Aug 312016
 

According to Wikipedia, as of 2010, some 1’200’000 people died in traffic-related accidents. Here’s how that looks geographically:

TrafficDeathsStatistics

The take-away is fairly simple: you’re better-off driving in (interesting how these same countries come back every time): Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and, unexpectedly, Israel. The rest of Europe, if you don’t stray too far east, is relatively harmless, along with Canada and Australia, which are only twice as dangerous as the ‘model’ countries. In the USA, your chances of dying are quadrupled. From there, the multiplier is on a bender: Mexico 5, Bolivia 6, Kenya 7, Iran 8, Ecuador 9, Oman 10, Nigeria 11, Thailand 12 and the winner if Erithrea, where you are 16 times more likely to die on the road.

Why did I go to all this trouble for victims of car accidents, you may well ask? Because it represents about 1’200’000 who die every year for no good reason, yet we find it perfectly acceptable. In contrast we wallow in grief for one death:

A while back, Pakistan hung Shafqat Hussain, found guilty of having killed a 7-year-old child, and the whole twitosphere is in uproar because he was too young to be executed. This suits journalists, who can use said tweets to justify their perception of ‘public opinion’. A false premise that even a tapeworm could understand, because tweets are not votes, carefully counted in a ballot-box; they are tweets, and as their name implies, they are mindless drivel, most likely generated by a computer.

What’s interesting is that nobody questions that Shafqat did actually kill a 7-year-old, but nobody, especially journalists, gives a shit because the life of an innocent young boy is much less news-grabbing than the sob-story of a supposedly-persecuted adolescent. I’m not sure whose testicles I’d prefer to crush in a vice, Shafqat’s or the journalists. From a Darwinian perspective, all those testicles seems the most sensible approach.

You’re not reading/listening anymore because I questioned the reality of the twittosphere? Your single-digit IQ brings forth my greatest compassion.

Mar 232016
 

Another few dozen dead in Brussels, apparently the work of islamic suicide bombers. Almost customary news-of-the-day, followed by the customary heart-rending of politicians, eager to gain media-time for their own self-glorification. After ‘nous sommes Charlie’, we have ‘nous sommes Paris’ and now, predictably, ‘nous sommes Bruxelles’. Trite, self-serving and an utter waste of media bandwidth.

The drivel served up to us, ad nauseum, wallows between indignation and glib sound-bites about tolerance and the necessity of doing something for the down-trodden poor. These poor souls apparently are (almost) justified in resorting to violence because they can’t find employment, whilst clamouring for equal treatment despite the djellabas, thick beards and a thick misogynistic streak that doesn’t quite jig with our society.

Whether it was Voltaire or Rousseau who said “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” makes no difference; you have the absolute right to worship who/whatsoever you choose. However, your rights end where my rights start, and vice-versa. Having respected your right to worship, you have the logical obligation to respect my right to do something else.

The moderate, respectable muslim will object that the suicide bombers don’t represent his views. The problem is that the suicide bomber claims to represent islam. If the moderate muslim doesn’t take steps to stop the suicide bombers, he shouldn’t be surprised to find himself bundled with them.

A muslim, you have decided to come and live in Europe. You’re more than welcome, many of us came from elsewhere and we thrive on diversity. However, it’s not a one-way street; when we visit a mosque, I take off my shoes and my wife wears a veil; quaint to our culture, but I respect yours. When you come to Europe, your daughter at school has the obligation to learn how to swim. We don’t do this to look at her breasts, we do it because in Europe there are many lakes and rivers and we don’t want our children to drown.

Is all this really so hard to understand? Or, as I suspect, are you doing it deliberately?

Jun 242015
 

So Tsarnaev apologises for his crime. Predictable, as in the USA, showing remorse seems to infer some kind of leniency, on the American model “You’ll always be forgiven your fuckups and given a second chance”.

In business, you create a venture, it goes tits-up, you go bankrupt, you get a second chance. This is eminently fair, after all, your backers were venture capitalists who were fully aware that they might lose their shirt.

Tsarnaev’s case is very different, he maimed and killed. Purportedly in the name of a religion. Said religion does not, in its majority, condone maiming and killing, although it’s a fine line, given the lack of condemnation by the muslim community.

Let us be perfectly clear, the death penalty has little dissuasive effect (on psychotics, who by definition aren’t in ‘our’ world). The death penalty serves a simple purpose: the culprit cannot do it again and he cannot propagate his genes. There is no credible argument which would allow the remote possibility that Tsarnaev could reproduce; his crime is so ignominious that he must be eliminated.

Feb 222015
 

Recent events have weighed heavily on the notion of tolerance, which Voltaire described nicely in his prayer to God in 1763, some 250 years ago. Despite being a dyed-in-the-wool atheist, I have to admit his text was premonitory:

No longer then do I address myself to men, but to you, God of all beings, of all worlds, and of all ages; if it may be permitted weak creatures lost in immensity and imperceptible to the rest of the universe, to dare to ask something of you, you who have given everything, and whose decrees are immutable as they are eternal. Deign to look with pity on the errors attached to our nature; let not these errors prove ruinous to us. You have not given us hearts to hate ourselves with, and hands to kill one another. Grant then that we may mutually aid each other to support the burden of a painful and transitory life; that the trifling differences in the garments that cover our frail bodies, in our insufficient languages, in our ridiculous customs, in our imperfect laws, in our idle opinions, in all our conditions so disproportionate in our eyes, and so equal in yours, that all the little variations that differentiate the atoms called men not be signs of hatred and persecution; that those who light candles in broad daylight to worship you bear with those who content themselves with the light of your sun; that those who dress themselves in a white robe to say that we must love you do not detest those who say the same thing in cloaks of black wool; that it may be all the same to adore you in a dialect formed from an ancient or a modern language; that those whose coat is colored red or violet, who rule over a little parcel of a little heap of mud of this world, and who possess a few round fragments of a certain metal, enjoy without pride what they call grandeur and riches, and may others look on them without envy: for you know that there is nothing in all these vanities to inspire envy or pride.

May all men remember that they are brothers! May they hold in horror tyranny exerted over souls, just as they do the violence which forcibly seizes the products of peaceful industry! And if the scourge of war is inevitable, let us not hate one another, let us not destroy one another in the midst of peace, and let us use the moment of our existence to bless, in a thousand different languages, from Siam to California, your goodness which has given us this moment.

Dec 022014
 

Mr. President,

I stand before the world as a proud representative of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. I stand tall before you knowing that truth and morality are on my side. And yet, I stand here knowing that today in this Assembly, truth will be turned on its head and morality cast aside.

The fact of the matter is that when members of the international community speak about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a fog descends to cloud all logic and moral clarity. The result isn’t realpolitik, its surrealpolitik.

The world’s unrelenting focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an injustice to tens of millions of victims of tyranny and terrorism in the Middle East. As we speak, Yazidis, Bahai, Kurds, Christians and Muslims are being executed and expelled by radical extremists at a rate of 1,000 people per month.

How many resolutions did you pass last week to address this crisis? And how many special sessions did you call for? The answer is zero. What does this say about international concern for human life? Not much, but it speaks volumes about the hypocrisy of the international community.

I stand before you to speak the truth. Of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, less than half a percent are truly free – and they are all citizens of Israel.

Israeli Arabs are some of the most educated Arabs in the world. They are our leading physicians and surgeons, they are elected to our parliament, and they serve as judges on our Supreme Court. Millions of men and women in the Middle East would welcome these opportunities and freedoms.

Nonetheless, nation after nation, will stand at this podium today and criticize Israel – the small island of democracy in a region plagued by tyranny and oppression.

Mr. President,

Our conflict has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian state. It has always been about the existence of the Jewish state.

Sixty seven years ago this week, on November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted to partition the land into a Jewish state and an Arab state. Simple. The Jews said yes. The Arabs said no. But they didn’t just say no. Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon launched a war of annihilation against our newborn state.

This is the historical truth that the Arabs are trying to distort. The Arabs’ historic mistake continues to be felt – in lives lost in war, lives lost to terrorism, and lives scarred by the Arab’s narrow political interests.

According to the United Nations, about 700,000 Palestinians were displaced in the war initiated by the Arabs themselves. At the same time, some 850,000 Jews were forced to flee from Arab countries.

Why is it, that 67 years later, the displacement of the Jews has been completely forgotten by this institution while the displacement of the Palestinians is the subject of an annual debate?

The difference is that Israel did its utmost to integrate the Jewish refugees into society. The Arabs did just the opposite.

The worst oppression of the Palestinian people takes place in Arab nations. In most of the Arab world, Palestinians are denied citizenship and are aggressively discriminated against. They are barred from owning land and prevented from entering certain professions.

And yet none – not one – of these crimes are mentioned in the resolutions before you.

If you were truly concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people there would be one, just one, resolution to address the thousands of Palestinians killed in Syria. And if you were so truly concerned about the Palestinians there would be at least one resolution to denounce the treatment of Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps.

But there isn’t. The reason is that today’s debate is not about speaking for peace or speaking for the Palestinian people – it is about speaking against Israel. It is nothing but a hate and bashing festival against Israel.

Mr. President,

The European nations claim to stand for Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité – freedom, equality, and brotherhood – but nothing could be farther from the truth.

I often hear European leaders proclaim that Israel has the right to exist in secure borders. That’s very nice. But I have to say – it makes about as much sense as me standing here and proclaiming Sweden’s right to exist in secure borders.

When it comes to matters of security, Israel learned the hard way that we cannot rely on others – certainly not Europe.

In 1973, on Yom Kippur – the holiest day on the Jewish calendar – the surrounding Arab nations launched an attack against Israel. In the hours before the war began, Golda Meir, our Prime Minister then, made the difficult decision not to launch a preemptive strike. The Israeli Government understood that if we launched a preemptive strike, we would lose the support of the international community.

As the Arab armies advanced on every front, the situation in Israel grew dire. Our casualty count was growing and we were running dangerously low on weapons and ammunition. In this, our hour of need, President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, agreed to send Galaxy planes loaded with tanks and ammunition to resupply our troops. The only problem was that the Galaxy planes needed to refuel on route to Israel.

The Arab States were closing in and our very existence was threatened – and yet, Europe was not even willing to let the planes refuel. The U.S. stepped in once again and negotiated that the planes be allowed to refuel in the Azores.

The government and people of Israel will never forget that when our very existence was at stake, only one country came to our aid – the United States of America.

Israel is tired of hollow promises from European leaders. The Jewish people have a long memory. We will never ever forget that you failed us in the 1940s. You failed us in 1973. And you are failing us again today.

Every European parliament that voted to prematurely and unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state is giving the Palestinians exactly what they want – statehood without peace. By handing them a state on a silver platter, you are rewarding unilateral actions and taking away any incentive for the Palestinians to negotiate or compromise or renounce violence. You are sending the message that the Palestinian Authority can sit in a government with terrorists and incite violence against Israel without paying any price.

The first E.U. member to officially recognize a Palestinian state was Sweden. One has to wonder why the Swedish Government was so anxious to take this step. When it comes to other conflicts in our region, the Swedish Government calls for direct negotiations between the parties – but for the Palestinians, surprise, surprise, they roll out the red carpet.

State Secretary Söder may think she is here to celebrate her government’s so-called historic recognition, when in reality it’s nothing more than an historic mistake.

The Swedish Government may host the Nobel Prize ceremony, but there is nothing noble about their cynical political campaign to appease the Arabs in order to get a seat on the Security Council. Nations on the Security Council should have sense, sensitivity, and sensibility. Well, the Swedish Government has shown no sense, no sensitivity and no sensibility. Just nonsense.

Israel learned the hard way that listening to the international community can bring about devastating consequences. In 2005, we unilaterally dismantled every settlement and removed every citizen from the Gaza Strip. Did this bring us any closer to peace? Not at all. It paved the way for Iran to send its terrorist proxies to establish a terror stronghold on our doorstep.

I can assure you that we won’t make the same mistake again. When it comes to our security, we cannot and will not rely on others – Israel must be able to defend itself by itself.

Mr. President,

The State of Israel is the land of our forefathers – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is the land where Moses led the Jewish people, where David built his palace, where Solomon built the Jewish Temple, and where Isaiah saw a vision of eternal peace.

For thousands of years, Jews have lived continuously in the land of Israel. We endured through the rise and fall of the Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman Empires. And we endured through thousands of years of persecution, expulsions and crusades. The bond between the Jewish people and the Jewish land is unbreakable.

Nothing can change one simple truth – Israel is our home and Jerusalem is our eternal capital.

At the same time, we recognize that Jerusalem has special meaning for other faiths. Under Israeli sovereignty, all people – and I will repeat that, all people – regardless of religion and nationality can visit the city’s holy sites. And we intend to keep it this way. The only ones trying to change the status quo on the Temple Mount are Palestinian leaders.

President Abbas is telling his people that Jews are contaminating the Temple Mount. He has called for days of rage and urged Palestinians to prevent Jews from visiting the Temple Mount using (quote) “all means” necessary. These words are as irresponsible as they are unacceptable.

You don’t have to be Catholic to visit the Vatican, you don’t have to be Jewish to visit the Western Wall, but some Palestinians would like to see the day when only Muslims can visit the Temple Mount.

You, the international community, are lending a hand to extremists and fanatics. You, who preach tolerance and religious freedom, should be ashamed. Israel will never let this happen. We will make sure that the holy places remain open to all people of all faiths for all time.

Mr. President,

No one wants peace more than Israel. No one needs to explain the importance of peace to parents who have sent their child to defend our homeland. No one knows the stakes of success or failure better than we Israelis do. The people of Israel have shed too many tears and buried too many sons and daughters.

We are ready for peace, but we are not naïve. Israel’s security is paramount. Only a strong and secure Israel can achieve a comprehensive peace.

The past month should make it clear to anyone that Israel has immediate and pressing security needs. In recent weeks, Palestinian terrorists have shot and stabbed our citizens and twice driven their cars into crowds of pedestrians. Just a few days ago, terrorists armed with axes and a gun savagely attacked Jewish worshipers during morning prayers. We have reached the point when Israelis can’t even find sanctuary from terrorism in the sanctuary of a synagogue.

These attacks didn’t emerge out of a vacuum. They are the results of years of indoctrination and incitement. A Jewish proverb teaches: “The instruments of both death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

As a Jew and as an Israeli, I know with utter certainly that when our enemies say they want to attack us, they mean it.

Hamas’s genocidal charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews worldwide. For years, Hamas and other terrorist groups have sent suicide bombers into our cities, launched rockets into our towns, and sent terrorists to kidnap and murder our citizens.

And what about the Palestinian Authority? It is leading a systemic campaign of incitement. In schools, children are being taught that ‘Palestine’ will stretch from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. In mosques, religious leaders are spreading vicious libels accusing Jews of destroying Muslim holy sites. In sports stadiums, teams are named after terrorists. And in newspapers, cartoons urge Palestinians to commit terror attacks against Israelis.

Children in most of the world grow up watching cartoons of Mickey Mouse singing and dancing. Palestinian children also grow up watching Mickey Mouse, but on Palestinians national television, a twisted figure dressed as Mickey Mouse dances in an explosive belt and chants “Death to America and death to the Jews.”

I challenge you to stand up here today and do something constructive for a change. Publically denounce the violence, denounce the incitement, and denounce the culture of hate.

Most people believe that at its core, the conflict is a battle between Jews and Arabs or Israelis and Palestinians. They are wrong. The battle that we are witnessing is a battle between those who sanctify life and those who celebrate death.

Following the savage attack in a Jerusalem synagogue, celebrations erupted in Palestinian towns and villages. People were dancing in the street and distributing candy. Young men posed with axes, loudspeakers at mosques called out congratulations, and the terrorists were hailed as “martyrs” and “heroes.”

This isn’t the first time that we saw the Palestinians celebrate the murder of innocent civilians. We saw them rejoice after every terrorist attack on Israeli civilians and they even took to the streets to celebrate the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center right here in New York City.

Imagine the type of state this society would produce. Does the Middle East really need another terror-ocracy? Some members of the international community are aiding and abetting its creation.

Mr. President,

As we came into the United Nations, we passed the flags of all 193 member States. If you take the time to count, you will discover that there are 15 flags with a crescent and 25 flags with a cross. And then there is one flag with a Jewish Star of David. Amidst all the nations of the world there is one state – just one small nation state for the Jewish people.

And for some people, that is one too many.

As I stand before you today I am reminded of all the years when Jewish people paid for the world’s ignorance and indifference in blood. Those days are no more.

We will never apologize for being a free and independent people in our sovereign state. And we will never apologize for defending ourselves.

To the nations that continue to allow prejudice to prevail over truth, I say “J’accuse.”

I accuse you of hypocrisy. I accuse you of duplicity.

I accuse you of lending legitimacy to those who seek to destroy our State.

I accuse you of speaking about Israel’s right of self-defense in theory, but denying it in practice.

And I accuse you of demanding concessions from Israel, but asking nothing of the Palestinians.

In the face of these offenses, the verdict is clear. You are not for peace and you are not for the Palestinian people. You are simply against Israel.

Members of the international community have a choice to make.

You can recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, or permit the Palestinian leadership to deny our history without consequence.

You can publically proclaim that the so-called “claim of return” is a non-starter, or you can allow this claim to remain the major obstacle to any peace agreement.

You can work to end Palestinian incitement, or stand by as hatred and extremism take root for generations to come.

You can prematurely recognize a Palestinian state, or you can encourage the Palestinian Authority to break its pact with Hamas and return to direct negotiations.

The choice is yours. You can continue to steer the Palestinians off course or pave the way to real and lasting peace.

Thank you, Mr. President.

May 012014
 

Let me pretend for a moment that I am Vladimir Putin.

Our sole sea access towards the Mediterranean is from the strip of coastline on the Black Sea between Ukraine and Georgia. We have recently invested massively in a naval base at Novorossiysk, the only readily-accessible city, as the coastline southwards to Sochi is obstructed by mountains:

Ukraine / Russia / Georgia

Ukraine has had strong ties with Russia ever since we annexed the Crimean Khanate in 1783. Barely 25 years ago it became independent. The first 10 years were a mess, with a 60% loss in GDP. In 1996 Kuchma was elected president and as corrupt as they get. Since 2004 Yanukovych and Yushchenko have been taking turns at rigging elections and mis-managing the country, which is now in a shambles.

Earlier this year it is brought to my attention that the EU is negotiating closer ties with Ukraine. The logical conclusion is that Ukraine will sooner or later join NATO. When that happens, my naval base at Novorossiysk would be barely 125Km from Kerch, from whence it would be easy to deny us naval access to the Black Sea. This is strategically unacceptable, as sailing to the Mediterranean / Africa / the Middle East from the Baltic or the Pacific is unthinkable.

To keep unfettered access to the Black Sea, the area from Donetsk to Sevastopol cannot be allowed to present a threat to Russia, the question is: how do I achieve this?

Simply invading the area would probably succeed. The Europeans would procrastinate, Obama would chastise, but nothing would be formally done to stop me, and reasonably so: the Europeans need our natural gas and Obama has repeatedly shown that he won’t go to war just because some foreigner’s rights have been trampled.

That would be a crude solution, let me envisage a wiser plan:

  • Get the KGB to identify self-seeking troublemakers in Ukraine and encourage them to sue for ‘democracy’. Provide appropriate financing to sustain them for a few months.
  • Once the demonstrations are in full swing, send in half a dozen elite snipers to pick off the noisiest, thereby turning them into martyrs. Actively propagate the rumour that the snipers were Ukrainians, the Internet will do the rest. Pay said snipers handsomely to keep their mouths shut.
  • The troubles created will be enough to dissuade foreign aid and investment, the economy will tank, what remains of the government will be incapable of restoring law and order.
  • Announce that I am providing assistance to Russian nationals in Eastern Ukraine. To prove my good faith, get the KGB to suggest holding a referendum to some red-neck local, who takes the bait and goes on TV calling himself the new president of Crimea.
  • The outcome of the referendum is a foregone conclusion: Crimea wants to be part of Russia. For the stupid foreigners’ benefit, encourage the notion that Crimea and Eastern Ukraine are the same thing.
  • Stupid foreigners beguiled, instead of sending my troops to Eastern Ukraine, I send them to the Crimea to establish my strangle-hold on Sevastopol.
  • Wait a few months, to let the world accept that Crimea is once again part of Russia.
  • Based on the success of the Crimean referendum, find a clown in Donetsk to suggest a similar referendum in what really is Eastern Ukraine, roughly from Kharkiv to Melitopol.
  • Rig said referendum if necessary, funds are no object. The line east of Kharkiv – Sevastopol is now part of Russia and I’ve achieved my goal.
Mar 172013
 

The European Union has decided to bail out the Cypriots on the condition of imposing a 9.9% one-off tax on holdings over €100’000 deposits in Cypriot banks and 6.7% below €100’000. The justification is that Cyprus only represents 0.2% of the EU GDP and the holdings in question are held mostly by rich Russians and a handful of under-represented Brits. Be that true or not makes no difference; citizen X living in Cyprus has exactly the same rights as citizen X living in France, Germany or wherever. Unilaterally confiscating a citizen’s assets without due cause is not only unacceptable, it is theft. Were my government to propose such a measure, my instinctive reaction would be to buy a weapon; for if my basic property rights are no longer secure, there’s little left else to lose.

Mar 012013
 

The European Union seems close to making a law that limits excessive bonuses. Few will disagree that the finance industry needs to be curbed, and the intention is good. The problem is in the method proposed; no matter how carefully it will be worded (the text apparently runs to over 1’000 pages), they’ll always be someone smarter to find a work-around.

The wiser and far more concise solution problem was proposed by the Swiss entrepreneur Thomas Minder in the initiative he made back in 2008. Here is an English translation, which I made from the official German and French texts:

Federal Peoples’ Initiative “against Rip-off”[1]
The Swiss Federal constitution of 18 April 1994 is completed as follows:

Article 95, alinea 3 (new)

In order to protect the economy, private property and shareholders and to ensure sustainable management of businesses, the law requires that Swiss public companies listed on stock exchanges in Switzerland or abroad observe the following rules:

  1. Each year, the Annual General Meeting votes the total remuneration (both monetary and in kind) of the Board, the Executive Board and the Advisory Board. Each year, the AGM elects the President of the Board or the Chairman of the Board and, one by one, the members of the board, the members of the Compensation Committee and the independent proxy voter or the independent representative. Pension funds vote in the interests of their policyholders and disclose how they voted. Shareholders may vote electronically at a distance; proxy voting by a member of the company or by a depositary is prohibited.
  2. Board members receive no compensation on departure, or any other compensation, or any compensation in advance, any premium for acquisitions or sales of companies and cannot act as consultants or work for another company in the group. The management of the company cannot not be delegated to a legal entity.
  3. The company statutes stipulate the amount of annuities, loans and credits to board members, bonus and participation plans and the number of external mandates, as well as the duration of the employment contract of members of the management.
  4. Violation of the provisions set out in letters a to c above shall be sanctioned by imprisonment for up to three years and a fine of up to six years’ remuneration.

Article 197 chapter 8 (new)

Pending implementation of the law, the Federal Council shall implement legal provisions within one year following the acceptance of article 95 alinea 3.

The genius of Minder’s text is that instead of setting limits on bonuses, it simply forces shareholders to approve them every year, whilst ensuring that it’s the real shareholders that vote.

We’ll be voting on it this weekend (I already voted for) and it seems that it has a good chance of passing. If it does,

Minder’s text was passed on the 3rd of March 2013 by all the counties and an astonishing 67.9% of the voters. Of the 183 initiatives submitted to the vote in Switzerland since 1893, only 21 (8.7%) have been accepted. 67.9% is the 3rd highest score ever obtained by a popular initiative. The highest score, 83.8%, was obtained in the 1993 initiative to make the 1st of August a National holiday; hardly ground-breaking. The 2nd highest score, 71.4%, was for the 1921 initiative on international treaties.

I predict that the concept will gradually be adopted globally and Thomas Minder will be recognised as the father of a new era in corporate governance.

1. It is difficult to find an exact translation of Abzocker. Cheater, swindler, deceiver and liar are all close. Abzockerei literally means rip-off, but Abzockerei isn’t slang. Scam is another synonym.

Feb 052012
 

The upcoming presidential election in the USA brings some interesting candidates on the republican front. We have:

  • Mitt Romney, who believes in a church founded by one Joseph Smith, who was directed to a buried book written on golden plates, containing the religious history of an ancient people. Conveniently, the angel took the plates back once Smith had translated them, but in a nutshell, american indians are in fact descendants of jews who emigrated to America. Even those with a faint knowledge of the bible will recognise the plagiarism.
  • Ron Paul, raised a lutheran but now a church-going baptist, appears to be saner, but nonetheless endorses using the 1st amendment to ensure that religious speech is above the law (as long as it’s lutheran/baptist, of course).
  • Newt Gringrich, also raised as a lutheran but now a catholic, tellingly said in a 2011 appearance in Columbus, Ohio: “In America, religious belief is being challenged by a cultural elite trying to create a secularized America, in which God is driven out of public life.”

What, I ask myself, is the difference between these fruit-cakes and muslim extremists? Or have they all forgotten the treaty of Tripoli?

Jun 182011
 

The media are once again obsessing about the economy, or more accurately the lack thereof, to a back-drop of procrastinating politicians who are no more qualified to administer public finances than chimps are to perform brain surgery.

Everyone seems to accept that a country’s economy shall be measured by the ratio of its public debt to its GDP. I question this, on the grounds that whilst America’s 8.5 trillion dollars is a lot of debt, it represents about 27’000 per inhabitant, which doesn’t really sound that bad. The Icelandic 15 billion dollar debt pales in comparison, but per inhabitant it’s 47’000, which is nearly double that if the USA.

Here’s the Public Debt versus GDP for a cherry-picked set of countries, essentially the developed and significant nations:

The numbers are in USD, source CIA Factbook, IMF and World Bank, in this spreadsheet PublicFinances.xls. The horizontal scale shows productivity, the vertical scale measures indebtedness. The grey triangle encompasses those countries whose public debt is less than a year’s GDP.

There are three coloured clusters, which group those who have similar economic habits.

  1. The Spendthrifts, with debt exceeding GDP. Japan has been trying to kick-start its economy for over a decade, it clearly hasn’t worked. That Iceland, Ireland and Greece are heavily in debt is hardly a surprise, but I didn’t expect Belgium and Singapore to be here.
  2. The Western Norm, with debt between 50% and 100% of GDP. Essentially the rest of Europe and the USA. Israel’s economic habits, predictably, are the same.
  3. The Cautious, with debt less than 50% of GDP. Here we have the Nordic countries, the true bankers and unexpectedly, Canada and Australia.

The others make for a few interesting observations.

China and India, regularly upheld as models of economic development, are still in abject poverty at the individual’s level. When average inhabitant generates 4$/day (India) or even 19$/day (China), even a homoeopathic increase in employment will give you 10% growth a year; certainly not a notable achievement. To put that into perspective, if China’s GDP increases by 10% (compounded) every year, it’ll reach Germany’s current productivity in 2035. I’m not holding my breath.

Despite their immense income from oil, the average Saudi’s income is barely a third that of an Irishman (but the Irishman has twenty times the debt).

Finally, for all the current fretting over the American debt, it’s comparatively modest in relation to the population. The Greek and Irish economies are getting lots of publicity, but there are others whose public finances are much worse. Italy, Belgium, Iceland and above all Japan are going to have a much rougher time putting their houses in order.