Opinion

Spain’s Crisis is Europe’s Opportunity

ATHENS – To revive the ailing European project, the ugly conflict between Catalonia’s regional government and the Spanish state may be just what the doctor ordered. A constitutional crisis in a major European Union member state creates a golden opportunity to reconfigure the democratic governance of regional, national, and European institutions, thereby delivering a defensible, and thus sustainable, EU.


The EU’s official reaction to the police violence witnessed during Catalonia’s independence referendum amounts to dereliction of duty. To declare, as the President of the European Commission did, that this is an internal Spanish problem in which the EU has no say is hypocrisy on stilts.

Of course, hypocrisy has long been at the center of the EU’s behavior. Its officials had no compunction about meddling in a member state’s internal affairs – say, to demand the removal of elected politicians for refusing to implement cuts in the pensions of their poorest citizens or to sell off public assets at ridiculous prices (something I have personally experienced). But when the Hungarian and Polish governments explicitly renounce fundamental EU principles, non-interference suddenly became sacrosanct.

The Catalan question has deep historical roots, as does nationalism more broadly. But would it have erupted the way it recently did had Europe not mishandled the eurozone crisis since 2010, imposing quasi-permanent stagnation on Spain and the rest of the European periphery while setting the stage for xenophobia and moral panic when refugees began crossing Europe’s external borders? An example illustrates the connection.

Barcelona, Catalonia’s exquisite capital, is a rich city running a budget surplus. Yet many of its citizens recently faced eviction by Spanish banks that had been bailed out by their taxes. The result was the formation of a civic movement that in June 2015 succeeded in electing Ada Colau as Barcelona’s mayor.

Among Colau’s commitments to the people of Barcelona was a local tax cut for small businesses and households, assistance to the poor, and the construction of housing for 15,000 refugees – a large share of the total number that Spain was meant to absorb from frontline states like Greece and Italy. All of this could be achieved while keeping the city’s books in the black, simply by reducing the municipal budget surplus.

Alas, Colau soon realized that she faced insurmountable obstacles. Spain’s central government, citing the state’s obligations to the EU’s austerity directives, had enacted legislation effectively banning any municipality from reducing its surplus. At the same time, the central government barred entry to the 15,000 refugees for whom Colau had built excellent housing facilities.

To this day, the budget surplus prevails, the services and local tax cuts promised have not been delivered, and the social housing for refugees remains empty. The path from this sorry state of affairs to the reinvigoration of Catalan separatism could not be clearer.

In any systemic crisis, the combination of austerity for the many, socialism for bankers, and strangulation of local democracy creates the hopelessness and discontent that are nationalism’s oxygen. Progressive, anti-nationalist Catalans, like Colau, find themselves squeezed from both sides: the state’s authoritarian establishment, which uses the EU’s directives as a cover for its behavior, and a renaissance of radical parochialism, isolationism, and atavistic nativism. Both reflect the failure to fulfill the promise of shared, pan-European prosperity.

Catalonia provides an excellent case study of Europe’s broader conundrum. Choosing between an authoritarian Spanish state and a “make Catalonia great again” nationalism is equivalent to choosing between Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the President of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, and Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front: austerity or disintegration.

The duty of progressive Europeans is to reject both: the deep establishment at the EU level and the competing nationalisms ravaging solidarity and common sense in member states like Spain.

The alternative is to Europeanize the solution to a problem caused largely by Europe’s systemic crisis. Instead of impeding local and regional democratic governance, the EU should be fostering it. The EU treaties could be amended to enshrine the right of regional governments and city councils, like Catalonia’s and Barcelona’s, to fiscal autonomy and even to their own fiscal money. They could also be allowed to implement their own policies on refugees and migration.

If there was still demand for statehood and separation from the internationally recognized state to which they belong, the EU could invoke a code of conduct for secession. For example, the EU could stipulate that it will sanction an independence referendum if the regional government requesting it has already won an election on such a platform with an absolute majority of the voters. Moreover, the referendum should be held at least one year after the election, to allow for a proper, sober debate.

As for the new state, it should be obligated to maintain at least the same level of fiscal transfers as before. Rich Veneto could secede from Italy, for example, as long as it maintained its fiscal transfers to the South. Moreover, the new state should be prohibited from erecting new borders and be compelled to guarantee its residents the right to triple citizenship (new state, old state, and European).

The Catalonia crisis is a strong hint from history that Europe needs to develop a new type of sovereignty, one that strengthens cities and regions, dissolves national particularism, and upholds democratic norms. The immediate beneficiaries would be Catalans, the people of Northern Ireland, and maybe the Scots (who would in this manner snatch an opportunity out of the jaws of Brexit). But the longer-term beneficiary of this new type of sovereignty would be Europe as a whole. Imagining a pan-European democracy is the prerequisite for imagining a Europe worth saving. Yanis Varoufakis, a former finance minister of Greece, is Professor of Economics at the University of Athens.

By Yanis Varoufakis

Inside the Mind of the Mass Shooter

LONDON – This weekend, Stephen Paddock opened fire on a country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, from an overlooking hotel, killing at least 59 people and injuring more than 500 others. Paddock, a 64-year-old former accountant with no criminal record, was ultimately found in his hotel room, dead, with some 23 guns, including more than ten assault weapons. Police later found an additional 19 firearms, explosives, and several thousands of rounds of ammunition in Paddock’s home. What the authorities have not yet found, however, is a motive.

More details about Paddock’s mindset and objectives will probably come to light in the coming days. But so-called “lone wolf” mass shooters – individual perpetrators with no ties to any movement or ideology – are not a new phenomenon, and these episodes have offered important clues about the motivations and thought processes of mass shooters.

Most mass shooters do not survive their own attacks; they either kill themselves or let police do the job. But those who have survived have shown some common features, with narcissistic personality disorder and paranoid schizophrenia being the two most frequent diagnoses. That was the case with Anders Breivik, the Norwegian far-right terrorist who, in 2011, detonated a van bomb that killed eight people, before shooting dead 69 participants in a youth summer camp. He remains in prison in Norway.

A look at behavior prior to attacks reinforces this view. In The Wiley Handbook of the Psychology of Mass Shootings, Grant Duwe, the director of research and evaluation for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, examined 160 cases of mass shootings in the United States between 1915 and 2013.

Duwe found that 60% of the perpetrators had either been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder or exhibited signs of serious mental disturbance before the attack. About one third had contact with mental-health professionals, who had diagnosed them, most commonly, with paranoid schizophrenia. The second most common diagnosis was depression.

Yet, given that most people who suffer from these disorders are harmless to the public, these diagnoses do not tell the whole story. According to Duwe, the difference may lie partly in an acute sense of being persecuted – and an acute desire for revenge.

This view is corroborated by Paul Mullen, an Australian forensic psychiatrist. Based on a detailed investigation of five mass murderers whom he personally examined, Mullen concluded that such killers struggle to reconcile their own grandiose ideas of themselves with an inability to succeed at work or in relationships. The only explanation, they decide, is that others are out to sabotage them.

In fact, Mullen’s study revealed that the path to mass murder is rather stereotypical. All of Mullen’s subjects had been bullied or socially excluded as children. They were all suspicious and rigid, qualities that helped to deepen their isolation. They constantly blamed their problems on others, believing that their community had rejected them; they failed to consider that they themselves were too wearisome or self-centered.

Mullen’s subjects obsessively held grudges against anyone whom they viewed as part of the group or community that refused to accept them. They ruminated relentlessly over past humiliations, a habit that fueled resentment and, eventually, revenge fantasies, leading them to use mass murder to achieve infamy and to hurt those perceived to have hurt them – even if it meant a “welcome death” for themselves.

Given this, there is usually a kind of warped logic to mass shooters’ choice of victims. In the case of school shootings, such as the Columbine High School massacre of 1999, that logic is clear: to punish those who have excluded the perpetrators socially. Likewise, workplace rampages are often triggered by a firing or layoff. But even in cases where the targets seem random, the logic usually emerges eventually, even if it is a matter of punishing an entire community or society.

In Paddock’s case, many questions obviously remain unanswered, beginning with why he chose that particular concert to attack. But the contours of his story are beginning to emerge. Reinforcing the loner trope, one neighbor said that the “weird” Paddock “kept to himself”; living next to him was “like living next to nothing.” It has also been revealed that in 2012, Paddock filed a negligence lawsuit against a Las Vegas hotel where he had fallen; litigiousness can be a hallmark of the resentful and paranoid.

Duwe argues that, contrary to popular belief, such gunmen do not “just snap.” Though roughly two-thirds of mass public shooters experience a traumatic event immediately before carrying out the attack – usually the loss of a job or relationship – most spend weeks or even years deliberating and preparing to get their revenge. In Paddock’s case, such quiet planning may explain the armory found in his home and hotel room, which he rented several days prior to the attack.

After the massacre, more than half of mass public shooters either commit suicide directly or provoke the police into killing them. This rate is nearly ten times higher than for homicide offenders in general. Does this reveal, Duwe asks, just how mentally plagued these perpetrators are? Perhaps they believe they can no longer bear the agony of life; once they have “settled the score” for the perceived slights that have produced it, there is no reason left to live.

Mullen argues that the script for this particular type of suicide has become entrenched in modern culture, and continues to attract willing lead actors. If we are unable to use the knowledge we have gleaned from past experience to prevent them from taking the stage, they will continue to take aim at audiences.

Raj Persaud is a consultant psychiatrist and the co-author of the forthcoming book The Streetwise Person’s Guide to Mental Health Care. Adrian Furnham is Professor of Psychology at University College London and the author of the forthcoming book The Psychology of Disenchantment.

By Raj Persaud and Adrian Furnham

Securing Land Rights in Africa

WASHINGTON, DC – Earlier this month, Liberian President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf warned that Africa would continue to be stalked by poverty, hunger, and famine until governments provide smallholder farmers with secure rights to land. She was speaking from experience, both personal and political.


Sirleaf and her tiny West African country are perfect examples of the steep toll that insecure land rights take on individuals, communities, and countries. Disputes over land ownership were a key driver of Liberia’s bloody 14-year civil war. And overlapping claims to land continue to foment conflict and impede foreign investment. Not even the president is immune to weak land-tenure laws; squatters invaded a four-acre parcel that Sirleaf bought in 1979, and refused to move for years.

Stories like these can be heard across the continent. According to the World Bank, more than 90% of Africa’s rural land is undocumented. Overlapping and conflicting land-management systems are the norm, as are inaccessible, out-of-date, incomplete, inaccurate, or nonexistent land records. But while dysfunctional systems of land tenure have no doubt cost African governments millions in foreign investment, they have hurt African farmers most directly.

Africa’s small family farmers – already burdened by soil degradation, climate change, and resource competition fueled by surging populations – face an even more challenging bureaucratic hurdle: no paper to prove that the land they call home is theirs. Uncertain of their ability to control their farms into the next season, farmers’ planning horizons shrink. Instead of investing in terraced fields, planting trees, and buying high-quality fertilizer, Africa’s farmers seek to maximize short-term profits. This is particularly true of female farmers, who face an additional thicket of discriminatory land laws and customs.

Studies show there is no way to reduce poverty, improve nutrition, or achieve other key development goals without strengthening land rights, especially for women. Secure rights to land are simply a prerequisite of development.

In Tanzania, women with secure rights earn three times more than their landless counterparts. In Nepal, children whose mothers have secure land rights are 33% more likely to be well nourished. And in Zambia, in areas where women’s land rights are weak and HIV infection rates are high, women are less likely to make investments to improve harvests – even when their husbands are not HIV positive. These women anticipate that they will be forced off their land if and when they are widowed, and that expectation depresses farm investment, affecting harvests and family nutrition for years.

Given that there are 400 million female farmers, such findings suggest the high global costs – measured in terms of lost productivity and unrealized economic potential – of insecure land rights for women.

In Africa, the signs of insecure land rights are literally etched into the landscape. In some regions, poor recordkeeping and weak administrative structures have forced landowners to post notices in their fields or on their homes, warning prospective buyers that they may be duped into purchasing parcels from people who are not the legitimate owners. In many countries, there is simply no way to know who owns what piece of property.

Communities with clear legal control over land manage those resources more assiduously than those with shaky tenure. The same can be said for individuals. In Ghana, farmers with strong land rights are 39% more likely to plant trees. In Ethiopia, farmers are 60% more likely to invest in preventing soil erosion when they have secure rights to their plots.

But while the evidence is clear, nearly one billion people worldwide continue to lack secure rights to the land they rely on for a living. As the Cadasta Foundation and Habitat for Humanity’s Solid Ground campaign recently demonstrated in a new online survey, these uncertainties have far-reaching consequences. Weak land rights can limit farmers’ access to crop insurance, make it difficult for their children to register for school, and can even contribute to higher rates of suicide.

Currently, Liberia’s Senate is considering legislation that would dramatically strengthen land rights for farmers, including female farmers. Many other countries in Africa (notably Rwanda and Zambia) and in Asia (including Myanmar and India) have done, or are planning to do, the same. These efforts should be supported, expedited, and replicated.

Yet people are not waiting for their leaders to act. Innovative technologies are already providing a path forward for communities in countries with unwilling or incapable governments. Advances in GPS, drones, and cloud computing have given communities the ability to document land – with or without official recognition or support. Together with the Cadasta Foundation, communities from Nigeria to India are using hand-held devices to map property and support land claims with hard evidence, thereby allowing for incremental strengthening of tenure.

Liberia’s drive to spearhead a continent-wide overhaul of land rights is welcome; leaders like Sirleaf clearly understand the challenges that come with weak land laws. But structural changes will take time. In the absence of more assertive government intervention, it will be up to communities and individuals to leapfrog conventional efforts and fill in the blank spaces on the map.

Frank Pichel is Chief Programs Officer and co-founder of the Cadasta Foundation.

By Frank Pichel

Politics in the Way of Progress

BERKELEY – There are 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to tackle problems including poverty, hunger, disease, inequality, climate change, ecological degradation, and many others in between. Clearly, 17 is too many. As Frederick the Great supposedly said, “He who defends everything defends nothing.” Similarly, those who emphasize everything emphasize nothing.


This points to the problem of forging goals through consensus: they can end up being a wish list for everything short of heaven on Earth. But, to be effective, goals should operate like turnpikes, which allow you to make progress toward a specific destination much faster than if you had taken the scenic route. The purpose of consensus building, then, should be to get us to the on-ramp, after which it becomes harder to make a wrong turn or reverse course.

Still, there could be obstacles on the road ahead. For Tsinghua University’s Andrew Sheng and Xiao Geng of the University of Hong Kong, these include “technological disruption, geopolitical rivalry, and widening social inequality,” but, above all, “populist calls for nationalist policies, including trade protectionism.”

Sheng and Geng see a world in which “the sovereign state still reigns supreme, with national interests overshadowing shared objectives.” They point out that, for advanced and developing economies alike, “paying for global public goods has become all the more unappealing,” given that “both democratic and authoritarian governance” have struggled to deliver “equitable development.” Their conclusion is that “achieving the SDGs will probably be impossible” in a world beholden to “the antiquated Westphalian model of nation-states.” After all, there is “no global tax mechanism to ensure the provision of global public goods,” and “no global monetary or welfare policies to maintain price stability and social peace.”

Another obstacle, argues Mark Suzman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is that “without a more deliberate, data-driven focus on the needs of women and girls in particular, progress toward a wide range of [SDG] objectives will suffer.” Over the past two centuries, the world has made significant strides in reducing infant mortality, such that the typical woman no longer has to spend five years of her life pregnant and another ten years nursing. Yet traditional patriarchal systems are still blocking women from contributing as much as they otherwise could, and without more data, we cannot see where those blockages are occurring.

Nobel laureate economist Michael Spence, for his part, warns that as long as there are “non-inclusive growth patterns” in both developing and advanced economies, there is little hope of “reducing poverty and fulfilling basic human aspirations for health, security, and the chance to contribute productively and creatively to society.” And, complicating matters further, inequitable growth risks fueling “political or social turmoil, often marked by ideological or ethnic polarization, which then leads either to wide policy swings or to policy paralysis.”

And Kaushik Basu of Cornell University laments that a “growth slowdown” in India, once “a poster child for political stability and economic growth among emerging economies,” has become a “source of serious concern not just domestically, but around the world.” To right the Indian ship, Basu calls on the government to focus its development efforts on specific sectors such as health, education, and medical tourism, and to do more to attract capital investment.

To me, a common underlying concern in all of these commentaries is not so much economics as politics and people – and a politics of people. We live in a world that is far richer than that of any previous generation. In theory, it should be easy to ensure that all people have the nutrition and health care they need to live full lives. Educating all people so that they can make the best use of modern technologies and the other resources at their disposal should be rather straightforward. And it should be obvious to everyone – even the richest among us – that providing comfort in old age, and prosperity for the next generation, requires that the wealthiest pay enough in taxes to ensure that growth is truly and equitably shared.

The problem is that while many people work toward the SDGs, political confidence men (and some women) are throwing up new barriers, by stoking the resentments of those who have benefited the most from inequitable growth, as well as those who have missed out. In the United States, one can see this every hour on Fox News, where Mexican auto-parts workers, Salvadoran refugees, Muslims, “ungrateful” non-white Americans, and “globalists” of all stripes are routinely vilified. And, of course, one can see the same thing in other countries around the world.

But many of those sitting at home watching cable news (or reading commentaries about the SDGs) hail from the top 50% of the income distribution in the Global North, or from the top 20% in the Global South. We are the ones who need to be sufficiently grateful for our circumstances. Some of us have much more than others; but we all have far more than we deserve.

Then again, perhaps we should stop thinking in terms of what is “deserved” at all. “For we each of us deserve everything,” a character in Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1974 novel The Dispossessed reminds us, “and we each of us deserve nothing.”

In other words, achieving the SDGs may require a radically different approach. “Free your mind of the idea of deserving, the idea of earning,” Le Guin’s character continues, “and you will begin to be able to think.”

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

The Power of Active Citizenship

LONDON – The Congress of South African Trade Unions, the country’s largest labor organization, recently held what were billed as the largest popular protests since the end of apartheid, over chronic corruption and state capture. In Moldova, citizens continue to protest a controversial electoral law that favors the country’s two largest political parties, at the expense of smaller movements. In the United States, professional football players are taking a knee during the national anthem to draw attention to police violence against black people.


As different as these examples of public protest are, they have one thing in common: they reflect efforts by ordinary citizens to hold not just their governments, but also companies and other institutions, to account. Such actions, and the right of citizens to organize and participate in them, are essential to a vital democratic society, especially during tumultuous times.

There is no doubt that these are tumultuous times. US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have been exchanging incendiary rhetoric, causing many to fear a war on the Korean Peninsula – and perhaps a nuclear clash. Large-scale natural disasters – hurricanes in Puerto Rico, floods in South Asia, earthquakes in Mexico – have brought massive damage and loss of life, and not nearly enough relief aid.

Moreover, corruption scandals have erupted far beyond South Africa, including in Brazil and South Korea, yet the links between business and government across the world remain complex, close, and opaque. Far-right populists have made great political strides in Western democracies, most recently in Germany. And, all the while, income inequality continues to grow.

Against this background, it is easy to see why ordinary people the world over are feeling increasingly helpless. But it is in the most trying times that we show who we really are. And, from small gestures between neighbors and large private contributions to crisis-relief efforts by major companies, there have been plenty of stories of humanity, individually and institutionally, that offer reason for hope. Indeed, such actions, and the sense of personal accountability they reflect, are what enables our societies to progress and thrive.

As we well know, without rules and accountability, government officials and business leaders cannot always be counted on to do the right thing. Moreover, given their influence over policy and the economy, their ethical and moral failures have far-reaching consequences.

Yet, while the need to hold government to the highest ethical standards is generally agreed (if not necessarily implemented), many argue that companies should be free to pursue profits at any cost. Like government, however, companies are ultimately run by people in order to serve people; they must therefore also be accountable to people.

The key to enforcing this accountability is active citizenship. Taught in schools around the world, from Canada to the United Kingdom, active citizenship means political participation at every level. It is not just a nice idea; it a dynamic and vital concept that individuals, organizations, and institutions should be putting into practice every day.

The ethos of active citizenship applies in every sphere. Speaking up about a controversial issue in a board meeting not so long ago, I felt it was important to note that I was speaking not just as a board member, but also as a person. That recognition, however trite it may sound, served as a powerful reminder of a broader lesson: that one must maintain one’s sense of right and wrong, regardless of the circumstances.

Convincing oneself that a decision is purely pragmatic, in order to avoid knotty ethical questions, is not an option. If I, as a person, believe in protecting the environment, or seek in my personal life and business to protect my own security and privacy, I cannot abandon those beliefs in the boardroom in the name of profit. Avoiding active discussion, in an effort not to have to confront the more nuanced ethical implications that might emerge, is no less disingenuous.

Being an active and engaged citizen means being authentic and empathetic. It means considering not only what an issue means for us, individually, but also how it affects others. Many have wondered why American football players, who often make millions of dollars per season, are protesting injustice. The reason is simple: active citizenship means standing up – or kneeling down – for what we believe in, whether it be a government free of corruption or law enforcement free of racism.

An ethos of personal integrity and authenticity may seem powerless in the face of unbridled greed and narcissism. And yet the difficult and trying times in which we find ourselves reflect the need to place more emphasis, not less, on the values we claim to uphold, and on devising ways to realize those values in our communities and countries.

By Lucy P. Marcus

Flights of Unmanned Fancy

BOSTON – Few pieces of modern hardware have inspired as much excitement as the drone. While nonmilitary unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were initially marketed as purely recreational gadgets, it has not taken long for entrepreneurs and industrial giants to seize on the endless possibilities they offer. Annual sales in the United States are expected to reach seven million units by 2020, and many are already predicting a future in which drones reshape our cities – through remote delivery of goods, airborne surveillance, or as yet unforeseen applications.


Yet one possibility has captured our collective imagination more than any other: the idea that drones will soon be moving people over cities en masse. Might flying taxis one day pluck us from our front gardens and delicately plop us down outside the cinema or our favorite restaurant?

Before we mentally hail the next air cab, let’s consider what it would actually mean if the skies were filled with swarms of miniature helicopters ferrying people to their next destination. Though drones will have many important uses in the future, I do not believe moving people around cities will, or should, be one of them.

The dream of unmanned aerial transportation is not new. When Fritz Lang created the futuristic cityscape for his groundbreaking 1927 film, Metropolis, he filled its skies with vertiginous towers and compact flying vehicles. Then, in the early 1960s, the Hanna-Barbera animation studio produced The Jetsons, a cartoon series following the escapades of a futuristic all-American family. In the opening credits the family whizzes around Orbit City in a hover car that folds up into a briefcase, which George, the family patriarch, then carries into his office. In 1982, the science-fiction blockbuster Blade Runner featured flying police cars called “spinners.”

Today, a version of such make-believe futures would seem tantalizingly within reach. Uber is investing in flying car technology. Earlier this year, Airbus launched Pop.Up, a vertical takeoff and landing concept vehicle for personal mobility. And in a venture that promises “flight for all,” German start-up Volocopter has designed the 2X, a miniature helicopter with 18 rotors that will begin test flights in Dubai later this year.

All of this suggests that urbanites will soon be zipping around urban airspace like George Jetson, right? Wrong. Despite big investments and bigger promises, there are physical and practical reasons why it is highly unlikely that our cities will be filled with airborne people movers anytime soon.

First, let’s consider the physics. Anyone who has stood near a helicopter taking off will understand that a lot of energy is required to lift a heavy object vertically into the air. Drone rotors are essentially big fans, pushing air down to create upward propulsion. There is no way to achieve lift without creating a vast amount of both noise and air disturbance.

Residents of New York City know this well. Complaints about noise from one of the city’s main helipads on the Hudson River led to increased regulation of tour operators. Yet, even before that legislation, there were fewer than 5,000 tourist flights per month. Imagine if all of the city’s eight million residents took even one flight every few weeks: the city would become unlivable.

Other factors that should curb our enthusiasm are more technological. Even with dramatically improved batteries extending drones’ range, the crush of vehicles needed to move large numbers of people overhead would present a daunting safety hazard. Modern cars may be dangerous, but a dead battery or a broken rotor blade in a flying taxi would cause a heavy vehicle to fall onto a densely populated area. And we still don’t know whether such drones could be protected from hackers, terrorists, or other criminals, or how air traffic control systems might guide people safely.

Drones will still have a transformative impact on how future populations live, do business, and interact. Small UAVs have already proven their potential across diverse fields – from humanitarian-aid delivery to security. Drones transcend geographical barriers without the need for large-scale physical infrastructure, and can bring isolated communities into close contact with the rest of the world. In Brazil, for example, the government is deploying camera-equipped drones to inspect remote agricultural producers suspected of breaking labor laws. And drones are already monitoring air quality and providing support during health emergencies.

But urban mobility is not an appropriate application for UAV technology. The problems of mass transportation can be fixed with our feet planted firmly on the ground – and long before flying taxis are even a viable alternative. With improvements to digital networks and real-time data, autonomous cars, trucks, and boats – like the Roboat that colleagues and I are prototyping in Amsterdam – can be made fast and effective enough for all our needs. And staying on the ground will obviate the need for networks of new infrastructure, like costly “vertiports.”

Society’s enduring dream of whizzing over a city in private flying cars has long captured the imagination of filmmakers – and now even some investors. For practical reasons large and small, however, it is a vision that will remain the stuff of fantasy.

Carlo Ratti is Director of the Senseable City Lab at MIT and founder of the design firm Carlo Ratti Associati. He co-chairs the World Economic Form Global Future Council on Cities.

By Carlo Ratti

Europe’s Battle on Four Fronts

LONDON – With Germany’s election over, Europe has reached the end of a season of continuous political upsets. It is now time for actions that adequately respond to the upheavals created by all these votes.


Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s first vice president, last year described the state of Europe as “multi-crisis”: Brexit, refugees, “illiberal democracy” in Hungary and Poland, the still-unresolved euro crisis, and the geopolitical risks attributable to Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. All are challenging the “European project” that began 60 years ago with the Treaty of Rome.

But crises invariably create opportunities. And last year’s multi-crisis has produced a convergence of opportunities. European leaders no longer have an excuse for inaction while they wait for voters’ next rebuff.

Economic reforms in France, German unease about refugees and the euro, new attitudes toward European integration in Brussels, and signs that Brexit will be delayed indefinitely or even completely averted: all have created new possibilities for taming the dangerous forces unleashed by last year’s populist revolts. But realizing these opportunities will require four simultaneous political and economic breakthroughs across Europe.

France must act on over-regulation and excessive public spending. Germany must rethink fiscal austerity and monetary dogma. Britain needs a turnabout on nationalism and immigration. And European Union officials must abandon their obsession with driving all member countries toward an “ever-closer union” that many of their citizens do not want.

Without simultaneous breakthroughs on all four fronts, it is hard to imagine progress on any of the separate aspects of the multi-crisis. For example, any easing of German-inspired austerity will require evidence of economic reform in France; but French reforms will succeed only if Germany agrees to more generous fiscal rules and supports monetary policies that benefit the eurozone’s weaker members.

Similarly, Brexit could be averted or indefinitely delayed if the EU offered an extension of the negotiating period beyond March 2019 and suggested some modest concessions on immigration and welfare payments. But European leaders would consider offering such concessions only if they saw clear evidence that British voters were changing their minds about leaving the EU.

Now consider the German voters who have turned against Chancellor Angela Merkel and her SPD coalition partners, mainly because they resent what they see as uncontrolled immigration and unjustified transfer payments to Greece. These voters will oppose the fiscal and monetary integration required to stabilize the eurozone if they think their money will be spent on subsidizing poor countries on Europe’s periphery that refuse to cooperate on refugees and fail to abide by EU laws.

The only way to convince German voters that their money will not be misdirected would be to create separate political institutions and a separate budget for the eurozone. This is the proposal advanced by French President Emmanuel Macron and supported in principle by Merkel. But plans for such a two-track Europe can advance only if Merkel can overcome German nationalists who want to break up the single currency, and only if Macron can silence integrationist zealots in Brussels who want to force all EU countries to join the eurozone.

At first sight, simultaneous progress on many fronts seems too much to hope for. After all, if the necessary breakthroughs in France, Germany, Britain, and Brussels were each a 50-50 coin-toss, the probability of all four coins landing “heads” would be only 6.25%.

Fortunately, there are at least two reasons for dismissing such apparently logical scepticism. First, the political and economic decisions that leaders across Europe now face are anything but independent. What happens in Paris, London, and Brussels will depend crucially on the government program that Merkel negotiates with her eventual coalition partners in Berlin. And Germany’s coalition agreement will, in turn, depend on Macron’s diplomatic skills in advocating a distinct politico-economic identity for the eurozone.

Equally important, the EU bureaucracy will have to embrace – enthusiastically – the concept of a two-track Europe. This means abandoning the assumption that all EU members are heading for the same destination, and an end to treating non-euro countries as second-class laggards (described condescendingly as “pre-ins”).

Now, suppose that EU leaders recognized that the only feasible way to maintain European stability and progress would be by adopting the two-track or “concentric circles” model, with a more politically integrated eurozone surrounded by a looser economic confederation of non-euro countries. Under these circumstances, Britain would be likely to change its mind about Brexit.

Failing that, Britain would spend several years in a transition limbo and would then almost certainly re-join Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic in the outer ring of EU countries that object to the pooling of sovereignty required by the euro. This outer orbit would also attract Norway and Switzerland through the irresistible pull of economic gravity.

This points to the second reason to believe that EU leaders could achieve simultaneous political and economic breakthroughs across Europe. The necessary decisions in Paris, Berlin, London, and Brussels are not just a random coin toss. There are strong incentives for voters and political leaders in all democratic countries to take decisions that support economic prosperity and political stability, once it becomes obvious that all the alternatives are economically damaging or politically dangerous.

This is the point that French voters arguably reached in April when they elected Macron, and a similar turning point is rapidly approaching in Britain, as the risks and contradictions of Brexit become ever clearer. All that remains is for Germany to recognize that its prosperity and security depends on a more integrated eurozone inside a more flexible EU.

Anatole Kaletsky is Chief Economist and Co-Chairman of Gavekal Dragonomics and the author of Capitalism 4.0, The Birth of a New Economy.

By Anatole Kaletsky

The Fear Factor in Today’s Interest Rates

CAMBRIDGE – Many who attended grade school during the Cold War will remember what they were instructed to do in the event of a nuclear attack. When the siren wailed, US students were told, one should “duck and cover.” Apparently, squatting under your desk with your arms covering your head would save you from nuclear annihilation. If only it were so.


To recall this absurd advice is also to appreciate the current angst now being felt in Japan. Several times in recent weeks, cellphone texts (today’s sirens) have informed the public that the faint streak in the sky overhead is an intercontinental ballistic missile launched by a nuclear-armed 33-year-old dictator with impulse control issues.

This is a manmade threat to the world order that Atlantic-hugging policymakers and pundits, buffered by a continent and a large ocean to their west, may not fully appreciate. But the threat posed by North Korea’s Kim Jong-un has had a significant effect on global financial markets in recent months.

Simply and discouragingly put, sabre-rattling on the Korean Peninsula has increased the risk of direct conflict with the North, which would shatter the relationship between China and the US. Any such conflict would involve massive loss of life and trigger a large regional, perhaps global, contraction in economic activity.

The theory of “rare disaster risk” has progressed considerably in recent years, owing to the work of the Harvard economist Robert Barro. The core insight is that no one can rule out the occurrence of an Old Testament-style event – war, famine, pestilence, or societal collapse. Such disruptions to a settled way of life slash output, consumption, and human welfare. Because they do not happen often, they are far removed from the smooth center of the probability distribution from which baseline scenarios are drawn.

The experience of the Great Recession tells us what to expect from financial markets when output plummets: as inflation tumbles, so do nominal and real (inflation-protected) yields on Treasury bills. The yield curve flattens because owning a long-term term claim on a safe-haven asset is valuable insurance. As yields on Treasury securities fall, other spreads widen relative to them.

In the current context, geopolitical tensions create the remote possibility of a disaster – the odds of which shift daily – that would make everyone much worse off. We claim no special insight into the mind of Kin Jong-un, but knowing that there is an unknowable helps to make sense of current asset prices. In such circumstances, risk-averse investors, especially those more directly in harm’s way along Asia’s Pacific Rim, will want to insure against an adverse event by taking advantage of the expected financial-market effects now. Nominal, real, and inflation-break-even Treasury rates are lower than the cyclical position of the economy warrants, owing to investors’ perception of acyclical and atypical risk.

In a recent speech, Gertjan Vlieghe, a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, pointed in the same direction. He explained that when future consumption prospects are misshapen relative to the tried-and-true bell curve, so that there seems to be a higher chance of bad outcomes, the market-clearing (or “equilibrium”) real interest rate falls relative to its history.

The growing perception of rare disaster risk has three implications. First, low interest rates do not necessarily indicate that advanced economies are mired in a low-growth trap as a consequence of adverse demographic trends and slow productivity growth. Rather, they tell us that competition for safe assets has heated up.

Second, this is no counsel for government to ramp up spending. The near-term cost of financing deficits is low because households are worried that the possible “seven lean years” will be very lean, indeed. If citizens are storing up for the worst case, are their leaders – even officials concerned about the cyclical management of aggregate demand – justified in throwing caution to the wind?

And, third, low policy interest rates in the advanced economies are not necessarily evidence of ample accommodation by the monetary authorities. This is because monetary-policy ease is measured in terms of the difference between the actual rate and the equilibrium rate. The current low policy rates maintained by the US Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, and the Bank of Japan may not look so low if the equilibrium rate is actually low.

The idea of rare disaster risk complements other explanations for the current low level of real rates globally. Perhaps the risk of a remote catastrophe is what created the “global saving glut” that former Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke warned about in 2005. And, if government officials are worried about future conflict, they may have greater incentive to push real interest rates lower through “financial repression,” so that they have sufficient budget space to prepare.

These, however, are explanations of longer-term trends. Recognizing the existence of the global savings glut helps us to understand the 15 years after the Asian financial crisis of 1998. Financial repression makes sense of the experience after wars or on other occasions when government debt piles up. Rare disaster risk is most likely a contributing factor in such episodes, and it may be even more relevant for explaining short-term dynamics in financial markets when missiles fly.

Carmen Reinhart is Professor of the International Financial System at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Vincent Reinhart is Chief Economist for Standish Mellon Asset Management.

By Carmen Reinhart and Vincent Reinhart

South Africa’s Rhino Paradox

JOHANNESBURG – Earlier this year, South Africa’s Constitutional Court overturned a 2009 moratorium on trade in rhinoceros horns. It was a devastating blow for animal conservation groups, which had hailed a measure that aligned South Africa with the global ban on the trade in effect since 1977.


But as the court’s ruling sinks in, commercial breeders and animal rights groups face a crucial question: could the creation of a legal market for farmed horns curb a poaching pandemic that claims some 1,500 wild rhinos annually?

For South Africa’s rhino industry, the court’s decision was a watershed. John Hume, the world’s most successful rhino breeder, hosted the country’s first online horn auction in August. Writing on the auction’s website, he argued that “the demand for rhino horn is high, and open trading of the horn has the potential to satisfy this demand to prevent rhino poaching.”

Opponents of the trade say demand for horns could increase as a result of legalization, reviving dormant interest. This growth could outpace commercial supply, and even fuel more illegal poaching of wild animals. Critics also worry that ending the ban will remove any lingering stigma associated with possessing rhino horn, further boosting demand.

Breeders and traders like Hume concede that demand “is not going to die down anytime soon.” But they argue that because horns are a renewable resource – they grow back when trimmed, albeit slowly – what South Africa actually needs are incentives to encourage responsible breeding and conservation. “If we do not take the steps to meet the demand,” Hume argues, “we won’t save the rhino.”

We still do not know how the court’s decision will affect demand for a resource that is prized throughout Asia for its medicinal value. What is clear, however, is that placing too much trust in a commercial conservation approach is risky. Evidence suggests that while farming of rhinos may have niche market possibilities, it will not prevent poaching of wild rhinos.

Similar efforts to protect wild animals through farming have fallen short. For example, a 2010 study in Vietnam found that commercial farming of the Southeast Asian porcupine, a popular meat source, had not dramatically reduced the hunting of wild porcupines. It is the same story for elephant ivory, bear bile, and mule deer musk. Demand for wild products often far exceeds what commercial breeding can realistically offer.

Commercial breeding programs are further disadvantaged because of the perception among some buyers that wild products are more valuable. As University of Johannesburg scientist Laura Tensen has noted, “wild animals are considered superior because of their rarity and high expense.”

That is especially true for rhinos. Poachers often prove the veracity of their illicit product by showing buyers horns that have been removed from the base of the skull, an extraction method that kills the animal. Only the most conscience-stricken consumer would ensure that horns they purchase are sourced from licensed breeders.

Historically, poaching has also been immune to fluctuations in the retail price of rhino horns. For the price mechanism to eradicate poaching, demand would need to bottom out. With demand actually increasing, and without a threshold price to encourage breeding, supply-side interventions are unlikely to be effective in protecting wild rhinos. Currently, rhino horn sells for as much as $60,000 per kilogram in parts of Asia.

Breeders are convinced that with permitting systems and detection technologies, legal horns could be identified, law enforcement could prevent illegal horns from being trafficked, and domestic trading could reduce the stress on wild populations. But these arguments hinge on a number of conditions that are, at the moment, purely aspirational.

For starters, commercial breeding will succeed only if farmed horns are viewed as a substitute for products sourced from wild animals. But as researchers like Tensen report, that is unlikely in the near term, given the higher status associated with non-farmed products.

Law-enforcement efforts would also need to be increased to detect illegal supplies and break up laundering rings. Unfortunately, the illegal syndicates that smuggle wildlife products, often with assistance from government officials, are adept at evading detection.

Finally, the pro-farming argument assumes that commercial breeders will eventually supply horn at lower prices than poachers. But captive breeding is costly. Scientists at the University of California, San Diego, for example, have shown that white rhinos rarely produce fertile offspring in captivity. Furthermore, the horns of young adults grow by only about six centimeters a year, and that rate diminishes with age.

Commercial breeders dispute that their operations amount to “captivity,” and Hume’s model is meant to replicate wild conditions as much as possible. Yet if farmed solutions were ever to be seen as an alternative to wild harvesting, other breeders would need to replicate such conditions. The cost would be significant, and corners would no doubt be cut.

While breeders are eager to defend their trade, economists have debunked the myth that a legal domestic market in rhino horns will conserve wild populations. Even if farmed supplies from South Africa satisfied a portion of the demand globally, it will not alter demand among consumers drawn to wild product, or those who are indifferent about the source. South Africa will most likely soon be home to parallel markets, with extensive laundering of illegal horn. That may be acceptable to breeders, but it defies reason for those trying to conserve wild rhinos. Ross Harvey is a senior researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA).

The Risk of a New Economic Non-Order

LONDON – Next month, when finance ministers and central bank governors from more than 180 countries gather in Washington, DC, for the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, they will confront a global economic order under increasing strain. Having failed to deliver the inclusive economic prosperity of which it is capable, that order is subject to growing doubts – and mounting challenges. Barring a course correction, the risks that today’s order will yield to a world economic non-order will only intensify.


The current international economic order, spearheaded by the United States and its allies in the wake of World War II, is underpinned by multilateral institutions, including the IMF and the World Bank. These institutions were designed to crystallize member countries’ obligations, and they embodied a set of best economic-policy practices that evolved into what became known as the “Washington Consensus.”

That consensus was rooted in an economic paradigm that aimed to promote win-win interactions among countries, emphasizing trade liberalization, relatively unrestricted cross-border capital flows, free-market pricing, and domestic deregulation. All of this stood in stark contrast to what developed behind the Iron Curtain and in China over the first half of the postwar period.

For several decades, the Western-led international order functioned well, helping to deliver prosperity and relative financial stability. Then it was shaken by a series of financial shocks that culminated in the 2008 global financial crisis, which triggered cascading economic failures that pushed the world to the edge of a devastating multi-year depression. It was the most severe economic breakdown since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

But the crisis did not appear out of nowhere to challenge a healthy economic order. On the contrary, the evolution of the global order had long been outpaced by structural economic changes on the ground, with multilateral governance institutions taking too long to recognize fully the significance of financial-sector developments and their impact on the real economy, or to make adequate room for emerging economies.

For example, governance structures, including voting power, correspond better to the economic realities of yesterday than to those of today and tomorrow. And nationality, rather than merit, still is the dominant guide for the appointment of these institutions’ leaders, with top positions still reserved for European and US citizens.

The destabilizing consequences of this obstinate failure to reform sufficiently multilateral governance have been compounded by China’s own struggle to reconcile its domestic priorities with its global economic responsibilities as the world’s second-largest economy. Several other countries, particularly among the advanced economies, have also failed to transform their domestic policies to account for changes to economic relationships resulting from globalization, liberalization, and deregulation.

As a result of all of this, the balance of winners and losers has become increasingly extreme and more difficult to manage, not just economically, but also politically and socially. With too many people feeling marginalized, forgotten, and dispossessed – and angry at the leaders and institutions that have allowed this to happen – domestic policy pressure has intensified, causing countries to turn inward.

This tendency is reflected in recent challenges to several features of the economic order, such as the North American Free-Trade Agreement, as well as America’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the United Kingdom’s renunciation of European Union membership. All are casting a shadow on the future of the global economic system.

America’s inward turn, already underway for several years, has been particularly consequential, because it leaves the world order without a main conductor. With no other country or group of countries anywhere close to being in a position to carry the baton, the emergence of what the political scientist Ian Bremmer has called a “G-Zero era” becomes a lot more probable.

China is responding to the global system’s weakening core by accelerating its efforts to build small networks, including around the traditional Western-dominated power structures. This has included the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the proliferation of bilateral payments agreements, and the pursuit of the “Belt and Road Initiative” to build infrastructure linking China with western Asia, Europe, and Africa.

These dynamics are stoking trade tensions and raising the risk of economic fragmentation. If this trend continues, the global economic and financial configuration will become increasingly unstable, amplifying geopolitical and security threats at a time when better cross-border coordination is vital to address threats from non-state actors and disruptive regimes, such as North Korea. Over time, the risks associated with this shift toward a global economic non-order could have severe adverse effects on geopolitics and national security.

None of this is new. Yet, year after year, top government officials at the IMF/World Bank annual meetings fail to address it. This year is likely to be no different. Instead of discussing concrete steps to slow and reverse the march toward a global economic non-order, officials will probably welcome the cyclical uptick in global growth and urge member countries to do more to remove structural impediments to faster, more durable, and more inclusive growth.

While understandable, that isn’t good enough. The upcoming meetings offer a critical opportunity to start a serious discussion of how to arrest the lose-lose dynamics that have been gaining traction in the global economy. The longer it takes for the seeds of reform to be sown, the less likely they will be to take root – and the higher the probability that a lose-lose world economic non-order will emerge.

Mohamed A. El-Erian, Chief Economic Adviser at Allianz, was Chairman of US President Barack Obama’s Global Development Council and is the author of The Only Game in Town: Central Banks, Instability, and Avoiding the Next Collapse.

By Mohamed A. El-Erian

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