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Friday, October 12, 2012

2012 Nobel Peace Prize Winner: The European Union

In the modern world of organizations and the members who inhabit them, it perhaps makes sense that the Nobel peace prize would go to a government rather than to a particular official thereof. One immediate problem was figuring out which officials in the E.U. would accept the award. Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, immediately issued a statement indicating that his institution expected to be part of the award ceremony. Herman Van Rompuy, president of the upper chamber, and Jose Barroso, president of the E.U. Commission, could also be said to have had legitimate claims in receiving the award on behalf of the E.U. itself. The absence of an “overall” figurehead in the E.U. is likely a result of Europe’s unhappy experience with “one man rule.” Indeed, the E.U. itself can be said to be a check on such nationalist excesses. In this regard, the peace prize provided Europeans with a change to catch their breath and take in the big picture amid an austerity/debt crisis.

The full essay is in Essays on the E.U. Political Economy, available  in print and as an ebook at Amazon. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A "Bronx Upbringing" Out-of-State: Tolerance in a Federal Empire

Typically, the American empire is assumed to refer to the hegemony of the U.S. in the world. “Imperialism,” in other words, is thought to refer to a major power imposing on lesser ones around the world—the influence being directed externally. I contend that the United States of America is itself an empire, even apart from its external influence, as the Union is composed of republics having distinctive cultures and on the scale of early-modern European kingdoms (e.g., United Kingdom, Switzerland, the Netherlands—which had been “international” in medieval times).

The complete essay is at Essays on Two Federal Empires, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Conflicts of Interest: Relying on a Wall Street Bank’s Safeguards

In October 2012 the Wall Street Journal reported, “the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is examining how major investment banks and brokerage firms define and manage conflicts of interest between themselves and their clients.” Prime facie, defining and managing such conflicts between oneself and others can be regarded as itself a conflict of interest. It is perhaps a bit like the wolf negotiating with itself on its new job guarding the hen-house. I suspect that the regulators were going too far in attempting to translate “regulating” into managerial terms. The Journal goes on to ponder, “Will the first systematic look at conflicts on Wall Street in years make a difference for investors?” In my view, investors have good reason to be skeptical of the FIRA’s “manageralizing” approach.


The full essay is at Institutional Conflicts of Interest, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Canada Takes On the United States: The War of 1812 as Propaganda

Two centuries after the War of 1812, the Canadian government sought to commemorate the “fact” that Canada had thwarted the invasion of troops of the American republics to the south.  “Two hundred years ago, the United States invaded our territory,” a narrator says over dark images and ominous music in the government’s ad. “But we defended our land; we stood side by side and won the fight for Canada.” However, the New York Times points out that “because Canada did not become a nation until 1867, the War of 1812 was actually a battle between the young United States and Britain.” The fight was not for Canada, as the British troops were fighting for the British empire rather than for a few colonies in North America.

                                         The British are coming! A British hero in "Upper Canada."         rpsc.org

The real question is why the young American empire sought to take on the British empire, and the northern British colonies fall by the wayside as soon as this question is brought into focus.
The other correction that comes with shifting the question to why a young empire would challenge an older one involves the distinction between a colony, state or host kingdom on the one hand and an empire thereof on the other. In the case of the American colonies, a very large one (e.g., Virginia) as well as several of them (e.g., New England) and even the United Colonies of North America as a whole were referred to as an empire, though by the time of American independence that term was generally used with the United Colonies and then United States. In contrast, the few colonies north of that “empire within an empire” were not viewed as an empire, but, rather, as a few members of the British empire. In the context of the meaning of empire as a combination of kingdom-level polities (including colonies as such polities) of sufficient scale, four or five colonies fall short. Even in the twenty first century, the amount of usable land and the population of Canada (i.e., 34 million in 2011—only a few million more than California’s) is equivalent to one of the large United States. To be sure, the cultural differences by province in Canada are similar to what one would find in an empire, but the scale and number of republics are not sufficient for Canada itself to be considered to be on the empire-level alongside the U.S., E.U., China, India, and Russia (at least not until global warming renders much of Northern Canada habitable such that the population and number of states in Canada increase dramatically).
Accordingly, the U.S. Constitution allows for Canada to enter the Union as a state. To be sure, the ten Canadian provinces (and three territories) could come in as a few medium-sized states or several small ones rather than altogether as one big one like California, but it would not be a case of two empires uniting “in partnership.” Rather, one or a few republics would be joining an empire of such states. No European would say that Turkey joining the E.U. would be a merger of two equals. “That would be like Mexico becoming a state in the U.S.,” a European official once put the matter. That is to say, the “United States of” Mexico would translate into one big state (or a few smaller ones) rather than as another United States of America.
There is thus a category mistake in the following statement by James Moore, who as minister of Canadian heritage was in charge of the advertising (or propaganda) campaign on the War of 1812. “Canada was invaded, the invasion was repelled and we endured, but we endured in partnership with the United States,” he said. The British Empire was invaded, and the accession of Canada would not be a matter of partnership. To take a few maple leaves and consider them to be commensurate to a branch is to make a category mistake that cannot but lead to erroneous conclusions.
Ian Austen, “Canada Puts Spotlight on War of 1812, With U.S. as Villain,” The New York Times, October 8, 2012.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Separate “Eurozone” Budget: Two-Track Federalism

A separate E.U. budget of €20 billion, 0.2 percent of the GDP in the “eurozone” of the E.U., was proposed in the midst of the debt crisis to be spent in E.U. states that have adopted the euro. At the time of the proposal, the budget for the entire E.U. totaled around €130 billion, which was just over 1 percent of the E.U.’s GDP. While adding 0.2 percent to a federal budget that is just over 1 percent of GDP might seem insignificant to Americans, one might recall the first century of the U.S. (through 1860, and then from roughly 1870 to World War I), when the U.S. budget as a percent of GDP was roughly the same as a percent of GDP.

The complete essay is in Essays on Two Federal Empires, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon. 

                                      The US Govt Budget as a percent of GDP      Source: Gordon Tulluck

Homer on Heroic Leadership in Business

Can a merchant be a hero?  A manager in the grips of the business-leadership fad, which began in the 1980s, might reply, “yes, of course.” A hero in the corporate context is said to be a “champion,” “servant leader,” “coach,” or “visionary leader.” 
Hero and leader are typically conflated in society, moreover, without any real thought on whether heroes are necessarily leaders. A hero might rescue a damsel in distress without having any followers. It could be countered that Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey is both a hero and a leader on his journey. However, of such a hero-leader, being a merchant would be excluded. Describing the attributes of Homer’s notion of the hero figure is instructive, for while the characteristics seem especially oriented or applicable to merchants, Homer takes pains to exclude the business caste from Odysseus’ heroic leadership.

Odysseus leading his men.  A business likeness?     Source: Maudandoscar.org

Material from this essay has been incorporated into The Essence of Leadership: A Cross-Cultural Foundation, which is available in print and as an ebook at Amazon.