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Lisboa, Portugal
Nasci no dia 11 de Junho de 1964 na cidade da Beira, MOÇAMBIQUE.

A Estação dos CFM, Beira

A Estação dos CFM, Beira
Ex-libris da cidade, 1966

The Euro, as a single currency, should be abolished

Another black and white motion statement leaving me no option but to choose No.
While I agree to the first part I am not prepared to contemplate the idea that the Euro should get abolished.
Abolished? Then what?
All 17 countries now sharing the single currency would revert back to their old monies?
Or a new version of yesteryear's currencies?

Simplistic as I made it out to be packed in a few odd questions, every single serious economic, financial and social consequence is inextricably wrapped up within each.
That is where the stakes are high enough to ensure that the Euro is given a new lease on life.
It calls for closer European integration.
What form and shape this will take is for policymakers and far-sighted politicians to grasp and propose.

It would seem to me that the Euro has many underlying strengths but will not - contrary to the founder's beliefs - assure convergence between all the economies it services. How could it?
The divide has been felt acutely lately (1-2 years) the logical consequence of relevant economic under-performance among member-countries.

There has obviously got to be a political solution rooted in realistic economic fundamentals.
The road traveled so far proved artificially smooth during the first 10 years I dare say but unsurprisingly very bumpy in the last 1-2.
It could not have been otherwise given the structural differences setting these countries apart. And excessive spending pursued mostly by a few Southern European States who could not see beyond the present.
Adherence to the Maastricht criteria never again seemed to be taken seriously once countries landed themselves inside the Euro club. Not to mention Greece that never fulfilled the criteria in the first place or ever bothered to balance its books.

Very disappointing to admit but the Euro Zone is indeed right in the middle of a storm testing its main crews to the limit.
The latest summit decisions seem to indicate that where there is a will there is a way.
It may have just been one first small step in the right direction.

The specifics are very hard to work on.
Yet it would seem to me that the 17-member Euro Zone and the larger EU can hardly afford shooting down the Euro.
The broader picture needs to come into full view.
An hypothetical demise of the single currency would deal another severe blow to Europe's economic fortunes.
Its relative decline vis-a-vis the rest of the world would get a further boost.

I do not like misplaced calls for solidarity from Southerners but would rather see the stronger half of the dividing line realize where their medium-to-long interest lies.
To that end many balances across the Euro Zone need to be restored at the earliest.

Europe agrees a "shock and awe" bailout for Greece

A rescue package of epic proportions, epic challenges for the Greek government and people, epic uncertainties and epic stakes for the single-currency.

It was the Euro's defence that ultimately forced politicians from Germany to Malta to perform a hard balancing act whose overall success is far from assured.Each finance minister has enough reasons to fret and grumble about.It being the Euro as a common currency, because of Greece despite Greece.
Up to now every 'least damaging' approach failed miserably to cool down the financial markets that remained as unimpressed as ever throughout.
For its part Greece is effectively the main winner in this high-finance gamble.The country bought time the markets were not willing to give it once confidence vanished.Precious time desperately needed to restore credibility and good governance at home.
A daunting internal fix with daunting external implications.
Three full years is what the government and Greek society top-down and bottom-up now have to set the record straight in so many ways.
Literally and figuratively.

For the other 15 Eurozone countries - each facing own troubles to varying degrees - keeping fingers crossed would be mild to describe the monitoring of Greece's performance over the coming 36 months.Potentially they are all losers, starting out by losing simply to avoid bigger losses!
There are so many relevant questions that might be asked to which full answers ought to be provided.
They won't get asked or get answered.
Tellingly, each and every single one of them would now seem rhetorical or at best an exercise for academia.

The spectre that haunts Europe

I am still hopeful that Greece will not require a bail-out in whatever form pinning my hopes on the PM's own words.

He did sound very bold and brave in the face of such overwhelming odds but until a deal is actually in place I would rather believe the Greeks can and will take care of themselves.

My stance is wholly based not on immediate needs triggered by the Western financial meltdown that led to the economic downturn.This in turn led to a collapse in tax revenues across countries caused by economies shrinking badly.

To a large extent Greece is indeed a one-off case-study for the worst reasons, its latest fiscal deficit the sum total of profligate spending, widespread cultural-rooted tax evasion, underbudgeting, creative accounting, weak notion of public service and duty, etc - all conspiring over decades to bring the country to the brink of bankruptcy.

I am sure many Greeks will have seen it coming and warned their governments in years past.To no avail as even the present government was elected as recently as late 2009 on a platform to increase spending.

According to EMU rules public finances were clearly to remain national responsibilities.A considerable chunk of sovereignty for States to manage through their democratically-elected governments of the day.
Would the Greeks have liked their Finance Ministry to be ruled or dictated to from Brussels or Frankfurt just so the Maastricht-agreed criteria could not have been so despondently ignored?

Current turmoil is the Euro's hardest test ever but one that will also represent a defining moment in the single-currency's future.

It is a fact that Southern European countries are faced with similar issues though not on the same scale and urgency.Others in Northern Europe, the US and Japan also recorded their biggest fiscal deficits and added up noticeably to their debts in 2009.
Each one has its own track-record, however.
This is exactly what sets Greece apart from the rest.
Each country is unique in its own way, there being obviously overlapping between them.

International rating agencies must make the effort to closely monitor and register those differences and then advise financial markets.

After all it is sovereign countries and sovereign debt one is dealing with.

There is much more at stake than strictly soulless bundling of nations.

Arquivo do blogue

sábado, 30 de outubro de 2010

The European Union - the Eurozone in particular - has now come to a head.

The partying, high-spending, careless spend-now-pay-later that followed the launch of the Euro in many of its member countries - generously stoked by creditors eager for self-profit - is now an image of the past. The very recent past that is.

The buzzwords of the day are cuts, cuts, cuts.
On paper so far, because the real thing is yet to be achieved.
Then come deficits, responsibility and waste.

Suddenly many realised entire nations were spending far more than they could ever afford.
The implicit nexus spender-borrower/financier-creditor broken up by the latter given how insatiable and unsustainable the former became.
How quickly times and moods change dictated by nameless forces pulling the strings behind flashy computer screens displaying charts and trendlines.
The masses will be called upon to come out and flood the streets. Clenched fists punching the air, banners unfurled and high-pitched voices screaming protest against sitting governments.

Some of the blame lies squarely with the system, the awesome market-economy system. An economic system all but hijacked by unscrupulous bankers and financiers who happily gambled and fooled around with the savings of millions over a lengthy period.
The balance, however, lies fully with numbed governments that chose to look the other way while themselves carelessly indulging in fanciful spending. Mostly to answer the calls of the day from lobbies closely associated with it.

Chronically deficit economies/countries in the Eurozone should first ask themselves whether or not fiscal discipline is relevant as a matter of good governance.
True there was the American born and bred financial storm that gutted Europe like a fire consumes a thick wooded forest.
It explains part of the problem. It does not explain the whole problem. Not even the main part.

Germany's stance is vindicated not merely because it is Europe's biggest economy and Angela Merkel played it hard and tough all along.
It is mainly a confirmation that governments must act responsibly full time.
Managing their countries within the means generated by respective economies.
Imbalances that are structural in nature have to be addressed wisely over many years, not hideously seeking to wish them away by throwing borrowed money aimlessly into non-productive projects.

There would be much more to write about.
Words, however, have hollowed themselves out.
The time now is for restrictive action by governments that wilfully ran out of options.

TEc - "Sinodependency" - How important is China as an importer?

The lines above conjure up a rather hazy picture of China's increased role in the world economy.

In a decade China has become the number one - or any of top five numbers - market for many countries across the globe.

This has got to matter, of course.
It tells me China is not only flooding markets worldwide with its manufactures.It is also sucking in a varied mix of imports ranging from hard and soft commodities to luxury goods.

If the Chinese economy should continue to grow handsomely over the next decade it is set to matter ever more to individual countries not less.
Two industrialised countries from the developed world - Germany/manufactured goods and Australia/commodities - are both cases in point.
Especially in view of anaemic growth elsewhere.

Many more economies rely on exports as the main growth driver, not domestic consumption.

TEc - "Should the French government stand firm on pension reform?" - Here's why there is hardly room for disagreement:

Absolutely yes!

Pension reform in France is overdue and cannot come a day too soon.

I would have thought an explanatory debate on what lies at the core of it all to have been held already.
I would also have thought the main opposition party - the Socialists - to know exactly what is at stake.
The whats, the whens and the whys so as to adopt a politically responsible stance.Have they?

French Unions may be popular with large sections of the population. They have indeed flexed their muscle in the past standing up for fairness and social advancement.
The French as a people have arguably a tradition of mass protest and revolution.
That does not mean they always get it right, especially on issues prone to cheap populism and demagoguery.

The current issue is unlike any other.
Political calculus, backdoor maneuvring, left-right ideological divide should be removed from a serious spot-on assessment of the pensions system and its future sustainability.

President Sarkozy may be riding low on opinion polls.
If his government should want to leave a lasting impression I believe they have no option but to stand up for what is right.
Standing firm for France's living and future generations.

It is about time the Unions start making the effort to understand this is way over and above politics of the day and ideology.
For starters, why is it that France's neighbours already have higher retirement ages?

sexta-feira, 22 de outubro de 2010

TEc "The apology of Sócrates" - A ruthless austerity budget for 2011 is due in Parliament on November 3.

It is a bit unfair to put all the blame for Portugal's tough predicament on the current PM and his two governments.Or expect Sócrates to be apologetic beyond whatever share rightfully belongs to him.
The country's structural woes date back to many decades.
The latter ones to many years traceable to the restoration of Democracy in 1974.
Add to that the recent financial meltdown in the US that dragged down Europe battering several economies harder than others and the sorry state of Portugal's public finances is explained.
Not nearly in full because clearly most governments here since 1991 made a contribution to the country overreaching itself.
It is therefore as if everything concurred now to make a bad situation much worse than it ought to be.

Party politics mired in endless rhetoric, wrangling, personal rivalry, dubious policy priorities and often useless diatribes all conspired to push the country closer to financial abyss.
The coming days and weeks will be crucial if Sócrates' government is to secure tacit support for the 2011 budget, likely through abstention by the leading opposition party.
Portugal's challenge however looms largest than ever.
It will be for the country's civil society, institutions and future governments to get it steadily out of the hole it's in right now.

quinta-feira, 21 de outubro de 2010

TEc - "Will the British government's £81bn spending cuts help the recovery or hinder it?" Short-term losses, longer-term gain but there was hardly a responsible choice.

I am impressed with the swiftness and resolve so far displayed by the coalition government grappling with the UK's dire public finances situation.

From day one in office David Cameron, Nick Clegg and their teams haven't wasted a moment coming to terms with the country's choking debts.Choosing to cut spending as the main route to balance the books seems to me the right option as much as indeed the only realistic one available.

The short-term pain is not to be underestimated but would anybody seriously think there to be ideological zeal in going for spending cuts following a decade of mounting excesses?
Rebalancing the UK economy will take years to achieve as the country hit a damned if you do, damned if you don't type of conundrum.

At least the government of the day has set out straight policies and targets for the coming years, its fundamentally sound choices and priorities clearly spelt out.
Spending cuts will in the short run produce a slower recovery.
I do not think they will hinder it as such and should doubtless help unlock the country's economic potential in the years ahead.

Looking through the macro-economy figures I cannot but agree with George Osborne that yesterday the UK stepped back from the brink.

segunda-feira, 18 de outubro de 2010

BBC Blog Network "Does multiculturalism work?" - It should be made to work but there's more to it...

Angela Merkel has been upfront and forthright in her comments on immigrants in German society.
She should be commended for letting everybody know her thoughts.
She has not, however, specified who the non-integrated immigrants are according to origin - or if her general comments apply to all non-native Germans or people of non-German extraction.
In my view there's a bit of a blur that would need sharpening if indeed there's intent to start changing the cultural rules of the game concerning the ever sensitive question of 'the other'.

To the best of my knowledge Germany's immigrants came from a host of countries ranging from Turkey and the Middle East to Southern Europe to North Africa and more recently to Eastern Europe. In addition, there are smaller groups from a scattering of countries around the world. 
The sizeable and conspicuous group from Turkey was joined by numerically minor contingents from poorer Southern European countries (Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal) invited by the German State since the early 60's to help manpower (on) the German economic miracle.
And so they all did – accruing massive wealth to then West Germany - most having stayed back with their German-born descendants, as would have been fairly predictable.
Minorities will retain their cultures - two generations at most in their quasi-true form - but should obviously make the effort to assimilate the main features of the host country’s culture. To this end command of language would seem universally consensual.

Multiculturalism does have its benefits that can be best witnessed in the New World - North and South America and Oceania. Despite the melting pot the US and Brazil aim and claim to be there is considerable evidence there that many ethnicities retain their culture of origin too.
Europe or the Old World has traditionally been - for centuries - a point of departure for millions. Europeans have left in droves from less prosperous countries and from poorer regions of richer ones to this day.
This is why the Old World - with its long history, tradition and rich heritage - wakes up startled, especially when the economy is down, to the existence of large groups of 'the other' sharing the same land but to the surprise(!) of many a politician not the same culture.
The array of unsettled issues - social, cultural and linguistic - which have always been there suddenly laid bare for everyone to opine on randomly.
Multiculturalism must be achieved through varied forms of integration - provided fundamental balances are upheld in any given society – and it has got to be made to work somehow. Drawing in those who profess a different religion, wear a different dress and adopt different ways - thus likely to qualify as the toughest social groups - as well.
How can one German citizen from such a background be made to integrate fully to become just like a native mainstream German citizen?

Therefore diversity should be welcomed as long as it stays within the limits that a State is willing or able to adopt depending on country, labour requirements, demographic pyramid and law and order situation.
In the broad picture that is the way the world is headed for irrespective of purely segregation wishes some diehards may still harbor for their individual countries.

Angela Merkel has driven her point home.
The complex challenge to integrate fully immigrants of very diverse cultural origins starts now.

quinta-feira, 14 de outubro de 2010

TEc - "Should the West lift sanctions on Zimbabwe if RM agrees to properly monitored elections?" Why not go for trial and error test aiming for something higher.

Having long had a soft spot for Zimbabwe I cannot feel anxious enough for the day that witnesses the country's fortunes turning confidently around and upwards.With or without Robert Mugabe at the helm.
Even if he should remain a hindrance to the model of political and economic development as seen by the West, the Zimbabwean people should be spared further suffering.
If trading lifting of personal sanctions for free and fair elections is the price exacted then it might be worth giving it a trial and error test.
The promise of good is always preferable to the certainty of evil overstaying.

TEc - "Can Robert Mugabe ever be persuaded to go?" I think not, nor is he the central problem any more.

If most of what is reported on Zimbabwe in the Western press is factful then the least I can say is how painful it gets every time to even begin to write.

Writing that might make a tiny contribution to arresting the long decline of a beautiful, bountiful and, by more than African standards educated and affluent country.

With so much to build from at the outset of a promising largely successful first decade following independence President Mugabe and his closest team of loyalists made sure to squander it all.Or very nearly.
Even if there is shared blame to go around there is no getting away from where the biggest chunk lies first and foremost.
A clear-cut example of what can be made of countries/nations when the leadership stubbornly pursues immediate personal/party/minority gain shedding aside any statesmanship that may have been displayed up to a point.

Robert Mugabe is in my view not like any other post-independence African leader.
A gifted and scholarly man commanding genuine support from his people long after independence dawned makes his case as a ruler considerably more disappointing.
He chose to govern against the interests of the greatest number by deliberately electing one single internal enemy - the whites who no longer had a place in a large country and therefore had simply to be driven out forcefully irrespective of all else.

The economic and social cost has been huge.
If anything that alone should have served as a deterrent to such irresponsible populist politics however rightful the historical grudges and claims.

Throughout history land reform in most countries has been traumatic leaving behind a trail of economic and social destruction before - hopefully - a better new order emerges.
Perhaps one should think Zimbabwe to be along such a path transitioning to eventually become a breadbasket again.
In 10, 20, 30 or 50 years?
Time will tell but so far the omens are not good despite some token advances made possible by that uneasy and most unlikely of power-sharing deals.
A home-grown solution to the country's ills after it hit rock bottom?

Robert Mugabe is unlikely to be removed other than through the workings of Mother Nature.
Zimbabwe will endure long after his unfailing supporters are gone too.
Despite the short-term travails it is the medium-to-long term vision that matters.
In this light Morgan Tsvangirai's overbearing patience since long finds full explanation.

TEC debate motion "Religion is a force for good" Perhaps matters of the spirit can never be straightforward.

Theoretically speaking there should hardly be doubt that religion is a force for good.

Unfortunately I'm afraid it has, to a large degree, not been the case over the ages.

No matter what the religion - perhaps with the odd exception - more than a few atrocious atrocities have been committed since the dawn of time by warring factions in the name of one's chosen God.
What a striking and sickening contradiction it is that humanity should have arrived in the 21st. century with religion still being so deliriously divisive when not an outright violence-driving powerful tool!
Factional fighting is an ongoing daily feature in many parts of the world where religion is a readily used argument to whip up feelings of distrust and hatred.Usually to suit immediate political, economic, social or other less visible yet obscure gains of a few promoters.
In such a context it is hard to file the motion statement under a yes or no.
No amount of pious sentiment - genuine or not - can blind us from the perils caused by misplaced and overblown religious beliefs.
Christianity which seems to have arguably evolved the most from its own period of darkness is still beset by internal issues not addressed to full consequence.

Despite religions sitting on akin core values of goodness, forgiveness and evenness the fact remains that over the centuries on balance it is not at all clear whether or not they have served man's earthly causes best.
Maybe there will come a point in time when we can positively be agreed on a statement as authoritative as this one.

Until such time I am compelled to pass on the voting but not on the debate.

TEc - "United they stand" Ghosts and sequels from the past remain but ahead is as one.

Very interesting brief overview of Germany's internal divide that is likely to endure longer than optimists might have hoped for.

Back in 1991 I made it a point to travel through 'East Germany' after visiting the Western part of the recently reunited country.
I could quickly tell a long time and massive investment would need to follow before Germany became homogenous in infrastructure, the economy and general standards.
20 years is not long enough to overcome the issues and challenges of old and new presented by unification.

Germany is the best example of the pains and difficulties of balancing sister regions with woefully uneven levels of wealth.
Despite there being no cultural or language divide two strikingly opposing economic systems produced 'two' nearly distinct countries within one.

On an upbeat note The Economist failed to capture in writing one crucial fact from the infograph shown:
GDP per capita in the 5 eastern Landers has doubled from 1991 while in western Landers increases have been, as might be expected, much lower.
On that meaningful economic indicator former East Germany is fast catching up.
Those massive financial transfers are making a difference but the challenge to eventually achieve balance remains.

BBC Blog Network "Chile miners rescue" My reaction as the operation works its way through...

Not at all in Chile, quite far away from it actually - Lisboa, Portugal is my end.
Coordinates cleared, it has been one of those events live TV makes it feel like I'm nearly there in the middle of the action.
Following the rescue operation as much as possible from the first two winched up to hopefully the very last one when his turn comes.
From day one post-accident management appears to have been carried out seamlessly in every way - now crowned by a so-far highly successful and technically flawless rescue operation.
Expectations management was especially superb since the very early days following news that the miners were alive and safe.

Only trapped 650m down.

When it is all over Safety related issues must be closely investigated. Improvements across every mine in the country should be pursued from a higher level of knowledge and adopted safety standards.
A country that owes so much of its wealth to the bowels of the earth must ensure the men who bring it to surface are well-looked after.
Despite inherent risks some of which cannot be eliminated altogether.

Lastly, these 33 men have shown a team spirit, resilience, discipline, commitment and faith that calls for no further words.
Positive collective human behaviour contributes powerfully to positive outcomes in the face of the greatest odds.

BBC Blog Network "How should tax money be spent?" Wisely but not miserly, thoughtfully but not wastefully.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that a chunk of taxpayers' money is grossly misspent.What the size of that chunk is would pretty much be anybody's guess depending on country and the proven quality of its leadership.A fair number of other background factors such as culture/strength of civil society and its bodies and past practices also play a defining role.

Spending it better will come about forcefully out of governments left optionless or naturally when a country's leadership finally ratches up to a higher standard of public duty and service.
Lately what is being witnessed has regrettably more to do with the former than the latter.

The role of government in free-market economies is to ensure the transparency of markets and a level playing field for private business to operate in.
Under no circumstances should governments back away from useful intervention if - and only if - it should contribute to improve and safeguard the interests of the vast majority.
To my mind this is fully compatible as much as it is direly needed long before the appalling practices in the run up to the financial meltdown became known.
Reaching a fine balance is a permanent challenge for responsible government. A quest for the win-win formula that weds private and public interests.

The last question is not an easy one to answer until such time as sound politics takes centre stage again.
Skeptical and suspicious of politicians as people are does not detract from the overriding requirement that governments fulfil their obligation.
By definition.
Delivering for the people - the greatest number at all times - measuredly and effectively by smartly pulling together and managing every conflicting interest in a given society.

BBC Blog Network "Is France's treatment of Roma too harsh?" There's more to it than meets the eye or hits the ear!

It is still early days in this ongoing row over Gypsies/Travellers/Roma between France, the EU and the street where opinion ranges from inflamed broad support to inflamed astonished outrage.
After all it is France of all nation-States!
After all it is a human problem most can connect to, triggering feelings from excitement to indignation.
Most often than not to hyped valuation according to own views on 'the other'.

Roma people have indeed been an unresolved social problem across most of Europe calling for targeted public policy.
Nothing that can be sorted out from one day or one year to the next.

Yet the nuisance created by these Roma - newly arrived from the far edges of Eastern Europe - pose everyday issues no organized State represented by the government of the day can simply overlook indefinitely.
It could be likened to social dumping whereby Romania and Bulgaria transfer thousands of their underclassed citizens to a wealthier EU State.

Gypsies/Travellers/Roma ought to be treated with respect everywhere but their case is much wider than emboldened statements of political correctness would let us believe.
Hopefully for Gypsies/Travellers/Roma some good will arise in the longer run out of the current uneasy situation.

I just wish Nicolas Sarkozy is not using 'the other' to prop up his popularity.That would be so utterly wrong!

BBC Blog Network "Can the new Australian government last?" I think so...

I feel good that the deadlock has been broken and a new government for Australia is in the offing.

In a democracy there is always room for negotiation and compromise when voters dictate so by not delivering clear majorities to any single party.
The ball has been and will continue to be well inside the court of politicians who've finally reached that magic 76 backing Labour.
It is of course the slimmest of margins, indeed a combination that could have just as easily swayed the Coalition's way had the Independents opted differently.
Going forward Julia Gillard's political skills will be fully tested.
Unless rocked by internal dissent I do not see why her government should not last the full term.
If Labour closes ranks uniting behind the leadership likely to be under permanent scrutiny then the current arrangement will be made to work.

The new government's main priorities relate to a fair tax on mining companies' profits - a national wealth that should benefit all Australians - a coherent, workable climate policy with increased input from the underrepresented Greens and reform of the electoral system.
The financing arrangements at Federal and State level concerning health and education is likely a policy priority too.

sexta-feira, 1 de outubro de 2010

TEc - "India's surprising economic miracle" - The country is set to outpace China's growth but India is truly special...

A refreshingly upbeat article on India that does justice to all that is good with the country without dwelling negatively on its downside.Many of the comments posted address the latter from a generally well-captured view of India's gruelling reality for the majority.
Such is the very nature of the country that it can just as easily arise contradictory feelings from the awesome to the disgusting.
India's promise while unfulfilled has come a very long way. Importantly, as The Economist rightly points out, going forward there are many positives placing the country on a rather strong and hopeful footing.Comparisons with China become inevitable but it would still be best to assess the country on its own merits. Setting them against a reasonable timeline, headstart if any and historic background.
I have come to believe India has, besides every other, mainly a set of core issues that it alone can tackle and overcome.
With the economy booming thanks largely to private sector businesses base conditions have improved dramatically but do not suffice to efficiently address those issues.
That requires political as much as societal will from a large enough section of the population.

The upcoming Commonwealth Games of course do not define the country and the diversity of its multiple realities.But it certainly does provide an insight into the daily workings of India. A pretty accurate one at that.
All failings tallied up when the party is over, if rightfully acknowledged, could spawn a new sense/attitude in Indians - those who matter and who can push change - geared to improving general standards across the board across the country.

A massive ongoing challenge, predictably a permanently unfinished job, a never-ending journey towards building a modern country that delivers objectively for its own citizens in the first place...