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I keep pinching myself: This can’t be happening ?!

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was presented with the Walther Rathenau Preis & Medaillion, last November 21, and Angela Merkel was invited to present the prize !

Angela Merkel presents Mark Rutte the Rathenau Medaillion (Source: NOS tv screenshot)

Angela Merkel presents Mark Rutte the Rathenau Medaillion (Source: NOS tv screenshot)

Rathenau’s motto was: “I want self-determination, fate and freedom of our own making.” Walther Rathenau (1867-1922) was an intellectual and minister of Foreign Affairs of the Weimar Republic, and was murdered in 1922 by right wingers. The murder was an important element in the failure of the Weimar Republic to develop into an alternative to the rise of Adolf Hitler with his coup in 1933.

Walther Rathenau memorial medaille (Source: wikimedia commons)

Walther Rathenau memorial medaille (Source: wikimedia commons)

The purpose of the prize is: “mit dem ein herausragendes außenpolitisches Lebenswerk gewürdigt wird”. 

What did Mark Rutte ever do to qualify ?

What comes to mind is that Rutte handled the shooting down of the MH17 airplane over the Ukraine on July 17 2014 in such manner that it did not develop into a casus belli between Europe and Russia. But this approach seems rather obvious and it would be hard to believe another scenario – also the gunshots in Sarajevo 1914 come with a more complex story.

Looking for reasons:

  • Rutte has hardly written anything in his life, and hardly about foreign policy.
  • Rutte hasn’t presented anything “quite out of the ordinary”.
  • Rutte is rather young and already failing bitterly, so where is that “work of a lifetime” ?

Trying to look at it more positively, particularly w.r.t. freedom:

  • Rutte went along in a minority cabinet in 2010-2012 with right-wing Geert Wilders, known for discrimination against immigrants, also fellow-Europeans from Poland.
  • Rutte took a hard line on austerity in the economic crisis since 2007, while economists mostly doubted whether that was wise. Rutte is no economist but has a degree in history, apparently not on the Great Depression, and he is an ideological adept of Margaret Thatcher – see this lecture in Dutch (one of his few texts if he wrote all of it himself) and my comments.
  • Rutte has been a member of Dutch parliament and government since 2003, which government censors economic science since 1990, and related to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

You might now check the text at the German Embassy in The Hague and practise your German with the laudatio by Angela Merkel. I might make various comments but feel somewhat restrained by that a laudatio is no effort at balanced evaluation. But: (a) Merkel has a misguided view on Rutte’s notion of freedom, see e.g. his comment “Black Pete is black” at the Nuclear Summit that Merkel refers too, see the video and the comments from the Caribean island of Dutch Sint Maarten, (b) Holland failed in providing a counterbalance to the German fears on budget austerity – and Rutte is now praised for it !

Another surprise is that Rutte was born in 1967, thus 100 years after Rathenau. Rutte still is younger than when Rathenau was murdered. Perhaps, with this prize, Rutte might feel obliged to start writing many essays about freedom, before he would meet his fate of being murdered in 2022 by right wingers from the stable of Geert Wilders ? While the European Union collapses like the Weimar Republic, for lack of respecting the integrity of economic science …

 

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Adam Curtis makes documentaries for the BBC, using its vast archive of materials. He meets with criticism for sloppy reasoning and for abuse of easy pictorials for argument. Ben Woodhams’s parody The Loving Trap went viral in 2011, see also the comment by Guy Walters in the New Statesman.

However, after my last interview with Vladislav Surkov I think that I can usefully point to these to documentaries by Adam Curtis:

When the Kurds switch from marxism to anarchism as their ideological inspiration, this seems opportunistic as it can be, but not without some realism, since there is obviously some need to replace a failure for something else. The choice for anarchy however is remarkable.

In a way it is not remarkable, since Russia has also kind-of selected that road. It is President Putin who brought back order, but it was his PR manager Vladislav Surkov who helped to create the kind of implementation that reminds of anarchy. That is, anarchy in the sense of lack of legal security, and in the sense of that it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you don’t interfere with the people in power. Perhaps one road towards clarity would be to make that anarchy official, with a legal system with a level playing field and a more equal distribution of wealth and power.

Perhaps the Kurds could explain to Russia why they switched from marxism to anarchism ? My impression is that it was opportunistic but perhaps there is a system in the madness ?

I am reminded of my earlier amazement that the Greek people are very disciplined in their music and dance, but apparently have gained some international reputation of being undisciplined and lazy. What is happening here ? See my earlier weblog texts that link to Greek music on youtube:

Check the 1995 concert Tribute to Mikis Theodorakis, with Dalaras and various Greek musicians but also with support of the Dutch Metropole Orchestra and overall direction by Dick Bakker. In this case the Dutch orchestra wasn’t there to instill discipline but to partake in the Tribute.

My last discussion of the G20 caused a nervous phone-call from the Russian Ambassador in The Hague, who put me through to Vladislav Surkov. Mr. Surkov wanted to know where I got all this information and who were my sources.

I replied that I could tell him but not over the phone. When I bargained for an interview, he gave in and said that we could meet at a neutral location. Minutes later the Ambassador had me in a police motorcade at 150 km/h to an Aeroflot jetplane, at Valkenburg Air Base normally used by the Dutch royal family. The neutral location appeared to be president Putin’s private chalet in Sochi.

After inspecting me, Surkov said: “Well, I suppose that I must thank you for coming here. Now that the formalities are over, will you please tell me where you got that information and who are your sources ?”

TC: “Thank you for your warm welcome. I am sorry, but I hear a pounding noise in the room next-door. I hope it is not an old boiler that might explode ?”

VS raised his eyebrows. “That is president Putin doing his judo practice. He has stated that he has no interest in this interview, but our words are translated to him just to make sure.” There was a loud bang. “Apparently he didn’t like being compared to an “old boiler”. I feel sorry for Vyacheslav Volodin, his personal trainer.”

VS: “Now, your sources.”

TC: “Ah, yes. Before I tell you, I must relate a small story so that you understand me. Have you ever heard about physics professor Abraham Pais, who wrote Einstein’s biography Subtle is the Lord and a beautiful autobiography A tale of two continents ? When he was young he was persecuted by the Nazis as a Jew in Amsterdam, but his life was saved by Tina Strobos, a Dutch woman of his age whose father had been a Russian merchant. Leventina Strobos died two years ago with an obituary in the New York Times. Her story is amazing, and there is a recording of her at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum about how dangerous the resistance against the Nazis was.”

VS looked annoyed but the words Nazi and Russian merchant appeared to kindle an interest. He cleared his throat and said: “I presume that you refer to Israel’s atomic bomb and the resistance of the Russian people against the Nazis in Kiev. Please continue.”

[Not in the interview but for Dutch readers: An Dutch obituary of Strobos of 2012 is here. Check the book on Strobos by Peter de Waard and his website with more pictures, or this recent Volkskrant article. These explain that Tina Strobos was born as Leventina Buchter, but that Alphonse Buchter was not her real father, but said Russian merchant. A painting of her made during the War turned up at the BBC Antiques Roadshow.]

Leventina Buchter 1940-1945, later Tina Strobos (Source: website Peter de Waard)

Leventina Buchter 1940-1945, later Tina Strobos (Source: website Peter de Waard)

TC: “I am sorry mr. Surkov. I had no intention to refer to the Israel atomic bomb or the government in Kiev. I just wanted to give an example of the ties between Russia and Holland and the bravery that some people are capable of, and the good results that come from that bravery. Besides, to answer your question about my sources: I got my information from an article in de Volkskrant and then looked further on the internet.”

VS: “Listen, are you trying to make me cry ? You are telling me a romantic story about a brave Russian girl who overcomes her weak Dutch genetic handicap, who fights the Nazis but then she falls back into weakness and collaborates with the Jews. Haven’t you read my Science Fiction novels Near Zero and Without Sky, to know that I do not care for such romance and weakness ? Yes, I admit openly that my original name is Aslambek Andarbekovich Dudayev from the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic. Yes, I am half Russian and half Chechen, but I overcame my handicap and changed my name to proud Russian. Now I am Surkov. I also write Science Fiction under the name of Natan Dubovitsky so that people don’t know. Later, when I become the successor to Putin, I must choose a new name. I like Stalin but that has been used before. I hesitate between Tupin after Tupac or Nerin after the Roman emperor Nero, another great writer of the past.”

TC: “Let me quote from your novel, starting where you compare the sound of being squashed with the sound of Russian swearing.”

“I lay between Mama and Papa and didn’t hear the blow. It’s possible that Papa made some funny quacking sound when the excessive weight crushed him, or he swore coarsely. One time he had yelled out something of the sort in front of me and frightened me.

It’s possible that my mother also let out some kind of sound, but not necessarily. I’m not sure she even had time for a guilty smile, like the one she always had when something unpleasant happened to Papa or me. I hope it wasn’t painful.

They were killed. I wasn’t. Death wound round their bodies but didn’t reach mine. My brain was just touched by its black and stifling presence. Something boiled out of my brain and evaporated: the third dimension, height.

When they dug me out in the morning, chilled to the bone because my parents had quickly grown cold and become like the sand, I saw a two-dimensional world, endless in length and width, but without height. Without sky. Where is it, I asked? It’s right there, they answered. I don’t see it, don’t see it! I became frightened.” (part of Without Sky)

TC: “My personal interpretation is to compare this crushing from 3D to 2D with the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

I heared a new sound from the other room, no longer the pounding of judokas, but either some Russian swearing or perhaps the squashing of Vyacheslav Volodin.

Surkov was genuinely flattered that I had read his novels and that I actually understood some aspects of them. He made an abrupt gesture though: “I will not comment on my books. Too many people have tried to read warnings in Mein Kampf and it didn’t help anyone. It was good enough to bribe the author with so-called royalties, why doesn’t anyone understand this ? Thus, we stop this discussion about fiction. Now, please tell me where you got your information about Russian politics and who are your sources.”

TC: “I use the same sources as Sarah Palin did when she predicted in 2008 that Russia would invade the Ukraine.”

VS: “That is utter nonsense. We have asked our friends at The Independent to debunk it, and they found someone who concluded: “Palin made so many wacky claims its about time one was proved right. A broken clock is correct twice a day.””

TC: “Exactly. The Russian policy on the Ukraine is so wacky that the logical conclusion is that you follow the nonsense on the internet. Thus I know where to look in order to predict what you will do.”

VS: “Okay, Vlad, you can come in now, if you want.”

The pounding had changed from the other room to the door. It stopped and Putin entered. His judo suit was rather ripped. Apparently it had been Vyacheslav Volodin who had been hustling Vladimir Putin instead of the other way around.

Vladimir Putin put a hand on my shoulder and said: “Listen, I just want the world to feel my pain over the lack of respect. The West is provoking us into a new Cold War. Mikhail Gorbachev said the same in Berlin at the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. We fear the extension of NATO to the Ukraine. We want Barry and Angela to say that they will not do so. I know that I come across as an aggressor who can only continue on that road of aggression, like Dmitry Bykov says, but please, who is Bykov compared to the President of the Russian Federation ? I am a sensitive man, that is what Vladislav here keeps on telling me. People should not make fun of his literary work either. Vladislav is a sensitive man too.”

TC: “Do you know what one of my sources says that Sarah Palin is planning to do ?”

My two hosts were all ears.

TC: “Did you hear about those 10,000 walruses on that island in Alaska, due to the melting arctic ? Sarah Palin wants to train them so that they can invade Russia from the North-East, so that China stops buying oil and gas from you. You better think again about the Ukraine.”

Vladislav Surkov immediately got it, and shivered. When I left to catch the jetplane back home, he was explaining it to Vladimir Putin, using words that sounded like swearing or just squashing.

10,000 walruses, melting artic waters (Source: NOAA Fisheries September 2013)

10,000 walruses, melting arctic (Source: NOAA Fisheries September 2013)

Appendix: (1) A London Review of Books effort at review of Near Zero with also an interpretation of Hamlet. (2) Another effort at review of Without Sky. (3) There is the Dutch article by Hans Loos Oorlog met alle middelen (Volkskrant). (4) The word walrus might have a Dutch origin. There is no known link to wall and Russian. (5) Some readers might also want to read Radio Free Europe on Surkov. (6) See the earlier Mind Map for the European theatre, while it is only a happy coincidence that Surkov worked as a theatre director too.

My last question, whether president Putin of Russia couldn’t see the despair in Greece, received a fast reply from the readers in the Kremlin. They hold that the Russian Orthodox Church has moved from Christianity into an independent religion – at least that is how The Interpreter magazine translates the words by Alfred Kokh, a former vice prime minister.

Before we look into the theology, there is another article that seems even more important.

The position of Russia in the G20 picture

President Putin has asked the Russian people to join him in his suffering from lack of respect.

Since lack of respect is a causa belli, it seems that Europe will see a bloody Christmas.

The Australian G20 under the leadership of incompetent Tony Abbott must be judged as another failure in international diplomacy. The meeting showed an older and tired president Putin, who had to depart early to catch some sleep before being back at the Kremlin this Monday to plan the conquest of Mariupol and Kharkiv.

Instead of a real bear to shoot, the Australians only offered a koala to cuddle. Instead of a trip to the outbacks with the opportunity to meet some flying doctors and take his shirt off and rescue some patients himself too, they locked Putin up in conference rooms where he was lectured by the David Cameron’s of the world who are just afraid of losing the next elections. Instead, president Obama received a hero’s welcome, and was allowed to give a speech to students who worship him for coming from the same general area of the globe as they do. Obama mentioned the Aboriginals but they weren’t much generally present in the lecture hall.

Readers who don’t understand essential “us versus them” psychology are referred to professor David Myers article in Politico.com. People focus on differences, classify people, read evidence only to support earlier prejudices, and unite against the common enemy or scapegoat. The G20 is no different than other groups. President Putin will have noticed that Xi Jinping of China was cooler to him than at the latest gas-deal. He had no friends here, he noticed, only people who were going to get him and Mother Russia. Even the “good cop, bad cop” routine wasn’t granted him, in a total lack of respect.

If we compare the G20 picture of 2014 with Putin (1st from left) and of 2008 with Medvedev (2d from left, with incompetent De Jager from Holland 1st from left, and not too far from Berlusconi), we find that the president of Russia is placed standardly on the fringe instead of the middle. This, however, cannot be taken as a sign of disrespect. In the middle in 2008 we find George W. Bush who lied over Iraq, and on the right we find Dominique Strauss-Kahn who had to retire from IMF. Thus you shouldn’t judge the world by the position in the G20 picture. Overall, though, it would have been a wise point in diplomacy to allow Putin a position between Angela Merkel and Tony Abbott, since it would have shown that not only Australia but also Russia lost dear lives in WW II fighting against Germany, Italy and Japan.

G20 in 2008 Washington (Source: wikipedia commons)

G20 in 2008 Washington (Source: wikipedia commons)

G20 in 2014 (Source: official picture at flickr)

G20 in 2014 in Brisbane (Source: official picture at flickr)

A strong undercurrent of religion

This weblog doesn’t look at crucial details only but also takes the long view.  For example the site of Gunung Panang of 14,000 BC before the end of the last Ice Age at about 11,000 BC, causes a natural distance from the hustle and bustle of the G20. The big hall and the social judgement by the G20 over president Putin remind us of the Egyptian Hall of Maat, the goddess of Truth, who measured your soul on the scales – still our symbol of Justice – and who may be related to the Gospel of Matthew. See plate XI of p113 of The Egyptian Book of the Death, 1905, by P. Le Page Renouf. I consider this picture one of the important ones that have been recovered from Egyptian history.

P. Le Page Renouf, The Egyptian Book of the Death, 1905, plate XI p113 (Source: archive.org)

P. Le Page Renouf, The Egyptian Book of the Death, 1905, plate XI p113 (Source: archive.org)

When you die the god Osiris oversees judgement. Your soul is balanced with a feather. When you are too heavy with sin, then you are sent back to life as a pig – which explains why pig meat is not considered kosher / halal. Ages before Christ, Osiris already has the mitre and staff of bishops of the Church of Rome. He is already assisted by other gods in the pantheon – who we now see as Black Peter in the (Dutch) celebration of Sint Nicholas. One of the Black Peters carries St. Nicholas’s big red Book that records how the kids have been behaving and whether they deserve presents or punishment. This is the folklore remnant of the Egyptian god Thoth, who recorded above session on the judgement of your soul and who of course had his papyrus archive covering your life. More about these origins are in my book The simple mathematics of Jesus (2012).

Santa Claus and Black Peter

Last year, almost to the day, I reported about the debate in Holland about Santa Claus and his black helpers, who remind many people of the Dutch colonies and slavery. Holland had conditions that were close to slavery also for white people still around the 1900s, notably in de “veenkoloniën”. But the issue of racism apparently has stronger roots to linger on.

The debate is rather confusing, since Osiris / Wodan / Santa goes back to neolithical times. The Black Pete are the other gods in the Egyptian pantheon. The Black Pete are the ghosts of the night who eat the Sun and who have to be scared away with a lot of noise – nowadays firecrackers. Tony van Renterghem is the proper reference for the book. Arnold-Jan Scheer has a very amusing video of the original fertility rites all across Europe with the beating up of nubile women.

Carol Myers (spouse of David Myers mentioned above) runs a website on Saint Nicholas, from Holland, Michigan. I always wondered when this present site of Boycott Holland (the country) would meet with the city of Holland in Michigan, but apparently here is the connection. Carol Myers doesn’t buy into the pagan origins of Saint Nicolas. Pre-islam Egyptians would argue that she doesn’t respect the theological reverence of those ancestors for the supernatural.

Slavery is horrible of course, and the West has something to account for. One point however is that Santa Claus in Holland got culturally entangled with black servants from Suriname, and this is causing needless hardship for kids in Holland who want to celebrate Santa Claus. White kids can do name-calling of non-white kids by calling them ‘black pete’, and then a celebration for kids turns into a nightmare for some kids.

Last weekend, while president Putin of Russia was suffering the disrespect of the G20, the mayor of Gouda – where you get your cheese from – incarcerated 90 people over a protest pro and contra Black Pete. The national TV broadcast is here. I selected some scenes.

Recognize Osiris with his hat and shepherd staff.

TV broadcast Saint Nicholas in Gouda, November 15 2014 (Source: NOS screenshot)

TV broadcast of Saint Nicholas in Gouda, November 15 2014 (Source: NOS screenshot)

The helpers of Osiris (with some novelties, like a yellow “Cheese Pete”).

Distant helpers of Osiris in Gouda, November 15 2014 (Source: NOS screenshot)

Distant helpers of Osiris in Gouda, November 15 2014 (Source: NOS screenshot)

Protests against racism, November 15 2014 (Source: NOS screenshot)

Protests against racism, November 15 2014 (Source: NOS screenshot)

Protests against racism (2), November 15 2014 (Source: NOS screenshot)

Protests against racism (2), November 15 2014 (Source: NOS screenshot)

The arrest of the protesters and the anti-protesters.

90 Arrests of protesters and anti-protesters, November 15 2014 (Source: NOS screenshot)

90 Arrests of protesters and anti-protesters, November 15 2014 (Source: NOS screenshot)

The mayor of Gouda might have decided that the protest should be heard, but he decided to another location where it would not be heard by the people who are affected. He decided that merely voicing the different opinion would amount to a disturbance of the public order. His background is the “Party for freedom and democracy” (VVD). Apparently “freedom” means the freedom to put your head in the sand and forget about the history of colonialism and slavery, and the current discrimination that black kids may be subjected to. When the protesters didn’t agree with his closed mind, he got them arrested. Afterwards, he made a phone-call with Vladimir Putin asking whether he couldn’t become mayor of Mariupol of Kharkiv.

Mayor of Gouda defends the arrests, November 15 2014 (Source: NOS screenshot)

Mayor of Gouda defends the arrests, November 15 2014 (Source: NOS screenshot)

The NOS TV team also asked Prime Minister Mark Rutte on the arrests. As you might recall, Rutte in 2010-2012 ran a “minority cabinet” with political support from Geert Wilders, where the term “minority cabinet” is a political phrase to hide the truth that the cabinet relied on the support from Geert Wilders. How else are 50% + 1 majorities created ? While Rutte is in favour of such political “minorities” he is less in favour of true minorities in Dutch society. Rutte lied on camera that Santa Claus is only intended as a celebration for children. He neglected the racism in the issue and he neglected that he has failed miserably in managing the issue.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte on the arrests, November 15 2014 (Source: NOS screenshot)

Prime Minister Mark Rutte on the arrests, November 15 2014 (Source: NOS screenshot)

Some more information is here. To repeat: the point is that white Dutch (children) may make fun of non-white Dutch (children) by calling them “Black Pete”, and this phenomenon is so ingrained that it is better to adapt the appearance and name of that character.

Conclusion

A point in economics is that everything hangs together. We have seen that people can abuse each other, as the G20 might do against Vladimir Putin, but Putin against the Ukraineans, the Dutch against the minorities, and the minorities against the Dutch (without racist intentions), the mayor of Gouda against his protesters, and so on. A stable figure is Osiris / Wodan / Santa Claus and his helpers. It would be very interesting what the archeology of Gunung Padang would recover. Perhaps such findings might help mankind to focus on more fundamental questions than the “us versus them” psychology.

Addendum November 18

I had never realized this: England too has its morris dancers with black-up faces – where “morris” derives from “moorish”, but my impression is that such black-ups already existed ages earlier, and people only adapted to the arrival of the moorish fashion. Some festivities also have the hobby horse reminiscent of Wodan on Sleipnir. I saw this after the report that David Cameron went on a picture with some morris dancers, see here and here. So I join Adrian Hart on the point that we shouldn’t call things racist that aren’t, but I propose: (1) to tackle unemployment and poverty, see the About page, and (2) adapt Santa Claus and Black Pete since those are so omnipresent that it is close to impossible to avoid some kids getting hurt by abuse and stereotyping. Changing this is an extremely simple thing to do so why not ?

The Tourist Office of Greece has a video with a shot of the Milky Way, but shown from Australia, and one can hardly blame them, since it is a fantastic panorama. They are criticised that Australia isn’t quite in Greece, but there are a lot of Greek people in Australia, and, with modern education and wikipedia one would suppose that tourists know where you can see the Milky Way.

More of a problem is that Vladimir Putin is in Australia attending the G20, and is being criticised on the Ukraine as well. Putin belongs to the Orthodox Greek – Russian Church, and it is strange that he doesn’t defend Greece and Cyprus against the austerity programme imposed by Western Europe (a.k.a. Germany). Russia was already evicted from the G7, which was a disgrace to international diplomacy. Now similar social dynamics might happen to the G20. A bit of star-gazing might help the G20 to get a sense of perspective.

The Milky Way (Source: Screenshot of Greek Tourism video)

The Milky Way seen in Australia (Source: screenshot of Greek Tourism video)

In the mean time, the Acropolis still is in Athens.

Acropolis (Source: Screenshot of Greek Tourism video)

Acropolis (Source: screenshot of Greek Tourism video)

And the island of Thira (Santorini) remains magnificent – likely with the vulcano eruption that caused the Biblical plagues in Egypt.

The greek island of Thira (Source: Screenshot of Greek Tourism video)

The Greek island of Thira (Source: screenshot of Greek Tourism video)

Wim Duisenberg (1935-2005) was popular in Holland with his J.F. Kennedy looks, as minister of Finance in 1973-1977, then President of the Dutch Central Bank 1982-1997, and then the first President of the European Central Bank 1998-2003.

He is remembered in Holland with a bronze in his birthplace of Heerenveen in Friesland, with his name attached to the building of the Economics Faculty of Groningen University where he studied and presented his thesis, and then in Amsterdam, where he lectured as professor, with the Wim Duisenberg School of Finance, a school that claims to train for leaders in Europe.

Let us look at the ravage.

Wim Duisenberg speaking in Dutch Parliament 1975 (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Wim Duisenberg speaking in Dutch Parliament 1975 (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

First error: The euro, with a monetary union (EMU) without a political union (EPU)

September 30 1991 is on record as:

BLACK MONDAY has become synonymous with a meeting of European Communities ministers of foreign affairs on 30 September 1991. At this meeting an ambitious draft of a potential treaty on political union submitted by the Dutch presidency as part of the deliberations of the intergovernmental conference charged with drawing up the Treaty on European Union (TEU) was rejected by almost all other national delegations. Only Belgium accepted the draft. This was an embarrassing rebuke to the Netherlands and to the most enthusiastic supporters of deeper integration. The dismissal of this Dutch text and of its efforts to promote a unitary structure for the European Union essentially paved the way for the pillar structure that was enshrined in the TEU at Maastricht in December 1991. (David Phinnemore & Lee McGowan, A dictionary of the European Union, Routledge, 2nd edition 2004. Dutch readers can watch this documentary of the NPO history channel.)

Duisenberg had been working hard to create an EMU with that EPU. Textbooks in economics show that money cannot exist without the political framework. Non-economists can see it now in the Depression in Southern Europe and the miserable state of bank, sovereign and private debt, and in the worry by creditors whether this debt has any quality. Still, Germany and France were not willing to accept the EPU. Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand had agreed only on the EMU as a favour to France in return for its support of German re-unification. See the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago.

When this EMU without EPU was politically agreed upon, Duisenberg should have protested, as he was the independent monetary authority, and have shown that he was serious by raising interest rates on the Dutch Guilder to show the increased uncertainty. Later on, when Bernard Connolly at the EU Commission wrote The rotten heart of Europe in 1995, and was dismissed for speaking his mind, Duisenberg should also have protested that government bodies should not infringe upon freedom of speech. Instead, Duisenberg accepted the political manipulation and let himself be chosen as the first President of the ECB.

Duisenberg presents the euro (Source: cpb.nl)

Duisenberg presents the euro (Source: cpb.nl)

You may listen to the Nobel lecture on December 8 2011 by Thomas J. Sargent, on the US experience with monetary union in 1780-1840, that he explicitly relates to the current EU situation. Less polished is the presentation by Luigi Zingales of December 10 2013 at BFI in Chicago, but with the advantage that we can compare to his September 2014 survey Monnet’s error? on sentiments in the EU about the state of the union.

Do partial steps toward European integration generate support for further steps or do they create a political backlash? We try to answer this question by analyzing the cross sectional and time series variation in pro-European sentiments in the EU 15 countries. The two major steps forward (the 1992 Maastricht Treaty and the 2004 enlargement) seem to have reduced the pro-Europe sentiment as does the 2010 Eurozone crisis. Yet, in spite of the worst recession in recent history, the Europeans still support the common currency. Europe seems trapped in catch-22: there is no desire to go backward, no interest in going forward, but it is economically unsustainable to stay still. (Luigi Guiso, Paola Sapienza, Luigi Zingales, 2014)

My suggestion is that each nation adopts its own Economic Supreme Court (ESC), based in science (RES Newsletter, October 2014). These ESCs will tend to exchange information, which enhances world governance. For the EU it could provide a missing link for the theory of the optimal currency area, see the paper Money as gold versus money as water (2013). This suggestion presumes that countries have learned from Duisenberg’s error of neglecting economic science (at critical points). See the paper Cause and cure of the crisis (2014).

Second error: Natural gas and the earthquakes in Groningen

The province of Groningen where Duisenberg studied appeared to contain the originally largest natural gas resources of Western Europe. The exploitation since 1963 caused the economic phenomenon of the Dutch disease. A slowdown of current exploitation is less likely now that Europe needs all its resources in case that Vladimir Putin would employ his “gas weapon” these coming winters.

Duisenberg could have realized as Finance minister that exploitation of such huge resources would cause a lowering of the Groningen soil. It is a no-brainer. He could have made sure that there would be independent research in the geophysics of extraction and soil behaviour, to provide for warnings when extraction was too much. He didn’t, and left such research to the exploiting company. Now, the province suffers serious earthquakes, see this BBC report. The last quake measures officially 2.8 on the Richter scale, but, since the sub-soil center is relatively close to the surface, the impact is larger than for common quakes of that scale deeper down. Thus proper comparison requires a surface-Richter. Dutch homes also aren’t built for earthquakes and they get damaged rather easily.

Soccer player Arjen Robben comes from the village of Bedum in that area, and novelist Frank Westerman curiously calls on Robben to become “the people’s ambassador”, as his voice would be heard supposedly better than those of the aggrieved Groningers. I have a hard time imagining Robben visiting Putin and asking whether he can keep the natural gas flowing to Western Europe and the Ukraine, so that the earthquakes in Groningen may be reduced. And would we want to insult the Russian people and make Putin more popular by not having the 2018 World Cup in Russia ?

Who is the better soccer player ? (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Who has better control over the ball ? (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Another novelist, the late Willem Frederik Hermans (1921-1995), would however think that the Groningers just get what they deserve. He was a lecturer at Groningen University in physical geography in 1958-1973, and could have warned about the effects of natural gas extraction, and he could have done so with much success since he was an acclaimed writer and sharp critic. However, his success caused some people in 1972 to slander that he spent more time on writing his books than on his lectures and grading his students. A committee cleared him from the accusations, but the university had done little to defend and clear him, the slanderers were not reprimanded, and Hermans was also given other work than he was hired for. In 1973 he quit and left Groningen in disgust. The university has never been willing to acknowledge that they had treated him badly, while it is obvious that they have.

This slander reminds of that one wielded against professor W.F.P. Fortuyn, who was eventually vilified so much, also by leading politicians like prime minister Wim Kok and minister Ad Melkert (later at the World Bank and UNDP and Iraq, and candidate for ILO), that an animal rights maniak got the idea to murder him in 2002. Dutch readers are advised to consider this book that calls for a parliamentary enquiry into the role of slander in Dutch society. For economic thought there is reason to speak about the Dutch Mental Disease.

Third error: Lowering tax exemption and creating the tax void

Duisenberg’s term as minister of Finance in 1973-1977 occurred at a crucial point in time in the first years of the Great Stagflation of 1970-now.

The earlier government had already concluded that tax exemption was too low and had to be raised, since the purpose of exemption is to allow for a decent income for workers with the lowest wages. Already in 1889 the tax theorist Cohen Stuart gave the analogy of a bridge, that it first has to support its own weight before it can carry a load. Duisenberg however went along with a new policy: “that the social minimum had been raised sufficiently so that it also could contain some taxes” (which is a rough translation of a government quote). This effectively creates a tax void under the minimum wage, raises the gross minimum, causes more unemployment and contributes to stagflation.

How this exactly works, is explained in my book DRGTPE and supporting articles, see the About page.

Instead of solving the problem then and there, Duisenberg aggravated it, went along with a silly rationale, and helped cover it in bureaucratic jargon so that others would not easily spot it. While I started studying econometrics in September 1973, it took me till 1989/90 to grow aware where the structural unemployment in Holland came from. And actually the world. The 1986 OECD study, An empirical analysis of changes in personal income taxes, occurred during Duisenberg’s term as DNB President, and reports that there is an international agreement that tax parameters are adjusted for inflation. But the social minimum rises because of human social psychology with both inflation and the general level in welfare. Duisenberg should have been aware of it, but didn’t buck the trend.

A collapsed bridge (Minneapolis 2007, Source Wikimedia Commons)

A collapsed bridge (Minneapolis 2007, Source Wikimedia Commons)

Today it is 25 years ago that the Berlin Wall fell. The issue is not without consequences for economic thought too.

One of the tv reports showed a message “Mut zur Freiheit” – the courage to be free. It is so easy nowadays to become a bit cynical about such texts but this statement is on the mark.

I did not watch all tv reports but I did not see Helmut Kohl and that felt off the mark. The greatest hero is Gorbachev. Remarkably, he relayed much of the Putin line and the threat of a new cold war. This reminds me of my earlier weblog on the European theatre.

Mikhail Gorbachev in Berlin at the Brandenburger Tor, November 9 2014 (Screenshot NOS tv)

Mikhail Gorbachev in Berlin at the Brandenburger Tor, November 9 2014 (Screenshot NOS tv)

The current economic crisis has a clear relation to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989: see this link. And see here for the Versailles effect on Russia.

But for now: gratuliere.