25 April 2018   Leave a comment

We still do not have many details about the proposed meeting between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, but there is one thing that we do know:  the central point of these negotiations will be over the meaning of the word “denuclearization”.  It is a new word (apparently) with no set definition.  Fred Kaplan has written an essay on the different possible meanings of the word, highlighting the ways Kim and Trump have variously interpreted the word.  Kaplan argues that Kim’s definition is that it is a process that should occur over a long period of time with reciprocal and synchronized steps by both sides toward the ultimate goal of eliminating the presence of nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula.  Trump, however, believes that it is a precondition for further contacts between the US and North Korea..  The two definitions are profoundly divergent.  There are possible ways to make them compatible, but those ways are incredibly nuanced and subtle.  It remains to be see if both men have the appetite for such delicate diplomacy.


Sharun Mukand and Dani Rodrik wrote a paper in 2015 entitled “The Political Economy of Liberal Democracy” (NBER Working Paper No. 21540, Issued in September 2015) which articulates a very difficult balancing act for all liberal societies that embrace democratic voting systems:  “societies are divided by two potential cleavages: an identity split that separates a minority from the ethnic, religious, or ideological majority, and a wealth gap that pits the rich against the rest of society….The depth and alignment of these divisions determine the likelihood of various political regimes. The possibility of liberal democracy is always undercut by illiberal democracy at one end and what we call “liberal autocracy” at the other, depending on whether the majority or the elite retain the upper hand.”

The difficulty in maintaining the balance between the rights of minorities and the preferences of the majority is clear:

“Liberal democracy is inherently fragile because reconciling its terms does not produce a natural political equilibrium. When elites have sufficient power, they have little interest in reflecting the preferences of the public at large. When the masses mobilize and demand power, the resulting compromise with the elites rarely produces sustainable safeguards to protect the rights of those not represented at the bargaining table. Thus, liberal democracy has a tendency to deteriorate into one or the other of its perversions – illiberal democracy or undemocratic liberalism.”

The essay is definitely worth reading and highlights some of the conundrums facing liberalism today in powerful clarity.


Since 2002 the organization, Reporters Without Borders, has published its World Press Freedom Index which measures the degree of press freedom in most countries in the world.  In 2018 Norway had the greatest degree of press freedom and North Korea came in last, in 180th place.  The overall scores reflect lesser degrees of press freedom overall, as the press has become the object of scorn in a number of countries which traditionally had prized press freedom.  The top ranks for 2018 are as follows:

  1. Norway
  2. Sweden
  3. The Netherlands
  4. Finland
  5. Switzerland
  6. Jamaica
  7. Belgium
  8. New Zealand
  9. Denmark
  10. Costa Rica
  11. Austria
  12. Estonia
  13. Iceland
  14. Portugal
  15. Germany

The US came in at #45 in the world.  I suspect that most Americans would be surprised at its low rank as well as by many of the countries that have greater press freedom.

Posted April 25, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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