Quotulatiousness

February 2, 2013

Romania responds to British anti-immigration talk

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Humour, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:01

Romania’s Gandul has a bit of fun at Britain’s expense:

Gandul - Why don't you come over

Public fears in the UK over mass immigration by Eastern Europeans has prompted a peculiar response from Romania: One newspaper published a series of ads playing on British cultural stereotypes, and saying why people should move to Romania instead.

­“Our draft beer is less expensive than your bottled water,” one of the ads proudly states, hinting at the high costs of living in the UK. Another ad made fun of British cuisine: “We serve more food groups than pies, sausage, fish and chips.”

Other ads touched upon politics, weather and even women: “Half of our women look like Kate. The other half, like her sister.”

The ‘Why don`t you come over?’ ad campaign was designed by the online Romanian newspaper Gandul and GMP Advertising firm in response to numerous reports in the British media about a possible government initiative to launch a negative ad campaign discouraging Romanians and Bulgarians from coming to work in Britain.

Update, 13 September: The campaign just won a Gold Award at AdStars.

Hidden under Britain’s defence HQ: Henry VIII’s wine cellar

Filed under: Britain, History, Military, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:44

It’s not open to the general public — and given what’s built on top of it, that’s probably no surprise:

Like the Pentagon, its better-known counterpart in the United States, Britain’s Ministry of Defence building is a fairly mundane, if gigantic, office block camouflaging a much more exciting subterranean realm of secret tunnels, bunkers, and — at least in the MoD’s case — a perfectly preserved Tudor wine cellar.

IMAGE: Henry VIII’s wine cellar, photograph by Nicola Twilley. The cellar is apparently occasionally used to host Ministry of Defence dinners and receptions, but is otherwise off-limits to the public other than by special request.

IMAGE: Henry VIII’s wine cellar, photograph by Nicola Twilley. The cellar is apparently occasionally used to host Ministry of Defence dinners and receptions, but is otherwise off-limits to the public other than by special request.

This stone-ribbed, brick-vaulted undercroft was built in the early 1500s by Cardinal Wolsey, as part of a suite of lavish improvements to York Place, the Westminster residence of the archbishops of York since the thirteenth century. The additions, which also included a gallery, presence chamber, and armoury, were intended to make York Place into a palace splendid enough to host the King. They succeeded well beyond Wolsey’s intentions: when Wolsey fell from favour, due to his inability to secure the papal annulment Henry VIII needed in order to marry Anne Boleyn, the King decided to move in.

[. . .]

York Place became the Palace of Whitehall, the principal residence of the English monarchy in London for nearly two hundred years, and Wolsey’s expansive cellar (he apparently received the first delivery of Champagne ever exported to England) became King Henry VIII’s Wine Cellar, the name by which it is still known today.

In Tudor times, the wine was stored in barrels, which presented a certain problem for service: “The barrels are historical reconstructions to represent how wine was stored in Tudor times. Henry VIII’s court consumed something like 300 barrels of wine each year, mostly exported from France and delivered to the palace by river. Interestingly, the wine was drunk very young by today’s standards — an August harvest might be on the table by November — and it was carefully blended with water, honey, and spices to mask its increasing sourness, as half-drunk casks allowed air into contact with the wine, which gradually oxidised into vinegar.”

Rick Mercer discovers Olympic fencing

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Sports — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:33

“The welfare state we have is excellent in most ways. We only have this little problem. We can’t afford it.”

Filed under: Economics, Europe, Government — Tags: , , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Based on this report in The Economist, we really should strive to be more like Sweden, and not for the reasons most Canadians would expect:

Sweden has reduced public spending as a proportion of GDP from 67% in 1993 to 49% today. It could soon have a smaller state than Britain. It has also cut the top marginal tax rate by 27 percentage points since 1983, to 57%, and scrapped a mare’s nest of taxes on property, gifts, wealth and inheritance. This year it is cutting the corporate-tax rate from 26.3% to 22%.

Sweden has also donned the golden straitjacket of fiscal orthodoxy with its pledge to produce a fiscal surplus over the economic cycle. Its public debt fell from 70% of GDP in 1993 to 37% in 2010, and its budget moved from an 11% deficit to a surplus of 0.3% over the same period. This allowed a country with a small, open economy to recover quickly from the financial storm of 2007-08. Sweden has also put its pension system on a sound foundation, replacing a defined-benefit system with a defined-contribution one and making automatic adjustments for longer life expectancy.

Most daringly, it has introduced a universal system of school vouchers and invited private schools to compete with public ones. Private companies also vie with each other to provide state-funded health services and care for the elderly. Anders Aslund, a Swedish economist who lives in America, hopes that Sweden is pioneering “a new conservative model”; Brian Palmer, an American anthropologist who lives in Sweden, worries that it is turning into “the United States of Swedeamerica”.

[. . .]

This is not to say that the Nordics are shredding their old model. They continue to pride themselves on the generosity of their welfare states. About 30% of their labour force works in the public sector, twice the average in the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation, a rich-country think-tank. They continue to believe in combining open economies with public investment in human capital. But the new Nordic model begins with the individual rather than the state. It begins with fiscal responsibility rather than pump-priming: all four Nordic countries have AAA ratings and debt loads significantly below the euro-zone average. It begins with choice and competition rather than paternalism and planning. The economic-freedom index of the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think-tank, shows Sweden and Finland catching up with the United States (see chart). The leftward lurch has been reversed: rather than extending the state into the market, the Nordics are extending the market into the state.

Why are the Nordic countries doing this? The obvious answer is that they have reached the limits of big government. “The welfare state we have is excellent in most ways,” says Gunnar Viby Mogensen, a Danish historian. “We only have this little problem. We can’t afford it.” The economic storms that shook all the Nordic countries in the early 1990s provided a foretaste of what would happen if they failed to get their affairs in order.

The Parliamentary Budget Office

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

In Maclean’s, Stephen Gordon examines the role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer separate from the current controversy over the incumbent:

Hence the idea of the Office of Parliamentary Budget Officer (OPBO — I’m adopting Kevin Milligan’s usage of OPBO to denote the office, and PBO for the incumbent), modeled on the U.S.’ Congressional Budget Office (CBO). As in Canada, the economists in the U.S. public service are part of the executive branch; the role of the CBO is to provide professional economic policy evaluations to members of Congress. In the U.S., it has become common practice to run policy proposals through the “reality check” service that is the CBO.

The OPBO has yet to establish itself in the way the CBO has, and it has faced an uphill battle from the start. First, too much of the OPBO’s energy has been spent battling the government over access to information. Second, even when it has access to data, the OPBO has to work with a skeletal staff: in addition to PBO Kevin Page, the OPBO consists of two administrative people, two interns and a grand total of twelve analysts. In comparison, the CBO employs some 235 people. This difference cannot be dismissed by pointing to the larger size of the U.S. economy and its government: policy analysis scales. It takes roughly the same amount of work to evaluate a given policy initiative in the U.S. as it would in Canada. And if that wasn’t enough, the impending departure of Kevin Page — who managed to put together a staff capable of producing an impressive quantity of high-quality work despite these constraints — looks to be an existential crisis for the institution.

But the greatest danger to the establishment of an effective OPBO is a great confusion — on the part of both its supporters and its critics — over what the OPBO’s role is supposed to be.

And he recommends the Australian PBO‘s mandate as a preferred model for Canada’s PBO:

So I have a more modest proposal, but one that might help restore the OPBO to the role for which it was originally intended: make it standard practice for the OPBO to cost electoral platforms. There are several reasons why this is a good idea:

  1. Putting both opposition and government proposals through the OPBO’s costing process will make it easier to remember that the OPBO is non-partisan.
  2. Knowing that the OPBO will be examining the proposals will oblige all parties to step up their games.
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