Archive for the ‘Germany’ category

Is Socialism A Real Fear?

January 20, 2019

Recently I got into a discussion with friends over what danger some of the new Democrat Congress members posed.  “Why that woman from New York wants free college education for everyone” one friend said.  “How is the country going to pay for it?”  The person added, “that woman wants to tax the rich to pay for it and that means we are going to have to pay more in taxes”.  Hmmm.

Where does one begin?

The friend making that statement probably lives in the 90th% income bracket which is about $150,000 in yearly income.  The couple probably have a pension, social security, and some income from investments.  They own a home and a vacation house.  They live comfortably but certainly not extravagantly.  Compared to average household income of $61,000, they are doing well.  So why the fear of free college?

My friend did not stop at having to pay higher taxes.  My friend quickly added, free college education would take the US to socialism.  And another friend said, “from socialism, communism was next.  And just look at Russia, Venezuela, and Cuba”  (I guess they had never visited China.)  Hmmm.

These two friends are both educated, well spoken, and otherwise reasonably charitable people.  From where could this disconnect from logic and reality come?  That’s a “foxy” question I think.

I wonder whether my two friends have thought why someone would advocate for free college education in the first place?  I wonder whether they realize that educated people are a resource just like rivers, roads, and electricity.  An educated work force drives prosperity.  In the US, unemployment, average income, and home ownership are all correlated to whether one has a college education or not.

Of course the likely reply would be, “I had to pay for my college education, so should the kids today”.  Hmmm.  I would quickly agree to that if there were options for kids to borrow at no interest the money to pay for their college education and depending upon what profession they chose or where they applied their college education, there were “forgiveness” provisions.  

In many respects, the free college education argument is a red herring with respect to the risks posed by socialistic regulations and laws.  And the connections between socialism and communism are faint if at all.  Socialism arises invariably to counter the excesses of capitalism.     Hmmm.

Most people are surprised to see how much in our daily lives is a form of socialism.  Public roads, libraries, and utilities are starters.  Social Security, the VA hospital system, and the host of consumer protection agencies are socialistic in nature.  All our discrimination laws, rent protection, and FHA loans in some way overcome excesses of unfettered capitalism and are a bit socialistic.

The question of why unfettered capitalism is not dangerous is deceptively difficult to answer.  Unfettered capitalism opens a world of possibilities for those who seek to succeed in business and accumulate wealth.   But given time, the entrepreneur becomes very wealthy and for most everyone else, life can become a little (or a lot) less good.  

In a wealthy country, like the US with abundant natural resources and protection from enemies by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, great wealth can be amassed though hard work and intelligence. Question… if all it took was hard work and intelligence, why would these entrepreneurs not go to the Sahara Desert or the North Pole and put their skills to work?  Capitalism’s success has a lot to do with the inherent natural resources, which in some way belong to everyone, and how these natural resources are harvested by the risk taking capitalist.  A hard working, risk taking socialist should be just as successful under similar circumstances, I would think.

But, one might ask, why aren’t socialist Venezuela and communist Cuba successful countries?

Does anyone think that if Venezuela or Cuba simply said “unfettered capitalism” is the way of the future, that life would change?  IMO, history has shown that all that would change is who the rich people were.  The poor would remain poor.  

There is no simple formula for accumulating national wealth.  Clearly abundant raw materials play a big role.  So does motivated entrepreneurs and an educated and skilled work force.  And, don’t forget “guns and butter”.  A country consumed with defending itself militarily will not have the time or ability to concentrate on economic development if it is preoccupied defending its borders.

With Venezuela and Cuba there is another factor which IMO outweigh all the others.  These countries lost their way when they cast aside “democracy”, rule of law, and free speech/free press.  Graft, corruption, and incompetent leader escape the natural consequences of their decisions when free speech and free press are suppressed.

One last observation.   Countries like Japan, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, or Canada all utilize more socialistic laws and regulations than the US.  None of these countries are teetering on the edge of communism.  And all these countries offer their citizens healthcare costs roughly 1/2 or less that the US with healthcare outcomes uniformly better.  Hmmm. 

Brexit Implications

March 30, 2017

Yesterday British Prime Minister Theresa May signed the official document triggering the European Union’s exit provision, Article 50. With that move Britain has begun its retreat from Europe opening the doors to an uncertain future.

From the British perspective, Brexit is about sovereignty and the ability to more effectively deal with non-British labor, (read to exclude those Britain decides it does not want). The measure passed narrowly but in a Democracy, an inch is as good as a mile.

From the EU perspective, Britain’s departure is unwelcome but not for a want for Briton in particular. The EU worries that Brexit is just the first shoe to drop and more are around the corner. Question, if the EU is so good why would countries want to get out?

In forming the EU, member countries traded some sovereignty for a large common market where trading rules were fixed and not subject to populous tariffs or other whims. Regrettably, the EU also formed a parliament and a wide range of bureaucratic branches fully committed to establishing regulation on all facets of commerce and life in general. Critics see the EU and its Directorates as needless expense supporting a gigantic jobs program.

One of the more troublesome outcomes has been how the EU deals with immigrants. Any immigrant who gains access to a EU member State, for example refugees fleeing war in central Africa, once these immigrants set foot in a member State, they are free to travel to any other State seeking work. And of course, while seeking work, the immigrants are qualified to receive welfare support. IMO, the EU’s inability to deal with this one issue, more than any other, tipped the British vote to leave the EU.

Reports indicate that France may want to follow Briton. France’s reasons center on right wing politics. Life will be better if France calls the shots, the right claims.

The danger embedded in Brexit requires one to check history and see what happened when there was less dependance among European Countries. World War I and II, and all the other wars leading up to world wars should be a sobering reflection. Remember, European Countries have both a long history and a sharp memory.

In addition, these countries are, in comparison to the US, relatively ethnically pure (not much diversity).  Germany tend to be german, France tends to be french, etc. (Ironically, this homogeneity is want makes Italy or Spain or France etc so nice to visit.)

Following World War II the western world was fortunate to have leaders who knew the old world order had to be changed. Within Europe, a series of government agreements, for example the EU (European Government and flag), the Euro (European wide common currency), and NATO (European wide military alliance which include the US). These agreements provided enough grit that the nationalistic urges to settle differences between members would give way to more rational solutions.

The EU common market represent one of the top three markets in the world. Within world currencies, the Euro is often viewed as second only to the US dollar. And visiting Europe with its advanced transportation network (and trouble free border crossing) is a preferred vacation destination. Brexit is a short sighted and most likely unwise move by Britain.

With the rise of China (wealth and military strength), the implosion of the Middle East, the economic stagnation of Japan, and nuclear uncertainty of Pakistan, India, and North Korea, world order is under pressure. Britain by itself provides no reassurance that the British can wield diplomatic or economic strength useful in hammering out a functioning world order better than Britain being an EU member in good standing. The odds are that Briton is on a slide to obscurity (nice place to visit, but….).

Brexit could not have come at a worse time given the naivety of the incoming Trump Administration. Can a “one off deal making” mentality summon up the strategic vision necessary to guide other countries towards a peaceful world order?

Human Rights In A Time Of Popularism

March 13, 2017

Over the past weekend, news headlines featured the reports that Turkey wanted to send diplomates into the Netherlands in order to campaign before Turkish residents living in the Netherlands. The diplomates purpose was said to be aimed at gaining votes for a change in the Turkish Constitution which would increase current Turkey President Erdogan’s power. By US standards, this request seems off base and should be denied. Hmmm.

American’s gut reaction, however, is based more on our sense of isolationism, that is the American public square is off limits to other nations’ political squabbles. Americans do not expect other nations to have an opinion on US politics and for sure, do not want any interference in our internal affairs (for example, the rumored Russian activity in Trump’e election). But what if a foreign country only wish to “spin” their local politics in the US press and attempt to raise favorable sentiments? Who cares?

The Dutch situation, however, is different. The Turkish intervention was aimed at convincing Turkish citizens who were living and working in the Netherlands to vote (absentee) in a Turkish elections. What’s wrong with that?

Popularism is flowering across Europe and in the Netherlands, right leaning politicians are taking every opportunity to remind Dutch citizens that Turkish guest workers are taking Dutch jobs. Post World War II a number of countries, the Netherlands and Germany in particular, invited guest workers from Turkey to come and work. For a complex set of reasons, the guest workers did not assimilate into the greater society. Go along and get along seemed to be the accepted way of life and today there are second and third generation Turkish residents in both Germany and the Netherlands who do not speak their host country’s language. Hmmm.

Popularism, itself, is a bag of many things. Xenophobes, bigots, and religious extremists often live comfortable under this umbrella. Promote discontent, label a minority as the trouble maker, and then promise (without proof) you will fix this mythical problem, and voila, a politician might get elected. Sound familiar?

But in Europe, there is a much more subtle problem under the surface. Turkey wants to become an EU member and gain full entry to the common market. For Turkey this would give their economy a great boost and would enable even larger numbers of Turkish citizens to move freely into other EU countries and compete for jobs. Oh, and by the way, if the Turkish citizens did not find employment right away, they could claim social benefits in their host country. Hmmm.

Most current EU member States have not had much concern when the migrating workers carried Spanish, Italian, Polish or even a Lithuanian passports. A Turkish passport is something else again. Why?

No surprise, most Turks are Muslim.

The Muslim religion presents a different theology, of course, and for religious intolerants, this is sufficient enough. But there’s more.   Muslims bring with them a different sent of customs, including Sharia law, dress codes, and sharply different views on women’s rights (as seen by Europeans).

Most Western people also consider religious freedom to be a core human right. Most modern western people consider woman’s equality and suffrage a human right. So how exactly does one reconcile these two opposing views? How does a country have laws which grant women the right to wear what they wish (within broad standards of decency) and turn an eye the opposite direction when another women is told she must wear a certain religious garb whether she wants to or not?

In times of plenty, a tolerant society would find ways to accommodate Islam. Genital mutilation, stoning, or multiple wives, however, represent a step to far in most tolerant Western societies. While these societies might allow relative free exercise of religious freedom, these practices would be banned.

But, in times of slow growth or decline, the idea of someone from another country coming in a taking work from another citizens is too much to expect. Turkey as an EU/Common Market member has its supporters (those who see gaining access to Turkish customers), but the realities of local country economics when framed in the conflicts of religious customs, it becomes a piece of cake for populists politicians to short circuit any dialog and pitch secular muslims as the same as fundamentalist.

It would be wise not to look down ones nose and say that would not happen in America. Think about the demonization of Mexicans who don’t follow Sharia law, don’t have different rules for women, and dress for the most part indistinguishable from other Americans. And worse, Mexicans are good workers, family oriented, and are church going people. Isn’t that what the idealized American is?

Populist politicians are pickers and choosers. They are also close to rudderless and pick issues which will yield the most votes. And while that might sound great to someone if the issue fits their hot button, one must remember that this populist leader will jump upon a new issue in the future if that serves their purpose better.

Your populist leader may not be your friend for long.  Hmmm.

Arming Others

May 1, 2016

In his recent “Presidential” foreign policy speech, Donald Trump offered the notion that the US ought to disengage from NATO and encourage countries like South Korea, Japan, and Germany to rearm and go nuclear. Such a statement ought to be grounds for disqualification for anyone seeking to become President. It displays a complete lack of foreign policy experience and a dangerous misunderstanding of history.

Europe, for whose protection the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed, has a long history of wars.  War was the preferred means to settle disagreements or to increase the national wealth as the aggressor. While many lay blame at royal family feuding, it remains the case that European countries lack diversity (largely because that’s what makes the France french, Italy italian, and Germany german).

Europe as a whole is diverse but the nations that make it up are not. Dissolve NATO and all that remains is the shaky European Union. How do you think Germany and France would resolve a serious conflict?

But allowing or even encouraging Japan, South Korea, and Germany to go nuclear is asking for trouble. The majority of citizens in those countries are wonderful, intelligent, and kind people. So what’s the issue?

Japan, South Korea, and Germany have all be run in the past by feudal or authoritarian governments. The fear is they could return to those dark days under the right conditions.

The rise of a populous leader who invokes nationalistic themes could once again take control. This type of leader will appeal to the masses that he/she knows what’s best and can turn away those “others” who are trying to bring ruin to Japan, South Korea, or Germany. Remember your history? Or better yet, does this sound familiar to the 2016 Presidential race?

Minority leaders who gain control by promises of grander times begin their leadership time with a heavy burden. What will they do if the economy doesn’t improve? What will they tell the populous?

Most of these leaders double down and buy time by saying their country is on the right path.  A little more time and maybe some harder measures, they say, will bring the desired results.

Suspension of lawful rule soon follows with a declared “State of Emergency” in which the despot rules by decree is the end state.

While Japan, South Korea, and Germany’s sovereignty allows each of the countries to rearm as their citizens wish, economics, technology, and a painful memory of World War II have tempered any nationalistic tendencies. For Donald Trump to suggest a return to the past is inexcusable for a commander in chief and future world leader.

Foreign Policy

April 2, 2016

This year’s GOP Presidential primary campaigns have begrudgingly included discussion of America’s foreign policy. Republicans, long advertised as “strong on defense”, claim foreign policy as their strong suit. In this year’s Presidential race, you could have fooled me.

Think about the world around us.

  • China, which has grown at an almost unimaginable double digit pace for over ten years, still clings to the notion that Asia belongs to China regardless of what international law may say. Fully nuclear capable, China remembers Japan’s war atrocities, coverts Taiwan’s return to China, and does not forget the years of colonial occupation at the hands of the West.
  • Japan has a split personality, part imperial and partial to the Samaria way of life, the other part worried about the devastation of WWII and not wanting a repeat, both of these personalities comfortable with isolationism.
  • Russia remains much the same country as depicted in “Katherine the Great” always worried about clandestine thoughts supposedly held by neighboring countries. Fully nuclear capable, Russia and its authoritative leaders simply do not think like Americans.
  • Europe is not one country but a composition of many. The big players are Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy and Spain and all are focused on increasing material wealth without giving up any cultural riches regardless of what hazards loom outside Europe’s borders. Europeans have known war like no one else.Advertised as America’s ally (under NATO), European Countries prefer focusing on their own country’s social problems than global conditions.
  • India, Pakistan, and most of Southeast Asia possess heavy loads to carry just to feed their people and, if possible keep up with their third world development. From time to time, these countries become victim of religious intolerance and in the case of India and Pakistan look at each other as the worst of enemies.
  • Africa and South America are lands of the rich and very poor. At this point, the countries making up Africa and South America are only capable of civil or regional wars. These countries posses abundant mineral resources and the potential for attractive trading alliances, yet somehow seem unable to reach the modern world.
  • Middle East and Israel are geographically commingled. Both struggle with the allure of modernity and both cling to views based upon ancient history. While Israel appears as modern as any country in the world to a traveler, its views that certain lands belong to Israel because “god” said so is not much different than China’s claim to Southeast Asia or Russia to Eastern Europe. Muslim Middle East countries have varying degrees of modern world attributes but are internally at war with a paralyzing view based upon life as it were 1000 years ago.

So tell me again me again why nuclear proliferation is a good idea, why a religious test is applicable to refugee resettlement, why trade tariffs and embargo are helpful, and why any direct military involvement in foreign lands can unilaterally reduce world tensions?

Tell me why the red meat of political speeches make any sense at all?

Tell me why the 7/24 news media not only tolerates but at times encourages politicians to make unsubstantiated policy proposal and not call them on it? Tell me, given the GOP 2016  monopoly of simplistic foreign policy views why it is ok to block Supreme Court nominations, revert to health care coverage which covers less people, or seek religious freedom protections which promulgates discrimination and unequal treatment under the law?

There is assuredly no way any candidate can get it right on all the issues, domestically or in foreign affairs. The world is too complicated and nuanced. On the other hand, naive and half baked ideas, populous based, send the wrong message to other countries and to voters.

This complex world we live in has traded world wars for regional wars for the past 60 years. Americans need to recognize that the appeal of Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders are based upon disenfranchised segments of our population whose wants and needs reflect domestic conditions only. Satisfying these domestic wants, however, could upset world order without anyone suspecting it happening. Such an outcome could be devastating.

Electing a President is more than a beauty contest, a fancy slogan, or the person with the most money. Electing a President might begin with selecting someone as thoughtful, as sincere, and as inquisitive as Barack Obama

The Greek Rathole

July 2, 2015

This weekend the future of Greece as a European country may be established. While the world’s geography will not change, the short sightedness of European Union leaders may drive Greece out of the Euro and subsequently the EU. The reasons for this fate are many, but at the end of the day, the reasons are based in why Europe is such a nice place to visit and why in the past it was always poised to war amongst itself.

European countries are comparatively monolithic, speak their own language, and enjoy all aspects of their heritages.

The modern construction, the European Union, lead by Germany’s economic strength, has insisted upon a number of fundamental changes in the Greek national economy in exchange for further EU economic support. Greece is bankrupt and desperately needs a further infusion of Euros. The problem is that the Greek economy is like a bucket with a hole.  The amount of tax revenues pouring in is less than the Euros than are leaking out through the hole. This picture does not get better without some fundamental changes by the Greek people.

Like many other third world (maybe second and a half is more apt) countries, the Greek wealthy are intelligent, sophisticated, and uninterested in paying taxes. The wealthy have a long history of avoiding tax payments and often justify this attitude by saying the government simply gives the money away and demonstrates little interest in fostering national economic growth.

The Greek Government (conservative or socialist) usually finds in oder to remain in power must placate the masses by generous entitlements such as pensions, early retirements, and bloated employment roles. The pleasant Greek lifestyle is simply not competitive on a European basis and not in the same universe as the global economy. Accordingly, unless the industry is focused upon the tourist, Greece does not compete.

The EU while in name representing all European countries is financed primarily by Germany. Accordingly, German influence wants an austerity approach in exchange for financial help. Austerity means less government workers and reduced pensions. The amount of the decrease would be determined by the amount of new tax revenues Greece raises. Fairly straight forward from the German perspective.

Democratic Governments, however, respond to the populous, even when the populous does not understand the situation it is in. Leaving the Euro and reintroducing the Drachma will allow Greece to inflate its currency and pay its debts with cheaper money. At first this looks attractive.

The problem with this approach is that again without more fundamental restructuring Greece will still be economically uncompetitive. The losers is situations like this are primarily the average person whose savings will evaporate and whose pension will become worth less and less each year. The wealthy will hide their money overseas or in assets somewhat immune to inflation.

Only when life gets so bad that the masses are about to rise up do countries finally make the tough fundamental changes. Fundamental changes, however, are not necessarily confined to the economy. Authoritarianism becomes popular too. And with this type of leadership, anything can happen.

The EU has called Greece’s bluff and in essence said take our offer or leave it. The “leave it” part will lead to Greece’s EU withdrawal and almost assuredly withdrawal from the Euro. I hope Germany has thought what this could cost Europe and that this amount is less than keeping the dialog open and the maybe restructuring the debt in some way.


Public Option

September 24, 2009

A survey of the modern, industrialized world does not yield the “single payer” health care system as the only effective one. In Germany and France, for example, private insurance competes right along side of Government plans quite well. So what is the big deal being made here in the US?

To begin with in the rest of the modern world, health care is a right and not a “for profit” business. It follows from that basic assumption that “private” insurers are highly regulated and run as non-profits. Of course these companies make a profit but the amount is quite small. So let’s fast forward to the US.

The “public options” is so threatening here for one reason and one reason alone. Insurance companies and the shareholders who own them see the probability that their fat salaries and stock dividends and capital gains will disappear overnight. To these people this is wealth destruction.

In a way there is a touch of fairness to this concern. Why should this group of people suffer losses? Even when the President says that with free enterprise there should be competition, and there is no reason why private insurers could not compete.  There is a little tongue in cheek in that claim. While for sure private insurers could compete, but if they chose to compete by matching prices, their fat profits would disappear and so would the demand for their stock. Hence wealth destruction.

The so-called “public option” instead of a direct switch to “single payer” would allow a transition for private insurers. They could offer coverage above or different from some basic level (available to everyone) and possibly earn their desired profit levels. Not likely, however. Another approach might be for the Government (all of us) to buy out these private insurers, say at their capitalized value. (Each shareholder would receive the stock price at some designated day). The Government could then undertake an IPO and return the company to private investors as a “non-profit” insurer.

While this would undoubtably be costly, it would cut the Gordian Knot and get the country quickly to a reduced cost health care system.

Surprise, Surprise

April 6, 2008

Reports coming from the meeting between President George W Bush and Soviet President, Vladimir Putin sounded totally predictable.  Putin showed Bush around Putin’s “get-a-way” on the Black Sea playing up to George’s vein ego.  George strutted around like he was important (and effective), both of which he is not.  The US sources quietly allowed that there would be no deal on the wrong headed proposal by Cheney and friends to place radar and anti-missile missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland.  I wonder why?

Could it be that this deployment makes no sense simply listening to the justifications given?  Who are the rogue nations with the capability, desire, and stupidity to fire intercontinental missiles at Europe or the US?  The deployment into countries very close to the Russian boarders is akin to the Russians deploying similar systems into Venezeula to protect them from unnamed threats in South America.  Would the US welcome that type of deployment?

Or could it be that “one issue at a time” Bush does not see the connection or that other people think in parallel and connect issues in trying to understand motives.  Bush hardly misses a chance to criticize Putin or Russia or to take the opportunity to champion some policy that the Russians view threatening.  Only earlier this week, while in the Ukraine, did Bush push for the inclusion of the Ukraine in NATO… of course against strong Russian objections.  Thankfully both Germany and France saw to it that Bush’s ideas were dead on arrival.

The next occupants of the White House need to learn from this situation.  (1) Don’t push issues that make no sense even if they are bankrolled by your rich supporters, and (2) remember that you can’t stick the other guy in the eye all the time and expect that person to cut you a break.  Bush seems to have been out of school the day they taught that lesson. 

Old Europe Visits Texas

November 10, 2007

Chancellorin Angela Merkel, the elected leader of Germany, is visiting Crawford this weekend.  She must lead a dull life to want to visit Crawford and she must be smoking something to want to spend time with George.  But none the less she is there.

The Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung reported her visit in the context of all the other European leaders who have visited before.  There is no shortage of subjects of mutual importance such as Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Russia, but the recent visit a French President Nickolas Sarkozy may be the underlying reason.  If Mr. Freedom Fries wants to visit the US and snuggle up to George and Dick, then the leadership of Europe may be up for grabs.  Merkel is a shrewd politician and despite the odor in Crawford may see the symbolism of a “one up” visit to Crawford as a way of telling Sarkozy that Germany is still more important (Sarkozy only made it to Washington, DC).

I can image the following short conversation between George and Angela.

Angela:  How’s it going George, those poll numbers don’t look so good.

George: Ya, there lower than whale poop.  I gave Dick and Rummy a little too much rope and they proceeded to mess things up big time.  Now mind you all our political friends have done just fine with the war spoils and the big tax reductions we gave them, ha ,ha, ha. 

Angela:  So you think Iraq was a mistake ?  You aren’t planning to say that publically are you?

George:  Heck no.  But I can tell you that and maybe together we can figure out how we can help each other.  You know, how I could help you get another term, and maybe how you could throw Germany’s support to some of the initiatives I have going in the Middle East.

Angela:  But George, do you have a overall plan?  How does America policy fit Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Israel, the Palestians, Turkey, Russia , China, Cuba and Venezuela.  Are any of these tied together?

George:  Angela, don’t go getting technical on me.  This is a very complicated world and things sometimes just happen.  Dick and Condi are working hard on this.  They are doing a heck of a job.

Angela:  I see.  Well maybe in a few months you can visit Germany and we can eat bratwurst in Berlin.  I could show you where the wall once stood and you can make a speech and have your picture taken.

Mercifully this will be an over night Crawford visit and Angela will be able to move on.