10 January 2017   Leave a comment

Timothy Garton Ash is perhaps the most astute analyst of European affairs alive today.  He has written a review of several books for the New York Review of Books that captures a great deal of what is going on in the world, particularly on the issue of the disintegration of the liberal world order.  His analysis of the phenomenon of populism is perceptive and trenchant:

“Populism….is inimical to pluralism. Its target is pluralist, liberal democracy, with those vital constitutional and social checks and balances that prevent any ‘tyranny of the majority’ from prevailing over individual human rights, safeguards for minorities, independent courts, a strong civil society, and independent, diverse media.”

The essay ultimately argues that the true meaning of liberalism needs to be resuscitated in order to nullify the destructiveness of the new nationalism.

Iranian former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has died, and with his death the moderate reform wing of Iranian politics has lost perhaps its leading figure.  Rafsanjani was one of the most prominent proponent of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 but he sided with the Green Movement, the movement against hard-line Islamic rule, in 2009.  The strength of the reform movement was evident in the crowds–estimated at about 2 million–that packed the streets for his funeral.

Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani

Image result for Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani

Between 1980 and 2014 the U.S. lost 6.7 million manufacturing jobs and President-elect Trump was elected largely because he promised to bring these jobs back.  But manufacturing employment is not the same thing as manufacturing.  In fact, the US remains a pre-eminent manufacturing country in the world.  According to Mark Muro, writing in MIT’s Technology Review:

“In fact, the total inflation-adjusted output of the U.S. manufacturing sector is now higher than it has ever been. That’s true even as the sector’s employment is growing only slowly, and remains near the lowest it’s been. These diverging lines—which reflect improved productivity—highlight a huge problem with Trump’s promises to help workers by reshoring millions of manufacturing jobs. America is already producing a lot.”

Manufacturing Output

Jobs are not being outsourced anymore–they are being eliminated by robots and automation.   Amazon is a classic example of how this transformation is playing out:

“The world’s largest e-commerce retailer said it has 45,000 robots in some 20 fulfillment centers. That’s a bigger headcount than that of the armed forces of the Netherlands, a NATO member, according to World Bank data. It’s also a cool 50 percent increase from last year’s holiday season, when the company had some 30,000 robots working alongside 230,000 humans.”

It is not clear how this transformation can be slowed down, but the political dissatisfaction with which it is associated is toxic to democracy.




Posted January 10, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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