T heC onsul A New Publication from the International Affairs Association of the University of Pennsylvania
The Penn Community Reflects on Occupy Philly
Winter 2011 路 Volume II 路 Issue 1
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T he C onsul
Cover Story The Occupy Movement
Consul Writing Staff Michael Luo Justin Pergolini Akshay Subramanian Jason Littman Jessica Yu Wing Cheung Karl Sjulsen Angela Huang Michael Baresich Jason Kong
The Occupy Movement has officially come to Penn. The Consul speaks to Penn professors about the history, economics, and humanity behind it.
World Affairs The Sick Man of the Middle East Page 4 Red Clout over Africa Page 6 Gaddhafi’s Death: The Natural Demise of a Dictator Page 8
Head Layout Editor
Economy Fall Seven Times A Fragmented Europe
Page 16 Page 19
Layout Editors Jason Littman Wing Cheung Jing Ran Caroline White Business Staff Alyssa Maharani Alexander Kornhauser Kateryna Brezitska
Science Energy in Developing Countries Fukushima: A Meltdown of Support or a Tsunami of Innovation for Nuclear Power?
Page 22 Page 24
Arts Jean Genet: A “Global” Tramp
The Sick Man of the Middle East ARTICLE TITLE by Jason Littman
There has been quite a stir in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the past few months. Between the prisoner exchange of Gilad Shalit for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, the Palestinian appeal in the U.N., UNESCO’s recognition of Palestine, and new settlement construction in the West Bank, Israelis and Palestinians alike have had their fair share of problems. While the conflict is unique, the modern events that surround it are not very different than those in the past. Czar Nicholas I once called the Ottoman Empire the “Sick Man of Europe” because of the its poverty and economic conditions. It can be argued that Palestinians represent a modern “Sick Man” in terms of their poverty, economic dependence, and ineffective progressive actions. People around the world have been aware of Palestinian suffering for years, but haven’t had substantial results in resolving the situation. Similarly, Palestinians have tried in numerous ways to assert authority; i.e. the 1998 Declaration of Independence and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994. Alas, these attempts and others have had almost no success. This, along with the facts that Palestinians have consistently received more than $1 billion in foreign aid in the past few years and has high unemployment and low
income levels, is why this title, like with the Ottomans, will continue until both control and sovereignty is obtained or the Palestinians give up on attaining a two-state solution. It would be a good idea for Palestinians to compare their current situation and ineffective policies to those in the era of their “Sick Man” predecessors, the Ottomans. While not directly involving central Ottoman leadership, the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence (1915-1916) did involve an appointed leader of the Ottoman Sultan. The correspondence was between a British lord commissioner and the leader of Mecca, Sharif Hussein, and attempted to strike a deal in which British recognition of an Arab state would happen in return for internal revolts against the Ottoman Empire. The British were interested in this deal because they needed a backup plan to fight the Ottomans in WWI. While the correspondence and recent Palestinian attempts for statehood are different, a correlation can easily made between the two situations and there is a lesson to be learned. In this comparison, consider that the British represent the international community and Hussein represents the Palestinians. The Palestinian appeal to the United Nations is analogous to Hussein contacting the British foreign office in Cairo. In both situations, it was the proper means of communicating a problem, but was ultimately ineffective because institutions with real authority and legitimacy to resolve the problem were not active participants in the situ·4·
ation (British Parliament for Hussein and the United States and Western European for Palestinians). Furthermore, as the Palestinian leadership is worried about the planned Israeli settlement in the West Bank, Hussein was concerned with the Ottoman plan to build a railroad system to Mecca. In both situations, proposed infrastructure construction questioned the limits of local authority. Additionally, the funding of Hussein is similar to the UNESCO recognition and funding of Palestinians. The British never wholeheartedly supported Hussein, just as the United Nations is only supporting Palestinians in regards to the areas of “education, science, and culture.” (E.S.C.O.) Basically, what Palestinians today can learn from the Hussein-McMahon deal is what not to do to gain recognition from the international community. The important aspects involved in attaining independence are: the time in which independence is sought, audience of proposals, and accepting any victory. First, the time in which independence is sought should have, in both situations, been synced with global politics. The idea that Britain would monetarily and/or militarily support an Arab state led by Hussein was over optimistic. If the British had won or lost WWI, they would have never wanted to support a new war in Arabia. If Hussein made a deal with the U.K. before the war, the likelihood of establishing an Arab state would have been more likely. Likewise, Palestinians did not time their appeal to the UN very well. Palestinians will need
overwhelming American and European support if they ever want to actually establish a sovereign state. Poor timing was involved in the UN appeal because of next year’s presidential election in the US and the “Euro zone Crisis”. President Obama needs as much support as possible from Israel-supporting voters, which make up about 60% of the American population. Additionally, the European Union obviously has more important things to worry about now than foreign politics in Israel and Palestine. If the Palestinians waited until at least after the election, they would have probably had a better chance of convincing the U.S. to coerce Israel into a two state solution. Furthermore, Hussein’s choice to consult the British Foreign Office in Cairo and the Palestinian choice
The majority of Americans support Israel to consult the United Nations were poor choices, in my opinion. In both instances, the Arab parties communicated with institutions that do not have either hegemonic authority or strong powers of persuasion in their situations. It probably would have been wiser for Hussein to have sent a team to London, rather than exchanging letters with Cairo. Comparatively, it would be in Palestinians’ best interest to spend more time sending diplomats to the United States and Europe to discuss their situation with governmental leaders, lobbyist groups, and media. Without the support of the U.S. and Europe, there is almost no hope for a sovereign Palestine. Finally, I believe that Palestinians today can learn from Hussein’s fate in his correspondence. Whether Hussein would have ever acquired the Arab state that he wanted is debatable. On one hand, Hussein’s concerns with the semantics of the deal with the British could have prohibited the deal. Similarly, the semantic points of disagreement are what most often prevent Israeli-Palestinian agreements, and most governmental agreements for that matter, from being ratified. On the other hand, did the British ever plan on making an agreement with Hussein
or did they just plan on an unattainable agreement? Likewise, do Israelis plan on making a serious agreement with Palestinians? This uncertainty is what makes the conflict so difficult. While a resolution to the conflict has been unlikely, Palestinians can weigh their options against what Hussein could have done differently. If Hussein and Palestinians accepted an agreement that didn’t fulfill the majority of their wants, but still established an Arab and Palestinian state, maybe things would have been different. While accepting an unpopular offer from Israel may not be the Palestinian dream, it should be recognized that Israel and its supporters will have the upper hand in any proposal. Conversely, if Palestinians don’t accept an Israeli offer or get support from Israel’s allies, Palestine’s fate could be the same as Hussein’s. Just to be clear, a one or two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not being suggested here, but rather a lesson from history that Palestinians should keep in mind if they want to succeed in obtaining statehood, worldwide recognition, and peace. C
While accepting an unpopular offer from Israel may not be the Palestinian dream, it should be recognized that Israel and its supporters will have the upper hand in any proposal
1915 1917 1922 1939 1947 1948
Hussein-McMahon Correspondence Balfour Declaration White paper White paper of 1939 UN passes Partition Plan Israeli Independence War for Independence
1967 1973 1987
Six-Day War Ramadan/ Yo m Kippur War Hamas Founded
Camp David Accords
Gaza Flotilla Raid
Blockade of Gaza
Release of Gilad Shalit New West Bank Settlements PLO Appears at UN UNESCO Recognition of Palestine
Timeline of Major Events Affecting Israeli-Palestinian Relations
Red Clout ARTICLE TITLE Over Africa Chinese Imperialism?
by Wing Cheung
As blood spewed from gunshot wounds to his stomach and limbs, 25-year-old Wisborn Simutombo cried out for help amidst the outcry of hundreds of terrified miners. According to the New York Times, at least 13 miners protesting for better wages at the Collum Coal Mine, a Chinese state-owned coal mine in Zambia, were shot by two Chinese managers who allegedly tried to fire warning shots to deter the miners from approaching them. The managers were charged with multiple counts of attempted murder. A year later, they were acquitted of all charges. For years, the abuse of labor rights in Chinese-owned mines in Zambia has strained relations between Chinese investors and their Zambian employees, and no sufficient intervention has been achieved. Numerous workers in Chinese-owned mines have complained about unreasonably long work shifts, meager wages and deadly work conditions. Workers have also complained about the lack of safety regulations, which makes the dangerous working conditions in the mines deadly. Many workers have become restless
as neither the Zambian government nor the investors have thoroughly investigated the issue or found a long-term solution.
The managers were charged with multiple counts of attempted murder. A year later, they were acquitted of all charges.
In 2009, a group of Zambian miners, unsatisfied with their low wages, attacked several Chinese managers. Even earlier, in 2005, the death of 46 Zambians in an explosion at a Chineseowned factory angered many Zambians and was condemned by the press. The response from the managers is anything but empathetic. “You know, they are kind of lazy. They work like 10 to 15 days but want a full month’s salary,” said Xu Jianrui, the manager of Shaft 3, in the New York Times. The Human Rights Watch published a 122-page-long report condemning the labor rights abuses reported by the workers. Titled “You’ll Be Fired If You Refuse’: Labor Abuses in Zambia’s Chinese State-owned Copper Mines,” the document features descriptions of numerous violations of Zambian labor ·6·
laws and international standards for labor regulation. But the controversy of Chinese investments in Africa within the past few decades is hardly confined to Zambia. Driven by an increase in the demand for energy resources as a result of the economic and population growth in China in the recent years, Chinese investment in African countries has increased dramatically. In Sudan, Chinese investments in oil extraction are three times more than those of any other country that is also investing there. Most Chinese investments in Africa are owned by the state and focused on finding mineral wealth, such as copper, diamonds and oil. As Chinese-owned enterprises like
“You know, they are kind of lazy. They work like 10 to 15 days but want a full month’s salary,” said Xu Jianrui, the manager of Shadt 3, in the New York times.
the China Non-Ferrous Metals Mining Corporation are established in mineral wealth-rich African countries, issues of labor exploitation arise. Reports of
labor rights violations in Congo and Zimbabwe set a scene that is reminiscent of the exploitation of African nations during the era of imperialism in the nineteenth century. More commonly known as the Scramble for Africa, the exertion of European power over socioeconomic regulation in Africa was largely motivated by the desire to exploit the natural resources of the continent. Native inhabitants worked on the establishments operated by European investors and were often exploited by their overseers. For example, many workers in Belgian Congo were mutilated as punishment for opposing Belgian rule or failing to satisfy a quota for work production. The behavior of Chinese investors in Africa reveals that China is also interested in Africa for economic reasons, but China does not express any formal desire to colonize or seize political power in any African countries, nor does it employ brutal measures to achieve its goal of economic expansion overseas. Chinese investment policies, however, allow China to subtly exert an enormous amount of control over the economy of the African countries in which it is a major investor. Like those made by European powers, Chinese investments in African countries do not promote sustainable domestic economic development. Chinese investors contribute to public works projects and the like for the sake of improving their own establishments. In Angola, the $4 billion Chinese investment in public works was made in exchange for oil. The Chinese would never have invested in public works had there not been oil in Angola. In Tanzania and Zambia, Chinese-built railways are maintained by Chinese technicians because the locals lack the technological skills to do so. In this instance, it becomes clear that the Chinese have no intention to transfer their technological expertise to Tanzanians and Zambians in order to foster domestic development. Even though it is true that Chinese investments have resulted in debt relief that in turn paved the way for public works projects in some African countries, the aid is not sustainable. As soon as the resources are depleted, Chinese investment will cease to grow or remain at its current level. While
some argue that Chinese investments have created new jobs, those new jobs pay extremely low wages and demand rigorous physical labor. Job security is also low because as soon as the natural resources are exhausted, then Chinese investments will grind to a halt. In fact, much of the money that is believed to stimulate the economy is actually meant for securing the right to invest in those countries, thus China is indirectly funding the regimes of the countries that its stateowned businesses are investing in. China is the primary source of funding for the ruling regime, which often is unpopular among western powers and desperate for financial backing. There is also a cultural dimension to this situation because work ethic is valued differently in Africa and in China. Generally, workers in westernized countries work fewer hours than their counterparts in Asian countries like China. This difference has been dramatic in African countries where the Chinese have been investing recently, because the imposition of long work shifts upon the African workers is too sudden; it has interrupted their lifestyle, which was adjusted to the style of life that was enforced by Eu-
In Angola, the $4 billion Chinese investment in public works was made in exchange for oil.
ropean powers in the colonial era. Communication is also contributing to the tension between the two sides. For example, few Chinese managers who facilitate the mines in Zambia speak Tonga, the language spoken by most Zambians, and few Zambians understand Chinese. Without clear communication, no negotiations can take place. Language barriers prevent the Chinese managers from communicating their impression of good work ethic. Also, Chinese managers may not be able to learn from their employees the idea of acceptable work ethic in the local region due to their inability to communicate clearly. The lack of communication feeds stereotypes and misunderstandings between the two parties. In Africa, the Chinese are not only foreign but also in-
vasive and threatening because of their control over the economy and politics. To the Chinese, Africa is teeming with vaults of natural resources and cheap manual labor waiting to be exploited under some convenient political circumstances in which their investments are influential. It is questionable whether either side fully understood the expectations of the other side. In the situation in Zambia, the Chinese appear to many Nigerians as arrogant and all-powerful.
The lack of communication feeds stereotypes and misundertandings between two parties.
“We weren’t going to hurt them, but maybe the Chinese didn’t understand that,” said Simutombo in a report in the New York Times. “They were quick to shoot us though, and in Zambia, the Chinese can get away with anything.” The generalization is that China is a developing country in which western powers outsource certain aspects of their economy and a home to issues like child labor and labor rights abuse. In the situation of the investments in Africa, however, China appears to have assumed the role formerly played by first the European powers and then the United States. Both China and its western predecessors in Africa are interested in acquiring natural resources. As China continues to invest in the acquisition of natural resources from Africa, it will encounter more tension with the indigenous workers as long as it continues to pursue its policies without resolving the misunderstanding or disputes with the workers. In fact, the problems will likely worsen as tension escalates. The alternative for China would be to change its policies, especially oversight in terms of labor rights. China can learn a lot from its predecessors, but it needs to remember that the modern cultural and political context is different from that of the 19th century. C
The Natural Demise of a Dictator
The Search for Justice in Gaddafi’s Death by Karl Sjulsen
On the morning of October 20, 2011 a convoy of vehicles carrying Col. Muammar Gaddafi was leaving the dictator’s hometown in Sirte, Libya when it was struck by a missile. The missile, belonging to either a French jet fighter or a United States drone, successfully stopped the convoy but it was unclear whether Gaddafi was killed. Soon enough, however, local National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters arrived on scene, seemingly trying to beat NATO to the punch. And beat NATO they did. The mob of Libyan revolutionaries dragged Gaddafi out of the concrete drainage pipe he was hiding in and beat him mercilessly before killing him in cold blood.
Without a doubt, Gaddafi deserved to face justice, but the question remains who deserved the right to dole out said justice: the people who suffered under his regime or the international community who helped to take him out.
The International Criminal Court had issued a warrant for his arrest on June 28, 2011. There were many advantages in having an international trial. For example, it would not have put the ethical integrity of the NTC and the future stability of Libya into question. But
The mob of Libyan revolutionaries dragged Gaddafi out... and beat him mercilessly before killing him in cold blood.
at the same time we must consider the right of the people fought and bled to expel him, for it was the Libyans who had suffered under his harsh regime prior to the revolution. For 42 years Gaddafi exercised absolute power over the people of Libya by instilling fear in them. In addition to maintaining a pervasive regime fueled by Orwellian surveillance and violence, he bought the support of Libya’s many tribal groups using oil money. Once in power he committed countless atrocities. Two of the most salient examples, however, should suffice to demonstrate his crimes. Gaddafi was plainly the architect behind the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Jet over Scotland. He was also involved in more directly incriminating examples of crimes against 8
humanity such as the Abu Salim Massacre, where 1,200 inmates were shot following a prison riot. He was clearly a tyrant who eventually incurred the wrath of those very men and women whom he hoped to control. In light of his oppressive, violent dictatorship it’s understandable that Libyan revolutionaries wanted nothing more than to see Gaddafi dead. In their eyes, his murder can easily be seen as justice. While it was an eye-for-an-eye justice, it was justice nonetheless. Furthermore, Libyans understandably view themselves as the rightful judges of their former dictator. Not only had they suffered for 42 years prior to the revolution, but they were also the ones who, for eight long months, fought and died fighting the regime. While current estimates of casualties are extremely varied, ranging from 2,000 to 30,000 (including pro-Gaddafi forces), even the low end of this range represents an incredible loss for
He was a tyrant who eventually incurred the wrath of those very men and women who he hoped to control.
Libya as a nation. A part of these deaths, mainly among anti-Gaddafi forces but including some civilians, are attributed to the more than 9,000 NATO airstrikes.
And while NATO air strikes greatly influenced the outcome of the revolution, it was the Libyans who made the ultimate sacrifice to oust Gaddafi. Coupled with the realpolitik that has predominated in international relations since the end of the Cold War, it becomes
While estimates of casualties are extremely varied, ranging from 2,000 to 30,000 (including pro-Gaddafi forces), even the low end of this range represents an incredible loss of Libyans as a nation.
apparent that Libyans deserved the right to decide the fate of their late dictator. The question remains, though, whether it should have taken the form of mob justice. There are consequences to Gaddafi’s brutal murder. First, violence only begets violence, which is especially true in Libya’s factionalized sociopolitical arena. Gaddafi’s own clan, the Gaddadfa, has already promised retribution for the killing, which will no doubt incite a vicious cycle of violence. Further violence will only deepen the already numerous rifts in Libyan society. The future government of Libya will
always be remembered for Gaddafi’s brutal murder, and those memories will always pose a threat to its stability. In the words of Hajj Abu Mohammed, speaking of people in Sirte, a member of the Gaddadfa tribe, “people here will never forget.” Secondly, by killing Gaddafi and foregoing an ICC trial, the NTC has passed up an opportunity to appeal to the international community by conforming to existing international ide-
als about justice and due process. Had they arrested Gaddafi they would have set a morally admirable precedent for the future of Libya. Moreover it is important to consider that had he been handed over to the ICC, the evidence against him would have certainly led to a guilty verdict and made him an example of tyranny. His official charges for war crimes perpetrated in the opening sequence of the revolution, which, added to his already numerous crimes against humanity, would have rendered him indefensible. A trial would have exposed the scope of his cruelty during the four decades he was in power, and it could have won additional sympathy for the new Libyan nation. But there is one factor in an international trial that made the process unap-
pealing to Libyan revolutionaries: the lengthy duration of international trials. Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic was arrested in 2001 to be tried by the ICC. He died in 2005 in the Hague before a verdict could be reached. Charles Taylor has been on trial in the Hague by another international tribunal for nearly four years as well. If Gaddafi’s trial was anything like these previous trials, it would have taken time and Libyan’s would not have been able to reap the sense of victory quite like they did on October 20. Ultimately Libya and her people had the final say this time. While it was the Libyan’s right to decide what to do with their overthrown dictator, it was a mistake that they chose not to try Muammar Gaddafi. They did not have to hand him over to the ICC, where his fate would be decided by foreigners, but they could have tried him in Libya. While understanding that the new state might lack all the proper mechanisms to host such a trial in an efficient and fair manner, it must be said that it still would have been a better option than killing him immediately.
If the Libyans had tried Gaddafi, even nominally, they would not have strayed so far from international norms. A Libyan trial might have also been less drawn out than an ICC trial, ensuring that Gaddafi’s image wouldn’t linger for too long in the public eye thus allowing Libya to move onward to a new chapter in her history. In the end, the hasty killing of Gaddafi was a mistake because a trial could have more thoroughly, and in more political correctness, subjected Gaddafi to justice for his crimes. But they did, considering the circumstances, make the natural choice. People have the natural right to judge their leaders, even if they are dictators. While it would be a testament to humanity and justice if they were all tried, it is simply unfair to expect that from an oppressed people in revolution. While it may hurt them as a nation in the long run, victims of despotism will seek revenge if given the chance. Of course certain external factors may deprive the people of this “satisfaction”. Saddam Hussein was spared immediate execution by the U.S. forces and given the death sentence in the Iraqi court. Slobodan Milosevic was arrested and taken to the Hague where, in 2005, he died. On the other hand, Nicolae Ceausescu was not protected by external forces and was killed by his own military within two hours of his capture. Furthermore
Gaddafi’s own clan... has already promised retribution for the killing, which will no doubt incite a vicious cycle of violence.
hundreds of soldiers had allegedly volunteered to perform the execution. Gaddafi, like Ceausescu, was not spared by the US, NATO or the ICC; he was left to his people, and his people did to him what any revolutionaries would do given the same chance: they killed him. C
Occupy Wall Street by Angela Huang, Jason Kong You have worked hard your whole life to be a student at the University of Pennsylvania. Here, the work just escalates—the sun peeks over the horizon as you flip through your ______ book the night before your final, a Red Bull by your side and an unfazed determination in your eyes. You dutifully attend fascinating lectures and loyally accompany homework assignments until they are completed night after night. You love hard work and hard
work loves you. Yet, some regard you merely as specimens breeding in a lab. That is, a lab of wealth and concentration of power into the top 1% of the population. Ivy League students, especially those in Wharton, have been seen by Occupy demonstrators as individuals who are primed to become the “elites” of society, destined to make exorbitant amounts of money, $340,000 annually by today’s measure. Meanwhile, demonstrators argue, the other 99% are left with stagnant incomes and unequal social situations and opportunities. Given that you’re reading this magazine, you’ve probably had some exposure to the Occupy protests, first started as a leadership resistance movement loosely organized by the Canadian activist movement Adbusters. Since Occupy Wall Street began on September 17th in New York City’s Zucotti Park, just outside of Manhattan’s financial district, protests have sprouted in thousands of cities in nearly every developed country to denounce corporate greed and income disparity while championing labor rights and job creation. While the movement is inevitably centered around the economy, policy proposals emerging from the protests have varied from tax hikes on the wealthy to increased support of public works programs. As the movement worked to solidify their goals, Occupy encampments grew from groups of tents to small villages in most cities. For the past two months, these protests have garnered unparalleled media coverage, “occupying” the front page of nearly every newspaper and news site -- a study by the Global Language Monitor found “occupy” to be the most used word in the English language in the past 12 months. As of now, however, it is unclear as to how the Occupy protests will develop in the coming months as government officials work to shut down Occupy sites or how the movement itself will impact future legislation or policy actions at a national and international level. This past week, the International Affairs Association sent two of its columnist to speak with Penn professors to better understand the underpinnings of the movement and its lasting impacts. These...are their stories. C
“Economics is politics and politics is economics.”
Prof. Rebecca Stein, Economics by Angela Huang
Professor Stein is a respected Economics professor at Penn and has been conducting research in hospitals by exploring how some hospitals can perform at lower costs. Essentially, her research goes into the production function for production of healthcare. As a student in her Econ 001 lecture, this was the first time I had seen her in a setting outside of Williams hall, where she teaches about marginal cost and marginal revenue, supply and demand, and opportunity cost in front of hundreds of other students. I patiently waited for the other students in her office hours to filter out, and then entered the room. I started off with the basics: “What do you think goals of the Occupy movements are?” She replied assuredly with three main reasons: to make people aware of this as an issue, to create a voice that will influence the government, and to have a counterbalance to the tea party movement. However, she voiced that despite the strength of these three goals, there is no published set of concrete aims so in this way, it is difficult to say what mode of change is truly desired. As Professor Stein teaches economics, I ventured to ask her a question along her field of expertise: “What current economic regulations sparked these demonstrations?” She replied that it was “not so much regulation, but the increased power to business lobbies which are funded by rich people. They have power in deciding policy, and the 99% is trying to counteract this. They sense that businesses have a lot of power because of lobbying power: They can make big contributions to lobbies since they own so much wealth.” Especially in America, money can really get you places. To add to the gravity of this unhappiness, taxes have become more unfavorable towards the middle and lower class. “We have changed the way we’ve taxed the rich in recent years [it’s become less pro-
gressive, meaning that the wealthy are now taxed less than they used to be]. The highest income bracket used to be 50%, and now it’s 30%,” says Stein. Finally, I wondered, “How is this going to affect the international economic climate?” Protests have spread to international locations such as Europe and Australia, so are there going to be any global consequences? Professor Stein stated that “If the Occupy movement does get power and taxes on the rich go up, they may invest in other countries like China.” The U.S. would lose some of its wealth if the 1% believes it is more profitable to invest and spend effort in foreign countries. The Occupy movement may also be harmful in terms of relationships with other countries. Recently, there have been issues with other countries stealing our property rights. Thus if the Occupy movement indeed raises more of a voice for the people in the government, it may become more confrontational with these countries to look out for its citizens’ rights.
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Occupy Wall Street On the other hand, it may also help us get along with Europeans. If we tax the rich more, our system will be more like Europe’s and thus foster our relations. As last remarks, Stein stated that she is “really excited to see movements that think about politics seriously and believe that people have a voice. In that respect, I am interested in the Tea Party and also the Occupy movement.” These recent Occupy demonstrations have sparked a global phenomenon that has united millions of people. But Stein related these two movements because the Occupy demonstrations also, interesting enough, serve as a counter-balance to the Tea Party movement. The Tea Party movement pulled us to the right, in that its conservative, libertarian view advocated for less taxes and a looser government. The Occupy demonstrations
pull us back to the left by promoting a proactive government that actively takes care of its citizens. In this way we have seen a pendulum motivated by political forces that continuously push it to either side. There is a balance in the middle, but it is difficult if not impossible to reach, given the momentous diversity of citizens, socioeconomic statuses, and individual desires. Though most regard the Occupy movements as a political movement, one should investigate into the economics side of the controversy as well, in order to gain a holistic perspective. After all, “Economics is politics and politics is economics.” C
“The people have every right to feel very upset,”
Prof. Z. John Zhang, Marketing by Jason Kong
While Wall Street is seen as the abode for the nation’s top one percent, Huntsman Hall may be their primary breeding grounds. While I jest, there is little dispute in the fact that Huntsman houses America’s top business school, Wharton, that graduates hundreds of students into the
financial sector every year. Thus, I thought to myself, where better to seek information about the Occupy movement? The particular professor I chose to interview was Dr. Z. John Zhang, Whar-
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ton’s Murrel J. Ades Professor of Marketing. The half-open door yields slightly after my nervous knock. “Come in,” the voice beckons and I take my first look into a Huntsman office. As I take a seat, my tension is slightly eased by his cordial smile and warm welcome. Before I can even ask my first question, Professor Zhang leans back in his chair and begins. “Many people probably share the view that [protestors] have good reason to be upset about the financial service industry. While millions of Americans have suffered in losing their jobs, retirement, and money because of corporate greed, those actually responsible for the crisis were bailed out by the government and didn’t suffer in the same way as everyone else. Huge bonuses were paid to CEO’s and top executives shortly after the crisis – the banks were rewarding themselves for poor work.” “The people have every right to feel very upset,” Pro-
fessor Zhang concludes. “Do you think the protestors are upset about the financial industry’s conduct? Or is it more directed to the inequality that has resulted?” I ask my first question. “The big picture that is emerging from financial industries is that they behave more like cowboys in the Wild West, where they don’t want to subject themselves to any laws and regulations. So because of that, a lot of people are asking why exactly they are so special, why can’t they be more responsible, and why are they still being treated specially given that they have caused so much damage. All the scandals in the financial industry haven’t helped. It’s become like big oil, big farmers; it’s becoming like a corporate villain. It’s a very dangerous trend,” he responds. “What’s the solution?” I follow up, “Do you think government regulations will prevent or curb future crises?” “Without the financial industry, money wouldn’t be distributed efficiently, small business would cease to exist, and entrepreneurs would not survive because their ideas wouldn’t be financed by the investors,” Zhang prefaces his answer. “Because you can’t do things that would totally threaten the viability of the financial sector, there are a lot of things the country needs to think about to do. Next year’s election, this will be one of the issues that will be debated: how in fact you would hold the financial services accountable and do the responsible thing rather than try to get rich quick and divide shareholder money, congratulating themselves for not doing a good job. I think there will probably be more regulations and the whole financial services industry needs to do some soul-searching, and how in fact they got to where they are today.” “What else can be done to correct the financial industry?” I wonder. “One of the things [the financial sector] needs to do is rebuild their reputation; without a pristine reputation, the private sector is going to suffer. People won’t want to put their money there, and then that sector will shrink. Ultimately, everyone will suffer.” Returning back to the original purpose of the interview, I direct a question about Occupy Wall Street: “Do you think the protests are a good means through which to achieve these goals?” “Well,” Zhang begins, “what ultimately determines if [the movement] will be successful is how the general public will respond and how the messages will resonate with the voters at large. I think at this point Occupy Wall Street is not a very organized political force, and it is not clear if all of these political actions will translate into a political debate, which will then translate into legislation.” Regarding fixes for income inequality, Zhang notes: “It’s not clear to me that you can help 99% of people by just taxing the 1%. There’s just not that money there, the math doesn’t work out.” He instead proposes: “I think what government wants to do is to spend the money wisely to train people to be more productive and creative. At this point, you see in the global economy that industries are shifting around, and the skills required for
different industries are changing. If the government isn’t training people for different skills that are needed for the industries that are springing up, you can imagine the unemployment will be there no matter how much you tax the top 1%.” I nod and direct a question at how Professor Zhang’s current research into pricing theory will be affected by these protests, unsure if there was a link between the two. Surprisingly, there was a fair relationship: it was mispricing (of financial products, houses, etc.) that led to the economic collapse in the first place! Professor Zhang clarifies the role of his research: “We are trying to help companies improve their profitability so they can stay in business so they can hire people and keep the prosperity in American going. I would hope that everyone could price their products intelligently, so you won’t run into the problem of having to lay off people and not being able to sell their goods.” I thank Professor Zhang for his time and step out, scribbling notes on my notepad of how Occupy Wall Street needed to influence political legislation, the financial energy must be fixed internally, and how new taxation policies would not be sufficient for correcting inequality in America. While Occupy’s frustrations are backed by good reason, their expression needs to be through the political process in order to have a tangible impact on America’s future. C
Occupy Wall Street
Five Questions with Prof. Ania Loomba by Angela Huang
What do you think the goals of the occupy movements are?
As you must have read, they make it pretty clear that their goals are to criticize the way in which there are subsidies for the very rich in one form or the other, the way in which the income gap is growing in the United States, and the indifference towards the plight of average and poor people in favor of the 1%. So their own understanding is sort of resolutely about how money is being spent in the United States and who it is benefiting and not benefiting.
They’ve done a good job raising awareness, but what do you think their more concrete goals are? This question comes up over and over again, and you’ll find a lot of discussions online. In fact, I had made a little list of those aims, and my favorite is a blogger that said what is there that you don’t get: we are saying stop subsidies, stop bailing out the corporations, stop bailing out the top 1% by giving them enormous tax cuts or finding loopholes, stop banks and big financial firms making all the profit. Now, having said that, you said that is there specific legislation, I don’t think that is the case. I think what theyre trying to aise is up to now, most social movements are very focused, can you please do this, can you enact this law, make this change. They are saying this is a huge systemic change that we’d require. There are a few specific things, but they are not just saying enact this law. They is a larger malaise, a larger problem. If you enact this law, you might start quarelling about the law. Precisely to keep the focus on the whole question, which is inequality frankly, · 14 ·
economic inequality. I think what is a great frustration for some people watching the movement is also very empowering for others, so Jeffrey Sacks, economist at Columbia, who is not known for being particularly radical, had a whole piece in the New York Times I think it was yesterday, where he says what the Occupy movement is doing is that the Gilded Age is over, and he compares it to what happened after the Rolling 20s, and what happened earlier, and that we’ve had had these moments where something goes on for 30 years and it gets worse and worse and worse and something calls a halt to it. The form that has taken each time is different, and this time its taking this form. Whether it has solutions or not, it is not a movement as we have been brought up to under-
stand movement, which is we want THIS. He says this is a new form of politics and it is actually simply drawing attention to the fact that we’ve been living in a gilded age which has to come to an end.
Do you think that history repeats itself in this way?
I don’t think this is the point being made. It repeats itself in a superficial way, but I don’t think it is not cyclical. Things are very different now from the 1920s, which is what he’s talking about. One gilded age is not the same from another gilded age, the roots of the problem are specific to today. He’s not saying history repeats itself, but that this has happened before, this inequality. Someone has to put an end. If a system is to survive, it has to cater to most people, not just a minority
Do you think all these subsidies and this concentration of wealth is responsible for the 99 percent, and is this unfair? If it wasn’t then I couldn’t be supporting this movement. If it wasn’t anything else other than yes.
I think another thing that has sort of changed from the 1920s and now is that in the 1920s you have an American Gilded Age but now you have a global gilded age. It’s a lot more widespread. Do you think this movement will have lasting international effects?
I don’t know about that, but I think it’s time for America to put its own house in order. You know, for the last so many years, I’ve been watching not only at the national stage where America wages war and wants regime changes here and democracy there and says other regimes should not crack down on protestors and it wants freedom of speech, and I watch my students when they want to be more socially conscious and they say I want to do work in Botswana or I’ll go and do work here or do microfinance in India. What’s happening right here? American’s there’s a tendency to think locally and act globally. We’ll go and fix the whole world in order. Who are you reading, what are you thinking? That’s actually is often bery parochial, and it had become worse and worse where people don’t even want to engage with the more radical best ideas in the rest of the world, If they do engage, they often put it aside when it comes to social action. Now, I think perhaps it’s time for the reverse to happen and we’re seeing the reverse of that. We’ve seen these movements all over and what they’re expressing is a popular discontent in different forms of inequality. I think the idea of a movement which is spontaneous, which is supposedly leaderless, has been inspiring to many young Americans as well, that way they’re connected in not just financial capital but protestors as well can learn from each other around the world. Perhaps we’re seeing an attempt to think global and act local in the true sense. I’ve heard people bring up MLK and the rich history of protest and dissent in this country. But also Mahatma Gandhi and the question of peace and civil disobedience – some people could say Gandhi was impractical, but there was a clearer agenda back then, the British should just go. I think the international question is very important because in some ways this is an international crisis but it cannot be solved in a general international way. It has to be tackled on the ground also. Many of these firms are international firms, many of the profits are made in international ways, but people suffer in very local ways. National regimes act in precise international systems which may be the problem. We are Learning from each other in how we understand the problem. C
Fall Seven Times
What ails Japan is a politics that has not caught up with modern life by Justin Pergolini The Japanese have always treasured the sea. Their nation, so they say, was born from a few drops of salt water that fell from the god Izanagi’s blade to become the islands of Japan. Thus from the beginning there was a deep kinship between the ocean and the people, a brotherhood with the brine, if you will. Ordinarily that brother is seen as generous – he gives the fisherman his catch, the maiden her pearls, the wise man his proverbs (I no naka no kawazu, taikai o shirazu). But people have always recognized, too, the nasty streak in their sibling. Any reader of Japanese legends knows that Susanoo, the deific persona of the sea, is famed for his temper. Most of his tales involve hysteric fits and destructive rampages, and anyone who has seen the dark storm clouds rolling in off the Honshu coast can attest to the depths of his rage. Yet for all the caprice of their watery gods, the country’s political system has lately been the more turbulent and unpredictable monster. Like a warped and perverted version of the Sea of Japan, it alternates between a lifeless status quo, where nothing gets done but nothing goes to hell either, and dysfunctional gridlock, where society disintegrates as
politicians dither. The past few years have been a fitting demonstration of the latter. This summer Japan appointed its seventh prime minister in five years: Yoshihiko Noda, a fiscal conservative and selfdepreciating wit from the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). Mr. Noda replaces former premier Naoto Kan, whose resignation ended a five-month ordeal in which a divided and paralyzed Diet tried to contain the fallout from the March tsunami, the worst natural disaster to strike Japan in a decade. Along with the $260 billion in devastation and tremendous loss of life, there was news that the nuclear reactors in Fukushima prefecture had suffered an explosion, thus contaminating a huge swath of residential areas and putting millions at risk for contamination. Tackling such problems requires a pragmatic legislature that will put aside petty factional struggles for the greater good. In other words, don’t hold your breath. The Great Kabuki, 1991-2009
The 1980s were good to Japan. Until the end of the decade the economy grew about 4% every year on average, largely thanks to the economic engineering of the Ministries of Finance and Trade. A strong tariff regime protected domestic industries from outside competition, even as Japan’s own export volumes and trade surpluses climbed, and the country’s business culture valued lifetime employment, so job security was guaranteed. Most importantly, the tra· 16 ·
ditionally frugal Japanese squirrelled away a large part of their incomes in banks, which provided a massive surplus of investment funds. Easy credit flooded the market, and prices of overvalued stocks and real estate reached absurd heights. A popular rumor said that, at the bubble’s peak, the Imperial Palace grounds were worth more than the entire state of California.
Tackling Japan’s problems requires a pragmatic legislature that will put aside petty factional struggles for the greater good. In other words, don’t hold your breath.
The boom was bound to end, but no one expected it to flounder as quickly as it did. The Nikkei stock index peaked at 39,000 in 1989 before it went into freefall; by 1997 it had been halved, though it wouldn’t fully bottom out until 2003. The keiretsu system, which promoted close and informal ties between firms and the banks from which they borrowed, had made loan portfolios difficult to analyze and caused bad debt to pile up within the financial system. Nonperforming loans were everywhere. Unemployment also began to rise, from a structural low of 2% in 1991 to 5% by the end of the decade. By far the nastiest consequence of the crash, however, was sustained deflation, which hadn’t been seen on a wide scale since the Great De-
pression. As housing and stock prices plummeted, it came to hang over the economy like a dark cloud; prices fell at a rate of 2.5% a year on average during the 1990s and early 2000s. Japan’s democracy was entirely unprepared to deal with such a disaster, mostly because in those days one couldn’t really fix the label “democracy” to Japan at all. Indeed, “singleparty dictatorship” would have been nearer the mark. Since 1954, power had rested comfortably in the hands of the LDP, which had built up an extensive base of support by presiding over the postwar economic boom. Its welloiled political machine depended on an “iron triangle” between business, the bureaucracy, and party bosses, in which private donations and votes were exchanged for pork. Most of it took the form of vainglorious publicworks spending, which kept construction workers and farmers happy as millions of dollars were funneled into wasteful and useless projects. The LDP responded to the crisis first with denial, insisting that markets would recover and the hubbub was just over a bit of froth. When prices continued to dive, the party set to work propping up tottering banks. “Too big to fail” is an old phenomenon, and LDP officials attached the label to nearly every business whose managers had political connections, solvency be damned. What was called “stimulus” was really just aggressive recapitalization of institutions that were going to fail anyway, and the phrases “zombie banks” and “zombie firms” soon entered popular currency to describe those being kept alive on public funds. The government lost millions on the harebrained scheme, and when combined with the LDP’s refusal to contain public-works spending, it led to a massive increase in public debt. Japan went from being one of the most frugal states in the world in 1989 to one of the most debt-laden by the end of the 1990s. In 2001, however, following the resignation of the gravely unpopular Yoshiro Mori, a charismatic official by the name of Junichiro Koizumi gained the premiership. Beloved at home and abroad for his flamboyant style – his trademarks were emotional oratory, shaggy hair, and an infatuation with Elvis Presley – Mr. Koizumi had
one of the most successful tenures of any prime minister in the postwar period. He had six main policy objectives upon assuming office, namely, reducing public-works spending, eliminating bad debt from the financial system, stabilizing the state’s lavish pension system, privatizing a number of government monopolies, reforming the tax system, and loosening up regulations on business. On every measure, he was successful. But the mirage could only endure so long. LDP rules obligated Mr. Koizumi to step down in September 2006, and with his departure the premiership once again became a windmill. His successor, Shinzo Abe, simply couldn’t tear himself from the old networks that had kept his party in power for half a century, and in May of the following year, scandal once again poisoned the administration. Agricultural Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka was accused of pocketing $75,000 in donations from firms his office was supposed to be investigating. Before he could face a Diet inquisition, he hung himself in his apartment. Mr. Abe, who had eagerly defended Matsuoka till the
Global trade contracted in the wake of America’s great recession, which in turn pummeled Japan’s export-led economy. Recession hit almost immediately, shrinking the economy by 6.3% in 2009. Debt was too high to attempt a significant rescue package, and with interests rates already at rock bottom, the BOJ could only stand by and watch the house fall down. Mr. Fukuda drew up a plan for $106 billion, only to revise the numbers down to $16 billion when it became obvious that government funds were exhausted. When that proposal went nowhere, he resigned as well. Deflation accelerated once again, as prices fell 2.2% from 2008 to 2009.
In 2009, debt was too high to attempt a significant rescue package, and with interest rates already at rock bottom, the Bank of Japan could only stand by and watch the house fall down.
The Japanese Diet, vacant.
very end, saw his popularity evaporate, and two months later his party would receive a drubbing in the upper house elections. After another Agricultural Minister, Takehiko Endo, fell under suspicion, Mr. Abe finally turned the government over to Yasuo Fukuda and resigned in disgrace. When the financial crisis came in 2008, the politicians were at a loss.
The DP Victory and Further Disillusionment Hope was rekindled briefly with the victory of the DPJ in the 2009 elections. The trouncing received by the LDP, in which it forfeited 308 seats to the DPJ, was a long time in coming. But the euphoria ended quickly. The DPJ was still
Economy a loosely bound coalition of liberals, socialists, and fiscal hawks. It had little actual idea of how to govern or how it was to pay for its exorbitant promises to expand the welfare state, mostly because it had never been given the chance to head a government. Its first premier, Yukio Hotoyama, was a bizarre stage man who lacked any charisma whatsoever. Mr. Kan seemed a more palatable choice; he had financial knowledge and seemed to be less confrontational, but he, too, took on the bureaucracy before consolidating support and lacked the charisma to draw voters into his camp. In 2010, the DPJ lost seats to the LDP in the upper house, giving the losers a chance to play obstructionist on every major piece of legislation. But beyond public events, a deeper spiritual malaise began setting in. What the outside observer saw was nothing less than a disintegration of will en masse, as if 130 million wives had suddenly become widows. The Japanese stopped buying sharp televisions and nice cars and big houses, lest they bring the sour memory of fast and easy times. They stopped going to public parks, lest they be confronted with the growing ranks of those sleeping on benches. Their young men and women stopped marrying – weddings, if they happened at all, became small and closeted affairs, without any fanfare. The last century’s ideals of progress and self-determination, of freedom from both the sins of the past and the overbearing guardianship of America, now seemed a chimera. The real truth was that the game was up, that a people once certain they could create their own future now lay in the gutter, humiliated and defeated. Above this poor spectacle, positioned at Olympian heights, stood the politicians – arguing, pocketing, carrying on business as usual. It was in this context, with the gold of the rising Sun fading to the lifeless hues of dusk, that Susanoo opened his great maw and swallowed the country whole. The Tsunami and Its Aftermath
There were two primary effects wrought by the 2011 tsunami. In the first place, it demonstrated to the world the outstanding moral fiber of the Japanese people, which had managed to stay intact despite some twenty years of social decay and the widespread
growth of national cynicism. Millions of people, with the aid of little more than shovels and bared arms, rushed to Miyagi, Iwate, and other affected areas to pull the wounded from the rubble. Stories abounded of those who sacrificed themselves. In all, it was a moving reminder of the spirit of a nation. Second, it dismissed the notion that a change in parties would be enough to end shallow politics. Mr. Kan, in particular, proved just as feckless as his predecessors. From the moment the disaster began, he communicated poorly with the public, eroding confidence in the state rather than bolstering it. In trying to manage the rescue effort by himself, he alienated not only the opposition but members of his own party. The divisions of the DPJ were apparent after Mr. Kan left; seven candidates competed to replace him. Finally, Mr. Kan couldn’t make up his mind on nuclear power. After shutting down the Hamoaka plant in May, he muddled his hard antinuclear stance by stating that he intended his former statements to be a guide for government action, not a specific policy proposal. This is not to say that his opponent in the chamber acted any better. Rather than hash out a gentleman’s agreement with their adversaries, the LDP turned to plain obstructionism, blocking rescue legislation and pushing a vote of no-confidence in Mr. Kan – depraved moves indeed in a time of national crisis.
From the moment the disaster began, Kan communicated poorly with the public, eroding confidence in the state rather than bolstering it.
Since then, the process of rebuilding has moved forward slowly. The emergency budget has helped, but funds will begin drying up without spending cuts or tax increases to pay for them. Mr. Kan managed to draw up a $220 billion reconstruction plan before getting the boot, although the complex document involves coordinating a number of different agencies and will take five years to implement. Furthermore, it, too, has little hope of being funded unless parliament takes steps to reduce the deficit. The Diet has now granted $64 billion to · 18 ·
Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) so that it can compensate victims for the disaster and keep it promise to shut down Fukushima by year’s end. Mr. Noda, for his part, has pledged to conduct stress tests of Japan’s 54 remaining reactors, and he is supposedly playing with the idea of setting up permanent no-go zones. In short, much has been done, but a great deal more needs doing. Wither Nippon?
Courage (yu) is considered one of the great Japanese virtues. For the past five months, the country’s people have shown it in spades; the same cannot be said of their officials. One-party rule crippled Japan for half a century, removing any incentive for its leaders to reform and move ahead. Its aftereffects are displayed in the corruption and paralysis that remain in the current system. But a large part of today’s stagnation must also be blamed on the DPJ’s lack of experience and its inability to produce consensus on even one-sided issues. Things undoubtedly must change. Mr. Noda, as many have pointed out, is no great reformer. At the very least he can attempt to get the country’s debt on the path to reduction and secure more funds for the recovery, but he cannot do much else without a revolution in government. Peace ought to be made with the bureaucracy and with the upper house, while the DPJ factions, so long as they don’t demand the impossible, must be brought into the fold. On the energy side, Mr. Noda should temper his hard stance against nuclear power; new and stricter regulations could be enough to make sure the mistakes of Fukushima never happen again. Besides, Japan will need her reactors in a time of energy shortage. Finally, the new premier can make an effort to contain pork-barrel spending and sever links between party bosses and their patronage networks. That the Diet has thus far failed the Japanese is self-evident, and it now continues to stand by as the country’s livelihood is whittled away. Unless something moves forward, Japan will slip from a precarious spot into eternal stagnation and drift. That would be a terrible waste of her people’s ambitions, and, in the case of her political elite, an unforgivable sin. C
A Fragmented EuropeARTICLE TITLE
It is becoming increasingly hard to engage in any conversation about Europe without referencing the seemingly bottomless pit the euro zone finds itself in. The words by Akshay Subramanian crisis and euro zone appear to akin to the unlike poles of two magnets. A calamity that has stretched close to two years is still nowhere close to being mitigated while each day heralds news of insurmountable obstacles, endless negotiations, transitory optimism and omnipresent apprehension reflected in the seesawing of the financial markets. Economic harbingers bellowing out warning signs notwithstanding, the powers that be have continued to kick the can down the road. As this multinational drama succeeds in churning one dramatic episode after another, the script writers seem unable to bring this massive spectacle to a closure. Greece, the poster boy of the euro zoneâ€™s woes, followed by its supporting actors, namely Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland, threaten the very existence of the euro zone as the future of the European monetary union teeters on the edge. The turn of events over the past two years begs certain questions- What circumstances landed Europe in this mess? How effective has the trans-national policy response been? What are the possible scenarios that can play out and will the euro zone be forced to shrink its membership and eventually cease to exist? Before diving into the above questions, however, it would be helpful to take a brief look at the formation and purpose of the euro zone. This monetary union comprising 17 nations was formed in 1999. The current member states are Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain. The euro zone initially started out with 11 members and has gradually expanded its membership since its inception. The monetary policy of these countries is governed by the European Central Bank (ECB), the primary aim of which is to control inflation. Though there are fiscal guidelines for each country, they are not binding. The individual countries have fiscal autonomy but are expected to adhere to the guidelines to achieve fiscal coordination among the member states. The formation of the euro zone was intended to serve as the symbol of unity within Europe and a major step towards achieving the European Unionâ€™s (EU) goal of free movement of people and goods among the member countries. This idea, though noble, erred in its implementation and now faces the risk of falling apart. The crisis that has been plaguing Europe is not without precedent. The last two decades of the twentieth century and the early twenty first century are bereft with incidences of sovereign debt crises that have befallen Mexico, Ecuador, Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, Russia and Argentina among other nations. The crises of old have often transpired due to the manifestation of accumulating underlying economic and political factors. Sovereign debt crises are mostly fueled by widening current account and fiscal deficits coupled with a sustained increase in public debt due to an inflow of foreign funds and developmental expenditure such as investment in infrastructure. Such deficits are also buoyed by government expenditure that is directed towards non-developmental purposes such as paying the salaries of government officials or government administration expenditure which generate no increase in income or productivity essential to repay the nationâ€™s debt. When deficits are the result of non-developmental expenditure, foreign investors are forced to refuse to commit more funds to the country. This flight of confidence in the country and constrained borrowing power set into motion a complex chain of events that compels the nation to default on its debt. This unraveling of the economy can also be initiated even if the government has been incurring expenditure for developmental purposes. The countries embroiled in the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 were unfortunate enough to experience this. Countries such as Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia among others were maintaining rather large current account deficits owing to the influx of foreign investment and foreign debt which were intended to finance economic expansion in those countries. As these levels of current account deficits and foreign borrowing reached rather unsafe levels, foreign investors decided to flee these countries. Furthermore, since the currencies of these East and Southeast Asian countries were
pegged to the US dollar, the flight of capital resulted in a sharp decline in the values of these currencies. This steep devaluation implied that the real value of these countriesâ€™ debt escalated, thus making it more difficult for them to repay their foreign debt. To exit this vicious cycle, the countries were forced to abolish the practice of maintaining a fixed exchange rate for their currencies. As a consequence of this crisis, countries in East and Southeast Asia conformed to the opinion that current account deficits led to the road of economic doom. This opinion prompted them focus on increasing exports and building reserves of foreign currencies, the US Dollar in particular, to avert the possibility of a similar debt crisis. The key takeaway from most of these sovereign debt crises is that irrespective of the turn of events, the underlying factors were unsustainable levels of public debt and budget deficits. The path charted by the ailing nations in the euro zone is not much different from the road followed by its aforementioned predecessors. Countries that adopted the euro were expected to converge to a certain level of economic performance and fiscal debt and deficit. Considering the present state of affairs, however, it is safe to conclude that this expectation is nowhere close to being met. While Germany and other northern European countries lived within their means, the southern European
countries such as Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal brushed their ballooning public debt and expanding budget deficits under the carpet and procrastinated too long on critical economic reforms. Adoption of the euro allowed these fiscally irresponsible countries to borrow and spend beyond their means.
The Southern European countries such as Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal brushed their ballooning public debt and expanding budget deficits under the carpet and procrastinated too long on critical economic reforms.
This growth in credit and consumption, however, was not accompanied by an increase in productivity. Rising wages but declining levels of competitiveness contributed to the lethal combination of expanding budget and current account deficits. Furthermore, the global financial crisis of 2008 forced many of these countries to take on more debt to shore up the financial system further exacerbating their fiscal position. The relative heterogeneity within the euro zone has undoubtedly been a contributing factor to this conundrum. Âˇ 20 Âˇ
The countries embroiled in this crisis were able to take advantage of the fiscal responsibility of certain fellow euro zone members by abusing their access to the credit markets and spending well beyond their means. Despite the intention to foster unity and seamlessness among the European nations, the creation of a monetary union has still left the individual member nations with a significant degree of fiscal and political autonomy. The ECB and the EU have little control on the fiscal policies adopted by the individual countries. As far as the policy response to the crisis is concerned, unsurprisingly, emergency meetings featuring the heads of state and other key figures of the member nations have hit the news with a significant degree of frequency. It is not unreasonable to expect news of the honchos of the IMF, ECB, the European Commission and the individual states engaging in fierce debates on the terms of a bailout to keep the afflicted nations afloat. As ratings agencies have brought the axe on the sovereign debt ratings of these nations, the cost of borrowing has skyrocketed. To protect the existence of the euro, member nations have been compelled to extend lifeline after lifeline to their ailing neighbors. The response to the crisis, though of enormous magnitude, has elicited much criticism thus far. Despite the bailouts being accompanied by strict demands to enforce austerity measures,
the powers seem to be merely kicking the can down the road. Policy makers have been accused of dragging their heels and not confronting the root of the crisis. The major steps taken thus far, which include the expansion of the European Financial Stability Fund to € 440 billion, have been aimed at preventing the fallout of a disorderly default by Greece in particular, the
Experts believe that European authorities have only prolonged the agony by throwing good money after bad.
country that poses the greatest threat to the future of the monetary union. Though negotiators have succeeded in persuading private creditors to accept losses of up to 50% on Greek debt and Greece has agreed to enforce over € 28 billion in austerity measures over 5 years, in addition to a sale of its stateowned assets, experts believe that the authorities have only prolonged the agony by throwing good money after bad. Much of the extension of emergency funds to Greece has been justified on the premise that a Greek default would create a domino effect not only in the rest of the continent but also the rest of the world, much like the effect of the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers on the global financial system in 2008. Officials refuse to harbor any thoughts of any of the 17 member nations exiting the euro zone out of the fear that this would spell disaster for the rest of the region. An option, that was once taboo but is now gaining more tracktion outside the Eurozone, is allowing Greece to quit the euro zone. Experts believe that Greece may actually benefit in the long-run by readopting its old currency, the drachma. At present, it appears to be mathematically impossible that Greece will be able to repay its entire debt in the proposed time frame. It must be noted that the Greek economy has contracted continuously since the financial crisis and the austerity measures in place are going to further compound this economic contraction. Greece will soon find itself paying a ridiculous portion of its GDP in making interest payments if status quo is maintained. It is also unreasonable to
expect the IMF and other euro zone nations to continue churning out money to keep Greece or any other nation on life support. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany is already facing stiff political pressure not only from the opposition but also from within her party regarding Germany’s massive involvement in bailing its European neighbors out. Furthermore, quitting the euro zone would give Greece greater autonomy in getting its fiscal house in order as its hands would no longer be tied by strict fiscal austerity demands from its fellow euro zone members. It would have the opportunity adopt more growth oriented policies to improve its competitiveness and can possibly rejoin the euro zone after getting its economy back on track. The benefits of such an action also include the mitigation of moral hazard. Greece’s partners in crime, namely Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland, would receive a clear message that they cannot be guaranteed to be bailed out. It would however be unwise to suppose that Greece leaving the euro zone is not bereft of dangers. The consequences of such a move include the seemingly apparent possibility that the drachma would be weaker than the euro, which implies that Greece may have to further default on some of its euro dominated debt resulting in both a default and a devaluation of its currency- a macroeconomic catastrophe. The above policies, however, are primarily aimed at containing the fallout of the realization of Europe’s worst nightmare. In addition to preventing a disorderly debt default, the European Union needs to take a more concerted effort to eliminate imbalances within the euro zone. For starters, a fiscal union in addition to the existing political and monetary union would stand the European Union in good stead. The fiscal autonomy granted to the individual member states has resulted in a divergence of fiscal positions and economic policies adopted within the euro zone. The creation of a fiscal union would result in the resources of all the member nations being pooled together which would also achieve the purpose of greater integration within the EU. A fiscal union would also reduce the possibility of discordant views hampering swift action in response to crises. In addition to a fiscal union, steps also need to be taken to spur economic
growth in the euro zone countries. No amount of resources would prove to be enough in the absence of growth. Growth also needs to be complemented with greater productivity and competitiveness which can be achieved through enhanced labor mobility and migration within the EU. The fruits of the desired exchange of skills and ideas that formed an important premise of the creation of the EU have not proved to be as ripe as expected. Such steps to promote productivity, competitiveness and consequently growth need to be put in place to secure the future of the euro zone. As always such suggestions are easier said than done. The future of the 17 member monetary union continues to remain bleak without a steadfast resolution in sight. Any decline in the membership of this union would cast a dark cloud on many decades of effort that preceded the creation of a transEuropean union. As economies bear the brunt of fiscal irresponsibility of the yester years, confidence in the future of the euro continues to erode and the purse strings of the EU remain under constant strain. How much longer will we have to wait till the governments and citizens of the fiscally prudent nations can no longer tolerate bailing out their spend thrift neighbors? Though much uncertainty regarding the future turn of events remain, one thing is most definitely certain- this crisis is far from over. C
Energy in Developing Nations ARTICLE TITLE by Michael Baresich What separates humanity from other mammals? It’s not our social structures, our capacity for charity or violence, our problem solving ability, or even self awareness. It is our ability to harness energy. Fire, the sail, water wheels—all have extended our capabilities far beyond what they were before. Electricity from coal, nuclear, solar, wind, and hydro power plants have continued to allow us to do things never before possible. However, our energy production is a constant bottleneck. Total global energy consumption grew 5% last year, whereas GDP only grew 2.7%. To simply meet demand, While the developed world has been mostly able to keep up with energy demand, a full 1.8 billion people—a fifth of the global population—lack access to electricity. An additional billion have “access” to electricity, but only in a cursory, unreliable fashion. This lack of access causes a myriad of problems on its own and makes many others worse by association. Without stable access to electricity, 35% of the world is, by default, stuck in mid nineteenth-century conditions, or worse, and unable to escape the condition due to the structural importance of electricity. In the words of a recent United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report, “families forego entrepreneurial endeavors, children cannot study after dark, health clinics do not func-
tion properly, and women are burdened with time-consuming chores such as pounding grain or hauling water, leaving them with less time to engage in income generating activities.” Beyond that, the negative externalities to many of electricity’s alternatives cause a great deal of problems too—the smoke from using a combustion kitchen stove indoors leads to 1.5 million premature deaths each year, fully twice the number of deaths caused by malaria. Clearly, there is a great demand for energy production in the developing world, so why has the expansion of productive capacity in the developed world not been matched by a similar expansion in the developing one? For one thing, the recent financial crisis has caused capital to become far harder to obtain but the UNDP has estimated that to supply modern energy services to 2.4 billion people would only take a capital investment of about $40 billion per year for the next 30 years, or only about 3% of the total energy investment for this period. Of course, this is an enormous amount of capital, but that much would solve the problem entirely—so why have smaller investments not been made? This lack of focus on the developing world existed even during the boom times of cheap capital before the crash, so there must be other factors at play. In order to identify these factors, one must look at the effect on development of direct, non-profit aid for other issues, such as food and water scarcity. If profit is taken out of the occasion, the viability · 22 ·
(or lack thereof) of a project is given its ultimate stress test: whether it is even a possible project. Some progress has been made among the various sectors of human development, but it has been far less effective than would be suggested by the amount of money and effort put in over time. A closer look reveals that it may in fact be the method of delivery that interferes with a project’s effectiveness. First, consider food aid. Dr. Dambisa Moyo, an Oxford-educated Zambian economist, argued in her 2009 book Dead Aid that due to the current way that much aid, both material and financial, reaches Africa—from organizations and nations to the care of the government of whatever nation is the target of aid—most direct aid is useless, and possibly harmful. Her analysis has found that “most aid goes directly into the pockets of dictators, and finances corruption.” If a centralized approach does not work for food aid, it cannot possibly be expected to work for something much more complex, like energy generation. The same problem exists with setting up telecommunications equipment; because it is so reliant on a centralized model, it cannot succeed without “a basic climate of political stability or a legal system that has a strong reputation for integrity and independence.” Next, consider the issue of access to clean water. While more people have access to clean water than electricity, areas that are highly affected tend to lack both. Large municipal water treatment
Electricty Consumption by Country (TWh)
Access to Potable/Drinking Water by Country
plants exist in some cities in develop- each site necessitate focused solutions ing nations, but these only affect the rather than blanket centralized models. population in the cities, a relatively Distributed models of development small population compared to those work far better for water and food aid, who live in rural areas. Rainwater col- and they would work far better for enlection in rural areas is possible, but ergy development as well, given that all many more areas are stricken with prior centralized approaches have thus drought. far failed. Certain “philanthro-capitalThe most effective solution thus far ist” organizations, like Acumen Fund, has been to attack the problem on a have targeted their investments at village-by-village level using a distrib- “community-level” power generation, uted method of purification. That is, like small-scale hydro, wind, and solar rather than one centralized plant for power. Such an approach only makes several villages, each village gets its sense for for-profit investors; many deown well, or barring that, individuals veloping nations are very risky for variand households can use handheld pu- ous geo-political reasons, and thus must rifiers. Many organizations, such as ‘A require a high rate of return to justify Spring of Hope’, build wells in individ- the investment. ual villages on a project-by-project baSince it is mostly a risky growth-secsis, and products like the Hydros bottle tor, most large sources of capital are and the Lifestraw allow individuals to avoiding it, preferring comparatively obtain clean drinking water without less risky returns in developed nations. having to rely on a centralized source. Traditional power sources, like coal, ‘A Spring of Hope’ founder Brittany natural gas, and nuclear, require very Young, a current Penn junior, finds that large capital infusions to start or mainstructural problems in the target coun- tain, and nuclear power plants must tries tend to be underestimated by the also guarantee that a decommissioning developed world. Just getting to a proj- cost—according to ING Research, beect site can be a challenge due to un- tween 200 million and 2 billion Euros paved roads and danger from hijack- per thousand megawatts—can be met ers. in the future, thus adding more money Furthermore, central governments, to the initial required capital investin trying to meet requirements for wa- ment. ter access, rely on poorly thought out Fortunately, there are several prodlong-term programs such as trucking ucts and approaches being developed water to distant sites. Such programs for distributed energy distribution. A are “not sustainable, costly, and en- recent technological breakthrough by vironmentally hazardous,” and addi- MIT professor Daniel Nocera, referred tionally force individual villages and to as the “artificial leaf,” has the capabilschools to be reliant upon the central ity to easily generate electricity upon government. The government “fails to exposure to sunlight with no outside see the individual cases of schools and wiring required. uniformly applies national programs,” Eletrolysis splits water into hydroleading to ineffective policies. gen and oxygen, which can either be In a developing environment, the burned or recombined via another fuel variety of challenges and conditions at cell to generate electricity. An interest-
ing side benefit of this is that the output of the fuel cell would be pure distilled water, so the system would also act as a water purifier as well as a generator. The “leaf” is cheap, durable, and simple to manufacture, so once an inexpensive fuel cell is designed, the leaf could be tested quickly with no loss in efficiency due to scale. One such technology, called the “Bloom Box” and developed by Bloom Energy, is already powering several of Google’s buildings in California. It is a high efficiency, inexpensive solid-oxide fuel cell that can run off of many combustible fuel compounds without needing combustion. As the distributed model is used to bring the developed world up to speed, it is likely that increased self-reliance among individual communities, as well as better communication with the outside world, will prompt a rejection of the current inefficient political system that prevents centralized models from being effective. As those political regimes fall due to popular pressure, other sorts of aid will become more and more effective. In time, if future ones become worthwhile and efficient, centralized systems can be installed in line with the rest of the world. However, this change starts with a paradigm shift in the way that one considers the issues of the developing world. Starting from the bottom up, with the real people who are facing the real challenges, rather than dealing with the top, which is largely ineffective and solely self-sustaining, is the way to make the greatest impact. C
Fukushima: A Meltdown of Support or a Tsunami of Innovation ARTICLE TITLE for Nuclear Power? What nations should really take away from Fukushima by Michael Luo
Germany has pledged to shut down its entire nuclear industry by 2022. Nuclear power is an issue on which media attention often outstrips the public’s understanding, leading to wide swings in support. American public opinion was once largely in favor of building new nuclear plants, peaking at 69 percent in 1977 . Following the Three Mile Island incident in 1979, support dropped to 46 percent. Support fell even further to 34 percent after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Rising concerns over energy prices and the environment pushed support back up to 57 percent in 2008, but a poll taken shortly after Fukushima found only 43 percent support for new plants. Compare these results to those for support for legalized abortion, which are roughly the same
Since the meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor, the world’s nuclear-capable countries have reacted to the disaster with various plans of action. Nine months on, Japan has restarted power generation at the Genkai Plant, the first plant to come back online since the disaster. Elsewhere in the world, China has frozen the construction of new plants, France is conducting a comprehensive safety inspection, and
First electricity-generating reactor is run in Idaho
Nuclear fission is discovered
First nuclear chain reaction is created in UChicago
First commercial nuclear reactor opens in England
as in 1975 and have never fluctuated by more than ten percentage points . As nuclear power is not on the agenda as frequently as social or economic issues, opinion is influenced more heavily by rare but significant events. In the United States, the Three Mile Incident marked the main turning point of attitudes toward nuclear power. Government policy followed the rapid shift in public temperament, and not a single new nuclear power plant has been commissioned since the incident. One reactor in Tennessee started construction in 1973, and is just now reaching completion! Twenty-five years after the last nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, Fukushima has once again shined a light on the challenges nuclear energy has in allay-
· 24 ·
Last new nuclear plant begins construction in the U.S.A.
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ing the fears of a fickle public. Japanese citizens are in the streets protesting against nuclear energy while its power grid is already struggling to supply a technology-hungry nation with only 15 its 54 nuclear plants currently functioning . The situation in Japan wasn’t helped by dysfunction in its national government, which still hasn’t passed any laws on the disposal of contaminated debris . Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan showed the world precisely how not to reassure a traumatized nation with his comments that he “feared for Japan’s future as a nation.” Then there was the apparent political opportunism in Germany (which is obviously worried about earthquakes and tsunamis), where Angela Merkel’s about-face against nuclear energy was dubbed the “swiftest change of political course since unification .” Chancellor Merkel had originally delayed her predecessor Gerhard Schröder’s plans to shut down the entire German nuclear industry by 2022. Merkel’s center-right administration had always supported the use of nuclear power. However, in March, immediately after Fukushima, her administration shut down several nuclear plants and pledged to put the country back on track toward denuclearization. This act conveniently coincided with state-level elections which saw the rise of nuclear-opposing Green Party. Compare the politics of nuclear energy in the atom-wary United States and Germany to the way in which France has largely convinced its otherwise left-leaning population to sup-
port nuclear power. The French nuclear program started in earnest after the oil shocks of the 1970s . Coal and oil-poor France realized that nuclear power was the only way it could become self-sufficient and avoid another economic crisis caused by turmoil in the Middle East. Today, France’s 56 nuclear plants generate 76% of its electricity and produce a fraction of the carbon emissions per kilowatt-hour that Germany does. Unlike in America, where nuclear reactors are predominantly associated with the three-eyed mutant fish from the Simp-
sons, the public in France understands both the risks and the benefits of nuclear power. Nuclear plants in France give tours to thousands of people each year, and locals in turn trust and respect the scientists and engineers who run them. Instead of fearing the plants, they appreciate the jobs and plentiful electricity the plants provide. France’s familiarity with nuclear power is a key reason why its reaction to Fukushima has been a measured evaluation of safety protocol, rather than an overreaction to a crisis in Japan which realistically bears little resemblance to any potential French nuclear crisis. Similarly, in
Failed experiment at Ukranian plant causes explosion Partial meltdown at and releases radiothe Three Mile Is- active material into land, Pennsylvania atmostphere
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Today, France’s 56 nuclear plants generate 76% of its electricity and produce a fraction of the carbon emissions per kilowatt-hour that Germany does.
the area near Three Mile Island where I grew up, people are less apprehensive of nuclear power than one might imagine, perhaps due to the realization that nothing has turned a hue of neon green due to the accident. But the choice nations face today is not whether to pursue nuclear energy. It’s not even a choice between nuclear energy and renewable sources. It’s usually a choice between nuclear energy and dirty fossil fuel plants, which incidentally expose nearby populations to more radiation than nuclear plants do. Analysts at Deutsche Bank and Société Générale have estimated that Germany will produce around 400 million tons more CO2 through 2020 as it falls back on coal to fill the energy gap created by the termination of its nuclear program . Germany is actually one of the countries best equipped to shut down its nuclear program, with its strength in technology and booming renewables sector. If even a country as developed as Germany must fall back on fossil fuels in order to abandon nuclear, less advanced countries will face even greater difficulties. China’s nuclear freeze means there will be no slowdown in the dozens of newly constructed coal plants or thousands of mining-related deaths it currently uses to sustain its growth. Each kilowatthour of nuclear power not produced in a developed country is also one less kilowatt-hour that can be exported to replace fossil fuel-derived electricity in a developing country. Perhaps the only technical objection to nuclear power is the question of waste disposal. Due to the extreme
Series of meltdowns and explosions occur at Fukushima Genkai plant in Tohoku earthquake Japan reopens and tsunami cause (first one since damage to FukuFukushima) shima plant
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Science amounts of shielding built around nuclear reactors, inadequately contained waste is the only way for significant amounts of radiation to escape from a plant. The long half-lives of some radioactive elements produced as waste present further challenges, as the containment facilities themselves have to last thousands of years or more to avoid environmental damage. The uncomfortable knowledge that radioactive materials can persist for practically indefinite periods of time contributes to the unease that many citizens and politicians have about underground containment facilities, such as the Yucca Mountain proposal in the US. However, the nature of radioactivity provides an answer to these worries. Atoms that emit radiation decay to a more stable element or isotope, eventually reaching a nonradioactive state. Isotopes with very long half lives, such as those found in naturally occurring uranium, release radiation very slowly. Uranium-235 for example, with a half-life of over 700 million years, can be handled with gloves with no significant health risk. The long-lived products of nuclear reactors can be sealed away underground to cause no more damage than the radioactive elements that occur naturally. Most of the products of fission have very short half-lives, making them highly radioactive for a short period of time but decaying rapidly to stable elements. These can be easily stored at reactor sites until they are no longer significantly radioactive. The components of nuclear waste that pose the greatest danger are those with half-lives in the range of a few decades, such as strontium-90 and cesium-137 . These isotopes were among the most damaging contaminants released from disasters such as Chernobyl, as they linger in the soil and water for many years yet still can release damaging amounts of radiation if ingested. Even these most dangerous isotopes have half-lives short enough to become safe if contained for about one or two centuries. It is also possible to process these isotopes by irradiating them artificially, speeding up their transformation into stable elements. Another promising technology is the breeder reactor . Breeder reactors can take spent fuel and reprocess it into more fuel in a cycle that can extract up to 100 times more energy from
a given amount of fissile material, thus producing much more energy from less required uranium while producing less radioactive waste as well. They also offer safety advantages due to a more secure coolant system design than current reactors.
But the choice nations face today is not whether to pursue nuclear energy...It’s usually a choice between nuclear energy and dirty fossil fuel plants, which incidentally expose nearby populations to more radiation than nuclear plants do.
However, technologies such as the breeder reactor and the processes required to stabilize radioactive isotopes require research, and research requires governmental funding and approval. The most promising breeder reactor design project, the Integral Fast Reactor being developed at the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, was shut down before completion in 1994. Democratic leaders in the Senate (including Sen. John Kerry) opposed the project, citing proliferation concerns with the reprocessing of spent fuel. These concerns ignore the fact that reprocessed nuclear fuel can be made unsuitable for nuclear weapons by mixing the fissile material in a way that makes it impossible to separate out the weapons-grade plutonium. Why shut down such a promising project due to unsubstantiated concerns, instead of just providing for more security at nuclear sites or researching alternative methods of reprocessing? Reprocessing of spent fuel has been prohibited in the United States since the Carter administration due to proliferation worries, and is unlikely to be reopened now, in the wake of Fukushima, even though such reactors would bring with them exactly the kind of safety improvements needed to address such a disaster. While the United States keeps the lid closed on a potential solution to the problem of nuclear waste, other countries are in· 26 ·
novating. Once again, France leads the way, with its plant at La Hague meeting half of the entire world’s reprocessing needs. In 2009, China also announced its own breakthrough in reprocessing . This technology is not one that can be ignored, as leaving it aside also leaves the question of nuclear waste unanswered. No one called for an end to ship voyages after the Titanic sank; people called for more lifeboats and better ship design. No one insists that cars be banned just because there are accidents; seat belts and air bags have been developed in order to lessen the risk of injury. Every other problem we have faced has been solved by more research and innovation, not by just scrapping the troublesome technology. Nuclear power already meets higher safety standards than practically any other industry, and justifiably so. This is only because of the rigorous research and meticulous inspection that goes into the construction of a nuclear plant. In the wake of a nuclear disaster is precisely the time when more, not less resources should be devoted to the nuclear industry. Instead of getting bogged down in political arguments as nuclear waste piles up, let’s fund research to turn that
In the wake of a nuclear disaster is precisely the time when more, not less resources should be devoted to the nuclear industry.
waste into more fuel or nonradioactive materials. Instead of giving up on innovation and letting our existing nuclear plants grow old, let’s promote more innovation and fund designs of more efficient and safer plants. Instead of making unrealistic promises to convert immediately to renewable energy while having to fall back on fossil fuels, let’s use nuclear power as a bridge between the two. But don’t mind the ramblings of someone who grew up fifteen miles from Three Mile Island. It’s probably just the radiation speaking. C
Jean Genet: A ‘Global’ Tramp A Portrait of a Thief by Jessica Yu
Jean Genet is a saint of the modern era. He was a petty thief, homosexual, and prostitute who gloried in the dark underbelly of society. From the prisons of France to the Palestinian camps, his six novels, nine plays, and a collection of poetry detail the vagabond life among criminals of Europe. For most of his life, Genet lived in jail. His books – The Thief’s Journal (1949), Querelle (1947), and Miracle of the Rose (1946) – were written during intermittent prison sentences. Of course, philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Derrida would later read in Genet a tendency and even desire to be caught by the authorities: “he is free because he is condemned.” But Genet’s brushing with the law only added to the salt he threw in the face of morality all his life. Admittedly, I had never heard of Genet until a class introduced me to his works this fall. In some ways, the fact that Genet’s reception has yet to come to fruition in America is a result of his scandalous personal life. In 1965, he was denied a U.S. visa due to his sexual deviancy; and years later, his defense of the Black Panthers gained him negative attention from the U.S. Department of Immigration. Genet is a rare writer who falls in the group of the Passéiste, a man who lives in his own past, acting out of his fatal childhood experiences. Born in France, and abandoned by a mother, Genet spent his teenage years at Mettray Reformatory and much of his adulthood at various detention
centers. By most accounts, he never made a good thief: the books, pieces of clothing and food he stole were always taken with amateur skill. Yet, such odd logic and bold relinquisment to random chance, only color the legacy of an artist who hovered between the high and low in society, immersing himself in the art of Rembrandt and Giacometti while taking to the streets with the slimiest of criminals. Each work of Genet’s is a pool of sin. And yet, sin, transgression, and crime, propelled Genet to go abroad to write some of the most scintillating prose of the 20th century. Genet remains an important model for any writer with global interests in this age. To read Prisoner of Love and The Thief’s Journal is to question the safe premises of ‘multiculturalism.’ After tramping in Europe, Genet began a series of transnational adventures from the ‘40s on that redefine ‘travel’ literature: to America to lend support to the Black Panthers, to Africa to subvert white racial identity, and later trips to Japan and Morocco. To discover the extent that Genet’s oeuvre in the fifties and sixties was so borderless already is astonishing. Genet’s quest for “sainthood” not only spans across cultures, but also moves away from the “mere subjectively scandalous” nature of his personal tramp life to the ‘objectively horrific” accounts abroad. His travels in the Middle East in Prisoner of Love and to Africa in The Blacks provided him a fresh cultural vocabulary in which he could explode convention, exploring historical and personal contradictions along the way. Take for instance the following passage in Prisoner of Love, ·27 ·
where Genet identifies with the Palestinian camp: For my part I’ve seen the fedayeen at ease in bravery and courage… They had no fear either of killing or of being killed, of doing evil thoroughly or of having it done to them. They paid attention to necessary military stratagems, but it soon struck me when they saw death as an eternity lasting only until their own victory. If Genet comes across as offensive it is only because our tastes for the ‘multicultural’ lean to mere cultural exotica. Here, I’m thinking of novels like Kite Runner or any fodder that sits on airport bookshelves that details primarily what other people eat, drink, or wear. Such cultural distinctions are superficial. Guilt is what made Genet tick, and whether he was in Tunisia or Jordan his works offer a bold assessment of what it means to be an artist, intellectual, criminal, and homosexual in a foreign place. In this bold approach Genet suggests that any exploration of the ‘other’ demands also a mirror to the self, and Genet uses his position as an old white Frenchman as a starting point to engage with the young male Palestinian terrorists, just as in The Blacks, Genet, as a white individual, becomes the enemy of his own text. Such risks make Genet all the more compelling because he raises the personal stakes of a ‘global’ literature, one that for him always embodies personal contradictions. In a global canon that too often shifts with exotic fads, Genet establishes the supremacy of original genius and necessity for hard-to-accept honesty as a way to chart out new territories. C
I am incredibly excited to introduce to you the first printed volume of the Consul! The Consul was the brainchild of the International Affairs Associationâ€™s Publication team late last year. We wanted to provide a platform for Penn undergraduates to voice their opinions on topics in international relations in an unconventional and natural setting. After producing the Consul as an online journal for over a semester, we decided to bring it to the Penn community as a print magazine. In this issue of the Consul, we cover a wide range of topics. From the Eurozone Crisis to the political dysfunction in Japan, we have tried to bring to light current international issues and their underlying trends and causes. We hope to fill a void within Penn publciations for a magazine that goes beyond politics and finance, and deals with every aspect of International Relations.
This year, I had the pleasure to work with an incredibly creative team of ten columnists from all different majors and backgrounds. With the help of this team we have put together a vibrant and diverse magazine that should be both insightful and informative. I, as well as the rest of the team, look forward to hearing your comments and feedback. Happy Reading! Shubhi Nigam Editor-in-Chief
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