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I’m finally getting to Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, on how climate action can be a vehicle for building better social and economic systems. From the intro:

What concerns me less is the mechanics of the transition–the shift from brown to green energy, from sole-rider cars to mass transit, from sprawling exurbs to dense and walkable cities–than the power and ideological roadblocks that have so far prevented any of these long understood solutions from taking hold on anything close to the scale required.

It seems to me that our problem is has a lot less to do with the mechanics of solar power than the politics of human power–specifically whether there can be a shift in who wields it, a shift away from corporations and toward communities, which in turn depends on whether or not the great many people who are getting a rotten deal under our current system can build a determined and diverse enough social force to change the balance of power. I have come to understand, over the course of researching this book, that the shift will require rethinking the very nature of humanity’s power–our right to extract ever more without facing consequences, our capacity to bend complex natural systems to our will. This is a shift that challenges not only capitalism, but also the building blocks of materialism that preceded modern capitalism, a mentality that some call ‘extractivism.’

Because, underneath all of this is the real truth we have been avoiding: climate change isn’t an ‘issue’ to add to the list of things to worry about, next to health care and taxes. It is a civilizational wake-up call. A powerful message–spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts, and extinctions–telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing this planet. Telling us that we need to evolve.

The NYT on Gender Liberation

There’s an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times this morning from Richard V. Reeves and Isabel V. Sawhill of Brookings about how “Women learned to become more like men. Now men need to become more like women.”

Among a number of other arguments for men to take on more traditionally feminine economic and social roles, the article highlights some of the benefits of national paternity leave. In Quebec, the government mandates that at least five weeks of paid leave be offered to new fathers. Since 2006, the proportion of men taking time off after their child is born has jumped from 21 to 75 percent. Not only that, years after taking paternity leave, these men had become more equal participants in domestic work. Pretty cool.

The piece has one glaring weakness, though. It points out that while women are moving rapidly into traditionally male careers in medicine, law, and business, men aren’t moving as fast into traditionally female professions like nursing or early childhood education. But the article makes no mention of the economic incentives at play here: traditionally feminine professions also tend to be traditionally horribly compensated. A women has a strong financial interest in becoming a doctor. A man does not have the same incentive to become a preschool teacher.

Reeves and Sawhill are of course right to call for more gender parity in the labor market. But we would go a long way toward achieving it if we were to start providing bigger paychecks to the highly under-compensated (and still mostly female) workers in these traditionally female-dominated fields.

The Most Dangerous Place To Be An Environmentalist

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Published at Generation Progress. Photo: young Hondurans protest against mining.

As Al Gore and many others have said, “The future of our civilization is at stake,” due to climate change and a host of other environmental challenges. To preserve a planet worth living on, we will have to put a stop to deforestation, open pit mining, and many other destructive extractive industries. How will we do it if the loggers, miners, and destroyers are willing to kill to stay in business?

An April report from British nonprofit Global Witness shows the importance of that question. The group documented at least 116 murders of environmental activists worldwide in 2014. Global Witness tracked only confirmed cases; the real toll is likely higher.

Since its democratically elected president was overthrown in a 2009 coup, Honduras has seen over 100 killings of environmental defenders. The small Central American nation is the most dangerous place in the world to be an environmentalist.

“A white car with tinted windows and no license plate would always stop near my shop. They wouldn’t roll down the windows,” one Honduran told me when I visited the country last year. He was involved in a campaign to prevent a mine from opening in the rural community where he lived. The mine was near one of the community’s sources of drinking water, and many residents feared that it would contaminate the supply.

He asked that his name not be used due to the threats he has received for his work.

“Then the calls began. Calling me, threatening me, saying they knew where I hung out, knew where my daughter went to school. But I still kept going. From there they sent me a note telling me to shut up, that I was going to regret was I was doing,” he said.

“They said they had me well studied, the places I went, the house where I slept, and that soon they were going to pay me a visit.”

One day, he got a phone call from friends saying that mysterious men were looking for him. He fled his hometown and hasn’t been back since.

“I’ve had moments of reflection. My children are young,” he said. “My wife has asked me with tears in her eyes that I try to separate myself a little bit, because they need me. That has put me between the sword and the wall, because I feel that the need to fight is urgent. I feel a pressure inside of me, a commitment to fight, of total dedication, but I have had to slow down a little.”

If other cases are any indication, the threat is real. In the Honduran community of El Níspero, locals have reported that an iron oxide mine is destroying water sources and farmland. National police have broken up protests against the mine, and in May 2014, the body of anti-mine activist Rigoberto López was dumped in public, tongue cut out and throat slit.

In Peru, Ashaninka indigenous leader Edwin Chota asked authorities for protection after receiving threats from illegal loggers in retribution for reporting their activities. He was murdered in September 2014; a community member told a local newspaper that Chota and three others were bound and shot in front of other residents of their Amazonian village.

One month later in the Southern Philippines, anti-mining activist and indigenous Lumad leader Henry Alameda was “dragged from his house, taken to a forested area and shot dead by a paramilitary group,” according to the Global Witness report.

The damage caused by each of these crimes reverberates far beyond the Honduran highlands, Peruvian Amazon, or Philippine coast. As the killings continue, they enable the type of destructive extractive industry that is damaging all of our futures.

“It’s difficult to quantify,” said Billy Kyte, one of the authors of the Global Witness report. “But I think you can definitely draw a general conclusion” that violence and intimidation against activists is worsening environmental destruction. For every one of the 116 killings documented by Global Witness, there is an even greater amount of intimidation that doesn’t lead to violence, but still deters activism in defense of the environment.

On both ends of the equation, young people are impacted. In the developing world, one doesn’t have to be an adult to defend the environment, or to die for it. Several members of the community of Río Blanco in Honduras have been killed for their resistance to a hydroelectric dam project, among them 15-year-old Maycol Rodríguez. In the same community, the 17-year-old son of a local leader was beaten by police. Berta Cáceres, one of this year’s winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize, got her start as a student activist.

But even where young people aren’t on the front lines, these are fights over our future. Young people have a special interest in preserving both the local ecosystem services their communities rely on, as well as a healthy planet capable of sustaining life. If we’re going to put an end to problems like deforestation, it would help to make sure the deforesters aren’t killing the people who oppose them.

In the most direct sense, it’s a criminal justice problem. The people who target environmentalists are getting away with it.

“From the data we’ve found, conviction rates are unbelievably low. Of over 900 cases, we can only find ten of those in which a perpetrator has actually been tried and convicted,” Kyte said.

A lot of nations are not enforcing the laws they already have in place to protect environmental defenders, according to Kyte. Many nations are also ignoring the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states that indigenous communities must give prior informed consent before any development projects take place on their land.

Meanwhile, activists are working toward a binding UN treaty that would make businesses more accountable for the abuses that take place in international commerce.

“Competition for natural resources is definitely intensifying,” Kyte said, “while consumption patterns demand that we need ever more resources to feed an ever-growing economy, and our kind of obsession with growth and the growth model demands that we have ever more resources to feed that.”

If the violence is going to end, consumers in the developed world have an obligation to be part of the solution.

“As consumers, young people in the US have a responsibility to ensure they don’t fuel the rapacious activities of the mining and agribusiness companies behind much of the violence against these activists,” Kyte said. “Young consumers should check the sources of the products they buy and where possible identify companies violating human rights abuses and boycott their goods.”

Americans support the violence in more concrete ways as well. The Honduran military—implicated in many abuses against Hondurans defending their land—receives part of its funding from taxes on mining profits, but it also receives funding from the United States.

“If this reaches the ears of those who make the great contributions to the army, for weapons, for all the logistical support for our Honduran compatriots: it would be better if this help didn’t come in this form, but instead for education. Here we need help with education, here we need help with health,” the Honduran anti-mining activist in hiding said.

“We don’t want them to keep sending help to the army,” he said. “This is only bringing mourning to our poor towns, and more and more innocent blood spilled in the streets.”

Golddigging AKA 500 Years Of Hoping There’s Nothing Shiny Beneath Your Feet

Another blog post that I wrote in January and never posted.

So I’ve been pretty captivated lately by the history of the Inca state of Vilcabamba, founded in 1539.

Just a decade earlier, the Incas had ruled a 770,000 square mile area ranging from modern-day Colombia to modern-day Argentina. Spanish invasion began in 1532, and by 1539 the Inca survivors controlled just a small patch of thick, remote Amazon jungle around the city of Vilcabamba.

For eight years, Vilcabamba was ruled by Titu Cusi, a politically savvy leader who kept Spanish invasion at bay through appeasement, acceptance of Spanish missionaries, and diplomatic stalling.

With one exception:

An innocent Spanish prospector called Romero appeared in Vilcabamba in 1570 and asked permission to search for gold. ‘The Inca gave him permission, and he discovered rich veins in his search for mines. In a few days he mined quantities of gold. Romero thought that the Inca would be delighted, and brought him the gold in the hope of negotiating a new licence for a period of months during which he could mine much. When the Inca saw the gold he thought it could arouse greed and attract thousands of Spaniards, so that he would lose his province. He therefore ordered them to kill the Spaniard Romero.’ Intercession by Diego Ortiz could not save Romero, who was beheaded and thrown into a river. This was the only Spaniard killed on Titu Cusi’s orders. The Inca rightly saw that the lure of mineral wealth was the one magnet that would certainly bring Spaniards swarming into Vilcabamba. –John Hemming

Vilcabamba was finally conquered in 1572 after the Spanish decided its example was a threat to their colonial project.

What’s crazy, though, is how much the dynamics sensed by Titu Cusi still operate today. If you’re a rural community trying to live on your ancestral territory, one of the most disastrous things that can happen is the discovery of natural wealth on your land.

I’m doing some work at the Potato Park, a project aimed at preserving Andean culture and potato biodiversity. One staffer recently argued to me that the project would be impossible if gold or copper existed in Potato Park territory.

To wit: Peru recently approved 18 new wells to drill for natural gas in the Amazon, despite studies arguing that the arrival of workers from far away could spread “fatal epidemics” in the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti Reserve for indigenous peoples. Ostensibly pro-indigenous Bolivian president Evo Morales is pushing a highway project through indigenous land despite widespread opposition, in order to facilitate natural gas extraction. In Honduras, conflicts over mines and dams have killed dozens in places like Río Blanco. It can literally mean the different between death and survival for a culture today: Illegal logging in Awá territory in Brazil has caused a ”genocide” of disease that whittled the Awá population to just 400 before the Brazilian government took action against loggers. It still remains to be seen whether the evictions came in time to save the group.

With Its Own Satellite, Bolivia Hopes To Put Rural Areas On The Grid

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Versión en español aquí. Written with Gustav Cappaert. Published at IPS. (Photo: El Palomar, an agricultural community in Bolivia, one of over a thousand rural communities to which the Bolivian government plans to expand internet access with national satellite Tupac Katari 1.

EL PALOMAR, Bolivia, Jun 23 2014 (IPS) – Maria Eugenia Calle, a local official in this Andean agricultural community, recently saw the Internet for the first time.

Her hometown of El Palomar will host one of about 1,500 telecommunications centres that the Bolivian government plans to open this year in rural areas. They will be served by Tupac Katari 1, a Bolivian satellite launched from China late last year.

Socialist President Evo Morales claims that the satellite will make Internet, cell phone service, distance education programmes and over 100 television channels available to everyone in this vast, sparsely populated country.

In El Palomar’s yet-to-be-opened telecom centre, Calle and a small group of onlookers watched as a reporter booted up a computer to test the signal.

“Go to the United States. Show us the White House. Search for Toyota. Search for Real Madrid,” they suggested.

Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, and also among the least connected. Only 7.4 percent of inhabitants have access to the Internet at home, by far the fewest on the continent. Because Bolivia is landlocked, undersea fibre optic cables do not reach the country, so Bolivians settle for some of the lowest speeds and most expensive connections in the world. Hopes for the satellite are high.

“It’s a dream, isn’t it?” said Calle, 40, El Palomar’s secretary of education. “I’m happy that my children are going to be able to communicate with the United States, other countries – or here in Bolivia, with La Paz, Cochabamba,” she said.

With a population of just 10 million and a modest national budget, Bolivia is a strange fit among the 45 nations with their own communications satellite, which are typically either wealthy, heavily populated, or both. However, an increasing number of developing nations are making the investment. In the next two years, Angola, Nicaragua, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Turkmenistan and Sri Lanka will launch their own satellites.

Rural areas bring special challenges for Internet expansion. The cost of installing and maintaining equipment and training people to use new technology is higher farther from cities, said Francisco Proenza, an ICT scholar and visiting professor of Political Science at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona.

While the use of mobile phones has increased dramatically, the Internet has lagged behind. In rural Peru, for example, 62 percent of rural households own a mobile phone, while just 7 percent of those living in rural areas make use of the Internet

After a 2009 revision, Bolivia’s constitution guaranteed access to basic services including water, electricity, and telecommunications. In addition to the satellite, the Bolivian government has opened over 300 rural telecentres and offered incentives to telecommunications companies willing to build infrastructure in rural zones.

According to Ivan Zambrana, director of the Bolivian Space Agency, a national satellite is the most cost-effective way of providing access across Bolivia’s diverse rural terrain, which includes mountains, tropical rainforest and desert. It is also a means of protecting Bolivia’s communication infrastructure from political factors that could restrict access, like the United States’ embargo against ally Cuba.

Bolivia’s Ministry of Communications has marketed the satellite aggressively. The agency created a television advertisement, a Facebook and Twitter campaign, and an Android app to promote the project. In the months surrounding the satellite’s launch, billboards reading “Tupac Katari, Your Star” and “Communications Decolonized” were placed in major urban areas throughout the country.

“When we think of Bolivia, we don’t think of technology, we think of rural poverty, but Bolivia has changed,” said Robert Albro, an anthropologist at the American University in Washington who focuses on Bolivia.

Despite the fanfare, skeptics of the satellite argue that Bolivia’s priorities are misplaced, especially with alternatives available.

Many other countries, including neighbouring Peru, have extended access to rural areas by subsidising the use of existing satellites. Google and Facebook are each considering a fleet of low-flying drones that would provide worldwide Internet connectivity. Until now, Bolivia has spent 10 million dollars annually to lease satellite capacity from foreign providers.

To finance Tupac Katari, Bolivia took out a 300 million dollar loan from the Chinese Development Bank, which the government claims will be repaid by satellite revenues within 15 years.

“It puzzles me that countries like Bolivia are launching their own satellites,” said Heather Hudson, professor of public policy at the University of Alaska. According to Hudson, existing satellite coverage could meet rural Bolivia’s needs. “It’s like 20 or 25 years ago, when there was a wave among other countries, you had to have your own airline,” she said.

Meanwhile there are concerns about misplaced priorities. “Our priority is improving the conditions of nutrition, water and the environment,” said Isidro Paz Nina, national coordination secretary of the Movimiento Sin Miedo, a party looking to unseat President Morales in November elections. “The satellite isn’t bad, but we want people to not have to worry about suffering for lack of food.”

Delays and miscommunication have also brought frustration. “The government said that with the Tupac Katari satellite antenna, cell phones, television, the channels and all that would improve. Up until now, it hasn’t been seen,” said Victor Canabini Quispe, a 51-year-old in El Palomar. “I hope the government doesn’t deceive us,” he added.

Meanwhile, the public opening of the telecentre in El Palomar has been postponed due to delays in training a community member to run the centre and disputes over who will pay for the inauguration ceremony.

If the satellite project succeeds, it could have a big impact on life in rural Bolivia. The satellite will be a “window to the world” for children in rural areas, according to Zambrana, the Bolivian Space Agency chief. He said that many Bolivian children living in high altitude climates have never seen a tree in their lives, and will see one for the first time through satellite-delivered images.

In five years, Bolivia “will be more modern, better connected, with more educated citizens. We’re going to be a little richer – or a little less poor,” he commented.

The message is one that is resonating in at least one remote part of Bolivia – San Juan de Rosario, a small community in Bolivia’s arid southwest, and a planned telecentre site.

Gregoria Oxa Cayo owns a hotel here for tours visiting Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats, but by necessity she lives four hours away in the larger town of Uyuni. She grew up in San Juan and her parents still live here, but she needs Internet access to run her hotel and travel agency, and there is none in the isolated desert town.

“If there was Internet here, I would live here,” she said.

Massage, Friend? Restaurant? Machu Picchu? Coke? Weed?

I wrote this blog post back in, like, January and never posted it. Better late than never:

Cuzco’s Plaza de Armas is beautiful, but walking through there as a tourist wears on your patience pretty fast.

As a gringo, you’re a walking dollar sign, constantly declining pitches for restaurants, nightclubs, textiles, trinkets, massages (or perhaps “massages”), weed, cocaine, and info about Machu Picchu.

After four months of living in Cuzco and frequently passing through the Plaza de Armas, this got pretty annoying. After a certain point I unfortunately got in the habit of avoiding eye contact and giving cold refusals, or ignoring the hawkers altogether. This was partially a deliberate tactic to minimize intrusion, but also partially just because I was past the point of containing my irritation. I’m actually frustrated with all the previous people, but today I’m taking it out on you, sir.

Of course, the sellers themselves have it even worse. To earn their paycheck, they have to repeat the same pitch over and over and over, nearly always to be rejected by rude foreigners who obviously have money to spare.

I don’t know what the solution is, but it struck me as an interesting example of how economic inequality creates an animosity that feels very personal to both parties, even though it isn’t at all.

Lima, City of Possibilities

Lima highway

Any city of 10 million is bound to be hectic but Lima moves with a unique fervor, at least among places I’ve visited. In recent decades, Peruvians have flocked to the city to escape an economically neglected and war-torn countryside. Lima had half a million residents in 1940, 3.5 million in 1981 and has 10 million today, faster growth than any government could ever hope to order or control.

As such, life in Lima is frenetic and spontaneous. Bus drivers race from stop to stop, literally competing with each other for riders. Many neighborhoods were originally built by squatters in what 30 years ago was desert. Residents who can’t find work make their own; vendors peddle everything from candy to self-help tapes to UV lights that identify counterfeit money. Everywhere is crowded: sidewalks, parks, stores, vehicles, and especially roads. In one taxi ride our driver, caught in a traffic jam, blasted onto a 100-yard stretch of empty pedestrian promenade to bypass the stopped vehicles and then veered back into the road at the front of the pack. “It’s Lima, everything is possible,” he said.

Perhaps all the raw energy results from everyone trying to get a leg up at the same time. Peru’s economy is growing steadily but the nation’s export-led, laissez-faire economic development model doesn’t organize how the wealth is distributed, so Peruvians are left to carve out their own spot.

For better or worse, the entire world is urbanizing at a similar rate. In Lima, call it a work in progress. Entire swaths of the capital lack plumbing, clean water, or trash removal, and the city’s streets have the most crashes of any in South America. The organized chaos also boasts results, though. Peru has cut its poverty rate in half, from 54.4 percent in 1991 to 25.8 percent last year. But questions remain: can the same economic policies uplift that last quarter? How long will it take? Are there other development strategies that would work better, or is the messy Peruvian way the only way?

 

Noam Chomsky On “Corporatization Of The University”

Last month, leading leftist intellectual and pioneering linguist Noam Chomsky gave a lecture at the University of Michigan on “the corporatization of the university.”

Chomsky called the advent of public education in the 19th century a “great achievement,” but also argued that the creators of the modern school system were far from benevolent and viewed education as a means of social control. Read More

On Poverty And Gun Death

I wrote about the correlation between gun violence and economic insecurity:

Even in cities with strong gun laws, the correlation holds. Buzzfeed notes that “the average rate of gun deaths in Chicago’s five poorest neighborhoods was over 12 times the rate in its least poverty-stricken.” A map of murders in Washington, D.C. shows that killings hardly ever occur in the city’s wealthy western swath of neighborhoods.

Mind you, this is correlation and not causation. But there’s plenty of reason to believe that poverty leads to gun violence and greater economic security decreases it.

In his classic study of inner city Philadelphia, sociologist Elijah Anderson demonstrates how racism, social alienation, and the absence of economic opportunity combine to create a “code of the street” in which wielding the “credible threat of violence” is the only way to ensure one’s safety. Needless to say, the code leads to a pattern of confrontation and killing.

“Only by reestablishing a viable mainstream economy in the inner city, particularly one that provides access to jobs for young inner-city men and women, can we encourage a positive sense of the future,” Anderson wrote.

Continued at Generation Progress.

Should College Athletes Be Paid?

The idea might make you wince. But the status quo should make you wince even more:

Here is the central paradox of American college sports: It’s a multibillion-dollar entertainment spectacle, but the people who make it all possible—the athletes—don’t get any of the profits.

To resolve the contradiction, the NCAA has for decades relied upon the notion of the student-athlete. The idea is that college athletes aren’t professionals, but rather young people playing a sport as one of the myriad activities available on a college campus designed to cultivate all-around personal growth; “the Athenian concept of a complete education derived from fostering the full growth of both mind and body,” according to a federal judge quoted in Taylor Branch’s must-read investigation “The Shame of College Sports.” For their time and effort, student-athletes are compensated not in cash, but in scholarships that make their education possible.

But critics argue that, in practice, there is hardly a healthy balance between “student” and “athlete.”

“Ask a player what would happen if they didn’t show up to a workout or game, even if they were attending class,” said Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, a non-profit that advocates for college players. “They would lose their scholarship.”

The rest at Campus Progress.

How Cooperative Housing Can Save Residents Cash

Capitalism, schmapitalism. A little team spirit and the absence of a money-grubbing landlord can lead to substantial savings:

Amarro Nelson has lived at House of Commons in Austin, Texas for about six months. He’s a grad student at the University of Texas at San Antonio and landed a scholarship for a semester-long internship in the Texas state legislature. Looking for housing in a pricey city, “I ran into the cooperative,” he said, “and I was looking at how much it cost and the value they had and I thought that it would be a great fit for me.”

Nelson isn’t a UT-Austin student, but most of his housemates are. For them, the co-op living cuts their living expenses roughly in half. According to Austin’s Inter-Cooperative Council, a year of housing, utilities, and food in the co-op costs $6,347, while a year in the dorms is $10,715.

Co-op proponents say the savings come from the absence of a landlord who needs to work a profit into the price of rent, and that tenants benefit from economies of scale.

It’s all at Campus Progress.

The Unfinished March

Like much of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, it turns out that the “March on Washington” has been kinda whitewashed. The 50th anniversary of the event is this year—maybe an ideal time to reclaim the history?

Has Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream truly been realized today? There was a lot more to the 1963 “March on Washington” than just King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and it’s reflected in the event’s oft-overlooked full name: March On Washington For Jobs And Freedom.

Marchers rallied not just for civil and political rights for American blacks, but also economic demands including full employment and a livable minimum wage.

We’re doing pretty poorly on those demands:

Despite the Civil Rights Movement’s successes, African-Americans still face residential segregation, segregated schools, unemployment rates twice that of whites and 36 percent work for poverty-level wages.

Read the rest at Campus Progress