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History Debunked Refutes Ethnomathematics/Rehumanizing Mathematics

This is another video from History Debunked. In it, youtuber and author Simon Webb attacks Ethnomatics, sometimes also called Rehumanizing Mathematics. This is a piece of modern pseudo-scholarship designed to help Black children tackle Maths. The idea is that Blacks perform poorly compared at Maths compared to other ethnic groups. This is held to be because Maths is the creation of White men, and this puts Blacks off studying and mastering it.

The solution has been to scrutinise African societies for their indigenous Maths, especially the Dogon of Mali. They have been chosen as the chief model for all this, as they possessed extremely advanced astronomical and mathematical knowledge. In the 1970s there was a book, The Sirius Mystery by Robert K.G. Temple, which claimed that they owed this advance knowledge to contact with space aliens. Apparently this claim was subsequently dropped 10 – 15 years later, and the claim made instead that they were just superlative astronomers and mathematicians themselves. But Dogon Maths is held to be different from White, western Maths because it’s spiritual. History Debunked then goes on to demonstrate the type of pseudo-scientific nonsense this has lead to by providing a link to an Ethnomathematics paper and reading out its conclusion. It’s the kind of pretentious verbiage the late, great Jazzman, Duke Ellington, said stunk up the place. It’s the kind of postmodern twaddle that Sokal and Bricmont exposed in their Intellectual Impostures. It’s deliberately designed to sound impressive without actually meaning anything. There’s a lot of talk about expanding cognitive horizons and possibilities, but History Debunked himself says he doesn’t understand a word of it. And neither, I guess, will most people. Because it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just there to sound impressive and bamboozle the reader into thinking that somehow they’re thick because they don’t, while the fault is entirely the writers.

I think History Debunked is a man of the right, and certainly his commenters are Conservatives, some with extremely right-wing views. He’s produced a series of videos attacking the pseudo-history being pushed as Black History, and apparently Seattle in America is particularly involved in promoting this nonsense. But he expects it to come over here in a few years. Given the way Black History month has jumped the Atlantic, I think he’s right.

There’s been a particular emphasis on find ancient Black maths and science for some time I know. For a brief while I got on well with a Black studies group when I was a volunteer at the slavery archives in the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum. That was before I read their magazine and got so annoyed with it and its attitude to Whites that I sent them a whole load of material arguing to the contrary, and pointing out that in places like the Sudan, Blacks were being enslaved and oppressed not by White Europeans, but by the Arabs. I also sent them material about the poor Whites of South Africa, who also lived in grinding poverty thanks to Apartheid. This was stuff they really didn’t want to hear, and I was told that if I wanted to talk to them further, I should do so through someone else. They were also interested in finding examples of Black maths and science. I sent them photocopies and notes I’d made of various medieval Muslim mathematicians. These were Arabs and Persians, like al-Khwarizmi, who gave his name to the word algorithm, Omar Khayyam, best known in the west for his Rubayyat, but who was also a brilliant mathematician, al-Haytham, who invented the camera obscura in the 12th century and others, rather than Black. But they were grateful for what I sent them nonetheless, and I thanked me. This was before I blotted my copybook with them.

I’m reposting this piece because, although it comes from the political, it is correct. And you don’t have to be right-wing to recognise and attack this kind of postmodern rubbish. Sokal and Bricmont, the authors of the book I mentioned early attacking postmodernism, were both men of the left. Sokal was a physicist, who taught maths in Nicaragua under the left-wing Sandinista government. They wrote the book because they took seriously George Orwell’s dictum that writing about politics means writing clearly in language everyone can understand. And even if you believe that Black people do need particular help with maths because of issues of race and ethnicity, Ethnomathematics as it stands really doesn’t appear to be it. It just seems to be filling children’s heads with voguish nonsense, rather than real knowledge.

I also remember the wild claims made about the Dogon and their supposed contact with space aliens. Part of it came from the Dogon possessing astronomical knowledge well beyond their level of technology. They knew, for example, that Sirius has a companion star, invisible to the naked eye, Sirius B. They also knew that our solar system had nine planets, although that’s now been subsequently altered. According to the International Astronomical Association or Union or whatever, the solar system has eight planets. Pluto, previously a planet, has been downgraded to dwarf planet, because it’s the same size as some of the planetoids in the Kuiper Belt. Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince discuss this in one their books,The Stargate Conspiracy (London: Little, Brown & Company 1999), which claimed that the American intelligence agencies were secretly preparing a fake UFO landing in order to convince everyone that the space gods really had arrived, and set up a one-world dictatorship. This hasn’t happened, and I’ve seen the Fortean Times and other weird magazines trying to explain their book as a high-level hoax which people took too seriously. I don’t believe this, as they seemed very serious at the time. The Dogon believe that the first human ancestors, and some of their gods, came from the sky. Hence Temple’s claim that they were contacted by space aliens. Picknett and Prince, however, sided with sceptics like Carl Sagan. They argued instead ithat the Dogon owed it to a French priest, anthropologist or colonial administrator, I’ve forgotten which, who visited them in the 1920s and who was extremely interested in astronomy. This seems to me to be far more likely than that they either got it from space aliens or that they far better mathematicians and astronomers than they could have been at their level of development.

The Dogon are fascinating as their homes and villages are laid out to be microcosms of the male and female human body and the universe. The book African Mythology by Geoffrey Parrinder, London: Hamlyn 1967, describes the layout of a Dogon house thus:

The shape of the Dogon house is symbolical. The floor is like the earth and the flat roof like heaven. The vestibule is a man and the central room woman, with store rooms at her sides as arms. The hear at the end is her head. The four posts are the man and woman entwined in union. So the family house represents the unity of man and woman and God and the Earth. This is accompanied by the elevation and ground plan of a typical Dogon house. (p. 49).

There’s also this diagram of an idealised Dogon village:

The caption for the diagrame reads:

Like the house, the Dogon village represents human beings. The smithy is at the head like a hearth in a house. The family houses in the centre and millstones and village represent the sexes. Other altars are the feet. (p. 51).

Truly, a fascinating people and I have no problem anybody wanting to study them. But it should be in anthropology, ethnography or comparative religion, not maths.

But it struck me that if teachers and educators want to enthuse and inspire young minds with what maths Africans were studying, they could start with ancient Egypt and the great Muslim civilisations of the Sahara and north Africa, like Mali. Aminatta Forna in one of her programmes on these civilisations was shown an ancient astronomical text from the medieval library of one of these towns, which she was told showed that Muslims knew the Earth orbited the sun before Copernicus and Galileo. I doubt that very much. It looks like a form of a combined helio-and geocentric system, first proposed by the ancient Greeks, and then taken up by some medieval astronomers not just in Islam, but also in Christian Europe. In this system, all the other planets when round the Sun, which orbited the Earth. Close to the modern system, but not quite. But it showed that the Black citizens of that civilisation were in contact with the great currents of Muslim science, and that they would have had learnt and taught the same kind of Maths that was being investigated and researcher right across the Muslim world, from India to Morocco and further south to Mali. One of the Black educationalists would like to translate one of these books from Arabic, the learned language of Muslim civilisation, and use it as an example of the kind of maths that was also taught in Black Africa.

Or you could go right back to ancient Egypt. Mathematical texts from the Land of the Nile have also survived in the Moscow and Rhind mathematical papyri. These have various maths problems and their solution. For example, problem No. 7 of the Moscow papyrus is about various calculations for a triangle. This runs

Example of calculating a triangle.

If you are told: A triangle of 2 thousands-of-land, the bank of 2 of 2 1/2;

You are to double the area: result 40 (arurae). Take (it) 2 1/2 times; result [100. Take its square root, namely] 10. Evoke 1 from 2 1/2; what results is 2/5. Apply this to 10; result 4. It is 10 (khet) in length by 4 (khet) in breadth. From Henrietta Midonick, The Treasury of Mathematics: 1 (Harmondsworth: Pelican 1965) p. 71.

It’s amazing to think that the boys at the scribal school were being taught all this millennia ago. It gives you a real sense of connection with the ancient schoolkids reading it. You can imagine them, hunched over with their pen and ink, busily cudgeling their brains while the teacher prowls about them. The Babylonians were also renowned as the pioneers of early mathematics. They even uncovered a school when they excavated Ur of the Chaldees in the 1920s, complete with the maths and other texts the schoolboys – female education didn’t exist back then, but I’m willing to be corrected – were required to learn. As a schoolboy character in the Fast Show used to say: ‘Brilliant!’ You don’t need to burden modern African societies like the Dogon with spurious pseudo-history and pseudo-science, when the real historic achievements of ancient Egypt and medieval Africa are so impressive.

It struck me that even if you don’t use the original Egyptian maths texts to teach maths – which would be difficult, as their maths was slightly different. Their method of calculating the area of a field of four unequal sides yields far too high a figure, for example – you could nevertheless inspire children with similar problems. Perhaps you could do it with assistance of a child or two from the class. You could bring them out in front of everyone, give them and ancient Egyptian headdress, and then arranged the lesson so that they helped the teacher, acting as pharaoh, to solve it. Or else pharaoh showed them, his scribes, and thus the class. This is certainly the kind of thing that was done when I was a kid by the awesome Johnny Ball on the children’s maths and science programme, Think of a Number. And every week, as well as showing you a bit of maths and science, he also showed you a trick, which you could find out how to do by dropping him a line. It was the kind of children’s programme that the Beeb did very, very well. It’s a real pity that there no longer is an audience for children’s programmes and their funding has subsequently been cut.

Here’s History Debunked’s video attacking Ethnomathematics. He also attacks a piece of ancient baboon bone carved with notches, which he states has been claimed is an ancient prehistoric African calendar. He provides no evidence in this video to show that it wasn’t, and says its the subject of a later video. If this is the one I’m thinking of, then that is a claim that has been accepted by mainstream archaeologists and historians. See Ivor Grattan-Guinness, The Fontana History of the Mathematical Sciences (London: Fontana Press 1998) p. 24.

If you want to know more about ancient and medieval maths, and that of the world’s many indigenous cultures, see the book Astronomy before the Telescope, edited by Christopher Walker with an introduction by the man of the crumpled suit and monocle himself, Patrick Moore (London: British Museum Press 1998).

This has chapters on astronomy in Europe from prehistory to the Renaissance, but also on astronomy in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, India, Islam, China, Korea and Japan, North and South America, traditional astronomical knowledge in Africa and among Aboriginal Australians, Polynesia and the Maori. It can be a difficult read, as it explores some very technical aspects, but it is a brilliant work by experts in their respective fields.

FT Review from 2000 of Three History Books on the British Empire

Another clipping I’ve kept is a review by the Financial Time’s David Gilmour, ‘World in the Pink’, of three history books on the British Empire. The books reviewed were The Oxford History of the British Empire: The Nineteenth Century, edited by Andrew Porter, The Oxford History of the British Empire: The Twentieth Century, edited by Judith M. Brown and Wm Roger Louis; and the Oxford History of the British Empire: Historiography, edited by Robin W. Winks. The review was in the FT’s weekend edition for February 19/20 2000. I’m putting it up here as some readers might find it useful, as after the Black Lives Matter protests the history of the British empire is going to come under debate once again. The review runs

Once upon a time the British Empire was an easy subject to teach. Pupils stood in front of the schoolroom map, identified two red dots in the middle, and were encouraged to gaze with wonder at the vast expanse of similarly coloured spaces stretching from Canada at the top left to New Zealand at the bottom right. If suitably awestruck, they could then learn about these places (and how they came to be red) in the novels of Henty and Rider Haggard and in the poems of Tennyson, Kipling and Newbold.

Stout histories were also available for serious pupils to study the process of conquest and dominion, the spread of civilisation and prosperity, and, in some cases, the splendid bestowal of certain freedoms. From them students would learn that “the British Empire existed for the welfare of the world”, a belief held by many but expressed in these particularly terms by Gandhi. Guided by Providence and Queen Victoria, Britain had assumed a grandmaternal role, the mother of Dominion daughters, the “mother of parliaments” and, even more stirringly, “mother of the Free”.

The uniformity of the vision – red is red whether in Canada or Ceylon – may have been useful for the schoolteacher and the recruiting officer. But the men sent out to administer different systems all over the globe understood its limitations. The appearance of theses impressive books, the last in the five volume Oxford History of the British Empire, demonstrates that historians, after a long time-lag in the first half of the 20th century, have caught up with them.

The previous attempt at a comprehensive survey, the Cambridge History of the British Empire (published in nine volumes between 1929 and 1959), retained the anglocentric approach of earlier works, as well as their assumptions of a noble imperial purpose. Without entirely demolishing those assumptions (indeed the editor-in-chief, Roger Louis, specifically endorses some of them), the Oxford History offers more cautious and rataher more sophisticated assessments of the imperial experience. As Louis points out, these volumes do not depict it as “one of purposeful progress” nor concentrate narrowly on “metropolitan authority and rule”; nor do they see its demise as “steady decline and fall”. Their emphasis is on diversity, on a “constantly changing territorial empire and ever-shifting patterns of social and economic relations”.

The chief inspiration behind this approach is the work of the late historian Jack Gallagher and Ronald Robinson, who compared the empire to an iceberg, the visible section being the red-painted colonies and the submerged bulk representing the “imperialism of free trade”, a vast “informal empire” based on naval supremacy and economic power which extended into places such as China, Latin America and the Middle East.

Many of the contributors to the Oxford volumes apply this view to their own areas. In south-east Asia, stresses A.J. Stockwell, the demarcation between Britain’s formal empire and its neighbours was indistinct: “‘British pink’ seeped over the whole region: nearly indelible in some areas, it merely tinged other parts and elsewhere faded fast.”

The scope of these books is so large that there were bound to be gaps: Malta and Gibraltar are barely mentioned, sport and the “games ethic” are ignored, and almost nothing is said about training administrators to do their job. Yet the overall achievement is undeniably impressive. Under the magisterial guidance of Louis (a distinguished American academic whose appointment as editor raised predictable insular howls in the UK), a vast array of of historians has produced a solid monument of contemporary scholarship. Some of the contributions, such as those by E.H.H. Green on political economy and David Fitzpatrick on Ireland’s ambivalence towards the empire are brilliants – subjects that would justify individual volumes distilled into concise and lucid essays.

Naturally there can be neither a common view nor a uniformity of tone among the hundred contributors to these volumes. The assembled historians are certainly not apologists for imperialism but nor, in general, are they too apologetic about it. Several remind us of its humanitarian dimension, and Louis may have confounded his fogeyish detractors with his view that Kipling was “perhaps the greatest poet of the age”. In addition, while appropriate genuflections are made to all those contemporary “studies” (area, gender, cultural and so on), the faddish preoccupation with “discourse” (in its postmodernist and post-colonial contexts) is restricted.

Yet the work has some of the defects as well as most of the merits of current historical writing: too much drab prose, too heavy a reliance on tables and statistics, a sense (especially in Historiography) of colleagues complimenting each other while disparaging their predecessors. Few contributions show real historical imagination: several leave an aroma of seminars and obscure historical quarterlies.

The great historian Richard Cobb used to say that a good deal of French history could be walked, seen and above all heard in cafes or buses or on park benches in Paris and Lyon. But most of the academics in these volumes do not seem to share his view that history is a cultural and creative subject as well as an academic one. However diligent their research may have been, they do not write as if they have ever sat in a Delhi rickshaw or a cafe in Calcutta. Robin J. Moore directs readers to all his own books, but neither he nor any of his colleagues cite a work published in an Indian language.

Yet if these volumes have little feel for the imperial setting and its personal impact, they manage to convey the sheer scope of the enterprise, the scale of the endeavour, the means by which those little dots reddened a quarter of the map. More importantly, they demonstrate the need to study the empire’s history, not in order to glorify or denigrate, but in order to understand the centuries of interaction between the dots and their formal and informal empires.

Perhaps this history, the first to be written since the territorial dismantlement, will mark a new stage not just of reassessment but of acceptance of the empire’s importance, for good and for bad, in the history of our planet. The topic is unfashionable in Britain today – Bristol’s excellent British Empire and Commonwealth Museum has not received a penny of public money – but it might now, thanks to Louis and his collaborators, emerge as something more than a sterile debate between those who regard it as a cause for sniggering and those who see it as a reason to swagger.

Bristol’s Empire and Commonwealth Museum is no more, unfortunately. It packed up and left Bristol for new premises at the Commonwealth Institute in London, where it died the death. I believe its former collection is now housed in the Bristol’s M Shed museum. The Empire is going to be acutely relevant now with the debate over racism, social justice and what history should be taught in schools. There are parts of British imperial history that are indefensible – the conquest of the Caribbean, slavery, the extermination of indigenous Australians, the concentration camps of the Boer War, the Bengal Famine and the massacres in Kenya. Niall Ferguson in a discussion about the British empire on a programme on Radio 4 a few years ago admitted its dark side, but said that it was a benevolent institution, although he qualified this. I think he said something to the effect of ‘just about’. For a short history of the negative side of the British empire – its domination, exploitation and massacre, see John Newsinger’s The Blood Never Dried. But it was also responsible for bring modern, western science, education and medicine to distant parts of the globe.

And it did try to stamp out slavery worldwide, not only where it had established and exploited it, but also indigenous slavery and forms of servitude around the world. That shouldn’t be forgotten either.

Pandemic and the Policy Roots of a Steady State Economy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/07/2020 - 11:30pm in

By James Magnus-Johnston

Over a decade ago, a chorus of voices called for sensible policy priorities for a post-growth transition; it took a pandemic for a few of these priorities—like a universal basic income—to become a reality nearly overnight. Not that recent policy reforms have been conducted with a steady state economy in mind. Rather, politicians have been attempting to “stimulate” a moribund economy.

Let’s imagine for a moment, however, that instead of “keeping the wheels on” and propping up a struggling growth economy in the midst of a pandemic, we intentionally build the better world our hearts know is possible. How do we nurture the roots of a just transition?

As a result of global economic hardship, many jurisdictions have recently instituted ideas that inch us closer to a steady state economy, including cash benefits that resemble a basic income and increased work flexibility. New Zealand has demonstrated to the world how to prioritize wellbeing over GDP. Many other places have begun to tax environmental costs in the form of a carbon tax.

It feels like the transition to a post-growth society may slowly be taking root, but it’s worth considering some of the reasons to be even more intentional about choices going forward.

Limit Inequality to Preserve Social Stability

During the global pandemic, cracks of injustice have been exposed, including racial, financial, and gender disparities. Manifestations of inequality are complex and structural. Fundamentally, however, when people are unable to meet their needs or control their destinies, it’s more likely that political cleavages will be exacerbated.

I recently wrote about warrants for a universal basic income, but wealth inequality remains a concern after a UBI floor is established. Herman Daly writes that by permitting wealth disparities in which the richest earn 500 times more than the poorest, the sense of community necessary to foster a just and democratic society becomes prohibitive. He notes that “rich and poor separated by a factor of 500 have few experiences or interests in common and are increasingly likely to engage in violent conflict.”

Growth is said to improve income inequality because it provides new opportunities for the poorest members of society. However, over the last decade, growth has not been shared equitably and has disproportionately benefited society’s most privileged. Reducing poverty and ensuring social cohesion and stability requires meaningful income redistribution, including a basic income, a minimum employment income, and—perhaps controversially—a maximum income for top earners.

Homelessness and post-growth society

Economic growth benefits the wealthy quite exclusively, further widening the income gap and rending communities. (Image: CC BY-SA 2.0, Credit: Ed Yourdon)

Let’s consider the latter, which will be harder to accomplish. In the USA, where the cracks of injustice have been particularly jagged, corporate America has a 500-factor wealth disparity. Czech argued in Supply Shock (2013, New Society) for launching sectoral salary caps at fifteen times the minimum in-sector salary, noting the popular precedent for salary caps (albeit with gaudy salaries) in professional sports. In Enough Is Enough (2013, Berrett-Koehler), Dietz and O’Neill touted the Mondragon cooperative, in which members earn a maximum pay of nine times the minimum. Even starting at a limit of 100 would be better than the present-day skewness. If a minimum of $20,000 per year was the floor of a basic income, a maximum of $2 million per year would be allowed to reward ambition and initiative. Those who perform their work at a minimum level of income could live simply but with lower levels of stress than many high-paid executives. Many already do, enjoying it and devoting their extra time to public service or recreational subsistence pursuits such as firewood gathering, fishing, and mushroom picking.

Increased Work Flexibility, But with Greater Social Infrastructure

As a result of the pandemic, those with stable employment have found themselves in the midst of a work-routine transition. While full-time employment for all may be hard to provide without growth, it’s also true that growth already provides too much employment for some and not enough for others, particularly those denied opportunity on the basis of race or gender. With greater freedom over their work hours, people can embrace healthier, more balanced, and more life-affirming routines.

Dog and post-growth society

In many sectors, flexible hours and telework put less stress on people and planet.
(Image: CC0, Credit: Allie)

Intergenerationally, baby boomers have high-income jobs and continue accumulating earnings. Some of them are abandoning the rat race, spurred by pandemic fears, but it’s primarily the younger generations experiencing the pros and pitfalls of working less. In addition to a lack of opportunity, youth also face income stagnation, poor employment prospects, high debt loads, and fears that climate change will interfere catastrophically with the economy in their retirement years. It stands to reason that the post-covid welfare state should institutionalize supports for part-time and flexible work routines—starting with an unqualified UBI and universal childcare benefits. In Canada, there are calls to amend the Labour Code so that employees have the right to request a flexible work arrangement from their employers, particularly if they are providing care for loved ones.

The industrialized world’s “40-hour work week” and the “nine-to-five” workday are relatively recent historical inventions that many of us see as the norm rather than variables we have freedom to control. Yet numerous studies have shown that many workers would prefer to spend less time working, while few would prefer to spend more.

There are examples of successful alternatives. Germany’s Kurzabeit job-sharing program, in which 1.4 million workers and 63,000 employers participated in 2009, has lowered unemployment rates while effectively reducing the number of hours worked per person. There are similar success stories in France, the Netherlands, and the U.S. state of Utah.

With greater work flexibility, people are more likely to provide necessary care for loved ones, consume less, and embrace more creative pursuits. All this improves our overall quality of life and takes pressure off the biosphere.

Prioritize Wellbeing Over Income

As we seek to cultivate a new normal in which health is prioritized, New Zealand offers a glimpse of the way forward while the USA lurches toward a health catastrophe. As I mentioned in a recent post, the postwar-capitalist framework equated economic “health” with income growth, price stability, and full employment. The pandemic has revealed how problematic it is to think of “health” as a capitalist metaphor (as in the USA) rather than a desirable end goal (as in New Zealand). Using GDP and stock market values as measures of overall economic health made sense in the postwar era, when growth was necessary to improve human wellbeing by raising material living standards. In much of the Global North, it is now necessary to focus instead on improving wellbeing without growing our material footprint.

The Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WeAll) has suggested that the pandemic’s “Great Pause” provides us with an opportunity to focus on our wellbeing by reminding us that:

(1) The stock market does not represent or reflect our economic reality.

(2) We will enter a recession, and that’s okay.

(3) Economic policies can help us endure the Great Pause.

(4) We can build back better.

Going Forward

Policy ideas that appeared difficult or impossible just a few short months ago have suddenly become palatable and necessary, especially in the ways they may indirectly address pervasive inequality and injustice. Daly wrote in 2013 that such reforms would appear palatable “only after a significant crash, [or] a painful empirical demonstration of the failure of the growth economy.” Well, here we are in the midst of a radical disruption; and here we are, nurturing the roots of a just transition. Whichever way events unfold over the coming years, it’s clear that returning to the pre-pandemic status quo is less realistic and more difficult than embracing the change that’s well underway.

James Magnus-Johnston headshotJames Magnus-Johnston is a PhD researcher at McGill University in the Leadership for the Ecozoic program.

The post Pandemic and the Policy Roots of a Steady State Economy appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

These Unsung Countries Are Vanquishing the Virus

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/05/2020 - 6:00pm in

The coronavirus crisis has held up an X-ray to the nations of the world, revealing the strengths and flaws in each of their systems, often with startling clarity. 

It has exposed structural weaknesses in the United States, with tens of thousands of daily new cases. It has laid bare unusual quirks in others, like Japan, where an analog work culture complicates lockdown efforts. Then there are the news-making superheroes — the Germanys, the South Koreas — that the world has looked to for evidence that the pandemic can be tamed.

But for every splashy success story, there’s another country that is quietly, competently staging a highly effective response. Here are five with lessons to teach.


The Finnish word sisu, meaning grit in the face of adversity, speaks to how Finland has tackled the virus.

Test, trace, isolate and treat,” has been Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s mantra for months, and Finland has done an exceptional job in this respect. Its ban on gatherings of more than two people was stricter than most of its neighbors. In early April, it became one of the first countries in Europe to roll out randomized antibody testing. 

Restaurants across Helsinki were empty in late March. Credit: Irmeli Hasanen / Flickr

These measures appear to have been effective — Finland has recorded only 304 coronavirus deaths, tying it with Norway for the lowest number of “deaths above normal” in an analysis of 14 European countries. In fact, Finland’s coronavirus death rate is so low that, from a statistical perspective, it doesn’t even register as having pushed the country’s total mortality rate higher than it normally would be.

One quirk to emerge from Finland’s success has been a distinctly Finnish predilection: the meticulous, almost obsessive habit of preparing for a worst-case scenario.

“It is in the Finnish people’s DNA to be prepared,” the director of Finland’s National Emergency Supply Agency told the Times. The agency oversees Finland’s vast national stockpile of survival goods: oils and grains, agricultural machinery, ammunition and, yes, medical equipment. 

Scandinavian countries created such stockpiles when the Soviet Union represented a threat. But while the others let theirs run dry, Finland continued to maintain its reserves. 

This served Finland well a couple of months ago, when several of its neighbors were swept up in the frantic search for equipment like surgical masks and ventilators. Sweden, at one point, tried to obtain masks it was holding in a French storage facility; French authorities, citing France’s ban on exporting medical equipment, blocked the shipment, sparking a diplomatic kerfuffle. 

Finland has largely avoided these scrums. In early April, when a letter from the EU’s commissioner of health listed nearly a dozen European countries that were already running out of medicines, Finland wasn’t on the list.


When the virus spread beyond China, Croatia began testing people almost immediately, and continued to do so for weeks before a single case was found in the country. “For 27 days, we tested and there were no patients,” said Dr. Alemka Markotic, director of the Clinic for Infectious Diseases in Zagreb, according to the Dubrovnik Times.

This rigorous response came to define Croatia’s approach. In early April, an Oxford University analysis of different countries’ mitigation efforts found that “Croatia is one of the most stringent countries when it comes to Covid-19 virus protection.” Oxford’s index looked at 17 indicators of government response — everything from lockdown rules to economic aid to ramping up public health measures. Cumulatively, Croatia scored 100 out of 100.

croatiaMedical supplies from the EU’s stockpile are delivered in Croatia. Credit: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid

Its coordinated efforts were made easier due to Croatia’s refusal to politicize its response. Early in the epidemic, the prime minister and the president — who are from opposing parties — deferred decision-making to the Civil Protection Directorate, the agency tasked with managing Croatia’s response to national emergencies.

“The leading politicians in the country basically lifted their hands and said we will leave it to the experts, whatever they advise is the law,” wrote the Dubrovnik Times. “No mixed messages, no campaign rallying, just a clear and unified message from people whose job it is to do this.”

Croatia’s efforts have been effective. Only 96 people there have died of the coronavirus thus far, one of the lowest death rates in Europe.

New Zealand

A year ago, New Zealand was hailed for its extraordinary response to a mass shooting. Now, the country’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak is earning it plaudits again.

Its lockdown was organized into four levels: prepare, reduce, restrict, lockdown. The highest of these was unusually stringent, more on par with China’s than most Western countries. At its highest level, only supermarkets and pharmacies were allowed to open — no takeaway meals from restaurants — and even solitary activities like hunting and surfing were banned to prevent injuries that might require hospitalization.

New Zealand kept its lockdown at level four for a month, driving new cases down to single digits for seven days in a row. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the monthlong lockdown as “the strictest constraints placed on New Zealanders in modern history.” The goal? Total elimination of the virus, an endgame few other countries are attempting. 

new zealandToko Mouth, New Zealand, where beaches have been closed amid strict lockdown measures. Credit: Vince O’Sullivan / Flickr

It’s hard to argue with success. On May 9, the Lancet reported that New Zealand had effectively eliminated the virus. The country is currently at lockdown level two, and will stay there until it has gone 28 days without a new reported case. Once that happens, New Zealand plans to prevent new cases with strict border controls, widespread testing and contact tracing.

The country has had only 21 coronavirus deaths, but the economy was hit hard by the stringent measures, and is expected to contract by 20 percent between May and August. This week, Ardern suggested that businesses adopt a four-day work week to allow employees to travel, which could help uplift New Zealand’s tourism sector. 

“The question for me is, how do we encourage Kiwis to… get out and about and visit some of the amazing places and tourism offerings that we have,” Ardern said on Facebook Live from her car after visiting the Rotorua region, a tourism hotspot. 


Way back, on January 14, when China had only recorded 59 cases, two Chinese nationals from Wuhan arrived in Da Nang, Vietnam — both running a fever. But Vietnam, scared straight after having lived through the SARS epidemic, had already started conducting temperature checks at all of its airports. The pair from Wuhan was immediately isolated.

“[Vietnam] very, very quickly acted in ways which seemed to be quite extreme at the time but were subsequently shown to be rather sensible,” infectious disease expert Guy Thwaites told the BBC. Even before the first cases were confirmed there, Vietnam’s deputy prime minister ordered “drastic measures,” including quarantining travelers at border crossings and stockpiling medical equipment. 

vietnamTan Son Naht International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City was nearly empty on May 19. Credit: Ryan Atkins / Flickr

By mid-March, every arrival from another country was being sent to a quarantine center for 14 days. Small cities have been sealed off when clusters were found there, restricting the movements of thousands. The moves were draconian, but some researchers say that’s what it takes to contain the virus. “The only thing you can do to control it is what Vietnam did,” said Dr. Thwaites. “Unless you were locking those people up they would just be wandering around spreading the infection.”

Even by East Asia’s impressive standards, Vietnam has performed exceptionally well. So far, it has reported only 324 cases, and incredibly, zero deaths.


Canada has lost over 6,000 people to the coronavirus — a tragic toll, though only about half America’s fatality rate. (Canada’s top public health official warned last week that the country’s shared border with the U.S. presents “a risk to Canada.“)

But it is Canada’s decisive political and economic response that really shines. Take Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, two leaders from very different sides of the aisle (Americans: think Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump) who have put aside politics to mount an effective response.

canadaOne neighbor shares cookies with another from a safe distance in Ontario. Credit: Francis Mariani / Flickr

This sense of unity has helped streamline the country’s economic rescue measures. To ensure that relief reached citizens as quickly as possible, Canada created a system that trusts people not to abuse it. The Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) lets Canadians themselves determine whether they’re eligible — once the government has the bandwidth again, they’ll go back and check retroactively. “It’s so easy I thought it was fake,” one user told the National Post. The government admitted that disbursing relief on the honor system would lead to some people getting money who shouldn’t have, but decided the speed made it worth it.

Meanwhile, businesses that apply for government loans must agree to publish annual “climate disclosure reports” that will make their impact on the climate more transparent. Businesses can also get up to 75 percent of the employees’ wages covered through the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), a measure intended to keep unemployment from soaring. So far, it seems to be working. Economists had projected an unemployment rate of 18 percent, but by the beginning of May it was 13 percent — “considerably less than expected, and massively smaller than the 10.3 percentage point spike in the U.S. jobless rate,” according to one analysis.

The post These Unsung Countries Are Vanquishing the Virus appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Racist and Biased Equalities and Human Rights Commission Drops Tory Islamophobia Investigation

Here’s another revolting development, as it would be described by Marvel Comics’ ever-lovin’, blue-eyed Thing, the idol o’ millions and butt of the Yancey Street gangs’ pranks. On Tuesday Mike reported that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission had decided not to go ahead with an investigation into islamophobia in the Tory party. It considered that this would not be ‘proportionate’ after seeing the Tories’ own plans and terms of reference for its own investigation, which included specific reference to islamophobia.

The Muslim Council of Britain declared that these terms were a ‘facade’ and that the investigation was too narrow compared to Labour’s Chakrabarti investigation into anti-Semitism. They went on to say that the investigation would hide the hundreds of incidents of bigotry in the Tory party, which they had uncovered.

Mike in his article makes the very valid point that it doesn’t matter what the EHRC says about ant-Semitism in the Labour party. It has shown it cannot treat the two parties equally. Indeed, BoJob’s own behaviour provides a prima facie case for investigation. Mike concludes

If the EHRC can’t see that, then no decision it makes about the Labour Party can have any weight at all.

I recommend that it be disbanded and replaced by an organisation staffed by people who can do the job properly.

Equalities watchdog undermines itself by refusing to examine Tory Islamophobia

Of course, Mike’s right. There’s Johnson’s wretched book 72 Virgins, a wish-fulfillment fantasy if ever there was one, about a bike-riding Prime Minister foiling an evil Islamist plot to bomb parliament. This also included racist comments about other ethnic groups as well, including a Black character, who is described as a stupid coon, and a shady Jewish businessman who makes his money by exploiting migrant workers. This nasty anti-Semitic stereotype was accompanied by the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory about the Jews controlling the media. And then, of course, there’s Johnson’s vile newspaper column in which he compared women in burqas to bin bags and letter boxes. Despite all the bluster about how he was merely being un-PC and it was an act of free speech, nothing more, Johnson’s rhetoric did lead to a spike in islamophobic assaults, especially against women clad in that way.

Zelo Street and other left-wing bloggers have also put up articles about the numerous supporters of BoJob and Rees-Mogg revealed by the internet activist Jacobsmates, who posted viciously islamophobic and anti-Semitic comments on Twitter. Like the various Conservative politicos Mike and Zelo Street also reported were suspended by the Tories for their islamophobic conduct. In their posts they had declared that Sadiq Khan and other Muslim and ethnic minority politicos, like Diane Abbott, should be killed, ranted about how Muslims were plotting to destroy the country and were responsible for rape and terrorism and supported the old anti-Semitic conspiracy libel that Muslims and non-White immigrants were being imported into Europe and the West by the Jews with the intention of destroying the White race.

And the Equalities and Human Rights Commission is grossly disproportionate itself in the importance it gives to the allegations of anti-Semitism in Labour on the one hand and islamophobia in the Tories in another.

The reality is that there was far less anti-Semitism in Labour under Jeremy Corbyn than in wider British society, and that the vast majority of it comes from the right, and especially the far right. What those screaming about Labour anti-Semitism really objected to was anti-Zionism and support for the Palestinians. This is why Corbyn was viciously denounced as an anti-Semite for attending a speech by a Holocaust survivor, who compared Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians to the Nazis’ persecution of himself and other Jews, while the same witch-hunters had nothing to say about Tweezer and Rachel Reeve singing the praises of Nancy Astor, a real anti-Semite and supporter of Hitler. Part of the motivation for the anti-Semitism smears against Labour was pure partisanship. It was a convenient stick for the Tory establishment, including the Thatcherites within the Labour party, to beat Corbyn and try to oust him or prevent the party from ever coming to power. It didn’t matter whether they were true or not. And western geopolitical interests were involved. Israel is one of the pillars of British Middle Eastern policy, along with Saudi Arabia. Tony Greenstein among other bloggers and activists has put up a number of quotes from British officials showing that it always was regarded as a centre of western influence in the region from the days of the British Mandate in Palestine, comparable to Ulster in Ireland.

The anti-Semitism smears had nothing to do with real anti-Jewish hatred. It was purely about defending Israel and preventing a genuine the formation of a socialist, genuinely Labour government.

The EHRC’s decision not to investigate Tory islamophobia may also be connected to the anti-Muslim prejudices of its leader, Trevor Philips. He is, or was, a member of the Labour party, but was suspended a little while ago by General Secretary Jennie Formby for islamophobia. He had accused Muslims of forming a ‘nation within a nation’ and stated that the members of the Asian grooming gangs, who abused White girls, committed their horrendous crimes because ‘Muslims see the world differently’. He seems to regard Muslims as fundamentally different and Other to the rest of British society, stating that they ‘are not like us’. He also chaired a Tory conference on ‘Challenging Islamophobia’, in which he and several of the others attending even blamed Muslims themselves for the terrorist attacks on the mosques in New Zealand and Finsbury Park. They were, Phillips and the others declared, a natural response to Muslim terrorism. In 2006 Ken Livingstone, then mayor of the London Assembly, accused Phillips, who was chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, as the EHRC then was, of pandering to the right and turning it into a huge press department while at the same time winding down its legal work. Six of the EHRC’s commissioners also resigned in protest at Phillips’ leadership. Phillips has also presented programmes for Channel 4 which accused Blacks of being far more inclined towards criminality than Whites, and that a significant number of British Muslims had terrorist sympathies among other accusations. Both of these were misleading. In fact, the number of British Muslims, who had terrorist sympathies was s1-3 per cent, rather than the nearly quarter that has been claimed.

Tony Greenstein has put up a long piece including several other articles, which extensively discusses Phillips’ islamophobia  and shabby career and critiques and demolishes the two programmes he presented. Greenstein states that when he was active in student politics in the 1970s, he came across Phillips politically. It struck him then that Phillips really had nothing to say about racism, and was only using the fact of his colour for political advancement.


And its very noticeable that, as Greenstein describes in the above article, Phillips has received glowing support from a series of notorious racists and islamophobes like Tommy Robinson. Phillips is also another Labour rightist, who has weaponised the anti-Semitism smears for his own benefit. When he was suspended for islamophobia, he claimed that it was really because he had spoken out about Labour anti-Semitism. Which is purest twaddle.

With someone creditably accused of islamophobia himself in charge of the EHRC, it’s not surprising that it has decided not to pursue anti-Muslim prejudice in the Tories.

And this sorry episode also illustrates another point Quentin Letts has made about race relations in this country. In his book, Bog-Standard Britain, the Tory journo argued that there was a racial hierarchy of power and influence amongst ethnic and other minorities. Jews were at, or near the top. Blacks and Muslims were much lower down. I think Muslims may well have been at the bottom.

There’s much truth in this, as Sayeeda Warsi herself has complained that people are able to say things about Muslims with impunity, for which they would be immediately attacked if they said them about Jews.

Tony’s article also reports that Richard Littlejohn, another scummy right-wing hack, has even claimed that Phillips only agreed to chair the EHRC in order to close it down.

Perhaps this would now be the right action to take. Mike’s right in that at present it seems utterly unfit for purpose.

Shaw on Imperialism: Exploitation Abroad, Poverty and Unemployment at Home

As I may have already said, I’ve been reading George Bernard Shaw’s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism. It’s a brilliant book, in which the great Fabian playwright attacks and exposes the contradictions, flaws, poverty and inequality in capitalism and argues for a gradual, socialist transformation of society through nationalisation and the equalisation of incomes. Although it was written between 1924 and 1928 some of the topics Shaw covers are still acutely relevant. He argues for the nationalisation of the banks because private bankers have caused massive financial problems and concentrate so much on big business that small businessmen and women suffer through lack of funds. He also shows how the extremely wealthy should have their incomes reduced, because instead of doing anything genuinely productive with their money they simply hoard it. And that means sending it overseas. This is an acute problem now, with the super-rich hoarding their money unspent in offshore tax havens, instead of properly paying their fair share to build up the country’s health service and infrastructure.

Shaw is also acutely critical of imperialism for the same reason. He is not against imperialism per se. Indeed, he states that it would be admirable if we really had taken over the different lands of the empire for the benefit of the indigenous peoples. But we hadn’t. We’d taken them over purely for the enrichment of the capitalists through the exploitation of their non-White inhabitants.

The process, according to Shaw, began with the arrival of a single British trading ship. This was fine on its own, but others also arrived. Soon a trading post was set up, and then the merchants behind the trade demanded the entire country’s annexation. Capitalism preferred to fund socially destructive enterprises, like gin, rather than the socially useful, like lighthouses, which had to be set up and managed by the government. The market for gin had been saturated, and so the capitalists had proceeded to look abroad for more profits for the gin trade. And once a country was conquered and incorporated into the empire, its Black inhabitants were forced into commercial labour unprotected by legislation, like the Factory Acts, that protected British workers.

These overworked, underpaid, exploited colonial workers were able to produce goods that undercut those of domestic, British manufacturers. As a result, British businesses were going bankrupt and British workers laid off, except for those in the service industries for the extremely wealthy. The great mill and factory towns of the north and midlands were declining in favour of places for the genteel rich, like Bournemouth.

Ordinary working people couldn’t starve, as the capitalist class had grudgingly allowed the establishment of the dole following the mass unemployment that followed the First World War. But there weren’t any jobs for them. This was why the British government was encouraging them to emigrate, promising to pay £12 of the £15 fare to Australia if the worker would provide £3 him- or herself.

Now Shaw’s description of the foundation and expansion of the empire is obviously over-simplified, but nevertheless contains more than a grain of truth. Both Fiji and New Zealand were annexed because they had suffered an influx of White settlers through trading ships. The people arguing for their annexation, however, did so because they were opposed to the indigenous peoples’ exploitation. The White settlers in Fiji were aiming to set up a government for Whites with an indigenous king, Cakobau, as puppet ruler to give it a spurious legitimacy. More enlightened colonists therefore persuaded Cadobau and his government to approach Britain and ask for annexation in order to prevent the dispossession and enslavement of indigenous Fijians. In New Zealand the request for annexation was made by Christian ministers, who were afraid that the country would be conquered for Roman Catholicism by France on the one hand, and that the whalers and other traders who had already settled there would destroy and exploit the Maoris through alcohol, prostitution and guns.

And the enslavement and exploitation of the indigenous peoples certainly occurred. Apart from enslavement and dispossession of the Amerindians and then Black Africans in the first phase of British imperialism from the 17th century to the end of the 18th, when the British empire expanded again from the early 19th century onward, it frequently did so under the pretext of destroying the slave trade. However, once we were in possession of those territories, indigenous slavery was frequently tolerated. Moreover, British colonists often used forced labour to build up their plantations and businesses. This occurred around about the time Shaw was writing in Malawi. When slavery was outlawed in the British empire in 1837, the planters replaced it with nominally free indentured Indian labourers, who were worked in conditions so atrocious in the notorious ‘coolie trade’ that it was denounced as ‘a new system of slavery’.

The British government had also been encouraging its poor and unemployed to emigrate to its colonies as well as the US in what historians call social imperialism from about the 1870s onwards.

Reading this passage, however, it struck me that the situation has changed somewhat in the last 90 or so years. Britain is no longer exporting its surplus labour. All the countries around the world now have strict policies regarding emigration, and the developed, White majority countries of Canada, New Zealand and Australia are busy taking in migrants from the developing world, like Britain and the rest of the West.

But the super rich have found a way to surreptitiously go back on their early policy of providing welfare benefits for the unemployed. Through the wretched welfare reforms introduced by Iain Duncan Smith and other Tory scumbags, they’ve torn holes in the welfare safety net with benefit sanctions, fitness to work tests and a five week waiting period. The result is that the unemployed and disabled are starving to death. And those that aren’t are frequently prevented from doing so only through food banks and private charity. This has been changed somewhat with the expansion of welfare payments for workers on furlough and food packages for the vulnerable during the lockdown, but this is intended only to be a temporary measure.

I can remember when globalisation first began in the 1990s. It was supposed to lead to a new era of peace and prosperity as capital moved from country to country to invest in businesses across the globe. But the result for Britain has been mass unemployment. And while developing nations like India have massively profited, it has been at the expense of their own working people, who are now labouring for lower pay and in worse conditions than ever.

The empire has gone to be replaced by the commonwealth. But what Shaw said about it and the exploitation and poverty it caused is true of today’s neoliberal global economy.

Except instead of encouraging emigration, the Tories and the rich have found ways to starve to death Britain’s surplus workers.

New Zealand Deprioritizes Growth to Improve Health and Wellbeing

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/05/2020 - 11:00pm in

By James Magnus-Johnston

Last May, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern released a budget to improve the “wellbeing” of citizens rather than focusing on productivity and GDP growth. And, not so coincidentally, New Zealand has one of the best coronavirus outcomes of any democracy in the world. Perhaps this provides a global model to make economic health cohere with health for all life.

Jacinda Ardern

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has deprioritized GDP growth in favor of improving wellbeing, and her personal approval rating is 65 percent. (Image: CC BY 4.0, Credit: Ministry of Justice of New Zealand)

To improve wellbeing, Ardern emphasized goals that focus on care for people and the planet. Goals included community and cultural connection as well as intergenerational equity. Under the policy, new spending had to focus on one of five priorities: improving mental health, reducing child poverty, addressing inequalities of indigenous peoples, thriving in a digital age, and transitioning to a low-emission economy.

While New Zealand isn’t the only country to float the idea of wellbeing over income, it is the first country to make it a reality. Guided by this philosophy, New Zealand is not in a rush to open its economy even as the headlines of a “stock market crash” or a “recession worse than 2008-09” appear in newspapers across the globe. Is Ardern’s example wise? Can we build upon it to further improve life after COVID?

Health and the Economy

In the postwar-capitalist framework, economic “health” became equated to income growth, price stability, and full employment. There are increasingly serious pitfalls to thinking of “health” as a capitalist metaphor rather than a desirable end goal. Using GDP and stock market values as measures of overall economic health made sense in the postwar era, when growth was necessary to improve human wellbeing by raising material living standards. In much of the Global North, it is now necessary to focus instead on improving wellbeing without growing our material footprint. Ardern gestures at this by focusing on mental health, inequality, and poverty, without emphasizing income.

By the postwar logic, human health and wellbeing can be upheld when there is enough money to purchase and provide care. After all, supplies and infrastructure need to be paid for. But as the American and British pandemic strategies have demonstrated, a growing economy in which GDP (or “opening the economy”) is prioritized over general wellbeing doesn’t always improve health outcomes. The USA has one of the highest COVID death rates in the world, and the US infection rate is rising as states open up. Experts on public health and leadership, like those writing in the Harvard Business Review, suggest that New Zealand’s Ardern provides a system that prioritizes maintaining and improving public health that global leaders should follow.

We can also think of health in the broader sense, i.e., health for nonhuman life. The economy is a trophic system, which means that economic health requires the consumption (i.e., death) of nonhuman life. And presently, growth is occurring on a scale that is unsustainable. Here, too, Ardern doesn’t suggest a transition to degrowth, but she does emphasize the need for a low-emission economy. Her movement away from GDP growth as a metric of economic “health” does provide an opportunity to make economic health cohere with the idea of ecological health: sustaining the power and vitality that supports all life.

One of the other tangible ways in which some have experienced a positive impact to their wellbeing during the pandemic is a temporary reprieve from productivist pressures and workplace stress. As I mentioned in a previous article, the term “capitalism” refers to Max Weber’s “modern Kultur” centering around a code of values for the 20th-century West. In this new economy, the highest virtue became “the making of money and ever more money, without any limit.” Growth-as-prosperity requires a certain level of constant busyness to prop up the outputs for mass consumption and technological improvement rather than human warmth and connection.

As a result of the pandemic, many of us have gained clarity about the things we value most, such as food, health, income security, education, mobility, access to nature, social connection, and public services. An economy designed for wellbeing can prioritize these tangible things rather than assuming that income will deliver them.

How Can We Build on Arden’s Success?

As we seek to cultivate a new normal in which health is prioritized, perhaps New Zealand offers a glimpse of the way forward. The Wellbeing Economy Alliance published a piece by Amanda Janoo and Gemma Bone Dodds that suggests that the COVID-caused “Great Pause,” as it were, provides an opportunity to improve our focus on wellbeing. They provide an argument in four parts: (1) The stock market is not a reflection of our economic reality; (2) We will enter a recession, and that’s okay; (3) Economic policies for a Great Pause; and (4) Building back better.

Basic needs

The pandemic has revealed how important it is for basic needs to be met through redistributive cash benefits. (Image: CC0, Credit: Mick Haupt)

With respect to the first two, Janoo and Bone Dodds argue that the stock market can’t possibly predict the future because the future will look starkly different from the past. As a result, trades merely reflect anxiety rather than future prosperity. Secondly, while policymakers are presently fearing a recession—a fall in GDP for two consecutive quarters—inevitably the economy will contract to ensure our collective wellbeing. As they point out, just because the economy contracts, that doesn’t mean our basic needs can’t be met. If anything, this situation has revealed that basic needs might be better met by providing cash benefits (or a universal basic income) where income is redistributed to preserve social solidarity and care. The economy won’t disappear, it will just focus on providing basic needs first. Particularly the ones that our free market sometimes fails to provide for a large part of society.

And to “build back better,” we could examine Ardern’s model and take it one small step further. To focus on health and wellbeing, economic policies should ensure basic needs are met through redistributive mechanisms without trying to balance budgets through austerity measures. Philosophically, this is an opportunity to consider how to live full and meaningful lives without unnecessary excesses. Janoo and Bone Dodds also note that during this time we’ve witnessed how many of our most precarious and poorly-paid workers, including “healthcare workers, farmers, grocery clerks, delivery drivers, and caregivers,” are in fact the most critical for our collective wellbeing.

An economy focused on improving wellbeing is not a distant theoretical idea. The postwar social welfare system helped raise material living standards by improving incomes. But in the 21st century, we have new social and ecological constraints. Ardern has provided a model for the world to refocus on health and wellbeing, and the global pandemic reveals how wise this strategy truly is.

James Magnus-Johnston headshotJames Magnus-Johnston is a PhD researcher at McGill University in the Leadership for the Ecozoic program.

The post New Zealand Deprioritizes Growth to Improve Health and Wellbeing appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

World’s Super Rich Buying Pandemic Escape Mansions in New Zealand

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/05/2020 - 2:45am in

Instead of paying $24,000 for a haircut or spending $120,000 on a banana duct taped to a wall, the world’s super wealthy have found a new commodity to purchase: pandemic bunkers in New Zealand. A number of the planet’s richest people, including billionaire co-founder of Paypal Peter Thiel, have, amidst a growing global pandemic, escaped to the country and bought luxury bunkers designed to withstand even nuclear explosions. LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman describes the practice as “apocalypse insurance.”

Isolated in the far “corner” of the Southern Hemisphere, more than 1,000 miles from Australia, the sparsely populated island country has long been a destination of choice for those worried about the potential of a catastrophic event, like a war, nuclear attack, or an uprising. The country’s temperate climate and remarkably stable society make it a particularly safe choice in the event of such an occurrence.

The country has been among the least affected by the deadly coronavirus, logging fewer than 1,500 cases and only 21 deaths. The government of Jacinta Arden initiated extensive lockdown measures even before the pandemic had truly hit her nation, and has been widely praised as one of the most capable responses in the world. Like the U.S., New Zealand is in the process of re-opening, but unlike the U.S., the virus has been almost eliminated. From a high of 146 new cases on March 28, the total number of new infections for the previous week was in single digits. Prime Minister Arden declared the country was already “halfway down Mount Everest” last week. In contrast, there have now been around 1.4 million confirmed positive American cases, with over 80,000 deaths.

Although the government of New Zealand has passed laws meant to disincentivize the foreign buying of domestic properties, the practice continues. The new range of luxury private bunkers are dug deep underground in the countryside and are covered with earth, the point being that even neighbors will have no idea that they are there, let alone the general public. Prices tend to start around $2 million and can reach up to $11 million for units that include luxury bathrooms, gun ranges, and swimming pools. All feature large water tanks and air filtration systems intended to block out even the most harmful of radioactive particles. Thiel himself chose instead to buy a bizarre-looking, $4.7 million home replete with a secure panic room. Other Silicon Valley executives are renting luxury condominiums at a fraction of the price they pay in San Francisco, all while working from home.

For those without the budget of the super wealthy, Vivos, an American company, is developing a 5,000 person shelter network on a former military base in South Dakota, with prices starting at $35,000 plus an additional 99-year land lease costing $1,000 per year. Their tagline is “affordable bunkers to survive the apocalypse.” Today, a handful of billionaires who control more wealth than the bottom half of humanity combined could easily fit inside even the smallest of the shelters on offer.

Global inequality continues to rise year on year, to the point where the top one percent now hold significantly more wealth than the bottom 99 percent. Mark Blyth, an economist at Brown University, has long told the world’s super rich that they simply cannot continue holding this level of wealth indefinitely. Referencing the ultra-wealthy area of Long Island, he said, “The Hamptons is not a defensible position. It’s a low-lying beach. Eventually people will come for you.”

It appears that the billionaire class, rather than giving away some of its wealth, is attempting to find a technological fix to this problem. “Obviously the coronavirus is making people realize how vulnerable we all are, but what people are really concerned about is the aftermath,” said Vivos’ founder, “They don’t want to have to defend their homes when the gangs of looters or marauders show up.”

As of Monday, the current worldwide total of confirmed COVID-19 infections stands at 4.22 million, of which 284,834 have died.

Feature photo | Atlas Survival Shelters owner Ron Hubbard shows a shelter made of galvanized corrugated pipe at his plant in Montebello, Calif. Damian Dovarganes | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post World’s Super Rich Buying Pandemic Escape Mansions in New Zealand appeared first on MintPress News.

Airline Creates ‘Gividends’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 23/09/2015 - 10:45am in

Think Carefully Before Importing Kiwi Welfare Model

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/03/2015 - 10:46am in