Workers with low levels of education still haven’t recovered from the Great Recession

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS BRIEF)

 

Workers with low levels of education still haven’t recovered from the Great Recession

Lauren Bauer and Jay Shambaugh

Over a decade after the start of the Great Recession, most Americans looking for a job can find one—the unemployment rate has fallen to around 3.9 percent. Also, following a decline in labor force participation that pre-dated but continued through the Great Recession, the share of Americans aged 25-54 in the labor market has increased in the last few years.

Despite these positive developments, the labor market is not perfect. Wage growth is still sluggish, with modest gains offset by inflation. Despite recent increases, the share of prime-age Americans in the labor force is still slightly below the pre-Recession level. Levels of unemployment vary widely across places and the population by key demographic characteristics.

In August of last year, The Hamilton Project calculated that the “jobs gap”—the difference between demographically adjusted national employment and its level before the recession—had closed for the country overall. That is, after adjusting for demographic shifts, the economy had added enough jobs to fill the hole left by the Great Recession.

But not every group of Americans has fully recovered from the Great Recession. In this piece, we provide an annual update of the employment rate gap, which is different from the jobs gap, by race/ethnicity and level of education.

CALCULATING EMPLOYMENT RATE GAPS 

Using the Current Population Survey from January 2007 to May 2018, we identify the “employment rate gap:” the difference between the demographically adjusted 2007 employment-to-population ratio and the actual employment-to-population ratio at a given point in time. It should be noted that this methodology differs from that used for The Hamilton Project’s previous monthly jobs gap series.1 Because we are exploring differential trends by demographic characteristics, we cannot use payroll employment from the Current Employment Statistics, as the “jobs gap” did.

RECOVERING FROM THE GREAT RECESSION

Figure 1 shows that, in the depths of the Great Recession, blacks and Hispanics faced much steeper job losses than their white counterparts. What this figure also shows, though, is that blacks and Hispanics recovered from the recession much more quickly, and ultimately closed their employment rate gap before non-Hispanic whites did. Once we account for demographic change, the employment-to-population ratio for blacks is almost two percentage points above pre-recession levels.

Demographically Adjusted Employment Rate Gap, by Race/Ethnicity

That said, we note that even with this higher rate of growth for blacks, they still experience lower levels of employment in absolute terms. In June 2018, 58.2 percent of African-Americans aged 16 and older were employed, compared to 60.6 percent of whites and 63.4 percent of Hispanics, and the unemployment rate for African-Americans was still nearly twice the rate it is for white Americans.

All three major ethnic groups have a demographically adjusted employment rate above the pre-crisis level, consistent with the demographically adjusted jobs gap having closed.

There are three reasons this may not signal an end to slack in the economy. First, as Americans live longer and the Social Security retirement age has increased, older Americans are working longer. The employment rate for 55-64 Americans is well above pre-recession levels while the prime age employment rate is still slightly below its November 2007 level. Second, as noted in Schanzenbach, Nunn, Bauer, and Breitwieser, the employment recovery from the 2001 recession was weak—arguably leaving labor market slack in 2007—such that recovering to the 2007 level may not mark the elimination of labor market weakness. Finally, given that more-educated Americans tend to have higher employment levels, one might have expected the increase in educational attainment from 2007 to 2018 to have raised the employment-to-population ratio. We therefore explore educational outcomes next.

Demographically Adjusted Employment Rate Gap, by Level of Education

Those with less education were disproportionately harmed by the Great Recession (figure 2).2 We see that graduate degree holders—and to a lesser extent bachelor’s degree holders—experienced smaller reductions in employment during the recession. For those with no postsecondary degree, the employment rate gap in 2011 was 5 percent or more, while it was just 2 percent for those with a bachelor’s degree.

Recovery from the bottom of the trough occurred earlier for those with more education. The first upturn among graduate degree holders was between 2009 and 2010, between 2010 and 2011 for those with a bachelor’s degree. By 2018, only those with bachelor’s or graduate degrees had returned to their demographically adjusted pre-recession employment rate.

The recession was particularly hard on those without a high school diploma. In 2010 and 2011, this group had an employment-to-population ratio that was fully six percentage points lower than in 2007. Those with a high school diploma and/or some college followed a similar trend through this period, with a slightly shallower trough during the worst of the recession than those who didn’t graduate from high school. In recent years, workers without a postsecondary degree have seen improving employment outcomes, though a gap remains.3

Not only have less-educated groups not recovered as fully from the recession, they started at lower levels of employment rates prior to the crisis such that at this point, amongst those aged 25 and higher, 72.5 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree work compared to just 55 percent of those with only a high school degree.

CONCLUSION

The Great Recession inflicted economic pain on many American families, but its burden was not equally distributed. Ultimately, the brunt of the Great Recession was borne by those without the protection of post secondary education. College raises average lifetime earnings, and it also helps insulate workers from economic downturns, providing economic security in the times they need it most. Finally, racial disparities have been less severe in recovery than in the worst years of the Great Recession, though differences in employment rates persist. For the American labor market to be truly healthy, it needs to work for all people—not just some.

A promising alternative to subsidized lunch receipt as a measure of student poverty

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS BRIEF)

 

REPORT

A promising alternative to subsidized lunch receipt as a measure of student poverty

Matthew M. Chingos

A central component of federal education law for more than 15 years is that states must report student achievement for every school both overall and for subgroups of students, including those from economically disadvantaged families. Several states are leading the way in developing and using innovative methods for identifying disadvantaged students, and other states would do well to follow them.

Until recently, low-income students have almost always been identified as those eligible for the federal free or reduced-price lunch (FRL) program.[1]But FRL eligibility is quickly becoming useless for both research and policy, as I documented in a 2016 Evidence Speaks report.

About one in five schools now offer free lunches to all of their students under a “community eligibility” provision.[2] The result is that the share of U.S. students receiving a subsidized lunch has climbed from less than 35 percent in 1990 to more than 50 percent today, even though the share of children who grow up in low-income families has not changed over this period.

This trend presents immediate challenges to states as they implement new school accountability systems under the Every Student Succeeds Act (EESA).[3] Continuing to use FRL to identify economically disadvantaged students in community eligibility schools means either saying that all students are eligible, which would violate the spirit of ESSA, or surveying families to find out who would be eligible on an individual basis, which would be costly and burdensome. Census data could be used to estimate the level of disadvantage in a school’s surrounding neighborhood, but cannot be linked to achievement data at the student level.

Fortunately, several states are leading the way in adopting new methods for identifying disadvantaged students based on their families’ participation in programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, and the foster care system.

Districts have been making such linkages to “directly certify” students for FRL without them having to complete a form. States assuming the responsibility for this linkage reduces burden on districts and ensures more uniformity. Most important for ESSA purposes, it means that states including Delaware, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Tennessee, and Washington, DC will be able to shine a light on the achievement of disadvantaged students even in schools where all students get a free lunch.[4]

Washington, DC makes for an instructive case study, as it is an urban school system where two-thirds of students attend schools where free lunch is provided to everyone. DC’s new accountability system will identify economically disadvantaged students as those who are “at-risk” by virtue of participation in SNAP or TANF or being in foster care or homeless.[5]

Shifting to this new definition dramatically increases the number of schools for which achievement gaps can be calculated (Figure 1).[6] In 2017, only 26 percent of students attended schools where the achievement of FRL students could be compared to non-FRL students, down from 40 percent two years earlier. But more than 80 percent of students attend schools where the scores of at-risk students can be compared to other students.[7]

Figure 1

School-by-school data, reported in Figure 2, show that the at-risk percentage varies dramatically among the two-thirds of schools where all students receive a free lunch, from 23 percent to 95 percent. By collecting the data underlying the at-risk designation, DC makes it possible to both measure achievement gaps within these schools and understand differences in contexts across these schools.

Figure 2

Transitioning to a new measure of economic disadvantage will entail some challenges. There is surely some cost of making data linkages across systems maintained by different agencies, and it has to be done using methods that ensure the privacy and confidentiality of student records. States may need to make upgrades to their data systems, or amend laws or regulations that restrict how data can be used.

But it is clear that FRL participation is no longer a viable option for identifying economically disadvantaged students, especially in areas with significant low-income populations. All states should follow the lead of DC, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Tennessee by putting in place linked data systems that enable them both to identify students who should get a free lunch—regardless of whether they fill out a form—and to shine a bright light on how much these students are learning.


The author did not receive any financial support from any firm or person for this article or from any firm or person with a financial or political interest in this article. He is currently not an officer, director, or board member of any organization with an interest in this article.

Author

Matthew M. Chingos

Former Brookings Expert

Senior Fellow, Director of Education Policy Program – Urban Institute

The case against a US retreat from international development

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS BRIEF)

 

FUTURE DEVELOPMENT

The case against a US retreat from international development

John R. Allen

As an instrument for peace, prosperity, and human advancement, U.S. foreign assistance constitutes one of the most important examples of American compassion. Since the Marshall Plan allowed hard hit citizens and enterprises to return to normalcy after World War II, advancing a new world order in the process, America has embraced its role as a global development leader.

Author

Yet today, aid—and with it, U.S. global leadership—are under threat.

Invigorating U.S. Leadership in Global Development” was the theme of the August 1-3 Brookings Blum Roundtable, which I was fortunate to attend. Now in its fifteenth year, the event annually explores various facets of international development, poverty reduction, and foreign assistance. While there, I heard from business leaders, heads of prominent nongovernmental organizations, lead budget and aid specialists from the U.S. government, and researchers about practical ways of solving big challenges—from supporting refugees, to strengthening fragile states, to making progress on the widely endorsed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Questions about filling development financing gaps and advancing U.S. leadership through multilateral participation were discussed as well.

One of the threads that ran throughout the three-day roundtable discussion was the distinction between U.S. leadership and American leadership. At a time when there is a retrenchment of global engagement and leadership by segments of the U.S. government, hundreds and thousands of organizations across the country—state and local governments, universities, civil organizations like Rotary and Kiwanis, NGOs, corporations—are actively engaged outside our borders. These groups provide an enduring form of U.S. global leadership on issues from human rights, to relief from natural disasters, to climate change.

I’ve always believed the leading edge of America’s influence is defined through our diplomacy and our foreign assistance. Underlying this is America’s leadership as a generous nation imbued with a humanitarian sense of responsibility. Yet today’s political context means we are rowing against a tide of nativism and populism. Even though grassroots and grass-tops support for international development abounds at the subnational level and among some federal government agencies, our current transactional approach to international relations is eroding America’s global reach. And if we retreat too far, our country’s moral authority will also slip away and be filled eagerly by other forces in the world, not least of all China. In the end, nature and foreign affairs both abhor vacuums.

THE ROLE OF THE SDGS IN COUNTERING NEGATIVE MEGATRENDS

In a world beset by worrying demographic trends, rapid urbanization, climate change, and a transactional approach to international relations, the universally agreed-upon SDGs remain the critical roadmap for humanitarian and development activities.

Few goals are more important than eliminating poverty, exclusion, and hunger from the world, educating our children, protecting women from violence, or addressing today’s climate emergency. Any movement on these goals will make the world a safer place and progress will be overwhelmingly in the interest of our national security. If the U.S. Government spurns the SDGs, as it now appears to be doing, we will be doing so at our own peril. Indeed, the Trump administration’s intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Treaty alone was a bad move in that direction.

My military experience taught me that the roots of radicalization are planted far upstream from the moment that someone picks up a weapon. Indeed, the roots of unrest, terrorism, and insurgency are often linked to hunger, poverty, and lack of opportunity—the very phenomena the SDGs are focused on. It is development solutions that address and can ultimately fix these problems, not military interventions.

An unstable security environment is often a direct result of the failure to satisfy human aspirations and yearnings.  Today’s unrest in the Middle East and across North Africa began in part with the rising up of young people who could no longer accept the realities of their human condition.

From a U.S. global leadership perspective, the more we align ourselves with these important and unifying international norms, the better will be the outcome, not just for the United States, but for the world. Homi Kharas’ brief, “U.S. global leadership through an SDG lens,” provides useful background on the topic. In addition, a new co-edited, co-authored Brookings book by Homi and a diverse set of external contributors, “From Summits to Solutions: Innovations in Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals,” explores distinct solutions related to everything from expanding women’s opportunities to preserving the oceans and setting goals in wealthy countries.

THE SECURITY-DEVELOPMENT NEXUS

In all my missions—whether in Bosnia, Iraq, or Afghanistan—I was mindful that certain fragile states cannot be permitted to fail because the strategic cost of inaction would be too great. In such instances, a coordinated approach between our security assistance and foreign assistance is essential.

In 2016 Jim Stavridis, my classmate from Annapolis, and I wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Expanding the U.S. Military’s Smart-Power Toolbox.”  The piece was focused on the need for combatant commanders to have the requisite authority to allocate their resources so as to leverage the full capabilities of military, diplomatic and development tools integrated with their mission. The authority we sought would have included funding for USAID programs to support youth-development and conflict-mitigation in places like Agadez, Niger, where better opportunities could dissuade young people from joining terrorist groups.

On the multilateral front, I recently joined World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim at a public event, where we highlighted the broad need to treat development, security, and humanitarian assistance in a more integrated way. Brookings and the World Bank are committed to working together in this area through research and targeted engagement aimed at bringing together diverse actors working on fragile states.

In terms of explaining the linkages between foreign aid and global security, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, an NGO/business/retired military network, is doing terrific work. Fanning out to cities around the U.S., they advocate for adequately resourcing our development and diplomacy activities and I have the privilege of sitting on their National Security Advisory Council. I commend the work of Liz Schrayer, USGLC president and CEO, whose round table brief “Foreign Assistance in the America First Era” outlines the bipartisan support for the development work in the Trump administration.

WOMEN HOLD UP HALF THE SKY

A key takeaway from the 2018 round table was how extraordinarily important women are in conflict resolution, and in achieving development objectives. Indeed, peace outcomes from conflict that involve women typically have a much longer or a much greater probability of success than those that only engage men.

Women in some of the toughest places exhibit entrepreneurial instincts that in many cases far outstrip those of men, making them an excellent investment option. I saw this firsthand in Iraq and Afghanistan, where we made microloans available to women all over the country. Invariably those loans were paid back on time or early and the outcomes stimulated economic progress on the ground, which then reduced conflict and violence.

So the whole idea of future military commanders working closely with USAID and State Department and similar organizations, NGOs, and others, to try to find a way to empower women at the civil society level and women in the governments in these countries is well on track, and should be a “doctrinal” approach as we go forward. It is imperative we expand support for programs and projects that empower women in these societies.

FORGING AHEAD

The global development agenda is daunting, but practical reforms and interventions can ensure progress. Making inroads in tackling poverty and other big problems requires working with the private sector, with civil society organizations, and with other diverse players across the security and development communities. If we navigate wisely and hold to a rational, hopeful outlook, we can achieve great things for America and for the world.

For its part, Brookings will continue researching fragility and what it will take to leave no one behind in the toughest places. Scholars are planning additional mini-roundtables on fragility and are completing a research project on multilateral and international organizations. Work on measuring current trends and gaps on the SDGs is ongoing, along with plans for a future book on dealing with the furthest left behind in the race to meet the SDGs.

This blog was first launched in September 2013 by the World Bank in an effort to hold governments more accountable to poor people and offer solutions to the most prominent development challenges. Continuing this goal, Future Development was re-launched in January 2015 at brookings.edu.

For archived content, visit worldbank.org »

How the ballooning federal debt threatens U.S. defense

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS BRIEF)

 

ORDER FROM CHAOS

How the ballooning federal debt threatens U.S. defense

Dan Keeler 

“American economic might is the indispensable foundation of American military might and the essential element in our ability to project a stabilizing power worldwide.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower

On June 18, the Senate passed its version of 2019 defense authorization bill. Continuing the recent trend of raising defense spending, the bill proposes an $82 billion increase from 2017, resulting in an overall total defense budget of $716 billion. In an unusually bipartisan sign of cooperative government, these congressional budgets fully support the president and secretary of defense’s recently released National Defense and Military Strategies. Both of these documents prioritize “great power competition” with Russia and China over other issues, and the new budgets allocate national resources to meet the demands of those documents.

Author

Dan Keeler

Federal Executive Fellow – The Brookings Institution

Commander – U.S. Navy

Unfortunately, neither the strategies nor the budgets account for a looming crisis. Driven primarily by increased mandatory spending, the federal debt threatens to consume all other spending, including defense, in the coming decade. Failure to reform mandatory spending now will ultimately erase any near-term gains in national defense and could result in significantly diminished U.S. global influence. Great power competition might continue, but not with the United States as a player.

APPROACHING A CLIFF

Concerns about mandatory spending are not new. Bean counters within and without the government have warned of a reckoning for decades. The reckoning is getting closer.

The largest programs in the mandatory spending category—Social Security, Medicare, and interest on the national debt—are all in some form of unsustainable crisis. This year, trustees from the Social Security and Medicare funds reported they will begin tapping into reserves in order to meet spending requirements. Trustees indicate that the Medicare fund will run out of dollars in 2026. Social Security is in slightly better shape, and will be solvent until 2034. After that, the federal government will have to find other means to fund those programs or apply draconian cuts to benefits.

Simultaneously, the Congressional Budget Office projects that the federal debt will continue to grow, and that the debt-to-GDP ratio will be 94.5 percent in 2027. Interest payments on that debt will also continue to grow, nearly doubling from 1.6 percent of GDP in 2018 to 3.1 percent in 2028. In dollars, that means net interest payments will increase from $316 billion in 2018 to $915 billion in 2028.

In other words, mandatory spending is going up, way up. As the CBO report states: “The federal government is on an unsustainable fiscal path. … Federal policymakers face economic, security, and social challenges requiring difficult policy choices, but a long-term fiscal plan is also needed to preserve flexibility to address unforeseen events.”

DEFENSE SPENDING AT RISK

What does this mean for defense spending? Nothing good.

For the U.S. Navy, for instance—where I am a commander—it will be harder to sustain recent shipbuilding and modernization efforts. Based on the requirements of the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, the Navy estimates it needs to increase its current force structure of 280 ships to 355. Using 2017 dollars, the CBO estimates it will cost approximately $27 billion dollars per year, for the next 30 years, to reach a 355-ship Navy. When operating and personnel costs are included, the figure is about $103 billion annually. All of these numbers represent a significant increase from allocations over the last 20 years.

If mandatory spending increases take off and there are no structural changes, Congress will be forced to cut discretionary spending—including for projects like shipbuilding—in the mid-2020s to pay its bills. As it does, ships built in the 1980s and 90s will reach the end of their operating life, and without replacement ships, the nation’s fleet and global influence will shrink. What will happen then? For a current example, look no further than the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy. Due to recent austerity measures and budget priorities, the Royal Navy has shrunk to a shadow of its Cold War stature. Just last month, the U.K.’s national security adviser, Mark Sedwill, announced that his nation’s two new aircraft carriers would require allied escorts for wartime operations. Simply put, due to budget cuts, the Royal Navy does not have enough ships to defend its own capital ships. Apply similar scenarios across the U.S. Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, and the fiscal future for defense looks very bleak.

It does not have to be this way. There is still time to avoid the fiscal freight train coming our way. Over the years, experts and elected representatives have proposed numerous reforms to Social Security and Medicare in order to maintain the trusts’ solvency. Similarly, there are solutions for controlling the annual deficits that continue to drive the overall debt higher. Unfortunately, none of the solutions are politically easy. In 2011, a Congressional “super-committee” attempted to find a solution and failed spectacularly. The failure gave birth to the Budget Control Act, commonly known as sequestration. This failure should not preclude another attempt. If the United States wishes to compete on the world stage, it’s time to try again.

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When refugee displacement drags on, is self-reliance the answer?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ‘BROOKINGS BRIEF’)

 

ORDER FROM CHAOS

When refugee displacement drags on, is self-reliance the answer?

Elizabeth Ferris 

When most people think of today’s global refugee crisis, they probably imagine masses of people trying to cross into a neighboring country or hundreds of tents lined up in refugee camps. But on this World Refugee Day, the reality is that most of the world’s refugees—and most internally displaced people—are not living in organized camps but rather are struggling to eke out a living on the margins of the world’s big cities. And most are living in protracted displacement. Estimates vary, but the average length of time a refugee has been displaced is between 10 years and 26 years. The real refugee crisis we face is that too many refugees have been refugees for far too long, and better solutions are needed.

Author

The three traditional solutions for refugees—return, resettlement, and local integration—are all becoming more elusive. In 2016, less than 3 percent of the world’s refugees found one of those solutions. Only 2.5 percent of refugees (552,000 people) were able to return to their home countries that year and even fewer, 0.8 percent (or 189,300), were resettled through formal resettlement programs. An even smaller percentage (0.001 percent, or 23,000) were naturalized as citizens in 2016.

Prospects for solutions for those displaced in 2017 or 2018 are certainly no better; with the decision by the Trump administration to slash refugee resettlement numbers, we’ll be lucky if we see 100,000 refugees resettled globally.

The third traditional solution—local integration—is also becoming more difficult as host governments are reluctant to allow refugees to remain on a permanent basis. While many countries that neighbor refugee-producing states, in all regions, have accepted refugees as an expression of solidarity, it was usually with an expectation that their presence would be temporary. As the presence of refugees drags on (and international assistance is never enough to cover all of the costs), governments are justifiably worried about the economic, security, social, and political consequences of allowing the refugees to settle in and stay. As in the case of Turkey, the fiction is that refugees are a temporary phenomenon and will soon be returning home. Few governments allow refugees access to work permits, which means that most are unable to work legally in their host countries.

But if the three durable solutions are not proving workable for the vast majority of the world’s refugees and the international community is unable to resolve the conflicts that caused the displacement in the first place, what is to happen? The answer seems to be emerging that they will remain where they are—in conditions short of full local integration—and that somehow they will get by. Increasingly, NGOs are turning to supporting refugees in becoming self-reliant so that they can “graduate” from humanitarian aid. Even when refugees are not legally able to work, many do so in the informal sector and NGOs are increasingly supporting programs of refugee livelihoods. Self-reliance—“the social and economic ability of an individual, household, or community to meet its essential needs in a sustainable manner”—is a worthy objective given the paucity of other solutions.

But how do you know if a refugee is really self-reliant? Refuge Point and the Women’s Refugee Commission (of which I am on the board and a commissioner, respectively) both began developing indicators to determine when refugees achieve self-reliance and are now working with 16 humanitarian actors in a community of practice to refine and pilot these indicators.

It’s tough to sustain yourself as a refugee, particularly when living in a country that really doesn’t want you to stay. And it’s tough when refugees aren’t able to secure work permits, but rather are working in what is euphemistically called the informal sector. A lot goes into supporting refugees to become self-reliant; as the recent meeting in Istanbul of the International Refugee Congress suggested, collaboration between refugees and the communities that host them can provide some suggestions. Today, the Self-Reliance Initiative is seeking to help five million refugees move towards self-reliance in the next five years. This is a worthy initiative. Most refugees want to be independent—after all, it’s never pleasant to depend on hand-outs, which are often erratic and insufficient. And it is clearly in donors’ interests to support self-reliance among refugees

I’m glad that organizations are working with refugees to support their self-reliance. Given the current state of affairs—where solutions are elusive, donor fatigue has set in, and nativist politicians decry the presence of refugees—self-reliance is better than depending on long-term care and maintenance programs. And perhaps they’re right that demonstrating refugees’ ability to contribute to their host countries will help to shift the political conversation in those countries and open up opportunities for formal economic inclusion.

But even refugees who are found to be self-reliant and thus no longer in need of humanitarian aid are living awfully close to the edge of poverty. One medical emergency or one abusive employer or one heavy rainstorm could push them out of self-reliance. And I also can’t help but reflect on how far this is from the three solutions originally envisioned by the founders of the international regime back in the early 1950s, where refugees were expected to return home, start a new life elsewhere through resettlement, or settle into a host country with all the benefits and rights of citizens. Self-reliance is only a partial solution, compared to those—nonetheless, given today’s realities, it is an important tool in helping refugees make the best of a bad situation.

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