The Green New Deal is Just the Vague, Audacious Goal We Need

The unveiling of a Green New Deal last week provoked a mix of enthusiasm and derision. For each voice embracing the radical vision to decarbonize the American economy within a decade, there was another voice decrying the plan as economically unrealistic, technologically impossible, and politically untenable.

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‘Authoritative’ Pessimism in China

China’s economy, long a source of global dynamism, is changing into a source of instability. Growth, still rapid by international standards, is gradually decelerating, as a nearly three-decade-old investment- and export-led strategy delivers diminishing returns. Yet the Communist Party, beholden to — or composed of — interest groups that benefit from the status quo, has not shifted decisively toward more reliance on consumer demand and investment by private firms. Instead, Beijing continues to goose short-term growth with loans to bloated state-owned banks and industries.

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China’s Buying Up Foreign Companies, So the U.S. Might Need to Rethink its Trade Strategy

Chinese President Xi Jinping has a problem related to his nation’s growing demand for high-quality food and other agricultural products. In December 2013, Mr. Xi declared a strategic goal for China: to seize “the commanding heights in biotechnology,” in areas such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It must “not let large foreign companies dominate the agricultural biotechnology product market,” he said. However, China is still years behind the United States and Europe in research and development.

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How Fed Inaction Changes the 2016 Election


It may sound like a Zen koan, but the longer the Federal Reserve declines to take action in coming months, the more its inaction will seem like action. To put the paradox another way, the Fed’s failure to raise rates makes it even more of an election cycle factor in U.S. domestic politics, keeping the central bank in the spotlight to an excessive and unconstructive degree, like a low-level fever that doesn’t keep you in bed but casts a general pall.

It has now been more than seven years since the Fed last raised interest rates, and the rationale for last week’s most recent decision came as something of a surprise to market players: In addition to seeing little evidence of inflation, the Fed in its statement also expressed concern about global volatility and continued instability.

That was not taken well by some. Said Rick Santelli of CNBC, he of Tea Party fame, the Fed has now expanded its mandate to become “the U.N. central bank.” Others wondered whether, in addition to its mandate to assure price stability and full employment, the Fed was now unofficially adding a third goal: maintaining global financial stability. And that, you can be sure, will be sure fodder for Republicans and not a few Democrats who already believe that the Fed is too powerful, too unaccountable and too focused on the needs of the financial system at the expense of average workers.

There are, of course, legitimate questions about whether the Fed and other central banks are erring in their multiyear course of easy money. The European Central Bank is now in the midst of its own policy of “quantitative easing.” While the European Union has ceased its economic free-fall, that is about the most that can be said of its current economic recovery. Japan has been in the midst of more than two decades of easy money and near-zero interest rates since the 1990s. It too has exhibited low growth. The United States has recovered from the worst of the global financial crisis of 2008-09, especially in terms of a low unemployment close to 5 percent and growth above 2 percent, but years of zero interest rates have hardly fueled a boom in anything other than some speculative stocks, urban real estate in select cities, and high-end art.

Because the Fed has given no clear sense of when it might actually start to raise rates, it thus has solidified its profile as an eternal Hamlet for months to come. The question "Will they or won't they?" has become tedious and borderline-obsessive. There was some hope that this conversation would come to an end; now it will simply go on, absent some major event that makes it irrelevant.

Lost in the market noise and the political spin, however, is precisely the point underscored by the Fed itself and Janet Yellen: It is a major actor on a complicated global stage that has a large cast of characters—one of whom, Chinese President Xi Jinping, is visiting Washington this week. Its mandate, based on legislation in 1913 and updated in the 1970s, speaks to a world that no longer exists. A mature governing legislature would, of course, update and refine that mandate to reflect changed global realities. But the American Congress today is incapable of that type of thinking, as least as a body; individual members are certainly able to recognize the ways in which an entire swath of laws and institutions are out of date. But good luck doing something about it.

Instead, the appointed officials of the Fed are left to muddle through and to try to reconcile a series of demands along with a political minefield. Markets want certainty, and politicians want transparency, and everyone wants more growth. The problem is that certainty is a myth; transparency is a code word for forcing a partisan agenda; and growth for mature economies facing technological disruption and labor competition globally is beyond the control of any one institution.

None of those realities plays well in an election cycle. The very messiness of a modern mature economy in flux may be why none of the Republicans during the last debate mentioned it much. There is no good sound bite. Meanwhile, both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have been advancing detailed economic plans, ranging from an end to short-termism on Wall Street to an attack on economic inequality. Worthy those may be, but they engage on a cerebral level rather than on the visceral, and hence get short shrift in our national discussion.

By not acting, the Fed feeds into an old red-meat political narrative of indifferent or downright malicious financial elites of the East Coast establishment making policies secretly and opaquely to benefit the interests of a privileged few at the expense of real hard-working Americans who suffer the consequences. Such a story was spun more than a century ago by the populist William Jennings Bryan and his doomed presidential campaign thundering that Americans were being crucified on a “cross of gold.” The Fed today isn’t responsible for that history, but surely it could be less tone-deaf to it.

Fed blame, however, is no more a winning proposition now than it was then. We can excoriate (or credit) the Fed all we want. Its inaction makes it easier for various actors casting about for sound bites and solutions to use the Fed as Exhibit A for why things aren’t better. Would that it were so simple.

Don't Worry About China

Over the past month, as Greece has occupied headlines, China has been rocked by a crashing stock market. The oscillations appear far from over, with the Shanghai exchange up 6 percent on Wednesday, having plummeted more than 30 percent in the weeks before, which still leaves the index up about 80 percent over the past 52 weeks. That amounts to trillions of dollars gained and then lost in a very short time.

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In the Context of No Context

Twenty-five years ago, China made a choice. Rather than embrace the demands for greater political openness emanating from the students and protesters camped in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the leadership of the Communist Party decided to crush the protests with lethal force on June 4, 1989, leading to hundreds and perhaps thousands of deaths.

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Obama and Xi's weekend getaway

This weekend, President Obama and China's new leader Xi Jinping will meet at a retreat outside of Los Angeles. The two men are scheduled to spend six to seven hours covering a range of issues that confront the two countries, from the increasingly fraught issue of hacking and cybersecurity to what to do about an evermore unpredictable and rogue North Korea.

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As Xi Jinping Visits the U.S., Obama Gets That China’s Not the Bad Guy

Just when you think you’ve seen everything, you get the following: the next leader of China, a nation of 1.3 billion people vying to supplant the United States as the world’s largest economy, flies to America on a goodwill tour and goes to…a farm in Iowa. Yes, Vice President Xi Jinping will spend the evening in Muscatine, Iowa, in the Victorian farmhouse he briefly lived in more than a quarter century ago, when he was an official from the Chinese province of Hebei sent to learn Iowa’s agricultural innovations and bring them back to a China that was then struggling to increase crop yields

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