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We face an urgent need to provide innovative responses to natural resource use. Bamboo could play an important role in forest and landscape restoration. With adequate attention, investment, and the right standards in place, it could become a major renewable and sustainable crop—if we can update our outmoded view of it.
The State of the International Order report assesses international cooperation in the economic, diplomatic and security realms five years after the global financial crisis and over a decade after the invasion of Iraq. In gauging the state of the order, we ask two questions: What are the material realities shaping the options faced by the great powers? What are the issue-by-issue interactions that are revealing or shaping the content of great power relations, and international order more generally?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will spend three million dollars to help farmers and ranchers improve pastures in five Midwestern states to provide food for the nation’s struggling honeybees. Agricultural production has been threatened by a more than decade-long decline in commercial honeybees and their wild cousins due to habitat loss and pesticide use.
State and local governments have awarded $110 billion in taxpayer subsidies to business, with 3 of every 4 dollars going to fewer than 1,000 big corporations. The largest five subsidies went to Boeing, ALCOA, Intel, General Motors and Ford. Dow Chemical received 410 separate subsidies worth $1.4 billion. Federal, state and local governments publish exhaustively detailed statistical reports on welfare to the poor, disabled, sick, elderly and other individuals who cannot support themselves. But corporate welfare is not the subject of any comprehensive reporting at the federal level. Disclosures by state and local governments vary greatly, from substantial to nearly nonexistent. Taxpayers who want to understand their burdens should demand that Congress require and pay for detailed annual reports showing every federal, state and local subsidy received by corporations.
While historic winter storms have battered much of the US, California is suffering its worst drought on record. So why is America’s most valuable farming state using billions of gallons of water to grow hay – specifically alfalfa – which is then shipped to China? Cheap water rights and America’s trade imbalance with China make this not just viable, but profitable.
The difficulties that we are facing now are not the result of the inexorable laws of economics, to which we simply must adjust, as we would to a natural disaster, like an earthquake or tsunami. They are not even a kind of penance that we have to pay for past sins. Instead, our current difficulties are the result of flawed policies.
Just about everything Americans need to know about the surge of income inequality is contained in the 43- page indictment last week of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. It’s a simple and base transaction. For a bit of personal wealth, a politician sells out the people who elected him, the people who trusted him to serve their interests.
Americans will look back and marvel at what became of our old welfare state–that tangle of inequity and dysfunction once known as federal entitlements. Why did the public tolerate a system that wound up distributing most of its benefits to the well-off? And how did the economy survive its costs? With the vaunted post-Cold War Peace dividend evaporating, the United States found itself unable to invest adequately in either its infrastructure or its children. Eventually people began to talk of another Great Depression, before the coming of the next New Deal. This Atlantic magazine article from 1992 almost could have been written today.
The next year will be a year of living tactically. However, there are developments on the horizon of potential strategic consequence that will call out for larger, more coordinated, designs. In their absence, the sense that we live in a state of sublimated strategic anarchy will persist.
Climate change exists on a time scale not congenial either to media time or to the individual lifetimes of our short-lived species. If the end of the world doesn’t fit well with “the news,” neither does denial. The idea of a futureless humanity is difficult to take in and that has undoubtedly played a role in suppressing the newsiness of climate change.
Obama’s desire for fast-track authority on the TPP and other agreements clashes with reducing income inequality. Data on NAFTA poses a significant challenge for President Obama. He said he wants to battle the plague of income inequality and to expand the NAFTA model with TPP, but he cannot have it both ways.
At the dawn of a new year, the world is in the midst of several epic transitions. Economic growth patterns, the geopolitical landscape, the social contract that binds people together, and our planet’s ecosystem are all undergoing radical, simultaneous transformations, generating anxiety and, in many places, turmoil.
Clean coal is an essential component of the President’s ‘All of the Above’ energy strategy, but on the heels of the West Virginia coal-cleaning chemical disaster, amid record climate disruptions and drought and flooding, Obama’s billion dollar bonus to Big Coal might signal “game over” for clean energy and climate initiatives in Illinois.
Utility-sized solar plants are beginning to appear across the US, with 232 under construction, in testing or granted permits, many in the south-west and California. In the west, ample sun, wide-open spaces, financial incentives, falling costs and state mandates have made big solar plants possible.
We are already engaged in a planet-wide experiment with consequences we can already tell are unpleasant for the future of humanity. So the hubris involved in thinking we can come up with a second planet-wide experiment that would exactly counteract the first experiment is delusional in the extreme.
The future will see not the renovation or the construction of a glistening new international architecture but the continued spread of an unattractive but adaptable multilateral sprawl that delivers a partial measure of international cooperation through a welter of informal arrangements and piecemeal approaches. The furious pace of technological change risks leaving global governance in the dust.
Irrational exuberance is back on Wall Street, encouraged by cheap credit lavished on heavily leveraged speculators, lax accounting rules and the unfortunate tendency to confuse the true value of stocks. Sky-high valuations get little skeptical coverage in the financial press, which has acted more as lapdog than watchdog in the past decade.
Our generation can end the ancient scourge of extreme poverty, but it can also destroy the earth’s life-support system through human-induced environmental devastation. By necessity, then, we have entered The Age of Sustainable Development. Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University is launching a free, global, online university course by the same name in January 2014. Sustainable development is both a way of understanding the world and a way to help save it, it will become the organizing principle for our politics, economics, and even ethics in the years ahead.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has created an anti-CNN for Western audiences with the international satellite news network Russia Today. With its recipe of smart propaganda, sex appeal and unlimited cash, it is outperforming its peers worldwide.
In the United States, two very different worlds have come into existence along the same coastline.New York City and New Bern, North Carolina both face the same projected rise in sea levels, but while one is preparing for the worst, the other is doing nothing on principle. A glimpse into America’s contradictory climate change planning.
A federal district judge ruled on Monday that the National Security Agency program that is systematically keeping records of all Americans’ phone calls most likely violates the Constitution, describing its technology as “almost Orwellian” and suggesting that James Madison would be “aghast” to learn that the government was encroaching on liberty in such a way. District Judge Leon wrote that he could not “imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary’ invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval… Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment,” which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. He also wrote that the government had failed to cite “a single instance in which analysis of the N.S.A.’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive.”
Since the financial crisis of 2007-2009, policymakers have debated the need for a new toolkit of cyclical “macroprudential” policies to constrain the build-up of risks in financial markets, for example, by dampening creditfueled asset bubbles. These discussions tend to ignore America’s long and varied history with many of the instruments under consideration to smooth the credit cycle, presumably because of their sparse usage in the last three decades.
Over the course of American history, support for economic redistribution has been the exception, not the rule. The substantial gains of the left on cultural and social issues and recent electoral victories in New York and Boston have created a misleading perception among liberals that the country is moving in the same direction on economic issues. That is not the case: an ethos of self-reliance and individual responsibility continues, as it has for the past 237 years, to grip the American imagination.
Central banks around the world are pumping trillions into the economy. The goal is to stimulate growth, but their actions are also driving up prices in the real estate and equities markets. The question is no longer whether there will be a crash, but when. Some economists seek to allay fears, by noting that the real estate market still has a long way to go, but who says that you have to reach the most inflated point in the last crisis before a dramatic downturn sets in?
Easter Island has been thought of as a clear example of a society that destroyed itself by overexploiting its own resources. Two anthropologists now think that may not be what happened, but their alternative view is hardly consoling. On Easter Island, people learned to live with less and forgot what it was like to have more. Maybe that will happen to us. A future in which we continuously degrade our planet, losing plant after plant, animal after animal, forgetting what we once enjoyed, adjusting to lesser circumstances, cannot be called “success.” To prevent an ecological crisis, we must become alarmed – that’s when we’ll act – but the new Easter Island story suggests that humans may never hit the alarm. There’s a lesson here and it’s not a happy one.
The United States is now in a period of austerity, and after years of huge increases, the defense budget is set to be scaled back. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the consequences of past U.S. defense cuts were not bad. A look at five such periods over the past century — following World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War — shows that austerity can be useful in forcing Washington to think strategically, something it rarely does when times are flush.
The sophisticated banks that dominate the financial system will directly incorporate the effects of capital regimes into their internal pricing models. This will result in the incentive effects flowing directly through to almost all decisions about business mix and pricing. Thus, incentive effects will be much more than academic constructs, they will play through into actual business decisions via banks’ internal markets.
Population growth, urbanisation and climate change are presenting significant challenges for cities now and into the future. Resilient cities can pick themselves up after a disaster and rebuild sustainably where necessary. Resilience to climate change will become even more important in the future. Compounding the natural hazard risk is the fact that cities are getting bigger, with denser populations and more assets at risk.
An American president’s most important power is not the veto pen or the ability to launch missiles. It is the bully pulpit. When a president speaks, the world listens. That is why Barack Obama’s credibility matters. If people do not believe what he says, his power to shape events withers. And recent events have seriously shaken people’s belief in Mr Obama.
The same kinds of politics that influence other aspects of society also help explain why some countries, such as the United States, suffer repeated banking crises, while others, such as Canada, avoid them altogether. A country does not choose its banking system; it gets the banking system it deserves, one consistent with the institutions that govern its distribution of political power.
Like the heralding of “American decline,” warnings about “the coming global disorder” have often proved premature. But with Americans and others rethinking the U.S. role in the world, and with no other nation, group of nations or international institutions willing or able to take its place, global disorder seems a more distinct possibility than it has since the 1930s.
One problem with economics is that it is necessarily focused on policy, rather than discovery of fundamentals. Nobody really cares much about economic data except as a guide to policy: economic phenomena do not have the same intrinsic fascination for us as the internal resonances of the atom or the functioning of the vesicles and other organelles of a living cell. Critics of “economic sciences” sometimes refer to the development of a “pseudoscience” of economics, arguing that it uses the trappings of science, like dense mathematics, but only for show. As economics develops, it will broaden its repertory of methods and sources of evidence, the science will become stronger, and the charlatans will be exposed.
The rise of cat bonds and other “insurance-linked securities” is starting to affect the price of insurance, particularly on the reinsurance side. Some weathered insurance executives are warning that naive investors are distorting prices, creating a frothy “shadow insurance” sector with systemic implications.
Of all the threats looming over the planet today, one of the most alarming is the seemingly inexorable descent of the world’s oceans into ecological perdition. Over the last several decades, human activities have so altered the basic chemistry of the seas that they are now returning to the barren primeval waters of hundreds of millions of years ago. The world faces a choice. We do not have to return to an oceanic Stone Age. Whether we can summon the political will and moral courage to restore the seas to health before it is too late is an open question. The challenge and the opportunity are there.
One of the reasons American hypocrisy is so effective is that it stems from sincerity: most U.S. politicians do not recognize just how two-faced their country is. Yet as the United States finds itself less able to deny the gaps between its actions and its words, it will face increasingly difficult choices — and may ultimately be compelled to start practicing what it preaches.
Dozens of psychological studies have shown that people primed to think about money before an experiment are more likely to lie, cheat and steal during the course of that experiment. Thinking about time, by contrast, makes people more honest than normal rather than less so and the more reflective they are the more honest they become.
Democrats have watched as one calamity after another has befallen what was once the most promising Democratic administration since John F. Kennedy’s. Yet all is not lost. The Obama administration has not exactly bungled its way through five years of power.
Germany slaughters 58 million pigs a year and has built an efficient meat industry second only to the US in pork exports. Its optimized breeding, feeding and killing system churns out wondrously cheap cutlets — but at a hidden cost to the environment and our health.
A diverse group of highly respected global leaders is calling for a radical shake-up in politics and business to deliver progress on climate change, reduce economic inequality, improve corporate practices and address the chronic burden of disease.
The federal government spends more than $3.7 trillion annually, with more than $1 trillion awarded through contracts, grants, and loans. Improving transparency of this spending is essential to improve accountability. GAO recommends the development of a long-term plan to implement comprehensive transparency reform, and increased efforts for obtaining stakeholder input to ensure reporting challenges are addressed.
Ever since man first picked up a spear, other species have suffered. As his technology improved, so his destructive power increased. In a sense, this orgy of destruction was natural. In the wild, different species compete for resources, and man proved a highly successful competitor. Religion sanctioned his ascendancy. But in recent times attitudes have changed.
The Global Risks Report 2013 analyses 50 global risks in terms of impact, likelihood and interconnections, based on a survey of over 1000 experts from industry, government and academia. This year’s findings show that the world is more at risk as persistent economic weakness saps our ability to tackle environmental challenges.
The collapse of Lehman Brothers, a sprawling global bank, in September 2008 almost brought down the world’s financial system. It took huge taxpayer-financed bail-outs to shore up the industry. Even so, the ensuing credit crunch turned what was already a nasty downturn into the worst recession in 80 years. Massive monetary and fiscal stimulus prevented a buddy-can-you-spare-a-dime depression, but the recovery remains feeble compared with previous post-war upturns.
As they go about their business of producing most of the world’s wealth, novelty and human interaction, cities also produce a vast amount of data. The people who run cities are ever more keen on putting those data to work. Hardly a week passes without a mayor somewhere in the world unveiling a “smart-city” project—often at one of the many conferences hailing the concept.
The word many Mexicans now use to describe Washington reflects a familiar mix of outrage and exasperation: berrinche. Technically defined as a tantrum, berrinches are also spoiled little rich kids, blind to their privilege and the effects of their misbehavior. A common question crossing continents remains quite simple: The Americans aren’t really that unreasonable and self-destructive, are they?
The latest IPCC report describes our current predicament with disturbing clarity. The details near the top of the knowledge pyramid can and should be intensely debated. But our solid understanding of the fundamentals of global warming – the base of our knowledge of climate science – should provide reason enough to press on with the implementation of carbon-free energy technologies.
A world “government” could never have democratic legitimacy, but the idea of world government can illuminate a sensible path for capturing the benefits of a more effective global polity. Given a fully interdependent global market, we should worry less about the risk of bad rules and policies from imperfect global institutions and more about how to exploit these institutions’ potential to lock in policies at home and abroad that minimize risks and maximize opportunities for people everywhere.
As the government shutdown grinds toward a potential debt default, some of the country’s most influential business executives have come to a conclusion all but unthinkable a few years ago: Their voices are carrying little weight with the House majority that their millions of dollars in campaign contributions helped build and sustain. To some extent, the Chamber of Commerce itself, along with other lobbying groups, helped create the conditions for Washington’s impasse.
Novelist John Lancaster, given access to the Snowden Files, discusses his impressions. At a moment of austerity and with a general sense that our state’s ability to guarantee prosperity for its citizens is in retreat, that same state is about to make the biggest advance ever in its security powers. Our spies and security services can, for the first time, monitor everything about us, and they can do so with a few clicks of a mouse and – to placate the lawyers – a drop-down menu of justifications. Looking at the GCHQ papers, it is clear that there is an ambition to get access to everything digital. And yet nobody, at least in Britain, seems to care. Snowden’s revelations are not just interesting or important but vital, because the state is about to get powers that no state has ever had, and we need to have a public debate about those powers and what their limits are to be.
As bad as things in Washington are — the federal government shutdown since Tuesday, the slim but real potential for a debt default, a political system that seems increasingly ungovernable — they are going to get much worse, for the United States and other advanced economies, in the years ahead. We are reaching end times for Western affluence. The underlying reason for the stagnation is that a half-century of remarkable one-off developments in the industrialized world will not be repeated. Policy makers simply pray for a strong recovery. They opt for the illusion because the reality is too bleak to bear.
The president’s economic initiatives – food stamps, manufacturing, infrastructure, raising the debt ceiling, appointing a new chairman of the Federal Reserve – have mostly ended in either neglect or shambles. After five years, the Obama Administration’s stated intentions to improve the fortunes of the middle class, boost manufacturing, reduce income inequality, and promote the recovery of the economy have come up severely short.
Water is never far from the news these days. At the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, experts named water risk as one of the top four risks facing business in the twenty-first century. Major companies are already seizing on water-risk data. The message is clear: water-risk management is shifting into the mainstream of business practices.
Five years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers triggered the largest global financial crisis since the Great Depression, outsize banking sectors have left economies shattered. Worse, despite years of debate, no consensus about the nature of the financial system’s problems – much less how to fix them – has emerged. And that appears to reflect the banks’ political power.
It’s easy to be depressed about America these days. We’ve got messes aplenty abroad and the Republican-dominated House of Representatives is totally paralyzed. Fortunately, there is another, still “exceptional,” American reality out there. It’s best found at the research centers of any global American company.
The state has played a central role in producing game-changing breakthroughs, its contribution to the success of technology-based businesses should not be underestimated. There are many reasons why policymakers must modernise the state and bring entitlements under control. But one of the most important is that a well-run state is a vital part of a successful innovation system.
In American courthouses this summer, a vitally important struggle over the First Amendment’s scope is taking place between the Obama Administration and the press. At issue is whether the Administration will fulfill a recent pledge to end its heavy-handed pursuit of professional journalists’ sources. The ripest case concerns a Times reporter, James Risen.
The National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age, according to newly disclosed documents.
For decades American politicians have assumed that mass incarceration works, wooing voters with ever-tougher sentencing laws. The dramatic fall in crime since the 1990s has persuaded many that they were right. Prison has diminishing returns, and America long ago passed the point where jailing more people makes sense.
There is a never-ending supply of business gurus telling us how we can, and must, do more. Yet the biggest problem in the business world is not too little but altogether too much busy-ness. All this “leaning in” is producing an epidemic of overwork, and has been producing negative returns for some time now. It is time to try the far more radical strategy of leaning back.