|GlobLog - December 2004
A direct link to each entry is obtained by using the button below the entry.|
23:02 - WHAT YOU CAN DO: Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, and there is now a popular idea that people around Sweden should skip the fireworks and expensive celebrations and use the money to help the relief efforts after the tsunami in Asia, especially when governments fail spectacularly. I am not sure about the first idea – I think we all need some champagne and fireworks, especially in a difficult time. But I am convinced by the second idea. Here are Swedish and international aid groups that need our help to help the hundreds of thousands of victims. Now.
22:41 - AT LAST SOME GOOD NEWS: The earth will not be destroyed in 2029. The new trajectory prognosis shows that the asteroid 2004 MN4 will miss our planet. But take a look at the picture here. It will be pretty close. And it’s still absurd to complain about minimal man-made risks when we need to take such risks to get the wealth and develop the technology to deal with the disasters Mother Nature might have in store for us.
16:01 - PUTIN´S LESSONS IN CRISIS MANAGEMENT: The Swedish government handling of the disaster in the Indian Ocean, and all the missing Swedes, has been a fiasco. My good friend Andreas just sent me an adequate parallel with the Russian government’s handling of the disaster with the submarine Kursk: First they denied that there were big problems, and said that no one had been hurt. When it was obvious that this wasn´t true, they used their own inadequate resources (far too late) instead of asking someone who has the capability (USA or Canada, for example). And then, when it was obvious that they had failed miserably, they tried to silence all the criticism by demanding national unity and loyalty...
11:14 - LOST IN TRANSLATION: It is completely natural that the media gives us a local perspective on global news. More than one thousand Swedish tourists are still missing after the Southeast Asian earthquake, which means that most of us Swedes know someone who was there, many are worried, some are in grief. Of course we are more interested to know what has happened to people we might know, rather than to people of other nationalities.
But somewhere we cross a line where the focus on the local consequences turns into narrow-minded nationalism. After all, those worst hit are of course the local population, who haven’t merely lost friends and family, but also their homes, their jobs, and entire communities. They have no place to go back home to. And we need to understand that to see our own suffering in perspective.
That line was crossed earlier today on Swedish television. When the TV4 reporter in Thailand criticised bad relief efforts, he complained that the rescue teams went up and down the streets, shouting out information and instructions - in Thai. “Of course that doesn’t help Swedes”, he complained.
What? They speak Thai in Thailand? The arrogance! The insolence!
17:58 - SAVING US FROM NATURE´S ANGER: Some say that all the wealth and technology in the world can’t save us from nature’s forces. Really? What do you think would have happened if the earthquake and the tsunami that killed tens of thousands of people in Asia yesterday had hit Japan, Australia or the US? We don’t know for sure, but it would probably have resulted in few casualties. The reason is that these countries have seismic networks and wave sensors that register quakes and the direction of a tsunami, which gives early warnings so that threatened regions can be evacuated. Why didn’t they exist in the countries that have been hit now? An official with Indonesia´s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency tells CNN:
”Unfortunately, we have no equipment here that can warn about tsunamis. The instruments are very expensive and we don´t have money to buy them."
11:51 - CONGRATULATIONS UKRAINE: I know some cautious observers tell us it’s too early to cheer. But no, after yesterday’s election it’s for real. In front of cheering people on Independence Square, Ruslana has given Yushchenko a fifteen-meter long orange scarf as a victory gift, and the old guard has given up. Now they are less interested in a fight, than in being friends with the next president, Yuschenko. The orange revolution has triumphed.
Listen to the theme song of the revolution again, and take a few minutes to think about the historical event that we have just witnessed. A fraudulent election has been overturned in a peaceful way, by hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, out of their determination and love of freedom. In a few days in a freezing Kiev, they risked everything, and they won their freedom.
Now it will be important for Yushchenko not to drag his feet on political and economic reforms, to try to heal the country. On the contrary, he needs to use his mandate right away, to seize control of the bureaucracy, before communists and Kuchma loyalists in parliament limits his powers. It’s not moderated reforms that will give him the support of Eastern Ukraine in the long run, it is the growth and investments that only more economic freedom and the rule of law can bring.
The EU could help by saying that if Ukraine succeed, the country will be welcome to join the union. And by giving them access to our markets straight away. And I am doing what I can to help: Early next year my In Defence of Global Capitalism will be published in Ukrainian…
And by the way, now it can be said: I don’t like the colour orange, and I do not look that good in orange. So today I stop wearing my orange scarf. (But I´ll keep it in my wardrobe just in case something goes wrong.)
00:47 - MISSING THE BIG PICTURE: On the same day that I hear that there is a 1 in 60-risk that the asteroid 2004 MN4 will strike earth in 2029, large parts of Southeast Asia are hit by massive waves after an enormous earthquake at sea, and thousands have been killed.
Both the first completely unreliable prognosis and the latter, very real and horrible development make me think about mankind’s perception of risks, and especially about the precautionary principle. This says that we should stop new developments and technologies because we can’t prove that they are completely safe for us and the environment. This would make sense in a perfect world with no problems and disasters. Don’t rock the boat.
But in a universe with problems and where disaster might strike, it’s stupidity. We need more knowledge, faster information, better technology and more wealth to finance it, to find out about risks like these, and try to avoid them or at least minimise the damage. If we are too obsessed with tiny risks created by ourselves, we make sure that we are some day killed by nature.
09:20 - UKRANIAN RE-MATCH TOMORROW: And meanwhile, don’t forget to watch what happens next as one of Europe’s biggest countries is struggling to become a democracy. This is big.
08:48 - OFFLINE: One of Sweden’s best journalists, Peter Wolodarski at Dagens Nyheter, yesterday wrote that he checks my blog every day (not on the web). Well, he won’t have much for it this week, since I am off for a one-week vacation now. And I won’t update the blog much before new year’s eve. Meanwhile you can read my critical review of leftist philosopher Lena Halldenius’ new book Liberalism in Tidskrift för politisk filosofi, or read summaries of two of my recent lectures here and here. They are all in Swedish, sorry. If you want something thought-provoking in English, why don’t you read The Economist’s great special edition The World in 2005? Take care!
01:25 - LET THE SUN SHINE TODAY: I sat up writing tonight, and suddenly I understood that Christmas is already here. So let me be the first to wish you a merry Christmas. My favourite Christmas quote is Ayn Rand’s. But here is an alternative, that a friend just sent me, a wonderful Christmas sermon by Robert Ingersoll from 1891:
"The good part of Christmas is not always Christian—it is generally Pagan; that is to say, human, natural.
Christianity did not come with tidings of great joy, but with a message of eternal grief. It came with the threat of everlasting torture on its lips. It meant war on earth and perdition hereafter.
It taught some good things—the beauty of love and kindness in man. But as a torch-bearer, as a bringer of joy, it has been a failure. It has given infinite consequences to the acts of finite beings, crushing the soul with a responsibility too great for mortals to bear. It has filled the future with fear and flame, and made God the keeper of an eternal penitentiary, destined to be the home of nearly all the sons of men. Not satisfied with that, it has deprived God of the pardoning power.
And yet it may have done some good by borrowing from the Pagan world the old festival called Christmas. Long before Christ was born the Sun-God triumphed over the powers of Darkness. About the time that we call Christmas the days begin perceptibly to lengthen. Our barbarian ancestors were worshipers of the sun, and they celebrated his victory over the hosts of night. Such a festival was natural and beautiful. The most natural of all religions is the worship of the sun. Christianity adopted this festival. It borrowed from the Pagans the best it has.
I believe in Christmas and in every day that has been set apart for joy. We in America have too much work and not enough play. We are too much like the English.
I think it was Heinrich Heine who said that he thought a blaspheming Frenchman was a more pleasing object to God than a praying Englishman. We take our joys too sadly. I am in favor of all the good free days—the more the better.
Christmas is a good day to forgive and forget—a good day to throw away prejudices and hatreds—a good day to fill your heart and your house, and the hearts and houses of others, with sunshine."
Or as Julian Sanches puts it: Happy holidays!
16:35 - A CHRISTMAS CAROL - JOHAN NORBERG VERSION: Sent to me by Anne. Thanks!
"When three ghosts ask Mr Scrooge to give away his money to the poor, he tells them that this would only raise consumption in the short run. But if they are invested in better production and services, this will raise the living standards 15-fold in England in the 150 years to come, including the incomes of the poor. His employee Cratchit agrees, but points out that this innovation is stifled by regulations and tariffs that protect Mr Scrooge’s company from competition. These are abolished, and Cratchit starts a better company. Mr Scrooge is put out of business, but since the labour market is liberalised, he soon finds a new job. Because of stem-cell research and improvements in medical technology, a cure for Tiny Tim’s disease is soon found. The specter of communism stops haunting Europe."
10:21 - NEW CHRISTMAS CAROLS: I actually like Charles Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol", the story about how the greedy Mr Scrooge changes his life after being rebuked by ghosts of Christmas past, present and future (especially the Patrick Stewart version). But as usual Dickens’ stories suffer from the belief that industrialism, selfishness and capitalism is to blame for the remains of the poverty and suffering that was everywhere in pre-industrial England. So perhaps it’s time to update the story. Douglas Kern tells us how other authors would have written it:
Milton Friedman: Scrooge is actually a reasonable fellow who pays his ungrateful employee Cratchit a comfortable middle-class salary by the actual standards of mid-19th century London. After his haunting, Scrooge spends Christmas telling everyone what he learned from the past, present, and future: the UK should embrace a bimetallic monetary strategy.
John Edwards: Tiny Tim sues his parents for wrongful life, and his doctors for wrongful death. His crusading attorney makes a small fortune when the doctors settle out-of-court, even though they know perfectly well that Mrs. Cratchit´s C-section didn´t cause Tiny Tim´s birth defects. Tiny Tim´s cut of the settlement allows him to go to Oxford. For a week.
Ayn Rand: The ruggedly handsome and weirdly articulate Ebeneezer Scrooge is a successful executive held back by the corrupt morality of a society that hates success and fails to understand the value of selfishness. So Scrooge explains that value in a 272-page soliloquy. Deep down, Scrooge´s enemies know that he is right, but they resent him out of a sense of their own inferiority. Several hot sex scenes and unlikely monologues later, Scrooge triumphs over all adversity -- except a really mean review by Whittaker Chambers. Meanwhile, Tiny Tim croaks. Socialized medicine is to blame.
Richard Dawkins: Ghosts don´t exist. Scrooge does whatever he wants. Tiny Tim dies. Later, Scrooge dies. No one cares. The Christmas Carol meme lives on indefinitely.
Peter Singer: Same as Richard Dawkins, except that, seeing no reason to do otherwise, Scrooge eats Tiny Tim for Christmas dinner.
George Lucas: It´s the same story we know and love, but Jacob "Jar Jar" Marley is a real irritant in the prequel, conveniently named Episode One: The Phantom Menace. Worse, The Ghost of Christmas Past sequence is subtly altered so it appears that Scrooge tried to haunt her first. (Thanks Andreas)
17:43 - MAKE MONEY - NOT WAR: The new governments of Afghanistan and Iraq need to promote growth and reduce poverty - and therefore they want free trade. The WTO has established working parties to examine their membership applications.
14:49 - LAST MINUTE GIFT IDEAS: Here are some of the best books this year. Buy them for a friend, or for yourself:
Anders Johnson: Frihet är det bästa ting
Great story about the strong liberal and freedom-oriented tendencies in classical Western music. Includes a CD. (Only in Swedish)
Christian Gergils: Respekt!
A marvelous and important book. I’ve already told you: You have to read it and give it to all your friends and relatives. (Only in Swedish)
Umberto Eco: Drottning Loanas mystiska eld
Actually, I haven’t had time to read it yet, since this is my Christmas gift to myself, but I love Eco, and friends I trust say that he’s back after the weak Baudolino.
Ian Buruma & Avishai Margalit: Occidentalism – A Short History of Anti-Westernism
Why do they hate us? Here is the answer. Clue: The West was better at exporting the counter-enlightenment than the enlightenment.
Stephen Hicks: Postmodernism
And the counter-enlightenment is back here as well.
Anne Appelbaum: Gulag – A History of the Soviet Camps
Do you have a communist in your family? Here is the perfect gift.
14:13 - PROBLEMS AND FAKES: Yes, you are correct, the visual illustration below is faked. But if you are that perfectionist when it comes to jokes, I am surprised that none of you raised the more basic objection, that the illustration bore no relationship to the discussion about government intervention whatsoever... ;-)
21:01 - PROBLEMS: One of the bad things about government intervention in complex systems is that it changes behaviour and therefore creates problems, which calls for new interventions to correct it, which creates new problems, which calls for new interventions, and so on. If you don’t want to read von Mises or Hayek to understand the process, you can look at this visual illustration. (Thanks Instapundit)
20:13 - FREEDOM ON THE MARCH - EXCEPT IN RUSSIA: Now Freedom House has released the 2005 edition of the indispensable Freedom in the World. Overall freedom is still on the march in the world. 26 countries registered gains in freedom in 2004, against 11 setbacks.
89 countries with 2.8 billion inhabitants (44 percent of the world’s population) are "Free", with a broad range of politcal and civil liberties. 54 countries with another 1.2 billion people are "Partly Free". Interestingly, there were some positive developments in the Middle East. Since 1990, the number of electoral democracies in the world has risen from 69 out of 167 to 119 out of 192 (from 41 to 62 percent). Another two electoral democracies have been added since last year.
The biggest setback for freedom is Putin’s intimidation of the Russian media and centralisation of powers, including law-enforcement. As a result, Russia has been downgraded from "Partly Free" to "Not Free". It’s also worth noting that three-fifths of those living in "Not Free"-countries (without most basic political rights and civil liberties) live in China – a country which Sweden’s social democrats and moderates now think the EU should arm with the latest weapons technology.
15:36 - ON THE RADIO: If you think that Sweden’s Lustans Lakejer is the best New Romantic band ever (and therefore one of the best bands ever) – as I do – you really should listen to Jesper Tillberg’s radio theater "Den här sidan Paradiset: En lustans lakejs sista frestelse" in P3/Frispel. It’s a good story with fantastic music, and includes an attack on leftist musicians, claiming to speak on behalf of the working class only to be able to feel superior.
10:56 - EU PRICES: One of the best things that happened this year was that EU was enlarged and made room for the new European democracies in the inner market. (A gigantic free trade-reform that Swedish trade unions would like to undo.) But the flipside is that the membership has forced some of these countries to implement new regulations, subsidies and tariffs. I will never forget how Estonian negotiators told me that they had asked EU representatives if they were allowed to keep anything of their free market intact.
Estonia, one of the world’s most liberal countries, which had abolished all its tariffs and completely deregulated agriculture, has since 1999 been forced to implement more than 10 000 EU tariffs. Since then, slowly but steadily prices have been raised. The transition was finalised in May when price controls and production quotas were introduced. Despite the fact that they already had done so much, to avoid big disturbances, this is the rise in the price of a standard basket of groceries in Estonia:
April 2004: 636:29 EEK
May 2004: 640:61 EEK
October 2004: 665:06 EEK
This is the average. The sugar price in Estonia has risen three-fold since last April. (Thanks to Flavian Bergström for these numbers.)
10:13 - MONEY WELL-SPENT: Why do the social democrats uncritically support Byggnads’ use of gangster methods to shut Latvian workers out of Sweden? Because the social democrats are completely dependent on the trade unions for their campaigns and for their financial strength. We often complain about the big money in American politics. But it’s a big country. As I write in a column in Dagens Handel, the support from LO (which includes Byggnads) for the Swedish social democrats in the 2002 campaign was eight times bigger per capita than President Bush’s entire campaign resources in this year’s American election.
09:48 - SCARES SELL: Christmas is a time to reflect – so why not reflect on media scares of 2004? Canstats, the Canadian Statistical Assessment Service, has the list. The journal Science warned us about PCB in farmed salmon, despite the fact that the levels reported were well below acceptable health standards. Canadian media reported that 1 700 Torontonias die each year from air pollution, which was a figure taken from a false extrapolation from bad studies. Instead, most pollutant levels are declining. The US Food and Drug Administration warned that a popular antidepressant could induce suicide among the young, even though no data disclosed by the FDA documented such a risk. And so on.
Canstats concludes by referring to their favourite bulletin of the year, which should convince us not to take such scares too seriously:
"In Report on Media Accuracy Is Itself Inaccurate, Kenneth Green discussed the coverage of a study reporting how the media is ´getting it right´ when reporting on science. But in the body of a study proclaiming that the media gets it right, it was reported that 11% of newspaper articles had moderate or highly exaggerated claims; an additional 26% of newspaper articles had mildly exaggerated claims; and 18% of articles had between one and three significant technical or scientific errors."
23:40 - ALTERNATIVE CHRISTMAS: During the Ukrainian crisis I have been tempted to travel there several times. If you want to go there as an election observer on December 26th, Orange Ukraine has the information.
23:16 - STABLE - AND WELL-ARMED: Taiwan is the first Chinese democracy in history. A tiny island that has made the transition from hunger to wealth, and from dictatorship to freedom, in one generation. But China considers it a renegade province that they are entitled to invade whenever they feel like it. If the European Union had any guts they would send prominent representatives to Taiwan to send the signal that an attack on Taiwan is an attack on the free world. Instead the EU is now preparing to lift its arms embargo China. If American soldiers ever have to defend Taiwan, they will be shot at with French and German weapons. I am generally in favour of trade with dictatorships, partly because the wealth and the influences it brings undermine the oppressors. But arming aggressive oppressors is another matter.
Sweden used to defend the embargo, but now the social democratic prime minister Persson – a man who has praised the "political stability" of China – has convinced the moderate boss Fredrik Reinfeldt to abandon it. It’s good for the European military-industrial complex, and for the image of Sweden as a nice and unprincipled country that never contradicts the EU majority.
Some people dream of consensus in Swedish politics, and advocate the theory that the big political parties should cooperate because they are able to look further than to status and to special interests. At least that issue is settled for the foreseeable future.
11:21 - JOHN LLOYD ON ME AND UDDÉN: During my journeys I actually missed that John Lloyd, the world famous media commentator and editor of Financial Times magazine wrote a very interesting column ("My mind´s made up", FT, 3 Dec) – on the Cecilia Uddén affair and biased media, quoting both her and me.
"Udden didn´t deny Norberg´s charge. She said she didn´t understand how anyone could vote for George W. Bush, and that Swedish broadcasters had no need to be objective when reporting the election. She told me in a conversation last week that, ´It´s quite different when we´re broadcasting on a Swedish election, because we can materially affect the outcome.´ On such issues as the US right and Israel, she said, there was a Swedish - indeed, a European - consensus, and any reporting had to be based on that.
Udden says she can´t repeat what she said to Norberg on P-1 morgon. She was taken off air for two weeks and withdrew her comments, saying they were a slip of the tongue. But in many ways she seems not to have changed her mind. ´Take the death penalty,´ she said to me. ´How could you possibly be objective and balanced about the death penalty?´"
Then John Lloyd quotes me and Owe Joanson, chairman of the board of the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, on objective journalism, and comes to this conclusion:
"Norberg and Joanson have different ways of putting it, but they´re both right. Udden´s position, and the practices of Fox, are pulling journalism away from its prime task: to explain and illuminate the world, which is no less in need of explanation and illumination than in the past. The kind of journalism which is truly a ´public service´ is that done by men and women whose political views are impossible to infer, but who command attention because they pay attention to everything before them. Fox posits an American consensus on patriotism and Bush: Udden insists that Sweden, or Europe, has made up its mind on the death penalty, on Israel and George Bush - thus a reporter doesn´t have to explain in an objective fashion what the person stands for, what the policies do, and why they get support.
But she couldn´t be more wrong. Playing to the consensus ends up producing bad journalism. Explaining - anything from why people still want the death penalty to why Israelis support Ariel Sharon - is not a matter for pre-set opinions, but for open minds that always start virtually from a blank sheet. That´s what public service broadcasting is for: it is the only reason why taxpayers, including Swedish taxpayers, should pay for it."
As I said, I missed the article when it was published. What makes me more surprised is that everybody else in Sweden seems to have missed it as well, at least no one in the Swedish media has – as far as I know – said or written a word about the column. It could be because most journalists don’t find this subject interesting, or don´t think it´s news that Swedish public service is compared to Fox, or it could be that they don’t read Financial Times. I don’t know what would be worst explanation.
10:15 - WELCOME TURKEY!: Churchill once said that "The United States invariably does the right thing, after having exhausted every other alternative". Well, I think you can say that the EU invariably does the right thing, after having said so many nice things about the right thing at ceremonious occasions, as to make it too late to look for alternatives.
EU leaders have agreed to begin membership talks with Turkey in October 2005. Despite the fact that this is merely the start of a very long journey, this is cause for celebration. After the rapid political and economic reforms in Turkey the last few years any other decision would have been discriminatory, and a way of saying that the EU is an exclusive Christian club. Of course there are implementation problems in Turkey, particularly about human rights, but the same goes for Romania and other countries cleared for membership. Opening negotiations is the best way to make sure that this positive process continues in Turkey.
The critics say that Turkey is big, poor and Muslim. I say that this is exactly why it’s so important to make it an EU member. It’s big – and an ageing Europe needs its millions of workers. It’s poor – which means that it really needs the open European market, and it also means that the bizarre regional funds of the EU won’t be able to survive such an enlargement. It’s Muslim – and Islam desperately needs to be secularised, just as Christianity was. Helping secular and Muslim Turkey to become a stable and rich democracy is our best hope to contribute to such a transition. And a union which includes the country that used to be the heartland of Islam would be an efficient way of avoiding a clash of civilisations, and proving that the present conflict is really a civil war within Islam.
At the German CDU party´s congress last week, party leader Angela Merkel warned: "A Europe with Turkey won´t be a Europe of deep integration". Exactly. Of course the Turks are different, so are the Swedes and the Portugese. But the whole point of a liberal union is not to make us all the same, but to cooperate and trade peacefully, despite the fact that we are all different. Merkel is correct. Attempts to change the EU into a one-cultural state, challenging the United States and interfering in the economy and all aspects of the lives of the citizens will fail when the members are too diverse. Very good.
11:07 - DAGENS BORIS: Svenska elevers matematikkunskaper försämras, och som vanligt har den frihetliga vänsterskribenten Boris Benulic den bästa kommentaren:
"Vad har hänt? Har någon förgiftat skolmjölken? Nej då, svarar [skolminister] Baylan. Men skolans resurser skars ned för hårt på 1990-talet. Han måste tro att vi är dumma i huvudet och inte kan läsa utredningen. Ryssland, Lettland, Estland, Litauen och Slovakien ligger före oss i statistiken. …
Baylan och socialdemokraterna har lämnat arbetarrörelsens gamla värderingar. Förr trodde vi i vänstern att folk kunde klara vad som helst, i dag tror vänstern att folk är lite bakom flötet och att man måste tala till oss långsamt och tydligt. Matten ska därför hämta sina exempel från enkla påtagliga företeelser omkring oss.
Vardagsnära matematik testades redan när jag var ung: Lisa har fyra äpplen. Hon ger ett till Lars och tappar bort två äpplen. Hur många har hon kvar? Som om vi brydde oss. Det fick oss bara att tycka matte är tråkigt. Vi behöver en matematikundervisning som visar det storslagna och spännande. Först när jag läste den amerikanske matematiken Martin Gardner såg jag det vackra i en ekvation. Det gav mig sedan lust att bygga stora, stora broar."
08:10 - THE VIEW FROM ABROAD: One of my readers recently flew with the Hungarian airline Malev. On page 24 in the on-board magazine Horizon, there was a short article about the Swedish mentality called "If I don´t feel like working...", illustrated with a blond guy listening to music in a comfortable chair. And the text said:
"It seems the Swedish welfare state pampers its citizens to such an extent that the people believe they can stay at home at the expence of social insurance, even if they are feeling a little tired. As one survey revealed, two thirds of Swedes believe that a rest is almost obligatory sometimes due to stress at work, and 70% think family problems give them the right to stay away from work." (Thanks Anders)
21:46 - DAGENS LEIJONBORG BLIR LIBERALARE-CITAT:
SvL: Avslutningsvis: vilka är dina favorittänkare?
"Den har jag fått förut i något … jag höll på att säga moderat sammanhang …"
SvL: Hos Studentföreningen Ateneum i Lund, ja. Då svarade du Karl Popper, John Stuart Mill och John Rawls.
"Ja, Popper och Mill, men jag byter Rawls mot Anders Chydenius. En person som tio-femton år före Adam Smith skriver om frihandelns betydelse för välstånd och som i praktiken var den svenska liberalismens fader."
– Folkpartiledaren Lars Leijonborg intervjuad av Kristian Karlsson & Peter O Sellgren i Fria Moderata Studentförbundets tidskrift Svensk Linje 4-2004.
15:31 - DEPECHE TOP TEN: Since I came out as a Depeche Mode fan, I have been challenged to post my top ten Depeche songs of all time here. Whatever you say. I particularly love the dark tunes from their middle period, so spontaneously it goes something like this:
1. Black celebration
2. Never let me down again
3. Blasphemous rumours
4. Ice machine
5. Shake the disease
6. Enjoy the silence
8. Behind the wheel (Album version)
10. But not tonight
10:55 - A GREAT MYSTERY STORY: The Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has two dogs, named Marx and Engels because "they are German, hairy and have no respect for property". He also has the theory that the poor are poor not because they lack property, but because they lack property rights. His The Mystery of Capital is absolutely necessary reading if you are interested in development economics. Yesterday I reviewed the Swedish translation in Obs on Swedish radio – here you can listen or read.
08:34 - PEACE BREAKS OUT-QUOTE OF THE DAY:
"Fewer people are dying as a result of war now than at almost any time since the 1920s. According to the forthcoming Human Security Report (to be published by Oxford University Press), there were some 27,000 deaths from all forms of political violence in 2003, the most recent year for which we have data. During the 1990s the average annual figure was more than five times as high, mainly concentrated in Africa—Angola, Congo, Sudan and, of course, Rwanda. The 1980s were bloodier but the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s were the deadliest decades, with most of the fighting and dying concentrated in East and South-East Asia."
– Jean-Marie Guéhenno in The Economist’s ”The World in 2005”. (More peace here)
15:02 - DON´T MISS IT: A few things happened when I’ve been on the road, which deserves more attention:
A blog you shouldn’t miss: The dream-team Gary Becker and Richard Posner starts a blog. (Thanks Daniel)
Articles you shouldn’t miss: Have you wondered why Swedish health care doesn’t work? In a series of articles in Dagens Nyheter, Maciej Zaremba explains it as beautifully and bitterly as only he can.
A book you shouldn’t miss: Christian Gergils participated in a reality show, became bullied and hated for being honest and intelligent, but got back, gained respect and won the show – and wrote a book about it. Respekt! is the best book I’ve read in a long time. A story about a reality show that says more about collective stupidity and the corrosion and rebirth of personal responsibility than most psychology and philosophy books I’ve read. Unputdownable!
Another book you shouldn’t miss: In Explaining Postmodernism, Stephen Hicks explains how postmodernism originates in the tragic German counter-enlightenment, with names like Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Nietzsche and Heidegger. And he explains why it gained in popularity when socialism failed. If your theories and arguments are proven wrong – confuse people by saying that no theories or arguments can ever be correct.
A scandal you shouldn’t miss: The Swedish government deported two terrorist-suspects to be tortured in Egypt. The government and the foreign minister Anna Lindh knew all about it, but classified the information and reports, and lied about it for the Swedish parliament.
10:34 - I GO NORTH, ROMANIA GOES WEST: Barcelona really was a beautiful, warm and exciting city, where every building seems to be unique. And especially Antoni Gaudi’s super-natural art nouveau structures make a visit magical (just take a brief look at Casa Battlo or Sagrada Familia). A trip to Spain also makes you an optimist. Just 30 years ago this country was a fascist dictatorship with developing country living standards. After domestic democratisation and integration into the European inner market, it has become a modern, international and rich democracy. Recently a conservative government modernised the economy, and a socialist economy liberalises old cultural traditions, and allows homosexuals to marry and adopt.
It makes you convinced that other countries can change rapidly, if circumstances allow and people fight for it. It’s difficult not to think of Ukraine. I am now positive that fraud won’t be sufficiently systematic as to steal the election from the Ukranian opposition again. Why? Because president Kuchma’s people have begun to say in public that they support Yuschenko. These turncoats know where the wind blows.
And we must not forget the election in another post-communist state, where the communists have been surprisingly resilient, Romania. While I’ve been away, the Romanian centre-right presidential candidate, Traian Basescu surprisingly won the election. This is what one of my readers writes about this liberal triumph:
”For Romania the result is a major though most welcome surprise, and has the potential to be as important to Romania as a Yushchenko victory may be in the Ukraine. It could even amount to a second, and very much needed, revolution. A comment I read on Reuters sums the issue up well:
´Basescu delivered the biggest victory of my life,´ Romeo Iordanescu, an engineer, told Reuters. ´I waited and waited for 15 years for someone to destroy communism. No one succeeded so far, but I believe he will.´
Basescu appears business and market friendly, has spoken out in favour of private property rights, a truly independent judiciary (no mean task in Romania) and an end to the corruption that stifles daily life in the country. He is also keen to introduce a low flat rate tax. Without doubt he has a tough job ahead of him, but we should wish him well, and broadcast his victory far and wide. I may be getting over excited, but the communists really do appear, finally, to be on their way out of Romanian political life!”
08:40 - THE MASK HAS FALLEN: Now I’m back in Sweden, and the first news item I hear makes me so ashamed of this country, that it almost makes me want to leave again. Yesterday, the Swedish trade union Byggnads tried to stop Latvian workers physically from entering their work place in Vaxholm, just like any mob. And now Byggnads has let go of all pretensions that their fight is for better wages for these workers. Instead they shouted “go home, go home” to these Latvian workers, who are just trying to do a fair day’s job for a three times higher wage than the one they would earn back in Latvia. Violence and racism against our neighbours and new EU-members – and this is supported by the Swedish socialist government. That’s the best reason to unravel the trade union control of the Swedish labour market I’ve heard so far.
20:26 - ORANGE QUOTE OF THE DAY:
”Orange has been lucky for Ukranian sportsmen since the beginning of uprising, when Dynamo Kiev faced Roma in a Champions League soccer home game.
Dynamo’s owners, no friends of Yuschenko, ordered security guards to prevent fans entering the stadium wearing orange. The game got off to a slow, glum start before snow forced a switch to an orange ball for visibility. The crowd went wild and Dynamo went up 2-0.”
– Financial Times
15:42 - NOBEL WISDOM OF THE DAY:
”From the standpoint of our theory, in monetary policy, fiscal policy and economic policy, it’s best if politicans do as little as possible.”
- Finn Kydland, co-winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize for economics, as heard on BBC today.
16:41 - RELAX A BIT-QUOTE OF THE DAY: Being in Spain, where a terrorist attack might have decided the latest election, and the newspapers report that al-Qaeda is particularly active here in Barcelona, it is comforting to get a long-term perspective on terrorism by Michael Clarke in The Economist’s "The World in 2005":
”although international terrorism may now seem more frightening and indiscriminate, it was almost twice as bad in the 1980s, when in most years there were over 600 significant incidents that annually killed up to 1,000 or more people worldwide. In the current era of terrorism there are normally fewer than 300 such incidents, causing 600-700 deaths in most years.”
22:33 - CONSENTING: I just had a great debate with George Monbiot, one of the leading British anti-capitalists, lasting for three hours in total. Monbiot is a nice and articulate fellow with a lot of strange ideas, among other things he thinks that the world would be better if we had a democratic and interventionist world government where one billion Chinese could decide how Africans and Latin Americans lived their lives (What if we could just decide to leave others in peace?). But Monbiot also has some good views. Above all, he has abandoned his earlier positive attitudes towards protectionism. In his latest book The Age of Consent he writes:
“the vast and messy coalition to which I belong…has misdiagnosed some aspects of the disease and, as a result, offered the wrong prescriptions. … If all nations were to protect their economies, the wealth of the rich ones might be diminished, but the poverty of the poor ones would not… Trade…has massive distributive potential; indeed, far more potential than an increased flow of aid.”
Now I have to catch a few hours sleeep before I go to Barcelona. (No Manuel-jokes, please.)
09:52 - INTERMISSION: Now I am in Stockholm for one day. This morning I returned from Malmö and Lund, where I gave three lectures, one on the one-idea state Sweden, one on terrorism, and one on how the rise of developing countries will affect the western world. They were surprisingly well-attended, and I really had a great time in such kind and intelligent company. One of the things I think I will devote a lot of time to in the future is the one-idea state – a lecture that was very well received by about 175 students in Lund – about the risk that the social democrats’ power over our minds, authorities, universities and media starts a process of adaptation from all sides, including the opposition, so that individualists and innovators are shut out. And yesterday, right after the lecture I received one ominous sign that this process is already in motion.
Tomorrow I will go to Barcelona for the last of the Sture Academy seminars this year. Now it´s time to read and debate the exams papers. If you are interested, you still have one week to apply for next year’s Academy. One of the few (pdf) academies in Sweden without former social democratic politicians as chairmen and principals…
10:09 - THE ENERGY IS OUT THERE: Environmentalists say that the planet´s resources are limited. So what? There is a whole universe out there. Today, Sydsvenskan reports that the moon has an abundance of helium 3 gas, which could supply the earth with energy for a thousand years. A space shuttle could carry 25 tons. Four such flights a year would be enough to supply 6 billion earthlings with all our energy needs.
09:32 - DOES HE ONLY WATCH SWEDISH TELEVISION?: Interesting observation from Erixon: The new Swedish minister for culture, Leif Pagrotsky, says that American television is cynical and perverted, because it offered a over-dramatised story of the Iraq war, to get more viewers and sell more commercials. The only problem for Pagrotsky´s argument is that CNN, FOX and NBC refused to show any commercials from the outbreak of the war until Baghdad had fallen, since that would probably be considered cynical by the viewers…
12:03 - JUST IN CASE GUDMUNDSON IS NOT THE ONLY BLOG THEY´VE NEVER HEARD ABOUT: Here I´ll just present mainstream journalists with one (self-interested) example of why they should follow blogs: Did you read about the sign language protest in Ukraine´s state television, in Svenska Dagbladet this Friday? Had you followed my blog you would have read about that story more than a week before that.
11:50 - GUDMUNDSON HAD TO TELL THEM: Malmö has one of the best newspapers in the country, Sydsvenska Dagbladet. Here I read the story about how Gudmundson’s blog was stopped – a story that still hasn’t been told by Dagens Nyheter/Kultur (just imagine their outrage had Gudmundson been a socialist journalist!). And here I learn the worst thing about the whole story. It’s not that I really liked Gudmundson’s blog, that’s beside the point. And it’s not even the obvious double standards in stopping a non-leftist but never question the bias among all the others. It’s the fact that the people in charge had never heard about blogs. That is the only possible conclusion when you see that Gudmundson’s two bosses were told about Gudmundson about his blog when his contract was up for renegotiation, they took a look, and immediately thought that this wasn’t compatible with his job.
Wait a minute. Did Gudmundson have to tell them about his blog? Had they never heard about it before? These are people with the well-paid mission to follow what happens in Swedish culture, especially in the media. The blogosphere is the most important addition to the media landscape in recent years, and according to Observer, Gudmundson had Sweden’s fourth most influential blog. That Swedish public service television hadn’t heard about it until he told them is actually more damaging to their credibility as journalists than their political double standards.
18:21 - A SUPERB SUPREME COURT: I am in Malmö in southern Sweden for a couple of days (instead of going to the Baltic states as planned), preparing for three lectures here. I am not very connected, but of course the news about the re-election in Ukraine reached me. And it will take place in a few weeks with the same candidates, which means that the opposition will not lose its momentum. That’s how important it is for a country to have honest and independent judges. It’s fantastic. What a great reward for all the hundreds of thousands of people who could have stayed at home, not taking any risks – and seen their country being stolen. And what a great blow to president Putin, who really showed all his authoritarian reflexes for the whole world to see. It will be difficult for Europe and the US to treat him as a democratic leader in the future.
I think it’s too early too stop wearing my orange scarf, the old guard surely has some suprises left. But for now I think the words of one of the revolutionary bloggers are appropriate:
"We were all jumping up and down and so excited. This decision is wonderful and right. And honestly, I am so happy and amazed at how things are turning out."
14:48 - ASH ASKS: "Are you reluctant to support the orange movement just because the Americans do?", "Why is Russia entitled to a sphere of influence, including Ukraine, if the United States is not entitled to a sphere of influence, including Nicaragua?", ”Would you rather have George Bush or Vladimir Putin?” and three other good questions to the critics of Ukraine´s orange revolution, from Timothy Garton Ash.
10:57 - OK, SWEDISH MEDIA IS LESS BIASED THAN THAT:
"I was punished for six months, forced to work on a pig farm, for forgetting to write the last syllable of Kim Jong-il. Dozens of other journalists like me have been ´revolutionized,´ that is to say re-educated, for making a mistake.´ So said a former North Korean TV journalist who is now a refugee in South Korea. The sole purpose of the North Korean news media - ´Kim Jong-il´s troops,´ as they are called in the warlike official terminology - is to serve the Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il personality cult." (Reporters Without Borders via North Korea Zone)
10:56 - IT´S BACK: Now the Swedish version of In Defence is back in print, in a third, updated edition. Go out and buy it as a Christmas gift to all your anti-capitalist friends!
10:29 - ERIXON AND HIS REGISTERS: A lot of Swedes support a national register where the DNA of every Swede is archived, as a way to fight crime. As Nicklas Lundblad explains, this is a tempting, but bad idea. It would mean an enormous power transfer to the government, which would be able to identify everyone, and that presupposes that the government is always good. It’s not. And even if it were, there is a big risk that third parties (companies, criminals, foreign governments) would be able to access the register – as evidenced by other government registers. Furthermore, I don’t like the idea of governments dragging reluctant people out of their homes to steal a sample of their DNA. Much better is to extend the DNA register of convicted criminals. Since most crimes are committed by relapsed criminals, that should help us in most cases.
I confess that there are good arguments for a DNA register. But Dick Erixon – the only Swedish blogger for whom the headline "Yes! Life imprisonment" comes naturally (about Anna Lindh’s murderer) – does not give them in his latest ad hominem-attack on libertarian opponents of a register. We "don’t give a damn that people are assaulted in the streets, that their cars are stolen and homes plundered". And he says it is because we are elitists from the upper-middle class who never listens to normal people, and he even hints at the explanation that we are involved in violent crimes ourselves.
No, Dick. It’s not that we don’t care about law and order, it is the fact that we have observed that the state is also able to destroy law and order. It’s not that we don’t want to fight crimes, but there are other values in a society as well, for example individual freedom, and we have to strike a balance. Otherwise we could implement a state of emergency and curfews straight away. To find the right balance demands an honest debate with all things taken into consideration, not a challenging of other’s motives, where those who are always willing to go the furthest in giving up individual freedoms complain that those who refuse are not opposed to crime. That is a very slippery slope.
Besides, to complain that we make our own minds up based on principles instead of listening to what the majority think does not suit a blogger who takes pride in always being a rebel and fighting for president Bush and against the United Nations – in Sweden. You can´t have your populist cake and eat it too.
08:45 - TA DET INTE PERSONLIGT, JAG ÄR EMOT ALLA UTLÄNNINGAR:
"[Det] öppnar för fri arbetskraftsinvandring. Det handlar inte bara om byggnadsarbetare, utan också om till exempel dataprogrammerare från Indien eller folk i vården."
– Göran Persson förklarar för DN varför det är så viktigt att Byggnads slänger ut lettiska byggnadsarbetare.
23:49 - MEANWHILE, IN BRITAIN: Sullivan gives one example of the state of the British academia:
"Here´s a wonderful insight into the bias within the British academy. A poll of 139 British historians and political scientists placed Clement Attlee ahead of Winston Churchill in a ranking of the 20th Century´s prime ministers. Britain is still recovering from the damage Attlee did to the British economy by a wholesale government take-over. Without Churchill, there wouldn´t have been an independent Britain to wreck. And you thought America´s professors were left-wing!"
21:44 - WHERE DIVERSITY IS JUST A CLICHÉ: This week, The Economist’s Lexington column is about the academia – "simultaneously both the part of America that is most obsessed with diversity, and the least diverse part of the country". Yes, it is "downright allergic" to political diversity. This conclusion is partly based on an interesting study of more than 1 000 American academics, by Dan Klein and Charlotta Stern. Here is the summary – but that is not an excuse not to read the rest:
"This paper focuses on one question: To which political party have the candidates you’ve voted for in the past ten years mostly belonged? The question was answered by 96.4 percent of academic respondents. The results show that the faculty is heavily skewed towards voting Democratic. The most lopsided fields surveyed are Anthropology with a D to R ratio of 30.2 to 1, and Sociology with 28.0 to 1. The least lopsided is Economics with 3.0 to 1. After Economics, the least lopsided is Political Science with 6.7 to 1. The average of the six ratios by field is about 15 to 1. Our analysis and related research suggest that for the the social sciences and humanities overall, a ´one-big-pool´ ratio of 7 to 1 is a safe lower-bound estimate, and 8 to 1 or 9 to 1 are reasonable point estimate. Thus, the social sciences and humanities are dominated by Democrats. There is little ideological diversity."
14:41 - SWISS EXPERIENCES: There were about 300 people at the lecture yesterday. A lot of great characters, and one of the most fascinating among them was a nice lady who told me that she has had a study circle with friends, where they had read my book aloud and discussed it on Sunday afternoons. Apparently it takes four months. Just in case you have plans along those lines...
And today I´ve had a meeting with people at the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung around a round table in a wonderful, old board room in Swiss art nouveau style. Among other subjects we discussed how the media portrays the creative destruction of the globalisation processs, and often stop at the anecdote level, and miss the context. After all NZZ was founded in 1780, and reported from the French revolution, so it has some experience in dealing with global processses with long-term effects.
09:36 - TODAY´S AGENDA: Now I am going to Zürich to discuss politics in the era of globalisation with the former German minister of finance, Otto Graf Lambsdorff, at the Progress Foundation. What’s happening today otherwise?
- The Swedish parliament will make 6 June a national holiay, in memory of the king-tyrant Gustav Vasa, who centralised and terrorised Sweden in the 16th century.
- There are 15 days left to apply for Stureakademin.
- The Supreme Court has still not reached a decision in Ukraine. I still wear my orange scarf every day.
- I already miss Gudmundson.
00:53 - ZIGGY´S LAST SHOW: Recently I initiated a discussion about the strong left-wing bias in Swedish public service media. The discussion really took off when one of the most celebrated radio journalists, Cecilia Uddén, said that she did not think she had to be impartial or present both sides in the American election. I thought that was the start of something. I thought that public service would discuss the problem of having a very homogenous staff with the same kind of worldviews and news evaluations. I thought they would ask themselves if perhaps there is a tiny problem that 70 percent of their journalists vote for the leftists. I thought they would take a moment to think about why some news never make it in Sweden, and why others are blown out of proportions. I was expecting some form of self-criticism, or analysis. Anything…
Nothing. They thought that they’ve done everything right, past, present and future, and there was no need to think about the culture that could produce such a comment from such an experienced journalist. They just said that she had happened to make a stupid remark by mistake, and they stopped her from reporting for two weeks. And then everything was business as usual.
Until yesterday. Because now they have discovered that they have one television journalist who is not a leftist, and who actually supports the war on terrorism and Iraq, Per Gudmundson. And he writes about this on his blog, Gudmundson – which is widely recognised as one of the best, funniest, strangest and most interesting blogs in Sweden, by socialists, libertarians and those in between. Yesterday they gave him the ultimatum: Stop blogging or you’re out of here. After all, we have to be impartial and objective, and your strange views undermine that objectivity. Gudmundson has now been terminated.
Most of those who comment on his blog – 39 so far – say that they feel sad. That’s not sufficient. You’re sad when someone died because a meteorite fell on his head, but when he dies because someone threw a meteorite at him, you have to feel anger as well. This is a scandal. Leftist public service journalist can present their views on prime-time, they write books about their views, lecture and debate. And if they knew what a blog was they would also blog about them. As far as I know, that has never been questioned. If Björn Elmbrant, Cecilia Uddén, Bo-Inge Andersson or Janne Josefsson blogged what they say on the radio or TV, I assure you that no public service boss would dream of criticising them for it. It’s probably because they don’t think of their views as political views, they think of it as uncontroversial truths – because they share them. But when they don’t recognise the views, these are considered controversial, dangerous and a threat against objectivity.
Public service pretends that their journalists have no views. That’s silly. We all know they do. Neither Gudmundson nor Uddén are more impartial just because they are not allowed to say whom they vote for, or becasue they are not allowed to blog in their spare time. Therefore, media companies’ with ambitions of being objective should stop pretending that they are devoid of values and instead broaden their horizon by looking for journalists from different backgrounds and with different worldviews than the massive majority, to create some constructive tensions, new input and perhaps a bit of inspiration.
Public service just found one. And they’ve shut him up.
I am sad, and I am angry.