Tuesday, August 23, 2005

My favorite kind of civil war

Maybe we need more shooting in Iraq than less in order to hope for a functioning state one day? Click here to resolve the paradox.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A little marital discussion

He "called on judges yesterday to respond to the nation’s demand for protection by upholding stringent new anti-terrorism laws. He backed controversial police demands to detain suspects without charge for longer than 14 days and promised a fresh look at the use of telephone tap evidence in terrorist cases." See here.

She thinks that:"it is all too easy for us to respond to such terror in a way which undermines commitment to our most deeply held values and convictions and which cheapens our right to call ourselves a civilised nation". See here.

I think Cherie and Tony, have some talking to do. Tony, don't listen too much to that lawyer talk.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Histoire de belge

The French have this expression, une histoire de Belge, to describe something stupid that happened. I have two, first pork chops that were blown up out of precaution.

The second histoire relates to the first, namely the presence or absence of emergency plans for when things go wrong in Brussels (as for example with terrorist attacks becoming a part of weekly reality in Europe).

Sunday, July 24, 2005

On Islam

Doug Giles, an American conservative has two sarcastic columns on the recent terrorist acts in London and on that religion that is loosely associated with those acts. See here and here.

The greatest Belgian

... it is a complete oxymoron. But the best suggestions I read in an old newspaper of Het Laatste Nieuws, a flemish newspaper. Devriese suggested some time ago it should be Kuifje, also known as Tin Tin, the famous comic book figure of Herge. Why is he the greatest Belgian? Devriese's answer: "an imaginary hero from an imaginary country".

My favorite challengers are Rene Magritte because we Belgians live in a surrealist state. But my alltime favorite is Flor Grammens. (if you google on his name, something should come up). He was also a painter, far less creative than Magritte but a respectful painter anyway.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Ohio

The buckeye state and the feudal continent are in the same need. To reread Laffer, and have a look at his most beautiful curve. See opinionjournal.com

Sad Sad Sad Day

Belgium exists 175 years. Why does this make me sad? For a number of things, but looking at some salaries already makes me puke:

King Albert 6.048.602 euro
Queen Fabiola 1.115.521 euro
Prince Filip 788.302 euro
Laurent / Astrid 272.683 euro

Long live Moneyarchy!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Livingstone

Livingstone also said that he does not distinguish between members of Likud and Hamas, branding them "two sides of the same coin."

Yes, terrorist organizations and democratic parties are really the same. What has he been smoking? If there is one nation that knows how important it is to stop these attacks, then it is Israel and Likud. (However, some say that Likud is too compromising, and that the withdrawal from Gaza is perceived as a victory by the Palestinians which reheats the whole conflict. See here and here.)

Anyway, Livingstone likes to flirt with the Muslim voter at the expense of Jews and gays.

Virgil is in the news

First of all because George W. Bush. See the satirical magazine the Onion.

And secondly because of the terrorist attacks in London, who says terrorism has to mention somewhere along the road immigration, and if you mention immigration in GB, you have to mention Enoch Powell citing Virgil. See here and here.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Blaming the victim

I am currently reading Sowell's new book "Black Rednecks and White Liberals" (which is in fact a collection of larger essays). In his recent column he refers to the critics of the book. Like always he dedicated large part of his analysis to cultural factors which are often, too often negative. He reacts to the criticism:

This is not about "blaming the victim." Nobody can be blamed for the culture he was born into. But neither should he be kept mired in that culture, in the name of "identity" or with the pretense that all cultures are equal.

The politics of minories

Ruben Navarette has some nice observations about the democracts and republicans and the minority vote. See here.

"It's obvious that what concerns them is not that these nominees aren't real minorities, but rather that they aren't their kind of minority. You know, the kind that asks for permission before they speak and makes sure that what they say falls in line with the views of their liberal benefactors."

For the record, the quote is about the democrats.

Iraq: the nature-nurture debate

The IHT has an article about the relevance of evolutionary psychology and Iraq:
"The natural impulse to dislike outsiders is so strong that it barely matters who the outsiders are. When experimental psychologists divide subjects into purely arbitrary groups - by the color of their eyes, their taste in art, the flip of a coin - the members of a group quickly become so hostile to the other group that they'll try to deny rewards to the outsiders even at a cost to themselves. And when the members of a group really have something in common, like family ties, they're willing to fight outsiders even if it means their own deaths. Xenophobia produced genetic rewards for hunter-gatherer clans."

Genes however seem to allow for some variation in that dislike around the world. The experiments I know of, do not lead to terrorist attacks on the basis of who has which eyecolor. For those who have more affinity with the nurture explanation than the nature explanation there is still T.E. Lawrence:
"The Semites' idea of nationality," he wrote, "was the independence of clans and villages, and their ideal of national union was episodic combined resistance to an intruder. Constructive policies, an organized state, an extended empire, were not so much beyond their sight as hateful in it. They were fighting to get rid of Empire, not to win it."

Monday, July 04, 2005

Book review: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

I once had the rule never to read New York Times bestsellers. I did not when I read John Perkins' book however I should have sticked to that rule. Confessions of an Economic Hitman is an autobiography which contains more information that the reader cares to read. In the preface we are already confronted with the author' sexual frustration and his anger towards his parents -which is mentioned because that is one of the main reasons why he ended up being an economic hit man (EHM). An EHM tries to get money from an international institution for a developing nation and then slush it through to his employer.

The book thus definately has an antiglobalist core to it. It is also not just an autobiography but mostly a tool to show that the US is greedy and together with multinational companies the source of all evil. In the preface, the author utters the classic leftist idea that terrorism is caused by poverty -which plenty of researchers have proved false but the author is not bothered by any evidence. Next he disputes "the idea that all economic growth benefits humankind and the greater the growth, the more widespread the benefits". Let us all move to Myanmar, North Korea or Cuba because these countries are at least not part of the 'global empire', as Perkins describes it. Another example "in many cases helping an economy grow only makes those few people who sit atop the pyramid even richer, while it does nothing for those at the bottom except to push them even lower". Marx is alive and kicking. Need more? "They (his capitalist colleagues) were convinced that communism and terrorism were evil forces" writes Perkins, "rather than the predictable reactions to decisions they and their predecessors had made". Hmmm, Perkins do we need to reappricate communism (with more than 100 million casualties) and terrorism?

Let us assume for now that the author was indeed an EHM, and what he factually describes is true. What do we learn from this? To be even more sceptical of development aid. I dont know if John Perkins realizes this but his book is again a story against empowering governments and political bodies in giving aid.

I am reminded of the fact that those countries that receive aid and money are the least capable of handling the aid. They do not have the institutions therefore aid and development as conceived by Bono, Geldof and others is dangerously naive. It only serves one purpose to make the organizers and those who attend to feel better. Countries are stimulated this way to be corrupt, and moreover they are being rewarded for being corrupt. When emotions guide decision-making, we are all worse off.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Quote of the day

Once I had to read Lani Guinier's book Tyranny of the Majority for a seminar on American government. I disliked the book a lot -in short because if we assume that tyranny by the majority exists, replacing it by a tyranny of the minority is even worse.

Anyway, one of the most discussed ideas of her book is so-called proportional voting. Instead of giving everybody one vote, you give people several votes. Minorities then can use these votes en bloc and gain power from this bundling of votes. (At least that is the theoretical idea, if I recall well.)

Paul Jacobs, an American conservative makes fun of her while discussing the debate over the future replacement of Supreme Court judge O'Connor.
"So, if these nominees don't please Democrats in the Senate or the Washington interest groups, perhaps there is another way. Take a page from Lani Guinier and establish a form of weighted voting. So, rather than pick a brand new justice, simply let Clarence Thomas vote twice on every decision."

Dutch Radio and TV

Interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, if you believe that the media is not biased... here. Some interviews are more decent. For the story of Wouter Buikhuizen, see here. Hans Jansen on live8 and other so-called aid at vrijheid radio. And last but not least, click here for an interview with Hans Werdmölder on his new book.

Various issues

Suicide terrorism?
Which nationality do suicide terrorists have in Iraq? See here.

Picture of the day:
Stalin was bankrobber, Ahmadinejad a hostagetaker ...See here.

For the tennis freaks :
Two 'losers' make a winning team; see here.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Clash of Cultures

Frits Bolkestein (Universiteit Leiden), Ian Buruma (auteur "Occidentalism"), John Gray (London School of Economics) and Hassan Hanafi (Cairo University) participated in a debate of the Dutch liberal party VVD on the clash of cultures (the term originally comes from Bernard Lewis and NOT from Samuel Huntington).

Most speakers were older, and I guess quite sentimental and fond of (intellectual) history. So the actual topic of the debate was the Enlightenment and its different meanings. In the end I agreed mostly with Bolkestein, and less with Gray and Buruma, and certainly not with Hanafi.
Why?

Buruma was going on about the detrimental effect of the nationstate (later joined by Hanafi). The implicit argument thus was: religion doesnt matter. Hanafi was telling us lies, plain lies. I ll give you two: (1) Islam is secular, (2) in Islam there is a personal relationship between the believer and God.

Detail: a former student of Hanafi, Dr. Nasr Abou Zeid had to flee Egypt because he basically said that the Koran although the word of God should be seen as a document of its time. This is how far the personal relationship goes. No comments were made by Hanafi on the influence of the clerus or e.g. the Al Azhar university which resides also in Cairo.

Too often there is too much respect in these debates. Sometimes it would be better if somebody knocked on the table and said: bullshit! (Harry G. Frankfurt has written a small book on this topic.)

Thursday, June 30, 2005

The difficulty of shaking hands

First in The Netherlands where an imam refused to shake hands with female minster Verdonk, now in Belgium where an Iranian delegation had the same problem.

What does the left say about respect again? And should not director Dewitte of the Center against Racism and Discrimination intervene? Or are these mere cultural differences...

PS Shall we read an article in the magazine Mo next week on this issue?

UPDATE: After refusing to shake hands, they refused to attend a reception at which alcohol would be served. See here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

2X2 great bloggers

Alex Tabarrok and Tyler Cowen are to be admired at www.marginalrevolution.com, Bryan Caplan and Arnold Kling at http://econlog.econlib.org/ Here is a piece in the Wall Street Journal on half of each couple.

I confess...

... I did not know it untill I saw this website but I am one: an enviro-capitalist!

On the same issue of a while ago, Dick Cheney and ... no, not Halliburton but the Ivory-Billed-Woodpecker. Hmmm, both issues have to do somethings with bills.

MO and NEY

A while ago somebody asked me which newspaper or weekly is more to the right and which one is more to the left? The answer for the Flemish editorial landscape is very simple. There are none on the right side, only on the wrong -excuse me- left side.

Once in a while Trends or Knack will publish something that has some economical common sense to it, but in general they also drown in socialist rethorics. There is even worse. If you take a subscription to Knack you automatically get this magazine called Mo (Mondiaal Magazine) too, which is by the way (partly) paid for by the DGOS, Belgian development cooperation (read the taxpayer).

This week they have an article with the title "we need more taxes"... yeah sure, we get the logic -> more taxes -> more DGOS -> more for MO!!! It is all about the MO, MO, MOney.

Never is there a substantial argument that more taxes will lead to a better world. It all about making it sound nicely, throw in words like moral, ethics, obligation, etc... not bothered at all by any knowledge of econonics. People rather hear nice lies, than ugly truths. Forget that East European countries with the flat tax leave poverty faster than those who do not have a flat tax. But yeah, facts ... who need facts? Neo-Marxism is alive and kicking.

By the way, an article on Mugabe's this week would not have been a bad idea... but no again anti-capitalism, anti-Israel, ... fills the pages, paid by the taxpayers.

PS The economist has some facts on the flat tax. See here and here.

On the rule of law

Daniel Pipes notes the following:

"Quick elections solve little. Often they make matters worse by strengthening fundamentalist elements, these usually being the best organized and the citizenry not being ready to make fully informed electoral decisions. Instead, we should press for more modest goals: political participation, the rule of law (including an independent judiciary), freedom of speech and religion, property rights, minority rights, and the right to form voluntary organizations (especially political parties). In short, we should urge the formation of a civil society. Elections are not the start of the democratic process but its capstone and finale, the signal that a civil society has indeed come into existence."

I agree with Pipes. But his "modest goals" are the toughest goals and therefore extremely ambitious.

Belgian Marshallplan, another absurdity

Aiaiaiaiaiaiaiai, the PS is serious about their new so-called Marshallplan. See here.

They still haven't realize that all the transfers that take place now (coming from Flanders and from the EU), exceed by at least three or four times annualy the level of the Marshallplan which was in contrary limited in time.

Peter Bauer where are thou?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Dying to Win

National Public Radio has two pieces on suicide attacks, in which Robert Pape comments on the logic of these attacks.

There is little one can do against madness. But when madness proves to be rational in the most perverse way, there is perhabs even less to do?

When atheists start loving the pope...

Oriana Fallaci has in a recent interview put her trust in nobody else than the new pope. Quite an amazing decision for any atheist. (Also amazing that a 76 year old is putting the future in the hands of a ...78 year old.)

Strange bedfollows indeed, Fallaci and Ratzinger. Some would say that the principle: the enemy of the enemy is my friend can explain to length such sympathies. Recently some other atheist explained it to me as searching a counterweight for multiculturalism (with Islam as a central issue). That counterweight is then the Catholic Church or Christianity in general.

We are reminded here of the great historian Edward Gibbon who wrote The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire over two hundred years ago in which he commented not only on Christianity but also on Islam.

Gibbon makes no secret of his admiration of the Turks, and he derides both the effeminate Greeks and the crude Franks who went on the First Crusade? Why?The simple answer is that Gibbon was a religious skeptic, and like other skeptics of the 18th century, he was irritated by Christian morality that told him to take only one wife, whom he could not divorce. The sensuality of the Muslim view of life and the afterlife and the cynicism of its politics appeals to the imagination of anti-Christian skeptics of every age and, at the very least, prepares them to take the Muslim side in very Balkan war.

For the entire piece, see here.

"Inburgeringstraject"

I agree, it is a long and difficult word. What does it mean? Hmmm.

Well you have the newcomers, all sort of immigrants (refugees, family reunion etc) and they have to get accustumed to their new society so we the government organize these courses for them.

So far these 'courses' are costing 2,500 Euro's a person. If the US had payed that much for every immigrants they received over the past hundreds of years, they would have gone bankrupt. Also the responsible minister Marino Keulen agrees in GvA that that is too much money. What will be done about it?

I am sceptic that apart from solving some language problems these kind of courses will make any difference. And we know that once a program exists it will be hard to cut down.

The big-company-leftism

You leave the world a week alone... and what do you find out when you are back? Quite a lot of things but one being more surprising of the other, the recent supreme court decision in Kelo v. City of New London , No. 04-108 (see also the Washington Post.)

What is the deal? The supreme court (Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer) ok'ed that local governments can seize people's homes and businesses, when they see economic reasons in terms of development to do so and this against the will of the owners.

UPDATE. Here is an interview with a senior attorney of the plaintiffs.
UPDATE II: Souter's House, soon a Hotel?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Minorities and the Markets

Amy Chua wrote an interesting book, The World on Fire: how exporting free market democracy breeds ethnic hatred and global instability. See here for an interview.

The thought is that certain 'entrepreneurial minorities' (e.g. the Jews and the Chinese) are the principle benefactors of economic openess... the majority is not too happy about this and that creates ressentment with all sorts of terrible consequences.

It seems difficult to solve this issue but Chua seems to believe a little too much in affirmative action politicies. (In this sense the interview is a bit too Rawlsian.)

In my eye they never solve solve the issue and are quite likely to aggravate the ethnic tensions. See a recent book of Sowell.

UPDATE. There is also an interesting chapter (entrepreneurial minorities) in the book Essential Outsiders of Daniel Chirot. Here the socio-economic of the Jews in Europe in the 19th century is compared to that of the Chinese diaspora in Asia in the 20th century.

Operation Murambatsvina

It basically means 'drive out trash', and it is the new campaign of Robert Mugabe. The goal of which is to strengthen the powerbase of the 81th year old dictator.
The U.N. estimates up to 1.5 million people were left homeless after police
burned or demolished their shacks in what the government calls a clean up
campaign in the cities.

Anyway Mugabe was already mad, but he seems to move more closer to Mao, Stalin or Pol Pot everyday in terms of victims of his regime.

Mugabe seems to be doing exactly the opposite of what somebody like Hernando De Soto would advise him to do. And that is the legalization of property of the poor and not destroying it.

Quote of the day

It is an old one of Arnie on the Democrats in California and his recent proposals.
“We’re going to go to the people. They (Democrats) can do whatever they want,
but this train has left the station. They can jump on the train, they can stay
behind and wave goodbye, or they can stand in front of the train, and you know
what happens then.”

The European train is still in the station I am afraid... or it derailed.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The insitutionalization of Islam

The thought is "put it into a formal form, that of an institution" and you will be able to control and use it more to your advantage. Officially it is mostly formulated this way "the government needs a communication partner with the Muslim community" which means "the government is desperate and sees no way out anymore". (Even France has gone this way, and the French are not likely in general to follow what can be called the British model.)

The Belgian Muslim Council is thus supposed to be an instrument for the government have a better knowledge of what is going in the environment of the different Muslim communities in Belgium. "If we subsidize the whole thing, they will listen better...."

Despite the fact that Islam means peace (it doesn't), the Belgian security service needs to screen each candiate. I guess that has its reasons. I believe that the first time over 20 of the 68th candidates were refused... somewhat comparable with the recent elections in Iran. Here supposedly the fundamentalists, there the moderates. Nevertheless in a number of cases, the political establishment did not find it wise to follow the advise of the security service, so a number of extremists were welcomed. Instead of dealing with a problem of religious fundamentalism, the goverment is encouraging it.

What is the problem now? The previous executive board of that council blocked the building, so the newly elected council could not enter. Anyway, these Muslim councils seem to have quite a lot of problems. In France, in jaruary the last woman quitted a similar council. Again a perfect example how the solution to a problem becomes an even bigger problem. See also here and here. And what about the following claim:
"Only about 10% of French Muslims pray at mosques regularly, a fact secular Muslims cite to argue that the CFCM is not representative of all Muslims here."

So the argument can well be made that the government is worsening integration and as such achieving what it wants to avoid in first place: problems of integration. What happened to the separation of church and state, or better mosque and church?

It is the attitude, stupid! II

Economists typically have little eye for irrational behavior as it is too difficult to model. And the homo economicus is typically a rational actor. However when irrational behavior comes about, there are two ways out, one of them is behavioral economics which has its focus on the individual level; the other option is economic sociology, which has more focus on the group level.

Go out now and read Edward Banfield's The moral basis of a backward society, a book on a small Southern Italian village. Although it is a small book I believe it contains quite a few lessons on economic development, not only for Italy ...

Let's look at today's Iraq. Steven Vincent reports in National Review from Basra on what he calls 'self-defeating behavior'. The examples are quasi-absurd:
-a 911 line that receives 95% of useless calls,
-collecting the garbage that is already collected,
-having a weekend from thuersday to friday,
-...

But again why wouldn't democracy florish in the Middle East? Which cultural obstacles?

Steven Pinker, segregation and immigration?

I recently read The Blank slate from Steven Pinker, a very inspiring book. The biggest lesson of the book is for me is that family doesnt matter that much, but genes and also the environment matter much more. With environment he refers to peers etc.

I was wondering how does this connect to the issue of mixed schools (with immigrants and natives) and to mixed neighborhoods? These are issues that have in the debate quite a lot, in both The Netherlands and Belgium (and I assume other European countries as well).

If the environment and the peers matter that much with regard to certain behaviorial traits then we would be in favor of a more mixed situation. (How to achieve this mix is another question.)

It's the attitude, stupid!

The welfare-state has become unaffordable. Taxes are too high. etc. One way of solving the problem, at least on a theoretical level is more immigration. Unfortunately many young immigrants (Turks and Moroccans) are unemployed.

This has many reasons, some point to poor schooling or bad language skills (in short human capital). Other say that discrimination and racism is rampant. Depending on the explanation of the unemployement different suggestions are being made. Some say we need quota, mostly those on the left side (we already know that quota's and affirmative action programs do not work very well. see research of Sowell). The VLD liberal Bart Somers has recently discussed another issue: mentality of the immigrants. See also here.
I think this is a big explanatory factor. A politically incorrect factor but a very significant one.

Human capital explanation thus should be comprised of cognitive factors (IQ, education) but also of socalled non-cognitive factors such as motivation and persistence. These latter factors, mentiality and attitude are a lot less tangible and left out of the picture by many economists (other social scientists leave them out for political correctness). Nobel price winner Heckman is doing some important work on these issues. (see here for an interview, and here for a short wrapup).

What does Heckman suggest? Well he says that non-cognitive factors can be influenced at later age (after 8) while purely cognitive factors are more difficult to change.

"Because non-cognitive skills are more easily improved during adolescence than are cognitive skills and they often stabilize in the formative years, public policy can help stimulate their development over longer periods. For instance, while IQ is well set by age 8, non-cognitive skills such as dependability continue to develop."
With regard to immigration, I only know of George Borjas who has talked briefly about these issues in relation to his concept of ethnic capital. But it has not exactly been empirically verified so far.

Time to buy this book.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Thomas and Thomas

Recently I complained to no American conservative columnists of townhall.com came to the rescure of Clarence Thomas recent dissent in a decision of the Supreme Court. (see Clarence and the pot smokers)

Anyway there is one thing you need to know about Clarence, from a legal dictionary:

In 1975, when Thomas read Race and Economics by economist Thomas Sowell, he found an intellectual foundation for this philosophy. The book criticized social reforms by government and instead argued for individual action to overcome circumstances and adversity. Thomas later said the book changed his life.


Now Sowell is backing up Clarence, finally.

What do Canada and N-Korea/Cuba have in common?

Choose from the following answers:
(1) succesfull hockeyplayers
(2) they are heading the same political direction
(3) are all neighbours of the US
(4) are all part of the axis of evil

Enough ... I will tell you what they have in common. It has something to do with the health care system. Sally Pipes, in Opinionjournal.com; Canada is the only nation other than Cuba and North Korea that bans private health insurance.
However the public health system doesnt seem to be working very well. The Canadian supreme court said that "access to a waiting list is not access to health care".

PS Thanks God that Robert Stevaert moved already to Limburg to become 'governor of the province' there. Considering his fascination for Cuba he could very well have been in favor on the Canadian ban.

The way democracy works?

Lets all just pretend like nothing happened. By the way the word 'yes' is not too different from the word 'no'. People were just not paying attention at these referenda. They were kidding a bit. And what did they know about such complicated issues? So here comes a Belgian suggestion:
"Belgium continues its call for the ratification process of the European Constitution to go ahead as planned despite the resounding "No" from France and the Netherlands."

What is protest?

If 25 people entered your house and block your house with haystacks, would you call that protest? Not exactly right.

Well if it is Greenpeace, and the house is a compagny it is called 'protest' or even better: 'action'! Nothing is safe in this in country for eco-fundamentalism. Time for some Danish solutions to these illegal activities.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Quote of the day

Funny Liberals

Don't ask me why but Belgian liberals are shy of tax cuts. The prime minister wants to replace taxes on labor with consumption taxes. We need tax cuts more than 'tax changes'.

It is a bit like biking on an old an rusty bike (the Belgian economy) with only some air left in both tires. So both should be pumped up. No, what does Verhofstadt suggest? That we should pump up one tire, and leave some more air out of the other tire. Will that make us bike any faster?

It was a bit the same on the recent convention of the liberal party VLD about the flat tax. It was there that another Belgian invention reached the surface: the "step-tax". A flat tax with two levels. And they still dare to call it flat tax. Why will the liberals loose the elections again?

One smart man left...

There is at least one person with a bit of brains left in this country and that is Flemish environment minister Kris Peeters. He wants at least to reopen the debate about nuclear energy.

All those on the left side of the political isle are against. Why?
(1) cheap energy is not important, especially not for the poor
(2) they are not really serious about the CO2 problem (which they believe exist)
(3) they have friends which produce expensive and bird-killing windmills
(4) the economy is booming, and we really will not have an energy problem for the future
(5) ecologists believe all energy should be generated by a tredmill in which their political opponents walk the entire day
(6) nuclear energy is only important and allowed in the case of Teheran

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Is the European myth over?

Bret Stephens, a Wall Street Journal editor mentions several myths about the EU that were scattered by the two recent referenda of France and the Netherlands in Myth and Reality in the EU.
(1) nationalism is a problem
(2) Europe is the solution to nationalism
(3) Europe is the solution to developing backward regions and economies
(4) Europe is a credible alternative to the US's 'cowboy capitalism'

Unfortunately these myths might have supported the No rather than the Yes vote?! This would mean a confirmation of the myths and the rejections of the European constitution would mean the myth is alive and kicking.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Global warming is like dating

A friend of you knows you are single, and he says to you "I know this chick, she's hot and I am sure she will like you". Unfortunately the same night he suggests to meet her, you have some other important prioritities like an exam, see family or some basketball game. And several other guys have told you she is boring and ugly. What do you do?

Global warming is the same; someone tells you there is a problem, others however tell you it is bogus and their arguments aren't easily rejected either. So you are in doubt. You could address this issue with a lot of money. But there are a zillion other problems out there as well. What do you do?

Look here for the Copenhagen Solution. As Thomas Sowell always says "there are no solutions, only trade-offs".

PS Important is also to ask who the 'friend' is! If he once belonged to the club of Rome, you have reason to be skeptical. If he recently got charged with terrorism too.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Two politicians for the future

Future Russian president will be Roman Abramovich. He wasn't that stupid to stay in Russia, and has with the soccerclub Chelsea (which he owns) an excellent platform to put 'success' on his businesscard.

Another guy that will become secretary of state in the US is Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International. This magazine will serve as his platform. (By the way I know very few editors with their own website, which already illustrates something.)

However recently Zakaria commented on the European Constitution and the socio-economic problems Europe is having. He makes some suggestions to solve the problems:
Of course, what Europe desperately needs is more of all the trends that are producing populist paranoia. It needs more economic reform to survive in a new era of global competition, more young immigrants to sustain its social market and a more strategic relationship with the Muslim world, which would be dramatically enhanced by Turkish membership in the EU.
(1) economic reform: YES, YES, did I already say YES;
(2) more young immigrants... this is the most difficult one. And this suggestion can only be implemented after economic reform. Why? Because many young immigrants are unemployed in the EU, especially since many immigrants are low educated. (A point system a la Borjas could remedy this, but with attention to cultural esp. religious factors.)
(3) Turkish membership to the EU... It is too much of risk, economically and socio-culturally. By the way the EU will want to see some changes (in relation to the Kurds, or the Armenian genocide) which will be unpopular with the Turkish population. EU membership and so could even worsen relationships with Turkey.

Throw away the rotten things

When food is bad, you better throw it away. That is also what they should do with this European Constitution (EC). However J-L Dehaene, former Belgian prime minister and one of the authors of the EC wants to put everything into the fridge.

It is a trick, put it in the fridge, and when things get more calm, take it out and serve it again. Forget that it was rotten in the first place. Not in the fridge, but in the dustbin or even better, the fireplace.

Is it still a mystery?

According to the latest poll the liberal party VLD goes down. What a mystery! And I do not believe so much it comes from iternal disagreements as from their policies. See some recent articles below.

Clarence and the pot-smokers

Opinionjournal.com which is sort of the Wall Street Journal disagrees with the recent supreme court decision on medical marijuana. (It was negative). Not because they are all addicts, but because:

This was not a good decision for anyone who believes there are Constitutional limits on the federal leviathan.
I must agree, however I read very few opinions on Townhall, a conservative magazine who are advocating this position. Will anybody come to the defense of Clarence Thomas:
The majority prevents states like California from devising drug policies that they have concluded provide much-needed respite to the seriously ill. (...) Our federalist system, properly understood, allows California and a growing number of other states to decide for themselves how to safeguard the health and welfare of their citizens."

Republican Porn

In the US you have neo-conservatives or paleo-conservatives, you have also Schwarzenegger-Republicans or Southpark-conservatives.

A porn actress called Mary Carey and her boss Mark Kukis went to a fundraiser of the republican party. They are fiscally conservative and socially liberal, I always thought those are called libertarian. I was wrong, from now we call them Southpark-conservatives.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Bush smarter than Kerry?

The Boston Globe gives us an insight:
Kerry, who graduated two years before Bush, got a cumulative 76 for his four years, according to a transcript that Kerry sent to the Navy when he was applying for officer training school. He received four D's in his freshman year out of 10 courses, but improved his average in later years.

For the record, Bush's score:
In 1999, The New Yorker published a transcript indicating that Bush had received a cumulative score of 77 for his first three years at Yale and a roughly similar average under a non-numerical rating system during his senior year.

Simple math, 77 is higher than 76. Bush was and is smarter!

The victims of crimes

The university of Limburg has found in a study that people of foreign descent are more often the victim of crimes than other people. Interesting finding. This shows that measures against criminality should be supported even more by those on extreme left side of the political spectrum who always claim to be on the side of immigrants and minorities.

Thomas Sowell, a black conservative has made a similar claim about blacks in the US, who are the victim of crimes to higher proportion. Read here.

"Violent crime is another social problem that hits blacks especially hard. In some years, there are more blacks than whites murdered in absolute numbers. However, even in high-crime neighborhoods, most people are not criminals, but are more likely to be victims of crime. That is especially true of black ghettos. In some of these neighborhoods, the probability that a young black man will be killed is greater than the probability that an American soldier would be killed in World War II."

European Neo-con

Andreas Kinneging, a professor in the philosophy of law has recently written a book, "Geography of Good and evil". For this occasion he is interviewed by the Flemish magazine knack.

He is described, and I believe describes himself as conservative. However, there are different kind of conservatives. I think it would correct to described him as a European neo-conservaties. Why?
(1) In favor of a European Federation. Kinneging has a certain obsession in creating a unified europe that is on a more equal footing with the US, China and Russia. (Paleo-)conservatives would be more in favor of 'state rights', in this case not that interested in the creation of a European superstate.
(2) Political participation. Kinneging seems to have pretty naive ideas about encouraging people to more political participation. (Paleo-)conservatives in general believe apathy to be a more crucial ingredient. People have other things to do, like make a living.
(3) Most neo-cons were either Marxist or Maoist in their younger years... Kinneging admits to growing up in the shadow of may '68 and all of its influences.

NIMPBY syndrome

NIMBY is pretty famous acronym, meaning not-in-my-backyard. Well NIMPBY means not-in-my-political-backyard.

Freya Van den Bossche, socialist minister of 'work' wants to cut down on early retirements. The logic of companies hiring younger people when they are allowed to sack the old while the government pays part of the deal has never worked. Because in the end somebody has to pay the pensions of these pre-pensioners. And that are the young people whose labor is taxed extra-ordinarily high. Results way too many retire and way too few get hired. So reform is urgently needed. At the moment Vdb is announcing her proposal to reform the system. At the same time however a compagny in the political backyard of the PS, gets a deal where it puts 1600 people into early retirement. NIMPBY, remember it! This example is what I understand by Giddens third way: blabla solutions.

I always though that politics had to do with solving collective action problems. But in Europe the Welfare state has reached a point where it only creates collective action problems.

Strange Alliances

(1) Liberal MP J-P Dedecker wants that animals that are ritually slaughtered are benumbed first. All Flemish parties are in favor. The PS is NOT in favor. So the only party that cares about the extra cost of this extra measure are the French speaking socialists! I guess they have some other reasons. But it is surprising to see who is on which side of the table in this debate. And the consequence of this measure will again be, a higher price for the consumer, worsening of our competitiveness compared to the neighboring countries and ultimately a loss of jobs. Wasn’t this government going to create jobs? By hiring people that give anesthesia I guess.

(2) Bart Staes MEP and a member of the Flemish Green Party, wants to have the tobacco companies playing a greater role against the sales of cigarettes on the black market. Well, what the logic of the common enemy isn’t responsible for.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Are Europeans Romantic?

No, it has nothing to with love, ... it never has. The question is whether we Europeans are in love with the welfare state? If you have a lot of time, read The People Romance. Let me illustrate what is in the claim, by borrowing a health care example of Arnold Kling:
The collectivist feelers base their appeal for a right to health care on the presumption that health care is necessary. However, as I have learned by reading the work of economists such as John Wennberg -- and as I have pointed out here and here -- much health care is in fact discretionary. By that I do not mean unnecessary, but still above and beyond the sort of acute care or basic services which are called to mind when the phrase "right to health care" is invoked.

I wonder which European politician would dare to tell the truth? Bolkestein maybe. Being honest with the voters, unfortunately doesnt pay of. You just have to be 'romantic'.


The Buffet Syndrome

Lee Kuan Yew, former prime minister of Singapore (now his son is in power), a political genius has once described the buffet syndrome:

...it's called the buffet syndrome; The food is there; take what you want; you pay a token price. You've paid your taxes? Well, this is for you. And the waste is incredible. If you watch the hotels that provide these buffets on Sunday, people take two or three times what they can consume, and it goes into the garbage can.

What does this have to with Belgium? Good question. The socialist minister of Health Demotte wants that doctors prescribe more cheap or generic medicins. You cannot regulate this top down, it won't work. First of all the idea. When the government decides to tell doctors what they can precribe and what not, well... do I need to say that this is absurd. I want to be diagnozed by a doctor, not by Demotte. Secondly, too many interests at stake of the doctors, of the medicin business etc. Thirdly, from a policy making view, I wanna see how Demotte thinks to push this through. Not all doctors have the same patients, not all can satisfied with generic medication. And if there will be a quota of 20%, well this will lead to communist situations.

Demotte's problem is very genuine, bringing down health costs. But this will only work if you have the consumer pay (more) of the bill. What kept our health system more... healthy than the neighbours like The Netherlands was 'remgeld', the personal contribution of the patient. Solution is thus privatization. Or at least partial privatization as Moens, of the syndicate of the doctors has suggested.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Acting White

American conservatives have been telling for now decades now, that one of the reasons Afro-Americans underperform is college is because studying is acting white, and acting white doesnt make you popular. Two researchers from Harvard University found out that blacks with 4.0 grade average are indeed not so popular. Read the whole paper.

My question is to what extent this applies to European minority groups? Like Turks in Germany e.g.? And would it be the same for men as for women?

The race of a waterbuffalo?

I picked up a bookreview on Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus, a book of Donald A. Downs. With an interesting section on the race of the water buffalo:
In 1993, the Penn judicial system prosecuted a student for caling some noisy students “water buffaloes,” a term the system claimed violated the student speech code's prohibition of racist comments. But the term “water buffalo” was widely understood to have no racial meaning. History professor Kors took up the cause of the prosecuted student, turning the case into a national showcase of the absurdities of political correctness run amok. Using the public reaction as leverage, Kors was able to use the case to promote significant institutional change at Penn, including the abolition of the student code.

Oriana Fallaci

I read Fallaci's latest book, The Force of Reason. It was pretty funny because of her irony but mostly sad. Unfortunately too much like conspiracy theory. I liked Interview with History much better. Although that book is at least twenty years old.

Milan Kundera, not a lightweight either called her the pioneer of modern journalism.

Anyway her book introduced me to another Belgian idiot: professor emeritus in economy Louis Baeck. Who claimed that the founder of economic science is Mohammed, and not Adam Smith. Yeah, knowing the Belgian logic, I wouldnt be surprised if this guy gets hired for a commission on economic reform. We already know from the previous statement how successful it will be.

Central Planned Economy II

In the current economical situation, the government discovered a new and urgent problem. In Dutch they are called 'huisjesmelkers', so-called rack-renters.

People that rent out buildings, houses, rooms that are in a condition that the government doesnt think meets the minima. Anyway, my question is why would people rent those if there would the same kind of housing that is better? It is the simple law of demand and supply. If we want more homeless people or people spending more of their budget than they can afford on housing then we should just keep on intervening. But we can also offer a solution for that problem, rent subsidies. The government will solve everything.

Now we have another liberal mister of 'living' Marino Keulen, who wants the state to decide which houses should be renovated and when. And of course the owner can pay again. Haleloeia. In Portugal the liberals are called social democrats, in Belgium the socialists are called liberal.

The liberal recepy of Verhofstadt & Co for economic growth: regulation!

Central Planned Economy?

Personally I find U2 the most overappreciated band on this planet. So I would not pay a dime for a ticket... and if I had one, I would sell it. For how much? For as much as a fool wants to give for it.

The liberal minister of economy Marc Verwilghen wants to stop Ebay from selling tickets at exorbitant prices. If people are willing to pay ridiculous prices for a ticket, that is their issue. I am amazed that again, the liberals which are supposedly in favor the free market wish to interfere so much in its daily practice. Can anybody explain me why? I really wonder how many votes the liberals are still planning to waste?

When will we celebrate?

Today it has been a hundred years since the Norvegians got a divorce from the Swedes. Both countries seem to be doing fine (apart from the fact that they are welfarestates).

More recently, in 1993 the Slovaks separated from the Czechs. To my impression a move that seems to benefit both countries, even the poorer Slovakia as it is able to tailor its economic policy more aptly to the Slovak situation.

When will the sad marriage that is Belgium seek a similar solution?

Monday, June 06, 2005

Another conspiracy theory

Daniel Pipes has already shown plenty of times that the Middle East is a hotbed for conspiracy theories. The Syrian president Assad, has a new theory: after Israel, and the US, they found a new scapegoat: the media and technology. "The ultimate objective of all this is the destruction of Arab identity; for the enemies of the Arab nation are opposed to our possessing any identity or upholding any creed that could protect our existence and cohesion, guide our vision and direction, or on which we can rely in our steadfastness."

May '68

If there was a revolution in '68, I am sad that no crackdown of the revolutionaries ever followed. Why? Many of European problems especially with regard to the economy go back to the late sixties or early seventies. The Golden years were over...

If you wanna know where Europe went wrong, read Brian M. Carney's two page analysis. Unfortunately many people still believe that government can tax us into becoming wealthy. When will Europe realize that Hayek was the economist of the 2oth century and not Keynes?

Ministery of Insults III

De Gucht is not the only politician guilty of making insults. There was an employee of vice prime minister Vande Lanotte who was designing stickers with a picture of Bush, and the American Stars and stripes behind him, and on there the text"Go ahead. Piss on me”. These were to be placed in the urinals.

Defense minister Flahaut (PS) caused many rows, but one year ago he came "under heavy criticism for approving an official document that says the United States is responsible for the biggest genocide committed during the past 500 years".

This guy also claimed that the US army is inefficient. I wonder what adjective he would use to describe our army (if you can uberhaupt call it an army). And he also said that he would vote for the democrats if he were a US citizen.

What is true in both cases, the US and Belgium is that the army is used for the politics of pork. Recent example, Flahaut advocated the purchase of 90 milimeter canons... because the only company that makes ammunition for these canons is Mecar, and yes they happen to be based some where in Wallonia. It is all about the votes.

Ministery of Insults II

Ah, De Gucht has apologized to his Dutch colleague Balkenende. This is very good news indeed. He has some manners left. We now know that he can apologize... however we are still waiting for an excuse of the "dung-beetle" (mestkever) remark he made a couple of years ago on the Vlaams Blok, both politicians and voters. Karel you can do do it! I am s......... come on....

Biofuel will save the world... or Flanders at least

"Government urges farmers to cultivate coleseed Flemish Mobility Minister Katleen Van Brempt (of the Flemish socialist party SP.A) is asking the Flemish farmers to invest in the cultivation of cole seed. "They should make the switch."

Doesn't this sound like a central planned economy?

The Flemish government is thinking of measures to encourage the cultivation of coleseed and other plants suitable for producing bio fuels." Guess who will have to pay for these measures? Those who consume the biofuel? Ofcourse not...

"Europe in the making"

Justine Henin, just won the French Open better known as Roland Garros. Sport figures that profile themselves as Belgian are a nice welcome to all those that are in favor of Belgian unity. It is my prediction that the chances for separation are best when the following conditions are met. (1) the soccerteam doesnt qualify for the worldcup, and (2) some member of the royal does something really stupid, given the record of both princes Laurent and Philip, that is not too unlikely. Some political requirements for separation? Euhm, somebody that yells in the Flemish parliament, "we declare Flanders Independent", that should do it. Okay, we could put it in a law.

But I wanted to mention something else. Justine Henin makes quite a lot of money with her exceptional tennis talents. Unfortunately the worst enemy of rightly earned money is the Belgian state. So she is considering to move a more tax friendly environment, Monaco. The hilaric thing is how Claude Eerdekens, a frenchspeaking socialist and minister of sport (yes, we have two or three ministers for everything, the Belgian way of jobcreation) commented on that possibility in GVA "I don't believe Justine moves for fiscal reasons, but for personal reasons. It is not that nice that you cannot go to a restaurant without being disturbed." This is already naive, but what comes next is fantastic: "we also have think more in terms of a Europe that constructs itself." I never knew myself, that Europe had anything to do with people moving to Monaco. If it is the case, I would be happy to join. Unfortunately, my chances of winning a Grand Slam are non-existing.

What Eerdekens is saying is actually let us create a huge bureaucracy in Brussels, so we can create some extra jobs for me and my colleagues. If public choice theory was a religion, I am a believer.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Ministery of Insults

The previous Belgian minister of foreign affairs, Louis Michel had already quite a big ego. (Dont confuse him with his son who was also somekind of minister. Belgium is a 'familycracy', politics as family business.) Big Loulou, his nickname caused a couple of scandals himself being minister. There was the Yerodia affair, there was his calling for sanctions on Austria and forbidding people to go skiing there etc. The list is quite endless. Somebody should write a book about it, Diplomacy for Dummies, and fill the chapter 'pittfalls' with references to Big Loulou.
(His anti-war rhetorics earned him a position in the European Commission.)

Well the new minister of foreign affairs, Karel De Gucht should maybe also read such a book. He has created a diplomatic incident comparing the Dutch prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende with Harry Potter. I agree, the haircuts are somewhat similar, but doesn't he have anything else to say in an interview? I guess not. What I found more offensive was the condescending tone on the results of the referendum in the Netherlands on Flemish public tv (Canvas).

What's next?

Summer reading

Soon some of you will be relaxing at some remote beach, waiting for the next tsunami. So it is best that the books you take with you are good, they could contain the last words that you read.

My suggestion is Paul Belien's 'A Throne in Brussels - Britain, the Saxe-Coburgs and the Belgianisation of Europe'. Okay, it is not exactly cheap, but if you can afford the holiday, then you can spend some money on Europe's future too. When I read a book review, it reminded me of an article I read a while ago from Stephen Pollard with the title I've seen the future, it is scary and Belgian. Belien seems to be making sort of the same claim, that if the EU will look like Belgium we better not have it at all. For a recent book review see "free republic".

Major discovery!!!

No, it is not a dinosaur, no it isnt a honest socialist either (that would be some discovery). It is a science, they discovered a new science in the South of Belgium, it is called 'economy'.

Alain Destexhe, a senator in the Brussels Parliament for the liberal party published a book that asks for greater openess, transparency regarding the socalled transfers: the money that flows from Flanders to Wallonia. It is a good start to diagnose the problem, even better would be to solve it. But let us not ask too much.

Instead of reading Alain Destexhe's book it would be much better to read almost anything of Peter Bauer, we are obviously in the business of development economics. For the Dutch readers there is a nice text of Hans Jansen.

Bottom line, what is sold as solidarity between regions is the stimulation of corruption in practice. Destexhe says in Knack magazine that if the Flemish solidarity stops the lifestandard in Wallonia will drop by fifteen to twenty percent. The Marshall plan, which has taken mythical proportions was never more than 5% of GDP of any recipient. Above all the Marshall plan was limited in time. But ofcourse 'solidarité' sounds much nicer than the naked truth. And as always rhetorics are more important than facts.

What is intellectual incest?

It is phenomena that mainly occurs at the universities especially in the social sciences where one climbs up in the hierarchy towards tenure if only one repeats what his or her enlighted professors dictate. As such intellectual incest is closely related to political correctness which is still pervasive in politics and in the media.

Of course originality is rewarded as well in social sciences, on the condition that one remains active within the Marxist, post-modern framework. The outcasts have only the bar and the web left. Although we prefer the bar, decent spelling requires us to be somewhat sober. Cheers.

Another Blogger

The aim of this blog is to comment on European and American political news. Focus of most readings will be Flanders, the future free Republic. For now we have to have patience, first of all for our blogging activities, secondly for independence.

Why do I write in English? Simply because I am too lazy to write things in Dutch first and later to translate them to English.