Monthly Archives: April 2015

Fast Track Authority and Free Trade

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a new trade deal that encompasses and accounts for 40 percent of the world’s economy. Proponents contend that the deal will increase US exports, drive down import costs, protect intellectual property rights, and establish minimum environmental and labor standards for participants. Opponents contend that the deal would undermine the influence of labor in the United States.

President Obama has sought to fast-track the new deal under a provision known as trade promotion authority. The move has created interesting alliances on both sides, with Congressional Republicans wanting to grant President Obama the authority. On the other side, liberal Democrats in Congress have found a partner in the Tea Party, promoting a populist message opposing the deal.

What do you think? What impact will the TPP have on the US economy? What are the benefits and the drawbacks? Should the deal be fast-tracked? Why?

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What Makes For the World’s Happiest Country?

The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), an initiative of the United Nations intended to influence government policy, released its third annual World Happiness Report yesterday. The report named Switzerland the world’s happiest country based on a composite index that includes economic wealth, social well-being, public health, political stability, and other factors.

According to the report, the world’s happiest countries in 2015 are: Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, and Canada. The worlds least happy countries in 2015 are: Togo, Burundi, Syria, Benin, and Rwanda. The United States ranked 15th overall, one place ahead of Brazil and one place behind Mexico.

What do you think? What does the SDSN’s report on happiness suggest about development? What factors do you think are most important in determining a country’s overall level of happiness? What are the limits of this approach to understanding public policy? And what lessons, if any, should government decision makers take from the report?

The Economics of Human Smuggling

The capsizing of the King Jacob, a 500-foot ship, off the coast of Libya on Sunday brought renewed attention to the problem of human trafficking and smuggling. More than 850 people were packed into the vessel at the time it capsized—and only 28 are believed to have survived. Italian authorities arrested the ship’s captain, 27-year-old Tunisian Mohammed Ali—on suspicion of multiple homicide. Authorities also detained Mahmud Bikhit, a 25 year-old Syrian and a crew member on the vessel, on charges of engaging in illegal migration.

The tragedy focused attention on the problem of illegal migration and human smuggling from North Africa to the European Union. According to some observers, Libya has become a primary staging point for migrants seeking passage to Europe. The business of trafficking has become incredibly profitable, with smugglers demanding $1,000 per person for passage and grossing upwards of $3 million per trip.

What do you think? How should the European Union approach addressing the economic and humanitarian challenges posed by migration from North Africa? How would multi-entry visas advocated by the International Organization for Migration affect the dynamics of migration to Europe? If you were a citizen of the European Union, would you support such a proposal? Why?

The Expanding ISIS Threat

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack against a bank in Afghanistan, killing at least 33 people. ISIS claimed the attack was targeting government officials cashing paychecks. If ISIS is responsible for the attack, it would represent a significant expansion in the organization’s reach, which had historically been confined largely to Syria and Iraq. It also highlights the ongoing challenges faced in providing security in Afghanistan.

The expansion of ISIS also highlights a shift in the balance between terror organizations, with al Qaeda apparently in decline and ISIS clearly on the rise.

What do you think? What factors account for the increasing reach of ISIS? Has ISIS replaced al Qaeda as the primary terror threat in the region? Why? And what, if anything, should be done to address ISIS’s growing reach?

Public Education on Ebola

The actor Isaiah Washington has launched an Ebola education campaign using football (soccer) to educate the world about the disease. The Ebola Ball Kick Challenge is intended to draw attention to the ongoing plight, which has caused an estimated 10,000 deaths in West Africa and created an estimated 16,000 orphans And the regional economy has been devastated, with an estimated  $1.6 billion in one of the world’s poorest regions.

What do you think? Will the Ebola Ball Kick Challenge have the impact Washington hopes? Why? What, if anything, should be done to address the spread of Ebola in West Africa?

Dealing with Xenophobia in South Africa

As the economic situation in South Africa deteriorates, anti-foreigner violence has intensified. Migrants and refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere have been subject to attack. Hundreds of refugee have fled their homes. Foreign shopkeepers have seen their stores attacked and destroyed. And at least three foreigners have been murdered in recent days.

Protests erupted in the port city of Durban last week, as immigrants marching on city hall to demand protection and an end to the violence were met with anti-immigrant demonstrations. Violence intensified after Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini allegedly told migrants to go home. Many South Africans believe immigrants drive down wages and increase unemployment, which currently stands at almost 25 percent—and is considerably higher among young South Africans. And while prosecutors announced 17 arrests over the weekend to address the violence, many immigrants continue to live in fear of further attack, seeking refuge in sports stadiums and police stations.

What do you think? How should the South African government address the xenophobic violence plaguing the country? What parallels can you draw between the debate over immigration in South Africa and that of the United States? And what might be done to address questions surrounding immigration in both countries?

Evaluating the Impact of Defense Spending

The Pentagon is again being criticized for wasteful spending. There’s some irony in this accusation, as battles between Congress and the Pentagon have frequently resulted in billions of dollars in spending on defense programs supported by Congress but opposed by the Pentagon. But a story in the LA Times this week, the Pentagon has spent more than $10 billion to develop a missile defense system capable of defending the United States from ballistic missile attack. Despite massive spending, no viable system has yet been developed. The Pentagon maintains that the task given the group is enormous—akin to shooting a bullet with another bullet—and that the spending so far provided valuable research advances that will someday lead to a viable system.

At the same time, critics of the missile defense program—and of much of the Congressional authorizations for Pentagon research—focus too heavily on outdated threats. They argue that the most significant threats to national security come from individual terrorist cells sneaking weapons into the United States or threatening our allies, not from more traditional nuclear or conventional threats from countries like Russia or North Korea. Consequently, spending they argue should shift to reflect the new global reality.

What do you think? In an era of declining defense spending, does research on missile defense systems make sense? How should the United States prioritize its defense spending? And what threats do you think the United States needs to address most immediately?