Problems big and small

In an interesting op-ed column in the Washington Post Charles Krauthammer uses the new Borat movie to illustrate a problem that is more general than he hints at.

In the column Mr. Krauthammer points out that making a big issue of Southern hillbilly indifference to anti-Semitism is somewhat misguided in a world where real active anti-Semitism is both much stronger and much more common elsewhere.

With anti-Semitism reemerging in Europe and rampant in the Islamic world; with Iran acquiring the ultimate weapon of genocide and proclaiming its intention to wipe out the world’s largest Jewish community (Israel); with America and, in particular, its Christian evangelicals the only remaining Gentile constituency anywhere willing to defend that besieged Jewish outpost — is the American heartland really the locus of anti-Semitism? Is this the one place to go to find it?

Although it’s always important to keep an eye out for anti-Semitism wherever it shows its ugly face, Mr. Krauthammer makes a valid point; a point I think can be made more general.

One of the problems we have in the West — the problem that perhaps improves the odds for the islamists the most in their global struggle for an illiberal society — is our tendency to focus so much on small everyday luxury problems that we don’t see the real threats to our society. This seems to me a natural human reaction, especially in a situation where it’s hard to find good solutions that one can be confident about. In Europe in particular it’s all been made worse by the long holiday from history that US protection and stable internal peace has left us in.

We need to step right back into history, see the threats, think hard about how to face them, and defend our tolerant societies. It takes responsible and courageous politicians to do that, but it also takes responsible and courageous citizens willing to elect such politicians. Do we have that?


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Back in action

My apologies for the lack of new posts lately. I’ve been unwell, but since I’m now more or less recovered this blog should get back to it’s usual pace from now on. Expect something more substantial today or tomorrow.

No free lunches

The great champion of free markets, and brilliant economist, Milton Friedman has died at the age of 94. BBC writes about him, and a little about his influence on the economic policies of Thatcher in the United Kingdom, and Reagan in the United States — policies that brought both countries back from recession.


I retook the excellent test at Political Compass. In case anyone should care my new score, close to the old one, is:

Economic Left/Right: 8.00
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -4.62

Puts me somewhat close to Milton Friedman and the compopser Tchaikovsky. Not a single politician in the same quadrant. Not bad, though I can’t honestly say I feel I’m that far out.

Britain saves the day…

TV without frontiers is the name of a European directive which included proposals demanding that national governments check that Internet content conforms with rules of taste and decency. When nobody is watching, politicians in Brussels seem to do their best at stripping away any new freedom that technology and innovative people might create. The idea was to prohibit some content from sites such as YouTube, where people can upload videos.

The freedom of speech is taken for granted by most Europeans today. We should not do so. There are people everywhere trying to reduce the protection of free speech. It’s not just islamists killing journalists and putting embassies to the torch, but it’s also the politically correct left afraid that someone might be offended by what they hear, newspaper owners not willing to stand by their journalists when lobby groups start shouting or — as with this — politicians realising that there are parts of society that are yet outside of their control.

Luckily, some politicians are wiser than others. The Guardian reports that the British government is prepared to make sure that the directive will not include any such regulations concerning the Internet. It is depressing that they seem so alone.


Thanks to Dick Erixon for the heads up

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The losers of the US election

The true losers of the US congressional election, which shifted majority in both the House and the Senate to the Democratic Party, are neither the right, the conservatives, nor even the Republicans. Instead it is the US consumers, and — more serious — the poor of the world.

The Washington Post report that the bill to normalise trade with Vietnam failed to win the required 2/3 majority in the House. This is a huge setback, both for US-Vietnamese relations and for the advancement of free trade. With this bill rejected loads and loads of poor Vietnamese will be refused income that exports and foreign investments would have yielded under free trade, while millions of American consumers will have to pay more for their clothes. It’s a lose-lose situation.

Admittedly the Republicans were never the most convinced free traders, but the Congress is definitely more protectionist now than it was before the election. That is a true loss. Protectionist reflexes are understandable, and those of us who wants to see trade liberalisation need to get better at explaining why this is mutually beneficial. Otherwise media reports of oursourcing and stories of unemployment will continue to dominate in people’s minds.


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Den grundläggande yttrandefriheten

Kloke och läsvärde socialdemokraten Jonas Morian skriver på sin blogg om att hans partivänner i EU-parlamentet arbetar för att få in ett förbud mot reklam som riktar sig mot barn. Han konstaterar att det är en ståndpunkt som har stöd från politiker både till höger och vänster. Morian själv är dock skeptisk, och menar att ett sådant förbud vore ett farligt steg mot inskränkt yttrandefrihet.

Det är lätt att instämma i det. Att något inte är önskvärt är inte ett tillräckligt skäl för att förbjuda det — man måste också se det större sammanhanget, och de skador ett lagstadgat förbud för med sig. För varje inskränkning som görs i vad vi tillåts säga och skriva blev vi litet ofriare, och allt eftersom vi får fler regleringar blir motståndet mot nya svagare. Det är en farlig utveckling. Hela perspektivet blir fel. Det offentliga har bara de befogenheter medborgarna är beredda att avstå. Vi måste vara oerhört försiktiga med vad vi ger upp; det är lätt att ångra sig när man väl saknar dem, men desto svårare att vinna dem tillbaka.


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European obesity

The EU Observer reports that Europeans are getting fatter. The good thing is that we may hear fewer arrogant comments about fat Americans in the future. The bad thing is that, this being Europe, we’ll probably end up with more regulations. After all, why put the responsibility for what we eat and feed our children on ourselves when we can blame the evil corporations who produce what we apparently desire?

This phenomenon, people’s increasing refusal to take responsibility for their own well being, is increasingly common. And it is worrying. In part because it leads to the expansion of the already too vast nanny state, in part because it holds people back from taking initiatives by creating regulation upon regulation, in part because it strips people of the ability to think for themselves, and in part because it creates a society of adults that still behave like babies. A society like that can never sustain itself in the long run.

If you want to lose weight: exercise and eat healthy. That’s fine, and you’ll probably feel better if you do. If you don’t mind about the extra pounds or kilograms: that’s perfectly fine too. Ultimately it really isn’t anyone elses business. And if the argument is that since obesity costs money because we have tax-funded health care “society” should be allowed to make demands on us, we should think carefully about removing the tax-funded health care. If giving up this kind of personal liberty is the price we have to pay for the welfare state, I’d say it’s not worth it. To my mind, however, the welfare state does not require paying such a price. Indeed, isn’t the point with the tax-funding that we are willing to help people in spite of their mistakes and bad luck? The whole “get slim or else” tendency has many similarities with the “stop smoking or else” outcry we’ve suffered over the last decade or so. Their fundamental ingredient appear to be intolerance.


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