Why Luxembourg Has the Highest GDP per Capita in the World

via Luxembourg: The Country with the Highest GDP Per Capita | Harley Hahn


I was looking forward into having fajitas until I was confronted with how expensive they were in Luxembourg. I then settled for a cup of ice cream (9 Euros, still expensive, but the cheapest I could find)– and this is what locals call a “regular” restaurant.

Luxembourg has such a high GDP per capita it will well repay our efforts to investigate why this should be the case. What we will see is that the country benefits from a particularly unusual concatenation of circumstances, and it is the confluence of these circumstances that make Luxembourg so economically successful. As we will discuss later, these are the principles that, generally, lend themselves to high per capita GDPs.

The formal name of Luxembourg is the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. The country is a parliamentary democracy, whose head of state is a hereditary monarch known as the Grand Duke (currently Grand Duke Henri). Luxembourg has a history of stable governments, a free press, relatively little ethnic strife, and the absence of a significant underclass. As a result, Luxembourg is a small, stable, peaceful, well-governed country. Over the years, Luxembourg’s government has acted prudently and wisely when it comes to encouraging the growth of the economy. To see what I mean, let’s take a quick tour of the most important parts of the Luxembourg economy:

Steel: Traditionally, since 1911, Luxembourg has been known for its iron and steel industry. Indeed, this industry is still important to Luxembourg, accounting for a full 7 percent of the country’s economy. Luxembourg is home to the largest steelmaker in the world, a company named ArcelorMittal, which produces 8 percent of the world’s entire steel output. Nevertheless, as important as steel is to Luxembourg, the country has vastly increased its wealth by developing two other important industries: financial services and technology.

Financial Services: For years, Luxembourg’s government and business-friendly legal system have supported the financial services sector of the economy, enabling the country to be particularly attractive to foreign investment. As a result, Luxembourg has become a major worldwide banking and financial center.

For instance, this tiny country — smaller than Delaware, with fewer people than Wyoming — is home to 155 different banks! Not bank branches, but actual banking companies, most of which are foreign companies with offices in Luxembourg. As a result, banking is now the largest single part of the Luxembourg economy, surpassing even the steel industry.

Moreover, banking is only one part of the country’s vast financial services sector. Luxembourg’s financial services industry, for example, also specializes in the administration of international investment activities, such as mutual funds, hedge funds, and pension funds.

Technology: In addition to financial services, Luxembourg is also one of the most important technology and e-commerce hubs in Europe. Because of the government’s significant long-term support of the technology sector, Luxembourg has an enormous, ultra-high-speed communications infrastructure, as well as multiple data centers. As a result, this very small country is able to offer massive international connectivity to the global network. One other benefit for the people of Luxembourg is that virtually all residents have access to very high-speed Internet spread over national fiber-optic networks that connect directly to their homes.

To sum it all up… 

Although Luxembourg is a small country, both in population and land mass, it has a variety of political, social, and economic factors that over the years have enabled the country to develop a highly sophisticated, post-industrial, tech-driven service economy. Because of this, Luxembourg is known around the world as a business-friendly country with low corporate taxes, a stable work force, and government incentives with respect to investment– all of which, with its small population, results in an unusually high GDP per capita.


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Why It’s Always Rush Hour in Hong Kong

via Why it’s always rush hour in Hong Kong | South China Morning Post | Kenny Hodgart

Hong Kong Old.jpg

I was in Grade 1 when I had a taste of my first overseas trip. It was Hong Kong in 1996. I remember enjoying the candy store trips in the middle of dank skies and alleyways. It was far different from the Hong Kong we know of today. Looking back, I never knew I would be at one of the most crucial times in Hong Kong history– a year right before their independence.  (Photo credit: CCO Public Domain)

I don’t expect it’s a hugely controversial observation for a foreigner to make that for all their many virtues, Hongkongers are possessed of a certain impatience. People here seem to be in a constant hurry: to get out of the lift, to get on the train, to put in more hours at work, to make sure their lunch doesn’t run off its plate. Everything is time lost or gained; results must be instant. There’s a problem? Sack the helper. Send in a tutor. Fire off a dozen instant messages.

The other day, I took a phone call from an unrecognised number – something I’m usually careful not to do because nine times out of 10 I’m met with a snatch of music, followed by a couple of rings and then someone saying wai? But no – this time it was a member of our much-loved public relations community phoning me about a story. Had I received her email? Possibly … When had it been sent? Just now. Awkward pause. What did it say? Oh, maybe you need to read it and reply to me. Yes, OK. I checked: it asked if I could acknowledge receipt of an attached document. Dutifully, I did.

Perhaps I do Hong Kong a disservice by imagining things are different elsewhere. Certainly, the proliferation of channels of instantaneous communication, all jammed into your smartphone, means unless you throw the damn thing away it is harder to attain serenity. But, really, we’ve arrived at an appalling state of affairs, as a society and a race. Take WhatsApp. It shows when you’re online – so if you’re already having a conversation and someone else starts in with a whole other thread of messages, it’s impossible to duck out without seeming like you’re deliberately ignoring them.

The contention, of course, is that all of this “connectivity” means people are getting on with their lives more efficiently, doing things quicker and better. Rubbish. All it means is that you spend half your waking hours responding to demands for updates and worrying about whether it’s bad form not to reciprocate emoticon usage.

For some people, responding to emails at midnight, or 6am, or two minutes after their out-of-office ping-back has informed you they are on annual leave, shows how hard-working and committed they are. They’re suckers. But it’s also not really their fault: they’ve simply internalised all the angst governments and corporations go about spreading to make us all feel personally responsible for slackness in the economy. You might spend your days recycling information in the hypomanic mills of the post-industrial knowledge economy. You might labour as a mere pusher of digital pens. But you’re lazy and anaemic growth is your fault.

Over the past few decades, time-saving plant and machinery has increased “productivity” in ways that make the sweat of our brows like unto driblets in the ocean. My guess is that we feel a sense of collective redundancy and guilt about this – anxieties which the dismal, and dismally inexact, science of economics can easily be mobilised to bolster. Growth is one thing, productivity another. But productivity growth must also be maintained.

We’ve arrived at an appalling state of affairs, as a society and a race. Not all technological innovations are equal, though. And while instantaneous information might be useful in battle, or for nailing criminals, it is not always. Twitter consists entirely of media folk preening themselves. Rolling news is increasingly just people talking about what’s in tomorrow’s newspapers, which ruins the fun of buying a newspaper. And real-time market information (at least according to the Wall Street Journal’s “Intelligent Investment” columnist Jason Zweig) is a terrible idea that probably leaves investors worse off over the long run.


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5 Reasons Why Austrian Economics Is Better Than the Mainstream

via 5 Reasons Why Austrian Economics Is Better than the Mainstream | Mises Wire | Jonathan Newman


There is more to Austria’s overwhelmingly colorful and grandiose structures than meets the eye. (Innsbruck | April 2015)

Noah Smith has acknowledged the failings of mainstream macroeconomics, but he says that none of the “outside ideas” offer a better replacement. He failed to mention the Austrian school, but we can still show how the Austrian tradition parries his criticisms with ease.

1. Quantitative Models Totally Miss the Nature of Human Action

Smith dismisses all outside approaches that do not produce quantitative forecasts, even though the best, newest, and high-powered quantitative macroeconomic models have failed recently.

The quantitative approach, however, totally misses the nature of human action, the fundamental starting point for economics. All economics boils down to individuals making choices, the outcome of which is dependent on individuals’ preferences.

Unfortunately, you can’t even do basic math with people’s preferences for two reasons: preferences are subjective, and preferences are ordinal. You can’t measure or compare something you can’t observe, and you can’t do math with ordinal figures. Adding 2nd place to 3rd place doesn’t get you 5th place or 1st place. It gets you nowhere, which is exactly where mainstream macro is today.

2. The Micro/Macro Separation is Baseless

Smith dedicated his article to problems with macro theories, but Austrians understand that there is no meaningful distinction between micro- and macroeconomics. The only difference is one of scale and focus, but the fundamentals of economics are the same no matter if you are looking at individual consumers and firms, or the effects of credit expansion and inflation.

Mainstream economists find their way into smaller and smaller categories. Now, there is “health economics” and “development economics” and “energy economics.” There is also a major divide between those who do macro and everybody else, to the point that neither side really understands what the other is doing.

But how could we expect individuals to act differently if we are just changing our perspective? Macroeconomic relationships are just the sum of many microeconomic happenings. Price inflation (usually considered a macro topic) happens because many individuals (micro-level) bid up the prices of various goods and services because their nominal incomes increase with an increase in the money supply.

Micro and macro are not separate sciences. They aren’t even two sides of the same coin. They are the same science, because all causal relations in economics are at the individual (micro) level.

3. Economic Laws Aren’t Just Empirical Regularities

Smith also said that many heterodox theories “have some serious flaws that make it very difficult to test them empirically.” This is meat on the table for anybody who has read Mises.

Economic laws are derived from the logic of action. It is undeniable and irrefutable that we will use additional units of some good toward the satisfaction of a lower ranked end (diminishing marginal utility). Subsequent claims are equally rock solid, as long as each step in the chain is logically sound.

The cause-and-effect claims in economics are more than regularities, and they can’t even be tested. This is because measuring the true effect of any cause requires the observation of the counterfactual — the alternative course of events that would have happened without the cause.

4. Austrian Economics is not a Collection of “Vague Ideas”

Even though empirical testing is out of the question, economics is not reduced to a collection of “vague ideas,” as Smith put it.

Economics is based on both causal relationships and realistic relationships, which is why some rightfully refer to the Austrian brand as “causal-realist economics.” We do not conjure up some homo economicus who behaves in some predictable way or consider human behavior as a formula with a stochastic component. We consider real humans as they really act.

Since economics deals with cause and effect, it is inherently structured, both logically and pedagogically. Diminishing marginal utility gives way to the law of demand. Opportunity costs and tradeoffs give way to comparative advantage, which gives way to the law of association and the benefits of the division of labor. These ideas are systematic and intricately connected. Economics, properly understood, is not just a collection of vague ideas.

5. Austrian Economists Did Predict the Housing Bubble Catastrophe … and the Great Depression

The funny thing is that the economists who don’t hang their hat on empirical validation, prediction, and quantitative models are the ones who consistently get it right when it comes to business cycles and other macroeconomic phenomena.

You can search this website, Mises, for articles published way back to the early 2000s, when a housing bubble wasn’t on anybody’s radar. Detractors like to say, “Even a broken clock is right twice a day…” but these authors were pointing out specific causes of a specifically housing-centered boom and the specific consequences that would occur because of the FED’s and the federal government’s policies.

For example, see Sean Corrigan’s December 3, 2002 interview:

But both Freddie and Fannie are doing everything possible to encourage more debt. They have online mortgage applications. You can even get an online appraisal of your house.

There is a subterranean literature on the fringes of the mainstream press about how the appraisal process in home loans has been corrupted in this boom. The appraiser is paid if the loan goes through. Therefore, the potential borrower or purchaser or even the vendor can prod the appraiser to give a higher evaluation, just to get the deal done. Even with the inflation in prices that we’ve seen, it’s worse than it looks because the house values aren’t there in the first place.

And Mark Thornton in 2004:

Given the government’s encouragement of lax lending practices, home prices could crash, bankruptcies would increase, and financial companies, including the government-sponsored mortgage companies, might require another taxpayer bailout.

Of course the Peter Schiff was Right video is a classic, too.

I’ve said it before: mainstream economics is fraying at both ends. At one end, heterodox and Austrian economists keep pulling on loose strands: pointing out the inconsistencies, failures, and absurdities of their unrealistic models. At the other end, top mainstream economists and mouthpieces are doing the same, but with a touch of deflection and embarrassment.


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Why You Should Be Wary of Online Property Listings

via Online rental fraud rising steeply – BBC News | Guy Lynn and Ed Davey

london flat 3.png

Too good to be true? It probably is. Image Credit: Airbnbhell

Rental fraud is rising sharply, the BBC has learned during an investigation in which it confronted two online fraudsters for their crimes.

Scam artists offer cheap flats for rental, demanding instant deposits. But they do not actually own the homes – and would-be tenants’ cash is lost.

Reports of rental fraud in England and Wales leapt from 2,216 in 2014 to 3,193 in 2015.

BBC researchers posed as tenants to expose tricks used by fake landlords.

One advert fraudsters attempted to place on the flat-sharing website EasyRoomMate offered a plush Kensington apartment for just £700 per month, far below the market rate.

Atta Nasim, of Milestone Estate Agents in north-west London, called the price “crazy”, adding that you would not get a garage for that price in the area.

When contacted, a woman posing as the owner and calling herself ‘Luise’ tried to convince a BBC researcher to wire over £1,400 to a branch of The Coventry Building Society to secure the flat right away.

Land Registry documents show she is not the legal owner of a property there and when researchers visited the mansion block it was to find all the flats inhabited. The BBC also confirmed with the owners a ‘Luise’ was not associated with the property.

In an attempt to convince the BBC of the veracity of her offer, the fraudster emailed both a contract and a passport image in the name of a German lady.

The BBC has since established the fraudster has stolen the identity of a real German woman.

A second fraudster, calling himself Gary, offered a handsome red-brick period flat in Willesden on the same website for well below the market rate, urging the BBC’s researcher to wire £1,500 to a Halifax account.

In reality, the property was home to Italian students. The managing agents knew nothing of ‘Gary’.

‘Gary’ claimed to be based in London – but a BBC analysis of his IP address showed he was in fact communicating from a computer in Lagos, Nigeria.

Confronted with his lies by telephone, ‘Gary’ replied: “I don’t know about that. You think this is a fraud? There is no fraud my friend.”

When accused of taking part in a crime, ‘Luise’ put the phone down. The BBC’s technical analysis showed she was in the UK.

The BBC has made the Coventry Building Society and the Halifax aware of the fraudulently-used accounts.

A Halifax spokesman said: “We are currently investigating the matter you have raised with us and will take the necessary action we deem appropriate pending the outcome of this investigation.”

Student Nikola Poncet, a victim of the crime, lives in a small bedsit in Luton. He was ripped off by a fraudster with a bogus advert offering a flat in Queen’s Park, west London, and lost £600.

Mr Poncet said: “I was willing to take the flat without a viewing based on the location, just on the price of it.

“[I felt] anger, disgust, I was really disappointed.

“I was thinking, ‘Wow I’ve spent money I couldn’t afford and what’s happening to me right now? I’m in a nightmare and I can’t wake up’.'”

london flat 4.png

A “confirmation email” R and I received after inquiring on a flat in London via flat-club.com. We smelt something fishy when this “Hellen” did not agree to us viewing the property before payment.

The figures showing a rise in rental fraud were from Action Fraud, which collates national fraud statistics for City of London Police.

A spokeswoman for Action Fraud said it was working to stop those fraudulently advertising properties.

She continued: “We work with property adverting websites to ensure that they are able to recognise fraudulent advertisers.”

EasyRoomMate, one of the largest flat-sharing websites in the UK, filters adverts before they go live.

It blocks 5% of the 1,000 adverts placed on its UK site each week because they are suspected to be fraudulent. But a further 1.5% that slip through the net are taken down after publication.

Albin Serviant, CEO of EasyRoomMate, which assisted the BBC in identifying the two fraudsters, said of the criminals: “They are very experienced, they are very sophisticated and they are also adapting very fast.

“They are very creative so we need to make sure the team are experienced enough to cope with these kinds of issues.”

The adverts the BBC investigated were not allowed to go live by EasyRoomMate. Websites including Gumtree, Air BnB and Spare Room have also been targeted by rental fraudsters.

But for Mr Poncet, warnings come too late. He added: “I’ve got to start all over again.”


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Why You Should Think Twice Before Trusting Airbnb Reviews

via Why you should think twice before trusting Airbnb reviews | Erica Ho


After one terrible Airbnb experience, R and I are now more careful with our stays. After a week’s worth of search, we have just landed on a cozy and comfortable cottage with the warmest hosts ever! (Northern Yorkshire, 2016)

Ever met a perfectly pleasant stranger and then you were asked to critique their communication, habits and home? That’s essentially what leaving an Airbnb review is like.

Though there’s a lot of wonderful hype about Airbnb, there are tons of pitfalls to using the service, including its lack of privacy, poor consistency and the fact that there are some pretty terrible people out there — guests and hosts included. And unfortunately, this all gets swept under the rug because it’s really hard to put down someone after you’ve met them face to face.

More than anything else, it all boils down to the fact that people just hate giving bad feedback directly to people, and that’s why its often best to take Airbnb reviews with a grain of salt. A big grain of salt.

Fundamentally, at its core, Airbnb is the marriage of two preexisting concepts, a lovechild spawned between CouchSurfing and traditional vacation rentals, born into life by Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, Nathan Blecharczyk back in 2008. Like Uber and Lyft, the company fundamentally acts a third-party broker between its community. There’s a new reciprocal relationship in town where hosts can affect guests and vice versa, in equal footing that wasn’t there before. And it’s an interesting relationship in which I’ve certainly played my part in, as both host and guest since 2011.

That’s because in the new “sharing” economy (let’s be real, it’s still transactional), two-, three-, or four-star reviews are essentially dead.

Reviews are either “awesome!” or horrible.

Got something lukewarm to say? Don’t be surprised if that’s perceived as completely negative. Courtesy now dictates behavior and guests/hosts will often refrain from leaving a critiqued review unless it was just truly, truly an awful experience. Minor issues get glossed over. And that’s unfortunate, because, like in many review systems, it’s the three- and four- star reviews that are often the most objective.

For better or for worse, social niceties are getting in the way. Rarebit CEO Hampton Catlin illustrates this best when he posted on a blog about his own Airbnb experience:

In fact, we’re currently struggling with this feeling with the AirBnB we’re currently in. It’s slightly dirty, has a loud workshop next door that wakes us up with banging on the wall, has a bathroom that is very hard to get to from the bedroom, and, above all, was pricey! But we met the owner. He seems nice. The place is pretty large. The internet is fast. Plus, he keeps asking if everything is okay and we don’t want to seem like complainers. He’s been really apologetic about the issues in the place but hasn’t really done anything…

The issue is that for most people, it’s against our nature to say bad things about people we just met. It stresses us out and makes us unhappy. So we find it far easier to say “everything’s fine” than “your house isn’t very nice.”

In a world where bad reviews can influence future earnings or the ability to save some money, both hosts/guests will err on keeping the peace in cause of the greater good. Quora and Airbnb user Gillis Danielsen further chimes in on the subject, pointing out his own observations:


Image Credit: Quora

This essentially skews the numbers, creating a weird five-star halo effect. If everyone essentially chooses to abstain from reviewing mediocre places, then the system is not accurate. If there are eight five-star reviews but 20 people can’t be bothered to leave three-star reviews, than the real average for a property would be 3.5 stars. But that’s not what you would see, at all.

Airbnb even subtly acknowledges this, requiring Airbnb SuperHosts to receive a review from a guest at least 50% of the time.

It also doesn’t help that when Airbnb first initially launched, reviews between hosts and guests were published instantly, thus setting the tone. Since Airbnb participation relies on strong reviews, it was detrimental to leave a negative review—no matter how honest they were—for fear of retribution and getting embroiled in a “he said, she said” conflict. And let’s be honest, no matter who is right in that particular argument, a winner rarely emerges from the fray.

The old adage thus prevailed: “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it.”

It wasn’t until last year—a full six years after the company’s inception—that Airbnb took serious steps to rectify the issue, during six years is a virtual lifetime.

Unfortunately, even with these changes it’s not enough. The company furthered altered their review policy to let hosts and guests leave both public and private feedback simultaneously. While it lets hosts/guests see what can be improved upon during the experience, it significantly minimizes the amount of public negative feedback. Both hosts and guests feel freer to comment honestly, but the thing is that it all happens behind closed doors with no accountability that the issue will be fixed in the future. There is no transparency for future host/guests, who are forking over their cash or their home.

Even though Airbnb has a valid interest in trying to police their community so that there are no bad eggs, Airbnb has a financially vested interest to at least ensure satisfaction levels appear to be high. Unlike most review sites, it should not be forgotten that Airbnb takes a decent chunk of fees (a healthy 6-12% depending on the cost of the total reservation) out for every transaction made. These fees make up a huge portion of their estimated annual $250 million profit in 2013.

(Compare that to Yelp and TripAdvisor, who don’t necessarily have financial interests in every single property featured on their site. TripAdvisor does review FlipKey, another vacation rental site they own, but the problems with TripAdvisor are well documented).

One anonymous Quora user has pointed out that Airbnb does not, in fact, leave its reviews alone. In fact, he notices that the site has had a tendency to hide its reviews to further its own goals.

Frankly, that’s disturbing. Especially when travelers are paying hundreds of dollars for a decent roof under their head that may make or break their trip experience. To clarify Airbnb’s position, I emailed them regarding the removal of negative reviews, asking in particular, why that Quora user may have had the experience that they did.

Their spokeswoman redirected me back to their official review guidelines:

Airbnb’s default position is not to censor, edit or delete reviews. However, there are rare cases in which we may take the extraordinary step of disallowing or removing reviews or review responses. We reserve the right to remove reviews that violate review guidelines.

Not totally reassuring.

At least there seems to be a better system set up for honesty on other sites, where users can post their own pictures, where business owners can offer their responses, and there are no adverse effects to users posting honest opinions. In truth, those systems punish property owners more than it punishes travelers.

That system creates a pro-consumer culture where property owners have to maintain a level of consistency. And Airbnb’s main flaw is that hosts have varying degrees of professionalism and understanding that it’s a business transaction. The experience is completely variable. Unfortunately, this particular system also doesn’t account for someone who might come in and wreck your home, too. While it might not be the particularly best system for Airbnb, there is also more honesty on one side of the coin.

Perhaps the best thing for Airbnb to do is to keep the policy as is but without notifying either host or guest that a review has happened on either side. Most hosts and guests can generally sense whether a lukewarm review is imminent, so it’s possible to game the 14-day window by waiting till the very end or waiting for other positive reviews to deflect a negative or lukewarm review. Another option? Hide the names of users/hosts for their written and starred reviews to keep it less personal. That would simplify things.

So how do you tell someone who you’ve seen in their jammies that their place might be a bit a dump after coming into their home? After they went out of the way to make coffee? Or how to ask your guest not to eat your food while they’re dumping milk into their bowl without being an asshole? I’m still trying to figure that one out.


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Why Amsterdam’s Prostitution Laws are Still Failing to Protect or Empower Women

via Why Amsterdam’s Prostitution Laws are Still Failing to Protect or Empower Women | Lily Rae, IB Times

Amsterdam may be heralded as a hub for liberalism and social progression following its legalisation of prostitution in 1988 and consumption of marijuana.

However, after a significant number of brothels have been closed due to suspected criminal activity in the best known Red Light district of De Wallen in Amsterdam, alongside the nature of displaying women in windows like pieces of meat, it shows that the system has not worked.

The Normalisation of Exploitation

I went to Amsterdam for the first time recently, at the ripe old age of 23.

I did all the things they tell you in the guidebooks – marvelled at the paintings in the Van Gogh Museum, climbed every leg-breaking step in Anne Frank’s House, had coffee without milk at least three times a day, and ate my weight in Gouda cheese.

However, I didn’t smoke a big reefer style doobie spliff joint, in case you were wondering, mainly because the last time I did that I stopped listening to the person I was having a conversation with and instead became obsessed by the notion that I had a big fat hamster face and everyone was laughing at it.

I also had a Febo burger, which was sensational – the radical idea behind Febo, a fast-food chain in Amsterdam, is essentially 24 hour vending machines serving up burgers, croquettes, kebabs and the like. The burger sits in a little heated booth behind a glass door, you pop a couple of Euros into the slot, the door opens and you’ve got a burger without the need for awkward human interaction.

Funnily enough, the way women lined the windows in De Wallen resembled that of a Febo snack – quick, easy, and on display for those who need a quick fix.

Women as Fast Food ‘Treat’

Visitors enter a peep-show theatre during the first-ever open day of Amsterdam's red light district

Visitors enter a peep-show theatre during the first-ever open day of Amsterdam’s red light district (Reuters)

Lumped into the same category as visiting a museum, the zoo or a gallery, the Red Light District is what people rave about it when visiting Holland’s capital city.

Lauding Amsterdam for its liberal-mindedness, observing (or visiting) the women in their ‘iconic’ window brothels in De Wallen, is a ‘must-see’.

For those that aren’t in the know – in Amsterdam, prostitution and the purchasing of sex is legal, and has been since 1988. Walking through the Red Light District is supposedly a fun, unique experience – countless people had reassured me that I“had to visit it”, but I found the narrow, cobbled streets of De Wallen to be passively hostile, especially to women.

I couldn’t help but keep my head down and rush through, trying to avoid the gaze of the girls – many of whom looked younger than me – displayed in the glass windows like cuts of meat. Like the sweaty Febo snacks, couped up in their display cabinets.

In fact, the whole Red Light experience made me uncomfortable and sad.

These women – or rather, their bodies – were being reduced to nothing more than a tourist attraction. The fact that a girl in this city is presented in much the same way as a burger in a fast-food joint is somewhat disturbing to me.

Is the System Actually Working?

A visitor views the installation 'The Hoerengracht' ('Whore's Canal') by U.S. artists Ed Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz at the National Gallery in central London November 17, 2009.

A visitor views the installation ‘The Hoerengracht’ (‘Whore’s Canal’) by U.S. artists Ed Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz at the National Gallery in central London November 17, 2009 (Reuters)

Amsterdam City Council goes to great lengths to try and ensure the safety of the women working.

Police patrol the city; each room is equipped with a panic button; the women undergo regularly mandatory health checks and are encouraged to register their profession, to pay taxes.

The logic behind the legalisation of prostitution seems to be that by bringing the underworld into the light, the criminal aspect would surely dissolve.

In theory, women would be less likely to suffer abuse at the hands of pimps, less likely to be involved in human trafficking, and more likely to earn a decent wage.

And yet, the system hasn’t worked – it’s made things worse.

A prostitute in Amsterdam, a notoriously expensive city, will pay up to one hundred euro a night for the rent of a window.

She also has to pay a pimp, and pay taxes if she registers – though only 5% of prostitutes have actually registered for tax, perhaps for fear of the social stigma that comes with publicly announcing yourself as a prostitute.

Just in order to take some home for herself she’ll have to have sex with ten to fifteen people per day. The vocal union for the sex workers, De Rode Draad, went bankrupt and closed down in 2009. In addition to this, 13 sex workers have been murdered in De Wallen since 1990.

After twenty years of legalised prostitution, the council ended up cutting down the Red Light district’s brothels from 482 to 243 after bouts of criminal activity.

Why Legalising Prostitution is Rotten to the Core

De Wallen, for all its beautiful architecture and friendly people, is rotten to the core, much like the concept of legalised prostitution.

As these bored-looking girls stand behind their red-lit glass doors, looking out as much as we look in, we are supposed to feel better in the knowledge that this profession is sanctioned by the government, which in turn means that the government itself will profit off the sex trade.

However, this doesn’t automatically mean that these women have a choice in their work. I’m told there are many women who do enjoy prostitution; I’ve yet to hear of one, though, and bear in mind that the average age of a woman entering the sex trade is fourteen.

The problem is that the legalising of prostitutes creates a higher demand for these women. That’s where human trafficking comes in, and Amsterdam – along with much of Eastern Europe – is one of the most heavily trafficked places in the world, according to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

A Dutch prostitute sits behind her window in the red light district in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

A Dutch prostitute sits behind her window in the red light district in Amsterdam, The Netherlands (Reuters)

In 2008, six men were convicted of the “largest case of human trafficking ever brought to trial in the Netherlands.

According to the investigation: “some of the victims were compelled to have breast enlargement surgery, and one defendant was convicted of forcing at least one woman to have an abortion.

“Women were beaten and forced to sit in icy water to avoid bruising. They also were tattooed.”

In 2009, two men were jailed for forcing around 140 girls between the ages of 16 and 23 into prostitution in Europe – and by controlling them using voodoo.

A now famous campaign from Stop the Traffik showed several window girls breaking into a dance routine; following the routine a huge screen displayed the message “Every year, thousands of women are promised a dance career in Western Europe. Sadly, they end up here.”

Amsterdam’s human trafficking problem is out of control, and try as they might to maintain a facade of safety for sex-workers, the fact remains: it is one of the most dangerous professions in the world and there is no guarantee of safety.

Amsterdam’s attempt to legalise prostitution, ‘the oldest profession in the world’, has failed, resulting in the acceptance of selling under-age, trafficked women as a tourist attraction.

Traffickers are making a mint off slavery, thanks to this ‘liberal’ concept.

Before we can even begin to consider the successful legalising of sex work, we must find a way to end the exploitation rampant in the sex trade – for a start, those who pay to have sex with human beings are rapists and should be prosecuted as such. Having sex with someone just so you can pay your rent is not consent.

Despite its honourable intentions, Amsterdam’s legalisation of prostitution is not liberal or empowering – it perpetuates the notion that women are the oldest form of currency.


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Why Belgium? 5 Reasons Terrorists Hit Heart of Europe

via Why Belgium? 5 reasons terrorists hit heart of Europe – CNN.com


Belgium is such a beautiful country, and it’s sad it’s been the target of many terrorist attacks. CNN gives 5 reasons why.

Twin bombing attacks in Brussels that killed 28 people and injured more than 300 sent shock waves throughout Europe and shone a spotlight on Belgium as a fertile ground for terrorism.

How did a small country about the size of the state of Maryland spiral from a renowned architectural and cultural hub to a hotbed of violent jihadist ideology?

Here are five reasons why terrorists struck at the heart of Europe:

1. Belgium has an abundance of foreign fighters

Per capita, more young Belgian men are traveling to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria than any other European country.

Experts believe that nearly 500 men and women have left Belgium for those two countries since 2012. At least 150 of them have returned, according to Belgian officials.

However, experts admit the numbers are on the conservative side; no one knows for certain exactly how many have gone and how many have returned.

As result, Belgian authorities and the public had for some time feared an attack by homegrown jihadists.

Sajjan Gohel, international security director for the Asia-Pacific Foundation think tank, said Belgium is not only the capital of the European Union but also “a central hub for ISIS,” a logistical base of operations for extremists.

Many extremists in Belgium have been inspired by the once-powerful radical group Sharia4Belgium, which targeted vulnerable and disenfranchised communities marred by rampant crime and unemployment.

The group gained prominence in 2010 and was disbanded five years later after a trial that resulted in its designation as a terror organization.

“The Belgian authorities did not take Sharia4Belgium seriously until it was too late,” CNN contributor Tim Lister said. “The damage had been done.”

Belgium Interior Minister Jan Jambon said the work of security forces to counter terror threats has had an impact but admitted ISIS recruiters still actively ply their trade in Belgium.

“Recruitment continues — at a much lower level than we were used to, for example two years ago — but yes, it continues,” Jambon said. “It is difficult to find the people.

2. Police resources are inadequate

Security forces carried out raid after raid in their hunt for Paris attacks fugitive Salah Abdeslam and those who plotted the carnage in the French capital.

During a search for evidence at what turned out to be at least one of Abdeslam’s safe houses last week, police were met with a barrage of gunfire that tipped them off that something inside — or someone — was important. Abdeslam, who had abandoned his suicide belt in Paris during the November attacks, escaped again — only to be cornered in a daring daytime raid a few days later in Brussels’ Molenbeek neighborhood, not far from his childhood home.

The scope of jihadist activity across Belgium appeared to blindside authorities.

“They don’t have enough law enforcement officers, and they haven’t been able to ramp up at the same rate as foreign fighter recruitment has ramped up,” said William Braniff, executive director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. “It’s a math game. It’s resources.”

It took authorities four months to capture Abdeslam, the most wanted man in Europe.

The inability to apprehend the Belgian-born French citizen of Moroccan descent was particularly irksome because police stopped him the morning after the November 13 attacks near the Belgian border but did not detain him.

He is believed to have called friends to take him to Belgium after the attacks. They passed through police checkpoints, but Abdeslam had not yet been identified as a suspect and they were allowed to continue on their way.

Are Belgian authorities responsible, at least in part, for this rupture?

Jambon suggested Thursday that Belgian authorities may be responsible, at least in part, for some of the failings in stopping the bloodshed, especially after Turkey’s presidency revealed that it had captured bomber Ibrahim El Bakraoui in June 2015 and deported him to Europe, where he was set free.

Bakraoui, 29, is the suicide bomber shown in the middle of the airport photograph released after this week’s attack. He was the brother of Khalid El Bakraoui, who blew himself up in the Brussels subway train.

3. Many Muslim youth there feel marginalized

Like the fabled Dutch boy who saved the Netherlands from flooding by putting his finger in a dike, Belgium has sought to hold back another force of nature: a disaffected, disassociated youth, warped and wrapped in ISIS’ corrosive ideology, according to CNN’s International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson.

Their numbers have outstripped the country’s counterterrorism efforts.

“Belgium is playing catch-up,” Lister said.

A young man from Belgium named Ali (not his real name) agreed to speak to CNN on condition of anonymity. He sobbed as he told of how two of his brothers, members of Sharia4Belgium, made the trip to Syria, where one was killed.

He believes discrimination and a “lack of opportunities” have driven many young men into harm’s way, even though they are second or third generation, because they simply don’t feel accepted in Belgium. Jihadi recruiters exploit this sense of marginalization.

“The Belgian state rejects children and young people; they say, ‘They are all foreigners, why should we give them a job?,'” he said. “They fill us with hate, and they say we aren’t of any use, so when young people see what’s going on over there [in Syria], they think ‘Well OK, let’s go there and be useful.'”

Jambon insists the government is working hard to prevent radicalized youngsters from leaving the country.

“One-and-a-half years ago, we had 15 persons per month leaving for Syria or Iraq, now it’s less than five,” he said. “Five is too much, I am aware of that. … If you see that people are still leaving to join ISIS, we didn’t do enough. That’s clear. The aim, the goal, is zero people.”

Molenbeek has a large, predominantly Muslim population of immigrants from North Africa. The neighborhood also suffers from soaring youth unemployment estimated at more than 40%.

While unemployment is rampant, online propaganda for ISIS’ bloody interpretation of jihad is often only a click away.

Family and community members who to try to stop the radicalization open themselves up to threats.

“We live in an era where everybody that tries to speak out and stand up for the truth will find people trying to stop him from doing so,” Belgian Imam Sheikh Sulayman Van Ael said.

4. Belgium is divided by geography and language

Belgium is a small country of 11 million people that’s divided by language and culture. Slightly more than half of Belgium’s population is Flemish. They speak Dutch and live in the north, in Flanders. Less than half are French and live in the southern region of Wallonia.

“The construct of the Belgium government makes it possible for these kind of attacks to happen,” said Gohel, adding that the country’s security and intelligence agencies are divided internally.

The country at every level and almost every public service — schools, hospitals, even policing — is split along the lines of language. There are French schools and Flemish schools, French hospitals and Flemish hospitals.

Brussels is the capital of Belgium and Flanders, but Brussels is French-speaking.

It was only in 2011 that Belgium ended a record-breaking 589 days without an elected government. Iraq had the previous longest record without a functioning government.

A temporary caretaker government had been in place since Prime Minister Yves Leterme’s resignation was accepted on April 26, 2010, with politicians locked in a stalemate between Flanders and Wallonia.

5. It’s close to big European cities

Brussels’ proximity to major European cities and historic lack of internal cohesion makes it enticing to jihadists who move about with relative ease.

Brussels, the capital of the European Union, is just a short drive away from a host of major cities: Paris and Strasbourg, of course, but also Amsterdam and, in Germany, Cologne, Frankfurt and Berlin. Hop into a car or onto a train and you can be in any number of European cities within a few hours. Only recently, especially after the Paris attacks, did some European nations begin implementing immigration checks.

The inability of Belgian officials to quell the flow of fighters traveling to ISIS territory, and — perhaps more worryingly — their inability to track them once they return, mean many jihadists have gone unnoticed. Authorities in several neighboring countries believe other attacks are likely.


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