Dutch politics, after the elections

Now that the Dutch elections for the Lower House are over, as well as the unprecedented international hype surrounding it, it is time for a few pointers and reminders.

Turkey

Prime Minister Mark Rutte used the crisis with Turkey to his greatest advantage. When the crisis just loomed he escalated, helped of course by the increasingly hysterical reactions of the Turkish authorities, particularly the President.

I have not been able to get figures, but it is rather normal for foreign ministers, including from Turkey, to visit the Netherlands and address their nationals, also for political purposes. This is just the consequence of allowing Turkish people to have dual nationality and -in the Turkish case- also double voting rights. With the referendum in Turkey coming up, it is only logical to allow proponents and opponents to campaign as well.

This said, any thinking person would strongly object to the plan to give even more power to the already way too powerful Turkish executive. Dictatorship looms (please read Barry’s much better informed blogs on this).

Politicians almost always choose the short term over the long term. Certainly four days before elections. Still, the downside of Rutte’s actions are immense, as they also serve the interest of Erdogan, enabling him to play the victim of the ‘racist Dutch’. It might even pull the deciding number of voters into his camp. That would be bad for Turkey, and for Europe.

Chances for Turkey joining the European Union were already small, but have now disappeared completely. (Which I personally do not mind much, but others differ, including many in Rutte’s own party).

Populism

Another topic of international concern surrounding the election was the rising populism and its alleged ending by the electorate at the ballot box. Indeed, Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom did not become the biggest party, yet he did win votes again. An increase of a third actually, from 15 to 20 in the 150-seat Lower House. His party thus became the second largest party in parliament.

He was never going to be Prime Minister anyway, as all parties had said before the elections they would not collaborate with him. This was important as the Dutch electoral system has a low threshold, which means many parties can enter parliament and no party has ever won a majority of 76. It demands parties to negotiate a governing coalition. After Wednesday at least four parties are needed for such a majority, which will take months.

There is a less-noted, other ‘bad populism’, which includes the largest winner, the Green Left party. This party represents are the radical environmental left, led by a young good looking leader who has been able to attract a lot of young people, in particular women, according to electoral research. There are also other populist parties elected, most notably the party for pensioners, the Islamic party DENK,  and the Forum for Democracy, the intellectual version of Geert Wilders’ party.

Coalition building

It remains to be seen whether Green Left will get a seat in government, given the large differences with the other parties who will be negotiating the new government: the centre right VVD of Rutte, the social liberals of D66, and the Christian democrats.

This process is slow and boring for most people, except for political junkies like myself. So chances are you will not hear about Dutch politics until a new government has finally been installed. Do not be surprised if this does not happen before Christmas.

Memorial Day in the Days of Trump

It disturbs me that in my area of the Central Coast of California, Memorial Day is almost entirely a beach day, a sailing day, a fishing day, and a barbecue day. There is little here to mark the day as one of remembrance for those who died to protect our precious republic (and by the way, to save many innocent civilians, including me). Most of the local people are too sophisticated and too lazy to do anything out of the ordinary on that weekend except pretend it’s summer. And then, some of the population is gone because the university lets out on Memorial Weekend and many students go somewhere else. They are replaced to a large extent by visitors from Silicon Valley forty minutes away on a hard mountain road, and from as afar as the agricultural Central Valley, hours away. The ones and the others want to sit on the beach or go on rides on our famous old fashioned Boardwalk, a sort of permanent carnival. The ocean water is still too cold for almost all adults but the kids will wade in a little. (Frankly, I think few adults around – except surfers – here know how to swim in the ocean but that’s neither here nor there.)

I know that the locals don’t care much about the meaning of Memorial Day because there are only three American flags on my long street, and two belong to my household.

In the vicinity of Santa Cruz, there is one Saturday morning Memorial Day parade. It’s held in Felton, a small, funky town not ten minutes from Santa Cruz proper. It’s in the mountains (as opposed to near the sea). The real estate there is a little cheaper than in Santa Cruz. It’s home to a certain horsey set, not the kind that rides knees to the chest, English style, but those who ride on a Western saddle, with their legs comfortably extended. Its downtown stretches over half of a street with a couple of grocery stores, other small businesses, and one Chinese restaurant (not that good, to tell the truth). But, this is Santa Cruz county so, there is also a mediocre Mexican restaurant that doubles as a fantastic music venue.

In spite of physical proximity, the culture in Felton is strikingly different from the culture of university-anchored, progressive, mock-sophisticated, vegetarian/organic, and often transgender Santa Cruz. For one thing, its population is visibly different. The people at the parade in Felton are mostly light-skinned or Portuguese-washed out olive (but see below), and many of their children have blond hair. Everyone is badly dressed, not poorly dressed just dressed carelessly, even the young women.

The thin crowd does not include many brown skins. I can guess the reasons. The large Hispanic population around here is almost entirely from Mexico. It lives in another part of the county and in Santa Cruz proper. It’s not that Felton discriminate, it’s that immigrants tend to agglutinate around where the first immigrants from their countries take root. It’s almost a random process, in historical terms. Many immigrants and their children appear to be dimly aware of this country’s military history. Mexico had no military history for more than eighty years, after all. This does not promote attention to such fine points. Incidentally, Mexican immigrants and their children don’t, by and large, understand Cinco de Mayo either although it’s an official California holiday made up just for them. Hispanics are welcome in Felton, I believe, but they don’t come and their absence makes a difference. The local culture is different where they are numerous.

The parade in Felton inspires something close to pity but also a little melancholy. It starts at 10 am sharp, as announced. It includes no marching band and few flags. The cub-scouts do carry flags. They look bedraggled although they are on parade. The Mom who is a cub-scout leader is wearing jeans, some example! There is a bagpipe band – something I always enjoy – but it includes only three bagpipes. Mostly, the parade consists of people in automobile vehicles. There are several fire trucks of course. This feels good because, in these parts, fire brigades are mostly composed of volunteers, an American institution if there ever was one. The other cars are there for no particular reason I am able to grasp except one car. There is a guy driving his period muscle car in average condition with the words “For sale” painted in several places. That’s American commercial ingenuity, I think.

From all cars but that one, and from the firetrucks as well, jets of candy aimed at the little children brought by parents to see the parade are issued. There is so much candy that boys on either side of the street start a candy fight during a lull in the parade. Two middle aged women quietly fill a backpack with candy. One is white, the other black. If this is not proof of harmonious race relations, I don’t know what is, really!

The people in the parade and the people at the parade strike me as absent from the current American cultural narrative. You don’t find them in books, you don’t find them in movies, you don’t even find them in TV series anymore. They barely exist in popular music, even in country music. There are pockets of them all over the country, mostly larger pockets than in Felton. No wonder they feel forgotten and are pissed off in often inarticulate ways. No wonder election analysts and the political class is disconcerted by the rise of a Donald Trump. They were mostly invisible until now.

I am sorry conservative rationalists like me missed the boat.

A Victory for the Big Center

“To my left, the wall,” Argentina’s President Cristina Fenández de Kichner (CFK) had expressed some months ago. Many of her detractors agreed with her on this opinion, while some others doubted where exactly to place the wall -and how far. The label of “Populist” might be subject to controversy as well, but everyone will at least agree on one single definition: her political strain could be everything but centrist.

Notwithstanding “Peronism vs anti Peronism,” “Populism vs Rule of Law,” “Left vs Right,” “Kirchnerism vs anti Kirchnerism” were some of the terms articulated along the presidential campaign whose run off has just had been won by Mauricio Macri, from the challenging front “Cambiemos” (Let’s Change), the decisive point of discussion of the past election was “Big Center vs Hegemony.”

The Big Center could be defined as the coalition of the Center-Left and the Center-Right in order to preserve a political system which allows the competition between both wings from the menace of a radical hegemonic force. That is why it would be a mistake to characterize the winning coalition as a Center-Right or a non-Populist political party. “Cambiemos” (Let´s Chance) has won the election with the support of both Centre-Right and Centre-Left voters and both Populist and non-Populist strains. Its political platform contains an orthodox monetary policy as well as the continuity of the policies on helping to alleviate poverty. Mauricio Macri won in the main cities with European ancestry population, such as Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Rosario, Mendoza, and also won in the Province of Jujuy, where he finished his campaign with a ancient ritual salutation to the Pachamama, one of the most important pre-Columbian deities.

By the width of “Cambiemos” coalition one could imagine how much was at stake. Which will be the final turn of the new government is something that generates no concern among its supporters. It is clear that it will remain circumscribed to the “Big Center.” Perhaps the definition will depend upon the ability of the Peronist Party -from now on in the opposition- to reassess its political strain: to turn into a Center-Right party, or into a Center-Left one or to insist on becoming a radical force. Given that “Cambiemos” has been delimiting its political discourse as a mirror of the “Kirchnerism,” we can expect the former to place itself in the political spectrum in reaction to its opposition. Nevertheless, all of us are convinced that Argentina’s political language will return to the categories of the Modern democracies.

Putting a stop to the Argenzuela Project

[Editor’s note: The following piece is written by Dr Nicolás Cachanosky, an economist at Metropolitan State University, Denver and a native Argentinian. Dr Cachanosky hails from the same PhD program (at Suffolk University) as Rick, who introduced us. His homepage is here, and he is also a member of the group blog Punto de Vista Económico (which you can find on the blogroll here at NOL). Check out his popular work for the Mises Institute, too. – BC]

For the last 12 years Argentina was under the influence of the Kirchner administration. First by President Néstor Kirchner (NK), and then two terms by her wife (and widow since 2010) Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (CFK). Their plan, as perceived by many, was to alternate presidential terms between NK and CFK and remain in power endlessly. While this plan came to an end with NK’s death in 2010, CFK started to entertain the idea of reforming the Constitution to be able to run a gain for office. Because this was not possible, she chose Daniel Scioli, the Governor of Buenos Aires Province to be her successor. Last Sunday, November 22nd, Mauricio Macri, Mayor of Buenos Aires City beat Scioli in a ballotage and became president elect starting his term this coming December 10th.

Argentina was in path to become what is referred as Argenzuela. Namely, the Kirchner administration was taking the country, step-by-step, to become the next Venezuela of Latin America in a close way to what has been described as the four stages of populism. Under the Kirchner administration, the government increased their political ties with Venezuela, Iran, and China, at the expense of political relations with countries like the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom. But the resemblance was not only in terms of political friendship, but on institutional and economic reforms. Argentina became a country where “Republic” is just a word on paper without a real presence in the country’s institutional reality. According to the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World, in 2003 Argentina ranked 99 out of 153 countries. By 2012 it ranked 149 out of 152 countries. The loss of economic freedom was fast and significant. Economic troubles and imbalances did not take long to appear.

Macri’s victory in the presidential elections put a stop to the Argenzuela project. We know what a presidency by Macri won’t look like. But it is still hard to say what it will actually look like. Macri is known for his emphasis not in free or unfree markets, but on an efficient administration. While not difficult to be more free market than the Kirchners, it might prove difficult to describe Macri’s political movement, Pro, as a free market party. The Kirchner administration has refused, at least so far, to share information with Macri and his appointed ministers, so the real situation of the economy and the Treasury remains unknown. Macri and his team are working on reform plans half-blinded because they don’t have reliable economic information, if they have it at all.

Specific reforms by Macri are still unknown (at the time of writing these lines), but his team of Ministers has already been announced. The people he’s bringing to the government with him show significant successful careers in government, the private sector, and international organizations (her chosen Chancellor is the Chief of Staff of Ban Ki Moon, General Secretary of the United Nations.) This is a clear contrast with the Kirchner administration, where all the Ministers showed a strong ideological motivation before professional accomplishments.

The economic crisis in Argentina hands Macri a unique opportunity to carry long needed significant reforms. He has, also, a unique political position. His political party has not only won the presidential election, with Pro Macri has also retained the Mayor’s office of Buenos Aires City and also won the Governor elections for the Buenos Aires Province. Macri’s Pro is in charge of the three most economically and political important districts. Let us hope that Macri does not become yet another lost opportunity in Argentina’s history.

Around the Web: Globalization, Racism and Surfing

  1. Check out this fascinating reddit thread on ‘blackness’ in the US and the UK. As somebody who has spent a fair amount of time outside of the US, and who is interested in ethnicity from a scholarly perspective, the answers were nothing new to me, but it’s always nice when the streets confirm your suspicions.
  2. A beautiful photo essay on surfing in Liberia. I wish there were a traditional essay to go along with the photos, but it still suffices.

I think there are too many people in the world who don’t think hard enough about the benefits of globalization (i.e. world trade). As populism continues to gain traction here in the US (and elsewhere I presume), I fear that the everyday beauty a more globalized world gives to us will be thrown under the bus in the name of The People.

From the Comments: Populism, Big Banks and the Tyranny of Ambiguity

Andrew takes time to elaborate upon his support for Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Native American law professor from Harvard who often pines for the “little guy” in public forums. I loathe populism/fascism precisely because it is short on specifics and very, very long on generalities and emotional appeal. This ambiguity is precisely why fascist/populist movements lead societies down the road to cultural, economic and political stagnation. Andrew begins his defense of populism/fascism with this:

For example, I still have more trust in Warren than in almost anyone else in Congress to hold banks accountable to the rule of law.

Banks have been following the rule of law. This is the problem libertarians have been trying to point out for hundreds of years. See Dr Gibson on bank regulations and Dr Gibson again, along with Dr Foldvaryon alternatives. This is why you see so few bankers in jail. Libertarians point to institutional barriers that are put in place by legislators at the behest of a myriad of lobbying groups. Populists/fascists decry the results of the legislation and seek a faction to blame.

If you wanted to be thought of as an open-minded, fairly intelligent individual, which framework would you present to those who you wished to impress: the institutional one that libertarians identify as the culprit for the 2008 financial crisis or the ambiguous one that the populists wield?

And populism=fascism=nationalism is a daft oversimplification. I’ll grant that there’s often overlap between the three, but it’s far from total or inevitable overlap. Populists target their own countries’ elites all the time.

Sometimes oversimplification is a good thing, especially if it helps to clarify something (see, for example, Dr Delacroix’s work on free trade and the Law of Comparative Advantage). One of the hallmarks of fascism is its anti-elitism. Fascists tend to target elites in their own countries because they are a) easy and highly visible targets, b) usually employed in professions that require a great amount of technical know-how or traditional education and c) very open to foreign cultures and as such are often perceived as being connected to elites of foreign societies.

The anti-elitism of fascists/populists is something that libertarians don’t think about enough. Anti-elitism is by its very nature anti-individualistic, anti-education and anti-cooperative. You can tell it is all of these “antis” not because of the historical results that populism/fascism has bred, but because of its ambiguous arguments. Ambiguity, of course, is a populist’s greatest weapon. There is never any substance to be found in the arguments of the populist. No details. No clarity. Only easily identifiable problems (at best) or ad hominem attacks (at worst). Senator Warren is telling in this regard. She is known for her very public attacks on banks and the rich, but when pressed for details she never elaborates. And why should she? To do so would expose her public attacks to argument. It would create a spectacle out of the sacred. For example, Andrew writes:

Still, I’d rather have people like Warren establish a fuzzy and imperfect starting point for reform than let courtiers to the wealthy and affluent dictate policy because there’s no remotely viable counterpoint to their stances […] These doctrinaire free-market orthodoxies are where the libertarian movement loses me. There are just too many untrustworthy characters attached to that ship for me to jump on board.

Ambiguity is a better alternative than plainly stated and publicly published goals simply because there are “untrustworthy characters” associated with the latter? Why not seek plainly stated and publicly published alternatives rather than “fuzzy and imperfect starting points for reform”?

Andrew quotes a man in the street that happens to be made entirely of straw:

“Social Security has gone into the red, but instead of increasing the contribution ceiling and thoughtfully trimming benefits, let’s privatize the whole thing and encourage people to invest in my company’s private retirement accounts.”

Does the libertarian really argue that phasing out a government program implemented in the 1930s is good because it would force people to invest in his company’s private retirement accounts? I’ve never heard of such an example, but I may just be reading all the wrong stuff. Andrew could prove me wrong with a lead or two. There is more:

This ilk of concern trolls (think Megan McArdle: somewhat different emphasis, same general worldview) is one that I find thoroughly disgusting and untrustworthy and that I want absolutely no part in engaging in civil debate. Their positions are just too corrupt and outlandish to dignify with direct responses; I consider it better to marginalize them and instead engage adversaries who aren’t pushing the Overton Window to extremes that I consider bizarre and self-serving. They’re often operating from premises that a supermajority of Americans would find absurd or unconscionable, so I see no point to inviting shills and nutters into a debate […].

Megan McArdle is so “disgusting and untrustworthy” that her arguments are not even worth discussing? Her name is worth bringing up, of course, but her arguments are not? Ambiguity is the weapon of the majority’s tyranny, and our readers deserve better. They are not idiots (our readership is still too small!), and I think they deserve an explanation for why McArdle is not worthy of their time (aside from being a shill for the rich, of course).

I think populism/fascism is often attractive to dissatisfied and otherwise intelligent individuals largely because its ambiguous nature seems to provide people with answers to tough questions that they cannot (or will not) answer themselves. Elizabeth Warren’s own tough questions, on the Senate Banking Committee, revolve around pestering banks for supposedly (supposedly) laundering money to drug lords and terrorists:

“What does it take, how many billions of dollars do you have to launder from drug lords and how many economic sanctions do you have to violate before someone will consider shutting down a financial institution?” Warren asked at a Banking Committee hearing on money laundering.

Notice how the populist/fascist simply takes the laws in place for granted (so long as they serve her desires)? The libertarian would ask not if the banks were doing something illegally, but why there are laws in place that prohibit individuals and organizations from making monetary transactions in the first place.

Senator Warren’s assumptions highlight well the difference between the ideologies of populism/fascism and libertarianism: One ideology thinks bludgeoning unpopular factions is perfectly acceptable. The other would defend an unpopular faction as if it were its own; indeed, as if its own freedom were tied up to the freedom of the faction under attack.

A Warm Welcome, and other assorted editorial duties

Hello all. I’m proud to announce and introduce Jesper Ahlin to the blogging team here at NOL:

Jesper Ahlin received his B.A. in philosophy from Linköping University and is now a graduate student in philosophy at Uppsala University. He has conducted Stureakademin, a study program run by the classical liberal think tank Timbro, and is the local coordinator for European Students For Liberty in Sweden. As a right-libertarianish thinker he enjoys reading Mises and Rothbard as well as Hayek and Nozick. He also likes ice hockey, music and traveling.

Jesper’s debut post can be found here. He’s currently hanging out in Washington and New York City, but do look for more of his posts in the near future. I, for one, am very excited to be blogging alongside Jesper.

In other news around the blog, Andrew is shocked – SHOCKED! – to find Senator Elizabeth Warren in the company of other rich, white (class-wise, of course) liberals. What would a “sincere and credible populist” be doing rubbing elbows with rich, white (class-wise, of course) Leftists? After all, Senator Warren, a Native American, was a law professor at Harvard. Think of all the glass ceilings she shattered. Do read the whole thing. As always, it’s very well-written.

‘Populism’ is just a quaint term for ‘fascism’ and ‘fascism’ is just a fancy term for ‘nationalism’. All three terms are useful if you want a society to be culturally, economically and politically stagnant. What, for example, is the criteria for being an ‘American worker’ (one segment of society that Senator Warren holds especially close to her heart)?

The guy who works twelve hours a day at a hospital, four days a week?

The guy who works twenty hours a week at a deli slicing pastrami?

And what, for example, characterizes an ‘American worker’ from, say, a ‘German worker’?

Nobody in Warren’s populist camp ever really defines what it means to be an ‘American worker.’ Policy matters, and policies targeting certain segments of society – whether for good or for ill – will only guarantee stagnation, especially if the certain segment of society is only vaguely defined. Not everybody can drive a BMW to work and, more importantly, not everybody wants to.

Elsewhere, Hank and NEO and Edmund argue about political power. It seems to me that they are simply arguing about how this power should be shared, rather than how it should be shorn. This is a dangerous precedent, in my opinion. Read Edmund’s whole piece, and the exchange that follows.

Personally, I don’t care which party is in office, as long as laws that are anathema to libertarianism can be repealed. Conservatives are often an embarrassment to themselves and to their countrymen. They rarely travel, are often less educated than their Leftist peers and usually possess a deep belief in the power of magic and sorcery to solve the social and personal problems that they inevitably come to face in life.

For all this, at least they aren’t Leftists.

Thanks for reading and, more importantly, for sharing your thoughts in the ‘comments’ section. Together, through arguing, we are doing the fine-stitching of democracy.