Mark Gongloff

Putin Launches an Unwelcome Cold War Reboot

Contemplating Orbs: Imperialism Edition
Vladimir Putin might aspire to be the reincarnation of Peter the Great, but another model of an OG empire-builder he might want to consider is James Monroe.
America’s fifth president bought Florida for roughly the modern-day price of Max Scherzer’s MLB contract, added five new states and ran for re-election without even token opposition. More important from Putin’s perspective, Monroe’s most famous accomplishment — the only reason many American schoolchildren know his name — is drawing a line around the whole Western Hemisphere and calling it off-limits to the rest of the world.

Of course, for a while after the birth of the Monroe Doctrine, Europe still had colonies in the New World. But nobody started any new ones. Andreas Kluth writes Monroe had revived an ancient game many would-be empires played in the following centuries: declaring and defending “spheres of influence,” which often roped in countries that had previously labored under the delusion they had some kind of sovereignty.

This practice lost favor, perhaps not coincidentally, right around the time the Soviet Union’s sphere popped like a balloon in a Chuck E. Cheese brawl. That left the United States alone with a world-sized balloon, at which point everybody agreed spheres of influence were passé. Now, with the growing shakiness of the Pax Americana as Chinese and Russian powers grow, this ugly game is rebooting yet again, Andreas warns. Read the whole thing.

Putin echoes the Monroe Doctrine when he demands the West leave Ukraine to Russia. He’s even getting his sphere all over Europe by curbing the flow of Russian gas, which Javier Blas notes has led to perilously low supplies even after a mild winter so far.

China plays the same game when it threatens and punishes anybody who questions its influence over Taiwan. Beijing isn’t even bothering with the pretense of a sphere when it comes to Hong Kong; its latest crackdown on the free press shows it’s just assimilating the island into the mainland, Matthew Brooker writes.

The US and the rest of Team Anti-Sphere must decide whether they want to play this game again or risk going to war to defend the sovereignty of places like Ukraine and Taiwan. It’s not an easy call. What would James Monroe do? Actually, don’t answer that.

Inflation: The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave
Producer prices cooled off in December, from “core of the Sun” hot to just “surface of the Sun” hot. It’s a sign that maybe the inflationary fever is starting to break. But John Authers writes it could take a while for temperatures to fall back to healthy levels, given pressures in housing costs and “sticky” goods and services (not honey or cinnamon rolls, but stuff like toddlers’ clothes and sofas, which parents know can actually get quite sticky).

At the same time, the omicron wave is making a hash of the economy, hurting demand by making everybody sick but also hurting supply, again by making everybody sick. The Fed is determined to tighten policy to fight inflation, but Bloomberg’s editorial board writes it needs to stay frosty and be ready to deal with whatever bizarre new knuckleball the economy throws.

Telltale Charts
While the rest of us suffer from supply-chain hang-ups, container ship operators are making fat bank, Chris Bryant writes. Will they make good use of it so they can keep thriving even after the pandemic ends?