Monthly Archives: April 2012

Reality is unpredictable. My prediction to myself that I would hear about Ad Melkert again in some way or other turns out to be on the mark however. It turns out that he is candidate for Director-General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). See the website for the candidates, Melkert’s resume and vision statement. Curiously the Dutch government of Mark Rutte submitted his candidacy while the vision statement is stamped by the Foreign Office. Melkert apparently still has friends in high places. The Chair in Dutch parliament indeed is taken by Gerdi Verbeet who was assistant to Melkert.

Melkert miserably failed as candidate for Dutch Prime Minister in 2002 and then fled to the World Bank and later the United Nations, again helped by those friends in high places. A major cause for his failure in Holland was his use of slanderous language against professor dr. W.S.P. Fortuyn, another candidate for that office. Melkert accused Fortuyn for being right-wing like Jean-Marie Le Pen in France, which is considered a serious accusation in Holland given the historical links to fascism. Other candidates joined up, one even referred to the Anne Frank house as what to expect from Fortuyn. When Fortuyn in this climate of hate was murdered in 2002 by a maniac, only one person, Marcel van Dam, offered excuses for contributing to that climate of hate, and certainly Melkert did not. Theo van Gogh’s last film 06/05 was about that assassination though doesn’t seem as strong as it ought to be.

At the UN Melkert was candidate for chief of UNDP but wasn’t elected. He then accepted the post in Iraq, after Sérgio Vieira de Mello and twenty of his staff had been bombed there. Melkert served time and might now expect the UN to deliver.

All things start small. I met Ad Melkert around 1983 when I moved to Scheveningen. Already a member of the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) I joined up with the local section. Eventually both I and Ad were members of the board of that local section. Scheveningen itself is the sea-side resort of The Hague and thus the membership tends to count some prominent party members.

The main point to report here is that I am an econometrician, worked at the Dutch Central Planning Bureau (CPB) and developed a new synthesis for economic theory with an analysis on how to tackle unemployment. Ad, on the other hand, had studied political science, didn’t understand much of economics, was focussed on a political career, and managed to have one. Ad already had become a member of Dutch parliament in 1986 when I met with censorship by the directorate of CPB in 1989. Ad didn’t protect me, see the Pillars of Dutch Politics, and Dutch readers might want to look into this. Quite possibly he didn’t understand what the issue was, neither in terms of economics nor in terms of integrity of science.

Melkert claims to have an excellent record in job creation. However: (1) In the USA, Bill Clinton and Alan Greenspan helped create a world boom with their low interest policy, see the note on the Keynesian years 1981-2007. (2) In Holland, the Wim Kok government with Melkert merely followed the standard Dutch policy of wage moderation, which means that unemployment is exported to other nations. (3) Germany copied that policy with the Hartz reform in 2002. With the full weight of Germany into it we can see that this beggar-thy-neighbour policy is wreaking havoc now in Europe.

Well, here is my ‘vision statement’ with an Economic plan for Europe. Before the Dutch government will look into this approach the clique of slanderers will have to go however. So the best advice remains to boycott Holland. And I would advise ILO to select another DG.

The West writes and reads text from the left to the right while Hindu-Arabic numbers are from the right to the left. Thus 14 is “fourteen”. English switches order from 21, to “twenty·one”, while Dutch still has “een en twintig” and so on till 100.

There exists an alternative number system that satisfies didactic clarity so that pupils could learn arithmetic rather quickly. This uses the language of mathematics. The translation to English would be a mere matter of learning another dialect, which cannot be a burden in any way also given the small set of words and concepts. For example 59 can be “five·ten·nine” where English as a dialect has “fifty·nine”.

Perhaps the English and American reluctance to learn other languages and accept dialects is a larger bottleneck than possible doubts about the didactic advantages. The key notion thus is to regard English as a dialect indeed, and extend lessons on arithmetic with clarification of the dialect.

The issue came to my attention by Gladwell (2008:228):

“Ask an English-speaking seven-year-old to add thirty·seven plus twenty·two in her head, and she has to convert the words to numbers (37 + 22). Only then can she do the math: 2 plus 7 is 9 and 30 plus 20 is 50, which makes 59. Ask an Asian child to add three-tens-seven and two-tens-two, and then the necessary equation is right there, embedded in the sentence. No number translation is necessary: It’s five-tens-nine.”

There is not only the notation of 59 and the pronunciation, but also the notation of the pronunciation. Instead of “five-tens-nine” a better notation is “five·ten·nine”, thus no “tens” and thus the use of a high dot. The hyphen is unattractive since it is too similar to subtraction. The dot is not pronounced, like the hyphen or comma.

The choice derives from mental working space. Gladwell (2008:228): “(…) we store digits in a memory loop that runs for about two seconds.” English numbers are cumbersome to store. He quotes Stanislas Dehaene: “(…) the prize for efficacy goes to the Cantonese dialect of Chinese, whose brevity grants residents of Hong Kong a rocketing memory span of about 10 digits.” The quick fix is to use Cantonese internationally, yet this will meet with some bottlenecks.

This paper contains the longer discussion. The Appendix contains a stylized presentation for six-year olds. This is not intended for actual use in class but contains the framework for starting to think about that. It was written at the occasion of my son M.’s sixth birthday.

PM. Dehaene has also this useful quote here: “A lot of conceptual difficulties could be clarified if mathematicians and theoretical physicists paid more attention to the basic distinction between model and reality, a concept familiar to biologists. ” Mutatis mutandis for economics.