Tuesday, February 28, 2006

European Protectionism Undermines Single Market

In the past week, protectionism by national governments has stopped a bid for the Suez energy company in France (the government is merging Suez with the state-owned Gaz de France), and the bid by E.On for Spain's Endesa power company.

Italy's Silvio Berlusconi is now calling for retaliation against the French. The EU Commission is gearing itself up to take action.

Protectionism should be challenged, whether it's at the national level, as now, or at the European level, as with the EU's actions against Microsoft or against cheap leather goods from China. The difficulty for the EU Commission is not taking sides. In the case of the Chinese shoes, the EU's tariffs seek to protect Italian and French manufacturers at the expense of European consumers. In the case of these energy bids, this time round, the open market requires the protectionist European governments to be taken to task. In the case of the shoes and Microsoft, the EU is promoting its own brand of protectionism.

In other words, the EU is happy to override protectionism driven by "national pride" - a pride it actively wishes to destroy - whilst being equally happy to promote a protectionism which harms consumers for the benefit of cross-border manufacturing groups. At some point, the EU's internal contradictions on this matter will come to a head.

Telegraph | Opinion | The single market and Gallic delusions

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The EU's "Shoe War"

Citing "serious state intervention in the leather footwear sector" in China and Vietnam, EU Commission spokesman Peter Power is heralding tariffs on shoe imports as of April. This will put about one euro on the cost of a pair of shoes from those countries.

We can only hope that this new piece of protectionist actionism doesn't lead to the disasters incurred by Peter Mandelson's "Bra Wars" of last year, when retailers were stopped from taking delivery of orders they'd made prior to the ban on textiles from China. Empty shelves and bust businesses resulted - in what was described as "the worst retailing crisis since WWII" - before a compromise was patched together to save Commissioner Mandelson's face.

Mandelson is still at his post But the new protectionist move - just like the last one - is supported by countries with strong leather goods industries and a tradition of state protectionism, such as France and Italy, and opposed by those which don't, such as Holland and the Scandinavian countries. It is a most unhelpful move from the EU at a time when protectionism - not merely European, but American too - is increasingly jeopardising the consumer benefits of global markets.


Monday, February 20, 2006

Fukuyama's "End Of NeoConservatism"

Francis Fukuyama's somewhat tendentious piece in the New York Times flays President Bush and his neo-conservatives for perceived inadequacies in the conception and planning of the Iraq war and its aftermath.

Fukuyama makes some bizarre comparisons, contrasting the supposedly "Marxist" thesis of his book, The End of History with the "Leninist" ideas of Bush and his neo-cons. Bush et al are "Leninist", says Fukuyama, in the sense that they think that the use of power can help push history along, as the world blossoms into democracy. Whilst these are eye-catching, media-friendly comparisons, they are also singularly unhelpful and tending to muddy the waters.

At one point, Fukuyama says that it may have been better to let the regimes of Afghanistan and Iraq be, that it was wrong to "stir the (Middle Eastern) pot". Better to have stuck with America's "authoritarian friends". American "over-optimism about postwar transitions to democracy" is criticised in this context. Later on, though, Fukuyama seems to endorse "Wilsonian" idealism (ie spreading democracy and freedom) - provided it is "more realistic" than it has been under Bush. This is also somewhat unenlightening advice. One man's "realism" is another man's "appeasement", after all. And the lesson of Reagan's successful, hardline stance against communism is not one which Fukuyama challenges.

When Fukyama advocates the creation of more "overlapping" multinational institutions alongside the UN and NATO, he may be on to something, for sources of international legitimacy for action against terrorists and rogue states are indeed scarce on the ground. The again, overreliance on international legitimacy may lead, as seems likely with Iran, to impotence.

Fukuyama points out that the neo-conservatives saw that social engineering within nation states was counterproductive when it comes, say, to controlling crime. Better clamp down locally on graffiti and panhandling, say, than launch well-meaning but abstract affirmative action programmes. He then wonders why, if the neocons saw this so clearly, they could not also see that Wilsonian social engineering on an international scale (ie spreading democracy to the Middle East) was also doomed to fail. Here Fukuyama is, apparently wilfully, misrepresenting the nature of American intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. America has, after all, dealt in the most direct and practical way in those countries. His comparison also misrepresents the nature of terrorist and rogue state crimes and the practicalities of preventing them. For whatever its drawbacks, regime change has indeed removed two rogue states from the scene, staunching their crimes, in a way that positive action programmes do not remove graffiti or panhandlers. Fukuyama's analogy is thus inept.

The effect of regime change on the incidence of terrorism is another question. It can be argued either way, as no figures exist to determine the effects of action versus inaction. Fukuyama clearly believes regime change in Iraq has exacerbated terrorism, but provides nothing to back up his assertion.

All in all, Fukuyama's piece comes over as a piece of high-profile recantation - one not so much of neoconservatism, as of Fukuyama's own thesis in his now foolish-seeming book The End of History. Perhaps one should say he offers a correction of the commonly-held interpretation of his book, which, he implies, has been so sorely misunderstood.
After Neoconservatism - New York Times

Valley of the Wolves - Turkish Rambo Flays Evil Americans

A Turkish Rambo-type film, Valley of the Wolves, glamorises a struggle against evil Americans - amongst whom a Jewish doctor who takes out the organs of living Turks. Some politicians (like Edmund Stoiber, Prime Minister of Bavaria) are calling for the film to be banned.

But it hardly makes sense to relinquish the right to free speech over a film of this sort. Aside from setting a woeful precedent, banning it will only make the film more glamorous and popular. It will also underline the thesis that Islamic culture is being suppressed by the west.

In any case, the anti-Americanism of this film hardly surpasses that of its far slicker equivalents in Hollywood.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Berlusconi: "I Am The Jesus Christ Of Politics"

The Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, described himself as "the Jesus Christ" of politics last Saturday, setting off a predictable storm.

Berlusconi has given much entertainment over the years, being slightly more outspoken than most European politicians, even in Italy. He compared a German socialist to a Nazi concentration camp guard and has said that western civilisation is superior to Islam. Last time he compared himself to somebody else, it was to say he was like Napoleon - "only taller."

On January 30th, he also vowed to remain "completely celibate" until after the Italian elections on April 9th. Berlusconi, a former cruise-ship crooner, has recorded two CD's of love songs as part of his re-election bid. His poll numbers aren't looking too good, so he probably needs all the help he can get.

Telegraph | News | Berlusconi says he is like Jesus

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Indonesia And The Unfunny Danish Cartoons

Mainstream Muslims continue to call on their co-religionists to temper their outrage over the unfunny Danish cartoons. Din Syamsuddin, of Muhammadiyah, Indonesia's second largest Muslim group, who is also a member of Indonesia's highest Islam authority (MUI), says that the over-the-top protests will paint "an image of Indonesia's Islam as an intolerant, rigid and anarchic society."

The cartoons were reprinted in Peta, a small-circulation magazine in Indonesia. The police are now determining whether its editor, Abdul Wahad Abdi, committed a crime in reprinting the tendentious drawings. Our advice is that whilst it wasn't a crime in the eyes of the law, it was a crime against good taste.

Aljazeera.Net - Radicals 'exploiting cartoon backlash'

Abu Hamza Jailed and Shamed

Under the catchy headline "Hook and a Hooker", the inimitable Sun today reveals how "hook-handed cleric Abu Hamza cheated on his first wife with a hooker" and that this contributed to his becoming Al Qaeda's recruiting sergeant in Britain, with an especial animus against brothels.

Full story: The Sun Online - News: Hook and a hooker

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Controversy Caused By Unfunny Cartoons Whipped Up By Extremists Of All Stripes

Christopher Hitchens, in a somewhat confused contribution to Slate, mocks faiths of all sorts:
Cartoon Debate - The case for mocking religion. By Christopher Hitchens:

"It is revolting to me," Hitchens writes, "to breathe the same air as wafts from the exhalations of the madrasahs, or the reeking fumes of the suicide-murderers, or the sermons of Billy Graham and Joseph Ratzinger."

In mixing up what is truly "offensive" with what is pumped-up hysteria (as both Islamists and the right-to-blasphemers are feverishly doing) many new misunderstandings are actively being evolved, as this whole wretched "cartoon controversy" unwinds.

To equate the new Pope in a list with suicide bombers, as Hitchens does, is tendentious at least, especially in light of the Pope's first encyclical, God Is Love. But it's an understandable thing for a polemicist, who is only interested in stoking up controversy, to write. Equally understandable that jihadist imams should encourage their flocks to burn down Danish embassies. It's in the nature of such people.

It is however foolish for us mere people, who live and work among Muslims - or indeed Jews and Christians - to allow the concepts "freedom of speech" or "the right to blaspheme" to be degraded to a kind of moral duty to insult people of faith. It is foolish in the same way as it is for mainstream Muslims to allow their religion to be hijacked by jihadist psychopaths, eagerly sniffing out new sources of mortal offence.

Freedom of speech certainly contains the right to provoke. But the one should not be substituted for the other. Nor should "freedom of speech" become a "duty to insult," as Hitchens implies. That just allows the debate to be hijacked by extremists and polemicists from all sides, something which is close to happening - to the cost of all us non-extremists, alas.

"Garden of Eden" in Papua Yields New Species

New species, including a honey-eater bird, twenty new kinds of frog, butterflies believed lost, and five new palms, have been discovered in an isolated region of Papua, Indonesia.

Species thought to have been hunted to near-extinction, such as the Golden-Mantled Tree Kangaroo, and other rare species such as Barlepsch's Six-Wired Bird of Paradise, and the Long-Beaked Echidnas, have been photographed and studied for the first time.

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | New species found in Papua 'Eden'

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Doom Of Europe

Theodore Dalrymple writes about Europe's decline in today's Cato Unbound. He says Europe's decline is relative, and that widespread predictions of doom (by writers like Mark Steyn, for example) are predicated on the notion that historical hindsight, and current trends, can be used to forecast the future. This, Dalrymple says, may be quite unfounded: the future overturns most settled predictions.

Having thus hedged his bets, Dalrymple nevertheless gives a clear diagnosis of Europe's ills. An "immovable" political class, with its plans for a united Europe not desired by its citizens, and the "anti-economic" bureaucracy which, in almost every European country, fetters prospects of growth.

The typical reaction of "Europe" to the open global market is that it is a threat to its economic security and to "social justice". This leads to counter-productive protectionist measures - which in turn reinforce the self-fulfilling prophecy of the "evils" of the unfettered market.

Dalrymple also blames the weakened cultural confidence of Europe's political elite for contributing to the failure to assimilate Muslim immigrants.

Whilst much of his piece is unobjectionable right-wing lore, it is pessimistic in tone and clearly Dalrymple doesn't for a moment believe Europe can shake off its habit of decline. Admittedly, if Europe is concurrently failing at the economic, cultural and political levels, as Dalrymple asserts, then a large measure of gloom is perfectly justified.

At the same time, even if our decline is only "relative", Europe must soon be approaching the point where it no longer makes sense for poor people to emigrate into Europe. The flow should then start going the other way, and completely overturn the demographics of doom. And even if that doesn't happen, continuing decline will force Europe to confront and reform its sclerotic institutions - maybe in a peaceful way, if its politics allow such flexibility, otherwise in violence and conflict. The idea of a gentle continued "sleepwalk" to decline - Dalrymple's closing thought - seems the least likely scenario.

Cato Unbound ? Blog Archive ? Is ?Old Europe? Doomed?