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2005-09-30

Schüssel's Austria and Turkey 

Despite appearances, I am pretty sure that Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, who personally defines the foreign policy of the country, is actually in favour of full Turkish EU membership. This may sound surprising amid this weekend's turmoil over Austria's stubborn opposition against the 24 other EU-members over the start of accession negotiations. But if anything, Schüssel is someone who appreciates complex tactics.

Support for Croatia (see analysis at afoe) is one of his motivations, but not the crucial one. Schüssel understands that the Turkey issue is much more important. Similarly, this Sunday's tight regional elections in Styria (earlier posts) may play a role, but a small one.

Recently international observers have been puzzled over the huge opposition of the Austrian population against Turkish EU membership (another link to afoe for their cross-country comparison of anti-Turkey sentiment). In broad lines, the explanation has to do with poorly-managed integration policies towards the large population of Turkish "guest-workers" in Austria; the Ottoman threat of the 17th century; and, in the two biggest political parties, a fear of xenophobic populism that stems back to Jörg Haider's electoral successes of the 1990s. As a result, both Schüssel's conservative ÖVP and the socialdemocrat SPÖ have pandered to anti-Turkey sentiment for years, which has made open hostility towards Turkish EU-accession much more acceptable among the population. Truly a sad picture.

Now, I believe, comes Schüssel's conviction that he has better than anyone else understood the lessons of the failed referendums in France and the Netherlands: Schüssel, whose pro-Europeanism is deeply rooted, thinks that issues of EU politics must be dumbed down and simplified in order to close the gap between the pro-EU elites and public sentiment on the street. He tries to channel anti-EU and anti-Turkey sentiment among the population in a direction where he and his party become the trusted representatives of these sentiments towards the EU, thus shutting out the true anti-Europeans of the far right and left. Probably Schüssel even believes that with this populist turn he is doing the EU a favour, reconnecting it with the European population.

The challenge for Schüssel is to find a formula that satisfies both the negative instincts of his population, while safe-guarding the Turkish accession project. As we read in the papers, it's a high risk gamble, as Turkey is now threatening to withdraw from the negotiation process in frustration. But for Schüssel, victory is within grasp, one can already smell in the late September air another awkward European compromise based on a wording that will indicate the possibility of outcomes other than membership, although the same thing will be excluded by some other provision. Schüssel himself will be attacked from all sides, but he will have reached his goals. Eight million Austrians will worship him, the promotion of cynicism towards Europe among seventy million Turks will leave him cool.

Spidla on the social model, values, and safety nets 

From an interview with EU-employment commissioner Vladimír Spidla in Der Standard [DE]:
Standard: On Thursday there will be an EU-debate of social policy stakeholders. Is there a European social model at all?

Spidla: There is a common bundle of values. One can see common traits in all EU-member states. Belgium spends 27.5% of GDP for social security and the health system, the UK 27.2%. The differences are not as big as we believe.

...

Standard: If everyone in the EU is in agreement then, why will there be a meeting of heads of governement at the end of October, where the social model will be discussed?

Spidla: No, there is no harmony in the sense of harmonisation. There is a bundle of common values. But the world is in movement. If we want to safeguard these values, we have to act. Maintaining the status quo is suicide. This is very dangerous for our social concept. My opinion is: keep the values, change the structures. We will not stay competitive by throwing the values overboard. Also simple decreases of wages will not make us competitive.

Standard: Which changes concretely are necessary?

Spidla: The Lisbon-strategy already specifies that we want a qualitative competitiveness: more and better jobs. But innovation without a safety net is impossible. One cannot paint well under the whip, or create software. We need the completion of the internal market – free work migration and the service directive. At the same time it must be clear: Internal market yes, but no social dumping. There are no more islands in Europe. There also must not be an internal division in the EU after the enlargement round.
Good, to-the-point answers.

2005-09-28

Procrastination won't help either 

So what's going on in Kosova? I keep getting these regular news items from RFE/RL, and nothing ever seems to change much. At the beginning of the year, the story was that talks about the final status of Kosova - independence or something that's very complicated, has a different name, but is basically the same thing - would begin in the second half of 2005, after the completion of the report of Kai Eide, the UN-representative, on the implementation of 'standards' by the Albanian side. That report is being delayed further and further. The rationale seems to be that in the meantime, the international community can continue to massage the Albanian and Serbian sides into compliance with its wishes and hope for improvements in the situation. Once softened up appropriately, the two sides will then be ready for the negotiations. For example, yesterday's update reads like this (non-permanent URL):
EU REPRESENTATIVE SAYS KOSOVA STATUS TALKS LIKELY IN 2005
EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana said in Paris on 26 September that talks on Kosova's final status are likely to begin before the end of 2005, after Norway's Kai Eide presents his long-awaited report to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Reuters reported. "To say this will be a delicate [negotiating] process is an understatement," Solana argued. He added that "not only do Belgrade and Prishtina hold diametrically opposing views, but both also lack a stable political leadership [that is] able to take tough decisions."
Of course it's difficult. But as the international community is so afraid that it doesn't find the courage to finally make the first step, it keeps losing more of its already low credibility on the ground daily. This won't make any supervisory role for the international community any easier after the eventual agreements come about.

2005-09-26

What happens after a basic income is introduced? 


I have spent a frustrating time on the net trying to better understand basic income/minimum income models. There are many different models of a basic income guarantee (a summary in six illustrative graphs including the one shown to the right is here [.pdf]). Most of them stipulate a cash handout to people below a certain income threshold, and usually the cash-handout is not means-tested. In other words, everybody living in a certain community should be guaranteed a tolerable minimum of material standards. Annoyingly, the corresponding websites tend to be big in vision but small in analysis of economic consequences.

Here I do not want to get into the sprawling debate about why such models would or wouldn't be a good thing as a radical reform project of social policy, although I point you to the longish and favourable review in German that triggered my curiosity. Lohn der Angst [DE] by Wolf Lotter appeared in German new-economy magazine brand eins in July 2005.

My appeal to readers - and reminder to myself - is this: are there any online documents that answer the following questions:
  1. What percentage of jobs, full- and part-time, in a developed economy of 2005 would disappear if a basic income equivalent to the poverty threshold (60% of median income) was introduced, assuming beneficiaries could not earn extra without losing corresponding amounts of the basic income? Clearly few people would take up (part-time) jobs below the basic income level any longer, and not all such jobs would still be productive for the employer at a higher wage. So a certain number of jobs would be lost, but would they be few enough for tax revenues to remain solid?
  2. What percentage of GDP would these lost jobs represent?
  3. In order to avoid these job losses, one could allow people to earn extra on top of the basic income subsidy, which leads to models of a negative income tax. The problem here seems to be that employers could then lower the wages and absorb a public subsidy that is originally designed to help the poor. How could this be avoided? (Minimum wages may be part of the answer.)
  4. How can it be avoided that if such a basic income system covers all residents in a certain place, it will force governments to severely limit immigration, because otherwise poor people from countries with low incomes or high unemployment would flood the place?

I would like to support basic income models for many reasons, but I need answers to these doubts.

2005-09-23

The best part of Joschka Fischer's last interview 

This is a bit sentimental, but what must be done must be done. Joschka Fischer, hero of everything Green and German-speaking, has given what is allegedly his "last big interview for a long time" to the taz [DE]. Consider this bit of wisdom and real-time verbal creativity:
taz: Gerhard Schröder said recently that the Red-Green coalition did not fit the situation of society. In his words: "A Zeitgeist-coalition which happened at the Unzeit." Was Red-Green ten years too late?

Fischer: No, I see it completely differently. Politicians and parties cannot choose their time. History throws you into ice-cold water, hungry polar bears come after you, either you swim faster than them or you get eaten. You may wish to be swimming in more southern waters. But that is decided by the voters alone.

[Nein, ich sehe das völlig anders. Politiker und Parteien können sich ihre Zeit nicht aussuchen. Du wirst durch die Geschichte ins eiskalte Wasser geworfen, hungrige Eisbären sind hinter dir her, entweder du schwimmst schneller als sie, oder du wirst gefressen. Da kann man sich zwar wünschen, dass man gern in südlicheren Gefilden schwimmen würde. Aber das entscheiden allein die Wähler.]

Union and Greens abandon talks 

It took only one session of "exploratory talks" to convince both parties to abandon any further meetings, as the FAZ reports [DE]. The CDU will now pursue talks with the SPD as the only remaining option.

One reason for the early failure of the process remain the huge policy differences between the two camps.

A second reason for why particularly the Greens signalled already yesterday that the talks would be hopeless must be the ongoing power struggle within the Green leadership after Joschka Fischer has retired. Even a perfect coalition agreement would always have been extremely divisive Green-internally. In a situation where five people (the favourites Renate Kühnast and Fritz Kuhn as well as Krista Sager, Jürgen Trittin, and Karin Göring-Eckhardt) are jostling for the top two jobs [DE] at the head of the parliamentary fraction, none of them could afford a different strategy than to put party unity above all other concerns.

2005-09-22

Foot soldiering 

After the speculative exuberance of my last posts - no, I no longer believe that a Jamaica-coalition in Germany is realistic - here's an invitation to a refreshingly prosaic topic. A couple of other people and I are toying around with a grass-roots initiative to promote pedestrianism in the urban environment. So if you know some German, like to take it slow and easy, and want to know for example what the various political parties in Vienna have to say about this topic (or want to follow the links to their online election-manifestos), have a look.

2005-09-20

Black-Yellow Economy in a Red-Green Society 

Political scientist Joachim Raschke has an interesting analysis [DE] of the German Jamaica-Scenario from the perspective of the Greens at Wahltagebuch.de. Some translated excerpts:
Red-Green has failed in the economic field, Black-Yellow cannot govern against a society based on red-green values. Whatever a sceptical society still affords in attributing economic competence, is almost exclusively directed at the bourgeois parties. After years of stagnation, society wants further impulses of economic dynamisation, both on the supply side and on the demand side. But society is not as dominated by economy as the bourgeois parties and in particular the FDP imagine. Society has high expectations of social justice and solidarity (more important for a large majority than a high work ethic ["Leistung"]), and society wants a tolerant, open and - if it is not too costly - an ecological style of life. There were always doubts whether the SPD would deliver this broad red-green value profile in a grand coalition, or whether it would discard the ecological interests in favour of a hard industrial policy, and discard civic rights in favour of a strong state.

...

Four issues would be essential. Safe-guarding the achieved level of red-green ecological and consumer policies. Continuation of a new energy politics with the promotion of alternative energies and insistence on the consensus over an exit from nuclear technology. Continuity in foreign policy (and formula-compromise in the question of Turkish EU-accession, which will not be decided in the coming years). Social symmetry in budget consolidation and in the reform of social systems.

Possibly it will be on the social field where the largest problems of such a new formation lie. Through its emphasis on participatory justice and intergenerational justice, the Greens have been active since some time in the process of a new definition of the social. As a comprehensive advocate of red-green values, they would have to engage more than before in questions of distributional justice, particularly in a coalition with the bourgeois parties. This part of a grand coalition would need to be filled by them. This is another thing that the population, which is afraid of redistribution from the bottom to the top by the Black-Yellows, expects of a coalition that spans the ideological camps.

2005-09-19

Dreadlock Joschka? 

Ol' Green Soldier, Dreadlock Joschka
There was a little Green Soldier
In the heart of Germania
Stolen from Kreuzbergia, brought to Bavaria
Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival
Will this be the new song from Germany? After the German elections last night, the battered winners CDU/CSU have publicly set their eyes on the German Green party, until yesterday coalition partners of the SPD and a narrow survivor of these upsetting elections. Usually described as "extremely unlikely", the mentioning of a CDU/CSU/FDP/Greens coalition may well be a mere tactical device used by CDU/CSU to be able to exert at least some kind of pressure on the otherwise untameable SPD. In turn, the FDP credibly excludes any collaboration with the SPD, but seems slightly less strict about the Greens. No wonder, how could the Greens as the smallest partner in Jamaica dictate its generally leftist policies on the two bigger conservative partners?

For the Greens, this would be quite a fight - and as such an interesting challenge. It becomes a fight for survival however if one considers the constituency of the Green party, which is socialised politically clearly left of the center. In addition, the Greens always blocked any discussions about a possible Jamaica coalition before the election, although they could now say this was for purely tactical reasons, to make them look like a reliable coalition partner of the SPD to the numerous SPD-Green swing voters.

In terms of political contents, CDU-representative Roland Pofalla has said [DE] that the differences in economic policy between CDU and the Greens may be smaller than they seem. There is a grain of truth in this, I believe. Unlike social-democracy, Green economic policy is not tied by old ideological roots to state-interventionist approaches. Rather, it is broadly defined by a strong priority given to social justice, as well as the consideration of ecological implications. In the latter field, it seems conceivable that CDU/CSU/FDP might "sacrifice" their desire to roll-back ecologically sound policies of the previous government as a concession to the Greens. Such a concession might make the Jamaica scenario more digestible for ecology-inspired Green-supporters. Interesting times.

See also Uncool runnings at afoe, and Schwampeln die Grünen in eine Koalition? at Christoph Chorherr's blog.

2005-09-18

Live-Blogging: German Elefants 

An old tradition in German election TV programming is the "Elefant Round", a discussion which has started just now (20:15) on German TV, which brings together the leaders of all parties: Merkel/CDU, Schröder/SPD, Stoiber/CSU, Fischer/Greens, Westerwelle/FDP, Bisky/Left Party. I'm blogging this live:

20:15 Merkel denies having lost the elections - "Schröder has lost more". Declares no preference for either the "grand" (CDU/CSU/SPD) or the "Jamaica" (CDU/CSU/Greens/FDP) coalition.

20:18 Schröder attacks the TV-journalists for bias, is extremely aggressive for several minutes. Claims his decision to head for the polls was right - is leading an emotional campaign here for the hearts of his voters.

20:21 Westerwelle expresses astonishment over Schröder's behaviour - no, the FDP will not support Schröder as chancellor of a "traffic light" coalition (SPD/FDP/Greens). "There will be no traffic light coalition with the FDP - Dream on, not with us"

20:25 Stoiber (has lost 8% in Bavaria where his CSU runs instead of the CDU, now at 50%. Falls from 3rd to 6th place in the federal parliament) - CSU is still far ahead of CDU. Merkel has the task to search for government - Stoiber's support for Merkel is minimal, mere politeness. Merkel's position seems to be in jeopardy.

20:30 Stoiber doesn't exclude "Jamaica", what about Fischer of the Greens? He does not rule it out either. "I do not want to speculate" - this is a (rather surprising) green light for this constellation, but "I cannot imagine it... realism speaks against it"

20:35 Bisky/Left Party: 4.7% in the West is a great result, there will be no fights between the Western WASG and Eastern PDS arms.

20:36 How will Schröder be able to govern, if he excludes a grand coalition, the FDP exludes him, and the Left Party remains untouchable? Schröder: Everybody will talk. The SPD will not accept Merkel as chancellor (Wow. Is he drunk?)

20:38 Westerwelle: Schröder's behaviour is not to be taken seriously. Westerwelle too thinks that Schröder is on drugs...

20:40 Merkel is sad about what Schröder just said about her. She wants to be chancellor. Schröder, she says, fails to grasp that he has lost his government.

20:42 Stoiber: Schröder's arrogance is not ok. Is telling Schröder to behave better.

20:50 (technical troubles over here). Merkel accepts that if SPD ends up in front, she would be ready to talk about a chancellor Schröder. Westerwelle and Fischer express themselves ready for opposition.

20:55 Question to Schröder: He has moved to the left during the campaign. How will he manage to move to the right again for a centrist coalition? Schröder denies the left shift. The discussion seems to be running out of steam.

Schröder wants to be chancellor of a CDU/SPD coalition.

20:58 Merkel plays reason against Schröder's ferocity, and it's over.

To sum up: "Jamaica" is surprisingly alive, Schröder needs to sleep over the whole thing, all SPD+FDP constellations seem like a no-no. The two new projections after the discussion show the difference between CDU/CSU and SPD reduced to 1.1% (ARD) and 0.8% (ZDF). ARD says there is a real possibility for equal numbers of seats - that would vindicate Schröder's tactics in the elefant round. Also: the SPD is ahead in all northern regions, the CDU/CSU only in the south.

Germany clings to the left 

SPD c. 34%, CDU/CSU c. 36%, Greens c. 8%, FDP c. 10%, Left Party c. 8%

The Red-Green coalition has been voted out, but the right coalition CDU/CSU/FDP has not won a majority. The big surprise ist the weak showing of the CDU/CSU, which the last polls saw at 41%-42%.

First analysis at 18:30: As Joachim Raschke wrote [DE]in the taz in June (I commented here): "We live in a society that has a red-green value profile, which rejects Red-Green as a government." The population did not want this government, but it was not ready to swallow the idea of a conservative government (and politicians like Paul Kirchhof) either. The result is a momentary impasse. A grand coalition is likely.

2005-09-13

Political corruption no reason for regret, says regional governor 

It's one of those stories that makes me think that the title of this weblog is spot on. At the height of the regional election campaign in Austria's Styria region, the governing conservative ÖVP is in trouble as more and more details of murky financial transactions in the direction of ÖVP-renegade Hirschmann, who is contesting the elections with his own party, come to the surface. Frankly, the whole story is too complex to be worth explaining it here in detail. Roughly, Hirschmann used to be the right hand of provinicial governor Waltraud Klasnic, but was shunned after infighting. To shut him up, circles close to Klasnic engineered money transfers worth several hundred thousand euro - to no avail, as Hirschmann chose to campaign against Klasnic regardless. Hirschmann himself comes out of the affair badly enough, and against earlier expectations his list may fail to clear the threshold for representation in the regionaly assembly, although it looks likely that he will succeed in his primary objective of revenge against Klasnic, costing her the governor job (in favour of the socialdemocrat SPÖ). The nominally communist KPÖ, which came out of nowhere with a christian-inspired campaign slogan of "To give is better than to take" (see my earlier report and discussion in the comments), is now seen at 10% in Styrian polls.

The truly remarkable part is this: Klasnic was forced yesterday to admit that she had personally asked "12-15 contacts", among them fellow ÖVP governors of other regions as well as the office of the federal chancellor, to give contracts to the public relations company Hirschmann set up after being forced out of politics. The governor of Tyrol stated [DE] that upon Klasnic's intervention he had asked the boss of a local utility company to give a contract to Hirschmann, but the governor was proud to add that he immediately had these activities cancelled as Hirschmann declared his candidature. An admission of corruption as clear as water. And this is what Klasnic had to say [DE] about her interventions for Hirschmann, which she admits in the same statement:
Back then there was no word of a candidature. I have nothing to blame myself for.

[Damals war von einer Kandidatur keine Rede. Ich habe mir nichts vorzuwerfen.]
Mrs. Klasnic is apparently honestly convinced that as long as there is no open discussion of a purpose of bribery, the process of a regional governor trying to engineer public procurement outside of legal tenders, but rather based on political preferences of the moment, is perfectly normal, perfectly acceptable and "nothing to blame herself" for. That's a lack of decency that I and many other simple-minded people find breathtaking, even after decades of experience with this country. Well deserved if this costs her the job.

Meanwhile political insider Sabine Gretner who is campaigning for a seat on the Vienna city council as a blogger on the multi-party wahlblog.at, wrote this jewel [DE] of a sentence about her future colleagues:
Some of the "professionals" [longtime members of the Vienna city council] have nothing but media talent, others have good instincts, several have experience, and many stay on the city council out of habitude.

[Manche der „profis“ haben nur ein mediales talent, andere einen guten riecher, einige erfahrung und viele bleiben aus gewohnheit im gemeinderat.]
Lucky us that have such politicians.

2005-09-09

On the buffoon system 

Norm Geras discusses interesting questions in a post titled "Following the absurd". He starts from remarks about Hitler, who can seem 'absurd' or 'inspire laughter' at a personal level - how did it happen that so many people willingly followed such a figure into the abyss of Nazi rule? But Geras's main concern is to apply this problem to our time:
It's possible there are political leaders of such manifest intelligence, dignity and other admirable qualities that they couldn't possibly appear as absurd - buffoons - within any framework of belief. I'm not sure. However, given what we know about how much systems of human belief have accommodated that is utterly preposterous (in light of available evidence, that sort of thing), there seems no great obstacle in the way of absorbing the fact that a figure of absurd appearance within one framework of belief should appear within another as someone to be followed, even worshipped. Belief systems that can clothe absurdities in the garb of unquestionable truth will surely have no more difficulty in presenting otherwise laughable figures as the representatives or incarnations of that truth.

One doesn't need to refer to the past, or to one of the most atrocious episodes in the historical record, to see this. Consider how many people there are worldwide right now looking towards a would-be religious leader who on any basis of testable knowledge appears grotesque - looking to him as a heroic, inspiring figure. And for all those who are his followers or supporters, there are others who are excusers, since between things of definite colour there will always be shades of accommodation and indulgence. On a lesser scale, we have today in this country a politician possessing many of the qualities of a buffoon - to speak only of those - and there were enough people willing to campaign and vote for this man at the last general election to secure him a seat in parliament at the expense of a better, non-buffoon, candidate. There were even, at the time, voices from the centre-left telling us that his victory was something to be celebrated.

To my mind, the thing in need of explanation is not how buffoons can appear as leaders worthy of being followed, but what the conditions are (if these can be theorized in general terms) that encourage absurd belief on a wide scale.
I think I can identify enough such 'buffoons' on a smaller scale in the Austrian political system, and across party-lines. Their relative success puzzles me. The best explanation I have is that these people manage to build a mutual relationship with a relatively large group of supporters, such as party-members, who appreciate the buffoon due to a certain - often irrational - belief the supporters hold or a personality feature they share, to which the buffoon caters. Starting from humble beginnings, the volatile and attention-craving buffon recognises that he receives positive feedback on a certain point, and over time he adapts his behaviour and becomes conditioned to act in a way so that more and more of this positive feedback will flow in his direction. In turn, his initially disparate audience comes to recognise in him a perfect representative of its cause. At this point, his personal absurdity makes him only more remarkable. The presence of a pure representation yields credence to the cause, and a group of followers rally around the buffoon. The process will work most effectively for causes that are ultimately undefendable in rational discourse, and the buffon system will end up removing its central cause from that domain and become self-contained and immune to argument.

To prevent a late catastrophic outcome when the buffoon comes to power and fails, his peers at early stages must try to stop him as soon as possible, when he is still vulnerable.

2005-09-07

Øke Norges hjelp til fattige land 

Reading economic news from Norway is like reading fairy-tales. Good therapy in moments of depression. In a post titled "Last Rich Soviet State?", Swedish ex-PM and blogger Carl Bildt relates a recent first-page headline in the Stavanger Aftenblad: "Norway risks drowning in money". Even the cautious Norwegian central bank has a hard time trying to describe "challenges ahead":
High oil prices have a different impact in Norway than in oil-importing countries. When oil prices increase, the value of Norway’s national wealth rises. The idea behind the Petroleum Fund is that the cash flow from an increase in oil prices should accrue to the Fund and be invested abroad and should not be included directly in the government budget. As a result, the increase in the cash flow will not immediately affect the domestic economy. The effect of higher oil prices will gradually be seen when the real return on the Fund measured in NOK increases. Thus, the government authorities will be able to budget a higher deficit in the years ahead. Likewise, a fall in oil prices will not have an immediate impact on the domestic economy, but result in a lower accumulation of foreign assets.

Even though the Petroleum Fund and the fiscal rule shield the Norwegian economy to a certain extent from fluctuations in the oil market, the Norwegian economy will still be affected by developments in oil prices. If changes in oil prices influence growth in the global economy, this will in turn impact Norwegian exports of traditional goods and services. Petroleum investment on the Norwegian continental shelf is another important channel. Fluctuating oil prices contribute to wide variations in petroleum investment. This has spillover effects on the mainland economy.

The value of the Petroleum Fund, measured as a percentage of GDP, will rise in the years ahead. On the other hand, Norway, like many other countries, is facing substantial fiscal challenges. The expected dependency ratio, i.e. the ratio of persons over the age of 67 to persons aged 20 to 66, will rise sharply in the years ahead. The National Insurance Scheme’s spending on old age and disability pensions, based on current social security rules, is increasing.

The return on the Petroleum Fund can only cover a small portion of the higher pension expenditure. According to Ministry of Finance calculations, funding needs equivalent to 6 per cent of GDP will still be uncovered in 2060 given an oil price of NOK 230 (2005 prices) or around USD 35 per barrel. Oil futures six to seven years ahead are now higher than this. If oil prices remain as high for the foreseeable future, the funding requirement will be somewhat lower. To base decisions on this, however, would be a very risky strategy.

Even though Norway’s petroleum wealth is substantial, it is our human resources that account for most of our national wealth. Even a small increase in the “return” on human capital might generate considerable gains. The return on this capital partly depends on our pension schemes and the application of social security rules. These should be designed in such a way that they provide incentives and opportunities to work. Labour market legislation must also promote production and employment.
Mind you, all these predictions are based on a longterm average oil price of USD 35 per barrel. One of many good things about Norway is its politics, and I think Bildt misses the point when he goes on to criticise the willingness of Norway's left-wing parties in the current election campaign - Bildt says a red-green coalition is likely - to promise significant spending increases.

As the leftist 'Sosialistisk Venstreparti' puts it in a 2-page document [NO] summarising its policy priorities:
SV vil dele godene mer rettferdig, både i Norge og i resten av verden. Norge må bidra mer for utvikling i fattige land. ... 10 milliarder kroner skal settes av til å hjelpe folk i nød.
..which I translate based on my knowledge of German as "SV wants to distribute the public goods with more justice, both in Norway and in the rest of the world. Norway must contribute more for the development of poor ['fattige'? not greasy I hope] countries. ... 10 billion kroner [1.4 billion euro] shall be set up to help peoples in need." Got to love that language.

Official indifference in New Orleans 

Histologion has assembled some telling quotations from various sources (I mean the ones after the initial section on Cuba and before the ideological spin from Znet), all of them from before hurricane Katrina, which demonstrate the apparent lack of willingness of officials to prepare organised evacuation of the poor and weak from New Orleans in case of a catastrophe.

Update: Wrong link corrected.

2005-09-05

Political bias among disaster watchers 

For those of you who haven't seen this quoted at Crooked Timber yet: in a post titled "Katrina Really IS Like September 11", Jim Henley summarized the way the New Orleans disaster has "chiefly served to confirm people in their previously held views." :
Liberals proclaim it proof of the need for a robust federal government … conservatives find themselves confirmed in their belief in the overriding importance of social order vigorously enforced, and libertarians regard the disaster and its aftermath as an exemplary failure of government. … Environmentalists amaze themselves with the realization that Katrina proves we need cars with better gas mileage and religious nuts of all persuasions discern the hand of God … Hooray! Everyone wins! Again!
To which Kieran Healy adds
But maybe Jim is being too cynical. We should be able to separate the question of how to avoid this kind of nightmare in the future from the narrower, more immediate acknowledgment that there was a huge organizational failure.
It is interesting how almost the whole of European public response seems to follow exclusively the US-liberal and environmentalist response patterns, perhaps partly influenced by US media coverage.

2005-09-02

Three thoughts on the New Orleans catastrophe 

To start with, I consider it inappropriate to link this event to global warming. As historical records show, hurricanes in general but also the strongest hurricanes are not on the rise - see the charts by EU Rota, which are based on this table from the National Hurricane Center (via Chrenkoff).

There are however three issues that are important:

  1. It is imaginable how difficult the decisionmaking by the responsible people was during the days before the disaster, under conditions of high uncertainty. Earlier evacuation planning would have helped, but only on Saturday it became clear that a hit on New Orleans was likely. And while scenarios involving overflowing levees were widely considered, nobody believed in the possibility of a breach (according to the NYT).
    "We knew if it was going to be a Category 5, some levees and some flood walls would be overtopped," ... said [Greg Breerwood, deputy district engineer for project management at the Army Corps of Engineer]. "We never did think they would actually be breached." The uncertainty of the storm's course affected Pentagon planning.

    "We did not have precision on where it would make landfall," said Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, the head of the National Guard Bureau. "It could have been anywhere from Texas all the way over to Florida."
  2. The same NYT-article discusses the lack of consideration given to the evacuation of the poorest inhabitants. This is deeply worrying.
    By Sunday, Katrina had become a Category 5 hurricane, with winds of 175 miles per hour. The president extended the emergency declaration to Mississippi and Alabama. Mayor Nagin, who had urged New Orleans residents to flee on Saturday, ordered a mandatory evacuation.

    It would have been up to local officials, a FEMA spokeswoman said, to hire buses to move people without transportation out of the city. ...

    Brian Wolshon, an engineering professor at Louisiana State University who served as a consultant on the state's evacuation plan, said little attention was paid to moving out New Orleans's "low-mobility" population - the elderly, the infirm and the poor without cars or other means of fleeing the city, about 100,000 people.

    At disaster planning meetings, he said, "the answer was often silence."
  3. This leads me to the third point. If a comparable catastrophe happened in my own city, Vienna, what would be the outcome? Luckily for this town, there is no plausible candidate for a comparable event except unlikely scenarios of a huge earthquake or a nuclear disaster, but I want to abstract away from this fact and the corresponding dearth of systematic preparations. I ask myself this question: would there be civil disorder on a similar scale, armed looters and rapists marauding in the streets?

    Certainly there is no reason to believe in any sense that there would be a higher level of human civility in this place than in New Orleans. Certainly not. Yet, I think there would be less anarchy here. The reason for this assumption is that I do perceive society here to be more equal, more integrative of its weakest members. A negative way of viewing this is the strong reliance of people here on a well-functioning state that cares for them, that solves material problems for them. There is often reason to envy US society for the independence of US citizens from the state, for their self-reliance and resulting entrepreneurialism. This probably contributes to a more dynamic economy, faster economic growth and therefore less unemployment in the United States than in continental Europe. But doesn't it maybe also create large numbers of people at the bottom of the welfare scale who feel disenfranchised by the state, and who have little allegiance to the common good at the political level? Even if a highly liberalised economic system is more efficient than one of the continental European type, is there not in the European model a greater robustness against social desaster at the bottom? If so, I would consider this politically valuable.

Final Result of Albanian Election 2005 


Two months after election day, yesterday the Albanian Central Electoral Commission has at last published the final result of the 2005 general election in that country. The process was so slow because in the face of defeat the outgoing left-wing government contested many individual results, and a rerun had to be held in three seats in the second half of August. Complaints continued even after that. Only in the last couple of weeks the previously dominant PS (Socialist Party) of PM Fatos Nano hesitantly found its way to public acceptance of its defeat, albeit by accusing the opposition of having won through manipulations only. For the outside observer, it seems hard to believe that the opposition in any country would be able to do that.

Fatos Nano stepped down as chairman of the PS after publication of the final result, but it is not excluded [AL] that he will seek another nomination to the same post, which would thwart any hopes for a generation change in Albanian politics that would get rid of the longstanding vitriolic antagonism between Nano and Sali Berisha of the PD (Democratic Party).

For now however, it is the day of ex-president Sali Berisha, who will return to power as prime minister of the country eight years after he was toppled by anarchic unrest triggered by the collapse of several pyramid games of epic proportions. Berisha, while hailing [AL] the demise of his long-term rival, had to admit that the setup of his coalition government is still not finalised [AL] after the long summer, but assured that it was approaching completion. Berisha's coalition will have 81 of 140 seats in the new parliament, which means that his moderate coalition partners PR and PDR together will have enough votes to topple him if necessary.

This concludes the coverage of this election at this blog, previous entries are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here , and here.

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