East Asia, Images, North America

East Asian Trade – Image of the Day

From Finally Passing Gas: 10 Winners and Losers of the Panama Canal Expansion:

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A typical assumption has been that China and Japan will be the primary beneficiaries of the canal. China, after all, leads the world in importing commodities and exporting bulk goods, and Japan has accounted for 40% of the world’s LNG imports – far more than any other country – in recent years.

Yet while China and Japan lead the pack in terms of the value of their absolute trade, they lag far behind both South Korea and Taiwan in the more relevant category of relative trade; that is, the value of their trade relative to the overall size of their economies. As can be seen in the chart above, the economies of China and Japan are generally not as trade-oriented as those of South Korea and Taiwan. As such, they might not benefit as much from the canal, which is intended to ease trade — in particular LNG trade, which the pre-expansion canal could not facilitate.

Of course, none of this means that South Korea and Taiwan are risk-free investments. They are not. Both, for example, have significantly more exposure to China’s economy, which has been struggling of late, than Japan does. All else being held equal, though, South Korea and Taiwan appear likely to be two of the greatest beneficiaries of the new canal.

 

 

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Images, Middle East

Iraqi Geopolitics

Iraq’s population is thought to be just under 35 million, roughly the same as that of Canada and greater than any other Arab country apart from Egypt, Algeria, and possibly Sudan.

Most Iraqis, and almost all Iraqis who identify as Shiite Muslims, live in the low-elevation Mesopotamian plain, the part of the map below that is coloured in the darkest shade of green.

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The only significant city to have a considerable Shiite population outside of this area is, perhaps, the city of Samarra, which is holy to Shiite Muslims. Yet Samara lies just barely beyond this Iraqi Shiite heartland, and is relatively small. It had 350,000 or so inhabitants prior to the US invasion of the country in 2003. In 2006 and then again in 2007 the Al-Askari Shrine, a mosque that was built in Samarra in 944 AD,  was bombed, leading Shiite groups in Iraq to retaliate by forcing many Sunnis to leave their homes in Baghdad.

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The largest cities in Iraq’s Shiite region are not located in the region’s centre, but rather around its outer edges. The largest by far is Baghdad, located in the north of the Shiite core region. Baghdad is perhaps 3-5 times more populous than any other city in Iraq; it may be home to nearly one in four Iraqis. It is maybe the most populous city in the entire Arab world, outside of Cairo. Historically it was the capital of an enormous caliphate, stretching from Central Asia nearly to the Atlantic Ocean, during most of the years between 762 AD and 1258 AD. Even as recently as the 1970s, before Iraq fought three major wars between 1980 and the present day, Baghdad was one of the leading cultural and commercial cities in the Arab world. 

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Baghdad has historically been the place where Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni areas meet, and where minority populations like Kurds, Christians, Jews, and Turkic peoples have all lived in significant numbers as well. Though the conflicts in Iraq during recent years and decades has changed this to a great extent, with many minorities leaving (the Jewish population, for example, has dropped from around 50,000 in 1900, which was perhaps a quarter of the city’s total population at the time, to nearly zero today) Baghdad remains the heart of the country.

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Baghdad’s existence has probably been one of the main impediments to, and arguments against, splitting the country into three separate states as many have recently been advocating for. However because of its diversity and centrality, it was also the site of many of the violent deaths during the (in some ways ongoing) civil war. Since 2003 the city’s neighbourhoods have become more divided by sect, while the share of its population that identifies as Sunni has shrunk in size due to the fleeing of Sunnis and the inward migration of Shiites from southern Iraq.

         Baghdad in 2003                    Baghdad in 2007

Baghdad_Ethnic_2003_sm   Baghdad_Ethnic_2007_late_sm

Baghdad’s geographic significance comes from being located in the only spot, apart from the swampy southern coastlands of Iraq, where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers come close to meeting one another. Around Baghdad the Tigris and Euphrates are just 30-40 km or so apart from one another, compared to about 150-200 km apart in most of southern Iraq, 120 km or so apart in the area to Baghdad’s immediate north, and 220-300 km apart in the northern Iraq-Syria region.

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Baghdad is located 530 km from Iraq’s only coast (on the Persian Gulf), 450 km from Iraq’s border with Turkey, and 475 km from its western, desert border with Jordan. It is about 700 km from Tehran, 740 km from Aleppo and Damascus, 95o km from Riyadh, and 1300-1450 km from Mecca, Dubai, Cairo, Ankara, and Crimea.

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Apart from Baghdad, the biggest Shiite city in Iraq, maybe even twice as populous as any other, is Basra. Basra is located in the only other place where the Tigris and Euphrates meet, just 95 km or so north of the coast of the Persian Gulf, and just around 20 km from the Iranian border and 40 km  from the Kuwaiti border. Because it is located just 4 metres above sea level (compared to 35 metres for Baghdad), Basra’s climate is an extremely hot one, with temperatures hitting average daily highs of around 40 degrees celsius (105-ish fahrenheit) for almost five months a year.

Could Basra soon have the world’s tallest building? 

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The fact that this southernmost area of Iraq around Basra has the country’s only direct access to the sea, and that this access is funnelled narrowly and vulnerably through a strip of land that is only about 15 km wide, sandwiched between the oil-rich Arab monarchy of Kuwait and the oil-rich Arab-inhabited Khuzestan province of southwestern Iran, was probably one of the reasons why Iraq went to war against Iran throughout the 1980s and then attempted to annex Kuwait in 1990.

Grabbing Kuwait and Khuzestan would give Iraq unfettered access to the Persian Gulf, greatly increased oil resources, and a mountainous rather than wide open border with southern Iran. Kuwait alone, in spite of having a population of just 3.4 million, produces so much oil that its GDP is thought to be roughly 75% percent as large as that of Iraq itself, and 40% percent as large as Iran’s.

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Today, however, it is not clear whether Kuwait and Khuzestan have majority-Arab populations as they likely did in the past. Two-thirds of Kuwait’s population is now thought by some to be foreign workers who have come to the country mainly from South Asia. Some have estimated that 30-40% of Kuwait’s Muslim population is Shiite, though it is difficult to be certain. Khuzestan’s population of 4-5 million, meanwhile, has perhaps become majority Persian; statistics cannot really be trusted in this area, given that they can be politicized.

The other largest cities of the Shiite region of Iraq also lie along the region’s edges rather than in its centre; they are located either along the Tigris River, as for example the cities of Amarah and Samarra are, or along the Euphrates River, as the world’s two holiest Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala are.

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The Shiite region of Iraq is divided, in a certain geographical sense, along both north-south and east-west lines. The north-south divide is between landlocked Baghdad and coastal Basra, the region’s two major cities, with Baghdad located close to its northern extreme and Basra close to its southern one.

The east-west divide is between the Tigris and the Euphrates; the two rivers were historically separated from one another by marshlands in some places, which according to Wikipedia “used to be the largest wetland ecosystem of Western Eurasia” before being drained during the second half of the 20th century — mainly by the government of Saddam Hussein, for political reasons. “After the fall of Hussein’s regime in 2003, the marshes have partially recovered but drought along with upstream dam construction and operation in Turkey, Syria, and Iran have hindered the process”. The “Marsh Arabs“, formerly half a million strong, are themselves considered to be a unique Iraqi ethnic group.

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The Euphrates directly borders the Arabian Desert (Basra, Najaf, Karbala, and Ramadi are each located on the Arabian side of the river), whereas the Tigris runs closely parallel with Iran’s Zagros Mountains, which rise to heights as great as in the Colorado Rockies or Swiss Alps. Given its topography, Iraq has rarely been able to project force into the Zagros (though Saddam Hussein tried to do so during the deadly Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s); the Iranians, on the other hand, have often been able to influence politics within Iraq and occasionally even invade Iraq directly.

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The Zagros, in Iran’s Lorestan province near the Iraqi border

The division between Basra and Baghdad (such that it is) was seen to a certain extent in 2008, just prior to the US military withdrawal from the country, when the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki approved a significant offensive mission by the Iraqi Army aimed at  pushing what was arguably the country’s main Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, out of Basra.

The Basra-Bagdhad divide goes back much further in history, however. Even when Iraq was ruled by the Ottoman Empire prior to the First World War, the country was divided into three administrative “vilayets”: Basra in the south, Baghdad in the centre, and Mosul in the north. The Ottoman era often saw the Europeans intrude into or make alliances with Basra, notably the Portuguese in the 17th century, and later the British. The British would return during the recent war: they were tasked with managing Basra while the Americans focused on other areas of the country.

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Ottoman vilayets circa 1900

Iraq’s Sunni Arab region also contains both north-south and east-west divisions. It’s two largest cities by far are Baghdad, which is located at the southern tip of the Sunni areas, and Mosul, which is located just 100 km from Iraq’s northern Turkish border and is currently held by ISIS fighters. This is the basis of its north-south division; its east-west division comes from the Tigris and Euphrates being located much further apart from one another north of Baghdad than in the south (where, around Shiite Arab cities like Basra, Karbala, and Kut, the waterways almost or completely converge), with desert lying in between them.

According to Wikipedia, “The Arabic of Mosul is considered to be much softer in its pronunciation than that of Baghdad Arabic, bearing considerable resemblance to Levantine dialects, particularly Aleppan Arabic. …Mosul Arabic is heavily influenced by the languages of the many ethnic minority groups which co-exist in the city: Kurmanji Kurdish, the Shengali (Ezdiki) of Yazidis, Turkmen, Armenian, and Neo-Aramaic. Each minority language is spoken alongside North Mesopotamian Arabic.”

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You might want to take this map with a grain of salt

“…Before 2014 takeover by ISIS, Mosul population comprised roughly of 60% Sunni Arabs; 25% Kurds, 10% Turkmens and 5% Assyrian. Following the takeover by ISIS, nearly all the population who were not Sunni Arabs (coreligionists of ISIS), fled or forced out, that is, 35% of the residents or just over half a million people.”

Mosul, although not at a particularly high elevation, still receives much more rain than most of Iraq. Rainfall is close to three times that of Baghdad and over twice that of Basra”. Indeed, unlike the arid cities along the Euphrates, Mosul has a relatively  populous hinterland, as it is located next to the foothills of mountains both to its east and to its north. Mosul is just 75 km from Erbil, the comparatively successful capital city of Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region. “After the 1991 uprisings by the Kurds Mosul did not fall within the Kurdish-ruled area, but it was included in the northern no-fly zone imposed and patrolled by the United States and Britain between 1991 and 2003″.

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The Erbil Citadel

Mosul is one of the two most important cities which lie on the border between Iraq’s Sunni Arab and Sunni Kurdish areas. The other is Kirkuk, which is less populous than Mosul but is where much of Iraq’s oil is produced. The oil in this Arab-Kurdish borderland has led to conflict during the past decade; and of course ISIS and the Iraqi Kurds continue to do battle today. According to the map below, both Mosul and Kirkuk (spelled Karkuk) are surrounded on three sides by the  Kurdish-inhabited territories, near to the mountainous Kurdish border regions of Turkey, Iran, and Syria.

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Three months ago, the Turkish military entered northern Iraq and has closely approached Mosul . A month before that, according to Dexter Filkins of the New Yorker, “Kurdish forces, backed by American airstrikes, cut the highway that connected Mosul to the ISIS base in Syria. There are still a few roads leading into Mosul that ISIS can use to resupply its fighters, but the Kurds are moving to cut them, too. Very soon, the ISIS fighters inside Mosul will be isolated.” The Kurdish position has been complicated, however, by Kurdish-Turkish relations, which have partially deteriorated of late as a result of Turkish politics and the Syrian civil war’s effect on the Syrian Kurdish group the YPG/PYD.

Mosul is located along the Tigris River, north of the place where, in Syria, the Euphrates makes a sudden sharp turn westward towards Aleppo and the Mediterranean Sea. As such, unlike in most other cities in Iraq, Mosul sits at a spot where the Tigris and Euphrates are relatively far from one another (though still only 430 km apart). This has allowed Mosul to serve historically as a sort of oasis in the desert for east-west trade travelling between northern Iran (and Asia) and the Mediterranean (and Europe). Mosul sits almost exactly between Tehran and the Mediterranean, in fact. It is also located halfway between Basra and Russia’s southern border; in other words, between the Persian Gulf and the Black and Caspian seas.

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In late 2004 the US attack on Mosul was concurrent with the one on Fallujah, the latter battle arguably being the deadliest in the entire US-Iraq War. In 2014, six month prior to the ISIS seizure of Mosul (and Kurdish seizure of Kirkuk), ISIS “retook” Fallujah, which is just 40 km from Baghdad. ISIS also took control of the large dam upriver of Mosul, which according to Wikipedia has the fourth largest reserve capacity of any hydroelectric facility in the Middle East. Kurdish forces, with help from the US and Iraqi militaries, have since captured the dam.

Iraq’s Sunni Arab region, in spite of being relatively small in population because it is located in the desert, and also landlocked, has some advantages that Shiite Iraq does not. It has proximity to the Mediterranean, as well as access to the Mediterranean via the Euphrates which in Syria reaches as close to 200 km from it. The entire distance from the Persian Gulf  to any part of the Eastern Mediterranean coast, in fact, is only about 1300 km.
This Mediterranean access, however, is partly why the Shiite Iraqis and Iranians would prefer to keep Syria’s non-Sunni Assad government and Lebanon’s Shiite group Hezbollah in place, so as to block Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority and Syria’s Sunni Arab majority from working together to export Iraqi oil to the West via the Mediterranean and hence become powerful.

The Sunni Arab region’s upriver location, moreover, provides a potential advantage within Iraq as, especially towards the south, the country is often lacking in rainfall and dependent upon agriculture that can be devastatingly flooded by the actions of northern dams. In addition, because the Euphrates winds about a lot within the Sunni region (see map below), its cities can often be surrounded on three sides by the river and on the fourth by both the desert and the incline of the walls of the Euphrates Valley,  giving them a defensible position. A series of three lakes, finally, running 200 km from north to south, helps to divide Baghdad and southern Iraq from the Euphrates’ Sunni-inhabited northwest.

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It has become very popular to point out that Iraq’s borders, and particularly the Iraqi-Syrian border, are “artificial”, imposed on the region by the British and French in the aftermath of the First World War. This statement is not untrue, but nor is it necessarily as straightforward as many have come to believe.

Those saying that Iraq’s borders are artificial often ignore a number of facts. First is that, unless Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, and perhaps Lebanon are merged into a single state (a state which, given its position linking two oceans and containing the most oil anywhere outside of Saudi Arabia, could perhaps become the top power in the Middle East), or unless a united Kurdistan declares its independence in territories that are today part of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran (a declaration that could, and to an extent already has, led to war by those countries against Kurdish forces), then “artificial” borders must be drawn somewhere through the region.

Second, they ignore the fact that Iraq’s borders are actually not as random, geographically, as they are given credit for, as we discuss further below. Third, they ignore the fact that it is not only the West  that has been responsible for messing with the “natural” borders of Arab lands. Iran and Turkey, for instance, both refused to give up Arab-inhabited regions of the Fertile Crescent they possess; a more consistent geographic or cultural rendering of Middle Eastern borders should perhaps have included Turkey handing over its province of Hatay to Syria (as Syria still officially claims it should) and Iran handing over its province of Khuzestan to Iraq.

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And fourth, they often ignore the fact that the most “artificial” aspect of Iraq’s borders is not the fact that the borders themselves are drawn improperly, but rather is that Kuwait has been allowed to exist independently of Iraq at all. Why Kuwait, with its $53,000 per capita income, its nearly-autocratic monarchy, and its position that in effect walls-in Iraq’s only direct outlet to the ocean, should be allowed to maintain its political independence from Iraq remains a question, arguably, for those claiming that the real crux of Iraq’s problem is the “artificial” international borders between Iraq and Syria, or the lack of international borders between Sunni Arab Iraq, Shiite Arab Iraq, and Sunni Kurdish Iraq.

I am not saying that Kuwait should definitely be refolded into Iraq like Hong Kong and Macau were into mainland China or like Gibraltar may be into Spain. I am saying, though, that things may be a lot more complicated where borders are concerned than they are often acknowledged to be.

Iraq-Syria: The valley of the Euphrates is generally much wider on the Syrian side of the border than  on the Iraqi side of the border. Until the river gets close to Ramadi (the capital of Anbar province, by far Iraq’s largest by territory size) and Baghdad, where the river valley widens out again, the valley generally extends less than 100 meters out from either side of the banks of the river in Iraq, whereas on the Syrian side of the border it extends around 5000 meters out on average:

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Zooming in on the border:

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It is on the Syrian side of the border that the river cities of Raqqa, the “capital city” of ISIS, and Deir al-Zour, a Syrian provincial capital that has been fought over intensely by ISIS and Syrian military forces, are located. Notably, however, the entire Euphrates valley between Baghdad and Aleppo is actually barely larger in size than Rhode Island. The maps one sometimes sees in the media of “ISIS-controlled territory” are, for this reason, somewhat misleading, as in many cases they do not differentiate between desert and non-desert areas.

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The Iraqi-Syrian border was drawn in such a way as to give Syria all of the significant tributary of the Euphrates that meets up with the Euphrates just south of Deir al-Zour (see  map below), and to give Iraq all of the large, “lonely”mountain of Sinjar (lonely in that it does not link up with any other mountain ranges), which got attention earlier in 2015 as a result of a humanitarian crisis occurring there. You can see the mountain in the image below, west of Mosul and next to Syria’s border to the mountain’s west and north. Sinjar City, in the shadow of the mountain, had a population estimated at 90,000, mainly of the Yazidi religious and ethnic minority that groups like ISIS have deemed heretical or “devil worshippers”.

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In Syria’s northeast the border with Iraq juts out eastward in order to allow the Tigris to very briefly serve as the border between the two countries. On the adjacent Turkish-Iraq border, however, the border swings back and forth from one side of the river to the other; it is a more “artificial” border, perhaps. The Iraqi-Jordanian desert corridor, meanwhile, is extremely artificial, yet it serves the useful purpose (in theory, at least) of giving Iraq a link to Jordan’s Red Sea coast or, via Israel, to the Mediterranean. Though it is across the desert, in which ISIS now has influence, Baghdad is just 785 km from Amman and 860 km from Jerusalem.

Finally, there is the Kurdish border. Though this border artificially divides Kurdish peoples from one another, with most Kurds living in Turkey (even though, from an ethnolinguistic perspective, Kurds are more similar to Iranians than to Turks or Arabs), the Kurdish borders between Iraq and Turkey and Iraq and Iran both adhere for the most part to the geographic barrier of the Zagros Mountains, as can be seen in the map below.

This does not mean that the Kurds do not “deserve a state of their own”, of course, but, given the height of these mountains, it does mean that border is hardly arbitrary. The Kurds have, in fact, many internal linguistic and political divisions themselves, reflecting the ruggedness of their mountain landscape; these internal divisions are not usually mentioned in the media outside of the Middle East, which has become generally pro-Kurdish.

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Kurdish

You might want to take this map with a grain of salt too

Still, Kurdish groups have, at least for the time being, been able to overcome their internal differences within the borders of Iraq. According to Martin Lewis of Stanford, “In constructing their own unrecognized state, the people of Iraqi Kurdistan have had to overcome deep divisions within their own society. In the mid-1990s, the region’s two main political groups, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), mostly representing the Kurmanji-speaking north, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), mostly representing the Sorani-speaking south, fought a brief war. But although regional tensions in Iraqi Kurdistan persist, civil strife is no longer a threat. On both sides of the linguistic/political divide, most people have concluded that Kurdish identity and secular governance trump more parochial considerations. In the intervening years, the Kurdish Regional Government has managed to construct a reasonably united, secure, and democratic order”. 

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 Finally, here’s one last map for the road. It shows, again, just how complicated this region can be:

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Europe, Images

The Not-So-Tiny Baltics — Image of the Day

When, in the media, the three Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are mentioned, usually in a sentence like “Russia may again threaten the tiny Baltic states, which unlike Ukraine are members of NATO and the EU”, they are frequently referred to as  being “tiny”.

This is certainly true of their populations: only 3 million people live in Lithuania, 2 million live in Latvia, and 1.3 million in Estonia. (If, however, you include the Russian Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, which is located between Lithuania and Poland, or the Russian Baltic city of St Petersburg, which is between Estonia and Finland, there are an additional 5.5 million people). It is not nearly as true of the Baltics’ territory sizes, however: they are actually not so tiny, but only appear so because they are located next to much larger countries, most notably Russia.

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All three Baltic states have larger territories, for example, than the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, and Switzerland, countries which most people probably assume are bigger than they are. In per capita terms, moreover, the Baltics have quite a bit more land than other European states outside of neighbouring Scandinavia or the former Soviet Union. (The Baltics’ population densities are about the same as the United States’). And in terms of per capita arable land and per capita forested land, their lead over other European countries is even greater.

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population density

 

 

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Europe, Images

Image of the Day – Germany at a Crossroads

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Germany, which accounts for an estimated 21% of the European Union’s GDP and has an unemployment rate that is less than half as high as the EU average, is now facing five big economic challenges:

1. Germany has one of the oldest populations in the world: it’s old age dependency ratio is as high as Greece’s and higher than any other country apart from Italy and Japan; the share of its population aged 80 or older is higher than in any European country apart from France or the “PIGS” (Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain). The largest portion of Germany’s population is between 45-60 years old. Old age is beckoning.

2. Whereas Britain, France, Italy, Russia, India, China, and Turkey depend on exports of goods and services to account for an estimated 20-30 percent of their GDPs, and the United States, Japan, and Brazil for just 10-20 percent, Germany gets approximately 46 percent of its GDP from exports. As economies throughout Europe and the developing world are simultaneously growing slowly right now, such a dependence on exports may not be a good thing to have.

3. Low energy prices are not likely to benefit Germany as much as many think, nor will they benefit Germany’s neighbours in northern Europe, central Europe, or especially the former Soviet Union too much (see links for more: herehere, or here). According to the Wall Street Journal, oil imports account for just an estimated 2.4% percent of Germany’s GDP, compared to 3-6% in Spain, Greece, Turkey, Poland, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and India, while, according to the World Bank, imports of energy in general account for approximately 62% percent of Germany’s overall energy use, compared to 70-95% in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Turkey, South Korea, and Japan.

4. Germany is facing economic and political diminishing returns in its eastward economic integration. In the past generation it has looked to East Germany and Eastern Europe, but Eastern European countries are no longer so cheap. Czech Republic and Slovakia now have nominal per capita GDP’s of around $19,000, for instance, up from just $5700 in the year 2000; Russia has reached $14,000, up from $1800 in 2000. Increasingly there are also political limitations of various sorts to German involvement to its east. Many Eastern European countries, for example, would rather not see the Germans and Russians become too close with one another economically, and also do not want to become German economic satellites themselves. Things may be becoming more politically fraught than they were a decade or two ago.

5. A similar dynamic is true of Germany’s domestic politics. In the 1990s Germans could unite over the goal of German reunification, while in the 2000s they could unite over European expansion into Eastern Europe, a region located for the most part directly on the borders of Germany or German-speaking Austria. Now, though, with both those goals having been realized to a large extent, there could be room for inter-German regionalism to become more prominent.

It has still been just 145 years since German unification, and 25 since reunification; the three-way divide between eastern Germany, western Germany, and southern Germany, aka Bavaria, may still be somewhat in play. This was seen recently, when Merkel’s longstanding political coalition finally came under pressure as a result of internal opposition from Bavaria over the refugee issue. Germany is under no threat of dissolution, obviously, but regionalism could nevertheless threaten the ability of its central government to continue forming majorities, and it could threaten the ability of any majority governments it does form to take decisive political action.

Germany’s parliament is already regionally split to a slight degree: the Christian Social Union in Bavaria, the regional sister-party of Angela Merkel’s national Christian Democratic Union, holds 7 percent of the seats in Germany’s parliament. Southern German states, moreover, in particular Bavaria but also neighbouring Baden-Wurttemberg, tend to be more right-wing in their voting patterns, whereas eastern German ones tend to be the most left-wing. (Here’s an article describing some of the geographical patterns in Germany’s 2013 election). Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg are the second and third most populous of Germany’s 16 states, and have the closest ties to Austria.

There may be other triggers as well for  regionalist challenges within Germany. If, for example, Europe’s banking and political system, which is currently under pressure from struggling economies like Italy, Greece, and France, ends up being badly damaged, it may hurt western or southern Germany more than eastern Germany. This is because Frankfurt (in central-western Germany) is Europe’s banking and transportation hub, and because southern Germany has relatively close connections with nearby northern Italy while western Germany is relatively close with France,  Belgium, and the Netherlands (the latter two being Europe’s political and shipping hubs). Of course, this is all extremely speculative; I am not actually saying that  political regionalism will reemerge within Germany, only that it cannot be ruled out.

The Crossroads

There are, perhaps, two basic roads Germany can now go down. One is to become a more nationalist, more insular country. German nationalism could be used as a tool to attempt to bring about cooperation in parliament. Germany could restrict immigration flows as most other countries (and Bavaria) have wanted to do. Germany could try to use technology rather than immigration to solve its looming old-age crisis. And Germany could attempt to overcome its dependence on exports by reorienting its economy: either by having the government buy up the surplus goods that Germany now exports to other countries, or else by producing fewer goods and attempting the difficult task of making money in other ways instead.

On the other extreme, Germany could become even less nationalist and even less insular than it is now — and it is already quite a bit less nationalist or insular than most other countries, as a result of its 20th century history and export-intensive economy. It could continue to welcome immigrants from places like Africa, Arabia, and Asia, which could help it to address its old-age problem and, along with the population of Turks and many other groups already living in Germany, would make Germany a globally diverse country, somewhat like Canada, Britain, and the United States are. Germany could continue to happily use the English language without being worried that this will threaten the German language, rather than move towards a linguistic protectionist model as countries like France often have. And Germany could continue to integrate economically with Eastern Europe, Russia, and Turkey, but become so non-nationalist in its identity that this expansion will not be as likely to create a political backlash.

Which direction will Germany choose? I suspect, regretfully, that it will be the former. Nationalism may simply be too difficult for a nation to overcome.

 


For more, read Germany’s Trade Empire

 

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Images, North America

Image of the Day — Unique New York

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Last a month a report in the New York Times suggested that Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City from 2002 until 2014, has been thinking about running for President of the United States as a third-party candidate, and may be willing to spend as much as a billion dollars of his own money to do so. Today, on the sole day between the end of football season and the start of ex-Iowa primary season, Bloomberg himself confirmed that report.

According to MarketWatch, this is “the first time Bloomberg himself has said he might run, though his surrogates have told other outlets the former New York City mayor and founder of Bloomberg LP was considering such a move. ‘I find the level of political discourse and discussion distressingly banal and an outrage and an insult to the voters,’ said Bloomberg”.

The Bloomberg strategy is a fairly simple one: first you take Manhattan, then you take D.C. The idea would be for him to secure huge amounts of donor money and media support available in New York City, as well as the 5.4% of America’s electoral college points that you get by winning New York state in the general election, and then use those assets in order to lure people outside of New York to vote Bloomberg on election day too, hoping that enough Americans will not want to vote for a non-centrist candidate like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, or Bernie Sanders.

While it still seems quite unlikely that Bloomberg would attempt to pull this off, it cannot be ruled out entirely, in particular because of the following constitutional catch: if none of the candidates in the general election wins more than 50% of the electoral college votes, then the president of the United States is chosen instead by a state-majority vote in the House of Representatives, wherein the congressmen and congresswomen representing each state vote amongst themselves to determine which presidential candidate their state desires. The candidate which has the backing of a majority of states then becomes president, while the vice-president is chosen by the Senate.

In such a vote, Alaska’s one congressman would have as much power as all of California’s dozens of congressmen put together. This vote would probably favour right-wing establishment candidates, since most states and congressional districts in the country tend to be relatively right-wing, Congress is currently controlled by a Republican majority, and congressmen tend to be establishmentarians. If it ever came to this, then, a candidate like Bloomberg might have something of an advantage over one like Cruz, Trump, Sanders, or, perhaps, Clinton.

Could it ever come to this? Well, it did in 1824, when “four candidates ran for president… Andrew Jackson got the most votes from Americans and the most votes in the Electoral College, but not a majority, so the race was turned over to the House of Representatives voting as states who picked John Quincy Adams instead.” Crucially, if Bloomberg could secure a victory in New York state in the general election, that alone might make it relatively difficult for one of the other two candidates to win an electoral college majority.

If, for example, Jimmy Carter had lost New York in 1976 to a third-party candidate, Carter still would have gotten more votes than his Republican opponent Gerald Ford, yet would have fallen short of the electoral college majority needed to avoid turning the vote over to Congress. Had a third-party candidate won New York, Pennsylvania, and Iowa instead of Obama in 2012, Obama would not have won a majority in the electoral college, which would have meant that the Congress would have been able to vote to select the president of the country instead.

What Bloomberg’s public presidential mulling-over really indicates, then, is the enduring power of both the state and city of New York. This is actually not just a Bloombergnagian phenomenon: Hilary Clinton served as one New York state’s two senators from 2001 to 2009, Bernie Sanders was born and raised in Brooklyn, and Trump in Queens. (Even Chris Christie has influence over bridges that reach New York). For a while there was also some presidential buzz about New York’s current governor Andrew Cuomo, who’s father Mario was also a longtime governor of New York and came relatively close to becoming president in 1988 and 1992.

At this point, in fact, the only leading candidates who do not have ties to New York are those who have ties to Florida: Rubio is a Florida senator and son of Cuban immigrants, Jeb Bush used to be a Florida governor and is near-fluent in Spanish, Cruz’s father is from Cuba (though Cruz is himself a senator representing Texas), and Trump has usually lived in Florida when not living in Manhattan.

New York is also a somewhat peculiar state, politically. Though on the one hand it is the heartland of liberal America (along with California, of course), on the other hand it has politics that are in some ways quite Republican-esque. It has, for instance, groups that are strongly pro-finance (because a lot of its money and jobs come directly or indirectly from Wall Street), pro-Israel (because it is home to an estimated 26% of America’s approximately 6.8 million Jews …some of whom would also be happy to see Bloomberg or Sanders become the first Jewish president rather than see Hilary become the second Clinton president), and pro-security (because it has been the main terrorist target in America, not only on 9-11 but in many other cases as well).

New York also has a sizeable right-leaning “upstate” region, in which potentially significant shale energy reserves are located. Unlike in nearby states, such as newly gas-rich Pennsylvania, New York has not yet been allowed to develop these resources. Some upstate New Yorkers may therefore be hoping for a president who will support the removal of the fracking moratorium in the state, so that they too can participate in the regional shale bonanza.

1988_large

The last time New York voted for a non-Democratic candidate was in 1984 when, along with most of the other states in the country, it approved of a second term for Ronald Reagan. In the following election of 1988, however, New York was one of just 10 states, and the only populous state, to vote against George H. W. Bush, who had been Reagan’s vice president. Will New York vote against a candidate from the Democratic Party again in 2016? Probably not, but of course we will soon find out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Africa, Europe, Images, North America, South America

Image of the Day – Islands of the Atlantic

As a follow up to the post about Pacific islands from last month, I decided to make another chart showing islands in the Atlantic. This chart is not as extensive as the previous one, though; it only shows islands that have populations between 100,000 and 1 million. Also, it may be missing a couple of islands, or have population statistics that are already a bit outdated, so if you spot a missing island or a population mistake please post a comment about it below. And if you have a favourite Atlantic island, I would like to hear about that as well!

atlantic islands

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Images, North America

Image of the Day – US States

pop dens

The graph above shows the population densities of the 19 states in America that have at least 6 million people living in them. (Of the other 31 American states, 20 have fewer than 3 million inhabitants, 14 have fewer than 2 million inhabitants, and 6 have fewer than 1 million inhabitants). The graph below also shows the populations of these states. As you can see, New Jersey stands out for its high population density and high population size, while Texas and Arizona stand out for their low population densities and high population sizes.

pop dens 2

On the other extreme, Alaska and Wyoming stand out for their low population densities and low population sizes, while Rhode Island stands out for its high population density and low population size. Even Rhode Island, however, which is the most densely populated state in the country apart from New Jersey (not counting Puerto Rico or Washington D.C.), is about 17 percent less densely populated than is New Jersey. Massachusetts is the third most densely populated, followed by Connecticut (not shown above) and Maryland.

 

Exceptional New Jersey…now that’s something you don’t hear every day.

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