Rank #1: Is the American Century Over?
Americans have been worrying that their country's best days are behind it since before the American century began. And now? China's economic rise has persuaded many that China will supplant the US, if it hasn't already. But China's challenges are bigger than they look, and the US still has an edge when it comes to smart power, argues Harvard Professor Joseph Nye, author of "Is the American Century Over?"
Rank #2: China, the US and the lessons of history
Talk about epic love/hate relationships. From the birth of the United States, China has loomed large in the American imagination, and America in China's, for better and for worse, often with surprising twists. Build a wall across the Mexican border? That was first proposed to stop Chinese immigrants in the 19th century. Mao Zedong's secret vice? American 'kissy' movies, to quote former Washington Post China correspondent John Pomfret, author of "The Beautiful Country and the MIddle Kingdom," an engaging new history of what America and China have meant to each other's citizens, as well as their governments, 1776 to now. And because this is a big and important topic, this is a long(ish) podcast — so break it up if you like. Want to hear about why the Founding Fathers admired China? Listen to the first 20 minutes. How America did — and didn't — promote its values in China in the 20th century? That'd be 20:00-53:00. Challenges for US-China relations now and going forward? 53:00 to the end. Enjoy!
Rank #3: How China's past shapes dreams of future power
China was one of the world's great powers for most of the past couple thousand years, and back on its heels only for a couple of centuries, as the Industrial Revolution took off and European colonialism expanded. Now, China's drawing on its past and moving with deliberation to reclaim what many Chinese feel is China's rightful place in the world. The challenges are many, but with slowing economic growth, an aging population and uncertain future challenges from within and outside China's borders, there's incentive to act now to cement China's place as a regional if not global leader. And that's what China's leaders are doing, drawing on their past for inspiration. Host Mary Kay Magistad talks with Howard French, author of "Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China's Path to Global Power."
Rank #4: Bumps along South Africa's yellow BRIC road
South Africans' hopes and expectations that their country might become a democratic and economic leader in Africa, helped by a strong relationship with China and membership in the BRICS group — a collection of big countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) expected to emerge as economic leaders in this century — haven't turned out quite as planned. South Africa dipped into recession this year, has unemployment near 30 percent, and a deeply unpopular and, many South Africans say, ineffective president, Jacob Zuma. What happened, what now, and what do South Africans make of the similarities they see between their president, and President Donald Trump? Host Mary Kay Magistad reports from South Africa.
Rank #5: How trust eroded within America's democracy
Trust in government and journalism has plummeted in recent decades, particularly among conservatives. This wasn't a coincidence, nor strictly a result of bad behavior on the part of elected officials or the press, says Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of "It's Even Worse Than It Was: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism." He argues that understanding how we got here just might help Americans move to a better place.
Rank #6: Identity, adoption and China's one-child policy
Identity can be a tricky thing, especially if you're adopted from a country and culture that sees ethnic identity as immutable, to one where people reinvent themselves and their identities all the time. So it's been for many of the Chinese kids adopted into the United States, after landing in Chinese orphanages as a result of the one child policy. One of those kids, now grown, and her journalist mom have launched a project that reflects on identity, and led to an American daughter returning to her Chinese village of birth.
Rank #7: Requiem for Liu Xiaobo
Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo spent much of his life advocating for basic political rights and democracy in China. For that, he spent years imprisoned by a government that feels threatened by such demands. He was in prison when he won the Nobel Prize in 2010, serving 11 years for "subversion of state power," and he was in prison as his liver cancer advanced. He was released, under guard, to a state hospital, and died there July 13, 2017. Chinese authorities have repeatedly called Liu Xiaobo a criminal. They have censored information about him at home and appear to hope the world will forget him. That's unlikely. When an individual is brave enough to stand up to an authoritarian power on behalf of justice and rights for many, that stands out. And at a time when authoritarian tendencies are creeping in, in unexpected places, because people aren't always vigilant about protecting the democracy and rights they have, Liu's work and focus stand as a reminder that these things are precious to those who don't have them, and that authoritarians, once in power, rarely volunteer to cede power to citizens, unless pressure builds, and they have no other choice.
Rank #8: The precarious American Dream
Living the "American Dream" is getting harder, as prices rise faster than average wages, and work itself shifts toward a gig economy. How and why did this happen, and how might things change from here? Economic historian Louis Hyman, an associate professor at Cornell University, and author of "Borrow: The American Way of Debt," and "Debtor Nation: The History of America in Red Ink," talks about the emerging gig economy and what it might mean for America's future.
Rank #9: Propaganda primer for post-War on Terror America
Emotional events are opportunities for people in power with an agenda, and Nina Khrushcheva, great-granddaughter of former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, now a US citizen and New School professor who teaches propaganda, says the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks was such a time. She talks here about what Americans need to know about propaganda, at home as well as abroad, and about her own experience, growing up in the Soviet Union.
Rank #10: China's counterintuitive bet
Can China become a global leader in innovation by protecting state-run companies from competition at home, while acquiring innovative companies abroad? Can that innovation be sustained in a society where free speech and intellectual inquiry is sharply curtailed? China's leaders are betting on it, and in this episode, journalist-turned-business analyst Jim McGregor, chairman of APCO Greater China, mulls over the odds.
Rank #11: Trust, Faith & Trump
Trust and faith help any relationship, including the relationship between citizens and their government. What happens when trust is at a record low, and faith seems to be in mutually incompatible beliefs in a polarized society? Garry Wills, professor emeritus at Northwestern University, and an author of many books on faith and on politics, reflects on how the challenges of democracy and faith, and how America might seek a better path.
Rank #12: Rebuilding Brazil's economy requires more than BRICS and China
Brazil's economy was blazing along in the first decade of this century, turbo-charged by China's appetite for commodities. And there was the added boost of being named, by a Goldman Sachs exec, one of the rising economies to watch — the BRICS, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Then China's economic growth slowed, demand for commodities dropped and Brazil fell into its worst recession in a century, intensified by its worst corruption scandal ever. Brazil is beginning to emerge now, after two years of economic contraction and political turbulence. What are its prospects for again being seen as one of the great rising economic powers of this century? Host Mary Kay Magistad visited Rio de Janeiro to find out.
Rank #13: Blood Oil: Why what you put in your gas tank may be funding terrorism
Can a full tank of gas be linked to terrorism? It might be, if you connect the dots. Leif Wenar, author of "Blood Oil: Tyranny, Resources & the Rules that Run the World," explains how it happens, why it affects you, and what you can do about it.
Rank #14: Are authoritarians gaining ground globally? (Hint: It's complicated.)
Is the world facing an ebb in democracy and a rise of authoritarianism? Seems so when you look at some countries, but it all depends on your frame and expectations. Listen in and challenge your assumptions, with two guys who study this for a living: Harvard's Steven Levitsky and Northwestern University's Bill Hurst.
Rank #15: Episode 5: Magna Carta in China
The Magna Carta celebrates its 800th anniversary with a swing through China. But is the Magna Carta's core principle, that rulers aren't above the law, relevant to today's China? China's leaders say no; more and more Chinese citizens say yes.
Rank #16: Rule Britannia
Britain long ruled the waves, and many of its citizens have now voted for it to control its own borders, and make its own decisions, free of EU control. Is this about sovereignty, or identity, or something else entirely? It's complicated, and often not in the ways you'd expect.
Rank #17: Alive and (pretty) well after lost decades, Japan has lessons for China
Japan's economic growth is anemic, its population is aging and shrinking, and some Japanese wonder if Japan will still matter, as the century moves ahead. One way it does is as an example to China of what works and what doesn't, in managing an economy at home and power projection abroad. Japan also stands as an object lesson: A rise that looks inevitable may not be.
Rank #18: Can Chinese pragmatism help save the planet?
China's leaders may not exactly be evangelizing about the perils of climate change, but compared to Donald Trump, these days, they look downright statesmanlike on this front. And Chinese policies on renewable energy, while often driven by pragmatic self-interest more than selfless concern for the planet, may nonetheless help tip the balance in the right direction in this century.
Rank #19: Behind the Panama Papers
The largest document leak in recent history, the Panama Papers, was facilitated by 400 journalists at 107 news organizations in some 80 countries, working for a year, in secret, without word getting out. Smari McCarthy, who helped process the Panama Papers, as chief technology officer for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, calls it "a conspiracy to inform the public," and hopes making it harder to hide money will lead to more money being more equitably distributed. He talks about the project, about the Icelandic Pirate Party he cofounded, and his work to increase transparency and direct democracy around the world.
Rank #20: Fab Labs, Fab Cities, & an Indian dream of becoming an Internet of Things hub
Aiming to help everyone make almost anything, Fab Labs have opened around the world, and Fab Cities are taking the movement big-scale. Featuring Neil Gershenfeld, director of MIT's Center of Bits and Atoms, talking about the movement he started, and a visit to Kochi, formerly Cochin, a former ancient Indian trading port turned aspiring Internet of Things hub, and the first state or region to sign on to the Fab Cities movement.