Sunday, 24 April 2011

Public, not Political, Servants

Harald Beyer nails it. All the commentary on Housing Minister Matte's resignation last week missed the essential point. But as Beyer points out, in a modern and professional public service, political and professional responsibilities are fairly clearly laid out. The Concertación went further than anyone else in trying to install some sort of professional public service, but it did not go far enough, and the current government has backtracked even on the small steps taken.

However, political responsibility is political responsibility, and ministers resign even in systems with professional civil services, even for errors that are not of their own making. Matte was roundly praised for doing something that any minister in her position ought to do. Sometimes they are pushed, sometimes they take the hit on their own. That it should elicit such praise from all quarters doesn't speak well of Chile's current political system.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Good Friday and chocolate

There is a column in today's Mercurio which brilliantly ties in some Good Friday themes and the current debate on the so-called Ley del Super 8, aimed at limiting how much access children have to junk food while at school.

The column makes a good point about different kinds of food prohibitions in history -- from why Jews do not eat bacon to why supermarkets in the West do not sell filet of Snoopy.

But Gallagher is wrong on the Super 8 Law. For him, as with most economists in Chile, it's all about freedom to choose (for junk food, if not for abortions or day after pills). He talks about being in favor of consumers having access to all the information necessary in order to make an informed decision. This is the old perfect market sham. Not only does it not exist, it makes no sense when it comes to children. Just as parents have the right to decide what to feed their children, society should have the right to decide collectively what to feed its children.

I understand (judging from glimpses of late night cable that make me fall asleep) that Jaime Oliver is going through similar battles in the US, where school boards, committed to keeping costs down, are fighting his attempts to introduce healthier foods in school cafeterias. At the same time, critics on the right are lambasting Michelle Obama for suggesting that Americans -- subject to the biggest obesity epidemic in history -- try to cut down on the Whoppers.

For those Republicans, as for Gallagher, it seems to be another small step towards Communism. They should see it as a giant leap towards the gym.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The Economist on maternity leave in Chile

The Economist takes note of the Chilean government's efforts to 'improve' maternity leave. But the magazine questions whether the effects will be as positive as intended.

You also have to wonder why the magazine makes of point of relating the increased expense of $200m to the costs of post 27F reconstruction. Nobody in Chile even mentions the reconstruction anymore, and while Codelco keeps making $6b in profits, it seems petty to quibble over a measly $200m for a country which, as the Economist recognizes, has a lousy track record in terms of female participation in the workforce.

Right Getting Grumpy

For political and personal reasons, this was always going to be Sebastian Piñera's government. Not Renovacion Nacional's, and certainly not the UDI's. It is not a cabinet government, but then presidential systems rarely have those. In this case, cabinet members really do serve at the pleasure (and often, displeasure) of the president. At the same time, President Piñera has been quite loyal to his ministers. It takes a lot to get fired from a Piñera cabinet, or other position. The LinkJVR case shows just how much hanky panky Piñera is willing to take before cutting people loose.

If Piñera is willing to put up with a lot, it seems many on the right are not, and are becoming increasingly and vocally grumpy. On a popular television interview programme, Senator Pablo Longuiera complained that this government has no political narrative. Today, an influential columnist in El Mercurio says that unforced errors in government (and he complains that there have been many) are similar to those in football, and that in both cases they stem from being too timid and uncommitted.

I wonder if the president is noticing that his supporters are feeling grumpy?