Sunday, 12 March 2017

Diaspora Voters

Turkey's ruling party, AKP, has been sending its politicians to meet with Turkish voters in a number of European countries with large Turkish diaspora populations. These countries are not exactly thrilled about a foreign government engaging in political campaigning on their soil. Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, in particular, voiced their displeasure.

Turkey is holding a referendum on a new constitution, which would turn its political system into a presidential one and substantially increase the powers of president Erdogan. Given that Erdogan has been displaying rather Putinesque authoritarian leaning lately, this is worrying.

Turkish voters living abroad can participate in the referendum, and Erdogan and AKP are keen to make sure that they support the constitutional change. There are more than 4 million Turkish citizens in Europe, so the diaspora voters can potentially make a difference.

The Netherlands, in turn, is holding an election in which immigration is the big topic. Turkey sending its foreign minister there less then a week before the election was not particularly considerate. For the Netherlands, not allowing his plane to land was stupid. It gives Erdogan an opportunity to call them Nazis and to score additional points with his voters. It likewise gives Wilders, the PVV leader, an opportunity to say 'I told you so'.

There are, however, deeper issues behind all this. These days, people increasingly live, often for extended periods, in a country other than the one in which they were born and whose passport they carry. It would be a shame if the Turkish constitutional referendum created a precedent that would result in disenfranchisement of diaspora voters. Poland, for example, has seen a few million of its citizens leave during the last 10 years or so. Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal also have large diaspora populations. Should electoral meetings for their benefit also be banned?

Moreover, migrants living in Western Europe are exposed to generally liberal and tolerant norms and values. Some of those values can be transmitted to their friends and family back home, and/or reflected in their voting behavior. In my research with Orla Doyle on voting behavior of Czech and Polish migrants, we show that those in countries with greater tradition of democracy and economic freedom are more likely to vote for parties supporting democracy and market economy (see link). Antonio Spilimbergo finds a similar democracy-supporting effect of sending students abroad (link). Mahmoud, Rapoport, Steinmayr and Trebesch (link) and Ruxanda Berlischi (link) consider Moldovan migration to the West and argue that it helps spread democracy and increases support for a pro-EU (rather than pro-Russia) orientation, respectively. Finally, Nikolova, Roman and Zimmermann (link) show that emigration from Bulgaria and Romania helps spread pro-social attitudes to their friends and families left behind.

Authoritarian countries are usually very reluctant to allow their citizens to travel abroad or even to have access to information about how things are elsewhere. The Soviet Union and other communist countries made it very difficult for their citizens to travel to the West. Communism in East Germany famously ended after East Germans were finally allowed to visit West Germany. The threat to authoritarian regimes is not only that people will want to leave, but also that they will see, with their own eyes, that things can be done differently. North Korea therefore not only prevents its own citizens from traveling abroad but also closely guards foreign visitors and stops them from interacting with the locals. It also punishes its citizens for watching South Korean TV.

Diaspora voters can serve as an important conduit of liberal norms and attitudes. Why stop them from serving in this role?

Friday, 9 December 2016

Angry White Old Men

At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, British weavers tried to smash the machines in newly built textile factories. These so-called Luddites felt that mechanization of production threatened their livelihood and their traditional way of life. When a machine threatens to replace the man, the man breaks the machine.

These days, we see something similar. The threat comes not from machines, but from new modern technologies and globalization: ICT and the sharing economy, coupled with free trade and ever greater migration flows. Those who feel threatened today are predominantly white, old and male. The threat that they face is that their jobs get shipped off to China or Eastern Europe or that they get replaced by an immigrant or a smartphone app.

The angry white old men don’t break things. Instead, they attend rallies against immigrants and vote for politicians who promise to make their countries great again.

They are mainly men. Low-skilled men work in sectors that are particularly threatened by free trade, immigration and automation: manufacturing, construction and agriculture. Low-skilled women, in contrast, tend to prefer service and public-sector jobs, in which employment prospects are safer. In fact, they may even benefit: an immigrant who comes to Europe to work on a construction site will need to buy bread and milk in the local shop and get haircut from a local hairdresser.

They are mainly white: previously they were the dominant and privileged group and now they increasingly see themselves becoming the underclass, outflanked by the more successful minorities.

And they are old, as older workers are more likely to possess skills that are of little use in today’s modern economy. The young have invested in education, which gives them a competitive edge over the less-skilled immigrants and overseas workers, and they are sufficiently tech savvy to participate in and benefit from the spread of new technologies.

Take taxi drivers as an example. The typical London cabbie is a white male in his 50s, drives an ancient looking black cab, does not possess much formal education but has acquired the Knowledge (familiarity with London’s streets and alleys), and is usually grumpy. If you use your smartphone to hail an Uber, you’ll probably get a cheerful young guy from Romania or the Middle East who will rely on GPS to get you to your destination. In a Toyota Prius.

In the past, such men would work all their life, retire on a defined-benefit pension in their early to mid 60s, and then die shortly thereafter due to ailments brought about by a lifetime of hard work and overindulging in smoking, drinking and fatty food. Not anymore. With their jobs off-shored or taken up by immigrants, they face long old age on benefits, then on modest defined-contribution pension. And one can’t even smoke in pubs anymore.

At the same time, the young are too busy doing well to have kids. And this is why the angry white old men are becoming more influential. In the past, their gripes would be outweighed by the more numerous young. Not anymore. We are moving closer to the point where the median voter will be an angry white old man. When that happens, expect more nasty electoral surprises to happen. Pegida, Brexit and Trump represent just the dawn of the new political paradigm.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Brexit and the EU Official Languages

The EU currently has 24 official languages: Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish and Swedish. This is slightly less than the number of member states: 28. The reason for this is that each country can propose one of its official languages, and some countries share official languages: Belgium with France, the Netherlands and Germany; Luxembourg with France and Germany; Austria with Germany; and Cyprus with Greece.

English was not an official language of the EU when the EEC was formed in 1957. It only became an official languages of the EU after the UK (and Ireland) joined in 1973.

The other countries with English as an official language are Ireland and Malta. Each of these nominated another language as an official language of the EU: Irish and Maltese.

This brings up the question, will English be abandoned by the EU if the UK leaves the Union? It would seem quite likely, unless the EU decides to bend the rules, or Ireland or Malta decide to replace one of their languages in Brussels with English.

The French are bound to be pleased about this.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

What's in a Name?

The Czech Republic is tired of its long name and wants to be called Czechia from now on.

What a shame.

The country already has a name. A beautiful one, with all kinds of pleasant connotations and a long history.

That name is Bohemia.

The usual argument against this name is that Bohemia is but one part of the country today, the other two being Moravia and Bohemian Silesia. Yet this is a historical fact: the Bohemian Kingdom absorbed Moravia and Silesia centuries ago (although it later lost much of Silesia to Prussia). Many other countries apply the name of a core region to a wider area.

Linguistically, this choice is strange too. In Czech, there is no difference between 'Bohemian' and 'Czech', and the Czech name for Bohemia, Čechy, is often used to denote the whole country anyway. The more recently invented short name, Česko, is just as Bohemian-centric as Čechy. So putting forward Czechia as a more inclusive name for the country only works in languages other than Czech. And this is more than a little awkward.

More importantly, think of the benefits of reclaiming the country's traditional name for tourism. Bohemian holidays has a sound that  Czech holidays can't ever match.

The unofficial national anthem would be the Bohemian Rhapsody. Or the official one.

The Bohemian ice hockey team would wear jerseys that don't say 'Check ya!'.

The Bohemian Army, Bohemian foreign policy, and Bohemian diplomacy would befit the means and abilities of a small country.

And let us not forget about the Bohemian President. The current one, chain-smoking, booze loving Miloš Zeman, fits the job description perfectly.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Friday the 13th (Epilogue)

Just over a year ago, I wrote a paper (coauthored with J.D. Tena) on whether the number 13 and Friday the 13th really bring bad luck (see a short write up about it here: Friday the 13th). Specifically, we consider whether people born on the 13th (any day of the week) or on Friday the 13th were more or less lucky than other people. To measure luck, we look at mundane but important outcomes: employment, wages and marriage. Reassuringly, we find that those born on an unlucky day are little different from everyone else.

The paper was first circulated on Friday the 13th of June, 2014. It was issued as WP 13 of the Economics and Finance Working Paper Series at Brunel University. It counted exactly 13 pages.

When we submitted it for publication, it was rejected. Five times in five different journals.

Then, before submitting it for the sixth time, I changed the spacing from single to 1.5. This new version of our paper counted 16 rather than 13 pages.

That version was accepted for publication in Kyklos with only minor changes.

The lesson that budding researchers should take from this is clear. Don't submit single-spaced papers. Ever. It brings bad luck.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Post-election Musings: UK 2015

I looked at the BBC website this morning and thought: What the hell has just happened?

All polls were predicting a hung-parliament, with no party claiming a majority of the seats and no 'natural' coalition on the cards. Instead, the Tory Party is back and set to rule alone.

It doesn't end there. Scotland has turned into a one-party country, with the Scottish National Party (SNP) taking 56 seats out of 59 (Tories, Labour and Lib-Dems getting one seat each). Kim Jong-Un will be sending his emissaries to Edinburgh soon: they will want to find out how Nicola Sturgeon achieved democratically what he, (and his father and grandfather) only accomplished with the aid of extraordinary harsh repression. Putin's delegation will not be far behind.

The first-past-the-post system delivered some interesting outcomes. The SNP got 4.8% of the overall vote and 56 seats, the Lib-Dems got 7.8% of votes and 8 seats, UKIP got 12.6% of votes and 1 seat. Although extreme views are fairly common in the UK, they have almost no chance of getting represented in the Parliament. In Scotland, however, nationalism is now mainstream.

I used to think that the big question of this election was the EU: the Tories promised a referendum on leaving the Union. Now, it seems that if they do and England votes to leave, Scotland will vote to stay. With the support that the SNP enjoys right now, this would be a convenient excuse for another independence referendum. The most likely outcome will be that the Tories will continue to grumble but nothing much will happen.

The most interesting issue of this election is one of democratic accountability on the background of mass migration. I am not talking about the fact that the EU immigration was a big issue in this election (which it was). Rather, what I am referring to is the fact that there are some 2 million EU citizens living in the UK who are politically disenfranchised because they do not hold UK passports. Many of them have moved here to stay for the long term (like me). The EU migrants are here perfectly legally, are subject to UK rules and policies, pay taxes, yet have no influence on who gets to form the next government. They face few practical restrictions in the UK (the right to reside and work is automatic and not discretionary for EU citizens) and therefore have little incentive to change their nationality.

Some of them may be allowed to vote in their home countries, where they have not lived for years. That seems equally odd.

We have free movement of people without the ability to transfer one's voting rights to the destination country. Somehow, the wise men in Brussels forgot about this one.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Friday the 13th

For some, Friday the 13th of February will be just another working day. For others, it will be a reason to take a day off and stay at home, safely out of the way of potential misfortunes that might befall them on this unlucky day: in most of Europe, the number 13 is considered unlucky and Friday the 13th is thought to be a particularly unlucky day.

Given how irrational such beliefs in lucky and unlucky numbers are, they are surprisingly wide-spread. Many airlines don’t have the 13th row of seats; hotels don’t have rooms with 13 in the number or the 13th floor, some streets don’t have a house No. 13 (and if there is such a house, it tends to sell for less than other similar houses in the same street). Airfares also tend to be cheaper on Friday the 13th. Other similarly irrational beliefs include avoiding black cats in your path, not breaking mirrors, following the advice of fortune-tellers and astrologers or accepting that the specific constellation of stars and planets on the day (and even hour) of your birth is going to have a lasting effect on your wellbeing, love-life and career.

So is there anything to it?

The problem is, testing bad luck is tricky. For instance, there are supposedly fewer car accidents when it is Friday the 13th, but that seems because people tend to drive more carefully (or not at all) on that day. In other words, superstitious people are likely to change their behavior on unlucky days, which may be enough to bias the results.

In a joint paper with J.D. Tena (published in Kyklos,, we try to get around this problem by looking at an outcome that cannot be changed easily by behavioral adjustments: date of birth. Determined parents can make sure that their child is not born on Friday the 13th – but how many would plan conception after consulting the calendar to make sure there is no Friday the 13th some 8-9 months ahead (most years have one or two, some, like 2015, have three). But once you were born on an unlucky day, there is not much you can do about it.

We consider three rather fundamental outcomes that have substantial impact on one’s quality of life: wage, employment, and marriage. Even relatively small differences in wages or in the employment (marriage) probability would have important welfare implications when considered over one’s entire lifetime. We base our analysis on the UK Labor Force Survey (1999 to 2011), with information on nearly 4 million individuals. We consider both those born on the 13th (any day) and on Friday the 13th. We use standard regression analysis as well as a matching approach.

Reassuringly, regardless of the outcome considered, methodology used or whether we look at birth on the 13th or on Friday the 13th, we find no impact of being born on an unlucky day. In other words, superstition really only is in the minds of those who believe in it. Once you look at the data and consider outcomes that cannot be changed easily by short-term behavioral adjustments, Friday the 13th is neither particularly lucky nor unlucky.

But in case you are still not convinced, the days to watch out for this year (2015) are 13th February, 13th March and 13th November.