Every time the dollar slides in the international currency markets, people predict the death of the mighty dollar. No one, they say, will want to go on investing in a depreciating currency. The age of the dollar has come to an end. Its successor will be a multi-polar currency system, with the dollar, the euro, and possibly the yen as the three competitive poles of attraction. How likely is this?
One of the first Russian words I learnt was ‘probka’, or traffic jam. It must take longer to get round Moscow by car than any other city in the world. Not only do the big roads lead you in the opposite direction from where you want to go; there are far too many cars on them. Probably the main use of mobile telephones is to ring up in a ‘probka’ to explain why you are going to be late for an appointment. Congestion must cost the city’s economy billions of roubles a year.
‘It’s population, stupid’. According to an eighteenth century English clergyman, the Revd Thomas Malthus, this was the key to the great movements of history. As industrialisation spread, the fear of overpopulation declined. In the rich countries, productivity raced ahead of fertility. It was assumed that sooner or later the population of the rest of the world would stabilise. So why have we started to worry about a demographic ‘time bomb’?
By Robert Skidelsky and Pavel Erochkine
Is capital flight a problem for Russia? Most people would say “yes” and would regard the recent reversal of capital flight as a positive sign for the Russian economy. But there is another school of thought that believes that capital movements should be a matter of complete indifference and certainly not the object of government concern.
Changes in the character of war partially account for the mass murders of the past century. But the rise of democracy also plays a role.
Why did the 20th century produce so much mass killing of civilians – a phenomenon so terrible and unexpected that it caused a new word, “genocide”, to be coined to describe it? Mass slaughter is nothing new. What was new was its return to the centres of civilisation after two centuries of progress. From Europe, it spread to Asia and Africa. In Rwanda on 7 April 1994, the Hutus started killing the Tutsis, or “cockroaches” as they were called. They shot and hacked a million to death in three months. The killings were as coldly deliberate as those organised by Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. The great powers supplied the weapons that allowed the genocide to happen and withdrew the small force of UN peacekeepers who might have stopped it.
The most important event of 2003 was the American-led war on Iraq. The legality of this action has been much disputed. At this season of the year, a moral accounting is appropriate.
‘It is unsatisfactory that 450 million Europeans rely so much on 250 million Americans to defend them’. So wrote the British diplomat Robert Cooper in a recently-published book. On 12-13 December the heads of government of EU members and candidate members -25 in all – will be meeting in Brussels to agree a new European constitution. The draft constitution, drawn up at a convention chaired by former French President Valery Giscard D’Estaing, is an attempt both to meet the challenge of enlargement and to give the EU a bigger foreign policy and defence ‘presence’. It proposes to establish a new post of EU ‘minister of foreign affairs’, and a ‘capabilities agency’ to coordinate defence technology research and encourage harmonised procurement. The constitution would also allow a ‘vanguard’ of members to cooperate more closely on defence matters.