A European Future?

Parag Khanna has a monster screed – eight pages – in the NYT on the subject of “turning away from hegemony”. The hegemony concerned is that of the United States; the argument is that US power will decline relative to that of China, India, big second-tier powers, and Europe. This is a topic that cannot fail to elicit trolls; but it’s worth looking to, perhaps just for that reason alone.

Khanna, interestingly, bases part of the piece on demographics; Russian demographics. We’ve broached this before – it certainly looks like Russia is going to get more and more like one of the small Gulf states, an authoritarian petroleum exporter with a small population and a significant dependence on immigrants from a poor periphery. Further, we’ve also argued that Russian power is constrained by mutual dependence on the EU as a downstream market for energy and a source of investment; interestingly, a financial source of AFOE’s recently told us that he doubted the Russian sovereign-wealth fund spoke for anywhere near as much money as is sometimes claimed.

But the core of this row will probably be the US and Europe; it’s hard to imagine the US maintaining a hegemonic role in the world economy when it’s a massive importer of both goods and capital. Just as the UK’s financial hegemony didn’t make it past the First World War for the same reasons. Similarly, when Societe Generale had to dump the Kerviel overhang last week, they don’t seem to have bothered to tell the Federal Reserve; naturally, the French central bank and regulator were informed on day one (although Finance Minister Christine Lagarde seemed to deny she knew in advance on the BBC last week), and one presumes they clued-in the ECB.

Tony Karon calls it the Incredible Shrinking Davos Man. Well, their organisation is slipping; for the second year running, AFOE’s invite hasn’t turned up. But I’m not so sure, at least on the definition. If a multipolar world is going to work it’ll have to be more like, well, the European Union; all Khanna’s talk about playing by other people’s rules just drives home the point that they are rules, and rules mean institutions.

Institutions imply membership; which means the EU. Meanwhile, also at Karon’s, we see this in action. In Gaza, peaceful mass action to re-connect with the wider world has just capsized several world powers’ policy; the idea of locking up and refusing to engage with Gaza is now absurd, and it’s no surprise that it leads to concessions. If you can get out to the backbone, economically, suddenly all kinds of choices become available. It’s certainly very different from the days of George Habash, whose signature airline hijackings were directed precisely at separating from the rest of the world.

A pro-dismal bias in economics?

In a comment to his earlier assessment of the OECD’s new economic outlook, Jasper is raising an interesting, almost philosophical question that I think is worth a discussion in its own right. He claims that –

Economists should study the economy so they can finetune it to suit the needs of the people living inside this economy. They seem to be studying the economy so they can promote policies that finetune the people to suit the needs of the economy.

I would argue that Jasper’s statement correctly captures the sentiment, but not the rationalised opinion, among a growing part of the European population. The disconnect is palpable. So the question seems to be whether our governing institutions (and those trying to capture the essence of reality for them) are not able to accurately understand the people’s true preferences, whether our institutions do not allow an accurate externalisation thereof, or whether this is not simply a matter of lack of understanding.
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The headscarf: Radical Islam’s greatest secret weapon

When I first came to Belgium, one of the things that genuinely surprised me is how people seem to think Buffy, the Vampire Slayer is a children’s programme. Admittedly, the title doesn’t exactly say “socially relevant drama”, but I doubt that the show’s success on American TV would have been possible without the age 24-55 market. Eventually, I started asking people what it was about the programme that made them come to that conclusion.

In most cases, people never really got past the name. Fantasy on the continent seems to be a very different animal than in the US. For example, when I suggested that Buffy is no more fantasy than Le Fabuleux destin d’Am?lie Poulain, I was greeted with shock. No, no – I was told – Am?lie is magical. The Paris it is set in – the clean one, without the graffitti and street crime – is fictional, of course, and the plot is certainly not realist, but that doesn’t mean it belongs in the same category as vampires.

In a lot of cases, the real problem was linguistic. Buffy in French sounds very childish, spouting verlan and action movie clichés. The wit and prose skill of the original writers is completely lost, and even if you watch it in English on Flemish TV or the Beeb, I guess non-native speakers just don’t get it.

But I had one answer that surprised me. One person thought it belonged in the same category of American TV as Beverly Hills 90210. Why? Because of the clothes Buffy wears. No school would ever let a girl dress like that to class. I had to explain that in California, Buffy’s clothes aren’t even close to excessive.

The Belgian school system places some demands on students that American schools don’t. Personally, I don’t have a real problem with the imposition of a reasonable dress code in school. It is, if anything, one of life’s most minor injustices. Besides, I remember what it felt like to wear clothes from K-mart at a school where designer jeans were de rigueur.

However, I have some problems with this:

Deux s?nateurs veulent interdire le voile ? l’?cole

BRUXELLES Deux s?nateurs de la majorit?, Anne-Marie Lizin (PS) et Alain Destexhe (MR), ont d?pos? une proposition de r?solution qui invite les autorit?s f?d?rales et f?d?r?es du pays ? adopter des textes l?gislatifs portant sur l’interdiction ? l’?cole, et pour les agents de la fonction publique, de signes manifestant une appartenance religieuse.

Anne-Marie Lizin esp?re que le bureau du S?nat mettra sur pied une commission ad hoc qui pourra se pencher sur cette question d?licate, avec comme fil rouge le texte de la proposition de r?solution.

Pour Alain Destexhe, qui s’appuie sur la position de la Communaut? fran?aise, sur l’avis du Centre pour l’?galit? des chances, sur les diff?rentes d?clarations politiques et sur divers arr?ts, rapports ou recommandations tant belges qu’?trangers, le d?bat est clos, il est temps d’agir. Pour le s?nateur MR, il faut se demander ce qu’implique de vivre ensemble en Belgique au 21?me si?cle.

Il s’agit de d?fendre la libert? de conscience et la compatibilit? des libert?s dans l’espace public, ce qui implique un certain nombre de r?serves au sein de l’administration et ? l’?cole. L’?cole doit ?tre le lieu de l’apprentissage d’une conscience critique et de la promotion de valeurs universelles, ajoute-t-il.

Pour Anne-Marie Lizin, ?le voile, c’est la pression sur l’individu au nom d’une religion ?. La s?natrice de Huy estime qu’il est urgent de l?gif?rer au nom de l’?galit? homme-femme et pour soutenir le combat des femmes musulmanes dans chaque pays o? elles disent ?non? ? l’inf?riorit?.

L’initiative des deux parlementaires se fait en toute autonomie. Tant au PS qu’au MR, on ne se prononce pas pour l’interdiction du port du voile ? l’?cole. Le pr?sident du PS Elio Di Rupo a m?me estim? qu’il n’?tait pas opportun de d?battre de cette question en p?riode pr??lectorale. Mais pour Alain Destexhe, ?ne pas en discuter en p?riode ?lectorale revient justement ? alimenter le poujadisme et le vote d’extr?me droite?.

(Read on for the English translation)
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