International -- Readers Report
SINGAPORE NOT A DEMOCRACY? OH YES IT IS (int'l edition)
I agree with Gary S. Becker: To fight corruption, public officials must be paid what they are worth ("Want to squelch corruption? Try passing out raises," Economic Viewpoint, Nov. 3). When you pay peanuts, you get peanuts. I would like, however, to correct a mistake he made. Becker wrote: "Neither Singapore nor Hong Kong are democracies." Although the latter has never been one, Singapore has been a democratic nation since independence. What is even more ironic is that he later mentioned contested elections. As he may not be aware, free elections are held every four to five years in Singapore, where voters can vote any corrupt and incompetent politician out of office. Democracy and high wages for public officials have indeed helped to reduce, or even eliminate, corruption here.
Andrew Wong Onn Chee
SingaporeReturn to top
HOW BELGIUM SOLVES THE CHILD-CARE PROBLEM (int'l edition)
It continually amazes me that the U.S. seems to feel that child care is a concern but does so little to address the problem ("Clinton's child-care conference: Just chatter?" American News, Nov. 3). Doesn't anyone ever look to other countries to see how this problem can be solved? Perhaps one of the ways is to begin education at an earlier age.
We lived in Brussels when our two children were young. At the age of 2 1/2, all of the children (if they were toilet trained) went to the maternelle (a nursery school/kindergarten). For families in which both parents worked, the school offered supervised child care from 7 a.m. and--after school--until 6 p.m. (including one hour of supervised homework beginning in grade one).
The maternelle my children attended was attached to the elementary school, where they later began their regular schooling. They had already been prepared in many ways and already knew many of the teachers and older students in the school. During school vacations, other opportunities and activities for the children existed at a minimal price. Special "sports day camps" (at a higher fee) might be offered for a two-week period over Easter, at the beginning of the summer vacation in July, or at the end of vacation in August.
This system enabled me to pursue a career in publishing during most of our eight years in Brussels. And I did not feel that I was sacrificing my children to do so. As a matter of fact, they usually did not want to leave school in the afternoons, preferring to stay and play with their friends. Maybe one day the U.S. will realize that there are other, much more constructive alternatives to undertrained child-care givers for working mothers.
Gauting, GermanyReturn to top
UNEMPLOYMENT IS HAZARDOUS TO THE EMU'S HEALTH (int'l edition)
After Spain cut its key lending rate to 5%, it was time for other prospective partners in the European Monetary Union (EMU) to share the responsibility for convergence by raising their interest rates ("EMU: No more ifs or buts," European Business, Oct. 27).
Most analysts see rates converging at 4% to 4.5%. This will entail further loosening of credit in Spain's booming economy, and tightening in Germany and France. Clearly, this will not be sustainable without reforms in the labor markets of these countries.
In modern-day industrial economies, it is unusual to worry about inflation when unemployment is as high as 20% in Spain and 11.7% in Germany. Spain needs to concentrate on getting its young workers back to work. Germany should stop punishing companies for high workers--through high taxes and red tape. Unemployment in France has already brought the dismissal of Lionel Jospin's right-wing government. These measures will provide a sustainable barrier to inflation. Successful reform will also bring long-run fiscal benefits.
The message throughout European history is clear. Governments must guard against excessively high unemployment and social unrest if the EMU project is to have long-term success.
Karim Nizar Tharani
BrusselsReturn to top