Opinion

Nicholas Wapshott

Where is Ukraine’s Lech Walesa?

Nicholas Wapshott
Feb 24, 2014 20:05 UTC

The popular pro-Western revolution in Ukraine that has deposed pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich is part of a far wider and longer historical tug-of-love between the West and Russia.

Who is chosen to succeed Yanukovich will decide whether it is possible to forge a permanent Ukrainian settlement that will satisfy both the European Union and Russia. The prospect right now looks bleak.

As candidates start lining up for the elections slated for May, no one has emerged with the suitable stature, political sophistication, public integrity and plain honesty needed to put to rest a lingering dispute about national identity that has cast a long shadow over the politics of Europe. Tensions between Russia and the Western European powers, particularly Germany, France and Britain, have been rumbling for centuries.

The Western nations have long viewed Russia as a nation of barely house-trained thugs and drunkards, clinging to the edge of the civilized world. Russians, meanwhile, think of Europe as starting at the Urals and rolling westward — with Moscow undeniably a European city. Mikhail Gorbachev, whose attempts at reforming Marxism-Leninism failed to keep the Soviet Union together, always put Western nerves on edge when he spoke fondly of Russia’s “common European home.”

The nature of this East-West divide was disguised after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia, as the cultural chasm was redefined as ideological. From the time of Vladimir Lenin’s October Revolution in St. Petersburg, which ended the reign of the despotic tsars for good, until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the West has thought of Russia as communist first and Russian second.

Comcast: How to win at monopoly

Nicholas Wapshott
Feb 18, 2014 17:51 UTC

The proposed merger between the cable television interests of Time Warner Cable and its principal rival, Comcast, demonstrates a neat example of how the theory of the free market differs so radically from the marketplace in practice.

In the storybook version of how business works, companies compete for customers by offering rival services and the company with the best products and prices wins. In this fairytale, everyone wins. Customers benefit from competition through a better choice of products and cheaper prices, the good companies take a handsome profit and prosper, and the bad companies go to the wall.

In real life, this heroic version of how the world spins is far less noble. In the mythical version of the free market, companies fiercely compete with each other for market share by trying to outdo each other in pleasing customers. In reality, companies tend to forego the difficult and expensive art of wooing customers from a rival and resort to buying the competition. Buying business is far easier than earning it.

Why you should ignore the latest attack on Obamacare

Nicholas Wapshott
Feb 10, 2014 22:17 UTC

The debate around the Affordable Care Act has been mired in muddle and misinformation from the start. The latest example of deliberate obfuscation by universal healthcare’s opponents comes with publication of the Congressional Budget Office’s latest glimpse into the future, “The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024.”

All economic forecasting comes with a health warning — peering into the future is as riven with unforeseen danger as any other science fiction. The CBO, however, offers a cool-headed attempt to equip lawmakers and government officials with an estimate of how the economy may perform in the years ahead. It is not intended to back one side of the Obamacare debate over the other.

The section that caused all the fuss is Appendix C, “Labor Market Effects of the Affordable Care Act: Updated Estimates.” The key finding tripped headlines screaming “ObamaCare could lead to loss of nearly 2.3 million US jobs” (Fox News) and caused the Wall Street Journal to dub the ACA “The Jobless Care Act.”

On jobs: Be bold, Obama

Nicholas Wapshott
Feb 3, 2014 18:42 UTC

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union was all about jobs. He said the word 23 times, often congratulating himself on having helped create 4 million. He urged a “year of action” to make more jobs, raise wages and create opportunities for social mobility. Then he set out on a jobs tour to persuade large companies to start hiring and pay more.

But if we assume the Tea Party-dominated House of Representatives is not going to help him here and will block any new public borrowing for infrastructure projects, what is the president to do?

Perhaps he needs to do little. The economy is slowly growing, with the number of new jobs increasing at roughly 200,000 a month, and the number of out of work Americans has been falling. The unemployment rate — using the latest figures, from December 2013 — shows unemployment at 6.7 percent, lower than at any time since October 2008. At its most severe, in October 2009, one in 10 Americans was out of a job.

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