PARIS â€" The two French visitors just couldn't get over it. "Why were you wrong again?" the elderly English lady asked them with a severe, inquisitive tone.
The woman, Queen Elizabeth II, should have had other things on her mind. It was April 21, 2026, after all, her 100th birthday, and the whole planet seemed to be celebrating the event. But the queen saw this as just another birthday. She knew she was supposed to spend the day at Windsor, go to mass, cut into a huge cake, put up with the shouts of her great-grandchildren, deafened, thankfully, by her gradual hearing loss.
What Elizabeth II really longed for, rather than the tiresome birthday routine, was an answer to a question that had been nagging her for a decade. That was the reason she had sent out tea invitations to the director of the Department of Economics at the prestigious London School of Economics (LSE), a young French woman, and to the director of the Paris School of Economics.
Prior to the meeting, the two economists were beside themselves with anxiety. Why, they wondered, did the centenarian want to see them? Now, sitting across from her, it started to make sense. "How could you have been wrong yet again?" the queen wanted to know.
The two economists remembered that she'd asked a similar question about two decades earlier, just after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, as she inaugurated a new building at the LSE. "Why did no one see it coming?" she had asked professor Luis Garicano, who led the school's Department of Management at the time. They didn't know the queen had only just begun taking a serious interest in economics.
Elizabeth II was just a child at the time of the Great Depression of the 1930s, but she'd been shocked by the Great Recession of 2009. She didn't mind much that her assets had lost one-quarter of their value. She still had plenty to live on. But the crisis had spelled disaster for some of her traditional suppliers, like the fashion designer Hardy Amies and the porcelain maker Royal Worcester.
"The British miracle"
She was understandably concerned, therefore, in the lead-up to the famous Brexit referendum of 2016. Hundreds of economists had predicted an economic apocalypse if voters decided to leave the European Union. The monarch had taken a costly insurance on her British assets, which represent most of her holdings. The then 90-year-old had also been worried sick for her subjects.
But it all turned out to be unnecessary. After a short and violent contraction in 2017-2018, the economy recovered resoundingly with a growth surge that was later dubbed "the British miracle."
Its five causes are now well-known: strong devaluation of the pound sterling, sustained relocalization of activities with the rise of 3D printing, rapid emergence of English biotech giants, touristic and agricultural boom thanks to the acceleration of climate change, and finally a new boom for the City of London, where the departure of a few activities towards the continent was insignificant compared to massive influx of U.S. financiers fed up with the tax burden inflicted upon them by the successive Clinton and Trump administrations.
Facing the silence of her two astonished guests, the queen reentered the fray. Already in 1992, she reminded them, economists had predicted the worst when her kingdom bucked the single currency trend, but the British economy actually came out of it all perked up. In 2008, when the worst happened, they had foreseen nothing. And in 2016, the doomsday warnings came again, for nothing.
"Are economists actually worse than weather forecasters?" she said, taunting them.
The two economic school directors turned as red as beets. They mumbled that budget savings after leaving the EU had been smaller than those promised by the Leave campaign, as most economists had predicted; that they personally hadn't been involved in the Stay campaign; and that they were not responsible for what their colleagues had said. They said that the issue of Scottish and Northern Irish independence was a matter of political science and not economics; that for years, their best researchers had been working on behavioral economics, economic history and innovation theory, not on improbable forecast models.
In the end, the aged monarch took pity on her French guests. She even thanked them for what economists had said a decade earlier, their predictions being so much anti-Brexit that they had actually helped sway the decision to leave. She also thought hard about those who had mistaken personal beliefs for professional work, and how ultimately, no economist could ever prove that the Brexit made things worse.
Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.
At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.
The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.
The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.
Praying inside a Dutch mosque.
Broken trust in Islamic community
Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.
All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.
Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.
It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.
"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.
Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.
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