Friday, May 25, 2007

super hero dance fever

If gas price gouging has got you down this holiday weekend or if like me, you are still feeling ashamed of our Congressional cave-in yesterday on the Iraq spending bill ....try some escape courtesy of "superman" and "spider-woman".....yes, woman....

Monday, May 07, 2007

the french election and sacrificing for the market

The elections in France demonstrate the power of faulty economic analysis, and more generalized problems with arithmetic, to shape ideas and possibly the future of not only a nation, but a continent.The United States has faced similar problems with its debate over Social Security, in which the majority of Americans were convinced - based on verbal and accounting trickery - that the program is facing serious financial problems when the baby boom generation retires. (It isn’t).

The general theme that has propelled Sarkozy into the lead is that the French economy is somehow “stuck” and needs to be reformed to be more like ours. It is also widely believed that France needs to be made more “competitive” in the global economy, since competition is tougher now in a more globalized world.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has been the most popular proponent of the idea that French workers must lower their living standards because of the global economy. “All of the forces of globalization [are] eating away at Europe’s welfare states,” he writes . . . “French voters are trying to preserve a 35-hour work week in a world where Indian engineers are ready to work a 35-hour day.” For Friedman and most of the pundits, this is impossible.

It is important to understand that there is no economic logic to the argument that the citizens of any rich country need to reduce their living standards or government programs because of economic progress in developing countries. Once a developed country has reached a certain level of productivity, there is no economic reason for its residents to take a pay or benefit cut, or work more hours, because other countries are catching up to their level. That productivity, which is based on the country’s collective knowledge, skills, capital stock, and organization of the economy, is still there, and in fact it increases every year. To the extent that international competition is being used by special interests to push down the living standards of French or German or U.S. workers - and it is - it just means that the rules for international commerce are being written by the wrong people. It is a problem of limited democracy and lack of representation for the majority, not a problem that is inherent to economic progress.

- Mark Weisbrot

So now Sarkozy (as many predicted) is the new president of France and ushers in the 3rd straight conservative govt. for the French marking a 12 year cycle. Admittedly I have watched this election cycle on the vaguest of terms but I was impressed by the massive voter turnout (80%+) and intrigued by the issue that Sarkozy is the first immigrant elected in French history. I also have been struck by the chorus in the MSM as to how this a great outcome for the U.S. So of course if Wolf Blitzer or George W is thrilled about the election results then something must be ugly about this.

Then I read the above by Mark Weisbrot and all the hoopla makes sense. It's a financial plot line that has "people" so excited. Sarkozy's big theme is rupture, a break from the the past that touts reforms such as making it easier for employers to fire workers, cutting taxes - including inheritance taxes, pushing back against the 35 hour work week, and other measures to redistribute income upward.It still seems unclear to me that these measure automatically result in economic growth or employment growth.He is also infamous for calling unemployed youth (many immigrants) - "Scum".

I think these assumptions shed some light on the accepted premises of globalization in general. With this important election for France, there seems to have been no standard debate happening here about "the tension between developing countries needing to restructure their financial, labor, and trade institutions versus the damage that entails to traditional ways of life, local values, culturally-ingrained practices, and identity".

more on this by Helmut at Phronesisaical:

...perhaps the debate should be placed elsewhere. That is, if the evidence shows that globalization is corrosive of what people perceive to be valuable, and if there is good evidence that this corrosion plays out in the empirical terms of running towards a lower common denominator in terms of social goods, then we have to ask again the question of what globalization - economic liberalization, that is - is good for.
So that is the question - What is this good for? Ultimately we are all asked to make individual and collective sacrifices in the name of an abstraction - "the idealized global market". It will be curious to see how the French receive their new president and the American Style he plans to bring. The riots of 2005 may get replayed.

and just for fun here are some potential results of the American Style for American workers:

[The forces of globalization] don't look so benign from the viewpoint of an American computer programmer or accountant. They've done what they were told to do: They went to college and prepared for well-paid careers with bountiful employment opportunities. But now their bosses are eyeing legions of well-qualified, English-speaking programmers and accountants in India, for example, who will happily work for a fraction of what Americans earn. Such prospective competition puts a damper on wage increases. And if the jobs do move offshore, displaced American workers may lose not only their jobs but also their pensions and health insurance. These people can be forgiven if they have doubts about the virtues of globalization.

....It's also going to be large. How large? In some recent research, I estimated that 30 million to 40 million U.S. jobs are potentially offshorable. These include scientists, mathematicians and editors on the high end and telephone operators, clerks and typists on the low end. Obviously, not all of these jobs are going to India, China or elsewhere. But many will.

....That is why I am going public with my concerns now. If we economists stubbornly insist on chanting "Free trade is good for you" to people who know that it is not, we will quickly become irrelevant to the public debate. Compared with that, a little apostasy should be welcome. - Economist Alan Blinder

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Friday, May 04, 2007

Nietzche Family Circus

He who lives as children live -- who does not struggle for his bread and does not believe that his actions possess any ultimate significance -- remains childlike.
Not sure how many of us remember "Family Circus" but I'm pretty inspired by the randomized pairing of the carton with randomized quotes by Nietzche. Really fun to read through these - check out The Nietzche Family Circus.

Great tip from Steven LaRose and Jacques de Beaufort

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Tenet, tweezers and Ron Jeremy??

You have to love the year book picture effect. It crystallizes our collective selves in such an endearing horror show kind of way. The year book picture always tells a truth and holds an ugly mirror up forever. With all the faux outrage George Tenet spewed on 60 Minutes and what I think will be a limply received new book - it's great to see young George next to his classmate, Ronnie "soon to be Jeremy" Hyatt. At least Ronnie made a career openly "pimpin". You gotta love that picture!

Via Wonkette.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

4 years later.....

Today marks the 4th anniversary of the Bush photo op - perhaps the greatest American propaganda stunt in history. So what has exactly been accomplished $500 billion later ?

Here's a "then and Now" from Think Progress:

May 1, 2003 Today
U.S. Troops Wounded 542 24,912
U.S. Troops Killed

139 3,351
Contractors Killed

69 916
Journalists and Media Assistants Killed

11 167
U.S. Forces in Iraq 150,000 146,000
Size of Iraqi Security Forces
7,000-9,000 334,300
Number of Insurgents less than 5,000 ~70,000 (Sunni only)
Insurgent Attacks Per Day 8 148.9
Cost to U.S. Taxpayers $79 billion $421 billion
Approval of Bush’s Handling of Iraq 75% 24%
Percentage of Americans who Believe The Iraq War Was “Worth Fighting” 70% 34%
Bush’s Overall Job Approval 71% 32%

Talk about surges....and I still sometimes can't believe it's been 4 years but then again it feels like 20.