Chartbook Archive

Chartbook #41: The interlocking crises that will shape the future of Biden Presidency

After Afghanistan, the Biden administration this weeks seems to be facing another pivotal moment over three interlocking political battles: on the infrastructure bill, the larger $3.5 trillion spending package that actually contains most of Biden’s policy agenda and the debt ceiling.

There is a worst case scenario – unlikely but not impossible – in which, by the end of October, both the infrastructure bill and the more ambitious $3.5 trillion package fail to find majorities, the government shuts down and America defaults on some part of its debt. That is unlikely, but it is not impossible.

Dramatic stuff.

But, say for sake of argument, in the last few days you had had your mind on other things – Evergrande in China, for instance, or the German election, or a day job that involved plunging back into Ken Pomeranz on the “Great Divergence” and Quinn Slobodian on the Habsburg roots of neoliberalism …. say you got to Wednesday and needed urgently to make sense of the mounting drama of fiscal politics in the United States … what would you read?

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Chartbook #39: Blackstone and baby formula – more tremors in the nexus of big money and China’s state capitalism.

What have billionaire real estate deals and baby formula got to do with each other? They are both in the crosshairs of the mounting tensions between China and the West.
In the escalation of tension between the US and China, one major counterflow has been the circulation of big money from the West into China.

This is a key theme in Shutdown, where I look at the determined flow of Western capital into China, even in the face of the escalating tension between Trump’s administration and Beijing.

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Chartbook #36 After Afghanistan: No Post-American world

The images from Afghan of American retreat sent shock waves around the world.

They sparked anxious talk of a post-American world.

As I argue in a New Statesman long read, a very different picture emerges if you look at the broader stance of the Pentagon.

What the budgets of the world’s largest military superpower tell us is not only that America’s defense effort is running at a historically high levels, but that its priorities are shifting towards high-tech weaponry for the deployment of military force at a planetary scale.

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Chartbook #35: It’s not the fall that kills you …. Afghanistan’s looming triple crisis

Back in July I was drawn into the Afghan crisis by the shocking question: “What do you do if you can see the end of your world approaching? Do you flee? Do you resign yourself?”

One month on I fear that what we are watching is the lid of the coffin closing, the earth raining down on a society being buried alive.

There is the threat of draconian Taliban rule, but that is compounded by the economic and the financial situation facing Afghanistan in the wake of the foreign evacuation.

As I put it in a short piece published in Foreign Policy Friday: “The Taliban may threaten Afghanis’ freedom and rights, but it is the abrupt end to funding from the West that jeopardizes Afghanistan’s material survival.”

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Chartbook Audio #3: China edition

Back in July I did a long piece for the New Statesman on China and its relations with the West.

One of the pleasures of doing this kind of writing is that it provokes further conversation and one of the pleasures of our new world of digital media is that these conversations can take place in public in a relaxed, unstructured podcast form.

The New Statesman China piece spawned two podcast episodes.

One with Jeremy Cliffe and Emily Tamkin of NS on their regular show.

The other – a particular privilege – with Kaiser Kuo of Sinica and SupChina.

The two conversations made for an interesting contrast. Jeremy, Emily and I, are none of us die-in-the-wool China experts, so the conversation goes to all sorts of interesting places.

Kaiser on the other hand is one of a cohort of brilliant folks devoted to the exchange of ideas and culture between China and the West. They face a break in their historical perspective and future outlook that is very profound – not a surprise, but nevertheless dramatic.

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Top Links #13 Financing Afghanistan’s new regime and the struggle over its national exchange reserve.

As the Taliban establish their grip on power in Kabul, the question of finances rears its head. This matters so much, because the Afghan state has, in the recent past, been heavily dependent on foreign aid. The aid pays not just for government spending. Even more importantly it pays Afghanistan’s import bill.

Foreign exchange & the central bank reserves

Covering the import bill is more urgent, because with enough men with guns behind it, a state can tax its population and solve the problem of state finance. The Afghan Army is currently paid for largely by foreign donors. We do not doubt that the Taliban will find ways of maintaining its fighting force in being. It cannot use those same method to pay for foreign imports. And Afghanistan has an appetite for imports far in excess of what its exports pay for.

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Chartbook #33: From Afghanistan to Haiti

This week, two crises taking place simultaneously, affecting some of the most vulnerable people in the world – the Taliban conquest of Afghanistan and the earthquake in Haiti.

These two moments in history seem as though they are unfolding on planets that are remote from each other.

They are, of course, very different events.

Telling myself this, helps me to feel less uneasy about the extraordinary amount of attention I am focusing on the events at Kabul airport rather than on the earthquake that has killed at least 1900 people and injured 10,000 in Haiti, a close neighbor in the Caribbean.

I am not, of course, suggesting that an earthquake and a war are the same or should be treated as such. But, I am wondering at the different mental silos into which we place them and the way in which one has eclipsed the other.

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Top Links #12 Afghanistan

How a regime falls. From inside Afghanistan’s embassy in India, before it was deleted: A central banker escapes Ahmady is American-raised. Alum of UCLA &

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Chartbook #32 Biden’s foreign policy for the middle class, climate and OPEC

On Wednesday National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan made the following statement:

The climate policy powerhouse that goes by the handle Albert Pinto aka @70sBachchan circulated the statement within minutes. If this newsletter causes a few folks to follow his twitter account, it will have been worthwhile. His assessment was bleak:

“RIP Climate Policy”. Depressed as I was, I would not go as far as that. But I do think that Sullivan’s interventions reflects deep and disabling tensions in the Biden administration’s climate policy. I fired off my own response to the Guardian that afternoon.

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Adam Tooze Chartbook #31 The Mirage of Carbon Markets?

Whilst Trump held the White House, the question of trans-Atlantic climate diplomacy did not arise. The advent of the Biden administration has brought the United States back into the Paris climate agreement. The White House insists that climate is “everywhere” in its program. This is welcome. But, after initial excitement the Biden program has stalled. At home, the wrangling over the infrastructure program has slowed progress . The stand-off with China leaves Washington with no leverage over the largest polluter. At the G20 meeting of environment ministers, John Kerry was a prominent presence, but there was no deal. Even with the Europeans, who might be thought of as climate allies, big differences have emerged. So much so that we are hearing talk of a trans-Atlantic carbon trade war. That would be a disaster.

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Chartbook Audio #1 – 2019 FT Alphachat with Mark Blyth and Brendan Greeley

Back in February 2019 I sat down with two friends – Mark Blyth of Brown University (he of “austerity” and “angrynomics”) and Brendan Greeley of the FT – to talk about political economy, the 1970s, the “China shock”. It was a really good conversation. Recalling the scene – I think it was in my Columbia office – it seem as though it comes from another world. But the content has stood up well.

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Adam Tooze’s Chartbook #30: Back to Afghanistan – the horror of the 1980s and the long recovery

Doing the first Afghanistan report – Chartbook #29 – has rocked my world a little bit. I did not appreciate how complex and ambiguous was the modernization of Afghanistan’s economy and society since 2001. Nor did I appreciate the scale of the 1980s devastation. It is very rare for modern societies with an established pattern of population growth to experience a sudden and prolonged reversal. This points to a disaster of truly enormous proportions.

To drive home how anomalous was Afghanistan’s development, compare it to Iraq. Through the late 1970 they had similar populations on similar growth trajectories. They both fought major wars in the 1980s. But whereas the Iran-Iraq war remained largely confined to the battlefield and Saddam’s atrocities were restricted to the Kurdish and Shia areas, in Afghanistan the battle between the Soviet forces, the regime in Kabul and the resistance disrupted civil society and produced a dramatic demographic collapse. What explains that collapse?

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Adam Tooze’s Chartbook #29: Afghanistan’s economy on the eve of the American exit.

What do you do if you can see the end of your world approaching? Do you flee? Do you resign yourself? These questions were jarred into focus the other day by reports of desperate professional-class Afghans bracing for the likely return to power of the Taliban. For a large part of my adult life, the Western intervention in Afghanistan has been in the background. There was a time at Yale in the early 2010s when I was routinely teaching classes full of aid workers and veterans from Afghanistan. For a while, Stan McChrystal was a colleague. David Petraeus came for lunch. Though I had been fascinated with military history all my life, I had never been that close to a war. When you see the numbers it becomes easier to understand why the footprint of the Afghan war in American society was as large as it was. According to a widely cited shock statistics, the twenty year intervention in Afghanistan has cost the USA over $2.2 trillion dollars.

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Chartbook Video #1: 150th anniversary of German unification – a talk.

A fateful anniversary: 2021 is the 150th anniversary of the first German unification under Prussian leadership in 1871.

For the occasion I did a talk for the Columbia alumni association – the circumstances were rather weird. I spoke to the group at well past midnight, from a hotel room in London.

Every talk like this is an artifice. This one came together well. Sometimes strange surroundings produce an effect of clarity.

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Adam Tooze’s Chartbook #28: China in 1983, a miracle waiting to happen?

Chartbook #28 accompanies the cover story I did for the latest issue of the New Statesman on China’s twentieth century history. The New Statesman piece is a bit of a high-wire act suspended btw J.A Hobson and Larry Summers. Check it out here.

One of the most intriguing things I read whilst researching the piece, was the World Bank’s report on China’s Socialist Economic Development from 1983. What is so fascinating is that this was the first time that the World Bank had the chance to do an in-depth analysis of China’s development under Communism. The report asks all the questions one might be tempted to ask at that point. Where was China at after the end of Maoism? What distinguished it from other low-income Asian giants like India or Pakistan or Indonesia. Was China about to take off?

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Top Links #2 Reading suggestions from Adam Tooze: ECB, Guido Morselli and THAT Cummings clip. The regular list of links, exclusive for supporters of Chartbook Newsletter.

Top Links #1 was very well received.

So, here, somewhat sooner than I anticipated, is Top Links #2.


The urgency to get Top Link # 2 out, is all about the timetable of European Central Bank monetary policy. Yup. That’s the way we roll ….

On Thursday 22nd July the ECB will announce fresh guidance on how it intends to implement the new monetary policy Strategy it recently announced. The inflation target now is 2 percent. No more. No less. Given Europe’s recent record of lowflation that will be a challenge.

Last week I discussed the political logic of the ECB’s Strategic Review in this column for Social Europe.

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Chartbook Top Links #1: 1st in a series of posts with interesting links for Chartbook supporters.

I’m delighted and grateful that so many people are showing their support for Chartbook Newsletter by signing up as paying subscribers. It has been a big boost. Thank you!

To broaden and deepen that community, for paying subscribers, I am going to do a semi-regular weekly post that brings together interesting reading, podcasts and other links.

In the comments it would be great if subscribers would like to share their latest enthusiasms. No need for more than a quick line with a link.

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Chartbook Newsletter #27: Gilets Jaunes A specter haunting Europe

This week’s Newsletter is about the storm brewing over Europe’s environmental policy, carbon prices and the long shadow thrown by the 2018/9 Yellow Vest protests. Who were the protestors and their supporters? What triggered the protests? How is this episode reverberating through climate politics in Europe three years later? … but first, a quick personal note.

You are invited to become not just a subscriber to Chartbook Newsletter, but a supporter of the project.

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