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Entries in Europe (24)

Saturday
May062017

EU open day


EU Open Day at the Commission. Hayden met Captain Europe, but was somewhat dubious.

Every country had a booth. Hayden's favourite was the Netherlands.

Disgracefully, the UK didn't bother to turn up for Open Day.

Fortunately, the official UK negotiator realised the collosal mistake the UK was making, and formally made a plea to re-join the EU.

The Minister for Belgium nominated the UK to rejoin the EU

Seconded by Poland

And the UK is back in the EU! Crisis averted everyone!

Tuesday
Jul192016

Trump land

So we finally meet the elusive Trump voters, which clearly must exist but whom no-one seems to have met. In Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, a Trump voter gave us her opinion on Belgium and the EU:

Trump voter: “It’s a disaster, with Belgium ruling over Europe, telling them what to do”

James: “Actually, Belgium is a really small country and doesn’t have that much influence. It is just that the elected officials of each country meet in Brussels”

Trump voter: “Well, look at the mass exodus of people from Europe – it is a disaster”

James: “Huh? What mass exodus of people from Europe?”

Trump voter: “Millions of people are trying to escape Europe and come to America, and no one is trying to leave America, so clearly we are the best country in the world”

James: “Which country in Europe has millions of people fleeing it?”

Trump voter: “Syria. Europe is so bad that millions of people are leaving Syria and coming to America, and we need Christian morals in the presidency to stop them”

James: …

Then in Wyoming, we lunched in the Yankee Doodle Café, where everything was red, white and blue. The décor was pro-gun (“guns are welcome here!”, “21 reasons why a gun is better than a woman”) and anti-Obama (“only two people in history have had their own symbol, Hilter and Obama!”), and was a glimpse into the confused mind of someone who would be in an asylum in a more sane time and place. We ate our burgers and freedom fries and left in a hurry.

Wednesday
Nov192014

The European Union

The first time I entered the European Union was 10 years ago, when I landed in Helsinki. In the last 10 years I've had the pleasure of innumerable trips around the EU, as well as the experience of living in its capital, Brussels. With our last trip to Bucharest, I've now visited all 28 members states of the European Union. What an amazing place it is, with 500 million people in the single largest economy in the world. 24 official languages spanning an entire continent, with variation in geography to match those in culture. 10 years of travel has just given me the urge to see even more of the embarrassment of riches that is Europe, my home.

Sweden

Czech Republic

Poland

Lithuania

Bulgaria

Croatia

Greece

Austria

France

Ireland

United Kingdom

Belgium

Denmark

Italy

Germany

Malta

Crypus

The Netherlands

Spain

Luxembourg

Slovenia

Slovakia

Hungary

Finland

Latvia

Estonia

Portugal

Romania

Thursday
May292014

European election results - there was no "European earthquake"

Last weekend the EU had its election - the second largest democratic election in the world (after that of India). The results tend to be rather difficult to interpret, especially as the reporting focuses on the most sensational outcomes. So let's start by looking at the broad trends:

Conservative & economic liberal parties: These parties, on the centre-right of European politics, were the biggest losers of the EU election, dropping down from 414 seats to 338 seats. This is a nasty swing, moving from ~55% of parliament to ~45% of parliament, but overall they still constitute the largest political grouping, and will continue to have the largest say in the new EU parliament.

Socialist & green progressive parties: These parties, on the centre-left of European politics, were the unsung winners of the EU elections. They rose from 285 seats to 316 seats, an increase from 37% to 42% of parliament. This more than eliminates the losses they were inflicted at the last EU election (which were considered a disaster at the time). Of course, not losing as badly is not the same as winning, but there was a clear gain, and the progressives will likely be more influential in the new parliament, especially if the centre-right wants to distance itself from the far right.

Far-right crazies: These were the talk of the election, and if the media was to be believed Europe was going to experience a far-right tide (in relative terms, of course, most of these nutters would feel at home in the Republican party in America). The far-right did indeed steal votes from the centre-right, and increased from 67 seats to 97 seats (from 9% to 13% of parliament). But to put the EU results in a bit of perspective, the entire far-right surge in seats was due to only two parties - UKIP in the UK (up 12 seats) and the Front National in France (up 21 seats), and both of these were due to the losses on the right. Despite the large gains, expect the far-right to be ignored in the next parliament - their politicans don't have the skill to work behind the scenes and they don't have any incentive to actually get anything done. These parties only survive in opposition, so they will continue to act like it.


Ignoring the hype, what is the actual outcome of the EU election?

 

  • There is no "European earthquake". The left-right balance more or less reverted from the shift to the right in the last election. The vote turnout more or less stayed the same. There is an ongoing process of the major parties losing votes to smaller parties, but this is fractioning the existing ideological make-up, rather than representing a profound shift within Europe. The composition of the parliament that will actually work together is fairly similar to the last parliament, and even the one before that.
  • The centre-right is reaping what it sowed. For the past decade, the centre-right in certain European countries (UK, France, Italy) has played up populist racist messages in order to beat the centre-left. This was a successful short-term strategy, but it is now backfiring, as the hatred stirred up in voters has boiled over to the point where the far-right is now cannibalising off the centre-right (similar to the Tea Party in the US). In volatile Italy and Portugal, this exploded in the last EU election and has reverted to normal in this one. Hopefully we see the same in France, and the Front National becomes a one election wonder. The opposite of Italy is the situation in Poland and Hungary, which slid to the radical right last election and have stayed there. Unfortunately, I doubt we will see any centre-right wing parties learn from this lesson, and if anything I expect them to lean even more to the far-right.
  • Someone needs to make the case for Europe in the UK. In the UK, the last ten years have seen UKIP rise from nothing to being the largest British party in the EU parliament. Notably, the British only vote for UKIP in EU elections, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It is a good thing, because the British public clearly understand that UKIP are a bunch of incompetent crazies, good as a protest vote but not the type of people you'd put in charge of anything that mattered. Which brings us to the bad - the UK treats the EU elections as an appropriate venue for a meaningless protest vote. "Why" is an interesting question. I think part of this might be that the "European party" in the UK (the Lib Dems) is led by the least popular British politican, who is synonomous with selling out his party. More long-term, I think it is because being in opposition is easy, so governments like to pretend that the EU is the opposition and blame the EU for things that the government voted for. Someone more competent than Clegg needs to make the (very strong) case for Europe in the UK.
  • Czechs and Slovaks just don't care. In both countries, the turnout was below 20%. Overall the turnout in Europe rose slightly (43%), but in several Eastern European countries turnout was shockingly poor. If these countries want to have any say about the Europe they are part of, they should look into their electoral systems and consider making substantial changes. 

 

Friday
May242013

Eurovision in Bratislava

We have taken up the tradition of going to small European capitals to watch the Eurovision Song Contest, and this year it was the turn of Bratislava, capital of Slovakia.

Sadly, Eurovision has been losing it distinct flavour, and this year was the blandest yet. Where were the Scandinavian punk rockers or the Eastern European girl bands covered in glitter? Sure, we still have the British complaining that the contest is rigged against them (it probably isn't) as their recycled popstars do poorly, and Romania did submit a vampire-goth opera singer, but highlights were rare.

Fortunately we had good company and a cut little city to visit:

 

The only hiccup is that we might not be able to return, after I was repremanded by the waitor for making "excessively realistic bear noises" while reading books to Hayden. I must say, I do a very good bear noise - indeed, Hayden always comes to me when the story calls for a bear growl - and I don't appreciate the anti-bear sentiment.

Tuesday
Jan012013

2012 in economics, politics and science

Economists got it wrong again, but things are not as bad as they sound

The story of the economy in 2012 has been one of disappointment in the US and Europe, and continued good growth in the developed world (most notably Asia, but news from Africa has been better than ever). It is probably hard for those in rich countries to hear, but this is not such a bad thing. Rich countries do need to stagnate while developing countries catch up, and economic stability when there is low population growth is not really a bad thing, as long as economic equality is maintained.

From an Anglophone point of view, the biggest economic surprise must be the survival of the Euro. Economists in the UK and US have been predicting the end of the EU and the Euro almost since their creation. It seems to be ingrained in their consciousness that continental Europe must be doomed to failure, since (in their view) wealth can only come at the cost of quality of life. 2012 was hardly a great time for Europe, but the social safety net here at least aids those who suffer most during economic hard-times. Even the Economist, perpetually advocating a US-style economy, admits that the best place for a baby to be born in 2013 is in Europe. Taking into account the predicted economy in 2030 and various quality of life factors*, of the top 15 countries to be born into**, 9 are in Europe (the other 6 are Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan).

On the topic of things economists should be surprised at, it is the utter failure of austerity to either reduce debt or grow the economy. But economics appears to be the art of using poorly conceived metrics to make decisions on the future while ignoring history.

Real advances for progressive politics

2012 has to be considered a success for progressive politics, not so much for the results of individual elections (although Obama and Hollande were major wins for the left), but for the changes in progressive policy areas that are picking up steam. 2012 saw some major wins against homophobia. It really was not that long ago that homosexuality was considered to be a mental illness or criminal act, and now the debate has shifted to marriage equality. Just this change is an enormous win, it means that across the world (except Africa and the Middle East) conservatives have had to concede ground that has been decisively lost, and concentrate on enforcing the last few bastion of heterosexual privilage - marriage. And here, on our new front, progressives are decisively winning. In 2012, over 80 million people gained rights to marriage equality, across Europe (Denmark), North America (USA, Mexico) and South America (Brazil). This makes 2012 the best year ever for marriage equality, and all the signs point to 2013 being even better. I predict that this time next year, over half a billion people across the world will have access to marriage equality. The other major win for progressive politics in 2012 was the hint that the prohibition approach to drug policy may finally be on its way out. The "War on Drugs" has been a complete failure, damaging more lives than drugs do. This America policy has essentially been inflicted on the world through a series of international treaties, which bind most countries in the world to the American approach. Now this wrong-headed policy seems to becoming unravelled at the source, with over 50% of Americans supporting ending prohibition of marijuana. Half the states in the US have passed some form of progressive drug law, including Washington and Colorado becoming the first states to simply reverse prohibition. It will take a few years and a lot of effort for this sentiment to trickle up to the federal level, and decades more before the harm caused by this policy starts to become reversed on the international scene, but it looks like 2012 may be a turning point for sensible drug policy. 

Troubling signs for the future of science in the public sphere

It is fairly easy to pin-point some major scientific projects that came to fruition in 2012 - the Large Hadron Collider, ENCODE and Curiosity come to mind - but I am rather more pessimistic about the last year when it comes to scientific progress. To me, this is a year where scientists have been at best ignored in the public space (eg, the lack of progress on climate change in Doha and Rio), and at worst actively persecuted. Three examples from 2012 will suffice. Firstly, last year the CIA used a polio eradication campaign as part of their undercover operations to track Bin Laden in Pakistan. I said at the time that it was a stupid and short-sighted tactic to subvert medicine for political purposes, now the UN polio eradication campaign in Pakistan has had to be halted after 8 vaccination staff were killed. Why does polio still exist on the planet long after scientists cracked the secret to eradication? Because of distrust of medicine fueled by religion (the primary driver for low vaccination rates in Nigeria) and politics (Pakistan and Afghanistan). The second example is the well-known case of six Italian seismologists found guilty of multiple manslaughter and imprisoned for six years, simply because they did not predict the unpredictable. 300 people did die in the L’Aquila earthquake, but it is simply absurd to blame seismologists for stating that an earthquake was unlikely. This decision will cause Italian scientists to remove themselves from the public sphere, since any statistically valid statement they make could wind them up in jail. Third, a French court just found a psychiatrist guilty for a murder performed by one of her patients, on the grounds that she failed to identify the man as so dangerous he required institutionalisation. In retrospect, there were warning signs that the man could become dangerous, but the difficulty is that warning signs are much more common than violent behaviour. This ruling will only force psychiatrists to over-institutionalise people who do not need it, or to refuse to see those patients who need help the most because they don't want to be held responsible for any future actions by the patient. 

To me, despite the enormous scientific achievements in 2012, this adds up to a situation where the place of science in the public sphere is being threatened. Anti-scientific platforms are being advocated by major players, to the point where large segments of the public feel like they can just disregard the science on topics ranging from climate change and biodiversity to evolution and vaccination. I see science becoming a consumer item, where the public picks and chooses which scientific advances to consume and which to ignore based on a post-modern philosophy that their person opinion is just as valid as the scientific consensus. Add onto this a severe funding crunch that will echo for decades as it squeezes out many research programs, and 2012 was not a good year for science.


* To be precise, they estimated GDP/capita in 2030, life expectancy at birth, the quality of family life, political freedom, job security, climate, crime, community life, governance and gender equality. As always, the Economist deliberately screws up by using the average GDP/capita. If they want to consider the outcome for the average child born into a country they should be using the median GDP/capita, which would further advantage Europe. In addition, they do not consider the chance of being born into poverty as a separate variable, which clearly it is. Consider two rich countries, A and B, both with the same median income ($100,000/year) and average income ($158,000/year). In country A, there is a 50% chance of falling into the median income range, a 10% chance of being very rich ($1,000,000) and a 40% chance of being born into poverty ($20,000). In country B, there is a 90% chance of falling into the median income range, a 10% chance of being very rich ($680,000) and no chance of being born into poverty. Here, despite the same macro statistics, it would be better for a child to be born into country B, just for the reduced chance of falling into the bottom bracket.

** I picked 15 because Belgium is ranked number 15, the full list is here.

 

Sunday
Feb262012

Europe for Americans

For Americans travelling to Europe it is sometimes hard to remember what all these little countries are like. Luxembourg vs Liechtenstein, which is which? So we've put together a country-by-country guide to Europe especially for Americans, pointing out which American state corresponds to each country in Europe.

 

The Mid-Atlantic

England is European New York. London is the original NYC, just ask the inhabitants and they'll tell you it is the most important city in the world, and truth be told they can't be that far off the truth. Upstate England is more conservative, apart from a few bigger industrial centres. Wales is European New Jersey. At times it just feels like the flow-over from NY, but actually there are some very pretty parts. Northern Ireland is our Pennsylvania, kind of a more working class Catholic version of New York.

 

New England

It is cold and dark in northern Europe, but just like your New England the inhabitants have turned it into a progressive icon, showing the rest of the continent how to do health care, welfare and education. Compact Denmark is European Connecticut. Sweden is European Vermont, socialist yet independent, while Finland is European Maine. Scotland is European Massachusetts, closely linked to the Mid-Atlantic states but with a distinct northern socialist flair and some top universities. Switzerland is our New Hampshire, taking that "Live Free or Die" thing a little too seriously. We even have a state that we mock as being too small, Luxembourg, just like your Rhode Island. Then there is Norway, Europe's Canada. Colder than the rest of Europe, but somehow their society just works better. We'd like them to be part of our Union, and usually treat them as if they are, but they are staying out until we lift our game. 


Mid-West

Germanic Europe is the heart of the European Mid-West, the industrial core of the continent. Germany, the European Illinois, is the centre of gravity for the region. Austria is Minnesota, similar to Illinois but a lot more white and a bit more racist; Hungry is Indiana, similar to Illinois but a lot more white and a lot more racist. Poland is European Kansas, a little bit too fond of screaming "blasphemy". The Czech Republic and Slovakia are European North Dakota and South Dakota, except the Dakotas kept sharing a name after they split up. Hardworking, Catholic and poor, Ireland is European Ohio. Bulgaria and Wisconsin have famous cheeses that aren't actually that great. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are European versions of Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa, in orbit around Illinois, but far from the action. European Michigan, or as we call it, Greece, feels like its glory days were thousands of years in the past, and now quite frankly it is broke.

 

South Atlantic

The Balkans is the core of the European South Altanic. Serbia is European Georgia, Montenegro is European North Carolina, Albania is European South Carolina, Bosnia and Hertzogovenia is European West Virginia, Croatia is European Virginia and Slovenia is European Maryland. We've let our Maryland into the Union, and our Virginia shows a lot of promise, but for the rest of the region sometimes it seems like they are hung up on long-past wars, just a little bit too poor (and to be honest, a little bit too racist). Look, one day we'll let them in, but they have a lot of learning to do first. Oh, and just like America we have a small enclave that not everyone recognises where we put the people we've dumped on for centuries. Only our disparaged minorties are Muslims and DC is called Kosovo.

If you are going to the South Atlantic for the weather, we also have a long peninsula full of retired people, only instead of calling it Florida we call it Italy. For European Delware we also have a microstate where all the companies are headquartered for tax reasons - it is called Liechtenstein over here. Even smaller is San Marino, the European Virgin Islands, both frequently forgotten from the list of states. Finally, you have Puerto Rico, the state that you don't give any voting rights to because, you know, they are not really American what with that darker skin colour and funny language. Well, we have that too! Say hello to Turkey.

 

South Central

You have Texas. We also have a vast state taken over by corrupt oil-men and a population a little too fond of Hitler's birthday. We call it Russia, and we were smart enough not to let it in the Union. Just saying. On the great plains near European Texas we have the Ukraine, European Oklahoma and just as conservative. Similar to European Oklahoma, but with a French accent and a fun capital city is Romania, European Louisiana, and wedged inbetween our Louisiana and Oklahoma is our Arkansas, the poor state of Moldova. The plains of Kazakhstan are even more endless than those of Kentucky, and like Mississippi, Belarus does seem to have progressed for the past fifty years. You have Tennessee, we have Malta, a country so conservative abortion is illegal and they are still on the fence about divorce. Europe doesn't have an Alabama, which is just one of the things that makes Europe better than America.

 

Pacific West

It couldn't be any other way, France is European California. Self-proclaimed capital of culture, fine wines and famous beaches, the centre of fashion and the socialist heartland. The Netherlands is European Washington, a laid-back cafe culture that is simultaneously an economic powerhouse. Sandwiched between the European California and Washington is Belgium, European Oregon. Often overlooked due to its more famous neighbours, this beautiful little country has some of the most liveable cities, and unswimmable beaches, in Europe. In north-west limits of Europe, famous for its glaciers and vast uninhabited wilderness is Iceland, European Alaska. And in the far north-east is Portugal, European Hawaii, with a liberal attitude and more sun than the rest of Europe. European Guam, a rock with a military base and uncertain legal status, is called Cyprus.

 

Mountain West

Andorra is European Colorado, where our rich go to ski. The European New Mexico is situated in a desert, and is also full of Latinos - welcome to Spain. Macadonia would officially be named Arizona, if Michigan would just stop acting like a jerk. A state that is pretty much just a casino? Monaco is the European Nevada. Way out off the beaten track are Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, respectively Idaho (doing their religious thing), Montana (guarding its northern border) and Wyoming (which almost no one from Europe has ever visited). Europe even has its own theocracy, and just like Utah, the Vatican City considers itself the centre of Christianity.

 

And that has surely insulted every individual on two continents.

Sunday
Aug142011

The legacy of war

From an Australian perspective, the wealth of modern Europe has been built up over centuries of development. Any tourist visit will only accentuate that impression, with grand buildings a thousand years old and art and technology dating back from before the "discovery" of Australia.

In one way, of course, this impression is absolutely true - regions like Flanders and northern Italy were economic powerhouses 600 years ago, and the slow accumulation of wealth over decades and centuries gives nations (and individuals) an unassailable advantage. This is why Black Americans have less wealth than white Americans after normalising for current income - even modern equality (if it were ever to exist) would not, by itself, wipe out the legacy of historical inequality.

In another way, however, this impression is quite misleading. Sure, you can walk around Brussels and see the 600 year-old city hall, and the Royal family has certainly built up its collection of palaces over the past 200 years. But these legacies of the past are the exception more than the rule. Modern Belgium has been built almost entirely over the past 60 years, on the rubble of the past. A very rich rubble, to be sure, but rubble nevertheless. Over 1% of the population of Belgium died in each of the two world wars (not unusual in western Europe, in central and eastern Europe figures over 10% are common), and the destruction of houses and infrastructure was much greater. Over 30,000 million tonnes of explosives fell upon Belgium during the wars, equivalent to more than a tonne of munitions per square metre of Belgian territory. Around a quarter did not explode, so even today ~200 tonnes of munitions are uncovered yearly by farmers and disposed of by the Belgian army.

This is the legacy of war, not only does it destroy what may have taken centuries to build, but it has the capacity to keep up the killing, long after the initiators have died. Even today Cambodia has 5 million unexploded landmines and hundreds of deaths every year. Anyone who advocates a war should first meet just a few of the 40 000 childhood amputees in Cambodia, who live today with the consequences of past decisions.

Sunday
May152011

Eurovision voting

People in Azerbaijan must be estatic today, even if we all know Moldova was robbed. I think it is a nice touch that Europe gave the prize to Azerbaijan, a majority Islamic country at the very edge of Europe. Am I the only one who thinks that the Prize for winning Eurovision should be membership to the EU?

My favourite part of the night is, of course, the voting. The Eurovision voting system is a rare example of a positional voting system, so many psephologists use it as an opportunity to study the outcomes. While there are obvious flaws to the system (France and Monaco having an equal number of votes is the most obvious), there are also some interesting aspects which would really shake up politics if implemented in legislative elections. For example, the inability to vote for your own region may be expected to end pork-barrelling. 

One of the common complaints on Eurovision voting is that it is politically biased, with neighbouring countries (Italy, San Marino) or cultural cousins (Serbia, Russia) typically voting for each other. There is some merit to this observation, even if the groupings are not always what might be expected. But it might be too cynical to call this clustering "political", since the point has been made that songs popular in one region are also likely to be popular in countries sharing similar cultural tastes and the same media distribution, regardless of political alligience.

Less known Eurovision facts:

  1. The UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy buy their way into the finals every year, without having to win any semi-finals
  2. Despite what you hear from the British about the contest being rigged against them, the UK is equal second in the number of Eurovision wins, behind Ireland (7 wins) and equal to France and Luxembourg (5 wins)
  3. Prior to 1999, Eurovision songs had to be sung in an official language of the presenting country. Since 1999, the winning song has been sung in English every year except 2007 (when Serbia won). In 2003 Belgium came second with an entry in an artificial language.
  4. The countries bordering the Mediterranean in North Africa and the Middle East are eligible to enter Eurovision, but the only ones to have done so are Morocco and Israel
Sunday
Mar202011

Not all politics is cyclical

We often hear about politics as a cyclical affair, opinion and policy shifts over to the right for a few years and then returns to the left. At some level this is indeed true, in most democracies (with notable exceptions, such as Singapore) the major parties all spend periods in power and periods in opposition. It almost makes politics seem futile - why put all that effort in to support a party when everything is destined to return to the mean? But much of politics is not cyclical at all. If we look at some of the divisive political issues of the 20th century there have been clear wins for each side of politics across the developed world.



Gender equality (conservatives vs liberals/progressives = liberal/progressive win)

In 1900, the only country where women could vote nation-wide was New Zealand. For decades it was a hard fought battle between conservatives and progressives, and yes there were periods where progress was made and lost, but country by country the arguments for gender equality won out. Admittedly, it took a very long time just to have female suffrage - even in Europe women only gained the vote in Switzerland in 1971 and Liechtenstein in 1984, but does the graph to the left look cyclical? There is, of course, a lot more to gender equality than voting, but on issue after issue the hard-fought battle of the progressives has won out, and there is no reason to expect that to change now. Even on the most controversial area of gender equality, reproductive rights, the right to have an abortion is accepted in 2/3 of the world and is nearly ubiquitous across North America and Europe (with the exceptions of Ireland and Malta). Every small step backwards gets countered by a giant leap forwards, sooner or later.

 

The collective safety-net (progressives vs liberals/conservatives = progressive win)

The idea of a collective safety-net, provided to all citizens by the state, was exceptionally rare 100 years ago. The first universal health care laws originated in von Bismark Germany in 1883 and were very limited in scope. Since then universal health care has spread throughout the world and is present in every developed country, except America, and even to many developing nations, such as Costa Rica. Likewise public education, old-age pension, disability pension and unemployment benefits. These were all the conservative vs progressive battlegrounds of the 20th century, now they are bedrock platforms supported by both sides of politics. Even the conservative "austerity" programs being implemented are more about limiting the growth of welfare, rather than actively reducing it. Note, however, that this only refers to welfare in the "safety-net" sense, in the "equality" sense the liberals and conservatives have been steadily winning public opinion (below).

 

Sexuality equality (conservatives vs liberals/progressives = liberal/progressive win)
SMBC: arguments for and against sexuality equality in the 50s

50 years ago, homosexuality was a criminal act across most of the developed world. Now we are arguing about same-sex marriage - this by itself demonstrates just how profoundly progressives have changed the dialog on sexuality. In the 1950s Alan Turing was prosecuted and chemically castrated for homosexuality, despite inventing the Enigma machine that Winston Churchill credited with winning World War II. Now homosexuality is embedded deep into our pop culture and same-sex partnerships are de rigueur. As these graphs show, even equality in the marriage laws is steadily increasing.

 

Economic equality (conservatives/liberals vs progressives = conservative/liberal win)

Progressives fought for the welfare system as both a safety-net, protecting against absolute need (above) and as a mechanism for stimulating economic equality. On the first front progressives won, on the second the past decades have seen a long, slow advance to the conservatives/liberals. The idea of progressives is that economic equality is a intrinsically valuable objective, ie it is not only absolute poverty but also relative poverty that is damaging. Conservatives and liberals, by contrast, see income disparity as a incentivising force, and argue that as long as people are not subjected to absolute poverty there should be no effort to stop income inequality from growing. There are still countries where economic equality is treasured and actively sought after, such as Sweden using the progressive income tax and Japan with a culture of financial moderation. However across the world the economic difference between the bottom 20% and top 20% has been steadily growing for decades (with a few exceptions, such as Brazil). It is perhaps too early to call the argument lost, but this is one that I can at least imagine the progressives losing.

 

Social liberalism (conservatives vs liberals/progressives = liberal/progressive win)

Remember when The Simpsons was pushing the social envelope to the extent that many children were not allowed to watch it and Christian groups were called for a boycott? The outrage at Smithers having a veiled crush on Mr Burns or Homer skipping Church one Sunday? You don't need to compare that to South Park - those early episodes were positively tame even compared to Sex and the City. We live in a much more liberal society today than existed even 20 years ago, and it is just inconceivable to imagine a return to that level of prissiness.

 

So, while some politics is cyclical, many of the most important political issues are not. This is why it is so important to push back when you are losing ground and to make the most of it when you are advancing - when decisions reach a threshold of public acceptance they become the new paradigm.