Round Table

Sinking States

The U.S. Department of Defense calls climate change a threat multiplier, but for some countries it is an imminent and existential threat. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are particularly at risk, facing the possibility of their nations literally go under in the next few decades. Join us as we discuss who’s to blame, the future for these nations and their citizens, and what can be done.

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Sand Mafias

Organized criminal groups that deal in sand are perpetrating violence and undermining governments around the world.
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Unrecognized Countries

What makes a country a country? In this episode, we look at Transnistria, Taiwan, and Somaliland while exploring competing definitions of statehood. Read More

Zoos in Conflict Zones

One of the many stories that go untold in conflict zones is the fate of zoos and their animals. There are concerns for the animals’ safety as well as for humans if predatory animals escape. In this episode, we explore just a few examples of efforts to safeguard zoos during war. Read More

The Nicaragua Canal

The Panama Canal’s opening in 1914 transformed global trade and fostered economic development in Panama. Today, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Chinese financier Wang Jing are trying to emulate its success by constructing a canal through Nicaragua. Read More

Lost Nuclear Materials

As the world turns its focus toward nuclear proliferation issues in North Korea and Iran, the international community faces another critical threat: the loss or theft of nuclear materials. This episode explores security risks of lost or stolen nuclear materials, provides case studies to illustrate the threat, and details how countries are addressing this problem. Read More

Tourism in North Korea

North Korea is notoriously isolated, but Daniel Wertz explains that the Hermit Kingdom in fact welcomes tourism – or at least tourist dollars. In this episode, our guest helps us understand what tourism looks like in North Korea and discusses the moral questions regarding tourism to the country.

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