Adieu, Stéphane

Stéphane Hessel, the French author and activist who was among FP's Global Thinkers in 2011 -- our oldest thinker yet, but no less spirited for it -- died Tuesday in Paris at the age of 95. Hessel's is a remarkable life story: He was raised in Paris by parents who counted Marcel Duchamp and Alexander Calder as friends, joined the French Resistance against the Nazis during World War II, was imprisoned in Buchenwald, and ultimately escaped being hanged by swapping identities with a soldier who had died of typhoid fever. Later in life, as a young diplomat, he helped Eleanor Roosevelt draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But it was at the age of 93, as the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring made their way across the world, that a little red book, just some 30 pages, earned Hessel international fame. His Indignez-vous! (the English version was published in 2011 as Time for Outrage!) was, as we wrote at the time, "an old lefty's impassioned cri de coeur against a society that has forgotten the postwar values of tolerance and social responsibility," and it caught the attention of exasperated protesters worldwide, from los indignados in Spain to the drum circlers of Zuccotti Park. Pausing at the "last leg of my journey," Hessel urged the world's youth to carry on the agitating spirit of the Resistance, fighting what he called the "international dictatorship of financial markets." "Here is our message," Hessel declared, "It's time to take over! It's time to get angry! Politicians, economists, intellectuals, do not surrender!"

In 2011, when we asked Hessel who the best muse is for our times, his reply was Calliope, the Greek muse of epic poetry. Somewhat fitting for a man whose language stirred millions.



Pro-lifers claim abortion is holding the Swiss economy back

Economic arguments have a particular resonance during periods of sluggish growth, and that logic even seems to extend these days to the hot-button issue of abortion. In Switzerland, a new, very literally named initiative --"Protect life to remedy the loss of billions" - is calling for a referendum to ban abortion in the country for economic reasons. The initiative committe is led by politician Heinz Hürzeler, a member of the country's Social Liberal Movement, and maintains that in Switzerland, where 12 percent of pregnancies end in abortion, the practice represents a huge blow to the economy (comparatively speaking, Switzerland has one of the lowest abortion rates in the world, with only 6.4 abortions for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44). As AFP reports:

It calculates that if the more than 100,000 foetuses aborted in Switzerland over the past decade had been born, grown up and worked for 45 years, they would have contributed nearly 334 billion Swiss francs ($359 billion, 274 billion euros) to the country's GDP.

And, as consumers, the same 100,000 people would over 80 years pump more than 324 billion francs into the country's economy, it says.

Economic arguments abound in favor of abortion (and contraception more generally), and they tend to focus on the burden and welfare demands posed by unsupported children on both the individual and societal levels. Freakonomics has even weighed in on the debate, linking abortion to decreased crime rates in places like Romania, Canada, and Australia.

Perhaps less well known are the economic arguments for banning the practice. Like the Swiss initiative, these tend to rely on what pro-life author Larry Burkett has called "the George Bailey Affect" after the main character in It's a Wonderful Life: How the world would look, if, for each abortion, we substituted a consumer child who would grow up to become a productive member of society.

As for the campaign in Switzerland, the initiative has until August 2014 to garner 100,000 signatures, at which point the abortion ban will be put to a national referendum. Abortion was only decriminalized in Switzerland in 2002, also by national referendum.