Tuesday, November 29, 2005

On the impossibility to vote in Canada

Canadians are in a political catch 22. The Liberal Party occupies most if not all the middle ground of the political spectrum, but they're caught in a corruption scandal. As a result, Canadians can't vote for the Liberals, but can't vote for another party either. There's the Conservatives, what some may call liberals in the US, but they're too far right for the Ontarians and Quebecois. And then there's the New Democratic Party, seen too far left and having a hard time getting its member to go through a real modernization. In Quebec, voters can also vote for the federal version of the separatist party (indeed) and that's what they do.

Now that the Liberal-NDP coalition government has been defeated by a no-confidence motion, Canadians will have to face this dilemma once more. My prediction (as poor as usual and based on data pre-dating the campaign) is that they will reelect the same parliament: a relative majority of Liberals, then Conservatives second, a lot of Bloc Québécois in Québec and then some NDP here and there.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Internships - Horror Stories

About every intern has an horror story about his or her experience. Personnally, my last experience was to be grossly unpaid but having to buy my plane ticket from the middle of nowhere to my workplace on the other side of the ocean. Another didn't get paid because of her nationality - as if you're not supposed to be paid according to your work. Some are expected to work overtime, even on week-ends, as if every minute you work as an intern is not already a sort of overtime (but overtime is paid!).

If any intern wants to share his or her experience here, I'll gladly welcome them here and give them a voice. Washington is full of interns and those internships are very sought-after. But the fact is that his competition creates the problem: if you turn an internship down, someone else will pick it and get the experience that you need. But if some solidarity emerge between the interns, if some sort of organization, like that in France, takes off, the situation might change.

It could start with your story.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Life will find a way

When I commented on intelligent design a few weeks ago, I wrote:
"The war in Iraq, the deficit, the Supreme Court nominee, all of this are very significant events. But intelligent design is a civilisation defining issue. How can a country, in the 21st century, engage in this irrational debate?"
It's not surprising, but it's comforting to read something awfully similar on the BBC website today:
"[It] seems to me that the central political question facing everyone here, far more important than any to do with Iraq or the deficit or Guantanamo Bay, is whether or not the Republican party, after decades of flirting, has finally got into bed with an irrational sect." (Justin Webb, Dinosaurs, evangelicals and the state, November 26, 2005)
The people in Kansas or anywhere else for that matter who defend the teaching of intelligent design alongside Darwin's evolutionism need to be ridiculed as they deserve. They are not just an oddity, they are a danger to the United States. I can't believe for the life of me that their idea will get any traction outside the US, but the US are still the only left superpower for the moment. Let's hope reason and science are not blacklisted there.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Interns of the World, Unite !

How about an unpaid and quasi-mandatory job? Souds like exploitation and slavery? It's called an internship. It's unpaid most of the time or people get a small portion of a low salary (like $500 a month). You have to do it to get a job in some high-education fields, like international relations or marketing. No experience, no job - but an internship, sometimes yes.

And if you think "They shouldn't take the job if it doesn't suit them", you forgot why unions were created in the first place. Alone, no one can beat the system. If you turn it down, you find yourself at home, jobless.

That's why it's good news to hear that the French interns are protesting against their situation. There's been strikes in France against this modern exploitation.
"The Web site organizing the strike, www.génération-précaire.org, claims that French companies are using poorly paid interns to fill jobs that otherwise would go to full-time employees, thereby limiting the ability of young people to secure meaningful employment." (Interns in the French Firms Stage Protest, International Herald Tribune, Nov. 24, 2005)
Hopefully this movement will spread to cities full of interns like Geneva and Washington.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Fuel is not expensive in the US

One of my pet peeves is the complaint against so-called "high prices of oil". This is especially annoying in the United States where they have the cheapest gas in the whole developed world - and the most outrageous means of transportation. But as usual, the US are not too outward-looking and probably ignore, in large majority, that they are getting a deal at the expense of the rest of the world who's making efforts to curb consumption.

Those who say that the demand for gas is not elastic - that oil is the only fuel to get you there - are missing the point (debunking this myth was what got Paul Krugman going as a professional economist in the 70s). Here are a few ways to reduce consumption:

- Get smaller cars
- Walk or bike
- Combine trips

The lack of fuel taxes in the US is a problem that the whole world has to live with. If only they were interested in what the world does and discusses, they might realize the burden that they represent and stop whining. Thank goodness, some are more enlightened on the issue.

Update: Indeed, there are many voices now discussing the positive aspects of higher gas prices. I'm not too keen on ethanol and biodiesel, but at least it gets the debate going on the effects of gas consumption. What Spencer Reiss doesn't mention is that gas taxes can also be turned into subsidies for new technologies. Yes, it is sometimes necessary to intervene in the market to speed things up, especially when health and the environment are at stake.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Trade is the new debt relief (Brad Pitt and trade)

The most interesting thing about this Washington Post article (Trade and Aid: The Stars are Aligned), is that trade is becoming the next common cause of do-gooders, after debt relief. Excerpt:
DATA, the activist outfit that sponsored Pitt's tutorials, has convinced
development groups that traditionally ignored trade that they should sign on to
a pro-Doha platform. American religious leaders, who have long campaigned for
Third World debt relief, are planning to use a meeting with Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice next week to lobby for trade liberalization.
This take on trade is likely to divide the left because many won't accept to give up the losers, as they see it. And for too many of them, it doesn't mean to exploit the new possibilities of an open economy, but to keep things as they are right now.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Make protectionism history

For those who still don't believe that freer (and fairer) trade is a progressive's fight:

Currently, international trade is neither free nor fair. Trade rules allow
rich countries to pay large subsidies to a small number of companies to export
food. These policies encourage over-production, destroy the livelihoods of
millions of poor farmers in developing countries and hurt the environment. (
Source: Trade Justice, makepovertyhistory.ca)

This is not to say that trade should be freed overnight - transition measures are needed. But commitment to open trade should come as soon as possible - meaning December 2005.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

In Praise of Cheap Labor?

During my grad studies, I made a presentation with two friends on the book No Logo from Naomi Klein. Instead of doing something formal, we played the roles of Phil Knight, from Nike, an activist (my male friend refused to dress up as a girl however) and a journalist. I had a blast impersonating an evil Phil Knight (I was wearing a black suit, black shirt, black tie - white running shoes) as cocky as possible.

As you could expect from a young political scientist in the making, I had little sympathy for my character - and I was in a very friendly environment in that classroom. I don't think I could have believed back then what I'm about to say.

Maybe I was wrong.

I use to think that using cheap labour in developing countries was shameful. Now I think: do I really want to curb job creation in developing countries? This same idea is expressed in this post from Minpundit, who also refers to an article (In Praise of Cheap Labor) by Paul Krugman. And no need to make a very complicated study, or to focus once again on US national security, to see that trade is pacifying: the European Coal and Steel Community has pacified Europe at last, after centuries of fighting. France and Germany hand in hand? Impossible to imagine just 60 years ago.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Good leftist discussion on free trade

Some of the most interesting conversations on free trade are currently happening at the TPMCafe. A good example is the discussion that ensued a post by David Sirota (Do free traders think the American is stupid?). Not that the original post is of very high quality, but the discussion that follows shows fairly well the various opinions - although not always in an extremely polite fashion - typical of the debate on the left on free trade.

As I said in my comment, a list of opinions from the American public doesn't tell us if they're informed on a certain issue. It's using statistics to impress an audience, but failing to make a point. Too bad.

Alan Blinder's post (Progressives should be for progress) is also worth reading.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The left should not oppose free trade

I was also at the Quebec Summit of the Americas in 2001. The funny thing is that I was on the outside of the barriers, with protesters facing a rather aggressive police. I think if I were to go back today, I would work with the independant media again as I still strongly believe in free speech. A lot of information on police violence has emerged from this independent coverage before making it to the mainstream.

But on the issue, I've changed. I now understand why countries share their sovereignty and I think it's a good thing. I see why we would like to create economic growth, wealth that could be redistributed. I see tht where there are losers of new trade rules, there are also winners - and that winners can be those who need it the most.

I think the left who opposes free trade makes a mistake that could tarnish its reputation in the future. Under many circumstances, the left has been on the good side of the battles: equality for women, end of racial segregation, social welfare to name just a few. The left has won history so far, but it's also been wrong and it will be the case again if it keeps on opposing free trade.

What if international trade was not evil?

Left and left are now divided over free trade. It used to be fairly simple: in economics, the classical left was protectionist, fearing global companies, promoting local shops and national sovereignty; while the classical right was in favor of Smith and Ricardo's theories on trade that said: the freer, the better. Those were the good ole days.

Today, the right has its protectionist in rich countries who couldn't care less about poorer countries. And the left has its free trade champions who see gains for the poor in access to market. The problem is not free trade per se, but the way it's done. Just like Oxfam (and fair traders), I'm one of them.

Protectionism has become a battle to protect jobs in rich countries against jobs in emerging countries (there goes my political career...). The contradiction between fighting for a better world and fighting to restrict the capacity of poor countries to attain economic growth has become too apparent.

Sure, there will be losers in rich countries when an economy reduces its trade barriers. But there will be winners too, most probably more of them, and the losers have the support to find new ways to participate to the economy: strong education systems and social security for instance. There is no such thing in developing nations who are waiting for an access to our markets.

Also, there's no such thing as a "loss of sovereignty" when a country signs a trade agreement - no more than there's is a loss of sovereignty when they sign a "good" agreement like the Kyoto Protocol. The sovereignty becomes shared, not lost. Countries agree to abide by shared rules because they see a gain to it. For global warming, it's obvious that no nation alone can win the battle. For global trade, there's an overall potential gain from an increase in global output.

The real scandal is that foreign nations do not have a say on a country's trade regime, because all trade partners are affected by that regime. Shouldn't the basis of democracy be that everyone has a say in the conduct of affairs that affect him/her? Then foreign affairs of foreign nations are to be included, and that's what international agreements are for until we find a better way to share responsibility.

All of this to say that I find myself an odd bedfellow of George W. Bush when he says"The Doha round really trumps the FTAA as a priority". Non-global trade agreements are not just a step towards open frontiers, they're an obstacle. Energies to open trade and fight potential losers would be better invested in the real goal: a global market where everyone has a chance to compete.

Call me a free trader. I'll say thank you.

Update: the left-of-the-center Prime Minister of Canada is on the same page.