Globalisation no more

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One of my professional areas of interest is strategic analysis, which I’ve taught to undergraduates and postgraduates in universities in China and the UK.

The tools of strategic management can also be used by individuals, to help plan career directions, and to make significant life choices in an informed way. This is becoming essential; powerful forces of change are overtaking us, and we should all be planning and preparing.

The main issue is that the globalisation of the world economy, a process that’s been underway for almost thirty years now, has reached its limits. Indeed, it’s going into reverse, which is likely to have unpredictable and unpalatable consequences for its biggest beneficiaries: those of us who live in the West.

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Skinhead Cossacks and juju warriors. Or: What a fine baby! I’ve killed two like him today.

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A female soldier walked up to Janice and admired Logosou. “Oh, what a fine baby!” she cooed. “I’ve killed two like him today.”

Recalling horrors in Liberia

In his 1994 essay “The Coming Anarchy”, Robert D. Kaplan predicted the spread of failing states and societies, a process driven by a combination of political, economic, social and environmental crises. He characterised the outcomes in a memorable phrase: “Skinhead Cossacks and juju warriors”:

Outside the stretch limo [ie the comfortable, guarded lives of the decreasing number of the affluent] would be a rundown, crowded planet of skinhead Cossacks and juju warriors, influenced by the worst refuse of Western pop culture and ancient tribal hatreds, and battling over scraps of overused earth in guerrilla conflicts that ripple across continents and intersect in no discernible pattern—meaning there’s no easy-to-define threat. Kennan’s [Cold War] world of one adversary seems as distant as the world of Herodotus.

In the decades since Kaplan wrote, disruptive forces have gathered momentum and have been joined by newer ones, such as instability in the financial sector. This is the first in a series of posts in which I want to explore the consequences, which I see as being:

1. the recent elections to the European Parliament, the crisis in Ukraine, and a number of other ongoing news stories are all symptoms of the same underlying crisis;
2. globalisation is finished, and the consequences are going to be difficult for Western nations;
3. and as a result, we in the West need to start thinking hard and thinking quickly about how we’re going to manage the fallout of these consequences.

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Weekly retrospective 18-05-2014

Last week was back to work after my holidays, never a pleasant experience.

What with one thing and another, I haven’t had time to do much exploring. The weather has turned very warm, and most business buildings have now turned their air-conditioning on.

Stepping out from a frosty air-con environment to feel hot sun and hot air is an experience that suddenly took me back a few years, to when I was delivering training at Nokia in Singapore – though St Petersburg’s air doesn’t have a ‘defining feature’ like the mingled smells of vegetation, incense, and food that I associate with Singapore, or the acrid tang of charcoal that will forever be for me the smell the Wudaokou chuan’r environment in Beijing.

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Weekly retrospective 11-05-2014

 

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The big event of the week was of course Friday: May 9th, Victory Day – the anniversary of the Second World War. 20 million Soviet citizens died during the war; the overwhelming scale of their loss, and of their overwhelming contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany often isn’t sufficiently acknowledged in the West.

That said, Victory Day turned out to be quite different to what I had expected. I knew there would be military parades; I’ve seen them on YouTube, and I remember from news programs when I was young how Kreminologists would study them carefully to see who was standing where on the podium outside the Kremlin to take the salute, and whether there was any new military technology on display.

So, I had a mental image of a show of military strength crossed with Britain’s Armistice Day tributes: a solemn, restrained day, spent in quiet remembrance.

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Weekly retrospective 04-05-2014

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“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.

Another delayed post, this time due to having visitors. It’s been great to have been exploring St. Petersburg for a few days, and getting to see some areas and sights that were new to me. It’s been a week in which I learned a lot of things that astonished me, some of which inspire me, and others which appall me.

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Weekly retrospective 20-04-2014

A slightly delayed post, due to Easter!

Spring has finally arrived in St. Petersburg. Yesterday and today had temperatures of 20 degrees celsius, clear blue skies, and bright, bright sunshine. It’s wonderful after the cold and darkness of winter. Patches of green grass are appearing, and the buds are swelling on some of the bushes and the trees. The pastel colours of the city centre, which looked faded and drab in the faint light of winter, now glow intensely in the late afternoon sunlight. It’s light now until just after 10pm, compared to 4pm when I arrived; soon, the sun won’t set and the famous White Nights will be here – that’ll be interesting!

Looking back, it’s been a very busy week, both personally and globally.

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Weekly retrospective 13-04-2014

A highlight of the past week was a reunion with an old friend from Beijing. To protect her identity, when I was blogging from China I always referred to her as the Siberian Rose; I’ll continue that here. A native of Omsk, she was in St. Petersburg for a seminar and we managed to catch up on two separate evenings. She’s been based for the last few years in Luoyang, where she works as a Chinese-Russian interpreter for Sinopec, the Chinese state-owned oil company. Her work takes her a lot to Kazakhstan, and it was interesting to hear her stories about that, as well as how she’s getting on generally. It’s been nearly four years since we last met in person.

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Siege mentalities (and why you need to have one)

Last Sunday I went into central St Petersburg with the aim of going to the Defence of Leningrad Museum. It was the day before the anniversary of the German blockade being lifted, and it seemed like a good time to see the exhibits of life in a modern city under siege conditions.

It turned out that I didn’t need to get to the museum – the exhibits had come to the people! One of the central streets, a couple of blocks away from Nevsky Prospect, had been turned into a siege re-enactment. Tank traps sealed the street off; wooden barn doors were leaned against building walls to protect some windows, while others had sandbags stacked up against them. The barn doors were covered with posters, exhorting the citizens to maintain their defence efforts, as well as with hand-scrawled messages. Trucks, trams, motorcycles, and anti-aircraft guns from the period were parked here and there, monitored by museum staff and volunteers dressed in period Red Army costumes – and who were fighting a losing battle, trying to stop crowds of hyper-excited small children from clambering onto the vehicles!

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Networks of gifts and obligations

Apoptosis Network

 

I wrote in my last post about my apartment here in St. Petersburg, which very likely would originally have been shared by multiple generations of the same family, despite seeming to me to be only big enough for a single person – or at most a childless couple – by contemporary western standards.

Of course, it was never designed for so many people. However, under the Soviet Union, resources such as apartments could not be built, bought or sold privately. Everything was done by the State, and allocation was supposedly done in order, according to where your name was on the relevant list. Unfortunately, of course, the State was incredibly inefficient and slow, so it would hardly be unusual to wait ten or even more years for your name to come up. Until then, you shared.

When I mentioned that, under these conditions, people got things done through personal networks instead of official channels, a friend commented on Facebook: “Isn’t any system e.g. blat, guanxi, enchufe in Spain, that is subverting the sanctioned system better known as corruption?”. It’s an excellent question, getting right to the point I wanted to talk about this week, because it brings us straight to the underlying assumption that the “sanctioned system” is itself fair. This is rarely the case, much as we might wish it to be so.

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