Dealing in Kyiv.

It looks like the legal stalemate in Ukraine could be a little closer to a solution. Possibly related to reports about the opposition offering immunity to incumbent President Kuchma in exchange for him no longer trying to factually or legally obstruct the preparations for the repeated presidential run-off election on December 26, at least most of the constitutional and procedural problems which led to parliamentary tensions last Saturday seem to have been resolved in a six hour round table talk with European mediators, including the EU’s Javier Solana and Poland’s President Aleksander Kwasniewski.

While the parties seem to have finally agreed to the dismissal of the current Central Electoral Committee, the abolition of the problematic absentee ballots, extended checks of electoral registers to keep at least most of the dead from voting, and an end to the blockade of government buildings, it is unclear at this point to which extent the issue of pre-electoral constitutional change reducing the powers of the future UkrainianPresident in favor of the parliament has been settled.
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What’s It All About Alfie?

Well I suppose it’s better to end the week on a bang rather than a whimper, so here I go with another of those posts. What really ended the week on a high note (or should I say a low one) was the US labour market. And since I am arguing that the euro-dollar parity is being driven at the moment by US labour market data, this news can only mean one thing: more upward pressure on the euro. Which makes me only want to re-iterate, and even more strongly, that an important opportunity was wasted yesterday to take some remedial action by lowering the interest rate. Remedial action which would also have supplied a much needed lifeline to Germany’s beleagured economy. But this, like so many things, was not to be.
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ECB: German Plea Falls On Deaf Ears

When this is all over, and we come to look back at the when and the where, maybe we will remember today’s decision as just one more of those missed opportunities. Certainly not much notice seems to have been taken of Gerard Schroeders request for a helping hand on the interest rate front. Is there any significance in the fact that on the day the ECB decided to stand firm, German unemployment turned upward again to 10.3%, while it was also revealed that German factory orders fell unexpectedly by 2% in January: just for good measure I suppose.
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Free movement of labor, redux

On the previously mentioned subject of Europe’s “free” movement of labor (and the possibility of a massive influx of cheap labor from the east come EU accession time) here’s an article I wrote on the topic in November for Czech and Slovak Construction Journal (for some reason the article’s not posted online).

If you’re too lazy to read the whole thing… It talks about the onset of “EU fatigue” in the east, plus it cites a bunch of studies that discredit the fear of a massive influx of eastern workers wrecking havoc on Western European job markets. And this is really about Polish construction workers already living illegally in Berlin, not Czech IT geeks in London (nor British chefs in Prague). Enjoy.
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Outsourcing and the Global Optimum

The last week has seen the ‘great US ousourcing debate’ hit both new highs, and new lows. On the plus side would be the declarations of the oft maligned Greg Mankiw to the effect that the “outsourcing” of jobs is beneficial to the United States economy (even with the qualification ‘perhaps’ this has merit – since despite the fact that the suggestion may not be as well-founded as Mankiw imagines, it is at least courageous in a situation where the President he is advising doesn’t appear any too clear on the question himself). Among the more evident examples of the low points would be the statement from the Democratic Presidential aspirant John Kerry to the effect that company leaders who promote business process outsourcing are ‘Benedict Arnold CEO’s’.
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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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German Beerdrinking On The Wane?

Population changes are going to bring many cultural changes in their wake: and I’m not thinking only of immigration and multiculturalism here. Ageing populations will have different tastes and preferences, among them, apparently, will be changes in the quantity and types of alchohol consumed.

Among the explantations offered for the fact that the nation of beerdrinkers may soon no longer be one are the trend towards healthier living, economic problems (although that used to be thought to be a cause of raised consumption) and a deposit now payable on many cans and bottles. But there is no getting away from the fact that the big cause is changing demographics. Less young people means less beer. Now what else does it mean?
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Those Perfidious Frenchmen

It is too early to grasp the real aftermath of 9-11 in Hollywood, but some trends are more obvious than others. Couple of last year’s major Hollywood productions indicate that the major change is afoot in American film industry, closely resembling shifts in American foreign policy resulting from 9-11.

The changes are very visible for those who paid attention to clich?s in 1990s Hollywood films, especially those dealing with films’ villains. Some films – like Braveheart, Michael Collins and Patriot ? were more explicit than others, but in those times almost all villains were British, people with heavy British accents or at least people played by renowned British actors.
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Libert?, Egalit?, Fraternit?. And, of course, Credibilit

It might not be the obvious comparison, but Scott’s ponderings about the state of transatlantic breast relations and the state of French feminism made me remember another Franco-analogy that recently crossed my mind: I believe the current relationship between many countries, certainly in Old Europe, and the US of A has a lot in common with the relationship between the Third Estate (aka “the people”) and Louis XVI in the time immediately preceding July 14th 1789, the date usually considered to mark the beginning of the French Revolution. And no, I am not attempting to compliment President Bush for his fashion sense…

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