More Sweden, less tidbits

Well, I just lost a long post about the so-called Swedish model due to my own stupid carelessness the combined malevolence of Windows XP and MS Word.

Anyway, the main point was to say that the article on the subject (free for non-subscribers) in last week’s issue of The Economist was really a dishonest hack job. And my critique went roughly like this :
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A Face That Launched A Thousand Ships

An unlikely Helen, Spain’s deputy prime minister, Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, that’s for sure. Yet outside a few thousand years difference in timing the two seem to have been cut out for one and the same the same historical role: urging the boats to go back. Indeed the only thing which really separates them might be the magnitude of the problem to hand, since Coalición Canaria president Paulino Rivero suggested this weekend that what might be involved were not a mere 1,000 ships, but anything between 10,000 and 15,000 currently being built along the Mauritanian and Senegalese coastlines.

Joking aside this post is about tragedy, a human tragedy. According to the NGOs who are involved some 3,000 people have already died in attempting to make the hazardous crossing, a crossing which was actually completed over this weekend by a record 1,200 people in 36 hours.

As well as tragedy the post is also about folly, the folly of those economists who think low fertility isn’t an important economic issue. This opinion was recently expressed by respected US economist Greg Mankiw, (on his blog) who described the very idea that it might be as ‘wrong headed’ and, to boot, suggested that a poll of the world’s top ten economists would draw a blank on names who thought that low fertility was among Europe’s major economic problems. I am sure Mankiw is right about the poll, and this is why I use the expression ‘folly’. So what do I mean?
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The European culture of free speech

Her lies in the naturalisation process notwithstanding, it seems that, one way or another, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the controversial feminist, Islam critic, and former Dutch parlamentarian, will be able to retain her Dutch citizenship. If she still wants it.

Even though she had reportedly planned to move to the United States to work for the American Enterprise Institute for a longer time and a number of reasons – not the least of which may have been that, as argued by the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (in German), the Netherlands had grown a little tired of paying the bills for her non-compromising, crusadesque stance against Islam (as opposed to her new employer) – the circumstances causing her immediate resignation from the Dutch Parliament are a significant event in Dutch, maybe European politics, although I suppose it will only later become clear what exactly it means.
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Garden Of The Forking Paths?

“Global imbalances matter” seems to be the favoured warcry over at Brad Setser’s blog these days (I’m not sure anyone really disagrees with the idea that they matter, all the arguing seems to be about how much and why). Recently however Brad seems to be drawing support from a rather unexpected quarter: “one part of the Economist” (well, one part is definitely better than none), the part which believes that despite what happened in 2005, 2006 will be the year of the “great dollar decline”: And why would this be? Because, of course, global imbalances do (here read the US CA deficit), in fact, matter.

Now there is another view available on this.

However this issue is more interesting, since the part of the Economist which believes that the US CA deficit will prove decisive in 2006, also seems to believe that global ageing isn’t in fact a terribly important phenomenon (and here).

The Economist seems to take the view – as Claus Vistesen puts it – that “Rich countries’ populations are shrinking … not to worry though“?

In fact Claus seems much nearer the mark than the part of the Economist which seems to be arguing that ageing doesn’t matter too much when he says:

I agree with the zest of their arguments, namely that the new realities mean that there will be fewer people in the workforce to support more old people in the future. In a global perpspective I also believe that the world would benefit from having fewer people on the whole. However, the point that escapes The Economist in the midst of their optimism is that some countries will have a hell of a lot more difficulties adapting than others, and as such these demographic trends might have a real negative effect, at least some places in the world.

Yes, I would say that this is just the point that escapes the ‘ageing doesn’t matter so much’ part of the Economist, who seem to believe that population meltdown in Japan wouldn’t be a problem since “the last Japanese will (only) die as soon as 2800.” (Actually the article on Japan is near to scandalous, since it only focuses on the legal minimum pensionable age, and misses entirely the important point that most Japanese already continue working after 65, and even by the age of 75 25% of the population are still working).

I have already posted extensively on the population turning point in Japan (and here). So now I would simply make two points. Firstly it is the age structure of the population which matters, not its size, and secondly, it is curious how all those people who seem to want to argue that the US current account deficit is the most important determinant of today’s global economy also feel themselves impelled to downplay (if not actually try to ridicule) the idea that changing global demography (from Bolivia, to Vietnam, to Turkey, to China, to France, to Germany, to Japan) has any important role to play in helping us understand current economic phenomena. I think there is a choice here: two world-views are colliding, and the paths are forking.

How anti-American are the French?

Not as much as you might think, argues The Economist in a long, Christmas-special piece about French anti-Americanism (article freely available to non-subscribers) :

In one 2004 poll, 72% of the French had a favourable view of Americans, more even than in Britain (62%) or Spain (47%). Some 68% of those questioned in another poll the same year said that what unites France and America was more important than what separates them. During the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings in 2004, politicians were frosty, but the people at large showed an outpouring of gratitude to American veterans.

It’s true that there is a big gap between the view of the U.S. (pretty bad) and the view of the American people (quite good) in France, a sure sign that a substantial part of what is regarded as anti-Americanism is mainly driven by anti-Bushism.
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The End of the Dolce Vita?

Are the good times and the good life still going to continue to roll in the Italy of the twenty first century? This is the core question the Economist’s Europe editor John Peet asks in the latest Economist Survey: Italy, Addio, Dolce Vita. As Peet says:

Italy is approaching a crunch. Rather like Venice in the 18th century, it has coasted for too long on the back of its past success. Again like Venice, it has lost many of the economic advantages which underpinned that success. For Venice, it was a near-monopoly on trade with the East that paid for the creation of its beautiful palaces and churches; today’s Italy has benefited hugely from a combination of low-cost labour and a switch of workers away from low-productivity farming (and the south) into manufacturing (mostly in the north). But such good things invariably come to an end.

Italy badly needed a dose of pro-market reforms, liberalisation, privatisation, deregulation and a shake-up of the public administration, all of which Mr Berlusconi had promised. He even pledged to cut taxes. A majority of Italian voters, backed by much of Italian business, were willing to overlook both his legal entanglements and his conflicts of interest and give him a chance to reform the country. But as the next election approaches, very little of what he promised has been delivered, so many of his erstwhile supporters are feeling disillusioned.
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Eurozone More Exposed?

Chief OECD economist Jean Philippe Cotis wasn’t only proferring recommendations to the Federal reserve yesterday. He was also not backward in coming forward with his opinions about future growth in the eurozone. Even if Cotis isn’t exactly my favourite economist I feel here he may be a little nearer the truth.

The occasion for M. Cotis’ observations was the official press briefing for an interim OECD assessment of the economic situation in Europe, the United States and Japan.
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Close Call

The reference here isn’t to the actual hurricane (which was far from that if you were black, poor, and lived in downtown New Orleans) but to the economic ‘near miss’ I think we are watching, and to the difficult decision Alan Greenspan and his team will now have to take on 20 September next.

The blogs are of course rife with speculation.

Update: Dave at MacroBlog just came up with one more reason the Fed might steadfastly remain on course: poor productivity readings.
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Not sentimental, and no France

Until a couple of days ago, I was very nearly incommunicado for two weeks. We took the kids to Italy on holiday, you see, and found ourselves in a place with no television, no internets, not even mobile-phone reception. The tiny shop at the site doesn’t even stock English-language (or any other non-Italian) newspapers, and my Italian is, if that is possible, even viler and more vestigial than my Spanish. I found this isolation very pleasant altogether, and in some ways regret having to come back into the connected world.

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