If you weren't hibernating recently, you probably saw that China surpassed Japan to become the #2 economy in the world. Many smart people have already weighed in on China having passed this psychological threshold (see here, here, and here). Consensus opinion seems to boil down to "not so fast, let's put this development in context." As someone who follows China daily, I tend to be partial to that view as well. In fact, this "milestone" came and went with a whimper for me. Barring utter catastrophe, it was always a matter of when, not if, China would become #2--and most economists were expecting some time this year. And yes, it will probably eventually exceed the United States in total output. I've seen one projection from a Chinese official that puts the Chinese economy at RMB105 trillion yuan in 2030 (hypothetically assuming the RMB appreciates to a level of 3:1 against the dollar by then, that would put the Chinese economy at about $35 trillion, about 2.5 times current US GDP).
Yet this fait accompli is a mixed blessing for China. And I could've predicted their official response. To illustrate, the ever dependable China Daily supplies a graphical answer:
The focus on per capita GDP (in case you miss it, it's highlighted in red!)--that's roughly on par with Albania for those curious--is a typical Chinese response. Of course it's not very useful to compare Albania to China from an economic perspective, but you get the point and the Chinese government's argument. Beijing's reaction to this news, then, may be one of reluctant embrace or even worse. In fact, the story vanished from China Daily's homepage quickly. This is a similar defense that China uses on issues ranging from energy consumption to carbon emissions--it's the per capita figure that really matters, and don't forget we're a developing country, not OECD! That line of defense worked better when China was perceived as relatively poor, but a significant perceptual shift has occurred, and being #2 simply reinforces that shift. This makes it that much more difficult for Beijing to convince the world with its "developing country" line of reasoning. Yes, yes, China will still have 1 billion relatively poor people even if it has 300 million relatively wealthy and middle-class. To most others, however, 300 million is the size of the entire US.
That is truly the heart of China's conundrum. It is simultaneously extremely poor and ostentatiously rich, depending on the evidence that's selected for emphasis. Which country will China put forward to face the future? It is afraid of assuming outsized responsibility that comes with greater power, or what I call the "Spider Man complex" ("with great power comes great responsibility, Peter"). And just as Spider Man, China too gripes about being misunderstood and occasionally being cast as a villain rather than a hero (ok, that's enough indulgence of comic book analogies).
An economic juggernaut China will continue to be, but it also seems clear that its economic performance of the last three decades will be much tougher to replicate without pursuing a set of structural changes to the economy. There's no inevitable trajectory for China, but it has time and again harnessed crises and sufficiently identified turning points to rejuvenate the economy. Without rehashing what many have written at length about China's challenges, I think it's worth to pose what I think are some of the questions that China will have to answer as #2:
1. Can China manage to transform itself from a producer-oriented economy to one driven more by organic, domestic consumption--or what economists call "rebalancing"? If not, would it just muddle through and eventually become a Japan that's beset by a dose of complacency, as Fallows recently found by returning to his former suburban home outside of Tokyo.
2. Can China address the energy, environmental, and social/demographic burdens that are necessary to propel growth? Much of this could hinge on what China has in store for the next five-year plan through 2015. Some of the Chinese commentariat have repeatedly invoked FDR's New Deal in arguing for the kind of social policies that are necessary to sustain China's growth and heal social cleavages.
3. Will China actually practice what its leaders preach on relying more on qualitative, rather than quantitative, growth?
1. Will China offer a more compelling answer to what kind of power it intends to become?
2. How will China handle the collective external pressures--from climate change to participation in international institutions and provision of public goods--that will almost certainly grow in intensity because it is #2?
3. How will China reconcile the mismatch in outside perceptions of it and what it feels it is realistically capable of?
I think we'd all like some definitive answers to those questions. If you've got some, let me know.
Damien Ma is a fellow at the Paulson Institute, where he focuses on investment and policy programs, and on the Institute's research and think-tank activities. Previously, he was a lead China analyst at Eurasia Group, a political risk research and advisory firm.
Also notable about this brazen show of might is that the missiles traveled through two countries, Iran and Iraq, before hitting their 11 targets in Syria. This means that both countries either gave their permission or simply didn’t confront Putin about the use of their airspace on his birthday.
A new report details a black market in nuclear materials.
On Wednesday, the Associated Press published a horrifying report about criminal networks in the former Soviet Union trying to sell “radioactive material to Middle Eastern extremists.” At the center of these cases, of which the AP learned of four in the past five years, was a “thriving black market in nuclear materials” in a “tiny and impoverished Eastern European country”: Moldova.
It’s a new iteration of an old problem with a familiar geography. The breakup of the Soviet Union left a superpower’s worth of nuclear weapons scattered across several countries without a superpower’s capacity to keep track of them. When Harvard’s Graham Allison flagged this problem in 1996, he wrote that the collapse of Russia’s “command-and-control society” left nothing secure. To wit:
It leaves people bed-bound and drives some to suicide, but there's little research money devoted to the disease. Now, change is coming, thanks to the patients themselves.
This past July, Brian Vastag, a former science reporter, placed an op-ed with his former employer, the Washington Post. It was an open letter to the National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins, a man Vastag had formerly used as a source on his beat.
“I’ve been felled by the most forlorn of orphan illnesses,” Vastag wrote. “At 43, my productive life may well be over.”
There was no cure for his disease, known by some as chronic fatigue syndrome, Vastag wrote, and little NIH funding available to search for one. Would Collins step up and change that?
“As the leader of our nation’s medical research enterprise, you have a decision to make,” he wrote. “Do you want the NIH to be part of these solutions, or will the nation’s medical research agency continue to be part of the problem?”
“If the office is going to become a collection of employees not working together, it essentially becomes no different than a coffee shop.”
There’s plenty of research out there on the benefits of remote and flexible work. It’s been shown to lead to increased productivity, and has an undeniable benefit for work-life balance. But what does it do to everyone back at the office?
In a 2013 memo to workers explaining why the company was eliminating policies that allowed remote work, Jackie Reses, Yahoo’s head of human resources,argued that some of the “best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussion,” and that actual presence in the office encourages better collaboration and communication.
Why Americans tend more and more to want inexperienced presidential candidates
The presidency, it’s often said, is a job for which everyone arrives unprepared. But just how unprepared is unprepared enough?
Political handicappers weigh presidential candidates’ partisanship, ideology, money, endorsements, consultants, and, of course, experience. Yet they too rarely consider an element of growing importance to voters: freshness. Increasingly, American voters view being qualified for the presidency as a disqualification.
In 2003, I announced in National Journal the 14-Year Rule. The rule was actually discovered by a presidential speechwriter named John McConnell, but because his job required him to keep his name out of print, I graciously stepped up to take credit. It is well known that to be elected president, you pretty much have to have been a governor or a U.S. senator. What McConnell had figured out was this: No one gets elected president who needs longer than 14 years to get from his or her first gubernatorial or Senate victory to either the presidency or the vice presidency.* Surprised, I scoured the history books and found that the rule works astonishingly well going back to the early 20th century, when the modern era of presidential electioneering began.
Forget the Common Core, Finland’s youngsters are in charge of determining what happens in the classroom.
“The changes to kindergarten make me sick,” a veteran teacher in Arkansas recently admitted to me. “Think about what you did in first grade—that’s what my 5-year-old babies are expected to do.”
The difference between first grade and kindergarten may not seem like much, but what I remember about my first-grade experience in the mid-90s doesn’t match the kindergarten she described in her email: three and a half hours of daily literacy instruction, an hour and a half of daily math instruction, 20 minutes of daily “physical activity time” (officially banned from being called “recess”) and two 56-question standardized tests in literacy and math—on the fourth week of school.
That American friend—who teaches 20 students without an aide—has fought to integrate 30 minutes of “station time” into the literacy block, which includes “blocks, science, magnetic letters, play dough with letter stamps to practice words, books, and storytelling.” But the most controversial area of her classroom isn’t the blocks nor the stamps: Rather, it’s the “house station with dolls and toy food”—items her district tried to remove last year. The implication was clear: There’s no time for play in kindergarten anymore.
Somewhere in Europe, a man who goes by the name “Mikro” spends his days and nights targeting Islamic State supporters on Twitter.
In August 2014, a Twitter account affiliated with Anonymous, the hacker-crusader collective, declared “full-scale cyber war” against ISIS: “Welcome to Operation Ice #ISIS, where #Anonymous will do it’s [sic] part in combating #ISIS’s influence in social media and shut them down.”
In July, I traveled to a gloomy European capital city to meet one of the “cyber warriors” behind this operation. Online, he goes by the pseudonym Mikro. He is vigilant, bordering on paranoid, about hiding his actual identity, on account of all the death threats he has received. But a few months after I initiated a relationship with him on Twitter, Mikro allowed me to visit him in the apartment he shares with his girlfriend and two Rottweilers. He works alone from his chaotic living room, using an old, battered computer—not the state-of-the-art setup I had envisaged. On an average day, he told me, he spends up to 16 hours fixed to his sofa. He starts around noon, just after he wakes up, and works late into the night and early morning.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
What will happen to digital collections of books, movies, and music when the tech giants fall?
When you purchase a movie from Amazon Instant Video, you’re not buying it, exactly. It’s more like renting indefinitely.
This distinction matters if your notion of “buying” is that you pay for something once and then you get to keep that thing for as long as you want. Increasingly, in the world of digital goods, a purchasing transaction isn’t that simple.
There are two key differences between buying media in a physical format versus a digital one. First, there’s the technical aspect: Maintaining long-term access to a file requires a hard copy of it—that means, for example, downloading a film, not just streaming from a third party’s server. The second distinction is a bit more complicated, and it has to do with how the law has shaped digital rights in the past 15 years. It helps to think about the experience of a person giving up CDs and using iTunes for music purchases instead.
American politicians are now eager to disown a failed criminal-justice system that’s left the U.S. with the largest incarcerated population in the world. But they've failed to reckon with history. Fifty years after Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s report “The Negro Family” tragically helped create this system, it's time to reclaim his original intent.
By his own lights, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, ambassador, senator, sociologist, and itinerant American intellectual, was the product of a broken home and a pathological family. He was born in 1927 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but raised mostly in New York City. When Moynihan was 10 years old, his father, John, left the family, plunging it into poverty. Moynihan’s mother, Margaret, remarried, had another child, divorced, moved to Indiana to stay with relatives, then returned to New York, where she worked as a nurse. Moynihan’s childhood—a tangle of poverty, remarriage, relocation, and single motherhood—contrasted starkly with the idyllic American family life he would later extol.