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Editor's Insight: Why we should worry about Europe

PLUS: The role of corruption | Wisconsin whacks unions | Ray Bradbury - the freedom to read

Sat, 09 Jun 2012

A friend just back from the Gulf says this part of the world is under-estimating the impact Europe’s debt crisis is having on the global economy.

His observations are backed up by former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who has slayed European political leaders for their dithering and failure to grapple with problems that are all too obvious from the outside (and ones I won't rehearse here).

Professor Summers told the BBC’s Mark Mardell it’s not just about the concrete effects, such as the drop in trade and business that has been observed in the Gulf and elsewhere.

"There are also very large psychological effects," he said, "and the sense that a large part of the world economy could encounter really grave financial problems is a source of uncertainty. When people are uncertain, they wait, and that means they don't spend, and in a demand-short economy, that can be a serious problem. Europe is a threat not only to itself but to the global economy."

While European leaders may want to maintain confidence, Professor Summers says this is having the reverse effect (and it is well worth following the link to read his full comments on political failure).

"Sometimes there's nothing more demoralising than being told that the emperor's well-clothed when you can see for yourself that the emperor is naked. They are errors that tended, in the name of maintaining confidence, to seek to perpetuate illusion."

The role of corruption
A side effect of the eurozone crisis has been the role of corruption and its link to the size and quality of government in the bankrupt eurozone countries.

This is covered in NBR’s editorial this week but it is worth repeating some of Transparency International’s findings, as much of the political response to the crisis has been to give governments even more power.

The TI report, Money, Politics, Power: Corruption Risks in Europe, is aimed at highlighting the deficit of transparency in the way decisions are made and political groups are funded. Some 19 of the 25 countries surveyed have yet to regulate lobbying and only 10 ban undisclosed political donations outright.

But these concerns are legalistic when you consider this apparent lack of transparency is just as prevalent in “clean” countries, such as Sweden and Switzerland, as in the well-known culprits. What is different, and this is worth exploring well beyond the immediate agenda of TI, is the size of most European governments and the way they exercise their powers.

It is this that leads to corruption by making it necessary for business to buy favours.

Wisconsin whacks unions
The failed attempt to unseat Wisconsin governor Scott Walker in a “recall” (basically an impeachment) was not the good news for President Obama the media want you to believe.

Governor Walker is the first out of only three who have faced a recall in US history and survived.

By American standards, Wisconsin is a left-wing stronghold and it’s significant the recall was over his attempts to break the power of the public service unions and abolish most of their collective bargaining arrangements.

While President Obama is still leading Mitt Romney by a narrow margin in the national polls, and gave moral if not actual support to Governor Walker’s Democrat opponent, Tom Barrett, the swing to the Republicans cannot be ignored.

The Democrats have carried Wisconsin in the past six presidential elections but in the recall poll, Gov Walker actually increased his margin over Mr Barrett in the 2010 election.

A commentator in the Washington Post, Greg Sargent, spells out the lessons for the left and the unions. He says they under-rated the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision, which had the effect of invalidating Wisconsin's century-old ban on independent expenditures by corporations and unions on election campaigns.

Naturally, the Dems don’t blame themselves for the defeat but the greater fund-raising power of their opponents, many from out of state.

Another commentator, Conn Carrol at the Washington Examiner, takes apart Sargent’s argument with a completely different interpretation of the Citizen United ruling's impact.

The Wall Street Journal fills in the background:

The race drew more than $US63 million in spending by the campaigns and their allies—much of that from outside Wisconsin and most of it supporting Mr. Walker—and saw nationally prominent politicians travel to the state to rally support in what was widely considered the country's second-most-important election this year after November's presidential contest.

The freedom to read
The death of prolific science fiction writer Ray Bradbury at 91 is a reminder that this is one of the few genres that skews to a conservative bias.

Bradbury was up there with Isaac Asimov, Robert A Heinlein and Arthur C Clarke in challenging collectivist ideas at a time when socialism was fashionable if not yet recognised as a failed social and economic experiment.

His best-known work, filmed by François Truffaut, was Fahrenheit 451 – the story of a "fireman," who is employed by a totalitarian government to burn books, which ignite at that temperature. Bradbury remained a champion of reading and warned of totalitarian regimes.

The book details how minorities want to curb criticisms in the name of multiculturalism, a phenomenon that continues today as political correctness:

“Be it out of fear of violent backlash from Islamists, or of being dragged before unaccountable human-rights commissions and campus disciplinary committees, many are choosing to hold their tongues on controversial topics.” (Sohrad Ahmari in the Wall Street Journal)

Bradbury’s other books included The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man (filmed with Rod Steiger) and Something Wicked This Way Comes (filmed with Jason Robards).He wrote the screenplay for John Huston's adaption of Moby Dick (1956) and produced a book on the experience (Green Shadows, Whie Whale).

In many ways he was a contrarian if not a libertarian: sceptical of technology and the internet and dismissive of cellphones. He resisted releasing his titles as e-books but welcomed many scientific advances, including space travel and other developments he predicted.

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Editor's Insight: Why we should worry about Europe