Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Beatroot’s Pole of the Year

Yes, it’s that time of the year, when magazines, TV programmes, and blogs, name the person most unforgettable in 2008.

Normally, when editors, etc, name their person of the year people agree or disagree and then that’s the end of it. When Time magazine named “You”, as their person of the year - titter, titter - there was some derision, but nobody was sacked, nobody died, and wars they broke out, not.

Well, not, that is, unless you are the award show shown on TVP this November, the annual Roze Gali (Gala Roses) that is. The event was sponsored by Gala magazine - Polish Hello-type drivel - one of those excruciatingly awful rags, full of beautiful celebrities showing us their beautiful wives/husbands/children/homes/pet parrots/white teeth, all in glorious photographic yukky-colour.

The award show was proceeding as award shows usually do - full of beautiful celebs thanking other beautiful celebs for being such beautiful celebs. So far, so beautiful.

And then…oh, dear! The award for Most Beautiful Couple - it’s true, they have such a category (pass the bucket when you are finished with it) - was given to film critic and journalist Tomasz Raczek and his partner, graphic designer, journalist and writer…Marcin Szczygielski!

Aaaarrgh! Gurgle.

A gay couple gets award for most beautiful couple on public television award show shock!

Cue scandal and outrage by the lay governing board which oversees TVP and full of nominees fromLaw and Justice, League of Polish Families and the Self defence party. Yes, you thought the Fourth Republic government was given the boot by voters over a year ago. But no. This coalition - a fractious coalition, as always - still controls large parts of public media. And the terms of these governing bodies, like the umbrella watchdog and controller the Radio and Television Council, overlap and outlast terms of government.

So conflict is actually built in to the Polish Constitution.

And folk scratch their heads wondering why there is so much chaos in Polish governance!

Anyway, back at TVP, the program makers claimed that Gala magazine had kept from them that a gay relationship was going to be endorsed by Polish public TV. The Board of Directors (who are in day-today control of the all the public television stations) was sacked, for this and other alleged incompetence. A new board was hastily put in place.

But the old board said that their dismissal was unconstitutional and refused to stand down and are still trying to administer cash-strapped TVP.

You have to feel sorry for TVP. Chaos as usual. And its financial situation is dire - people have all but given up paying the licence fee after Donald Tusk announced he wants to ditch it and fund the place via direct taxation, at the same time arguing that public TV has got to be de-politicised! Um…

So, the choice of Most/Best person/couple thing is not without its dangers, its consequences. But who to choose for Beatroot’s Most Unforgettable Pole of the Year?

It’s got to be one of the world's top goalkeepers, Our Artur Boruc.

Not for what he does in goal - he’s good but inconsistent. He has trouble concentrating, you see, probably since he started getting death threats after he was photographed in Warsaw with a new chick - ex-gangland moll, allegedly - getting pissed when he was on the injury list at Glasgow Celtic and only days after his wife and kid left him and headed back to Poland. That’s one beautiful couple who will no longer be gracing the glossy pages of Gala magazine.

But Boruc’s main talent is for winding people up and, being a favourite trait of this blog’s, then for that the Beatroot nominates him for Pole of the Year.

But then again, you might disagree…


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Y'mean the Holy Goalie ain't really all that holy?

Have a happy and peaceful holiday all.

Anonymous said...

Wishing you all a Mary Christmas and a very happy New Year

Anonymous said...

The terms of office of the people in and around TVP do not coincide with those of general elections in order to protect them from political heave-hoes every time the other side wins. It's funny how depoliticising a given job is always a good thing unless the politics being taken out of the job are those of the ruling classes.

On a more serious note than Poland's light entertainment (very light on entertainment), there is the matter of the head of their national bank, which deals with such trivialities of no concern to you and me or our elected representatives as interest rates. This banker is entirely independent of the government which - for some reason I can never remember - is considered a Good Thing. The current head honcho is a guy called Skrzypek and so independent of the government is he that he appears not to favour Poland accepting the euro as its currency. You can imagine how this show of defiance is going down with the technocrats who seem to have just assumed that "independent" meant "independently agreeing with us." But after making your bed you get to lie in it...

beatroot said...

Merry Xmas everyone.

This banker is entirely independent of the government which - for some reason I can never remember - is considered a Good Thing.

This is a point I make all the time - When New Labour came to power in the UK in 1997 the first thing the then finance minister - Gordon Brown, no less - did was give much of his power over monetary policy away to an independent monetary policy council within the Bank of England. Everyone thought he was a genius, but I never understood why. Surly monetary policy is a political as well as economic policy area, so why can’t elected representatives have a say in setting interest rates, etc etc?

And the fact that central banks have had this scale of independence can be linked to the current finance crisis and the way economics is seen. Central banks have been obsessed with inflation, above all else, and they have tended to keep rates as low as possible - in all conditions - as a result. And economics, once removed from the political arena, is seen as merely a technical issue. And it’s not.

So I take your point, Henryk.

Elected politicians - who at least are answerable to the people who voted for them - should have more say in setting rates, etc. Economics is a political issue.

Anonymous said...

No doubt apologists will find some way of exculpating central banks from the mess we're in. I've seen little enough mention of them in the blame game.

beatroot said...

Well, Greenspan - who is typical of the genre! - has got quite a bashing lately and has been doing Chinese style self criticisms…


And Prospect magazine has an interesting article on this and the influence of Milton Friedman on central bankers…


Anonymous said...

i will call it a super blog.

beatroot said...

Why is that sentence in the future tense?

Anonymous said...

I forgot about Greenspan. Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine" does a number on Friedman.

beatroot said...

I just read it, Henryk!...will do post on that Sunday...it's an interesting book, but...:-)

YouNotSneaky! said...

Happy Holidays and New Year.


"This banker is entirely independent of the government which - for some reason I can never remember - is considered a Good Thing.

This is a point I make all the time"

And you're wrong every time.

First, there's plenty of good theoretical reasons why the conduct of monetary policy should be isolated from political pressures. The main one being that politicians usually can't/don't have incentive to look past the next upcoming election. But the whole art of monetary policy is a trade off between the long run and the short run. You can create an artificial economic boom in the short run (say, by cutting interest rates after a dot come bubble pops) but at the expanse of eventual trouble (say, a housing bubble and a subsequent financial crisis). So incumbent politicians have a very strong incentive to inflate the economy right before an election and then worry about the bad consequences later. Second, and relatedly, every democracy does not do everything democratically. There are good reasons, for example, for much of the judicial system to be insulated from the vox populi. Supreme Court justices do not get elected, and they are appointed for life. And yes, this is a good thing since otherwise, rather than applying and interpreting the law, the justices would create law (due to political and popular pressure) which is the province of the legislative branch. Separation of powers IS a good thing and this, just like an independent central bank, is a manifestation of this principle.
(Of course, SC justices DO in fact overstep their roles often enough, just like central bankers *cough* Greenspan *cough* sometimes end up playing politics. But these kinds of abuses would be even greater otherwise).
There are also some more nuanced reasons for why central bank independence is a good idea, having to do with credibility, time consistency and expectations but I wanna keep this sort of short so I'll skip'em.

But even if the theoretical arguments do not convince you, there's plenty of real world evidence in favor of central bank independence.

First, the "political business cycle" I mention above - politicians inflating the economy right before elections and then trouble later - is a pretty well documented phenomenon in countries where the politicians do get a say in how to set interest rates. Even in a country with a pretty independent CB like the US you can still see some of it (main examples being Arthur Burns under Nixon and to some extend Greenspan) - though it is nowhere near as pronounced as in places where the elected officials gets to decide what the interest rate should be.
The end result of this - and again, this is very well supported by data - is that countries without independent central banks have much more volatile economies than countries with. In fact, part of the reason why Poland has done pretty in the past 15 yrs compared to other post-communist countries is precisely because even though idiotic, corrupt, and fractitious governments came and went, monetary policy remained responsible and stable.

But say you don't care about volatility. Up, down, who cares if it evens out in the end? Well, higher volatility usually drags down the long term growth rate. You can take the inflation rate for various countries and put it on the y-axis, and take the degree of central bank independence and put it on the x-axis (with say, independence increasing as you go right) and you get a very strong negative relationship. More independence means much less inflation. Same thing if you replace inflation with volatility of inflation. And perhaps more importantly, you get a positive relationship if you put the growth rate of economy on the y-axis. More central bank independence means higher economic growth.

Again, this is just numbers from the real world, which should convince even if abstract arguments don't.

Of course this doesn't mean that having an independent central bank guarantees well conducted monetary policy and good economic performance. After all, it's still carried out by humans who make mistakes. But it does make it better than when politicians get in the game.

And Namoi Klein's a freakin' idiot and her book sucks.

beatroot said...

The main one being that politicians usually can't/don't have incentive to look past the next upcoming election.

That’s not an argument against having a political consideration in economic policy, that’s just a criticism of the short termist politics that this technocratic approach to finance policy has helped produce.

You talk about trade offs, and that’s what I think I mean. There are different economic interests within societies, and they should be represented politically; and there are long term goals which are political, too. Greens! Now there is a real trade off! Save planet by knitting your own table cloth and recycling your pet hamster. Lose growth for eco-buddiness.

But at least that is a political argument which would involve economic choices. So monetary policy should be one of the tools to realise political goals from people who are answerable to US.

SilverMaT - Amber Design said...

this is shock...

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