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Yesterday — 30 November 2021THEY & THEM

The ‘real’ economic advantage of investing in families this holiday season

By Hailey M. Gibbs, Margaret Burchinal, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report released earlier this month offers a clear picture of the costs of the Build Back Better Act (BBBA) to America. Yet, the report fails to account for the longer term payoffs of investing in a social and economic package that would dramatically change the landscape for children. Millions of jobs would be created in child care and preschool, women would be more likely to enter the workforce in large numbers, and we would likely have a more educated workforce better prepared for the jobs of tomorrow.

The scientific and economic data tell this part of the story.

A recent Economic Policy Forum projection shows a gain of nearly 2.3 million jobs on average, per year, for the first five years of the BBBA—including jobs directly in the child care and education sectors and among support industries, like child nutrition and public housing. In fact, 17 winners of the Nobel Prize in economics point to the supply-side nature of the plan as a benefit that would reap large dividends in years to come. Canada’s investments in child care, for example, generated 200,000 new jobs in the child care sector (plus 100,000 in related support industries), and nearly $30 billion per year in government revenue from tax dollars.

Right now, the economy loses more than $50 billion per year in revenue, wages, and productivity due to persistent child care problems.

These job gains are especially important for women, who were, proportionally, pushed out of the workforce—either to care for their children because of the COVID-19 pandemic or simply because the cost of child care outpaced their earnings—at rates far greater than their male counterparts. Having affordable access to high-quality child care helps parents, especially mothers, get back to work and it increases take-home earnings.

Right now, the economy loses more than $50 billion per year in revenue, wages, and productivity due to persistent child care problems.

Finally, children benefit from high-quality care. Meta-analyses of more than 20 studies show that high-quality early child care and education (ECE) can reduce enrollment in special education programs and increase graduation rates. Further, a recent National Institute of Child Health and Human Development study of early child care and youth development also points to benefits across the lifespan: ECE is associated with higher graduation rates and earnings in early adulthood. In fact, economic research suggests returns on investment in educational attainment, employment, and health outcomes ranging from $4 to $13 for every $1 spent.

The science strongly suggests that investing in early childhood has a meaningful impact on life outcomes. Indeed, it could be argued that investments in early childhood education generate the biggest return on investment of any sector in the human enterprise.

To date, America comes last in its support of families. It comes last in providing family care, ranks the third lowest in pre-K enrollments (with no current universal system in place), and falls in last place in supporting families throughout the early childhood years. A recent UNICEF report showed that America ranked nearly last out of 38 advanced countries on a series of child wellness markers. Put bluntly, America has a tortured history when it comes to caring for children and families.

As scientists who have the long-range vision to look at children and the adults they will become, we hold that the original CBO report is somewhat shortsighted in only taking the 10-year view and is limited in not examining the revenue created by having more and better prepared people in the workforce.

A follow-up report issued on November 23 offers a glimpse of these real economic effects of child care and universal pre-K on families and the economy. This report acknowledges that parent income would likely go up and that women’s employment would likely go up. Yet, even here, the arguments are largely centered on a current tax revenue system rather than fully examining the increased social and economic (taxes included) capital that would be created if there were more jobs, more parents (mostly women) in the workforce, and more highly educated children.

Perhaps the CBO could expand its work to generate an economic model offering a “real” estimate of the gains society reaps by supporting families and the losses experienced when children and families are not supported.

      

Can Biden rally the powerful democracies?

30 November 2021 at 12:16

By Bruce Jones

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

From the earliest days of his presidential campaign, Joe Biden has made the restoration and defense of democracy a centerpiece of his foreign policy strategy. From just as early, there’s been a debate about the contours of that strategy, and efforts — by his advisors, outside voices, and allies — to interpret Biden’s vision in competing directions. Some of sought to portray this as a remaking of democracy promotion in U.S. foreign policy; others to orient it towards the restoration of American democracy; and still others, to use it as a jumping-off point for rallying allies and partners against China’s growing clout. Biden’s own rhetoric leaves space for all these interpretations.

Every version of this strategy faces difficulties. The internal debate at times has left allies and others confused as to the president’s intent. Real-world conditions — the variability of the democracies’ internal conditions and of their relationships to China (and, increasingly, their confidence in the United States) — limit the space for the most expansive versions of this agenda: a genuine rallying of the free world against authoritarian powers. And even close democratic allies have been leery of too-public an effort to mobilize around democracy per se, either out of hesitation to air their own dirty laundry, or from an argument that a “club of democracies”-style approach to the China challenge risks elevating tensions and limiting coalitions.

Three targeted lines of effort seem most likely to reap policy rewards:

  • Continuing to animate coalitions of the powerful democracies in a bid to constrain China’s growing power and ambition, especially in Asia — building on the early successes around the Quadrilateral Security Forum and the Australia-U.K.-U.S. (AUKUS) submarine deal;
  • An effort to mobilize a wider (but not expansive) set of democracies around the issue of political interference by authoritarian actors, and its connection to technology;
  • An effort — so far only latent in the Biden administration’s plans — to mobilize the middle power democracies around defense of core multilateral institutions and the values therein.

These focused efforts should be front of mind as the administration prepares for the Summit for Democracy, and continues its balancing efforts in Asia. The Summit for Democracy has usefully evolved from being the centerpiece of the democracy strategy to simply one plank; it seems most likely to contribute usefully if it can lend itself to mobilization around the multilateral system. But the acid test for the democracy strategy overall will lie in the other two domains: combating political interference and constraining China’s mounting effort to bend the international order to its interests. And gaining ground on those two issues will require the administration to go farther than it has on walking back from a “Buy America” posture, to one more genuinely oriented around joint efforts by the U.S., core allies, and putative partners (like India, vitally) to remake global supply chains in critical areas — an “agile alliances” approach.

When security in Europe conflicts with democracy in Poland

30 November 2021 at 12:03

By Carlo Bastasin

Recent developments in Poland show how difficult it can be to hold together democracy and security, two of the existential goals that have shaped the European Union. The EU should sanction Poland for its government’s violations of fundamental civil rights, while at the same time supporting Warsaw in tackling aggression coming from Belarus and Russia at the EU’s eastern border. The contradiction between strengthening the rule of law and staving off threats to security in an interdependent environment represents a cautionary tale for the Summit of Democracy that the Biden administration is holding in December.

The dispute over democracy has been dividing the EU and Poland for the last few years. Concerns about the preservation of the rule of law in Poland have been voiced by the EU at least since 2015. At the end of 2019, Poland’s parliament approved a law making it easier to dismiss judges critical of the governing Law and Justice party’s judicial reforms. After two successive steps, in December 2020 the European Commission sent a letter of formal notice to Poland regarding the functioning of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, signaling that “the mere prospect for judges of having to face proceedings before a body whose independence is not guaranteed is liable to affect their own independence.” In a “regulation” issued on December 16, 2020, the EU reaffirmed that respect for the rule of law is a fundamental condition for the protection of the other values on which the union is founded, such as freedom, democracy, equality, and respect for human rights. In the same regulation, stating that “there can be no democracy and respect for fundamental rights without respect for the rule of law and vice versa,” the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union warned Poland that they could withhold financial aid if the rule of law was not upheld.

Since April this year, Brussels and Warsaw have been trading blows, culminating in a decision by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in favor of initiatives by the European Commission to adopt punitive measures. In October, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal replied with a list of arguments against the right of European institutions to regulate on issues related to the application of the rule of law in the member states. Finally, more recently, the ECJ endorsed a decision by the European Commission to inflict a financial penalty of one million euros per day on Poland until the violations of the rule of law are removed.

The principal bone of contention with the EU is the lack of independence of the judiciary from the Polish government. Although Article 45 of the Polish constitution acknowledges the same principles defended by Brussels, the Polish government has taken control of the judiciary, manipulating its powers for political purposes. Even the Polish Constitutional Tribunal is no longer willing or able to defend the fundamental principles of rule of law. On the contrary, its judges have attacked the cornerstone of the European system, the supremacy of European law on national law. This principle implies that decisions by European judges cannot be challenged by national courts. Without it, the EU’s single market and most European common initiatives would be deprived of legal certitude and the EU would be just like other international organizations, unable to share sovereignty.

For the European Union, the threat is existential. However, the EU’s legal instruments are at their limits. Appealing to Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, which aims at ensuring that all EU countries respect the common values of the EU, including the rule of law, has proven useless. The dispute about the democratic status of each member state is now openly a political one. Confronted with the Polish case, governments of other countries seem to be well aware of the political dimension of the problem. After the very modest impact of Brexit on the other European democracies, most EU political leaders are afraid that nationalism and authoritarian temptations will morph into souverainism within the EU rather than outside it. Hungary and Poland do not want to renounce the hefty financial support from the other EU countries. However, if their democratic degradation is not sanctioned, all other European democracies are exposed to similar threats by souverainists within their borders. For this reason, national leaders across the EU have driven the initiative against Poland even more forcefully than the European Commission or the ECJ, and surely more efficiently than the European Parliament.

However, in recent weeks, Poland’s isolation from most other European nations has come to an end. Thousands of migrants and refugees fleeing mainly from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria have been deliberately funneled through Belarus to the Polish border. The EU has accused Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko of “gangster-like abuse,” luring migrants with the false promise of easy access to the EU. A few thousand migrants are camping at the European border, which the Polish authority has closed with barbed wires, in terrible conditions, some of them are dying in the cold. Their weaponization by the Belarusian regime has caused outrage in Europe. The Belarusian military reportedly came just short of firing on Polish border guards. Russian President Vladimir Putin has made no mystery of his support for Lukashenko, and Moscow has sent military airplanes to the skies of Belarus, called on Europe to pay Lukashenko for keeping the migrants, and blamed the West for causing the crises from which refugees are running.

In the meantime, Putin has aggravated the crisis at the border of Ukraine, a country eager to have tighter relations with Europe. The Russian leader sent more than 90,000 troops to the area in a move reminiscent of what happened before the invasion of Georgia in 2008. Putin intends to generate parallel crises, moving against Ukraine, while helping Belarus pile pressure on the Polish border, straining Europe’s internal tensions on the distribution of migrants.

Putin’s move comes in a moment when long-serving German Chancellor Angela Merkel is on her way out with a new government in formation in Berlin, French President Emmanuel Macron is entering a paralyzing electoral period, Italy is struggling to manage massive inflows of migrants from the sea (twice as high as in 2020 and five times higher than in 2019), and the completion of the NordStream 2 pipeline is reinforcing European energy dependence on Russia.

Against this backdrop, Europe is understandably embarrassed to chastise Poland over its withering democratic credentials, not to mention to impose fines during the migration and security crises. On the other hand, the Polish government is exploiting the EU’s caution by strengthening its nationalistic line: It declined assistance by Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, on Polish soil until mid-November and raised the rhetorical tone about Poland defending Europe’s borders and Europe’s alleged white and Christian identity.

The EU-Polish events represent a cautionary tale for the Summit of Democracy. If the importance of democratic values changes depending on the nation-state, those values become vulnerable, because security concerns tend to prevail over the defense of the fundamental rights of democracy.

      

When security in Europe conflicts with democracy in Poland

30 November 2021 at 12:03

By Carlo Bastasin

Recent developments in Poland show how difficult it can be to hold together democracy and security, two of the existential goals that have shaped the European Union. The EU should sanction Poland for its government’s violations of fundamental civil rights, while at the same time supporting Warsaw in tackling aggression coming from Belarus and Russia at the EU’s eastern border. The contradiction between strengthening the rule of law and staving off threats to security in an interdependent environment represents a cautionary tale for the Summit of Democracy that the Biden administration is holding in December.

The dispute over democracy has been dividing the EU and Poland for the last few years. Concerns about the preservation of the rule of law in Poland have been voiced by the EU at least since 2015. At the end of 2019, Poland’s parliament approved a law making it easier to dismiss judges critical of the governing Law and Justice party’s judicial reforms. After two successive steps, in December 2020 the European Commission sent a letter of formal notice to Poland regarding the functioning of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, signaling that “the mere prospect for judges of having to face proceedings before a body whose independence is not guaranteed is liable to affect their own independence.” In a “regulation” issued on December 16, 2020, the EU reaffirmed that respect for the rule of law is a fundamental condition for the protection of the other values on which the union is founded, such as freedom, democracy, equality, and respect for human rights. In the same regulation, stating that “there can be no democracy and respect for fundamental rights without respect for the rule of law and vice versa,” the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union warned Poland that they could withhold financial aid if the rule of law was not upheld.

Since April this year, Brussels and Warsaw have been trading blows, culminating in a decision by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in favor of initiatives by the European Commission to adopt punitive measures. In October, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal replied with a list of arguments against the right of European institutions to regulate on issues related to the application of the rule of law in the member states. Finally, more recently, the ECJ endorsed a decision by the European Commission to inflict a financial penalty of one million euros per day on Poland until the violations of the rule of law are removed.

The principal bone of contention with the EU is the lack of independence of the judiciary from the Polish government. Although Article 45 of the Polish constitution acknowledges the same principles defended by Brussels, the Polish government has taken control of the judiciary, manipulating its powers for political purposes. Even the Polish Constitutional Tribunal is no longer willing or able to defend the fundamental principles of rule of law. On the contrary, its judges have attacked the cornerstone of the European system, the supremacy of European law on national law. This principle implies that decisions by European judges cannot be challenged by national courts. Without it, the EU’s single market and most European common initiatives would be deprived of legal certitude and the EU would be just like other international organizations, unable to share sovereignty.

For the European Union, the threat is existential. However, the EU’s legal instruments are at their limits. Appealing to Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, which aims at ensuring that all EU countries respect the common values of the EU, including the rule of law, has proven useless. The dispute about the democratic status of each member state is now openly a political one. Confronted with the Polish case, governments of other countries seem to be well aware of the political dimension of the problem. After the very modest impact of Brexit on the other European democracies, most EU political leaders are afraid that nationalism and authoritarian temptations will morph into souverainism within the EU rather than outside it. Hungary and Poland do not want to renounce the hefty financial support from the other EU countries. However, if their democratic degradation is not sanctioned, all other European democracies are exposed to similar threats by souverainists within their borders. For this reason, national leaders across the EU have driven the initiative against Poland even more forcefully than the European Commission or the ECJ, and surely more efficiently than the European Parliament.

However, in recent weeks, Poland’s isolation from most other European nations has come to an end. Thousands of migrants and refugees fleeing mainly from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria have been deliberately funneled through Belarus to the Polish border. The EU has accused Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko of “gangster-like abuse,” luring migrants with the false promise of easy access to the EU. A few thousand migrants are camping at the European border, which the Polish authority has closed with barbed wires, in terrible conditions, some of them are dying in the cold. Their weaponization by the Belarusian regime has caused outrage in Europe. The Belarusian military reportedly came just short of firing on Polish border guards. Russian President Vladimir Putin has made no mystery of his support for Lukashenko, and Moscow has sent military airplanes to the skies of Belarus, called on Europe to pay Lukashenko for keeping the migrants, and blamed the West for causing the crises from which refugees are running.

In the meantime, Putin has aggravated the crisis at the border of Ukraine, a country eager to have tighter relations with Europe. The Russian leader sent more than 90,000 troops to the area in a move reminiscent of what happened before the invasion of Georgia in 2008. Putin intends to generate parallel crises, moving against Ukraine, while helping Belarus pile pressure on the Polish border, straining Europe’s internal tensions on the distribution of migrants.

Putin’s move comes in a moment when long-serving German Chancellor Angela Merkel is on her way out with a new government in formation in Berlin, French President Emmanuel Macron is entering a paralyzing electoral period, Italy is struggling to manage massive inflows of migrants from the sea (twice as high as in 2020 and five times higher than in 2019), and the completion of the NordStream 2 pipeline is reinforcing European energy dependence on Russia.

Against this backdrop, Europe is understandably embarrassed to chastise Poland over its withering democratic credentials, not to mention to impose fines during the migration and security crises. On the other hand, the Polish government is exploiting the EU’s caution by strengthening its nationalistic line: It declined assistance by Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, on Polish soil until mid-November and raised the rhetorical tone about Poland defending Europe’s borders and Europe’s alleged white and Christian identity.

The EU-Polish events represent a cautionary tale for the Summit of Democracy. If the importance of democratic values changes depending on the nation-state, those values become vulnerable, because security concerns tend to prevail over the defense of the fundamental rights of democracy.

Trump’s judicial campaign to upend the 2020 election: A failure, but not a wipe-out

30 November 2021 at 09:44

By Russell Wheeler

One sign of a healthy democracy is a judiciary that applies the law independently, even in cases involving powerful partisan interests. When President Donald Trump tried to enlist the courts in his campaign to overturn the results of the election, state and federal judges applied the law as they understood it. They did so despite Trump’s history of lashing out at judges who crossed him during his 2016 campaign and later.

Trump’s election litigation efforts failed decisively, even though more judges than is generally assumed found his lawyers’ arguments persuasive.

Despite his judicial failures—and unlike autocratic executives who have tried to silence independent judges, such as Hungary, India, and Poland—Trump apparently did not try to intimidate judges as he did state election officials. That does not mean he will be silent during litigation over future elections, especially if, as is likely, that litigation is less slap dash than the challenges in 2020.

Introduction

USA Today provided the conventional assessment of those challenges: “Out of the 62 lawsuits filed challenging the presidential election, 61 have failed,” and “decisions have came [sic] from both Democratic-appointed and Republican-appointed judges.” (In fact, most of the judges were elected state judges.)

One victory out of 62 cases is about a 1.5% win rate. Looked at differently, as I do in this post, Trump performed slightly better. This post examines all judicial decisions in the cases, not just the cases’ ultimate outcomes. A case might produce an initial decision in a trial court, another set of votes on appeal to a multi-judge intermediate appellate court, and a final set of votes on appeal to the jurisdiction’s multi-judge supreme court—one case, but perhaps over 10 separate judicial votes. By that measure, 14% of judges’ individual decisions or votes—18% in state cases only—were favorable to Trump.

Table 1: Individual judicial decisions (votes) in 2020 presidential election cases

State Federal Both
For Trump 27 (18%) 1 (2%) 28 (14%)
Against Trump 123 (82%) 43 (98%) 166 (86%)
Total 150 44 194

Methodology

Counts of 2020 election lawsuits vary. Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias’s election litigation website listed 69 cases in early November 2021, up from 62 in January. Other sources include fewer cases. A February Business Insider article reported “at least 42 legal challenges since election day,” while Ballotpedia and Wikipedia summarized 36 and 55 cases, respectively.

For this post, I drew the cases and their underlying orders and opinions from the Elias website, Ballotpedia, and Wikipedia. I excluded cases commenced before the election; cases that only contested legislative races; and cases that plaintiffs dropped before any judicial action. I counted only votes on the final decisions at each level, not every judicial decision—such as those on non-dispositive procedural motions and the like. (Obviously, different selection criteria would probably produce different percentages than those reported here.)

This resulted in the examination of 194 judicial votes in 42 post-election cases:

  • 29 state cases with 150 votes by 75 judges, and
  • 13 federal cases with 44 votes by 41 judges.

I coded these votes by a simple binary measure—Trump won, or Trump lost. For sure, a judge’s decision—many involved jurisdictional or procedural questions—is not necessarily an indication of the judge’s view of Trump’s basic claim of election fraud. Rep. Jamie Raskin’s (D-Md.) was at best imprecise when he told the House in October that the election “was validated by more than 60 Federal or State courts … all of them rejecting every claim of electoral fraud and corruption that was advanced.”

Federal judges

Of the 44 votes (in 13 cases), only one vote favored Trump—and did so just barely. (Note: The 13 cases include the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of Texas’s original jurisdiction filing challenging other states’ election results, but not the several nine-vote certiorari denials. Also excluded is a District of Colorado case included in none of the three sources above. It alleged a “vast [four state election] conspiracy;” the magistrate judge dismissed it for lack of jurisdiction O’Rourke et al v. Dominion et al (April 2021) and later assessed significant attorneys’ fees.)

Table 2: Federal judicial decisions (votes) in 2020 presidential election cases

R appointee D appointee Total
For Trump 1 (3%) 0 (0%) 1 (2%)
Against Trump 29 (97%) 14 (100%) 43 (98%)
Total 30 14 44

In a Georgia case, the district judge (a 60-year-old George W. Bush appointee) granted plaintiffs’ request for an emergency temporary restraining order to preserve ballots in a subset of 10 contested counties. But the plaintiffs, in the words of a Trump-appointed circuit judge, refused to “take the district court’s ‘yes’ for an answer.” It appealed the district judge’s action to ask the court of appeals to extend the order to all 10 counties. The appellate panel dismissed the appeal.

The 13 federal cases saw votes by 12 Trump appointees, none of them favorable to Trump.

State judges

The state-court litigation in my database occurred in seven of the battleground states in which Trump and allies filed litigation; pro-Trump votes occurred in three of those states.

Table 3: Judicial votes in 2020 presidential election cases, by state

Wis. Pa. Mich. Ga. Ariz. Minn. Nev. Total
For Trump 12 (39%) 10 (29%) 5 (16%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 27 (18%)
Against Trump 18 (61%) 24 (71%) 27 (84%) 19 (100%) 15 (100%) 5 (100%) 15 (100%) 123 (83%)
Total 30 34 32 19 15 5 15 150

State-court level

The 29 state cases did not all begin in the first instance (trial courts). Several times, for example, plaintiffs sought to invoke an appellate court’s original jurisdiction.

Table 4: Judicial votes in 2020 presidential election cases, by court level

First Instance Intermediate appellate Supreme court Total
For Trump 0 (0%) 6 (40%) 21 (17%) 27 (18%)
Against Trump 20 (100%) 9 (60%) 94 (83%) 123 (82%)
Total 20 15 115 150

Most pro-Trump votes came in dissents in the multi-judge appellate courts. These judicial disagreements might reflect the fact that appellate judges often dealt with less frequently litigated questions, such as those involving appellate courts’ original jurisdiction, and appellate judges, in any event, may regard themselves as less bound by precedent than first-instance judges.

State-court partisan variations

Thirty-five percent of decisions by Republican-affiliated state judges were for Trump, versus 2% of decisions by Democratic-affiliated judges. Put differently, almost two-thirds of the 75 votes by Republican-affiliated state judges votes did not support Trump’s claims, although 26 of the 27 pro-Trump votes in my cases came from judges with Republican party affiliations. (Judges whose affiliation I could not establish provided no support for Trump.)

Table 5: Judicial votes in 2020 presidential election cases, by judges’ perceived party affiliation

Republican affiliation Democratic affiliation Not known Total
For Trump 26 (35%) 1 (2%) 0 (0%) 27 (18%)
Against Trump 49 (65%) 51 (98%) 23 (100%) 123 (82%)
Total 75 52 23 150

I determined current or pre-judge party affiliation using Ballotpedia’s state-court assessments and standard internet searches. I assigned a “not known” label when I could not be reasonably sure of a current or former party affiliation.

Age

Younger judges, with an eye to advancement up the judicial ranks, might tailor votes to appeal to appointers or voters—more so than judges not looking for promotion. The data do not indicate younger judges’ doing so in these litigations. Twenty-two percent of state judges 55 or younger cast a pro-Trump vote, as did 25% of those over 55.

A closer look at state judges’ votes favoring Trump’s claims

Intermediate appellate courts

All six votes that state intermediate appellate court judges cast for Trump came from Republican-affiliated judges, five of them on Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court, one of that state’s two intermediate appellate courts. Most were dissenting votes, but in one dispositive ruling—Trump v. Boockvar, Nov. 12, 2020—the then-president of that court, sitting alone, set aside a small number of votes based on flawed guidance regarding a deadline for verifying voter identification. This is apparently the one frequently cited Trump litigation victory.

State supreme courts

Twenty-one of the 27 Trump-favorable votes came from dissents on the seven-member supreme courts of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—10 cases in all. Trump lost all 10. All but one were split decisions—five of the 10 were four-to-three—largely but not exclusively along party-affiliation lines. Democratic-identified justices cast 35 of the 49 votes against Trump, Republican-identified justices cast 20 of the 21 pro-Trump votes.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court—despite a four-three conservative justice majority—decided four cases against Trump, all by four-to-three margins. A justice chosen in the state’s 2019 nonpartisan elections and seen as a stalwart of the court’s conservative bloc voted each time against the Trump campaign’s filings. The four-justice majorities in three cases declined the Trump campaign’s request to invoke the court’s original jurisdiction to allow the campaign to contest certain ballots (Trump v. Evers, Dec. 3, 2020, and Wisconsin Voters Alliance v. Wisconsin Elections Commission, Dec. 4, 2020) and a request to block the certification of the state vote (Mueller v. Jacobs, Dec. 3, 2020). The same four-justice majority on appeal rejected as untimely plaintiffs’ claims of voting irregularities (Trump v. Biden, Dec. 14, 2020).

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, elected on a partisan ballot, had (and still has) a five-member Democratic majority. The five Democrats reversed a Commonwealth Court decision invalidating an executive official’s directive on poll-watchers’ distance from voting operations (In Re Canvassing Observation, Nov. 17, 2020). A four-justice majority (one Democrat dissented) affirmed a trial-court decision allowing officials to count otherwise qualified mail-in or absentee ballots lacking certain information on outside envelopes (In Re Canvas of Absentee Ballots and here, Nov. 23, 2020). The court, unanimously as to its main holding, reversed an emergency injunction suspending elector certification (Kelly v. Commonwealth and here, Nov. 28, 2020).

Michigan Supreme Court justices are party-nominated to run in nonpartisan elections. During the 2020 election litigation, it had four Republican-affiliated and three Democratic-affiliated members. A majority of three Democrats and one Republican dismissed, without briefing and oral argument, plaintiffs’ efforts to invoke the court’s original jurisdiction to order an audit of votes (Johnson v. Benson, Dec. 9, 2020). A six-justice majority, with one Republican dissenting, denied as moot an appeal’s request for an immediate, limited audit of votes (Costantino v. Detroit, Nov. 23, 2020). And the court unanimously rejected as moot an appeal contesting the certification of electors (Trump v. Benson, Dec. 11, 2020).

Most of the decisions were over points of procedure and jurisdiction, although, decided differently, some might have led to electoral reversals. There is nothing to suggest that the dissents were pretextual, although some justices voiced concern about the legitimacy of the election. A Republican-affiliated Michigan justice, for example, while concurring (in Costantino) that the plaintiffs’ immediate claim was moot, nevertheless referred to “the troubling and serious allegations of fraud and irregularities asserted by the affiants offered by plaintiffs.”

THE AFTERMATH

Although Trump had more judicial support than “one victory out of over 60 cases,” he lost all but one case—and the great majority of judicial votes in all cases disfavored his claims.

Nevertheless, Trump and his allies have not—to the best of my knowledge—sought to punish the judges who rejected his election-manipulation litigation, even though Trump was not reluctant to attack federal judges who crossed him during his initial presidential run or as president. Trump and allies haven’t advocated impeaching federal judges or eliminating their good-behavior tenure. Nor have I seen reports of hostile phone calls to judges—similar to those made to state election officials cajoling them to support his claims of fraud.

Nevertheless, the Republican-dominated Pennsylvania Legislature introduced a since-shelved post-litigation proposal to have members of the state’s Supreme Court selected from geographic districts. Although six states—ranging from Maryland to Louisiana—select high court members from districts, opponents of the Pennsylvania plan argued that it was a backdoor way to weaken Democratic dominance on the court and allow more legislative manipulation than other states’ methods.

WHAT MAY BE AHEAD

Clashes over the judicial response to Trump’s claims may be part of upcoming judicial elections, including efforts to seat more judges who would be receptive to fraud claims. An October 2021 Wall Street Journal editorial supporting a Republican candidate for an open Pennsylvania Supreme Court seat argued, “After Pennsylvania’s 2020 election mess, the state Supreme Court needs an injection of judicial restraint.” (The Journal’s chosen candidate, who said flatly that he saw no evidence of significant fraud in 2020, won the election.)

By a rough count, about half of the 43 state supreme court justices who considered Trump’s post-election claims (in all seven states) are slated to appear before voters by 2026—years likely covering the next presidential election and post-election litigation. Candidates will be free, under a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision, to tell voters how they view judges’ roles in election disputes and their views of the 2020 litigation.

Election volitivity could be enhanced if Trump, unlike during the recent litigation cycle, injects himself into campaigns to unseat judges who rejected, or express skepticism about, election fraud claims.

Furthermore—regardless of judicial selection outcomes—judges may be more receptive to electoral challenges in 2024 if state legislatures embrace the “independent state legislature doctrine.” Republican state legislatures are pointing to the Constitution’s Articles I and II provisions that authorize state legislatures to prescribe methods for selecting presidential electors. Also, legislatures may try to use a federal statutory provision to substitute their preferred slate of electors for those chosen by voters. Election expert Rick Hansen opines that, to the degree that the 2024 election turns on use of these provisions, post-election litigation advocates will “have an aura of respectability and expertise. Lawyers in fine suits making legalistic arguments are much more appealing than desperate lawyers making unsubstantiated claims of ballot box stuffing and other chicanery.”

In short, although Trump clearly lost the 2020 election litigation battle, he received more judicial support than generally realized. That and other factors may suggest rosier prospects for him in court battles over the 2024 election.

      

Why international cooperation matters in the development of artificial intelligence strategies

30 November 2021 at 08:35

By Aaron Tielemans

In October, the Forum for Cooperation on Artificial Intelligence (FCAI), a multistakeholder dialogue among high-level government officials and experts from industry, civil society, and academia, released an interim report taking stock of the current landscape for international cooperation on AI and offering recommendations to make further progress.

FCAI publicly launched the report as part of Brookings’ Global Forum on Democracy and Technology event, Aligning technology governance with democratic values. UK Secretary of State Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nadine Dorries, praised the “excellent” report as a “helpful step in [the] process” of building international AI collaboration while discussing her government’s role in its presidency of the G7 group and its upcoming Future Tech Forum. To discuss the report, Brookings co-authors Cam Kerry and Josh Meltzer, and Andrea Renda of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) welcomed a panel featuring representatives from the governments of Australia, Canada, and the United States, as well as industry representatives from IBM and Twitter.

While the entire event and panel discussion around the report can be found here, for some unfamiliar with the FCAI, this blog will serve as an introduction to the Forum and the new report. Specifically, it will provide background on the creation of the FCAI and preview key elements of the report, including the arguments for international cooperation on AI, the current international AI policy landscape, and the list of proposed recommendations with which the FCAI intends to shape future dialogues on the issue.

What is the FCAI?

As the strategic, economic, and social significance of artificial intelligence has become widely recognized in recent years, governments, industry, and other international stakeholders have started to develop individual strategies to capitalize on opportunities and address challenges.

Since 2017, when Canada became the first country to adopt a national AI strategy, at least 60 countries have adopted policies in some form—declarations, frameworks, industry guidance, or principles—focused on artificial intelligence. Industry leaders in the tech sector have taken similar steps to codify their approaches to AI, working toward responsible, trustworthy, and ethical use and outcomes.

As these efforts across stakeholders became increasingly global—and their outputs increasingly robust – Brookings and the Center for European Policy Studies (CEPS) worked together on a deeper exploration of future harmonization mechanisms and established the FCAI in early 2020.

Over the past 18 months, the FCAI has held nine AI Dialogues, bringing together hundreds of participants for high-level, multistakeholder roundtables featuring government officials from the UK, U.S., EU, Canada, the UK, Japan, Australia, and Singapore, along with leading experts from academia, the private sector, and civil society. The FCAI report, Strengthening international cooperation on AI: A Progress Report, summarized below, is the culmination of the first eight of the nine roundtables.

Why international cooperation on AI is important

The report makes a strong case for international cooperation on AI. Grounded in the concrete realities of AI development, international trade, and democratic values, Section 1 of the text delineates both the negative consequences of an international landscape lacking in cooperation and the benefits of increased partnership. It also highlights potential positive impacts of AI to address global challenges like climate change or pandemic preparedness. The report argues that “no country can go it alone,” and demonstrates how powerfully a collaborative international framework could influence the positive trajectory of AI development and deployment. The necessity and benefits of a collaborative approach are exemplified by the increasingly global AI research-and-development landscape, proposing that cooperation across international teams has the potential to facilitate resource-intensive research and enable developers to upscale projects.

The international state-of-play

Section 2 of the report provides an overview of the state-of-play in countries currently participating in FCAI, detailing both domestic outputs such as AI strategies, industry guidance, and investment data, as well as concrete commitments to engagement on the international level. This section also charts the broader international terrain, demonstrating the wide range of international bodies (the 17-nation Global Partnership on AI and OECD, UNESCO, WTO, APEC), international standards organizations (ISO/IEC, IEEE, ITU-T), and non-governmental bodies (NYU’s AI Now Institute, the World Economic Forum, the private sector Partnership on AI) that contribute to the international discussion on AI.

Recommendations

Finally, the FCAI report presents fifteen specific recommendations for further developing international cooperation on AI. These recommendations fall into three broad categories: regulatory alignment, research and technology-driven standards development, and joint research and development. These broader categories are discussed below, highlighting key recommendations that undergird others and showcase the larger intent of each grouping.

The first ten recommendations of the report discuss improvements for regulatory alignment, and approach cooperation on AI as an incremental process where lighter forms of cooperation can compound over time and lead to more comprehensive practices. As a foundation, Recommendation 1 calls on governments to embed their commitments to cooperation on AI into their domestic strategies. Other recommendations in this category continue to lay groundwork for efficient communication and collaboration, such as agreeing on a common definition for AI, further aligning domestic frameworks of ethical principles, and establishing redlines in AI development to preserve democratic values and protect individual rights.

Recommendations 11 through 14 focus on developing the capacity for cooperation on AI standards in international standards bodies, such as ISO/IEC, IEEE, and ITU-T. Similar to the incremental approach proposed by the recommendations on regulatory alignment, recommendation 11 advocates for a “stepwise” approach that begins with foundational standards around definitions and terminology that can be applied in a horizontal, cross-cutting fashion, establishing a firm foundation on which new standards can be built as technologies mature.

The unique challenge of China, which is discussed throughout the report as both a foil in its techno-authoritarian approach to AI and as an inescapable partner for international collaboration, is also addressed concretely in the standards recommendations. Warning that international standards bodies should not become a proxy frontier for geopolitical competition, FCAI’s recommendation 13 calls for government participating in the forum to coordinate on international standards development in a way that encourages Chinese participation, but safeguards the industry-led, research-driven approach used by standards bodies. This approach prioritizes technical knowledge over political posturing.

In the final category, the single recommendation 15 calls for the development of common criteria and governance arrangements to facilitate international collaboration on large scale R&D projects. In addition to functioning as a vehicle for streamlining AI cooperation on challenges of global scale and significance, working on pressing issues where the outputs are public goods can operate as a high-incentive sandbox that allows governments and other stakeholders to find common ground while working in a collective environment.

Moving forward, FCAI intends to continue hosting dialogues, using this report and the recommendations within to delve deeper into ongoing conversations and approach new topics with a stronger foundation.

IBM is a general, unrestricted donor to the Brookings Institution. The findings, interpretations, and conclusions posted in this piece are solely those of the author and not influenced by any donation.

      

Why international cooperation matters in the development of artificial intelligence strategies

30 November 2021 at 08:35

By Aaron Tielemans

In October, the Forum for Cooperation on Artificial Intelligence (FCAI), a multistakeholder dialogue among high-level government officials and experts from industry, civil society, and academia, released an interim report taking stock of the current landscape for international cooperation on AI and offering recommendations to make further progress.

FCAI publicly launched the report as part of Brookings’ Global Forum on Democracy and Technology event, Aligning technology governance with democratic values. UK Secretary of State Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nadine Dorries, praised the “excellent” report as a “helpful step in [the] process” of building international AI collaboration while discussing her government’s role in its presidency of the G7 group and its upcoming Future Tech Forum. To discuss the report, Brookings co-authors Cam Kerry and Josh Meltzer, and Andrea Renda of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) welcomed a panel featuring representatives from the governments of Australia, Canada, and the United States, as well as industry representatives from IBM and Twitter.

While the entire event and panel discussion around the report can be found here, for some unfamiliar with the FCAI, this blog will serve as an introduction to the Forum and the new report. Specifically, it will provide background on the creation of the FCAI and preview key elements of the report, including the arguments for international cooperation on AI, the current international AI policy landscape, and the list of proposed recommendations with which the FCAI intends to shape future dialogues on the issue.

What is the FCAI?

As the strategic, economic, and social significance of artificial intelligence has become widely recognized in recent years, governments, industry, and other international stakeholders have started to develop individual strategies to capitalize on opportunities and address challenges.

Since 2017, when Canada became the first country to adopt a national AI strategy, at least 60 countries have adopted policies in some form—declarations, frameworks, industry guidance, or principles—focused on artificial intelligence. Industry leaders in the tech sector have taken similar steps to codify their approaches to AI, working toward responsible, trustworthy, and ethical use and outcomes.

As these efforts across stakeholders became increasingly global—and their outputs increasingly robust – Brookings and the Center for European Policy Studies (CEPS) worked together on a deeper exploration of future harmonization mechanisms and established the FCAI in early 2020.

Over the past 18 months, the FCAI has held nine AI Dialogues, bringing together hundreds of participants for high-level, multistakeholder roundtables featuring government officials from the UK, U.S., EU, Canada, the UK, Japan, Australia, and Singapore, along with leading experts from academia, the private sector, and civil society. The FCAI report, Strengthening international cooperation on AI: A Progress Report, summarized below, is the culmination of the first eight of the nine roundtables.

Why international cooperation on AI is important

The report makes a strong case for international cooperation on AI. Grounded in the concrete realities of AI development, international trade, and democratic values, Section 1 of the text delineates both the negative consequences of an international landscape lacking in cooperation and the benefits of increased partnership. It also highlights potential positive impacts of AI to address global challenges like climate change or pandemic preparedness. The report argues that “no country can go it alone,” and demonstrates how powerfully a collaborative international framework could influence the positive trajectory of AI development and deployment. The necessity and benefits of a collaborative approach are exemplified by the increasingly global AI research-and-development landscape, proposing that cooperation across international teams has the potential to facilitate resource-intensive research and enable developers to upscale projects.

The international state-of-play

Section 2 of the report provides an overview of the state-of-play in countries currently participating in FCAI, detailing both domestic outputs such as AI strategies, industry guidance, and investment data, as well as concrete commitments to engagement on the international level. This section also charts the broader international terrain, demonstrating the wide range of international bodies (the 17-nation Global Partnership on AI and OECD, UNESCO, WTO, APEC), international standards organizations (ISO/IEC, IEEE, ITU-T), and non-governmental bodies (NYU’s AI Now Institute, the World Economic Forum, the private sector Partnership on AI) that contribute to the international discussion on AI.

Recommendations

Finally, the FCAI report presents fifteen specific recommendations for further developing international cooperation on AI. These recommendations fall into three broad categories: regulatory alignment, research and technology-driven standards development, and joint research and development. These broader categories are discussed below, highlighting key recommendations that undergird others and showcase the larger intent of each grouping.

The first ten recommendations of the report discuss improvements for regulatory alignment, and approach cooperation on AI as an incremental process where lighter forms of cooperation can compound over time and lead to more comprehensive practices. As a foundation, Recommendation 1 calls on governments to embed their commitments to cooperation on AI into their domestic strategies. Other recommendations in this category continue to lay groundwork for efficient communication and collaboration, such as agreeing on a common definition for AI, further aligning domestic frameworks of ethical principles, and establishing redlines in AI development to preserve democratic values and protect individual rights.

Recommendations 11 through 14 focus on developing the capacity for cooperation on AI standards in international standards bodies, such as ISO/IEC, IEEE, and ITU-T. Similar to the incremental approach proposed by the recommendations on regulatory alignment, recommendation 11 advocates for a “stepwise” approach that begins with foundational standards around definitions and terminology that can be applied in a horizontal, cross-cutting fashion, establishing a firm foundation on which new standards can be built as technologies mature.

The unique challenge of China, which is discussed throughout the report as both a foil in its techno-authoritarian approach to AI and as an inescapable partner for international collaboration, is also addressed concretely in the standards recommendations. Warning that international standards bodies should not become a proxy frontier for geopolitical competition, FCAI’s recommendation 13 calls for government participating in the forum to coordinate on international standards development in a way that encourages Chinese participation, but safeguards the industry-led, research-driven approach used by standards bodies. This approach prioritizes technical knowledge over political posturing.

In the final category, the single recommendation 15 calls for the development of common criteria and governance arrangements to facilitate international collaboration on large scale R&D projects. In addition to functioning as a vehicle for streamlining AI cooperation on challenges of global scale and significance, working on pressing issues where the outputs are public goods can operate as a high-incentive sandbox that allows governments and other stakeholders to find common ground while working in a collective environment.

Moving forward, FCAI intends to continue hosting dialogues, using this report and the recommendations within to delve deeper into ongoing conversations and approach new topics with a stronger foundation.

IBM is a general, unrestricted donor to the Brookings Institution. The findings, interpretations, and conclusions posted in this piece are solely those of the author and not influenced by any donation.

Before yesterdayTHEY & THEM

Is the NATO-EU divide an obstacle to a European foreign policy?

29 November 2021 at 09:45

In the aftermath of the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan and the announcement of the AUKUS security pact between the U.S., United Kingdom, and Australia, the issue of European strategic autonomy is back to the forefront of security debates on both sides of the Atlantic. Europe remains divided on the role the U.S. and NATO should play in European security, with diverging opinions not only between, but also within member states. Some, following the lead of French President Macron, advocate for bolstering European defense, while others argue that a greater role for the European Union on security issues would detract from NATO. How have NATO and the EU collaborated historically? What are points of tension and areas for convergence between the organizations? What would be the implications of enhanced NATO-EU cooperation for relations between the U.S., EU, and other major geopolitical powers?

On Wednesday, December 8, the Center on the United States and Europe at Brookings will host an expert panel discussion to explore challenges and opportunities for EU–NATO cooperation.

Viewers can submit questions for speakers by emailing events@brookings.edu or on Twitter using #NATOEU.

This event is organized in collaboration with the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, and marks the publication of a new paper by Giovanna De Maio, “Opportunities to deepen NATO-EU cooperation.”

The House Democrats’ state and local tax proposal: Bad policy and bad politics

29 November 2021 at 07:38

By William A. Galston

Ever since the Trump tax bill capped the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) at $10,000, Democrats from high-tax states have been looking for ways of protecting their constituents from the consequences. With the reconciliation bill, they have found their chance.

But their proposal—raising the cap to $80,000—is both bad policy and bad politics. Nearly all the benefits go to upper-income Americans, giving Republicans as well as left-leaning representatives an opportunity to attack these Democrats, the self-styled defenders of working and middle-class families, as hypocrites.

According to a Tax Policy Center analysis described by the Center’s Howard Gleckman and Leonard Burman, 94% of the benefits from the House proposal would go to the top 20% of taxpayers, and 70% would go to the top 5%, with annual incomes of $365,000 and more.

Using state and local data, with Bergen County, NJ as my case study, I looked at the consequences of these findings for individual households. Bergen County is located in the northeastern corner of New Jersey and is part of the greater New York City Metropolitan area. This county’s median household income is about $110,000 per year, and the median home value is about $550,000. Married homeowners in this category filing jointly would pay about $12,000 in annual property taxes and about $3,000 in state income taxes, leaving about $5,000 over the $10,000 cap and therefore subject to income taxation.

Now consider married homeowners at the 80th percentile, the beginning of the top one-fifth. Their annual income is $175,000, and I estimate that on average their homes are worth roughly $1 million. In Bergen County, their property taxes would be about $22,000, and their state income taxes, an additional $7,000, for a total of roughly $29,000, leaving $19,000 over the cap.

In Bergen County, raising the cap to $30,000 (instead of $80,000 as stated in the bill) would be enough to negate the tax increase from the $10,000 cap for the bottom 80% of married homeowners. Most Bergen County homeowners would benefit from an increase in the $10,000 cap, but all the additional benefits of a cap higher than $30,000 would go to the top 20%, much of it to the top 5%.

The bottom line? The House Democrats pushing for the $80,000 cap must explain why they want to confer most of the tax benefits of their proposal to the households who need them the least.

The standard answer is that policymakers in high-tax states fear that the Trump SALT cap will drive high-income taxpayers to lower-tax jurisdictions, making it harder to maintain the level of public services that mainly benefit low- and medium-income households. The evidence for this flight of the wealthy is limited, however. Besides, if the reconciliation bill (also known as the Build Back Better, human infrastructure, or social spending bill) is enacted, the additional benefits flowing to low- and medium-income households will dwarf whatever cuts in services that revenue-squeezed governments in high-tax states might impose on them.

An $80,000 cap on the deductibility of state and local taxes would be enough to fully protect married homeowners with taxable incomes of $500 thousand and houses worth $2.5 million. By any measure, this seems excessive. Is it too cynical to wonder whether the kinds of taxpayers who are most likely to make large donations to political campaigns are once again having their voices heard on Capitol Hill?

      

TechTank Podcast Episode 33: How to build back better with telehealth

29 November 2021 at 06:34

By Samantha Lai

The COVID-19 pandemic has facilitated the unprecedented growth of telehealth, with a 78-times increase in use from February 2020 to April 2021. And even as widespread vaccination of the American public has lowered the risk for people to go back to in-person doctor’s appointments, many continue to utilize telehealth services. With telehealth here to stay, what can and will the Biden administration do to not only harness its power, but also advance digital equity to create more efficient and effective use by health practitioners and patients?

On this episode of TechTank, Brookings researcher and guest host, Samantha Lai, is joined by Nicol Turner Lee and Niam Yaraghi from the Brookings Institution to talk about their upcoming paper on telehealth and the important elements of a telehealth 2.0 roadmap coming out of the pandemic. As policymakers, advocates, industry professionals, and patients consider the next iteration of telehealth, how will past legislation that limited the use and reimbursement of telehealth be treated? What have been lessons during the pandemic that can be applied to both the provision and quality of telehealth and other forms of remote care? Will care modality matter in the next iteration of telehealth, especially if it means more patients – regardless of proximity to medical institutions or doctors – can be treated equitably? How will other elements of the health care system, like Health Information Exchanges, be modernized? And will telehealth be successful if the U.S. does not close the digital divide? All of these are important questions to answer in order for the nation to better chart a path to the responsible, inclusive, and flexible use of telehealth going forward.

You can listen to the episode and subscribe to the TechTank podcast on AppleSpotify, or Acast.


TechTank is a biweekly podcast from The Brookings Institution exploring the most consequential technology issues of our time. From artificial intelligence and racial bias in algorithms, to Big Tech, the future of work, and the digital divide, TechTank takes abstract ideas and makes them accessible. Moderators Dr. Nicol Turner Lee and Darrell West speak with leading technology experts and policymakers to share new data, ideas, and policy solutions to address the challenges of our new digital world.

      

Nigeria’s Petroleum Industry Act: Addressing old problems, creating new ones

24 November 2021 at 14:05

By Kasirim Nwuke

Earlier this year Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) 2021, bringing to a close a 20-year effort to reform Nigeria’s oil and gas sector, with the aim of creating an environment more conducive for growth of the sector and addressing legitimate grievances of communities most impacted by extractive industries.

A lot has changed in the sector domestically and globally since the reform efforts began. The number of indigenous oil and gas firms has grown, but so has the number of oil-producing countries in the region. Militancy in oil-rich communities, while remaining, has diminished. Concerns over climate change have fueled aggressive efforts to reduce global consumption of fossil fuels—driving divestment from oil and gas by companies, institutions, and countries.

The PIA represents an effort by Africa’s leading oil-producing country to respond to this changing environment. In 2019, the oil and gas sector accounted for about 5.8 percent of Nigeria’s real GDP and was responsible for 95 percent of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings and 80 percent of its budget revenues. In addition, because the law is far-reaching in its remit, it is complex and not easy to summarize.

If properly and vigorously implemented, the PIA can represent the gold standard of natural resource management, with clear and separate roles for the subsectors of the industry; the existence of a commercially-oriented and profit-driven national petroleum company; the codification of transparency, good governance, and accountability in the administration of the petroleum resources of Nigeria; the economic and social development of host communities; environmental remediation; and a business environment conducive for oil and gas operations to thrive in the country. However, these results are conditional on Nigeria’s political and oil industry leaders overcoming some key challenges that are discussed following the summary of the key provisions of the act.

Key provisions/innovations of the act


A new regulatory and governance architecture

The PIA overhauls the regulation and governance of the oil and gas industry. The law provides for two regulatory agencies—the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) and the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority, (NMDPRA)—that will be responsible for the technical and commercial regulation of petroleum operations in their respective sectors, and have the power to acquire, hold, and dispose of property, as well as sue and be sued in their own name.

The law commercializes the perennially loss-making state-owned enterprise, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), turning it into the NNPC Ltd, a quasi-commercial entity the ownership of which shares shall be vested with the government, and the ministries of Finance and Petroleum shall hold the shares on behalf of the government. Per the PIA, the president of Nigeria will appoint the president of NNPC Ltd as well as heads and members of the regulatory agencies. Separately, the minister of petroleum, then, will head the industry with a wide range of powers to formulate, monitor, and administer government policy under the PIA.

Importantly, the PIA provides that 30 percent of the profits of the NNPC Ltd will fund a new entity, to finance exploration in other basins in the country (Frontier Exploration Fund). Ten percent of rents on petroleum prospecting licenses and 10 percent of rents on petroleum mining leases are also assigned to Frontier exploration. The act is unclear on whether there will continue to be exploration in existing basins.

A new era for host communities?

The relationship between oil and gas host communities in Nigeria has historically been very poor. The PIA aims to address this problem by creating the Host Community Development Trust Fund (HCDTF) whose purpose will be to, among others, foster sustainable prosperity, provide direct social and economic benefits from petroleum to host communities, and enhance peaceful and harmonious coexistence between licensees or lessees and host communities. Specifically, the law stipulates that existing host community projects must be transferred to the HCDTF, and each settlor (or oil license holder) must make an annual contribution of an amount equal to 3 percent of its operating expenditure for the relevant operations from the previous year. The management committee of the trust must include one member of the host community. In addition, the act stipulates a penalty for failure to comply with host community obligations, including revocation of license.

Interestingly, the PIA also imposes the duty and responsibility to protect oil and gas assets on host communities. More specifically, clause 257 stipulates that any host community that fails to protect oil assets in its community from vandalism will be held accountable for the repairs.

A persistent concern for host communities is the continued degradation of their environment and habitat from gas flaring associated with oil drilling. Nigeria has passed several laws to stop this with little effect. The PIA penalizes companies for gas flaring and provides that the revenues from the penalties will be used for environmental remediation and relief of the impacted host communities. However, the penalty must be steep enough to achieve its intended purpose. If it is not, oil companies will continue to flare gas if doing so minimizes their cost more than the penalty adds to it.

A new fiscal framework

The PIA introduces a new tax regime, replacing the existing petroleum profits tax with a hydrocarbon tax and introducing a tax on the income of oil companies. Under this new fiscal regime, hydrocarbons—including crude oil, condensates, and natural gas liquids produced from associated gas—will be subject to taxation. Notably, crude oil from deep offshore is excluded from the tax.

One of the more controversial stipulations in the PIA is the provision stating that, in the event of supply shortfalls, only companies with active refining licenses or proven track record of international crude oil and petroleum products trading will be allowed to import such products. This is a controversial provision that has been interpreted as an attempt to confer monopoly powers on a few domestic refiners.

Finally, the fiscal framework provides for penalties for gas flaring arising from midstream operations. Revenues from these penalties will accrue to the Midstream and Downstream Infrastructure Fund and will be used to finance midstream and downstream infrastructure investment.

Challenges

Ambiguous and imprecise language. The most important challenge is the challenge of interpretation and imprecisions in the law. For example, it is unclear whether host community development trust obligations are additional to existing community levies (such as the Niger Delta development levy) or will be an aggregation of those levies. Similarly, the law is silent on the definition of “frontier basin” and host community, instead deferring to the NUPRC on the definition of frontier basin and to settlors or license holders on the definition of “host community.” These definitions are not neutral to revenue; they have revenue implications. This lack of clarity creates uncertainty and even possible disputes, especially if relevant parties define them differently.

Capacity building. This law is complex and complicated. While capacity in the oil and gas sector has been built over the years, the new legal provisions and fiscal framework will need new capacities to succeed. This challenge will be particularly acute in the new regulatory institutions; in the understanding, interpretation, and application of the law; and in the management of the funds, including the HCDTF.

Lingering North/South disagreement. The bill that became the PIA was originally proposed by the executive (largely supported in the North) and passed largely along regional (North/South) lines. In short, lawmakers and leading politicians from the oil-rich Niger Delta states opposed it, and many lawmakers from the South believe the bill advances Northern interests to the detriment of the South.

In fact, although enacted, the PIA continues to generate anger in the Niger Delta region. For example, critics of the PIA claim the 3 percent contribution to HCDTF is insufficient and the 30 percent profit to the NNPC Ltd for the Frontier Basin Development Fund unfair. Suspicions in the South that the Frontiers Basin Fund is a means of transferring resources to the North have been given credence by public statements by some Northern leaders. For example, the Group Managing Director of NNPC, a Northerner, recently stated that the North will benefit more from the law because “new crude oil deposits are being discovered in the region and the funds derivable from exploration would propel more discoveries in the North.”  Such statements hurt efforts to arrive at a national consensus on oil and gas policy that is region neutral in its interpretation and that is in the interest of the country. There is, thus, a very serious challenge of building a national consensus for the law without which some of the objectives of the law may not be achieved.

Tensions over revenue sharing. The law has serious implications for the public finances of the federation and its constituent states and local government areas. First, the reduction in taxes and royalties will result in considerable reduction in revenues to the three tiers of government at a time they cannot afford it. Second, Nigeria’s revenue law requires that entities or enterprises owned by the federation remit their profits to a pool, the Federation Account, for sharing among the three tiers of government. Revenue from the Federation Account accounts for more than 80 percent of the revenues of many states and local governments. Therefore, the stipulation that 30 percent of NNPC Ltd.’s profits must be set aside for frontier exploration could cause a significant decrease in its contribution to the Federation Account. In the short term, revenues shared among the three tiers of government from the Federation Account will fall. Many states and local governments, especially those with very weak internal revenue-generation capacity will be unable to discharge their duties of providing essential social services to their citizens. Then again, such a change could lead to innovations at the state and local government levels to increase internal revenue-generating capacity and fiscal efficiency, such that the long-term effect of this policy could be positive.

Host communities remain unhappy with the PIA’s provision that oil companies must allocate 3 percent of their annual operating expenditure in the immediately preceding calendar year to the HCDTF; they had asked for 10 percent.

Furthermore, now that most onshore oil wells are owned by indigenous oil companies, host communities are uncertain whether this contribution will be even made. The previous owners of the oil wells were foreign companies, meaning that there were two sets of laws—Nigerian and those of the home country—to apply pressure for legal compliance. Now, with domestic ownership of most onshore oil wells, the risk of noncompliance with host community contributions is high, especially since, in Nigeria, the risk of political and regulatory capture of the new industry governance institutions is high, the judiciary is weak, and court decisions are seldom enforced. The domination of onshore oil activities by indigenous companies raises legitimate fears that no contributions will be made to the HCDTF, which means that host communities will remain underdeveloped. Related, a particularly sticky provision of the law is the stipulation of punishment for host communities for acts of vandalism of oil assets committed in their domain. This provision imposes collective punishment on host communities for acts of vandalism that they may not have committed and could raise constitutional and legal problems for the PIA.

The PIA also comes with a challenge of equity between indigenous oil producers and multinational corporations. International producers such as Shell have largely disengaged from onshore oil exploration and production activities, concentrating instead on deep offshore. As stated earlier, deep offshore is exempt from taxation. By divesting themselves of onshore assets, international multinationals are “technically” exempt from the 3 percent contribution to the HCDTF. These provisions confer cost advantages to oil multinationals, making it difficult for indigenous companies to compete and grow. One solution might be to amend the act to require all oil companies operating in Nigeria to contribute to the HCDTF.

Politics. Under the PIA, the president has the power to appoint members of the boards of the various institutions established by the act. Appointments to the boards of oil companies are watched keenly and could be a source of discontent among constituent parts of the country. To manage this discontent, it has become the norm (but is not the law) to have at least six positions in the board of federally owned companies and parastatals, reflecting the six geopolitical zones of the country. Unfortunately, the PIA does not create enough board positions for this condition to be met. Not increasing the number of board positions to manage out possible accusations of marginalization could be politically risky. Then again, expansion of board positions could raise the overhead of the boards and slow decisionmaking.

Importantly, growing global concerns about the adverse consequences of climate change are leading to a decline in investments in oil and gas globally, and Nigeria has not been unaffected. However, another factor explaining the decline in foreign direct investment in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector is the discovery of oil and gas in other parts of the world, including West Africa. In fact, according to KPMG, “only 4 percent of the $70 billion investment inflows into Africa’s oil and gas industry between 2015 and 2019 came to Nigeria even though the country is the continent’s biggest producer and the largest reserves.” The declining investment in the sector is also reflected in data from Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics, which show that the sector accounted for 1.11 percent of aggregate capital importation into the country in 2020. Hence, to the extent that PIA makes Nigeria competitive relative to other oil and gas producing countries, one hoped-for benefit from the PIA is the reversal of declining investment in the oil and gas sector in Nigeria.

Looking toward the future: Nigeria and renewable energy

In this way, the PIA is a missed—but not lost—opportunity to position Nigeria to face a future without oil or fossil fuels. Given the “exponential growth in renewable energy” over the past 20 years, Nigeria should invest more in renewables and new energy technologies. The stipulation that 30 percent of the profit of NNPC Ltd. should be used to fund frontier basin development to include renewable energy as a frontier is a good start. The best response to competition from other African fossil fuel producers is not increasing Nigeria’s oil and gas reserves through the discovery of new reserves but increasing energy reserves. Nigeria does not need a Frontier Exploration Fund. Nigeria needs a science, technology and innovation (STI) fund, to develop new energy sources in the face of climate change and net-zero emissions targets.

      

Growing up as a Black Male Student in White Suburbia: What I learned

24 November 2021 at 13:02

By Tim Herd

Every parent wants their child to receive the best education so that they can become productive members of society. However, for Black students, this hard-prized goal often remains far out of reach. This was my experience growing up as a Black male in a small, wealthy pocket of suburbia close to the Detroit neighborhood and majority Black city in which I had previously lived. Feelings of isolation and exclusion, similar for many other Black students, were all too common. And while living in a quiet and wealthy suburb has been a privilege, it’s silence was deafening as a young 12-year-old Black male entering a predominantly white space – attempting to find a community similar to the one I had just left.

This long-standing gap to reach the premium placed on education: defined asthe average amount of wages a college-educated person would make in comparison to a non-college educated person, looms the widest across racial lines.  Research has well documented the upside that attending college and universities provides to career earnings and financial outcomes and for historically marginalized communities, as seen through a 2018 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, the benefits on college enrollment rates are clear. This is further exemplified by Black American families moving their children from urban school districts to better resourced and higher funded private schools and suburban districts. A 2019 Bloomberg report found that city school districts mainly serving students of color receive significantly less money than those of majority white suburban and rural school districts.  Parents of color who have the means to provide the better opportunities for their children move their families to these majority white suburban schools and neighborhoods.

Culture Shock, Racism and Microaggression

However, while students of color can potentially be afforded better opportunities in these spaces, there are educational and social ramifications that can have an adverse effect on that child’s socio-emotional development and academic progression. And while these students can sometimes thrive in these spaces, there can still be feelings of isolation and culture shock that arise as they adapt to new environments and battle challenges such as microaggressions and racism.

I witnessed this personally when President Obama was elected and throughout middle school, where many of my peers would come to school repeating their parent’s remarks, and that of their own, questioning the president’s birthright and wishing an untimely end not only to his presidency, but to his life. Being within an eardrop of these conversations was not an uncommon situation to be in, along with other conversations involving microaggressions and overt racism. Growing up in Grosse Pointe I felt invisible, and athletics were the only times in which I found myself being seen. I was always the only Black male and usually the only Black person in my classes from fifth to twelfth grade – balancing different thoughts in my head about what people thought about me and attempting to carry myself in a way that made white people feel comfortable. As other kids were focused on going on vacations and having conversations about who liked who, I was focused on the slivers of grey hair that were growing because of how extremely stressed I was as a 12 to 14-year-old attempting to be perfect in the face of racism, culture shock, and feelings of isolation. A report in the Democrat & Chronicle finds similar experiences about Black students navigating suburban schooling.

  • Creating Space and Achieving Success

Even so, while such experiences were instrumental in my upbringing, to say that my suburban schooling and neighborhood made me would be giving it far too much credit. However, in a rather caustic manner, I can unequivocally say that my experiences living in Grosse Pointe brought out a layer of resiliency in which I never thought I had. From developing a mentoring organization in my undergraduate education titled Rising Black Men to pursuing my PhD in higher education, it provided the initial spark that led me to the path on which I am currently on. Additionally, I learned the value of affinity groups as they provide students who share identities, particularly marginalized identities, to gather together to engage in conversation, community, and support. As a 2015 report from Learning for Justice remarked, “they allow students who share an identity—usually a marginalized identity—to gather, talk in a safe space about issues related to that identity, and transfer that discussion into action that makes for a more equitable experience at school.” These spaces, along with more equitable practices as described below, are important in creating more inclusive and enriching educational spaces. 

 

  • Addressing Racial & Financial Disparities in K-12 School Districts

While there have been efforts and initiatives to highlight the benefits of diverse school districts, there are still significant financial disparities and racial inequities within many K-12 school districts nationwide.

A 2019 report by Education Week concluded that majority of the nations’ K-12 students within public schools currently attend suburban schools. Furthermore, another recent 2021 report by Education Week stated that of the 25 largest metropolitan areas between 2006-2018, the majority of students within the open zone suburban schools were majority non-white. However, for suburban schools in white suburban areas with closed zone districts such as my own, the diversity rates skewed disproportionately white. What’s more, a recent 2017 report by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) highlighted that of the 7.7 million Black students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools, only 7% of these students attend low poverty schools.

While there needs to be a continued explicit conversation on the important distinctions between open and closed school districts, it should be noted that even closed districts are becoming less homogenous. This is due to factors such as diverse families moving to these closed districts and making school districts such as mine more diverse with regards to race, ethnicity, and gender.

  • Creating Equitable and Sustainable Change in the Suburban School Districts

School districts need to place value on hiring teachers that reflect the demographics of the students that they are teaching.

There are not only feelings of increased belonging, but also feelings of stronger identity development for teachers that share one or more identities with the students whom they are teaching as reported in a 2019 report by One Day. For teachers that do not reflect the changing demographics of the students that they teach, it is important to monitor their own applications of empathy, which can be valuable in connecting with students.  A 2015 report from the George Lucas Educational Foundation found that some of the benefits of empathy within education include, “…building positive classroom culture, strengthening community, and preparing students to be leaders in their own communities.”

Suburban school districts need to also be mindful of the disproportionate amount of disciplinary actions that their students of color are subject to in comparison to their white counterparts, as addressed in a previous Brookings report titled, Disproportionality in student discipline: Connecting policy to research. Policies that are more racially conscious and restorative-justice focused in their approach can be beneficial in creating a more inviting academic and social culture for students of color who feel that they are being unfairly targeted by the school administration.

As for administration and even school boards within these districts, there needs to be more representation of people of color that reflect the student makeup just as there needs to be regarding the teaching workforce. In my own district, my father recently became the School Board President, making him the first Black person on the school board and now the first Black president. While this is an important step, these roles should not just be symbolic in gesture but rather have real implications through policy and culture to create more inclusive and equitable spaces. Culture that can be established through after school programs and affinity spaces that affirm the multiple identities of students of color can also serve to battle feelings of isolation, culture, and identity development.

Furthermore, it should be noted that while these strategies do not fully address all the challenges that students of color, especially Black students in suburbia, face, they are of importance and need to be at the forefront of the national conversation as we continue to make K-12 education more equitable.

      

The Polar Silk Road will be cleared with Chinese icebreakers

24 November 2021 at 08:35

By Jeremy Greenwood

The United States is an Arctic nation. With that status it enjoys unique access to the resources of this rich region — its abundant fisheries, critical minerals, energy resources, and future shipping routes. Most importantly, it has a primary say in the governance of the Arctic. Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Karl Schultz is among those who commonly say that “presence equals influence in the Arctic.” Yet, the United States has only one heavy icebreaker: the incredibly aging Coast Guard Cutter (CGC) Polar Star, and the medium icebreaker, CGC Healy, used primarily for marine science research. Neither is in a position to be utilized for year-round Arctic icebreaking operations. The Polar Star is consumed by the annual icebreaking mission to Antarctica for which there is no other government vessel capable, and the Healy, as a medium icebreaker, is not well suited for winter Arctic operations.

Meanwhile, China’s Ministry of Transport has announced that it will develop a new heavy icebreaker and a new heavy-lift semi-submersible vessel capable of salvaging and rescuing vessels in the Arctic. This would supplement their two existing icebreakers and be in addition to reports of their development of a nuclear-powered icebreaker. With these investments, the Chinese have signaled a commitment to Arctic infrastructure and the importance of safe navigation for their economic lifeline — global shipping — in a way that the United States has failed to do.

This is not to say that other types of presence in the Arctic are not important. The U.S. Navy and Air Force deserve deep appreciation for the role of submarines and strategic aircraft in maintaining U.S. and allied superiority in the region. The need for a visible surface icebreaking presence, however, is unique and essential to the geopolitics of this new era in strategic competition and even more essential to expanding economic growth in the Arctic. Submarines and aircraft will not clear a path for critical shipping, respond to oil spills, or conduct maritime safety and security boardings in the U.S. Arctic. The people of Alaska have long recognized what the Chinese have already figured out — that these economic and ecological activities are also critical to “security.”

The United States has smartly committed to the construction of a new class of icebreakers, the Polar Security Cutter (PSC), but delays in construction and design issues will likely set back the first vessel becoming operational for many more years. In the meantime, the United States lacks a viable bridging strategy to ensure that it is positioned to operate in an Arctic that is seeing increased human activity — and with it, potential for conflict and natural disaster.

While the United States and its allies rightly criticize Beijing’s outlandish claims to being a “near-Arctic power,” and fought its position as an observer within the Arctic Council for many years, this is becoming less of a defensible criticism of China. With its annual deployment of icebreakers and other research vessels to the Arctic each year and its increased scientific and economic investments in the region, China is in a position to have more presence in the Arctic than the United States will for some time. They may very well become (or perhaps have become) the Arctic partner of choice in this increasingly important region.

Many point to the United States’ strong alliances in the Arctic and say that our strength is in our cooperation with Arctic like-minded partners, four of which are NATO members. But our Arctic allies are also not immune to Chinese interest in the region and many seem to welcome China’s increased role as an investor and cooperative scientific partner in the Arctic.

The issue of figuring out a viable bridging strategy reached the highest levels of government in the Trump administration, which published a 2020 Memorandum on “Safeguarding United States National Interests in the Arctic and Antarctic Regions.” In it, the administration directed the interagency to come up with options to rapidly increase surface icebreaker presence at both poles. Unfortunately, like many of its initiatives good and bad, the Trump administration failed to effectively deconflict the various interagency interests and engage with Congress to achieve a funded, effective bridging strategy.

As Arctic shipping, energy development, fisheries, tourism, and natural disasters all increase, the time is now for the Biden administration and Congress to take action. A bridging solution, regardless of its short-term expense and logistical nightmares, would allow the United States to immediately sustain a year-round maritime domain awareness in the Arctic, provide search and rescue capability to remote areas, and train more U.S. Coast Guard personnel in the dangerous and niche nature of polar icebreaking. This experience, training, and presence will only serve to better equip the U.S. for a much-needed investment in the Arctic and ensure that it is walking before having to run to catch up with infrastructure investment and increased shipping.

What could a bridging solution look like?  It could include a foreign partner-nation leased or purchased icebreaker with known capabilities (with proper congressional engagement), a Shiprider and training partnership with an allied armed force or coast guard, expediting PSC construction currently underway, a massive investment in the Polar Star and the Healy to ensure that they can perform the mission flawlessly for the near future, or freeing up the Polar Star from Antarctic duties to focus on the U.S. Arctic. These are just some of the ideas that the Department of Homeland Security, Coast Guard, and congressional oversight committees could consider more holistically, provided that Congress and the Biden administration commits to funding this important mission.

This effort will not be cheap, and leasing or buying a one-off icebreaker that will be different from the rest of the eventual class of ships is often described as inefficient. But the only thing more costly is having the most-powerful nation in the world string-along for another decade without any meaningful icebreaker presence in the Arctic.

      

The COVID-19 crisis isn’t over for workers in Nigeria

By Jonathan Lain, Tara Vishwanath

The labor market is the main vehicle through which the proceeds of growth are shared among households and individuals. Therefore, understanding the labor market is essential for poverty reduction. This topic is crucial in Nigeria, where the government aspires to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty by 2030—an ambitious objective since, even before the pandemic, around 4 in 10 Nigerians lived below the national poverty line.

COVID-19’s “double shock”—health and economic—has intensified the need for new evidence to understand jobs and livelihoods in Nigeria. With social protection limited, households resorted to negative coping strategies—including reducing food consumption—that hurt their current and future welfare.

A new report, COVID-19 in Nigeria: Frontline Data and Pathways for Policy, uses high-frequency data to examine effects on human capital, livelihoods, and welfare. The report draws on the Nigeria COVID-19 National Longitudinal Phone Survey (NLPS), a distinctive, nationally-representative survey that captured key socioeconomic information from households for 12 consecutive rounds between April 2020 and April 2021.

Employment during COVID-19: Quick drop, quick recovery

The NLPS data show that employment in Nigeria plummeted at the start of the COVID-19 crisis. The share of main respondents in each household who were working fell by more than half between mid-March 2020 and April/May 2020, dropping from 86 percent to 42 percent (Figure 1). During this period, the most stringent lockdown measures were in place, and restrictions on mobility may have stopped people from getting to work. This also chimes strongly with global evidence from other labor markets.

The share of respondents who were working dropped dramatically at the start of the crisis but subsequently recovered

Despite the initial drop, employment in Nigeria recovered quickly. By August 2020, the share of main respondents in each household who were working had returned to pre-pandemic levels. In this sense, Nigeria’s labor market echoed the V-shaped recovery observers hoped for in the global economy as a whole, following the COVID-19 crisis.

A closer look: Many people working, but not in good jobs

However, looking at the types of jobs Nigerians turned to paints a less positive picture. Later rounds of the NLPS—those implemented in September 2020 and February 2021—expanded interviews to all working-age household members, capturing more detailed and inclusive information on Nigeria’s labor market. The share of working-age Nigerians who were working actually increased between January-February 2019 and February 2021, but this was mainly concentrated in retail and trade (or commerce) activities in non-farm household enterprises. Such activities are typically small-scale—with only around 1 in 10 non-farm household enterprises employing anyone outside the household—so would be unlikely to help households ward off or escape poverty. Indeed, NLPS data directly demonstrate that non-farm enterprise income remained the most precarious—more so than wage work or agriculture—as  COVID-19 continued.

Moreover, COVID-19 heralded significant churn in Nigerians’ labor market activities. Workers lacked stability and security in their employment: Instead, they took on whatever activities could help them cope with the effects of the COVID-19.

Learning losses place future growth at risk

Given its impacts on human capital development, and especially education, the crisis also threatens future generations. School closures during 2020 reduced children’s attendance rates even after reopening, especially among older children. Dropout was also higher in the households most affected by income shocks, suggesting that households removed children from school in order to support income-generating activities. Since Nigeria’s human capital outcomes were well below the average for sub-Saharan Africa even before the pandemic, the country can ill afford these setbacks to learning.

COVID-19 also threatens to widen inequality in learning, as access to remote learning was uneven across households. Young children from non-poor households had better access to remote learning options—through television, computers, and smartphones or tablets—than those from poor households (Figure 2).

Access to remote learning options: Worse among children from poor households

A window for policy action

Recouping the learning lost during the COVID-19 crisis, therefore, presents a key policy priority for Nigeria. While encouraging children back to school—the preferred policy among Nigerians themselves—will be vital, resuming in-person learning requires that preventative measures be in place to prevent the virus’ spread. With ongoing uncertainty about the path of the pandemic, remote options that actually work for the poor are needed. High-tech options cannot reach the poor, so low-tech solutions may be more appropriate. Examples include engaging pupils, parents, and teachers through mobile phones or broadcasting lessons via radio. Further initiatives could support the recovery in learning, be it in person or remote: For example, there is growing evidence that Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) can support foundational learning by carefully assessing children’s needs and then tailoring teaching accordingly.

The crisis also provides renewed impetus to implement the policies needed for good job creation in Nigeria. As well as investing in human capital, this partly hinges on effecting macroeconomic reforms to energize structural transformation and generate productive wage jobs. Yet, since farm and non-farm household enterprises will dominate employment in Nigeria for many years to come, policies to boost their productivity—through developing crop varieties, investing in infrastructure, improving market access, and easing credit constraints—should also be carefully considered.

The country’s large youth population makes it even more vital that Nigeria’s leaders apply evidence-based policies to exit the crisis and support the country’s workers, today and tomorrow.

      

Hutchins Roundup: Firm uncertainty, standardized test scores, and more 

By Sophia Campbell, Lorena Hernandez Barcena, Nasiha Salwati, Louise Sheiner

What’s the latest thinking in fiscal and monetary policy? The Hutchins Roundup keeps you informed of the latest research, charts, and speeches. Want to receive the Hutchins Roundup as an email? Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday. 

Firm-level uncertainty about future sales growth roughly doubled in response to the pandemic  

In a survey of U.S. and U.K. business executives, Philip Bunn of the Bank of England and co-authors find that firms’ average uncertainty in the spring of 2020 about sales growth over the coming year (measured by the standard deviation of the distribution of their sales growth forecasts) roughly doubled due to COVID-19, rising in the U.S. from about 3% pre-pandemic to 6.4% in May 2021 and in the U.K. from 4.9% to 8.5%. Firm-level uncertainty has since fallen as the COVID shock recedes, but remains elevated compared to pre-pandemic levels. The distribution of firms’ uncertainty has shifted considerably, however. At the beginning of the pandemic, firms weighted the probability of sharply negative growth rates as highly likely, but in recent months, firms report more uncertainty about high sales growth. “In short,” the authors say, “business executives went from worrying about how bad COVID might get to wondering about how strongly they might bounce back.”  

Test scores declined in the 2020-21 school year  

Using data on standardized test scores from school districts in 12 states, Clare Halloran of Brown University and co-authors find that, on average, math test passage rates declined by 14.2 percentage points in the 2020-21 school year compared to the 2015-16 through 2018-19 school years. They estimate that for school districts offering fully in-person instruction (rather than partially or entirely virtual), the decline was 10.1 percentage points smaller. In addition, they note that school districts with larger Black and Hispanic student populations were less likely to offer in-person learning, and suffered larger declines in test scores. The authors caution that it is difficult – if not impossible – to disentangle the extent to which the in-person learning itself caused differential outcomes, as opposed to the additional pandemic-related changes in students’ lives that correlate with access to in-person learning.   

Supply constraints in the US manufacturing sector began easing in June  

Using the deviations of unfilled orders and inventories from their long-term relationships with shipments to estimate output losses caused by supply chain bottlenecks, Charles Gilbert, Maria Tito, and Cynthia Doniger of the Federal Reserve Board find that supply chain bottlenecks lowered monthly production growth in manufacturing industries excluding transportation by 0.2 percentage point in the first half of 2021, but began easing in June. Nonetheless, production in September 2021 was 0.6 percentage point below what it would have been had there been no bottlenecks. The authors note that their findings are correlated with reports of materials shortages in the manufacturing sector, a prevailing indicator of bottlenecks.   

Chart of the week: Japan’s price levels remain steady while inflation climbs in the US and in Europe 

Line graph showing the change in consumer prices, year over year, for Japan, the U.S. and Europe from November 2019 to October 2021

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Quote of the week: 

“[I]nflation has escalated substantially this year, along with a significant rise in inflation expectations … I expect that these pressures are related to both supply constraints, which may be beginning to improve, and strong demand, which shows no sign of abating. Wages continue to grow quickly on a more sustained basis than they have in more than 20 years, most recently reflected in a striking increase in the employment cost index, which considers both pay and benefits. Wages and employment costs seem to be widespread across industries and among businesses of different sizes. Crucial to the path of inflation will be whether we see input cost increases consistently reflected in final goods prices. Our business contacts report that companies are comfortable passing along these cost increases to their customers,” says Christopher Waller, Member, Federal Reserve Board. 

“It has been argued that because price pressures connected to supply constraints are transitory, they will come to an end, so monetary policy does not need to respond to temporary price pressures. I find this argument puzzling for a few reasons. First, all shocks tend to be transitory and eventually fade away; by this logic, the Fed should never respond to any shocks, but it sometimes does, as it should. Second, the macroeconomic models we use to guide policy typically have cost shocks built in that cause inflation to move. In those models, appropriate monetary policy responds to these inflation movements; it doesn’t ignore them, even though they are transitory. Finally, the choice to take a policy action depends on how large the shocks are and how long they are expected to persist … To me, the inflation data are starting to look a lot more like a big snowfall that will stay on the ground for a while, and that development is affecting my expectations of the level of monetary accommodation that is needed going forward.” 


The Brookings Institution is financed through the support of a diverse array of foundations, corporations, governments, individuals, as well as an endowment. A list of donors can be found in our annual reports published online here. The findings, interpretations, and conclusions in this report are solely those of its author(s) and are not influenced by any donation. 

      

The status quo in the Taiwan Strait is edging toward conflict. Here’s how to stop it.

24 November 2021 at 06:55

By Steven M. Goldstein

In December 2003 during his meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the White House, then U.S. President George Bush said that the United States opposed “any unilateral decision by either China or Taiwan to change the status quo.” Nearly two decades later, that message hasn’t changed. At the end of last month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is reported to have made it “crystal clear” in his talks with Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi that the United States opposes any unilateral change to the status quo.

Is this evidence of a consistent, clear American position on the cross-Strait question? Or is it the expression of a weak policy formula, in which status quo simply means no war?

How the Status Quo Has Changed

One way to approach the question might be to simply ask: Was the status quo in the Taiwan Strait in 2003 when then Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian’s actions were the object of Bush’s comments, the same as the status quo today? The answer is obviously no. But if that is the case, then what is the meaning of “status quo?”

Status quo simply means the existing situation — it is a concept without content. One way of giving it content would be to devise a continuum that ranges from “stable status quo” on one end, where all involved parties accept and support the current situation, to a “conflictual status quo,” where all parties reject the existing situation and are in conflict.

To go one step further with this analogy, I would argue that in the years since 2003, the indicator of status quo has moved in a direction away from the “stable pole” toward the “conflictual pole.”

In 2003, the status quo in the Taiwan Strait was one of mutual frustration. Neither Taiwan nor China could achieve its desired outcome. The United States was stuck in the middle of a continuing manifestation of the Chinese civil war. However, a shared desire to avoid an armed conflict generated implicit and explicit rules of behavior that allowed everyone’s frustration to be managed.

U.S.-China Negotiations on Taiwan Have Become More Dangerous

In the years since 2003, things have changed. Under President Xi Jinping, China has adopted a more assertive external policy, while the United States under the Trump administration adopted an increasingly confrontational approach toward China. Meanwhile, both nations have wielded their respective policies toward Taiwan as an instrument to express opposition toward the other. Taiwan, at the same time, took a less passive position in the triangle, seeking to take advantage of Sino-American differences. A status quo of mutual antagonism has emerged since the rules that made earlier management possible have been undermined.

Recently there has been much attention on Chinese actions in the so-called gray zone — competitive moves that sit in the fuzzy space between war and peace, such as the People’s Liberation Army’s flight incursions over Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. However, allow me to suggest a different zone — the red zone. In American football, the red zone designates the last 20 yards on a 100-yard field before crossing into the end zone. It seems to me that the danger today is that all three actors are pursuing policies that challenge the rules that made possible the previous management of a status quo of mutual frustration. Their actions in the red zone are moving the needle toward a conflictual end of the status quo spectrum.

How to Better Manage the Crisis

Our colleague, the late Alan Romberg, wrote a book entitled “Rein In at the Brink of the Precipice” that warned of the dangers that could result from mismanagement of the cross-Strait question. We should heed his warning today. There is nothing inevitable about war in the Taiwan Strait. The crisis today is caused by the mismanagement of a difficult issue. The present status quo is not something any party should seek to sustain. Indeed, the formulaic repetition of the importance of upholding that status quo is not only dangerous but exposes the poverty of diplomatic efforts in the area.

What can be done? To be sure, given the events of the recent past, it will not be easy to move the needle back in the direction of a less conflictual status quo. The challenges are greater than in the past. Domestic factors — Chinese nationalism, anti-China sentiment in the United States, and growing Taiwan identity — all limit diplomatic flexibility. However, on the most fundamental level, a significant start would be if the Taiwan issue would cease being a surrogate in a Sino-American conflict, as was the case during the 1950s, and be treated by all sides as a complex and dangerous historical legacy that needs careful and skillful diplomatic management.

      

Biden’s confirmations progress at the 300-day mark

By Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, Ph.D

The Biden administration’s effort to staff the federal government is proceeding at a snail’s pace compared to previous administrations. Such a leadership vacuum inhibits the administration’s ability to implement their agenda, and while the Senate plays a key role in the process and pace, it is the president who suffers most from this incredibly slow pace.

At day 300, the Biden administration has much to be proud of—passage of the infrastructure bill, the declining unemployment rate, and the record number of federal judges that have been confirmed, among earlier legislative achievements like the American Rescue Plan. According to my Brookings colleague, Russell Wheeler, as of November 17, (Biden’s 300th day in office), the Senate has confirmed 28 federal judges (nine on the court of appeals and 19 on the district courts), surpassing his most recent Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, who had six judges confirmed by this point and President Trump, who had 13. But while the administration can hail its record-setting appointments to the bench, it is worth noting that confirmed appointees to the executive branch are trickling in at an alarmingly slow pace.

This report marks this project’s third and final opportunity to track the pace of executive branch confirmations and the gender and ethnic diversity of these appointees during President Biden’s first year in office. When I reported on the progress at the 100– and 200-day marks, the Biden confirmation pace lagged behind his three predecessors, while the commitment to nominating large numbers of women and nonwhites represented a historic breakthrough. This study’s data on executive branch confirmations, drawn from Congress.gov, includes comparisons to Biden’s three predecessors and focuses on the fifteen major departments (excluding U.S. Attorneys at the Department of Justice). In addition, there is data on gender and race/ethnicity for each confirmed individual; the categories for the latter are the same as the U.S. Census.

pace of confirmations

After 300 days, the Senate has confirmed 140 of President Biden’s nominees to the 15 major executive departments. The chart below demonstrates that while the Biden administration outpaced President Trump at the start and surpassed the Obama administration in days 200-300, overall President Biden lags behind his predecessors—a troubling, but perhaps not unexpected trendline. Terry Sullivan, a political scientist with the White House Transition Project, shows that the pace of confirmations has been declining for every president since Ronald Reagan, suggesting that even Biden’s successor will have fewer confirmations after 300 days.

Since we began tracking President Biden’s Cabinet and appointees, we have broken them down by department. This enables one to move beyond the aggregate figures and examine confirmations within each of the 15 departments. Such an examination reveals that the Biden administration has the fewest number of confirmed appointees in seven of the 15 departments including Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, State, Transportation, and Treasury. Of these, the performance in the State Department is weakest; an unsurprising predicament given the emergence of a Republican blockade by Senators Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), and more recently, Marco Rubio (R-Fla). Working together, they have stalled the confirmations of many senior State Department officials. To provide a clearer sense of just how many appointees are being held up, the Partnership for Public Service indicated that as of November 22, there were 85 pending State Department nominees, 47 of which were awaiting a full vote. This GOP blockade has clearly succeeded as demonstrated by the confirmation records of President Biden compared to his three predecessors on day 300: Biden 27, Trump 55, Obama 92, and Bush 133.

Why does this slow pace matter? Apart from a leadership vacuum that hampers long-term planning and adversely affects morale, the slow pace of confirmation affects government performance. More than 17 years ago, the bipartisan 9-11 Commission released a report that addressed the dangers of delayed confirmations. One of their key recommendations was expeditious confirmation of those appointees working in the national security realm. According to a study by the Partnership for Public Service: The commission found that George W. Bush lacked key deputy Cabinet and subcabinet officials until the spring and summer of 2001, noting that “the new administration—like others before it—did not have its team on the job until at least six months after it took office,” or less than two months before 9/11. We are now 10 months into a new administration and are well behind the confirmation rate of the Bush administration.  In short, the situation is far more dire than when the 9-11 Commission issued its report. I suspect the commission would be most disappointed by the Biden administration’s lag in filling top positions at Defense, Homeland Security, and State given the national security implications.

Diversity of confirmations

Aside from the slow pace of confirmations, it is important to point out the historic levels of gender and racial/ethnic diversity among the Biden confirmed appointees. From the start, the administration has demonstrated a high level of commitment to the appointment of women and nonwhites. At the 300-day mark, women represent half of the 140 confirmed appointees, exceeding his three predecessors by a sizeable amount (President Obama was closest with 29% of his appointments going to women).

Similarly, the Biden administration demonstrated a major commitment to appointing nonwhites.  After 300 days, 39% of the Biden administration confirmed nominees are nonwhite; representing a stark change from the Trump administration that reached 14% in the first 300 days.

As of November 22, the Partnership for Public Service indicated that there are 175 nominees (to the 15 major departments) languishing somewhere in the Senate confirmation process. This large number suggests that the Biden administration has fulfilled its obligation. Given no choice but to work within the limitations of a slow-moving and sometimes recalcitrant Senate, the Biden administration has made its mark where it can—by appointing the most diverse set of presidential nominees.

Twenty years ago, political scientist Burdett Loomis wrote an article for the Brookings Institution noting “…the lengthening Senate confirmation process indicates that a problem does exist…” If only the Senate operated at the same pace as it did back in 2001, President Biden might have about 326 confirmed nominees instead of well less than half of that number (140).  While the slow confirmation pace is not a new phenomenon, it has reached a new low. In prior publications, I tried to account for the slow pace: the 50-50 split in the Senate, the heavy legislative agenda, the frequency and length of Senate recesses, the apparent prioritization of judicial appointments, and the frequency of Republican holds. In the end, the source of the delay is irrelevant. The Senate has a responsibility to vote on the president’s nominees in a timely fashion and I contend that this role is most important at the start of a new administration.

The Biden administration has made history on two fronts and in two starkly different ways—the most diverse set of confirmed appointees and the fewest nominees in place at the 300-day mark.  Frustrated by this pace, Majority Leader Schumer (D-N.Y.) recently threatened to keep the chamber in session longer than anticipated so that they could confirm more nominees. If cutting recess or working on weekends motivates Senators to vote on the nominees languishing in the Senate, I am all for it. Leadership matters, particularly at the start of an administration, and giving a president the tools (in this case personnel) he or she needs to govern is good for everyone—Republicans and Democrats alike.

      

India should leverage digital mentoring to increase women’s workforce participation

23 November 2021 at 14:58

By Arundhuti Gupta

Imagine a room full of university students in India: young men and women sitting shoulder to shoulder in equal numbers. Fast forward 10 years:  8 out of 10 of those men are likely to be active in the workforce compared to only 3 out of 10 women. This example illustrates one of the great conundrums of India’s female labor force: a low and rapidly declining participation rate—even before the COVID-19 pandemic—despite economic growth and women’s increasing enrollment across all levels of education, and in particular tertiary education (sometimes referred to as post-secondary education; see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Economic growth and female labor force participation in India

Young women in India face numerous and intersecting challenges that affect their workforce participation, chief among them, the triple impact of a skills deficit, a network gap, and restrictive gender norms.

Skills deficit: Tertiary curricula rarely address 8 of the 10 skills employers today value most, which relate to problem-solving, self-management, and working with people, and they are seldom built through traditional instructional approaches in classrooms.

Network gap: Women in India tend to have small professional networks because social norms restrict them from engaging freely. A lack of role models can limit aspirations, lower beliefs in personal abilities, and reduce women’s likelihood of breaking gender stereotypes and entering academic or career paths where they do not see other women.

Restrictive gender norms: Social norms defining a woman’s role as primarily that of a caregiver are one of the main factors discouraging female labor force participation (FLFP) in India. In urban areas, women’s participation in the labor force drops off in their early to mid-20s—when marriage- and family-related responsibilities tend to increase—yet unlike in other countries, especially in urban areas, only few women in India reenter the workforce later.

Reversing the decline in women’s labor force participation is critical to India’s economic and social recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is compelling evidence that these three causal factors for low FLFP highlighted are indeed malleable. But for the 19 million young women currently enrolled in tertiary education in India, can we tackle these three factors at scale and set women on a trajectory that allows them to enter and thrive in the labor force?

In my policy brief “Unlocking young women’s economic potential through digital mentoring in India,” I provide evidence that digital mentoring would be widely accessible given women’s rapidly growing use of technology and is an effective way to tackle these three problems at scale (Figure 2); I also provide detailed recommendations to help create a policy and practice ecosystem that would deliver quality digital mentoring at scale and help unlock women’s potential in the workforce.

Figure 2. Digital mentoring facilitates skills exchange, network expansion, and modeling of gender-transformative social norms

Figure 2. Female labor force participation

Source: Author’s conceptualization, with original design support from Jonathan McKay.

Based on a case study of a single mentoring program, Mentor To Go (MTG), which included participation from 1,000 young people between March 2020 to April 2021, I learned the following:

  1. Digital mentoring reached girls from low-income families across 10 Indian states, with two state government partnerships in Karnataka and Telangana, which helped drive uptake of the program among girls. Although women had not been specifically targeted, they comprised 61 percent of total enrollment in the MTG program and were 89 percent more likely than young men to complete all the eligibility requirements.
  2. Young women mentees built up their work readiness and life skills. An evidence-based work readiness mentoring curriculum and personalized guidance from mentors helped the women improve their skills.
  3. Virtual mentoring created a large and diverse network of career mentors and role models across India. Mentees valued that the mentors were carefully vetted and screened, which increased their trust in the network.
  4. A mentoring network’s egalitarian gender norms can be a driving force to help change social norms. With so many mentors championing the career aspirations and dreams of young women mentees, a large trusted, secondary network can help advocate for change, especially in the mindsets of traditional families.

Recommendations to unlock women’s potential

After reviewing the findings from my case study, I centered recommendations around creating a vibrant and impactful digital mentoring support system for young women.

  1. Publish a state mentoring policy that outlines the current FLFP and the FLFP goals, challenges, and priority areas that mentors should focus on to help increase women’s participation in the workforce.
  2. Create a yearly strategic plan for mentoring outreach in higher education institutions through a “State Nodal Partner”—designated to coordinate all workforce readiness programs—with a specific gender focus.
  3. Recognize mentoring as an approved internship in the Internship Portal of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).
  4. Champion quality program implementation by requiring that mentoring programs are assessed yearly by third-party organizations.
  5. Track emerging skill needs and use evidence-based frameworks to create mentoring curricula that cultivate these skills.
  6. Close the network gap by tapping existing networks like LinkedIn to create more equitable ways for mentees from backgrounds with limited social capital to access rich and diverse opportunities.
  7. Launch major nationwide campaigns to champion the idea that women belong in the workplace and that the right to work is a human right.

Reversing the decline in women’s labor force participation is critical to India’s economic and social recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not enough to create more jobs or to ensure that young women complete education. Collectively, we need to ensure young women have aspirations unencumbered by gendered norms, clear goals and plans for achieving their aspirations, skills that match the careers they aspire to, networks that increase their access to job market opportunities, and social and family norms that champion their economic empowerment.


I will present more detailed findings and recommendations at the “Girls’ education research and policy symposium: Protecting rights and future in times of crisis” beginning November 30, 2021. To register for the virtual plenary session and / or my workshop, please click here.

      

Israel, Jordan, and the UAE’s energy deal is good news 

By Bruce Riedel, Natan Sachs

This week in Dubai, Israel, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) signed Israel and Jordan’s biggest energy and water deal since the neighbors made peace 27 years ago. If implemented, this will be a diplomatically transformative deal for a region facing some of the worst consequences of climate change, as noted by U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry, who was also present at the signing. While the scope is very modest in terms of global mitigation of climate change, it will have a huge impact on Jordan’s effort at climate adaptation.

The deal is the product of intense three-way negotiations. The idea was initially proposed by EcoPeace Middle East, an Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian non-governmental organization, which outlined a desalinated water-energy community between Israel, Jordan, and Palestine as part of a proposal called a “Green Blue Deal for the Middle East.” (The Palestinian director of EcoPeace discussed water security at a Brookings conference, “The Middle East and the New U.S. Administration,” in February 2021).

The normalization of relations between Israel and the UAE was part of the Abraham Accords in August 2020. These agreements allowed for Israeli-Emirati negotiations to take place and for Emirati funding and technical know-how to be involved via an Emirati government-owned firm, Masdar. This company would construct a large solar power facility in Jordan, which would produce electricity by 2026. All the electricity produced would be sold to Israel for $180 million dollars per year, contributing, modestly, to Israel’s goals for increasing its renewable energy and diversifying its energy sources that primarily include large reservoirs of natural gas in the Israeli exclusive economic waters. Masdar, the Emirati company, would split the proceeds with Jordan. In return, Israel has committed to provide desalinated water from its Mediterranean coast, perhaps via a new separate desalination facility, to produce 200 million cubic meters of water for Jordan, in a significant boon to Jordan’s water supply.

Israel, itself water-poor, began desalination of sea water starting in 2005. Since then it has dramatically increased desalination capacity to now provide for most of Israel’s water needs. The state’s latest plans call for perhaps 90% of Israeli municipal and industrial consumption to come from desalinated water. Although energy-intensive, desalination solved a long-standing shortage in the Israeli water supply. Importing water from Israel is more efficient for Amman than developing its own desalination capabilities since Jordan’s small Red Sea coastline at Aqaba, in the south, is far from the Jordanian population centers. Israel’s Mediterranean coastline, to their west, is the natural source of sea water.

Israel and Jordan have been in a cold peace for most of the last quarter century. Then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alienated Jordanian King Hussein in 1997 by sending assassins into Amman to kill a Hamas leader, Khaled Mishal. The job was botched, and the assassins caught by the Jordanians, to be released only in return for a life-saving treatment for Mashal and the release from Israeli prison of Hamas founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. The king called then U.S. President Bill Clinton in a fury. As Clinton was in a meeting, one of us (Riedel) took the first call and listened as the king slammed the Israelis for trying to poison Mashal on the street in Amman only three years after the treaty was signed. The relationship went downhill from there. Hussein’s successor, King Abdullah II, similarly had a cool relationship with Netanyahu and had not met with him in the past few years.

The first sign of better times in the relationship came in July 2021, when Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, traveled to Amman for a secret meeting with the king. Shortly after, the two countries announced that Israel would double the amount of desalinated water it sells to water-strapped Jordan. The new Israeli-Jordanian-Emirati project would quadruple the amount agreed upon in July.

This deal, if it materialized, would set a new bar for Israeli-Jordanian civilian cooperation. The countries have already cooperated on gas infrastructure, with the sale of Israeli natural gas to Jordan. They even reached a tentative agreement for a hydro-electric project running sea water from the Red Sea (at sea level) to the Dead Sea, at -400 meters — the Red-Dead project. The agreement never came to fruition, however, due to Israeli misgivings on the utility of the project and public concern over its effects on the Dead Sea. None of the prior agreements, however, would have had this effect in real terms, especially in water supply to Jordan.

Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayid deserves much of the credit for the solar-water plan. His recognition of Israel last year set the stage for a rash of dealmaking. His accord also removed the threat of Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank, initially including the Jordan River Valley, as presaged in the Trump administration’s so-called deal of the century plan. Had Israel annexed the valley, King Abdullah may have suspended at least parts, if not all, of the peace treaty with Israel.

Israel has its longest border with Jordan, two hundred miles north to south, one that has been remarkably stable and quiet for decades since the Jordanian civil war in 1970. The economic and environmental potential of cross-border cooperation is now being realized on a large scale, a major advance for green power and climate change policy in the region, which is already on the cusp of climate crisis.

King Abdullah will be careful in selling the deal to Jordanian public. The peace treaty is very unpopular in Jordan. Polls show the public is strongly against it and Jordanians regard Israel as the number one threat to their country. Nonetheless, easing Jordan’s water shortage is a strategic imperative for the Kingdom, and the deal with Israel is a natural and elegant part of the solution. As with water-supply deals in the past, there will likely be rhetorical opposition, but unless there is physical sabotage to the project, it will likely not be stopped by domestic politics.

Absent from the deal so far is the third component EcoPeace proposed — a Palestinian angle. So far, the Palestinian Authority has stayed away from most aspects of the Abraham Accords, viewing them as an attempt to sidestep the Palestinians and force them to compromise on their own interests. Including the West Bank in a future iteration of the deal would make sense for all parties involved.

Good news is a rare commodity in the Middle East. So is practical progress on climate change.

      

Missing from COP26: Lifestyle choices of middle-class and rich consumers

23 November 2021 at 11:22

By Homi Kharas

Negotiations at COP26 focused on green technology and finance. Governments pledged money, businesses committed to net-zero production, and ordinary citizens … did nothing! Individual activists made a lot of noise, but there was no systematic effort to organize the change in consumption patterns needed to reach our shared goal of keeping climate warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius. The Chichester Festival Theater organized a crowd of eco-activists to spell out “commit,” and to pledge to reduce food waste and the like, but the lifestyle and behavior changes of individuals, especially middle-class and rich consumers, received far less attention than warranted. The richest 10 percent of consumers account for 44 percent of consumption-related carbon emissions.

A few facts can provide context. About two-thirds of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are linked to household consumption. This is why the U.N. Environment Program’s (UNEP) 2020 Emissions Gap Report concluded that major lifestyle changes will be required. Consumers will need to reduce their carbon footprint from a global average of around 6 tons of CO2 equivalent (C02eq) per person to 2-2.5 tons by 2030 and to 0.7 tons by 2050. Some of this is done automatically when businesses produce in more sustainable ways. For example, when utility companies substitute renewable sources for fossil fuels, the indirect emissions of consumers in heating and cooling their homes using electricity automatically decline. The consumer is not being asked to do anything except, perhaps, to switch to electric appliances. They can retain their consumption pattern. But this will not suffice. Changes in lifestyles are needed. That’s why Sustainable Development Goal 12 is responsible consumption and production.

The richest 10 percent of consumers account for 44 percent of consumption-related carbon emissions.

Every little bit counts given the scale and urgency of reducing emissions, but where consumers are concerned there is a flood of suggestions and recommendations that generate more confusion than actionable information. Research on how consumer lifestyle choices are affecting aggregate carbon emissions has lagged.

We know something about the differences between countries. The average consumer in the United States, for example, emits about 17.6 tons of CO2eq per capita, more than double that of the European Union and the U.K. (7.9 tons), and 10 times as much as India (1.7 tons). What we don’t know with any degree of robustness is how much this is simply due to higher income and spending levels in the U.S. (rich people emit more than poor people), how much is due to temperature and other natural conditions, and how much is due to policy choices.

A just transition would take into account all these issues (and unsurprisingly, available research identifies North America as a positive outlier in emissions). It would also help to pinpoint policy actions that can encourage consumers to reduce emissions.

Avoid-Shift-Improve

An easy framework for thinking about lifestyle changes, developed by Felix Creutzig and others, is Avoid-Shift-Improve. Avoidance is best understood as reducing the overall level of consumption. For example, a key “ask” of consumers is to avoid long-haul and medium-haul flights, as these have considerable carbon emissions associated with them. Smaller houses, reductions in food waste, and living car-free (thanks to the availability of car sharing through businesses like Uber) can be added to this list. On shifting, use of public transport, shifting diets to reduce beef and lamb consumption, and buying local produce are part of the answer. On improving energy efficiency, transitioning to electric cars and purchasing sustainably produced products are the main drivers.

In each of these cases, there is a public policy reason to encourage the shifts in consumer behavior, and this is most readily achieved through differentiated taxes. There is plenty of talk about taxing carbon, but a uniform tax on carbon is not an efficient nor a fair solution. Application of the Ramsey optimal tax rule would suggest that the appropriate tax rate on a good be proportional to the unit contribution of that good to carbon emissions, and inversely proportional to the elasticity of demand of the good in question. This is the set of taxes that would minimize the deadweight welfare loss stemming from taxation.

With this in mind, there are three priorities for lifestyle changes:

  1. Impose a tax on the main areas where “avoidance” is the priority—air flights, beef, and lamb are huge sources of carbon. In today’s world, they should be considered a luxury and taxed accordingly. As these industries reduce emissions (for example, the addition of kelp to animal feed appears promising in reducing methane emissions), the optimal tax rate should decline.
  2. Use the revenues to subsidize the choices to which consumers should shift—public transport and local food producers of vegan products.
  3. Set standards and encourage business research to develop efficient appliances, most importantly electric cars, trucks, and buses.

The Ramsey rule tells economists how to set relative tax rates across goods. The absolute level of taxes depends on how much revenues need to be raised. Similarly, the level of the Ramsey carbon taxes described above depends on the global carbon budget that must be respected. In practical terms, much of this depends on global population. I have written before on how the best investment in reducing carbon emissions is investing in girls’ secondary education in high-fertility countries. This remains true—by a large margin. It is disappointing that at COP26, even in the special session on climate change and health, there was no mention of education.

COP26 missed an important opportunity to highlight the role that lifestyle changes can bring about, and to prepare the ground for policies that will surely need to be implemented to make these lifestyle choices acceptable to the population. People accepted taxes on cigarettes as a tool to reduce smoking and increase life expectancy. They need similar efforts to understand why flying and eating meat deserve similar treatment. What’s more, they need to understand that the demographic impact on each of us of lower population growth in poor countries is large. That’s why combining climate finance and development finance makes so much sense.

So let’s not forget about what each of us can do to consume in more responsible ways. Let’s also understand the big picture. Reducing food waste is good, but small compared to avoiding a single flight. Reducing meat consumption is as important as giving up your car. At the time of COP27, when more ambitious targets and actions are expected, we should look for proposals to encourage low-carbon lifestyle choices. And we should redouble efforts to accelerate girls’ education.

      

The destabilizing cost of a pandemic: What COVID-19 meant for renters already getting assistance

By Sophia R. Fox-Dichter, Yung Chun, Michal Grinstein-Weiss

Within the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, 1.5 million rental households were spared a formal eviction, thanks to a collection of eviction moratoria from federal to local levels. However, moratoria did not prevent all evictions from proceeding. Many families were forced from their homes during the pandemic despite public health risks. As Build Back Better legislation evolves, funds for housing have been reduced to $150 billion from more than double that amount, and while it still prioritizes funding for housing vouchers, the legislation does not preserve the bill’s original support levels. To make the most of Build Back Better and other state-level funding, policymakers need to know which households have been most vulnerable to eviction over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic so that additional assistance can be directed toward them.

Surprisingly, our research shows that low-income households already getting federal support may be more vulnerable to eviction than their counterparts who receive no social benefits. Public policies such as federal cash assistance (Temporary Aid for Needy Families/TANF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/food stamps), are meant to help families who are experiencing financial hardship; having additional income from these programs could help households reallocate some of their finances toward rent payments, thus avoiding eviction. However, in our examination of housing stability during COVID-19, we found that more households getting SNAP and TANF fell behind on rent, and those getting SNAP had a higher chance of being evicted.

Our data

Using the Socioeconomic Impacts of the COVID-19 Survey administered by the Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis, we looked at which households had higher risks of being evicted over the first 15 months of the pandemic. The survey was distributed in five waves between April 2020 and June 2021. We restricted our sample to rent-paying households with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line—the most generous income cap for households SNAP qualification—leaving 2,632 rental households in our model. When asking about eviction, we did not distinguish between informal and formal evictions, therefore including renters who both did and did not receive a court-mandated eviction.

What increased the chance of eviction?

Rental households in our sample had a 4.8 percent chance of being evicted.

We found that falling behind on rent is closely connected with eviction, so we first looked at which households were more frequently behind on rent. A significantly larger proportion of the households getting SNAP fell behind on rent (12.6%) compared to 9.6 percent of households not getting SNAP (p<0.05, Figure 1). Similarly, 33.9 percent of households getting TANF fell behind on rent compared with only 9.8 percent of households not getting TANF (p<0.001).

Figure 1. Rent payment status by public benefit receipt

Household job loss, falling behind on rent, and getting SNAP were all significantly associated with eviction (Figure 2). Households that fell behind on rent were 10.1 percent more likely to be evicted than households that were current on their rent (a 14.9% chance overall). Even households that made partial rent payments were more likely to be evicted. In fact, the majority of evicted households were only behind on a month or less (58.2%) of rent. Formal eviction through a court hearing requires more time, suggesting that the majority of the evicted renters in our sample were forced from their homes informally. Household job loss was also a significant factor with a 2.2 percent greater chance of being evicted (7 percent chance overall).

In looking at the role of public benefits, we expected that households receiving SNAP and TANF would be less likely to be evicted due to the income assistance these benefits provide, but we saw a different trend: Receipt of SNAP was associated with a significantly higher chance of eviction for renters while TANF was not. Households getting SNAP were 2 percent more likely to be evicted than households without SNAP and almost as likely as households with job loss to be evicted at over 6.8 percent.

Figure 2. Probability of eviction by rental household circumstance

What Next

We find that getting SNAP or TANF does not shelter renters against housing instability: A greater proportion of households with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line and that fell behind on rent were getting SNAP and TANF than those who did not. When we look at the demographics of our sample, as well as consider adverse circumstances, such as job loss and falling behind on rent, households getting SNAP were significantly more prone to eviction.

In the current version of the Build Back Better Act, $150 billion would go toward housing with significant funding allocated for both public housing and housing choice vouchers. In deciding how this funding will be distributed, states should consider the vulnerability of renters who are receiving SNAP to eviction. Further assistance could be directed to these renters in the form of direct cash payments, legal resources, or increased SNAP distributions. New research finds that access to free legal counsel can reduce the number of filings that result in an eviction, indicating a role for legal aid in preventing formal evictions. Efforts could also be made to expand access to legal services for renters prior to any filing, with specific outreach efforts targeted toward those getting SNAP.

Even missing one payment can increase the chance of eviction; therefore, rental assistance needs to reach households before they fall behind on rent. One easy approach is to send direct cash payments to households getting SNAP benefits. Sending payments directly to these households would eliminate burdensome (for both renters and program administrators) application processes while still making sure aid gets to those who need it most.

At a local level, states that opt into using non-recurrent, short-term benefits (NRST) funding could easily distribute assistance to households already getting SNAP. NRST funds are restricted by income, however, so states can ensure these households meet income requirements by distributing the funds directly to SNAP recipients. As research from the Urban Institute has detailed, states have already used TANF funds for rental assistance. By broadly distributing these funds to SNAP recipients, states can target those households most at risk of eviction.


Methods end note: To examine which rental households were at the highest risk for eviction, we used a multilevel, longitudinal model accounting for household demographics and length of time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. We also included state-level fixed effects in the model to account for differences in the eviction and public benefit policy landscapes by location. In addition, we included time-variant markings of financial instability such as household job loss and falling behind on rent.

      

The House’s Build Back Better Act is a milestone for place-based solutions

By Mark Muro, Robert Maxim, Anthony F. Pipa, Yang You, Colleen Dougherty

Last week, the House of Representatives passed the Build Back Better Act, which boasts an array of social and climate programs, ranging from generous support for child care, paid leave, and new health benefits to renewable electricity tax credits.

Democrats are trumpeting the vote as a major milestone, although the bill’s passage is only a waystation en route to a tougher showdown in the Senate.

Yet beneath the bill’s main events resides something else important: an impressive collection of “place-based” programs targeted at helping particular places and their residents thrive, rather than helping people more generally wherever they live. Tucked into the $2.2 trillion bill are numerous place-based programs aimed at combating the nation’s epidemic of uneven development, with spatially targeted funding that would promote a more equitable distribution of economic growth across the country.

Some of the pending place-oriented programs would boost the nation’s regional innovation capacity by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in regional tech hubs, manufacturing institutes, and regional industry clusters. Others would provide block grants so distressed labor markets can expand employment opportunities. And still others would channel multiyear investments into communities to help with energy and industrial transitions, community revitalization, and rural partnerships.

Table 1

 

An initial count finds more than 30 place-centric programs in the legislation that would fund translational research at universities; bolster supply-chain resilience around ports; accelerate the deployment of low- and zero-emissions technologies; promote rural prosperity, establish incubator spaces for Main Street small businesses in underserved communities, and provide funding for Indigenous communities. Add it all up and these items—mostly unheralded in media coverage of the package but major in the history of U.S. place-based policy—represent a genuine breakthrough for the growing recognition that smart investments aimed at strengthening the economies of particular regions or localities can enhance overall welfare and prosperity.

For much of the postwar 20th century and into the 2000s, federal policy discussions looked askance at place-based policy while minimizing the problems it aimed to address. During the early postwar period, market forces reduced job, wage, investment, and business formation disparities between regions and (to some extent) neighborhoods; for example, as the South began to catch up economically with the rest of the country.

Given that, the economic and policy mainstream felt it could trust what it believed was the self-regulating and benign nature of the market’s impacts across different places and communities. Consequently, Washington, D.C. and economic elites remained skeptical of ideas that would counter the nation’s spatial divides, belaboring the mixed record of early place-based interventions that directed resources toward particular geographic areas.

Yet even as policymakers maintained their faith in the self-regulation of the market, it was no longer operating in the way they talked about it. Since the 1980s, and with intensified force in the last decade, regional and neighborhood fortunes have ceased converging and have been sharply diverging, with disastrous impacts on thousands of urban and rural communities.

Map 1

The results of the 2016 election underscored the nation’s geographic crisis and prompted a surge of place-oriented research from scholars at Brookings, including Brookings Metro, the Hamilton Project, and the Center for Sustainable Development, as well as scholars at other research organizations such as the Economic Innovation Group, Harvard University, the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, the Aspen Institute, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, among many others.

That welcome burst of attention, paired with advances in the theory and practice of place-based economic development, has led to a broad reassessment of the gravity of the nation’s geographical divides, the need to respond, and the possibility of success. Reflecting that, the Build Back Better Act represents the most significant American embrace of place-based ideas since the Great Society—or maybe even the New Deal. In short, if the act is passed, it will launch a major new period of place-focused investment and local problem-solving.

Of course, success is not guaranteed. To begin with, the House bill’s place-based and related prosperity provisions must survive a tough gauntlet in the coming weeks. That’s because the House bill now heads to the Senate, where getting to “yes” might require paring back various provisions—although one would think the place-based elements would be especially pertinent to states like West Virginia and Arizona, home to the bill’s main Democratic critics, Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

Beyond that, the new place-based policies will face numerous implementation challenges. Depleted federal agencies will need to renew their proficiency at program design and rulemaking to ensure any new place-based proposals are well crafted and user-friendly. Smart rulemaking and design detail will be particularly important given the mixed record of some earlier place-based efforts.

Potentially even more challenging will be getting resources to the highly distressed and underserved communities that need them the most. Such targeting is a key point of many place-based initiatives, yet many of the most appropriate recipients of place-based investment possess limited capacity to package their ideas and navigate the requirements of federal programs. Federal agencies will need to be creative and energetic in providing upfront support for community program applicants and watch that program criteria do not create inadvertent barriers for the worst-off places.

And then there is the need to show results quickly, amid both the current political atmosphere and a legacy of skepticism for place-based policies. Given those factors, it will be important for the federal government and local stakeholders to get success measures from the outset, manage the fact that place-based development takes time (several years at a minimum), and work hard to deliver excellent outcomes and communicate them widely.

With all of that said, the Build Back Better Act as passed by the House must be counted as a major advance for national policy that acknowledges regional and neighborhood decline and seeks to counter it with a new generation of place-based responses.

Addressing regional inequality will absolutely require the kind of universal social programs that compose the bulk of the Build Back Better Act. Such broad welfare programs represent an important revival of the federal government acting as a “pro-active force for uniting disparate regions into one national economy,” as notes the sociologist Robert Manduca. Yet in addition to such universal investment, a true push to ameliorate the nation’s stark geographic divides can and should reinvestigate the power of targeted, place-oriented policies to reverse local distress and catalyze growth. The House version of the Build Back Better Act represents a major watershed for that work. Let’s hope the Senate embraces it too.

      

Will Putin miscalculate?

22 November 2021 at 13:41

By Steven Pifer

Europe currently faces several crises exploited or instigated by Russia. Speculation runs rampant regarding what Vladimir Putin hopes to achieve. He should take care not to overplay his hand.

One crisis came to a head over the past two months as the cost of natural gas in Europe skyrocketed. While down from peaks in October, the price now hovers at about four times what it was at the beginning of the year. Russia did not cause this crisis — its roots lie in factors such as abnormally high energy demand and reduced gas production in Europe — but Moscow certainly has exploited the situation.

The Kremlin maintains that gas sales to Europe are “a purely commercial issue.” One would expect, however, that Russia’s Gazprom would eagerly increase gas exports, attracted by the dramatically increased prices. But gas flows remain significantly below what they could be. In October, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak suggested that gas flows could increase if the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that runs under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany began operation. That overlooks the fact that Russia already has plenty of pipeline capacity to move additional gas to Europe … if it wanted to do so.

Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko manufactured the second crisis, playing out along the border with Poland. Belarus has attempted to force migrants and economic refugees from the Middle East into Poland. Lukashenko is unhappy that the European Union does not recognize him as president and has applied sanctions as Minsk cracked down on domestic opposition, including forcing down a civilian airliner to arrest one of the passengers in May.

This despicable weaponization of migrants is likely Lukashenko’s brainchild. Moscow has nevertheless aligned itself with Minsk. When Poland reinforced its border police with regular army soldiers, the Russian air force flew nuclear-capable bombers over Belarus in response.

The third crisis stems directly from Moscow having positioned military forces near Ukraine’s borders, raising questions about a possible Russian assault. The Russian military carried out a similar build-up last spring, though nothing came of it. However, relations between Kyiv and Moscow have only worsened. In July, Putin published a 6,000-word essay that all but denied Ukraine’s right to exist as an independent state. In October, former President Dmitry Medvedev asserted that it was “pointless” to negotiate with Kyiv.

While Moscow denies ill intent, in recent days Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg have publicly cautioned Russia about using force against Ukraine. French President Emmanuel Macron stated that France was ready “to defend the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” and Britain prepared to send 600 troops to the country.

This all plays out as the Kremlin tightens the repressive screws at home. The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office moved last week to close down the Memorial Human Rights Center. The best-known human rights entity in Russia, it was established and allowed to operate in Soviet times.

These crises all put pressure on Europe and the West, as they no doubt were intended to. But Putin and the Kremlin in each case run the real risk of miscalculating and overplaying their hand.

When an earlier surge of migrants swept into Europe beginning in 2015, EU member states divided over what to do. Germany heroically accepted one million, while Poland resettled virtually none, and its ruling party’s leader blamed Berlin for the influx. This time, EU members are of a single mind. The German government offered to send German border guards and place them under Polish command to manage the situation on the border with Belarus. The European Union has begun preparing a list of new sanctions to apply against Minsk. The greater their impact, the more that Lukashenko will turn to Moscow for financial assistance — something that should hold little appeal for Putin.

Russia over the past 30 years has a history of using the energy weapon against post-Soviet states, such as Ukraine and Georgia, and others in what was once termed “eastern Europe.” Moscow sought, however, to maintain a reputation as a reliable energy supplier to countries such as Germany, Austria, Italy and the Netherlands. The current situation puts that reputation in doubt, and European capitals may have begun to realize the vulnerability created by dependence on Russian energy. In Germany, where the eco-friendly Greens party will enter the new government, it could spur a faster transition away from carbon energy. As Putin well knows, oil and gas are Russia’s two most lucrative exports. Is it in Russia’s interest to encourage Europe to intensify its search for alternative sources and accelerate its move away from carbon energy?

As for Ukraine, a Russian military attack would trigger a string of costs. U.S. and European officials have already begun to develop a list of possible new sanctions against Moscow. Following Putin’s summit with President Joe Biden, several U.S.-Russian communications channels were restored, and both sides reported constructive exchanges in their strategic stability dialogue. Nothing would kill those small positive steps more quickly than a Russian attack. The largest potential cost for Moscow looms in Ukraine; its military is greatly improved and, while it might not be able to defeat a Russian incursion, it would make the invaders pay a heavy price. More sanctions, a deep freeze with Washington and the West, and Russian soldiers coming home in body bags hardly seem in Moscow’s interest.

Each of these crises could develop in ways inimical to Russia’s — and Putin’s — interest, at least as those interests are perceived from the West. Putin, however, does not follow Western logic. As noted in a recent article, he does not always make decisions rationally and sometimes tends to act emotionally, especially when it comes to Ukraine. (Indeed, Kremlin aggression the past seven years has done more than anything to drive Ukraine away from Russia and to the West.)

Deepening these crises could well lead to negative outcomes for Russia if Putin miscalculates. Still, the West should not overly discount the possibility that he just might do it.

North Korea is addressing the pandemic in its ‘style.’ That means leaving a lot of people hungry.

22 November 2021 at 13:28

By Andrew Yeo

North Korea shut its borders in January 2020 — arguably one of the world’s most restrictive pandemic border closures, with reports of “shoot to kill” orders at the border. Although recent missile tests and the regime’s claim of zero coronavirus cases suggest business as usual in North Korea, the country now confronts a major humanitarian crisis.

How dire is the humanitarian situation — and what has been the regime’s response? As I argue in my new book, despite widespread suffering caused by the coronavirus pandemic and border closures, the regime may find a way to muddle through the crisis.

Trade and the economy plummeted

North Korea was one of the first countries to shut down its borders after Beijing’s announcement about the coronavirus. Like other developing economies, North Korea’s economy has taken a hit, contracting by 4.5% in 2020. This marks North Korea’s steepest economic decline since the days of massive famine in the 1990s.

Heavy economic sanctions levied against North Korea since 2016 had already reduced external trade despite ongoing sanctions evasion. However, as economist Bradley Babson explained, the border lockdown “accomplished in a matter of weeks what United Nations Security Council sanctions have failed to achieve since their expansion in 2017.”

Trade with China, which accounted for more than 90% of North Korea’s total trade volume, declined by more than 80%. As a point of comparison, in November 2020, Chinese official exports to North Korea were valued at $148,000, a far cry from the nearly $200 million in exports for the same month in 2019. Although trade with China had slightly improved by August 2021 to $22.5 million in Chinese exports, trade levels are still nowhere near pre-pandemic levels.

Many North Koreans are food insecure

Targeted sanctions stemming from the regime’s nuclear recalcitrance have resulted in some humanitarian costs. However, the closure of the China-North Korea border and North Korean ports has produced even greater suffering by blocking shipments of grain, as well as fertilizer and farming equipment.

Food shortages and chronic malnourishment have long been a challenge in North Korea — in 2019, U.N. officials estimated 43% of the population was food insecure. However, the pandemic has exacerbated hunger. Severe flooding caused by powerful typhoons in 2020 also created lingering effects on this year’s low crop yields.

In a rare public admission, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un remarked at a 2021 Worker’s Party meeting that the “people’s food situation is now getting tense.” Last month, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service revealed that Kim had ordered all North Koreans to devote every effort to farming, and to secure “every grain” of rice. And most, if not all, foreign aid and U.N. workers have left the country, effectively shutting down humanitarian activity.

North Korea is addressing the pandemic in its ‘style’

Despite North Korea’s dire situation, the regime has mostly shunned foreign aid, including access to vaccines. In July, North Korea rejected 2 million AstraZeneca vaccines, citing concerns about reported side effects. Officials in Pyongyang also asked the global coordinating body, Covax, to send North Korea’s allotment of 3 million Sinovac doses elsewhere.

Although North Korea may have the capacity to implement a national vaccine strategy based on existing immunization programs, the regime has instead opted to implement “our style” in epidemic prevention — essentially, heavy restrictions on internal movement and strict quarantine measures. Despite denying any positive coronavirus cases since January 2020, North Korea sent thousands of soldiers into military quarantine facilities throughout the country and constructed “specialized quarantine facilities” for suspected coronavirus patients.

But will the crisis precipitate change?

What effect will the pandemic have on government, society, and markets in North Korea? Border lockdowns have severely curtailed trade and market activity, the source of both government revenue and individual business entrepreneurs’ leverage over the government. Political scientists often treat major crisis as an opportunity for change. However, the North Korean regime has demonstrated remarkable resilience in the wake of crisis.

Before the COVID-19 era, both official and unofficial markets had emerged to provide North Koreans with the majority of their daily necessities. Markets themselves were an outgrowth of North Korea’s last great humanitarian crisis and became a means of survival during the Arduous March, the official name for the 1990s famine. By the 2000s, markets had already begun hollowing out the socialist economy.

Kim has vacillated between cracking down and tolerating market activity, seeing markets as something of a necessary evil to keep the regime afloat. The regime has been particularly wary of the donju or “money masters.” These entrepreneurs have become economically, if not socially, empowered, often colluding with government officials in bribery or corruption schemes.

Kim has used the pandemic to reestablish control over markets by punishing private entrepreneurs and corrupt officials, and limiting the use of foreign currency. To reinstitute greater ideological control, the regime also launched a campaign to crack down on outside information, foreign culture — including South Korean dramas and K-pop videos — and other “capitalist tendencies.” Far from regime collapse, the regime has reasserted its authority over society.

In the near term, North Koreans will continue to suffer from hunger, malnutrition, and other chronic health-related issues unrelated to the coronavirus, including tuberculosis. When borders begin to reopen, North Korea’s domestic markets will reemerge. If Kim manages to maintain control over legitimate markets as part of “our style” socialism, the regime will likely manage to muddle through in the longer term.

However, if markets return and the regime is unable to rein in the donju or subsume markets into North Korea’s overarching ideology, North Korean entrepreneurs may become further empowered to bring about economic and social change. From this perspective, the pandemic may be more of a reset than a reverse button on shifting government-society relations in North Korea.

      

Biden’s Summit for Democracy should focus on rights, not economics and geopolitics

22 November 2021 at 13:07

By Thomas Pepinsky

President Joe Biden’s first “Summit for Democracy” is an opportunity for the United States to highlight civil liberties, freedom of conscience, and peaceful dissent at a moment in which democracy is in a fragile state around the world. Democracy is the only political system which can protect these freedoms: For authoritarian regimes of any form — single-party regimes like China, personalist dictatorships like Russia, or absolute monarchies like Saudi Arabia — criticism, mobilization, and dissent are no less than fundamental threats to the ruling order. The U.S. has long had an inconsistent record of democracy promotion around the world, and the record of democracy within the United States is uneven as well. The Biden administration views the work of the summit as building strategies to strengthen and defend democracies — the United States included — against authoritarianism.

The Summit for Democracy, however, has a larger geopolitical ambition. It reflects a prominent view within the Biden administration that assembling a global coalition of democracies can counter China’s rise and continued Russian aggression. There are good reasons to emphasize the common interests of new and established democracies, but the geopolitical ambitions of the Summit for Democracy are bound to disappoint.

To see why, it helps to distinguish between a country’s political regime and its foreign policy objectives. As Jessica Chen Weiss and I recently argued in Foreign Affairs, Chinese foreign policy is fundamentally goal-oriented and pragmatic rather than ideological. Although the Xi Jinping regime is currently engaged in a thoroughgoing defense of single-party strongman rule within China, it does not have a preference for authoritarianism outside of the country (of course, the regime considers Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan to be integral parts of China, and hence it does prefer authoritarianism in these territories as well). China’s most important strategic rival in the South China Sea region is Vietnam, which is itself a single-party authoritarian regime just like China.

The case of Russia is different: One may plausibly argue that Vladimir Putin’s regime believes that democracy in the United States and Europe threatens Russia’s national interests. But even in this case, we must be careful not to confuse a Russian strategy of foreign election interference with Russian foreign policy objectives. Russia, like China, can find common cause with any regime — democratic or authoritarian — whose policy stance is compatible with its perceived national interest.

A second reason why the Summit for Democracy may prove ineffective is that it is not responsive to the general issues of governance and economic performance that matter for mass publics around the world. Even if it were true that democracies are more likely to deliver sustained economic growth or more equitable societies — and the evidence on this is far from decisive — cases like Singapore since 1965, China since 1978, and Vietnam since 1986 demonstrate that there do exist authoritarian models for rapid economic growth and widely-shared improvements in material wellbeing.

The existence of authoritarian paths to economic prosperity makes it hard for democracy’s defenders to argue that democracy delivers better material outcomes. A regime such as China’s need not argue that there exists an exportable “China model” for others to emulate. Instead, it can simply observe that authoritarianism is not incompatible with prosperity. Any Summit for Democracy that pitches democratic regimes as better able to battle corruption — a key pillar of the Biden administration’s case for democracy — will raise similar concerns. The anti-corruption efforts of the Xi Jinping regime and China’s results-oriented focus on infrastructural development stand in sharp contrast to the rampant money politics in fragile democracies like Indonesia and the Philippines.

The key economic issue for many countries where democracy is in peril — especially those middle-income countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America with relatively short histories of democratic rule — comes down to governance. Focusing on democracy as a solution to inequality, corruption, and ineffective economic management simply will not resonate with the summit’s intended audience.

The Summit for Democracy will be most effective if it remains focused on strengthening and defending democracy rather than constructing a dichotomy between the world’s democracies and their authoritarian counterparts. It would also be a mistake to focus on corruption, economic performance, and material prosperity as areas in which democracies can outperform authoritarian regimes.

The case for democracy is simple: Democracy is the only political system that institutionalizes protections for minority voices while also protecting the rights of journalists, citizens, and opposition leaders to criticize their government.

Authoritarian leaders can promise the same protections, but their political institutions mean that any such promises are not credible. The political criticism and meaningful dissent that democracies encourage is an existential threat to any authoritarian regime.

Whatever the weakness of American democracy, past and present, the Biden administration can hold up values of liberty, dissent, contestation, and participation as both uniquely democratic and worthy of defense. To the extent that any democracy fails to deliver on these fronts, it should be strengthened. And to its credit, the Biden administration appears clear-eyed about the challenges facing democracy around the world, and here at home.

This, then, ought to be the focus of Biden’s Summit for Democracy: identifying threats to democracy and ways to strengthen existing regimes by investing in freedoms of conscience, mobilization, and dissent for all. This work ought to start at home, not least because it is essential work to do in a moment of high partisan polarization. If American democracy continues to wobble, it will have global repercussions.

      

Biden’s Summit for Democracy should focus on rights, not economics and geopolitics

22 November 2021 at 13:07

By Thomas Pepinsky

President Joe Biden’s first “Summit for Democracy” is an opportunity for the United States to highlight civil liberties, freedom of conscience, and peaceful dissent at a moment in which democracy is in a fragile state around the world. Democracy is the only political system which can protect these freedoms: For authoritarian regimes of any form — single-party regimes like China, personalist dictatorships like Russia, or absolute monarchies like Saudi Arabia — criticism, mobilization, and dissent are no less than fundamental threats to the ruling order. The U.S. has long had an inconsistent record of democracy promotion around the world, and the record of democracy within the United States is uneven as well. The Biden administration views the work of the summit as building strategies to strengthen and defend democracies — the United States included — against authoritarianism.

The Summit for Democracy, however, has a larger geopolitical ambition. It reflects a prominent view within the Biden administration that assembling a global coalition of democracies can counter China’s rise and continued Russian aggression. There are good reasons to emphasize the common interests of new and established democracies, but the geopolitical ambitions of the Summit for Democracy are bound to disappoint.

To see why, it helps to distinguish between a country’s political regime and its foreign policy objectives. As Jessica Chen Weiss and I recently argued in Foreign Affairs, Chinese foreign policy is fundamentally goal-oriented and pragmatic rather than ideological. Although the Xi Jinping regime is currently engaged in a thoroughgoing defense of single-party strongman rule within China, it does not have a preference for authoritarianism outside of the country (of course, the regime considers Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan to be integral parts of China, and hence it does prefer authoritarianism in these territories as well). China’s most important strategic rival in the South China Sea region is Vietnam, which is itself a single-party authoritarian regime just like China.

The case of Russia is different: One may plausibly argue that Vladimir Putin’s regime believes that democracy in the United States and Europe threatens Russia’s national interests. But even in this case, we must be careful not to confuse a Russian strategy of foreign election interference with Russian foreign policy objectives. Russia, like China, can find common cause with any regime — democratic or authoritarian — whose policy stance is compatible with its perceived national interest.

A second reason why the Summit for Democracy may prove ineffective is that it is not responsive to the general issues of governance and economic performance that matter for mass publics around the world. Even if it were true that democracies are more likely to deliver sustained economic growth or more equitable societies — and the evidence on this is far from decisive — cases like Singapore since 1965, China since 1978, and Vietnam since 1986 demonstrate that there do exist authoritarian models for rapid economic growth and widely-shared improvements in material wellbeing.

The existence of authoritarian paths to economic prosperity makes it hard for democracy’s defenders to argue that democracy delivers better material outcomes. A regime such as China’s need not argue that there exists an exportable “China model” for others to emulate. Instead, it can simply observe that authoritarianism is not incompatible with prosperity. Any Summit for Democracy that pitches democratic regimes as better able to battle corruption — a key pillar of the Biden administration’s case for democracy — will raise similar concerns. The anti-corruption efforts of the Xi Jinping regime and China’s results-oriented focus on infrastructural development stand in sharp contrast to the rampant money politics in fragile democracies like Indonesia and the Philippines.

The key economic issue for many countries where democracy is in peril — especially those middle-income countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America with relatively short histories of democratic rule — comes down to governance. Focusing on democracy as a solution to inequality, corruption, and ineffective economic management simply will not resonate with the summit’s intended audience.

The Summit for Democracy will be most effective if it remains focused on strengthening and defending democracy rather than constructing a dichotomy between the world’s democracies and their authoritarian counterparts. It would also be a mistake to focus on corruption, economic performance, and material prosperity as areas in which democracies can outperform authoritarian regimes.

The case for democracy is simple: Democracy is the only political system that institutionalizes protections for minority voices while also protecting the rights of journalists, citizens, and opposition leaders to criticize their government.

Authoritarian leaders can promise the same protections, but their political institutions mean that any such promises are not credible. The political criticism and meaningful dissent that democracies encourage is an existential threat to any authoritarian regime.

Whatever the weakness of American democracy, past and present, the Biden administration can hold up values of liberty, dissent, contestation, and participation as both uniquely democratic and worthy of defense. To the extent that any democracy fails to deliver on these fronts, it should be strengthened. And to its credit, the Biden administration appears clear-eyed about the challenges facing democracy around the world, and here at home.

This, then, ought to be the focus of Biden’s Summit for Democracy: identifying threats to democracy and ways to strengthen existing regimes by investing in freedoms of conscience, mobilization, and dissent for all. This work ought to start at home, not least because it is essential work to do in a moment of high partisan polarization. If American democracy continues to wobble, it will have global repercussions.

Access to online college courses can speed students’ degree completion

By Christian Fischer, Rachel Baker, Qiujie Li, Gabe Avakian Orona, Mark Warschauer

Online courses are an increasingly important part of students’ college experience, but how does this impact what students glean from their college experience? Trends toward online learning were evident even before the COVID-19 outbreak. For instance, more than 30% of all students enrolled at postsecondary institutions took at least one online course in the fall 2016 term.

Advocates of online education suggest that departments offering online courses can support their students through the ease of access to coursework; for example, internet-based learning can help students avoid scheduling conflicts and offer students greater flexibility to pursue outside activities, like working a part-time job. In addition, online courses are a cost-effective mode of offering college-level instruction for most universities. However, prior research indicates that students perform slightly worse and have lower course retention within online learning compared to traditional face-to-face classes.

Interestingly, little work has examined indirect outcomes that may still be critical for students’ college success, including degree completion and graduation rates. This is a timely topic: If online courses present a potentially effective instructional modality to increase students’ degree completion, departments may want to retain some of their online courses initially designed to combat need for remote instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In our study, just published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (EEPA), we analyzed six years of institutional data (all before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic) for three cohorts of students (N=10,572). These students had one of 13 popular majors at a public research university in southern California. We examined how online courses relate to students’ four- and six-year graduation rates, as well as time-to-degree-completion for students who graduate college within six years. During the period of study, departments at this university were offering about 3% of their major-required courses online, and about 8% of students enrolled in an online class at some point in their academic career.

This study utilizes administrative data on students’ course-taking and grades and sociodemographic measures provided by the university registrar, alongside course catalog data on major requirements. We acknowledge that those who choose to voluntarily take an online course may be different from those that do not, and we pursue an empirical identification strategy that attempts to avoid attributing pre-existing differences across individuals to those taking online classes. Specifically, we use an instrumental variables approach, instrumenting online course-taking using online course offerings. The goal of this method is to provide more plausibly causal estimates of the relationship between online course enrollment and student outcomes (rather than looking at course-taking behaviors directly).

Overall, our study finds that online course-taking is associated with more efficient college graduation. Students who are given the opportunity to take classes online graduate more quickly compared to students in departments that offer fewer online courses. We also find that online course-taking is associated with a higher likelihood of successfully graduating college within four years. Importantly, our findings seem robust for students who are generally considered at-risk in college environments. The analyses that focused on the online course experiences of first-generation college students, low-income students, and students with weaker academic preparation indicated smaller, but still positive, benefits of online course enrollments regarding both graduating within four years and the overall time it takes to receive their college degree.

While these findings may seem counterintuitive at first, as online courses are typically not as effective as their face-to-face counterparts, the online course modality may offer other benefits to help students’ longer-term academic success. For instance, students may enroll in courses that are otherwise inaccessible to them due to scheduling constraints or because similar face-to-face courses that fulfill similar major requirements may not be offered in the same term. While there have been considerable advances in research on online courses in higher education, more research is certainly needed to better understand (a) how to design high-quality online course environments across different subject areas, and (b) how to optimally combine face-to-face and online course offerings throughout a students’ college career.

As we argue in our article, we believe these findings apply to many institutions, including departments in residential universities that offered few or no online courses prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. By including online courses in their teaching portfolio, they might help more students to complete course requirements and graduate.

You can read the full journal article in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis: “Increasing Success in Higher Education: The Relationships of Online Course Taking With College Completion and Time-to-Degree.

      

Growing American leadership on the Sustainable Development Goals

By Kaysie Brown, Anthony F. Pipa, Krista Rasmussen, Max Bouchet

The 2021 U.N. General Assembly met at a tumultuous time for the world and for the United States—with looming concerns about climate change, rising inequality within and between countries, and a pressing need to ensure an equitable and sustainable global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These issues are central to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of ambitious targets for 2030 that all countries agreed in 2015 to address poverty, climate change, and inequalities. The Biden-Harris administration—as it works to re-engage and rebuild credibility at home and abroad—is advancing policy priorities that are consistent with the SDGs, even if it has not yet signaled how it might apply them to its domestic agenda.

Against this backdrop, the United Nations Foundation and the Brookings Institution hosted the third edition of their annual event, American Leadership in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals, to showcase new commitments and innovations from all segments of U.S. society to advance equity and sustainability in forging a better future path. The event featured elected officials, young leaders, and leaders from philanthropy, business, and universities whose collective work on the SDGs embodies the extent to which these global goals are rooted in American values and priorities.

Here are five key takeaways from the event:

1. American leadership on the SDGs continues to grow

A growing movement of leaders across the country is finding the SDGs to be the roadmap and policy framework to mobilize for progress on ambitious targets around inclusion, equity, and sustainability. The SDGs also serve as a unifier for identifying common goals and partnerships within communities helping nongovernment actors, corporations, philanthropy, and local governments align their efforts and inspire action.

The SDGs have been especially valuable for local government as they provide metrics to monitor social and environmental progress and to better integrate equity and action on climate change into economic growth strategies. Building on past leadership exhibited by New York City, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Hawaii, Mayor Buddy Dyer announced the launch of Orlando’s first Voluntary Local Review (VLR), becoming the fourth U.S. city to track and report on its SDG progress. Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego reiterated her city’s support for the SDGs by announcing a commitment to conduct their own VLR in partnership with the Thunderbird School of Global Management.

The SDGs help us broaden our understanding of the word [sustainability] and realize that it actually includes all types of issues that are not just specifically carbon reduction. – Buddy Dyer, Mayor of Orlando

2. Equity must be at the center of sustainable development

The SDG’s central commitment to equity, justice, environmental resilience, and ensuring no one is left behind is as applicable and relevant in the U.S. as it is for countries around the world. Addressing the pervasive and systemic inequities in the U.S., whether these are socio-economic, racial, or gender-based, must be a cornerstone principle of public policy interventions. PolicyLink President and CEO Michael McAfee stressed that “our democracy and our economy have not fundamentally been optimized for this group and that’s the opportunity that is embodied in the SDGs.” As Merchon Green, Orlando’s chief equity officer, commented, this requires getting to the root cause of issues and determining what barriers are present, while engaging those communities to shape priorities and identify solutions. It also means holding leaders to account.

One in three people in America, the wealthiest nation in the world, are economically insecure. It’s for the very reason the SDGs have been established. This is a design challenge for the nation. – Michael McAfee, President and CEO, PolicyLink

 3. Partnerships help scale solutions

By using the SDGs and the SDG indicators as the North Star, we can work together collectively to ensure that we’re maximizing our available resources. – Sandi Vidal, Vice President of Community Strategies and Initiatives, Central Florida Foundation.

Making sustained progress—at the scale needed—requires partnerships at different levels and across different sectors, from government and the private sector, to nonprofits, universities, and philanthropies. The SDGs are increasingly being used as the basis for these efforts. For example, Merck, a pharmaceutical company that works in the United States and globally, utilizes the SDG framework to catalyze resources and measure progress on mitigating maternal mortality and other health inequalities across the U.S and around the world. The Chicago Community Trust is using the SDGs to connect its local work in Chicago to the global community. In the Orlando region, the common language of the SDGs has helped deepen collaboration across municipalities and counties to develop a joint resiliency plan. The Central Florida Foundation (CFF)’s Thrive Central Florida initiative embraces the interconnected nature of the goals to raise and distribute resources to improve economic stability, well-being, education, and livability at once.

Ultimately, we need all of these partners.  We need government.  We need the private sector.  We need philanthropy to be able to create the kinds of solutions. – Helene Gayle, President and CEO of Chicago Community Trust.

 

4.  American youth are critical actors for impact

Young people across the U.S. are already living with the impacts of the world’s most pressing challenges and want their voices and leadership to be taken seriously. According to a recent poll from the Better World Campaign and UN Foundation, a majority of young Americans aged 18-35 believe younger generations are more equipped than older generations to solve the world’s most pressing issues, and that they can have a positive impact. Universities have an important role to play in elevating youth leadership and in making sure that young people are equipped to address these global issues. It is also incumbent upon leaders at all levels to invite youth to the table in an authentic way.

Our world can only drive forward the SDGs if we ensure that every person is included in the ride, especially our nation’s youth. We have our voices now. We just need to be heard. – Cynthia Yue, the UNA-USA Youth Observer to the United Nations

5. Embracing the SDGs domestically helps restore U.S. credibility, including globally

To be a global leader, the United States has to be a global example. The United States is not existing above or apart from these goals. The United States is a part of these goals. –  Congresswoman Sara Jacobs (D-CA-53)

Multiple speakers emphasized the opportunity for the U.S. to build on the multifaceted leadership across American society for the SDGs. “For too long we have helped to forward frameworks that we have not used ourselves,” said Helene Gayle, President and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust. The SDGs “remind us that the same inequities that we see between countries also apply to the inequities we see here in the United States.” Their incorporation into local and state policies, business and university strategies, and wide-ranging partnerships highlights how much the SDGs are rooted in U.S. values and ideals. Embracing the SDGs can help the Biden administration elevate the role of the U.S. in the world.

I urge you all to think about ways to ensure that marginalized communities feel like they belong so that this country can truly live up to the motto, justice and liberty for all.  Together we can work to build a future that leave no one behind.” –  Leena Abdelmoity, Human Rights Advocate and GirlUp Teen Advisor Alumna

 

 

      

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