Friday, July 15, 2016

Tepperman and the Fix

Jonathon Tepperman, the managing editor of Foreign Affairs, exhorted us to temper our pessimism over the doom and gloom induced by our daily media diet. In his upcoming book, The Fix: How Nations Survive and Thrive in a World in Decline, he describes countries with good news stories.  Tepperman feels these countries offer lessons that could be extrapolated elsewhere. This talk followed right on the heels of the uplifting talk by Monica Araya (described here), in this roundly optimistic session. 

Instead of cramming too many examples into his talk, Tepperman chose three to focus on. (Bravo for this approach.)


Tepperman started by describing Canada’s immigration policy as brave and successful. In the late 60s, Pierre Trudeau, the current prime minister’s father, pulled off a great coup of progressive transformation. Unlike many countries, Canada, a vast land with a small population, actually needed more people to thrive. Past race-based immigration policy had only admitted white Europeans and this wasn’t working any more because those waves of immigrants were drying up as recovery after the war took hold in Europe.

The new immigration policy established admission requirements based on education, skills and language, plus a small number of refugees. Canada has an enviable track record of immigrants integrating and contributing to Canadian society. In fact, Tepperman told us that surveys show multiculturalism, the Canadian cultural mosaic as it’s known, ranks second as the thing Canadians are most proud of  -  before hockey!!! In fact, one of the campaign promises of the recently elected Justin Trudeau was to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees, fully ten times as many as the US*. And with this platform, he won a resounding majority.

Tepperman concluded by saying Canada was greatly admired internationally as a tolerant, accepting nation. The audience greeted this with thunderous applause**.


Suharto had been a brutal dictator in Indonesia for thirty years when he was overthrown in 1998. One of the few positive attributes of his reign was that he had kept religion out of politics and had held together - by force - the interest of Indonesia’s 17,000 islands and 1,000 languages. With his overthrow, most people feared a surge of religious intrusion into Indonesian politics, and an increase in intolerance and perhaps even terrorism in the world’s largest Muslim country. The pot might boil over without Suharto's tight lid.

For a while, that was exactly what happened. Islamic extremists garnered 36% of the vote. Yet, since then, while individuals have become more deeply religious, politics  has become less so, with the Islamic vote declining to 25% in 2014. Tepperman described some of Indonesia's successful approaches used to combat terrorism, including reducing inequality to dampen enthusiasm for terrorism, using of police rather than army for enforcement, and making trials public. One metric of their success is the extremely small proportion of ISIS fighters coming from the world’s largest Islamic nation, a tiny fraction of Belgium’s for instance.


Tepperman’s third example was Mexico, which suffered such a chaotic, hostile political atmosphere after becoming a democracy in 2000 that it seemed that the country might simply implode.

Then along came Pena. Pena was a member of the corrupt PRI party. He looked like a lightweight dilettante – indeed Tepperman's  slide of Pena flashing a big smile would make you think he was a handsome airhead toothpaste model. Yet this unlikely man hammered out three-party agreements which brought Mexico back from the brink. Immediately after election, he initiated conversations with the opposition parties (in private), actually listened to their issues, and passed some of their priority legislation before his own party’s. When asked how he achieved this progress, his response was ‘compromise, compromise and compromise’.

Lessons Learned

This talk was again one of the hits of the conference, another proudly Canadian speaker, Suzanne Simard (described here) being the first. Gosh it was a nice introduction to Canada Day!

*(As an aside, one of the TED Summit attendees I met was involved in the integration efforts for these refugees. She is deeply impressed with the job Canada is doing, undertaking strict triage in the origin territories, pairing all refugees with sponsor organizations, and quickly getting them integrated into Canadian social structure). The Globe and Mail has been running good-news stories about refugee families getting established. Not surprisingly, others have complained about shortage of resources, particularly language training resources.

** This was truly a global audience, with folks from 73 countries, many of whom had lived in more than one country, so their applause was based on a broad knowledge. Several attendees joked about their growing interest in emigrating to Canada, particularly Americans with the most pessimistic view that Trump might be elected. The Economist ran a Daily Chart tracking the number of searches for ‘moving to Canada’. Many of these were searches from the US, sparked by horror at the prospect of a Trump presidency, while a roughly equal number arose after Brexit.

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