Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Written constitutions

Alan Carter wrote from Oxford (UK not Mississippi) with an idea about using a debate over written constitutions as a way of teaching about the roles of supreme law. Thank you, Alan.

He wrote, "Up to now, I've supported the idea of a new fully written constitution for the U.K. as providing a level playing field, less open to possible abuse... [and] more separation of powers." For an example of abuse, he cites the transfer of power from Blair to Brown without an election.

He also notes that a written constitution allows for less flexibility. If, as Secretary Paulson hinted that 'the ATM machines might stop in working in few weeks time,' maybe campaigning should be suspended, as John McCain suggested. However, the constitution won't allow that kind of adaptation to the situation. The absence of a written constitution in the UK means that political leaders can adjust things to fit the times.

In Britain, PM Brown's popular support vanished recently. Normally that would mean a change in Labour leadership or a new election. Either is possible in the British system. Now, it seems that PM Brown has regained some of the popularity he lost in the past month. Maybe an election is not necessary. That's allowed in the British regime as well.

The story of Brown's rising popularity was reported by Yahoo UK & Ireland:
Brown gets poll boost after speech

"Prime Minister Gordon Brown has halved the Conservatives' lead in the polls following his speech to a conference of the Labour Party on Tuesday, according to a survey published on Wednesday.

"The YouGov poll for the Sun newspaper put Labour on 31 points, 10 points behind the Conservatives. Last week the gap in a YouGov poll was 20 points.

"A 10-point lead would still hand the Conservatives a majority in parliament, but Brown will be relieved to see the gap narrowing after a slew of surveys over the past few months suggested Labour could be wiped out...

"Unless he is ousted by his own party, Brown, 57, does not have to call an election until mid-2010."

The next day, Eric Black, a Minneapolis journalist whose work I have admired wrote,

"I have actually wondered over the last couple of years about the wisdom of our system, which virtually guarantees the president (absent an impeachable offense) a four-year term even if he has lost the confidence of the public and the Congress in the first year or two. Parliamentary systems have a quicker way to deal with such situations. This is not a moment to consider structural change, but it's worth discussing someday..."

Now, create a debate topic.

For instance, "Resolved that a written constitution is the best way to guarantee democratic government."

Brainstorm with your students about ideas the support or contradict the resolution.

Put small groups of students to work researching those ideas.

Then have the each of sides choose a couple debaters and have a debate. Invite the principal in to judge the debate (you might want to brief the principal a little bit on the topic). Have fun.

Labels: , ,

Monday, September 29, 2008

Democracy and courage

Jeremiah Jenne, who blogs at Jottings from the Granite Studio, referred to the following article from the Christian Science Monitor.

I'll second Jenne's comment, "You want to talk about courage?" Here's a story about how the Chinese system works at the grassroots level.

A Chinese experiment in democracy meets fierce resistance

" When Fang Zhaojuan began organizing her neighbors here to impeach village leaders whom she suspected of corruption, she had no idea that the challenge would lead her first to the hospital and then to jail.

"She was following the law, after all, and had launched legal petitions signed by a large majority of villagers. They believed they had been cheated of proper compensation when their village council had sold land for industrial development to the government of a nearby township.

"Mrs. Fang, her family, and colleagues on a recall committee, however, found themselves plunged into a violent political drama. This, they say, has shown residents of the hamlet just how narrow the boundaries remain for their democratic rights. It has also, they add, hardened their resolve to enforce them...

"Chinese law prescribes direct democratic elections for village councils, and provides for recalls if a majority of villagers lose faith in their leaders. 'But that is only the law,' cautions Yawei Liu, head of the China Program at Atlanta's Carter Center... 'Once you move into the real world it is very difficult to enforce,' he adds...

"'At any point in the process the authoritarian system can come into play' to frustrate villagers' democratic aims, says Kevin O'Brien, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who has studied village governance in China for years. 'This story is an example of bottom-up democracy being swamped by undemocratic people who are used to giving orders.'

"On the other hand, Dr. Liu points out, "'he beatings and the jailings are a reflection ... that the villagers are so keenly aware of their rights there is nothing else the government can do.'..."

Labels: , , ,

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sovereign Wealth Funds: potential messages

Reuters reported recently that SWFs suffered in the collapse of the investment banking giants. Last fall and spring, several SWFs based in the Middle East had invested in those banking firms. The losses have made them more cautious and more interested in diversified investments.

The Bloomberg news service suggested that SWFs "may increase investment in commercial real estate to a net $725 billion by 2015..." That would follow the example reported in the Economist of the Abu Dhabi Investment Company which bought a 90% share in New York City’s Chrysler Building. However, American Public Media's Marketplace also reported that an Abu Dhabi fund bought the renowned Manchester United football (soccer) team last week. Talk about diversification.

So, oil exporting nations are investing for their futures. Through their SWFs they own some real estate, a British football team, some devalued bank stocks, and shares of of foreign companies. Are those things contributions to state power?

According to a recent report from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, "A common concern in the United States and Europe is that sovereign funds... might harbor noncommercial motivations." In other words, some people are concerned about the political goals of SWFs' investments. There are concerns about the "relative lack of transparency over investment strategies" and "over possible political intervention and potential large-scale market moves" by SWFs.

Wharton finance professor Franklin Allen is quoted as saying, "Sovereign funds don't have to just follow monetary goals... They can pursue other goals. And since some have gotten so big, they have a lot of power... If they concentrate that power in a certain industry, they have the potential to distort markets..." And if they distort markets, they can distort politics. (Look at the almost-bipartisan rush in Washington, D.C. to respond to the investment banking crisis for an example.)

Patrick Mulloy, Washington representative of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, told the Senate Banking Committee about concerns that SWF money will be used not just for economic reasons but also for political and strategic purposes.

What if a Russian SWF tried to buy Boeing? What if a Chinese SWF tried to buy control of GE? What if a Saudi SWF tried to buy the New York Yankees? Would those be seen as financial decisions or political decisions? Would the U.S. turn to protectionist legislation as quickly as it turned to government ownership of AIG, the world's largest insurance company? If the U.S. did, what effect would that have on NAFTA, the WTO, or the EU's market?

In comparative politics, the questions would revolve around relationships between SWFs and other parts of the state. Who controls the SWFs? We can be pretty confident that the Norwegian SWF is accountable to an elected government. But who controls the Chinese or Russian SWFs? And who profits? Would the profits go into better social services and infrastructure? Or would the profits go into the pockets of a ruling elite?

What stands in the way of Nigerian, Iranian, and Mexican SWFs? Would the goals of such funds be primarily financial or political?

Will SWFs change the governance, political culture, or civil society in states where SWFs exist?

The field of study expands. (There probably won't be questions on the Advanced Placement exam about SWFs in the near future. The AP curriculum responds to changes in the academic world. But this topic will deepen your -- and your students' -- understanding of this sub-discipline of political science.)

There are good financial reasons for the reaction described below, but could there be political motives as well?

From the Washington Post, 25 September 2008:

U.S. Appeals Abroad Fall Flat as Leaders See No Crisis at Home

"As the world watched Congress struggle [Wednesday] with a plan to bail out the U.S. financial system, foreign leaders balked at similar fixes for their own economies, a few even dismissing the credit meltdown as an American problem. Some foreign investors who had previously provided crucial injections of capital remained on the sidelines...

"Meanwhile, the sovereign wealth funds of Asian and oil-rich Middle Eastern nations, which have come to the rescue of U.S. firms before only to see these investments erode, showed little interest in taking a similar gamble.

"'We are not responsible for saving foreign banks,' said Badr al-Saad, managing director of the Kuwait Investment Authority, in remarks broadcast by al-Arabiya satellite television Tuesday. 'This is the duty of the central banks in these countries.' Kuwait's sovereign wealth fund pumped at least $3 billion into Citigroup in January, but the stock has lost a third of its value since then...

"The world's big sovereign wealth funds -- whether run by the oil-rich sheiks with well more than $1 trillion in Kuwait, Dubai and Abu Dhabi alone or the technocrats of communist China -- have been missing from the scramble to rescue the American banks and investment houses...

"China Investment Corp., a $200 billion state fund set up last year, spent more than $8 billion on stakes in the Blackstone Group, the world's largest buyout fund, and Morgan Stanley, the second-biggest U.S. securities firm. The value of those investments have plunged about 43 percent...

"Sovereign funds, reeling from setbacks in other parts of their own international investments, also don't make decisions fast enough for the quick deal-making that has stunned Wall Street over the past two weeks, Nader Sultan, former chief executive of the Kuwait Petroleum Corp. and senior partner of F&N Consultancy said.

"Moreover, said Kuwait Investment Authority's Saad, 'We have social and economic responsibilities toward our own country.' Kuwait's investment authority has put more than $375 million into its own sagging stock market, Saad told al-Arabiya. The central bank of the United Arab Emirates said Monday it had set up a more than $13 billion fund to try to ensure the kingdom's banks had enough cash."

Labels: , ,

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sovereign Wealth Funds: money talking

At the junction of economics, international relations, and comparative politics, are the rapidly-growing new version of state capitalism: sovereign wealth funds (SWFs). These are not parastatals, set up as government utilities or as instruments of nationalism and import substitution.

Investopedia, a Forbes Digital Company, defines sovereign wealth funds as, "Pools of money derived from a country's reserves, which are set aside for investment purposes that will benefit the country's economy and citizens. The funding for a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) comes from... budget and trade surpluses... The types of acceptable investments included in each SWF vary from country to country; countries with liquidity concerns limit investments to only very liquid public debt instruments."

Traditionally, investment in the U.S. by other states concentrated on safe and liquid U.S. Treasury Bonds. So, for instance, Japan, China, and the UK own over 50% of US Treasury bonds (national debt). That is the kind of investment Milton Friedman described back in 1980.

But the newer SWFs often diversify their investments and look more like American overseas investment.

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) notes that, "Creating funds to manage government wealth is not a new phenomenon. But over the past five years, wealth accumulated in existing funds has ballooned and the number of new funds has spiked. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated in September 2007 that sovereign wealth funds, or SWFs, control as much as $3 trillion, and that this tally could jump to $12 trillion by 2012. The sheer size and rapid growth of these funds increasingly commands the attention not just of economists, but also political analysts. [emphasis mine] Some argue that these funds will help nations dependent on natural resources to diversify their economies, but others worry about abuses of power and urge greater transparency at SWFs."

The CFR article notes that, "SWFs typically seek riskier investments and a higher rate of return. Ostensibly, they are run purely to increase the wealth of the state, not to pay off any specific debt." So, "China’s SWF recently purchased stakes in the U.S. financial firms Morgan Stanley and the Blackstone Group. Dubai’s SWF has bought up shares of several Asian companies, including Sony."

The Economist recently quoted former American treasury secretary Larry Summers as saying that a “signal event of the past quarter-century has been the sharp decline in the extent of direct state ownership of business as the private sector has taken ownership of what were once government-owned companies. Yet governments are now accumulating various kinds of stakes in what were once purely private companies through their cross-border investment activities.” Summers added, “Governments are very different from other economic actors."

Sebastian Mallaby, the director of CFR’s Center for Geoeconomic Studies, says finance ministries in the past have typically invested currency reserves in U.S. treasury bills and other risk-free bonds issued by wealthy countries. SWFs provide countries with a broader range of investment options.

According to the CFR report, "The major looming factor is how SWFs will be used in practice. Will governments use them simply as financial tools and eye investments from a purely financial standpoint, or will SWFs emerge as an implement of political muscle?"

The Economist speculated "Russia and China may be exceptions, in that both their governments have been willing to use the companies they own to pursue political goals and might well try to do the same with their sovereign-wealth funds."

Are oil-exporting countries importing political power? How will they use that power?

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Money talks

What will it say?

In 1980, Milton Friedman wrote Free to Choose in which he argued that the United States' trade deficit with the rest of the world was not something to worry about. I'd contend that four things have changed in the past 28 years, and that at least one of those changes is in the province of comparative politics.

The big changes have to do with the ballooning of the trade deficit, the amount of oil the US buys from other countries, the appearance of sovereign wealth funds, and, now, growing reservations about the inerrancy of markets.

At the time Friedman wrote Free to Choose, the trade deficit was averaging about $23 billion a year. In the past ten years, the US trade deficit has been 20 to 40 times larger. In comparison, the real GDP (adjusted for inflation) has only doubled since 1980.

In inflation-adjusted terms, the price of oil in 2008 (except for the late summer spike) is about the same as it was in 1981. But our imports from OPEC countries are almost 1.5 times what they were in 1980.

The third thing that has changed is the growth of sovereign wealth funds (SWFs). The Coucil on Foreign Relations states, "... over the past five years, wealth accumulated in existing funds has ballooned and the number of new funds has spiked... The sheer size and rapid growth of these funds increasingly commands the attention not just of economists, but also political analysts."

One of Friedman's arguments for the unimportance of the trade deficit (that sends lots of dollars out of the county) was that the dollars sent abroad to pay for imports came back to the US as loans (primarily in the form of purchases of safe government bonds). American overseas investments, he argued, wee in riskier, but more productive assets. Thus the income from foreign investments here were smaller than the income from American investments overseas. Thus the balance of foreign investment income was in our favor, and the importance of the our trade deficit was reduced.

However, SWFs are no longer content to invest only in safe, low-return U.S. government bonds. They are investing in financial institutions, transport facilities, real estate, and industrial businesses. The Economist reported that the China Investment Corporation invested $3 billion in Blackstone, an American private-equity firm. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) bought a $7.5 billion share of Citigroup. Another Abu Dhabi fund, announced that it intended to become one of GE’s ten biggest shareholders.

The money in these investments has the potential to talk in much more direct terms than money loaned through the purchase of government bonds.

Finally, after nearly 30 years in which faith in markets was nearly unquestioned, the strongest advocate of market economies and the world's largest economy has nationalized huge banking and insurance companies. These moves tend to contradict the "government is the problem" theme that has come out of Washington, D.C. These moves tend to lend credence to the idea that political decisions can and sometimes should trump market decisions. It reinforces the call in Europe for more political involvement in economic issues. A BBC headline recently reported that EU 'needs more market regulation'

Do these changes mean that the U.S. trade deficit contributes to a changes in the power of states that have spare cash?

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Water is a political issue

It's also a global issue.

How many potential political policy issues could your students identify in this Economist article?

Running dry

"MOST people may drink only two litres of water a day, but they consume about 3,000 if the water that goes into their food is taken into account. The rich gulp down far more, since they tend to eat more meat... in many farming regions, water is scarce and likely to get scarcer as global warming worsens. The world is facing not so much a food crisis as a water crisis, argues Colin Chartres, International Water Management Institute's (IWMI) director-general...

"The solution, Mr Chartres and others contend, is more efficient use of water... Farming accounts for roughly 70% of human water consumption... But governments, whether to win votes or to protect the poor, rarely charge farmers a market price for water. So they are usually more wasteful than other consumers...

"As much as 70% of water used by farmers never gets to crops, perhaps lost through leaky irrigation channels or by draining into rivers or groundwater. Investment in drip irrigation, or simply repairing the worst leaks, could bring huge savings.

"Farmers in poor countries can usually afford such things only if they are growing cash crops...

"But efficient use of water, cautions Pasquale Steduto of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation, is just one step to better agricultural yields. Even if farmers use the right amount of water they also need decent seeds and enough fertiliser...

Labels: , ,

Monday, September 22, 2008

AP Comparative readers wanted

This announcement was just made on the AP Electronic Discussion Group:

"The AP Program is now accepting applications for AP Comparative Government and Politics teachers to serve as Readers at the annual AP Comparative Government and Politics Reading to be held June 2-8 in Daytona, Florida.

"The AP Readings [in all subjects] bring together over 10,000 highly skilled AP teachers and college faculty to score AP Exams. AP Readers consistently report that the time spent reading, discussing, and evaluating student work alongside other accomplished educators represents the best professional development experience of their teaching careers. Readers are provided an honorarium of $1,555; travel expenses, lodging, and meals are reimbursed. Teachers can also receive certificates rewarding professional development hours and continuing education units (CEUs) for their participation in the AP Reading.

"Apply today by visiting: the AP web site for professionals.

"If you already serve as an AP Reader, encourage your colleagues to apply. Readers are particularly needed in the following subjects: Japanese Language and Culture, and World History, as well as Environmental Science, European History, Human Geography, Music Theory, Spanish, U.S. Government and Politics, and U.S. History."

I second the endorsement of the experience as a valuable professional activity. Chip Hauss has called the reading "a summer camp for grown ups."

AP course teachers who have at least 3 years of experience are eligible. People who have recently taught an introductory comparative politics or government classes at post-secondary levels are also eligible. Eligibility in other subjects also requires recent teaching experience in an appropriate introductory course.


Who knows or cares about the EU?

It seems it's not just a democratic deficit that threatens the future of the European Union. Not only do Europeans not know about EU basics, many of them don't care and don't care that they don't know. What implications do these factors have for the future of the EU?

Who cares about Europe?

"Much of the EU’s business may be important, but it is baffling to outsiders—and very dull...

"People in Brussels rarely admit this, but the off-putting complexity of the EU has big political consequences...

".. most voters have a limited appetite for information about the EU. A 'vast majority' of focus group members... had no idea how decisions are taken in the union. 'Few' thought that, realistically, they would bother to learn more...

"The public does not want to understand the fiendish complexity of the EU. Many in the EU establishment draw a simple conclusion from that: never ask voters directly about something as complicated as a treaty...

"To many Eurocrats, voter indifference is something to be managed, rather than feared. National health policies are as complex as EU treaties, argues a diplomat, and voters do not expect to understand every detail of how health systems work. This is a tempting argument. But in the longer term, EU leaders are dodging a fundamental question: do you need to seek voters’ informed consent for the European project?

"The answer must surely be yes. The EU is no longer just a free-trade zone. With the advent of things like EU immigration policies, or extraditions without appeal within the union... the EU now touches the essential contract between the citizen and the state...

"How, then, can the EU obtain consent? Two answers suggest themselves, both seemingly rather extreme. One involves much more federalism; the other is a strict commitment to keeping the EU as an intergovernmental club, in which national parliaments and national governments are dominant...

"It is to their credit that federalists do not think voter indifference to the EU can be ignored. Many say, at least in private, that the EU needs more democratic legitimacy. They worry about the fact that voter turnout has fallen at each European Parliament election...

"[N]ational politicians are to blame for some of the EU’s worst failures (such as fisheries). But the EU’s best hope of enjoying democratic support for its extravagantly complex workings is a devolved form of consent, channelled through national representatives..."

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Change for government and Labour

Another bank of storm clouds appear on the political horizon for the Labour government of Gordon Brown. And this just as Labour MPs gathered for a party conference in Manchester.

Mass poll shows Labour wipeout across country

"Gordon Brown is set to lead Labour into an election bloodbath so crushing it could take his party a decade to recover, according to the largest ever poll of marginal seats which predicts a landslide victory for David Cameron...

"Eight cabinet ministers, including the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary, would be swept away in the rout as the Tories marched into Downing Street with a majority of 146, says the poll, conducted for PoliticsHome.com and exclusively revealed to The Observer. Seats that have been Labour since the First World War would fall...

"Today's poll shows how Labour's progressive face would be scarred by the projected defeat, with women disproportionately more likely to be defeated and five of its 13 black and Asian MPs, including three ministers, voted out. By contrast, Cameron's new intake would include a lesbian businesswoman, a 'chick-lit' novelist and a single mother turned farmer...

Labels: ,


Most of us know very well that the term "Third World" is anachronistic. In spite of that we, especially those of old enough to remember the Cold War origins of the term, keep using it.

Here's the Economist on the dilemma. Its focus is on economic labels (of course), but even the magazine editors admit that political factors are sometimes more important than the economic ones.

So do the labels we use affect our understanding of the politics and the countries we study?

Ins and outs

"IS IT time to retire the phrase “emerging markets”?...

"The term 'emerging markets' dates back to 1981 recalls the man who invented it, Antoine van Agtmael... 'Third worldsuggested stagnation; emerging markets suggested progress, uplift and dynamism.'

"Later in the 1980s the fast-growing economies of South-East Asia acquired the tag 'Asian Tigers'...

"In 2001 Jim O’Neill, chief economist of Goldman Sachs, came up with the acronym 'BRICs' for the next four countries it expected to enter the economic big league: Brazil, Russia, India and China. He says that the BRICs, Korea and Mexico “should not be really thought of as ‘emerging markets’ in the classical sense...

"In its search for definitive rigour, the FTSE group* has come up with three categories for what used to be known as third-world economies: advanced emerging, secondary emerging and frontier markets (which have a stockmarket but perhaps not much else)...

"'Emerging markets are places where politics matter at least as much as economics to market outcomes,' says Ian Bremmer of Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy. That definition surely includes Russia..."

*The FTSE group is a company in London that maintains the Financial Times Stock Exchange Index (FTSE - pronounced "footsie") which is the British equivalent of the Dow Jones Industrial Average that measures the activity of the New York Stock Exchange.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, September 19, 2008


Melody Dickison, who teaches at Wayne High School in Huber Heights, OH, found Buzztracker. She wrote about her discovery on the AP government and politics "electronic discussion group."

Buzztracker is terrific. As Melody wrote, this web site maps world news daily.

To the left of the map on the main web page is a list of "Today's Top Locations," which offers the sources of the news stories they are tracking. As you roll your cursor over the red circles on the map (on the Buzztracker site), the names of the places appear. If you click on a circle, a list of news stories pops up.

For instance, on Friday morning, 19 September, eleven stories show up when I clicked on the Beijing circle.

* (5) AlertNet EU wants explanation of widening China milk scandal
* (3) People's Daily French president lauds Beijing Paralympics
* (2) AlertNet RPT-Foreign firms gain from China milk powder scanda...
* (2) AlertNet EU expects full accounting of China milk scandal
* (2) Xinhua News Photographer behind tiger photo scandal to stand ...
* (2) People's Daily Photographer behind tiger photo scandal to sta...
* (1) The Guardian Rescue relieves last banks standing
* (1) DNA India Jankovic knocked out of Pan Pacific Open
* (1) AlertNet Singapore advises recall of China-made yoghurt bars
* (1) Xinhua News Wen's UN visit shows China's support for developm...
* (1) The Star Parents, kids crowd hospitals in wake of China's mil...

It's a list begging to be sorted by somebody's criteria. How well would your students be able to pick out the stories relevant to government and politics? It would be a good exercise and one that offers repeated opportunities for practice.

Check out Buzztracker. You might find it a useful part of your news reading regimen.

Thanks, Melody.

If you find something valuable that's relevant to our endeavors to teach comparative politics, let us know about it. Use the comment feature at the end of each entry to send me a note.

Or join the Sharing Comparative group and post a description of a teaching plan or resource on the group web page. You do have to join the group in order to take advantage of the 70 fine minds of people who belong and the teaching plans posted there. Contact me about that too.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Parties or factions?

Political divisions in Iran are not represented by political parties as much as by personalities.

From Al Arabia:

Infighting among Iran's current, former leaders

"Iran's former president Mohammad Khatami [right] has criticized the government's confrontational foreign policy, saying it plays into enemy hands and harms the country, a newspaper reported on Sunday.

"'Aggressive and sharp slogans play into the enemy's hands to hurt the country and the system,' Kargozaran newspaper quoted the reformist Khatami as saying in a speech in western Iran...

"The reformist former president also hit out at Ahmadinejad's administration for 'presenting wrong statistics' about its economic achievements over the past three years.

"There has been speculation that Khatami, who was president from 1997 to 2005, may seek a third term in office in 2009.

"Ahmadinejad, who put social justice on top his agenda when he campaigned for president, has come under fire from reformists and conservatives alike for his expansionist economic policies and rising inflation..."

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Unionization, Chinese style

Is this for the benefit of Chinese workers or a way to extend the power of the Party or a way to fund government without raising direct taxes or all of those?

China Tells Businesses to Unionize

"Some of the world’s biggest corporations are facing intense pressure from China to allow the state-approved union to form in their Chinese plants and offices. But many companies fear admitting the unions will give their Chinese employees the power to slow or disrupt their operations and will significantly increase the cost of doing business here...

"Lawyers and analysts say that demands of the All China Federation of Trade Unions, the only union the Communist Party allows, could sharply alter business practices of foreign companies in China, including giving lower-level workers the power to bargain over anything from pay raises to whether a Chinese headquarters should be moved elsewhere in the country...

" Hundreds of big corporations, like Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and Yum Brands, which operates KFC and Pizza Hut, have agreed to set up unions in their Chinese operations.

"But union officials say that some nonmanufacturing companies are resisting...

"The new government pressure seems to be part of a sweeping effort aimed at addressing some of the ugly consequences of China’s dynamic economic growth, like rampant pollution, a growing income gap and widespread labor abuse.

"Up until now, though, the state-controlled union has done little to agitate on behalf of workers, legal experts say, and has often done more to control workers than to benefit them. The union’s reputation for allowing abuses to exists has led some to doubt whether it can properly represent workers.

"But the union, which says it already has 200 million members, is promising to truly represent workers, and is gaining standing with Communist Party leaders...

"Many big corporations in China that have recently allowed unions to form under pressure have declined to comment on the union drive. Some company spokesmen have admitted privately that they do not want to raise the ire of the state-controlled union or anger China’s political leaders, who are backing the effort.

"But several big companies said they were working well with the union. Wal-Mart, which for years has fought against unions in the United States and elsewhere, now has unions operating in nearly all of its 108 stores in China..."

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mass un-civil society

While there's a commonly-recognized difference between elite and mass politics in Nigeria, there seems to be a parallel difference between elite and mass civil society. According to Will Connors, writing in the Washington Post, the mass civil society in Port Harcourt is decidedly un-civil and criminal.

And it might be close to outright warfare.

From Boom to Bust in Nigeria

"Nigeria's economy is among the fastest-growing in the world, but most people live on less than $1 a day. The poverty, combined with an influx of weapons, has led to rampant crime. Armed gangs kidnap foreigners and wealthy Nigerians for ransom, steal oil, and attack restaurants and clubs. Bystanders are often caught in the crossfire...

"Port Harcourt, the hub of Nigeria's oil-producing Niger River Delta region, was once known for its bustling streets and vibrant night life, fueled by foreign oil workers with ample allowances, and local traders and club owners eager to capitalize on the boon that followed the discovery of oil...

"Government officials concede that the problems damaged the city and region but say order has been restored. The insecurity 'has really hurt the Niger Delta region, not just Port Harcourt, in so many ways,' said state information commissioner Nwuke Ogbonna. 'But we're going after them. We're trying to guarantee more security for people wanting to come out at night and enjoy the city. We believe that we are on top of the situation now.'

"Residents say fear and suspicion, of militants and the police, pervades Port Harcourt...

"Efforts at long-lasting reform in the delta, such as peace talks and wealth-sharing agreements, have been ineffectual. According to analysts, a large part of the problem is that politicians and military leaders are linked to the region's instability...

"The government body established with the sole mandate of improving the delta, the Niger Delta Development Commission, has come under fire for corruption..."

Oil rebels declare war in Nigeria

"The main militant group in Nigeria's southern oil region declared a state of war yesterday after two days of clashes with the armed forces, raising the spectre of a stepped-up conflict in Africa's oil giant.

"The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has focused mostly on hobbling Nigeria's oil industry since it emerged nearly three years ago, bombing pipelines in hopes of forcing the federal government to send more revenues to the impoverished oil-producing south.

"But a military task force involving marine, land and air forces has stepped up its activities in recent weeks, and the militant group said that two days of relatively rare ground battles with the military meant the region was in a state of war."

From the BBC: Oil station 'blown up' in Nigeria

"Militants in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta region say they have destroyed an oil installation a day after declaring they were "at war" with the military.

"A flow station belonging to Shell in Alakiri, in Rivers State, was attacked in the early hours of the morning, a military spokesman confirmed...

"On Sunday, militants said they had "declared war" on the government after battling security forces guarding oil facilities...

"Mend's violent campaign for a bigger part of the area's oil wealth has cut Nigeria's oil output by more than 20%.

"Mend militants are the most publically visible of several armed groups operating in the impoverished delta region..."

Labels: , ,

Reorganization continues (part 3)

Is Yar'Adua claiming real power after over a year in office?

Nigerian president tightens his grip after ill-health rumours

"Umaru Yar'Adua, Nigeria's president, has sought to strengthen his grip on power by shaking up government ministries after a health scare triggered frantic speculation over whether he was too sick to survive in office...

"Mr Yar'Adua has attracted growing criticism for the slow pace of reforms, and has moved slowly to overturn a legacy of appointments by former president Olusegun Obasanjo, a domineering ex-general who engineered his succession at elections in May last year.

"But Nigerian commentators say the shake-up would allow Mr Yar'Adua to deliver a long-awaited reshuffle to replace Obasanjo loyalists in his cabinet. The reforms include creating separate ministries for petroleum, power and police...

"Mr Yar'Adua's quest to assert his authority in a country of 140m people and some of Africa's most Machiavellian politicians is being closely watched by investors seeking a stake in Nigeria's energy reserves, banks and telecoms market..."

ANALYSIS-Nigerian reform on hold despite Yar'Adua's changes

"Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua's strengthening grip on power is still unlikely to mean a revival of economic reforms that have stagnated since he took office 16 months ago.

"Yar'Adua, known by his critics as 'Baba Go-Slow,' has imposed a major shake-up in Africa's most populous nation in recent weeks -- replacing military chiefs, restructuring key ministries and preparing for a possible cabinet reshuffle.

The sweeping changes come amid growing frustration, from both Nigerians and foreign investors, over chronic power problems, poor infrastructure, and persistent violence in the oil-producing Niger Delta. 'Yar'Adua is known as a do-nothing man. I don't think these changes will achieve anything,' said Bismarck Rewane, chief executive of Financial Derivatives, a Lagos-based consultancy...

"Concerns have also arisen over the seriousness of Yar'Adua's pledged fight against corruption after the sacking and demotion of the top police officer who had led it and had won respect at home and abroad...

"'The key in Nigeria is individuals as much as institutions. You can have a good structure, but without the right people it isn't going anywhere,' said Antony Goldman, an analyst at London-based risk consultancy PM consulting..."

Labels: , ,

Reorganization continues (part 2)

Many things in Nigeria are in transition. So, I consider this week's news as prelude. It's something we should pay attention to for awhile.

Last week, Nigerian President Yar'Adua created a new ministry and reorganized his cabinet.

From ThisDay in Lagos:

Yar'Adua Creates Ministry of Niger Delta

"President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua yesterday stepped up ongoing moves to revamp the machinery of his government with the restructuring of the federal ministries under which a Ministry of Niger Delta has emerged.

"Also, Aviation, Transport, Works, Housing and Urban Development, Water Resources, as well as Agriculture and Rural Development are now substantive ministries...

"Secretary to Government of the Federation, Alhaji Mahmud Yayale Ahmed, said the new Ministry of Niger Delta which will have two ministers, would lead and coordinate environmental and youth empowerment policy initiatives as well as reinforce the administration's commitment to the overall development of the region.

He said there would not be any duplication between the new ministry and the Niger Delta Development Commis-sion (NDDC) as the latter will be a parastatal under the ministry..."

Doubts over Niger Delta ministry

"Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua has announced that a new ministry will be created to deal with the problems of the oil-rich Niger Delta.

"The region has seen little economic development in the 50 years that oil has been produced there and militants often attack oil installations...

"Activists say that the region needs real government, infrastructural development and jobs to prevent politically well-connected crude oil-stealing syndicates from further destabilising the region.

"The Delta region is the source of most of the government's income, yet it remains in poverty.

Corruption has left the whole region largely ungoverned..."

See also:

Labels: , ,

Monday, September 15, 2008

The nation-state myth

This is an interesting essay by Devin Stewart [right], Director, Global Policy Innovations at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and Editor of policyinnovations.org.

It would be a good tool to use when asking students to evaluate the accepted definition of nation-state in their textbooks.

Ending the Nation-State Myth

"This fall, thousands of college students will be taught a myth presented as fact. It is a myth that has helped fuel wars and may hinder finding solutions to the world’s biggest problems. Though the origin of this myth is cloudy, science has proven its falsity, and a globalized world has rendered it anachronistic. I am talking about the nation-state.

"The nation-state myth conflates two ideas, one that is concrete, the state, and one that is fuzzy, the nation. The utility of the state is clear. It is a necessary organizing principle that allows people to pool their resources for the common good and mobilize against common threats, whether they are floods or invading armies. The state is also the final arbiter of law. State power is even on the rise, partly as a backlash to globalization and as a result of growing wealth from energy markets.

"But the nation-state as a basis for statecraft obscures the nature of humanity’s greatest threats. Pollution, terrorism, pandemics, and climate change are global phenomena. They do not respect national sovereignty, and, therefore, they necessitate global cooperation.

"The origin of the nation-state idea is unclear...

"This division of core and periphery is common in many countries...

"It is difficult to imagine a nation that is confined to one state or a state that contains one nation...

"If policymakers are to address today’s problems, they must think more broadly. One place to start may be to reexamine the concept of the nation-state, which students around the world are taught...

"As the philosopher Peter Singer showed in his book One World, a united front against the biggest problems facing the world will require a fundamental shift in attitude – away from parochialism and toward a redefinition of self-interest.

"Enlightened self-interest can be state-based, but interests would be re-defined to encompass universal principles such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If these interests are to gain universal recognition, we will need to shed the nation-state myth once and for all."

Labels: , ,

Friday, September 12, 2008

Tiny message; much implied meaning

If you presented this article to your students, how well could they explain this unprecedented news?

From Xinhua:

CPC, Kuomintang to hold inter-party forum in December

"BEIJING, Sept. 10 (Xinhua) -- The Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Kuomintang (KMT) will hold an inter-party forum in December, the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Li Weiyi said here on Wednesday."

Hu Jintao (R), general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, extends to shake hands with Wu Poh-Hsiung, Chairman of Taiwan Kuomintang and his delegation at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing May 28, 2008.

Labels: ,

In a theocracy...

government enforces religious rules.

Iran closes eateries for violating Ramadan ban

"Iran has shut down more than 200 eateries and warned 26,000 people for violating a ban on eating and offering food before sunset during Ramadan, Iran's deputy police chief was quoted as saying...

"[D]uring the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims are required to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and having sex from dawn to dusk..."

Labels: , ,

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Global timeline of terrorist incidents

Okay, this is from Wikipedia. That implies some questions about accuracy and reliability. But, this list which begins in 1800 with an attempt to assassinate Napoleon, is a reminder that terrorism is something people have lived with for a long time.

List of terrorist incidents

"The following is a timeline of acts and failed attempts that can be considered non-state terrorism...

"There is no single accepted definition of non-state terrorism in common use. Incidents listed here are restricted to those that: (a) are not believed to have been state-sponsored; and (b) are commonly called terrorism or meet some of the commonly used criteria.

"1800: Plot of the Rue Saint-Nicaise, assassination attempt on Napoleon Bonaparte, in Paris on 24 December 1800...

"September 6, 2008: Two bombs exploded in the city of Peshawar. The first occurred when suicide bomber in a pickup truck, detonated near a paramilitary checkpoint, killing 16. Two hours later, a suicide bomber struck a police post, killing 30 and injuring dozens..."

Labels: ,

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Not exactly Mao

Or at least not the first thing that comes to my mine when I see the name Mao.

From the photo blog, ziboy, of Wen Ling, a Beijing photographer. He frequently takes pictures at concerts and other pictures offer an insider's view of life in China's capital city.

Here's one of his latest:

Labels: ,

Change begins in Mexico

Mexico undergoes legal revolution

"Mexico is in the midst of a legal revolution, and Cristal Gonzalez is on the front lines.

"The U.S.-trained lawyer is one of a growing number of Mexican attorneys putting judges, lawyers, investigators and clerks through crash courses in justice, now that Mexico has amended its constitution to throw out its inept and corrupt legal system.

"Some of her lessons may seem blindingly obvious. Yet they drive home just how dysfunctional are Mexico's courts and police.

"On a recent evening, the 30-year-old lawyer explained Mexico's new rules of justice to a class of 200 professionals with the clarity of a preschool teacher: 'The accused is IN-NO-CENT until proven guilty!...'

"Under the constitutional amendment passed by the legislature, approved by all 32 states and signed by President Felipe Calderón, Mexico has eight years to replace its closed proceedings with public trials in which defendants are presumed innocent, legal authorities can be held more accountable and justice is equal...

"Since the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, Mexico has had an inquisitorial system adopted from Europe in which the accused is not presumed to be innocent and proceedings are largely carried out in writing and in secret.

"Inquisitorial systems are still used in many countries. But Mexico's version had become so corrupt, Gonzalez said, that 'if police put someone's head in excrement and the person confessed, the confession was admitted if the paperwork followed procedures as far as fingerprints, the signature of the public minister, etc.'

"Without the threat of exposure in public trials, mistaken arrests, bungled investigations and confessions extracted under threats and torture have become common in Mexico...

"Under the old rules, suspects are routinely paraded in front of cameras before they have been charged, sometimes holding weapons allegedly used in crimes. Lawyers often pay witnesses to write favorable testimony, Gonzalez said, and there are no cross-examinations of witnesses, emotional courtroom exchanges or clever closing arguments...

"Judges – not juries of peers – will still determine guilt or innocence. “This is not a copy of the gringo system,” Gonzalez told the class.

"Instead, Mexico chose a criminal code similar to the one adopted in 2005 by Chile, where cases are examined by three judges who consider the legality of the evidence and whether the defendant's rights were respected. Then, the judges send cases to trial or recommend other means of adjudication, such as a plea bargain or probation.

"The new penal code is no miracle cure, but supporters say it has more safeguards, such as limits on detention without charges, the right to a lawyer and a speedy trial..."

Of course, there are skeptics. One of them added this comment to the online news story: "Good luck and if you believe the fairy tale of the new system in mexico, it will only create a more efficiente bribe system for more money"

See also:

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Two-nil down

When the political party is losing popularity, members start making suggestions for improving things. sometimes that means publicizing cleavages within the party and criticizing the leadership. In the Labour Party, it's nearly come to endorsing the opposition leader.

Vicious union attack deepens Labour rift

"Labour's civil war reaches new heights today as the leader of Britain's biggest union launches a venomous personal attack on Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

In an outspoken interview with The Observer on the eve of the Trades Union Congress, Derek Simpson [right], joint general secretary of Unite, the union with the biggest group of Labour MPs at Westminster, accused Miliband, in a stream of swearwords, of being 'smug' and 'arrogant'.

"In terms that caused fury on the right of the party, he also said Miliband would take the country back to the 'failings of Blairism' and could be a worse choice as Prime Minister than the Tory leader David Cameron. 'We might as well elect Cameron. We might be better off with Cameron,' he said...

"Meanwhile, in an interview with today's Sunday Mirror, Schools Secretary Ed Balls urges Labour MPs to stick together while admitting that Labour is 'two-nil down' to the Conservatives in the race for the next General Election. He calls on MPs to 'stop jeering at the manager', insisting there is still 'a lot to play for'.

"'Everybody knows that if you are two-nil down five minutes into the second half, you don't give up. You keep playing. The winner is the team that sticks together, stays determined and has the fitness, resilience and determination to win,' he says."

Labels: , ,

Monday, September 08, 2008

More Chinese history

Jeremiah Jenne is a PhD Candidate at a large public research university in Northern California who is currently in Beijing teaching history, doing archival research, and working on his dissertation. He's also blogging at Jottings from the Granite Studio.

On August 25, he wrote, Why Hua Gofeng Matters. It's a follow up to the announcement of Hua's death.

It's a careful analysis of Hua's career, the politics that put him in the top job, the details of the defeat and arrest of the Gang of Four, and the politics that put Deng Xiaoping in Hua's place.

It is a fine historical essay, that might not be directly relevant to teaching comparative politics, but it will certainly inform your frame of reference.

Here are highlights of Jenne's essay:

"Most of [the obituaries] make note of Hua’s passing while dismissing him as a transitional figure forced to make way for Deng Xiaoping...

"Hua’s rise to “power” was not quite as sudden as most believe...

"Hua’s lack of factional ties, his Cultural Revolutionary credentials, and his trump card of “with you in charge, I can rest easy” made him a tough figure to immediately oppose...

"Hua reversed many Cultural Revolution-era policies: allowing greater academic and artistic freedom, and instituting a series of ambitious... schemes for economic growth... built on plans for modernization first put forth by Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping...

"Over time, Hua found that being Mao’s chosen successor was more political liability than asset..."

See also:

Labels: , , ,

Fighting corruption

In the ongoing saga of fighting corruption in China, the lack of transparency means that it's very difficult to tell whether corruption or political competition is being reduced.

How well could your students identify examples of the lack of transparency from this account?

Chinese Officials Accused of Embezzlement

"Ten central government departments, including the powerful Ministry of Finance, “misused or embezzled” more than $660 million last year, according to a report from China’s top auditor.

"The report said 88 people had been arrested, 14 officials had been referred for prosecution and an additional 104 government employees had been punished for their roles in mismanaging or embezzling government funds...

"Liu Jiayi [left], the nation’s top auditor, said in the report that a further $6 billion in government funds had been “mismanaged” last year...

"Since 1999, the national audits, dubbed the “audit storm,” have resulted in the discovery of billions of dollars worth of fraud and mismanagement...

"The national auditor rarely publishes the names of government officials involved in the fraud, or ties their actions to the country’s highest-ranking officials. And few details are revealed about what happened to money...

"Analysts say the crackdowns on corruption are aimed at bringing greater accountability to all levels of government, and at containing a problem that some consider so widespread that it could undermine support for the ruling Communist Party...

" This 'is one of the highlights of the Hu administration, that government is becoming more and more transparent and open,' said Zhu Lijia, a professor at the National School of Administration in Beijing. 'Years ago, you could never imagine such a big amount of embezzled money would be audited and then publicized.'

"Other analysts, though, say some of those ensnared in corruption investigations are targeted because of political fighting within the party, often with the losers’ crimes exposed and some officials jailed after a closed-door trial..."

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Comparative spending

I'm not yet sure exactly how to tie this into comparative politics, but I'm a fan of well-done graphic presentations.

This morning the New York Times has a wonderful set of abstract maps showing how people in many countries spend their discretionary income. Five of the AP6 are included. Iran is missing. You might have to search a bit to find Nigeria, but it's there.

What Your Global Neighbors Are Buying

There are 5 "maps," clothing and footwear, electronics, alcohol and tobacco, household goods, and recreation. Countries are represented by colored squares. The size and color of the squares indicate the level of per capita spending. When you roll your cursor over a square, the total spending for that category pops up.

The one thing that stands out to me as I look at the maps is how huge the US economy is. It appears to be at least three times the size of any other country in all 5 categories.

Labels: ,

Friday, September 05, 2008

Strange allies

In Iranian politics, there are sometimes unexpected allies. Sounds like politics in other systems.

Iranian Parliament Delays Vote on Bill That Upset Judiciary, Women's Activists

"Iran's parliament has indefinitely delayed a vote on proposed changes to the country's civil law that had angered an unusual coalition of women's rights activists and Iran's judiciary. The opponents, more accustomed to disagreeing with each other than finding common cause, shared concerns that the legislation would promote polygamy and undermine women's financial independence.

"The assembly decided Sunday to send the bill back to its legal committee for more work, a decision that analysts said would result in the removal of changes made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's cabinet.

"Ali Reza Jamshidi [left], spokesman for Iran's judiciary, explained Tuesday that the organization disagreed with the cabinet's positions on polygamy and the taxing of 'bridal treasures'...

"Iran's judiciary not only oversees prosecution and judgment; it also drafts legislation so that it conforms with Islamic law...

"Women's rights activist... found an unexpected ally when they began objecting to the bill after the cabinet revised it this year...

"Much protest focused on what was seen as the promotion of polygamy in the version revised by the cabinet...

"Even though Iran is a Muslim nation and Islam permits polygamy, it is highly uncommon for Iranian men to have more than one wife at a time..."

Labels: , ,

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Unconventional participation in Mexico

Well, maybe not so unconventional in Mexico City. Remember the political culture and politics of the capital city is distinct from the rest of the country.

More than 100,000 Mexicans protest crime wave

"MEXICO CITY – More than 100,000 frustrated Mexicans, many carrying pictures of kidnapped loved ones, marched across the country Saturday to demand government action against a relentless tide of killings, abductions and shootouts.

"The mass candlelight protests were a challenge to the government of President Felipe Calderón, who has made fighting crime a priority...

"City officials refused to give a crowd estimate, but the Zocalo can hold nearly 100,000 people. Tens of thousands overflowed into the surrounding streets, unable to squeeze into the square. Thousands more protested in cities across the country...

"While impoverished Mexicans stage almost daily strikes and protests, Saturday's marches brought out thousands of middle-class citizens who are often the targets of kidnappings. The protest was inspired by the abduction and murder of the 14-year-old son of a wealthy businessman – a case that provoked an outcry when prosecutors said a police detective was a key participant in the abduction for ransom...

"Having staked his presidency on improving security, Calderón responded to the rising anger by summoning governors and mayors to a national security meeting, drawing up a a 74-point anti-crime plan.

"It included plans for better police recruiting and oversight systems, as well as an anti-kidnapping strategy within six months. The Defense Department promised to equip police with more powerful automatic weapons.

"Calderón has urged patience, warning that rooting out drug gangs and bringing security to the streets would not happen by decree..."

See also: Mexicans add modern tool to ancient art of protest: Facebook

"The protest is an art form in Mexico. Load up a bus by offering a meal or a few pesos as an incentive, arm the troops with signs and bullhorns, and find a strategic plaza or street for maximum attention or disruption.

"But with outrage bubbling after the kidnapping and murder of a teenage boy, a 27-year-old teacher has found a new way to rally Mexicans, a modern tool known here by its English name: Facebook.

"On a whim, America Aleman organized an anti-crime march on her Facebook page, the same one she uses to send party invitations to her 1,000 "friends." In just two weeks, her event page added tens of thousands of supporters on the social-networking site, and Aleman became a regular on Mexico's largest media outlets.

"The Mexico City power brokers behind a competing march were so impressed by Aleman's cyber-organizing that they asked to combine efforts and installed her on the steering committee for a candlelight march Saturday that drew more than 100,000 in Mexico City..."

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Another dimension to dissent in northwest China

Alan Carter wrote from the UK with a reference to this article from The Financial Times. It offers us another aspect of the dissent and resistance in Xinjiang.

Xinjiang oil boom fuels Uighur resentment

"'Offer energy resources as tribute [to Beijing] to create harmony' proclaims a giant billboard outside a petrol station in Korla, in China’s restive western frontier region of Xinjiang.

The increasing importance of the Muslim-dominated Xinjiang autonomous region as a source of the energy and minerals needed to fuel China’s booming eastern cities is raising the stakes for Beijing in its battle against separatists agitating for an independent state...

"Mineral exploration began in the Tarim Basin at the start of last century but it was not until 1958, nearly a decade after the Chinese Communist revolution and the re-conquest of Xinjiang, that the first oilfield went into production.

"At that time Uighurs, a Muslim Turkic people with stronger links to central Asia than the rest of China, were the only inhabitants. Today, Han Chinese from central and eastern provinces make up 70 per cent of the population in Korla [a major Xinjiang city]...

"Uighur resentment has been exacerbated by a massive security operation timed to coincide with the Olympic and Paralympic Games period...

"'There are a lot of people who want Xinjiang to be independent of China but we personally don’t even dare think those thoughts,' said one Uighur in Korla when asked what he thought of the separatist cause..."

Labels: , ,

Demographics and politics

One of the things I thought of when I read these articles was about future political leaders in the UK.

If you ask your students to compare the political careers of Barack Obama and Sarah Palin to the careers of earlier leaders (like Ted Kennedy or Tony Blair), what similarities and differences would they identify?

Now, what do the changes predicted for Britain tell us about future political leaders in the UK? What route would a politically ambitious young person in the UK follow for success, given the demographic changes coming in the British Isles?

And if not politicians, how about policies? What implications are there for policy choices in the changing population?

Multiplying and arriving: Immigrants and babies could make Britain the EU’s biggest country

"IF DEMOGRAPHY is destiny, then the British are roaring forward. On August 27th Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical service, predicted that by 2060 Britain would be the EU’s largest country, with a population of 77m (compared with around 61m today). Germany, the current top dog, will see its 82m citizens dwindle to 71m over the same period. Britain’s boom will be fuelled by a mix of immigration and a comparatively high birth rate...

"Besides getting bigger, Britain will also remain youthful, at least by EU standards. Although the share of people over 65 will rise from 16% to 25% by 2060, that will still mean fewer greybeards than anywhere else in Europe except Luxembourg...

"In the wake of enthusiastic migration from eastern Europe from 2004, local councils complained that official underestimates of their populations left them starved of cash and unable to do their jobs properly. And a popular conception that Britain is “full” receives some backing from statistics. Although its overall population density of 251 people per square kilometre is not particularly high for western Europe, England has 392 people per square kilometre, the second-highest density in Europe (behind the tiny Netherlands, with 395)...

"Such pressure may persuade officials to consider demography in their planning, something that they do only intermittently now, mainly when considering social-security entitlements. But demographic predictions are notoriously unreliable..."

Andrew Anthony asks some questions in a Guardian op-ed piece:

The time has come to say Britain is full

"The science of demographic projection and the art of scaremongering enjoy a relationship akin to that of the sadist and masochist... Thus forecasts of increasing population numbers are guaranteed to produce dystopian visions of social collapse...

"Last week, the European Commission announced its most recent population predictions. Britain came top of the league with an estimated growth in the next 50 years of 16 million people. With a total of 77 million inhabitants, Britain is predicted to become the most populous country in Europe.

"To those who view the world through a purely economic prism, these figures are a cause for celebration...

"This has become the rationale for the policy of population expansion. To deal with greater life expectancy, runs the theory, we need to produce or, rather, import more people...

"It's impossible to know the future, but there's no excuse for ignoring the present and just now things feel a little cramped in Britain, especially in the south east. Roads are almost permanently clogged, public transport is a mess, schools and hospitals are full and the sense of friction, the tension of reduced personal space, is often palpable. Would these problems be alleviated with another 16 million, the majority of whom would settle in the south?

"And here we come to the main problem of discussing the benefits and drawbacks of population growth. Immigration is inextricably tied to the issue of race. To wonder if 10 million new migrants is a good thing is to stray into territory most notably occupied by racists. In fact, immigration has become a much more complex matter than race; it's not uncommon, as author Mike Phillips noted last week in these pages, to see black Londoners complaining about the presence of white Poles. None the less, it's a sensitive matter and that's one reason the immigration debate has been restricted to the more neutral ground of economics...

"However, economic success is not the only guide to a nation's health.

See also: Immigration trends: Poles depart

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Commercial law

While political scientists focus on civil and criminal law, the development of commercial law in a country like China is part of the creation of the rule of law. After all, assumptions about how capitalism will help create democracy are based, in part, on the idea that the use of commercial and property law will lead to the demand for civil and criminal law and due process.

Those of us in countries where commercial law has been evolving for hundreds of years, might forget some of the details that are necessary. A country where commercial law has been developing for just over a quarter century has to deal with all the picky details.

China amends criminal law to punish pyramid sales

"China is considering establishing a new crime concerning pyramid sales in its draft amendment to the Criminal Law submitted to the country's top legislature...

"Pyramid selling, in which one sales person relies on recruiting subordinate sales people, was banned by cabinet regulations in 1998."

Labels: ,