Chikashi Miyamoto

philosopher by training, gentleman by accident, pervert by nature, glutton by choice

Tag: politics

Does Mrs Sturgeon Know What She Wants?

It’s one thing to know what one doesn’t want, but it can be a wee bit harder to know what one wants. The Scottish National Party do not want Scotland to remain part of Britain. They sound like they know what they want because they go on about wanting independence.

Mrs Sturgeon has been getting plenty of air time and column inches in the months following the Brexit referendum. She has had many opportunities to go beyond a few buzz words and explain what her plan actually is for Scotland if secession from Britain is accomplished. I don’t get the sense that she knows where she’s going once she’s out that door.

Even before the Brexit referendum, Mrs Sturgeon had articulated SNP’s desire to leave the UK and join the EU as a member state. I have always struggled with this concept of leaving a small union only to join a much larger union and have even less influence. (It’s tempting to use some fish metaphors here, but I will resist.) What is the point?

After the Brexit referendum, the case for wanting to join the EU acquired the heretofore lacking context. A lucky retrofit.

Still, there is deafening silence amongst SNP members on how Scotland would survive as a sovereign nation and become a member state of the European Union. It seems to me that they simply assume that Scotland will ascend to EU membership almost without delay after leaving the UK.

I do not understand why that would be the case.

The EU has a giant fiscal debacle called Greece. Greece is the reigning champ in terms of national deficit as a proportion of GDP. Greece makes Spain in second place look healthy.

Scotland makes Greece look like a booming economy.

It is politically and economically untenable for the EU to allow Scotland to become a member state unless and until Scotland sorts out her finances. Does Mrs Sturgeon have a realistic plan to accomplish this?

SNP supporters often refer to the Scottish oil reserve. It’s a funny thing to say repeatedly. If I were them, I would try not to mention it at all lest I cause awkwardness or even embarrassment.

The estimated cost of oil production in the North Sea, where the Scottish reserve is located, is $44 a barrel. It’s very high. It wouldn’t matter as long as the market price of crude is flying high. However, I wonder if Mrs Sturgeon has seen the prevailing price.

Or, the fact that OPEC and Russia are bracing for a price war. In a price war, the price tends to go down, not up.

One does not need a team of quants at Goldman Sachs to see if Scotland can live off their oil reserve if the handouts from England end without the EU stepping in to fill the void.

It does not seem like Mrs Sturgeon knows what she and her supporters want.


The Euro, the Misguided Adventure

Despite the successive UK governments in the last 20 odd years seeming a bit farcical, one thing that they, along with Denmark, did get right is to opt out, and stay out, of the euro.

I tend not to discuss matters of politics for a variety of reasons, but the subject of the euro and the Frankenstein called the European Union is proving to be too strong a temptation.

image via Swedish Canary

The European Monetary Union reminds me of collateralised debt obligations with collaterals of mortgage backed securities. Mix a few good apples with a bunch of rotten ones, shake it around a bit, and voilà, you have a large, good looking basket of apples with multiplying worms.

I don’t see how a monetary union can be workable without a political union. I think that a free trade zone is a good thing, but to actually have a fully fledged common market requires a political union. I appreciate that there are plenty of politicians, bureaucrats and academics who believe that having a monetary union will eventually force a political union given its necessity. Money talks, as the theory goes.

Except the logic seems to ignore a critical factor or two: human beings and regional history.

It’s tempting to buy into the idea that ‘Europe’ must be equipped to compete with large economies like the US or China and that the way to remain competitive is to have a common market. However, buying into it requires that one starts with the fallacious premise that is held by many Americans: ‘Europe’ is essentially one entity inhabited by one cultural and ethnic group called ‘Europeans’ who live ‘European lives’, that just because these people inhabit the same continent somehow makes them culturally homogeneous or that they share enough characteristics to form one big nation called United States of Europe or whatever. Just because a famous crook like Kissinger once wondered out loud about whom to call when he wants to speak to Europe doesn’t give rise to a singular entity called Europe rather than just a designation for a geographic region. The popularity of conflating and confusing discrete elements does not transform a fallacy into a cogent inference.

It’s hard to imagine a viable monetary union without the platform for, at minimum, a common fiscal and monetary policies. I cannot see that platform being anything other than political union.

During the dot com craze at the turn of the millenium, there was no shortage of pundits extolling the inevitability and strategic imperative of convergence: media channels, content, distribution, etc. all coming together. Anyone remember the Time Warner – AOL tragicomedy? It was not the first or the last time that some people got all excited about convergence whilst history has proven many times that diversification or replacement, not convergence, is the likely outcome as new innovations enter the market. Convergence foretell a theoretically simplified world, so I can appreciate how sexy it sounds. However, it tends to betray one’s ignorance of history, if nothing else. Some of it isn’t even in the past; it is in the present.

I live in a tiny country with disproportionate problems related to unification, harmonisation and trust. Despite covering just 30500 sq km with only 11 million residents, Belgium has 3 officially recognised languages. The crown prince, now the sovereign, even has had for many years a foundation whose mission is to promote harmony amongst the 3 linguistic communities in the country. It sounds like a bad joke, but it’s anything but: the problem the foundation wants to address is real. Not a few in Flanders desire secession. Politically, it’s a mess partly because the Flemish politicians are not accountable to Walloon voters and vice versa, and the Brussels region exists in its own bubble.

Belgians are keen to refer to their nation as the capital of Europe given that many EU institutions are based in Belgium, namely, in Brussels. They are right in more ways than they perhaps intend. It is a tidy little illustration of why a Europe-wide political union is a pipe dream.

Belgium is not unique in having a segment of population who desire secession. Some Basques in Spain, northerners in Italy, Scottish and Catholics in the UK, just to name a few. All these people wanting to go their separate ways, and some well-meaning but unenlightened geeks want to force a larger union. Then, there are some deep-seated distrust of neighbouring countries based on history, preconceived notions and prejudices.

The lack of a common language is not to be underestimated. French has been designated as the final word in all official EU / EC documents mainly because the French language apparently is the most precise and the least vulnerable to diverging interpretations. Does that provide comfort to the Irish? I think not.

In theory, none of the above is insurmountable over time. I am more than happy to be proven wrong, but I think it is more unlikely than not. Regardless, implementing monetary union before achieving political union puts the cart squarely in front of the horse.

More recently, with the migrant issue hitting the headlines, there have been talks of re-introducing passport controls for movements between the Schengen Area member states. The irony.

Having a common currency is very convenient when travelling from one country to another. Trading with counterparties in other euro zone countries is easy and free of forex risks. I think that convenience should be available not for free but at a cost, whether direct or indirect. However, the cost of this particular convenience seems too high for the privilege. It seems evident that a collective of sovereign member states driving in different gears and in different directions cannot be expected to manage a single currency properly.

As far as I can see, the euro is a failed experiment, collapsing under layers of delusions and pretences. One cannot be half pregnant. It would be better for all concerned to cut the losses and revert to national currencies and the ECU. The cost savings from dismantling the enormous EU / EC machinery in Brussels might be sufficient to pay for the cost of discarding the euro. The euro can be revisted when political union is within reach, but I am not holding my breath.

Making a Statement

image via Demotix

image via Demotix

Teruki Goto, an independent, right-wing candidate (and singer) currently running for mayor in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

Don’t ask what the statement might be. Not a clue.

Having shared his campaign poster currently plastered all over Chiyoda, I wish you all a lovely weekend.

Acknowledgement:  Thanks for the tip-off, David.

Postscript:  I do wonder what Cicciolina is doing these days… I have rather fond memories of the Made in Heaven exhibit at Sonnabend Gallery, being tickled to death at the sight of little old purple-haired ladies screeching and gasping every time they entered another room with a giant photo of Mr and Mrs Koons. I thought, ‘But you girls have probably done stuff that I haven’t even thought of.’ Priceless. Ilena Sonnabend, RIP.

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