Thursday, April 30, 2009

Free trade therapy in Hong Kong

Bailouts, regulations, stimulus package, plan de relance économique, subsidies, protectionism, boss snatching, green revolution prophecy, recession, new deals, état sauveur... Feeling depressed? In need a break perhaps? Come to Hong Kong for therapy.

From barren rock to international trade hub, from British colony to PRC's Special Administrative Region.... Hong Kong's history in a nutshell with a skyline bearing testimony to the extraordinary transformative power of free trade.

Walk its bustling avenues. From the heights of Peak, enjoy the view of the city and its busy waters.. The nautical ballet of mighty container ships and splashing sampans. The forest of soaring skyscrapers clad in bamboo scaffolding. Let yourself be swept by the frisson of capitalism....

Selling noodles, buying shares... Up in the International Financial Centre tower, the stock market. Down on the streets, the food and stuff markets. For Western tourists, antics markets well stocked in Chairman Mao memorabilia. On the other side of the border, the motherland joining the market and catching up fast.
Everywhere The Free Market at work doing its magic of wealth creation.

Exalting, therapeutic. And soothing! So visit. Let the extraordinary energy of the city fill you with optimism about the future.... Free trade therapy. Not cheap but effective! Doing something to protect the freedom to trade helps too. Sign up!

According to the Heritage Foundation economic freedom index, Hong Kong ranks first. Let us hope it stay there.

For more on tax competion as a liberalising force in the world economy, a brief lesson on taxation and why tax havens should be celebrated (more in the WSJ Europe) Cato Scholar Daniel J. Mitchell explains...

Friday, April 17, 2009

Let them eat cake. Or dump tea...

I remember very well learning about the 1773 Boston Tea Party in my American history class in high school. It captured my imagination. Freedom fighters boarding a ship disguised as indians to dump tea in Boston harbour. Gripping! What it was too was a protest against unfair taxation by the British Crown. The Tea Act which granted tax free priviledges to the royal chartered British East India Company was the last straw. To show that measures against free trade would no longer be tolerated, 10,000 £ worth of tea ended up floating in the water. Symbolic and momentous... Then came the American revolution. And change.

The 2009 Tea Parties refer to the gathering of thousands of American citizens across the country to protest against the expansion of government under the current administration (on the tea party in Kansas). Symbolically tea bags were dumped in water (buckets, garbage cans.... ). According to journalist Andrew Klavan, US mainstream media has mostly chosen to ridicule the whole affair. But he thinks this could be more than a "joke". In fact the start of something big. In this article, he puts the Tea Parties in their rightful historical and constitutional context:
"James Madison, in the famous Federalist #10, said it was the “first object of government” to protect those “diverse faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate,” and from which also originate “the possession of different degrees and kinds of property.” He warned that these faculties and these rights were in danger when what the Founders called “a majority faction” took over government. The Constitution, Madison said, was intended to help prevent such majority factions from working for “a rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project.”.....

Commenting on the media and Democrat Party's attitude towards this grassroots movement Klavan says that "It is that voice—Madison’s voice, and the Constitution’s—with which the protestors spoke on Tax Day, and which the Democrats and the mainstream press have dismissed with such contempt." This "let them dump tea" attitude reminded me of the "let them eat cake" attitude exhibited by the royal court in Versailles. An entirely different context but a similar thread... Contempt, something big. And then change.
"Qu'ils mangent de la brioche" (eat cake in English) said Marie Antoinette, Louis XIV's consort. I do whenever I can find this délice de la boulangerie française.
"Ich bin ein Overland Park (Kansas) tea party-goer" says Ze Ronin. On the left ze brioche achetée et mangée à Tokyo with a cup of hot water in which a tea bag was dumped...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Beware the cult of Bo

Yes he can (I mean President Obama) express an opinion on EU foreign policy. Can anyone seriously suggest that America does not have an interest in the "geopolitical health" of the EU? The French President seems to (for more on the Turkey-EU remark and political storm). The American President's reply hit the nail though. Hadn't European leaders not liberally been commenting on US policy? Right on Monsieur le Président! How Europe treats Turkey will impact the USA and what goes on in Wall Street or in DC matters to Europe. US politics impact our lives in more ways than we care to think. Recently, I have been impacted by Obamania.
Reading Gene Healy's excellent book The Cult of the Presidency, America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power has been most enlightening. He argues that the Bush years had created a resurgence of "Imperial Presidency". Well, something a French citizen can perfectly relate to. France has a presidential system granting extensive executive powers to the president. Caricaturists often portray our presidents - not surprisingly - as kings or emperors (see February post "Yo c'est qui le roi?).

The US president wrote American history and seems like a nice person. American voters will be the judge of his policies. We can only hope for the best.... But when the cult of the presidency combines with a personality cult of unprecedented scope (read "Beware the cult of Obama"), no matter how cool President Obama may be, we in the old "ringardisée" (rendered uncool) Europe have reasons to be concerned too. And with all due respect, to express an opinion.
Indeed after President Obama's town hall meeting in Strasbourg, a 17 year old French lycéen confided to the magazine La Croix that "Son charisme est impressionnant, il rayonne. On a la chair de poule quand on l’entend, on est vraiment hypnotisé" - His charisma is impressive, he radiates light. It makes you shiver when you listen. You are like hypnotised.... The Obama cult only an American problem?
There are no statistics on whether his visit has given rise to lurid sexual fantasies amongst European women as is apparently the case in the USA (ref. "Beware" article) but the press frenzy surounding his visit (and the first lady's dresses) is certainly testimony to the Obamania and cultishness currently gripping Europe.

In Tokyo the face of the American brother is visible. Not conspicuously so but it pops up on a T-shirt in a line, a badge on a backpack, shelves in bookstores... Cults have shrines. The fishing village of Obama is hoping for pilgrimage status. Its souvenirs shop is already well stocked in Obama featured chopsticks.... I found an altar of sort in a Shinjuku bookstore. A new English teaching method was launched late last year. Essentially a "yes you can" teach yourself English by learning Obama's speeches (Obama speak?)
Notre première dame Carla Bruni no longer makes fontpage world news (no statistics on fantasies either but plenty of comments from French males). Madame Obama does. Yet just when the "Obamas go to Europe" buzz had abated a little, that it looked like we were going to get a break.... entered a new character in the thickening politico-pop culture plot: Bo le premier chiot (the first puppy)! Cute I thought for a moment. Then I come across this picture and decide it's time to speak out.

.Beware the cult of Bo!

PS: French singer Bo Frenchy (oui "Bo" comme le premier chiot et "Frenchy" as in French) got inspired by it all. So he wrote a song: "I wanna be your dog Barack". Funny. Or maybe just barking mad....