Opinion

Chrystia Freeland

Americans will never allow Medicare to be gutted

Chrystia Freeland
Jun 3, 2011 14:58 UTC

The political theater in the United States this week has been all about the “debt ceiling”: Congress voting not to increase it; President Barack Obama and the House Republicans meeting to discuss it; and the Treasury warning that failure to raise it will bring economic apocalypse for the United States and the world.

Elites like to accuse ordinary Americans of a lack of political sophistication, but everyone from Main Street to Wall Street is savvy enough to understand that so far, the fighting over the ceiling is pure Kabuki. As with the budget deal earlier this year, the real negotiating is unlikely to happen until the very last minute.

But everyone also understands that this summer game of brinkmanship matters because it is a proxy war being fought over a very real problem: the growing national debt and deficit. At just under 60 percent of gross domestic product, the U.S. national debt is lower than that of France, Germany and Britain. And the rest of the world still seems delighted to lend the United States money on historically generous terms.

The need to tackle the deficit (although not how to do it) has become a national truth universally acknowledged. What nearly all Americans of all political stripes also understand is that the problem with the budget deficit is health care spending – which is why the most important economic initiative of the Obama administration not directly connected to the financial crisis and its aftermath was health care reform, and why the most important new economic policy proposal from the Republicans is Representative Paul Ryan’s proposal to transform Medicare.

But here is what no one can figure out: what Americans want when it comes to sickness and the state. One of the changes Americans decided to believe in when they elected Obama in 2008 was health care reform, a central plank in his political platform. Yet when he actually acted on his health care pledge, it suddenly seemed as if the issue were anathema to voters.

Spotlight on philanthropy

Chrystia Freeland
Jun 1, 2011 19:25 UTC

In 1984 Marc Koska read a newspaper article that changed his life. The article predicted that the HIV contagion that had surfaced a few years earlier would morph into an all-out pandemic across the developed world via the unsanitary practice of reusing syringes. He spent the next three years traveling and designing a cost-effective syringe that would lock up if someone attempted to reuse it. Fast forward to the present, and 13 manufacturers around the world are making a couple of million of Koska’s K1 syringes every day. Yet, as he told Chrystia at Google’s 2011 European Zeitgeist conference in May, doctors and nurses in developing countries continue to reuse unsterilized syringes:

The vast majority of injections are not in any way safe if they don’t use this or they don’t use correct procedure.So we end up with something like 1.3 million deaths — World Health Organization number — being caused every single year, which is twice the amount of the death toll of malaria even. And what angers me is, this is caused by a doctor or a nurse. This isn’t, you know, an innocent mosquito. This is actually being transmitted to the patients via a health care worker.

Marc’s approach to development was one of many that were discussed during Chrystia’s Zeitgeist panel “Spotlight on Philanthropy.” Another panelist, Oxfam CEO Barbara Stocking, stressed that business had a crucial role to play in poverty alleviation and argued, “the best thing that companies can do is actually work in their core business in a way that actually helps poor people.” She cited a recent initiative from consumer-goods behemoth Unilever as an encouraging example:

The Russians are coming — to Silicon Valley

Chrystia Freeland
May 27, 2011 17:34 UTC

Chrystia Freeland is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are her own.

The Russians are coming. So far, the invaders are both welcome and unexpected — these aren’t the Cold War comrades who aspired to geopolitical domination or the first wave of oligarchs with their treasure chest of natural resources. These Russians propose to conquer the world’s new frontier — the Internet — and they are every bit as cocky as their forebears.

Russia’s arrival as a would-be technology superpower was announced this week when Yandex, a Russian Internet search company, made its debut on the Nasdaq stock exchange in the biggest U.S. Internet listing since Google went public in 2004.

With characteristic Russian bravado, Ilya Segalovich, the company’s chief technology officer, told my colleagues Alina Selyukh and Megan Davies that Yandex was superior to the behemoth Google: “Google is a great company, but we are better.” Yandex is “very focused on what we are doing, and the focus is technology and search.”

The Russians are coming — to Silicon Valley

Chrystia Freeland
May 27, 2011 16:12 UTC

The Russians are coming. So far, the invaders are both welcome and unexpected — these aren’t the Cold War comrades who aspired to geopolitical domination or the first wave of oligarchs with their treasure chest of natural resources. These Russians propose to conquer the world’s new frontier — the Internet — and they are every bit as cocky as their forebears.

Russia’s arrival as a would-be technology superpower was announced this week when Yandex, a Russian Internet search company, made its debut on the Nasdaq stock exchange in the biggest U.S. Internet listing since Google went public in 2004.

With characteristic Russian bravado, Ilya Segalovich, the company’s chief technology officer, told my colleagues Alina Selyukh and Megan Davies that Yandex was superior to the behemoth Google: “Google is a great company, but we are better.” Yandex is “very focused on what we are doing, and the focus is technology and search.”

Don’t confuse DSK’s sex life with assault

Chrystia Freeland
May 19, 2011 16:19 UTC

In the ‘‘Take Back the Night’’ marches I walked in in high school and college, one of my favorite chants was this one: ‘‘Whatever I wear, wherever I go, yes means yes and no means no.’’ That jingle was invented to popularize one of the most radical and important ideas of the second-wave feminists — that rape and promiscuity were entirely separate issues.

Some of the reaction to Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest on charges of attempted rape and sexual assault is making the same dangerous mistake of blurring the distinction between licentiousness and coercion — between sex, and sexual assault.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s philandering — and indeed his infidelity — are not in dispute. Like Newt Gingrich, his current wife is his third, and just three years ago he had to publicly apologize to the International Monetary Fund for his ‘‘error in judgment’’ in having an affair with Piroska Nagy, a subordinate. That shameful act wasn’t a sexual assault, but it was what most of us (though not the I.M.F. board) would call sexual harassment. People close to Ms. Nagy say that the affair was consensual but that Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s position as her ultimate boss made his advances inappropriate. As Ms. Nagy wrote in a letter to a law firm hired by the I.M.F. to investigate the affair, ‘‘I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t.’’

Are businesses adding to the common good?

Chrystia Freeland
May 13, 2011 13:52 UTC

Roger Martin is an unlikely revolutionary: He is the dean of the Rotman School of Management, the business school at the University of Toronto, he sits on blue-chip corporate boards, and he has worked as a consultant for big, traditional companies like Procter & Gamble and General Motors. All in all, very much the résumé of a pillar of the corporate establishment. (Disclosure: I am a member of the Rotman School’s advisory board.)

But this month, Martin has published a book whose gentle tone belies its seditious content. Here’s what is radical about Fixing the Game: Bubbles, Crashes and What Capitalism Can Learn From the N.F.L.: Instead of asking how businesses can organize themselves to be more effective and more profitable for their shareholders, Martin wants to figure out how society should organize business to be more effective for all of us.

The corporate intelligentsia — business school professors, management consultants and many of us scribblers and squawkers of the business press — focus nearly all of their attention on the first question. That is a perfectly worthy subject. Indeed, the huge and continuing improvements in business productivity over the past 200 years have made more of us richer and healthier than human beings of the previous two millennia could have imagined.

Will there be a bin Laden peace dividend?

Chrystia Freeland
May 6, 2011 16:16 UTC

Osama bin Laden is dead. Now it is time for the peace dividend. That’s a phrase you may remember from the early 1990s, when Soviet Communism, the big existential threat of the second half of the 20th century, collapsed. Today, America needs a peace dividend even more than it did 20 years ago. But cashing it in will be a challenge.

That’s partly because, as in 1991, the death of Bin Laden should be the trigger for a much broader rethinking of U.S. foreign policy. That will be tough to initiate. Since 1941, the United States has defined its role in the world largely in opposition to an unambiguously evil foreign enemy: first the Axis powers, then the Soviet bloc, and, for the past decade, Al Qaeda and its allies.

This kind of foreign policy was expensive — but it had the virtue of intellectual and moral clarity. One measure of how comforting this Manichean approach was came from the speed with which the threat posed by Al Qaeda came to be equated with the dangers of Soviet Communism.

Carlyle Group’s Rubenstein is charmed by China

Peter Rudegeair
May 4, 2011 18:31 UTC

Watch Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein explain to Chrystia why there’s greater political risk in the United States than in the emerging markets; how he gets a better reception from Chinese Communist Party cadres in Beijing than his own members of Congress in Washington; how private-equity firms can help remedy the impending entitlement crisis; and how the procedure that enacts Congressional salary increases can be adopted to cut the deficit.

Posted by Peter Rudegeair.

The U.S. capitalist love affair with Communist China

Chrystia Freeland
Apr 29, 2011 15:30 UTC

The American blogosphere lit up this week with discussion of a report from the International Monetary Fund that, by some measures, the Chinese economy will be bigger than the U.S. economy by 2016.

It makes a great headline, but that story was, of course, old news: Given China’s size, and the speed with which it is growing, simple arithmetic tells you that its economy will one day be bigger than that of the United States. The only question is when.

The bigger surprise is the huge affection U.S. capitalists have for Communist China.

As its power declines, the U.S. pays the price

Chrystia Freeland
Apr 21, 2011 22:11 UTC

Economic policy isn’t just a domestic issue anymore. That is the conclusion we should draw from the market volatility this week, including the shift by Standard & Poor’s to a negative outlook for U.S. government debt, and the meeting last weekend of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

This is a familiar fact for smaller countries. The emerging market nations have long understood that judgments made on Wall Street or at the IMF headquarters in Washington often had more power to shape their economic policy than the proposals of their own ministers of finance and central bankers. More recently, that is a lesson that fiscally weak Western countries like Greece, Ireland and Portugal have been learning, too.

Now, as the relative power of the United States in the global economy declines, it is a fact of life that Americans need to get used to, too. That is one of the important messages of the S&P decision at the beginning of this week to put the United States on a negative outlook – essentially a warning that the ratings agency is no longer certain the United States will maintain its AAA rating.

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