The Great Debate UK

Never waste a good crisis

The events in Washington over the last couple of weeks have shown two things: how a system of checks and balances government can be extremely frustrating and get nothing done, and how the Republican Party is in desperate need of a major change.

The guiding principle of the U.S. Constitution is to never allow any individual or party to get too much power. The ideal is to have a President and Congress at odds with each other so that one ideology is not given a preferential position.  Thus, what we have seen over the last few weeks in Capitol Hill is, in essence, exactly what the Founding Fathers orchestrated back in the late 18th century.

That’s the history lesson out of the way – what about today? Even with a checks and balances system, society and the economy need to be able to trust that the U.S. government can be effective and won’t shut down just because some men and women in Congress are lacking in key negotiating skills. The events since the start of this month have shown that this is sadly not possible with the U.S. political establishment in its current form, and one side is being blamed much more than the other for the current deadlock: the Republican Party.

It has taken a dramatic shift to the right in the last 5 years, far more than the Democrats have shifted to the left, and the number of moderates in the U.S. Congress has dramatically declined. This is also evident in the drop in bipartisan bills, which have experienced a sharp decline in recent years. In this environment, the extreme right is drowning out the moderate element in the Republican Party who may want to negotiate with their counterparts the other side of the political aisle.

Science’s innovators are to be prized

–Juha Ylä-Jääski (D.Tech.) is President and CEO of Technology Academy Finland. The opinions expressed are his own.–

The 2013 Nobel season is once again gorging on a Grand Cru vintage of scientific achievement. Today, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded to three scientists, Levitt, Karplus and Warshel, whose multinational collaboration laid the foundation for the computer models crucial for most advances in chemistry today. Yesterday, Peter Higgs and Francois Englert won the Nobel Prize for physics for conceiving the so-called “God particle” which explains why the Universe has mass. Another trio were recognised on Monday when the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was awarded to Rothman, Schekman and Südhof for solving the mystery of how the cell transports crucial cargo.

from The Great Debate:

An unstable global economic system that is being ignored

Today, the International Monetary Fund announced yet another a reduction in its global growth projections for 2014, with its estimate of U.S. growth also reduced (citing reduced government spending, but not the present U.S. government shutdown -- or the heretofore unthinkable notion of the U.S. government defaulting on its obligations). Despite the seeming urgency of global economic slowdown, when world leaders attended their annual fall confabulation at the United Nations in New York last month, they focused on the diplomacy of physical security (Syria, Iran, etc.). Thus another year has passed in which global economic security issues were on no one’s reported agenda.

Policy makers continue to fail to appreciate that the most formidable economic challenge today lies in the area outside the borders of any one nation or region -- and that multilateral action to address this challenge is arguably more important than efforts at increasingly less-effective internal stimulus.

from The Great Debate:

Why “sustainability” should be more than a meaningless buzzword

The term “sustainability” crept into the business lexicon slowly, by way of the environmental movement. It no longer means covering operating costs with profits, the definition I learned at Harvard Business School six years ago. Instead, it’s morphed into a blurry term that fits into whatever suitcase you want it to -- a catchall for everything “socially good,” whatever that means.

The term has been used by various groups -- with various meanings -- for three decades. The Sierra Club first introduced it in the 1970s, during the dawn of the environmental movement. At the time, activists were speaking out against mining, water pollution, and other environmental threats. They defined “sustainability” as an approach to preserving natural resources by creating national parks and enacting legislation that would penalize polluters. In the 1980s, companies like The Body Shop used sustainability to describe their commitment to environmental and human rights, and a corporate focus that expanded beyond profits. For the next 20 years, the term was used by a small group of companies, like Ben and Jerry’s and Eileen Fisher, whose founders tried to incorporate their social values into their business models.

48 hours to save Syria’s children

By Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children. The opinions expressed are his own.–

The pictures of Syrian children lined up dead and others writhing in agony, foaming at the mouth as they struggled to breathe, shocked us all to the core. These horrific chemical attacks were crimes against humanity. That is why we should all welcome the UNSC resolution passed in New York.

from The Great Debate:

Why girls’ education can help eradicate poverty

Educating girls and young women is not only one of the biggest moral challenges of our generation, it is also a necessary investment for a peaceful and poverty-free world. Until we give girls equal access to a good quality education, the world will continue to suffer from child and maternal mortality, disease and other byproducts of poverty.

This week, when world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly debate why many of the Millennium Development Goals remain out of reach, they should look no further than education disparities across the developing world. UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report team has released new evidence that shows how education gives girls and young women the freedom to make decisions to improve their lives.

from The Great Debate:

Only Generation Lockdown can resolve America’s gun debate

On the website of the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus there is a statistic worth knowing if you live in Ohio. About 1,100 residents of the Buckeye State lose their lives at the trigger of a firearm every year. That includes homicides, accidental shootings and suicides.

It's also a number that you'd think would be worth knowing if you represented the great state of Ohio in Congress. Yet until April it was not a figure that rolled off the tongue of Senator Rob Portman. Far more astonishing than Portman's ignorance of the number of his constituents killed by guns every year are the circumstances in which this gap in his education was filled. Portman didn't hear it from the hospital, a newspaper or cable news. He learned it from a 13-year-old boy named James Barden.

How central bankers have got it wrong

If you asked someone to list the chief qualities needed to be a good central banker I assume that the list may include: good communicator, wise, attention to detail, clear thinking, credibility, and good with numbers.  However, in recent months these qualities have been sadly lacking, most notably last week when the Federal Reserve wrong-footed the markets and failed to start tapering its enormous QE programme.

The market had expected asset purchases to be tapered because: 1, Ben Bernanke had dropped fairly big hints at his June press conference that tapering was likely to take place sooner rather than later and 2, because the unemployment rate has consistently declined all year and if it continues moving in this direction then it could hit the Fed’s 6.5% target rate in the coming months.

from The Great Debate:

The minister who dreams of a reindustrialized France

The body of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV’s wily finance minister, is encased in a marble tomb in the Church of Saint Eustache in central Paris. But if you believe Arnaud Montebourg, the enfant terrible of French politics, his spirit is still very much alive, 330 years after his death, and about to spark a new, digital-age industrial revolution in France.

Montebourg, 50, an ardent opponent of globalization, has for the past 15 months served as the nation’s “Minister of Productive Renewal,” in charge of industry, a post that -- in theory -- gives him leeway to implement some of his more radical ideas. He spells them out in a book published on Sept.18, “The Battle for Made in France.” Invoking Colbert’s grandiose interventionist approach, it is a strident call for industry to be protected and nurtured. Among other things, Montebourg insists that the outsourcing trend of the past decade needs to be reversed; he dreams of the day when televisions, textiles and toys will once again be made in France, as the nation recaptures its manufacturing glory.

from The Great Debate:

Why Fellini’s films speak to the pope

La Strada may be almost 60 years old, but Federico Fellini's masterpiece is in the news. In an interview published late last week, Pope Francis called La Strada his favorite film.

Some might have expected a more church-friendly movie, like Roberto Rossellini's Rome, Open City -- which Fellini co-wrote -- about a priest helping the Italian Resistance fight Nazi occupiers during World War Two. While he also mentions it, the pontiff's favorite choice crystallizes his embrace of the fallible and the marginalized.

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