How to cope with a panic attack | Psyche Guides

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In the grip of a panic attack, the body produces three interconnected reactions: catastrophic thoughts (eg, I can’t breathe, I’m going to die); physical symptoms (eg, increased heart rate); and a powerful urge to escape. These reactions typically escalate in a self-perpetuating cycle – fearful thoughts increase the bodily symptoms, which fuels the fear, which drives the urge to escape.

The physiological changes associated with panic, such as a racing heart and sweaty palms, are driven by the fight-or-flight center in the brain stem, known technically as the ‘autonomic nervous system’ (ANS). The ANS has two components that are in constant opposition: the sympathetic nervous system, which gears you up to fight or flee via the release of adrenaline and other hormones, and the parasympathetic system, which calms the body and is more strongly activated when you are feeling relaxed.

The first way to break the panic cycle is to change how you interpret stress-related bodily symptoms, such as a racing heart and trembling hands, so that you restore balance to your ANS and allow the calming parasympathetic system to increase its influence. For some people, learning a little about the basic physiology of the fight-or-flight response is enough to help make their own reaction seem less scary, and thereby prevent a panic episode from escalating.

Source: How to cope with a panic attack | Psyche Guides

Shields of the Republic | Council on Foreign Relations

In Shields of the Republic, Mira Rapp-Hooper reveals the remarkable success of America’s unprecedented system of alliances. During the Cold War, a grand strategy focused on allied defense, deterrence, and assurance helped to keep the peace at far lower material and political costs than its critics allege. When the Soviet Union collapsed, however, the United States lost the adversary the system was designed to combat. Its alliances remained without a core strategic logic, leaving them newly vulnerable.

Today the alliance system is threatened from without and within. China and Russia seek to break the United States’ alliances through conflict and nonmilitary erosion. Meanwhile, U.S. politicians and voters are increasingly skeptical of alliances’ costs and benefits and believe the United States may be better off without them. But what if the alliance system is a victim of its own quiet success?

Source: Shields of the Republic | Council on Foreign Relations

The Retrenchment Syndrome | Foreign Affairs

A Response to “Come Home, America?”


In the decades after the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, the simplistic but widely held belief that the war had been unjustified and unwinnable gave way to “the Vietnam syndrome”—a conviction that the United States should avoid all military interventions abroad. The mantra of “no more Vietnams” dominated foreign policy, muting more concrete discussions of what should be learned from that experience. Instead, the analogy was applied indiscriminately; U.S. military operations in the Balkans, the Horn of Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East prompted assertions that the use of force would lead to “another Vietnam.” It was not until the United States won a lopsided victory over the military of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the 1990–91 Gulf War that President George H. W. Bush could declare that the United States had finally “kicked the Vietnam syndrome.”

Nearly three decades later, however, a new mantra of “ending endless wars” has emerged from frustrations over indecisive, protracted, and costly military interventions abroad. These frustrations have reproduced the Vietnam syndrome in a new guise: the Afghanistan-Iraq syndrome. Across the political spectrum, many Americans have come to believe that retrenchment would not only avoid the costs of military operations overseas but also improve U.S. security. They have found support for this belief in analyses like those that appeared in this magazine’s lead package for its March/April 2020 issue, titled “Come Home, America?

The authors of the articles in that package offered different variations on the retrenchment theme. But what some of the articles have in common is an appeal that reflects strong emotions rather than an accurate understanding of what went wrong in the wars that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Proponents of a U.S. withdrawal from its military commitments play to visceral feelings of war weariness and argue that the difficulties of those wars were the inevitable consequence of the United States’ misguided pursuit of armed domination. Some retrenchers depict U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War as a fool’s errand, impelled by a naive crusade to remake the world in the United States’ image. And although advocates of retrenchment often identify as realists, they subscribe to the romantic view that restraint abroad is almost always an unmitigated good. In fact, disengagement from competitions overseas would increase dangers to the United States; the paltry savings realized would be dwarfed by the eventual cost of responding to unchecked and undeterred threats to American security, prosperity, and influence.

In their critiques of the post-9/11 wars, retrenchers fail to acknowledge the hidden costs of their recommendations. Although a majority of Americans now agree that the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was a mistake, retrenchment advocates ignore the consequences of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011 and of the broader disengagement from the Middle East that accompanied it. Those steps ceded space to jihadi terrorists and Iranian proxies, thereby creating an ideal environment for the return of sectarian violence and the establishment of the self-declared caliphate of the Islamic State (or ISIS). The Obama administration made similar mistakes in Libya earlier in 2011, after pushing for a NATO air campaign that helped depose the dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi. Although it was determined to avoid the mistakes of the George W. Bush administration’s war in Iraq, the Obama administration paradoxically exceeded them, failing to shape Libya’s political environment in the wake of Qaddafi’s demise; nearly a decade later, the Libyan civil war rages on, and the country remains a source and a transit point for millions seeking escape from turmoil in northern Africa and the Sahel.

Retrenchers ignore the fact that the risks and costs of inaction are sometimes higher than those of engagement. In August 2013, the Syrian regime used poison gas to kill more than 1,400 innocent civilians, including hundreds of children. Despite U.S. President Barack Obama’s declaration in 2012 that the use of these heinous weapons to murder civilians would cross a redline, the United States did not respond with military force. U.S. inaction enabled the regime’s brutality, emboldening Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian and Russian supporters to intensify their mass homicide. In 2017–18, U.S. President Donald Trump finally enforced the Obama administration’s redline, retaliating against the use of chemical weapons by Assad with strikes against the Syrian military. But Trump’s decision in 2019 to withdraw U.S. forces from eastern Syria complicated efforts to eliminate ISIS and bolstered the influence of Assad and his sponsors in an area whose control would give them a significant advantage in the war. Almost nine years since the Syrian civil war began, a humanitarian catastrophe continues in Idlib Province, which, at the end of 2019, generated over a million more refugees, many of whom succumbed to extreme cold or the novel coronavirus.

Despite evidence that U.S. disengagement can make a bad situation worse, retrenchers have pushed for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. The agreement signed between the United States and the Taliban in February 2020 will allow the Taliban, al Qaeda, and various other jihadi terrorists to claim victory, recruit more young people to their cause, gain control of more territory, and inflict suffering through the imposition of draconian sharia. Just as the Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIS generated a refugee crisis that reached into Europe, the establishment of an Islamic emirate in a large portion of Afghanistan would generate another wave of refugees and further destabilize Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of over 220 million people. Terrorist organizations that already enjoy safe haven in the Afghan-Pakistani border region will increase their profits from illicit activities such as the narcotics trade and apply those resources to intensify and expand their murderous campaigns. Retrenchers do not acknowledge that U.S. withdrawal often leaves a vacuum that enemies and adversaries are eager to fill.

Retrenchment advocates are relatively unconcerned about enemies gaining strength overseas because they assume that the United States’ geographic blessings—including its natural resources and the vast oceans that separate it from the rest of the world—will keep Americans safe. But in today’s interconnected world, threats from transnational terrorists (or viruses, for that matter) do not remain confined to particular regions. The humanitarian, security, and political consequences of the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen have reached well beyond the Middle East and South Asia. Just as China’s concealment of the coronavirus forestalled actions that might have prevented a global catastrophe, the United States’ withdrawal of support for its partners on the frontlines against jihadi terrorists could generate staggering costs if the terrorists succeed in penetrating U.S. borders as they did on September 11, 2001. And a reduction of U.S. support for allies and partners along the frontiers of hostile states, such as Iran and North Korea, or revisionist powers, such as China and Russia, could result in a shift in the balance of power and influence away from the United States. Retrenchment could also result in a failure to deter aggression and prevent a disastrous war.

Retrenchers also overlook the trend that the security associated with the United States’ geographic advantages has been diminishing. In 1960, the historian C. Vann Woodward observed that technologies such as the conventional aircraft, jet propulsion, the ballistic missile, and the atomic-powered submarine marked “the end of the era of free security.” Those technologies overtook “Americans so suddenly and swiftly that they have not brought themselves to face its practical implications.” Retrenchers are out of step with history and way behind the times.

Even the most compelling arguments for sustained engagement overseas are unlikely to convince hardcore retrenchers, because they believe that an overly powerful United States is the principal cause of the world’s problems. Their pleas for disengagement are profoundly narcissistic, as they perceive geopolitical actors only in relation to the United States. In their view, other actors—whether friends or foes—possess no aspirations and no agency, except in reaction to U.S. policies and actions. Retrenchers ignore the fact that sometimes wars choose you rather than the other way around: only after the most devastating terrorist attack in history did the United States invade Afghanistan.

In the “Come Home, America?” package, Jennifer Lind and Daryl Press argue in “Reality Check” that abandoning what they describe as Washington’s pursuit of primacy would quell China and Russia while providing opportunities for cooperation on issues of climate change, terrorism, and nuclear proliferation. And in “The Price of Primacy,” Stephen Wertheim asserts that a less threatening United States could “transform globalization into a governable and sustainable force” and bring about a reduction in jihadi terrorism, a less aggressive China, a curtailment of Russian interference, the cessation of Iran’s proxy wars, the termination of North Korea’s threat to U.S. and regional security and human rights, and even progress against the threat from climate change.

If these promises seem too good to be true, it’s because they are. Retrenchment hard-liners are confident in such claims because they assume that the United States has preponderant control over future global security and prosperity. In reality, adversaries have the power to act based on their own aspirations and goals: American behavior did not cause jihadi terrorism, Chinese economic aggression, Russian political subversion, or the hostility of Iran and North Korea. And U.S. disengagement would not attenuate those challenges or make them easier to overcome.

The movement in favor of retrenchment is in part a reaction to the overoptimism that animated U.S. foreign policy in the 1990s. When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended, some thinkers and policymakers assumed that the process of democratization that was unfolding in eastern Europe would be replicable in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. But they failed to give due consideration to local contexts and to political, social, cultural, and religious dynamics that make liberal democracy and the rule of law hard to reach. Similarly, after the United States’ lopsided military victory in the Gulf War, some assumed that future wars could be won quickly and decisively because U.S. technology had produced a “revolution in military affairs.” But this presumption ignored continuities in the nature of war, such as the enemy’s say in a war’s course of events and its political, human, and psychological complexities. Excessive optimism soon grew into hubris, setting the United States up for unanticipated difficulties in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The best antidote to such overconfidence, however, is not the excessive pessimism offered by retrenchers. Policymakers should instead adopt what the historian Zachary Shore calls “strategic empathy”: an understanding of the ideology, emotions, and aspirations that drive and constrain other actors. Strategic empathy might help at least some advocates of retrenchment qualify their adamant opposition to democracy promotion and human rights advocacy abroad and might allow them to accept that the United States cannot determine, but can influence, the evolution of a world in which free and open societies flourish. In recent years, protests against authoritarian rule and corruption have flared up all over the world. In Baghdad, Beirut, Caracas, Hong Kong, Khartoum, Moscow, and Tehran, people have made clear that they want a say in how they are governed. Support for those who strive for freedom is in the United States’ interest, because a world in which liberty, democracy, and the rule of law are strengthened will be safer and more prosperous. Disengagement from competitions overseas would cede influence to others, such as the Chinese Communist Party, which is already redoubling efforts to promote its authoritarian model. Retrenchment may hold emotional appeal for Americans tired of protracted military commitments abroad, but blind adherence to an orthodoxy based on emotion rather than reason would make Americans less safe and put the United States further in the red.

Source: The Retrenchment Syndrome | Foreign Affairs

Why it’s time to take alternatives to dark matter seriously | Aeon Essays


Over the past half century, no one has ever directly detected a single particle of dark matter. Over and over again, dark matter has resisted being pinned down, like a fleeting shadow in the woods. Every time physicists have searched for dark matter particles with powerful and sensitive experiments in abandoned mines and in Antarctica, and whenever they’ve tried to produce them in particle accelerators, they’ve come back empty-handed.

For a while, physicists hoped to find a theoretical type of matter called weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs), but searches for them have repeatedly turned up nothing.

Source: Why it’s time to take alternatives to dark matter seriously | Aeon Essays

The Progressive Case Against Protectionism | Foreign Affairs

How Trade and Immigration Help American Workers


It has almost become the new Washington consensus: decades of growing economic openness have hurt American workers, increased inequality, and gutted the middle class, and new restrictions on trade and immigration can work to reverse the damage. This view is a near reversal of the bipartisan consensus in favor of openness to the world that defined U.S. economic policy for decades. From the end of World War II on, under both Democratic and Republican control, Congress and the White House consistently favored free trade and relatively unrestrictive immigration policies. Candidates would make protectionist noises to appease various constituencies from time to time, but by and large, such rhetoric was confined to the margins. Almost never did it translate into actual policy.

Then came the 2016 presidential election. Donald Trump found a wide audience when he identified the chief enemy of the American worker as foreigners: trading partners that had struck disastrous trade agreements with Washington and immigrants who were taking jobs from native-born Americans. Everyday workers, Trump alleged, had been let down by a political class beholden to globalist economic ideas. In office, he has followed through on his nationalist agenda, withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and routinely levying higher tariffs on trading partners. On immigration, he has implemented draconian policies against asylum seekers at the border and undocumented immigrants within the United States, as well as reducing quotas for legal immigrants and slowing down the processing of their applications.

But Trump has not been alone in his battle against economic openness. During the 2016 campaign, he was joined in his calls for protectionism by the Democratic primary candidate Bernie Sanders, who also blamed bad trade agreements for the plight of the American worker. Even the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, who as secretary of state had championed the TPP, was forced by political necessity to abandon her earlier support for the agreement. Democrats have not, fortunately, mimicked Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, but when it comes to free trade, their support has often been lukewarm at best. While some Democrats have criticized Trump’s counterproductive tariffs and disruptive trade wars, many of them hesitate when asked if they would repudiate the administration’s trade policies, especially with respect to China. The political winds have shifted; now, it seems as if those who purport to sympathize with workers and stand up for the middle class must also question the merits of economic openness.

American workers have indeed been left behind, but open economic policies remain in their best interest: by reducing prices for consumers and companies, free trade helps workers more than it hurts them, and by creating jobs, offering complementary skills, and paying taxes, so do immigrants. Instead of hawking discredited nationalist economic ideas, politicians seeking to improve Americans’ economic lot—especially progressives focused on reducing inequality and rebuilding the middle class—should be looking to domestic policy to address workers’ needs, while also improving trade agreements and increasing immigration. That, not tariffs and walls, is what it will take to improve the plight of regular Americans.

Forty years of widening inequality and slow wage growth have left many Americans searching for answers. It may be tempting, then, to blame the United States’ trading partners, many of which have experienced remarkable jumps in GDP and wages. China, perhaps the most spectacular example, saw its GDP per capita expand more than 22-fold from 1980 to 2018—in terms of 2010 U.S. dollars, from $350 to $7,750. Yet during the same period, U.S. GDP per capita grew from $28,600 to $54,500. That’s less in relative terms—advanced economies usually grow more slowly than poor ones—but far more in absolute terms, and enough to significantly boost standards of living.

The problem, however, is that the gains have not been evenly shared. Adjusted for inflation, the average income of the bottom 50 percent of earners stayed nearly flat between 1980 and 2014. For those in the 50th to 90th percentiles, it grew by about 40 percent, lagging far behind expectations based on the experience of prior generations. Among the top one percent, meanwhile, average income has skyrocketed, ballooning by 205 percent over the same period. No wonder so many Americans are disappointed. The U.S. economy has failed to achieve its most basic aim: generating inclusive growth.

Trade does deserve some of the blame. When the United States buys goods from labor-abundant countries such as China and India, the demand for domestic labor falls. This appears to be what happened after the big surge in Chinese imports to the United States in the early years of this century. In a series of oft-cited research papers about “the China shock,” the economists David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon Hanson estimated that trade with China may have displaced the jobs of one million to two million Americans during this period. But it’s important to keep those numbers in perspective. The U.S. economy is a dynamic place, with more than six million jobs lost and created every single quarter. Moreover, the share of Americans working in manufacturing has been declining steadily since 1950, even as growth in trade has waxed and waned—suggesting that factors other than trade are also at play.

Indeed, the U.S. economy has experienced other huge changes. Workers have lost bargaining power as unionization has declined (from 30 percent of the labor force in 1960 to less than 11 percent today) and large companies have steadily increased their market power (corporate profits as a share of GDP are 50 percent higher than they were in prior decades). Perhaps most important, technology has disrupted countless industries and lowered the demand for less educated labor. Most economists believe that technological change is a far more important factor than international trade in explaining the disappointing outcomes in American labor markets. Across all industries, the returns to education have increased, as less educated workers are disproportionately displaced by automation and computerization. And although manufacturing output continues to rise, manufacturing employment has fallen, as capital takes the place of labor and workers steadily move into the service industry. Yet in spite of all this evidence about the effects of technological change, politicians still point fingers at foreigners.

Critics of trade on both the left and the right contend that much of the problem has to do with bad trade deals that Washington has struck. On the left, the concern is that trade agreements have prioritized the interests of corporations over those of workers. On the right, it is that trade agreements have focused on the goal of international cooperation at the expense of U.S. interests. Trump has argued that U.S. trade deals have been tilted against the United States, contributing to the large trade deficit (meaning that the country imports more than it exports) and hollowing out the manufacturing sector. Sanders has echoed these concerns in the past, for example, claiming that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) cost 43,000 jobs in Michigan and is behind Detroit’s urban decline.

Critics of trade on both the left and the right contend that much of the problem has to do with bad trade deals that Washington has struck. On the left, the concern is that trade agreements have prioritized the interests of corporations over those of workers. On the right, it is that trade agreements have focused on the goal of international cooperation at the expense of U.S. interests. Trump has argued that U.S. trade deals have been tilted against the United States, contributing to the large trade deficit (meaning that the country imports more than it exports) and hollowing out the manufacturing sector. Sanders has echoed these concerns in the past, for example, claiming that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) cost 43,000 jobs in Michigan and is behind Detroit’s urban decline.

This is not to say that trade agreements cannot be improved; useful tweaks could counter the excessive prioritization of intellectual property and reduce the reach of the mechanism by which investors and states resolve disputes, which critics allege gives companies too much power to fight health and environmental regulations. The TPP attempted to modernize NAFTA by placing a greater emphasis on the rights of workers and protecting the environment, and future agreements could go even further.

That said, it is easy to overstate the stakes here. Even ideal trade agreements would do little to address economic inequality and wage stagnation, because trade agreements themselves have little to do with those problems. Compared with other factors—the growth of trade in general, technological change, the decline of unionization, and so on—the details of trade agreements are nearly inconsequential. In fact, in the late 1990s, just after the adoption of NAFTA, the United States saw some of the strongest wage growth in four decades. As studies by researchers at the Congressional Research Service and the Peterson Institute for International Economics have shown, any disruption to the labor market caused by NAFTA was dwarfed by other considerations, especially technological change. And even when trade has cost jobs, as with the China shock, the effect did not depend on the particulars of any trade deal. There was and is no U.S. trade agreement with China, just the “most favored nation” status the country was granted when it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001—a status that it would have been hard to deny China, given the country’s massive and growing economy. What really mattered was the mere fact of China’s emergence as an economic powerhouse.

Critics of trade are also dead wrong when they argue that U.S. agreements have expanded the trade deficit. In fact, it’s the result of borrowing. As economists have long understood, trade deficits emerge whenever a country spends more than it earns, and trade surpluses arise whenever a country earns more than it spends. Trade deficits and surpluses are simply the flip side of international borrowing and lending. Some countries, such as the United States, are borrowers. They consume more of others’ goods than they send abroad, and they pay the difference in IOUs (which take the form of foreign investment in U.S. stocks, bonds, and real estate). Other countries, such as Germany, are lenders. They loan money abroad, accruing foreign assets, but receive less in imports than they send in exports. Which country is getting the better end of the deal? It is hard to say. U.S. households enjoy consuming more now, but they will eventually have to repay the debt; German households get returns on their investments abroad, but they forgo consumption in the present.

What this means is that if policymakers wish to reduce the U.S. trade deficit—and for now, it is not alarmingly large—they should reduce borrowing, which they can accomplish by shrinking the budget deficit. Instead, policymakers are moving in the opposite direction: the budget deficit has swelled in recent years, especially after the 2017 tax cuts. The new U.S. tariffs, meanwhile, have done nothing to improve the trade deficit. That came as no surprise to economists.

As easily debunked as these myths about trade are, they clearly have a powerful hold on policymakers. That is troubling not merely for what it reflects about the state of public discourse; it also has profound real-world implications. As they lambast trade, politicians are increasingly reaching for protectionist policies. Yet for American workers, such measures only add insult to injury, making their lives even more precarious. They do so in four distinct ways.

First and foremost, tariffs act as regressive taxes on consumption. Although the Trump administration likes to claim that foreigners pay the price of tariffs, in truth, the costs are passed along to consumers, who must pay more for the imports they buy. (By this past spring, the cost of the trade war that began in 2018 exceeded $400 per year for the average U.S. household.) Beyond that, tariffs fall disproportionately on the poor, both because the poor consume more of their income and because a higher share of their spending goes to heavily tariffed products, such as food and clothing. That is one reason why progressives in the early twentieth century, outraged by the inequality of the Gilded Age, pushed for moving away from tariffs and toward a federal income tax: it was widely recognized that tariffs largely spared the rich at the expense of the poor. Now, the reverse is happening. After having championed tax cuts that disproportionately benefited well-off Americans, the administration has tried to collect more revenue from regressive taxes on trade.

Second, tariffs and trade wars wreak havoc in U.S. labor markets by raising costs for American companies. Many large U.S. manufacturers are heavily dependent on imports. Boeing is a top U.S. exporter, but it is also a major importer, relying on crucial parts from around the world. General Motors now pays over $1 billion in annual tariffs, no doubt one factor behind the company’s recent decision to shutter a plant in Ohio. When tariffs interrupt global supply chains, they disadvantage U.S. companies relative to foreign ones. If the goal is to make the United States a more internationally competitive place to locate jobs and direct investment, protectionism is a completely backward approach.

Third, trading partners do not sit on their hands when Washington raises tariffs on their products. Already, the Chinese, the Indians, and the Europeans have slapped serious retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods. The victims of these measures include soybean farmers in Iowa and Minnesota (who have lost market share to Canada as Chinese buyers look elsewhere) and whiskey distillers in Kentucky and Tennessee (who have seen their exports to Europe and elsewhere plummet).

Finally, trade wars harm the global economy and U.S. trading partners, weakening Washington’s network of alliances and jeopardizing the cooperation required to deal with pressing international problems. Recent meetings of the G-7 and the G-20 have been dominated by discussions aimed at diffusing trade conflicts, distracting precious diplomatic attention from climate change and nuclear nonproliferation. It is easy to take peace and international cooperation for granted, but they are prerequisites for the success of the U.S. economy in the decades ahead. The world is witnessing another rise in economic nationalism, which makes it easy for politicians and publics to embrace nationalist tendencies in other spheres. It is worth remembering that after the last era of globalization came to a halt, what followed was the Great Depression and World War II.

Protectionism is harmful for most American workers, but even more destructive are policies that make the United States less welcoming to immigrants. Setting aside the Trump administration’s actions against refugees and the undocumented—a serious moral stain on the country—its efforts to limit immigration are also economically harmful.

Immigration has long been an enormous boon for the U.S. economy. Study after study has shown that it is good for economic growth, innovation, entrepreneurship, and job creation and that almost all economic classes within the United States benefit from it. Even though only 14 percent of the current U.S. population is foreign-born, immigrants create a disproportionate number of businesses. Fifty-five percent of the United States’ $1 billion startups were founded or co-founded by immigrants, and more than 40 percent of the Fortune 500 companies were founded or co-founded by immigrants or their children. In recent decades, immigrants have accounted for more than 50 percent of the U.S.-affiliated academics who have won Nobel Prizes in scientific fields.

Immigrants also provide countless skills that complement those of native-born American workers. Highly educated foreigners with technological skills (such as computer programmers) make up for persistent shortages in the U.S. high-tech sector, and they complement native-born workers who have more cultural fluency or communication skills. Less skilled immigrants also fill labor shortages in areas such as agriculture and eldercare, where it is often difficult to find native-born workers willing to take jobs.

There is little evidence that immigration lowers the wages of most native-born workers, although there is some limited evidence that it may cut into the wages or hours of two groups: high school dropouts and prior waves of immigrants. In the case of high school dropouts, however, there are far better ways to help them (such as strengthening the educational system) than restricting immigration. As for prior waves of immigrants, given how substantial their economic gains from migration are—often, they earn large multiples of what they would have made back home—it’s hard to justify their subsequent slower wage growth as a policy concern.

Immigrants have another economic benefit: they relieve demographic pressures on public budgets. In many rich countries, population growth has slowed to such an extent that the government’s fiscal burden of caring for the elderly is enormous. In Japan, there are eight retired people for every ten workers; in Italy, there are five retirees for every ten workers. In the United States and Canada, although the budget pressures of an aging population remain, higher immigration levels contribute to a healthier ratio of three retirees for every ten workers. It also helps that recent immigrants have above-average fertility rates.

Many objections to immigration are cultural in nature, and these, too, have little grounding in reality. There is no evidence that immigrants, even undocumented ones, increase crime rates. Nor is there evidence that they refuse to integrate; in fact, they are assimilating faster than previous generations of immigrants did.

Given the many benefits from immigration, greater restrictions on it pose several threats to American workers. Already, the United States is beginning to lose foreign talent, which will hurt economic growth. For two years straight, the number of foreign students studying in U.S. universities has fallen, which is a particular shame since these students disproportionately study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—areas in which the country faces large skills shortages. Encouraging such students to stay in the country after graduation would help the United States maintain its edge in innovation and promote economic growth. Instead, the Trump administration is discouraging foreign students with visa delays and a constant stream of nationalist rhetoric. Restricting immigration also harms the economy in other ways. It keeps out job creators and people whose skills complement those of native-born workers. And it increases the pressure on the budget, since restrictions will lead to a higher ratio of retirees to workers.

A more sensible immigration policy would make it easier for foreign students to stay in the United States after graduation, admit more immigrants through lotteries, accept more refugees, and provide a compassionate path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. Promoting U.S. interests means more immigration, not less.

While reducing trade and immigration damages the prospects of American workers, free trade and increased immigration are not enough to ensure their prosperity. Indeed, despite decades of relative openness to trade and immigration, wages remain stagnant and inequality high. This has dire implications. As the economist Heather Boushey has argued, inequality undermines the U.S. economy by inhibiting competition and stifling the supply of talent and ideas. Unmet economic expectations also fuel voter discontent and political polarization, making it easy to blame outsiders and embrace counterproductive policies. For the sake of both the country’s economy and its politics, economic growth needs to be much more inclusive.

To achieve that, the United States needs, above all, a tax system that ensures that economic prosperity lifts all boats. The Earned Income Tax Credit is a powerful tool in that regard. A credit targeted at lower-income workers that grows as those workers earn more, the EITC subsidizes their work, making each hour of it more lucrative. This credit should be expanded in size, it should reach further up the income distribution, and it should be made more generous for childless workers—changes that would particularly benefit those lower- and middle-class Americans who have seen their wages stagnate in recent decades. This policy would work well alongside an increase in the federal minimum wage, which would help combat the increased market power of employers relative to employees.

Beyond these steps, the federal government should set up a wage insurance program, which could make up some of the difference in lower wages for workers who have been displaced by foreign competition, technological change, domestic competition, natural disasters, or other forces. The federal government should also make greater investments in infrastructure, education, and research, all of which would benefit workers by increasing their productivity and thus their incomes. And it should strengthen the safety net, making improved health-care access and affordability a top priority.

None of this will be cheap, of course. To raise revenue, the U.S. tax system needs to be modernized. For corporations, Congress should curb international tax avoidance, closing loopholes and reforming minimum taxes so as to raise government revenues without chasing profits offshore. Congress should also strengthen individual and estate taxation, and it can do so without resorting to extreme rates. For the income tax, it can cap or end various deductions and preferences; for the estate tax, it can raise rates and reduce exceptions. And it can beef up enforcement of both. Congress should also enact a long-overdue carbon tax. Coupled with the other policies, a carbon tax could raise substantial revenue without harming poor and middle-class Americans, and it would fight climate change.

Finally, policymakers need to reckon with corporations’ growing market power. They should modernize antitrust laws to put more emphasis on labor and modernize labor laws to suit the nature of work today, making sure that they adequately protect those in the service sector and those in the gig economy. Although large companies are often good for consumers, their market power narrows the share of the economy that ends up in the hands of workers. So the balance of power between companies and their workers needs to be recalibrated from both ends: policies should empower labor movements and combat companies’ abuses of market power.

In the end, global markets have many wonderful benefits, but they need to be accompanied by strong domestic policies to ensure that the benefits of international trade (as well as technological change and other forces) are felt by all. Otherwise, economic discontent festers, empowering nationalist politicians who offer easy answers and peddle wrong-headed policies.

American workers have every reason to expect more from the economy, but restrictions on trade and immigration ultimately damage their interests. What those who care about reducing inequality and helping workers must realize, then, is that protectionism and nativism set back their cause. Not only do these policies have direct negative effects; they also distract from more effective policies that go straight to the problem at hand. On both sides of the aisle, it’s time for politicians to stop vilifying outsiders and focus instead on policies that actually solve the very real problems afflicting so many Americans.

Source: The Progressive Case Against Protectionism | Foreign Affairs

Now Who’s Weak on China? Bolton Paints Trump as Ignorant and Servile | Defense One


The president’s former national security advisor, long considered as tough on China, Russia, and Iran as any table-thumping far-right pundit could want, portrays Trump in his dealings with China’s President Xi as ignorant, unskilled, tactless, fawning, insensitive, and interested in only one thing: saving his own ass this November. For example, Bolton writes, Trump asked Xi to buy more American agricultural products to help himself look good at home and win reelection.

Small wonder that the Trump administration is trying desperately and with court action by the Justice Department to prevent the book’s scheduled release on June 23.

Source: Now Who’s Weak on China? Bolton Paints Trump as Ignorant and Servile – Defense One

Six experts on how we’ll live, work, and play in cities after COVID-19


For the first time in history, everyone around the world is recognizing how the indoor environment influences our health. Right now, the focus will be on infectious disease, as it should be. But I think it will morph into a conversation about “what else is happening in this building?” And “how does this building promote my health, the acoustics, the lighting, the chemicals in the furniture I’m sitting on?”

We’ve been in a “sick building” era since our decisions around ventilation in the ’70s in response to the energy crisis, where we started to tighten up our building envelopes and choke off the air supply.

We need to increase the amount of air that’s coming in to dilute airborne contaminants. Schools are chronically under-ventilated. Most buildings are meeting this bare minimum ventilation standard. That needs to change.

Source: Six experts on how we’ll live, work, and play in cities after COVID-19

George Floyd Moves the World | Foreign Affairs


The killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer has thrust the United States into an uncomfortable light, as people around the world have taken to the streets to decry American racism. In Milan, protesters sat with hands around their necks in front of “I can’t breathe” signs, quoting Floyd’s dying words. The phrase was spelled out in candles in Australia. In Dublin, a large crowd, fists in the air, chanted, “No justice, no peace.” Syrians painted a mural of Floyd amid the rubble in Idlib. Black people across the world, said Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, were “shocked and distraught” by Floyd’s killing.

In many places, crowds turned their attention to practices by their own countries. In New Zealand, indigenous people stressed their vulnerability to racial profiling. In Bristol, England, protesters toppled the statue of Edward Colston, a prominent slave trader, and threw it into the harbor. In Belgium, protesters set fire to a statue of King Leopold II. The reaction went beyond a rebuke of racial injustice when Minneapolis police shot foreign reporters with “nonlethal” weapons, leading to criticism from foreign governments about the importance of press freedom.

The global impact of the Black Lives Matter movement in recent weeks has felt like a shift “as monumental as the Berlin Wall coming down,” wrote the journalist Kim Zetter. But stunning as the reaction was, it was not unfamiliar: global demonstrations in solidarity with American racial protest were common during the U.S. civil rights movement. And as they did then, U.S. foreign policy leaders today have looked at the global response and considered the effect of the crisis on U.S. foreign relations—worrying that the protests and violent police response, coming on top of the United States’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn, threaten to undermine American strength in the world. As Richard Haass wrote for Foreign Affairs last week, “The turmoil in the United States, set before the eyes of the world, raises questions about American power.” This message echoes the concern of American diplomats from the civil rights era: failing to live up to the nation’s stated ideals undermines its international influence.

During the civil rights movement, concern over the impact U.S. racism had on the nation’s global image helped reinforce pressure for reforms, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The focus on how the United States was perceived, however, rather than deeper structures of inequality, ultimately limited reform efforts. Race discrimination remained an American feature, undermining rights at home and leaving the United States persistently vulnerable to the charge that its promotion of democracy and human rights abroad was hypocritical.

In 1963, an earlier generation marched around the world in support of racial justice in the United States. That May, police in Birmingham, Alabama, pummeled black high school students who were peacefully marching into the city to protest race discrimination. Shocking photographs of children plastered by fire hoses against buildings and threatened by snarling police dogs appeared in newspapers around the world, reinforcing global criticism of American racism.

Although some reactions reflected Cold War–era geopolitics, condemnation was nearly universal. Both U.S. allies and U.S. adversaries insisted that the United States could not be an effective world leader if it failed to protect the democratic rights of its own citizens. American diplomats in foreign posts cabled Washington about the global outrage and its palpable impact on public opinion.

These events coincided with the very first meeting of the Organization of African Unity. Leaders of newly independent African nations departed from their other business to debate how to react and whether U.S. racial violence was a reason for OAU nations to break relations with Washington. Backing off from a break, they passed a weaker resolution condemning American racism (which the African Union Commission reaffirmed after George Floyd’s murder). But it was enough to make clear that violent attacks on civil rights protesters were a foreign relations problem as well as a matter of domestic justice.

As the civil rights movement kept American injustice in the public eye, aides to President John F. Kennedy argued that progress on civil rights was essential to achieving the administration’s foreign policy goals. The president called on Congress to pass landmark civil rights legislation. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, in Senate testimony on legislation, stressed that the impact of racism on U.S. foreign relations was “very grave.” For many foreign policy leaders, civil rights reform was essential to protect the nation’s image in the Cold War competition for the hearts and minds of peoples in newly independent nations.

The Kennedy administration was wary when hundreds of thousands of people planned to march on Washington that August in support of the Civil Rights Act and broader social change. But the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) tried to ensure that the “right” message about the march was heard around the world. In U.S. propaganda, the march was a symbol of progress, an example of black American political participation, and the realization of American democratic ideals.

U.S. government information programs could not, however, contain the meaning of the march as it quickly became a global event. James Baldwin and other black Americans in Paris planned a petition drive in support of the march. Along with the musicians Hazel Scott, Memphis Slim, Mezz Mezzrow, Mae Mercer, and some hundred others, they walked from the American Church in Paris to the U.S. embassy to deliver a scroll of signatures in support of the March on Washington a week before the event. Baldwin then joined 200,000 others on August 28 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Like today’s Black Lives Matter protests, the March on Washington spawned solidarity marches in many countries. Over 1,200 marched on the U.S. consulate in Amsterdam. The mayor of Kingston, Jamaica, led 2,500 demonstrators. These actions were not all celebratory. A small, informal group protested at the U.S. embassy in Ghana carrying signs with slogans like “America, Africa Is Watching You” and “Stop Genocide in America and South Africa.”

The U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, expected a crowd of critical demonstrators. Officials planned together with local police, who took precautions, the counselor for political affairs reported, “not only to see that the ‘demonstration’ stayed entirely within peaceful bounds but even more to reduce the whole affair to minimal proportions.” About 200 police were stationed around the embassy. The show of force had the intended effect: only 13 protesters showed up, which pleased the embassy. They wore signs with slogans like “Remember Negroes Also Built America,” “Down With the Ku Klux Klan,” and “Medgar Evers Did Not Die in Vain,” referring to the murdered civil rights leader. Police allowed just two protesters to approach the embassy to deliver a petition from African liberation groups. American racism “fills us with anger,” the petition said, for the United States promoted freedom and democracy, “but these have only been on paper and never practiced.”

At the March on Washington itself, Martin Luther King, Jr., not only spoke upliftingly of the “dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” He also emphasized the “bad check” the country gave its black citizens in a nation “still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.” U.S. information programming tried to soften the edges of the march, spinning it as an example of democracy in action.

But facts on the ground continually hampered U.S. government efforts to shape the story for foreign audiences. Just over two weeks after the March on Washington, a bomb exploded in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four young black girls. The international press condemned the “slaughter of innocents,” and U.S. embassies were flooded with petitions. A Nigerian government leader sent a check to the families and objected to the “increasing brutalities and bestialities” that black Americans suffered. The bombing erased the positive impact of the march on world opinion. In Cameroon, a government official invited to a screening of a USIA film on the March on Washington asked: “Don’t you have a film of the church dynamiting, too?”

Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which barred race discrimination by private employers and by federal fund recipients such as universities, was an important step forward—one celebrated by the foreign press and touted by the USIA and Voice of America as evidence that the United States protected rights of nonwhite peoples and that democracy was superior to Soviet communism. Yet racist attacks continued, and protests consumed American cities in the aftermath of King’s assassination in 1968. Racism remained endemic, even if formal legal change made American propaganda easier to write.

By the end of the decade, race discrimination was less frequently at the top of foreign press highlights in presidential daily briefings. This was not because the problems were solved, however. There was simply a new focus of foreign criticism: the U.S. war in Vietnam.

Although the impact of American racism on the nation’s diplomacy was widely recognized during the Cold War, most officials and foreign policy elites regarded discrimination as an aberration, a temporary failing of an inherently just system of government that would gradually be overcome. Changes from slavery to freedom appeared to be evidence of “progress,” and the story in public diplomacy programming was that democracy had made this racial progress possible. The persistence of U.S. racism—evidenced most recently by the nonchalance of Officer Derek Chauvin, hands in his pockets with his knee on Floyd’s neck as he died—eviscerates this hopeful narrative.

The racism crisis in the United States today is not one slip among others that makes the nation look weak in the eyes of the world. Racism is a central and enduring American characteristic, as the critical race theorist Derrick Bell insisted long ago. Calling it out, as have millions of Americans in the past week, does not undermine the nation by revealing its well-known failings to the rest of the world. The world has known of these failings for centuries. Instead, the protests are a first step toward redress. As other nations are challenged about their own legacies of injustice, a serious U.S. reform effort could be an example of strength worth emulating.

Source: George Floyd Moves the World | Foreign Affairs

Francis Fukuyama on the Pandemic and Political Order


Major crises have major consequences, usually unforeseen. The Great Depression spurred isolationism, nationalism, fascism, and World War II—but also led to the New Deal, the rise of the United States as a global superpower, and eventually decolonization. The 9/11 attacks produced two failed American interventions, the rise of Iran, and new forms of Islamic radicalism. The 2008 financial crisis generated a surge in antiestablishment populism that replaced leaders across the globe. Future historians will trace comparably large effects to the current coronavirus pandemic; the challenge is figuring them out ahead of time.

It is already clear why some countries have done better than others in dealing with the crisis so far, and there is every reason to think those trends will continue. It is not a matter of regime type. Some democracies have performed well, but others have not, and the same is true for autocracies. The factors responsible for successful pandemic responses have been state capacity, social trust, and leadership. Countries with all three—a competent state apparatus, a government that citizens trust and listen to, and effective leaders—have performed impressively, limiting the damage they have suffered. Countries with dysfunctional states, polarized societies, or poor leadership have done badly, leaving their citizens and economies exposed and vulnerable.

The more that is learned about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the more it seems the crisis will be protracted, measured in years rather than quarters. The virus appears less deadly than feared, but very contagious and often transmitted asymptomatically. Ebola is highly lethal but hard to catch; victims die quickly, before they can pass it on. COVID-19 is the opposite, which means that people tend not to take it as seriously as they should, and so it has, and will continue to, spread widely across the globe, causing vast numbers of deaths. There will be no moment when countries will be able to declare victory over the disease; rather, economies will open up slowly and tentatively, with progress slowed by subsequent waves of infections. Hopes for a V-shaped recovery appear wildly optimistic. More likely is an L with a long tail curving upward or a series of Ws. The world economy will not go back to anything like its pre-COVID state anytime soon.

The more that is learned about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the more it seems the crisis will be protracted, measured in years rather than quarters. The virus appears less deadly than feared, but very contagious and often transmitted asymptomatically. Ebola is highly lethal but hard to catch; victims die quickly, before they can pass it on. COVID-19 is the opposite, which means that people tend not to take it as seriously as they should, and so it has, and will continue to, spread widely across the globe, causing vast numbers of deaths. There will be no moment when countries will be able to declare victory over the disease; rather, economies will open up slowly and tentatively, with progress slowed by subsequent waves of infections. Hopes for a V-shaped recovery appear wildly optimistic. More likely is an L with a long tail curving upward or a series of Ws. The world economy will not go back to anything like its pre-COVID state anytime soon.

The political consequences could be even more significant. Populations can be summoned to heroic acts of collective self-sacrifice for a while, but not forever. A lingering epidemic combined with deep job losses, a prolonged recession, and an unprecedented debt burden will inevitably create tensions that turn into a political backlash—but against whom is as yet unclear.

The global distribution of power will continue to shift eastward, since East Asia has done better at managing the situation than Europe or the United States. Even though the pandemic originated in China and Beijing initially covered it up and allowed it to spread, China will benefit from the crisis, at least in relative terms. As it happened, other governments at first performed poorly and tried to cover it up, too, more visibly and with even deadlier consequences for their citizens. And at least Beijing has been able to regain control of the situation and is moving on to the next challenge, getting its economy back up to speed quickly and sustainably.

The United States, in contrast, has bungled its response badly and seen its prestige slip enormously. The country has vast potential state capacity and had built an impressive track record over previous epidemiological crises, but its current highly polarized society and incompetent leader blocked the state from functioning effectively. The president stoked division rather than promoting unity, politicized the distribution of aid, pushed responsibility onto governors for making key decisions while encouraging protests against them for protecting public health, and attacked international institutions rather than galvanizing them. The world can watch TV, too, and has stood by in amazement, with China quick to make the comparison clear.

Over the years to come, the pandemic could lead to the United States’ relative decline, the continued erosion of the liberal international order, and a resurgence of fascism around the globe. It could also lead to a rebirth of liberal democracy, a system that has confounded skeptics many times, showing remarkable powers of resilience and renewal. Elements of both visions will emerge, in different places. Unfortunately, unless current trends change dramatically, the general forecast is gloomy.

Pessimistic outcomes are easy to imagine. Nationalism, isolationism, xenophobia, and attacks on the liberal world order have been increasing for years, and that trend will only be accelerated by the pandemic. Governments in Hungary and the Philippines have used the crisis to give themselves emergency powers, moving them still further away from democracy. Many other countries, including China, El Salvador, and Uganda, have taken similar measures. Barriers to the movement of people have appeared everywhere, including within the heart of Europe; rather than cooperate constructively for their common benefit, countries have turned inward, bickered with one another, and made their rivals political scapegoats for their own failures.

The rise of nationalism will increase the possibility of international conflict. Leaders may see fights with foreigners as useful domestic political distractions, or they may be tempted by the weakness or preoccupation of their opponents and take advantage of the pandemic to destabilize favorite targets or create new facts on the ground. Still, given the continued stabilizing force of nuclear weapons and the common challenges facing all major players, international turbulence is less likely than domestic turbulence.

Poor countries with crowded cities and weak public health systems will be hit hard. Not just social distancing but even simple hygiene such as hand washing is extremely difficult in countries where many citizens have no regular access to clean water. And governments have often made matters worse rather than better—whether by design, by inciting communal tensions and undermining social cohesion, or by simple incompetence. India, for example, increased its vulnerability by declaring a sudden nationwide shutdown without thinking through the consequences for the tens of millions of migrant laborers who crowd into every large city. Many went to their rural homes, spreading the disease throughout the country; once the government reversed its position and began to restrict movement, a large number found themselves trapped in cities without work, shelter, or care.

Displacement caused by climate change was already a slow-moving crisis brewing in the global South. The pandemic will compound its effects, bringing large populations in developing countries ever closer to the edge of subsistence. And the crisis has crushed the hopes of hundreds of millions of people in poor countries who have been the beneficiaries of two decades of sustained economic growth. Popular outrage will grow, and dashing citizens’ rising expectations is ultimately a classic recipe for revolution. The desperate will seek to migrate, demagogic leaders will exploit the situation to seize power, corrupt politicians will take the opportunity to steal what they can, and many governments will clamp down or collapse. A new wave of attempted migration from the global South to the North, meanwhile, would be met with even less sympathy and more resistance this time around, since migrants could be accused more credibly now of bringing disease and chaos.

Finally, the appearances of so-called black swans are by definition unpredictable but increasingly likely the further out one looks. Past pandemics have fostered apocalyptic visions, cults, and new religions growing up around the extreme anxieties caused by prolonged hardship. Fascism, in fact, could be seen as one such cult, emerging from the violence and dislocation engendered by World War I and its aftermath. Conspiracy theories used to flourish in places such as the Middle East, where ordinary people were disempowered and felt they lacked agency. Today, they have spread widely throughout rich countries, as well, thanks in part to a fractured media environment caused by the Internet and social media, and sustained suffering is likely to provide rich material for populist demagogues to exploit.

Nevertheless, just as the Great Depression not only produced fascism but also reinvigorated liberal democracy, so the pandemic may produce some positive political outcomes, too. It has often taken just such a huge external shock to break sclerotic political systems out of their stasis and create the conditions for long-overdue structural reform, and that pattern is likely to play out again, at least in some places.

The practical realities of handling the pandemic favor professionalism and expertise; demagoguery and incompetence are readily exposed. This should ultimately create a beneficial selection effect, rewarding politicians and governments that do well and penalizing those that do poorly. Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, who has steadily hollowed out his country’s democratic institutions in recent years, tried to bluff his way through the crisis and is now floundering and presiding over a health disaster. Russia’s Vladimir Putin tried to play down the importance of the pandemic at first, then claimed that Russia had it under control, and will have to change his tune yet again as COVID-19 spreads throughout the country. Putin’s legitimacy was already weakening before the crisis, and that process may have accelerated.

The pandemic has shone a bright light on existing institutions everywhere, revealing their inadequacies and weaknesses. The gap between the rich and the poor, both people and countries, has been deepened by the crisis and will increase further during a prolonged economic stagnation. But along with the problems, the crisis has also revealed government’s ability to provide solutions, drawing on collective resources in the process. A lingering sense of “alone together” could boost social solidarity and drive the development of more generous social protections down the road, just as the common national sufferings of World War I and the Depression stimulated the growth of welfare states in the 1920s and 1930s.

This might put to rest the extreme forms of neoliberalism, the free-market ideology pioneered by University of Chicago economists such as Gary Becker, Milton Friedman, and George Stigler. During the 1980s, the Chicago school provided intellectual justification for the policies of U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who considered large, intrusive government to be an obstacle to economic growth and human progress. At the time, there were good reasons to cut back many forms of government ownership and regulation. But the arguments hardened into a libertarian religion, embedding hostility to state action in a generation of conservative intellectuals, particularly in the United States.

Given the importance of strong state action to slow the pandemic, it will be hard to argue, as Reagan did in his first inaugural address, that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Nor will anybody be able to make a plausible case that the private sector and philanthropy can substitute for a competent state during a national emergency. In April, Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, announced that he would contribute $1 billion to COVID-19 relief, an extraordinary act of charity. That same month, the U.S. Congress appropriated $2.3 trillion to sustain businesses and individuals hurt by the pandemic. Antistatism may linger among the lockdown protesters, but polls suggest that a large majority of Americans trust the advice of government medical experts in dealing with the crisis. This could increase support for government interventions to address other major social problems.

And the crisis may ultimately spur renewed international cooperation. While national leaders play the blame game, scientists and public health officials around the world are deepening their networks and connections. If the breakdown of international cooperation leads to disaster and is judged a failure, the era after that could see a renewed commitment to working multilaterally to advance common interests.

The pandemic has been a global political stress test. Countries with capable, legitimate governments will come through relatively well and may embrace reforms that make them even stronger and more resilient, thus facilitating their future outperformance. Countries with weak state capacity or poor leadership will be in trouble, set for stagnation, if not impoverishment and instability. The problem is that the second group greatly outnumbers the first.

Unfortunately, the stress test has been so hard that very few are likely to pass. To handle the initial stages of the crisis successfully, countries needed not only capable states and adequate resources but also a great deal of social consensus and competent leaders who inspired trust. This need was met by South Korea, which delegated management of the epidemic to a professional health bureaucracy, and by Angela Merkel’s Germany. Far more common have been governments that have fallen short in one way or another. And since the rest of the crisis will also be hard to manage, these national trends are likely to continue, making broader optimism difficult.

Another reason for pessimism is that the positive scenarios assume some sort of rational public discourse and social learning. Yet the link between technocratic expertise and public policy is weaker today than in the past, when elites held more power. The democratization of authority spurred by the digital revolution has flattened cognitive hierarchies along with other hierarchies, and political decision-making is now driven by often weaponized babble. That is hardly an ideal environment for constructive, collective self-examination, and some polities may remain irrational longer than they can remain solvent.

The biggest variable is the United States. It was the country’s singular misfortune to have the most incompetent and divisive leader in its modern history at the helm when the crisis hit, and his mode of governance did not change under pressure. Having spent his term at war with the state he heads, he was unable to deploy it effectively when the situation demanded. Having judged that his political fortunes were best served by confrontation and rancor rather than national unity, he has used the crisis to pick fights and increase social cleavages. American underperformance during the pandemic has several causes, but the most significant has been a national leader who has failed to lead.

If the president is given a second term in November, the chances for a broader resurgence of democracy or of the liberal international order will drop. Whatever the election result, however, the United States’ deep polarization is likely to remain. Holding an election during a pandemic will be tough, and there will be incentives for the disgruntled losers to challenge its legitimacy. Even should the Democrats take the White House and both houses of Congress, they would inherit a country on its knees. Demands for action will meet mountains of debt and die-hard resistance from a rump opposition. National and international institutions will be weak and reeling after years of abuse, and it will take years to rebuild them—if it is still possible at all.

With the most urgent and tragic phase of the crisis past, the world is moving into a long, depressing slog. It will come out of it eventually, some parts faster than others. Violent global convulsions are unlikely, and democracy, capitalism, and the United States have all proved capable of transformation and adaptation before. But they will need to pull a rabbit out of the hat once again.

Source: Francis Fukuyama on the Pandemic and Political Order

Stop Training Police Like They’re Joining the Military | Defense One


As a law professor and writer with a long-standing interest in the blurry boundaries between war and “not war,” my experiences with the paramilitary aspects of the D.C. police academy—and, later, my experiences as a reserve police officer on patrol in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods—were part of my research. (My next book, Tangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City, is based on my experiences as a D.C. reserve officer.)

But even as a recruit with a quasi-anthropological perspective, I found the academy more than a little intimidating. I don’t think I’ve been yelled at as much since high-school gym class more than three decades ago.

It’s not hard to see the link between paramilitary police training and the abuses motivating the past several weeks’ protests. When police recruits are belittled by their instructors and ordered to refrain from responses other than “Yes, Sir!,” they may learn stoicism—but they may also learn that mocking and bellowing orders at those with less power are acceptable actions.

Source: Stop Training Police Like They’re Joining the Military – Defense One