Category Archives: International Relations

Grey&Human[Pt.1]

I’m reading the magisterial reporting that is ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror (2015) by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan and one sentence – on page 195 – stopped me in my tracks:

Two churches that had been burned or confiscated by ISIS were also “liberated” by al-Nusra, which declared its intent to restore them for Christian use.

These twenty or so words encapsulate the difficulties, complexities, and humanity (and inhumanity) of Al-Sham and the greater Middle East. I encourage everyone to read this book; I particularly encourage those who know very little about the history and realities on the ground here because their eyes will be opened and hopefully have the effect of disabusing them of any simple notions of the players on the ground; the motives of the actors, and what have you.

So much grey.
Very little white.
A dark shade of black.

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US-Pakistan: Magnificent Delusions, Part 3

Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, The United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding
by Husain Haggani. PublicAffairs. 413 pp.

Part 1 covered the years 1947-1951. Part 2 covered 1951-1959. Part 3, below, covers 1960-1969.

JFK vs Ahub
Enter: John F. Kennedy, the telegenic Democratic senator from Massachusetts who won the 1960 presidential election over the incumbent Vice President Richard Nixon (For new students of U.S. history, don’t worry, Mr. “I Am Not a Crook” Nixon will get his chance later…) by way of the Electoral College. John F. Kennedy, and his Vice President Lyndon Johnson, continued Eisenhower’s tactic of basically supporting both India and Pakistan. Ayub, now the Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan used this for domestic propaganda and conspiracy-drivel. The Kennedy administration invited Ayub to Johnson’s personal ranch in Texas and Ayub left “with assurances of continued military and economic assistance.” Concrete successes happened during this administration: the Indus Water Treaty, from 1960, “enabled Pakistan and India to share the six rivers flowing into Pakistan from the north, with the World Bank providing funding for Pakistan to build dams and storage capacity.” Similar to the grain shipment, the Kennedy Administration continued to pour in hundreds of millions of dollars to Pakistan; while simultaneously questioning the relationship similar to Eisenhower.

October 1962
China and India went to war in 1962, mostly over disputed Himalayan territory; It ended with China gaining control over the territory. During this war, the U.S. supplied India with arms – this angered Ayub, who – of course – used this as domestic fuel. However, Ayub understood – privately – that Pakistan didn’t have that much leverage but Kennedy “did keep his promise to Ayub to try to address the Kashmir dispute” between India and Pakistan. Mediated talks between India and Pakistan went nowhere and the Kashmir Problem remained.

November 22, 1963
U.S. President JFK was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald and interim president Lyndon Johnson, focused on domestic issues, “attempted to offer reassurance” to Pakistan that not much would change regarding their relationship. Haqqani adroitly describes Ayub’s three-prong strategy. First, Ayub would continue to complain about U.S. aid to India – while still asking for military assistance himself. Second, Ayub would further ties with Communist China. Finally, Ayub was not scared of using force regarding Kashmir. Why did Ayub think he had leverage? The Badaber Intelligence base set up by the CIA-U.S. Air Force Security Service to intercept radio signals coming from the Soviet Union. Ayub was getting more aggressive. The Prime Minister of India, Nehru, died in 1964 and this allowed for Ayub to engage militarily for the Kashmir region. Ayub insisted the the U.S. must support them in this battle. “From the US point of view there was no commitment to assist Pakistan in war it had initiated,” remarks the author.

Much happened in the next 6 years; one thread-line through all of this so far is continued military assistance from the US to Pakistan in exchange for vague anti-communist promises from Pakistan and – privately – the US reconsidering this relationship while simultaneously changing no behavior. On the Pakistan side, Ayub in the spring of 1969 resigned and counter to their constitution, implemented martial law. Neither country was fully satisfied and the status-quo became entrenched and full of more risks and possible flashpoints. Including: India. US and India were allies and Pakistan promised to not go to war against India with American-supplied arms; Pakistan did not listen. In 1965, Pakistan and India went to war over Kashmir and Jammu. In the end no territory changed hands and in a normal world, this would have really challenged the US-Pakistan relationship. In our real geopolitical realist world, all parties involved put blinders over their eyes and kept moving forward with their self-selected bad hands of cards.

So what became of that listening base? The lease expired and it was not renewed because, per Pakistan, this base did not benefit them and strained their relationship with China. The Pakistani public was not aware of this base; yet they were told about the ending of the lease. This dynamic is seen throughout this relationship.

The next decade is the Nixon/Kissinger decade, on the US side; on the Pakistan side saw the rise of Amin, and Bhutto. We see more war; genocide; and a military coup.

Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World

Book review: Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World (2015) by the president of Eurasia Groups Ian Bremmer (PhD; Stanford)

I find NYU political scientist and Time magazine editor-at-large Ian Bremmer fascinating. He is able to hold a conversation about modern affairs in a way that is authoritative yet casual and analytically brilliant and intellectually challenging. His latest book, his ninth, is his first book completely focusing on the foreign policy strategy of the U.S. I also vehemently (often, but not always) disagree with a lot of what he says; I am drawn to thinkers who challenge, provoke, and simply, to those who I disagree with. I believe this is how we grow as a thinker and is how we understand other perspectives.

Up front, he presents an interesting argument that Russia is not really a serious threat to the U.S. but that the U.S.-EU relationship could become tense due to Europe needing Russian financial customers, energy, and defense contracts. A provocative claim and one backed up with empirical data. The U.S. trades with Switzerland and Belgium, for example, more than with Russia (U.S. Census). Bremmer is worried about China who sometime during the next decade will become the largest economy but will still be “poor, potentially unstable, and authoritarian.” Whether we are talking about Russia aggression; or Chinas’ rise; or global warming (which Bremmer does not cover really at all, to my dismay); or the threat of terrorism; possible disease epidemics; or the refugee crises, America needs to choose a coherent strategy. Bremmer argues there are 3 potential choices.

Incoherent America (1990-2015)
Bremmer’s main argument is that post-Cold War through to this year, America has not had a coherent foreign policy strategy and the sole remaining superpower made mostly bumbling mistakes built on ignorance, hubris, and blurry vision and spotty goals like the Somalian intervention (Clinton); expanding NATO (Clinton/Bush 43); and the War on Terror + Bush tax cuts (Bush43/Obama). On Obama, Breemer argues that in his first term, he had a more coherent strategy but that quickly dissolved and “President Obama refused to commit to any foreign policy framework to help him make difficult decisions.” This brings us to 2015, the 2016 presidential campaigns, and the future. We need a strategy, not just tactical ideas but a coherent strategy to guide the country and to signal to the world our strengths and values. Bremmer often meets with foreign ministers from allies and enemies alike and they all say: we don’t know what America stands for. This is a problem.

Option #1: Independent America
Here Bremmer delineates the disaster that has been the rise of the military-industrial complex and the costs, human and fiscal, of American acting as the one true superpower. The author cites a 2013 Harvard study showing that when all is said and done, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will cost our country nearly $7 trillion. Americans in hundreds of polls have shown our disapproval of national building, war, “free trade” deals like NAFTA, and so on and so on. Americans are fatigued and understand that we need to nation-build here at home. Independent here refers to the fact that American citizens want America to make decisions that prioritize our interests; not our allies or our neighbors even. We need to go our separate ways and to worry about our needs such as infrastructure, education, and caring for our veterans now they are back home from a decade of war. This strategy is bolstered by being supported by the American public in poll-after-poll-after-poll.

This brings us to Bremmers’ – or Americas’ rather – second option.

Option #2: Moneyball America
Moneyball Americans view Independent America as isolationists. This view of America sees that we “must lead coalitions of the willing,” and “U.S. foreign policy must promote and protect global growth, both by minimizing the risk of war and by giving as many countries as possible a stake in stability through commerce and investment.” Moneyballers, based on the Oakland A’s famous baseball approach, “rel[y] on a cold-blooded, interest-driven approach to maximize the return on the taxpayer’s investment.” Value over values. We need to “maximize returns on minimal investment.” This is a business-minded approach. We should view foreign policy like businesses view venture projects. Regarding the three leading Middle East powers, Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia, we should – in my loose summation – play all three cards. Or: American should use its hand to balance powers. Don’t get caught up in too many nets; have an exit strategy.

Option #3 Indispensable America
This final option is probably the option that most Americans are familiar with. America must lead. America is the shining light on the hill. America is the best-est most brightest country in the world. I’m being a little breezy here. On a serious note: this option is realistic. In Bremmers’ words through the glasses of a proponent: “Americans can only be more secure in a world where democracy, rule of law, access to information, freedom of speech, and human rights are universally recognized and protected, because these values create lasting strength, resilience, security, and wealth in the societies that establish and protect them.” Basically someone must lead and that someone has to be the U.S., according to this viewpoint. Regarding debt and money: “The United States can pay its debts by simply printing more money.” This is probably the sentence I agree with the most in the entire book, but that’s for a different time perhaps. In summation, this strategy is the most historically and realistically coherent, in my opinion.

What strategy should we choose?
In the beginning of the book, Ian produces a 10-question quiz and he asks the reader to take it. After each chapter/strategy-option, he reprints the quiz with highlighted answers based on the arguments of each option. According to the questions (an ex: U.S. spy capabilities: a) will always be a double-edged sword. b. Threaten our privacy. c. Are vital for protecting America. I chose a, by the way which is in alignment with Independent America, for example.) I have a mumbled complicated and overlapping (read: non-strategy strategy) answer. 10% of me is an Independent America; 50% of the time I agree with Moneyball America; 30% of the time I align with the Indispensables.

This is interesting because while reading the book, I mostly agreed with Independent America as the most wise choice of the three; followed closely by the Indispensable chapter. In reality, the way Moneyball was presented, I do sort of think about problems in my life and in politics in this way. So what did the author choose? Professor Bremmer actually chose Independent America as the wisest choice; he does so reluctantly mind you.

This book is a fantastic primer and summary of the world that awaits us. As someone who is graduating with a B.A. in political science in just a few months, I knew all of the facts presented here; I know the arguments, history, and context and therefore, I could have used a more complex book. I definitely think climate change is the existential issue of our lives; thus I always want climate change discussed more. Always. However, I am not casting aspersions. This book is great for all Americans to read. Whether you think nation-states are inherently bad and you are an anarchist or whether or not you are a international institutionalist who thinks nation-states should yield to a world government, Superpower is written as the world is, not as any of us want it to be. America will be the world’s most powerful country, in many ways, for the foreseeable future. I recommend this book to political science students; government and business leaders; and all other engaged and responsible citizens across the country.

US-Pakistan: Magnificent Delusions: Part 1

Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, The United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding
by Husain Haggani. PublicAffairs. 413 pp.
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Learning about geopolitics, international affairs, and U.S. – and other countries – foreign policy has had a dramatic impact on how I think about politics; policy; propaganda; history; human beings; democracy; war; and so forth. The Pakistani-U.S relationship is one that I am drawn to particularly. It also has been one of the prime examples of what I just described because this relationship reveals so much. Learning about Pakistan-U.S. relations has colored how I think about 21st century life; and not just in strictly the political realm.

Former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, released Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding in 2013. There is a quote from Aesop’s Fables that begins the book that is worth reprinting here too because it distills this dynamic in a colorful way:

A doubtful friend is worse than a certain enemy. Let a man be one thing or the other, and we then know how to meet him. Aesop, Aesop’s Fables.

As with many U.S. contemporary relationships, the US-Pakistan relationship is one that developed during the Cold War; oh yes, the time period of the Bay of Pigs; Iran-Contra; the Cuban Missile Crisis; the failed coup in Chile, then the successful coup in Chile in 1973, for example. Another common theme: “The United States initially poured money and arms into Pakistan in the hope of building a major fighting force that could assist in defending Asia against communism,” writes Haqqani. Pakistan has also assisted the U.S. in its “war against terrorism” since 2001; albeit in a “half-hearted” way. The author, and former political prisoner of the Sharif government (1997-1999), writes that “radical Islam, Pakistan’s military, and US-Pakistan relations” have thoroughly transformed Pakistan’s trajectory. US-Pakistan are allies but “not friends” and he says both countries have divergent and separate interests. Also: This relationship “is a tale of exaggerated expectations, broken promises, and disastrous misunderstandings.”

The Nation-State of Pakistan is Only 70 Years Old: From 1947-onward
I intend to focus on the 21st century in my studies but Haqqani provides interesting details about the creation – a partition of British India into a Hindu state and a Muslim state – and evolution of the state of Pakistan. After the Indian partition of 1947, the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent were divided into thirds with one-third remaining in India; another third becoming Pakistan; and the last third which would eventually live in what is now Bangladesh, created in 1971. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, “expect[ed]” that the US would “build its economy and military in return for Pakistan mobilizing Muslim nations against the Soviet Union.” After WWII, American officials supported Indian independence from Britain but thought that dividing the subcontinent more by separating the Muslims and Hindus “opened the doors for perennial conflict.” American had no appetite for “conjuring a new Asian country based on religion,” observed historian Stanley Wolpert, writes Haqqani. Jinnah was persistent and he didn’t trust that 100 million Muslims would be adequately protected in India. “The original demand was for multiple independent state of Muslim-majority provinces of India,” reveals Haqqani.

Although Jinnah envisioned  a separate state for Muslims in South East Asia, including in his vision was a secular state: “In course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, in the political sense as citizens of the State,” he said in a speech. However, after Jinnah’s death in September 1948 from tuberculosis, in a reprint of this speech “the government republished [it] but excised” the aforementioned part of his secular state dreams. The Muslim populace now had dreams of their own for this state, for this state to be an Islamic one.

Partition was rough. Unlike what became India, Pakistan had no institutional infrastructure and “virtually no industry.” Pakistan received 30% of British India’s army, 40% of its navy, and 20% of its air force. Borders were not drawn in a way that Pakistan found fair. This led to war and conflict; conflict that – to this day – has been basically permanent. This also led to the orientation of the military as the dominant political player in Pakistan. A superpower ally was needed. Who would come to the rescue? Jinnah believed it would be England but he also had admiration for the United States.

Two Remain
Post-WWII saw two super powers emerge: the Soviet Union and the United States of America. Washington did not want to alienate India and they also were occupied with reconstruction and containing Soviet expansion. Jinnah made statements that made it clear he preferred U.S. aid and allyship; he had unkind words for communism and went on a charm offensive, sending envoys to the U.S. Pakistan sought a $2 billion loan for refugee help; the U.S. ended only providing 0.5% percent of that. Moreover, Pakistan also had a huge list of military needs. President Harry Truman was not taking the bait and an informal arms embargo, to both India and Pakistan, was enacted.

Internal Divide
Liberals in Pakistan wanted to shrink the military and hoped for industrial and technical help from Eastern Europe; leftists in Pakistan were skeptical of relying too much on the U.S. as it could “lead to ‘economic subjugation’ and ‘political tutelage to America’.” Government elites in Pakistan petitioned America for help in every imaginable way. There was even a campaign of fear, in a sense, designed to push Washington in the Pakistani direction. Therefore, U.S. diplomats were eager to listen. Fears of anti-Americanism due to its perceived support of Israel and of a “single remark in a news report” interpreted as American misunderstanding of what Pakistan was trying to create has precipitated “many US clarifications, explanations, and apologies,” that are continuing to this day. America early on was worried about increased fanaticism following the death of the founder. Succinctly put by Haqqni: “Pakistani public opinion was being shaped against the United States long before US foreign policy provided Pakistanis a reason for anti-Americanism.” The US felt, and it seemed to be true, more or less, that Pakistani elites leaned toward “the West” while leftists and populist movements “still considered western nations imperialistic.”

Quid pro Quo
Pakistan insisted to the Americans that they would seek the help of the Russians. One problem: the Soviet Union wasn’t all that interested. However, eventually through an Iranian mediator, Pakistan and the Soviet Union established diplomatic relations. The US was also playing with different decks of cards. Publically, US officials made it clear that Pakistan was important. Simultaneously, a State Department memo to the White House argued that, perhaps, the most valuable asset of Pakistan is one of a parking lot for US aircraft. The memo warned to keep this on the down low “since it negates our oft-expressed interest in helping the region for economic reasons.” Remember: this was the beginnings of the Cold War where any- and everything goes.

New Delhi and Karachi met – a year apart – for meetings with US leaders. Pakistani media painted Liaquat’s, who would be the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, visit in nationalistic ways; Liaquat was there for business and fighting for arms, for ex., to bolster Pakistani integrity and security. The media painted him as an emerging nationalistic hero. Locals didn’t know that Liaquat drinked liked Westernerss – drinking alcohol is forbidden in Islam. I learened from reading this excellent book that Liaquat promised to have no military at all if they could rely on American protection. This is huge. Secretary of State Dean Acheson was not about to make that promise. The Korean War was beginning and Pakistan promised support if, again, America would make a “unlimited” promise to them. America could not do this and insisted that they didn’t need Pakistani help. Besides, the U.S. argued, Pakistan should help under the responsibility of the UN Charter anyways. In the end, the U.S. did have the upper hand here and was not going to alienate India or Afghanistan. The Truman Adiminstration said that Washington was not “pro-Indian, pro-Israel nor anti-Muslim.” This is realpolitik, folks.

In the end of this beginning era of geopolitics that we now understand as the Cold War, the US State Department was finding India difficult to work with. Moreover, in 1951 Liaquat was assassinated by a local who found him un-Islamic. Liaquat was seen as the successor of Jinnah. Now: the future of Pakistan was in the air; with no charismatic leader emerging, things were about to get even messier.

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This was a review/summary of the beginnings of the historic creation of Pakistan and the partition of the Indian-Pakistani subcontinent parts of Magnificent Delusions. The years discussed were 1947-1951. Part 2 is now published. *If you see any mistakes, typos, plagiarism, etc., let me know. I’m writing this simply for self-understanding.*

Thoughts on Foreign Affairs July/Aug 2015 issue: Hi, Robot

Foreign Affairs has become one of my favorite publications, in general, and regarding U.S. international relations and comparative politics, in particular. What follows are some of my thoughts regarding their latest feature which is on robots and technology and their implications regarding well…..everything. More accurately this issue is about the coming – or is it? – Robotic Revolution, a.k.a the Age of Automation.


MIT professor Daniela Rus, in the lead essay titled ” The Robots Are Coming,” surveys driverless cars, and more-or-less paints an optimistic view of the future, at least regarding technology. Her main big claim: The objective of robotics is to find ways for machines to assist and collaborate with humans more effectively. A new term, for me, that was used was “pervasive robotics” which describes a time when robots will be so common and seamless in our lives that we won’t even think of them as robots. This harken backs to Carl Sagan’s notion from A Demon Haunted World that the reason we don’t understand science is because when it works, you don’t have to think about all of the details. We are living in a time that, for me, seems to be on the cusp of this pervasiveness when it comes to robots. I appreciate her optimism for autonomous cars: “Imagine a mass transit system with two layers: a network of large vehicles, such as trains and buses, that would handle long-distance trips and complementary fleets of small self-driving cars that would offer short, customized rides, picking up passengers at major hubs and also responding to individual requests for rides from almost anywhere“, she writes.

I did have a negative feeling after reading about robot dog walkers; this feels dystopian. Especially now since so many Americans are feeling lost and alienated and dogs and loved ones provide all of us with so much joy. Walking a dog shouldn’t feel like a chore and shouldn’t be equated with cleaning a room or something. Do I want robots to clean my room? I don’t care. Do I want robots to walk my dog? Not a chance. Professor Rus does admit that this pervasiveness is years, if not a couple of decades, away. She is also correct that “consequences will be profound” when robots are seen as so commonplace that we won’t remember getting around or cleaning, for ex., without them. A great introductory essay. Robots should be designed to enhance our lives. On the surface: who could argue with that?


The next essay is titled in question-form: “Will Humans Go the Way of Horses?” by two other MIT professors, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. “No,” humans won’t they answer. This essay is asks profound political and social questions regarding the “possible mass displacement of labor.” There used to be a domesticated horse population of 21 million prior to ubiquitous engines. We used horses to “carry goods and people.” The inserted photo of a horse-drawn fire engine from 1914 will stick with me. This blew my mind. This essay is basically a rift and rebuttal to the Nobel economist Wassily Leontief who remarked that “the role of humans as the most important factor of production is bound to diminish in the same way that the role of horses…. was first diminished and then eliminated.” This brings us to another useful term: light-labor economy. An forthcoming economy that doesn’t need all that much labor from humans. Sounds utopian and dystopian to me. Also: robot dividend – a “more widespread ownership of robots and similar technologies, or at least a portion of the financial benefits they generated.” Now I really like this idea.

So why do these authors assert that humans won’t go the way of horses? Well, because humans won’t go quietly, for one. Horses couldn’t organize to fight for their jobs; horses can’t vote. People are not “meek” and won’t take irrelevance sitting down. Democracy is why. Also, technology is not ready yet; they write that “humans can do many valuable things that will remain beyond the reach of technology.” Their examples? Restaurant busboys and a child sorting a bowlful of coins. Really? Busboys are already paid by their fellow co-workers in many states supplemented by minimum wage from their employer. (I work in a restaurant and busboys are not happy at all.) Also: in a truly robotic future world do you think that we will have coins to sort? How much does this happen now? These examples are weak. They do argue that its our minds that are great. This is true but great minds doesn’t produce shrinking inequality – as we now know. They are on to a good point when they mention that we value social experiences which can’t be replaced by robots. One more reason humans won’t go the way of the horse regarding labor: capital. Or capitalism. Humans own shares and capital and can invest; horses couldn’t do this. Ignore the current realities regarding capital and wealth and inequality.

They are not flippant though, I hope I’m not coming across as otherwise. They warn that “the world may not be able to maintain the industrial era’s remarkable trajectory of steadily rising employment prospects and wages for a growing population.” Piketty was referenced and so was a Credit Suisse 2014 study that suggests that “the richest one percent held 48% of the world’s total wealth.” This is a crisis. My question is: how worse can robots make this already dire situation?

They emphasize goals. And values. This is what we should emphasize. But – like the aforementioned time I brought this up – this is of course what we should do. This essay had good history, a compelling take, and interesting points. However, their solution they articulate is that “the best way to help workers in today’s climate is to equip them with valuable skills and to encourage overall economic growth.” Really? Duh. What? No, seriously. We know this already.  I enjoyed this essay a lot though.


Same as It Ever Was,” by Martin Wolf is the third essay. Wolf is the Chief Economics Commentator for the Financial Times. Wolf compares the techno-optimists to the pessimistic possibility of “supremely intelligent and even self-creating” machines. He refers to economist Robert Gordon and his work regarding productivity growth. “Who really cares about the Internet when one considers clean water and flushing toilets?,” he writes. Yes, this is a response in some ways to the prior essay; Wolf even references Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee and their latest book, The Second Machine Age.

I didn’t read this essay before typing my thoughts about the previous essay. I should have: this guy has my same concerns and same attitude. “All of this has repeatedly been true since the nineteenth century.” Yep. “An ancient Roman would have understood the way of life of the United States of 1840 fairly well. He would have found that of 1940 beyond his imagination.” I love when I have this feeling. It’s so amazing to be anything at all, you know?

Wolf’s brief synopsis of the Second Revolution was to compare it to the Information Revolution – the Internet, and e-commerce. The former altered “entire patterns of habitation.” This essay is an attempt to put the current discussion and possible future in context. A few sentences that illuminate this point succinctly: “Yes, robots can do well-defined human jobs in well-defined environments. Indeed, it is quite possible that standard factory work will be entirely automated. But the automation of such work is already very far advanced. It is not a revolution in the making. Yes, it is possible to imagine driverless cars. But this would be a far smaller advance than were cars themselves.” Wolf is skeptical of the techno-optimists but also asserts that “techno-feudalism is unnecessary,” as well. We may get more of the same but this is all up to us, writes Wolf. I enjoyed this very realistic take on the issue. One more point: Wolf can’t imagine the singularity as a state of the world. I have been thinking this for awhile now. I read Abundance – for example – and we have yet to see what they are imagining. (Abundance is not a book about the singularity, per se, but it’s an example of economic utopianism that has yet to happen.) Will we spread the abundance or will it be concentrated? For the umpteenth time, this is a great read.
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These essays have all become more and varied. This next essay, “The Coming Robot Dystopia,” by Illah Reza Nourbakhsh, is the most pessimistic. Basically, he does not welcome robotic relationships or a world where we share our ecosystem with super intelligent robots, writing: “a robotic vacuum cleaner shouldn’t tell its owner that it misses him when he’s at work.” I couldn’t agree more. Human relationships can never be replaced. For those who crave anthropomorphic robots well, there should be accountability, and roboticists should “grow up.” “People must be able to question these machines about their knowledge, their goals, their desires, and their intentions.” The weirdness of all of this is really hitting me after reading these essays; this essay in particular.

This essay is not all gloom. Nourbakhsh predicts that “thanks to robotics, the next two decades will likely see the end of the wheelchair.” This is a bold claim. Ambiguously he writes that “it is merely a matter of time before human-robot couplings greatly outperform purely biological systems.” This brings us to another term: transhumanism; “a post-evolutionary transformation that will replace humans with a hybrid of man and machine.” I must say though that their will never be a epoch that is post-evolutionary; this is an interesting abstraction and categorical idea but it can never be a reality. (In my I-understand-evolution-rooted opinion.) Nourbakhsh reminds us of the potential that Big Data has; we can choose a democratic and transparent way forward or not. We have a choice. Those who assume that Big Data equals Big Choices, shouldn’t; we can already see how all of our own data is being used to manipulate us in a myriad of ways.


The final essay is one that is the nearest to my heart. I remember when I first learned of flexicurity; it was in the first couple of weeks of my comparative politics class at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. This essay is about social policy. Nicolas Colin and Bruno Palier write about the future safety nets in the digital age. They write in “The Next Social Policy” that social policy will therefore have to cover the needs of not just those outside the labor market but even many inside it. The biggest challenge is “mass intermittent employment” and they argue that “the task of twenty-first-century social policy is to make a virtue of necessity, finding ways to enable workers to have rich, full, and successful lives even as their careers undergo great volatility.” This is precisely true. I am glad they mentioned a Universal Basic Income (UBI) which is amassing quite the amount of literature as of late. U.S. President Richard Nixon, 40 years ago, mentioned that we might need a income given to every citizen uncoupled from employment. They don’t analyze the idea but they simply put it that a UBI won’t be comprehensive enough. I asked the writer and UBI advocate Scott Santens what he thought about this essay’s framing of the UBI. He said that UBI is a type of flexicurity which I couldn’t agree more; he also wrote that this essay assumes that the UBI would “replace everything.”

A more effective, the authors argue, tactic could be in the regulatory realm. A government dedicated to lowering “legal barriers” to facilitate economic growth. His example? Uber. This is distressing and would amount to another attack on unionized transportation work. Their claim that governments should help and not work in competition with entrepreneurs is faulty. Moreover, governments do already work with entrepreneurs and this has always been the case. If I was some how in front of these gentlemen I would point them to the work of the Professor of the Economics Mariana Mazzucato and her essay in this very same publication from earlier in the year called “The Innovative State.” She is also the author of the book The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs Private Sector Myths.

Back to flexicurity. Flexicurtiy or flexible security is “separating the provision of benefits from jobs.” Ok. Actually, I think this term is so incredibly important that a block quote is in store:

“The essence of flexicurity—shorthand for “flexible security”—is separating the provision of benefits from jobs. If the government can guarantee citizens access to health care, housing, education and training, and the like on a universal basis without regard to their employment status, the argument runs, people won’t be so terrified of switching jobs or losing a job. This, in turn, would allow the government to deregulate labor markets, leaving decisions about hiring and firing of employees to be made by firms themselves, according to economic logic. The result is greater efficiency, dynamism, and productivity, all built around workers’ needs rather than on their backs.”

I agree with their main claim: 21st century social policy involves more “state activism”, not less than the 20th century. One point: their categorization of the UBI as not a form of “flexicurity” is strange. It of course is a type of flexible security. Worker’s needs are citizen’s needs; if they aren’t met in a very real way, I would expect the type of unrest that Brynjolfsson and McAfee predict as a possible future if our policies don’t meet the realities of the New Economy.

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These essays were great and I recommend reading them if you have the chance. If not, I hope my loosely organized and always changing thoughts on these pieces illuminate in some minor way.