by Raheel Abubakar
All throughout 2018, multiple sources from the Business Insider to NPR to CNN referred to Imran Khan, the new prime minister of Pakistan, as the “former cricket champ playboy turned politician”. However after Pakistan has endured decades of corruption on every political platform, his populist and inspirational view should spark hope for Pakistanis all around the world. Whether it’s my own parents cheering from the couch or the 20 million homeless people in Pakistan who just found out that they might have a future.
However, to understand their plight, it’s imperative to look back to see how Pakistan got into this state. There has always been a presence of corruption in Pakistan since its establishment in 1947, but they have reached global attention with two major events: the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the trial of Nawaz Sharif.
After the the previous Prime Minister died in a plane crash, Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister in 1988. She was the first female Prime Minister in Pakistan’s history, and she served for two non-consecutive terms from 1988-1990 and then 1993-1996. Despite her prolonged presidency, Benazir Bhutto was infamous for her embezzlement of millions of dollars from the Pakistani people, massive corruption with her husband, and allegations of being involved in the controversial murder of her brother. The Bhutto family is equally as notorious with their long line of corrupt leaders who pulled the strings on Pakistan’s government. After returning from an eight-year self-imposed exile, her homecoming rally was hit by a suicide attack which killed 136 people. Given the state of crisis, Prime Minister Musharraf declared a state of emergency, which Bhutto opposed greatly. She then threatened to take her supporters to the streets in protest of the state of emergency which got her sentenced to house arrest for nine days. Then, on December 27th, 2007, shots were fire and a bomb went off killing 27 and wounding 100. Benazir Bhutto was killed when her head hit a part of the sunroof in her vehicle. In response, protests erupted around all around Pakistan’s most populated city, Karachi, and eventually all of Pakistan’s major cities. Her supporters threw rocks at hospitals, smashed windows, and burned cars on the street. By the time the riots were over, more 100 cars were burned and the protests alone killed 11 people in Karachi.
Benazir Bhutto’s assassination became an impetus for Pakistanis to analyze their own sentiments and became one of the most divisive times in the nation’s history.
Upon her death, a culture of distrust was established. It was in this climate that Nawaz Sharif rose to power. Nawaz Sharif worked closely with Benazir Bhutto’s brother, Murtaza Bhutto, to undermine Benazir Bhutto’s government and expose her corruption. Then, when Murtaza Bhutto was killed, controversy followed and accusations went straight for Benazir Bhutto. This series of events is what lead to her downfall and self-exile in 1996. Nawaz Sharif then took his second non-consecutive term and maintained power for two years, from 1997-1999. (His first term was from 1990-1999). He is a dedicated defender of military manipulation and the autocrat protector of the aristocracy. His anti-corruption claims fell quickly and he maintained his power through military control. Nevertheless, he was re-elected for his third non-consecutive term in 2013. This four-year rule was what lead to the controversy that became the final straw for Pakistan. After not being able to show a money trail for how Sharif’s family could afford such expensive and luxurious apartments in London, the Pakistani Supreme Court found him guilty of corruption and sentenced him and his family to ten years in prison.
With prime ministers toppling each other’s regimes, and family politics becoming a dangerous game of backstabbing, mysterious shootouts, and bureaucratic betrayal it is no surprise that faith in government has diminished. 91% of Pakistanis are dissatisfied with how things are going and just 24% believe the government has a good influence on the nation.
But it’s for this very reason that Imran Khan’s victory is so crucial. In the western world, he is mostly known for his record cricket career, but in Pakistan his policy, not his bat is what’s bringing hope to the lower class. His foreign policy sets a standard that Pakistan will no longer play the role of the pawn in global affairs nor simply a nuclear fear anymore. He wants to set a mutually beneficial agreement with the United States and he is willing to try for peace with their arch-enemy, India. He has even endorsed ideas of doing talks about the Kashmir to stabilize the region’s conflict, which is a prime concern of most Indians and Pakistanis. He believes that resolving the Kashmir conflict could be the stepping stone for cooperation between Pakistan and India for food security, energy, and joint civil-nuclear activities.
As for China, Pakistan’s new best friend, Imran Khan will visit Beijing next month to discuss the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. China’s economic influence on Karachi has become a contentious issue as Pakistan becomes China’s latest project in its Belt and Road Initiative. Imran Khan’s ability to pay back the billions of dollars loaned out by China for infrastructure will be a test of his capacity to lead the country. Unfortunately, Imran Khan is quite limited in the moves he can make to repay this debt. Pakistan’s main exports, textiles and rice, currently lack the infrastructure to mass produce, which can be both beneficial but very detrimental depending on how it plays out. If Pakistan does establish this infrastructure then it would hugely benefit their economy and lower its current debts, but that is a big “if”. Incapable of paying for these large-scale projects, Pakistan has relied on Chinese construction. China is known for wanting to establish their own infrastructure in foreign countries to gain influence and gain revenue, but if China builds the groundwork for Pakistan’s textile and agriculture industry, then it would only increase their iron grip on Pakistan.
Corruption in Pakistan has also been due to the country’s volume of state-sponsored terrorism and funding to groups like the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. After United States aid was unsuccessful to combat terrorism in the region under Nawaz Sharif, the Executive Branch froze over 800 million dollars in military aid based on claims that Pakistan inadequately responded to militant groups in the region. While that is true, it should be noted that this state-sponsored terrorism happened under the Nawaz Sharif regime. Now that Pakistan is under Imran Khan’s leadership and he is fighting corruption of foreign aid, it would be opportune for the U.S. to release some of the frozen aid and place higher levels of accountability on the aid. With these provisions, the U.S. could observe how much the corruption has actually changed, adjusting our aid depending on Pakistan’s success in undermining militants. Instead of shutting the door on cooperating with Pakistan, cooperation should come first as it will steer Pakistan away from Chinese influence and on the right path. In truth, if we can regain influence in Pakistan at the beginning of the Imran Khan era, then we can forge a friendship beyond the corruption and upon a world-class cricketer.
by Mason Krohn
This year’s breakout romantic comedy, Crazy Rich Asians, depicts the upper echelons of Singapore with imagery of immense fortune and extravagance. For the most part, their portrayal of the Singaporean elite is true to the country’s density of wealth and billionaires. In fact, one in 34 people in Singapore are millionaires, making the miniscule Southeast Asian nation the sixth most millionaire-dense country in the world. Many credit this preeminence to factors that attract wealthy immigrants including Singapore’s low tax rate and well-regulated banking system. Yet, for all their luxury, 80% of Singaporeans live in public housing, a policy typically utilized to serve low-income populations in the US. From the American standpoint, it is unusual that this program exists in the land of millionaires when affordable housing is an indicator of the stark inequality in the United States. Alas, the proliferation of government-built domiciles in Singapore is a product of efficient governance, and it has become a tool by which the state engineers social policy.
The climb of public housing began directly after Singapore’s independence from British rule. In 1959, just two years after Malaysia gained freedom from the United Kingdom, only 9% of Singaporeans resided in public housing. In 1960, the state formed its Housing & Development Board (HDB), which was originally intended to house poor residents, but eventually shifted to supply homes to the masses. The Bukit Ho Swee Fire in 1961, which burned down a squatter settlement and left 16,000 homeless, was the impetus for widespread support for housing initiatives. The government responded quickly to the housing crisis by completely rehousing all of the victims within a year. By 1965, the HDB constructed more than 51,000 apartments, thereby providing housing for a fourth of the country’s population. Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s prime minister from 1959 to 1990, heralded the HDB’s initiatives and led the way for the nation’s housing expansion. The government steadily acquired an increasing amount of property to support its developments, and it now holds 90% of Singapore’s territory. Alongside gargantuan subsidies totalling S$1.19 billion in 2017, HDB lures homeowners by allowing them to pay for housing with the Central Provident Fund, which is a mandatory savings plan wherein working Singaporeans must set aside a portion of their salary for retirement, home ownership, insurance, and education costs. The planning and administrative work that allows the HDB’s programs to function epitomizes Singapore’s effective policy, but the feat of housing the majority of the population is not the only quality that sets this program apart; it is also their orchestration of deciding who lives where that makes Singapore seem like science fiction.
Early in Singapore’s existence as an independent nation, racial tension was at its peak. Under the colonial system, communities were largely segregated by ethnicity, leading to many clashes between the Chinese majority and Malay minority. On July 21, 1964, a racial dispute devolved into rioting when a procession of 20,000 Malay Muslims gathered to celebrate the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. Chinese agitators interrupted the celebration, causing widespread violence. Post-independence Singapore sought to reframe their societal structures by prioritizing multiculturalism, thereby dissuading racial conflict. S. Rajartnam, Minister for Culture from 1959 to 1965 stated that “we start with the irrefutable proposition that the alternative to multi-racialism… is genocide in varying degrees.” The HDB was the frontrunner in designing and enforcing this proposed multiculturalism with its Ethnic Integration Policy. Simply put, Singapore categorizes its ethnic makeup into four primary groups: Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Others. Within public housing units, the HDB attempts to model the racial makeup of the entire country by establishing quotas for the amount of each ethnic group for every neighborhood. Consequently, every community is a racial microcosm of the country as a whole, eliminating what Singapore’s government sees as potentially harmful ethnic enclaves. Singaporeans still have a choice in the level of quality of their abodes, since they apply for different classes of housing. However, they must apply for housing through the HDB, submitting to their racial sorting. The question becomes: does the HDB overstep its boundaries by controlling this aspect of Singaporeans lives? They justify that “a culture is formed not through piecemeal incidents, but through regular encounters and interactions.” Yet, what remains of the cultures of communities with common ethnicities?
City planners and sociologists have long debated the preservation or dissolution of racial enclaves, but a variance in research has resulted in opposing conclusions. There are two frameworks to evaluate the effectiveness of racial distributions: economic success of communities and social flourishment. In regards to economic achievement, New York’s Chinatown serves as an example in favor of enclaves. The neighborhood benefits from an interconnected economy in which money circulates and multiplies, attributing to reinvestment patterns that lower unemployment. Nevertheless, the enclave of Mexican Americans in Los Angeles presents lower wages for immigrants than those who leave the city, pointing to competition in common laboral fields. In regards to social cohesion, Singapore credits the reduction of racial violence to forced integration that maximizes interaction, but their claim is difficult to substantiate. On the other hand, enclaves have produced some of the most profound cultural blossomings in history; take, for example, the Harlem Renaissance. In the end, social policy is predominantly guesswork, but the HDB remains steadfast in its belief that Singapore’s public housing structure is the future for the developed world.
Born out of widespread violence and disastrous shortages, Singapore’s public housing now proves to be one of the most astounding metropolitan projects in the world. It remains unclear whether or not other nations can replicate this infrastructure and its associated racial quotas or even should try for these policies. However, the world is watching as the HDB builds into the sky, and Singapore crafts a crazy rich, multicultural, and harmonious society.
by Jonathan Nemetz
The nation of Poland is no stranger to authoritarianism. Whether under the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, Nazi German occupation, or a Soviet puppet regime, Poland knows the taste of authoritarianism. Which is why so many were shocked when a nationalist, right-wing government swept into power.
In May of 2015, Andrzej Duda of Poland’s ‘Law and Justice Party’ (PIS) was elected to the presidency. The PIS party was founded in 2001 on the ideas of economic intervention, socially conservative values, and strong Euroscepticism. His election was a sharp contrast from the centrist, pro-European ‘Civic Platform’ that had led the nation for the prior eight years. Then, in October of 2015, the PIS Party won 37.6% of the votes in a parliamentary election, giving them control over the legislative and executive branch.
After taking strong control of the government, PIS wasted no time in attempting to assert their power over the judiciary and the people of the country. Following the election of Duda to the presidency, PIS began a politically charged and largely unfounded investigation of the ‘Civic Platform’ Party on a myriad of charges, including corruption, collusion with foreign governments, and intentional actions against the Polish people. In the summer of 2017, PIS leaders introduced several pieces of legislation with the aim of making Poland’s judicial branch of government (The ‘Constitutional Tribunal’) subservient to its president and parliament. One of the bills would effectively push out all of the judges that were not nominated by PIS. Another would give parliament the direct ability to decide who can even be considered for a spot on the court.
While the streets of Warsaw and Krakow were flooded with protest against this descent into authoritarianism, 700 miles away, Brussels held its breath. The European Parliament gave repeated warnings that, were such legislation to pass in Poland, the country would no longer fall under the European Union’s criteria defining a democracy. Despite the objections of the Polish people and the EU, the bills passed. In a letter of condemnation to Poland’s PM, EU President, Antonio Tajani, said that Poland’s actions against their judiciary were “...against the fundamental principles of the EU treaties”.
In December of 2017, the EU gave Poland an ultimatum. Poland would have to restore the independence of their judiciary by March 20th of 2018, or face up against Article 7 of the European Union’s constitution. Article 7, although so far never invoked, is how the European Union can revoke the voting rights of member states that do not comply with standards of human rights and democratic values. March 20th came and went but no change was made, and the European Union began proceedings to remove Poland from the European Union. That was until Hungary stepped into the picture.
Back in 2010, Hungary had gone through their own wave of right-wing populism. In that year’s elections, Hungarians broke with the progressive presidents that they had consistently elected since the founding of the modern Hungarian Republic in 1989. The national conservative ‘Fidesz’ party had been around for years, but never received as much support as it did in 2010, being elected both to the presidency, as well as to a supermajority in parliament. The party’s leader proudly proclaims his intention to create an “illiberal democracy” aimed at rooting out ‘anti-Christian values’. The Eurosceptic party had used fears over immigration and cultural debates to rise to power, making them and the Polish PIS party natural allies. This natural alliance became their stated policies when, after the EU’s ultimatum, the prime minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki (The new leader of PIS), and Hungary’s prime minister announced that they would stand together against Brussels, vetoing any action against either country.
And when the time came to test this alliance, it held. Article 7 requires unanimous support to strip voting rights, impose fines, or take other punitive actions against member states. When all three were proposed against Poland, Hungary vetoed the resolution.
Now the European Union is stuck between two terrible options. To join the European Union, a nation must show that they a have free markets, respect for human rights, and an impartial and effective judiciary. But now, Poland’s membership is threatening these democratic traditions. They can’t kick Poland out, but keeping Poland in the union legitimizes a regime that is openly hostile towards accepted standards of government ethicacy. But as Poland continues to close the borders kept open by EU law, and openly disregard the founding principles of the EU, Brussels is struggling to determine what they can do. And unfortunately, it isn’t much.
At the moment, Poland is the EU’s largest receiver of funds from the organization. And although, compared to many former Soviet-bloc countries, Poland’s economy is strong, the money that they receive from the European Union is extremely important. Between 2007 and 2013, Poland received just over €64 Billion Euros directly from the European Union. These funds helped to increase the stable development of Poland, by assisting projects that rapidly modernized education and sanitation in the country. If the EU could reduce this aid, it would be a powerful deterrent against Polish authoritarianism, as Morawiecki’s regime would no longer receive direct funds for development, nor vital EU subsidies, such as those for agriculture. Without this international assistance, rural populations that keep the PIS party in power would be hurt the most, and see first hand the effects of rejecting Brussels’ requests. However, premature funding changes require a unanimous vote and thus are subject to Hungary’s veto ability. It won’t be until 2021 that EU funding will be open for debate again, and Poland’s funding can be punitavely reduced without unanimous approval.
But in the nearly three years until that happens, the EU may need to focus less on the defiance they have right now, and more on the potential defiance that may arise. If countries can openly refuse anything from environmental regulations to democratic ideals, without consequences, as Poland has, other nations may begin to wonder why they are still listening to the EU if it won’t take punitive actions. If the European Union is unable to enforce its founding principles, what real power does it even have?
As the Syrian Refugee Crisis and slow economic growth continues to plague Europe, the European Union can’t recede into the shadows. There is certainly no lack of issues for Brussels to address, but as countries drift towards nationalism and populism, if they can’t tackle the issues that they were created to stop, the Union’s very purpose may begin to fall into question.
By Aadhavaarasan Raviarasan
In September of 2018 President Donald Trump nominated Nellie Liang - a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute, longtime Federal Reserve staff member who is an expert on financial regulation, and holder of a Phd in economics from the University of Maryland - to the Federal Reserve Board. To grasp the impact of this nomination, one must first understand primary function of the Federal Reserve: the raising or lower of interest rates.
Every quarter (three months), the Federal Reserve (the Fed) decides whether to raise or lower interest rates. When the Fed raises interest rates, it decreases the amount of money in the economy, making each dollar more valuable, which increases the prices of goods across the economy. The Fed employs this strategy during times of prosperity to prevent runaway inflation, which occurs when there is an abundance of supply (too many investments are being made) that diminishes the worth of each dollar, generating massive price increases across the market. Runaway inflation is especially harmful when price growth outpaces wage growth. When the Fed decreases interest rates, it increases the amount of money in the economy, making each dollar less valuable, generally increasing prices in the economy. This is done in times of economic downturn in order to revive the economy, since this provides extra monetary resources to invest and jump start the economy out of rock bottom.
The nomination of Ms. Liang into the board grants her the power to decide the direction of monetary policy - determining if interest rates are raised or lowered and by how much - giving her plenty of power on the direction of our economy.
Insofar as she about to gain a massive amount of power, it is probably important to identify exactly who Ms. Liang is and what she specifically intends to do with her power. Liang’s first position of prominence was as the premiere head of a new division created after the 2008 financial crisis research financial stability issues. Ms. Liang’s position on monetary policy is one geared towards harsh restriction. Indeed, she advocates against the dropping of interest rates in order to recover the economy - believing that the markets ought to recover themselves with no help - and the raising of interest rates in order to curb excesses in the market. Indeed, her ideology on the economy has 2 key central tenants, (1) the establishment of a strong regulatory framework, and (2) early and decisive action to any market shifts.
Moreover, she also believes that, based on our current track, a “recession which will be severe” is bound to occur. In order to deal with this, Liang has supported raising interest rates in order to act as more ammo to drop interest rates by massive amounts upon the onset of the crisis. However, while these may be her set positions towards monetary policy as of right now, Liang is known for having a strong appetite towards risky policies, willing to deal with uncertainty when new problems pop up.
Her position is consistent with the current track of the Federal Reserve, which has been dramatically surging interest rates in this current time of economic prosperity. Her reinforcement of this policy has two possible implications. The first possible implication hinges on the Federal Reserve’s predictions being correct; if it is right that the economy is seeing strong growth and and unemployment reduction, it will continue taking the appropriate stance of raising rates, keeping the economy stable. In this scenario, the nomination of Ms. Liang proves beneficial in that it maintains current policy.
The second possible implication will occur if the Fed’s predictions are inaccurate. If the economy is not as strong as they think it is, then the raising of interest rates will only reduce the necessary supply of money to maintain job growth. The logic is simple: if a business is not doing super well, then reducing the amount of money it has decreases its resources to hire or invest. This can send a struggling or even stagnating business past the brink of survival, causing a chain reaction of bankruptcy and corporate collapse that could potentially end in recession. In this scenario, the nomination of Nellie Liang proves to be a disastrous choice, locking in a policy that will only end with the collapse of the American economy.
Which scenario is correct? Well, no one knows. The Fed itself struggles with uncertainty in determining the optimal time to raise interest rates and how far the economy can go without devastating inflation. It can only estimate, predict, and hope, which is why raising interest rates always hurts someone. All things considered, including her experience and credentials, Ms. Liang is a good pick for the reserve: if we have to choose someone to make predictions, we should choose an expert.