Five Best Monday Columns

Michael Hirsh on Kim Jong Il, Edward Glaeser on Chile, Rahm Emanuel on community colleges, John Rosenthal on high-speed rails, and Leon Aron on Putin.

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Michael Hirsh in National Journal on Kim Jong Il's death Many wonder what's next for North Korea in the wake of Kim Jong Il's death. "Even as democracy seems to flourish anew elsewhere, the bizarre, undying dynasty of death and defiance that the Kim family has overseen for 65 years is likely to be affected only marginally by the passing of Kim Jong Il," writes Hirsh. He says he witnessed the regime's "staying power" while visiting the country 11 years ago, and he describes an unbelievable performance put on for Secretary of State Albright at the time involving the precisely coordinated moves of 100,000 performers. He also notes the last decade's history of the west foolishly assuming Kim's regime would be overthrown, but he describes a Stalin-like cult around the totalitarian leader that is probably unparalleled in the rest of the world, the result of a particular national psychology. "If one sets aside the fact that North Korea is an economic sinkhole, and that its freedom-loving enemies are crowding in upon it from every side, it may even be called the most successful totalitarianism in modern history."

Edward Glaeser in The Boston Globe on Chile's model The government of Chile has often allowed economists to lead reforms of its infrastructure, entitlements, and education systems. "The Chilean experience illustrates the great strengths of the economics field, especially its insights into taming the public leviathan. But Chile also illustrates its besetting weakness - tolerating massive inequality," writes Glaeser. In 1973, Chile's new leader allowed University of Chicago educated economists to advise him, and when rapid growth resulted, economists retained influence. He describes systems of strict fiscal prudence in the entitlement system and reliance on public-private partnership. But he notes the downsides for the nation's poor who, if they don't contribute to public pensions, don't receive payouts upon retirement. An unequal education system fuels a wide gap in income inequality. "All of this should remind us that economics is better at promoting efficiency and curbing government waste than in eliminating injustice," he notes.
Rahm Emanuel in The Wall Street Journal on reviving community colleges The Chicago area has 10 percent unemployment but 100,000 open jobs. "This is because our community college system, which was a worker's ticket into employment and the middle class during the postwar boom, has failed to keep pace with today's competitive jobs market," Emanuel writes. He names computer science, transportation, and health care as industries that will have increasing job openings in the near future. He describes the lack of credibility with which employers view community colleges and he says by giving major employers a hand in redesigning their curriculums, as Chicago will be doing in a new program, cities can ensure that students will have jobs awaiting them after graduation. "If we revive and modernize our training programs to match the needs of our high-growth industries, our community college system can catapult millions of people into employment and into the middle class," Emanuel says.

John Rosenthal in Bloomberg View on high-speed rails In 2009, both parties supported Obama's plan to reform the nation's transportation with investment in high-speed trains that would link cities too close together to make air travel worthwhile. But a Tea Party uprising caused enthusiasm among state governments to decline. "This opposition may have been good politics, but it's terrible policy for America," Rosenthal writes. He describes the benefits of the system, including a reduction in foreign oil dependence and the job creation and economic benefits of public sector investments. He describes the future problems our transportation systems will have as the population grows, and points to high speed rails as a cheaper more efficient solution than expanding highways or turning to other options. "Abandoning this cost-effective, energy-efficient, environmentally friendly, revenue-generating grand vision would be a mistake we would regret for generations," he writes.

Leon Aron in The Wall Street Journal on Putin's options After fraud in parliamentary elections incited protests in Russia, there are deep and significant changes ahead for Vladimir Putin's regime, leaving him with the question of what to do about the upcoming presidential election. "Not just his fate—political and, increasingly, personal—hinges on the choices he makes. So does the fate of the entire political and economic regime he's forged and honed in the past 12 years," Aron writes. He could proceed as planned, but anger among people makes it unlikely he'd succeed. He could allow an open election on the hopes that the opposition isn't organized, but allowing criticism of him would be a hard decision to rescind even after he won. Or he could take a middle road by postponing the presidential elections and allowing his party to lose big in parliamentary ones. American leaders should be cautious when they discuss the situation, because the Russian people pay attention. "Whatever unfolds in the months to come, assisting the emergence of [a peaceful prosperous] Russia should be the goal to which all other shorter-term policies should be attuned."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.