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The End of Sweden’s “Naïve Slumber” Lays Bare Its Competing Truths

By | April 19, 2017

The woman in the audience is among those who will stay for a while to ask a question. I have just been giving a lecture at the Foreign Policy Association of Sweden’s Uppsala University. The topic is the country’s migration. That is almost the only thing we’ve talked about since autumn of 2015, when 10,000 asylum seekers arrived every week, raising questions about how our …

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Sweden, the Land of Ikea and Abba, Is Being Reshaped by Refugees

By | April 19, 2017

“Which color?” asked the officer, who sat on the other side of the solid table.
“What?” I answered cautiously.
The state representative, whom I met on a gray February day in early 1990 at the Swedish consulate in Zurich, where I studied at that time, became louder: “What color does the toothbrush have?”
I was surprised and a little bit intimidated by this question and responded, …

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Want to Really Help Workers? Then Embrace Free Trade

By | April 18, 2017

Ideas, innovation, exploration, and entrepreneurship make societies rich. When you buy something built elsewhere you are not just buying a fancy new object. You are importing ideas and innovation. When we welcome traders and merchants, with their wares and goods they exchange with ours, we trade not just goods and services, we open our minds to new ways of doing things—doing it more efficiently, more …

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In the Corridors of Power, Shadow Figures Are Stealing the Spotlight

By | April 17, 2017

Seconds rarely come first. If media coverage is a reliable indicator of public interest, however, seconds in command are currently top of the show, not the postscript but the story itself.
Those who advise, assist, check, and even, on occasion, usurp their leader have always captured our imagination: Octavian (who was to become the first Emperor of Rome as Caesar Augustus) had Gaius Maecenas, his …

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Why the Ancient Greeks Saw Immigrants as Both a Boon and Threat to Homeland Security

By | April 10, 2017

Even though the United States is worlds away from ancient Greece, we still sometimes use the Greeks’ vocabulary for describing immigrants and our fear of them. Like the ancient Greeks, some of the more xenophobic among us decry foreigners as “barbarians.” The Greeks named non-natives barbaroi because foreign languages to their ears sounded like bar-bar-bar. The term carried a lot of baggage: Barbarians were ruled …

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The Backlash Against International Trade Is Rooted in Real but Misplaced Fears

By | March 28, 2017

Can we have all the adults in the room stand up and chant in unison: “Who’s Afraid of Global Trade? Who’s Afraid of Global Trade?” That should calm us down. It worked for the three little pigs.
I understand that when things are going badly it is our human instinct to find the culprit among the “others,” which often means foreigners (excluding the countries from which …

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Why the Housing Crisis Won’t Get Fixed by Building Cheaper Homes

By | March 22, 2017

This time of year, the swallows return to Capistrano, and I return to my birthplace, San Francisco, for the city’s annual pre-budget finance conference. For the last few years I have kicked things off with an economic outlook for the coming year, replete with a discussion of risks. This being San Francisco, naturally, I had to talk about the high costs of housing as one …

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Why Scurvy Is Still a Snake in Mankind’s Nutritional Lost Paradise

By | March 21, 2017

At some time in the evolution of the human organism, the gene that had allowed the body to synthesize vitamin C mutated, and the liver enzyme responsible for the synthesis ceased to work. The change had no known negative effect in humans, except when diets were restricted and fresh food was not readily available, as in famines, sieges, sea voyages, and polar explorations.
Then …

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Why Extreme Moderation Is the Vital Alternative to Political Polarization

By | March 20, 2017

Last month, the Bulgarian-French intellectual Tzvetan Todorov died. A scholar on the history of thought, his writings influenced fields as disparate as anthropology, literary criticism, and history. His death was, of course, tragic for family and friends: Stricken by Parkinson’s, he was gone more suddenly than any of us had anticipated. But it was also tragic for readers and citizens who had never met him. …

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No One Wants to Wear the “Fascist” Label, Even If It Fits

By | March 15, 2017

Western democracy may be facing its biggest challenge since 1945. It’s easy to find parallels between Donald Trump, the UK Independence Party (UKIP), the French National Front, the Alternativ für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany–AfD), and many similar movements and the fascist and national socialist movements of the interwar years. Racism, extreme hostility to the left, and Trump’s hints that he might not have accepted a …

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