We have recently had a baby

November 14, 2011

Therefore, I’m currently on leave.

Learn more about maternity/paternity/parental leave, and international comparisons. Here.

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During the last couple of years there has been much discussion about debt. Is it good or not? In a family setting, common sense tell us that debt is not good. At the same time it also says that in many instances such as getting a house (or an education in some countries), it’s necessary to get into debt. For business it gets more complicated; incurring into debt or not has many variables. But what is really complex, is for a national economy. The public in general do not want their governments to get into excessive debt, in particular, to foreigners. If you have an education in economics, you know Keynes talked about it.

It’s my opinion that no matter what political orientation, politicians are not motivated to avoid debt at long term. Thus, this creates a great problems for many local, regional and national governments. Of course, this all gets very political, which by definition, ‘politics’ means how to spend our money.

Without getting very philosophical, political, technical or economic, I wondered : Are citizens happier if their countries are more in debt?

I checked real quick Wikipedia for a list of countries by external debt (public+private), and public debt by GDP. Then I compared it to the Map of Happiness. I had no idea what was the correlation going to be. I choose some countries and plot it. This of course is full of caveats, is just a quick and dirt view. I think an economists from Norway has done similar things (in a serious way), but I can’t find it now.

External debt vs. Happiness.
x = external debt (public + private) per capita in $USD; y = happiness index (from Map of Happiness)

x = public debt per GDP; y = happiness index (from Map of Happiness)

Well friends, the verdict is clear, and I had not idea it was going to be like this:

The more debt a country has, the more likely the citizens will be happier.

Bliss ignorance?

Now that I’m in the last stages of my PhD I’m looking back at who made this possible. Obviously there are many people and institutions, to many of them I can tell them personally, as individuals or representatives of the organizations. However, there is an institution that is hard to thank, however you maybe part of this. That is the European Union. Without the structural funds of the European Union, the project I’m part of would have not be created. Therefore I want to say thank you European Union! Most of the readers here come from outside the EU, I hope they don’t mind to read this.  I will let the future judge if my PhD project (including research, publishing, collaborating and teaching) has been a good investment or not.

Ok, and also thank you to Denmark! Even if sometimes don’t get a long with the EU :)

This morning I attended the funeral of Henrik*, a friend of the family. He is Danish and we met him when he started going out with our good friend Isabel. They dated a couple of years and last summer they got married. He, like his wife, was a superb economist. Henrik graduated from one of the best, if not the best business school in Scandinavia. He successfully worked in a major trading company, but having in his genes the potential to be a highly successful entrepreneur, he started his own company with the support of some friends. He was the managing director, and work hard hours for the business to take off. A few months ago, we invited them for dinner, but only she could come, he stayed working.

This week he committed suicide. He left letters with kind words to his family and wife. He assured them it was not their fault, that he loved them and knew they loved him, but that he could not take it anymore.

As today was his funeral, I could say many good things about him, but honestly, he was a good man. I though he loved a lot our friend Isabel.

This is a very personal story, that I’m sharing here. But I feel I have to write about it. As this blog is about economic geography, local development and entrepreneurship, many times I have talked about the complexity of this issues. Recently I added a post about how hard it is to be an entrepreneur. Some will say, that they have never said it was easy. I say, policy makers and academic gurus, should not only avoid to say “it’s easy” (even though many times they imply it), they should clearly say that it is usually really hard.

Probably Henrik did not took his life because of his occupation, but because of a mix of reasons beyond our comprehension. However, knowing a little the situation, his entrepreneurial edge seems to have played a role in this tragic situation.

This experience today, should remind each of us the challenges of entrepreneurship. Something, that sometimes researchers, and probably everybody, forget.

Rest in Peace, brother.

*The names have been changed for privacy considerations.

I just found this article surfing Google Scholar. I think it’s interesting. The author is Liav Orgad, and the name of the paper is “Illiberal Liberalism Cultural Restrictions on Migration and Access to Citizenship in Europe” THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF COMPARATIVE LAW, 2009, Vol. 58. pp. 79-83

The Danish Exceptionalism
In May 2007, Denmark introduced its own citizenship test (indfødsretsprøve). Every applicant who requests Danish citizenship has to correctly answer twenty-eight out of forty multiple-choice questions within an hour. A wide range of topics are addressed. The applicant has to be familiar with Danish history from the Viking era, royal families, sports, literature, poetry, and art. The applicant
should know that during the twelfth century, Saxo Grammaticus wrote Gesta Danorum, which is an essential source of Danish history; that the story of The Ugly Duckling was written by Hans Christian Andersen; that Jørn Utzon is a Danish architect who designed the Sydney Opera House; that Vilhelm Hammershøi is aDanish painter; that Niels Bohr is a Danish scientist who won a Nobel Prize in Physics; that Denmark won the European Football Championship in 1992; and that Erik Balling is the director of the film The Olsen Gang. Other questions focus on constitutional issues, such as abortion, equality or free speech.

Passing the test is only one step on the road to citizenship. The applicant is required to renounce other citizenships, if requested, to declare loyalty to the Danish state, to pass a test proving a high level of proficiency in the Danish language, to have resided in Denmark for nine years without interruption, and to be selfsupporting for at least one year prior to the application. These requirements apply to family members and refugees alike. They come in addition to another set of requirements needed for admission. One of the admission criteria is the “housing requirement.” Under this clause, a Danish citizen seeking family reunion must demonstrate that he or she owns a dwelling place—renting is not sufficient—of a“reasonable size”—that is, “no more than two occupants per room” that “must have an area of at least twenty square meters per occupant.” Admission is also subject to the “24-year age requirement.” Under this rule, both spouses have to be above the age of twenty-four years; this condition, it is alleged, is part of the efforts to prevent forced marriages. A more controversial criterion is the “attachment requirement.” Under this provision, both spouses must demonstrate that their aggregate attachments to Denmark are stronger than their aggregate attachments to any foreign nation. But even all these requirements are not sufficient. Before naturalization, the applicant has to sign a Declaration of Awareness of the terms, and provide a deposit of DKK 54,158 (about €= 7,270) to cover future public expenses that his or her spouse may incur. In addition, the applicant has to sign a Declaration on Active Participation and Integration into the Danish society. Here are some parts of the declaration:

I declare that to the best of my abilities I will make active efforts to ensure that I and my children (if any) acquire Danish language skills and integrate into Danish society. I will make active efforts to become self-supporting through gainful employment. I will make active efforts to learn the Danish language. I will make active efforts to acquire an understanding of the fundamental norms and values of Danish society. I will make active efforts to participate in the life of the community.I will participate actively in any introductory programme I am offered. I will make active efforts to facilitate the integration of my children by working with day-care centres, schools, etc. to ensure that they acquire Danish language skills as early as possible.
[ . . . ]
I am aware that in Denmark principles apply such as the need for respect and for equal opportunities for girls and boys to develop; that adults are obliged to listen to their children; and that corporal punishment is prohibited.

(…)

Denmark, like other EU states, is struggling over defining the essential elements of Danishness. One way to identify what is Danish is by defining what is not Danish. Danish sociologist Peter Gundelach explains: “We know we are Danes only because others are not. It’s all cultural.” The “others” are the non-Western migrants, who have “hijacked the Danish identity.” As part of the campaign to spot the “other,” the DPP showed a poster of a blond Danish girl (“Denmark today”) contrasted with a veiled Muslim woman (“ten years ahead”). The “other” is seen as a cultural threat and a social burden. Danish Prime Minister Fogh Rasmussen explains: “Denmark must not be the social security office for the rest of the world.”

Danish immigration policies are among the strictest in Europe and have been criticized by the Council of Europe and the United Nations. Recently, a decision of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that restricts Member States’ power to regulate migration—and implies that the Danish policies are incompatible with EU rules—has brought to the forefront the relationship between Member States and EU institutions over matters of immigration regulation. In that case, the ECJ reviewed whether a restrictive Irish law, stipulating that foreign spouses of EU citizens must have lawfully resided in another EU state before being granted admission to Ireland, is in line with the EU Directive on Family Reunification.160 In an important precedent, the ECJ recognized the authority of Member States to regulate terms for entry and residence of non-EU family members, but noted that these terms may be based only on “grounds of public policy, public security or public health.” The ECJ dismissed other grounds, such as economic need and culture. It ruled that EU citizens have a protected right to freedom of movement within the EU, which includes the right to reside freely in another Member State with non-EU family members who accompany them. In addition, the ECJ has called upon Member States to review their legislation to ensure that it is in line with the EU law. According to opinion polls, fifty-five percent of the Danes disagree with the EU’s intervention in Danish immigration law, seeing it as “robbing our national statehood.” The DPP leader stated that “the Government must tell the EU system that it was a prerequisite for Danish EU membership to be able to run our migration policies independently; it is [the] Folketinget [Danish Parliament] that decides—not ECJ judges.” To date*, the Danish policies are still in force.

—–
* My friend Bram, just pointed out that, actually yesterday the rule got tighter. I guess that’s why I received so many visits on the blog. Now, it’s not only that your spouse has to be over 24, it also needs some points. Even though, a “23-year-old American nurse, who already speaks some Danish, should find it easier to move to Denmark with her spouse” (According to the Government outlet CPH Post). I wonder how is she going to speak Danish living in the USA, because a CD language course I assure you it does NOT work :) According to Information, the main idea is to stop Muslim immigration.

Well, as long as I live here, and I’m not a Dane I’m not going to comment anymore :)

Bicycles and local planning

October 29, 2010

Mobility is an important factor in the cities. In my home country Spain, there is a big debate about the use of bikes, and its promotion and problems. See for example the brad new blog in Spanish. I ♥ Bicis (bikes). Here in Denmark, I love biking to work everyday, ok I admit it, not with intense rain or snow.
What comes before the biker or a biking friendly infrastructure? One would say the biker. However, a correct planning it’s crucial. Here I show a video of the evolution of the cities of the Netherlands.

I think in Spain the most important thing that would change the whole mentality is to incentive housing property owners to have a bike parking. For example, in Denmark every building by law has to have a bike parking. I hope in the future some Spanish cities would change their mentality, some of them are taking good steps, but overall still the bike use is minimal. For now, we should keep asking, what comes first, the car or the car friendly infrastructure?

Thanks to Manuel Fernandez for the link, check his web Ateneo Naider.

Along other projects, I have been working on a paper (so far) titled: “Geography and the Entrepreneurial Profile
– A Study of Rural and Urban Populations in Denmark”. It is coauthored with Kristian Nielsen, a great economist from the Business Department. He’s like me, a PhD candidate, but he has many more skills, including the crucial econometric and statistical analysis. We have done a paper based on a survey conducted to more than 2000 people, of which 3/4 were successful entrepreneurs and the other 1/4 were employees.

Today there is a huge debate about the importance of living in the city vs. living in the country and its influence in entrepreneurship. We wanted to see if they had any difference in their networks, identity and start-up motivation. More or less the question we rise is: Where do you have more differences: between the urban and rural population, or the entrepreneurs and employees (regardless of geography)?. We have asked this in two conferences we have presented the paper the DRUID and the AAG, and answers are split. What do you think?

At the end of the paper, we wrote a fictional story, but based on true research! to summarize our findings. Here I share with you the story, which probably will not be in the paper for space and copyright reasons. The paper? Soon in your best journal :) If you want to give us some feedback (before we send it to the journal!) we could send it to you, I guess.

The Story

To illustrate some of our main findings regarding entrepreneurs we will present a simple example. – Imagine you have two friends, Ruben and Urban. Ruben is from a rural area, and Urban is from a big city. You talk with each one of them once in a while. You are an equally important friend for each one of them, since they have around the same number of friends. Ruben, earned a three-year technical degree and Urban got a university degree. When you hang out with Urban and his friends you talk about ideas for businesses. He is a very creative guy. – Some time passes – Urban is about to get married, and Ruben, although slightly younger, already has. Interestingly, they both started a business in the service sector. Urban proposed that you and another friend join him in his business adventure. You did not join. Urban borrowed some money from family and friends. – A few more years pass, and both of your friends have become successful entrepreneurs – By reading the results of this paper, you know that you are equally as likely to receive a call from either of them to have a drink. But you are more likely to have Urban ask you for help, with for instance, a computer problem. If you do not help him, you should not worry a lot; he’s the type of person who will soon call an IT professional or another friend. It’s not that Ruben won’t have a problem with the computer, but he would not bother you about it. Ruben would probably ended up spending a few days fixing it himself.

This was a didactic example based on some of our results, overemphasizing the main differences. The differences between age, marriage, and education of these characters can probably be explained by socio-economic and cultural values for each region. Whether this is true for the difference in personal traits and work values could be important to further investigate. Also, the reason for the different use of networks is unclear, however, this behavior is probably related to geographical proximity and/or agglomeration issues. It seems that, while much has changed over the last centuries, in today’s economy the rural entrepreneurs still share a certain resemblance to the rural tradition of surviving without division of labour. This behavior was pointed out in the introduction, with the examples by Adam Smith and the ancient Greeks.

Another main finding of our research is that entrepreneurs are similar, regardless of geography, when compared to wage earners. Going back to the fictional case of the story of our two friends; – The most interesting thing happens the day you introduce Ruben and Urban. They start talking about their businesses, and get along very well. They talked about their employees, and complain about the routine problems of their providers, customers and government bureaucrats. However, they both agree on how much they like having the freedom of being their own boss. They exchange cards and comment on how many things they have in common. – And they are right; these guys have always been one of a kind.

L.C. Freire-Gibb and K. Nielsen, forthcoming