The Crown Prince and the New Saudi Economy

The Public Investment Fund is supposed to be Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, but the prince, who heads its board, runs it like his own business. In April, it acquired 129 square miles of state land for a sports and entertainment city. In August, it announced plans for a tourist resort bigger than Belgium. And in October, Prince Mohammed unveiled Neom, his $500 billion robot city, at an international conference.

..  Far from diversifying wealth, he seeks to centralize it in his hands.

.. Prince Mohammed still hopes to raise around $100 billion from the purge. Yet that amount would cover only his budget deficit in 2015

.. the Saudi economy dropped into recession more sharply than predicted in the last quarter. The gross domestic product dipped 0.7 percentin 2017, substantially down on pre-purge predictions of growth of 0.1 percent, and worryingly below population growth of 2 percent.

.. Saudi Arabia’s ranking on the World Bank’s ease of doing business index has fallen from 26 in 2014 to 92 in 2017. Unemployment continues to increase, in part because of the influx of women into the job market.

.. Economists expect the ranks of Saudis living in poverty — around 20 percent — to swell.

.. A direct sale to Chinese state-owned oil companies is also being mentioned.

.. Investors and neighbors crave predictability, stability and the confidence that comes with a sound regulatory system. All three are what made Dubai. Properly carried out, such a system would please bankers who might welcome the chance to retrieve debts or land from princes that act like robber barons.

.. A new House of Lords would lessen the risk that wounded egos will spawn an opposition. Subject to his elders’ scrutiny, the crown prince might be more prudent about spending money, particularly on defense and security, which documents indicate was 43 percent over budget in 2016.

.. For now Prince Mohammed is offering more personal liberty and relief from the scowls of the religious police as compensation for the introduction of taxes.

But as Abdullah, the previous king, recognized, more taxation — whether direct or indirect — will stoke demands for broader representation.

Angela Merkel’s Failure May Be Just What Europe Needs

For all the understandable talk about the crisis of Western liberalism, the political chaos of the last few years has also demonstrated that many supposed agents of post-liberalism are unready to really push the liberal order to the breaking point.

President Trump is a political weakling, not a Caesar; Marine Le Pen can’t break 35 percent of France’s presidential vote; the Islamic State has all-but-fallen.

.. Dougherty has been circulating in high-level confabs since Trump’s election and reports a persistent mood of entitlement and ’90s nostalgia — a refusal to take responsibility for foreign policy failures, to admit that post-national utopianism was oversold, to reckon with the social decay and spiritual crisis shadowing the cosmopolitan dream.

.. Indeed, all the high-level agita surrounding Germany’s political crisis — good heavens, not a minority government! — suggests a basic deficiency of elite imagination that will be one of the things that brings down the liberal order if it does eventually fall.

.. Better that kind of crisis-generating move by far, in fact, than a grand coalition of parties united only in their anti-populism, and perfectly designed to ratify the populist critique that all the elites are in cahoots.

What will save the liberal order, if it is to be saved, will be the successful integration of concerns that its leaders have dismissed or ignored back into normal political debate, an end to what Josh Barro of Business Insider has called “no-choice politics,” in which genuine ideological pluralism is something to be smothered with a pillow.

.. In Angela Merkel’s Europe right now, that should mean making peace with Brexit, ceasing to pursue ever further political centralization by undemocratic means, breaking up the ’60s-era intellectual cartels that control the commanding heights of culture, creating space for religious resistance to the lure of nihilism and suicide — and accepting that the days of immigration open doors are over, and the careful management of migrant flows is a central challenge for statesmen going forward.

The Coming War on Business

In a series of essays for conservative magazines like Chronicles, Francis hammered home three key insights.

The first was that globalization was screwing Middle America. The Cold War had just ended, capitalism seemed triumphant and the Clinton years seemed to be an era of broad prosperity. But Francis stressed that the service economy was ruining small farms and taking jobs from the working class.

  1. His second insight was that the Republican and conservative establishment did not understand what was happening. He railed against the pro-business “Economic Men” who thought G.D.P. growth could solve the nation’s problems, and the Washington Republicans, who he thought were infected with the values of the educated elites.
  2. Francis told Buchanan. “Go to New Hampshire and call yourself a patriot, a nationalist, an America Firster, but don’t even use the word ‘conservative.’ It doesn’t mean anything anymore.”
  3. .. His third insight was that politics was no longer about left versus right. Instead, a series of smaller conflicts — religious versus secular, nationalist versus globalist, white versus nonwhite — were all merging into a larger polarity, ruling class versus Middle America.

“Middle American groups are more and more coming to perceive their exploitation at the hands of the dominant elites. The exploitation works on several fronts —

  • economically, by hypertaxation and the design of a globalized economy dependent on exports and services in place of manufacturing;
  • culturally, by the managed destruction of Middle American norms and institutions; and
  • politically, by the regimentation of Middle Americans under the federal leviathan.”

appalled by pro-corporate Republican economic policies on the one hand and liberal cultural radicalism on the other. They swung to whichever party seemed most likely to resist the ruling class, but neither party really provided a solution.

The Buchanan campaign was the first run at what we now know as Trumpian populism.

.. “The ‘culture war’ for Buchanan is not Republican swaggering about family values and dirty movies but a battle over whether the nation itself can continue to exist under the onslaught of the militant secularism, acquisitive egoism, economic and political globalism, demographic inundation, and unchecked state centralism supported by the ruling class.”

.. Francis was a racist. His friends and allies counseled him not to express his racist views openly

.. in 1994 Francis told a conference, “The civilization that we as whites created in Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people, nor is there any reason to believe that the civilization can be successfully transmitted to a different people.

.. When you look at today’s world through the prism of Francis’ work, a few things seem clear: Trump is not a one-time phenomenon; the populist tide has been rising for years. His base sticks with him through scandal because it’s not just about him; it’s a movement defined against the so-called ruling class.

.. Trump may not be the culmination, but merely a way station toward an even purer populism.

.. Trump is nominally pro-business. The next populism will probably take his ethnic nationalism and add an anti-corporate, anti-tech layer. Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple stand for everything Francis hated — economically, culturally, demographically and nationalistically.

.. As the tech behemoths intrude more deeply into daily life and our very minds, they will become a defining issue in American politics. It wouldn’t surprise me if a new demagogue emerged, one that is even more pure Francis.

Amazon Puts Whole Foods on Fast Track to Conventional Supermarket

Specialty grocer will no longer allow ‘brand advocates’ in stores, a potential blow to local sellers

Whole Foods also is centralizing much of its decision-making regarding the assortment of products across the country. Instead of allowing brands to frequently pitch their products to individual stores or regions, Whole Foods executives in its Austin, Texas headquarters will choose a higher percentage of the items stores carry.
.. Market reports show traffic improvement since the deal closed last month, likely because the chain lowered prices on key items like eggs and milk.

.. Some consultants also say they expect local brands to take their products elsewhere due to the push to pitch Whole Foods’ headquarters.