Running a little late this morning, so thanks for bearing with me…
I want to start this post off with a few links to end of year book list.
First, the New York Times Sunday Book Review: 100 Notable Books of 2013 – NYTimes.com
The year’s notable fiction, poetry and nonfiction, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review.
It is a staple read for me…and it goes without saying, that I must include the kids list of books too:
Then we have this interesting grouping from The New Statesman: Books of the Year 2013
Each year we ask regular contributors to the Critics pages of the New Statesman, together with other friends of the magazine, to write about their favourite books of year. There are no constraints on what kinds of books they are able to choose, so the results are often intriguing.
John Gray ❦ Ali Smith ❦ Ed Balls
Stephen King ❦ Rachel Reeves ❦ Sarah Sands
William Boyd ❦ Alan Rusbridger ❦ Lucy Hughes-Hallett
Simon Heffer ❦ Andrew Adonis ❦ Craig Raine
Felix Martin ❦ Frances Wilson ❦ John Burnside
Jesse Norman ❦ Alexander McCall Smith ❦ Richard Overy
Jason Cowley ❦ Mark Damazer ❦ Lionel Shriver
Jemima Khan ❦ Geoff Dyer ❦ Laurie Penny
Vince Cable ❦ Alan Johnson ❦ Leo Robson
Jane Shilling ❦ John Bew ❦ Ed Smith ❦ Richard J Evans
David Baddiel ❦ Michael Rosen ❦ John Banville
David Shrigley ❦ Chris Hadfield ❦ Tim Farron
Toby Litt ❦ David Marquand ❦ Robert Harris
Michael Prodger ❦ Michael Symmons Roberts ❦ Sarah Churchwell
One book that was picked by a few of the folks up top:
The trials and tribulations of modern France yielded my two best books. Robert Harris’s An Officer and a Spy (Hutchinson, £18.99) breathes deep pathos into the Dreyfus affair, electrifying the bitter divisions of Third Republic France, which led ultimately to its disintegration in 1940.
I looked into it, and it is not being publish on Kindle or here in the US until January 2014. It sounds really good.
Anyway, check those list out and let us know what tickles you, or what books you would suggest.
One of the books in that New Statesman link connects to another article I have for you this morning. Look here:
My favourite art book of the year is Inside the Rainbow: Russian Children’sLiterature 1920-35 (Redstone Press, £35). It juxtaposes beautiful illustrations with texts from writers such as Daniil Kharms and missives from the Soviet state. The artworks are photographed: they retain the flat, matt, paper quality of the originals. It’s a lovely book and there’s nothing in it that is too familiar. I love the subheading, too: Beautiful Books, Terrible Times.
And since the Holidays are about the little ones…both young and old alike, here are some awesome kick ass playgrounds around the world: The Most Amazing Playgrounds in the World (PHOTOS) – weather.com
Playgrounds have certainly come a long way from the ubiquitous swing sets and monkey bars – just visit your neighborhood fast food joint. But lately, we’ve noticed some amazing play spaces popping up all over the world that ditch the plastic ball pit in favor of truly imaginative designs.
From the whimsical and fantastical to the just plain cool, these amazing constructions are setting a pretty high bar for your local schoolyard. Whether it’s integrating seamlessly with the natural landscape, creating living storybooks or recycling trash into treasure, these playgrounds make brilliant kid-friendly design look like child’s play.
Seriously, take a look at some of these fun grounds. The ones from Denmark, like that photo above, are really surreal. Then there is a playground in St. Louis that looks like the one from the movie The Wiz.
Okay, just one more “book” link for you. Fifty Years Later, Why Does ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’ Remain Contentious?
Each week in Bookends, two writers take on pressing and provocative questions about the world of books. This week, Adam Kirsch and Rivka Galchen on why Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem” remains contentious fifty years after it was first published.
I don’t know why, even though that New York Times Review of Books article is new…there is something Déjà vu about it.
And sticking with history a bit longer: Slave artifacts found at Georgia highway project site
Photo by Rita Elliot, AP Photo/New South Associates Inc.
In a spring 2013 photo provided by New South Associates Inc., archaeologists Brad Botwick, left, Cory Green, and Nicole Isenbarger, right, excavate, sift soil, and map part of a former plantation site in Savannah, Ga. The site, which is being excavated prior to construction of a highway project, yielded thousands of artifacts that archaeologists believe belonged to slaves.
A Mexican coin punctured with a small hole, nails from long-decayed wooden dwellings, and broken bits of plates and bottles are among thousands of artifacts unearthed from what archaeologists suspect were once slave quarters at the site of a planned highway project in Savannah.
A team hired to survey the site by the Georgia Department of Transportation spent three months excavating 20 acres of undeveloped woods tucked between a convenience store and apartments off busy Abercorn Extension on Savannah’s suburban south side. Archaeologist Rita Elliott said the project yielded a staggering 33,858 artifacts believed to date from about 1750 until after the Civil War.
Historical records show that a wealthy Savannah attorney named William Miller owned a large plantation at the site and at one time had 87 slaves, Elliott said. Archaeologists didn’t find the main plantation house but believe many of the artifacts they found are consistent with slave dwellings.
“These people are pretty anonymous in the historical records,” Elliott said. “The archaeology may not tell us much about their names, but it will tell us about their lives.”
As for the sheer volume of items recovered at the site, Elliott said, “It’s not unheard of. But this is a lot of artifacts.”
Take a look at the rest of that piece…what a story.
Of course I will use that tale of slavery, forced labor and submission to segue into this next article: Forced into a C-section: The latest violation of pregnant women’s rights
In a surreal case that’s lawyers are calling “unprecedented,” an Italian woman who was visiting the U.K. last year for work while pregnant with her third child says she wound up undergoing a forced caesarean and had her baby taken away from her. She is currently waging a legal battle to have her returned.
The story, which broke Sunday in the Telegraph, is a harrowing one. The woman, whose family says she is bipolar and needs medication, had “something of a panic attack” in her hotel room, and called the police. After telling her they were taking her to the hospital to “make sure that the baby was OK,” she says she was shocked to find herself instead in a psychiatric facility, where she was restrained for several weeks. Eventually, after being told one morning she couldn’t have breakfast, she was forcibly sedated and woke up several hours to the news that her baby daughter had been removed by social services. Soon after, she was sent home without her child.
Back home and back on her medication, the woman embarked on a quest to have her baby daughter returned to her. But the Italian court said that “Since she had not protested at the time, she had accepted that the British courts had jurisdiction – even though she had not known what was to be done to her.” And a British judge declared that “He could not risk a failure to maintain her medication in the future.” The woman’s American ex-husband and father of her eldest daughter even tried to plead for the baby to be sent to his sister in Los Angeles, but because the baby isn’t a blood relation to her, the court struck that down too.
The woman’s lawyer, Brendan Fleming, told the Telegraph, “I have never heard of anything like this in all my 40 years in the job. I can understand if someone is very ill that they may not be able to consent to a medical procedure, but a forced caesarean is unprecedented.” And Liberal Democrat M.P. John Hemming, added, “I have seen a number of cases of abuses of people’s rights in the family courts, but this has to be one of the more extreme. It involves the Court of Protection authorizing a caesarean section without the person concerned being made aware of what was proposed.”
It seems crazy to me…but things are unreal in this world. (I will say for the record, women who refuse c-sections that eventually cause the death of their child…that is another matter. I do have problems with the women who do that. When cesareans become a necessary procedure, and the woman is determined to have a vaginal delivery at any cost, she is taking that “fucked up” ideology just as far as those fetus fanatics do…to the point beyond reason.)
Case in point: ACLU sues US bishops over Catholic hospital ethics
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a sweeping federal lawsuit against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops over its ethical guidelines for Roman Catholic hospitals, arguing the directives were to blame for negligent care of a pregnant woman who went into early labor and whose baby died within hours.
The ACLU alleges the bishops were negligent because their religious directives prevented Tamesha Means from being told that continuing her pregnancy posed grave risks to her health and her child was not likely to survive. She was treated at Mercy Health Muskegon, a Catholic hospital in Michigan.
“It’s not just about one woman,” said Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan ACLU. “It’s about a nationwide policy created by nonmedical professionals putting patients in harms’ way.”
The lawsuit comes amid a wave of mergers between Catholic and secular hospital systems throughout the United States, raising questions about how much religious identity the hospitals will retain and whether they will provide medical services that conflict with church teaching. Advocates for abortion rights and others fear the mergers will limit access to a full range of medical care for women. About 13 percent of U.S. hospitals are Catholic.
It is a familiar story, we all know too well from personal experience what this woman went through…
According to the lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Michigan, Means was 18 weeks pregnant in 2010 when her water broke and she went to the nearest hospital in Muskegon. The ACLU said that over several emergency visits, Means was never told that “the safest treatment option was to induce labor and terminate the pregnancy” because the hospital was following the conference’s ethical directives. She eventually delivered the baby, which died after less than three hours. The ACLU says the pathology report found that Means had infections that can result in infertility and other damage.
Under the conference’s “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” abortion is barred, along with other procedures that go against Catholic doctrine, such as specific infertility treatments or sterilization. However, each bishop has the authority to interpret the directives within his diocese and it is common to find some variation in how the guidelines are applied among dioceses or according to individual cases.
For example, the directives allow for treatments to cure a grave illness in a pregnant woman even if they result in the death of the child. That issue drew national attention in 2010 with the case of a nun and administrator at a Phoenix hospital who, in her role on the hospital ethics committee, approved an abortion to save the life of a pregnant woman. Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted said the decision meant automatic excommunication for the nun and the hospital could no longer identify itself as Catholic.
Robin Fretwell Wilson, a University of Illinois professor who specializes in family and health law, said a negligence claim would hinge in part on whether the ACLU can establish that the conference has some direct control in this case or in hospitals in general. The bishops have moral authority over local Catholic hospitals but are not involved in the day-to-day business of administration.
“It’s so many layers removed,” Fretwell Wilson said, that she has “a difficult time buying” that the bishops’ conference is legally responsible in this case.
Sigh, well…I guess we just have to wait and see.
All this talk about the Pope and his new focus on the poor is great, but I still can’t fully get on board with Francis and his shitty attitude towards women. Then there is this crap too: Vatican refuses to share sex abuse investigations with U.N. panel | Reuters
The Vatican refused to provide a United Nations rights panel with information on the Church’s internal investigations into the sexual abuse of children by clergy, saying on Tuesday that its policy was to keep such cases confidential.
In response to a series of tough questions posed by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Holy See said it would not release information on its internal investigations into abuse cases unless required to do so by a request from a state or government to cooperate in legal proceedings.
The response of the Holy See, which will be directly questioned by the panel in January 2014, will be closely watched as it tries to draw a line under financial scandals and abuse by priests that have damaged the standing of the Roman Catholic Church around the world.
Since becoming the first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years, Pope Francis has largely succeeded in changing the subject after the resignation of Benedict XVI in February.
You bet your ass he has changed the subject!
The questions from the panel aimed to assess the Church’s adherence to the 1990 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty guaranteeing a full range of human rights for children which the Holy See has signed.
In its response the Vatican said internal disciplinary proceedings “are not open to the public” in order to protect “witnesses, the accused and the integrity of the Church process”, but said this should not discourage victims from reporting crimes to state authorities.
However, it said state laws, including the obligation to report crimes, must be respected.
The Holy See noted it was “deeply saddened by the scourge of sexual abuse” and emphasized that it had changed the requirements for admitting candidates for priesthood, updated canon law, and asked bishops’ conferences to draw up guidelines to combat abuse.
But it indicated the Vatican could not be held responsible for the behavior of institutions or individual Catholics around the world and said local bishops had the responsibility of ensuring children were protected.
“The Holy See does not exercise effective control over the local activities of Catholic institutions around the world,” the response read, indicating the Catholic Church’s central administration could only be held accountable for events within the Vatican City State.
That makes me think of one thing:
Honestly. Maybe all this brouhaha over the Popes comments is nothing but smoke and mirrors? Get everyone distracted and flustered about one thing over here and they forget about priest molesting little boys over there.
Another news item that could use that Naked Gun clip as an afterthought, Radioactive Japanese Wave Nears U.S. : Discovery News
In the wake of the deadly tsunami that hit Japan in 2011 and severely damaged a nuclear reactor, Japanese officials say the levels of radiation are safe for everyone outside the reactor area itself. But as radioactive water from the plant nears the West Coast of North America — the water is expected to hit in 2014 — can we be sure it’s safe?
The nuclear reactor continues to leak radioactive water due to poor management, while Japanese subcontractors at the plant have admitted they intentionally under-reported radiation and that dozens of farms around Fukushima that were initially deemed safe by the government actually had unsafe levels of radioactive cesium.
Fukushima locals also claim they’re seeing cancer at higher rates and the Japanese government is covering up the scale of the problem.
I really don’t think we are getting all the story from Japan either. The US EPA monitors Radiation levels around the US, you can see near real-time results here: RadNet | US EPA
The nationwide RadNet system monitors the nation’s air, drinking water, precipitation, and pasteurized milk to determine levels of radiation in the environment. RadNet sample analyses and monitoring results provide baseline data on background levels of radiation in the environment and can detect increased radiation from radiological incidents.
EPA’s nationwide radiation monitoring system, RadNet, consists of two components. First, stationary and deployable air monitors measure radiation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The map below provides monitoring results as graphs that are updated several times daily. You can also search the RadNet database in EPA’s Central Data Exchange (CDX) to find monitoring data. Second, EPA samples precipitation, drinking water, and milk on a routine schedule and tests them for radiation in a laboratory. The latest RadNet sampling results are available in Envirofacts.
Give that some of your time today, it is interesting indeed.
Y’all probably saw this crap yesterday: Zucker plans massive change at CNN | Capital New York
After almost a year of tinkering, CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker has concluded that a news channel cannot subsist on news alone.
So he is planning much broader changes for the network—including a prime-time shakeup that’s likely to make CNN traditionalists cringe.
Once, CNN’s vanilla coverage was a point of pride. Now, the boss boasts about the ratings for his unscripted series, and documentaries like the Sea World-slamming film Blackfish. Zucker, in his first one-on-one interview since taking control of CNN last January, told Capital he wants news coverage “that is just not being so obvious.”
Instead, he wants more of “an attitude and a take”:
“We’re all regurgitating the same information. I want people to say, ‘You know what? That was interesting. I hadn’t thought of that,’” Zucker said. “The goal for the next six months, is that we need more shows and less newscasts.”
Can you see where this is going?
Zucker—“rhymes with hooker,” he likes to say—also expanded on comments he has made about breaking CNN out of a mindset created by historic rivalries with MSNBC and Fox. He wants the network to attract “viewers who are watching places like Discovery and History and Nat Geo and A&E.”
Hmmm, up next on CNN…
Moving on. Two quick links:
Asshole actually tries to pass this shit off, and even the idiots who follow him on facebook call him out on it.
And check out The Very Best of ‘Right-Wing Art’ | Mediaite
Oh, there are no words…
Did you see what happened in Iceland yesterday?
Icelandic police have shot dead a man who was firing a shotgun in his apartment in the early hours of Monday.
It is the first time someone has been killed in an armed police operation in Iceland, officials say.
Wow, the first time?
16 MAY 2013, MAGAZINE
07 JANUARY 2013, EUROPE
24 MAY 2013, EUROPE
I don’t know, but with all the shit going on around here, Iceland is looking pretty good.
That is all for me this morning, except for this last story…BBC News – Chess boxing catching on in India
There are 300-odd chess boxers in India
Chess boxing, a hybrid sport combining the mental workout of chess with the physical challenge of boxing, is catching on in India, reports Shamik Bag.
Wearing boxing wraps around their palms and seated on a bench inside a gym in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta, two players match moves while huddled over a chessboard.
Caught between the mind and muscle, the recently-introduced game of chess boxing is seeing an early surge of interest in India. The game involves alternate rounds of chess and boxing.
Now, that takes the whole hybrid sport thing to a new level doesn’t it? Forget kick-boxing, mixed-martial arts, wrestling stuff they do in world extreme cage fighting. This chess boxing takes brains! However, I don’t see it catching on here in the States. So don’t expect a reality show on chess boxing competitors to show up on CNN any time soon. I bet we could come up with a catchy title though…”Left Rook and Check Mat.” (Maybe not.)
Have a great day!
Later today, the new power cord for my laptop should be delivered. I hope the damn thing works.
…my thoughts are a bit off this afternoon, almost like I’m in a Virginia Woolf stream of consciousness state of mind. Sometimes it’s difficult enough to get my thoughts organized in some kind of rational order. But today it is random and ridiculous…
Tonight is the STFU speech…oops, I mean SOTU speech. (Eh, innit the same thing?) We will be live blogging it here, so if you are around, be sure to stop by.
Just one story for you this afternoon, and it deals with the horse meat scandal over in Great Britain. Yup, you know what I am talking about!
“Ground beef” with a touch of Mr. Ed. From the same folks who brought you Mad Cow disease…there is now “beef” being sold in England and Europe that contain horse meat.
I’m not sure we have mentioned the horsemeat scandal here on the blog, but if you have been living in a barn for the past few weeks… here is a quick review of what happening in, on and around the burger scene across the pond.
A food safety group did some investigating and found horse DNA in some cheap burger meat being sold in supermarkets in the UK and Ireland.
It did not stop there, looks like Burger Kings in Great Britain also sold the Trigger burgers, since their meat supplier was the same company who supplied the supermarkets.
Then…Hi Ho, what d’ya know… Silver found himself in other “beef” products, like frozen lasagna dinners from a company called Findus. (Now, with a name like Findus….it has to be good…cough, cough.) As with Burger King, Findus Brand frozen dinner’s “beef” was also supplied by the same smeat factory. (Smeat btw is not a typo.)
The company bringing Seabiscuit to tables across Britain and the Continent of Europe is called Tesco. You can see Tesco’s technical director dude in the hot seat, responding to the horse DNA found in its “Trojan” beef products. View the video here:
Tesco’s technical director, Tim Smith, says his company does not yet know how many products containing horsemeat have been sold in their shops, and an investigation is under way into how it happened. Samples from one of Tesco’s burger lines contained 29% horsemeat relative to beef content. Traces of horsemeat have also been found in food products sold by Iceland, Lidl and Aldi.
Watching that man and his expressions reminds me of that SNL skit with Martin Short playing Nathan Thurm, the smoking sleazeball lawyer…
You need to see this skit, if you don’t see the video embedded below, so be sure to watch Saturday Night Live: 60 Minutes online at this link.
Minkman Toys pushes 60 Minutes to investigate fraud in the novelty item business.
Mike Wallace…..Harry Shearer
Herb Minkman…..Christopher Guest
Al Minkman…..Billy Crystal
Nathan Thurm…..Martin Short
Damn, I got distracted…can’t help it, that is a great skit! Funny as hell!
Okay, where was I?
Oh yeah, the horse meat.
Today some new light has been shed on the scandal:
The UK’s horsemeat scandal was in “large part” the result of a switch from UK to foreign meat suppliers in 2012 caused by an abrupt change in European regulation that the government failed to contest, according to the expert who led the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) surveillance programme for a decade.
The change meant that “desinewed meat” (DSM), a fine mince rubbed under pressure from carcasses, could no longer be called meat on packaging. DSM produced in the UK was the main ingredient in most value-range burgers, sausages, pies and kebabs and the change meant that thousands of tonnes of meat had to be sourced from elsewhere and at low cost.
A former senior scientist at the Food Standards Agency says an EU decision to reclassify a type of mincemeat widely used in the UK played a significant part in creating the horsemeat crisis.
Desinewed meat was a key ingredient in value items such as pies, lasagnes and other beef products.
Dr Mark Woolfe said the decision to ban it prompted producers to go outside the UK to source supplies of cheap mince.
He also raised the possibility that UK lamb products might need testing for horsemeat.
Until 2009 Dr Woolfe was the head of authenticity at the Food Standards Agency. He says the root cause of the current horse meat crisis can be traced back to a decision taken by the European Commission less than 12 months ago to ban a key food ingredient called desinewed meat.
This material was introduced in the the UK in the 1990s as a replacement for mechanically recovered meat (MRM). Sometimes called “pink slime” MRM was formed by removing residual meat from animal bones using high pressure water.
It was linked to the spread of the human form of mad cow disease and the UK government took steps to restrict it from the food chain.
Desinewed meat (DSM) was developed as a higher quality form of recovered meat. It was produced using low pressure, retained some structure and was regarded as a meat ingredient on value products.
Yup, and y’all know who buys value products. Poor or low income people.
Check out these headlines, some of which are a pun filled laugh:
BBC has a couple of articles, their coverage is not as intense:
But, The Guardian has reported a lot on the scandal:
Damn, what a mess! However, I do love the puns in some of those headlines…the Brits have a great sense of humor.
This is an open thread…
Still feeling down in the dumps today, so forgive the sparse content. Hopefully these links are not repeats…
I have not had a chance to read this first link…yet. Kurt Eichenwald: Let’s Repeal the Second Amendment | Vanity Fair
Haven’t read this one either: 6 Biggest Religious Right Threats to America | Alternet
Something on gun control: Muhlberger’s World History: The Bonfire of the Vanities
Check out these official pictures from the White House 2012:
A few science articles:
This first link needs a bit of funk to make it right:
If you have what James Brown likes…then you may also suffer from Fatty Liver.
One thing that can help with this next link about Fatty Liver, is to get a little more active:
For Dakinikat…it isn’t about old grave discoveries, but it still has a touch of death to it: Dried squash holds headless French king’s blood, study finds
Another one for Dak, Maya Funerary Vessel Represents “Tremor 8” – Archaeology Magazine
For Boston Boomer, you may find this interesting: Language Acquisition Could Begin In The Womb | Geekosystem
Is it a man’s world? Now for some mood music, for the next few links about Women’s Rights and Women in History:
Annie Lennox has a blog she writes at: Annie Lennox Calls For Action On Women’s Rights In 2013 – Starpulse.com
Here is direct link to it: Annie Lennox – Official Website
Maybe Women’s Rights will have a louder voice now: 101 Facts About 100 Women of the House and Senate
History looks at Viking Women: Don’t underestimate Viking women | Medieval News
Another one on religion, and women’s influence in culture: Research uncovers how single and widowed women shaped the religious culture of colonial Latin America
Sick twisted doctors…10 Derailed Doctors Who Creatively Abused Their Patients
An iconic song turns 30: ‘Billie Jean’: Michael Jackson’s landmark single turns 30 | theGrio
Video of a big ass plane landing at a tiny airport.
Video of the same big ass plane taking off from a tiny airport.
Video of a cartoon we have all seen before, but should watch again.
A few movie reviews:
This Amanda Marcotte review of Django Unchained is good, she gets it: Django Unchained: A Movie About Other Movies About the 19th Century
And…another review…about Django…only this one asks the wrong question: How Accurate Is Quentin Tarantino’s Portrayal of Slavery in Django Unchained? : The New Yorker
Sticking with the movie topic a bit more: alicublog: I LOST IT AT THE MOVIES.
Now for an actor who is Super Bad, and one of my favorites, bet you can guess who that is?
An interview with my man: Samuel L. Jackson is right about bad Hollywood endings, but then real life isn’t much better
I wonder if this film will be made in time for the 2016 campaign season: Tennessee Guerilla Women: Hillary Clinton’s Life, Soon to Be a Hollywood Movie
And…its a squatch! One of those elusive Georgia Redneck Big Foots! Yup, a few of them are getting together to talk about another kind of Bigfoot…Inaugural Southeastern Bigfoot Conference being held in Dahlonega
More fantastic Bigfoot reads:
Bigfoot or Good Foot you decide:
Have a fantastic Sunday…and hope everyone is feeling good!
Paul Krugman takes on the idea that after we bail out economically destructive banks, we all have to pay with downsized lives and a bad economy in his NYT column today. He continues to fight the idea that austerity–not prosperity–will bring back confidence and the economy. He’s right that the austerity hawks push a ridiculous assertion that denies past history as well as logic.
The doctrine in question amounts to the assertion that, in the aftermath of a financial crisis, banks must be bailed out but the general public must pay the price. So a crisis brought on by deregulation becomes a reason to move even further to the right; a time of mass unemployment, instead of spurring public efforts to create jobs, becomes an era of austerity, in which government spending and social programs are slashed.
This doctrine was sold both with claims that there was no alternative — that both bailouts and spending cuts were necessary to satisfy financial markets — and with claims that fiscal austerity would actually create jobs. The idea was that spending cuts would make consumers and businesses more confident. And this confidence would supposedly stimulate private spending, more than offsetting the depressing effects of government cutbacks.
Some economists weren’t convinced. One caustic critic referred to claims about the expansionary effects of austerity as amounting to belief in the “confidence fairy.” O.K., that was me.
But the doctrine has, nonetheless, been extremely influential. Expansionary austerity, in particular, has been championed both by Republicans in Congress and by the European Central Bank, which last year urged all European governments — not just those in fiscal distress — to engage in “fiscal consolidation.”
And when David Cameron became Britain’s prime minster last year, he immediately embarked on a program of spending cuts in the belief that this would actually boost the economy — a decision that was greeted with fawning praise by many American pundits.
Now, however, the results are in, and the picture isn’t pretty
Example one: The economy of Greece. It has been pushed into an even bigger slump. Example two: The economy of the UK. Austerity has stalled its economy and the confidence fairy is no where to be seen. Example three: Iceland. They did the exact opposite and they’re none the worse for wear. So, which example are we following? Well, it’s not Iceland.
Krugman, Icelanders, and the IMF are taking stock of the Iceland experience this week in a conference. You can read many articles at the IMF on how Iceland is recovering from its 2008 economic catastrophe. You can watch a video explaining what went on there with Dr. Joseph Stiglitz below.
Today, three years later, it is worth reflecting on how far Iceland―a country of just 320,000 people―has come since those dark days back in 2008. Growth has returned to the economy, and new jobs are being created: unemployment, although still unacceptably high for a country used to near-full employment, has dropped below 7 percent of the work force. In June this year, the government successfully issued a $1 billion sovereign bond, marking a return to international financial markets.
And while public debt, currently at around 100 percent of GDP, is much higher than before the crisis, an impressive consolidation program has put the country’s finances back on a sustainable path during the past couple of years. As for the banks, they have been shrunk to about 200 percent of GDP, and are now fully recapitalized.
So, how did they do it? Did they embrace austerity for their citizens after rescuing and enriching their errant banking/financier class?
- First, a team of lawyers was put to work to ensure that losses in the banks were not absorbed by the public sector. In the end, the public sector did of course have to step in and ensure the new banks had adequate capital, but it was insulated from vast private sector losses. This was a major achievement.
- Second, the initial focus of the program was exclusively on stabilizing the exchange rate. Here, we reached for unconventional measures, notably capital controls.
- Third, automatic stabilizers were allowed to operate in full during the first year of the program—effectively delaying fiscal adjustment. This helped support the economy at a time of severe strain.
- Fourth, conditionality was streamlined and focused on the key issue at hand—rebuilding the financial sector. While there are some issues in the broader economy where reforms will eventually be needed, these were not a part of the program.