Spotlight: Belarus

Today’s episode will feature a spotlight on Belarus only recognized as a country since 1991. Sandwiched between Russia and the European Union, Belarus is known as “Europe’s Last Dictatorship.” Its president, Alexander Lukashenko has held this position since being the first “democratically” elected president in 1994. Since then, Belarus has faced a sensitive diplomatic environment, constantly having to appease its dominant neighbor, Russia, while also balancing its relations with the European Union and the West. In this spotlight episode, we discuss Belarus’ brief history and its place in the international community.

Human Rights and the Chocolate Industry

Nearly 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from western Africa, in countries such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast. In order to fill the global demand for chocolate, thousands of small cocoa farms often rely on slavery and child labor. Children ranging in ages from 5-16 are sent by their families with promises of education or additional income for a few months work, but often remain on cocoa farms through adulthood while being subjected to dangerous work environments. Cocoa farms, and sometimes even countries, are incentivized to use the cheapest possible means of labor in order to keep the price of cocoa globally competitive. Listen to this week’s episode for a discussion on the incentives driving these human rights abuses and why a boycott might be counterproductive.

Understanding National Debt

Managing national debt is a significant issue that every country in the world must face. While media outlets often report on national debt with forecasts of doom and gloom, it is important to understand that national debt is very complex, and the effects of which, both good and bad, are numerous and far-reaching.

What is national debt?

National debt can be described and measured in several different ways. One simple explanation is that national debt is the amount of public and intragovernmental debt a government owes. A government can owe debt to different parties, including foreign governments and investors, intragovernmental holdings (which is essentially debt that a government owes to itself), and its own citizens. National deficit is a term frequently coupled with national debt, which occurs whenever a government spends more than it earns in a given year. The national debt is the aggregate of national deficits from year to year.National debt is most frequently measured as a ratio of the country’s total debt compared to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). As of January 2018, the national debt of the United States was 108% of its GDP. Theoretically, if the United States were to spend every cent of revenue on its debt, the amount of money the United States earned would not satisfy the total owed. Other countries, such as Japan, have a debt-to-GDP ratio of up to 250%. While these figures appear overwhelming, a country’s capacity to manage its debt is more important than the actual total amount owed. Whenever a government cannot properly manage its debt, the country defaults.

Is national debt bad?

While debt can sometimes be bad, the ability to accumulate debt (or raising money) is quite helpful. A government uses its borrowed money to provide services to its citizens, such as building infrastructure or for national defense during times of war. Government spending is often funneled to the private sector, which can lead to private surpluses. Individual citizens owning government debt also provides an outlet for safe, guaranteed investments for these individuals.National debt is bad whenever a country defaults. Defaulting means that a government is no longer able to manage its debt, or pay back investors. This often results in capital flight, or the loss of confidence by investors. Individual citizens or the private sector are also less willing to spend money, which can result in less economic growth.A government can pay off its national debt in a variety of ways, including austerity measures that entail significant decreases in government spending, through manipulating its currency to make its exports cheaper, or through the nationalization of industries such as oil and gas.

Case studies in national debt

Every country must manage its debt differently, and every country’s national debt can affect the world differently. The United States has paid off its debt only once in its history, which led to a short term government surplus, but a longer term recession. Iceland successfully navigated a debt crisis by manipulating its currency and allowing its private banks to fail. Other countries, like Greece, are not able to manipulate their currencies due to being tied to the Eurozone. Finally, governments in countries such as Venezuela have lost the confidence of any foreign investors, making it extremely difficult to earn any kind of foreign revenue.

Myanmar and Mobile Phones

Myanmar is experiencing one of the world’s fastest rollouts of mobile phones. What are the political, social, and economic effects of the smartphone revolution in Myanmar? Read More

Governments in Exile

What is a government, and what are the essential elements for statehood? To what extent can sovereignty be disentangled from jurisdiction over territory? In this episode, we approach these enduring questions by focusing on a unique and under-appreciated player in the international community: governments in exile. We explore the causes of governments in exile, their various forms, their differences with traditional governments, and their future paths. Read More

Unorthodox Illicit Financing

The global illicit trade and financing market is worth hundreds of billions of dollars, with smugglers and financiers engaging in unorthodox illicit dealings with goods like cigarettes and medicine. Several global initiatives have tried to stem the growing trend of illicit trade and financing to protect legitimate businesses and customers. Listen as we analyze a few case studies of illicit trade and discuss international efforts to combat these practices. Read More

H.E. Omar Arouna, Ambassador of Benin to the United States

[su_quote cite=”Ambassador Omar Arouna”]People need to watch Benin — the future of Africa will go through Benin.[/su_quote]

benin_mapThis episode originally aired in May 2016. Join us on our first installment of Conversations with Ambassadors as we sit down for a chat with Omar Arouna, the then Ambassador of the Republic of Benin to the United States, Mexico, and the Organization of American States (OAS).

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Why the Arctic Matters

As the ice in the Arctic continues to melt, countries are staking claims and preparing for economic and military development in the region. This “new frontier” has promise of prosperity, yet is rife with geopolitical risk as competition for its resources heats up between world powers like the US, Russia, and China. In this episode, we give a little background on recent developments in the Arctic and the political structure governing the region. We then look at the military, energy, and economic factors affecting the Arctic Read More

Al-Qaeda’s Global Network

Al-Qaeda has pervaded international headlines for years, but how much do you really know about the Islamist militant group? In this episode, we explore how the group is organized, how it is decentralized across many countries, and  how it is funded. Read More

Blockchain Technology

Cryptocurrencies from Bitcoin to Ripple were hot topics in 2017, but how much do you understand how they work? Blockchain technology is a rapidly expanding industry that underpins these cryptocurrencies. As this data architecture grows, it may spread to transform how other sectors process and store data. This conversation on the blockchain was originally published in September 2016 but, given the meteoric rise of some cryptocurrencies in 2017, we decided to repost it. Read More