When the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) launched the results from the most recent assessment of mathematics, reading, and science competencies of 15 year-olds (the Program for international Student Assessment, PISA) last December, it held encouraging news for the European Union’s newest members. Estonia, Poland, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic scored above the OECD average and ahead of many richer European Union neighbors. Compared to previous assessments, the 2012 scores of most countries in Central Europe and the Baltics were up (as they were in Turkey, as Wiseman et al highlighted in this blog recently). Improvements were particularly marked in Bulgaria and Romania, traditionally the weakest PISA achievers in the EU, as well as well-performing Poland and Estonia. Only Slovakia and Hungary saw declines (see chart with PISA mathematics scores).
A vibrant private sector - with firms investing, creating jobs, and improving productivity - is absolutely essential for promoting growth and expanding opportunities. In order to support the private sector, however, governments need to step in and remove obstacles to growth and job creation. Although macroeconomic stability and sustainability are unquestionably necessary for spurring business activity, the quality of the business regulation also matters.
Collectively, the 10 indicators in Doing Business 2014 are a great tool for assessing the ease of doing business in countries and measuring the quality of their regulations.
The results can be surprising for some countries in the European Union (EU): Would you ever consider that the most difficult country to start a business in the EU is Austria? That Italy is the worst place to pay taxes? That one of the top countries in protecting investors is Slovenia? Or that Poland is the global runner-up in providing information about credit?
Eleven of the less prosperous members of the European Union – Bulgaria, Croatia1, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic, and Slovenia (EU11)—have remained attractive destinations for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). The Czech Republic, Estonia, and Slovakia witnessed FDI levels in 2012 similar to pre-crisis levels. Poland and Bulgaria also experienced large gains in FDI in 2012.
Financial Markets…U.S. Treasuries slid for the first time in four days, with the benchmark note yields 3 basis points to 1.62%, as a government report showed U.S. employers added more than forecasted jobs in November. U.S government bonds have advanced 2.8% this year as of yesterday, after gaining 9.8% in 2011 and 5.9% in 2010.
"Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better in the sphere of our Being as humans, and the catastrophe toward which this world is headed, whether it be ecological, social, demographic or a general breakdown of civilization, will be unavoidable. If we are no longer threatened by world war or by the danger that the absurd mountains of accumulated nuclear weapons might blow up the world, this does not mean that we have definitively won. We are in fact far from definite victory.
We are still a long way from that 'family of man;' in fact, we seem to be receding from the ideal rather than drawing closer to it. Interests of all kinds: personal, selfish, state, national, group and, if you like, company interests still considerably outweigh genuinely common and global interests. We are still under the sway of the destructive and thoroughly vain belief that man is the pinnacle of creation, and not just a part of it, and that therefore everything is permitted. There are still many who say they are concerned not for themselves but for the cause, while they are demonstrably out for themselves and not for the cause at all. We are still destroying the planet that was entrusted to us, and its environment. We still close our eyes to the growing social, ethnic and cultural conflicts in the world. From time to time we say that the anonymous megamachinery we have created for ourselves no longer serves us but rather has enslaved us, yet we still fail to do anything about it.
Important developments today:
1. Fitch downgrades Ireland’s credit rating another notch
2. The German engine powers on
November 9th is an ambiguous day for Germany. On November 9, 1938, the Nazis killed 400 Jews, arrested about 30,000 more, destroyed over 800 synagogues and thousands of homes and businesses in the Kristallnacht, a pogrom against German and Austrian Jews.
About half a century later, on November 9, 1989, Germans in East and West Berlin stormed the Berlin Wall, the symbol of the Cold War, and brought down the Iron Curtain, literally with their own hands. I lived in East Germany when people started going out into the streets, chanting "We are the people" and demanding more freedom from the communist government. In September 1989 the first so called Monday Demonstration brought people out onto the street in Leipzig, first to pray for peace, then to demand freedom. I remember the exhilarating feeling when those demonstrations spread through other cities and drew more and more people until hundreds of thousands of East Germans protested - peacefully, without violence - for their rights.