The American Dream Could Use Some European Inspiration

Copenhagen Denmark
A street in Copenhagen, Denmark (Unsplash/Ethan Hu)

One can tell two very different stories about the American economy.

In one, growth is robust, unemployment is at its lowest in half a century and the stock market is booming. This is the story President Donald Trump likes to tell.

In the other, two in five Americans would struggle (PDF) to come up with $400 in an emergency. One in three households are classified as “financially fragile“. Annie Lowrey writes in The Atlantic that American families are being “bled dry by landlords, hospital administrators, university bursars and child-care centers.” This is the story Bernie Sanders and the Democrats tell: for millions of Americans on seemingly decent middle incomes, life has become too hard.

Sanders’ solution is to bring “democratic socialism” to America. He cites European countries like Denmark and Sweden as inspiration. They’re not bad places to imitate — but they have actually moved away from socialism and toward a mix of free markets and the welfare state. It is why they rank among the freest and most competitive (PDF) economies in the world.

Americans can learn from the Scandinavian experience, if they get the balance right. Read more “The American Dream Could Use Some European Inspiration”

Trump’s Middle East Plan Is Not About Peace

Benjamin Netanyahu Donald Trump
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and American president Donald Trump step down from the podium in the East Room of the White House in Washington DC, January 28 (GPO/Kobi Gideon)

Donald Trump has finally unveiled his “deal of the century” for peace and prosperity in the Middle East — and set the region ablaze with criticism.

The president’s plan recognizes Israeli control over most, if not all, of the settlements in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), excludes most of Jerusalem from a future Palestinian state and accepts Israel’s position that “refugees” (the descendants of Palestinians who were displaced in the 1948 war) will be resettled outside Israel.

In return for accepting these conditions and renouncing terrorism and incitement, the Palestinians would receive a municipality-sized, demilitarized and completely dependent “state.” Read more “Trump’s Middle East Plan Is Not About Peace”

From Zero Problems with Neighbors to Zero Friends

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attends a conference in Sochi, Russia, November 22, 2017 (Kremlin)

Ten years ago, Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy was all the rage. I went so far as to predict Ahmet Davutoğlu, the foreign minister at the time, could be remembered as the architect of Turkey’s return to preeminence in the Middle East.

Miguel Nunes Silva saw things more clearly, writing for the Atlantic Sentinel in 2012 that Turkey’s policy of antagonizing its allies and befriending its rivals merited little praise.

Turkish appeasement of Bashar Assad and Muammar Gaddafi meant little when those dictators turned their guns on their own people. Turkish appeasement of Iran was rewarded by unwavering Iranian support for Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq and Assad in Syria, two strongmen Turkey opposed.

Silva also recognized the on-again, off-again nature of Turkish diplomacy with Russia, which has only grown worse. Turkey and Russia back opposite sides in the Syrian War. Turkey even shot down a Russian attack aircraft near its border in 2015. Yet Turkey has also bought missile defense systems from Russia and is helping Russia build a natural gas pipeline into Europe that circumvents Ukraine. Both decisions were strongly opposed by Turkey’s nominal NATO allies. The United States kicked Turkey out of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

To form, Turkey has also allowed the construction of a competing European pipeline from Azerbaijan to Greece. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan still — somehow — convinced his American counterpart, Donald Trump, to withdraw from Syria, clearing the way for him to invade and attack the Kurds.

Trump’s memory may be short. He responded with sanctions on Turkish officials and tariffs on steel, which he respectively lifted and halved only a week later. But not everyone is so forgiving. Turkey’s tendency to play all sides, far from giving it more freedom in foreign policy, has hamstrung its diplomacy. It now has to use force to get its way. Read more “From Zero Problems with Neighbors to Zero Friends”

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”

Republicans Are Destroying Institutions to Save Their Party

The United States Capitol in Washington DC at night, September 18, 2014
The United States Capitol in Washington DC at night, September 18, 2014 (Thomas Hawk)

Republicans in the United States are ramping up their attacks on norms and institutions in pursuit of partisan interest. That is a danger to the whole country.

Journalists and universities have for decades been disparaged by the right as hopelessly biased to the point where only 15 percent of Republicans trust the mass media anymore, down from 46 percent two decades ago, and 73 percent believe higher education is going in the wrong direction.

The party now has the Justice Department, the FBI, the courts and arguably the Constitution in its sights. Read more “Republicans Are Destroying Institutions to Save Their Party”

Britain’s Health Care Debate Is Broken

London, England at night, February 14, 2012
London, England at night, February 14, 2012 (Warren Chrismas)

When it was revealed last week that the British government had not ruled out giving American pharmaceutical companies more generous patent rights under a post-Brexit trade agreement with the United States, the opposition Labour Party was up in arms, accusing the ruling Conservatives of putting the National Health Service (NHS) “up for sale”.

The Conservatives rushed to deny it.

“The NHS is not on the table,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock. “We are absolutely resolved that there will be no sale of the NHS, no privatization,” said Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The episode was emblematic of the British health care debate: Labour mischaracterizes any proposed change as a step toward privatization while the Conservatives, rather than make the case for choice and competition, try to convince voters they care about the NHS even more. Read more “Britain’s Health Care Debate Is Broken”

The Best Argument Against Medicare-for-All Is Not Cost

Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts visits a high school in Des Moines, Iowa, October 21
Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts visits a high school in Des Moines, Iowa, October 21 (Phil Roeder)

It’s worth asking how expensive nationalizing health insurance in the United States would be. I’ve written before that cost estimates range from 13 to 21 percent of GDP, a difference of $1.7 trillion, or two-and-a-half times the Pentagon budget.

Senator Elizabeth Warren puts her plan at the low end of spectrum, about $2 trillion per year (which would still mean a 50-percent increase in federal spending). Even journalists broadly sympathetic to Medicare-for-all doubt that’s realistic.

I doubt it’s going to convince anyone. Medicare-for-all’s proponents are unlikely to change their minds even if they find out the cost isn’t manageable. Americans who oppose nationalizing health insurance are unlikely to come around even if it is.

The questions most Americans will be asking are:

Spanish Center-Right Makes the Same Mistake Again

Spain's Pablo Casado attends a meeting with other European conservative party leaders in Brussels, June 30
Spain’s Pablo Casado attends a meeting with other European conservative party leaders in Brussels, June 30 (EPP)

Spain’s center-right parties haven’t learned anything from the last election.

When they tried to outflank the far right, it only helped Vox. The neo-Francoist party got 10 percent support then and polls as high as 15 percent now. And still the mainstream parties try to best it.

This is hopeless. Vox is always willing to go a step further. Read more “Spanish Center-Right Makes the Same Mistake Again”

Romney-to-Clinton Voters Prefer Biden

Joe Biden
Former American vice president Joe Biden campaigns in Des Moines, Iowa, August 8 (Gage Skidmore)

In the six states that could decide the outcome of the 2020 election in America, Joe Biden outpolls his Democratic rivals, in particular among minority voters and white voters with a college degree.

The New York Times reports that middle-income voters in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin prefer the relatively centrist former vice president over the more left-wing Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

The head-to-head figures against Donald Trump are mostly within the margin of error and probably not predictive a year out from the election.

But they do give Democratic primary voters vital information as they make up their minds about whom to nominate. Read more “Romney-to-Clinton Voters Prefer Biden”

Macri’s Failure Returns Peronists to Power in Argentina

Presidents Michel Temer of Brazil and Mauricio Macri of Argentina inspect an honor guard in Brasília, February 7, 2017
Presidents Michel Temer of Brazil and Mauricio Macri of Argentina inspect an honor guard in Brasília, February 7, 2017 (Carolina Antunes)

Mauricio Macri will vacate the presidency of Argentina next month after a disappointing term in office and a first-round defeat to Peronist candidate Alberto Fernández.

Fernández won by bringing the controversial former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner into the fold as vice president to help unite the moderate and leftist strands in his party. That unity will be tested by a severe economic crisis. Read more “Macri’s Failure Returns Peronists to Power in Argentina”