Wednesday Night #1869 Looking back & Looking forward: New Year 2018

Written by  //  January 2, 2018  //  Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

It’s that time of year and we have gathered some bits and pieces for your consideration. Sadly, there’s not much joy to be had in Mudville, but perhaps with the careful pruning of a Wednesday Night discussion among the brave souls who confront the polar vortex (predicted to be considerably diminished by Wednesday, with a high of balmy -11) we might find some cause for optimism.
Meanwhile, here is food for thought.

A good place to start is World Order 2.0 by Richard N. Haass, published on Project Syndicate in January 2017.
Since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 ended the Thirty Years’ War in Europe, the concept of sovereignty – the right of countries to an independent existence and autonomy – has formed the core of the international order. But, in a globalized world, an order based solely [on] sovereign rights has become increasingly inadequate. The measures he proposes are eminently sensible and arguably essential. But, as he says ” Establishing the concept of sovereign obligations as a pillar of the international order will take decades of consultations and negotiations – and even then, its acceptance and impact will be uneven. Progress will come only voluntarily, from countries themselves, rather than from any top-down edict. Realistically, it will be difficult to forge agreement on what specific sovereign obligations states have and how they should be enforced.”
Re-reading this piece almost a year later, it is discouraging to note how dismally the world is failing to address the issues in almost all respects.

1968 and the Making of Modern America
One of the most momentous years in U.S. history began a half-century ago today. Join us in exploring it for the next 12 months, starting with these newspaper clippings to whet your appetite
(The Atlantic) Before it ended, Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy would be assassinated; U.S. troops would suffer their deadliest year yet in Vietnam––and massacre scores of civilians at Man Lai; Richard Nixon would be elected president; the Khmer Rouge would form in Cambodia; humans would orbit the moon; Olympic medal winners in Mexico City would raise their fists in a black power salute; President Johnson would sign the Civil Rights Act of 1968; Yale University would announce that it intended to admit women; 2001: A Space Odyssey would premier; and Led Zeppelin would give their first live performance.

Commentary: What to watch in 2018
By Peter Apps
(Reuters) Professional forecasters like to say that making predictions is difficult, particularly about the future. As we reach the end of 2017, however, here are some of the key themes – and questions – that look set to shape global events next year.
3. Will Europe’s multiple crises reach crunch point?
4. Will new conflicts erupt as America’s Mideast influence slips?
5. Will 2018 see growing challenges to authority in Russia and China?

Will the Center Hold?
Lawrence H. Summers
(Project Syndicate) … the greatest risk in the next few years, I believe, is neither a market meltdown nor a recession. It is instead a political doom loop in which voters’ conclusion that government does not work effectively for them becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Candidates elected on platforms of resentment delegitimize the governments they lead, fueling further resentment and even more problematic new leaders. Cynicism pervades.
If a country’s citizens lose confidence in their government’s ability to improve their lives, the government has an incentive to rally popular support by focusing attention on threats that only it can address. That is why in societies pervaded by anger and uncertainty about the future, the temptation to stigmatize minority groups increases. And it is why there is a tendency for officials to magnify foreign threats….
Changes in tax, regulatory, or budget policy can be rescinded – albeit with difficulty – by a subsequent administration. A perception that the US is no longer prepared to stand up for its allies in the international community is much less reversible. Even if the US resumes its previous commitments, there will be a lingering sense that promises broken once can be broken again. And once other countries embark on a new path, they may be unable or reluctant to reverse course.
So, will the center hold? Will the international order remain broadly stable? The answer will depend on the Trump administration’s choices and other governments’ responses. But as other countries watch America, they will be looking at more than its president, especially as his popular approval continues to decline. That is why it is more important than ever that all Americans proclaim their continuing commitment to democracy and prosperity at home and to leadership of the global community.

Welcome to 2018. Is this a turning point?
(WaPost) SEERS, PUNDITS, gurus and weather forecasters can agree on one big thing: 2018 is going to be a very eventful year, perhaps the most eventful since, oh, 2017. Or maybe since 1918, one century ago, when the Western Front finally went quiet, the guns that could fire a shell as heavy as a small car and obliterate human beings 70 miles away stopped firing, and a new world order began. The First World War, which ended in November of that year, caused the disappearance of empires that had run much of the world — Austrian, Russian, German, Ottoman — and was the beginning of a long demise for others, the British and French most of all .
Today .. Nationalism is in vogue with some intellectuals (pseudo and otherwise), fear of the foreign is being cultivated by people in high places, and the United States is abandoning its leading positions in many areas, which newly confident authoritarian regimes are happy to occupy. November 1918 was a crucial turning point for the world. November 2018, when Americans elect a new Congress and begin to determine whether this discouraging change in direction will be allowed to continue, could well be another.

The 2018 crystal ball – From Our Chief Economist
(The Economist) It should be another pretty good year for the global economy: our forecast is for global GDP growth to dip just slightly from 2.9% this year to 2.8% next year. The biggest slowdown will be in China and those economies tied closely to it, while the biggest acceleration will be in Latin America. Tiny countries aside, India is our pick for the fastest-growing economy, followed by Ethiopia and Cambodia. China will sit at around 15th place. At the other end of the spectrum, Venezuela’s GDP will yet again shrink by more than 10%, with Puerto Rico, Equatorial Guinea and North Korea also in negative territory. India, Iran and Vietnam will see the fastest productivity growth, a good sign of longer-term success.
For those following the financial markets, we expect another year of US dollar strength, with only 27 of the currencies we forecast appreciating against it, 37 remaining flat, and 125 depreciating. Those appreciating substantially include the Norwegian krone, the Egyptian pound and the Japanese yen, whereas the Australian dollar, Argentine peso and South African rand will weaken.
Workers will have a good year in Romania, China and Hungary, where wages will rise robustly. Demographics continues its relentless transformation of the world’s labour markets, with France and Finland joining the list of countries with a shrinking workforce. It will remain China, however, that sees the biggest decline in its working age population.

The Middle East and North Africa in 2018: Challenges, threats, and opportunities
Noha Aboueldahab, Tarik M. Yousef, Luiz Pinto, Nader Kabbani, Adel Abdel Ghafar, Mia Swart, Ali Fathollah-Nejad, Ranj Alaaldin, Beverley Milton-Edwards, and Kadira Pethiyagoda
(Brookings) From the diplomatic shakeups in the Gulf to the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq, the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) witnessed dramatic shifts in 2017. As the year comes to a close, Brookings scholars have come together to share their expectations for what the year 2018 has in store. Here are their brief outlooks.

74 Things That Blew Our Minds in 2017
The Atlantic’s science, technology, and health reporters learned a lot this year.
A very small sample:

  • The record for the longest top spin is over 51 minutes. Your fidget spinner probably won’t make it past 60 seconds.
  • Flamingos have self-locking legs, which makes them more stable on one leg than on two.
  • If your home furnace emits some methane pollution on the last day of 2017, it’ll almost certainly leave the atmosphere by 2030—but it could still be raising global sea levels in 2817.
  • By analyzing enough Facebook likes, an algorithm can predict someone’s personality better than their friends and family can.

The Twenty-Five Most-Read New Yorker Stories of 2017
The resulting list is a diverse collection. … The balance, though, is composed of exclusive reporting: Ronan Farrow’s culture-shifting investigation of the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein; Ryan Lizza’s staggering phone conversation with the short-lived White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci; deeply reported profiles by Jane Mayer of Vice-President Mike Pence and Robert Mercer, the hedge-fund tycoon behind the Trump Presidency; Rachel Aviv’s investigation of guardians preying on the elderly; Evan Osnos’s exploration of the risk of nuclear war with North Korea, based on a reporting trip to Pyongyang; Patrick Radden Keefe’s investigations of the financier Carl Icahn and of the Sackler family’s involvement in the opioid crisis; Charles Bethea’s reporting on rumors that the Senate candidate Roy Moore was banned from an Alabama shopping center because of troubling interactions with teen-age girls; and much more.

A dismal, dreary year – unless you were Putin, Assad, Xi, Erdogan, Rouhani
Terry Glavin
(Ottawa Citizen) There is some good news. The European Union is at last standing up to populist-nationalist Jaroslaw Kaczynski, telling him that Poland can be an authoritarian basket case or it can be European, but not both. Germany is starting to talk back to China, warning Beijing that its efforts to spy on politicians won’t be tolerated. Australia is forging laws to keep Beijing’s money and influence-peddling out of Canberra’s affairs. The U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China has started to notice Bejing’s elaborate subversions. Even Nepal is starting to face off against China. So is Sri Lanka. Canada? Not even close.
We’ve been too busy this year, alternately celebrating and mourning our 150th birthday, which will be behind us, thankfully, in just a few days.

Some of Project Syndicate’s most-read commentaries on economics
Taken together, they offer a message of caution, and point to risks on the horizon. Will the bull run of 2017 last, or will the looming specter of protectionism, long-awaited adjustments in monetary policy, and other factors change the economic story? To answer those and similar questions about the global economy in the year ahead, one could do worse than to revisit some of the most insightful analysis of the year now ending.
In many ways, 2017 was a watershed year for the global economy. Stock markets reached all-time highs. Macroeconomic indicators in key countries improved throughout the year. And, despite catastrophic natural disasters, nuclear saber-rattling on the Korean Peninsula, escalating power politics between oil producers in the Middle East, worries about Chinese debt, and the slow-motion collapse of Venezuela, the global economic recovery continued to gain steam. From Bad to Worse for Puerto Rico; The Trump Deficit; The Coming Bear Market? and more

Joseph Stiglitz: The Global Economy’s Risky Recovery
(Project Syndicate) As the advanced economies’ post-2008 recession fades into the distant past, global prospects for 2018 look a little better than in 2017. The shift from fiscal austerity to a more stimulative stance will reduce the need for extreme monetary policies, which almost surely have had adverse effects not just on financial markets but also on the real economy. …
In short, as the advanced economies’ post-2008 recession fades into the distant past, global prospects for 2018 look a little better than in 2017. The shift from fiscal austerity to a more stimulative stance in both Europe and the US will reduce the need for extreme monetary policies, which almost surely have had distortionary effects not just on financial markets but also on the real economy.
But the concentration of power in China, the eurozone’s failure (thus far) to reform its flawed structure, and, most important, Trump’s contempt for the international rule of law, his rejection of US global leadership, and the damage he has caused to democracy’s standing all pose deeper risks. Indeed, they threaten not just to hurt the global economy, but also to slow what, until recently, had seemed to be an inevitable march toward greater democracy worldwide. We should not let short-run success lull us into complacency.

In case you thought we were neglecting Canada, we direct you to CBC’s Power & Politics Top 5: What to watch in 2018
From Trump’s mid-term election showdown to votes in Ontario and Quebec, 2018 will be a year to watch
And the related list of the Top 5 political blunders of 2017
From an election gamble that didn’t pay off to Trump’s tweets, 2017 saw plenty of political pratfalls
From the Gazette: As Quebec enters election year, PQ may disappear — in part because of the CAQ
Fifty years after the PQ’s creation, analysts say this could be the year the federalist-separatist stranglehold on Quebec politics is broken

If you really, really, like lists, you can always consult Wednesday Night #1868 – a night of lists

Concluding on a somewhat lighter note: Dave Barry’s Year in Review: Russia Mania, covfefe and the Category 5 weirdness of 2017
(WaPost) Finally this hellish year, which by any standard of decency should have been canceled months ago, draws to a close. The American people, wearied by the endless scandals and the relentless toxic spew of partisan political viciousness, turn away from 2017 in disgust and look hopefully toward the new year, which by all indications will be calmer and saner.
We are of course joking. By all indications the nation is going to spend 2018 the same way it spent 2017, namely obsessing spitefully over 2016.

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