31 August 2006

Grauniad Commissions Crap

Croydonian alerted me to a terrible article in the Grauniad. I don't like doing long pieces but this article was full of c*** so I had to nitpick.

Blinded by the cold war - Neil Clark Tuesday August 29, 2006 The Guardian

We can no longer deny the link between the eastern Europe exodus and economic 'reform'

Who's we? Is Mr Clark a xenophobe?

As the entry of Bulgaria and Romania into the European Union edges closer, condescension towards eastern Europeans and their countries of origin grows into a crescendo.

Condescension growing into a crescendo!?!!!

The double standards could not be more glaring.


Both Bulgaria and Romania are routinely portrayed as backward, mafia-ridden hell-holes that will infect the rest of the continent come January 1. But is the political system in either country so much more corrupt than in Berlusconi-tainted Italy or cash-for-honours Britain?

You ask the questions... Independent research in this field says the answer is yes and yes. Romania is placed 85th just behind Rwanda and Lebanon who are tied in 83rd. UK is 11th. By the way, whilst I agree it stinks, nobody has been convicted of selling honours in Britain. Neil should be careful throwing such charges about.

We can also witness this unappealing chauvinism in the way eastern European migration is covered in the tabloid press.

Ahh... so you've answered your own question differently. Any basis for that?

Eastern Europeans are castigated for flooding into Britain,

Never heard of that at all! This isn't the experience of new EU migrants. What are you talking about?

yet very few people stop to ask why so many people (427,000 have left for Britain since 2004) are leaving the region

No I think that does happen. Are you just making this up? Also, that figure is very specific. It's also low.

where they grew up and have friends and family.

very emotive, but they are hardly cutting all ties with home.

On the rare occasions they do, the "pernicious legacy" of 40 years of communism is usually held responsible.

This is the main reason that they are poorer in general. It might be useful to compare East and West Germany in the post-war period if Neil remains unsure.

But communist rule ended more than 16 years ago - can it really still be blamed for the problems of today?

Anyone over 30 grew up under Communism. It's hardly ancient history. Western employers often comment that they can't employ anyone over 35 because of their old mindset.

What the people of the region are in fact escaping from are the consequences of the neoliberal economic policies of the early 90s, which led to what economist Laszlo Andor has called "Europe's great depression", the biggest economic slump in the continent since the 30s.

Most of these countries are pursuing much more "neoliberal" policies now than in the early 90s.

Away from the glitzy, globalised centres of Budapest, Prague and Warsaw, millions face poverty and hardship in the former communist bloc. GDP in the region fell between 20% and 40% in the decade after 1989,

Factually incorrect and poor, poor, poor analysis. Does this man not "get" the concept of hidden unemployment/wasteful production and how that artificially boosted GDP pre 1989? End of communism leads to price liberalisation leads to reduction in wasteful output leads to short-term (recorded) GDP falls. By 1993 the initial (inevitable) GDP dips had ended and signs of strong growth were seen in all countries which had taken reform seriously.

and, while a minority have seen real wages rise since the millennium, for the majority the "transition" process has witnessed a spectacular fall in living standards and a massive rise in unemployment and inequality.

Balderdash. I could do a whole separate piece on this.

Western politicians laud the countries of "new" Europe for their "dynamic, flat-rate tax" economies, but deny there is any link between the economic reforms and the massive exodus.

Certain right-wingers do laud these policies. More typical is the ex-German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, who accused Slovakia of unfair competition for "dumping" tax rates.

The condescension shown towards eastern European migrants is, in many ways, the real, lasting legacy of the cold war.

If that's it, then I suppose we'll live with it.

It is essential for western neoliberals to deny any achievements of the system that half of Europe lived under: hence the vogue for equating the 40 years of postwar eastern European socialism with the horrors of Nazi Germany.

It needn't - and shouldn't - have happened like this. Had the eastern countries not thrown out the baby with the bathwater in the early 90s by adopting the massively deflationary IMF/EU prescription, their economies would now be in better shape and much of the current wave of migration could have been avoided.

And it could have been avoided if they still shot people at the border. NB - the above analysis is also rubbish.

The large-scale labour exodus we are witnessing may benefit the CBI and western multinationals but certainly not most western workers, who are seeing their wage rates depressed.

Hang on, stop being so condescending.

But the biggest losers are the eastern countries, deprived of so many young, talented and productive people.

So whose fault is it again - the IMF, the EU, the migrants, us?

The irony is that far from being backward, eastern Europe, thanks to the residual effects of 40 years of socialism,

I think you mean Communism - you know food queues, secret police, shooting of dissidents.

still puts much of western Europe (particularly Britain) to shame when it comes to the quality of its education, public transport and healthcare. Children of the former socialist countries regularly come top of European studies of comparative education systems: in the latest International Maths Organisation competition, Bulgaria finished fifth, Hungary seventh and Romania 10th.

The people of the east have been bombarded by more than 15 years of relentless propaganda extolling the need for further "reforms" and "modernisation".

And then voted for those reforms!

The view that "west is best" and "there is no alternative", encouraged by political leaders with one eye on an EU commissioner's job or World Bank posting, has proved disastrous.

I think that most Eastern European politicians have one eye on their bank balance, but sure, hypothesise away.

In Britain we are told ad infinitum that "our way" is the best and the east irredeemably backward. Why, then, do we need to import railway engineers from Romania?

I remember meeting a Brit rail expert in Sofia in Bulgaria. Cuts both ways.

Why, if our dental system is so superb, are we flying out to use the services of Hungarian dentists?

Who said our system was superb? We don't train enough dentists. Cost of living in London is very high so of course people may go abroad for cheaper treatment.

And why are English teacher-training establishments showing videos of Hungarian maths classes?

I don't know either. Sounds like a strange thing to do.

The east-west divide and the xenophobia that accompanies it (sorry I just don't see this xenophobia) will only end when there is a more honest, balanced appraisal of the legacy of communism and an acknowledgment that despite the lack of political freedoms there were also solid achievements.

Look, there are simply big cultural and economic differences that will not be bridged even in the medium-term. His solution (acknowledgement that ...blah blah) is bilge. Can the correspondent also explain when and how the North-South divide in England will end?

At the same time, we need to recognise that the economic "reform" process has created far more problems than it has solved.

So back to Communism then?

Global capital and its political spokes-people will of course do all they can to ensure that neither happens.

Sense may also prevail.


Ellee Seymour said...

I met some Romanians on holiday, mainly croupiers and staff on my cruise ship, they were very keen to be disassociated from Communism and really want a Western life and freedom to enjoy what we all take for granted here. They were really lovely, but I also met a head teacher who works in orphanages over there and he told me about young girls being forced into prostitution, how he is trying to help by raising money to provide them with an education.

Croydonian said...

Good work. I've blogged it....

Anonymous said...

Neil Clark is a well known political headbanger - part of the "intellectual" diaspora of a Trotskyist sect of the 1980s called the Revolutionary Communist Party - whose ex-members now specialise in a bizarre range of journalistic and academic wind-ups, attacking Greens, denouncing everything as a moral panic (Frank Furedi) and defending the fag end of the nomenklatura in Eastern Europe (Miloservic, Lukasenka...) as part of the broader struggle against Globalization, Neo-Liberalism etc. Neil's work in the Guardian - and similar pieces by Seamus Milne - have helped make me a card carrying bourgeois liberal with strong pro-American sympathies.

Anonymous said...

Great job. I went to Poland in 1992 and over the last fifteen years have witnessed first the reform process in Central & Eastern Europe and now the development of the Russian economy.

Neil Clark is not talking out of the conventional orifice.

Pensioners have suffered from inflation and the the adjustment of currencies to market exchange rates and Russia had a major banking crisis which wiped out a generation's savings, but only the occasional headbanger would claim that life was better in the old days. Most people too old to benefit will say that "I am no better off, but this is good for my children and grandchildren"

The only area where he may have a point is education. Britain's system is more Marxist than any in the former Soviet Union. They may have practised mad politics and economics, but they understood the value of an educated cultured population. That's one reason they are now developing so strongly.

They also have the benefit of the Marxist academics having been laughed out of their Universities, whereas ours are still in their hands. My friends here can't believe there are still people like Clark, for whom their parents' and grandparents' sufferings in a 80 year experiment in non-market economics mean nothing. What a cretin.