Monday, June 23, 2008

Financial Times Journalist v. Me (or someone who has actually been to Ireland!)

For two weeks in a row a gentleman at the Financial Times has been, in my biased estimation, too rough on Ireland. I think he thinks a bit too much of the EU's role in the "Irish Miracle" (a term I hate). Here is my response.

Mr. Wolfgang Munchau of the Financial Times writes this week that the Irish are in danger of ruining their economic “miracle” based on the recent “NO” vote on the Lisbon Treaty referendum. Well Mr. Munchau, I think you discount the Irish and misunderstand the definition of “miracle”.

Wolfgang Munchau suggests in two recent articles that the Lisbon Treaty is destined to be ratified with or without the Irish, fair enough, but I don’t see how if the convoluted rules of the European Union state otherwise. Sure, as Munchau pointed out, The Republic of Ireland could be kicked out in some back room slick deal by an “unpredictable court,” but how is that good for the EU? What precedent and unintended consequences does that course of action suggest?

As an American who has lived in Ireland I am torn as to the best course for Ireland, I suppose on the one hand the “No” vote has signaled to the EU that it is a loose affiliation of States that has real limits on its ability to encroach on the sovereignty of a member. As well, the “No” vote signaled that the Treaty, even with the concessions to Ireland, was still stained with the lingering stench of Corporate Tax Harmonization… a nasty little phrase that means that France and Germany are tired of watching Free Market Capitalism work for such a small “insignificant” country (or the basic idea/rule/heuristic that lower taxes stimulate economic growth, and an educated labor pool keeps costs low by providing levels of efficiency and productivity). Ireland has had its moment in the sun and now must be taxed into submission like the rest of Europe!

On the other hand the “Yes” vote steers the EU towards a more realistic and streamlined decision making process. Basically, the “Yes” is what is best for the EU and the “No” is what is best for Ireland. And, so far as Ireland is part of the EU what is good for the EU is good for Ireland… right? Maybe not. A utilitarian calculus might suggest that a weaker EU provides more room for aggressive, capitalist, economically principled economies to flourish and not be so easily raided from time to time to pay for broad-based least-common-denominator agendas from Brussels.

Yes the rest of Europe just can’t figure out why this small area historically rife with “troubles” has jumped so far ahead of so many other countries. Pundits and some in Europe, confused as to how this could happen, apparently suggest it was the hand of God or a “miracle” -because basic principles of economics certainly can’t be the reason.

Munchau in an attempt to understand the Irish Miracle has suggested that it is a matter of Corporatism, a Socialist pseudo-egalitarian concept that might be instructive in a classroom setting but looses its meaning when placed into a real world situation. The myriad of interests supposedly represented in a modern so-called Corporatist system can not possibly be satisfied in a complicated real world economy. But, to his credit Mr. Munchau does note that the one interest left out of this “system” is that of the EU. In the American South we would say that Ireland has relegated the EU to the “hind teet”.

Finally, in what can only be termed “grasping” Wolfgang Munchau also suggests that Ireland’s majority Anglophone populace is a chief reason for its success. While I do agree that speaking English is the only way to have a hand in the big game, I would like to introduce to the associate editor at the Financial Times a country called INDIA. Ireland has two official languages and India has over 20! No, Ireland’s tech based economy would still be just fine if Irish were the predominate language rather than English. I can understand Irish taxi drivers just as well as Dell tech-support from Bangalore.

The EU in its rush to be fair to all has seen the consequences of that fool’s errand. Utopian concepts will eventually be shown for what they are, and I believe what the road to Hell is paved with. Ireland does have some reckoning to deal with (like inflation, problems of socialism, the utopian concept of Neutrality and immigration) and the good-ole days of Ireland’s economic up turn are fewer and fewer ahead, but Ireland’s powerhouse performance will continue for now and it is not a fluke, a miracle or a gift from the EU. It is good policy based on economic principles and hard work. “Principles” and “Hard Work” yep… that sounds like the Ireland I know.

One of my few liberal heros gets it wrong on Oil Exploration

Below is my email to Thomas Friedman in response to his recent column in the NY Times. Mr. Friedman is a Liberal with sense... which is to say he rarely lets his heart get in the way of his head as most liberals do. In being this way he is often on the properside, the right side, of an issue. For example, Thomas understands that couching Alternative Energy to Republicans in an end of days/Al Gore rhetorical scenario will never work... but discribe it as Conservation, Innovation and Stewardship and Repubs can get their Conservative heads around the issue.

Mr. Friedman,

Wow, you really missed a big one here. You are all over Bush for asking the congress to open up the oil fields in the gulf and in ANWR when that is the very thing he should have insisted upon post 9/11 and then once again post Katrina. Now he is finally doing it (dubious timing, sure) and you think it is to get another "hit" for our oil addiction. To finish your analogy, what happens when a heroin addict quits cold-turkey? Can the US survive the convultions and shakes? De-tox ain't pretty.

I am sure you agree that there is nothing we can do to bring alternative energy to the masses until the infrastructure is in place? What do we do in the mean time? Suffer needlessly? Using current oil based infrastructure is the only means to effectively stave off short term (but very real) economic hardship.

Sure, not drilling would hasten alt energy infrastructer... but at what price? Inflation? Energy Security?

Respectfully, you missed the point on this one. I support your "Green" efforts not just for the nobility of it but the utility as well. But, you can not get from "A" to "C" without going to "B". Refusing to drill ANWR and the Gulf is trying to skip "B" and go to "C".

Keep up the good work.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Redux: Irish Neutrality

The following is from October of 2007. I was placed on an email list that went out to many in Irish academia calling for US troops to leave Shannon airport.

'Are you straight?"

'I am.'

'How straight?'

'As straight as a rush.'

'Go on, then.'

'In truth, in trust, in unity and liberty.'

'What have you got in your hand?'

'A green bough.'

'Where did it first grow?'

'In America.'

'Where did it first bud?'

'In France.'

'Where are you going to plant it?'

'In the crown of Great Britain.'

- A greeting of the United Irishmen Circa 1791

I am so glad I found my way on whatever list this is. Perhaps some
common sense and a bit of accuracy will help some of us.

First, the idea of Irish neutrality is what is "spurious". Neutrality
or what some like to consider neutrality happens only at the pleasure
of those that are NOT neutral. The same for pacifists. Both concepts
are utopian concepts that can never actually be achieved. Both
concepts survive only at the pleasure of those willing to stand for
something and defend something larger than an unattainable concept
like neutrality. Ireland is full of people willing to stand for these
"larger" concepts and may God bless their efforts.

Ireland the country that welcomed me and that I fell in love with is
not neutral, at least not in deed -though it may strive to be so in

Ireland is connected to the US and the non neutral West via economics,
among other things. It is the fact that these non "neutral" countries
stand for something concrete and are willing to defend and protect it
that provides the market relationships necessary for Western progress
of which Ireland is a major part.

Chief among these ideas in need of defense is that of energy security.
I am not defending US consumption practices, far from it. I am
merely pointing out how energy and OIL are the life blood of Western
(Irish) economies. To deny this is folly and perhaps the root of our
major differences. You do not touch one thing or travel to one place
or have one interaction that is not facilitated in some way by oil.
This FACT is immutable. Is this situation a "best-practice"? I think
not. Is it optimal? I think not. Is it correctable? I think so
-with conservation, stewardship and innovation. (Noticeably absent
from this list is fear-mongering, like Al Gore's "End of Days"

This "correction" is not forthcoming in a reasonable amount of time.
So, until the arrival of the distant future we must be pragmatic and
even utilitarian in our energy security policy. WE being the West or
developed world that Ireland is a part of. This pragmatic approach
includes having an influential role in the areas that provide the
energy the West (Ireland) needs. (Not to mention emerging economies
like China, India and Eastern Europe.) This influential role is the
crux of my admonition.

What bothers me most with the current Bush administration is the silly
and cowardly way they continue the failed policy of denying that the
war in Iraq was about energy security, ie... "a war for oil." Because
the cause of "energy security" in and of itself is as necessary a
cause as there has ever been. That cause should be explained clearly
not avoided as is the policy of the current administration. That
cause, "energy security," is axiomatic, a maxim, a heuristic. It is a
moral imperative.

Sadly in order for this moral imperative to be seen clearly many
people must step outside their own bias and out of the narrative they
have placed themselves in. A narrative for Ireland that promotes the
concept of neutrality when in fact Ireland is in the thick-of-it by
action and association –far from neutral. A narrative for many of us
that is an investment in both self-loathing and West-loathing.
Investment in this narrative sadly has some suffering from
true-believers syndrome. Or being so invested in your own bias that
even when faced with facts that counter your position you will
construct walls (read: lies) in your narrative that counter the
cognitive dissonance that occurs when confronted with the truth
-thereby, victimizing you. What is more, when you take it upon
yourself to induct others into your false narrative you victimize

Most wretchedly, once you have induced enough people the process
becomes easier. Your responsibility for the false narrative is
diffused over all that you have convinced of your bias. This
"group-think" will now transform the narrative into doctrine and
promote "mind-guards" to police dissent and deflect any attacks… even
those of reason!

Finally, I find the flaunting of death tolls particularly disturbing
because invariably it is done as an appeal to emotion rather than
reason. It is a distraction if the tolls are void of context as they
usually are. It is sad that many of us pick and choose the value we
place on human life so easily. If we were true humanitarians we would
look not at the cost of human life in terms of our comfort and
emotional well-being but rather we would look at it in a utilitarian
way. A way that sought to preserve the largest number of lives over
the longest foreseeable future.

When we extol the context-less body count we ignore history's lessons.
Lessons that have taught us again and again that freedom, liberty and
happiness are functions of hard work over great amounts of time. Hard
work that translates into men and women standing up for freedom and up
to tyranny. If your narrative suggests that energy security is best
provided in the hands of Saddam Hussein or Mahmood Ahmahdinejad rather
than people of liberty participating in a true Lockeian sovereignty
then you my friend are indeed suffering from a narrative rank with
group-think and self-loathing.

It is important to read this with an open mind but it is even more
important to not assume what is not written here. There is nothing
suggested here-in that says the Iraq war was the proper or best way to
provide energy security. There is nothing here that says the war was
and is being prosecuted efficiently. There is nothing here that says
Ireland should take up arms and join the US in Iraq or Afghanistan.
There is nothing here that says Ireland should take any aggressive
position with its own military. There is nothing here that suggests
Ireland's voice not be heard no matter what it is saying or how
difficult it is for the US to hear. What is written here is an
admonition to Ireland that it is neither neutral nor an outsider
looking in on the US and the broader West. It is a fully vested
player with all the rights, privileges and RESPONSIBILITIES that go
along with the progress and prosperity it enjoys.

So, you don't have to have US military planes, transporting the best
and brightest America has to offer to and from combat, on Irish soil
to be a participant in the battle for energy security. You need only
fill up your car with petrol or take the bus to the City Center or
welcome tourists off of jet planes or purchase a pint from the pub or
any item from any establishment in the whole of the Republic of
Ireland. Like it or not your participation in energy security is tied
not to the military planes in Shannon but the economy and progress you
and the rest of the developed world enjoy daily. To deny this is
either ignorance or hypocrisy of the worst and most dangerous kind.