Readers both within and outside Europe will know that the continent is enduring what Charles Dickens called hard times. European institutions and governments are seeking to impose austerity measures on a public that is increasingly left-leaning and hostile to such measures.
Many other counties around the world are suffering too. However, in Europe the differences between smaller and poorer nations at the periphery of the continent at the larger and wealthier nations at the center is, having the effect of unbalancing the washing machine spin cycle of the Euro currency experiment, with potentially disastrous consequences.
And so it should be no surprise that bureaucrats in Brussels also look externally.
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Microsoft and Boeing could be two companies set to feel the ire of the European Union
It is expected that software giant Microsoft Corp. will be charged with antitrust offences having failed to offer European users of its Windows operating system a choice of web browsers, which it was told to do in 2009 for a period of at least five years.
Back in July Joaquin Almunia, vice president of the Commission in charge of competition policy, said: "I trusted the company's reports were accurate. But it seems that was not the case, so we have immediately taken action. If following our investigation, the infringement is confirmed, Microsoft should expect sanctions."
I don't think they're doing anything that's particularly protectionist.
In Boeing's case it's a matter of levelling the playing field (tariffs to counteract subsidies).
In Microsoft's case, I don't think there's any regional interests at play here. The most popular alternative browsers to Internet Explorer are Chrome, Firefox, and Safari - and these are all developed by US companies.
Perhaps, but oh please, let's just not buy into these squabbles so quickly.
According to this article, Boeing received $4B in subsidies, while Airbus received $18B in subsidies.
It strains credulity, to say the least, that a US company would be more heavily subsidized by the government than European industry is. Whatever the fine points are, this is hardly a slam dunk issue of protectionism by a US company alone.
On the Microsoft browser issue, Microsoft has long made the point that Windows supports any browser. And you can even select your own "default browser." Of course, oh by the way, in order to have the updates installed, IE is needed regardless. However the user doesn't have to be aware of that, right?
"But what this does illustrate is that when the going gets tough the tough thinking turn to fines, tariffs and the protection of regional interests."
I definitely agree with this comment, however. All of the developed world is "stressed." And in spite of the political rhetoric, rhetoric which must appeal to the masses, whether it makes any sense or not, I think what is happening is that the "welfare state" is finally catching up with us. It has become hard to sustain. There are limits to how many benefits an economy can support, and these have been growing steadily since WWII. Right? Shorter work weeks, early pensions even though longevity has increased significantly, more, more, more free or subsidized health care, in general more benefits for less work.
Why would anyone think this increase in benefits can keep going?
For some insight into this dilemma, I recommend a look at the analyses of economics prof. Steve Keen:
Don't conflate benefits and healthcare, Bert. Healthcare has to be paid for whether "free", "subsidised" or neither. Making it "free" is much, much more efficient than the private healthcare system in the US (we in the UK pay per head about 1/3 what you in the US pay for a similar standard of care). The question you should be asking is not whether we can afford "free" healthcare, but whether you can afford not to have it.
It's misleading to claim that "governments are seeking to impose austerity measures on a public that is increasingly left-leaning". After all, the austerity-wielding governments in Germany, UK, Greece and Spain were popularly elected---people do realize that structural excessive deficit is unsustainable.
An important reason for the protest is the perceived lack of accountability of the financial sector. While it's clear that the banks' appetite for risky, highly profitable financial instruments contributed greatly to the crisis, they disclaim and avoid the sanctions for past damage, and resist transparency and regulation designed to prevent future problems.
"Making [health care] 'free' is much, much more efficient than the private healthcare system in the US (we in the UK pay per head about 1/3 what you in the US pay for a similar standard of care)."
Far from true, depending how you determine "efficient."
Countries like Italy, to help compensate for the long waits and overcrowding of the public health care system, augment it with a private one.
Health care becomes another entitlement program, essentially, which is either publically funded, as in many European countries, or effectively taxed, as Obamacare. So it definitely belongs with all the other entitlement programs.
The answer to controlling costs of health care, IMO, is going to come from an infusion of automation into the system, much as happened with manufacturing and just about any other industry. Not by merely shifting the costs of the same old labor-intensive system from one segment to another segment of society.
But that's a separate discussion. Fact remains that no one should expect any economic system to provide more and more and more benefits for less and less work, without eventual meltdown.
We're supposed to be EEs on this site, right? So maybe this analogy, as fragile as analogies can be, will demonstrate what I think the issue has become.
Design a typical amp with negative feedback, to make it stable. If you don't carefully isolate the load from the feedback circuit, what can happen?
If the load is has just a little bit too much capacitance, at first everything works right. But after a few seconds, hisssss, it goes into oscillation and quits working as an amp. All of a sudden.
Economies are similarly systems with feedback loops. Politicians are notoriously unable to appreciate when their promises might introduce too much load capacitance.
Yes, the EU requires that Microsoft makes Windows users aware that other browsers are available and eases rather than blocks their installation.
According to EU's latest finding an earlier version of Windows had a screen page that did this, but Windows 7 does not. Hence the revisited action.
But we can never be sure how close it is to global economic reality.
An analog electronic circuit is relatively simple and easily modeled mathematically. Global economics are highly complex, and chaotic.