Five Best Friday Columns

On jobless youth, successful dictatorships, and blowing up the world

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Ronald Brownstein on America's Unemployed Youth and Permanently Working Seniors  "For every member of the millennial generation frustrated that she can't start a career, there may be a baby boomer frustrated that he can't end one," writes Ronald Brownstein at National Journal today. Younger Americans have historically made up more of the workforce than their older counterparts, but the limited job market alongside "the financial meltdown [that] vaporized the value of homes and 401(k) plans" has sharply reversed that trend. "In some ways, the change reflects positive trends. Compared with the first decades after World War II, fewer young people are working partly because more of them are in school," Brownstein notes. "And more seniors are working partly because rising education levels have allowed more of them to find satisfying careers they prefer to continue." Still, the majority of those still working over 55 don't really have a choice, as retirement funds are insufficient. "In the same way, the rapid recent decline in employment among young people hasn't been offset by a comensurate rise in college attendance." Brownstein points out that this share of young Americans neither working nor studying is poised to become the feared "lost generation." He insists that "the class of 1967, which is growing reflexively hostile to government spending, needs to realize the interests it shares with the class of 2011: Unless today's young people ascend into well-paying jobs, it won't be possible to finance Social Security and Medicare for tomorrow's seniors."

Bruce Bueno De Mesquita and Alastair Smith on Successful Dictatorships  Bruce Bueno De Mesquita and Alastair Smith, New York University Politics professors, explain in today's New York Times that the key to a successful despotic dictatorship lies in significant rewards to "a small group of loyal supporters, often composed of key military officers, senior civil servants and family members or clansmen," who then prevent the people from rebelling. To limit the risk of cronies allowing the opposition to rise or even defecting, "successful autocrats reward their cronies first, and the people last," they write. On the other hand, "three types of rulers are especially susceptible to desertion by their backers: new, decrepit and bankrupt leaders." Aging leaders and/or depleting funds lead to "the Russian and French revolutions and the collapse of communist rule in Eastern Europe." It's what toppled dictatorships of the Philippines, Zaire, Iran and, more recently, Tunisia and Egypt. The authors predict a similar fate for Syria's Bashar al-Assad, whose deficit is growing.
Elizabeth Kolbert on Tackling Global Warming  Elizabeth Kolbert notes that "as the President was consoling the bereaved Joplin," Missouri, his third visit last month to a tornado or flood-ravaged town, "residents in Vermont were bailing out from record high water levels around Lake Champlain; Texas was suffering from a near-record drought that could cost the state more than four billion dollars in agricultural losses; and officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were forecasting that the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, which formally began on June 1st, would once again be 'above normal.'" And, on top of all that, "the news from abroad was, if anything, more worrisome." Kolbert argues, at The New Yorker, that "if no particular flood or drought or storm can be directly attributed to climate change--there's always the possibility that any single event was just a random occurrence--the over-all trend toward more extreme weather follows from the heating of the earth." Despite a promising start, the hope that President Obama "might take his responsibility to lead on this issue seriously...has faded," she says, citing multiple policy compromises. While acknowledging that Obama is likely better on this issue than his opponents, Kolbert adds, "taking the steps that would reduce the risks of climate change is not going to be politically popular, which is why it is the President's obligation to press for them."
Matthew Kaminski on Turkey's Repressive Prime Minister  The Wall Street Journal's Matthew Kaminski spotlights Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His administration aims to rewrite the country's constitution and "to finish the makeover of Turkey by [2023], the centenial of the republic." But although, according to polls and turnout at his latest speech, about half of the country supports Erdogan, "few people in or out of the AKP will talk critically about him on the record these days. They say they're afraid," Kaminski points out. "Mr. Erdogan has a thin skin, suing or threatening countless critics in the media or business." His administration is filled with "'yes, prime minister' types," while critics and members of the opposition are routinely jailed or exiled, and minorities are hardly protected by law. "Mr. Erdogan showed courage in standing up to the military and implementing a vision to develop Turkey's economy, writes Kaminski. "But his recent behavior doesn't give much confidence that he can carry through a democratic revolution to the end."
Matthew Good on China's Aircraft Carrier  China is at work on its first aircraft carrier which, Canadian musician and Guardian contributor Matthew Good notes, "has some defence analysts concerned, but they'd be the sort that view any alteration in the current global status quo discomforting." Not only is "a single U.S. carrier strike group, at present, the most powerful military asset in the world," but we have 11 of them. That's "two more active carriers than the rest of the world combined." The power a single one of these holds, Good explains, "could--if fully unleashed--devastate most nations on earth." Still, he acknowledges, the Chinese do have at least one sub "capable of launching nuclear weapons" and suspected to be working on two more. But this artillery hardly holds a candle to the U.S.'s "288 nuclear warheads per boat, each possessing a maximum yield of 475 kilotonnes." Good muses, "What an amazing technological age we live in. We can't feed the world, but by God we can blow it up."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.