Humor!

Via Johan Ingerö hittar jag följande uttalande av ST:s ordförande vid Luleå Universitet, Lars Frisk:

– Även om folk får mer i plånboken är jag självklart emot det. Regeringen signalerar att man inte behöver vara med i facket om man inte vill.

Frivillig fackanslutning! Så kan man väl inte hålla på?

För övrigt finns det fler pärlor i Aftonbladets artikel.

(Detta inlägg är pingat på intressant.se)

US and gas taxes

In the commentary section of the Wall Street Journal Harvard professor of economics, Greg Mankiw, argues that the United States should increase taxes on gasoline. He proposes an increase by 10 cents for 10 consecutive years, adding up to a total of $1 more per gallon compared to today. He points out that taxes would still end up being less than half of those in Britain (or for that matter in Sweden). Mankiw argues that this, while not necessarily good in itself, is better than other alternatives. He raises issues about environment, regulatory relief, tax incidence, national security and the federal budget, among others. I’ll have a look at a few of them.

Environment. As readers of this blog knows I’m not overly concerned with global warming, and emission reductions for this reason. In part because the data still seem insufficient to draw good conclusions from, and in part because even if the data were good enough we’d still be way past the point of no return so it seems wiser to spend money, effort and thoughts on measures to adapt. While cars do emit other unhealthy particles this, to me, isn’t that strong an argument.

Regulatory relief. Basically Mankiw’s point is that taxes would be more efficient than complex regulations that risk creating odd incentives, and requires a bureaucracy to follow up on. I agree.

Tax incidence. The burden of a higher tax is usually shared by consumers and producers. This has advantages here. Because the United States is such a large consumer on the oil market, a reduction in US consumption would be quite noticeable in the world market, driving prices down. This means countries like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela (and Norway, for that matter…) would carry some of the tax burden. Given condititions in the former two countries, this could easily be considered a good thing.

National security. This ties in with the previous point. Reducing US dependence on imported oil would make the War on Islamism easier. Currently the US fights terrorists with one hand while buying oil from its sponsors with the other, which cannot be considered optimal. Also, making the threat of an oil crisis weaker, would be good for all Western countries.

Federal budget. When baby-boomers retire the US will have to either reduce benefits or raise tax income. Politically doing only the former is probably impossible. A consumption tax, like this one, is less harmful to the economy than raising income taxes, and given its other benefits it may well be the best option.

Whether he’s right or not Mankiw’s column is worth reading (as is his blog). I think measures to reduce US dependence on oil are needed; not for global warming issues, or because it’s somehow evil to drive around in cars, but rather for reasons of national security. Security from islamist terror as well as economical crisis. US national security is, when it comes to those things, in line with Western national security in general.
It’s not everyday I am in favour of raising taxes. In fact, this may well be the only issue on which you’ll see me take such a position. That being said, European gasoline taxes are already high enough, and could indeed — in some countries (like Sweden and Britain) — well be lowered a little bit.

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(Detta inlägg är pingat på intressant.se)

To join or not to join

The EU Observer reports that there has been some debate in Brussels over Sweden’s decision to remain outside of the eurozone and not adopt the common currency, in spite of having signed the accession treaty. The common currency was included in the treaty Sweden signed when they joined the EU in 1995, and unlike countries like the United Kingdom and Denmark Sweden never negotiated an opt-out.

This wouldn’t have been a problem, except for that Sweden also organised a referendum on the issue in 2003. The result was negative, the Swedes voted no. (I actually voted yes, though I’ve since changed my mind.) Even though the referendum was just consultative — as all Swedish referendums are — it has made it politically impossible to adopt the euro. Also, there is no reason to believe that there has been a change in opinion. Given the fairly large differences in the eurozone economies it seems wiser to remain on the outside.

A German MEP has asked the Commission to take Sweden to court for not adopting the Euro. His argument is that since Sweden has signed the treaty it presents a bad example for the new countries if it ignores its obligations and remain outside. The Commission points out that it could indeed take Sweden to court, but that it does not find it desireable to do so for now. One might think that Germany’s and France’s refusal to follow the eurozone rules of not having too large budget deficits would be a larger threat to the euro project than Sweden remaining outside, but even so the German MEP does make a valid point. Why have treaties if nobody is following them?

The reasonable way out of this is for Sweden to negotiate an opt-out from the Euro. Will the new, overly EU-enthusiastic, government do that? I have my doubts.

EU, please get out of my working schedule

The EU Observer reports that Finland will make another effort to get a new EU directive on working hours pushed through. The British, and most of the newer member states, thinks that the EU should have nothing to do with this, and that grown up people are quite capable of deciding for themselves how much they want to work. Meanwhile France claims that this directive (which is supposed to prevent people from working more than 48 hours a week) is critical to the health of all Europeans. It strikes me as more likely that they’re trying to protect their industry while ensuring that their more lazy 35 hrs/week workers can stick with their current pace.

The Finns have found that it is hard to get the two fractions to compromise on this one. No wonder. A compromise between these two positions is not particularly desireable. The EU should stay out of issues like these, where the European interest is utterly vague. All European legislation would achieve is to reduce competition in Europe, and that is a bad thing. Not to speak of the nannystate style law — a style that we already have more than enough of. We can happily do without any additional ones being brought from Paris via Brussels.

Äntligen!

Jag nås av nyheten att kårobligatoriet äntligen skall bort. Det är på tiden. Det är givetvis inte lämpligt att studenter tvingas vara med i en förening. Att föreningen sedan är politisk gör inte saken bättre. Nu tvingas kåren visa studenterna att det är fördelaktigt att vara med, vilket givetvis är utmärkt. I bästa fall kommer det även att göra kåraktiviteterna bättre.
Vad gäller studentinflytande ser jag det egentligen inte som jätteviktigt. Vill man ha något slags studentrepresentation kan man dock gott tänka sig att universitet måste hålla något slags val — gärna ett personval — där studenterna kan utse några representanter som får delta i universitetets styrelse, eller så.

Att studentkårerna kommer att tappa medlemmar när man inte måste vara med är givetvis inget bra skäl att tvinga alla att vara medlemmar. Det är skönt att den borgerliga regeringen gör sossarnas slagord litet mindre sant: Alla skall inte längre vara med.

Skärpning!

Jag har inte skrivit någonting om de så kallade ministerskandalerna som kvickt drabbat den nya regeringen, mest för att jag inte följt dem särskilt noggrant. När man befinner sig på andra sidan Atlanten verkar det mest vara en storm (eller två) i ett vattenglas, som fått löjliga proportioner.

För att hålla det kort delar jag uppfattning med Mathias Sundin. Mediehanteringen från ministrarna har varit katastrofal. Kom aldrig med undanflykter. Be om ursäkt, lova bättring och rid ut stormen. Missta inte vänsterjournalisternas åsikter för folklig opinion. Vad det gäller Borelius har jag svårt att vara upprörd. Att betala en barnflicka svart känns inte särskilt allvarligt, även om hon givetvis inte kan göra det när hon är minister. Att inte betala tv-licensen är en struntsak. Skatteplanering av det slaget hon ägnad sig åt är inte ens brottslig, och det verkar rätt sunt att inte vilja utsätta sig för mer skatt än man behöver. Och slutligen: att hon är rik är inget problem för mig eftersom jag inte irriterar mig på att det går bra för andra.

Jag tror att det är riktigt illa om vi har en kultur där politiker måste ha varit fläckfria livet igenom. De är människor, inte änglar. Däremot måste de förstås sköta sina jobb ordentligt (vilket vi inte vet om Borelius skulle ha gjort), och de kan inte hålla på med olagligheter när de sitter i regeringen.

Det är också illa att Reinfeldt visar så dåligt ledarskap. Det är svårt för övriga ministrar att känna sig trygga, när han så snabbt tar handen ifrån en av sina ministrar. Skärpning! Och se till att Fia Stegö blir kvar på sin post.

Byråkrati och säkerhet

I en läsvärd artikel i the Daily Mail berättar en brittisk polis om sin vardag. Det är en ledsam historia där pappersarbete går före brottsbekämpning, och där det viktigaste är att kunna presentera fina siffor istället för att sätta de riktiga bovarna bakom lås och bom.

Vikten av en synlig, välutbildad, poliskår som klarar av att skydda folk från personrån, misshandel, inbrott och liknande saker skall inte underskattas. Ett samhälle där människor ständigt måste se sig om och undviker en kvällspromenad genom parken är inget bra samhälle. Utan att känna till siffrorna för Sverige tror jag inte att situationen är ungefär densamma. Vårt problem är inte primärt att vi har för få poliser. Problemet är att poliserna sitter bakom skrivbord och knappar in rapporter på datorer istället för att fånga kriminella. En del av pappersarbetet är säkert nödvändigt och bidrar till högre effektivitet, men det arbetet bör så långt det är möjligt utföras av andra anställda som inte är poliser. Mycket kan säkert göras av relativt okvalificerad arbetskraft. Den del av pappersarbetet som inte behövs bör förstås inte göras.

Ett annat problem — som med så mycket annat i Sverige — är svårigheten att utkräva ansvar. Helst skulle vi ha ett system där lokala polischefer ges befogenhet att avgöra hur polisen skall arbeta i dennes distrikt, och där möjligheten att stanna kvar vid jobbet hänger på hur väl man klarar av att nå sina mål. Och dessa mål måste vara kvalitativa, inte kvantitativa. En polischef i ett område där man får fast 200 fortkörare, men missar alla våldtäkter, bör få sparken. En intressant variant vore att medborgarna i varje kommun väljer sin polischef i ett direkt val.

Med det utökade ansvaret bör ordentliga befogenheter följa. Brottsligheten är ett problem, betydligt mer i vissa områden än i andra, och den måste tas itu med. Noteras kan för övrigt att den svenska sjukvårdens konstruktion tycks lida av många av de problem som brottsbekämpningen gör.

Läs artikeln, hur som helst. Den är tänkvärd.

(Tipstack till Nils)

North Korean blast

The Washington Post reports about the nuclear weapon test that North Korea pulled off yesterday. As can be expected world leaders condemned the act, demanded that they stopped and promised serious consequences if they didn’t, while Japanese and South Korean stock markets plummeted.

This developement is obviously worrying, and more so for a few reasons other than that Kim Jong Il only needs to push a button to annihilate vast amounts of people.

For one thing it means either that China has lost control of the stalinist regime who’s power it has protected, or that China approves of the action. Odds are it’s the latter. Exactly how China thinks they benefit from a nuclear North Korea is somewhat unclear, since that kind of instability in the region may well weaken China’s influence and would clearly hurt their growing economy. Another thing is that, apart from China (and possibly Russia) there’s not a whole lot the world can do about it. French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy demanded a firm response from the international community, but coming from that particular government the most likely interpretation is that France wants a condemning statement from Kofi Annan. Going by past experiences it may also mean France is planning to set up a campaign team to ensure no one in the security council actually votes in favour of any substantial action.

Though in this particular instance, there is in fact not that many options. And there are certainly no really good options. Going to war would lead to tremendous casualties, especially in Seoul, and in particular if Kim Jong Il indeed has one of those red buttons to push. Also the outcome would be far from certain. North Korea has a huge army. If it is prepared to fight I strongly doubt that the West have the willpower to stay the course. That would leave the South Koreans alone, and we’d be likely to end up in a much worse situation than today, with the main difference being the dead bodies on the Korean peninsula. Imposing trade sanctions has proven futile in the past when used against dictators who couldn’t care less for their people. Also, as far as the North Korean economy goes, there really isn’t all that much to destroy. The stalinist economy has ensured that.

The best course of action then seems to be to convince China to change its strategy. The chances of success for that appear to be hard to predict.

The biggest worry of having a nuclear empowered North Korea is probably not that they would start firing missiles. Kim Jong Il strikes me as being too much of a classical style dictator for that. His main objective is staying in power and starting a war is not a good way to do that. Nuclear weapons would however give him much more leverage in any negotiation, and it also makes him much less dependent on China. Both of those things are clearly bad. What’s worse is if he decides to sell his technology, say to the Islamic Republic of Iran. With such an action we’d quickly find ourselves in a much nastier world.

New look

As you’ll notice I’ve changed the look a bit on this blog. Mostly to try out some fancy stuff, like making it possible for you to read and comment without having to go to a new page. I’ll probably keep making small changes to this theme every now and then.

Feel free to let me know what you think.