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Published: Thu, 14 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Thu, 14 Dec 2017 18:38:39 -0500


A Rising China Bets Big on Infrastructure Spending Overseas, As U.S. Wavers

Tue, 05 Dec 2017 10:28:00 -0500

(image) When President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in January, he left a power vacuum in the Pacific region that China is seeking to fill.

The Regional Comprehensive Global Partnership, a proposed trade deal that encompasses 16 countries, already promises to bring China closer to its Asian neighbors. China is currently spending $150 billion a year on infrastructure a year in 68 countries. It has proposed building roads, bridges and railroads to link the 54 African nations. And China has pledged to spend $250 billion over the next 10 years in South America, including building a high-speed rail line in Brazil.

The wisdom of those investments can be questioned, but there's no doubt that China is positioning itself to challenge American dominance. Concern over growing Chinese influence is not without warrant. Despite market reforms, China's government remains a Communist regime with a horrendous record on human rights. It seems to be challenging Milton Friedman's notion that with economic freedom comes political freedom.

Still, China's recent moves to be a world leader could be beneficial, particularly when it comes to investment in the developing world.

Take the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which China launched in 2016 and which now counts Germany, Great Britain and a few other Western countries among its 50-plus shareholders (although China retains the most power).

The AIIB provides financing for infrastructure projects in the Asia-Pacific region. There's a big hole to fill: estimates are that meeting all the needs for regional roads, sewers, power stations and the like would take about $8 trillion.

"We like to talk about barriers to trade being tariffs, red tape or customs...Well, a lack of infrastructure is also a barrier to trade," said Colin Grabow, a trade policy analyst at the Cato institute, at a briefing last week. "If you can't get your product from point A to point B, you can have all the best rules in the world and it's not going to matter."

Grabow acknowledges China's violations of intellectual property rights and aggression in the South China Sea. The simplest thing the United States could do to counter Chinese influence is to start competing again, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.

Currently the AIIB is either building or planning to build telecommunications, energy and road improvement work in the Philippines, Azerbaijan, India and Sri Lanka, among others. While China may have founded the bank to increase its power in the region, the fact that leading European nations now have a seat at the AIIB table reduces the likelihood that China will be able to use the bank as a foreign policy tool.

China's One Belt, One Road initiative to build roads, bridges and tunnels for companies to transport their products across the Asian continent also promises to cement its relationship with central Asian countries.

"We need to worry more about what we are not doing rather than what China is doing," Grabow said at a Cato event. "We can't disengage and then snipe from the sidelines or serve as some kind of international peanut gallery. We need to focus more on competing with China instead of trying to contain China. What we know is that the region needs more infrastructure. If China is providing it, let's see what happens. It isn't our money on the line."

This post was updated to correct the attribution to a quote from Colin Grabow.

First Whole Body Transplant Is 'Imminent'

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 13:45:00 -0500

(image) The first operation in which the head of a person will be transplanted onto another body is "imminent," according to Italian neuro-surgeon Sergio Canavero. At a press conference in China, Canavero detailed a recent operation in which a team of surgeons practiced by attaching the head of cadaver to the body of another cadaver. The goal was to develop a suite of techniques that enable surgeons to connect blood vessels, nerves, the esophagus and so forth between the head and the body.

In fact, some researchers in China have just published a study in which they detail how they successfully grafted the head of one rat onto the body and head of another rat.

Naturally, some folks are opposed to the procedure. For example, Dr. Hunt Batjer, president elect of the American Association for Neurological Surgeons told The Independent, "I would not allow anyone to do it to me as there are a lot of things worse than death."

Some bioethicists are also worried about Canavero conducting this surgery in China. In USA Today, Assya Pascalev, a bioethicist at Howard University in Washington, D.C. observed, "There are also regulatory concerns. China does not have the same medical standards and requirements that the United States and Europe have." In fact, it is precisely because the medical communities in the United States and Europe would not permit the controversial procedure that Canavero has chosen China as the country in which he will attempt the first human head transplant. "The Americans did not understand," Sergio Canavero told a news conference in Vienna. He added, "Western bioethicists needed to stop patronizing the world."

If successful, surgery would raise fascinating questions about how a different body would affect a person's consciousness along with the possible future reproductive issues.

Although most medical experts believe that the head transplant surgery will fail, there is nothing wrong with trying to do it so long as all parties fully consent to the procedure.

Trump Trip to Asia Mostly a Welcome Shift in U.S. Foreign Policy

Thu, 16 Nov 2017 14:34:00 -0500

President Donald Trump doesn't think he's getting enough credit for his 12-day, five-country trip to Asia. He has a point. Trump's diplomatic efforts in Asia are a repudiation of Barack Obama's "Asia pivot," which sought to contain China's rise by expanding American influence in the region. The Obama approach prompted China to take a more confrontational stance vis a vis the United States—an effect that apparently caught the Obama administration by surprise even though it shouldn't have. Trump's reset can reduce tensions in the region while giving U.S. allies an incentive to take more responsibility for their own stability and security. Japan and South Korea, for example, have both recently committed to increasing their own military expenditures. And while China insists its decision to send a high-level envoy to North Korea (the first such trip this year) was "common practice" and "unrelated" to the American president's visit, Trump has pushed regional stakeholders to take a more active role in defusing tensions with North Korea. China may not have the total control over North Korea's foreign policy that Trump imagined before he assumed the presidency, but it did have more room to cooperate with the West. And while several Asian countries announced a trade deal without the U.S., which withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership three days into Trump's presidency, that's not necessarily bad news either. Trump's anti-trade rhetoric is indisputably harmful, and the lack of any news about any kind of bilateral deals at the end of his long trip is not a good sign for the future of such pacts. But a continental trade deal that doesn't include the U.S. could be a stronger arrangement than one that did. After all, the original Trans-Pacific Partnership also excluded China. Given that China is the second largest economy in the world, its exclusion never made sense from a trade perspective. But it made sense if the TPP was another tool to contain China. In the trade deal's current form, it is far better positioned to eventually include the U.S. and China, as it will be better able to avoid geopolitically motivated pressure from the U.S. The foreign minister of Japan insists the new deal will "serve as a foundation for building a broader free-trade area" across Asia; a deal perceived (rightfully) as a tool of U.S. foreign policy would not have such a bright future. Trump did not spend his Asia trip lecturing other countries about the importance of liberal democracy and human rights, to the chagrin of some observers. Yet such lectures are usually meant more for the domestic U.S. audience than audiences overseas. Just as Americans don't appreciate even the perception of being lectured by foreign countries like Russia, so it goes in other countries. (That said, it would be nice if Trump would refrain from actively praising a nation's human rights abuses.) The U.S. can promote human rights and liberal democracy much more effectively through leading by example and through fostering self-reliance rather than dependence among its allies. Liberal values are their own best spokesperson—witness China's eagerness to advocate for free trade and globalization where Trump won't. If Trump's perceived disinterest in international governance leads other countries to decide they too should take ownership of the world order rather than relying on the U.S., we will all be better for it.[...]

How Trade Tariffs Screw Over the Little Guy (Aluminum Foil Edition)

Thu, 16 Nov 2017 14:10:00 -0500

(image) Donald Trump ran for president as a protectionist and is ruling like one. From former Reason Editor Virginia Postrel comes news of a massive hike on aluminum from China:

The Commerce Department has said it will impose preliminary duties of 97 percent to 162 percent on the Chinese imports that supply much of the U.S. market with thin aluminum foil. That's likely to have much more far-reaching effects on U.S. companies than the minor deals President Donald Trump announced on his trip to China.

Aluminum-foil buyers, many of them swing-state manufacturers, are reeling at the size of the duties, which would at least double the price of Chinese foil.

Think about how much stuff you buy uses aluminum foil. Actually, just read the partial list Postrel has created:

Aluminum foil wraps burritos, physics equipment and the highlighted tresses of hair-salon customers. It forms flexible ducts and lasagna pans, lines cigarette packs and fast-food sandwich wrappers. It hides between layers of film in flexible packaging. It protects aspirin bottles from tampering, petri dishes from light and tractor engines from overheating. It tops yogurt cups and peanut cans. It backs blister packs of antihistamines, antacids and birth-control pills. It goes into automotive parts and air-conditioning systems.

U.S. manufacturers rely on aluminum foil. So do nail salons, building contractors and bakeries.

In her Bloomberg column, Postrel talks to people in the foil industry. They are already looking for new suppliers since Chinese foil, which is state of the art and high-quality, is being artificially priced out of the U.S. market. America doesn't make that much foil because it's cheaper and more efficient to buy from, well, poorer countries; just two companies have mills in America that are making the stuff targeted by the tariffs. So this isn't going to Make America Great Again, it's just going to force U.S. customers to find new, more-expensive supplies. The countries whose manufacturers will win include Taiwan, South Korea, Bulgaria, and...Russia. Another possibility: Foil middlemen in Canada and Mexico might import Chinese product and, assuming NAFTA isn't ditched, send the product to the United States at some sort of mark-up.

For the want of cheap aluminum foil, your burrito was not lost exactly, but made more expensive for no good goddamn reason. Other than political pull and the economically illiterate policy decisions of President Donald Trump. Postrel concludes by talking to a foil broker who voted for Trump but is shaking his head of late:

"I think people hear, 'Make America Great,' and they think bringing jobs back to America. What jobs is this going to bring back?... It's going to improve the [domestic] aluminum manufacturers' bottom line. It's not going to improve it because they got better, or they got more efficient, or they figured out a better way to do it. It's going to be because they've been able to raise their price and fill their mills, because people don't have choices anymore."

Read the whole thing here. And without going full Johnny-Carson-with-toilet-paper on you, start thinking about hoarding aluminum foil or switching to wax paper.

Trump Trade Speech Undermines Beleaguered Free Trade Consensus

Tue, 14 Nov 2017 13:30:00 -0500

President Trump raised some valid concerns about America's trade relations with the rest of the world in a speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Vietnam on Friday. For example, it's true that U.S. firms are subjected to intellectual property rights violations and industrial espionage by foreign state-affiliated actors. Unfortunately, Trump's speech was both economically illiterate and factually incorrect. It's likely to undermine what remains of the pro-free trade consensus and embolden those on both sides of the U.S. political spectrum who advocate in favor of prosperity-destroying protectionism. The case for free trade has been clear for 200 years, since David Ricardo described what has come to be known as the "theory of comparative advantage." Ricardo's 1817 theory, which I have discussed in greater detail elsewhere, states that a country should produce and export only those goods and services which it can produce more efficiently than other goods and services, which it should import. To be fair to Trump, he did, on a number of previous occasions, note that he loves free trade. Regrettably, love does not equal understanding. Take, for example, Trump's concern over America's "trade imbalance" with China. According to Trump, "the current trade imbalance [with China] is not acceptable." "I do not blame China or any other country, of which there are many, for taking advantage of the United States on trade," Trump said in his Vietnam speech. "If their representatives are able to get away with it, they are just doing their jobs." But is the trade imbalance as much of a problem as Trump implies? No, because as any student of economics knows, there is a direct relationship between trade balance on the one hand and the savings and investment balance on the other hand. The relevant accounting formula here is: Savings - Investment = Exports – Imports. It's true America sells less to the rest of the world than it buys from it. But the United States also receives more capital from overseas than Americans send abroad. Trade balance and capital balance must be equal over the long run, because the American dollars that foreigners earn by selling to Americans can only be spent in so many ways. Foreigners can convert the American currency into local currency, thereby driving up the price of the local currency and driving down the price of the U.S. dollar. That then translates into more competitive U.S. exports and, consequently, lower trade imbalance. Or they can invest their export earnings in U.S. assets—ranging from U.S. government bonds to San Francisco apartments. Lo and behold, China is hemorrhaging capital at a record speed, and some of that Chinese money is coming to America. China, for all of its growing economic might, is still a country with dodgy property rights and an underdeveloped rule of law. Its government is even more opaque and less predictable than our own. By sending some of their money overseas, in other words, Chinese people and corporations are hedging against expropriation and drastic changes in economic policy. The United States, with its relatively well-developed institutions and investment-friendly policies is, comparatively speaking, a safe haven. "I wish," Trump continued in his speech, that "previous administrations in my country saw what was happening and did something about it. They did not, but I will. From this day forward, we will compete on a fair and equal basis. We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore. I am always going to put America first the same way that I expect all of you in this room to put your countries first." To be fair, Trump appears to be referring to the uncompetitive practices that I referred to in the opening paragraph. But, a less-than-careful listener would be justified in concluding that free trade is a zero-sum game, where one country's gain is another country's loss. This is dangerous stuff. For all of its many im[...]

Brickbat: Banned in China

Fri, 10 Nov 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Officials in three Chinese provinces have expelled about a thousand South Korean missionaries and pastors and closed down their churches. They gave no reason for the crackdown but new tougher regulation of religious activities is scheduled to take effect next year.

U.S. Steel Manufacturers Eager for Trump to Impose Long-Promised Tariffs

Wed, 04 Oct 2017 15:40:00 -0400

American steel manufacturers are eager for President Donald Trump to follow through on his campaign trail bluster and slap high protective tariffs on steel imports. Bloomberg recently interviewed John Ferriola, CEO of Nucor, an American steel company, who said after speaking with administration officials, he felt reassured that the tariffs are coming. "Last week someone in the administration told me they meet with the president every day, and at least two to three times a week Trump asks, 'Where are my tariffs? What are we doing?,'" Ferriola said. The steel company CEO remains confident that President Trump will deliver the goods, Bloomberg reported. The administration has, so far, been all talk and no action. The White House missed a self-imposed deadline in June to release a Department of Commerce investigation on the impact of imported steel on national security. The report, which could be used to support slapping protectionist levies on imported steel, hasn't materialized. On the campaign trail, Trump's free-wheeling speeches would typically include shots at China and promises to stop the flow of cheaper steel from across the Pacific. His promise to "put American steel and aluminum back into the backbone of our country," as Trump put it at one rally in western Pennsylvania during the campaign, seemed to resonate with voters in the Rust Belt and helped push him to an electoral victory. In office, Trump has continued his blunt statements about protecting the American steel manufacturing industry. "Steel is a big problem," Trump told reporters traveling aboard Air Force One in July. "We're like a dumping ground, OK? [Other countries are] dumping steel and destroying our steel industry. They've been doing it for decades and I'm stopping it. There are two ways, quotas and tariffs. Maybe I'll do both." Trump's tariffs, however, are a solution to a problem that might not exist. Cheap Chinese steel isn't threatening the American domestic economy, according to Scott Lincicome, a trade attorney and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. The last thing this country needs is more tariffs. "It's a myth that we don't have steel tariffs already in place," Lincicome tells Reason. "Most of the steel we import is not from supposedly nefarious places like China or Russia; it instead comes from close allies like Canada." According to Lincicome, between the years of 1990 to 2013, America was one of the most protectionist countries in the world. Of the 373 different trade barriers in place in late 2016, 191 of them were trade restrictions placed on foreign steel. Steel consuming industries, which outnumber steel manufacturing industries 50-to-1, pay the price. Whatever American jobs are saved in the very concentrated manufacturing sector will come at the cost of jobs involving steel imports. Ultimately, people who work in construction will suffer because higher steel costs will mean fewer construction projects, according to research from Daniel R. Pearson, Lincicome's colleague at Cato. With the urging of the president, Republicans in Congress spent months unsuccessfully attempting to repeal Obamacare. Now with tax reform on the horizon, the administration's intent to impose tariffs seems to have been put on the backburner. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is adamant the administration will deal with the question of steel tariffs after dealing with tax reform. Ross, a billionaire, made a fortune in 2002 buying bankrupt steel companies on the same day the Bush administration imposed tariffs on foreign steel imports. He, like U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, is one of several strong supporters of tariffs in the Trump administration. "My best guess is that Trump will impose some sort of steel import restriction at some point. He likes the idea too much to abandon it." Pearson tells Reason. "Both Ross and Lighthizer are quite committed protectionists and are unlikely [...]

Stossel: 100 Years of Communist Disaster

Tue, 03 Oct 2017 10:30:00 -0400

When communism was first implemented 100 years ago, people were excited. Western academics and media figures at places like the New York Times praised the ideology even as millions starved. The praise continued even as communist leaders murdered political opponents.

Today, some Antifa activists carry communist flags. Some say communism failed in the Soviet Union because it wasn't "done right."

But communism has been tried again and again–in dozens of countries. It always fails. Stossel talks with Lily Tang Williams, who grew up in China, where tens of millions starved to death after government abolished private farms. Lily's father taught her to trap rats for food, but then even the rats ran out.

Somehow she survived, and now she says she never wants to be without freedom again.

She's so passionate about freedom that she ran for US Senate in 2016 as a libertarian.

She says her mission in life is to tell people that life without freedom is awful.

Produced by Maxim Lott. Edited by Joshua Swain.

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China and Russia Warn U.S. About Regime Change in North Korea

Tue, 12 Sep 2017 13:34:00 -0400

(image) As the United Nations passes new sanctions against North Korea, watered down at the behest of Russia and China, the two countries warned the United States against pursuing regime change in North Korea.

The Russian representative at the U.N. expressed concern the U.S. wasn't reaffirming "the four nos"—no regime change, no regime collapse, no accelerated reunification, and no military deployment north of the 38th parallel dividing the Korean peninsula.

"The Chinese side will never allow conflict or war on the peninsula," a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry said today.

That's all well and good, but if Russia and China are really concerned about what the U.S. might do on the Korean peninsula they should step in and offer solutions rather than admonishments.

Instead, the two major powers have largely remained on the sideline as North Korea inches closer to nuclear weapons capability, leaving the responsibility of reacting to the developments to the U.S., which Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley stressed, is ready to act alone to stop the North Korean regime if necessary.

It should not be surprising that regime change—a flawed tool fraught with negative consequences—is still on the table. It is a tool America's foreign policy makers are familiar with and return to with regularity despite its history of failure.

Over the last seventy years, the U.S. has taken on the role of world policeman. Donald Trump, who campaigned in part on questioning the wisdom of that role, has largely embraced it as president, revealing how this foreign policy status quo is ingrained and difficult to change.

The administration hopes sanctions against North Korea might at the least bring the regime back to the negotiating table. It bases this idea on the sanctions that pressured Iran into negotiating a nuclear deal. It remains unclear, however, how much those long-term sanctions influenced Iran's decision to negotiate, given the country's internal politics. Sanctions might have delayed diplomatic efforts by offering domestic hard-liners a talking point against negotiating.

Russia and China's efforts to temper the U.N sanctions further muddles the issue. They are two of five countries with veto power in the Security Council. If they are not convinced of the efficacy of sanctions they ought to kill them.

They have not killed the sanctions, because they offer the perception something is being done about the North Korea crisis. Without sanctions the U.S. could rightly ask Russia and China what, exactly, is their contribution to a solution.

The U.S. is right to ask the question anyway. Both countries have a greater interest than the U.S. in reining in North Korea, but have opted not to expose their leadership to criticism over any diplomatic failure.

The critiques will be much harsher if North Korea spirals out of control. The U.S. is comitted to defending its allies in the region, Japan and South Korea. North Korea knows it. Russia and China do, too. The Trump administration has signaled clearly ("fire and fury") the U.S. is willing to use overwhelming force to respond to any North Korean aggression.

If China and Russia fear regime change in the neighboring Korean peninsula, and they should, they can help prevent it by assuming more responsibility for North Korea—by engaging in public diplomatic efforts that would allow, and maybe even encourage, the U.S. to responsibly pull back.

Five Cities That Got F*cked by Hosting the Olympics

Mon, 21 Aug 2017 12:30:00 -0400

Every four years with the Olympics, municipalities compete to host the winter and summer games and virtually always plunge their cities and sometimes even their home countries into massive debt and insolvency. Why? Because host cities inevitably spend double or more over initial estimates, fewer people show up than expected, and the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, takes bigger and bigger cuts of TV and other revenue streams. Sports economist Andrew Zimbalist says that a typical Summer Olympics generates up to $6 billion in revenue, at least half of which goes to the IOC. Winter Games generate even less money despite often being more expensive to host than Summer Games. Cities routinely claim that whatever money they spend on new facilities will stimulate the local economy for decades to come. With the recent announcement that Paris will host the 2024 Summer Games and Los Angeles will host the 2028 Summer Games, here are five cities that got fucked by hosting the Olympics. Athens, Greece, 2004. Athens is the birthplace of the ancient games that inspired today's modern municipal money pits. Its 2004, Games cost $16 billion, or 10 times the original estimate. By 2010, more than half the venues built for the event were underused, completely empty, or literally falling apart. Sochi, Russia, 2014. At $50 billion, the Sochi Winter Games cost more than all previous Winter Olympics combined, paid for by a dwindling supply of Russian petro dollars and gold bullion. Boris Nemtsov documented that $21 billion went to "embezzlement and kickbacks" for businessmen friends of Vladimir Putin. Nemtsov was later assassinated. Rio de Janiero, Brazil, 2016. Plagued by low ticket sales partly due to the outbreak of the Zika virus, the Rio games ended up costing $20 billion rather than the $13 billion backers claimed. The Olympics were hosted on the heels of the 2014 World Cup, which also cost a ton of loot, and the showplace Maracana stadium, which got a $500 million makeover, was "largely abandoned" soon after the games and had thousands of seats ripped out by vandals. Beijing, China, 2008. The Beijing Games cost $42 billion, a record at the time, even though Amnesty International charged that the Chinese government used forced labor to build many of the venues. The IOC didn't mind the stratospheric costs or crackdowns on dissent, though: It awarded Beijing the 2022 Winter Games. Montreal, Canada, 1976. The mayor of Montreal declared that the Olympics "can no more have a deficit than a man can have a baby." Unfortunately, it took Montreal 30 years to pay off its debt just for the main stadium built for the 1976 Summer Games. If there's good news here, it's that cities seem to be wising up: Paris and Los Angeles were the only two cities to bid on the 2024 Olympic Games and IOC was so anxious that there wouldn't be enough applications for 2028, that it pre-emptively awarded it to LA. But just like with professional sports teams that extort tax dollars and subsidies for stadiums that never pay back their inflated costs, it's likely the Olympics will keep finding new suckers for one of the oldest scams in sports. Produced by Todd Krainin. Written and narrated by Nick Gillespie, and based on an article by Ed Krayewski. Camera by Jim Epstein. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.[...]

The Manchurian Crooner

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 11:21:00 -0400

(image) It was the Korean War—I mean the war they fought in the '50s, not the nuclear holocaust that various idiots are proposing now—that brought the word "brainwashing" into the common lexicon. Introduced in Edward Hunter's 1951 book Brain-Washing in Red China, whose cover declared that "an entire nation" was under "hypnotic control," the word's popularity exploded when the public learned that the American POWs who had recorded propaganda messages for North Korea had been subjected to intense indoctrination sessions. The idea took hold that the Communists had actually reprogrammed their captives' brains, perhaps permanently.

As science, this turned out to be false—the mind is not so malleable. As fuel for pop culture, on the other hand, it has given us everything from The Manchurian Candidate to the record I've embedded below. Eddie Hill's "I Changed My Mind," released in 1954, may well be the only country song ever written about brainwashing. In this particular spin on the subject, the cure for mind control turns out to be prayer; that isn't quite as exciting as the end of The Manchurian Candidate, but I suppose it was better suited for radio airplay.

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Trivia: Joan Javits, co-composer of the song, made more of a mark when she co-wrote "Santa Baby." She was also the niece of Sen. Jacob Javits, which I guess makes this record the lost bridge between Nashville and the Rockefeller Republicans.

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)

Individualism Increasing Across the World

Fri, 04 Aug 2017 14:45:00 -0400

(image) Good news fellow libertarians: We are winning!

Individualism is rising across the world, according to a forthcoming study in Psychological Science by a team of Canadian and American psychologists who evaluated 51 years of data on individualistic practices and values across 77 countries.

There is, however, one big exception to this salutary trend: China.

Researchers focused on shifts in measures like the cross-cultural Individualism-Collectivism scale in the countries they evaluated. Individualism promotes a view of self-direction and autonomy, whereas collectivism fosters conformity and adherence to social obligations. Individualistic cultures prioritize independence and uniqueness whereas collectivist cultures emphasize family and fitting in.

To get at how cultures have moved along the individualism-collectivism spectrum the researchers used data focusing on changes in individualistic cultural practices and also World Values Survey responses that track shifts in cultural values.

The relevant cultural practices included changes in household size, percentage of people living alone, older adults living alone, and divorce rates. The researchers also analyzed how values changed with regard to the importance of friends versus family; teaching children independence or obedience; and preferences for self-expression such as arguing that free speech should be protected in their countries.

They also sought to identify what might be causing any changes along the individualism-collectivism spectrum. Consequently, they examined how socio-ecological changes such as socioeconomic development, disaster frequency, pathogen prevalence and climate affected trends in individualism.

Not too surprisingly, socioeconomic development had by far the strongest effect, accounting for between 35 and 58 percent of the change in individualism.

"Thirty-four (out of 41) countries showed a substantial rise in individualist practices," note the authors. "Thirty-seven (out of 52) countries showed a similar rise on a subset of markers assessing individualist values."

The shift toward greater individualism is not confined just to developed countries. Overall, they find a 12 percent global shift on the axis toward increased individualism. The richer people become, the more likely they are to throw off the shackles of collectivism.

Researchers find China is an outlier. This is a surprise, since socioeconomic development is driving the rise in individualism. After all, China's per capita GDP has increased nearly ten-fold over the past quarter century.

As a possible explanation, researchers cite a 2014 study that identified profound cultural differences between southern and northern Chinese. Specifically, the folks in rice-growing southern China are more interdependent and holistic-thinking than those who live in the more individualistic wheat-growing north. Of course, it doesn't help that the Communist government under President Xi Jinping is forcefully suppressing dissent.

The findings would suggest despite Xi's oppression, this dynamic of individualism will inevitably take hold in China.

Brickbat: Blacklisted

Wed, 07 Jun 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Ron Janicki planned a music festival featuring politically outspoken artists this summer at Los Angeles State Historic Park near Chinatown. But California State Parks says he has to get buy-in from the Chinatown Business Improvement District, among other organizations, before it will permit the festival. And George Yu, president of the CBID doesn't seem to be buying in. He says Janicki's efforts to draw attention to the Chinese government's censorship and harvesting of organs is "anti-China."

South Korea's New President Gives Trump Opportunity to Keep Campaign Promises

Wed, 10 May 2017 10:36:00 -0400

Moon Jae In, the Democratic Party candidate who supports rapprochement with North Korea, declared victory in yesterday's presidential election in South Korea, which he won by a large margin. The dovish Moon, who has been skeptical of U.S. power in the region, presents an opportunity for President Trump to follow through on his campaign-era promise of re-evaluating U.S. defense commitments in places like the Korean penninsula. Moon will be the first Democratic president since Roh Moo-hyun left office in 2008—and the center-left Democrats have been more supportive of normalizing relations with North Korea (known as "sunshine policy"), with the hopes of eventual reunification, than their center-right counterpart. He had long been the frontrunner of the 2017 campaign, even before Park Guen-hye's impeachment pushed the election date up by seven months. Moon previously ran against Park in 2012, losing by three and a half percent. The South Korean president-elect also repeatedly expressed concern over a missile defense system (THAAD) deployment agreed to between President Barack Obama and Park last year. Deployment began earlier this year and was completed overnight late last month amid protests, leading some in South Korea to believe the U.S. was trying to make it "difficult, if not impossible" to reverse the deployment, as The Washington Post reported. "I don't believe the U.S. has the intention [to influence our election], but I do have some reservations," Moon told The Washington Post. "It is not desirable for the [interim] South Korean government to deploy THAAD hastily at this politically sensitive time, with the presidential election approaching, and without going through the democratic process, an environmental assessment or a public hearing," Moon said before the election.- "Would it happen this way in the United States? Could the administration make a unilateral decision without following democratic procedures, without ratification or agreement by Congress?" The agreement over THAAD between Obama and Park was not ratified by Congress, while the U.S.'s accelerated deployment of the missile defense system runs counter to some of President Trump's rhetoric (something American and international observers will probably have to get used to). Trump floated the idea that South Korea should pay the U.S. $1 billion for the THAAD deployment, consistent with his campaign trail pronouncements about South Korea, and other U.S. allies, free-riding on U.S. defense. A couple of days later national security adviser H.R. McMaster assured his South Korean counterpart that the U.S. would pay for the system. Namhee Lee, the co-director of the Center for Korean Studies at UCLA, warns against reading too much into U.S. politics as a factor in the South Korean election. "This election was about the citizens in South Korea who were upset about the previous government's corruption, misuse of power, the collusion between the state and the conglomerates, and growing inequalities in society," she explained to Reason. "Obviously South Koreans are concerned about North Korea's nuclear build-up and Trump's erratic behavior/statements," Lee said, "but apparently only one out of four in the Korean electorate thinks that North Korea and THAAD is the most important issue facing the incoming administration." "But it is true the election of Moon would help to defuse tensions in the region," she continued, as he would resume the sunshine policy of his Democratic predecessors, which would build trust and create the conditions "for gradual change in the North's political and economic systems, which would then lead to coexistence and eventually to peaceful unification of two Koreas. Moon has been against the d[...]

No, North Korea Isn’t "Super-Mighty"

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 00:01:00 -0400

North Korea is feeling threatened, so it has threatened back. "In the case of our super-mighty preemptive strike being launched," the isolated regime's state-run media warned Thursday, it will hit the "U.S. mainland and reduce them to ashes." The phrasing is classic Pyongyang, the bizarre mix of childish bluster and lethal armament that throws normal foreign policy strategy out the window. This same announcement from any other nuclear power would mean the start of World War III, but from North Korea, it's mostly business as usual. What isn't business as usual is the international response to this latest round of provocation. U.S. surveillance planes are reportedly on alert for another North Korean nuclear test, as are Chinese bombers. Vice President Pence told Pyongyang the American "sword is ready," and, after some miscommunication, Japan's Self-Defense Force began joint exercises Monday with the USS Carl Vinson in waters off the Korean peninsula. And though defense officials have denied a recent report of imminent U.S. invasion, there's no denying the feeling that U.S.-North Korea tensions are escalating. As ever with North Korea's unique circumstances, the prudent course for the United States may be debatable, but de-escalation of those tensions is not. An American strike on North Korea would be, in a word, disastrous. As Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Wednesday, war "would be bad for the Korean Peninsula. It would be bad for China. It would be bad for Japan, be bad for South Korea. It would be the end of North Korea." Even in the best-case scenario—a tidy overthrow of the Kim Jong Un regime that doesn't take South Korea down with it and liberates a grateful population—the entire region would be thrown into long-term chaos. A new Korean war would easily cost America $1 trillion and produce one million casualties, Gen. Gary Luck, formerly a commander of U.S. troops in South Korea, estimated. A best-case scenario isn't even close to probable. If the U.S. takes up the North Korean offer of war, we risk war with China and North Korean nuclear, chemical, and biological strikes on U.S. troops stationed in and civilians living in South Korea. Post-regime change and an easy acceptance of American occupation by a desperate and ruthlessly brainwashed population is highly unlikely. South Korea may not prove a willing or able partner in the nation-building efforts that would follow. Realistic assessments of a strike on North Korea are in short supply in Washington. Graham followed his grim account with a hearty recommendation for war, recklessly advising President Trump to prepare for a preemptive invasion. That is foolish and dangerous advice, but hardly unexpected from a senator who never saw a war he didn't like. Though tensions may be rising, no North Korean strike on the United States is imminent. North Korea is not capable of executing any attack on the American mainland, let alone instantaneously reducing our country "to ashes." Pyongyang has yet to produce an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of carrying a nuclear warhead across the Pacific Ocean, let alone a warhead that could survive the trip. (The military parade organized to honor North Korea's founding president this month included what appeared to be ICBMs, but there is no evidence those are functional—or even real. This is, after all, a nation prone to expanding its navy via Photoshop.) The medium-range missile test shot into the Sea of Japan back in February, for example, traveled about 300 miles. To hit California, a North Korean missile would have to go more than 18 times that distance. In addition to this technological inadequacy, the showboating that is a con[...]