Don’t Try to Take Politics Out of Important Decisions

Washington DC
View of Washington DC with the United States Capitol in the distance, September 28, 2017 (Ted Eytan)

When politics becomes dysfunctional, there will be a temptation to remove it from important decisions.

This only makes the dysfunction worse.

Politics is what we call decision-making in a democratic society. Taking politics out of some decisions falsely suggests there is a consensus for a certain policy or delegates the decision to technocrats. Either is undemocratic. Read more “Don’t Try to Take Politics Out of Important Decisions”

My Take on the Democratic Primary

I learned in 2016 not to make predictions. First Brexit happened. Then Donald Trump won the American presidential election. I didn’t expect either. Indeed, I went so far as to urge Republicans in the United States to purge Trump’s nativists from their party after what I was sure would be his defeat.

I allowed my own biases to reject what the polls showed to be very real possibilities. Rather than improve my predictions and try harder to be neutral, my resolution has been to prioritize analysis of what is happening over what could happen and own up to my biases, sometimes explicitly, so you can better make up your mind. This is an opinion blog, after all, not a newspaper.

To that end, I’m giving you my take on the Democratic presidential primaries, which kick off in Iowa on February 3. I don’t think I’m a partisan for any candidate, but my thoughts and feelings about them probably inform everything I write about the election. Best then to share them.

I’m excluding Michael Bennet, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Deval Patrick, Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang. All are polling under 4 percent nationally and far below the 15 percent support required to qualify for delegates in Iowa. Read more “My Take on the Democratic Primary”

Berlin Shows How Not to Do Housing Policy

Berlin Germany
The sun sets on the Saint Nicholas’ Church and town hall of Berlin, Germany, January 26, 2010 (Mika Meskanen)

If you’re trying to control housing costs in your city, don’t look to Berlin for inspiration.

The German capital is due to implement a five-year, across-the-board rent freeze in March. The measure is expected to save around 340,000 tenants money during that period, but it will come at the expense of housing affordability in the long term.

The German Economic Institute in Cologne estimates that Berlin’s policy will reduce the value of some properties by more than 40 percent.

A consequence of that will be underinvestment. The BBU, a trade association of developers in the Berlin and Brandenburg region, says its members expect to reduce investments by €5.5 billion and construction by a quarter.

Germany needs 350,000 new homes each year to keep up with demand. Only 286,000 were built in 2018. If the BBU is to be believed, that number will fall — driving up housing costs across Germany. Read more “Berlin Shows How Not to Do Housing Policy”

Don’t Call Your Opponents Traitors

Donald Trump
American president Donald Trump attends a World War I memorial in Suresnes, France, November 11, 2018 (White House/Shealah Craighead)

American president Donald Trump and his supporters have learned one lesson of the Iraq War: To quash legitimate concerns about an ill-advised military operation, call the patriotism of your critics into question.

It sometimes works — but only briefly, and it hurts you more than helps in the end. Read more “Don’t Call Your Opponents Traitors”

Don’t Pull NATO into the Middle East

Jens Stoltenberg Donald Trump
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg and American president Donald Trump answer questions from reporters at the White House in Washington DC, April 12, 2017 (NATO)

American president Donald Trump has called on NATO to get more involved in the Middle East.

Speaking a day after Iran retaliated for the assassination of its top general, Qasem Soleimani, in Iraq by attacking American military bases in the country, Trump pointed out that the United States are no longer dependent on Middle Eastern oil.

He didn’t elaborate, but I can think of at least four problems with the idea. Read more “Don’t Pull NATO into the Middle East”

Germany’s Surplus Obsession Hurts the Eurozone

Angela Merkel
German chancellor Angela Merkel attends the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, August 25, 2019 (Bundesregierung)

If the German economy does poorly, so will the eurozone’s. A mere .2 percent growth is projected for the first quarter of 2020. This should be a wakeup call to German policymakers.

There are the usual suspects: underdeveloped infrastructure, underinvestment in education, export dependency.

They all stem from Germany’s obsession with surpluses. Revenues generated by exports are not reinjected into the economy. Rather, they sit comfortably in savings accounts. This is the reason for negative interest rates.

Not spending money is one way to get rich. But to grow its economy, or prevent a slowdown, Germany must put its money to work: invest in education, infrastructure and public goods.

Its reluctance to do so affects everyone in the euro area. Germany accounts for nearly 30 percent of the eurozone’s GDP. If Germany spent more at home, it would reduce its current account surplus and increase demand for the products and services of other European nations. Read more “Germany’s Surplus Obsession Hurts the Eurozone”

French Unions Put Their Own Interests Ahead of Workers’

Paris France demonstration
French workers demonstrate against proposed pension reforms in Paris, December 17, 2019 (PS/Mathieu Delmestre)

French metro and railway workers have been on strike for almost a month to preserve privileges from an era when the trains ran on coal.

The people who suffer the most are workers on modest incomes who don’t own a car and normally commute into Paris by train; small businesses and shops which are understaffed; families that couldn’t get together for Christmas.

The unions behind the strikes claim they are fighting a “president of the rich” — Emmanuel Macron — on behalf of “the people”.

They aren’t. Trade unions are trying to preserve retirement rules that benefit their workers at the expense of everyone else. Read more “French Unions Put Their Own Interests Ahead of Workers’”

Sánchez Offers Catalonia a Good Deal

Pedro Sánchez
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez speaks at a congress of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party in Huesca, October 1 (PSOE/Eva Ercolanese)

Catalonia’s Republican Left entered talks to support Pedro Sánchez’ second bid for power with three goals:

  1. A resumption of dialogue between the Catalan and Spanish governments.
  2. An amnesty for party leader Oriol Junqueras and the eight other separatist leaders who are in prison.
  3. A legal referendum on Catalan independence.

They got a “yes” on the first, a “maybe” on the second and a “no” on the third.

They are also promised more autonomy in the coalition agreement Sánchez has negotiated with the far-left party Podemos.

It’s not a bad deal. The Republicans should take it. Read more “Sánchez Offers Catalonia a Good Deal”

Catalan Rulings Expose Politicization of Spanish Judiciary

Oriol Junqueras, the leader of Catalonia's Republican Left, makes a speech in Barcelona, Spain, July 20, 2015
Oriol Junqueras, the leader of Catalonia’s Republican Left, makes a speech in Barcelona, Spain, July 20, 2015 (CDC)

On the same day Europe’s highest court ruled in favor of the imprisoned former Catalan vice president and separatist leader Oriol Junqueras, who has been prevented by Spain from taking his seat in the European Parliament, the Catalan High Court banned the region’s president, Quim Torra, from public office for refusing to remove separatist symbols from government buildings during the most recent election campaign.

Torra is appealing the decision to the Supreme Court and will remain in office until it has ruled.

Junqueras remains in prison, but the European ruling gives hope to self-exiled Catalan politicians Toni Comín and Carles Puigdemont, who like him were elected to the European Parliament in May but haven’t been allowed by Spain to take their seats.

What the two decisions have in common is that they reveal how politicized the Spanish justice system is. Read more “Catalan Rulings Expose Politicization of Spanish Judiciary”

Nord Stream Sanctions Are No Way to Treat European Allies

American president Donald Trump speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel at the G20 summit in Hamburg, July 6, 2017
American president Donald Trump speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel at the G20 summit in Hamburg, July 6, 2017 (Bundesregierung)

Senators in the United States have approved sanctions against companies that are involved in building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany.

The sanctions, which President Donald Trump has yet to sign into law, are a last-ditch attempt to halt the pipeline’s construction, which the Americans argue will only increase Europe’s dependence on Russian gas and hurt Ukraine’s position as a transit nation.

They’re not wrong, but placing sanctions on allies is no way to go about it, especially when they have no alternative. Read more “Nord Stream Sanctions Are No Way to Treat European Allies”