Saturday, March 31, 2018

Socialist Standard No. 1364 April 2018

Economic gloom

The share of income UK households save was at its lowest in 2017 since records began, as expenditure outstripped inflation-eroded pay over the 12 months. There have been concerns from regulators and campaign groups about the extent to which households have been dipping into savings and increasing debt in order to make ends meet.
“Household spending power has been flatlining for the last two years. That has forced consumers to run down savings and borrow more just to sustain sluggish growth in spending,” said Ian Stewart, an economist at Deloitte.
The Office for National Statistics reported that the full-year household “saving ratio” fell to just 4.9 per cent in the year, down from 7 per cent in 2016 – and the lowest annual reading since 1963. The total household debt-to-income ratio in 2017 stood at 133 per cent in 2017, according to the ONS. The ratio fell steadily in the wake of the financial crisis, after peaking at 150 per cent in 2007, but has been rising again since 2015.
Total incomes grew by 3.5 per cent, while expenditure was up 3 per cent. Inflation spiked to above 3 per cent in 2017, mainly due to the slump in the value of sterling in the wake of the June 2016 Brexit vote. Average real wages began falling in April, although there are indications that pay growth is now rising above the cost of living again.
The annual growth rate of unsecured consumer credit ticked up again to 9.4 per cent in February. Within this, credit card borrowing rose 9.6 per cent.
The ONS also noted that the UK was the only G7 country to see a slowdown in its annual GDP growth rate in 2017, suggesting Britain is benefiting less from the synchronised global economic pick-up than others. Full-year UK GDP growth was 1.8 per cent, the lowest since 2012.
“The recent performance of net trade remains worse than all other big depreciations of sterling in the post-war period,” said Samuel Tombs of Pantheon Macroeconomics.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Lawyers to strike

Barristers are to go on strike over "relentless" cuts which have left the criminal justice system "broken".
The Criminal Bar Association (CBA), which represents criminal lawyers in England and Wales, is advising its members take part in "days of action". It also recommends its members refuse all legal aid cases from 1 April when a new fees system comes into force.
Angela Rafferty QC, chair of the CBA, said underfunding meant the poor and vulnerable were "being denied access to justice", members of the public were "at risk of miscarriages of justice" and the faith of the public in the jury system was being undermined by "the chaos in courts".
She said a lack of investment meant cases were not being properly investigated by the police and CPS, there was uncertainty and delay at court and "unnecessary distress" for witnesses, victims and defendants.  She said the recent disclosure crisis, which led to the collapse of a number of rape trials last year, also highlighted "the appalling state of our system". She said the Ministry of Justice's "already meagre and inadequate" budget would be reduced by £600m by 2019/20.
"In 2016, the Public Accounts Committee warned that the criminal justice system was close to breaking point. It is now broken," she added.

Race War or Class War?

The Jews are to blame for everything! We are getting this hammered into our ears wherever we go. The Jews are responsible for the war, the Treaty of Versailles, the occupation of the Ruhr, rising prices for consumer goods, unemployment, corruption of the workers' parties and trade unions. In short, for every misfortune, for every event, there is only one guilty party: the Jew. If someone slips on something and breaks a leg, that does not matter, it's the Jew's fault! There used to be an insignificant political group in Germany, which, in order to hide its own follies, transformed the Jew into a scapegoat.
And today? Unfortunately, these stupid arguments have taken root deep in the ranks of the working class. The nationalist stupidity of our younger generation in the schools and older workers during the war and the revolution has paved the way for them. The workers' organisations have overlooked this problem and have unwittingly promoted this propaganda. So today we face the danger of a race war. Appropriate organisations have already been set up (National Socialists in South Germany, German Freedom Party in Northern Germany). This warning of danger ahead does not just concern the Jews themselves. We should expect not only pogroms against the Jews but also the enslavement of the workers in the interest of Capital. “Capital? That’s the Jews”, respond the advocates of these parties pointing to the unemployed as proof. Oh, no! There are certainly some Jewish capitalists, but the capital that counts the most is in the hands of Messrs. Stinnes, Thyssen, and Krupp, all three of whom are allegedly "Christians."
Whatever. Our struggle must not be against individuals, but against a class. Not against the members of this class as human beings, but against the economic and state system directed by them. Our struggle is not about their lives. What is at stake is a change in the means of production, the transformation of private property into collective ownership. For this reason, it doesn’t matter whether the capitalist is a Christian or a Jew. Capital is our enemy and not those who belong to this or that religion or this or that race.
Workers, open your eyes! They want to inject this pogromist virus directed against the Jews into your minds. They only want to divert you from your goals, using the method of shouting: “Stop thief!”. But do not be fooled. We are all the same race, whether we are Germans, Slavs, Latins, Mongols, or Semites. In each of us flows the same red blood that makes us brothers. Moreover, as workers, we have absolutely no reason to be populists. Our sufferings, under identical conditions, are absolutely the same, regardless of race or nationality, and it is only by acting in common that we can liberate ourselves. So do not succumb to lies, do not be fooled. Your enemy is not the Jew, but Capital. It is not the struggle between races but the class struggle that opens the way to freedom, that is the way out of poverty.
Der Arbeitslose, organ of the German Action Committees, No. 1, 4, May 1923, Berlin.

America’s wildlife in crisis

There is an extinction crisis within America’s wildlife, with scores of species at risk of being wiped out unless recovery plans start to receive sufficient funding, conservationists have warned.

One-third of species in the US are vulnerable to extinction, a crisis that has ravaged swaths of creatures such as butterflies, amphibians, fish and bats, according to a report compiled by a coalition of conservation groups.

A further one in five species face an even greater threat, with a severe risk of being eliminated amid a “serious decline” in US biodiversity, the report warns.

More than 1,270 species found in the US are listed as at riskunder the federal Endangered Species Act, an imperiled menagerie that includes the grizzly bear, California condor, leatherback sea turtle and rusty patched bumble bee. However, the actual number of threatened species is “far higher than what is formally listed”, states the report by the National Wildlife Federation, American Fisheries Society and the Wildlife Society.

Analysis shows more than 150 US species have already become extinct while a further 500 species have not been seen in recent decades and have possibly also been snuffed out. Species have been battered by the destruction of forests, prairie and wetlands to make way for mass agriculture, urbanization, roads and mining. The use of pesticides in farming is linked to the decline of key pollinators such as bees. Improved transportation between states and from other countries has unleashed diseases such as fungal infections that have ravaged certain frogs and bats. Invasive species including feral hogs, nutria and emerald ash borers have torn apart wildlife habitats such as forests and riverbanks, often with little to slow them. Climate change is a further blow, with rising temperatures, sea level rise and altered rainfall all having consequences for species as diverse as bears, which are finding certain foodstuffs hard to come by, and monarch butterflies, which have seen their numbers drop by about 90% in recent decades and which are considered acutely sensitive to changes in weather patterns.

"America’s wildlife are in crisis,” said Collin O’Mara, chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation. “Fish, birds, mammals, reptiles and invertebrates are all losing ground. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to prevent these species from vanishing from the earth.”

40% of freshwater fish species in the US now vulnerable or endangered, a third of bat species experiencing major declines in the past two decades and amphibians dwindling from their known ranges at a rate of about 4% a year. The true scale of the crisis is probably larger when species with sparse data, or those as yet unknown to science, are considered.

Thomas Lovejoy, a biologist at George Mason University said it “captures the overall degradation of American nature over recent decades, rather than little snapshots”.
“Species are living in smaller patches of habitat and not interacting with other members,” said Erle Ellis, a professor of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland. “Extinctions are ramping up, and if that continues it will be one for the history books for the whole planet. The world is getting very humanized and I’m very concerned about the cost to biodiversity. It’s a challenge that will face us throughout this century and beyond.”

Cancer survival and poverty

Survival chances of people diagnosed with early stage lung cancer are much worse for those living in poorer communities.

Figures show 72% of those diagnosed with stage one lung cancer survive the first year in the most deprived areas. But the survival rate is nearly 90% in the least deprived areas.

For bowel cancer diagnosed at stages one to three, people living in areas of greater disadvantage tend to have an increasingly lower survival rate.

With breast cancer, survival is universally high at the early stage but a gap emerges between the least and most disadvantaged areas for stage three breast cancer.

The Robin Hood of the High Seas

Captain Black Sam Bellamy is recorded to have said to a sailor who declined to join his pirate crew, “Damn ye, ye are a sneaking puppy, and so are all who admit to be governed by laws rich men have made for their own security, for the cowardly whelps have not the courage otherwise to defend what they get by their knavery.”

In February 1717, when he captured the Whydah and made it his flagship, he is said to have invited the captured sailors to join his crew with the words: “Ye miserable victims of the earth, who serve kings, princes and lords for a miserly pittance scarce big enough to keep body and soul together…They make their laws to rob thee … They banquet in the fine halls of their castles and mansions and leave ye to feed on the few crumbs and the gristle they cannot eat. To ye, I say I am no slave and as a free man I have the right to make war on them as they do me. To all of ye I say, make one with me against these vultures who look on us as swine and cattle.”

The captain of the sloop Bonita, captured in November 1716, testified that Bellamy’s pirates referred to themselves as “Robin Hood’s Men”, as if they were a band of maritime outlaws with contempt for the wealthy “scoundrels” in government.
“They rob the poor under the cover of law,” said Bellamy, “While we plunder the rich under the cover of our own courage.”
His style of captainship included letting his pirate crew vote on major decisions, and preferring to intimidate rather than fight ships into submission. Some say Bellamy never killed a man who surrendered.  

Party Conference (21-22 April London)

Annual Conference

Saturday, 21 April and Sunday, 22 April - 10:30am - 5:00pm

Venue:The Socialist Party Of Great Britain
52 Clapham High St,
 London SW4 7UN, UK
Agenda at link

India and Climate Change

Worsening extreme weather linked to climate change is uprooting more people from their homes around the world, creating hardship for many. Odisha is among the poorest states in India with one of the highest migration rates, often fuelled by drought and an overall lack of jobs. An estimated 500,000 people migrate from this part of the state every year, more than half to work in brick kilns. Often those left behind - including those simply too poor to move - bear the biggest risks as they struggle to survive in an increasingly inhospitable environment with meagre resources and few people left to turn to.

"Our homes used to be full of paddy during the festival. But there was nothing this year. It was all empty," Mathura Dharua told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "More than half the people have migrated. But I don't know brick kiln work and I feel weak. I have never left this village and I can't leave now," Dharua said.

Odisha's western region has been grappling with scanty rainfall for years, but the rain deficit in the last three years has worsened three-fold, officials say. A "normal" monsoon rain in Balangir district - the amount received decades back - is nearly 1,200 mm, they say. But in the last two decades, rainfall has declined substantially, worsening in the last few years, said Sarat Chandra Sahu, director of the weather office in Odisha. In 2017, Balangir district recorded just 840mm of rain. farms have withered and farmers departed, villagers who stayed behind have turned to forests in the area to survive, felling teak trees for wood to sell to traders and clearing the land to cultivate heat-resilient cotton. The loss of green has turned villages warmer, and the sudden showers that once moistened the land have stopped, said officials at Odisha's forest and weather departments.

"Any distress migration in any part of the world is rooted in hunger and suffering, and those left behind suffer the most," said Umi Daniel, a migration expert and regional head of Aide et Action International. "The families left behind in villages like Kharkhara are more vulnerable. They have poor access to food and their kin leave only a little money with them," said Daniel, who has been tracking migration from western Odisha to the brick kilns. "The older people who die here in these villages, (it's) often because no one is there to take care of them," he said.

Kumar Gwal,  one of those who has remained in Kharkhara, said the decision to stay was not an easy one. Standing on his two-acre farm, under the beating afternoon sun, he said that until three years ago the land yielded enough rice to feed his family of six for most of the year. He took the odd job or a bit of daily wage work for a little money, he said, "but always had peace of mind as there was food at home". But over the last three years, as the crops failed, Gwal has had to rely almost entirely on daily labouring to survive. He makes 100 to 150 rupees ($1.50-$2.30) a day and worries about his family going hungry.

"The agents tell me that if I leave to work in a brick kiln, I will make 100,000 Indian rupees ($1,500) in cash advance," he said - enough, he thinks, to buy a motorcycle and build a concrete house in the village. About 20 km from Kharkhara is Kantabanji town, where workers are offered a cash loan based on the number of able-bodied members in their families who can come to work at the brick kiln. Such debt bondage in brick kilns has been going on since 1987 for lack of other job opportunities, said Bishnu Sharma, a lawyer based in Kantabanji who helps migrant workers. "But it is increasing every year," he added.

Unlike Gwal, however, most villagers who remain in Kharkhara have stayed because they are too old to work in the brick kilns. Dozens of frail, elderly people sit hunched outside their huts, staring blankly at rows of locked doors.

Europe's Fertility Rate

Germany's hypocrisy

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the Turkish offensive in the Syrian enclave "unacceptable." But that has not stopped her government from selling arms to Turkey. Germany continues to authorize the export of weapons to Turkey despite criticizing the country's offensive in the Syrian enclave of Afrin.

The German government has approved the export of military equipment worth €4.4 million ($5.4 million) since January 20, when Turkey launched its offensive against Kurdish militia in Afrin.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Deserts Growing

The Sahara Desert has grown significantly over the past century, and climate change is largely to blame, according to data collected since 1923.  The desert, already around the size of the US, has expanded by about 10 per cent.
The scientists noted that climate change-driven desertification is not a phenomenon unique to the Sahara.
"Our results are specific to the Sahara, but they likely have implications for the world's other deserts," said Professor Sumant Nigam, an atmospheric and oceanic scientist at the University of Maryland and the senior author of the study.
"The trends in Africa of hot summers getting hotter and rainy seasons drying out are linked with factors that include increasing greenhouse gases and aerosols in the atmosphere," said Dr Ming Cai, a programme director at the National Science Foundation, which funded the research. "These trends also have a devastating effect on the lives of African people, who depend on agriculture-based economies."

H&M Problems

Swedish fast fashion giant H&M is not having a great 2018 – its profits have tumbled 62 percent to their lowest values in over a decade, and on Wednesday it emerged that it was sitting on $4.3 billion worth of unsold garments.

In 2016, Swedish investigative journalists revealed that workers as young as 14 were toiling in the company's Burmese production plants for more than 12 hours a day. They found that the children were being paid as little as 15 cents an hour, which is less than half the minimum wage.

the amount of clothing that is sent to landfills isn't – 10.5 million tons a year in the US alone. And health effects of the toxic chemicals and dyes on garment workers and cottons farmers all over the world is well-documented, on top of the disastrous environmental impact when the chemicals get dispersed into the ground water. This is on top of the fashion industry's carbon emissions, which are higher than some major airlines, and the massive amounts of water needed to produce cotton.

Despite creating a campaign in 2016 to promote shoppers returning their used items to H&M stores for recycling, the company's own development sustainability manager admitted that only 0.1 percent of returned clothing was reused for new textiles. A power and heating station in the town of Vasteras, northwest of Stockholm, reportedly burns defective H&M garments donated by the company instead of coal in an effort to reduce fossil fuels.

No mobility

According to a 2015 Pew study, only 64% of Americans now believe that opportunities for mobility are broadly accessed, the lowest rate in around three decades.

Economist Raj Chetty explained in a 2016 lecture at the London School of Economics, the probability of a child born to parents in the bottom fifth of the incomes reaching the top fifth is 7.5% in America. In the UK, this number is 9%, according to research by economists Jo Blanden and Stephen Machin.

The British 'middle class' remains one of the smallest and poorest in Europe – according to the Pew Research Center, a middle-class family of four in the UK is one of the poorest in Europe, with a disposable income of between $29,000 and $87,300 – the share of adults living in middle-income households has increased in the UK, from 61% to 67% between 1991 and 2010, according to Pew Global in 2017.
America’s 'middle-class' share was 59% in 2010 (with the caveat that 'middle-class' people’s salaries in the US tend to be higher than in the UK).

Changing the rules

Workers on sponsored visas are automatically reported to the Home Office if they miss 10 or more consecutive days through strike action. This punitive rule restricts workplace organising.

Currently, asylum seekers in temporary accommodation receive a meagre £36.95 a week to cover food, clothing, toiletries, transport and all other costs.

The UK currently has one of the largest immigration detention networks in the European Union, detaining nearly 30,000 people in 2016. For comparison, Germany detained fewer than 2000 people in 2014.

In addition to being inhumane, the system of immigration detention is incredibly expensive: it costs £34,000 to detain someone for a year, over £10,000 more than if that same migrant were claiming every single benefit that’s available to a UK citizen

Vietnamese capitalists

Vingroup chairman Pham Nhat Vuong's worth has increased by
$2 billion in just a month thanks to rocketing share prices.   A Vietnamese businessman has made it onto the list of the world’s
300 richest people with an estimated fortune of $6.1 billion.  
Pham Nhat Vuong is chairman of real estate mega-corporation
Vingroup and Vietnam’s first billionaire, and was ranked 298th
on the list compiled by Forbes. His net worth has increased by $2
billion from just a month ago when he made headlines for being
one of only four Vietnamese billionaires listed by Forbes.  
Vuong’s rise is mainly due to his company's shares repeatedly
breaking stock market records. Vingroup’s share price (VIC)
stood at VND113,000 ($5.04) at the end of the last trading session,
up by 200 percent from last August. With 724 million shares in his
possession, the stock market cements Vuong’s 298th position
among the world’s richest.   It is the sixth consecutive year Vuong
has made it onto Forbes’ list of global billionaires. He first joined 
ihgh society back in 2013 with $1.5 billion, ranking him at 974th.  Vingroup is one of Vietnam’s largest real estate conglomerates, and
has been expanding rapidly into retail, logistics, agriculture,
education and healthcare.    Vuong can thank Vietnam’s flourishing financial scene for his winning streak. Last Thursday, Vietnam's
stock market rose by 0.92 percent to close at more than 1,180
points, surpassing the record of 1,179 points set in 2007. Blue chips
were the driving force behind the record high on the benchmark VN-Index on the Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange (HOSE).

Council Tax Rises

Households will be hit with the steepest council tax rise in 14 years from April, with the average household in England paying £81 more at a time when most local authorities are driving though big cuts to services.

The inflation-busting average 5.1% increase on band D properties in England pushes up the average bill to £1,671. Almost all councils that provide social care have opted to levy an average £30 charge to help meet the spiralling cost of adult care services, official figures show.

Council leaders warned that despite the steep rise, town halls would still have to reduce services. They said they had little choice but to ask residents to pay more as they struggled to balance the books since government funding had been halved since 2011.

Working demographics

The number of workers entering employment expected to fall behind the rate of population growth for the first time in half a century.
According to employment consultant Mercer, the size of the British workforce is expected to rise by just 820,000 by 2025, marking a dramatic slowdown from the previous decade, when almost 2 million people entered employment. 
The increase would cut the workforce growth rate from 9% in the 10 years to 2015 to 2.4% six years after Britain leaves the EU at the end of March 2019, underscoring businesses’ fears over a potential labour shortage.
The forecast has worrying consequences for the government at a time when more workers are needed to enter the health and social care professions to care for Britain’s ageing population. Mercer estimates there will be an additional 2 million people aged 65 and over by 2025.  As many as 710,000 people are likely to be required by the health and social care sector over the coming few years, leaving just 110,000 available for the rest of the economy.
Mercer added that over the next eight years there were projections for 300,000 fewer workers under the age of 30, while there would be an increase of 1 million people aged over 50 as a result of falling net migration and ageing baby boomers. London in particular could suffer as its economy was more dependent on young and migrant labour. Mercer forecasts the capital’s resident worker population under the age of 30 will fall by a quarter, while rising by the same amount for the over-50s.
Sectors such as hospitality, retail and agriculture have voiced particular concerns over their access to migrant labour, while universities, pharmaceutical companies and banks are worried about attracting international talent.
Jobs vacancies are at the highest levels since comparable records began in 2001, according to the Office for National Statistics, with 816,000 recorded in the three months to February. The Bank of England’s network of regional agents said on Wednesday that recruitment difficulties were the primary concern raised by the businesses they spoke to in the first quarter of the year.

The Founding of the Socialist Party. (1931)

From the September 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fifty years ago books and pamphlets dealing with the fundamental problems of social life were neither so plentiful nor so accessible as they are to-day. The principal writings of Marx, Engels and others were hardly known outside of the few in this country who had a knowledge of languages other than English. Consequently, when the Social Democratic Federation was founded in 1881 as a professed Marxian organisation (though Engels would have nothing to do with it) very few of its members were acquainted with the writings of Marx. The new organisation had the merit, however, of pushing the name and works of Marx before groups of working men. Although the few well-to-do people who were at its head, sought to keep it in their pockets as a private concern of their own, the information they made available bore fruit after a number of years and led to much questioning of principles and finally to an attempt to clarify the basis and policy of the organisation to bring it more into harmony with the political needs of the working class movement.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Does Divestment Work?

Many environmentalists believe that they can make capitalism work in the interests of the planet and been promoting divestment from the fossil fuel corporations.

Bank holdings in “extreme” fossil fuels skyrocketed globally to $115bn during Donald Trump’s first year as US president, with holdings in tar sands oil more than doubling, a new report has found.
A sharp flight from fossil fuels investments after the Paris agreement was reversed last year with a return to energy sources dubbed “extreme” because of their contribution to global emissions. This included an 11% hike in funding for carbon-heavy tar sands, as well as Arctic and ultra-deepwater oil and coal.
US and Canadian banks led a race back into the unconventional energy sector following Trump’s promise to withdraw from Paris, with JPMorgan Chase increasing its coal funding by a factor of 21, and quadrupling its tar sands assets. Chase’s $5.6bn surge in tar sands holdings added to nearly $47bn of gains for the industry last year. Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto Dominion remain the biggest tar sands backers, with $38bn of holdings between them. The bulk of new “extreme” investments came in a doubling of loans and bonds to Canada’s government-backed tar sands industry, even though its success would be disastrous for climate mitigation efforts.
Support for coal among the 36 banks surveyed was also up by 6% in 2017.  14 European banks collectively increased their coal financing by more than $2bn last year, with HSBC the worst performer by far.

The rich ger richer

The oil and gas industry benefitted to the tune of billions of dollars from the Trump tax cut bill... And you didn't.

The Center for Biological Diversity shows how the fossil fuel industry has saved $25 billion so far—"with many more billionaires more to come"—from the Republican tax plan. The new tax code has "supercharged the oil industry." 

The so-called Tax Cut and Jobs Act slashed the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to just 21 percent—a 40 percent reduction—Juhasz explains that "these immediate $25 billion in oil company benefits are primarily the result of companies that had deferred payment of taxes they owe to some point in the future. The more billions of dollars they deferred, the more savings they got from the Tax Act. This is because money that they would previously have been required to pay a tax rate of 35 percent on is now taxed at just 21 percent." Additionally, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, which reviewed filings for 11 of the companies, found that five "will actually receive federal income tax refunds this year" thanks to "newly added and pre-existing loopholes, giveaways, and other advantages" that businesses use to reduce the amount of taxes they pay.

In addition to keeping virtually all of the oil industry's substantial existing tax breaks, the Tax Act provides a new subsidy for how the companies deduct the costs of capital expenditures such as drilling equipment, lowering their tax burden while encouraging more capital spending, with the likely result of increased production and other operations. It also opened part of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development, a move that was fiercely opposed by conservationists.

More on the UK's Migrant Workers

The migration advisory committee debunks a number of myths, in particular, the claim that employers deliberately choose to recruit migrants rather than natives: 
“The vast majority of employers do not deliberately seek to fill vacancies with migrant workers. They seek the best available candidate. When a European Economic Area (EEA) migrant worker gets a job, it is because the employer thinks they are the best, sometimes the only, qualified applicant.”

Nor, taking into account occupation and so on, are there big wage gaps – even workers from new EU member states earn only about 4% less, while other EU migrants are paid much the same as UK-born workers. The Mac has no time at all for claims that immigration has had much to do with the abysmal performance of UK real wage growth since the financial crisis.  MAC concludes that EU migrants are, if anything, less likely to be paid less than the minimum wage than UK-born workers.

 Migrants from outside the EEA are significantly more likely to be underpaid.  It’s not hard to work out why this might be the case – non-EEA migrants, particularly if their right to be here is tied to their job, or if their immigration status is questionable, may not be able push back against bad employers. EEA workers can just walk. Free movement is good for workers’ rights – an often unappreciated point.

But while there’s no evidence of widespread undercutting of wages, the report also pushes back against claims by some employers that increasing wages wouldn’t make it easier to recruit British-born workers. Of course, it would, and some people would be better off. But it also notes that doesn’t mean making it harder for employers to recruit workers by reducing immigration would necessarily increase wages or living standards for the rest of us. Some firms would simply shrink or go out of business, and prices might rise.

The Rightward March of Hungary

Nobody in the Hungarian city of Miskolc of 160,000 inhabitants can say with certainty that they have ever seen a migrant or a refugee in the city. A few residents think they might have seen one or two people back in 2015 but cannot be sure. Others say their friends have seen migrants in the streets but admit they have not seen any themselves.
“I haven’t seen any migrants myself, but people who come into the shop have,” said a 47-year-old shop assistant who did not give her name. “I have a young daughter, so I’m pretty worried about it.”
 Even when there were hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees passing through Hungary in 2015, few if any of them made it to Miskolc. The city has struggled to integrate its large Roma population, and tensions were inflamed when Orbán compared potential future migrants to the local Roma community. But the only real migration crisis in the city is that locals are trying to leave, either for Budapest or for other EU countries. It is estimated that over 20,000 residents have left over the past decade.
 And yet,  a fierce election campaign is underway in which there is one overriding issue being discussed ahead of the vote on 8 April. It is not the recent series of corruption scandals involving government officials and vast sums of money. Nor is it the depressing state of local healthcare or low wages. It is migration. Orbán’s critics say the endless migration rhetoric is merely a device to distract attention from the numerous corruption scandals in the prime minister’s circle.
If Miskolc is not to be a place of “ghettos and no-go zones”, said Orbán on a campaign visit to the city earlier this month, it is necessary to vote for his party. “There are two paths ahead for Hungary to choose from,” said Orbán. “We will either have a national government, in which case we will not become an immigrant country, or the people of George Soros form a government and Hungary will become an immigrant country.” Posters plastered across Hungary portray Soros as a grinning, evil puppet master, desperate to flood Hungary with refugees and destroy the country in cahoots with the opposition.
 János Lázár, Orbán’s chief of staff, posted a video on Facebook earlier this month shot in Vienna, in which he accused Muslim migrants of ruining the city and said if Hungary also allowed them in, the consequences would be “crime, impoverishment, dirt, filth”. Tamás Deutsch, a Fidesz MEP and long-time associate of Orbán, made a similar video in the Molenbeek district of Brussels.
“Migration and the attitude towards migration is basically determining all other aspects of our lives,” said Zoltán Kovács, Orbán’s spokesman. 
On Miskolc’s Avas housing estate, known as one of the worst in the country, locals complained of government corruption, economic hardship and expressed frustration at the state of healthcare. And yet migration kept coming up in conversations with local people as the decisive factor.
“Hungarians are bombarded by fabricated news about migration and shameless xenophobic propaganda on a daily basis,” said Kornel Klopstein, who has helped set up the Nyomtassteis movement, which prints its own newsletters containing information to counter the government propaganda. “Bringing objective news about migration to people can help them to make better decisions in the upcoming elections,” said Klopstein.

Fact of the Day

 There are high levels of inequality in the world and that inequality is getting worse. But it is unlikely that you appreciate just how unequal things are. So here is a way of visualising it. Take the wealth of the eight richest people on the planet and combine it. Now do the same for the poorest 3.5 billion. The two sums are the same, £350 billion. Correct: just eight people own as much wealth as half of the world’s population.

 Consider that in the US, almost 85 per cent of the wealth is owned by just 20 per cent of the population, and the bottom 40 per cent own just 0.3 per cent of it. In 1960, a chief executive in the US typically earned 20 times as much as an average worker. Today it is more like 354 times.

The jet-setters

Keeping a private plane on hand is a costly business that even the mega wealthy may not indulge in.
According to new research, the cost of owning and maintaining a private jet is so great that the estimated mean average wealth of such a person is calculated at around US$1.5 billion. Much less than that and the numbers simply don’t stack up.
For example, a long range Falcon 2000DX is estimated to cost around US$40 million, and that’s only the upfront purchase price. This has led to the rise of alternative models such as a membership programme, fractional ownership or buying by the hour.
It doesn’t matter if you are seat 1A in first class, as you will still have to be processed through security. Ultra-High Net Worth individuals (those with more than US$30 million in assets) are not comfortable to wait around, according to the survey, and appreciate that they can drive right up and fly at a moment’s notice.
Other perceived savings come in the form of purchasing and booking time as well as the logic that private aviation can save time if the final destination is near a smaller airfield.

The mega-rich (diagram)

More Myanmar Disharmony

Myanmar's Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said in a speech to military personnel and their families last week in northern Kachin State that Rohingya "do not have any characteristics or culture in common with the ethnicities of Myanmar", The military chief also said the tensions in Rakhine were "fuelled because the Bengalis demanded citizenship", using a term that Rohingya activists reject as implying they are illegal migrants from Bangladesh. The army chief is an influential figure under Myanmar's constitution.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a statement he was "shocked" at the comments, and urged "all leaders in Myanmar to take a unified stance against incitement to hatred and to promote communal harmony".

Poor Pensioners

Pensioner poverty has been flagged by several charities as a major concern. Nearly one in eight people retiring this year have made no provision for their retirement, according to new research.
The study published by Prudential shows that 12 per cent of people who are about to become pensioners have no private or company pension at all. A total of 10 per cent will either be totally or somewhat reliant on the state pension while 2 per cent have some form of private savings upon which they will rely.
That means they will start retirement with an income that’s around £1,450 a year lower than the minimum income standard for a single pensioner established by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) charity.
The report also found that women are significantly more likely to have no retirement savings. Some 18 per cent of females entering retirement in 2018 will do so without a pension, compared to 7 per cent of males.