Europe’s economy:

Guy Rundle writes: In his reply to my article on the crisis in Greece, Bill Williams (yesterday, comments) makes several contentions:

  1. That unification was a good thing for the US, and therefore must be a good thing for Europe.
  2. That the European Union forces European states to collaborate with each other, and prevents war.
  3. That the UK will be hurt by the euro crisis, and, as far as I can tell through the sarcasm, that it is foolish to believe that the UK was right not to join the euro.
  4. That full fiscal union would be a solution to Europe’s problems.
  5. That the US, not the euro, or the EU is to blame for Greece’s problems by destabilising the world economy through the neoliberal economics, deficit spending and;
  6. That the UN, G20, G12, ASEAN, APEC, etc, are models of interdependence follow the model of the EU.

To which arguments my answers are:

  1. The original US was a relatively culturally homogeneous set of states that, following a brief experiment with genuine federated independence (under the articles of confederation), became a single state, with a unified political, economic and eventually, monetary system. That may be a good idea for Europe — if it were politically possible — but it is manifestly not what the EU is now.
  2. Since war hasn’t occurred between EU and non-EU European states (no Swiss-German conflict, no Swedish invasion of Norway), the EU’s role in promoting peace in Europe is unproven. US unity didn’t prevent a vicious civil war there, which also disproves contention (1).
  3. The UK may be damaged by the EU crisis; it may also benefit as sterling comes to be perceived as a more stable currency. If Bill can find 10 people in the UK who don’t think that the UK dodged a bullet by staying out of the euro, I will be very surprised.
  4. Full fiscal union might well solve some of the disjunctive problems of a single currency across independent states, but it is currently a political impossibility — the whole EU project, from the “coal and steel community” onwards has been based on union by stealth, since Europe’s elites knew that its masses would never consent. The euro is the point at which that dishonest, elitist process has come to crisis.
  5. If the US were solely to blame for Greece and the Southern eurozone’s crises, then everyone would be suffering equally. They aren’t — it’s the less developed countries in the eurozone that are suffering from monopoly control of capital via the northern-based financial markets. Northern Europe and non-EU European states are faring much better. The southern eurozone is suffering from the fiscal neoliberalism of the EU, and the exchange settings of the euro, which are oriented to export economies like Germany.
  6. I’d be grateful if Bill could tell me which of the UN, G20, G8, ASEAN, APEC have a single currency stretching across differing fiscal, political and cultural entities? These organisations have succeeded, if they’ve succeeded, by not aping the EU’s rush to undemocratic consolidation.

I think European union is a great idea. But it has to be as a genuinely democratic and social Europe, not an undemocratic technocratic fix, for there to be peace, equality and co-operation. But that can only be got by countries such as Greece forcing a renegotiation of the principles of European unity.

At the moment, all Greeks seem able to say about Germany is that they are once again (i.e. since WW2) “marching them off the clip”. The euro appears to be the Basil Fawlty currency — “don’t mention the war; I did once but I think I got away with it”.

Retail:

Brian Mitchell writes: Re. “How retailers are shooting themselves in the foot” (yesterday, item 21). Adam Schwab is right, of course. However, I wonder whether he would have purchased his shoes from Amazon without having first tried them on at Rebel to ensure he knew exactly which size to buy. This is why I fully support retail stores moving towards a refundable service fee.

Adam should have been charged a $25 fitting fee, refundable upon purchase. He could then have decided not to pay, and risk purchasing the wrong size shoe online, with the inconvenience of re-posting, etc, or going to the inconvenience of finding an alternative retailer who’d let him try its inventory for free. I’m all for online shopping, but I also recognise there are real costs associated with bricks and mortar retailing that many customers don’t take into account, and it’s unfair to sponge off these costs (e.g., trying on for size, asking for advice) and then using that knowledge to buy from the bargain-basement online sites.

Superannuation:

Andrew Whiley writes: Re. “Cox: social and gender equity way down on the tax forum agenda” (yesterday, item 9). Eva Cox embarks on another round of her ongoing campaign  against universal super with the comment:

“Retracting the 9% compulsory superannuation contribution being raised to 12% as it increases unfairness and disadvantages low-income earners in their current incomes and later savings.”

While she is right to regularly highlight in Crikey some of the inequities that exist in the taxation treatment of super (Peter Costello’s tax-free-after-60 measure comes to mind) she is dead wrong in her description above.

Our universal system has been a primary source for the accumulation of wealth for low income earners outside that of the family home. For many women (particularly those on low incomes) it is the only independent source of wealth they have now or will have in the future.

If anything, lifting the SG to 12% and the accompanying tax changes for low income workers increase fairness and equity in the system. Or would she prefer that women enter retirement over the next two or three decades reliant only on the age pension (and any “later savings” they may have) as the basis of their financial security and quality of life in their latter years?

That looks to me like the situation most Australian women faced for the greater part of last century. Seems to me it would be a massive increase in unfairness to return to such a situation. Eva should know better.

Sport:

Gabriel McGrath writes: Re: “Gee, long way from home, but greatness warms the heart” (yesterday, item 18).  Call me un-Australian (“You’re un-Australian!” — yells a man from a car window), but for the past 15 years I’ve been pretty disinterested in team sports. Part of it is sure to be my geek genes, part of it the fact I’ve moved from “sport central” (i.e. Melbourne) to New South Wales, where they practise the wrong religion.

I rarely think about my sporting disinterest, but yesterday — for the first time in a decade and a half — I read something that made me almost question it.

Thanks Geoff Lemon, for a brilliant bit of writing.

And that’s from someone who really shouldn’t care.

Peter Fray

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