Published: Wed, 28 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Last Build Date: Wed, 28 Sep 2016 00:58:35 -0400
Tue, 27 Sep 2016 09:30:00 -0400Recent "hate speech" investigations in European countries have been spawned by homily remarks by a Spanish Cardinal who opposed "radical feminism," a hyperbolic hashtag tweeted by a U.K. diversity coordinator, a chant for fewer Moroccan immigrants to enter the Netherlands, comments from a reality TV star implying Scottish people have Ebola, a man who put a sign in his home window saying "Islam out of Britian," French activists calling for boycotts of Israeli products, an anti-Semitic tweet sent to a British politician, a Facebook post referring to refugees to Germany as "scum," and various other sorts of so-called "verbal radicalism" on social media. One might consider any or all of these comments distasteful, but Americans (recent trends on college campuses notwithstanding) tend to appreciate that for a free-speech right to truly exist, we must severely limit the types of speech—true threats, slander, etc.—that don't deserve protection from government censorship and potential prosecution. Not so in European Union (E.U.) member countries, many of which have laws against any language that "insults," "offends," "degrades," "expresses contempt," or "incites hatred" based on certain protected traits like race, religion, or sexual orientation. As Nick Gillespie has put it, "hate speech" is like the secular equivalent of blasphemy. On Monday, Věra Jourová, the E.U. Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, gave a speech stressing the importance of such laws and calling for even more intense policing of so-called hate speech. (Just to be clear, by "hate speech" we are not talking about things like threats or criminal harassment.) "My top priority is to ensure that the Framework Decision on Combatting Racism and Xenophobia is correctly translated into the national criminal codes and enforced, so that perpetrators of online hate speech are duly punished," Jourová said. The commissioner offered a characteristically European rationale for the imposition: only by government censorship of free expression can free expression flourish. "In recent years, we have seen messages of extremism and intolerance spread around the globe like wildfire" and "we need to stand united against this growing phenomenon," said Jourová. "Our commitment is to deliver change so that people do not need to live in fear, and to ensure that the internet remains a place of free and democratic expression, where European values and laws are respected." "The spread of illegal hate speech online not only distresses the people it targets," she continued, "it also affects those who speak up for freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination in our society. If left unattended, the fear of intimidation can keep opinion makers, journalists and citizens away from social media platforms." It's easy to see how folks might buy Jourová's idea that allowing intolerant speech online "means a shrinking digital space for freedom of expression." We've all heard about public figures or controversial thinkers who were allegedly hounded off of social media by online criticism, with its harsh, vulgar, and sometimes violent tones. And what is gained by such uncivil opprobrium? By sanctioning not only violent threats and ongoing harassment but also speech that serves no purpose but to troll, denigrate, or spread bigotry, we can usher in a more welcoming environment for all sorts of ideas and speakers online... Or so the thinking goes, anyway. But the fatal flaw in this conceit is pretending there's some bright line between desirable, pro-social speech and speech that merely incites offense, fear, or feelings of negativity. Of course, many of us object on pure principle to censoring the latter forms of speech. But setting aside classical-liberal notions, there are still plenty of good arguments against EU-style speech policing. For one, it makes distinctions between legal and illegal speech based not only on what is being said but who is saying it and whom it's said to. For instance, a few years ago Slate's William Saletan complained that countries were (in practice) c[...]
Fri, 16 Sep 2016 15:15:00 -0400
(image) The European Union has had a rough go as of late. Beset by problems, from a flagging euro to sovereign debt crises in Greece and elsewhere to a massive influx of Syrian refugees—not to mention the stinging rebuke of the Brexit vote—many have begun to question whether the European project is likely to survive much longer.
To discuss this topic, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) on Wednesday convened four scholars to offer their thoughts on the future viability of the E.U. While they disagreed about the answer, one thing united their remarks: the idea that the future of the union all comes down to economics.
Fred Bergsten of the Peterson Institute and Carlo Cottarelli of the International Monetary Fund were optimistic about the union's chances largely because keeping the E.U. together is in the self-interest of Germany, the country with the largest economy in Europe. The pair noted that the introduction of a common currency has allowed Germany to keep its exports artificially cheap and its manufacturing sector booming, which transformed it from a country divided during the Cold War into the success story it is today. As a result, the Germans "will pay any price to keep Europe and the Eurozone together," Bergsten thought.
Desmond Lachman and Vincent Reinhart (both of AEI) had a gloomier take. They likewise emphasized the economic dynamics of the E.U., but rather than seeing those forces as the glue keeping the union strong, they viewed them as the likely cause of its unraveling. The euro crisis has exposed deep flaws in the long-term feasibility of European integration, they said, and there are no quick fixes. Indeed, despite years of monetary stimulus and fiscal '"austerity" measures, the economies of member nations like Spain and Italy remain moribund, with sky-high rates of youth unemployment, rising sovereign debt, and non-performing banking sectors.
Moreover, the heavy-handed intervention of Brussels during the crisis has stoked anti-E.U. sentiment among both target countries—who resent their loss of sovereignty—and better-performing E.U. states (including Germany), where taxpayers are growing increasingly tired of footing the bill for endless bailouts. Should a Greek-style crisis spread to a larger economy, like Italy, Lachman and Reinhart contended, neither the political will nor the resources will exist to save the union.
Lachman noted that political dissatisfaction has already damaged the E.U.'s cohesiveness, prompting the British vote to leave the project altogether and giving rise to a successful Eurosceptic movement across the continent. From France's National Front to Germany's Alternative for Deutschland, a number of anti-establishment, anti-Brussels political parties are letting it be known that they are decidedly unwilling to "pay any price" to preserve the E.U.
Of course, whatever its problems, the E.U. is not likely to disappear overnight. Large taxpayer-funded projects rarely do.
Tue, 28 Jun 2016 16:40:00 -0400It says something deeply disturbing about contemporary political discourse that Paul Krugman—who regularly ignores those he disagrees with as "knaves and fools" unworthy of his time and attention—was a voice of calm reason over Brexit. "I'm finding myself less horrified by Brexit than one might have expected," he wrote about the United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union. "The economic consequences will be bad, but not, I'd argue, as bad as many are claiming." Such shoulder-shrugging was in short supply, especially from those less well-versed in economics than the Nobel laureate. Indeed, the irredeemably smug insta-responses on both sides of the Brexit issue underscore that Americans are as quick to virtue-signal as they are to proclaim that the apocalypse is (yet again!) upon us. Throw in a solipsistic inability to see the world as in any way independent of domestic U.S. politics and you've got the making of a media shitstorm that left everybody hip-deep in manure but no clearer about what Brexit really means. Krugman's even-more-insufferable colleague at The New York Times, Roger Cohen, made Brexit all about himself. "It's not just the stupidity of the decision," he fumed. "It's not even the betrayal of British youth. It's far more: a personal loss. Europa, however flawed, was the dream of my generation." In perhaps the most-ridiculous commentary on the surprisingly lopsided "Leave" win, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow delivered a 15-minute history lecture that argued Great Britain's action would soon give rise to World War III because the only thing standing between a European war of all against all was a political union that dates all the way back to 1993 and a common currency that most members have used only since 2002. Given that the clock has not even yet started ticking on Britain's official exit and that NATO, which binds together a couple dozen European countries plus the United States and Canada, is still going strong, fears of a sixth Battle of Ypres seem, well, a tad exaggerated. And let's not pretend that the E.U. is some vague, toothless entity against which there are no legitimate reasons for resentment. Recently, for instance, the E.U.'s "commissioner for justice, consumers, and gender equality" (a real thing) issued strict rules for banning "hate speech" on the internet, and has secured the participation of Microsoft, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter in enforcing disturbingly vague and illiberal rules. Even E.U. defenders, such as the Times' Cohen, grants that it needs serious changes. To categorically assert that 17.5 million Leave voters (against 16 million Remain voters) are simply racist and anti-immigrant is to ignore pro-Leave voices who are libertarian, cosmopolitan Brits such as science writer and House of Lords member Matt Ridley and member of the European Parliament Dan Hannan, both of whom support opening borders to more goods and people. The E.U., notes Ridley, "still has no trade deals with America, China, Japan, Brazil, India, Canada, Australia and Indonesia." Comedians ranging from Full Frontal's Samantha Bee to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump showcased another unseemly, widespread element of Brexit "analysis": It's really all about domestic U.S. politics, don't you know? Bee, a former Daily Show reporter who now heads up her own TBS show, attributed the Leave win to "xenophobia" and anger and argued that "Even a brain-damaged baboon couldn't miss the parallels between the U.S. and Britain." To be sure, Trump himself was tweeting up a storm drawing such connections. "Just arrived in Scotland," he tweeted immediately after the vote. "Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!" (The Donald was also taken to task by commenters who noted that not only did Scotland vote against independence in 2014, a majority last week voted to remain in the E.U.) Soon enough, he retweeted comments such as this one: "What has happened in the UK in the last [...]
Mon, 27 Jun 2016 17:00:00 -0400The United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union marks a historic shift in the nation's relationship not only with Europe but with the world. The uncertainty of what happens next has spooked investors. That is perhaps understandable: In the short term, there will be costs, not least being the considerable time and effort that must now be spent redefining the rules governing trade between individuals and businesses in the U.K. and their counterparts in other nations. In the longer term, however, Brexit presents a great opportunity for the U.K. to re-establish itself as a cosmopolitan, classical liberal democracy governed by the rule of law and open to trade. If it takes that path, then its prospects are far brighter than they would have been in an over-regulated, protectionist E.U.. Although recent polls indicated that the vote would be very close, investors had clearly expected the British public to vote to Remain. So when early results indicated that voters were choosing Leave, they reacted with incredulity, dumping Sterling, which fell to $1.32, its lowest level in 30 years, and selling off stocks around the world. As the sun rose over London, it became clear that Leave had won. At around 8am, as Brits ate their breakfast, the nation's Prime Minister, David Cameron, who had campaigned to remain in the E.U., announced that he would leave office by October. Meanwhile, Scotland's First Minister, Nicole Sturgeon, demanded another vote on Scotland's independence. In the three days since, social media has been awash with offended middle-class Remain voters describing Leave supporters as stupid and worse, a prankster group used bots to generate over 3 million mostly-fake signatures for a Petition for a new referendum on the U.K. Parliament's website (in an ironic twist, the petition was started by a Leave supporter), and a Labour MP has called on Parliament to reject the non-binding referendum vote. European politicians are in disarray over the vote. On Friday, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission called for a speedy exit, reportedly saying that Brexit was "not an amicable divorce" but that "it was not exactly a tight love affair anyway". And the Czech foreign minister has called for Juncker to resign, blaming him for Brexit. Meanwhile, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, and other E.U. leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have encouraged Britain's Parliament to reconsider. For Britain formally to begin the process of leaving the E.U., it must—according to Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty—notify the E.U. of that decision. The terms and date of exit will then be determined by agreement—but by default will occur two years after notification. While Britain has not yet formally notified the E.U. of its intention to leave, David Cameron has established an "E.U. Unit" in his cabinet, whose function is to develop the exit strategy. Assuming that Parliament does not over-ride the referendum result, many vexing decisions must now be taken, among them: What should be Britain's trade policy? How should immigration be reformed? And which British regulations required by the E.U. should be kept and which scrapped? To make matters worse (or at least more confusing), these questions are not necessarily independent of one another. Taking trade first: At present, the U.K. is part of the E.U. customs union and practically all trade policy decisions are made on an E.U.-wide basis. At present, all trade between the U.K. and other E.U. member states is tariff free—there are no taxes on import or exports. That applies not only to goods (which means anything physical, from oil to toasters) but also to services (such as computer programming, architecture, and financial planning) and capital (investments of various kinds). This preferential treatment for trade within the E.U. created a tendency for transactions to remain within the customs union. However, the slow growth of most E.U. economies compared with [...]
Mon, 27 Jun 2016 15:30:00 -0400Hell hath no fury like an establishment spurned. If you didn't know this already, you certainly know it now, following the British people's vote for a "Brexit." A whopping 17.5 million of us voted last week to cut our nation's ties with the European Union (E.U.), against 16 million who voted to stay. And we did so against the advice of most of the political class, media "experts," the Brussels bureaucracy, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), President Barack Obama, and virtually every other Western leader. Most shockingly of all—against the advice of celebs—not even Benedict Cumberbatch's earnest, crumpled face could make us want to stay. We defied them all. We rejected every E.U.-loving overture from the great and good and well-educated. And boy, are they mad. In the three days since this modern-day peasants' revolt—the poor and working-class voted for a Brexit in far large numbers than the well-to-do and well-connected—the political and media elites have rained damnation upon the little people. Their language has crossed the line from irritated to full-on misanthropic. They're calling into question the ability of ordinary people to rationally weigh up hefty political matters, and are even suggesting the referendum result be overturned in the name of the "national interest." David Lammy, a member of Parliament (MP) representing the Labour Party, has been most explicit. He says we must "stop this madness" and "bring this nightmare to an end." The nightmare he's talking about is people voting for things he doesn't agree with. He says the people's will must now be overridden by a "vote in Parliament." It's terrifying that an elected MP doesn't seem to know how democracy works. Peter Sutherland, a United Nations (U.N.) Special Representative, likewise thinks the Brexit vote "must be overturned," because voters were led astray by a "distortion of facts." U.N. officials normally slam the thwarting of a people's will; now they promote it. And Tony Blair's former spin-doctor says he has "lawyers on the case" to see if a legal challenge can be mounted against the masses and their dumb decision. Lawyers v. the People: Bring it on. Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister of Scotland, has threatened to veto the Brexit as it works its way through Parliament. This is a woman whose party received 1.5 million votes in the General Election last year, now saying she will usurp the will of 17.5million Brits who said screw-you to the E.U. Media commentary, meanwhile, has become positively unhinged and Victorian in its attitude to the throng. Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee, finding that she didn't like some of the pro-Brexit arguments, said Brexiteers have "lifted several stones" and let out a "rude, crude… extremism." We all know what lives under stones. An Observer columnist, perusing the Brexit chatter, said "it is as if the sewers have burst." Over at the New Statesman—house magazine of the British left—a columnist claims it was "the frightened, parochial lizard-brain of Britain [that] voted out, out, out." Reptiles, insects, shit flowing from the busted sewer of bad ideas—this is how the media elite views the minds and actions of Brexit people. A recurring theme in the elitist rage with the pro-Brexit crowd has been the idea that ordinary people aren't sufficiently clued-up to make big political decisions. We have witnessed a "populist paean to ignorance," says one observer. Apparently populist demagogues—like Nigel Farage, leader of the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), and Boris Johnson, everyone's favorite bumbling, toffish politician—preyed on the anxieties of the little people and made them vote for something bad and stupid. For these little people, "fear counts above reason; anger above evidence," opined a writer for the Financial Times. A writer for The Guardian suggested that for anti-E.U. types, emotions "play a larger part than rationality." Th[...]
Fri, 24 Jun 2016 14:00:00 -0400
(image) One of the odder items in the Kinks' catalog is "Down All the Days (till 1992)," a 1989 song that the Common Market Commission adopted as an unofficial anthem to promote European integration. The music is bombastic—someone once said it sounds like a Pepsi commercial—and you can see why a Eurocrat would like the lyrics: "Down all the days/All nations will unite as one/A new horizon clear to view/Down all the days to 1992."
But the man who wrote the track, Kinks leader Ray Davies, was actually a Eurosceptic. (He says this explicitly in his memoir Americana, but anyone familiar with his work would expect it.) When The New York Times asked him how he felt about the commission embracing his song, he commented that it was "part of an album that tells a whole story and was not written for Europe per se. They only picked out one verse that makes it seem as though it was written for the commission. But," he added gamely, "even though it wasn't, it seems kind of appropriate."
I can't say I'm fond of the song, but I rather like the video, a mournful piece of filmmaking that thoroughly undermines the lyrics' cheery optimism. The day after Britain voted to close the door on the European Union, it has resonances that no one, pro- or anti-Europe, would have anticipated a quarter-century ago:
src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/D9m4GpVj_Fg" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="420" height="315" frameborder="0">
(For past installments of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)
Fri, 24 Jun 2016 11:31:00 -0400If you want to understand why markets are crashing in the aftermath of yesterday's Brexit vote, take a quick glance at Dechert's guide to the legal and financial implications of the vote. Although the referendum is non-binding, most observers now expect that the United Kingdom will move to separate itself from the European Union (EU). But exactly how that process will work, and what the end result will be, as well as when the separation will be final, is entirely unclear. Dechert's guide offers a hint as to just how many knots there are to untangle: It covers everything from trade deals and financial regulations to intellectual property law data retention requirements. And a lot of the challenges of unwinding won't be discrete, since much of this stuff is bound together in various ways, and likely to continue that way for a while: Spain, for example, is calling for "joint sovereignty" with Britain over Gibraltar, which sounds...complicated. The potential complexity of it all is incredibly intimidating. No one really knows how it will play out. So what you're seeing right now is panic induced by uncertainty, like kids becoming hysterical when they find out their parents are getting divorced. It's a big shock to the system. But while uncertainty can be a prelude to catastrophe, and prolonged uncertainty can itself result in serious trouble, it's not necessarily a sign that everything is in the process of falling apart. One potential outcome here is that, after a little while, the panic stops, and Britain manages its exit more or less smoothly, freeing itself from the grip of European regulators while encouraging the EU, an awkwardly designed governing body which has struggled in recent years to manage its affairs, to begin the process of self-examination and eventually institute a series of reforms. That's the argument that British economist Andrew Lilico made recently in an interview with Vox's Timothy Lee—that while Britain has gained from being part of the EU, both entities will be better off apart, and that the split, while upsetting to markets in the short term, will ultimately pave the way toward long-term gains for both, with the EU becoming stronger and more unified in a way that it simply couldn't with Britain attached. Britain, in this thinking, helped set EU culture early on, but was simply too independent to ever fully integrate with the continent. Post-Brexit, basically, the EU is free to become the United States of Europe. I'm a little less confident that this scenario will play out. Britain's exit from the EU is just as likely to lead to more sovereign squabbling and a further breakdown of the EU. But ultimately even that might be better in the long run, as the EU as it stands is a deeply dysfunctional governing body that has consistently proven itself unable to effectively respond to the challenges it faces. The design of the EU is inherently awkward: Its monetary union is undercut by its lack of a fiscal union, and its attempts to maintain some level of national sovereignty are undercut by its power imbalances and anti-democratic elements. The structure is inherently unstable. Regardless of which way it goes, the Brexit vote is likely to spur the EU to take action and move beyond its current unstable equilibrium. It's as clear a sign as any that the EU can't go on doing what it's been doing. It's a wake up call, basically. So while there are certainly risks to a dramatic move like this, that's a good thing overall. In the meantime, Britain is probably better off no matter what. If the EU moves toward becoming the smoothly functioning super-state that Lilico hopes for, then Britain will have helped make that possible. And if the EU continues in its dysfunction, or breaks up further, Britain will have extricated itself, protecting its own interests. [...]
Thu, 23 Jun 2016 16:55:00 -0400A European Parliament draft report is calling for the European Union to embrace the sci-fi future of autonomous robots and artificial intelligence and all that ethical considerations that follow. Though really, partly what it's all about is worrying that automation will wreak havoc on government-run benefits systems and who will face financial liability for what might happen if sentient robots are treated like people. If Skynet tries to destroy us all, can we sue it? Here's how Reuters summarizes the basics: Europe's growing army of robot workers could be classed as "electronic persons" and their owners liable to paying social security for them if the European Union adopts a draft plan to address the realities of a new industrial revolution. Robots are being deployed in ever-greater numbers in factories and also taking on tasks such as personal care or surgery, raising fears over unemployment, wealth inequality and alienation. Their growing intelligence, pervasiveness and autonomy requires rethinking everything from taxation to legal liability, a draft European Parliament motion, dated May 31, suggests. One part about government benefit systems reads "[T]he development of robotics and AI may result in a large part of the work now done by humans being taken over by robots, so raising concerns about the future of employment and the viability of social security systems if the current basis of taxation is maintained, creating the potential for increased inequality in the distribution of wealth and influence." Fundamentally, statements like that are massive reminders that government entitlement and retirement programs are based on shifting money from one group of people to another and not some sort of savings program that people and employers pay into that sits in a "lockbox" earning money from investments and such. (Not that this report or these European nations are trying to pull the kind of shell game that goes on in America when talking about our Social Security programs.) It furthermore assumes—as some always seem to have assumed going back to the very beginning of industrialization—that the job opportunities are finite resources, and once a job goes away due to innovation, the person who once worked that job is rendered to be completely obsolete with nothing else to offer the marketplace. But that's just not how it works. In resistance to the idea that industries that automate might have to pay even more in taxes to pay for not having employees, one German robotics expert pointed out that the number of people employed by the automotive industry there has increased by 13 percent over the past five years even as the use of industrial robots also increased. If you take a long view of industrialization and grasp that automation frees the marketplace to focus on other things, this statement from the report looks like a simple money grab. There's a separate section in the report that even acknowledges how automation creates new opportunities and new fields of work that should be studied and prepared for. And then immediately we end up here: Bearing in mind the effects that the development and deployment of robotics and AI might have on employment and, consequently, on the viability of the social security systems of the Member States, consideration should be given to the possible need to introduce corporate reporting requirements on the extent and proportion of the contribution of robotics and AI to the economic results of a company for the purpose of taxation and social security contributions; takes the view that in the light of the possible effects on the labour market of robotics and AI a general basic income should be seriously considered, and invites all Member States to do so. The idea of a basic guaranteed income has been appealing to a number of libertarians as a way of creating a safety net that doesn't come with a massi[...]
Thu, 23 Jun 2016 10:30:00 -0400Today, Britain will vote on the most important decision in its constitutional history: whether to leave the European Union (EU). Many in the U.S. are probably glad not to have that responsibility, especially given the recent razor thin polling margins. Some Americans worry that a post-EU U.K. could be insular and disengaged. It's understandable—many voices urging a "Remain" vote paint a British EU exit, or "Brexit," as a struggle between enlightened cosmopolitans and inward-looking xenophobes. We're told Brexit will cause catastrophe and recession by an economic establishment with a clear vested interest in Britain's continued EU membership. British Prime Minister David Cameron even claimed that leaving could lead to World War III. These are the wrong ways for us to think about Britain's choice. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to free themselves from an ossified, undemocratic power structure. It's a chance for the U.K. to look beyond the continent's economic stagnation and embrace the rest of the world through free trade and fairer immigration. It's also a chance to give other EU members a fighting chance at reforming their system. Americans should embrace all of that. The European Union uses the lofty rhetoric of international cooperation but functionally deprives Europeans of the ability to determine their own futures. The European Parliament is a legislative body in name only. European Members of Parliament (MEPs) can't actually introduce new laws. Legislation comes from the European Commission. The 28 commissioners, one from each member nation, are appointed separately from its President. Instead of pledging to defend the interests of their home countries, members swear an oath to the European Court of Justice, the EU's Supreme Court. The court can force member states to follow EU laws and regulations their people might reject. Had the American constitutional convention proposed this kind of arrangement in 1789, we'd have rejected it out of hand. With bureaucratic accountability thrown by the wayside, the European Union is technocracy at its worst. The EU's backbone is its behemoth civil service. It pays over 10,000 employees (more than a fifth of its total) higher salaries than David Cameron. Nobody knows quite how many rules they create--only that the pace is frantic. An estimate by Vote Leave suggests that the EU regulations over the past decade alone tower as high as Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square. The rules so meticulously govern everyday life that there's at least 454 referencing bathroom towels. All of this red tape comes at a price. Pro-Brexit think-tank Open Europe estimates that the most burdensome EU regulations cost Britain nearly $50 billion a year in compliance costs. Though the exact burden is debated due to different measurements of EU trade benefits, Remainers ignore the huge opportunity costs Britain forgoes not taking control of its economic destiny. If Britain left the EU, it would be able to trade more freely with the world than ever before. Free from the EU's collective trade negotiations, Britain can sign agreements with America and other powerhouses like China, and Japan. With nearly a quarter of American foreign corporate assets in the U.K., our politicians would be falling over themselves to take leadership roles in new trade negotiations. A January report from the U.K.'s Civitas Institute revealed just how much better tinier, non-EU countries have done outside the Union. It found that Switzerland, Singapore, Korea, and Chile all managed to secure trade agreements internationally worth more than twice what the EU has accomplished for its members through its single market and EU-negotiated trade deals. By ceding negotiation power to Brussels, the report argues, Britain gave up trillions in lost years of lower tariffs and higher exports it could have enjoyed. As the[...]
Wed, 22 Jun 2016 16:00:00 -0400How many people does it take to change a lightbulb in England? Depends on what the European Union (EU) says. A priest in Suffolk, England used to hire a man to climb a ladder to change his lightbulbs. That was fine until the European Union Working at Heights Directive banned this activity so that now the priest must spend the British equivalent of nearly $2,000 to take two days to erect a scaffold. Is it any wonder that people in the U.K. are upset with the regulations imposed from Brussels? Between 1957 and 1997 the EU put out 10,000 regulations. In the next seven years, they added an additional 12,000 regulations (about 1,700 per year). The vast majority of them (only about 1 in 200) have no analysis of the likely impacts. This is problematic as the costs of EU regulations are estimated to be above 70 percent of the costs of all regulation. But relative to the pace of regulations put out by the U.S. federal government, the EU could be viewed as highly restrained. In 2015 alone, the United States put out 3,378 rules (with another 2,234 under consideration). How do we end up with so many regulations, including the ones that may cause a church to close down? The standard answer in economics is "concentrated benefits and dispersed costs." What that means is that there are always groups—whether they are industry groups or activists groups—who gain a lot from an individual regulation, meaning they get the concentrated benefits. But the people who bear the costs—consumers, small business owners, and workers—generally pay small costs for each individual rule. As the rules add up, so do the costs. The issue is that while ordinary people bear these costs, the incentive for any individual to object to a single regulation is fairly small. The United States has its own share of stupid rules like specifying the number of cherries that must be in fruit cocktail or the 11 different allowed ways to pack pineapple in a can. And we don't do a very good job at looking at the impact of our rules either, for big or small. Between 2004 and 2013 only 116 out of the 37,000 regulations had estimates of benefits and costs. How about impacts on small businesses? The EPA recently certified that a gigantic rule expanding their jurisdiction over waters in the United States (WOTUS) did not significantly impact small businesses. Farmers appear to disagree strongly. It's easy to understand the sentiment behind a "Brexit" when the EU required farmers in the U.K. to buy £5,000 machines to label every egg as to when it was laid and the identity of the chicken. (Who knew they all had names?) But go or stay, the problem of regulation will remain in the U.K., just as it will in the United States. However, if the U.K. decides to leave the EU, there are some reforms they could undertake to begin to get control over the regulatory state. First, set up the system to ensure legislators know what problem they are addressing. Make sure alternative ways to solve the problem are considered and that the benefits of the chosen solution exceeds the costs. This is known as a regulatory impact analysis. Make this a legal mandate, meaning that if an agency doesn't do it, anybody can go to court to stop the rule. Second, don't pass legislation that gives agencies the authority to pass rules into infinity and with deference on their interpretations from the courts. Third, sunset the legislation, provide for retrospective review and give the agencies a social budget cost to implement the legislation. Finally, make agencies accountable to legislators. For really big rules, with a high economic impact, they should have legislative approval. There are many, many bills before the U.S. Congress right now trying to implement some of these recommendations, but they are stalled. One reason they are stalled goes back to why we g[...]
Tue, 21 Jun 2016 11:59:00 -0400
(image) Is the United Kingdom about to withdraw from the European Union? British voters will make that call during a referendum held this Thursday, and the prognosis looks...cloudy at best.
A little background: The push to depart, colloquially known as the "Leave," "Exit," or "Out" campaign, is the brainchild of so-called "Eurosceptics" who feel the country has relinquished an unacceptable level of its national sovereignty to Brussels (home of many of the E.U.'s most important institutional bodies). The "Stay," "Remain," or "In" campaign, which has the backing of both President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron (head of the U.K.'s Conservatives), argues that a Brexit would throw Europe's economy into tumult and destabilize the British pound.
What do the polls suggest is likely to happen?
For several months it's been painfully close, with Remain for the most part holding on to a slim lead, although for a few days last week Leave seemed to be making a comeback. But then came the assassination on Thursday of British Member of Parliament Jo Cox, an outspoken supporter of remaining in the E.U. Three polls released over the weekend showed public opinion swinging back toward Remain; Ladbrokes, a British gambling platform, currently has the odds at 3–1 against Leave.
The Economist put together an interactive poll tracker you can access here. As of yesterday, it looked like this:
Not very helpful. The latest Financial Times' poll of polls also finds the slimmest of margins, with Remain trailing Leave 44 percent to 45 percent.
On top of the lack of a clear leader, there's another factor to consider: whether the polls that are going into these averages are systematically off. Recall that the U.K. parliamentary election last year turned out dramatically differently (with the Conservative Party cleaning up) than surveys had predicted. And as my feature from the February issue, "Why Polls Don't Work," lays out, there are reasons to be concerned that the public opinion industry as a whole has lost the ability to call elections right.
So what is the most likely outcome on Thursday? Gun to head, my money would be on the U.K. staying in the European Union. But for all the data at our disposal, it really could go either way.
Tue, 21 Jun 2016 07:00:00 -0400On Thursday, the British people will decide whether or not to stay in the European Union. The U.S. foreign policy establishment, President Barack Obama included, have urged the British to remain in the EU. The latter were not amused, noting that the United States does not care what the Europeans think when it comes to American relations with Canada and Mexico. So, in preparation for the British referendum on the EU membership, let us take a closer look at the EU: what is it and what has it accomplished? This is how the EU answers those questions: "The EU is unlike anything else—it isn't a government, an association of states, or an international organization. Rather, the 28 Member States have relinquished part of their sovereignty to EU institutions, with many decisions made at the European level. The European Union has delivered more than 60 years of peace, stability, and prosperity in Europe, helped raise our citizens' living standards, launched a single European currency (the euro), and is progressively building a single Europe-wide free market for goods, services, people, and capital" (my emphasis). This self-congratulatory assessment of the EU's achievements is deeply problematic. Consider peace and stability. The EU's narrative ignores, for example, the roles played by Germany's unconditional surrender, Anglo-American occupation of West Germany, the rise of the communist threat in the East, and the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—all of which preceded the creation of the first and extremely tentative pan-European institutions. It also ignores the EU's failure to deal with the Yugoslav crisis in the early 1990s, which was eventually "resolved" by the application of American military strength. Moreover, many Europeans see the EU as responsible for the growing instability in Europe. They see monetary policy as a source of friction between nation-states, with the relatively well-off Germany and Austria on one side, and the failing Greece and stagnating Italy on the other side. The same is true of the EU's failure to come up with an effective response to the recent wave of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, thus pitting the generally welcoming German government against the unwelcoming governments in Central and Eastern Europe. Consider, also, prosperity. The role of the Marshall Plan in stimulating economic growth is, at best, controversial, but omitting it altogether from the EU's narrative of Europe's post-war recovery is self-serving. Similarly, Western European economies began to recover, as was to be expected, when the war ended and long before the signing of a free-trade agreement known as the European Economic Community in 1958. That is not to say that intra-European trade liberalization was not beneficial. It was, beginning in the 1960s. (The last intra-European tariffs did not disappear until 1968.) In the meantime, Western Europe benefited from domestic reforms, such as Ludwig Erhard's liberalization of the West German economy in 1948, and the global reduction of tariffs under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which started in 1947. The official EU narrative tends to omit all of the above inconvenient facts. Figure 1: GDP, Average Growth per Decade, Percent (1949–2008) That is not to deny the strong desire for peace and prosperity among European peoples and their leadership after World War II. Rather, as I argue in a paper that will be released by the Cato Institute tomorrow, the EU institutions were, for the most part, ineffectual, and have increasingly become liabilities. As the example of Switzerland shows, there is no a priori reason to think that a looser cooperation between European states, which would follow British withdrawal from the EU, is incompat[...]
Fri, 17 Jun 2016 11:31:00 -0400
(image) Next week, voters in Great Britain will go to the polls to vote on whether to remain in the European Union or whether to leave the 28-member state supra-governmental organization. The British last voted on the issue in 1975, when the EU was known as the European Economic Community (EEC) and when membership in the organization became a topic of the 1974 parliamentary elections. The Labour party hung on to the issue of leaving the EEC until it was crushed by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party in 1983.
Then, as now, the ruling Conservative party, while supporting remaining in the European political project allowed its members to campaign against it. While Prime Minister David Cameron has campaign for the Remain side, other prominent Conservatives like the former London mayor, Boris Johnson, are campaigning for Leave.
Polls show public opinion trending toward Leave, with a significant portion of voters still undecided. While a member of the EU, the United Kingdom does not use the euro nor is it in the EU's passport-free Schengen area. Betting odds still favor Remain, but Leave is gaining ground there too.
In February, Glenn Reynolds framed the Brexit vote as a "revenge of plebes" moment similar in some ways to the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S. Trump is scheduled to visit one of his golf courses in Scotland shortly after the Brexit vote. President Barack Obama visited the United Kingdom recently as well, urging voters to support the "Remain" campaign in an op-ed, arguing that the EU "magnified" Britain's influence. Boris Johnson chalked up Obama's support for an "ancestral dislike" of the United Kingdom, which earned him a disinvitation from students at King's College for allegedly "disrespecting" the president of the United States.
The Leave campaign has focused on the outsized contributions the United Kingdom makes to the EU, based in Brussels, and the relatively minor influence it wields in exchange. Immigration from poorer EU countries like Poland has also been an issue, with the anti-immigration United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), a Euroskeptic party founded in 1991 that won its first seat in the House of Commons in 2015 and received the most votes in elections for the European parliament in 2014.
Sat, 11 Jun 2016 10:50:00 -0400
(image) "The internet is a place for free speech," says the European Union's commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality, Vera Jourová, "not hate speech."
To which, I literally reply: "What the fuck is hate speech, exactly? Like another phony, malleable concept — obscenity — it is simply a political category that gives power to the powerful to pick and choose what lesser mortals are allowed to read, think, and discuss (in the US, obscenity law did keep Lady Chatterley's Lover from being published for decades, so it did have that going for it)."
The EU has released a new code of conduct for social media and the Internet and Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Microsoft have all signed up to help police "hate speech," with a particularly sharp eye on "racism and xenophobia." The great good people at Britain's Spiked are hosting a debate about this in London on June 15 (attend!) and they asked a bunch of folks, including me, to comment on the EU restrictions and whether any sort of speech should be restricted. It's a sharp group of commenters, many of whom—NYU psychologist Jonathan Haidt, FIRE's Greg Lukianoff, the ACLU's Nadine Strossen, Reason contributor Cathy Young—will be familiar to Reason readers. Go here to read the full exchange, but here are some highlights from other participants who are better known in the United Kingdom:
There's many more provocative contributors and lines at the full forum. Speaking of hate, here are my thoughts on that:
Hate — like envy — is the planet's greatest renewable energy source, motivating humans to live better, richer, freer lives (my grandparents didn't leave Europe in the 1910s because they loved it). In the US, libel, which by definition is false, is already punishable by law. So are 'fighting words', and plots and actions to cause physical harm. Beyond that, let speech rip like Lear howling on the heath.
Spiked is edited by Brendan O'Neill, who contributes to Reason, and always brings his A game to arguments about free speech. Last December, he stopped by the Reason DC offices and told us that "the real threat to free speech now is conformism and cowardice."
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Tue, 31 May 2016 10:52:00 -0400
(image) Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Microsoft have agreed to the European Union's Code of Conduct on "illegal hate speech," designed to ensure "that online platforms do not offer opportunities for illegal online hate speech to spread virally." The code, while legally non-binding, commits these tech companies to extensive review and remove requirements for any online content reported as hate speech. It stems from the March 24 terrorist attacks in Brussels, after which the E.U. Justice and Home Affairs Council declared that it would work with tech companies "to counter terrorist propaganda" and develop a "code of conduct against hate speech online" by June.
The document defines hate speech broadly: "all conduct publicly inciting to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin." Under the code, "online intermediaries and social media platforms" must have in place "clear and effective processes to review notifications regarding illegal hate speech on their services," review "the majority" of notifications within 24 hours, and remove or disable access to any content determined to be illegal hate speech.
The companies also agree to post community rules or guidelines "clarifying that they prohibit the promotion of incitement to violence and hateful conduct," have regular powwows with officials and law enforcement in E.U. member states, and report on the impact of their efforts "to the High Level Group on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and all forms of intolerance by the end of 2016."
Google’s Public Policy and Government Relations Director, Lie Junius, said the company is "pleased to work with the [European Commission] to develop co- and self-regulatory approaches to fighting hate speech online."
And that is the silver lining here, from a libertarian perspective: at least Facebook, Google, et al. entered into this regulatory scheme semi-voluntarily, although voluntary is always a blurry concept when it comes to agreements with governing bodies. Maybe the whole code is just good PR for these companies, maybe it's a step toward a social-media-to-police pipeline for all manner of unpopular speech. We'll see.
In addition to simply agreeing to remove threatening or violence-inciting speech, the code stipulates that tech companies, "recognizing the value of independent counter speech against hateful rhetoric and prejudice," will also "aim to continue their work in identifying and promoting independent counter-narratives, new ideas and initiatives and supporting educational programs that encourage critical thinking."