Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Briefly noted

At least 2 interesting bits of reading in today's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd). First, Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond writes a letter to the editor taking issue with the tone and substance of an op-ed last week by Quentin Letts which made light of the quest for Scottish independence. Salmond blends bits of boosterism with a few digs at Letts --

It is a certain type of critic who takes issue with the basic principal of self-governance, and I am pleased to say that they are in the minority in the United Kingdom. The 20th century saw several new independent countries in Europe, including Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Finland, to name just a few. For now, Scotland remains an anomaly -- a stateless nation ...

The independence question is one that Americans intuitively understand. More than half the signatories to the Declaration of Independence were of Scots descent, and thanks primarily to the work of American scholars we know that that document was largely based on the 14th-century Scottish Declaration of Arbroath. (Though the Scots did miss out on the bit about "pursuit of happiness" -- a good Jeffersonian addition.)

Make no mistake, if Mr. Letts had been around in the 18th century, he probably would have been a cheerleader of King George while Scots-American ministers and thinkers were providing the intellectual backbone of the American independence movement.

An independent Scotland would be one of the world's wealthiest countries, complete with one of Europe's strongest financial services centers, the largest energy sector in the EU, and a spirit of innovation that introduced the world to penicillin and television.

And speaking of Scotland, sitting across the page from Salmond's letter is an op-ed by Niall Ferguson. Fergie discusses the view that races for commodities can lead to war; he mostly comes down against it except in the case of WW2, where the quest for land and raw materials was of course one element of insane Nazi economic thought. He also doubts that there's an ingredient for war in the current commodity price surge, and notes that a crash in commodity prices could be more destabilising than a rise --

At the same time, falling commodity prices may be as disruptive of international order as rising commodity prices. The fall of the Soviet Union, after all, can be plausibly explained as consequence of cheap oil in the 1980s.

A somewhat different perspective to the Ronnie and Maggie interpretation of the fall of the USSR that one usually hears.

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