economy/business

Last autumn a colleague recommended The Retreat of Western Liberalism by Edward Luce. I finally got ’round to reading it about 6 months after its June 2017 release, over winter break.

It begins by recounting Luce’s impulse roadtrip in 1989, joining Oxford friends in tearing down the Berlin Wall. It proceeds to survey trends scholars have been discussing for at least a decade – and then, as one might say, the book adds Trump and mixes. The result is a series of aphorisms and anecdotes; an example:

“In Moscow’s view, history is back and nothing is inevitable, least of all liberal democracy.”

Yet just a half-year later, events point to things missing from this mid-2017 account.

One is consideration of how voters would react to the current U.S. administration; that is, whether the ballot box might stymie the very forces it unleashed with the presidential election of November 8, 2016. (This omission surprises, given that as early as April 2017, a Democratic candidate had made a strong showing in a highly publicized Georgia congressional race.) Since Retreat was published, Republicans have lost a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, along with other races, including 2 presumed GOP-safe statehouse seats in my own Georgia county. If results like these turn out to be bellwethers for the November 2018 midterms – and if newly elected leaders then work to recalibrate the policy agenda – at least some of the governance alarms raised in Retreat will seem less well-founded.

Another is discussion of sex and gender as pieces of the geopolitical puzzle. Nearly all the anecdotes related, and nearly all the sources cited, are male or pertain to men. Exceptions are critiques of the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, and of the United Kingdom’s post-Brexit PM, Teresa May, plus comments on Germany by reference to Angela Merkel. All 3 are women, of course, yet neither the subject’s sex nor the gendered nature of politics figures into these analyses. The January 21, 2017, global Women’s Marches suggested a need for more attention to sex-gender dynamics, and events in the second half of last year, signaled by #MeToo and #Time’sUp, confirm it.

Perhaps the pretermission is due to the book’s rather strict construction of “Western liberalism,” as  centered on the freedom of the individual. That framing of liberty may incur tension with views of equality that take into account an individual’s  membership in a group. The book evinces discomfort with attention to such membership by reference to “identity politics,” on the one hand, and color-lined “nationalism,” on the other. The excesses of both are indeed complications. But they exist. Better to explore reconciliation of liberty-equality tensions, as another commentator recently did, than only to decry manifestations of excess.

All this is not to say that the book’s structural observations are to be disregarded. To the contrary:

Its concern that elites have overstated the Western liberal solution is correct. The same may not be said of the book’s prescription of listening more to persons who voted for the current president, at least not if “listening” refers to myriad of 2017 articles presenting anecdotal interviews with such voters. Listening in a more statistically grounded manner well may be in order.

Also correct is the book’s concern that as political and economic power shifts east, to Asia, the West ought to recognize, to think, and to act more strategically in response to that shift. Its positing of a standoff between liberal India and illiberal China –

“… Divided by the Himalayas, the world’s two largest countries, China and India, sit side by side – one an autocracy, the other a democracy. …”

– is not immediately persuasive, yet merits further pondering.

In short, Luce’s observations offer a basis on which to continue to make sense of our present and future:

“We must think more radically than that.”

Luce pushes us, and for this, his book is a worthwhile read.

aalsLogoThere’s much of interest in the just-published newsletter of the Section on Children and the Law of the Association of American Law Schools. Not the least is the recent election of: Cynthia Godsoe of Brooklyn Law, Chair; Jim Dwyer of William & Mary Law, Chair-Elect; Annette Appell of Washington U.-St. Louis Law, Secretary (not to mention superb newsletter editor); and Meg Annitto of Charlotte Law, Treasurer.

Also of interest are the 2 panels (each of which involves invitations issued to AALS members) that the section will sponsor during the AALS 2015 Annual Meeting set for January 2-5 in Washington, D.C.:

Dead Upon Birth: The Inter-Generational Cycle of Thwarted Lives in America’s Poorest Neighborhoods, 2-3:45 p.m. Sunday, January 4. One speaker is being sought via a call for papers, with submissions due August 15, via e-mail to jgdwye@wm.edu, with “CFP submission” in the subject line. Already scheduled as speakers are Elizabeth Bartholet of Harvard Law, Josh Gupta-Kagan of South Carolina Law, and Jim Dwyer of William & Mary Law; moderating will be Cynthia Godsoe of Brooklyn Law. On the panel, organizers write:

‘“The D.U.B.” is a nickname southside Chicago residents have given a neighborhood exemplifying a tragic reality in many of this country’s urban and rural areas: Children are born into struggling families in deeply dysfunctional neighborhoods and have little chance for full and flourishing lives. In some parts of America, a boy born today is more likely to end up in prison than college and a girl is more likely to become drug addicted than married. Many parents keep young children in “lockdown” at home when they are not in school, to shield them for as long as possible from gang recruitment and gun crossfire. This panel will discuss the economic, political, and cultural causes of concentrated poverty, crime, and disease and alternative strategies for sparing children from it. Panelists will address, from a child-centered perspective, issues such as “neighborhood effect” on child development, state response to parental incapacity, housing policy, relocation programs, foster care and adoption, inadequate education, school disciplinary policies, access to healthcare, employment opportunities, substance abuse and mental illness, criminal law enforcement and incarceration, and societal responsibility for the circumstances in which children live.’

► Junior-Scholar Works-in-Progress Workshop, 5:15-6:30 p.m. Saturday, January 3. Organizers write:

‘The idea is to give junior faculty who are writing on children’s issues an opportunity to present a current project at the annual meeting but in a relatively informal setting, so they can get more experience presenting their work and helpful feedback.’

The Section welcomes, from untenured faculty, submissions of full or partial drafts of papers not yet accepted for publication, and from tenured faculty, indications of willingness to serve as commentators on the selected papers. E-mail jgdwye@wm.edu, with “CFP submission” in the subject line, no later than the end of August.

Details for all Section events and calls here.

radianceTimes of war are marked by yearnings for peace. The landmark 1863 Lieber Code regulating combat thus said, with reference to “nations and great governments”:

‘Peace is their normal condition; war is the exception. The ultimate object of all modern war is a renewed state of peace.’

But what “peace” means is a question that lingers after combatants put down their arms. This is a point that many thinkers have made (in a recent essay I referred to the positive v. negative peace and direct v. structural violence concepts of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Galtung). And it is a point that Ishmael Beah makes, beautifully, in his just-published novel, Radiance of Tomorrow.

Beah is best known for A Long Way Gone, his 2008 memoir of child-soldiering during the 1990s civil war in his homeland, Sierra Leone. (Prior postscredit for January 2014 photo of Beah at Carter Presidential Library, Atlanta) Some child soldiers figure in the new novel, Radiance, as well. They are now veterans:

‘Children and young people came by themselves with no parents. In the beginning they came one at a time, then in pairs, followed by four, six, or more in a group. They had been at various orphanages and households that had tried to adopt them. Some had even been at centers to learn how to be “normal children” again, a phrase they detested, so they had left and become inhabitants of rough streets in cities and towns. They were more intelligent than their years and had experienced so much hardship that each day of their lives was equal to three or more years; this showed in their fierce eyes. You had to look closely to see residues of their childhood.’

beahLong after the fighting has ended, these youths and other persons of all ages return to the village of Imperi – a name that shares roots with “empire” – in “Lion Mountain,” the anglicized name for Sierra Leone. Together they try to rebuild.

But a  new force invades even as they endeavor to retie the bonds of what had been a traditional, agrarian society. It is the outside world, capitalism in the forming of a mining company. It extracts valuable minerals first from the surrounding area and eventually from the town itself. Schools and story-telling lose support as the town center fills with bars and brothels. The resting place of ancestors is dug up even as new casualties of hazardous work are buried.

The old ways will not survive. The hoped-for “radiant tomorrow” of the book’s title will occur in a new place – even in a new voice. In the novel Beah renders into English poetic phrases from his mother tongue, Mende. As he explained in the foreword:

‘For example, in Mende, you wouldn’t say “night came suddenly”; you would say “the sky rolled over and changed its sides.” Even single words are this way – the word for “ball” in Mende translates to a “nest of air” or a “vessel that carries air.”’

The technique works exceptionally well in the novel’s first part, which is rich in imagery: “the dark spots where fire had licked with its red tongue,” for example, and “the day that war came into her life.” It seems to wane as the novel unfolds, however. This erosion of prose-poetry may be intended to mimic the depletion of Imperi and its people.  The prosaic replacement may reflect the people’s new and different life – as Beah puts it in passages with which the novel begins and ends, their new story. Beah thus provides a thought-provoking answer to the post-conflict question of the meaning of peace.

sotu2014Despite the best efforts of pundits and D.C. PR, the State of the Union address this year seemed, well, small.

Perhaps it was because I didn’t watch the speech this year – 1st time in a long time. Just wasn’t up for TV anchors’ “this is Washington’s Oscars” spin as the government’s still-mostly-men file in. (credit for video screengrab) Nor for the up-close-and-personal vignettes that pepper SOTU no less than they soon will Sochi.

As for the text of the speech itself – except for the well-deserved celebration of an end to certain health care injustices – it paled in the gloss of my high-def tablet screen.

President Barack Obama put impressive force into his demand for higher wages for Americans at the bottom of the income rung, to a reverse in the trend of growing economic inequality, to a guarantee of a good job. Impressive, that is, absent the deflating reality revealed on one’s calculator. Obama’s centerpiece solution was a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour. That would bring the annual income of a person who works full-time and gets paid vacation (both unlikely, at this wage scale) to a grand total of $21,008.00. (Note that this is higher than the current income floor.) Given the high cost of living in the United States, one could almost hear the low-wage earner mutter,

‘That and a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card will get me a cup of coffee.’

As the President noted, the mutterer well may be a woman. He said:

‘Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment.’

Well, yes, it is, and the focus on this issue was inspiring. Or would have been, if Obama’s stated solutions – “equal sbapay for equal work,” “a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent” – weren’t as old as the women’s movement itself. (image credit) Consider this web account:

Susan B. Anthony‘s paper The Revolution, first published in 1868, advocated an eight-hour day and equal pay for equal work.’

In his speech Obama sounded an alarm about “the lives that gun violence steals from us each day,” as he has many times before. (Prior posts here, here, and here) His promise “to keep trying, with or without Congress,” served as a reminder of the difficulty of change.

“Diplomacy” was the SOTU foreign policy buzzword. That is welcome, but did not fully settle the mind given the tense nature of most of the situations mentioned – Iran, the Middle East, Afghanistan. One was struck, too, by the geographic lumping-together of our globe. Joining Africa as an apparently single-country? “The Americas.”

Let’s hope the President’s assertions of optimism prove better founded than this take on yesterday’s address.

bailarSAN JUAN – What a treat to spend the winter holiday in this 500-year-old city.

A 3-hour flight transported us from the cold rains of north Georgia to the warmth (and some warm rains) of Puerto Rico. Old San Juan was in full holiday swing. Quite literally: in the nights before Christmas, the department store windows featured humannequins, dressed as presents and dancing to blares of Latin music.

mural_pajaroQuieter corners featured brilliant murals, of birds, lizards, and other island flora and fauna.

Wrapping the old quarter are ancient stone walls, built by Spain to protect this Caribbean holding against encroachments by other would-be colonizers, among them the Dutch and the British. The walled coast is seen here through an artillery turret that the United States added to one of San Juan’s forts, Castillo de San coldwar_viewCristóbal, in the days of the Cold War. It’s just one of many reminders of the island’s territorial relations with the United States.

Another was a placard in one restaurant, telling us that at that site, in the room just above our table,

Pedro Albizu Campos (September 12, 1891-April 21, 1965) fue arrestado.

Albizu Campos was a leader of the Puerto Rican independence movement. After being denied (on account of his “mixed racial heritage”) the valedictory speech he’d earned at Harvard Law, he went home to practice law and foment change. For his efforts he spent 26 years in U.S. prisons, in Georgia and elsewhere.

teachContemporary tensions were evident even last week. Teachers were protesting the government’s slashing of already earned pensions. During a march on Puerto Rico’s capitol, doors were forced and a couple police officers reportedly hurt. That provoked a shutdown of streets all ’round the building, and with it, a massive traffic jam. Police presence diminished by Christmas, but the pension problem lingers.

yellow_gingerFar from that madding crowd lies El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest among the United States’ national parks. Part of the Luquillo biosphere preserve recognized by UNESCO, it’s a wonderful trove of plants and animals, a place to hike amid the rush of waterfalls and the hush of rain that falls yet mostly is caught by the canopy above.

In all, a welcome respite from the grid.

wall_point

US_$2_obverse-highNext time someone says that international criminal justice is “just too expensive,” that the international criminal courts at work since 1993 “do too little,” here’s an answer: The United States just did nothing for 16 days, at a cost of $24 billion. That’s about 7 times more than the international community spent on international criminal justice in the last decade and a half.

The total cost of the war crimes tribunals” was “roughly $3.43 billion from 1993 to 2009,” wrote former U.S. Ambassador David Scheffer in his 2012 memoir, All the Missing Souls: A Personal History of the War Crimes Tribunals. Scheffer proceeded to put the figure in perspective, writing at page 28 that this amount

‘fell below the program costs of two Stealth bombers and equaled the two-week budget of American military operations in Iraq. Expenditures for two flights of the Space Shuttle, or about 17 percent of the cash bonuses paid out by Wall Street firms in 2008, could cover the entire international budget of the war crimes tribunals during this sixteen-year period.’

I quoted him around pages 9-14 of “A Janus Look at International Criminal Justice,” published this year in the Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights, and further estimated that the total annual budget for international criminal justice is in the neighborhood of half a billion dollars. (Because of different accounting methods and other reasons, a precise number is hard to pin down.) A report by Fordham Law’s Leitner Center added more comparisons. At page 77, the report projected that the 22-year cost of international criminal justice, from 1993 through 2015, would be $6.28 billion. It then likened this amount to a host of other expenditures – including the $15 billion spent on the 2012 London Summer Olympics.

But the Olympians did something – a lot, in fact, over the better part of 3 weeks. And their games still came in at half what the United States squandered in 16 days of doing nothing.

‘The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child … recognises that the business sector’s impact on children’s rights has grown in past decades because of factors such as the globalised nature of economies and of business operations and the on-going trends of decentralisation, and outsourcing and privatising of State functions that affect the enjoyment of human rights. Business can be an essential driver for societies and economies to advance in ways that strengthen the realisation of children’s rights through, for example, technological advances, investment and the generation of decent crcwork. However, the realisation of children’s rights is not an automatic consequence of economic growth and business enterprises can also negatively impact children’s rights.’

Thus states the 1st paragraph of General comment No. 16: On State obligations regarding the impact of the business sector on children’s rights, adopted last Friday by the Committee on the Rights of the Child. That’s the U.N. body charged with monitoring compliance with the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, a multilateral treaty treaty that enjoys near-universal ratification (the 3 nonmember countries are Somalia, South Sudan, and the  United States). For a detailed analysis of the 22-page General comment No. 16, see this Rights as Usual blog post by Nadia Bernaz (Middlesex Law).