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Showing posts from June, 2008

This above all else...

What has happened in Zimbabwe is hateful... the regime that swore it would fight for freedom ended up being the enemy of freedom. The price has been, instead of the country being a benchmark for freedom, it has ended up being a benchmark for tyranny. President Mbeki, has revealed himself as indecisive at best- and a man in deep denial about the nature of the regime in Harare. He does not think that the "winners" need account for themselves. However, the agenda remains how to eliminate the political crime, rather than acknowledge "what happened" - and those gathering at Sharm-El-Sheik need only decide how to ostracise the tyrant. In the end the AU -and South Africa in particular- will need to commit troops to police the ruined country. The question now is whether they have the political courage to prevent the final lurch into collapse. After the bitter words from the Gabonese President, the answer is clearly that they do not. It is not the duty of the West to interve

Celtic Kitten

Much has been made of why the Irish voted No to the Lisbon treaty. However few have pointed out some of the fundamental changes in the Irish economy over the past five years. Ireland was historically a country where land ownership bestowed particular power, and it was on that root that the economic dominance of the Protestant ascendancy rested. Despite the gradual reduction in the power of the agricultural lobby which was the mainstay of the Republic until the 1980's, land and property has retained a talismanic role in the Irish psyche. It is one reason why property ownership in Ireland has assumed a far greater role than virtually any other place in Europe. More to the point, Irish property investment has straddled borders. The Irish property millionaires have invested heavily across Europe, ans especially in the markets of Central and Eastern Europe. Yet investing for rent, rather than to create added value carries with it particular risks, and sure enough, many Irish investors h

Outvoting Democracy

The institutional inertia of the EU is strong, but there is no doubt that there are better solutions to the Irish NO vote to the Lisbon treaty than hoping it will go away or trying to ignore it. If there had been a referendum in every member state and only Ireland had rejected the treaty, then there might be some ground to suggest that some way round the situation might be sought. In fact, of course Ireland was the only state to submit the treaty to a vote. It is pretty clear that several other states, if a vote had been called, might well have rejected the treaty too. Some reforms are needed: democratic oversight in the EU needs to be increased, and more powers returned to the national Parliaments. The internal voting system should be made fairer and the confusion over the legal personality of the Union and the way it handles its external relations needs to be improved. However it does not automatically need the Lisbon treaty to undertake these reforms. For the time being the systems

Wish fulfillment?

Ambrose Evans Pritchard , the business columnist of the Daily Telegraph has an agenda: he does not support the Euro. Fair enough. He writes a lot about the problems he sees with the currency Also, fair enough. His latest story on the subject is that Germans are now no longer accepting Euro notes with serial numbers that show that they are printed in Latin countries like Spain (prefix letter V) or Italy (prefix letter S), and are swapping these for notes with the German prefix X. If true, then this is extremely serious, since it implies that German consumers might refuse to accept non-German notes and that would effectively end the currency union. The trouble is, I can find no other reference to this behaviour anywhere. Wherever I have looked, the single reference for the story is the story itself and nothing else. Has Evans Pritchard just printed a story that he would like to be true? If so he has committed the cardinal crime of any journalist. He must give a source for this story,

The Irish Question for David Cameron

David Cameron is reported to be "delighted" at the result of the Irish referendum. In which case, he has now added Sinn Fein to the list of rather unsavoury European parties that the Conservatives are prepared to form expedient alliances with. SF joins Putin's United Russia (already allied with the Tories in the Council of Europe) and the Italian Fascist Party (potential allies in the European Parliament, after the Conservatives leave the EPP) in the Blue corner. The problem, it seems to me, is that the Conservative party remains very unclear about what it wants from the European Union. It makes angry denunciations of the organisation, addressing its many shortcomings in almost apocalyptic language, but when you ask Conservatives whether they actually want to leave the EU, they usually pause and then say "No". In that sense, the scorn that UKIP and others on the right pour on the Tories is justified- the only logical stance that one can take if you agree with t

Liberty & Safety

"Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety " Ben Franklin That a citizen should not be held unjustly is a fundamental principle of democratic freedom. It is the root of our entire system of law and justice. It is why a suspect must face charges quickly after being taken into custody. From the Magna Carta of 1215, we derive the law of Habeas Corpus - the fundamental principle that the state may not imprison the individual unlawfully. The United Kingdom is a country rooted on these democratic principles, and in its history it has faced many extreme challenges: external ones like war and internal challenges, like the IRA terror campaign. Sometimes under the pressure of these challenges the country has abandoned elements of due process- internment in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, for example- but when it has done so, it has always been counter-productive. When Gordon Brown proposed arrest without charges

Oil Shock

For those of us that (just about) remember the early 1970s, the headlines over the past few months are acquiring a dismally familiar look. Although much has changed in nearly forty years, the fact is that despite the two oil shocks of the 1970s, the industrialised world did not take the opportunity to wean itself from unsustainable dependence on oil. All through the 1970s there was much discussion concerning energy efficiency and conservation. In the end though, as the oil price began to fall, not only were conservation measures blunted, there was even a return to extravagance and profligacy- how else to explain the advent of the Hummer? Oil prices have been rising steadily for some years now, as the market began to factor in the dramatic increase in demand from newly emergent economies of China and India. In a sense, the transfer of manufacturing production from America and Europe to Asia has brought a slightly unforeseen consequence- these economies are dramatically less energy effic

Where does the EU go from here?

Europe is a poisonous issue in British politics. The debate touches some of the most visceral points in the British body politic. In the end the debate about British membership of the European Union is, at its most basic level, a debate about identity. Those who are most opposed to the EU regard it as a threat to the very idea of Britain and to British identity. Those most in favour sometimes support the EU for precisely the same reasons. The debate is conducted through megaphones, with both sides predicting apocalypse should the other side prevail. The debate has been growing more urgent since the collapse of communism and the reunification of Germany. Up until that time, the key relationship was between West Germany and France. After the reunification of Germany the balance of power changed substantially. Haunted by the fear that a united Germany would be more assertive, France hoped to create a European Union that would align the interests of the members more closely. The result was

In for a penny...

The continuing travails of the financial markets, and the developing problems in the real economy is confusing political thinkers across the spectrum. In particular, there is a real sense of concern in Britain over the financial politics of the Euro. Many economists argue that the creation of the currency union has already brought about substantial convergence, and there is certainly substantial evidence that many countries using the single currency are moving their cycles into alignment. However, it is also true to say that within the bloc there are also several significant divergences, and the single interest rate has proven very problematic- too high at times for the core economies, but so low that it has created a credit boom in Ireland, Spain and other so-called Club-Med states. The key question is whether the economies in the Euro-Zone are sufficiently convergent to avoid a breakdown in the system. Many, such as Liam Halligan, in this article for the Daily Telegraph , argue that

Dear Prudence...

The OECD - the club of relatively rich states has spoken unusually forthrightly about British government finances. In particular it highlight "unique risks' that the government now faces: unable to cut taxes in the face of the gathering downturn. After the early years of Brown-Blairism, most of us got pretty sick of the endless mantra of "prudence", "prudence with a purpose", and "an end to boom-bust". We saw it for the flannel that it was, and understood that much of the so-called prudent margins for error were simply accounting tricks. Meanwhile, by dint of such "off balance sheet" tricks as the PFI and the PPP, the overall level of government obligations (as opposed to recorded government debt) has grown explosively. Debt is up, but guarantees and other obligations are now truly enormous- just the contracts related to defence are now rather larger than the annual defence budget. It is also difficult to see how contracts are being po

Polish Ebb tide

A few years ago there was a great deal of alarmist nonsense talked and written about the influx of Labour from the countries that joined the European Union in 2004. In particular, there was considerable concern that thousands of Poles would swamp the UK. In fact, as we now know, it did not happen like that. These "economic migrants" were precisely that. Since they had an easy travel regime, they came to the UK freely, but they also left, equally freely. In fact several economists have suggested that the advantage that Britain has had over the past few years in economic performance against France was solely because Britain adopted a more liberal attitude to workers coming from Eastern Europe. For sometime now, the tide has been in the other direction, and Poles and others are returning home . We now notice that the restrictions that the government put up against workers from Romania and Bulgaria when they joined the European Union were, as Liberal Democrats argued at the time,

So farewell then...

While quite a few people are doubtless going to get demi EJ Thribb about the demise of the candidature of Hilary Rodham Clinton, I must admit to laughing a lot at this Adam Smith Institute reaction....

Taleb triumphant

As regular readers here will know, I am a big fan of the philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb . So I was pleased to see the considerable attention that he has been gaining since the emergence of the credit crisis- the latest is a profile in the Times . He follows in the sceptical traditions of Sextus Empiricus although possibly his determination to avoid prediction makes him reluctant even to describe the systems that he observes in Human behaviour. Perhaps this is part of the intrinsic problem of uncertainty- to describe certain conditions is also to change them. Perhaps more interestingly, he has also demonstrated the practical results of the sceptical mindset- not least in understanding risk within financial markets and in the wider world of economics. His view is clear: human beings are over confident in handling uncertainty- and the world is more uncertain than our brains expect. Humans try to determine patterns, and as a result they tend to see them, even when no pattern actually

A Principled Stand?

I see in the Times this morning, Gordon Brown says that he will stick to his principles and insist on detention without trial for 42 days as part of a package of "anti terrorist" measures. So, let me get this right. He intends to ram through a totally unnecessary piece of legislation that rides rough shod over much of habeus corpus - one of the most fundamental freedoms in our country. He intends to do this despite the fact that the majority of the population is opposed to the measure, and so is most of the House of Commons. He is acting, despite the concerns of the Council of Europe, the major human rights body in our region. So his "principles" involve ignoring democracy and reducing British freedom. And all of this is somehow supposed to make him more popular ? There really is no hope for the man, I just hope he is out of office as soon as is practical, and before any more of his "principles" can actually be enacted.


I know, I know... it went too far. 17 people were arrested, stations were closed, the already ho-hum weekend service on the tube was disrupted. On the other hand, what a party! Tens of thousands of people came out to drink on the London tube. The occasion being the first act of the new mayor, Boris, which was to ban drinking on the tube. I got caught up on my way home. The first or the last coaches were filled with people. Some were in Black tie. Some were in Rugby shirts, some (after a couple of circuits on the Circle Line) has lost their shirts. Almost all were raucous, loud and cheerful. To a man- or more rarely,woman- it was **** Boris! Even though, I suspect, that a large number of them had voted for him. So Why, then? Not because it was about alcohol- though lets face it, the Brits have love/love relationship with the demon drink. Yet I'll wager that very few out last night had ever drunk on the tube before. The issue is about freedom. People are sick of being treated as thou