Saturday, May 13, 2006

Authoritarian Russia

The New York Sun blog is discussing American responses to the slide towards dictatorship in Russia. However, I think Freedman is mistaken in aiming his analysis primarily at what we can for Russia itself. It is unlikely we can do a lot to change the policy of a state far too powerful for us to meaningfully threaten in militarily. Equally, sanctions are never going to pass against a permament member of the Security Council. Unilateral sanctions or harsh words are likely to do little but drive the Russians, thanks to the media control Freedman mentions, closer to the regime. Short of a new Cold War Russia's fate is its own. Given the massive demographic problems in Russia and the economic frailty outside of the oil sector it has enough problems that causing us trouble should be the last thing on its mind.

Of course there are externalities to an authoritarian drift in a state with such military, and increasingly thanks to oil, economic power. First, the possibility of nuclear weapons leaking. However, this problem has largely been contained by the sensible if philosophically uncomfortable strategy of the US in paying for the security of the Russian nuclear force. Second, the effect of Russia meddling in the affairs of nations it still sees as part of its sphere. This is where we can be more useful. Through vocal, economic and diplomatic support for former Eastern Bloc countries trying to break away and establish properly democratic and economically liberal regimees, and the promise of EU membership where possible, we can achieve something genuinely important. The improvements in the Eastern European countries which have recently joined the EU are a cause for celebration which has come about through sustained Western intervention. This is a better way for the West to spend its time than in a wider, futile, confrontation with Russia.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Becker-Posner on Latin America

Becker and Posner comment on Latin's leftward drift. Becker is probably right that the trend won't last but is overoptimistic is his belief that it won't matter. Chavez and Morales will leave their economies weakened and future right wing governments with more work to do which will only increase the painfulness of reform and lay the foundations of the next lurch left. Equally, the Lula phenomenon of left wingers softened by election would seem to be a risky one as it constantly risks being "discovered" by its own supporters.

Weber's work, which Posner spends some time discussing, is an oversimplification but it does seem possible that Catholicism is contributing to the problem. Posner's explanation is quite different to Weber's original thesis but is, perhaps, stronger than he makes out. Italy and Spain may be exceptions as successful Catholic economies but they are hardly the most stable of the European capitalist nations. He skips over the historical explanation of the cultural differences between North and South America, though, which might be more significant. Landes describes how these nations were formed by colonial powers far more interested in their resource endowment than in forming durable nations. While Latin America would appear to have had plenty of time to overcome this historical disadvantage, Eastern Europe has been more dysfunctional more recently, its importance cannot be discounted.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A New House of Lords

My case for electing life peers, including some ideas for how they might be elected, has been posted on Conservative Home .

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

American Political Parties

Reading Jonathan Gradowski's disagreement with the founder of the Daily Kos I entirely agreed with his sentiment but the main impression his piece left me with was the difficulties for a party out of power that the US system creates with its lack of an opposition hierarchy.

I understand that the weakness of parties was a specific objective of the US founding fathers and it does make sense to limit their power to control political debate. However, when someone wishes to know the opinion of the Conservative or Liberal Democrat parties they can ask them and a failure to answer properly is the only reason to suspect that policy is not properly formed. If you want to know education policy ask the Shadow Education secretary; we have a Leader of the Opposition. Such a thing simply isn't possible for the Democrats. Equally, if someone wishes to change their party's policy they need to win specific debates and either leadership contests or the support of the leadership.

By contrast neither Jon nor Markos Moulitsas have any recourse besides attempting a steady conversion of the rest of their party. Outsiders face as hard a slog in obtaining the audience which gives them the ability to influence party policy as they do in gaining party influence in the UK. I guess this is something of a free market in party control versus the hierarchy approach in the UK. The question therefore is whether the transactions costs are greater in the lack of clear parameters and party line in the US system or in the potential to exclude outsiders in the UK system. So long as the British parties stay open I think the British system is probably the more effective.

Brian Haw

The government has won its appeal against the judgement that its law requiring police approval for protest cannot be applied to Brian Haw and it is to be expected that he will shortly be asked to leave.

I think George Monbiot's concern over the effects of this new law is overstated. Clearly the right to protest cannot be an absolute right. If people are running around airbases they are a danger to themselves and others. If a protest goes on for five years then it has created a shanty town which defies attempts to properly order an important public environment. The savagery of much animal rights protest is a genuine challenge to the rule of law in this country and deserves no legal defence.

Monbiot appears to be surrendering to the classic trap of thinking too highly of the importance of laws and not nearly highly enough of the importance of society's values. Try to set up a perfect legal defence of the right to protest and you will only succeed in defending the indefensible. So long as every Briton holds the right to peaceful and timely protest dear no democratic government will be able to prevent them exercising that right. For this reason threats to freedom of speech which sap the public's will to express themselves are far more dangerous than new powers for the police. That is why censorship of South Park and the Danish cartoons controversy worry me so much.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Racist toddlers

Sometimes the world gets really, really silly. A former chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality is now worried about racist parents raising angry little racist toddlers; three year old racists. Lord Ouseley recommends that staff intervene if they see a lack of interethnic bonding in their charges.

I honestly don't have the knowledge to challenge the empirics here but while there may be some racist toddlers out there I doubt that their numbers are particularly large. Now, every so often groupings that look racial will appear entirely at random. Suppose a nursery took Lord Ouseley's advice and intervened to ensure greater racial mixing. Couldn't that actually lead to a large number of entirely bemused toddlers being introduced to racial distinction thanks to the advice of a former chair of the CRE?

I think a more sober analysis comes from Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation of PTAs.
"In all the time I have been involved in nursery education, since about
1975, I have never seen children segregating to play,"

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Spreading the word

I've signed this blog up to the RightLinks banner exchange. As the site isn't sufficiently well defined to be summed up in a picture I decided to cop out and use a painting from one of my favourite artists, Salvator Rosa.

Latin America

One of the many problems with reactions like the Guardian's to the news that Bolivia is going to join the Latin-populist-screwAmerica crowd is that it sees the continent's left wing drift as something new. It isn't. Latin America has always been something of a sucker for the latest left wing thinking on how everyone else is responsible for its woes.

Being on the Gold Standard was a good idea before the First World War when it acted as a commitment mechanism demonstrating and encouraging budgetary restraint. This kept interest rates down and allowed the growing Latin American economies to borrow from the developed world and particularly Britain. Unfortunately, it was never possible for South America to reap the full benefits as the commitment was constantly under threat from political pressure from farmers. Such protest was common in the States as well but never caused such intractable problems to a much more stable polity.

Still, in the 19th century it was widely expected that Argentina, with its vast wealth of resources and before oil had become crucial, would become one of the richest states in the world. Indeed, by the start of the First World War its per capita income was similar to that in Germany or France. Things went wrong with the collapse of the world economy during and after the war but this was true elsewhere, certainly in Germany. The new scheme for becoming an industrial giant (because industry creates power, not because it necessarily creates wealth) was to place tariffs on your infant industries. Unfortunately, the lack of competition that tariffs created meant that the new industries remained costly and ineffective. Latin America steadily fell further and further behind European progress as it burdened the rest of its economy with tariff protection for the industries it was trying to develop.

With each generation the region appears to find new justifications and strategies for failing to implement the policies which are creating such success where they are deployed in the rest of the world. Usually the trigger for a renewed experiment with socialism is some kind of macroeconomic crisis. After the Asian financial crisis it was widely accepted that old methods of doing business (relation-based transactions) were making modernisation a source of instability and a process of quiet reform was begun. The response to crises in Latin America, such as the Argentinian collapse, is almost inevitably to give up on the whole project and hope that government can save the day.

South America has many of the advantages in resources that North America has. It also started off wealthier; North America was third prize in the Imperialist landgrab after the Caribbean and the South. The contrasting fortunes of the two regions, the fact that one now has the wealth and power to be the new "imperialist" in the Left's story of victimhood, suggests that the US instinct to trust the individual and enterprise is far more conducive to national success.

Winning here...

Congratulations to Melissa Davey who has replaced the Liberal Democrat councillor for Letchworth South West. It took me a while to find this result but it makes the effort of travelling back from London the day before an exam seem particularly worthwhile. She won by quite a solid margin as well - 1471 votes to 832 for her nearest rival.