Six months after the 18th Communist Party Congress, debate and bickering over reforms in China rages on. Both inside and outside the country, opinions
remain divided over whether Beijing will strategically push forward an ambitious economic reform agenda or squander the opportunity once again. A corollary
is that even assuming Zhongnanhai will take on a reform agenda, it is usually an assumption riddled with caveats about the scope and extent of such
reforms. For many of the skeptics, whatever reforms that may emerge will be weak and perhaps too little too late.
But for internal champions of economic reforms, things may in fact be looking up. According to the estimable John Garnaut of the Sydney Morning Herald, some potentially serious changes are in the works, a point corroborated by the New York Times as well. Garnaut writes:
China is drawing up a blueprint for sweeping reforms aimed at averting an economic crisis, sources with close ties to the leadership say.
The reforms are aimed at revitalising the world's second-largest economy amid deepening fears about a trend of rising corruption, wasteful investment and
local government debt.
Liu He, who leads the party's Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs, has been given the task of preparing a seven-point blueprint
for the Third Plenum of the 18th Communist Party Congress, which is due in about October, according to a source with close ties to several members
of the Politburo Standing Committee.
A few points are worth noting. First, appointing Liu He to the task of creating a "reform plan" should generally be interpreted as a positive sign. Liu
is no stranger to such herculean efforts, having been widely rumored as a leading architect of China's 12th Five-Year Plan, a blueprint that most
observers laud as a formidable, if overly ambitious, plan to achieve China's economic transition. Second, the timing of the Third Plenum, if true,
reaffirms previous speculation that the new leadership is hoping to imbue their reform rollout with historical import. As Evan Feigenbaum and I wrote recently in Foreign Affairs:
If Chinese leaders do choose the third plenum as the place to announce new reforms, it will be because it is pregnant with political symbolism: it was
at another third plenum, in 1978, that Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China's market reforms, won consensus around the vision that set China on its
course to becoming the world's second-largest economy.
For casual China observers, something as obscure as a Communist Party event such as a plenum may mean absolutely nothing. But it in fact carries
considerable historical weight. At the time in 1978, Chinese patriarch Deng understood clearly that simply having an economic reform plan was necessary but
insufficient. What also was needed was an enduring political consensus to move the plan forward to the execution stage. The politics of that time were
decidedly more complicated. The entire Chinese nation was barely coming to grips with the post-Mao Zedong era and awakening from a decade of the brutish
politics of the Cultural Revolution. It was a toxic environment in which to even suggest market reforms, and it could have easily been derailed. As one accountfrom Bao Tong, a former high level party official and close confidante of Zhao Ziyang, has it:
Sometimes, history resonates with itself. In 1969, as the Communist Party was preparing for the Ninth Party Congress, Lin Biao put forward the view
that the process of continuous revolution should be stopped, and the Party should turn its attention instead to ways to develop productivity. If Mao
had been receptive to this idea, then maybe Lin Biao would have gone on to become the next Deng Xiaoping.
But the opposite occurred, because the suggestion angered Mao deeply, causing the rift between them. Fast forward to 1978, and the Third Plenum, where
Deng Xiaoping thought the same thing, that the continuous process of revolution should be stopped, and that the whole Party should turn its attention
to building a modern China. Luckily, Hua Guofeng wasn't Mao, and fortunately he accepted Deng's suggestion.
Hua and Deng agreed ahead of the Third Plenum that it would look forwards rather than backwards and avoid getting tangled up in "problems left over by
history." (By this, they meant that it wouldn't concern itself with debating the issue of all the trumped-up or mistaken political charges against
people.) They decided that what was needed was "unity to face the future."
That unity wasn't preordained nor was the political equilibrium easily maintained. It took Deng and his supporters considerable political acumen to
sustain the momentum and justification behind reforms. At the time, Deng seemed to fully grasp that the grandiose task of Chinese "modernization",
however defined, would take longer than his lifetime. His solution? Personally select two generations of leaders -- Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao -- that would
continue the nation-building he began for another 20 years.
When Deng passed away in 1997, the Chinese economy was just under $1 trillion. It is now an $8 trillion-plus behemoth with far-reaching global
interests. The reforms of today, whatever shape they make take, will necessarily be different from those more than 30 years ago, because China itself has transformed dramatically. The expectation of change must also be tethered to the reality of today's institutional interests and political dynamics. Under the initial burst of reforms, changes were profound both in their scope and speed, largely because China was starting from such a low base.
That said, a new leadership appears to once again seek to instill historical purpose
into their reform agenda, in large part to shape the political environment in which these reforms must be carried out. They have appealed to national rejuvenation and greatness -- a time-honored tactic to mobilize a popular mandate -- to continue the project of Chinese modernization.
Can the new leadership now relieve the pressures that it, deliberately or not, has created by making a closing argument on reform at the Third Plenum? Either way, the fall conclave just got a whole lot more
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.
The man who made computers personal was a genius and a jerk. A new documentary wonders whether his legacy can accommodate both realities.
An iPhone is a machine much like any other: motherboard, modem, microphone, microchip, battery, wires of gold and silver and copper twisting and snaking, the whole assembly arranged under a piece of glass whose surface—coated with an oxide of indium and tin to make it electrically conductive—sparks to life at the touch of a warm-blooded finger. But an iPhone, too, is much more than a machine. The neat ecosystem that hums under its heat-activated glass holds grocery lists and photos and games and jokes and news and books and music and secrets and the voices of loved ones and, quite possibly, every text you’ve ever exchanged with your best friend. Thought, memory, empathy, the stuff we sometimes shorthand as “the soul”: There it all is, zapping through metal whose curves and coils were designed to be held in a human hand.
In continuing to tinker with the universe she built eight years after it ended, J.K. Rowling might be falling into the same trap as Star Wars’s George Lucas.
September 1st, 2015 marked a curious footnote in Harry Potter marginalia: According to the series’s elaborate timeline, rarely referenced in the books themselves, it was the day James S. Potter, Harry’s eldest son, started school at Hogwarts. It’s not an event directly written about in the books, nor one of particular importance, but their creator, J.K. Rowling, dutifully took to Twitter to announce what amounts to footnote details: that James was sorted into House Gryffindor, just like his father, to the disappointment of Teddy Lupin, Harry’s godson, apparently a Hufflepuff.
It’s not earth-shattering information that Harry’s kid would end up in the same house his father was in, and the Harry Potter series’s insistence on sorting all of its characters into four broad personality quadrants largely based on their family names has always struggled to stand up to scrutiny. Still, Rowling’s tweet prompted much garment-rending among the books’ devoted fans. Can a tweet really amount to a piece of canonical information for a book? There isn’t much harm in Rowling providing these little embellishments years after her books were published, but even idle tinkering can be a dangerous path to take, with the obvious example being the insistent tweaks wrought by George Lucas on his Star Wars series.
When Kenneth Jarecke photographed an Iraqi man burned alive, he thought it would change the way Americans saw the Gulf War. But the media wouldn’t run the picture.
The Iraqi soldier died attempting to pull himself up over the dashboard of his truck. The flames engulfed his vehicle and incinerated his body, turning him to dusty ash and blackened bone. In a photograph taken soon afterward, the soldier’s hand reaches out of the shattered windshield, which frames his face and chest. The colors and textures of his hand and shoulders look like those of the scorched and rusted metal around him. Fire has destroyed most of his features, leaving behind a skeletal face, fixed in a final rictus. He stares without eyes.
On February 28, 1991, Kenneth Jarecke stood in front of the charred man, parked amid the carbonized bodies of his fellow soldiers, and photographed him. At one point, before he died this dramatic mid-retreat death, the soldier had had a name. He’d fought in Saddam Hussein’s army and had a rank and an assignment and a unit. He might have been devoted to the dictator who sent him to occupy Kuwait and fight the Americans. Or he might have been an unlucky young man with no prospects, recruited off the streets of Baghdad.
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.
According to Franklin, what mattered in business was humility, restraint, and discipline. But today’s Type-A MBAs would find him qualified for little more than a career in middle management.
When he retired from the printing business at the age of 42, Benjamin Franklin set his sights on becoming what he called a “Man of Leisure.” To modern ears, that title might suggest Franklin aimed to spend his autumn years sleeping in or stopping by the tavern, but to colonial contemporaries, it would have intimated aristocratic pretension. A “Man of Leisure” was typically a member of the landed elite, someone who spent his days fox hunting and affecting boredom. He didn’t have to work for a living, and, frankly, he wouldn’t dream of doing so.
Having worked as a successful shopkeeper with a keen eye for investments, Franklin had earned his leisure, but rather than cultivate the fine arts of indolence, retirement, he said, was “time for doing something useful.” Hence, the many activities of Franklin’s retirement: scientist, statesman, and sage, as well as one-man civic society for the city of Philadelphia. His post-employment accomplishments earned him the sobriquet of “The First American” in his own lifetime, and yet, for succeeding generations, the endeavor that was considered his most “useful” was the working life he left behind when he embarked on a life of leisure.
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”
Some people see threats even when none are present. Strangely, it can make them more creative.
For much of his life, Isaac Newton seemed like he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In 1693, the collapse finally arrived: After not sleeping for five days straight, Newton sent letters accusing his friends of conspiring against him. He was refraining from publishing books, he said at one point that year, “for fear that disputes and controversies may be raised against me by ignoramuses.”
Newton was, by many accounts, highly neurotic. Brilliant, but neurotic nonetheless. He was prone to depressive jags, mistrust, and angry outbursts.
Unfortunately, his genius might have been rooted in his maladjustments. His mental state led him to brood over past mistakes, and eventually, a breakthrough would dawn. “I keep the subject constantly before me,” he once said, “and wait till the first dawnings open slowly, by little and little, into a full and clear light.”
A tattooed, profanity-loving Lutheran pastor believes young people are drawn to Jesus, tradition, and brokenness.
“When Christians really critique me for using salty language, I literally don’t give a shit.”
This is what it’s like to talk to Nadia Bolz-Weber, the tattooed Lutheran pastor, former addict, and head of a Denver church that’s 250 members strong. She’s frank and charming, and yes, she tends to cuss—colorful words pepper her new book, Accidental Saints. But she also doesn’t put a lot of stock in her own schtick.
“Oh, here’s this tattooed pastor who is a recovering alcoholic who used to be a stand-up comic—that’s interesting for like five minutes,” she said. “The fact that people want to hear from me—that, I really feel, has less to do with me and more to do with a Zeitgeist issue.”
The tension between religious liberty and same-sex marriage may eventually come to a head in the courts, but probably not through the Kentucky clerk’s case.
As Rowan County clerk Kim Davis crawls further and further out on a limb, Supreme Court experts agree that she has little chance of prevailing. District Judge David Bunning, on August 12 ordered Davis, in her capacity as county clerk, to issue marriage licenses to all couples who meet the statutory criteria for marriage in Kentucky—a definition that, since the Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, includes same-sex couples.
Davis has refused, citing “the authority of God.” The U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, denied her emergency request for a stay. This throws the case back to the Sixth Circuit, which will hear the appeal of Judge Bunning’s order. Assuming she loses in the Sixth Circuit—a fairly good assumption—she would then have the alternative of petitioning the Supreme Court to hear her religious freedom claim. The Court will eventually hear a case about religious freedom and same-sex marriage, but I don’t think it will be this one.
Massive hurricanes striking Miami or Houston. Earthquakes leveling Los Angeles or Seattle. Deadly epidemics. Meet the “maximums of maximums” that keep emergency planners up at night.
For years before Hurricane Katrina, storm experts warned that a big hurricane would inundate the Big Easy. Reporters noted that the levees were unstable and could fail. Yet hardly anyone paid attention to these Cassandras until after the levees had broken, the Gulf Coast had been blown to pieces, and New Orleans sat beneath feet of water.
The wall-to-wall coverage afforded to the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina reveals the sway that a deadly act of God or man can hold on people, even 10 years later. But it also raises uncomfortable questions about how effectively the nation is prepared for the next catastrophe, whether that be a hurricane or something else. There are plenty of people warning about the dangers that lie ahead, but that doesn’t mean that the average citizen or most levels of the government are anywhere near ready for them.