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Lockdown: A dilemma for the economic optimists

Everyone – including economists themselves – jokes about economic forecasting failures. But the intrinsic difficulties are compounded for the international economic agencies, especially the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Their

Books for self-isolation: Revisiting Why Nations Fail

Ed’s note: In response to a call on The Interpreter for reading suggestions in the event of a stint in Covid-19 related quarantine, Scott Robinson wrote that he’d recently revisited Why Nations Fail, by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson. “I feel that we often forget the lessons of this

Limiting the global economic fallout from Covid-19

Panic has now set in over the Covid-19 global pandemic. The coronavirus is spreading rapidly, especially in Europe and the US, and severe public-health measures are being put in place and are set to intensify. At the same time, economic policymakers are deploying their own emergency policy responses

Book review: Contest for the Indo-Pacific

Book Review: Rory Medcalf Contest for the Indo-Pacific: Why China Won't Map the Future (La Trobe University Press, 2020) The first point that emerges from Rory Medcalf’s Contest for the Indo-Pacific is that in its origins, the Indo-Pacific concept was essentially a descriptive device – a “

In Africa, the US plays catch-up with China

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced his first trip to Africa, 15–19 February, with stops in Senegal, Ethiopia, and Angola. The choice of these three countries demonstrates that the US remains focused on security and economic investment issues in Africa, and, in the case of Angola, is

Chart of the week: Trust in China

Almost 30,000 cases of coronavirus have been officially confirmed, amid reports of Chinese authorities increasingly cracking down on information at the epicentre of the crisis. With governments around the world imposing travel bans, as well as local Chinese communities being unfairly stigmatised,

Solastalgia: A malady for our age?

Some words capture the zeitgeist, or the spirit of the times. We’ve been talking about “globalisation” for decades now, until it’s become a comfortable part of our intellectual furniture. Pretty soon we might have to get used to talking about “de-globalization”, though, as trade wars and

Public holiday: Australia Day

Monday is a public holiday for Australia Day, and posting will be light on The Interpreter. Normal publishing will resume on Tuesday. This photo from Flickr user denisbin shows the beginnings of the art trail on grain silos in north-western Victoria. Silos throughout the Mallee and

Learning from extinction

They called the last one Martha. I’d never heard of the passenger pigeon until a couple of years ago, these small birds that once flew in great nomadic flocks across North America in numbers dense enough to blacken the sky, taking hours to pass. Estimates suggest that anywhere between 3 and 5

Japan has struck low in climate ambition

Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has repeatedly pledged that his country would lead global efforts to address climate change. Increasingly, however, Japan is facing scrutiny over the gap between its lofty rhetoric and the reality of its climate policies, which include ongoing support for coal-

Book review: Where Power Stops

Book review: David Runciman Where Power Stops, The Making and Unmaking of Presidents and Prime Ministers (Allen and Unwin, 2019) It’s an odd feeling to enjoy a book and the questions it asks, but to then be hesitant to recommend it. Where Power Stops, The Making and Unmaking of Presidents and

Economic diplomacy: Two big-C issues

Change of pace If Australia’s bushfire crisis has done one thing to inadvertently calm the national zeitgeist during the holiday season, it is in the way climate change has suddenly returned to supplant China as the country’s biggest wicked problem. But in reality, these two big-C issues

Jakarta is flooding and its governor is sinking

Jakarta welcomed the new year with a new record — the heaviest rains in decades. The deluge left parts of the Indonesian capital under 5 metres of water, which triggered landslides and cut off whole neighbourhoods. Before the water finally receded this week, at least 60 people were dead and

Book review: A very private enterprise

Book Review: Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America, by Christopher Leonard (Simon & Schuster, 2019) Kochland tells the astonishing story of Charles and David Koch, known simply as the Koch brothers. Charles, who might be described as a modern-day

Climate leadership: An idea whose time has come?

Julie Bishop’s seemingly belated call for Australian leadership on climate change has drawn some predictable criticism. Why, it might reasonably be asked, didn’t she do something about it when she had the chance as foreign minister? It’s a good question. The answer, and Bishop’s own defence

Book review: Betraying Big Brother

Book review: Leta Hong Fincher, Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China (Verso, 2018) In China, a country of contradictions, a feminist movement emerged when women connected with each other using technology and social media. Through interviews with young women, and in

Best of The Interpreter 2019: The rising climate chorus

The annual Lowy Institute poll has tracked Australian attitudes on the environment for more than a decade, a mirror of the political vicissitudes in the country. The 2019 results led Matt McDonald to ask, are Australians more worried about climate change, or climate policy? One fascinating feature

Favourites of 2019: Babylon Berlin

As 2019 winds up, Lowy Institute staff and Interpreter contributors offer their favourite books, articles, films, or TV programs this year. There are perks to being unfashionably behind the cultural curve. By letting new shows, books and tech percolate in the court of public opinion for a few

Favourites of 2019: Yangyang Cheng

As 2019 winds up, Lowy Institute staff and Interpreter contributors offer their favourite books, articles, films or TV programs this year. Or in this instance... For me, this year will be remembered as one where the world could no longer ignore the realities of the Chinese party-state. I realised

Diego Garcia: Unnerving neighbours and raising ghosts

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a non-binding decision in February 2019 supporting Mauritius’s claim to the UK-administered Chagos Archipelago, which includes Diego Garcia. Subsequently the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) passed a resolution in May 2019 endorsing the ICJ

Exporting digital authoritarianism - Podcast out now

Digital authoritarianism broadly is the use of digital technology by authoritarian regimes to monitor, manipulate and control both domestic and foreign populations. China and Russia are at the forefront, representing two distinct but related models. There are many dimensions to it, from the recent

Favourites of 2019: Ross Garnaut on climate

As 2019 winds up, Lowy Institute staff and Interpreter contributors offer their favourite books, articles, films, or TV programs this year. Ross Garnaut’s Superpower has already been reviewed on The Intepreter. But can I include it in the context of “favourites for 2019”? This book marks not

Favourites of 2019: The Trauma Cleaner

As 2019 winds up, Lowy Institute staff and Interpreter contributors offer their favourite books, articles, films or TV programs this year. Sarah Krasnostein’s deeply affecting The Trauma Cleaner: One woman’s extraordinary life in death, decay and disaster is about exerting order over chaos.

Favourites of 2019: The Twitterverse

As 2019 winds up, Lowy Institute staff and Interpreter contributors offer their favourite books, articles, films or TV programs this year. Or in this instance... The best thing I have read this year, and the worst, is Twitter. Is Twitter an echo chamber? Sure, if you want it to be. Twitter is

Should you lie to your children about reality?

Is the world currently too awful to contemplate for the so-called “snowflake generation”, which apparently can’t face the realities of life in even the most fortunate of nations? Should responsible parents attempt to insulate their offspring from some of life’s less pleasing aspects for as

Favourites of 2019: Slow Horses on Spook Street

As 2019 winds up, Lowy Institute staff and Interpreter contributors offer their favourite books, articles, films, or TV programs this year. And because I'm the editor, I'll send myself in to open ... It’s a delightful scene. The wizened old spymaster, retired from a storied yet secret

How many Cold Wars does it take to make a “new” one?

The Cold War is not an easy term to define, which makes its increasing use as a term of reference for any great power conflict today problematic. When any “new” Cold War is announced, what exactly about the “old” Cold War is being invoked? Traditionally, the grand narrative of the Cold War

Chart of the week: Data, data, everywhere

Think about your habits on any given day. Check the weather on your phone in the morning? Data. Touch on a ticket to catch the bus or train? Data. Or drive a car through a toll gate. Data. Get out your phone again to scan the news feed? Data. Check in on Facebook? Data. Log in to the computer at

Renting influence: China in the Pacific

Reports of a planned Chinese naval base on a Pacific island nation’s territory in 2018 helped supercharge policy makers’ attention on China’s strategic intentions and rapidly growing economic influence in the island nations of the south Pacific: what Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison

Chart of the week: Where countries lie abroad

How many – and where – diplomatic missions are established can be an important signal of priorities and challenges for a country’s foreign policy. For example, of the 61 countries included in the Lowy Institute’s Global Diplomacy Index, Ireland has boosted its network the most since 2017,

China-US trade war: For all the bark, not much bite

It is now nearly 17 months since the Trump administration began collecting 25% tariffs on the first tranche of Chinese imports to the US – time enough to evaluate the economic impact the trade war so far. That impact? Surprisingly little. It is certainly true that comparing the first nine

Chart of the week: The climate cost

Two years ago, Scott Morrison walked into the Australian parliament brandishing a lump of coal. “Don’t be afraid. Don't be scared. It won’t hurt you. It’s coal,” Morrison said, the nation’s treasurer at the time. We can only assume that he didn’t know then that in 2019 he would be

Book review: China, the US, and the big break

Book review: Paul Blustein: Schism: China, America, and the Fracturing of the Global Trading System (CIGI Press, 2019) Paul Blustein has produced an enviable bookshelf of behind-the-scenes reportage on international economic institutions, both as a journalist (for The Washington Post and The

Globalisation’s next wave: Podcast out now

The mass commercialisation of artificial intelligence, machine learning technologies and automation, combined with outsourcing to lower income countries is about to cause massive upheavals and job losses in developed economies. That’s according to my guest in this episode of Rules Based Audio,

Book review: The chance to actually change the climate

Book Review: Ross Garnaut, Superpower: Australia’s Low-Carbon Opportunity, La Trobe University Press, 2019) If anyone in Australia deserves the somewhat overused epithets of “public intellectual” or even “policy entrepreneur”, it’s Ross Garnaut. Over a long and distinguished career, he

Book Review: The original corporate raiders

Review: William Dalrymple, The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire (Bloomsbury, 2019) In his new book, The Anarchy, renowned historian William Dalrymple tells the remarkable story of how the East India Company (EIC) managed to replace the mighty Mughal

Russia’s southern strategy

“Valiant breaks London–Cape record by 54 mins”, led the 9 July 1959 edition of the Cape Argus. The arrival of the sleek, white-painted, and still highly classified long-range British nuclear bomber, which represented the cutting edge of Britain’s new Cold War airborne nuclear deterrent, drew

Signs of a deal between US and China, and a rethink

It is not yet agreed, may yet fail, and is anyway unlikely to settle matters, but the impending “phase one” trade deal could be a useful ceasefire in the US economic war with China. Two years on from the US initiation of penalty tariffs on China, it is also a convenient moment to point to a few

Review: Australia, real and imagined

Review: Tim Watts, The Golden Country: Australia’s Changing Identity (Text Publishing 2019) Summer reading bins have been well stocked with memoirs by retired Australian parliamentarians casting experienced eyes over political lives lived hard and full. It’s not often we find engaging books

Chart of the week: Trump and the US-Australia alliance

Donald Trump is about to be the third US President in history to be impeached. Australians won’t be surprised – he’s never been popular here. But Australia’s alliance with the United States is another story. No matter who is sitting in the Oval Office, be it George W. Bush or Barack Obama

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