Failing the poor

Covid-19 has reversed years of gains in the war on poverty

Politicians deserve much of the blame


This coronavirus affects everyone, but not equally. The young often shrug off the virus; the old often die of it. 

The rich shrug off the economic shock; the poor cannot. 

Because of covid-19, the number of extremely poor people (ie, those making less than $1.90 a day) will rise by 70m-100m this year, the World Bank predicts. Using a broader measure, including those who lack basic shelter or clean water and children who go hungry, the ranks of the poor will swell by 240m-490m this year, says the un. 

That could reverse almost a decade of progress. If a vaccine is found, economies will no doubt bounce back. But widespread vaccination will take years and the very poor cannot wait that long. By then, malnutrition will have stunted a tragic number of children’s bodies and minds.

Governments in rich countries have spent over 10% of gdp to ease the economic pain. Others cannot be so ambitious. Emerging economies have spent just 3%, and the poorest nations less than 1%. Safety-nets in low-income countries are cobweb-thin. Governments there have handed out only $4 extra per person on social programmes—in total, not per day.

Donors should help. Rich countries are on course to cut direct aid by a third compared with last year. The imf and World Bank have raised lending, but only 31% more of the bank’s money has reached poor countries, says the Centre for Global Development, a think-tank, about half the increase in the global financial crisis, a much smaller shock.


Governments in poor countries, meanwhile, need to spend their money wisely. Too many offer pork for chums and crumbs for the poor. Since the crisis began, Mexico has provided no new programmes for the hard-up but has given Pemex, the state oil giant, tax breaks worth $2.7bn, or $21 per Mexican. 

India has poured $7bn down coal mines. South Africa is expected soon to confirm another wasteful effort to keep its money-losing airline aloft. Even when money is earmarked for good ends, it is too often wasted or stolen. South African investigators are probing possible fraud in 658 contracts worth $300m for covid-fighting kit. 

Nigeria’s health ministry bought some masks for $53 each. In a leaked recording, a voice allegedly belonging to a Ugandan official guffaws as she and her colleagues appear to plot to pocket money meant for alleviating suffering in the pandemic.

The best way to help the poor is to give them money directly. The simplicity of this policy makes it less vulnerable to corruption. With a little extra cash in their pockets, recipients can feed their children and send them back to school. 

They can avoid a fire-sale of assets, such as a motorbike-taxi or a cow, that will help them make a living in the future. One country that has done well getting cash into poor pockets is Brazil, despite President Jair Bolsonaro’s habit of downplaying the effects of covid-19. 

Various measures of poverty there have actually fallen, largely because the government has sent $110 per month for three months to the impecunious, helping 66m people. A priority for governments should be basic health care, which the pandemic has disrupted so badly that vaccination rates for children have been set back about 20 years.

The crisis requires politicians to make hard choices quickly. Mistakes are inevitable, given how much remains unknown about the disease. But some are inexcusable. India’s sudden lockdown threw millions of migrant workers out of their urban jobs and lodgings, forcing them to head back to their villages on foot or crowded trains, spreading the virus far and wide. 

South Africa barred people from leaving home at night but then evicted tens of thousands of squatters from shacks on public land, with no place to go. Politicians governing remotely from their comfortable home offices should think harder about how their decisions might affect those whom covid-19 is plunging back into dire poverty. 

It is shameful when their responses to the pandemic add to the suffering of the least fortunate.

How the World’s Dullest Market Quietly Created a Synthetic Dollar Empire

Japanese government bills and deposits at the Bank of Japan have created large-scale dollar funding, which may help explain a puzzle in Chinese finance too

By Mike Bird

The trade in short-term Japanese government bills and deposits conceals a thriving world of dollar funding. / PHOTO: THOMAS WHITE/REUTERS


The Japanese government bond market is rarely considered interesting. 

With yields literally pinned at zero, and trading practically nonexistent, it has limited appeal for discussion even among the most cerebral international investors.

But beneath the placid surface, the trade in short-term Japanese government bills and deposits conceals a thriving world of dollar funding, which offers hints about developments in China’s banking system too.


Foreign central banks’ deposits at the Bank of Japan have soared in recent years, jumping by the equivalent of more than $175 billion in the first quarter of 2020 alone. 

Although those deposits dropped back in the second quarter, they remained 66% higher year-over-year.

In large part, the deposits reflect activity in the foreign exchange swap market, which Japanese financial institutions—banks, insurance companies and pension funds—have increasingly relied on to hedge their large overseas investments denominated in dollars.

In 2018, when the deposits were at just half their current size, Credit Suisse analyst Zoltan Pozsar explained the process: Institutions with dollars swap them for yen from Japanese firms. 

Dollar-lenders profit from distortions in the currency swap market, which has typically offered a pickup since the global financial crisis. 

Economists Ricardo Correa, Wenxin Du, and Gordon Liao dug into some of the processes at work in depth in a recent piece of research.

The lenders then park their yen in safe places: Deposits at the BOJ, or Japanese government bonds.

Japan’s balance of payments statistics reflect activity on the other side of the East China Sea too, as noted by Council on Foreign Relations economist Brad Setser. 

China has been the third-largest purchaser of short-term Japanese bonds in the past five years, snapping up more than 30 trillion yen, equivalent to about $285 billion, on net, narrowly behind France. 

Both are distantly behind the U.K., reflecting London’s position as the world’s dominant center for foreign exchange trading.


That could go some way to explaining a China-related financial question: It offers a hint at why China’s largest state banks have seen their off-balance-sheet dollar assets rise relative to liabilities in recent years, while on-balance-sheet dollar assets are now outstripped by liabilities. FX swaps aren’t reported as balance-sheet assets.

The nexus between China, Japan and the U.S. dollar system bears watching. Precious little information is available from China, and data on the FX swap market is especially opaque. 

Keeping a wary eye on potential vulnerabilities, even when difficult to identify, would be worthwhile.

Well Played, Mr. President. Sorry To Have Doubted You

BY JOHN RUBINO 


The political and financial worlds were baffled by President Trump’s decision, just hours after being released from the hospital, to suspend coronavirus stimulus bill negotiations “until after the election.”

Leaving aside the stupidity of massive new borrowing and spending on top of the past year’s multi-trillions, walking away from those talks seemed like a really bad political move.

But then, in almost the same breath, Trump turns around and demands a huge bailout for the airlines and a new round of $1,200 stimulus checks for individuals. Had he joined Biden in the drift toward senility?

Or was there some method to the apparent madness?

With a little hindsight, it’s clear that this was one of his “Art of the Deal”  tactics, albeit in compressed form. 

You walk away from stalled talks, get in your car and drive off, leaving the other side stunned and, hopefully, softened up for compromise. 

Then you restart negotiations with each side a little more flexible, and — in this case the crucial second part of the strategy — the deal broken up into bite-sized, and thus more easily doable, parts.

Huh. It appears to be working. 

Mnuchin and Pelosi are making hopeful sounds and the stock market – addicted as it is to ever-easier money – is now happily anticipating an extended high.



Gold, meanwhile, has concluded that the now-imminent debt binge will indeed crush the dollar, sending capital pouring into safe havens.




But the politics of this strategy are even more interesting than the finance. The big conflict here is the Democrats’ burning desire to bail out their party’s governors and mayors colliding with Trump’s aversion to rewarding those officials’ horrendous mismanagement (and refusal to vote Republican). 

Remember, California, Illinois, New Jersey, and their peers were looking at pension crises (i.e., functional bankruptcy) before the pandemic hit.

The strategy of breaking the stimulus bill up into pieces puts the Dems in a tough spot, having to oppose saving big, crucial industries and giving money directly to voters in order to protect bail-outs for Dem-run states. 

This is not a good place to be going into the election, but it’s where Trump has put them.

So, well-played, Mr. President. 

Whatever else you’ve done, you have indeed taught the rest of us some lessons in hard-ball negotiating. 

We’ll be better for it no matter where you end up next year


The Most Dangerous Cult of Our Times

QAnon's Inexorable Spread Beyond the U.S.

The bizarre, pro-Trump cult known as QAnon has been gaining followers in the United States for months. Now, the conspiracy theory has begun spreading to Germany. It's followers believe that the coronavirus is a weapon of the elite in their quest to enslave the world.

By Patrick Beuth, Marie Groß, Roman Höfner, Max Hoppenstedt, Judith Horchert, Katrin Kuntz, Alexandra Rojkov, Alexander Sarovic, Christoph Scheuermann und Daniel C. Schmidt



The path into the parallel world follows rural roads snaking through the hills of Baden-Wurttemberg to a house located on the edge of a village with a bright white façade, well-swept driveway and carefully trimmed lawn. 

The conspiracy has long since eaten its way into the southern German idyll. A friendly man opens the door - muscular, burly, he does a lot of lifting.

It was not easy to set up a meeting. He has a deep aversion to journalists and other members of a supposed elite, whom he believes are covering up a worldwide plot to oppress humanity. Over the phone, he said that he hopes to open the reporter’s eyes. "Maybe I can wake you up.” He requested that his real name not be used, so we'll call him Martin Schmidt.

"The goal of the elites is to stay powerful, to stay rich and to enslave the world,” he says.

Schmidt is 27, works as an electrician and has been living with his parents again since the beginning of the pandemic. 

He leads the way into the living room, with its bright tile floor and woodchip wallpaper, and says he has been thinking about the big questions for a long time. The death of John F. Kennedy, the attacks of September 11, the coronavirus pandemic: He believes they have all been faked as part of a giant plan.

His father nods next to him. He also believes people are being systematically deceived by politicians and members of the media. Schmidt says: "This elite, they are various men and women who work on Wall Street, to whom the banks belong, all these people.” He believes businesspeople like George Soros, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are among them, as well as the Rockefellers and the Rothschilds.

He takes out his smartphone. "I’ll show you how the rich and beautiful party.” He shows a photo of performance artist Marina Abramović with the singer Lady Gaga at a charity event. In the picture, they are standing next to a naked female body covered with a red liquid. 

For Schmidt, the photo is proof of how morally degenerate the leaders of society have become, and that even the so-called elite aren’t afraid of killing people - even if, in this case, the photo is of an art performance. He says the situation is alarming. "I have awoken.”

Martin Schmidt is part of a growing number of QAnon sympathizers, one of tens of thousands in Germany. Followers of this right-wing conspiracy theory are convinced that an influential group of Satanist pedophiles is kidnapping boys and girls and using their blood to produce a drug. 

They believe that the coronavirus was developed in a Chinese lab – possibly with the help of Barack Obama – in order to hurt Donald Trump and prevent his reelection, a claim that is as absurd as it is false. And they believe Donald Trump is a hero fighting against the "deep state,” and that he wants to protect the world from the demonic group.

"He is trying to save humanity,” says Schmidt. "He will take away the elites’ power.”

QAnon follower Schmidt: "I have awoken."

One could dismiss QAnon as crazed paranoia, like the false claims that the moon landing was faked or that the attacks of September 11th were planned by the U.S. government. But what makes the movement unique and, especially, dangerous, is its ideas.

QAnon’s followers spread disturbingly familiar themes: a supposed conspiracy of rich elites, including many Jewish businesspeople, targeting the rest of the world; a supposed group of corrupt left-wing politicians infiltrating democracies; journalists who spread propaganda as accomplices to the powerful. 

These centuries-old fictions from the right-wing, anti-Semitic fringe have been spread into the international public sphere via 21st-century media - part Dreyfus Affair, part Dan Brown.

"It is no exaggeration to view QAnon as a potential threat to national security,” says extremism researcher Julia Ebner from the London-based think tank Institute for Strategic Dialogue. 

Ebner has been researching online radicalization for years and is watching with concern as the German Q movement is becoming more independent and itself trying to recruit new followers.

Indeed, QAnon is on its way to becoming the most dangerous cult in the world – the first ideology to come from the digital realm and to emerge from an online niche into real life, aided by Donald Trump-supporters and right-wing demagogues. 

The "Q” cult is fueled by one or several anonymous users who regularly post to the web and who claim to have access to top-secret U.S. government documents – a claim that is more than questionable.

Just as disturbing is how QAnon builds on age-old anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that, centuries ago, claimed Jews drink the blood of Christians and seek to control the world. At the same time, the movement’s potential for violence is also becoming clearer. 

In March 2019, a QAnon believer shot an alleged mafia boss in New York because he believed the man was a member of the "deep state.” In April, U.S. police officers took a woman into custody who had threatened Hillary Clinton on Facebook because she had allegedly abused a child. In 2018, a man in Florida sent mail bombs to prominent Democrats whom he believed to be members of a "deep state" conspiracy.

The gunman in the central German city of Hanau who killed 10 people and then himself in February alluded to topics circulating in the QAnon cosmos. In a YouTube video, he argued that there were subterranean military installations in the U.S. where children are abused and killed and where the devil is worshipped.

QAnon followers also played a role in the storming of the Reichstag, the seat of German parliament, in Berlin in late August by a group protesting the authorities’ measures to control COVID-19. Naturopath Tamara Kirschbaum, who called on people to run up the building’s stairs to the entrance, is identified online as a "freelance employee” of Qlobal-Change, a portal of QAnon followers. 

She describes herself as "the voice” of the "X22 Report,” a YouTube show about QAnon-related topics that is also translated into German. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the German domestic intelligence agency, in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia classifies her as a member of the Reichsbürger (or "citizens of the Reich”) scene, a group that does not believe in the legitimacy of the modern German state.

Large U.S. tech companies have played a decisive role in the dissemination of the ideology. QAnon would not have been able to spread as fast and far around the world without YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. During the coronavirus pandemic and in the first lockdowns in February, the ideology spread even more rapidly, especially in Germany. 

QAnon has been like a second virus spreading around the world, but this one is very definitely man-made.



It is no accident that Trump’s campaign team has recognized QAnon disciples as an important part of his base and is catering to them. Indeed, several Republican candidates for Congress have professed their affiliation to the movement.

The QAnon ideology, the first to emerge in the 21st century, is like a blend of video game and online treasure hunt, and emerged on a rather noxious platform that caters largely to young men: 4chan, a simple web forum that was founded in 2003 by a 15-year-old programmer from New York.

4chan is essentially a giant digital pinboard with virtually no oversight. Anyone can write and post pretty much anything they want, always anonymously. Only very few things are not allowed and are then deleted. 

Its offerings include hardcore pornography, as well as tasteless, insulting or right-wing extremist speech. It has given birth to both good and repulsive ideas, which are then commented on and discussed - before immediately being overwhelmed by new posts and ideas.

4chan’s roots are in the Japanese manga scene. First-time visitors to the platform will struggle to make sense of its hundreds of discussion groups, manga photos and inside jokes. There are hundreds of thousands of entries every day, supposedly 27 million visitors per month. 

A unique language has emerged almost without any oversight that, like the jokes, is incomprehensible to outsiders. Thus far, there have been 3.5 billion entries. Users are bound together by the belief that they are part of one of the last bastions of free speech and opinion.

On October 28, 2017, an anonymous user on 4chan posted the following message: "Hillary Clinton will be arrested between 7:45 AM – 8:30 AM EST on Monday – the morning of Oct 30, 2017." The author signed later entries with the letter "Q.” It was the movement's Big Bang, launched by a false prediction. Clinton wasn’t arrested on October 30th, nor has she been arrested since, but the curiosity of users was piqued.

Author and conspiracy-theory researcher Timothy Melley at the University of Miami says many Americans are familiar with the elements of the QAnon movement. "It is like a detective novel, where you always inch closer to the truth.” 

Q has been posting increasingly complex entries since fall 2017, called "drops” by followers. These entries contain so-called "breadcrumbs” that must be followed to reach the goal. Which is ultimately unattainable.

Q’s breadcrumbs are like seeds, out of which the stories about the alleged elite conspiracy grow almost by themselves. Q is asking his or her (or their) followers to do their own research if they do not believe the media, turning conspiracy theorists into investigators. 

Melley argues that the desire to be a part of a revelation keeps them going, even if they never prove anything, and merely keep finding new breadcrumbs.

Illustration: Iris Kuhlmann / DER SPIEGEL; Fotos: Getty Images (3); klaput.blogspot.com; Twitter; wilkowmajority.com; YouTube.


The participatory nature of the ideology is what makes it so attractive. Melley argues that QAnon blends two big conspiracy theories together: a belief that the Illuminati, or someone else, rules the world and that there is a "deep state” within the government that is secretly controlling our lives. "Basically, conspiracy theories are a way to explain power structures in a reassuring way. Complex social processes are reduced to a conspiracy.”

Still, an entry from an obscure corner of the internet isn’t enough to start a movement. 

A conspiracy theory needs fertile soil in which it can grow. And it needs one or more high priests.

The idea that a powerful clique of left-wing politicians is abusing children for its own purposes existed prior to the emergence of Q’s first crumbs. In spring 2016, Russian hackers stole thousands of emails, including those of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager. Wikileaks published the emails, making some of the Democratic Party's communication accessible to the public.

The publication of the emails triggered a frenzy among Clinton’s opponents. Right-wing bloggers, hobby detectives and Clinton-haters all sifted feverishly through the Democrats’ emails, which addressed all kinds of things: politics, Trump, the ongoing campaign and pizza orders. 

It didn’t take long for right-wing conspiracy theorists to develop a rather deranged suspicion: Is it possible that the messages containing the words "cheese pizza” were actually about "child pornography”? 

After all, the terms both include the initials "cp.” Some began to suspect that Clinton and her people were running a pedophile ring in the basement of a Washington D.C. pizzeria - a false and dangerous conviction.

The affair, which later became known as "Pizzagate,” shows how dark an emerging conspiracy can become. Countless people who followed the supposed revelations online convinced themselves they had to save the children. 

In December 2016, a man with an assault weapon forced his way into the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington to free the supposedly imprisoned children from its basement. But there was no basement. 

And no imprisoned children. Police overpowered the man, who is in jail to this day.

One of those who spread the supposed "Pizzagate” scandal is a young American woman who calls herself Tracy Beanz online, but is actually named Tracy Diaz. Diaz is an avowed fan of Donald Trump and emerged from the large sociotope of right-wing radio hosts in the U.S. 

Today, she runs a podcast that also appears on YouTube, and describes herself as an independent journalist. Without Diaz and her YouTube channel, QAnon wouldn’t have been able to spread as quickly. It is possible that the cult wouldn’t even exist without her.

Diaz has been releasing videos on YouTube for four years, at first with little success. 

She initially used them to speak about WikiLeaks and supposed election fraud and she did a deep dive into the Podesta emails. She was one of the first to show an interest in Q’s breadcrumbs. "Just in case this stuff turns out to be legit because honestly it kind of seems legit,” she says in her first QAnon YouTube video from Nov. 3, 2017.

Diaz later recounted that she was contacted a few weeks after that post by two men who were active as moderators on Q’s forums under the pseudonyms "BaruchtheScribe” and "Pamphlet Anon." "BaruchtheScribe” is actually Paul Furber, a programmer from South Africa, and "Pamphlet Anon” is a Trump fan from the U.S. named Coleman Rogers.



Together, they decided to create a new forum on Reddit for news related to QAnon, CBTS_Stream. Reddit is essentially a more polished and accessible version of 4chan. Content that is successful there then spreads to users on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. It was the first step away from the fringes.

Diaz and her two partners wrote, commented and produced videos. But Reddit moderators repeatedly refused to tolerate their nonsense. When CBTS_Stream was banned, the Reddit group "greatawakening” - which ultimately had 70,000 users – was also banned after only a few months due to rule-violations. 

Nevertheless, the audience grew. A community of conspiracy theorists, Trump fans, right-wing trolls, provocateurs, misogynists and a handful of Bernie Sanders supporters began poring over Q’s most recent claims.

Q also switched platforms. Only a few weeks after Q’s first entry on 4chan, he or she or they moved to 8chan, where the perpetrators of the Christchurch and El Paso mass shootings published their hate-filled pamphlets. 

8chan is the even more extreme variant of 4chan, a mixture of neo-Nazi barroom, Trump fan-club and prophets-of-doom meet-up. Now the site is called 8kun.

Administrator Ron Watkins tells DER SPIEGEL there are three reasons why 8kun and other platforms are perfect for QAnon: Firstly, anyone can publish things anonymously. 

Secondly, the data disappears after a while, and thirdly, nobody is ever censored. 

Watkins promises that if Q violates the rules of his site, then he will definitely be kicked off. But Q and his followers don’t need to do anything illegal for the cult to maintain its drawing power.

To this day, nobody knows who is behind Q. Some followers say it is Trump himself. 

Others claim it is God or John F. Kennedy Jr., even though Kennedy Jr. has been dead since 1999. But his father’s grave does look, with some imagination, like a giant Q in aerial photographs. 

It could also be the programmer from South America, or the Trump fan who got things rolling with Tracy Diaz. What’s clear is that it didn’t take long for people who wanted to make money off of it to find each other.

"Buy gold, buy silver, buy now!” John Michael Chambers seems to be in high spirits. 

He is standing on a stage in a multipurpose hall in Jacksonville, Florida, in front of several dozen spectators, many of them tanned, gray-haired and well-groomed. They are Florida retirees, people in their 50s and 60s, though many are older than that. Almost nobody is wearing a mask.

Chambers is 61 years old, an alert man with glasses and a full beard. He was once an investment advisor and lived in Asia until about five years ago. Now, he is one of Trump's biggest fans, and he moderates Q Con LIVE!, a one-day conference for fans of QAnon. 

Chambers is one of many influencers, with tens of thousands of followers, who congregate around QAnon. For a $49.99 entry fee, visitors get access to six hours of on-stage events, a VIP bracelet and refreshments – a drink and either a slice of pizza or a hot dog.

Illustration: Iris Kuhlmann / DER SPIEGEL; Fotos: Getty Images (10).


Rick Cafiero and his wife Tracy are among the participants, having traveled here from Satellite Beach, two-and-a-half hours south of Jacksonville. They own a kitchen-design business. Both are wearing shorts and Q T-shirts and have a cross hanging around their necks.

"Q is enlightening people and encourages us to do our own research,” says Tracy Cafiero. "The public couldn't handle learning the truth about this pedophile network,” adds her husband.

John Michael Chambers, who is up on stage, sees today's world as a place of chaos and confusion. When he isn’t moderating a conference, he works on a daily YouTube show called "MSOM - Making Sense of the Madness,” where he talks about secret electromagnetic tests being carried out on people and the question of what and, especially, who is to blame for the September 11 attacks.

Chambers has about 15,000 followers on YouTube and Facebook. He gives talks and records videos in which he explains why the state is supposedly plotting against Trump. In a later interview, he says that Clinton, Bush and Obama ruined America. "I didn’t leave the country, the country left me," he says.

Chambers doesn’t spend his time sifting through the darker corners of Q world. He also doesn’t wait breathlessly for Q to post yet another message on 8kun. When asked what Q is, he says: "It’s the biggest military intelligence operation of our time. The question is not who or what Q is, but why Q is, why is this happening right now?”

One answer could be because it is lucrative. Chambers sells books, collects fees for his guest lectures and asks for donations on his websites. QAnon helps him grow the audience for his theories and, thus, his revenue.

In the afternoon, a clean-shaven young man appears on stage, with black hair and a deep voice. "I’m convinced President Trump will win 50 states in November,” says the man, who calls himself Dustin Nemos but whose real last name is Krieger. 

Nemos has been following Q since the beginning and has been focusing on making YouTube videos since 2018. He has over 100,000 subscribers on the video platform and is now able to make his living off Q. One of his websites, RedPill Living, which sells oils, creams and vitamins, is a co-sponsor of the Q conference.

An entire industry of prophets of doom, pill-pushers and right-wing quacks has grown up around QAnon, tapping the attention of hundreds of its hundreds of thousands of followers. QAnon supporters spend hours every day chasing cross-references, gathering clues and looking for evidence of a supposed conspiracy. People like Dustin Nemos make a living off it.



People sometimes describe online obsessions as falling down a rabbit hole. But how does that happen and why can so many people not find their way back out again?

Part of the answer lies in social networks’ recommendation algorithms. The YouTube algorithm is considered especially efficient at tethering users to their screens and showing them things that might interest them - not only more of the same, but other, similar things. How the algorithm functions isn't just interesting to tech nerds, but also to video producers, influencers, advertisers and content managers.

The tech portal The Verge began wondering years ago why YouTube’s recommendation system works so insidiously well such that people wanted to spend increasing amounts of their time on the site. When people go to the platform looking for the answer to a question, the site opens a whole new universe for them.

The extent to which that universe is tailored to a particular user depends on many factors, such as whether that person has an account and is logged in, or on whether previous YouTube visits are stored in their browser. Those who reveal their preferences to the algorithm will be given what they want and is more likely to get sucked in.

The recommendation mechanisms for QAnon works like the one for pop-music fans who are led from one music video to the next. Users who watch German QAnon videos are just a few clicks away from clips about the "Corona mafia” or the "Corona delusion” or about the supposed dangers of vaccination. 

People are thus pulled ever deeper down the rabbit hole. The movement grows with every click – and some politicians have noticed.

The part of California where Jo Rae Perkins grew up is located at almost precisely the mid-point between Los Angeles and Disneyland. She can remember sitting on the roofs of Cypress as a young girl with her friends and watching the fireworks explode over the theme park at night. 

In a sense, she grew up in paradise – the sun was almost always shining, the country was doing well, her mother was a passionate Democrat and her daughter became one as well. Now, Perkins lives in the neighboring state of Oregon and might bring QAnon into the U.S. Senate.

Reddit moderator Mike Raines: "Users keep coming to us and saying: Hey, why are you afraid of Q, shouldn’t we be able to have an open, honest discussion about it? No, we should not.”

Reddit moderator Mike Raines: "Users keep coming to us and saying: Hey, why are you afraid of Q, shouldn’t we be able to have an open, honest discussion about it? No, we should not.” Foto: Simon Simard / DER SPIEGEL


Perkins is running for Senate as a Republican. She is one of a dozen candidates in the party who have publicly declared their support for the QAnon movement and are seeking political office in November. Perkins gave up her membership in the Democratic Party in 1987.

In early September, she is sitting in front of her office computer in Albany, about an hour by car south of Portland, and taking part in a Zoom conference. Behind her is a wall of books with two small U.S. flags. Perkins, 64, is wearing a red blazer with a blue shirt. She pulls her hair behind her ear every time it falls into her face.

She says she remembers exactly when she first became aware of QAnon. In fall 2017, someone posted the letter "Q” in the comments under a Facebook video she had seen. Shortly thereafter, a friend of hers updated her status: "If you want to learn more about Q, get in touch!” Perkins was intrigued.

The first QAnon supporters began appearing at rallies in the U.S. in 2018, including at Republican events. Initially, it was just a couple of men and women holding up Q signs. Now, it has turned into a real political force, one that Donald Trump cannot ignore - and one that calls everything into question, including the cause of the pandemic. In polls, 34 percent of Republicans say that the pandemic was intentionally planned.

The president has recognized the movement's potential, and seemingly for this reason, he has yet to distance himself from the cult. QAnon follower Marjorie Taylor Greene from Georgia, a promising House of Representatives candidate for the Republicans, even received a congratulatory tweet from Trump when she prevailed against a competitor in her primary.

In August, Trump said: "I don’t know much about the movement, other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.” But, he added, "I heard these are people who love our country." 

Only a few Republican politicians unambiguously reject it. Jo Rae Perkins, meanwhile, has now taken an oath of allegiance as a "digital soldier” of the movement.

In early September, she appeared on the YouTube show of a QAnon mouthpiece who appeared on stage at the conference in Jacksonville. Perkins announced that she would soon hold an analog fundraising gala. 

In the video, she says that she has received campaign donations from QAnon followers around the country, adding that it is the group from which she has generated the greatest amount of money.


The movement is hardly dependent anymore on the ecosystem from which it came. About three years after Q’s first post, QAnon is crystallizing into a political force with branches, and splinter- and sub-groups. The groupings have one thing in common: 

They see Western democracy as corrupt. And at least some of them are convinced that it can no longer be peacefully reformed.

Tech companies have begun to understand what they helped create. In July, TikTok banned several QAnon hashtags while Facebook recently deleted almost 800 QAnon groups, including one with almost 200,000 users and restricted thousands of accounts on Instagram. Twitter previously suspended over 7,000 such accounts.

But experts argue that all of this is coming too late. According to the extremism expert Julia Ebner, the attempt to ban QAnon from the platforms is inefficient, because the movement is too branched out. "Especially Facebook reacted much too late,” she says. 

"Now groups are being deleted, but that only began once the movement was already very large.” The FBI declared the conspiracy theory a potential terrorist threat as far back as 2019.

There are several places online where people who have lost a friend or family member to Q can turn. One of the biggest is located on Reddit and is called "QAnonCasualties.” Mike Raines, the moderator, ensures that trolls don’t take over chats among the victims. 

"Users keep coming to us and saying: Hey, why are you afraid of Q, shouldn’t we be able to have an open, honest discussion about it? No, we should not.” The forum, he says, exists for people to share their experiences and express sympathy. It has over 24,000 registered users.

Many of them have similar stories to tell - of Baby Boomer parents who have drifted into the digital world of conspiracy and who, having grown up reading newspapers, aren't always immediately able to recognize which online sources are trustworthy and which are not. 

There are mothers who believe George Soros is the "new Hitler” or call their children Satanists because they wear a mask. There are also friends who have grown alienated because one of them believes Hollywood stars are sacrificing children and siblings who are at loggerheads because one of them believes the pandemic is an invention.

And there are women like Lauren. Lauren says she no longer knows exactly when Q entered her life. Only, that her boyfriend Tom one day uttered the sentence: "Where we go one, we go all." It is the movement’s slogan.

For Lauren, the sentence came out of the blue, and made no sense. Who was "we”? "It was scary,” the 28-year-old says. She was worried about Tom. He had recently seemed beaten down and spent a lot of time in front of the computer. Lauren typed the sentence into Google and found a dark parallel world.  

Illustration: Iris Kuhlmann / Der Spiegel; Fotos: 7aktuell.de; AP; DAVIDS; dpa; Facebook (2); Getty Images (4); imago; laif; YouTube (2).


She cries as she describes the experience via Zoom. The word she uses the most often in the conversation is "despair.” She is convinced that she has lost Tom to what she calls a cult. They have been together five years, and are now close to splitting up. "QAnon has taken the man away from me who I thought I would marry one day,” she says.

Tom and Lauren are from the Midwest and met through friends. When Lauren decided to study law after high school, they enrolled at the same university.

Then Tom changed. He had a conversation with an academic counsellor and, for the first time, understood how large his student debt was: $100,000. Such a student debt level isn't uncommon in the U.S., but that knowledge pushed Tom into despair.

He began leaving the apartment less and hardly went to classes. Instead, he sat at home playing video games and watching YouTube. For hours at a time. When Lauren came home, she would hear Donald Trump’s voice coming out of his room. Tom, who had never been interested in politics, was suddenly watching the president’s campaign appearances and tirades. At some point, Tom began making predictions. He said the economy would collapse and the power supply will be cut off.

It’s hard to say when ideology turns into a delusion and when it can become truly dangerous. Soon, Tom was only speaking about Q, about secret clues and a revolution that would soon be coming. "He was obsessed,” Lauren says. "It was scary.”

QAnon hasn't been limited to just North America for some time now. Here in Germany, QAnon groups are rapidly gaining new members, and the movement’s largest German-speaking Telegram channel now has over 120,000 subscribers - a shockingly large number. 

Ever since the German government imposed the first measures against the pandemic in the spring, the conspiracy-minded have been joining the movement, including right-wing extremists, anti-vaxxers and members of the Reichsbürger scene, as well as people who believe 5G spread the virus.

QAnon believer Ellen Kalwait-Borck "At first, they tried it through the climate. Now, they are trying it through corona.”

QAnon believer Ellen Kalwait-Borck "At first, they tried it through the climate. Now, they are trying it through corona.” Foto: Roman Raacke / DER SPIEGEL


Right-wing video blogger Oliver Janich, who denies climate change and advertises the "Querdenker,” or "unconventional thinker,” protests that have taken place in German cities against the authorities’ measures to control the coronavirus, posted his first video about QAnon in 2017. 

Called "Who is Q? Trump’s secret agent?”, it has received over 90,000 views. Janich is considered one of the most prominent QAnon disseminators in Germany. In 2018, he said in a video: "Many of the people who are currently in power actually deserve to be hanged.”

Other activist from the "Querdenker” scene have also spread at least parts of the ideology, including prominent vegan chef Attila Hildmann and former news anchor Eva Herman. In April, musician Xavier Naidoo posted a video in which he talked, in tears, about the freeing of "children from the hands of pedophile networks,” taking up one of the central themes of QAnon. But it’s not just prominent members of the alternative right-wing scene pushing the cult into prominence, it is also people like Ellen Kalwait-Borck.

Kalwait-Borck starts by asking the reporter if she can hug her - as though there was no pandemic and no social distancing rules. Her home is in a small town near Hamburg and the 58-year-old is wearing a floor-length dress and red-framed glasses. She leads the way to the terrace and begins talking about how she became a QAnon adherent. Her story shows how the movement is gaining supporters in Germany, and, especially, in which milieu.

DER SPIEGEL first encountered her at a "Querdenker” protest in Hamburg in August. She wanted to speak to the reporter to argue that the anti-coronavirus measures had gone too far and said she could be accurately described as a follower of QAnon.

Now, sitting in her garden with almond milk and dates, she says: "I’m not really an expert.” She says she is more closely tied to the "Querdenker” movement than to QAnon, but that even if she isn’t a total enthusiast, she could be described as "Anon” and counted as a follower of the movement – if, that is, such a person can be defined as someone who "does research, thinks on their own, takes a look for themselves and takes healthy common sense into account.”

Kalwait-Borch is an alternative psychotherapy practitioner. She explains that in her office, she tries to help patients "integrate feelings and shadow aspects,” and says that business was going great until the pandemic. "That knocked me off my feet.” Her income dwindled, along with her happiness. She asked herself: "Why are the people creating such terror worldwide? Because of a virus that is proven to not do what people have claimed it does?”

Kalwait-Borck says that as soon as something seems strange to her and the facts don’t add up, "I immediately start digging. With this corona story I say, okay, I’ll give you until Easter. By then I will have found out what’s going on.” She says that she was willing to "keep quiet” until then. That’s over now.



Now she longer wants to allow a supposed elite, directed by the World Health Organization, to destroy her life. She believes this elite wants to establish a "new world order” and oppress citizens. "At first, they tried it through the climate. Now, they are trying it through corona.” She believes that a small group is getting richer through the pandemic. "And then we get into the deep state.” She believes it’s possible that a youth-giving elixir is being created from the blood of children, as QAnon claims.

She said that her transformation happened "bit by bit.” At first, there was her skepticism of conventional medicine. She says she met people at the Buddhist center that "thought differently.” She dove deeply into naturopathic medicine, tried urine therapy and became skeptical of vaccines. She is worried, she says, that a genetic vaccine against COVID-19 could turn people into cyborgs.

She jumps up and disappears into the house. When she returns to the patio, she has a walnut-size, yellow clump in her hand, inorganic sulfur. She bites into it. "It helps heal the gut,” she says.

She says that QAnon is about being a "sovereign human being.” She argues that the truly dangerous terrorism organization is Antifa - something she heard on the "X22 Report.” And, she says, someone else in the movement told her that corona will stop once Trump is re-elected.

The Q movement involves a scary mixture of madness, fear and paranoia. The domestic intelligence services are watching with increasing concern how vaccine skeptics, neo-Nazis, Reichsbürger and mystics are finding their way to one another in the movement. Felix Klein, the Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight Against Anti-Semitism, is alarmed.

He argues that the QAnon movement is distinguished by its "ability to connect to various branches of conspiracy myths” and says that anti-Semitism acts "like an ominous bonding agent between these currents.” He says that many are being spread via messenger services, "which in my view should be subjected to the same rules as, for example, Twitter or Facebook.” Klein also believes that German domestic intelligence officials should take a closer look at the movement than it has done to this point.

Benjamin Strasser, a parliamentarian for the business-friendly Free Democrats and the party's spokesperson for religious issues, says: "We need the security authorities to have better analytic ability for such phenomena and internet reconnaissance must be improved.” Ultimately, he argues, legal steps must also be taken to effectively counter anti-Semitism and incitement. 

Konstantin von Notz, the deputy parliamentary leader of the Green Party, is also calling for decisive action. He argues that the security authorities need to gather information about those "who deliberately spread these conspiratorial ideologies and use them to openly question our liberal democratic order.” He says that the federal government must deal with QAnon in an appropriate manner. "So far it has not done so.”

Martin Schmidt, the southern German QAnon supporter, says there will and must be a revolution soon, ideally a peaceful one. And if that doesn’t work? Schmidt answers without hesitation. "Then the Third World War will break out. And that will be the last one.”

Are Intellectuals Killing Convergence?

There is every reason to worry that a historic process of deglobalization is underway, threatening to scuttle the growth models of poor countries that previously used trade as a path to prosperity. Worst of all, this disturbing shift has been met by silence or even encouragement by those who should know better.

Arvind Subramanian, Josh Felman


NEW DELHI – How will COVID-19 affect developing countries’ growth prospects? The answer will depend largely on how globalization – and intellectual support for it – evolves in the pandemic’s aftermath. The prospects are not encouraging.

Even before the pandemic struck, the global merchandise export-to-GDP ratio had been declining for the first time since World War II, falling by about five percentage points since 2008 to about 20% this year.

This is not the first time that the world has de-globalized. Between World War I and the eve of World War II, world trade collapsed, and the export-to-GDP ratio fell from a peak of 16% in 1913 to just over 6%. In John Maynard Keynes’s memorable words, this contraction was the result of “the projects and politics of militarism and imperialism, of racial and cultural rivalries, of monopolies, restrictions, and exclusion.”

Today’s deglobalization was brought on by other factors. For starters, new protectionist barriers have been erected, though not at a 1930s scale. The trade restrictions imposed by US President Donald Trump’s administration since 2017 have been relatively limited overall, and targeted mainly at China. 

At the global level, they have been partly offset by ongoing new free-trade agreements, such as the Economic Partnership Agreement that the European Union and Japan concluded in 2018.

Another, more important factor behind today’s deglobalization is the fraying of global value chains, which itself is the result of China’s transformation from a small export-driven economy into a much larger economy more reliant on domestic demand. As such, the past decade can partly be seen as a period of normalization after years of Chinese exceptionalism. 

But it was also clearly more than that. If normalization were the only factor, the global export-to-GDP ratio would have merely flattened, with the share of exports ceded by China being taken over by other developing countries. Instead, we have witnessed a dramatic decline in the ratio, implying severe consequences for many developing countries.

Since the early 1990s until recently, the world had been witnessing an economic “convergence,” whereby poor countries finally (after 200 years) were beginning to catch up with rich ones. Although some countries, especially in East Asia, had already been converging for a long time, only in the past three decades did this become a truly global phenomenon.

Expanded opportunities for trade were an important factor driving convergence. The 1990s and 2000s were an era of what Martin Kessler and one of us have called hyper-globalization, when technological advances, the container revolution, the fall in information and communication costs, and the dismantling of trade barriers sustained widespread economic exuberance.

Among other things, hyper-globalization drove the global export-to-GDP ratio from 15% to 25% over the two decades leading up to the 2008 global financial crisis, and this export boom fueled rapid growth in developing countries. Hence, as the following figure shows, hyper-globalization and convergence were interlinked phenomena.

Since the two phenomena were connected, the recent return of deglobalization has substantially moderated the convergence: low- and middle-income countries that were growing at about 3-4% per capita annually before the global financial crisis have been averaging 1-2% growth thereafter.

The question now is how the pandemic will influence the process of deglobalization that was already underway. It is too early to be sure, but two possibilities stand out. One plausible scenario is a generalized retreat in which deglobalization accelerates as countries and firms reassess the benefits of trade against the risks of import dependence. 

Alternatively, the next phase of deglobalization could be more limited and driven by China’s economic transition. In that case, a few developing countries would benefit in the short run but fail to secure a sustained advantage, because the heightened risk of future trade and strategic conflicts would usher in a new climate of deeper uncertainty.

The intellectual response to deglobalization and the reversal of the historic process of convergence has been a near-deafening silence. Very few academics or policymakers in advanced economies have spoken up in defense of an open global order on behalf of poorer countries. Cosmopolitan elites who previously had been loud and enthusiastic champions of globalization have sat on their hands.

Indeed, the pendulum may be swinging in the opposite direction, toward a resurgence of older development ideas such as the “Big Push,” whereby developing countries are advised to replace successful export-led growth models with inward-oriented strategies. 

There are reasons for this, of course, including valid concerns about globalization’s effects on inequality in advanced economies. Still, the fact remains: the interests of developing countries have been abandoned.

In fact, intellectuals in the developing world have also been silent, offering no real defense for the preservation of open trade. In key developing countries – notably China and India – the intellectual and policy landscape is tilting sharply toward self-reliance and inwardness.

To some degree, policymakers are making a virtue of necessity, given developing countries’ relative lack of influence on globalization. But it is also true that the intellectual currents in the West are drifting east, convincing policymakers to summon the ghost of past ideas like import substitution, which famously failed in the 1960s and 1970s.

In the post-pandemic climate, we should expect a continued acceleration of deglobalization and, unfortunately, intellectual accommodation of this trend. In a best-case scenario, a few developing countries might seize on new export opportunities as major firms look to diversify production away from China. But for most low- and middle-income economies, the price will be steep in terms of lost trading opportunities. 

The growth ladder used by Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, China, and Vietnam will be kicked away from still-lagging countries in South and Central Asia, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

For two golden decades, developing countries enjoyed the fruits of hyper-globalization and convergence. 

But deglobalization, meeting little intellectual resistance, is gaining ground, auguring a long-term loss of economic dynamism for the world’s poorer regions.


Arvind Subramanian, a former chief economic adviser to the government of India, is Professor of Economics at Ashoka University. He is the author of Eclipse: Living in the Shadow of China’s Economic Dominance.

Josh Felman is Director of JH Consulting.