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What is Microsoft good for now?

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jul 22nd, 2015 at 12:46:29 PM EST

Microsoft is one of the most successful corporations in the world, having blazed the trail for personal computing and making its founder, Bill Gates the World's richest man. Windows has become almost ubiquitous on PCs and laptops and MS Office is the office productivity tool of choice for most business and personal users. But what has Microsoft accomplished in the last 20 years beyond leveraging its early mover advantage and dominant position in PC computing?  I would argue very little, and I would like to invite you to argue otherwise. But first a little personal personal computing history...

Back around 1990 I was given responsibility for end-user computing in part of the business I was working in, although nobody quite knew what that meant at the time. WordPerfect had just replaced Multimate as the corporate standard word processor, and Lotus 123 was replacing earlier micromodelling programmes used by accountants and other business analysts. The truly adventurous management consultant types started giving management presentations using Lotus Freelance and some had even used DBaseIII for rudimentary database applications.

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OMG! Podemos is crashing and burning! (Not)

by rz Mon Jul 20th, 2015 at 10:50:03 AM EST

In recent days I have seen an uptick in comments in how the whole Greek thing is going to bring down Podemos. I think the fact that Syriza was unsuccessful will indeed be a drag on the performance of Podemos and right now it seems unlikely that they will take power in the next election.

Yet, confronted with the truly ugly side of Eurozone government, will people in the crisis countries simply back down?

Maybe, and people have been citing evidence for this on Twitter


So you see, Podemos is going down! Schäuble plan is working!

I found that somewhat difficult to believe.

And here we go: Opinion polling for the Spanish general election, 2015

The newest polls put Podemos at 19%. Which seems consistent with its previous results which indicate that Podemos has a ceiling at about 20%.

The Wikipedia page is actually pretty fantastic. They even provide a nice fit through all the data point which give you a feeling where things are heading.

So again: These are not earth shattering results and most likely some type of Great Coalition will govern Spain very soon, but Podemos will most likely have a decent showing in the Election.  

Comments >> (11 comments)

The Greece Blame Game

by Frank Schnittger Mon Jul 20th, 2015 at 08:56:41 AM EST

Now that the EU has effectively taken over the running of Greece, it follows, logically, that it should also be held responsible for the outcome of its policies. So what happens if Greece goes further into even deeper recession, the debt becomes even more unsustainable, and the "reforms" do not bring about the turnaround in economic performances that neo-liberal economic "theory" says they will?

It's those lazy Greeks of course!  It's the untrustworthy left wing Government that didn't implement the reforms properly! And the slightest upward blip in performance will be treated as overwhelming proof that "the reforms are working" whilst the widespread evidence of poverty and decline will be ignored.

And what will the European "left" do then?  The maiden speech by 20 year old Scottish MP, Mhairi Black, is instructive (h/t Helen).

Parties which have lost touch with the growing under classes in our societies have no idea what is really going on. Perhaps a "study group" of high ranking politicians will visit Greece; stay in 5 star hotels, listen to a few think tank presentations, talk to a few waiters, and declare all is well.

After all the people living on the street don't vote and don't really count.

Meanwhile Schäuble is playing a clever game. By floating the negotiated Grexit option and declaring his lack of confidence in the "reform" programme, he is insulating himself and his government from criticisms that austerity doesn't work when the economy shrinks further and the debt becomes even more unsustainable.  "We told you so", we offered you the Grexit option but you turned us down!

Apparently Schäuble has discovered that debt write-downs aren't legal within the Eurozone. But what about the debt write-down in 2010?  Can only banks write down debts? So why were banking debts transformed into sovereign debts then?  To make a further write-down impossible?   But it was the banks which Greece borrowed from.  What the banks did later to lay off their responsibilities isn't Greece's problem.

Meanwhile Merkel is trying to play good cop to Schäuble's bad cop.  It's not going well...

Comments >> (30 comments)

Reading US Tea Leaves

by rifek Thu Jul 16th, 2015 at 04:02:19 PM EST

As has been apparent in the Greek fiasco, figuring out what the US government is going to do can be like sorting out the Gordian Knot.  I'm not going to offer solutions to this problem, because there aren't any, but I have found these guidelines helpful

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The democractic insolvency

by rz Thu Jul 16th, 2015 at 05:14:36 AM EST

Disclaimer: I really want to write a few more diaries. But I do not have the time to got through the web and search for the references. So you have to trust me! Let me also credit 'some story written somewhere' with the idea for the title where the Following was pointed out.

The democratic deficit of the EU has turned into a democratic insolvency

Now the lack of democracy on the EU level has been discussed quite often. But I have always found this discussion to be to imprecise. Democracy can not mean 'my ideas should be implemented'. Very often it can absolutely mean the opposite. Now I want to try to point out several clearly undemocratic feature of the EU.

A lot could be said about this. For example the nature of the Eurogroup meeting, where ministers seam to meet to conspire against the democratic will of the European people. However all this is relatively ill defined. I want now to focus on two key features which make any change in actual policy basically impossible.  No matter how large the majorities.

The European Central Bank

Independent central Banks are all the rage toady. But the European central Bank is quite unique in the sense that its independence is protected by something akin to a constitution. In all other countries the independence of the central bank is established by law. Which means in principle independent central banking can be abolished by the normal majorities need to pass a law.

The question of the nature of our central Bank has today become  quite urgent. The central Bank has failed now for at least three years in a row to fulfill its inflation Mandate and the German representative on the ECB board openly advocates to abandon the inflation mandate as a means to force specific policy choices one the EU member nations.

In Cyprus and Greece the ECB went even a step further. While in principle its duty is 'to guarantee a functioning payment system' the Banks in Greece have now been closed for almost three Weeks. The destructive impact is massive. While the ECB tries to hide behind the problem of Greek banks holding Greek debts, this action is clearly unlawful. The ECB could wind down Greek bank if they are insolvent. But stopping the payment system completely is a very extreme act.

I already wrote a diary about the actions of the ECB in 2011, when they enforced a specific set of policies on Italy and similarly on Spain and other countries.

The ECB is the most powerful tool in the Hand of the EPP and its affiliates. While Draghi might not toe the line of the Christian Democrats in quite the way Trichet did, in the end the ECB Governing board see itself as a enforcer for the EPP.

Without getting the ECB under full control of the European Parliament including the ability to order direct Government financing the democratic decision making within the EU is highly constraint.

The inability to tax capital gains

You heard it all, the rich get richer, and they get richer by taking the surplus value of our work. In general the quota of the amount of GDP going to capital gains is extremely  high. Yet at the same the tax income from capital gains is low. Instead the IMF recommends to 'broaden the base' which means to make the effective tax system even more regressive by increasing VAT.

And there is no way out. The structure of the EU makes taxing capital gains on the level of a single nation basically impossible. At the same time taxing it EU wide is also impossible, since the there is no actual way to do this.

Therefore: Within the EU the possibility to tax capital gains has been abolished.

This is quite a crass situation for everybody who wants to create a somewhat fairer wealth distribution. The combination of not being able to print money and not being able to enforce tax laws makes every national democracy in the EU basically impotent against the power of moneyed interest. At the same time no supranational body exist which could actually do anything about it.

Comments >> (23 comments)

In which I defend Wolfgang Schäuble

by rz Wed Jul 15th, 2015 at 03:29:40 AM EST

Wolfgang Schäuble, or Dr. Schäuble as many people have started to call him, is without a doubt a total dick. He has basically zero idea of macro economics. He professes to believe in rules, but only those that he likes. Without any doubt he is one of the key figures who is to blame for the current disastrous state of Eurozone politics and economics.

Yet... somehow in recent attacks on Dr. Schäuble I detected a somewhat contradictory set of arguments. Lets call it Euro Schizophrenia.  

Basically it is my opinion that the Euro is beyond redemption. While I am not convinced that the Euro is fundamentally unworkable, at present the Eurozone in economically and politically at a stage were I see little.

From this I conclude that it is a good idea to leave the Euro. Now it seems that Schäuble wanted to convince Varoufakis and Tsipras to leave the Euro from the very start of the negotiations. Lets be clear here: This is one of the most reasonable things Schäuble has done recently.

Of course the 'temporary exit' thing was total bullshit, and the way it was leaked was unacceptable. Yet the general idea to help Greece leave the Euro is a good one.  

Varoufakis and Tsipras should have taken the offer.

Comments >> (24 comments)

LQD: A beginner's guide to Euroscepticism

by rz Tue Jul 14th, 2015 at 07:11:44 AM EST

Since we are all turning totally against the EU I thought I excerpt this relatively funny piece from the  Spectator:

As a long-time Eurosceptic, I should be happy about the Johnny-Come-Latelys now swelling the sceptic ranks. Following Euro-institutions' wicked treatment of Greece, many European liberals have finally realised that Brussels might not be the hotbed of liberalism, internationalism and bunny rabbits they thought it was.

So far so standard.

But similar to the author I have recently also started to reflect on the whole referenda thing on the European constitution:

Where the hell were you guys in 2001, when the Irish people rejected the Nice Treaty and were subjected to a tirade of abuse from EU officials before being made to vote again? Where were you in 2005, when the Dutch and French peoples were libelled by EU officials as racists and xenophobes and `the generally pissed off' for having the temerity to reject the EU Constitution?

Especially the rejection of the European Constitution by French voters seems today quite different then how I perceived it back then. I remember that there were discussion here the the Eurotrib regarding this whole affair, but this was a little before my time.

Another point to consider

The second reason I'm not rolling out the red carpet for these people coming around to a way of thinking they once branded a phobia is because they're doing it wrong. They aren't genuinely opposed to the EU; they're just really angry with Germany.
 

This is mostly direct at British criticism of recent event in the Eurozone.

This Germany-mauling guff is grating for two reasons. Firstly because it's so goddamn lazy of Brits to fall back on the caricatured view of Germany as a machine-like, monstrous nation always itching to take over Europe. Seriously, guys, the war ended 70 years ago -- stop refighting it. And secondly, this Germany-bashing misses the true, profound problem with the EU. Which is not that one nation wants to run the show. It's that all nations, all political elites, including ours, and including Greece's, have pooled their sovereignty into Brussels in order to allow them to do politics in a more technocratic, far-from-the-madding-crowd fashion.

Indeed.

Comments >> (2 comments)

I'm done with the EU

by tyronen Mon Jul 13th, 2015 at 05:58:47 PM EST

I've changed my mind. I will be voting for the UK to leave the EU.

Whatever deal the UK Conservatives negotiate will only make matters worse.

I think leftists across Europe worthy of the name should transform themselves into Eurosceptic parties. The euro is an abomination. It must be abolished and national currencies restored. The Maastricht Treaty should be repealed.

These policies are nothing more than attempts to force ordoliberal policies across the continent. The EU is a thuggish, vicious oligarchy and I want no part of it anymore.

Further analysis and good discussions in the comment section - Bjinse

Comments >> (228 comments)

Scape goating Greece

by Frank Schnittger Mon Jul 13th, 2015 at 06:38:45 AM EST

Killing the European Project - The New York Times

Suppose you consider Tsipras an incompetent twerp. Suppose you dearly want to see Syriza out of power. Suppose, even, that you welcome the prospect of pushing those annoying Greeks out of the euro.

Even if all of that is true, this Eurogroup list of demands is madness. The trending hashtag ThisIsACoup is exactly right. This goes beyond harsh into pure vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty, and no hope of relief. It is, presumably, meant to be an offer Greece can’t accept; but even so, it’s a grotesque betrayal of everything the European project was supposed to stand for.

Can anything pull Europe back from the brink? Word is that Mario Draghi is trying to reintroduce some sanity, that Hollande is finally showing a bit of the pushback against German morality-play economics that he so signally failed to supply in the past. But much of the damage has already been done. Who will ever trust Germany’s good intentions after this?

In a way, the economics have almost become secondary. But still, let’s be clear: what we’ve learned these past couple of weeks is that being a member of the eurozone means that the creditors can destroy your economy if you step out of line. This has no bearing at all on the underlying economics of austerity. It’s as true as ever that imposing harsh austerity without debt relief is a doomed policy no matter how willing the country is to accept suffering. And this in turn means that even a complete Greek capitulation would be a dead end.

Can Greece pull off a successful exit? Will Germany try to block a recovery? (Sorry, but that’s the kind of thing we must now ask.)

The European project — a project I have always praised and supported — has just been dealt a terrible, perhaps fatal blow. And whatever you think of Syriza, or Greece, it wasn’t the Greeks who did it.

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Greek Tax Evasion

by marco Fri Jul 10th, 2015 at 05:07:56 AM EST

In July 2012, a paper titled Tax Evasion Across Industries: Soft Credit Evidence from Greece was published by Nikolaos T. Artavanis of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Adair Morse of Berkeley's Haas School of Business, and Margarita Tsoutsoura of the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business.

The paper was referenced by The Wall Street and in turn by The Washington Post that summarizes:

Comparing bank data with government data, the authors found that the true income of the average Greek person is about 1.92 times larger than what's actually reported to the government. In 2009, that shrunk the tax base by about $34 billion. Assuming that money was taxed at a 40 percent rate, that's 31 percent of the country's budget deficit in 2009 right there.

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First they came for Berlusconi and I said nothing

by rz Tue Jul 7th, 2015 at 03:49:32 PM EST

From   Wikipedia  (my emphasis):

On 12 November 2011, after a final meeting with his cabinet, Berlusconi met Italian President Giorgio Napolitano at the Palazzo del Quirinale to tend his resignation. As he arrived at the presidential residence, a hostile crowd gathered with banners shouting insults at Berlusconi and throwing coins at the car. After his resignation, the booing and jeering continued as he left in his convoy, with the public shouting words such as "buffoon", "dictator" and "mafioso". Following Berlusconi's resignation, Mario Monti formed a new government that would remain in office until the next scheduled elections in 2013. On 16 November, Monti announced that he had formed a Cabinet and was sworn in as Prime Minister of Italy, also appointing himself as Minister of Economy and Finances.
This was after he failed to pass an austerity budget. All this happened after increasing interest rates on Italian debt had created an unsustainable situation.

However, the increasing interest rates were neither a coincidence nor a direct result of a particular alarming debt situation. The debt crisis happened directly after the ECB started to raise interest rates from 1% to 1.4% betwenn April and July 2011. The market reaction was drastic. The move of the ECB was obviously insane. At that point the Federal REserve had already started its second quantitative easing program.

When the ECB interest rates had reached 1.4% in July 2011, the interest rates for Italian bonds started a slow upwards trajectory. Also in July Draghi and Trichet send their now infamous letter.

 The letter is truly something to behold and I recommend that you should read it in full.

Berlusconi did not perform well. In October 2011 it had become clear that the ECB would not back Italian debt if necessary and interest rates started to explode. A self fulfilling prophecy was underway.

Om the 16th of November 2011 Mario Monti was sworn in.
from his Wikipedia page:

On 4 December 2011, Monti's government introduced emergency austerity measures intended to stem the worsening economic conditions in Italy and restore market confidence, especially after rising Italian government bond yields began to threaten Italy's financial stability. The austerity package called for increased taxes, pension reform and measures to fight tax evasion. Monti also announced that he would be giving up his own salary as part of the reforms.
After Mario Monty had implemented austerity, the ECB started a program of direct bond purchases. Interest rates fell rapidly to the level of early 2011. Of course it is not clear exactly who did what and exactly why. But in principle it is more or less clear that an explicit deal was in place that Mario Monti needed to become Prime Minister, and only then the ECB would start buying bonds. I can cite e.g.  Matthews Yglesis  who is certainly neither a raging lefty nor a rightwing conspiracy nut.

Nobody likes Silvio Berlusconi except for the Italian electorate, so the world largely shrugged when the European Central Bank and the government of Germany perpetrated a coup d'état last year and removed Italy's prime minister from office as a condition for not destroying the Italian economy.
The rest of this blog post is also quite good.

Under Mario Monti unemplyment rose from 8% percent when he entered office to 11% when he left. Today it is still around 13%. Throughout his whole tenure GDP kept falling. On top of all this the Debt to GDP ratio rose faster than under Berlusconi.

We all disliked and still dislike Berlusconi and for good reason. But looking at the situation in Greece and the actions of the ECB I feel that what happened around 2011 should be clearly remembered.

Update [2015-7-8 4:13:58 by rz]: I changed the title a little.

Comments >> (22 comments)

Why is the SPD part of this?

by tyronen Tue Jul 7th, 2015 at 05:57:11 AM EST

I can't read German and thus know little about this country's politics.

Germans want to believe the crisis is the Greeks' fault. I get it. I also get why a conservative party like the CDU would pander to that. But I see no daylight between the CDU and the SPD.

Whereas if you look at the French PS, the consistent pattern appears to me that the French government is trying to restrain German intransigence.  Generally failing at that (as at much else) but at least trying. Most of this is done in private while a united front is presented publicly, but the cracks are clearly visible.

There is no sign of this with the SPD. A SPD government would be as harsh on Greece as the CDU has been. Again, I get why the CDU would like Syriza to be removed from power, but why on earth would the SPD want that?

Why is the SPD taking such a hardline position? I really don't understand.

Comments >> (143 comments)

And the offer is: Nothing and worse

by rz Mon Jul 6th, 2015 at 03:08:14 PM EST

It is my impression that still many are assuming that somehow the Eurogroup or Germany are bluffing. This seams for me to be a huge miscalculation. We should consider a couple of important facts. Lets start with the general policy directions of all European leaders but those of Greece:

  1. All European leaders agree that a specific set of structural reforms are necessary to create a strong economy and reduce unemployment. Especially it needs to be easer to fire people.

  2. All European leaders agree that government spending needs to be reduced. On the speed of the reduction there are certainly differences, but in total there is agreement.

The fact that there is total agreement on this points certainly creates certainly a strong feedback loop which makes this an absolute truth.

Now what about the European people. Here we also might not have an anti-austerity majority in the Eurozone. Especially in eastern europe* it seams possible that large majorities support the current Eurozone actions. And while 5 Stars and Podemos are going strong, they are far away from being able to capture the governments of their respective countries.  

Now the results to the Oxi, is become more visible. Nothing. The European Central Bank has now imposed extra conditions for the collateral of Greek Banks, so the Banks are not going to open any time soon.

Hollande and Merkel have met and their message to Greece is clear: Nothing.

I am not sure where all this is going but it is not good.

Update [2015-7-7 3:33:19 by rz]:*: an informative take on the 'Central European' political situation from Dodo from another threat:

First my usual geographical sidenote: I assume you meant the part of Central Europe east of Germany (and shifted Russia to Asia :-)).

If we look at the Eurogroup, you have

the Baltic states, all of which have gone through different levels of hardcore austerity, massive emigration and have US-groomed neoliberal elites who implemented radical policies like flat tax, and who think they actually preside over "reform" successes.

Slovakia, which has a left-populist government but one with hollow promises and no clue about truly leftist economics. The first(?) Greek bailout was close to election time, and this birthed an anti-Greece tone (coming both from the then opposition and the then right-wing government) based on the fact that most Slovakians are still poorer than Greeks, so the Northern European false story of "they spend our tax money" got the added flavour "to live better than us but then complain, the swindlers". During and after the last Eurogroup talks, Slovakia's finance minister was even more venomous than Schäuble. As I wrote earlier, here the Syriza government probably missed a chance: they focused on France & Italy, although the Slovakian government could have been reminded that public outrage about healthcare privatisation played a large part in their election victory.

I haven't read up about the position of the current Slovenian government.

However, I think Germany got the strongest support for the strict austerity policy in general not from Central Europe but Finland and the Netherlands. And against Greece, perversely, from the quisling governments of the other PIGS. And, while France and Italy make the most noises for a different approach, you can't underestimate the damage Hollande and Renzi did by joining Merkel & Gabriel's "this referendum is about staying in the Euro" regime change attempt.

All in all, the result is that the now completely nuts German political elite and its completely nuts domestic echo chamber get 100% support from other Eurozone elites minus Greece to maintain their parallel reality.

Comments >> (33 comments)

Greek Crisis to Transform EU?

by Frank Schnittger Mon Jul 6th, 2015 at 06:54:10 AM EST

When I wrote Beware of Greeks bearing gifts: a study in negotiating styles, it was because I had grave doubts that Yanis Varoufakis' negotiating style would yield the kind of results he sought. Of course I had even graver doubts that any kind of negotiating style would yield a reasonable result for Greece, and so that question was essentially moot:  We where heading for a diplomatic disaster one way or the other. The neo-liberal fantasy of austerian "reform" was simply too deeply embedded in the culture of the EU governing elite for a successful outcome to be possible.

It is as yet unclear whether the Greek referendum result will prompt a fundamental re-think on the part of the EU elite. Merkel's hastily arranged visit to Hollande at least provides a signal that there is some awareness that a new approach is required. Krugman encapsulates the EU dilemma nicely: Ending Greece's Bleeding - The New York Times

The [European] central bank now faces an awkward choice: if it resumes normal financing it will as much as admit that the previous freeze was political, but if it doesn't it will effectively force Greece into introducing a new currency.

Specifically, if the money doesn't start flowing from Frankfurt (the headquarters of the central bank), Greece will have no choice but to start paying wages and pensions with i.o.u.s, which will de facto be a parallel currency -- and which might soon turn into the new drachma.

Suppose, on the other hand, that the central bank does resume normal lending, and the banking crisis eases. That still leaves the question of how to restore economic growth.

In the failed negotiations that led up to Sunday's referendum, the central sticking point was Greece's demand for permanent debt relief, to remove the cloud hanging over its economy. The troika -- the institutions representing creditor interests -- refused, even though we now know that one member of the troika, the International Monetary Fund, had concluded independently that Greece's debt cannot be paid. But will they reconsider now that the attempt to drive the governing leftist coalition from office has failed?

I have no idea -- and in any case there is now a strong argument that Greek exit from the euro is the best of bad options. Imagine, for a moment, that Greece had never adopted the euro, that it had merely fixed the value of the drachma in terms of euros. What would basic economic analysis say it should do now? The answer, overwhelmingly, would be that it should devalue -- let the drachma's value drop, both to encourage exports and to break out of the cycle of deflation.

The problem with any negotiating style is that if you as negotiator become an issue, you're losing. That is why Corporations and Governments change their key negotiating personnel so regularly. If you become identified with a failure, you become part of that failure, and it doesn't matter how brilliantly you conducted yourself during that debacle.  

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The case for Austerity

by Frank Schnittger Sat Jul 4th, 2015 at 08:10:54 AM EST

Former Irish Taoiseach and EU Ambassador to the US John Bruton lays out the case against the Greek Government fairly succinctly in his article in the Irish Times today (4/7/15). In it he criticises US Nobel prizewinning economists Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz for advocating a NO vote in the Greek referendum.

His arguments may be summarized as follows:

1. "Krugman says the euro was a "terrible mistake" because he claims it failed to insulate the public finances of the states of the euro zone from bubbles in particular countries, like he says the US system does. In fact, the US only does this to a limited extent and, unlike the EU, it has no general bailout fund for states".

In fact Krugman never claimed the US system could prevent housing bubbles and criticized neo-liberal de-regulation "reforms" for making such bubbles more likely. Furthermore, the US Federal budget is 20% of GDP compared to an EU budget of only 1% of GDP and thus Federally funded programmes like Social Welfare, Medicare and Medicaid can do a lot to alleviate the worst effects of (say) a burst housing bubble in Florida on the poorer people in Florida. How much better off would the Greek people be today if they had a social welfare and healthcare system funded by the EU?

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The new Utopia

by chumchu Thu Jul 2nd, 2015 at 08:38:43 AM EST

I believe that a fundamental problem for the left after the fall of the Soviet Union is the lack of a common utopia to strive towards for three reasons. Without a long-term goal the left has become reactive. Without grand visions for the future, the differences in rhetoric between political parties decreases and elections seem like contests in looking statesmanlike. Without a hope in a better future it is hard motivate people to engage in politics and to act altruistically. The last two points, together with individualism and workers rising into the middle class,  are important in explaining the declining engagement in mass parties and unions. With declining engagement, their competence and influence wanes.

I want to ask you if you share this analysis and, if so, what you think the long-term goal or utopia of the left should be. There are a number of candidates that I can think of at the moment listed below. These are not mutually exclusive but to avoid complicating things, let us just say that you have to emphasise one idea. Further, how should one work with utopia and political reality. I believe that slow, careful reform works, if you always have an end goal in mind and do not get lost in rhetoric and sacrifice to much trying to win elections.

  • spreading human civilisation in space for preservation or exploration
  • a sustainable society living within the planetary boundaries
  • breaking through limitations in production and energy to create an abundance, rendering property rights moot and giving people freedom from work
  • uniting humanity politically in a world-state
  •  a global federation of national welfare states, well-functioning and peaceful
  • benevolent AI
  • something else

Comments >> (59 comments)

The Ineffable Quietness of the European Tribune

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jul 1st, 2015 at 08:42:43 AM EST

I have been holed up in the Tyrone Guthrie Centre for the past few days at the invitation of an artist friend. It's a rambling old country house on a beautiful wooded lakeside estate set in the drumlin countryside of County Monaghan. Artists of all stripes can stay here (subject to acceptance of application) at state subsidized rates to meet, work, and reflect on their practice. At the moment it is full of quite an eclectic and international mix of novelists, painters, printers, composers and performance artists. The estate was gifted to the people of Ireland by the family of Tyrone Guthrie, a noted theater director in Ireland, England, Canada and the United States.

As a lowly blogger I don't feel particularly qualified to take part in the many informal discussions between artists of wildly different backgrounds, but it did get me thinking about the apparent decline of my own particular art form: the community blog; and more particularly, my favorite platform, the European Tribune. Why have we gone so quiet, and is there anything that can be done about it?

Hidden within the 355 comments on End game for Greece? are a couple of sub-threads which begin to deal with this issue.  rz set the ball rolling:

It has become very quite here at the European Tribune. Why is that? Maybe we all feel that things are total spinning out of control and there is nothing left to do about it.

The European discussion is over, everything that matters now happens on the national level.


To which rifek replied:
It could be that the possibility of a solution is so remote, everyone is throwing their hands in the air.  That's pretty much the case here in the US (I figure we're a generation away yet from people taking to the streets, although an old-fashioned food shortage could change that in a hurry.).  Or it could be that we're in the opposite of an academic debate (where the debates are so bitter because there is so little at stake): The stakes are so high, debate isn't much of a priority.  Two men in a burning building can't stop to argue.

And Migeru weighed in:
What is there to discuss? The European Union is institutionally hopeless

Whereas Upstate NY was more upbeat:
There is a silence. But sometimes, from reading you all for years, I also always hear your voices in the silence. ET is special in that way.

I want to try to weave together the many other comments on those sub-threads to come up with an overview of why ET may be in decline, and to come to an initial analysis of what might be done about it, always assuming that community blogging is an art form worth preserving and indeed one which should be developed further.

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Grexit and Propaganda

by Metatone Mon Jun 29th, 2015 at 03:49:18 AM EST

At the heart of this crisis is the misinformation put out by the Eurogroup & Troika and by media sources across Europe.

Jake said it best in a comment on the other thread. (quoted below) But it's worth highlighting. He's responding to a critique of all the things the Greeks are not doing...

It appears that many members of the Eurogroup are resolved to "throw Greece up against the wall as a warning to others" and leaking and misinforming to justify that.

The IMF's desire to force tax rises and spending cuts when there is no possibility of devaluation goes against their own policies. Again, it's hard to find sane motives for such an action.

The great irony for me is that none in the IMF/Eurogroup seem to understand that their policy stance is only going to lead to vast market pressure and forthcoming crisis in Portugal and Italy. Just as with the ERM, once you show that there is money to be made in betting against the system, people will bet against the system.

This is a solvency crisis - and most of the periphery is insolvent - as others have noted, it's an inevitable result of the accounting identities. For Germany to run surpluses inside the EZ, other EZ countries have to be in the opposite state. In a real single currency this does not matter, but since the Eurogroup have decided this is not a real single currency, it will matter a lot - and it's very hard to see how it is not the end of the Euro.

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Ready for tomorrow?

by Luis de Sousa Sun Jun 28th, 2015 at 12:41:56 PM EST

Greece was left between the sword and the wall and the Greeks opted for the former. Portugal is next in the line of fire, but an eerie serenity reigns in the country. The mercury is up and most folk are at the beach this weekend; the media speak of football and hockey.


In reality much has changed since yesterday, and Portugal, even if not yet aware, is today a much more fragile country. Events will go sour, and possibly much faster than most expect. Hereby a short list of the gravest developments that  are to take place from tomorrow onwards.

Read more... (24 comments, 552 words in story)

Greece: The next step; introducing the Euriou

by Frank Schnittger Sun Jun 28th, 2015 at 12:07:34 PM EST

Let us assume for the moment that the Greek people reject the Eurogroup ultimatum by an overwhelming margin and that the EU/Troika/Council/EuroGroup continue their childish stance of throwing sand in the face of Tsipras/Varoufakis every time they make a proposal. Let us further assume that despite running a structural primary surplus the Greek Government runs out cash in the near future: so much so that it has to default on its IMF loans and has difficulty paying wages, pensions and contractors.

This will be mainly because the current crisis has further depressed the economy and created a crisis of confidence which will result in the citizenry and businesses hoarding cash thereby depressing tax revenues further. Banks will also struggle for liquidity in the absence of further ELA assistance from the ECB. Thus, even though the state and the banks may still be technically solvent, liquidity will become a huge problem, the more so because the cash cow of the tourist industry appears to be in severe recession.

What will happen then?  

Read more... (32 comments, 1126 words in story)
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