In this column I would like to shortly and a bit differently comment upon those so-called “little news” which take place in the wide world and are not really about us directly but are talked about in Hungary too.
I publish my writings separated from each other, with title and date, and the newest writings always will be put on the top under this introductory. This way by reading the first writing the dear readers had seen before, they would know that all the following lines had been read by them before. But the possibility of reading my earlier writings again anytime will remain henceforward for the readers, if they would like so.
January 07, 2000 – Helmut Kohl and the black money!
The German office of prosecution has started the investigation against Helmut Kohl, who was considered perhaps the most significant European politician of the decade past. He was the chancellor of the FRG then the reunited Germany for almost ten years. The former chancellor can expect even a five year imprisonment since he had partially confessed that his party had secret bank accounts and they kept also campaign money on them.
Nobody can foretell the final result of the news today yet. Among the constantly returning international news of the coming year we will probably hear about the started investigation, the new witnesses getting more and more courageous and the ones clamoring for condemnation with the total rigor of the law. I have neither the proper information nor the reason and/or the right to form a judgement of what happened in Germany. I can neither really give a moral life-belt to somebody who violates the laws of his country, might he be in any position. I also believe that it is rightful to highly expect the public figures to do their best to be able to face the members of the society without hypocrisy day by day, whose confidence they needed to fulfil their chosen duty. This way the few thoughts of mine mentioned below are nothing else but contemplation, struggle about our everyday lives, democracy, future.
I had already raised my doubts in my earlier writing about the way, the proportions and mainly the circumstances of the investigation against President Clinton. There the unmerited way of reference to democracy, the daily enroachment of the investigation, the constant and rude violation of the fundamental human rights of human dignity, which I deem important, with reference to the superior interests were defensible by me more easily. Because they tried to discredit (perhaps successfully) the American president’s extremely successful public judgment definitely by his private life. In Helmut Kohl’s case they deem to proclaim the father of the German reunion, the perhaps most consistent and most influential builder of the „United States of Europe” guilty as a public figure, in this nature of him.
What made me reflect in connection with this is rather that what the matter, that certain grain of sand in the functioning of our present democracy could be, which caused that it could ruin all the successes and historical judgment of the outstanding people who really possessed statesmanlike abilities if they had surcharged manliness in their private lives or made a mistake even once, considered all the circumstances badly on passing the daily decisions. Because in Helmut Kohl’s case nobody has it or even raises it that he had obtained significant and illegal tangible grants for himself immorally, by the abuse of his official power, influence and relations. In the midst of the several hundreds of his daily decisions Helmut Kohl did not notice the risk of in what degree the conception of financing the party prepared by his colleagues passed the legal bounds or it was only, in the opinion of his colleagues in the party, shifting along the loopholes of the laws necessary for his party. As it is evident that it did not belong to among the party-leader/chancellor’s duties to manage and book the finances of the party, to open bank accounts, etc. In spite of this Helmut Kohl had properly made a mistake. Blundering reminds me one of the returning thought of my lectures on what I used to hold forth as a subject of decision theory. Because the ability to decide is one of the most important things that can be expected of leaders. But the requirements of the present world cannot be judged to the same extent as the earlier period of history. According to the example of my lecture, a well-prepared leader is able to pass 20-30 decisions of his field in the course of his daily work which he can think over and consider well before decreeing. These decisions usually can be expected to belong to among the good solutions. It is always possible to find better decisions than even the good ones but either the time to find them is not disposable or the grade of improvement would not be in proportion to the required extra time.
But life is making more exacting conditions today. The daily requirement of decision for the leader fulfilling more important duties surely exceeds the one hundred. But all of one-hundred and twenty decisions can be perfect, good anly with the help of the lucky star. In reality these leaders must learn to live together with the fact, that the 5-10 percents of their decisions will prove to be wrong afterwards. Because in case of a hundred and twenty decisions the decision maker does not have the conditions, he could rightly expect, for the necessary examination, consideration, etc. It has to be definitely learnt how they can handle their decisions proved to be wrong. Many leaders fail during this. Those who are easy-going, about that though they made a mistake but had so many good decisions that it would be enough for three people, could expect that either the 5-10 percents would increase or they would blunder in more and more important questions. But those who start gnawing themselves because of the mistakes, which got to the surface, so much that it would not let them sleep at night, would not be able to decide in the one-hundred and twenty questions next day, would become irresolute leaders, would slip behind. It is definitely hard to learn how to think lesson implied in the mistakes over and hereby to consider which decisions absolutely demand calm examination and proper consideration before passing, but to accept the fact that we will make mistakes tomorrow too, though we do our best to avoid it.
And if it is really this way, if the present world expect this for the good leaders then I wonder whether this same world is able to accept that the outstanding people are human beings too, who make mistakes and can make mistakes. My train of thought deviates from the „inside” struggle neither here. I do not demand an account of that we should consider the outstanding people’s mistakes as pardonable faults with immediate and total forgiveness. If I did it then tomorrow they would be mistaken more and more times and in more and more serious questions. But it is also important to give the judgement of their mistakes and successes, merits the proportion. Because if their first revealed mistake becomes sufficient to ruin the whole path of their lives then sooner or later the really estimable people will take the measure of that today infallibility is absurdity at the same time, so they will not shoulder this level of public life. Of course it shall not have to be feared that there will be no applicants for it but it is to be feared that the new ones coming into prominence will not possess the same human assets and abilities.
It would be good to keep that the politicians like President Clinton or Chancellor Kohl could remain models, people to be followed for today’s young politician generation!
December 14, 1999. – Bluff of several billions!
All the public offices, banks, airlines, multinational companies, manufacturers, who lay any stress on themselves, have already published that they have taken every possible precautions against the computer technical boom of the millennium, i.e. their own systems, products will perfectly handle the „problem” of the year 2000. The root of the problem proclaimed inescapable was that the computer programs, becoming mass-produced barely a few decades ago, – because of programming with economy of space – left the first two figures out in the program controls based on the date of year, and marked the date by only the decade and the year of the century. Following this the programs wrote the number nineteen automatically in front of the result, so the date was restored. In the course of programming we always have to strive to simplification and to the maximum utilization of the automatic controls. All these are built-in elements of numerous softwares as automatism (e.g. computation of interest, determination of periods, etc.) and as controls (e.g. miscalculations and false invoicing issuing from false typing, etc.). In the year two thousand these programs can interpret the ending „00” as 2000, but can also interpret it as 1900. And it really can occur. A lot of false invoices might be made, false resolutions might be born, and equipment steered by computer programs might stall. I still say that the bluff which has surrounded this matter all over the world for already two-three years is of several billions even in dollars.
In the beginning the „anxious” suppositions were about the software’s and or rather the problems of the programs of individual development. Later they were also „anxious” for us about flying at the millennium, using microwave equipment, investing in the stick exchange, etc. Later I would like to say about that the mass-product manufacturers (e.g. personal computer and their operating systems, etc.) were not careless in creating when creating the controlling software’s even a long time ago.
But the many news of the media quoted such examples which cannot be overlooked. The problem of the controlling software, if comes up at all, can have influence only on programs in which the date has a controlling part. The controlling of the above-mentioned microwave oven and any other home equipment are not in direct connection with the date. Some exceptions might be the preprogrammed switching on and off of some home electrical with the possibility of timing. So the most dangerous problem can be that our VCR does not record the preprogrammed movie. Since the „Paula and Paulina” had ended a few days ago, perhaps it would be endurable. Of course nor this is really probable to happen because our home supplies with digital controlling cannot really be older than ten years, and it is improbable that they did not count upon the millennium when producing these products in the 90’s.
My friends selling computer equipment told me in the last weeks that many institutes and private people were exchanging their equipment, what they had used till now, for new ones in a way that was beyond belief. The most important question at buying is whether the machine can surely handle the Y2K. Of course the answer is yes. In their very own interest neither the dealer not the sales clerks add that the well-known manufacturers (IBM, Hewlett Packard, Acer, Pacard Bell, Toshiba, Compaq etc.) have never manufactured such a PC, for which the change of date would cause a problem. The same is true for all the companies involved in the market of the operating systems. With the barely monopolistic Windows 95’ or 98’ anybody could try at work or at home what would happen at the change of date if the setting of the date of the software is „cheated”. If he is a bit afraid of the risk then he can save his documents stored in the computer before the test. Though I can claim that nobody has such an operating computer, such an usable operating system, for which the change of date causes a problem, but there is a solution contradicting the „absolutely necessary exchange” even if I were wrong. In this case the setting of date of our computer, VCR or any other home equipment shall be cheated one or two years backwards and it will operate just as well as it did in 1999.
The airplanes, trains, power plants, electrical network systems, banks, etc controlled by computer programs could mean a more serious threat. But nor here the crisis is so frightening. On the one hand, also in this case only those software’s or program parts from among the controlling programs could mean a problem, in which the accurate determination of date is a condition of some command. The technology of power production, the registry of ownership of the stocks, the proprietary data of the bank accounts, the administration of the current receivables and remittances (except the interest arrears or the accurate amount of interest claim), the operation of the technical equipment of airplanes logically have no connection with the current date data. For this reason it is quite surely tenable that there are going to be neither smaller nor bigger disturbances in seventeen days.
On the other hand, in traffic systems, power supply, telecommunication, financial supply they work with individual directing and controlling software’s, where the operator’s personal attendance is constant from the starting of the system, as well as it is a security requirement of capital importance to ensure collateral automation and the possibility of manual controlling (intervention). The development of this extremely complicated software’s and their continuous setting to the changing conditions require the constant attendance and highly responsible work of many outstanding experts. It is almost unimaginable that these experts would „forget” the few minute programming work of bringing those algorithms forward which assured the right interpretation of date to the date-dependent commands of these software’s if they had these kind of commands at all. And as for the collateral automation, by putting the date forward it assures the possibility to previously simulate the effects of the change of date.
I cannot even estimate how many billion dollars the world had expended on unnecessary software checking, software development, earlier change of devices, prematurely sorting hardware and programs out which are totally utilizable yet, etc. What I am sure of is that the immense overstating of the actual problem of the change of date in 2000 was one of the biggest businesses in connection with the millennium, and its base was certainly nothing else but a „bluff of several billions” taking advantage of the fact that nowadays it was more and more difficult to always find the real content in the mass of information flooding upon us.
I am also sure of that the change of date will not have any influence on our everyday lives, but in the first months of the next year we will hear a lot of unbelievable stories about that everything around us we do not understand immediately will be understandable only by the mystic reason of the millennium.
November 06, 1999 – Microsoft lost a suit in a federal court of the USA
I made my first foreign experiences as a politician in the late 80’s in the United States. I had obtained a lot of experiences which were operating on my thinking even nowadays. I still can not say that everything characterizing today’s America goes without saying for me and pleases me. For example it pleased me that most of my negotiating partners talked about their workplaces as if it was invented definitely for them, while neither their employer could have found anybody else more suitable for the given task. I liked that my friends always said immediate commendatory sentences about the Americans mentioned during our conversations because “there had to be surely some surplus in them which made them excel and be successful”. At that time I often thought about that in company surely would be disputing about who the said person’s “influential assists” are or by what kind of corruption he could become successful? When I drove my car faster than the 55 mph limit on my trips, in turn I was reminded by my American passengers that “the Americans” had decided that they would drive their wonder cars maximum 55 mph – even on their 12-lane highways – for the reason of economizing on energy and protecting the environment. Accordingly in their opinion it was not the government who decided about the speed limit but this decision of limitation meant just the codification of their will. In Budapest on my way home from the airport I was listening to the radio when the ministry of transport announced that they lowered the maximum speed of driving from 60 to 55 km/h within the inhabited areas. In America the law was born by the people’s will so they would keep their own decision. At home it was the minister who decided about the speed limitation, so I thought he would also keep his own decision, of course only when he was not using his distinctive blur siren.
As I wrote in the introductory of this chapter I did not like when they spent hundreds of million dollars to enforce the confession of Bill Clinton and his girlfriend about their relationship which I thought was only their business, I do not like that we can hear news about American – even menacing with sanctions – expectations for many countries of the world which the USA does not impose on itself as obligation or neither can solve itself. One of the favorite pieces of news of the previous weeks was very displeasing for me, which was the case of an eleven year old Swiss-American little boy who was taken from his home handcuffed at night (you can read about it more circumstantially among the colorful news).
It was a curious feeling too which filled me yesterday when the news published it as a sensation that one of the federal courts of the United States declared the Microsoft company guilty in infringing the so-called antitrust acts. The American government has spent more than thirty-million dollars (seven and a half billion forints) for the action till now. The root of the charge is that, according to the law, if a company had got into monopolistic position on some field then it would be forbidden to use this advantage to cause “disadvantage” on other fields for the rivals still existing there. In the opinion of the government of justice representing the charge, the Microsoft committed the violation of the law when by misusing their monopolistic position gained by Windows operating system they tried to oust the still existing rivals from the market of the “browser systems”, whose products were perhaps even more developed than the Microsoft product. And this was disadvantageous for the customers. The way the Microsoft misused its monopolistic position was giving its own browser free with its operating system.
As an economist I believe that it is important for today’s economy to have such regulated conditions which have the purpose of making the fair market behavior be kept. This way the legal control of the activity of the monopolies still has the reason for existence and will have it for a long time. But it is also an important legal principle that misusing the democratic laws is forbidden. It is a very important duty of the courts that by making the best of their right to consider they shall notice if somebody would like to reach his economic goals not by developing and quality but by lawyers’ arguments. The responsibility of the judicial custom is huge. If upon the score of compensation for non-pecuniary loss the court adjudges as much compensation for the customer spilling hot black coffee on himself or the “victim” of malpractice really occurring sometimes as the hundred fold of his lifetime income then it makes the certain services bureaucratic, expensive and incalculable which conduces to the decline of mood for enterprise or medical services and to the deceleration of the progress of the market economy in the long run. And this can scarcely be the consumers’ interest.
The bad feeling about the Microsoft-case came to be felt by me when I read the artificially drafted legal explanation. Was it really the browser system given free by Microsoft what caused a loss and ruined the distributors of the rivaling browser programs? This approach would be a total twist of the intendment of the above-mentioned law. This opinion would mean that those motor works which gave their “factory car-alarm” as an accessory with their cars for no extra cost would oust the companies manufacturing solely car-alarms from the market. Because it is a customary technique of trade when the customer gets some connecting service apparently free with a product for the sake of the successful salability of the basic product. The travel bureaus often offer a “free” rented car for the time of the summer holiday, and the extended guarantee and free servicing vouched by the producing factory are also rivals of the repair shops, etc. The connecting goods are never free in practice, we certainly pay their price when buying the basic product. They could not have started an action against Microsoft if it had circulated an operating system which was able to function as the browser system of the Internet. The charge of ousting the rivalry could arise just because the browser software of Microsoft was made to be a program-element usable independently of the operating system too. It is such a jugglery with the law which is not lifelike and which is harmful for progress. But this way of thinking is neither unknown for the home parochial legislators. Our tax laws abound in elements like this, which leads to unenforceable accounting regulations and thousands of tax actions. For example in the ÁFA law it is a “supported” part if at housing I call the cellar a workroom on the outline in spite of the fact that later I will keep my car in it. At the same time utilizing the support is a violation of law if I call the same room a garage even if I do not have a car and will keep tools in it. The establishment of the category of “sham” contracts in the tax laws is now creating the legal background of constant official abuses. Then in the judicial proceedings the revenue office usually succumbs with its point of view. “Fortunately” the untrue-to-life purpose of legislators is hard to codify in law or mostly contradicts other laws.
The decision of this judge not understanding the rules of economy has now created a precedent in America and will cause a loss of several billions, significant loss of time for the economic progress. As I know the reaction of the American society, we will be able to witness millions of legal contests in the following years where the “losing” companies will ask the courts for the recovery of their investments instead of competing on the market.
November 02, 1999 – Handcuffed eleven year old little boy in the United States.
A neighbor denounced an eleven year old Swiss-American little boy because of sexual harassment in the United states. According to her opinion, the boy was stroking his four year old little sister in an inadmissible way in the garden while the children’s parents were out of home. In the opinion of the child his parents the brother just helped hiss little sister piss just as he saw his parents doing it earlier.
I surely cannot settle what the truth is. And I also believe that the truth has to be known. But the nature of aim counts. In this case the court is looking for the answer whether the child is guilty in sexual harassment (the brother has been charged with sexual assault beside). I find this an outrage against the law. According to the statutory interpretation accepted by me, in the case of an eleven year old child the purpose of inspection can only be whether the child stands in need of medical treatment. If the child really behaved unnaturally towards his sister then he would need a doctor and not galore. But it is more probable that the boy is a curious infant who has no idea about what sexual harassment is (I think every kindergarten teacher could tell stories for hours about the deeds of children discovering the differential between themselves and their mates). I.e. it is a legal principle that the crime has to be recognizable for the perpetrator to be culpable. That is why the mentally disabled people must not be sent to prison and that is also why children have to be precluded from among those who can recognize the results of their deeds. Because if infants can be called to account of their deeds then we should accept their decisions in their other rights too. This way they could decide whether they would like to attend school, where they would like to live after divorce, during hospital treatment they would decide about the assent to surgical operation, etc.
I want to leave neither the night handcuffing unanswered, though it is of much smaller importance. The handcuffs are not the aggressive expression of crime, but are means which keep the suspects and perpetrators back from absconding from their keepers. When the possibility of escape is not a reality then using the handcuffs is the causeless violation of human rights. They can hardly explain why they had to be afraid of a puny little child’s escape or resistance to the police visiting the spot. I can remember what a bad feeling it was to me years ago as the police was marching the leaders of two Hungarian banks away handcuffed, which was nothing else, I am considered, but posing for the television. Particularly the „humiliation” of the seventy year old puny banker was repulsive to me. This had turned the police enrichment on its wrong side. The robust policemen became antipathetic to the viewers and the possible criminal moved me and many others to pity.
There are hundreds of laws helping the progress of the American economy and democracy which we would need to „naturalize” very much. On the other hand it would be good if those legal ideas which served as basis of an eleven year old child’s pretrial imprisonment would never reach us. But to stay objective, in the very most of the states of America they could not initiate a criminal procedure against this child and this regulation is rather the exception of one state of the USA. But it is true in this case too, that sometimes there is still much to do for the sake of the right interpretation of human rights in the United States too.