Western Europe

Can Bidzina Ivanishivil wrest power from President Mikheil Saakashvili next week?

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I’ve been enjoying Niall Ferguson’s new PBS series on the rise of civilization in Western Europe. One of the many lessons is that other societies—like China and the Ottoman Empire—were seemingly well positioned to lead the world into an industrial revolution, but at key points, their leaders rejected scholarship, scientific inquiry, and trade, while, haltingly, those things began to flourish in Western Europe, its universities, and its chartered commercial and learning institutions, like the Royal Society of London.

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The Mobility Myth

When Americans express indifference about the problem of unequal incomes, it’s usually because they see the United States as a land of boundless opportunity. Sure, you’ll hear it said, our country has pretty big income disparities compared with Western Europe. And sure, those disparities have been widening in recent decades. But stark economic inequality is the price we pay for living in a dynamic economy with avenues to advancement that the class-bound Old World can only dream about.

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The Experiment

In August 2008, a week before Barack Obama went to Denver to collect his nomination, Steven Chu stepped onto a stage in the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’s Cox Pavilion. The 60-year-old physicist was a towering presence in his field, a Nobel Prize winner and the director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. But he was largely unknown to the Washington-centric crowd of several hundred, in town for a clean energy conference co-hosted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Center for American Progress (CAP) Action Fund.

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Yesterday, the World Bank released a new less optimistic forecast for global growth in 2012. It warrants a look back at the year that just passed. 2011 was marked by slower growth in both developed and developing countries. The protests of Arab Spring, Japan’s catastrophic earthquake, and the Eurozone’s debt problems contributed to slower growth around the world. But in the midst of a sluggish uneven recovery, a new economic order is being built, one that has major implications for U.S.

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Is Inequality Necessary?

My friend Charles Lane, former editor of the New Republic and now a Washington Post editorialist, didn't like President Obama's speech about income inequality ("Obama's Simplistic View of Income Inequality"). What Obama fails to grasp, Lane writes, is that there's a trade-off between economic growth and economic redistribution. He cites in support of this point the late Yale economist Arthur Okun's book Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff, published in 1975, in which Okun argues that at some point economic redistribution undermines economic growth.

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When last we heard from Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wisc.) on the topic of income inequality, he was claiming, incorrectly, that the United States redeems its disproportionate income inequality, relative to western Europe, by offering greater equality of opportunity. Whoops!

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The most honest conservative commentary I've seen lately on the topic of income inequality was Matthew Continetti's "About Inequality" in the Nov. 14 Weekly Standard. The usual conservative approach to income inequality (besides simply ignoring it) is to try to argue that it doesn't really exist, or to argue that if it does exist, it's mooted by upward mobility, or to argue that it's good for you. The trouble with these responses is that they're in conflict with the facts. Income inequality has been growing for 32 years, upward mobility in the U.S.

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Off Key

When Dr. Tom Walsh decided to start an opera festival in Wexford in 1951, the idea seemed not so much whimsical as absurd. Here was a small town on the far southeast coast of Ireland, not particularly accessible even from Dublin. The Irish had always put their genius into words, not music, and the country had little musical tradition to speak of. But Dr. Tom made it happen. Wexford born and bred, a family doctor and then hospital anesthetist, he was a courteous and charming man, an unostentatiously devout Catholic, and the opera nut to end them all.

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The Heritage Heresy

Overshadowed by the immigration rumble between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry in the Las Vegas debate was a string of statements that sounded awfully heretical -- a sign, perhaps, that economic anxiety and even the Occupy Wall Street protests are poking ever the tiniest holes in the bubble of GOP orthodoxy. First, there was Rick Santorum noting for the second straight debate that western Europe now has higher rates of upward mobility than the land of Horatio Alger -- and this time he didn't even blame this on Barack Obama.

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