Opinion

Chrystia Freeland

The U.S. election and living in the economic past

Chrystia Freeland
Aug 30, 2012 15:57 UTC

This U.S. election campaign is being billed as a battle of big ideas. That is a good thing. But it is a shame that the fight is not being waged in the 21st century.

In choosing Representative Paul D. Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney swapped his Massachusetts pragmatism for a proudly ideological commitment to limited government. The Democrats, by contrast, believe in the essential role government plays, and are willing to raise taxes, at least on the rich, to pay for it.

This a clear and important battle line in the United States. But the argument over the size of the state comes with little regard for the very particular economic realities of this era. Like generals fighting the last war, U.S. politicians are solving the economic challenges of the past century.

That is a problem because we are living at a time of deep and fast economic change. The intuitive sense that the economy is becoming less predictable and less secure is right. Thanks to globalization and the technology revolution, the nature of work, the distribution of the rewards from that work and maybe even the economic cycle itself are being transformed.

But one would not know it from the U.S. political debate, whose familiar melodies of small state versus large state, higher taxes versus lower taxes and the importance, or not, of balancing the budget could have been played in any decade since World War Two.

R. Glenn Hubbard and the Republican-Democratic fiscal divide

Chrystia Freeland
Aug 23, 2012 15:55 UTC

If you aren’t American, the possibility that this election could hinge on abortion rights may seem absurd. Surely the stagnant world economy, the relative decline of U.S. power and climate change, just to name three, all trump reproductive freedom as issues that should be at the top of the national agenda.

But up close the focus on abortion is less bewildering. If, like Todd Akin, the Missouri congressman whose comments about rape focused the United States’ attention on the subject of abortion this week, you believe embryos are full-fledged human beings, no issue is as important as what you view as the continuing and legal murder of these innocents. If, on the other hand, you are a woman of childbearing age who happens not to share Akin’s beliefs, no issue is as important as the right to control your own body, which the congressman’s view threatens.

Having said all of that, the spotlight on abortion rights is also the product of a family feud inside the Republican Party. Republican grass-roots activists are desperate to propel the issue to the top of the national agenda, while the party’s elders — and their presidential nominee — are equally desperate to stop us all from talking about it.

Hong Kong thriller, globalization and the campaign

Chrystia Freeland
Aug 16, 2012 15:58 UTC

We all know it would be virtuous to spend more time pondering the implications of globalization and the intricacies of high finance. But these aren’t always the most enticing subjects to study, especially in the languid, fading days of August. For an easy-listening approach to two of the most important themes of our time, you could do worse than devote an evening to the film “Supercapitalist,” a new financial thriller set in Hong Kong.

The most immediately striking take-away from “Supercapitalist” is the moral hierarchy it imposes on business. The only truly virtuous capitalists are the technologists – hard-working, creative and focused on innovations that will help ordinary people as well as the bottom line. Next best are the makers of real things, in this case a logistics company. Worst of all are the financiers, a treacherous, murderous bunch who care only about making money even if the price is human lives.

In light of the public attitude toward bankers, those who work for Mitt Romney should watch this film and talk to its star and screenwriter, Derek Ting. That’s because Ting has made a film that raises some provocative political questions, but his personal agenda is entirely artistic: He set out to tell “a universal, human story.” His ethical ranking of business, with the money changers emphatically at the bottom, is an instinctive choice, not an intellectual one. That says a lot about current views on the subject, even on one of the world’s most energetic capitalist frontiers.

The coming glut in oil – and its impact

Chrystia Freeland
Aug 9, 2012 21:10 UTC

Forget America’s fiscal cliff, Europe’s currency troubles or the emerging-markets slowdown. The most important story in the global economy today may well be some good news that isn’t yet making as many headlines – the coming surge in oil production around the world.

Until very recently, our collective assumption was that oil was running out. That was partly a matter of what seemed like geological common sense. It took millions of years for the earth to crush plankton into fossil fuels; it is logical to think that it would take millions of years to create more. The rise of the emerging markets, with their energy-hungry billions, was a further reason it seemed obvious we would have less oil and gas in 2020 than we do today.

Obvious – but wrong. Thanks in part to technologies like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracking, we are entering a new age of abundant oil. As the energy expert Leonardo Maugeri contends in a recent report published by the Belfer Center at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, “contrary to what most people believe, oil supply capacity is growing worldwide at such an unprecedented level that it might outpace consumption.”

Russian investor’s $3 million prize for physics

Chrystia Freeland
Aug 2, 2012 21:10 UTC

Do you think cutting-edge scientists should earn as much as star athletes, celebrity artists or Wall Street bankers? The Russian billionaire investor Yuri Milner does, and this week he put his money where his heart is.

Milner deposited $3 million in the bank accounts of each of the nine theoretical physicists he judged to be doing the most brilliant work in their field. They are the first recipients of the Fundamental Physics Prize, a new honor created by Milner. It is the most lucrative academic award in the world, and will henceforth be given to one winner each year.

Milner, who studied physics for a decade before making his fortune in prescient Internet investments, said he decided to create such a rich prize because he thinks the compensation of top scientists is out of whack in 21st-century society.

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