Davos Newbies Home


I’m not close enough to the US political scene to know whether anyone takes Dick Morris seriously anymore. But if they do, surely his open letter to Karl Rove in The Hill will put him in the realm of the completely cuckoo: “The economy is not that important to Bush’s fate. Unlike in 1992, voters understand that there is not much a president can do to impact it. Voters also understand that it is Osama bin Laden, not Bush, who caused the last recession.”

The fire next time 

Thabo Mbeki, president of South Africa, is a puzzle. There are times when he can be the most eloquent and affecting of speakers. Other times he seems paranoid and misguided (particularly in his bizarre attitudes to HIV/Aids). At the UN, he was the first.

Demanding greater global attention to the needs of the weak and poor, he said, “What we have said today may not be heard because we do not have the strength to have our voice heard. Tomorrow we may be obliged to say ‘No more water, the fire next time!’ As the fire burns, the United Nations will die.”

No-men or leaders? 

Martin Wolf (subscribers only) has the best reaction to the failure in Cancun that I’ve read.

“What the world needs is a serious negotiation among about 30 countries (with the EU again counted as one). This is perfectly feasible if the idea that the outcome must bind every member is abandoned. On such new issues as competition, investment and public procurement, the best way to proceed, at this stage, is via codes that do not commit all members, an approach used in the Tokyo round of trade negotiations. These need cover only important trading countries.

“A similar principle would apply to market access. Nobody should care what Kenya does with its import barriers. The best policy would be to offer barrier-free access to the small operators in all sectors, including agriculture. If that is impossible, simply extend any agreed liberalisation to them, in line with the principle of non-discrimination.

“Would this approach remove the roadblock? No. It would merely concentrate minds. The majority of WTO members would, once again, become sleeping partners. But the success of negotiations would still depend on the willingness of significant countries to bargain. If the EU, Japan and the US are determined to retain their grotesque farm policies or if China, India and Brazil are determined to retain their present barriers, no negotiation can succeed.

“That, not the modalities of the negotiation or the absurdities of ministerial meetings, is the core question. Do the abominable no-men prefer failure to success, existing barriers to lower ones and a chaotic global economy to the rules-governed alternative? If they do, nothing can be done. If they do not, they must restart these negotiations. Big countries need big leaders. Now is the time to demonstrate that they possess them.”

Answers on the dollar 

Brad DeLong provides an invaluable analysis of Treasury secretary John Snow’s puzzling new policy on the dollar.

“One possibility is that the Treasury Department — or, at least, the people in the Treasury Department who watch the markets — have been shut out of the decision making. ‘Let’s use John Snow in Dubai to send a signal to Ohio and Michigan that we care and are trying hard to boost foreign demand for their exports,’ some deputy assistant to the president for political affairs (or equivalent rank) said. And when the appropriate Treasury assistant secretary (or equivalent) learned a week later and said ‘wait a minute’ was told ‘we can’t be nay-sayers: we have to be team players.’ Strong Treasury Secretaries run roughshod over White House Political Affairs on the grounds that policies that are good for the country are also the best long-run politics. Middling Treasury Secretaries who come from Wall Street and for whom the dance of expectations and the flow of finance are second nature challenge White House Political Affairs, on the grounds that they understand how the markets will react and what the big headlines will be. Weak Treasury Secretaries? Who are not from Wall Street and do not really understand why the financial markets do what they do?”

No piss corners 

Felix Salmon is chasing down all the details on the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site that conventional media are ignoring. His latest examines critical issues such as whether piss corners will be a problem and if there will be enough bicycle racks.

As Jane Jacobs and William Whyte showed years ago, these things matter in public spaces.

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