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Happy New Year – From ISIS to Russia: How War Changed in 2015 – The Atlantic January 1, 2016

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One of the great fears in all this is that a gray-zone conflict—involving, say, U.S. and Chinese military vessels sparring in the South China Sea, or Russia threatening to deploy its nuclear arsenal—could tumble into an open one when some party miscalculates.

Hbomb-detonation-colorizedMore likely, however, is that the patterns on display in 2015 will become more pronounced in the coming year. According to Laura Jackson, China sees the sea, and the earth generally, as only the start of its Three Warfares campaign—a testing ground for ambitions to control portions of outer space, which Chinesemilitary and legal thinkers see, in the words of one Chinese official, “as a natural extension of other forms of territorial control.” Russian military theory envisionsthe wars of the future moving from “direct clash to contactless war,” from “direct annihilation of the opponent to its inner decay,” from “war in the physical environment to a war in the human consciousness and in cyberspace.” In June, aNew York Times investigation uncovered how a series of web campaigns tried to sow panic in the United States by spreading fake Twitter messages, Wikipedia pages, and online news reports about everything from an ISIS attack in Louisiana to Ebola outbreaks and police shootings in Atlanta. This was not the work of mere pranksters, but targeted disinformation operations launched from a Kremlin-backed “troll farm” in St Petersburg. They were perhaps some of the first skirmishes in what Russian military theorists believe to be the battleground of the future: the minds of men and women, where every business deal, retweet, and Instagram post becomes a way of influencing what these theorists call “the Psychosphere.”

It’s a brave new war without beginning or end, where the borders of peace and war, serviceman and civilian have become utterly blurred—and where you and I are both a target and a weapon.

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/12/war-2015-china-russia-isis/422085/

Thinking About the American Presidency | Geopolitical Futures December 30, 2015

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To understand the American system, it is important to grasp how little power the American president has at his disposal.

Nevertheless, the American presidency was crafted for the unexpected moment, such as 9/11, where fundamental decisions need to be made within hours or days. When I vote for president, I ignore the policies and programs because they will rarely have the opportunity to pursue them. The American public is very clear in how it votes — it looks at the candidates, not the issues. This has been seen as a sign of shallowness. It is actually a sign of their deep understanding of the presidency.

FreeBeerVoterThe most important decisions presidents make are the ones they were never prepared for and have no policy for. Truman and Korea. Eisenhower and Suez. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Johnson and Vietnam. What their farm programs might have been is of monumental irrelevance. First, they can propose but Congress and the courts must enact. Second, it was the crises that defined their presidency. They had no policy for any of these, because they did not know what was coming.

When voters say they judge the person, what they are saying is that character is more important than the intentions. Intentions of presidents are crushed by history. Character, if you can glimpse it, tells you if the person is smart enough to understand the moment of history he is compelled to govern in, and the constraints it imposes on his choices. He needs to understand what is possible and impossible, in order that he have the ability to cause the least damage to the nation. Because in the end that’s what presidents must do. And the president must have the strange combination of hubris in imagining being president, and modesty, in understanding how little it means

https://geopoliticalfutures.com/thinking-about-the-american-presidency/

Destined for War: Can China and the United States Escape Thucydides’s Trap? – The Atlantic September 30, 2015

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ChinaUSAPuzzleWar, however, is not inevitable. Four of the 16 cases in our review did not end in bloodshed. Those successes, as well as the failures, offer pertinent lessons for today’s world leaders. Escaping the Trap requires tremendous effort. As Xi Jinping himself said during a visit to Seattle on Tuesday, “There is no such thing as the so-called Thucydides Trap in the world. But should major countries time and again make the mistakes of strategic miscalculation, they might create such traps for themselves.”

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/09/united-states-china-war-thucydides-trap/406756/

Great Power Conflict: Will It Return? February 25, 2015

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we are witnessing four changes in international affairs that will lead to renewed great power conflict.

The first change is the slow disengagement of the United States from the dominating role it has played after World War II, marked most notably by a lowering of its defense spending and commitments. America has retreated from its role of protector of the world order, but the current occupant of the White House clearly ranks foreign affairs as an annoyance compared to an ambitious domestic agenda and has telegraphed his desire for America to have either a light or non-existent footprint across much of the globe.

The slow American withdrawal coincides with the second change, in which four of the current great powers (Russia, China, India, and Japan) are revaluating, amplifying, or changing aspects of their grand strategy in a way that resembles a similar reshuffling that took place late in the nineteenth century.

Third, there are ominous parallels between the cauldron that created the conflict of the Great War and those simmering today. China, playing the role of nineteenth-century Germany, seems determined to upset the economic and military stability created by the United States and Japan, especially in the area of naval power and power projection. Japan is playing the role of the United Kingdom, an old power clinging to its power base by mobilizing nationalism and militarism. Russia, attempting to resurrect its glory by aggressive action, reminds us of a turn-of-the-century France. India, coming on the world stage for the first time, yet not quite ready for a big role, is reminiscent of the newly unified Italian peninsula of 1861.

via Great Power Conflict: Will It Return? | World Affairs Journal.

Education and class: America’s new aristocracy January 24, 2015

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The Economist | Education and class: America’s new aristocracy http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21640331-importance-intellectual-capital-grows-privilege-has-become-increasingly?frsc=dg%7Cd via @theeconomist

Ian Bremmer’s Geopolitical Predictions January 2, 2015

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ChinaUSAPuzzleOne of the more astute analysts that will make you think.

Q: Why doesn’t China want Russia to fight with the West?

A: I think you have to understand that China is patient. China is growing. China has 1.3 billion people. The world will come to China. If China waits, China will have more power, more influence and be able to determine outcomes to their favor, without war, without conflict. They can just use their influence.

The Russians, of course, are declining and so Russian power is greater today than it will be in five or 10 years’ time. If you’re China, you really don’t want the Russians to “rock the boat” too much in the near term. Causing problems for the U.S. is fine, but you don’t want them to become a pariah state for everyone else.

Q: Is there a possibility of a Cold War between the U.S. and China?

A: Longer term, that is a bigger concern. It’s not a concern today. But if you asked me in five or 10 years’ time, one of the potential scenarios of post-G-Zero is that the United States and China fundamentally move into different blocks. It’s possible.

Q: Will China become a big power, as big as the U.S?

A: No. The future is a long time, but if you ask me in 10 years’ time, China will probably be the largest economy, but their military will be a tiny fraction of that of the United States. Their technological capacity will be a tiny fraction of the U.S. Their energy production capacity will be a tiny fraction of the United States. Their diplomatic capabilities will be a tiny fraction of the United States. Their soft power will be a tiny fraction of the United States. Their cultural power will be a tiny fraction of the United States. Their universities will be so much worse. They will be a superpower, looking purely in terms of their economic might and they will not be a superpower in any other way.

via The world post-G-Zero: US, China Cold War possible, says Ian Bremmer- Nikkei Asian Review.

The Rhyme of History: Lessons of the Great War September 15, 2014

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The U.S. has so far been prepared to act as the guarantor of international stability, but may not be willing—or able—to do so indefinitely.

Though the era just before World War I, with its gas lighting and its horse-drawn carriages, seems very far off and quaint, it is similar in many ways—often unsettlingly so—to ours, as a look below the surface reveals. The decades leading up to 1914 were, like our own time, a period of dramatic shifts and upheavals, which those who experienced them thought of as unprecedented in speed and scale. The use of electricity to light streets and homes had become widespread; Einstein was developing his general theory of relativity; radical new ideas like psychoanalysis were finding a following; and the roots of the predatory ideologies of fascism and Soviet communism were taking hold.

Hbomb-detonation-colorizedGlobalization—which we tend to think of as a modern phenomenon, created by the spread of international businesses and investment, the growth of the Internet, and the widespread migration of peoples—was also characteristic of that era. Globalization can also have the paradoxical effect of fostering intense localism and nativism, frightening people into taking refuge in the comfort of small, like-minded groups. One of the unexpected results of the Internet, for example, is how it can narrow horizons so that users seek out only those whose views echo their own and avoid websites that might challenge their assumptions.

While history does not repeat itself precisely, the Middle East today bears a worrying resemblance to the Balkans then.
It is tempting—and sobering—to compare today’s relationship between China and the U.S. with that between Germany and England a century ago. Now, as then, the march of globalization has lulled us into a false sense of safety.
Like the world of 1914, we are living through changes in the nature of war whose significance we are only starting to grasp.

Read on at http://www.brookings.edu/research/essays/2013/rhyme-of-history

What world can teach U.S. about entitlements April 27, 2014

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Entitlement Lessons From Abroad A new report, by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, notes that many countries have recently enacted reforms that have trimmed benefit formulas, raised retirement ages, and put in place new funded pension systems that supplement or partially substitute for pay-as-you-go government systems.

Several countries – including Germany, Italy, Japan, and Sweden – have gone further and introduced “automatic stabilizers” into their public pension systems that, directly or indirectly, index benefits to the growth in the payroll tax base. These stabilizers may differ in design, but they have two crucial characteristics in common. First, they are all expressly designed to offset the full impact of demographically driven cost growth. And second, they are all self-adjusting. In effect, they put entitlements on a new kind of autopilot – one that is preprogrammed for cost constraint rather than for cost growth.

ChangeInEntitlementBenefits 2010to2040It’s ironic that other developed countries, most of which have faster-aging populations and more expansive welfare states than the United States, are leading the way on entitlement reform.  Part of the explanation may be that, until recently, America’s age wave still loomed over the horizon, while in Europe and Japan aging populations have been burdening public budgets, forcing up payroll tax rates, and slowing economic growth for decades.

Part of the answer may also lie in America’s peculiar entitlement ethos.  In Europe, government benefit programs may be fiercely defended, with the opponents of reform manning the barricades and calling general strikes. But in the end, everyone understands that they are part of a social contract that is subject to renegotiation and revision.  In the United States, much of the public views Social Security and Medicare as quasi-contractual arrangements between individuals and the state.  This mindset, which is encouraged by the misleading insurance metaphors in which the programs are cloaked, may make old-age benefits more difficult to reform in the United States than in Europe’s large welfare states.

via What world can teach U.S. about entitlements – Global Public Square – CNN.com Blogs.

Globalization’s Geopolical Future February 18, 2013

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Essay by a prescient Geo-strategist, whose work I follow.

Today’s globalization is suffering a populist blowback on a nearly global scale. Indeed, the only places not suffering such blowback are Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia, frontiers where globalization’s widespread wealth creation is still resulting in very positive outcomes. Just about everywhere else, whether in the old West, the rising East or the Arab world, we’re seeing a build-up of social anger at globalization’s inequities and excesses that is stunning in its scope and persistence. In short, the world seems destined to either re-balkanize itself over these tensions or enter into a lengthy progressive era that corrects these imbalances and cleans up these corrupting trends.

bikini_burkhaHere’s where the value of the trans-Atlantic bond comes back in. For, remember, the old West has already processed the very same sort of mega-cycle back at the turn of the 20th century, when the world’s first version of a middle class initially came into its own as a potent political force. In that scary millenarian maelstrom, as today, terrorists, revolutionaries and radical fundamentalists abounded. In the end, both extremes of the ideological spectrum reached their catastrophically evil expression in the form of Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany.

But not everybody in that old West got it wrong. Indeed, America and, to a lesser extent, Britain got it spectacularly right. Their shared Progressive Era was a classic example of co-evolution, in that both sides of “the pond” fed off each other’s experiments and successes — the women’s suffrage movement, social welfare, modern police departments, sanitation, mass transit, labor reforms, food and drug safety — while learning from their mistakes. But through it all, an economic landscape was substantially re-graded, leveled out, as it were, in a “fair deal” to the workingman that tamed all that raging populist anger. The leadership that was seen during the Progressive Era, embodied by the career of Theodore Roosevelt, is the same sort of leadership that America, and the world, needs today.Getting back to my “C-I-A” world of tomorrow, these three superpowers — two in the making, one actual — are currently in a race to see which can process its own domestic populist rage faster and more effectively.

via WPR Article | Trans-Atlantic Ties Still Key to Renewing U.S. Global Leadership.

(more…)

Europe Most Generous, Asia Stingiest For Paid Days Off October 14, 2012

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  • Workers in UK and Poland have most generous statutory employee holiday entitlements
  • Employees in the USA, Canada, Philippines, China and Thailand have the least generous
  • Colombia has greatest number of public holidays; Mexico the least
  • UK employees have access to a highest amount of potential holiday (36 days per year) but in reality fare worse than other European employees

According to Mercer Consulting, holiday entitlement is often more complex since actual holiday provisions often depends on company contracts and the number and treatment of public holidays. In the UK, for example, employees are entitled to 28 days holiday. With the UK also holding 8 public holidays each year, this suggests that employees in the UK could be on holiday for 36 days, or 10%, of each year. This would be one of the highest entitlements of all 62 countries. The reality is that companies are allowed to include the 8 public holidays as part of the 28 day entitlement so UK employees actually have fewer days’ holidays than their peers in the rest of Europe where, in general, the practice is for European employees to take public holidays in addition to their statutory entitlement. Employees in the Asia-Pac region have comparatively low levels of statutory entitlement but public holidays are taken in addition to this rather than as part of it. However, the levels of holiday entitlement in Asia-Pac are still below those of Western Europe.     Employee holiday entitlements around the world.

How Our 1% Compares August 25, 2012

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It’s right out of 1880s America:

In China, less than 1% of households control more than 70% of private financial wealth.

In the US today, we’re talking somewhere between 40 and 45 percent.

Globally, says, John Bussey in the WSJ, the number is “nearly 40%,” so America’s not much off the norm.

For China to truly advance and become a genuine competitive threat, the political system has to decide to divorce wealth from political power.  Otherwise we’re looking at decay and decline and a very short “Chinese century.”

US hit that moment and launched itself into a multi-decade progressive era that cleaned up a lot of things but government most of all.

As I have said many times, the world needs a small army of Teddy Roosevelts right now – but China most of all.

via Thomas P.M. Barnett’s Globlogization – Blog – China’s looming populist problem.

The Empire Strikes Back August 11, 2012

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Yale Prof. Charles Hill sees two very different kinds of challenges to the liberal, state-based world order. One, the aggressive kind, is exemplified by China. The other, very different, can be seen in the European Union.

“The way the world through almost all of history has been ordered is through empires. The empire was the normal unit of rule. So it was the Chinese empire, the Mughal empire, the Persian empire, and the Roman empire, the Mayan empire.”

What changed this was the Thirty Years War in Europe in the 17th century. “That was a war between the Holy Roman Empire and states, and states were new. They had come forward in northern Italy in the Renaissance and now they were taking hold in what we think of as a state-sized entity. The Netherlands and Sweden and France were among these. . . . France was both an empire and a state—and the key was when [Cardinal] Richelieu took France to the side of the states, which was shocking because France was Catholic and the empire was Catholic and the states were Protestant.”

“My view is that every major modern war has been waged against this international system. That is, the empire strikes back. World War I is a war of empires which comes to its culmination point when a state gets into it. That’s the United States.” And then we get something very interesting added: “That’s Woodrow Wilson and [the promotion of] democracy.”

“World War II, and I think this is uncomprehended although it’s perfectly clear, . . . World War II is a war of empires against the state system. It’s Hitler’s Third Reich. It’s Imperial Japan.” The Axis goal “is to establish an empire. The Nazi empire would be Europe going eastward into the Slavic lands. The Japanese empire in the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, as they called it.”

via The Weekend Interview with Charles Hill: The Empire Strikes Back – WSJ.com. (more…)

What facts about the United States do foreigners not believe until they come to America? August 1, 2012

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This American Life, talking to refugees who’d moved to the U.S., mostly from conflict zones, found that the foreigners were shocked by a number of things that Americans might consider routine: public displays of affection, high obesity rates, families shipping their elderly parents off to nursing homes, dog-owners kissing their pets,Christmas lights and widespread gun ownership.

The U.S. can be such a jarringly strange place for many foreign visitors that travel guidebooks detail everything from the dangers of talking politics to tips on respecting Americans’ famously guarded personal space. But what do those visitors find when they actually get here? This American Life spoke to a relatively narrow slice of foreign arrivals, but a thread on public question site Quora, jumping off from the radio segment, asks web users from around the globe to chime in with what surprised them about America. Click on the link.

How Americans Are Different: What facts about the United States do foreigners not believe until they come to America? – Quora.

See How Fast “The West Was Won” July 21, 2012

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By 1881, Indian landholdings in the United States had plummeted to 156 million acres. By 1934, only about 50 million acres remained (an area the size of Idaho and Washington) as a result of the General Allotment Act* of 1887. During World War II, the government took 500,000 more acres for military use. Over one hundred tribes, bands, and Rancherias relinquished their lands under various acts of Congress during the termination era of the 1950s.

By 1955, the indigenous land base had shrunk to just 2.3 percent of its original size.

Click the map to see it happen.

via Somersaultr – This is a series of maps charting the shrinkage of….

Trends In The Spread of Civilization May 3, 2012

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In his latest book, Civilization, The West and the Rest, the economic and financial historian Niall Ferguson argues that Western civilization’s rise to global dominance over the past 500 years was due mainly to six killer apps, as he calls them: competition, science, rule of law, modern medicine, consumerism, and the work ethic.

While “the Rest” lacked these concepts, they might not for much longer, as emerging markets are quickly catching up. Someday, they could even surpass the West. (On May 22 and 29, PBS will air a program based on Civilization.)

What made the West unusual was that risk takers were not only rewarded but honored, whether in science, exploration, or in trade. Spreading across the Atlantic from Europe is an anti-risk culture that manifests itself in two ways. One is the welfare state, designed to remove risk from your life by guaranteeing you an income from the cradle to the grave. That’s great because it means that nobody is starving in the streets for want of work. But it isn’t great if you create poverty traps and disincentives, so that people in the bottom quintile never work, which is the case in much of Europe.

The other way in which the anti-risk culture manifests itself is with the manic regulatory mentality that tries to prescribe rules for every eventuality, including the tiny, tiny risk that an asteroid will hit this building. Regulations that protect from every eventuality end up being paralyzing because the more things are proscribed, the more the ordinary entrepreneur has to be afraid that if he doesn’t comply, he will get sued.

via Is America Becoming an Anti-Risk Welfare State? – Barrons.com.

Latin America’s blind love with China may be over September 9, 2011

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Barbosa, who served as ambassador to Washington during the Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva government and now heads the foreign trade council of Brazil’s powerful FIESP industrialists federation, said Brazilian executives working for Chinese firms are also complaining about “long work days, frequent overtime, teleconferences in the wee hours, and production goals that are unrealistic and non-negotiable.”

As a result, 42 percent of Brazilian executives working for Chinese firms quit their jobs in their first year, he said, quoting a story in the daily Folha de Sao Paulo. Barbosa concluded that China’s business practices “should be followed with attention” by government authorities, labor unions and business associations.

Almost simultaneously, a new study by the United Nations Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), “Overview of Latin America’s insertion in the world economy,” shows that 87 percent of Latin America’s exports to Asia — mainly China — are raw materials, while only 13 percent are manufactured goods.

By comparison, 60 percent of Latin America’s exports to the United States are manufactured goods, and the remaining 40 percent raw materials, the study says.
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/09/07/2395293/latin-americas-blind-love-with.html#ixzz1XT8lszI6

Citing an article in The Economist on China’s investments in Africa, Barbosa says that China “is destroying parks and forests in search of mineral and agricultural resources, and routinely violates the most elementary labor laws. Roads and Hospitals built by the Chinese are badly finished, among other things because their construction companies pay bribes to local officials.”

via Latin America’s blind love with China may be over – Andres Oppenheimer – MiamiHerald.com.

Global Aging November 20, 2010

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Worldwide, there is a 50 percent chance that the population will be falling by 2070, according to a recent study published in Nature. By 2150, according to one U.N. projection, the global population could be half what it is today.

Those who predict a coming Asian Century have not come to terms with the region’s approaching era of hyper-aging. Asia will also be plagued by a chronic shortage of women in the coming decades, which could leave the most populous region on Earth with the same skewed sex ratios as the early American West. Due to selective abortion, China has about 16 percent more boys than girls, which many predict will lead to instability as tens of millions of “unmarriageable” men find other outlets for their excess libido. India has nearly the same sex-ratio imbalance and also a substantial difference in birth rates between its southern (mostly Hindu) states and its northern (more heavily Muslim) states, which could contribute to ethnic tension.

Birth rates are falling dramatically across Latin America, especially in Mexico, suggesting a tidal shift in migration patterns. Consider what happened with Puerto Rico, where birth rates have also plunged: Immigration to the mainland United States has all but stopped despite an open border and the lure of a considerably higher standard of living on the continent. In the not-so-distant future, the United States may well find itself competing for immigrants rather than building walls to keep them out.

via Think Again: Global Aging – By Phillip Longman | Foreign Policy.

China Grows Protectionist Alienating Business Supporters July 20, 2010

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In some ways, I do think the Chinese government has been pretty stupid over the past year in executing its “Pissing Off As Many Countries As Possible” strategy. China rankled the Europeans over its climate change diplomacy at Copenhagen. For all of Beijing’s bluster, it failed to alter U.S. policies on Tibet and Taiwan. It backed down on the Google controversy. It overestimated the power that comes with holding U.S. debt. It alienated South Korea and Japan over its handling of the Cheonan incident, leading to joint naval exercises with the United States — exactly what China didn’t want. It’s growing more isolated within the G-20. And, increasingly, no one trusts its economic data.

This doesn’t sound like a government that has executed a brilliant grand strategy. It sounds like a country that’s benefiting from important structural trends, while frittering away its geopolitical advantages. Alienating key supporters in the country’s primary export markets — and even if Chinese consumption is rising, exports still matter an awful lot to the Chinese economy — seems counterproductive to China’s long-term strategic and economic interests.

via Beijing has alienated the most pro-China interest groups in the United States and Europe | Daniel W. Drezner.

Business Jobs, Not Government Jobs, Create Wealth July 18, 2010

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In the two decades of the 1980s and 1990s, the United States created 73 million new private sector jobs—while simultaneously losing some 44 million jobs in the process of adjusting its economy to international competition. That was a net gain of some 29 million jobs. A stunning 55 percent of the total workforce at the end of these two decades was in a new job, some two-thirds of them in industries that paid more than the average wage. By contrast, continental Europe, with a larger economy and workforce, created an estimated 4 million jobs in the same period, most of which were in the public sector (and the cost of which they are beginning to regret).

Over the years, the transformation of American industry has been nothing short of phenomenal. U.S. companies replaced large, mass-produced consumer products with sophisticated goods derived from intellectual output and knowledge-based interests, the fastest-growing segment of the world’s economy. Management was assisted by a level of labor flexibility that is the envy of both Europe and Asia. Europe struggles with the legacy of the steam age in the form of craft, union, and management demarcations that limit management’s role. In Asia, management is often stifled by large, oligopolistic networks and government mandates.

via Obama’s Anti-Business Policies Are Our Economic Katrina – US News and World Report.

Wiil China Develop Like US or Japan Did? March 25, 2010

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Is China like the US in 1890? Or is it more like Japan in 1980? If the parallel with America is right, China is likely to be the dominant power of the next century. If the Japanese comparison is more accurate, then the Chinese challenge to American hegemony could prove ephemeral.

The current mood in the US certainly feels like an exaggerated version of the “declinism” that set in towards the end of the 1980s, when the US was transfixed by the rise of Japan. A recent Pew opinion survey showed that a majority of Americans now believe that the Chinese economy is larger than that of the US. This is plain wrong. At the time the poll was taken, the Chinese economy was around half the size of America’s.

It was this kind of scare that took hold in the late 1980s. Japanese investors provoked angst by buying the Rockefeller Centre in New York – and it was Japan that was the world’s largest creditor nation. (more…)

3 SuperRegions – The GeoPoltical Future? March 5, 2008

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Russia a key component of China – India Development | 2point6billion.com
Russia is now showing off its Asian face rather than it’s European one, for the first time in 150 years, with the strategic development of Asia now residing partially within the Kremlin as Moscow looks East to it’s long term allies, with the riches of energy yet without the burden of massive populations to carry, and ready made markets in China and India. The era of Superpowers is over. The era of “Superregions” has just begun, and Russia, China and India just booked the last place at a table with dining partners the U.S. and the EU.

The average growth rate of trade between the three nations has increased at a consistent level of 35% each year over the past five years; and all concerned view this as ‘just the start.’

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