Fair Observer: Best of the Month

Fair Observer’s five best articles of January.

Barely in a blink, January has sailed by and 2014 has got off to a cracker. Weather patterns are changing around the world. North America has been hit by a “polar vortex,” causing temperatures to drop to -51°C. Australia is experiencing record highs in temperature at the same time, while floods have devastated Brazil.

As stated in a weekly report, with barely 400 West African lions alive today, this species is in danger of extinction. While West Africa might be experiencing economic growth because of its cotton plantations, the cost to its ecosystem is more accurately captured by its plummeting lion population.

In distant Antarctica, the Pine Island Glacier is in uncontrollable retreat. In a world of 7 billion people, the time has come to question our economic models that venerate growth without factoring in its costs.

The world economy is wobbling again. China’s economy is slowing down, while Japan’s current account deficit has reached a record high. Europe and other major economies such as Brazil and India are not doing too well either.

The US is chugging along in a modest recovery aided by a cheap energy bonanza and cheap money. This has redistributed wealth to big banks and the richest 1% who have profited at the cost of savers. The dominant thinking is that central bankers have a tiger by the tail. Increase interest rates or scale back quantitative easing too early, and you have the specter of a worldwide depression. Continue with the current policy and you end up creating new asset price bubbles and boosting inequality.

Emerging markets are in the worst situation. Their dollar reserves have lost value dramatically and they have been forced to import inflation because of their desire to keep exports competitive by avoiding the appreciation of their currencies. The situation is inherently unstable and policy makers are not showing any intellectual imagination to deal with the challenges. While a one size fits all policy does not make sense for the planet, an investment-led growth model would help greatly, especially for countries like the US, UK, India and Brazil that have crumbling infrastructure.

China, on the other hand, needs to stop its fixation with growth and infrastructure. It would do better by investing in health, education, and the environment. Europe could start by rolling back its red tape, increasing its retirement age, and developing a more rational approach to immigration. New economic thinking requires bold ideas but we are not seeing any either in the fiscal or the monetary realm.

Meanwhile, conflicts rage on in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. The Syrian Civil War is spilling out into Lebanon and Iraq. The Geneva talks will lead to nothing because the Saudi-backed Islamists and Iran were not invited to the table. Iran was actually disinvited because of the internal politics of the US where immature and insular senators are still trying to push through sanctions, weakening the hand of their president.

Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh have seen sectarian or political violence this month. Cambodia and Thailand are both witnessing political crises that are different in their nature but originate in the same tension between a political elite and the rising aspirations of the people. Congo, Nigeria and Central African Republic continue to be in turmoil.

Still, there is cause for hope. A deal was struck in South Sudan, while South African elections have just got interesting. Mamphela Ramphele, the former anti-apartheid campaigner of the newly formed Agang party, will be running against President Jacob Zuma as the candidate of the Democratic Alliance led by Helen Zille.

In the Philippines, peace between the government and the Islamic Moro insurgency has finally been negotiated. Most importantly, China and Taiwan will be setting up representative offices in each other’s countries.

So, on that note, it is with some cheer that we present the best articles for the first month of 2014. Please comment, share with your friends, and give us feedback as to how we can do better.

1: Washington’s Observation, Delhi’s Anxiety — by Prakhar Sharma

We need to have a reasoned conversation about the Khobragade saga.

2: Kenya’s Withdrawal From the ICC: A Get Out of Jail Free Card? — by Brian Mwiti

A critical look on why Kenya should not withdraw from the ICC.

3: The Kurdish Cause: Pragmatism and New Opportunities — by Clotilde de Swarte

Inner-Kurdish relations are complex and have the potential to damage the overall Kurdish cause.

4: Remembering Belzec — Matthew Feldman

To mark Holocaust Memorial Day, a look at one of the Third Reich’s nearly-forgotten death machines.

5: Time for Iraq to Take Responsibility (Part 1/2) — by Jafar Hassan

Blaming foreign influences and a lack of introspection has dogged Iraq’s history for far too long.

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