Friday, August 9, 2013

9/8/2013: Political Waffle Passing for Learning?

Mr Schulz - the President of the European Parliament - has penned an op-ed that is available here:

My response is as follows:

This article is a trite rehashing of cliches, some of which have served as pre-conditions to the crisis, by a man who is presiding over the institution complicit in creation of the crisis in the first place, as well as in exacerbating the adverse impact of the crisis on the member states of the EU. 

Let me just deal with the first set of Mr Schulz's core hypotheses: 

"Firstly, the invisible hand of the market does not work and needs a robust regulatory framework." 

Given that the Euro area crisis arose from the disastrous mis-management of the monetary union, the statement is absurd and ideologically dogmatic. Markets require proper regulation and are legally-based structures. Mr Schulz seems to fail to understand this and is confusing anarchy with the 'invisible hand' of the markets. European markets have failed, in part, due to wrong regulation (not the lack of regulation) and in part due to the lack of enforcement of existent regulation. Mr Schulz seems to have no idea as to these facts. Institutions that commonly failed to enforce existent regulations and treaties include, among others, the European Commission (allegedly reporting to the EU Parliament, that Mr Schulz presides over) and the European Parliament itself.

The markets failures were, in the case of the 'peripheral' euro states, exacerbated by the inactions and actions of the European authorities, including those by the European Parliament.

"Secondly, politics should gain primacy over markets and labour over capital." 

Primacy of politics over markets (or rather economics) in Europe is exactly what led us into this crisis. 

Political dominance over economic policies design is behind the creation of the monetary union and the expansion of the union to include countries that are not ready for a single currency regime. It is also responsible for the fraudulent ways in which some member states have acceded to the monetary union (e.g. Italy and Greece, where misreporting and financial instrumentation of deficits and debt were rampant and Mr Schulz's institution was amongst those that were aware of these facts, were required to be aware of these facts, and yet were inactive in the face of these facts). Politicization of the markets for Government bonds, for foreign exchange, for credit, for equity, for risk pricing, etc has been responsible for inducing many deep failures in the markets in Europe. For one, this politicization has led to an unsustainable debt accumulation in the private sector and transfer of private debts onto the shoulders of taxpayers. 

I might agree with Mr Schulz on the point of 'labour' supremacy over 'capital'. Alas these are poorly defined concepts in Mr Schulz's case. Labour can mean labour unions (organised labour movement) or labour as human capital (skills, entrepreneurship, creativity, etc) and everything in-between. All of these definitions will contain internal contradictions in incentives, preferences for policies and responses to policies to each other and to the definitions of capital that can be deployed. Mr Schulz fails to define the categories he references, which suggests that his assertions are once again nothing more than populist sloganeering. Mr Schulz seems to have no idea that capital can be physical, technological, financial, intellectual or human. That 'labour' can be complementary to physical and technological capital in which case primacy of labour over technology can be destructive to the objectives of both. Mr Schulz appears to be inhabiting a simplistic universe more corresponding to that inhabited by Marx and Engels in the late 1840s than the one that exists today.

"Thirdly, and most importantly, the economy and politics should return to the values of solidarity, social justice, decency and respect." 

This is both historically incorrect and, frankly put, too rich coming from someone heading a powerful EU institution. 

It is inherently incorrect because a return implies existence of something in the past. European societies never possessed any real sense of 'solidarity' or 'social justice' but historically (and to-date) relied on preservation of the status quo of distribution of wealth within the set confines of the European elites and independent of merit. Thus, Europe never pursued meritocratic systems of wealth and income allocations. And subsequently never developed such systems. What Mr Schulz might mean (and we are reduced here to guessing) is the return to the status quo of interest groups-driven 'social' allocations of resources - a system commonly known as tax (someone else) and spend (on me or my friends). 

It is a rich statement coming from Mr Schulz because he presides over the EU institution that was at least complicit in forcing member states to transfer private sector losses onto taxpayers and failed to structure properly core institutional frameworks of the EU. Whether this complicity involved errors of omission or commission is irrelevant. The outcomes of these errors are Greece today, Cyprus today, Ireland today, and Italy, Spain, Portugal and so on. From this point of view, the perspective of returning to values by the political and economic institutions of Europe would first and foremost involve (require) restructuring of the European institutions from the top. Mr Schulz's job would be on the line in any such process of renewal and return to accountability. 

That, alas, is the nature of leadership: you fail and you are gone. Writing op-eds full of well-meaning waffle is, frankly, not an excuse for the failures of both action and inaction.
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