2007

The year is all but over, and it is time for the yearly summary. Last year I thought four things of particular importance for the then coming 2007, and it is now time to see what happened on those areas. They were Iraq, Iran, the European Union and its constitutional treaty, and the expansion of free trade.

Iraq has seen real progress. Local tribal leaders have turned against al Qaeda, and with general Petraeus actively working with them things have become more stable than a year ago. The added number of troops help, and if maintained, could lead to an Iraq peaceful enough to develop and eventually take over more and more responsibility for its security. Many things can obviously still go wrong — especially if a newly elected American president decides to get out as quick as possible, ruining what has been gained — but one can still be optimistic.

Iran, meanwhile, seems to have fallen off the agenda. This might be dangerous. The latest intelligence report admittedly claims that there is no current activity to gain nuclear weapons, but one should remember that this comes from the source that missed 9/11 and that felt relatively sure that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Also, with the instability in Pakistan, there are other ways the Islamic Republic could acquire nukes.

Last year I urged the EU to finally draw the correct conclusions from the French and Dutch rejections of the constitutional treaty, and pull back from the ambition of an ever closer union. This has not happened. Instead, Brussels marches onward, trying to sneakily adopt most of the treaty, part by part. This is not surprising, of course. If step after step continues to be taken in this direction, there is a risk that the project will collapse, becoming too unpopular. The risk, however, is small, and the interest in what happens in Brussels is minimal in spite of the fact that the EU increasingly have become a body that tries to regulate our behaviour and everyday lives.

Finally there is the matter of free trade, and 2007 has been a bad year. Protectionism seems to be stronger than in quite a while, and the most obvious example of it is the U.S. presidential election campaigns in which most candidates on both sides talks about “fair trade”, meaning higher tariffs on China, changed to or withdrawal from NAFTA, and other things in that direction. Economically this makes no sense, but it does win votes. The main exception is John McCain, and to some extent Giuliani and Romney. If 2008 will see more of protectionism, the world will be a poorer place for it.

Added to all this are the developments in Pakistan and Russia. Where Pakistan is headed, nobody knows, but the situation is clearly very dangerous. An islamist government possessing nukes, presents obvious dangers, as would a government more hostile towards its eastern neighbour India — a country also in possession of nuclear weapons.

In Russia Vladimir Putin has continued on his path away from democracy, while getting ever more anti-Western in his speeches. He has essentially appointed his deputy prime minister, Medvedev, to be president next year when Putin’s term expires, and Medvedev in turn has asked Putin to be his prime minister. The opposition is weak, and the media to a large extent controlled by the Kremlin. I see little cause for optimism.

This may all sound very pessimistic, but — if the last few decades provide any guidance — the world will overall probably turn into a slightly better place next year, just as it has this year. More people will be lifted out of poverty, with the aid of the free trade that we do have, and due to liberalisations in the economy in poor countries. Technology will continue to improve, hopefully providing us with cheaper and more efficient ways to deal with things like malaria and HIV/Aids.

The defining issues of 2008 will be whether the U.S. will stay in Iraq long enough to ensure continued relative stability; the outcome of the turmoil in Pakistan; whether the protectionist voices will be heard and tariffs increase; what happens in the Balkans over the next 6 months or so, when and if Kosovo declares independence. And, of course, the U.S. presidential election — among many things, expected and unexpected.

It has been fun to write on this blog in 2007, and I hope you have enjoyed it and will continue to do so in 2008. Happy new year!

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Ligisternas Sverige

Ligister i Rinkeby har, genom att avfyra nyårsraketer i tunnelbanan fått SL att stänga stationen. Reaktionen från polis och rättsväsende är förstås lika med noll, och brottslingarna kan glatt fira genom att utsätta även Tensta-borna för eländet. Johan Ingerö har skrivit ett utmärkt blogginlägg om saken.

SL gör alltså helt rätt, utifrån det handlingsutrymme de har. Men var är ordningsmakten? Varför leder inte den här sortens angrepp mot vår gemensamma infrastruktur till att ett halvdussin polisbilar rullar in i centrum och syr in brottslingarna? Stationen borde naturligtvis sättas under stenhård bevakning – inte bommas igen. Men det är så här det fungerar i Sverige. När det gäller att bringa ordning i uppenbart kaotiska områden så hyser vi en större tilltro till fritidsgårdar och kulturbidrag än till poliser och åklagare, med känt resultat.

Det är dags att ta i med hårdhandskarna mot denna sorts kriminalitet, som skapar otrygghet för alla som utsätts och bor i fel områden, och som lär upp en hel generation av ligister att brott lönar sig. Egot växer i takt med att förseelse efter förseelse ignoreras av det offentliga. Uppmaningen till Beatrice Ask blir alltså, med Ingerös ord, som följer:

Tänk tanken att en justitieminister åker ut till Rinkeby och säger att “nu är det nog. Vi ska utbilda och anställa så många poliser, åklagare och domare som krävs för att rensa upp de här gatorna. Vi ger oss aldrig. Nu är det kapprustning som gäller och vi ska rusta gängen till döds.” Den justitieminister som sa så – och också gjorde så – skulle kunna tråla in Rinkeby-röster med snörpvad. Jag har sagt det tusen gånger: rättspolitiken är borgerlighetens biljett till arbetarklassens röster.

Just så. Och det skulle dessutom vara en av de största insatserna denna regering kunde göra för att göra samhället tydligt och uppenbart bättre. Tydliga mätbara mål, en uttalad ambition att besegra vardagskriminaliteten, befogenheter och ansvar för ledningen hos polis och åklagare — det är vad som krävs. Och när målen inte nås, givetvis, att ansvaret också utkrävs och nya personer med nya idéer sätts in.

Ju längre tid det går, innan denna sorts ligister tvingas lära sig att de inte kan gå ostraffade, desto fler av dem kommer vi se. Inget samhället kan förbli välmående när befolkningen inte kan känna sig trygg. Ett lämpligt nyårslöfte från Reinfeldt och Ask?

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Arnold Kling on global warming

Economist Arnold Kling is skeptical about whether global warming is caused by carbon emissions or not, and in this TCS Daily piece he explains why.

I am not a skeptic about the rise in average temperatures. Nor am I skeptical that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been increasing. However, I remain skeptical about the connection between the two.

My question is this:

what are the most persuasive reasons for believing that the rise in temperature is due to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide?

What I am looking for is evidence that I can use to overcome my skepticism. My view of climate change is that we have about three data points–an increase in temperatures from 1900-1940, and slight decrease from 1940-1970, and a recent increase. There are a lot of variables that could affect climate, and I wonder how we can be confident about our understanding of the process, given that we have only those three data points to work with.

I have a similar doubt, as readers of this blog might well know. It seems to me that the causal explanations we have are fairly uncertain, and given that this is so, we should be more careful about doing something drastic.

I also find it worrying that two debates have turned into one, making both of them rather confusing and misguided. First there is the scientific debate about what is going on. My layman feeling is that nobody can say with great confidence that they know, and that more data collection and better explanatory models are needed. Second, there is the political debate about what should be done about the whole thing. This has turned into a quasi-religious cult of doomsday sayers, throwing all sense out the window, and refusing to compare the assumed benefits of their proposals with the costs.

There are several unfortunate things here. One is the mix-up of these two separate debates, which has lead to a situation where a person’s political views makes them hold a scientific view based on politics. This is clearly not good if one wants to know whether carbon emission are heating up the planet or not. Also unfortunate is the alarmism. Even if it is true that carbon emissions cause global warming, and that the effect of this is what Al Gore and his chums say it is, it does not follow that we should do everything possible about it. We still need to compare different measures and see which ones are efficient, and figure out how much they cost. Assuming that technological development does not stop, it also seems rather likely that we can come up with better methods of cooling the planet than those currently available.

Taking into account that our current knowledge appears to be rather uncertain, and that the policy proposals on the table are rather costly, I would prefer if we did not do too much at the moment. A moderate carbon tax might be reasonable, but huge reductions of emissions would probably do more harm than good. When we know more we may find reasons to take stronger action. We may also find that the causes are quite different, and require something else to be done. And we may invent new technological devices that make it cheaper to reduce emissions, making it more worthwhile to do it.

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The rich do pay a lot of taxes

I thought this tidbit from the Wall Street Journal was rather interesting.

Income taxe progressivity

It would be interesting to see the numbers for a country considered more egalitarian (in the socialist sense), like Sweden. And, just to be clear: in the U.S. the richest 5% earns 36% of all income, but also pay 60% of all taxes.

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HT: Greg Mankiw
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Identitetspolitik

För ett tag sedan tog Carl-Robert upp mitt spår och funderade kring identitetspolitik. Han skriver:

Jag instämmer till stor del i påståenden om det negativa med så kallad identitetspolitik, även om jag ibland ser vissa svårigheter i att skilja vad som sägs vara identitetspolitik från vad som inte sägs vara det. Om en muslim uppmanar andra muslimer att rösta på honom så anses det vara identitetspolitik, men om en libertarian uppmanar andra libertarianer att rösta på honom så är det inte detta. Varför? Libertarianism är en politisk uppfattning och inte en religiös (möjligen sant). Och marxism? Objektivism? Var går gränsen för politik, identitet, livshållning? Det är inte helt klart.

Och vidare:

Men är religion irrelevant i politiska sammanhang? Religioner innehåller påståenden. De innehåller värderingar. De får konsekvenser för politiska sammanhang. Om en muslim hävdar att andra muslimer ska rösta på honom gör han det för att han anser sig dela vissa värderingar med dem (så till vida han inte bara är fylld av maktbegär). Är detta fel? Religion och politik är inte samma sak, men religiös tillhörighet är ingen egenskap av typen kön eller hudfärg – det är ett ställningstagande och en livssyn.

Det här är en intressant fråga, särskilt aktuell i samband med det amerikanska presidentvalet, men också ständigt relevant även här hemma. Var går gränsen mellan negativ identitetspolitik, där väljare antas lägga sin röst på någon som delar en egenskap som är helt irrelevant för politiken denne vill föra, och identitet använt som ett sätt att förklara politikens grund? Jag tror att man är tvungen att avgöra från fall till fall, vilket förstås gör det lätt att kritisera alla sina motståndare för att vara sliskiga populister medan man anser att politiker man gillar ger uttryck för sin värdegrund, och sprider viktig information genom att definiera sin identitet.

Jag tror att måttstocken måste bli huruvida det är frågan om etiketterande eller ej. Någon som lyfter fram att den är muslim, kristen, invandrare, kvinna eller något annat, utan att fylla det med innehåll, bör kritiseras. Det är, trots allt, inte alls uppenbart vilka värderingar eller vilken livssyn som följer med något av dessa begrepp. Om samma person istället också fyller begreppet med innehåll, talar om vad de menar ligger i religionen, eller hur erfarenheten av att ha invandrat eller av att vara kvinna ger dem en viss världsbild eller förståelse av politiska problem, är det ett fullt rimligt sätt att förklara vem man är.

Detta innebär, bland annat, att det kan vara riktigt att tala om religion i det politiska samtalet. Inte som ett sätt att röra ihop kyrkan och staten, till stor sorg för båda, utan därför att vi som väljare behöver veta hur en religiös kandidat ser på sin religion.

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Quote of the week

The best quote this week was delivered by John McCain in the Republican presidential debate in Iowa.

[youtube]us8U45AS2B8[/youtube]

Whether McCain is the biggest free marketeer and free trader we will ever see is perhaps debatable, but either way it is lovely to hear him say it.

The debate was otherwise a bit better, and slightly more issue oriented, than some of the earlier debates. Fred Thompson had a surprisingly good night, and the main contenders were all decent.

You can see the Des Moines Register debates online, both Republicans and Democrats. I have not had time to watch the entire Democratic debate yet, but the section about economic issues was a rather sad display of protectionism, bigger government and China bashing. Not very inspiring.

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Apologies…

I apologise for the slow pace at the blog lately. Hopefully it will pick up in the coming weeks, and get back to normal.

I am currently reading Eamonn Butler’s short introduction to Adam Smith, and I must say it that it manages to provide a good summary of his work, while painting an interesting picture of the man. Worth noticing is how Smith constructed his ethics by studying human nature, and insisted that those two — ethics and human nature — must be able to exist in harmony. That is a valuable thought, without which one always runs the risk of utopian projects resulting in oppression — and at times murder on a grand scale — while trying to create the New Man. The book can be downloaded here, for free.
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Romney’s speech

Mitt Romney has now, pushed on by the success of the baptist minister Mike Huckabee, held his religion speech. David Brooks has a good summary in the New York Times, along with a couple of reflections worth considering.

It is not always easy to blend an argument for religious liberty with an argument for religious assertiveness, but Romney did it well. Yesterday, I called around to many of America’s serious religious thinkers — including moderates like Richard Bushman of Columbia, and conservatives like Neuhaus and Robert George of Princeton. Everyone I spoke with was enthusiastic about the speech, some of them wildly so.

Before yesterday, most pundits thought Romney was making a mistake in giving the speech now. But in retrospect, it clearly was not a mistake. Romney didn’t say anything that the Baptist minister Mike Huckabee couldn’t say, and so this one address will not hold off the Huckabee surge in Iowa. But Romney underlined the values he shares with social conservatives, and will have eased their concerns. Among Mormons, the speech may go down as a historic event.

Even so, Brooks feels a bit uncomfortable with the entire thing.

When this country was founded, James Madison envisioned a noisy public square with different religious denominations arguing, competing and balancing each other’s passions. But now the landscape of religious life has changed. Now its most prominent feature is the supposed war between the faithful and the faithless. Mitt Romney didn’t start this war, but speeches like his both exploit and solidify this divide in people’s minds. The supposed war between the faithful and the faithless has exacted casualties.

It is, of course, the always large temptation of playing identity politics that leads to this kind of speech, and although vote winning, identity politics is something to be careful with. In the extreme it means Christians must vote for the Christian, women for the woman, African Americans for the African American, and so on. It is very divisive, and it means that issues and policies become entirely irrelevant when choosing someone whose job it is to form policy.

The fact that it is so effective to, like Huckabee, proclaim oneself to be the Christian leader, is in some ways a bit worrying. Charles Krauthammer provides some good insights on the topic in an article at RealClearPolitics.

The appealing aspects of Huckabee’s politics and persona account for much of this. But part of his rise in Iowa is attributable to something rather less appealing: playing the religion card. The other major candidates — John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson — either never figured out how to use it or had the decency to refuse to deploy it.

Huckabee has exploited Romney’s Mormonism with an egregious subtlety.

What Huckabee does, is to subtly play on the intolerance of some voters, asking them to look beyond the issues, and beyond Romney’s personal characteristics (apart from being a Mormon). That intolerance in itself is not pleasant, but it is much less pleasant that someone running for President is using it to his advantage. Some pages in the political playbook of dirty tricks should be left unread.

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