Saturday, December 16, 2017

Producing food


Property looters

Persimmon is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the government’s help-to-buy programme, which has lifted sales and boosted house prices across the UK. Under help to buy, the Treasury provides a loan worth 20% of the value of a property, although the buyer must also provide a 5% deposit from their own funds. The programme has provided a significant boost to property developers’ sales. Persimmon’s share price has more than doubled since help to buy launched in April 2013. About half of Persimmon homes sold last year were to help-to-buy recipients, meaning government money helped finance the sales. The payouts, in company shares that can then be cashed in, are linked to the FTSE 100 company’s dividend payments and stock market performance, which has been significantly boosted by the help-to-buy scheme. 

The huge share award worth around £110m,  part of £500m to 150 senior staff and believed to be Britain’s most generous ever bonus payout, will be presented to the chief executive, Jeff Fairburn. It was attacked by politicians, charities and corporate governance experts, who described it as “obscene”, “corporate looting” and a reward based on “taxpayer subsidies”

The chair of housebuilding firm Persimmon has resigned over his role in orchestrating the bonus saying he regretted not capping the company’s bonus scheme and was leaving “in recognition of this omission”. Jonathan Davie, Persimmon’s senior independent director and chair of the remuneration committee, which sets company pay, also resigned with immediate effect.

The scheme, which is based on the level of dividend returned to shareholders, was meant to take 10 years to pay out, but the company has accelerated dividend payments. This means Fairburn, other executives and more than 100 middle managers are likely to collect all of the bonus shares by July 2018, far ahead of the 2021 schedule. 

“The American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion"

Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights accuses Trump and his party of consciously distorting the shape of American society in a “bid to become the most unequal society in the world”.

“American exceptionalism was a constant theme in my conversations,” he writes. “But instead of realizing its founders’ admirable commitments, today’s United States has proved itself to be exceptional in far more problematic ways that are shockingly at odds with its immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights. As a result, contrasts between private wealth and public squalor abound.”

Alston is also scathing about the attitudes of some of the politicians and officials he met on his tour, who subscribe to what he calls the caricature of rich people as industrious and entrepreneurial and poor people as “wasters, losers and scammers”. He writes: “Some politicians and political appointees with whom I spoke were completely sold on the narrative of such scammers sitting on comfortable sofas, watching color TVs, while surfing on their smartphones, all paid for by welfare. I wonder how many of these politicians have ever visited poor areas, let alone spoken to those who dwell there.”
Alston warns that the Republicans’ declared intent to slash crucial welfare programs next year in order to pay for some of the $1.5tn tax cuts could cost American lives. “The consequences for an already overstretched and inadequate system of social protection are likely to be fatal for many programs, and possibly also for those who rely upon them.”

Alston criticises the US for what he suggests are its double standards over human rights. The Trump administration, in line with previous US governments, preaches about human rights to other countries while refusing to be bound itself by international rules. “The US is alone among developed countries in insisting that while human rights are of fundamental importance, they do not include rights that guard against dying of hunger, dying from a lack of access to affordable healthcare, or growing up in a context of total deprivation. But denial does not eliminate responsibility or negate obligations.”

Alston, detailed several examples of poverty he found during his tour, including:

  • Hookworm, an intestinal parasite, has returned in several communities in the South
  • Wal-Mart workers who rely on government-issued food stamps
  • Children raised in poverty have little to no access to healthcare, quality nutrition or decent education
 Alston said that current US trends were undermining democracy. “Democracy is the foundation stone upon which this country is built, the contribution of which it has been most proud internationally. And yet what we see is the lowest voter turnouts in any developed country.” He pointed to the disenfranchisement of former prisoners, as well as covert voter suppression efforts such as the imposition of voter ID requirements as examples of the way the political rights of low-income people were being eroded.

Alston concludes: “The American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion since the US now has the lowest rate of social mobility of any of the rich countries.”

Friday, December 15, 2017

Globalisation, Commodification, Demonetisation, Structural Adjustment, And All That (poem)

All this talk is like stamping new coins
out of seized treasure.
You melt it down
to obliterate all previous signs of ownership,
but mark it with this word, and that face,
some hoary symbol held as sacred by us, the folk
whose hubris you have chosen to invoke
to legitimize appropriation of wealth
held once, in common.
Next, you inscribe values —
of course advantageous to yourself —
making sure you ascribe them to the gods
who rule the market place.
To us, the dispossessed, you drive home the point
that it’s this transition time that’s out of joint.
That no one’s to blame, that you’re as much
sinned against, as sinning.
Guilt makes no sense
in the face of forces which everyone knows
are faceless — indifferent alike to predator and prey.
“It’s all just structural adjustment, anyway.
The real sin,” you explain, “is social subsidy today.
It’s politically incorrect! Unworkable! Absurd!
All good pragmatists must kick it into oblivion.
That’s what we should all be working on!
The quaint notion of the welfare state has lost the race,
A burnt-out sputnik drifting in the junkyard of space!”
And so we sign on the dotted line.
You’re formally absolved of all
inconvenient instrumentality.
Globaliser, you are free!
To walk in at your pleasure, take our measure!
And turn around our oh-so-grateful economy!
Plot and plan acquisitions, mergers, future ventures!
Accumulate stocks, shares, debentures!
We’re commodified at last.
Our fate is sealed.
Of course it must be as you say –
That this is not hell but only purgatory,
a temporary karmic lavatory
on the way to heaven’s level playing field
where everything is always all okay.
Now you’re safe, globaliser, to count
your gilt-edged dividends
while the real work is done
by us, digging in the ground
mining the common metal.
Vasantha Surya 

You are producing more and getting paid less.

A research paper titled “Decomposing the Productivity-Wage Nexus in Selected OECD Countries, 1986-2013,” studied 11 advanced-capitalist countries and found that in eight of them median wages have not kept pace with growth in labor productivity.  You are producing more and getting paid less.

The 11 countries studied were Canada, the United States, Norway and eight members of the European Union — Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom. 

Working people in the United States will not be surprised to find that the widest gap between pay and productivity growth occurred there, with Germany in second place. Spain, Norway and Ireland were the three exceptions, although in each the gain in wages over productivity is small.

 No one single factor accounting for these results.

“The causes of labour’s deteriorating bargaining power are hotly debated. One of the most trumpeted causes is globalization. Proponents argue that capital is far more mobile than labour in an increasingly globalized world, which makes the threat of outsourcing and offshoring far more credible. Due to the threat of offshoring from countries with less strict labour regulations and lower labour costs, workers are increasingly forced to accept lower wages.

 Some argue that labour’s deteriorating bargaining power is less a matter of globalization and more a matter of technological change which is biased against labour. For example, the OECD [in its 2012 employment outlook] argues that the spread of information and communication technologies have led to major innovation and productivity gains over recent decades, but have also had the effect of replacing workers altogether. The result is an increase in capital’s bargaining power, and a decrease in labour’s — particularly for workers in highly repetitive jobs which naturally lend themselves to automation. Structural and institutional reforms may also have contributed to the reduction of labour’s bargaining power.

This report under-reports the extent that wages are falling behind, which the authors readily acknowledge. This under-estimation is revealed when the differences between average and median real hourly earnings are reported. This matters because an average is the midpoint between highest and lowest, while median represents the earner at the point where half make more and half make less. When those at the top make more and the rest make the same, the average goes up while the median stays the same; thus examining median income as opposed to average gives a more accurate representation. “Empirically, earnings distributions within OECD countries are positively skewed; the mean is greater than the median because the mean is dragged upward by very high earners. … This would imply that the gains from labour productivity are flowing disproportionately to workers who were already high earners relative to the median worker.”

The 11 countries examined, the authors report that median hourly earnings fell further behind average hourly earnings in 10, with France the exception and there the change was minuscule. This finding represents fresh proof of increasing wage inequality. The biggest increases in this measure of wage inequality is the United States, followed by Britain.

Only the wages of the top one per cent grew faster than productivity growth. “Removing the top one percent from labour income doubled the rate of decline of labour’s share of income in Canada and the United States. In fact, the removal of the top one percent from total labour income hastened the decline in labour’s share of income in all of the OECD countries they studied except Spain.”

The International Labour Organization, in its 2014/2015 Global Wages Report, similarly found that wages are declining:“In the group of developed economies, real wages were flat in 2012 and 2013, growing by 0.1 per cent and 0.2 per cent, respectively. In some cases — including Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Spain and the United Kingdom—average real wages in 2013 were below their 2007 level. … Between 1999 and 2013, labour productivity growth in developed economies outstripped real wage growth, and labour’s share of national income – also a reflection of the link between wages and productivity – fell in the largest developed economies.” 

David Ruccio, in a brief post for the Real-World Economics Review Blog, reports that the labor share of income in the United States is the lowest it has ever been since the end of World War II. The tendency throughout the period has been for decline, but the decline has been much steeper since 2001 —  labor share of income in the U.S. is 15 percent lower than it was in 2001. Skewing those results is that the share of income going to the top one percent has doubled since the mid-1970s. So the income share of working people has actually worsened more than the overall statistic indicates.

 No country on Earth fully safeguards labor rights, the International Trade Union Confederation found in its 2017 Global Rights Index report. On a scale of one to five, with one representing the countries with the best ratings (merely “irregular violations of rights”) and five representing the worst (“no guarantee of rights”), Britain and the United States received rankings of four. Thus inequality being the most pronounced in those two countries, so fond of finger-wagging at the rest of the world, comes as little surprise.

One imagines that members of parliaments and congresses are largely aware of growing inequality. But political policies are doing what the sponsors of those policies expect them to do, so just what should we expect those office holders to do? This sort of class warfare rages on because only one class is waging it, and that class has the means to dominate society through a mass of institutions paid to do their bidding, control of the mass media and ability to buy government and the legislative process.

Gerhard Schröder, the former Social Democratic leader, when chancellor, who pushed through his “Agenda 2010” legislation to codify austerity on German workers, which, inter alia, cut business taxes while reducing unemployment pay and pensions. German wages have been suppressed since 2001 in relation to inflation or productivity gains — the prosperity of German manufacturers has come at the expense of German workers.

Globalization, pointed to by the two authors of “Decomposing the Productivity-Wage Nexus” as a culprit, doesn’t happen in a vacuum or because some capitalist somewhere woke up in an ornery mood. Globalization is the response of industrialists and financiers to the rigors of capitalist competition. Once the limits of Keynesianism were reached in the 1970s, and the growth levels of the mid-20th century could no longer be sustained, capitalists ceased tolerating wage increases. Instead, from their perspective, they needed to force through wage cuts to maintain profit margins. Relocating production to places with lower wages and fewer regulations was the answer.

Mergers, with attendant layoffs, are another response to capitalist competition. Once one capitalist succeeds with such an “innovation,” the others must follow on pain of losing their competitive position. The need to move raw materials and finished products across borders, from the capitalists’ point of view, necessitates the lowering of barriers and borders to trade, and thus the increasing harshness of so-called “free trade” agreements that are promoted by multi-national corporations. Globalization is not some natural process beyond human control, but rather is the result of capitalist competition — of allowing markets to decide ever more outcomes. When one side has so many more resources and weapons at its disposal, it’s no surprise that class warfare is such a one-sided affair.

Adapted and abridged from here

Selling death - the double standards

Always happy for theatrical performances to capture dramatic moments for their news entertainment slots, the US ambassador standing in front of charred fragments of what she said was an Iran-supplied missile that had breached UN weapons resolutions and Iran should face the consequences.
"It was made in Iran then sent to Houthi militants in Yemen," Haley told reporters at a military hangar outside Washington. "From there it was fired at a civilian airport with the potential to kill hundreds of innocent civilians in Saudi Arabia."
Bt even impressive would Haley have been if she had had as her backdrop a collection of  European Union weaponry, for more than a third of the weapons used by "Islamic State" in Iraq and Syria came from European Union states. 30 percent of the arms used by IS extremists on battlefields in Syria and Iraq originally came from factories in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Germany. Russia and China produced more than half of the weapons held by the terror group.  In many cases arms purchased from eastern European states by Saudi Arabia and the United States — and then supplied to Syrian  jihadi groups.
"Many of these transfers have violated the terms of sale and export agreed between weapon exporters — primarily EU Member States — and recipients in Saudi Arabia and the United States," the researchers said.
They traced an advanced anti-tank guided weapon that was manufactured in the EU, sold to the United States, and then supplied to a party in the Syrian conflict before ending up in the hands of IS forces in Iraq — all within two months of the weapon leaving the factory. "International weapon supplies to factions in the Syrian conflict have significantly augmented the quantity and quality of weapons available to IS forces — in numbers far beyond those that would have been available to the group through battlefield capture alone," the report said.

The New Homeless

Homelessness is now a serious risk for working families with stable jobs who cannot find somewhere affordable to live after being evicted by private-sector landlords seeking higher rents, the local government ombudsman has warned.
Michael King said nurses, taxi drivers, hospitality staff and council workers were among those assisted by his office after being made homeless and placed in often squalid and unsafe temporary accommodation by local authorities.
“People are coming to us not because they have a ‘life crisis’ or a drug and alcohol problem, but because they are losing what they thought was a stable private-sector tenancy, being evicted and then being priced out of the rental market,” he said. King said the common perception that homelessness was about people with chaotic lives who slept rough no longer held true. “Increasingly, homeless people are normal families who would not have expected to be in this situation,” he said.
King was particularly critical of local authorities he had investigated that rehoused homeless families in damp, filthy and dangerous temporary homes. “You do not have to look to Victorian fiction to see totally Dickensian housing conditions,” he said. “Dreadful” cases of homeless families being put up in substandard accommodation landed on his desk every week, he said. King said, “we still see too many families left in situations which are simply unacceptable in modern society”.
There are 79,150 homeless households in temporary housing, including 6,400 in bed and breakfast accommodation. Homelessness of all kinds has increased for six consecutive years in England. Some councils routinely flouted homelessness law, with many placing homeless families with children in B&B rooms for longer than the legal six-week limit, a practice that had a “devastating impact” on many tenants’ lives, King said. The situation had deteriorated in the four years since the ombudsman last examined it.  King said: “What local authorities tell us when we investigate is that they are working with increased pressures and fewer staff, fewer landlords are willing to take homeless tenants, there are increased evictions and less temporary accommodation available.”

India's Inequality

"In 2014, the share of national income captured by India's top 1% of earners was 22%, while share of top 10% of earners was around 56%. Top 0.1% of earners has continued to capture more growth than all those in the bottom 50% combined," the report said. The bottom 50% now have about 15% share in the total income. 

Australia's slave labour

An Indigenous work-for-the-dole scheme variously described as "racist", "flawed" and "nonsensical" is driving communities further into poverty. The scheme forces unemployed people in remote areas to work up to three times longer than city-based jobseekers to receive welfare. 

A Senate committee has demanded an overhaul of the Community Development Program (CDP), saying the scheme is "causing real harm to people". "CDP cannot and should not continue in its current form," the report stated. Most of the approximately 15,000 people required to undertake CDP activities are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

In two years, about 350,000 financial penalties have been slapped on participants for missing activities or being late. "We've seen way too much poverty and increasing hunger — people are going hungry as a result of these breaches," Labor committee member Malarndirri McCarthy said.

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus demanded the "racist" scheme be scrapped.
"The racist work-for-the-dole scheme does not pay wages for the 25 hours of work participants have to do every week in order to receive welfare benefits," Ms McManus said. "And it forces workers to work without OHS protections, leave entitlements superannuation or worker's compensation in the event of injury at work."

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Too poor for good healthcare

Almost 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty each year because of debts accrued through healthcare expenses.

 The World Health Organization and the World Bank on Wednesday, found the poorest and most vulnerable people are routinely forced to choose between healthcare and other necessities for their household, including food and education, subsisting on $1.90 (£1.40) a day.

Researchers found that more than 122 million people around the world are forced to live on $3.10 a day, the benchmark for “moderate poverty”, due to healthcare expenditure. Since 2000, this number has increased by 1.8 million a year.

A total of 800 million people spend more than 10% of their household budgets on “out-of-pocket” health expenses, defined as costs not covered by insurance. Almost 180 million people spend a quarter or more, a population increasing at a rate of almost 5% per year, with women among those worst affected.
“Only 17% of women in the poorest fifth of households have adequate access to maternal and child health services compared to 74% of women in the richest fifth of households,” said Timothy Evans, senior director of health, nutrition and population at the World Bank Group. “This remains a problem for not only poor regions of the world, but for all countries at all income levels. At the World Bank, we think that this is both morally and economically bankrupt and unsustainable."
Asia has the highest rate globally of those pushed below the poverty line due to out-of-pocket health costs. An estimated 72% of those spending 25% of their household budgets on healthcare live in Asia.
Africa has seen the fastest increase in the numbers of people who spent at least 10% of their budgets on healthcare.

Inequality Figures

 UK’s 50,000 richest people have seen their share of the country’s wealth double since 1984.

The richest 0.1% of the world’s population have increased their combined wealth by as much as the poorest 50% – or 3.8 billion people – since 1980.

The richest 1% of the global population “captured” 27% of the world’s wealth growth between 1980 and 2016. 

And the richest of the rich increased their wealth by even more. The top 0.1% gained 13% of the world’s wealth.

And the top 0.001% – about 76,000 people – collected 4% of all the new wealth created since 1980.

The top 0.1% income group (about 7 million people) captured as much of the world’s growth since 1980 as the bottom half of the adult population.

Conversely, income growth has been sluggish or even nil for the population between the global bottom 50% and top 1%.

Wealth inequality had become “extreme” in Russia and the US. 

The US’s richest 1% accounted for 39% of the nation’s wealth in 2014 (the latest year available), up from 22% in 1980. Most of that increase in inequality was due to the rise of the top 0.1% wealth owners.

The world’s richest person is Amazon’s founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, who has a $98.8bn (£73.9bn) fortune, according to the Bloomberg billionaires index. Bezos, the biggest shareholder in Amazon, has seen his wealth increase by $33bn over the past year alone. Collectively, the world’s five richest people – Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Amancio Ortega, the owner of Zara, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg – hold $425bn of assets. That is equivalent to one-sixth of the UK’s GDP.

In the UK, the richest 1% control 22% of the country’s wealth, up from 15% in 1984. The very richest in the UK have seen a huge increase in their wealth. The top 0.1% – around 50,000 people – have seen their share of the nation’s wealth double from 4.5% in 1984 to 9% in 2013. 

The increase in the concentration of wealth in the last four decades is very much a phenomenon confined to the hands of the top 0.5% (the richest 250,000 Britons), and in particular the top 0.1% (the richest 50,000)

The richest people in the UK are the Hinduja family, who control a conglomerate of businesses including cars and banks, and are worth $15.4bn.

The bottom 90% of people in the UK had an average wealth of £68,000, compared with £321,000 among the richest 10% and the top 0.5%, who were worth £3.7m on average.

The top 10% receives about 55% of total income in Brazil and sub-Saharan Africa, and in the Middle East, the top 10% income share is typically over 60%.

The global top 1% income share could increase from nearly 20% today to more than 24% by 2050. In which case the global bottom 50% share could fall from 10% to less than 9%.

USA's Torture Camp

The US has continued to torture detainees held at the controversial detention center in Cuba, said the UN's expert on torture. He warned that enacting a policy of torture is among "the most serious international crimes."

Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture, on Wednesday urged the United States to end its torture of detainees held at the controversial Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Melzer criticized the United States for its failure to prosecute those responsible for perpetrating practices of torture and other forms of degrading treatment.

"By failing to prosecute the crime of torture in CIA custody, the US is in clear violation of the Convention against Torture and is sending a dangerous message of complacency and impunity to officials in the US and around the world," Melzer said. "This is one of the most fundamental norms of international law, and its violation is listed among the most serious international crimes, including crimes against humanity and war crimes."

The University Gap

The gap between students on free school meals able to study at university widened this year compared with their better-off peers – making the poorer group only half as likely to attend university in England. School-leavers in England from the most deprived backgrounds were the least likely to attend university, with the gap widening for the second year in a row.

"Young people from the most advantaged backgrounds are still 5.5 times more likely to enter universities with the highest entrance requirements than their disadvantaged peers,” said Les Ebdon, the director of Fair Access to Higher Education. “As a result, people with the potential to excel are missing out on opportunities. This is an unforgivable waste of talent, and universities must continue to press for transformational progress.”
Ucas admission data showed that the entry rate for pupils on free school meals was nearly 17%, while the entry rate for other pupils was close to 34%. The rate of successful applications grew twice as quickly among the better-off students than those from the more deprived households among 18-year-olds.

The Rohingya Cleansed

At least 9,000 Rohingya died in Myanmar, also known as Burma, between 25 August and 24 September.
"In the most conservative estimations" at least 6,700 of those deaths have been caused by violence, including at least 730 children under the age of five, according to Medecins Sans Frontieres
 The number is much higher than Myanmar's official figure of 400.
More than 647,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh since August, MSF says.
"What we uncovered was staggering, both in terms of the numbers of people who reported a family member died as a result of violence, and the horrific ways in which they said they were killed or severely injured," MSF Medical Director Sidney Wong said. "The numbers of deaths are likely to be an underestimation as we have not surveyed all refugee settlements in Bangladesh and because the surveys don't account for the families who never made it out of Myanmar," Mr Wong said.
According to MSF:
  • 69% of the violence-related deaths were caused by gunshots
  • 9% were due to being burnt to death in their houses
  • 5% were beaten to death.

Among the dead children below the age of five, MSF says more than 59% were reportedly shot, 15% burnt to death, 7% beaten to death and 2% killed by landmine blasts.

Canada's Inequality


Top 20% of Canadians own over 67% of wealth

According to Statistics Canada, there was $10.3 trillion in wealth in Canada in 2016, and  Andrew Jackson (former Chief Economist with the Canadian Labour Congress) observes that more than two-thirds of it is owned by the top 20%. Jackson points out that the top 20% of Canadians own 67.3% of all net worth (assets of all kinds, minus liabilities), which we can also call their wealth. This is almost exactly the same as in 2012. In other words, the net worth of Canada’s wealthiest 20% accounted for almost $7 trillion (67.3%) of the total $10.3 trillion. On the other hand, Jackson notes that the bottom 20% of Canadians have no net worth, and the bottom 40% collectively own just 2.3% of all net worth.
Jackson also explains that the top 20% also own 74.6% of all financial assets (stocks, bonds, bank deposits, etc.) held outside of RRSPs and registered pension plans, while the bottom 40% collectively own just 3.5% of such assets. Financial assets outside of pensions total $1.4 trillion.
Jackson added that the new data does not detail the breakdown within the top 20%. Even within this group, wealth is highly concentrated in the hands of the top 10% and top 1%. According to a November 15 Statistics Canada survey on high-income trends, the highest-paid Canadians received a larger share of the country's total income in 2015 because corporate dividends helped boost their earnings. The top 1% of tax filers held 11.2% of Canada’s total income in 2015, up from 10.3% in 2014. 

“Each new release of statistics confirms our worst fears about the failure of the global economic system. The rich are getting richer, and income inequality is steadily growing. And what’s also morally unconscionable is that our elected representatives are doing nothing to stop it.” — Larry Brown, National Union of Public and General Employees President

Climate Refugees

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, the “impact and threat of climate-related hazards” displaced an average of 21.5 million people annually between 2008 and 2015. 

The growing impact of the Anthropocene -- of intensifying droughts, rising seas, and mega-storms -- is already adding to a host of other factors, including poverty, war, and persecution, that in these years have unsettled record numbers of people. 

While many of the climate-displaced stay close to home, hoping to salvage both their lives and livelihoods, ever more are crossing international borders in what many are now calling a “refugee crisis.”

As Camila Minerva of Oxfam puts it, “The poorest and the most marginalized are five times more likely to be displaced and to remain so for a longer time than people in higher income countries and it is increasing with climate change.”

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees suggests that climate breakdowns will displace 250 million people by 2050. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre suggests that those numbers could actually range from 150 million to a staggering 350 million by that year. 

Michael Kimmelman, the architecture critic of the New York Timescited a report suggesting that the number may be far higher than that, possibly reaching 700 million -- and that, by 2050, 10% percent of all Mexicans between 15 and 65 might be heading north, thanks to rising temperatures, droughts, and floods.

In Climatic Cataclysm, Campbell wrote that the “sheer numbers of potentially displaced people” are prospectively “staggering.” In one assessment of what a possible 2.6 degree Celsius rise in the global temperature by 2040 might mean, Leon Fuerth, a former security adviser to Al Gore, concluded that “border problems” would overwhelm U.S. capabilities “beyond the possibility of control, except by drastic methods and perhaps not even then.”

The US Welfare State

American workers are among the most productive in the world, but over the last 40 years the bottom half of income earners have seen no income growth. As a result, since 1973, worker productivity has grown almost six times faster than wages.

The first myth to be dismissed is that Americans who receive public benefits are “takers”  is flatly untrue for the vast majority of working-age recipients. There are recipients of public benefits who do not work. They are primarily children, the disabled and the elderly – in other words, people who cannot or should not work. These groups constitute the majority of public benefits recipients.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, formerly known as food stamps, which currently serve about 42 million Americans. At least one adult in more than half of SNAP-recipient households are working. And the average SNAP subsidy is $125 per month, or $1.40 per meal – hardly enough to justify quitting a job. Every dollar in SNAP spending is estimated to generate more than $1.70 in economic activity.
As for Medicaid, nearly 80 percent of adults receiving Medicaid live in families where someone works, and more than half are working themselves.
Welfare – officially called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families – has required work as a condition of eligibility since then-President Bill Clinton signed welfare reform into law in 1996. And the earned income tax credit, a tax credit for low- and moderate-income workers, by definition, supports only people who work.
Americans are spending more than one-third of their income on housing, which is increasingly unaffordable. There are 11 million renter households paying more than half their income on housing. And there is no county in America where a minimum wage worker can afford a two-bedroom home. Still, only 1 in 4 eligible households receive any form of government housing assistance.
Forty percent of Americans born into the bottom-income quintile – the poorest 20 percent – will stay there.  As for people born into the 'middle class', only 20 percent will ascend to the top quintile in their lifetimes.

War hurts the vulnerable

 Ukrainian pensioner Mariya Semiriad has little to eat and no money to buy enough food, wood and painkillers for the winter.

"We can't afford anything anymore because of this war," Semiriad told the Thomson Reuters Foundation 

"Ukraine has the dubious distinction of being the (world's) oldest humanitarian crisis," said Neal Walker, the U.N.'s top representative in Ukraine. In 2017 the U.N. received less than 30 percent of about $200 million it asked to tackle the crisis. Last week, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said it would stop providing food aid due to dwindling resources. "Governments tend to view this as a political crisis ... but it is also a humanitarian crisis," said Walker.

 The conflict is dragging on and the millions have exhausted their resources and are struggling to make ends meet. Older people are bearing the brunt of violence that has killed more than 10,000 people, including 2,500 civilians, and forced 1.6 million to flee their homes since 2014. The number of people going hungry in eastern Ukraine has doubled to 1.2 million in 2017, according to the U.N. Nearly a third of the 3.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance are over 60 years of age.  Ukraine has an ageing population, with 16 percent of people over 65 in 2017 - a much higher rate than in other war-torn nations, like Syria or Yemen, where the figure stands below 5 percent. Most survive on meagre pensions, which have been eroded by fast-rising prices of food and utilities.

Seasonal Social


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Quote of the Day

 "It is true that, to the mode of thought of the educated classes which Herr Dühring has inherited, it must seem monstrous that in time to come there will no longer be any professional porters or architects, and that the man who for half an hour gives instructions as an architect will also act as a porter for a period, until his activity as an architect is once again required. A fine sort of socialism that would be—perpetuating professional porters!" -  Engels 

America's Poverty

A United Nations expert investigating poverty in the United States says the state of Alabama has the worst poverty in the developed world.
“I think it’s very uncommon in the First World."
This is not a sight that one normally sees. I’d have to say that I haven’t seen this,” Philip Alston, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said, according to a report in Newsweek magazine. The UN rapporteur traveled to areas where residents have fallen ill with hookworm, a disease usually seen only in extremely poor countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, the report said. These social conditions tend to affect minorities more frequently, with black, Hispanic and Native American children two to three times more likely to live in poverty than their white counterparts, it said.
"There are pretty extreme levels of poverty in the United States given the wealth of the country and that does have significant human rights implications,” he said.

In Alabama, nine out of 1,000 infants died before celebrating their first birthday in 2016. That's a higher infant mortality rate than Sri Lanka, Ukraine and many other developing countries. Alabama's relatively high infant mortality rate—second only to Mississippi in the United States—also diverges along racial lines: Black babies in Alabama died at three times the rate of white babies in 2015.
The US's overall 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births trails behind 55 other nations and a  similar infant mortality rate as Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Official government numbers  underestimate the problems of poverty in America.

Officially, the 2017 federal poverty level is $12,060 for one individual and $24,600 for a family of four.  In 2016, the U.S. poverty rate was 12.7% with about 41 million Americans including 14 million children living in poverty.
The child poverty rate of 19% is consistent with federal estimates of child hunger – about one in five children lack consistent access to sufficient and healthy food. For minority children, about one in three African American, Native American and Hispanic American children live in poverty often without access to sufficient food. Globally, the USA rank 1st in wealth and 18th in the number of children living in poverty.
Many dispute the government’s interpretation of poverty levels and rates by questioning whether rules created in the 1960s take into account basic living expenses in 2017. Many believe that poverty in America is about twice the official federal numbers with nearly 100 million Americans living in or near poverty.
Research from organizations such as the National Center for Children in Poverty and the Economic Policy Institute calculated the sum of food, housing, transportation, health care, child care, taxes and other expenses for a modest standard of living and concluded that poverty in America touches nearly 50% of the population. These analyses suggest that doubling the official formula and then building programs for both the 100% and 200% federal poverty levels would yield better outcomes.
Some programs already trend in this direction. For example, children living in households at 185% or less of the federal poverty level are eligible for reduced lunch.
Related data support this broader view:
  • The latest research shows that no one working for the minimum wage of $7.25 can rent a basic two-bedroom apartment in any of our United States.
  • 6% of public school students participate in free or reduced price lunch.
  • 45% percent of homeless people work at least part-time.
  • 40% of all workers are temporary, on-call, or contractors with no benefits; research suggests all the job growth in the last ten years is for such “alternative work arrangements” – where illness or a broken-down car may mean losing a job and even a home.
  • 78% percent of working Americans live paycheck to paycheck.
National numbers only tell part of the story – states and counties show vastly different ranges of children and families in poverty. 

Busting the Over-population Myth

Clearly, the fear of overpopulation is widespread. But the truth is that overpopulation in the United States is not even close to a serious problem. Even globally, overpopulation is an overstated problem. The truth is that the rest of the world has plenty of potential for increased food production: more than enough to feed itself and provide imports for a more populous United States. 
To start with just the United States. How many people can the country support? Because I am an agricultural economist by profession, my bias is to first think about food. One simple question is how many people can the United States feed? Well, our net agricultural exports account for about 25 percent of the physical volume of agricultural production, which suggests that if we redirected those exports internally, the US could probably support approximately 25 percent more people. That’s assuming current technology and current diets and current land use. In short, we could feed more than 400 million peopletotal, merely by consuming locally what we now export.
Consider that the European Union has approximately 300 people per square mile, making it as dense as the ninth-densest US state (that is, similar to Pennsylvania or Florida). The continental United States, on the whole, has about 110 people per square mile (excluding Alaska, an outlier), making the US less than one-third as densely peopled as the EU. Yet the European Union, too, has roughly balanced or even slightly positive agricultural trade. That suggests that Europe, too, has no trouble feeding itself despite being three times as densely settled as the United States. 
If the continental United States were as heavily settled as the EU, the US would have nearly a billion people living in it. Granted, the Western US is extremely dry and thus might not support an EU-density population. Nonetheless, if just the states east of the Mississippi had European-style population density, and the other states maintained current population, then the United States would still have more than 400 million people.  Achieving European-style densities wouldn’t require technological change. It wouldn’t even require any non-voluntary lifestyle changes or new regulations.
The concern with overpopulation, naturally, often dovetails with concerns about climate change. Won’t higher population devastate the environment? We can’t solve our climate-change problems by having fewer babies. Even if US population stopped growing at around 325 million people in 2017 and flatlined out, it would produce at best a marginal change in global emissions. Plus, accomplishing that trend would require draconian anti-fertility policies and extremely strict immigration laws. Even if US population rises over 500 million people, the impact on the world is barely noticeable. Meanwhile, lowering US carbon intensity by about a third, to around the level of manufacturing-superpower Germany today, has a bigger effect than preventing 100 million Americans from existing.
 We should provide the resources for women to take control of their fertility. We should want to reduce undesired conceptions and increase desired conceptions. We should facilitate the kind of human development that tends to reduce desired fertility from the four- to seven-child range to the two- to four-child range as well. But we should do these things because it is to empower individual decision-making, not because we can save the climate through Malthusian reductions.