Archive for the ‘Globalization & International Trade’ Category

4
Jan

Self-defeating antics of US Congress reflect declining status and global influence

By Kenneth Weisbrode

Governance in the United States is at a standoff. The crisis over the federal budget has led many people around the world to wonder if Americans haven’t lost their minds. Ultimately, as Winston Churchill infamously observed, they may be counted on to do the right thing after exhausting all other options. But this hardly is sound policy with every new vote in Congress. Maybe the latest crisis is symptomatic of a deeper and even more serious problem.

War at home and abroad: US invasion of Iraq precipitated decline of influence abroad (top); Republican opponents of President Obama, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell (below) – inability of a deeply partisan US Congress to agree on taxes and spending contributes to the sense of American decline

The future of the United States – and the American experiment – seems bleak. The optimism for which Americans are known comes less readily. While pessimism is nothing unique in American history – widespread since the time of the Puritans – its prevalence today is spread by the realization that the country’s position of global superpower may soon be lost.

This realization, regarded as a “post-hegemonic” fact, is no longer controversial. All empires vanish eventually. Hegemony indeed may be a form of imperial rule – it’s been called an empire with good manners – but that’s beside the point. American hegemony may be giving way to some other post-hegemonic condition. It is hard to say where it will lead, or what it signifies.

“After forty, all life is a matter of saving face,” Thomas Heise has written. “For those whose successes have run out early, the years are measured less by the decreasing increments of honors achieved, than by the humiliations staved off and the reversals slowed.” This diagnosis for America itself, increasingly difficult to refute, raises the simple question: Will life go on as before, only with less ostensible concern for the rest of the world, or more?

Some may say this would make the US a more “normal” nation. Normality resides in the eye of the beholder. Each nation is as normal or as abnormal as its people and observers imagine it to be. Many Americans still regard superpower status as being normal, however unpopular the burdens of global leadership are at times. The power of the US dollar, visa-free travel throughout much of the world and the global prevalence of English are still widely taken for granted, despite the country’s difficulties.

Yet this moment may represent a major psychological, even metaphysical, shift in the way that Americans relate to the rest of the world. To understand the change we must begin with perceptions.

The sheer size of America’s military and economy, its commercial and technological success, and the global penetration of its culture have underwritten a high standard of living and influence over others. Earlier, its reputation as a dynamic, free, prosperous nation – in the words of William Penn, a “good poor man’s country” – allowed some people to champion a special destiny for the proverbial people of plenty. This was later matched by the growth of the nation’s physical power. Read more…

Kenneth Weisbrode is a writer, editor and historian. His latest book is On Ambivalence (MIT Press).

As published by Yale Global on January 2, 2013.

3
Jan

The Coming Year in Review

By David Rothkopf

As that great geopolitical theorist Carly Simon once observed, “We can never know about the days to come but we think about them anyway, yay.”  She then went on to say, as ketchup lovers everywhere remember, “Anticipation, anticipation, is making me late…is keepin’ me waitin’.”

Of course, the tortures of anticipation are well known to observers of the slow-motion train wreck that has been Washington’s management of America’s financial situation, or the recent, interminable U.S. presidential campaign, or the hideously slow path to oblivion followed by the Assad regime in Syria, or the painfully circular Eurofollies, not to mention the gradual but undeniable degradation of the planet’s environment that goes on year in and year out despite our clear knowledge about how to avoid the damage.

The time has come to say “enough.”  We live in an age in which the average consumer expects instant gratification. There is no reason those who are interested in the bigger issues taking place in the world shouldn’t have it too. For that reason, we bring to you the top headlines that you will be looking back at when 2013 draws to a close 12 months from now.  Think of it as the year in review, before it happens. Yay: 

America Recovers

Forget the fiscal cliff or the debt ceiling.  Admittedly, that may seem difficult given the headlines of the moment. The clown show in Washington is diverting for inside the Beltway reporters and creates a kind of artificial drama that makes one periodically wonder if Kris Jenner were actually speaker of the House. But see the economy through the eyes of the market.  Washington dithers but hops to when it gets slapped around enough by traders. Meanwhile, there are winds at America’s back: An energy boom.  Read more…

David Rothkopf is the CEO and Editor-at-Large of Foreign Policy.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on January 2, 2013.

18
Dec

Wal-Mart de Mexico was an aggressive and creative corrupter, offering large payoffs to get what the law otherwise prohibited, an examination by The New York Times found.

By DAVID BARSTOW and ALEJANDRA XANIC von BERTRAB

Wal-Mart longed to build in Elda Pineda’s alfalfa field. It was an ideal location, just off this town’s bustling main entrance and barely a mile from its ancient pyramids, which draw tourists from around the world. With its usual precision, Wal-Mart calculated it would attract 250 customers an hour if only it could put a store in Mrs. Pineda’s field.

One major obstacle stood in Wal-Mart’s way.

After years of study, the town’s elected leaders had just approved a new zoning map. The leaders wanted to limit growth near the pyramids, and they considered the town’s main entrance too congested already. As a result, the 2003 zoning map prohibited commercial development on Mrs. Pineda’s field, seemingly dooming Wal-Mart’s hopes.

But 30 miles away in Mexico City, at the headquarters of Wal-Mart de Mexico, executives were not about to be thwarted by an unfavorable zoning decision. Instead, records and interviews show, they decided to undo the damage with one well-placed $52,000 bribe.

The plan was simple. The zoning map would not become law until it was published in a government newspaper. So Wal-Mart de Mexico arranged to bribe an official to change the map before it was sent to the newspaper, records and interviews show. Sure enough, when the map was published, the zoning for Mrs. Pineda’s field was redrawn to allow Wal-Mart’s store.

Problem solved.

Wal-Mart de Mexico broke ground months later, provoking fierce opposition. Protesters decried the very idea of a Wal-Mart so close to a cultural treasure. They contended the town’s traditional public markets would be decimated, its traffic mess made worse. Months of hunger strikes and sit-ins consumed Mexico’s news media. Yet for all the scrutiny, the story of the altered map remained a secret. The store opened for Christmas 2004, affirming Wal-Mart’s emerging dominance in Mexico. Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on December 17, 2012 (a version of this article appeared in print on December 18, 2012, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: The Bribery Aisle: How Wal-Mart Used Payoffs To Get Its Way in Mexico).

17
Dec

President faces uninvented threats from around the world

By Edward Luce

Asked about the fiscal cliff’s impact on foreign perceptions of the US, David Rothkopf, a former Clinton official, quipped: “If Lindsay Lohan were arrested again tomorrow, how much would it change your opinion of her?” The cliff is a domestic crisis of choice rather than of necessity so it is still possible to make light of it. The same cannot be said of Barack Obama’s overseas inbox.

At a moment of acute Washington navel gazing, Mr Obama faces an ominous range of uninvented threats from around the world. Whether 2013 turns out to be the year of Iran, Syria, Egypt, North Korea or Afghanistan, or a mix of the above, they march to their own time. One or two, notably Iran, could be time bombs. Alas, the fracas over Susan Rice’s withdrawal from consideration as secretary of state last week suggests Mr Obama will be distracted for some time by Washington’s clock – the one that is stuck at 11.59pm.

Mr Obama is this week likely to announce John Kerry as his choice to replace Hillary Clinton. But even the smoothest nomination will not go through the Senate until January. Foreign diplomats chafing at the Do Not Disturb sign hanging outside the White House for much of this year find it is still there six weeks after the election. Even at the price of jettisoning his most trusted foreign policy adviser, Mr Obama is trying to conserve all his leverage for the cliff and beyond. Most importantly, it is swallowing his time.

On Iran, in particular, there is little to waste. Among Washington’s foreign policy luminaries, it is hard to find one who claims to know the Obama administration’s strategy. Some speculate that the White House may have already established a back channel dialogue with Tehran led by someone like Thomas Pickering, the veteran state department envoy. If so, it would be reassuring. But this is a hope rather than an estimate. Others worry that Mr Obama lacks a real strategy to communicate. Read more…

As published in www.ft.com on December 16, 2012.

13
Dec

For Better Planning, Watch Global Demographic Trends

By Joseph Chamie

Figure 1. Uneven growth: Near 95 percent of the world’s annual demographic growth takes place in less developed regions; yet more than half the world’s GDP is center in the more developed economies. Source: United Nations and World Bank

While governments and institutions try to grapple with economic uncertainty and volatility an important factor of relative certainty is often overlooked: demography. One may not know how the markets will behave, but demographic trends can provide instructive and relative certainty for the near term to deal with debt, taxes, unemployment and entitlements, to name a few. Dismissal of major demographic trends, seven of which described below, will in all likelihood result in ill-conceived policies, unsustainable programs and squandered resources.

First, at an estimated 7 billion, the world’s population is growing at 1.1 percent annually, or 78 million people, half the peak level of 2.1 percent in the late 1960s. Although the world’s demographic growth rate is continuing to slow due to declining birthrates, the 8 billion world population mark will likely be reached by 2025. This growth will increase the world’s working age population, 15 to 64 years, by 610 million and those aged 65 years and older by 290 million, increases of 13 and 52 percent, respectively.

Second, nearly all of the world’s annual demographic growth – close to 95 percent – is occurring in less developed regions. Top seven contributing nations are India, 22 percent; China, 9 percent; Nigeria, 5 percent; Pakistan, 4 percent; Indonesia, 3 percent; Brazil, 2 percent; and Ethiopia, 2 percent (see Figure 1). Due to its much higher growth, the juggernaut population of India – currently larger than all the developed regions combined – is expected to overtake China in a decade, when the Indian population is projected to reach 1.4 billion. Among more developed regions, the nation contributing most to world population growth is the United States at 3 percent, and the growth of the next six nations, including Spain, Italy, Australia, the United Kingdom, France and Canada, ranges from 0.7 to 0.5 percent.

Though nearly all of the world’s demographic growth is occurring in less developed regions, 54 percent of the world’s GDP is carried out by the 10 largest national economies of the more developed countries (Figure 1). Collectively, these more developed countries – led by the United States, Japan and Germany – represent 14 percent of world population, expected to decline to 11 percent by midcentury. Read more…

Joseph Chamie, former director of the United Nations Population Division, recently stepped down as research director at the Center for Migration Studies.

As published by Yale Global on December 12, 2012.

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