Economic Peace: Some Thoughts from Barcelona

Posted: March 1st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Economics, Ephemera, Foreign Policy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Returning from a brief (9 days) blogging hiatus with a post at Foreign Exchange. The subject: a panel I was asked to speak on at IESE’s sustainable business conference in Barcelona this weekend. My topic was ‘economic peace and the private sector’s role in fostering political stability.’ An excerpt:

Specifically, the reductive tendency leads us to place emphasis on macroeconomic growth as a cure-all, when as we’ve seen in Obasanjo’s Nigeria or Ben Ali’s Tunisia or Musharraf’s Pakistan, growth can correlate quite easily with increasing political instability and conflict. For one thing, there’s the question of distribution, of how much growth is trickling down the bottom of the economic ladder to those most likely to be embroiled in crime or violence.

But even if ‘economic growth’ is replaced by a genuine focus on job creation and the building of a stable middle class, a critical challenge remains. In a society which has chosen—and this is an ideological choice—to invest its resources in militarism or theocracy but not in education or health care, an angry young man with a steady income still can’t spend it providing for his family: the services he needs aren’t there to be purchased.

Instead, they’re available to him for free from the same crowd of ‘non-state actors’ responsible for his country’s turmoil. In other words, those actors—be they mobsters or terrorists or warlords—aren’t grafting an abstract ideology onto his poverty and rage; they are producing an alternative society, complete with the services the state does not provide. It’s an ideological battle, not an economic one, to transfer a whole society’s focus and collective, public, wealth into building the social structures that make an income valuable. Without those, a little money’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.

You can read the rest here.

One postscript: left to my own devices, I’d probably have parachuted into Barcelona for a day; attended the conference and jetted out. With encouragement and company from qwghlm, I took four whole days off work. I didn’t check Twitter and Google Reader every 5 minutes; I missed thousands of tweets and hundreds of news stories; and when we got back and I caught up, I found that nothing had fundamentally changed on the big stories I’d been following. Gaddafi? Still in power. Raymond Davis? Still in legal limbo. Me? Recharged and ready to report on both.

What is China Thinking?

Posted: December 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Foreign Policy | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

Latest post at Foreign Exchange waffles about trying to understand what’s happening on the Korean peninsula:

So here are the questions: to what extent is the DPRK acting with Chinese support, and to what extent is it acting alone? and if it is acting alone, how comfortable is Beijing with the decisions Pyongyang is making? How seriously should observers take Chinese expressions of dissatisfaction, if, as the pessimists suggest, the proposed solutions are empty? South Korean news is reporting that North Korean envoy Choe Thae-Bak is in Beijing till Saturday–is that a friendly meeting or an opportunity for reprimanding? Truth be told, we just don’t know.

What we do know is that the primary foreign policy imperative for China is its sphere of influence in northeast Asia, not the regime per se.

Go read the rest.

Belated Thoughts on the Dear Leader

Posted: August 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Foreign Policy, Journalism | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

I’ve been thinking for a few days that I wanted to say something about Bill Clinton’s 11th hour trip to North Korea to negotiate the release of two American journalists held hostage by Kim Jong Il’s honchos.

While everyone’s thrilled that the journos are back safe, there has been much handwringing about whether it was acceptable to have a former President meet with a brutal dictator who routinely calls for this country’s demise, to have the two sit for joint photos and a meal, and whether, as some sources said, Clinton had given any sort of ‘apology,’ on behalf of the United States for the two women having entered NK to begin with. (It seems like he gave some verbal apology but did not bring any message on behalf of the government).

Personally, my relief at seeing the two journos come home rather outweighed any cringe reaction I had to the photographs. Moreover, when it comes to the actual fact of Clinton’s going there and answering Il’s request for the backchannel, I was pleased. See, by throwing a tantrum that effectively said “I want attention from a popular ex-leader,” Kim Jong Il acknowledged that he wants access to things of value in the international community, ie the status conferred by a meeting with Bill, and that his power domestically is in some way contingent on having that access. That means he can be bought.

That is, in essence, what Hillary Clinton meant when she compared NK to a petulant child begging for attention and suggested that it needed to be dealt with forcefully. Granted, force is the opposite of what Bill brought them last week, but the point is this: a regime that wants something from the United States is one that can be bargained with. The purpose of force, if it needs to be used, or Hillary’s strong language, is to push that regime to the point where the price at which it can be bought in bargaining is something we can stomach. Dinner with an ex-President, especially if it keeps that ex-President out of other people’s bedrooms, is a perfectly fine price for me.