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GlobLog - January 2005
A direct link to each entry is obtained by using the button below the entry.


Monday, 31/1/2005:

23:31 - THE SMALL PICTURE: It’s the day after an historic and successful election in Iraq that positively shocked all foreign observers, and perhaps changed the dynamics in Iraq completely. What’s the angle on the Swedish television news, Aktuellt? They portray the “losers of the election” – unhappy Sunni Muslims who fled Fallujah during the American attack. Just imagine how Aktuellt could have portrayed the first democratic elections in Sweden or in Germany after the war, had it existed then.


01:19 - THE LONGING FOR FREEDOM IS UNIVERSAL: What a fantastic victory for the Iraqi people! Despite attacks, they produced a turnout of perhaps above 60 percent, and a new sense of optimism in the country. The death threats from the islamo-fascist terrorists seem just to have strengthened the resolve of the people. They showed that they genuinely want to be in charge of their own fate. What a strong message to the rest of the world, where some right-wingers say that ungrateful Iraqis don’t deserve our help in building democracy, and some Swedish left-wing intellectuals claim that the terrorists speak for the people, and defend their attempts to destroy democracy.

One would hope that the pictures of cheerful and determined Iraqis, putting on their best clothes to go to vote in a democratic election for the first time, could make us stop and think for a moment. Haven’t many people been too obsessed with the old debates for or against the war, Bush and so on, so that they have forgotten that this is really about the future and the freedom of the people of Iraq, and the entire Middle East? And shouldn’t we all try to help them in their struggle no matter what our views were on the war?

Perhaps something for European Union politicians to think about when they continue to talk and talk and talk about democracy, but mock those who fight for it in practice? Perhaps even president Chirac would be a little bit moved if he saw how people risked their lives to fight for their freedom at the voting booths? Here is just one example from Washington Post:

”Saad Dulaimi, 38, a school teacher and a Sunni, said he originally did not plan to vote. ’I just thought that no one deserve my voice,’ he said. ’But when I saw all the Iraqis are voting, I told myself that I will give my voice to Iraq, not to a person. I have the right to vote so why should I not use this right.’

Dulaimi said voting was a moving experience. ’You cannot imagine how proud I was there when I saw that big Iraqi flag over the ballot box,’ he said. ’My eyes were full with tears when I was looking at the flag, while I was putting the ballot in the box, when one of my teardrops went inside with that ballot through the opening of that box.’”




Sunday, 30/1/2005:

13:37 - A HISTORIC MOMENT: A lot of people say that democracy and peace in Iraq is impossible. Well, they may be right - and certainly the incompetence of the occupation has made it more difficult than it could have been. But on the other hand, just a few months ago people said that democracy in Ukraine is impossible. Never underestimate the resilience of a people fed up with terror and oppression. And now, for the first time in a generation, at least there is a chance. As Iraqis turn out to vote today and as we wait and hope, we can follow the election on the brave Iraqi blogs.

Here is what Mohammed at Iraq the model wrote before today’s election:

“We´re standing before a historic moment and I won´t be exaggerating if I said that it´s an important moment for the whole world; we´re standing before a crossroads and everyone should watch and learn from the rebirth of Iraq.
Regardless of the winners in these elections, those who opposed the elections and resisted the change will have to deal with the new reality.
In 48 hours from now, the dying dictatorships and their filthy tools, the terrorists, will find themselves facing an elected legitimate government in Iraq…
The results of some recent polls that have shown how determined Iraqis are to hold the elections might have surprised you, but they weren´t a surprise for us; we´re not the kind of people that kneel to terror and the sights of blood and beheadings.
Saddam had tried all tools of oppression, killing and torture he could find against our people (including WMD´s) but he failed to make the people believe in his hateful regime. And that´s why the people abandoned him and now, he and his regime are just a bad old tale from the past.
On Sunday, the sun will rise on the land of Mesopotamia. I can´t wait, the dream is becoming true and I will stand in front of the box to put my heart in it.”




Friday, 28/1/2005:

13:44 - SAFE SKIES: Last year I wrote that aviation has never been as frequent, and as safe as today. That trend continues, reports the Aviation Safety Network (pdf). In 2004, the number of fatalities (425) was the lowest since the second world war. This is less than a third of the average 1974-2003. The second-safest year, 1955, recorded 572 fatalities. These numbers also include cargo planes, which are more dangerous. The number of fatal passenger flight accidents was the lowest ever, 11 (8 of them were scheduled passenger flights).


10:54 - A NEW ANTI-CORN LAW LEAGUE?: Something has really changed for the better in the trade debate. And people in NGOs and on the left has begun to see the point of trade. The UK NGO Oxfam has for some time campaigned effectively for open markets for developing countries, and then the famous British anti-capitalist George Monbiot declared ”I was wrong on trade”, and rejected protectionism. These are important signs, even though they seem to be mercantilists rather than free traders, and do not want poor countries to open their markets.

But now there are new movements and NGOs that really embrace free trade, to abolish poverty. That is a really important force against the special interests in favour of more protection. For example, the NGO Global Growth movement is an effective promoter of these ideas and policies. And now I discover that a Swedish Forum for Fair and Free Trade has just been started. It looks like an interesting group, which has arrived at a pro-free trade standpoint from a pragmatic perspective:

”Our aim is to be a force against trade barriers that shield domestic production in the rich world from cheaper foreign (mostly poorer) producers… However, we are also not supporters of globalisation for its own sake. We support it because we have seen how it has worked and how welfare in open countries differ so strongly from those in closed countries.”




00:21 - DAGENS FÖRSVAR FÖR TERROR MOT EN GRYENDE DEMOKRATI: 

"Kan man förstå våldet? Kan man rent av försvara det?
Varje död amerikansk soldat är en tragedi, men varför skulle det irakiska motståndet vara mindre legitimt än exempelvis det danska, norska eller franska under andra världskriget - motstånd som med självklar rätt har skrivits in i historieböckerna som rättfärdigt och hjältemodigt men som ingalunda skedde utan våld, blodspillan eller stora civila förluster…
det kan inte vara vår sak att döma vad som är rätt eller fel metod i motståndskampen. Vi föredrar personligen civilt motstånd eller andra metoder men vi menar att man även måste respektera det väpnade motståndet."
- Vänsterdebattörerna Åsa Linderborg och Erik Wijk i Aftonbladet.



Thursday, 27/1/2005:

21:58 - DAGENS ANTIPLURALISMCITAT: 

"Den parlamentariska utredningens ordförande, exministern Bengt K Å Johansson (s), tycker att det är ett problem att människor i allt större utsträckning tar del av mer varierade mediekällor: - Det är ett problem eftersom vi behöver en gemensam grund för att vara en nation, säger Bengt K Å Johansson."
- Dagens Nyheter om public service-utredningen. (Tack Jim)



10:50 - WHAT HAVE WE LEARNT?: In January 1945, Soviet troops discovered the concentration camp in Auschwitz. In the 60 years since, the world’s leaders have repeatedly said “never again” – and meanwhile genocide has taken place in countries like the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, Iraq, Rwanda and Bosnia. And right now it is happening in Sudan.

So it happened again. Again and again. And it will happen again as long as tyrants and murderers are allowed to be leaders and heads-of-state. As DN quotes David Rieff: “Never again” didn’t mean anything more than “Never again would Germans kill Jews in Europe in the 1940s”.


Wednesday, 26/1/2005:

15:24 - INFORMATION WANTS TO BE FREE: As I wrote, the National Agency for Education classified the report on private schools after the minister had criticised it. But luckily, Timbro had already printed one copy. Now it is scanned and on our web site. Download (pdf) a copy of it before they sue us.


12:49 - WORTH BOOKMARKING: Captus.nu seems like a very good new Swedish site, that guides us through the oceans of liberal, libertarian and free-market news, articles and studies from around the world.


10:29 - HOW AUTHORITIES DISTORT OUR WORLD VIEW: The report from the Swedish National Agency for Education that showed how private schools improved the quality of public schools, was attacked by the teachers’ union yesterday. And the minister for schools, Ibrahim Baylan, joined the critics.

The Agency’s response was…to withdraw the report – since it wasn’t sufficiently "nuanced"! As they say on their website, it was just preliminary, and "the report shouldn’t be spread widely". Just in case someone didn’t understand that independent authorities were part of the social democratic party…


Tuesday, 25/1/2005:

21:52 - HOW WE DISTORT OUR WORLD VIEW: How bad is the situation in Iraq five days before the election? Well, we know it’s bad. But probably not as bad as we think. Because the media always focus on disasters and violence, not on slow progress. Aktuellt just interviewed the boss of the Egyptian company Cairo Video, which sells footage to Western broadcasters. He did fantastic business during the war. Now he has a lot of footage on how democracy is being created, the election proceeds and schools are being built. But he is not making money any more. The broadcasters are not interested in such footage. But don’t blame them. They send what we want to see.


00:48 - WEST WING QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

”This is politics now. Facts won’t work.”
- Toby rejeccts the offer to read a briefing on statistics before a dicsussion with the AFL-CIO on trade with China, in the West Wing episode ”Full Disclosure”.



Monday, 24/1/2005:

14:10 - CIA PREDICTION OF THE DAY: 

"The current EU welfare state is unsustainable and the lack of any economic revitalisation could lead to the splintering or, at worst, disintegration of the EU, undermining its ambitions to play a heavyweight international role… Either European countries adapt their workforces, reform their social welfare, education and tax systems, and accommodate growing immigrant populations or they face a period of protracted economic stasis."
CIA on the European Union. CIA predicts that the problems might lead to a break-up of the EU within 15 years. (Thanks Michael)



10:50 - PRIVATE AND POPULAR: Two interesting pieces in Svenska Dagbladet today. A consumer report shows that the services Swedes are most content with are private alternatives in health care and nursery school. And a study from the National Agency for Education shows the well-known fact that private schools are better than public ones, but it also shows that the presence of private schools (thanks to the voucher system) also improved the quality and results in the public ones. That’s economics 101: If you suddenly have to compete for customers, you have to improve your services.

And at the same time, the social democrats prepare to make the fight against competition and profit in health care and education a campaign issue in the 2006 election. Bring them on.


02:33 - THE SOCIALIST WHO TOLD THE TRUTH: Earlier this month, the bestselling socialist economist Robert Heilbroner died. In an interesting Reason article, David Boaz presents him as the socialist “who told the truth”. Unlike many other advocates of the planned economy, Heilbroner confessed that it couldn’t be combined with traditional rights and liberties:

”If tradition cannot, and the market system should not, underpin the socialist order, we are left with some form of command as the necessary means for securing its continuance and adaptation. Indeed, that is what planning means... The rights of individuals to their Millian liberties [are] directly opposed to the basic social commitment to a deliberately embraced collective moral goal... Under socialism, every dissenting voice raises a threat similar to that raised under a democracy by those who preach antidemocracy.”

And in 1989, while still a socialist, Heilbroner didn’t pretend as if nothing had happened:

"Less than 75 years after it officially began, the contest between capitalism and socialism is over: capitalism has won... Capitalism organizes the material affairs of humankind more satisfactorily than socialism."




02:19 - ROAD TO SERFDOM - THE MOVIE: Are you fed up with collectivist, pro-dictatorship movies like Hero and Motorcycle Diaries? Then this is something for you. It will never receive an Oscar, but on the other hand it already has a Nobel prize…


Sunday, 23/1/2005:

15:25 - THREE YEARS WITHOUT NOZICK: Today it is three years since the death of one of the great thinkers of our era – the libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick. At smedjan.com, Kristian Karlsson reminds us that DN Kultur only published a tiny paragraph about Nozick the day after, written by the socialist Göran Greider, consisting of factual errors and a comparison with the looks of the singer of Beach Boys (the rest of the page was devoted to the socialist Bourdieu who also died that day). In correspondance with the editor, Karlsson was told that this was because DN Kultur was preparing a big analysis of Nozick’s thinking. It’d better be good. We have already been waiting for it for three years.


11:49 - CORRECTION ON AIRBUS: I was a bit unfair to EU in my description of the Airbus affair. Apparently, Thai Airways had planned to buy Airbus planes, but the Thai prime minister intervened and said that they would not buy them until the EU abolished tariffs against sea food and poultry. But of course, this doesn’t make those tariffs more reasonable. And the EU has itself to blame: By subsidising Airbus, it has turned commerce into politics. (Thanks Per)


Saturday, 22/1/2005:

17:25 - MER LÖFGREN: Förresten, Mikael Löfgren menade att jag först och främst ville stödja Bush, men det långsiktiga målet var att ”undergräva public service”. Men min artikel tog upp 13 fall av misslyckad rapportering. Bara 4 av dessa rörde public service… Har Löfgren över huvud taget läst den, eller bara hört om den från public service-polarna? (Tack Oscar)


12:17 - DAGENS HISTORIESKRIVNING: 

Till Mikael Löfgren, DN Kultur

Två korta frågor om din artikel i dag [ännu ej på webben]:

- Varför låtsas du om som om problemet med Uddéns uttalande var att hon stödde Kerry? Var inte problemet snarare att hon sade att public service inte hade några som helst krav att vara neutralt eller göra båda sidor rättvisa? Det är möjligt att du håller med henne om det, men att utlämna det i beskrivningen är ett orättvist sätt att svartmåla kritiken mot henne och hela den efterföljande debatten om public service.

- Varför påstår du att mitt motiv med att kritisera medierapporteringen var att "bilda opinion för Bush", när jag tydligt i artikeln som startade debatten skrev att jag aldrig skulle rösta på Bush? Du behöver naturligtvis inte hålla med mig om min kritik, men varför är det mina motiv du ifrågasätter och inte mina argument?

Vänliga hälsningar,
Johan Norberg




Friday, 21/1/2005:

18:00 - A MARSHALL PLAN - AS USUAL: Jeffrey Sachs is a great economist, but always a bit too interested in massive projects that should solve everything right away. So it is with his enormously well-promoted UN report on how to halve world poverty by doubling aid and launching a Marshall plan to save Africa.

Great. Why hasn’t anyone thought of that before? Well, they have. Africa has already received the equivalent of five Marshall plans since the second world war, and the strongest correlation is that those who received most aid have seen their living standards decrease most. Financial Times’ Martin Wolf explains that the report underestimates how difficult aid is aid is:

”The big question for advocates of additional aid is not whether the rich can afford it, but whether the poor can use it. There are at least two big dangers: the first is that aid will crowd out the exports on which longer-term growth depends; the second is that high levels of aid will encourage corruption, bad policy and waste.”

And William Easterly, one of the most experienced economists when it comes to aid, also criticies the report:

"Its approach is a sort of utopian central planning by global bureaucrats, a crash program like a Great Leap Forward for poor countries. This will not work any better than central planning by bureaucrats has worked anywhere else, which is to say not at all."




01:58 - TO SAVE THE VILLAGE WE HAD TO DESTROY IT: It’s hard to think up something worse than EU’s ultimatum that Thailand must buy Airbus planes or face scampi tariffs. But Naturskyddsföreningen – the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation – has. It says that we should stop buying scampi from Thailand and Indonesia whatever these countries do, since coastal scampi farming damage surrounding mangrove forests. It says that we should do it for their sake since those forests might give some protection against a tsunami.

In other words: To get minimal protection against a tsunami that might reappear in a hundred years or so, we should destroy one of Thailand’s most successful exports industries, that gives incomes and makes it possible for them to get the technology to fight not merely tsunamis, but also other disasters and poverty, hunger and disease.

At least the EU didn’t pretend that it hurts Thailand for Thailand’s sake. (Thanks Jon)


00:20 - STICK TO THIS SCRIPT: As you know, I have my doubts about president Bush, but I really liked the inaugural address he just delivered. Clearly and eloquently he emphasised that human liberty is the goal of the American government – both abroad (fight dictatorships and help dissidents) and at home (the ownership society). Let’s hope he sticks to this script. Here are some good lines:

“There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment and expose the pretensions of tyrants and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant. And that is the force of human freedom.
We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world. …
Across the generations, we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation´s security and the calling of our time. …
All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.
Democratic reformers facing repression, prison or exile can know: America sees you for who you are -- the future leaders of your free country. …
And as hope kindles hope, millions more will find it. By our efforts, we have lit a fire as well -- a fire in the minds of men. It warms those who feel its power, it burns those who fight its progress, and one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world.”




Thursday, 20/1/2005:

23:01 - TSUNAMI-HIT THAIS TOLD: BUY AIRBUS OR FACE TARIFFS: I am not often embarrassed about being European. Partly because it’s not my fault. But I feel like making an exception after having read this piece of news from Fraser Nelson in The Scotsman. It’s also one of the best arguments I’ve heard against subsidising industries – it often turns commerce into coercion:

“Thailand has been told by the European Commission that it must buy six A380 Airbus aircraft if it wants to escape the tariffs against its fishing industry.
While millions of Europeans are sending aid to Thailand to help its recovery, trade authorities in Brussels are demanding that Thai Airlines, its national carrier, pays £1.3 billion to buy its double-decker aircraft.
The demand will come as a deep embarrassment to Peter Mandelson, the trade commissioner, whose officials started the negotiation before the disaster struck Thailand - killing tens of thousands of people and damaging its economy.
While aid workers from across Europe are helping to rebuild Thai livelihoods, trade officials in Brussels are concluding a jets-for-prawns deal, which they had hoped to announce next month. …
The prawn tax is one in a series of protectionist measures expected to cost east Asia some £130 million each year - money being taken from its economies while EU citizens donate millions in charity.” (Thanks Michael)




16:32 - WORTH READING: Smedjan.com, Sweden’s first and best web magazine on politics and culture has had a facelift. It is now more elegant and stylistically pure. It also features a blog where you can read the things you can’t read anywhere else. Carl Rudbeck complains about the new support for the monarchy, and Kristian Karlsson exposes the hidden, uncritical agenda in SVT:s Mediemagasinet. (Full disclosure here)


Wednesday, 19/1/2005:

17:43 - DAGENS PUBLIC SERVICE: 

Pierre Helsén, digital-tv-kommissionen:
– Digital-tv ger möjligheter till flera kanaler och på så vis kommer det ju konsumenterna till gagn.
Gunnar Eriksson, programledare:
(Förbluffat) – Hur då? Du menar att ju mer vi får att titta på desto bättre blir det för oss? Det är väl inte säkert?
PH: – Det är ju upp till dig att avgöra om det är bättre, men…
GE: (Hånfullt) – Hö hö!
PH: – …men utbudet blir större, valmöjligheten ökar, och därmed blir det ju bättre.
GE: – Det är alltså bättre med 55 tandkrämssorter än 10? Det är ju kanske inte alltid riktigt sant. Hö, hö. (Byter snabbt ämne innan Helsén hinner replikera.)
Replikskifte i dagens P1 konsument. (Tack Peter)



13:51 - DAGENS DEFINITION AV ANSVAR: 

”Att be om ursäkt upplever jag som att man försöker komma undan sitt ansvar.”
Utrikesminister Laila Freivalds, i DN.



12:25 - RACE TO THE BOTTOM IN CHINA-BASHING: If you have Dagens Nyheter at home, rip out the article by Sverker Lindström article on Chinese sweatshops today, save it, and re-read it in twenty years. By then it will be as amusing to read as the articles in the 1960s that told us not to buy goods from the Japanese sweatshops, because the working standards were so awful. Of course those factories raised productivity and made Japan one of the world’s richest countries.

Sverker Lindström who has been commissioned by Swedish trade unions in manufacturing to study this, has now written a really bad article, telling us that Chinese workers are exploited when we buy our clothes from them, that things are getting worse and that there is a race to the bottom. But there are no figures, no examples, no sources, which prove that a race to the bottom is going on. Lindström is right of course, when he complains about the remains of the communist system, the restrictions of movement and so on, but he fails to mention that the economic liberalisation has begun to remove parts of those restrictions.

He writes that foreign factories “reduce the wages”, despite the fact that real wages (pdf) in China have increased more than five-fold since 1978, that absolute poverty (pdf) has been cut by three quarters, that there is a shortage of labour in large parts of the country, and that factories are now giving better offers, and in some places (according to Financial Times) even discotheques and bowling-alleys, to attract workers. He writes that foreign companies have “no direct responsibility for how the factories treat the workers”, even though the controls of suppliers have probably never been as strong as they are today in textiles and clothes trade. If exports and foreign companies introduce a race to the bottom, how does Lindström explain this:

“the average foreign affiliate pays wages that are 30 percent higher than the average in state-owned enterprises and twice the average level of collective firms. On average foreign affiliates also have higher occupational safety and health standards and observe higher environmental standards than Chinese owned firms.”(Nicholas Lardy, pdf)

But most amusing of all: After having written about how awful it is that the Chinese have these terrible “slave-jobs”, Sverker Lindström complains that their competition force other countries out of the business, and deprive them of those jobs!


Tuesday, 18/1/2005:

10:27 - SELF-CRITICISM!? WHAT THEY HELL WERE THEY THINKING?: The one thing I am most concerned about in the Cecilia Uddén affair is the fact that few other journalists seemed concerned. Now that the history of those days is being written, we learn more about the reaction from other radio journalists, those who should be most curious and most prepared to challenge power.

I just read an article about this by Hanna Sistek in the magazine Scoop. Apparently, after Uddén’s statement in favour of biased journalism, there was silence for five hours, until two other radio journalists wrote an email asking why everybody were quiet – why didn’t a debate on bias and public service start? One of the few responses they received from their colleagues is bound to become a classic:

“What the hell are you doing? Take it easy now.”
(Vad fan håller ni på med? Ta det lugnt nu.”)




00:29 - WHEN GENERALS ARE THE GOOD GUYS: More than 10 000 troops were armed, wore helmets or black masks, and were ready to attack the protesters at Independence Square. So how come the Ukranian revolution did not end in a bloodbath? New York Times brings us the fascinating story about how top officials in the security service did everything they could to avoid a Tiananmen Square crackdown. (Thanks Joakim)


Monday, 17/1/2005:

14:13 - VISA SOLIDARITET MED LETTISKA ARBETARE: I Chydenius fotspår tipsar om att det nu finns en protestlista på nätet mot fackets kampanj mot lettiska byggarbetare i Vaxholm. Skriv på du också mot denna skam för Sverige!


13:53 - SO WHY DO PEOPLE READ NOSTRADAMUS?: While doing some reading on scientific history, I noticed this great quote from the fascinating Aristotelian monk Roger Bacon, probably sometime around the year 1260. Some people really have the gift of foresight:

”Machines may be made by which the largest ships, with only one man steering them, will be moved faster than if they were filled with rowers; wagons may be built which will move with incredible speed and without the aid of beasts; flying machines can be constructed in which a man … may beat the air with wings like a bird … machines will make it possible to go to the bottom of seas and rivers.”




Sunday, 16/1/2005:

00:19 - LESSONS FROM ABU GHRAIB: A military jury has sentenced Charles Graner to 10 years in prison for abuse of prisoners in Baghdad´s Abu Ghraib prison. If I weren’t opposed to torture on principle, I would have wanted to see him exposed to some of his own methods. In the middle of all the correct and relevant condemnation of the abuse, I think it is also important to understand R J Rummel’s six reasons why this affair actually proves the power of democracy and a free press:

"First, with this in mind [an experiment showing that normal people easily act as torturers] that there is not more abuse at Abu Gharib and other prisons should be surprising, given the conditions in Iraq and that these prisoners, as least some of them surely, have attacked under the cover of civilian clothes other civilians and coalition soldiers.

Second, what abuse occurred was reported by other soldiers.

Third, the American military itself initiated investigations before the media got latched on to it, and although many are still ongoing and a court martial of one abuser is in progress, punishment to others has been handed out.

Fourth, the press has reported the abuses to the American people—a free press at work.

Fifth, the American Secretary of Defense, in his control of the world´s only super military the second most powerful man in the world next to the president, must publicly report to Congress and face a battery of public questions, some hostile.

Sixth, both the Secretary of Defense and the President of the United States have reported on these abuses and apologized."




Saturday, 15/1/2005:

12:50 - MER MARITA: En kritiker tycker att min text om Ulvskog förbigår den principiella frågan om kungens uttalande. Det är helt riktigt. Det handlade nämligen om something completely different. Så min syn på den principiella frågan kommer i stället här:

Jag är som bekant republikan. Bl a just för att även en symbolisk statschef får ett överdrivet politiskt inflytande, särskilt i krissituationer. Gustav V:s borggårdstal och hans välvilja mot Tyskland under andra världskriget är exempel på det. Men det gäller även mer banala exempel. I den omtalade DN-intervjun sade kungen på ett oerhört milt sätt att svenskar ibland är dåliga på ansvar och att det kan vara bättre att skicka en ambulans för mycket än en för lite. Det är klart att det uppfattas som ett politiskt ställningstagande i ett land där regeringen har gjort ansvarslöshet till princip. Men vad skulle han ha sagt? Om han i stället hade hävdat att räddningsarbetet hade gått utmärkt till så hade det också uppfattats som ett politiskt ställningstagande, och ännu mer så eftersom det inte skulle ha haft någon relation till människors egna erfarenheter, till skillnad från det han nu sade. Och om idén är att han ska vara någon slags samlande gestalt för folket så kan han inte vara regeringens nickedocka som säger saker som nästan ingen tror på.

Med andra ord: Inom ramen för den roll som kungen faktiskt har i vårt samhälle så har han gjort rätt. Problemet är alltså inte kungens uttalande, utan den roll han har. Betyder det inte att Ulvskog har rätt i sin kritik? Inte alls. Hon säger ju precis tvärtom: Hon gillar kungen och menar att den representativa monarkin ska bevaras, men klagar över att han säger saker som regeringen inte gillar. Med andra ord: Hon vill helt enkelt hota en kritiker till tystnad. Som vanligt.


11:31 - A HUMAN TRIUMPH: Not that this a legitimate function for a minimal state or anything, but you have to admit that the images Huygens sent from Saturn’s moon Titan are spectacular: Shorelines, drainage channels and flooded regions next to mountains. Not unlike our planet. And since Titan’s atmosphere is dominated by nitrogen, methane and carbon-based organic molecules, it’s pretty much like earth some 4 billion years ago, it might give us insights about how life emerged here.

The scientists who received the images applauded, and some cried tears of joy. My own sense of wonder and joy is pretty well captured by Ayn Rand’s words about Apollo 11:

“newspapers had featured nothing but disasters, catastrophes, betrayals, the shrinking stature of men, the sordid mess of a collapsing civilisation… Now for once, the newspapers were announcing a human achievement, were reporting on a human triumph, were reminding us that man still exists and functions as a man.”




Friday, 14/1/2005:

15:40 - FINGERFÄRDIGA ULVSKOG: Jag är republikan. Jag kan inte komma på ett enda hållbart argument för att utse statschefen genom avel i stället för val. Jag vill bara ha det sagt innan jag säger att inom ramen för sin uppgift har kungen skött sig föredömligt under de senaste veckorna. Han har sökt information när UD inte har givit honom det, han har givit uttryck för allas vår sorg och han har manat till individuellt ansvarstagande. Kontrasten mot regeringens inkompetens och flykt från ansvar är överväldigande. Man förstår att Marita Ulvskog är rasande.

Någon väckte frågan varför kungen inte var i P1-morgonstudion för att försvara sig mot Ulvskogs angrepp. Är det för att statschefen inte bör gå i debatt, och framför allt inte om sin egen ställning? Eller för att det blir en för absurd situation för lyssnarna att höra en konung debattera med någon som med hela sin person företräder ett ännu tydligare överhetsperspektiv?

Det finns ett tredje alternativ: Tänk om kungen faktiskt blev inbjuden, men inte vågade utsätta sig för en tafsare av Ulvskogs kaliber? För tafsandet är faktiskt hennes hemliga debattknep. Det är vanligt att personer avbryter sina meddebattörer, men de brukar göra det verbalt. Ulvskog gör det handgripligt. Varje gång jag började få igång mina resonemang när jag debatterade kulturpolitik med henne i SVT:s Centrum ryckte hon tag i min arm och klappade mig på axeln – samtidigt som hon avfärdade mitt engagemang för liberal kulturpolitik med att det var ”fadersuppror”. Det var svårt att inte bli en aning ryckt ur balans av sådan härskarteknik.

För en tid sedan träffade jag DN:s Peter Wolodarski, som berättade att han dagen efter skulle debattera mot Ulvskog i SVT:s morgonprogram. Jag sade åt honom att han bör förbereda sig på hennes hemliga debattknep. Morgonen efter såg jag dem ryka ihop om Ringholms skattefiffel. Mycket riktigt. När Wolodarski började få in sina poänger knuffade Ulvskog på honom och ryckte honom i armen, medan hon vädjade om att få ordet: ”Men Peter, Peter…”. Men hon hann aldrig anklaga honom för fadersuppror. Wolodarski såg fullkomligt oberörd ut av Ulvskogs fingerfärdighet. Inte med ett ögonkast eller minsta paus röjde han förvåning eller missnöje över att ha Ulvskogs händer över hela sig. I stället fortsatte han koncentrerat lägga ut texten, tills han löpt hela argumentationskedjan ut.

Varningen hade gått fram.


Thursday, 13/1/2005:

15:28 - THE ART OF DISAGREEING: And, speaking of Thomas Sowell, today he writes an important article about how the art of disagreeing in a civilised way is vanishing. Many people today act as if no one can honestly disagree with them. And this is a terrible loss, since most of mankind’s progress is a result of disagreements.


11:06 - SUDSIDISING RISKS: After the storm in Sweden last week the farm lobby wants the government to compensate uninsured forest owners for the damage. But what would that do to the incentives in the future, to pay for insurances and to take safety procedures?

They should read this article by Thomas Sowell:

”In ABC reporter John Stossel´s witty and insightful book Give Me a Break, he discusses how he built a beach house with only ’a hundred feet of sand’ between him and the ocean. It gave him a great view -- and a great chance of disaster.

His father warned him of the danger but an architect pointed out that the government would pick up the tab if anything happened to his house. A few years later, storm-driven ocean waves came in and flooded the ground floor of Stossel´s home. The government paid to have it restored.

Still later, the waves came in again, and this time took out the whole house. The government paid again. Fortunately for the taxpayers, Stossel then decided that enough was enough.

In politics, throwing the taxpayers´ money at disasters is supposed to show your compassion. But robbing Peter to pay Paul is not compassion. It is politics.

The crucial fact is that a society does not have one dime more money to devote to the resources available to help victims of natural disasters by sending that money through government agencies. All that it does is change the incentives in such a way as to subsidize risky behavior.” (Thanks Fabian)




10:49 - TRADING POSITIONS: This is interesting: The European Commission has announced that it will speed up market access for developing countries, which will specifically benefit countries struck by the tsunami - Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and Indonesia. But if the tsunami has finally made the EU understand how crucial free trade is for development, didn’t it just completely undermine a lifetime of arguments in favour of EU protectionism? (Thanks Maria)


Wednesday, 12/1/2005:

17:01 - EXAGGERATIONS OF THE DECADE: What is just as big as the fall of communism, and the recent death of some 170 000 people? A celebrity breakup, of course:

”In the world of celebrities and those who love them, the Jennifer Aniston-Brad Pitt breakup was like the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
- Associated Press, 12 January

“For a celebrity weekly, this is our tsunami,’ said Kent Brownridge, general manager of Us Weekly parent company Wenner Media.”
- New York Post, 12 January
(Found by Norton Tierra)




16:39 - ILLEGAL AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: It has been one of Sweden’s most interesting law cases. Centrum för rättvisa, Sweden´s first-profit public interest law organisation, tested the affirmative action at the law studies at Uppsala University, where students with better qualifications were turned down because of the wrong ethnic background (Swedish). Today the district court in Uppsala found that positive discrimination is discrimination, and therefore illegal. A very important decision for the future of affirmative action in Sweden generally. Justice is about how individuals are treated, not about aggregated statistics.

The Center also has a blog.


09:49 - P1 MORGON MONOLOGUES: Dennis Pamlin, one of leading anti-capitalist at the World Wildlife Fund, got a lot of air time on P1-morgon this morning, when he explained that tourism in Thailand is a bad thing. Backpackers clump about in ”social contexts they know nothing about”, charter tourists ”shut their brains down”, they destroy the environment and ”the long-term economic consequences are even worse”.

No one confronted Pamlin’s statements. No one pointed out that tourism is often a way of using the purchasing power of foreigners to conserve exciting and beautiful nature that would otherwise be destroyed locally. No one pointed out that Thai incomes are three times higher today than they were in the 1970s, when the first Swedes travelled there. No one pointed out that Thailand was marginally richer than Burma after the war. Thailand globalised and attracted tourists, whereas Burma chose isolation. Today Thailand is five times richer. And no one pointed out that chronic hunger in Thailand has been cut by a third in just ten years.

Why not? Because P1-morgon didn’t invite anyone to debate Pamlin. He was invited as an expert, not to have his worldview being challenged by facts and arguments. And got seven minutes in the most important Swedish radio news show. (Thanks Fredrik)


Tuesday, 11/1/2005:

22:51 - AND A STUPID EXAMPLE OF OPTIMISM ABOUT RECOVERY: I just blogged about a reason to be optimistic when it comes to recovery after disasters. Now you’ll get an example of something some people think is a reason to be optimistic,but only because they are economical illiterates. The Portuguese weekly newspaper Expresso just asked several people if the Asian tsunami could lead to a global recession. An economist with close links to the socialist party replied she believed that the “reconstruction could be a big opportunity for economic expansion”.

Here is a word of advice when you go to the voting booth: Beware of the parties that think that devastation and destruction is economically beneficial…

But this is actually a common beginner’s mistake in economics. People like that only see the immediate effects but ignore those that cannot be seen until later. Sure, the reconstruction means that projects are launched and money go to businesses and workers, which gives them the opportunity to spend or invest, and so on. But where did the money come from? Does anyone think that they would have been thrown away if it hadn’t been for the tsunami? No, people would have bought things, which means that the money would have gone to businesses and workers, which would have given them the opportunity to spend or invest, and so on. So the same thing would have happened. The difference is that we would also have had homes, buildings and roads intact, and would have been able to devote our efforts to create and build new things, instead of repairing the old.

Here is an advice for economists who want to get past the beginner’s stage: Read the best economic essay of all time, and you’ll soon learn to understand such obvious facts. (Thanks Miguel)


10:21 - OPTIMISM ABOUT RECOVERY: In Jack Hirshleifer’s interesting article Disaster and recovery I noticed this quote from John Stuart Mill:

"... what has so often excited wonder, the great rapidity with which countries recover from a state of devastation; the disappearance, in a short time, of all traces of the mischiefs done by earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and the ravages of war. An enemy lays waste a country by fire and sword, and destroys or carries away nearly all the moveable wealth existing in it: all the inhabitants are ruined, and yet in a few years after, everything is much as it was before." (Principles of Political Economy, Book I, Chap 5, par I.5.19.))

Even though this is by no means a universal phenomenon, it is surprisingly common. The explanation is that the most important resource in a society is not wealth, roads or buildings – it is human beings and their knowledge. And as long as the disasters do not destroy our ideas and knowledge, and people get the freedom to use it, they can rebuild the lost wealth, which explains why countries like Germany and Japan could swiftly be rebuilt, and economically overtook several of the war’s victors within a few decades.


Monday, 10/1/2005:

10:05 - AID AND TRADE: Now that global generosity is bigger than ever it’s important to remind people that, yes, relief is important and necessary after the tsunami disaster, but the only thing that can create long-term development in the region is trade and growth. And the new EU tariff on coumarin from Thailand I wrote about here shows that EU-politicans hasn’t got a clue. The Scotsman wrote about this story yesterday, and today Gary Duncan at The Times writes about the whole problem, quoting me, “the free-market campaigner”.


Sunday, 9/1/2005:

18:46 - ANOTHER WAY IN WHICH I DON’T GO ALONG WITH THE SOCIALIST LIFESTYLE: 

"North Korea has launched an intensive media assault on its latest arch enemy - the wrong haircut.
A campaign exhorting men to get a proper short-back-and-sides has been aired by state-run Pyongyang television.
The series is entitled ’Let us trim our hair in accordance with Socialist lifestyle’.
[A programme] stressed the ´negative effects´ of long hair on ´human intelligence development´, noting that long hair ´consumes a great deal of nutrition´ and could thus rob the brain of energy.
Men should get a haircut every 15 days, it recommended. …
Hair is a ´very important issue that shows the people´s cultural standards and mental and moral state´, argues Minju Choson, a government daily."(BBC News)



10:55 - OUTSPOKEN CEO OF THE DAY: 

"- I have 200 cows so I probably received 20 000 euros from the European Union [in 2004].

- Do you think it’s fair that a multimillionaire receives that much money?

- No it’s ridiculous. I think the whole system of subsidies for European agriculture is absolutely ridiculous. For example, we have a system in Ireland – children’s allowance: Everybody in Ireland who has children receives money from the state every month, even if you’re a multimillionaire. It’s absolutely bloody ridiculous.

But I think an awful lot of things of think the government is involved in is absolutely bloody ridiculous and doesn’t work. The less government interferes in business – and European agriculture is one of the classical examples - the better"

Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair, in Ekots lördagsintervju (Thanks Mats)




Saturday, 8/1/2005:

17:40 - RANKING THE RANKING: I have received some critical emails about my post on the Heritage/WSJ Index of Economic Freedom. And I have to agree. I wrote that Sweden and USA gets almost similar scores because Sweden is better than its reputation and USA is worse than its reputation. I still think so, but I have to add a third factor: That the index is not completely reliable.

For example: Sweden gets a better score on “Fiscal burden”, despite the fact that government spending as a share of GDP is more than 20 percentage points higher in Sweden than in the US. And we get the same score on “Wages and prices”, which completely ignores the fact that politically privileged unions in Sweden are in control of the labour market through collective bargaining – and throw Latvian builders out of the country if they don’t comply. I think that the Economic Freedom of the World index – which gives USA 8.2 and Sweden 7.3 – is a more reliable guide to international economic freedom. (Thanks Tino and Nima)


Friday, 7/1/2005:

02:04 - LOSING THE WAR OF IDEAS-QUOTE OF THE DAY: Anne Applebaum on the United States´ next attorney general:

"Although many people bear some responsibility for these abuses [at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib], Alberto Gonzales, along with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is among those who bear the most responsibility. It was Gonzales who led the administration´s internal discussion of what qualified as torture. It was Gonzales who advised the president that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to people captured in Afghanistan. It was Gonzales who helped craft some of the administration´s worst domestic decisions, including the indefinite detention, without access to lawyers, of U.S. citizens Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi.

By nominating Gonzales to his Cabinet, the president has demonstrated not only that he is undisturbed by these aberrations, but that he still doesn´t understand the nature of the international conflict which he says he is fighting. Like communism, radical Islam is an ideology that people will die for. To fight it, the United States needs not just to show off its fancy weapons systems but also to prove to the Islamic world that democratic values, in some moderate Islamic form, will give them better lives. The Cold War ended because Eastern Europeans were clamoring to join the West; the war on terrorism will be over when moderate Muslims abandon the radicals and join us. They will not do so if our system promotes people who support legal arguments for human rights abuse."




Thursday, 6/1/2005:

03:05 - OH YES, GOP IS THE RED PARTY: Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal just released their 2005 Index of Economic Freedom. It includes one big surprise for all who consider Sweden semi-socialist and USA laissez-faire: Sweden and USA gets almost the same economic freedom score (1.85 vs 1.89). This is partly because Sweden is a bit better than its reputation. But most of all this is because America’s economic freedom is being constrained on president Bush´s guard: Out-of-control government spending, massive farm subsidies, expansion of Medicare, a heavier regulatory burden and new anti-dumping tariffs.


Wednesday, 5/1/2005:

10:04 - RUSSIA´S LAST BEST HOPE: Among all the evidence that Russia is slipping back into authoritarianism there has been one good, reassuring sign: The presence of criticism at the highest level. President Putin’s chief economic adviser Andrei Illarionov is a classical liberal who has spoken out against Putin’s centralism, the crackdown on the media and the handling of Chechnya, and so on.

In the last few weeks Illarionov has been more outspoken than usual. He has congratulated Ukraine on successfully overturning the stolen presidential election, said that the expropriation of the oil company Yukos’ assets was “the swindle of the year”, and that Putin’s plan to appoint all governors in the country himself destroyed political competition and "Limited competition in all spheres of life leads to one thing: to stagnation." His brave and precise conclusion has been that Russia risks becoming an authoritarian third world state.

One sign that Illarionov is right is that this kind of criticism is no longer acceptable. As New York Times reports, Putin has now relieved him of his duties as envoy to the Group of 8, and given it to a loyalist. For the moment, though, he stays on as adviser. And that seems to be what the public wants. Last week a radio station conducted a call-in poll, asking listeners if Illarionov should stay in government. In no more than four minutes, 9 200 people called, and 86 percent said he should stay.

Let me guess that the radio station will run into problems with the authorities…


Tuesday, 4/1/2005:

22:05 - A TOAST TO ABSENT SERVICEMEN, PERHAPS?: In an interview with the New York Times, Jeanne L Phillips, chair of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, gives an excellent illustration of how government thinks and spends:

Q: I hear one of the balls will be reserved for troops who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

A: Yes, the Commander-in-Chief Ball. That is new. It will be about 2,000 servicemen and their guests. And that should be a really fun event for them.

Q: As an alternative way of honoring them, did you or the president ever discuss canceling the nine balls and using the $40 million inaugural budget to purchase better equipment for the troops?

A: I think we felt like we would have a traditional set of events and we would focus on honoring the people who are serving our country right now -- not just the people in the armed forces, but also the community volunteers, the firemen, the policemen, the teachers, the people who serve at, you know, the -- well, it´s called the StewPot in Dallas, people who work with the homeless.

Q: How do any of them benefit from the inaugural balls?

A: I´m not sure that they do benefit from them.

Q: Then how, exactly, are you honoring them?

A: Honoring service is what our theme is about.

(Thanks Kristian and Reason’s blog)



13:18 - TROUBLE SHOOTING: The failure of the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs in handling the tsunami disaster is obvious. Just look at my collection of quotes. But how can we explain it? Could it for example be that meritocracy has broken down in the ministry and that party affiliation is now more important than competence? At least that’s a conclusion in this DN-article, written by a veteran in the ministry, one month before the disaster. (Thanks Fredrik)


Monday, 3/1/2005:

13:22 - THE EU RESPONSE: Countries with relatively strong economies, like Thailand and India, will be able to recover faster from the tsunami disaster than other countries. And impressive trade performance is one of the most important explanations for their strong growth. Opening our markets to their goods would help even more. I just came to think of this when I saw that the EU in the last few weeks has been busy implementing new policies against India and Thailand: It has implemented (pdf) a penal anti-dumping tariff on coumarin from these countries (3 479 euro per ton).


Sunday, 2/1/2005:

17:18 - QUESTIONS TO METRO: Sometimes when I read an interview with me I am surprised that my views and comments have been misunderstood completely. But mistakes happen. It’s more unique that the interviewer wants to misunderstand, and uses fake quotes to portray you in a bad way. That happened to my friend, the liberal MP Mauricio Rojas the other day when Metro used fake quotes to portray him as having racist prejudices and being a fan of the Chilean dictator Pinochet. Metro refused to apologise. Instead it published a new article, which says that Rojas has nuanced his views – to give the impression that he confessed that he ever said it, when in fact he said that this wasn’t his views.

Of course the behaviour of the interviewer is inexcusable, but Metro comes even worse off. Why did it ask an anonymous opponent of Rojas’s views to do the interview? Why hasn´t it apologised? Why does it say that he has “nuanced” his views? And if Metro really think that it has nothing to apologise for, why does it refuse to defend its case by sending Rojas a copy of the tapes of the interview?


Saturday, 1/1/2005:

22:18 - EN CITATLISTA SOM BORDE VARA EN AVSKEDSANSÖKAN: Sorgen efter Tsunamikatastrofen har blivit än bittrare på grund av regeringens inkompetenta hantering av tragedin. För att dokumentera den senaste veckans desinformation och maktspråk har jag sammanställt denna lilla citatlista:

”- Samtliga svenskar som befinner sig i de katastrofdrabbade områdena i Thailand, södra Indien, Sri lanka och Maldiverna är utom fara.”
UD säger att det inte finns någon anledning till oro, via TT söndag 26 december. I senare versioner av meddelandet har Thailand utelämnats.

"- Situationen är stabil och svenskarna har det bra. Nu behöver vi ingen hjälp.”
UD besvarar sjukvårdspersonal och bemanningsföretag som vill bidra i räddningsarbetet, måndag 27 december.

”- Du ska passa dig. Du ska passa dig väldigt noga!”
Utrikesminister Laila Freivalds hotar Fritidsresors informationschef Lottie Knutson eftersom denna har kritiserat regeringens bristfälliga agerande, tisdag 28 december.

”- Hur k a n du ställa sådana frågor nu?”
Freivalds ryter åt Rapports K-G Bergström, och vänder om och går iväg, när han frågar om hennes hot mot Knutson, tisdag 28 december.

"- Sjukvården i Thailand är lika god som den svenska"
Freivalds avvisar oroliga skadade svenska läkares oro om att thailändska sjukhus är överbelastade, tisdag 28 december.

”- Sjukvården här är bra men trycket är för stort.”
På plats i Thailand inser Freivalds att sjukvården är överbelastad, onsdag 29 december.

”1 500 svenskar saknas”
UD räknar, trots resebolagens protester, bara charterresenärer i statistiken, tisdag 28 december.

”3 500 svenskar saknas”
UD ändrar sig, fredag 31 december.

”- Jag tycker att vi tidigare borde fått sådan information att vi förstod att vi skulle sätta in insatser. Det tog nästan ett dygn, eller i vart fall femton timmar, innan vi hade sådan information från vår ambassad.”
Freivalds skyller på ambassaden torsdag 30 december, vilket är en lögn, eftersom den informerade UD via telefon redan kl 07.00 och utförligt via fax kl 14.13 första dagen, söndag 26 december.

”- Jag vill inte binda mig för det. Det var dumt av mig överhuvudtaget att säga något i det här läget.”
Freivalds ändrar sig när hennes lögn synas, torsdag 30 december.

”– Vi reagerade. Maskineriet gick i gång. Vi skickade personal till platsen.”
Freivalds om hur UD reagerade när de fick information om katastrofen, fredag 31 december.

”– Det kommer jag inte i håg.”
Laila Freivalds svarar om när hon blev informerad om katastrofen, fredag 31 december.

”– Förtroendet är starkt och obrutet.”
Göran Persson har förtroende för sin utrikesminister, fredag 31 december.

Uppdaterad 3 januari 2005


 

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