John Micklethwait Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley
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Your two important works, one on globalization, one on the "right nation," lead me to ask you about the interface between the two. In other words, the "right nation" would support some aspects of the formula that makes globalization work, but on the other hand, especially on the social issues, for example, it cuts the other way. How do you see that balance coming out so that the "right nation" in its new guise is an engine for globalization as the U.S. has been in the past?
I suppose I should make a difference between the two books. I think we'd be -- how can I put it? -- "apologists" for globalization, but I'm not an apologist for conservative America. Therefore, it's sort of difficult to link the two, from my perspective. But it's a very, very interesting point, and nobody's actually asked me that before.
There's an element within conservative America which is quite isolationist, doesn't like the idea of this outside world. You can see it on immigration, you can see it in Pat Buchanan, and you can see it with other bits. And there's a business element within it which tends to want to open things up. The difficulty comes -- maybe on that conversation we had earlier, to do with values. If the "right nation" is part of the West fraying a bit, that is bound to harm globalization to some extent. To be fair to Bush, it's quite difficult to fault him on free trade. I mean, he made a few stupid [mistakes] with steel when he thought that was a good idea for a brief time, but on the whole he's tried to fight for free trade, perhaps not as hard as I would want, but [on] free trade and immigration, Bush has been, from our perspective at least, a relatively good president.
What about interdependence between China and the West, and especially the U.S.? It would seem pivotal for the future of globalization. Do you see that working its way through to further globalization, or is there a real danger there that could lead to a kind of unraveling?
I'm worried about that because I think China stirs up problems in America. The obvious thing to compare Sinophobia with is Japanophobia back in the 1980s. I was here then and I remember the levels to which it reached, and I remember the way in which every book was about how the Japanese were going to take over things, often deeply pernicious. I never really completely bought it. But Sinophobia is a much more potent weapon because it doesn't just have economic worries behind it. It's not just people worried about losing their jobs, about Chinese companies coming in and buying things. You've got a whole variety of other people coming in. You've got Christians in America deeply worried about what's happening to Christians in China, you have got the national security people who are deeply worried about energy security, you've got the neoconservatives who are deeply worried -- have always been deeply worried about China. If you go back to the spy plane incident, when Bush first came in, you look at copies of the Weekly Standard back then, you see people denouncing the Bush presidency as over before it's begun because how could you have given in on this relative thing. Sinophobia, I think, carries a much wider degree of power in America.
What about the other aspect of this, the interlocking of our financial systems through America's trade deficit and China being willing to acquire dollars and keep them, and so on?
China has an enormous amount of dollars and that could have an effect. Their reserve bank carries gigantic amounts of dollar reserves, and so they could do something. And on that they're slightly stuck. I mean, there's a limit to how much they can do. They may have to cash them in some periods to do with domestic unrest which they haven't sort of gotten around to doing, but my instinct's they're probably not going to do that much on it. They do have the ability though to fire back if the Americans get difficult about it, and that, I think, is worth quite a lot.
If you issued a paperback with a new appendix of The Right Nation, is there anything that you would change? Personally I thought it held up pretty well, but I guess the big issue is the consequence of the Iraq war.
A decent line of attack on The Right Nation is [that we] said that conservatism was the dominant power in America, and you look at the 2006 mid-term elections: that's a reasonable line of attack, I think. My answer to it is one, look at the type of Democrats you've got elected. They were actually relatively conservative. Movements win when they change their opposition.
A second thing is if the Republicans had not got beaten in 2006 it's almost impossible to imagine what could have beaten them. You have that degree of incompetence, ineptitude, the whole corruption of the pork, and all that type of stuff. They did stretch it -- not just Iraq, there's Katrina, there was a variety of other things. You know, pretty much, the Republicans took it right to the very limits of what you could humanly have expected to get away with. America might still be a deeply conservative place and get rid of these people just purely on the basis that they were messing it up so badly. I think the interesting one, which is somewhere at the back, is whether the 2006 result might help the Republicans in the 2008 presidential, in two ways. One, which I suspect is probably true full stop, it's persuaded them that they do need to have candidates who can appeal to the center, at least vaguely. If they had somehow managed to get away with it in 2006, I think people would've gone for the right winger and thought they could get away with it, and that might well have been disastrous. But secondly, also, I think it's [within] the ability of the party to cleanse itself and push itself back up to vibrancy. At the same time, the Democrats now have some degree of power, and so it's going to be more difficult for them to blame the Republicans for things that went wrong.
One final question. If students were watching this interview, how would you advise them to prepare for the future? I know you would tell them to subscribe to The Economist [laughs], but what beyond that?
Buy another subscription! [laughs] I think the same skills are sort of broadly there. If any people in the world don't need our help, I think it's people at Berkeley ...
... this particular region. You know, you are overflowing in opportunities and possibilities. To remain true to those bits to do with California -- that's what's so amazing about California, that's what brings people back again and again and again, because it has this ability to take very young people who come up with amazing ideas which can or cannot change the world. But it's that sense of, "why not?", and I think if they ever lost that, that would be the tragedy.
On that note -- and let me show our audience your book again. I'm sure they can still buy it but it's worth reading in terms of what it's saying about America and its relation to the world. So, John, thank you very much for joining us.
Thank you very much.
And we hope to have you back on the campus sometime soon. And thank you very much for joining us for this Conversation with History.
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