Thursday, January 20, 2022

Fact of the Day

 


The 10 wealthiest billionaires in the U.S. have added roughly $1 billion to their collective fortune every day—or around $12,600 per second—since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

 The combined net worth of the 10 richest people in the U.S. has more than doubled since March 2020, reaching $1.35 trillion this week.


Another Health Emergency

 An analysis covering more than 200 countries and territories published in The Lancet says antimicrobial resistance (AMR).is killing more people than HIV/Aids or malaria. Many hundreds of thousands of deaths are occurring due to common, previously treatable infections because bacteria that cause them have become resistant to treatment.

It has become a leading cause of death worldwide and is killing about 3,500 people every day. More than 1.2 million – and potentially millions more – died in 2019 as a direct result of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.  In the western Europe region, which includes the UK, more than 51,000 people died as a direct result of AMR.HIV/Aids and malaria have been estimated to have caused 860,000 and 640,000 deaths, respectively, in 2019.

“These new data reveal the true scale of antimicrobial resistance worldwide, and are a clear signal that we must act now to combat the threat,” said the report’s co-author Prof Chris Murray, of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

The new Global Research on Antimicrobial Resistance (Gram) report estimates deaths linked to 23 pathogens and 88 pathogen-drug combinations across 204 countries and territories in 2019 using more than 470m individual records.

Regionally, deaths caused directly by AMR were estimated to be highest in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, at 24 deaths per 100,000 population and 22 deaths per 100,000 population respectively. In high-income countries, AMR led directly to 13 deaths per 100,000 and was associated with 56 deaths per 100,000. 

Tim Jinks, the head of the drug-resistant infections programme at Wellcome Trust, said, “Like Covid-19, we know what needs to be done to address AMR, but we must now come together with a sense of urgency and global solidarity if we are to be successful.”

Antimicrobial resistance now a leading cause of death worldwide, study finds | Antibiotics | The Guardian

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Socialist Sonnet No. 50

 Arthur Draws the Sword from the Stone

(Or, the labour theory of value)

 

Arthur quarried and gathered the dun stone,

Felled the oak and beech for his charcoal pit,

Fashioned a furnace by hand and fired it,

Then loaded ore into its clay-bound cone

To smelt and run out the molten iron

Into the rough casting modelled in sand,

Cooling into the form for what he planned.

Still brittle then, much remained to be done:

Heat and hammer, heat and hammer to force

Imperfections out, shaping, tempering

And honing until, with blade appearing,

Pommel and guard gilded and fixed, the course

Of manufacture was complete. From stone

By Arthur, king of his craft, the sword was drawn.

 

D. A.

UK's Welfare State Crumbles

 Britain’s “porous” safety net has left the poorest households inadequately protected against major economic disruption, in a major report, the Resolution Foundation claimed.

 A “weak” welfare system is “almost unrecognisable” to that created in the aftermath of the Second World War and William Beveridge’s seminal report.

It warns that cuts to cost-based benefits since 2010 “mean Britain goes into the 2020s with a porous safety net that leaves too many in poverty and offers little, and highly variable, insurance for workers whose jobs are affected by economic change”.

The authors of the report highlight that government's “extra spending has not been driven by more generous income support, which has consistently fallen further behind average earrings.”

Unemployment support is set to “fall to its lowest real-terms values in just over three decades this April, at just £77.29 a week”.

Karl Handscomb, a senior economist at the Resolution Foundation, said:

 “Our social security system has seen huge change over the last 75 years, leaving us with a benefits system that makes little attempt to provide basic levels of income support, but doing more to support households with specific costs like housing and children.

“With even those cost-related benefits cut back over the past decade, we go into the 2020s with a porous safety net.

He added: “The result is the poorest members of society are being left further behind, while many are left with little by way of insurance if their jobs are threatened by economic change. These flaws were exposed on the eve of the pandemic, and forced the Chancellor to radically reinvent our welfare system at very short notice.”

Alex Beer, programme head at the Nuffield Foundation, added: “As this research shows, over time the protection given to people who lose their jobs has fallen to a level that only just enables them to avoid destitution and that is damaging not only to the people affected but also to the ability of our society to respond to economic change.”

‘Porous’ safety net fails to protect poorest against economic disruption, think-tank warns | The Independent

Banksters to get bonus

 Goldman Sachs paid its 43,900 bankers more than $17bn (£12.5bn) last year, a 33% increase on 2020 as the investment bank celebrated a more than doubling of pre-tax profits to $27bn thanks to frenzied dealmaking on both sides of the Atlantic.

The pay and bonuses increase works out at about $403,000 for each employee on average, up from about $328,000 a year ago. 

About 400 leading bosses – or the top 1% of the firm – are expected to receive a special one-off pandemic bonus in recognition of the bank’s success during the coronavirus crisis. The bonuses for this elite group are expected to range from the low single digit million to tens of millions of dollars, according to Bloomberg sources

David Solomon, Goldman’s chief executive, collected total pay of $17.5m in 2020, compared with $27.5m in 2019.

Last summer Goldman increased pay for its junior bankers after they complained about “inhumane” working conditions and 100-hour weeks.

The pay of first-year analysts, who previously received close to $70,000 in base pay, increased to $110,000 before bonuses. Second-year analysts saw their pay rise to $125,000.

Bankers at Goldman Sachs reap rewards as profits more than double to $27bn | Goldman Sachs | The Guardian

Where have we heard this before?

 The common prosperity we desire is not egalitarianism," China's president Xi told delegates. "We will first make the pie bigger and then divide it properly through reasonable institutional arrangements. As a rising tide lifts all boats, everyone will get a fair share from development, and development gains will benefit all our people in a more substantial and equitable way."

He continued to say that the country is still open to investment from overseas.

"All types of capital are welcome to operate in China, in compliance with laws and regulations, and play a positive role for the development of a country," he said.


China's Xi Jinping defends 'common prosperity' crackdowns - BBC News

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Squeezed again


 Pay for workers in Britain has fallen in real terms. 

Average wages, after taking account of inflation, dropped in November for the first time since July 2020 

The Office for National Statistics said although average total earnings grew at an annual rate of 3.5% in November, the impact from soaring rates of inflation meant workers suffered a real-terms cut in their pay packets. The official rate of inflation reached a 10-year high of 5.1% in November, effectively meaning a 1.6% cut in pay.

While total pay including bonuses edged up 0.4 percentage points to 4.2% on the previous month, without bonuses pay remained static. Once inflation was taken into account wages went into reverse in real terms, declining by 0.9%, even when bonuses are included.

The Resolution Foundation thinktank said this squeeze on pay was the third in a decade, after real wage falls after the financial crisis between 2011 and 2014 and in the year after the 2016 Brexit vote.

Hannah Slaughter, a senior economist at the Resolution Foundation, said, “Despite widespread talk of returning wage spirals, Britain is instead experiencing the return of shrinking pay packets,” she said. “The latest period of falling real wages – the third in a decade – is likely to have started as a far back as last summer, and is likely to continue beyond next summer too.”

Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the TUC, said, “Working people deserve a decent standard of living and a wage they can raise a family on. But instead, following the worse pay squeeze for two centuries, real pay is falling, and they now face a cost-of-living crisis,” she said.

UK workers’ pay rises fall behind inflation amid cost-of-living crisis | Economics | The Guardian

Monday, January 17, 2022

Fuel Poverty

 The number of households suffering from “fuel stress” – those spending at least 10% of their family budgets on energy bills – is set to treble to 6.3m overnight when the new energy price cap comes in on 1 April.

Fuel stress will no longer be confined to the poorest households, according to a study by the Resolution Foundation. Low- and middle-income families will also find it hard to cope as they spend a far greater share of their family budget on these essentials than higher earners.

9% of English households are currently experiencing fuel stress, an indicator of finding energy bills unaffordable and also the definition of fuel poverty in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. That figure is expected to leap to 27% when the energy price cap rises to about £2,000 a year in April, an increase of more than 50%. 

Levels of fuel stress are expected to be highest in the north-east and the West Midlands (33% and 32% respectively), among pensioner households (38%), among those living in local authority housing (35%) and those in poorly insulated homes (69% of families in homes with an energy performance certificate F-rating). 

Jonny Marshall, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Fuel stress levels are particularly high among pensioner households and those in poorly insulated homes – a stark reminder of the need to modernise Britain’s leaky housing stock and curb national dependency on gas for power and heating.”

UK households facing ‘fuel stress’ will treble to 6.3m – thinktank | Energy bills | The Guardian

China's population rate continues to fall

 Continuing this blog's debunking of the claims that we are an over-populated planet and too many people will be an obstacle to achieving a sustainable socialist society, China’s birth rate dropped to a record low of 7.52 per 1,000 people in 2021, National Bureau of Statistics data showed an accelerating downward trend that led Beijing last year to begin allowing couples to have up to three children.

The birth rate was the lowest since 1949 when the statistics bureau began collating the data.

The natural growth rate of China’s population, which excludes migration, was only 0.034 percent for 2021, the lowest since 1960.

 Zhiwei Zhang, chief economist at Pinpoint Asset management, explained,  “This suggests China’s total population may have reached its peak in 2021. It also indicates China’s potential growth is likely slowing faster than expected.” 

There were 10.62 million births in 2021, the data showed, compared with 12 million in 2020. The birth rate in 2020 was 8.52 births per 1,000 people.

China’s birth rate drops to record low | Business and Economy News | Al Jazeera

Capitalism, an unequal society

 


The pandemic has made the world's wealthiest richer but has led to more people living in poverty, according to the charity Oxfam. The world's 10 richest men have more than doubled their collective fortunes since March 2020

However, lower incomes for the world's poorest contributed to the death of 21,000 people each day. Oxfam's report, which was also based on data from the World Bank, said a lack of access to healthcare, hunger, gender-based violence and climate breakdown contributed to one death every four seconds.


"This year, what's happening is off the scale," Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam GB's chief executive, said. "There's been a new billionaire created almost every day during this pandemic, meanwhile 99% of the world's population are worse off because of lockdowns, lower international trade, less international tourism, and as a result of that, 160 million more people have been pushed into poverty."

He added, "Something is deeply flawed with our economic system," he added. "Even during a global crisis our unfair economic systems manage to deliver eye-watering windfalls for the wealthiest but fail to protect the poorest,"


 The world's 10 richest men are Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bernard Arnault and family, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Ballmer and Warren Buffet.

While collectively their wealth grew from $700bn to $1.5tn, there is significant variation between them, with Musk's fortune growing by more than 1,000%, while Gates' rose by a more modest 30%.


Wealth of world's 10 richest men doubled in pandemic, Oxfam says - BBC News

Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Kleptocracy of Kazakhstan

 At least 225 dead, over 4000 injured and almost 10,000 arrested after the government of Kazakhstan’s suppression of the numerous demonstrations. The British media, meanwhile, says little about the recently honoured Tony Blair’s publicity relations exercise in 2011 to whitewash the last time Kazakhstan experienced unrest and improve the image of its previous president after civil unrest resulted in what is known as the Zhanaozen Massacre, where 70  people were killed, over 500 injured, and many more including main trade unionists, were arrested.

 

Former dictator, Nursultan Nazarbayev, believed to still pulling the strings in the autocratic regime, is said to have paid Blair’s consultancy business $13 million for advice.  Like Blair, Nazarbayev was also awarded a title, the ‘Leader of the Nation’, and had the country’s capital renamed Nur-Sultan in his honour in 2019, something Blair has still to achieve. 

 

The current leader, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, refuses to concede any legitimacy to the protests, describing those who participated in them as ‘bandits and terrorist’, incited by foreign infiltrators, dismissing as "stupidity", the appeals for all parties to negotiate a peaceful solution. He instead issued a shoot-to-kill order. It has been the Kazakh government itself that has introduced foreign intervention by inviting thousands of Russian troops to help put down the uprising. There also appears to be some internal dissent within the government as Nazarbayev has not spoken or appeared in public since the unrest began and Karim Masimov, the head of the security services and a former prime minister, has been arrested on charges of treason. 

 

Unrest originally began when the cost of liquefied petroleum gas doubled (later rescinded.) It is the fuel 90 percent of their vehicles run on. But the protests were the result of long-standing frustrations with the political and economic situation in the country. It has turned into a generalised protest against corruption, poverty, inequality and lack of democracy. According to a KPMG report, 162 people control about half of Kazakhstan’s total wealth, a country of 19 million.  There prevails widespread economic hardship despite the country’s enormous reserves of oil, natural gas, uranium and minerals.

 

Much of the people’s anger has been aimed at the wealth amassed by Narzabayev and his family plus their lavish spending. His daughter and grandson own £80m of property in London and in 2020 the National Crime Agency lost a legal action to force them to explain where the money came from. Property of hundreds of millions of pounds across the UK  has been identified as belonging to Kazakhstan’s affluent elite.

 

There are those who have suggested the events echo one more American CIA-instigated ‘colour revolution’ to de-stabilise another former Soviet republic and Russian ally but the movement has had no obvious organisation behind it but it will not stop such conspiracy theories from spreading on social media. The protests are leader-free and the politicians have not yet taken control.

 

It is unfortunate due to the small size of the World Socialist Movement that we can only express our outrage at the brutality of the Kazakhstan government, condemn Putin’s military intervention, and offer sympathy and solidarity to our Kazakh fellow workers in their struggle against oppression. But the battle for democracy is a long and arduous one, and even if the Kazakhstan working class successfully depose their present masters, the class war against the replacement rulers requires to continue.

Dying from overwork

 In 2021 the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization published the first global study of loss of life and health associated with working long hours. In 2016, according to their calculations, 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease, totalling 745,000, by working 55 or more hours a week. 

Moreover, the number of people working long hours is increasing. In response to the Covid pandemic, employers have cut payrolls but imposed longer hours on those still working.

The regions worst affected by dying from overwork are the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia. The long working hours typical of East Asia are reflected in an unusual feature of the three main languages of the region. Chinese, Japanese, and Korean each have a word meaning ‘death from overwork’ – guolaosi in Chinese, karoshi in Japanese, and gwarosa in Korean.

In China the extreme ‘work culture’ is symbolized by a combination of numbers – 996. That is, 9 am to 9 pm, 6 days a week – a 72-hour week. Although work sometimes goes on until even later – to 11.30 pm or even midnight. And this despite laws that limit working hours to 8 per day and 44 per week. 

No wonder that placards held up by protestors read 996.ICU (ICU – Intensive Care Unit). 

Why are people still dying from overwork – nearly two centuries since workers began to fight for the eight-hour day? And surely the spread of automation should bring us shorter hours?

A manager in a web media company in Beijing explained the pressure for long hours as follows:

996 is inevitable. If you don’t do it someone else will. In fact, it’s the same from the perspective of the company. Even if you don’t work overtime, other companies will. Then the costs of your company will increase, your efficiency will decrease, and you will be overtaken by others… Because the people around you are running forward you dare not stop.

UNLESS the voice of the people makes itself heard and halts the race. And then, finally, everyone stops.

Sources

China Labor Bulletin

https://www.who.int/news/item/17-05-2021-long-working-hours-increasing-deaths-from-heart-disease-and-stroke-who-ilo

https://clb.org.hk/content/death-overwork-china

See also: ‘May Day: the endless fight for the eight-hour day’

http://www.wspus.org/2019/04/may-day-the-endless-fight-for-the-eight-hour-day/


Stephen Shenfield

World Socialist Party of the United States

Dying from overwork | World Socialist Party of the US (wspus.org)

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Under-Reported Crises

 The number of people in need of humanitarian aid is expected to rise to 274 million this year, or one in 28 people, and more than 84 million people have been uprooted. 

Humanitarian organisation Care International has published its annual report of the 10 countries that had the least attention. 

 Laurie Lee, CEO of Care International UK explained, “There is deep injustice at the heart of it. The world’s poorest are bearing the brunt of climate change – poverty, migration, hunger, gender inequality and ever more scarce resources – despite having done the least to cause it,” he said. “Add Covid-19 into the mix and we see decades of progress towards tackling inequality, poverty, conflict and hunger disappearing before our eyes.”

Zambia

First on the list, Zambia has 1.2 million malnourished people and about 60% of the 18.4 million population living below the international poverty line of $1.90 (£1.40) a day. Women produce 60% of the country’s food supply, but families headed by women faced higher poverty rates than those headed by men.

Food insecurity in Zambia has primarily been blamed on prolonged drought, but rising corn prices and flooding have contributed.

Ukraine

Currently in the news amid renewed tension between Russia and the west, in Ukraine, 3.4 million people were in need of assistance in 2021, after years of conflict.

“While a comprehensive political solution for the conflict is still not in sight, people in eastern Ukraine are daily forced to put their lives on the line. Along the 420-km ‘contact line’ that separates Ukrainian government-controlled territory from that of the separatists, the situation is particularly dangerous,” the report said.

Malawi

Malawi is facing a food insecurity crisis, with 17% of the population severely malnourished. Droughts, floods and landslides have been predicted to worsen over the coming years. Cyclone Idai in 2019 severely affected harvests and left tens of thousands displaced.

“The climate crisis is hitting people here earlier and much harder than the people of the global north,” said Chikondi Chabvuta, advocacy lead for Care International in Malawi. “We are already seeing real-life consequences with delayed rainfall, heavy and destructive rainfall, unpredictable rainfall patterns, infertile soil, destroyed harvests.”

Central African Republic

In Central African Republic (CAR), where civil war has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis, half of the population face food insecurity. A ceasefire agreement struck in October 2021 is fragile and more than 700,000 people have been internally displaced – more than half children. CAR is ranked second to last globally on the Human Development Index. “On average, a child attends school for just under four years, and girls for only three,” the report said. About 30% of children are in work.

Guatemala

Poverty, violence and the climate crisis are leading problems in Guatemala, which is on the migratory route to Mexico and the US. Two-thirds of the population live on less than $2 a day and 38% of the population face food insecurity.

Camps sheltering those sent back by Mexico are overcrowded, meaning many live on the streets, the report said. Guatemala is considered one of the world’s most dangerous countries, with 3,500 murders in 2020 alone. “Although about 3.3 million people in the country rely on humanitarian aid, the frequent occurrence of violence is in many cases a barrier to accessing urgently needed assistance,” said the report.

Colombia

Nearly 5 million people live under the control of armed groups, and 6.7 million people are dependent on humanitarian aid.

Food insecurity has been blamed on an economic recession caused by the pandemic. It has particularly affected indigenous communities, those uprooted internally and 1.8 million Venezuelan refugees, mainly in northern Colombia.

Burundi

Ranked as the country gaining the least attention in 2020, Burundi was seventh in 2021 when 2.3 million of the 12.6 million population were in need of humanitarian assistance.

The country secured only 27% of the $195m pledged in aid. Extreme weather, hunger and political unrest were among the challenges faced by Burundians. In a country where 90% of people rely on small-scale agriculture, only a third of land is suitable for cultivation, due to drought, floods and landslides. The report also highlighted structural discrimination against women – 20% of those in Burundi’s decision-making bodies are female, while 60% of the agricultural workforce are women.

Niger

Niger is deeply vulnerable to climate disasters. Persistent droughts and recurring floods have had catastrophic consequences: nearly 3 million people rely on humanitarian aid. About 1.8 million children need food assistance and almost half of all children under five are malnourished.

Militias in eastern and northern Niger have caused 313,000 people to be displaced as of last September. “Providing emergency relief is often hindered by the fact that infrastructure is destroyed, operation areas are marked by violence and rural areas are difficult to access,” the report said.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe has acute food insecurity with increasingly extreme climate conditions and economic mismanagement causing 6.6 million people to need humanitarian aid. More than a third of the population (5.7 million) lack sufficient food.

“The harvests in many rural areas are not sufficient to secure basic food supplies and other needs. In these regions, households must rely on local markets when supplies are depleted – but the prices there are unaffordable for many,” the report said.

Honduras

Poverty and violence have exacerbated the humanitarian situation in Honduras, prompting many to leave for the US. About 70% of the population live in poverty, according to a 2020 study.

There have been problems with farming due to drought, hurricanes and floods. The country has 937,000 displaced people, the highest number in Latin America.

“In Honduras, people therefore often talk about poverty being female, as it is mostly women who stay behind with the children,” the report said.


Friday, January 14, 2022

Asia's Inequality

 Twenty new “pandemic billionaires” have been created in Asia thanks to the international response to Covid-19, while 140 million people across the continent were plunged into poverty. 

According to Oxfam's report by the aid organisation says that by March 2021, profits from the pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and services needed for the Covid response had made 20 people new billionaires as lockdowns and economic stagnation destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of others.

In 2020, an estimated 81m jobs disappeared and loss of working hours pushed a further 22–25 million people into working poverty, according to the International Labour Organization. Meanwhile, the Asia-Pacific region’s billionaires saw their wealth increase by $1.46tn (£1.06tn), enough to provide a salary of almost $10,000 (£7,300) to all those who lost a job.

From China, Hong Kong, India and Japan, the new billionaires include Li Jianquan, whose firm, Winner Medical, makes personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers, and Dai Lizhong, whose company, Sansure Biotech, makes Covid-19 tests and diagnostic kits.

The total number of billionaires in the Asia-Pacific region grew by almost a third from 803 in March 2020 to 1,087 by November last year, and their collective wealth increased by three-quarters (74%), the report said.

The report said the richest 1% owned more wealth than the poorest 90% in the region. The wealth gap is set to grow. Credit Suisse forecasts that, by 2025, there will be 42,000 more people worth more than $50m in Asia-Pacific and 99,000 billionaires. The number of millionaires by 2025 is projected to be 15.3 million, a 58% increase on 2020. Both the World Bank and IMF have said that coronavirus will cause a significant increase in global economic inequality.

Mustafa Talpur, of Oxfam Asia, said: “It is outrageous and highly unacceptable that poor people in Asia [were left at] the mercy of the pandemic facing severe health risks, joblessness, hunger and pushed into poverty – erasing the gains made in decades in the fight against poverty.

“While rich and privileged men increase their fortunes and protect their health, Asia’s poorest people, women, low-skilled workers, migrants and other marginalised groups are being hit hardest,” he added.

Covid created 20 new ‘pandemic billionaires’ in Asia, says Oxfam | Global development | The Guardian