PRISM Might Be the Scandal – But Protectionism Poses Danger Too

Recent news has been dominated by revelations about the NSA and British intelligence agencies spying on citizens, without warrants, who have not been charged with crimes. It’s important for citizens to resist government intrusion into their privacy, as governments tend toward authoritarianism in the absence of pushback from their people.

Yet one aspect of the growing surveillance state that hasn’t been discussed as much is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the United States. Politicians have been trying to use negotiations around it as leverage for the unrelated political dispute about surveillance. It would be terrible to let elected officials use international political conflicts surrounding the US and UK surveillance state to erode free trade.

The economics on the matter simply could not be more clear: 95% of all US economists agree that tariffs and quotas decrease standards of living. Realizing this, Western nations have reduced tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade significantly. And protectionism, which massively harms Africa and other developing parts of the world, has been mostly off the table between Western Nations. Until now.

With TTIP, the stakes are high. If the agreement manages to reduce the amount of tariffs between the US and the EU it will lead to beneficial outcomes for both economies. Lowering trade barriers are estimated to create up to two million jobs within Europe and the US. This would be especially crucial in the face of the present-day problems of youth unemployment and unfunded liabilities. Successful TTIP negotiations would create the largest free trade area in the world. The economic growth generated from this could be seen as a first step on the long path towards world-wide free trade.

Let’s be clear first that free trade agreements would not be necessary at all if governments were not interfering with trade in the first place. A free trade treaty (such as TTIP) should not be understood as a gift from government. It’s a Band-Aid, which presents a real opportunity for wealth creation for people living in those economies.

Free trade empowers people from different nations to exchange goods on a voluntary basis without government interference. Following from an understanding of the benefits of trade, all people should be able to trade freely under the rule of law. Each party of a trade expects to benefit from a transaction otherwise they would not do it. Interference from government hampers such mutually beneficial transactions.

Sadly, protectionism is still prevalent in the 21st century. It takes the form of direct tariffs or non-tariff barriers such as regulation and arbitrary standardization about, for example, the shape of bananas.

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Realizing free trade and reducing trade barriers is to the benefit of both consumers and producers. A prosperous world in which human beings have the freedom to pursue their own peaceful ends is a desirable goal. To achieve this policy makers ought to proceed with initiatives such as TTIP to the point that free trade will be the norm and not the exception.
Using political disputes over other atrocious acts of government as an excuse to deprive more than 800 million human beings of the possibilities to freely exchange goods and services is grossly negligent and outright harmful.

Government leaders have shown a capacity for learning, albeit slowly, from the mistakes of mercantilism. They’ve opened up their borders for goods, bringing much prosperity to the world. To stop this engine of wealth creation due to political disputes is holding millions of peaceful traders and consumers hostage. Citizens should not be punished for misconduct by governments and intelligence services.

Slovenia – The new Greece?

Slovenia, a tiny picturesque country located south of Austria, has been described for many years as a role-model for how to transition from a planned to a market economy. Slovenia was the first Eastern European country to join the Eurozone, had until recently a healthy public-debt-to-GDP ratio, and its location between Austria, Italy, and the Balkans promised a bright future.

Nearly a decade after joining the EU, Slovenia marches towards a collapse of its economy with an all-but-nationalized financial sector, and growth numbers which seem to point towards joining the PIIGS club rather than prolonging its membership with vibrant European economies such as Estonia, Austria, or Germany.

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When looking into the causes for the loss of competitiveness of Slovenia one can analyze various fields of fiscal and economic policies, which led to sclerotic structural problems of an economy of two million people.

Labour regulations are rigid and extremely risky for employers. Strong labour unions hold virtually all stakeholders of the economy captive and de facto rule the country in this respect. Minimum wage laws reduce hiring possibilities for young and unskilled labor. Thus students and recent graduates have problems finding a job and often head for opportunities in neighboring countries.

Government spending as a share of GDP amounted to 49% in 2012. These are levels which can usually only be observed in rich Nordic welfare states. A VAT raise to 22% in 2013 crippled the already weak domestic demand even more and its negative long term effects are still unknown. Even as far back as 2007 Forbes Magazine was reporting that Slovene workers were some of the most taxed in the world.

Slovenian politicians never actually really seriously attempted to privatize the economy, and thus they retain a large influence on the domestic industry. Many of the largest corporations are still in outright government ownership. According to the former Slovene Minister of Economic Development, as much as 30% of our economy consists of state-owned enterprises. That brings us to a staggering number: 80% of our economy is, in one way or another, centrally planned and directed by politicians and bureaucrats.

Two-thirds of Slovene banks ran deficits in 2012. Most of the 17 largest banks’ assets are either outright state-owned or largely state-owned through other state-owned enterprises or holdings. These banks lent millions of Euros for Management Buy Outs and other non-viable investments during the boom years in Slovenia and are now dumping the cost on taxpayers. Due to the strong role of government and public ownership in the Slovene economy, perpetrated as some kind of mystical “national interest,” many larger foreign firms were not very successful in entering the market and bringing additional foreign capital to Slovenia.

Given the uncertainty concerning future tax hikes and even more regulations, some of Slovenia’s best and most successful entrepreneurs have stopped their investments here and moved their activities abroad.

After countless and widespread corruption scandals, which caught even the highest officials in our political sphere, and a few government swings from left to right and back, there is widespread disbelief, especially among the youth, that politicians are willing or able to solve the structural problems we are facing. Politicians and their friends are often moving directly from public office to C-level executive jobs in state-controlled enterprises in broad daylight and with everyone watching.

The structural problems of Slovenia and the apathy of politicians when it comes to solving them can only lead us to the same path Greece is on, which is one that left more than half of young people without jobs.

I don’t want Slovenia to become the new Greece. In order to prevent this and allow young people to prosper in our home country, politicians have to wake up and smell the coffee. They need to understand that the way back to prosperity requires that they step out of the way and facilitate a private sector which is private not only by name, but actually run by entrepreneurs and managers instead of politicians and cronies.

Young Voices Associate Published in the Daily Caller!

Young Voices Associate Cathy Reisenwitz made the top spot in the Daily Caller’s Opinion sidebar, and the front page of the section with her piece Police brutality in America: These are not isolated incidents.

Check it out!

Just last week, several police officers in Stockton, California beat a mentally disturbed man during an arrest, one officer putting a knee on his head and another pulling him by his braids. Earlier this month a police officer beat an Iowa shoplifter so brutally that she was carried to the hospital in a stretcher and left her with sustained vision impairment. The beating happened in front of her daughter. The Minneapolis Police Department is currently facing 61 lawsuits regarding allegations that officers used excessive force that led to injuries.

These are not isolated incidents. There are many reasons why America has a problem with police brutality. First, police departments are not required to report instances of abuse at the federal level. And most cities and states have no reporting requirements either. Data is so sparse that the Office of Justice Programs cites a study that is more than 13 years old, only covers two years, and was paid for by the country’s oldest police chiefs union to counter claims of out-of-control use of force by officers.

But according to journalist Mike Riggs, the biggest contributor to the problem of officers’ use of excessive force is a piece of legislation called the “law enforcement bill of rights.” He  describes its sole purpose as “to shield cops from the laws they’re paid to enforce.”

Riggs tells the story of Officer Edward Krawetz of the Lincoln Police Department, who became famous after a still from a surveillance camera showed him kicking a seated woman with her hands cuffed behind her in the head. Though he was convicted of felony battery and sentenced to ten years in prison, his sentence was immediately suspended, and he did not lose his job.

As Rise of the Warrior Cop author Radley Balko reported, a Florida police officer named Kevin Kilpatrick is alleged to have committed a DUI and attempted to cover up domestic abuse. Charges have not been filed. Kilpatrick was on paid leave for seven years, receiving full pay and benefits, plus annual raises. Taxpayers have been put out more than a half million dollars.

What happened? Both times the department tried the fire Kilpatrick their decision was overturned by an arbitrator, and then by a federal judge, for violating agreements in the union-negotiated police contract.

Obviously police officers have tough jobs and have to make tough decisions. It’s reasonable that they don’t want every decision second-guessed by people who don’t understand the situations they face. And of course they don’t want decisions to terminate officers made without thorough review. But thorough, informed review should not mean secretive boards or special privileges.

Communities are stepping up with their own solutions to these problems. In New York City, where last week a federal judge ruled the NYDP’s thousands of racially discriminatory street stops were unconstitutional, the city has appointed a monitor to ensure changes are made. New Orleans has hired a private law firm to help implement changes meant to combat brutality and corruption so intense and widespread it drew attention from the Department of Justice, a first for a city police department. In Fullerton, California the citizens recalled three city council members who chose to cover up an incident where officers beat a schizophrenic homeless man to death.

These are all good moves. But before, after, and in addition to hiring monitors and law firms and recalling council members, we need laws that make it easier to fire officers who abuse citizens.

Authorizing officers to use violence on citizens requires an extreme amount of trust. Young people are especially suspicious of bestowing trust on organizations that have proven to be opaque in their reporting, manipulative and unclear in their claims of appropriate use, and supportive of efforts to make holding abusers accountable more difficult. In every state, the “law enforcement bill of rights,” should be replaced by a review process which quickly and effectively gets dangerous officers off the street.