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?
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 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.
"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.
I got that, but I'm merely pointing out that this doesn't necessarily result in a "better" health care system.
All depends on how you define efficiency. There's a reason why people from all over the world come to the US for the most difficult medical treatments, after all. And why the waits for treatment in the US are very short, compared to just about anywhere else.
Efficiency takes many guises.
If you think the US healthcare system is anywhere close to efficient, you are delusional. Just saying from somebody who lived both in Europe and US...
No, I'm saying the US health care system is MORE efficient, depending how you define efficiency.
If you define efficiency as how quickly you can get a doctor's appointment, or an oppointment to have a hospital procedure performed, or access to the very best medical facilities just about anywhere in the world, then the US system is by far the most efficient.
If you look at efficiency as a measure of what percentage of the population is covered by a medical plan, then that's a different matter.
And yes, this is from someone who has lived in Europe, Africa, and the US.
Ever thought of what should - ideally - be the goal humanity as a whole should strive to achieve?
We live in a blessed age where, finally, thanks to automation, we could all produce enough goods to live an excellent life working less and less. We could solve hunger and cure most epidemics.
Instead, we now all compete worldwide towards the lower denominator, at the delight of a small group of plutocrats, masters of the world.
Does it make sense? Or are we just stupid (and greedy)?
Ah yes, the Marxist nirvana. Too bad it doesn't work.
Let's say machines made everything. Some members of scoiety would be adding value to the system, perhaps by designing better machines, perhaps by maintaining the machines, perhaps by providing entertainment for the rest.
The economic system would still need to reward those that provide the added value that matters most to the rest of us. In part, these rewards encourage society to produce, to educate, inidviduals that will provide these services in the future.
No matter how you slice it, society will continue to reward most those that do what few people can or will prepare themselves to do. And will reward less those who do what more other people can do just as well.
I get your reasoning and it is clear that many western countries...and the west as a whole, needs to live more frugally.
But many people are angry when they see THEIR benefits being cut (the end of final salary pension schemes, the diminuation in real terms of state pension, the increase in retirement age, and so on) when they read anecdotally about soccer players, celebrated personalities, fat cat bankers and politicians who seem to avoid tax and have more money than they know what to do with.
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.
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.
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.
But that's exactly my point. As much as you have to be careful when you design electronic circuits, for effects that might not be immediately intuitively obvious, the economic system is far more complicated.
Facile promises made by politicians to get more votes, which typically means promising more and more benefits over time, for less and less work, are hardly enough to guarantee that this will happen. Instead, we get the stressed out economy we have reached now, for instance.
As shareholders, we should "impose austerity measures" on our overly paid CEO's, VP's and board members. It seems they have felt no pain in our recent economic trouble. How many companies that received gov't aid and/or filled bankruptcy while their Exec. Teams also received bonus. Look at United Airlines, their CEO took in 100's of millions as restructuring while flight attendants lost dental and eye coverage and their retirement was neutered.
This is the story the world over, the fat cats you describe are also moving labour to poorer countries and mechanising making it more difficult for the lesser educated to get jobs. The problem is that really they should be taxed for any measure that reduce employment that way the government can still balance the books and not have half the population out home, work and food. traditionally governments taxed the middle class but with that shrinking money has to come from somewhere but fat cats have too much influence in government so the funds dry up.
True, you shift labor elsewhere. It becomes a variant of "foreign aid."
However, displaced workers in the "donor" country have a legitimate beef against these practices, at least until the economy readjusts itself to the new reality.