What Would Jesus Do About Brexit?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 1/14/2019 02:30:00 PM
The IPE Zone is a fan of arch-Remainer and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
While studying and working in the UK all those pre-Brexit years ago, I was amused by their government placing 26 Church of England clergy in the House of Lords. (Formally, they are the Lords Spiritual instead of the more political Lords Temporal who are everyone else.) In this supposedly secular day and age, the British are unique that way, as well as in cautioning against having a Catholic prime minister to guard against the depredations of popery and other Vatican-sourced foreign intervention. Little did I know that this nominally "ceremonial" political power granted to religious authorities may actually have some bearing...as it does now, even if it's limited.

You see, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby (the British pope, if you will), is an outspoken champion of EU membership for the UK. It makes this Catholic regard the Anglican Church more positively. Further, he is on firm economic and therefore ethical ground in reiterating that the least well-off are expected to be those worst affected by Brexit:
The archbishop of Canterbury has said a no-deal Brexit would hit the poorest and most vulnerable people in the UK. Justin Welby also said he was praying for Theresa May and other politicians at the start of what is expected to be one of the most tumultuous weeks in recent parliamentary history. Last week, Welby said in the House of Lords that a no-deal Brexit would be “not only a political and practical failure, but a moral one,” and a second referendum may be needed to avoid it.
The impact on the most vulnerable is of greatest concern for the Anglicans, as it should be for a religious order:
He repeated his concerns in an interview with Christian website Premier, saying: “The burden of proof is on those that are arguing for no deal, to show that it will not harm the poorest and most vulnerable … How we care about them and how our politics affects them is a deeply moral issue.” He added: “Politicians have one of the hardest jobs in the world. It is deeply difficult, and we need to pray for them. It is unbelievably difficult.
It's too bad that, well, hardly anyone attends religious services in the UK anymore, least of all the Anglican Church's. So much for the moral suasion bit if you were hoping for that. Still, membership in the House of Lords may add further impetus to the current uprising in the House of Commons to avoid a hard Brexit. After all, the upper house did help ensure that Parliament has a say in the final form of whatever exit the UK makes from the European Union.

Remainers, aren't you actually glad that the UK is alone in the world aside from Iran in reserving places in the legislature for unelected clergy? It's too bad for the secularists, but I think any intervention--even of the divine sort--is welcome at this point to scuttle this Brexit folly at least for a generation if willed by forces on heaven and earth.

PRC's Belt-Road Initiative: Masterplan or Boondoggle?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 1/13/2019 07:36:00 PM
Bungling belies accusations of Chinese plans for regional / world transport domination.

There is some dispute as to whether China's plans to connect the Asia-Pacific region and beyond with PRC-contributed infrastructure is a grand hegemonic plan or just a poorly-thought -and -executed one. American Vice-President Mike Pence sees sinister intent in describing it as a debt trap intended to tie poor countries to China in servitude via "dangerous debt diplomacy China has been engaging in in the region." That version of events goes something like this:
The common perception is that President Xi Jinping’s flagship foreign policy initiative is an ambitious program deploying trillions of dollars on necessary infrastructure in emerging Asian and African countries where Western investors lack the animal spirits to tread.

A variant of this view suggests a greater level of Machiavellian foresight. By getting emerging-economy governments caught in debt traps when unviable projects like Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port go belly-up, China is methodically assembling a network of client governments in hock to Beijing and advancing its military ambitions.
But then again, it would be unwise to listen solely to the country most at risk of losing influence in Asia through Chinese infrastructure initiatives. Instead of the grand conspiracy, how about countries being loaned to becoming unable to pay China back for its help in building infrastructure simply because the initiative is half-baked instead of some malicious intent on the part of the Chinese?
Here’s a better argument for what Belt and Road is really about. Despite Xi’s close association with it, the initiative isn’t ultimately a connected master plan for Chinese global ascendancy. Instead, it’s better looked at as a somewhat chaotic branding and franchising exercise, a way for the country’s numerous provincial officials and state-owned companies to slap a presidential seal of approval on whatever project they’re seeking to pursue.

“Far from strictly following Beijing’s grand designs, much of the Belt and Road Initiative’s activity to date looks more scattered and opportunistic,” Jonathan Hillman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, wrote in an analysis last year.
To support this line of argument, consider Chinese involvement with the now-infamous Malaysian 1MDB. It seems the Chinese don't want to be associated with that fiasco, especially now that its main benefactor--former PM Najib Razak--has been disgraced:
Chinese officials offered to help bail out state-owned 1Malaysia Development Bhd., kill off investigations into alleged corruption at the fund, and spy on journalists looking into it in exchange for stakes in Belt-and-Road railway and pipeline projects in Malaysia, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. If proven, that would offer the clearest link yet between the 1MDB scandal and Belt and Road, which is still seen by many as a more effective rival to multilateral investors such as the currently leaderless World Bank and Asian Development Bank. China has denied that money in the program was used to help bail out 1MDB.
So it cannot be a grand plan if it's all rather improvised--and not in a good way: 
The [Wall Street] Journal’s reporting suggests a scheme cooked up on the fly, with its key planks initially proposed by Malaysian rather than Chinese officials. By building the railway at a vastly inflated cost, Chinese state companies would be able to get their hands on spare cash and in return assume some of 1MDB’s debts.

If Malaysia’s Belt and Road projects were all part of a grand strategy hatched by China, the execution was incompetent. According to the Journal, former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak did hold talks with Beijing about granting berthing rights to Chinese naval vessels – but the discussion never bore fruit. Then Najib was voted out of office last year, with his successor Mahathir Mohamad seeking to cancel or renegotiate projects he’s labelled a “new version of colonialism.”
OK, so maybe the Belt-Road Initiative is not entirely a fiasco at this point, but it certainly seems to be needing some direction since those China intended to court are increasingly becoming disillusioned:
Meanwhile, far from binding governments closer to Beijing, its investments in Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives have fueled backlashes that brought China-skeptical governments to power.

UK Parliament Revolts Against Hard Brexit

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 1/09/2019 08:07:00 PM
A true British patriot recognizes the UK's geographic location on a certain continent.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May is a difficult one to pin down. While she was home minister for David Cameron (remember him?) during the run-up to the ill-fated 2016 Brexit vote, she decided to support Cameron's position to remain in the EU. After replacing him, though, she became famous for the pithy statement that "Brexit means Brexit." To be fair, she is stuck between an EU unwilling to make many compromises lest others see that they can leave the EU and still benefit from many of the privileges of membership and hardline Brexit elements in her party.

Still, it seems a revolt is brewing among nearly everyone else not as prone to suicidal behavior. Like a moth to the flame. The past two days have witnesses a cross-party revolt against crashing out of the EU with no preferential agreements. Yesterday, opposition stalwart Yvette Cooper's motion to deny May's government of taxation powers in the event a Brexit deal is not agreed to. Instead, parliament must be consulted:
Theresa May's no-deal Brexit preparations suffered a blow after MPs defeated the Government in the Commons. Labour former minister Yvette Cooper tabled an amendment to the Budget-enacting Finance (No. 3) Bill which attracted support from Tory rebels. Her proposal aims to restrict the Government's freedom to use the Bill to make tax changes linked to a no-deal Brexit without the "explicit consent" of Parliament. It was supported by 303 votes to 296, a majority of seven.

In a statement outside the Commons, [Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn] said the vote in support of the amendment was "an important step to prevent a no-deal Brexit". He said: "It shows that there is no majority in Parliament, the Cabinet or the country for crashing out of the EU without an agreement. That is why we are taking every opportunity possible in Parliament to prevent no deal.
I am no fan of the old-school Labour (read: pre-Third Way, unabashed socialist) leader Jeremy Corbyn, but it appears he is, for now, an ally in the effort to stop a hard Brexit--as is anyone else willing to vote it down at this point.

Today we had a second round of good news (if you're anti-Brexit, that is). The half-baked deal May came away with from meeting with her EU counterparts is likely going to voted down next week. In that event, the cross-party rebellion is now forcing the government to come up with a "Plan B" within 3 days instead of 21 days:
Rebel Conservative MPs have joined forces with Labour to inflict a fresh blow on Theresa May's government in a Commons Brexit vote. It means the government will have to come up with revised plans within three days if Mrs May's EU withdrawal deal is rejected by MPs next week.

It could also open the door to alternatives, such as a referendum. No 10 said Mrs May's deal was in the national interest but if MPs disagreed, the government would "respond quickly".
To be fair once more, I think that a three-day timetable to come up with a "Plan B" is unrealistic. That said, having exhausted nearly all other options, pro-Europeans among us may finally get what we've wanted all this time--a second referendum. The harrowing experience of the post-Brexit vote era should have taught sensible Britons that only worse in store if it finally pushes through. Polling data indicates "Remain" would win this time 46%-39%, and a positive outcome should put a stop to this nonsense for awhile.

Props to Speaker John Bercow for allowing this vote to happen at the potential cost of his speakership. Once more, remaining is really on the table. 

Thanks to Immigration, Bet on Canada's Future

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 1/03/2019 02:59:00 PM
Skilled migrants are driving Canada's G7-leading population growth.
Back to our coverage of international higher education in the new year: I've featured how the United States is becoming a non-destination for international students, mainly for the reason that the Trump administration is limiting their prospects for future post-educational work in the United States due to ultra-nationalist / racist immigration policies. Hard as it is for some Yanquis to understand, though, the world of higher education is much broader than the United States. There is a bona fide winner in this story of American educational and demographic decline as result of a failure to attract international talent given falling birth rates at home--Canada.

It is not hard to make the argument that many of those who would have otherwise studied in the US have gone to Canada instead due to Trump's blatantly racist immigration policies:
[Ayesha] Chokhani had her pick of elite schools. She turned down Cornell and Duke in the U.S. Her reasons were clear: The anti-immigrant rhetoric from the Trump administration made her nervous. And Canada had an additional draw: She can stay up to three years after she graduates and doesn’t need a job offer to apply for a work permit. “I wanted to be sure that wherever I go to study, I have the opportunity to stay and work for a bit,” she says.
The numbers don't lie. Canada is not only attracting international students but is also hoping that more than a few remain to deal with its shortfalls in domestic birth rates and the usual need to remain competitive in the modern world economy:
In August, there were about 570,000 international students in Canada, a 60 percent jump from three years ago. That surge is helping power the biggest increase in international immigration in more than a century. The country took in 425,000 people in the 12 months through September, boosting population growth to a three-decade high of 1.4 percent, the fastest pace in the Group of Seven club of industrialized nations.

Canada’s immigration system has long targeted the highly skilled. More than 65 percent of foreign-born adults had a post-secondary degree in 2017, the highest share tracked by members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. “We are the biggest talent poachers in the OECD,” says Stéfane Marion, chief economist of the National Bank of Canada. As a result, he says, the country is better equipped to deal with globalization and technological change—“it’s a massive, massive advantage.”
To be sure, there are xenophobic political parties in the Canadian polity. However, the significant difference is that while they constitute a fringe minority in Canada, they are the ruling Republican Party in the United States thanks to Trump. 

Make no mistake: American decline and Trumpian xenophobia go hand in hand. Instead of evaluating people based on what they can get done, you do so based on irrelevant criteria like the color of their skin. Ultimately, it's America's loss for pandering to such racism. 

How CPTPP May Finish Brainless US Farmers

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 1/01/2019 05:47:00 PM
Those Yankee steaks ain't gonna be very saleable in CPTPP countries real soon
 The geniuses who voted for Trump knew full well that he campaigned on isolating the United States politically and economically from the rest of the world. Although what he says and does seldom coincide, there was always a risk that his rhetoric would turn into action. 2018 was the year when Trump's inward-looking economic policies finally came to fruition as (marginally) more sensible sorts were sidelined or left his administration. With hardliners now feeding his worst instincts, Trump erected Fortress America on trade. The rest--including a stock market collapse at year-end--is history.

American farmers have borne the brunt of Trump's trade war. The Chinese know full well that rural communities voted for Trump in droves, and their pain could translate into political pressure for Trump to roll back the trade war. As of now, though, the meager compensation Trump offered to tide them through the trade war is not enough and that war's fate are uncertain. Just as Trump-borne uncertainty has tanked stock markets, it's doing the same to the US agricultural sector.

But wait, there's more for 2019! Leaving the Trans-Pacific Partnership turns out to have been another Trump blunder. you see, the other TPP participants (TPP-11) have decided to push through with it--including several major agricultural exporters like Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. The upshot is that these agricultural exporters will soon gain preferential access to Asian countries the United States has long exported to like Japan and those it seeks to export more to like Malaysia and Vietnam. So, American farmers will lose even more soon. But first, let's get up to speed on what CPTPP is:
American farmers, already hit by low commodity prices and China’s punitive trade tariffs, are poised to endure further pain in 2019 now that a major Pacific trade deal has come into effect. The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP, was ratified by seven of its member countries on Sunday. Now that the massive free trade pact is a reality for Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam, the remaining four members — Brunei, Chile, Malaysia and Peru — are soon expected to follow suit.
A lot of the hurt is going to come from what economists call "trade diversion." Even if the US is the more efficient producer of an agricultural good, other producers within CPTPP may be selected by virtue of having lower tariffs applied against them despite being less-efficient producers. Anyway...
The goods of non-CPTPP members such as the United States are now expected to be pricier and less competitive in the 11 CPTPP countries. The world’s largest economy was initially one of the countries negotiating the wide-ranging deal under former U.S. President Barack Obama but the U.S. withdraw under President Donald Trump’s administration in early 2017. American meat and agricultural products are particularly expected to suffer in CPTPP nations that don’t have free trade arrangements with Washington.
 Take beef and wheat (please):
Japan is a prime example. The Asian giant is the top market for U.S. beef, but Australia’s products could now take over America’s spot since foreign beef tariffs in Japan will be cut by 27.5 percent for Australian producers under the CPTPP, The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has warned. “The US beef industry is at risk of losing significant market share in Japan unless immediate action is taken to level the playing field,” Kevin Kester, the association’s president, said in a statement earlier this month.

It’s a similar story for American wheat. Thanks to CPTPP, Canadian and Australian wheat exports to Japan now immediately benefit from a 7 percent drop in the Japanese government’s mark-up price, which will become a 12 percent reduction in April, U.S. Wheat Associates President Vince Peterson said in a recent statement. By April, American wheat will face a $14 per metric ton resale price disadvantage to Australia and Canada, he warned, adding that his industry faces “imminent collapse” in Japan.
In the end, American farmers will get what they deserve. If you want to make yourself poor and miserable, voting Trump delivers exactly that after a short wait.