President Fox

(A Swedish version of this text can be found here.)

Vicente Fox has done a lot in his life, both in the world of business and in politics. After finishing his studies the now 64 year old Mexican took up work as a truck driver for Coca-Cola. A quick career made him supervisor of the company’s operations in Mexico, and then in Latin America. After that he got elected governor in the state of Guanajuato, only to become president of Mexico in 2000. With that 70 years of socialist one party rule was brought to an end.

Yesterday he visited the University of Oklahoma to speak as a distinguished lecturer. President Fox makes an impressive impression; he speaks with authority, seems like a man quick to action, and move in a slow and dignified manner. He is a good speaker, even in English, in spite of his Spanish accent.

In his lecture Vicente Fox spoke about many different issues, among them immigration (to the US), free trade, poverty reduction, economic growth, equality of opportunity, multilateralism and education. Some things easy to agree with, others not. His rhetoric is a bit odd, at times sounding almost socialist, while his solutions are often optimistic and free market.

President Fox started by talking about the many Mexicans living in the United States, legally and illegally. The former president demanded that they be given equal rights, and pointed to their value for the American economy. While they do provide such value, it is also true that the huge illegal immigration creates friction in the society, with many of the Mexican immigrants coming to work, but without the intention of becoming Americans. Fox also pointed to the fact that Mexico is the biggest trade partner of the United States, and spoke about the positive value of the free trade agreement NAFTA (which also includes Canada). Plans to expand the agreement to include additional countries will probably have to be put on hold though, given the more protectionist US congress. That’s a shame, both for Latin Americans and US citizens who would both gain on more free trade.

President Fox also spoke about reducing the gap between the rich and the poor — something that might worry people like me, who are not particularly fond of policies of wealth redistribution. In his examples, however, he mainly spoke of Mexico’s growth in the last decade, doubling their per capita income. Giving poor people the opportunity to build a better future for themselves is a noble goal, and it can only be achieved by allowing them to own, create, and sell what they create. President Fox seems to understand this, even though his way of expressing it does not always make that clear.

Another subject that Fox spend time on was expanding the American dream, and let it flourish not only in the United States but also in Mexico. Equal opportunities seems to be his guiding principle, which might be good depending on interpretation. In his view education is key, and the access to education has been expanded during his time at power. Unfortunately not by creating a system of school vouchers, but things are going in the right direction in Mexico. President Fox has otherwise been happy to use market based solutions. An example might be the medical insurance, which appears to be a good combination of freedom of choice while still allowing for tax money to be used. The system could perhaps be described as having national medical vouchers. The economic reforms that have been made, with priority to fighting inflation and well functioning capital markets, have been necessary for Mexico’s economy to grow. At the same time one does get a bit worried when he says that he wants to move from a free market economy to a social economy. Given his reforms though, it is hard to know what he means by that.

One thing that does not impress is the foreign policy. In a manner that could almost be described as Swedish, he mostly speaks about leaving the decisions to the UN, this brilliant defender of all things Good. Multilateralism above all, no matter what the multilateral institutions are actually doing.

Some good things, and some bad things. All in all, President Fox is an interesting person and speaker. We will have to see where his successor, Felipe Calderon, while take the country. Latin America needs success of the kind that only market economies can achieve. Like President Fox says: Nothing hurts the poor as much as populist demagogues. The unlucky people suffering under Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales will soon be able to tell you from experience.
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A good politician?

Can you imagine an elected politician who decorates the walls of his office with Austrian School economists Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises? One who merrily listens to farmers wanting subsidies for rice, helps them bring their requests to the proper committee, and then votes against any such subsidies since the constitution does not mention rice anywhere? Someone who supports gay marriage on the grounds that it is not the government’s business to interfere with such decisions?

Enter South Texas Republican Ron Paul, representative in the US House. Newsweek paints an interesting portrait of this unusual politician, who seems to value and understand the ideas that formed the US constitution. A classical liberal in a legislature. It isn’t everyday one can find something like that. Unfortunately the US House of Representatives has 434 other members lacking that insight, but still — it’s better than nothing.

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Thanks to Johan Norberg
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Economic illiteracy

Barack Obama is often described as being something fresh and welcome, and in some senses he is, but when it comes to economic policy he seems to have learned nothing from the past. Or rather, maybe he has, but he has also learned that populistic and misguided economic policies are more popular among the electorate — and especially among those voting in the Democrat primaries — than a reality based policy.

Thomas Sowell explains why Obama’s intention to strengthen unions and raising minimum wages are not good ideas. Instead they create unemployment, and make those that are already in a tough spot worse off. The problem is relatively simple. A person has a certain level of productivity, and this level determines how much an employer would be willing to pay her. Set a minimum wage above that (or have unions ensure that nobody gets less) and that person will not be employed. It’s all fairly intuitive once one thinks about it.

So, if you desire a fresh face and some fresh unemployment: Vote Obama.

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Björklunds skolpolitik

I Svenska Dagbladet kan man läsa en intressant intervju med skolminister Jan Björklund, som pekar ut riktningen och funderar på vad som behöver ändras. Medan det är lätt att känna viss besvikelse över regeringens alltför begränsade ambitioner inom många områden — kanske främst gällande arbetsmarknaden och den ekonomiska politiken — har man tagit ordentligt tag i utbildningen av våra unga. Det är bra och behövligt. Ökad valfrihet, betyg, tydligare befogenheter åt lärare, förändringar i lärarutbildningen — det är många välkomna förbättringar. Det uttalade målet är att äntligen gå ifrån den förvirrade och missriktat egalitära flumskolan, och istället åter sätta bildning i centrum.

I artikeln presenterar Björklund ett antal ideer, däribland mer svenska och historia, och även separata betyg i svenska språket och litteraturkunskap. Jag tror att det är bra förslag, så länge det inte innebär att den viktiga naturvetenskapliga och matematiska bildningen inte tillåts falla tillbaka.

En stark utbildning, från grundskola till universitet, är av avgörande vikt för Sveriges framtida välgång, och en stark bildning kan också ge människor en god självkänsla och trygghet i sin egen förmåga. Det är särskilt viktigt för dem som idag ofta döms ut som svaga och i behov av ständig hjälp av dagens politiska klimat. Om den nuvarande regeringens enda bestående inslag blir en omvälvning av den svenska skolan vore det ändå en välgärning.

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N for No big deal

Three years ago people, especially in the United States, where all in panic over offshoring — jobs moving to India or other places where costs were substantially lower. IT jobs in particular where thought to be doomed, as hordes of Bombay programmers would replace the Silicon Valley ones. Today almost nobody talks about offshoring. Some jobs are clearly being done in less wealthy parts of the world (which all things counted is a good thing), but it is hardly the threat it was thought to be. It didn’t really warrant presidential candidate John Kerry calling people “Benedict Arnold CEO’s” for shipping jobs overseas.

The lesson to be learned is that when everyone gets in a panic about something at the same time — everyone being the media — there is usually good reason to be cautious, and carefully examine what the fuzz is really about. That might be worth remembering while reading about the quickly approaching apocalypse of global warming.

When it comes to globalisation there is no doubt that it does bring change, and that it makes things tougher for some people, while generally making most of us better off. And it is also worth remembering that the world is never really static, but always changing one way or another. That is generally a good thing.

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Thanks to Greg Mankiw for the heads up
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Silence spreads

In Germany it is against the law to deny the Holocaust. Claim that Hitler did in fact not kill millions of Jews and you will spend some time behind bars. A good way to fight neo-Nazism?

Hardly. When you choose to silence people rather than proving them wrong — something which it is extremely easy to do in this particular case — all you achieve is to suggest that they are on to some dangerous truth. And once you forbid one thing, what is to stop you from forbidding something else?

And sure enough, as Germany tries to spread their bad legislation to the rest of Europe and make it EU law, other countries are demanding that denying the crimes of Communism should be illegal as well. And while we’re at it, why not include the French law against denying the Armenian genocide? As perhaps the one in Rwanda? Darfur?

The EU should put this law where it belongs: in the paper bin. It is important to bring the crimes of Nazis and Communists, and all the other ones mentioned, into the light, and make sure people know about them. We can do that while allowing idiots to claim that we are wrong. Outlawing expression never works to eradicate beliefs. Indeed, it risks making them stronger. It also makes us less free.
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Litterär kanon

På PJ Anders Linders blogg läser jag att Kunskapsskolan upprättat en lista över litterära verk som eleverna skall läsa i årskurs 6 till 9. Det är utmärkt! Det ingår alldeles för litet litteraturläsning i svenskundervisningen idag; åtminstone om jag bedömer saken efter min egen skolgång. Jag tror att det är värdefullt att läsa klassikerna, dels för deras innehåll och språkkonst, och dels för att det ger viss gemensam kunskap.

Däremot är jag inte övertygad om att det vore en god ide med en nationell kanon. Det verkar väl centraliserat. Möjligen skulle skolplanen kunna innehålla instruktioner om att mer läsning av klassiker skall ingå, men till sist tror jag ändå att det är lämpligt att överlåta sådana beslut till skolorna. Förhoppningsvis belönar föräldrar skolor som erbjuder mycket läsning i svenskundervisningen.

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Censoring the web

As ever more people get information from various places on the web it gets ever more tempting for politicians to try to regulate it. The lack of regulation, however, is perhaps the main reason for the grand success of the Internet, and the incredible change in human interaction that it has caused and continues to cause.

A Norweigian newspaper now reports that Norway is considering passing legislation that will require internet service providers to block certain web pages, namely such web pages that hold content that would otherwise be illegal. Unreflected this might seem like a good idea to some, but it is worth pointing out that this would be in breach of one of the most important principles of freedom of expression, namely the prohibition of prior constraint or censorship.

That is a very dangerous path to go down, especially since the Internet will likely grow and perhaps become the main source of news one day. If government can cause restrictions today, that could yield a very bleak situation a few decades from now. This idea needs to be brought down before it becomes anywhere near accepted.

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Thanks to HAX for the heads up
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Silly debates

In his Washington Post column Charles Krauthammer points to the irrelevance of much of the debate over Iraq. What is being argued about is generally not the actual situation and what to do about it, but rather just what words to use when talking about it. At the heart seems to be a struggle about prestige, popularity in the press and electorate, and the right to self-boasting.

It strikes me that the debate on global warming is the same way. Why bother with facts and consideration about the merits and faults of proposed solutions when one can accuse the opponent of not caring about the environment/poor people.

It’s a saddening development, if this is a general trend. Of course, seriously thinking about the issues at hand is much more difficult than having the kind of pseudo debate we currently have. But if we actually want to get anywhere, taking on those hard problems is precisely what we must do.

Don’t want a surge? Present a different plan, and lay out the consequences of it. Want to do something about global warming? Find out what causes it, what it would lead to, and present a viable way to do something including a careful consideration of the costs of such a plan.

That’s what we should demand, both of politicians and others engaged in the debate, but also of those in the media covering the issues. Otherwise we won’t be able to solve anything that’s difficult.

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Barroso: Don’t mind about what people think

“Referendums make the process of approval of European treaties much more complicated and less predictable,” he [Barroso] said, asking “every member state” considering a referendum to “think twice,” according to Het Financieele Dagblad.

“I was in favour of a referendum as a prime minister, but it does make our lives with 27 member states in the EU more difficult. If a referendum had been held on the creation of the European Community or the introduction of the euro, do you think these would have passed?” the commission chief asked according to De Volkskrant.

Hearing the head of the EU commission one does have to ask the question of whether the European Union exists to benefit its citizens or the politicians running it. While it is true that referendums does make things harder for Brussels, it would be nice if EU top representatives sometimes recognised that the Union is supposed to have a democratic foundation.

Having said that I do not wish to have referendums on every other thing. In general they aren’t worth the trouble or cost, but there is a point with holding a referendum when the political parties that people support in general differ greatly from the public in their opinion on a matter that the public finds important. The EU constitution might be such an issue, in many countries, though it does not have to be.

No matter whether one thought the Netherlands were right to hold a referendum on the constitutional treaty, it would be weird for them to not hold another one if the issue comes up again and politicians wish to overturn the outcome of the first.

Best of all, however, would be if the EU leaders gave up on this poor attempt at a constitution. Amendments to the decision process can be made anyway, without including a vast list of positive rights demanded by various special interests. With so many top politicians having put their prestige in the project, I suppose chances of them letting go of it aren’t too great though.

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