This time it’s the end of democracy: Fukuyama and big-tech

How to Save Democracy From Technology: Ending Big Tech’s Information Monopoly puts forward a confused and inadequate set of arguments concerning the “gigantic Internet platforms Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter”. Its focus on yesterday’s technological challenges while tomorrow’s threats are almost upon us is disappointing, and misses where the real threat to democracy and individual freedom is beginning to take form.

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No power in the Lowy Asia Power Index 2020

The Lowy Institute’s Asia Power Index 2020 is a substantial undertaking that purports to map “out the existing distribution of power as it stands today, and tracks shifts in the balance of power over time” by ranking “26 countries and territories in terms of their capacity to shape their external environment”. However, a misunderstanding of the concept of power, and some underlying subjectivity and biases, undermines its usefulness.

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IMF’s WEO 2020 on climate mitigation: important, impractical, and naive

The fact that the International Monetary Fund recognises the urgency of addressing anthropogenic induced climate change and the importance of reducing carbon emissions from human activity by 2050 must be seen as a welcome step. But the report is impractical and naïve in some respects. The next step needs to go beyond the high level of abstraction that smooths over the diversity of economic, political and climate impacts in local situations.

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Multilateral climate action: assisting emerging economies and developing countries is right and smart

Without assistance, emerging economies and developing countries (EEDCs) will continue to add increasing amounts of greenhouses gases to the atmosphere for decades, preventing the curbing of global warming and adversely impacting all countries. While EEDCs were always going to require substantial assistance from the advanced economies, the need for strong multilateral action has become more urgent.

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The strategic aspect of human rights in a multipolar world: a tool of hegemony

The UDHR is being challenged by the rise of competing understandings of human rights, and very different interpretations of the relationship between the state and the governed. The US response has been an attempt to redefine ‘unalienable rights’ in a dangerous formulation that is aimed at restating the primacy of the US world view, and adding to the US’s reasons to confront, and perhaps fight, China and Russia.

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The US role in the world: a new normal

President Trump has pursued a different vision of the US’s role in the world – one which has had an undeniable impact on relations with allies and competitors alike, and has reshaped perceptions of the US as a global actor. A robust debate over its future global role has ensued. US allies like Australia should be paying close attention, because whether or not Trump wins re-election, the US will not be able to resume some quasi-mythical past role, and the world will need to adjust to a new normal.

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The end of hegemony confounds the realists: the US must come to terms with its loss

Elbridge Colby and Robert D. Kaplan’s recent article in Foreign Affairs is an important addition to the framing of the contest between China and the United States. They point to the very real risks of seeing the relationship as an ideological struggle. But their analysis leaves key questions unanswered, and ultimately misses the need for the United States to accommodate a China that will be its equal militarily and economically.

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1776 Commission versus 1619 Project: will Trump’s rejection of history divide America?

The ‘1776 Commission’ is the denouement of all the bizarre notions that have populated Trump’s seemingly random and disjointed dialogue throughout the four years of his presidency. His speech announcing it was a not very well-disguised panegyric for an agenda that isn’t just a denial of history, but could see America remain deeply and passionately divided well beyond Trump’s presidency.

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The UN at 75: a real declaration of intent, or multilateral virtue signalling?

An atmosphere of unreality is building in advance of the virtual meeting of world leaders on 21 September 2020 to mark the 75th anniversary of the United Nations (UN). Nothing demonstrates this more than the proposed draft declaration. Rather than reaffirming the UN’s centrality, the draft declaration’s faux earnestness jars amid the current international reality. Additionally, it ignores the biggest challenge to multilateralism.

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Confronting global warming and other looming crises: can democracies marshall the necessary expertise?

Confronting the dramatic trends taking place in the rates of global warming, destruction of the environment, extinction of biodiversity, and global social injustice urgently requires unprecedented societal and economic transformations. Can major democratic economies overcome the combination of disillusionment with government and distrust of experts, and position themselves to bring about the transformations these crises demand?

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Race is not real: It’s time to stop acting as though it is

For something that doesn’t exist, race exerts a pernicious and persistent influence on society. Placing people into a racial category, based on observable external features, and then attributing to it holistic ‘cultures’ that determine behaviours or moral character, is not supported by evidence.

But even those who are prepared to go to the barricades to oppose racism perpetuate the notion that race is real. This makes the management of entrenched racism inordinately difficult – but belief in race can be undermined – this is what needs to happen.

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Sovereignty and self-determination: The wider implications of Israel and the West Bank

Australia’s Prime Minister recently said that Australia always respects the sovereignty of other nations, and simply expects the same in return. But cases like Kosovo, Crimea, Jammu-Kashmir and Hong Kong illustrate the tension between sovereignty and self-determination – and the significance of precedent-setting. Recognising Israel’s sovereignty over the West Bank requires careful, nuanced consideration. What position will Australia take?

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The Deep State conspiracy theory: Is Trump laying the groundwork for The Great Presidential Robbery?

Should US presidential hopeful Joe Biden prevail in November, the grounds will have been laid for Donald Trump to cry foul – with the potential for a crisis of political legitimacy. Australian policymakers, struggling with balancing the economic relationship with China and the security relationship with the US, should be following domestic trends in America with nervous apprehension.

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Historical amnesia: Great power behaviour and criticism of China

Positioning the adversarial relationship with China as one of morally superior western democratic nations in competition with a somehow illegitimate and malevolent China is an exercise in historical amnesia. The democratic United State’s 1890 – 1920 trajectory from western hemisphere state to global power has some economic, military and foreign policy parallels with authoritarian China’s growth in the twenty-first century.

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Regulation, tariffs and reform of supply chains: neoliberalism under pressure?

By Mike Scrafton | For the moment, reducing reliance on overseas supply chains appears to be a big lesson out of the COVID-19 pandemic. But reluctance to regulate corporate and commercial activity has been a hallmark of governments across the world. Are neoliberal governments capable of reversing the direction they have been taking for three or four decades?

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Blinded by ‘the science’: COVID-19 and the authority of science in public policy

There are important distinctions when it comes to the way governments claim to have been ‘guided by the science’ when justifying their approaches to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ministers are not saying they are following a course of action because ‘an experimentally and observationally validated law of nature has been brought to my attention’. They mean that social scientists, based on some assumptions and suppositions, have modelled a range of possible outcomes and produced a number of projections, not predictions.

It is not science but policy, that mixture of ideology, politics, and pragmatism, that the ministers are doing when the choose between the pandemic options.

Governments should not be able to avoid scrutiny and accountability for their actions by leaning on the authority of science.

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Geostrategic shifts in a time of contagion

The COVID-19 crisis will affect the global geostrategic situation in a number of ways: some obvious and some still obscure.

Post COVID-19 economic conditions within nation states and across the globalised world will have shifted; governments will be juggling with the options of austerity policies, tax increases and welfare demands. Liberal and democratic values are likely to have suffered, along with confidence in democratic political leadership. And internationally, competition between political and economic systems might just be heating up.

The future geostrategic situation could turn on whether China or the US bounces back best from the current predicament. The coronavirus could prove to be a test of the resilience and viability of the political and economic systems of the two key states, and reposition their strategic competition.

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What COVID-19 tells us about preparing for global warming

The current crisis tells us some important things. The flaws in the neo-liberal model have been exposed. Democratic politics have been stressed to breaking point. The shocks to the economic, social and fiscal systems required to avoid dangerous climate change are shown to be unfeasible.

Denial, delay, and deflection over the climate science by democratic governments immersed in neo-liberal fantasies has set the world an unachievable target if dangerous global warming is to be avoided.

The extraordinary steps imposed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic are what is needed on a sustained basis if a limit of 1.5°C of global warming is to be achieved. And yet this period of lock-down, self-isolation, social-distancing, and commercial and industrial dormancy has already shown that the measures responsible are imposing on whole societies costs which cannot be borne for long.

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Liberal democracy: the prognosis post-COVID-19

Liberal democracy still has a way to go before getting out of the ICU. Diagnosed with an underlying co-morbidity prior to the pandemic, it will be fortunate to survive without an ongoing need for respiratory support.

Governments have assumed extraordinary powers without a great deal of parliamentary or public debate, or clarity about why those powers were essential, or under what circumstances they will be extinguished.

Many see in the measures the potential for civil liberties and human rights to be eroded and for illiberal and autocratic tendencies to supplant liberal democratic values. The measures’ insidious potential is magnified by the willingness of governments to use questionable behavioural science to shape public attitudes and responses.

The prognosis for liberal democracy post-COVID-19 is not auspicious.

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Herd immunity or herd culling? Shades of Bentham, Spencer and Galton stalk government COVID-19 responses

Seeping faintly through the pronouncements and policies of some government responses to the coronavirus pandemic are the vapours of older belief systems; a whiff of utilitarianism, the scent of social Darwinism, and the fetid reek of eugenics.

Closer examination of the UK government’s ‘herd immunity’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic suggests that it’s not too farfetched to connect contemporary politics with these ostensibly outdated ideas.

The capacity of governments to respond appropriately to crises has never been more important. How will they respond to greater crises? Where will they find their moral moorings?

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