Sep 5, 2019

The specter of global disintegration

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It's the end of the world as we know it. The world is disintegrating, and much of the highly visible noise and chaos is a symptom of a much deeper problem.

Driving the news: In Hong Kong, millions of demonstrators are taking to the streets in a desperate attempt to preserve their democratic freedoms. In Argentina, the government has been forced to implement capital controls to prevent money from fleeing the country. In Britain, incoming Prime Minister Boris Johnson has lost his majority, his long-coveted control over legislation, and even his attempt to call a new election. Brexit uncertainty has never been greater.

These are high-stakes dramas, and their outcomes matter greatly. Hong Kong is a great test of whether Xi Jinping's China is remotely compatible with Western liberalism. Argentina is a great test of whether a market-friendly government, working closely with the IMF, can turn an economy around. Britain is, in many ways, a great test of democracy itself.

  • So far, in all three cases, the outcomes have been profoundly disappointing and depressing, even as some hope remains.

Zoom out: In a bigger sense, the final outcomes don't matter. In all 3 cases — and, most importantly of all, in Trump's America — what we're witnessing is the spectacle of global integration being thrown suddenly and jarringly into reverse.

  • Even if Hong Kong's demonstrators have all 5 of their demands met (right now it's 1 down, 4 to go), China has made it abundantly clear that it has no respect for the "one country, two systems" framework, which in any case is scheduled to end in 2047. Hong Kong is arguably the most internationally integrated city in the world, which means the only direction from here is backwards. As Dan Harris put it 3 weeks ago in China Law Blog, "Hong Kong as an international business and financial center is no more."
  • Even if Argentina's Mauricio Macri wins the general election, yet another bond default is inevitable. Whatever international credibility Argentina had regained over the last four years of Macri's presidency is irretrievably lost.
  • Even if Britain manages to avoid a no-deal Brexit — even if it manages to avoid any Brexit at all — the desire of half the nation to cut itself off from its major trading partners is going to dominate British politics and economics for decades to come.

The bottom line: The postwar economic order was built on ever-increasing integration, and there is no precedent in modern history for how — or even whether — the global economy can cope with its opposite.

Go deeper

Italy reports lowest number of new coronavirus cases since February

Italy’s aerobatic team Frecce Tricolori fly over Milan in Duomo Square on May 25. Photo: Francesco Prandoni/Getty Images

The Italian government reported 300 new cases of coronavirus on Monday, the lowest daily increase since Feb. 29.

Why it matters: Italy, the first country in Europe to implement a nationwide lockdown after emerging as a hotspot in March, appears to have finally weathered its coronavirus outbreak. Italy has reported nearly 33,000 total deaths, the third-highest total behind the U.S. and U.K.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 5,453,784 — Total deaths: 345,886 — Total recoveries — 2,191,310Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 1,651,254 — Total deaths: 97,850 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,915Map.
  3. World: Top Boris Johnson aide defends himself after allegations he broke U.K. lockdown — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Joe Biden makes first public appearance in over two months

Photo: Oliver Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden made his first in-person appearance in over two months on Monday to honor Memorial Day by laying a wreath at a Delaware veterans park, AP reports.

Why it matters: Biden, the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee, has taken the unprecedented step of campaigning from his home during the coronavirus pandemic, ever since canceling a rally in Cleveland on March 10.