How It Manages Rising Powers—for Everyone's Benefit
How It Manages Rising Powers—for Everyone's Benefit
Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama hosted a White House Summit on Global Development to map the future of U.S. development efforts. The meeting took place just as the United Nations has begun to measure progress toward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an ambitious set of goals to eradicate poverty adopted by the United States and 192 other nations last year.
Just because a U.S. presidential candidate bashes free trade on the campaign trail does not mean that he or she cannot embrace it once elected. After all, Barack Obama voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement as a U.S. senator and disparaged the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as a presidential candidate.
The promises of science fiction are quickly becoming workaday realities. Cars and trucks are starting to drive themselves in normal traffic. Machines have begun to understand our speech, figure out what we want, and satisfy our requests.
In the decade following the Cold War, democracy flourished around the world as never before. In recent years, however, much of this progress has steadily eroded. B
Assessments of how governments and international organizations have dealt with global challenges often feature a familiar refrain: when it comes to funding, there was too little, too late. The costs of economic, social, and environmental problems compound over time, whether it’s an Ebola outbreak that escalates to an epidemic, a flood of refugeesthat tests the strength of the EU, or the rise of social inequalities that reinforce poverty.
Ever since the emergence of mass democracy after World War II, an inherent tension has existed between capitalism and democratic politics; capitalism allocates resources through markets, whereas democracy allocates power through votes.
The historian Frank Trentmann has written the first total history of consumption. Empire of Things is an original, ambitious account that begins in the fifteenth century, spans the globe, and examines a wide range of regimes, from liberal democracies to fascist dictatorships. The book could hardly be more relevant: since the Great Recession began in 2007, the world has been mired in a global economic crisis with the consumer at its core. As inequality soared in the years leading up to the crash, middle-class consumers, in the absence of rising incomes, relied on credit to sustain their standards of living. Sensing an opportunity, banks and other financial firms began selling mortgages to people who could not afford them.
The mood of much of the world is grim these days. Turmoil in the Middle East, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of refugees; random terrorist attacks across the globe; geopolitical tensions in eastern Europe and Asia; the end of the commodity supercycle; slowing growth in China; and economic stagnation in many countries—all have combined to feed a deep pessimism about the present and, worse, the future.
Transparency has long been a rare commodity in international affairs. But today, the forces of technology are ushering in a new age of openness that would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago. Governments, journalists, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) can now harness a flood of open-source information, drawn from commercial surveillance satellites, drones, smartphones, and computers, to reveal hidden activities in contested areas—from Ukraine to Syria to the South China Sea.
As the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris came to a close in December 2015, foreign ministers from around the world raised their arms in triumph. Indeed, there was more to celebrate in Paris than at any prior climate summit.
In every single region of the world, economic growth has failed to return to the rate it averaged before the Great Recession. Economists have come up with a variety of theories for why this recovery has been the weakest in postwar history, including high indebtedness, growing income inequality, and excess caution induced by the original debt crisis.
The two economic developments that have garnered the most attention in recent years are the concentration of massive wealth in the richest one percent of the world’s population and the tremendous, growth-driven decline in extreme poverty in the developing world, especially in China. But just as important has been the emergence of large middle classes in developing countries around the planet.
From Wall Street to K Street to Main Street, pessimism about the global economy has become commonplace. The world economy may have finally emerged from the financial crisis of 2008, but according to conventional wisdom, it remains fragile and unsteady, just one disruption away from yet another perilous downturn.
The downing of a Russian passenger plane over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula last October, for which the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) claimed responsibility, may ultimately prove more consequential than the horrific attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, that followed. Western security officials had long worried that their countries’ own citizens would conduct attacks after returning home from Iraq or Syria or strike out as “lone wolf” terrorists.
After dithering for decades, governments finally seem to be paying serious attention to the problem of global climate change. Late last year, at the Paris climate conference, they adopted a major new agreement to limit global warming, beginning a process to strengthen commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time.
Nearly 3,000 years ago, according to the Old Testament, an army of Arameans, led by King Ben-hadad, besieged the West Bank city of Samaria. Cut off from its agricultural hinterlands, the city soon ran out of food.
During the past century, economic inequality in the developed world has traced a massive U-shaped curve—starting high, curving downward, then curving sharply back up again. In 1915, the richest one percent of Americans earned roughly 18 percent of all national income. Their share plummeted in the 1930s and remained below ten percent through the 1970s, but by 2007, it had risen to 24 percent.
When it comes to wealth and income, people tend to compare themselves to the people they see around them rather than to those who live on the other side of the world. The average Frenchman, for example, probably does not care how manyChinese exceed his own standard of living, but that Frenchman surely would pay attention if he started lagging behind his fellow citizens.