Why One Should Never Allow Economists Dabble in Political Theory

Pengovsky is chez les Croats enjoying a rather peaceful part of the
year in which, according to Jack Wallance in City Slickers “you city
boys think you can solve all your problems” and only occasionally do I
bother to check my mail, let alone blog. Thus the lack of skin and
meat, but I’m sure you’ve guessed that already. Also, the wi-fi screen
in pengovsky’s destination of choice classifies this blog as
“pornography” and filters it out, of which I’m especially proud 🙂

However, be that as it may, my algae-and-salt cocoon of sweet oblivion
was not to last. I’m lucky enough to have this blog visited by the few
but intelligent, who constantly rattle pengovsky’s cage of
self-importance and righteousness, which always provides good ground
for a healthy debate. The latest example being the series of posts on
Stožice stadium and arena, which irked Crni into commenting.

So far, so good. Crni rox, regardless of the fact that most of the
time we don’t see eye to eye. However, the last time around he picked
the wrong horse. He linked to an op-ed by Janez Šušteršič, Ph.D. in
Thursday’s Finance daily in which Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković’s
politics, administration and overall management both of the city and
the Stožice project are taken apart brutally and effectively.

In a text titled Ljubljana in a pork barrel Šušteršič leaves little to
imagination. He says mayor Janković is Slovenian king of pork barrel
politics, case in point being the Stožice project, which was completed
against all odds, with all kinds of government interventions, both
financial and administrative, while workers and subcontractors still
haven’t been paid. Furthermore, goes Šušteršič, Janković has cajoled
the government into passing a custom-tailored piece of legislation by
which the city of Ljubljana will get additional monies from state
budget, thus depriving less developed parts of Slovenia of much needed
cash. And as if that were not enough, Janković also raised prices of
infrastructure services as much as 50%, further lining city’s coffers
with taxpayers’ money.

Effective and very persuasive, especially if you read the original.
However, while I respect Crni’s agreeing with what Šušteršič (former
head of the Government Office of Macroeconomics analysis and
Development and currently professor with the University of Koper)
wrote, the text itself is just another proof that economist should not
be allowed to dabble in political theory. Well, as we’ve seen in the
past couple of years, they should not even be allowed to dabble in
economic theory, but that’s a different story altogether.

Šušteršič gets it wrong from the start. One can not by definition
accuse a local politician of pork barrel politics. Yes, it has a nice
ring to it, but Šušteršič would do well to do at least a basic
Wikipedia search. Or ask one of his professorial colleagues who is
more familiar with political theory and – specifically- American
political culture.

Pork barrel politics means appropriating state funds for local
projects by an elected official on state level. To put it in Slovenian
terms this translates as an MP securing funds for his/her particular
constituency, mostly for projects which are not high on government’s
priority list. There’s a lot of this going around and in this
particular parliament there are about 25-or-so people liable to be
crowned as pork-barrel kings. They are those who serve both as MPs and
mayors. And who are, incidentally, up for re-election in five weeks
time. True, so is mayor Janković, but the last time I checked he was
not an MP, nor was he serving at any other state-level position with
direct or indirect power over budget expenditure. Therefore, whatever
concessions Janković wriggled out of this government, he did nothing
more or nothing less what the rest of 180-or-so mayors who don’t serve
as MPs do for most of their time in office. But this is not
pork-barrel politics. QED.

In all honesty, the bit about Janković having the Ljubljana ring
closed to heavy vehicles prior to Stožice opening in fear of truckers’
protest over not being paid more or less stands. That particular move
was a bit over the top. Although various excuses for closure were
given by various relevant officials, it is no secret that this was
done on Janković’s behest and it is just not cricket for a public
official to do something like that.

Consequently Šušteršič’s arguments against Janković and his
re-election bid (for the ends his text with an appeal to Ljubljanchans
to vote for anyone else but Janković) turn into nothing else but a
political pamphlet without so much as a hint of theoretical background
to support it. An effective and (depending on one’s political
preferences) valid pamphlet, but a pamphlet nonetheless.

Stožice Stadium Statue

Yesterday saw the second half of the grand opening of the Stožice sports complex. Less demanding construction-wise, but incredibly more important in terms of symbolism, the new Stožice Stadium is quite probably the high-point of Zoran Janković‘s first term as mayor of Ljubljana.

The 16,000-seat stadium was understandably packed and the atmosphere wonderful. If you can’t wait, you can skip the rest of the text and go straight to the video. For the two of you remaining, a bit of context :mrgreen:

With the opening of the stadium a sort of spell was broken. Whoever touched the issue of the new stadium in the past ten years crashed and burned politically. Not Janković. The standing ovation he received yesterday and the day before symbolises his complete victory over everyone who ever opposed the new stadium and arena, regardless of how good their arguments might have been.

As crni rightfully pointed out yesterday, this indeed was (at least to an extent) a classic case of panem et circenses. All the more so as Janković is a very populistic politician with quick reflexes and an extremely good touch for public opinon. However, he offsets the perils of politicking from one public opinion poll to another by following his vision (or, as his opponents would say, delusions) which is clearly long term-oriented.

Some say that by building Stožice complex Janković erected himself a monument. They couldn’t be more wrong and it only shows that the main difference between Janković and the rest of the political pool in this city is in the fact that Zoki thinks big. And I mean big. Whoever went about meddling with the stadium project, dealt solely with the stadium and ended up screwing everything up. Janković didn’t just want a stadium. He wanted a sports hall (two of them in fact), an auxiliary football pitch and a huge shopping centre, all with a price tag of some 360 million euro.

And the same goes for the “monument issue”. Stožice are not nearly big enough for Janković to consider them a monument befitting him. A radically changed city, now that’s a different matter. That might be just enough of a monument for our bold mayor 😀

But this self-induced aura of grandeur Janković radiates is compensated by actually getting things done. He was known to spend hours and days on Stožice construction site. Pengovsky heard of stories how he literally threw one of the principal contractors out of his office half-way through the project, almost hurling papers after him and telling him to brush up on his arithmetic since he obviously didn’t know how to calculate costs of the project correctly. I’ve no idea how much of the story is true, but it goes on to add that the entire spread-sheet was covered with cross-outs in red ink and recalculated by hand by the illustrious (and industrious) mayor.

And – politically speaking – he did it all by himself, possibly (but it is way too early to say for sure) securing himself a comfortable second term with an absolute majority in the city council.

Aside from a well-meaning but very late move by education and sports minister Igor Lukšič (who is yet to receive flak over it from the opposition), Janković got no help from the state whatsoever. Zero. Zilch. Nothing. Nada. The much-debated financial construction was perfectly sound at the start of the project. But then everything fell apart. First the government (then still led by Janez Janša) withdrew monies earmarked for the project, then the crisis struck, then Serbian Delta pulled out of the project and Janković together principal contractors ended up in an unenviable pants-down-dick-in-hand position. But rather then dropping everything they pressed on, much to dismay of ever increasing number of critics, which included the political left.

Which is why Janković didn’t lift an eyebrow, when the 12,000 strong crowd booed Prime Minister Borut Pahor, when the mayor announced him prior to Tuesday’s opening of the Arena. It was Zoki’s own private “fuck you” to the PM. His moment of vindication and gloating came moments earlies when the same crowd cheered him fanatically. And when Janković told the crowd to stand up in honour of the people who worked in the project and the people did what they were told, he probably knew what Janez Janša felt, when he during an independence day celebration in mid-90s told people (even those watching on television) to stand up in honour of those who died for independence. Just sayin’ 🙂

But be that as it may, there was a lot of standing yesterday too. Not because anyone told the crowd to stand up (no that note: Zoki’s speech was mercifully short) but because it was a good game. And you don’t sit through good games 🙂

Slovenia v Australia @ Stožice Stadium from pengovsky on Vimeo.

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If You Build It They Will Come (redux)

It has been nearly three years since this post and over two years since construction of the new Stožice football stadium and sports hall began. Yesterday we saw the first results

The (unofficially named) Arena Stožice is a thing of beauty. While 12,500 seats may not be all that much compared to other, more renowned halls out there, it can be safely said that there is not a bad seat in the house. Acoustics are awesome and the whole thing does indeed look beautiful. Both from the inside as well as outside.

Not everything went according to plan. The final permit for issued only this morning and Bob knows what would happen if the stadium and the Arena wouldn’t have been ship-shape. But truth be told, no one really doubted that the permit would be issued. After all, certain parts of the current government and civil service are bending over backwards to accommodate him. But then again, there wasn’t a project like this in Ljubljana since 1982 and it is probably right and proper that the civil service is slightly more expedient than usual.

But the final permit turned out to be the least of Janković’s worries. Just as the final deadline was looming, one of the subcontractors flipped because he was owed a serious amount of money by Grep (the principal contractor) and as a result threatened to block the entire complex by parking trucks and heavy machinery around it. The whole thing even went so far that the ministry of transport closed the northern Ljubljana ring road for heavy trucks citing safety concerns, but in reality preventing the truckers’ protest. But since there were some eighteen trucks already parked in front of the Arena, the whole thing could have turned into a real mess.

Luckily it didn’t. The principal contractor and another subcontractor found a solution to satisfy the unhappy subcontractor, the machinery was removed and four hours later Slovenia played Spain in a basketball friendly and lost 72 to 79.

Today Slovenia plays Australia in a football friendly. Photos will be forthcoming tomorrow 🙂

P.S.: Yes, this undoubtedly was a part of Janković’s re-election campaign. But we’ll deal with that in due course.

Silly Season


Does The Prez have a mistress?

The media scoundrel who makes his living by spreading rumours says so.

Is this an orchestrated smear campaign?

Probably. Either that or the silly season hit really hard.

Will it hit his ratings?

Probably not. Most people actually think it’s kind of cool.

Is it true?

Don’t know, don’t give a fuck.

Why doesn’t pengovsky care?

As long as Danilo Türk does his job properly his personal affairs are of no concern to anyone but him and those closest to him.

Case closed.

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Some People Just Don’t Know When To Quit

Despite the fact that the people of Slovenia voted in support of the Arbitration agreement between Slovenia and Croatia on a referendum on June 6, the opposition will apparently have none of it. Yesterday Slovene Democratic Party (SDS), Slovene People’s Party (SLS) and Slovene Nationalist Party (SNS), led by Janez Janša, Radovan Žerjav and Zmago Jelinčič respectively filed a motion with the Constituional Court disputing the constitutionality of the Law on ratification of the said agreement.


The referendum was called by an act of the parliament, with 78 out if 90 MPs voting in favour. Whether they explicitly said so or not, all parties have thus agreed to relegate the matter to the direct will of the people and have thus (implicitly, at the very least) bound themselves to respect and adhere to the decision, whatever the outcome.

And yet, this is not so. The opposition claims that the law is in breach of the Basic Constitutional Charter which established the boundaries between former Yugoslav republics as international borders. Their explanation is flimsy at best, especially since the Constitutional Court once already delibered on the issue and decided with an overwhelming majority that the Agreement was perfectly in line with the constitution.

It seems some people just don’t know when to quit. While technically perfectly entitled to do so, by challenging the ratification the opposition is again demonstrating its own perverse understanding of democracy, whereas a decision is just and correct only when they say so. Anything else is apparently unconstitutional, unpatriotic and a treasonable offence.

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