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.