Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Tweede Kamer

For the whole of my adult life I   have had Dutch people around me in some way and  without exception I have thought highly of them.  A Dutchman once told me that I would make a good Dutchman and I regarded that as a high compliment

But I must admit that  for  no good reason I find the name of the Dutch parliament amusing.  "Tweede Kamer" sounds  like "the tweedy chamber".  "Tweedy" is most often used in a derisory way in English (with apologies to the good people of Harris and Lewis).

But  it is of course just  a routine example of low German:  "Zweite Kammer " (second chamber) would be the Hoch Deutsch  version of it

It just means the  "lower house" of the Dutch parliament.  And bicameral  parliaments  are  after all common in the Anglosphere too (though we don't have one in  Queensland, where I happily reside)

We hardly ever hear anything about the "Eerste Kamerlid" (the Dutch Senate or "first chamber") and I don't know enough Dutch to read easily what information about it that is available online.  I gather, however,  that a member of that august body is called a "volksvertegenwoordiger", which would blow anybody's mind.  I think it means something like "Worthy people's representative".


The French road to perdition?

by Martin Hutchinson

The French presidential election on April 22 and May 6 is important not only to France; on it rests the future of the euro. Spain, about which the markets have been agonizing for the last few weeks, is merely a sideshow; it has only moderate levels of international debt and could at a pinch be bailed out by its European partners if necessary. France is however both considerably larger and when looked at closely, in poorer shape. If it gets in trouble, it also leaves a rather small group of nations with the "duty" of supporting it. If Nicolas Sarkozy is re-elected, France will probably muddle through, but his opponents' policies are sufficiently bad that if one of them is elected the collapse of both French public finances and the euro system are very likely.

Historically, France has been even modestly committed to the free market only for brief periods. Even the U.S. Declaration of Independence, with its ringing but philosophically notorious "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" was polluted by foolish French ideas. John Locke, in his 1693 "Essay on Human Understanding" wrote "all mankind ... being equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty and possessions." He also wrote, very sensibly "Government has no other end, but the preservation of property." The man may have chosen his political associations unwisely in the vile Earl of Shaftesbury and the quasi-treasonous embryonic Whigs, but he knew what to fight for.

"Pursuit of happiness" was an amendment to Locke injected by the young and radical Thomas Jefferson, heavily influenced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "Contrat Social" (1762). This fatal amendment removed the protection to property given in Locke's admirable formulation and led to innumerable encroachments on property rights in the centuries ahead. Dislike for property rights was not universal among the Founding Fathers; James Madison's Bill of Rights, in the Fifth Amendment, prevents government from taking "life liberty or property, without due process of law." Eighty years later, the Radical Republicans' Fourteenth Amendment included the same protection.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in essence an extreme leftist (and a very unpleasant man) merely flawed the U.S. constitutional system through his misguided ideas. In France, where intellectuals are taken altogether too seriously, his ideas were far more powerful than those of John Locke, and hence once the Ancien Regime was overthrown in 1789 the moderates such as Mirabeau and Lafayette were helpless against the Rousseauesque force of the Jacobins. The result has been a political system in which, through two Empires, five Republics and a Directory, property rights have never been adequately safeguarded. Only under the two restored monarchies, of Louis XVIII/Charles X (1815-1830) and Louis-Philippe (1830-1848) were property rights largely secure. However the sensible admonition of Louis-Philippe's minister, the benign Adolphe Thiers: "Enrichissez-vous" proved helpless against the forces of renewed revolution in 1848.

France's civilization is among the great glories of mankind, its scientific advances are immense and its cuisine is superb, but economically even these great virtues have failed to make the place truly prosperous. The problem is the innate philosophical belief that free markets are an Anglo-Saxon abomination, to be regarded with deep suspicion and circumvented wherever possible by government intervention. Government spending of 56% of GDP (compared to Spain's 45%) leaves little room for the private sector to flourish, while budget deficits every year since 1974 have caused France's public debt to soar to 89% of GDP in 2012, substantially larger in relation to GDP than Spain's. The Ecole Nationale d'Administration has produced generations of superbly trained technocrats, far ahead of Britain's late-blooming business schools, but very few entrepreneurs.

According to Angus Maddison's data, France's GDP per capita, 64% of Britain's in 1900 and 76% of Britain's in 1950, had risen to 113% of Britain's GDP by 1974, its last year of budget surplus (and the year the capable rule of Georges Pompidou ended). That's not a surprise - Britain's economy in 1945-74 was very badly run while France's under the early Fifth Republic worked rather well. However by 2010 France's GDP was only 96% of Britain's; in the 1974-2010 period it also sank from 81% to 72% of US GDP per capita. That's a fairly modest relative decline, but against two countries that were also sub-optimally managed during the period; it thus suggests that there are deep flaws in the French economic system.

Those flaws have been demonstrated by French politicians' reaction to the euro crisis. Even a nominally center-right government, when austerity measures became unavoidable late last year,  proposed budget balancing measures of which in the first year 76% were represented by tax increases and 24% by spending cuts. As will be well known to readers of this column, while spending cuts, especially in a bloated public sector such as France's, can be economically stimulative, tax increases, by sucking money from the productive, inevitably deepen recessions. Naturally therefore, France's tax-centered austerity has resulted in a sharp decline in already anemic economic growth, with the Economist panel's growth forecast for 2012 declining from 1.1% to 0.1% since October, with growth forecast to continue below 1% in 2013. Meanwhile, the budget deficit continues to overshoot forecasts. To a lesser degree (so far) France has chosen the tax-raising-in-a-recession solution of Herbert Hoover in 1932, and it appears likely to be equally successful.

If Nicolas Sarkozy wins the presidency May 6, France will doubtless continue to muddle through. Sarkozy is committed to the European stabilization plan he has worked out with Angela Merkel, and while trader attention remains on Spain, France's deficits should continue to be financeable. However, Sarkozy's chance of winning is reckoned at below 50%

Francois Hollande, the most likely successor to Sarkozy, favors a 75% top rate of income tax, the reversal of Sarkozy's pension reforms, and a substantial increase in public spending. He also enthuses his followers by calling for the "Spirit of `81" referring to the first election of Francois Mitterrand. The policy of Mitterrand's first two years, socialism in a fairly pure form, resulted in three devaluations of the franc and a sharp increase in unemployment.  It also led to bank nationalization, after which Guy de Rothschild uttered the immortal line: "To be a Jew under Petain (the French Vichy Republic wartime leader) was bad enough, but to be a banker under Mitterrand, c'est insupportable."

If markets had full confidence in French credit, a Hollande victory would doubtless be manageable. However they don't, and nor should they. A run on French government debt would be inevitable, and would be accompanied by further attacks on Italian and Spanish debt.

At that point, the destruction of the euro would appear certain - there is simply not enough of a base of soundly run countries to bail out France, Italy and Spain simultaneously.  Once the euro had disappeared (or had become a "strong currency" bloc led by Germany) French debt default would not be inevitable - the country would simply suffer a moderate collapse in the currency, as it did initially under Mitterrand. Italy in that event would probably be closest to default, since the Monti government, imposed by the EU, would collapse and the Italian unions would then force policy leftwards. Spain, on the other hand, might well survive, since its current government is competent, its public debt is moderate and its problem is mainly one of the latter stages of a property collapse, concentrated in the banking sector.
All depends on France. But if French political developments cause the collapse of the euro and a major global recession, we will be able to blame the misguided eighteenth century philosophers whose teachings prevented France from ever truly adopting a free market economy.



Minorities a problem for conservatives in Britain too

The Prime Minister will today launch a major campaign to target ‘aspirational’ ethnic minority voters in the suburbs after warnings that he can’t win at the next election without them.

Tory Chairman Baroness Warsi has revealed the party aims to woo female and older Asian voters who share the party’s views but who have traditionally voted Labour.

She has told Conservative Cabinet ministers and MPs that they need to do more to win over non-white voters in key marginal constituencies.

They will be ordered to discuss core Tory values – hard work, good schools, the perils of welfare dependency – rather than ‘pandering’ to received Left-wing wisdom that Asian voters are only concerned with state handouts and foreign policy issues such as Afghanistan.

The PR drive comes after Tory pollsters warned that the party could fail to win a majority in 2015 unless they do better with ethnic minority voters.  The Tories won just 16 per cent of the non-white vote in 2010, and did just as badly among wealthy and poor ethnic minority communities.

Polls show that these groups predominantly share Tory values but 68 per cent of them vote for Labour.

Baroness Warsi said: ‘There are at least ten constituencies that we should have won at the last election, on the basis of the overall swing we achieved, but which we didn’t win purely because they were seats with a much larger than average black and minority ethnic population.  'The battleground for the next election is predominantly urban.’

Lady Warsi admitted that many of her colleagues have been surprised to discover that they have far larger migrant populations in their constituencies than they previously realised.

She added: ‘Somewhere like Solihull now has more than 5,000 British Muslims. These are upwardly mobile people.’

David Cameron will unveil a Conservative Friends of India group to woo Asian voters.  He will also launch a Conservative Friends of Pakistan and a third group for Bangladesh later in the year.

Tory supporters have recently written in the ethnic minority media stressing that welfare dependency runs in the face of their community’s values.

Baroness Warsi said: ‘My father came to Britain and he was hugely aspirational. He wanted to work hard and do the right thing.

'People from his generation wonder how being on benefits has become a lifestyle choice. Labour go round saying to these voters that the Tories will cut your benefits. But that’s the worst sort of patronising approach.’

Following the trouncing of Labour in the Bradford West by-election, Baroness Warsi said the party would capitalise on the malaise among young Asians with the way Labour used their elders to dictate how they should vote.

‘You can see in Bradford that a generation of younger Asian women are standing up and demanding to be heard,’ she said.



Unelected Bureaucrats Confiscate Your Property and Your Private Medical Records Without Your Consent

October 2011 brought an overlooked but devastating ruling by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), an unelected bureaucrat, to further damage your Constitutional rights. Kathleen Sebelius decreed that all private health insurance companies must turn over to the federal government their medical records on all patients insured by them to be included in the federal health information database without patients’ consent.

The traditional American view is that you, the patient, are the owner of the information in your medical records that reside with your personal physician. You control to whom your information is released. Under the new Sebelius ruling, the government will control your medical information on federal computers in a federal database. Thus, your personal medical information is open to anyone with access to the system.

Traditionally, doctors released information only with the patient’s specific consent, which was often given as a condition for getting an insurer to pay. Americans have always had the right to pay for medical care themselves and not allow the doctor to release their medical records and personal information to an insurance company.

The October ruling has not gotten the press attention that it deserves. Besides violating other fundamental liberty rights, it violates the 5th Amendment to the Constitution, which states that “No person…shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process…nor shall private property, be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

With the HHS new rules for medical records, your personal property of your medical information is simply being taken by the government to be used for “the collective, or public, good” without compensation to you for the use of your data.

Worse, your own data may be used to keep you from getting treatments you and your doctor think you need! The federally run Comparative Effectiveness Research bureaucracy and Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) will use this data to decide how to allocate finite medical resources. The Progressive view is that medical decisions should be made by elite, unelected, politically-appointed “experts” whose focus is on “population health,” not your health or your life.

These bureaucrats’ job is to ration medical care, not based on individual needs, but on government criteria, such as: cost of treatment effectiveness as determined by government experts, not necessarily medical specialists, and your “quality life years” remaining, based on your age or your "value" to society.

Beyond privacy issues, there is major concern about the safety of your medical information. An expanded federal medical database makes millions more people vulnerable to loss of health information and medical identity. Hackers stole millions of medical records from the Veterans Administration and patients were at risk for identity theft. David Blumenthal, M.D., the former “health information czar,” admitted “No infrastructure exists in most areas of the country for secure exchange of health information exchange among providers and between providers and consumers.”

The federal government has now expanded beyond the capability of its employees to manage their responsibilities properly. Our Founders knew that if we allowed such vast expansion of federal authority, it would make eunuchs of state and local governments… which actually better met the needs of local communities. People would wait for Washington to satisfy our every need. We are already learning the wisdom of their concerns, for example, in the failure of the federal government

  *  to properly regulate our financial institutions,
*  to efficiently run the Postal Service without hemorrhaging red ink,

 *   to effectively administer programs such as veteran’s health care, Medicare, and Medicaid to keep costs under control,
* to improve quality and improve access to medical care, and
    to control Medicare and Medicaid fraud.

It is particularly dangerous to have government bureaucrats control our health information and treatment options. Do we really need to suffer more lives lost just to gain more proof that big government control and central planning does not work?

We have no voice in the regulation of our medical care by unelected bureaucrats. Instead of taxation without representation, wenow have medication without representation.

Confiscation of your medical records property is another example that when something is “free,” the real cost to you is staggering.




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1 comment:

Robert said...

Re: The French Road to Perdition, a look at France's mood meter, the CAC-40, shows it down from about 6000 in 2007, when I think Sarkozy first took office, to about 3000 today. That suggests BIG trouble for Sarkozy. The Euro also seems to be tracing out a series of first waves down and second waves up of increasingly smaller degree. These trends could well be lining up for Sarkozy to be defeated, and then see the Euro promptly crash afterwards, perhaps even to below parity with the Dollar.