The entire global financial system depends on GPS, and it’s shockingly vulnerable to attack

Tim Fernholz reports: There is an enormous, invisible clock that keeps ultra-precise time, can be checked from anywhere on earth, and is free for everyone to use. This technological gift to mankind was built by the US government. It is called the Global Positioning System (GPS), it lives in space, and you use it every time you check the map on your phone.

What you may not know is that you rely on it far more often than that. Cell towers use it to route your phone calls, ATMs and cash registers use it for your transactions, electrical grids use it to send power to your house, and stock exchanges use it to regulate the trades that go into your stock portfolio or investment fund. And it is far more vulnerable to attack and disruption than most people know or are willing to admit.

“When we talk about economic infrastructure, I don’t think the general public realizes the extent to which the Global Positioning System’s timing signal is critical for these ATM transactions and every other point-of-sale transaction conducted in the United States and throughout most of the world,” Michael Griffin, a former NASA administrator, told US space policymakers in early October. “To what extent do we believe that we have defended ourselves if an adversary can bring our economic system near collapse?”

Time, as it turns out, is money, in a very literal sense. Since digital money moves faster than humans can think, banks and regulators alike rely on time stamps to monitor transactions, catch fraud, and make sure the right people get paid. When you pull cash from an ATM or swipe your card at the coffee shop, the machine needs to determine the precise time that the transaction occurs to, for example, prevent it from being over-drawn.

Putting a little clock in the credit-card machines wouldn’t work, because over time, even the most precise clocks start to differ from one another. That doesn’t matter when you’re meeting me for lunch at noon, but if you’re timing transactions down to the microsecond standard now used in many electronic networks, tiny differences can screw up your whole operation.

What makes the Global Positioning System so crucial, then, isn’t in fact the “positioning” part; it’s the ability to make machines all over the planet agree on exactly what time it is. [Continue reading…]

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Why nation-states are good

Dani Rodrik writes: For many, the nation-state evokes nationalism, the extremes of which have meant war and death to millions. But a corrective is in order, to remember not just the ideological excesses of the ‘nation’ part, but also the transformative, historic role of the state component. As scholars of nationalism like to say, the state usually precedes and produces the nation, not the other way around. The best definition of the nation remains that of Abbé Sieyès, one of the theorists of the French Revolution: ‘What is a nation? A body of associates living under one common law, and represented by the same legislature.’ Ethno-nationalists, with their emphasis on race, ethnicity or religion as the basis of nation, have it backward. As the historian Mark Lilla at Columbia University put it recently: ‘A citizen, simply by virtue of being a citizen, is one of us.’

Robust nation-states are actually beneficial to the world economy. The multiplicity of nation-states adds rather than subtracts value.

A principled defence of the nation-state would start from the proposition that markets require rules. Markets are not self-creating, self-regulating, self-stabilising or self-legitimising, so they depend on non-market institutions. Anything beyond a simple exchange between neighbours requires investments in transportation, communications and logistics; enforcement of contracts, provision of information, and prevention of cheating; a stable and reliable medium of exchange; arrangements to bring distributional outcomes into conformity with social norms; and so on. Behind every functioning, sustainable market stands a wide range of institutions providing critical functions of regulation, redistribution, monetary and fiscal stability, and conflict management. These institutional functions have so far been provided largely by the nation-state. [Continue reading…]

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Why are the United Nations’ sustainable development goals stalling?

Pacific Standard reports: It’s the most ambitious project in the history of humankind. If successful, it would solve many of civilization’s most pressing challenges. But due to a single, fatal defect, it’s poised to fail—catastrophically.

“It” is the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and as U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres recently reported, the efforts to meet the goals are lagging and must pick up the pace to hit the 2030 target. Fortunately, there’s still time to save the project, and it can be done by applying a straightforward fix.

But first, it’s worth slowing down and adding a bit of context to this endeavor. The goals—known as the SDGs—were adopted just two years ago by 193 nations, with the aim to guide global, regional, and national efforts to reduce poverty, address climate change, and build inclusive societies. They are, in a sense, the sequel to the blockbuster Millennium Development Goals, which was arguably the most successful anti-poverty initiative in history.

Why are the SDGs stalling? For one, it’s because, in their very conceit, they’re defective. While this list of 17 goals and 169 targets is longer than the Constitution, it’s not the goals’ breadth, depth, or even ambition slowing us down; it’s the absence of internal logic. The SDGs are a postmodern, deconstructed, Jackson Pollock-version of a to-do list.

The reason for this is simple. The U.N. reacted to legitimate critiques of the original Millennium Development Goals—that the goals were conceived by a too-small group with “relative casualness,” with insufficient input from the public, and from developing countries. Thus, the successor SDGs were informed, in contrast, by years of meetings, consultations, stakeholder forums, online input, and door-to-door surveys.

That was undoubtedly wise. But the U.N. stopped there, with an indiscriminate list of objectives. Virtually every perspective is reflected and no perspective is subordinated. The pithiest analysis came from an executive at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: “No targets left behind.” [Continue reading…]

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Can the tech giants be stopped?

Jonathan Taplin writes: I would date the rise of the digital monopolies to August 2004, when Google raised $1.9 billion in its initial public offering. By the end of that year, Google’s share of the search-engine market was just 35%; Yahoo ’s was 32%, and MSN’s was 16%. Today, under Alphabet, Google’s market share is 87% in the U.S. and 91% in Europe. In 2004, Amazon had net sales revenue of $6.9 billion. In 2016, its net sales revenue was nearly $136 billion, and it now controls 65% of all online new book sales, whether print or digital. In mobile social networks, Facebook and its subsidiaries (Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger) control 75% of the American market.

This shift has brought about a massive reallocation of revenue, with economic value moving from the creators of content to the owners of monopoly platforms. Since 2000, revenues for recorded music in the U.S. have fallen from almost $20 billion a year to less than $8 billion, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. U.S. newspaper ad revenue fell from $65.8 billion in 2000 to $23.6 billion in 2013 (the last year for which data are available). Though book publishing revenues have remained flat, this is mostly because increased children’s book sales have made up for the declining return on adult titles.

From 2003 to 2016, Google’s revenue grew from about $1.5 billion to some $90 billion as Alphabet. Today, it is the largest media company in the world, collecting $79.4 billion in ad revenue in 2016, according to Zenith. Facebook is a distant second, with $26.9 billion.

The precipitous decline in revenue for content creators has nothing to do with changing consumer preferences for their content. People are not reading less news, listening to less music, reading fewer books or watching fewer movies and TV shows. The massive growth in revenue for the digital monopolies has resulted in the massive loss of revenue for the creators of content. The two are inextricably linked. [Continue reading…]

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The fallacy of endless economic growth

Christopher Ketchum writes: The idea that economic growth can continue forever on a finite planet is the unifying faith of industrial civilization. That it is nonsensical in the extreme, a deluded fantasy, doesn’t appear to bother us. We hear the holy truth in the decrees of elected officials, in the laments of economists about flagging GDP, in the authoritative pages of opinion, in the whirligig of advertising, at the World Bank and on Wall Street, in the prospectuses of globe-spanning corporations and in the halls of the smallest small-town chambers of commerce. Growth is sacrosanct. Growth will bring jobs and income, which allow us entry into the state of grace known as affluence, which permits us to consume more, providing more jobs for more people producing more goods and services so that the all-mighty economy can continue to grow. “Growth is our idol, our golden calf,” Herman Daly, an economist known for his anti-growth heresies, told me recently.

In the United States, the religion is expressed most avidly in the cult of the American Dream. The gatekeepers of the faith happen to not only be American: The Dream is now, and has long been, a pandemic disorder. Growth is a moral imperative in the developing world, we are told, because it will free the global poor from deprivation and disease. It will enrich and educate the women of the world, reducing birth rates. It will provide us the means to pay for environmental remediation—to clean up what so-called economic progress has despoiled. It will lift all boats, making us all rich, healthy, happy. East and West, Asia and Europe, communist and capitalist, big business and big labor, Nazi and neoliberal, the governments of just about every modern nation on Earth: All have espoused the mad growthist creed.

In 1970, a team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology began working on what would become the most important document of the 20th century to question this orthodoxy. The scientists spent two years holed up in the company of a gigantic mainframe computer, plugging data into a system dynamics model called World3, in the first large-scale effort to grasp the implications of growthism for mankind. They emerged with a book called The Limits to Growth, issued as a slim paperback by a little-known publisher in March of 1972. It exploded onto the scene, becoming the best-selling environmental title in history. In the Netherlands half a million copies sold within the year. More than three million copies have been sold to date in at least 30 languages.

Its message was commonsensical: If humans propagate, spread, build, consume, and pollute beyond the limits of our tiny spinning orb, we will have problems. This was not what Americans indoctrinated in growthism had been accustomed to hearing—and never had they heard it from Ph.D.’s marshaling data at one of the world’s citadels of learning. [Continue reading…]

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Yanis Varoufakis: A New Deal for the 21st century

Yanis Varoufakis writes: The recent elections in France and Britain have confirmed the political establishment’s simultaneous vulnerability and vigor in the face of a nationalist insurgency. This contradiction is the motif of the moment — personified by the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, whose résumé made him a darling of the elites but who rode a wave of anti-establishment enthusiasm to power.

A similar paradox is visible in Britain in the surprising electoral success of the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, in depriving Theresa May’s Conservatives of an outright governing majority — not least because the resulting hung Parliament seemingly gives the establishment some hope of a change in approach from Mrs. May’s initial recalcitrant stance toward the European Union on the Brexit negotiations that have just begun.

Outsiders are having a field day almost everywhere in the West — not necessarily in a manner that weakens the insiders, but neither also in a way that helps consolidate the insiders’ position. The result is a situation in which the political establishment’s once unassailable authority has died, but before any credible replacement has been born. The cloud of uncertainty and volatility that envelops us today is the product of this gap. [Continue reading…]

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As climate changes, Southern states will suffer more than others

The New York Times reports: As the United States confronts global warming in the decades ahead, not all states will suffer equally. Maine may benefit from milder winters. Florida, by contrast, could face major losses, as deadly heat waves flare up in the summer and rising sea levels eat away at valuable coastal properties.

In a new study in the journal Science, researchers analyzed the economic harm that climate change could inflict on the United States in the coming century. They found that the impacts could prove highly unequal: states in the Northeast and West would fare relatively well, while parts of the Midwest and Southeast would be especially hard hit.

In all, the researchers estimate that the nation could face damages worth 0.7 percent of gross domestic product per year by the 2080s for every 1 degree Fahrenheit rise in global temperature. But that overall number obscures wide variations: The worst-hit counties — mainly in states that already have warm climates, like Arizona or Texas — could see losses worth 10 to 20 percent of G.D.P. or more if emissions continue to rise unchecked. [Continue reading…]

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Trump travel ban, if interpreted as written, ‘would basically shut down tourism’ says former U.S. official

Politico reports: When President Donald Trump issued his executive order on immigration last week, it was the travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries that dominated headlines — leaving hundreds of people in limbo, provoking airport protests, and raising questions about whether the U.S. was targeting religion in the guise of a new security rule.

But immigration lawyers who have read the order carefully are now increasingly concerned that one of its provisions could have much wider repercussions, affecting literally every foreign visitor to America, from tourists to diplomats.

The little-noticed section, appearing immediately after the travel ban, calls for the government to develop a “uniform screening standard and procedure” for all individuals seeking to enter the United States. As written, it appears to require all visitors to go through the same vetting measures, regardless of where they come from or how long they intend to stay.

If interpreted as broadly as it’s written, “It would basically shut down tourism,” said Stephen Legomsky, the former chief counsel for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services during the Obama administration. [Continue reading…]

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Why 2017 may be the best year ever

Nicholas Kristof writes: There’s a broad consensus that the world is falling apart, with every headline reminding us that life is getting worse.

Except that it isn’t. In fact, by some important metrics, 2016 was the best year in the history of humanity. And 2017 will probably be better still.

How can this be? I’m as appalled as anyone by the election of Donald Trump, the bloodshed in Syria, and so on. But while I fear what Trump will do to America and the world, and I applaud those standing up to him, the Trump administration isn’t the most important thing going on. Here, take my quiz:

On any given day, the number of people worldwide living in extreme poverty:

A.) Rises by 5,000, because of climate change, food shortages and endemic corruption.

B.) Stays about the same.

C.) Drops by 250,000.

Polls show that about 9 out of 10 Americans believe that global poverty has worsened or stayed the same. But in fact, the correct answer is C. Every day, an average of about a quarter-million people worldwide graduate from extreme poverty, according to World Bank figures. [Continue reading…]

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Vladimir Putin’s economic plan spooks Russian entrepreneurs

The Daily Beast reports: A young entrepreneur named Vladimir Khrykov listened attentively to every word President Vladimir Putin said last week in his address to Russia’s Federal Assembly. And the 30-year-old was hugely disappointed by what he heard.

For Khrykov, who runs a diaper company on Sakhalin Island in Russia’s Far East, foreign investors are key to his business. And his clients are eager to know just one thing before they invest: Will Russia see more profits in the next few years? And so Khrykov tuned in to hear Putin’s economic plan, so he could divine the future for his firm.

“Putin has no strategy,” Khrykov told The Daily Beast on Wednesday, as he despaired over the contents of the president’s speech, which seemed fragmented at best. “It is impossible for us to convince our foreign investors to spend money on technologies here, as nobody can be sure that the population will be able to afford the product in the future.”

Recently, Khrykov’s Japanese partners asked him whether Russia’s economy would improve in the next 50 years. He didn’t know what to tell them. [Continue reading…]

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Another Arab awakening is looming, warns a UN report

The Economist reports: In December 2010 Egypt’s cabinet discussed the findings of their National Youth Survey. Only 16% of 18-29-year-olds voted in elections, it showed; just 2% registered for volunteer work. An apathetic generation, concluded the ministers, who returned to twiddling their thumbs. Weeks later, Egypt’s youth spilled onto the streets and toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

The UN’s latest Arab Development Report, published on November 29th, shows that few lessons have been learnt. Five years on from the revolts that toppled four Arab leaders, regimes are ruthlessly tough on dissent, but much less attentive to its causes.

As states fail, youth identify more with their religion, sect or tribe than their country. In 2002, five Arab states were mired in conflict. Today 11 are. By 2020, predicts the report, almost three out of four Arabs could be “living in countries vulnerable to conflict”.

Horrifyingly, although home to only 5% of the world’s population, in 2014 the Arab world accounted for 45% of the world’s terrorism, 68% of its battle-related deaths, 47% of its internally displaced and 58% of its refugees. War not only kills and maims, but destroys vital infrastructure accelerating the disintegration.

The Arab youth population (aged 15-29) numbers 105m and is growing fast, but unemployment, poverty and marginalisation are all growing faster. The youth unemployment rate, at 30%, stands at more than twice the world’s average of 14%. Almost half of young Arab women looking for jobs fail to find them (against a global average of 16%).

Yet governance remains firmly the domain of an often hereditary elite. “Young people are gripped by an inherent sense of discrimination and exclusion,” says the report, highlighting a “weakening [of] their commitment to preserving government institutions.” Many of those in charge do little more than pay lip-service, lumping youth issues in with toothless ministries for sports. “We’re in a much worse shape than before the Arab Spring,” says Ahmed al-Hendawi, a 32-year-old Jordanian and the UN’s envoy for youth. [Continue reading…]

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What if jobs aren’t working anymore?

James Livingston writes: Work means everything to us Americans. For centuries – since, say, 1650 – we’ve believed that it builds character (punctuality, initiative, honesty, self-discipline, and so forth). We’ve also believed that the market in labour, where we go to find work, has been relatively efficient in allocating opportunities and incomes. And we’ve believed that, even if it sucks, a job gives meaning, purpose and structure to our everyday lives – at any rate, we’re pretty sure that it gets us out of bed, pays the bills, makes us feel responsible, and keeps us away from daytime TV.

These beliefs are no longer plausible. In fact, they’ve become ridiculous, because there’s not enough work to go around, and what there is of it won’t pay the bills – unless of course you’ve landed a job as a drug dealer or a Wall Street banker, becoming a gangster either way.

These days, everybody from Left to Right – from the economist Dean Baker to the social scientist Arthur C Brooks, from Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump – addresses this breakdown of the labour market by advocating ‘full employment’, as if having a job is self-evidently a good thing, no matter how dangerous, demanding or demeaning it is. But ‘full employment’ is not the way to restore our faith in hard work, or in playing by the rules, or in whatever else sounds good. The official unemployment rate in the United States is already below 6 per cent, which is pretty close to what economists used to call ‘full employment’, but income inequality hasn’t changed a bit. Shitty jobs for everyone won’t solve any social problems we now face. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s climate denial is just one of the forces that point towards war

George Monbiot writes: Wave the magic wand and the problem goes away. Those pesky pollution laws, carbon caps and clean-power plans: swish them away and the golden age of blue-collar employment will return. This is Donald Trump’s promise, in his video message on Monday, in which the US president-elect claimed that unleashing coal and fracking would create “many millions of high-paid jobs”. He will tear down everything to make it come true.

But it won’t come true. Even if we ripped the world to pieces in the search for full employment, leaving no mountain unturned, we would not find it. Instead, we would merely jeopardise the prosperity – and the lives – of people everywhere. However slavishly governments grovel to corporate Luddism, they will not bring the smog economy back.

No one can deny the problem Trump claims to be addressing. The old mining and industrial areas are in crisis throughout the rich world. And we have seen nothing yet. I have just reread the study published by the Oxford Martin School in 2013 on the impacts of computerisation. What jumps out, to put it crudely, is that jobs in the rust belts and rural towns that voted for Trump are at high risk of automation, while the professions of many Hillary Clinton supporters are at low risk.

The jobs most likely to be destroyed are in mining, raw materials, manufacturing, transport and logistics, cargo handling, warehousing and retailing, construction (prefabricated buildings will be assembled by robots in factories), office support, administration and telemarketing. So what, in the areas that voted for Trump, will be left?

Farm jobs have mostly gone already. Service and care work, where hope for some appeared to lie, will be threatened by a further wave of automation, as service robots – commercial and domestic – take over.

Yes, there will be jobs in the green economy: more and better than any that could be revived in the fossil economy. But they won’t be enough to fill the gaps, and many will be in the wrong places for those losing their professions. [Continue reading…]

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The Uber economy looks a lot like the pre-industrial economy

Quartz reports: Maybe Uber isn’t that innovative after all.

A new study from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), finds that the “gig” economy model popularized by Uber has a lot in common with the economies of poor countries today, as well as the US and Europe before the Industrial Revolution.

Uber and other “gig” companies like Lyft and TaskRabbit hire their workers as independent contractors rather than full employees. These jobs comes with a lot of flexibility — workers can set their own schedules — but they lack the protections afforded full-time employees of larger corporate enterprises, such as health care and a guaranteed minimum wage. Uber and its digital peers are a small if well-known part of the larger independent workforce, which McKinsey estimates at 20% to 30% of the working-age population in the US and the EU-15, or some 160 million people.

While companies like Uber have been hailed as modern conveniences for consumers, they are proving to be just the opposite for workers. App-based services rely on income inequality and may well be perpetuating the divide between capital and labor. They are also reverting economies to pre-industrial ideas about work. [Continue reading…]

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Why we’re wrong to blame immigrants for our sputtering economies

By Kevin Shih, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Immigrants have become a major scapegoat in recent years for sputtering Western economies.

From the U.K.’s jarring “Brexit” from the European Union to Donald Trump’s infamous wall and more recent proposal to apply “extreme vetting” to those wishing to enter the U.S., many politicians have found success by casting immigrants as a threat to the physical, social and economic welfare of natives.

In short, Americans (and our European brethren) are unhappy, and many are convinced immigration brings harm. A recent poll found that almost two-thirds of Americans think immigration, including the legal kind, “jeopardizes the United States.”

While it has become a popular notion in the West that immigrants jeopardize the job prospects of natives, over 30 years of economic research (including my own) gives strong reason to believe otherwise.

And in fact, the opposite may be more likely: There’s evidence immigrants actually promote more economic growth.

[Read more…]

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How work can lead to suicide in a globalised economy

By Sarah Waters, University of Leeds and Jenny Chan, University of Oxford

A Paris prosecutor recently called for the former CEO and six senior managers of telecoms provider, France Télécom, to face criminal charges for workplace harassment. The recommendation followed a lengthy inquiry into the suicides of a number of employees at the company between 2005 and 2009. The prosecutor accused management of deliberately “destabilising” employees and creating a “stressful professional climate” through a company-wide strategy of “harcèlement moral” – psychological bullying.

All deny any wrongdoing and it is now up to a judge to decide whether to follow the prosecutor’s advice or dismiss the case. If it goes ahead, it would be a landmark criminal trial, with implications far beyond just one company.

Workplace suicides are sharply on the rise internationally, with increasing numbers of employees choosing to take their own lives in the face of extreme pressures at work. Recent studies in the United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea, China, India and Taiwan all point to a steep rise in suicides in the context of a generalised deterioration in working conditions.

Rising suicides are part of the profound transformations in the workplace that have taken place over the past 30 years. These transformations are arguably rooted in the political and economic shift to globalisation that has radically altered the way we work.

In the post-war Fordist era of industry (pioneered by US car manufacturer Henry Ford), jobs generally provided stability and a clear career trajectory for many, allowing people to define their collective identity and their place in the world. Strong trade unions in major industrial sectors meant that employees could negotiate their working rights and conditions.

But today’s globalised workplace is characterised by job insecurity, intense work, forced redeployments, flexible contracts, worker surveillance, and limited social protection and representation. Zero-hour contracts are the new norm for many in the hospitality and healthcare industries, for example.

Now, it is not enough simply to work hard. In the words of Marxist theorist Franco Berardi, “the soul is put to work” and workers must devote their whole selves to the needs of the company.

For the economist Guy Standing, the precariat is the new social class of the 21st century, characterised by the lack of job security and even basic stability. Workers move in and out of jobs which give little meaning to their lives. This shift has had deleterious effects on many people’s experience of work, with rising cases of acute stress, anxiety, sleep disorders, burnout, hopelessness and, in some cases, suicide.

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The rising power of China will create new political fissures in the West

Gideon Rachman writes: Whether he wins or loses the US presidency next November, Donald Trump has already come up with one of the defining slogans of 2016 – “Make America great again”.

Trump’s vision of an America in precipitous decline is all-encompassing. At home, he points to falling living standards for many Americans and the disappearance of well-paid manufacturing jobs. Overseas, he claims the world is laughing at the US and laments that “we don’t win any more”.

Many in Europe are tempted to see Trump as an “only in America” aberration. Yet the fear of economic and geopolitical decline that Trump is capitalising upon is widely visible across the west. The coalition of frustrated working-class voters and nostalgic nationalists that the Republican has put together is uncomfortably reminiscent of the alliance that voted for Brexit in the UK. Trump’s “make America great again” mantra has an echo of the Brexit campaign’s winning slogan – “Take back control”. Nor is this is just an Anglo-American phenomenon. Across the EU, including in France, the Netherlands, Italy and Poland, protectionists and nationalists are gaining ground.

As Trump might put it: “Something’s going on.” That something is a historic shift in economic and geopolitical power that is bringing to an end a 500-year period in which western nations have dominated global affairs. This erosion of the west’s privileged position in world affairs is creating new economic, geopolitical and even psychological pressures in both the US and the EU.

The driving force of this change is the extraordinary economic development of Asia over the past 50 years. In 2014, the IMF reported that, measured in purchasing power, China is now the world’s largest economy. The US had held this title since 1871, when it displaced the UK; now China is number one. The rise of China is just part of a broader shift of economic power towards Asia. The IMF reports that three of the world’s four largest economies are now in Asia. China is first, the US is second, India third and Japan fourth. [Continue reading…]

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The countries leading the world in happiness and sustainability are not the economically wealthiest

Anna Bruce-Lockhart writes: Is life on this planet getting better? When it comes to the progress of nations, how do you measure what matters most? There’s wealth, there’s health, there’s basic human freedoms. These criteria, and others, make regular appearances in a variety of international rankings, from the Better Life Index to the Sustainable Economic Development Assessment and the World Happiness Report.

But a new study takes a different approach. The Happy Planet Index, which has just published its 2016 edition, measures health and happiness not in isolation but against a crucial new gold standard for success: sustainability.

The formula goes something like this: take the well-being and longevity of a population, measure how equally both are distributed, then set the result against each country’s ecological footprint.

In this calculation, the most successful countries are those where people live long and happy lives at little cost to the environment.

So which countries are they?

They’re not the wealthy Western countries you’d expect to see, or even the progressive Nordic ones that normally bag the lifestyle laurels. Instead, a list of the top 10 (the index ranks 140 countries overall) shows that when it comes to people’s ability to live good lives within sustainable limits, Latin American and Asia Pacific countries are ahead of the crowd. [Continue reading…]

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The Middle East needs help with its long game: education and jobs for the young

By Zahir Irani, Brunel University London

The future for many young people across the Middle East and North Africa looks bleak. The World Bank records that 54% of the working age population in the Middle East and North Africa is unemployed with little prospect of any positive immediate change. An average of 28.7% of 15 to 24-year-olds in the Middle East and 30.6% of those in North Africa are unemployed according to the International Labour Organisation.

Much of the world’s response to this chronic problem has been to intervene financially: in the form of aid or debt restructuring. But through supporting economic recovery by giving generations of young people new skills and new opportunities to improve themselves, the world can help Middle Eastern societies in a more sustainable and thoughtful way.

Reliance on public sector jobs

One of the biggest challenges the World Bank identifies in this broad region is that unemployment rates are the highest among the educated, with university graduates making up 30% of the region’s unemployed. They are slowly losing optimism and hope for a better life and future.

This is largely attributed to a reliance on the public sector to provide jobs that come with steady albeit low salaries but high degrees of job security. In many North African countries or those Middle Eastern ones with high populations, other than wait in line for a public sector job, there are few other alternatives. At one end of the spectrum there’s the misery of violence and refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, and the other – even if you’ve excelled – a flat and static job market for the best and brightest. No wonder so many highly-skilled people are fleeing to Europe in search of stability and new opportunities.

[Read more…]

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