Monday, November 14, 2011

Piu' che la legge, pote' lo yield

To all those claiming that capital markets are wild places that serve no constructive purpose, I reply, look at Berlusconi. As I write this I am not sure if he will ever come back, but the markets managed with merciless strength to dislodge someone that had up to now played the legal system like a fiddle. As much as we we hope for the absolute fairness and objectivity of the law, there is nothing as objective as a two way price.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Could this be a sensible future?

From the NY times

With only 960 residents and a handful of roads, this tiny hilltop village in the arid, sulfurous hills of southern Sicily does not appear to have major traffic problems. But that does not prevent it from having one full-time traffic officer — and eight auxiliaries.

The auxiliaries, who earn a respectable 800 euros a month, or $1,100, to work 20 hours a week, are among about 64 Comitini residents employed by the town, the product of an entrenched jobs-for-votes system pervasive in Italian politics at all levels

“Jobs like these have kept this city alive,” said Caterina Valenti, 41, an auxiliary in a neat blue uniform as she sat recently with two colleagues, all on duty, drinking coffee in the town’s bar on a hot afternoon. “You see, here we are at the bar, we support the economy this way.”

Maybe this is the future of declining developed nations. All this talk about austerity seems to forget that not everyone welcomes competition, not everyone has an inner entrepreneur that is waiting to be woken up; some people (and I am inclined to say that it is a sizable minority if not a small majority) simply want to work a little, without stress, and only with the goal of being paid enough to live.

If you are someone working for example in manufacturing in the West and see your fairly good job disappear somewhere else, you might reply, I don't want to be retrained to be a software engineer or something else, I don't want to move somewhere to struggle to find a job, I want things to be as easy as they were before. Of course the reply is, keep dreaming, but what can a government really do? Of course all western governments would love to have a population like Hong Kong; ready to put up with a hard life without complaining and without expecting much with the hope one day of setting up a winning business venture. Unfortunately the average seems to be closer to those who find a definite benefit pension a standard.

What can one do? Unless you can expel all the undesirable (which are most of the times the natives and not the immigrants), those who refute to compete, something must be done. These people must be taken care somehow either with unemployment benefits or public housing or even through prison should they turn to crime. They will not disappear.

So, isn't the model of Comitini suddenly attractive? Clearly the traffic wardens' salaries are not for the work done but to keep them employed and to keep the town employed. I am of course against government jobs being too nice, i.e. definite benefit pension, unsackable, etc., but if you have an amount of money to spend on taking care of that part of your population which could not cope with a fully competing society, would you rather spend it to create the bitter environment of public housing and prisons or to create the pleasant one of a small Sicilian town's coffee bar?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

In defence of the British tabloid

Who would have thought that I would write one day a post with such a title ?

I have been living two years in Washington and during several cumulative hours spent queuing at supermarkets cashiers, I have had time to form an opinion about the local tabloids. Despite my deep hatred for their British counterparts, I have to admit that comparing them to the American ones is a bit like comparing P. G. Wodehouse to Danielle Steel or, and this will lead me to the next point, Bach to Stockhausen. The very strict libel laws in Britain mean that a tabloid needs to exercise great care in balancing a sensationalist message that might hint at outrageous things, with the need of not saying things which are actually untrue. In America, where one can say more or less whatever one wishes, we learned that Prince William forbade his father from inviting the latter's gay lover to the royal wedding. Neither publication appeals to me but at least I admire the skill required to publish a tabloid in Britain. (And I am not talking about phone hacking.)

I cannot recall one in particular at the moment but one has also to admit that some of the puns in tabloid headlines are quite clever.

As the Economist keeps reminding readers, in Britain journalism is a trade not a profession which means that there is a less status/snobbery associated with it. Contrary to what an outsider might think I believe that in a journalist's resume an early stint at a tabloid not only is not a handicap but it is probably a strength.

Having said that I am glad they are getting a little rap on the knuckles right now.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gender free baby and giving liberals a bad name

Those who follow this blog would agree that Joe the Plumber would confidently classify me as belonging to the liberal elite. And yet when I read things like these I feel a warm fuzzy feeling towards Sarah Palin and the evangelical right. The idea of raising three kids that way, including the third supposedly gender free, is for me no better than not believing in evolution. When the left wonders what happened to the right they should look at the idiots in their own backyard.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The silver lightning

Lexington is pessimistic. I want to believe that in what looks like a very dark moment of the peace process there is an element of hope. One could say that it's darkest before dawn or something about the end of the beginning, in any case I cannot believe that things will continue like this.

Netanyahu felt confident of the backing of two elements in American society (leaving the traditional Jewish lobby aside), the evangelical/conservative masses who consider being not-pro-Israel tantamount to being un-American and the Republican establishment who believe, with a thinking worthy of a 1930s Bolshevik, that beating Obama is worth seeing one's own president humiliated at home.

The fate of the first group is linked to the fate of the Republican party in general and it is hard to predict: ten years from now we'll have more or less of the Joe the Plummer/Palin phenomenon? As far as the second is concerned I want to believe that once the political establishment snaps away from the pre-electoral frenzy they will all agree that one does not treat the President (and the US by extension) that way and get away with it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Why Atlas Shrugged won't be the Tea Party's Passion

Atlas shrugged is not a masterpiece and yet is a great and unique book. It is a weird book. It has many flaws (too long, repeated messages, at times wooden dialogues, etc.). It has some amazing moments. I like to think of it as I think of Brahms's first piano concerto: weird, gangly, awkward, many times out of place and yet at moment you stop and say "wow, this guy is going to go far!". The good thing for Brahms is that he went on to write the second, Ayn Rand did not.

The greatness of the book is that it is beautifully written propaganda and I am not being sarcastic. Kipling managed to write masterpieces praising the British Empires, Ayn Rand managed to write a great book praising without reserve the liberal (in the true, non-American sense of the word) spirit. It is true that the book loses itself here and there, but when it's on focus it has an immense power. What is even more amazing is that Atlas shrugged managed to be considered a masterpiece in a literary world that (although here I am speaking from a European experience) usually is dominated by the left.

I have not seen the movie, I have heard mixed reviews. Instinctively I would say that this is the typical book that would lend itself to a great cinematic version: it has a strong simple message and the book itself could do with a trimming. What I am commenting on is something I have seen mentioned a while ago: hordes of Tea Party activists booking cinemas in block the same way as church goers did with Mel Gibson's Passion.

I have my doubts. Christian faith is one of the most complex subjects the human mind can tackle, far more than economics. Yet faith has a very simple and clear distinction between what is abstract and what is practical, between what is on earth and what is elsewhere. Moreover christian fundamentalists all agree with Mel Gibson's movie's message. When it comes to the Tea Party and Atlas Shrugged I am not so sure things would be so clear. First of all the Tea Party movements (thankfully and it is a praise to its dynamism) lacks the homogeneity of the christian evangelist movement, second I am not sure they would agree with Ayn Rand's message (despite the fact that many think they do). Tea Party activists asking to "Stay away from my Social Security!"? Do you even think there is room in Rand's world for social security (of the entitlement type we are used to)? Tea Party activists raging against "death panels" (implying "when I am on Medicare I want to be able so spend as much as I want")? Have you read Rand's contempt for this sort of whining? Have you forgotten what she thinks of the statements " ... to each according to his need ..."?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Why the Economist is the greatest publication in the world

It is no secret what the Economist thinks of private and public sector unions. The fact that despite that the Economist would publish an article in memory of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire praising, in a way, the birth of unionized labour and labour laws is another example of a great, fair and balanced publication.