Thursday, July 7, 2016


July 4, 2016

Brand Britain is ours for the taking

Posted in Sunday Business Post · 192 comments · Share 
Ireland has just been given one of its luckiest breaks. Britain has handed us, on a plate, the opportunity to be the Anglo-American world’s investment location of choice. Maybe we don’t realise it yet. Ireland is now perfectly positioned to be a globalised, English-speaking, free-trading area, which could attract limitless international capital that will transform the country and the society.
To understand this, let’s take a step back. It is all about a shift in the nature of national power.
We are now in a world of soft power as opposed to hard power. The power that countries exert on the world is no longer the hard power of the military and the flag. Hard power is enforced, not coaxed; it is the power of exclusion not inclusion; it is the power of the 19th century and it is the strength of the traditional bully. Those days are over.
Today the power that makes a country strong is soft power. It is the power of persuasion; the power of branding; the power which allows a country to coax others into doing its bidding without them even knowing.
The Nordics are exemplars at this game. It is a deep psychological power that is deployed by culture, image and national tone – and once exerted, it is cemented, not by force, but by international law.
By voting for Brexit, the British have elected for hard power in a world of soft power. They may not see it but the English have profoundly diminished their attractiveness. They have lost goodwill.
For years, Britain, in the eyes of the world, was the coolest place on earth. They had the best music, the best fashion, the best street movements, the best raves, the best comedy, the best youth culture and, despite themselves, the most exciting food innovators.
Their literature wasn’t too shoddy and the small island also managed to have the sixth biggest economy in the world. Its language was spoken everywhere and, in the BBC, it set the standards in global broadcasting.
It had even managed to have the best, richest football league despite its shambolic national team. Indeed, the desperate performances of the national team became part of their ironic self-deprecating disposition, which made it the favourite country for European graduates who wanted to emigrate.
In London, England had Europe’s New York. And, in its embrace of the free market, it made itself a magnet for global capital.
This was old Britain, the master of the brand, the genius country that managed to paper over the cracks with clever marketing, agile advertising and fashionable presentation.
It had just about managed to replace the dying hard power of empire with the soft cosmopolitan power of the 21st century. Last Friday week, it blew it.
The new Britain that will present itself for the next generation to the world will be a nasty, flag-waving, petty, imperial England in a post-imperial world.
Britain will now involve itself in a very public period of wrangling with the EU where enemies will be created and where the ability of the British to enhance their standing in the world via diplomacy will decrease.
This shift from team player to cantankerous foe will impact profoundly on Britain’s ability to attract foreign capital. Remember: Britain received over one third of all direct foreign investment into the EU. The figure last year was €35 billion.
This global capital will not stop looking for a home, it will just look for a new home. This new home will be one that feels, smells and acts like the Old Britain.
It is one that speaks English, has a common law system, doesn’t make it hard to invest and doesn’t prevent foreign skilled labour from living in its cities.
It will be a country where taxes on capital are low, which doesn’t get into public scrapes with its neighbours and which has free access to 500 million rich customers.
It is a country where gay people can live in equality, where foreigners aren’t discriminated against and where the arts, culture, music and sport are encouraged.
That country can be Ireland.
We are the obvious candidate to best profit from England’s self-inflicted misery. We are in the same part of the world, speak the same language and to all intents and purposes, for the vast majority of humans, are quasi-British. Yet we are a safe harbour in all this chaos with free, unfettered access to Europe.
The economic model for Ireland should be the prosperous city states such as Venice in the 15th and 16th centuries or the Hanseatic cities of Lubeck, Danzig or Konigsberg in the medieval Baltic. These states combined free trade with clever political alliances to become magnets for foreign capital.
These cities played the big powers against each other, retaining just enough sovereignty to plot their own course but never insisting on so much autonomy that their independence might threaten others.
Ireland is in that position right now.
Britain will leave the EU. Many people, particularly those on the remain side in Britain, have been trying to convince themselves that some magic formula will be conjured up to avoid triggering Article 50. This will not happen.
My friends in Britain who voted Remain have been deluding themselves that there can be some form of words, some legal circumstances which might be invoked to avoid the inevitable.
Many others who voted Leave as a protest voice and are now suffering from what could be described as “buyer’s remorse” have been trying to convince themselves that there will be a second ballot. There won’t be. They are out.
Britain will eventually get a Norwegian-style deal with some local control on immigration but the damage to “Brand Britain” is done. It won’t recover for a decade. Its economy will recover from a temporary, cyclical wobble, but it won’t be the same.
Luckily for us, most of our indigenous exports to Britain are food and the Brits will not stop eating. Nor will they stop holidaying abroad and they will still come here in huge numbers. However, the rest of the world will look on them differently.
Where the world once saw flexibility, it will now see rigidity; where there was irony, there is now dogma; where there was self-deprecation, there is self-regard; where there was tolerance, there is now exclusion; and where there was once liberalism, there is now brittleness; where there was moderation, there is now excess. Goodwill is lost.
The Tories don’t realise that modern free-market capitalism is part of a suite of beliefs that go with openness, tolerance, creativity, enquiry and debate. Once you go for dogma, you close so many more doors than you open.
Ireland is now in a brilliant position to economically and financially benefit from the evisceration of Brand Britain; let’s seize the chance.


July 7, 2016

Ignore all the shouting — The Brits will get their Norway-style trade deal

Posted in Irish Independent · 36 comments · Share 
Brexit changes everything. The British will leave the EU. There can be little doubt about that. How and when it happens are now matters of debate, but it will come to pass. All the legalistic talk about whether it will be politically possible for the UK to leave and whether the British Parliament must sanction this is simply the technocratic fantasy of a profoundly undemocratic elite that has been traumatised by the referendum.
Last week, this column was written from England and maintained that lots of people who voted for Brexit are not racists, nationalists or little Englanders.
Many look at the EU and see a deeply undemocratic set of institutions that appear to believe more in their own narrow interests than the fact that they are supposed to represent the people of Europe.
Indeed, the vindictive reaction of the EU Commission in the past two weeks has been revelatory.
While Brexit has undoubtedly revealed the profound lack of political leadership in both main parties in the UK, not to mention the meltdown of the top brass of the Leave campaign, it has also opened up a chasm between the EU officials and the politicians of national governments. If you doubt this, just compare the cautious stance of Enda Kenny with the much more truculent stance of his former henchman Phil Hogan, who is now a fully paid-up member of the Brussels echo chamber.
While Kenny is speaking about the various different relationships that need to be considered before the UK’s next move, Hogan is insisting that the British trigger Article 50 as soon as possible.
Of course, the main player in all this will be Germany. Germany calls the shots. Over the past five years, the pretence of a European Germany has given way to the reality of a German Europe. This is the new deal.
As a result of this, the Eurozone is Ersatz Deutschland, where the rest of the countries are little more than policy eunuchs, emasculated by German fiscal straightjackets and German creditor obsessions.
Again, if you doubt this, watch the ongoing implosion of the Italian banking system, which will dwarf even the great Irish banking crisis.
Italy wants to recapitalise its banks using government money because it fears a complete collapse of its crippled economy. Germany is saying no. As always, German decisions reflect the interest of German industry.
This is entirely understandable. It means that the interests of German carmakers that sell tens of thousands of cars to the UK every year will influence the attitude of German politicians towards the deal that Britain gets. Already Angela Merkel is urging the Commission to back off and give the British time to sort themselves out.
So because of German industrial interests, Italy, the friend with the broken banking system, will be treated harshly by Germany, while the UK, now the putative political enemy, will be treated more favourably. In short, the anti-EU Brits will get a better hearing from the Germans than the pro-EU Italians.
It is this apparent mistreatment of so-called allies that initially drove Brexit and is driving Marine Le Pen’s support in France and will determine the background noise to the Italian general election later this year. All this also puts Germany on a collision course with the EU institutions that are seeking to punish the UK for the temerity of Brexit. Germany will look to get the Brits the most access to EU market in the same way as Germany shouted loudly about Vladimir Putin’s annexation of bits of Ukraine but still took Russia’s oil and gas. This is Realpolitik – and the Commission had better get used to it.
So I suspect that after lots of shouting and roaring, the Brits will get a trade deal with the EU not unlike Norway’s. I also suspect that the free flow of labour – the sticking point preventing the UK getting a quick deal now – might change after a year of elections in Europe.
Next May, the French go to the polls. Le Pen is riding high in the polls. It will be a disaster for the EU if she wins. But even a strong second place showing by the National Front in the presidential election will cause the EU to think again about the political feasibility of free, unfettered immigration from Eastern Europe.
By the time the British get to negotiate, the EU’s central position on migration might have shifted to accommodate the political reality that millions of European voters don’t want free and open borders.
Meanwhile, the weakest man in Europe is Italy. The country’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, knows that to win the election he has to prevent Italian banks from going bust and to do this he has to ignore Brussels and pump government money into the banks. So Italy too is going rogue.
In the next 12 months, the EU institutions will be fighting battles with major countries like France and Italy, not just with the exiting British. All this gives Ireland time to figure out our strategy.
We need to attract as much mobile capital that is holding off investing in the UK because of the uncertainty as possible. This means shouting loud and clear that Ireland is open for business.
Rather than sneer at the British for going it alone, we should cheer the opportunities that this presents as the only English-speaking country, with low capital taxes that has open, and unfettered, access to the markets of Europe.
When everyone else is losing their heads and the Europeans and British are at loggerheads, now is the time for clear thinking here within Official Ireland. That can’t be too much to ask for, surely?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Juvenile Delinquency: Its Probable Cause and Possible Quick Rehabilitation

Juvenile Delinquency: Its Probable Cause and Possible Quick Rehabilitation

Five of six weeks of intensive attention -- at least an hour a day (useful example, driving lessons) – during which six weeks the youngster’s crime spree will not slow down one iota – can turn the most out of control delinquent completely around -- only at the very end -- in my few experiences (no books, no magazine articles, no studies involved; just my personal observations of very unexpected reality).

Here is why and how I think the process of intensive attention works:
--First crazy observation: Boys under 18 1/2 years of age are in the emotionally dependent stage for all practical purposes as much as if they were 12 years old.
--Second: The emotionally dependent stage turns off like a light switch, over about a week’s time (as nearly as I can observe -- a pure social instinct thing).
--Third: If kids in the emotionally dependent stage think (mistakenly about half the time) that nobody cares about them, they literally will not care about themselves: therefore cannot be deterred by any threat of punishment – more out of their own control than anything else (easier to imagine at 12 than at 18).
--Fourth crazy thing: Boys who are simply out of the control of loving guardians (e.g., weak mother’s or relatives) get every bit as what I call “hysterically alienated” as boys from the worst neglectful environments (again, easier to imagine with the worst neglected).
--Fifth: Unlike the two or three decades of positive socialization it takes to dissipate the paranoia that underlies heavy heroin or alcohol addiction, it takes a mere five or six weeks of intensive attention to turn the craziest, out of control delinquent completely around.
--Sixth: The change comes all in one day – I call it “Invasion of the Body Snatchers syndrome” – not gradually. This really drives you crazy near the end when you have established a great supportive relationship with the kid but he still goes out robbing every night – until.

How to get started establishing a supportive relationship (warning: you are adopting a child psychologically – full responsibility -- or it wouldn't work):
You have to start out kissing the kid’s behind and telling him whatever he wants to hear. Say anything opposing him for the first week to ten days and he will go running off: truly hysterical. Gradually you get the kid under your thumb: supportive relationship. Then wait for the new kid (possibly even a whole new personality) to wake up one morning! Crazy experience; nothing you could predict.

[I moved this essay on its own blogspot a year ago but I now have moved it back here because I think that a post attracts more hits if it is on a blogspot that gets other hits.]

Monday, January 5, 2009

French-Canadian labor setup: natural transition to sector-wide (collective-collective) bargaining here/

French-Canadian labor setup: natural transition to sector-wide (collective-collective) bargaining here?
Checking out of my national-chain supermarket the other night, the bagger took no notice of multiple requests to double bag heavy items and not place heavy 12-packs on the underside of the cart. A young employee finally informed me that the bagger could not speak a word of English. Have supermarket pay scales dropped so low -- Wal-Mart's entry into the retail food business having forced two-tiered contracts upon new employees -- that (middle-class career seeking) Americans need not apply?
American supermarket employees (especially in California and Illinois by personal observations) would kill to negotiate contracts on a sector-wide basis.
The streamlined version of sector-wide labor agreements -- the French/French-Canadian practice requiring non-union firms to operate under agreements worked out by unionized firms -- is ready and waiting for America's seamless transition to a fair and balanced labor marketplace. Economies from South America to South East Asia use mixes of mostly unionized to mostly non-unionized sector-wide rules -- some confined to certain industries (sector - sector-wide) -- there's all ways to do it.
Adopting French-blueprint sector-wide here would not require -- on the run -- building a broader union base than we ever built before (as going German style, full-out unionized could). And, the French-Canadian example will always be right next store for our convenient perusal -- in an economy we can reasonably fathom.
If we could have predicted to 1968-Americans that 25% of 2007-Americans would get by below a realistically set poverty line (based on a varied market basket instead of a single-factor formula*) -- further, that 25% of Americans' wages would sink below LBJ's ($9.50/hr adjusted) minimum wage -- what could they have guessed: that a mini ice age, a limited nuclear exchange followed by a mini ice age (nuclear winter), or multiple depressions or even tsunamis would bring American (not European) employees low?
Average income actually doubled since -- as real world 1968-Americans might have anticipated. 2007-working Americans -- if and when somebody troubles to fill them in on their missed prosperity (50 to 90 percentile incomes could mostly have done significantly better; 25 to 50 percentile incomes mostly held plus a little) -- will have one culprit to mostly contemplate: the race of under-powered (ultimately because under-informed?) labor to the bottom.
[ * 12.5% of American incomes are officially reported below today's, decades irrelevant, federal poverty standard: three times the price of the cheapest emergency diet -- dried beans only please, no canned! -- try the 2002 book Raise the Floor for realistic poverty parameters. ]

The latest on British pay pulling ahead of US:

Change Timex (Easy Reader) Watch Battery -- How to

--First; to open the watch, look around the edge of the case (back) for a very lightly etched triangle shape – which points to the not very large slot into which to insert the point of a pen knife (thick enough, but not too thick) to pop it open. You will likely find the point at one o’clock, if the stem is nine o’clock – probably adjacent to one of the wrist band holding arms. This is because the opening for the knife point is so insubstantial that you really need to lean the back of the knife against one of the band arms for leverage to pop the watch open.

(Try to remember to line the insert slot – triangle point – up against one of the arms when you pop the watch back closed -- so you can open it again.)

--Second; closing the watch back up; the big problem.

If you try squeezing the back into the case from both sides you will end up in eternal see-saw with one side popping out when the other pops in.

The trick is to start with both thumbs together on one side and gradually work them around the back in opposite directions – without letting either side come up (this takes fierce pressure) until both thumbs meet again on the opposite side, at which point that side will pop in without the opposite side popping out.

This takes so much pressure that I faced the crystal down on a paperback book (to give the crystal a little protection from the little bit of give on the part of the book) and used the weight of my body to keep both thumb points fully pressed in as I worked my way around to the other side.

When I got a bigger Timex model with the same closing problem I had to use grip both ends of the handle of a substantial hammer to press down with enough pressure to pop it closed.

[I moved this post to its own blogspot a year ago but I now think that a post gets more hits on a blogspot that gets other hits.]

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Announcing "ON TODAY'S PAGE"

Announcing "ON TODAY'S PAGE": to make my responses to other blogs more generally available (assuming anybody cares -- makes it easier for me anyway), from now on I will drop a copy at -- along with other random ideas I may deem interesting but not worth overloading "ON SAME PAGE" with; for instance:
I got the bright idea that if Adam Smith had been born 50 years later and lived to observe the industrial era he would have added an easy to understand delineation of the "race to the bottom" to his insights -- the race to the bottom being the chief difference between his era of more or less natural perfect competition among small entrepreneurs and skilled artisans, and the industrial era of 100 times more productive but interchangeable workers who are solely dependent on big entrepreneurs for the tools of their trade (e.g., steam looms).

I hope to come up with a simple delineation to serve in Smith's missed out on place -- not that I am any big brain; I just suspect that, from what I have seen so far of unfettered- free market misconceptions, untangling the economic truth may not be too un-simple. Anybody who wants to try, please have at it.
Typical Republican economic fairy tales: Newt Gingrich on Hannity the other night (same as Mailer broadcast) attacked the card check as depriving workers of the right to free unionizing elections which right he claims 90-95% of Americans support. Of course, the "Catch 22" election that Newt is talking about is the election that labor cannot get because of the gauntlet set for labor to run by current so called-labor law and super-bean counter management -- which is why labor is going for the card check in the first place, Newty baby. I assert that 90-95% of Americans might support a union election in EVERY work place (you don't have to run an obstacle course to vote for mayor), periodically, or that unionizing elections may be triggered by a 10% card check (the same percentage that triggers political party participation in nationwide presidential debates (e.g., Ross) and could plausibly be used to trigger public campaign matching funds -- or some equivalent of easy access unionizing elections.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Hillary's (and Edward"s) unworkable mandate v. Medicare's working coverage

A syllogism:
a) Hillary's (and Edward's) plan can work only with a mandate.
b) A mandate is likely unworkable (see below) and is almost certainly unacceptable to Americans who don't like be told what to do (who like it less than Canadians and Europeans in any case). And, guess what: Hillary herself says she does not forsee any penalty to enforce the necessary mandate -- has so far, as far as I know, only come up with some "Brave New World" speculation about a future in which we may be forced to show proof of health insurance to get a job.
c) Ergo, Hillary's (and Edward's) plan cannot work.

Quoted from:
The Gaping Holes in Massachuesetts' Health Care Plan
Mass Failure

And 244,000 of Massachusetts uninsured get zero assistance--just a stiff fine if they don't buy coverage. A couple in their late 50s faces a minimum premium of $8,638 annually, for a policy with no drug coverage at all and a $2,000 deductible per person before insurance even kicks in. Such skimpy yet costly coverage is, in many cases, worse than no coverage at all. Illness will still bring crippling medical bills--but the $8,638 annual premium will empty their bank accounts even before the bills start arriving. Little wonder that barely 2 percent of those required to buy such coverage have thus far signed up.


(Let me try to sort this out.)

Our Dem heroes got licked last time out (1993) because the Republicans could get away with calling PRIVATE based health coverage "socialism".

But this time out our Dem heroes are afraid to propose PUBLIC based Medicare-for-all -- which ironically is the only plan Repubs CANNOT GET AWAY WITH calling "socialism" because everybody knows what Medicare is -- because our Dem heros are now that the "very industry" that (together with Repubs) knocked out private-based universal care the last time will oppose Medicare this time.

(Am I making any sense?)


Medicare is ready to go now -- no need for years of phasing in.

Medicare is almost too easy to sell to the American public.

Medicare may need to take over from Medicade -- the difference in fee payout can be so exaggerated (as much as 8X lower in N.Y. state) that it defeats LBJs original purpose which was to get care to the poor -- which is where we supposedly came into this movie. (Between Medicade's partial erasure and the 1968 minimum wage -- $9.50/hr adjusted CPI-U -- diving almost in half by the time average income doubled, LBJ must be spinning up a storm.)


Next to last gasp on Medicare-for-all:
Leaving universal coverage in the private hands leaves our industries competing with foreign counterparts who don't have to include -- ever more unaffordable -- employee medical coverage in their price structures.

Last gasp:
It would shore up the funding of Medicare if the great mass of patients -- who pay its regressive taxes -- were not so badly underpaid in these days of deunionized America, low low minimum wage (2009 version will be at least .50/hr short of 1956 minimum wage in equal purchasing power), etc. The rich don't have more livers and teeth to fix so support for doctor's incomes has to come from the incomes of the great majority.

Last gasp on private medical insurance:
If unnecessary paperwork constitutes 30% of private insurance costs (20% on the part of the insurer, 10% on the part of doctors trying to get paid -- and to not get treatment denied -- by dozens of varied insurance plans), that means that (rounded to the nearest 5%) private insurance ADDS 45% to health insurance prices -- 30% down equal 45% up in 8th grade math.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Magical Free-Market Thinking

The free market is only the "OS" (operating system) of the economy. Believing the free market inherently possesses the necessary checks and balances needed to bring to an end the age old drama of who's going to eat whose lunch -- as people of whatever politics on this side of the Atlantic tend accept on faith -- amounts to magical thinking.

Adam Smith's preindustrial free market consisted largely of skilled artisans and small entrepreneurs, tending much more towards fair play on the part the "hidden hand". The advent of less skilled (if 100 times more productive) workers who depended solely on management for capital changed the default program to the-race-to-the-bottom.

In the better paid world beyond our seas, a non-controversial answer has evolved to the race-to-the-bottom: sector-wide labor agreements or some equivalent (like the French/Quebecan rule that non-union firms must work under conditions contracted by union firms). According to Richard B. Freeman in his new book America Works, such bargaining setups typically reduce management's resistance to unionization in the knowledge that competitors will have to pay out whatever raises they have to pay out, neutralizing competitive disadvantage.
It could be surprisingly easy to raise Americans to race-to-the-bottom consciousness with two economic markers that all can the first time they hear them. First, get across a more realistic estimate of Americans in poverty today: 25%? -- based on the more realistic poverty standard of six times the price of an emergency food diet, instead of only three times (the reader should know what I am talking about).

The next simple stat that should amaze all -- if the media ever reported same -- is that the federal minimum wage paid $9.50/hr in 1968 ($1.60/hr, adjusted CPI-U)! Emphasize the point by asking how 1968 Americans might have explained such a catastrophe had someone somehow been able to predict such a "crazy future" to them -- that the federal minimum wage would retreat to 1939 level ($.30/hr, adjusted to $4.50/hr w/no tax) by the time average income doubled. Would 1968 folks have guessed a small nuclear war, multiple depressions, a mini-ice age, plagues?

None of the above are necessary. The race-to-the-bottom will do it accomplish the same thing just as surely.

The perfect fit to 25% of Americans in poverty is 25% of the American workforce -- until early this year -- earning less than that 1968 minimum wage. (This also ties in with 25% of Americans earning less than modern Europe's minimum wage ($9.50/hr at exchange rates -- not counting paid holidays and health. New*).

Would that the progressive media always (!) included the doubling of overall income with the news of the minimum wage dropping almost in half over two generations -- so folks would completely catch on.

Many entitlement programs are triggered at double the official poverty line these days. Everybody in the know knows. Why go on reporting poverty at half the actual rate? Isn't that like reporting half the war (on poverty) casualties? Do progressives want to go out of their way not to get their story across?
I am so afraid that Hillary will get elected (instead of Edwards or Obama) for the same reason I was afraid of Al Gore. I can just see her putting an inflation adjustment on the (by then below Ike era: $7.50/hr) minimum wage, signing the union card signing law and then trying to rock (by then half-awake) American labor back to sleep to make all quiet on her applause meter. I'd almost rather see a Republican get elected to carry on in the fine labor promoting tradition of G.W. Bush: acting as American labor's Pearl Harbor: now that we know the simple answer to labor's woes (sector-wide agreements) and how to sell it (at least I know :-]).