Mood, Madness and Leadership

During the past few days I have spent some time talking to people first at UN Headquarters in New York and then in the European Union institutions in Brussels.

Neither is a place in a particularly good mood these days. Morale has suffered from real and perceived political and other setbacks. And there is the fear that more will come.

As always, mood swings too fast and too far in whichever direction it swings. Neither the UN nor the European Union is in as bad a shape as some people tend to believe. Beyond the turmoils and troubles of today are signs of change that can signal strength for the future.

But – as always – it requires the right policies. And they are not always in place.

In Brussels, the politics of the European Union is driven by the politics of the different member states. And sometimes this leads things off in directions that are obviously very wrong.

In some member states there is great agitation over the rapid rise in the import of T-shirts and underwear and similar things from China in the beginning of this year. Previously there were limits, but now trade is free. It didn’t come as a surprise – the decision was taken no less than ten years ago.

This has lead to the European Commission looking into whether action needs to be taken against the Chinese in this sector, and in order to avoid such action the Chinese authorities have introduced some sort of export fee.

All this would have some logic if we saw a critical part of the economic future of the European Union as being the manufacturing of T-shirts and underwear. And this would of course signal the demise of any dream of being in the top of the global league in terms of economic and social development.

The future of the European economy is to produce innovative services and innovative production solutions to an increasingle globalized world. We need to move from low-cost producing to high-clasas and high-cost services.

But the very same forces that are skreaming over T-shirts from China are often the ones screaming over the liberalisation of trade in services proposed in the so-called service directive.

There is some logic in the madness: they see Europe as continuing with T-shirts, while not developing the competitive service sector that obviously would benefit all and make Europe more competitive. As said – it’s madness.

If the somewhat pessimistic mood in Brussels should be broken, it will require a political leadership that clearly takes issue with madness of this sort. It’s not a European Union drifting under populist pressures we need, but a Union with the will and the ability to give leadership for the future.

Let the Chinese and whoever wants supply us with cheap and good underwear. But let us develop as global first-class service providers.

One Response to Mood, Madness and Leadership

  1. Björn Hallberg skriver:

    Indeed, like they say, resistance is futile, and in this case it is surely so. Obviously fighting to keep low-wage production jobs that no one really wants is an awful idea. Because no matter how much we fight, lower the wages and worsen the working conditions, we can never compete with the likes of China and Vietnam. Just trying to walk that road is a sure recipe for disaster. We need to compete in the fields that we can and let industrialization run its course in less developed countries. We’ve already been there and done that, about 100 years ago.

    The examples of this kind of thinking are endless. Most are aware that some people, in Sweden and elsewhere in Europe, have complained loudly over working hours, which is somewhat related. I guess those are pretty much the same people complaining, it’s either ”we must produce t-shirts like in SE Asia” or ”we must work longer weeks like in the US”. Both being totally nonsensical. We should try to capitalize from our industrialization or indeed post-industrialization in Europe. To make things better for us, the citizens first and foremost. While we have the chance. To seize the day while the US and Asia are struggling with their respective problem, not trying to copycat things that may or may not work. That kind of thinking is so typical of certain backwards corporations that cannot see beyond their own pockets. So, yes, these are the kind of big brush strokes that you’d hope politicians would understand and undertake instead of living in the past.

    If we are to get upset over anything it should be working conditions in those less industrialized countries and to try to improve on them. And closely watch and to stop our companies from taking unfair advantage of and ignoring local regulations in the same countries.

    The real issue is obviously what happens when we’ve gone full circle and there is nowhere on earth left where you can produce low-price gadgets and clothes. But why try to foresee the future by hindering it? Hopefully consumer culture has shifted slightly until that far off future. Hopefully we’ve reached some sort of ”Star Trek” vision of the world by then, less focused on materialism. If not we’re just going to have to pay a little more for our precious goods and that wont be the end of the world either. If anything we’ll be getting jobs back. But for now anyway, resistance is really futile.

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