Category Archives: Politics

Making Lemonade out of Brexit Lemons

GIS Statement by Prince Michael of Liechtenstein

brexit-shock

Doom and gloom! Voters in the United Kingdom have decided to leave the European Union. Markets are tumbling, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced his resignation and politicians around the globe have expressed deep worry.

Leaders of the various EU countries, as well as those in Brussels, have voiced their regret and warned of Brexit’s dangers. Some have also pointed to damaging consequences for the UK, sounding very much as if they are making threats.

Prime Minister Cameron has been criticized for initiating the referendum. However, the vote was necessary to clarify the UK’s position in the bloc. Holding it took courage on his part.

The next move for the UK is to formally notify Brussels of its intention to leave the EU; the exit would become effective after a statutory period of two years. For the time being, the UK is still a member of the bloc. Notification does not have to be issued immediately.

The UK is an important trading partner for the rest of the EU. It is therefore in the interest of both sides to reach free trade and other agreements over the next two years. This should be feasible, assuming both sides go about the negotiations pragmatically.

Risks and opportunities

The largest danger is overreaction by the EU and the remaining members. This includes any attempt to make an example out of the UK with some sort of retaliatory “punishment.” Motivation for such a move comes from hypocritical self-righteousness, opposition to reform and centralizers’ fear that other members might follow the UK’s lead.

But the vote offers the opportunity to make reforms, such as increasing subsidiarity (where the EU performs only those tasks that cannot be performed at a more local level) and encouraging competition between members to improve efficiency. This would mean going back to a simple system that grants the four basic EU freedoms (the free movement of goods, services, people and capital).

‘The most important reform the EU should make is discontinuing the transfer union'

The most important reform the EU should make is to discontinue the transfer union – by which financial transfers are made from richer to poorer regions. Short-term transfer payments can make sense to develop certain regions, but a permanent transfer system is self-destructive. GIS warned of this more than a year ago, when observing that Europe was accepting Brexit in order to avoid Grexit.

But it is not Brexit that endangers EU cohesion. Instead, it is the transfer union and an exaggeration of so-called “solidarity.” Any over-generous solidarity will be misused.

Hopeful developments

Looking at the gloomy post-Brexit news is depressing, full of predictions of disaster. But this overshadows a lot of good news. Colombia has finally achieved what appears to be a robust peace agreement in a bloody terrorism-infused civil war that lasted decades. The Panama Canal expansion has been completed, which should give an enormous boost to global trade.

So Europe should not paralyze itself in a hysteria of whining, but grasp the opportunities. The referendum and its long-term outcome, despite the immediate result, could yet prove to be a net positive.

Read the original GIS statement here ->
Make Lemonade out of Brexit Lemons


*GIS is a global intelligence service providing independent, analytical, fact-based reports from a team of experts around the world. We also provide bespoke geopolitical consultancy services to businesses to support their international investment decisions. Our clients have access to expert insights in the fields of geopolitics, economics, defence, security and energy. Our experts provide scenarios on significant geopolitical events and trends. They use their knowledge to analyse the big picture and provide valuable recommendations of what is likely to happen next, in a way which informs long-term decision-making. Our experts play active roles in top universities, think-tanks, intelligence services, business and as government advisors. They have a unique blend of backgrounds and experience to deliver the narrative and understanding of global developments. They will help you develop a complete understanding of international affairs because they identify the key players, their motivations and what really matters in a changing world. Our experts examine the challenges and opportunities in economies old and new, identify emerging politicians and analyse and appraise new threats in a fast-changing world. They offer new ideas, fresh perspectives and rigorous study.

Rose Wilder Lane – Die Freiheit finden

Beitrag von eigentümlich frei*, 22. Juni 2016

Albanologinnen und Albanologen kennen sie. Die anderen nicht. Dabei war Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968) für den US-amerikanischen Liberalismus mindestens so wichtig wie Ayn Rand. Denn Wilder Lane kannte die Sowjetunion. Und sie kannte Europa. Und beides gefiel ihr nicht. Das ist vielleicht übertrieben. In Europa lernte sie einen Flecken kennen, der sie überzeugte. Nordalbanien. Sie besuchte die Region nämlich in den 20er Jahren und lernte die Gesellschaft in den Bergen schätzen. Die dortigen Stämme wehrten sich mit allen Mitteln gegen den aufblühenden Zentralstaat. Die Bergstämme kämpften auch gegen andere erfundene Königreiche wie Montenegro und Jugoslawien an. Sie wollten in Ruhe gelassen werden. Das war auch Wilder Lanes Philosophie. „Menschen sollen sich befreien.“

Befreiung der Frau

Gary Stanley BeckerFreilich liebte Wilder Lane viele Aspekte der albanischen Stammesgesellschaft nicht. Doch sie liebte auch viele Aspekte ihrer heimischen Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika nicht. Sie war eine glühende Verfechterin der Gleichberechtigung aller Menschen. Kein Wunder; die Scheidung von ihrem Ehemann erfolgte, weil sie eine viel erfolgreichere Journalistin war als er.
Aber gerade weil sie kompromisslos für Gleichberechtigung eintrat, lehnte sie Feminismus und dergleichen ab. Die politische Auseinandersetzung in den USA der 30er Jahre war nämlich: Sollen spezielle Förderprogramme für Frauen und Schwarze initiiert werden? Sollen diese zwei Gruppen besondere Geldleistungen des Staates erhalten? Roosevelts New Deal hat gerade das gebracht. Wilder Lane war dagegen.
Sie meinte nämlich, es sei keine echte Befreiung, wenn man vom Staat abhängig gemacht würde. „Der Sozialstaat ist viel unterdrückender als der schlimmste Sklavenhalter: Er nimmt einem auch die Würde weg.“ Solange man Menschen in abstrakten Klassen wie weiß, schwarz, Mann, Frau, reich, arm, Masse und so weiter kategorisiert, sind sie nicht frei.

Befreiung der Menschen

Dieser Punkt gilt ganz generell. Sobald sich Menschen vom Staat das Leben vorschreiben lassen, sind sie nicht mehr frei. Wenn man aber zum Bettler gemacht wird, verliert man seine Würde. Mehr noch, man gefährdet alle anderen auch. „Subventionen und Sozialhilfe sind riesige Pyramidenschemen, die den politischen Erfolg eines Menschen auf Kosten der künftigen Generationen sichern.“ Auch hier wird die Kritik am New Deal deutlich.
Ihre Sozialversicherungskarte schickte Wilder Lane zurück. Den Bons für rationierte Lebensmittel – das war in den USA während des Zweiten Weltkriegs und danach normal – verweigerte sie die Annahme. Um die Gründe dieses Ungehorsams zu überprüfen, schickte das FBI sogar einen Polizistin zu Wilder Lane ins Haus. Sie soll den Beamten gefragt haben: „Sind Sie von der Gestapo?“
Für Wilder Lane war es klar: Jede und jeder muss das Leben selbst in die Hand nehmen. Sie trat beispielsweise einer Genossenschaft bei. Die vom Staat rationierten Lebensmittel hatte diese freiwillige Vereinigung im Überfluss. Obschon Wilder Lane eine beliebte – und auch reiche – Romanautorin war, fing sie an, weniger zu arbeiten. Sie wollte nämlich nicht mehr so viel verdienen, um auch weniger Einkommenssteuer zu bezahlen. Sie wollte nämlich nicht für den kriegstreibenden Sozialstaat aufkommen.

Befreiung des Geistes

Die gelernte Telegrafikerin, spätere Journalistin, gefeierte Romanautorin reiste ihr Leben lang. Sie zog durch die USA und wohnte in verschiedenen Staaten. Sie besuchte Europa. Sie diente sogar in der Sowjetunion für das Rote Kreuz. Auch wenn sie immer freiheitlich inspiriert war, wurde sie erst in den 1920ern zur überzeugten Liberalen. Im Jahr 1943 publizierte sie ihr philosophisches Buch „The Discovery of Freedom“. Im gleichen Jahr erschienen Ayn Rands „The Fountainhead“ und Isabel Patersons „The God of the Machine“. Für viele US-amerikanische Liberale – Libertäre, wie sie sich nennen – markiert deswegen das Jahr 1943 die Geburt ihrer Bewegung.
Doch Wilder Lane war alles andere als eine Bücher schreibende, Gemüse pflückende Intellektuelle. Nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg widmete sie sich ganz der liberalen Bewegung in den USA. Ihre Devise war: „Die USA dürfen nicht sozialistisch werden.“ Sie reiste, hielt Vorträge, baute Personen und Parteien auf. Sie ließ keine Ruhe. Denn von den albanischen Stämmen hatte sie gelernt: Wenn man etwas will, muss man dafür kämpfen; und wenn man es nicht will, auch.

© 2016 Lichtschlag Medien und Werbung KG


*: eigentümlich frei (ef) ist eine seit 1998 erscheinende politische Monatsschrift mit zehn Ausgaben pro Jahr.[1] Ihre Positionen bezeichnet Herausgeber und Chefredakteur André F. Lichtschlag als individualistisch, kapitalistisch und libertär. Politikwissenschaftler sehen in der Zeitschrift weltanschauliche und personelle Überschneidungen mit der Neuen Rechten.

Im Zuge der Panama Papers

Auszug aus einem Beitrag von Prinz Michael von und zu Liechtenstein, erschienen in ‘WirtschaftRegional’, Freitag, 10. Juni 2016, Vaduz.

«Vermögen ist so vielfältig wie die Menschen, die dahinter stehen.»

   Ein dunkles Raunen ging durch die Öffentlichkeit, als im April die Panama Papers ihrengrossen Auftritt hatten. Die Panama Papers handeln von einem grossen Datenhaufen, den eine auf Anonymität bedachte Quelle einer panamaischen Kanzlei entwendet hat, um ihn dann einer überregionalen Tageszeitung kostenlos zukommen zu lassen. Der Auftrag: an die Öffentlichkeit bringen; das Motiv: undurchsichtig; die Story: Vermögensstrukturen über Offshore-Firmen. Eine Story, die Zündstoff bietet für spekulative und wertende Berichterstattungen und die dazu führt, dass die grenzüberschreitende Vermögensstrukturierung als etwas Negatives verurteilt und in eine unmoralische Ecke gedrängt wird. Und damit die Realität verdreht.

   Vermögen ist so vielfältig wie die Menschen, die dahinter stehen, und beschränkt sich nicht auf Bankkonten, Portfolios oder Liegenschaften. Kunden des liechtensteinischen Treuhandwesens stehen vor grossen, komplexen Vermögenssituationen und stammen aus Ländern mit unterschiedlichen politischen und wirtschaftlichen Ausgangslagen. Mit ihren Vermögen wollen sie bestimmte Ziele erreichen, beispielsweise im familiären, unternehmerischen oder philanthropischen Bereich. Ziele, die voraussetzen, dass das relevante Vermögen geordnet, mit Weitsicht geplant und rechtlich gesichert wird. Sie wenden sich Liechtenstein zu, weil es eines der wenigen Länder ist, das ein sicheres, stabiles und rechtsstaatliches Umfeld bietet und Expertise in der langfristigen Vermögensplanung und Vermögenssicherung nachweisen kann; die wesentlichen Grundvoraussetzungen für langfristig ausgerichtete Vermögensstrukturen …

Lesen Sie den gesamten Beitrag hier -> WirtschaftRegional

 

Excellence is Ordinary

by Raffaele De Mucci*

    To be sure, over the last years we have witnessed – especially in the media – an increasingly indiscriminate and misleading use of the term “excellence”, which is usually seen as the sole route towards modernization and social, political and cultural development. Yet it takes some qualifications and a bit of caution, if we are to employ the concept as it is largely employed nowadays, that is, to indicate situations or personalities which rank above what we consider the “élite” – something even beyond the logic of “meritocracy”, which is solely applied to competitive aristocracies whose members possess particular knowledge and skills which grant them some sort of supremacy.
To begin with, the ambiguity of the term is partly due to its etymology. “To excel” derives from Latin ex-cellere, literally “to take out”, but soon becomes synonym with “sublimity”. It was no chance that, until of late, the word commonly recurred in honorary and ornamental titles, such as “Your Excellency” or “His/Her Excellency”. In the past these titles were addressed to monarchs, especially during the age of Longobards and of Franks up to the fourteenth century, and then to ambassadors, high state representatives and archbishops.
In Italy, as in many other European countries, traditions and protocols still demand the use of the title, which also recurs, with a more strictly juridical connotation, in politics (for local ambassadors and, in official ceremonies, for chiefs of state and ministers), administrative (for local prefects), juridical (for presidents of the higher courts and general attorneys), religious, noble, and military – a routine which was consolidated and became compulsory under fascism.
[…] As it mainly consists in mechanisms to achieve a consensus based on the electoral majority, democracy is structurally inadequate to identify “excellence”. While democratic procedures are meant to allocate power and governmental positions, it is not to be taken for granted – as Aristotle knew pretty well – that in a democracy only the more capable and the more competent will succeed. On the contrary, the motives which orient electoral choices are so diverse and so often alien to merit – in its aristocratic meaning – that “democracy” and “meritocracy” are generally seen as contradictory locutions. Thus, relying on civic virtues is apparently not the best way to allow “excellence” to emerge, for popular consensus is largely built on irrational arguments, mostly explicable in terms of mass psychology. The moral and institutional supremacy of democracy lies – as Karl Popper knew well – in its emphasis on the choice not of those who rule, but of those who control (and can potentially remove) those who rule. And this is precisely what, according to the rule of law, is labelled “balance of power”.
Accordingly, the “original sin” of democracy – which is taken by some as a good reason to criticize the parliamentary system – is its fatal tendency to turn into the “tyranny of the majority”, i.e. a new sort of absolutism or totalitarianism under the appearance of modern omnivorous statism. And this in turn explains how a democratic system which neglects both the spirit and the practice of pluralistic competition can let the worst emerge, as Friedrich von Hayek lamented.
It is no coincidence that the most widely adopted antidote against such collateral effects of democracy, which mystify and mortify the very notion of merit, is technocracy. Once we have established that excellence is not, and cannot be, the basis of democracy, we may yet observe that other political systems are more compatible with excellence. Aristocracy, hierocracy, timocracy, paternalism, technocracy, and Plato’s kingdom of philosophers are likewise cases in point.
Among these systems, technocracy – i.e. the government of non-elected experts – is the most popular nowadays. Here’s a list of its main features: (1) power is held by men or women who are not politicians strictly speaking, but who can nevertheless coerce people into doing what they otherwise would not do; (2) such power is perfectly legitimate, being exerted by means of the state monopoly of coercion; (3) politics rules over society and economy. Technocracy is thus a true ideology having as its cornerstones competence and efficiency, which is what mass democracy is unable to achieve. It postulates an objectivistic conception of the common good, which can be rationally grasped by means of scientific method, after replacing political ideologies with a rationally sound view of reality which is supposedly immune from particular interests. It was Pareto who observed that “you may sin through ignorance, but you may also sin for interest. Technical competence may avoid the former, but can do nothing to avoid the latter”2. The risk of falling into corruption does not belong to politicians alone, but to whoever can exploit the public system at the expense of others. Also, the alleged objectivity of scientific method is yet to be proven, especially if we are to take seriously Popper’s epistemology, which “puts forward a view of science as open to falsification and not liable of conclusive demonstration”; “and this is why, while predicating the end of ideologies, technocracy is an ideology of its own”3. In addition, even if technocrats could get any closer to a criterion of impartiality, such criterion could solely pertain to the means and not the ends – as we know from Mises’ view of economics as science of human action in general, i.e. “science of the means”; means that’ll serve ends whose choice is always discretionary and arbitrary. In short, technical knowledge can only decide on the “how”, rather than the “what”, for the latter always implies a judgment of value.
Thus democracy, almost by definition, is not based on excellence. To talk about excellence is in fact misleading, since democracy – as Kelsen put it – is essentially a set of procedures, rules and conventions; or – as Schumpeter put it – a process of institutionalization of conflict by means of shared values and rules, the acceptance of which is not a barrier to the emergence of the “non-excellent” (the perfect representatives of the average electorate), let alone of the worst. And the criterion of inclusivity is precisely that which democracy consists in.
Crucial to democracy is also the rule of majority. In its simplest formulation, beside solely creating sum-zero games (where the sum of the utility created is always null, since those who win, win it all, and those who lose, lose it all – differently from the market which always creates positive-sum games, which make all the actors better off), this principle rules out the possibility of external evaluations or decisions, even if made in accordance with the principle of excellence. Thus, not only does excellence not lay at the foundation of democracy, but it is unable to, since any choice based on excellence is by definition a choice not based on the rule of majority.
[…] The notion of “excellence” is undoubtedly much more debated in the economic than in the political domain – both by public opinion and specialized literature. As to the latter, that notion is generally referred to the needs of firms of reaching their goals. After establishing its specific criteria, scholars then indicate the path to achieve it, as in the ambivalent title of the most popular book on the subject: Tom Peters and Robert Waterman’s In Search of Excellence. The focus here is on business performances, the big scale of the business, the quality of the working environment (cf. the international index “Great place to work”), the high levels of productivity, the working specialization, innovation and research investments, the quality of the product, customer satisfaction, customer care and business know-how, and also a definition of “total quality management”.
If we focus on the public debate rather than the academic literature, we notice that much of the emphasis on excellence comes from the media, often from those who are particularly touched by the issue. For instance, one of the domains where the issue of excellence frequently comes up is that of small enterprises. Thus, we can hear of a troubled country, Italy, which presents nonetheless some “niches of excellence” (i.e. enterprises selling quality products – e.g. Murano glass); we can hear of enterprises navigating against the tide, i.e. innovating and exporting more than others despite the crisis; we can hear of the excellence of “made in Italy”, rendered possible by a special managerial approach (i.e. the industrial districts). Behind these sorts of discussion there lay perhaps just a sort of boastfulness, if not the attempt to draw special fiscal attention.
Beside the role of excellence in the formation of a political system, there is a further dimension which is not to be overlooked: namely, the fact that within a political system actors do produce. By focusing on what a political system “does” rather than what it “is”, once again we are intertwining the issue of democracy with that of excellence, and we are thus wondering whether the latter can coexist with the former.
To speak of excellence is to focus on the tip of the iceberg. Those policies which are based on the idea of excellence are thus concerned with the higher levels of the observed category. Once the right target is identified, there can be different attitudes towards excellence: indifference, aversion, or approval.
In the first case, there is no action – either “for” or “against” excellence – for us to analyse, and we can thus ignore it. The second attitude is generally epitomized by the “levelling” action, variously defined, of egalitarian groups. The third and last attitude is the most widespread, as virtually no-one – and certainly no democratic regime – has ever officially declared him- or herself “against” excellence. Accordingly, there are two decisions that policy makers may take to favour excellence: they can assist them or set them “free”. In other words, they may either finance them or give tax cuts; they may either direct them – perhaps by assigning them to special duties or granting them special rights or juridical statuses – or let them do as they like. It is worth pointing out that such phenomenon does not solely belong to the economic field, but arguably also to the bureaucratic and the juridical. And yet it is still an economic phenomenon, for – as we know from Mises – not only every public decision, but also every action as such, has its own costs.
The notion of excellence is related that of “merit”, which is yet different from “meritocracy”. While “merit” is a dynamic phenomenon which naturally belongs to competition, “meritocracy” is often seen with suspicion – as a likely path to absolutism. Excellence, conversely, is not only a dynamic measure of quality but also a static attribute of honourability. By the same token excellence could refer us to (Montesquieu’s) timocracy, where excellence coincides with honour – that is, honorary attribution and static reverential presence, perhaps acquired by heredity or cooptation, rather than merit.
The policies aimed at promoting excellence may thus prima facie reward the “capable and deserving”. What is, then, the relation between the policies that promote merit and those promoting excellence? Are they similar, unrelated, or perhaps contradictory?
From this perspective the notion of merit seems to include that of excellence, being somehow broader: while promoting excellence means focusing on the top of the pyramid, meritocracy is also concerned with the bottom of the structure. Merit implies, in fact, both bottom-up and top-down social mobility. Policies in support of excellence – such as those aimed at containing the so-called “brain drain” – are (negatively) concerned with eliminating the barriers to the emergence of excellent people; conversely, meritocratic policies positively remove the privileges of the non-excellent (e.g. by intervening against corporations), sometimes with direct penalties: those who excel are to receive more than those who do not.
It is clear, then, how uncertain and tricky our very concept of “excellence” is, and how easy it would be to take for granted its meaning, let alone its actual existence in the world. Yet we would be wrong in assuming that everyone uses the term (the form) having in mind the same meaning (the substance). The sole way to avoid superficiality and reason scientifically is to begin with definitions. What is, then, excellence? The answer might seem easy if not tautological, commonsensical: “excellence is what everyone knows to be excellent”. Alternatively, some may provide an ex cathedra definition, given by an expert whose intention is not to describe what people do believe, but rather to prescribe what people ought to believe. As an expert, he/she would thus be establishing the criteria that others are supposed to follow. Quite obviously, both solutions would lead us to infinite speculations, which in turn would legitimise the experts themselves – the latter simply by assumption, the former because the analysis of what everyone thinks is necessarily an analysis of what “each” thinks. An endless series of variables which cannot be cut down but arbitrarily. And yet the matter has its own depth. When someone argues that something is or is not excellent, he/she is providing an evaluation. But all evaluations are subjective (we’re still in the field of social, rather than natural, sciences), as we know from both the Austrian School of Economics and the subjective theory of value.
Let us assume we are to define the notion of excellence for more than one person. Who is to define it? According to what criteria? Who is to decide the criteria? And who is to decide who is to decide? These are far from pleonastic questions. There are three possible solutions: (1) decisions are taken by one person; (2) decisions are taken by a majority vote; (3) solutions are reached spontaneously, as they emerge from the interaction of individuals, each making up their own minds. Behind these solutions, it is easy to see three different systems. The first can either reside in authoritarianism, dictatorship, statism, paternalism or technocracy, characterized as they all are by different forms of “abuse of reason”; the second is democracy; the third is represented by the market, according to a broader conception which does not discriminate between economic life and the rest of social life.
Obviously enough, these are but simplifications, for in reality we always find a mixture of these three models, whose dosage is given by our judgments of value.

______________________

*Raffaele De Mucci is Professor of Political Sociology and Comparative Politics at the Department of Political Sciences, Luiss-Guido Carli University (Italy), and Director of Luiss-Laps (Laboratory of Political and Social Analysis) in Rome. His original article ‘L’eccellenza è mediocre’ was published in il foglio, translated from Italian to English by Federico Morganti (LUISS-Labs).