Two Stories in the Key of: Imperial Legacies

Two Stories in the Key of: Imperial Legacies

How do long-dead empires (some longer dead than others) continue to shape politics and prosperity in today’s world?


 

All Roads that led to Rome lead to prosperity too. It’s generally accepted that building better infrastructure is a way to boost economic growth and prosperity. Politicians love infrastructure investments as ways to boost employment, reward certain constituencies, and plump up support ahead of elections. But a new study suggests that those benefits can last for hundreds, even thousands of years. A team of Danish researchers has found that areas of Europe where the Romans built the most roads are generally more economically prosperous today. The finding is doubly intriguing when you consider that, as the researchers point out, the Romans built roads primarily for military reasons (to facilitate troop movements) rather than economic ones (trade routes weren’t the main consideration.)

The P/Russian divide: Roads aren’t the only imperial legacies that continue to show up in Europe today. The imperial border that once divided today’s Poland between the Russian empire and the Prussian empire correlates almost exactly with the electoral map in elections since the return of democracy in 1989. Voters in the Western areas that used to be part of the Prussian empire, which invested more heavily in industrialization and development, have tended to vote for more socially liberal parties, while voters in the historically less developed parts of the country once under Tsarist control have tended to favor more conservative and nationalistic parties.

Have a look at the voting maps of Poland’s last presidential and parliamentary elections. As this wonderful overlay of the old imperial border shows, districts in the former Prussian part of the country supported the centrist Civic Platform while those in the erstwhile Tsarist empire went for the more right-wing Law and Justice party, which is currently in power.

Are there other imperial legacies that continue to shape political affiliations and economic development patterns today? Let us know your thoughts.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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