Archive

Chartbook

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.”

Read More »

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.

Read More »

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.

Read More »

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.

Read More »

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 &

Read More »

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.

Read More »

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.

Read More »

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.

Read More »

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?

Read More »

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.

Read More »

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.

Read More »

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?

Read More »

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.

Read More »

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.

Read More »

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.

Read More »

Chartbook Newsletter #26: China’s Hyperinflation

One of the remarkable things about China under the rule of the Communist Party is its aversion to inflation. Since 2020 the regime has been making a point of emphasizing its resistance to Western-style monetary experimentation. Fascinating background is provided by Isabella Weber’s timely book about China’s price reform discussion of the 1980s.
Weber argues that the stability of the CCP regime today owes much to the rejection of shock therapy a la Russe, urged on it by Western and East European advisors in the 1980s. Instead China opted for a gradualist program of price liberalization combined with the crackdown of 1989. This more cautious and ultimately far more successful approach was justified in the eyes of CCP experts by concerns about inflation. And that in turn owed much to the lessons learned by the Communists during the period of World War II and the civil war. One of the main forces enabling the CCP’s overthrow of Chiang Kai-shek in 1949 was the economic disaster suffered by the Nationalist regime. The Communists were swept to power on a tidal wave of dissatisfaction over a ruinous hyperinflation.

Read More »

Chartbook Newsletter #25: Economic history of World War Ii and the 18th Brumaire

Who makes history and on what terms? Three times in World War II – in 1940, in 1941 and in 1942 – the armies of the Third Reich made advances so spectacular that they unsettled the global balance of power and threatened to reorder the world.

Germany’s conquests triggered FDR’s armaments drive, the first step towards the United States becoming the military hyperpower that it is today. Down to the present, this serves as a benchmark – including for advocates of the Green New Deal – of what America is capable of, if it when puts its mind to it. In Asia the defeat of France and the Netherlands unleashed a chain reaction that led to the fall of Europe’s empires. Had Nazi Germany found a new form of geopolitical leverage? Was Blitzkrieg a kind of revolution? Had Hitler’s Germany found a way to undo the iron lock, apparently established by World War I, that tied global power to economic predominance, the iron lock that secured Anglo-American hegemony?

Read More »

Chartbook Newsletter #24: Climate, carbon and class

The climate crisis is a political economy problem. This is all too obvious on the “production side”. Entrenched fossil fuel interests have long been the nemesis of the climate movement. But it is also true on the “consumption” side. Social hierarchy, inequality and class structure shape the way that we use fossil fuels. They will also shape the energy transition.

This aspect of the climate crisis was somewhat obscured by the way in which the problem of climate justice was framed in the first phase of global climate politics in the 1990s. For all-too obvious reasons attention was initially focused on the huge gulf in emissions between the rich countries and the developing world. The key variables were national CO2 emissions per capita and the accumulated emissions of the global North, which at that point were overwhelmingly the main drivers of global heating.

Read More »

Chartbook Newsletter #23: Biden’s China strategy: a chronology

Timelines are a handy tool in grasping the complexity of historical processes. Over the last six months I’ve been trying to keep abreast of the evolution of the Biden administration’s stance towards China. This newsletter started life as a chronological listing of news items. No such listing is innocent. Principles of selection are involved. I compiled this list out of a sense of anxiety about the widening Sino-US antagonism. Putting it together has reinforced my sense that we are witnessing a historic shift. But the limitations of such an approach are obvious. PLEASE NOTE, in this compilation I am looking only at the US side. It is just one facet of a complex process in which Beijing is an active player, as are America’s allies. Nor is this a comprehensive treatment of the American side. The attitude of American business and society are more multifaceted than presented here. But with these provisos in mind, I hope this may serve as a useful compilation for those interested in the Biden administration’s early history. More to come …

Read More »

Chartbook Newsletter #22: How do you count inflation? Tracking Weimar’s hyperinflation.

“We are inside.” – Mark Hulliung, Sartre and Clio. Encounters with History (2013), p. 10.

The threat of inflation makes daily headlines right now. In most advanced economies, only people over the age of 40 have any personal experience of serious inflation. But scary historical episodes are easily to hand. The 1970s ghost through policy-talk.

Whether or not such historical clichés are at all relevant to our current moment, is one line of debate. I am on the skeptical side of the fence. Fifty years on from the last great inflation in the West, the political economy, has radically changed. The bargaining power of labour is far weaker. Today, the risk of a wage-price spiral seems slim. The global headwinds that dampen inflationary risks continue to be strong. Indeed, so stark are these differences that it seems surprising that simple historical analogies are taken seriously at all. What is truly intriguing, however, is a deeper and more basic question. If there are underlying changes in the regime of price-setting, is our current system of inflation measurement set up to give us a good handle on 21st-century price dynamics? How do you deal with a shock like 2020? In its aftermath, how do you recognize inflation when it does arrive?

Read More »

Chartbook #21: Reading Grossman’s Stalingrad and Life and Fate

This newsletter is strong stuff, more Wages of Destruction than regular Chartbook fare. Some of the material is disturbing.

The battle of Stalingrad raged between 23 August 1942 and 2 February 1943 when the last of the German 6th Army surrendered. It cost the Red Army, the Wehrmacht and its allies, the Italian, Romanian and Hungarian forces, a combined total of c 2.5 million casualties, over 1 million of them KIA. It was the end of the last major German offensive on the Eastern Front, a turning point in the war and, thus, in world history.

In the last couple of months I’ve immersed myself in Vasily Grossman’s two-volume epic about Stalingrad – For a Just Cause (1952) published in English in 2019 as Stalingrad and the sequel Life and Fate (1960), which has long been famous in the West as an account of the war that the Soviet censors tried to suppress. Reading the books back to back was engrossing. It became a habit. A daily need. These aren’t books that it is easy to be “finished” with.

Read More »

Chartbook Newsletter #20: The Caribbean, Central America and the “Brazilianization” thesis.

Last week the US government took the decision to extended temporary protected status to c. 150,000 people of Haitian citizenship living in the US. This status, first granted by Obama in 2010, had been put in question by the Trump administration. Deportations had gathered pace at the beginning of 2021. In recognition of the situation of crisis in Haiti, they have now been, once again, halted

Haiti’s conditions are extreme, but large parts of the Caribbean and Central America region are currently under huge stress. This flickers on the US radar in the form of the refugee crisis on the US-Mexican border. The most desperate migrants come not from Mexico, but from the Northern Triangle of Central America. UNCTAD warns of the risk of debt crises afflicting small island developing states in the Caribbean. Even in the Caribbean territories of France and the Netherlands, tensions are rising.

Read More »

Chartbook Newsletter #19: American Family Values and Biden’s Families Plan

Biden’s Families Plan is the third of his economic packages. Billed at $1.8 trillion over ten years, the Families Plan complements the immediate support provides by the Rescue Plan and the long-term Jobs/infrastructure Plan.
The Families Plan concludes the sequence, but the family has been a key preoccupation of all three of Biden’s programs.

The Rescue Plan offered hundreds of billions in support for child care providers and families in the form of family tax credits. It established what amounts to a temporary child benefit system. The Jobs/infrastructure plan provided $400 billion for elder care. As David Dayan summarizes in the American Prospect, the Families Plan adds to that a long-term continuation of child tax benefits, hundreds of billions for child care and Federal backing for paid family and medical leave.

Read More »

Chartbook Newsletter #18: Mario Draghi and Italy’s years of crisis.

On February 13 2021 Mario Draghi was sworn in as Italy’s Prime Minister.

In early 2021 Draghi is not the only veteran being called back to the colors. In Foreign Policy I did a long read on the intertwined trajectories of Mario Draghi and Janet Yellen as emblematic technocrats of the neoliberal era. In this newsletter I want to focus on Draghi and in particular on his early career in Italy as a way of better understanding the stakes involved in his late-life premiership.

Draghi’s appointment as Prime Minster was both a surprising choice and an obvious one.

Read More »

Chartbook Newsletter #17: Realism & Net-Zero: The EU Case

How should progressive politics relate to realism?

The question has long haunted me. It was most pressing when I was writing Deluge and struggling with the problems of interwar war international relations and the Treaty of Versailles. It was out of that era that conventional notions of “realism” in international relations theory were born.

Back in 2017, Stefan Eich and I had a crack at dismantling “Politics as a Vocation”, a key lecture by Max Weber that is often cited as canonical for realism in political theory.

Right now there is no more important arena in which to debate this issue than the climate crisis.

Read More »