Another Arab awakening is looming, warns a UN report

The Economist reports: In December 2010 Egypt’s cabinet discussed the findings of their National Youth Survey. Only 16% of 18-29-year-olds voted in elections, it showed; just 2% registered for volunteer work. An apathetic generation, concluded the ministers, who returned to twiddling their thumbs. Weeks later, Egypt’s youth spilled onto the streets and toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

The UN’s latest Arab Development Report, published on November 29th, shows that few lessons have been learnt. Five years on from the revolts that toppled four Arab leaders, regimes are ruthlessly tough on dissent, but much less attentive to its causes.

As states fail, youth identify more with their religion, sect or tribe than their country. In 2002, five Arab states were mired in conflict. Today 11 are. By 2020, predicts the report, almost three out of four Arabs could be “living in countries vulnerable to conflict”.

Horrifyingly, although home to only 5% of the world’s population, in 2014 the Arab world accounted for 45% of the world’s terrorism, 68% of its battle-related deaths, 47% of its internally displaced and 58% of its refugees. War not only kills and maims, but destroys vital infrastructure accelerating the disintegration.

The Arab youth population (aged 15-29) numbers 105m and is growing fast, but unemployment, poverty and marginalisation are all growing faster. The youth unemployment rate, at 30%, stands at more than twice the world’s average of 14%. Almost half of young Arab women looking for jobs fail to find them (against a global average of 16%).

Yet governance remains firmly the domain of an often hereditary elite. “Young people are gripped by an inherent sense of discrimination and exclusion,” says the report, highlighting a “weakening [of] their commitment to preserving government institutions.” Many of those in charge do little more than pay lip-service, lumping youth issues in with toothless ministries for sports. “We’re in a much worse shape than before the Arab Spring,” says Ahmed al-Hendawi, a 32-year-old Jordanian and the UN’s envoy for youth. [Continue reading…]

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What if jobs aren’t working anymore?

James Livingston writes: Work means everything to us Americans. For centuries – since, say, 1650 – we’ve believed that it builds character (punctuality, initiative, honesty, self-discipline, and so forth). We’ve also believed that the market in labour, where we go to find work, has been relatively efficient in allocating opportunities and incomes. And we’ve believed that, even if it sucks, a job gives meaning, purpose and structure to our everyday lives – at any rate, we’re pretty sure that it gets us out of bed, pays the bills, makes us feel responsible, and keeps us away from daytime TV.

These beliefs are no longer plausible. In fact, they’ve become ridiculous, because there’s not enough work to go around, and what there is of it won’t pay the bills – unless of course you’ve landed a job as a drug dealer or a Wall Street banker, becoming a gangster either way.

These days, everybody from Left to Right – from the economist Dean Baker to the social scientist Arthur C Brooks, from Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump – addresses this breakdown of the labour market by advocating ‘full employment’, as if having a job is self-evidently a good thing, no matter how dangerous, demanding or demeaning it is. But ‘full employment’ is not the way to restore our faith in hard work, or in playing by the rules, or in whatever else sounds good. The official unemployment rate in the United States is already below 6 per cent, which is pretty close to what economists used to call ‘full employment’, but income inequality hasn’t changed a bit. Shitty jobs for everyone won’t solve any social problems we now face. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s climate denial is just one of the forces that point towards war

George Monbiot writes: Wave the magic wand and the problem goes away. Those pesky pollution laws, carbon caps and clean-power plans: swish them away and the golden age of blue-collar employment will return. This is Donald Trump’s promise, in his video message on Monday, in which the US president-elect claimed that unleashing coal and fracking would create “many millions of high-paid jobs”. He will tear down everything to make it come true.

But it won’t come true. Even if we ripped the world to pieces in the search for full employment, leaving no mountain unturned, we would not find it. Instead, we would merely jeopardise the prosperity – and the lives – of people everywhere. However slavishly governments grovel to corporate Luddism, they will not bring the smog economy back.

No one can deny the problem Trump claims to be addressing. The old mining and industrial areas are in crisis throughout the rich world. And we have seen nothing yet. I have just reread the study published by the Oxford Martin School in 2013 on the impacts of computerisation. What jumps out, to put it crudely, is that jobs in the rust belts and rural towns that voted for Trump are at high risk of automation, while the professions of many Hillary Clinton supporters are at low risk.

The jobs most likely to be destroyed are in mining, raw materials, manufacturing, transport and logistics, cargo handling, warehousing and retailing, construction (prefabricated buildings will be assembled by robots in factories), office support, administration and telemarketing. So what, in the areas that voted for Trump, will be left?

Farm jobs have mostly gone already. Service and care work, where hope for some appeared to lie, will be threatened by a further wave of automation, as service robots – commercial and domestic – take over.

Yes, there will be jobs in the green economy: more and better than any that could be revived in the fossil economy. But they won’t be enough to fill the gaps, and many will be in the wrong places for those losing their professions. [Continue reading…]

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The Uber economy looks a lot like the pre-industrial economy

Quartz reports: Maybe Uber isn’t that innovative after all.

A new study from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), finds that the “gig” economy model popularized by Uber has a lot in common with the economies of poor countries today, as well as the US and Europe before the Industrial Revolution.

Uber and other “gig” companies like Lyft and TaskRabbit hire their workers as independent contractors rather than full employees. These jobs comes with a lot of flexibility — workers can set their own schedules — but they lack the protections afforded full-time employees of larger corporate enterprises, such as health care and a guaranteed minimum wage. Uber and its digital peers are a small if well-known part of the larger independent workforce, which McKinsey estimates at 20% to 30% of the working-age population in the US and the EU-15, or some 160 million people.

While companies like Uber have been hailed as modern conveniences for consumers, they are proving to be just the opposite for workers. App-based services rely on income inequality and may well be perpetuating the divide between capital and labor. They are also reverting economies to pre-industrial ideas about work. [Continue reading…]

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Why we’re wrong to blame immigrants for our sputtering economies

By Kevin Shih, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Immigrants have become a major scapegoat in recent years for sputtering Western economies.

From the U.K.’s jarring “Brexit” from the European Union to Donald Trump’s infamous wall and more recent proposal to apply “extreme vetting” to those wishing to enter the U.S., many politicians have found success by casting immigrants as a threat to the physical, social and economic welfare of natives.

In short, Americans (and our European brethren) are unhappy, and many are convinced immigration brings harm. A recent poll found that almost two-thirds of Americans think immigration, including the legal kind, “jeopardizes the United States.”

While it has become a popular notion in the West that immigrants jeopardize the job prospects of natives, over 30 years of economic research (including my own) gives strong reason to believe otherwise.

And in fact, the opposite may be more likely: There’s evidence immigrants actually promote more economic growth.

[Read more…]

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How work can lead to suicide in a globalised economy

By Sarah Waters, University of Leeds and Jenny Chan, University of Oxford

A Paris prosecutor recently called for the former CEO and six senior managers of telecoms provider, France Télécom, to face criminal charges for workplace harassment. The recommendation followed a lengthy inquiry into the suicides of a number of employees at the company between 2005 and 2009. The prosecutor accused management of deliberately “destabilising” employees and creating a “stressful professional climate” through a company-wide strategy of “harcèlement moral” – psychological bullying.

All deny any wrongdoing and it is now up to a judge to decide whether to follow the prosecutor’s advice or dismiss the case. If it goes ahead, it would be a landmark criminal trial, with implications far beyond just one company.

Workplace suicides are sharply on the rise internationally, with increasing numbers of employees choosing to take their own lives in the face of extreme pressures at work. Recent studies in the United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea, China, India and Taiwan all point to a steep rise in suicides in the context of a generalised deterioration in working conditions.

Rising suicides are part of the profound transformations in the workplace that have taken place over the past 30 years. These transformations are arguably rooted in the political and economic shift to globalisation that has radically altered the way we work.

In the post-war Fordist era of industry (pioneered by US car manufacturer Henry Ford), jobs generally provided stability and a clear career trajectory for many, allowing people to define their collective identity and their place in the world. Strong trade unions in major industrial sectors meant that employees could negotiate their working rights and conditions.

But today’s globalised workplace is characterised by job insecurity, intense work, forced redeployments, flexible contracts, worker surveillance, and limited social protection and representation. Zero-hour contracts are the new norm for many in the hospitality and healthcare industries, for example.

Now, it is not enough simply to work hard. In the words of Marxist theorist Franco Berardi, “the soul is put to work” and workers must devote their whole selves to the needs of the company.

For the economist Guy Standing, the precariat is the new social class of the 21st century, characterised by the lack of job security and even basic stability. Workers move in and out of jobs which give little meaning to their lives. This shift has had deleterious effects on many people’s experience of work, with rising cases of acute stress, anxiety, sleep disorders, burnout, hopelessness and, in some cases, suicide.

[Read more…]

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The rising power of China will create new political fissures in the West

Gideon Rachman writes: Whether he wins or loses the US presidency next November, Donald Trump has already come up with one of the defining slogans of 2016 – “Make America great again”.

Trump’s vision of an America in precipitous decline is all-encompassing. At home, he points to falling living standards for many Americans and the disappearance of well-paid manufacturing jobs. Overseas, he claims the world is laughing at the US and laments that “we don’t win any more”.

Many in Europe are tempted to see Trump as an “only in America” aberration. Yet the fear of economic and geopolitical decline that Trump is capitalising upon is widely visible across the west. The coalition of frustrated working-class voters and nostalgic nationalists that the Republican has put together is uncomfortably reminiscent of the alliance that voted for Brexit in the UK. Trump’s “make America great again” mantra has an echo of the Brexit campaign’s winning slogan – “Take back control”. Nor is this is just an Anglo-American phenomenon. Across the EU, including in France, the Netherlands, Italy and Poland, protectionists and nationalists are gaining ground.

As Trump might put it: “Something’s going on.” That something is a historic shift in economic and geopolitical power that is bringing to an end a 500-year period in which western nations have dominated global affairs. This erosion of the west’s privileged position in world affairs is creating new economic, geopolitical and even psychological pressures in both the US and the EU.

The driving force of this change is the extraordinary economic development of Asia over the past 50 years. In 2014, the IMF reported that, measured in purchasing power, China is now the world’s largest economy. The US had held this title since 1871, when it displaced the UK; now China is number one. The rise of China is just part of a broader shift of economic power towards Asia. The IMF reports that three of the world’s four largest economies are now in Asia. China is first, the US is second, India third and Japan fourth. [Continue reading…]

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The countries leading the world in happiness and sustainability are not the economically wealthiest

Anna Bruce-Lockhart writes: Is life on this planet getting better? When it comes to the progress of nations, how do you measure what matters most? There’s wealth, there’s health, there’s basic human freedoms. These criteria, and others, make regular appearances in a variety of international rankings, from the Better Life Index to the Sustainable Economic Development Assessment and the World Happiness Report.

But a new study takes a different approach. The Happy Planet Index, which has just published its 2016 edition, measures health and happiness not in isolation but against a crucial new gold standard for success: sustainability.

The formula goes something like this: take the well-being and longevity of a population, measure how equally both are distributed, then set the result against each country’s ecological footprint.

In this calculation, the most successful countries are those where people live long and happy lives at little cost to the environment.

So which countries are they?

They’re not the wealthy Western countries you’d expect to see, or even the progressive Nordic ones that normally bag the lifestyle laurels. Instead, a list of the top 10 (the index ranks 140 countries overall) shows that when it comes to people’s ability to live good lives within sustainable limits, Latin American and Asia Pacific countries are ahead of the crowd. [Continue reading…]

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The Middle East needs help with its long game: education and jobs for the young

By Zahir Irani, Brunel University London

The future for many young people across the Middle East and North Africa looks bleak. The World Bank records that 54% of the working age population in the Middle East and North Africa is unemployed with little prospect of any positive immediate change. An average of 28.7% of 15 to 24-year-olds in the Middle East and 30.6% of those in North Africa are unemployed according to the International Labour Organisation.

Much of the world’s response to this chronic problem has been to intervene financially: in the form of aid or debt restructuring. But through supporting economic recovery by giving generations of young people new skills and new opportunities to improve themselves, the world can help Middle Eastern societies in a more sustainable and thoughtful way.

Reliance on public sector jobs

One of the biggest challenges the World Bank identifies in this broad region is that unemployment rates are the highest among the educated, with university graduates making up 30% of the region’s unemployed. They are slowly losing optimism and hope for a better life and future.

This is largely attributed to a reliance on the public sector to provide jobs that come with steady albeit low salaries but high degrees of job security. In many North African countries or those Middle Eastern ones with high populations, other than wait in line for a public sector job, there are few other alternatives. At one end of the spectrum there’s the misery of violence and refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, and the other – even if you’ve excelled – a flat and static job market for the best and brightest. No wonder so many highly-skilled people are fleeing to Europe in search of stability and new opportunities.

[Read more…]

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Visualizing the world’s shipping routes

world-shipping-routes

Click on the image above to view a data visualization of the world’s shipping routes created by Kiln studio and the UCL Energy Institute. Click the play button to follow a guided tour around the map. (Note: this data visualization web page uses a lot of memory — you might experience problems if you’re using an old computer and/or have a slow internet connection.)

What can I see?
You can see movements of the global merchant fleet over the course of 2012, overlaid on a bathymetric map. You can also see a few statistics such as a counter for emitted CO2 (in thousand tonnes) and maximum freight carried by represented vessels (varying units).

What can I do?
You can pan and zoom in the usual ways, and skip back and forward in time using the timeline at the bottom of the screen. The controls at the top right let you show and hide different map layers: port names, the background map, routes (a plot of all recorded vessel positions), and the animated ships view. There are also controls for filtering and colouring by vessel type.

What the are types of ships shown?
The merchant fleet is divided into five categories, each of which has a filter and a CO2 and freight counter for the hour shown on the clock. The ship types and units are as follows:

  • Container (e.g. manufactured goods): number of container slots equivalent to 20 feet (i.e. a 40-foot container takes two slots)
  • Dry bulk (e.g. coal, aggregates): combined weight of cargo, fuel, water, provisions, passengers and crew a vessel can carry, measured in thousand tonnes
  • Tanker (e.g. oil, chemicals): same as dry bulk
  • Gas bulk (e.g. liquified natural gas): capacity for gases, measured in cubic metres
  • Vehicles (e.g. cars): same as dry bulk

Why do ships sometimes appear to move across land?
In some cases this is because there are ships navigating via canals or rivers that aren’t visible on the map. Generally, though, this effect is an artefact of animating a ship between two recorded positions with missing data between, especially when the positions are separated by a narrow strip of land. We may develop the map to remove this effect in the future.

Why are there fewer ships visible in the first part of the year?
Unfortunately the data we are using for the map is incomplete for the first few months of the year: roughly January to April.

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How a solo voyage around the world led to a vision for a sustainable global economy

 

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation works with business, government and academia to build a framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design — a circular economy.

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IMF says Brexit has ‘thrown a spanner in the works’ of global recovery

The Guardian reports: The International Monetary Fund has slashed its forecast for UK growth next year after warning that the decision to leave the EU has damaged the British economy’s short-term prospects and “thrown a spanner in the works” of the global recovery.

The IMF, which voiced strong misgivings about a vote for Brexit in the runup to the EU referendum, said it expected the UK economy to grow by 1.3% in 2017, 0.9 points lower than a previous estimate made in its April world economic outlook (WEO).

The fund said it had cut its forecasts for the global economy due to the likely knock-on effect of the vote on other countries, particularly in Europe. [Continue reading…]

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