Monday, July 10, 2006

The Eurozone's Too Modest

GDP growth is a wiley old indicator. It's heavily relied on but conceals a multitude of sins. We're all familiar with the received wisdom - the US has had several years of sustained economic growth while Europe is stagnating. Well, news from the Economist (paper version) is that since 2000 European per capita growth has kept pace with US growth. Why the disjunction between the received wisdom and the truth?

Actually there are a couple of reasons. The first is that Europeans always underestimate their GDP and later revise it upwards. The Americans consistently do the opposite. Thus, according to Economist, from 1999 - 2004, the US initially reported growth of 3.2% but later revised it to 2.8%, while the Europeans reported growth of 1.6% but revised it up to 2%.

Still you might say, the US had growth of 2.8% compared to Eurozone growth of 2%. How can the Economist then say GDP per capita was equal. The answer is that the GDP figures are productivity as a whole. The whole pie in the US grew more. The trouble is, so did the population, so the bigger pie had to be split between more people. The European pie grew less but the population stayed the same or declined so, per person, Europeans got richer.

There's another point to make too. The wealth created in the Eurozone was more evenly distributed than in the US so more people got somewhat richer whereas in the US a few people got a lot richer. I know which I'd rather have.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Are Finnish Companies Competitive?

Lots of people are sceptical that companies that have to comply with strict labour laws in a welfare state like Finland cannot be competitive. It must have come as a bit of a shock to them to read this morning's Helsingin Sanomat and to find out that Finland's biggest companies experienced Chinese levels of growth last year - at around 10%.

This actually wouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who keeps up with these things. In fact Europe's largest companies have performed similarly to their US counterparts for some time. The difference has always been the SMEs, where the US outperforms Europe by some way.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Sharia law in Britain?

An opinion poll in Britain has revealed that 40% of British Muslims favour the introduction of sharia law in parts of the UK. It might surprise people to know that I actually agree. The reasoning, however, is quite complicated and is not because I have any sympathy with sharia law.

John Rawls, perhaps the most influential political philosopher of last century, argued that we all have different values but that, given that fact, we could still all live together in a liberal democracy. He argued there are certain things we want, whatever else we want, including certain freedoms and so on. This was called a thin theory of the good. Islam, however, has what I would call a thick theory of the good. Indeed, it is so thick it is not compatible with other people's theories of the good.

If Britain was a country of first-generation immigrants, we could reasonably say that they should live by our rules. Unfortunately, huge numbers of British Muslims were born there. It is their home. Surely they should have the opportunity to live as full a life as they can. If they are true Muslims, who wish to live by sharia law, and their goods and go to end most deeply held beliefs require living by sharia law, I think there should be a place for them in the country of their birth.

There are certain areas in Britain, that are almost exclusively Muslim. I see no harm in allowing at least one of these pockets to become a semi-independent Muslim state. The less insular Muslims could live somewhere else, while those who really wanted to live under sharia law could live there.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cowardice strikes Finland

Since I arrived here several years ago I have become more and more impressed with the life Finns have carved out for themselves in this cold, desolate place and given a tiny population surrounded by hostile neighbours. I have been the arch-drumbeater for the success of the Finnish way. I was even considering getting Finnish citizenship.

Yesterday's news that Matti Vanhanen, supported by Tarja Halonen, apologised on behalf of Finland for the publishing on some unread right-wing Finnish website of the cartoons of Mohammed has bothered me a lot.

It was first and foremost an act of pathetic cowardice. I know Finns are used to appeasing those that threaten them and in the face of insurmountable opposition it was probably a wise move. The Islmaic threat is not insurmountable by any stretch of the imagination, yet Vanhanen felt it right to apologise on the behalf of myself and my family for something neither I nor him did. I was a gross misuse of his position.

It also sets a dangerous precedent for theother European leaders. Now the muslims will say "If Finland's government can apologise for their press, why can't the other nations? Does Finland have less freedom of speech than them?".

I think leaders should speak out. They should say "I am sorry for the offence caused and I condemn the pictures but I cannot prevent their publication. If it is against the law, then it needs to be taken to a court of law where the arguments can be heard. That is the meaning of democracy and the rule of law - the principle on which all civilised nations are founded." Vanhanen actually chose to apologise rather than offer his condolences even against advice to the contrary.

What saddens me more is that there is no outcry in the press. There was nothing about it in Helsingin Sanomat this morning (at least prominently). It seems the Finns have decided that in the face of a challenge to their values they think it's best to appease the extremists and the terrorists so they don't get angry rather than fight for what's right. These are sad times.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

What can you tell about people's embassies?

I had a bit of spare time this morning and realised I'd never been to Kaivopuisto, so I wandered down. I also wandered down the street with all (lots of) the embassies on and I thought what an awesome reflection of a countries self-image. The US embassy is immense and extremely well guarded. I understand the security but seriously, what do they do in there? The US is a big country but they have very few citizens in Finland. It's a serious case of projecting power.

Second in the compensating for a small penis department is the British embassy, which is being extended. Far too large to serve any practical purpose. The Estonian embassy looks like you imagine the Finnish embassy would look. Small, discrete, clean lines. The funniest ones were the Italian and Brazilian embasies. They are identical and they look like dodgy apartments in the Costa del Sol. It's as if the governments just found an empty building where vagrants used to live and moved in.

posted by Finnsense @ 11:49 PM   1 comments
Banning Smoking

The Brits are banning smoking in public places. This is one issue that upsets pretty much everyone. Smokers and civil liberties nuts get furious about it and proclaim it the end of civilisation and the rise of the nanny state. Non-smokers and people who want to give up tend to rejoice at the idea they won't have to put up with smokey pubs and smokey clothes and they claim that in twenty years people will think it extraordinary that anyone smoked in pubs.

Finland's an odd place in this respect. On the one hand there are no formal bans on smoking but on the other, society as a whole seems to have decided not to smoke indoors voluntarily. There are rare exceptions but they are just that, very rare.

The liberty argument is a reasonable one. Theoretically, if it was up to landlords people could choose whether they wanted to go to a smokers pub or not. Now they don't have that choice. In my view the argument fails for the same reason most pure liberty arguments fail - it doesn't take into account social, cultural and human nature factors. It may be "formally" possible for people to avoid smokers pubs in the same way I am formally free to go to work dressed as a chicken, but the reality is it's not going to happen. It's not socially acceptable.

The dominant social ethos in our society is to accomodate the smokers. Smoking is still a bit cool and it's much easier to say "Do you mind if I smoke?" than "Do you mind not smoking?". In a mixed group you put up with the smoke, the smokers never put up with the craving. It's socially unthinkable. It is in cases like these that the difference between being formally unfree and practically unfree becomes all too obvious. The job of the government is to make us actually really free given all the constraints of society and culture and being human. To do so, requires changing the culture of smoking so that it is a luxury activity rather than a ubiquitous habit and so that it doesn't bother other people.

As for Jessica Wilson's comment that banning smoking is the end of civilisation, we obviously have a very different idea of what's civilised. (I should point out that her post may mean the opposite to what it seems to mean - if so it's awfully subtle so I think I can be forgiven for taking it the wrong way).

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Janne, Janne, Janne but Hooray for Matti!

Is it me or do Finns tend to bottle the big occasion? Janne Ahonen had a poor second jump today to fail once again to get a medal at the Olympics, despite being possibly the best jumper ever. (I'm not going to debate Matti Nykänen - Ahonen has more class in his left toe than Nykänen ever had). Fortunately for Finland, Matti Hautamäki stepped up to the plate and showed he had some metal - only silver but nevermind.

Elsewhere, Finns also disappointed in the biathlon and the half pipe.

P.S. Since the Norwegians are coached by Kojonkoski, do their medals count as half ours? If so, tonight was a one, two, three for Finland.

posted by Finnsense @ 11:25 AM   0 comments
The Cartoons Again

This time just a link to a discussion of the cartoons by Jamie Tappenden, which adds some well needed background (some of which was already pointed out by commenter Michelle here). Tappenden speaks Danish and is an accomplished philosopher. He puts is big brain to work on the cartoon fiasco. There are two posts - read both.

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