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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Review of the Book

I am very pleased to report that the first review of this book in a scholarly venue has just been published. It is by Chris Rumford (University of London), and it appeared in the American Journal of Sociology.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How Many Worlds?

During his recent visit to India, President Obama focussed on what the New York Times calls "tangible goodies: for example contracts". Indeed, the US President signed a number of agreements for sales of U.S. products, widely discussed as tools that will "create fifty thousand jobs (according to a more sanguine source, seventy-five thousand jobs) in the U.S. The largest item in the deal is for a contingent of C-17 military transport planes, perhaps bridging the time until the new, joint Russo-Indian transport plane project (slated for 2018) "takes off," so to speak. The C-17 deal alone is estimated to "create" 22,160 jobs. It is difficult to escape the feeling that the more reassuring talk about India's permanent seat in the UN Security Council is part of some kind of a quid pro quo arrangement. (Keep in mind that the European Union, with a population less then half of India's, has two, and slated to have a third, seat in the Security Council. For more about how they do it and how they get away with it, see, among other things, Chapter 4 my book :-)))

But let's think about this model of job creation for a second.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 14.2 million people were unemployed in the United States in October 2010. That is approximately 189 times more than the seventy-five thousand jobs that are ostensibly "created" by the additional trade (using the most optimistic figure).

With a population of approximately 1.2 billion, India constitutes just under 18% of the world population. Putting the two figures together, it would take THIRTY-FOUR WORLDS to put all currently unemployed US residents to work.

Perhaps we'd do well to remember a remark by Gandhi, one of President Obama's most favored Indians, about how it took the whole of India to make tiny Britain into what it was; how many worlds would it take to do the same for the USA?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Further to IMF Restructuring

It's done! The IMF's governance has been rearranged for the first time since its inception.

Today's G20 meeting produced an agreement that reduced the EU's representation from 9 to 7 among the IMF's 24-member board of governors (an astounding, more than 8% loss of influence for the EU over the running of the de facto governing agency of the world economy), in favour of what they call, in a remarkable euphemism, "developing markets." According another source, the United States retains its 4 seats (16.65% share) and veto power. The combined strength of the US and EU representation has just gone from over fifty percent (13 of the 24 seats) to less than fifty percent (11 of the 24). This is bound to rearrange, retool and intensify, the relationship between the USA and the EU in the IMF. Given how volatile the world economy can be expected in the near future, this nexus may turn out to be even more important than before.

IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn paid tribute, in his statement today, "to the United States for having triggered the system and to the Europeans for having answered positively to this. The Europeans committed themselves to reducing their presence on the Board by two chairs, which is a huge effort." Strauss-Kahn repeated this phrase twice: "... a huge effort."

I can believe him that it was a huge effort (apparently the host, the South Korean Prime Minister, jovially threatened to close the airports until the meeting produces a result)--but what is much more important is that this decision marks a change in the way the world economy is run. In retrospect, we might find this change epochal. And I'd be astonished if there was not more to come. -- With that, interestingly, the Managing Director of the IMF seems to agree: Strauss-Kahn thinks that "it doesn’t mean that there won’t be any reform going forward. The world is changing. There will be other reforms."

I suspect most of the coverage will focus on how China promised greater flexibility with the RMB, and how the US promised restraint over its adjustment policies. But the structural transformation is at least as significant for the future of global governance.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Restructuring IMF Decision Making

It seems that the European Union's "single-entity" mode of operation (a strategy discussed in the last chapter of the book as one of the two key modes of operation the EU switches between) is running into political troubles. Asia Times reports that the United States--incidentally, the only state that has veto power in the governing board of the IMF--is putting pressure on the EU to cut its representation in the bank's board of governors from the nine (of the twenty-four) seats it occupies currently to "ensure appropriate representation for emerging powers, such as China and India, as well as for poor countries from Sub-Saharan Africa and other regions." As a counter-demand, the EU authorities have begun demanding that the USA should give up its veto power in the board.

There is even chatter about the possibility of an IMF-president from China.

It is difficult to imagine a more unambiguous empirical instance to demonstrate the political dimension of the declining global economic weight of western Europe (and the USA), a key theme of the argument developed in my book.

We are living in interesting times indeed.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

France vs Romania and Bulgaria, Take Two

It has been widely observed that Purchasing Power Parity (abbreviated as PPP, the method of estimation used in my previous posting), presents only one side of the complex realities of economic performance. It is always useful to look at both PPP and exchange rate-based measures (FX), if they are available.

World Development Indicators—the World Bank’s online global data bank—does not provide the FX-based estimate for per capita GNI, so I cannot do that with the numbers included in the graph used in my previous posting.

So I turned a more conventional measure, GDP. (This overstates the performance of those economies that have a significant number of multinational corporations operating abroad, and understates those on the receiving end.)

Since the French state is now deporting not only Romanian, but also Bulgarian Romanies—hence President Sarkozy has exhausted the list of EU-member, non-Schengen-citizens—I also included the figures for Bulgaria.

Here is the new graph, showing the per capita GDP figures for France, Romania and Bulgaria, for the entire period for which data are available for all three countries (1980 to 2008). For comparability and in order to be able to approximate relative global position, the figures have been converted into percentages of the world mean in the given year. (For a more detailed justification of this step, please read the relevant pages in my book.)

I have included three vertical bars as time indicators. The first one marks 1989, the collapse of state socialism in east-central Europe. The second indicates 2001, the year in which the visa obligation for Romanian and Bulgarian citizens was lifted by the powers that govern the common immigration management scheme of the European Union (affectionately referred to as Schengen-land). The third signals 2007, the year of the formal accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU.

Keep in mind that, even though they are supposedly citizens of EU-member states and don’t need to have visas to enter Schengen territory, holders of Romanian and Bulgarian passports are not entitled to stay longer than three months and are authorized to work in Schengen-land only under extremely exceptional conditions. Estimates concerning the admission of Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen system vary; the earliest--and least realistic--suggests 2011.

Back to the graph. We can clearly see that the PPP technique yields consistently higher estimates to the richer country than the FX; otherwise, the two graphs representing France’s economic performance are by and large parallel. In other words, irrespective of the method of estimation, France’s economic performance shows a slump (a little over 20% of the world mean in FX and approximately 45% measured in PPP) since 2002.

1. Meanwhile, both Romania and Bulgaria seem to have recovered from their 10-15-year depressions that began before the collapse of the state socialist system in 1989. Like pretty much all other erstwhile-state-socialist states of east-central and southeastern Europe, they are showing a modest growth since the late nineties. We know it from other sources that this growth is almost entirely due to foreign direct investment (here is a graph indicating the dynamics of FDI to Romania during the early part of the 21st century.)

2. In other words, this growth is driven by multinational corporations that are not rooted in Romania or Bulgaria in any way. They are

3. anchored predominantly in the European Union, and

4. this modest investment boom is to a large extent in anticipation of full EU-membership (which came, as I have mentioned above, in 2007).

In essence, hence, most of this investment boom is export-led growth, producing at depressed wage costs for the EU market.

A couple of things happened as part of this process. First, there has been a spectacular increase in temporary labor out-migration from Romania, with neo-Latin western Europe as its main destination. As a result, Romania became a major recipient of workers’ remittances (it is second only to Spain in that regard within the EU). In 2007 and 2008, almost one-fourth of all workers’ remittances recorded in the European Union were sent to Romania (which has less than 5% of the EU’s population). In the same year, according to UNDP estimates, remittances represented approximately 5.6% to 5.7% of Romania's and Bulgaria's GDPs, respectively. Of the remittances to Romania, about nine-tenth came from the EU.

In other words, even without a labor permit regime that would at least allow, if not encourage, some of their labor force participation to take place in the formal sector, Romanian citizens have been very consistently present in the EU labor markets. This is a textbook case of informal labor market integration
. In this regard, Romania is quite exceptional among the erstwhile state socialist states, and my guess would be that language skills—the fact that Romanian is a neo-Latin language, just like Spanish, Italian, French and Portuguese (and these are the states whose labor markets have the highest presence of Romanians)--allows members of Romanian society a certain informal labor market integration in Mediterranean EU that is not available to Romania’s predominantly Slavic- or, for that matter, Finno-Ugric-speaking neighbors.

The economic crisis of the last two years made its mark on the informal labor markets of the EU as well. Within-EU remittances have dropped by an astonishing 24% between 2008 and 2009 according to Eurostat figures.

The Romanies constitute a unique group within the overall migrant population. Because of a number of complex factors, overt racism and discrimination even in the informal market, they appear to be less engaged in the labor force. They are also vastly more visible as an outsider group than non-Romani Romanians and Bulgarians, made even more conspicuous by the formation of makeshift shantytowns, making them easy targets for a President bent on “systematically evacuating the camps.”

By the way, and to conclude this over-long post, we should remember that the 300 euros paid as an incentive to each expelled Romani constitutes 11.7% and 10.5% of the annual per capita GDPs of Bulgaria and Romania, respectively—i.e., just over one month’s average income there. In contrast, it is 1.27% of the GDP/cap of France.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

France and Romania

Yesterday the first groups of Romanies expelled from France have arrived in Bucharest.

Curious about the background, I looked at the dynamics of economic performance in the two countries. Specifically, I plotted their GNI/cap, estimated with at purchasing power parity, using public-domain data gathered by the World Bank, transformed into percentages of the world mean in the given year. Here is a quick graph depicting the results.

Two interesting things stand out.

First, Romania--like most post-state-socialist states--had a significant drop in economic performance, hence living standards, after the regime change: From just above 110 percent of the world mean, it dropped to 89% and even deeper, to 84% of the world average (in 1993 and 2000, respecctively). Since then, Romania has had an economic recovery of sorts, so that its GNI/cap reached 120% of the world average by 2008 (the most recent data point included in the IBRD dataset).

As for France, second, it had a very slow growth from 356% to 380% of the world mean GNI/cap between 1989 and 2002. Since then, it has been on a rather steep decline (it stood at 322% of the world average in 2008), a drop of almost 60% of the world mean GNI/cap in 6 years. That ought to have hurt.

Of course, contrary to simple "push-pull" theories, it is by now quite a commonplace observation of sociological work on migration that migration patterns and regulations never mechanically reproduce the dynamics of economic performance. There is always a delay and, much more important, there is a need for a penetration by the wealthier, would-be migrant-importer society into the structures of the poorer, labor-exporter-to-be. This creates the formal and informal institutions, as well as regulatory frameworks, through which migrant flows would materialize.

The case of Romania and its membership in the European Union, surging foreign direct investment, changing regulations for travel (i.e., the supposedly universal "right to free movement within the EU"), coupled with its absence from the common immigration management system (called "Schengen-land"), make it possible for the French state to flex its muscles and repatriate some of the Romanies of Romania.

An excellent question--potentially revealing a great deal about the nature of the French state and society, not to mention the meta-state called the European Union--is this: Why only the Romanies are subjected to this expulsion procedure? Why not the non-Romani (ethnic Romanian, Magyar, German, etc., citizens of Romania) who are also present in the EU, and very much in France, as migrant labor? What does this choice reveal about the nature of modern European statehood and power?

It is also an interesting footnote to this scandal that it is instigated by the current President of France, himself offspring of two families of immigrants, one side from Greece, the other from Hungary. (Apparently, his father, a Hungarian nobleman, arrived in France at the end of world war II, and did not apply for French citizenship until 1970.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"Asian" Giants Decoupling from "the West"?

In an analysis published in a recent issue of the Financial Times --brought to the attention of his Facebook friends by Alex Callinicos this morning--David Pilling, Asia editor of FT, considers the possibility that the current growth engines of the world, the most steeply growing, and largest Asian economies, may be in the process of "decoupling from the west." My reading suggests that the thought Pilling raises is that "Asian economies" might elect not to trade with "the west" at some point. Pilling insists of course that their ability to do so "has not been fully tested." (I suppose the only genuinely credible test of decoupling would be--the act of decoupling, obviating the guessing game).

No matter how carefully framed as a hypothetical possibility, this raises a host of questions regarding the immediate future of the basic structural setup of the global system.

First, as it was pointed out by a senior Chinese economist at an international conference in Beijing a few years ago (at a time when the US and EU governments were threatening PRC-based producers with dumping charges) we have a situation in which the "west" is dependent on China in a number of politically sensitive areas--e.g., a vast part of consumer product manufacturing. When I say "dependent," I mean the textbook definition of dependence: an economy is externally dependent to the extent it relies on inputs that are in the hands of a relatively small number of external actors. In the words of this Chinese economist, "[If western governments were to impose punitive measures on Chinese exports,] Chinese producers will just re-tool for a different size assortment for internal consumption; meanwhile the bottom half-to-two-thirds of the US and west European markets in textiles, electronics, etc., will fall out. No government can afford such a collapse." If we consider the broader point and add all the other major growth economies of Asia to China, this is truly nothing but a new situation of external dependence.

Second, whether any or all of what Pilling calls "Asian economies" is able to decouple from "the west" is truly questionable.

Third, what would it take for all the "Asian economies" to act together, in concert, displaying a global policy move of this magnitude? A single, harmonized trade policy involving China, India (two states that have not even been able to resolve their border disputes for more than two-generations), Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan, etc.? What about military alliances, the presence of foreign troops and the profits taken from such arrangements? What about the drastically different ownership structures of those economies? Some state socialist, others muslim, others hindu/muslim/parsi/buddhist/christian/united-in-diversity?

Fourth, to what extent is "the west" a single entity in this regard? Would all "Asian" economies decouple from all of the west in one fell scoop? Even the European Union--a concept we often oversimplify to mean a single unit--is known to be rather elusive and metaphorical in its "unit-ness": Consider what I call in Chapter Four of my book the elasticity of size: the European Union acts, clearly, either as a single unit or as a conglomerate of its 27 member states, or both, depending on the contexts, the decision-making rules and other conditions. Adding the USA and all the rest of the west in the mix, it is difficult to see them as a single unit of public authority (i.e., something the "Asian economies" could decouple from). Is Russia part of this "west"?

Fifth, why would the "Asian economies" want to do so? This is a truly nagging question, since the current arrangement seems to be working great for the rising "Asian" economies: they are having a 6% to 10% differential in growth rates.

Sixth, decoupling of this magnitude, especially in the non- or partly-liberalized (not to mention, as in the case of the PRC and Vietnam, to a considerable degree state-owned) economies, can only take place through a set of policy measures conceived, governed, executed and safeguarded by the national governments. Which government of these steeply rising economies would even contemplate global turmoil and precipitous drops in profitability by shedding the "west"--read: currently their largest external market?

Seventh, the threat of being left behind is of course something that will always have a certain currency in "the west," which is plagued not only by vague remnants of its own tradition of xenophobia, especially vis-a-vis "Asia," but a large dose of bad conscience in a post-colonial world. Given this mild but persistent psychosis, conversations of "Asian decoupling" will likely strengthen "western" integration, possibly beyond the borders of the European Union. At least that is what the decade's research on the five-centuries-long history of capitalist geopolitical economy, and the peculiarities of west European statehood in that history, suggest.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Soros, Temasek Buy into Indian Stock Exchanges

Billionaire George Soros' Soros Fund Management is finalizing a deal to buy 4% of Bombay Stock Exchange, one of India's two exchanges, for approximately USD 40 million. The deal might be seen as "merely" symbolic (the amount is relatively small, the share is very far from controlling, etc.) but, in the world of international finance, symbols matter a great deal. This is especially so as recently Singapore's Temasek has bought approximately 5% of India's other major exchange, the National Stock Exchange of India (for USD 145 million). The two moves together indicate something much more significant than just "a sign of confidence in the Bombay Stock Exchange," as suggested by the latter's chief executive, Madhu Kannan.

It is a sign of confidence in India's global economic weight--in historical perspective, likely an issue for the geopolitical entities that have dominated the history of global capitalism for the last two-to-four centuries (western European and north American capital and states).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Offended, the EU Marches Out -- It Seems

The trilateral talks regarding the management of Hungary's budget and overall fiscal woes, involving the government of Hungary, the IMF and the European Union, broke off abruptly on July 17.

Most fascinating about the sudden breakdown is that the three sides can't, or won't, even agree about who walked out and for what reason. The Hungarian government is insinuating, somewhat inconsistently but all the more insistently, that the main fault-line is between itself and the IMF (implying of course that the government--which uses a rhetoric vaguely reminiscent of the Third World revolutionary left of one-to-two generations earlier, only with a neo-conservative content) is "standing up to" the faceless forces of financial imperialism, etc.). The finance/economy minister has claimed that the era of Hungary's "financial independence" is approaching. No journalist asks the question of how that would be possible for a state whose internal market comprises no more than .1% of the world economy, and whose economy is estimated to be more than 75% foreign-owned.

For its part, the IMF appears to deny this and claims that it was a neutral party to the conflict. Were that true, the main clash would have taken place between the Hungarian government
    and the EU
. (The former is of course part of the latter).

Now, that brings us to a very interesting problem--and one that is at the heart of my book :-)--: Just what exactly is the relationship between the "center" of the European Union (commonly referred to as "Brussels") and the member states? Ultimately where is power located? Can the EU actually force the hand of a member state--especially in the case of a state that is not a member of the less-than-fully-common currency, the Euro? Would it try to do so? If it did, just by what means can it do that? If it does not, (i.e., if it refrains from disciplining one of its members, or if it fails to do so), how can the EU continue claiming to be a geopolitical player of a global sway? If it uses harsh methods to do so, what remains of the new claim of "soft power"?

To make things even more entertaining, of course the days of the Hungarian EU-presidency (an agenda-setting authority rotating among the member-states on a semiannual basis) are rapidly approaching.

//For more on the complexity of the relationship between "Brussels" and the member states, see my book, especially Chapter 4.//

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Fragility of Financial Institutions

On June 2, 2010, Kósa Lajos, the mayor of a town of 250 thousand and vice chairman of the senior party in the incoming right-wing government of Hungary, stated at a conference that the economic situation of Hungary, inherited from the socialist-liberal government of 2002 to 2010, was so grave that it was reminiscent of the Greek crisis, and Hungary was "close to a default." In a nice, quintessentially conservative-populist tone, he conjectured that "a temporary suspension of constitutional rights" might be "necessary" for dealing the crisis. As such, this is of no particular concern beyond the borders of Hungary.

What is more fascinating is the speed and intensity with which the news wreaked havoc not only on the small and otherwise rather insignificant Hungarian stock exchange and currency (Hungary is not a member of the Euro), but the EU and beyond. According to a foreign exchange observer website, "the euro was hit hard and dropped below 1.2 against the dollar [. . .]. Growth currencies such as Australian dollar and New Zealand dollar also got hammered." As a result of all this, the Euro sank "to a four-year low" vis-a-vis the USD.

Buckle your seatbelts.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Global public data in reasonably user-friendly form

The World Bank has made part of its World Development Indicators data set available to anyone with a computer and a reasonably fast internet connection, at no additional cost. Clearly, an improvement on the situation before.

Google, for its part, has created a new visualisation application that makes great graphics from data obtained from the WDI and other publicly available datasets.

Although probably not exactly meeting all professional standards for quantitative research, these are definitely superb teaching tools.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Fixed!

Here is a cartoon from the Indian newspaper The Hindu, summing up the situation nicely. Notice especially how the IMF seems to have done the "fixing" and the EU is standing idly by. Very fitting indeed.

The EU's economic woes (where the heart of the matter is the consistent negative growth) do look a little funny from India (where there has been significant net growth, both in per capita terms and in shares in gross world product).

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Greece Crisis Brings Elasticity of Weight under Pressure

One key strategy of the EU in global politics has been what I call (in the last chapter of the book) the elasticity of weight. The idea is that its amorphous, lightly-defined, not-quite-state-like character allows the EU to present itself to the outside world in two modalities: /1/ as a quasi-state, i.e., as a singe unit (this is useful where there is a need for a unified and heavy-weight performance) or /2/ what I call "the Westphalian" modality, involving acting as a loose conglomerate of its (currently 27) member states (this works best in venues where voting is by unit, i.e., the UN General Assembly or the Security Council, etc.)

One interesting way to interpret what is going on with respect to Greece today is that the EU seems not to have been able to maximize its advantage with respect to Greece, by "sticking" too much, or perhaps for a bit "too long" to a the Westphalian model (so that there has been talk, talk, talk, but no concerted action), to the detriment of its ability to act in unison (as a single, unified quasi-state).

Of course all this can be corrected (after all, Greece is a globally small, within Europe "mid-size" state that can be bailed out with relative ease, certainly in comparison to, say, Germany), but the fact remains that the ways in which the EU is able to utilize its unique ability to switch, at will, between the two modalities is the essence of its success in the world of global geopolitics.

Meanwhile, of course China, India and quite a few other, fairly large states are putting in more and more economic weight, while the Euro-zone is slipping, slipping, slipping...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Angus Maddison

Angus Maddison, the great economic historian, whose life work is encapsulated in a strikingly useful (and user-friendly) global-comparative data-set about economic performance and population change (without which my work over the last 8-10 years, including this book, would simply not have been possible) has passed away at the age of 84. http://www.ggdc.net/maddison/

Thursday, April 15, 2010

IMHO, News of the EU's Death Is Grossly Exaggerated (although we should always listen carefully to George Soros)

George Soros thinks not only that "[i]t is 50-50 whether the euro zone breaks up," but that even "the European Union itself [is] at risk of breaking up."

This would be a sensible expectation, I suppose, if the EURO, or the shared monetary and fiscal policies it rests on, were the only thing that kept the European Union together.

I don't think that is the case. As I argue in my book :-), the EU is, at its heart, also a geopolitical project, devised under circumstances that have been trying not only for west European capital, but also for west European states. The EU is a response to those trying circumstances (especially the west European states' and west European capital's endemic problems of size and global economic weight).

Since its creation two generations ago, the organization we call the EU today has advanced to a level far beyond a monetary union or a shared economic policy. Although it is not a state, it is definitely a supra-state polity of sorts by now, and its breakup would cause, as pretty much everybody at the helm of the EU as well as the member states seems to agree, damages way beyond the cost of ostensibly "helping out the profligate southerners." (I love this language of "the southerners", as if written to please graduate students interested in critical race theory.)

Anyway, my bet is 90:10 for the survival of the EU :-)).

Friday, April 9, 2010

Demand Dignity

Forced evictions, from Italy through Greece to Serbia to Romania. Who could the victims be? You guessed it: the Roma. Amnesty International does an OK job about calling attention to this. I'm sure this is useful--but, to my taste, there is a little too much talk of housing and rights, and too little of the colonial roots of racism and the ways in which the project of "European construction" is implicated in the perpetuation of the latter. But, I guess, that's just how NGO politics works.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

To Bail or Not To Bail

The bickering, as it is obvious to anyone following European politics, continues as to whether the EU, the Eurozone, the IMF, or who knows what external force, should bail out Greece. The latest is a proposal about splitting the Euro into two: one called Euronord, the other Eurosud. I find this absolutely brilliant. But why stop at "north/south"? Why not split along, oh, I don't know, perhaps the borders of the member states?

In my opinion, this is a superbly clear example of the complex global geopolitical entity, the EU, dancing a two-step routine: acting, in one context, as a single entity and, in another, as an (or more) ad hoc group(s) of its members. I call this routine in chapter 4 of my book the elasticity of size. For more, see it there . . .

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Indo-EU Summit language

I am offering a sumptuous vegetarian lunch at the Swagath Gourmet on Oak Tree Road in Iselin, NJ to the person that can explain to me what the following paragraph (taken from the Joint Statement of the EU-India Summit of 6 Novermber 2009 means:

"35. The Leaders noted with appreciation the role of Indian and European civil society and of the EU-India round table, and agreed on the need to review its role in India-EU relations and to decide on its future activities."

On one (pseudo-naive) level, I find it extremely offensive (it should be civil society that affirms (or not) the activities of politicians, not the other way around, or have I missed something?). Otherwise, I am at a complete loss. I would be grateful for any pointers. :-)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A German-Greek Dialogue, Of Sorts

Germany (with a debt of 185.2% of its GDP) is leading a crusade against the Greek government's irresponsible fiscal policies (at 48.4% of the GDP).

Meanwhile, Marc Baronnet's calculations indicate that the magnitude of Greek and German government spending is roughly the same (40-45% of the GDP).

Germany is so adamant about putative Greek "irresponsibility" that Angela Merkel raised even the specter of possible expulsion from the Euro-zone, in the context of discussions about the Greek crisis. But even if that doesn't happen, Greece "needs to do its homework."

Unless these data are seriously off (which is always a possibility with stuff one gets from the web) I'm not sure what exactly gives the German government this high podium to talk down from.

Once Liberal Netherlands Might Have Extreme-Rightist-Led Government?

Poll results indicate that Dutch anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders might become the first explicitly right-extremist prime minister of an EU-member state (see here or here for more). Should that happen, the truly interesting question is how the European Union will react to the emergence of a government in one of its member states that pursues political goals that might clash not only with the EU's rules of behaviour, but also basic human rights. (In my humble opinion, probably nothing will happen, just as it did [not] in the Austrian case when the right-extremists were junior members of a coalition government.) What a mess.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

China (!) is considering rail-links to EU

Apparently, the government of the People's Republic of China is studying the feasibility of the construction of a high-speed rail link to the EU. I love this: It is not that the "EU is considering . . .", no. The PRC is considering. We really are living in new and interesting times.

Three branches are planned, one in the south (through India, Pakistan and west Asia), and another in the north, through Russia, toward Germany. A third branch would extend in China's south to Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia.

Perhaps it could be called . . . hm, oh, I don't know, maybe . . . I got it: The Silk Route?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Women in Parliament

Missing International Women's Day by a few hours, the upper house of the Indian Parliament passed a historic bill today, providing for a guaranteed one-third representation of women in political power.

According to data published by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the world-wide proportion of women in parliaments is 18.8%. The EU Parliament has 35%, a proportion that had increased steadily from 16% in the 1979-84 term. Only five of the EU's twenty-seven current member states--Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Belgium and Spain--have parliaments where the proportion of women reaches one-third. BTW, the highest result is Rwanda, with over half of the members of the lower house, and just below one-third of the members of the upper house, are women. (Hungary is at a miserable 98th place, with 11.1%). :-((((

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Asymmetries

So, negotiations for an EU-India Free Trade Agreement are on. What's striking about this is the asymmetry of the arrangement.

To start with, the European Union "shares and pools" the sovereignties of most states that were, only one to two generations ago, the colonial powers of the history of capitalism; India, on the other hand, is an iconic example of a former colony that attained independence from west European colonizers.

As such, the EU is a non-state public authority with limited competencies (e.g., it has no army, no police, no executive apparatus of its own at all); India is the world's second largest state, with enormous capacity at its command. With less than 7.5 percent of the world's population (and falling, compensated only by enlargements), the EU commands one-fifth to one-fourth of the gross world product (also decreasing); with approximately 17 % of the world population (and growing), India has five to six percent of the gross world product (also growing). Something like 25-30 languages are spoken in the EU, depending on how you count them (to be more precise, the European Union recognizes 23 "official languages," three "semi-official languages," not to mention five others, including Romani; in India, meanwhile, "29 languages have more than a million native speakers, 60 have more than 100,000 and 122 have more than 10,000 native speakers."

Multiple asymmetries have a tendency to be used against each other. It would be truly interesting to have direct access to the negotiations.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

a little inconsistency, here and there

In 2007, the European Parliament deplored the rendition process in Europe, but insisted that it was "not possible to point to secret rendition in" by then, for three years EU-member "Poland." Three years later (a few days ago): it became not only possible, in fact it appears almost easy.

Fascinating.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

EU colonies

Little-known factoid: the EU has 20 colonies (called "associated overseas territories.") What an elegant way to capture 500 years of history in one term: "associated"!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

G-20

According to background info provided by the EU's commission, the G-20's "members [. . .] are the finance ministers and central bank governors of 19 countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. The European Union is also a member, represented by the rotating Council Presidency and the European Central Bank."

Hm. So, we have a situation in which an integovernmental agency (the G-20) is constituted such that some members--namely: France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom--are represented twice: once as member states of G-20, and once again through their membership in the EU (which is one of the "members" of the G-20). If they they vote by membership, this means the four west European members of G-20 (altogether approximately 5% of humankind) have 5 votes, i.e., a decision making power of 5/20=25% of the total, roughly five times their population share.

Interesting. A significant part of the last chapter of my book is about this, actually. I wonder how they get away with this.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Barroso waxes world-historic

Here is a video exposé (of sorts) of the theme of this book, presented by none other than José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, in two versions: short and long.

cover page of the book

cover page of the book
image used for the cover design by Anannya Dasgupta