We can tackle climate change, jobs, growth and global trade. Here’s what’s stopping us

We must leave behind established modes of thinking and seek creative workable solutions.

Another tumultuous year has confirmed that the global economy is at a turning point. We face four big challenges: the climate transition; the good-jobs problem; an economic-development crisis, and the search for a newer, healthier form of globalization.

To address each, we must leave behind established modes of thinking and seek creative workable solutions, while recognizing that these efforts will be necessarily uncoordinated and experimental.

Climate change is the most daunting challenge, and the one that has been overlooked the longest — at great cost. If we are to avoid condemning humanity to a dystopian future, we must act fast to decarbonize the global economy. We have long known that we must wean ourselves from fossil fuels, develop green alternatives and shore up our defenses against the lasting environmental damage that past inaction has already caused. However, it has become clear that little of this is likely to be achieved through global cooperation or economists’ favored policies.

Instead, individual countries will forge ahead with their own green agendas, implementing policies that best account for their specific political constraints, as the United States, China and the European Union have been doing. The result will be a hodge-podge of emission caps, tax incentives, research and development support, and green industrial policies with little global coherence and occasional costs for other countries. Messy though it may be, an uncoordinated push for climate action may be the best we can realistically hope for.

Inequality, the erosion of the middle class, and labor-market polarization have caused significant damage to our social environment.

But our physical environment is not the only threat we face. Inequality, the erosion of the middle class, and labor-market polarization have caused equally significant damage to our social environment. The consequences are now widely evident. Economic, regional, and cultural gaps within countries are widening, and liberal democracy (and the values that support it) appears to be in decline, reflecting rising support for xenophobic, authoritarian populists and the growing backlash against scientific and technical expertise.

Social transfers and the welfare state can help, but what is most needed is an increase in the supply of good jobs for the less-educated workers who have lost access to them. We need more productive, well-remunerated employment opportunities that can provide dignity and social recognition for those without a college degree. Expanding the supply of such jobs will require not only more investment in education and more robust defense of workers’ rights, but also a new brand of industrial policies for services, where the bulk of future employment will be created.

The disappearance of manufacturing jobs over time reflects both greater automation and stronger global competition. Developing countries have not been immune to either factor. Many have experienced “premature de-industrialization”: their absorption of workers into formal, productive manufacturing firms is now very limited, which means they are precluded from pursuing the kind of export-oriented development strategy that has been so effective in East Asia and a few other countries. Together with the climate challenge, this crisis of growth strategies in low-income countries calls for an entirely new development model.

Governments will have to experiment, combining investment in the green transition with productivity enhancements in labor-absorbing services.

As in the advanced economies, services will be low- and middle-income countries’ main source of employment creation. But most services in these economies are dominated by very small, informal enterprises — often sole proprietorships — and there are essentially no ready-made models of service-led development to emulate. Governments will have to experiment, combining investment in the green transition with productivity enhancements in labor-absorbing services.

Finally, globalization itself must be reinvented. The post-1990 hyper-globalization model has been overtaken by the rise of U.S.-China geopolitical competition, and by the higher priority placed on domestic social, economic, public-health, and environmental concerns. No longer fit for purpose, globalization as we know it will have to be replaced by a new understanding that rebalances national needs and the requirements of a healthy global economy that facilitates international trade and long-term foreign investment.

Most likely, the new globalization model will be less intrusive, acknowledging the needs of all countries (not just major powers) that want greater policy flexibility to address domestic challenges and national-security imperatives. One possibility is that the U.S. or China will take an overly expansive view of its security needs, seeking global primacy (in the U.S. case) or regional domination (China). The result would be a “weaponization” of economic interdependence and significant economic decoupling, with trade and investment treated as a zero-sum game.

The biggest gift major powers can give to the world economy is to manage their own domestic economies well.

But there could also be a more favorable scenario in which both powers keep their geopolitical ambitions in check, recognizing that their competing economic goals are better served through accommodation and cooperation. This scenario might serve the global economy well, even if — or perhaps because — it falls short of hyper-globalization. As the Bretton Woods era showed, a significant expansion of global trade and investment is compatible with a thin model of globalization, wherein countries retain considerable policy autonomy with which to foster social cohesion and economic growth at home. The biggest gift major powers can give to the world economy is to manage their own domestic economies well.

All these challenges call for new ideas and frameworks. We do not need to throw conventional economics out the window. But to remain relevant, economists must learn to apply the tools of their trade to the objectives and constraints of the day. They will have to be open to experimentation, and sympathetic if governments engage in actions that do not conform to the playbooks of the past.

Dani Rodrik, professor of international political economy at Harvard Kennedy School, is president of the International Economic Association and the author of Straight Talk on Trade: Ideas for a Sane World Economy (Princeton University Press, 2017).

This commentary was published with the permission of Project Syndicate — Confronting Our Four Biggest Economic Challenges

More: Biden administration’s antitrust victories are much-needed wins for consumers

Also read: ‘Dr. Doom’ Nouriel Roubini: ‘Worst-case scenarios appear to be the least likely.’ For now.

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In Ukraine, it’s not hatred they feel, its wrath

Jamie Dettmer is opinion editor at POLITICO Europe.

“We were invisible before, and to become visible is a huge step,” historian Olena Dzhedzhora said, as we discussed how Ukraine has drawn the attention of the rest of Europe and the United States.

The dignified, gray-haired historian joined the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv as it was being founded in 2002 — the first Catholic university to open anywhere in the former Soviet Union — just 11 years after the country declared independence. And since Russia’s invasion, Dzhedzhora, an archeologist-turned-medievalist, has been busy making darkness visible, along with around 30 volunteers — students, lecturers and others — who’ve been video recording and transcribing war testimonies gathered from people of all walks of life in Ukraine.

Last year, Lviv became a sort of Noah’s Ark, crowded with the displaced. And Dzhedzhora’s university stopped functioning for months — sheltering war refugees, feeding them, collecting medicine and raising cash for those who wanted to move west as Europe opened its doors.

“When I looked in their eyes, or talked with them, I had a feeling that I must capture their stories somehow,” she said. “We started to listen to these people and, with their permission, film them. Right now, we have 157 long video interviews and are busy translating them. They include volunteers, drivers, military men, medical personnel, people who teach and who make art and play music, and also those who experienced Russian occupation,” she added.

The project set out with two aims — to record war testimony for posterity, and to show the wider world what’s happening to Ukrainians. “The challenge, initially, for us, personally, was that none of us had any experience interviewing people suffering deep trauma. We have always stayed away from children because we fear retraumatizing them,” she said. “I am the only historian in the group, but all of us are very good listeners.”

Discussing the testimonies, Dzhedzhora remarked that “people say funny things in the interviews; they say very deep things, and they say very unexpected things. Some people, after a couple of months, reread their interviews and say, ‘Did I say that? That’s very interesting. I already forgot about that.’ People often forget or repress their first reactions to trauma.”

And she teared up recalling some of their stories — one, of a deeply traumatized 45-year-old woman who endured the three-month-long siege of Mariupol, and remained there during the early days of Russia’s occupation before being able to flee. “At first, she didn’t want to talk, saying she couldn’t, but eventually she did, and what most shocked the woman was how some of her neighbors welcomed the Russians, and started to point out people who were Ukrainian-oriented. They were among the earliest also to loot apartments,” Dzhedzhora said. And to the woman’s disgust, she later saw one of the looters interviewed on Ukrainian television, claiming to be a patriot.

Another painful interview for the historian was with artist Ivanka Krypyakevych — the partner of Mykhailo Dymyd, a professor at the university — on the loss of their oldest son, Atemi. Atemi died fighting in Donetsk in June, and Ivanka gave her testimony two days after his funeral. “Yes, I knew him, and know the family well. Atemi was such an excellent, such an interesting young man,” Dzhedzhora added.

Through these experiences, she said she found most interviewees didn’t harbor personal hatred toward Russians. “They understand that would be very destructive for themselves. So it’s not the hatred — it’s something I don’t even know how to express it in English.” Then it came to her: “It is more Biblical. Something much more powerful than hatred. It is wrath,” she said.

Righteous judgement.

Back in Kyiv, I then sat down with a young American, a veteran of the U.S. army named Eric, who’s seen plenty of war and joined the international legion of foreign volunteers in April. “When the invasion happened, I was like, ‘the Russians suck’ . . . But I thought it is not my fight. Then they started the terror bombing and attacking malls, hospitals and schools and stuff like that, and I thought, ‘I can do something about this.’”

Eric served several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he admits he enlisted to fight in Ukraine for prosaic reasons too. He left the army realizing that with America’s “forever wars” winding down, he might not see action again. “I do miss getting shot at. That was enjoyable when it started happening again,” he said.

“I know what I am. I’m a soldier. I’m a dude who goes and fights wars, kills people, all that stuff, gets paid for it. It’s, like, objectively speaking, not a morally healthy thing. But there’s still standards, there’s rules, laws. There’s like a code, and you’re supposed to adhere to [it]. I mean, it’s war. It’s brutal. There’s none of this, like, ‘Yeah, man, you know, as long as they fly a white flag.’ A lot of times, if somebody’s trying to surrender, you’re not going to realize that. You see movement. You see a guy. You shoot,” he added.

The foreign legion in Ukraine now numbers around a thousand, and most of the wannabe heroes, the unfit and the fantasists who initially flocked to join in the early weeks have been booted out — or “dipped out,” in Eric’s words — once they went through their first bombardment or firefight, and realized “it’s real life and dangerous.”

“We still get some nutters — the vetting process isn’t great,” he grimaced, recalling how some German neo-Nazis had joined up last year, but they “dipped out because nobody wanted to work with them. We’re literally fighting fascists here. That’s what Russia is. Fascist. Their squad nickname was Wehrmacht. It was really stupid,” he said.

Eric, who asked to withhold his last name as he doesn’t want exposure, also echoed other American legionnaires when discussing the differences between various foreign fighters. The Belarusians, Chechens and Georgians are seen as much more ideological, viewing the war as a way toward freeing their own countries from Russia’s control, while most of the Americans and the British, as well as Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians, are more like Eric — veterans whose chief motivation for being in Ukraine is to avoid civilian life, although they stress the rightness of the Ukrainian cause.

Motivations aside, the highly combat-experienced Americans and Brits are often used in especially risky commando and reconnaissance missions. And it was on such a mission that Eric and his entire squad was wounded near Bakhmut last year. He got shot in the chest — the bullet partly penetrating his body armor — and was then hit by two fragmentation grenades during a vicious close-quarter skirmish.

“I was bleeding in a bathroom — in the same building I got wounded in, with the Russians still inside. So, me and another guy, and then later another guy, were balls to the wall, trading fire with the Russians and tossing grenades at each other. I couldn’t move my arm and my leg, so I was, like, handing off magazines to the others, and then losing blood and passing out.” Another of the legion’s platoons was ordered to mount a rescue, “but they were busy making Instagram videos about the BTR [Russian armored personnel carrier] we’d all blown up earlier,” he said, chortling.

Meanwhile, among the many unintended consequences Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has triggered — including prodding Sweden and Finland to join NATO, wrecking the Moscow-tied Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which was once a useful Kremlin tool of influence, and volunteering foreign fighters — there’s now another that will likely infuriate the homophobic leader: boosting support for gay rights in Ukraine.

“If Putin hates gays, we should support them,” announced Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Kozhemiakin to the surprise of many last month. Kozhemiakin previously served as an officer in the Soviet Navy from 1982 to 1988, and he was in the Russian KGB for several years.

His support for LGBTQ+ rights came during a committee hearing on a bill introduced in April by Inna Sovsun, an opposition lawmaker from the liberal, pro-European Holos party. Sovsun’s bill seeks to legalize same-sex civil partnerships, granting LGBTQ+ civil partners the same rights as married heterosexual couples. According to Sovsun, the war has helped shift public opinion, with many recognizing the inequity of the partners of LGBTQ+ soldiers not having any legal rights when their loved ones get wounded or killed — including making medical decisions on their behalf, burying them or receiving any state benefits.

Over a hundred soldiers have so far come out as LGBTQ+, and thousands more are estimated to be serving. “Kozhemiakin’s speech was the most impressive I’ve seen in the parliament, and was the least expected,” Sovsun said. But she also cautioned: “I think if the parliament were to vote on this today, it would fail. My feeling is that the parliament is more conservative than our society because 56 percent of Ukrainians actually support it.”

And public support is growing still, but the government doesn’t yet have an official position. “Zelenskyy does things when it’s clear the public wants him to do it. He hasn’t quite worked out what the public’s position is yet” on this, she said.

But she hopes he will . . . and soon.

CORRECTION: This article was updated to correct the number of years after Ukraine’s independence that the Ukrainian Catholic University was founded.

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Fintan O’Toole on his bestselling book and the transformation of Ireland

It’s possible over the course of just one lifetime to see the world you’ve grown up in and all of its certainties stood on their head. That happened to the generation that grew up in the 1960s in Ireland in a social climate that’s now as lost as Atlantis. 

In “We Don’t Know Ourselves, A Personal History Of Modern Ireland,” journalist Fintan O’Toole has taken a flinty-eyed and often funny look at the transformation of our nation from one time conservative theocracy to its first in the world vote for equal marriage.

Last week, he spoke to journalists in New York City about its unexpected bestseller success in America and the lessons it carries.

“We Don’t Know Ourselves” by Fintan O’Toole. (Liveright Publishers)

In his look at the changes that have marked our transformation from paranoid post-colonial theocracy to progressive European trailblazer, O’Toole has lived the changes he writes about.

Beginning his talk to a gathering of invited New York Irish journalists on April 24, O’Toole spoke the two words that haunted his childhood and the childhoods of many around him: Letterfrack and Daingean.

These were the names of the two most feared Industrial Schools in Ireland, the ones that “bad boys” were sent to for terrible crimes like stealing a loaf of bread.

Between the years 1940 to 1970, 147 children reportedly died in Letterfrack in Connemara while in the “care” of the Christian Brothers. There was evidence of acute physical and sexual abuse there going back to the 1930s. 

In Daingean, a similar reign of terror prevailed, with flogging and other physical abuse creating an atmosphere of horror that has haunted many who passed through it for life. 

“I wondered how did I know those two words?” he told the journalists. “I don’t remember anyone saying Letterfrack or Daingean to me very often but they were everywhere – and yet nowhere.

“When Mary Raftery – who is probably the greatest journalist of our times – did three documentary films about the industrial schools in 1999 called ‘States Of Fear,’ I remember everyone was shocked and appalled. Yet everyone knew.”

That weird cognitive dissonance, that ability to hold two conflicting pieces of information at once, to know and not know, was the origin of his best-selling book. And the study was not simply academic, it was part of his own family life, he says.

“My father had a broken skull and we have different stories about how he got it.

“It was only quite late on that I got the real story, which was that his stepfather had thrown him down the stairs. He was a brute and so the question was, why did his mother – my grandmother – stay with him?

“And the answer was she married him because it was the only way to keep the kids out of the industrial schools. And she knew it was worse, you know, that the worst thing was having your kids being taken into these institutions.

“That’s a very dark way of talking about this sort of doubleness, where lots of people were highly aware of the way that parts of Irish society worked. But we had this extraordinary capacity not to recognize it.”

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In the decade of his birth, the country was floundering. “There were only two countries in Europe that lost population in the 1950s,” O’Toole said. “One was East Germany and the other one was Ireland. The population was just leaving, young people were leaving in droves.

“And they were leaving to go back to the old colonial oppressor. They were choosing to live in England. All my father’s family, his siblings were in England, all my cousins were living in Birmingham and London.”

‘Island for lease, current owners leaving,’ ran a poignant cartoon that caught the eye of T.K. Whitaker, the gifted Irish economist and Secretary of the Department of Finance.

“He was in his late 30s from Rostrevor in the north,” said O’Toole. “He was an Irish speaker and devout Catholic, and he had come to live and work in the Republic because he believed in Irish nationalism, he wasn’t a rebel.

“But he realized that in order for things to stay the same, things would have to change. That really was the ironic T.K. Whitaker idea, that in order to keep Catholic nationalist Ireland, we’ve had to change how our society operated radically.” 

Ireland would have to open up to foreign capital and it would have to attract private capital, Whitaker wrote.

“I think Whitaker thought, you could do it and it wouldn’t really change Catholicism, it wouldn’t really change the structure of governing and theology the way it was.

“And in fact, Catholicism still did pretty well in terms of its control of the society, right up to the end of the 20th century.

“And then it collapses with extraordinary intensity. I’m not talking about Catholicism as a faith, I’m talking about this peculiar fusion of Catholicism and nationalism as a governing ideology. But when it went it went with astonishing rapidity.”

Albania got state television before Ireland did, O’Toole notes. “The Irish government didn’t want to do television, but they had to because more and more people would be putting up huge ariels and getting the BBC. So London finally forced them into having a TV station to stop people being influenced by BBC.

“And of course, it was opened by the Archbishop of Dublin and it was headed by [Edward Roth] an Irish American, some good Catholic boy from Boston, who was the first director of programs and all he could do was buy programs from ABC and the entire back catalog of NBC and ABC.

“So we started watching American kids college programs and this huge American cultural influence started coming in.”

The great challenge before us in 2023 is how to deal with the unexpectedly promising path ahead that nothing in our past has prepared us for.

“There is always an urge to fill it with stupid slogans or populism,” O’Toole said. “But if instead you can live with uncertainty, and you’re not susceptible to every demographic who wants to tell you they know the future, and can control the future, we will be okay.

“I think, by and large, Ireland has gotten to a point where actually there is more comfort with that uncertainty.”

O’Toole concluded: “There was a big international survey a couple of years ago that asked people would you like your country to be the way it used to be? And the two countries who said no were China and Ireland.

“We may be very sentimental but we’re not nostalgic. That will save us from the kind of populism we have seen elsewhere.”

“We Don’t Know Ourselves, A Personal History Of Modern Ireland” is published by Liveright, $32.00.

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