|GlobLog - July 2005
A direct link to each entry is obtained by using the button below the entry.|
17:30 - FACT OF THE DAY:
Cuba, North Korea — and Canada — are the only countries in the world that ban private health insurance. (WSJ, via Stephen Hicks)
14:32 - IF YOU ARE SO SECURE, WHY AREN´T YOU HAPPY?:
Research about happiness and wellbeing is popular right now, and a common interpretation is that if we are to become really happy with our lives, we should avoid hard work, insecurity, mobility, restructuring and materialism. At least that´s what Richard Layard says. I am writing about this in a forthcoming article and book, but I would like to share one thought right now.
If this interpretationis correct, surely flexible, mobile, materialistic and hard-working Americans should be miserable, and Europeans, with welfare states, security and fewer working hours should be happy, shouldn´t we? Ok, let´s look at the figures from the latest Harris poll:
"On the whole, are you very satisfied, fairly satisfied, not very satisfied, or not at all satisfied with the life you lead?"
US Sweden EU15
Very satisfied 58% 44% 31%
"In the course of the next five years, do you expect your personal situation to improve, to stay about the same or to get worse?"
US Sweden EU15
Improve 65% 51% 44%
01:02 - THE PROTECTIONIST PRICE OF A FREE TRADE AGREEMENT:
Brad DeLong points out a paradox about CAFTA. Defenders say that it doesn´t bring the US much more free trade, but it´s important for the sake of bigger and better free trade deals. But the problem is that Bush has bought the support of Republican protectionists by promising them not to cut agricultural subsidies and to restrict Chinese textile imports.
So the second term is beginning to look like the first, when Bush bought fast track authority with steel tariffs and farm subsidies. Since no WTO deal has been reached, he didn´t have much use for the authority, but we got the tariffs and subsidies anyway.
It´s all tactics and no strategy.
11:20 - BOOKS I´VE READ THIS SUMMER IV:
Robert Guest: The Shackled Continent ($$$$$ of 5)
The binding of this book isn´t great, and some of the pages have fallen out while I´ve been reading it. But I think that is the only thing I don´t like about this book, written by The Economist´s Africa editor. It´s a brilliant introduction to the problems of Africa, by someone who has both economic knowledge and is a talented writer. It´s about poverty, corruption, trade, aid and AIDS, written out of a deep sympathy with Africans and strong hostility towards their oppressors and rulers. Don´t miss how Guest hitches a hike on a beer truck in Cameroon, and is stopped by policemen who wants bribes 47 times in four days.
Interestingly, one of the blurbs on the cover reads "‘An excellent book. Timely, provocative and written throughout with a passion for Africa and Africans." It´s from Bob Geldof. I hope he learned something from Guest´s message that Africa doesn´t lack money, it lacks good institutions to put them to productive use.
09:31 - PYRRIC VICTORY FOR FREE TRADE?:
What a relief. CAFTA - The Central American Free Trade Agreement (who on earth gave it that name after all the controversies surrounding NAFTA?) - has made it through the American Congress. It should be a good sign - more free trade helps poor Central American states and benefits the American economy, and that Bush personally got engaged to get the Republican vote out means that he is back as a free trader.
But it is actually a very bad sign. The agreement isn´t too revolutionary. The Central American tariffs are already below 10 percent, and these countries are already allowed to sell 80 percent of their goods to the US without tariffs. And yet, this modest deal only passed by 217 to 215 in the House. It means that the Democrats now sit firmly in the big labour/big farm camp against the poor and the American consumers - less than one in ten democrats voted in favour. And that Bush had to go to such lengths (he even went personally to Congress to convince the last skeptics) means that protectionism is on the rise among Republicans as well.
Not even a born-again free trader president will be able to get a good WTO deal out of such a bunch of globaphobics.
13:52 - FÖRVÄXLING:
Jag hörde nyss på ekot att Uganda måste betraktas som djupt odemokratiskt därför att det maktägande partiet är så dominerande att det numera helt enkelt kallar sig ”Rörelsen”, och har den överlägset största partikassan.
Uganda? Det lät ju precis som att de talade om Sverige.
23:50 - BOOKS I´VE READ THIS SUMMER III:
Umberto Eco: The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana ($$$$ of 5)
Eco tells a story about a man who has lost his memory and has to try to re-discover his experiences, emotions and values from reading the literature and comic books he read as a child and as a young man. A fascinating story that manages to create a sense of nostalgia for things I´ve never experienced. It´s not a master-piece, like Eco´s The Name of the Rose or Foucault´s Pendulum, but worth reading for us book lovers. After reading it, I really wish I had kept everything I had ever read, and got the opportunity to read it again.
15:04 - WHAT DID YOU DO TO HELP ASIA GET RICH?:
There is a lot of talk about how the US should handle the rise of Asia´s economies, and the resulting political consequences. For example, should it try to hinder Chinese exports and block its bids for American companies, to halt China´s expansion? Brad DeLong provides us with a useful historical analogy (via Marginal Revolution):
"Between 1850 and 1910--by accident--Great Britain built ties with the United States: economic ties, cultural ties, political ties of mutual deference where strategic issues were at stake. As a result, by 1910 Americans perceived Britain as their friend, and the British Empire as by and large a force for good in the world. This is in striking contrast to how Britain was perceived in 1850: the cruel corrupt ex-colonial power that had just starved a quarter of all Irishmen to death.
Now this mattered a lot...
We can project today that at least one of India and China--perhaps both--will become late-twenty first century superpowers. We have an interest in building ties of affinity now. It is very important for the late-twenty first century national security of the United States that, fifty years from now, schoolchildren in India and China be taught that America is their friend that did all it could to help them become rich. It is very important that they not be taught that America wishes that they were still barefoot and powerless, and has done all it can to keep them so."
11:32 - WE SHOULD NOT JUST WORRY ABOUT AUTHORITARIAN STATES:
One of the biggest dangers in our world are failed states where terrorists and crime lords can operate safely inbetween their attacks on citizens in other countries. But which states have failed, and which ones are in danger of failing? To answer that, Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace has created an enlightening Failed States Index.
It´s not for the faint-hearted. About 2 billion people live in fragile and insecure states.
16:43 - BOOKS I´VE READ THIS SUMMER II:
Timothy Garton Ash: Free World ($$$ of 5)
A well-written attempt to help Europe and America understand how much they have in common, and what they can do to make the world a better place, written by a British historian to whom the phrase ”free world” really means something, after all his journeys in communist states and writings about the people’s revolt against them. Well, Garton Ash is a great historian, a good writer, but less interesting as a political theorist. He is always better when he interprets what’s going on than when he writes normativelly. His suggestions are almost always sensible (democracy and free trade), but they are almost too common sensical, and sometimes reveal a lack of depth (he thinks that lifting our tariffs and subsidies is a sacrifice, and is almost uncritical towards foreign aid and environmental regulation). It’s a good book, but I can’t help thinking that it’s not a necessary one.
13:18 - LYSSNA NU:
Just nu sommarpratar professor Hans Rosling. Han är fantastiskt bra!
11:25 - THE FORGOTTEN MAN:
Speaking of the old dictator Kaunda, whom Engström fails to blame for Zambia´s problems, he is visiting Sweden this week. Under his rule, Zambia´s average income fell by nearly 5 percent annually (1974-90). Then slowly liberal reforms took place, and despite a horrible corruption problem, Zambia has experienced 4-5 percent GDP growth in the last five years.
20:14 - AFTONBLADET INTERPRETS ZAMBIAN HISTORY:
Today Aftonbladet publishes one of those typical articles about how awful the IMF, big corporations and neoliberalism are, and how they have destroyed for poor countries, written by Mats Engström. Let´s check his story out. This is how he describes the origin of Zambia´s economic problems:
Zambia used to be the third largest exporter of copper in the 1960s, but then world prices fell and then the country´s economy declined because IMF and the World Bank had told the country not to diversify the economy, and then IMF forced it to reduce spending on health. It was pressured to privatise the mines to AngloAmerican in 2000, but the company soon abandoned it because the profits were too low, and Zambia was instead forced to sell it to Indian Vedanta Resources for a very low price.
This is what Mats Engström fails to mention: Zambia was the third largest copper exporter before the socialist dictator Kaunda (Engström never mentions him) nationalised the mining industry in the late 1960s, and stuffed it with cronies and incompetents. After that, the mines began to wither, production of copper declined every year. By 1999, production had plunged to less than a third of the pre-nationalisation level. The fall in copper prices was disastrous because Kaunda´s extreme protectionism and agricultural monopolies had destroyed agriculture and the other industries, and infected them with corruption. Zambia received massive inflows of foreign aid instead, which did nothing but postpone reforms. In the end, Zambia had to privatise the mines, but it turned out that they were by then in such a horrible state that AngloAmerican couldn´t salvage them, so they had to be sold for a low price to Indians who could invest in them instead.
Why doesn´t Mats Engström mention this? Is he unfamiliar with these facts? Or are they too inconvenient?
19:44 - BOOKS I´VE READ THIS SUMMER I:
Thomas Friedman: The World is Flat ($$$$ of 5 possible)
About this book, The Economist wrote that "Rarely has so much information been collected to so little effect." Their point was that the NYT-columnist Friedman had too many anecdotes and too little innovative analysis about the globalisation and communication revolution he writes about. Who cares? For those of us who think that we can contribute the analysis ourselves, Friedman is - as usual - a wonderful guide to the stories, facts and individuals that change our world.
Granted, sometimes he is a bit too shallow, you get exhausted by reading about all his "friends" in important places and with his way of substituting slogans and alliteration for deep thought, but on the other hand, this world has no deficit of globalisation experts who are veeery serious, have learned all about it in academic papers and cannot communicate without jargon.
11:20 - HOLY LOGISTICS:
Now the Vatican denies that it cancelled an anti-terrorism concert because that would be considered a public and controversial statement against terrorism. Instead it says that the church building turned out to be too small for the orchestra. I hope that explanation is true, but isn´t it a bit strange that the Vatican found out about the size of the church first after half a year of preparations?
Especially when the church is St Peter´s...
10:51 - A GLOBAL CIVIL WAR:
Once again, jihadist terrorists have indiscriminately murdered civilian Muslims and Christians and others, this time in Egypt. And it´s easy to despair. A tiny minority can destroy so much as long as they hate their own lives as much as they hate us, and soon they will have the technology to do it on a massive scale. I think it´s more important than ever to understand that this is not a war between Islam and the West, but a civil war in Islam, between the mainstream and the Islamo-fascist fanatics, who are the totalitarians of the Muslim world. This is very well described in Paul Berman´s important book Terror and Liberalism, which traces modern Islamism to its sources and the inspiration it got from national socialism and fascism (now in Swedish from SNS).
If such a struggle for the soul of Islam is to be won, it can´t be done by outsiders, it has to be done by all the decent and peaceful Muslims. Above all, they must completely and publicly and repeatedly reject the murderers, so that they are seen by all Muslims as evil embarrassments for their communities, and not as martyrs and models, who raise legitimate political points - which would guarantee new suicidal recruits. In The Times, Anatole Kaletsky draws a helpful parallell between this struggle and the situation after Timothy McVeighs Oklahoma bombing in 1995:
"After McVeigh’s arrest, thousands of heavily armed neo-Nazis quite like him continued to live in the mountains of Idaho and Utah and the hills of Missouri (and live there to this day), yet the Oklahoma atrocity was not repeated. Partly this may have been because McVeigh was treated as a common criminal after his capture, not as the standard-bearer of a politico-religious movement. There was, of course, intense interest in McVeigh’s background and motivation, but it focused almost entirely on his psychological aberrations, not on his politics or religion. Instead of appearing as a glamorous martyr, McVeigh came across as a lonely loser, a pathetic embarrassment to his family and all who knew him, rather than a role model for other rebellious youths.
It certainly did not occur to anyone after the Oklahoma bombing to apologise for the racial desegregation which had provoked the American neo-Nazis and their ideological antecedents, the Ku Klux Klan. Nobody suggested abolishing affirmative action or banning Jews from public office on the grounds that racial mixing and the prominence of Jews was angering white supremacists and acting as “a recruiting sergeant” for more neo-Nazi terrorists who might copy McVeigh.
Should the political sensitivities and religious aspirations of jihadist killers be treated with any greater respect? The answer is clearly, no...
Thus the soul-searching and debate that Britain — and the rest of the modern world — must undertake about the religious sensitivities of Muslim extremists is not about how to accommodate them but how to isolate them completely from the mainstream of Muslim thinking, which is compatible with peaceful coexistence alongside other cultures in the modern world."
18:37 - DEN SOLIDARISKE TERRORISTEN:
"Som liberal har man tydligen svårt att förstå hur någon kan göra något som går utanför egenintresset, att förövarna inte behöver vara personligt drabbade utan kan solidarisera sig med andra och reagera å de fattigas vägnar."- Åsa Linderborg förklarar i Aftonbladet varför även välutbildade Leedsbor kan spränga oskyldiga t-baneresenärer i bitar - och förklarar samtidigt indirekt att hon tycker att sådana massmord är ett sätt att "solidarisera sig med andra och reagera å de fattigas vägnar".
12:39 - WORTH CHECKING OUT:
A few very interesting things while I was away:
- Swedish economic historian and MP, Mauricio Rojas
is probably the most inventive and interesting writer on Swedish identity and politics. Now he has written a report about the rise and fall of the Swedish model in English. Necessary reading for you who are interested in what happened and what went wrong.
- Causa Liberal
has created a great and constantly updated directory of links to articles by and about Hayek.
- Always insightful trade expert Razeen Sally
writes about the outlook for more multilateral trade liberalisation (not good, unfortunately).
- Pew Research Center
has published two interesting international polls. There are some encouraging signs: The support for bin Laden and suicide bombers declines in Muslim countries, anti-Americanism falls slightly and even people with low regard for the US often think that the Middle East will become more democratic thanks to the US.
However, these things are also true: In Pakistan, 51 percent has "confidence" in bin Laden, 99 percent of the Lebanese and Jordanians have a "very unfavourable" view of Jews, and in France, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands and Spain, more people have favourable attitudes to China than to the US! Among Europeans asked, only the Polish prefer the world´s strongest democracy that has repeatedly saved Europe´s freedom, to the world´s biggest dictatorship.
- And as a part of their campaign against protectionism, these great young Spanish liberals
have started a new campaign – to see me on Spain’s public television! (Originated here
20:15 - APPEASEMENT - VATICAN STYLE: It has been said again and again that Muslim groups must condemn Islamist terror. And it is extremely important. But I also wish that the Catholic Church did the same.
For months, the excellent symphonic orchestra of Malmö has prepared a concert in the Vatican, where they were going to perform a requiem to the memory of the victims of terrorism. Turns out it was all in vain, because suddenly the Vatican has cancelled the event, according to Sydsvenska Dagbladet.
Why? The organiser says: "Because of current circumstances the Vatican has chosen not to comment the terrorist attacks in public. This requiem to the memory of terrorist victims would have been interpreted as a public statement."
So the Catholic Church - that has never hidden its views about what we do in our bedrooms, or about globalisation or evoulution - thinks it´s too controversial to publicly express sympathy with the victims of terrorism? Shame on you, Mr Pope. (Thanks Christina)
10:47 - QUOTES OF THE SUMMER: Now I am back in Sweden after a great vacation – including reading a lot of books (I’ll give some recommendations later), diving with sharks, riding on elefants and getting married – and I thought I would share some of the most interesting quotes I’ve read this summer:
”I choose to live in what I think is the greatest country in the world”
- Noam Chomsky about the USA (via Per T Ohlsson)
“For a long time, we have been talking about the French social model, as opposed to the horrible Anglo-Saxon model, but we now see that it is our model that is a horror.”
- Jean Quatremer, Brussels-correspondent for the left-wing French newspaper Libération, to The Times.
- President Bush when asked if he would fire anyone who leaked the CIA agent Valerie Plame’s name, in June 2004 – before it turned out it was Karl Rove.
"an acknowledged fact of history [that the British were] the best colonial rulers in the world"
- The Indian, Hindu-Nationalist newspaper Pioneer (via The Economist)
”today I had to defend the Bush Administration in France again. They refuse to accept, because of their political ideology, that he has actually done more than any American President for Africa. But it´s empirically so.”
- Bob Geldof to Time Magazine.
”Those in charge should realise that they have made a mistake. Their hope was for an EU that was more efficient and more democratic. But there is a conflict between these two objectives.”
- Martin Wolf in Financial Times.
”This is the number-one problem facing Africa, corruption; not natural calamity, not the AIDS virus. This is the number-one issue and there´s no way around it. That´s what was so clever about President Bush´s Millennium Challenge. It was start-up money for new democracies. It was giving increases of aid flows only to countries that are tackling corruption.”
- Bono on Meet the Press, (via Dick Erixon)
16:32 - DAGENS ÖVERDRIFT:
"Dessutom finns hundratals nyliberala tankesmedjor i Bryssel..."
- Den kommunistiska tidskriften Proletären förklarar varför det inte står helt rätt till i världen.
12:52 - A SMALL REMINDER: Many commentators say that Islamist terrorists attack us because they want the foreign troops out of Iraq. But let´s not forget that there were no foreign troops in Iraq on September 11, 2001. At that time, bin Laden said that terrorism was legitimate as a response to the international embargo on Saddam Hussein (which casued poverty and higher child mortality) - an embargo that was seen as the alternative to an invasion by countries like France, Germany and Russia.
12:46 - QUOTE OF THE DAY:
"Why the heck did they for so many years encourage Poles to build capitalism when as it turns out they are communists themselves?"
—Lech Walesa, the former Polish union leader and revolutionary, on France´s fight against labour mobility and Polish plumbers, via Newsweek.
12:26 - HOW TO DISAPPOINT A BBC FAN: I like BBC a lot, and always watch it when I get the chance. It could be the impressive international outlook, or perhaps it´s just the beautiful British accent. Whatever. What a difference however, to follow BBC World as the only media source for two weeks, which I just did. Suddenly you see the bias you don´t see by watching a few minutes here and there.
It was most obvious in the reporting on G8 and on the US. The experts on US they used always had a strong anti-Bush attitude. The experts on climate issues I saw was a representative of Friends of the Eart and the anti-capitalist writer George Monibiot. And Bob Geldof explained the problems of Africa.
The problem was not just the bias in selecting experts, but the kinds of questions they got. Whenever there was something about the environment or aid, BBC skipped the normal critical questions (How do we know that this is true? Will this work? Won´t this hurt poor economies? Could these resources be better spent somewhere else?). Instead they were always asked about the chanses of success (Do you think you´ll succeed? Is the pressure on the politicians sufficient? What is standing in the way for a deal?)
I am not saying that these persons are always wrong. They are not. I am saying that BBC presupposes that they are always right. That´s disappointing for a former fan.
11:10 - THEY WILL NEVER SURRENDER: I have just been in London for two days, and if it hadn´t been for the papers, you would have no way of guessing that this had just been the scene of a horrible terrorist attack. The convictions of everybody to go on with their lives, and not let the terrorists win, was amazing and admirable.
According to the polls, the British now express stronger convictions than before of the need to fight terrorism, to stay in Iraq, to cooperate with the US, and so on. Britain is not in favour of appeasement with fanatics.
Amidst all the horrors, I saw the most charming example of the calm, British mentality on a photograph of a gentleman in a suit, who had just escaped from the bombings, bleeding and with a band aid around his head. He was holding a bottle of water that the rescue staff had apparently given him. But he was also holding a cup. So right in the middle of the terrorist attacks, the rescuers find the time to distribute cups, so that the victims would be able to drink the water in a civilised way.
Did the terrorists think they would be able to shake the British? They can´t even shake their manners.