Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Our Growing Population

The newly released report – The World Population Prospects 2019: Highlights – by the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) produces many projections.

There is good news: Population growth is slowing, and it is expected to come to almost a standstill. Now, the average number of births per woman is 2.5, but by 2050, it is projected to drop to 2.2, putting the world on the brink of population decline. A rate of 2.1 births per woman is considered to be barely enough to sustain the population, which is expected to reach its maximum by the end of the century at 11 billion. The lower number of births per woman will hit hardest 55 countries that are set to see their populations decline by at least one percent. The bad news is that most of the fastest growing populations are in the poorest countries.

Key findings from the report
  1. The world’s population continues to grow, albeit at a slower pace than at any time since 1950, owing to reduced levels of fertility. From an estimated 7.7 billion people worldwide in 2019, the medium-variant projection indicates that the global population could grow to around 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050, and 10.9 billion in 2100.
  2. With a projected addition of over one billion people, countries of sub-Saharan Africa could account for more than half of the growth of the world’s population between 2019 and 2050, and the region’s population is projected to continue growing through the end of the century. By contrast, populations in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, Central and Southern Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Europe and Northern America are projected to reach peak population size and to begin to decline before the end of this century.
  3. Two-thirds of the projected growth of the global population through 2050 will be driven by current age structures and would occur even if childbearing in high-fertility countries today were to fall immediately to around two births per woman over a lifetime. This is true because the large population of children and youth in such countries will reach reproductive age over the next few decades and begin to have children of their own.
  4. The 47 least developed countries are among the world’s fastest growing – many are projected to double in population between 2019 and 2050 – putting pressure on already strained resources.
For many countries or areas the challenges to achieving sustainable development are compounded by their vulnerability to climate change, climate variability and sea-level rise.
  1. More than half of the projected increase in the global population up to 2050 will be concentrated in just nine countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the United Republic of Tanzania, and the United States of America. Disparate population growth rates among the world’s largest countries will re-order their ranking by size: for example, India is projected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country around 2027.
  2. The populations of 55 countries or areas are projected to decrease by one per cent or more between 2019 and 2050 because of sustained low levels of fertility, and, in some places, high rates of emigration. The largest relative reductions in population size over that period, with losses of around 20 per cent or more, are expected in Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and the Wallis and Futuna Islands.
  3. In most of sub-Saharan Africa, as well as in parts of Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, recent reductions in fertility mean that the population at working ages (25 to 64 years) is growing faster than in other age groups, providing an opportunity for accelerated economic growth known as the “demographic dividend”.
  4. In 2018, for the first time in history, persons aged 65 years or over worldwide outnumbered children under age five. Projections indicate that by 2050 there will be more than twice as many persons above 65 as children under five. By 2050, the number of persons aged 65 years or over globally will also surpass the number of adolescents and youth aged 15 to 24 years.
Trends in population size and age structure are shaped mostly by levels of fertility and mortality, which have declined almost universally around the globe. In some countries, international migration also has become an important determinant of population change.
  1. Total fertility has fallen markedly over recent decades in many countries, such that today close to half of all people globally live in a country or area where lifetime fertility is below 2.1 live births per woman, which is roughly the level required for populations with low mortality to have a growth rate of zero in the long run. In 2019, fertility remains above this level, on average, in sub-Saharan Africa (4.6 live births per woman), Oceania excluding Australia and New Zealand (3.4), Northern Africa and Western Asia (2.9), and Central and Southern Asia (2.4).
  2. Some countries, including several in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, continue to experience high levels of adolescent fertility, with potentially adverse health and social consequences for both the young women and their children. Between 2015 and 2020, an estimated 62 million babies will be born to mothers aged 15-19 years worldwide.
  3. Life expectancy at birth for the world’s population reached 72.6 years in 2019, an improvement of more than 8 years since 1990. Further improvements in survival are projected to result in an average length of life globally of around 77.1 years in 2050.
  4. While considerable progress has been made towards closing the longevity differential between countries, the gaps remain wide. Life expectancy in the least developed countries lags 7.4 years behind the global average, due largely to persistently high levels of child and maternal mortality and, in some countries, to violence and conflicts or the continuing impact of the HIV epidemic.
  5. In some parts of the world, international migration has become a major component of population change. Between 2010 and 2020, 36 countries or areas are experiencing a net inflow of more than 200 thousand migrants; in 14 of those, the total net inflow is expected to exceed 1 million people over the decade. For several of the top receiving countries, including Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, large increases in the number of international migrants have been driven mostly by refugee movements, in particular from Syria.
  6. It is estimated that ten countries are experiencing a net outflow of more than 1 million migrants between 2010 and 2020. For many of these, losses of population due to migration are dominated by temporary labour movements, such as for Bangladesh (net outflow of -4.2 million during 2010-2020), Nepal (-1.8 million) and the Philippines (-1.2 million). In others, including Syria (-7.5 million), Venezuela (-3.7 million), and Myanmar (-1.3 million), insecurity and conflict have driven the net outflow of migrants over the decade. Societies can adapt to demographic realities by anticipating future trends and incorporating that information into policies and planning.
  7. Countries where fertility levels remain high should prepare to meet the needs of growing numbers of children and young people. Countries where a decline in fertility is creating an opportunity for a demographic dividend need to invest in human capital by ensuring access to health care and education at all ages and opportunities for productive employment. Countries with ageing populations should take steps to adapt public programmes to the growing proportion of older persons. All countries should take steps to facilitate safe, orderly and regular migration for the benefit of all.

As always it is incumbent upon socialists to point out the fact that powerful political forces have been spreading a myth for years that the world is overpopulated. The overpopulation myths are handy for the exploiters, giving them a "scientific" excuse for the misery they cause so they can enjoy their blood-money without remorse.

There are starving people in the world. However, it is not because the earth cannot produce enough food for them, but because there is a problem getting the food to the people. The fact that people not having access to food in some countries does not mean the food is not available or that it is impossible to feed all of them. In fact, food production has exceeded population growth and better farming techniques have allowed producers to produce more food on less land.

Of all the myths about Africa prevailing in the West, none is propagated with more vigour and regularity than the notion that overpopulation is a central cause of African poverty. Each new famine has given propagators of this myth fresh ammunition. Indeed, in many African regions, the problem is underpopulation: The people are so thinly spread over large areas that it is often difficult to create a meaningful infrastructure to promote the interaction crucial to development. Africa's average population density is only 16 per square kilometer, against China's 100 per square kilometer and India's 225. In fact, Africa has only one-fifth the population density of Europe. Furthermore, Africa has more arable land per capita than any other developing region. Africans point to the case of India, condemned by many experts in the 1960s to perpetual hunger. Today India is producing the bulk of its own food.

In a socialist society humanity will for the first time be truly free and living according to natural principles, it will consciously direct its own development. Mankind will act consciously and according to a plan and to the whims of the market economy. With socialism overpopulation will not be an issue. The solution to the population problem” is to overthrow capitalism for if production is geared to the needs of the people and not to filling the coffers of a few capitalists and their corporations there will be no population problem. It is not people who are “polluting” the world with their numbers but Big Business.

The World Is a Mess. We Need Fully Automated Luxury Communism.

Our blog occasionally posts an article from non-members of the World Socialist Movement when we believe it has something of relevance to say. This is from the New York Times which is pay-walled.

The World Is a Mess. We Need Fully
Automated Luxury Communism.
Asteroid mining. Gene editing. Synthetic meat. We could provide for the needs of everyone, in style. It just takes some imagination.
By Aaron Bastani
Mr. Bastani is the author of the forthcoming “Fully Automated Luxury Communism: A Manifesto.”

June 11, 2019

It starts with a burger.
In 2008 a Dutch professor named Mark Post presented the proof of concept for what he called “cultured meat.” Five years later, in a London TV studio, Mr. Post and his colleagues ate a burger they had grown from animal cells in a laboratory. Secretly funded by Sergey Brin, a co-founder of Google, the journey from petri dish to plate had cost $325,000 — making theirs the most expensive meal in history. Fortunately, the results were promising: Hanni Rützler, a nutrition scientist, concluded that the patty was “close to meat but not as juicy.” The next question was whether this breakthrough could be made cheaper. Much cheaper.
The first “cultured beef” burgers are likely to enter the market next year, at approximately $50 each. But that won’t last long. Within a decade they will probably be more affordable than even the cheapest barbecue staples of today — all for a product that uses fewer resources, produces negligible greenhouse gases and, remarkably, requires no animals to die.
It’s not just barbecues and burgers. Last year Just, a leader in cellular agriculture, cut a deal to start producing one of the world’s tastiest steaks, Wagyu. A company called Endless West, which also makes grapeless wine, has started to produce Glyph, the world’s first “molecular whiskey.” Luxury could be coming to all.The case of cultured food and drink, far from a curiosity, is a template for a better, freer and more affluent world, a world where we provide for the needs of everyone — in style.
But how do we get there?
To say the present era is one of crisis borders on cliché. It differs from the dystopias of George Orwell or Aldous Huxley, or hell in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. It is unlike Europe during the Black Death or Central Asia as it faced the Mongols. And yet it is true: Ours is an age of crisis. We inhabit a world of low growth, low productivity and low wages, of climate breakdown and the collapse of democratic politics. A world where billions, mostly in the global south, live in poverty. A world defined by inequality.But the most pressing crisis of all, arguably, is an absence of collective imagination. It is as if humanity has been afflicted by a psychological complex, in which we believe the present world is stronger than our capacity to remake it — as if it were not our ancestors who created what stands before us now. As if the very essence of humanity, if there is such a thing, is not to constantly build new worlds.

If we can move beyond such a failure, we will be able to see something wonderful. The plummeting cost of information and advances in technology are providing the ground for a collective future of freedom and luxury for all.
Automation, robotics and machine learning will, as many august bodies, from the Bank of England to the White House, have predicted, substantially shrink the work force, creating widespread technological unemployment. But that’s only a problem if you think work — as a cashier, driver or construction worker — is something to be cherished. For many, work is drudgery. And automation could set us free from it.
Gene editing and sequencing could revolutionize medical practice, moving it from reactive to predictive. Hereditary diseases could be eliminated, including Huntington’s disease, cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia, and cancer cured before it reaches Stage 1. Those technologies could allow us to keep pace with the health challenges presented by societal aging — by 2020 there will bemore people over the age of 60 than under the age of 5 — and even to surpass them.
What’s more, renewable energy, which has been experiencing steep annual falls in cost for half a century, could meet global energy needs and make possible the vital shift away from fossil fuels. More speculatively, asteroid mining — whose technical barriers are presently being surmounted — could provide us with not only more energy than we can ever imagine but also more iron, gold, platinum and nickel. Resource scarcity would be a thing of the past.
The consequences are far-reaching and potentially transformative. For the crises that confront our world today — technological unemployment, global poverty, societal aging, climate change, resource scarcity — we can already glimpse the remedy.
But there’s a catch. It’s called capitalism. It has created the newly emerging abundance, but it is unable to share round the fruits of technological development. A system where things are produced only for profit, capitalism seeks to ration resources to ensure returns. Just like today’s, companies of the future will form monopolies and seek rents. The result will be imposed scarcity — where there’s not enough food, health care or energy to go around.So we have to go beyond capitalism.
Many will find this suggestion unwholesome. To them, the claim that capitalism will or should end is like saying a triangle doesn’t have three sides or that the law of gravity no longer applies while an apple falls from a tree. But for a better world, where everyone has the means to a good life on a habitable planet, it is an imperative.
We can see the contours of something new, a society as distinct from our own as that of the 20th century from feudalism, or urban civilization from the life of the hunter-gatherer. It builds on technologies whose development has been accelerating for decades and that only now are set to undermine the key features of what we had previously taken for granted as the natural order of things.
To grasp it, however, will require a new politics. One where technological change serves people, not profit. Where the pursuit of tangible policies — rapid decarbonization, full automation and socialized care — are preferred to present fantasies. This politics, which is utopian in horizon and everyday in application, has a name: Fully Automated Luxury Communism. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Aaron Bastani (@AaronBastani) is a co-founder of Novara Media and the author of the forthcoming “Fully Automated Luxury Communism: A Manifesto,” from which this essay is adapted.

We are running out of time.

Nearly 70% of British people want urgent political action to tackle climate change and protect the natural environment, according to research. Two-thirds of people believe Britain needs to cut its carbon emissions to zero far faster. The Climate Coalition and Greener UK consists of more than 130 organisations including the Women’s Institute, NGOs such as Cafod, Oxfam, WWF and Tearfund, as well as the National Trust, Mumsnet and the National Union of Students will be lobbying parliament next week to say “The time is now” for action. Organisers say thousands of people from all over the country intend to come to Westminster to demand urgent action.

The destruction that capitalism has visited upon the planet, by deforestation, industrial agriculture, with CO2 levels changing the world’s climate has become well-known. Capitalism has so far simply proved incapable of stopping or limiting its use of fossil fuels. Why can't capitalism control carbon emissions? It does have proposed solutions like carbon trading which rest on the possibility of putting a price on a ton of carbon and requiring companies to pay to emit any level above a certain amount permitted. The solutions on offer, from carbon trading, carbon sequestration and storage, clean development mechanisms, or massive geo-engineering projects, are ways in which the system can continue to use fossil fuels and produce CO2. None will end climate change or will save the planet. The hand-writing is on the wall for all to see. The issue is no longer about the science, it’s the politics.

Capitalism is driven by short-termism in its hunger for profits. Investment decisions are made on the basis on what will make a return in the quickest time. Such a system cannot deal with the scale of the climate crisis or make rational planned decisions about what to produce that is separate from the bottom line of profits. Marx understood how capitalism treated nature and the consequences for both humans and environment, writing:
For the first time, nature becomes purely an object for humankind, purely a matter of utility; ceases to be recognised as a power for itself; and the theoretical discovery of its autonomous laws merely as a ruse so as to subject it under human needs, whether as an object of consumption or as a means of production”

Faced with the socialist argument that capitalism is the cause of climate change and only socialism i.e. common ownership and democratic planning of production can solve the problem, many environmentalists have objected, that there is no time to wait for the revolution. Instead they believe with effective campaigning they can push governments to take action and achieve speedier results than the struggle to overthrow capitalism. 

The Socialist Party's answer is that there is no time to wait for the capitalists and their governments to regulate and legislate. Whether capitalism could solve the problem of climate change is an abstract question; it is clearly not doing so with the required urgency. It is not about life-style choices and individually consuming less. It is all about stopping capitalism from consuming the planet. Socialists need to bring attention to green activists that the issues and the realities of climate change we must foremost identify capitalism as the culprit. For all the talk and rhetoric of a green economy we are well away from even taking the first steps. 

The Socialist Party is determined to win the new young generation to the struggle for revolutionary change which is to ensure the survival of humanity in the face of what may be greatest threat youth has ever faced. The presentation of the socialist case to the broad grassroots coalition and a larger analysis at this pivotal moment is essential to its success. Let’s be honest: No one said that changing course to avoid environmental catastrophe is easy. It can be done, and the necessary technology exists to do so, but converting to a sustainable economy and renewable energy requires both understanding and action. Saving the environment must also go hand in hand with ending capitalism and eliminating the obscene inequalities in our world. For an economic and social system organised for the accumulation and exchange of abstract value, nature is nothing more than a free, exploitable resource to trash. It should now be clear to everyone that the desperate state of the planet and the appalling potential of catastrophic climate change and the greatest obstacle to reversing this course is global capitalism.

UN's Sustainable Development Goals - A Failure

The United Nations, in a new report to be released next month, has warned “there is no escaping the fact that the global landscape for the implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has generally deteriorated since 2015, hindering the efforts of governments and other partners” And the commitment to multilateral cooperation, so central to implementing major global agreements, is now under pressure.
The reasons for the roadblocks include a spreading economic recession, a decline in development aid, the diversion of funds into humanitarian emergencies, the widespread military conflicts, the growing economic losses from natural disasters, the downsizing of operations by cash-strapped UN agencies, the rise of right-wing governments and the increasing challenge to multilateralism, among others. 
The study says “it is cause for great concern that the extreme poverty rate is projected to be 6 percent in 2030, missing the global target to eradicate extreme poverty while hunger is on the rise for the third consecutive year.”
Roberto Bissio, coordinator of Social Watch, told IPS the UN report does not mention that, according to its estimates, poverty is actually increasing in Sub-Saharan Africa, where nine out of ten people in extreme poverty will be living in 2030. A closer look at the income growth of the bottom 40 and the national average, shows that for more than one third of the countries with data, the difference was of less than 0.5 percent, which rounds up to zero, considering the margin error of these measures. Further, in one third of the countries, income of the bottom 40 actually decreased, making the poor poorer. In many of them the national average decreased even more, said Bissio.
“Is it fair to count those countries where the income of the poor was reduced less than the national average as meeting the promise of target 10.1 to “progressively achieve and sustain income growth of the bottom 40 per cent of the population at a rate higher than the national average”?, he asked.
At the same time, biodiversity is being lost at an alarming rate with around one million species already facing extinction, many within decades while green-house gas emissions continue to increase.
Additionally, the required level of sustainable development financing and other means of implementation are not yet coming on stream and institutions are not strong or effective enough to respond adequately to these massive inter-related and cross-border challenges.
On gender empowerment, it says women represent less than 40 percent of those employed, occupy only about a quarter of managerial positions in the world, and (in a limited set of countries with available data) face a gender pay gap of 12 percent. About a fifth of those aged 15 to 49 experienced physical or sexual-partner violence in the last 12 months.
Jens Martens, director of the Global Policy Forum and coordinator of the Civil Society Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda, told IPS: “The new UN report is a wake- up call to governments—and it clearly shows that most governments have failed to turn the proclaimed transformational vision of the 2030 Agenda into real policies. We agree with the assessment that the commitment to multilateral cooperation is now under pressure. Even worse, national chauvinism and authoritarianism are on the rise in a growing number of countries,” he added.
Chee Yoke Ling, Director of the Third World Network, told IPS the world is very far from meeting the sustainable development commitments, including the targets set under the Convention on Biological Diversity for the period 2011 to 2020, the Aichi Targets, that are integral to the SDGs.
“The global cooperation forged in the 1992 Rio treaties on
biodiversity, climate and combatting desertification were rooted in the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities between developing and developed countries.”
She said 27 years later, multilateralism is under attack, with an erosion of all these principles and commitments.

Why Anti-Vax?

A global survey of attitudes towards science has revealed the scale of the crisis of confidence in vaccines in Europe, showing that only 59% of people in western Europe and 50% in the east think vaccines are safe, compared with 79% worldwide. Around the globe, 84% of people acknowledge that vaccines are effective and 92% say their child has received a vaccine. 

But in spite of good healthcare and education systems, in parts of Europe there is low trust in vaccines. France has the highest levels of distrust, at 33%. Bangladesh and Rwanda have the highest confidence in vaccines in the world. Rwanda also has the highest trust in its healthcare, at 97%, against a global average of 76%.

The survey shows that mistrust in government institutions goes hand in hand with doubts about vaccines’ safety. 

“In developing countries, where deadly diseases like diphtheria, measles or whooping cough are more common, I’ve seen mothers queue for hours to make sure their child is vaccinated,” said Seth Berkley, the chief executive of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “It is in wealthier countries, where we no longer see the terrible impact these preventable diseases can have, that people are more reticent. This reticence is a luxury we can ill afford.”

America's Tax Cheats

A new study details how the American wealthy dodge paying all their taxes.

University of California-Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman and his Scandinavian colleagues Annette Alstadsæter and Niels Johannesen calculate — in a just-published American Economic Review paper — that offshore tax havens are enabling our world’s richest 0.01 percent to evade 25 percent of the income taxes they ought to be paying.

The holdings of this wealthiest one-hundredth of 1 percent, the three researchers relate, make up about 50 percent of the overall assets parked in tax havens. The super rich are using these havens, add Zucman and his colleagues, to conceal about 40 percent of their total personal fortunes.

The most recent Federal Reserve Board figures on U.S. inequality, released this past March, put the top 1 percent’s share of American personal wealth at 32 percent, up from 23 percent in 1989. Other estimates place the top 1 percent share closer to 40 percent. But with the new calculations from Zucman and his colleagues, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy’s Matthew Gardner reflects, even this 40 percent estimate could well be a distinctly “low-ball number.”

How deep could that evading run among America’s super rich? U.S. tax officials have made some attempts in the past to estimate evasion rates. The latest IRS stats on tax evasion — from a 2016 report — covered the tax years from 2008 through 2010. They showed a $406-billion “tax gap” between what taxpayers owed Uncle Sam and what they actually paid. But the IRS “tax gap” stats, the federal Government Accountability Office points out, do not figure in the federal government’s “revenue loss due to offshore noncompliance.” In other words, the official IRS stats simply ignore an entire tax-evasion universe.  In 2018, the IRS acknowledged last month, America’s millionaires ended up 80 percent less likely to be audited than they had been in 2011.

Nor is it only in the USA. Super-rich households in Scandinavia, all this scholarly sleuthing revealed, are evading five times more of the taxes they owe than all the rest of Scandinavians.

Meanwhile, according to a report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). The group's 30th annual study of housing affordability found that a worker earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25—which is unchanged since 2009—cannot afford to rent a modest two-bedroom apartment in any state, metropolitan area, or county in the United States.

The report, entitled "Out of Reach," details how a worker would need to maintain three full-time jobs involving 127 hours of work per week to afford such a housing situation, without spending more than 30 percent of his or her income on housing.
"Our rental housing needs have worsened considerably over the past 30 years," wrote Diane Yentel, president and CEO of NLIHC, noting that housing assistance reaches fewer Americans than in 1989, when the group first compiled housing data. "Wage inequality has worsened between black and white workers at all wage levels, exacerbating the racial housing inequities that have long plagued the nation. Affordable rental housing for low-income people is significantly further out of reach now than in 1989, despite a massive increase in wealth for higher-income households."

EU Refugee Policy Condemned

The EU has become tougher on immigration. 

The Council of Europe, the continent's leading rights organisation that includes EU states and others as members, said the bloc had failed in its duty to save lives and prevent returning people to where they are at risk.

"EU member states have adopted laws, policies and practices which have often been contrary to their legal obligations to ensure effective search and rescue operations, the prompt and safe disembarkation and treatment of rescued people, and the prevention of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment," the rights watchdog said in a report.
It called for the EU to "reframe their response according to human rights standards", including by reversing the scaling back of its sea rescue operations and ending pressure on aid groups who do it. "Outsourcing" border controls to third countries came at a "terrible human cost," it said. "Not only do migrants continue to die at sea, but in some cases they are intercepted and brought to countries – like Libya - where they are often subjected to torture, rape, slavery, exploitation or indefinite and unlawful detention."
The Council of Europe said its was the EU's clear obligation under international humanitarian law to run effective sea rescue missions, guarantee entry for those picked up, and provide legal migration avenues to Europe. 15,000 people are estimated to have died or gone missing in the perilous sea voyage since 2015, including more than 500 so far this year.