Listen to this article
This article is from today’s FT Opinion email. Sign up to receive a daily digest of the big issues straight to your inbox.
The lesson former KGB officer Vladimir Putin drew from the collapse of the Soviet Union was that it was its internal weaknesses, rather than external pressure, that led to its unravelling.
Gideon Rachman argues in his latest column that Russia’s president believes the geopolitical power struggles of the 21st century will also be determined by domestic resilience and not external strength. To that end, Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election was designed to exacerbate tensions in the American system that were already there.
Russia has its own internal problems, of course, as does the US’s other major global competitor, China. But the failings of a democracy are much harder to miss.
Big Tech backlash
The American writer Henry David Thoreau worried at the height of the industrial revolution that humans would become “the tools of their tools”. Today, writes Anne-Marie Slaughter, the concern is that we will become our tools as the big tech companies seek to complete the merger of man and machine. But, Anne-Marie argues, people are fighting back, just as they did against the iniquities of the early factory system in the 19th century.
Eighteen months ago, Leavers argued that Brexit would allow Britain to “take back control”. Today, they make a much less stirring case for “managed divergence”. The government’s “three baskets” model for the UK’s future relationship with the EU, argues Janan Ganesh, suggests a certain squeamishness on the part of all but the most ideological Leavers about truly going it alone.
Pierre Lagrange used to be a bitcoin agnostic. Now, he writes, he is convinced that cryptocurrencies, and the blockchain technologies that underpin them, are here to stay. And Britain should use its competitive advantage in financial regulation to help fashion a global regulatory system governing their use.
Best of the rest
We’re still paying for rich people to go to college. Why? — Fred Hiatt in The Washington Post
A new game at the Winter Olympics — Evan Osnos in the New Yorker
The Socialist party shares much of the responsibility for inequality in France — Louis Maurin in Le Monde (in French)
The making of Lehman Brothers II — Simon Johnson for Project Syndicate
Brexit’s threat to the Irish economy could see voters turn to unification — Peter Mandelson in Prospect
What you’ve been saying
Drop Rhodes’ name completely and call it the ‘Mandela scholarship’— letter from Peter Doyle
What compelling reason under heaven is there to have such a prestigious global scholarship named after a racist, misogynistic, cruel, imperialist bigot? And if you reply “it’s his money”, I would urge you to reconsider its provenance. Have the scheme renamed “the Mandela Scholarship” and let Rhodes look, from wherever he now is, upon that.
Comment from Dr. Hu on Zombie companies walk among us
The ECB’s aggressive bond buying and low interest rate policy has sustained an army of zombie factories and businesses long past their normal expiry date. And yet, as you point out, their inevitable demise will leave a void quickly filled by cheap Chinese (etc.) imports — not new Italian, Spanish, or Greek start ups. Unemployment would soar, intractable debt and non-performing loans would scuttle zombie banks, and a domino effect would begin unraveling the messy tangle of nonviable sovereign bonds.
The threat to progress on preventing road deaths— letter from Antonio Avenoso
The hype surrounding automated driving (to which your newspaper is not always immune) also threatens to hold back progress over the next few years in reducing the 1.25m deaths that occur annually on the world’s roads. By 2030, there may well be a few million self-driving cars globally, but there will also be more than 1bn cars driving that do not have such features. Many of those vehicles are the ones that will leave factories this year and next. The issue is that policymakers, as well as carmakers, are becoming so obsessed with the dream of an autonomous future that they are ignoring many of the causes of road collisions that could be avoided today through the use of existing, widely available and affordable technologies. Autonomous Emergency Braking, Intelligent Speed Assistance and Lane Keeping Systems could be as effective for reducing road deaths as the seatbelt has been. But, like the seatbelt, we will only see the biggest safety gains when all cars are fitted. Offering them as optional extras, or only on premium models, as today, is not good enough.
The backlash against Big Tech is gathering speed This rebellion is spiritual as well as political
Theresa May’s Brexit baskets are full of holes Leavers cherish the legal fact of sovereignty but not the practical exercise of it
What happens if there is no Brexit withdrawal agreement Failure in this area would mean the UK facing yet more difficult decisions
Narendra Modi’s jobs claim proves a political hot pakora The Indian PM’s comments about self-employment have been widely mocked by his rivals
An investment manager’s frustration buying bitcoin for his family Britain should grasp the opportunity to become a leader in cryptocurrency regulation
Instant Insight: McKinsey election of a solid male leader raises deeper questions The vote for Sneader may be one for continuity but perhaps his peers need a shake-up
Free Lunch: Finally, some Brexit decisiveness Labour’s constructive embrace of a customs union
Russia, America and a contest of sick systems Internal resilience, not external strength, will determine the century’s power struggles
FT View: Jeremy Corbyn’s welcome shift on the customs union The UK opposition party can now influence Conservative MPs on a more sensible Brexit
FT View: Xi’s power grab demands a clear western response The end of presidential term limits in China has global implications
The Big Read
The Big Read: Returning the UK’s privatised services to the public Labour’s plan for renationalisation is popular but how costly — and effective — would it be?