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CITIES IN THE 21st CENTURY: A Primer

Book Review

John Matthew Barlow reviews John Lorinc's new book, Cities: A Groundwork Guide. Last year marked the first time that the majority of the world's population lived in cities; Lorinc's introduction to the subject offers a timely, and lively, critique of the issues confronting cities and humanity as a whole as we confront this radical restructuring of our way of living in the urban century.

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  • Cities: A Guide

    Book Review

    John Matthew Barlow reviews John Lorinc's new book, Cities: A Groundwork Guide. Last year marked the first time that the majority of the world's population lived in cities; Lorinc's introduction to the subject offers a timely, and lively, critique of the issues confronting cities and humanity as a whole as we confront this radical restructuring of our way of living in the urban century.

    Read more...

  • The Hurt Locker

    Review

    Eric Randolph reviews Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, and notes a shift in film-making sensibilities from the war-as-heroics paradigm of earlier Hollywood, towards the everyman's war-as-hell model that has now lodged itself in Western cultural consciousness.

    Read...

  • Architecture & Biopolitics

    Interview

    Berlin-based writer Daniel Miller's October 2008 interview with Swedish philosopher and SITE Magazine Editor-In-Chief Sven-Olov Wallenstein, on his new book Biopolitics and the Emergence of Modern Architecture (Princeton Architectural Press, 2009).

    Read...

  • Wired For War

    Symposium

    The second symposium in CTlab's 2009 series, focused on Peter Singer's new book, Wired For War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century (Penguin Press: 2009), ran from 30 March to 2 April. Singer and half a dozen scholars from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Austria debated the use and ethics of robots in war.

    Read...

  • DEFCON 17

    Current Intelligence

    Tim Stevens reports back from the DEFCON 17 conference in Las Vegas: are hackers thinking meat isn't just meat anymore?

    Read...

 
Thursday
05Feb2009

Asia Rising: Kishore Mahbubani at IISS

In an inadvertent follow-on Matthew's comment, I went to a talk yesterday that provides an interesting counter-point to the usual worries about Asia in the financial crisis. Here's my report:

Amid the doom and gloom of the current climate, its nice to hear some optimism. Speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies on Wednesday, hugely distinguished thinker Kishore Mahbubani’s main message was that "if this is a normal financial crisis ... then the likelihood is we’ll all bounce back." It's going to be a rocky few years (even the most optimistic estimates say it will be at least two) but eventually we’ll be back on the gravy train, filling out every credit card application we can get our mitts on.

On the other hand, this might not be a "normal" crisis at all, in which case all bets are off, and all those fundamentalist Christians screaming about imminent Armageddon may finally get what they've been praying for.

Mr Mahbubani is quite clearly an optimist, especially as far as Asia is concerned. Having just returned from Davos, he told us that it was easy to spot who else was sitting in the camp. "If I wanted to find an optimistic businessman, I would simply look for an Indian. They would tell me 'I've lost 40% of my net worth, but, hey, so has everybody else.'" For Asia, this is actually a time of great opportunity. If business has to be driven down to the lowest possible costs, then where else are you going to turn but China and India and the developing world? Far from seeing the present crisis as evidence that Western capitalist principles were flawed and should be abandoned, it is the Asian countries that now have far greater faith in free market economics than their Western peers. Asian states have no desire to detach themselves from the global economic system; it simply needs better management. "The real decoupling is not the Asian system from the Western system," says Mr Mahbubani, "It is between Western ideas and Western competence."

What does this mean for the security terrain? A lot of the pundits are saying all this economic misery could translate into violence on the streets of Beijing as millions of jobless turn to protest. Again, Mr Mahbubani rejects the apocalyptic prognosticators. "There’s a widespread Western assumption about China that because its political system hasn't changed in 60 years that it remains brittle and fragile, but the Chinese people have long memories ... they’ve gone through hell. You name it, civil war, invasion, cultural revolution. And the last 30 years have been the best its had in 150 years. You think they see growth figures drop from 12 to 4 per cent, and immediately think 'Revolt!'?"

I could quibble here, since 20 million jobless migrants is a lot of disgruntled people. And more importantly, economic development brings with it higher expectations, greater political awareness and an expanding middle-class that won’t stand for censorship and authoritarianism. But, as Mr Mahbubani points out, the Chinese government is probably the most effective people-managing government the world has ever seen. An interesting article in the New York Times this morning had someone pointing out that China’s censorship of the internet is perfectly nuanced to give citizens enough outlet to blow off steam, without ever risking any real democratic progress. And as we saw in Tibet last year, China's not afraid to get tough when it feels really threatened.

Mahbubani's probably right that the real dangers lie in the West, where governments are spending a lot of our future taxes today, getting stuck in irritating, unwinnable wars and generally storing up a lot of potential rage. Asia, on the other hand, knows this is no time to rock the boat. Pull together, stay calm, keep the system alive, and bounce back.

Perhaps the biggest risk is that many in the West are putting the blame for the whole mess at China's feet. The argument, effectively expounded by Tim Geithner last week, goes that China's manipulated currency flooded the US market with cheap money and created the crazy mortgage bubble that kick-started the whole shitstorm. I don't know enough about economics for that debate. I do know that this kind of China-bashing can only fuel the sort of protectionist stupidity that Western politicians feel they have to bend over for in lean times. Mercifully, Obama seems to have come to his senses on this to some extent. Let's hope poor old Mr Brown can do the same.

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