15 episodes

We live in a complex and ever-changing world. To navigate the vortex we must adapt to change quickly, think critically, and make sound decisions. Lucy Marcus & Stefan Wolff talk about business, politics, society, culture, and what it all means.


Navigating the Vortex Lucy P. Marcus & Stefan Wolff

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    • 5.0 • 3 Ratings

We live in a complex and ever-changing world. To navigate the vortex we must adapt to change quickly, think critically, and make sound decisions. Lucy Marcus & Stefan Wolff talk about business, politics, society, culture, and what it all means.


    The 78th UN General Assembly High-Level Week: Spotlight on Ukraine and Sustainable Development Goals

    The 78th UN General Assembly High-Level Week: Spotlight on Ukraine and Sustainable Development Goals

    This morning, the High-Level week of the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly gets under way in New York. This is the annual gathering of the heads of state and government of most of the UN’s member states. Notably absent this year, however, are four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—Russia, China, and France are not sending their presidents, and neither is the UK prime minister attending.
    What will the main focus be for the General Assembly?
    Two items will likely dominate the 78th UN General Assembly High-Level Week—the war in Ukraine and progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, on which there is a special summit in New York that is expected to conclude with the adoption of a political declaration today.
    Will the war in Ukraine dominate?
    The war in Ukraine will probably not dominate, but it will be a key item on the agenda, given especially that Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is one of the speakers scheduled to address the General Assembly on the first day of the debate. The war in Ukraine will also be critical in more indirect ways. Many countries have been affected by the war, including in terms of their food security, in terms of the inflation of energy prices, and in relation to the increasingly tense and fractious relations between Russia and the West which has added to global instability and negatively affected the ability of the international community to tackle key issues, such as development and climate change, more effectively. These issues are likely to be raised by several speakers in the debates and in meetings, like the one between Britain’s Prince William and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres yesterday.
    Who will the main players be given the leaders from the UK, France, Russia and China won’t be in attendance?
    Given that of the permanent five, veto-wielding powers of the Security Council only the US will be represented at the highest level, with President Biden addressing the General Assembly this morning in New York, we can expect key leaders from the Global South playing a more important role this year.
    President Lula of Brazil will be the first speaker after the report of the General Secretary. South Africa, another key actor for the Global South, will also be there with its president speaking this morning, while the new Nigerian president will speak in the afternoon.
    Apart from the US, key Western players sending their heads of state or government include Switzerland, Germany, and Japan. But in general, we would expect the so-called Middle Powers, including those from the Global South, which have for years pushed for a greater recognition of their role, to take at least part of the limelight. This will also include countries like Turkey, Argentina, and Qatar.
    Is it surprising to see that the leaders of these superpowers won’t attend?
    Yes and no.
    Yes, because the High-level Week at the General Assembly is one of the major universal platforms not only for addressing the assembled international community and raising key issues in front of a global audience but also for these heads of state and government to have bilateral and small multilateral meetings in the margins of the general assembly. This is where a lot of important business gets done--for example, President Biden will host the leaders of five Central Asian states today for the in the first-ever presidential summit in the so-called C5+1 summit.
    At the same time, it's also not surprising, for example, that Russia's president Vladimir Putin is not attending given that there is a warrant out for his arrest by the International Criminal Court. And the Chinese president, Xi Jinping has avoided any potential direct encounters with his US counterpart for quite some time.
    The absence of the heads of state and government of Russia, China, the UK and France, however, should also not be overstated -- regardless of their high-level presence or not, they remain the key players in the UN

    • 6 min
    Other BRICS in a new Chinese wall

    Other BRICS in a new Chinese wall

    The 15th BRICS Summit, held in South Africa from the 22nd to the 24th of August was predictably underwhelming in its lack of concrete outcomes. The BRICS, even after the addition of six new members next year, will be anything but an alternative or rival to the G7. For all the talk about multipolarity, the BRICS, and their expansion, contribute further to the consolidation of a new bipolar order with just two rival blocs—led respectively by the US and China. It remains to be seen, however, whether dislike of a US-dominated order is enough to sustain the current lure of the BRICS.
    What it’s about: The 94-paragraph Johannesburg II Declaration issued at the summit of currently five members of the BRICS—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—is a mostly aspirational and self-congratulatory document. The only truly notable outcome of the summit is contained in paragraph 91:
    We have decided to invite the Argentine Republic, the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to become full members of BRICS from 1 January 2024.
    This is preceded by the announcement that “BRICS countries reached consensus on the guiding principles, standards, criteria and procedures of the BRICS expansion process” but without any further elaboration of what these might be. And the announcement of expansion is followed by a commitment “to further develop the BRICS partner country model and a list of prospective partner countries”.
    Apart from that, the Declaration is hardly a revolutionary document. It repeats calls for reform rather than replacement of key international institutions, such as the UN, the World Trade Organisation, and the IMF. In addition, the BRICS “reaffirm the importance of the G20 to continue playing the role of the premier multilateral forum in the field of international economic and financial cooperation”.
    There are the usual expressions of concern about war and conflict, with Sudan, Niger, Libya, Western Sahara, Yemen, Syria, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Haiti all name-checked.
    On Ukraine, the language is predictably vague to accommodate the different stakes that the five members have:
    We recall our national positions concerning the conflict in and around Ukraine as expressed at the appropriate fora, including the UNSC and UNGA. We note with appreciation relevant proposals of mediation and good offices aimed at peaceful resolution of the conflict through dialogue and diplomacy, including the African Leaders Peace Mission and the proposed path for peace.
    On the other big issue in the run-up to the summit—de-dollarisation and the possible establishment of a BRICS currency—the Declaration stretches as far as “stress[ing] the importance of encouraging the use of local currencies in international trade and financial transactions between BRICS as well as their trading partners” and “encourag[ing] strengthening of correspondent banking networks between the BRICS countries and enabling settlements in the local currencies” with BRICS finance ministers and central bank governors to report back on these issues at the next summit.
    Why it matters: In their current five-member composition, the BRICS constitute just over 40% of the world’s population and account for one-quarter of global GDP ($26tn out of $104tn, according to World Bank data). The six new members will not significantly increase either of these figures: based on 2022 data, the enlarged BRICS’ share of global GDP will only increase by three percentage points. But with the addition of major Chinese oil and gas suppliers—notably Saudi Arabia and the UAE, less so, for now, Iran—what will, from 2024 onwards count as BRICS-internal trade is likely to increase. The same is probable to occur for BRICS-to-BRICS FDI.
    All five current members are part of the G20. With Argentina and Saudi Arabia joining the BRICS in 2024,

    • 18 min
    What next for Russia: Fragility, Fallout, and Shifting Dynamics

    What next for Russia: Fragility, Fallout, and Shifting Dynamics

    In this emergency episode of the "Navigating the Vortex," podcast and provide a detailed analysis of Prigozhin’s fast march to Moscow, the role of key players, and the potential consequences, and opportunities, for the region and the world.
    Lucy and Stefan delve into the many facets of the aftermath: the implications for the war in Ukraine, the changing power dynamics inside and outside Russia, and the kaleidoscope of players, from the African nations to multinational boardrooms, and from Washington DC and New Delhi to Beijing.

    Get full access to Navigating the Vortex at www.navigatingthevortex.com/subscribe

    • 41 min
    Keeping an eye on the fundamentals

    Keeping an eye on the fundamentals

    Two reports out this week — the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects and the OECD’s Global Economic Outlook — paint a picture of slow growth and incremental recovery threatened by persisting economic, political, and environmental risks. Both reports emphasise the importance of sound macro-economic policy, including addressing inflation, responsible debt management, and structural policy reforms that enhance productivity and can sustain longer-term growth.
    What it’s about: The prospects of global economic growth remain bleak. Both the World Bank and the OECD project very moderate growth across all regions for 2023 and 2024. The projections are not identical in the last detail of every percentage point, but the underlying message is clear: growth is at best fragile and risks remain significant. Above all, whatever economic growth might be possible is unlikely to be sufficient to create the fiscal space for governments to address a vast number of socio-economic, political, and environmental challenges by simply throwing money at these problems.
    Instead, the World Bank and the OECD both point out the need to return to the fundamentals of macro-economic policy making; that is, to move away from a permanent crisis mode that responds to whatever appears as the most pressing issue of the day and ensure that foundations are (re-) built that will enable sustainable long-term growth.
    The growth required to deal with the challenges that lie ahead is substantial. Populations are growing globally, but unequally; climate change requires a transition to net-zero and much greener economies than we have today; workforces need to become more diverse and inclusive and will need a whole range of new skills.
    Why it matters: This is not the first time that key economic and financial institutions have pointed out that the underlying drivers of economic growth are weak and that the prospects for achieving levels of sustainable growth that would be sufficient to deal with challenges as diverse as climate change, sovereign debt crises, and demographic change are mixed at best.
    “Is global growth doomed?” was a question that we discussed some two months ago (On Our Radar, 5 April 2023), the problems are deep-seated, the consequences of not addressing them will be negative and long-lasting, and the solutions, while in many ways obvious, difficult to achieve at a time of geoeconomic and geopolitical fragmentation.
    In this sense, the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects and the OECD’s Global Economic Outlook don’t tell us anything new per se. They identify similar underlying trends — inflationary pressures, the risks to global trade from ‘de-coupling’ and ‘de-risking’, etc. Both note the lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of the unsustainable loosening of fiscal policies. Both point to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine as an exacerbating factor.
    Counter to the perennial call for everyone to “think outside the box” to find the solutions, what is important, is the emphasis on “getting back in the box”. That a permanent crisis mode of economic policy making can all too easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy by making the crisis itself permanent. For that reason alone, both reports are important, and their advice needs to be heeded by policy makers around the world.
    Our take: Resilience is at the top, front, and centre of a seemingly never-ending series of global summits, as we covered in our On Our Radar pieces on 22 May and 5 June — “Moving on from Ukraine? China-West relations between Xi'an and Hiroshima” and “Summitry continued: the EU and Central Asia, BRICS and Friends, and the European Political Community”.
    And if any further proof of the focus on resilience was needed, the OECD’s 2023 Ministerial Council Meeting, which endorsed the Global Economic Outlook report, was imaginatively titled “Securing a Resilient Future: Shared Values and Global Partnerships”. Its Key Issues

    • 12 min
    Summitry continued: the EU and Central Asia, BRICS and Friends, and the European Political Community

    Summitry continued: the EU and Central Asia, BRICS and Friends, and the European Political Community

    Last week saw another three summits in quick succession: the foreign ministers of the BRICS countries met in Cape Town, South Africa; the European Political Community met at Mimi Castle in Bulboaca, Moldova, and the Heads of State of Central Asia and the President of the European Council came together in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan. None of the meetings produced much in terms of concrete outcomes, but even as mere talking shops they are indicative of geopolitical and geoeconomic flux and uncertainty.
    What it’s about: The foreign ministers of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — collectively also known as the BRICS — met in Cape Town. Their Joint Statement emphasised a common commitment to challenge what is, in the BRICS’ view, a western-dominated international order, often couched in calls to both strengthen and reform existing multilateral institutions like the UN and to promote “a more agile, effective, efficient, representative and accountable international and multilateral system.”
    The three stated pillars of the BRICS — political and security, economic and financial, and cultural and people-to­ people cooperation — are not very different from discussions at the second meeting of the European Political Community. Held in Moldova in a not-so-subtle endorsement of that country’s EU ambitions, the forty-five gathered leaders discussed peace and security, energy resilience, and connectivity and mobility in Europe. Intended as an informal policy coordination forum, there was no official communiqué and only a brief pre-meeting statement by the Head of the European Council, Charles Michel, as well as an even shorter statement by him following a separate discussion he chaired between the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, France, and Germany.
    The brevity of these two statements could be explained either with the secrecy (or vacuousness?) of the discussions in Moldova or with Michel’s busy schedule, as he headed straight to Cholpon-Ata to the second EU-Central Asia summit from there. While this meeting did produce a more fulsome joint press communiqué, it was perhaps the one most devoid of concrete results, reaffirming intentions that had already been reaffirmed in a similar communiqué after the first summit on 27 October last year.
    Why it matters: As we discussed in our earlier piece, Moving on from Ukraine? China-West relations between Xi'an and Hiroshima (On Our Radar, 22 May 2023), the war in Ukraine remains an important driver of the current flux and uncertainty in the international system, but not the only one, and it certainly gives rise to, and exacerbates, any number of other factors that add to the current conflagration of multiple crises.
    Last week’s three summits are no different. The BRICS statement did not mention Ukraine, but noted “concern about the use of unilateral coercive measures, which are incompatible with the principles of the Charter of the UN and produce negative effects notably in the developing world” before doubling down by recognising “the impact on the world economy from unilateral approaches in breach of international law and they also noted that the situation is complicated further by unilateral economic coercive measures, such as sanctions, boycotts, embargoes and blockades.” A charitable reading here might consider the reference to “unilateral approaches in breach of international law” as including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the key point that permeates these and other passages of the statement is the concern about the economic impact of the war in Ukraine and the intensifying economic conflict between China and the US. An impact that is primarily borne by the global south — of which the BRICS consider themselves the leading voices and which they also seek to shape more, including through a potential expansion of the format.
    This desire to remould the BRICS from an alternative to the G7 into to an alternative to a US-led global West t

    • 11 min
    The Debt Ceiling, Summitry, and Corporate Governance in Japan...or just follow the money

    The Debt Ceiling, Summitry, and Corporate Governance in Japan...or just follow the money

    Join hosts Lucy Marcus and Stefan Wolff for a deep dive into some of the most pressing issues of today and tomorrow.
    In this episode of Navigating the Vortex, Lucy and Stefan talk through the continuing impact of the potential US default; the regional and global summits that tell us about China's growing influence in Central Asia, Ukraine's diplomatic efforts, G7 concerns regarding China; and how money is the glue that ties the threat of default by the US government, the recent banking sector crisis, and Japanese corporate governance together.
    Too late to avoid the consequences of a potential default?
    Lucy and Stefan begin with an update on the potential US default and the ongoing negotiations to raise the debt ceiling. They talk about the geoeconomic consequences of a default and the credit rating agencies' concerns about political partisanship hindering a resolution.
    Then it is on to recent and upcoming regional and global summits. Stefan talks through China's Belt and Road Initiative and its economic and political influence in Central Asia, the runners and riders embracing China's investments, as well as where the war in Ukraine, President Zelensky's diplomatic efforts, and support from Western partners fit into all of it.
    Lucy and Stefan delve into the G7 summit particularly regarding its focus on China and concerns about economic resilience and security. They highlight the implications for the private sector, such as evaluating equipment, protecting advanced technologies, and considering foreign investment strategies.
    Coming up, there is more summitry to be had with the Nato foreign ministers meeting, the European Political Community gathering, and the 25th anniversary of the European Central Bank—Lucy and Stefan will brief you on key issues from these summits as and when they arise.
    The hum of instability, both economic and political, balanced by borderless money
    Lucy and Stefan outline some of the threads of the interconnectedness of geopolitics and geoeconomics, drawing together the threat of US default, the recent banking sector crises, and corporate governance issues - this time looking at Japan.
    Above all else, they emphasize the fragility of global economic stability and the importance of vigilance.
    Deeper Dive
    As promised in the podcast episode, here are links to several items mentioned for those who’d like a deeper dive:
    Stefan and Lucy first discussed the potential impact of a US debt default on the global economy several weeks ago. Starting with an explanation of what the debt ceiling actually is, they talk through severe consequences for the US economy and that a US default would have significant global consequences due to the US's central role in the global economy and financial system. Here is that episode:
    Stefan mentioned a webinar that he co-organised with the Foreign Policy Centre in London, where he is a Senior Fellow. The video of the webinar “The impact of the war in Ukraine on connectivity in Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus” is below.
    Lucy mentioned a piece she wrote, The Better Corporation, about the forced transformation of corporate governance in Japan, prompted in no small part by international investors expecting Japanese companies to adhere to universal principles of good corporate governance.
    Also, this link takes you to a collection of all of the columns on corporate governance on Navigating the Vortex.
    We hope you'll continue to share Navigating the Vortex far and wide, with friends, family, colleagues, across social media, and people you meet at summer garden parties.
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    • 19 min

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