Germany With More Robots than the US, But No Job Losses & Lessons From History

By 2014, there were 7.6 robots per thousand German workers, compared to 1.6 in the US. The rise of the robots, coming first for our jobs, then maybe our lives, is a growing concern in today’s increasingly automated world.On Oct. 10, the World Bank chief said the world is on a “crash course” to automate millions of jobs. But a recent report from Germany paints a less dramatic picture: Europe’s strongest economy and manufacturing powerhouse has quadrupled the amount of industrial robots it has installed in the last 20 years, without causing human redundancies.
In 1994, Germany installed almost two industrial robots per thousand workers, four times as many as in the US. By 2014, there were 7.6 robots per thousand German workers, compared to 1.6 in the US. In the country’s thriving auto industry, 60–100 additional robots were installed per thousand workers in 2014, compared to 1994.
Researchers from the Universities of Würzburg, Mannheim, and the Düsseldorf Heinrich-Heine University examined 20 years of employment data to figure out how much of an effect the growth of industrial manufacturing has had on the German labor market.
They found that despite the significant growth in the use of robots, they hadn’t made any dent in aggregate German employment. “Once industry structures and demographics are taken into account, we find effects close to zero,” the researchers said in the report.

Robots are changing career dynamics

While industrial robots haven’t reduced the total number of jobs in the German economy, the study found that on average one robot replaces two manufacturing jobs. Between 1994 and 2014, roughly 275,000 full-time manufacturing jobs were not created because of robots.
“It’s not like jobs were destroyed, in the sense that a manufacturing robot is installed and then the workers are fired because of the robots—that never really happened in Germany,” study co-author Jens Südekum, from Düsseldorf Institute for Competition Economics, told . “What happened instead is that in industries where they had more robots, they just created fewer jobs for entrants.”
“In a sense the robots blocked the entry into manufacturing jobs.” “Typically around 25% of young labor market workers went into manufacturing and the rest did something else, and now more workers have immediately started in the service sector—so in a sense the robots blocked the entry into manufacturing jobs.”
The study also found that those who are already in jobs where they were more exposed to automation, were significantly more likely to keep their jobs, though some ended up doing different roles from before. The big downside for some medium-skilled workers, who did manual, routine work, was that it meant taking pay cuts.
“This is where these wage results come in, what we find is that no one was really fired because of a robot, but many swallowed wage cuts. And this has mostly affected medium-skilled workers who did manual routine tasks.” Around 75% of manufacturing workers are medium skilled, and the wage cuts have so far been moderate, he says.
“The robots really fueled inequality.” But Germany hasn’t got it perfect. One core reason for why Germans haven’t been fired in favor of robot, is the country’s famously powerful unions and work councils, which have are often keen to accept flexible wages on behalf of workers, to maintain high employment levels.
“Unions of course have a very strong say in wage setting in Germany,” Südekum says. “It’s known that they are more willing than unions in other countries to accept wage cuts to ensure jobs are secured.”
While robots have increased productivity and profits, and not driven people into unemployment (yet), they haven’t been good news for blue collar workers in Germany.
“The robots really fueled inequality, because they benefitted the wages of highly skilled people—like managers and scientists, people with university education—they even gained higher wages because of the robots, but the bulk of medium-skilled production workers suffered.”
Disruptive technologies are dictating a new future for humankind. Almost every day we hear of new advances that blur the lines between the realms of the physical, the digital and the biological. Robots are now in our operating rooms and fast-food restaurants. It’s possible, using 3D imaging and stem cell extraction, to grow human bone from a patient’s own cells. 3D printing is creating a circular economy – rather than the linear model of making things then throwing them away – by altering how we use and recycle raw materials.
This tsunami of technological change is clearly challenging the ways in which we operate as a society. Its scale and pace are profoundly changing how we live and work, and signposting fundamental shifts in all disciplines, economies and industries.
In what we now call the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we will see the confluence of several technologies that are coming of age, including robotics, nanotechnology, virtual reality, 3D printing, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced biology.
Although at different stages of development and adoption, as these technologies bed in, becoming more widespread and convergent, we will see a radical shift in the way that individuals, companies and societies produce, distribute, consume and re-use goods and services.
Will the robots & new industrial revolution destroy jobs?
These developments are prompting widespread anxiety about what role humans will have in the new world. As the pace of change accelerates, so the alarm levels ratchet up. A University of Oxford study estimated that close to half of US jobs could be lost to automation over the next two decades. In the opposite camp, economists like James Bessen argue that, on the contrary, automation and jobs often go hand in hand.
It’s impossible at this point to predict what the overall impact on employment will be. Disruption will happen; of that we can be certain. But before we swallow all of the bad news, we should take a look at history. Because this tells us that it is more often the nature of work – rather than the opportunity to take part in work – that will be impacted.
How industrial revolutions changed the nature of work
The first industrial revolution took British manufacturing out of people’s homes and into factories, creating the beginnings of organizational hierarchy. People moved from rural areas to industrial ones, change was often violent – the famous “Luddite riots” in early 19th century England are a case in point – and the first labor movements emerged.
The second one was characterized by electrification, large-scale production and the expansion of transportation and communication networks. It led to the birth of the professions – such as engineering, banking and teaching – created the middle classes, and introduced social policies and the role of government.
And as electronics and information technology automated production during the third industrial revolution, many human jobs started to become service-driven. When automated teller machines (ATMs) arrived in the 1970s, it was initially viewed as a disaster for workers in the retail banking industry. Yet branch jobs actually increased over time as branch cost went down, becoming less transactional in nature and more about managing customer relationships.
What can we learn from history?
Each industrial revolution has brought attendant disruption, and the fourth wave will be no different. We must remember this and use what we have learned to manage the change:
Focus on skills. Instead of focusing on the specific jobs that will appear or disappear, we should instead concentrate on the skills that will be needed, then educate, train and reskill the human workforce to leverage the new opportunities afforded by technology. HR departments, educational institutions and governments will be at the forefront of driving this.
Protect the disadvantaged. Experience points repeatedly to the need to protect the disadvantaged and create the time and means for them to adjust. As we have seen this year, it is more important than ever not to let inequalities create social groups who have lost all hope on the altar of progress.
Work together to create new ecosystems. Government will have a crucial role to play, along with business and civil society leaders, in driving the appropriate levels of collaboration, regulation and standards that will be needed to ensure that the fourth industrial revolution translates into economic growth and creates benefits for all.
I am not under any illusions this will be easy. Particularly in democracies, change will be hard and slow. It will require a mix of forward-looking policy-making, agile regulatory frameworks and – above all – effective partnerships that cross our organizational and national boundaries. Politics, rather than technology, will determine the pace of change.
Denmark is rightfully an often quoted example here, where its “flexicurity” system allows for a high degree of labour law flexibility, while offering citizens a safety net of benefits, training and reskilling.
Despite the exponential pace of technological change, we should not forget the all-important role of time. While the changes ahead will be momentous – indeed, revolutionary – they will not land as a big bang. On the contrary, they will likely take place over many decades. We have time, therefore, to adjust; as individuals, as companies and as societies. For sure, this is no reason to wait and see, but rather one to get to work and create the new future.

Create jobs in the age of robots and low growth

The growth economy suffers from a productivity paradox. Corporations compete to reduce the time and effort that goes into production processes, which is generally seen as a sign of efficiency, but in reality has a troubling outcome.
Unless more stuff is produced and consumed, people lose their jobs as the same output can be achieved with fewer workers. This is why so many well-meaning people around the world fear the prospect of low growth, even when they recognise that the current form of industrial development is destroying the social fabric and natural ecosystems of societies.
Such a structural unemployment problem is further compounded by the real prospect of massive automation replacing humans in production chains. A study by Oxford University predicts that robots are likely to displace no less than 50% of jobs in the US and Europe in the next 20 years.
Machines are putting people out of work in emerging economies too, including in China, which has long been the global job creator. According to Martin Ford, bestselling author of The Rise of the Robots, most routine jobs are becoming obsolete. As Ford says: “We must decide, now, whether the future will see broad based prosperity or catastrophic levels of inequality and economic insecurity.”
Unless societies change their approach to growth and development, they will not only end up with a broken planet and conflict-ridden communities: they will also face massive unemployment. There is no way the vertical structures of production dominating the current industrial system will generate enough jobs, let alone good jobs, to satisfy our needs.
The only way out of this predicament is to empower people to become producers and consumers at the same time. Or what I call “prosumers”. They must be capable of making most of the things they need through local systems of co-production and networks of small businesses.
And certain technologies can help develop a new form of post-industrial artisanship. Thanks to open source hardware, small business networks are building computers. With the assistance of 3D printers, artisans are taking on big business in a way that may challenge conventional assumptions about the efficiency of economies of scale.
Changing the focus
Rethinking work is crucial for industrialised economies as well as emerging economies, where job losses are being felt even in the presence of substantial, although diminishing, economic growth.
For instance, Africa is expected to achieve a record 2.8 billion people by 2060, becoming the largest continent in the world. Most of these people will be young and thirsty for work. There is no way the continent will create decent employment opportunities by adopting an industrial model that’s already eliminating jobs globally.
A new approach is needed. The wellbeing economy forces us to rethink the nature of work by shifting the focus from the quantity of the production-consumption cycle to the quality of the relations underpinning the economic system. The growth economy pushes for mass consumption through an impersonal relationship between producers and consumers (which can be more efficiently performed by robots). The wellbeing economy must embrace a customised approach to economic exchanges, in which it’s the quality of the human interaction to determine the value.
Take a doctor as an example. From the perspective of the growth economy, the best doctor is the one that visits as many patients as possible in the shortest period of time. In theory, this function could even be performed by a robot. By contrast, in the well-being economy, the personal attention invested in the doctor-patient relationship becomes the key to value creation.
Intuitively, all of us associate the value of good health care with the personal attention that comes with it. The same holds true for education: any reasonable person would frown upon a school that asked teachers to teach faster and faster to an ever larger number of students. Common sense tells us that value is being lost through the mass consumption of these relationships, even when profits (both for the clinic and the school) may increase.
Rethinking productivity
Productivity is certainly a good thing, but it should not be embraced blindly. Above all, we need to ask what productivity is for.
The economy is nothing else than a system of social relations. If productivity undermines those relations, the economy itself crumbles, even when profits (at least for someone) may go up.
Many professional activities based on the quality of the performance cannot, by their own nature, become more productive. Asking an orchestra to play faster would not increase productivity: it would simply turn a melodic experience into a nightmare. The same applies to painters, dancers, barbers, teachers, nurses and the like.
This is why it still takes the same number of people to play a Mozart opera today as it did when Mozart first composed it. So, what about extending the same intuition to the rest of the economy?
What if the mechanic of the future won’t be a robot churning out new spare parts every second, but rather a qualified artisan that helps us fix, upgrade and upcycle our vehicle for the entire duration of its life? What if the engineer of the future won’t be a remote computer taking care of our house appliances but a personal advisor helping households produce their own energy. They would help optimise the use of natural resources, from water to vegetable gardens, and make sustainable use of building materials?
A circular economy in which production is optimised and no waste is produced can be achieved in two ways. It can be achieved through robots-dominated production chains or by a horizontal network of qualified artisans and small businesses operating as a collaborative organism. In the first case, a few people will dominate the global economy. In the second case, everyone will be empowered.
A wellbeing economy cannot exist without empowerment, access and equal opportunities for personal and collective fulfilment. Developing countries can now leapfrog to such a new trajectory without being held back by a model of industrialisation that’s increasingly unfit for the 21st century

 

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Fantastically Rising Inequality? Piketty Errs

Inequality is measured by the Gini coefficient, ranging from zero for total equality to 1 for total inequality. Consumption surveys of the National Sample Survey Organisation show a modest Gini increase from 0.3 in 1983 to 0.36 in 2011-12. Businesses that were bound hand and foot during the licence-permit raj were unbound, and soared. So the increased inequality is unsurprising.
Many economists believe inequality has risen much faster. Thomas Piketty, guru of inequality, and Lucas Chanel have produced a new paper “Indian Income Equality, 1922-2014: from British Raj to Billionaire Raj?” Using a complex mix of data on income tax, national accounts and household surveys, this concludes that the top 1% of income earners in 2014 earned 22% of national income, the highest share since 1922 when income tax was introduced.
Piketty and Chanel note that consumption as reported in NSSO surveys is barely 40% of consumption as shown in GDP data: the ratio has fallen steeply over recent decades. Of the many explanations, Piketty emphasises the thesis that the rich hide their consumption from surveyors for fear of tax consequences. The non-rich have no such compulsion.
Piketty says India has no income surveys over long periods. So he uses heroic but questionable assumptions to construct income estimates, admitting these are “fraught with methodological and conceptual difficulties.” He uses income tax data for the richest 5%, and adjusted NSSO consumption data for others. This yields a picture of fantastically rising inequality.
I won’t bore readers with Piketty’s technical flaws. But consider this. Piketty says the rich lie to NSSO surveyors. So for them he switches to tax data. Ergo, he thinks that the rich tell the truth to the taxman, but lie to surveyors! Laugh aloud, please.
The poor lie to surveyors too. Exit polls for elections vary widely from one another and the actual outcome. Why? As one voter told pollsters, “Why should I tell you truthfully? What will I get out of it?”
Economist Devesh Kapur once conducted a survey of Dalits, using a local facilitator. A Dalit being surveyed said he was in very bad shape. Then, by coincidence, it came to light there was a marriage proposal between the families of the Dalit and the facilitator. The Dalit immediately declared that he had been lying, and was actually very well off! Clearly the non-rich will lie if it benefits them.
Once, most subsidies were universal. But in recent decades the central government has targeted those below the poverty line, who get much cheaper foodgrains, kerosene, the Antodaya scheme and Indira Awas Yojana (cheap houses). State governments have additional targeted schemes. So, villagers have strong incentives to understate income to maximise benefits. Piketty is wrong to think only the rich lie to surveyors, not the non-rich.
Indeed, the incentives of the rich to lie have fallen with lower tax rates in recent decades, even as the incentives of the poor have gone the other way. This dents, perhaps destroys, the assumptions and results of Piketty’s fancy economic modelling.
He says the income share of the top 1% fell sharply to 6% under Nehru-Indira socialism from 1950 to the mid-1980s, and then rose stridently, especially in the era of economic liberalization after 1991. This implies that ordinary folk were treated better in the socialist era and much worse in the liberalisation era. Dead wrong. The poverty ratio did not fall at all between 1947 and 1977, while the population almost doubled. So, the absolute number of poor almost doubled. Piketty ignores this terrible outcome of “garibi hatao” socialism.
By contrast, fast growth induced by economic liberalisation raised 138 million people above the poverty line between 2004 and 2011.
Inegalitarian liberalisation was far better for the poor than egalitarian socialism. Liberalisation provided new opportunities, which mattered more than equality. All rural areas have much lower Ginis (hence more equality) than urban areas, yet all migration is from villages to towns. People vote with their feet for opportunity over equality. Bihar and Assam have the lowest Ginis, but this denotes terrible stagnation, not an egalitarian paradise. Biharis migrate in millions to unequal but richer states. The new opportunities of liberalisation have created 3,000 Dalit millionaires. This form of inequality merits cheers, not criticism.
Piketty fails to consider inequality of opportunity, India’s worst curse. People with skills and global connectivity have soared. Those without have been left behind. India needs quality schools, health centres, broadband and other infrastructure in every village. It needs uncorrupt, skilled and accountable officials. That will finally improve equality of opportunity. Soaking the rich won’t, as proved by the socialist era.

India’s Indigenous Intellectual Traditions & the Pseudo-Intellectual Left

What explains the refusal of India’s leftists to honour what is honourable in Indian history and traditions? India has one of the greatest intellectual traditions in the world and it has nothing to do with modern Indian leftist scholars and writers. It is the tradition of numerous yogis, sages and seers going back to the Vedas, extending through Vedanta, Buddhism and related dharmic traditions to their many exponents today.
Dharmic traditions teach us how to develop the mind in the highest sense of universal consciousness, not simply logic and conceptual thought. India’s great minds, centuries ago, produced the many paths of yoga and the largest variety of exalted spiritual philosophies and psychologies in the world. And their teachings remain alive and vibrant even today, spreading globally.
Yet, India’s dharmic tradition has not just addressed consciousness and spirituality, but has also produced a vast literature on art, science, medicine, mathematics and politics – all the main domains of thought and culture.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Swami Vivekananda transformed world thinking, introducing yoga, meditation and higher states of consciousness at a time before Einstein had discovered the relativity of time and space and the illusory nature of physical reality, something long taught in Vedanta and Buddhism.
Sri Aurobindo unfolded the idea of a higher evolution of consciousness in humanity and produced Savitri, the longest blank verse poem in the English language, revealing transformative yogic secrets that the West had yet to conceive. Yet, many of these great Indic thinkers wrote in Sanskrit or regional languages of India and have not been properly noted, much less studied.
Vedantic teachers like Swami Chinmayananda and Swami Dayananda have guided India in recent decades, commenting on cultural as well as spiritual affairs, using English as their main language of expression, so that the modern audience can easily understand them. Ram Swarup and Sitaram Goel produced excellent critiques of communism and Western religious fundamentalism.
New Yoga teachings have come out from India’s modern gurus, too numerous to mention, and there is now a detailed modern literature on Ayurvedic medicine in English. New books on India’s past have been written by important archaeologists and historians, uncovering the depth and antiquity of India’s many-sided civilisation.
Meanwhile, there is a dynamic new generation of insightful and articulate Indic/dharmic writers with new books and articles, and active in the social media, including Sanjeev Sanyal, Hindol Sengupta, Vamsee Juluri, Tufail Ahmad, and Amish Tripathi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been an important part of this intellectual/media awakening of pro-India scholars and writers, who honour the profound traditions of the country going back to ancient times.
The Left’s false claim to intellectual superiority
India’s Left has long claimed that Hindus are not intellectual and are unscientific, mindlessly repeating old racist colonial and missionary propaganda. Yet the Left has not produced any original thinkers, much less sages. It hasn’t even understood India’s own vast culture, which is the saddest commentary on its endeavours. India’s leftist scholars are largely Lord Macaulay’s children, promoting Western thought, disowning India’s older and more extensive cultural heritage.
India’s Left has no understanding of higher states of consciousness, as clearly explained in the dharmic traditions, or any interest in exploring them. It is wedded to gross materialism and physical reality, preferring to write about sex and politics, not anything transcendent. While traditional Hindu thought recognises seven chakras from basic human urges to the highest cosmic consciousness, leftist writers are happy to wallow in the lower one or two, as if they were contributing something exalted to the world.
While modern physics is embracing the idea of cosmic consciousness and great physicists like Oppenheimer have quoted the Bhagavad Gita, India’s Left is firmly caught in the outer world of maya, which it does not question. It has little sense of cosmology and not much vision beyond political propaganda. Yet, India’s scientists honour their own spiritual traditions like Subhash Kak and George Sudarshan, who are not products of the Left.
India’s leftists seldom learn Sanskrit or study the great philosophers, thinkers and poets of the country. While they can quote Shakespeare they deem it’s beneath their dignity to honour Kalidas. They cannot examine the Ramayana or Mahabharata except in terms of Marxist or Freudian theories. They may discuss women’s rights but have no experience of India’s powerful traditions of Goddess worship. They are like the children of the old British Raj for whom anything Indian, particularly Hindu, is primitive superstition to be frowned upon.
Indian immigrants now make up the highest strata of Western society in terms of education and affluence, comprising doctors, engineers, scientists, and software developers, most of who are respectful of India’s spiritual traditions. They are not products of the Left either.
India’s leftists, meanwhile, take academic posts both in India and the West, from which they can take potshots at their own culture and pretend to be wise while drawing comfortable salaries from the very governments they like to criticise. They would never practice yoga, mantra or meditation, as the people in the West are now doing more and more – including many thinkers and innovators. Note the example of Steve Jobs of Apple Computers, who carried Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi with him, and probably never heard of Romila Thapar, Ram Guha or Irfan Habib.
Intellectual arrogance of the Left
The problem is that India’s leftist intellectuals are products of the ego-mind, what is called the rajasic buddhi in yogic thought, which is marked by intellectual arrogance. Without first learning deep meditation, one cannot go beyond the prejudices of the outer intellect and its attachment to name, form and personality. One needs to become silent and receptive within in order to truly know oneself and the universe. This teaching has been clearly articulated since the ancient Upanishads did so in a series of inspired dialogues and debates over 3,000 years ago.
It is time for India’s leftist intellectuals to honour their own profound dharmic traditions. Then they might be capable of something more original and transformative than to imitate the superficial views of the western leftists, which is their current state of affairs. It might give them better ethical rules of behaviour to emulate as well.
The role of India’s true intelligentsia should be to sustain India’s cultural unity, spirituality and creativity, for the nation and the world – not trying to replace their own venerable traditions with worn out leftist agendas that have failed everywhere they have been implemented.

Game Theory Tells Whether We Are Heading to Nuclear War?

“Are we headed for a nuclear war?” It’s the question hanging over, well, basically everyone these days, as North Korea flaunts new developments in its nuclear weapons program, threatening the United States, and President Trump promises “fire and fury” in response. Those tensions seem to be easing when Trump wrote on Twitter that “Kim Jong Un of North Korea made a very wise and well reasoned decision,” possibly referencing a seeming pause in Pyongyang’s anti-U.S. threats.
But the episode remains frightening, and it’s all the more so because making predictions about nuclear war is deeply difficult. While history is full of case studies about what causes nation states to launch conventional war, the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are (thankfully) the lone examples of atomic attacks — and those were with weapons orders of magnitude less powerful than the current nuclear arsenal. That lack of historical precedent makes it hard for analysts to reason about nuclear conflicts and how to stop them.
That’s where game theory comes in. Game theory uses mathematical models to study conflict and cooperation between rational decision-makers.
“Game theory has been used to think about military issues since the beginning of the field in the 1940s,” said Tim Roughgarden, professor of computer science at Stanford University who focuses on game theoretic questions. He is the author, most recently, of “Twenty Lectures on Algorithmic Game Theory,” and won the Gödel Prize in 2012 for his work on routing traffic in large-scale communication networks to optimize performance of a congested network.
Let us see how game theory can be used to help us understand war, nation states’ actions, and the current tension between the United States and North Korea.
What is game theory?
Game theory is a field that involves reasoning mathematically about what happens when you have different actors who are strategic, who have different objectives, and what might happen when you have those actors in the same environment.
Has it always been used to think about military strategy?
The field has its roots in the 1920s. In some ways, there were mathematicians back then thinking about it in terms of poker and games of chance. But John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern’s book, “Theory of Games and Economic Behavior,” published in 1944, marked the birth of the field as an independent subject. Von Neumann also worked for U.S. think tanks in the context of Cold War strategy in the ’40s and ’50s, so game theory has really been used to think about military issues since the beginning of the field in the 1940s.
How is game theory useful in understanding nuclear war?
One thing game theory is useful for is providing very clean mathematical examples, parables almost, that help you articulate and reason about real-world situations in a logical way. They help you think through who the actors are, what their preferences are, which actions they can take and what possible outcomes could occur.
One of the most famous ones is the “Prisoner’s Dilemma.” The story goes that there are two prisoners accused of a crime. Authorities put them in different rooms and interrogate them separately, so they can’t communicate with each other. The setup supposes that each can do one of two things: remain silent or betray their partner. If both remain silent, they both get a light jail sentence. If both betray the other, they each get more significant sentences. If one remains silent, and one betrays, the traitor goes free and the other gets a particularly stiff sentence. Each prisoner has every incentive to betray their colleague, even though the best outcome for them collectively is to both remain silent.
Nuclear war — to attack or not to attack — has a prisoner’s dilemma-like aspect to it. Each player has the opportunity to screw over the other. But there’s an important caveat: The prisoner’s dilemma assumes there is no future. If you’re just playing once, your dominant strategy would be to betray — or attack. But in a repeated prisoner’s dilemma, where players — say the U.S. and North Korea — are in long-term interactions, they’re reasoning not just about today but about the chances of retaliation tomorrow. In the presence of a credible threat of retaliation, now each country has an incentive to cooperate — to not attack. They act against their own interest in the short-term because it assures them no retaliation.
This is what happened with the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. And this thinking was used as a way to reason about the stockpiling of nuclear weapons. Game theory can be used to provide one mathematical justification for the argument that nuclear buildup makes the world a more peaceful place.
So are the U.S. and North Korea in a repeated prisoner’s dilemma?
To the extent that the scenario today with North Korea is analogous to that with the Soviet Union, the same parables that were helpful for thinking about strategy then could be helpful today as well. But the current situation has not quite reached a prisoner’s dilemma because North Korea doesn’t yet have a symmetric ability to retaliate against us as we do against them. They’re developing that ability so that the situation becomes a prisoner’s dilemma.
How does game theory suggest the U.S. should act?
There are situations where you apply game theory and it gives you crisp, clear prescriptions about what you should do. In principle you could use game theory to decide what is the best way of bluffing in a game like poker. But in real world applications it doesn’t always tell you what you should do. It can give you the possible outcomes, but it’s doesn’t give you a whole lot of advice about how you should guide things to the endgame you want.
Here’s another famous example: Imagine two people want to go out to dinner and there are two restaurants in town—one French, one Italian. The first order of preference for both people is to have dinner with each other, as opposed to eating alone. But one person prefers French and the other prefers Italian. So there are two possible endgames worth striving for — where both go to the French restaurant or both go to the Italian restaurant. But it’s not at all clear how you get there.
Game theory is very helpful, though, when you have a clear belief about what the other side is going to do. This is the notion of a “best response.” If you know that another country will bow to a threat rather than retaliate, then there’s a much stronger case for issuing a threat. If you don’t know how they’ll act, reasoning about a best response becomes much more difficult.
This is one aspect in the situation with North Korea that has everyone a bit on edge: Neither side has a very good understanding of the other. Kim is young, there’s not been much direct interaction between him and the U.S. government and not a lot of confidence in understanding how he might act in different situations. And given the things Trump has been saying, North Korea might not be sure how the U.S. will react either.

 

House is a Feeling

Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto points to a new direction the way his houses wrestle with space and convention. Sometimes, in order to understand architecture, one need not look out of the window; it might help to look under a potato chip instead. That’s what Sou Fujimoto showed when he lined up 40 found objects at the Chicago Architecture Biennale in 2015. On 5×5 inch ply blocks, he placed everyday objects — from nails to ping pong balls — with tiny people figures around these exhibits. His block of potato chips read: “It should be possible to make architecture like hills… layering of hills is architecture”.
For this Japanese architect, who works more with feelings than brick and mortar, it is no surprise to hear him chant “nature” and “architecture” in one breath. “I was born and brought up in Hokkaido, an island filled with mountains and forests. When I moved to Tokyo to join the university, I could see the contrast between the artificial forest and the natural world. My challenge is to find a relationship between the two,” says the 46-year-old. Fujimoto is in Delhi for India Arch Dialogue, an FCDI initiative, and will be speaking at the India Design 2017 on February 17. This is his first visit to India, where he will be sharing his thoughts on his “visions for tomorrow”.
The youngest architect to design the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London in 2013, Fujimoto drew out a nimbus cloud grid of steel poles, which melted into the greenery of Kensington Gardens. With spaces blurring within and without, this apparition in white was an exploration of his idea of nature and architecture. The House NA in Tokyo was another experiment. Done completely in glass in a narrow plot for a young couple, it delinked ideas of privacy and relationships. “I wanted to recreate architecture not by building a box, but layering the volume into smaller spaces, where meaning and function blur. There is a lot of potential and hidden meaning to a space, and if you communicate with that space, it reacts differently,” he says.
His theory of Primitive Future goes back to the time when he began Sou Fujimoto Architects in 2000. “After graduation, I didn’t have any projects. I began wondering about my vision for the future, and I realised if you think only about the future, you don’t have starting point. For architecture, it’s a good place to think of how people lived centuries ago. For thousands of years, something fundamental hasn’t changed, yet something has, and it’s in these contrasts that architecture lies. Future is not only change, it is also about roots,” he says.
His Final Wooden House in Kumamoto, Japan, is like a baggage tag for his theory, walking the mile between function and form. In this weekend home, he used one-foot thick timber blocks stacked organically, creating nooks and hollows, where the roof becomes the seat, and the floor becomes the ceiling. “It was my attempt to redefine scale and see what happens,” he says, assuring us that it’s not as uncomfortable as it looks.
His most recent project, Mille Arbres (Thousand Trees), in Paris, is a revitalisation project of mixed use development across 55,000 sqm, with commercial and housing projects, where nature and architecture co-exist. He continues to do small houses as well. “I enjoy the diversity and scale of these programmes. If we only do one kind of project, we don’t see the architect of a city as a whole,” says Fujimoto.

Europe on Edge of Bankrupsy!

France ran out of money last Tuesday — and within days, so will the rest of Europe. At first glance, not a lot was going on last Tuesday. Priti Patel was desperately trying to hang onto her job, unsuccessfully as it turned out. Donald Trump was mouthing off on a trip to South Korea. Manchester City were rumoured to bidding for an incredibly expensive footballer, and somebody somewhere was inevitably moaning on about Brexit. It was all fairly run-of-the-mill stuff.

But for number-crunchers, something interesting happened. It was the day when France ran out of money. As of Nov. 7, all the money the government raises through its taxes – and this being France, there are literally dozens of them – had been spent. The rest of the year is financed completely on tick.

Next week, Poland will be out of cash, followed by Italy, which will be officially skint on Nov 26

And yet France is far from alone. All the main European countries, the UK included, are running out of tax revenue well before the year is over. That is worrying for three reasons. It is reminder that spending is still way too high. It tells us that governments have failed to curb deficits. And it is a warning that next time there is a recession governments won’t have any room to respond with a fiscal boost.

There are lots of dry ways of pointing out that governments are spending a lot more money than they raise in tax revenue. Economists and statisticians wheel out debt to GDP ratios and chancellors and finance ministers set targets for deficit reduction. Those, however, usually come in hard-to-follow percentages, or else the billions and billions involved pile up so quickly that most of us simply glaze over. But in France, the Institut Molinari has come up with a very neat way of illustrating the issue in simple terms. It works out the moment in the calendar after which everything the government does has to be financed through borrowing. If you wanted to, you could call it the day the money runs out.

So how’s that going? France, perhaps not very surprisingly, turns out to be the country that is out of cash first. A government which last managed to balance the books in 1980 used up all its money with 55 days of the year still left. That was a day earlier than the year before, and four days earlier than back in 2014. France is not only living beyond its means, but it is now doing so at an accelerating pace. And that was despite the fact that taxes and social security charges have gone up. Once those charges are combined, the state is raking in 53 per cent of GDP in revenues – its problem is that it then spends an even more massive 56 per cent of GDP over the same period.

But it was far from alone. Spain ran out of money on Saturday. Over in Romania, the bank account was empty as of yesterday. Next week, Poland will be out of cash, followed by Italy, which will be officially skint on Nov 26. In the UK, our politicians will have officially spent all the income tax, corporation tax, VAT, fuel duty they take from us by Dec 7.

Across Europe as a whole, central governments will be out of money on Dec 6. Only four EU countries manage to make it through Christmas and into the new year still in the black. They are Cyprus, Malta, Germany, and a surprisingly thrifty Sweden, which gets all the way to Jan 20. They are the exception, however. The norm is now for spending to be way ahead of the money collected in taxes.

That is not always a problem, of course. Very few people would argue that we should go back to the days before Keynes where any kind of deficit in even the most dire of circumstances was regarded a sign that the world was about to end. In a recession, it makes sense for governments to borrow a bit more, and get businesses moving again and people back into work. Nor is there necessarily anything wrong with government borrowing to invest, although a lot of what it “invests” in may not necessarily have the returns that are promised.

But there is a difference between that and huge and persistent deficits. The European economy, helped along by a couple of trillion euros of printed money, is doing OK this year. The EU as a whole is forecast to expand by 2.3 per cent, the fastest pace in a decade. The deficits are not an emergency response to a sudden downturn. They are built into the system. That is worrying – for three reasons.

First, across Europe, governments are living way beyond their means. Those deficits are not coping with a sudden emergency, and they are not paying for investment that will help them grow faster in the future. The most persistent deficits are in social security schemes (and many would be even worse if pension liabilities were properly accounted for). Is that sustainable indefinitely? It takes heroic faith in finance ministries and central banks to believe it is.

Next, even though economies have mostly recovered from the crash, the deficits are still piling up, with no plan for paying them back. If you look at debt-to-GDP ratios, they are spiralling out of control as well. For the EU as a whole, the ratio stands at 89 per cent. Greece is on an alarming 176 per cent of GDP, while Italy is on 137 per cent and France and Spain are just a fraction under 100 per cent. When are they going to start to be reduced? Right now, the answer is simple. Never.

Finally, governments have run out of room for any kind of fiscal boost when there is another recession. The economy will inevitably turn down at some point, and there could be a major crash. When it happens, you’d hope the government could respond with increased spending. But it can’t do that if it is already locked into permanent deficits.

From now until the end of this year, most of Europe will be living on tick. Sure, that is sustainable right now. The markets are benign, and the European Central Bank is still buying government bonds by the cartload. But sooner or later, that debt will catch up with them – and that means Nov. 7 was a far more significant milestone than it may have appeared on the day.

Democracy’s Path in South Asia

The fact that there are only 193 member states of the United Nations gives political scientists a problem. Their research into the way nation-states work is highly constrained by the small number of cases they have to study. It is not easy to build explanatory models on the basis of such a limited sample. It is one reason why the field of comparative politics has produced so few reliable predictions of how nation-states will behave.
The situation of India and Pakistan in 1947 does, however, open up some intriguing possibilities for research. In 1947, the two new countries had much in common. After a shared experience of colonialism, they achieved independence at the same time. And as they tried to build new political systems, both India and Pakistan were governed by a single party that had opposed British rule.
Congress and the Muslim League were faced with identical tasks: writing a new constitution and uniting a population with a low standard of living. Yet the two countries took very different paths. So how come Pakistan’s democratic development has been much more troubled than that of India? What accounts for the different trajectories they took?
Some have cited Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s early death and his assumption of viceregal powers as key factors. They argue that Pakistan either needed someone who would embed a distribution of power and authority or a longer-standing charismatic leader who could overcome the initial challenges of nation-building. To have a strong leader who died early was the worst of both worlds.
They had identical tasks but went down different roads.Despite his legal background, Jinnah showed little interest in the separation of powers. Nehru, by contrast, was more of a Westernised liberal. But explanations that rely on the personality of individuals have limited utility. And over many years academics such as Ian Talbot, Christophe Jaffrelot, Maya Tudor, Katherine Adeney and Andrew Wyatt have tried to identify deeper, underlying factors behind the different rates of democratic progress in India and Pakistan. These explanations can be split into two categories — those that relate to the pre-Independence period and those that cite factors that emerged after 1947.
Before Partition, India’s Muslim community had good reason to be suspicious of democracy. As the minority, it always feared that any British attempt to introduce elections would result in the Muslims losing. But there was more to it than that. While Congress to a significant degree represented the aspirations of middle-class Indians seeking a stake in their society, the Muslim League was controlled by landowners who wanted to keep privileges hardwired into their outlook during the Mughal era. Many of those powerful families remain strong to this day. Class politics have played an important role in both countries.
There were also important differences in the way Britain treated different parts of the subcontinent. Many of the places that became Pakistan were colonised primarily for security rather than economic reasons. As a result, they had less experience of representative government in the colonial era.
Other factors kicked in after Independence. For all the talk of equal treatment in the way Partition was handled, Pakistan got the worst deal and had to start creating government structures from scratch. The early accounts of the post-Independence ministries run by men using packing cases for desks show how big the challenge was. India never faced that.
And the early Pakistanis also had to worry about building an army. Because they feared India would try to reverse Partition, there was an urgent need to create a force capable of defending the country. As a result, the military, from the outset, absorbed more than half of all public expenditure and consequently became a disproportionately powerful force in the land.
Some have pointed to Pakistan’s diversity as a factor in its lack of democratic development on the grounds that it is difficult to build a cohesive, stable nation when there are such sharp regional rivalries. Against that, it can be argued that India has, even more, diversity than Pakistan. But that perhaps misses the point that the division of Pakistan into two separate geographic entities posed a particularly difficult problem. The fight to keep hold of East Pakistan — and the shock of losing it — significantly distorted Pakistan’s political progress.
One factor Western historians of Pakistan tend not to discuss is the role of Islam in influencing the country’s political development. Since 9/11, there has been increasing attention paid to the idea that Islam is in some way incompatible with democracy.
There is now a vast literature dealing with this issue but, to put it briefly, the significant democratic progress in countries such as Tunisia, Indonesia and others in Southeast Asia undermines the assertion that Islam and democracy are necessarily at odds with each other. And as the case of Pakistan indicates, non-religious historical factors can explain stunted democratic development.

Application of Chomsky’s Principles

Hope has been replaced by resignation and speculation. Corruption is accepted as a norm, and when successfully practised by persons elected to high offices of public trust, it is respected as a symbol of power, privilege and patronage. Everybody loves a winner! Losers are fascinated and seduced by the possibilities of sharing in the patronage. Expec­ta­tions are minimised. Electoral victories are assured except for the risk of losing to ‘friendly opposition’. Critics can let off steam as long as they don’t disturb the furniture and wake up the people.
In 1776, Adam Smith observed that the principal architects of policy make sure their own interests are very well cared for, however grievous the impact on the people. They follow the “vile maxim” of “all for ourselves and nothing for anyone else”. Almost 250 years later, our democratically elected political businessmen fit this description perfectly. They are bewildered and deeply offended by the injustice of being politically embarrassed just because of massive corruption.
The Welfare State must be limited to being a Nanny State to nurture the rich under the guise of a Security State. Let us apply Chomsky’s 10 principles to the current situation of several countries:
(i) Reducing democracy in order to control the people. A corporate capitalist economic model is more compatible with feudal attitudes and authoritarian structures than with democratic and participatory processes. A security state more or less wholly concerned with enemies, emergencies and wars on terror tends to subordinate human and political rights to state (elite) interests. The containment of ‘excessive’ democracy must continue in the name of strengthening democracy.

(ii) Shaping the ideology by interpreting religion and patriotism in a way that disguises and serves the interests of the elite instead of the people. The media and the education system are required to play key roles in building and selling appropriate narratives for this purpose.

(iii) Redesigning the economy to equate growth and development with increasing inequality, impoverishment and insecurity which are the inevitable consequences of a predatory concentration of wealth. The small but vibrant middle class helps disguise the depth of mass poverty.

(iv) Shifting the burden of supporting a class-based economy from the rich to the middle and poorer classes requires predominantly indirect taxation, tax exemptions, loan write-offs, inflationary financing, debts to pay off debts, disproportionate defence expenditures; building infrastructure without human resource development, pervasive corruption and an undocumented black economy which sustains an impoverished underclass;

(v) Attacking solidarity. Speaking truth to power threatens no one. Speaking truth to each other, however, threatens elite structures and interests with an informed citizenry aware of its power against those who exploit it. Any people’s movement is, accordingly, intolerable and must be co-opted, isolated or neutralised. In particular, education needs to be controlled and limited through conservative, religious and elite supervision;

(vi) Run the regulators. Those institutions that are required to protect consumers and the people against fraud and injustice need to be ‘captured’ so that elite interests are protected against the entitlements and encroachments of the people, including common consumers. The Welfare State must be limited to being a Nanny State to nurture the rich under the guise of a Security State. This requires controlling legislation, undermining the law and influencing, intimidating and ignoring the courts. It also requires a significant percentage of Pakistan’s elected legislators, both provincial and federal, to become dollar millionaires to pay for their electoral expenses — past, present and future — in return for serving elite and corrupt interests in the name of parliamentary democracy.

(vii) Engineering elections. Pakistan can teach the world. Concentration of wealth means concentration of power. This facilitates control over election officials, the costs of vote buying and defraying the expenses of constant electoral theatre over several months in which personalities instead of issues are discussed. Narratives and slogans help to eliminate scrutiny of mandates and candidates.

(viii) Keeping the rabble in line. Organised labour and socialist political thought, with all their shortcomings, are still one of the true advocates and guarantors of the people’s interests. They need to be discredited as secular inventions against divine injunctions in support of private property. As long as the people are kept ignorant of their power they can be controlled, deceived, divided and co-opted into various elite vote banks against their own interests;

(ix) Consent is manufactured through the removal of hope for redress and the use of overwhelming narratives and state force against ‘disturbers of the peace’. This is the essence of ‘maintaining law and order’. The assistance of a complicit media, hired intellectuals, the deep state and criminally perverted politics is indispensable, and

(x) Marginalising the people by ensuring that their representatives do not represent them, public opinion does not determine public policy, and the public relations industry distracts public attention from what is happening on a daily basis to the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis. Inculcating an other-worldly piety and philosophy among the people can also reconcile them to being victims in this world. In particular, it is important to ensure that reason, enlightened self-interest and a driving mutual compassion never inform the political thinking of the people.

Chomsky is not a cynic. Nor is he a pessimist. He is a sage who knows honest hope requires knowing reality, relentless struggle, and optimism regarding the eventual triumph of the public good over its many enemies.

Strategic Coherence Required in US Policies Toward India & Asia

 

President Donald J. Trump completes his first official trip to Asia, with stops in Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam,  and Philippines. In his address to the APEC CEO Summit, he outlined his stamp on Asia statecraft, which includes a vision of upholding a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” However, the United States cannot achieve that goal without strong Asian partnerships—including with India.
Though India is not on the president’s Asia itinerary, the nomenclature alone—Indo-Pacific rather than Asia-Pacific—suggests that New Delhi stands rightly to play a central part in the Trump administration’s larger Asia strategy. With long-standing allies like Japan, South Korea and Australia, India offers democratic and economic ballast to deal with the rise of China’s power. Sadly, US economic policy appears disconnected from the administration’s broader strategic goal. For the Trump team to succeed with the ambition of building a network of Asian partners which share our values, including India, the White House will need to corral its economic policies to match its strategic pursuits.
It is worth noting that the pursuit of a free and open rules-based order in a larger Indo-Pacific region represents the most purposeful articulation to date from the administration on Asia. Secretary of Defense James Mattis uses the phrase. Last month, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson delivered an entire speech about the concept, in which he called the United States and India “two bookends of stability” who can together “foster greater prosperity and security” in this broad region.
The Indo-Pacific idea recognizes that a rising China has become more assertive as well as authoritarian, and it elevates Washington’s ties with New Delhi as an alternative model to all that Beijing represents. By expanding Asia’s geographic net to include the world’s largest democracy, this larger region encompasses a greater balance favoring rule of law, freedom of navigation, open trade, and democracy. We commend this vision and see it as entirely in line with the Barack Obama and George W. Bush approaches to India and Asia.
To elevate India’s role, make it a full partner in our Asian network, and enhance Washington’s relations with New Delhi, the administration should help India gain a seat at the tables from which it is absent. In the security realm, Mattis has this part right, focused on tighter integration with New Delhi in joint exercises, defense technology, and sharing security perspectives in the region. In diplomacy, Tillerson also understands the important role India can play, and he has called for a partnership with India to develop financing that can provide an alternative to the market-rate Chinese Belt and Road infrastructure loans, which have caught smaller countries like Sri Lanka in a potentially insurmountable debt trap.
But to date, the administration has said little about what Washington can do to advance these interests. The “Quad” grouping that adds Australia to the robust trilateral of India, Japan, and the United States appears on the verge of revival, a positive step. In addition to strengthening ties to our traditional Asian allies, the president could start by clearly stating support for cooperative economic institutions like the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. He should call explicitly for APEC to offer membership to India. Asia’s third largest economy deserves to have a seat at the table, and it will help India to be more embedded in the premier regime focused on free and open trade in Asia.
To address the urgent need for infrastructure funding in the Asian region—a principal political and economic imperative —the president should also support a capital base expansion for the World Bank, something favored by countries around the world, but which Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin opposed during the Bank’s annual meeting this year. It’s hard to see where alternative support for development financing, especially financing for Asia’s massive infrastructure needs, will come from if Washington does not enable the World Bank to do more at the low interest rates that can actually help countries develop—and which offer a real alternative to the Belt and Road loans. In fact it is impossible to imagine China improving its Belt and Road loan terms unless it is faced with real competition from the United States, Japan, Europe and India.
In economic dialogues with India, the administration needs to keep its gaze on the strategic and not get buried in the transactional. At a time when China has emerged as the most powerful economic partner to virtually every country in Asia, including South Asia, we must have a stable strategic and non-contentious relationship with India. While we recognize India’s famously difficult stances on trade and market access questions, a narrow focus on the $24 billion trade deficit with India (compared to more than $300 billion with China), should not distract from this larger goal. Of course, we and India need to sort out market access problems and our difficulties with Indian intellectual property rights polices, but these questions are not strategic in nature.
Instead, we should identify realistic steps to enhance greater trade and investment with India—recognizing the time horizon might well appear farther than desired—and continue technical assistance to encourage New Delhi’s ongoing reforms, which will be the key to unleashing greater economic growth. The Commerce Department’s technical discussion with India on standards marks a great step in that direction. The trade deficit, a new favorite punching bag for the U.S. Trade Representative, does not.
To meaningfully support a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” the Trump administration will have to be creative in building broad Asian partnerships, especially with its India policy. We need all the allies we can muster. A strong, stable, democratic India committed to a rules-based order will indeed be a “bookend” for the region. Washington will have to alter its economic focus to get there.

 

An Idea Dead & Alive

It is strange, and yet not so strage. While Putin’s Russia ignores the centenary of the Russian Revolution. Xi Jinping’s China wants to keep its message alive. And there is a reason for that. World history is a history of big ideas. Big changes have always needed big ideas capable of appealing to the hearts and minds of the multitudes and energising them into action. Karl Marx, the originator of one such Big Idea — the theory of communism that envisioned a society based on equality and free of exploitation, and a state that would ultimately wither away — said it best. “Material force (violence used by guardians of the old social order) must be overthrown by material force; but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses.”
A hundred years ago, Marx’s theory gripped the Bolsheviks in Russia, who, led by Vladimir Lenin, acted like a material force to overthrow the Tsarist empire and established the first communist-ruled state. The Russian Revolution influenced the spread of the Big Idea. In 1919, Lenin founded the Communist International or Comintern, a coalition of national communist parties that advocated world communism. Even though Joseph Stalin dissolved Comintern in 1943, the revolution in China in 1949, led by Mao Zedong, marked Marxist theory’s next major success. In the 1980s, communist parties in India used to proudly claim that “one-third of the world is already under socialism; and the rest of the world will follow.”
But where, a century later, is the Russian Revolution? Russia consigned it to history in 1991 when the Soviet Union, a child of the revolution born in 1922, died, and each of the 15 constituent “socialist republics” became independent nations. Russia itself overthrew communist party rule. Mikhail Gorbachev, the last communist ruler, had embarked on a reformist initiative called glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring), but there was nothing left to restructure by the end of his five-year rule. Under Boris Yeltsin, his successor, Russia aggressively dismantled most parts of the communist state and economy. For a few years, it seemed the Russian state had actually “withered away”. Crony capitalism and corruption led to a massive transfer of national wealth to oligarchs. Hyper-inflation made life for most Russians miserable. Russia’s international glory faded. Journalist Artemy Troitsky, writing in Moscow News, has described those chaotic years thus: “If you want to see what a big, truly anarchic country is like — look no further than Yeltsin’s Russia. I called it ‘the land of unlimited impossibilities’ — people were free to do whatever they wanted.”
In came another Vladimir (Putin) in 2000. He has rescued and salvaged the Russian state in his strongman rule. He has attempted to make Russians proud again by reviving nationalism and the orthodox church at home and by militarily resisting the US in Europe and West Asia. According to Putin, the collapse of the Soviet Union was the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” However, he has not restored Russia’s continuity with its revolution. There has been no official commemoration of its centenary. Most young Russians I speak to said they have no emotional connect to Lenin and his revolution.
It looks as if China is more interested than Russia in keeping alive the memory of the first Marxist-Leninist revolution.
Not surprising, because the Communist Party of China (CPC) continues to swear by Marxism-Leninism, although it also extols Mao, Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping. Soon after he became party chief in 2012, Xi told his colleagues that the Soviet Union had collapsed “because nobody was man enough to stand up and resist”. As is amply clear from his speech at the 19th CPC congress last month, where he was re-elected, Xi sees himself as someone who would “stand up and resist” any attempt or reform that could possibly lead to the end of the CPC rule. He has audaciously announced that China’s own “Two Centennial Goals” — 100 years of the founding of the CPC in 2021 and, in 2049, of Mao’s revolution that founded the People’s Republic of China — would serve as major milestones in the triumphant march of “socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era”. With the US and Europe in decline, the world will surely look to follow, or create, new models of equitable development.
This begets the question: Whither Marx’s Big Idea? The short answer — it’s both dead and alive. All history-changing ideas undergo change themselves. China has changed Marx by Sinifying him. In Russia, I met several intellectuals who said, “Not everything about the revolution and the Soviet era was wrong. What was wrong was the horrific use of violence by the communist state against its own people, the brutal suppression of freedom and democracy, and the ubiquitous personality cult of Lenin and Stalin. But we don’t forget that it was also the era when we defeated Hitler, when we made much progress in education and scientific research, and when most citizens shared both limited prosperity and limited poverty, without the kind of disparity we now see in Russia and in many countries. We should learn from our past mistakes and attempt to create a better future.”
As Ione looks at the vastness of the Black Sea in Yalta, where Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill — three victors of World War II — met in February 1945 to design a new global order, one is overwhelmed by a sobering reflection: We imperfect humans create, destroy, and strive to re-create our dreams and revolutions… again and again and again.