Patrick Cockburn, the author of “The rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the new Sunni revolution”, is said to be the first expert who predicted the rise of ISIS. The seasoned reporter argues that “the birth of the new state was the most radical change to the political geography of the Middle East since the Sykes-Picot Agreement was implemented in the aftermath of the First World War”. And he offers a blunt and bleak account of how that happened: the marginalization of Sunnis in Shia-led Iraq, the breeding of violent activists through decades of war, the failures of the US-led “war on terror”, the influence of the Wahhabi ideology, the Saudi (financial) support, the Iraqi army dysfunctions, the denial and misreading of Western governments…His analysis zooms in on ISIS’ capture of Mosul in June 2014 and its expansion throughout Iraq and Syria in the following 100 days. He describes the functioning of a sophisticated organization: military strategies, tax collection system, detailed operations reporting, and social media mastering. And he shows the complexity of the Iraq and Syria situations with multiple internal conflicts, many players fighting for different reasons, and an ethnic disintegration possibly gone too far to re-create unitary states. To my frustration, the author is silent about what could be done and ends his book with this line: “ISIS has many enemies, so numerous indeed that they should be able to overwhelm it in the long term, but their disunity and differing agendas mean that the Islamic State is fast becoming an established geographic and political fact on the map”.
Vivek Wadhwa tells us that “These technologies will shift the global balance of power in the next 20 years”: clean energy, fracking, robotic manufacturing, and digital manufacturing. Interesting list. Plausible scenarii. Less convincing are the geopolitical implications drawn by the author (America reinvents itself, Russia and China stir up regional unrest, oil producers go bankrupt and the Middle East breeds instability), because they are not substantiated enough in the article.
My graph this week is from the Global Monitoring Report 2015/16 “Development goals in an era of demographic change”. The IMF/World Bank flagship report looks at future development challenges and opportunities through a demographic lens and offers a typology of countries based on their ability to capture demographic dividends. There is a clear link between this typology and the income-based one. “Pre-dividend” countries are mostly low income countries; “early-dividend” countries are lower MICs; “late-dividend” countries are upper MICs; and “post-dividend” countries are HICs. For each group, the report identifies national policy priorities as well as opportunities to leverage international trade, migration, and international finance to make the most of demographic dividends. This analysis is useful to think and articulate the foundational nature of our work in different demographic contexts. I would recommend reading the 20-page executive summary.
My quote this week is from Charlie Munger in his 2003 Herb Kay Memorial Lecture [H/T Shane Parrish] “Academic Economics: Strengths and Weaknesses, after Considering Interdisciplinary Needs”: “If you don’t get elementary probability into your repertoire you go through a long life a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest”.