image result for Najib and Hadi

Prime Minister Najib Razak is taking Malaysia back to the Stone Age and that is why he must be denied 2/3 rd Majority in Parliament in GE-14

But where Hadi did the most damage was in undermining the legitimacy of Malaysia’s post-colonial state and social structures. When Malaysia was under British rule, it faced mass immigration of ethnic Chinese and Indians, and the emergence of a Christian native minority on the island of Borneo.

From a Muslim nationalist’s perspective, pluralism – together with secularism and democracy – were colonial impositions. Full decolonization would demand restoration of the dominance of Islam and Muslims. According to this narrative, the Ottoman Empire offers a model of segregated, unequal, but peaceful co-existence of multiple ethno-religious communities. Minorities lived autonomously in their “millets,” not as equal citizens, but as “dhimmis” (protected minorities).

Having once championed the establishment of a full-fledged Islamic state, the PAS now demands at least expanding Sharia law and elevating the status of the Syariah court system, which now has limited jurisdiction over Muslims’ personal and family matters, to that of the civil courts. As the PAS’s brand of Muslim religious nationalism has increasingly overridden the UMNO’s Malay ethno-nationalism, these goals have gained the support of a growing number of Muslims.<

While not known to be religious, Mahathir shrewdly co-opted Hadi’s more charismatic and visionary contemporary, Anwar Ibrahim, in 1982 to spearhead the UMNO’s own Islamization projects. From Islamic higher education to Islamic banking to religious bureaucracy, Mahathir and Anwar stole the PAS’s religious thunder – that is, until the UMNO split. In 1998, Mahathir imprisoned Anwar, who had tried to replace him. After that, the PAS absorbed many of Anwar’s followers, expanding its influence from its stronghold in the north to the entire country.

Since the 2013 election, when Najib lost the popular vote but clung to power, thanks to electoral gerrymandering, he has worked to bring Hadi on side, for example, by facilitating the potential introduction of harsh hudud punishments (mandated by God under Islamic law) for crimes like adultery, drinking, and apostasy. It was a Machiavellian masterstroke that not only drew the PAS out of the opposition coalition, but also led Hadi to defend the scandal-plagued Najib.

The PAS has announced plans to contest about 60% of parliamentary constituencies. This may siphon Malay votes from PH, giving the UMNO many narrow victories. If the turnout among Malays is low, PH will suffer more than Najib, who could end up winning more seats with even fewer votes than in 2013

As for the PAS, its continued political relevance hinges on eliminating the threat posed by Mahathir and its own splinter party, Amanah, formed by pro-Anwar moderates. If Mahathir cannot secure one-third of the seats in parliament, the PAS can claim that it is indispensable, even if it loses every constituency. In such a scenario, no Malay opposition leader would dare denounce the PAS’s Muslim nationalism. The UMNO, despite its electoral victory, would have even less of the moral courage needed to block the PAS agenda.

If Mahathir does secure one-third of the parliament, Malaysian politics will undergo significant changes, even if the UMNO remains technically in charge. If Amanah can supplant the PAS as the main Islamic party, the trend toward religious extremism would likely be reversed. And if the PPBM is established as a rival defender of Malays’ favored status, the UMNO would lose its monopoly on the issue, making Malay politics more competitive.

So far, Malaysia’s nonagenarian comeback kid has been making inroads in many UMNO and PAS constituencies. But Malays alone will not decide the outcome of his battle with the PAS and Najib. As many marginal constituencies are ethnically mixed, low turnout among non-Malays may help the PAS – and hurt Malaysia.

Wong Chin-Huat is a political scientist at the Penang Institute in Malaysia.


Political Tribes review – an unreliable guide to the American Dream

March 2, 2018

Political Tribes review – an unreliable guide to the American Dream

Tiger mother Amy Chua is adept at spotting tribal behaviour, but less clear about what it all means

by Andrew Anthony

Amy Chua: looking at the role played by ethnic and tribal identity.
Amy Chua: looking at the role played by ethnic and tribal identity. Photograph: Steve Schofield for the Observer


To most readers who recognise the name, Amy Chua is the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the bestselling memoir about bringing up children under a strictly traditional regime of Chinese parenting. The book seemed to repel and inspire in equal measure. But leaving aside its personal testimony, it was a work that dared to tread on disputed and dangerous terrain: the advantage of certain ethno-cultural traits.

It’s an issue that can be found to varying degrees in all five of Chua’s books, including her latest, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations. Chua, a Professor of Law at Yale Law School, believes that ethnic and tribal identity plays a more powerful role in national politics than has been previously acknowledged, at least by American foreign policy.

She cites the wars in Vietnam and Iraq as classic examples in which intranational differences were underestimated with catastrophic results. In Vietnam, she notes, “a hugely disproportionate number” of the country’s “capitalists” were ethnic Chinese, who were despised by the Vietnamese, both northern and southern.


Therefore, America’s pro-capitalist initiatives served mainly to inflame existing resentments. The mistake was repeated in Iraq, but this time with religious divisions. The reason for this political dereliction, she argues, is because of the self-image America blindly projects on to the rest of the world.

America tends to see itself as a democratic polity in which ethnic differences are subsumed into a shared identity. Which is to say that there may be African Americans, Chinese Americans and Italian Americans, but what counts above all is that they are Americans.

As she observes elsewhere in the book, this is as much a myth as a reality. Many African Americans do not feel “American” in the way that many white Americans take for granted. And here she suggests that while America has enjoyed great success as a melting pot, its failures – discrimination, injustice, inequality – stem from this unwillingness to recognise the importance of ethnic and tribal affinities.


As far as it goes, that’s a thesis that is unlikely to provoke a storm of dissent for the good reason that it’s large incontrovertible. However, it’s when Chua attempts to expand her argument into the ever more complex world of identity politics that the book begins to lose its way or, rather, the picture blurs into a series of on-the-one-hand, on-the-other hedges.

It’s partly because Chua tries to shoehorn international relations, domestic strife and campus activism into one overarching category of tribal impulses. But it’s also because that while she’s adept enough at diagnosing tribal behaviour, she doesn’t seem to have a clear idea about what to do about it beyond acknowledging its existence.

So yes, we can ruefully nod our heads when she quotes President Obama saying: “The degree of tribal division in Libya was greater than our analysts had expected”, but that doesn’t really tell us about how to deal with tribal societies other than, perhaps, to stay away from them. And it doesn’t tell us anything about the more modern kind of tribalism that is increasingly a feature of Anglo-American politics. As Chua notes: “Once identity politics gains momentum, it inevitably subdivides, giving rise to ever-proliferating group identities demanding recognition.” But should these identities – the “more than 50 gender designations”, for example, that Facebook now lists – be given recognition, much as the Obama administration recognised the 140 tribes that make up the Libyan people?

Image result for Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations by Amy Chua


She seems to imply that the current fragmentation of society, its breaking down into ever more tightly defined groups competing for recognition and power, is a recipe for conflict. And certainly there is little doubt that the progressive forces of the left that once sought an inclusive universalism are now increasingly devoted to an exclusionary discourse in which various markers of privilege – whiteness, maleness, able-bodiedness – are deemed as barriers to understanding and participation.

But if there is a way out of this cul-de-sac of victimhood, Chua hasn’t found it. “What holds the United States together,” she concludes in a confusing epilogue, “is the American Dream. But it must be a version of the dream that recognises past failure instead of denying it.”

It’s a suitably lame note on which to end a well-intentioned book that never quite comes together.

Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations by Amy Chua is published by Bloomsbury (£20).