Tag Archives: EU Referendum

Age of Discovery


Age of Discovery –
Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance
By Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna
Bloomsbury – £18.99

If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all (Michelangelo).

To compare the current era to that of the Renaissance might well be a welcome yet debauched conversation piece amid the bars of France as the 2016 European Football Championship kicks off; but to seriously consider such a travesty of history (for that is what it surely is) is way, way off the mark of remote plausibility.

In Age of Discovery – Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New RenaissanceIan Goldin (who is a Professor of Globalisation and Development at Oxford University) and Chris Kutarna (who has a Doctorate in Politics at the same University) attempts to show how western society can ”draw courage, wisdom and inspiration” from the bygone age of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Whether seized by Gutenberg or Zuckerberg, their thesis has essentially been written ”in order to fashion our own age,” wherein ”this Renaissance moment dares humanity to give its best just when the stakes are at their highest.”

Renaissance moment? Surely this is complete and utter bollocks?

In the opening of chapter one’s ‘To Flounder or Flourish,’ the authors write: ”If Michelangelo were reborn today, amidst all the turmoil that marks our present age, would he flounder, or flourish again? Every year, millions of people file into the Sistine Chapel to stare up in wonder at Michelangelo Buonarroti’s Creation of Adam. Millions more pay homage to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Through five centuries, we have carefully preserved such Renaissance masterpieces, and cherished them, as objects of beauty and inspiration. But they also challenge us.”

Too right they do.

What, amid the current, bankrupt euphoria of celebrity culture, is even going to come anywhere near close to the above paintings? Or indeed, the actual Renaissance? Katie Price and her annual, squalid wedding? The Islamic State’s ideology of crass and pointless murder?

In the same chapter, under the sub-heading ‘The Past is prologue,’ they continue with: The present age is a contest: between the good and bad consequences of global entanglement and human development; between forces of inclusion and exclusion; between flourishing genius and flourishing risks. Whether we each flourish or flounder, and whether the twenty-first century goes down in the history books as one of humanity’s best or worst, depends on what we all do to promote the possibilities and dampen the dangers that this contest brings.”

Admittedly, Messrs. Goldin and Kutarana are right about one thing: ”The stakes could not be higher. We each have the perilous fortune to have been born into a historic moment – a decisive moment – when events and choices in our own lifetime will dictate the circumstances of many, many lifetimes to come.”

Indeed, the stakes could absolutely not be higher. And we do all have the perilous (mis)fortune to have been born during a time of nigh catastrophic change – where events and choices in our own lifetime will indeed dictate the circumstances of many, many lifetimes to come.

One need look no further than June 23rd, the day the nation votes on the European Referendum; where many millions of people will no doubt vote to turn the clock back to the dark ages. Or perhaps back to the actual Renaissance itself. Who knows? The frightening trajectory of which will invariably ”dictate the circumstances of many, many lifetimes to come.”

Alas, by the time one has reached the ninth chapter, simply entitled ‘David,’ bucolic bravado has finally subsided and an assortment of clear-cut-telling enters the fray: ”In the developing world, an estimated $1 – 2 trillion per year is siphoned away from public treasures by corrupt officials and cosy monopolists, facilitated by global investors and financial firms in the developed world. In advanced economies, scandals like the five-year diesel emissions fraud uncovered at Volkswagon in 2015, or the twenty-year Libor rate-fixing swindle conducted by London banks until 2012, remind us that people everywhere may cheat when given the incentive and opportunity.”

Key words in the above quote are ”developing world,” which to all intents and preposterous purposes, have nothing whatsoever to do with the Renaissance. Niente. Niks. Nada.

In fact, to compare today’s world with that of the Renaissance, is akin to comparing cement with Simone de Beauvoir.

David Marx

China’s Future


China’s Future
By David Shambaugh
Polity – £14.99

Has China remained in the same position as that astutely described by the scholar Minxin Pei, who in 2006, pronounced it as being ”in a continued state of trapped transition.” That is the question. That said, I’m sure there’s many a Port Talbot steel worker who’d go out of his way to vehemently deny that such was ever really the case – but then it does take all sorts.

As Britain continues to quibble over the pending EU Referendum, the so-called Asian Tiger continues to makes stride after stride after stride – with all the economic zeal of an out-paced gazelle. Agh, but ”this country’s being over-run by bleedin’ foreigners innit…/dahn my neck of the woods there ain’t a fackin whyte person in sight…/It’s all them skraahnging Pakis’n’Poles kahming over ‘ere nicking ouwer jobs innit…”

That’s right Brexits, your every woe is as a direct result of all them bleeding foreigners invading this all too tiny island. And while we’re at it, they’re also responsible for da weather and obesity.

Lest it be said that while the xenophobic, flag-waving moronics continue to be side-tracked by the very influential powers that be, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage being two fine, albeit shameful examples, Asian nations, of which China is surely at the fore, continue to overtake us in every (economic) which way imaginable.

David Shambaugh (whose previous books include: China Goes Global, China’s Communist Party, Modernizing China’s Military), is a scholar of Chinese- Asian affairs, who throughout China’s Future, writes with an acute mode of certified confidence within an area of expertise, clearly gained from his many years of having studied and written widely on the country.

As such, it really would be foolish to interject, let alone question what he’s saying and writing.

Foolish that is, unless one is an expert on Chinese affairs – which I’m absolutely not, which explains why it’s really hard to waver upon, let alone miscalculate this ginormous nation. A nation whose future is arguably the most consequential question in current day, global affairs: ”There is no shortage of speculation about China’s future. A tsunami of scholarly studies on various aspects of China’s ”rise” have been published over the past two decades, while fund managers, corporations, political risk analysts, government intelligence agencies, and futurologists all spend countless hours (and large sums of money) trying to anticipate China’s trajectory. Predictably this punditry ranges across a full spectrum of possibilities, from China becoming the superpower of the twenty-first century to its stagnation or even collapse” (‘Peering into China’s Future’).

Having enjoyed unprecedented levels of growth, it might be argued that the country is now at a critical juncture in the oft fraught development of its economy, society, polity and national security; not to mention countless human rights abuses and international relations.

To be sure, the direction the nation takes at this turning point will undoubtedly determine whether it stalls or continues to develop and prosper, all of which is coherently addressed amid this book’s five chapters. As Francis Fukuyama of Stanford University has written on the back cover: ”David Shambaugh lays out some bold speculations about possible futures for China that will make even seasoned China hands rethink their assumptions. It is critical reading from one of our most astute observers of that country.”

That’s right, from urbanization to pensions, healthcare to the provision of public goods, the continuation of the status quo to Rentrenchment and possible/unthinkable return to Hard Authoritarianism, China’s Future is a very fair and balanced analysis of what its title suggests.

In other words, completely polar to that of the yelping Brexits of acute myopic audacity.

David Marx