NDN Blog

The Global Media Revolution: Don't Forget About Television

Tomorrow NDN hosts an intriguing  discussion, on Twitter, Iran, and More: Impressions from the Front Lines of the Global Media Revolution. Being 3000 and some miles away, I can’t come. So I thought I’d throw a thought across; which is not to forget about television, still the heart of most of the world's media revolt.

Twitter's final impact on Iran’s election protests remains in dispute. Andrew Sullivan first talked it up about a month ago. Various academics, including Harvard's John Palfrey, have since gently talked it down again, pointing out that the service has limitations as a truly revolutionary technology: its format is too brief to be meaningful, it's too easily censored (when the regime wakes up to its existence), and it's only used by a tiny minority. Twitter probably played some part in organising the protests: 2,024,166 tweets in 18 days surely had an effect, even if most came from outside Iran. But it became the story because of its novelty, not its utility—it was a technology many people in the west had only just heard of—and became it, in turn, was a useful way of telling the revolt's story.

In one sense this didn't matter. Increasing access to free media is an important part of the broader story of "the rise of the rest" which will play as background music throughout Obama's presidency. Twitter told that story in the context of Iran. But a number of dangers still lurk. The most obvious is that we associate new media with freedoms. An obvious counter-example over the last week has come from China, following last week's uighur riots. The west worries the Uighurs are unjustly treated, but so i'm told even when one takes into account that truly liberal voices aren't encouraged, the vast majority of China's online voices thinks the government hasn't punished the Uighurs enough. Free expression tends to go hand in hand with political freedom, but it's only a general rule.

Just as dangerous would be to expect a new technology, like Twitter, to accompany along with each protest and revolt. Often the most important democratic technologies, and the ones that the west can do most to spread, are the most obvious. Take Pakistan, which I visited a few months back. The country has dropped off the agenda a bit for the last month, pushed off first by Iran, then China, then Obama's Russia visit, and now by fighting in Afghanistan. But it remains America's geo-strategic priority. And the opinions of its people — do they support the Taliban, how critical they are of the United States, how angry they are about the latest drone strikes — will likely be more important to US foreign policy over the next 12 months than any other single population on earth.

Pakistan doesn't seem to have taken to Twitter. The army's violent retaking of the Swat valley last month went entirely uninterrupted by short messages, or news stories with blue birds. And while its blogging community has some influence, its suffers many of the limitations as newspapers in a country where only half the population can read, and many fewer have internet access. But what Pakistan does have is television; a massive explosion in domestic television channels, going from only 1 station about a decade ago to more than 100 today.

The channels are free of government control, increasingly professional, and hugely politically influential. Most are run in Pakistan (although some are based in Dubai), but they broadcast to Pakistanis in the US, and the UK. They have broken social taboos on everything from religious talk shows, to dating and marriage—while also playing a big role in recent pro-democracy protests. Without anyone really noticing in the west these channels (and their largely liberal, western-educated owners) have been influential in pushing Pakistan public opinion against the Taliban over the last couple of months. And most Pakistanis watch TV news - in the tens of millions. It's an old technology, but it's by far the most important way of expressing the aspirations of Pakistan's people. With luck, someone might even Twitter about it during tomorrow's discussion.

The Rise of the European Right

The results of last week’s European election, when combined with the ongoing slide of Gordon Brown’s Labour government, add up to odd to a puzzle. In America this feels like a progressive moment, as Simon outlined in his new presentation. Just as the injuries of industrialisation boosted social reform in the early part of the 20th century, so two decades of over-confidence in the power of markets in the era of globalisation seemed decisively rejected by the 2008 election, and the economic crisis which followed. With the Republicans in a mess, and Obama boldly making the case for universal health care yesterday, the progressive post-crisis bounce seems almost natural. But in Europe—where the recession is, if anything, worse than in America—the right are doing just fine.

Judging by results it would really be fairer to say the right was booming. Silvio Berlusconi won handily in Italy, despite his marital problems. Incumbent conservative government’s in France and Germany more than held their own. While the mainstream centre-left parties tanked in third place or worse, the extreme right made gains too, from the neo-fascist British National Party to the Dutch Party of Freedom. And no one seems to better encompass all this than Britain’s battered Brown, leading a once impregnable Labour party into poll ratings in the teens. Just as capitalism is questioned more deeply than at any time in a generation, Britain will almost certainly elect a conservative Government next year.

So what’s going on? If, as Simon wrote this morning we’re in a hole dug “by years of reckless, ideological and impractical conservative government”, why vote them back in? This week Paul Krugman dubbed Brown Gordon the Unlucky: it was just his bad fortune to be caught standing when the financial music stopped. Just as Bush is blamed in America, so progressives are in Britain. But that doesn’t explain why Brown has suffered while incumbent European conservatives prosper. One might, instead, make the case that 90s-style centre-leftism of the Clinton / Blair mould was too enamoured of the failed market system to deserve credit now. Certainly this was anti-Clintonite case underlay much of the crowing this week over the defeat of Terry Mcaullife in Virginia.

But better, I think, to focus on three points. First, European voters are angry, confused about the cause of their current predicament, and unwilling to believe that the traditional remedies of the left will fix it. Second, they haven’t made much connection between the crisis, the ideology that caused it, and the parties which most closely reflect that ideology in government. For this one should blame the parties of the centre-left themselves, for failing to make the case clearly. Third, in tough time, outsiders are feared: Europe just voted for a range of parties whose central policy is protecting insiders against immigrants.

It’s a combustible mix, with warnings for America. Economic recovery has pushed other priorities down the list, but these European elections certainly warn of the dangers of letting immigration worries fester. The dismal Bush inheritance, meanwhile, has allowed Obama to make a clear link between the recession and his predecessor. But it’s not a memory that will hold forever. European voters, normally more left wing than in the US, didn’t seem inclined to give any post-crisis electoral gift to tired progressives. Nor might American voters in 2010, or 2012. In this, Krugman was right. Obama was partly lucky to pick up the batton at the right time. The lesson of last week is he’ll have to fight doggedly to keep it.

Which 08 Candidate Gets the Power of Soccer?

No, this isn’t a pop quiz. It’s the second in my rather faltering series of thoughts on “globalization from the road,” this time from Kerala, in South India. As you know, NDN is keen on soccer, having run some tremendous campaigns using the sport to connect with the hispanic committee. But, that isn't all that the beautiful game has to teach the Democratic presidential hopefuls.

I haven’t actually read Frank Foer’s book on soccer and globalization. I should have, but there you go. Everyone says it is very good, and I apologise in advance if I’m making the same points he does. But I have been ceaselessly struck on my travels by the power of soccer. And not just any type of soccer, neither. It doesn’t matter if it is Malaysian billboard or Thailand metro adverts; Singaporean cable or New Zealand radio; or even the sports pages of cricket crazy India. The world is watching not any old soccer; the world is watching English Soccer. If I were to guesstimate, I would say that the English Premiership has roughly 90% market share in these fast-growing Asian markets, with Spain somewhere around 10%, and the rest absolutely nowhere. That isn't just a result. Its a drubbing.

Now, before you think “smarmy brit bragging about his country’s only half decent export”, there is a political point to this. And it is wonderfully encapsulated in this quote found in Niall Fergusons book Empire, about the decline of British imperial power. Ferguson quotes Sir Richard Turnbull, the penultimate governor of the British protectorate of Aden (now Yemen, who said, rather perceptively, that:

“When the British Empire finally sinks beneath the waves it will leave only two monuments: the game of Association Football, and the expression “f*ck off.”

Turnbull didn’t know how right he was. Soccer is now a non-trivial source of Britain’s soft power infrastructure. People pay attention to the UK, visit the UK, send money to the UK, and even like the UK because of soccer.  And it seems to me that the Democratic candidate who can best articulate similar ways in which America can once again use its considerable cultural, artistic and even sporting arsenal to win friends in Asia, will really be onto a trick.

Sure: there are many, many hard aspects of geo-politics that can’t be solved by a decent PR campaign, a charm offensive or a baseball tour. But while travelling through Asia I have been very struck that while people – “the man on the street” - admires America, and wants to live in America, no one actually likes America. Machiavelli said words to the effect it was better to be feared than to be liked. But for America, it would be nice to be both. And in achieving that there is much the three major candidates can learn about America's potential place in the world from the success of an English game with 22 men on a grass field, being watched by billions around the world.

Globalization from the Ground Up - Republicans wrong on IP policy

Having formally left NDN at the end of last year, I am now travelling round Asia for a while before returning home to Britain. And, well, given I used to work with Rob on the Globalization initiative, I thought I’d offer a few occasional thoughts on globalization from the ground. This is the first of these, and hopefully not the last. For what its worth, this is posted from Bombay, India.

NDN rightly raises the issue of IP protection, and the problem of its constant flouting in developing countries. The problem here is simple. It is not in the long-term interest of developing countries to flout IP regimes. But, crucially, it is definitely in their short term interests. China does not want to pay for copies of Windows Vista, even if it understands in the long-run that growth is positively correlated with respecting IP rights. The trick, then, is what strategy should the rights holding countries (US, EU and Japan) prosecute to try and get the rights abusing countries (India, China, others in Asia, Brazil, etc) to get to the point in their development when they see that protecting IP is in their immediate interests. This point is roughly where Singapore is You know this because it is impossible to find counterfeit good in Singapore, while they are abundant – almost comically so – in neighbouring Malaysia, and Thailand. And, of course, in China.

And this is where it gets interesting. Because at the moment the US is following the wrong strategy. It is demanding that the developing countries just stop it: obey the rules, and get with the programme. This is clearly not going to work, as the US and its IP-holding allies have no powers of enforcement. Instead, it is clear that different strategies need to be followed for different regions. And here is the interesting thing: the private sector really gets this, even if the government doesn’t.

A case in point is the front page of this morning’s Times of India, India’s most prestigious broadsheet. On page 1 there is a big Microsoft advert. The gist of it says that: if India wants to be a modern country, it has to play by the rules. Accpetance into the west, the advert implies, will only come by not buying pirated software. This, very cleverly, taps into the Indian phobia about not being accepted as a modern country. India fears not being seen as a serious player, and frets that it isn't taken seriously.

So far, so obvious. But in China, that strategy would fail. China doesn’t care what people think about it. She is a vastly more confident civilisation. So instead, clever companies follow a different tack. One example: some turn a blind eye to some IP infringement, and instead sell their software with added “training” packages. The Chinese have a real thing for education, partly routed in Confucian values. And so while they will not pay any money for the software, they will pay for the training. In the long-run, the bet is that by getting the Chinese to pay for some of their software, they will gradually converge with the Western rights-respecting norm.

So, bottom line: The Republicans are following the wrong strategy on IP protection. Democrats should follow the more nuanced approach of the private sector. This might involve talking a zero-tolerance game. But in the end that is an empty gesture without the right incentives to get countries into line. And here, all the Presidential aspirants have to learn about globalisation from America’s business leaders.

Tony Snow has a blog

Assiduous readers of NDN's blog might have noticed that i'm not posting as much anymore. This is because i've sadly taken myleave of Simon and the gang, and returned to my native United Kingdom. But fans of my poor spelling and curious use of extra vowels should not fear. I still intend to post from time to time, on topics of interest to the ongoing Globalization Initiative, and other things.

Today, i thought people in DC might be interested in this handy Christmas present, from the British online political community to our friends in America. Developed on a whim by some of the people at MySociety.org - the group responsible for turning the UK parliamentary record into a blog - it is a useable blog-style version of Tony Snow's daily briefing.

The White House Says should be pretty useful for anyone who wants to keep up to date with whatever ludicrous excuse for failure the Presidents official spokesman might be putting out today. It also allows you to sign up for e-mail alerts when Snow says anything, or to search for anything he has said - as for instance, this, on the phrase "stay the course." All in all, The Whitehouse Says should be a useful little free tool for DC politicos. Happy Christmas, from your friends across the pond.

Income Figures: Not Good

The post election debate about the economy - recently couched as the Rubinites against the EPI-ites - rumbles on. But the figures behind it look no rosier than they did before November. An article in yesterday's Times showed latest figures for average incomes still below when the President took office. (Note these are mean, not median figures. This makes the figures less impressive, given that rises at the top of the income scale should drag the average up.)

Reported income totaled $7.044 trillion in 2004, the latest year for which data is available, down from more than $7.143 trillion in 2000, new Internal Revenue Service data shows. Total reported income, in 2004 dollars, fell 1.4 percent, but because the population grew during that period average real incomes declined more than twice as much, falling $1,641, or 3 percent, to $53,974. Since 2004, the Census Department has found, the income of the typical American household has grown along with the rise in average incomes but at a slow pace that, until recent months, had barely kept ahead of inflation.


The Election Reviewed (Again) in Progress Magazine

At the risk of truly outstaying my welcome, and in once again foisting upon NDN's readers more articles in British magazines that they don't care about, i have just written the cover story for Progress, a British magazine associated with the Labour party. It is the magazine of an organization, also called Progress, which is basically the UK equivalent of NDN. And - look! - it has a sad picture of Bush on the cover. Awwww.

Anyhow, its a general overview of the recent campaign. It also includes some amateur musings on the road into 2008. The usual caveat about this not being NDN's official view is to be seen there in big letters. Anyway, this is how the piece begins:

Following their mid-term success, are the Democrats on course to win the White House in 2008?

At his post-election press conference President George W Bush told it like it was. The American people had just handed him, and his party, ‘a thumpin’’. Some days later, Karl Rove demurred. If 77,611 Americans had voted differently, the Republicans would have held on to their majority in the House of Representatives. The 2006 Congressional elections were, he mused, ‘more of a transient, passing thing’. Who was right?

There is much to support the ‘thumpin’ thesis’. The results exceeded all but the most optimistic Democrat expectations. At the beginning of the summer few thought that there was much chance of winning back either house of Congress. With a week to go, the Senate still looked comfortably out of reach. Even in the hours beforehand most commentators still thought winning both houses unlikely. When Senator-elect Jim Webb lifted his trademark combat boots aloft at his victory rally in Virginia, his party rightly celebrated a remarkable, improbable victory.


Rob Shapiro in Superb Business Week Overview of Fast-Changing Economic Debate

Democracy, sometimes, is amazing to watch. The election has clearly changed the tenor of the economic debate. It is clear to me that the disucssion we were having in the weeks prior to the election has shifted sharply. Jim Webb is taking a leading role, both with his rambunctious WSJ article, and his robust performance on Sunday's the Meet the Press in which he said the economy and globalization were his first priorities for action. There have been important articles in the Times, including this excellent overview of the debate by Eduardo Porter, where he leans heavily on influential Saez and Pitteky study of rising income disparity. This week's American Prospect goes all out for one side, arguing the case for "Why Populism Wins" and making Sherrod Brown perhaps the first cover star to wear a sheep skin jacket for some considerable time. And even in today's papers you see the divide. The Wall St Journal has a big piece saying that "Divide Between Rich and Poor
Continues to Widen; Spurs 'Robin Hood' Plans
", while the Boston Globe notes the "Pelosi team tries to steer Democrats to the center." What is going on? The lid has come off the debate on globalization. It's exciting to watch.

But the single best introduction to the contours of this debate comes in the main story in this week's Business Week: "Can Anyone Control This Economy?" And, I promise, i'm not just saying this because our own Rob Shapiro is quoted prominently. The piece is by Michael Mandell, something of a prince among economics commentators. This is a least in part because he predicted the internet bubble bursting, while others were prattling on about Dow 36000 and the rest. Mandell's blog - Economics Unbound - is excellent also. But i digress. His piece is an extremely insightful take on the dillmmas facing economic policy makers at present. I'll quote it at length. This is the set-up.

No matter which party you belong to, or which Big Idea or school of economic policy you subscribe to, one thing is clear: Globalization has overwhelmed Washington's ability to control the economy. Whether you're a Republican supply-side tax-cutter, a Wall Street deficit hawk of either party, or a Silicon Valley techie type, your preferred levers of economic policy just don't work as well as they once did.

He then moves on to discuss some of the difficulties of the current administration, and quotes Rob:

President Bush encountered a similar problem. His huge tax cuts poured hundreds of billions into the economy and kept output rising at a decent clip. Nevertheless, the fiscal stimulus generated far fewer jobs than anyone expected, as more and more production headed overseas. "Traditional macro policies are less effective than they used to be," says Robert S. Shapiro, a top economic adviser to President Bill Clinton who now runs a Washington economic consulting firm. "We don't know how to ensure strong job creation and strong wage growth anymore."

He then moves on to discuss the limitations of current approaches.

Even the Big Idea of devoting more tax dollars to research and development to make the U.S. more competitive--an idea repeatedly advocated by such tech leaders as John T. Chambers of Cisco Systems Inc.CSCO and John Doerr of venture capital giant Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers--is beginning to look economically and politically troublesome.... But in the brave new world of the global economy, where companies move factories and facilities around the world like game pieces, it's no longer a given that U.S. workers benefit directly from U.S.-funded research.

And get this: We don't even know how to measure whether we as a country are succeeding or failing. The traditional metrics for economic security and prosperity are capturing impressive signs of life. Washington has responded to these concerns, in large part, with a series of small fixes, like tinkering with the pension system. But what's needed is a new Big Idea for economic policy--or two or three competing Big Ideas--that accounts for the verities of the global economy.

It really is an excellent overview of the debate. Kudos to Mr. Mandell both for writing it, and for mentioning Rob's views.

In other news, NDN's Globalization Initiative will shortly be announcing a major event to discuss the way forward on economy, on November 30th, at lunchtime in downtown DC. Put it in your diaries, and check back on the blog later for details.

Nancy Pelosi in Prospect

With apologies for the self promotion, i just wrote a piece in Prospect on Nancy Pelosi. Prospect is roughly the UK equivalent of the Atlantic Monthly. Here is the gist of the argument:

Although the Republican implosion was the main reason for the Democrat landslide, Pelosi deserves partial credit for the result. First, she instilled discipline. An old American bumper sticker joke is “I’m not a member of a political organisation. I’m a Democrat.” Pelosi has gone some way to squashing this stereotype. A study by Congressional Quarterly showed Democrats at their most united for 50 years. She has achieved this unity at least partly by frightening her party into line. Under her leadership, Democrats might not land many blows, but they make far fewer mistakes.

Second, she achieved the near impossible task of uniting her party on Iraq. The war presented Pelosi with a dilemma. She voted against it. But her lack of credibility on military matters meant that she could not argue for withdrawal without playing into Republican hands. She cleverly got around this by using Congressman John Murtha, a decorated Vietnam veteran, to make the case for withdrawal. She also managed to hammer out an uneasy truce among her colleagues. Democrats would go into the election arguing for “strategic redeployment.” The policy was close to meaningless. But when Iraq began to deteriorate over the summer, Democrats were just unified enough to take advantage.

Third, Pelosi successfully denied the Republicans victories. Most important was the 2005 battle over social security. Bush had made reform of America’s state pension system a signature issue. Pelosi spearheaded a smart fightback. She cannily mixed denials that the system was broken with a campaign to scare American OAPs about Bush’s plan. This ruthlessness was evident elsewhere, not least in her approach to corruption. When the FBI found $90,000 in the freezer of a prominent congressional Democrat, Pelosi quickly fired him. Such decisiveness surprised her colleagues and helped insulate her party from the charges of sleaze besetting the Republicans. It also meant that Democrats could take full advantage of the Foley scandal, a major tipping point in the campaign cycle.

(As ever, this is not to be taken as NDN's view - merely my own musings.)

Greenberg on the "meltdown election"

Essential reading: pollster Stan Greenberg released a first cut of his big post-election poll last thursday. Yesterday, he put out the full version. Hat tip also to the Campaign for America's Future, who i think paid for it.  

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