China dominated news out of Asia this week. It’s experiencing a perverse consequence of its one child policy: a sharp uptick in adoptions of “designer babies” from the United States. China’s demography has a more problematic effect on the horizon, as the country sees a pension disaster looming in its near future. But it’s the country’s polluted and rapidly deteriorating environment that’s the more pressing issue, and Beijing is blaming the West for its water scarcity problems. One way China hopes to meet growing energy demand is by looking abroad; to that end, it’s investing in Ugandan oil fields, and pushing Russia out of Kazakhstan by securing an agreement for oil from a new field in the North Caspian Sea.
In the Middle East, Egypt’s economic minister laid out a four-step plan for recovery. But the biggest news from the region, and indeed the biggest foreign policy news anywhere this week, was the historic phone call between President Obama and Iranian President Rouhani; we figured there were three ways to interpret the news, and we’ll have to wait for the dust to settle before we know what the call means for US-Iranian relations.
Headlines out of Europe this week were largely political in nature, with Merkel’s victory in the German elections kicking things off. The peculiarities of Germany’s parliamentary system mean she still has work to do before she can get back to governing, and none of her options for forming a coalition are particularly appealing. In the UK, opposition leader Ed Miliband pledged to freeze energy prices if elected in 2015 in a clear case of populist pandering taking precedence over serious policymaking. Putin had a rough week, but went back on the offensive, telling Ukraine to stop courting EU membership or else, and striking back at Lithuania with a plan to build an LNG import terminal that would cut the former Soviet country’s profits for transporting Russian gas.
Domestically, the battle over a looming government shutdown had the chattering classes in a frenzy, though to this point it seems like a lot of noise rather than signal. In education news, NYC charter schools planned a showdown with the city’s next mayor in what will be an important battle to watch for education reformers. An interesting question was posed to those reformers this week: is progressivism holding back changes to the education bureaucracy? Student debt remains one of the biggest problems with higher education, and we’d like to see more scrutiny on why these loans don’t account for earning potential. And while we’re glad that the Obama administration has recognized these loans as a problem, most of its solutions have missed the mark, and its latest plan makes the mistake of treating the symptom, not the root cause. MOOCs, on the other hand, hold a lot of promise going forward, and US companies are increasingly buying in to the online education revolution.
In healthcare news, a fresh Obamacare delay gave us a possible glimpse at the future of its rollout. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of the Affordable Care Act is an increasingly unequal health care system. But the time for predictions is over, as the new health care exchanges are set to go live this Tuesday, October 1. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn lessons from its history to this point; as the White House has found out the hard way, planning a reform is the easy part, while achieving the right political strategy to get it signed into law and implemented is where the true challenge lies.