Monday, February 27, 2017

The Poor are in Poor Health

What good does it do to treat people and send them back to the conditions that made them sick?” Sir Michael Marmot, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London, asks. 

As societies around the world become more unequal, the gap between levels of health widens. Marmot says that social injustice is the biggest threat to global health and a radical change in society is needed if we really want people to live long and healthy lives.

Take Baltimore, for example:
“LeShawn has grown up in the Upton Druid Heights neighbourhood in Baltimore’s inner city,” explains Marmot, who has conducted research on health inequalities in communities across the world. “Bobby has grown up in Greater Roland Park.”
Although merely kilometres apart, people living in the suburban and affluent Roland Park can expect to live to the age of 83.
But LeShawn, living in the inner city, will probably die 20 years earlier. Life expectancy in Upton Druid Heights is just 63 years.
The reasons for this massive gap?
Only 10% of residents in Upton Druid Heights start tertiary education, while 75% of those living in Roland park complete college.
Almost all children living in the suburb can read proficiently by the third grade. Less than half of children in the inner city can read proficiently by the same age.
“In 2005 to 2009 there were 100 non-fatal shootings for every 10,000 residents, and nearly 40 homicides in Upton Druid,” he says.
In Roland Park there were no non-fatal shootings in the same period.
Households in the city earn an average annual income of $17,000 while Roland Park residents have a median income more than five times higher – $90,000.
“The conditions in which we live, early childhood development, income and education – these all predict how healthy we are and how long we will live,” says Marmot. He argues that our societies need to change radically: we need to invest aggressively in education and reduce the gap between the rich and the poor.
Nowhere is this more relevant than in South Africa, the most unequal country in the world according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
The IMF estimates that 10% of the population earn around 60% of all income, compared to only 20% to 35% in more advanced economies.
Inequality is measured by the Gini Coefficient – a percentage estimate where zero represents perfect equality and 100 represents perfect inequality.
South Africa has the highest level of inequality in the world at just over 63%.
In comparison, Sweden and Norway have Gini Coefficients of 27% and 25%% respectively, according to World Bank estimates.
It does not matter how wealthy a country is. It matters that the wealth is more evenly spread.
One of the wealthiest nations in the world, the US, has some of the worst health outcomes, argues Marmot, because inequality is rife.
“Go into a typical American school and count one hundred boys aged 13. Thirteen of you will fail to reach your 60th birthday,” he says. Is 13 out of 100 a lot? The US risk is double the Swedish risk, which is less than seven.
He says that life expectancy in Costa Rica is high, about 80 years in 2012, even though it is not a wealthy nation. But inequality is lower, quality education is accessible and, interestingly, the country’s decision to abolish its military in 1948 has freed up resources to invest in public amenities. Marmot argues that the money and resources saved by not having to fund an army have been instead invested in, for example, education – and decades later the health of Costa Ricans has improved dramatically. In 2007 almost every single child aged three to five in Costa Rica attended pre-school. This is compared to just over 20% for many other South American countries such as Paraguay.
Ensuring children are educated and protected from abuse can radically change their prospects.
In England, says Marmot, preventing early adverse events in childhood, such as verbal, physical or sexual abuse, can reduce the likelihood of teen pregnancy by 38%. Many instances of abuse occur in households with low incomes and high unemployment.

Bangladesh Poverty

 According to the statistics of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the reduction in poverty has slowed down to 5.9 percentage points during the period of 2010-2014 from 8.5 percentage points of the years 2005-2010, and from 8.9 percentage points of the period 2000-2005. The government approximates that 25.6 percent of the population lives below the so-called poverty line as of 2014. It is also difficult to find causation between deliberate policy of government and reduction in poverty. Economic growth in Bangladesh is mostly consumption-based which can also otherwise be called "auto-pilot rate of growth". The underemployed people in rural areas, who either migrated to cities or abroad and fuelled consumption through remittances, largely contributed to Bangladesh's reduction in poverty. 

There has been much said about economic growth, yet the process in Bangladesh has not matched with jobs. Evidently, a considerable number of people have entered into the labour market with wages below the requirement for graduating out of the so-called poverty line — people who can be termed as "working poor." According to the BBS' latest labour force survey for the calendar years of 2014 and 2015, the country generated only 600,000 employments (300,000 per annum) out of two million eligible to enter the job market on an annual basis. Youth unemployment rate also rose sharply to 9.5 percent in 2015 from 8.1 percent in 2013. The unemployment rate is high amongst educated youth. The number of underemployed increased by over 10 million between 2011 and 2013 and reached 21.5 million in 2014. A World Bank-ILO report states that about 41 percent of Bangladeshi youth were NEET (not in employment, education or training) in 2013. 

The fruits of economic growth have not been shared fairly, and that the current economic crisis has further widened the gap between the rich and the poor. According to BBS estimates, nominal wage indices have increased by 24.7 percent during the period 2010-11 to 2014-15 while the consumer price index (CPI) grew by 32.6 percent during the same period, implying labourers have lost 7.9 percent of the real wage income they used to earn in 2010-11. The degree of income inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, has increased from an average of 0.38 in the 1980s to 0.44 in the 1990s and further to 0.46 in the 2000s, meaning the gap between the rich and the poor is still widening. Bangladesh is being run by a ruling class which is interested only in securing wealth by any means. Over the years, through the actions of successive regimes, aspirations of equality, human dignity and social justice have been supplanted by a completely different kind of aspiration for the power elite - primitive capital accumulation.

The World Socialist Party (India)257 Baghajatin ‘E’ Block (East), Kolkata – 700086,
Tel: 2425-0208,

Bangladesh Women's Health

During the 15-year era of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (2000-2015) maternal mortality was halved and the number of couples, mostly women, accessing contraception increased to 62 percent. Is Bangladesh thus winning in the pursuit for universal sexual and reproductive health care services for all of its citizens? Unfortunately, it is not quite as straightforward; the many achievements already made are still outweighed by some significant challenges the country faces – especially girls and women. 

Each year, 5,200 women die due to pregnancy and childbirth related complications in Bangladesh. This amounts to nearly 15 women losing their lives every day.

Life-saving emergency obstetric and newborn care is often not available or is of poor quality. 62 percent of women still give birth at home and 58 percent, without skilled birth attendance. This doesn't come as a surprise when taking into account that the health portfolio receives only 4.1 percent of the government budget, opening up opportunities for private facilities, which in turn can lead to high out-of-pocket expenditures for patients. Limited infrastructure and a fear of high costs and poor quality, paired with harmful social norms which limit girls' and women's decision-making power, leave Bangladesh in a situation where adolescents, young mothers and couples can't access the care they need. Women with no education and living in the poorest households are far less likely to be assisted by a skilled attendant during delivery. 

Bangladesh is lagging behind other South Asian countries particularly in terms of the ratio of midwives and nurses to population. Depending on the year of measurement, India and Sri Lanka have between five and six times as many midwives and nurses as Bangladesh, and Pakistan has almost twice as many. Bangladesh has only 2.2 nurse-midwives per 10,000, who do not meet a global standard of midwifery, and which is less than half the global average for low-income countries. Overall, workforce density is well below the internationally recommended figure of 22.8 per 10,000 required to achieve relatively high coverage for essential health interventions in countries most in need.

Midwives who are educated and regulated to international standards can provide 87 percent of the essential care needed for women and their newborns; investing in midwifery education and deployment to community-based services can potentially yield a 16-fold return in terms of lives saved and costs of caesarean sections averted.

In 2012, only 1 percent of Bangladesh's population was covered by some form of health insurance. 

The World Socialist Party (India): 257 Baghajatin ‘E’ Block (East), Kolkata – 700086,
Tel: 2425-0208,

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Investing in farming

Economic inequality has always been a subject of discourse. Global inequality is worse than at any time since the 19th century.  There exists a highly unequal distribution of incomes and assets within countries and between countries. While many people enjoy longevity and good health, more than one billion people live in abject poverty, struggling for mere survival every day. The poorest of the poor face the daily life-and-death challenges of insufficient nutrition, lack of healthcare, unsafe shelter, lack of safe drinking water and sanitation. A grotesquely unequal distribution of income means millions of children run the risk of dying from easily treatable diseases. 

The workers who grow and harvest the cornucopia of fruit and veggies in the rich fields of California’s Salinas Valley live in a constant crisis of poverty, malnutrition and homelessness. Toiling in “America’s salad bowl,” they literally cannot afford to eat the fresh, nutritious edibles they produce. The valley is generating billions of dollars in sales that have enriched landowners and corporate executives and turned Salinas Valley into farm country with Silicon Valley prices. Unable to afford good food, the workers eat poorly — with 85 percent being overweight or obese and nearly 6 out of 10 diagnosed with diabetes, while many more, uninsured and unable to afford testing, go undiagnosed. Especially appalling, about one-third of elementary schoolchildren in the Salinas City district are homeless. They sleep with their families in tents, abandoned buildings, tool-sheds, chicken coops or on the ground, next to the rows of crops they tend. Allowing such abject poverty in fields of abundance is made even more shameful by the fact that our society throws 40 percent of our food into the garbage.

 Financial trusts and hedge funds are buying up these farms and converting them into investment packages for super-rich global speculators. One of these Wall Street investment schemes is called Farmland Partners. It’s run by managers trained in mergers and acquisitions as executives at the investment powerhouse Merrill Lynch. Rather than being sod-busters, Farmland Partners are tax busters, using a legalistic plow called a real estate investment trust (or REIT) to obtain enormous tax breaks to subsidize their scheme. With this special subsidy, Farmland Partners has attracted hundreds of millions of dollars from investors to buy up farms and ranches — who now own 295 agricultural properties covering 144,000 acres in 16 states including California’s Salinas Valley.

Of course, the Wall Street plow-boys don’t dirty their own soft hands by actually farming; they’ve figured out how to “work” the land without touching it — and how to harvest a sweet profit. The syndicate hires tenant farmers to do the sweaty work of plowing, planting and nurturing the crops. This tenant system produces a double-line cash flow for the faraway owners: Farmland Partners charges the tenants rent for tilling the corporate soil, then the partners harvest a sweet share of any profits from the sale of crops that the tenants produce. “It’s like gold,” says the founder of one such scheme, “but better, because there’s cash flow.” The new generation of young farmers who actually want to farm are having a hard time finding affordable land to get started. These new generation farmers can easily be outbid for good land by Wall Street speculators who have the cash flow from tenants and the subsidy from taxpayers to underwrite their financial contrivance. 

Germany's Migrant Crimes

Nearly 10 attacks were made on migrants in Germany every day in 2016

The interior ministry figures

  • 3,533 attacks on migrants and asylum hostels in 2016
  • 2.545 attacks on individual migrants
  • 560 people injured, including 43 children
  • 988 attacks on Migrant's houses 
  • 217 attacks on refugee organisations and volunteers

Quote of the Day

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a  decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the 
Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best 
he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.
---Major General Smedley Butler

Migrant Facts

Research Director at UK National Institute of Economic and Social Research ,Heather Rolfe, told DW that the UK government's plans to reduce immigration levels could have negative economic consequences. 

There is a widespread perception in the UK that immigrants, particularly low-skilled immigrants, make more demands on services than they actually do. If you look at the attitudes, people support high-skill immigration and see the need for that. And they support immigration by international students. People recognize they are a benefit to the universities and the economy, but they are much less happy about low-skill immigration and especially asylum seekers and refugees. When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU, many in the UK feared that immigrants would overwhelm British state institutions and flood the labour market. The real concern around emigration from those countries was that it would put a demand on services, schools, hospitals, housing and our benefits system. The evidence is that that hasn't happened. In fact, those immigrants were able to relieve skill and labour shortages in some of our key industries.

Immigrants from those countries put a third more into the economy with tax revenue than they took out in benefits, such as health and education. The reason for this is that a very high proportion of immigrants from those countries are in work, and a much lower proportion are unemployed, compared to British people. That's simply because they come to the UK to work. Also, it is because they are young and healthy and tend to come without children. Of course, the data also shows that if those immigrants stay and settle, they'll be drawing on education in the longer term. But they are already educated when they come to the UK, which means that a lot of the cost to the economy has been borne by the country of origin.

Immigrant workers tend to be of a higher quality than the UK workers. Part of the reason is education. Their higher standards of education help them learn the job more quickly. But employers say that they also have a different attitude towards work because they are immigrants. They've come to the UK to change their lives, either to get experience and money before going back home, or to make a new life here. So their attitude is different, meaning they will take extra work, extra shifts, they are more flexible and seek promotions in a way British workers are not able to do.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

As Predicted by Marx

"Marx’s prediction 150 years ago that capitalism would lead to greater concentration and centralisation of wealth, in particular in the means of production and finance, has been borne out.  Contrary to the optimism and apologia of the mainstream economists, poverty for billions around the world remains the norm with little sign of improvement, while inequality within the major capitalist economies increases as capital is accumulated and concentrated in ever smaller groups."
From here

Farming for food or profits?

 Farming is a business and like all businesses, the goal is to maximise profits. This article, although by no means offering socialism as the answer, addresses some of the problems being faced by the small farmers around the world.

“...In commercial farming, the stakes are high. Each season, farmers gamble on which crop will fetch the highest price or which seed variety will reach the greatest yields. Sometimes the pay-offs are big. But losses resulting from crop failure, a sudden drop in prices or scams by middlemen are just as frequent. Debt weighs heavily on the world’s farmers.
Needless to say, corporations are also trying to secure their profits in this high-stake business. But unlike farmers, global food and agriculture companies have multiple resources at their disposal, which act as a safety net in the face of agriculture’s many inherent risks. One such resource is the World Economic Forum (WEF), which plays a critical role in helping corporations maintain and increase their profit margins.
Several decisions coming out of the WEF’s meeting in Davos in January 2017 confirm this. A press release from theWorld Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), for instance,announced that a group of 25 global companies had joined together to launch Food Reform for Sustainability and Health (FReSH) under the leadership of the WBCSD and the EAT Foundation (EAT), with an opening for more companies to participate. FReSH would serve as a platform for private sector FreSH follows the same rationale as other WEF projects, which also benefit big-name food companies like NestlĂ©, PepsiCo and Unilever. In 2009, the World Economic Forum launched the “Grow” programme under its New Vision for Agriculture, led by 31 “partner companies” involved in the food sector, from agriculture to food processing to retail. Ninety per cent of these companies are based in the US and Europe, yet the programme is focused entirely on Latin America, Africa and Asia—the main growth markets for the global food industry.
Under a logic of public-private partnership, the companies participating in Growfoster close ties with governments in order to increase their control over markets and supply chains. Grow claims to promote food security and benefit small farmers. But the programme’s focus on a select few high-value commodities—like potatoes, maize, coffee, tea and palm oil—exposes its real objective: to expand the production of a handful of commodities to profit a handful of corporations. The impact on communities, biodiversity, nutrition and the climate are potentially disastrous...”
“...At a time when agriculture is almost exclusively judged in terms of its capacity to produce commodities, one tends to forget that the main role of farming is feeding people. And small farmers still produce most of the food that people consume around the world. The UN Environment Programme, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the FAO and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food all estimate that small farmers produce up to 80 per cent of the food in the non-industrialised countries. What will be the consequence of transforming producers of diverse foods for local markets into suppliers of a few commodities for global value chains? ….But there is no future for small farmers or small-scale food traders and processors in this vision—except where they can be made subservient to the main goal of large food corporations: securing supplies of cheap produce and raw material for processed food while selling more and more industrial farming inputs. Biodiversity and food security are sure to suffer. And so are farmer livelihoods as they become increasingly indebted and dependent on the world’s largest corporations. ...

The Con-Trick


Despite living in one of the wealthiest countries in the world almost eight million Britons are living in households which struggle to put food on the table. A study found up to five million of us regularly go without eating for a whole day because they can’t afford to buy food, with some households in the country having just £3 a day to spend on food for the family.

The UK spends tens of billions of pounds combating terrorism the UK is in the midst of a domestic catastrophe. Over the last four winters, according to the latest official figures, nearly 120,000 people in England and Wales have died because, in many cases, they can’t afford to put the heating on – that’s one older person every seven minutes during the winter. Conversely, there were as many deaths caused by bees than terrorism, and yet we still find it of vital importance to pay 10,000 armed military personnel to be on standby at any given time while volunteers man food banks across the country.

After two terms of crippling austerity cuts, dismantling of the welfare state and a referendum that was used as bait to secure a second term the Tories made the first by-election gain by a governing party since 1982 at Copeland. The Conservatives lead has risen to sixteen per cent, with the Tories above Labour in every social group, including working class voters. That’s the same working class voters who have less than £10 a month left over once they have paid their essential bills. The same voters who have experienced soaring levels of in-work poverty, who are being besmirched for taking government support while wealthy corporates evade tax and high net-worth individuals get the red carpet laid out for them as they hide their wealth overseas. It’s the same demographic who have watched the NHS get sold off to private firms for corporate gain. As inequality soars, the Tories triumph.

Wake up, workers, wake up. Is it acceptable for 4.7 million people to regularly go a day without eating? Why are people dying each year because of fuel poverty? The capitalist class are masters of pulling the wool over our eyes. The ruling class engage in political trickery and we fall for it.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Returning the Afghans

Migration will always be part of people’s survival strategies in times of conflict and crisis.

Pakistan  is keen to move on millions of Afgahn refugees it has hosted for decades. The European Union is increasingly anxious to reject Afghan asylum seekers. This despite the fact that since 2015 we have witnessed a new upsurge of violence in Afghanistan. To remove unwanted migrants, Assisted Voluntary Return schemes are paid for out of development budgets, and compliance of states with the deportation of their citizens who refuse to leave has become an important negotiation strategy in international relations and a precondition for receiving development aid.  

Rather than supporting development, the forced return of Afghan migrants actually threatens development and peace-building as it adds to the fragile situation in Afghanistan.  Moreover, the excessively optimistic expectations that are communicated to return migrants about their prospects foster anger and disappointment among returnees who find the reality awaiting them is quite different. Return is not a movement back to normal.  Instead, return can be a destabilizing factor in a fragile country. 

Capitalism needs Migrants

Latest statistics suggest a fall in net migration and a big drop on EU workers coming from the eight so-called accession countries (A8) like Poland.

More than 100,000 EU citizens have left Britain - 17% more than in the previous year. And arrivals from the A8 countries have fallen sharply. The number of new registered workers from Poland is down 16% year on year, Hungary is down 14%, Slovakia down 20% and Lithuania down 6%.

 Uncertainty over the status of EU citizens in a post-Brexit Britain, and the sharp fall in the exchange rate of the pound, has made the UK a much less attractive prospect.

 The tourism and hospitality sector, for instance, has relied upon importing foreign labour. A quarter of hospitality businesses across Britain say they currently have vacancies they are struggling to fill. York, where the tourist industry is booming, it is now worth an astonishing £500m a year and supports more than 20,000 jobs. But the expansion could not have happened without immigration. The city has close to full employment - there are estimated to be fewer than a thousand local job seekers. The news of a fall in migrant workers from countries which have traditionally filled tourist jobs makes grim reading for York's hoteliers, restaurateurs and bar owners.

If the numbers continue to fall, some fear the worst. "It would create a staffing crisis," says Graham Usher, who heads York's Hoteliers' Association. "If we get to the point where we can't fill vacancies with European workers then there's a big gap that we just can't fill."
What about using British workers?
"There just aren't enough of them around. York only has about 700 unemployed people and that is it."

It is not just the tourism and hospitality sector, of course. Britain's record employment rate means there is often no immediate domestic alternative to migrant labour for many businesses looking to expand or simply survive.

Poskitt's Carrots is a £35m a year business in the East Riding of Yorkshire, supplying vegetables to many of Britain's big supermarkets.If we didn't have access to non-UK labour we just could not run this business," says managing director Guy Poskitt. "I wouldn't even attempt to try and run it. Take away 80% of my workforce how can I operate?" Guy Poskitt doesn't want to be reliant on migrant labour, but argues that there just aren't the domestic workers available from the rural communities nearby.
The social care sector is also extremely concerned about the lack of suitable domestic staff to replace foreign workers who, in parts of the country make up the majority of employees.Britain's creative industries, which are worth more to the UK economy than the finance sector, are often collaborative ventures involving highly skilled but relatively low paid workers from around the world. From ballet companies to computer gaming firms, there is concern that an inability to attract or employ foreign staff will damage their international standing and profitability.
Earlier this week the Brexit Secretary David Davies told an audience in Estonia that in sectors requiring low-skilled labour including hospitality, agriculture and social care "it will be years and years before we get British citizens to do those jobs. Don't expect just because we're changing who makes the decision on the policy, the door will suddenly shut: It won't," he said.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

What is being poor?

In 2008 the World Bank raised its Global Poverty Line from $1.00 to $1.25 per day, then raised it again to $1.90 in 2015, taking inflation and other factors into account. Using these figures there are now some 700 million people living in extreme poverty. These thresholds tell us nothing meaningful.

It should be obvious that even if poverty (at $1.90) is declining, this is a very low bar, and rising above it (going from $1.90 to $2.30 or $3.15) still leaves you poor. Thinking about the difference between extreme poverty, or dire poverty, or just plain poverty is something only rich people can afford to do; ask someone who has moved from a dollar to a dollar and a half (a spectacular 50% jump) and we might find that person feeling no different than before, or even poorer.

Poverty is a matter of position, where one is in a society.

Indonesia's Inequality

The four richest men in Indonesia own as much wealth as the country’s poorest 100 million citizens, despite the nation’s president repeatedly pledging to fighting “dangerous” levels of inequality.

Oxfam highlighted Indonesia as one of the most unequal countries in the world, where the number of dollar billionaires has increased from one in 2002 to 20 in 2016.

The development charity worked out that the four richest Indonesians – led by brothers Budi and Michael Hartono – control $25bn of assets, which is roughly equal to the wealth of the poorest 40% of Indonesia’s 250 million population. The charity said the Hartonos – who own a clove cigarette company – could earn enough interest on their fortune in a year to eradicate extreme poverty in Indonesia.

Since 2000, economic growth has taken off in Indonesia,” Oxfam said in its report. “However, the benefits of growth have not been shared equally, and millions have been left behind especially women.”
Oxfam said that despite rapid growth in gross domestic product (GDP) – which averaged at 5% between 2000-2016 and caused the country to be included in economics Civets list of fast growing emerging nations – “poverty reduction slowed to a near standstill”. Based on the World Bank’s “moderate” poverty line of $3.10-a-day, some 93 million Indonesians are living poverty.

The growing numbers of millionaires and billionaires, when set against a backdrop of staggering poverty, confirms that it is the rich who are capturing the lion’s share of the benefits of the country’s much-vaunted economic performance, while millions of people at the bottom are being left behind,” Oxfam said.

Dini Widiastuti, spokesperson for Oxfam in Indonesia, said:
 “It is simply not right that the richest person in Indonesia earns more from the interest on his wealth in just one day than our poorest citizens spend on their basic needs in an entire year. Inequality in Indonesia is reaching crisis levels. If left unchecked, the huge gap between rich and poor could undermine the fight against poverty, exacerbate social instability, and put a brake on economic growth.”

Our food future


The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges, warns mankind’s future ability to feed itself is in jeopardy due to intensifying pressures on natural resources, mounting inequality, and the fallout from a changing climate.

It says almost one half of the forests that once covered the Earth are now gone. Groundwater sources are being depleted rapidly. Biodiversity has been deeply eroded. As a result, “planetary boundaries may well be surpassed, if current trends continue,” cautions FAO Director-General JosĂ© Graziano da Silva in his introduction to the report.

The core question raised by the new FAO report is whether, looking ahead, the world’s agriculture and food systems are capable of sustainably meeting the needs of a rising global population. The answer is “Yes” The explains the planet’s food systems are capable of producing enough food to do so, and in a sustainable way, but unlocking that potential – and ensuring that all of humanity benefits – will require Major transformations in agricultural systems, rural economies and natural resource management will be needed if we are to meet the multiple challenges before us and realize the full potential of food and agriculture to ensure a secure and healthy future for all people and the entire planet,” it says. High-input, resource-intensive farming systems, which have caused massive deforestation, water scarcities, soil depletion and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, cannot deliver sustainable food and agricultural production,” adds the report.

The report emphasisesAccording to the report, without a push to invest in and re-tool food systems, far too many people will still be hungry in 2030 — the year by which the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda has targeted the eradication of chronic food insecurity and malnutrition, the report warns.
Without additional efforts to promote pro-poor development, reduce inequalities and protect vulnerable people, more than 600 million people would still be undernourished in 2030,” it says. In fact, the current rate of progress would not even be enough to eradicate hunger by 2050. Given the limited scope for expanding agriculture’s use of more land and water resources, the production increases needed to meet rising food demand will have to come mainly from improvements in productivity and resource-use efficiency, says FAO. However there are worrying signs that yield growth is leveling off for major crops. Since the 1990s, average increases in the yields of maize, rice, and wheat at the global level generally run just over 1 percent per annum, the report notes.
To tackle these and the other challenges outlined in the report, “business-as-usual” is not an option, The core challenge is to produce more with less, while preserving and enhancing the livelihoods of small-scale and family farmers, and ensuring access to food by the most vulnerable.  The world will need to shift to more sustainable food systems which make more efficient use of land, water and other inputs and sharply reduce their use of fossil fuels, leading to a drastic cut of agricultural green-house gas emissions, greater conservation of biodiversity, and a reduction of waste.
The FAO report identifies 15 trends and 10 challenges affecting the world’s food systems:
15 Trends:
• _A rapidly increasing world population marked by growth “hot spots,” urbanization, and aging
• _Diverse trends in economic growth, family incomes, agricultural investment, and economic inequality.
• _Greatly increased competition for natural resources
• _Climate change
• _Plateauing agricultural productivity
• _Increased conflicts, crises and natural disasters
• _Persistent poverty, inequality and food insecurity
• _Dietary transition affecting nutrition and health
• _Structural changes in economic systems and employment implications
• _Increased migration
• _Changing food systems and resulting impacts on farmers livelihoods
• _Persisting food losses and waste
• _New international governance mechanisms for responding to food and nutrition security issues
• _Changes in international financing for development.
10 Challenges:
_Sustainably improving agricultural productivity to meet increasing demand
• _Ensuring a sustainable natural resource base
• _Addressing climate change and intensification of natural hazards
• _Eradicating extreme poverty and reducing inequality
• _Ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition
• _Making food systems more efficient, inclusive and resilient
• _Improving income earning opportunities in rural areas and addressing the root causes of migration
• _Building resilience to protracted crises, disasters and conflicts
• _Preventing trans-boundary and emerging agriculture and food system threats
• _Addressing the need for coherent and effective national and international governance
 But from the past record of capitalism, we can only expect failure to achieve sustainable food production that provides for peoples' needs. Next month's issue of the Socialist Standard will go into more detail of how we can adequately feed the world. 

American life expectancy blues

Imperial College London and the World Health Organization analysed lifespans in 35 industrialised countries.

The USA is on course to have the lowest life expectancy of rich countries by 2030. The study predicts an average age of 80 for men and 83 for women - roughly the same state Mexico and Croatia will have achieved. The US will be overtaken by Chile, where women born in 2030 will expect to live for 87 years and men for 81.

Prof Majid Ezzati told the BBC News website, "Society in the US is very unequal to an extent the whole national performance is affected - it is the only country without universal health insurance. And it is the first country that has stopped growing taller, which shows something about early life nutrition."

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What a way to run the world

 We live in a world in which 800 million are malnourished, in which 600 million have no home, in which 1 billion have no access to clean water and in which over 1 billion have no work. Our world is racked by war and civil strife, crime is on the increase everywhere and racism and nationalism is again rearing its ugly head. Were this not enough we now face the threat of environmental catastrophe.

 These are not natural problems, they are social problems and all rooted in the way our world is organised for production – production for profit not social need. The terrible irony is that these are problems we are already capable of solving.

 While we destroy mountains of food, children starve. We employ 500,000 scientists world-wide on weapons programmes, while the world cries out for medical and technological breakthrough that. can directly benefit humanity. 

 Countless families sleep rough on the streets or the world's cities, yet there is no shortage of vacant building, stockpiled bricks and mortar and unemployed builders. We pollute the world, yet for 6 per cent of the money we spend on weapons each year we could provide 1 billion people in underdeveloped countries with solar power. The list is as endless as it is insane. Everywhere we look we are reminded of the maxim of capitalism: "can't pay, can't have". At every turn we find evidence that capitalism impoverishes our lives and retards real human development.

The alternative

 The World Socialist Movement, which dates back to 1904, believes the only way forward lies in the establishment of a world of free access. A world social system based upon the common ownership and democratic control of productive wealth by and in the interest of all people. Production for social need, not profit. A world without borders or frontiers, social classes or leaders, states or governments, money, wages, buying and selling. A world in which we all give freely of our abilities and take according to our needs, with all work being based on voluntary cooperation. A world devoid of force or coercion and in which we each have a real democratic voice.

 We reject that such a system can be brought about by force. World socialism will only come when a majority of the people of the world want socialism and are prepared to organise for it peacefully and democratically to get it. We further reject the idea that socialism has already been tried and has failed. We have always maintained that what was named 'socialism' was only ever state capitalism.

 We are a leaderless organisation consisting of a membership of equals. We have companion parties and members throughout the world, all sharing the same vision of a moneyless world. We make no promises and ask not to lead you. There is nothing we can do for the workers of the world that they are not capable of doing for themselves – after all, they already run the world from top to bottom. If we want change then we have to bring it about ourselves.

Dogs, Cats & Wage Slaves

 According to a recent news item, a study has shown that cats are as
intelligent as dogs ( ). But
could then be more intelligent?

 Dogs, specifically domesticated kind, are nature's sycophants. They beg.
They perform tricks upon command. Their tails wag upon the merest pat
from their masters. They are ever loyal. They know their place.

 Dogs do not reject their masters. As a canine Lenin might have observed,
the dog is incapable of reaching an independent consciousness. Urging
dogs to stand up for their dignity is as pointless as distributing
cleanliness manuals to rats.

 Cats, on the other hand, are remarkably sensitive to their own needs.
These are nature's materialists, ever heading to where food and shelter
is available and there settling for as long as their needs are satisfied
and their human providers leave them alone. Try as they might, humans
will fail to train cats to beg or jump through hoops or pretend to sing
the national anthem. Cats purr when they get what they want and they
depart when they don't. You will rarely see a cat on a lead.

 Now, with all due excuses in advance for the implied anthropomorphism of
all this, there is a conclusion which merits a few moments of the
reader's political contemplation. Capitalist culture is based the
expectation that the working class can be turned into dogs. The good
wage sieve is essentially a well-trained pup whose loyalty to the master
who holds the lead is undying and whose bark is reserved for anyone
threatening to invade the masters' property. Workers are educated as
pups are trained, with a few bones on offer to the graduates best able
to jump to the appropriate orders of their future bosses. BBC's One Man
And His Dog could well be a documentary about job training, except for
the obvious fact that most "job-seekers" (as the unemployed have now
been reclassified) are denied such splendid rural scenery as the
back-drop for their exploitation-seeking. In capitalist culture the
tail-wagging wage slave, content in a squalid kennel, running to fetch
the sticks which the master throws and fearful of the stick which the
master wields, is the most ideal of dehumanised creatures of the profit

 Of course, some capitalists tend to become strangely sentimental when it
comes to pet dogs in ways that rarely extend to their employees. The
billionaire inhabitant of Buckingham Palace, for example, is reputed to
have quite a soft spot for a corgi with a belly-ache after eating too
much lunch (which is perhaps why she reserves the British beef for
visiting heads of state), but is not known for her concerns about
workers dying as they wait in queues for hospital appointments. Other
capitalists patronise charities concerned with animal welfare (usually
excluding the welfare of the defenceless suckers whom they chase and
shoot for sport) while resenting every penny they are forced to pay
towards the welfare of their wage slaves. Cruelty to domestic pets is a
crime. If the dogs of the rich and famous were transported in conditions
which have become customary for rush-hour users of the buses and
underground trains there would soon be a campaign formed to put an end
to it.

 Now, the great unconscious fear of the bosses is that workers become
rather more like cats. At the very least, cats are like high-class
prostitutes, sitting on their owners' laps and purring, with one eye on
the smoked salmon and the other on their claws should the would-be owner
make a single false move. At their best, cats are animals who know their
place in a way that dogs never will: in the sun, near the food and
drink, never far from the open air and long leisure hours of idle
roaming, peaceful napping and hot sex. What characteristics do
capitalists less admire in their workers than those?

 Dogs are pack animals. Humans (with the exception of Millwall supporters
and marching Orangemen) are social, but not pack animals. In short, we
are socially interdependent, but we have sufficient consciousness to
survive and prosper alone as well as in groups. Dogs survive either by
total dependence upon the pack or by domesticated submission to an
owner. Cats are not pack animals and are never quite owned by those who
imagine themselves to be cat-owners.

 The revolutionary socialist is the lion of the capitalist jungle. Not
content to hunt the pack or be trained into the domesticity of wage
slavery, the socialist looks at the world from a position of strength.
There are more workers than there are capitalists. We are stronger than
them. We are the ones they depend on to protect them as a class from one
another and, above all, from us. We are intelligent enough to know our
way round the jungle and find our way out to the other end. And our
capacity to rise up scares the hell out of those who would like the
working class to be forever weak and bowed.

 Freedom does not depend upon humans becoming more like cat - just less
like dogs. Like cats, we might learn that there is more dignity in
walking away from tyranny into the unknown than putting up with lousy
treatment forever.
 But the message of this rather strange piece is not
SOCIALISTS SAY WORKERS SHOULD BECOME MORE LIKE HUMANS. This means refusing to adopt the political posture of the dependent canine and
resting satisfied with the reformers' offers of bigger bones. Instead,
let those who think they can own us learn soon that our bite is as bad
as our bark - and our bark can become a roar.

STEVE COLEMAN (Socialist Standard, August 1996)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

We need a change of vision

University of Virginia economics professor James Harrigan is using more than 35 years of data to study economic inequality in the United States. the data shows the dramatic rise of the "1 percent," the very wealthiest people in the country. To be in the top 1 percent, someone would need to earn at least $400,000 per household, according to data from the Internal Revenue Service. That same data shows that, of all income earned in the U.S., the share going to the top 1 percent has risen from 8 percent in 1980 to 18 percent today, meaning it has more than doubled. Roughly one out of every five dollars is going to the top 1 percent.

In the U.S., between 1978 and 2015, the income share of the bottom half of the population fell to 12% from 20%. Total real income for that group fell 1% during that time period. The average annual income of the bottom 50% has stagnated at about 16,000 dollars per adult (expressed in constant dollars 2015), while the average income of the top 1% rose from 27 times to 81 times this amount, that is from a little over 400,000 dollars in 1980 to over 1.3 million dollars in 2014.

Just as denying climate change doesn’t change physics, believing that helping the rich will help the poor doesn’t make it true.   Offering a radically different alternative vision would be a good way to begin building the future and that is what the World Socialist Movement is intent upon doing.

The Libyan Hell

“I gave my birth to my baby in a toilet – I lost her and now I’m dying as well,” says a woman weeping as she lies on a dirty floor, unable to walk after months without medical treatment. She is one of thousands of women and children held indefinitely in Libya’s countless detention centres, caught in a lucrative trade between militias and people smugglers profiting from the worst refugee crisis the world has ever seen.
Near Tripoli, the Fallah detention centre holds almost 900 men. When the Libyan guards’ backs are turned, they tell film-makers how they were “beaten like animals” and called “slaves” by their captors. Those centres are controlled by the UN-backed Libyan government, but many more are under the control of the numerous militias and armed groups operating in the country that have forced migrants from across Africa into work camps and brothels. Britain and other European countries are increasing cooperation with Libya to slow the crossings but the war-torn country’s fledgling Government of National Accord (GNA) have been powerless to stop warring militias profiting from exploiting desperate refugees. The documentary’s director, Marta Shaw, said it would be tantamount to “signing a death sentence” to force refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean back to Libya. Outsourcing the policing of our borders to Libya isn’t the solution,” she added.
The UK is helping train the Libyan coastguard, which is being given increasing responsibility for “rescue” missions, but new footage to be broadcast by Sky shows its staff beating and whipping refugees in a boat. Ross Kemp, the former EastEnders actor said the coastguard showed little concern as they attacked refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, having already been accused of causing at least 25 people to drown in the panic caused by a similar attack. “They seemed to take a bit too much pleasure in the beating,” he told The Independent. They left them for hours in the sun without water and food, then they took them to detention centres, splitting up families. If you’re going to do that you also have a responsibility to ensure they’re treated as human beings, and they’re not. Turning them back isn’t going to stop them coming, it’s inhuman.”
Refugees forced back to land by Libyan authorities are taken to detention centres spread along the country’s coast – some controlled by the government and others by powerful militias that have carved the country up since the UK-backed ousting of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
They are held for months, before being moved or sold on to smugglers to attempt the treacherous crossing once more. Some are said to be taken to Libya’s southern border, although rumours of people being abandoned and left to die in the desert abound.
Kemp said he feared Europe was adopting an “out of sight, out of mind approach” to the refugee crisis as it enters its third year. “These people are being treated like commodities,” he added. “Their own countries don’t want them, Libya certainly doesn’t want them and Europe doesn’t want them – so what happens to them?”

Feeding the world is possible

Researchers from York University and Edinburgh University analysed the global food system using data from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation.

It found that the world's population consumes around 10% more food than it needs and almost 9% is thrown away or left to spoil.
The researchers looked at losses at different stages in the production process and found that almost half of all harvested crops - or 2.1 billion tonnes - are lost, taking into account inefficiencies in production processes as well as consumer waste and over-consumption.
The study again stressed the inefficiency of livestock production, which it said produced losses of 78% on harvested crops. They found that around 1.08 billion tonnes of harvested crops are used to produce 240 million tonnes of edible animal products including meat, milk and eggs.
In 2015 a UN report found if the amount of food wasted was reduced by only 25 per cent there would be enough to feed all the people who are malnourished.

THE CONNING TOWER CON! (weekly poem)



The Government has reluctantly admitted that none of
Britain’s ‘Nuclear Deterrent’ submarines are operational.

Gad Sir! Those Johnnie Foreigners,
Have got us by the throat;
As Britain’s has no submarines,
At present time afloat!

All of our underwater fleet,
Is laid-up in dry-dock;
And being renovated in,
A race against the clock.

So our ‘Deterrent’ seems to be,
Completely, ‘All at sea’;
And yes, ironically, it is,
Thanks to the M.O.D.!

Is that a conning tower we see,
Upon the salty main?
Or is it just a figment of,
Sir Michael Fallon’s brain? (1)

How to defend this sceptics isle,
This berth of travesty;
If all our bleedin’ submarines,
Are tied up at the quay?

We could call on the Home Guard to,
Put on their marching shoes;
And sing that old Bud Flanagan,
‘Dad’s Army Hitler Blues’! (2)

Then the Marines could put to sea,
In Butlin Pedaloes;
And see how the next Falklands War,
And fight for Goose Green goes! (3)

(1) Britain’s Defence Minister.

(2) In 1968, Bud Flanagan recorded ’Who do you think you are
kidding, Mr Hitler?’ — the ‘Dad’s Army’ TV series theme tune.

(3) Major battle in the Falklands War. 27/28th May 1982.

© Richard Layton