Reform in Egypt?

When George W Bush visited Israel a while ago, May 2008, he held a speech concerning the sixty year prospect of the region. The occasion was the sixty year celebration of the State of Israel. Most people in Sweden would probably doubt his vision of a prosperous region in peace. The question is if the current events in Tunisia and Egypt are stepping stones in the right direction or if we only can assume we will see changes of faces around the spider web the "secret service" constitutes? Even Syria starts talking about reforms.

Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State in the US, thinks military restraint and democratic reform would be preferable. It is interesting to note that the military seems to become friends with the revolutionaries in both Tunisia and Egypt. Although, apparently Mubarak showed himself with the army chief on television in a possible attempt to gain some goodwill.

The fact that people are so fed up that they begin to risk their lives for change is a good thing, since it will have effect on the debate of for example the rule of China. Freedom matters. Autocratic means of governance seems to fail, given some time depending on the culture in question. It must also be good for the people in Iraq to see that their suffering through their civil war might have the effect of moderation on the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Heard one Tunisian activist that said they would not do the same mistake as the Iraqis. What is happening is of course very serious, already 100 people have lost their lives in Egypt. It is tempting to assume that people in Tunisia and Egypt have compared their lives with those of friends and relatives in Europe who live a more free life.

There was an estimate that the Muslim Brotherhood would get 80% of the vote in a fair election? Sounds high but this could of course mean trouble for the region since it might become a giant Gaza in the eyes of Israel. Hamas stem from this organization. The problem is then that there might not be any other solution on the present crisis. Despite this the Obama wants "real" democracy. It is a tough call.


State of the Union Address 2011

I eagerly awaited the State of the Union Address this morning European time and I agree with Obama that the US will find an innovative way out of their fiscal dilemma. The US has a remarkable record in this respect.

I found one particularly interesting passage: "We will move forward together, or not at all - for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics". In other words, Obama is tired of politics and partisanship. I'm not sure that the feeling of alarm has reached the war-like status that would be necessary to unite the politics in the US right now though. President Obama started out his presidentship with this unifying message. Things have moved in the opposite direction after that.

However, the notion that we have passed a political stage in history and that a unified concept of global economy has taken over perhaps is a little premature. Perhaps a tough dialogue between the parties, as Obama himself is saying is the defining concept of America, is rather the way forward.

Moving forward is by the way also the concept used by the largest party in the minority government in the election last September. I'm mentioning this because of the recent interest in the Nordic economies. After having lived and worked in the US for nearly ten years, I would not think the cultures similar enough for lessons to be learned until they merged further by mutual interest. The current discussion on the health care reform clearly demonstrates that the redistribution schemes are quite far apart.

What I would like to know is if the politics envisioned by John Rawls applied on the US would give as much innovation as today?


The Axiom?

Martin Wolf, the chief economic editor at the Financial Times with a past at the World Bank, wrote in 2004 that economics should trump politics. Otmar Issing, one of the founders of the EMU, wrote recently that it would not be a good thing if economics trumped politics in the EU and therefore led to a forced fiscal union.
On a smaller scale we find today the discussion on how the "Alliansen" in Sweden should work in the future according to PJ Anders Linder at the Svenska Dagbladet today. Per Schlingman, the former party secretary of the Moderates, speaks for more integration in the four party "Alliansen". Other spokespersons for the other parties think there should remain fragmentation.

PJ Anders Linder advocates an open discussion on the issues of what the so called "borgeliga", ie the four right-of-center parties in Sweden, should have as a program. What I miss in order to start thinking about this problem is the axiom. It is going well for Sweden right now. It would therefore be tempting to think that Sweden should carve out it own path in the world. However, with two percent of the people in the EU, is Sweden not just an interesting example rather than the way to go for the rest?

Another way to start would be to assume that harmonization with the EU should be attempted with a fusion of the two liberal parties and also the Christian Democrats and the Moderates, to match the divisions in the EU parliament, ALDE and EPP, respectively. The problem is that EU does not seem to work right now and therefore it might be better for Sweden to harmonize with one of the main countries in Europe, like the UK or Germany.

In the early modern era of 1500 to 1700 England took the lead and formed the Anglo-American dynasty that is still around today. I firmly believe in its further success. This dynasty differed from the earlier ones in Europe, China, and India by being based on a new liberal philosophy and science, property rights and an efficient economic organization. It is still the best there is and adapting the school system in Sweden to move closer to the core is probably the best way forward.

However, it is not easy for the Swedes to make the above choice. There is the German Fourth Reich and then there is China. Many people today make an error judging the success of China's politics. So far they have not shown that a full size country can get GDP per capita values close to those of the Western nations. Transferring to Chinese ways might mean lowering the standard of living. I believe freedom matters.


A Nordic Union would be more interesting with the UK and the Baltics included?

Reading in the Financial Times that David Cameron, the UK prime minister, hosted a dinner yesterday with leaders from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Lituania, Latvia, and Estonia. Cameron, who said he was working with France and Germany on EU budget discipline, believes such countries being more Atlanticist might have things to discuss.

Such a dinner might be more important than otherwise with the positions in the EMU seemingly locked to a standstill over the issue of who is going to bail out the South. From the point of view of a for the UK and Germany somewhat schizophrenic Sweden this might be an interesting opening. The UK and Sweden for example share the idea of a generous immigration politics--a very important issue in the coming decades.

The EU then would break up in a Northern-Western direction with Germany looking eastward and France and Italy looking southward. The revolution in Tunisia is of course very important in this respect. It demonstrates a clear devotion for democracy in an Arab country which would resonate well with all European Muslims and promote more immigration to adjust the otherwise bleak demographics for EU.

Well, is this highly heretic or actual dinner conversation?


A land of peace or a land for peace?

I recently argued that Sweden might return to their old neutrality politics because of their peaceful attitude. In Sweden the US is probably seen as a warring nation. However, here is an interesting statistic.

Sweden feature two important political assassinations. The prime minister Olof Palme in 1986 and the foreign minister Anna Lindh in 2003, both Social Democrats. There are 33 times more people in the US which would mean that we would assume that we would find about 67 political assassinations in the US, all things equal.

The assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King and now Gabrielle Gifford, who is actually showing some vital signs, amount to only four. So, although crime rates are higher in the US, they don't seem to attack their politicians to the same degree.


Is Sweden on the way back to a neutral position?

It has been going on for a decade now, the problem with China's undervalued currency. The most dramatic lines in Gideon Rachman's book Zero-Sum World, that came out in November of 2010, are: "It is no longer clear that the most important economic relationship in the world--that between China and the United States--is still mutually beneficial. The Americans worry about their trade deficit with China and argue that an undervalued Chinese currency helped create the credit bubble that blew up in 2008. The Chinese call such charges absurd--and worry about the safety of their dollar assets."

Would a small country with a large export industry be careful to take sides in such a battle? Would they forget what happened when Liu Xiaobo got the Nobel Peace Prize--threats from China to countries participating in the festivities in Oslo? Democracy? Well, the Swedes as a people are still hesitating to join NATO, even if the membership in the EU approximately amounts to the same thing, except a relationship with the US. The Social Democrats and their coalition, prior to the election last September, even suggested that the US should close their bases around the world. That might mean that they think US's supposed empire is in decline. Values or prosperity?

The SOM Institute in Göteborg regularly polls the Swedes to find out what they value the most. It is health, freedom, honesty and a world in peace. Peace runs very strongly among the Swedes. They have a tradition of staying out of the World Wars and concentrate on peace keeping in the UN and Afghanistan. They reacted very strongly against the Vietnam War and has taken in 2% of it's population worth of Iraqis. Faced with this moral dilemma, my guess would be that they retract into a neutrality politics. It is interesting to note that Germany seems to be heading in the same direction?



It is very difficult to write something new about the situation in Europe with the debt crisis and the Euro-zone problem. However, according to the Financial Times Otmar Issing, a highly respected German economist, who participated in the set up of the Euro, have said that it is not good if a so called transfer union is formed, ie, when rich countries gives to the poor in the EU. He also did not like that an almost consensus had formed around the notion that more strict rules would not help countries keep their budgets.

It seems to me that this would be new information if heeded by the German public. Because it would be one step closer to the D-mark reinstatement. There is one way out that probably is so unpopular that it is unreasonable but it would be possible to peg the salary levels in government to the GDP/capita for each nation. Private companies would follow suit. They could then compete nation for nation to improve their situation and would be more competitive due to lower salaries. I don't see another solution, but then again I am not an economist. Issing ruled out a political union brought about by the necessity for saving the Euro and the idea of such a solution would be to use transfers to equalize the economy.

The fact that lowering salaries, raising pension age and other austerity changes are so unpopular that they seem to induce instabilities is actually quite serious. Because there simply is no other way if a transfer union is not installed. It would be interesting to know if Swedes would be interested in a transfer union? One idea could be to give "influence points" to countries that give transfers. A small country like Sweden could therefore get more to say which would make sense because they have a functioning economy. This might make transfers more popular. It is very quiet in Swedish media on the Euro/debt crisis, by the way. It is actually quite a fuss on the Continent. Is this because there is no solution?


The Reluctant Empire

Finished reading the very interesting Colossos by Niall Ferguson from 2005. As one reviewer said, he sets the US on the "psychiatrist's coach" and concludes that the US ought to act as the empire it in reality is instead of hesitating. He compares the Americans to the Brits in their empire and concludes that if the US has an enemy it will come from within. Three four years later he was proven correct due to the financial crisis. As George W. Bush said, "they got drunk on Wall Street".

Martin Wolf at the Financial Times made an analogy with the US having succumbed to a heart attack during the financial crisis this fall. I wondered at the time if he was serious with the metaphor in that there would be a scar that does not heal. Since then, I have gotten the feeling that the Financial Times actually thinks in this approximate way.

Reading Colossos in 2010 it is possible to check the health care reform that was supposed to correct for the projected deficit in health care that Ferguson brings up, although it didn't. His calculation of the costs of the Iraq war has been proven wrong by Joseph Stiglitz who claimed three trillion dollars had been the cost which is a significant part of the current debt. Ferguson was very critical to the US debt size.

What has happened since 2005 is of course the financial crisis and Barack Obama. The combination made me realize that there had been a fundamental change in the position of the US in the world. I once wrote that this change, that Obama perhaps had called for, meant that old ways had become extinct. Robert Kagan has said that he does not think so but in my mind China and India are coming up so fast that hegemony, or "hegemoney" as Ferguson calls it, is not really possible any longer. If anything, it is rather China that sits on a pile of cash which they can spend strategically.

As a Swede, ie from the perspective of citizen from a country without power, however, I don't see this as such a large problem. The US is still US even if it has rivals. Power and economy will become less important and human rights and freedom instead become paramount. In today's Financial Times there is a rosy article by Li Keqiang, the vice-premier of China, due to his current European visit. It is a little too rosy for me because even if China does not play baseball they have played hardball lately.


Obama might be trying a neo-Rawlsian approach to the world

G. John Ikenberry wrote in the January/February 2008 number of Foreign Affairs, The Rise of China and the Future of the West, prior to the financial crisis and Barack Obama's presidency, about the need of letting China into the Western Order. Gideon Rachman, at the Financial Times thinks this is getting less probable in his recent book Zero-Sum World. Since Ikenberry is a leading ideologue in Obama's administration, Rachman then seems to challenge the modus operandum of Obama's foreign policy.

Ikenberry suggests that the US takes a breath and positions itself behind a "veil of ignorance" to find out where they want to be now when they are relatively less powerful. He says: "The United States cannot thwart China's rise, but it can help ensure that China's power is exercised within the rules and institutions that the United States and its partners have crafted over the last century, rules and institutions that can protect the interests of all states in the more crowded world of the future."

Thus, the question how the Eastern authoritative ruling system can be economically integrated in the Western Order is an important one. To what extent can rules be shared, especially now when asymmetries have arisen in world trade. Japan's development affords an interesting example. Under a democratic, almost one party system, they have risen to nearly the same GDP per capita as the US. Still their society is very Japanese, even if they actually play little league baseball. If China does a similar journey they will be gigantic but there will still be Japan, India, the US and Europe. The rise of Japan, by the way, caused quite a stir in the US at the time.

It should be noted, however, that Ikenberry also brings up the similarity to the rise of Germany prior to World War I and refers to Niall Ferguson's discussion of the topic. This is a hurdle we have to pass. I guess what the debate in reality is about is if the liberals system can survive which is a question Ikenberry asks. He does not see America winning over China but sees the West winning over China. My idea of why this is the case is the scientific revolution which is exported successfully to the East. It might actually be the only thing they are impressed by.


Do you have to be mano-depresssive to study the world right now?

It has been suggested that the world could be governed in roughly the same manner as the EU, eg, via the G20 mechanism. But ruling the world is a rather manic occupation. It seems like many think technology is going to make governing the world possible and "trivial" things as cultural differences are forgotten.

What is causing this mania is a depression stemming from the Great Recession where the West has entered a dark mood and emerging nations are becoming rivals, not partners.

If I have understood this correctly, the reason for why the Euro is in danger is that there is no political frame for the currency region. There does not seem to be enough political will to govern the EU and to talk about governing economically but not politically seems desperate not knowing how. Therefore ruling the world would be more difficult and should not even be discussed. Rather should diplomacy as delineated by the Obama administration be promoted. Networking rather than hegemony because fragmentation forces are greater than the opposite.

Personally I think sticking to our values of liberty, the rule of law, democracy and spirituality thus maintaining the most livable condition is the key to continued success.


Should the EU stay as it is?

There is an interesting interview of Niall Ferguson on BigThink.com where he lists six items that are important for why Europe went ahead during the last 500 years.

The competition between all various kingdoms and the geography that created this is the first cause. Then he lists the scientific revolution and modern medicine as the two next ones. He does not believe democracy was the key but rather the Rule of Law that led to representation by property owners that came to pass around the glorious revolution of 1688 and the ideas of John Locke. He says consumer society that drives the economy and the work ethic. He does not think the Protestant work ethic is superior to the work ethic of the Chinese.

This list leaves the question about what is the hen and what is the egg unanswered. The development of an economy or the scientific revolution. He does not list religion or freedom as important. The Chinese that were advanced in the 16th century did not have a God concept nor any Biblical ideas of subduing the globe or to do the impossible. They did not discover the Western Hemisphere.

However, the EU is right now facing a crisis where it seems like the main issue is how to solve internal imbalances in the EU economy. Lately I have seen the federalists gain a little of an upper hand or rather people that want to mysteriously run the EU without any government--more discipline. There has also surfaced arguments of creating a northern Eurozone which would entail quite a change.

But if Ferguson is right about competition among the EU states being the key for modernity with nationalities and different languages would not the EU as it is progress faster and more elaborate than would the federalized US? At least if the brain drain to the states could be alleviated. The US does retain its greater allure to foreign students from other parts of the world due to the English language of course which will give them an edge. Ralph Waldo Emerson's comment in The American Scholar from 1837, called the American literary declaration of independence, "gather from far various genius to our hospitable halls" might still be stage two in the rocket of the Western civilization.

Ferguson, on an ominous note, also compares the global situation we now face as analogous with that of Europe hundred years ago. China being equivalent with Germany and the US with Great Britain. What might speak for such a situation could be the more authoritative nature of our situation today which would bring us back in time--management wise. It is, however, along the line of what Gideon Rachman wrote in his book Zero-Sum World which could be summarized: there is trouble up ahead.


A comment on the European debt crisis

On December 29 Irwin Stelzer wrote an article on wsj.com where he claims Euroland has gone from tragedy to farce. Dick Erixon says he is mean and complains that the Europeans don't work hard enough. It seems to me that the problem rather is that there are not enough jobs. In our highly technological society, the welfare state, it should not be necessary to work like slaves used to do. We are supposed to do brainy things. It is just that all people are not interested in brainy work.

The jobs, by the way, are in China and European investors and others earn lots of money there which is of course good or bad. Lowering salaries would be a solution to increase competitiveness and maybe the competition from China will induce this change in more than governmental services. But since Stelzer worries about Europe being taken over by China in the last paragraph of his article, it might be interesting to speculate on what people should be doing when there are not enough brainy people to keep people occupied. It might be a new challenge for the Western world.

Birger Schlaugh, a former party leader for the Greens in Sweden, argues for more free time for leisure for a healthier populace. However, I have a feeling that this kind of argumentation assumes that the human race would have to evolve to become more attuned to leisure or rather more noble pursuits. I don't see leisure as a problem. Most people do their thing and rather crave something to do.

Reading Niall Ferguson's Empire from 2003 where he describes the rise and fall of the Bristish Empire. He does a very social realistic narrative where you get the feeling that the Westerners, led by Britain, were quite inconsiderate since the viewpoint is from now to then. Slavery and annihilation of entire civilizations is an issue. Can't help thinking about the possibility that left over people in the West currently risk becoming slaves. In Sweden you talk about "the outside ship" which is the one tenth that are not employed. In Spain there are currently twice as many. The problem is if not so bright people feel they have to active this lot. This is a risk that David Cameron in the UK and Fredrik Reinfeldt in Sweden run when they talk about their "Big Society" and "work line", respectively.


Mental Attitude?

I was interested in comparing the pantheistic Shinto to Religious Humanism which is also pantheism but only materialistic. Read The Essence of Shinto from 2006 by Motohisa Yamakage who is the 79th descendent of Shinto Masters in Yamakage Shinto and also a graduate in Economy.

Shintoism is an originally Japanese spiritual movement that blended with Buddhism when it came to Japan around the 6th century from China and therefore also has Confucian and Daoistic elements. It is pantheistic and non-personal in character but spiritual not religious since there is not really any canon or doctrines. There is a head God or Kami that is closely linked with Nature but also other inferior Kamis which to some mean a polytheistic character although the head Kami gives it a pantheistic touch. There is a clear supernatural component and as Descartes said about Christianity you don’t need intelligence or knowledge to practice Shintoism. It is all about mental attitude. Ethics and esthetics are closely intertwined.
Shinto has no founder. The mental attitude—as opposed to the words and sermons—of the priests that are deeply committed to the devout life can move many hearts. Shinto has no idols. Shinto has no organization. They don’t have temples but shrines. Shinto begins and ends with harai. The art of restoring balance. Also central in Shinto is misogi or purification. There are four types of purification, seimei seichoku: clean, bright, right and straight. Bright also means happy whereas straight means honest. Seimei means a clean and happy attitude of inner mind that is achieved by purification. Seichoku means right action or behavior as well as the social aspect of being right, not committing any crime or offense, and behaving with honesty openness and frankness towards others.
There is life after death and the body is in essence just discarded as unclean after death. Burials are too unclean for taking place at shrines. Purifying the mind means purifying our words and thoughts and straightening our way of thinking and way we experience reality. For it is always so easy for human minds to expand lazily and limitlessly and in so doing lose stability.
The priest of Shinto is therefore supposed to radiate a certain charisma which he or she obtains from generating a mental attitude where words and thoughts are purified. It is more important that they radiate this attitude than that they impress people with words. I can’t help thinking about if it is possible to clean one’s thoughts or not. How do we know what to discard in order not to lose creativity? In my mind it would be important to have one’s mind as a laboratory for the preparation of speech and writings so one cleaning procedure is what to retain in the spoken language or writings. It is obviously possible to remove profanities from processing but not from memory so they might still have unknown effects. By keeping one’s mind active on more noble pursuits it would seem one could generate better ideas?
It is not clear from the book whether or not thoughts are supernatural or part of the body. You go to a shrine to have a Kami descend on you after having cleaned yourself but there is talk of a dualism with body and spirits. Thought processes might therefore be spiritual in character. In Religious Humanism, like Spinoza originally suggested, they are part of the body but might not be material in the sense of consisting of atoms but rather being results of atom processes. In Shinto they might think they want to harmonize thoughts with Kami and thus the need for purification. In Religious Humanism this would not be so important.