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Fairness and contempt

by Jerome a Paris Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 06:07:12 AM EST

Below, a pot-pourri of extracts of articles from last week's Economist, and today's Financial Times, just to show the kind of onslaught we're dealing with.


This is on the front page of the FT today:

End in sight for German wage restraint

After five years of severe wage restraint, leading politicians in Germany and even some employers are backing union claims for a bigger share of rising profits in Europe’s largest economy.

(...)

Generous wage deals next year could alarm the European Central Bank, which will worry about their inflationary impact.

(...)

In real terms, the average household’s income is lower today than it was 15 years ago. In the past three years in particular, there has been a marked decoupling between fast-rising corporate profits and falling wage income.

  • When things are bad for companies (the only proxy for the economy these days), workers need to make an effort to ensure the survival of companies.
  • When things are going well, workers need to make an effort not to kill the recovery, or not to undermine the competitiveness of the economy.
  • When things are going exceptionally well, workers should be patient so as not to trigger worries about inflation.

The usual argument to focus economic policy on the well being of companies is that eventually they will flow to workers ("today's profits are tomorrow's investments are the future's jobs"), but I fail to see exactly when this will be happening under the above rules.

Poland's awkward government

Businessmen are rather less pleased that strong growth has allowed the government to splurge on social programmes. It has introduced higher child benefits and tax breaks for families; it has also agreed to raise salaries for police, border-guards, medical staff and teachers next year, as well as putting up the national minimum wage.

Besides clumsy diplomacy and dubious economic policy, (...)

So spending money which is available to government thanks to growth on social programmes is "dubious economic policy" and displeasing. Which again suggests that no social programme will ever be acceptable under this economic model.

The Turkish train crash

During the past year Turkey and the EU have squabbled bitterly over Cyprus, over clauses in the Turkish penal code that limit free speech and over a French proposal to make it an offence to deny the Armenian genocide of 1915. These may be real issues, but they have not affected Turkey's Western orientation, as embodied in its NATO membership and its impressive reform programme. The economy is growing by 6-7% a year;

This is not just about economic policy, but it helps us understand what the definition of the West is: any country that:

  • "reforms", and
  • that is subservient to US geopolitical objectives.

Of course, France and Germany cannot really be expelled from the West, but they are declining and thus should no longer be listened to, just like the old embarrassing drooling senile uncle at family reunions.

Russia, of course, was for a while seen as a prospective member of the West, but no longer. It gets the treatments for wayward kids: dripping contempt:

Russia deserves pity as well as fear

Although its economy has recovered and its diplomacy is more assertive, Russia has an awesome array of problems, any one of which would be seen as cataclysmic in most rich countries.

(...)

But the threat it poses to the rest of the world has been overstated. Russia is neither exporting a defunct ideology nor fighting proxy wars with America, as it did during the cold war. Its hints at disruptions to Europeans' gas supplies are mostly bluff. Indeed, the biggest dangers Russia poses to the West may be as an incubator of assorted diseases and of Islamist extremism.

(...) For the biggest risk of all is that Russia's weakness and instability will at some point produce a regime much nastier even than Mr Putin's, which will inherit Russia's strengths: oil and gas pipelines and nuclear weapons.

Russia is doing bad, behaving badly, and trending even worse. But it's not a real threat to us, only to poor hapless Russians who thus need the enlightened help of the West.

But it's not just reluctant countries that need to be brought in line. Evil focus on anti-economic behavior must be similarly eliminated:

Running our of road

No one really knows what the bill for this chronic road congestion is, although the Confederation of British Industry suggests a figure of around £20 billion a year.

(...)

Things are no better on the railways. A 44% rise in passenger numbers over the past 12 years looks good, but it has come at vast cost. Subsidies are now £5 billion a year, over four times as high as when rail was privatised in 1994.

(...)

After years in which policy has been buffeted by competing requirements for efficiency, cheapness, social justice, productivity and greenery [Sir Rod's report] is at least is welcome.

Lessons:

  • Subsidies are bad (even if they seem to at least be contributing to the solution)
  • Anything said by companiers or their representatives is true
  • social justice is incompatible with efficiency and productivity
  • "greenery" (ew, what an ugly word) is incompatible with social justice, and of course with efficiency and productivity
  • cheapness is incomatible with social justice, greenery and prodcutivity

We know which ones we should focus on, of course.

There you have it, the permanent, mindless propaganda that permeates all discourse. What is good for BP or Wal-Mart is good for all, and if you don't agree, you're in decline.

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The phrase is "trickle down", not "cascade down". If you let the proles have too much wealth too quickly they'll only spend it irresponsibly on looking after their families and buying food and silly stuff like that.

It's ok for highly trained bankers, accountants, journalists and so on - a little wealth can cascade down to them: they're trained to handle it. But the masses? Yuck.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 06:47:22 AM EST
LOL, great mood your in today Colman. :-)

Okay, now I have to get out and try if I can catch some of the trickle-down.

by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 06:50:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... the fresh water is flowing in channels ... that stuff trickling down is more likely to be some form of waste discharge.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 07:42:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
More "piss off."
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 08:29:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Invited writers articles are often the only interesting part of traditional medias. Everyone says blog copy media, blah blah, but I wonder what will happen when those independant writers will stop writing for medias and put stuff on their blog instead.

Anyway, John Sulston, Free market must serve, not restrain, research, Financial Times, November 30, 2006:


    ...[A] truly free market is not easy to achieve. It requires that participants have reasonably equal access to knowledge and opportunity. This does not come about simply by the removal of regulation. In science, as in business, there must be structures that ensure the well endowed do not use their position to block competition. In science this means that publication of papers, which are the tangible measures of achievement, should be accompanied by the open release of all information and materials required for the reported research, so that others may build on the work rather than needlessly duplicate it.

    Since the end of the cold war and the subsequent triumphalism in the west, these principles have been under attack. "Free" is increasingly interpreted to mean unbridled competition, whether between individuals, companies or nations. This change is having its effect on science. Public companies are obliged to their shareholders to pursue maximum profitability. The disadvantage of depending on the free market for research and development is that areas that do not have the potential to yield financial return are neglected. Such areas are extensive in human health. Ninety per cent of the disease burden of humanity is served by less than 10 per cent of biomedical spending....

    The persistence of this huge wealth gap is a tragedy. International relations are run on extremely competitive lines. When the EU or the US fails to get its way in trade negotiations they bypass the multilateral solution in favour of so called free trade areas. This is imperialism by another name. All the bilateral agreements of the US, for example, have included intellectual property clauses that favour its industries. The consequence is a race to the ethical bottom in trading standards....

    There are serious consequences to acquiescing in this. Inability to work in certain areas, such as neglected diseases, is one. There are the restraints on data sharing, which is the essential foundation of science - for it is this rich medium that nourishes the shoots of future development. In the international consortium for sequencing the human genome we fought hard to keep the data open and were successful. Others are not faring so well. In both proteomics and meteorology, commercial considerations impede the open access that is needed for fields to move ahead. Another example is the practice of pharmaceutical companies manipulating data from drug trials....

Sulston won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2002 and works actively for open access and open data

by Laurent GUERBY on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 06:54:07 AM EST
Forgot to add: via FOS Blog.
by Laurent GUERBY on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 06:55:02 AM EST
subservient, not subversient.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 06:55:11 AM EST
Thanks, corrected.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 08:02:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"subversient"

ew, what a beautiful word, Jérôme.

by findmeaDoorIntoSummer on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 11:02:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It sounds better that subversive.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 11:04:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Than subversive ;-)
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 11:12:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You can have my PN points today.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 11:28:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yap, That is because it has not yet been tainted in our (unavoidably) common meme pool.

Hi, there, Migeru.
I'll need to talk with you about synthetic geometry - did I got the term right? -, in the next year. The post on Castell's masterpiece - the trilogy on the network society - has not been forgotten. Here in ET the discussion over the last chapter of vol. III will be especially relevant. Meanwhile, I really must leave.

by findmeaDoorIntoSummer on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 11:19:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Can someone point me to the Castells' post? I did a search and couldn't find it.

I read all three books in 1999.

by Upstate NY on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 12:41:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think he's promising to write about it...

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 12:45:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
sometime ago I mentioned Castell's work on a little comment, and then Migeru suggested I should write a diary. therefore my reference to C's.
by findmeaDoorIntoSummer on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 01:24:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So if you just tick the "future archives" box on the search page you should be fine...
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 01:42:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Can't wait for the discussion - vol. 3 of that series is in my top five non-fiction books of all time. It permanently cemented my interest in the intersection of politics, economics, sociology, and technology.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 10:37:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
These may be real issues, but they have not affected Turkey's Western orientation, as embodied in its NATO membership and its impressive reform programme. The economy is growing by 6-7% a year;
This is not just about economic policy, but it helps us understand what the definition of the West is: any country that:
  • "reforms", and
  • that is subservient to US geopolitical objectives.
Have we forgotten the black eye that Turkey gave the US by refusing to allow itself to be used as a staging ground for the invasion of Iraq?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 08:08:57 AM EST
Exactly!  This article seems to selectively choose data that supports a questionable theory.  But you messed up on this example, as Migeru points out.
by wchurchill on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 09:51:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Economist makes the claim about "Turkey's Western orientation, as embodied in its NATO membership and its impressive reform programme", which I am just translating.

Reality matters little to ideologists, as I spend a lot of time pointing out (most facts prove that neoliberal policies do not work and often are promoted to cure either non-existent problems or problems first created by failed deregulation).

Turkish opposition to the Iraq war has been forgotten already, as will Iraq as soon as the US Army decamps, and no lessons will be learnt from either.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 10:51:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Jerome, I don't think Iraq will be forgotten.  I may be too optomistic, but there is a great distaste in this country amongst the general citizenry for this fiasco.  Not to mention the terrible, no, that is too strong a word compared to the human cost, the punishing cost that this war will bring to the citizenry of the US, and probably UK also.  this war has really turned the tide here as far as the Republicans go, and they are in disrepute.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 06:50:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Have we forgotten the black eye that Turkey gave the US by refusing to allow itself to be used as a staging ground for the invasion of Iraq?

Actually, that counts as "impressive reform" in my book.

Seriously. Erdogan was ready to let the US stage, but Parliament rejected it. This was the first time that the Turkish parliament ever refused to rubber-stamp a government initiative.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 12:09:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The caveat should be entered thusly: to serve US geopolitical interests except when they conflict with the nation's VITAL interests.

Clearly, Turkey is concerned with the Kurds in the north of Iraq.

by Upstate NY on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 12:40:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure it wasn't more to do with the electoral fallout for an Islamist party supporting the invasion of an Islamic country by the US. Not popular with the voters that.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 12:42:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My point exactly - neither "popular" nor "voters" were relevant factors until just recently.

Impressive enough for me.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 01:04:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I guess I'm a bit more cynical. After all, the Parliament saved the AKP's bacon. Did he really support the use of Turkey as a base?

Just today, Erdogan warned the US not to move any military units from the center to the north.

by Upstate NY on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 01:29:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I suspect he didn't, but had to be seen to by the US. It's like anything: there are many drivers for that decision, no more and no less than there were many drivers for the decision to invade Iraq by the US. It wasn't as simple as the Kurdish situation.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 01:40:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Shit, a black eye is easy to forget when we've pummelled the hell out of ourselves.  Turkey tried to do us a favor, same as France.  I wish we'd had a political class that would listen.  What a mess.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 06:44:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you throw extracts from The Economist and The Financial Times into a pot, it will be rotten indeed.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 08:41:33 AM EST
Rotten in a pot? Sounds like Marmite or potted eel. Vile, rotten substances only English speakers will eat willingly.

This does not deter them from trying to export, though.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 11:16:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Out of lurking mode to totally agree with Jerome et al. above and to note that his opinions are backed up by the U.S. example, where "trickle down" has been proven during one Republican administration after another to be completely cynical and vile, a disguised Marie Antoinette outlook that expects the hoi polloi to look to themselves for support while providing immeasurable assistance to the corporations that comprise the "free market" system we pledge allegiance to every day.  

Not just the proles, either; the wonders of nature, the products of the forests, streams and oceans, the very air we breathe, are all victims of this cynical "the fate of the corporations is the fate of us all" bullshit.

I've had a rant in me for days, having just watched "Who Killed the Electric Car?"  Let me finish by saying that I love eurotrib with all my heart, even if I pipe up only occasionally. It starts and ends each day for me.  Thanks to all here for the infusion of intelligence.

Karen in Austin

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher

by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 09:37:06 AM EST
I don't see, having read it a few days ago, the big problem with the article on Britain's transportation policies.  The author is right: Britain's roads are astonishingly congested.  Trains are packed and -- unless, of course, you're going from Notts to London (and have bought the tickets well in advance) -- expensive. It really is a mess.  That's not to say that America is God's gift to transportation.  Hardly.  But Britain's roads, to take one of the examples, are simply insane.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 12:18:24 PM EST
Well, the reluctance of The Economist to acknowledge the rail privatisation might have caused any of the current problems is a bit annoying. Not to mention their contention that "it's all about the commuter lines" when all the studies indicate that if you don't invest in a strong network, the utility of the rail system as a whole starts to look like, well, Amtrak.

Finally, the portrayal of car/lorry road as an "economically efficient" transportation investment is in direct conflict with the examples of every other densely populated country on earth. It's hard to think of a policy where it is less useful for Britain to look at a big empty country (be it the US, Canada or Australia) for solutions to the problems it suffers. Not because I'm a raging pinko-tree-hugger but because "space" is a crucial metric in understanding transportation.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 02:32:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Their conversion to "road pricing" after years of branding it a tax on "businesses and wealth creation" particularly when talking about the congestion charge in London doesn't really create a picture of intellectual honesty either.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 02:38:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course they are congested, it's a heavily populated piece of land, like a lot of Europe - and thus it requires real public transportation infrastructure, and thus public investment, in something else than roads (build them and they will fill them is the truth of that business, reduce road capacity and you reduce traffic is the dirty other side of the coin).

But if public investment is evil, subsidies to the rail sector, even privatised, evil, what happens? Congestion.

Paris has refused to build any new thoroughfare coming to wards Paris in the past 25 years, and traffic is actually down over the last 15 years. They are busy building huge bus lanes on the main thoroughfares - thus traffic is a nightmare and is down, and public transport is up nicely. Sadly, the same has not been done in the far suburbs, where traffic is now much worse than in or around Paris (on the périphérique, Paris's infamous, but wonderfully practical, beltway)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 04:00:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Things are no better on the railways. A 44% rise in passenger numbers over the past 12 years looks good, but it has come at vast cost. Subsidies are now £5 billion a year, over four times as high as when rail was privatised in 1994.

There's our new meme: inefficient privatized services.

Nah.

"Wasteful" is a much better word.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 01:07:16 PM EST


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