Opinion

Ian Bremmer

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Jul 12, 2013 14:57 UTC

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

A Free Miracle Food!” – Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times

Suboptimal breast-feeding practices claim 804,000 children’s lives a year—more than malaria (based on the World Health Organization’s estimates). This seems like low-hanging fruit for improving the global child mortality rate.

France’s triumphant ‘Joan of Arc’ vows to bring back franc and destroy euro” – Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, The Telegraph

“The euro ceases to exist the moment that France leaves, and that is our incredible strength. What are they going to do, send in tanks?” These are the words of Marie Le Pen. But French voters are warming up to her Front National party—in the most recent national polls, it’s running even with the two traditional parties.

Will These Youth Protests Spread to Asia’s Corrupted Democracies?” – Robert E. Kelly, The Diplomat

Is becoming Pakistan the best Egypt can hope for?

Ian Bremmer
Jul 11, 2013 19:01 UTC

After the events in Egypt this past week, some in Washington are debating whether to call a coup a coup. The better question: Was the upheaval that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011 really a revolution? Think of what Egypt was before and after the fall of Mubarak, and what it is now. Before the Arab Spring the military was Egypt’s most critical political body, a stabilizing force in a country of weak politicians and weaker governance. That never changed. In fact, it hasn’t changed much in the past 60 years. The same military has deposed Mohamed Mursi, and whether it did so because the people demanded it or because the military wanted it is beside the point. Mursi is gone, the Constitution offers no effective oversight of the military, and the fate of the country still rests with a few select generals.

As we ponder Egypt’s foreseeable future, there are no attractive options. Egypt’s least worst option? Pakistan — if it should be so lucky. Things in Egypt are now so bad that resembling Pakistan is as good as it can realistically get any time soon. The worst possibility: outright state failure.

The outcome is in the military’s hands. Egypt’s situation already bears similarities to Pakistan’s, where the military is central, broadly popular, and the country’s primary economic force. In both countries, the military understands that actually running the country — or at least being seen as running the country — is the worst way to consolidate power while avoiding public fury when things go wrong.

China and America’s related, but inverse, dilemmas

Ian Bremmer
Jul 3, 2013 19:45 UTC

As protests sweep the developing world and Europe struggles through an austerity hangover, China and the U.S., relative to their peers, look like the best in class. They are both comfortable with their modest growth rates (compared to their norms of the past decade), and insulated from the kind of social unrest we are seeing in Egypt, Turkey or Brazil. But both countries have a deeper intractable challenge that will, in the longer-term, get worse. What’s interesting is that they’re the inverse of each other: in the U.S., wealth and private sector interests capture the political system. In China, politicians capture the private sector and the wealth that comes with it.

The U.S.’s struggles with lobbying, pork-barrel spending, and the corporate sector’s general overlord status in Washington are well documented. Campaign finance reform is long past. Corporate personhood is well-entrenched. Super PACs are ascendant. A representative democracy is being crowded out by a capitalist one.

The cycle is hard to break. Politicians’ interests become aligned with those of the corporations that help them get elected. But even more troubling is that so many American politicians are gearing up to join the lobbying machine after they retire from government. In 1974, 3 percent of retiring members of Congress became lobbyists. Today, the figure stands at half of senators, and 42 percent of the House.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Jun 28, 2013 18:30 UTC

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

Must-reads

Spanish frustration with Germany grows as austerity bites” – Tobias Buck, Financial Times

What a difference a year makes. A little more than a year ago, Spaniards dubbed Angela Merkel their most admired leader in Europe. Now she ranks below the leaders of France, Italy and the UK. What’s causing the shift in sentiment?

Emerging, maturing, protesting markets

Ian Bremmer
Jun 27, 2013 19:28 UTC

At the beginning of this year, Eurasia Group, the political risk firm I lead, released its top 10 risks of 2013. We forgot to put Pepsi-guzzling whistleblowers on the list, but we did give our top slot to increasing turmoil in “emerging markets.” In a global economy that has become more reliant on countries whose economies are vulnerable to political shocks, emerging markets are our new economic fulcrums. What is causing this growing uncertainty in emerging markets? How much stress can they take without upsetting the balance for everyone else.

The protests in countries like Brazil and Turkey are not Arab Spring-style uprisings: they’re the anger and frustration of newly empowered middle and lower-middle classes, the same consumers who were the catalysts and beneficiaries of this growth in the first place. In emerging markets, politics have at least as big an impact on market outcomes as the underlying economics — that’s why these kinds of protests can strike seemingly out of the blue, and bring business-as-usual to a halt. Compare the impact of protests (and leaders’ responses) in Brazil and Turkey to the Occupy Wall Street movement. In a developed country like the United States, the political system is consolidated in a manner that forces fringe movements to choose one of two paths: go mainstream or lose steam. In emerging markets that have experienced dramatic and rapid changes, governments can’t keep up with citizens’ evolving demands. Protests are far more likely to swell, with severe economic ramifications.

Why are the protests in Turkey and Brazil happening? There are immediate triggers. In Brazil, it was a small raise in bus fares; in Turkey, it was the imminent demolition of sycamore trees in Gezi Park. But these triggers are the narrow manifestations of larger, systemic grievances playing out on a country level, and trends in the global economy at large. So what are the larger factors that make even model emerging markets more ripe for unrest?

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Jun 21, 2013 17:45 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

China Court Ruling Could Threaten Foreign Investments in Country” – Sue-Lin Wong, International Herald Tribune

Many Chinese sectors such as media, finance, and technology are off-limits to foreign direct investment. Variable interest entities (VIEs) have allowed Chinese companies such as Baidu, Sina, and Alibaba to raise billions in foreign capital while avoiding the regulatory hurdles. A new court ruling may make these entities illegal—with severe implications.

The new Iranian president’s restrained power

Ian Bremmer
Jun 19, 2013 20:56 UTC

This past weekend, centrist candidate Hassan Rohani won the Iranian presidential election by a landslide. Rohani beat the two perceived front-runners who were hand-selected conservative loyalists to supreme leader Ali Khamenei — and he did it with an outright majority, bypassing an expected run-off. According to the interior ministry, turnout topped 72 percent — a level that the United States hasn’t attained in a century

During the campaign, Rohani declared, “We will open all the locks which have been fastened upon people’s lives.” But while Rohani’s sweeping victory comes as a big surprise, it’s no shock to the system in Iran. Don’t expect Rohani to open the locks fastened upon Iranian policy. He simply doesn’t hold the keys.

All major decisions on foreign policy go through the Ayatollah. In Iran, the president doesn’t have the last word on the most important security matters, like the nuclear program and Syria. Sanctions will remain in place for the foreseeable future, putting a ceiling on the near-term economic improvements that Rohani can implement. Lastly, even if Rohani did have free rein, he would not upend the system. He is a consummate insider, working his way up within the Iranian establishment: he ran Iran’s national security council for almost two decades, spent three years as the top nuclear negotiator, and he maintains the trust of the clerics. He campaigned as a moderate, not a reformer.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Jun 14, 2013 15:05 UTC

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

Must-reads 

Africa: Continent of Plenty” – G. Pascal Zachary, IEEE Spectrum

In the early 1960s, Africa supplied 8 percent of the world’s tradable food; that figure has dropped below 2 percent today.  Can Africa feed itself—and even help feed the world?  Here are ten reasons to believe it can.

Putin’s Self-Destruction” – Ivan Krastev and Vladislav Inozemtsev, Foreign Affairs

American exceptionalism, seen through the prism of American blunders

Ian Bremmer
Jun 13, 2013 14:39 UTC

The past weeks’ revelations about PRISM, the National Security Agency’s broad electronic surveillance program, follow a grand American tradition of major disclosures that undermine the high standards to which the United States holds itself — and the world. In this case: How can the U.S. tell other countries to stop using the Internet to pursue their aims at the expense of others when it has been systematically spying on foreigners for years? 

This contradiction is nothing new in American foreign policy: it’s the flip side of American exceptionalism. The United States is so eager to cast itself as a pinnacle of various behaviors and values that when it inevitably falls short, it leads to awkward contradictions. That’s a shame, because the United States actually does have substantive differences from many other countries on civil liberties, human rights and democracy — it’s just that its stance ensures any slipups and embarrassments overshadow everything else.

Look no further than last weekend, when the NSA disclosures spoiled the Obama administration’s plans to corner China on its own cyber practices. Instead, publications like the Guardian were running headlines like “U.S.-China summit ends with accord on all but cyberespionage.”

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Jun 7, 2013 19:04 UTC

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

Not always with us” – The Economist

How have we made so much progress eradicating poverty in recent decades? Between 1981 and 2010, China lifted 680m people out poverty—more than the entire current population of Latin America. China alone accounted for around three quarters of the world’s total decline in extreme poverty over the past 30 years. Where does progress need to come from going forward?

Cristinanomics: Argentina’s crazy plan to save the economy through money laundering” – Douglas Farah, Foreign Policy

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