Be Wary of the Return of Big Government

Union Station Washington DC
South Front Entrance of Union Station in Washington DC, July 4, 2019 (Unsplash/Caleb Fisher)

Big government is back.

Massive rescue programs have prevented business failures and unemployment on the scale of the Great Depression, even though last year’s economic contraction was nearly as bad. The European Union agreed a €750 billion recovery fund, financed, for the first time, by EU-issued bonds. The money comes on top of national efforts. The United States Congress passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus, worth 10 percent of GDP, in March and added another $484 billion in April. An additional $900 billion in relief was included in this year’s budget.

Joe Biden, the incoming American president, wants to spend $2 trillion more over the next four years to transition the United States to a greener economy and create a public health insurance program. Corporate tax would go up from 21 to 28 percent.

In Spain, a socialist government has introduced the biggest budget in Spanish history — partly to cope with the impact of coronavirus, but also to finance digitalization, electric car and renewable energy subsidies, infrastructure and rural development. Taxes on income, sales and wealth are due to increase.

In the United Kingdom, the ruling Conservative Party is building more social housing and it might renationalize rail. Unlike during the last economic crisis, it does not propose to cut spending even though tax revenues are down.

Same in the Netherlands, where all the major parties agree the government needs to do more to reduce pollution and prevent people at the bottom of the social ladder from falling through the cracks.

I’m not opposed to more government per se. I’ve argued that the United States should imitate countries in Northern Europe to improve its public services, particularly child and health care and housing.

But let’s be careful not to throw “more government” at every problem. Sometimes government is the problem. Read more “Be Wary of the Return of Big Government”

What Biden Should Prioritize in His First Term

Joe Biden
Former American vice president Joe Biden gives a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, January 4, 2020 (Phil Roeder)

Joe Biden’s priority as president will be alleviating the COVID-19 pandemic, which the outgoing president, Donald Trump, has mismanaged. 350,000 Americans are dead. Nearly 11 million are unemployed. Republicans were slow to approve the latest stimulus, which Trump, seemingly without consulting lawmakers of his own party, threatened to veto and then signed anyway.

But the Democrat’s first-term goal must be to revitalize the American Dream, which is out of reach for most.

In the 47 years Biden has been in Washington, first as a senator, then as vice president, social mobility has declined to the point where Europeans are now more likely to grow out of poverty than Americans. Real incomes have been stagnant for everyone but the wealthy. Traditional middle-income jobs have been outsourced or made redundant by automation. Most job growth comes from established businesses, not startups, suggesting a decline in entrepreneurship. Housing is unaffordable in the very metro areas where those jobs are. There are fewer opportunities for workers without a college degree, and the cost of higher education has outpaced income growth. So have the costs of child care and health care, making it harder for families to combine childrearing and work.

America could learn from Nordic countries and the Netherlands, which combine competitive, free-market economies with generous social protections for the middle and working class.

Many of Biden’s policies would move America in that direction.

Here’s where I would start. Read more “What Biden Should Prioritize in His First Term”

Gibraltar Brexit Deal is Victory for Spain

Gibraltar
View of the Rock of Gibraltar from the territory’s airport, September 29, 2015 (Shutterstock/Nigel Jarvis)

Gibraltar is joining the Schengen free-travel area and will accept European border guards in its ports.

The agreement, reached shortly before New Year’s between the governments of Britain and Spain, avoids the need for a hard border and pulls the Rock closer into the European Union than it was before.

It is a victory for Spanish nationalists, who have long dreamed of regaining a foothold in Gibraltar after three centuries of British rule.

Accomplished, ironically, by a left-wing government. Read more “Gibraltar Brexit Deal is Victory for Spain”

Söder 2021: Germany’s Christian Democrats Should Consider Bavarian

Markus Söder
Prime Minister Markus Söder enters the Bavarian State Parliament in Munich, December 15 (Bayerischen Staatsregierung)

Germany’s Christian Democrats are polling faraway in first place for next year’s election with close to 40 percent support, up from a low of 26-28 percent a year ago.

Yet none of the three middle-aged men vying to succeed Angela Merkel are wildly popular.

Germans would prefer the prime minister of Bavaria, Markus Söder. Read more “Söder 2021: Germany’s Christian Democrats Should Consider Bavarian”

What to Make of the EU-UK Trade Agreement

United Kingdom European Union flags
Flags of the United Kingdom and the European Union outside the Berlaymont building in Brussels, January 29, 2016 (European Commission)

I haven’t read the 1,246 pages of the EU-UK trade agreement, so I’m going to rely on trusted sources to make sense of the accord.

First, a couple of notes on terminology.

This treaty, the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, governs the future cross-Channel relationship. It is due to go into effect on January 1, although it will still need to be ratified by the parliaments of the European Union and the United Kingdom as well as the European Council.

Last year’s withdrawal agreement regulated Britain’s exit from the EU. It provided for a one-year transition period, which expires on December 31, and included a protocol for Northern Ireland, which keeps the province in the European single market for goods and effectively (but not legally) in the EU customs union to avoid the need for a border with the Republic of Ireland.

Both treaties have been unhelpfully referred to as “the deal” in the English-speaking press, but only the withdrawal agreement was crucial. The trade agreement, while good to have, since Britain does most of its trade with the EU, was always optional. Read more “What to Make of the EU-UK Trade Agreement”

Our Best Stories of 2020

At least 2020 ended well.

Donald Trump lost reelection. The European Union agreed an historic €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund in addition to €1.1 trillion in long-term spending that includes funding for a European Green Deal. Britain and the EU negotiated a post-Brexit trade agreement at the last minute. COVID-19 vaccines were developed in record pace that should allow a return to normalcy in the new year.

Before we close the book on this annus horribilis, a look back at our most important stories of 2020. Read more “Our Best Stories of 2020”

First Things First: Vote the Authoritarians Out

Viktor Orbán Benjamin Netanyahu
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán speaks with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, in Brasília, Brazil, January 2, 2019 (Facebook/Viktor Orbán)

Left-wing Americans weren’t happy when the Democratic Party nominated the center-left Joe Biden for the presidency, but, unlike in 2016, few sat out the election.

Nor there were major spoiler candidates on the right. Voting for Hillary Clinton was apparently too much to ask of five million Donald Trump skeptics in 2016, who voted for libertarian Gary Johnson or conservative Evan McMullin. They could have tipped the election in Clinton’s favor.

In 2020, Democrats wisely nominated the least divisive old white guy they could find and anti-Trumpers voted like the republic depended on it. Biden won fifteen million more votes than Clinton and flipped five states, handing him a comfortable Electoral College victory.

Hungarians and Israelis hoping to get rid of their “Trumps” must take note. Read more “First Things First: Vote the Authoritarians Out”

There’s Only So Much Race Can Tell Us

American voters
Voters listen to a speech by Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine in Davidson, North Carolina, October 12, 2016 (Hillary for America/Alyssa S.)

American journalists continue to parse the November electorate, specifically the Latino vote.

Matthew Yglesias, formerly of Vox, has a good newsletter about Donald Trump’s gains with Latino voters in which he links to Harry Enten’s analysis for CNN. It turns out Trump didn’t appeal to just Latinos of Cuban, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan descent, who may have been alarmed by Democratic flirtations with socialism given the experience in their home countries; he did better with Latinos of all backgrounds compared to four years ago.

This is fascinating to political junkies like us, but having just moved back to the Netherlands, where the campaign for the general election in March is slowly getting underway, I’m reminded that this sort of demographic analysis is almost entirely absent in Europe. Read more “There’s Only So Much Race Can Tell Us”

Trump’s Desperation and Republicans’ Shame

Donald Trump
American president Donald Trump arrives in Salt Lake City, Utah, December 4, 2017 (ANG/Annie Edwards)

Donald Trump’s attempt to cling to power has been going no better since we last checked in. He is trying to steal the election, as I expected he would, but there are still officials, including Republicans, who care more about doing the right thing than humoring the president.

  • Election officials in all states counted all the votes, despite cries from Trump and his supporters to stop the count in states where he was ahead before mailed-in ballots could be counted.
  • Secretaries of state and governors, regardless of party, certified the results in all states, despite appeals from Trump and his supporters to overturn the popular will where the outcome was close and appoint electors for the president, rather than Joe Biden.
  • 86 judges of both parties threw out lawsuits brought by Trump and Republicans to discard postal ballots or otherwise invalidate the election results.
  • All nine justices of the Supreme Court, including the three appointed by Trump, refused to even hear a lawsuit brought by Texas attorney general Ken Paxton to overturn the election in four other states.
  • The Electoral College met in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. There were no faithless electors. Republican activists claiming to be electors in Michigan were barred from the state capitol, where the actual electors cast their votes for Biden.

Trump’s last (legal) opportunity to remain in power will be on January 6, when Vice President Mike Pence reads out the Electoral College votes in Congress. But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has already called on his members not to raise objections on that day. Read more “Trump’s Desperation and Republicans’ Shame”

Catalan Separatist Parties Go Separate Ways

Pere Aragonès
Acting Catalan president Pere Aragonès gives a speech in Barcelona, December 14 (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya)

Catalonia’s ruling separatist parties are drifting apart.

José Antich writes in the pro-independence outlet El Nacional that the top candidates of Together for Catalonia, the senior party in the regional government, are “supporters of a path of greater confrontation with Madrid.”

The list of the Republican Left, by contrast — currently the smaller party, but the largest in the polls — is led by office holders, including Acting President Pere Aragonès and Health Minister Alba Vergés. Read more “Catalan Separatist Parties Go Separate Ways”