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 account from 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.
“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”
You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.
At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.
Will you pay more for those shoes before 7 p.m.? Would the price tag be different if you lived in the suburbs? Standard prices and simple discounts are giving way to far more exotic strategies, designed to extract every last dollar from the consumer.
As Christmas approached in 2015, the price of pumpkin-pie spice went wild. It didn’t soar, as an economics textbook might suggest. Nor did it crash. It just started vibrating between two quantum states. Amazon’s price for a one-ounce jar was either $4.49 or $8.99, depending on when you looked. Nearly a year later, as Thanksgiving 2016 approached, the price again began whipsawing between two different points, this time $3.36 and $4.69.
We live in the age of the variable airfare, the surge-priced ride, the pay-what-you-want Radiohead album, and other novel price developments. But what was this? Some weird computer glitch? More like a deliberate glitch, it seems. “It’s most likely a strategy to get more data and test the right price,” Guru Hariharan explained, after I had sketched the pattern on a whiteboard.
An interview with the Associated Press shows President Trump slowly coming to terms with the size of the government he now runs, and the challenges he must tackle.
Every president faces a steep learning curve when he enters the presidency. There is, as John F. Kennedy, wrote, no school for commanders in chief. Yet even by that standard, recent interviews show a Donald Trump who is genuinely surprised by the size of his duties, the interests he must balance, and the methods required to get that done.
On Sunday, the Associated Press released a transcript of an interview with the president last week. It deserves to be read in full: It captures his constant evasiveness on facts, preferring hyperbole, for example, and his detachment from reality—when asked about a “contract with the American voter” on what he’d achieve in 100 days, Trump dismisses it, saying, “Somebody put out the concept of a hundred-day plan.”
The early results out of a Boston nonprofit are positive.
You saw the pictures in science class—a profile view of the human brain, sectioned by function. The piece at the very front, right behind where a forehead would be if the brain were actually in someone’s head, is the pre-frontal cortex. It handles problem-solving, goal-setting, and task execution. And it works with the limbic system, which is connected and sits closer to the center of the brain. The limbic system processes emotions and triggers emotional responses, in part because of its storage of long-term memory.
When a person lives in poverty, a growing body of research suggests the limbic system is constantly sending fear and stress messages to the prefrontal cortex, which overloads its ability to solve problems, set goals, and complete tasks in the most efficient ways.
A machine mapped the most frequently used emotional trajectories in fiction, and compared them with the ones readers like best.
“My prettiest contribution to my culture,” the writer Kurt Vonnegut mused in his 1981 autobiography Palm Sunday, “was a master’s thesis in anthropology which was rejected by the University of Chicago a long time ago.”
By then, he said, the thesis had long since vanished. (“It was rejected because it was so simple and looked like too much fun,” Vonnegut explained.) But he continued to carry the idea with him for many years after that, and spoke publicly about it more than once. It was, essentially, this: “There is no reason why the simple shapes of stories can’t be fed into computers. They are beautiful shapes.”
That explanation comes from a lecture he gave, and which you can still watch on YouTube, that involves Vonnegut mapping the narrative arc of popular storylines along a simple graph. The X-axis represents the chronology of the story, from beginning to end, while the Y-axis represents the experience of the protagonist, on a spectrum of ill fortune to good fortune. “This is an exercise in relativity, really,” Vonnegut explains. “The shape of the curve is what matters.”
With Benoît Hamon’s defeat, his Socialist Party may be obsolete.
In the first round of a French presidential election, there will, naturally, always be more losers than winners. But until Sunday, the Socialist Party had lost in the initial round only once before: In 2002, when incumbent Prime Minister Lionel Jospin unexpectedly finished a close third, behind a surprise surge from the National Front’s leader (FN), Jean-Marie Le Pen.
This year, independent-centrist Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Marie’s daughter, Marine, now leader of the FN herself, will move on to the final round on May 7. The Socialist candidate, Benoît Hamon, finished an unprecedented fifth. His loss feels very different from Jospin’s of 15 years ago, and not only because his paltry share of the vote was so much lower—just over 6 percent compared to Jospin’s 16.
The president has been frustrated on many fronts in his first hundred days, but on his watch, unauthorized border crossings have fallen sharply.
Obamacare remains the law of the land. So does NAFTA. Tax reform exists only as pixels in a tweet. Infrastructure ain’t happening. Five months after the Republicans won united control of Congress and the presidency, it seems uncertain whether one-party Washington can avoid a government shutdown over a budget dispute.
Yet as Day 100 of his presidency nears, President Donald Trump can take credit for one huge accomplishment, an accomplishment more central to his election campaign than any of the unfulfilled pledges above. Illegal immigration into the United States has slowed dramatically. The Department of Homeland Security reports that illegal crossings across the southern border plunged 40 percent in the first month of the Trump presidency, the steepest decline in illegal migration since the recession of 2009. Illegal immigration by family groups with children has dropped by over 90 percent.
By antagonizing the U.S.’s neighbor to the south, Donald Trump has made the classic bully’s error: He has underestimated his victim.
When Donald Trump first made sport of thumping Mexico—when he accused America’s neighbor of exporting rapists and “bad hombres,” when he deemed the country such a threat that it should be contained by a wall and so clueless that it could be suckered into paying for its own encasement—its president responded with strange equilibrium. Enrique Peña Nieto treated the humiliation like a meteorological disturbance. Relations with the United States would soon return to normal, if only he grinned his way through the painful episode.
In August, Peña Nieto invited Trump to Mexico City, based on the then-contrarian notion that Trump might actually become president. Instead of branding Trump a toxic threat to Mexico’s well-being, he lavished the Republican nominee with legitimacy. Peña Nieto paid a severe, perhaps mortal, reputational cost for his magnanimity. Before the meeting, former President Vicente Fox had warned Peña Nieto that if he went soft on Trump, history would remember him as a “traitor.” In the months following the meeting, his approval rating plummeted, falling as low as 12 percent in one poll—which put his popularity on par with Trump’s own popularity among Mexicans. The political lesson was clear enough: No Mexican leader could abide Trump’s imprecations and hope to thrive. Since then, the Mexican political elite has begun to ponder retaliatory measures that would reassert the country’s dignity, and perhaps even cause the Trump administration to reverse its hostile course. With a presidential election in just over a year—and Peña Nieto prevented by term limits from running again—vehement responses to Trump are considered an electoral necessity. Memos outlining policies that could wound the United States have begun flying around Mexico City. These show that Trump has committed the bully’s error of underestimating the target of his gibes. As it turns out, Mexico could hurt the United States very badly.
Plant proteins called lectins are an emerging source of confusion and fear.
Two weeks ago, a publicist sent me an early copy of a book that claimed it would change everything I thought I knew about food.
That happens a lot. This one caught my eye because it warned of the “hidden dangers lurking in my salad bowl,” and I was eating a salad.
The book, The Plant Paradox, has an image of an artfully smashed tomato on the cover, and it tells readers that eating tomatoes is “inciting a kind of chemical warfare in our bodies, causing inflammatory reactions that can lead to weight gain and serious health conditions.”
Tomatoes and ill-timed references to chemical warfare are, apparently, only a small part of the problem. The Plant Paradox urgently warns against eating wheat, beans, and peanuts, among other plants.
An exploration of syndromes that are unique to particular cultures.
You can’t get your genitals stolen in America.
At least, not while they’re attached to your body. But people can in Nigeria, Benin, China, Singapore, and Hong Kong. In all of these places, there have been cases of koro (also called suo yang in some places), “a cultural syndrome where people feel like their genitals are being sucked into their body,” says Frank Bures. “And there’s a fear of death.” It’s often thought to be caused by some kind of curse, or spell, or spirit—something otherworldly.
This is the condition that sparked Bures’s interest and led to his new book The Geography of Madness: Penis Thieves, Voodoo Death, and the Search for the Meaning of the World’s Strangest Syndromes.In it, he investigates mostly penis theft, but also other examples of what are called “cultural syndromes” or “culture-bound syndromes”—conditions that only exist in, and seem to stem from, particular cultures. Other examples include “frigophobia” in China, “a fear of cold which has its roots in traditional Chinese cosmology of balancing between hot and cold”; running “amok” in Malaysia, when people go on a killing spree they can’t remember later; and “hikikomori,” in Japan, when people socially withdraw to the point where they never leave home.