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Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on the Secrets to Aging Gracefully

Mikael Wood wrote . . . . . . . . .

Robert Plant picked up the phone at his home in western England and offered a detailed weather report as he peered through a picture window in a sitting room.

“It’s a beautiful evening here,” said the 73-year-old singer best known as the golden-god frontman of Led Zeppelin. “That said, in the U.K. we’re unaccustomed to 38 degrees Celsius” — about 100 degrees Fahrenheit — “which is what’s been going on today. There’s a major panic around the country with the water supplies.

“So: lovely, but also a little ominous.”

The description isn’t a bad one for the music Plant makes with Alison Krauss, the veteran bluegrass singer and fiddler he met nearly 20 years ago when they sang together as part of a Lead Belly tribute concert. In 2007, the two teamed with producer T Bone Burnett for an album, “Raising Sand,” which showcased their haunting vocal interplay in lushly arranged roots-music renditions of old songs by Gene Clark, Allen Toussaint, Townes Van Zandt and the Everly Brothers. Commercially speaking, the LP was hardly a sure thing (though Burnett had recently overseen the smash soundtrack for “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”); nevertheless, “Raising Sand” went on to sell more than a million copies and win six Grammy Awards, including album and record of the year.

Now, Plant and Krauss, who’s 51, are on the road behind a long-awaited follow-up, “Raise the Roof,” which came out late last year — inside the eligibility window for the upcoming 65th Grammys — yet sounds like it could’ve been made just weeks after its predecessor. Produced again by Burnett, who assembled a top-flight band including guitarists Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot and drummer Jay Bellerose, the gorgeously spooky “Raise the Roof” features more tunes by Toussaint and the Everlys along with oldies by Bert Jansch, Anne Briggs and Merle Haggard; it also has an original by Plant and Burnett, “High and Lonesome,” and opens with a relatively new song in “Quattro (World Drifts In)” by the Arizona-based indie-rock band Calexico.

Krauss, who recently lent her vocals to Def Leppard’s latest album, joined Plant on the call from Nashville ahead of the duo’s Thursday night show at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.


How would you describe your relationship beyond the music?

Krauss: We’re happily incompatible.

Plant: That’s probably right. I do still like you, though.

Krauss: I still like you too!

Plant: We’re not Dale & Grace or Sonny & Cher, but we’ve definitely got something going on. We’ve got two totally different lives running. Alison’s a lot more private than I am. I’m out in the flood. I’ve lived where I’ve always lived.

You’ve both been singing for decades. Talk about how you take care of your voices.

Plant: I don’t. I just go out and sing. I know a guy from a famous band that Alison’s quite friendly with — he’s gonna pour some sugar on me or something — who creates a complete hullabaloo backstage. I was back there one time and he was making such a bloody noise. I said, “Why are you doing that?” He said, “I’m warming up.” I said, “Well, you won’t have anything left by the time you get there.”

A voice changes over time.

Plant: I know that the full, open-throated falsetto that I was able to concoct in 1968 carried me through until I was tired of it. Then that sort of exaggerated personality of vocal performance morphed and went somewhere else. But as a matter of fact, I was playing in Reykjavík, in Iceland, about three years ago, just before COVID. It was Midsummer Night and there was a festival, and I got my band and I said, “OK, let’s do ‘Immigrant Song.’” They’d never done it before. We just hit it, and bang — there it was. I thought, “Oh, I didn’t think I could still do that.”

Plenty of fans would love to hear you do it with Led Zeppelin.

Plant: Going back to the font to get some kind of massive applause — it doesn’t really satisfy my need to be stimulated.

Does that make you feel like an outlier among your classic-rock peers?

Plant: I know there are people from my generation who don’t want to stay home and so they go out and play. If they’re enjoying it and doing what they need to do to pass the days, then that’s their business, really.

You and Alison recorded your two albums at Nashville’s Sound Emporium Studios, and you returned there for an NPR Tiny Desk Concert. Why always work in Nashville and not in England?

Plant: I’ve been making records and traveling through America since 1966, and we just don’t have the flexibility that American players do. The culture here and the schooling — English players haven’t been exposed to the wide variety of music forms that are in the States. If Allen Toussaint were around and it was another time, maybe we would have gone to New Orleans and tried to pick up on where he was going with Betty Harris and people like that. But in the U.K. we don’t have that lineage of music — of telling a musical story.

Krauss: I love Fairport Convention and skiffle and all the things that came from that. I appreciate the land that it came from. And the rock ’n’ roll singers that come out of that area of the world — Paul Rodgers and Frankie Miller — they always reminded me of the Ralph Stanley kind of singers. There was always a link for me between the way they sounded and what I would see in my head when they sang.

What’s the link?

Plant: To my mind, with the guys from the northeast of England — Paul and Frankie and Eric Burdon and Joe Cocker — it was all about the blue notes, same as the Stanley Brothers. It’s that flattened third in the scales, which ultimately leads back toward Bert Jansch and Davey Graham — a sort of British transposing of the folk music that was present before the Industrial Revolution and made its way across to Kentucky and West Virginia. Many of the songs we do are blueprinted on both sides of the Atlantic.

Is the point of Plant & Krauss to delineate those historical through lines?

Plant: It’s not just a historical monument, though. What’s the album by Rod Stewart? “The Great American Songbook”? I mean, “Come Fly With Me” is fine. But the guys from Calexico, they’re giving us the new American songbook. Their records “Feast of Wire” and “Garden Ruin,” they’re echoing the circumstances in contemporary America. I have a little blue book that I carry with me everywhere and continue to add songs — threads for the future, if you like — because with access to music now, you’re hearing new stuff all the time.

Which kind of encourages an ahistorical perspective, right? It’s so easy to hear something without understanding what it was building on.

Krauss: But isn’t that part of it? You don’t know why you love something — you just love it. It seems very natural and innocent.

T Bone Burnett recently introduced a new audio format that he says represents the “pinnacle of recorded sound.” Is high fidelity particularly important to the two of you?

Plant: Eh. I prefer something that crackles and bangs. I don’t mind if it sounds like it had a better time earlier in its life. I just want to hear what the musicians and the engineer and the producer at the time were going for. I’m sitting here looking at all these records I got from these record stores in Oslo when Alison and I were playing in Scandinavia last month — fantastic compilations of Muscle Shoals country-funk, stuff by Gregg Allman, some of Cher’s early recordings when she got down there. Remember when Otis Redding was a driver for that session with whoever it was, and everybody went to lunch and he got up and sang, and suddenly we had a new voice on the planet? For me as a listener, I just want to hear the spirit.

Last thing: Don Everly died last year, which means very few of early rock’s pioneers are still living. Obviously their music lives on, but what does it mean when the actual people are gone?

Plant: It’s tough, isn’t it? Great players remain, but maybe it’s a different kind of romance that we’re left with now.

Krauss: We recently lost [the bluegrass guitarist] Tony Rice, who was a huge influence, and I couldn’t believe how hard that hit me for so many reasons. Those people that made you who you are — when they go, they take some of you with them.

Plant: That’s exactly right. I remember when Bo Diddley passed, I was on a bus somewhere with Buddy Miller. It came on the radio and it was like the whole bus just slumped. I mean, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry — they’re part of your DNA, you know? As British kids, we spent our adolescence just furiously ruining their songs.


Source : Los Angeles Times

Interview: Understanding China’s Global Value Chains

Paul French wrote . . . . . . . . .

On a surface level, it’s a well-known story: over the last quarter century, China has emerged as the world’s largest exporting nation with more than £1.4 trillion GBP of exports annually. But now we have enough case studies and data to dig deeper. In his new book, Decoding China’s Export Miracle, Yuqing Xing, of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) in Tokyo, uses China’s involvement with global value chains (GVCs) to analyse this export miracle.

The book explains how China’s deep integration with GVCs has been a decisive factor in the country’s emergence as the world’s number one exporting nation and the champion of high-technology exports. It uses a range of case studies including Apple, Uniqlo, Dyson, Samsung and others that use China to become ‘factoryless manufacturers.’

In this interview, Paul French catches up with Yuxing Qing to find out why China and GVCs are so important.


To understand your book and its arguments we need to first talk about global value chains (GVCs). What are they and why have they been so important to China’s rise as the world’s major exporter nation?

Global value chains are a new model of manufacturing and trading goods internationally. A typical GVC involves firms from various nations. Those firms coordinately perform a series of tasks necessary for the delivery of products to end-users in the global market. These tasks include research and development, product design, the manufacture of parts and components, assembly, distribution and retailing. Chinese firms participating in GVCs mainly perform manufacturing tasks, such as assembly. Most manufactured goods exported by China, which account for more than 90% of total Chinese exports, are, in fact, produced and traded along GVCs, which have systematically eliminated conventional entry barriers to international markets for made/assembled in China products. This has greatly facilitated the massive penetration of Chinese goods into the markets of both developed and developing countries – powering China’s export miracle.

You also argue that China has been able to take advantage of the ‘spillover effects from GVCs.’ What are these? And how was China able to take advantage?

GVCs offer positive spillover effects to non-leading firms, particularly firms from developing countries. One spillover effect comes from brands owned by lead firms. By plugging into value chains as contract manufacturers, Chinese firms have sold their products under internationally recognised brands, which clearly enhances the appeal of made in China products to foreign consumers and has strengthened their international competitiveness.

The second spillover effect is the technology and product innovation of lead firms. The production of any high-tech products requires not only core technological components but also low-tech and standard parts and labour-intensive services (like assembly). By manufacturing those low-tech parts and providing assembly services, Chinese firms have been able to join the value creation processes of high-tech products and take advantage of the fast-growing worldwide demand for high-tech products such as laptops and mobile phones. For example, China’s export of iPhones is attributed to its participation in the iPhone value chain as an assembler.

The third spillover effect of GVCs is related to the distribution and retail networks established by GVC lead firms. As suppliers of foreign MNCs, Chinese products are sold through the global distribution and retail networks established GVC lead firms. The continuous expansion of those networks automatically increases the access of made in China products and thus boosts China’s exports. This is actually how 50,000 Walmart suppliers in China have entered international markets and raised their sales abroad.

You also argue that Chinese firms participating in GVCs offered an alternative path by which China could achieve industrialisation, a kind of turbocharging of the economic learning curve. How did this work?

GVCs are based on production fragmentation. With the extensive fragmentation of the manufacturing industry resulting from modularisation, it is no longer necessary for a country to build production capacities for an entire industry in order to produce finished products. By participating in GVCs, Chinese firms have developed and expanded their production capacities where they have a comparative advantage, and they have been growing together with the lead firms of GVCs through the aforementioned three spillover effects.

In addition, GVCs give Chinese firms a unique channel through which to access new knowledge and production know-how. The learning opportunities within GVCs include face-to-face interaction, knowledge transfer from lead firms, pressure to adopt international standards, and training of the local workforce by lead firms. That learning facilitates Chinese firms’ industrial upgrading and innovation activities, such as adding value to products, moving up from pure assembly to design work, and increasing production process efficiency. For example, all of Apple’s suppliers need to meet high standards set by Apple and engage intensive communication with Apple, all of which facilitate the innovation and productivity growth of non-lead firms. Those unique features constitute a new path of industrialisation.

GVCs give Chinese firms a unique channel through which to access new knowledge and production know-how.

I think it is also interesting that you argue Chinese firms have managed to achieve ‘nonlinear upgrading’ through their participation in GVCs. What do you mean by this exactly?

Specialising in low value-added tasks has opened a door for Chinese firms to integrate themselves into GVCs. It is the beginning of the long march from entry into GVCs to participation in higher value-added segments, to capturing more added value, and ultimately evolving into a GVC lead firm. Upgrading along GVCs from low value-added to high value-added tasks constitutes a linear model of innovation. For example, a firm starts from assembling mobile phones, then enters the manufacturing of components, and eventually produces mobile phones under its own brand. This is a sequential upgrading along value chains, I call it a linear path of innovation.

On the other hand, before developing core technology capacities such as operating systems design and mobile chipset production, Chinese original brand manufacturers such as Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo leapt forward to brand development by sourcing core technology from foreign suppliers like Google, Qualcomm, Samsung and Sony. This is non-linear innovation. Sourced foreign technologies enable Chinese brand mobile phones to compete with the likes of Samsung and Apple. Taking advantage of the availability of standardised technology platforms, those Chinese firms have concentrated on incremental innovations and marketing, and successfully broken the monopoly of foreign rivals in both domestic and international markets. The nonlinear innovation path reflects the flexibility of the GVC strategy for catch-up by developing countries.

How does China’s integration within GVCs affect delicate trade negotiations, especially where, as with the US, Australia and EU, they have become quite problematic?

China’s huge trade surplus with a few trading partners has given rise to trade friction. I think China should further lower tariff and non-tariff barriers to increase the access of foreign goods and services to its domestic market and encourage Chinese consumers to embrace products made beyond China.

Having said that, I would like to emphasise that current trade statistics are incompatible with value chain trade. China’s trade surplus has been exaggerated, because (1) foreign value-added has been counted as China’s value-added, and (2) trade statistics cannot trace actual exports of factory-less manufacturers, such as Apple, Nike, Dyson, and H&M to China. The first reason causes the inflation of China’s exports to those countries, while the second underestimates those countries’ exports to China. I explain how trade statistics distort the bilateral trade balance between China and the US in detail in chapter 4 of the book.

China is deeply integrated with GVCs organised by MNCs from the US, Japan, and the EU. This is why I use the term “China-centred” GVCs in the book: Any tariff and non-tariff measures imposed on made/assembled in China goods would harm not only Chinese firms, but also MNCs who outsource billions of dollars of goods from China. Trade wars or sanctions are a double-edged sword. Communications, negotiations and compromises are the right approaches to work out any trade frictions and reach win-win solutions. I think China’s trade friction with Australia is purely a result of geopolitical tensions. As an economist, I do not think it is wise to use trade policies to serve non-economic objectives.

We’ve heard so much in recent years about China’s economic rebalancing – away from exports and towards domestic consumption. What is the future for China’s export sectors in the next, say, 5-10 years?

Rebalancing has been a buzzword since the global financial crisis. China’s rebalancing from an exports-driven to domestic consumption-driven model has been expected. Firstly, the contribution of export growth to the growth of the Chinese economy has fallen substantially. Secondly, China’s imports increased from $1.1 to 2.1 trillion, almost doubling from 2008 to 2018. We have to realise that this transition is easier said than done. It requires a structural change on the supply side of the Chinese economy, which is more difficult than a simplistic macroeconomic analysis on the rebalancing, as it requires thousands of Chinese firms producing shoes, apparel, toys, mobile phones or laptop computers to either scale down their outputs or producing something else that is in demand from Chinese consumers. Again, many MNCs from the US, EU and Japan do not export products manufactured in their home countries to China. Instead, they sell products either assembled/made in China or third countries, which produce either in-China or third-country sales in China. Those sales are not counted as exports to China, thus underestimating China’s actual imports from those nations.

The ongoing US-China trade war, and the possible technological decoupling between the two nations, has been reshaping GVCs involvement, which may undermine China’s export capacity, particularly when it comes to serving the US market. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, some politicians in the US, EU and Japan have called for improving self-sufficiency in essential medical supplies. This may limit the growth potential of Chinese exports. However, for a nation with $2.5 trillion annual exports, internal circulation is impossible. The entrenched exported-economic structure implies that international markets will remain a critical source of income and employment and the Chinese government will continue to support its firms to expand in the global market through trade negotiations.


Source : China-Britain Business Council

Interview: Why This Computer Scientist Says All Cryptocurrency Should “Die in a Fire”

Nathan J. Robinson wrote . . . . . . . . .

Despite being hyped in expensive Super Bowl ads, cryptocurrency is now having a difficult moment. As the New York Times reports, “the crypto world went into a full meltdown this week in a sell-off that graphically illustrated the risks of the experimental and unregulated digital currencies.” One of cryptocurrency’s most vocal skeptics is Nicholas Weaver, senior staff researcher at the International Computer Science Institute and lecturer in the computer science department at UC Berkeley. Weaver has studied cryptocurrencies for years. Speaking with Current Affairs editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson, Prof. Weaver explains why he views the much-hyped technology with such antipathy. He argues that cryptocurrency is useless and destructive, and should “die in a fire.”

The interview transcript has been lightly edited for grammar and clarity.


NATHAN J. ROBINSON:

Here’s a quote by you from 2018:

Cryptocurrencies, although a seemingly interesting idea, are simply not fit for purpose. They do not work as currencies, they are grossly inefficient, and they are not meaningfully distributed in terms of trust. Risks involving cryptocurrencies occur in four major areas: technical risks to participants, economic risks to participants, systemic risks to the cryptocurrency ecosystem, and societal risks.

In a 2022 lecture about cryptocurrency on YouTube, you are even more blunt and harsh:

This is a virus. Its harms are substantial. It has enabled billion dollar criminal enterprises. It has enabled venture capitalists to do securities fraud as their business. It has sucked people in. So either avoid it or help me make it die in a fire.

But perhaps before we get to your justifications for these verdicts, you could start by telling us what you think is the best way for the average person to begin to think about what a cryptocurrency is.

NICHOLAS WEAVER:

Well, I’d start with what it’s supposed to be in theory. So in theory, it’s supposed to be a way of doing payments with no intermediary. So the idea is that if Alice wants to pay Bob a bet for 200 quatloos…

ROBINSON:

Hang on, you’ve dropped a word that isn’t a real word. Quatloos is a fictional currency?

WEAVER:

It’s actually specifically a Star Trek reference. So if you want to gamble with your imaginary currency, there should be no intermediary that is responsible for executing the transfer. It’s just direct peer to peer electronic cash. Or at least that’s the idea.

Now the problem is: how do you know who has what balance? Electronic cash is actually something we’ve had for decades now. If I want to transfer you money, I use PayPal or M-Pesa or Visa or a wire transfer or this or that. Those all have a central intermediary. And there’s a disadvantage of central intermediaries: They don’t like drug dealers. So as a money transmitter, you are under legal obligations to block a lot of known bad activity.

With cryptocurrencies, the idea is, let’s eliminate the notion of the intermediary by making our balances public, but pseudonymous. So you’re no longer you, you are just some long sequence of random-looking numbers. And let’s create a ledger in the town square so that everybody’s bank balance is public in the town square, but only identified by the pseudonyms.

So for Alice to pay off her wager, she writes a check: “I, Alice’s Random Pseudonymity, pay Bob’s Random Pseudonymity 200 quatloos. Signed, Alice’s Random Pseudonymity.” Bob then checks to make sure that Alice indeed has a balance, and if so, posts that check to the public ledger. Now everybody knows that Alice is down 200, Bob is up 200. And that’s how it works.

The problem is: how do you keep somebody from adding to the ledger and faking stuff? Well, that’s where the notion of the “mining” comes in. What the miners are doing is literally wasting tons of electricity to prove that the record is intact, because anybody who would want to attack it has to waste that similar kind of electricity.

This creates a couple of real imbalances. Either they’re insecure or they’re inefficient, meaning that if you don’t waste a lot of energy, someone can rewrite history cheaply. If you don’t want people to rewrite history, you have to be wasting tons and tons of resources 24/7, 365. And that’s why Bitcoin burns as much power as a significant country.

ROBINSON:

So this criticism that you hear about Bitcoin, that it uses the energy of a small to mid-sized country, that is true? You point out in your YouTube lecture that there are a number of ways that the enthusiasts of Bitcoin make excuses for this. They say “Well, it’s actually clean” or “It’s not too much of a problem.” But it’s actually very, very wasteful.

WEAVER:

Yes. The biggest one is “this incentivizes green power.” Which it does in the same way that a whole bunch of random shootings would incentivize bulletproof vests.

But wait, it’s worse! The problem with the Global Public Square is that it is a single, limited entity, and you have only so much you can add to it at any given time. So Bitcoin burns that much of the world’s electricity to be able to process somewhere between three to seven transactions per second across the entire world.

[ . . . . . ]

ROBINSON:
Is that why you see the pile of Super Bowl ads for investing in cryptocurrency? Because the people who are the early investors need to keep finding new suckers and trying to convince people that putting their retirement savings into cryptocurrency is a sound idea?

WEAVER:
Yep. Because it’s a self-created pyramid scheme, you have to keep getting new suckers in. As soon as the number of suckers dries up, it collapses. And because it’s not zero-sum, but deeply negative-sum, there are actually a lot of mechanisms that can cause it to collapse suddenly to zero. We saw this just the other day with the Terra stablecoin and the Luna side token. This was basically another Ponzi scheme implemented in the larger space of Ponzi schemes.

So the idea is, you had these two cryptocurrencies, “Terra” and “Luna.” Terra is supposed to be tied one-to-one with the U.S. dollar. Luna can float around. If Terra costs more than $1, you can turn Luna into Terra and make a profit, while if Terra costs less than $1 you can turn Terra into Luna and make a profit. But this only works as long as the value of Luna is greater than the value of Terra.

Now, why would you use Terra at all? Well, one, this is a stablecoin and these are necessary for the gambling aspects of cryptocurrency. They act basically as casino chips, because almost all of the cryptocurrency exchanges are really cut off from the banking system. But the other reason is, because you could take your Terra stablecoin, put it in a lending protocol that was created by the creators of Luna and Terra and get a 20% rate of return paid for by Luna and Terra, a.k.a. a Ponzi scheme.

And so billions of dollars of notional value went into this Ponzi scheme. And the backing of Luna just slowly crept down, down, down. And then all of a sudden, there was a crisis of faith. People no longer believed that Terra was worth $1. It pegged to 95 cents. The folks behind Terra and Luna go “Everything’s fine. Nothing to see here.” And then it collapsed amazingly quickly over the space of two to three days. And we’re now at the point where the Terra stablecoin that was supposed to be worth $1 is now worth 10 cents, and the Luna token has basically gone down by 99.99%. And people keep finding out that just because something’s gone down 95% doesn’t mean it can’t still go down another 95%.

[ . . . . . ]

Read more at Current Affair . . . . .

Russia’s Sergey Glazyev Introduces the New Global Financial System

Pepe Escobar wrote . . . . . . . . .

Sergey Glazyev is a man living right in the eye of our current geopolitical and geo-economic hurricane. One of the most influential economists in the world, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and a former adviser to the Kremlin from 2012 to 2019, for the past three years he has helmed Moscow’s uber strategic portfolio as Minister in Charge of Integration and Macroeconomics of the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU).

Glazyev’s recent intellectual production has been nothing short of transformative, epitomized by his essay Sanctions and Sovereignty and an extensive discussion of the new, emerging geo-economic paradigm in an interview to a Russian business magazine.

In another of his recent essays, Glazyev comments on how “I grew up in Zaporozhye, near which heavy fighting is now taking place in order to destroy the Ukrainian Nazis, who never existed in my small Motherland. I studied at a Ukrainian school and I know Ukrainian literature and language well, which from a scientific point of view is a dialect of Russian. I did not notice anything Russophobic in Ukrainian culture. In the 17 years of my life in Zaporozhye, I have never met a single Banderist.”

Glazyev was gracious to take some time from his packed schedule to provide detailed answers to a first series of questions in what we expect to become a running conversation, especially focused to the Global South. This is his first interview with a foreign publication since the start of Operation Z. Many thanks to Alexey Subottin for the Russian-English translation.


The Cradle: You are at the forefront of a game-changing geo-economic development: the design of a new monetary/financial system via an association between the EAEU and China, bypassing the US dollar, with a draft soon to be concluded. Could you possibly advance some of the features of this system – which is certainly not a Bretton Woods III – but seems to be a clear alternative to the Washington consensus and very close to the necessities of the Global South?

Glazyev: In a bout of Russophobic hysteria, the ruling elite of the United States played its last “trump ace” in the hybrid war against Russia. Having “frozen” Russian foreign exchange reserves in custody accounts of western central banks, financial regulators of the US, EU, and the UK undermined the status of the dollar, euro, and pound as global reserve currencies. This step sharply accelerated the ongoing dismantling of the dollar-based economic world order.

Over a decade ago, my colleagues at the Astana Economic Forum and I proposed to transition to a new global economic system based on a new synthetic trading currency based on an index of currencies of participating countries. Later, we proposed to expand the underlying currency basket by adding around twenty exchange-traded commodities. A monetary unit based on such an expanded basket was mathematically modeled and demonstrated a high degree of resilience and stability.

At around the same time, we proposed to create a wide international coalition of resistance in the hybrid war for global dominance that the financial and power elite of the US unleashed on the countries that remained outside of its control. My book The Last World War: the USA to Move and Lose, published in 2016, scientifically explained the nature of this coming war and argued for its inevitability – a conclusion based on objective laws of long-term economic development. Based on the same objective laws, the book argued the inevitability of the defeat of the old dominant power.

Currently, the US is fighting to maintain its dominance, but just as Britain previously, which provoked two world wars but was unable to keep its empire and its central position in the world due to the obsolescence of its colonial economic system, it is destined to fail. The British colonial economic system based on slave labor was overtaken by structurally more efficient economic systems of the US and the USSR. Both the US and the USSR were more efficient at managing human capital in vertically integrated systems, which split the world into their zones of influence. A transition to a new world economic order started after the disintegration of the USSR. This transition is now reaching its conclusion with the imminent disintegration of the dollar-based global economic system, which provided the foundation of the United States global dominance.

The new convergent economic system that emerged in the PRC (People’s Republic of China) and India is the next inevitable stage of development, combining the benefits of both centralized strategic planning and market economy, and of both state control of the monetary and physical infrastructure and entrepreneurship. The new economic system united various strata of their societies around the goal of increasing common wellbeing in a way that is substantially stronger than the Anglo-Saxon and European alternatives. This is the main reason why Washington will not be able to win the global hybrid war that it started. This is also the main reason why the current dollar-centric global financial system will be superseded by a new one, based on a consensus of the countries who join the new world economic order.

In the first phase of the transition, these countries fall back on using their national currencies and clearing mechanisms, backed by bilateral currency swaps. At this point, price formation is still mostly driven by prices at various exchanges, denominated in dollars. This phase is almost over: after Russia’s reserves in dollars, euro, pound, and yen were “frozen,” it is unlikely that any sovereign country will continue accumulating reserves in these currencies. Their immediate replacement is national currencies and gold.

The second stage of the transition will involve new pricing mechanisms that do not reference the dollar. Price formation in national currencies involves substantial overheads, however, it will still be more attractive than pricing in ‘un-anchored’ and treacherous currencies like dollars, pounds, euro, and yen. The only remaining global currency candidate – the yuan – won’t be taking their place due to its inconvertibility and the restricted external access to the Chinese capital markets. The use of gold as the price reference is constrained by the inconvenience of its use for payments.

The third and the final stage on the new economic order transition will involve a creation of a new digital payment currency founded through an international agreement based on principles of transparency, fairness, goodwill, and efficiency. I expect that the model of such a monetary unit that we developed will play its role at this stage. A currency like this can be issued by a pool of currency reserves of BRICS countries, which all interested countries will be able to join. The weight of each currency in the basket could be proportional to the GDP of each country (based on purchasing power parity, for example), its share in international trade, as well as the population and territory size of participating countries.

In addition, the basket could contain an index of prices of main exchange-traded commodities: gold and other precious metals, key industrial metals, hydrocarbons, grains, sugar, as well as water and other natural resources. To provide backing and to make the currency more resilient, relevant international resource reserves can be created in due course. This new currency would be used exclusively for cross-border payments and issued to the participating countries based on a pre-defined formula. Participating countries would instead use their national currencies for credit creation, in order to finance national investments and industry, as well as for sovereign wealth reserves. Capital account cross-border flows would remain governed by national currency regulations.

The Cradle: Michael Hudson specifically asks that if this new system enables nations in the Global South to suspend dollarized debt and is based on the ability to pay (in foreign exchange), can these loans be tied to either raw materials or, for China, tangible equity ownership in the capital infrastructure financed by foreign non-dollar credit?

Glazyev: Transition to the new world economic order will likely be accompanied by systematic refusal to honor obligations in dollars, euro, pound, and yen. In this respect, it will be no different from the example set by the countries issuing these currencies who thought it appropriate to steal foreign exchange reserves of Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, Afghanistan, and Russia to the tune of trillions of dollars. Since the US, Britain, EU, and Japan refused to honor their obligations and confiscated the wealth of other nations which was held in their currencies, why should other countries be obliged to pay them back and to service their loans?

In any case, participation in the new economic system will not be constrained by the obligations in the old one. Countries of the Global South can be full participants of the new system regardless of their accumulated debts in dollars, euro, pound, and yen. Even if they were to default on their obligations in those currencies, this would have no bearing on their credit rating in the new financial system. Nationalization of extraction industry, likewise, would not cause a disruption. Further, should these countries reserve a portion of their natural resources for the backing of the new economic system, their respective weight in the currency basket of the new monetary unit would increase accordingly, providing that nation with larger currency reserves and credit capacity. In addition, bilateral swap lines with trading partner countries would provide them with adequate financing for co-investments and trade financing.

The Cradle: In one of your latest essays, The Economics of the Russian Victory, you call for “an accelerated formation of a new technological paradigm and the formation of institutions of a new world economic order.” Among the recommendations, you specifically propose the creation of “a payment and settlement system in the national currencies of the EAEU member states” and the development and implementation of “an independent system of international settlements in the EAEU, SCO and BRICS, which could eliminate critical dependence of the US-controlled SWIFT system.” Is it possible to foresee a concerted joint drive by the EAEU and China to “sell” the new system to SCO members, other BRICS members, ASEAN members and nations in West Asia, Africa and Latin America? And will that result in a bipolar geo-economy – the West versus The Rest?

Glazyev: Indeed, this is the direction where we are headed. Disappointingly, monetary authorities of Russia are still a part of the Washington paradigm and play by the rules of the dollar-based system, even after Russian foreign exchange reserves were captured by the west. On the other hand, the recent sanctions prompted extensive soul searching among the rest of the non-dollar-block countries. western ‘agents of influence’ still control central banks of most countries, forcing them to apply suicidal policies prescribed by the IMF. However, such policies at this point are so obviously contrary to the national interests of these non-western countries that their authorities are growing justifiably concerned about financial security.

You correctly highlight potentially central roles of China and Russia in the genesis of the new world economic order. Unfortunately, current leadership of the CBR (Central Bank of Russia) remains trapped inside the intellectual cul-de-sac of the Washington paradigm and is unable to become a founding partner in the creation of a new global economic and financial framework. At the same time, the CBR already had to face the reality and create a national system for interbank messaging which is not dependent on SWIFT, and opened it up for foreign banks as well. Cross-currency swap lines have been already set up with key participating nations. Most transactions between member states of the EAEU are already denominated in national currencies and the share of their currencies in internal trade is growing at a rapid pace.

A similar transition is taking place in trade with China, Iran, and Turkey. India indicated that it is ready to switch to payments in national currencies as well. A lot of effort is put in developing clearing mechanisms for national currency payments. In parallel, there is an ongoing effort to develop a digital non-banking payment system, which would be linked to gold and other exchange-traded commodities – the ‘stablecoins.’

Recent US and European sanctions imposed on the banking channels have caused a rapid increase in these efforts. The group of countries working on the new financial system only needs to announce the completion of the framework and readiness of the new trade currency and the process of formation of the new world financial order will accelerate further from there. The best way to bring it about would be to announce it at the SCO or BRICS regular meetings. We are working on that.

The Cradle: This has been an absolutely key issue in discussions by independent analysts across the west. Was the Russian Central Bank advising Russian gold producers to sell their gold in the London market to get a higher price than the Russian government or Central Bank would pay? Was there no anticipation whatsoever that the coming alternative to the US dollar will have to be based largely on gold? How would you characterize what happened? How much practical damage has this inflicted on the Russian economy short-term and mid-term?

Glazyev: The monetary policy of the CBR, implemented in line with the IMF recommendations, has been devastating for the Russian economy. Combined disasters of the “freezing” of circa $400 billion of foreign exchange reserves and over a trillion dollars siphoned from the economy by oligarchs into western offshore destinations, came with the backdrop of equally disastrous policies of the CBR, which included excessively high real rates combined with a managed float of the exchange rate. We estimate this caused under-investment of circa 20 trillion rubles and under-production of circa 50 trillion rubles in goods.

Following Washington’s recommendations, the CBR stopped buying gold over the last two years, effectively forcing domestic gold miners to export full volumes of production, which added up to 500 tons of gold. These days the mistake and the harm it caused are very much obvious. Presently, the CBR resumed gold purchases, and, hopefully, will continue with sound policies in the interest of the national economy instead of ‘targeting inflation’ for the benefit of international speculators, as had been the case during the last decade.

The Cradle: The Fed as well as the ECB were not consulted on the freeze of Russian foreign reserves. Word in New York and Frankfurt is that they would have opposed it were they to have been asked. Did you personally expect the freeze? And did the Russian leadership expect it?

Glazyev: My book, The Last World War, that I already mentioned, which was published as far back as 2015, argued that the likelihood of this happening eventually is very high. In this hybrid war, economic warfare and informational/cognitive warfare are key theaters of conflict. On both of these fronts, the US and NATO countries have overwhelming superiority and I did not have any doubt that they would take full advantage of this in due course.

I have been arguing for a long time for the replacement of dollars, euro, pounds, and yen in our foreign exchange reserves with gold, which is produced in abundance in Russia. Unfortunately, western agents of influence which occupy key roles at central banks of most countries, as well as rating agencies and key publications, were successful in silencing my ideas. To give you an example, I have no doubt that high-ranking officials at the Fed and the ECB were involved in developing anti-Russian financial sanctions. These sanctions have been consistently escalating and are being implemented almost instantly, despite the well-known difficulties with bureaucratic decision making in the EU.

The Cradle: Elvira Nabiullina has been reconfirmed as the head of the Russian Central Bank. What would you do differently, compared to her previous actions? What is the main guiding principle involved in your different approaches?

Glazyev: The difference between our approaches is very simple. Her policies are an orthodox implementation of IMF recommendations and dogmas of the Washington paradigm, while my recommendations are based on the scientific method and empirical evidence accumulated over the last hundred years in leading countries.

The Cradle: The Russia-China strategic partnership seems to be increasingly ironclad – as Presidents Putin and Xi themselves constantly reaffirm. But there are rumbles against it not only in the west but also in some Russian policy circles. In this extremely delicate historical juncture, how reliable is China as an all-season ally to Russia?

Glazyev: The foundation of Russian-Chinese strategic partnership is common sense, common interests, and the experience of cooperation over hundreds of years. The US ruling elite started a global hybrid war aimed at defending its hegemonic position in the world, targeting China as the key economic competitor and Russia as the key counter-balancing force. Initially, the US geopolitical efforts were aiming to create a conflict between Russia and China. Agents of western influence were amplifying xenophobic ideas in our media and blocking any attempts to transition to payments in national currencies. On the Chinese side, agents of western influence were pushing the government to fall in line with the demands of the US interests.

However, sovereign interests of Russia and China logically led to their growing strategic partnership and cooperation, in order to address common threats emanating from Washington. The US tariff war with China and financial sanctions war with Russia validated these concerns and demonstrated the clear and present danger our two countries are facing. Common interests of survival and resistance are uniting China and Russia, and our two countries are largely symbiotic economically. They complement and increase competitive advantages of each other. These common interests will persist over the long run.

The Chinese government and the Chinese people remember very well the role of the Soviet Union in the liberation of their country from the Japanese occupation and in the post-war industrialization of China. Our two countries have a strong historical foundation for strategic partnership and we are destined to cooperate closely in our common interests. I hope that the strategic partnership of Russia and the PRC, which is enhanced by the coupling of the One Belt One Road with the Eurasian Economic Union, will become the foundation of President Vladimir Putin’s project of the Greater Eurasian Partnership and the nucleus of the new world economic order.


Source : The Cradle

Why China Stands Firmly with Russia — for Now

Tom Nagorski wrote . . . . . . . . .

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has known China as a student, scholar and head of state. When it comes to China’s “limitless partnership” with Putin’s Russia, he thinks he knows where the red lines are.

The conventional wisdom is that when it comes to the war in Ukraine, China is walking a tightrope, a balancing act between its partnership with Russia and a concern that it not rupture completely its relationship with the West. To date, however, China has refused to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin, amplified various Russian falsehoods about Ukraine and placed blame for the war at the feet of the U.S. and its NATO allies.

Few people outside China know the country and the thinking of its leaders better than Asia Society President Kevin Rudd. Rudd was a student of China and the Mandarin language before entering politics in his native Australia. He served as Australia’s foreign minister and twice as prime minister. Rudd became president and CEO of Asia Society in January 2021 and has been president of the Asia Society Policy Institute since January 2015. His latest book is “The Avoidable War: The Dangers of a Catastrophic Conflict Between the US and Xi Jinping’s China.”

Rudd spoke with Grid about that “avoidable war,” about the U.S.-China relationship, and about the current war in Ukraine and the extent to which Putin will be able to count on continued full-throated support from Beijing.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Grid: Lately, it looks like China is all in, in terms of support for Putin’s war. What’s going on there?

Kevin Rudd: Well, first, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping have developed a relationship at the personal level, which is quite deep and quite influential. But then at the structural level, the nature of the China-Russia relationship means that the underlying Chinese interests point definitively in the direction of Moscow. They want a benign relationship with the Russians because of the length and history of the Russian-Chinese border. They want to be able to dedicate all their strategic energies to their principal global and regional strategic adversary, the United States, rather than having to divert some of those resources — military or otherwise — to handling the Russian question, which they had to at various other times in their history. And thirdly, Russia is a handy strategic partner to divert the United States to other regional conflicts, either in Syria or in North Africa or most recently in Ukraine.

So, I think people need to not have a romantic view about where China’s national interest actually stands on this, and where the personal interest on the part of Xi Jinping stands in terms of his desire to preserve his relationship with Vladimir Putin.

G: There’s one way to do what you just described — which is to abstain from votes, or not call it an invasion or a war, but the Chinese have gone further. Pushing the Russian false bioweapons lab story, for example, or the fact that China is giving directives to educators to teach that NATO and the EU are to blame for the war. I’m wondering, need it be that overt, for them to pursue those interests?

KR: The Chinese propaganda system usually has two gears: forward and back. It’s pretty difficult to nuance the propaganda, in terms of what you put out and what you allow to be put out. And there’s a reason for that — simply the scale of the system: 1.4 billion people, and then 5 million-plus working in the propaganda apparatus. So this idea of nuance in the state newsroom doesn’t quite exist.

Secondly, the national interest questions are as I described — so when the system locks on to defending Xi Jinping’s position on both Putin personally and Russia generically, it locks on. The only variation on this theme I’ve seen is a recent decision after Putin began to run into a military stalemate on the ground in Ukraine, when the Chinese propaganda apparatus began to allow more spontaneous social media comment from Chinese citizens that was more sympathetic to Ukraine. But I think that’s basically to present an impression to international audiences that this is a more neutral Chinese position. When I look at the core decisions of the Chinese state and what they say and what they do, I see evidence of about an 85-to-15 split, splitting very much in Moscow’s favor.

G: Well, since you’re doing the fractions, a different question: How much of this would you say is the strategic interest in a partnership with Russia, and how much a strategic interest in just bashing the United States and the West whenever possible?

KR: Well, the two sets of interests fold into each other. Since Moscow’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014, Russia has increasingly found that its only reliable long-term economic partner, and political and eventually strategic partner was China. So for those reasons, Beijing saw a huge emerging political and strategic opportunity with an isolated Russia. They grabbed it with both hands.

And now, as reflected in the Russia-China joint declaration of the 4th of February, which proclaims a limitless strategic cooperation in the future, you see the blueprint for a level of Russia-China strategic condominium which didn’t exist after the first Russian invasion of Ukraine, and serves both Russia’s interests and China’s interests — in particular China’s interests in rolling back against the United States, regionally and globally.

G: Given what’s happened in Ukraine, do you think there’s been any regret since the Feb. 4 agreement on the part of the Chinese?

KR: Let’s look at the tea leaves in China’s official commentary on Russia and Ukraine over the last month. When we look, for example, at the reported content of Xi Jinping’s engagement with Europeans — [French President Emmanuel] Macron and Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, and others — it’s plain if you read between the lines that there is some degree on the part of the Chinese of buyer’s remorse. But I wouldn’t overstate it. The Chinese know that because they’ve locked in so hard behind the Russians, there has been reputational damage in Europe and reputational damage in the rest of the world. Look, for example, at the strong votes in support of Ukraine in the U.N. General Assembly, with 143 nation-states, a large slice of whom came from developing countries. So for those reasons there’s a perception of reputational damage.

But the ultimate realist Chinese position is this: The Europeans will do as they’ve always done in the past, and that is suffer strategic amnesia in the future, and European outrage over Ukraine will last essentially until the next year’s Eurovision Song Contest. And then they will get back to business, trade and investment, and everything gets driven by the gravitational force of the Chinese economy. That’s the deep Chinese view, the skeptical view of European strategic solidity.

It’s up to the Europeans of course to prove them wrong.

G: Do you think there’s anything the Russians may do that would change the Chinese calculus?

KR: I think there are two things. If Putin was mad enough to cross the weapons of mass destruction threshold, and to threaten or actually use chemical weapons, or to threaten or use nuclear weapons, this, in my judgment, will be a bridge too far for the Chinese. China has had to engage in all sorts of twisting and turning ideologically and theologically, almost, to justify its current position in de facto support of Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s political sovereignty and territorial integrity, which violates article two of the U.N. charter, and to justify that within the framework of China’s 70-year long embrace of the five principles of peaceful coexistence framed by Zhou Enlai back in 1954, which includes respecting the political sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states. So there’s been a whole lot of, shall I say, diplomatic contortionism in order to render that position as being consistent.

I would imagine beneath the surface, if there is one level of conversation occurring between the Chinese Central Military Commission and their Russian counterparts right now, it’s simply saying: Comrades, we’re with you, but don’t do the WMD thing.

Second thing is, if the Russians find themselves in absolute military stalemate or the war starts to go decisively against them militarily, then fasten your seat belts for a one-minute-to-midnight ceasefire diplomatic offensive by the Chinese, who turn adversity into opportunity in order to demonstrate to the Europeans that our friends in Beijing have always had peace and moderation in their hearts. And so to partly salvage reputational damage suffered so far, they would be tempted to do that. But we would be incorrect, I think, to assume that they are likely to assume a substantive mediating role as opposed to a cosmetic one.

G: Other than getting abstentions and good rhetoric from China, what else do Putin and the Russians get from this relationship with China right now?

KR: Excellent question. A few things. One is China politically and diplomatically is able to help gather reasonable support in the Security Council and in other parts of the world in support of the Russian position. And there’s a very interesting case study here: Why did the United Arab Emirates, for example, join the Chinese in abstaining on the Russian resolution? Partly that’s to do with Russian equities in the Middle East. Partly it’s to do with China’s relationship with the Emirates and the Saudis, who also abstained in the General Assembly vote. So it’s not trivial to say that China is capable of leveraging international support for the Russian position and against this increasingly harsh and near-universal financial sanctions regime against Beijing.

The second level of support is to maximize trade, particularly in commodities — oil and gas and wheat, and to buy as much Russian product as you can, a) because it’s good for China, b) because the Chinese could agree to pay up front before deliveries are made and c) that actually helps the Russian net financial position. And none of that is prohibited by the existing financial sanctions regime.

But when you get to the meat of the sandwich of stepping around the financial sanctions of the use of the dollar-denominated financial clearinghouse system and the decision to put Russia outside of that, the decision to freeze Russia’s foreign exchange reserves held in third countries and the sanctions against individual Russian institutions — there’s no evidence that China has violated any of those. And China legitimately fears attracting secondary financial sanctions against itself, because the Chinese remain dependent on the U.S. dollar-denominated and dollar-controlled global financial system. That may not be the case by the time we get to the end of the 2020s. But it is the case now. So China has been very keen not to attract that incoming set of problems.

G: So let’s get to “avoidable wars” — since that’s the title and subject of your latest book, and one issue in particular: Taiwan. How do you think the conflict in Ukraine is being seen, first, in Taipei? Does this war change minds or behavior in Taiwan itself?

KR: It’s a really important consideration because the Taiwanese have not always acted in their own resilient national self-interest. So the observation, I think, that will be foremost from Taiwan is this: that Ukraine has maximized its support as a democracy in the world by the resilience of its asymmetrical warfare against the Russian invading force.

And that goes to the actual design of the Taiwanese defense force, its size and its ability to wage asymmetric warfare, as opposed to deploying its funds into capital assets on the high seas, on the water between the two sides of the Taiwan Straits. So there’s a question of both the quantum and the quality of the Taiwanese military acquisitions and the structure of its defense force, which, I think, will be seen very clearly by those in Taipei as underscoring the decisions they began to take about two years ago that changed the composition of their force, and to increase their overall long-term defense outlays.

I think the second is along these lines: At the end of the day, the message being pumped out to Taiwan, Hong Kong and others in the Chinese-language speaking world is not that we Chinese are terribly sorry for supporting the Russians. The message being put out by the Chinese propaganda apparatus in Asia is: Guess what, guys — the Americans didn’t militarily intervene to defend Ukraine. And that is a message explicitly targeted on a Taiwanese audience. So Taiwan will have noted that Ukraine was not a treaty ally of the United States because it was outside of NATO. The Taiwanese do have the Taiwan Relations Act, but it’s not a mutual defense assistance pact at the end of the day.

So this will, I think, cause them to conclude that in the future, if they found themselves standing alone, and leaving aside what the United States eventually did, by way of direct military intervention, their ability to hold on and prevent an effective blitzkrieg within Taiwan itself is fundamental to them garnering enough international support around their cause, as has happened with Zelenskyy and Ukraine. I think they’re probably the two significant takeaways from this.

G: Same question in Beijing. Do you think there’s anything in Ukraine that has surprised the leadership there?

KR: I think, knowing something about the way the Chinese construct their Taiwan policy, they’re on their own railway tracks and timetable of what they want to do with Taiwan, as determined by two factors.

First, have an overwhelming balance of military power in the Taiwan Straits. At present, they’ve got a favorable balance, but not a decisively favorable balance from the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] perspective, and they need more time to make that decisive. The Chinese do not want to have a risky adventure militarily across the Taiwan Straits, because if they did not prevail in such a conflict decisively, if they had an untidy conflict like we now see with the Russians, let alone were stopped by a combined American-Taiwanese force, it would be terminal for Xi Jinping.

But the Chinese have been working on building this overwhelming military balance of power in their advantage for a long time, probably since at least 2015.

The second is to render themselves invulnerable, or only partially susceptible, to a new range of financial sanctions against them arising from such an invasion. At present, they’re highly vulnerable on this because of their dependency on the SWIFT system, their dependency on the U.S. dollar-denominated financial system, and that’s going to continue until such time as the Chinese decide to float the Chinese currency, open their capital accounts, and make it a big globally traded currency so that they become invulnerable either to manipulation by a single speculative financial house, or from a nation-state doing as the Americans have done with Venezuela, Iran and now the Russian Federation. So that’s why I think the timetable comes much later.

But if there’s one sobering thing emerging from what we’ve seen so far it would be this: The Russians told us that they could knock over this country next door to them through a land attack within a week. That hasn’t worked. When you look at the dimensions of the amphibious challenge across the Taiwan Straits, that would make a Chinese invasion force arguably bigger than the D-Day landings, and more complex because that’s the English Channel and this is open ocean, which creates its own logistical difficulties. I think the boys running the PLA will be disappearing back into their bunkers for a while to take out their slide rules to work out how difficult this could actually be.

G: Can you say a few words about the U.S.-China relationship? Do you think it’s at a low historical ebb? And are there any glimmers of hope? Any patches of common ground?

KR: Well, if we were to apply the slide rule again to the state of the U.S.-China relationship measured against a stability index, as of the end of the Trump administration, and compared it with where we are now, I would argue it is somewhat more stable. Because back then — not that long ago, January of 2021, either side of the Jan. 6 uprising in Washington — if you’re in Beijing wondering what on earth the Trump administration would do next on Taiwan, on trade, on Huawei or anything else, this was massively unpredictable given the nature of the Trump administration and different signals being sent in different directions all the time.

But with the Biden team, it’s more stable. They have a more stable and predictable framework. It’s still hard-edged, it’s still strategic competition, though the administration perhaps doesn’t use that term every day of the week as the Trump administration did. But if you look at its essence, that’s what it is. So far what the United States has been doing from a Chinese perspective has been relatively predictable, even if it has been adversarial.

And secondly, despite everything that’s happened in the last 12 months in the U.S.-China relationship, and despite what’s now emerged with Ukraine, you’ve had in the space of 12 months, two virtual summits of some length between the two leaders. And this at least preserves a line of central communication at the presidential level. And by the time we got to the last year of the Trump administration, we were down to [U.S. Trade Representative] Bob Lighthizer as the only guy capable of talking to his Chinese counterparts. Against those measures, it’s more stable than it was.

The argument of my book, which is about avoidable war, and avoiding such a war through managed strategic competition and a framework to identify the strategic red lines between them, to allow nonlethal competition between the U.S. and China while still carving out space for strategic cooperation in areas like climate change, I think all that’s possible. It’s difficult given a hawkish Congress in the United States, and difficult also given the number of hawks who inhabit the halls of power in Beijing as well. But I don’t see it in the interests of either country to proceed down a path in the absence of such a mechanism, which would run the risk of blowing each other’s heads off if you have crises, escalation, conflict or war.


Source : GRID

“The West Will Decide on Putin’s Bankruptcy”

Peter Littger wrote . . . . . . . . .

As a teenager, Jim O’Neill, 65, wanted to play professional soccer for Manchester United. But his father, a mailman, encouraged him to study economics. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Surrey, with his thesis focusing on the trade policy of oil exporters. Since then, he has focused on economic models and their effects on the real world of currencies and goods. Between 1995 and 2013, O’Neill was a partner at Goldman Sachs, serving as the investment bank’s chief economist for some of that time. His primary focus was on the development of the global economy, particularly the future of emerging markets like China and Russia.

From 2014 to 2016, O’Neill worked for the British government, developing strategies to combat rising drug resistance and to boost economic development in the North of England. O’Neill is a member of the House of Lords (as Baron O’Neill of Gatley) and works with think tanks like Chatham House and Bruegel in Brussels. Since 2014, he has been an honorary professor of economics at the University of Manchester.


DER SPIEGEL: In November 2001, you came up with the acronym BRIC to describe four economies that stood out for their exceptional growth: Brazil, Russia, India and China. How do you feel about the BRICs today?

O’Neill: It was a nice dream.

DER SPIEGEL: Wasn’t your own forecast convincing?

O’Neill: It’s comical that people really thought that I would make forecasts for the next 50 years – and that I would be right. That’s ridiculous! It actually was the art of the possible. I wanted to show that four countries that had been economically subordinate in the course of the 20th century could become influential in the 21st century and even overtake the large economies. Their enormous growth was real and impressive. From a certain point onwards, they used their potential for further development very differently.

DER SPIEGEL: That sounds more like four individual dreams, not one.

O’Neill: If you like. Today, the four countries are not in the same league. Years ago, I pointed out that I would only talk about IC, i.e., India and China. Brazil and Russia have not been able to move forward and realize their potential. They have turned out to be massive disappointments.

DER SPIEGEL: In China, the gross domestic product has not increased sevenfold since 2000, as you dreamt, but fully eighteenfold. At the same time, your dream for Russia’s GDP – of around 1.7 trillion dollars in 2020 – was almost right on.

O’Neill: The Chinese economy has developed far more than I expected at the time. Russia, on the other hand, left the growth path early. Don’t forget: During the first 10 years, the Russian economy actually grew, since then it has moved backwards.

“Brazil and Russia have not been able to move forward and realize their potential. They have turned out to be massive disappointments.”
DER SPIEGEL: Do you regret that you praised the potential of Russia 20 years ago – potentially leading to a lot of foreign money flowing into the country?

O’Neill: I don’t have anything to regret. I didn’t come up with BRIC to recommend investments. Many may have understood it that way after my observations were widely accepted.

DER SPIEGEL: Would it have been appropriate to warn against Russia at a certain point?

O’Neill: It was the Russian leadership itself that did the job in 2006, when they flattened Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s oil and energy company Yukos before the eyes of the world. Investors understand such things as a warning shot. In retrospect, that was the moment when the Russian BRIC dream started bursting.

DER SPIEGEL: People in Moscow, though, seemed to continue believing in it for quite some time after that.

O’Neill: That is correct, they did take BRIC as a forecast. I remember an invitation to speak at the St. Petersburg Summit in 2008, a kind of Russian World Economic Forum. The expectations of the hosts were not clear to me at first: I was supposed to talk about the stunning growth of the Russian economy and leave no doubt that Russia would be one of the five largest economies in 2020. But I was not prepared to do that; the reality simply did not reflect it. I fired a warning shot right into the heart of the Russian establishment. After my talk, the mood was at rock bottom; we held on to our coffee cups in embarrassment. That day, I realized that Russia was facing huge problems. While Putin’s people were confusing my dream with reality, they weren’t ready to do anything about it. They wanted me to serve as a kind of key witness for a story that was ultimately insubstantial.

DER SPIEGEL: What exactly did you say in St. Petersburg?

O’Neill: That an entire country cannot rely on oil and gas prices rising forever if the economy as a whole is going to grow and be healthy. In the case of Russia, it’s the scale of corruption and the terrible demographics – in particular, the low life expectancy among men. Productivity was and still is a huge issue. On this basis, one might be able to manage 2 percent growth for a few years. But for a stable, long-term development with significantly more growth, profound reforms and reliable and viable institutions are necessary. There’s only one way to boost the economy: by increasing productivity and enabling the establishment of new enterprises as well as attracting foreign investment. In other words, the full monty.

“Gold is an uninteresting, old-fashioned historic obsession of the 1940s. I don’t see any use for it.”
DER SPIEGEL: Was nobody interested in your criticism in Russia?

O’Neill: It was completely unwanted. Most of my contacts, technocrats from the Central Bank or the Finance Ministry, seemed to feel they were on a safe path with Putin. I was often struck by how widely-held the belief was regarding his excellence as a strategist. I never bought into that. The truth is that the international financial crisis of those years benefited Putin because it drove up the price of oil. Hence, he could continue to promise growth and prosperity to the Russian people. It was clear that his huge popularity was bound to decline as soon as the oil price fell, which happened from 2014 onwards.

DER SPIEGEL: And what did the great strategist do then?

O’Neill: He had to change tack when he realized that he couldn’t achieve the growth that had taken place pre-crisis. Nor could he really reform, because much of his personal financial benefit and that of some of the people close to him depended on the status quo. So he began propagating the goal, so to speak, of: “Make Russia Great Again!” Instead of growth, Russians were now getting nationalism. From what we can see, Putin has brought himself economic bankruptcy along with it.

And oil and gas facility belonging to Gazprom in Novoprtovskoye: “An entire country cannot rely on oil and gas prices rising forever if the economy as a whole is going to grow and be healthy.”

DER SPIEGEL: Can Putin avert bankruptcy by forcing the West to pay for gas and oil imports in rubles?

O’Neill: Since treaties will have to be amended, the West would have to allow itself to be forced. I think it is more likely that Russia will export less after this clumsy demand. But you can also see in it a typical move by Putin, whose hand has undoubtedly been forced by Western sanctions. He obviously wants to put the sanctioning parties, who buy energy from him, under pressure themselves, because if they agree to the demand, they would have to buy mass amounts of rubles from the very Central Bank that has been excluded from international business and whose immense dollar reserves have been frozen. The whole debacle reveals how heavily Putin is dependent on international finance as long as the dollar is the largest reserve currency. In the end, it is the West that will decide on Putin’s bankruptcy – and other despots will think twice in the future about where they park their money.

DER SPIEGEL: Can the dollar continue in its current role in light of the huge sovereign debt load of the United States and the continued growth of China?

O’Neill: Nobody knows, but at the moment there is a lot to be said for it, even if there are limits to everything, certainly including America’s mountain of debt. But to end the dollar’s reserve career – these prophecies are decades old, by the way – a new currency like China’s must be ready. That requires reformist steps and an openness not evident in Xi Jinping’s current one-party state. Even if the German doctrine “change through trade” (“Wandel durch Handel”) has not worked. It is no coincidence that only democracies – the U.S., Europe and Japan – provide reserve currencies.

DER SPIEGEL: Putin has stashed a lot of gold at the same time. What use – apart from serving as a war chest – do gold reserves still have today?

O’Neill: Gold is an uninteresting, old-fashioned historic obsession of the 1940s. I don’t see any use for it, except the one you’ve mentioned. Only governments that lack self-confidence stockpile gold. It’s pointless.

DER SPIEGEL: Germany is said to have the second largest gold reserves in the world. What would you do with it?

O’Neill: Do something more imaginative with it! Sell it and invest the money in education or in the fight against disease.

“For Germans, it must be a shock to realize the level of dependency on foreign energy.”

DER SPIEGEL: Or should Berlin, in the light of the transformation announced by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, buy weapons?

O’Neill: That would still be better than having gold.

DER SPIEGEL: What condition do you think the world economy is in today?

O’Neill: Very, very uncertain and complicated. I have not seen greater macroeconomic uncertainty in the past 40 years. Beyond the difficulties created by the corona pandemic, a situation has arisen that can change daily and lead to extreme reactions on the markets at any time – driven sometimes by fear, sometimes by greed. As is well known, these are the two strongest factors of economic action, which in turn can cause or accelerate crises. What would happen if tomorrow the sanctions were eased again by a peace agreement? The greed on the Russian market would probably be almost unstoppable.

DER SPIEGEL: What worries you most from an economic point of view?

O’Neill: That the general expectation of inflation continues to grow. It is the most dangerous condition for actual inflation. Then, the central banks would have to react and increase interest rates to 6 percent or more to force a recession. That would throw us back into a situation like in the 1970s, which was called “stagflation”: Money lost value, wages and prices went up, while the economy didn’t grow.

DER SPIEGEL: How can such a development be prevented?

O’Neill: The current situation is by no means conducive to better productivity. But that is exactly what we should be aiming for – at least at the end of the crisis: to increase the value of work for as many people and companies as possible. One thing is certain: Even before Putin’s war, the general conditions had deteriorated considerably and a decline in economic growth in the second half of 2022 was programmed. However, I have hope that the rest of the world can avert a real shock. For Russia it is a nightmare.

DER SPIEGEL: Is there anything that makes you optimistic at the moment?

O’Neill: First, as Winston Churchill said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” I strongly believe great opportunities arise from every crisis, not least financial ones. Secondly, the state we are in now demonstrates the importance of cooperation and collaboration – and that there is no advantage to standing alone, especially as the aggressor. And thirdly, we are learning again that bad things can happen, and that history isn’t always on our side. At the same time, we must continue to adapt to new conditions. For Germans, for example, it must be a shock to realize the level of dependency on foreign energy. The same goes for Germany’s dependency on exports. I think it’s insane that the largest economy in the heart of Europe can only be doing well if the rest of the world is doing well. It would be good if Germany didn’t only wake up with a new military framework as a result of this crisis, but also did everything it could with great people and ideas to turn its dependencies into a new edge.


Source : Spiegel

Interview: ‘Yes, He Would’ – Fiona Hill on Putin and Nukes

Maura Reynolds wrote . . . . . . . . .

For many people, watching the Russian invasion of Ukraine has felt like a series of “He can’t be doing this” moments. Russia’s Vladimir Putin has launched the largest ground war in Europe since the Second World War. It is, quite literally, mind-boggling.

That’s why I reached out to Fiona Hill, one of America’s most clear-eyed Russia experts, someone who has studied Putin for decades, worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations and has a reputation for truth-telling, earned when she testified during impeachment hearings for her former boss, President Donald Trump.

I wanted to know what she’s been thinking as she’s watched the extraordinary footage of Russian tanks rolling across international borders, what she thinks Putin has in mind and what insights she can offer into his motivations and objectives.

Hill spent many years studying history, and in our conversation, she repeatedly traced how long arcs and trends of European history are converging on Ukraine right now. We are already, she said, in the middle of a third World War, whether we’ve fully grasped it or not.

“Sadly, we are treading back through old historical patterns that we said that we would never permit to happen again,” Hill told me.

Those old historical patterns include Western businesses who fail to see how they help build a tyrant’s war chest, admirers enamored of an autocrat’s “strength” and politicians’ tendency to point fingers inward for political gain instead of working together for their nation’s security.

But at the same time, Hill says it’s not too late to turn Putin back, and it’s a job not just for the Ukrainians or for NATO — it’s a job that ordinary Westerners and companies can assist in important ways once they grasp what’s at stake.

“Ukraine has become the front line in a struggle, not just between democracies and autocracies but in a struggle for maintaining a rules-based system in which the things that countries want are not taken by force,” Hill said. “Every country in the world should be paying close attention to this.”

There’s lots of danger ahead, she warned. Putin is increasingly operating emotionally and likely to use all the weapons at his disposal, including nuclear ones. It’s important not to have any illusions — but equally important not to lose hope.

“Every time you think, ’No, he wouldn’t, would he?’ Well, yes, he would,” Hill said. “And he wants us to know that, of course. It’s not that we should be intimidated and scared…. We have to prepare for those contingencies and figure out what is it that we’re going to do to head them off.”

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.


Maura Reynolds: You’ve been a Putin watcher for a long time, and you’ve written one of the best biographies of Putin. When you’ve been watching him over the past week, what have you been seeing that other people might be missing?

Fiona Hill: Putin is usually more cynical and calculated than he came across in his most recent speeches. There’s evident visceral emotion in things that he said in the past few weeks justifying the war in Ukraine. The pretext is completely flimsy and almost nonsensical for anybody who’s not in the echo chamber or the bubble of propaganda in Russia itself. I mean, demanding to the Ukrainian military that they essentially overthrow their own government or lay down their arms and surrender because they are being commanded by a bunch of drug-addled Nazi fascists? There’s just no sense to that. It beggars the imagination.

Putin doesn’t even seem like he’s trying to make a convincing case. We saw the same thing in the Russian response at the United Nations. The justification has essentially been “what-about-ism”: ‘You guys have been invading Iraq, Afghanistan. Don’t tell me that I can’t do the same thing in Ukraine.”

This visceral emotion is unhealthy and extraordinarily dangerous because there are few checks and balances around Putin. He spotlighted this during the performance of the National Security Council meeting, where it became very clear that this was his decision. He was in a way taking full responsibility for war, and even the heads of his security and intelligence services looked like they’ve been thrown off guard by how fast things were moving.

Reynolds: So Putin is being driven by emotion right now, not by some kind of logical plan?

Hill: I think there’s been a logical, methodical plan that goes back a very long way, at least to 2007 when he put the world, and certainly Europe, on notice that Moscow would not accept the further expansion of NATO. And then within a year in 2008 NATO gave an open door to Georgia and Ukraine. It absolutely goes back to that juncture.

Back then I was a national intelligence officer, and the National Intelligence Council was analyzing what Russia was likely to do in response to the NATO Open Door declaration. One of our assessments was that there was a real, genuine risk of some kind of preemptive Russian military action, not just confined to the annexation of Crimea, but some much larger action taken against Ukraine along with Georgia. And of course, four months after NATO’s Bucharest Summit, there was the invasion of Georgia. There wasn’t an invasion of Ukraine then because the Ukrainian government pulled back from seeking NATO membership. But we should have seriously addressed how we were going to deal with this potential outcome and our relations with Russia.

Reynolds: Do you think Putin’s current goal is reconstituting the Soviet Union, the Russian Empire, or something different?

Hill: It’s reestablishing Russian dominance of what Russia sees as the Russian “Imperium.” I’m saying this very specifically because the lands of the Soviet Union didn’t cover all of the territories that were once part of the Russian Empire. So that should give us pause.

Putin has articulated an idea of there being a “Russky Mir” or a “Russian World.” The recent essay he published about Ukraine and Russia states the Ukrainian and Russian people are “one people,” a “yedinyi narod.” He’s saying Ukrainians and Russians are one and the same. This idea of a Russian World means re-gathering all the Russian-speakers in different places that belonged at some point to the Russian tsardom.

I’ve kind of quipped about this but I also worry about it in all seriousness — that Putin’s been down in the archives of the Kremlin during Covid looking through old maps and treaties and all the different borders that Russia has had over the centuries. He’s said, repeatedly, that Russian and European borders have changed many times. And in his speeches, he’s gone after various former Russian and Soviet leaders, he’s gone after Lenin and he’s gone after the communists, because in his view they ruptured the Russian empire, they lost Russian lands in the revolution, and yes, Stalin brought some of them back into the fold again like the Baltic States and some of the lands of Ukraine that had been divided up during World War II, but they were lost again with the dissolution of the USSR. Putin’s view is that borders change, and so the borders of the old Russian imperium are still in play for Moscow to dominate now.

Reynolds: Dominance in what way?

Hill: It doesn’t mean that he’s going to annex all of them and make them part of the Russian Federation like they’ve done with Crimea. You can establish dominance by marginalizing regional countries, by making sure that their leaders are completely dependent on Moscow, either by Moscow practically appointing them through rigged elections or ensuring they are tethered to Russian economic and political and security networks. You can see this now across the former Soviet space.

We’ve seen pressure being put on Kazakhstan to reorient itself back toward Russia, instead of balancing between Russia and China, and the West. And just a couple of days before the invasion of Ukraine in a little-noticed act, Azerbaijan signed a bilateral military agreement with Russia. This is significant because Azerbaijan’s leader has been resisting this for decades. And we can also see that Russia has made itself the final arbiter of the future relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Georgia has also been marginalized after being a thorn in Russia’s side for decades. And Belarus is now completely subjugated by Moscow.

But amid all this, Ukraine was the country that got away. And what Putin is saying now is that Ukraine doesn’t belong to Ukrainians. It belongs to him and the past. He is going to wipe Ukraine off the map, literally, because it doesn’t belong on his map of the “Russian world.” He’s basically told us that. He might leave behind some rump statelets. When we look at old maps of Europe — probably the maps he’s been looking at — you find all kinds of strange entities, like the Sanjak of Novi Pazar in the Balkans. I used to think, what the hell is that? These are all little places that have dependency on a bigger power and were created to prevent the formation of larger viable states in contested regions. Basically, if Vladimir Putin has his way, Ukraine is not going to exist as the modern-day Ukraine of the last 30 years.

Reynolds: How far into Ukraine do you think Putin is going to go?

Hill: At this juncture, if he can, he’s going to go all the way. Before this last week, he had multiple different options to choose from. He’d given himself the option of being able to go in in full force as he’s doing now, but he could also have focused on retaking the rest of the administrative territories of Donetsk and Luhansk. He could have seized the Sea of Azov, which he’s probably going to do anyway, and then joined up the Donetsk and Luhansk regions with Crimea as well as the lands in between and all the way down to Odessa. In fact, Putin initially tried this in 2014 — to create “Novorossiya,” or “New Russia,” but that failed when local support for joining Russia didn’t materialize.

Now, if he can, he is going to take the whole country. We have to face up to this fact. Although we haven’t seen the full Russian invasion force deployed yet, he’s certainly got the troops to move into the whole country.

Reynolds: You say he has an adequate number of troops to move in, but does he have enough to occupy the whole country?

Hill: If there is serious resistance, he may not have sufficient force to take the country for a protracted period. It also may be that he doesn’t want to occupy the whole country, that he wants to break it up, maybe annex some parts of it, maybe leave some of it as rump statelets or a larger rump Ukraine somewhere, maybe around Lviv. I’m not saying that I know exactly what’s going on in his head. And he may even suggest other parts of Ukraine get absorbed by adjacent countries.

In 2015, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was at the Munich Security Conference after the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas. And he talked about Ukraine not being a country, saying pointedly that there are many minority groups in Ukraine — there are Poles and there are Romanians, there are Hungarians and Russians. And he goes on essentially almost inviting the rest of Europe to divide Ukraine up.

So what Putin wants isn’t necessarily to occupy the whole country, but really to divide it up. He’s looked at Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and other places where there’s a division of the country between the officially sanctioned forces on the one hand, and the rebel forces on the other. That’s something that Putin could definitely live with — a fractured, shattered Ukraine with different bits being in different statuses.

Reynolds: So step by step, in ways that we haven’t always appreciated in the West, Putin has brought back a lot of these countries that were independent after the Soviet collapse back under his umbrella. The only country that has so far evaded Putin’s grip has been Ukraine.

Hill: Ukraine, correct. Because it’s bigger and because of its strategic location. That’s what Russia wants to ensure, or Putin wants to ensure, that Ukraine like the other countries, has no other option than subjugation to Russia.

Reynolds: How much of what we’re seeing now is tied to Putin’s own electoral schedule? He seized Crimea in 2014, and that helped to boost his ratings and ensure his future reelection. He’s got another election coming up in 2024. Is any of this tied to that?

Hill: I think it is. In 2020, Putin had the Russian Constitution amended so that he could stay on until 2036, another set of two six-year terms. He’s going to be 84 then. But in 2024, he has to re-legitimate himself by standing for election. The only real contender might have been Alexei Navalny, and they’ve put him in a penal colony. Putin has rolled up all the potential opposition and resistance, so one would think it would be a cakewalk for him in 2024. But the way it works with Russian elections, he actually has to put on a convincing show that demonstrates that he’s immensely popular and he’s got the affirmation of all the population.

Behind the scenes it’s fairly clear that there’s a lot of apathy in the system, that many people support Putin because there’s no one else. People who don’t support him at all will probably not turn out to vote. The last time that his brand got stale, it was before the annexation of Crimea. That put him back on the top of the charts in terms of his ratings.

It may not just be the presidential calendar, the electoral calendar. He’s going to be 70 in October. And 70 you know, in the larger scheme of things, is not that old. There are plenty of politicians out there that are way over 70.

Reynolds: But it’s old for Russians.

Hill: It’s old for Russians. And Putin’s not looking so great, he’s been rather puffy-faced. We know that he has complained about having back issues. Even if it’s not something worse than that, it could be that he’s taking high doses of steroids, or there may be something else. There seems to be an urgency for this that may be also driven by personal factors.

He may have a sense that time is marching on — it’s 22 years, after all, and the likelihood after that kind of time of a Russian leader leaving voluntarily or through elections is pretty slim. Most leaders leave either like Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko thought that he might leave, as the result of massive protests, or they die in office.

The only other person who has been Russian leader in modern times longer than Putin is Stalin, and Stalin died in office.

Reynolds: Putin came to power after a series of operations that many have seen as a kind of false flag — bombings of buildings around Russia that killed Russian citizens, hundreds of them, followed by a war in Chechnya. That led to Putin coming to power as a wartime president. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 also came at a difficult time for Putin. Now we’re seeing another big military operation less than two years before he needs to stand for election again. Am I wrong to see that pattern?

Hill: No, I don’t think you are. There’s definitely a pattern here. Part of Putin’s persona as president is that he is a ruthless tough guy, the strong man who is the champion and protector of Russia. And that’s why Russia needs him. If all was peaceful and quiet, why would you need Vladimir Putin? If you think of other wartime leaders — Winston Churchill comes to mind — in peacetime, Winston Churchill got voted out of office.

Reynolds: Speaking of Chechnya, I have been thinking that this is the largest ground military operation that Russia has fought since Chechnya. What did we learn about the Russian military then that’s relevant now?

Hill: It’s very important, that you bring this point up because people are saying Ukraine is the largest military operation in Europe since World War II. The first largest military action in Europe since World War II was actually in Chechnya, because Chechnya is part of Russia. This was a devastating conflict that dragged on for years, with two rounds of war after a brief truce, and tens of thousands of military and civilian casualties. The regional capital of Grozny was leveled. The casualties were predominantly ethnic Russians and Russian speakers. The Chechens fought back, and this became a military debacle on Russia’s own soil. Analysts called it “the nadir of the Russian army.” After NATO’s intervention in the Balkan wars in the same timeframe in the 1990s, Moscow even worried that NATO might intervene.

Reynolds: What have we learned about NATO in the last two months?

Hill: In many respects, not good things, initially. Although now we see a significant rallying of the political and diplomatic forces, serious consultations and a spur to action in response to bolster NATO’s military defenses.

But we also need to think about it this way. We have had a long-term policy failure going back to the end of the Cold War in terms of thinking about how to manage NATO’s relations with Russia to minimize risk. NATO is a like a massive insurer, a protector of national security for Europe and the United States. After the end of the Cold War, we still thought that we had the best insurance for the hazards we could face — flood, fire etc. — but for a discounted premium. We didn’t take adequate steps to address and reduce the various risks. We can now see that that we didn’t do our due diligence and fully consider all the possible contingencies, including how we would mitigate Russia’s negative response to successive expansions. Think about Swiss Re or AIG or Lloyds of London — when the hazard was massive, like during Hurricane Katrina or the global financial crisis in 2008, those insurance companies got into major trouble. They and their clients found themselves underwater. And this is kind of what NATO members are learning now.

Reynolds: And then there’s the nuclear element. Many people have thought that we’d never see a large ground war in Europe or a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia, because it could quickly escalate into a nuclear conflict. How close are we getting to that?

Hill: Well, we’re right there. Basically, what President Putin has said quite explicitly in recent days is that if anybody interferes in Ukraine, they will be met with a response that they’ve “never had in [their] history.” And he has put Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert. So he’s making it very clear that nuclear is on the table.

Putin tried to warn Trump about this, but I don’t think Trump figured out what he was saying. In one of the last meetings between Putin and Trump when I was there, Putin was making the point that: “Well you know, Donald, we have these hypersonic missiles.” And Trump was saying, “Well, we will get them too.” Putin was saying, “Well, yes, you will get them eventually, but we’ve got them first.” There was a menace in this exchange. Putin was putting us on notice that if push came to shove in some confrontational environment that the nuclear option would be on the table.

Reynolds: Do you really think he’ll use a nuclear weapon?

Hill: The thing about Putin is, if he has an instrument, he wants to use it. Why have it if you can’t? He’s already used a nuclear weapon in some respects. Russian operatives poisoned Alexander Litvinenko with radioactive polonium and turned him into a human dirty bomb and polonium was spread all around London at every spot that poor man visited. He died a horrible death as a result.

The Russians have already used a weapons-grade nerve agent, Novichok. They’ve used it possibly several times, but for certain twice. Once in Salisbury, England, where it was rubbed all over the doorknob of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who actually didn’t die; but the nerve agent contaminated the city of Salisbury, and anybody else who came into contact with it got sickened. Novichok killed a British citizen, Dawn Sturgess, because the assassins stored it in a perfume bottle which was discarded into a charity donation box where it was found by Sturgess and her partner. There was enough nerve agent in that bottle to kill several thousand people. The second time was in Alexander Navalny’s underpants.

So if anybody thinks that Putin wouldn’t use something that he’s got that is unusual and cruel, think again. Every time you think, “No, he wouldn’t, would he?” Well, yes, he would. And he wants us to know that, of course.

It’s not that we should be intimidated and scared. That’s exactly what he wants us to be. We have to prepare for those contingencies and figure out what is it that we’re going to do to head them off.

Reynolds: So how do we deal with it? Are sanctions enough?

Hill: Well, we can’t just deal with it as the United States on our own. First of all, this has to be an international response.

Reynolds: Larger than NATO?

Hill: It has to be larger than NATO. Now I’m not saying that that means an international military response that’s larger than NATO, but the push back has to be international.

We first have to think about what Vladimir Putin has done and the nature of what we’re facing. People don’t want to talk about Adolf Hitler and World War II, but I’m going to talk about it. Obviously the major element when you talk about World War II, which is overwhelming, is the Holocaust and the absolute decimation of the Jewish population of Europe, as well as the Roma-Sinti people.

But let’s focus here on the territorial expansionism of Germany, what Germany did under Hitler in that period: seizure of the Sudetenland and the Anschluss or annexation of Austria, all on the basis that they were German speakers. The invasion of Poland. The treaty with the Soviet Union, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, that also enabled the Soviet Union to take portions of Poland but then became a prelude to Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Invasions of France and all of the countries surrounding Germany, including Denmark and further afield to Norway. Germany eventually engaged in a burst of massive territorial expansion and occupation. Eventually the Soviet Union fought back. Vladimir Putin’s own family suffered during the siege of Leningrad, and yet here is Vladimir Putin doing exactly the same thing.

Reynolds: So, similar to Hitler, he’s using a sense of massive historical grievance combined with a veneer of protecting Russians and a dismissal of the rights of minorities and other nations to have independent countries in order to fuel territorial ambitions?

Hill: Correct. And he’s blaming others, for why this has happened, and getting us to blame ourselves.

If people look back to the history of World War II, there were an awful lot of people around Europe who became Nazi German sympathizers before the invasion of Poland. In the United Kingdom, there was a whole host of British politicians who admired Hitler’s strength and his power, for doing what Great Powers do, before the horrors of the Blitz and the Holocaust finally penetrated.

Reynolds: And you see this now.

Hill: You totally see it. Unfortunately, we have politicians and public figures in the United States and around Europe who have embraced the idea that Russia was wronged by NATO and that Putin is a strong, powerful man and has the right to do what he’s doing: Because Ukraine is somehow not worthy of independence, because it’s either Russia’s historical lands or Ukrainians are Russians, or the Ukrainian leaders are — this is what Putin says — “drug addled, fascist Nazis” or whatever labels he wants to apply here.

So sadly, we are treading back through old historical patterns that we said that we would never permit to happen again. The other thing to think about in this larger historic context is how much the German business community helped facilitate the rise of Hitler. Right now, everyone who has been doing business in Russia or buying Russian gas and oil has contributed to Putin’s war chest. Our investments are not just boosting business profits, or Russia’s sovereign wealth funds and its longer-term development. They now are literally the fuel for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Reynolds: I gather you think that sanctions leveled by the government are inadequate to address this much larger threat?

Hill: Absolutely. Sanctions are not going to be enough. You need to have a major international response, where governments decide on their own accord that they can’t do business with Russia for a period of time until this is resolved. We need a temporary suspension of business activity with Russia. Just as we wouldn’t be having a full-blown diplomatic negotiation for anything but a ceasefire and withdrawal while Ukraine is still being actively invaded, so it’s the same thing with business. Right now you’re fueling the invasion of Ukraine. So what we need is a suspension of business activity with Russia until Moscow ceases hostilities and withdraws its troops.

Reynolds: So ordinary companies…

Hill: Ordinary companies should make a decision. This is the epitome of “ESG” that companies are saying is their priority right now — upholding standards of good Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance. Just like people didn’t want their money invested in South Africa during apartheid, do you really want to have your money invested in Russia during Russia’s brutal invasion and subjugation and carving up of Ukraine?

If Western companies, their pension plans or mutual funds, are invested in Russia they should pull out. Any people who are sitting on the boards of major Russian companies should resign immediately. Not every Russian company is tied to the Kremlin, but many major Russian companies absolutely are, and everyone knows it. If we look back to Germany in the runup to the Second World War, it was the major German enterprises that were being used in support of the war. And we’re seeing exactly the same thing now. Russia would not be able to afford this war were it not for the fact that oil and gas prices are ratcheting up. They’ve got enough in the war chest for now. But over the longer term, this will not be sustainable without the investment that comes into Russia and all of the Russian commodities, not just oil and gas, that are being purchased on world markets. And, our international allies, like Saudi Arabia, should be increasing oil production right now as a temporary offset. Right now, they are also indirectly funding war in Ukraine by keeping oil prices high.

This has to be an international response to push Russia to stop its military action. India abstained in the United Nations, and you can see that other countries are feeling discomforted and hoping this might go away. This is not going to go away, and it could be “you next” — because Putin is setting a precedent for countries to return to the type of behavior that sparked the two great wars which were a free-for-all over territory. Putin is saying, “Throughout history borders have changed. Who cares?”

Reynolds: And you do not think he will necessarily stop at Ukraine?

Hill: Of course he won’t. Ukraine has become the front line in a struggle, not just for which countries can or cannot be in NATO, or between democracies and autocracies, but in a struggle for maintaining a rules-based system in which the things that countries want are not taken by force. Every country in the world should be paying close attention to this. Yes, there may be countries like China and others who might think that this is permissible, but overall, most countries have benefited from the current international system in terms of trade and economic growth, from investment and an interdependent globalized world. This is pretty much the end of this. That’s what Russia has done.

Reynolds: He’s blown up the rules-based international order.

Hill: Exactly. What stops a lot of people from pulling out of Russia even temporarily is, they will say, “Well, the Chinese will just step in.” This is what every investor always tells me. “If I get out, someone else will move in.” I’m not sure that Russian businesspeople want to wake up one morning and find out the only investors in the Russian economy are Chinese, because then Russia becomes the periphery of China, the Chinese hinterlands, and not another great power that’s operating in tandem with China.

Reynolds: The more we talk, the more we’re using World War II analogies. There are people who are saying we’re on the brink of a World War III.

Hill: We’re already in it. We have been for some time. We keep thinking of World War I, World War II as these huge great big set pieces, but World War II was a consequence of World War I. And we had an interwar period between them. And in a way, we had that again after the Cold War. Many of the things that we’re talking about here have their roots in the carving up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire at the end of World War I. At the end of World War II, we had another reconfiguration and some of the issues that we have been dealing with recently go back to that immediate post-war period. We’ve had war in Syria, which is in part the consequence of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, same with Iraq and Kuwait.

All of the conflicts that we’re seeing have roots in those earlier conflicts. We are already in a hot war over Ukraine, which started in 2014. People shouldn’t delude themselves into thinking that we’re just on the brink of something. We’ve been well and truly in it for quite a long period of time.

But this is also a full-spectrum information war, and what happens in a Russian “all-of-society” war, you soften up the enemy. You get the Tucker Carlsons and Donald Trumps doing your job for you. The fact that Putin managed to persuade Trump that Ukraine belongs to Russia, and that Trump would be willing to give up Ukraine without any kind of fight, that’s a major success for Putin’s information war. I mean he has got swathes of the Republican Party — and not just them, some on the left, as well as on the right — masses of the U.S. public saying, “Good on you, Vladimir Putin,” or blaming NATO, or blaming the U.S. for this outcome. This is exactly what a Russian information war and psychological operation is geared towards. He’s been carefully seeding this terrain as well. We’ve been at war, for a very long time. I’ve been saying this for years.

Reynolds: So just as the world didn’t see Hitler coming, we failed to see Putin coming?

Hill: We shouldn’t have. He’s been around for 22 years now, and he has been coming to this point since 2008. I don’t think that he initially set off to do all of this, by the way, but the attitudes towards Ukraine and the feelings that all Ukraine belongs to Russia, the feelings of loss, they’ve all been there and building up.

What Russia is doing is asserting that “might makes right.” Of course, yes, we’ve also made terrible mistakes. But no one ever has the right to completely destroy another country — Putin’s opened up a door in Europe that we thought we’d closed after World War II.


Source : Politico

Tim Cook on Why It’s Time to Fight the “Data-Industrial Complex”

Zach Baron wrote . . . . . . . . .

It has become relatively common for tech observers and even regular everyday citizens to warn about the insidious threats poised to society by technology companies run amuck. But those warnings rarely come from the top of the industry, and even more rarely do they come from someone as powerful and influential as Apple CEO Tim Cook. But on Thursday morning, Cook joined the CPDP Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference in Brussels to give a surprisingly blunt and direct speech decrying the emergence of what he called “the data-industrial complex.”

In what was widely interpreted to be a reference to Facebook and other Apple competitors (none of which he named), Cook described a vast and opaque industry that has arisen around the capture of massive amounts of personal data, often without the knowledge of users, which is then aggregated and monetized and —at times — used for nefarious ends. This practice, Cook said, “degrades our fundamental right to privacy first, and our social fabric by consequence,” and contributes to an ecosystem full of “rampant disinformation and conspiracy theories juiced by algorithms.” It is a world, as he put it, referencing a now nearly-ubiquitous idea in tech criticism, in which you are no longer the customer, but the product.

Cook also highlighted two new Apple features. The first is what the company is calling a “privacy nutrition label” — a section on App Store product pages that explains every app’s privacy practices, including what they do with your data. The second, already more controversial, is App Tracking Transparency, a feature that will require apps to get permission before tracking your data, and which will become mandatory in the very near future. ATT, as Apple calls it, has been hailed by privacy advocates around the world as a welcome step in the effort to shore up individual rights against a massive and sometimes unscrupulous tech industry; it has also been harshly criticized by some of Apple’s competitors, like Facebook, which continues to rely on some degree of tracking to target the advertising it sells. In a December full page ad in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and elsewhere, Facebook alleged that “these changes will be devastating to small businesses” who depend on tracking-based advertising to build their brands and sell their products. (Needless to say, Apple disagrees.)

At the center of all this is Cook, who gave his speech in a suit and tie, but had already replaced them with a cozy looking vest when we spoke, less than an hour later. Over video chat, Cook is mild-mannered and earnest; he began and ended our conversation by throwing up the peace sign, in greeting and farewell. But he’d also begun the day by castigating, in harsh and unsparing language, unnamed “purveyors of fake news and peddlers of division” and lamenting the loss of “the freedom to be human” — not exactly stock or safe CEO speechifying. “A social dilemma,” he said, “cannot be allowed to become a social catastrophe.” During our conversation, we talked about the principles and trade-offs behind Apple’s push for greater privacy for its users, and just how dire the situation is around data harvesting and its effect on our social fabric; we also talked about whether Tim Cook is as addicted to his iPhone as the rest of us are to ours.


GQ: I thought we could start with your speech this morning: I was struck by the vehemence of it. You talked about “Rampant disinformation and conspiracy theories juiced by algorithms.” You talked about the degradation of our very social fabric. This isn’t normally the kind of thing you hear from a CEO of a major company. I’m curious what brought you to this point, to speak with that kind of urgency?

Tim Cook: Yeah, I’ve probably never been a normal CEO. That’s probably good to point out from the word “go.” I feel that way, Zach. I feel very much that we’re in a situation today where the internet’s become too dark a place. It can be so empowering. And yet what has happened is the tracking sort of without our consent — I don’t mind tracking with consent — but I think too many people are just tracking [without our consent], and people either are not aware of it, or they’re not aware of the extent of it. And so what we’re trying to do is sort of bring it back to people, and give people the power, give people the choice. Because you can see what happens when that’s not the case.

I’m curious about exactly that: what happens when we don’t get to choose what happens to our data. Obviously Apple talks a lot about privacy as a value, but what exactly do we have to be worried about? Is there an example that you could give of the kind of alarming stuff you are seeing as a result of what you call the data industrial complex?

Here’s one that I think is not well understood, but that your reader might be interested in: Think about for a moment, if you all of a sudden find out that you’re being surveilled every moment of the day. Your online life is being surveilled. And if somebody develops a 360 degree view of that, what is going to happen to your behavior over time? You’re going to restrict it. You’re going to begin thinking, Well, I don’t really want somebody to know that I’m exploring that, or looking at that, or investigating that. And you’re going to restrict and restrict and restrict. And who wants to be in that world where we’re self-censoring ourselves in such a mass way across society that you wind up with people that are thinking less, feeling less, doing less? This is not an environment any of us wants to be a part of. And I worry that that’s where we’re currently headed.

This issue, privacy, has at times seemed very personal to you — is that in fact the case?

Well, it’s personal for Apple in that we’ve been focused on it from the start of the company. We could see that this digital footprint piece could be abused in a way. We weren’t sure exactly how, but we knew that it would not be good. And unfortunately, that has played out in so many areas. You don’t have to look too far to find some recent examples, both in things that are in the news and not in the news. And so, this is not about Tim. This is about Apple and Apple really giving the user, empowering the user to make a choice. Apple’s always been about democratizing things, you know, democratizing technology — you used to have to be a gazillionaire to make a movie. Now you can make a movie on your iPhone. We love that. We love democratizing things like this, and we love democratizing the data down to the individual, where the individual is deciding whether they choose to share it or not.

I wonder if you could make concrete something you just alluded to, in terms of examples in the news of bad consequences stemming from the abuse of digital data. When you say that, is there something specific that you have in mind?

Well, you know, the tools that are being used to develop a 360 degree view of people’s lives are the same tools that are used to target them to form extremist groups, or to organize to ransack the Capitol, or whatever the situation may be. And these are not separate kinds of things. They’re the same thing. They’re manipulating people’s behavior.

There’s been a deep focus on how other tech companies, which provide their services for free, become places where the user is the product, right? That’s a phrase you’ve used before. And they use all this information to build algorithms that addict people, or radicalize them, as you allude to. How much of these new efforts on Apple’s part are an attempt to differentiate you guys from other companies who share the tech space with you?

It’s not about differentiation, Zach, it’s about the user. We are very user-focused. The whole company revolves around the user experience. And one of the key elements of the user experience these days is about privacy. And so, if you were to go back and sort of graph the last 10 years [of Apple], or more than that really, you would see a continual level of tools that are being shipped to help people protect their privacy. A few years ago, we shipped intelligent tracking prevention on Safari. This year, we’re talking about nutrition labels, our privacy nutrition labels and ATT. But each year we’re doing something. And so, just like we have a long term roadmap for iPhones and iPads, et cetera, we try to make a contribution on privacy every year as well.

You mentioned the user, and as a user myself, I think the iPhone is a magical device. I live through it daily. But also increasingly, in part because of some of the stuff that you’re referencing — occasionally it’s like holding a Medusa in my hand. There are all these apps that want to addict me with algorithms, or track me, or whatever. I wonder: do you ever feel that way? And do you ever worry that as a result of some of the stuff you’re talking about, people are developing those kinds of ambivalent feelings around your products, even though it’s not your apps that are doing it?

Yeah. I hope people can see sort of what we’re bringing to the table there. When we learned that people were worried about the amount of time they were spending on their devices, we created Screen Time. When parents were worried about their kids, about what they were looking at, we invented or created a lot of parental controls. And so we’re always trying to be either one step ahead, or, if we see something develop in a bad way, we’re trying to quickly figure out what we can do to contribute to the fix of it. We can’t fix everything. But we can do a lot. We can contribute in a meaningful way. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

I know you’re talking to me as the CEO of Apple, but I’m just so curious: Do you ever feel that way about your own phone? Like: Man, there’s a lot going on here, and I have a complicated relationship to it.

Sometimes I feel like I get interrupted too much. And so I’ve used Screen Time in a way for me to sort of strip out a lot of the notifications that I was getting. I asked myself, “Do I really need to know this in the moment, every moment?” And I wound up plummeting the number of notifications that I was getting. It’s a great tool. I don’t know if you’re using it or not, but I would encourage you to use it. Because what I found was that I thought I was getting a lot less than I was getting. And all of a sudden you see what the facts are and you go, “Well, why do I need all of this?”

You’re surely familiar with the critique of some of the stuff that you guys are doing now, which is that the sites and companies that provide a free internet to the rest of us do so basically by selling ads, and that these changes by Apple are going to threaten the business of all kinds of ad-supported sites and publishers. What’s Apple’s response to that?

Well, I think ads are great. And ads have existed a long time, and they’ve existed in times without this sort of invasive targeting. But we’re not trying to get anybody to change their business model. We have no objective to do that. All we’re trying to do is give the individual the right to say, “I want to be tracked,” or “I don’t.” That’s all we’re trying to do. And then with the privacy nutrition label, we’re just trying to give the user more facts so they can make an educated decision of whether they want to download this app or not. It’s not aimed at anyone. It’s about giving the user more power.

A few weeks ago, when you guys suspended Parler from the App Store, you went on Fox News and defended the decision. But the Fox News point to you was basically: “Well, why should you get to decide?” I imagine people will ask a similar question here. Why do you get to decide what does or doesn’t happen to people’s data?

Well, we don’t. I don’t want to decide, to be clear. Because I think that you and I may make a different choice. And what we want to do is supply people the tools so that they can make the decision themselves. That’s opposed to the environment right now, where companies are deciding. A company should not decide about whether they’re going to vacuum up data or not. It should be a conscious decision by you or I, whether our data, and what data, can be vacuumed and how it can be used.

Speaking about making the decision yourself… I live in California, where Apple has partnered with the state to create CA Notify, which is a COVID-19 exposure notification app. And as you were talking, I was thinking that I still haven’t enabled it, precisely because I had some concerns about being tracked. (The app, as Cook is about to point out, does not in fact track you.) How do you guys think about solving problems where one imperative — incredibly important work related to contact tracing — runs, or at least seems to run, into a second imperative, which is privacy?

Well, as it turns out, they’re not mutually exclusive because that is the most privacy-centric implementation that you could imagine. And we’ve sort of designed the architecture in that kind of way. And so it’s only the individual that decides, just like it is with ATT. It’s the individual that decides whether to share data or not. And so I can commit to you that that’s a very privacy-centric app. And I would encourage you to use it. We’ve worked with many, many states on it now, and we’re hoping that it can actually become a national kind of program, instead of a state by state kind of thing.

I’ve seen you say a couple of times that the current state of things regarding data collection and user privacy is unsustainable. I want to make sure I understand what you mean when you say that: What exactly is unsustainable about the current way things are done?

I think it gets back to the user. The current system is not sustainable because the user doesn’t like it. We’re getting a lot of feedback from users that they want the power to make a choice. That it shouldn’t be made for them. And so that’s what we’re supplying, is the tool to do that. I don’t think that the users — and the bulk of the population are users of technology in some way, not just ours, but the sum total of all of the market — I think that you sort of have a user revolt. And the power is with the people. I’ve always believed that. And I still believe that. And so what we’re trying to do is empower them in this way with data.

Obviously a lot of businesses currently run on this super data harvesting-centric model. Anything provided to you for free means that you are effectively the product, and the money comes when access to you and your data are sold to a third party advertiser. What do you think the future is for businesses like that? Do they have a future?

Yeah, I think so. I don’t think people have to change the business model, the business model being that ads support a product. I think that’s very achievable. It’s just that what I think is probably not going to be achievable is doing that without users agreeing to do it, because I think at some point governments are going to step in and regulate that. I mean, just think about it: Would we accept that in any other part of our life? No. It would be unacceptable. And so that’s the sort of the way I look at it. And I’m not sure the exact road. But I’m really confident and really optimistic about where we will head with this. I think we’ll give power back to the user. I think that the ad business can be very robust without these kinds of invasive, 360 degree profiles. And I think some people will say: “You know, I’m okay with giving my 360 degree profile because I like the targeted [ads].” And so people will be in the driver’s seat. Some will do it. Some will not. The ones that will not will have a different kind of ad experience, but still an ad experience that’s robust.

We’re discussing a decision that is located exclusively on Apple devices and the App Store, but is the hope that this will have a domino effect and change behavior more broadly across tech? And if so, walk me into the utopia we might arrive in, if everything happens the way it should happen in terms of people regaining control of their data.

You know, we try to be the ripple in the pond on this. And so it would be great if other people copied this and said, you know, users should have the right, they should have the control. And it would be great if companies would regulate themselves, so to speak, to get there. I’m not sure whether that’s realistic. But I think governments are going to step in and do it if the companies do not. And I’m not sure what the exact path of that happening will be. It’ll be different in each part of the world probably, but I think it will happen because users will demand it. And that utopia is a great utopia because you’ve lined up with all the great things about the web — the empowerment that you get, the knowledge that you gain, the things you can create — without the drain of the things you don’t want to give, like your data.


Source : GQ

Paul McCartney is Still Trying to Figure Out Love

David Marchese wrote . . . . . . . . .

Paul McCartney, like the rest of us, this year found himself with an unexpected amount of time stuck indoors. Unlike the rest of us — or most of us, anyway — he used that time to record a new album. The pandemic-induced circumstances of its creation may mark “McCartney III” as an outlier in the former Beatle’s catalog, but as its title suggests, it does have precedents: Like “McCartney” (1970) and “McCartney II” (1980), the album, out Dec. 18, was primarily recorded by McCartney alone, with him playing nearly all the instruments and handling all the production. “At no point,” McCartney said, “did I think: I’m making an album. I’d better be serious. This was more like: You’re locked down. You can do whatever the hell you want.” Which was a gas, as always. “What I’m amazed with,” McCartney explained, “is that I’m not fed up with music. Because, strictly speaking, I should have gotten bored years ago.”

It seems to me that working on music by yourself, as you did on the new album, might allow for some insights about what you do and how you do it. So are there aspects of “McCartney III” that represent creative growth to you?

The idea of growing and adding more arrows to your bow is nice, but I’m not sure if I’m interested in it. The thing is, when I look back to “Yesterday,” which was written when I was 21 or something, there’s me talking like a 90-year-old: “Suddenly I’m not half the man I used to be.” Things like that and “Eleanor Rigby” have a kind of wisdom. You would naturally think, OK, as I get older I’m going to get deeper, but I’m not sure that’s true. I think it’s a fact of life that personalities don’t change much. Throughout your life, there you are.

Is there anything different about the nature of your musical gift today at 78 than in 1980 or 1970 or when you first started writing songs?

It’s the story that you’re telling. That changes. When I first said to John Lennon.

“I’ve written a few songs,” they were simple. My first song was called “I Lost My Little Girl” — four chords. Then we went into the next phase of songwriting, which was talking to our fans. Those were songs like “Thank You Girl,” “Love Me Do,” “Please Please Me.” Then came a rich vein as we got more mature, with things like “Let It Be,” “The Long and Winding Road.” But basically I think it’s all the same, and you get lucky sometimes. Like, “Let It Be” came from a dream where my mother had said that phrase. “Yesterday” came from a dream of a melody. I’m a great believer in dreams. I’m a great rememberer of dreams.

What’s the last interesting dream you had?

Last night’s was pretty good.

What was it? It was of a sexual nature, so I’m not sure it’s good for the Kids section. Pretty cool, though. Very interesting, dreams of a sexual nature when you’re married. McCartney and the business executive Nancy Shevell married in 2011.

Because your married head is in the dream saying: “Don’t do this. Don’t go here.” And just to let you know, I didn’t. It was still a good dream.

You know, I was conscious of not mentioning the Beatles early in this interview, and you’ve already mentioned them a few times. So let me ask you: The band broke up 50 years ago. You were in it for roughly 10 years. When you’re not doing interviews or playing concerts, how central to your own story of your life are those 10 years from half a century ago?

Very. It was a great group. That’s commonly acknowledged.

Generally speaking. [Laughs.] It’s like your high school memories — those are my Beatles memories. This is the danger: At a dinner party, I am liable to tell stories about my life, and people already know them. I can see everyone stifling a yawn. But the Beatles are inescapable. My daughter Mary (McCartney has five children: Mary, Stella and James, from his marriage to Linda McCartney, as well as Heather, Linda’s daughter from her first marriage; and Beatrice, from his marriage to the model-activist Heather Mills.) will send me a photo or a text a few times a week: “There you were on an advert” or “I heard you on the radio.” The thing that amazes me now, because of my venerable age, is that I will be with, like, one of New York’s finest dermatologists, and he will be a rabid Beatles fan. All of that amazes me. We were trying to get known, we were trying to do good work and we did it. So to me, it’s all happy memories.

“McCartney III” will come out very close to the 40th anniversary of John Lennon’s death. Has your processing of what happened to him changed over the years?

It’s difficult for me to think about. I rerun the scenario in my head. Very emotional. So much so that I can’t really think about it. It kind of implodes. What can you think about that besides anger, sorrow? Like any bereavement, the only way out is to remember how good it was with John. Because I can’t get over the senseless act. I can’t think about it. I’m sure it’s some form of denial. But denial is the only way that I can deal with it. Having said that, of course I do think about it, and it’s horrible. You do things to help yourself out of it. I did an interview with Sean and his son. That was nice — to talk about how cool John was and fill in little gaps in his knowledge. So it’s little things that I am able to do, but I know that none of them can get over the hill and make it OK. But you know, after he was killed, he was taken to Frank Campbell’s funeral parlor in New York. I’m often passing that. I never pass it without saying: “All right, John. Hi, John.”

And how about your perspective on the work you did together? Has that changed?

I always thought it was good. I still think it’s good. Sometimes I had to reassure him that it was good. I remember one time he said to me: “What are they going to think of me when I’m dead? Am I going to be remembered?” I felt like the older brother, even though he was older than me. I said: “John, listen to me. You are going to be so remembered. You are so [expletive] great that there’s no way that this disappears.” I guess that was a moment of insecurity on his part. He straightened me up on other occasions. It was a great collaboration. I can’t think of any better collaboration, and there have been millions. I feel very lucky. We happened upon each other in Liverpool through a friend of mine, Ivan Vaughan. Ivan said, “I think you’d like this mate of mine.” Everyone’s lives have magic, but that guy putting me and John together and then George getting on a bus — an awful lot of coincidences had to happen to make the Beatles.

People always ask you about John. I’ve noticed they rarely ask about George, who of course also died relatively young. John is probably the one in the group you would remember, but the circumstances of his death were particularly harrowing. When you die horrifically, you’re remembered more. But I like your point, which is: What about George?

I often think of George because he was my little buddy. I was thinking the other day of my hitchhiking bursts. This was before the Beatles. I suddenly was keen on hitchhiking, so I sold this idea to George and then John.

I know this memory. You and George hitchhiked to Paignton.

Yeah, Exeter and Paignton. We did that, and then I also hitchhiked with John. He and I got as far as Paris. What I was thinking about was — it’s interesting how I was the instigator. Neither of them came to me and said, “Should we go hitchhiking?” It was me, like, “I’ve got this great idea.”

Why is that interesting?

My theory is that attitude followed us into our recording career. Everyone was hanging out in the sticks, and I used to ring them up and say, “Guys, it’s time for an album.” Then we’d all come in, and they’d all be grumbling. “He’s making us work.” We used to laugh about it. So the same way I instigated the hitchhiking holidays, I would put forward ideas like, “It’s time to make an album.” I don’t remember Ringo, George or John ever ringing me up and saying that.

How strange is it to share an idle recollection from your youth, as you just did with that hitchhiking story, and then have the person to whom you’re sharing it — in this case, me — know the memory? It seems as though it would be weird. It’s quite annoying, David. It’s like people at dinner yawning when I’m telling stories. This keeps happening to me.

I even know the details. You and George slept on the beach. That’s right.  Some Salvation Army girls kept you warm.

Yes.

Then at some point you sat on a car battery and zapped your ass?

That was George who did that! I have a very clear recollection. He showed me the scar. Let’s set the record straight: It was George’s ass, and it was a burn the exact shape of a zip from his jeans.

Do you remember the last thing George said to you?

We said silly things. We were in New York before he went to Los Angeles to die, and they were silly but important to me. And, I think, important to him. We were sitting there, and I was holding his hand, and it occurred to me — I’ve never told this — I don’t want to hold George’s hand. You don’t hold your mate’s hands. I mean, we didn’t anyway. And I remember he was getting a bit annoyed at having to travel all the time — chasing a cure. He’d gone to Geneva to see what they could do. Then he came to a special clinic in New York to see what they could do. Then the thought was to go to L.A. and see what they could do. He was sort of getting a bit, “Can’t we just stay in one place?” And I said: “Yes, Speke Hall. Let’s go to Speke Hall.” That was one of the last things we said to each other, knowing that he would be the only person in the room who would know what Speke Hall was. You probably know what the hell it is.

Yep. I can’t amaze you with anything! Anyway, the nice thing for me when I was holding George’s hands, he looked at me, and there was a smile.

How many good Beatles stories are there left to tell that haven’t been told?

There are millions. Sometimes the reason is that they’re too private, and I don’t want to go gossiping. But the main stories do get told and told again.

Can you think of one now that you haven’t told before?

Hmm. I will rake through the embers. Oh, I’ll tell you one! I thought of one this morning. It’s pretty good. I don’t think I’ve told it. You’re going to have to say in the article, “I forced this out of him,” because it’s a bit telling-out-of-school.

I am hereby twisting your arm. So when we did the album “Abbey Road,” the photographer was set up and taking the pictures that ended up as the album cover. Linda was also there taking incidental pictures. She has some that are of us — I think it was all four of us — sitting on the steps of Abbey Road studios, taking a break from the session, and I’m in quite earnest conversation with John. This morning I thought, I remember why. John’s accountants had rung my accountants and said: “Someone’s got to tell John he’s got to fill in his tax returns. He’s not doing it.” So I was trying to say to him, “Listen, man, you’ve got to do this.” I was trying to give him the sensible advice on not getting busted for not doing your taxes. That’s why I looked so earnest. I don’t think I’ve told that story before.

Tax filings — that’s some deep arcana. I have dredged the barrel.

I know that your goal with making music is to do something that pleases yourself. What’s most pleasing to you on the new album?

I’m very happy with “Women and Wives.” I’ve been reading a book about Lead Belly. I was looking at his life and thinking about the blues scene of that day. I love that tone of voice and energy and style. So I was sitting at my piano, and I’m thinking about Huddie Ledbetter, and I started noodling around in the key of D minor, and this thing came to me. “Hear me women and wives” — in a vocal tone like what I imagine a blues singer might make. I was taking clues from Lead Belly, from the universe, from blues. And why I’m pleased with it is because the lyrics are pretty good advice. It’s advice I wouldn’t mind getting myself.

There’s a song on “McCartney III,” “Pretty Boys,” that is kind of unusual for you in how the music is sort of unassuming but the lyrics have an almost sinister edge. What inspired that one? I’ll tell you exactly. I’ve been photographed by many photographers through the years. And when you get down to London, doing sessions with people like David Bailey, they can get pretty energetic in the studio. It’s like “Blow-Up,” you know? “Give it to me! [Expletive] the lens!” And it’s like: “What? No, I’m not going to.” But I understand why they’re doing that. They’re that kind of artist. So you allow it. Certain photographers — they tend to be very good photographers, by the way — can be totally out of line in the studio. So “Pretty Boys” is about male models. And going around New York or London, you see the lines of bicycles for hire. It struck me that they’re like models, there to be used. It’s most unfortunate.

“Lavatory Lil” is another song I was curious about. That’s quite a title. “Lavatory Lil” is a parody of someone I didn’t like. Someone I was working with who turned out to be a bit of a baddie. I thought things were great; it turned nasty. So I made up the character Lavatory Lil and remembered some of the things that had gone on and put them in the song. I don’t need to be more specific than that. I will never divulge who it was.

I have another bigger-picture question. In your experience, how is the love in a marriage different at different stages of your life and in different marriages?

I don’t think it’s different. It’s always a splendid puzzle. Even though I write love songs, I don’t think I know what’s going on. It would be great if it was smooth and wonderful all the time, but you get pockets of that, and sometimes it’s — you could be annoying. To Nancy I’m pretty complex, with everything I’ve been through.

In what ways?

I’m some poor working-class kid from Liverpool. I’ve done music all my life. I’ve had huge success, and people often try to do what I want, so you get a false feeling of omnipotence. All that together makes a complex person. We’re all complex. Well, maybe I’m more complex than other people because of coming from poverty.

And how do you think about money these days?

It has obviously changed. What has stayed the same is the central core. When I was in Liverpool as a kid, I used to listen to people’s conversations. I remember a couple of women going on about money: “Ah, me and my husband, we’re always arguing about money.” And I remember thinking very consciously, “OK, I’ll solve that; I will try to get money.” That set me off on the “Let’s not have too many problems with money” trail. What happened also was, not having much money, when anything came into the house, it was important. It was important when my weekly comic was delivered. Or my penpal — I had a penpal in Spain, Rodrigo — when his letter came through, that was a big event. When they had giveaways in comics with little trinkets, I kept them all. Some people would say that’s a hoarding instinct, but not having anything when I was a kid has stuck with me as far as money. You know, I’m kind of crazy. My wife is not. She knows you can get rid of things you don’t need.

You’re a hoarder?

I’m a keeper. If I go somewhere and I get whatever I bought in a nice bag, I will want to keep the bag. My rationale is that I might want to put my sandwiches in it tomorrow. Whereas Nancy says, “We’ll get another bag.” In that way, my attitude toward money hasn’t changed that much. It’s the same instinct to preserve. One of the great things now about money is what you can do with it. Family and friends, if they have any medical problem, I can just say, “I’ll help.” The nicest thing about having money is you can help people with it.

Something that has been a constant for you musically is your ability to keep coming up with melodies. It’s there on the new album — the melodies all flow. Is your facility for writing a catchy melody ever an obstacle to getting the songs to be more than just catchy?

Because a good tune by itself is not always enough to make a good song. “Bip Bop” would be an example of that. Do you know what I’m saying? No, I know. “Bip Bop” is not lyrically stunning. I was always embarrassed about that song. Literally, it goes, “Bip Bop / take your bottom dollar.” It’s inconsequential. But I mentioned that to a friend, a producer, a few years ago, and he said, “That’s my favorite song of yours.” So you don’t know what people like. It’s enough if I like it and enjoyed putting it on record and don’t particularly want to think of any more lyrics. I don’t want to sweat it. Sometimes maybe it would be better if I sweated it. Once or twice I tried to sweat it, and I hated it. It’s like, What are you doing this for?

Sixty-something years into writing songs, do you feel any closer to knowing where melodies come from?

No. There is something with my ability to write music that I don’t think I’m necessarily responsible for. It just seems to come easier to me — touch wood — than it does to some people. That’s it. I’m a fortunate man.


Source : The New York Times