Policy Forum

The CFDS publishes roughly bimonthly Policy Forums on current political and economic issues. Articles in our Policy Forum series are commentaries on current political issues. They reflect the opinion of the authors and – although researched to our best knowledge – are not scientific papers. If there are CFDS papers on related issues, they will be referred to in the text.

Policy Forum 5 (November 2018)

I should start this article with a disclaimer. It is slightly unscientific in that it depends a lot on personal experience and anecdotal evidence. Ever since I moved to China, the first question I hear when going home to Germany or visiting the US is “How is the pollution?”, “Can you breathe there?” or “Isn’t’ the smog dangerous for your kids?”. So this is the reply, both of a person who actually likes his home and dislikes people focusing only on the negatives, and the economist who believes that people make a serious lapse in judgment when it comes to pollution and China.

First of all, I have to admit, there are bad days when nobody who can avoid it goes out and where a walk in the park feels like smoking a pack of cigarettes. Yet, overall it seems to me the relevance of smog for everyday life is hugely overrated. A quick internet search will give you some shocking numbers. You can read that the reliance on coal reduces life expectancy by five to six years. Of course, you can also read, that smoking reduces Chinese life expectancy about seven to eight years. However, Chinese life expectancy is only about two years short of the US life expectancy, which means that without smoking and smog Chinese life expectancy would tower over the US by more than a decade? This could only be explained by an exceptionally healthy Chinese lifestyle or an incredibly good medical system. I can tell you that Chinese food is not healthy (which is why I love it) and I have serious doubts that the medical system is that much better than in the West, so in short, those numbers don’t add up.

Read the full article (in English and Chinese)

Policy Forum 4 (September 2018)

Although Chinese and Americans have quite a different taste with regard to most aspects of their lifestyle, they – especially the younger generations - start to share a passion for Superhero movies. The main reason why superheroes attract crowds all over the world is beyond a shared taste for science fiction and explosive fireworks: with their superpowers the heroes protect good guys and punish bad ones. This archetype of a lone hero who serves justice is deeply embedded in American culture and apparently resonates with young people all over the world.

Art is born out of reality but, unfortunately, may be superior to reality. In real life, we lack the superpower to tackle our difficulties and problems although the obstacles and challenges we face might be as evil as in movies. When the last episode of the Dark Knight trilogy was playing in theaters, a mass shooting occurred right in the theater. It is a tragedy not only for the victims but also for society as a whole. When such a horrible killing happens right in front of Batman, it sends a message: there are no superheroes to save ourselves from misery, there is just us. And this creates this desperate wish for one from our midst to rise up to those challenges.

Read the full article (in English and Chinese)

Policy Forum 3 (July 2018)

Students of economics and business learn the fundamentals of game theory that enable them to make rational decisions in complex situations with strategic interaction. However, for most Chinese students this introduction comes too late. When they enter college, they have already participated in the complex high-stakes game of college admission.

Every year about 10 million Chinese high school students take the National Higher Education Entrance Examination, the so-called gaokao. The Chinese colleges and universities have the capacity to accept about 6 million of them. In 1952, the very first gaokao exam took place. In addition, college admission was centralized and this was already a great improvement compared to the previous system of decentralized admission by individual colleges.

Read the full article (in English and Chinese)


Policy Forum 2 (May 2018) 


After more than a year in office US president Trump’s antics are keeping everybody – from politicians over journalists to scientists – on edge. It is undeniable that he is indeed creating a new world order. Rules that everybody had come to accept as God-given are suddenly challenged.

However, while enjoying his presumed success Trump is actually and unwittingly building a world where the US are not at all “great again” but simply obsolete. Trump is subject to a mistake that sounds like semantic hairsplitting but could not be of greater relevance. Trump seems to believe that the influence of the US is built on its (military and economic) prowess. Yet, what the US role is truly founded on is the trust in this prowess and how the US is going to use it. Exploiting the US power to gain the upper hand in negotiations with both competitors and the US’ closest allies is undermining that trust.

Read the full article (in English and Chinese)

Policy Forum 1 (March 2018) 


Since the inauguration of president Trump, his protectionist rhetoric has been anxiously eyed by observers around the globe. It already became apparent, that this protectionist agenda is more than just empty campaign threats when he withdrew the American signature to TPP as one of his first policy measures in his very first week in office.

Yet, the international community remained fairly calm, mostly trusting in the WTO to prevent steps that might actually reverse the trend towards more free trade, rather than just slowing it down. Therefore, although the Trump administration has been investigating tariffs on steel and aluminum since early 2017, the actual decision to go through with those plans was met by an international uproar.


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