WaPo gets it wrong

Sunday’s Washington Post had an article by one Anne Dumas that’s been blogged here and there, provocatively titled What’s American and Envied by France?. It starts with a rather shocking assertion that has, unsurprisingly, been quoted in a lot of the bloggage:

[N]ot a single enterprise founded here in the past 40 years has managed to break into the ranks of the 25 biggest French companies. By comparison, 19 of today’s 25 largest U.S. companies didn’t exist four decades ago. That’s why France is looking to the United States for lessons.

Alas, this quotable assertion is completely false.
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Eurozone Outlook

There is a pretty mixed bag of numbers coming in at the moment. The German economy shows some signs of a recovery of activity (here), as is the French one (here). It is important to understand however that trend growth in Germany is now extremely low, and the economy is very export dependent. The underlying performance of the Frech economy is essentially much better. However, the sick man of Europe continues (and will continue) to be Italy (here)

Levels of business activity in the Italian services economy continued to fall in June. However, rising from 47.3 in May to 48.9, the seasonally adjusted NTC Research/ADACI Business Activity Index indicated that the rate of contraction had eased and was only marginal.

A month-on-month decline in new business to Italian service providers was recorded for the third successive month. Furthermore, the rate of decline quickened again and was the sharpest in the survey history. Panel companies reported that demand for their services had continued to suffer as a depressed domestic economy led to subdued client spending.

Service providers reported that diminishing levels of new business had freed up capacity, leading to the sharpest reduction in backlogs of outstanding work in the seven-and-a-half years that data have been collected.

Employment levels in the Italian service sector fell for the fourth straight month in June. The rate of job shedding was again only marginal, although slightly sharper than in May.
Source NTCResearch

Let’s Go To Bulgaria

Actually just after my Chinese visitor dropped by I received a Bulgarian one, my former ‘research assistant’, young Bulgarian anthropologist Yassen Bosev. And what did Yassen want? To tell me to Forget India, Let’s Go To Bulgaria. Only trouble was, I had some bad news for him: India’s minister of Disininvestment and Technology, Arun Shourie, already got there first. Why does everyone think Indian president Kalaam was in Bulgaria on his first overseas visit late last year?
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Going Into Business

“Madam Wang Haiyan, who runs a pre-school class from her home, reckons that she would have been earning half of what she is now and be less happy to boot if she had stayed in her job at a state-owned firm. “

Any one else round here old enough to remember Dustin Hoffman’s ‘Little Big Man’, with the character who insisted on riding his horse back to front? I feel a bit like that sometimes: with my back-office for India and China right here in Barcelona. Of course this makes life pretty surreal, people waltz in on the messenger at all times of the day and night: from all the strange corners of the planet.

This morning it was the turn of one of my ‘sources’ in China: he came in over the messenger to tell me he’d left his job. He has had a ‘new’ idea. He is going to set up a company to do guess what? Outsourcing. He is dead set on it since he tells me he can get university graduates in China to work for him for ‘just’ 150 dollars a month.

Actually in his case no one is going to accuse him of destroying western jobs: he wants to design and put up websites for Western clients who want to sell to Chinese customers. We might well ask ourselves however, if he is succesful in this how long it will be before he leverages his position to start offering those websites in more distant climes. And good luck to him.
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Of We Go Again, Ready, Set……….

After a weekend of semantic analysis the currency markets didn’t take long getting back to work – the euro was only a cent off its all time high by late morning. According to Dictionary.com the relevant meaning of volatility is: tending to vary often or widely, as in price – the ups and downs of volatile stocks. Not much danger of volatility here, not if the only way the dollar is going to go is down. Wouldn’t the more appropriate term have been secular decline? But maybe they aren’t against that, and the markets in turning the pressure back on the dollar, have read the signal exactly right.
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Book Review: “European Integration 1950-2003: Superstate or New Market Economy?”

Once upon a time, there was a large, intellectually hegemonic, somewhat totalising ideology rooted in a heterodox school of economics. Its advocates proposed to make massive changes to the structure of society and claimed that only such a revolutionary realignment could alleviate the contradictions and failures of the existing order and save the world from stagnation and misery. They claimed that their programme would produce immediate results, and that the only reason it wasn’t immediately implemented was because entrenched interests were manipulating the public against them.

Ultimately, advocates of these principles did gain power in many places and were able to implement elements of their programme. Some came to power through revolutions of various kinds that granted them the near-dictatorial powers they needed to make the changes they believed necessary. Others were able to convince electorates and even elites that theirs was the way of the future. They turned public dissatisfaction to their advantage, especially during economic downturns when people were willing to turn to new solutions and elites feared that the masses would turn against them.

And, they had some arguable successes, but no unambiguous ones. In some places, particularly those where effectively unlimited power had shifted to them, they often maintained highly inequitable regimes which grew harder and harder to justify, faced ever growing public disaffection, and turned to more oppressive and manipulative means to sustain control. This undermined their movement, but despite the best efforts of their enemies was not quite able to kill it off.

In states where more democratic methods had been used, the need to compromise with established interests and to sustain public consent forced them to accept measures often contrary to their initial programme. Their ideological identity tended to shift over time as winning elections grew more important than ideological purity and as the drawbacks of real power became apparent. Actually being held responsible for results forced many members of this tradition to accept their enemies’ interests as at least partially legitimate, and compelled them to less radical legislative programmes.

In some of those nations, these radical parties became increasingly manipulative and difficult to distinguish from their former enemies. But, in a few places, the necessary dilution of their programme brought about an ideological synthesis that appeared successful, and this success in turn showed that the radical programmes they had once advocated were perhaps unnecessary. In the end, ideology had no real hold on them, and the models and methods that seemed to work became the political and economic programme that they were identified with. Their former allies who operated more dictatorial regimes were easily repudiated.

But others were unable to accept that option. They included dissidents who had been burned by the growing authoritarianism of their own failed revolutions, or who were simply unable to accept that their early ideological purity had become superfluous. They were isolated and powerless, only able to function in the states where their former allies had become moderates, leaving them without meaningful public support. They fumed at the world’s unwillingness to go the way they wanted, and increasingly recast the history of the world in terms of their own ideological predispositions. The past became, in their minds, an unending conflict between an ideologically pure vanguard and scheming established interests, a story of their courageous champions betrayed by back-sliding traitors. Ultimately, the world moved on and these radicals virtually disappeared outside of intellectually protected milieux like privately-funded think tanks and universities.

Of course, by the now the astute reader will have recognised that I am talking about the history of neoliberalism.
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European crony capitalism

A post today on The Final Word, a Prague-based email bulletin put out by a local English-language Czech news digest, got me thinking. Titled “PPF spreads its tentacles,” it’s about the secretive Czech corporate conglomerate PPF and how it uses its media holdings to advance its numerous business interests.

It’s long been the Czech Republic’s dirty little secret that it’s one of the bastions of corruption and crony capitalism in the middle of Europe. After basking in the glow of much of the 1990s as the “star pupil” of economic transition, it took a much deserved fall from grace starting in the late ’90s, with much publicized cases like Ron Lauder’s suit against the Czech Republic over TV Nova giving the little nation plenty of bad press. Vaclav Klaus, ex-premier and now the president, has often been complicit in securing the country’s dubious reputation, if not the very nexus of crony capitalism. Today, far-flung provinces of the empire like Estonia and Slovenia appear clean as a whistle compared to the Czech Republic.

This is all pretty old news. But what strikes me today is how this compares to other European countries.
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Important News For Europe

OK I’m pushing the point quite hard here, but what I want to emphasise is that a European blog in a global world has a pretty broad reach. The latest round of US employment figures are in, and they are nowhere near as pretty as everyone (including even me) was expecting. Over 400,000 people stopped looking for work due to the fact they considered the jobs weren’t available. The most important thing is that manufacturing industry is expanding production without hiring, in fact jobs were lost, while hours worked went down not up as they should have if the recovery was really gathering momentum.

So the situation is extraordinarily complex, the big Asian wheel keeps on rolling, the US turns round and round but not quite quickly enough, energy leaks out of the system, and we here in Europe catch the backdraft. Which means that today the euro touched another record high of $1.2868 before falling back slightly. Economics as they say is not a zero sum game, so among the possible results are both win-win, and lose-lose. America’s discomfort is not our great opportunity.

Meantime back over here the Parmalat scandal trundles on with the Bank of America offices in Italy being raided, and Grant Thornton expelling its Italian business – which currently has two of its partners in prison – from its global network.
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The Kettle Called Conrad Black

Slate has a delightful piece on the board of Black’s company, Hollinger International. It seems the directors, such as Henry Kissinger and Richard Perle, had little serious business experience and basically rubber-stamped Black’s plans.

Daniel Gross writes, “Most of these more or less honorable folks were basically idle directors. They showed up at meetings, ate lunch, rubber-stamped corporate plans, and cashed their checks.”

And the business types weren’t necessarily top notch either: “But Black seemed to have a genius for recruiting CEOs with legal issues, as Steven Pearlstein noted in Wednesday’s Washington Post. A. Alfred Taubman, the former CEO of Sotheby’s, remained on Hollinger’s board even after he had been convicted of violating antitrust laws. Dwayne Andreas, the paterfamilias of Archer Daniels Midland, the agri-business giant that in 1996 pleaded guilty to price-fixing, was also a longtime board director.”

“Given this cast of characters, it should come as no surprise that over the years the stock of Hollinger International has failed to keep pace with the broad market indexes and many of its peer media companies. After all, putting a bunch of right-wingers with occasionally dubious foreign policy credentials in the position of directing a profit-making business seems almost as illogical as putting a bunch of right-wingers with occasionally dubious business credentials in charge of foreign policy.”

Sex and the Singapore Issues

OK, before anyone tries to get us round to the painful reality that I’m a tiresome old bore: some titilation for you. Unfortunately, this is not about ‘sexual tourism’, except, that is in the most general sense. (Although if anyone wants to pick up on this in the comments, I think we’re in the same ballpark). No the ‘topic du jour’ here is a bit nearer home. And the underlying issue is – believe me – one of the Singapore Issues: use and abuse of ‘indirect obstacles’ to prevent the free exercise of a service. Whatever the ethical stand you take on this, my feeling is that the French law got involved because the business was being ‘outsourced’ in the wrong direction. Well, at least we British are good at something.

French court officials looked baffled and bewildered by the sheer scale of the scrum of British journalists, photographers and camera crews waiting to get into Courtroom 14 of the Palais de Justice

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