A new era

While I listened to the inauguration speech of Donald Trump I tried to follow the body language of former presidents on the balcony of the white house. But they didn’t convey much information. The faces of the Obama’s, the Bush’s and the Clintons stayed blanc. Only every so often a polite applause from Obama was all I saw. The speech itself gave not much applause either. Not even from the ‘crowds’ in front of the White House.

And yet for them their was plenty of oral support: ‘Never again will the people of the United States be left out again. Together we will make America great again for all the people.’

To me it sounded like a policy of isolation of the US. The last time that really happened between 1920 and 1940 was explictily directed against Japan. Some writers say it resulted in the second world war. We are not as far as that yet. At this moment – 24 hours after the inauguration - I wonder what will happen. Let’s see:

1. Trumps promise to bring back jobs to the US maybe not so new as it sounds. Reshoring,  the proces that is meant to bring back production of a large number of companies is already underway for the last ten years. But the number of additional jobs created will stay relatively small, because robots will take over the work to be done. Robots nowadays are already cheaper than the cheap labour elsewhere in the world.

2. (Re)building bridges, tunnels highways, etc. to compensate for deferred maintenance will cost trillions of dollars. Though that may create lots of jobs the question remains: how will Trump finance the infrastructure? Higher taxes? For whom? If he doesn’t want the burden for ‘the Americans who will no longer be ignored’ grow? This becomes more interesting because Trump also wants restrictions in international trade. Will the GOP happily approve higher taxes for the rich?

3. Restrictions on international trade will almost certainly lead to a lower gross domestic product. So again what will be the benefits for all those forgotten Americans?

We will see. The first signs are that Trump is not running hard to repeal obamacare.

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Transition

We (Anneke and I) arrived in Florida at an interesting moment. It was just five days before the inauguration of Donald Trump as 45th president of the US. When we left the airport the first thing we noticed about this happening was the sticker on the car in front of us: Vote for one criminal and get one for free, combined with pictures of the Clintons, a clear statement.

As a matter of fact I had (in 2016) as well as possible followed the election campaigns. On Yahoo.com I looked every now and then at the column Answers and was stupified by the hate that rose from the reactions to the questions. But then: we know already how the internet gives a perfect outlet for anonymous frustrations. That is in the Netherlands not better than here.

The new president – today still president-elect – evokes mixed emotions and he wouldn’t have been my choice. But then many commentators have written about the division between Democrats and Republicans growing since about 1980. So for instance Paul Krugman. This has led to a stuation in which presidents have been trying to get their results by their executive power. Their decisions could, however, be revoked by any following president, sharpening the division in the country.

But now we have a president who is supported by the GOP but who has a program that places the GOP in a curious position. For instance the (in my perspective necessary and not especially controversial) investments in infrastructure that will lay a big claim on the budget.

How will the GOP react to that and other Trump plans?

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Florida 2017

2017 Has just started. We are looking forward to a new holiday in Florida. Reservations are made. Our suitcases are ready. Only one week to go.

It will be – again – an interesting time with the inauguration of a new president. And a controversial one at that. The vote for Trump was something like a shock. It might be a sign of:

a. the wish of a big part of the population for change. Change anyway without considering the cost: people prefer a president without political or governing experience, a president who openly feeds nationalism, racism and sexism, who tries to rule with tweets before a president with proven capabilities and experience but who seems to represent the system and therefore the elite.

or

b. the possibilities of cyberattack, as it looks now as if Russia has tried to influence the outcome of the elections.

or

c. life has become to complex to understand the consequences or viability of decisions. If people vote for you when you say you will build a wall to prevent hispanics from entering the States then what should we think?

This morning we heard the news that someone had a gun in his luggage by entering Fort Lauderdale. And then you realize this coukd happen to you. Someone taking his gun for no obvious reason at all and pointing it at you.

So we are going to the States just feeling a little apprehensive. What will we see?

 

 

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The Berlin Wall fell

After the Berlin Wall fell, Fukuyama thought  the western system of free trade, open markets and democratic governments had won the cold war. In the years that followed the two parts of Germany were united and the European Union with  the new Germany as strongest en richest partner grew  fast in importance. It became a very attractive union for many of the former Soviet Union States. Afterwards it seemed that many states took their membership of the Union to light. they couldn’t meet all the conditions in time, the most significant example being Greece. In the mean time several things happened:

The Sovjet Union was gone, Russia had to reinvent itself.

The European Union introduced a new currency: the Euro.

The number of members of the Europea Union exploded.

In 2008 there was the stockmarket crisis

 

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Reaganomics

Since WWII the leading economic opinion was based on the ideas that Keynes had expressed in 1936. Keynes gave government a important role in regulating the economic growth. Government should spend more in times of depression and less in an economy that was overheated. It was clear that in the long run government expenditures should be in balance. That proved to be the hard part. Large part of government expenses consisted of salaries and investments in infrastructure. Cutting on these expenses created big resistance. So public expenses had a tendency to rise whether the economy was good or bad. The system worked or seemed to work for about 35 years. By then the US were traumatized by the Watergate scandal, the Vietnam War and the not so succesfull Carter administration. The economy halted and the US-spirit was low.

That was the moment (1980) when Ronald Reagan was chosen for president. Reagan brought back what you can call the American spirit. He had a very clear statement and mission: the government is not the solution, government is the problem.

Taking that statement as a startingpoint it was clear that government expenses ought to be cut. That became a leading issue for the next thirty years. This was accompanied by an optimistic view on the functioning of the market. The market would take care of all problems in the economy. Adam Smith was fully back. I’m not sure if the Reagan policy changed much in government expense. What it did change was the faith in the American dream. A new spirit went through America.

As a matter of fact: Reagan was not the first. In Great Britain not even a year eearlier Margaret Thatcher had started her government along the same lines.

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At a distance

At the time of the incident at the Bay of Pigs and its aftermath, my ship sailed around in the Caribbean, most of the time from Curacao to Venezuela v.v.

After my marriage I came back there and was not very pleased (as a matter of fact was glued to the radio) when the US and the Sovjet Union collided over the Russian missiles on Cuba. We were on the brink of a Third World War (or so it seemed). We were all to glad it didn’t come to that.

It was just a few months before I ended my career as a merchant navy engineer in the beginning of 1963. It proofed to be one of the most terrible winters of the century. My attention shifted very fast from the US to the Netherlands, to my career and my family.

What happened in America came to me through the Dutch media: it was only superficially. I was like everyone else impressed when Kennedy was murdered. But until then our world was dominated by positive feelings about the US.

Maybe Vietnam changed things a little bit. I discovered that my cousin in Denmark had a totally different view of the things that happened in Vietnam and had happened there under American responsibility. That’s why I bought the book ‘De kwestie Vietnam’ (the Vietnam problem). There seemed to be some  discrepancy between official American information and what happened in the field. Later I learned that Vietnam had been a traumatic experience for most Americans.

The world had changed since the fifties. Europe had recovered from the war but acted in the belief  that another war was threatening: the cold war. The permanent threat of Sovjet Union expansion of communism seemed all to real. (I don’t know, whether there really was a threat, but the Cuba crisis was real enough).

The first oil crisis came over us. The Limits To Growth suddenly became clear and loomed in the distance. The world had to wake up. But politicians are not very good in taking decisions that affect us in the long run. For them the effect of short term results are far more important. So measures to counter the long term effects of pollution, and of exhausting the natural resources were not taken or maybe even were taken to late.

Four things happened:

* In the U.S. Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980. He came at a moment that the economy wasn’t doing so well. He gave the States an impuls by saying: government is not the solution; government is the problem. He started a program to lower taxes and to reduce government expenses.

* The Berlin wall fell in 1989. That gave the impression that the American system with ‘free’ markets was superior. As Fukuyama said: This was the end of History.

* I started my studies to obtain a PhD in management. So I studied organization theory in its historical context. And as much of the intial organization theory came from the U.S. I had to look more intensively at American history. I started with Hugh Brogan’s Penguin History of the United States.

* My son fell in love with an American girl. He moved eventually to Florida and stayed there. So there was every reason for my wife and me to visit the States from that day on.

 

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Philidora

In 1959 I joined the new crew of the brand new tanker Philidora that was being built in Camden (PA). At the time the Philidora was a large ship; it could carry 47,000 tons of cargo. The new crew had to get acquainted with the ship and its installation. So we stayed in Camden in the Walt Whitman hotel.

For us it was new to have television in our room. I can still hear the melodies of the advertisements of the Papermate. We stayed at the hotel for about a fortnight. With a friend of mine I managed to pay a visit tot Philadelphia which was on the other side of the Delaware River. We had the opportunity to visit Independence Hall and were on historical ground. There as in New York a year earlier security didn’t seem to be a problem. We could walk in and out without so much as a check on our identities.

The Philidora was laying at the Delaware Shipbuilding Company together with and moored at the same pier with the first nuclear submarine of the United States Nautilus. We could walk around the reactor vessel and see how its the leaden covering was attached. Looking back even there security seemed rather slack. But upon entering the United States by plane we had to give imprints of all of our ten fingers on a large form.

One of the things that made quite an impression – otherwise I wouldn’t have remembered it – was the sandwich dispenser on the pier of the shipyard.  The same sandwiches must have been stored on board in large numbers: when we eventually left Camden we had to eat them for more than a week.

Looking back: the United States seemed to be a rather relaxed place to be. Though not for everyone. It was the time of the McArthy crusade against communism.

For us the USA were in the first place very expensive with a rate of about 3,80 guilders to a dollar.

 

 

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First: looking back

One thing is certain. English is not my native language. I don’t remember when I started reading English. It must have been during high school or shortly thereafter. As a matter of fact we had to read at least four English books in order to pass our exam. By the way: I call it highschool. As far as I can judge the Dutch HBS (Hogere= higher, Burger=civilian, School= school) can be best compared to the American High School, but I can be totally wrong. The HBS was a 5-year secondary school that followed the 6-year primary school. (as you might guess.) I started the HBS at the age of 12.

Among the first books I read (not connected to school) I remember I, the jury from Mike Hammer. It was in the mid fifties of the 20th century and I remember only vaguely that Mike Hammer was running around in New York most of the time at night, killing people just because they had to be killed. Most probably the victims were part of the growing communist threat.
Another book that comes tot my mind is The decline and fall of practically everybody, written by Will Cuppy. It gave a rather hilarious history of the most important people in world history. I was rather fond of that book that offered details you don’t easily find in the official history books. For instance: King Philip II of Spain must have scribbled all kinds of notes on little pieces of paper. After his death those pieces of paper were collected bundled with silk ribbons and eventually thrown away. I loved the humorous relativity and understatements in English. Therefore I kept reading.
In 1955 I became an engineer in the merchant navy on the ships of Shell Tankers Inc.
It happened that in 1958 I visited New York for the first time. It was a short visit, as usual; those visits didn’t take more than the time needed for unloading or loading our cargo and prepare for sea again. Our ship was moored in Perth Amboy. I could take a train that went to Pennsylvania Station in the center of New York. I bought stamps at the Post Office near by and discovered that the Empire State Building was only a few blocks away. So I walked those blocks, took the elvator to the top of the building and was amazed not only by the view over New York, but also because I did not experience any of the effects of my usual fear of heights. So I walked through New York and took the picture on this page.

Mijnfotoos032_1

I was struck by the contrast.

 

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