Category Archives: Economy

Austerity bites: Greeks sink deeper into poverty


Poverty rate changes in the European Union, 2008-2015. From Reuters.

Poverty rate changes in the European Union, 2008-2015. From Reuters.

When the greed and unprosecuted crimes of Wall Street banksters and their allies in London brought the world to the brink of financial ruin nine years ago, it was the world’s poorer nation who paid — and are continuing to pay — the highest price.

Greece isn’t the only nation in the eurozone to see a poverty increase since the start of the Great Recession, but it’s the only one to see a near-tripling of the number of its citizens in poverty, a direction result of the austerity regime implemented by the austerity regime forced on Europe’s nations with the highest debt levels.

As part of that austerity, the Troika of the Euroippean Central Bank, the European Commission, and the Washington-based International Monetary Fund have mandated massive layoffs of public workers, pay and pension cuts, and the higher costs associated with the privatization and sell off of public transit and power systems.

The Troika has been holding off on its latest bailout loan, demanding yet more austerity measures. But when it comes, most of the money will go right back to lenders on Wall Street, London, and Germany.

More from Reuters:

[R]egardless of who is to blame for the collapse in living standards, poverty figures from the EU statistics agency are startling.

Greece isn’t the poorest member of the EU; poverty rates are higher in Bulgaria and Romania. But Greece isn’t far behind in third place, with Eurostat data showing 22.2 percent of the population were “severely materially deprived” in 2015.

And whereas the figures have dropped sharply in the post-communist Balkan states — by almost a third in Romania’s case — the Greek rate has almost doubled since 2008, the year the global crisis erupted. Overall, the EU level fell from 8.5 percent to 8.1 percent over the period.

>snip<

International organizations, including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, have urged the government to prioritize tackling poverty and inequality.

Unemployment has slipped from a peak of 28 percent of the workforce to 23 percent but the rate remains the highest in the EU. Since the crisis began, the economy has shrunk by a quarter and thousands of businesses have closed for good.

>snip<

Better living standards seem as far away as ever. Over 75 percent of households suffered a significant income reduction last year, a survey by business confederation GSEVEE and Marc pollsters found. A third had at least one unemployed member and 40 percent said they had to cut back on food spending.

And with the latest round of austerity now in negotiation, things can only get worse.

Remember that, just as in the U.S., the employment numbers don’t reflect totals paid in salaries and benefits.

With rising costs for healthcare, transportation, and other necessities, coupled with pay cuts, living standards have been drastically reduced even for those who are working.

But, hey, a banskster’s gotta make a living, right?

Map of the day: Where the world’s poorest live


From DevelopmentEducation.ie, the five countries housing the largest share of the 1.2 billion of our brothers and sisters living in extreme poverty:

blog-poor

Note: We darkened the map considerably because the type for China was a yellow so pale as to be illegible. And why is it that graphics designers have switched from primary colors to pale pastels? We’ve had to darken an increasing number of charts, graphs, and maps because of a typographical madness sacrificing legibility for fashion.

Trump’s NAFTA stance sparks Mexico trade war


And the first commodity under attack is corn grown by farmers in the U.S.

From teleSUR English:

The foreign affairs commission at the Mexican Senate will introduce a bill this week that would make the country buy corn from Brazil and Argentina instead of the United States.

Mexico is one of the top buyers of U.S. corn and the move will be a tough blow to the U.S. agriculture industry, said the president of the commission Armando Ríos Piter from the leftist PRD party.

The bill is seen as a counter-attack to the protectionist threats made by U.S. President Donald Trump, who has threatened to kill the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, signed by Mexico, the United States and Canada in the early ’90s. Experts say such a bill would be very costly for U.S. farmers.

“If we do indeed see a trade war where Mexico starts buying from Brazil … we’re going to see it affect the corn market and ripple out to the rest of the agricultural economy,”  Darin Newsom, senior analyst at agricultural management firm DTN, said to CNN.

If approved, this bill would be one of the first signs of concrete action by the Mexican government after it has been directly targeted by Trump’s rhetoric and policies, particularly an executive order enabling construction of a border wall and the promise to make Mexico foot the bill.

However, to unions of Mexican farmers and academics, Trump’s pledge to end NAFTA will be a good opportunity to boost the agriculture sector in Mexico.

The treaty has helped to dismantle Mexico’s agricultural production system through neoliberal policies that have left millions of poor farmers without state support and made the country increasingly dependent on food from abroad.

And an update, also from teleSUR:

Mexico’s agriculture minister said on Thursday he will lead a business delegation to Argentina and Brazil to explore buying yellow corn, part of a drive to lessen Mexico’s U.S. dependence given uncertainty over President Donald Trump’s trade policies.

The trip will happen within the next 20 days, Agriculture Secretary Jose Calzada said, adding that the government could explore quotas and changing the tariff regime for imports from South America if needed.

Chart of the day: What makes us feel stressed


From Stress in America™: Coping with Change [open access]:

blog-stress

Another new report offers some meaningful insight into the reasons the White House is now occupied by the Orange Abomination.

Each of us suffers from stress to one degree or another, be it from our health, our family life, our friends, or any one the myriad factors at play in our lives.

But some stresses are more general, emotional themes at work in communities states, and nations.

And those external stresses and the anxieties we feel because of them, the ones held in common by so many,  offer a fertile medium for ideological contagion by folks skilled at manipulating fears and capitalizing on the mass anxieties they mobilize.

A new study from the American Psychological Association looks at the fears held in common, and the stressors they reveal are precoisely the fears Donald Trump aroused, mobilized, and exploited in his drive to win the Oval Office:

Two-thirds of Americans say they are stressed about the future of our nation, including a majority of both Democrats and Republicans, according to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) report Stress in America™: Coping with Change. [open access].

More than half of Americans (57 percent) say the current political climate is a very or somewhat significant source of stress, and nearly half (49 percent) say the same about the outcome of the election, according to an APA poll conducted in January.

While Democrats were more likely than Republicans (72 percent vs. 26 percent) to report the outcome of the 2016 presidential election as a significant source of stress, a majority of Republicans (59 percent) said the future of the nation was a significant source of stress for them, compared with 76 percent of Democrats.

“The stress we’re seeing around political issues is deeply concerning, because it’s hard for Americans to get away from it,” said Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, APA’s executive director for professional practice . “We’re surrounded by conversations, news and social media that constantly remind us of the issues that are stressing us the most.”

Nordal also noted that while APA is seeing continued stress around politics, the survey also showed an increased number of people reporting that acts of terrorism, police violence toward minorities and personal safety are adding to their stress levels.

These results come on the heels of APA survey results released last fall that found 52 percent of Americans reported that the presidential election was a significant source of stress. That survey was conducted online in August 2016 among 3,511 adults 18+ living in the U.S. by Harris Poll on behalf of the APA. To better understand these political stressors and assess potential long-term effects, APA commissioned an additional survey, conducted online by Harris Poll in early January 2017, among 1,019 adults ages 18+ who reside in the U.S. , asking adults once again to rate the sources of their stress, including the political climate, the future of our nation and the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Between August 2016 and January 2017, the overall average reported stress level of Americans rose from 4.8 to 5.1, on a scale where 1 means little or no stress and 10 means a great deal of stress, according to the APA survey. This represents the first significant increase in the 10 years since the Stress in America survey began. At the same time, more Americans said that they experienced physical and emotional symptoms of stress in the prior month, health symptoms that the APA warns could have long-term consequences.

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Austerity forces Greeks to sell assets abroad


We have consistently held that the whole purpose of austerity regimes implemented and enforced by the world’s institutional lenders has but one goal: The concentrate wealth at the top.

The latest example comes from Greece, where the Troika of the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank, and the European Commission have forced the sales of nationally owned transportation systems, healthcare programs, the electric power grid, ports, islands, and other assets.

The austerity regime also forces Greeks to pay more in taxes and fees, while mandating public and private sector pay, pension, and benefit cuts.

So it should come as now surprise that Greeks are being forced to sell their homes, businesses, and other assets to foreing buyers,

From Kathimerini:

The mergers and acquisitions (M&A) chart of Greece in 2016 that PricewaterhouseCoopers presented on Wednesday showed that foreigners have been acquiring assets in Greece while Greeks have generally been selling.

In total last year assets with a combined value of 4.4 billion euros changed hands in 38 transactions. The value level is about two-and-a-half times that recorded in 2015. Sixty-two percent of that amount came from National Bank’s sale of Finansbank in Turkey.

Last year’s M&A crop was dominated by what PwC dubbed “divestment of the systemic banks from their non-core assets.” This divestment fetched about 3.3 billion euros, or 75 percent of all transactions’ value. When the 500 million euros from privatizations (Piraeus Port Authority, Astir Palace etc) are added, then 2016 can be seen as the year of almost compulsory divestment. Without that, the M&A transaction volume would have come to just 600 million euros.

In recent years the M&A cycle has been “incoming,” with PwC analysts noting that foreign buyers are trying to take advantage of the drop in the value of Greek assets, as three in five transactions last year concerned acquisitions of Greek assets by foreign investors.

School shootings link to high unemployment rates


Two charts from the report [open access] featuring [top] the monthly number of shooting events categorized based on number of fatalities [green 0–1, orange 2–5 and red >5] and [below], national unemployment rate peaks [black line] and how they qualitatively align with periods of elevated rates of school shootings [blue bars].

Two charts from the report [open access] featuring [top] the monthly number of shooting events categorized based on number of fatalities [green 0–1, orange 2–5 and red >5] and [below], national unemployment rate peaks [black line] and how they qualitatively align with periods of elevated rates of school shootings [blue bars].

While there are other facts at work in individual cases, ranging from psychopathology and poor home relationships to immediate provocations, could high jobless rates play a key role in America’s school shootings?

That’s the conclusion of a just-published major study from Northwestern University:

A rigorous Northwestern University study of a quarter-century of data has found that economic insecurity is related to the rate of gun violence at K-12 and postsecondary schools in the United States. When it becomes more difficult for people coming out of school to find jobs, the rate of gun violence at schools increases.

The interdisciplinary study by data scientists Adam R. Pah and Luís Amaral and sociologist John L. Hagan reveals a persistent connection over time between unemployment and the occurrence of school shootings in the country as a whole, across various regions of the country and within affected cities, including Chicago and New York City.

“The link between education and work is central to our expectations about economic opportunity and upward mobility in America,” said Hagan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Sociology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “Our study indicates that increases in gun violence in our schools can result from disappointment and despair during periods of increased unemployment, when getting an education does not necessarily lead to finding work.”

Frequent school shootings have been a major concern in American society for decades, but the causes have defied understanding. The Northwestern researchers used data from 1990 to 2013 on both gun violence in U.S. schools and economic metrics, including unemployment, to get some answers.

“Our findings highlight the importance of economic opportunity for the next generation and suggest there are proactive actions we could take as a society to help decrease the frequency of gun violence,” said Pah, clinical assistant professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management.

Other key findings include:

  • While Chicago is singled out in the study as one of the six cities with the most incidents from 1990 to 2013, Chicago schools are not any more dangerous than schools in other large cities.
  • Gun violence at schools has not become more deadly over time.
  • Most shootings are targeted, with the shooter intending to harm a specific person.
  • Gang-related violence and lone mass shooters comprise only small fractions of the gun violence that occurs at U.S. schools. Gang-related violence constitutes 6.6% of all incidents.
  • The results suggest that during periods of heightened unemployment, increased gun violence may be a growing risk in American college and university settings.

The study, Economic Insecurity and the Rise in Gun Violence at US Schools, [open access] was published Monday by the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

The research team also found the rate of gun violence at schools has changed over time. The most recent period studied (2007-2013) has a higher frequency of incidents than the preceding one (1994-2007), contradicting previous work in this area. This is a unique contribution made possible because of the researchers’ backgrounds in data science and modeling.

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Headline of the day: Imperial trade war ahead?


From the Washington Post:

White House threatens Mexico with tax to pay for wall

  • Spokesman Sean Spicer said President Trump intends to pay for the wall by imposing a 20 percent tax on imports from Mexico as part of an overall tax reform plan, though he later appeared to backtrack, saying it was “one idea” for funding a border wall.
  • The comment came hours after the Mexican president canceled his visit to Washington because of growing tensions with Trump over the border wall.