What are the primary challenges facing the developing world?

Question: What are the biggest challenges facing the developing world?

Lawrence Summers: How are we going to manage the rise of countries that will see their standards of living increase by factor of a hundred in a single human lifespan? What about the share of the income going to the top 1%, nearly doubling $600,000 a person at the expense of $7,000 a person for everyone in the bottom 80% of the income distribution?

How are we going to manage and keep stable a global financial system where the flow isn’t as it always was in the past with the Roman Empire or the British Empire, from the center to the periphery, but it’s from the periphery to the center with the world’s greatest borrower being the world’s greatest power?

So my job now is to think, to provoke, to have ideas, to prove the intellectual framework within which we all operate; to spur through argument, through entrepreneurship, through teaching others to think about the most important questions; and to lead us to be a more thoughtful, smarter and wiser society in dealing with its major challenges.

And if I’m able to do that by myself, by encouraging the work of others, I think that will be a source of great satisfaction to me, and hopefully some contribution.

When somebody writes the history of our time 250 years from now, the two largest stories in it will be the rise of Asia and the developing world, where living standards are increasing so spectacularly rapidly. That in a matter of a few decades, countries enjoy more growth than the United States has since the American Revolution. How that impacts the billions of people in these countries and how that impacts the world system.

And I think the second defining feature of our time will be the developments in the life sciences that are going to profoundly change our conceptions of human nature; that are going to free people from pain and suffering at a rate and on a scale that has never been seen before.

We are increasingly developing the capacity to change the way people think, to change the way people behave. How we’re going to manage all of that; how we’re going to manage the life science side of all that; how we’re going to manage the remarkable things that are happening in information technology.

And as those things come together, these two things, I think, will be the central stories of our time when history is written 250 years from now.

With respect to the developing of the rising world, are they going to be gradually welcomed members of a widening circle of opportunity? Or are they going to be angry outsiders crashing a restricted party? And if we can make it be the first, which would be great as anything that has happened in human history – if people feel it is the second, the consequences can be cataclysmic.

I think it’s hard, with respect to the developments in life science, to even begin to think about what all the issues are going to be. Suppose there’s a pill created that can increase your IQ by 30 points, but it’s enormously expensive. What’s that going to mean for equality of opportunity? Suppose there are ways of knowing in advance the likelihood that people will develop their diseases? What’s that going to mean for decisions about couples getting married, or employers hiring people, not to mention insurance? What’s it going to mean if there are medicines that curb your temper and in the same process reduce your passion? How are we going to feel about those things, and how are we going to think about managing them as a society? What is going to happen when there are computer programs or pieces of software that are able to have creative scientific ideas in certain spheres? Who’s going to have access to those? Who’s going to get the credit?

These are just a few of the kinds of questions that could come. What I hope is that we will deal as a society with these things in a way that is thoughtful and rational. I worry that the teaching of more anti-evolution and intelligent design in the public schools than at any time since the Scopes trial, and the attitude in many non-scientific intellectual circles that denies that relevance of biology to almost any aspect of behavior, is leaving us in a problematic place with respect to the making of these decisions.

Recorded On: June 13,  2007

Some developing countries enjoy more growth than the United States has since the American Revolution.

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Kosovo land swap could end conflict - or restart war

Best case: redrawing borders leads to peace, prosperity and EU membership. But there's also a worst case

Image: SRF
Strange Maps
  • The Yugoslav Wars started in 1991, but never really ended
  • Kosovo and Serbia are still enemies, and they're getting worse
  • A proposed land swap could create peace - or reignite the conflict

The death of Old Yugoslavia

Image: public domain

United Yugoslavia on a CIA map from 1990.

Wars are harder to finish than to start. Take for instance the Yugoslav Wars, which raged through most of the 1990s.

The first shot was fired at 2.30 pm on June 27th, 1991, when an officer in the Yugoslav People's Army took aim at Slovenian separatists. When the YPA retreated on July 7th, Slovenia was the first of Yugoslavia's republics to have won its independence.

After the wars

Image: Ijanderson977, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Map of former Yugoslavia in 2008, when Kosovo declared its independence. The geopolitical situation remains the same today.

The Ten-Day War cost less than 100 casualties. The other wars – in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo (1) – lasted much longer and were a lot bloodier. By early 1999, when NATO had forced Serbia to concede defeat in Kosovo, close to 140,000 people had been killed and four million civilians displaced.

So when was the last shot fired? Perhaps it never was: it's debatable whether the Yugoslav Wars are actually over. That's because Kosovo is a special case. Although inhabited by an overwhelming ethnic-Albanian majority, Kosovo is of extreme historical and symbolic significance for Serbians. More importantly, from a legalistic point of view: Kosovo was never a separate republic within Yugoslavia but rather a (nominally) autonomous province within Serbia.

Kosovo divides the world

Image: public domain

In red: states that have recognised the independence of Kosovo (most EU member states – with the notable exceptions of Spain, Greece, Romania and Slovakia; and the U.S., Japan, Turkey and Egypt, among many others). In blue: states that continue to recognise Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo (most notably Russia and China, but also other major countries such as India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Iran).

The government of Serbia has made its peace and established diplomatic relations with all other former Yugoslav countries, but not with Kosovo. In Serbian eyes, Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 was a unilateral and therefore legally invalid change of state borders. Belgrade officially still considers Kosovo a 'renegade province', and it has a lot of international support for that position (2). Not just from its historical protector Russia, but also from other states that face separatist movements (e.g. Spain and India).

Despite their current conflict, Kosovo and Serbia have the same long-term objective: membership of the European Union. Ironically, that wish could lead to Yugoslav reunification some years down the road – within the EU. Slovenia and Croatia have already joined, and all other ex-Yugoslav states would like to follow their example. Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have already submitted an official application. The EU considers Bosnia and Kosovo 'potential candidates'.

Kosovo is the main stumbling block on Serbia's road to EU membership. Even after the end of hostilities, skirmishes continued between the ethnically Albanian majority and the ethnically Serbian minority within Kosovo, and vice versa in Serbian territories directly adjacent. Tensions are dormant at best. A renewed outbreak of armed conflict is not unthinkable.

Land for peace?

Image: BBC

Mitrovica isn't the only area majority-Serb area in Kosovo, but the others are enclaved and fear being abandoned in a land swap.

In fact, relations between Kosovo and Serbia have deteriorated spectacularly in the past few months. At the end of November, Kosovo was refused membership of Interpol, mainly on the insistence of Serbia. In retaliation, Kosovo imposed a 100% tariff on all imports from Serbia. After which Serbia's prime minister Ana Brnabic refused to exclude her country's "option" to intervene militarily in Kosovo. Upon which Kosovo's government decided to start setting up its own army – despite its prohibition to do so as one of the conditions of its continued NATO-protected independence.

The protracted death of Yugoslavia will be over only when this simmering conflict is finally resolved. The best way to do that, politicians on both sides have suggested, is for the borders reflect the ethnic makeup of the frontier between Kosovo and Serbia.

The biggest and most obvious pieces of the puzzle are the Serbian-majority district of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, and the Albanian-majority Presevo Valley, in southwestern Serbia. That land swap was suggested previous summer by no less than Hashim Thaci and Aleksandar Vucic, presidents of Kosovo and Serbia respectively. Best-case scenario: that would eliminate the main obstacle to mutual recognition, joint EU membership and future prosperity.

If others can do it...

Image: Ruland Kolen

Belgium and the Netherlands recently adjusted out their common border to conform to the straightened Meuse River.

Sceptics - and more than a few locals - warn that there also is a worst-case scenario: the swap could rekindle animosities and restart the war. A deal along those lines would almost certainly exclude six Serbian-majority municipalities enclaved deep within Kosovo. While Serbian Mitrovica, which borders Serbia proper, is home to some 40,000 inhabitants, those enclaves represent a further 80,000 ethnic Serbs – who fear being totally abandoned in a land swap, and eventually forced out of their homes.

Western powers, which sponsored Kosovo's independence, are divided over the plan. U.S. officials back the idea, as do some within the EU. But the Germans are against – they are concerned about the plan's potential to fire up regional tensions rather than eliminate them.

Borders are the Holy Grail of modern nationhood. Countries consider their borders inviolate and unchanging. Nevertheless, land swaps are not unheard of. Quite recently, Belgium and the Netherlands exchanged territories so their joint border would again match up with the straightened course of the River Meuse (3). But those bits of land were tiny and uninhabited. And as the past has amply shown, borders pack a lot more baggage in the Balkans.

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Scientists claim the Bible is written in code that predicts future events

The controversy around the Torah codes gets a new life.

Michael Drosnin
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  • Mathematicians claim to see a predictive pattern in the ancient Torah texts.
  • The code is revealed by a method found with special computer software.
  • Some events described by reading the code took place after the code was written.
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