Friday, December 19, 2008

How to Blog: Share, Link, be Consistent

Slate puts on the web today some tips from Arianna Huffington's new book on blogging. See Slate's "How to Blog."

Here is the truncated list on best practices on blogging (bloggers, including Josh Marshall have told me that consistency and uniqueness are the keys):

1. Set a schedule. Blog often. Jeff Atwood, who runs the fantastic programming blog Coding Horror, told me that the key to his early success was sticking to a realistic target of six posts a week.

2. Don't worry if your posts suck a little. Unless you're Jeffrey Goldberg, your first blog post is unlikely to be perfect. Indeed, a lot of your posts aren't going to be as great as they could be if you spent many hours on them—and that's OK.

3. Write casually but clearly. This one flows from the last two—the best way to stick to a blogging schedule is to write quickly, and a good way to write quickly is to write as if you're talking to a friend.

4. Add something new. This might seem obvious, but new bloggers tend to forget it: Readers aren't going to stick with you unless you give them something they can't find elsewhere.

5. Join the bloggy conversation. And link! The only way people will find your blog is through other blogs—and you'll get other blogs to notice you by responding to what they're writing about.

6. Don't expect instant fame. Actually, don't expect any fame. There are better ways than blogging to get rich and famous.

It strikes me that sharing, consistency, uniqueness, and volunteerism are themes here, and they happen to be the themes in a lot of business literature on how to be a good worker in the global economy. How to be a good blogger and be applied to life; and many are lessons we learned in in kindergarten.

These themes have also come up over the past several months at the Carnegie Council. "Join the bloggy conversation. And Link!" is like Jay Rosen's "ethic of the link."

Similarly, Lawrence Lessig spoke recently at Carnegie Council's Public Affairs program on sharing economies or a hybrid economy. He sees the hybrid economies as those that combine the value from free and shared labor and commercial value.

The volunteerism that is often done on the web, for example social networking or product ratings, are free work that gives network power to companies. David Grewal also spoke recently about his "network power" concept:

Golden Mean on Climate Change

I was recently speaking with Chong-pin Lin, Taiwan's former deputy minister of defense. I asked what the fairest way would be for East Asia to address climate change.

His answer was very interesting. He said that the most ethical path was to find an optimal point between the interests of future generations and those of current generations. Call it the Golden Mean of policy formulation. He followed by saying that finding a middle path would open up new options. That is partly what ethics is about: Broadening the options.

In terms of philosphical influences, Dr. Lin said that Taoism, which emphasizes harmony with nature, could help energize China's own environmentalism. He sees a trend toward embracing green policies, at least at the highest levels in Beijing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Chimerica Convergence: Ethical Bailout Needed

During our recent trip to Beijing (see video above), many people made the joke that just as China was becoming capitalist, the United States was going to nationalize its financial system. Which one was really socialist, some asked us? Some Chinese found America's movement back toward a socialized financial system to be frustrating: What is our benchmark? What is our goal? The target keeps moving, it seems.

More telling, perhaps, is that America and China are converging--Chimerica, as Niall Ferguson has called it (see video above at Carnegie Council's Public Affairs program).

Thomas Friedman made this point this week in his op-ed "The Great Unraveling:"

But while capitalism has saved China, the end of communism seems to have slightly unhinged America. We lost our two biggest ideological competitors — Beijing and Moscow. Everyone needs a competitor. It keeps you disciplined. But once American capitalism no longer had to worry about communism, it seems to have gone crazy. Investment banks and hedge funds were leveraging themselves at crazy levels, paying themselves crazy salaries and, most of all, inventing financial instruments that completely disconnected the ultimate lenders from the original borrowers, and left no one accountable. “The collapse of communism pushed China to the center and [America] to the extreme,” said Ben Simpfendorfer, chief China economist at Royal Bank of Scotland.

Coincidentally, Friedman comes to the same conclusion that we found on our trip to Beijing: The United States and the world need an "ethical bailout:"

The Madoff affair is the cherry on top of a national breakdown in financial propriety, regulations and common sense. Which is why we don’t just need a financial bailout; we need an ethical bailout. We need to re-establish the core balance between our markets, ethics and regulations. I don’t want to kill the animal spirits that necessarily drive capitalism — but I don’t want to be eaten by them either.

We need a balance between ethics and regulations. Policy Innovations makes a similar point in our latest financial commentary, "Raising the Bar for Hedge Funds," by Stanley Goldstein and Frank Plantan. Check it out here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Measuring America's Human Development

Last week, authors of The Measure of America: American Human Development Report 2008-2009, the first human development report to focus on an industrialized OECD nation, presented their findings to the Carnegie Council. You can watch the video from the event here.

In their discussion, Sarah Burd-Sharps and Kristen Lewis, two of the three coeditors and authors of the report, highlighted the general need for greater availability and standardization of human development data on industrialized countries such as the United States. According to the authors, the aim of the report is to provide a tool for international comparisons on human development, to stimulate public debate, to empower everyday people to hold elected officials accountable, and to connect research to action on wellbeing.

Most importantly, the report provides an approach to social progress that is not solely reliant upon economic indicators.

Defining the concept as "enlarging people’s freedoms and opportunities and improving their wellbeing," human development is measured as an indexed figure that incorporates levels of healthcare, education, and income. For enhanced comparison, the report disaggregates data by region, state and congressional district, and by gender and ethnicity.

What, then, is the state of human development in the United States, and how does this compare to the rest of the world? Which U.S. citizens enjoy the highest level of human development and the greatest opportunities and freedoms?

While general measures of wellbeing – such as income, high school completion rates, and life expectancy at birth – improved between 1960 and 2005, they did so at much slower rates than in other parts of the industrialized world. At the same time, particular social groups and local constituencies have been altogether left behind. Mississippi was found to have the lowest overall human development score of any of the states, while Connecticut had the highest. By congressional district, Fresno CA. obtained the poorest results, whereas the east side of Manhattan showed the most encouraging.

Across gender lines, females recorded similar scores to males, but achieved these through better education and health scores as opposed to income. Across ethnic groups, Asian males were found to enjoy a level of human development almost 50 years ahead of African American males. Moreover, the average life expectancy for African Americans today is shorter than it was for average Americans in the late 1970s. According to the data, African American males today can expect to live up to 20 years less than Asian females.

Internationally, the United States compares poorly with other OECD countries across health, education and income data. While per capita healthcare spending is three times that of Japan, the Japanese continue to outlive Americans by an average of four years. Similarly, upper secondary graduation rates in the United States are also comparatively low, and the United States registered some of the highest infant mortality and child poverty rates of any of its OECD peers. On top of this, the United States remains one of only four countries across the globe with no federally mandated paid maternity leave system in place.

In an attempt to improve America’s human development scores, the report also offers several guiding principles for future policymakers – from making healthcare affordable across the country and promoting prevention as a best practice, to modernizing school curricula, investing in at-risk kids, boosting incomes and asset building capacities, and taking responsibility for the nation’s most vulnerable.

At a time of political transition in the United States, The Measure of America serves as a useful beacon showing policymakers the direction they must take to move the country forward.

- Daniel Schuurman

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Army Invades Second Life

By Joshua S. Fouts
Carnegie Council Senior Fellow
Chief Global Strategist, Dancing Ink Productions, LLC

In the wake of Google closing down its virtual world, "Lively," and Reuters noisily closing its Second Life office, you'd think that virtual worlds would warrant the Sturm und Drang predictions that have replaced an equally misguided first-round buzz of interest.

Maybe it's just growing pains.

Enter the United States Army.

Wired reporter Noah Shachtman recently blogged that the US Army will be opening up shop in the virtual world of Second Life over the next month. According to Shachtman, their effort "will actually consist of two virtual islands. One of them will serve as a ‘welcome center' with an information kiosk and the means to contact a recruiter." The other will offer virtual experiences like, "jumping out of airplanes, and rappelling off of towers and using a weapon."

I asked my friend Peter W. Singer, who is director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution, and author of the upcoming book Wired for War -- what he thought of this. (Singer's program at Brookings is notable in that it was one of the first to host a session on the impact of Second Life on the future of politics -- Singer's wife Sue works for Linden Lab, the creator of Second Life).

"A lot of credit is due to the Army for being willing to take this first step," he emailed back. "It is a great way to connect to potential recruits, who it might not reach otherwise, through a growing medium. But I hope they don't just see it as merely an advertising tool. Just like many other organizations entering Second Life have found, there is a whole new world of possibilities, as well as perils, for them to learn more about."

It's indeed a wise decision for the Army. In our research for the Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds project, CCEIA Senior Fellow Rita J. King and I encountered many people from around the world who found the experiences in virtual worlds offered them a safe environment in which to explore things with which they were unfamiliar. Why not present the Army in the same light? Stanford University researcher Jeremy Bailenson has already found that people take experiences in virtual worlds with them into the physical world. A May 12, 2008 Time magazine article reported "even 90 seconds spent chatting it up with avatars [in a virtual world] is enough to elicit behavioral changes offline."

The Army might also learn something about their potential recruits in Second Life that they might not learn otherwise from meeting them in person. In an interview I conducted in January 2008 with IBM executive Sandra Kearney, Global Director for Government Research Initiatives and Programs and the lead for many years behind IBM's Virtual Universe Community, she explained that work within virtual worlds has, "made obvious the value people have beyond the box they work in all day long. I'm able to leverage in the organization the passions and the skills that the employee has by what I learn from and about them in virtual worlds. It's addressing the whole person in a really different way."

But it's also a risk--one that I'm glad to see the government taking. Ironically, these kinds of chances seem to be lead by the military more than other parts of the government. For example, in May 2000, before online video games had fully entered into the psyche of advertisers and marketers, the US Army commissioned the creation of the video game "America's Army" which was released in 2002 and later turned into a wildly popular game exceeding even the Pentagon's expectations to become the number one online action game in 2004.

There's reason for hope that other parts of the US foreign and military apparatus are watching and learning. James Glassman, US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, made a stunning announcement at the New America Foundation on December 1, 2008 about the State Department's "Public Diplomacy 2.0" efforts. Glassman, who is the "the government-wide lead in strategic communications, or war of the ideas," provides "leadership and coordination for … the Defense Department, the intelligence community, and beyond." In his speech, Glassman makes the case for the importance of integrating a full-fledged approach to Internet outreach, arguing that government needs to let go of its desire to control the message. "[I]n this new world of communications, any government that resists new Internet techniques faces a greater risk: being ignored. Our major target audiences – especially the young – don't want to listen to us lecture them or tell them what to think or how wonderful we are."

I found Glassman's words inspiring and exciting. In the fall of 2005, as director of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, I had the opportunity to brief Under Secretary Glassman's predecessor Karen Hughes before she took office as Under Secretary of State. Our group recommended that, among other things, she integrate games, virtual worlds and blogs into her public diplomacy outreach strategies. Nearly three years later, I'm thrilled to see that her successor has implemented all of those ideas and more. (Disclosure: Glassman's speech also mentions a January 12, 2009 event in Second Life in which he will be appearing that Rita J. King and I will be co-hosting as part of a project with the American University in Cairo.)

Glassman argued, as do we, that virtual worlds are no substitute for real world experiences. They serve, however, as excellent gateways to better understanding people or opportunities to augment or extend ideas – such as expanding and continuing relationships formed in exchange programs.

While the Army is considering Second Life, maybe they should also consider theater. A year ago, Rita J. King wrote about a play by the Scottish National Theater called "Blackwatch." The play, about the famed Scottish military regiment, described the collapse of the unit after their involvement in the War in Iraq. The play's tour in the US was funded by the British Council, the public diplomacy arm of the British Government. It shed unique insight into the British experience in the US-led War on Terror.

A few weeks ago I had a chance to get a better understanding of a US soldier's experience in the Iraq War. I was a participant in the off-Broadway production of "Surrender," a play co-written by my friend Josh Fox (who coincidentally played in a high school rock band with the aforementioned Wired journalist Noah Shachtman – Shachtman played bass) and Sergeant Jason Christopher Hartley, Iraqi War veteran and author of the extremely well-written "Just Another Soldier," about his experiences in the war in Iraq. The three act play allows you to either observe or participate. I chose to participate. I arrived a few minutes late and was rushed into a changing room where I was issued a standard military uniform while the sound of a drill sergeant (played by Jason Christopher Hartley) barked orders to a group to do push-ups until the latecomers were ready. The play began with training in basic combat techniques including a crash course in rifle handling, room clearing and engaging the enemy. In act two I was deployed with my squad, which consisted of actors and participants, although I did not know which was which breaking into darkened rooms under the deafening cacophony of helicopter gun ships, sirens, gunfire, screams all capped my squad and company leaders fevered commands. Each room offered a different panic-inducing scenario – from interrupting a tryst and having the paramours shoot at you, to encountering an otherwise innocent looking family who also then shot at us. Act three was our hallucinatory "reintegration" into society in which the various participants were required to act out the fate of their characters. This entailed reading lines from a teleprompter while actors responded accordingly. I played the part of a soldier who had to have his legs amputated and ended in a mental institution. Next it was determined, that I had a pre-existing mental condition and would not be receiving medical coverage.

The experience participating in Surrender was a powerful one. It radically changed my view of the experience of soldiers in urban ground combat.

Surrender is opening for one week only January 7 – 12. If you're in New York City and want to understand the Army, this is one virtual experience you don't want to miss. After that, try something little more relaxing like visiting the Army's virtual offices in Second Life.

cross posted at The Ethical Blogger
photo by Seb Ulysses

Monday, December 8, 2008

Advancing Corporate Citizenship in the Media: Working Group

The media certainly have a great deal of influence over public opinion and discourse. During my recent trip to Brussels, I even heard one finance expert blame the media for the worsening of the financial crisis, saying that the media sector is stoking fear beyond reason.

Can a sense of social responsibility or ethics be instilled in the American media sector? At the Carnegie Council, we convened a small working group of media professionals called "Advancing Corporate Citizenship in the Media." Based on our first meeting, the following are some of the big issues that the group might explore:

balancing media coverage vs delivering a socially responsible message;

whether good behavior can be recognized without the use of certification;

distinguishing opinion from fact;

balancing the need to be entertaining and profitable with the company's role of informing societal debate.

Media CSR Forum has identified issues in three categories: those that are common to all sectors (such as the environment); those that have implications for the media (such as intellectual property); and those that are specific to the media (such as media literacy).

In this final category, the Forum has identified media literacy as a common concern and workable issue for its stakeholders. Its campaign asks, for example: Are you a receptacle for the unacceptable?

Trust in the media has been increasing in several countries, according to the Forum's research. It was surmised that public engagement, such as conferences, and transparency in the media sector could be given partial credit for this improvement.

How to create incentives for better behavior? I asked the group whether non-bottom line and non-shareholder issues could influence behavior. What about moral suasion? Can the interaction of peers and competitors at working groups facilitate better behavior? What about certification, reputation risk, association in a working group? Can these things build trust among competitors? One practitioner suggested that we attempt to shape popular culture to create moral suasion, tying brand, culture, and CSR.

There appeared to be traction in this area since "self-regulation is preferable to government regulation." One way could be to share information on each company's internal code of conduct toward improving the sector's conduct and embedding good behavior in corporate culture. One code of conduct for the sector as a whole is a possibility especially if stakeholders demand it.

Nevertheless, it will be challenging to create a universal code since there are so many types of media (music, new media, print, etc.). I asked if we could use the Equator Principles as a model. It was noted that those Principles worked because they were targeted specifically to project finance, suggesting that the more focused, the better. One practitioner wondered how we would know when a CSR ethic was embedded in the company? Is it already there? How do you embed it?On media literacy, one practitioner wondered whether the focus might be better placed on examining infotainment. In other words, which comes first: creating a better product or teaching people how to use it? The cart or the horse?

A code of media ethics should be connected to how media companies relate to their readers and stakeholders. Indeed, a business case for ethical practices will be made if readers demand it. Shareholders will get the message. One of the companies in NYC is trying to engage its readers directly with its editorials and by making its style guides available. Advances have been made in distinguishing fact from opinion in print by using different font treatment. One practitioner agreed that demands from clients can also change ethical practices dramatically. What if large newspapers demanded green policies from clients wishing to run green ads?

It was noted that CSR is coming back because there is now a struggle to define CSR, and this struggle is creating opportunity. One observer said that while CSR is on the minds of media executives in the big cities, it has not yet reached the heartland, yet this market could have a big effect if tapped, suggesting another opportunity.

Overall, CSR can be seen as a business opportunity and a way to reduce risk. This is the lens through which a task force can make a case.Another approach toward introducing CSR in the media is for the media to critically assess corporate behavior and then report on it. Corporations can engage the media for more critical self-assessment.

Several participants noted that American top tier media companies have a responsibility to make the case for climate change mitigation. Future meetings might take emulate the Media CSR Forum's model and bring in experts from media and civil society to speak.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Message from Brussels: Yes We Can!

It is amazing how much positive impact the election of a moral American president can have on world attitudes. I just returned from Brussels, attending a conference on ethics in business, ethical leadership, and the financial crisis, held at the European Parliament with the International Association for Human Values. For the first time in years, I was able to travel abroad without having to defend or argue about U.S. foreign policy. I imagine that my experience was similar to an American traveling abroad during the Kennedy years.

The themes I heard in Brussels were: the need for trust and ethical leadership; the financial crisis is an ethical crisis; the need for a global economy that is fairer and benefits more people; and "Yes We Can!" In fact, Barack Obama's phrase "yes we can" was uttered several times during the conference, much like "amen" might be uttered in a church.

Before I get into some of the things said during the panels, I want to mention the presentation made by the CCS World Youth Forum, a select group of young leaders that attended a training course on ethical leadership before the conference.

The young leaders (pictured above) made speeches, showed a film they made on the financial crisis, and sang a song. Here is an excerpt of the lyrics (the music was reminiscent of "Day by Day" or "Bless the Lord" in the musical "Godspell"):

Ideas to action not into words
Aim for the stars, have a dream
Change the world - you are free
We are the change the moment is now

Yes we can! Yes we can! Yes we can!

Keep your heart burning.
Be the change you want to see in the world... let's keep it real

Together we can!

Some other themes from the conference:

Ludo Bammens of Coca Cola's EU Group made a speech that prompted one audience member to ask him how he got to be so inspirational. Bammens said that there are two types of trust: the unconditional trust he feels with his child and the "transactional trust" between companies and stakeholders. Transactional trust is built on the following formula, he said:

Trust = Performance - Expectations

Where expectations are placed on how a company impacts "my community, my well-being, and the global environment." The rewards and punishments (teeth) by stakeholders include:

Do I buy your product? Do I buy your stock? Do I want to be employed by you? Will the government regulate you? And does the public believe you (your information)?

Performance is the ability to inspire and make a difference. And this factor is multiplied by time.

One person from the audience asked where do profits fit in the formula. Bammens answered that Coke was established more than 100 years ago when profits were everything. That is not the case anymore. A company needs to do more and offer more value to society to survive.

Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp also gave one of the most memorable speeches. He said the figure Abraham of the Hebrew Scriptures was tested by God to show if Abraham knew himself (or "Know Thyself," as famously written on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, along with "Nothing to Excess"). Similarly, the financial crisis is testing the world to determine whether humanity can reach its potential. The emergence of a million NGOs is in the same spirit of 1948, the development of international systems in accordance with human values, dignity, and brotherhood.

A relevant phrase that was conjured by one of the speakers was: "A falling tree makes more noise than a growing forest."

Is the crisis "Made in America"? Sure, we have seen some commentary to this effect. But I was encouraged that the speakers and conversations were mostly non-ideological.

I (seated in foreground) was wondering if an anti-American view (see comments on earlier post in this blog) would come up during my trip to Brussels last week. Fortunately, it did not. During my speech on the future of capitalism, I asked the audience if anyone could identify the precise origin of the crisis, and not one person raised their hand. To the comment on American capitalism, I would just offer a couple of comments: One is that this crisis is global; no major economy--no matter its variation of governance--is invulnerable. Yes, the crisis had much of its origins in the United States, but the causes and impacts are global.

Second, the global economy has created more wealth and has raised more people out of poverty than could have been imagined 20 years ago. Finally, American capitalism has morphed many times over the past century. I might suggest we rediscover some of the first principles of capitalism: real, broader profit and real, long term prudence. I would agree that consumerism should be reexamined but, ironically, we will need fiscal and monetary stimuli to get out of the crisis. As Paul Krugman recently noted, any fiscal stimulus less than monumental will be insufficient.

The global debate so far to the crisis has been mostly non-ideological. This is promising: the world needs to cooperate and stay open.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Market Capitalism Questioned

Despite Barack Obama's presidential victory in the United States, the financial crisis will erode the ability of the United States to promote market capitalism, it seems. Richard Haass wrote an excellent op-ed over the weekend called "What the Recession Means for Foreign Policy." Not only did he predict the reduction of U.S. foreign policy tools such as defense spending and foreign aid, but he also said U.S. capitalism will come into question:

One other adverse consequence merits mention. The appeal of free markets is much diminished. The ability of U.S. officials to preach persuasively on the virtues of market reform is all but gone. The backlash against markets will almost certainly go too far, with adverse results for economic recovery and democracy around the world.

We are already seeing increased anti-Americanism, the result of perceptions that the global economic slowdown had its roots in the U.S. mortgage market. Globalization itself is further tarnished. What we can expect is heightened state intervention, protectionism and mercantilism as governments look to enter into arrangements that guarantee preferential outcomes.

Susan Aaronson wrote a similar argument in Policy Innovations last week in her popular article "Financial Crisis Hurts U.S. Soft Power." Like Haass, she predicts traditional policy tools will be weakened and, like Hasss again, U.S. market ideology will take a hit:

First, America's global standing is, to a great extent, reflective of how it projects its power, relates to other countries, and keeps its commitments to them. If the global financial meltdown makes life worse for the world's poor, many people may link the U.S. model of democratic capitalism with global misery. They may be less receptive to economic and political strategies presented by U.S. diplomats and NGOs. Meanwhile, the financial crisis will make American taxpayers less able to provide generous levels of foreign aid to help the world's poor.

Second, although many countries will be desperate for investment, U.S. investors could come under considerable pressure to create jobs at home. U.S. tax policy is likely to favor domestic job creation and investment in the U.S. market. Meanwhile, U.S. investors may be less welcome abroad than, for example, Chinese or Indian investors—Americans and Europeans are more likely to demand transparency, accountability, and human rights.

Will people associate U.S. power with "global misery" or with the opportunity and pluralism that Obama's victory represents? Perhaps both. I am speaking at a conference with the European Parliament in Brussels this week called "Ethics in Business - Corporate Culture and Spirituality." In February, I am speaking about a very similar topic in Tokyo. There is clearly a demand for reflection on the future of market capitalism.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Globalization Dialectic

French intellectual Laurent Cohen-Tanugi visited the Carnegie Council in New York City last month to present his new book The Shape of the World to Come: charting the geopolitics of a new century. In true French philosophical fashion, Laurent presented globalization as a paradoxical phenomenon with conflicting consequences.

The geopolitics of today, with the rise of non-Western powers, such as Russia, China, and India, the “rise of the rest,” is the result of the positive aspects of economic globalization. That is the good news, according to Laurent. The bad news is the potential for conflict, partly as a result of economic globalization. Laurent sees potential enduring conflict between the “Arab-Muslim word and the West,” as well as from rising nationalism and resource competition—or a return to traditional geopolitics.

Laurent takes aim at Thomas Friedman’s description of a flattened world and offers a more complicated view. “Between integration and fragmentation, nationalism and multilateralism, dialogue and clash of civilizations, the shape of the world to come will depend to a great degree on the use the new economic giants make of their power and on the ability of Western democracies to preserve their dynamism, their cohesion, and their influence for the common good.”

With the recent election of Barack Obama in the United States, the policy implications seem clear: seize the consensus on the urgency of today’s problems to build new global public goods, such as energy cooperation, climate change mitigation, and longer-term investment strategies, tapping into what makes market capitalism a force for good. As Al Gore and David Blood wrote yesterday in their excellent Wall Street Journal op-ed: “At this moment, we are faced with the convergence of three interrelated crises: economic recession, energy insecurity and the overarching climate crisis. Solving any one of these challenges requires addressing all three.”

In Laurent’s analysis, the West has lost influence in multilateral institutions since these institutions are out dated for today’s world. The notion of democracy promotion is also challenged in many quarters, such as Russia and China, says Laurent. Laurent is courageous and correct in saying that today’s multi-polar world is not just more equal but also more unstable, contrary to the European hope of equalizing relations with the United States. Nationalism is returning and we are “moving away from the post-modern ideal of global governance,” and we are witnessing a return of “19th Century geopolitics.”

Nevertheless, the world is one, and we all face the same big problems—climate change, financial instability, etc. “We are all in the same boat,” Laurent says. The new paradigm for the world will be paradoxical: harmonizing through integration and fragmentation through competition. The question is: Which trend will prevail?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Digital Social Responsibility Panel at Japan Society

It has been an eventful week. On Wednesday, I participated in the Japan Society's panel on Digital Social Responsibility: Search for a Sound, Responsible Information Society with Charla Griffy-Brown of Pepperdine, Jun Kurihara of Harvard, and Harriet Pearson of IBM. This conference could not have been better timed: It took place hours after Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft agreed to new guidelines that would aim to protect human rights, privacy, and free expression. From the Scientific American:

The three software giants today (Oct. 29) announced creation of the Global Network Initiative designed to persuade oppressive governments to allow their citizens to freely express opinions, via the Web in particular, without fear of

Participating companies must agree to "respect and protect the freedom of expression rights of their users when confronted with government demands, laws and regulations to suppress freedom of expression, remove content or otherwise limit access to information and ideas in a manner inconsistent with internationally recognized laws and standards," says the new group's guidelines.
The guidelines were a response to criticism from NGOs about Internet companies cooperating with the Chinese Government. From InformationWeek:

Yahoo helped launch the initiative after becoming one of several technology companies criticized for how they deal with restrictions on speech in foreign countries. Yahoo was accused of giving the Chinese government information about users that led to the jailing of dissidents. Google has been criticized for filtering search results to comply with demands from the Chinese government. MSN and Yahoo also filter search results to comply with Chinese government

GNI members said they commit to protect freedom of expression and privacy, partner with others for collective governance and accountability, and spread their objectives around the globe. They agreed to require governments to put information requests in writing and to interpret those requests as narrowly as possible.
As expected, there is already some skepticism about the initiative. From SA again:

Don't expect any radical chances results any time soon: companies joining the
initiative (at a cost of $100,000) have two years from the time they sign on to prove they're following the guidelines. It is unclear, however, the consequences a company faces if they join the initiative but fail to meet these guidelines.
Several themes emerged from the Japan Society panel. The overall theme is that companies and Internet users must build a foundation of trust in order to fully exploit the benefits of Web 2.0. That means stewardship of the Internet and of information will become a big focus--information stewardship happens to be something that IBM has been thinking about since the late 1960s. Some other big themes from the panel:

1. A "ubiquitous network society" or "collective intelligence" is emerging from the Internet and Web 2.0, allowing for better and quicker response to crises and problems. The use of crowd sourcing is one such example. With so much information out there, will the global economy begin to put a higher premium on other skills, such as empathy? (BusinessWeek has made this argument, too.)

2. The Web is allowing companies and operations to move from an international model to a multinational model to a truly global model in which data are processed in multiple places, through cloud computing, for example. As John Ruggie mentioned at the Carnegie Council this week, the speed and scope of business has surpassed traditional governing organizations like states. How do we keep up

3. Web 2.0 can help mitigate risk (as well as create new risks) in many areas, including supply chain, brand, and public relations. Lines between competition and cooperation are blurred as are those between friends and enemies. How do we better facilitate these interactions, for example to boost the "integrity of the crowds," as I would put it. This point was brought up by Andrew Zolli at our Web 2.0 panel at the Carnegie Council.

4. Finally, ethical leadership or "courageous leadership," as Kurihara put it, will be needed to resolve the paradoxes and ethical dilemmas posed by Web 2.0. Zolli made a similar point at our panel by saying that ethical leadership is the fastest mover affecting brand value. The others are about stewardship--social and environmental.

(Photo collage from Japan Society of Kurihara, Griffy-Brown, Pearson, and me.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

John Ruggie Sees Big Shift in Public Attitude Toward Govt

Harvard Professor John Ruggie spoke at the Carnegie Council this week on the future of his project on business and human rights. Below is a short summary Carnegie Council intern Sheila Oviedo helped me put together. The big points are that Ruggie sees a dramatic shift in public attitudes in favor of government regulation, as a result of the financial crisis. Government is no longer just "the problem," in the public mind.

Also, Ruggie could see a more ethical capitalism emerging not by instilling ethics in people per se but by creating incentives based on an ethical framework. The temptation to be corrupt is too big, for example, and therefore people need the incentives to be good.

(You can listen to the audio of his talk here.)

Business and Human Rights
(Summary of the Ruggie presentation)

This week, John Ruggie, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises, visited the Carnegie Council and shared insights not only on his mandate, but also on the way forward for business and human rights as well as ethics and capitalism in the post-crisis global economy.

The Framework for Business and Human Rights

Released in April 2008 and unanimously accepted by the Human Rights Council in June, the Ruggie report, "Protect, Respect and Remedy: A Framework for Business and Human Rights" rests on three core principles: the state duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and greater access by victims to effective remedies. In less than a year after its release, the framework rapidly gained traction among business and human rights groups, corporations, and even governments. The Human Rights Council agreed to renew Ruggie's mandate for another three years, which allows him to move forward with operationalizing the framework.

The formulation of the Framework was, according to Ruggie, informed by three broad approaches. First was the pyramid of correlative duties adapted from the work of John Knox. The pyramid suggests that the current international human rights regime is still largely state-centered, but with no specific requirements for state compliance with human rights laws or strict enforcement mechanisms. "Where most cases (of human rights abuses) are, enforcement is weakest," Ruggie noted. The alternative is to "flesh things out at the bottom" by providing states with tools to uphold and enforce human rights law.

The second area that informed the Framework is the "collision of norms" in the international system. The system consists of clusters of laws, codes, and norms that often clash because there is no hierarchy. Human rights law, Ruggie said, does not generally trump other laws. The Framework therefore makes policy arguments rather than legal arguments to integrate human rights into business.

The third area that informed the Framework is what Ruggie calls the "political economy of human rights." There is a "vast misalignment" of corporate activities and government capabilities, which results in governance gaps. "Human rights violations are a result of these governance gaps," Ruggie noted. The Framework prescribes pragmatic measures that can be done to bridge these gaps.

In general, the Framework follows what Ruggie calls an approach of "principled pragmatism." It is guided by the principle to strengthen the current human rights regime and is pragmatic on how to get there, he explained.

The New Mandate

Ruggie's extended mandate from 2008 to 2011, presents an opportunity to operationalize the Framework at both the state and corporate levels. At the state level, he aims to offer governments useful tools to be able to monitor and enforce human rights law through a range of mechanisms such as a country's investment policies and corporate laws.

At the corporate level, Ruggie aims to push companies to carry out their commitment to human rights. Companies say they respect human rights, he said, "but most of them don't have (systems) in place to prove they are respecting human rights." In the next three years, Ruggie's challenge is to inspire companies to operationalize the corporate responsibility to protect human rights to mitigate further rights abuses.

Another key challenge is to improve public access to remedial measures. "The need for judicial remedy is the most problematic," Ruggie acknowledged. Hence, the Framework prescribes alternative non-judicial remedial mechanisms in areas where judicial mechanisms are weak or in cases where companies can deal with complaints in an objective manner.

The Future of Business and Ethics

Ruggie sees the current global financial crisis as a catalyst for a shift in attitudes toward globalization and regulation. He expects increased government regulation in the post-crisis future, and perhaps more acceptance of the significant role of government and the state in the economy.

The post-crisis era has room for ethical financial capitalism, but only if ethics is used as a basis for developing new incentives. Ethics can't be relied upon to balance an incentive structure that encourages excess and irresponsible risk-taking.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Nye's Soft Power Skills for Leaders

Joseph Nye recently came to the Carnegie Council's Public Affairs Program and took his idea of soft power and applied it to leadership.

The Power of Social Entrepreneurs

The Washington Post ran a story on the growth of social entrepreneurship today. Here is an interesting excerpt with stats:

A survey last year by the financial firm Deloitte & Touche found that two-thirds of those ages 18 to 26 prefer jobs that permit them to contribute to a nonprofit group.

In recent years, more than 30 business schools, including those at Georgetown and Harvard universities, have launched social entrepreneurship programs. The number of law schools that support pro bono programs or require students to work in them rose to 145 this year, from 100 in 2001, according to an American Bar Association survey.

Pamela Hartigan, co-author of the new book "The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World," said today's young idealists differ from their predecessors.

"In the 1960s and 1970s, politics was the way we thought of changing the world. But young people today. . . believe that change is going to be brought about by business and market discipline," Hartigan said. "And so they seek to set up enterprises, not to pad their pockets, but to transform what is broken in our societies in a long-lasting way." She added that some get restless: "They are very impatient about not having a job that's meaningless."

Ashoka, an Arlington County-based organization that funds social start-ups, created a program in the mid-1990s for would-be entrepreneurs ages 12 to 20. Ashoka's Youth Venture has launched more than 2,000 projects worldwide, at least half of which are still active, including a new team of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School students who plan to install energy-saving light bulbs in poor neighborhoods, funding the project with babysitting and tutoring money.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Earth Is a No Gloating Zone

A few weeks ago, I was listening to the BBC and heard some British commentators speak about how deliciously ironic it was that the United States, an evangelist of free market principles, is now verging on socializing its financial system. The tone of the comments was smug and gleeful. It was gloating; it was what the Germans call schadenfreude or taking pleasure in the suffering of others. Of course, a few weeks later, many Europeans realized they were in the same boat.

I didn't get this desire to take pleasure in the suffering of others. Also, don't Europeans, who often claim to be immersed in history, realize the historical context? Don't they recall the New Deal, not to mention the Marshall Plan? In a paper I have been working on recently, I tried to express my feeling:

The global nature of the world’s problems makes it increasingly obvious that the human family is in the same boat. Despite the initial glee some commentators took in the recent misfortunes of the U.S. financial sector, the false dream of "decoupling," and the reasonable desire for punitive measures against the "party" on Wall Street, it became clear that international cooperation was the only path toward weathering the "perfect economic storm."

Thomas Friedman recently noted that Iceland’s plea to Russia to help it avoid "national bankruptcy" shows that financial globalization has gone faster than regulatory institutions could govern it. Globalization of the world’s problems has also gone faster than the common understanding of "national interest."

In a time when everything has gone global—from epidemics to pollution to communications—nationalistic political slogans like John McCain’s "country first," like the 1867 "Canada First," seem anachronistic. Of course, we expect our politicians to fight for a country’s national interest, but the nature of each country’s interest is increasingly global. How can a more enlightened sense of national interest take root?

Today, Slate has an article on the same topic. It starts like this:

Until last week, Europe had witnessed the type of anti-American gloating usually seen only during the soccer World Cup, the quadrennial event in which the American team is routed in the early rounds. The spectacle of highly paid American bankers falling on their faces inspired smug lectures from afar about the reckless pursuit of profits, disdain for regulation, and manic risk-taking that characterize U.S.-style capitalism.

The tsk-tsk-ing reached a new level with a cover story in the German newsweekly Der Spiegel, "The End of Arrogance": "The banking crisis is upending American dominance of the financial markets and world politics." The piece notes the delicious irony of the United States having to nationalize parts of its financial system. "The Americans are now paying the price for their pride," it notes. "Gone are the days when the U.S. could go into debt with abandon." Gone, too, are the days of "turbo-capitalism" imposing its mores of "avarice and greed" on the global economy. No wonder schadenfreude—that lovely word meaning joy at other people's suffering—was coined in German.

But now the clog is on the other foot. Germany has been forced to bail out the nation's second-largest property lender. Iceland, whose financial system now swims with the fishes, has seized several banks. Britain unveiled an expensive plan to inject up to $88 billion of capital into proud financial institutions such as Barclays. Several European countries have hastened to boost deposit insurance.

(Photo by BinaryApe.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Financial Crisis: Typology of Issues

Stephen Jordan of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Business Civic Leadership Center sent out a helpful email to friends and colleagues today. He wrote that groups have shown a lot of determination not to cave into the distress of the current financial crisis. Instead, many in the corporate citizenship community are trying to accelerate recovery, minimize damage, and be constructive.

Stephen offered a typology of the issues that the CSR community might address in the coming weeks in response to the financial crisis:

I. How to Build Trust (Ethics)

o How to increase confidence in “Wall Street” (financial capital)?

o How to increase confidence in senior business management?

o How to address social concerns about business in a recession or times of hardship?

o How to sort through the responsibilities of various stakeholders to the system?

II. How to Minimize Harm (Public Policy)

o How to mitigate the impact of the crisis on the poor (or on social services)?

o How to avoid class warfare on the one hand and systemic, entrenched inequality on the other, and other “us versus them” effects

o How to avoid damaging “Main Street” (small and medium-sized businesses, local communities, etc.)

III. How to Accelerate the Future (Operations)

o How to promote enlightened capitalism (i.e. maximize benefits over a 20 year period, as opposed to next quarter)

o How to expand the benefits of capitalism for the bottom of the pyramid

o How to develop non-traditional “blended value” social and economic institutions and public-private partnerships to address social goals and reduce poverty

IV. How to Proceed (Goal identification and Strategy)

o How to make business part of the solution

o How to distinguish between normative (morally good to do), operational, and legal imperatives and obligations for investors, boards, senior managers, regulators, customers, and other interested parties

o How to distinguish between “good” and “bad” capitalism

o How to define the roles and responsibilities of the public and private sectors better in order to maximize public welfare

o Who should do what?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Moral Common Ground in China

This summer, China hosted the 2008 Olympics without a major incident, but barely a month after the Olympic curtains fell, Beijing was scrambling to contain one of the worst cases of milk contamination in recent history. These two events mirror the gap between two images of China. On one side is China as a confident power, rapidly opening not just to foreign trade and investment, but also to ideas, values, and norms from the outside world. On the other side is the developing, more uncertain China, driven by a growing capitalist culture that is filling a moral vacuum created by the Cultural Revolution.

A recent Carnegie Council delegation to Beijing days after the Olympics found that the Chinese want to bridge this gap, and ethics is high on the agenda.

The delegation traveled to Beijing from Sept. 21 to 26, 2008, to lay the groundwork for China-Japan-U.S. dialogues on ethics, energy, climate change, and faculty development. The group included Joshua Eisenman, Asia Studies Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council and Ph.D. candidate at UCLA; Jonathan Gage, a Carnegie Council Trustee and Principal of Booz & Company, where he also publishes its magazine strategy+business; Harry Harding, University Professor of International Affairs at the George Washington University; Devin Stewart, Director, Global Policy Innovations, Carnegie Council; and Alex Westlake, Managing Director of ClearWorld Energy in Beijing.

Meetings with senior academics, businesspeople, and think tank and government officials revealed that Chinese interest in ethics in international affairs is more cosmopolitan than many may assume. In particular, there is genuine interest in ethical business, in ethics relating to climate change and energy security, and in reconciling Western discourse with China’s traditions. Intellectuals believe that indeed, the tainted milk scandal, which hit a pitch while the delegation was in Beijing, has helped to increase the urgency for an ethical dialogue not only within the country but also between China and other countries, such as the United States. As one of the world’s most important political and economic players, many Chinese feel a growing sense of responsibility and are increasingly willing to talk with other global partners to carry out their global obligations.

As Harry Harding put it, China and the United States both justify their policies on moral grounds; they are ethical powers. China has a long ethical tradition, although the sense that China’s transition from a closed to an open economy and the quest for profits has led to “moral degradation” is widespread. Frustration is growing over the erosion of traditional values, and discussions in Beijing indicate a desire to use these values to create a new culture that can adopt from the outside and adapt to the globalized era, as Alex Westlake put it.

Yet there is also hesitation over what some see as a double standard and the West’s apparent lack of willingness to take into the account the point of view of developing nations. China and the United States, for example, share many values, although they place emphasis on different priorities, as Harding said. China’s involvement in Africa, a topic that Josh Eisenman is investigating, is a case in point. China’s association with the government of Sudan has made it the target of international criticism. Yet some have expressed doubt about American ethical commitments, such as those on climate change.

Many of the themes heard in Beijing indicate increased international engagement for China and increased world involvement in paving China’s next road to reform and a pluralist approach to ethics, based on consensus and compromise. The China Reform Forum is hosting a symposium on the next step to China’s reform next month. The topics include options for general reform as well as reforms in its market-oriented economy, society and government. All topics present opportunities to promote ethics in Chinese reforms.

Our discussions in Beijing illustrate two overarching ethical principles: the Golden Rule and the Golden Mean. Several sources, for example, suggested that China find the best elements from its historical traditions, from the outside world, and from socialist thought, implying a pluralistic mean between the three. The Golden Mean, a theme found both in the Confucian tradition as well as in Indian, Greek, and other philosophies, also could lay the foundation for equity or fairness in negotiations, ranging from trade to climate change. Moreover, a fairer negotiation process is likelier to bring about lasting solutions.

Finally, theses solutions should be based on reciprocity, respect, rights, and responsibility—captured nicely in the nearly universal concept of the Golden Rule. The Carnegie Council looks forward to helping further this dialogue.

(Photos: Carnegie Council delegates meet officials at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, top, at Renmin University School of International Studies, and at the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China)

This summary was prepared by Sheila Oviedo and Devin Stewart.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Economy vs. the environment?

Last week I wrote a briefing on the upcoming carbon credit auction, Northeast Puts on the Carbon Cap. In the article I identified a few kinks in the system that might make the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative less than successful in the long run. A more immediate threat, however, may be the effect the credit crisis is having on markets in general.

When I spoke with RGGI Inc. spokesman Jonathan Schrag a week before the auction, I asked whether the organization was concerned about there being too many credits for sale – the total allowance easily exceeded current emissions. Though unable to disclose just who would be taking part, Schrag was convinced that, with over 100 registered bidders, the “broad participation” would ensure success.

One week and a few collapsed banks later, that participation was no longer a given; concerns about the credit-crunch fallout on Wall Street affecting the RGGI auction seem to have borne themselves out. Although the emissions allowances sold for $3.07 – higher than the $1.86 floor price set before the auction, the prices did not reach the levels anticipated on the futures markets.

Is lackluster interest from the financials to blame? According to today’s press release 59 entities submitted bids, with “compliance entities,” the utilities that will be bound by the emissions cap, purchasing most of the credits. This differs greatly from the European emissions market, where financial companies play an active role. There, carbon trading is big business, and companies seek out creative ways of reducing or abating their emissions so they can sell their allowances for a profit. The well-functioning (since last year's reforms) market ensures emissions reductions come at the best price and with the lowest economic penalty.

The recent turmoil in the financial sector may thus have claimed yet another victim – one few have even noticed. As everyone is focused on the astronomical bailout, the falling house and stock prices, and the economic slowdown, global warming concerns are taking a back seat. Could this be yet another example of pocketbook issues trumping the environment?

Photo by Taras Kalapun (cc)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Policy Innovations on the Road

Policy Innovations staff is traveling this month on a couple projects related to climate change.

GPI Director Devin Stewart is leading a Carnegie Council delegation to Beijing to lay groundwork for China-Japan-U.S. dialogues on ethics, energy, climate change, and faculty development.

Devin will be accompanied by Joshua Eisenman, an Asia Studies Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council and Ph.D. candidate at UCLA; Jonathan Gage, a Carnegie Council trustee and principal of Booz & Company, where he also publishes its magazine strategy+business; Harry Harding, University Professor of International Affairs at the George Washington University; and Alex Westlake, managing director of ClearWorld Energy (based in Beijing).

Stewart and Eisenman are coordinating the itinerary with the China Reform Forum in Beijing. Institutions to be visited include Peking University, Renmin University, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. The trip was made possible by generous support from ClearWorld Energy.

Meanwhile, Policy Innovations Managing Editor Evan O'Neil is literally hitting the road. He's biking in a peloton of 120 riders from New York to D.C. to meet with Congressional staff to discuss transportation and climate policy. To learn more about the story behind Evan's Climate Ride, take a look at the sponsorship page our web designer Graham Slick put together for him, or at Evan's new blog Inside Climate.

[Beijing Bicycles photo by Keith Marshall (CC).]

Monday, September 8, 2008

Political Conventions are a Waste

They say American presidential candidates must sell their product retail. But as the nominating conventions of both major American political parties recede into memory, all I can think is:

Someone just wasted a lot of money.

But then it’s not just the money that's wasted, is it? When I looked at the faces in the convention crowd, I didn't see Republicans and Democrats, Northerners and Southerners, delegates and super-delegates. Instead, I saw tens of thousands of roundtrip airfares and as many or more rental cars. And for what?

Originally intended to facilitate the choice of a candidate by delegates from far-flung states, these conventions have evolved into something entirely other, but, nevertheless wholly American: A product launch.

The major political parties can no longer afford to indulge in the messy, unpredictable nominating conventions of the past. The election cycle has elongated while the news cycle has collapsed on itself. Like celebrities and big corporations, politicians have got to manage their brands. And that means driving news coverage. A successful convention does that.

While it might be good for business, it's a bad model for the 21st century.

Last year, Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce (RSA) in the U.K. came to the Carnegie Council for a discussion of Climate Change and the Green Economy. He made several points, but the one that stuck with me related to business travel.

I was just thinking on the way over here, sitting in a business class absolutely filled with business people – all exhausted, all away from their families, all going to business meetings. When is this going to stop? Of course the reason it can’t stop is if you are pitching for a contract and there are five of you competing, and four of you fly, and one of you tries to do it remotely, then you’re going to lose. When is business going to get to the stage where they say, “Actually, we only want to talk to people virtually.”
Both the Democrats and the Republicans tried to sell their conventions as "the greenest convention ever." But that is just preposterous. A green convention would be one where all the delegates stayed home, watched the speeches on YouTube, and cast their votes via secure online connections. Seems like it would be easy to do.

Unfortunately, if one party tries it and it flops, then like the business travellers in Taylor's example the other will feast on that failure.

I know somebody has to lose. But do they have to waste so much doing it?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Can You See Nations?

It may strike you as odd that I am bringing into question the utility of the nation-state during Russia’s military action in Georgia. But I would argue that conflicts over nationhood only make my point: the pervasive understanding of statecraft as being strictly in the interest of the “nation-state” may obscure the nature of the threats that face humanity.

The ideas of a European Union and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were considered radical years before those projects started. At the very least, we on this Earth must realize that we are all in the same boat, and our destinies are tied to one another. We don’t have to be wedded to a concept, the nation-state, that is fuzzy to begin with and destructive when abused.

That is the basic point I argued in an essay that appeared in a roundtable discussion with Nick Gvosdev and David Andelman. My original salvo was also syndicated through Project Syndicate, appearing in several newspapers around the world in multiple languages. From what I can tell, the piece has appeared in the Japan Times, the South China Morning Post, the Cyprus Mail, the Daily Times (Pakistan), the Brunei Times, the Daily News (Egypt), El Nuevo Diario (Nicaragua), as well as Policy Innovations. Project Syndicate is an incredible concept: Syndicate opinion pieces and make them available in numerous language (mine was translated into French, Russian, Czech, Spanish, Chinese, and German).

In any case, here is the original piece. My argument may be a bit unusual, but I hope it helps move a useful debate. Let me know what you think. I put the piece on the blog because several people expressed interest in commenting on it.

Ending the Nation-State Myth

This fall, thousands of college students will be taught a myth presented as fact. It is a myth that has helped fuel wars and may hinder finding solutions to the world's biggest problems. Though the origin of this myth is cloudy, science has proven its falsity, and a globalized world has rendered it anachronistic. I am talking about the nation-state.

The nation-state myth conflates two ideas, one that is concrete, the state, and one that is fuzzy, the nation. The utility of the state is clear. It is a necessary organizing principle that allows people to pool their resources for the common good and mobilize against common threats, whether they are floods or invading armies. The state is also the final arbiter of law. State power is even on the rise, partly as a backlash to globalization and as a result of growing wealth from energy markets.

But the nation-state as a basis for statecraft obscures the nature of humanity's greatest threats. Pollution, terrorism, pandemics, and climate change are global phenomena. They do not respect national sovereignty, and, therefore, they necessitate global cooperation.

The origin of the nation-state idea is unclear. Most agree that it offered a way to consolidate and legitimize a state's rule over a group of people, whether defined by a common language, culture, or ethnicity. The problem is that the contours of a cultural community rarely coincide with a political entity.

Nor does the ideal of national unity account for internal diversity and conflict. Identities within nations are fluid, even from minute to minute. About 15 years ago, I spent a summer in France's Loire Valley. As many travelers to France will attest, people in the French countryside believe that they, not Parisians, constitute the "true" France.

This division of core and periphery is common in many countries. But I also noticed that a person's identity would change during the course of a conversation. "We French" would give way to "We Gauls," "We Latins," "We Bretons," "We Franks," or "We Europeans" depending on the topic. This ever-changing identity was startling, but, on second thought, it made sense: after all, Charles de Gaulle famously said that it is difficult to govern a country with 246 types of cheese.

China is often thought to be governed by the Han majority. But this group is linguistically, culturally, and even genetically diverse. As the author Ian Buruma recently mused, it is not clear what people mean by "China." Taiwan is an independent state but is officially part of China. Chinese culture and language has spread all over the world. "China" is much more than just a nation-state, Buruma concludes. Taiwanese scholar Lee Hsiao-feng has recently argued that the concept "Chinese" is a meaningless word that was fabricated to justify rule over minorities.

It is difficult to imagine a nation that is confined to one state or a state that contains one nation. Some argue that Japan is an example of a nation-state. In countless heated discussions, I have reminded many Japanese that the Japanese people actually comprise Ainu, Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos, and Ryuku. Their response is always: "Yes, but we want to believe that there is a Japanese people." They even have a field of study devoted to examining what it means to be Japanese.

Like religion, the nation-state myth requires a leap of faith. Japanese scholar Yoshihisa Hagiwara argues that since it is not grounded in fact, the nation-state myth is bound to dissolve, giving way to an understanding that we are merely individuals who are part of a global community. He laments that the Japanese are especially fond of the idea of "Japaneseness," making it possible that Japan may become the "last hero" of a dying ethos.

Expressions of this notion appear in popular culture. A recent credit card commercial depicts a father and son traveling to Norway to trace their family's origins. After bonding over local beer, food, sweaters, and swimming, they discover their family is actually from Sweden.

If I were to take that trip, I might have gone to Ireland to discover that my Irish ancestors were originally from Scotland. But where were the Scots from? Just across another sea, perhaps. The origin myth continues ad infinitum until we reach humanity's common ancestor, or an actual myth—a black egg in China, a spear in the ocean in Japan, or the interaction of fire and ice in France.

If policymakers are to address today's problems, they must think more broadly. One place to start may be to reexamine the concept of the nation-state, which students around the world are taught is the basic unit of international relations. Beyond the core Realist theories of balance of power, an introduction to ethics in international affairs—moral philosophy, human rights, and the role of nonstate actors—should be mainstreamed in international relations curricula.

As the philosopher Peter Singer showed in his book One World, a united front against the biggest problems facing the world will require a fundamental shift in attitude—away from parochialism and toward a redefinition of self-interest. Enlightened self-interest can be state-based, but interests would be redefined to encompass universal principles such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If these interests are to gain universal recognition, we will need to shed the nation-state myth once and for all.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Backyard Farming

Last July, the New Yorker ran an excellent article called "Turf War" about the history of the American lawn: How we can't live with them or without them, and how destructive they are to our environment. The article presented several more sustainable options for the home owner, including planting wild flowers, letting the lawn turn into a meadow, and cultivating a backyard farm. Today, I spoke with Fred Gerendasy from Cooking Up A Story, which, among other things, profiled two women in Portland who started up a backyard farming initiative. Check it out:

Saturday, August 30, 2008

"Whose Ethics?"

It is said that blogs emerged out of email conversations that were worth posting for a larger audience. When we talk about ethics in international affairs, as we do at the Carnegie Council, we are often asked: whose ethics? Whose ethics should we use when we apply them to foreign policy? Here is one such email conversation between a former Carnegie Council intern Sacha Tessier-Stall and me. Sacha had emailed to say hello, give me a nice comment about one of my recent articles, and drop a bomb: Is international ethics an oxymoron?

Devin Stewart: This is a complicated topic but in a nutshell, true ethics should be global; otherwise it is just parochial moralizing. Nevertheless, we should acknowledge that there are many ethical systems and ethical “minds” (toward loyalty, purity, fairness, the group, the individual, etc.) in the world. What we try to do at the Carnegie Council is start with the most pluralistic approach to include as many voices for ethics as possible and highlight universal values of human rights and fairness.

Sacha Tessier-Stall: I see your point, but while pretty much everyone seems to agree on broad principles, definitions of what constitutes a crime can be incompatible. Everyone agrees that murder is wrong, but in some countries killing a woman because she's sitting alone in a car with a man doesn't count as murder. Whose ethics should we globalize?

DS: Crime (the law) and ethics are not the same. Although laws try to draw upon societal ethics, what is legal in not necessarily ethical and vice versa. And the same goes for morals. I think of ethics as the globalizing of morals or the universalizing of right action. When people ask, "Whose ethics?" The best answer is "our ethics," as in humanity's ethics for humanity's sake or on humanity’s behalf. That is what separates what is ethical from what is moral, in my mind. The example you mentioned is a case in which an unethical law is drawn from a parochial understanding of morals.

STS: I agree that ethics and the law are not the same. But in essence, the law has two functions: to preserve the stability of the societies in which they are adopted, and to represent those societies' ethics (however imperfectly). In the example I gave, the law in question is considered both moral and ethical by those who take it upon themselves to have it respected.

While I personally agree with you on the idea of globalizing "humanity's ethics for humanity's sake", many people—perhaps a majority in the world—would disagree. You and I take our ethics from humanism, broadly defined; however, billions take theirs not from anything temporal or terrestrial, but from religious sources—many (though by no means all) of which oppose the idea of any global ethics but their own. To them, there is no distinction between ethics and morality, because they take their ethics from static and unalterable sources—anything that is not in line with the Bible, the Quran or the Torah cannot be moral.

So when we speak of globalizing "humanity's ethics," what we're really talking about is humanist ethics, which I subscribe to, but which I have to admit is but one of the many paradigms that are out there.

DS: Law is supposed to represent a society's ethics, true. But again they are different and often contradict. In some sense, peace is forward looking and justice is backward looking. They are difficult to balance. The law may administer justice but that is certainly not necessarily ethical.

On religion, sure. Those who understand religion as advocating for right action, compassion, and ethics (which is in most traditions), they are correct. I have no problem with people drawing on religious tradition for their ethical system. The problem with basing ethical codes on religion, however, is that it also has a cosmological and mythological component, which just plain makes other angry (which is both Dalai Lama's and Ignatieff's point). In any case, yes, people do have other ethical codes. And I am taking a stand here by saying a global sense of ethics (enlightened self-interest, "wholesomeness,") is an ethical system that I would like to encourage. Others may say that oppressing women is ethical, but I would simply argue that they are wrong. I am willing to take that position. When a group harms the rights of individuals, that individual needs a path to recourse.

I recently hosted a Chinese delegation who tried to convince me that ethics should come from emotion and intuition. I got their point, but more importantly, humanity has a lot of work to do to come together.

STS: On the oppression of women being wrong: of course, I agree with you—but that's because you and I are starting from the same moral bases: 1) "all humans are equal and should be treated as such"; and 2) "equal treatment implies similar or identical treatment." I remember hearing Ahmadinejad say that Iran actually treats its women better than the West because it allows them to be "exempt from many responsibilities"—elevation through discrimination.

As long as people don't take their ethics from the same sources (e.g. a belief in the value of individual human lives vs. a determination to follow the precepts contained in one's scripture), we'll all agree that murder is bad without ever managing to agree on what murder actually is. This actually is quite reminiscent of current debates at the UN on the definition of terrorism. Everyone agrees on the equation "terrorism = bad," but for many, blowing up a kindergarten doesn't count as terrorism if it's done as part of a struggle for "national liberation."

So even with those religions that advocate for "right action, compassion, and ethics" (and which religion doesn't?), there's no guarantee that the ethical conclusions reached by their adherents will always be compatible with those of humanists, simply because the very logic of their moral thinking is different. After all, even adherents of the same religion can come to blows over different interpretations of the same texts or events - witness the Protestant-Catholic clashes in Northern Ireland and the Sunni-Shiite violence in Iraq (though of course religion is by no means the only reason for these problems).

Editor’s Postscript: Sacha and I acknowledged that this conversation could probably continue forever, but I suggested taking a look at Michael Ignatieff’s essay “Human Rights as Idolatry,” in which he argues that the best way to advance human rights is to empower the individual. Counter-intuitively, Ignatieff also shows how protecting the rights of individuals and empowering individuals to act prevents groups from abusing individual rights, making it less likely that human rights are advanced as a sort of cultural imperialism.