Note: This article was first published on The Loop
RCEP is only the latest of many new multilateral institutions created by China. The alternative to American-led liberal international order looks increasingly viable.
Last week’s signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) brings China’s continued embrace of multilateralism into stark relief. While the United States under President Trump has recoiled from multilateral institutions and jettisoned its much-touted Trans-Pacific Partnership, China and fourteen other Asia-Pacific countries have just created the largest preferential trading zone in history, encompassing 30 percent of the world’s population and around a third of global GDP. While the RCEP is a relatively shallow trade agreement and is less “comprehensive” than it sounds, it is a major symbolic victory in China’s attempt to reorient world order. Continue reading “China Just Co-created the World’s Biggest Trade Block. Is China’s World Order Already Here?”
In 1957, Hugh Everett suggested the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum theory: each time the wave function collapses another universe is created. Given we have one COVID pandemic, and, yet, a multitude of global responses, are global populations living in respective COVID-worlds?
There’s a theory within quantum mechanics called the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI). The many worlds interpretation is intended to resolve one of the meta-paradoxes of quantum: why do the results of quantum experiments not match our everyday experience of the world? Or, more precisely: why is the conduct of quantum experiments unlike the conduct of ‘regular,’ macro-level experiments? Continue reading “The Theory of the Many COVID-Worlds”
Lawrence Douglas, professor of law and jurisprudence at Amherst College, recently explained: “The Constitution does not secure the peaceful transition of power but rather, presupposes it.” So begins Gellman’s revelatory piece for the Atlantic Magazine this week. It could not come soon enough. I would like to use this space to highlight some of Gellman’s excellent reporting, and add my voice to the urgent warning of a coming election nightmare.
Gellman argues that the ritual of transition in American politics is little more than courtesy. A set of norms we have come to expect, but not bound by law. He is devastatingly correct. The truth is there are no formal rules binding electors to the popular vote. Nor are there common procedures for the 10,500 local jurisdictions that supervise the election. The system has so far relied on deference and decency.
In early March, everything was ready for the 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW64), an annual UN gathering dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. The session’s theme was the review of the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. It was supposed to be a special moment for feminists. The Beijing Declaration is their brainchild. It was a result of their unprecedented advocacy, and it served as a blueprint for women’s empowerment ever since.
The main thing feminists feared ahead of the CSW64 was the conservative pushback. In the past decade, a strong conservative block has emerged in the UN. Often referred to as the “Unholy Alliance,” the block includes many post-Soviet, Catholic, and Islamic states, the US, and the Vatican, along with many conservative INGOs. Its members are making UN negotiations on women’s rights increasingly more difficult as they seek, among other things, to eliminate such concepts as “sexual and reproductive health and rights” from UN documents.
On May 19 this year, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to permanently cancel U.S. payments to the World Health Organization (WHO). One month earlier, Trump had already announced that the U.S. would not honour its biannual 500 million USD commitment. The next day, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation stated that they would donate an additional 150 million to the WHO, on top of a previous 100 million USD. The Gates’ largesse precedes COVID19. Since 2000, their foundation has granted almost four billion USD to the WHO to support a gigantic program against polio, and additional hundreds of millions for other programs on malaria, HIV, and maternal health, and the escalated use of technology in health. The Gates Foundation is a crucial contributor to the WHO, second only to the U.S.
Despite its pre-existing involvement with the WHO, the Gates Foundation’s statement surprised many. The public wondered how it could be possible for a private actor to replace the contribution of a state to an international organization. In reality, there is nothing to be surprised about. For at least a century, philanthropic foundations have funded international organizations involved in health issues, including fighting pandemics, or even conducted what we call today global health policy. Actually, the continuities are so fundamental that the foundations from the early twentieth and the early twenty-first century seem to choose to globally fund health policies for similar reasons. Because the arguments are similar, and the means they used comparable, the criticisms raised against philanthropic foundations generally and their health policies also remain remarkably stable. The similarities between the past and the present suggest that the criticisms are here to stay. Indeed, certain observers would venture that older and newer philanthropic foundations are built upon the same questionable bases: unequal income distribution and lack of transparency and accountability.
Note: A shorter version of this post was published earlier on Duck of Minerva.
Politics, as famously defined by David Easton, is the “authoritative allocation of values”, such as welfare, security, and liberty. Politicians thus have to make decisions on hierarchies between these values – and they have to weigh values against each other in cases in which they collide. It is still too early for an in-depth analysis of the numerous norm collisions in the responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. And yet, we can already see how the previously found balance between the three aforementioned values, and the norms revolving around them, is destabilised.
In many countries around the world, the WHO is currently setting the agenda for a strategy to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. Its campaigns and recommendations on how to deal with Covid-19 are, though not entirely uncontroversial, widely distributed, while reaffirming one of its central roles: that of the epidemiological expert and crisis advisor, especially for poor countries.
It is not surprising that in capitalist societies, especially with their neoliberal inflections, different forms of work have unequal worth. This inequity existed before the Corona outbreak and is only becoming more acute during it. Taking psychoanalysis’s reality principle – which emphasizes the need to be suspicious of any reality presenting itself as natural1 – and a Lacanian understanding of the Real, which argues that the Real is what any ‘reality’ must suppress2, one must see the Corona outbreak with all its articulations in the demand for certain workers over others as a crack – a fracture and inconsistency in the field of apparent reality under capitalism. This outbreak, therefore, invokes the Real, which is essentially a void that is usually unrepresented but can be glimpsed in the fractures underlying the reality that capitalism so wonderfully orchestrates and presents to us.
Imagine the World Health Organization (WHO) had declared the outbreak of the mysterious lung ailment in the Chinese city of Wuhan a potential public health emergency of international concern already in late December 2019. Imagine it had immediately decreed a precautionary lockdown of the metropolitan area until the severity of the illness was assessed or the virus extinct. It might have been just in time to halt the spread of the disease which by now has become a supreme global emergency of unforeseen proportions.
Of course, this scenario was far from realistic given the WHO’s limited mandate and political authority. In reality, far from stopping the crisis dead in its tracks, its approach of appeasement and applause vis-à-vis China may have exacerbated the situation. The coronavirus crisis exposes deep gaps in the global governance of infectious diseases. Tragically, rectifying those problems would mean painful adaptations not only at the costs of national sovereignty, but also of democracy and constitutionalism.