Category Archives: Economy

How Trump could cause a 21st Century witch hunt


Way back when esnl was an undergrad majoring in anthropology, one of our professors relentlessly hammered in one point: People are territorial group animals just like chimpanzees, our closest primate cousins [the bonobo hadn’t be recognized yet as a separate species even closer to us than chimps].

We also know that violence breaks out among chimps when resources are scarce and groups come into conflict.

We’ve also learned that humans who see themselves and their groups under threat can respond in those same primal ways.

And history teaches us that demagogues with dark agendas can exploit those same instincts to enhance their own positions of power by targeting popular anger towards the weak and those readily distinguishable from our own groups.

Some of our first television memories, after we got one of the first sets in town when we were six years old, was of the Army/McCarthy hearings, when a right wing demagogue in the Senate who had built a career out of whipping up fear of communists finally past the point of no return.

And now, with Donald Trump in the Whoite House the stage may be set for another witch hunt, writes Peter Neal Peregrine, Professor of Anthropology and Museum Studies at Lawrence University in this essay for The Conversation, an open-source academic journal written in everyday English:

As an anthropologist, I know that all groups of people use informal practices of social control in day-to-day interactions. Controlling disruptive behavior is necessary for maintaining social order, but the forms of control vary.

How will President Donald Trump control behavior he finds disruptive?

The question came to me when Trump called the investigation of Russian interference in the election “a total witch hunt.” More on that later.

Ridicule and shunning

A common form of social control is ridicule. The disruptive person is ridiculed for his or her behavior, and ridicule is often enough to make the disruptive behavior stop.

Another common form of social control is shunning, or segregating a disruptive individual from society. With the individual pushed out of social interactions – by sitting in a timeout, for example – his or her behavior can no longer cause trouble.

Ridicule, shunning and other informal practices of social control usually work well to control disruptive behavior, and we see examples every day in the office, on the playground and even in the White House.

Controlling the critics

Donald Trump routinely uses ridicule and shunning to control what he sees as disruptive behavior. The most obvious examples are aimed at the press. For example, he refers to The New York Times as “failing” as a way of demeaning its employees. He infamously mocked a disabled reporter who critiqued him.

On the other side, the press has also used ridicule, calling the president incompetent, mentally ill and even making fun of the size of his hands.

Trump has shunned the press as well, pulling press credentials from news agencies that critique him. Press Secretary Sean Spicer used shunning against a group of reporters critical of the administration by blocking them from attending his daily briefing. And Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shook off the State Department press corps and headed off to Asia with just one reporter invited along.

Again, the practice cuts both ways. The media has also started asking themselves if they should shun Trump’s surrogates – such as Kellyanne Connway – in interviews or refuse to send staff reporters to the White House briefing room.

Accusations of witchcraft

Witches persecuted in Colonial era. Library of Congress.

But what happens when informal means of control don’t work?

Societies with weak or nonexistent judicial systems may control persistent disruptive behavior by accusing the disruptive person of being a witch.

In an anthropological sense, witches are people who cannot control their evil behavior – it is a part of their being. A witch’s very thoughts compel supernatural powers to cause social disruption. If a witch gets angry, jealous or envious, the supernatural may take action, whether the witch wants it to or not. In other words: Witches are disruptive by their very presence.

When people are threatened with an accusation of witchcraft, they will generally heed the warning to curb their behavior. Those who don’t are often those who are already marginalized. Their behavior – perhaps caused by mental disease or injury – is something they cannot easily control. By failing to prove they aren’t a “witch” – something that’s not easy to do – they give society a legitimate reason to get rid of them.

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Charting the American rural/urban divides


Donald Trump’s populism starkly revealed the growing rural/urban divide in the United States, a divide exploited by Pussygrabber’s peculiar brand of populism.

As a look at this cartographic breakdown of county-by-county presidential vote results by Penn State physicist Mark Newman reveals, Democrats won majorities largely in coastal and urban counties, plus those less populated areas where non-anglos are in the majority:

Why are the two polities so different in their responses to a populist promising a political panacea?

The Conversation, an open source, lay language academic journal, asked a group of academics to describe some key differences between city and countryside, and their explanations are both in words and graphics:

Editor’s note: We’ve all heard of the great divide between life in rural and urban America. But what are the factors that contribute to these differences? We asked sociologists, economists, geographers and historians to describe the divide from different angles. The data paint a richer and sometimes surprising picture of the U.S. today.

1. Poverty is higher in rural areas

Discussions of poverty in the United States often mistakenly focus on urban areas. While urban poverty is a unique challenge, rates of poverty have historically been higher in rural than urban areas. In fact, levels of rural poverty were often double those in urban areas throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

While these rural-urban gaps have diminished markedly, substantial differences persist. In 2015, 16.7 percent of the rural population was poor, compared with 13.0 percent of the urban population overall – and 10.8 percent among those living in suburban areas outside of principal cities.

Contrary to common assumptions, substantial shares of the poor are employed. Approximately 45 percent of poor, prime-age (25-54) householders worked at least part of 2015 in rural and urban areas alike.

The link between work and poverty was different in the past. In the early 1980s, the share of the rural poor that was employed exceeded that in urban areas by more than 15 percent. Since then, more and more poor people in rural areas are also unemployed – a trend consistent with other patterns documented below.

That said, rural workers continue to benefit less from work than their urban counterparts. In 2015, 9.8 percent of rural, prime-age working householders were poor, compared with 6.8 percent of their urban counterparts. Nearly a third of the rural working poor faced extreme levels of deprivation, with family incomes below 50 percent of the poverty line, or approximately US$12,000 for a family of four.

Large shares of the rural workforce also live in economically precarious circumstances just above the poverty line. Nearly one in five rural working householders lived in families with incomes less than 150 percent of the poverty line. That’s nearly five percentage points more than among urban workers (13.5 percent).

According to recent research, rural-urban gaps in working poverty cannot be explained by rural workers’ levels of education, industry of employment or other similar factors that might affect earnings. Rural poverty – at least among workers – cannot be fully explained by the characteristics of the rural population. That means reducing rural poverty will require attention to the structure of rural economies and communities.

Brian Thiede, Assistant Professor of Rural Sociology and Demography, Pennsylvania State University


2. Most new jobs aren’t in rural areas

It’s easy to see why many rural Americans believe the recession never ended: For them, it hasn’t.

Rural communities still haven’t recovered the jobs they lost in the recession. Census data show that the rural job market is smaller now – 4.26 percent smaller, to be exact – than it was in 2008. In these data are shuttered coal mines on the edges of rural towns and boarded-up gas stations on rural main streets. In these data are the angers, fears and frustrations of much of rural America.

This isn’t a new trend. Mechanization, environmental regulations and increased global competition have been slowly whittling away at resource extraction economies and driving jobs from rural communities for most of the 20th century. But the fact that what they’re experiencing now is simply the cold consequences of history likely brings little comfort to rural people. If anything, it only adds to their fear that what they once had is gone and it’s never coming back.

Nor is it likely that the slight increase in rural jobs since 2013 brings much comfort. As the resource extraction economy continues to shrink, most of the new jobs in rural areas are being created in the service sector. So Appalachian coal miners and Northwest loggers are now stocking shelves at the local Walmart.

The identity of rural communities used to be rooted in work. The signs at the entrances of their towns welcomed visitors to coal country or timber country. Towns named their high school mascots after the work that sustained them, like the Jordan Beetpickers in Utah or the Camas Papermakers in Washington. It used to be that, when someone first arrived at these towns, they knew what people did and that they were proud to do it.

That’s not so clear anymore. How do you communicate your communal identity when the work once at the center of that identity is gone, and calling the local high school football team the “Walmart Greeters” simply doesn’t have the same ring to it?

Continue reading

Charts of the day: Latin American land inequality


Two significant graphics from Unearthed: land, power and inequality in Latin America, a major study of land distribution in Latin America, reveal the gross inequalities of land distribution in the Americas.

First, a look at agricultural land tenure rates, featuring the percentage of farms in each country owned by the top one percent of landowners:

More from the report:

Latin America is the world’s most unequal region in terms of land distribution. The Gini coefficient for land—an indicator of between 0 and 1, where 1 represents the maximum inequality—is 0.79 for the region as a whole, 0.85 in South America and 0.75 in Central America. These figures indicate much higher levels of land concentration than in Europe (0.57), Africa (0.56) or Asia (0.55).

According to this indicator, Paraguay (with a Gini coefficient of 0.93) is the country where land is most unequally distributed, followed by Chile (0.91) and Venezuela (0.88). At the other end of
the spectrum is Costa Rica (0.67), which has the most equitable land distribution in the region. Most Latin American countries have extremely high levels of concentration with Gini coeffi-
cients above 0.80, while the ratio is over 0.90 in Chile and Paraguay.

Compared with the distribution of income—for which Latin America is also the most unequal region in the world—land distribution is even more inequitable. The regional Gini coefficient for income is 0.48 compared with 0.79 for land, and is higher than in Sub-Saharan Africa (0.43), North America (0.37) or the East Asia-Pacific region (0.37).

And, next, a look at what crops are planted on those vast latifundias:

Note particularly the vast acreage devoted to soybeans.

The great majority of those acres are planted with Monsanto’s genetically modified soybeans, according to this September report from Reuters:

South American farmers are expected to sow 57 percent more area with Monsanto Co’s second-generation, genetically modified soybean seed Intacta RR2 Pro in the new planting season, a company executive said.

Intacta, which tolerates the herbicide glyphosate and resists caterpillars, was planted on 14 million hectares in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay in 2015/2016.

Farmers are expected to plant 18 million to 22 million hectares this season, Maria Luiza Nachreiner, head of South American soy operations, said in an interview before Monsanto announced it would accept a $66 billion takeover bid from rival Bayer.

“We have a positive outlook this crop,” Nachreiner said.

Intacta will account for 31 percent to 38 percent of the planted area in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, up from 24 percent this season, she noted.

Monsanto does not release specific numbers about the area planted with its seeds in Brazil, the world’s largest soybean exporter. For years, its Roundup Ready Soybeans dominated the regional GMO seed market, peaking in 2013/14 with 84 percent of Brazil’s soybean area, according to data from local consultant Celeres.

To maintain those crops, farmers are also basically forced to use Monsanto weed-killers, most notably glyphosate, the main chemical ingredient in the company’s Roundup,.

Roundup has been linked with a growing number of human health problems, but weeds have been growing tolerant, forcing the company to create new blends featuring even more toxic chemicals, including 2,4-D, one of two chemicals used in the toxic Agent Orange blend sprayed over much of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, resulting in a growing number of severe infant deformities.

Chart of the day: Greek working class miseries


From the Hellenic Statistical Authority, the grim nrews about paychecks yunder the reign of the Austerians:

Kathermini adds some detail:

More than half of private sector employees in Greece are paid less than 800 euros per month, compared with just 11 percent in the public sector, while the real unemployment rate is more than 30 percent, the country’s biggest union claimed in its annual report published on Monday.

The Labor Institute of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (INE-GSEE) noted in its 2016 report on the Greek economy that crisis-induced inequalities among different groups of workers and the decimation of the labor market have had a negative impact on productivity. The increase in labor market flexibility last year translated into 51.6 percent of private sector salary workers receiving less than 800 euros per month at the same time as half of all civil servants were being paid more than 1,000 euros per month.

After processing the salary data in the private sector, INE-GSEE found that net pay was up to 499 euros per months for 15.2 percent of workers, between 500 and 699 euros for 23.6 percent, and 700 and 799 euros per month for 12.8 percent. Just over one in six (17.3 percent) received between 800 and 999 euros. Meanwhile, 38.5 percent of civil servants had net earnings of between 1,000 and 1,299 euros and 15.7 percent collected more than 1,300 euros per month.

The large decline in private sector salaries and the fact that the institute’s economists estimate that the unemployment rate is much higher than the official 23.1 percent are particularly ominous developments which could erode social cohesion and lead large parts of the population into poverty.

The report highlights the increase in the rate of households unable to cover some of their basic needs from 28.2 percent in 2010 to 53.4 percent in 2015. This is due to the major decline in disposable income and the drop in savings. A rise was also noted in the rate of households delaying loan and rent payments (from 10.2 percent in 2010 to 14.3 percent in 2015). Worse, households’ inability (or unwillingness) to pay utility bills soared from 18.8 percent in 2010 to 42 percent five years later.

Life is bitter under the dominion of the Troikarchs

The Wall Street Crash that triggered the Great Recession was followed immediately by the decisions of governments, central banksters, and the money lords of the International Monetary Fund to bail out the banks, and not the lenders.

Those decisions weighed hardest on indebted nations, and proved especially onerous in Southern Europe, where reckless lending by German and other banks had undergirded economic expansion during the boom.

To ensure repayment, the European Central Bank, European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund mandated ongoing wage cuts, pension and healthcare benefit reductions, new taxes, and sellff of large sectors of public infrastructure and resources, most notably in Greece.

The measures have brought no real relief, and Greeks are continuing to pay a high price.

Woman workers hit especially hard

From Kathimerini again:

Women, especially young women, have been hit particularly hard by Greece’s economic crisis, Labor and Social Insurance Minister Effie Achtsioglou told the Parliament in Athens on Wednesday on the occasion of International Women’s Day.

Of all the registered unemployed in Greece, 61 percent are women, Achtsioglou said, noting that although joblessness has dropped 3 percentage points over the past two years of the SYRIZA-Independent Greeks coalition, more needs to be done to curb unemployment generally, and in particular among women.

Cuts in social welfare spending over the years have fallen most heavily on the shoulders of women, Achtsioglou said, adding that the current government remains determined to ease austerity as soon as possible.

And a foreclosure epidemic rocks the nation

Because of lost jobs and smaller paychecks, many Greeks are faced with a hard choice.

From Kathimerini again:

The austerity measures introduced by the government are forcing thousands of taxpayers to hand over inherited property to the state as they are unable to cover the taxation it would entail. The number of state properties grew further last year due to thousands of confiscations that reached a new high.

According to data presented recently by Alpha Astika Akinita, real estate confiscations increased by 73 percent last year from 2015, reaching up to 10,500 properties.

The fate of those properties remains unknown as the state’s auction programs are fairly limited. For instance, one auction program for 24 properties is currently ongoing. The precise number of properties that the state has amassed is unknown, though it is certain they are depreciating by the day, which will make finding buyers more difficult.

Financial hardship has forced many Greeks to concede their real estate assets to the state in order to pay taxes or other obligations. Thousands of taxpayers are unable to pay the inheritance tax, while others who cannot enter the 12-tranche payment program are forced to concede their properties to the state. Worse, the law dictates that any difference between the obligations due and the value of the asset conceded should not be returned to the taxpayer. The government had announced it would change that law, but nothing has happened to date.

Chart of the day III: Greece’s unemployment crisis


From the Hellenic Statistical Authority comes clear evidence that all that austerity imposed by the financial overloads of the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund has failed to relieve the misery of the Greek working class, who have been forced by the Troika to endure layoffs, pay and pension cuts, higher healthcare costs, and so much more:

Study: Adversity leads to political radicalization


Want a simple formula for making a radical? Subject someone to personal adversity.

It’s something we all know intuitively.

The Russian Revolution was fueled by personal adversity, both in the impact of mass casualties and a losing war effort, and by hunger brought on by the war.

Similarly, the rise of the Nazis was directly fueled by the 1929 global economic crash.

We’ll leave conclusions about more recent events to you.

Now research directly links personal adversity to radical to development of radical political beliefs.

From the University of California, Irvine:

People who experience adversity are likely to become more extreme in their existing political beliefs, according to a recent study led by Roxane Cohen Silver, professor of psychology & social behavior at the University of California, Irvine.

Both the number of past stressful events and those occurring over the prior year consistently predicted more firmly held opinions, whether conservative or liberal.

“We found that adults who experience a range of adverse events over their lifetimes, such as serious illness or a community disaster, are more likely to express extreme or polarized views on a variety of topics. This appears to be the case even when those topics, such as political opinions, have little or nothing to do with the adverse events they encountered,” Cohen Silver said. “Our study suggests that traumatic experiences may lead to long-lasting changes in a person’s tendency to become more polarized in his or her political attitudes.”

The research, recently published online in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Science [$36 to read], used data from the three-year Societal Implications Study, which involved a nationally representative sample of 1,613 Americans, ranging in age from 18 to over 90, across a wide variety of economic, educational, religious, ethnic and political categories. Participants completed surveys annually between 2006 and early 2009 that measured lifetime exposure to and recent occurrences of negative incidents, as well as their views on several political subjects. Continue reading

Charts of the day III: European glass ceilings


A just published European managerial structure focusing on data from 2014 reveals that glass ceilings remain the rule in the European Union, along with pay inequality, both opportunities and more equitable pay are found in some countries, most notably those of Eastern Europe.

Release of the report was timed for International Women’s Day.

From Eurostat [click on the images to enlarge]:

Nearly 7.3 million persons hold managerial positions in enterprises with 10 employees or more located in the European Union (EU): 4.7 million men (65% of all managers) and 2.6 million women (35%). In other words, although representing approximately half of all employed persons in the EU, women continue to be under-represented amongst managers.

In addition, those women in managerial positions in the EU earn 23.4% less on average than men, meaning that female managers earn on average 77 cents for every euro a male manager makes per hour.

This pattern at EU level masks significant discrepancies between Member States regarding both positions and pay.

Managers are mostly women only in Latvia

The largest share of women among managerial positions is recorded in Latvia, the only Member State where women are a majority (53%) in this occupation. It is followed by Bulgaria and Poland (both 44%), Ireland (43%), Estonia (42%), Lithuania, Hungary and Romania (all 41%) as well as France and Sweden (both 40%).

At the opposite end of the scale, women account for less than a quarter of managers in Germany, Italy and Cyprus (all 22%), Belgium and Austria (both 23%) as well as Luxembourg (24%). At EU level, about a third (35%) of managers are women.

Lowest gender pay gap for managers in Romania, largest in Hungary and Italy

Differences between women and men in managerial positions also concern wages. In every EU Member State, male managers earn more than female managers, albeit in different proportions.

The gender pay gap in managerial positions is the narrowest in Romania (5.0%), ahead of Slovenia (12.4%), Belgium (13.6%) and Bulgaria (15.0%). In contrast, a female manager earns about a third less than her male counterpart in Hungary (33.7%), Italy (33.5%) as well as the Czech Republic (29.7%), and about a quarter less in Slovakia (28.3%), Poland (27.7%), Austria (26.9%), Germany (26.8%), Portugal (25.9%), Estonia (25.6%) and the United Kingdom (25.1%).

It should be noted that the gender pay gap, as defined in this news release, is linked to a number of legal, social and economic factors which go far beyond the single issue of equal pay for equal
work.