Opinion

Ian Bremmer

Bangladesh and the cost of doing nothing

Ian Bremmer
Apr 30, 2013 20:12 UTC

In Bangladesh, the search for survivors has become an effort to recover the dead. After a garment factory building collapsed in the Dhaka suburb of Savar last week, residents and rescue workers spent days digging through the rubble hoping to save the lives of people caught in yet another Bangladeshi industrial accident. At least 390 people are thought to have died.

This type of accident is all too common in Bangladesh. In November, more than 100 people died in a garment factory fire when workers could not easily escape the building. In 2006, 84 people were killed in a blaze because fire exits were locked.

This is what happens when a $20 billion industry accounts for 3.2 million jobs and 80 percent of a country’s exports. It needs the industry too much, especially when those jobs have helped push female participation in the workplace from 26.1 percent in 2002-03 to a still-insufficient 36 percent in 2010. The globalized economy demands that Bangladesh provide cheap goods, and cheap goods are easier to manufacture when there aren’t strict rules to follow — or at least when they’re not enforced.

It also helps when those rules are set by the same people who own the factory buildings. A sector that is too big to fail can repel government-induced regulation. Mohammed Sohel Rana, who owned the building that collapsed, was escorted to court yesterday in body armor and a helmet. But the factory wasn’t his only project — he was also a local leader of the ruling party’s youth wing. This is partly why it’s so hard for developing countries to bite the hand that feeds: It would require the powerful to bite themselves.

A groundswell of protest might change things, and we’re seeing the beginnings of that. Bangladeshis have burned factories to the ground to make clear that the garment industry is not as invincible as it seems. Citizens want action, and with an election coming later this year, they’ll have the government’s attention.

America’s relative rise

Ian Bremmer
Apr 19, 2013 16:27 UTC

Since midway through George W. Bush’s tenure, there’s been a steady hum from the pundit class that America’s best days are behind it. An overreaching foreign policy, rising public debt, and a growing wave of outsourced jobs means that America will soon lose its status as the world’s preeminent power. America was quickly on its way to becoming Rome.

But the American Decline is now over (if it ever really began in the first place).

Compared with other major powers, America’s future is looking brighter than before the financial crisis. The dollar remains remarkably attractive relative to other currencies. This resilience extends to American companies. In a March report, Goldman Sachs found that foreign investors owned a larger percentage of the U.S. equity market than at any time in the 68-year history of the study. The housing market is picking up, and dependence on foreign energy is falling.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Apr 12, 2013 16:02 UTC

Eurasia Group’s weekly selection of essential reading for the political risk junkie – presented in no particular order. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections by tweeting at us via @EurasiaGroup or @ianbremmer.

Must-reads 

Baby milk rationing: Chinese fears spark global restrictions” – Celia Hatton, BBC News

What’s worse than glow-in-the-dark pork? The recent craze in subpar Chinese product safety standards is all about baby milk formula.

When hackers bully a bully: Anonymous vs Kim Jong-un

Ian Bremmer
Apr 11, 2013 15:16 UTC

For an American emissary looking to have an impact, there’s no better place to visit than North Korea. Most of the world is shut out of Kim Jong-un’s country, and the U.S. government has so few levers to influence policy that any American who finds his way in will make news.

That doesn’t mean the news will be good news. Former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt didn’t accomplish much during their January visit, and basketball carny Dennis Rodman was as embarrassing as one would expect. In North Korea, even tourists can make headlines: Laura Ling and Euna Lee were detained in 2009 after filming refugees on the China-North Korea border. They became flashpoints in the U.S.-North Korean standoff because Pyongyang had nothing else to work with.

Unfortunately, the latest outsiders to insert themselves into the picture are hackers that answer to the name Anonymous, the group that became famous by mixing digital activism with clandestine revenge. Anonymous has begun a campaign against North Korea, crashing several North Korean websites, hacking North Korean social media accounts, and perhaps infiltrating North Korea’s intranet. Anonymous is promising more attacks to come. There is a chance for serious trouble here.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Apr 5, 2013 19:32 UTC

Eurasia Group’s weekly selection of essential reading for the political risk junkie – presented in no particular order. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections by tweeting at us via @EurasiaGroup or @ianbremmer. 

Must-reads

Is This a Pandemic Being Born?” – Laurie Garrett, Foreign Policy

In the past few weeks in China, we’ve seen over 15,000 dead animals pulled out of China’s polluted rivers, with vast distances between discoveries. Recently, three people have contracted a virus strain that previously did not affect humans. Explanations from government officials have been as murky as the polluted water itself. This piece doesn’t claim that we can draw a firm connection between these events… but it argues that we certainly cannot rule it out. 

Jobs Alone Do Not Explain the Importance of Manufacturing” – Scott Andes and Mark Muro, Brookings

New strings attached

Ian Bremmer
Apr 4, 2013 16:06 UTC

China’s influence in Africa goes so deep that African leaders are starting to shape their own agendas after China’s. In February 2012, South African President Jacob Zuma gave his “state of the nation” speech in Cape Town, but he might as well have been in Beijing. “For the year 2012 and beyond,” he said, “we invite the nation to join government in a massive infrastructure development drive.” By October, Zuma was vowing $100 billion in Chinese-style infrastructure investment to help create jobs. In welcoming Xi Jinping, China’s new president, to South Africa last month for a BRICS conference, Zuma gushed, “We view China’s success as a source of hope and inspiration.” Apparently, he also views China as a model for his country’s development.

The infatuation is mutual. Xi Jinping recently made his first major foreign diplomacy trip, choosing to go to Africa (after a brief visit to Moscow), stopping in Tanzania, South Africa and the Republic of Congo as he made the rounds of one of China’s most important regions for investment. After all, China’s foreign direct investment in Africa stood at less than $100 million in 2003; today, it’s more than $12 billion. China is already responsible for more than a quarter of all foreign investment in Africa — and commerce is still growing at a rapid clip.

At the BRICS summit in South Africa, Xi explained that African leaders need not worry that China is the same kind of benefactor as the U.S. “China will continue to offer, as always, necessary assistance to Africa with no political strings attached,” he said. Of course, there may not be political strings attached, but there are plenty of economic strings, and China is keen to pull them.

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