Henri Matisse Sorrow of the King 1952
A more or less subtle way of trying to drag Putin into the situation.
U.S. President Donald Trump “cannot imagine Russia is pleased” with North Korea’s latest missile test on Sunday, as it landed closer to Russia than to Japan, the White House said in a statement. “With the missile impacting so close to Russian soil – in fact, closer to Russia than to Japan – the President cannot imagine that Russia is pleased,” the White House said in its statement. The launch served as a call for all nations to implement stronger sanctions against reclusive North Korea, the White House added.
Macron takes office in a strange kind of void. On Monday he will appoint a prime minister, and on Tuesday a cabinet. But his party has zero seats in parliament, so what can they do? Whether they can win a majority in the June elections is very much up for grabs. They may wind up needing -and using- support from the Socialist party that was burned down in the presidential elections.
Emmanuel Macron becomes France’s youngest ever president on Sunday, taking over from Socialist Francois Hollande in a solemn ceremony. [..] The new president faces a host of daunting challenges including tackling stubbornly high unemployment, fighting Islamist-inspired violence and uniting a deeply divided country. Socialist Hollande’s five years in power were plagued by a sluggish economy and bloody terror attacks that killed more than 230 people and he leaves office after a single term. The 64-year-old launched Macron’s political career, plucking him from the world of investment banking to be an advisor and then his economy minister. “I am not handing over power to a political opponent, it’s far simpler,” Hollande said on Thursday.
Macron’s first week will be busy. On Monday, he is expected to reveal the closely-guarded name of his prime minister, before flying to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It is virtually a rite of passage for French leaders to make their first European trip to meet the leader of the other half of the so-called “motor” of the EU. Pro-EU Macron wants to push for closer cooperation to help the bloc overcome the imminent departure of Britain, another of its most powerful members. He intends to press for the creation of a parliament and budget for the eurozone. Merkel welcomed Macron’s decisive 32-point victory over Le Pen, saying he carried “the hopes of millions of French people and also many in Germany and across Europe”. In June, Macron faces what the French media are calling a “third round of the presidential election” when the country elects a new parliament in a two-round vote. The new president needs an outright majority to be able to enact his ambitious reform agenda.
A huge global problem.
Once upon a time the US stock market had disruptive challengers changing the economic landscape – Apple, Google, Cisco, Intel and a half dozen other upstarts. The same companies are there, but they have morphed from the equivalent of Luke Skywalker to Jabba the Hut. Tech companies used to be aggressive growth stocks, the kind that young people bought for long-range gain, while retirees stuck to less-volatile instruments like utility stocks. The world officially went topsy-turvy this year, when the volatility of tech stocks fell below the volatility of utility stocks. The graph shows the implied volatility of options on the S&P tech sector ETF (ticker XLK) vs. the implied volatility of options on the S&P utilities sector (XLU). Options on volatile stocks cost more than options on stable stocks, because volatility increases the likelihood of a payout.
Implied volatility is backed out of the prices of traded options, and reflects investor expectations about future stability. Why would investors expect less volatility from tech stocks than from utilities? Because they are utilities, that is, utilities with neither debt nor regulation. Power, water and sewer companies charge a stable fee to a predictable base of customers. They borrow heavily to build facilities, and are subject to public regulation, such that changes in interest rates and public policy can affect their value. Historically, though, they were widow-and-orphan stocks, the least risky sector of the equity market. In the disruptive days of the 1990s tech boom, the volatility of the S&P technology subsector was two to three times the VIX index. Today the implied volatility of XLK, the tech sector ETF, is actually lower than the VIX. The tech companies have brought down the overall level of market volatility.
Tech companies now sit atop a virtual toll booth and impose a charge on a myriad of transactions. Like water and power companies, they have monopolies, although these monopolies are driven by the price of infrastructure and the network effect. Google has the Internet-advertising monopoly. Microsoft has the personal computer software monopoly. Amazon has the Internet sales monopoly. Facebook has the targeted advertising monopoly. And Apple has the oddest monopoly of all: it is the vehicle by which customers assert their individuality by overpaying the largest-capitalization company in the world. [..] They’re all tech companies, and each dominates its corner of the industry: Google has an 88% market share in search advertising, Facebook (and its subsidiaries Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger) owns 77% of mobile social traffic and Amazon has a 74% share in the e-book market. In classic economic terms, all three are monopolies.”
“One Brexiter said: “There is no way to unpick Brexit that doesn’t involve civil war. “
Problem 1: Rich people trying to buy seats.
Problem 2: Both left and right across Europe want to “Love Europe Not the EU”. But the EU rules.
As an investor in a Premier League football club and a collector of steam locomotives, Jeremy Hosking is used to expensive pursuits. The multimillionaire asset manager is under no illusions that his offer to fund well in excess of 100 local campaigns to unseat pro-Remain MPs could prove to be another. “This is going to stretch the bank’s ability to send out cheque books in a timely manner,” he says. “There is going to be a lot of ink involved.” Hosking has already spent in pursuit of securing Britain’s departure from the European Union shows his dedication to the cause. He gave about £1.7m to Vote Leave and even set up his own poster campaign, Brexit Express, as the referendum approached. Now the Crystal Palace co-owner wants to safeguard the result by funding Tory candidates trying to gain seats where most voters backed Brexit. He will do so through his Brexit Express campaign.
“For me, it is a long-running issue about sovereignty and the transfer of power,” he says. “It wouldn’t matter so much if the EU was constitutionalised properly, but one of the great things about being a democracy is we can boot the government out every five years, but we couldn’t boot out the EU. “A lot of the Remainers I know were really reformers – they held their nose and voted Remain in much the same way we are suggesting that traditional Labour voters should on this occasion hold their nose and vote Tory.” Hosking’s project is testing perhaps the most pertinent question posed by this election. Will the political fissure created by the EU referendum convince voters to abandon their traditional affiliations and back a party that more closely represents their views on Brexit?
The candidates eligible for his money must meet two simple tests. They must be a Conservative candidate trying to unseat an opposition MP that backed Remain. They must also be contesting a seat where most voters are believed to have voted in favour of Brexit. His team has come up with a list of 138 constituencies that they think fit the bill. All will be eligible for donations of up to £5,000 each. While there are some Lib Dems, SNP and Plaid Cymru-held seats on the list, the campaign is aimed overwhelmingly at Tories trying to win Labour-held seats in the north and the Midlands. There is a string of such seats that the Tories have a chance of winning. They include Coventry South, Bury South, Dewsbury, Gedling, Halifax and Bishop Auckland – a seat that has returned a Labour MP since 1935.
Hosking says that while Theresa May was not his “number one choice” as leader, he believes she is handling the Brexit issue well so far. He also believes that a cohort of Tory MPs from Brexit-supporting Labour seats could be key in safeguarding the referendum result and prevent any “backsliding”. “We need all the Brexiteers on the same side,” he says. “We can’t do this Brexit thing with half the Brexiteers outside the tent. “The thinking is, it would be strange if the Conservative party was dusting off inveterate Remainers to fight these seats… the Conservative party is more Brexit-orientated than it was a year ago.” Unlike some Brexiteers, Hosking knows there could be some bumpy times ahead. “We need the best team and you need the army fully equipped and as big as possible,” he says.
He contradicts mis own words with impunity and of course doesn’t get called on it.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told a magazine he shared French president-elect Emmanuel Macron’s view that financial transfers from richer to poorer states are necessary within the euro zone. Macron, who is due to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Monday, has promised to press ahead with closer European integration. Asked whether Macron was right in believing Europe and the euro zone need a “transfer union”, Schaeuble told Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine: “You can’t build a community of states of varying strengths without a certain balance.” “That’s reflected in the European budget and bailout programmes, for example, and that’s why there are net contributors and net recipients in Europe. A union can’t exist if the stronger members don’t vouch for the weaker ones,” he added in an interview to be published Saturday.
Some conservatives around Merkel worry the euro zone could develop into a “transfer union” in which Germany is asked to pay for struggling states that resist reforms. Schaeuble, a veteran member of Merkel’s party, said if countries wanted to make Europe stronger, it was necessary for each individual country to become stronger first – including France and Italy but also Germany. Schaeuble also signaled he would not object if the European Commission gave its blessing to possible French budget deficits: “It’s up to the European Commission to design the budget rules.” He added: “The German government and I have never objected to a ruling of the Commission on how the deficits of countries like France should be judged.” The European Commission estimates France’s deficit will be 3% of GDP this year, from 2.9% previously forecast, and 3.2% in 2018 from the previous forecast of 3.1%. EU rules say countries should keep their deficits below 3% of GDP.
Not very useful without solid China data.
Ireland is home to the world’s fourth-largest “shadow banking” industry, with $2.2 trillion of nonbanking financial assets based in funds, special-purpose vehicles and other little-understood entities in Dublin’s IFSC, according to a report published on Tuesday. The figure equates to almost eight times the size of the Irish economy, as measured by GDP. The US has the world’s largest shadow-banking sector, with $13.8 trillion of assets as of 2015, according to the latest annual review of the sector by the Basel-based Financial Stability Board (FSB) as it searches for potential risks in the increasingly complex world of international finance. The Cayman Islands, which has taken part in the FSB study for first time, is the second-largest, at $4.3 trillion, followed by Japan, at $3.2 trillion.
The G20 major industrialised and emerging economies gave the FSB the job in 2010 of keeping track of the expanding world of financial activities that take place outside of mainstream banks, given the role that the sector played in the 2008 global financial crisis. The key concern is that, as central banks have clamped down on excessive risk-taking in the banking sector in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, lenders might extend their use of shadow banking to escape the claws of regulators. “Market-based finance provides important diversification of the founding resources which support the real economy,” said Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England and chairman of the FSB on the release of the latest report.
[..] The FSB said China, which ranked third with Ireland in the last report, published in late 2015, didn’t file data on time to be included in its narrow definition of shadow-banking activities that pose potential risks to global finance. Luxembourg, Ireland’s main rival in nonbanking financial activities in Europe, has not yet taken part in the annual survey. Nonbank financing provides a valuable alternative to bank funding and helps support economic activity, according to the FSB, adding that it can provide a “welcome” alternative supply of credit and provides “healthy competition for banks”.
Where would we be without bubbles?
A homeowner who tried to raise £3.75m by raffling her home online bought the property three years ago using the controversial right-to-buy scheme, and paid just £360,000. Renu Qadri, who lives in the house in Hardy Road, in south east London’s Blackheath, launched an online raffle on May 7. The dedicated website offered tickets for £5 each, with payments via Paypal. The stated aim was to sell 750,000 tickets, netting her £3.75m. A ticket picked at random would then win the property, including some of the furniture and £12,000 of “lead crystal chandeliers”. The raffle was halted on Thursday after advice from the homeowner’s local council, Greenwich, over “potential” breaches of Gambling Commission rules.
The website was taken down and replaced with a statement that said: “Ticket holders, please be advised that unfortunately we have been contacted by the local council informing us we will no longer be able to continue with this draw. Therefore we will be closing the site and all tickets holders will receive a full refund within 28 days. The five-bedroom flat is still on the market, however, and listed on property portal Rightmove for £1.25m. The owner, who is believed to have lived there since 2002, bought the property under the Government’s right-to-buy scheme three years ago, according to documents lodged with the Land Registry. It is understood that at the time it was valued at £460,000. Land Registry records confirm, however, that the price paid was £360,000, indicating the buyers benefited from a £100,000 right-to-buy discount. This is just under the maximum discount available through the scheme, which in London is currently £104,900.
The media are too busy attacking Trump.
I had the privilege of interviewing my newest personal hero yesterday, attorney Elizabeth Lee Beck, about her legal team’s fraud case against the Democratic National Committee. One of the many useful insights that this straight-shooting mom on fire brought to light during our conversation was her story about a time she reached out to New York Times reporter Michael Barbaro to get some help cracking through the deep, dark media blackout on this extremely important case. Barbaro had previously interviewed Beck and featured her in a front-page story not long ago, so she had every reason to try and contact him. What happened next? “The little piss head blocks me,” Beck said. Why is a journalist for the New York Times blocking a potential source from contacting him? Why is the mainstream media refusing to go anywhere near a legal case that has heavy implications for the future of American democracy?
You already know the answer to this deep down, whether you’re the kind of person who turns and faces reality or the kind of person who dissociates from reality at all costs while watching Samantha Bee and chugging cough syrup on the sofa. The function of the mass media is not to inform the American public of important things that are happening in their country, it is to turn attention away from the important things that are happening in their country and to keep them sleepy and compliant. The DNC lawsuit is one of the greatest threats to America’s power establishment right now, but only if people know about it. If the corporate media were to advance this story with even a fraction of the intensity that they’re advancing their xenophobic anti-Russia nonsense, they’d start waking up the sleeping masses to the fact that there is nothing resembling democracy happening in America at all.
And the DNC’s own lawyers have indeed made it abundantly clear to anyone who’s been listening that there is no democracy in America. You cannot make the case that you are not required to provide real primary elections in a rigidly-enforced two-party system and still say that democracy is happening to any extent within your nation. Being forced to choose between two establishment-selected corporatists is not democracy, and this revolutionary lawsuit has been showing in no uncertain terms that this is exactly what is happening both in practice and in theory. In order to say that there is any sort of democratic process in America at all, there would have to either be a way to run viable independent and third-party candidates, or the people would have to be able to determine who the candidates will be for the two parties that they are permitted to choose from. Currently neither of those things is happening.
I’ve said it before: in Assange, Snowden, Manning etc., America -and the west- “persecutes, prosecutes, vilifies, condemns, exiles, or murders” its finest.
Here’s the point: If the NSA were to be abolished today and if Congress were to order all of its documents and records to be released immediately to the public, nothing would happen to the United States. Nothing! The same holds true for the CIA and the military-industrial complex. If all their files and records were to be suddenly disclosed to the people of the world, America would continue to exist as a country. It would not fall into the ocean, and the federal government would continue to operate. In fact, full disclosure of all of the illegal and immoral actions that the U.S. national-security establishment has engaged in during the past 70 years of its existence would be the greatest and healthiest thing that could ever happen to the United States.
Full disclosure of such secrets would be an antiseptic that would help cleanse the federal government and the country of many of the long-lasting stains that the national-security establishment has inflicted on it — an antiseptic that might finally begin to restore trust and confidence in the federal government among the American people. To be sure, the secrecy is always alleged to be justified by “national security,” the two most important words in any nation whose government is a national-security state. But what does that term mean? It has no objective meaning at all. It’s just a bogus term designed to keep nefarious and illegal actions secret. But heaven help those who reveal those secrets to others. They will be persecuted, prosecuted, vilified, condemned, exiled, or murdered. Nothing matters more to a national-security state than the protection of its secrets.
Those who reveal them must be made examples to anyone else who contemplates doing the same thing. In the process, conscience is suspended and stultified. It has no role in a national-security state. Individual citizens are expected to place their deep and abiding trust in the national-security establishment and to unconditionally defer to its judgment and expertise. Its job is to protect “national security” and that’s all that people need to know. Sometimes that entails illegal activity, such as murder, torture, and kidnapping, but that’s just the way it is. What’s important, they say, is that the national-security establishment is on the job, a perpetual sentinel for freedom, protecting “national security.”
Imagine that Edward Snowden voluntarily returned to the United States for trial. Do you think he would be given the opportunity at trial to show why he disclosed the NSA’s illegal and nefarious surveillance schemes? Do you think he would be entitled to argue that he was simply following the dictates of his conscience when he chose to reveal that information to the American people and the world?
“Perhaps in order to save money, governments should also use prop-planes from the 1940s to conduct recon missions? ”
A widespread computer virus attack known as ‘WannaCry’ has been compromising computers with obsolete operating systems across the world. This should be the opening sentence of just about every article on this subject, but unfortunately it is not. The virus does not attack modern computer operating systems, it is designed to attack the Windows XP operating system that is so old, it was likely used in offices in the World Trade Center prior to September 11 2001, when the buildings collapsed. Windows XP was first released on 25 August, 2001. A child born on the release date of Windows XP is now on the verge of his or her 17th birthday. Feeling old yet? The fact of the matter is that governments and businesses around the world should not only feel old, they should feel humiliated and disgraced.
With the amount of money governments tax individuals and private entities, it is beyond belief that government organisations ranging from some computers in the Russian Interior Ministry to virtually all computers in Britain’s National Health Service, should be using an operating system so obsolete that its manufacturer, Microsoft, no longer supports it and hasn’t done for some time. Perhaps in order to save money, governments should also use prop-planes from the 1940s to conduct recon missions? The scathing reality of this attack is that Julian Assange warned both private and public sectors to be on guard against known vulnerabilities in such systems, vulnerabilities Wikileaks helped to expose. Assange even offered to help companies to get their digital security up to date. The fact that Assange’s plea fell on deaf ears must bring further shame to all those impacted by the ‘WannaCry’ attacks who refused to listen to Assange and get with the times.
[..] if only governments and mega-corporations took precautions to ensure actual safety measures were in place, rather than engaging in bogus fear-mongering in order to conceal their own incompetence and lack of modern technology, the people that such bodies are supposed to protect would be safe rather than misled and exposed to threats. The blame for today’s attack can and should be equally shared by the hackers themselves and by those who patently ignored the warnings of Julian Assange, who advised the wider world to get clever, get secure and get modern upon the release of Vault 7 by Wikileaks. When there is a wolf at your door, it is unwise to blame the person pointing out the presence of the hungry wolf. Those who attack Julian Assange for pointing out the wolf of un-secured computer systems are doing just that.
How many people know and understand that the economic models on which all current policies are based entirely ignore both credit and energy in our economies? How crazy is that?
Professor Steve Keen may be the first mainstream economist to address a fatal flaw in economic theory: omitting or minimizing the role of energy. Keen has developed a production formula incorporating energy, not as one factor of production along with capital and labor, but as the indispensable flow activating both. “Labor without energy is a corpse” says Keen; “Capital without energy is a sculpture.” Keen was one of twenty or so economists who made a credible prediction of the 2008-9 crisis, which government economists in the US and abroad declared “unpredictable” – after it blindsided them.
His work draws on contemporary economic theory and generates real-world predictions. He’s the sort of economist who financial commentators, investors and even government economists listen to; folks who haven’t heard of Daly’s steady state economy, Odum’s energy flow analysis of the ecosystem-economy, or Hall’s EROI “cheese slicer” model. Keen’s model implies that economic production is measurable in energy units, as Odum and others argued. Wealth is “nothing but the food, conveniences and pleasures of life,” as the earliest economists recognized. But it results from useful work, which can be measured in kilocalories. (To us weight watchers, just “calories.”) Here is his fundamental equation (the only one here, I promise):
To test his model against real data, Keen correlated its results with historical statistics of US GDP, and then compared correlations of GDP with the key terms individually. Over 40-odd years of data, his function correlated 0.79 with US GDP. The correlations with employment (Labor) alone and energy consumption (E) alone were much lower, at 0.60 and 0.59 respectively. His model might have correlated better if applied to a closed economic system, such as the entire world, or the US prior to 1970, if good data were available. Most of the useful work that supports Americans today is performed in the Far East or in the engines of container ships, and the energy inputs are considerable. Introducing his test data, Keen remarked that government statistics showing minimal unemployment were “just nonsense”. He presented a measure of employment instead. “They ask what Trump is complaining about- here’s what he’s complaining about..” (This was back in November.)
Presenting a chart of industrial energy consumption 1960-present, Keen remarked on the on the long decline since the 1979 peak, his latest values showing consumption comparable to 1967-8. Partly the result of increased efficiency, he said, but also “..becoming intractable because we are moving from highly efficient oil and coal to much less efficient wind and solar.” (Efficiency as energy output per unit of energy input.) I don’t think I’m overstating to say that Keen’s model marks a breakthrough in mainstream economics, though Keen describes it as merely “..the beginnings of a decent equation to explain the role of energy in production.”..demonstrating that wealth is “..fundamentally created by the exploitation of free energy, as the Physiocrats argued two centuries ago.” For those who discount any economic reasoning not expressed in calculus, Keen’s work opens an access to the wisdom of the Physiocrats. Maybe that of Daly, Odum and Hall as well.
Time to organize. Or keep losing.
The facts about the decline of the American middle class are increasingly familiar, though startling nonetheless. After growing almost continuously since World War II, U.S. median income stagnated at the end of the 1980s and then, beginning in 2000, declined 11%. Middle-class incomes today are no higher in real terms than they were in 1987. Much of the debt that caused the crisis was accumulated by the middle class as people tried to compensate for stagnant incomes by mortgaging up their homes and running up their credit cards. Then the debt bubble burst and the median family lost nearly $50,000, or 40% of its net wealth, from 2007 to 2010. For the typical middle-class family, the crisis wiped out 18 years of savings and investment. With too much debt before the crisis and their modest savings hammered by the downturn, many middle-class baby boomers are facing a major decline in living standards as they age.
On the other side of the generational divide, this will be the first cohort in modern American history whose children will quite possibly be poorer than their parents. So what do the rise of rentier capitalism and the hollowing out of America’s middle class have to do with each other? It is too simple to say that one directly caused the other. But they are more tightly linked than might be expected. The usual explanations for the woes of the American middle class point to big tectonic forces—namely globalization and technological change. At a superficial level this argument is correct—competition from low-wage countries has depressed wage growth in certain sectors, and technology has eliminated some manufacturing and middle-management jobs. But what this analysis leaves out is what we didn’t do—we didn’t make the long-term investments that would have helped us better adapt to these tectonic shifts.
One of the great historical strengths of both American capitalism and the American political system has been their adaptability. When the Industrial Revolution threatened America’s largely agricultural economy, America adapted and went one better, leapfrogging European industrial production by the early twentieth century. When industrialization then unbalanced America’s political system and strained its social fabric, Teddy Roosevelt unleashed a wave of political and social innovation, busting up trusts and introducing protections for consumers and workers. In the depths of the Depression, another Roosevelt responded with rural electrification, the creation of Social Security, and financial regulation that kept the system stable for 70 years. When the Soviet Union challenged America in the Cold War, we made massive investments in technology, education, and the National Highway System. The benefits of these innovations and investments flowed broadly in American society, not least to the middle class.
Economics was once tasked with describing how man manages the world’s scarce resources, a process far older than economics as a science. But it has morphed into a field that blames the individual and reality for not measuring up to its theories, and then uses the coercive power of the state in an attempt to shape individuals and reality according to its ends. The Austrian school of economics, the once dominant school of economic thought at the turn of the 19th century, focuses on the individual—and his or her actions and motivations—to explain economic life. It derives its name from the many scholars from Austria who developed 19th-century classic liberalism into a coherent explanation of economic life.
“Economics is in reality very simple. It functions in the same way that it did thousands of years ago. People come together to voluntarily engage in commerce with one another for their mutual benefit. People specialize and divide work among themselves to advance their condition,” writes modern Austrian economist Philipp Bagus in his book “Blind Robbery!” A bedrock principle of this understanding is that exchange should occur voluntarily and not under the coercion of the state or any other party. If exchange is voluntary, the individual or company must offer something of value if it wants to obtain something of value. This premise encourages innovative, creative, and productive behavior. It also forces individuals to think about what their fellow humans may appreciate or need. Every decision to allocate capital and labor needs to stand the test of reason, argument, and negotiation.
On aggregate, this decision-making process is much more elaborate and prudent than any central planning decision, which must use force to compel its subjects. “Production is directed either by profit-seeking businessmen or by the decisions of a director to whom supreme and exclusive power is entrusted. . . . The question is: Who should be master, the consumers or the director?” Austrian school economist Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) writes in his book “Human Action.” This approach to economics can do without the complex mathematical models of the current schools because it admits that perfection doesn’t exist. There is no equilibrium. Things aren’t perfect, but the best possible solution to economic problems will be found by private individuals acting voluntarily, each assessing new situations for themselves.
“This is precisely what the price system does under competition, and which no other system even promises to accomplish. It enables entrepreneurs, by watching the movement of comparatively few prices, as an engineer watches the hands of a few dials, to adjust their activities to those of their fellows,” Nobel laureate Friedrich von Hayek wrote in his 1944 classic “The Road to Serfdom.”
How any people are still happy in their work? Why do they volunteer to work for others?
I admit, we’ve heard it all before. Employees have been worrying about the rising tide of automation for 200 years now, and for 200 years employers have been assuring them that new jobs will naturally materialize to take their place. After all, if you look at the year 1800, some 74% of all Americans were farmers, whereas by 1900 this figure was down to 31%, and by 2000 to a mere 3%. Yet this hasn’t led to mass unemployment. In 1930, the famous economist John Maynard Keynes was predicting that we’d all be working just 15-hour weeks by the year 2030. Yet, since the 1980s, work has only been taking up more of our time, bringing waves of burnouts and stress in its wake. Meanwhile, the crux of the issue isn’t even being discussed. The real question we should be asking ourselves is: what actually constitutes “work” in this day and age?
In a 2013 survey of 12,000 professionals by the Harvard Business Review, half said they felt their job had no “meaning and significance,” and an equal number were unable to relate to their company’s mission, while another poll among 230,000 employees in 142 countries showed that only 13% of workers actually like their job. A recent poll among Brits revealed that as many as 37% think they have a job that is utterly useless. They have, what anthropologist David Graeber refers to as, “bullshit jobs”. On paper, these jobs sound fantastic. And yet there are scores of successful professionals with imposing LinkedIn profiles and impressive salaries who nevertheless go home every evening grumbling that their work serves no purpose.
Let’s get one thing clear though: I’m not talking about the sanitation workers, the teachers, and the nurses of the world. If these people were to go on strike, we’d have an instant state of emergency on our hands. No, I’m talking about the growing armies of consultants, bankers, tax advisors, managers, and others who earn their money in strategic trans-sector peer-to-peer meetings to brainstorm the value-add on co-creation in the network society. Or something to that effect. So, will there still be enough jobs for everyone a few decades from now? Anybody who fears mass unemployment underestimates capitalism’s extraordinary ability to generate new bullshit jobs. If we want to really reap the rewards of the huge technological advances made in recent decades (and of the advancing robots), then we need to radically rethink our definition of “work.”
It starts with an age-old question: what is the meaning of life? Most people would say the meaning of life is to make the world a little more beautiful, or nicer, or more interesting. But how? These days, our main answer to that is: through work. Our definition of work, however, is incredibly narrow. Only the work that generates money is allowed to count toward GDP. Little wonder, then, that we have organized education around feeding as many people as possible in bite-size flexible parcels into the employment establishment. Yet what happens when a growing proportion of people deemed successful by the measure of our knowledge economy say their work is pointless? That’s one of the biggest taboos of our times. Our whole system of finding meaning could dissolve like a puff of smoke.
Painful. 3rd world.
The ability to protect the health of mothers and babies in childbirth is a basic measure of a society’s development. Yet every year in the U.S., 700 to 900 women die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes, and some 65,000 nearly die — by many measures, the worst record in the developed world. American women are more than three times as likely as Canadian women to die in the maternal period (defined by the Centers for Disease Control as the start of pregnancy to one year after delivery or termination), six times as likely to die as Scandinavians. In every other wealthy country, and many less affluent ones, maternal mortality rates have been falling; in Great Britain, the journal Lancet recently noted, the rate has declined so dramatically that “a man is more likely to die while his partner is pregnant than she is.”
But in the U.S., maternal deaths increased from 2000 to 2014. In a recent analysis by the CDC Foundation, nearly 60% of such deaths were preventable. While maternal mortality is significantly more common among African Americans, low-income women and in rural areas, pregnancy and childbirth complications kill women of every race and ethnicity, education and income level, in every part of the U.S. [..] The reasons for higher maternal mortality in the U.S. are manifold. New mothers are older than they used to be, with more complex medical histories. Half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, so many women don’t address chronic health issues beforehand. Greater prevalence of C-sections leads to more life-threatening complications. The fragmented health system makes it harder for new mothers, especially those without good insurance, to get the care they need. Confusion about how to recognize worrisome symptoms and treat obstetric emergencies makes caregivers more prone to error.
Yet the worsening U.S. maternal mortality numbers contrast sharply with the impressive progress in saving babies’ lives. Infant mortality has fallen to its lowest point in history, the CDC reports, reflecting 50 years of efforts by the public health community to prevent birth defects, reduce preterm birth and improve outcomes for very premature infants. The number of babies who die annually in the U.S. — about 23,000 in 2014 — still greatly exceeds the number of expectant and new mothers who die, but the ratio is narrowing. The divergent trends for mothers and babies highlight a theme that has emerged repeatedly in ProPublica’s and NPR’s reporting. In recent decades, under the assumption that it had conquered maternal mortality, the American medical system has focused more on fetal and infant safety and survival than on the mother’s health and well-being.
Everybody in the west is responsible for this. Our governments willfully create the chaos that generates it.
The dangers of attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, in overcrowded, unseaworthy vessels, have been highlighted by a series of desperate rescue missions and thousands of deaths at sea in recent years. Last week, at least 245 people were killed by shipwrecks, bringing the toll for this year alone to 1,300. Less well-known are the dangers of Libya itself for migrants fleeing poverty across West Africa. The country’s slide into chaos following the 2011 death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi and the collapse of the government have made it a breeding ground for crime and exploitation. Two rival governments, an Isis franchise and countless local militias competing for control of a vast, sparsely populated territory awash in weapons, have allowed traffickers to flourish, checked only by the activities of their criminal rivals.
Last year, more than 180,000 refugees arrived in Italy, the vast majority of them through Libya, according to UN agency the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). That number is forecast to top 200,000 this year – and these people form a lucrative source of income for militias and mafias who control Libya’s roads and trafficking networks. Migrants who managed to reach Europe from Libya have long told of being kidnapped by smugglers, who would then torture them to extort cash as they waited for boats. But in recent years this abuse has developed into a modern-day slave trade – plied along routes once used by slaving caravans – that has engulfed tens of thousands of lives.
The new slave traders operate with such impunity that, survivors say, some victims are being sold in public markets. Most, however, see their lives and liberty auctioned off in private. “They took people and put them in the street, under a sign that said ‘for sale’,” said Shamsuddin Jibril, 27, from Cameroon, who twice saw men traded publicly in the streets of the central Libyan town of Sabha, once famous as the home of a young Gaddafi, but now known for violence and brutality. “They tied their hands just like in the former slave trade, and they drove them here in the back of a Toyota Hilux. There were maybe five or seven of them.”