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Interview with Dexter Roberts, Jun 9, 2020 audio icon

While gleaming towers, high speed trains and expressways of urban China are well known, there is another China that most of us know very little about. In the last three decades, the rural interior of China has seen a mass exodus of people as factories in coastal regions promise a dream of rising wages and prosperity.

Author Dexter Roberts offers a rare view of how the rural China is affected by this mass exodus in The Myth of Chinese Capitalism. With the help of several interviews with migrant workers, business owners, labor activists and policymakers, the veteran China journalist provides valuable insights into how Beijing policies are impacting urban and rural families differently.

China’s rapid rise to “factory of the world” status is driven by the willingness of farmers to abandon farming and move to urban areas in search of higher income and better life. However, China’s hukou policy has created a two-tier system and prevents migrants from setting roots and forming families in urban areas. Even after working for more than three decades, as many as 400 million workers are still migrants and cannot settle down in prospering cities, finding it also difficult to return home.

As the availability of cheap factory workers in China begins to shrink, Beijing policy makers are forcefully advancing rapid factory automation to preserve economic growth rate. However, the rapid “robot adoption” is coming at the same as more and more foreign companies are leaving China, forcing migrant workers into low-skill service jobs.

There are several myths surrounding the Chinese economy and the book deals with a few of them head on. The middle class in China will keep expanding; migrants will return to the countryside and spark the service economy boom; economic reforms will soon be followed by political reforms; and China is all equipped to avoid Japanese-style economic stagnation.

China is facing not only the middle-income trap but also the rapidly slowing economy, dramatic income and wealth inequality, a sharp decline in birth rate and extraordinary debt burden. Despite the best efforts of the government, the Chinese economy is likely to slump into years of stagnation similar to the one faced by neighboring Japan, once the factory to the world.

Key Topics :

  • How have China’s top-down policy directives created the world’s largest migrant population?
  • Who are China's migrant workers and why are they not able to settle down?
  • How does China’s hukou policy facilitate rapid economic expansion but also alienate migrants? ...+
Interview with Chris Miller, Jun 5, 2020 audio icon

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 left Russia with economic malaise, rapid inflation and a sharp escalation in foreign debt. Even after the collapse, the Russian Federation, the country with the largest land mass, a population of 143 million and spanning multiple continents with 11 time zones and sharing borders with 14 nations. What happens in Russia does matter.

Back in 1991, the newly formed bankrupt nation struggled for another eight years before Vladimir Putin rose to lead Russia. By the time President Putin took control of the Kremlin’s bureaucracy, Russia had already defaulted on its foreign debt, shortages were widespread and the hold of the central government was weakening in the far flung regions of the country. In other words, Russia’s rule barely mattered and the looting of the nation continued.

In Putinomics, Professor Chris Miller offers a detailed account of how president Putin perceived the nation’s problems and how he went about setting the priorities for his administration. Putin applied a methodical and pragmatic approach in getting the nation’s finances in order, tightening the control of the state and maintaining stability in the nation. But it all came at a huge human cost.

This is the story of a nation that managed to rise from its bankruptcy at birth to accumulating $600 billion in its sovereign wealth fund in less than a decade. In a well-researched historical account drawn from various Russian records, Professor Miller offers insights into various economic challenges faced by Putin and how he reestablished his brand of personal politics, mended Russia’s finances and held in check the power of oligarchs.

However, Putin ended up replacing one group of oligarchs with another, failed to check the widespread corruption at the highest level of government and he has still not found a way to steer Russia’s economy away from its dependence on oil and gas. As Russia faces decades of stagnation ahead, younger and more ambitious generations will continue to leave, private businesses will remain strangled as Putin and his likely successor are expected to keep a tight control of the state across the economy.

Key Topics :

  • What was the state of the Soviet economy in the late 1990s?
  • What did Putin inherit in 1999?
  • What defined Putin’s priorities after the fall of the Soviet Union and the Russian debt default? ...+
Interview with Daniel S. Markey, May 20, 2020 audio icon

China’s rapid economic development over the past three decades has enabled Beijing to spread its wings abroad, allowing the trading giant to secure its routes to world markets.

Most of China’s trade with the rest of the world is through maritime links that connect Chinese ports on the eastern seaboard and pass through the narrow and vulnerable strait of Malacca. With few friends in the region, China needs to protect its crude oil and commodities imports as well as trillions of dollars of goods exports.

With its newfound wealth and rising confidence, China has a strong desire to build alternative routes to markets in Europe, increasingly looking at its western border and overland routes passing through Eurasia.

In China’s Western Horizon, Professor Daniel S. Markey provides a comprehensive review of China’s western neighbors and the strategic challenges facing Beijing. He sheds much-needed light on a region of the world that is often forgotten and is rarely a priority of today’s leading powers.

Pakistan, once the focal point of the Chinese western border strategy, has been thrown in turmoil as the China Pakistan Economic Corridor is facing significant hurdles on the ground. Realities are no different in Kazakhstan and in other smaller neighboring nations. However, China has increasingly played a key role in supporting the ambitions of rival regimes in Iran and Saudi Arabia in an attempt to become a new strategic alternative in the region.

Key Topics :

  • Why is China extremely sensitive to its hold over western territories?
  • How has Eurasia come to shape China’s trade routes and investment opportunities?
  • Why do local politics and needs dictate Beijing’s negotiation with border nations? ...+
Interview with James Henderson, May 14, 2020 audio icon

For the last five decades natural gas export has added significant foreign currency to treasuries of the ex-USSR and now Russia. By tapping the vast natural gas fields, Gazprom provides natural gas to more than 70% of homes and industries in Russia. Through the steady development of its distribution network, Gazprom has also become a leading supplier of natural gas to European Union member nations.

In The Globalization of Russian Gas: Political and Commercial Catalysts, professors James Henderson and Arild Moe offer a comprehensive review of the Russian natural gas industry and a detailed analysis of forces at play in Russia, Europe and Asia. Both in scale and scope, Russia’s energy complex is vast.

The global energy economy is in a state of flux and Russia, despite several technical hurdles, has managed to reach new peaks in natural gas production in 2018. Moreover, Russian gas now accounts for 36% of natural gas consumption in the EU and now with the Power of Siberia pipeline Russia has emerged as a leading gas supplier to China.

In spite of commercial and political challenges, Russia has not only increased its production but has also become a reliable supplier in the world market. How Russia balances its needs of domestic energy, the thirst of foreign exchange and diversification from its traditional markets in Europe to Asia with the help of pipe networks and LNG supply will impact global energy markets in the decade to come.

Key Topics :

  • What role have oil and natural gas played in the former Soviet Union and in today’s Russia?
  • What are the mechanisms of price discovery in Russia's gas market?
  • How has Russia's domestic natural gas market evolved and led to the rise of independent gas explorers and distributors? ...+
Interview with Chris Miller, May 12, 2020 audio icon

Only a hundred years ago, Russia was just another large country and was neither a powerful nation nor a regional or a super power. However, after World War I, Lenin and then Stalin quickly consolidated resources and focused on building an effective infrastructure that led to the steady rise of Russia to a regional power. By the time World War II broke out Russia had become a force to reckon with and was miles ahead of Britain and France in producing military hardware. 

In his well-researched book, The Struggle to Save Soviet Economy, Professor Chris Miller drives to the heart of the rise, expansion and fall of the Soviet Union. With access to thousands of Russian archived documents, Professor Miller dissects the political tensions, leadership objectives and decision-making processes at the highest echelons of Russia’s power structure.

Founded on Marxism-Leninism ideology, the Soviet Union was fueled to the near top of the world with the help of consolidation of political power in Kremlin, the sacrifice of its people and the fervent desire of its leaders to build a powerful state at the expense of personal liberty and property.

That system, though inefficient, survived more than seven decades and did manage to produce a powerful state that other powers in the world could not ignore. In the late 1970s, Russian leaders’ efforts to modernize the system unleashed forces that neither Politburo nor communist party leader Mikhail Gorbachev was able to contain. The political paralysis produced by powerful forces that opposed economic reforms was the ultimate cause of the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Although the arms race with the West, a sharp fall in crude oil prices – the Soviet Union’s main source of foreign exchange – and significant human losses in the Soviet-Afghan War contributed to the economic pain, they were not the main reasons behind the fall of the Soviet Union.

Key Topics :

  • How did Russia fight back to become a regional power first and then a superpower in the 20th century?
  • What role did Lenin and Stalin play in building and projecting power in the region?
  • How effective was central planning in directing resources to the benefit of the state? ...+
Interview with John M. Barry, May 8, 2020 audio icon

Viruses may be lethal, but it is the deadly combination of powerful lies, ignorance and fear that eventually kills more people. The flu outbreak in the spring of 1918 rapidly became a pandemic that ended up killing more people in 24 weeks than the HIV virus has killed in as many years.

While the making of the virus was a natural phenomenon, the making of the flu pandemic of 1918 was entirely human. In his award-winning book, John M. Barry weaves a detailed and well-researched story of the deadliest pandemic to this day.

We will probably never know the true account of how many people died, 50 million or 100 million or even more, but every estimate has been revised higher in the last century. What was more horrifying than the terrible loss of life was the fact that between 8% and 10% of all young adults living then may have been killed by the virus.

In a gripping and insightful account, Barry explains how the American medical education and research went from one of the worst in the world to world-class in merely three decades. He goes on to describe how dedicated and determined scientists at John Hopkins University and Rockefeller Institute and other newly established medical universities advanced the science of medical discoveries.

Key Topics :

  • What was the status of American medical science in the early 20th century?
  • How did medical research advance and “scientific medicine” take root?
  • What institutions played key roles in the advance of virology and immunology research? ...+
Interview with Nancy K. Bristow, Apr 14, 2020 audio icon

The 1918 influenza pandemic is widely believed to have originated in Kansas before it gained worldwide reputation as Spanish flu, killing at least 50 million people around the globe including 700,000 Americans. With World War I raging for a fourth year, the U.S. leadership and military unwittingly played a key role not only in spreading the lethal virus nationwide but also in exporting it to Europe and onto the rest of the world, with India alone seeing 5% of its people perish.

In her book American Pandemic – The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic, historian and author Nancy K. Bristow illuminates personal stories of flu epidemic victims and survivors along with their silent battles, the chaotic public response, the heroic work of doctors and nurses, and scientists’ attempts to decode the new infectious agent.

While the U.S. federal government largely ignored the rapid spread of the virus, and the U.S. military lost more soldiers to the flu than in World War I combat, local and state governments were forced to scramble for medical and non-medical resources. Responses from public officials and reactions from citizens differed from one state to another, which eventually led to the virus persisting for more than three years.

With vivid details, Dr. Bristow offers a fascinating recount of social and cultural history during the pandemic years. As Americans resisted the growing powers of the government, medical professionals struggled in providing care and families of flu victims grieved in silence for long periods. Years later, influenza remade individual life but not communal life when the nation eased into its preferred narrative of the medical disaster of 1918 by forgetting the pandemic. 

Key Topics :

  • How was the pandemic of 1918 first discovered?
  • What role did the U.S. military play in the spread of the lethal virus to Europe and then to the rest of the world?
  • What made the so-called Spanish flu so fatal? ...+
Interview with Michael B. A...., Apr 3, 2020 audio icon

Although viral outbreaks have been around for centuries, we still know so little about these giant killers. As people continue to reach the far corners of the world and are increasingly encroaching on more and more wildlife habitats, viral plagues are only going to intensify and become deadlier.

In his book Viruses, Plagues, and History: Past, Present and Future, Michael B.A. Oldstone, MD, Professor Emeritus and head of the Viral Immunology Laboratory at the Scripps Research Institute, offers a lucid explanation of how viral diseases managed to deplete native populations on different continents, causing dramatic geographic, economic, and religious changes.

Smallpox, polio, measles, yellow fever, HIV AIDS, SARS, West Nile virus, mad cow disease are just a few of the deadly diseases that humanity has had to face with in the past five centuries, but this list is certainly going to grow.

Even a century later, we still do not know why the lethal Spanish flu managed to kill more than 50 million people around the world. Advances in detective virology, therapeutics and our understanding of the basic functions of the immune system may have helped in dealing with several epidemics, yet the risks of the next viral pandemic or bioterrorist attack are always clear and present.

The sobering legacy of the number of infections and lives claimed by deadly viruses worldwide: smallpox – 300 million; HIV – 39 million infected, 17 million deaths; measles – 130 million infected, 8 million deaths.

Key Topics :

  • Why should we focus on viral plagues and how they managed to change the course of human history and altered military balances?
  • How were the plagues of the past first discovered and then controlled?
  • What are the origins of human viruses and what are the principles of viral infection and propagation? ...+
Interview with Suman Sarkar, Aug 9, 2018 audio icon

As manufacturing becomes more global, supply chains are becoming increasingly critical. What is more, supply chains are getting elongated with the separation of design and manufacturing from customers and markets.

In The Supply Chain Revolution, author Suman Sarkar highlights how fast-pace companies are becoming excellent at sourcing and building business alliances. Sarkar goes on to explain this development using recent examples of innovation at companies including Zara, Apple, Boeing, Airbus, Starbucks, TJ Maxx and Amazon.

Getting to the market, whether a service or a product, requires an intimate knowledge of customers and their needs. Excellence in supply chain management has helped many innovative companies to expand their product portfolio, gain market share or develop totally new markets.

Key Topics :

  • How has the supply chain evolved in recent years?
  • Why should management integrate the supply chain into strategy decisions?
  • How can supply chain excellence become a competitive advantage for companies? ...+
Interview with Bradley R. Staats, Aug 6, 2018 audio icon

Key Topics :

  • How is learning from failure different in different cultures?
  • Why do we focus on learning as an individual exercise and neglect the role played by others?
  • Why are we unwilling to take risks that might lead to failure? ...+
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