Archive for the ‘Globalization & International Trade’ Category

18
Oct

None of the deeper problems with American government was solved this week

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Imagine you are in a taxi and the driver suddenly turns violently and speeds towards a wall, tyres screeching, only to stop at the very last moment, inches from the bricks—and cheerfully informs you that he wants to do the same to you in three months time. Would you be grateful that he has not killed you? Or would you wonder why you chose his cab in the first place?

That is the journey Congress has taken the American people on over the past few weeks (see article). The last-minute deal to raise America’s debt ceiling, avoid a default and reopen the government at least until mid-January, which was signed by the president on October 16th, is welcome only compared with the immediate alternative.

For a long time American politicians have poured scorn on their European peers for failing to deal with the euro crisis. This week Washington equalled Brussels on one measure of dysfunctionality and surpassed it by another. The way in which the Democrats and Republicans, having failed to reach any agreement, decided to “kick the can down the road”, was deeply European. The deal allows the government to stay open till January 15th and the debt ceiling to be raised until February 7th. Just as America’s economy seems to be recovering, with the promise of GDP growing by 2.7% in 2014, it could face another shutdown of the kind that has just sent consumer confidence to a nine-month low and knocked back growth in the fourth quarter by an estimated 0.6 percentage points.

The way in which the Americans have surpassed the Europeans is the unreality of their discussion. The Europeans at least talk vaguely about banking unions and other solutions to their mess. In America the immediate budget deficit—at 3.4% of GDP—is smaller than that of many European countries. Indeed the danger is of too much tightening in the short term. But the country’s long-term fiscal problem is immense: it taxes like a small-government country but spends like a big-government one. Eventually demography—and the huge tribe of retiring baby-boomers who expect pensions and health care—will bankrupt the country. By the IMF’s calculation, if America is to reduce its debt to what it regards as a sensible level by 2030, allowing for all this age-related spending, it needs a “fiscal adjustment” of 11.7% of GDP—more than any other advanced country other than Japan. Yet the Republicans refuse to discuss tax rises, without which Barack Obama and the Democrats refuse to discuss cuts to entitlements: neither of those things had anything to do with the impasse of the past few weeks. Read more…

As published in www.economist.com on October 19, 2013 (from the print edition).

16
Oct

There’s little awareness of how the budget crisis has eroded US credibility. It’s time for a reverse Christopher Columbus

By Timothy Garton Ash

Capitol Hill October 3

‘If the US goes on like this, then one day – one year, one decade – the copper bottom of investors’ confidence will fall out.’ Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

On Monday, government offices were closed in Washington DC, to mark Columbus Day. Except that most of them had been closed anyway, because of the US government shutdown. As everyone knows, Christopher Columbus was an Italian navigator who, in the service of the Spanish crown, supposedly “discovered” America and reported its potential to a wondering world. I have spent the summer in the United States watching, with growing alarm, a country engaged in a degree of self-harming which, if observed in a teenager, would lead any friend to cry “call the doctor at once”. As I set course back to Europe, my conclusion is this: America should do a reverse Columbus. The world no longer needs to discover America; but America urgently needs to discover the world’s view of America.

Ordinary Americans, and especially the small minority active in Democrat and Republican primaries, must learn more of what people across the globe are thinking and saying about the US. For if you follow that, you realise that the erosion of American power is happening faster than most of us predicted – while the politicians in Washington behave like rutting stags with locked antlers.

The 24/7 US news coverage follows every last lunge and twist of the stagfight. It is the political equivalent of ESPN, the non-stop sports network. Just occasionally, the rest of the world breaks through: for instance, when the World Bank and the IMF hold their annual meetings – right there in Washington – and the heads of both institutions, Jim Yong Kim and Christine Lagarde, warn of dire consequences. That gets a few column inches. Or when the government shutdown and debt-ceiling brinkmanship leads Barack Obama to cancel a major trip to Asia, including the Apec summit in Bali, leaving the floor wide open for president Xi Jinping to assert China’s regional leadership (“the Asia-Pacific cannot prosper without China”).

A more direct taste of foreign news is available just a few clicks away. On my cable TV control, if I scroll down to channel number 73, or 355, or whatever it is, I can get Al-Jazeera, China’s CCTV and Russia’s RT. Their reporters often speak perfect American-accented journalese, and sometimes actually are career American journalists, lured away from job-shedding US news organisations to give credibility to these channels. CCTV’s Washington bureau chief, for instance, is Jim Spellman, formerly of CNN. These channels’ take on the Washington dégringolade is much harder edged than the ESPN version. The website of the Russian state-backed RT quotes an editorial published by the Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, proposing that, in the light of this crisis, “several cornerstones should be laid to underpin a de-Americanised world”. Read more…

As published in www.theguardian.com on October 15, 2013.

25
Sep

By Colum Lynch, Ty McCormick

68th Session Of The United Nations General Assembly BeginsU.S. President Barack Obama presented world leaders at the United Nations with an image of America as a reluctant superpower, ready to confront Iran’s nukes and kill its enemies with targeted drone strikes, but unprepared to embark on open-ended military missions in Syria and other troubled countries. That, he hinted, should give the world cause for anxiety.

“The United States has a hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries,” he said in his address before the 193-member General Assembly. “The notion of American empire may be useful propaganda, but it isn’t borne out by America’s current policy or public opinion.”

Obama said that “the recent debate within the United States over Syria clearly showed the danger for the world is not an America that is eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries or take on every problem in the region as its own. The danger for the world is that the United States, after a decade of war — rightly concerned about issues back home, aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim world — may disengage, creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.”

Obama said that for the time being, American foreign-policy priorities in the Middle East will focus primarily on two key priorities: “Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the Arab-Israeli conflict. While these issues are not the cause of all the region’s problems, they have been a major source of instability for far too long, and resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace.”

In addressing the conflict in Syria, Obama said U.S. aims were largely humanitarian.

“There’s no ‘great game’ to be won, nor does America have any interest in Syria beyond the well-being of its people, the stability of its neighbors, the elimination of chemical weapons, and ensuring it does not become a safe haven for terrorists,” he said. Read more…

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on September 24, 2013.

17
Sep

Europe cannot decide the course of the Arab spring, but it still matters

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After the butchering of soldiers in the first world war and of civilians in the second, one should not be too hard on Europeans—especially Germans—for losing their love of killing. Post-war Europe is, increasingly, past wars. To judge from the parliamentary vote in Britain and the debate in France over military action in Syria, even the more martial countries are now less warlike. Yet pacifism can be too much of a good thing. When news of the chemical-weapons attacks in Syria broke on August 21st, European foreign ministers were holding an emergency meeting in Brussels. The gassing of civilians was barely discussed; the topic of the day was the military coup in Egypt. Eurocrats claimed that information was too scant; cynics said many ministers wanted to ignore the horror lest they were forced to act.

The European Union only formally got around to Syria on September 7th, at a long-planned meeting in Vilnius, after an embarrassing flip-flop by Germany. The day before the Germans had refused to sign a declaration by Western leaders at the G20 summit demanding “a strong international response”. They reversed course when a softer version, with an exhortation for UN action and peace talks, was agreed on in Vilnius. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, clearly did not want a repeat of 2011, when she was isolated among Western leaders in rejecting military intervention in Libya. But nor did she want, just before a German election, to allow the Social Democrats to repeat their feat of 2002, when Gerhard Schröder came from behind to win the election partly by strongly opposing military intervention in Iraq. The odd thing is that nobody has even asked Germany, or most other Europeans, to take part in strikes against Syria. Only Britain and France have the wherewithal to fire cruise missiles from a safe distance. There was no pressure to arm the rebels, a cause of previous divisions. Yet still the Europeans havered.

All of which raises questions about Europe’s declared wish to be a “global player”. The Arab world is where the EU should make its influence felt. Thanks to its growing energy independence America may one day feel less burdened by the region. Not so Europe: the Middle East is next door. France and Britain took the lead in Libya (with much American help). But for Jan Techau, director of Carnegie Europe, a think-tank in Brussels, the vacillation over the chemical attacks in Syria shows that “the Europeans have never been able to get out of the passenger seat to become the driver—and silently they are quite happy with that.”

For decades the Middle East has been a region where, as an old cliché puts it, “America plays, Europe pays”. This remains true in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The EU is a huge financial supporter of the Palestinian Authority. But it was the Americans who got the two sides to start talking again. Now the EU stands accused by Israel of prejudging the talks by issuing formal guidelines to prevent any funding of projects in territories that were occupied by Israel in 1967. Read more…

As published in www.economist.com on September 14, 2013 (from the print edition).

12
Sep

Los comicios alemanes del 22 de septiembre son cruciales para el futuro de la UE

Por José Ignacio Torreblanca, Profesor Asociado de IE School of International Relations

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El problema es que, en la UE actual, las cosas son exactamente al revés o, al menos vistas desde Alemania, adoptan un cariz muy diferente. Como ponen de manifiesto las encuestas, una mayoría de alemanes rechaza cualquier tipo de mecanismo que suponga asumir o mutualizar las deudas en las que han incurrido otros países. De ahí que mientras que una gran parte de los europeos querría que las elecciones alemanas pusieran en marcha una dinámica de cambios que llevara a completar la unión monetaria con aquellos elementos de los que en la actualidad carece (eurobonos, un presupuesto propio, un mecanismo de gestión de crisis bancarias común, etc.), los alemanes parecen querer a toda costa que las elecciones no introduzcan cambios de importancia en la actual política europea de su gobierno. Como señala la encuesta recientemente realizada por el Instituto Open Europe, en Alemania no hay apetito por políticas que profundicen la integración europea sino que, al contrario, por “más Europa” se entiende “más control” sobre el resto de los países.

El curso político europeo 2013-2014 se abrirá con las elecciones generales alemanas el 22 de septiembre y se cerrará con las elecciones al Parlamento Europeo el 25 de mayo de 2014. En teoría, las primeras deberían tener una importancia secundaria y las segundas ser cruciales. Pero, paradojas de la vida política europea, la situación es más bien la contraria: las primeras son cruciales para el futuro de Europa mientras que las europeas tendrán una importancia marginal. Previsiblemente, un gran número de europeos, que desde 1979 tienen derecho a elegir a un Parlamento, por cierto, bastante poderoso, ni se molestarán en acercarse a las urnas en mayo de 2013 (recuérdese que en las últimas elecciones europeas, celebradas en junio de 2009, la participación fue del 43%). Sin embargo, conscientes la importancia que para su futuro ha adquirido Alemania, es bastante probable que, si se les diera la oportunidad, muchos europeos sí que tuvieran interés en votar en las elecciones alemanas.

Todo ello nos habla de la gigantesca disociación sobre la cual está organizada la Unión Europea: mientras que bienes, servicios, capitales y personas circulan libremente en un enorme territorio articulado en torno a una moneda común, la política sigue organizándose sobre la base de una serie de unidades nacionales sumamente fragmentadas y de muy desigual tamaño y capacidad. Esta incoherencia entre las fronteras de la política y la economía es lo que llevó al Emperador Marco Aurelio Antonino a extender la ciudadanía a todos los habitantes del Imperio Romano. El edicto de Caracalla, promulgado en el año 212, utilizaría un argumento de bastante actualidad: “es legítimo que el mayor número no sólo esté sometido a todas las cargas, sino que también este asociado a mi victoria”. Está asociación entre los impuestos y la legitimidad de un régimen político es pues una constante en la historia y ha llegado hasta nuestros días en forma de una regla de muy sencilla: uno debe votar donde contribuya con sus impuestos y financiar con sus impuestos sólo aquello sobre lo que pueda votar. Seguir leyendo…

Artículo publicado por El País el 9 de septiembre de 2013.

 

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