Sunday, March 29, 2015
Saturday, March 28, 2015
Today, income inequality in the U.S. exceeds any other democracy in the developed world. Two-thirds of American families earning less than $30,000 a year are often in crisis mode when the bills come in, but the misery is conspicuously not shared. In 1944 the top 1 percent earned 11 percent of all income. By 2012, it was 23 percent of the nation’s income.
Real output per person from 2000 to 2011 rose nearly 2.5 percent a year, but real pay increased less than 1 percent over the same period, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Adjusted for inflation, incomes in 2014 are still roughly $2,100 lower than when President Barack Obama took office in 2009 and $3,600 lower than when President George W. Bush took office eight years earlier.
When we look at figures for average incomes we see a rise, but that’s misleading. The number is driven by gains for the wealthy, which is why median income is stagnating. Somewhat more than half the population say they are losing ground financially, their incomes unable to keep pace with the cost of living. Only 5 percent of those surveyed by the Pew Research Center said their income is rising faster than the cost of living; 45 percent of Americans said they have lived through one serious financial hardship over the last year, an event such as a job loss or falling behind on bills or not being able to afford medical care. Two-thirds of American families earning less than $30,000 a year faced one of these economic challenges recently.
Nationally, inflation-adjusted wages at the median of the earnings distribution curve have either fallen or barely risen in 35 years going back as far as 1979. Thirty-five years! So when were the good times? It wasn’t so bad from 1947 to 1973. Labor productivity rose 2.8 percent per year but real hourly compensation was only a little behind then, rising 2.6 percent. But now we are well and truly in the age of inequality with little prospect of a high-pressure economy boosting the demand for labor, and hence pay.
There is a pattern of low-wage and, often part-time jobs, replacing high-wage, full-time jobs. The number of full-time jobs last year was still 2.3 million below where it was back at its peak in 2007. Today’s jobs are 23 percent lower in pay than the vanished jobs, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors and IHS Global Insight – a fact well known personally to workers in hospitality, health care and administrative support. Part-timers are a stunning 19 percent of the employed U.S. population. Alas, here, too, low pay is the new norm.
Friday, March 27, 2015
More than one million foreigners travelled to the Maldives last year. There are over 58,000 migrant workers in the Maldives, of whom more than a third worked on luxury resorts. A US government report has said the number of “documented and undocumented” foreign workers in Maldives could be as high as 200,000. Most are from India and Bangladesh.
Ahmed Tholal, vice-president of the the Maldives’ human rights commission, said there has been a recent spate of attacks of “hate crimes” and there was a background of entrenched discrimination and “inhuman treatment” of migrant workers in the Maldives, who he said “make an immense contribution to the economy” but had no one to defend them. Two men from Bangladesh have died from injuries in the last week. One migrant worker from Bangladesh, who said he would attend the protest despite the ban, said the community was “afraid to go out on the streets, they are stabbing us, beating us”. The US state department’s Trafficking in Persons report last year claimed that migrant workers suffered forced labour, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or nonpayment of wages, and debt bondage. The report criticised local authorities for failing to “fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”
Immigrant have been told they will be ordered to leave the island nation if they go ahead with a planned protest against alleged discrimination and violence. Mohamed Anwar, the controller of immigration and emigration, said any protest by migrant workers would breach the terms of their work permits, and participants’ visas would be cancelled without further warning. “The immigration department will not hesitate in penalising those who participate in protests,” Anwar said. On Thursday the economic ministry repeated the threat. “We believe the planned protest by migrant workers is a premeditated attempt to undermine the Maldivian economy and businesses,” it said.
Marouf Zaki, of the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives, said: “The current migrant workforce is very important for the economy but is facing a very worse situation. We are calling for a peaceful demonstration. We believe they have full rights to do that. To protest is a universal right.”
Ahmed Tholal said the country’s constitution guaranteed anyone on Maldivian soil the right to protest. “A clause in a migrant worker’s contract cannot override the constitution,”
Thursday, March 26, 2015
James Herod, author of “Getting Free, Creating an Association of Democratic Autonomous Neighborhoods” has suggested an interesting model for the structure of a future socialist society that is worthwhile quoting.
A Notion of How We Might Want to Live
We can turn now to a notion of how we might want to live. Let’s assume, for the moment, that we could start from scratch to build a totally new social world, building up our neighborhoods just the way we wanted. What would they look like? What would the core social forms be?
I have imagined a neighborhood with the following features:
Households are units of roughly two hundred people cohabiting in a building complex that provides for a variety of living arrangements for single individuals, couples, families, and extended families. The complex has facilities for meetings, communal (as well as some private) cooking, laundry, basic education, building maintenance, various workshops, basic health care, a birthing room, emergency medical care, and certain recreational activities. Households are managed democratically and cooperatively by a direct assembly of members (the household assembly).
Projects include all cooperative activities (more than one person) in agriculture and husbandry, manufacturing, higher education, research, advanced medicine, communications, transportation, arts, sports, and so forth, plus cooperative activities undertaken within the household itself (cooking, teaching, child care, health care, maintenance, etc.). The buildings are designed and constructed for these various activities. Internally, projects are managed democratically and cooperatively by a direct assembly of members (the project assembly). Some projects, perhaps most, are controlled, in the larger sense, directly by the neighborhood, through the neighborhood assembly. Other projects are controlled by agreements worked out among several or many neighborhood assemblies.
Peer circles are units of roughly thirty to fifty people. All persons in the neighborhood belong to just one peer circle, located at their primary project. For some this is in the household, but for most it is located at a project outside the household or even outside the neighborhood. All projects are broken down into such circles. These circles meet within the project to discuss issues and, where necessary, coalesce into projectwide general assemblies. Votes are taken within meetings, but they are tallied across meetings, within each project. Peer circle meetings are necessary because genuine face-to-face discussion and deliberation are seriously constricted in groups larger than fifty people.
Because households contain many persons whose primary project is not within the household, but who are nevertheless living there and will want to be engaged in the self-governing of the household, I will refer to the household assembly as a distinct entity, different from project (workplace) assemblies, even though the household includes peer circles for such projects as cooking, teaching, child care, and health care.
The neighborhood assembly is the core social creation. It is an assembly of the entire neighborhood, roughly two thousand people, meeting in a large hall designed to facilitate directly democratic discussion and decision making. In practice, of course, the size of neighborhood assemblies will vary considerably. Yet its upper limit is determined by the number of people who can meet in one large hall and still engage in democratic, face-to-face, unmediated decision making.
An Association of Neighborhood Assemblies
Neighborhood assemblies join together, by means of a pact or a treaty agreement, to form a larger association. An overall agreement defines the association in general, and there are also specific agreements for particular projects.
The neighborhood assembly is the neighborhood governing itself. The neighborhood makes its own rules, allocates its own resources and energies, and negotiates its own treaties with other neighborhoods. The neighborhood controls the land on which it sits, and all projects and households within it.
Please note what this arrangement of social relations does not have: hierarchy, representation, wage slavery, profit, commodities, money, classes, private ownership of the means of production, taxes, nation-states, patriarchy, alienation, exploitation, elite professional control of any activity, or formal divisions by race, gender, age, ethnicity, looks, beliefs, intelligence, or sexual preference. This neighborhood, so organized, is the basic unit of a new social order.
Those familiar with radical traditions will recognize in this sketch a melding of the anarcho-communist focus on community, the anarcho-syndicalist emphasis on workers’ control, and the feminist stress on abolishing the distinction between the public and private spheres of social life. It is my belief that each of these cannot be achieved without the other. The achievement of workers’ control alone would leave no way for the community as a whole to allocate its resources (e.g., to decide whether to phase out a project or start up a new one), whereas the achievement of community control alone, without simultaneously controlling the means of production, is meaningless, empty. And the failure to democratize and socialize households, including them (and hence reproduction) as an explicit and integral part of the social arrangements, would leave a gender-based division of labor intact, thus perpetuating the public/private dichotomy.
The actual task we face, then, is to transform existing structures (buildings and factories) and social relations (property, family, work, and play relations) into the desired ones. We need to try to imagine how our model neighborhood would look after having been converted from a typical urban neighborhood. Let’s see first if we can convert the existing physical plant into something more useful for democratic, cooperative living, keeping in mind that this is the easy part; the hard part is transforming social relations. I will deal with this more below in discussing how to get there.
Factories and shops would be the easiest of all to convert. These can be used pretty much as they are (after they have been seized, of course). Space will have to be cleared somewhere in them for peer circle meetings and projectwide assemblies.
More difficult is how to convert a street full of individual residences into households. This can probably be improvised as follows: build passageways and tunnels between the buildings; set aside certain rooms for workshops, child care, and health care; block off certain streets to enclose the unit; expand one or two kitchens into a communal unit; rearrange bedrooms; and clear an apartment for a meeting hall.
It will also be difficult to find a meeting space for the neighborhood assembly. There are options, however. There may be a union hall, church, roller skate rink, or high school gym in the neighborhood. But also, warehouses, supermarkets, and department stores have large open floors that could be cleared and made into meeting halls. Most of these spaces, though, could not hold two thousand people. It may be necessary to begin with smaller neighborhood assemblies - say, five households of two hundred each - for a neighborhood assembly of one thousand members, instead of ten households for a neighborhood assembly of two thousand members.
Later on, after the flow of wealth out of the neighborhood to the ruling class has been stopped, and after the stolen wealth of the ruling class has been reappropriated, neighborhoods will undoubtedly want and have the resources to build specially designed neighborhood assembly halls as well as new household complexes. But at first, we will have to make do with what already exists. The wealth of centuries is embedded in the existing architectural plant - a plant that reflects capitalist values, priorities, and social relations. It will take a long time to tear down and rebuild this physical world in a way that expresses the needs of a free people.
But when we do rebuild, the mark of our new civilization will be its assembly halls. Just as earlier worlds have been characterized by the temples and theaters of ancient Greece, the castles and cathedrals of medieval Europe, and the banks and skyscrapers of modern capitalism, so the new social world of a cooperatively self-governing people will be known by its meeting halls. They will undoubtedly come in all shapes and sizes. Besides the large general assembly chambers for neighborhoods (neighborhood assemblies), there will need to be small caucus rooms in every project and household for peer circle meetings as well as projectwide and householdwide assembly rooms. A deliberating people will design, build, and equip excellent and beautiful spaces for deliberation.
To complete this sketch, we would need to imagine at least two more arrangements, one for a typical small town and another for a typical peasant village - two rapidly disappearing social entities (given the continuing violent enclosures forced through by our corporate rulers). Peasant villages the world over, although under heavy attack, nevertheless still possess a basis for community, with many communal traditions yet intact. These traditions are not always and everywhere relevant to creating a free and anarchistic society, but some of them are. Karl Marx, after all, believed that Russia could skip capitalism and move directly to communism by building on the peasant commune. Small towns still exist too, in every country. Even in a highly urbanized country like the United States, there are still 20,000 towns with a population below 10,000 - 15,000 of which are below 2,500. There is no reason why these small towns couldn't switch to direct democracy right now if they wanted to.
It will be easier I think to transform small towns and peasant villages into our desired neighborhoods than suburbs or dense urban areas. But maybe not. Megalopolises and suburbia will surely wither away, decade by decade, into the new civilization, as the countryside is repopulated with livable, cooperative, autonomous communities of free people. (Needless to say, the vast shantytowns of the neocolonized world will be the first to go.)
A neighborhood is a small place, relatively speaking. Although there may be many villages or small towns left in the world with populations as low as 2,000, they are rapidly disappearing. Most settled areas are much more densely populated. Consider a town of 90,000, for example, which is a small town by today’s standards. An average neighborhood assembly size of 2,000 members means we will have 45 neighborhood assemblies in the town. A city of 600,000 will have 300 neighborhood assemblies. A city of 1,800,000 will have 900, and a city of 9,000,000 will have 4,500.
This shows us immediately the tremendous power of this strategy. For the people in a small town of 60,000 to reconstitute themselves into 30 deliberating bodies to take charge of their lives, resources, and neighborhoods is an unbelievably powerful revolutionary act. Just the mere act of assembling is revolutionary, without even considering all that these assemblies can do. Capitalists depend a lot on keeping us all isolated. Our assembling starts to destroy that isolation. It is an act that will be next to impossible to stop; it is an act that has the power to destroy capitalism and the potential to build a new civilization.
This is the way to think of the revolution. It is a people reassembling themselves (reordering, reconstituting, and reorganizing themselves) into free associations at home, at work, and in the neighborhood. Capitalists will fight this. They may outlaw the meetings, bust them up by force, arrest those attending, or even murder those in attendance. But if we are determined, they will not be able to block us from reconstituting ourselves into the kind of social world we want.
Basic Agreements of the Association
The basic social unit is the neighborhood assembly, as described above. For many purposes, however, these neighborhood assemblies will want to cooperate with other neighborhood assemblies. They will coalesce to accomplish certain objectives. In other words, they will sometimes form larger associations. They will do this by treaty negotiations, negotiating agreements to govern all supraneighborhood projects. Sometimes these agreements will involve just a few neighborhood assemblies, and sometimes many. That is, agreements will encompass larger or smaller numbers of neighborhood assemblies depending on the nature of the project. A telephone system will require a regional or even interregional pact. A local park may involve only three or four neighborhoods. The highway system will require regional agreements. A large manufacturing facility may involve fifteen or twenty neighborhood assemblies, and likewise for hospitals, large research facilities, orchestras, and so forth. A considerable amount of the activity in the world at present is governed by such treaties and not by legislation (for example, the worldwide postal service among nations). Also, contracts between corporations are more in the nature of treaties (mutually agreed on terms and conditions) rather than laws (although they are enforced by a nation’s laws). So we should not be frightened by this. The number of interneighborhood agreements that the neighborhood assemblies will have to work out to regulate our common endeavors will be well within the range of complexity manageable by human intelligence. It probably won’t exceed a couple hundred agreements (not counting trade agreements, which may run into the thousands).
Beyond agreements governing particular projects, there will need to be a general agreement about the nature of the association. Becoming a signatory to this agreement or pact is what it means to join an association of democratic autonomous neighborhoods. There will need to be agreements about membership in neighborhoods, the basic structures of the neighborhood itself (households, projects, peer circles, and neighborhood assemblies), voting procedures within the assemblies, territory and resources, leaving the association, not joining the association in the first place, aggression and defense, and so forth. (See the appendix for a draft general agreement for such an association.)
Negotiating these treaties will involve a lot of work at first, but less so later on. Nevertheless, it will be an ongoing process. Procedures and facilities for negotiating will need to be established. These treaty negotiating procedures will probably not differ all that much from the way treaties are negotiated among states: delegates from each neighborhood will be sent to regional treaty drafting conferences, with the final ratification resting with the neighborhood assemblies. The main difference lies in the number of negotiating parties: less than two hundred nations versus tens of thousands of neighborhoods.
Although this may seem cumbersome, there is no alternative if we want to govern our own lives. The alternative is to relinquish control into the hands of regional or interregional elites, thus voiding our determination to be autonomous, free peoples. Besides, it probably sounds a lot worse than it will prove to be in reality.
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
The Trussell Trust confirmed that its chairman Chris Mould had still not been granted a meeting with Iain Duncan Smith, despite reports as far back as 2013 that he had requested one. Iain Duncan Smith has instead held discussions with an American investment bank JP Morgan Chase about tackling child poverty. Why should we be surprised?
Sunday, March 22, 2015
More than 300 labourers, almost all of them indigenous Panamanians working on plantations for a branch of the U.S. corporation Del Monte Foods, have been on strike since Jan. 16 to protest harassment of trade unionists, changes in schedules and working conditions, delayed payment of wages and dismissals considered illegal.
“The company laid us off on Dec. 31 and when it rehired us on Jan. 3 it said we were new workers and that any modification of the work applied to us. But according to legal precedent, to be considered a new worker at least a month has to go by,” said Federico Abrego, one of the striking workers from Panama.
“The plantations that are on strike belong to Corbana (Corporación Bananera Nacional) and are leased to Del Monte,” lawmaker Gerardo Vargas, who represents the Caribbean coastal province of Limón, told Tierramérica. “Two years ago there was a big strike over the subhuman conditions, poor wages and immigration problems and a union was founded. In December the contract with Corbana expired, and when they renewed it, the company did something that infringed the rules: they set up a new union, dismissed all of the workers, and only hired back those who were in the new union. The new conflict broke out as a result,” said Vargas
Abrego and most of the more than 300 workers on strike on the Sixaola plantations 1, 2 and 3 belong to the Ngöbe and Bugle indigenous groups, who live in a self-governed indigenous county in Panama across the border from Costa Rica, where many go to find work. The plantations in Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastal region are the scenario of frequent conflicts between workers and the big banana companies, and the current strike on the Sixaola plantations is just one example. A large proportion of the banana industry is in the hands of transnational corporations. Besides Del Monte, there are branches of other U.S. firms like Chiquita Brands, which controls 24 percent of the country’s banana exports, or the Dole Food Company. The banana industry carries a heavy weight in the country, especially the Caribbean coastal region. According to statistics from Corbana, it employs 6.2 percent of Costa Rica’s workforce and 77 percent of all workers in the Caribbean region. The industry represents seven percent of the country’s exports, and last year it brought in 900 million dollars.
Between 70 and 90 percent of Panama’s 417,000 indigenous people live in poverty, according to a 2014 United Nations report. Abrego is a classic example of these plantation workers. The 53-year-old Gnöbe Indian has been working on banana plantations in Costa Rica since 1993. He now lives with his wife and eight children, half of whom are still of school age, in a house that belongs to the Banana Development Corporation (Bandeco), a branch of Del Monte. “My fellow strikers ask me about the food and tell me the same thing my family tells me at home: that they don’t have anything to eat while we’re waiting to be rehired,” said Abrego, the leader of the trade union at the Sixaola 3 plantation. “I’m trying to get by without an income, with what I can scrounge up. But there are guys with small children who are having a harder time,” he said with a heavy heart, before explaining that the striking workers prepared communal meals to survive.
On the 10th November 2014, as the guest speaker for the annual Tom Olsen Lecture, Nigel Farage claims that the 1918 Armistice was "the biggest mistake of the entire 20th century. He said:
“I believe we should have continued with the advance. We should have pursued the war for a further six weeks, and gone for an unconditional surrender. Yes the last six weeks of the war cost us 100,000 casualties, and I’m prepared to accept that a further six weeks of war might have cost us another 100,000."
Such a low respect for the value of human life. If this is his bellicose outlook towards the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles, how can we trust this man if he were to gain power; a man with so little regard for human life. If another war were to break out, would his answer be to just throw UK citizen after UK citizen into the fray. It also demonstrates Farage's actual lack of knowledge of history.
Friday, March 20, 2015
A UN tribunal has ruled the UK of creating a marine protected area (MPA) to suit its electoral timetable, snubbing the rights of its former colony Mauritius and cosying up to the United States. The ruling effectively throws into doubt the UK’s assertion of absolute ownership, restricts the Americans’ ability to expand their facility without Mauritian compliance and boosts the chances of exiled Chagossians being able to return to their homeland. The five-judge panel found that the creation of the MPA, announced by the former foreign secretary David Miliband in the final months of the last Labour government, breached its obligations to consult nearby Mauritius and illegally deprived it of fishing rights. The US was “consulted in a timely manner and provided with information”, all five judges state, whereas a meeting with Mauritius in 2009 reminded the tribunal “of ships passing in the night, in which neither side fully engaged with the other regarding fishing rights or the proposal for the MPA”.
Opinion from two of the five judges on the permanent court of arbitration at The Hague is even more scathing, stating that “British and American defence interests were put above Mauritius’s rights” both in 1965 when the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) was established and in 2010 when the marine zone, which involves a ban on fishing, was set up. The ruling, which was made under the 1982 United Nations convention on the law of the sea to which the UK is a signatory, is binding. It torpedoes the status of the MPA and orders the UK and Mauritius to renegotiate. (By coincidence, the government this week declared another marine protected area around Pitcairn Island in the southern Pacific.) A US telegram records a meeting with British officials in 2009 in which one is alleged to have said: “BIOT’s former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos archipelago were a marine reserve”. The main judgment says: “The UK has not been able to provide any convincing explanation for the urgency with which it proclaimed the MPA on 1 April 2010.” It adds: “Not only did the United Kingdom proceed on the flawed basis that Mauritius had no fishing rights in the territorial sea of the Chagos archipelago, it presumed to conclude – without ever confirming with Mauritius – that the MPA was in Mauritius’ interest.”
Mauritius has argued that the UK illegally detached the Chagos archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 – before the country was given its independence – contrary to UN general assembly resolution 1514, which specifically banned the breakup of colonies prior to independence. The judgment declares: “The United Kingdom’s undertaking to return the Chagos archipelago to Mauritius gives Mauritius an interest in significant decisions that bear upon the possible future uses of the archipelago. Mauritius’ interest is not simply in the eventual return of Chagos archipelago, but also in the condition in which the archipelago will be returned.”
Tobacco kills nearly six million people each year, according to WHO, and more than five million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use, while more than 600,000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. Nearly 80 per cent of the world's one billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries. A new online WHO Global Report on Trends in Tobacco Smoking, launched today during the conference, finds that in 2010, there were 3.9 billion non-smokers aged 15 years and over in WHO member States (or 78 per cent of the 5.1 billion population aged 15 and over). According to the report, the number is projected to rise to 5 billion (or 81 per cent of the projected 6.1 billion population aged 15 and over) by 2025 if the current pace of tobacco cessation continues.
"This trend indicates countries are making inroads, but much greater action is needed to curb the tobacco epidemic if the global target to cut tobacco consumption by 30 per cent by 2025 to reduce premature deaths from NCDs [non-communicable diseases] is to be met," it said.
Countries wishing to protect their citizens through larger pictorial warnings on packages or by introducing plain packaging are being intimidated by tobacco industry threats of lengthy and costly litigation, according to the UN health chief. Dr. Chan noted that in the Philip Morris challenge to Uruguay's tobacco packaging laws, WHO has filed an amicus brief with the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.
She also said Australia's legislation that mandates plain packaging, designed to make tobacco products less attractive, is also being challenged in a dispute being considered at the World Trade Organization. Following Australia's lead, more than 10 countries are considering plain packaging, the WHO said. Ireland became the second country to introduce plain packaging as law. The United Kingdom, Burkina Faso and New Zealand are the next most advanced followed by Chile, Panama, France, Norway, and Turkey.
"Bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship are not comprehensive as long as colour logos and other branding continue to operate as silent salesmen," she said.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
We currently produce enough calories to feed 10-11 billion people worldwide, however, the majority of this food goes to feed livestock, not hungry people.
Plant-based diets use considerably less land, water, grain, and energy than animal product-based diets. It is estimated that people who eat beef use 160 times more land, water and fuel resources to sustain their diets than their plant-based counterparts. For this reason, shifting to a plant-centric diet may be the best answer a number of pressing environmental concerns.
We use 56 million acres of land for animal agriculture while dedicating only four million acres of land to growing produce;
A staggering 70 percent of grain in the U.S. is fed to farmed animals rather than to people (The world’s cattle alone consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people – more than the entire human population on Earth);
It takes 4,200 gallons of water PER DAY to produce a meat-eater’s diet. A plant-based diet uses only 300 gallons of water per day. Additionally, a whopping 70 percent of our domestic freshwater goes directly to animal agriculture;
All resources taken into account, one acre of land can produce 250 pounds of beef. Sounds pretty good, right? Not when you consider the fact that the same acre of land can produce 50,000 pounds of tomatoes or 53,000 pounds of potatoes.
By some estimates, we could feed 1.4 billion additional people simply by giving up beef, pork, and poultry in the United States. Think of what we could do if the entire world gave up all animal products!
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Thomas Gallagher points out in Paddy’s Lament, that during the first winter of famine, 1846-47, as perhaps 400,000 Irish peasants starved, landlords exported 17 million pounds sterling worth of grain, cattle, pigs, flour, eggs, and poultry—food that could have prevented those deaths. Throughout the famine, as Gallagher notes, there was an abundance of food produced in Ireland, yet the landlords exported it to markets abroad.
More than a century and a half after the “Great Famine,” we live with similar, perhaps even more glaring contradictions. Raj Patel opens his book, Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System: “Today, when we produce more food than ever before, more than one in ten people on Earth are hungry."
The rot at the core of the modern food system is capitalism where food and land are regarded purely as commodities in a global system of profit.
More than a century and a half after the “Great Famine,” we live with similar, perhaps even more glaring contradictions. Raj Patel opens his book, Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System: “Today, when we produce more food than ever before, more than one in ten people on Earth are hungry."
The rot at the core of the modern food system is capitalism where food and land are regarded purely as commodities in a global system of profit.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Land is India's scarcest resource and the source of livelihood for over half its population. There is not a homogenous Indian farmer, nor is there a single land market. The average size of land owned by a farmer was a mere three acres a decade ago; it's even less now. In states like Kerala, Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, the average holding is between half an acre and two acres. To put this in context: the average landholding is 110 acres in France, 450 acres in the US, and even higher in Brazil and Argentina.
Farming is the least productive sector of the economy - agriculture accounts for 15% of India's GDP, while employing more than half of its workforce. There are two basic ways to increase productivity. One, make agriculture more efficient, and two, change land use from agriculture to something else. The development process of independent India followed exactly that prescription. A large scale, state-led effort to irrigate and modernise agriculture was combined with a massive state-led drive to industrialise and urbanise. Both led to land acquisition on a very large scale.
The instrument used was a land acquisition law from colonial 1894 India that the government of independent India found convenient to deal with fragmentation of land holdings - with one blow it removed the twin problems of "holdouts" (or unwilling sellers) and unclear or disputed titles. Since India's independence in 1947, it is estimated that more than 50 million acres of land - about 6% of India's total land - were acquired or converted, and more than 50 million people affected. Most affected landowners were paid little. Many were never paid. Non-owners who were dependent on land for livelihoods were routinely not paid. Very little resettlement or rehabilitation was done, and what was done was shoddy. Tribals and dalits (formerly known as untouchables) were the worst sufferers. It was a severely unjust system that ruined millions of families and in the process produced modern India - its infrastructure, irrigation and energy systems, industrialisation, and urbanisation.
The turning point came in 2006-7 with the setting up of tax-free special economic zones to attract foreign investment. Many civil society groups argued that special economic zones were an official way for Indian businesses to grab farmland and protests against land acquisition became a nationwide phenomenon.
In December, the Narendra Modi-led BJP government passed an ordinance or an executive order removing the "informed consent" and "social impact assessment" requirements for a range of projects, including those relating to defence and national security, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors, and infrastructure. There is nothing in the new land bill which protects the most vulnerable populations like tribespeople from the machinations of land acquisition.
They are prey to a range of corrupt practices involving politically-connected insider information and local land mafias leading to the possibility of much-reduced payoffs and contrived consent.
Monday, March 16, 2015
It is well known that there is often a vitriolic campaign against “conventional” medicine by advocates of CAM – Complementary Alternative Medicine. There is no need to defend the glaring failures of the pharmaceutical industry. We hold no brief for Big Pharma. But should we also be critical of the homeopaths, aromatherapists and their ilk? After all they, too, are Big Business. CAM in the United States in 2013 was approximately a $9 billion market and growing. The UK complementary medicines market in 2009 was £213 million. The Lancet in 2007 stated £38 million is spent on homeopathy alone each year in the UK. Globally, in 2014 it is an $187 billion industry – with 65% growth from $113 billion since 2010.
Their methods have failed scientific scrutiny, time and time again, yet it still has its advocates and those include the UK and Indian governments. One argument presented is what harm is there if someone wishes to use herbal cures, after all, they have been used for thousands of years. Putting aside the quality control issues the risk is that they replace tried and tested treatments. In an under-reported episode South African government engaged in what can only be described as a genocidal health policy against HIV/AIDS victims. Over 300,000 people had their lives cut short as a result. Instead of providing anti-retroviral drugs, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the country's health minister, promoted the use of unproven herbal remedies such as garlic, beetroot, and lemon juice to treat AIDS. A meeting of the Presidential Advisory Panel on AIDS recommended that the disease be treated not with antiretroviral drugs, but rather with vitamins and “alternative” and “complementary” therapies including “massage therapy, music therapy, yoga, spiritual care, homeopathy, Indian ayurvedic medicine, light therapy and many other methods,” despite a plea from the scientific community through the Durban Declaration, signed by 5,000 scientists, that this position will cost countless lives.
In late 2006, Tshabalala-Msimang fell ill and the country's deputy health minister, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, assumed control of South Africa's health policies. While she was at the helm, she attempted to reverse Mbeki's AIDS denialist policies by describing the number of South Africans waiting for ARV drugs as a "serious violation of human rights." She was also one of the principal authors of the country's aggressively anti-AIDS health plan, which was adopted that December. President Mbeki fired Madlala-Routledge.
In March 2000 Mbeki’s spokesperson, the late Parks Mankahlana, gave this blunt justification to Science magazine as to why the South African Department of Health will not provide a relatively inexpensive shot of Nevirapine to 100,000 pregnant, HIV-positive women to prevent mother-to-child transmission: ‘That mother is going to die and that HIV-negative child will be an orphan. That child must be brought up. Who is going to bring the child up? It’s the state, the state. That’s resources, you see.’
That is the price we pay if we ignore evidence-based science and substitute “tradition” for "tried and tested".
Saturday, March 14, 2015
Friday, March 13, 2015
A United Nations investigator has accused the U.S. of blocking access to prisons—including state and federal facilities where an estimated 80,000 people are in solitary confinement and the military prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba—leading civil liberties experts to wonder, "Is the United States hiding something?"
Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, told reporters in Geneva on Wednesday that for two years he has asked to visit federal prisons in New York and Colorado and state prisons in New York, California, and Louisiana, among others. Meanwhile, UN human rights experts have asked to visit Guantanamo since 2004. He rejected the terms offered by U.S. authorities to visit Guantánamo, which he described thusly: "The invitation is to get a briefing from the authorities and to visit some parts of the prison, but not all, and specifically I am not allowed to have unmonitored or even monitored conversations with any inmate in Guantanamo Bay."
Jamil Dakwar, head of human rights at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), criticized the U.S. for dragging its feet on the requests. "It’s simply outrageous that it's taking such a long time to provide access to American detention facilities," he said. "This begs the question: is the United States hiding something?"
According to the ACLU, more than 80,000 people are held in solitary confinement in the United States on any given day. "The numbers are staggering but even worse is the length of terms...It is not uncommon for people to spend 25, 30 years and even more in solitary confinement," Méndez said.
Thursday, March 12, 2015
The war in Syria has plunged 80% of its people into poverty. 30% of the population have descended into abject poverty where households struggle to meet the basic food needs to sustain bare life.
It has reduced life expectancy by 20 years, from 75.9 years in 2010 to an estimated 55.7 years at the end of 2014, reducing longevity and life expectancy by 27%.
Almost three million Syrians lost their jobs during the conflict, which meant that more than 12 million people lost their primary source of income and unemployment surged from 14.9% in 2011 to 57.7% at the end of 2014.
Syria now has the second-largest refugee population in the world after the Palestinians, with 3.33 million people fleeing to other countries. In addition, 1.55 million Syrians left the country to find work and a safer life elsewhere while 6.8 million fled their homes but remain in Syria.
Education is also “in a state of collapse” with 50.8% of school-age children no longer attending school during 2014-2015 and almost half losing three years of schooling.
The number of deaths in the conflicts rose dramatically to 210,000. Together with the 840,000 wounded, this represented 6 percent of Syria’s population killed or injured during the conflict.
Despite fears that a rise in global temperatures of over two degrees Celsius could lead to catastrophic climate change, governments around the world continue to follow a ‘business as usual’ approach, pouring millions into dirty industries and unsustainable ventures that are heating the planet. Per capita emissions from the U.S., Canada and Australia each topping 20 tonnes of carbon annually, double the per capital carbon emissions from China. Globally, coal production and coal power accounts for 44 percent of CO2 emissions annually, according to the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), coal mining and coal combustion for electricity generation is associated with high emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, both of which react to form secondary particulate matter in the atmosphere. Complex air pollutants such as these are known to increase the risk of chronic lung and respiratory disorders and disease, including lung cancer, and pose additional threats to children, and pregnant women.
In Australia, coal mining and combustion for electricity has become a highly divisive issue, with politicians hailing the industry as the answer to poverty and unemployment, while scientists and concerned citizens fight fiercely for less environmentally damaging energy alternatives. Others decry the negative health impacts of mining and coal-fired power, as well as the cost of dirty energy to local and state economies. Australia’s reliance on coal for both export and electricity generation explains its poor track record in curbing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reporting last year that Australia’s 2010 carbon emission rate was 25 tonnes per person, higher than the per capita emissions of any other member of the organisation.
According to new studies out this year, the health costs associated with the five coal-fired power stations located in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, about 120 km north of Sydney, are estimated to be around 600 million Australian dollars (456 million U.S. dollars) per annum. A report released in February by the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA), a coalition of 28 organisations working to protect human health, concluded that the “estimated costs of health damages associated with coal combustion for electricity in the whole of Australia amounts to 2.6 billion Australian dollars [197 million U.S. dollars] per annum.”
The Hunter Region, one of the largest river valleys on the coast of New South Wales, is one of the most intensive mining areas in Australia and is responsible for two-thirds of its emissions. Hunter Valley produced 145 million tonnes of coal in 2013. Keeping in mind a conversion rate of 2.4 tonnes (2.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted for each tonne of coal produced), experts say that coal mined in the Hunter Valley in 2013 produced the equivalent of 348 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. According to the NSW Minerals Council, mining in the Hunter Region employs over 11,000 fulltime workers. It contributes 1.5 billion Australian dollars in wages and contributes 4.4 billion Australian dollars to the local community through direct spending on goods and services, as well as to local councils and community groups. But these riches come at a high price.
The Hunter Valley is known for its vineyards, horse studs and farming areas, all of which are threatened by extensive mining in the region. Addressing a community meeting in the inner Sydney suburb of Glebe this past February, John Lamb, president of the Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association, spoke about the cost of mines on local communities, and the uncertainty wrought by their inability to fight against the rampant growth of the industry. Lamb’s Association previously fought the expansion of the Mount Thorley Warkworth coal mine by the multinational mining giant Rio Tinto. Dust from coal mines, he said, coats the roofs of people’s homes and runs into their rainwater tanks, polluting the community’s water supply. Day and night, noise is a constant issue. Lamb also noted the impact of mining on land values in the area. The village of Camberwell in the Hunter Valley, for instance, which is surrounded by mines on three sides, only has four privately owned homes – the rest are occupied by miners or are derelict. Yancoal, the owner of the Ashton mine – 14 km northwest of the town of Singleton in Hunter Valley – owns 87 percent of homes in the area.
According to the CAHA report, emissions of PM10 increased by 20 percent from 1992-2008 in the Sydney Greater Metropolitan area, an increase that is attributable to the increase in coal mining in the Hunter Valley. The report states that while at one time the Hunter Valley was “renowned for its clean air”, in 2014 it was identified as an “air pollution hot spot”. Based on a conservative estimate by Mike Berners-Lee in his book "How Bad Are Bananas?", the 348 million tons of Hunter Valley carbon dioxide pollution each year will kill 2 million humans each year later this century. Berners-Lee's book is still the best on carbon footprints. His estimate is conservative. Every 150 tons of CO2 pollution will kill one more human. Most of the deaths will be due to starvation caused by global warming markedly reducing world food harvests.
A public sector strike in Northern Ireland against impending budget cuts and redundancies will be one of the largest in years, trade unions claim.
Workers in transportation, education, road services, fire and rescue and health services will join a 24-hour walkout on Friday March 13.
The strike has been organized by Unite the Union, UNISON and GMB to protest government spending cuts, which are likely to result in up to 20,000 job losses over the next few years.
Northern Ireland’s economy is more dependent on central government than any other part of the UK, prompting fears over the impact of austerity on the region.
Michael Mulholland, GMB regional organizer, said: “On Friday 13th March in Northern Ireland we will see one of the largest trade union organized protests in many years.”
Union members will attend marches and rallies taking place in nine towns and cities throughout the region, including in Belfast, Derry and Omagh.
Unite regional secretary Jimmy Kelly said in a statement: “Without standing up to this, we can expect another four years of even more punishing austerity budgets.”
“The scale of these cuts will decimate our public health, education and transport services, all of which are already pushed to breaking point.”
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
The most expensive of the three tiers of Apple Watch will set you back at least $10,000 in the US and £8,000 in the UK. One group certainly excluded by that high price point will be one that is closer than most to the products Apple creates: the assembly workers hired by Foxconn in its Chinese plants.
A worker there last year, earned the monthly base wage at the company is 2,500 yuan (£265) – 30,000 yuan (£3,180) a year.
One of the assembly employees hoping to buy an Apple Watch Edition from China would have to pay at least 74,800 yuan ($11,496). On their basic salary it would take 910 days – spending nothing on anything else including income tax – to bring home the amount needed to afford the watch.
Apple chief executive Tim Cook, utilising his $1.75m basic pay, would need just over 48 hours to get one from a US store.
The basic Edition Apple Watch is worth 145.7% of the current Chinese GDP per capita (economic output per member of the population).
Homeopathy is not effective for treating any health condition, Australia’s top body for medical research has concluded, after undertaking an extensive review of existing studies. Homeopaths believe that illness-causing substances can, in minute doses, treat people who are unwell. By diluting these substances in water or alcohol, homeopaths claim the resulting mixture retains a “memory” of the original substance that triggers a healing response in the body. These claims have been widely disproven by multiple studies, but the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has for the first time thoroughly reviewed 225 research papers on homeopathy to come up with its position statement. While some studies reported homeopathy was effective, the quality of those studies was poor and suffered serious flaws in their design, and did not have enough participants to support the idea that homeopathy worked any better than a sugar pill, the report found. Australians spent an estimated $9.59m on the industry annually.
“Based on the assessment of the evidence of effectiveness of homeopathy, NHMRC concludes that there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective,” the report concluded. “People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness.”
“There will be a tail of people who won’t respond to this report, and who will say it’s all a conspiracy of the establishment,” Chair of the NHMRC Homeopathy Working Committee, Professor Paul Glasziou, said. “But we hope there will be a lot of reasonable people out there who will reconsider selling, using or subsiding these substances.”
Dr Ken Harvey, a medicinal drug policy expert and health consumer advocate, said “I have no problems with private colleges wanting to run courses on crystal-ball gazing, iridology and homeopathy, and if people are crazy enough to pay for it, it’s their decision,” Harvey said. “But if those courses are approved by a commonwealth body, that’s a different story and a real problem.”
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Chronic poverty affects 130 million residents of Latin America and the Caribbean, who live on less than $4 per day, despite the economic growth achieved by the region over the past decade.
One-fifth of Latin Americans have lived in poverty for their entire lives
On the 70th anniversary of Tokyo’s fire-bombing we remember the 100,000 people in the single night of 10 March. Most of the victims were women, the elderly and children. A US survey later concluded that probably more people lost their lives during the raid by 300 bombers than at any single moment in history. Tonnes of incendiary bombs on the city's crowded wooden and paper neighbourhoods which started a fire storm that burned at over 1,000 degrees. Approximately 9,700 acres, or 15 square miles of the city was reduced to ashes.
The Tokyo bombing opened the curtain on an orgy of destruction in the final months of the Second World War that included dozens of similar raids on Japanese cities, and culminated in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August. When the droning of bombers stopped on 15 August, almost 70 cities had been reduced to rubble and perhaps half a million people were dead. If the bombing of Dresden a month earlier than Tokyo had produced a ripple of public debate in Europe, “no discernible wave of revulsion took place in the US or Europe in the wake of the far greater destruction of Japanese cities”, wrote Mark Selden, a historian at Cornell University.
A spokesman for the Fifth Air Force at the time categorized “the entire population of Japan as a proper military target.” Colonel Harry F. Cunningham explained the U.S. policy in no uncertain terms: “For us, THERE ARE NO CIVILIANS IN JAPAN.”
This was clearly a war crime that produced virtually no military benefit. When asked about his role in the 1945 Tokyo firebombing, General Curtis LeMay, head of the Twenty-first U.S. Bomber Command remarked: “I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal. Fortunately, we were on the winning side.”
By any rational definition, these men are terrorists. This was pure revenge by the US and it did not hasten the end of the war. We may rightly condemn the burning of the Jordanian pilot by ISIS but we should not forget those tens upon tens of thousands of innocents burned alive in Tokyo.
Katsumoto Saotome, 82, a survivor of Great Tokyo Air Raids in 1945 fears Japan may be marching toward war again.
"I think we're turning backwards, down that road," said Saotome, citing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's plans to change Japan's war-renouncing constitution, his more muscular security stance and a state secrets act passed last year.
In 2014, an estimated 805 million people – one in nine people worldwide – were estimated to be chronically hungry. All but 14 million of the world’s hungry live in developing countries.An estimated 99 million children under five years of age were underweight in 2012.15 per cent, or about one in seven, of all children under five worldwide are underweight.
"Whoever is with us should get everything. Whoever is against us, there's nothing else to do. We have to lift up an axe and remove his head, otherwise we won't survive here." - The Israeli foreign minister and head of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party Avigdor Lieberman suggested during a campaign event that Arab citizens of Israel, who are disloyal to the state, deserve to be decapitated.
Evidence of Britain’s rapidly growing wealth gap was revealed by the Social Market Foundation (SMF), which analysed the changing incomes and savings of thousands of people. The gap between richest and poorest has dramatically widened in the past decade as wealthy households paid off their debts and piled up savings following the financial crisis, a report warns today. By contrast, the worst-off families are far less financially secure than before the recession triggered by the near- collapse of several major banks. They have an average of less than a week’s pay set aside and are more often in the red.
It found that the average wealth of the best-off one-fifth of families rose by 64 per cent between 2005 and 2012-13 as they put more money aside as a buffer against future shocks. They have average savings and investments of around £10,000 compared with £6,000 seven years earlier. The proportion of people in this group with debts (apart from mortgages) dropped from 43 per cent to less than one-third.
However, the SMF found the poorest 20 per cent are less financially secure than they were in 2005, with their net wealth falling by 57 per cent and levels of debt and use of overdrafts increasing.
The wages of those aged 26 to 35 fell steeply. On average, they have less than a week’s income in savings, owe 45 per cent more money than they did in 2005 and are increasingly running up overdrafts to pay their bills.
Nida Broughton, the SMF’s chief economist and the report’s co-author, said: “The economic uncertainty... prompted many to pay their debts and build up their savings. But the young and those on low incomes missed out.”
Missing out on free school meals for just one week at half term is tipping some families into acute food poverty, according to charity workers familiar with demand patterns at food banks. Food bank charities have for some time come to expect higher demand during the long summer holidays when children do not attend school for weeks and parents have to buy more food. But food banks are now facing spikes in referrals of families with children over half term – when youngsters miss out of just five child-sized portions from school.
“Over half-term we had more families than usual, but that’s to be expected as children aren’t having school meals,” Southchurch warehouse coordinator Cass Francis told local newspaper the Southend Echo.
“During the school holidays we do see an increase in those referred to our foodbanks from the various organisations with partner with, because parents obviously struggle to provide that extra meal with the children and pay the bills,” Adrian Curtis, the foodbank director of the charity the Trussell Trust, which set up the food bank, told the Independent. “I think for some families that’s enough to trip them into a crisis, where they’re referred to our foodbanks.” He then added “Many of our foodbanks have begun to develop breakfast clubs and work with other organisations who provide meals during the school holidays to address exactly this issue.”
Sunday, March 08, 2015
Women and their families “have faced the worst squeeze on real income since Victorian times as pay has not kept pace with the rising cost of living”, states the report, by the Trades Union Congress.
Record numbers of women are in work, but many are pensioners forced to work and self-employed people in low-paid jobs, while others struggle to get enough hours to make ends meet. About half of the net growth in women’s employment since the crash has come from self-employment. The number of women working beyond retirement age has almost doubled since 2007, according to the report.
There is a “dearth of high-quality, well-paid jobs for women”, the report warns. “Most of the net growth in women’s employment has been in low-skilled and low-paying sectors. While younger women are facing underemployment and struggling to find sufficient work, older women are unable to reduce their hours to accommodate caring responsibilities and are working for longer than ever before,” it says.
The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “Across the age spectrum, women are facing real hardships. Many starting their careers cannot find enough hours to get by and an increasing number are having to postpone retirement because they cannot afford to stop working.”
Women’s income worldwide will lag behind men’s for another 70 years if the pay gap continues to shrink at its current snail pace, a report by the UN warns. “Despite marginal progress, we have years, even decades, to go until women enjoy the same rights and benefits as men at work,” said chief of the gender, equality and diversity branch of the ILO, Shauna Olney. Twenty years after 189 countries adopted a blueprint to achieve equality for women, not a single country has reached gender parity and equality, the head of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said.
Worldwide, women on average earn 77 percent of the amount earned by men. Women with children can expect to earn even less than childless women when they return to work, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). The pay gap has only improved by 3 percent in the past 20 years. In December, the UN body said that despite women in Europe being better educated or working harder than men, they are paid substantially less. It claimed the gender pay gap in Europe ranges from about €100 to €700 per month.
In the UK, men still earn on average 19.1 percent more than women and female MPs make up less than a quarter of parliament. British women are particularly badly hit, according to the report’s authors, because the “welfare state of the UK emphasizes individual freedom, and provisions of daycare and after-school facilities enabling mothers to work full-time are lacking.” An analysis from 2005 showing that women with two children in the UK can expect to earn 25 percent less than a childless woman. Mothers were more likely to take career breaks, switch to part-time work, choose jobs which are usually lower paying to be able to balance work and family and miss out on promotions, said Kristen Sobeck, an economist at the ILO.
A new survey by consulting firm Target Point shows that women who were awarded promotions at the White House earned an average raise of 18.5 percent. That’s nearly six percent less than the average raise for male staffers, who received increases of around 24.4 percent. Additionally, the research stated that five more men received promotions than women, to the tune of 46-41.
"The data clearly reveal that it’s not just salary for which there are significant differences between men and women, but also raises, promotions, and turnover," Target Point Senior Vice President Alex Lundry told Forbes. "Empirically, this White House does not treat their male and female employees the same." Late last year, the American Enterprise Institute also found that female members of Obama’s staff are paid 88 cents for every $1 paid to men. Last week when the Washington Post reported that the White House wage gap between genders is currently 13 percent – the same as it was back in 2009. The average male salary is at $88,600, while the average pay for female staffers is $78,400. The Post found that more men have higher-paying, senior jobs, while women tended to hold lower-paying, junior positions.
Data from the National Women’s Law Center shows that across the United States there is a wage gap of 23.5 percent, while the numbers vary from state to state. Washington, DC has the lowest gap at 9.9 percent, but several states sport wage gaps over 30 percent – Wyoming's, in particular, is at 36.2 percent.
60 percent of Americans (compared with 26 percent of Europeans) say that the poor are lazy, and only 29 percent say those living in poverty are trapped in poverty by factors beyond their control (compared with 60 percent of Europeans).
To examine the myth of mobility we see that these chances are abysmal. Only .2 percent of those who began in the bottom quintile made it into the top 1 percent. In contrast, 82.7 percent of those who began in the top 1 percent remained in the top 10 percent a decade later.
Sociologists Mark Robert Rank, Thomas Hirschl and Kirk Foster using Panel Survey of Income Dynamics (PSID) data — which has tracked 5,000 households (18,000 individuals) from 1968 and 2010 — they show that many Americans have temporary bouts of affluence (defined as eight times the poverty line), but also temporary bouts of poverty, unemployment and welfare use. (The study includes food stamps, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families/Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Supplemental Security Income and any other cash/in-kind program that relies on income level to qualify.) The researchers conclude that a large number of Americans eventually fall into one of these categories, but that very few Americans stay for long. Instead, the social safety net catches them, and they get back on their feet. In a study published earlier this year, Rank and Hirschl examine the 1 percent, and find that entry into it is more fluid than previously thought. They find that 11 percent of Americans will enter the 1 percent at some point in their lives. However, here again, access is deeply segregated. Whites are nearly seven times more likely to enter the 1 percent than non-whites.
Another study finds that wages are more heritable than height. Economists estimate that the intergenerational elasticity of income, or how much income parents pass onto their children, is approximately 0.5 in the U.S. This means that parents in the U.S. pass on 50 percent of their incomes to their children. In Canada, parents pass on only 19 percent of their incomes, and in the Nordic countries, where mobility is high, the rate ranges from 15 percent (in Denmark) to 27 percent (in Sweden).
In his recent book, “The Son Also Rises,” Gregory Clark finds that the residual effects of wealth remain for 10 to 15 generations. As one reviewer writes, “in the long run, intergenerational mobility is far slower than conventional estimates suggest. If your ancestors made it to the top of society… the probability is that you have high social status too.” While parents pass on about half of their income (at least in the United States), Clark estimates that they pass on about 75 percent of their wealth. Thus, what Rank and Hirschl identify, an often-changing 1 percent, is primarily a shuffling between the almost affluent and the rich, rather than what we would consider true social mobility.
The Gini Coefficient measures how equally distributed resources are, on a scale from 0 to 1. In the case of 0, everyone shares all resources equally, and in a society with a coefficient of 1, a single person would own everything. While income in the U.S. is distributed unequally, with a .574 gini, wealth is distributed far more unequally, with a gini of .834 — and financial assets are distributed with a gini of .908, with the richest 10 percent own a whopping 83 percent.
According to Census Bureau data, more than one-third of children today are raised in families with lower incomes than comparable children thirty-five years ago. This sustained erosion of income among such a broad group of children is without precedent in recent American history. Over the same period, children living in the highest 5 percent of the family-income distribution have seen their families’ incomes double.
Wealth and financial assets are the ticket to long-term financial stability; those who inherit wealth need never fear relying on the safety net. And it is these few individuals, shielded from the need to sell their labor on the market, who have created the divisive “makers” and “takers” narrative. Using race as a wedge, they have tried to gut programs that nearly all Americans will rely on. They have created the mythos of the self-made individual, when in fact, most Americans will eventually need to rely on the safety net. They treat the safety net as a benefit exclusively for non-whites, when in reality, whites depend upon it too (even if people of color are disproportionately affected).
The conclusion is that the idea of "unlimited upwards mobility" and "equal opportunity" are myths created by the very wealthy to keep themselves in the dominant position and to keep everyone else from revolting. The scary thing is that the majority of the American people believe in these myths. The exploitative wealthy combined with the apathy and willfully ignorant public may be the greatest threat the US faces.
The stock market is near record highs. But this is all a great deception. The historic recovery of the stock market from the 2008 crash did not benefit the vast majority of Americans because they don't own stock. The expansion is benefiting a tiny minority of the population only - the very rich. No one else has any money, and no one except the wealthy is likely to have any in the future. At the beginning of 2015, more than six years since the crisis of 2008, most Americans were either in a worse financial condition than they were before 2008, or had experienced very little improvement in their economic condition. Most Americans have no financial reserves and live paycheck to paycheck.
The average leisure and hospitality worker makes just $18,900 a year (gross, before taxes). This is not even enough to keep a family of three above the poverty level ($19,790 in 2014). Similarly, retail, the largest blue-skill sector, is second-worst in terms of pay, with average annual earnings of $27,700. An April 2014 report by the National Employment Law Project provided details supporting the Federal Reserve study. During the recession, low-wage jobs, those paying less than $27,700 per year, had both the lowest percentage of losses and the highest percentage of gains. Twenty-two percent of the total job losses were in the low-wage category, but 44 percent of new jobs were in that category. Mid-wage jobs, those paying between $27,700 and $41,600, had the lowest percentage of new jobs created, 26 percent, but the second highest rate of job losses, 37 percent. High-wage jobs, those paying more than $41,600, had the highest rate of losses, 41 percent, but a higher rate of new jobs created, 30 percent, than the mid-wage category. The most jobs created in any category were in retail, 45,900, the second-lowest paying of all job categories with an average wage of $27,000.
In January 2015, the Pew Charitable Trusts published "The Precarious State of Family Balance Sheets," in which the incredible conclusion is reached that virtually no one in the United States has ready cash reserves to cover two months of lost income. Clearly, most of the top 20 percent have other assets, stocks and bonds, real estate etc. on which they can draw, and they seldom lose their jobs without good severance packages. But 80 percent do not have enough reserves to last more than a month, and half of them do not have enough to last two weeks.
The only group that has increased its share of national income since 1980 is the top 20 percent. Every other group has experienced a gradual decline. And it can be seen from the following chart that in recent years there has been an acceleration of the increases in the earnings of the top 20 percent. Since 1980, the bottom 20 percent have received the lowest percentage increase in income. The rich are getting richer. For every $10,000 in additional average weekly earnings an industry had in 2007, its average earnings grew by an extra 2 percentage points during the six-year period. For example, the average employee working in retail, a low-paying industry, earned $28,300 for a full year of work in 2007; after adjusting for inflation, the same employee actually made less, just $27,700, last year. By contrast, the average information worker earned $59,900 in 2007, among the highest of any industry. During the next six years, the advantage of information workers over poorly paid workers only grew, with average earnings increasing 9.4 percent, or $5,600 in real terms. The same is true of other white-collar sectors, like finance (a gain of $4,500) and professional services (a gain of $3,600). Like so many other labor market indicators, this link between earnings and earnings growth reflects rising inequality. Even the wages of factory workers are declining. And the result of declining wages is increasing poverty.
The minimum wage has not kept up with inflation, and it has not kept up with productivity. It would be almost $11 an hour now if it had just kept up with inflation. Various calculations have placed between it between $18 and $22 an hour if it had kept up with productivity. While there are only a few million people working at the minimum wage, there are many millions more working at wages not much higher than the minimum.