Some interesting things in this week’s issue of The Economist

economist 27 june 2009I subscribed to The Economist for years and years.  I liked its quick notes about little countries that major media outlets ignore completely.  After a few years of reading it regularly, it came to seem like a person.  In particular, it seemed like a 23 year old bond trader who thinks that he rules the world, or is about to.  Obnoxious as that fellow might be in person, in the form of a magazine he was, at his worst, something I could set on a table and forget about.  More often his outlandish politics were good for a laugh.  I still remember the first number of The Economist I read, a 1983 issue with Nicolae Ceaucescu’s picture on the front, labeled “The Sick Man of Communism.”  What sticks out is a leading column about Lebanon, the last paragraph of which began with some phrase like “Though colonialism is unfashionable at the moment,” and went on to suggest that the best thing for that country might be occupation and domination by Syria.  Time and again The Economist makes remarks like that, which only a staff as extremely young as that which in fact does produce the magazine could make innocently.  And it can be a useful read- if I’d bet against every market prediction they made in the 1990s, I’d be a millionaire today. 

This time around, they have a leader and an article about the new Acropolis Museum, each concerned chiefly with the effect this facility will have on the dispute between Britain and Greece over the ownership of the friezes Lord Elgin took from the Parthenon in the period 1801-1805.  The British Museum has been taking care of them for over 200 years, the Greek government has been campaigning for their return to the Acropolis for almost 30 years.  The Economist is impressed by the new museum on the Acropolis, and wishes the British Museum would lend the friezes to the Greeks.  This solution would require the Greeks to renounce their claim of formal ownership of the friezes.  Previous Greek governments have seemed willing to make this concession, but the current one is not.  The Economist predicts that an uncompromising stand by the Greeks could unravel a great deal of the progress that has been made since December of 2002, when the world’s leading museums issued a statement called “the Munich Declaration”: 

The Munich declaration, as it is called, asserts that today’s ethical standards cannot be applied to yesterday’s acquisitions; but in return it acknowledges that encyclopedic museums have a special duty to put world culture on display.

This has led to a new level of co-operation between museums over training, curating, restoration and loans. Thousands of works are now lent each year between museums on every continent.

All this apparently will come crashing down unless the Greeks take the advice of The Economist.  Considering that much of the 6 March 1999 issue of that magazine was devoted to dire warnings of the chaos the world would face in the next decade as the price of oil dropped below $5 a barrel and stayed there, I wouldn’t worry overmuch about its predictions. 

Also worth a mention is a report on recent studies suggesting that a genetic tendency to clinical depression may have a benefit for the populations in which it occurs.  Depressed people, evidently, waste less of their own energy and less of society’s resources pursuing unattainably high goals.  That may not be the most exciting scientific finding you’ve read all year, but at least it offers something to think about as we wonder why a syndrome that seems to be so thoroughly maladaptive as depression has managed to take jhold so widely.

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  1. cymast

     /  June 30, 2009

    Regarding the cover, my MIL is originally from Canada and has relatives living there. She says Canada’s socialized medicine system is crap and explains at great lengths how Obama is going to ruin health care in the USA with a socialized system. She said after a certain age, you’re lucky if you get your ration of Tylenol.

  2. acilius

     /  June 30, 2009

    I don’t know what kind of healthcare system we should have, but the system we have now can’t last. The choice is no longer between private sector medicine and socialized medicine. So many countries have adopted single-payer systems, and capital moves so freely across borders, that every health-care payment in any country has to be regarded as a tax. When manufacturing firms leave the USA to locate in Canada, it’s because the USA supports its health care system by taxing businesses on a per-employee basis, while Canada taxes business on a revenue basis. So our system penalizes employers for creating jobs, and Canada’s doesn’t. The fact that some of our health care taxes are labeled “premiums” and are collected by insurance companies doesn’t change their job-killing power.

    So as long as capital is free to move across borders, and most countries have single payer health-care or something approaching it, we will have socialized medicine. The only question is what form of socialized medicine we will have. Surely we could replace the form we have with a form that would not speed the hollowing out of our industrial base.

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