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What world can teach U.S. about entitlements April 27, 2014

Posted by tkcollier in Economy & Business, News and politics, philosophy & politics.
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Entitlement Lessons From Abroad A new report, by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, notes that many countries have recently enacted reforms that have trimmed benefit formulas, raised retirement ages, and put in place new funded pension systems that supplement or partially substitute for pay-as-you-go government systems.

Several countries – including Germany, Italy, Japan, and Sweden – have gone further and introduced “automatic stabilizers” into their public pension systems that, directly or indirectly, index benefits to the growth in the payroll tax base. These stabilizers may differ in design, but they have two crucial characteristics in common. First, they are all expressly designed to offset the full impact of demographically driven cost growth. And second, they are all self-adjusting. In effect, they put entitlements on a new kind of autopilot – one that is preprogrammed for cost constraint rather than for cost growth.

ChangeInEntitlementBenefits 2010to2040It’s ironic that other developed countries, most of which have faster-aging populations and more expansive welfare states than the United States, are leading the way on entitlement reform.  Part of the explanation may be that, until recently, America’s age wave still loomed over the horizon, while in Europe and Japan aging populations have been burdening public budgets, forcing up payroll tax rates, and slowing economic growth for decades.

Part of the answer may also lie in America’s peculiar entitlement ethos.  In Europe, government benefit programs may be fiercely defended, with the opponents of reform manning the barricades and calling general strikes. But in the end, everyone understands that they are part of a social contract that is subject to renegotiation and revision.  In the United States, much of the public views Social Security and Medicare as quasi-contractual arrangements between individuals and the state.  This mindset, which is encouraged by the misleading insurance metaphors in which the programs are cloaked, may make old-age benefits more difficult to reform in the United States than in Europe’s large welfare states.

via What world can teach U.S. about entitlements – Global Public Square – CNN.com Blogs.

The Empire Strikes Back August 11, 2012

Posted by tkcollier in Geopolitics, In The News, philosophy & politics.
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Yale Prof. Charles Hill sees two very different kinds of challenges to the liberal, state-based world order. One, the aggressive kind, is exemplified by China. The other, very different, can be seen in the European Union.

“The way the world through almost all of history has been ordered is through empires. The empire was the normal unit of rule. So it was the Chinese empire, the Mughal empire, the Persian empire, and the Roman empire, the Mayan empire.”

What changed this was the Thirty Years War in Europe in the 17th century. “That was a war between the Holy Roman Empire and states, and states were new. They had come forward in northern Italy in the Renaissance and now they were taking hold in what we think of as a state-sized entity. The Netherlands and Sweden and France were among these. . . . France was both an empire and a state—and the key was when [Cardinal] Richelieu took France to the side of the states, which was shocking because France was Catholic and the empire was Catholic and the states were Protestant.”

“My view is that every major modern war has been waged against this international system. That is, the empire strikes back. World War I is a war of empires which comes to its culmination point when a state gets into it. That’s the United States.” And then we get something very interesting added: “That’s Woodrow Wilson and [the promotion of] democracy.”

“World War II, and I think this is uncomprehended although it’s perfectly clear, . . . World War II is a war of empires against the state system. It’s Hitler’s Third Reich. It’s Imperial Japan.” The Axis goal “is to establish an empire. The Nazi empire would be Europe going eastward into the Slavic lands. The Japanese empire in the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, as they called it.”

via The Weekend Interview with Charles Hill: The Empire Strikes Back – WSJ.com. (more…)

No free beer when frugal Swiss get their say July 21, 2012

Posted by tkcollier in Economy & Business, philosophy & politics.
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Swiss research shows that giving citizens a direct say over how their taxes are spent leads to lower public debts, more cost-efficient services and even less tax evasion. “Because Swiss citizens feel they can control politicians’ spending through referendums, they are more prepared to give the government money and have a more positive attitude towards the state,” said Daniel Kuebler, co-director of the Centre for Democracy Studies in the northern Swiss town of Aarau.

To be sure, direct democracy is not the only driver of the Swiss success story. The country’s neutrality, bank secrecy, liberal labor market, low taxes and stable government have all played their part in drawing investment and driving growth. But the system has forced politicians to be more frugal than elsewhere.

In the United States, direct democracy is frequently blamed for the fiscal mess in California, where a 1978 referendum known as Proposition 13 changed the state constitution to ban increases in property taxes in line with inflation. Supporters say the measure put a sensible limit on state spending, but opponents say it warped the property market to benefit the rich, forced other taxes up and made it impossible for towns to keep pace with the cost of public services. This year, three Californian cities filed for bankruptcy in the space of weeks.

Kuebler said Switzerland’s referendums, which allow voters to overrule spending decisions by the legislature, do a better job of encouraging fiscal responsibility. “You might think that direct democracy would lead to greater public spending because anyone can put forward an initiative, for example, proposing free beer for all,” said Kuebler. “But it would never have a chance, because the preference of Swiss citizens is fiscally conservative and not redistributive.”

via No free beer when frugal Swiss get their say | Reuters.

Europe’s Other Crisis – Immigration May 13, 2012

Posted by tkcollier in Geopolitics, Religion.
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The EU is a project pursued with unstinting energy by a generation of utopians, to replace accountable national governments with a more distant authority that manages to be simultaneously sinister and naïve. For Laqueur a good symbol of its modus operandi came in late 2010, when the European Commission printed millions of calendar diaries to hand out to schoolchildren: they had the dates for Ramadan and for Hindu and Sikh feast days, but not for Christmas.

 

ALL WESTERN EUROPEAN countries have some version of this problem, which involves immigration, Islam, dissent from established European culture, and organized violence. Although it has been temporarily overshadowed by budgetary and currency woes, it is Europe’s most significant chronic problem. What to do about it depends on where one thinks the problem lies.

via Christopher Caldwell: Europe’s Other Crisis | The New Republic.

Trends In The Spread of Civilization May 3, 2012

Posted by tkcollier in Economy & Business, Geopolitics.
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In his latest book, Civilization, The West and the Rest, the economic and financial historian Niall Ferguson argues that Western civilization’s rise to global dominance over the past 500 years was due mainly to six killer apps, as he calls them: competition, science, rule of law, modern medicine, consumerism, and the work ethic.

While “the Rest” lacked these concepts, they might not for much longer, as emerging markets are quickly catching up. Someday, they could even surpass the West. (On May 22 and 29, PBS will air a program based on Civilization.)

What made the West unusual was that risk takers were not only rewarded but honored, whether in science, exploration, or in trade. Spreading across the Atlantic from Europe is an anti-risk culture that manifests itself in two ways. One is the welfare state, designed to remove risk from your life by guaranteeing you an income from the cradle to the grave. That’s great because it means that nobody is starving in the streets for want of work. But it isn’t great if you create poverty traps and disincentives, so that people in the bottom quintile never work, which is the case in much of Europe.

The other way in which the anti-risk culture manifests itself is with the manic regulatory mentality that tries to prescribe rules for every eventuality, including the tiny, tiny risk that an asteroid will hit this building. Regulations that protect from every eventuality end up being paralyzing because the more things are proscribed, the more the ordinary entrepreneur has to be afraid that if he doesn’t comply, he will get sued.

via Is America Becoming an Anti-Risk Welfare State? – Barrons.com.

Forget Greece: Europe’s real problem is Germany May 22, 2010

Posted by tkcollier in Economy & Business, Geopolitics.
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Germans look at the current crisis and blame their spendthrift Mediterranean neighbors for using the cover of the euro to rack up public and private debts that they now cannot support. They blame hedge funds and other speculators for making a bad situation worse and profiting from other people’s misery. And they are furious that they are being told by their leaders that they have no choice but to bail everyone out.

What Germans won’t accept is that they wouldn’t have been able to sell all those beautifully designed cars and well-engineered machine tools if Greeks and Spaniards and Americans hadn’t been willing to buy those goods and German banks hadn’t been so willing to lend them the money to do so. Nor will they accept that German industry was able to thrive over the past decade because of a common currency and a common monetary policy that, over time, rendered industry in some neighboring countries uncompetitive while generating huge real estate bubbles in others.The danger of Germans misunderstanding the causes of the current crisis is that it leads them, and the rest of Europe, to the wrong solutions.

via Steven Pearlstein – Forget Greece: Europe’s real problem is Germany.

How Wall St. Enabled Unsustainable European Welfare States February 19, 2010

Posted by tkcollier in Economy & Business, Geopolitics.
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For all the benefits of uniting Europe with one currency, the birth of the euro came with an original sin: countries like Italy and Greece entered the monetary union with bigger deficits than the ones permitted under the treaty that created the currency. Rather than raise taxes or reduce spending, however, these governments artificially reduced their deficits with derivatives.

In 2001, just after Greece was admitted to Europe’s monetary union, Goldman helped the government quietly borrow billions, people familiar with the transaction said. That deal, hidden from public view because it was treated as a currency trade rather than a loan, helped Athens to meet Europe’s deficit rules while continuing to spend beyond its means.

Instruments developed by Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and a wide range of other banks enabled politicians to mask additional borrowing in Greece, Italy and possibly elsewhere.

In dozens of deals across the Continent, banks provided cash upfront in return for government payments in the future, with those liabilities then left off the books. Greece, for example, traded away the rights to airport fees and lottery proceeds in years to come. Critics say that such deals, because they are not recorded as loans, mislead investors and regulators about the depth of a country’s liabilities.

via Wall St. Helped Greece to Mask Debt Fueling Europe’s Crisis – NYTimes.com.

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