How should we think about the tension between opening the economy back up and preserving public health?
What are the major missteps the global community is making that will need to be addressed to prepare us for future pandemics? Is the US economy ready to reopen?
What are the major missteps the global community is making that will need to be addressed to prepare us for future pandemics? Is the US economy ready to reopen? In this Big Think Live session with Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs, you'll learn about the public health assumptions that must be rethought and how we can mobilize ourselves and our systems for a more sustainable long-term future.
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Austro-Japanese aristocrat Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi later concentrated on plans for Pan-Europe.
- Unity is strength: This 1920s map divides the world among just five superstates.
- The map was produced by count Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi, who devoted his life to European unity.
- This utopian map may have inspired George Orwell's dystopian world in 1984.
Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi in 1926.
Image: public domain
If the geopolitical dreams of a 20th-century Austro-Japanese aristocrat had come true, this is what the map of the world would have looked like: dominated by no more than five super-states.
Now mostly obscure, count Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi (1894-1972) is remembered mainly as the hero and villain (respectively) of the two fringes of the never-ending debate about European integration.
And that's a shame, because Coudenhove-Kalergi cuts quite an intriguing figure. Not only is he the one who proposed Beethoven's Ode to Joy as Europe's anthem, he also served as inspiration for Victor Laszlo, the fictional resistance hero in Casablanca.
On his father's side, Richard was the scion of an Austrian noble family with roots in Flanders and Greece and branches all over the rest of Europe. His mother, Mitsuko Aoyama, came from a wealthy Japanese family of merchants and landowners.
Original flag of the Pan-European Union. The current flag includes the twelve stars of the European Union. Co-founded by Coudenhove-Kalergi in 1922, the PEU is still in existence: its current president is former French MP and MEP Alain Terrenoire. Its HQ is in Munich.
Image: Ssolbergj, CC BY-SA 3.0
In 1922, Coudenhove-Kalergi co-founded the Pan-European Union, together with Austrian Archduke Otto von Habsburg. A year later, he published the manifesto Pan-Europa, and in 1924 he founded an eponymous journal, which ran until 1938. In 1926, the first Congress of the Pan-European Union elected Coudenhove-Kalergi as its president, which he would remain until his death.
The motivation for the count's Pan-Europeanism was the threat of "world hegemony by Russia". The only way to prevent that was to supersede Europe's various nationalisms. The Pan-European superstate as envisioned by Coudenhove-Kalergi was a curious mix of social democracy and Christian conservatism – a "social aristocracy of the spirit". In response, Leon Trotsky, then Soviet commissar, in 1923 called for a "Soviet United States of Europe".
As in 1984 (and post Brexit), the UK in Coudenhove-Kalergi's system is not a part of the continental European superstate.
Image: public domain
The original framework for Coudenhove-Kalergi's Pan-Europeanism was a global polity of no more than five superstates, as shown on this map taken from one of his early works:
- Pan-Europe: uniting all European countries, minus the Russian and British empires. Pan-Europe also includes the French, Italian, Portuguese, Belgian, and Dutch colonial possessions, with a foothold in the Americas, half of Africa, and substantial parts of South East Asia.
- Pan-America: all of the Americas, with one major exception: Canada – controlled by the Brits. Minor exceptions include all the other bits controlled by the British and European empires. Pan-America also includes the Philippines, U.S.-administered at the time of publication.
- The British Commonwealth: basically, the British Empire at its height. Great Britain and Ireland, Canada and British Guyana, Africa from Cape to Cairo (and Nigeria, plus other territories in West Africa), the Arabian peninsula and the Indian subcontinent, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand.
- The Russian Empire: almost at its greatest extent. Ukraine is under the sway of Moscow, as are the Caucasian and Central Asian areas that are currently independent. But the Baltics are part of Pan-Europe.
- The smallest, but probably most populous of the five empires is East-Asia: uniting Japan, Korea and China, and also including Nepal.
A map of the world in 1984. George Orwell may have been inspired by Coudenhove-Kalergi's rather more utopian map.
Image: public domain
The map is also a bit scary: A globe dominated by an 'oligopoly' of just five states suggests governments that are far removed from their citizens.
It's a small leap from this world map to the one that informs 1984. In fact, George Orwell may have been inspired for his dystopian geography by the count's utopian vision: One of the three superstates on Orwell's imaginary map is in fact called 'Eastasia'. Another one, 'Eurasia', could be identified with another iteration of Coudenhove-Kalergi's Pan-Europe, without the colonial empires but including Russia.
In his later work, Coudenhove-Kalergi seems to have abandoned the global dimension of his agglomerative vision, concentrating more on unity within Europe.
His Pan-Europeanism may have been directed against the threat of the extreme left, that didn't make it popular with the extreme right. Hitler denounced the count (and his ideas) as those of a "rootless, cosmopolitan and elitist half-breed." The Nazis considered Pan-Europeanism a Masonic plot.
Fleeing into American exile after Austria's Anschluss (1938), Coudenhove-Kalergi spent the war continuing to make the case for European unity. At one point, however, he also proposed to form and head an Austrian government in exile – a suggestion that was ignored by Roosevelt and Churchill.
Cover of a 1934 book by Coudenhove-Kalergi, showing another vision on Pan-Europe: without Europe's colonies, including the territory of the entire Soviet Union.
Image: public domain.
After the war, it was others who led Europe towards greater integration, although Churchill lauded the count's Pan-European Union for its work in a speech in 1946 in Zürich. Coudenhove-Kalergi was instrumental in founding the European Parliamentary Union in 1947 and in 1950 was the very first recipient of the annual Charlemagne Prize, awarded by the city of Aachen for work in the service of European unification.
Coudenhove-Kalergi's grave, near Gstaad, carries the epitaph: Pionnier des États-Unis d'Europe. For all its simplicity, that sounds a bit grandiose – he was not directly involved in founding the EU or any of its precursors – not to say premature: today's European Union is not (yet) the dreaded monolithic superstate evoked by the epithet 'United States of Europe'.
Nonetheless, proponents of (further) European integration happily praise the count's life-long devotion to the cause. Streets and squares throughout Europe – although admittedly never the longest or largest ones – carry his name.
On the other hand, opponents of European integration from the nationalist and identitarian camp denounce the so-called Kalergi Plan, a plot to use immigration to dilute Europe's 'whiteness', supposedly penned by the "cosmopolitan" count. It's a hoax on a par with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, unfortunately also by token of its continued currency among those fringe groups.
Strange Maps #1002
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Philosopher Nick Bostrom's "singleton hypothesis" predicts the future of human societies.
- Nick Bostrom's "singleton hypothesis" says that intelligent life on Earth will eventually form a "singleton".
- The "singleton" could be a single government or an artificial intelligence that runs everything.
- Whether the singleton will be positive or negative depends on numerous factors and is not certain.
Does history have a goal? Is it possible that all the human societies that existed are ultimately a prelude to establishing a system where one entity will govern everything the world over? The Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom proposes the "singleton hypothesis," maintaining that intelligent life on Earth will at some point organize itself into a so-called "singleton" – one organization that will take the form of either a world government, a super-intelligent machine (an AI) or, regrettably, a dictatorship that would control all affairs.
Other forms of a singleton may exist, and, ultimately, Bostrom believes one of them will come into existence. The philosopher argues that historically there's been a trend for our societies to converge in "higher levels of social organization". We went from bands of hunter gatherers to chiefdoms, city-states, nation states and now multi-national corporations, the United Nations and so forth, all the way to globalization – one of President Donald Trump's favorite targets for attack. One view of that trend sees increased power going to multi-national businesses and world government bodies, making globalization somewhat of a punching bag concept, often seen not as a needed re-organization of societies around the world, leading to increased cooperation and a peaceful international order, but rather for its potential to bring about the loss of jobs and undermine the sovereignties of individual countries, making citizens beholden to faceless totalitarian bureaucrats from foreign lands.
But a singleton doesn't have to result in a bad outcome, argues Bostrom. In fact, he thinks it could also be a good thing or at least something that's neither obviously positive or negative – just neutral. One way to get to a singleton, according to the philosopher, is through technology. Improved surveillance and communication, mind-control tech, molecular nanotechnology and artificial intelligence could all bring about a singleton.
While some aspects of such technologies could certainly be unwanted and infringe upon individual freedoms, Bostrom thinks that there are situations in which there could be broad support for either a technological solution or a single government agency to take control of the society. As the world grows more complex, it's harder to achieve efficient coordination between countries and individuals within them. Tech solutions in conjunction with converging moral values and a democratic worldwide government could facilitate that.
Other scenarios, like catastrophic events, could also hasten the creation of singletons. The League of Nations, for example, came out of World War I, while the creation of the United Nations was a byproduct of World War 2.
Some may view the current political trends of rising nationalism, tariff wars and anti-immigration platforms to mean that globalization and an overall unification of people the world over is not coming any time soon. In fact, it feels like we are going backwards on such a path.
In an email exchange with Big Think, Bostrom cautioned us to not only look at what is happening over the course of a decade or maybe even a few decades. There are much larger, historic trends at work, which may see the current times as a blip rather than a change in the overall direction.
"I don't think there's much evidence in the year-to-year (or even decade-to-decade) political jitters for the question of the long-term fate of Earth-originating civilization," writes Bostrom, while adding "Still, it seems a bit sad whenever the world is moving in the direction of fragmentation and unilateralism."
He would rather see relationships between nations like the United States and China to be cordial rather than the "tussles and tensions" that we get now, with the added risk of a further breakdown in communication leading to even worse outcomes.
"I fear that people have forgotten how bad the Cold War was or have learned the wrong lesson - "well we survived it so it wasn't so bad," warns the philosopher. "But I think it's more like somebody played a round of Russian Roulette and survived and then they say "hey that wasn't so bad, let's play another round!" With the opening of the nuclear archives, we can see how close the world came to the brink on several different occasions. Allowing ourselves to slide into another situation even remotely like that of the Cold War would be a huge mistake."
Political tides certainly can come and go. It might be long until we can definitively tell which era we are living in now. Either advanced technology and a spreading democratic order will create a global techno-utopia of the future or we will be enslaved by corporate hegemony and international oligarchs. There are also options in between. It's important to remember that once created, a singleton could become the way of life for the foreseeable future as it will take measures to stay in existence and to keep away threats.
"Earth-originating intelligent life will (eventually) form a singleton," writes Bostrom.
Before you get set for your life to be dominated by a single agency, Bostrom's classic paper on the subject lays out some specific pros and cons of a singleton.
- avoiding dangerous arms races – these are costly and potentially disastrous. Without many competing world powers, arms races would be unnecessary.
- avoiding a space colonization race, again leading to potential war and extreme expenses.
- avoiding inequality - a singleton could distribute wealth.
- avoiding evolutionary outcomes we don't want - a singleton (especially an AI) could better keep track of dystopian scenarios, like epidemics, and work towards the survival of the population as a whole.
Want to Retain American Jobs? Stop Blaming Globalization
- having one entity control everything could lead to less control over decision-making and things could go bad for us humans. "All the eggs are in one basket" under this scenario, points out Bostrom.
- world without competition between states could be more vulnerable to systemic breakdowns than a world that is less arranged, in which "there are some processes that limit the destructiveness of certain kinds of failures," writes the philosopher.
- some singletons could lead to terrible bureaucracy and inefficiency – it's not certain whether that would outweigh the gains from such a coordinated society. That would depend on the "severity" of the problems.
- some singletons could be created by force - think Ghenghis Khan, Napoleon, Nazis and whatever new dictator is waiting in the wings.
Check out Nick Bostrom's paper "What is a Singleton?" here.
New report shows the extent of China's hidden power as the developing world's creditor.
- Over 50 developing countries' Chinese debt accounts for on average 15 percent of their individual GDP.
- New report shows that the majority of the world's developing country's debt to China is considered "hidden."
- China's loans for poor countries are primarily for crucial infrastructure.
China's overseas lending, which was virtually zero before the turn of the century — well, about $500 billion in 2000 — stands today, ostensibly, at around $5 trillion. Indeed, they are now the world's largest creditor, being twice as large as both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, combined.
As much of what China does is under a veiled curtain of secrecy, it's been difficult to track how all the money is flowing. A new comprehensive study though, by Sebastian Horn and Christoph Trebesch of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, and Carmen Reinhart of Harvard University, has provided some new insights about China's official credit lending empire. What did the researchers discover? More than half of China's lending to developing countries is what they term "hidden" money — loans that haven't been reported to any of the international funds, such as the World Bank.
Indeed, economist and author of the report, Tresbesch, recently told Germany's Spiegel in an interview following the release of the study's findings, that compiling all of the information was like "a kind of economic archeology." Their information came from numerous financial world databases, along with some documents provided courtesy of the CIA.
It's no secret that China would like to keep this type of information occluded from the international scene. Opponents of China's secretive lending practices fear that Beijing is engaging in predatory debt diplomacy and using their worldwide Belt and Road Initiative to create a new kind of economic colonialism over Africa and other parts of the developing world.
China’s creditor strategy for economic growth
China is in a state of further economic evolution. Long gone are the days of being the world's impoverished manufacturer. With a thriving consumer market boosted at home, China is now flexing their influence over vast swathes of the world. One of their strategies is by becoming the world's most involved lender to poor countries.
This can be problematic for a number of reasons. Countries that take this deal, end up grossly indebting themselves to China's policies in a number of ways, both monetarily and culturally. An example on the extreme end of the spectrum is Djibouti, whose Chinese debt is equivalent to 70 percent of the country's GDP. On average, the top 50 of China's borrowers owe somewhere near 15 percent of their GDPs, which, still, on a global scale is quite a lot.
The authors also found that China has never officially disclosed any loans to Iran, Venezuela, or Zimbabwe, which on other records it's been shown that China is a major creditor. The report speculates that one of the ways to avoid these international cross-border crediting claims, is by the Chinese government disbursing loans straight to Chinese contractors rather than the developing governments themselves.
A great deal of these loans aren't subject to credit rating agencies, because most of China's foreign loans flow straight from their government. China's lending practices take on another interesting dynamic, as the country is lending much more than just money: it is also helping build crucial infrastructure in these developing nations. In doing so, China exports a healthy dose of its culture and influence.
Growing influence in Africa
China's investment in Africa takes the form of loans in exchange for infrastructure development. Oftentimes, Chinese companies and citizens reap the benefits and profits of these large projects. While many Africans welcome the much needed investment into their countries, it's not clear how much the continent is benefiting from this Chinese influence.
One major issue a lot of countries are facing is that almost the entirety of their country's debt load comes from China. For example, of Kenya's $50 billion in debt, more than 72 percent of it is from China. In Senegal, highways, industrial parks and other crucial developmental projects for a functioning country are all funded by large, risky Chinese loans. Again, much of this value goes back to China. They're not doing this for humanitarian reasons. The Chinese expect a capital and cultural return.
Tim Wegenast, who wrote a report about Chinese mining in Africa states:
"It's more or less safe to say that Chinese companies employ less local labor than other companies because they bring over many Chinese workers, and when they develop local infrastructure, they provide countries with loans which are being used to pay for it, which is then constructed by Chinese companies and Chinese labor."
A future of Chinese credit
According to The Economist, China's lending prowess is more of a mixed bag. While many new loans from China were offloaded with debt relief by Western creditors after defaulting, China has in the past put forth some debt restructuring plans on 140 of their foreign loans. Although at other times, they've taken their collateral with ruthless abandon, for example when they seized the Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka.
Many Chinese loans have higher extended interest rates and short maturities, with heavy collateral that includes commodities, or even important strategic foreign infrastructure.
The authors of the report note that China has started talking about being more transparent and sustainable on their loans in the future. But no clear evidence of this taking place has yet to materialize.
Why one expert believes it is knocking on death's door.
- Michael O'Sullivan's book The Levelling declares that the end of globalization is near.
- In its wake, he believes the world will become a place of multipolarity, bereft of a central guiding international force of control.
- These new poles of power will take on unique and divergent political and cultural ways of doing things.
The motley patchwork of a globalized society that we have today might be giving way to something called "multipolarity." Indeed, a new book by Michael O'Sullivan, a former economist professor at Princeton University and Credit Suisse investment banker, puts forth the idea that globalization is behind us.
According to the author, instead of a globalized network of control where international institutions lead the world, we are moving toward living in a world where nation-states are guided by local regions of economic and cultural control. In the new book, The Levelling, O'Sullivan offers a guide to this potential multipolar world.
While concerned with a number of current affairs, he mainly focuses on how we can avoid the "darker scenarios" that could play out after globalization — the world as we know it — "dies."
"The essence of multipolarity is not simply that the poles are large and powerful, but also that they develop distinct, culturally consistent ways of doing things. Multipolarity, where regions do things distinctly and differently, is also very different from multilateralism, where they do them together."
The overarching historical metaphor used by O'Sullivan comes from an interesting grassroots movement from the 17th-century English civil war. The book gets its namesake from the group called "The Levellers." A democratic group from Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army, the faction consisted of a number of regular working class people from the time. They were opposed to a group called "Grandees," the political power class who ran Parliament.
The Levellers laid out a number of arguments for "repairing the broken contract of trust between elected representatives and their electorates." Essentially, their demands were for lessened corruption, better trade agreements, and debt relief — standard democratic desires. O'Sullivan sees a parallel between this moment in history and today, but now it is played out on a global scale, with those who run the world.
Glimpsing an emerging multipolar world
The fully multipolar world could be composed of three or four major regions — places that have distinct ways of running their society, culture, and economies. As O'Sullivan notes, "[It] will be dominated by at least three large regions: America, the European Union, and a China-centric Asia. They will increasingly take very different approaches to economic policy, liberty, warfare, technology, and society."
Mid-sized countries are more likely to either be left behind or struggle unless they coalesce into new coalitions to keep up with the greater multipolaristic powers. Along with this, "Institutions of the 20th century — the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization — will appear increasingly defunct."
How can we determine the multipolarity for a country? O'Sullivan says we can look at the size of its GDP, whether it has an imperial legacy, and the extent of its economic role in its surrounding geographical area. In his estimations, other measures, such as the UN Human Development Index, are also taken into account.
From globalization to multipolarity
China is used by the author as an example of the switch from globalization to multipolarity. Its commitment to become an economic leader in the regions surrounding it and break with global institutions to foster its own Chinese-driven initiatives and influence puts it at odds with other globalized efforts.
"IMF data show that in 2018, compared with 2011, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Malaysia traded more with China and relatively less with the United States. These countries, together with Bangladesh and Pakistan, have allowed themselves to be enticed by trade- and investment-based relationship with China and are now in its orbit."
O'Sullivan believes that China itself is not pushing toward globalization, but instead cultivating an inward approach to development. The flow of money and people, he writes, is an indicator that China has no intention of making itself a standard globalized civilization.
"It is increasingly hard for Western companies to do business there on equal terms with Chinese companies, and the flow of both money and ideas — out of and into China, respectively — is heavily curtailed. Flow of people is another indicator.
Flows within China are dynamic and are perhaps more managed than before, but flows of foreigners into China are miniscule by comparison to other countries, and China has only recently established an agency (the State Immigration Administration created at the 2018 Party Congress) to cultivate inward flows. So as China has become a major pole, it has become less globalized and arguably is contributing to the trend toward deglobalization."
This is just one example of one set of powers toward the path of multipolarity. O'Sullivan claims that there will be tension along the way. The last time we saw a spread of new globalized powers was during the 19th and 20th century, which were led by Britain and the United States. The author saw this as an anchoring point for global affairs. But for the modern day he states:
"The fact that there are now at least three points of reference introduces a new and possibly uncertain dynamic to world affairs."
At the root of O'Sullivan's multipolarity concern and supposed "death of globalization," is the fear that these major poles will develop such a divergent way of doing things, that global tension will flare up into greater conflict.
"At the margin, the flow of people, ideas, and capital may be less global and more regional and in time could be reinforced by a growing sense of regionalization across the main poles. In a negative way, a more multipolar world may be the watershed that signals the peak of democracy and potentially the beginning of contests within regions for competing views of democracy, institutional strength, statecraft, and control."