Opinion

Chrystia Freeland

Globalization, the tech revolution and the middle class

Chrystia Freeland
Sep 21, 2012 15:04 UTC

YALTA, Ukraine — One of the paradoxes of our age is that we are simultaneously living through a time of positive economic innovation and also a time of the painful erosion of the way of life of many middle-class families.

Listening to Yuri Milner, the Russian Internet investor, at a conference in Ukraine a few days ago brought home this contrast. Milner is a billionaire thanks to his Internet investments: He has done well both in his homeland, supporting some of Russia’s most successful start-ups, and, even more spectacularly by venturing abroad, taking pioneering stakes in Facebook, Zynga and Groupon.

When Milner talks about the technology revolution, he paints a dazzling picture of literally unprecedented innovation, bringing tremendous savings and benefits to consumers.

But when you talk to economists about the impact of those same forces on middle-class jobs, you come joltingly down to earth. The revolution Milner describes is part of a sea change in how the economies of Western industrialized nations work – and one that is hollowing out the middle class.

The technology revolution has become so familiar – grandmothers are on Facebook and toddlers navigate YouTube on their parents’ iPads - that it is easy to forget how revolutionary it still is. But Milner, speaking at an annual conference held by the Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk, argued that it had just begun to radically reshape our lives. (Disclosure: I moderated many of the sessions.)

Soros: The euro zone is about more than money

Chrystia Freeland
Sep 13, 2012 21:12 UTC

George Soros made headlines this week with a striking proposal that to save Europe, Germany must “lead or leave.” The leadership part was familiar: Outside Germany, at least, it is becoming conventional wisdom that Europe will survive only if the Union’s behemoth provides more decisive leadership — and writes bigger checks.

The catch is that the rest of Europe, particularly its beleaguered so-called Club Med countries, doesn’t seem to be in much of a position to coerce Berlin to do anything. That is where Soros’s second alternative — leaving — comes in. In an interview in Vienna last weekend and in a speech in Berlin on Monday, Soros added his influential voice to a cluster of iconoclasts who have asserted that Southern Europe’s fate need not be decided in Germany.

If Germany is unwilling to lead, Soros argues, the Southern Europeans should ask Germany to leave. His prediction is that these currently sickly nations would do perfectly well.

Obama makes his case amidst Reagan’s shadow

Chrystia Freeland
Sep 6, 2012 17:07 UTC

If there had been an empty chair at the Democratic convention this week, its ghostly occupant would have been Ronald Reagan.

Barack Obama admiringly referred to Reagan’s transformational presidency during the 2008 election campaign. That enraged the Clintonites, but then-Senator Obama’s take on the historical shifts in American politics was absolutely right. If you doubt that, just think back one week to the Republican convention, which was above all a coming-out party for Reagan’s 21st-century heirs.

Reagan’s legacy is so powerful because he identified the state as the central issue in American politics. That is still true today. Both in Tampa, Florida, where the Republican promise was to shrink the state, and in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the Democrats’ promise is to transform the state into a more effective servant of the middle class, the big question is what government should do, and how big it should be.

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