Commentary

The Crown Prince’s New Clothes

PARIS – This June, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, the Maldives, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen cut diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar. This Gulf crisis will, one way or another, come to an end. But whether that end will be good for the chief instigator of the crisis, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), remains to be seen.


An extreme but unlikely solution to the crisis could come in the form of military-enforced regime change, whereby the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, would be replaced by a more pliant member of the Al-Thani family. In a more likely scenario, Qatar may stop providing sanctuary for a few members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and discreetly promise to rein in Al Jazeera, its state-funded television network, which broadcasts throughout the region.

In the latter scenario, diplomats from Kuwait and Oman, who are mediating the dispute, would hold themselves up as peacemakers, and MBS would claim to be a statesman. Western governments worried about the price of oil and the future of America’s Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar would rest easier, at least until the next Gulf crisis. But if MBS continues to pursue headstrong policies, and Qatar keeps using its oil wealth to punch above its weight in regional politics, such a crisis may not be all that far off.

The latest Saudi-Qatari contretemps is hardly an example of the “Thucydides trap,” in which an incumbent hegemon is tempted to suppress a rival whose power is approaching its own. Saudi Arabia is host to around 32 million people, one-third of whom are foreign workers; Qatar is host to just 2.6 million people, 90% of whom are foreign.

Instead, at the heart of the matter is a semi-paranoid conviction among Saudi Arabia’s Sunni Arab leaders that Iran – which is predominantly Shia and non-Arab – is vying for superpower status in the Middle East. The Saudis are convinced that Qatar is aiding Iran in this quest, even though Qatar’s leaders share the Saudis’ Wahhabi brand of Islam.

Of course, Saudi Arabia has some grounds for suspicion. After the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini advocated revolution throughout the Muslim world. A generation later, Iran has a foothold in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen, where it is helping Houthi rebels disrupt MBS’s ill-considered foray into that country. And now that Saudi Arabia has imposed a blockade on Qatar, Iran has come to the country’s aid, delivering food and allowing Qatar Airways to use its airspace.

It is worth asking whether MBS is misreading political and economic realities. Having been invested with unprecedented powers as the favorite son of King Salman, has he bitten off more than he can chew?

MBS has been Saudi Arabia’s minister of defense since January 2015. But Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, now two years old, has become a humanitarian disaster, complete with a naval blockade that has led to widespread famine and 500,000 cases of cholera.

Meanwhile, in the civil war in Syria, the Saudis (and the Qataris) have backed several unsavory Islamist groups, but still have not managed to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. In the region’s balance of power, the Saudi-sponsored anti-Assad alliance – with America providing air support – pales in comparison to the alliance that Assad’s Shia-affiliated Alawite regime has made with Iran and Russia.

MBS is facing even greater challenges at home. As the world’s petro-state par excellence, Saudi Arabia has long mollified the Saudi populace with dollops of welfare spending. Meanwhile, it has sustained the Wahhabi clerical establishment’s loyalty by keeping social changes to a minimum. But with oil prices remaining relatively low, the Kingdom can no longer rely on its traditional policy of buying friends and buying off enemies.

To his credit, MBS recognizes that things must change. Saudi Arabia’s financial reserves are diminishing, and younger Saudis – whose numbers have quadrupled in the past 30 years – want more freedoms, and will need jobs outside of the oil sector. To address these issues, MBS came up with “Vision 2030,” a bold but not necessarily realistic plan to diversify the economy, privatize part of the national oil company, Aramco, and expand the private sector. In addition, MBS apparently has a plan to create hedonistic tourist resorts to rival those of Dubai.

Given the problems abroad and grumbling at home, where some in the Saudi royal family resent his meteoric ascent, MBS now needs to prove that he has the maturity and experience to lead. Here, he may receive help from an unlikely source. At the end of July, MBS hosted Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of Iraq’s most powerful Shia militia, for his first visit to Saudi Arabia since 2006. And earlier this year, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi paid a visit to Saudi Arabia, just after the Saudi foreign and energy ministers made trips to Baghdad.

These trips – the first such delegations between the two countries in decades – suggest that Iraq and Saudi Arabia might be forging a new, mutually beneficial relationship. With closer ties to Saudi Arabia, Iraq’s leaders could free themselves from Iran’s overbearing grip on their decision-making, leverage Saudi Arabia’s influence over Iraq’s Sunni tribes, and procure Saudi investments to rebuild Mosul following its recapture from the Islamic State (ISIS).

Saudi Arabia, for its part, stands to gain from Iraq’s success against ISIS, a sworn enemy of the House of Saud, and from its help in calming Shia dissent in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich eastern province. At the same time, MBS would be able to portray himself as a strategic thinker who is capable of bridging old Arab divides, and limiting Iran’s influence in the region.

Still, many questions remain. It is unclear when the disastrous operation in Yemen will end, or whether Iran and Turkey will continue undermining the blockade on Qatar. And it remains to be seen if Qatar will cave to Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states’ demands – especially the call for Al Jazeera to be shut down.

In any case, none of these developments seems imminent, so the 31-year-old crown prince will have to learn to temper his impetuosity. As the Arab proverb puts it, patience is the key to happiness. John Andrews is the author of The World in Conflict.

By John Andrews

A Greener Grid for East Asia

SYDNEY – Not long ago, the future of nuclear power was in Asia. In 2015, nine of the ten reactors that opened globally were on the continent. But recent declarations by South Korea and Taiwan that they will “go green” have called into question nuclear power’s long-term viability, at least in East Asia. Indeed, 2017 may mark the end of the region’s nuclear love affair – and the start of a new one with renewables.


South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen have both set ambitious national agendas to boost renewable energy generation while calling for a phase-out of nuclear. For years, overreliance on traditional fuels discouraged investment in clean technologies for power generation, despite the fact that both countries are innovators in green industries, like energy storage and smart grids. Whereas 22% of South Korea’s energy needs, and 14% of Taiwan’s, are met by nuclear, those ratios are now set to drop dramatically.

Blueprints are still being formulated, but taken together the two countries’ commitments mark a major shift in regional energy planning toward greener, cleaner technologies. Moreover, they will pave the way for increased investment in renewable-power installations, placing their countries on a new competitive footing in the regional market.

South Korea’s strategy calls for a phased withdrawal from the nuclear industry, through non-renewal of existing licenses and bans on future plants. Last month, Moon, who was elected in May and campaigned on a nuclear-free agenda, called for an increase in the use of renewables, to 20% of the country’s total power generation, by 2030, up from the current 5%. He has also pledged to close ten coal-fired power plants by the end of his term in 2022. Currently, coal accounts for about a quarter of the country’s energy consumption. Natural gas would be used as a “bridging fuel” during the transition to greener power.

Given that South Korea currently operates 25 nuclear reactors and had plans to build six more, the shelving of nuclear power is a significant shift in the country’s energy strategy. Indeed, some have expressed doubts about the feasibility of Moon’s plans. There are also questions about how the energy-policy overhaul will affect the country’s lucrative export market for nuclear technology. But Moon remains resolute.

In Taiwan, Tsai is equally committed. Last year, responding to public opposition to nuclear energy in the wake of Japan’s 2011 Fukushima meltdown, Tsai vowed to make Taiwan nuclear-free by 2025. Today, coal and natural gas provide more than two thirds of the country’s electricity needs, with renewables accounting for 5%. Tsai has called for the share of renewables to increase to 20% over the next eight years, with the capacity coming primarily from solar and offshore wind. This new load would easily replace the electricity generated by the country’s six nuclear reactors.

Critics contend that green technologies are not mature enough to replace traditional fuels for industrial-scale energy use. But these claims are a few years too late. Significant declines in start-up costs and energy-storage prices, as well as improved battery performance, have made renewables more competitive than ever. As Francesco Starace, Chief Executive of Enel, Europe’s largest energy company by market capitalization, told the Financial Times in June, renewables are becoming the “cheapest and most convenient way of producing electricity.”

South Korea and Taiwan are not the first East Asian powers to go greener. China has been moving in that direction for years, and now leads the world in installed renewable-energy capacity. But by joining the renewables revolution, Taiwan and South Korea will make it easier for other regional players to enter the market, because expanded investment opportunities will increase competitiveness and further drive down already declining costs.

In fact, if there is one valid criticism of Moon’s and Tsai’s visionary goals, it is that they could be realized even faster. For example, if both leaders were to allow the purchase of renewable power from the planned Global Energy Interconnection or the Asian Super Grid, they could increase the share of green energy more rapidly. South Korea and Taiwan have few natural resources of their own, and are heavily reliant on imported fuel to generate electricity. The introduction of competition to the national monopolies in both countries would also speed the shift to renewables.

But for now, what is most important is the precedent that South Korea and Taiwan are setting. The renewables market in East Asia is about to blossom. When it does, the region’s decades-old dependence on nuclear power will finally be broken.

Sung-Young Kim is a lecturer in international relations at Macquarie University in Sydney. John A. Mathews is a professor of management at the Macquarie Graduate School of Management in Sydney.

By Sung-Young Kim and John A. Mathews

The New Socialism of Fools

BERKELEY – According to mainstream economic theory, globalization tends to “lift all boats,” and has little effect on the broad distribution of incomes. But “globalization” is not the same as the elimination of tariffs and other import barriers that confer rent-seeking advantages to politically influential domestic producers. As Harvard University economist Dani Rodrik frequently points out, economic theory predicts that removing tariffs and non-tariff barriers does produce net gains; but it also results in large redistributions, wherein eliminating smaller barriers yields larger redistributions relative to the net gains.


Globalization, for our purposes, is different. It should be understood as a process in which the world becomes increasingly interconnected through technological advances that drive down transportation and communication costs.

To be sure, this form of globalization allows foreign producers to export goods and services to distant markets at a lower cost. But it also opens up export markets and reduces costs for the other side. And at the end of the day, consumers get more stuff for less.

According to standard economic theory, redistribution only comes about when a country’s exports require vastly different factors of production than its imports. But there are no such differences in today’s global economy.

In the United States, a balance-of-payments surplus in finance means that more Americans will be employed as construction workers, capital-goods producers, and nurses and home health aides. Similarly, a surplus in services means that more Americans will work not only as highly educated (and well-remunerated) consultants in steel-and-glass eyries, but also as, say, janitors and housekeepers in motels outside of Yellowstone National Park.

At the same time, a deficit in manufacturing may create more manufacturing jobs abroad, in countries where labor costs are low relative to capital; but it destroys relatively few jobs in the US, where manufacturing is already a highly capital-intensive industry. As Stanford University economist Robert Hall has been pointing out for three decades, more Americans are employed selling cars than making them. The commodities that the US imports from abroad embody a significant amount of relatively unskilled labor, but they do not displace much unskilled labor in America.

So, at least in theory, the shift in US employment from assembly-line manufacturing to construction, services, and caretaking may have had an impact on the overall distribution of income in terms of gender, but not in terms of class. Why, then, has there been such strong political resistance to globalization in the twenty-first century? I see four reasons.

First and foremost, it is easy for politicians to pin the blame for a country’s problems on foreigners and immigrants who do not vote. Back in 1890, when politicians in the Habsburg Empire routinely blamed Jews for various socioeconomic ills, the Austrian dissident Ferdinand Kronawetter famously observed that “Der Antisemitismus ist der Sozialismus der dummen Kerle”: anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools. The same could be said of anti-globalization today.

Second, more than a generation of inequitable and slower-than-expected economic growth in the global North has created a strong political and psychological need for scapegoats. People want a simple narrative to explain why they are missing out on the prosperity they were once promised, and why there is such a large and growing gap between an increasingly wealthy overclass and everyone else.

Third, China’s economic rise coincided with a period in which the global North was struggling to reach full employment. Contrary to what the followers of Friedrich von Hayek and Andrew Mellon have always claimed, economic readjustments do not happen when bankruptcies force labor and capital out of low-productivity, low-demand industries, but rather when booms pull labor and capital into high-productivity, high-demand industries.

Thus, neoliberalism does not just require open and competitive markets, global change, and price stability. It also depends on full employment and near-permanent booms, just as economist John Maynard Keynes had warned in the 1920s and 1930s. In recent decades, the neoliberal order failed to deliver either condition, most likely because doing so would have been impossible even with the best policies in place.

Fourth, policymakers did not do enough to compensate for this failure with more aggressive social policies and economic and geographic redistribution. When US President Donald Trump recently told upstate New Yorkers that they should leave the region and seek jobs elsewhere, he was simply echoing the past generation of center-right politicians in the global North.

The global North’s current political and economic dilemmas are not so different from those of the 1920s and 1930s. As Keynes noted then, the key is to produce and maintain full employment, at which point most other problems will melt away.

And, as the Austro-Hungarian economist Karl Polanyi argued, it is the role of government to secure socioeconomic rights. People believe that they have a right to live in healthy communities, hold stable occupations, and earn a decent income that rises over time. But these presumed rights do not stem naturally from property rights and claims to scarce resources – the coins of the neoliberal realm.

It has been ten years since the global financial crisis and the start of the “Great Recession” in the global North. Governments still have not repaired the damage from those events. If they do not do so soon, the “-isms” of fools will continue to wreak havoc in the decades ahead.

J. Bradford DeLong, a former deputy assistant US Treasury secretary, is Professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

By J. Bradford DeLong

Making “Women’s Work” Count

ISTANBUL – Over the next few months, the 12,000 employees based at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California will complete their move to an extravagant new campus. The “spaceship,” covering 2.8 million square feet, includes a two-story yoga studio, running paths, and even revolutionary pizza boxes that keep slices crisp. One thing it does not have, however, is daycare.

When it comes to ignoring the importance of childcare for working parents, Apple is far from unique. And that omission places a powerful drag on parents’ ability to achieve their economic potential, with women suffering the most.

Worldwide, women carry out twice as much unpaid domestic and care work – including raising children, caring for sick or elderly family members, and managing the household – as men do. In Mexico, India, and Turkey, women do three times more care work than men.

This “gender chore gap” limits women’s choices, as it impedes their ability to obtain formal education, secure good jobs, and achieve equal pay. Indeed, though women around the world actually work more than men in total (including both paid and unpaid work), they earn one quarter less, on average, hold only one quarter of executive positions in the private sector, and occupy less than one quarter of all seats in national parliaments. Only half of working-age women worldwide are in the paid labor force, compared to more than three quarters of men.

This situation is slowly beginning to change. Unpaid household and care work is gradually shedding its reputation as “women’s work,” and men today are assuming more household responsibilities than their fathers and grandfathers did. Some countries, particularly in Europe, are revising traditional leave policies so that parents can choose how to allocate time off after the birth of a child.

More broadly, the value of unpaid household and care work – not just for children and family members, but also for the long-term health of societies and economies – is increasingly being recognized. Efforts to measure the contribution of care work to national economies have produced estimates ranging from 20% to 60% of GDP.

In 2015, United Nations member states adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which call for recognizing, reducing, and redistributing unpaid care work – a measure long proposed by feminist economists and gender-equality advocates. The question now is what can actually be done to meet this objective.

The responsibility will lie, first and foremost, with governments. After all, while businesses or neighborhood associations may offer childcare options to working parents, costs and quality vary widely. Government action is needed to ensure that care services cover all who need them – from preschool children to the sick, the disabled, and the elderly – and that they are universally accessible and affordable.

Beyond services, however, achieving the SDGs’ targets will require policy change. Most important, governments must establish requirements for parental and family leave programs. Together with private companies, they can also provide monetary incentives for men and women to share household and care work more equally. Such policies have proved effective not only in Northern Europe – the most commonly cited model – but also in Eastern European countries like Lithuania, Estonia, and even Hungary, demonstrating that they can be applied anywhere.

At a time when many governments, particularly in the developing world, are faced with severe fiscal constraints, such interventions may seem farfetched. But spending on the care sector should be viewed as an investment, not a cost. A recent study in Turkey showed that one dollar of public money invested in the care sector could create 2.5 times as many jobs as a dollar invested in the construction industry. More than half of those jobs – decent jobs that could raise incomes and living standards, particularly for poor households – would go to women.

International institutions can play an important role in helping governments to seize the opportunities presented by investment in the care sector. In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the United Nations Development Programme undertook an initiative that helped women who had mostly worked at home their entire lives to find jobs in the care sector, enabling them to make use of their skills, by caring for children and for young adults with disabilities, while earning an income.

As populations grow and age, the care sector will only increase in importance. Adapting to these new circumstances now will give countries a considerable advantage, as it bolsters women’s rights and freedoms, generates jobs, and make societies more equal. So what are we waiting for? Bharati Sadasivam is the United Nations Development Programme’s regional gender adviser for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

By Bharati Sadasivam

Empowering Africa’s Humanitarians

NAIROBI – The scale of human suffering currently engulfing drought-stricken Somalia is almost indescribable. It is difficult to find words to convey the devastation and misery gripping the country, now in the midst of a prolonged period of record-low rainfall. I have watched emaciated herds of livestock drop, lifeless, into the dust, and been present when people’s futures evaporated in front of their eyes.


But if words cannot do justice to the magnitude of the crisis, they can guide the world’s response. And in that regard, let me be unequivocal: unless the international community overhauls its approach to delivering aid in Africa, the cycle of suffering will continue.

Somalia’s current catastrophe is not unique. Millions of Africans, in more than a dozen countries, are facing similar struggles, as failed harvests and persistent conflict fuel severe food insecurity. By some estimates, East African farmers have lost up to 60% of their livestock – their main source of income – in the first half of 2017. In the face of such overwhelming hardship, I am more angry than sad.

The world should be angry, too. So many proud and dignified people have been stripped of their livelihoods and forced to rely on one tiny meal a day, or nothing at all. Worse, these tragedies were avoidable; we knew these crises were coming.

Drought and hunger are slow-motion calamities that, with adequate planning and sufficient resources, can be averted. But time and time again, humanitarian assistance in Africa has come up short, as it did in Somalia in 2011 and 2012; in Niger in 2005; and in Ethiopia during the 1980s. Then, as now, food insecurity was predicted long before the first hunger pangs were felt. But the warnings did not yield an effective global response.

As a medical doctor, I am acutely aware of how hunger, malnutrition, cholera, and other drought-related illnesses affect Africans, especially young children and nursing and expectant mothers. The effects of hunger on physical and mental health can be irreversible, and often keep people locked in a lifetime of poverty. We must alter this trajectory, before the next crisis strikes, by converting anger into action.

For starters, the aid community must be smarter about how it solicits and allocates resources like food and funding. Humanitarian organizations like mine have always operated with limited human and financial resources, and have been expected to do more with less. But isn’t it time we do more with more? The United Nations estimates that Somalia, Nigeria, Yemen, and South Sudan will need a combined $6.3 billion this year to avoid widespread famine. So far, with half the year gone, only about a third of this sum has been raised.

Moreover, and perhaps most important, international aid organizations must rethink how and with whom they work. More emphasis needs to be placed on building lasting solutions, and that means working more closely with local partners on the ground. This is not a new idea, but it is a solution that has not yet stuck.

Local actors are best positioned to reach the most vulnerable and marginalized members of any community. Strong local actors are critical to sustaining services long after multinational aid agencies have turned their attention elsewhere. What local constituents need is the resources and capacity to take the lead.

Unfortunately, at the moment, only a fraction of international emergency funding goes directly to local agencies. Worse, there is little dedicated support available for helping local organizations grow and mature. Because of these shortcomings, multinational organizations often find it difficult to hand over responsibilities once the most urgent needs have been met.

When local responders are supported in leadership roles, the results are exceptional. In Somalia, for example, the Somali Red Crescent Society has established dozens of mobile health clinics capable of serving some of the country’s most vulnerable populations. The Red Crescent, which operates in areas of instability and violence that are often off limits to government health services, has helped reduce the severity of malnutrition and cholera emergencies.

Best of all, when such emergencies abate, local capacity remains. Thanks to funding and training offered by my organization and others, the Somali Red Crescent will provide, on a continuing basis, maternal and child health support, vaccination programs, outpatient clinics, and other forms of community-based health care. This is just one example of the positive role that local humanitarian actors can play when fully empowered.

Changing the global humanitarian paradigm will not be easy; change on this scale never is. But the alternative – an endless cycle of hunger, disease, and needless death – is unacceptable. Africa’s suffering has left many speechless. That is why our actions must speak louder than our words. Fatoumata Nafo-Traoré is Regional Director for Africa for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

By Fatoumata Nafo-Traoré

Africa’s Defining Challenge

ADDIS ABABA – Africa has the youngest population in the world, and it’s growing fast. By 2055, the continent’s youth population (aged 15-24), is expected to be more than double the 2015 total of 226 million. Yet the continent remains stubbornly inhospitable – politically, economically, and socially – to young people. The success of African governments’ efforts to address this will be the single most important factor determining whether the continent prospers or suffers in the coming decades.


A business-as-usual approach would risk exposing Africa not only to economic underperformance and a brain drain, but also to criminality, political and social unrest, and even armed conflict. But Africa can thrive if its governments act now to tap the energy and dynamism of the burgeoning youth population. What is needed is a comprehensive policy agenda, comprising demographically informed measures that address political, cultural, and economic exclusion in a synchronized manner.

This will be no small feat, not least because of the massive age gap between Africa’s young majority and their leaders: the average age of an African president is 62, while the median age of Africa’s population is 19.5. That is the world’s largest age gap between governors and the governed, and it raises concerns about how well decision-makers understand the needs and aspirations of young people.

It does not help that a tradition of gerontocracy prevails in many countries, meaning that young people’s political participation and influence is restricted on cultural grounds. To help overcome this barrier, governments should treat generational inequality with the same sense of urgency as other forms of inequality, accelerating efforts to introduce youth quotas for political parties, parliaments, and other decision-making institutions.

Much work also remains to be done on the economic front. According to the African Development Bank, 12 million young people entered Africa’s labor force in 2015, but only 3.1 million jobs were created. That means that millions of young people were left without a stake in the economy.

In the short and medium term, it will be virtually impossible to create enough jobs to meet the needs of the unemployed and vulnerably employed. Africa does not have a large labor-intensive manufacturing sector to absorb its mushrooming young population. But there are programs that can help. For example, YouthConnekt Africa, launched by the United Nations Development Programme and the government of Rwanda, encourages youth-friendly policies, such as access to finance and skills development, that match the needs of the market in particular countries.

Still, given the dearth of opportunities at home, many young Africans view migration as a chance for social mobility. Yet, as the CEO of a major company based in Sub-Saharan Africa recently lamented to me, acquiring work visas for Africans is extremely difficult.

In fact, it can be easier to get a work visa for a British citizen than for, say, a Ghanaian with the same skills. Africa’s vision for economic integration, as set out in the African Union’s Agenda 2063, cannot be realized without labor migration that creates African careers paths for young people.

It is telling that so many Africans are willing to risk drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, living in appalling detention centers in North Africa, or sleeping in public parks in European cities, rather than remaining in Africa. Yet, contrary to popular belief, young people are not migrating from Africa exclusively for economic reasons. Rather, they are motivated by the promise of opportunities for genuine self-improvement and the freedom to decide who to be and how to live. That is certainly what led me to leave Africa and head to Europe at a young age.

In fact, the desire for self-improvement through migration is a key element of the human story – one that no desert, sea, or artificial barrier has been able to quell. Political and cultural exclusion intensifies it. Given this, any strategy that does not address the broader environment of marginalization is a bridge to nowhere.

So far, Africa seems to be sleepwalking into a future of lost opportunity and, potentially, serious instability. And Africa’s international partners have remained preoccupied with containing migration from the continent, rather than addressing its underlying causes.

But there may be reason for hope. The fifth European Union-Africa Summit, to be held later this year, will focus squarely on the continent’s young people. Likewise, the African Union’s theme for 2017 is “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend Through Investments in Youth.”

One hopes that the growing recognition of the need to create opportunities for young people leads to effective, solidarity-based initiatives that address the barriers to youth empowerment on the continent, instead of erecting barriers to prevent young people from leaving.To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Africa confronts the fierce urgency of now. There is such a thing as being too late. Mohamed Yahya is the Africa Regional Programme Coordinator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

By Mohamed Yahya

What Makes a Human?

ST ANDREWS, SCOTLAND – Last month, moviegoers flocked to theaters to see War for the Planet of the Apes, in which an army of retrovirus-modified primates wage war against humanity. Chimpanzees on horseback, machine-gun-wielding gorillas, and scholarly orangutans undoubtedly make for good theater. But could anything like this ever happen in real life?


In Planet of the Apes, Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel upon which the films are based, space traveler Ulysse Mérou is stranded on a terrifying planet ruled by gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees who have copied their former human masters’ language, culture, and technology. The humans, meanwhile, have degenerated into brutal and unsophisticated beasts.

Much of the sinister realism in Planet of the Apes stems from Boulle’s impressive attention to scientific detail and knowledge of research into animal behavior at that time. His book tapped into the still-popular notion that animals such as chimpanzees and dolphins have complex but covert communication systems that humans cannot even fathom. Many people would prefer to think that all those “arrogant” scientists who have concluded that animals cannot talk have simply failed to decode animals’ calls.

But Boulle’s book is decidedly a work of fiction, because apes here on Earth could never actually acquire human culture solely through imitation. In reality, complex culture requires underlying biological capabilities that are fashioned over long periods of evolution. Chimpanzees simply do not have the vocal control or physiology to produce speech.

Moreover, modern apes could not be made highly intelligent even with brain-enhancing drugs. And although microbes can change behavior – such as when rabies renders its host violent and aggressive – they could never bestow language upon a species.

We know this because animal communication has been investigated extensively for more than a century, and the scientific evidence yields few hints of truly complex communication faculties in non-human species. For example, in the 1940s, researchers raised a chimpanzee named Viki in their home. But Viki learned just four words – “mama,” “papa,” “cup,” and “up” – which was more than could be said for an earlier experiment in which a chimpanzee and a human child were reared together. That exercise had to be abandoned after the chimpanzee failed to learn a single word, and the child actually started imitating chimpanzee sounds.

In the following decades, studies teaching apes sign language generated much excitement. And yet virtually all linguists would agree that the apes in these experiments had not produced language. They could memorize the meanings of signs, but they could not learn the rules of grammar.

Tellingly, utterances by “talking” apes proved to be exceedingly egocentric. When equipped with the means to talk, apes’ communications are limited to expressions of desire such as “Gimme food.” The longest recorded statement of any “talking” ape, by a chimpanzee named Nim Chimpsky, was, “Give orange me give eat orange me eat orange give me eat orange give me you.” It turns out that chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas make for poor conversationalists.

By contrast, within months of uttering their first words, two-year-old children can produce complex, grammatically correct, and topically diverse sentences comprising verbs, nouns, prepositions, and determiners. They can do so because human minds have evolved to comprehend and produce language.

Many scholars believe that language emerged from the use of meaningful signs. Our ancestors were immersed in a symbol-rich world, and this generated evolutionary feedback favoring the neural structures that enable us to manipulate symbols efficiently. The syntax in human language today was made possible by our ancestors’ long use of symbolic proto-languages. Genes and culture coevolved to reorganize the human brain.

The same is true of warfare, which is much more than just scaled-up aggression. In war, complex institutions dictate strict behavioral codes and individual roles that facilitate cooperation. Research suggests that this level of cooperation could not evolve in a species that lacked a complex culture and such features as institutionalized punishment and socially sanctioned retaliation.

Most of these norms are not obvious, and thus have to be inculcated, usually during youth. But even among apes that are proficient imitators, there is little compelling evidence that behaviors are actively taught. When apes do cooperate, it is largely to help relatives. The scale of human cooperation, which involves huge numbers of unrelated individuals working together, is unprecedented largely because it is built upon learned and socially transmitted norms.

There is now extensive evidence that our ancestors’ cultural activities changed the human brain through natural selection, which then further enhanced our cultural capabilities in recurring cycles. For instance, milk-drinking began with early Neolithic humans, who were consequently exposed to strong selection favoring genes that break down energy-rich lactose. This genetic-cultural coevolution explains why many of us with pastoralist ancestors are lactose tolerant.

It is little wonder that Boulle put such an emphasis on imitation. Humans are descended from a long line of imitators, who mimicked each other’s fear responses to identify predators and avoid danger. Today, this is reflected in empathy and other forms of emotional contagion that make movies a heartfelt experience. Without these traits, we would all watch movies like sociopaths, equally unmoved by a murder or a kiss.

It was also through imitation that our forebears learned how to butcher carcasses, build fires, and make digging tools, spears, and fishing hooks. These and countless other skills left us supremely adapted to decipher others’ movements, and reproduce them with our own muscles, tendons, and joints. Eons later, today’s movie stars demonstrate the same aptitude when imitating the movements of other primates, with a precision that no other species can match.

Human culture, having evolved over millennia, is not something that another species can easily pick up. We can rest assured that there will be no inter-primate war on Earth. For that to happen, another species would have to undergo a similarly prolonged evolutionary journey. And the only real warmongering ape on the planet seems hell-bent on preventing that.

Kevin Laland is Professor of Behavioral and Evolutionary Biology at the University of St Andrews, UK, and author of Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind.

By Kevin Laland2

Protectionism Will Not Protect Jobs Anywhere

CAMBRIDGE – As US and European political leaders fret about the future of quality jobs, they would do well to look at the far bigger problems faced by developing Asia – problems that threaten to place massive downward pressure on global wages. In India, where per capita income is roughly a tenth that of the United States, more than ten million people per year are leaving the countryside and pouring into urban areas, and they often cannot find work even as chaiwalas, much less as computer programmers. The same angst that Americans and Europeans have about the future of jobs is an order of magnitude higher in Asia.


Should India aim to follow the traditional manufacturing export model that Japan pioneered and that so many others, including China, have followed? Where would that lead if, over the next couple of decades, automation is going to make most such jobs obsolete?

There is, of course, the service sector, where 80% of the population in advanced economies works, and where India’s outsourcing sector still tops the world. Unfortunately, there, too, the path ahead is anything but smooth. Automated calling systems already have supplanted a substantial part of the global phone center business, and many routine programming jobs are also losing ground to computers.

China’s economic progress may have been the big story of the last 30 years, but it struggles with similar challenges. While China is far more urbanized than India, it, too, is still trying to bring ten million people a year into its cities. Between jobs lost to automation and to lower-wage competitors such as Vietnam and Sri Lanka, integrating new workers is becoming increasingly difficult.

Recently, the rise in global protectionism has made this difficult situation worse, as epitomized by the decision of Foxconn (a major supplier to Apple) to invest $10 billion in a new factory in Wisconsin. Admittedly, the 13,000 new jobs in the United States is a drop in the bucket compared to the 20 million (or more) that India and China must create each year, or even compared to the two million that the US needs.

At the margin, the US and Europe might have some scope to make trade fairer, as Trump says he will do. For example, many Chinese steel plants have state-of-the-art pollution controls, but these can be switched off to save costs. When the result is that excess output is dumped at cheap prices into world markets, Western countries are fully justified in taking countermeasures.

Unfortunately, the long history of trade protectionism is that it rarely takes the form of a surgical strike. Far more often, the main beneficiaries are the rich and politically connected, while the losers are consumers who pay higher prices.

Countries that go too far in closing themselves off to foreign competition eventually lose their edge, with innovation, jobs, and growth suffering. Brazil and India, for example, have historically suffered from inward-looking trade policies, though both have become more open in recent years.

Another problem is that most Western economies have long since become deeply intertwined in global supply chains. Even the Trump administration had to reconsider its plan to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement when it finally realized that a lot of US imports from Mexico have substantial US content. Erecting high tariff barriers might cost as many US jobs as Mexican jobs. And, of course, if the US were to raise its import tariffs sharply, a large part of the costs would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.

Trade will surely increasingly permeate the service sector, too. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (named after the eighteenth-century chess-playing machine which actually had a person cleverly hidden inside) is an example of a new platform that allows buyers to contract very small specific tasks (for example, programming or data transcription) at third-world wage rates. Amazon’s clever slogan is “artificial artificial intelligence.”

Even if protectionists could shut down outsourcing of tasks, what would the cost be? To be sure, online service platforms do need to be regulated, as early experience with Uber has demonstrated. But, given the massive number of new jobs that India and China need to create every year, and with the Internet remaining highly permeable, it is folly to think advanced economies can clamp down tightly on service exports.

So how should countries deal with the relentless advance of technology and trade? For the foreseeable future, improving infrastructure and education can achieve a great deal. While the rest of the world floundered in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, China continued to extend its vast logistical and supply chains.

In a world where people are likely to have to change jobs frequently and sometimes radically, wholesale changes in adult education are needed, mainly effected through online learning. Last but not least, countries need to institute stronger redistribution though taxes and transfers. Traditional populist trade policies, like those that Trump has espoused, have not worked well in the past, and are likely to perform even worse now. Kenneth Rogoff, a former chief economist of the IMF, is Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Harvard University.

By Kenneth Rogoff

A China Card for the Middle East

PARIS – The list of crises plaguing the Middle East is growing. In Yemen, a civil war rages amid an uncontrollable cholera epidemic. In Jerusalem, religious violence is intensifying, while in parts of Iraq and Syria, sectarian warfare shows no signs of abating. Most ominously, a new level of antagonism between Saudi Arabia and Iran suggests that a direct confrontation between the leading powers of Sunni and Shia Islam is no longer out of the question.


Just when the region needs the steady hand of international leadership most, none of the usual actors is strong enough, or committed enough, to engage effectively. What the region requires is a new framework for diplomacy – one with the strong backing of a new mediator: China.

By exporting terrorism and religiously inspired extremism, the Middle East has become “global” in the most negative sense. But while much attention has been focused on addressing what France’s former finance minister, Michel Sapin, once called the “unhappy” side of globalization – such as unemployment and income inequality – too little has been done to contain the spread of extremist violence or address its causes. Many diplomatic formulas have been tried, but progress remains elusive.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Europe endured horrific religious wars, but Christendom was mostly united when it began to confront the threat posed by an expanding Ottoman Empire. In the nineteenth century, the delicate balance of power between European powers and the crumbling Ottoman fringe gave rise to the “Eastern Question.” Ultimately, the Ottoman Empire’s demise fueled conflict in the Balkans and sowed rivalries that led to World War I.

Today, too, mainly European, or Western, approaches to ensuring stability in the Middle East no longer work. As a top European diplomat told me recently, the Middle East crisis is in desperate need of fresh thinking and new leadership. One idea he offered was a “Helsinki”-inspired solution, drawing on a diverse collection of countries to address a common, if regionally focused, problem.

My interlocutor’s suggestion was original, and potentially game-changing. In 1975, in Helsinki, Finland, a mechanism was created to reduce tensions and enable dialogue between the United States and the Soviet Union, the two Cold War superpowers. The resulting Helsinki Accords, which placed an emphasis on sovereignty and territorial integrity, represented a significant step toward strategic de-escalation. For some analysts, the accords, which received broad European and Western support, initiated the end of the Cold War (which the Soviet Union, of course, survived with neither its sovereignty nor its territorial integrity).

The geopolitical map has changed significantly since 1975, but the underlying premise of the Helsinki process – mutual respect built on global consensus – is no less relevant today. Unfortunately, neither the US nor Europe appears to be in a position to implement such an approach for the Middle East. That, in my view, leaves an opening for China, the world’s most important rising power, to engage in a formal and meaningful way.

China’s engagement would be a significant departure from its past policy. During much of China’s reform period, the country’s leadership emphasized domestic priorities and kept a low profile internationally. But in recent years, China has been more willing to play a larger global role, reflected in its leadership on climate change and its efforts to mediate between Sudan and South Sudan. In 2015, when France launched an ultimately unsuccessful bid to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, China was among the initiative’s most enthusiastic supporters.

Involving China in Middle East diplomacy makes sense politically, but it could also make sense culturally and historically. China faces fewer security vulnerabilities from the Middle East (except on matters of energy) than Europe does, and it has no imperial legacy in the region – and thus none of the emotional baggage of the colonial past. Moreover, the Chinese have not sided with Saudi Arabia, like the United States has under President Donald Trump, or with the Iranians, like Russia has under President Vladimir Putin. And China has none of the guilt that Europeans have over their historic mistreatment of both Arabs and Jews.

Of course, China may resist exposing itself to the pitfalls of Middle East diplomacy. China remains committed, at least rhetorically, to a policy of non-interference, and its citizens may be unenthusiastic. In Beijing last year, I was told by a Chinese foreign-policy expert that the country’s reluctance to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs partly reflects the legacy of the one-child policy that was enforced for more than three decades. Why would Chinese parents risk the life of their only child for the sake of faraway countries that pose no threat to China?

Yet, within the context of more broad-based international engagement, akin to the Helsinki process, China might actually be in the best position to help bring about long-term stability the Middle East. Given the collective failures of the usual actors, a new cast could surely do no worse. Dominique Moisi is Senior Counselor at the Institut Montaigne in Paris. He is the author of La Géopolitique des Séries ou le triomphe de la peur.

By Dominique Moisi

Unmasking the Climate-Change Deniers

STANFORD – Twenty-five years after the adoption of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on May 9, 1992, the world has yet to implement a treaty that effectively addresses global warming. Now, following President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate agreement, it is time to investigate more deeply the forces driving delay.


Throughout the 1990s, the American Petroleum Institute (API) – the largest oil and gas trade association and lobbying group in the US – repeatedly relied on economic models created by two economists, Paul Bernstein and W. David Montgomery, to argue that pro-climate policies would be devastatingly expensive. API successfully lobbied for delaying measures to address climate change solutions, using Bernstein and Montgomery’s projections to claim that job losses and economic costs would outweigh environmental benefits.

These arguments were used in 1991, to torpedo the idea of carbon dioxide controls; in 1993, against the Clinton administration’s proposed BTU tax (an energy surcharge that would have taxed sources based on their heat and carbon content); in 1996, against the goals of the UN Conference of Parties in Geneva (COP2); in 1997, against the goals of the UN Conference of Parties in Kyoto (COP3); and in 1998, against the Kyoto Protocol’s implementation. The API’s lobbying plan was repetitive. It also worked.

The oil and gas industry portrayed the reports it commissioned from Bernstein, who once worked at the Hawaiian Electric Company, and Montgomery, a former deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy, as factual, independent, and products of genuine economic debate. In the run-up to the 1997 meeting in Kyoto, Japan, for example, the oil company Mobil claimed in an advertisement placed in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times that “the cost of limiting emissions could range from $200 to $580 per ton of carbon,” based on “a study just issued by Charles River Associates.” Mobil didn’t name who wrote the CRA report (Bernstein and Montgomery were the first two authors) or who funded it (API).

Mobil’s message was misleading, but was the analysis that Bernstein and Montgomery authored truly flawed? Consider this: they ignored the negative costs of climate change, and suggested that clean energy would never be price competitive with fossil fuels, which is simply not true. They assumed the result that they claimed to show.

The oil and gas industry was richly rewarded for abusing the public trust. Americans eventually elected a president, George W. Bush, who bought the industry’s claims and pulled the US out of the Kyoto Protocol.

Sixteen years later, Trump stood in the White House Rose Garden and announced, with equal sophistry, that the Paris climate agreement would devastate the US economy and cost America some 2.7 million jobs, mostly in the construction industry, by 2025. That accounting, Trump said last month, was “according to the National Economic Research Associates.”

In case you’re wondering, the first two authors of the report Trump cited – just published in March – are Bernstein and Montgomery. This time, they were hired by the American Council for Capital Formation, a Washington, DC-based think tank and lobbying group with a history of commissioning deeply flawed work used to challenge climate policy.

Throughout the 1990s, the oil and gas industry and its allies perfected the art of blocking America’s support for key global climate-change initiatives. The maestros, it appears, are back, and their repertoire hasn’t changed. It never had to.

In addition to commissioning studies claiming that climate policies would hurt the US economy, the industry also consistently claims that efforts to address global warming would be uniquely harmful to the US , would not reduce the risks , and might prevent poverty alleviation. All three of these additional arguments also appear in Trump’s announcement on the Paris accord.

When a tortoise is sitting on a post, you know it didn’t get there by itself. The reappearance of the same four arguments developed a quarter-century ago by an industry that benefits from delaying climate policies – arguments used with great success precisely because their origin and true purpose were hidden from the public – looks a lot like the tortoise’s four wiggling feet.

If history rhymes, here’s what we may expect in the months ahead: industry-sponsored economic “studies,” flashy online content, think tank reports, and polished front groups posing as grassroots organizations. These are time-tested components of the strategy used by the fossil fuel industry and others to block, obstruct, and control climate policy.

We must not let the industry continue to obstruct climate policy. That means following the money that funds the pseudo-science of delay, and exposing the co-opted scholars who feed false images of debate to the public.

The same arguments – and people – used by the fossil fuel industry to block climate policies decades ago are back. For the sake of humanity, we must not let them succeed again.

Benjamin Franta, a former research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, is a doctoral student in the history of science at Stanford University, where his research focuses on climate politics and the manipulation of science.

By Benjamin Franta

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