Strong Global Support for Free Markets

 

FreeMarketsPositiveViewTable.gif   Source of table:  "World Publics Welcome Global Trade — But Not Immigration." Pew Global Attitudes Project, a project of the PewResearchCenter. Released: 10.04.07 dowloaded from: http://pewglobal.org/reports/display.php?ReportID=258

 

(p. A10) WASHINGTON, Oct. 4 — Buoyed and battered by globalization, people around the world strongly view international trade as a good thing but harbor growing concerns about its side effects: threats to their cultures, damage to the environment and the challenges posed by immigration, a new survey indicates.

In the Pew Global Attitudes Project survey of people in 46 countries and the Palestinian territories, large majorities everywhere said that trade was a good thing. In countries like Argentina, which recently experienced trade-based growth, the attitude toward trade has become more positive.

But support for trade has decreased in recent years in advanced Western countries, including Germany, Britain, France and Italy — and most sharply in the United States. The number of Americans saying trade is good for the country has dropped by 19 percentage points since 2002, to 59 percent.

“G.D.P. growth hasn’t been as dramatic in these places as in Latin America or Eastern Europe,” said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, referring to gross domestic product, the total value of the goods and services produced in a country. “But worldwide, even though some people are rich and some are poor, support for the basic tenet of capitalism is pretty strong.”

 

For the full story, see: 

BRIAN KNOWLTON. "Globalization, According to the World, Is a Good Thing. Sort Of."  The New York Times   (Fri., October 5, 2007):  A10. 

 

Sweden’s Welfare State Destroys Work Ethic

 

SicknessBenefitsGraph.gif   Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

(p. A1)  LULEA, Sweden — Lotta Landström is allergic to electricity — so says her doctor. Along with hundreds of other Swedes diagnosed with the condition in recent years, she came to rely on state-funded sick pay.

But last year, Sweden’s famously generous welfare system cut off Ms. Landström, a 35-year-old former teacher. Electro-hypersensitivity isn’t widely recognized elsewhere in the world as a medical diagnosis. The decision to end her two years of benefits was part of a broad effort to crack down on sickness and disability benefits, according to Swedish welfare officials.

Swedes are among the healthiest people in the world according to the World Health Organization. And yet 13% of working-age Swedes live on some type of disability benefit — the highest proportion on the globe. To explain this, many Swedish policy makers, doctors and economists blame a welfare system that is too lax and does little to verify individual claims.

At a time when low-cost competition from Asia is clobbering Europe’s markets and straining its generous welfare states, governments from Finland to Portugal are trying to cut back and get more people to work. Sweden’s bloated sick bay, which includes (p. A15) roughly 744,000 people on extended leave, has caused soul-searching about whether the system coddles Swedes and encourages them to feel sick.

"If we don’t look out, we will end up with only two-thirds [of the labor force] in work, and one-third out, living on different kinds of subsidies," said Sweden’s new prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, in an interview earlier this year.

At a time when low-cost competition from Asia is clobbering Europe’s markets and straining its generous welfare states, governments from Finland to Portugal are trying to cut back and get more people to work. Sweden’s bloated sick bay, which includes roughly 744,000 people on extended leave, has caused soul-searching about whether the system coddles Swedes and encourages them to feel sick.

"If we don’t look out, we will end up with only two-thirds [of the labor force] in work, and one-third out, living on different kinds of subsidies," said Sweden’s new prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, in an interview earlier this year.

. . .

Most of Sweden’s boom in sickness absenteeism since the late 1990s is about more than simple fraud. Sick leave for psychological conditions such as depression, burnout or panic attacks has rocketed. Over 20% of the population complain of anxiety syndromes. "We are actually the safest country in the world," says David Eberhard, chief psychiatrist at St. Göran’s hospital in Stockholm. But "people are feeling psychologically worse and worse."

Assar Lindbeck, one of Sweden’s best-known economists, says the lenient welfare state has changed the country over the past generation. In place of the old Protestant work ethic, it has become acceptable to feel unable to work and to live on benefits, he says. "I would not call it cheating," Prof. Lindbeck says. "I would call it a drift in attitudes and social norms."

By being so accommodating, the Swedish system has encouraged Swedes to treat life’s tribulations as clinical issues requiring sick leave, posits Anna Hedborg, a former Social Democrat cabinet minister: "As time has passed, we have medicalized all sorts of problems."

 

For the full story, see:

MARCUS WALKER.  "Rx FOR CHANGE; Sweden Clamps Down On Sick and Disability Pay; Once Freely Dispensed, Benefits Face Scrutiny; Ms. Lanström Is Cut Off."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., May 9, 2007):  A1 & A15.  

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

LandstromLottaElectricityAllergy.gif  A former Swedish teacher who had been receiving government disability payments for being allergic to electricity.   Source of photo:  online version of the WSJ article cited above.

 

Jeffrey Sachs “Has Apparently Spent More Time Studying the Economic Thinking of Salma Hayek than that of Friedrich”


  Salma Hayek.  Source of image: http://www.imdb.com/gallery/granitz/0273-spe/Events/0273-spe/hayek_sa.lma?path=pgallery&path_key=Hayek,%20Salma

 

(p. A18) Scientific American, in its November 2006 issue, reaches a "scientific judgment" that the great Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek "was wrong" about free markets and prosperity in his classic, "The Road to Serfdom."  The natural scientists’ favorite economist — Prof. Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University — announces this new scientific breakthrough in a column, saying "the evidence is now in."  To dispel any remaining doubts, Mr. Sachs clarifies that anyone who disagrees with him "is clouded by vested interests and by ideology."

This sounds like one of those moments in which the zeitgeist of mass confusion about national poverty, world poverty and prosperity comes together in one mad tragicomic brew.

. . .  

Mr. Sachs, who is currently best known for his star-driven campaign to end world poverty, has apparently spent more time studying the economic thinking of Salma Hayek than that of Friedrich. 

. . .

Mr. Sachs’s empirical analysis purports to show that Nordic welfare states are outperforming those states that follow the "English-speaking" tradition of laissez-faire, like the U.K. or the U.S. Poverty rates are indeed lower in the Nordic countries, although the skeptical reader (probably an ideologue) might wonder if the poverty outcome in, say, the U.S., with its tortured history of a black underclass and its de facto openness to impoverished but upwardly mobile immigrants, is really comparable to that of Nordic countries.

Then there is the big picture, where those laissez-faire Anglophones in, first, the U.K. and, then, the U.S., just happened to have been the leaders of the ongoing global industrial revolution that abolished far more poverty over the past two centuries than a few modest Scandinavian redistribution schemes.  Mr. Sachs apparently thinks the industrial revolution was led by IKEA.  Lastly, let’s hear from the Nordics themselves, who have been busily moving away from the social welfare state back toward laissez-faire.  According to the English-speaking ideologues that composed the Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom, Denmark, Finland and Sweden were all included in the 20 countries classified as "free" in 2006 (with Denmark actually ranked ahead of the U.S.).  Only Norway missed the cut — barely.

Mr. Sachs is wrong that Hayek was wrong.  In his own global antipoverty work, he is unintentionally demonstrating why more scientists, Hollywood actors and the rest of us should go back and read "The Road to Serfdom" if we want to know what will not work to achieve "The End of Poverty."  Hayek gave the best exposition ever of the unpopular ideas of economic freedom that somehow triumph anyway, alleviating far more national and global poverty than more fashionable Scandinavia-envy and grandiose plans to "make poverty history."

 

For the full commentary, see:

WILLIAM EASTERLY.  "Dismal Science."  Wall Street Journal  (Weds., November 15, 2006):  A18.

(Note:  ellipses added.) 

 

Hayek’s courageous masterpiece is:

Hayek, Friedrich A. Von. The Road to Serfdom. Chicago: Univ of Chicago Press, 1944.

 

Easterly’s great book on how to encourage economic development in poor countries, is:

Easterly, William. The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002.


Missing Link Found Between Sea and Land Animals: More Evidence for Evolution

 

Model recreation of missing link animal.  Source of image:  Online version of NYT article cited below.

 

Scientists have discovered fossils of a 375-million-year-old fish, a large scaly creature not seen before, that they say is a long-sought missing link in the evolution of some fishes from water to a life walking on four limbs on land. 

In two reports today in the journal Nature, a team of scientists led by Neil H. Shubin of the University of Chicago say they have uncovered several well-preserved skeletons of the fossil fish in sediments of former streambeds in the Canadian Arctic, 600 miles from the North Pole.

The skeletons have the fins, scales and other attributes of a giant fish, four to nine feet long.  But on closer examination, the scientists found telling anatomical traits of a transitional creature, a fish that is still a fish but has changes that anticipate the emergence of land animals — and is thus a predecessor of amphibians, reptiles and dinosaurs, mammals and eventually humans.

In the fishes’ forward fins, the scientists found evidence of limbs in the making.  There are the beginnings of digits, proto-wrists, elbows and shoulders.  The fish also had a flat skull resembling a crocodile’s, a neck, ribs and other parts that were similar to four-legged land animals known as tetrapods.

Other scientists said that in addition to confirming elements of a major transition in evolution, the fossils were a powerful rebuttal to religious creationists, who have long argued that the absence of such transitional creatures are a serious weakness in Darwin’s theory.  

The discovery team called the fossils the most compelling examples yet of an animal that was at the cusp of the fish-tetrapod transition.  The fish has been named Tiktaalik roseae, at the suggestion of elders of Canada’s Nunavut Territory.  Tiktaalik (pronounced tic-TAH-lick) means ”large shallow water fish.”

”The origin of limbs,” Dr. Shubin’s team wrote, ”probably involved the elaboration and proliferation of features already present in the fins of fish such as Tiktaalik.”  

In an interview, Dr. Shubin, an evolutionary biologist, let himself go.  ”It’s a really amazing, remarkable intermediate fossil,” he said.  ”It’s like, holy cow.”  

Two other paleontologists, commenting on the find in a separate article in the journal, said that a few other transitional fish had been previously discovered from approximately the same Late Devonian time period, 385 million to 359 million years ago.  But Tiktaalik is so clearly an intermediate ”link between fishes and land vertebrates,” they said, that it ”might in time become as much an evolutionary icon as the proto-bird Archaeopteryx,” which bridged the gap between reptiles (probably dinosaurs) and today’s birds.  

The writers, Erik Ahlberg of Uppsala University in Sweden and Jennifer A. Clack of the University of Cambridge in England, are often viewed as rivals to Dr. Shubin’s team in the search for intermediate species in the evolution from fish to the first animals to colonize land.

H. Richard Lane, director of paleobiology at the National Science Foundation, said in a statement, ”These exciting discoveries are providing fossil ‘Rosetta Stones’ for a deeper understanding of this evolutionary milestone — fish to land-roaming tetrapods.”

 

For the full story, see:

JOHN NOBLE WILFORD.  "Fossil Called Missing Link From Sea to Land Animals."  The New York Times  (Thursday, April 6, 2006):  A1.

 

  Source of graphic: http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2006/04.06/09-missinglink.html

 

The Case Against Privatizing the Post Office

 

The free market can be defended with a variety of plausible philosophical arguments. But most people care more about what "works" than what is "right." So in the constant struggle between free markets and the government, it may be useful to maintain the government’s monopoly in delivering first class mail. That way when someone suggests a new intervention by the government, the free marketer can refute them with two persuasive words: "post office."

 

When it comes to first-class mail, the U.S. still does things the old-fashioned way, with one Postal Service. Not so in places like New Zealand and Sweden, which have opened their mail systems to private companies. The latest is Britain, where the Royal Mail lost its 350-year monopoly on delivery. At least 14 companies are now competing to sort and transport mail. British regulators believe competition will be good for the mail system. Japan is soon to follow. With the recent rise in U.S. stamp prices, expect more calls for privatization here too.

 

Source:

Lyric Wallwork Winik. "Intelligence Report; Is the Mailman Endangered?" Parade (Sun., March 19, 2006): 25.

 

Not All Foolish Laws Remain on the Books Forever

 

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) – A mythical monster with a snake’s body and a dog’s head, believed by some to have lived for hundreds of years in the murky depths of Lake Storsjon, is now fair game for hunters, if they can find it. Authorities lifted a 19-year-old endangered species protection, saying that was hardly necessary for a creature whose existence is unproven.

 

Source: 

"Hunting of Snake-dog Permitted." The Omaha World-Herald (Saturday, November 12, 2005):