Showing posts with label national interest. Show all posts
Showing posts with label national interest. Show all posts

Monday, June 5, 2017

Increase in deployment & combat injuries for white and Hispanic soldiers relative to black ones & for soldiers from high-income neighborhoods relative to those from low-income ones

Who Will Fight? The All-Volunteer Army after 9/11. By Susan Payne Carter, Alexander Smith & Carl Wojtaszek
American Economic Review, May 2017, Pages 415-419
https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/aer.p20171082

Abstract: Who fought the War on Terror? We find that as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan progressed, there was an increase in the fraction of active-duty Army enlistees who were white or from high-income neighborhoods and that these two groups selected combat occupations more often. Among men, we find an increase in deployment and combat injuries for white and Hispanic soldiers relative to black soldiers and for soldiers from high-income neighborhoods relative to those from low-income neighborhoods. This finding suggests that an all-volunteer force does not compel a disproportionate number of non-white and low socio-economic men to fight America's wars.

IV.  Discussion
Today's all-volunteer force represents a diverse group of individuals serving for both patriotic and economic reasons. For those with fewer economic opportunities, a steady job may be the deciding factor in their enlistment decision; while for those with more outside options, wartime service may shape their deci- sion. Concerns over equity could arise under the  all-volunteer system if these enlistment motivations are differentially distributed across demographic groups. While we cannot uncover the distribution of these motivations, we can observe which groups bear the burden of war. Were the first sustained conflicts of the AVF.Iraq and Afghanistan..poor man.s fights.? To the contrary, during this time period it does not appear that there was an undue burden placed on blacks or individuals from low-income neighborhoods. The percentages of black and low-income enlistees decreased as fighting intensified, with these trends stopping when outside labor market opportunities diminished during the Great Recession and combat risk decreased. These trends were the same for men and women, although black women continued to be over-represented in the Army relative to the general population. Furthermore, black and low-income enlisted men were less likely than their white and high-income peers to be deployed or injured in combat. These differences are driven primarily by the military occupation an individual enters: black and low-income men were less likely to choose combat-intensive occupations than their white and high-income peers with the same eligibility.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Alemania reinventa la crisis energética. Por Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.


Alemania reinventa la crisis energética. Por Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB100014240527023044482045791857 20802195590
Wall Street Journal, Nov. 8, 2013 6:28 p.m. ET

ObamaCare no es el único tren en camino de descarrilar que tenemos  ahora. Como Mao apremiando a los campesinos para que fundieran sus cacharros, sartenes y útiles de labranza para convertir a China en un coloso  del acero de la noche a la mañana, Alemania repartía alegremente subsidios para alentar a los ciudadanos y granjeros a instalar  paneles solares y molinos de viento para luego vender la energía  resultante a las compañías eléctricas a precios inflados. El éxito  —Alemania obtiene un 25% de su energía de las renovables— ha  resultado ser un desastre.

Mientras los alemanes se apresuran a hacerse con su dinero fácil, la  producción de dióxido de carbono ha aumentado, no disminuido, porque las compañías, privadas de capital, han pasado a quemar carbón  americano barato para proveer de la necesaria energía cuando el  viento y el sol nos fallan.

Debido a que sol y viento son intermitentes y la red eléctrica está  pobremente preparada para acomodar estas fuentes, los apagones y las  reducciones de suministro amenazan en este invierno.

Como las facturas las pagan hogares y empresas, los precios de la  electricidad son el triple que en los EE UU. Un pánico apremiante es el del empleo, ya que industrias de gran aportación se dirigen a EE UU  para aprovechar la energía barata que ha producido la revolución de  las arenas bituminosas y los esquistos. El máximo responsable  energético de Europa habla ya francamente de la  "desindustrialización de Alemania".

En UK, donde la política pública ha sido casi tan generosa con las  renovables, "Está bien ser muy, muy verde, pero no si estás  interesado en la fabricación", según queja de un prominente CEO.

La gran virtud de la democracia es que no sigue con ciertos planes  hasta el precipicio, pero los mecanismos normales de ajuste están  agarrotados por el hecho de que el desastre energético de Europa  implica al entero espectro político.

Ed Miliband, líder del Partido Laborista de UK, ha fijado el tema de  las elecciones del próximo año cuando prometió recientemente  congelar los precios de la energía si se le elegía. Pero los  laboristas no van a abandonar los subsidios solares y eólicos que  crearon ellos mismos. Quieren dejarlos grabados en piedra, pasando  los costes a las empresas. En Alemania, la conservadora Angela  Merkel se adhirió completamente a las posiciones económicas sobre  energía de la oposición tras Fukushima, dejando a los electores  alarmados sobre los precios de la energía sin lugar al que tornar en  las elecciones de septiembre excepto a Angela Merkel, quien de forma  vaga mostró alguna moderación sobre la energiewende (revolución  energética) que lanzó y continúa liderando.

Un infrecuente destello de raciocinio ha partido en realidad del  probable socio de coalición de Angela Merkel, el SPD, autor de la  ley original sobre energías verdes, cuyo portavoz dice ahora:  "Necesitamos asegurar que la energía renovable es asequible. Y  necesitamos terminar con la idea de que podemos salirnos  simultáneamente de nucleares y el carbón. No va a funcionar."

Es tentador asumir que los políticos europeos eran feligreses de la  iglesia del calentamiento global. Pero más importante es su apego a  la ideología del agotamiento de recursos, que les convenció de haber  elegido un ganador en esta idea porque estaba garantizado que los  precios de los combustibles fósiles harían parecer baratos a los de  la energía verde.

"Cuanta más gente consuma petróleo y carbón, más subirá el precio,  pero cuanta más gente consuma energías renovables, más bajará su  precio", explicó el asesor energético de Angela Merkel.

He aquí una idea que parece ser impermeable a la experiencia y que  es parte del bagaje de todo político que pudiera ser elegido en  nuestro mundo. "Es absolutamente cierto que la demanda [de energías  fósiles] subirá mucho más rápido que el suministro. Ese es un  hecho", explicó el presidente Obama en 2011. Los EE UU "no pueden  permitirse apostar nuestra prosperidad a largo plazo a un recurso  que con el tiempo se agotará."

El Sr. Obama mencionó los fósiles no convencionales exactamente una  vez en su discurso — y solo para decir que también se agotarían.

Si todo esto fuera cierto, Europa no habría llegado a sus presentes  trabajos. Esta es la realidad: la revolución de los fósiles no  convencionales es menos revolucionaria de lo que parece. Ha sacudido  los errores comunes solo porque ha sucedido en las mismas narices de  los americanos, en áreas pobladas en que se asumía que los  "recursos" se habían extraído y transportado hace mucho.

De hecho, los depósitos de hidrocarburos que hay en el mundo son  verdaderamente vastos, incluyendo entre ellos cantidades inimaginables de hidratos de metano . El desafío es el tecnológico y económico de buscar el acceso a un determinado recurso  a un precio asequible — un desafío desde que se usaban trapos para  empaparlos en petróleo de manantiales naturales. Durante ciento  cincuenta años, el precio del barril de petróleo ha fluctuado entre  $10 y $100 (en dólares de 2011), un rango suficiente para encontrar  nuevas reservas cada vez que se quería requerían con objeto de  mantener a los hidrocarburos como fuente de energía de precio  competitivo.

La crisis energética europea es muy parecida a la nuestra de hace 40  años — autoinfligida. El sueño de Europa dejó de ser sostenible al  minuto de que los precios de la energía empezaran a caer en un  competidor comercial importante como los EE UU. LA gran pregunta ahora es cuán lejos irá la secudida política cuando toda la élite está implicada en un insatisfactorio experimento energético, que inevitablemente se ha visto envuelta en el desencanto del público con otro projecto fracasado de la élite, la Unión Europea.

Va a ser fascinante también la suerte de los shales europeos. En Europa, el gobierno, no los propietarios, controla y se beneficia de los recursos minerales, creando la política de suma zero en lo referente a recusos que han hecho al Oriente Medio un parangón de estabilidad y progreso. ¿Y el calentamiento global? Por suerte la respuesta es fácil. Los votantes europeos se van a acercar al punto en que están los americanos, dándose cuenta de que abjurar de la energía barata no hará nada por los niveles de CO2 (y aun menos por el clima) mientras otros no abjuren de la energía barata también.


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Germany Reinvents the Energy Crisis
A love affair with renewables brings high prices, potential  blackouts and worries about 'deindustrialization.'
By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB100014240527023044482045791857 20802195590
Wall Street Journal, Nov. 8, 2013 6:28 p.m. ET

ObamaCare isn't the only policy train wreck in progress. Like Mao  urging peasants to melt down their pots, pans and farm tools to turn  China into a steel-producing superpower overnight, Germany dished  out subsidies to encourage homeowners and farmers to install solar  panels and windmills and sell energy back to the power company at  inflated prices. Success—Germany now gets 25% of its power from  renewables—has turned out to be a disaster.

As Germans rush to grab this easy money, carbon dioxide output has  risen, not fallen, because money-strapped utilities have switched to  burning cheap American coal to provide the necessary standby power  when wind and sun fail.

Because the sun and wind are intermittent and the power grid is  poorly arranged to accommodate them, brownouts and blackouts  threaten this winter.

Because the bills are paid by households and businesses, electricity  rates are triple those in the United States. An immediate panic is  jobs, as prized industries head to the U.S. for cheaper energy  unleashed by the shale revolution. Europe's top energy official now  speaks frankly of the "deindustrialization in Germany."

In Britain, where policy has been nearly as generous to renewables,  "It's fine being very, very green, but not if you're interested in  manufacturing," complains a prominent CEO.
Enlarge Image

Wind turbines stand behind a solar power park near Werder, Germany.  Getty Images

Democracy's great virtue is that it doesn't follow schemes off a  cliff, but the normal adjustment mechanisms are hampered by the fact  that Europe's energy disaster implicates the entire political  spectrum.

Ed Miliband, leader of Britain's Labour Party, set the theme for  next year's British election when he recently promised to freeze  energy prices if elected. But Labour isn't about to disown the solar  and wind subsidies it created. It wants to soldier on, shifting the  cost to business. In Germany, conservative Angela Merkel embraced  the opposition's energy economics wholesale after Fukushima, leaving  voters who are alarmed about energy prices no place to turn in  September's election except Angela Merkel, who vaguely indicated  some moderation of the energiewende (energy revolution) she launched  and continues to champion.

An unwonted glimmer of reason has actually come from Mrs. Merkel's  likely Social Democrat coalition partner, author of Germany's  original green energy law, whose spokesman now says: "We need to  ensure that renewable energy is affordable. And we need to put an  end to the idea that we can pull out of nuclear and coal  simultaneously. This won't work."

It's tempting to assume Europe's politicians were praying in the  church of global warming. But more important is their subscription  to resource-depletion ideology, which convinced them they'd picked a  political winner because rising fossil fuel prices were guaranteed  to make green energy look cheap in comparison.

"When more people consume oil and coal, the price will go up, but  when more people consume renewable energy, the price of it will go  down," explained Ms. Merkel's top energy adviser.

We have here an idea seemingly impervious to experience and part of  the mental baggage of every politician likely to get elected in our  world. "It is absolutely certain that [fossil energy] demand will go  up a lot faster than supply. It's just a fact," President Obama  explained in 2011. The U.S. "cannot afford to bet our long-term  prosperity on a resource that will eventually run out."

Mr. Obama mentioned shale exactly once in his speech—and only to say  shale would run out too.

If all this were true, Europe wouldn't be in its present fix. Here's  the real truth: The shale revolution is less revolutionary than it  seems. It has shocked settled misconceptions only because it  happened under the noses of Americans, in populated areas where the  casual assumption was that "resources" would long ago have been dug  out and carted away.

In fact, the world's store of fossil hydrocarbons is truly vast,  including almost unimaginable quantities of methane hydrates. The  challenge is the technological and economic one of getting access to  a given resource at an affordable price—a challenge ever since men  used rags to soak up oil from natural seeps. For 150 years, the  price of a barrel of oil has fluctuated between $10 and $100 (in  2011 dollars), a range that has been sufficient to call forth new  reserves and feedstocks whenever needed to maintain hydrocarbons as  a source of competitively priced energy.

Europe's energy crisis is a lot like ours of 40 years ago—self- inflicted. Europe's dream was untenable the minute energy prices  began falling in a major trade competitor like the United States.  The big question now is how far will the political upheaval go when  an entire elite is implicated in an unsatisfactory energy  experiment, which inevitably has become wrapped up in public  disappointment with another failed elite project, the European Union  itself.

Fascinating too will be the fate of Europe's shale. In Europe,  government, not landowners, controls and benefits from mineral  resources, creating the zero-sum resource politics that have made  the Mideast a paragon of stability and civil progress. What about  global warming? At least that answer is easier. European voters are  coming out where Americans have, realizing that foreswearing cheap  energy will do nothing for CO2 levels (and even less for climate) as  long as others aren't foreswearing cheap energy too.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

International Courts and the New Paternalism - African leaders are the targets because ambitious jurists consider them to be 'low-hanging fruit'

International Courts and the New Paternalism. By Jendayi Frazer
African leaders are the targets because ambitious jurists consider them to be ‘low-hanging fruit.’
http://www.wsj.com/articles/international-courts-and-the-new-paternalism-1437778048
WSJ, July 24, 2015 6:47 p.m. ET
Nairobi, Kenya

President Obama arrived in Kenya on Friday and will travel from here to Ethiopia, two crucial U.S. allies in East Africa. The region is not only emerging as an economic powerhouse, it is also an important front in the battle with al Qaeda, al-Shabaab, Islamic State and other Islamist radicals.

Yet grievances related to how the International Criminal Court’s universal jurisdiction is applied in Africa are interfering with U.S. and European relations on the continent. In Africa there are accusations of neocolonialism and even racism in ICC proceedings, and a growing consensus that Africans are being unjustly indicted by the court.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. After the failure to prevent mass atrocities in Europe and Africa in the 1990s, a strong consensus emerged that combating impunity had to be an international priority. Ad hoc United Nations tribunals were convened to judge the masterminds of genocide and crimes against humanity in Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. These courts were painfully slow and expensive. But their mandates were clear and limited, and they helped countries to turn the page and focus on rebuilding.

Soon universal jurisdiction was seen not only as a means to justice, but also a tool for preventing atrocities in the first place. Several countries in Western Europe including Spain, the United Kingdom, Belgium and France empowered their national courts with universal jurisdiction. In 2002 the International Criminal Court came into force.

Africa and Europe were early adherents and today constitute the bulk of ICC membership. But India, China, Russia and most of the Middle East—representing well over half the world’s population—stayed out. So did the United States. Leaders in both parties worried that an unaccountable supranational court would become a venue for politicized show trials. The track record of the ICC and European courts acting under universal jurisdiction has amply borne out these concerns.

Only when U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld threatened to move NATO headquarters out of Brussels in 2003 did Belgium rein in efforts to indict former President George H.W. Bush, and Gens. Colin Powell and Tommy Franks, for alleged “war crimes” during the 1990-91 Gulf War. Spanish courts have indicted American military personnel in Iraq and investigated the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay.

But with powerful states able to shield themselves and their clients, Africa has borne the brunt of indictments. Far from pursuing justice for victims, these courts have become a venue for public-relations exercises by activist groups. Within African countries, they have been manipulated by one political faction to sideline another, often featuring in electoral politics.
The ICC’s recent indictments of top Kenyan officials are a prime example. In October 2014, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta became the first sitting head of state to appear before the ICC, though he took the extraordinary step of temporarily transferring power to his deputy to avoid the precedent. ICC prosecutors indicted Mr. Kenyatta in connection with Kenya’s post-election ethnic violence of 2007-08, in which some 1,200 people were killed.

Last December the ICC withdrew all charges against Mr. Kenyatta, saying the evidence had “not improved to such an extent that Mr Kenyatta’s alleged criminal responsibility can be proven beyond reasonable doubt.” As U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 2005-09, and the point person during Kenya’s 2007-08 post-election violence, I knew the ICC indictments were purely political. The court’s decision to continue its case against Kenya’s deputy president, William Ruto, reflects a degree of indifference and even hostility to Kenya’s efforts to heal its political divisions.

The ICC’s indictments in Kenya began with former chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s determination to prove the court’s relevance in Africa by going after what he reportedly called “low-hanging fruit.” In other words, African political and military leaders unable to resist ICC jurisdiction.

More recently, the arrest of Rwandan chief of intelligence Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Karenzi Karake in London last month drew a unanimous reproach from the African Union’s Peace and Security Council. The warrant dates to a 2008 Spanish indictment for alleged reprisal killings following the 1994 Rwandan genocide. At the time of the indictment, Mr. Karenzi Karake was deputy commander of the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping operation in Darfur. The Rwandan troops under his command were the backbone of the Unamid force, and his performance in Darfur was by all accounts exemplary.

Moreover, a U.S. government interagency review conducted in 2007-08, when I led the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, found that the Spanish allegations against Mr. Karenzi Karake were false and unsubstantiated. The U.S. fully backed his reappointment in 2008 as deputy commander of Unamid forces. It would be a travesty of justice if the U.K. were to extradite Mr. Karake to Spain to stand trial.

Sadly, the early hope of “universal jurisdiction” ending impunity for perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity has given way to cynicism, both in Africa and the West. In Africa it is believed that, in the rush to demonstrate their power, these courts and their defenders have been too willing to brush aside considerations of due process that they defend at home.

In the West, the cynicism is perhaps even more damaging because it calls into question the moral capabilities of Africans and their leaders, and revives the language of paternalism and barbarism of earlier generations.

Ms. Frazer, a former U.S. ambassador to South Africa (2004-05) and assistant secretary of state for African affairs (2005-09), is an adjunct senior fellow for Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

More War for Oil? President Obama dispatches troops to Iraq—and has to listen to the old canards all over again

More War for Oil? By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.
President Obama dispatches troops to Iraq—and has to listen to the old canards all over again.Wall Street Journal, Aug 12, 2014 7:00 p.m. ET
http://online.wsj.com/articles/holman-jenkins-more-war-for-oil-1407884431

The "no blood for oil" crowd has piped up with surprising speed and noisiness in the short hours since President Obama recommitted U.S. forces to the fight in Iraq.

Steve Coll, a writer for the New Yorker, suggests in a piece posted on the magazine's website that "Kurdish oil greed," whose partner Mr. Obama now becomes, has been a primary factor in making Iraq a failed state. That's apparently because of the Kurds' unwillingness to reach a revenue-sharing deal with Baghdad. For good measure, he refers readers to a Rachel Maddow video, featuring Steve Coll, that argues that the U.S. invaded Iraq to gets its oil in the first place.

John B. Judis, a veteran editor of the New Republic, in contrast is relatively sane under the headline "The U.S. Airstrikes in Northern Iraq Are All About Oil." While nodding toward Mr. Obama's stated humanitarian justifications, he insists oil "lies near the center of American motives for intervention."
There are a few problems with this argument. Oil exists in the hinterland of Erbil, all right, the capital of a stable, prosperous and relatively free Kurdistan that President Obama now is trying to protect from the Islamic murderers of ISIS.

But oil also exists in northwestern Iraq—in fact, vast amounts of oil around Mosul, whose fall did not trigger Obama intervention. Oil is in Libya, where the U.S. quickly took a hike after the fall of Gadhafi. Oil is in Canada, where Mr. Obama, who just fatally risked his legacy with his core admirers by dispatching forces to the Mideast, can't bring himself to choose between his labor and greenie constituents by deciding to approve or veto the Keystone pipeline.

Oil apparently explains nothing except when it explains everything.
Another problem is that Americans are both consumers and producers of oil. So does the U.S. want high or low prices? A bigger producer in recent years, America presumably has seen its interest shifting steadily in the direction of higher prices. Yet acting to protect Kurdish production would have the opposite effect.

But then Mr. Coll especially is ritualizing, not thinking—and what he's ritualizing is a certain leftist hymn about the origins of the 2003 Iraq war. Never mind that if the U.S. had wanted Iraq's oil, it would have been vastly cheaper to buy it— Saddam was certainly eager to sell. Never mind that the Bush administration, after overthrowing Saddam, stood idly by while Baghdad awarded the biggest contracts to India, China and Angola.

It was not a Bushie but Madeleine Albright, in her maiden speech as Bill Clinton's secretary of state, who first laid out the case for regime change in Iraq.

In the same 1997 speech, she explained, "Last August, Iraqi forces took advantage of intra-Kurdish tensions and attacked the city of Irbil, in northern Iraq. President Clinton responded by expanding the no-fly zone to the southern suburbs of Baghdad. . . . Contrary to some expectations, the attack on Irbil has not restored Saddam Hussein's authority in the north. We are firmly engaged alongside Turkey and the United Kingdom in helping the inhabitants of the region find stability and work towards a unified and pluralistic Iraq."

Madame Secretary did not mention oil any more than President Obama did last week. Of course, the catechism holds that, when politicians aren't freely voicing their obsession with oil as Bush and Cheney supposedly did while cooking up the Iraq War, politicians are concealing their obsession with oil. In fact, oil was not yet produced in significant quantities in Erbil at the time. It was the peace and stability that Presidents Bush, Clinton and Bush provided, and that President Obama is trying to restore, that allowed the flowering of Iraqi Kurdistan, including its oil industry.

By now, America has invested 23 years in shielding northern Iraq from the suppurating chaos that seems to flow endlessly from Baghdad and its Sunni-dominated Western suburbs. It's one of our few conspicuous successes in Iraq. Politics, in the best and worst senses of the word, drives every political decision. Despite his palpable lack of enthusiasm, President Obama knows surrender in northern Iraq would be an intolerable disgrace for his administration and U.S. policy. So he sends in the troops.

We come to an irony. The liberal habit of assuming everyone else's motives are corrupt is, of course, an oldie-moldie, if a tad free-floating in this case. But the critics in question don't actually oppose Mr. Obama's intervention, the latest in our costly and thankless efforts in Iraq. They don't exactly endorse it either. The New Yorker's Mr. Coll especially seems out to avoid committing himself while striking a knowing, superior tone about the alleged centrality of oil, which is perhaps the most ignoble reason to pick up a pen on this subject right now.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Number of new antibacterial-drug approvals in the US


Source: Drug Makers Tiptoe Back Into Antibiotic R&D. By Hester Plumridge
As Superbugs Spread, Regulators Begin to Remove Roadblocks for New Treatments
WSJ, Jan 23, 2014
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303465004579322601579895822

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Views from Japan: Abe Visit to Yasukuni Shrine

Views from Japan: Abe Visit to Yasukuni Shrine

1  Abe Visit to Controversial Japanese Shrine Draws Rare U.S. Criticism. By George Nishiyama
Visit to Yasukuni Raises Concern Premier Shifting Focus From Economy to Nationalistic Goals
Wall Street Journal, Dec. 26, 2013 3:04 p.m. ET
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304483804579281103015121712

[...]

Mr. Abe visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine on Thursday, triggering strong criticism from Beijing and Seoul, but also a rare disapproval by Washington, which has pushed the Asian neighbors to mend ties that are strained by territorial disputes and differences over wartime history.

Many Asian nations that suffered from Japan's wartime actions view Yasukuni as a symbol of Tokyo's past militarism because it honors not just Japan's war dead but also some convicted World War II war criminals, including Hideki Tojo, who was prime minister for most of the war.

"The United States is disappointed that Japan's leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan's neighbors," said the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo on its website, in an unusual direct criticism of Japan's leader by its main ally.

Mr. Abe has repeatedly said he regretted not visiting the shrine during his first tenure as prime minister from 2006 to 2007 and said his critics misunderstood his intentions. "I offered my respects to those who lost their precious lives for our country, and prayed that their souls may rest in peace," he told reporters after the visit. "I have no intention at all of hurting the feelings of the Chinese or the South Korean people."

Although a well-known conservative who has stated that changing the pacifist constitution drafted by the occupying U.S. forces was his "life's work," Mr. Abe had adopted an economy-first policy after taking office in December 2012, putting his nationalist agenda on the back burner.

His so-called Abenomics policy featuring government spending and monetary stimulus has spurred consumption, resulting in the Japanese economy recording the strongest expansion among industrialized nations in the first half of this year, although the country's growth rate slowed in the third quarter.

The improved economy has helped make Mr. Abe one of the most popular Japanese leaders in recent years, with his support ratings hovering around 60% for most of the past year.

All of that has come as a relief to Washington, which faces a rising military power in China and is wary of the regional tensions developing into physical confrontations. The U.S. has also tired of a revolving door of short-lived Japanese prime ministers.

During an October visit to Tokyo, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel paid respects at the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery, a tomb for Japan's unknown war dead, in a move widely seen as a message to Mr. Abe that there are alternatives to Yasukuni.

While Mr. Abe had refrained from going to Yasukuni until Thursday, on the anniversary of his taking office, some of his cabinet ministers had visited, each time inviting protests from China and South Korea. Mr. Abe's visit, the first by a prime minister in seven years, drew angry responses from the neighbors.

China's foreign minister summoned Japan's ambassador to protest and criticized Thursday's visit as the latest attempt by Mr. Abe to gloss over Japan's militaristic past. "Under these conditions, not only does the Japanese leader not show restraint, but instead makes things worse by manufacturing another incident over history," spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement. "Japan must bear all the consequences arising from this."

Seoul also decried the move. "Our government cannot but deplore and express anger about Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine despite concerns from neighboring countries and the international community," said Yoo Jin-Ryong, a South Korean spokesman.

Analysts in the region agreed the move would further deteriorate relations. The development is severe, said Wang Shaopu, director of Japan Institution at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. "It will worsen China-Japan's already bad-enough relations."

Others said Mr. Abe had gone ahead with the visit because he felt he had nothing to lose given that ties were already frayed. While he has visited all of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, he has yet to visit China or South Korea nor has he held formal bilateral meetings with their leaders.

"Mr. Abe probably thought that a visit to Yasukuni at this point wouldn't have too much of an impact on prospects of future summits with Beijing and Seoul considering how chances already seemed slim," said Masafumi Kaneko, a senior research fellow at the Center for International and Strategic Studies at PHP Institute.

Mr. Abe's aides said what they cared about most was the U.S. reaction. "The biggest, or should I say, the only concern is what the U.S. would say," said a senior government official who was aware of the prime minister's plans in advance. He expressed confidence that the ties between the allies wouldn't be affected, noting that President Barack Obama was relying on the prime minister to help seal a deal over a trans-Pacific free-trade forum and to move forward plans to relocate U.S. troops in the region.

The government official said Mr. Abe intended to stick to making economic recovery the top priority, stressing how investors would start to see deregulatory measures—the last of the three pillars of his economic policy—in action in the new year. "We intend to keep the ball rolling for Abenomics," the official said.

But Mr. Abe may have miscalculated the U.S. response, analysts said. "The U.S. reaction was unexpected. Mr. Abe is moving to bolster the Japan-U.S. alliance, and the focus is whether they can move beyond just a military alliance, and share values," said Koji Murata, a political-science professor and the president of Doshisha University. "The U.S. may be frustrated at Mr. Abe, who is obsessed with history issues."

Diplomatic feuds have shown they can affect business interests in the region. After the previous Japanese government nationalized disputed islands in the East China Sea in September 2012, Chinese consumers boycotted Japanese products, dealing a serious blow to Japanese firms, including car makers.

But the Tokyo stock market took Mr. Abe's visit to the shrine in stride on Thursday, finishing higher. Investors said other factors, including a weaker yen, were more important than diplomatic issues.

[...]

—Alexander Martin, Kosaku Narioka and James T. Areddy contributed to this article.



2  A Japanese citizen weighs in:
hello,

this is a pretty simple issue... it's a thing about "mind" or "philosophy" for Japanese and "political" for China or Korea. it'd not been a problem until middle of 80s indeed. they are just always looking for something to claim or criticize Japan to let us compromise us one-sidedly. they are just trying to do this in the name of human-right. Japan has to be 100% evil, and they have to be 100% victims forever. so they will never forgive us no matter how we apologized.
if PM Abe didn't do it, they would find something another.

it's not known very much in other countries, but Japan's already apologized many times, paid much and supported in many ways even the countries didn't let their citizens know about that. 
major Japanese started to think it looks waste of time and effort to make a good relationship with them any longer.

more than 70% of Japanese agree with PM Abe's Yasukuni visit this time in a survey of a TV channel (this is so-called "liberal" channel). we all know he just wants to thank people who worked and died for this country, and wishes peace. 
personally, i go to the shrine when i'm in Tokyo (my grand father died in WW2).

have a good new year!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

El coste del intervencionismo en Hong Kong

El coste del intervencionismo en Hong Kong. WSJ Editorial

En contra de las afirmaciones del gobierno, las tasas dificultan más los negocios a las pequeñas compañías.
Wall Street Journal, Nov. 5, 2013 11:16 a.m. ET
Translation of  The Cost of Hong Kong's Interventionism to Spanish
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303482504579179251139447562

El gobierno de Hong Kong se ha resistido fuertemente a aceptar a los críticos que sugieren que sus esfuerzos por frenar la actividad del mercado inmobiliario local perjudica su reputación de políticas de libre mercado y pro-crecimiento. Quizá es hora de que se lo piensen de nuevo. Vean el nuevo informe que muestra que la intromisión del gobierno en ese mercado está dañando el clima de los negocios en el Territorio.

Aunque Hong Kong figura en el segundo lugar en el informe Doing Business 2014 del Banco Mundial, publicado la semana pasada, la posición del Territorio en la categoría "facilidad para registrar propiedad" se desplomó del puesto 60 al 89. La caída refleja el incremento hasta el 7.5% en febrero, un 100%, de las tasas aplicables a las transacciones inmobiliarias comerciales (no de viviendas). El gobierno ha tomado esa decisión después de varios intentos por enfriar el mercado residencial con impuestos especiales que simplemente desviaron el capital al mercado no residencial.

El informe Doing Business resalta lo que esos impuestos significan para pequeñas y medianas empresas en términos prácticos. En promedio, la transferencia de una propiedad comercial ahora cuesta el 7.7% de su valor tras añadir impuestos y tasas. Antes de que entrase en vigor la nueva tasa estaba en el 4%, si bien solo es aplicable a las transacciones de mayor cuantía. Aunque otros aspectos de la política económica de HK son pro-crecimiento, esto representa un innecesario coste añadido sobre las pequeñas empresas, que solían ser las mayores beneficiadas de la señera política hongkonesa de mínima interferencia en la economía.

Esto debería ser un llamamiento al gobierno, que ha intentado argumentar desde el principio de sus escarceos en el asunto de la nueva tasa que estas medidas eran excepcionales y afectarían solo a los inmuebles. Los críticos advirtieron en aquel entonces, 2010, que la primera tasa especial sobre propiedades residenciales pondría al Territorio en una pendiente resbaladiza por el abandono de lo que un antiguo ministro de economía llamaba "no intervencionismo decidido". Como respuesta, el portavoz del gobierno, Michael Wong, escribió una carta al director de este periódico prometiendo que el nuevo impuesto "[no tendría más implicaciones para las políticas de bajos impuestos, pro-empresas]", calificando las críticas como "[claramente de magnitud incorrecta]".

El deslizamiento del gobierno hacia los impuestos especiales para la propiedad comercial ha demostrado que los críticos tenían razón y el informe del Banco Mundial indica que las pequeñas empresas están pagando el precio de esta metedura de pata. Por mor de los emprendedores del Territorio, es hora de que el gobierno de HK lleve de nuevo sus políticas inmobiliarias al decidido no intervencionismo que funciona tan bien para otros sectores de la economía.

---
Translation to Catalonian: http://www.bipartisanalliance.com/2013/11/el-cost-de-lintervencionisme-hong-kong.html

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The Cost of Hong Kong's Interventionism
Contrary to the government's claims, stamp duties are making it harder for small firms to do business in the city.WSJ, Nov. 5, 2013 11:16 a.m. ET
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303482504579179251139447562

Hong Kong's government has steadfastly resisted any suggestion that its efforts to curb the local property market dent its reputation for free-market, pro-growth policies. Maybe it's time they reconsidered. Witness a new report showing that government meddling in property is harming the territory's business climate.

Although Hong Kong ranked second in the World Bank's 2014 Doing Business study released last week, the territory's rank in the ease-of-registering-property category plummeted to 89th from 60th. The drop traces to Hong Kong's doubling of stamp duty on commercial property transactions to 7.5% in February. The government levied this after its earlier attempts to cool the residential market with special taxes merely shunted capital into the commercial real-estate market.

The Doing Business report highlights what these taxes mean to small- and medium-sized businesses in practical terms. On average it now costs 7.7% of a property's value to transfer a commercial property when you include fees and taxes. That's up from 4% before the special stamp duty was implemented, though the duty only applies to larger transactions. Even though other aspects of Hong Kong's economic policies are solidly pro-growth, this represents a needless cost on small firms. They used to be among the biggest beneficiaries of Hong Kong's longstanding policy of minimal interference in the economy.

This should be a wake-up call to the government, which has tried to argue since the beginning of its stamp-duty forays that the measures were unique and would affect only property. Critics warned at the time that the first special duty on residential properties in 2010 put the territory on a slippery slope from its history of what a former financial Secretary called "positive noninterventionism." In response, government spokesman Michael Wong wrote a Letter to the Editor of this paper promising that the new tax would not have "wider implications for the territory's low-tax and business-friendly policies," calling these suggestions "well wide of the mark."

The government's slide into special duties on commercial property proved the critics right, and the World Bank report suggests small businesses are paying the price for this property fumble. For the sake of the territory's entrepreneurs, it's time Hong Kong's government returned its real-estate policies to the positive noninterventionism that works so well in other corners of the economy. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

When he was in power, he was unreasonable and arrogant and considered citizens' rights and the law to be nothing

Rejection of Bo Xilai's Appeal Concludes Chinese Drama. By Jeremy Page
'This Is the Final Verdict,' Court Says om Widely Expected RulingWall Street Journal, Oct. 25, 2013 9:51 a.m. ET
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304799404579157354280260862



Edited:

Mr. Bo burnished his political reputation there by presiding over a sweeping campaign against organized crime that many lawyers and rights activists say disregarded legal norms and [other things we won't mention in this blog.]

"When he was in power, he was unreasonable and arrogant and considered citizens' rights and the law to be nothing," wrote Zhou Yongkun, a professor at Suzhou University's law school, on his microblog.

"As soon as he became a prisoner, he realized the importance of rights, and that the law was his umbrella. But it was too late."

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Hong Kong's Policies of Impoverishment - A poverty line is another step on Hong Kong's road to serfdom

Hong Kong's Policies of Impoverishment. WSJ Editorial
A poverty line is another step on Hong Kong's road to serfdom.WSJ, Oct. 14, 2013 1:02 p.m. ET
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304106704579134973249439240

Hong Kong's decision to create a poverty line puts us in mind of John Cowperthwaite, financial secretary from 1961-71 and one of the chief architects of the territory's free-market system. Sir John famously refused to collect basic economic data on the grounds that statistics only increased the temptation for government to meddle. An arbitrary measure of poverty is a perfect example, since it encourages policies that will undermine the social mobility and economic growth needed to reduce poverty.

Hong Kong's new poverty line was set at one half the median income, which means that 20% of the population is considered poor. The most obvious objection to such a cut-off is that the number of poor will remain relatively stable regardless of their real conditions. If the government gives out money, this will tend to raise the median income and hence the poverty line, necessitating yet more handouts.

Then there's the problem of using income to measure poverty, since many residents, especially the elderly, live on their savings. Those without savings may rely on help from family members. So while poverty is a real problem in Hong Kong that deserves attention, this poverty line is a crude attempt to quantify it.

Nevertheless, many politicians in both the pro-Beijing and pro-democracy camps are eager to expand Hong Kong's small welfare state, and they will no doubt use this new tool to lobby for more benefits. Also, in 2011 a minimum wage came into effect, with the reassurance that it was set low enough to minimize job losses. Now the poverty line is a talking point for raising the minimum wage.

Those in favor of tempering Hong Kong's capitalism with socialist institutions common in the West often argue that they will do less harm since the territory's population has a strong work ethic and the government budget is in surplus. They little consider that these are the results of Sir John's laissez faire framework.

Ironically, the Chinese Communist Party appreciates Hong Kong's capitalist strengths more than local leaders. In the 1990s, after the last British Governor Chris Patten increased social welfare spending 88% in five years, Chinese diplomats warned that "Eurosocialist" policies were like "putting people on a F1 racing car which runs so fast it crashes and kills all its passengers."

Zhou Nan, Beijing's representative in the territory, complained, "The price of the future Special Administrative Region government being forced to live beyond its means would be budgetary imbalance, tax hikes, reduced financial market liquidity which will result in eroded foreign investors' confidence." Sir John couldn't have said it better himself.

Mustafa Alani: "We are learning from our enemies now how to treat the United States."

Our Former Friends the Saudis. WSJ Editorial
So how is that vow to repair America's frayed alliances working out?
Oct. 22, 2013 7:13 p.m. ET
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303902404579151573907253280

President Obama likes to boast that he has repaired U.S. alliances supposedly frayed and battered by the Bush Administration. He should try using that line with our former allies in Saudi Arabia.

As the Journal's Ellen Knickmeyer has reported from Riyadh in recent weeks, the Kingdom is no longer making any secret of its disgust with the Administration's policy drift in the Middle East. Last month, Prince Turki al Faisal, the former Saudi ambassador in Washington, offered his view on the deal Washington struck with Moscow over Syria's chemical weapons.

"The current charade of international control over Bashar's chemical arsenal," the Prince told a London audience, "would be funny if it were not so blatantly perfidious, and designed not only to give Mr. Obama an opportunity to back down, but also to help Assad butcher his people." It's a rare occasion when a Saudi royal has the moral standing to lecture an American President, but this was one of them.

On Monday, Ms. Knickmeyer reported that Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar has decided to downgrade ties with the CIA in training Syrian rebels, preferring instead to work with the French and Jordanians. It's a rare day, too, when those two countries make for better security partners than the U.S. But even French Socialists are made of sterner stuff than this Administration.

Bandar's decision means the Saudis will not be inclined to bow any longer to U.S. demands to limit the arms they provide the rebels, including surface-to-air missiles that could potentially be used by terrorists to bring down civilian planes. The Saudis have also told the U.S. they will no longer favor U.S. defense contractors in future arms deals—no minor matter coming from a country that in 2011 bought $33.4 billion of American weapons.

Riyadh's dismay has been building for some time. In the aborted build-up to a U.S. strike on Syria, the Saudis asked the U.S. to beef up its naval presence in the Persian Gulf against a potential Iranian counter-strike, only to be told the U.S. didn't have the ships. In last year's foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney, Mr. Obama was nonchalant about America's shrinking Navy, but this is one of the consequences of our diminishing military footprint: U.S. security guarantees are no longer credible.

Then there is Iran. Even more than Israel, the Saudis have been pressing the Administration to strike Iran's nuclear targets while there's still time. Now Riyadh is realizing that Mr. Obama's diplomacy is a journey with no destination, that there are no real red lines, and that any foreign adversary can call his bluff. Nobody should be surprised if the Saudis conclude they need nukes of their own—probably purchased from Pakistan—as pre-emptive deterrence against the inevitability of a nuclear Tehran.

The Saudis are hardly the first U.S. ally to be burned by an American President more eager to court enemies than reassure friends. The Poles and Czechs found that out when Mr. Obama withdrew ballistic-missile defense sites from their country in 2009 as a way of appeasing the Russians.

The Syrian people have learned the hard way that Mr. Obama does not mean what he says about punishing the use of chemical weapons or supplying moderate rebel factions with promised military equipment. And the Israelis are gradually realizing that their self-advertised "best friend" in the White House will jump into any diplomatic foxhole rather than act in time to stop an Iranian bomb.

Now the Saudis have figured it out, too, and at least they're not afraid to say it publicly. "They [the Americans] are going to be upset—and we can live with that," Saudi security analyst Mustafa Alani told Ms. Knickmeyer last month. "We are learning from our enemies now how to treat the United States."

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Arab Countries in Transition - Economic Outlook and Key Challenges - Deauville Partnership Ministerial Meeting

Arab Countries in Transition - Economic Outlook and Key Challenges - Deauville Partnership Ministerial Meeting
IMF Policy Paper, October 10, 2013
http://www.imf.org/external/pp/longres.aspx?id=4818

Summary: In an environment of heightened socio-economic tensions, regional insecurity, and strained public finances, the Arab Countries in Transition (ACTs) 1 face the difficult task of delivering on the expectations for jobs and growth. Despite patchy improvements in some countries, economic growth remains subdued, private investment is weak, and external and fiscal buffers are running low. Fostering social cohesion and avoiding a downward spiral of economic and political malaise calls for urgent implementation of economic reforms and coordinated support from the international community.


Regional economic outlook and key challenges (edited)
In an environment of heightened socio-economic tensions, regional insecurity, and strained public finances, the Arab Countries in Transition (ACTs, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen) face the difficult task of delivering on the expectations for jobs and growth. Despite patchy improvements in some countries, economic growth remains subdued, private investment is weak, and external and fiscal buffers are running low. Fostering social cohesion and avoiding a downward spiral of economic and political malaise calls for urgent implementation of economic reforms and coordinated support from the international community.

A. Background and recent developments
Three shocks undermine sentiment. The economic situation in the ACTs has become increasingly difficult amid a still weak external environment, rising regional tensions stemming largely from the civil war in Syria, and heightened domestic political uncertainty in many countries, at times accompanied by violence. As a result, private sector sentiment has worsened, private sector activity remains subdued, and private investment, particularly foreign direct investment, has slowed.

Growth is low and unemployment is rising. Average growth (excluding Libya) is expected to inch up to 3 percent in 2013 from 2½ percent in 2012, with the marginal pick-up reflecting a nascent recovery of tourism and exports, increased post-crisis capacity utilization, and a post-drought rebound of agriculture in Morocco. This moderate growth is not generating the jobs needed to stem the rise in the number of unemployed, which has increased by more than 1 million people since early 2010.

Progress with reforms has been uneven, further straining public finances. Budget deficits remain elevated, averaging 9 percent of GDP in 2012(excluding Libya) owing to weak revenue collection and weaker-than-expected fiscal consolidation efforts. In Egypt and Jordan, high levels of public debt (more than 80 percent of GDP) further limit fiscal space. Meanwhile, inflation pressures have begun to ease in most ACTs helped by lower food and energy prices and weak demand. Foreign exchange reserves have stabilized for now, reflecting a gradual narrowing of current account deficits and, notably in Egypt, external financial support. Nevertheless, reserve buffers remain low relative to the underlying vulnerabilities.


B. Short-term outlook
Private investment and growth are anemic. The current challenges faced by the ACTs are likely to persist over the near term. Revitalizing private sector activity will require political stability and strong policy efforts to improve the business climate. This will take time. Meanwhile, we expect only a gradual recovery in 2013–14, with average GDP growth at about 3 percent. Inflation is expected to stabilize in the upper single digits and the current account and fiscal deficits could begin to narrow gradually, but will remain elevated. Consequently, public debt and unemployment in most countries are likely to continue creeping up.

Significant downside risks. Risks to this already sobering outlook are significant, and mostly to the downside. The Syrian crisis, recent domestic political tensions, and incidences of increasing violence have the potential to intensify further and bring growth to a halt. This would have strongly negative consequences for labor markets in the region. First, an increased flow of refugees could overburden budgets of Syria’s neighboring countries, while damaging trade, confidence, and growth in the region more broadly. Equally damaging could be setbacks to the political transitions as well as an escalation of violence in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, or Iraq, which would further delay economic reforms and deter investment. In some countries, new disruptions to energy supplies (for example, oil production in Libya or Jordan’s gas imports from Egypt) would take a toll on fiscal and external positions. Finally, and with somewhat lower probability, weaker global—notably European—growth could slow recovery of exports and foreign inflows.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Opening a New Era in U.S.-Iraq Relations - We Iraqis, grateful for America's sacrifice, now seek an economic partner

Opening a New Era in U.S.-Iraq Relations. By Lukman Faily
We Iraqis, grateful for America's sacrifice, now seek an economic partner.
The Wall Street Journal, July 3, 2013, on page A13
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324436104578579212252109642.html

Last week, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to lift international trade and financial sanctions on Iraq that have been in effect since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in the 1990s. Iraq's exit from Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter—and the substantial progress it has made with Kuwait—is a major accomplishment, and one of several recent developments we Iraqis are celebrating.

Though most Americans probably believe that Iraqis are fed up with the U.S., the truth is that Iraqis appreciate what the U.S. has done and are looking for more U.S. involvement—not more sacrifice of blood and treasure, but more diplomatic, political, trade, investment and economic partnership.

The next clear step is for the U.S. and Iraq to fully implement the Strategic Framework Agreement, signed prior to the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. forces, which defines the overall political, economic, cultural and security ties between our two countries. Americans should see this agreement not as a ticket out of Iraq, but as the foundation for a long-term partnership with the people and government of Iraq.

At a time of profound change in the Middle East, the implementation of the agreement has so far been slow and uneven. While security coordination through military sales and financing programs continues, an expedited delivery of promised sales, better intelligence sharing, and stepped-up assistance in counterterrorism and training is essential for Iraq's fight against terrorism—a clear national security interest of the U.S. Implementing this agreement should not be linked to regional issues, such as the conflict in Syria.

As we look forward to full implementation of the Strategic Framework Agreement, the legacy of the past 10 years is something to build on. After decades of dictatorship, three disastrous wars, international isolation, economic sanctions, the displacement of more than a million Iraqis and the deaths of tens of thousands more, Iraq has begun to build a multiethnic, multiparty democracy with respect for the rule of law.

It hasn't been easy. But Iraqis are making progress towards creating a democratic system. All the political parties have accepted elections as a method of power-sharing and peaceful change. Terrible as it is, the current violence in Iraq is primarily caused by terrorism, not civil war. As the recent provincial elections affirmed, Iraqis are developing a culture of democracy—something that many of our neighbors do not yet have.

With Iraq taking its place as a partner, not a protectorate, Americans can help by providing political, diplomatic and security assistance, in addition to technical know-how and investment capital.

On the political front, the U.S. can serve as an honest broker among Iraqi factions that are learning to work with each other. Americans are seen as mature partners who have proven their commitment to Iraq, and their involvement is not perceived as a threat to our sovereignty or national interest.

On the diplomatic front, Iraq has rejoined the international community by exiting Chapter VII, and it has done important work with the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the Arab League. Looking ahead, Iraq and the U.S. can cooperate to resolve broader regional challenges.

Now that Iraq is moving toward a market economy friendly to foreign investment, Americans can provide what our nation needs: expertise on energy technologies, engineering, design, construction and financial services. Iraq offers tremendous investment opportunities for developing and servicing telecommunications, health care, education, water treatment, and bridges and highways, to name a few.

Meanwhile, oil production has increased by 50% since 2005, and our economy is expected to grow by at least 9.4% annually through 2016. Iraq expects to increase oil production to 4.5 million barrels per day by the end of 2014 and nine million barrels a day by 2020—a 157% increase from our current production levels. With the goal of diversifying our economy beyond energy, Iraq plans to invest these oil revenues in education and critical development projects, including restoring electrical power and rebuilding our transportation system.

Moreover, Iraq is in the process of purchasing over $10 billion worth of military equipment, paid for with our own revenues, and we are eager to buy this hardware from the U.S. Iraq's recent purchase of 30 Boeing BA +1.40% planes for our national carrier testifies to our potential as a market for U.S. goods and services.

Iraqis will be forever grateful to Americans for sacrificing alongside us to overthrow Saddam's brutal tyranny. We now look forward to working together to build a strong and prosperous democracy in Iraq and to cement a strategic partnership between our nations.

Mr. Faily is the newly appointed ambassador of Iraq to the United States.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

How America Lost Its Way. By Niall Ferguson

How America Lost Its Way. By Niall Ferguson
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324798904578527552326836118.htmlThe Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2013, on page C1
It is getting ever harder to do business in the United States, argues Niall Ferguson, and more stimulus won't help: Our institutions need fixing.

Not everyone is an entrepreneur. Still, everyone should try—if only once—to start a business. After all, it is small and medium enterprises that are the key to job creation. There is also something uniquely educational about sitting at the desk where the buck stops, in a dreary office you've just rented, working day and night with a handful of employees just to break even.

As an academic, I'm just an amateur capitalist. Still, over the past 15 years I've started small ventures in both the U.S. and the U.K. In the process I've learned something surprising: It's much easier to do in the U.K. There seemed to be much more regulation in the U.S., not least the headache of sorting out health insurance for my few employees. And there were certainly more billable hours from lawyers.


By the Numbers

    433: Total number of days it takes in the U.S. to start a business, register a property, pay taxes, get an import and export license and enforce a contract
    368: Total number of days it took to do the same in 2006
    7: U.S. ranking, out of 144 countries, on the World Economic Forum's 2012-2013 Global Competitiveness Index
    1: U.S. ranking on the 2008-2009 Global Competitiveness Index
    33: U.S. ranking for its legal system and property rights in 2010 on the Fraser Institute's Economic Freedom index, out of 144 countries
    9: U.S. ranking for its legal system and property rights in 2000

Sources: 'Doing Business'; World Economic Forum; Fraser Institute


This set me thinking. We are assured by vociferous economists that economic growth would be higher in the U.S. and unemployment lower if only the government would run even bigger deficits and/or the Fed would print even more money. But what if the difficulty lies elsewhere, in problems that no amount of fiscal or monetary stimulus can overcome?

Nearly all development economists agree that good institutions—legislatures, courts, administrative agencies—are crucial. When poor countries improve their institutions, economic growth soon accelerates. But what about rich countries? If poor countries can get rich by improving their institutions, is it not possible that rich countries can get poor by allowing their institutions to degenerate? I want to suggest that it is.

Consider the evidence from the annual "Doing Business" reports from the World Bank and International Finance Corporation. Since 2006 the report has published data for most of the world's countries on the total number of days it takes to start a business, get a construction permit, register a property, pay taxes, get an export or import license and enforce a contract. If one simply adds together the total number of days it would take to carry out all seven of these procedures sequentially, it is possible to construct a simple measure of how slowly—or fast—a country's bureaucracy moves.

Seven years of data suggest that most of the world's countries are successfully making it easier to do business: The total number of days it takes to carry out the seven procedures has come down, in some cases very substantially. In only around 20 countries has the total duration of dealing with "red tape" gone up. The sixth-worst case is none other than the U.S., where the total number of days has increased by 18% to 433. Other members of the bottom 10, using this metric, are Zimbabwe, Burundi and Yemen (though their absolute numbers are of course much higher).

Why is it getting harder to do business in America? Part of the answer is excessively complex legislation. A prime example is the 848-page Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of July 2010 (otherwise known as the Dodd-Frank Act), which, among other things, required that regulators create 243 rules, conduct 67 studies and issue 22 periodic reports. Comparable in its complexity is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (906 pages), which is also in the process of spawning thousands of pages of regulation. You don't have to be opposed to tighter financial regulation or universal health care to recognize that something is wrong with laws so elaborate that almost no one affected has the time or the will to read them.


Who benefits from the growth of complex and cumbersome regulation? The answer is: lawyers, not forgetting lobbyists and compliance departments. For complexity is not the friend of the little man. It is the friend of the deep pocket. It is the friend of cronyism.

We used to have the rule of law. Now it is tempting to say we have the rule of lawyers, which is something different. For the lawyers can also make money even in the absence of complex legislation.

It has long been recognized that the U.S. tort system is exceptionally expensive. Indeed, tort reform is something few people will openly argue against. Yet the plague of class-action lawsuits continues unabated. Regular customers of Southwest Airlines recently received this email: "Did you receive a Southwest Airlines drink coupon through the purchase of a Business Select ticket prior to August 1, 2010, and never redeem it? If yes, a legal Settlement provides a Replacement Drink Voucher, entitling you to a free drink aboard a Southwest flight, for every such drink coupon you did not redeem."

This is not the product of the imagination of some modern-day Charles Dickens. It is a document arising from the class-action case, In re Southwest Airlines Voucher Litigation, No. 11-cv-8176, which came before Judge Matthew F. Kennelly of the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. As the circular explains: "This Action arose out of Southwest's decision, effective August 1, 2010, to only accept drink coupons received by Business Select customers with the purchase of a Business Select ticket on the date of the ticketed travel. The Plaintiffs in this case allege Southwest, in making that decision, breached its contract with Class Members who previously received drink coupons," etc.

As often happens in such cases, Southwest decided to settle out of court. Recipients of the email will have been nonplused to learn that the settlement "will provide Replacement Drink Vouchers to Class Members who submit timely and valid Claim Forms." One wonders how many have bothered.

Cui bono? The answer is, of course, the lawyers representing the plaintiffs. Having initially pitched for "up to $7 million in fees, costs and expenses," these ingenious jurists settled for fees of $3 million "plus costs not to exceed $30,000" from Southwest.

Canada's Fraser Institute has been compiling an "Economic Freedom" index since 1980, one component of which is a measure of the quality of a country's legal system and property rights. In the light of a case like the one described above, there is nothing surprising about the recent decline in U.S. performance. In 2000 U.S. law scored 9.23 out of 10. The most recent score (for 2010) was 7.12.

Such indexes must be used with caution, but the Fraser index is not the only piece of evidence suggesting that the rule of law in the U.S. is not what it was. The World Justice Project uses a completely separate methodology to assess countries' legal systems. The latest WJP report ranks the U.S. 17th out of 97 countries for the extent to which the law limits the power of government, 18th for the absence of corruption, 19th for regulatory enforcement, 22nd for access to civil justice and the maintenance of order and security, 25th for fundamental rights, and 26th for the effectiveness of criminal justice. Of all the former British colonies in the report, the U.S. ranks behind New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Canada, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom—though it does beat Botswana.

The decline of American institutions is no secret. Yet it is one of those strange "unknown knowns" that is well documented but largely ignored. Each year, the World Economic Forum publishes its Global Competitiveness Index. Since it introduced its current methodology in 2004, the U.S. score has declined by 6%. (In the same period China's score has improved by 12%.) An important component of the index is provided by 22 different measures of institutional quality, based on the WEF's Executive Opinion Survey. Typical questions are "How would you characterize corporate governance by investors and boards of directors in your country?" and "In your country, how common is diversion of public funds to companies, individuals, or groups due to corruption?" The startling thing about this exercise is how poorly the U.S. fares.

In only one category out of 22 is the U.S. ranked in the global top 20 (the strength of investor protection). In seven categories it does not even make the top 50. For example, the WEF ranks the U.S. 87th in terms of the costs imposed on business by "organized crime (mafia-oriented racketeering, extortion)." In every single category, Hong Kong does better.

At the same time, the U.S. has seen a marked deterioration in its World Governance Indicators. In terms of "voice and accountability," "government effectiveness," "regulatory quality" and especially "control of corruption," the U.S. scores have all gone down since the WGI project began in the mid-1990s. It would be tempting to say that America is turning Latin, were it not for the fact that a number of Latin American countries have been improving their governance scores over the same period.

What is the process at work here? Perhaps this is a victory from beyond the grave for classical Western political theory. Republics, after all, were regarded by most ancient political philosophers as condemned to decadence, or to imperial corruption. This was the lesson of Rome. Democracy was always likely to give way to oligarchy or tyranny. This was the lesson of the French Revolution. The late Mancur Olson had a modern version of such cyclical models, arguing that all political systems were bound to become the captives, over time, of special interests. The advantage enjoyed by West Germany and Japan after World War II, he suggested, was that all the rent-seeking elites of the pre-1945 period had been swept away by defeat. This was why Britain won the war but lost the peace.

Whatever the root causes of the deterioration of American institutions, smart people are starting to notice it. Last year Michael Porter of Harvard Business School published a report based on a large-scale survey of HBS alumni. Among the questions he asked was where the U.S. was "falling behind" relative to other countries. The top three lagging indicators named were: the effectiveness of the political system, the K-12 education system and the complexity of the tax code. Regulation came sixth, efficiency of the legal framework eighth.

Asked to name "the most problematic factors for doing business" in the U.S., respondents to the WEF's most recent Executive Opinion Survey put "inefficient government bureaucracy" at the top, followed by tax rates and tax regulations.

All this should not be interpreted as yet another prophecy of the imminent decline and fall of the U.S., however. There is some light in the gloom. According to the most recent United Nations projections, the share of the U.S. population that is over 65 will reach 25% only at the very end of this century. Japan has already passed that milestone; Germany will be next. By midcentury, both countries will have around a third of their population age 65 or older.

More imminently, a revolution in the extraction of shale gas and tight oil, via hydraulic fracking, is transforming the U.S. from energy dependence to independence. Not only could the U.S., at least for a time, re-emerge as the world's biggest oil producer; the lower electricity costs resulting from the fossil-fuel boom are already triggering a revival of U.S. manufacturing in the Southeast and elsewhere.

In a functioning federal system, the pace of institutional degeneration is not uniform. America's four "growth corridors"—the Great Plains, the Gulf Coast, the Intermountain West and the Southeast—are growing not just because they have natural resources but also because state governments in those regions are significantly more friendly to business. There are already heartening signs of a great regeneration in states like Texas and North Dakota.

"In America you have a right to be stupid—if you want to be." Secretary of State John Kerry made that remark off the cuff in February, speaking to a group of students in Berlin. It is not a right the founding fathers felt they needed explicitly to enshrine. But it has always been there, and America's leaders have frequently been willing to exercise it.

Yes, we Americans have the right to be stupid if we want to be. We can carry on pretending that our economic problems can be solved with the help of yet more fiscal stimulus or quantitative easing. Or we can face up to the institutional impediments to growth I have described here.

Not many economists talk about them, it's true. But that's because not many economists run businesses.


Adapted from Mr. Ferguson's new book, "The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die," to be published by Penguin Press on Thursday.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Why China Frets Over America's Retreat. By Daniel Blumenthal

Why China Frets Over America's Retreat. By Daniel Blumenthal
The Wall Street Journal, June 6, 2013, on page A17
Usually Chinese leaders decry Washington's foreign-policy aggression. That won't be an issue at this week's summit.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324412604578515853119610968.html

When Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with President Obama in California at week's end, Mr. Xi will confront a new strategic reality: America in retreat. Chinese leaders normally complain that Washington is too aggressive. But what should really worry Beijing is the opposite—a bipartisan U.S. consensus for a foreign policy of retrenchment. As much as China aspires to global leadership, Beijing has neither the wherewithal nor the desire to take on the responsibilities that come with that role.

Since the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, Sino-American summitry has followed a pattern to which both countries have grown accustomed. Beijing complains of U.S. heavy-handedness. Washington complains that it shoulders all the burdens of global leadership and asks China to play a more responsible and prominent role in world affairs.

Neither country is serious while doing this minuet. At best Washington is conflicted about a greater leadership role for an authoritarian China. For its part, China has become accustomed to the benefits of a post-World War II American-led (and paid-for) global compact that includes freer markets, more peaceful international relations and more liberal governments.

The temptation to repeat this dance will be great this week. Presidents Xi and Obama will be meeting during a period of deep mutual suspicion. The downward spiral of distrust began in 2009 over escalating tensions about territory between China and its Southeast Asian neighbors, and it reached a new low when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a "pivot" toward Asia in 2011.

The pivot strategy has two pillars. The first is a positive desire to deeply embed the U.S. in all of Asia's increasingly vibrant political and economic life. The second is a reaction to growing Chinese dominance in the region, and the resulting clamor—from America's regional allies and in the U.S.—for Washington to counterbalance predatory Chinese military power.

China chose to hear only the second part of the pivot strategy, reacting to it as Cold War-style containment with Asian characteristics. Relations between the two powers have been frosty since then.

Yet if Mr. Xi examines U.S. foreign policy more closely, he will see that Beijing is worried about the wrong things. The problem is not too much American power. It is too little.

Consider recent events in Washington: Mr. Obama announced the end of the war on terror without evidence that the conflict had ended and denied leaks suggesting the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria. He ignored a new International Atomic Energy Agency report suggesting that Iran is making huge progress in developing nuclear weapons, and refused efforts to restore draconian cuts to the U.S. military budget.

In response—a few outliers notwithstanding—Congress, including Republicans, remained silent. This marked a significant shift. Once the tribune of American global leadership, much of the right now marches in foreign-policy lock step with a left that has little interest in the exercise of U.S. power. This left-right neo-isolationist alliance is a recipe for global chaos—an outcome more harmful to China than the big-footed America that China is used to complaining about.

Why? Because despite China's politically correct paeans to international institutions and multilateralism, Chinese leaders well know that international politics needs a prime actor willing to provide global public goods such as secure maritime trade, peace between great powers, nonproliferation, counterterrorism and leadership on international trade and investment.

If the U.S. abdicates its role, China is the only other nation in line for the post of prime power. Is China ready to assume primacy in the international community? The answer is no.

Granted, China is active on the world stage. Recently President Xi announced proposals for Arab-Israeli peace and a Syrian cease-fire. Once again, Beijing prodded North Korea to open up and reform its economy. But peace proposals, state visits and commercial diplomacy cannot maintain world order.

Taking the global leadership reins from the U.S. would require incurring real costs, taking big risks, using political capital and, if necessary, expending blood and treasure. If China wanted to lead the world, it would build a navy capable of protecting—rather than disrupting—sea lanes. It would contribute to the fight against terror and help to keep cyberspace an open commons for commercial transactions and the sharing of ideas. It is doing none of these things.

Think of it this way: Does China wish to anger anyone in the Middle East by taking sides in Syria or pressuring Iran? Manage the collapse of North Korea? Steward a new era of free trade? Push back al Qaeda?

Chinese leaders appear not to give much consideration to taking on these tasks, nor has Washington thought through what a world with no leader would look like. Does a global system of anti-democratic regional hegemons, spheres of influence, and exclusive trading blocs really appeal?

For all of these reasons, this could be a truly pivotal summit. As counterintuitive as it may seem, for the first time since the Soviet collapse China has an interest in America acting more, not less, assertively in foreign affairs.


Mr. Blumenthal is the director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Can a Growing Services Sector Renew Asia's Economic Growth?

Can a Growing Services Sector Renew Asia's Economic Growth? By Marcus Noland, Donghyun Park, and Gemma B. Estrada
AsiaPacific Issues, No. 109
Honolulu: East-West Center, April 2013
Pages: 8
http://www.eastwestcenter.org/publications/can-growing-services-sector-renew-asias-economic-growth

To continue Asia's economic growth the focus for expansion and improvement must move from export manufacturing to the services sector--primarily to cross-border trade in such modern services as finance, information and communication, and professional business services. As the Asian services-sector economies have historically been dominated by personal services rather than by more information-intensive services, serious concerns exist about their ability to rapidly and successfully grow these modern services. While Asia does have some well-known services-sector success stories--such as in India and the Philippines--most Asian services economies have a history of relatively slow developmental change. Removing internal and external policy and structural constraints will be key to productivity growth in modern cross-border services trade. Improving educational opportunities and strengthening infrastructure and capital and labor markets will all be needed complements to regulatory reform if Asia is to grow new and innovative service providers.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

"What a civilised society, I thought to myself"

From the speech by Lee Kuan Yew at the Imperial College Commemoration Eve Dinner, Oct 22, 2002 (http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/alumni/pastukevents/newssummary/news_26-2-2007-14-0-12):

Looking back at those early years, I am amazed at my youthful innocence. I watched Britain at the beginning of its experiment with the welfare state; the Atlee government started to build a society that attempted to look after its citizens from cradle to grave. I was so impressed after the introduction of the National Health Service when I went to collect my pair of new glasses from my opticians in Cambridge to be told that no payment was due. All I had to do was to sign a form. What a civilised society, I thought to myself. The same thing happened at the dentist and the doctor.

I did not understand what a cosseted life would do to the spirit of enterprise of a pe ople, diminishing their desire to achieve and succeed. I believed that wealth came naturally from wheat growing in the fields, orchards bearing fruit every summer, and factories turning out all that was needed to maintain a comfortable life.

Only two decades later when I had to make an outdated entrepot economy feed a people did I realise we needed to create the wealth before we can share it. And to create wealth, high motivation and incentives are crucial to drive a people to achieve, to take risks for profit or there will be nothing to share.

It is remarkable that powerful minds like Sir William Beveridge's, who thought out this egalitarian welfare system, did not foresee its unintended consequences. It took more than three decades of gradual decline in performance before Margaret Thatcher set out to reverse it, to restore individual incentives and the motivation to succeed, to encourage risk-taking, necessary for a successful entrepreneurial economy.

h/t: Haseltine, William A. Affordable Excellence: The Singapore Health System. Brookings Institution Press with the National University of Singapore Press, Apr 2013


The most interesting this, to me is that this once was the norm:
Perhaps the most impressive sight I came upon was when I emerged from the tube station at Piccadilly Circus. I found a little table with a pile of newspapers and a box of coins and notes with nobody in attendance. You take your newspaper, toss in your coin or put in your 10-shilling note and take your change. I took a deep breath - this was a truly civilised people.

But, as he added:
Five decades ago, London was a grimy, sooty, bomb-scarred city, with less food, fewer cars, and deprived of the conveniences of the consumer society. But the people, then homogeneous, white, and Christians, were admirable, self-confident and courteous.

From that well-mannered Britain to the yobs and football hooligans of the 1990s took only 40 years. I learned that civilised living does not come about naturally.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

South Korea: Give Nukes a Chance. By Denny Roy

South Korea: Give Nukes a Chance. By Denny Roy
Asia Pacific Bulletin, no. 204
Washington, D.C.: East-West Center
March 27, 2013
http://www.eastwestcenter.org/publications/south-korea-give-nukes-chance

Excerpts:

It is only a matter of time before North Korea fields an actual nuclear-tipped missile that works. With the persistent security threat from North Korea seemingly worsening, recent public opinion surveys show that a majority of South Koreans favor getting their own nuclear weapons. There is no doubt that South Korea is capable of making its own nuclear weapons, probably within a year. Indeed, the Republic of Korea (ROK) has explored this possibility occasionally since the 1970s, each time backing off under outside pressure.

There are some good reasons why, in principle, the world is better off with a smaller, rather than larger, number of nuclear weapon states. Nevertheless, there are two additional principles that apply here. First, nuclear weapons are a powerful deterrent; they are the main reason why the Cold War remained cold. Second, there may be a specific circumstance in which the introduction of a new nuclear weapons capability has a constructive influence on international security—call it the exception to the general nonproliferation rule.

Given the ROK’s present circumstances, Washington and Seoul should seriously consider the following policy change. Seoul gives the required 90 days notice required for it to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which allows for deratification in the case of “extraordinary events” that threaten national security. The ROK announces its intention to begin working toward a nuclear weapons capability, with the following conditions: (1) the South Korean program will match North Korea’s progress step-by-step towards deploying a reliable nuclear-armed missile; and (2) Seoul will commit to halting and shelving its program if North Korea does the same. For its part, Washington announces that US nonproliferation policy is compelled to tolerate an exception when a law-abiding state is threatened by a rogue state—in this case North Korea—that has both acquired nuclear weapons and threatened to use them aggressively. Pyongyang has repeatedly spoken of using its nuclear weapons to devastate both the ROK and the United States.

This policy change is necessary because US, ROK and (half-hearted) Chinese efforts to get North Korea to denuclearize are not working. [...]

An ROK nuclear weapons capability would impose a meaningful penalty on the DPRK for its nuclear weapons program. Aside from the sanctions ordered by the United Nations Security Council, which have proved no more than a nuisance and are amply compensated for by the growing economic relationship with China, Pyongyang has suffered no significant negative consequences for acquiring nuclear weapons. A South Korean nuclear capability would change that. The North Koreans would understand that their act brought about an outcome they very much do not want [...].

ROK nukes, furthermore, will help deter North Korean provocations. A capacity to attack a neighbor with nuclear weapons provides North Korea with cover for limited conventional attacks. Pyongyang has established a pattern of using quick, sharp jabs against South Korea. The goal is to rattle Seoul into accommodating North Korean economic and political demands. Seoul insists that future North Korean attacks will result in military retaliation by South Korean forces. Since South Korea has not hit back after previous incidents, it is uncertain whether this pledge will deter Pyongyang from trying this tactic again. A DPRK nuclear weapons capability worsens this already dangerous situation. North Korean planners might conclude that Seoul would not dare retaliate against a DPRK strike out of fear that the next step would be a nuclear attack on the ROK. A South Korean nuclear capability, however, would redress this imbalance. If ROK conventional military capabilities are superior to the DPRK and equal or superior at the nuclear level, deterrence against a North Korean attack is stronger.

South Korean nukes would close the credibility gap in the US-ROK alliance. The “umbrella” of America’s nuclear arsenal covers South Korea and theoretically negates the DPRK nuclear threat. However, South Koreans have always questioned the reliability of this commitment which potentially puts a US city at risk in order to protect a South Korean city. The doubts are growing more acute now that a North Korean capability is apparently close to realization. An ROK nuclear arsenal would remove this strain on the alliance and give the South Koreans a sense of greater control over their own destiny.

Pyongyang would not be the only target audience for Seoul’s announcement of intent to deploy nuclear weapons. Like the North Koreans, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is deeply opposed to an ROK nuclear capability. The announcement would also signal to Beijing that the cost of failing to discipline their client state is rising dramatically. The Chinese are already debating whether the status quo of a rogue DPRK has become so adverse to Chinese interests that China must pressure Pyongyang more heavily even at the risk of causing regime collapse. South Korea’s imminent—and reversible—acquisition of nuclear weapons would strengthen the argument that the PRC must get tougher with the DPRK.

To be sure, this policy change would create its own problems. An ROK nuclear capability would pressure Japan to follow suit. A US-friendly, stable, law-abiding, liberal democratic country getting nukes is not necessarily a bad thing. But if so, the solution is for Washington and Seoul to emphasize that South Korea’s nuclear capability would be temporary and contingent, so Tokyo can remain non-nuclear.  Thankfully, there are precedents for middle-sized states giving up their nuclear weapons.

South Korea’s security situation is deteriorating and for the ROK’s leadership, national security is job number one. It is now time to get past the visceral opposition to proliferation and recognize that in this case, a conditional change of South Korea’s status to nuclear-weapon state can help manage the dangers created by a heightened North Korean threat.

Friday, March 29, 2013

America's Voluntary Standards System: A 'Best Practice' Model for Asian Innovation Policies? By Dieter Ernst

America's Voluntary Standards System: A 'Best Practice' Model for Asian Innovation Policies? By Dieter Ernst
East-West Center, Policy Studies, No. 66, March 2013
ISBN: 978-0-309-26204-5 (print); 978-0-86638-205-2 (electronic)
Pages: xvi, 66
http://www.eastwestcenter.org/publications/americas-voluntary-standards-system-best-practice-model-asian-innovation-policies


Summary

Across Asia there is a keen interest in the potential advantages of America's market-led system of voluntary standards and its contribution to US innovation leadership in complex technologies.

For its proponents, the US tradition of bottom-up, decentralized, informal, market-led standardization is a "best practice" model for innovation policy. Observers in Asia are, however, concerned about possible drawbacks of a standards system largely driven by the private sector.

This study reviews the historical roots of the American system, examines its defining characteristics, and highlights its strengths and weaknesses. A tradition of decentralized local self-government has given voice to diverse stakeholders in innovation. However, a lack of effective coordination of multiple stakeholder strategies constrains effective and open standardization processes.

Asian countries seeking to improve their standards systems should study the strengths and weaknesses of the American system. Attempts to replicate the US standards system will face clear limitations--persistent differences in Asia's economic institutions, levels of development, and growth models are bound to limit convergence to a US-style market-led voluntary standards system.

Monday, March 18, 2013

In service of the country: Ted van Dyk

My Unrecognizable Democratic Party. By Ted van Dyk
The stakes are too high, please get serious about governing before it's too late.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324128504578344611522010132.html 
The Wall Street Journal, March 18, 2013, on page A13

As a lifelong Democrat, I have a mental picture these days of my president, smiling broadly, at the wheel of a speeding convertible. His passengers are Democratic elected officials and candidates. Ahead of them, concealed by a bend in the road, is a concrete barrier.

They didn't have to take that route. Other Democratic presidents have won bipartisan support for proposals as liberal in their time as some of Mr. Obama's are now. Why does this administration seem so determined to head toward a potential crash and burn?

Even after the embarrassing playout of the Obama-invented Great Sequester Game, after the fiasco of the president's Fiscal Cliff Game, conventional wisdom among Democrats holds that disunited Republicans will be routed in the 2014 midterm elections, leaving an open field for the president's agenda in the final two years of his term. Yet modern political history indicates that big midterm Democratic gains are unlikely, and presidential second terms are notably unproductive, most of all in their waning months. Since 2012 there has been nothing about the Obama presidency to justify the confidence that Democrats now exhibit.

Mr. Obama was elected in 2008 on the basis of his persona and his pledge to end political and ideological polarization. His apparent everyone-in-it-together idealism was exactly what the country wanted and needed. On taking office, however, the president adopted a my-way-or-the-highway style of governance. He pursued his stimulus and health-care proposals on a congressional-Democrats-only basis. He rejected proposals of his own bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission, which would have provided long-term deficit reduction and stabilized rapidly growing entitlement programs. He opted instead to demonize Republicans for their supposed hostility to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

No serious attempt—for instance, by offering tort reform or allowing the sale of health-insurance products across state lines—was made to enlist GOP congressional support for the health bill. It passed, but the constituents of moderate Democrats punished them: 63 lost their seats in 2010 and Republicans took control of the House.

Faced with a similar situation in 1995, following another GOP House takeover, President Bill Clinton shifted to bipartisan governance. Mr. Obama did not, then blamed Republicans for their "obstructionism" in not yielding to him.

Defying the odds, Mr. Obama did become the first president since Franklin Roosevelt to be re-elected with an election-year unemployment rate above 7.8%. Yet his victory wasn't based on public affirmation of his agenda. Instead, it was based on a four-year mobilization—executed with unprecedented skill—of core Democratic constituencies, and on fear campaigns in which Mitt Romney and the Republicans were painted as waging a "war on women," being servants of the wealthy, and of being hostile toward Latinos, African Americans, gays and the middle class. I couldn't have imagined any one of the Democratic presidents or presidential candidates I served from 1960-92 using such down-on-all-fours tactics.

The unifier of 2008 became the calculated divider of 2012. Yes, it worked, but only narrowly, as the president's vote total fell off sharply from 2008.

Other modern Democratic presidents have had much more success with very different governing strategies. In 1961-62, John Kennedy won Republican congressional and public support with the proposals of his Keynesian Council of Economic Advisers chairman, Walter Heller, to cut personal and business taxes "to get America moving again," and for the global free movement of goods, services, capital and people.

In 1965, Lyndon Johnson had Democratic congressional majorities sufficient to pass any legislation he wanted. But he sought and received GOP congressional support for Medicare, Medicaid, civil rights, education and other Great Society legislation. He knew that in order to last, these initiatives needed consensus support. He did not want them re-debated later, as ObamaCare is being re-debated now.

Johnson got bipartisan backing for deficit reduction in 1967, when he learned that the deficit had reached an unthinkable $28 billion. Faced with today's annual deficits of $1 trillion and federal debt between $16.7 and $31 trillion, depending on whether you count off-budget obligations, LBJ no doubt would appoint a bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission and use it to get a tax, spending and entitlements fix so that he could move on to the rest of his agenda. Bill Clinton took the same practical approach and got to a balanced federal budget as soon as he could, at the beginning of his second term.

These former Democratic presidents would also know today that no Democratic or liberal agenda can go forward if debt service is eating available resources. Nor can successful governance take place if presidential and Democratic Party rhetoric consistently portrays loyal-opposition leaders as having devious or extremist motives. We really are, as Mr. Obama pointed out in 2008, in it together.

It's not too late for the president to take a cue from his predecessors and enter good-faith budget negotiations with congressional Republicans. A few posturing meetings with GOP congressional leaders will not suffice. President Obama's hype about the horrors of fiscal-cliff and sequestration cuts, and his placing of blame on Republicans, have been correctly viewed as low politics. His approval ratings have plunged since the end of the sequestration exercise.

But time is running out for Democrats to get serious about governance. That concrete barrier—in the form of the 2014 midterm—lies just ahead on the highway, and they're joy riding straight toward it.

Mr. Van Dyk served in Democratic national administrations and campaigns over several decades. His memoir of public life, "Heroes, Hacks and Fools," was first published by University of Washington Press in 2007.