Friday, April 30, 2010

Thwarted Immigration Delegitimizes the Democratic Project

While the George W. Bush era of democracy promotion may be behind us—"sit tight, we'll bring the democracy to you"—global immigration pressure will mount this century as population grows and global inequality increases. People migrate and apply for asylum as much because they are unfree as because they are less free, because they are poor and poorer. Slavoj Zizek captures this friction between immigration, inequality, and globalization in his 2008 book Violence:
A couple of years ago, an ominous decision of the European Union passed almost unnoticed: the plan to establish an all-European border police force to secure the isolation of Union territory and thus to prevent the influx of immigrants. This is the truth of globalisation: the construction of new walls safeguarding prosperous Europe from the immigrant flood. One is tempted to resuscitate here the old Marxist "humanist" opposition of "relations between things" and "relations between persons": in the much-celebrated free circulation opened up by global capitalism, it is "things" (commodities) which freely circulate, while the circulation of "persons" is more and more controlled. We are not dealing now with "globalisation" as an unfinished project but with a true "dialectics of globalisation": the segregation of the people is the reality of economic globalisation. This new racism of the developed is in a way much more brutal than the previous ones: its implicit legitimisation is neither naturalist (the "natural" superiority of the developed West) nor any longer culturalist (we in the West also want to preserve our cultural identity), but unabashed economic egotism. The fundamental divide is one between those included in the sphere of (relative) economic prosperity and those excluded from it.
When, at the beginning of October 2005, the Spanish police dealt with the problem of how to stop the influx of desperate African immigrants who tried to penetrate the small Spanish territory of Melilla, on the Rif coast of Africa, they displayed plans to build a wall between the Spanish enclave and Morocco. The images presented—a complex structure replete with electronic equipment—bore an uncanny resemblance to the Berlin Wall, only with the opposite function. This wall was destined to prevent people from coming, not getting out. The cruel irony of the situation is that it is the government of Jose Zapatero, at this moment leader of arguably the most anti-racist and tolerant administration in Europe, that is forced to adopt these measure of segregation. This is a clear sign of the limit of the multiculturalist "tolerant" approach, which preaches open borders and acceptance of others. If one were to open the borders, the first to rebel would be the local working classes. It is thus becoming clear that the solution is not to "tear down the walls and let them all in," the easy empty demand of soft-hearted liberal "radicals." The only true solution is to tear down the true wall, not the Immigration Department one, but the socio-economic one: to change society so that people will no longer desperately try to escape their own world.
As a corollary to Zizek's point, my fear is that practical patches to immigration law, such as merit-based points systems—"give us your doctors, your entreprenuers"—will in their own unique way erode the motive force of the democratic project: liberty, liberation, emancipation. The risk is that human rights will end up looking more like human resources, with the state as just another service provider among the array of corporate entities that supply our needs—"access to work" in this case. So, the irony is that if developed countries cannot figure out how to be less dictatorial internationally, they will soon find themselves accelerating down the slippery slope of fascism domestically.

The Arizona immigration law is a harbinger of this trend, though it may also galvanize the immigrant rights community, as Mark Engler argues in Dissent. Certainly the cultural politics of immigration become more caustic in periods of economic stress. The musician M.I.A. released a (very graphic and violent) video this week for her song "Born Free." In it an unambiguously American SWAT force descends like la migra to apprehend people in an apartment complex. The captives are then made to run across the desert in a scene reminiscent of Burmese "atrocity demining"—all because they were born... wrong.

PHOTO CREDIT: Bloodied clothes on the barbed wire border fence between Melilla (Spain) and Morocco. By fronterasur (CC).

Slowing Japan's Galapagos Syndrome

Enjoy, a play by Japanese playwright Toshiki Okada, opens with two characters working at a comic book cafe in present-day Tokyo who spend nearly the first act solely ruminating about the etiquette of public toilets. The brilliant drama reveals the world of a Japanese generation of self-centered but lovable slackers who are accused by their peers of "destroying the future of Japan." While watching this play in Manhattan this month, it occurred to me that like these characters, who were lost in the minutiae of their own lives, Japan too has turned inward.

It's true that shyness is so common in Japan that it almost considered a virtue. Where else would one find DVDs for sale to practice "just looking" at people or "Miterudake," as the product is called? But given its cultural proclivity for and historical experience with isolation (during its policy of sakoku), the last thing Japan needs is a reason to curl up inside its shell. An isolated Japan would be especially unfortunate as it would further erode the country's relevance in international politics as well as its economic competitiveness and prosperity.

Amid economic doldrums and deflationary mentality, a declining population and growing anxiety about Japan's place in the world, and an enormous letdown after high hopes in the governing Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), there is a danger that Japan might further withdraw. Japan's "Galapagos syndrome," a phrase originally coined to describe Japanese cell phones that were so advanced they had little in common with devices used in the rest of the world, could potentially spread to other parts of society. Indeed signs suggest it is happening already.

The first sign is the current generation of Japanese in their 30s and 40s who have been distinguished by market experts for their adeptness at online shopping and generally avoiding the rest of society. More dramatic is the number of hikikomori or shut-ins who have given up on social life. According to a Japanese government website, the figure may stand at 3.6 million or about 3 percent of the entire population. This figure is far larger than the previous estimate of 1 million by renowned Japanese psychologist Tamaki Saito.

As I argued earlier this year, Japan as a nation seems to be withdrawing and giving up on the world. Akiko Ikeda-Wei, a Japanese sociologist based in New York told me recently, "I am saddened by Japan's economic slump that has caused misery: the record-high unemployment rate and extremely unsettled and insecure feelings among thousands of Japanese employees."

Echoing many of the Japanese professionals I have met in New York, Ikeda-Wei advised her countrymen to look for opportunity away from home--and don't look back. "If I were one of them, I would forget about seeking employment in Japan and leave, and look for a volunteer job somewhere in Africa or in the Middle East and try to use this opportunity to explore something new and innovative that can help others who are in great need."

The problem is that the attitude of Japanese younger people today results in just the opposite. While her advice might be apt for many Japanese, "The fact is actually the other way around. Young people especially have become more inward-looking than ever, totally not interested in going abroad to work or to study," she said.

An odd expression of this phenomenon is in the puzzling decision this month by Japan's largest business newspaper Nikkei to dissuade readers from linking to its website. As part of its strategy to require readers to pay for access, Nikkei has stipulated that people who wish to link to its website must fill out a written application. Nikkei's print circulation surpasses that of the New York Times and even The Wall Street Journal. But in the Internet world, the move looks as if the company were saying, "We are doing just fine with our print edition, so go away, Internet."

Jean-Pierre Lehmann, a Japan expert at IMD Business School in Switzerland, has noticed a shift in attitude at companies such as Toyota Motor. In the 1980s, Lehmann would accompany Western managers to Japan to learn about its venerable production techniques. But over the course of the decade, he noticed "a subtle change." As he wrote this month in the Taipei Times, "Western management delegations continued to be politely received, but more often than not professional guides were appointed to show them around, and there was no dialogue with the Toyota managers, who previously had been keen to teach and learn. On the contrary, there was an undisguised sense of condescension toward the visiting foreign executives."

Most distressing is that, like the creatures of Galapagos, the products of Japanese research and knowledge generation are becoming increasingly evolved yet nonetheless separate from global society. As recently chronicled by Japanese economy experts Hajime Ito and Jun Kurihara, Japan leads in number of patents in solid waste management and is number two after the United States in air pollution control, water pollution control, medical technology, pharmaceuticals, and biotechnology. Yet despite these impressive accomplishments, the country lags in cited research or core articles in the same fields, not even making the top ten. Why is this the case?

Ito and Kurihara point to one possible cause: Japan's lack of international cooperation in the area of knowledge creation and the falling number of Japanese students attending U.S. universities.

At elite American universities like Harvard and Berkeley, the number of Japanese students is falling and relatively small compared with their counterparts from South Korea and China. Japanese enrollment at Harvard has been declining for 15 years while enrollment from China and India has more than doubled. Only five Japanese students attended Harvard as undergraduates in 2009, and only one of them matriculated as a freshman. According to a study by the Institute for International Education, overall India is the leading sender of students to the United States, and while Japan was the fourth largest sender, its number was down by 4 percent to 33, 974 in 2008, down for a third straight year. Since 2000, undergraduate enrollment in U.S. universities has dropped 52 percent. These are figures incommensurate with the world's second largest economy.

In March, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust even made a special trip to Japan to encourage more Japanese high school students to apply to the university. Faust met students in Japan who preferred to stay in the comfort of their own homes rather than going abroad. A Washington Post article this month featured students from Japan who passed up degrees from top U.S. universities to stay in Japan.

To be sure, Japan's population is shrinking and the number of children under 15 has declined for 28 consecutive years. But these trends don't entirely explain this more inward-looking attitude, which comes from a combination of domestic political dysfunction and economic malaise that has crept into popular culture. While Japan was once a larger consumer of American degrees, "an international degree is not as valued" in Japan, Faust is quoted as saying in the Washington Post article. While U.S. college degrees are becoming ever more expensive, enrollment from developing countries India and China have nevertheless led the pack and have risen in 2008 by 13 and 20 percent respectively.

Pointing to the falling enrollment of Japanese in U.S. top universities, Ikeda-Wei told me, "Economic difficulty is already sad enough but I am even more saddened by this very short sighted, pessimistic, and unproductive attitude of young Japanese." She concluded, "If young people's attitude remains as such, it is very difficult to hope for Japan's bright future."

Okada's play Enjoy whose endearing characters brought the world of Japan to audiences abroad was made possible by support from Japan Foundation and Japan Society, as well as the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts. With a declining population and exploding government debt, the future of Japanese military or "hard" power is uncertain. That is why for Japan to remain relevant, prosperous, and influential, institutions like the Japan Foundation, which is supported by the Japanese foreign ministry and promotes international exchange, and the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), which is supported by the economy ministry and promotes international trade and investment, have become increasingly important. (Full disclosure: I have worked with both institutions.)

"Isolation hurts Japan's economy, especially in services," Robert Dujarric of Temple University Japan has recently noted. "If so few Japanese conglomerates have managed to establish themselves in the premier league outside of manufacturing, it is partly due to their mono-cultural and exclusively Japanese management. It puts them at a severe disadvantage when competing with foreign rivals run by multinational and multicultural staffs." Japanese language, which is considered by experts to be among the most difficult to learn, is highly adaptive to the Japanese high-context culture but irrelevant in most of the world outside this island nation.

Institutions like the Japan Society in New York can act as powerful vectors of positive influence, coalescing Japanese innovators abroad to bring change to Japan. Unfortunately, just as the role of these cultural and economic institutions has become more critical, the mood in Japan for spending has unsurprisingly turned sour. While the government's approval rating has fallen to 24 percent, the one bright spot for Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has been the public spectacle he has made of the budget review process or "shiwake." Like corporate restructuring or "risutora" years ago, "shiwake" has become a word laden with controversy in Japan today--to some it is the democratization of the country's spending process, bringing openness and transparency; to others it is a sign of the country's decline and malaise. The fears were epitomized by a now-infamous comment downplaying scientific spending by a Japanese lawmaker who asked, "What's wrong with being number two?"

For Japan to slow its Galapagos syndrome, it will need to support its soft power and foreign engagement institutions. The question mark in my mind is: Do the majority of Japanese want to slow their country's withdrawal from the world or would they prefer a comfortable decline? That's to be determined.

Reposted from the Huffington Post.
Photo by Strana.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

NYU Students: U.S. Should Nurture Mutual Responsibilities, Cooperation

Last week I facilitated a class debate on U.S. foreign policy toward East Asia for a class I teach at NYU called "Rise of East Asia." (Click here to read the summary of the class's debate last summer.) On April 9, 2010, 15 of my students hailing from ten different countries gathered in the Woolworth Building in New York City to hash out a new U.S. National Security Strategy just weeks before the Obama Administration was about to unveil its document. I hope our friends in Washington DC will note the tone of the students' recommendations. This time around, my students favored somewhat more feminine words such as "nurture," "embrace," and "cultivate." They placed emphasis on soft power, moral legitimacy, cultural exchange, and the link between domestic policy and foreign policy. I felt this direction was appropriate given the apparent direction of the Obama administration, which highlights mutual interests and mutual respect, and the high stature of First Lady Michelle Obama.

Below are the impressions of student Victoria Brewer, who participated in the debate.

"Rise of East Asia" Class Debate on April 9, 2010

There was hearty and at times, heartfelt debate throughout the "Rise of East Asia" class penultimate session. On April 9, 2010 approximately 15 NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies students gathered in the Woolworth building to discuss and outline three central U.S. foreign documents toward East Asia as if we were members of the Obama administration. Considered the most engaging class of the semester, the students first tackled the National Security Strategy (NSS).

To give us a sense of direction and reference, Professor Devin Stewart distributed copies of the 2006 NSS (written by then President Bush's administration). Noted for its grand approach advancing the spread of "freedom," we felt the 2010 NSS should also be grand, yet practical, in light of current global social, political, economic events. The class quickly identified two important strategies: Security through cooperation and mutual responsibilities. When braided together and more finely parsed we arrived at: Nurture mutual responsibilities through cooperation. "Nurture" was initially thought to lend too feminine a tone, but deemed acceptable as it helped to reinforce the strategy's implied moral relationship and contract between countries.

With our prime directive settled, we moved onto clarifying the essential goals of the strategy. The class looked at those listed in Bush's NSS for reference. Immediately, the point of "strengthening alliances to defeat global terrorism and work to prevent attacks against us and our friends" jumped out as the top objective. Our version was as follows: Strengthen alliances to maintain peace and stability in the 21st century.

With thoughts of the recent financial meltdown on everyone's mind, global economic cultivation was identified as the second most important goal. Should we use "balance" or perhaps "strengthen?" (One student felt that given continued U.S. economic woes, we required a word that properly conveyed the notion of a return to strength.) With that noted, "restore" was an easy choice. Hence goal number two: Restore U.S. economic leadership in order to help drive global prosperity.

With security and economic objectives defined, an interesting, albeit less measurable point was advanced. America is often seen as pushing its experience, power, and objectives onto weaker countries. How about we soften our attitude and engage other countries to utilize their strengths? We all stopped for a moment at this thought. It's true that no one country can lead forever. Isn't it better to improve relationships by respectfully acknowledging ally differences and strengths so to work toward a common goal? Hence, goal number three: Cultivate multilateral dialogues and institutions toward fostering mutual understanding and cooperation.

The fourth goal is one that does not even appear among Bush's list of objectives, yet is a hugely important issue--the environment. We struggled to find the right phrasing, in part because the U.S. lags far behind other countries in cultivating green technology and talent. But with some tinkering a very nearly poetic, certainly moral, fourth goal emerged: Embrace a sustainable approach to environment and a responsible stewardship to the natural world.

As often happens in the world of politics, a good debate arose from this goal. One student questioned why would we make this a goal if the U.S. refused to sign the Kyoto treaty? Another student concurred, stating the NSS is worth very little if actual policy does not emerge from it. Others felt that goals require broad language so that later on one has room to cultivate specific policy for specific issues. Prof. Stewart made the case that the military distinction between strategy, operations, and tactics are somewhat analogous to strategy, policy, and political tactics in foreign policymaking. He reminded us that the NSS was a document that outlined strategy.

Were we finished with only four goals? When Prof. Stewart pointed out that the number four is thought to be unlucky in some Asian cultures we knew we needed a fifth. A student put forth a hope to see something about education. Another championed aspirations for human dignity. Both points were welcomed as it was pointed out that education is a key part of fostering human dignity. Thus, our fifth and final goal was simply: Advance education for all.

With the National Security Strategy settled in a mere hour, we moved onto building on the recently released 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which is a review of Department of Defense strategy and priorities. For our purposes, we focused on ranking the East Asian countries (and ensuing issues) of greatest importance to the U.S. It was noted this list is "an expression of fealty" and interestingly, the top slot is always given to Japan, partly to quell their anxieties about stable U.S.-Japan relations.

Japan's strategic importance to the U.S. is indeed high and we expressed it with the following statement: It is an important time to reaffirm the mutual benefits in the U.S.-Japan relationship and our common perspectives and vision.

Spot number two went to South Korea: We continue to support peninsula security and the Republic of Korea and promote cultural exchange. The cultural exchange part was included as it was not clear if the next generation of South Koreans feel close to the U.S. With that uncertainty, it is imperative to reach out to that generation and foster better understanding.

Australia was ranked third. It was felt they deserved recognition for their self-sufficiency, continued shouldering of regional security (Indonesia) and provision of military support to U.S. operations. Thus: Acknowledgment of Australia's positive contribution to regional security.

The number four spot was given to ASEAN. This is a group with little commonality among its members and whose success depends on intra-regional cooperation and dialogue. Hence: Elevate the profile of the ASEAN institution and provide support to eliminate political oppression.

The fifth spot was (unsurprisingly) assigned to China – our most enigmatic relationship. With thoughts of its continued economic growth and murky military aspirations we put forth: Quietly leverage alliances (with India for example) to lessen and mitigate Chinese assertiveness.

Time was ticking and with only a few class minutes left, we tackled the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). Would a simple "Nukes: We Hate 'Em!" suffice? No, we decided we needed something with more heft. We agreed that the goals stated in Obama's 2010 NPR were on point. (The top objective: preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.) In fact, the class felt that the document at large was strategically sound, particularly the objective to reduce the role of nuclear weapons and consider the use of nuclear weapons only in extreme circumstances.

In less than two hours, the class made fast work of three vitally important strategic documents. It is clear that, for now, the Obama administration must continue to lead in East Asia. The U.S. is eager to share responsibility for regional policing with allies and associations when they are prepared to do so. To achieve this goal, the U.S. must cultivate key relationships in East Asia and give thoughtful consideration to the many issues that crowd for attention.

- Victoria Brewer

Photo "Woolworth Building" by laverrue.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The World Cannot Be Saved Without Business

I am debating former Ford Foundation director Michael Edwards this evening about his provocative book Small Change: Why Business Won't Save the World. His book is an important, first-hand perspective on the current state of philanthropy. I have never had the privilege of giving someone else's money away in the form of a grant, for example. But for the past several years I have worked with foundations, companies, and governments to raise funding for the various projects I have directed. So my perspective comes from the other side of the equation.

Mike asks, can business methods help save the world? More specifically, can market-based approaches to solving social problems do more good than harm, and what are the possible implications of such an approach? Mike's main point is that a focus on profits or income generation is incompatible with real social change since a focus on profit, price, and metrics tends to drive energy toward short-term thinking rather than deeper, longer-term causes of social change. The business approaches fail to support things like love, community, and compassion that have intrinsic, aesthetic value, which is unquantifiable but nonetheless important especially for long-term, transformational philanthropy, as Andrew Carnegie called it.

Mike's view had to be said, and I applaud him for having the courage to say it. His argument was the inevitable backlash after a decade of exuberance about businessy approaches to philanthropy. In my career observing foreign policy trends, I noticed a pattern in the common wisdom, and it is usually aided by the character of media as entertainment. A new trend can start out as great, then it is bad, but eventually the common wisdom settles somewhere in between. Like everything else, it's complicated. The truth is dialectical.

We see Mike's backlash view already percolating into foundation strategies. I was just in Washington a few weeks ago meeting with the head of grant-making at a well known institution. He admitted that referring to funding as "seed money," developing business plans for nonprofits to make money, and demanding strict methods for quantifying success (an outcomes mantra) have become unfashionable. Demanding metrics can lead to metrics inflation, the pursuit of the wrong short-term goals, and a waste of a nonprofit's time in the burden of reporting. This donor said we shouldn't have to work ourselves into contortions just to show metrics, but some kind of notion of success does need to be defined. A fair question remains in the grant-making world: How will we know if your project succeeds? How do you define success? And as a consultant friend of mine recently said: that question is a business question. And as Mike admits in his book, nonprofits depend on good business acumen for the management of financial assets.

My main point here is that the relationship between business and civil society is synthetic and symbiotic. Mike's venerable effort has definitely created some much needed debate. But without business, there would be no civil society and vice versa. Ethical business emerged out of a positive interaction between business and civil society. And without wealth generation, entrepreneurship, and innovation, there would be no support for civil society. And I agree with Mike that to create a better world, business needs to become more like civil society. One challenge is how can you do that while remaining globally competitive. Fortunately, the US and UK have been blessed with a relatively robust civil society and giving culture relative to the rest of the world.

The subtitle of Mike's book ("Why Business Won't Save the World") is misleading, and I don't blame him for that. But to take it literally, I would counter: The world cannot be saved--whether it be in addressing climate change, relieving hunger, or getting financial resources to the poor--without involving business. The way to get businesses to act more like civil society will be through business instruments like pricing, incentives, and training, as well as through civil society instruments like transparency, citizen pressure, and reporting, and through government action like regulation, rule of law, and taxes.

As Mike puts it (on pages 60-61), "...the best results in raising economic growth rates while simultaneously reducing poverty and inequality come when markets are subordinated to the public interest as expressed through government and civil society." We saw this in the Asian tigers in the 1960s as well as in the US in the 1800s as described by Pietra Rivoli in her classic The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy. The way I would put it is that this civil society-industry-government relationship is needed to civilize the behavior and effects of business otherwise it will run loose like a wild animal. Animal spirits must be guided by ethics. Without these civilizing effects, you actually get a breakdown in the market as trust, fairness, pricing, transparency, and accountability, which make the market function, are at stake. Corruption is one example of market breakdown; and it leads to poor quality, dangerous products, a squandering of resources, and often violence and thuggery.

Toward fostering this positive interaction between business and civil society, we launched the Workshops for Ethics in Business at Carnegie Council about four years ago. The concept behind our series is that business and civil society can support one another, learn from one another, and act as agents for positive change for one another. Businesses need external champions to push for positive change in corporations.

But getting to Mike's central argument. I would also point out that a business approach can be appropriate in some facets of philanthropy.

First, it can reduce corruption or nepotism between a funder and a grantee and a funder and another funder. At least in principle with a more "open market" approach, giving can be fairer and more democratic. Grants can go to the hardest working or most effective rather than "some guy I know."

Second, business approaches provide a yardstick for assessing success, as well as a broad strategy rooted in serving the public and any plans for development or expansion.

Third, I would argue that donors have an obligation to tie their philanthropy to the origin of their profit. Businesses should be giving to things that relate to their business impact. If a company is public (is owned by the public), then private use of its wealth can be seen as a form of corruption. Businesses should show how their giving helps remedy problems or externalities generated by their activities. It is a cliche but nonetheless true that a lot of giving goes to support the arts, which often have very little to do with a business's activities other than "the CEO's spouse likes opera." As most people know, a majority of giving comes from individual donors, and the societal sector that receives the most funding is religion. Religion is fine insomuch as it was the very origin of civil society in the West. But I would like to see giving go more toward solving business problems directly. As Andrew Carnegie advocated in his essay "The Gospel of Wealth," wealth must be circulated back into society for the good of society and not squandered.

Meanwhile, I would disagree with Mike that business activities never led to social change. Businesses roles in social change include: the positive impact Google has had in China and Twitter has had in Iran; or on the other hand the negative impact mining and weapons manufacturers have had from Angola to West Virginia. Worldwide, the communications revolution and interdependence through economic globalization are some of the most critical meta-forces in international affairs today. Another meta-force is the broad demand worldwide for self-determination, which has been partly fostered by a growing and empowered middle class in many countries, such as South Korea and Indonesia.

Finally and most fundamentally, we all should ask: How we define profit? Is it long-term or short-term? What are the benefits and what are the costs? I hope that Mike's book will help philanthropists as well as businesses think more broadly about these questions--for their sake and for the planet's.