Thursday, February 06, 2003

Mark Steyn has a lengthy piece in the Spectator arguing that the United Nations is seriously dysfunctional, and America at this point wants no part of it. I have to concede that he has a point. Given that

1) The newly elected chair of the UN Human Rights Commission is Libya;
2) In May, the presidency of the UN Conference on Disarmament will pass to Iraq.

the organisation seriously has some problems.

However, towards the end of the article, Steyn tries to give examples of some non-controversial international organisations that he is in favour of.

I’m all in favour of the Universal Postal Union and the Berne Copyright Convention (America was a bit late signing that one), but they work precisely because Sy Kottik and his chums weren’t involved.

Let me see. In its present form the Berne Copyright Convention is an abomination being used by the American entertainment corporations to force the entire world to adopt copyright terms that are far too long, as well as DMCA like laws that outlaw reverse engineering and inhibit innovation. And as for the International Postal Union, thanks to it I was recently forced to decide whether my Christmas presents qualified for a special postal rate given to

advertisements, books, calendars, catalogues, diaries, directories, greetings cards, illustrations, magazines, maps, musical scores, newspapers, order/subscription forms, leaflets and pamphlets, plans, postcards, price lists, printed drawings and notices, proofs, prospectuses and timetables, but not letters, including personal messages or greetings (other than five words allowed on greetings cards), handwritten receipts, photographic negatives, slides or film, postage stamps or blank stationery

So no, I don't think I am in favour of these organisations either.

Update: Okay, I am not really opposed to the International Postal Union. The international postal system actually works pretty well. However, what is it with bureacrats. Why precisely am I prohibited from getting a cheaper postal rate if I write more than five words on a greeting card? The International Telecommunications Union by providing a framework for international phone calls that was based on the assumption that national telephone systems were monopolies, did for many years actively discourage competition and was partly responsible for international calls being too expensive. (In developed countries this is largely a thing of the past, but in poor countries the framework is still there). These types of international bodies need rules that are as simple and flexible as possible, and the types of bureacrats writing the treaties that create them don't normally get this.

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