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My wish list

January 6, 2020


I have never drawn up a wish list and yet, when the clock ticks midnight on December 31, I always wish that I had done it, just to see what I worried about one year ago and what I worry about now. So, here we go, at least for the non-private sphere, and excluding the wildest dreams, like peace on earth, the end of racism and bigotry, the triumph of rationalism over ideology, clean politics, etc. Ten wishes, in no particular order.


First, I wish that Trump leave the White House. This wish does not need any explanation. The people I know will also have put it near the top of their lists. They probably also wish to say goodbye to Erdogan, Duterte, Kaczynski, Orban, Bolsonaro, Xi and all the other friends of Trump.


Second, it would great if Boris Johnson were to achieve the softest version of all the soft Brexit possibilities. I have always admired the UK, its people, its institutions, its contributions to science and the arts. The UK has been a somewhat absentee landlord within the EU but it usually stepped in whenever the French and the Germans were sliding in dangerous directions. Europe needs the UK as much as the UK needs Europe.


Third, stock prices are probably too high for comfort. If they have to go down, I would rather see it sooner than later and gradually enough to avoid a financial meltdown. If there must be blood, I wish that the banks be spared – banking crises have huge and protracted effects. I am not worried about other investors; they make bets and they have been blessed with wins too often over the last few years.


Fourth, the issue of climate change has finally made it to the front page. It would have been better if this happened in 1970s when scientists were sending all the right signals, but Greta Thunberg was not born yet. Listening to them would not just have avoided the disatsers that we we know witness, it would also have been a tribute to human wisdom. Listening to them now is merely obvious when we see what is happening, and yet many people – including my hero-in-wickedness, Trump – refuse to see it. The problem is that good intentions do not translate into good policies. Greta and most ecologists focus on emotions. Emotions call for such insane ideas as not taking planes, shutting down nuclear plants and, more generally, drawing up endless prohibition lists or proposals to subsidize everything that is labelled green. Sadly enough, the single simple solution, a Nordhaus-style carbon tax that is rebated to the neediest, is the proposal that is excluded in most public debates. So, my wish is for the contagious spreading of carbon taxes with border adjustments, the latter with WTO approval.


Fifth, medical research is progressing fast in many directions. I don’t really understand most of what is discovered, especially what could be applied in the near future. But I would like all of it, and more, to come to fruition soon. A few victories would make me so happy.


Sixth, still in the field of medicine, we don’t need to have new results to do much better. Old discoveries, especially vaccines, are rejected by hordes of ignorant people who not only hurt themselves and their children, but also the others that they infect. It makes no sense for people to die from measles in Samoa while a vaccine has been available for over a half century. I wish that vaccine foes recant.


Seventh, vaccine is not the only topic subject to obscurantism. Modern-day Luddites are surprisingly numerous and influential. It always amazes me that we teach kids in school a lot of what science accomplished over the two centuries, which has led to the extraordinary lift-off of standards of living around the world (with a few nasty exceptions) and yet, when these kids become adult, they repeat the same nonsense as their distant forebears, passed from generation to generation. My wish is that the modern-day Luddites lose all their battles of the year, but they should then be compensated adequately.


Eighth, the web is one of these innovations that are game-changing. Most applications are great but the web is also used for all sorts of dark purposes. That includes the propagation of conspiracy theories and the meddling in national politics and even elections by foreign groups, both official and private. Like all other public fora, the web must be regulated, as previously argued. So far, governments have shied away, relying instead on private companies like Facebook or Twitter. Could 2020 be the year when regulation of the web comes of age?


Ninth, since the Global Financial Crisis, the world economy has become more concentrated. This is true of the financial sector, and it is also true for the US economy as a whole, as demonstrated by Thomas Philippon in his book (The Great Reversal, Harvard University Press, 2019). Concentration contributes to inequality, hurts consumers and slows innovation down. Anti-trust policies either cannot cope because they lag behind large firms or because they do not try hard enough, as is the case with the Trump administration. My wish is that the European Commission, which has vast powers that extend beyond its frontiers, moves forcefully in.


My tenth and final wish concerns my own country, France. The year starts with continuing strikes against the government’s plan to create a single pension system, in effect removing the exorbitant privileges of public sector employees. Since being elected in May 2017, President Macron has undertaken to remake France, a country plagued by a myriad of incongruous arrangements that are plainly hurting equality and prosperity. He has made much progress, too often unrecognized. I wish that he defeats all the interest groups that fight for their rents and continue his reform program.


Obviously, these are wishes, not forecasts, and I hope that I will not be sorry for what I wish. A happy New Year to everyone. May your own wishes come true (unless they are the opposite of mines).

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