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If you can keep your head when all about you ...

Reuters at WAPO

Great WAPO piece on US intell community surging a response to growing evidence of Kremlin-directed hacking of our election infrastructure.

The key bit of description:

U.S. intelligence officials described the covert influence campaign here as “ambitious” and said it is also designed to counter U.S. leadership and influence in international affairs.

Ambition to counter US leadership in the world ... Damn straight and we must get used to it - whether or not we continue with Obama's hands-off global leadership style.

Russia, like China, wants to reshape both global agendas and rules, having watched the US blithely dominate both since Cold War's end.

This is natural and thus to be expected, particularly as we have signaled to both that we prefer our old allies to accommodating them as our new and inevitable partners in managing this world (understanding that, if we take the long view, it's China first, then India, then Russia et al. in terms of combined economic-military heft and thus strategic importance).

But, for now, with both China and India still feeling their way toward superpower-dom, Putin is the cream of the leadership crop, arguably matched only by Merkel in savvy, boldness, and vision.

Why Trump scares me: he simply isn't smart enough to play at that level, as he is embarrassingly easy to manipulate. My God, would Putin enjoy abusing him for four years.

With Clinton, the fear has to be: will she be embroiled in controversy and scandal all the time (some real, mostly manufactured by her opponents - again a venue where Putin will find many useful American idiots)? Or does she prove to be Merkel's match?  We can only hope.

But back to the point here: this is exactly the sort of influence/agenda-setting/rule-setting-and-bending competition to which we must grow accustomed, not in the sense that we're new to it (we do it in our sleep - please), but that we haven't had any serious direct competitors for a long time (really, a solid quarter-century).

You will say, "But Russia is messing with our process in a manner that we would never dare to pursue with them."

Well, yes and no. 

It all depends on perceptions. America would never try anything that direct, but our indirect methods of supporting democratization are often interpreted by autocratic regimes like China and Russia as direct meddling. That is simply a reflection of the robustness of our political system and the brittleness of theirs. To autocrats, who fear their own people far more than outside forces, even the most indirect sort of pressuring in the direction of democratization comes off as a direct challenge to the rule. That's not to say that we shouldn't engage in such activities, because we most definitely should. Rather, it is to say that, when we do engage in such activities, we can't become upset when those regimes push back in similar - if asymmetric - ways. 

As always, the key is to remember that time is on the side of democracy - as is technology (Orwell continues to be wrong).

So what I really like about this article is the calm and matter-of-fact manner that our political system - for now - is displaying in its reactions to Putin's dirty tricks (putting aside Harry Reid's cited fear factor). In many ways, this is the cyber struggle of the future: not as a precursor to great power war or strategic conflict, but rather as a day-to-day tool of influencing other systems and shaping the international rules to one's own advantage. If we come to accept this as an inescapable reality, while avoiding the temptation for hyperbole and freaking out, then we'll continue to be just fine.

Do I think Clinton can manage that? Yes.

But Trump? Far too risky a proposition. He'd just be in way over his head.

Thomas P.M. Barnett
Sent from my iPhone


What Does Russia/Putin Seek?

Putin's Russia is becoming the Trump of international security: dominating the news cycle with a constant stream of bold moves (Syria, for example) and often outrageous affronts (Russian hackers just did what?!?!). Just like Clinton will win the White House while The Donald is named Time's Person of the Year (bet on it), Obama's "long game" (see Chollet's new book) may be sound, even as it's seemingly trumped (that word again) on every strategic front by Putin's nonstop shenanigans.

So what does Putin seek for Russia?

The obvious answer is: as much reconstruction of the old Soviet empire (however virtually achieved by various Finlandizations) as possible, combining that sometimes actual revanchism with a successful dismemberment of the EU and NATO, leaving Germany once again living in complete fear of its intentions (Russia has ALWAYS been just that into Germany).

Not by a long shot does that constitute an attempted overturning of the world order. It is far better described as a leapfrogging by a resurgent Russia over the faltering "West" (retreating US, freaking-out Europe, aging Japan [where adult-diaper sales now trump baby-diaper sales]) into the Trumpian position of Initiator-in-Chief (a role once clearly held - and abused - by the Bush Administration but clearly abandoned by Lead-From-Behind Obama).

So what does Putin seek for Russia? He wants Russia to be #1 on everybody's speed dial, search engine, and worry list.

And he's readily achieving it.

That's the thing about an essentially US-constructed (and typically led) world order: when we step back to stare at the horizon, others will step in. Ultimately those others will be China and India, but neither is ready for that now. India hasn't hit its demographic/industrialization inflection point yet and China is too obsessed with its front-yard "pond" (their strategic equivalent of staring at one's bellybutton and muttering, Mine! All mine!).  

So we get Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey running the show in the Center (see map above), while America focuses more on home (and the West Hemisphere) and China looks to lock down the East.

In my old vernacular, the "Gap-shrinking" continues, it is just more obviously and geographically divvied up, with Asian great powers (China, India, Japan) nonetheless forced into some competitive thrusts into the Center (particularly Africa) for reasons both immediate (resource access) and long term (tomorrow's biggest cheap-labor - and consumer - pool).

America, secure in both its energy and food/water (and increasingly Latinized and Millennialized), continues to turn inward for a lengthy Progressive Era that it desperately needs.

Still, we have to play both the Home and Away games, and here is where it gets particularly challenging for the West: imagine Hillary, May (UK), and Merkel (Germany( leading the West's pushback against Putin's many international micro-aggressions. You just know that that macho Vlad will assume he's got the upper hand. One can almost see the misogynystic cartoon: Vlad, in wife-beater shirt, daring  the cowering women to take in the "gun show" (hat tip, Ron Burgundy) as he holds his backhand above his head, poised in bitch-slap-delivery mode.

So yes, expect Vlad to keep pushing things until the West (and specifically America) pushes back, and expect him to continuously elevate his game with little fear of long-term cost.

Putin has seen enough of Obama's "long game" (where America often punted on early downs) to know that, absent a serious course change, the Center field (Europe-writ large, Muddle East, Africa) is his for the reshaping right now (much as Xi Jinping views the East).

This is why any President-Elect Clinton needs to move fast and project an image of a serious housecleaning both internally and - eventually abroad.

But again, none of this signals an existential threat to the system, because, quite frankly, all our great power competitors (not enemies) find it all too much to their liking.

Was this phase of globalization inevitable?

Yes. Nothing moves ever upward in a straight line. It's more Dora's bit about just keep swimming.

America built something so amazing, transformative, beneficial, and enriching that there was zero chance we could control globalization ad nauseum - anymore than we could rule the Internet forever.

Remember: globalization comes with rules but no ruler (a wise man once wrote that).

A dozen years ago I penned a piece for WAPO stating that America's prime partners of tomorrow would be China, Russia, and India (Turkey also mentioned), and that, yes, we'd end up uncomfortably accommodating each in that pathway.  [I soon after added Iran to that group.]  My goal in that piece was simply to signal that the days of America, Europe and Japan constituting a quorum of great powers was over.

At that time, the notion was laughed off.

Not so funny now, is it? I mean, look who's running the Middle East?  China and India are the biggest buyers, while Turkey, Iran, and Russia have all ascended as security actors. I never said we'd be close with any of them, just that we'd have to work with all of them.

Having said all this (again), we need to avoid our usual freak-out response pattern regarding all these powers. Yes, America enjoyed and exploited its post-Cold War unipolar moment to ram globalization down everyone's throats (I approved whole-heartedly), triggering the best set of problems the world has ever known. But that thrust, while an amazing gift to humanity (all that wealth creation, hundreds of millions lifted out of poverty, percentage of extreme poverty less than 10% of human population for first time in history, and a majority global middle class for the first time in history) was unsustainable for the US (or, more accurately, the US consumer and all the personal debt we took one).

Now we move dumbfoundedly into the period where the world's most dynamic great powers seek to consolidate rule-set spheres of influence ("This is how things work around here!"). This period was always inevitable, but keep in mind that we are not looking at the resurrection of great power war (no matter how many hard-talking security types sell you that every night on the news). MAD remains in force with no "offset" required.

What we face now is an extended clash not of civilizations but of great-power rule-sets.

What should America do?

We should persistently and pointedly defend our national interests while not pushing our norms as the only acceptable answer. We tend toward the opposite tack - a habit long ingrained by our "global cop" burden. But that burden has been overtaken by events and developments that we have long sought - a genuine multi-polarity that respects the international structure we've created even as each great power seeks to rule its individual roost (to expect otherwise is naive in the worst way).

So we should stay calm and carry on with our necessarily transformative regrading of our political (less distance between leaders and led) and economic (less tilted toward rich) landscapes. In short, we need to proceed with the next great progressive American era that redefines 21st century capitalism in light of globalization's swift conquering of the planet - finally (with a hat tip to K. Marx) but only under America's tutelage (none of those thieving European empires came even close).

Again, these are the best problems humanity has ever faced - problems of success and not failure.

So, chin up as this US election gets even nastier and more weird - and as daily revelations emerge concerning Moscow's (or Beijing's or Tehran's or Ankara's) latest transgression.

The world system we built remains secure, even as virtually every state now faces very hard choices between open and closed, connected or disconnected, or drawbridges up or down (per the Economist). These are natural reactions and we were all certain to confront these as a result of the Great Recession. What matters now is what we as Americans choose and how we lead - as always - by example.

Make no mistake: I'd gladly take our path and our fundamentals and our challenges over those of any other great power out there - yet another reason to keep all such frenemies in perspective. Neither they nor our true enemies (violent extremist organizations, plus those just-plain-nutty North Koreans) pose any existential threat to either us or our amazingly sturdy world order.

Simply put, don't believe the hype, even as we keep an eye on Russia's Trump.


London Review of Books on Perry Anderson's treatment of my work

Thomas Meaney review's Anderson's book (American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers by Perry Anderson
Verso, 244 pp, £14.99, March 2014, ISBN 978 1 78168 667 6), which I excerpted here.

He overstates my trust in the market (Anderson noted my call for a lengthy progressive era [21st century edition], but so be it.

Meaney also postions me (allegedly per Anderson) as the polar opposite of Kagan, when Anderson noted our similarities (essentially calling Kagan a political determinist to my economic determinist). 

At the opposite end of the strategy spectrum from Kagan, Anderson has found a curious specimen. Thomas Barnett is a former Naval Academy instructor, and a self-declared economic determinist who delivers TED talks to the military top brass about the limits of American power. His work, Anderson writes, is ‘not unlike a materialist variant, from the other side of the barricades, of the vision of America in Hardt and Negri’s Empire’. ‘America needs to ask itself,’ Barnett writes in Great Powers (2009), ‘is it more important to make globalisation truly global, while retaining great-power peace and defeating whatever anti-globalisation insurgencies may appear in the decades ahead? Or do we tether our support for globalisation’s advance to the upfront demand that the world first resembles us politically?’ For Barnett, the answer is clear: America must trust in the market, which will solve all strategic problems. Russia? It is experiencing its Gilded Age, and will come around in fifty years. China? Already capitalist anyway, and Xi is just China’s version of Teddy Roosevelt trying to root out corruption and make markets more functional. Iran? Proceed with every deal possible, let the market penetrate, and stop threatening it with military strikes. Tell Israel to back off: Iran will take the position in the Middle East to which its culture and educated population entitle it. North Korea? First let Beijing extract from it all the minerals it needs. Then, when it reaches rock bottom, the Chinese will invite the South Koreans in to clean up the mess. In a world so tilted in the US’s favour, Barnett calls for drastically reducing the military to a small force with only a handful of bases that will be used to handle terrorist pin-pricks. In every other respect the time has come for stay-at-home capitalist husbandry.

Hat tip to my old mentor Hank Gaffney for alerting me to this.


The Hegemon's Dilemma

Great bit from recent Economist story on how Germany is the only European state showing any genuine leadership (versus thinking only of itself):

In a Europe overshadowed by Brexit, Germany is thus feeling the dilemma of hegemony that America has known for seven decades: the temptation to use its power in its own interests conflicts with the duty to use that power to preserve global order. In Europe that means containing the EU’s “centrifugal forces”, as Mrs Merkel said repeatedly in the week after the referendum. 


"Pentagon's New Map" and "Blueprint for Action" coming out in German/Germany this November

The ad:


The links:



Will enjoy this translation in particular, as I can still read German from my PhD work.

In Changsha, China right now for some meetings/discussions with Hunan Academy of Social Sciences, but publisher asked me to post right away.

For all of you who asked why no German versions? all these years, apparently it took the flood of refugees/migrants from the Gap for the ideas to receive some direct attention in Germany. Yes, I realize that most of the media coverage concerning me has been inaccurate - to say the least. But now readers can decide for themselves.

Looking back on my arguments about Europe having to take in far larger numbers of immigrants to avoid a too-rapidly-aging demographic profile: I run into Europeans all the time who say, "That's easy for you to say but we have to deal with these people! And pay for it all!"

Well . . . having run that very experiment in my own family (three biological kids later augmented by one Asian and two Africans) . . . yeah, I do know a thing or two about the complications, costs, challenges, etc.

And I still make the same arguments. In this world, you go diverse or you're going down.

Fortunately, despite the nativist white blacklash here in the States, that's how the vast majority of Americans feel too, according to this Economist-published polling:


More than half of Americans answered "better" (dark blue) and more than 90% said "better/no difference" (latter being light blue) while less than 10% said "worse" (pink).

The numbers from European countries (larger pink "worse" blocs) are far more "drawbridges up" - as the Economist put it.

Thank God we have always been a synthetic country/citizenry/identity. 

 Yes, I also realize the titles are a bit jacked-up in translation. First think you learn as a writer: you don't get to title your articles/books.



Looking for a new career home

In the words of Dane Cook, I did my best.

But it's time to move on to something where I can genuinely move the needle.

My spouse now has her MSW and is interviewing for jobs in the Midwest, so I'm simultaneously more flexible in thinking about a potential new home (the potential for relocation) and more desirous for stability (I'd love to stay here in Madison if I could - for my younger kids' sake and so my spouse can jumpstart her career in a state where she's most credentialed).

I will continue to do consulting and speeching via Barnett Consulting, and I will remain with the Beijing-based Knowfar Institute and the Annapolis-HQ'd iJet in those adjunct positions, but I am actively looking now for a stable base relationship - the sun around which all my other endeavors orbit.

Along those lines, already talking to two places about such a relationship, but I'm also encouraging inbound offers from anyone out there who thinks I'd be a good match. So please contact me at will.



Making It Hardest For The Most Resilient Among Us

HUMANITY HAS TRANSFORMED THE NATURE OF LIVING OVER THE PAST CENTURY, ROUGHLY DOUBLING LIFE EXPECTANCY AT BIRTH AND THUS SHIFTING THE MEAN AGE RADICALLY UPWARD. This changes the structure of all societies, albeit at uneven paces. Globally, the worker-to-elder-dependent ratio was 12:1 in 1950, dropping only to 9:1 in the year 2000. But with globalization's profound expansion over the last 25 years, we're looking at a ratio of just 4:1 in 2050 (per the UN). That's an amazing burden shift that will be accommodated by people working later in life, technology and productivity advances, and — most crucially — the proper harnessing of youth as future labor. The big problem? Most of those youth are located in the emerging South, where a 10:1 ratio will still exist in 2050, whereas the advanced West will be looking at an untenable 2:1 ratio.

This is why I have advocated, throughout my career, for the West's open borders and active recruitment of immigrants from younger parts of the world. It is the only realistic solution — necessary even as it's insufficient (people will have to work longer and productivity will need to advance). Right now, Westerners seems to be dazzled by the imagery of robots running all and there being no work to be done, but this is a queer illusion that encourages inward-looking perspectives on the future, the classic example being Japan. The zero-sum mindset is also unrealistically greedy — as in, we have ours, so tough on you.

And yes, this generational divide, so well encapsulated in a North-South divide, dovetails quite negatively with the unequal social and environmental burdens generated by climate change, which likewise pits the "old" poles against" young" Middle Earth.

Simply put, we are eating our seed corn.

On this disturbing global trend comes a great editorial in the EconomistSome highlights, with commentary:

Roughly a quarter of the world’s people—some 1.8 billion—have turned 15 but not yet reached 30. In many ways, they are the luckiest group of young adults ever to have existed. They are richer than any previous generation, and live in a world without smallpox or Mao Zedong. They are the best-educated generation ever . . . they are also more intelligent than their elders. If they are female or gay, they enjoy greater freedom in more countries than their predecessors would have thought possible. And they can look forward to improvements in technology that will, say, enable many of them to live well past 100.

Another theme of my work over the years: when America stood up and took on the responsibility of running the world after WWII, it didn't simply replicate the global orders imposed sequentially by Europe's colonial powers over the centuries. Instead, it fundamentally reshaped it to enable global economic integration on an unprecedented scale — and based on our own model of states uniting. This is the primary reason why global standards of living have skyrocketed over the past half century.

But this creates class and generational consciousness on a global scale:

Just as, for the first time in history, the world’s youngsters form a common culture, so they also share the same youthful grievances. Around the world, young people gripe that it is too hard to find a job and a place to live, and that the path to adulthood has grown longer and more complicated.

The primary culprit? "Policies favouring the old over the young."

Last hired, first fired is the most obvious one:

In most regions they are at least twice as likely as their elders to be unemployed. The early years of any career are the worst time to be idle, because these are when the work habits of a lifetime become ingrained. Those unemployed in their 20s typically still feel the “scarring” effects of lower income, as well as unhappiness, in their 50s.

This is very bad news for a planet experiencing rapid demographic aging, the scariest and most self-destructive expression being the tendency of the old to want to "keep out" the foreign or "scary" young. This is a great deal of the emotion behind America's current passion for such slogans as "make our country great again!" It is simply nostalgia for the way things were.

But it denies us sufficient access to the most important resource on the planet — namely, youthful ambition and drive and creativity:

Young people are often footloose. With the whole world to explore and nothing to tie them down, they move around more often than their elders. This makes them more productive, especially if they migrate from a poor country to a rich one. By one estimate, global GDP would double if people could move about freely. That is politically impossible—indeed, the mood in rich countries is turning against immigration. But it is striking that so many governments discourage not only cross-border migration but also the domestic sort … A UN study found that 80% of countries had policies to reduce rural-urban migration, although much of human progress has come from people putting down their hoes and finding better jobs in the big smoke.

The aging of the North is making it brittle, self-centered, and selfish in spirit, and this is being increasingly reflected in government policies, in large part because, on average, 3 out of 5 elders regularly vote while only 1 out of 5 youth do.

The old have always subsidised their juniors. Within families, they still do. But many governments favour the old: an ever greater share of public spending goes on pensions and health care for them. This is partly the natural result of societies ageing, but it is also because the elderly ensure that policies work in their favour. By one calculation, the net flow of resources (public plus private) is now from young to old in at least five countries, including Germany and Hungary. This is unprecedented and unjust—the old are much richer.

This is where the newspaper nails the long-term danger:

That is a cruel waste of talent . . . Rich, ageing societies will find that, unless the youth of today can get a foot on the career ladder, tomorrow’s pensioners will struggle. What is more, oppressing youngsters is dangerous. Countries with lots of jobless, disaffected young men tend to be more violent and unstable . . .

The great challenge of the North's rapid demographic aging is resisting the general political crabbiness that comes with growing old, which eventually turns us all into cranky, get-the-hell-off-my-lawn types.

I don't know about you, but I don't dream of a future of gated communities populated mostly by the elderly who receive "personal care" from robots. That sounds more like the North turning itself into a giant nursing home.

Social resilience is a renewable resource, but it gets renewed generation by generation. We are not promoting that dynamic today in the West/North, and it will come back to haunt us.



The Internet of Things: Resistance Is Futile, But Resilience Is Fruitful


CONTINUING LAST FRIDAY'S THEME OF WHO'S-SPYING-ON-YOU, A DISTURBING ARTICLE FROM CBS NEWS HIGHLIGHTS HOW YOUR SMART PHONE CAN BE USED AGAINST YOU IN A VARIETY OF CRIMINAL/NEFARIOUS WAYS. What this reminds us is that, per the security expert cited in the story, we're all basically carrying around a mini personal computer in our pockets all day long, and that can be as disastrously hacked as any desk or laptop. Indeed, it can be far worse because of the camera, video, and recording capacities that we tend to view primarily as standard technologies kluged together in one unit, when they're all – to varying degrees –accessible to hackers via the software.

Some highlights from the piece:

Popular apps on your smartphone can be convenient and fun, but some also carry malicious software known as malware, which gives hackers easy access to your personal information.

A security firm found that between 75 and 80 percent of the top free apps on Android phones or iPhones were breached. The number jumps as high as 97 percent among the top paid apps on those devices.

Two caveats can be offered.

  1. There is the argument that mobile devices are more secure than personal computers and servers, because they're less open (a countering argument being that PCs and servers are targeted far more because that's where the good stuff is – i.e., the data).
  2. Many experts will also draw a distinction between Android phones and iPhones in terms of architecture and hence security.

With my limited technical knowledge, I'll buy both.  But here's the thing, with the blossoming Internet of Things, the number of devices grows fantastically, and the security features built into all those devices tends to be less comprehensive and robust, primarily because these devices are designed for consumers versus enterprises, meaning ease of use and access are paramount. Thus, as we rapidly build out the Internet of Things, we create sort of a wild-west frontier that surrounds all the critical infrastructure upon which these devices depend, allowing for a radical expansion of attack vectors by criminal and malicious actors.

That's certainly not an argument against pursuing the Internet of Things, but it does say that we need to build it out with more care and vision regarding the resilience of the critical infrastructure being increasingly exposed. In effect, our critical infrastructures are going to be subjected to an evolutionary leap of sorts, so we either adapt them in turn (keeping pace), or we suffer new and worse vulnerabilities.

Back to the story and quoted "cybersecurity expert Gary Miliefsky, whose company SnoopWall tracks malware."

Milifesky said when you download an app, you also give permission for it to access other parts of your phone, like an alarm clock app that can also track phone calls.

"You think an alarm clock needs all those permissions? Access to the Internet over wifi, your call information, calls you've made, call history, your device ID? This to me is not a safe alarm clock," Miliefsky said.

And there's the weather and flashlight apps that he says exploit legitimate banking apps to capture information, as he showed us in a demonstration of what could happen when someone takes a photo of a check to send to their bank.

"The flashlight app spies on the camera and noticed the check and grabbed a copy of it. Shipped it off to a server somewhere far away," Miliefsky said.

Last year the group FireEye discovered 11 malware apps being used on iPhones that gathered users' sensitive information and send it to a remote server, including text messages, Skype calls, contacts and photos Apple fought back by removing the apps and putting stricter security measures in place.

"They get at your GPS, your contacts build a profile on you," Miliefsky said.

Some apps are simply collecting information for advertising purposes. In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission settled a lawsuit with a company over its popular Brightest Flashlight app, alleging it transmitted consumers' personal information to third parties without telling them.

But Miliefsky said he's found another flashlight app that can do much more troubling things.

"This one turns on your microphone in the background, listens in on you, and sends an encrypted tunnel to a server we discovered in Beijing," Miliefsky described.

That certainly gets your attention, yes?

Whether or not we buy into the darker, more geo-political aspects, it's clear that we're all being subjected to a game-changing degree of personal transparency, and that, in political terms, the question of who's watching the watchers is just starting to be explored.

Now, a lot of people will respond to these developments by attempting to reduce their exposure, just like a lot of enterprises have attempted over the years. But that approach typically comes with too big a price in terms of lost efficiency, convenience, and sheer opportunity. Building more firewalls as the Internet of Things comes into being is not the answer.

In short, while resistance is futile when it comes to the Internet of Things (and the Borg, of course), resilience becomes the new prime directive for individuals, families, enterprises, communities, governments, and nations.




How Climate Change Truly Tests Human Resilience Is By Pitting Middle Earth Against the Poles

YES, IT IS COMPLETELY UNFAIR THAT THE INDUSTRIAL NORTH, WHICH IS MOST RESPONSIBLE FOR GLOBAL WARMING, WILL RECEIVE MOST OF ITS BENEFITS, WHILE THE SOUTH, EAGER NOW TO ACHIEVE SIMILAR LEVELS OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, WILL BE MOST HAMPERED BY CLIMATE CHANGE. And yes, this disparity will cause a great deal of political-military tension between that equatorially-centric band and the rest of humanity. We see an early version of this already in the migratory flows from central and north Africa, across the Mediterranean, into Europe. You may think it's all about civil strife in Libya and Syria, and there's plenty of that, but the consistent, long-term pressure of bodies heading north is more about climate-change-fueled desertification than anything else, reflecting the fact that it's growing harder to live in those regions.

A big part of why it's harder for humans to live in those central regions of the globe is that climate change is slowly draining them of resources, something we've noted for years in the poleward and upward (in elevation) movement of plants and animals, a dynamic that has recently been studied in a comprehensive manner (as described in a recent Newsweek posting):

As the planet warms, plants, trees, fish and other natural resources are on the move, shifting toward the poles, in the direction of higher elevations and deeper into the seas, states a paper published February 24 in the journal Nature Climate Change. This natural capital has economic value, especially in developing countries where it accounts for a large share of resources. The team of researchers led by Eli Fenichel, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, say that where the fish migrate, money will follow, but that it’s not as simple as this.

The findings suggest that it’s not enough for policymakers to look for biophysical changes, such as the increase of fish in one place and the decrease in another, to see how wealth is shifting in response to climate change, but that they should also take “inclusive wealth” into consideration. Inclusive wealth is an economic framework that accounts for the sum of traditional, human and natural capital, in an effort to measure a country’s ability to sustain human well-being. Wealth that is stable or which increases over time indicates overall sustainability. The framework can be applied to track the broader impacts of climate change on local and global sustainability: When natural capital shifts due to climate change—either toward the poles or toward the mountains—its value changes in response to new pricing that takes into account these social considerations in addition to the biophysical change alone.

The study, worth reading, employs scenarios to illustrate climate change's winners and losers, positing two fishing communities in the north (winner) and south (loser). The point was to examine the socio-economic changes in human behavior that arise from this pronounced resource shift:

“People are mostly focused on the physical reallocation of these assets, but I don’t think we’ve really started thinking enough about how climate change can reallocate wealth and influence the prices of those assets,” says Fenichel. The study uses fish as an example, but natural capital can include plants, trees, and other assets valuable to humans.

“We don’t know how this will unfold, but we do know there will be price effects. It’s just Economics 101—prices reflect quantity and scarcity and natural capital is hard for people to move,” Fenichel says. “It’s as inevitable as the movement of these fish species.”

“To be clear, the ‘gainers’ here are clearly better off,” he says. “They’re just not more better off than the losers are worse off. The losers are losing much more than the gainers are gaining. And when that happens, it’s not an efficient reallocation of wealth.”

The study's primary author then takes a stab at analogizing the resulting political-military tension:

It’s sort of like taking a piece of birthday cake from one child and giving it to another child who already has cake, according to Fenichel. One child undoubtedly stands to benefit more. “But the kid who got the second piece of cake is going to be a lot less happier than the kid who lost their only piece of cake will be upset.”

That analysis reminds me of the Western academics who examined China's gender imbalance and immediately went to positing Chinese military aggression so as to burn off the excess males. Not only was it bad political-military analysis (modern warfare is no longer ground-troop centric, as it was in the past, so just loading up the military with extra bodies accomplishes nothing), it simply ignored the realities of modern life, which says males seeking spouses don't simply sit put, accepting their fate, but rather tend to do whatever it takes to find mates. With modern travel networks, this includes the "unthinkable" of going abroad and marrying non-Chinese, like we've long seen in other Asian societies suffering over-concentrations of males in various geographic pockets or age cohorts.

And guess what, the same thing will happen (as we're already seeing in Europe) with climate change. The people of Middle Earth won't simply tough it out forever. Instead, they'll head north and south . . . to where there's growing amounts of arable land freed up by climate change.

The good news is, an older North (and developed South) should logically welcome this influx of fertile youth, because that's how we'll keep our own populations from aging too rapidly in coming decades. Yes, there will be politicians who call for "walls." There are plenty of them in North America and Europe now, and frankly, Russia's renewed interest in the Middle East is largely driven by that fear of an influx of radicalized Muslims. But, rest assured, they're coming. Nature will drive them and the rest of us will simply have to accommodate them in one of the greatest political experiments in human history.




Rising Sea Levels, Rising Awareness, Rising Resilience?


IN GENERAL, HISTORY SAYS HUMANS DO BETTER WHEN IT GETS WARMER AND WORSE WHEN IT GETS COLDER. There are a number of reasons for this, but the simplest explanation is energy: (1) it's easier to cool people than to warm them; and (2) it's easier to grow human energy (food) when it's warmer than when it's cooler. But that's a uber-macro take on the subject, when regional variations in climate change will be the real story of this century — namely, the middle regions of the world will get much hotter and drier while the most northern and southern bands will grow more temperate. Humans will adapt to all this, and huge numbers will be put on the move — poleward (just like plants and animals have been for decades now), but there will be a tremendous die-off of species from this rapid change (not rivaling other mass extinction periods in Earth's history in scope [one, for example, encompassed 96% of all species], but apparently surpassing them in speed). None of this is really negotiable at this point; it's a done deal. We can delay some impacts, or take the worst edge of others, but they are coming — with the bulk arriving in the lifetimes of our children.

No, we're not going to roll back human progress, nor will we succeed in demanding that the still undeveloped regions of the world stay that way to atone for the North's sins. And yes, we will engage in Noah's Arc-like activities designed to transplant vulnerable species to new areas where they might survive and hopefully thrive.

In short, we will continue remaking this planet in our image, because that's what humans do.

But it's the oceans where we have so little say in the matter, even as we have had enormous impact. This is where community, regional and national resilience will be tested the world over.

On that score, lots of new studies just out suggesting that rising sea levels and associated flooding will likely be as bad as most of the scariest predictions have indicated — but again with significant regional variations.

First, from a WAPO story on one just-published study:

A group of scientists says it has now reconstructed the history of the planet’s sea levels arcing back over some 3,000 years — leading it to conclude that the rate of increase experienced in the 20th century was “extremely likely” to have been faster than during nearly the entire period.

“We can say with 95 percent probability that the 20th-century rise was faster than any of the previous 27 centuries,” said Bob Kopp, a climate scientist at Rutgers University who led the research with nine colleagues from several U.S. and global universities . . .

The study was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Seas rose about 14 centimeters (5.5 inches) from 1900 to 2000, the new study suggests, for a rate of 1.4 millimeters per year. The current rate, according to NASA, is 3.4 millimeters per year, suggesting that sea level rise is still accelerating.

So, rising more than twice as fast this century versus last — achieving the dreaded "hockey stick" graphs displayed above.

Now, for the variation in the US, from another WAPO story on anther study:

Writing in Nature Geoscience, John Krasting and three colleagues from the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration find that “Atlantic coastal areas may be particularly vulnerable to near-future sea-level rise from present-day high greenhouse gas emission rates.” The research adds to recent studies that have found strong warming of ocean waters in the U.S. Gulf of Maine, a phenomenon that is not only upending fisheries but could be worsening the risk of extreme weather in storms like Winter Storm Jonas.

“When carbon emission rates are at present day levels and higher, we see greater basin average sea level rise in the Atlantic relative to the Pacific,” says Krasting. “This also means that single global average measures of sea level rise become less representative of the regional scale changes that we show in the study.”

The Atlantic suffers this additional stress because it churns/circulates/ventilates more than the quiet Pacific.

But, getting it back to us humans, these are emerging realities for our local ecosystems, and, by that, we mean the local operating environment of families, businesses, communities, cities and the like. Our local support systems, or the networks upon which we rely for our organizations' smooth functioning, are all going to come under more regular stress and suffer more regular crises. This will arrive in the form of increasingly weird, unpredictable, and severe weather all over America, but with the added danger of storm surge flooding and destruction along the lowest portions of the coastlines (particularly along the Atlantic).

According to NOAA:

In the United States, counties directly on the shoreline constitute less than 10 percent of the total land area (not including Alaska), but account for 39 percent of the total population. From 1970 to 2010, the population of these counties increased by almost 40% and are projected to increase by an additional 10 million people or 8% by 2020. Coastal areas are substantially more crowded than the U.S. as a whole, and population density in coastal areas will continue to increase in the future. In fact, the population density of coastal shoreline counties is over six times greater than the corresponding inland counties.

Globally, it's even more concentrated, with 44% of humanity living within 150 km of coastlines.

How prepared are we for rising sea levels?

If you're the Dutch, you're feeling pretty confident, because (a) you're rich, and (b) you've been doing this for centuries. If you're Bangladeshi, you're a whole lot less confident ...

The good news is, globalization is reducing global poverty dramatically (spreading wealth) while spreading technical know-how. So we can all be more "Dutch" over time (with their help, as the Netherlands' aid agency specializes in transferring such knowledge).

On that score, we have plenty to do, says Time:

The [recently published] research adds to growing evidence that communities around the world are vastly unprepared to defend against the effects of sea level rise in the coming decades. Rising sea levels erode coasts and place coastal cities in danger. Even areas that may seem safe will be vulnerable to floods that could inundate entire cities and contaminate freshwater supplies ...

“We’re just at the beginning of the curve,” says Benjamin Strauss, co-author of the Climate Central central study. “I think in the next two decades things will deteriorate a lot faster than they did over the last two decades.”

But that's how it is for most things in life: it gets slightly worse for a long time and then gets dramatically worse in a short time. Solutions, per the Dutch and others, are well known:

In addition to mitigation, vulnerable communities should adapt to protect themselves from rising sea levels, researchers say. Those protective measures can take the form of levees, pumps and elevated homes. In other places, policymakers have built up natural defenses like mangroves and reefs. These provide the added benefit of sucking up carbon from the atmosphere and they often cost less than their steel and concrete equivalents, according to Jane Carter Ingram of the Nature Conservancy’s Science for Nature and People Partnership.

The problem is local leadership:

But many of the most vulnerable communities have been reluctant to change. Policymakers in Florida, for instance, have been hampered by elected officials who question the science of climate change despite the state being among the country’s most vulnerable.

We can't be resilient if we can't look problems straight in the eye.



Western Hemisphere's Shale Men as Oil Industry's New "World Swing Producers"?


FASCINATING BRIEFING IN A RECENT ECONOMIST (23 JAN 16) ADDS A NEW TWIST TO AN ARGUMENT I'VE BEEN RECENTLY ADVANCING ON HOW NORTH AMERICA'S EMERGING ENERGY INDEPENDENCE DRAMATICALLY REDEFINES ITS OWN SENSE OF ECONOMIC RESILIENCE AND – ULTIMATELY – AMERICA'S GLOBAL SECURITY PERSPECTIVE. Think of the future as mostly about energy and water, with the latter accounting for food production. Any country seeking to ensure its economic resilience going forward wants to be either rich in both, or rich in secure access to both. This is essentially where China is weakest now and in coming decades (hence the aggressive military behavior on display off its coast), because it must import both food and energy in ever increasingly amounts (and overwhelmingly via seaborne trade). This is also where America (and North America in general) is strongest now and in coming decades, relative to just about every great power out there – save perhaps Russia. But even there, America has little reason to unduly worry about the widely-perceived renewal of strategic rivalry with Moscow, which invariably becomes China's economic vassal on that basis:

China, please meet Russia, an energy-business-masquerading-as-a-government, which is incredibly vulnerable on the subject of lower energy prices but stands as the world's largest exporter of energy.

Russia, please meet China, which is the world's largest importer of energy and the stingiest, most aggressively demanding trade partner in the world.

Please go about you co-dependency with all the respect and friendship that you've each bestowed upon the other's culture and civilization over the years.

As I've pointed out, North America is already the world's de facto swing producer on grains, which gives us an enormous strategic advantage – and power – that we scarcely realize.

We are, in effect, the Saudi Arabia of grain. So, if, in our imagination, they have the world over an oil barrel, then we've got the world over a breadbasket.

Guess who cries "uncle" first?

And yes, we'll maintain that status in spite of climate change, because we're that clever and that resilient and that blessed by circumstances.

But here's where the Economist's analysis of the recent slide in oil prices is so intriguing: what if North America were to become the world's swing producer on energy – as well?

From the piece:

Now the fear for producers is of an excess of oil, rather than a shortage. The addition to global supply over the past five years of 4.2m barrels a day (b/d) from America’s shale producers, although only 5% of global production, has had an outsized impact on the market by raising the prospects of recovering vast amounts of resources formerly considered too hard to extract. On January 19th the International Energy Agency (IEA), a prominent energy forecaster, issued a stark warning: “The oil market could drown in oversupply.”

Amazing what the fracking revolution in North America has wrought, and don't – for a minute – discount how that sense of energy independence influenced President Obama's decision to see a Nixon-like detente with Iran, identified in the piece as "the most immediate cause of the bearishness."

[Iran] promises an immediate boost to production of 500,000 b/d, just when other members of OPEC such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq are pumping at record levels. Even if its target is over-optimistic, seething rivalry between the rulers in Tehran and Riyadh make it hard to imagine that the three producers could agree to the sort of production discipline that OPEC has used to attempt to rescue prices in the past.

But it gets even more disruptive – again, because of the fracking revolution in North America:

Even if OPEC tried to reassert its influence, the producers’ cartel would probably fail because the oil industry has changed in several ways. Shale-oil producers, using technology that is both cheaper and quicker to deploy than conventional oil rigs, have made the industry more entrepreneurial. Big depreciations against the dollar have helped beleaguered economies such as Russia, Brazil and Venezuela to maintain output, by increasing local-currency revenues relative to costs. And growing fears about action on climate change, coupled with the emergence of alternative-energy technologies, suggests to some producers that it is best to pump as hard as they can, while they can.

So we witness the Saudis – yet again – trying to shake out the market, not to mention its fierce regional rival, through an extended period of self-destructive over-production relative to market demand. It will definitely hinder Iran's re-entry into the world and its energy market, but in the US?

Yet there is also a reason for keeping the pumps working that is not as suicidal as it sounds. One of the remarkable features of last year’s oil market was the resilience of American shale producers in the face of falling prices. Since mid-2015 shale firms have cut more than 400,000 b/d from output in response to lower prices. Nevertheless, America still increased oil production more than any other country in the year as a whole, producing an additional 900,000 b/d, according to the IEA.

And here's where US technological resilience gets truly interesting:

During the year the number of drilling rigs used in America fell by over 60%. Normally that would be considered a strong indicator of lower output. Yet it is one thing to drill wells, another to conduct the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) that gets the shale oil flowing out. Rystad Energy, a Norwegian consultancy, noted late last year that the “frack-count”, ie, the number of wells fracked, was still rising, explaining the resilience of oil production.

The roughnecks used other innovations to keep the oil gushing, such as injecting more sand into their wells to improve flow, using better data-gathering techniques and employing a skeleton staff to keep costs down. The money is no longer flowing in. America’s once-rowdy oil towns, where three years ago strippers could make hundreds of dollars a night from itinerant oilmen, are now full of abandoned trailer parks and boarded-up businesses. But the oil is still flowing out. Even some of the oldest shale fields, such as the Bakken in North Dakota, were still producing at the same level in November as more than a year before.

No, we don't want to overestimate the economic boost to the US economy from all this. Our economic restructuring challenges are significant – as evidenced by voter anger in this year's presidential race. But others have it far worse:

Unsurprisingly some of the biggest splashes of red ink in the IMF’s latest forecast revisions were reserved for countries where oil exploration and production has played a significant role in the economy: Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Russia (and some of its oil-producing neighbours) and Nigeria. Weaker demand in this group owes much to strains on their public finances.

Russia has said it will cut public spending by a further 10% in response to the latest drop in crude prices (see article).

So where do we go from here? The article discusses "peak demand," something I've long argued would naturally precede the much-feared "peak oil" moment, primarily due to efficiency and environmental concerns.

Then the Economist lays out the crown-jewel argument – from my perspective – of the piece:

More likely, the oil price will eventually find a bottom and, if this cycle is like previous ones, shoot sharply higher because of the level of underinvestment in reserves and natural depletion of existing wells. Yet the consequences will be different. Antoine Halff of Columbia University’s Centre on Global Energy Policy told American senators on January 19th that the shale-oil industry, with its unique cost structure and short business cycle, may undermine longer-term investment in high-cost traditional oilfields. The shalemen, rather than the Saudis, could well become the world’s swing producers, adding to volatility, perhaps, but within a relatively narrow range.


Please keep that in mind when all the politicians and national security experts are trying to scare you to death during our ongoing transition from one president to the next: when it comes to food/water and energy, North America – and America in particular – is sitting pretty.


Because our national resilience on both continues to contradict the pessimists while amazing even the optimists like me!



Cultural Resilience in the Age of Globalization: Telling Your Own Stories, Your Own Way

THE NOTION THAT GLOBALIZATION RESULTS IN CULTURAL HOMOGENIZATION ONLY SEEMS TRUE DURING ITS INITIAL "INVASION," BUT, OVER TIME, REGIONAL AND NATIONAL PILLARS INVARIABLY RECLAIM THEIR HISTORIC CULTURAL INFLUENCE AND MARKET TURF. We in America tend to view this as a "reversal" of globalization's tide, when it is nothing of the sort. It's simply local populations accepting globalization's connectivity while repopulating its content, and, in doing so, rendering it more applicable, tolerable, and entertaining. I've made this point for many years in my writing: virtually everyone in the world welcomes globalization's connectivity, but many - if not most - have a problem with its content (particularly when it emanates from culturally free-wheeling America). A few nations deal with this content mismatch by censorship, bans, and the like. But the smarter cultures adopt the media/connectivity models and then fill them up with their own unique content - eventually exporting that content abroad.

That is most definitely the case with Nigeria, per a NYT story:

The stories told by Nigeria’s booming film industry, known as Nollywood, have emerged as a cultural phenomenon across Africa, the vanguard of the country’s growing influence across the continent in music, comedy, fashion and even religion.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, overtook its rival, South Africa, as the continent’s largest economy two years ago, thanks in part to the film industry’s explosive growth.

Notice how, when it's a regional pillar doing the "cultural imperialism," no one uses that term:

“The Nigerian movies are very, very popular in Tanzania, and, culturally, they’ve affected a lot of people,” said Songa wa Songa, a Tanzanian journalist. “A lot of people now speak with a Nigerian accent here very well thanks to Nollywood. Nigerians have succeeded through Nollywood to export who they are, their culture, their lifestyle, everything.”

But the key dynamic here, as noted above, is the repopulating of media networks previously dominated by outsiders with local content.

Nollywood generates about 2,500 movies a year, making it the second-biggest producer after Bollywood in India, and its films have displaced American, Indian and Chinese ones on the televisions that are ubiquitous in bars, hair salons, airport lounges and homes across Africa.

Nollywood succeeds by telling stories about the vast socio-economic transitions Africans are experiencing thanks to globalization's embrace:

Nollywood resonates across Africa with its stories of a precolonial past and of a present caught between village life and urban modernity. The movies explore the tensions between the individual and extended families, between the draw of urban life and the pull of the village, between Christianity and traditional beliefs. For countless people, in a place long shaped by outsiders, Nollywood is redefining the African experience.

In short, Nollywood's content represents a cultural coping-mechanism - a source of civilizational resilience amidst tumultuous change.

“I doubt that a white person, a European or American, can appreciate Nollywood movies the way an African can,” said Katsuva Ngoloma, a linguist at the University of Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo who has written about Nollywood’s significance. “But Africans — the rich, the poor, everyone — will see themselves in those movies in one way or another.”

Best yet, Nollywood-as-Hollywood-cum-Bollywood knock-off is already replicating itself across the continent, resulting in even more localized and culturally rich content generation.

Nollywood has also created a model for movie production in other African nations, said Matthias Krings, a German expert on African popular culture at Johannes Gutenberg University.

In Kitwe, Zambia, local filmmakers were recently making their latest movie in true Nollywood style: a family melodrama shot over 10 days, in a private home, on a $7,000 budget. Burned onto DVD, the movie will be sold in Zambia and neighboring countries.

Acknowledging the influence of Nigerian cinema, the movie’s producer, Morgan Mbulo, 36, said, “We can tell our own stories now.”

And that's how globalization should work: global connectivity spreading capabilities and those expanding capabilities allowing for local developments that suit local tastes, cultural requirements, and the social issues of the day.


America Without Latinos - The Cost to our National Economic Resilience

IS THERE A MORE HOT-BUTTON ISSUE IN THIS YEAR'S PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN THAN IMMIGRATION? ARGUABLY NO. And there are plenty of reasons for why that's so: the historic influx of Latino immigrants in the 1990s/2000s; the steadily declining fortune of the American middle class over much of the same timeframe; and, of course, America's (still) recent (enough) financial crisis/"great recession." Of course, those dynamics aren't all that well related to one another, but their subsequent synergy is clear enough in US history: scare the socio-economic-political middle and you'll get an angry electorate that turns on foreigners. Yes, I know that immigration has declined rather dramatically since the downturn. But long term, we know the die has already been cast: Latinos now are the #1 minority in the US and by mid-century they'll surpass a 1/4 share of the US population, making them the #2 "majority-minority" after whites.

Put it all together and you get the new normal in which  (a) two of the leading GOP contenders are Hispanic (Cruz, Rubio), (b) no one really talks about that being novel (the leading part most certainly is), and (c) both are considered "tough" on illegal immigration. Then again, we also see Donald Trump on top of many polls, and he has most definitely tapped into white discomfort over the rising Latino quotient. Thus, if the Democratic side of the campaign seems very class focused, the GOP side (for now) seems very identify-focused (the whole "real"/"true" America vibe).

Neither party's focus should be a surprise, given how globalization has challenged and changed America's socio-economic landscape since the Cold War's end. There is little doubt that the nation continues to endure a period of great transition. But it's one I can spot all around the world.

Most of us tend to view the world in East-West or longitudinal terms, but I see that changing in the years and decades ahead, shifting to more of a North-South or latitudinal perspective.

  • Northern populations are aging, while Southern populations remain youth-skewed. That alone puts people on the move, overwhelmingly northward. We're watching that now in Europe, but it's really a global phenomenon.
  • Climate change will only turbo charge this people flow, because it'll become that much harder to live and grow food in equatorial regions. Additionally, warmer temperatures and milder seasons in the North will push habitation and agriculture northward.
  • Revolutions in energy production will render regions less dependent on longitudinal flows, something we're already witnessing with the US.
  • Age imbalances between North and South will be matched by economic growth disparities (younger economies, on average, grow faster), leading the North to seek further trade and economic integration southward.

Add it all up and I see an America far more focused on the Western Hemisphere in this century, resuming a southward integration dynamic that was there, roughly a century ago, only to be hijacked by global geopolitical events (WWI, WWII, Cold War, OPEC's rise). I could say that it's only natural for this north-south reorientation to return, given that the fastest growing economies will be found in the South in coming years and decades. But I could also say it was inevitable given the already high rate of economic/trade/financial integration that exists east-west. Thus, the north-south reorientation is both what's next and what's left.

It will also represent - as always - our economic system's instinctive reach for that which will most increase our national resilience in the future.

As evidenced by this year's presidential campaign, that tectonic shift in US perspective will be politically tumultuous, and, by that, I mean, replete with "shocking" revelations and realizations of just how much has already changed. We're just such a laissez faire system that we're constantly "waking up" and discovering things that have been in the works for decades, right under our noses.

A classic way to explore such new understandings is to employ a "counter-factual" - i.e., to explore the completely opposite scenario in which the newly dominant element of reality never really happened. A classic example: what if the US had never entered WWII and the Nazis still ruled Europe?

So, no surprise in seeing such counter-factuals being deployed as political tools with regard to the profoundly pervasive role already played by Latinos throughout much of the US economy.

Today, in my town of Madison WI, we witness the following political demonstration, as reported by a local news channel:

Organizers of "A Day without Latinos and Immigrants" are calling for businesses and individuals to assemble at the state Capitol at 10 a.m. Thursday to protest against what they say are two anti-immigration bills being considered by the Legislature.

One bill would address the issuance of local ID cards by local governments to immigrants. The second bill would prohibit municipalities from creating laws restricting law enforcement officers from inquiring about the immigration status of people whom they contact.

In asking businesses to close their doors on Thursday morning, organizers are hoping to illustrate the void that would exist in the community if Latinos were not participating in the economy.

“I think that’s what mainstream America has to understand, that the Latino, that the immigrant community is highly important to the contributions, and Latinos want to contribute. Latinos, all we want is one word, and that is opportunity,” said Luis Montoto, programming director for La Movida, the only Spanish-language radio station in the community.

Organizers said they have commitments from local restaurants, grocery stores, tax preparation firms and other businesses to close on Thursday in support of the protest. They also expect construction, hotel, manufacturing and farm workers to attend the protest.

Madison Mexican food favorite Taqueria Guadalajara is participating. Imelda Perez, manager of the restaurant on Park Street, said the bills attack immigrants, and she believes closing the restaurant will serve as a wake-up call.

“People will come here to the door, and they ‘ll try to have lunch, and the door will be locked, and then people will realize how important we are,” she said.

The image above is from a 2004 movie based on the same counter-factual premise:

When a mysterious fog surrounds the boundaries of California, there is a communication breakdown and all the Mexicans disappear, affecting the economy and the state stops working missing the Mexican workers and dwellers.

Could other ethnic-immigrant groups have made the same claims during previous periods of America's national history? Absolutely. A great deal of America's economic resilience over its history is owed to various influxes of labor (both slave and free) that were subsequently exploited by the system for all they were worth (or could stand before organizing themselves politically for better treatment).  Our ability to process such immigrant waves is our primary social-resilience skill. This time will be no different.

So yes, expect all manner of "push" from the native-born population in coming years, along with all manner of "shove" coming back from the foreign-born population. This is not the first such stressing political dynamic in US history and it certainly won't be the last.

But it will, I predict, be the one that re-orients America's vision of its future from a predominantly longitudinal perspective to a more latitudinal vision.

And we will be stronger as a nation as a result.



America’s Post-Oil Grand Strategy

[Wrote this last June as possible publication, but it was a bit beyond the pale for journal, which wanted dramatic changes. Not unusual for me - happens with every new tack I undertake (the "new map" suffered similarly). I liked it as it was, so we parted on that disagreement. I later used it in China as a written version of the presentations I gave there in Beijing and Shanghai (August 2015). I post it here now because I've recently received a number of requests based on my 2015 presentation in DC (a further iteration of my presentations in China). I also post it because these things just get lost over time if I don't.]


America's Post-Oil Grand Strategy
Thomas P.M. Barnett

June 2015

The United States defaulted to a Middle East-centric grand strategy in the waning years of the Cold War and has remained stuck there ever since – sometimes in denial (like now) and sometimes in fervent embrace (George W. Bush and his neocons) but always in a manner that demanded some measure of White House attention.  That seemingly unbreakable focus – particularly in relation to allies Israel and Saudi Arabia – now rapidly dissipates, falling victim first to a technological curveball and ultimately to a demographic shift that leaves Americans less willing to police the world and more interested in recasting their pursuit of happiness.  

America’s political leaders have taken to describing this era as one of unprecedented uncertainty, but this is hardly the case.  Globalization is either winning or has won across all the world’s regions, leaving only the question of which global “brands” (American, Chinese, Indian, European, Russian) will dominate where.  President Obama and much of Washington now project the nation’s grand strategic ambitions in the direction of Asia, but they are mistaken.  America’s historical scheme of integrating the world “laterally” (West to East) since World War II is largely complete, meaning these United States now enter an age of “vertical” integration (North to South) in the Western Hemisphere. This latitudinal expansion of the American System once imagined by our Founding Fathers will define U.S. foreign policy across the rest of this century.


The technological curveball that arrives just in time

In many ways, the hybrid U.S. economic system of big firms surrounded by a sea of small, technology-innovating start-ups represents the purest real-world expression of Karl Marx’s dialectic materialism – a theory of history that tracks causality from inexorable technological advance to altered economic reality to inevitable political change. What Marx never imagined was a political system able to structure itself so that those technological waves would just keep coming over the decades, consistently “buying off” the electoral acquiescence of the lower and middle classes in the face of elite domination (oftentimes real, sometimes just imagined) of the highest levels of government.  In Marxian terminology, America’s political “superstructure” has learned how to co-evolve with its economic “base” better than any nation-state in history.

The feedback loop that has allowed that successful co-evolution is America’s sometimes stunningly permissive rule of law.  Basically, you can try or invent just about anything in America that isn’t currently prohibited by law, whose construction trails innovation sometimes for decades. In too much of the rest of the world, one’s innovation and industry is limited to what is allowed by law.  Do Americans pay for that permissiveness?  Regularly – in the form of surges in criminality, environmental damage, labor abuse and sheer greed.  But thanks to our participatory regulatory and legal systems, the “little guy” can fight back and can make those bastards pay for what they’ve done!  So while the construction of protective laws trails crimes, disasters, and tragedies of the common, it never falls so far behind that the political system fractures – save for our unique historical experience with slavery.

Thus, it is only fitting that America’s historically recent Middle East-centric grand strategy, seemingly beholden as it was to the goal of assuring the world’s access to affordable energy, now falls victim to yet the latest in a long string of U.S.-triggered technological waves – the so-called fracking revolution.  This silver bullet development, coming as it does just as two new, energy-import-dependent superpowers (China, India) rise in the East, could not be more fortuitous for extending the global moratorium on great power war begun with the invention of nuclear weapons.  It essentially introduces enough slack in the world energy system to allow both Asian giants to step into their economic primes without needing to militarily challenge either the United States or its long-nurtured global trade system.  When combined with the Western Hemisphere’s most crucial resource advantage – namely, arable land in an age of global climate change, America’s new-found energy independence fundamentally prevents any historical repeat of the structural run-ups to World Wars I or II, much less any revivification of the Cold War’s East-West destructive superpower rivalry.  Thanks to fracking, it turns out that this town is big enough for the both of us – the U.S. and China in the Pacific Rim today, and China and India in Asia tomorrow.

Think about that for a minute: amidst all the continuing expert predictions of overpopulation and rising consumption bankrupting the planet to the point of non-stop “resource wars” among “thirsty” great powers (think oil and water), American ingenuity once again comes to the world’s rescue on both energy and food (i.e., water turned into human energy).

Just a decade ago, America imported almost two-thirds of its crude oil and entertained plans for new infrastructure to facilitate imports of liquid natural gas.  Today it surpasses Saudi Arabia on crude oil production and, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, will become a net exporter of crude oil in roughly a decade’s time. Moreover, by tapping into what is estimated to be the world’s second-largest shale gas reserves (China is number one), America has re-vaulted itself to the leading ranks of world natural gas producers – soon available for export.  This sort of technological turnaround is – quite frankly – just as impressive as China’s economic rise over the similarly long gestation period of the past quarter-century.  But – again – more importantly, America’s technological achievement essentially solves the structural challenge created by China’s rapid ascension in the world power system – but only if both Washington and Beijing become smart enough to realize that.

President Barack Obama was absolutely correct in downsizing America’s “war on terror” from the Bush Administration’s focus on regime toppling to hunting down and killing bad guys.  Frankly, that’s been America’s story on military interventions going all the way back to Panama and Manuel Noriega in 1989.  We don’t take on governments anymore; we take on bad/nonstate actors (the Milosevic gang in Serbia, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, the “deck of 52” in Iraq, Qaddafi in Libya, and so on). By re-symmetricizing what has long been described as radical Islam’s asymmetrical war on the West, Obama right-sized the terror war. But to cover his soft-on-defense vulnerability as a Democrat, he coupled that wise decision with the strategically unsound declaration of America’s “pivot to Asia” – in effect, shifting from a region in which globalization’s advance is still being violently contested to one where its victory is already complete.

But here’s where the strategic irony grows stunningly disturbing: by attempting to contain rising China’s natural military expansion in East Asia, Washington inadvertently prevents what must become Beijing’s progressive embrace of the role of extra-regional security Leviathan for the Persian Gulf.  Worse, by doing this, Washington actually encourages rival India to do the same when it must eventually partner with China in providing that regional security umbrella. In other words, just as America’s technological breakthrough on energy relieves it of its unwanted role in the Persian Gulf, Washington wrongheadedly works to prevent our historical relief from moving toward those “responsible stakeholder” roles. 


America’s Long(itudinal) War: It only gets worse

Understand this from the start:  the Persian Gulf still matters to Europe in terms of energy flows but not to the United States.  From the five top-10 global oil exporters located in the Gulf (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, UAE, Kuwait), only negligible amounts of crude oil currently flow to the Western Hemisphere.  The vast majority of Persian Gulf oil exports (roughly four-fifths) flows into East Asia, with China and India alone accounting for half of that flow.  Anti-war protestors got it only half-right: it may have been American blood, but it was never our oil.

If you’re paying attention to Barack Obama’s second-term boldness in foreign policy, this newfound swagger clearly tracks back to a growing sense of both America’s energy independence and its ability to influence global energy markets.  The recent bottoming of global oil prices was due in no small part to rising American production.  In the case of Venezuela’s flagging financial support to Cuba, this left the Castro brothers more open to Obama’s offers of normalizing bilateral relations. In the case of Iran, this increased the White House’s confidence in moving ahead on the nuclear power deal – despite Riyadh and Israel’s obvious displeasure.  Even in the case of Russia’s ongoing squeeze of Ukraine, the Obama Administration reveals no penchant for “blinking,” and why should it?  The more Vladimir Putin isolates Russia from the West, the more Moscow is forced to sell off its vast natural resources to the world’s largest buyer of the same – those notoriously stingy and difficult Chinese.  Putin’s reward for grabbing the Crimea is pitiable: the right to sell off Russia at bargain-basement prices to Beijing.

But make no mistake: there is genuine strategic risk in Obama’s mistimed Asian “pivot.”

In Asia alone, Washington risks a number of stumbling-into-great-power-war pathways, several of which could be driven by local powers (Japan and Vietnam especially) over-reacting to Beijing’s latest – literally – dredged-up beachhead or the right shooting incident between patrol craft operating above, on, or below the disputed waters.  A rising superpower like China has wont of an appropriate whipping boy to demonstrate its growing military prowess.  When America reached that jingoist apogee late in the 19th century, it was smart enough to target the comatose Spanish Empire in the Caribbean (Cuba) and Pacific (Philippines).  For China, still nurturing regional grudges over past “humiliations,” East Asia is a sufficiently target-rich environment.  And with the Pentagon locked and loaded to prove its AirSea Battle Concept, one cannot help but worry that some Asian variant of Archduke Ferdinand is now figuratively riding through the streets with his car-top down. Granted, the resulting shooting war is more likely virtual than real, but there too we find burgeoning cyber-warfare forces on both sides of the Pacific itching to press those keys and reveal to the world the damage they’re truly capable of inflicting.

Should the United States increasingly put at risk its greatest foreign policy achievement in history – namely, the rapid and planet-wide spread of our economic source-code (aka, globalization) – with this China-centric “pivot” to East Asia?  No. In Beijing’s eyes, any U.S. effort to block their naval expansion leaves the Mainland vulnerable to military pressure from the sea – the oft employed attack vector of Western powers seeking China’s “humiliation.”  All Americans have to do to approximate the average Chinese’s nationalism on this point is to imagine Chinese aircraft carriers, submarines and aircraft patrolling just beyond America’s declared national waters.  Think of just how far Fox News could run with that.

Predictably – if not fortunately, crises in the Middle East routinely erupt to recapture America’s dangerously short strategic attention span.  Here, the Obama Administration’s modus operandi of “leading from behind” is a preview of coming distractions. With Washington locally perceived as backing out of its longtime regional Leviathan role, and with relief (China, India) nowhere in sight, we collectively enter a nobody-is-minding-the-stove period in which the region’s preeminent three-sided rivalry between Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey will come to a dangerous boil.

We’ve seen this already unfold in the Islamic State’s frighteningly rapid rise.  Fearing growing encirclement by the fabled Shia Crescent, Riyadh secretly bankrolled the group’s emergence in Syria and Iraq.  Ankara, with similar rivalrous instincts, allowed Turkey to become a smuggling sieve for foreign fighters and supplies transiting to and from ISIS.  Now, as their monstrous co-creation threatens them directly, both regimes are caught in the sort of strategic conundrum usually reserved for intervening extra-regional great powers – a truly telling development.  Iran too now faces a certain imperial “overstretch” throughout the wider region, making its determined effort to gain international recognition as a nuclear power oddly reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s efforts with the West during the Cold War, in that, the more Tehran engages in great-power meddling of its own, the more it wants to erase the threat of possible strategic retaliation against the homeland – a decidedly logical move.

But it will be in the nuclear realm where this three-sided Gulf rivalry regularly rattles the world’s nerves in coming years. With Tehran on the verge of getting the Obama Administration to implicitly recognize its nuclear breakout capacity of a year-or-less, Riyadh is strongly rumored to be readying itself to cash in Pakistan’s long-offered promise of ready-to-use nuclear weapons.  Meanwhile, Ankara, with NATO nuclear weapons already on its soil, will likely resist the temptation for now.  Still, soon enough the world will find itself managing a three-sided nuclear standoff – however latent – among Israel, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.  That prospect has to scare even the most fervent believer in the system-stabilizing effect of nuclear weapons, myself included.

Frightening as it may be for the world to re-learn the fundamental logic of mutually assured destruction – particularly in a region chock-full of End Times-embracing millenarians, I have spent the last decade proclaiming the inevitability of this pathway simply because Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly was always unsustainable and a bit spooky with its Masada complex.  Now, the technological curveball that triggers America’s new strategic distance renders this outcome virtually inescapable.  In nuclear terms, the inmates are finally running the asylum.


Go South, Young Man

America’s shift from a “horizontal” grand strategy (West integrating East) to a “vertical” grand strategy (North integrating South) is preordained by demographics. Any country’s economic rise stems first and foremost from an advantageous national age distribution, meaning lots of labor relative to children and old people. This “demographic dividend” is typically triggered by improvements in healthcare for mothers and young children, which allows families to eschew additional pregnancies out of the growing assurance that their first two or so children will make it into adulthood. That turning-off-the-fertility-spigot creates a welcome labor bulge that comes with a time limit of roughly a generation’s time – like the journey of America’s Boomer generation from youth to (now) old age.  If you’re lucky, your society gets rich before it gets old.

America took advantage of a fortuitous demographic dividend in the 1950s and 1960s to power the global economy with manufacturing.  Compared to all of its competitors that suffered great loss of young life, the U.S. was overloaded with labor relative to dependents – a glorious run extended somewhat by the first Boomers’ arrival in the workplace in the mid-to-late 1960s. Japan was next to ride a lifting demographic wave, rising like a rocket across the 1970s and 1980s, only to see that trajectory fizzle out since the 1990s as the nation rapidly started stockpiling old people due to stunningly low fertility.  China was next in the 1990s and 2000s, but then predictably saw its demographic dividend peak in 2010.  Now, with fertility still low (the one-child policy became a hard habit to break), China will age (mean age) three times as fast as the U.S. through the middle of the century.

Whose up next?  Southeast Asia enjoys a demographic dividend now, with India’s coming on its heels.  Beyond them lay the Middle East and Africa, the latter looking at the biggest dividend that the world has ever seen (the better part of a billion people).

Why this economic history matters: Once a nation embraces manufacturing to leverage its demographic dividend, it starts “climbing the ladder of production,” moving from cheap and assembled goods to higher-order manufacturing.  A rite of passage is seen in automobile manufacturing, which dovetails with any rising economy’s growing middle-class demand for mobility.  As it climbs that ladder, the nations in question must slough off their lower-end manufacturing to those countries coming into their own demographic dividends.  In short, these nations become inexorably bound to their successors through direct investment and integration via expanding global production chains.  In many ways, then, the shifting center of gravity in the global economy’s cheap-labor surplus is a magnificently integrating and thus pacifying historical force.  China, for example, needs Southeast Asia’s demographic dividend to work for its own long-term economic health.  In the end, that’s the biggest brake on Chinese regional militarism.

Which brings us to why America must turn its welcoming gaze southward – now.

America is the Dorian Gray of great powers.  We’ll age far more slowly than the rest of the West and even most of the advancing East over the next several decades precisely because we enjoy immigration pressures from Latin America – a far younger and faster-growing region than North America. Demographically speaking, the two most important factors in economic growth are slowing social aging and integrating one’s economy with younger and faster-growing neighboring economies.  For the U.S., that’s Latin America, which is why America’s long-standing policy of focusing its foreign policy attention everywhere else in the world but Latin America must end, along with our nation’s highly costly and destructive “war on drugs” – a process thankfully begun in terms of individual states decriminalizing marijuana use.

You may be thinking: shouldn’t America contest China’s spreading influence in places like East Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa?  The answer is no, for all the economic integration reasons cited above.  Good example: China and Africa are simultaneously engaging in a massive urbanization wave, giving Chinese construction companies clear economies-of-scale advantages in that vast building scheme.  Yes, American companies can and should be part of that build-up process, but we cannot hope to compete with the Chinese for influence brought about by progressively deeper economic integration.  America’s great accomplishment during its demographic heyday was to trigger and nurture and defend Asia’s integration into the global economy.  Now it’s Asia’s turn to extend that historical process to most of the remaining South – but not Latin America if the U.S. plays it smart.

With climate change making the planet’s middle lattitudes increasingly inhospitable over this century, migratory pressures will grow.  In choosing between heading south (Argentina, Brazil, Chile) or heading north (North America), most Latinos will continue to head north – as they should.  In terms of underutilized arable land, upper North America offers far more economic potential than South America’s southern cone.  Today America grows wheat in water-starved Texas.  By mid-century we’ll be growing it in water-rich Alaska.  No kidding.

Right now, one out of six Americans is Latino.  By mid-century, Latinos will approach a one-third share of the U.S. population – and voters.  Already, Miami is the de facto social and economic “capital” of Latin America – a sign of political integration to come.

No, adding new stars to the American flag won’t unfold as some modern, militaristic imperialism. Instead, led by its largest demographic cohort ever – those Millennials, these United States will get back in the historical business of attracting and accepting new members.  Remember, we began this journey of integration as a confederation of 13 colonies (1789), growing over the next 170 years to our current total of 50 states.  That’s averaging a new member roughly every half-decade. Then we shut that door following the admissions of Hawaii and Alaska (non-contiguous states, it must be noted) in 1959, adding nothing since.  Do you want America to stay competitive with those billion-person Asian behemoths China and India?  Well, the Western Hemisphere contains roughly a billion souls.

When America’s Founding Fathers dreamt of an American System of political, economic, social and territorial integration, they weren’t just contemplating our horizontal slice of North America.  Visionaries like Alexander Hamilton and later Henry Clay (who coined the term) imagined that system extending itself to welcome all Americans

The U.S. remade the world over the last seven decades by spreading its system of rules and economic model.  Globalization was a “conspiracy” hatched by Washington and it’s been called many things over the decades, from Teddy Roosevelt’s “open door” to Franklin Roosevelt’s “new deal for the world.”  Having successfully led that integration process from West to East, it’s now America’s duty – and self-preserving opportunity – to build out that American System across the entire Western Hemisphere.

And that process needs to begin now – as in, the next president.


The Future of Human Resilience - or Indulgence?

THERE WILL ALWAYS BE TWO TYPES OF HUMANS: THOSE WHO SEEK TO "SAVE" THEMSELVES AND THEIR FUTURE (BY LIVING CAREFULLY) AND THOSE WHO SEEK TO "SPEND" THEIR LIVES (AND LITERALLY THEIR BODIES) AS AGGRESSIVELY AS POSSIBLE. On the former, think of vegan ascetics; on the latter, think of career military or NFL players. There is no right choice – just the choice. To quote the heavy-metal band MetallicaMy lifestyle determines my death style. Except maybe now, thanks to emerging bio-technologies, it no longer will. At first glance, this is an unmitigated blessing: worn-out or diseased or damaged organs and bones replaced with organic replacements crafted from your own cells! But what happens to human behavior when people start to realize that today's extreme risks can be covered by emerging technological fixes? Are we suddenly braver? More foolhardy? More given to addictions? Less virtuous? In sum, does this form of new-school resilience (break it, replace it) somehow diminish the old-school variant (overcoming damage)?

Whatever the pathway, it seems clear that the nature of humanity's physical resilience will be transformed – profoundly augmented by biotechnologies that allow us to walk away from our mistakes, sufferings, bad luck, bad DNA, bad behavior, etc.

Two stunning examples, the first on 3-D printing:

A new method of 3-D printing can produce human-sized bone, muscle, and cartilage templates that survive when implanted into animals, researchers report.

"It has been challenging to produce human scale tissues with 3-D printing because larger tissues require additional nutrition," Dr. Anthony Atala from Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina told Reuters Health by email.

His team developed a process they call "the integrated tissue and organ printing system," or ITOP for short. ITOP produces a network of tiny channels that allows the printed tissue to be nourished after being implanted into a living animal.

The researchers produced three types of tissue - bone, cartilage, and muscle - and transplanted it into rats and mice.

Five months after implantation, the bone tissue looked similar to normal bone, complete with blood vessels and with no dead areas, the research team reported in Nature Biotechnology . . .

Results with 3-D printed skeletal muscle were equally impressive. Not only did the implants look like normal muscle when examined two weeks after implantation, but the implants also contracted like immature, developing muscle when stimulated . . .

"We are also using similar strategies to print solid organs," [Atala] added.

That's the human hardware, so to speak. Now on to the software . . .

Miniature brains [see image above] that show electrical activity akin to “a primitive type of thinking” could revolutionise how some drugs are tested and reduce the need for animals in research, according to scientists who have developed the structures.

Each ball of human brain cells - in all about the size of the head of a ballpoint pen - “represents more or less a two-month-old brain” of a foetus, Prof Thomas Hartung of Johns Hopkins University said, presenting the work at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference . The cultures also show “spontaneous electrophysiological activity” – their neurons zap off electrical signals to each other without prompting.

“It’s starting to produce a primitive type of ‘thinking,’” Hartung said, though he stressed that the operation is only mechanical. “Obviously there’s no input or output. It is meaningless electrical activity but the neurons are trying to communicate with each other.”

Scientists first developed miniature brains in test tubes in December 2013, but Hartung said that his team has managed to standardise the new “mini-brains” – meaning they can grow hundreds of uniform brain cultures in a single petri dish, rather than a few cultures each grown according to their distinct genetic codes . . .

Hartung said the neural activity, which can be measured with an EEG-like device, creates a “third dimension” for studying the effects of drugs: not only can researchers examine how drugs affect the health and function of brain cells, they can also see what drugs do to neural activity.

An obvious good in terms of drug testing and particularly in attacking brain-centric conditions and diseases like Alzheimer's. But note how quickly the doctor dismissed the notion of actual "thinking" being triggered. That inevitability, plus the comparison to a fetus, starts to feel a lot more God-like.

But, frankly, it's all God-like. In human history, there are two great brakes on behavior: one is the reality of the human body (you will pay for your bad or risky behavior!) and belief in the afterlife (and, if you don't, then God will make you pay for eternity). For now, we seem to be messing only with the first equation – the hard and fast one that only the most genetically fortunate can escape. But yes, we will eventually get around to the second one.

In both instances, though, we're leveling a playing field that's been magnificently tilted throughout human existence, and that is going to revolutionize our sense of risk – both individually and collectively. If you think that technology can save your skin (literally), you'll be more willing to push all manner of envelopes. At first, it will be – as usual – only the rich who can afford such a mindset. You see that today in cosmetic surgery, but these technologies will take that advantage to an entirely new level.

At some point, access to such technologies becomes a political issue – not unlike the shadowy question of who should be prioritized today for donor organs (the virtuous disease-sufferer or the person who destroyed their liver with alcohol). Eventually, expect that access to be defined a "human right" – upon threat of political revolution.

Again, whatever the pathway, these technologies will spread. They will be "democratized" like all before them. And they will dramatically alter human behavior – first individually and then in organizations. Legal and political systems will need to change in response.

And the notion of human resilience will never be the same again.



The Looming Social Burnout That is Demographic Aging 

EVERY CULTURE THE WORLD OVER BRAGS ABOUT HOW THEY RESPECT THEIR ELDERS, AND IT'S ALL TRUE – UP UNTIL A CERTAIN LEVEL OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IS ACHIEVED. It's a matter of numbers and living circumstances. In a traditional rural agrarian situation, elders are – quite frankly – not all that common. That's an exhausting life, typically not well managed with medical care. Those who make it into old age are prized for their wealth of experience and their ability to serve as extra caregivers with children. But then economic development happens and all that is turned upside down.

The big differences include the improvement in living conditions, healthcare, and sanitation, plus dramatically altered cost incentives. Elders live a whole lot longer, costing in medical care. Children go from representing more labor on the farm to constituting new costs (education being the biggie). Housing is tighter and costlier. Family size drops dramatically, particularly as mothers are lured into more education and forced into second-paycheck careers.

In sum, elders, like kids, switch from being relatively low-cost additional assets to high-cost household liabilities. Families that a generation or two back always welcomed more births and always celebrated their elder's survival now start asking very different and difficult questions: Can we afford another child? What to do with grandma?

To me, what's most fascinating about these changes is how female-skewing they are. Throughout history, men were the far more "important," but think about today: Who lives longer? The wife – not the husband.  Who takes care of you when you age? The daughter – not the son. Who's most stressed by this "sandwich generation" phenomenon (caring for kids and elders at the same time)? The mothers – not the fathers (who too often disappear). In America, two-thirds of caregivers are women.

I mean, I realize that when traditional societies leap forward into modernity, the tendency is for parents to still prefer boys as offspring, creating gender imbalances. But I don't see these lasting as historical dynamics. Smart money (and parents) in a modern society should overwhelming bet on more females – not more males. Women simply build more resilience into society as it ages, so they're the true assets while the men are the true drains.

I don't make this argument casually. I've been studying the demographics of aging for years now, and, coincidentally, after my wife and I had three kids (one daughter, two sons), we adopted three girls. In effect, we bet on girls at a tipping point in human history when they're still relatively devalued in transitioning societies (our girls hail from Asia and Africa); we went "long" on girls when the world continues to "short" them.

No, I don't pretend this unequal burden is new, as the hunter-v-nester dichotomy is as old as humanity is. I'm just saying it's getting more concentrated or further skewed thanks to modernization and everything that comes with it: birth control, divorce, single-mother households, more educational and career opportunities for women, etc. We can pretend that the sandwich-generation dynamic affects men and women equally, but it doesn't – not even close.

So no surprise to find a new study published in JAMA that notes the following toll being exacted:

Many family caregivers in the U.S. provide unpaid medical aid and other services to loved ones at the expense of their own financial, physical and mental health, a study suggests.

Nationwide, an estimated 14.7 million family caregivers assist 7.7 million older adults who live in the community rather than in institutions like nursing homes. These family members often help with daily activities like eating, bathing and dressing. Many also provide medical support such as scheduling physician checkups, managing medications, cleaning wounds and giving injections.

“This issue is not a small or isolated issue but is widespread,” said Jennifer Wolff of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, who led the study.

population-growth-rate-map1Roughly 23 million Americans may not sound like a lot, but that's already 1-out-of-14 Americans, and, rest assured, that proportion will balloon in coming years and decades, so we're being offered a preview of coming social costs.

Almost half of the caregivers surveyed – 46 percent – helped an elderly person with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Another 34 percent assisted a loved one with a severe disability, the authors reported in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Roughly half of family caregivers provide substantial help with medical needs and spend around 28 hours a week assisting loved ones, the researchers found.

Compared with people who didn’t offer medical support, caregivers who provided substantial assistance with health care were 79 percent more likely to experience emotional difficulty and more than twice as likely to experience physical problems themselves as well as financial difficulties.

They were also more than five times as likely to miss out on important activities in their own lives and more than three times as likely to suffer lost productivity at work.

There are many reasons why the rich live substantially longer lives than the poor in this country, but one of them is that they can pay someone else to handle such burdens. The rest? They simply get worn down.

Even so, the findings add to a growing body of evidence on the physical, emotional and financial predicaments family caregivers often encounter because they devote so much of their time to assisting elderly loved ones, Carol Levine, of the United Hospital Fund of New York, notes in an accompanying editorial.

In terms of relative national resilience in the face of demographic aging, the U.S. faces a much easier (less "steep") road than does Europe, Russia, China, and Japan. Frankly, it's one of the key reasons why I, as a security strategist, don't worry all that much about the "threat" from Russia or China down the road.

But clearly, as a species, we're looking at some profound social changes as we collectively age, and women are going to be at the center of this political and economic transformation. Simply put, with all this demographic aging foreordained at this point, we'll either learn, as societies, how to become a whole lot more resilient or we'll collectively grow a whole lot more brittle.

Here's a big hint as to how women begin to dominate these responses as well: in the U.S., females currently make up the majority of advanced-degree earners (post-bachelor's degrees). This has been true for quite some time, and the skew is substantial at 60% female to 40% male. On that basis, and the longer voting "lives" of women (who outlive men by quite a few years, on average), the feminization of political systems is sure to follow. As it does, expect all manner of dramatic changes to address this looming demographic reality.

On that political trajectory, take a look at some of the demographically "oldest" democracies in the world – namely, the Scandinavian or Nordic states of Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. There you will find an unusually high percentage of women already in positions of national political power.


Apogee of MSM Hyperbole on Global Conflict - Aleppo Battle as "Mini World War"

PERCEPTIONS MATTER WHEN IT COMES TO RESILIENCE – A RATHER NIETZSCHEAN CONCEPT IN AND OF ITSELF (DIFFICULT SITUATIONS FOSTERING SKILL-GROWTH).  One cannot be a Chicken Little and resilient, as problems must be examined with a clear eye toward their scale and surmount-ability. You can't be squealing "game over! game over!" into the camera lens and expect to foster anything but panic – the white flag of resilience.

History, of course, says otherwise. In my lifetime, which began on the eve of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, we've seen wars growing less frequent, shorter, and less lethal. And not by a little bit, mind you, but by a lot. I could throw a ton of stats and sites at you, but the chart above demonstrates the history awfully well. Mind you, that's battle deaths per 100,000 people.  With numbers that just go up through 2013 (of course, they're increasing since then!), we see that the battle death rate, while rising from the early-2000s supreme low of less-than-one-person(!)-per-100,000 to the "disturbing" almost-one-person(!!)-per-100,000, is still lower than virtually all of history since WWII (only the "chaotic" year of 1996 – sarcasm mine – compares, and that was the most peaceful year since 1954, or before decolonialization began).

What else the chart tells us:

  • The "unprecedented" disasters of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were . . . to be frank, minor compared to the 1990s, which we all collectively remember as being an awfully quiet decade outside of a handful of conflicts/disasters (Bosnia, Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, central Africa).
  • The 1990s themselves were far more quiet than the 1980s, which seemed bad only in comparison to the quiet shadow created by the Indochina wars of the 1960s and 1970s.
  • Those 1960s/early 70s Southeast Asian wars were bad compared to the quiet 1950s (when we only feared total nuclear annihilation – sigh!).
  • But Vietnam etc. was quite a come-down from the scary and destabilized post-WWII/Korean War segment.

What you don't see on the chart:  World War II stretching over roughly a decade and killing - on average - 15,000 people a day for well over 3,500 days.  That, my friends, was a world war.

So, imagine my surprise as an expert on conflict/international relations/global trends to see WAPO this morning declare the battle for a single city in Syria to constitute a "mini world war."

Why mini? Well, I'm guessing that a death rate of 150/day (my best estimate using a lot of other estimates) is a big part of it. That's actually quite high for a war nowadays, because most experts will label any conflict with an average of 3 deaths/per day (1,000+ for year) to be a "war."  But when your last true world war yielded a death rate 100-times higher, even "mini" seems like a wild exaggeration.

No, the reason why WAPO embraces this sort of reckless hyperbole is because Russia is now in the mix, sending Cold War-like chills down our collective spines. Naturally, this raises old fears of "escalation" – presumably to global nuclear war.

Except neither side is talking that, or acting that, or anything-ing that.

Instead, the great "evidence" cited in the piece (besides some self-serving observations by a security contractor working the conflict) is Russian Premier Dmitry Medvedev dropping hints in Europe this week about a new, Cold War-like dynamic between Russia and the West.

The great cause there? Obviously, Russia's land grab of the Crimea and the easter portion of Ukraine (the former formally, the latter informally).  That led to the West placing a lot of economic sanctions on a Russian economy already faltering and now nosediving in terms of its number-one export – energy, thanks to historically low global prices.

So, what does Russia seek with its military intervention in Syria? To prove it's a "dominant" Middle Eastern power, as the story's author opines? Well, a relevant power is a less screechy expression.

But try this alternative explanation on for size: Russia is hurting from the sanctions and needs to come in from the economic "cold" imposed on it by the West over Ukraine. But how to do it? Why not intervene in a place of high global interest, one which the U.S. is lowballing in terms of effort? All of a sudden, look how important Moscow is to the "peace process"! And if Moscow is seen as holding enough of the cards on the Assad regime, maybe asking for its help there will be matched by the West forgetting its transgressions in Ukraine.

Sound like a "mini world war" to you?  Or just the cantina scene from the original Star Wars movie?

Syria is a civil war. Civil wars today tend to get internationalized (all those characters in various uniforms in the cantina ...). We lament that development, but, let me remind you what we used to call states where conflicts raged and nobody from the outside showed up. Those we called "failed states" back in the 1990s. We still have a few now (same 1-2 dozen out of roughly 200 states in the world). But, if, by and large, few outsiders show up, those conflicts that have "failed" to attract any serious global attention are simply forgotten. So maybe we should call them "forgotten states."

Syria is not a forgotten state. A lot of regional and a few extra-regional powers are interested. Are they interested enough to stop the conflict? Not really. Are they interested enough to stop the conflict from going against their side? Just barely.

But should we look at that and invoke the imagery of a world war?

That is just shameful fear-mongering on the part of WAPO trying to sell your eyeballs to their advertisers.  The paper is simply repurposing Medvedev's propaganda as deep insight: he peddles "new Cold War" to amp up the West's sense of danger, hopefully (from Moscow's perspective) rendering the Obama Administration more amenable to compromise on Ukraine. WAPO knee-jerkedly transmutes that bit of diplomatic salesmanship into a "mini world war" on Aleppo. (You say Sarajevo, I say Aleppo, oh let's call this world war off!)

Scared? You're supposed to be. The Syrian Civil War is a genuine human tragedy, but re-packaging it as a "mini world war" is just inaccurate-bordering-on-journalistically-negligent.

Is this picking on WAPO? Absolutely, but only because I respect the paper so much and constantly cite it here in this blog. Frankly, its editorial staff should know better.

Again, the larger point here is maintaining perspective, because, when we lose it, we become brittle as individuals, decision-makers, leaders, and nations. Brittle, scared actors make bad choices; they do stupid things. They lash out because they imagine it to be the only option left, after issuing over-the-top threats . . . typically in response to hyperbolic media coverage (see debates in US presidential race for way too many examples).

So no, it's not all the fault of the media, although they start the process. They just give us what we want, which is fear. Nowadays we seem to collectively crave fear of complexity and chaos and uncertainty – the holy trinity of fear-mongers everywhere.

But do yourself a favor and don't buy any of it, because fear is the mind-killer - the little death, and the ultimate enemy of resilience.



Most Perceptive Presentation of My Thinking - Ever

Christopher Hitchens once called Perry Anderson, the British Marxian historian who presently teaches at UCLA, both "the West’s most influential Marxist" and "the most profound essayist wielding a pen.” I've always viewed him as D'Artagnan to the three musketeers of English school of Marxism – namely, E.P. Thompson, Christopher Hill, and Eric Hobsbawn (now all deceased).

In 2013, the New Left Review, for only the third time in its history, devoted an entire issue to one author's take on a subject. It was Perry Anderson on "American Foreign Policy And Its Thinkers," divided into two long essays: "Imperium" – a history of U.S. foreign policy, and "Consilium" – an examination of the current state of grand strategy in the U.S. On the latter, Anderson avoided treating intellectuals who were primarily creatures of the media, so no Friedmans or Zakarias.

While I naturally don't agree with everything in his short history, I really admire the attempt, as I tried something similar in Great Powers. I also love Anderson's writing style. He is rare in that you often need to read a sentence more than once to understand it, but, when you do, you realize that the construction is so beautiful that it was worth the effort. You can say that about . . . really no one I've ever read before.

I am even more interested in his "Consilium" essay because it contains the single most intelligent and accurate analysis of my vision - better than anything I've ever found. Frankly, I don't think I summarize my strategy better than he does here. It's very nuanced and comprehensive, adds all the right grace notes (as far as I'm concerned) and captures me to the core (Marxian in outlook but not a Marxist).

I excerpt all the relevants bits in this post, offering no commentary because none is needed.  Where so many have gotten me wrong, Anderson gets me totally correct, and, quite frankly, I never thought I'd live to see this day.

[On that last point, I waited until Verso published the two essays as a book last spring (which I recommend to everyone) to generate this post. I like the formality of a book treating other books. But yes, it took me a long stretch to get around to this task.]

The other great joy for me here is that Anderson completely ignores my first two books (Pentagon's New Map, Blueprint for Action) and focuses solely on Great Powers (2009). Obviously, I will always be best known for PNM, but I consider Great Powers to be the culminating summation of the trilogy, which "descended" in scope from system (PNM) to state (BPFA) to leadership/strategy (GP) – purposefully Waltzian. I also think I was a much better author by the publication of GP. Plus, it's the least known and least appreciated of the three, when I feel it should be the best known and best appreciated (oh well, such is the trajectory of trilogies ...).

Now to book:


In the American intellectual landscape, the literature of grand strategy forms a domain of its own, distinct from diplomatic history or political science, though it may occasionally draw on these. Its sources lie in the country's security elite, which extends across the bureaucracy and the academy to foundations, think tanks, and the media. In this milieu, with its emplacements in the Council on Foreign Relations, the Kennedy School at Harvard, the Woodrow Wilson Center in Princeton, the Nitze School at Johns Hopkins, the Naval War College, Georgetown University, the Brookings and Carnegie Foundations, the Departments of State and of Defense, not to speak of the National Security Council and the CIA, positions are readily interchangeable, individuals moving seamlessly back and forth between university chairs or think tanks and government offices, in general regardless of the party in control of the administration ...



[the Wilsonian liberal idealism with its focus on democracy, with treatment of Walter Russell Mead, Michael Mandelbaum, John Ikenberry, and Charles Kupchan]



[the opposing school of American strategic thought known as idealism, with its focus on "hard" power, permanent interests, and no permanent friends, with treatment of Robert Kagan, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Robert Art]



Are there any significant constructions in the discourse of American foreign policy that escape its mandatory dyad? Perhaps, in its way, one. In background and aim Thomas P.M. Barnett belongs in the company of grand strategests, but in outlook is at an angle to them. Trained as a Sovietologist at Harvard, he taught at the Naval War College, worked in the Office of Force Transformation set up by Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, voted for Kerry and now directs a consultancy offering technical and financial connexions to the outside world in regions like Iraqi Kurdistan. Great Powers: America and the World After Bush, the product of this trajectory, is unlike anything else in the literature, in manner and in substance. In the breezy style of a salesman with an inexhaustible store of snappy slogans, it lays out a eupeptic, yet far from conventional, vision of globalization as the master narrative for grasping the nature and future of US planetary power – one calculated to disconcert equally the bien-pensant platitudes of Clintonism, and their condemnation by critics like Brzezinski, in a triumphalism so confident it dispenses with a good many of its customary accoutrements.

America, Barnett's argument runs, has no cause for doubt or despondency in the aftermath of a war in Iraq that was well-intentioned, but hopelessly mismanaged. Its position is not slipping: "This is still America's world." For as the earth's first and most successful free-market economy and multiethnic political union, whose evolution prefigures that of humanity at large, "we are modern globalization's source code – its DNA." The implication? "The United States isn't coming to a bad end but a good beginning – our American system successfully projected upon the world."[GP, 1-2. 4] That projection, properly understood, neither involves nor requires US promotion of democracy at large. For Barnett, who declares himself without inhibition an economic determinist, it is capitalism that is the real revolutionary force spawned by America, whose expansion renders unnecessary attempts to introduce parliaments and elections around the world. The Cold War was won by using US military strength to buy time for Western economic superiority over the Soviet Union to do its work. So too in the post-Cold War era, peace comes before justice: if the US is willing to go slow in its political demands on regions that neither know nor accept liberal democracy, while getting its way on economic demands of them, it will see the realization of its ideals within them in due course. "America needs to ask itself: is it more important to make globalization truly global, while retaining great-power peace and defeating whatever anti-globalization insurgencies may appear in the decades ahead? Or do we tether our support for globalization's advance to the upfront demand that the world first resembles us politically?" [GP, 30]

So today it is not a league of democracies that is called for, but a league of capitalist powers, committed to making the order of capital workable on a world stage, rebranded along Lincoln lines as a "team of rivals" comprising China and Russia along with Japan, Europe, India, Brazil. Americans have no reason to baulk at the inclusion of either of their former adversaries in the Cold War. It took the United States half a century after its revolution to develop a popular multi-party democracy, even then excluding women and slaves, and it protected its industries for another century beyond that. China is closing the distance between it and America with the methods of Hamilton and Clay, though it now needs regulatory reforms like those of the Progressive Era (as does contemporary Wall Street). Its nationalist foreign policy already resembles that of the first Roosevelt. As for Russia, with its economic brutalism and crude materialism, it is in its Gilded Age – and there will be plenty of other versions of its younger self America is going to bump up against, who may not take it at its own estimation: "Moscow pragmatically sees America for what it truly is right now: militarily overextended, financially overdrawn and ideologically overwrought." But its anti-Americanism is largely for show. In view of Russia's past, the US could scarcely ask for a better partner than Putin, whose regime is nationalist, like that of China, but not expansionist. "Neither represents a systemic threat, because each supports globalization's advance, and so regards the world's dangers much as we do," with no desire to challenge the dominant liberal trade order, merely to extract maximum selfish benefit from it.[GP, 184-5, 227-31] The varieties of capitalism these and other rising contenders represent are one of its assets as a system, allowing experiments and offsets in its forms that can only strengthen it.

Between the advanced core and the more backward zones of the world, a historic gap remains to be overcome. But a capitalist domino effect is already at work. In that sense, "Africa will be a knock-off of India, which is a knock-off of China, which is a knock-off of South Korea, which is a knock-off of Japan, which half a century ago was developed by us as a knock-off of the United States. Call it globalization's 'six degrees of replication.'"[GP, 248] But if economically speaking, "history really has 'ended,'" transition along the gap is going to generate unprecedented social turmoil, as traditional populations are uprooted and customary ways of life destroyed before middle-class prosperity arrives. Religion will always be a way of coping with that tumult, and as globalization spreads, it is logical that there should be the greatest single religious awakening in history, because it is bringing the most sweeping changes in economic conditions ever known. In this churning, the more mixed and multicultural societies become, the more individuals, in the absence of a common culture, cling to their religious identity. There too, America in its multi-cultural patterns of faith is the leading edge of a universal process.

What of the war zone where Barnett himself has been involved? For all the spurious pretexts advanced for it, the decision to invade Iraq was not irrational: however mismanaged, it has shaken up the stagnation of the Middle East, and begun to reconnect the region with the pull of globalization. By contrast, the war in Afghanistan is a dead-end, only threatening fruther trouble with Pakistan. Bush's greatest failure was that he got nothing from Iran for toppling its two Sunni enemies, Sadam and the Taliban, and persisted – in deference to Saudi and Israeli pressure – in trying to contain rather than co-opt it. So it is no surprise that the mullahs have concluded nuclear weapons would keep them safe from US attempts to topple them too. In that they are absolutely right. Iran should be admitted to the nuclear club, since the only way to stop it from acquiring a capability would be to use nuclear weapons against it – conventional bombing would not do the trick. Needed in the Middle East is not a futile attack on Iran by Israel or America, but a regional security system which the big Asian powers, China and India, both more dependent on Gulf oil than America, cooperate with the US to enforce, and Iran – the only country in the region where governments can be voted out of office – plays the part to which its size and culture entitle it.[GP, 10-11, 26-7]

For the rest, by raising the bar so high against great power wars, US military force has been a huge gift to humanity. But the latter-day Pentagon needs to cut its overseas troop strength by at least a quarter and possibly a third. For Barnett, who lectured to Petraeus and Schoomaker, the future of counter-insurgency lies in the novel model of AFRICOM, which unlike the Pentagon's other area commands – Central, Pacific, European, Northern, Southern – maintains a light-footprint network of "contingency operating locations" in Africa, combining military vigilance with civilian assistance: "imperialism to some, but nothing more than a pistol-packing Peace Corps to me."[GP, 286-9] Chinese investment will do more to help close the gap in the Dark Continent, but AFRICOM is playing its part too.

In the larger scene, American obsessions with terrorism, democracy and nuclear weapons are all irrelevances. What matters is the vast unfolding of a globalization that resembles the internet as defined by one of its founders: "Noboy owns it, everybody uses it, and anybody can add services to it." The two now form a single process. Just as globalization becomes "a virtual Helsinki Accords for everyone who logs on," so WikiLeaks is – this from a planner fresh from the Defense Department - "the Radio Free Europe of the surveillance age."[GP, 301, 318] To join up, there is no requirement that a society be an electoral democracy, reduce its carbon emissions or desist from sensible protection of its industries. The rules for membership are simply: "come as you are and come when you can." As the middle class swells to half the world's population by 2020, America need have no fear of losing its preeminence. So long as it remains the global economy's leading risk-taker, "there will never be a post-American world. Just a post-Caucasian one."[GP, 413, 251]

Topped and tailed with a poem by Lermontov as epigraph and a tribute to H.G. Wells for envoi, as an exercise in grand strategy Great Powers is, in its way, no less exotic than [Mead's] God and Gold. The two can be taken as bookends to the field. Where Mead's construction marries realism and idealism a l'americaine in a paroxysmic union, Barnett sidesteps their embrace, without arriving – at least formally – at very different conclusions. In his conception of American power in the new century, though he tips his hat to the president, the Wilsonian strain is close to zero. Even the "liberal international order" is more a token than a touchstone, since in his usage it makes no case of economic protection. If, in their local meanings, idealism is all but absent, elements of realism are more visible. Theodore Roosevelt – not only the youngest, but "the most broadly accomplished and experienced individual ever to serve as president" – is singled out as the great transformer of American politics, both at home and abroad, and Kagan's Dangerous Nation saluted as the work that set Barnett thinking of ways in which he could connect Americans to globalization through their own history. But the cheerful welcome Great Powers extends to the autocracies of China and Russia as younger versions of the United States itself is at antipodes of Kagan. Treatment of Putin is enough to make Brzezinski's hair stand on end. Ready acceptance of Iranian nuclear weapons crosses a red line for Art.

Such iconoclasm is not simple a matter of temperament, though it is clearly also that – it is no surprise the Naval War College felt it could do without Barnett's services. It is because the underlying problematic has so little to do with the role of military force, where the realist tradition has principally focused, or even economic expansion, as a nationalist drive.The twist that takes it out of conventional accounts of American exceptionalism, while delivering a maximized version of it, is its reduction of the country's importance in the world to the pure principle of capitalism – supplier of the genetic code of a globalization that does not depend on, nor require, the Fourteen Points or the Atlantic Charter, but simply the power of the market and of mass consumption, with a modicum of force to put down such opponents as it may arouse. In its unfazed economic determinism, the result is not unlike a materialist variant, from the other side of the barricades, of the vision of America in Hardt and Negri's Empire. That empire in its more traditional sense, which they repudiate, has not entirely fled the scene in Great Powers, its paean to the Africa Command makes plain. There, the footprints are ever more frequent. Created only in 2007, AFRICOM now deploys US military effectives in 49 out of 55 countries of the continent. Not America rules the world – the world becomes America. Such is the message, taken straight, of Great Powers. In the interim, there is less distinction between the two than the prospectus suggests.

[then two paragraphs on Richard Rosecrance in a three-paragraph sub-chapter that ends with this paragraph:]

With a low view of European economic and demographic health, the vision of any kind of TAFTA as an open sesame to restoration of American fortunes is an object for derision in Great Powers: "Whenever I hear an American politician proclaim the need to strengthen the Western alliance, I know that leader promises to steer by our historical wake instead of crafting a forward-looking strategy. Recapturing past glory is not recapturing our youth but denying our parentage of this world we inhabit so uneasily today."[GP, 369] Europeans are pensioners in it. It would be wrong to reject them, but pointless to look to them. After all, Barnett remarks kindly, on the freeway of globalization grandad can come along for the ride, whoever is sitting in the front seat next to the driver.



[final chapter that compares the various grand strategists and strategies]

[at the bottom of a paragraph on the need to "fix" America with a centrist agenda being common to all thinkers] The menu may be ignored – it largely is by Kagan and Barnett – but rarely, if ever, is it outright rejected.

Remedies for external setbacks or oncoming hazards are more divisive. The Republican administration of 2000-2008, more controversial than its predecessor, enjoyed the support of Kagan throughout, Mead and Barnett at first, while incurring criticism, much of it vehement, from Ikenberry and Kupchan, Art and Brzezinski ...

Democracy, on the other hand, its spread till yesterday an irrenounceable goal of any self-respecting diplomacy, is now on the back burner. Openly discarded as a guideline by Kupchan, Barnett and Brzezinski, downgraded by Art, matter of horticulture rather than engineering for Mandelbaum, only Ikenberry and Kagan look wistfully for a league of democracies ...

If Iran refuses to obey Western instructions to halt its nuclear programme, it will – no one, of course welcomes the prospect – in extremis have to be attacked, hopefully with a helping hand or a friendly wink from Moscow and Beijing. Only Barnett breaks the taboo that protects the Israeli nuclear monopoly in the name of nonproliferation.

How is American domination to be presevered in the arena of Weltpolitik proper – the domain of the great powers and their conflicts, actual or potential? 


For Mandelbaum and Ikenberry, on the contrary, China is the great prize whose adhesion to the liberal international order is increasingly plausible, and will render it irreversible, while for Barnett, with his more relaxed conception of such an order, the PRC is to all intents and purposes already in the bag.

 Again, what I like best is that Anderson doesn't distort what so many distort in my work (endless wars! globalization at the barrel of a gun!) and captures the essence of my vision, which is – indeed - "economy first."



Resilient Families --> Resilient Employees --> Resilient Companies (That Earn Better)

HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU HEARD THE OLD CORPORATE BIT ABOUT HOW "OUR PEOPLE ARE OUR GREATEST STRENGTH"?  What executives really mean when they trot that out is that their human capital is highly resilient – a concept that encompasses company loyalty in a big way. Compared to brand, products, services, physical plant, company rules and procedures, etc., your employees are the one asset that can most rapidly adjust to truly disruptive change. Everything else takes time to reconfigure, relaunch, re-something, but your people can alter their behaviors at great speed – if properly incentivized to value the firm's survival and success above their own instinctive need to stick to what they know/are comfortable doing/etc. Their ability to successfully engage and surmount risks and emergencies is whatever gets you(r enterprise) through the night – however defined.

Nothing beats all hands on deck during an emergency. Historically, that all-hands-on-deck mantra favored males over females, unmarried employees over married ones, anybody over the handicapped, and racial uniformity. "Outliers" to that bias were instinctively viewed as potential liabilities – just not the types you could trust in a pinch.

I'd like to say we all know better now, but we know that's not yet true. Diversity issues remain hot-buttons across the political, social, and economic landscapes. In many instances, enterprise leaders may well espouse adherence to the principles only to be unaware of how badly they perform on these issues simply because they're not well measured, much less publicized. This is why the Obama Administration recently mandated that companies submit data on their salary practices, the goal being to root out inequality by gender, race and ethnicity.  Nanny-state interference to some, but what if we could show you that a more diverse workforce makes for a more resilient company, which, in turn, improves the bottom line?

Studies have been done on this subject, and they've consistently supported the notion that gender equality is a solid indicator of a firm's long-term success.

From Fortune:

On Monday, the Peterson Institute for International Economics and professional services firm EY released a study that reveals a significant correlation between women in leadership and company profitability.

The report found that companies with at least 30% female leaders had net profit margins up to 6 percentage points higher than companies with no women in the top ranks. Interestingly, it did not find any notable difference in the performance of female and male CEOs, and was unable to determine whether having female board members helped or hurt companies in any way.

That's the headline, but when you dig deeper, you find wider causality:

“There are two reasons why gender diversity at the top could matter,” Marcus Noland, EVP and director of studies at the Peterson Institute, wrote in an email to Fortune. “The first is that there is evidence that the presence of women contributes to functional or skill diversity among the leadership group enabling top management to more effectively monitor staff performance. The other is discrimination: If some firms discriminate against talented, hardworking, effective women, then they will be outperformed by rivals that don’t discriminate.”

It's not having women per se that is the issue; it's being a genuine meritocracy that looks past gender, and – by extension – race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. If you limit your pool of applicants to the ones you find easiest to integrate and manage, you end up with a more brittle, less imaginative, and less resilient leadership and workforce. Life diversity is skill diversity, and skill diversity equals enterprise resilience – more types of hands on deck during crunch time.

But let's dig even deeper:

Another interesting finding: Paternity leave policies appear to be key to achieving gender parity in business. The ten countries with the greatest corporate gender balance—including countries in Scandinavia, Latvia, and Bulgaria—are not at the very top of the pack when it comes to government mandated maternity leave. However, there was a very strong correlation between countries with robust paternity leave policies and a strong gender balance in the workplace.

The report’s hypothesis is that offering paternity leave increases expectations that men will take on a share of child care responsibilities. “It stands to reason that policies that allow child care needs to be met but do not place the burden of care explicitly on women increase the chances that women can build the business acumen and professional contacts necessary to qualify for a corporate board,” reads the report.

That's a first-class bingo!

You set the standard that says, respect your families, care for loved ones, be strong at home, we'll cover you when needed and - guess what? Your people return the favor during those disasters, disruptions, crunch times, etc. And no, I'm not just talking standard nuclear families; I'm talking anyone with "family" of any sort.  Because the types of people who cast those interpersonal nets widely are deeply resilient by nature. They take on tough challenges, they stick by you when things go south, they don't flinch when the emergency siren goes off.

And when they do all those things - and you retain them, your enterprise makes more money.




There Are No Development Short-Cuts, But You Can Compress the Costs - the Energy Example

BJORN LOMBORG HAS LONG BEEN A FAVORITE OF MINE, POINTING OUT VERY UN-P.C. TRUTHS ABOUT ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND THE HYPOCRISY OF WELL-MEANING LIBERALS AND CONSERVATIVES ABOUT THE "RIGHT PATH." Lomborg tends to split those differences and does so most contentiously on climate change, arguing that humanity should balance benefits against costs, calm adaptation against frantic action, and measurable progress in the here-and-now against strident urgency for fantastically-ambitious-but-likely-counterproductive achievements in the distant future. In short, he's annoyingly pragmatic in a debate that's grown far too ideological and shrill on both sides. He is a person out of time – like any good strategic thinker.

This is a subject upon which I've long harped as an apostle of the true faith in capitalism: the average person in the Developing South wants all the same things we've long enjoyed in the Developed North, so – duh(!), they're not interested in pathways that continue to delay that glorious achievement, particularly when it comes to foregoing economic advance in the name of keeping their local environments "pristine" to make up for the fact that we in the North totally altered ours when grabbing for all the wealth and comforts we now enjoy. Simply put, they have no desire to pay for our "sins."

Indeed, the most notorious types in the global South who embrace this self-denial "imperative" offered by the North are the very same civilizational fundamentalists whom we now so clearly fear for their tendency to go religiously rogue in championing the mass murder of "infidels" by any means necessary. That nasty crew is more than happy to go back to the 7th-century paradise when men were nasty, brutish, and short, and women and children were just this side of sex slaves and chattel (and no, the historian in me doesn't allow me to add the word "respectively" to the end of that sentence).  If you want to see what truly constitutes preservation of the developmental pristine, spend some time within the Islamic State (Iraq, Syria) or the ranks of Boko Haram (northeast Nigeria) and al-Shabaab (south/central Somalia).  There is nothing noble in their rejection of a consumer society and all the "dangerous" liberties it presents.

What we truly know from history is that people – the world over – become more tolerant, better stewards, and more socially charitable oncetheir incomes rise to the point where they're no longer obsessed with their personal/family's/clan's survival. Just those first couple of steps up Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and – man(!) – does humanity's innate capacity for empathy surmount darn near all, unleashing the social resilience that has defined our species' mastery of this planet.

It just takes a wee bit of strategic patience on our part (hard for us Northerners so long used to getting every material and emotional need almost instantly met), or an acceptance that economic development, while it can be sped up, isn't subject to short-cuts, much less magical leaps.

Now to Lomborg's recent op-ed on the subject of what we should or should not expect Africans to do to atone for our past mistakes/gluttony/greed for a better life, while they seek the same for themselves (I know, how dare they!):

Africa is the world’s most “renewable” continent when it comes to energy. In the rich world, renewables account for less than a tenth of total energy supplies. The 900 million people of Sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) get 80% of their energy from renewables ...

Ah, the "noble savage" who can teach all us "lost souls" how to reconnect to nature, except ...

All this is not because Africa is green, but because it is poor. Some 2% of the continent’s energy needs are met by hydro-electricity, and 78% by humanity’s oldest “renewable” fuel: wood. This leads to heavy deforestation and lethal indoor air pollution, which kills 1.3 million people each year.

Nobody wants to hear this, but humanity's journey through phases of economic development has progressively de-carbonized our energy sources, moving us from wood (don't even ask) to coal (high CO2 emissions) to oil (lower) to natural gas (still lower) to (God forbid!) nuclear (very low) and ultimately hydrogen (way low if generated by nuclear power plants).  Thus, to be pristine is to be incredibly dirty – by today's environmental standard.

But let's skip all that, say the visionaries ...

What Africa needs, according to many activists, is to be dotted with solar panels and wind turbines ...

Right on!  Fast-forward to the good parts! Like we finally figured out how to do – emphasis on the word finally:

Europe and North America became rich thanks to cheap, plentiful power. In 1800, 94% of all global energy came from renewables, almost all of it wood and plant material. In 1900, renewables provided 41% of all energy; even at the end of World War II, renewables still provided 30% of global energy. Since 1971, the share of renewables has bottomed out, standing at around 13.5% today. Almost all of this is wood, with just 0.5% from solar and wind.

YaleWeird fact: the most developed countries in the world today tend to be the most environmentally "clean," while the least developed tend to be the most trashed. The big difference: people with money have the option to care.

So what should we reasonably demand of Africa? After all, it's home to droughts and famine that would rival America's Arizona – if the latter wasn't populated with retirees with enough wealth to make both problems go away with the swipe of a card.

... By 2040, in the IEA’s optimistic scenario, solar power in Sub-Saharan Africa will produce 14kWh per person per year, less than what is needed to keep a single two-watt LED permanently lit. The IEA also estimates that renewable power will still cost more, on average, than any other source – oil, gas, nuclear, coal, or hydro, even with a carbon tax ...

Oh my.  Still, wouldn't it be more fair to ask Africans to forego all that dehumanizing consumption for a simpler, more satisfying – and admittedly far shorter – life? Lomborg suggests "no":

Few in the rich world would switch to renewables without heavy subsidies, and certainly no one would cut off their connection to the mostly fossil-fuel-powered grid that provides stable power on cloudy days and at night (another form of subsidy). Yet Western activists seem to believe that the world’s worst-off people should be satisfied with inadequate and irregular electricity supplies.

I believe we call that "living off the grid," and doesn't that make you a better and happier person?

In its recent Africa Energy Outlook, the IEA estimates that Africa’s energy consumption will increase by 80% by 2040; but, with the continent’s population almost doubling, less energy per person will be available...

Providing more – and more reliable – power to almost two billion people will increase GDP by 30% in 2040. Each person on the continent will be almost $1,000 better off every year.

Hmm.  That sounds like they'll just be lost to the "rat race" of modern consumerism (he sanctimoniously intoned, pecking away at his $1,000 laptop in his toasty-warm Madison Wisconsin home mid-winter).

But what about the costs of his selfish hedonism?

In other words, the total costs of the “African Century,” including climate- and health-related costs, would amount to $170 billion. The total benefits, at $8.4 trillion, would be almost 50 times higher.

The same general argument probably holds for India and other developing countries . . .

Annoying, isn't he?

But let's be clear about his argument, brushing aside the usual straw-man criticism that he cares not for the environment:

One day, innovation could drive down the price of future green energy to the point that it lifts people out of poverty more effectively than fossil fuels do. Globally, we should invest much more in such innovation. (emphasis mine) But global warming will not be fixed by hypocritically closing a path out of poverty to the world’s poor.

Just think about how much we in the North now naturally obsess over our own perceived lack of resilience or brittleness in the face of today's global complexity, uncertainty, and challenges. And then imagine doing that on a dirt floor in a one-room hut in rural southern Ethiopia while you breath in the fumes from your dung-fueled cookstove.

Which sounds easier to you?

We all want to manage this world with greater care, more foresight, and kind accommodation of each another's basic and higher needs. And we will get there, increasing our collective resilience as we go. We just won't take any shortcuts, nor leave anybody behind - much less ask them to do so to make up for our past transgressions.