Category: Current Affairs

Every Pope a Saint? The Politics of Canonization

For our #YUPapr conversations this month about “Ancient Texts, Modern Beliefs”, a closer inspection of contemporary religious practices—and their comparative differences— is important for our consideration of changing beliefs in the greater context of world history. Here, Yale University Press author Michael Coogan discusses the upcoming April 27 canonization of two popes and the rapidly increasing rate of sainthood for modern Bishops of Rome, offering some perspective on the changing political nature of the Church in today’s society.

Michael Coogan—

On April 27, ornately robed clerics will celebrate the canonization of two recent popes, John XXIII and John Paul II. In the modern Roman Catholic Church until the last few decades, canonization­—declaring someone a saint—was rare and occurred only after a protracted process. Successive steps lead to canonization: first, one is declared “Servant of God,” then “Venerable,” then “Blessed,” and finally “Saint.” From the beginning of the fourteenth century to the mid-twentieth, only two popes were canonized and another three were declared “Blessed.” Not so any more: since the papacy of John Paul II a flurry of canonizations has been underway, not just for ordinary individuals deemed holy, but also for modern popes.

GWB LB DIGITAL 12:35 Statements with Pope John Paul II.

Pope John Paul II

Remarkably, all of the popes since the mid-twentieth century, except of course for those still alive, are on the path to canonization: Pius XII (1939–1958, declared Servant of God in 1990 and Venerable in 2009), John XXIII (1958–1963, declared Servant of God in 1965, Venerable in 1999, and Blessed in 2000), Paul VI (1963–1978, declared Servant of God in 1993 and Venerable in 2012), John Paul I (1978, declared Servant of God in 2003), and John Paul II (1978–2005, declared Servant of God in 2005, Venerable in 2009, and Blessed in 2011). Why this sudden, almost automatic rush to sainthood for recent popes?

Part of the answer lies in nineteenth-century realpolitik. For more than a thousand years, the pope was not just the spiritual head of the Roman Catholic Church, but also a monarch, the ruler of the Papal States in the central Italian peninsula. As sovereigns of this territory, popes engaged in diplomacy and war to maintain and expand their control. In the nineteenth century, however, the papal domain was virtually eliminated by the unification of Italy under Garibaldi and his successors, culminating with the capture of Rome by Italian forces in September 1870. All that was left of papal territory was tiny Vatican City. Only a few months before, when the fall of Rome was already inevitable, the First Vatican Council, at Pope Pius IX’s prompting, declared the doctrine of papal infallibility. If the popes could not be political sovereigns, it seems, they could at least have absolute spiritual authority, especially, as the official wording has it, when they say they are speaking infallibly on an issue of faith or morals.

Although there has been only one technically infallible pronouncement since 1870—Pius XII’s proclamation in 1950 of the doctrine of the Assumption, that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had been bodily taken up to heaven at her death—papal authoritarianism has expressed itself in other ways, as when John Paul II asserted in an apostolic letter that women could never be priests, and then Cardinal Ratzinger (later Benedict XVI) subsequently called this teaching infallible, unchangeable, and binding on all Catholics forever.

By the second half of the twentieth century, even the popes’ spiritual authority was being eroded, because of flawed leadership. Pius XII’s silence about the Holocaust was moral cowardice, if not latent anti-Semitism. Paul VI’s insistence on banning artificial contraception in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, against the opinion of a majority of his advisors, effectively ended papal authority for many Catholics. John Paul II’s clericalism led to years of denial and coddling of predatory priest pedophiles and their episcopal superiors, which further diminished the Church’s authority as well as its coffers. Significantly, these last two issues concern what the current pope has called an obsessive preoccupation with sex and reproduction; it is of more than tangential interest that of the thousands of men and women put on the path to sainthood by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, only a tiny percentage were married. Most openly sexually active persons, it seems, can’t really be saintly.

The haste to canonize the last five deceased popes is an effort to shore up the diminished spiritual authority of the papacy. If every pope is a saint, who could dare disagree with them? Surely they are being elevated to sainthood not mainly because of their personal holiness but because they were popes, even though as popes most of them were deeply flawed. Is flawed leadership no bar to sainthood?

Among the popes whose canonization process John Paul II sped up was none other than Pius IX, declared Servant of God in 1907, but Venerable only in 1985 and Blessed in 2000: the most authoritarian pope of the nineteenth century was propelled toward sainthood by one of the most authoritarian popes of the twentieth. The Vatican is locked in a time warp of absolute monarchical authority, and popes canonizing their predecessors is an attempt to preserve and enhance it. The joint canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II—the first a darling of liberal Catholics, the second a favorite of traditional Catholics—is calculated to appeal to different constituencies. Even sainthood is political, and it is disingenuous to pretend that it is not.

Michael Coogan is the author of The Ten Commandments: A Short History of an Ancient Text, out this month from Yale University Press.


Michael Coogan



The Catholic Church’s Role in World Development

Last week, President Obama and Pope Francis met for almost an hour in a much-anticipated private visit in which they discussed, among other issues, income inequality and global peace. Indeed, in his first year as Pope, Pope Francis has emphasized the necessity to care for the poor, both from the standpoint of the Church and in political terms. This special emphasis on the plight of the poor has touched many, and drawn particular attention to the Church’s role in addressing these needs. In his book Earthly Mission: The Catholic Church and World Development, Robert Calderisi places the role of the Church in global and historical context. This book takes on the Catholic Church’s practical role in developing nations, particularly in the last 60 years. In so doing, Calderisi touches on the relationship between religion and politics, the economy, and social progress.

Earthly MissionIndeed, in looking at both individual people and official institutional practice and dogma, this book obliquely raises the question, “What is the Church?” The tension between the institution and the individual occurs throughout Earthly Mission, in ways one wouldn’t always expect. The institution has often, but not exclusively, played a “conservative” role; in fact, the term “conservative” takes on wider meaning than a distinct place on the political spectrum. There are institutional, national, and economic issues at stake in the meeting between the Catholic Church and international development, not to mention the actions of persons outside the institution.

In addition to keen historical and economic investigation, Calderisi draws from the stories of people he met in fourteen developing nations from Rwanda, to Argentina, to Bangladesh. He speaks to cab drivers in Italy, economists in the Philippines and pastors in Tanzania. This approach gives Earthly Mission the insight that comes from individual experience alongside broader analysis with hard data.

The scope of the Catholic Church’s role in world development is vast and complex, and Earthly Mission includes the range from hopeful moments where poverty has been alleviated and to the most difficult ones. Calderisi examines heartbreaking moments in world history, such as the horrors of the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s. Calderisi speaks to those who were there and grapples with the incomprehensible violence.  “Church leaders did nothing to prevent the butchery,” he explains, “and some even seemed to encourage it.” The heroism of some individuals is set up against failures of courage on the other. Priests, nuns and lay Catholics all participated, some as victims, others as perpetrators.

In the end Earthly Mission provides a dynamic picture of the intersection between religion and politics and the diverse ways that appears in different places on the globe. It is in part a story of the Church’s institution meeting governmental institutions, and the individuals in between. “Diverse and all too human in its internal organization,” Calderisi writes, “the Church has varied greatly in its responses to social challenges. Vagaries of character, pressures of circumstance, and instincts of self-preservation have sometimes won out over the eternal truths to which it is dedicated.” Laying his cards on the table, Calderisi himself does not give up hope for the Catholic Church, yet leaves the story open for readers to draw their own conclusions as to whether the Catholic Church, as a whole, has been a force for good.

The Political Decisions that Keep Guantanamo Bay Open

Listen to the podcast interview for The Terror Courts on iTunesU!

terrorCourtsOn the Yale Press Podcast, in conversation with Yale University Press Director John Donatich, author Jess Bravin revealed: “It was one of the commission’s big advocates, Senator Lindsey Graham, who told me, in effect, that you needed to put the 9/11 defendants on trial by military commission in order to justify the existence of military commissions . . . Justice in this case has been delayed in order to add to the creditability of military commissions by giving them marquee-level defendants to prosecute.”

Jess Bravin’s The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay has won numerous accolades for debunking presumptions like these about Guantanamo Bay and the military commissions. Terror Courts was a 2013 top political book pick by many, including the Washington Post and Publishers Weekly. Rolling Stone called it “captivating,” the New York Times labeled it a “welcome addition to the history of national security legal policy dilemmas in the Bush era.”

With The Terror Courts releasing in paperback this month, we are pleased to share an excerpt from the conversation between YUP Director John Donatich and Bravin. Guantanamo Bay once garnered enough public attention that then presidential candidate Barack Obama made closing the detention camp a campaign promise. John Donatich asks Bravin about the potential for sustained public outcry as the detainees cases drag on in the permanent military commissions:

John Donatich: What do you think now, with the hunger strikes getting more attention, at what point do you think Guantanamo will be an issue that Congress has no choice but to address, and will there be any kind of sustained public outcry against what’s happening?

Jess Bravin: Well there is no public outcry against what’s happening there that I can tell, there are certainly people that have been concerned about it, but it’s not an issue that motivates mass attention in the United States.

I think that if the congress remains as it is now—divided partisan control in the two chambers, and no constituency for addressing Guantanamo, it’s hard to image much happening from Capitol Hill. I think the initiative lies almost completely with President Obama. In his first term he was willing to expend zero political capital towards his campaign promise of closing Guantanamo and significantly altering the way that military trials worked—well, he did alter the way military trails work on paper, I have to say that. He did sponsor legislation that did afford defendants greater protections than they had previously, but in terms of closing the place and just closing the book on this post 9/11 experiment in parallel justice, he hasn’t really done anything to accomplish that after discovering there was some political price to pay for trying back in 2009.

Listen to their complete conversation on the Yale Press Podcast, now available through Yale University on iTunesU.

Jess Bravin

Jess Bravin

Q&A With Author David Sedlak on the Future of Clean Water


With the planet’s clean water sources strained by over-population and pollution, Yale University Press sat down with Water 4.0 author David Sedlak to talk about the future of urban water systems. For more on what we must do to protect our most precious resource, visit


Yale University Press: In Water 4.0, you discuss the four stages of urban water solution’s history. Can you explain them for us?

David Sedlak: Whenever people congregate in big groups they need access to a water supply.  The first revolution in urban water occurred when the Romans created a complex system of dams, aqueducts, underground water pipes and sewers that could provide people with a daily allotment of water that was comparable to what we use today.  When medieval villages started growing into cities during the second half of the nineteenth century, they adopted this approach, creating bigger and better water systems in cities like Paris, London and New York.  The plentiful water supply made it possible to keep the streets free from the muck that had plagued medieval cities.   It also created a new problem by spreading disease to communities that drew their water downstream.  After a few decades of outbreaks of cholera and typhoid fever, desperate engineers created drinking water treatment processes that made it possible to safely consume water from sewage-contaminated rivers.  The spread of this second revolution in urban water technology extended average life spans by almost a decade in the US.  Cities grew without worrying about the effects of water pollution until the environmental impacts of sewage discharged by cities became too obvious to ignore.  Between the 1950s and 1970s, the third revolution in urban water systems resulted in the construction of sewage treatment plants that eliminated the dead fish and noxious odors that had become commonplace downstream of cities.  As discussed in the book, a confluence of factors—including climate change, population growth and underinvestment in upkeep of pipes and treatment plants—is leading to a need to embark on a fourth revolution.


YUP: What were the major benefits that arose from the first three advances in the harnessing and treatment of water? Were there any drawbacks from each? 

DS: The first advance—an imported water supply and the use of water as a means of waste disposal—liberated people from the burden of having to haul and store water as well as the messy job of managing their own wastes.  Unfortunately, the dilution of feces and urine with large quantities of water made it virtually impossible to capture and reuse the nutrients locked up in the wastes.  By discharging sewage above a neighbor’s drinking water supply, the first set of innovations also spread waterborne disease to downstream communities.

The second advance—drinking water treatment—largely solved the problem of waterborne disease in developed countries, an advance that has been recognized by the US National Academy of Engineering as one of the top four most important technological advance of the twentieth century.  The main drawback of the newly created drinking water treatment system was related to a lack of knowledge about the risks to public health posed by the use of lead pipes and chlorine—two problems that many cities are still struggling with today.

Finally, the third advance—widespread construction of sewage treatment plants—helped to achieve the goal of making it possible to swim and fish in our lakes, rivers and estuaries.  Here, the main drawbacks were related to our inability to use the enthusiasm for building sewage treatment plants to create a system that assured that the plants would be maintained in the future.


YUP: So now that we approach the “Water 4.0” stage, where do we go from here? What responses and approaches are on offer?

DS: To get a better idea of what the future holds, we can look to the cities that are on the front lines of the struggle.  In cities where existing water supplies are unable to keep up with demand, we are seeing the traditional approach of water conservation and the development of more imported water sources being taken as far as they can go.  Some of these cities are starting to experiment with new approaches for turning water that hasn’t been seen as being fit for consumption—seawater, sewage, stormwater runoff—into drinking water.  In cities where too much water is posing problems, the tried-and-true engineering approaches of digging bigger underground drainage tunnels are being abandoned in lieu of green roofs, rain gardens and stormwater retention ponds.  The big challenge is to figure out which of the many possible approaches and specific technologies is actually practical, given financial limitations and need to maintain the reliable performance that we demand of our water systems.


YUP: What are some of the technology-based solutions that could be pursued?

DS: As communities struggle to address the inadequacies of their existing systems, a number of new technologies are emerging as candidates for the fourth revolution.  On the water supply side, water reuse and seawater desalination are becoming inexpensive and reliable enough to start replacing imported water supplies.  Newer technologies like urban stormwater capture and closed loop water systems in buildings have the potential to help cities break free of the need for centralized water treatment and distribution, but they are not as well developed.  Also, new technologies that employ the latest developments in information technology, wireless communication and materials science are creating opportunities to conserve water in ways that seemed impossible twenty years ago.  On the wastewater side, new technologies are creating modular sewage treatment plants that could be installed in a basement or in an unobtrusive shed in a neighborhood.  These tiny treatment plants extract the energy and nutrients in sewage and reuse the water for landscaping or non-potable applications within buildings.


David Sedlak. credit Peg Skorpinski

David Sedlak. credit Peg Skorpinski

YUP:  In your book, you note that cities are historically the first to both show manifestations of water pollution problems as well as find solutions. Are there cities around the world that are ahead of the curve with their water treatment and conservation? Are their methods adaptable in the U.S?

DS: Many people consider Singapore to be at the leading edge of new water technologies.  The Singaporeans certainly have made great efforts to advance water recycling, desalination and water conservation, but to me the most amazing thing about Singapore has been their success in capturing and using most of the rain that falls within the city.  If other cities around the world were to adopt Singapore’s practices of urban stormwater capture and use, it would go a long way toward solving many water supply problems.    This could also help cities avoid much of the damage caused by excess stormwater runoff.  Adopting this approach elsewhere is going to take some effort because Singapore receives a lot more rainfall than cities in places like California, Texas and Arizona where water supply concerns are greatest.

Israel is another example where progress is being made, particularly with respect to cost-effective seawater desalination.  Desalination currently accounts for almost 20% of Israel’s urban water supply, and the national plan calls for it to increase to 30% in the near future.  Cost has always been the big impediment to widespread investment in seawater desalination.  The Israelis were able to cut the costs of  this process by adopting a standardized set of designs, employing the latest energy-saving technologies and linking the plants together via the country’s regional water canal.  The development of widely adopted conventions for plant design and permitting as well as sharing the costs and benefits of desalination regionally could offer similar benefits for US cities, but we still have not resolved our concerns about the large amounts of energy consumed by the desalination process.


YUP: Is there any good news in the race to confront the newest wave of urban water challenges? Do we see anything particular from the entrepreneurial or research and development communities that is taking positive shape?  Or are we looking at the likelihood that another crisis will be needed to activate meaningful pursuit of new solutions?

DS: Overall, it’s a good news-bad news situation.  The good news is that the latest technological developments coupled with research and experience gained in the cities that are on the frontline of the challenge are providing us with the tools needed to meet our future urban water needs without compromising on safety and reliability.  The bad news is that our expectations that water services will always be inexpensive is discouraging investments in developing the technologies more quickly or in retooling our water systems before they reach a state of crisis.  Hopefully, by paying attention to the high price of inaction and understanding the technologies that can help to solve our problems, we will be empowered to act before change is forced upon us in a crisis.


YUP:  What can a concerned citizen do? Do you have any advice for them?

DS:  There are a number of things that you can do to support your urban water systems and to pave the way for change.  The easiest and most direct actions involve water conservation. Upgrading to the latest versions of water-saving appliances is a good investment that can substantially reduce water consumption while saving energy.  It is also becoming easier to reduce outdoor water use without compromising aesthetics through the use of modern irrigation controllers that fine-tune watering based upon weather and soil conditions.  You also can choose household products more wisely, with an eye to the fact that all of the chemicals that you use in and around your home have the potential to end up in a nearby river or the drinking water of your downstream neighbors.  Although water conservation and consumer choices are powerful tools, the most important thing that you can do to bring about change is to become more actively involved in the decision-making process.  By bringing knowledge of the stakes and the range of solutions to discussions with elected officials and the people in charge of planning for future investments in your water system, you can assure that the next generation of urban water will be here when it is needed.


YUP:  David, anything else you want to add?

DS:  Concerns about the future of urban water systems are not limited to the dry Southwest.  Increasingly, cities in the southeast, like Atlanta, Tampa and Dallas, are struggling to provide enough water for their cities in dry years.  In the future, concerns about the costs and environmental impacts of imported water coupled with growing water demands is likely to make this issue more relevant to the rest of the country.  Furthermore, water supply problems and the solutions being developed in the United States have important implications for cities facing climate change and population growth in developed and developing countries around the world.

Members of the public are often surprised when they learn about the presence of hormones, drugs and personal care products in their water supply.  As explained in this book, the presence in drinking water of low concentrations of chemicals that were flushed down the toilet should not be a surprise.  The challenge we face is to determine which, if any, of those chemicals could pose a risk to our health or the health of waters where treated sewage is discharged and to design ways to prevent the chemicals from getting there in the first place.

David L. Sedlak is the Malozemoff Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, co-director of the Berkeley Water Center, and deputy director of the National Science Foundation’s engineering research center for Reinventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt). He is a leading authority on water technology. He lives in Berkeley, CA.

Why Does (Striking Down) Net Neutrality Matter to You?

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the Federal Communications Commission cannot prevent Internet service providers from striking deals with content providers to provide preferential access and services to consumers who pay for these benefits. This means that a company like Verizon can negotiate with Netflix, for example, so that higher-paying customers can enjoy faster loading times or simply receive content first. While large Internet service providers are emphasizing their continued goal to maintain an open Internet and preserve net neutrality, Harvard professor Susan Crawford, author of the book Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age believes the court ruling is damaging the net neutrality of the open Internet in favor of a competitive market that does not actually exist.

Captive Audience_Jacket

In a recent op-ed article for Newsday, Crawford points out that a key problem in the case is the fact that Internet service providers are not being treated as telecommunications services, or “common carriers,” like telephone companies—which would require government oversight and regulation—but as private businesses.

Her critique of the court decision adds another layer to the larger issue of current telecommunications policy in the United States. By providing corporate Internet service providers with a monopoly over the American market to the point that the U.S.—despite having been a pioneering force in the Internet revolution—is paying exorbitantly high prices for mediocre internet speeds that are being surpassed by nations around the world who pay less. As an example, Crawford writes:

[I]n Stockholm, a city I had just visited, 100 percent of the businesses and 90 percent of the homes have fiber optics. In New York, where I also live, I pay four times as much as someone in Stockholm does for service that is an 18th as fast.

To read the full op-ed, click here.


The Unbalanced Economic Relationship of the United States and China


What makes the economic relationship between the United States and China so fraught with anxiety, tension, and a surprising dependency on the successes and failures of the other? Particularly throughout the economic highs and lows of the 21st century so far, the question of China’s ascendance, even so far as surpassing the U.S. as the dominant superpower has been raised by journalists, economists, and political commentators alike, spilling over into daily conversation about everyday American lives and jobs. Now, Stephen Roach, senior fellow at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and School of Management and former Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia and Chief Economist of Morgan Stanley has written Unbalanced: The Codependency of America and ChinaIn clear facts and terms, Roach lays bare the pitfalls of the current economic codependency between the U.S. and China and describes new opportunities for improving both economies and their troubled relationship. Read below for an interview with Roach on the present challenges in U.S.-Chinese economic development, the next steps following the Third Plenum of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, and a controversial take on what the United States needs to address in order to continue its prosperity.


Yale University Press: Who has the upper hand in the codependency of America and China?

Stephen Roach: As is the case in human relationships, codependency for economies is not sustainable.  It can lead to imbalances, a loss of identity, and a broad array of tensions and frictions.  As I argue in Unbalanced, there are visible manifestations of all of these characteristics now at work in both America and China.  It’s hard to say who has the upper hand in this relationship.  The United States, with its dominant military power and the world’s largest economy, certainly has a commanding position today.  But a rising China, with a huge reservoir of domestic saving – some 51 percent of its GDP in 2013, or fully three times the 17 percent national saving rate in the U.S. – certainly has the wherewithal to go its own way in the years ahead and break the shackles of its dependence on the United States if it choses to do so.  Saving-short America, still heavily dependent on surplus saving from abroad, has far less latitude in that key regard.


YUP: How has the U.S. and China’s unbalanced relationship created a false sense of prosperity?

SR: Beginning in the late 1990s, the income-strained U.S. economy drew increasing support from the so-called wealth effects of surging asset markets – first from equities, then from residential property and finally from cheap credit.  The problem was that each of these asset-dependent underpinnings ended in bubbles – bubbles that ultimately drew support from Chinese purchases of dollar-denominated assets.  Washington, Wall Street, and Main Street collectively deluded themselves into thinking this asset-dependent growth was a new recipe for economic prosperity.  When the bubbles popped, however, it quickly became apparent that this was a dangerous false prosperity. To the extent that export-led growth in China was dependent on America’s asset and credit bubbles, it, too, went down a path of false prosperity.  When the export underpinnings of China’s external demand collapsed in late 2008 in the depths of the Great Crisis, this, in fact, became painfully evident.


Stephen Roach, credit Tony Rinaldo

Stephen Roach, credit Tony Rinaldo

YUP: Why does the U.S. economy depend on China and how can we regain our independence?

SR: U.S. economic growth has long been led by American consumers.  In 2013, personal consumption expenditures accounted for fully 69 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) – a record for any nation in modern history.  Paradoxically, this consumer-led growth has occurred in a period of unusually sluggish real income growth for most American families.  That’s where China enters the equation – as a source of cheap goods that enables a hard-pressed middle class to buy more with their limited incomes. China has also become a huge source of demand for U.S. government securities; it is now America’s largest foreign lender, currently owning approximately $2 trillion of such assets.  That partially fills the void of a shortfall in U.S. domestic saving and helps prevent U.S. interest rates from rising – thereby providing further support to American economic growth. Regaining our economic independence is simple on paper – boosting our saving capacity and revitalizing the competiveness of our workers and manufacturing industries – but much tougher in practice.


YUP: How has China been able to challenge the U.S.’s global economic leadership?

SR: Thirty years of 10 percent economic growth has now pushed China past Japan as the second largest economy in the world.  It is only a question of when, not if, China will surpass the United States as number one. In Unbalanced, I lay out a scenario that such convergence should come by 2027; there is a distinct possibility that it might occur even sooner than that.  With China having more than four times the population of the United States, these trends are hardly a surprise.  The real measure of prosperity, however, adjusts for population disparities and finds China’s per capita income of $6,600 in 2013, far short of the $51,200 level in the United States.  Under heroic assumptions for sustainable rapid growth and development in China, convergence on a per capita basis is still many decades away.  As that point draws near, only then can we begin to speak of a Chinese challenge to American economic hegemony. 


YUP: Which superpower will rebalance their economy first, the U.S. or China?

SR: By all indications, it will be China.  Seven years ago, China’s former premier, Wen Jiabao, sparked the rebalancing debate by his famous critique of the “Four Uns” – a Chinese economy that he depicted as “unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated, and (ultimately) unstable.”  This led to the enactment of the 12th Five-Year Plan in March 2011, which laid out the broad framework of a consumer-led rebalancing of the Chinese economy.  In retrospect, that plan was more a rhetorical commitment to rebalancing than a detailed blueprint for change.  It was lacking an implementation mechanism.  This has been subsequently addressed in the recently concluded Third Plenum of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party that was held in November 2013, which contained 60 specific reform initiatives and the establishment of a new “leading committee,” headed up by President Xi Jinping, to focus on implementation.  In light of these developments, it is now safe to say that China is firmly on the path of a fundamental economic rebalancing.  The United States, by contrast, seems intent on resurrecting the timeworn model of consumer-led growth – relying on quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve to boost consumer demand through the wealth effects arising from surging asset markets and seemingly unwilling, or unable, to boost its long-term saving potential as a source of future economic growth.


YUP:  Is the American Century over? Is the Chinese Century next?

SR: History underscores the ebb and flow of global economic leadership.  China was the dominant economy in the world through the mid-19th century.  Then it was Europe and now the United States.  The fickle fate of economic power is very hard to predict with any certainty.  Mindless extrapolation would argue for the ascendancy of China and the end of America as the world’s dominant economy.  But so much could happen along the way to render simple extrapolations far off the mark – either in China, the United States, or in both of these codependent economies.  China has been on an extraordinary course for thirty years.  But, if it doesn’t make meaningful progress on the road to rebalancing, or if it gets tangled up in geopolitical security tensions with its Asian neighbors, it could fall into the dreaded “middle-income trap” that has ensnared most developing economies since the end of World War II.  Similarly, America is living on borrowed time – literally and figuratively.  If it doesn’t focus on its long-term saving agenda, it will lack the wherewithal to invest in its people and productive capacity, undermining its longer-term growth potential and squandering its seemingly invincible role as the global hegemon.


YUP: Going forward, what does the U.S. need in order to prosper in this relationship?

SR: First and foremost, the U.S. body politic needs to take a long and hard look in the mirror and accept responsibility for America’s homegrown economic problems such as inadequate saving, bubble-prone monetary and regulatory policies, and a loss of competitiveness.  In doing so, it must stop pinning the blame on others, especially China.  Yes, America has a large bilateral trade deficit with China that many believe is putting pressure on jobs and real wages of American workers.  China’s alleged currency manipulation only compounds its blame, goes this view.  But the so-called China problem is only part of a much broader multilateral problem as underscored by U.S. trade deficits with 102 nations in 2012.  The cause of this multilateral imbalance again goes back to America’s chronic saving shortfall and the need for the U.S. to run a large current-account and multilateral trade deficit in order to attract the foreign capital that it needs to fill its saving void.  As I stress in Unbalanced, there is no bilateral fix for America’s multilateral problem.  In other words, China bashing is not the answer to that which ails American workers.  At the same time, Washington’s trade negotiators have every reason to demand fair and equal treatment from China under international trade conventions – especially on grounds of market access in light of the limited penetration of China’s domestic markets by U.S. manufacturers and services providers.  As China shifts to more of a consumer led model, the market access issue will become increasingly critical for China’s major trading partners, such as the United States. China is America’s third largest and most rapidly growing export market.  Shame on us if we squander the opportunity to convert Chinese rebalancing into a new source of growth for a growth-starved U.S. economy.

Stephen Roach is senior fellow, Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and School of Management, Yale University. Prior to that he was Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, and for the bulk of his career on Wall Street was Chief Economist of Morgan Stanley. Prior to joining Morgan Stanley in 1982, Mr. Roach served on the research staff of the Federal Reserve Board and was also a research fellow at the Brookings Institution. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from New York University. Roach has written extensively for the international media and appears regularly on television around the world. Unbalanced: The Codependency of America and China is available now from booksellers.

The Climate Casino: Applying Economic Reasoning to the Problem of Global Warming

nordhaus_jkt.indd“Global warming,” William Nordhaus declares, “is one of the defining issues of our time. It ranks along with violent conflicts and economic depressions as a force that will shape the human and natural landscapes for the indefinite future.” In his new book, The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World, Nordhaus first outlines the costs that climate change poses to the world, then presents a series of solutions that could alleviate the problem. The title of the book alludes to the uncertainty inherent in predicting future changes, as Nordhaus explains in his introduction:

[E]conomic growth is producing unintended but perilous changes in the climate and earth systems. These changes will lead to unforeseeable and probably dangerous consequences. We are rolling the climatic dice, the outcome will produce surprises, and some of them are likely to be perilous. But we have just entered the Climate Casino, and there is time to turn around and walk back out. This book describes the science, economics, and politics involved—and the steps necessary to undo what we are doing.

As one of the pioneers in the economics of climate change, Nordhaus has studied and written extensively about global warming for the past forty years. He is Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale University, member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Through the careful application of economic reasoning and statistical analysis, he has led the way in researching the economic costs of climate change.

His DICE (Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy) model is arguably the best known and most influential economic model of optimal climate policy. Outlined in a previous book published by Yale University Press, A Question of Balance, DICE combines projections of climate change with projections of economic growth, then computes how they might affect each other—thereby helping to determine the most efficient path for combating climate change. The Climate Casino is a continuation of that effort to understand global warming through the lens of economics. As described in a recent New York Times review, the book is a “one-stop source on global warming, seen through the prism of a brilliant economist.”


Professor William Nordhaus

In The Climate Casino, Nordhaus makes clear his position that global warming is a real and serious threat, and that it is the result of human activity. By presenting the evidence from climate science, he proves that our burning of fossil fuels has increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, thus raising temperatures and sea levels, as well as intensifying natural disasters like hurricanes. Oceans will also become more acidic, affecting sealife adversely. When the temperature rise passes 2°C, economic costs will start piling up. Nordhaus then introduces key actions that the global community can take to mitigate these costs, most significantly a carbon tax. The best way to control pollution is to put a price on emissions, so that firms and individuals have an incentive to cut back.

As a well-respected economist whose work has the power to shape economic decisions and environmental responses on a global scale, Nordhaus is committed to elucidating the harrowing problem of climate change with rational, well-evidenced analysis. Amidst the heated debates in the vexed field of global warming economics, The Climate Casino puts forth a cool-headed blueprint for a better future.

A Little Fish Offers a Perceptive Window on the World

snaildarterZygmunt J. B. Plater—

It has been called The Most Extreme Environmental Case Ever, the two-inch long “snail darter” endangered fish “mis-used” by radical environmentalists to block completion of “a huge hydroelectric dam” in Tennessee. The snail darter is still today referenced as an example of extreme leftist environmentalism barring important social progress. This past summer, Tea Party Rep. Louis Gohmert used the snail darter to disparage a civil rights bill amendment that he perceived to be designed protect environmental interests; Fox’s Sean Hannity referred to the darter’s defenders as “fringe lunatics.” [Fox News, Hannity's America, 9:00 PM EST, December 7, 2008]

In the six years my students and I spent fighting the case, however, the story came across in a very different light. My recently published record of the experience, The Snail Darter and the Dam, reveals that the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Tellico Dam, the last of 69 dams in the region, was relatively small with no electric generators, a “pork” project justified by the TVA as a recreational lake surrounded by 40 square miles of private farmlands condemned for resale by the Boeing Corporation.

Hardly rabid environmentalists, the dam project’s opponents were mainly displaced farmers and fishermen who brought the little fish into the Tellico case as their only means to slow down the project and draw attention to its economic flaws, to protect their land and save the river. The snail darter, extinguished throughout the rest of the river system dams, survived in the Little Tennessee River as a vivid indicator of human, as well as ecological, resources at risk—a “canary in the coal mine.”


The little fish from Tennessee offers the reader a small window onto a very much wider national landscape, as my students and I doggedly carry our quixotic case through scientific scrutiny and all the corridors of power in American governance—the media, multiple federal agencies, two White Houses, three Congresses, courtrooms up through a dramatic success in the U.S. Supreme Court, and finally unanimous economic vindication in the God Committee, the first-ever governmental inquisition with the power of extinction. We did everything right, creating a dramatic demonstration how Good Ecology Is Good Economics. That we ultimately lost in a late-night congressional pork over-ride of their successful legal and economic verdicts provides a final piquant and perceptive twist for our understanding of current troublesome patterns of government.

The Snail Darter and the Dam is an instructive civic saga with enough political twists and turns to intrigue and infuriate just about anyone.

It’s much more than a little fish.

Zygmunt J. B.  Plater is professor of law and director of the Land & Environmental Law Program at Boston College Law School. He chaired the State of Alaska Oil Spill Commission’s Legal Research Task Force, is lead author of an environmental law casebook, and has participated in numerous citizen environmental initiatives. He lives in Newton Highlands, MA.

Is America Still a Democracy?

Stein Ringen, author of the recently published Nation of Devils: Democratic Leadership and the Problem of Obedience, writes here on the current state of American democracy in light of the recent shutdown, financial concerns driving policy, and the possible erosion of the government into “soft despotism.” His book addresses one of the primary concerns of democratic government: how to ensure the obedience of the populace in order to govern by authority rather than power.


Stein Ringen, photo credit: Tiril Simengård Falklev

Stein Ringen, photo credit: Tiril Simengård Falklev

Stein Ringen—

The standard verdict over American politics is now “dysfunctional.” But the health of the system is even worse than it looks. The democratic response to political failure is to throw out the rascals. But the problems now stick deeper. They are systemic. The visible mess in Washington is symptom, not cause.

Politics is fought in two arenas. Onstage, the parties, the voters, the administration, Congress and the Supreme Court jostle over lawmaking, budgets and taxes.

Backstage, interest groups compete over ideas and to tilt public policy in favor of their particular causes. This double act is normal and the way a democracy is supposed to work.

In America, however, over the last two or three decades, there have been two tectonic shifts in power relations. First, the backstage arena has overpowered the onstage arena. Laws and budgets are obviously still decided onstage, but more than previously, much more, it is now laid down backstage what can be decided and who the decision-makers are to be. This has happened through a massive investment of money into backstage institutions: PACs, movements, think tanks and media, PR and lobbying organizations.

Second, monied interests have monopolized backstage politics. Previously, there was a balance between capital, relying on economic power, and labor, working through organizational power. Now, while organized labor has declined capital has added organizational power to its already formidable economic power.

In stead of checks-and-balances, there is gridlock and the country does not get the governing it needs. This shift has been rapid and radical and the resulting predicament is NEW.

The mechanism by which a bloated backstage arena has overpowered onstage governance, is that which the economist Arthur Okun called the “transgression” of money into the domain of politics. In the age of mega expensive politics, candidates are dependent on economic sponsors to fund permanent campaigns. This gives the providers of money the power to decide who the successful candidates will be – those they wish to fund – and what they can decide once they are in office – that which is acceptable to potential funders. Occasionally, a backstage operator will let his guard down and tell it as it is. Said Christopher Dodd when he had just become President of the Motion Picture Association of America: “Those who count on Hollywood for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who’s going to stand up for it.”

American democracy has been constituted for interests to be checked against each other. That was the equality the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville saw when he observed the American system in the 1830s and for which he lauded it as a model for other countries. But already Tocqueville warned of a danger that America might regress towards “soft despotism:” that democratic reality erodes although democratic formality is preserved.

This is what Arthur Okun alerted was happening (in a book called Equality and Efficiency, published in 1975). When money is allowed to transgress from markets, where it belongs, to politics, where it has no business operating, those who control it gain power. Candidates have to satisfy not only voters for their votes but also givers for their money. The serious givers, i.e. the rich, get two goes at influencing politics, one as voters and one as givers. Others have only the vote, a power that diminishes as political inflation deflates its value. It is a misunderstanding to think that candidates chase money. It is money that chases candidates.

In recent political writing there has been an avalanche of critical analyses of the American system. Many critics are edging beyond warning that democratic reality might erode to concluding that it has happened. The doyen of democracy scholarship, Robert H. Dahl, the most measured of critics and the most persistent defender of American democracy, in his most recent book (On Political Equality, 2006), moves near to the edge: “Because of a decline in the direct influence of citizens over crucial government decisions, and also in the influence of their elected representatives, political inequality might reach levels at which the American political system dropped well below the threshold for democracy broadly accepted at the opening of the twenty-first century.”

How far the decline has gone is open to dispute, but the need for repair is no longer in question. A first step is to understand the nature of disrepair. It’s not about party politics. Unless the need to restore workability is confronted, the system will be dysfunctional going into the next elections and it will be dysfunctional coming out of them.

American citizens are more cynical than ever about their politicians, but that cynicism is misplaced. They should direct their justified anger against systemic dysfunctions. Political writers are more radical than ever in diagnosis, but reticent in following through to prescription. They need to move beyond complaining and get their question right: How can power be restored to where it should be, to the onstage arena?

It is historically tragic that the question, “Is America still a democracy?” is no longer rhetorical. In the absence of people power, decent representatives will continue to be deflected away from the Constitution’s intention of cooperation for, in George Washington’s words in his first inaugural, the discernment and pursuit of the public good.

Stein Ringen is emeritus professor at Oxford University and the author of Nation of Devils: Democratic Leadership and the Problem of Obedience.

The Mayoral Impact: First the Cities, then the World

If Mayors Ruled the WorldBoston and New York are entering new eras in their respective histories. Boston’s Mayor Tom Menino is ending his 20-year period in office while Michael Bloomberg is stepping down after serving the city of New York for 12 years. More than ever before, mayoral elections are being closely watched by citizens across the country and around the world. Bill de Blasio’s victory as Bloomberg’s successor made headlines in newspapers across Europe and Latin America as well as the U.S.

But why do non-Americans care about the mayoral elections in New York and other American cities? Because the role of mayor has expanded from city caretaker to global pioneer of change and action. Benjamin R.  Barber, author of If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities, argues that the conversation on effective governance is evolving. The world is suffering from a global democratic crisis; nation-states are failing us. So rather than focus on international relations, cities need to foster intercity relations, to work from the ground up and eventually join forces with other cities to make change possible.

Learn more about Barber’s book and his views on the future of global governance by watching the video below, and read our blog interview with the author, including his 2013 TED Talk.