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Steering Away from a Car-Centric Society

by Mai Nguyen

Two lanes of car traffic in a city street.

Our car-centric society is in a jam. (CC BY 2.0, Oran Viriyincy)

Learning to drive scared me as a teenager. There was something terrifying about controlling a two-ton hunk of metal, and my drivers’ education teacher didn’t help by showing a graphic slideshow of injuries we could expect from a brutal car accident. This didn’t bother me much once I moved to the city; with buses, the metro, and bike or scooter shares, there are plenty of other ways to get around. However, you’ll be hard-pressed to find these same options outside the city.

Cars are ubiquitous in the USA, with 286.9 million registered vehicles on the streets in 2020. That’s almost 300 million gas tanks to fill. The EPA reported that the transportation sector accounted for 29 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. Now, coming out (we hope) of the COVID pandemic, we’re seeing more traffic again with attendant emissions.

Some people are eagerly replacing their gas-powered cars with new, “green” electric vehicles. The intentions are a good sign, but we can’t “get sustainable” simply by exchanging some of the energy we consume.

How Bad Are Cars?

Cars are massive machines that require heaps of resources, from building the vehicles to fueling them for the road. The average vehicle requires 900kg of steel and 39 different plastics and polymers. A single tire requires about seven gallons of oil for its production. The aluminum content per vehicle is also steadily increasing, projected to reach 505 lbs in 2025.

Manufacturing is also immensely energy-intensive and complex. Stages of car manufacturing include extracting ores, transporting raw materials and components from around the world, and assembling the vehicle. Though each of these steps emit plenty of CO2, it can be difficult to put an exact figure on car-production emissions. Carbon footprint researcher Mike Berners-Lee breaks it down in How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything, finding that the carbon footprint of manufacturing a car ranges from 6–35 metric tons.

And the environmental cost doesn’t stop there. It’s no secret that fuel consumption contributes to air pollution, but a 2018 study found that, globally, passenger road travel accounted for 45.1 percent of global CO2 emissions, or nearly six times as much as passenger air travel (8.1 percent). Americans used a grand total of 123 billion gallons of motor gasoline in 2020, corresponding with 56 percent of transportation sector emissions.

It’s Electric!

The ubiquity of gas-guzzling personal vehicles can’t be a part of a sustainable future. For some, the solution seems obvious: electrify vehicles to remove the problems that come from gas-power. Tesla kicked off its precedent-setting electric vehicle (EV) line in 2008, and today car companies like General Motors and Honda are edging into the competition. (Ironically, GM could’ve led the EV revolution as early as the 90s with their wildly popular EV1 if they hadn’t killed the model for profiting less than their gas-guzzling counterparts.)

Image of a fancy electric vehicle parked in a spot that reads "Electric Vehicles Only."

Are EVs driving us to a sustainable future, or are they another guise for green growth? (CC BY 2.0, marcoverch)

EV innovations do, in fact, look promising. Though not exactly carbon-neutral, EVs emit significantly less emissions than gas-powered cars, and they can handle just as much daily travel. EVs don’t run on empty, though. Depending on how your local power is generated, charging EVs can produce carbon emissions, and a worldwide shift to EVs would only exacerbate the global power demand. While it is generally accepted that emissions over the lifetime of an EV may be lower than a gas-powered car, the construction of EVs emits substantially more than the construction of traditional internal combustion vehicles. Specifically, a 2017 study found that the manufacturing of parts and assembly of EVs resulted in approximately 37 percent more emissions per vehicle than that of combustion vehicles.

Even though EV sales are picking up fast, we can’t bank on them and other “green” alternatives to solve limits to growth without a plan to fully transition away from fossil fuels and reduce consumption. Take the trendy plant-based alternatives filling shelves at grocery stores, for instance. Despite its massive carbon footprint, the U.S. meat market still dominates its plant-based competitors by almost $160 billion, and we’re simply “gifted” with more choices when we shop. The development of eBooks was similarly predicted to overhaul the publishing industry, but print books still outsell eBooks four-to-one.

Even if we all switched to EVs, we’d be exploiting yet another fuel source: lithium, the rechargeable battery’s key material. In 2021, global extraction of lithium was about 100,000 metric tons, about a 20 percent jump from 2020 levels. A worldwide switch to EVs would entail a 500-fold expansion of EV-battery manufacturing capacity. With the new mining boom, lithium and precious metal mining will simply replace (some) oil extraction.

The environment around South American deposits would be hit especially hard, bringing perils like wind drift of toxic chemical residue from the mines. This not only endangers the ecosystems along the Andes mountains—where the continent’s largest deposit is located—but threatens the livelihoods of farmers.

Chasing Us off the Streets

The problem with cars extends beyond their immediate environmental impact. We must examine why we find it so difficult to rid ourselves of them. Today’s suburban sprawl and congested highways didn’t come as a result of innovation for the masses; it’s more like the aftermath of an auto-industry takeover. Roads were once public spaces made for the people. Pedestrians freely crossed roadways without designated walkways and children played in the open space, while streetcars and railways catered to commuters and travelers.

Robert S. Kretshmar, Executive Secretary of AAA's Massachusetts Division; Commissioner Thomas F. Carty, Boston Traffic Department; and Mayor John F. Collins celebrate jaywalking legislation by Boston City Archives

Robert S. Kretshmar (Executive Secretary of AAA’s Massachusetts Division), Commissioner Thomas F. Carty (Boston Traffic Department), and Mayor John F. Collins celebrate jaywalking legislation. (CC BY 2.0, Boston City Archives)

It all changed with the mass production of cars in the 1910s. Over the next two decades the public was outraged at the rise of car-related fatalities, most of which involved children. A battle for the roads ensued between the masses and the auto industry. Unfortunately for the masses, car companies held sway.

A 1923 Cincinnati ordinance was proposed to limit auto speeds to 25 mph, but car companies killed the proposal—despite the 42,000 petitioners backing the plan—with a racist ad campaign mocking the city and rousing car owners. Other methods to overpower pedestrians included a slew of anti-pedestrian laws, indoctrinating children to stay out of the streets, and shaming jaywalkers.

The campaign for cars cuffed another rival, too: urban railways. Public transit has always been a key connector between low-income communities and thriving cities. It remains a major aspect of social mobility. But in the 1920s, car drivers were allowed over streetcar tracks, disrupting routes and making it nearly impossible for efficient streetcar operations. This drove transit passengers to purchase personal vehicles, further crowding the roads.

GM and other auto and fossil fuel companies bought up railways spanning 46 transit networks, only to dismantle them immediately. And while this isn’t the only reason why trolleys have fallen from grace in the USA, trolley companies were convicted of monopoly in 1949.

With the road cleared of obstacles, the auto industry set out to sell more cars. With the help of designer Norman Bel Geddes, GM debuted Futurama, a diorama portraying a car-centric future dreamed up by the company, at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 and introduced millions of visitors to something closely resembling today’s America. GM proposed a future centered around the convenience of the personal vehicle, complete with a massive interstate freeway system, suburban sprawl, and the extinction of public transportation.

The masses were sold on a car-centric America, and in 1956 President Eisenhower, with the help of Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson (who also happened to be GM’s president), leveled entire city neighborhoods to make room for highways. Minorities and low-income families comprised an overwhelming cohort of these communities, and they’ve been hit hardest by the environmental effects of “urban renewal” and the widened divide from their wealthy suburban counterparts.

Our Future Without a Map

Transportation in a car-centric society is far from sustainable or equitable. Gas-powered cars have a history of ravaging communities, and the growth of EVs won’t take us the distance. But we still need to get around, so what can we do?

Auto and fossil fuel industries fought hard in the past for political influence, but we can still take back our future. We are not fated to bumper-to-bumper traffic for the rest of our lives, and we can recenter our cities and towns around the people.

Image of several bikers riding through carless streets, with three women standing nearby a store as they pass.

In a steady state economy, communities are walkable, bikeable, and personable. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, UrbanGrammar)

One thing we can do is improve public transit. Access to public transportation is the key to an equitable future, but the system is in constant danger of underfunding. U.S. rail systems are far behind places like Japan, where trains are so convenient that car ownership is on the decline. Japan’s car ownership hit a low of 0.96 vehicles per household this year, while U.S. numbers have been creeping past three per household.

Fortunately, U.S. cities like Los Angeles and Indianapolis are upgrading their public transportation. Los Angeles has spent five years and $80 million on infrastructural changes to put the first electric metro bus line on the road. Meanwhile, Indianapolis is being transformed by the expansive Red Line electric bus system. These cities have shown us that commuters will jump at the chance to use public transit over personal vehicles.

Not only do our communities need access to better public transportation, but we need to foster pedestrian and cyclist lifestyles. Since 2016, Barcelona saw a 25 percent drop in pollution around the Sant Antoni market after experimenting with “superblocks,” nine-block grids of cyclist and pedestrian-first zones. Children there have room to play now, and walking and biking has increased.

In the Horta neighborhood superblock, 60 percent of survey respondents said they had become more comfortable walking on the streets and that accessibility had improved. People within the Poblenou superblock reported that the reduction in noise pollution resulted in more tranquility, improved sleep, increased social interaction, and overall improved mental wellbeing. One study estimated that widespread execution of superblocks could prevent almost 700 deaths annually.

Taking the roads back from auto and fossil fuel industries will be difficult. We‘ll have to re-envision the world around us; a world without the destructive congestion of cars. Our spaces need to be just that, our spaces, instead of streets and parking lots, dealerships, gas stations, auto parts stores, and repair shops. These profound structural and sociological changes will occur not by incentivizing the “greener” electric alternative, but by disincentivizing car culture altogether.

Widely-adopted free public transportation would be a huge step in connecting communities and promoting social mobility. We need to demand of our governments sustainable transportation for the people; that is, the expansion of our electric public transportation webs. Cars should be increasingly marginalized.

A carless society is one that is walkable, bikeable, and accessible for people with disabilities. Urban planners should prioritize the safety and mobility of the people, not cater to the automotive and oil industries. They should help us achieve a kinder, carless culture.

Mai Nguyen, editorial intern for Spring 2022 at CASSE.Mai Nguyen is the spring 2022 editorial intern at CASSE, and a junior at George Washington University.

The post Steering Away from a Car-Centric Society appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

The Great Escape: How a City Exodus is Creating New Housing Crises in Satellite Towns

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/05/2022 - 11:41pm in

Sam Bright and Sascha Lavin explore how the ‘Zoomtowns’ phenomenon is putting a burden on local property markets

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London’s housing crisis is a well-documented feature of national life, with extortion now an accepted part of the capital’s property market.

In the year to March, asking rents in London increased by 14.3% – the largest annual increase anywhere in the country since records began. According to Rightmove, the average cost of renting in the capital is now £2,193 a month. This trend is tracked in other major cities, with Gráinne Gilmore from Zoopla saying that the firm has seen the “flooding of rental demand back into city centres”.

However, a simultaneous process has been occurring in the capital, in the form of relatively subdued growth in property purchasing prices. In the year to February 2022, for example, London experienced the slowest growth in purchasing prices of any English region – 8.1% – compared to 12.5% in the east and the southwest, and 12% in the wider south east.

Average London house prices still stand at some £530,000, exceeding the southeast by £150,000 and the southwest by £215,000, but this gap appears to be closing – triggered by the pandemic.

With home working normalised, many London property owners decided to liquidate their assets and break from the confines of the capital – buying larger homes, with more indoor and outdoor space, in less expensive areas of the country. While Manchester had a dwelling density of 20.3 per hectare in 2021, Kensington and Chelsea logged 73 dwellings per hectare, and Tower Hamlets had 65.4 per hectare.

As we have been brought into closer contact with the homes and communities in which we live, people have naturally sought to escape the crammed living quarters offered by the capital.

However, this exodus from London – people previously living in the capital spent a record £54.9 billion on properties outside London in 2021 – has not seen the scattering of Londoners to far-flung areas of the country.

“Places absorbing in-migrants from cities seem to be sparsely populated areas within commuting distance from large employment centres, particularly London,” says Francisco Rowe, senior lecturer in Quantitative Human Geography at the University of Liverpool. “People leaving large cities tend to work in high skilled professional occupations which do not necessarily require face-to-face contact.”

However, as Rowe identifies, face-to-face contact has not been dispensed with entirely, even among highly-skilled occupations. Hybrid working is now the norm, with people splitting their time between the office and home and keeping them within the orbit of major cities – albeit allowing them to move further away from the city centre.

And so, while the pandemic has liberated workers to some extent – potentially aiding the regional redistribution of the economy, as identified by Gaby Hinsliff recently in the Guardian – it is also incubating a range of new problems for the satellite towns that feed big cities.

Feeder Towns

Primary among these problems is the inflation of local property prices, with London’s housing crisis now stretching beyond the confines of the city. From 2020 to 2021, house prices increased by 14% in England while earnings fell by 1% and, by 2021, full-time employees could expect to spend around 9.1 times their workplace-based annual earnings on purchasing a home – up from 7.9 in 2020.

These affordability issues are concentrated in the south of England – particularly in areas that flank London. The worst housing crises outside the capital – in terms of the ratio of house prices to annual earnings – are suffered by the Cotswolds, Chichester, Waverley, Tandridge, Epsom and Ewell, Elmbridge, Tunbridge Wells, Windsor and Maidenhead, St Albans, Hertsmere, Epping Forest, and Brentwood. All of these places are either in the east of England, the south east or the south west.

A number of these places – the Cotswolds, Chichester, Tunbridge Wells, Windsor and Maidenhead, and Brentwood – have only entered this leaderboard since 2018.

Of the local authorities that have experienced the largest increase in house prices in the year to February 2022, all are relatively small conurbations – small towns and rural districts – with low housing density compared to bigger cities. More than 60% of these areas are in the south of England and the biggest increases have been seen in North Devon (a 24.1% jump) and Lewes (20.7%) in the south east.

“The impacts on these areas are expected to be noticeable,” says Rowe. “In the short-term, migration to small towns or rural areas is likely to exert pressures on the housing market, causing rises in local house prices and greater demand for local services, such as transport and consumer products... In the long-term, if migration from cities to the same places continue, the pressures identified above are likely to result in gentrification displacing some of the less affluent communities.”

Gentrification, the transformation of working-class areas by more affluent residents seeking cheaper properties, has been taking place in London for some time – and now looks set to be carried beyond the capital. Torbay, for example, which has seen house price increases of 16.4% over the last year, has concurrently experienced a 150% surge in people seeking temporary accommodation due to being made homeless since 2018.

COVID and changes to working habits has “led to worsening in Torbay’s housing crisis,” says local Liberal Democrat Councillor Swithin Long, “with many people being evicted from their rented homes so that their properties could be sold.”

According to the estate agency Hamptons, several areas experienced a marked increase in Londoners purchasing local properties in 2020, including Sevenoaks, Windsor and Maidenhead, Oxford, Rushmoor, and Eastbourne. In 2020, 62% of homes in Sevenoaks – a small town on the south-eastern periphery of the capital – were bought by a Londoner. Sevenoaks is just a 25-minute train journey from London Bridge on the southern bank of the Thames.

“The attractions of moving to the more remote parts of Kent become compelling if it means moving from London with a hefty profit from a house sale,” Professor Richard Scase of the University of Kent wrote last year. “But there is a price that has to be paid, and it is by local young people and their housing needs. The number of ‘affluent’ workers moving from London puts homeownership out of their reach. It means a life of rented accommodation or relocation from one town or community to another because of the availability of cheaper housing.”

He added that: “Perhaps importantly, house moves of this kind remove young couples with their children from their family support systems... often leading to stress and family breakdown, with the state having to pick up the costs and the pieces.”

An Uncertain Future

Cornwall knows these problems better than most. The county’s picturesque seaside towns have long been overrun by despondent city dwellers seeking a new life near the beach. In 2016, the average house price in picturesque St Ives was £324,000, reported the Guardian, 18 times the typical local salary.

“I’ve got people in my area who are living in cars because they’ve been booted out of their houses so that the landlords can put them on Airbnb over the summer,” says Kate Ewert, a Labour councillor for Rame and St Germans in east Cornwall. “It’s heart-breaking. These are people who just want to live in the community where they were born. They want to live close to their mum and their gran, but they’re being told they basically can’t live here.”

However, the Centre for Cities does caution that we don’t yet know the full impact of the pandemic. Its chief executive, Andrew Carter, told Byline Times that, “The recovery from the pandemic is still in its early stages so we cannot be certain that any developing trends will have a long-term impact on the housing market.”

This is echoed by Dr Frances Holliss, emeritus reader in Architecture at London Metropolitan University, who says that we’re in “completely unknown territory”. However, Dr Holliss added that “having researched this for 20 years”, she anticipates rises in property prices in satellite towns.

“This is bad for people in the lowest 40% of the income brackets, only 10% of whom are property owners,” she says. “And so it will make ownership of property less reachable for those people. But having said that, it will bring wealth into the community and with it will come employment.”

New research from the Centre for Economics and Business Research anticipates that the 10 fastest growing places in the country by 2023 will be in the south east and the east of England. This will create a lot of economic heat, potentially creating new job opportunities, but also invariably, it seems, inflaming local property markets.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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‘We Can’t Live Like This’: Universal Credit Falls Short of Cost of Living Price Hikes

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/05/2022 - 6:45pm in

Rising energy bills, increased food costs – and yet benefits have not risen with inflation, leaving families struggling to make ends meet, Sian Norris reports

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More than half of families receiving emergency charity aid are also on Universal Credit, with the benefit failing to meet families’ basic financial needs.

Data from the charity Action for Children has found that 54% of people receiving emergency help from its Children’s Crisis Fund were on Universal Credit, suggesting that the benefit simply does not go far enough in helping families make ends meet. The situation has been made worse by the decision to cut the £20 uplift to Universal Credit last autumn.

The uplift was a temporary measure introduced to new Universal Credit claimants at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic. Chancellor Rishi Sunak cut it in October, in what was the biggest single slash to welfare support since the Second World War. Nearly one-fifth (18%) of people accessing emergency help cited the £20 cut as making life harder. 

If winter was bad, summer and autumn risks being even worse for low-income households. Inflation has reached 7%, as food and energy bills continue to rise. But despite the increasing cost of living, the Treasury opted not to raise Universal Credit in line with inflation – meaning that those on benefits have endured a real-terms income cut. 

The Government has claimed that the best way to tackle the cost of living is through employment and economic growth. The Prime Minister has said “we’re creating jobs, jobs, jobs” to tackle the crisis. Safeguarding Minister Rachel Maclean has said that people struggling with the cost of living should “take on more hours and get a better paid job” – although some have pointed out that she was talking about aspirations for a high-wage economy. 

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Despite the Government insisting that more jobs are the answer, it also boasts of a record low unemployment rate, at 3.8%. This means that most people struggling with the cost of living crisis are already in “jobs jobs jobs”.

Indeed, more than 40% of Universal Credit claimants are in work and 75% of children in poverty have at least one working parent. The solution to the cost of living crisis cannot, therefore, solely be found in getting more people into work. Instead, there needs to be a focus on tackling low-paid, insecure and precarious work – as well as efforts to create a benefits system that supports those who cannot work. 

Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, told Byline Times: "The Government committed to using the tax and benefit system to reduce child poverty in its 2019 election manifesto. And yet, with inflation set to reach its highest level for four decades this year, the policy responses introduced by to date will not do nearly enough to support low-income families.

"We desperately need a cross-government plan to reduce and ultimately eradicate child poverty in the UK, but we can start today by guaranteeing benefits keep pace with the cost of living and target help to children in low income families through a rise in the child element of Universal Credit.”

‘We Literally Can’t Live’

For a mum like Leanne, the advice to “take on more hours” to beat the cost of living crisis is meaningless. She already works 37 hours a week on top of raising her two children. “There’s no way I could work my way out of this situation like the Government says I could,” she said. 

Leanne is on Universal Credit and has no disposable income left at the end of the month. Her electricity bill has increased from £188 per month to £279 per month, her council tax has gone up, as has the cost of her groceries. 

The daily struggle to make ends meet is impacting her physical and mental health, she told Byline Times. “I have palpitations worrying about the bills coming out. I’m constantly stressed. Emotionally I feel really drained and really down.”

Already, the cost of living crisis is having an impact on her children. She cannot afford to feed them fresh food as it's so expensive, even though she knows that the cheaper food she relies on is bad for their health. As for treats and days out, there is no money left to give her children those magical extras that make childhood special.

“I feel like I am failing my children,” Leanne told Byline Times. “My daughter is nine and she doesn’t understand why she can’t have things anymore. She doesn’t understand why she can’t have an ice cream when we walk past the ice cream van. I am trying to protect her from the stress while having to say 'no' to her all the time. My son is 18, and he feels like he has to support the family. But I don’t want him to feel like that – it’s not his responsibility, it’s mine.”

Leanne is terrified about what the autumn will bring, when energy prices are set to increase again. Her son is hoping to go to university to study robotics this September – an amazing achievement that is dampened by the family’s fears that she will lose her child benefit and see her income decrease even more. “It’s more pressure”, while she needs to help him through his studies.

“What should be an exciting trip to go and buy his essentials for university is just another added stress,” she said. “He will get a maintenance grant when he’s there, but that won’t cover all his costs. I should be able to help him. He shouldn’t be going to university and worried about his finances, he should be able to enjoy the experience.” 

More than a third (37%) of families like Leanne’s who are on Universal Credit and receiving crisis support from Action for Children said that, without the additional help, they would have struggled to feed their children. 29% were having to choose between eating or heating. 

“The worst pain and misery of the cost of living crisis is being felt by children in low income families, yet the Government is refusing to target help for these children or accept that it needs to rethink its huge cut to Universal Credit,” said Imran Hussain. “The levels of severe and persistent financial hardship our services are seeing are among the worst they can remember and are robbing too many children of the bright futures they deserve.”

A Government spokesperson told Byline Times: “We are committed to ending poverty and the latest figures show there were half a million fewer children in absolute poverty after housing costs than in 2009/10.

"We recognise the pressures on the cost of living and we are doing what we can to help, including spending £22 billion across the next financial year to support people with energy bills and cut fuel duty.

"For the hardest hit, we’re putting an average of £1,000 more per year into the pockets of working families on Universal Credit, have also boosted the minimum wage by more than £1,000 a year for full-time workers and our Household Support Fund is there to help with the cost of everyday essentials."

The figure of half a million fewer children in poverty relates to absolute, not relative poverty, as Byline Times has previously reported. The £1,000 per year more in the pockets of working families on Universal Credit would benefit around two million people – however the removal of the £20 uplift impacted 5.5 million families.

You can listen to our interview with Leanne, and learn more about the cost of living crisis from Imran Hussain, on the Byline Times Podcast

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The Little-Known Tool Protecting California Towns from Polluters

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 16/05/2022 - 6:00pm in

Ana Carlos likes to ride her horse down the semi-rural streets of Bloomington, California, where she bought a beautiful home on two acres for her family. “Everybody has fruit trees here, everybody has horses and goats,” she says. But five years ago, the school teacher and mother of three got a letter asking if she and her husband were willing to sell their home. 

When she looked into the reason for the offer, she discovered that a developer had big plans. “They want to put over one million square feet of industrial zoning right in the middle of our community, bordering on three schools. The new warehouses will bring more than 7,000 daily vehicle trips to our town, including Diesel trucks.” Shortly thereafter, she found out that her small Inland Empire town was in the top one percent of a list no community wants to be on top of: Bloomington scores 99 on the CalEnviroScreen (CES), meaning the air pollution is worse than in 99 percent of the state. “We simply cannot take any more,” Carlos says. “If their plan goes through, it ends our community. I will no longer be able to play with my kids outside if the air gets even worse. Our lifestyle is over.”

The CalEnviroScreen map allows users to see how environmentally burdened their community is compared to others in California. Credit: California OEHHA

John Faust, who built the CalEnviroScreen, has a unique perspective on California. On his computer, he pulls up a map of the state. On the left and right, along the Pacific Ocean and mountains, are various shades of green. Between these is a cluster of orange and red patches: the state’s industrial and agricultural areas, with their dusty sunbaked plains, warehouses and refineries.

A toxicologist by training, Faust helped develop the CalEnviroScreen over the last two decades and now manages it for the California Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He is also chief of the Community and Environmental Epidemiology Research branch of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). But these bureaucratic titles threaten to obscure the groundbreaking impact of his research: The 25 percent of census tracts with the worst CES scores must receive at least 35 percent of the investments funded by California’s cap-and-trade program. This enormous pot of money – some $20 billion – comes from polluters who must reduce or offset their emissions by paying into the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. It is used to finance a wide array of environmentally beneficial investments for the most polluted communities across California — everything from agricultural worker van pools to electric school buses to community air grants. In addition, CES data is increasingly being used in lawsuits — some of them propelled by the state’s attorney general — to block projects that would add even more pollution to communities already burdened with it.

The pragmatic use of this tool becomes apparent when Faust zooms in on one of the darkest red spots, an area southwest of Fresno. “98 ozone, 88 particulate matters,” he reads, which means that this district has more ozone and particulates in the air than 98 and 88 percent of the state, respectively. This finding correlates with the health and socioeconomic data the screen also displays: “Asthma 88, unemployment 98, and nearly 70 percent of the residents are Hispanic,” Faust reads. This, too, corresponds to the results in most of the state: The worse the air quality, the higher the rates of asthma, heart-related emergencies and underweight babies — and more often than not, the most polluted areas affect Black and brown people disproportionately. As Ana Carlos says, “What makes it really unfair is that these developers just see the cheap land and think it will be easy for them because we are primarily a community of color.”

A separate map shows communities designated as “disadvantaged.” Credit: California OEHHA

The CES, which launched in 2013, is being used as a powerful corrective to such historic injustices. “As the state of California was developing its cap-and-trade program and polluters are paying into a fund as they’re emitting carbon emissions, we wanted to make sure that we can prioritize communities that are most heavily impacted by those polluting facilities,” says Sona Mohnot, the Climate Equity Associate Director at the Greenlining Institute, an economic justice public policy organization based in Oakland. “We know that environmental pollution is one of the many injustices that resulted from not just redlining, but a lot of other discriminatory land use policies and discriminatory environmental policies.”

Take the San Joaquin Valley, which has the worst air quality in all of the U.S. When the district issued yet another free pass in 2019 to exempt its four petroleum refineries from complying with state air quality requirements, a broad coalition of community members and activists sued. They found a powerful ally: California Attorney General Rob Bonta joined the lawsuit and they won, in part by leveraging CES data, which factors in not only the individual impact of each refinery, but the cumulative impact of all the polluters in the region. As a result, the refineries now have to comply with the state air quality regulations.

“This is a low-income, Hispanic community where a lot of the people are foreign laborers who are not going to say anything,” resident Jose Mireles, who lives down the road from a Kern Oil & Refining Co. facility that processes 25,000 barrels of crude oil daily, told the Los Angeles Times. “Sometimes you are inside your house, the doors are closed, the windows are closed, and you can still smell it.”

The CES has been used successfully in several other cases, including to block a cement factory in Vallejo and to upgrade facilities in the highly disadvantaged community of Stockton. “These are really good examples of how we can use data to address the multiple injustices communities are facing,” says Mohnot. “We have to make sure that the state walks the walk. How can we put our money where our mouth is, and ensure that 100 percent of those funds actually go into the most historically disinvested communities?”

In other lawsuits, CES data has led to compromise, in which the development it challenged wasn’t halted outright, but instead had to be built more responsibly. One example can be found in Fontana (which borders Ana Carlos’s Bloomington neighborhood), where residents are conflicted about the approval of another 200,000 square feet mega-warehouse next to a high school. In April, the courts decided that the Fontana warehouse can be built, but the rulings mandated ecological features such as solar panels, zero-emission trucks and a large donation the city can use for mitigating measures such as air filters. 

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While the CES has helped environmental advocates rack up victories, critics point out that legislation that directly forces polluters to curb emissions would be more effective, because lawsuits aren’t always successful. For instance, a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration and developers relied on CES data as it challenged the expansion of a former Air Force Base in San Bernardino that Amazon plans to use as a 650,000-square-foot cargo hub. More than 500 additional trucks and two dozen cargo flights are projected to pollute the area daily once the hub is fully up and running. Already, thousands of trucks buzz through the neighborhood most days, often forming long queues in front of the warehouses, spewing Diesel fumes while waiting to unload their freight. Again partnering with lawyers from the Earthjustice Institute, Bonta’s office used the high asthma and bronchitis rates in the nearby communities as proof that the residents should not bear any more pollution, but his challenge was rejected.

The project sparked contentious debate. Ninety-five percent of the residents near the new Amazon hub live below the poverty line, and some argued they would rather breathe bad air than sacrifice the jobs. Mohnot believes this to be “a false choice. No one should have to pick between their safety and being able to provide for their families.” More than one billion square feet of warehouse space now covers the Inland Empire, much of it built on former farm and ranch land, and offering mostly low-paid temp jobs, according to the Robert Redford Conservancy. “None of my neighbors want these jobs; you can’t build a career on it,” Ana Carlos says. “We spoke to hundreds of community members and out of hundreds, only one said, maybe it’s good for the jobs.” 

This speaks to the other aim of the CES, which activists are using as a tool not just to support lawsuits and force companies to reduce emissions, but to bring investment to communities overburdened by environmental hardship. Mohnot says her colleagues at the Greenlining Institute are working with entrepreneurs and startup companies to use the CES to pilot clean energy innovations in these communities and work with local manufacturers to increase economic opportunities there. “We want to work toward a policy solution where we can create an oil and gas transition fund, so that folks who are dismissed from those jobs are able to access funding and training opportunities into similar work but in renewable energy. We want fewer gas and oil industries but also make sure folks aren’t jobless at the end of the day.” However, this is not happening yet.

But the CES findings have already provided the basis for innovative strategies. For instance, the Greenlining Institute co-sponsored bill AB 2722 that created the Transformative Climate Communities (TCC) program, which relies on the CES to prioritize the most vulnerable communities. “If you’re a small or under-resourced community and you want environmental services, whether it’s recycling, urban tree canopy, access to better transportation, bike lanes, whatever, you may have to apply for six different grants to get those holistic benefits,” says Mohnot. “This can be very cost intensive and lead to fatigue, so we wanted to streamline that process. Now that community can apply for a slew of greenhouse gas reducing services through one grant program, and it’s meant to be at a neighborhood scale.”

Keeping CES data current is a challenge. “Some data is continuously updated, and some only available annually or every couple of years,” John Faust acknowledges. In other words, the CES won’t tell you the current air quality in your hometown this very minute. “We’re looking at big picture trends,” is how Faust puts it. Most of the effects of the pandemic and the recent wildfires haven’t been included in the latest version of the CES. Also, not all data is readily available. For instance, the CES factors in the agricultural use of pesticides but not the non-agricultural use because this information is hard to gather. Moreover, Mohnot believes that California needs a similar tool that measures climate risk, not just pollution and poverty. 

California’s strategy of prioritizing communities hardest-hit by environmental injustices is now about to become national policy: Last week, the administration announced it is launching a new Office of Environmental Justice to address climate change and pollution in low-income and minority communities. The new office will identify places that “bear the brunt of the harm caused by environmental crime, pollution and climate change,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland, and focus enforcement efforts on mitigating those effects. 

In addition, earlier this year, the federal EPA entered into a partnership with California to share tools and resources. Other states are taking note, as well. New York just launched an environmental justice unit that is looking into building a New York version of the CES. And in February of this year, the Biden Administration released a beta version of the “Justice 40” program, which stipulates that at least 40 percent of the benefits from the government’s investments in climate-related programs, including infrastructure and clean energy, will go to underserved communities. The administration modeled its tool for assessing these needs, the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST), on California’s CES.

Meanwhile, Ana Carlos hopes that the supervising board of her small town, Bloomington, “will vote in the interest of their constituents who voted them in — that they will make the decision that is best for our health, our families, our homes, our community.” But when she asked about the prospect, she was told that the board has never voted down a major business development.

However, this school teacher has learned that she is not alone. “We have learned how to organize a community. If the developers think they can just push us out of the way, they are wrong.”

The post The Little-Known Tool Protecting California Towns from Polluters appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Reblog – No, MMT Didn’t Wreck Sri Lanka

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 15/05/2022 - 8:37pm in

Debunking Bloomberg with Fadhel Kaboub

Written by Stephanie Kelton

Originally published on Stephanie Kelton’s “The Lens” on 29th April 2022.

Two poor men sitting on a trolley on a street of closed shops. Petta, Colombo, Sri LankaImage by Harshabad on Pixabay

Last week, Bloomberg touted an opinion piece (written by one of its regular columnists) claiming that “Sri Lanka was the first country in the world to try MMT” and that “the experiment has brought the country to ruin.” A few days later, The Washington Post republished the article. So it garnered a fair bit of attention. Unfortunately, the essay offers little insight into what’s really gone wrong in Sri Lanka. But, hey, editors and writers have discovered that MMT drives clicks, so there’s no dearth of efforts to shoehorn MMT into almost anything.

A number of people sent me the link and asked me to respond. I sat down to do just that, but then I remembered that MMT economist Fadhel Kaboub talks about Sri Lanka in some of his presentations and that he’s been studying the country for years.

Fadhel is an Associate Professor of Economics at Denison University and President of the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity. He brings deeper knowledge of the Sri Lankan economy and the policy decisions that have paved the way for their current predicament. So I reached out to invite him to respond to Mihir Sharma’s main claims about the so-called MMT experiment in Sri Lanka.

Sharma’s big claim is that “two cherished heterodox theories…became official policy in Sri Lanka and, within two years, they brought the country to the brink of default and ruin.” The government has halted payments of its foreign debt and warned that it may default. Import prices are surging. It’s hard for people to buy food and fuel. There are periodic blackouts and rationing. Inflation is close to 19 per cent and the central bank has recently doubled interest rates. Sharma acknowledges that there are ’structural factors’ at play, and he concedes that the pandemic hammered the nation’s tourism sector while the Russian invasion of Ukraine made everything worse. But he argues that “the deeper problem” is that the ruling elite “turned Sri Lanka’s policymaking over to cranks.” One of the heterodox theories that is supposedly responsible for the crisis is MMT.[1] What follows is a lightly-edited transcript of my Q&A with Professor Kaboub.

KELTON: Sharma claims that “Sri Lanka is the first country in the world to reference MMT officially as a justification for money printing.” He blames former central bank governor, Weligamage Don Lakshman, for listening to monetary cranks who convinced him that “nobody needs to worry about debt sustainability” as long as you “increase the proportion of domestic debt [relative to debt denominated in foreign currency].” Is there anything in MMT that says that as long as you “increase the proportion of domestic debt” you can “print money” without worrying about debt sustainability or inflation?

KABOUB: When I first read the statement of Sri Lanka’s Central Bank governor, Mr Weligamage Don Lakshman, back in 2020, it was very clear to me that he does not understand the basic MMT insights. He was under the impression that what matters in terms of monetary sovereignty is the proportion of foreign currency debt relative to domestic currency debt and that there was no need to rethink the foundation of the economic development model that his country has used since the late 1970s. Governor Lakshman focused on the proportion of debt but never questioned what the external debt was fueling, and never articulated how a higher proportion of domestic debt was going to build economic resilience in Sri Lanka.

MMT economists have been very clear all along that a country’s fiscal spending capacity is constrained by the risk of inflation, which is determined by the level of productive capacity (availability of real resources, productivity, skills, logistics, supply chains, etc.) and the level of abusive market power enjoyed by key players in the economy (cartels, exclusive import license holders, shell companies, cross-border traffickers, speculators, corrupt government procurement systems, etc.). Therefore, increasing a country’s fiscal policy space must be done via strategic investments to boost productive capacity and regulation of abusive market power. Sri Lanka’s economic policy choices (pre-pandemic and Russia-Ukraine war) do not even come close to what MMT economists would have suggested.

As I will explain below, Sri Lanka has three structural economic weaknesses that were systematically reinforced via mainstream economic policies: 1.) lack of food sovereignty, 2.) lack of energy sovereignty, and 3.) low value-added exports. These deficiencies imply that accelerating the country’s economic engines leads to more pressure on its external balance, a weaker exchange rate, higher inflationary pressures (especially food/fuel/medicine and basic necessities), and, as a result, it leads to the classic trap of external debt.

Here is how it all started. Sri Lanka, like many countries in the Global South, began the liberalization of its economy in 1977, and adopted a classic IMF-style economic development model based on exports, foreign direct investment (FDI), tourism, and remittances. This development model remained tamed during the civil war (1983-2009), but it was fully unleashed in 2009, and that is when external debt began to skyrocket, going from $16 billion in 2008 to nearly $56 billion in 2019. The value of the Sri Lankan rupee dropped from 114 to 178 LCU/USD. Thanks to a massive increase in government subsidies and transfers reaching more than 30 per cent of government spending in recent years, Sri Lanka struggled to keep inflation below 5 per cent. Yet, economists celebrated Sri Lanka’s great achievements with an average growth rate exceeding 5 per cent in the decade after the civil war, and a real per capita GDP growth putting the country officially in the upper-middle-income economy category. Sri Lanka was following the mainstream economic development model like a good student. In the decade starting in 2009, exports grew from $9.3 to $19.1 billion, tourism quintupled from 0.5 to 2.5 million visitors annually, FDI inflows quadrupled by 2018 to a record $1.6 billion, and remittances doubled to nearly $7 billion annually. These are the four engines of Sri Lanka’s economic growth, but they are also the engines driving the country deeper into the structural traps of food and energy dependency, and specialization in low value-added exports.

Here is how these engines constitute a trap. An increase in tourism induces more food and energy imports. An increase in remittances means more brain drain. An increase in low value-added exports induces more imports of capital, intermediate goods, fuel etc.; and an increase in low value-added FDI does the same plus the repatriation of profits out of Sri Lanka. On a global scale, these neocolonial economic traps have suctioned $152 trillion from the Global South since 1960.

KELTON: Sharma argues that it was the “printing of money” that caused inflation to hit record highs. He cites the rate of growth of the Sri Lankan money supply and concludes that inflation hit record highs because the central bank expanded the money supply by 42 per cent from December 2019 to August 2021. Why isn’t this a critique of MMT, and how do you think about the current inflationary pressures?

KABOUB: Sharma is wrong on two fronts here. First, he is assuming that the central bank actually controls the money supply, when in fact the money supply is an endogenous variable determined by the private sector (consumers, business, and banks). The central bank simply accommodates the needs of the market in order to keep short-term interest rates at a stable target, otherwise it will cause all kinds of instability across financial markets. Second, Sharma is assuming that inflation is caused by an increase in the money supply, when in reality, Sri Lanka’s inflation, like many developing countries, imports its inflation via food and energy imports. The higher the pressure on the external balance, the weaker the exchange rate, the higher the inflation pressure from imported goods. Sri Lanka struggled with these pressures for a decade, and managed to muddle through by accumulating more external debt, which quickly became unbearable after the pandemic (loss of tourism, remittances, FDI, and export revenues) and the massive increase in global food and energy prices after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The solutions to Sri Lanka’s inflation problems are not in the hands of its central bank. Raising interest rates in Sri Lanka will not end the war in Ukraine, or end the pandemic-induced global supply chain disruptions. The most effective anti-inflation tools fall under fiscal policy. It is the parliament, and the various ministries and commissions that can design strategic investments to boost productive capacity, and have the legal authority to update and enforce antitrust laws. In fact, raising interest rates can often fuel inflation (and inequality) because it is the equivalent of an income subsidy to bond holders, and a tax on actual investors who might be discouraged from increasing productive capacity

KELTON: Sharma appears to know that he has offered a faulty representation of MMT. He anticipates some of the counterpoints that I suspect you and I would both raise. He writes, “proponents of MMT will likely say that this was not real MMT, or that Sri Lanka is not a sovereign country as long as it has any foreign debt.” You have been studying Sri Lanka for a few years now. What, if anything, have policymakers done that suggest that they have been running any kind of “MMT experiment” over the last two years?

KABOUB: Well, this is where Sharma nails it! As I explained above, Sri Lanka’s economic policies don’t even come close to anything informed by MMT insights. Sri Lanka’s government ignored its structural weaknesses, didn’t invest in food/energy and strategic domestic productive capacity, didn’t tax/regulate abusive market power, has a corrupt political system dominated by a single family, and when it was backed into a corner after the pandemic, it doubled down on bad economic decision by claiming that agricultural fertilizers are unhealthy (when they really didn’t have the foreign exchange reserves to pay for the imports), so they destroyed agricultural output, especially rice, in the middle of global food crisis. If the Sri Lankan government was serious about investing in healthy food or a healthy economy, it would have put forward an actual food sovereignty strategy centred on native seeds, it would have discouraged intensive monoculture farming, it would have invested in regenerative farming to undo decades of damage to the soil, and it would have supported farmers to increase yields with well-defined medium and long term strategies. Clearly, this “organic farming” experiment was sloppy at best, but it should not overshadow the fact that the roots of the agricultural vulnerability have been decades in the making.

KELTON: Sharma chides the government for shunning the advice of “mainstream economists” and for “refusing to even consult the IMF.” Let’s assume he’s right about the central bank and other policymakers turning away from mainstream economists and institutions like the IMF. What kind of advice has the IMF given to Sri Lanka in the past, and what kind of economic development strategies would you recommend if officials called on you to advise them?

KABOUB: Sri Lanka has been following the IMF instruction manual for decades. It has received 16 loans from the IMF since the 1960s, and it is currently negotiating another one. Since 1996, Sri Lanka has never been away from the IMF’s negotiating table for more than 3 or 4 years at a time. Despite the political rhetoric of the Sri Lankan government over the last couple of years, the current Sri Lankan administration has abided by the IMF’s terms and conditions of the $1.5 billion Extended Fund Facility (that’s the 16th loan disbursed between 2016-2020). So maybe the Sri Lankan government has come to realize that the IMF instruction manual is actually harmful. The problem is that they don’t fully understand why, and they certainly haven’t identified an alternative strategy to escape from this trap.

In terms of policy advice, Sri Lanka needs emergency assistance with immediate shipments of food, fuel, medicine, and basic necessities. Sri Lanka needs debt relief rather than debt restructuring. For example, UNDP has recently recommended negotiating debt-for-nature swaps. There are other debt swap mechanisms such as debt-for-development, debt-for-equity, and debt-buy backs. The Sri Lankan central bank should be negotiating FX swap line agreements with the central banks of its major trading partners in order to stabilize the value of its currency.

Sri Lanka should also access the IMF’s newly created $45 billion Resilience and Sustainability Trust (RTS), which, unlike other IMF facilities, is actually a program that funds strategic investments to build resilience and promote sustainability. Sri Lanka would qualify for up to $1.4 billion of concessional loans with substantial grace periods. However, to qualify for RTS funds, Sri Lanka must first have an existing agreement with the IMF. It needs to enter these negotiations with its own strategic vision in order to escape the IMF’s austerity and external debt trap.

The IMF wants countries to establish an economic policy framework that leads to external debt sustainability, but its track record has been a miserable failure. Sri Lanka needs to convince the IMF and other lenders and strategic partners, that it can only escape this external debt trap if it tackles the problem at its source — e.g. by investing strategically in food sovereignty (with an actual long-term strategy rather than half-baked organic farming wishful thinking), investing in renewable energy capacity (energy efficiency, public transportation, etc.), investing in education and vocational training in order to climb up the value chain in the manufacturing sector, and becoming more selective in its support for export industries and FDI projects. In other words, ending the race to the bottom policies, and building resilience to external shocks.

These strategic investments must be coupled with an actual democratization of the political as well as the economic system. The government needs to crack down on corruption, cartels, abusive price setters, and entities that enjoy exclusive economic power and have every incentive to object to the strategic investments listed above.

The sad part of this story is that Sri Lanka is only one of many countries in the Global South facing the same structural traps, struggling with unbearable external debt, soaring food and energy prices, shortages, and rising social and political tensions.

 

[1] The other has to do with a shift toward organic farming that has apparently fueled a precipitous drop in crop yields, farming incomes, and export revenues.

 

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The post Reblog – No, MMT Didn’t Wreck Sri Lanka appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

Splendour of the Queen’s Speech brings no relief for hungry people

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 15/05/2022 - 5:47am in

Prince Charles sitting alongside the Imperial State Crown in the House of Lords at the State Opening of ParliamentCopyright House of Lords 2022 / Photography by Annabel Moeller. Creative Commons 2.0 license

The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.
Jane Addams, US social reformer and suffragette (1860-1935)

 

How best to describe the state opening of Parliament this week? An anachronism in the 21st Century, bearing no relationship to the reality of people’s lives? Or, as Raphael Behr suggested in a Guardian article, ‘it was a reminder that much of what passes for a British constitution is actually fancy dress’. A King in waiting, dressed up in his military uniform, sporting medals and seated next to his mother’s jewelled crown, delivering a speech not actually written by her at all. You couldn’t make it up.

In terms of the reality of people’s lives, in these difficult and uncertain times, it proved as predicted, to be all show and no substance as the very real hardships being faced by people were scarcely acknowledged. No further solutions were offered to the growing financial insecurity caused by the ongoing fallout from the pandemic, global supply issues and rising inflation, along with the Ukraine war, which are all affecting the global economy with concomitant knock-on effects on individual nations.

The Spring Budget brought forth little relief, and the Queen’s Speech reinforced it. We have to bear the pain now to enjoy jam tomorrow! Michael Gove was adamant in ruling out an emergency budget during a televised interview earlier this week and blamed the current situation on global inflation, as if somehow the government had no tools to alleviate the growing pressures on families across the country.

The cure for this economic mess is, according to Boris Johnson, to ‘revive Britain’s economic growth’, as if that could be achieved by next week. He told parliament on Tuesday that whilst his government would make every effort to help those struggling with rising prices, ‘however great our compassion and ingenuity, we cannot simply spend our way out of this problem, we need to grow out of this problem’.

Aside from the fact that compassion and ingenuity seem to be in very short supply when it comes to the economic strategies and spending policies of Johnson’s government, the focus on repairing the public finances, instead of maintaining sufficient spending (in good times and bad) to keep the wheels of the economy turning, will most likely drive the economy into recession. The signs are already there. Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that the UK economy contracted by 0.1% in March, after flatlining in February, with retail sales down, production falling, and spending on cars decreasing by more than 15%. The British Retail Consortium, backed up that data in its latest reporting, noting that retail sales had dipped in April, and figures from Barclaycard also showed credit card spending on entertainment and eating out, slowing. The cost-of-living crisis is beginning, predictably, to crush confidence and put the brakes on people’s spending. And whilst Boris Johnson pledges that the government will, ‘do things in the short term to ease the squeeze on living standards’, (no sign as yet), they will likely go the same way as all the rest, into the wastepaper basket of empty promises. It must be getting pretty full by now.

It beggars belief that The Telegraph published an article this week suggesting that, according to top economists, people should save less and borrow more to save the economy and prevent a recession. Martin Beck, who is the chief economic advisor at the EY Item club claimed that it was, ‘incumbent on households using their strong financial position to keep spending’, and that ‘the pandemic has left households very well prepared for this period of turmoil because they were able to save more and pay down their debts.’

Where do they find the economists who write this drivel? Aside from the fact that it is only government that can enact the spending policies able to stabilise the economy, the truth of the matter is that not everyone was in the fortunate situation of being able to save and pay down debt during lockdown, and in times of economic uncertainty, whether you have the money or not, spending, or borrowing (unless they are driven to the latter) is the last thing that is on people’s minds. Furthermore, an analysis of Bank of England data by the Debt Justice, revealed that the number of UK households struggling with high levels of debt had increased by a third in 2021, even before the rise in energy prices and the removal of the £20 uplift in universal credit payments. And indeed, as mentioned above we are seeing the signs that people are retrenching in the face of that uncertainty. Lack of confidence begets a reluctance to spend.

Furthermore, the mantra of growth, as promoted by Johnson as the route out of this impasse is based presumably on the promotion of the false logic that a healthy economy drives tax revenue and gives government fiscal space to spend on public and social infrastructure. Just more of the same garbage churned out daily by those who know exactly how government really spends, but use the myths of scarcity to serve a purpose and deliver their ideologically-driven narratives. A political choice at the expense of the health of the economy and those who underpin its success – working people.

A healthy economy doesn’t depend on government tax revenues or borrowing capacity, it depends on a government having the political will and the real resources to deliver it.

A healthy economy also depends on the public and social infrastructure being in place, FIRST, to support the people and the businesses who rely on it. That is the job of government and represents the vital components of a functioning economy, and is certainly not dependent on monetary affordability.

It also fails to acknowledge that in the light of the climate crisis, Johnson’s focus on growth per se, without a clear plan or a strategy to deliver a sustainable and fairer, more just society, will just keep the capitalist juggernaut hurtling towards its destruction. And in this respect, we don’t seem to be making much progress in addressing this emergency. COP 26 is but a distant memory, and growth at any cost seemingly the name of the game.

At the same time as Black Rock warned this week that it would not support shareholder resolutions on climate change this year because they were ‘not consistent with their clients’ long term financial interests,’ a new forecast by scientists led by the World Meteorological Association, found that the probability of one of the next five years temporarily exceeding the 1.5 global heating limit was now 50% up, from 20% in 2021.

As the climate crisis warnings become ever more insistent and visible in our daily lives, banks continue to fund investment in fossil fuels and governments allow them to, without censure. The mission to save humanity from planetary degradation is on the rocks, as governments put fighting wars and growth as a top priority, trumping a future for our children.

It is distressing that the idea that government spends like our own household budgets has tainted any public discussion about the way forward, whether it is dealing with the fall-out from the pandemic, the effects of poverty and inequality on economies particularly, but not confined to the Global South, and the affordability of addressing the climate crisis. The tools are there through an understanding of monetary reality to deliver a healthy economy within the context of available resources, which we emphasise again are the real constraints to government spending.

However, the effects of government austerity policies which have dominated the economic narrative for over a decade, and also led to the idea that cuts to the public sector were necessary to get the public finances back into order, have not only created an increasing burden on the working population and their families, but also have driven the process of stripping out the last vestiges of our publicly paid for and delivered public services, on the lie of its unaffordability. The price we are paying today is unacceptable

It fits very nicely with the neoliberal ideology which has prevailed for decades; that the state’s role should be minimal, that it exists solely as a cash cow for the private sector, that the charity and voluntary sector should step into the government’s shoes for the provision of services that are not profitable, and that the individual should be promoted over the now dying concept of collective action.

At the same time, that same government (and others before it) have dedicated themselves to serving their own interests and those of their wealthy and corporate supporters, as well as pouring public money into private profit, from arms dealers to healthcare. And there it is, the vital clue, that money is not a scarce commodity. Public money for the corporate beggars leaching on the state while the public sector begs for adequate funding.

The consequences of this long-standing toxic ideology are before us. The growth of a low wage economy, in hunger, food banks and homelessness, and the widening gap in wealth distribution, are just a few of its damaging manifestations, all the result of government choices.

The Food Foundation released data this week that shows that in the last three months there has been a rapid jump in the proportion of households cutting back on food, or missing meals altogether. It noted that in April, 7.3 million adults live in households that said they had gone without food or could not physically get it in the past month. That compared, it said, with 4.7 million in January. There had also been a sharp increase in the proportion of households with children experiencing food insecurity in the past month, at 17.2%, up from 12.1% in January 2020. That represents, the Food Foundation noted, a total of 2.6 million children under 18 who live in households that do not have access to a healthy and affordable diet, putting them at high risk of suffering from diet-related diseases. It has called on the Government to take urgent action to prevent further escalation of this crisis, to include increasing benefit levels in line with inflation, expanding access to Free School Meals and the Healthy Start Programme.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research, following its analysis for Channel 4 last year, reported this week that more than 250,000 households will ‘slide into destitution’ next year, which will bring the total number in extreme poverty to around 1.2 million. The think tank, echoing the Food Foundation, said that without government action, more than 1.5 million will face a rise in food and energy bills, that will outstrip their disposable income and force them to use savings (if they have any) or borrow to get through.

Professor Adrian Pabst, who is NIESR’s deputy director for Public Policy, commenting in November last year said: ‘Britain’s broken economic model shows no signs of turning into a high-wage, high-productivity, high-growth economy anytime soon.’ Regardless of Johnson’s promises.

While government fails to deliver, people will continue to struggle. It is distressing to note that while people’s lives are being ripped apart by a government that has no solutions but book balancing, Tories remain in their ivory towers sitting in judgement on those who cannot feed themselves or their families adequately. Not because they lack cooking or budgeting skills as a Tory MP suggested this week, but because they don’t have enough money. First up, we had the Ashfield MP, Lee Anderson, speaking in the Commons debate on the government’s Queen’s Speech, claiming that there wasn’t a widespread need for food banks, and that hunger was rather down to the fact that too many people ‘cannot cook’ and ‘cannot budget’. Tell that to the Trussell Trust and the myriad food banks serving their local communities. It was an insult to those who are forced to use food banks through no fault of their own, and to suggest that one can cook a wholesome meal for 30p a day by cooking from scratch. Perhaps he should be issued with a challenge to do so. It shows completely how out of touch some MPs are with the lives of their constituents.

Secondly, the Metro reported this week on Dartford Conservatives tucking into a buffet of cakes and sandwiches, after cutting the ribbon for the opening of a new food bank, as if that were something to celebrate. Whilst, in the same church building, desperate families have to queue there for food.

In 2017, Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg called the support given to food banks ‘rather uplifting’ and ‘shows what a compassionate country we are’. Of course, it is human to feel compassion for others who have fallen on hard times and want to help, but the existence of food banks, whilst not a new phenomenon, is a stain on a government which has the fiscal tools to ensure that people have the dignity of well-paid, secure work, either in the public sector, or in the form of a publicly run Job Guarantee scheme, to support those caught in the inevitable ups and downs of the economic cycle, and extraordinary events such as the pandemic or war, from which now stems an increasing tide of hunger and poverty, to add to that already perpetrated by prior lack of adequate government action.

Nicholas Hair, a Labour council candidate, commenting on the event said,

‘Food banks are not heart-warming. They are evidence of a failure of government and of a society to seek social justice’.

That gets to the heart of the matter. A government which knows it has the tools, as the currency issuer, to support people through this difficult time, but has chosen not to. A government that fails to spend sufficiently to support an economy and its citizens, transfers the burden to those who can least afford it. The human cost of this failure to act now will be devastating for working people and their families.

The solution, however, is not as the Chairman of Tesco has suggested this week, to impose a windfall tax on energy companies, as if collecting that money would give the Treasury the funds to alleviate the cost-of-living crisis. And, in the same vein, neither will a windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas operators, ‘rake in’ money for the Treasury to soften the pain of rising energy bills as predictable analysis by the Labour party continues to suggest. Just more of the managed illusions politicians rely on to keep the public on side from the valid point of view of fairness. The government, as the currency issuer, could create that funding tomorrow by authorising its central bank to do so. And it neither needs to tax nor borrow to keep the economy functioning. Again, its only constraint is the availability of real but finite resources, and how they are managed to deliver government priorities and avoid inflationary pressures.

However, on the other hand, a big yes to taxing the energy companies whose profits have gone through the roof, along with executive pay, and whose business is polluting and contributing to the climate crisis. Tax them to force change and drive sustainable energy solutions, or tax them out of existence if they fail to comply, but not because it provides funds for the Treasury to spend. It doesn’t.

On one further point, one could not disagree with the Tesco Chairman’s view that Rishi Sunak should not have raised National Insurance. He gets it! He understands that removing even more of people’s income leaves less for essentials. His remarks may have been driven by clear concern for those who are rationing the amount of food they eat, but also, no doubt, by the effects of that on the business as less money circulates through the economy and into company profits.

On that basis, it also makes a nonsense of Boris Johnson’s announcement this week that the government plans to cut 91,000 civil service jobs, claiming that it will free up cash to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. Or as Larry Elliott suggested in an article this week that ‘harder choices will need to be made, and at a time when ageing populations are intensifying pressures for higher spending. What nonsense!

Aside from the fact that government, as the currency issuer, doesn’t have to rob Peter to pay Paul, and paints a picture of scarce monetary resources which have to be divvied out, it demonstrates blinding economic illiteracy. Again, involuntary unemployment is not only harmful to those affected by it, but under current benefit arrangements, people would be left with less money to spend which, ultimately, would also have a knock-on effect on businesses such as Tesco, in an economy already facing serious problems.

If the government can create funds for its wars, or to bail out banks with no problem, then the question we must ask urgently is why can’t it do the same to help people, and why can’t it invest in the vital public and social infrastructure it has destroyed in the last decade?

When a Treasury spokesman claims, as was reported in The Telegraph this week, that since ‘public debt is at its highest levels and rising inflation is pushing up debt interest costs, the government has to manage the public finances sustainably to avoid saddling future generations with further debt’, there is only one response. It is a damaging lie.

And when Steven Millard, an economist at the NIESR think tank commented that, ‘The Chancellor had the chance to help poorer households, to do something about this. But he chose not to. He chose instead to pay for the Covid Assistance, the added fiscal support, by running down the deficit’, he has understood the potentially catastrophic consequences of that political decision, even if he chooses, like many in his profession, to ignore the monetary reality of how government spends.

The crossroad is before us, there is an alternative. But the question is, which direction will we take?

 

 

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The post Splendour of the Queen’s Speech brings no relief for hungry people appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

Food Bank Britain

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/05/2022 - 9:04pm in

Rachel Morris considers the malaise of modern Britain as the Conservatives initiate Austerity 2.0

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“The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday but never jam today”, said the Mad Hatter. Perhaps he wrote this year’s Queen’s Speech, as delivered by golden calf Prince Charles, and subsequent tweets by Her Majesty’s Government.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak suggested that the Government could help you with the cost of living crisis, if you start a small enterprise first. A jam stall, perhaps.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng shared his passion for nuclear power plants – not exactly a short-term fix – in the week when it was revealed that we’re set to receive glowing veg from Fukushima.

Most ministers repeated the bit from their propaganda manual about being laser-focused on “the people’s priorities”. Nothing like a bit of alliteration to drown out those noises emanating from your stomach.

While French people got a state-delivered energy price cap limiting increases to 4%, our 54% rises can surely only be deliberate.

There’s no question that we’ve embarked upon Austerity 2.0. But the ‘A’ word can’t be said out loud, because according to the Institute for Public Policy Research, Austerity 1.0 caused 130,000 preventable deaths.

That’s one in every 517 people. COVID has now killed one in 347, if you divide the 2020 Census population by deaths with COVID on the certificate (193,713 at 11 May).

Austerity has therefore been rebranded. The Conservatives have driven the more comfortable classes into needing food banks, so has started calling them ‘pantries’. This was exactly the approach of Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt who on 22 April declared a partnership with Hive Portsmouth, setting up ‘food pantries’ in her constituency to save households an “average £800 a year in food bills”.

The accompanying video makes the food bank look like Waitrose, with more gorgeous veg and eggs than I’ve seen anywhere in France. Mordaunt appeals for generous individuals to run them, off the Government pay-roll.

In an article for the Daily Express earlier this week, Mordaunt said that anti-Brexit “doomsters want Britain to fail”. If she doesn’t understand that Britain is already failing, perhaps the minister should spend an afternoon in the food ‘pantry’, when it’s open for business.

According to Mordaunt, Remainers must instead become Tinkerbells: they must close their eyes tight and believe in Brexit hard enough, so food banks – sorry, ‘pantries’ – will vanish. For most people, however, closing their eyes just makes the hunger more apparent.

Asset-Stripping

Closing his eyes is something well-known to Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, who spends his days lounging on the green benches of the House of Commons.

Ultimately, the people in charge see widespread hunger and poverty as a game: an exercise imagined in public relations school – or perhaps a question on the Eton entrance exam – designed to prove how they can wriggle out of a tight spot.

And the latest frontier of this PR campaign has focused on Labour Leader Keir Starmer having a beer and a curry during a work event. The nation’s attention has been diverted away from yet more Downing Street party fines, a catastrophic Conservative local election performance, and the High Court ruling that the Government consigned elderly people to death during the early stages of the pandemic.

It is also deeply ironic that this ‘scandal’ focuses on food, when 4.7 million adults are currently suffering from food insecurity.

Indeed, there are fewer McDonald’s (1,358) in the UK than food ‘pantries’ (more than 2,200). But, according to Conservative MP for Ashfield, Lee Anderson, it’s poor people who are to blame for their growling bellies.

Meanwhile, Prince Charles can still utter the phrase “levelling up” in Parliament while sitting in front of a gold-encrusted wall on a gold-encrusted throne wearing gold-and-medal-encrusted clothing – saying that regional rebalancing will be achieved by “ensuring everyone can continue to benefit from al fresco dining”.

There’s a reason why the Government has run out of ideas about how to fix the country. Primarily, because fixing the problems would involve a recognition that they created the problems in the first place and – secondly – because the Conservative Party takes its instructions from its paymasters in the private sector.

Everywhere you look, the Government is privatising – or threatening to privatise – whatever hasn’t already been sold-off. Passports, driving licenses, Channel 4, alongside our crap-filled waterways. But this asset-stripping goes much further. The state’s role itself has been privatised.

If you want to challenge the lawfulness of a Government action, you must crowdfund it yourself. If you want veterans to have something to sleep on, you must support a charity like Forgotten Veterans UK, whose ambassador is – Penny Mordaunt.

There will come a time when too few can afford to support privately-funded efforts by the third sector, with time or money, and some of these needs simply won’t be met at all. What happens when there are more GoFundMe pages than people who can donate to them? When there are more charities than the charitable?

Up to 14.5 million people lived in poverty before the pandemic – one in every four or five – which is projected to rise to 16 million by 2023. And the Government’s response is indifference.

Last October, the Prime Minister told businesses that it wasn’t his job to fix their every problem. The Chancellor said he “can’t do everything” after criticism of his Spring Statement. Other ministers are saying similar.

We’re on our own now, shivering in a corner with the Trussell Trust. Only £3 million crowns get a lift in a Rolls Royce. The Government makes no bones about it: you’ll have to figure it out on your own. Perhaps you could use those bones to make a tasty broth? If you can afford to put the cooker on. But don’t think there’ll be jam with it. Not today.

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Morality in the Womb: More than Meets the Mass’s Eye

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/05/2022 - 1:12am in
by Max Kummerow

With the recent leaking of the draft decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the heated controversy over a woman’s right to abort—or voluntarily terminate—a pregnancy is again at the forefront of democratic discourse. At the heart of this debate are issues of morality and theology. Self-identified Christians make up 63 percent of the U.S. population, with Evangelical Protestants and Catholics representing an overwhelming portion of the “pro-life” camp.

The question of when moral and legal obligations to protect a new life should begin has been pivotal to abortion politics and policy. Throughout history, four primary theories have been proposed to mark the commencement of a new human life:

  1. Moment of Conception

The moment of conception refers to when the egg and sperm unite to create a zygote with a unique genetic code. Those who hold that this is when life begins may argue for the prohibition of voluntary terminations or contraceptives used after conception, such as IUDs and hormonal methods that prevent pregnancy; that is, the implantation of a fertilized egg to the uterine wall.

  1. Quickening

The mother’s first sensation of the fetus moving—known as quickeningtypically occurs between 16 and 20 weeks after the last menstrual period, or roughly the middle of the pregnancy. “Animus, soul, or life enters the body of the unborn infant when it first moves or stirs in the womb,” said the great 11th century theologian Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas and the Roman Catholic Church viewed the animation of the fetus in the womb as evidence of ensoulment, or the moment when a physical body has been joined with a human soul.

  1. Viability

The age of viability refers to the time during pregnancy when a fetus could be born with a reasonable chance of survival. The time at which a pregnancy becomes viable is typically around 24 weeks; however, babies born around this time have an increased risk of disability and other complications. Most delivered before the age of viability do not survive because the lungs and other vital organs aren’t sufficiently developed.

In Roe v. Wade, the Court divided pregnancies into trimesters. During the first trimester, the woman has sole discretion to terminate the pregnancy. During the second trimester, states can regulate—but not outlaw—voluntary terminations for the sake of the mother’s health. The fetus becomes viable at the start of the third trimester, at which time states can regulate or outlaw terminations in the interest of the potential life, except when termination is necessary to preserve the life of the mother.

  1. Breath of Life

The breath-of-life theory is that a new life begins at the baby’s first breath. This theory reflects the Christian creation story in Genesis 2:7, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” This theory makes the most sense to me. When, as a child, I helped my uncle pull calves, some died and some lived. To live, they had to breathe. My uncle himself died eventually, precisely when his breathing stopped.

Even birth and breathing haven’t always granted an individual protection under the law. Infanticide was common throughout the Roman Empire and many other parts of the ancient world, and has been documented in 27 countries. For instance, China’s one-child policy, implemented between 1980 and 2016, resulted in a wave of female infanticide. Scholars who have extensively studied infanticide have found a positive relationship between income inequality and female infanticide. These researchers concluded that societies with extreme poverty may use infanticide to conserve resources, reduce financial strain, or improve the family’s quality of life.

A purple bus with a large banner covering the back with a smiley face reading "We're pro-life."

What does it really mean to be “pro-life?” (CC BY-SA 2.0, infomatique)

While there are some denominational differences amongst Christians regarding ensoulment and the beginning of life, we can safely assume that those against a woman’s right to choose believe this divine moment occurs sometime in the womb. Scripture, however, provides no guidance on voluntary terminations.

The closest The Bible comes to the topic is in Exodus 21:22-23, where Moses writes, “If two men are fighting, and in the process hurt a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage, but she lives, then the man who injured her shall be fined whatever amount the woman’s husband shall demand, and as the judges approve. But if any harm comes to the woman and she dies, he shall be executed.” If the embryo or fetus was ensouled, wouldn’t the men have received a more severe punishment according to the “eye for an eye” doctrine? Such is the case if the men kill the living, breathing woman. In other words, Scripture clearly implies that the fetus does not have a right to life equal to that of a breathing person.

The Science of Reproduction

Galileo begged the Inquisition to “look through the telescope” to see the truth about the solar system. Those against abortion services should look through a microscope to observe the lengthy, complex processes of conception and gestation. The authors of The Bible did not have the benefit of microscopy, and accordingly wrote nothing on the science of reproduction. To reconcile theology with science though, we must understand the biological facts of conception, fetal development, and birth.

First, the terms “moment of conception” and “beginning of life” are misleading, as these processes don’t occur in an instant. The actual beginning of life took place circa 4 billion years ago when DNA (or possibly even simple RNA, ribonucleic acid) first replicated. Some of the earliest “experiments” may have blinked out, but for several billion years—while innumerable organisms have died and species have gone extinct—life has continued with no interruption.

Nor is conception a “moment,” but rather a multi-step process—prefaced by episodes of meiosis and the production of male and female gametes—taking several hours for a sperm cell (male gamete) to penetrate an egg’s (female gamete) cell wall, stimulate the zona pellucida to deploy (preventing other sperm from entering), shed its axial filament (the “tail”), burrow into the egg, and redeploy genetic material until the collective 46 chromosomes have been linked into 23 pairs. By then, a fertilized egg (zygote) exists, ready for mitosis and another very gradual process of fetal development, but precisely when did the fertilization transpire? And is that unclear moment equivalent to “conception?” Or would conception be more appropriately consigned to the first mitotic division of the zygote?

One thing we do know is that only a relative handful of the quadrillions of potential combinations of DNA win the lottery, manifesting in zygotes and ultimately children. People across the political spectrum can agree that life is sacred, but even in the absence of abortion, most potential humans—even after conception—never experience the breath of life. While often tragic for aspiring mothers, stillbirths and infant mortality are nonetheless common features of human biology. In 2019, the U.S. infant mortality rate was 5.6 deaths per 1,000 live births. In poorer parts of the world, infant mortality is in the hundreds per 1,000 born.

Even with the advancements in medical technology, maternal mortality is still a risk everywhere. In the USA, the risk of death associated with childbirth is roughly fourteen times higher than that with legal abortion, making responsibly provided abortion significantly safer than childbirth. This is a point worth pondering for those who oppose abortion because they value human life, especially considering the Exodus distinction between the value of an adult woman relative to a fetus.

The Odds of Life

Charles Darwin discovered not only how species evolve via natural selection, but explained why organisms produce so many more than can survive. All species have an innate propensity to multiply. More specimens are born than can survive to adulthood; far more in the case of most species.

Meanwhile, the way organisms interact with and adapt to their environment determines their survival and reproduction. In this way, the most “fit” organisms (given the environmental conditions) begin to overtake less fit organisms, passing along more of their genetic code for traits ranging from eye color to blood type and even cognitive ability (which is influenced by genetic and non-genetic variables). The species evolves, in other words, and—assuming moderate rates of environmental change—becomes ever more fit or “successful.” One of the prerequisites of this progressive process is a surplus of specimens, from which the most fit are naturally selected.

Ensouled or otherwise, Homo sapiens is no exception. In the process of ovulation, an egg is released from the human’s ovary each month for roughly 30 to 35 years of fertility. This amounts to 350 to 400 chances of pregnancy. Of the roughly 300,000,000 sperm ejaculated during coitus, only around 200 reach the fertilization site in the oviduct. Even when one lucky sperm fertilizes an egg in the fallopian tube, half of fertilized eggs fail to implant in the uterus, becoming lost after conception and before pregnancy.

Table 1 reflects the reality of surplus reproduction from conception onward. Even given the substantial “drawdown” of zygotes and fetuses in 2020, there were 140 million births and only 59 million deaths, resulting in 81 million more people on Earth.

Table 1. Global Conception, Pregnancy, and Fetal Drawdown, 2020

Total in Millions
% of Conceptions

Conceptions
475
100%

Pregnancies
238
50%

(Unintended Pregnancies)
107
45%

Involuntary Termination
47
10%

Voluntary Termination
50
10%

Births
140
30%

To the best of my knowledge, no woman has ever experienced 350 or 400 pregnancies. Cases such as the Octomom (fourteen children) and the Radford family (16 children) are famous because of how extreme they are (although a Russian woman supposedly produced 69 babies in the 18th century). What if all women could have fourteen to 16 pregnancies during their 30 to 35 years of fertility? Should that be the goal of a pro-life movement?

No society, even those with early marriages and lack of contraception, has averaged more than a dozen births per woman. Contraceptives and other family planning services have allowed most societies to reduce births per woman to more manageable levels. It would seem eminently logical that maximizing the number of human lives is neither desirable nor moral compared with moderating reproduction for purposes of healthy, happy, and sustainable lives.

Choosing Life

One of the cornerstones of steady-state economics is democratically stabilizing population; another is achieving fairness and quality of life. For these purposes, access to contraceptives, comprehensive sexual education, and family planning services are needed.

Abortion rights protest with signs reading "Pro-choice is Pro-life"

Considering the wellbeing of all life forms—or all God’s creatures—pro-choice is  congruent with pro-life. (CC BY 2.0, Debra Sweet)

Better contraceptives and family planning services have already proven to reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions. In countries that restrict abortion, the percentage of unintended pregnancies ending in abortion has ironically increased from 36 percent to 50 percent over the past 30 years. In the end, if preventing the frequency of abortions is truly the goal, then widening access to sex education, contraceptives, and other forms of reproductive healthcare—even abortion itself—is the most effective course of action.

Ending abortions altogether, were it possible, would increase the number of children born each year by at least 50 million globally. These children would be born to families that, in many and probably the vast majority of cases, couldn’t afford them or are otherwise not prepared to assume the responsibilities of parenthood. Banning abortion would also increase maternal mortality and the presence of negative health effects in mothers and children.

In my opinion, an abortion should be considered a responsible parenting decision to the degree the pregnancy is unwanted. Unintended teen pregnancies are one of the leading circumstances for abortions in the USA. Among teens 15 to 19, 75 percent of pregnancies are unintended. Teenagers have many other chances (about 350 to 400) to be a mother when they are more prepared for the responsibility. An abortion allows the teenager to choose a better time to have a child who will grow up better cared for.

For a woman already with children, a decision to terminate an unwanted pregnancy lessens her family’s financial and psychological strain, and leaves more resources to be shared by her pre-existing children. In other words, terminating an unwanted pregnancy can reduce the burden on the mother, on society, and on the planet, or the fullness of God’s Creation for the faithful among us. In that sense, abortion too has a pro-life element.

Max Kummerow portraitMax Kummerow is a population activist and researcher, and author of the forthcoming book, Too Many People.

The post Morality in the Womb: More than Meets the Mass’s Eye appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

‘Levelling-Up’ Is Dying in Johnson’s Desert of Ideas

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 12/05/2022 - 9:48pm in

As the nation nears the three year mark of Johnson’s Government, it’s time to be honest about the collapse of his flagship project, says Sam Bright

We live in an era when the absolutist statements of populist politicians are rarely matched by equally forthright criticism by the media.

Boris Johnson could promise to ‘Get Brexit Done’, for example – pledging to see through the biggest change to the UK’s constitutional, economic and regional makeup for generations – and yet Brexit has sidled off the mainstream news agenda. Northern Ireland is in a state of political paralysis, our international trade has been depressed, but Johnson’s Brexit fallacies still reign supreme.

This is similarly the case with ‘levelling up’ – the Government’s flagship plan to rebalance the fortunes of our nations and regions. Once again, Johnson’s rhetoric has been bold. In a flagship speech on the subject in July 2021, he presciently suggested that the UK was only “firing on one cylinder” – referring to the disproportionate economic power of London and the south east.

The Government’s levelling up white paper released in February – designed to sketch-out Johnson’s agenda in more detail – continued this rhetorical zeal, using analogies from Renaissance Italy to inform its 12 levelling up ‘missions’.

However, these words collapse under intellectual pressure. Only four of these missions will have a measurable impact on regional inequality, according to the Institute for Government, while Johnson actually plans to spend less on English regional development than either of his immediate predecessors – Theresa May and David Cameron – according to the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

Henri Murison, who runs the think tank, says that much of the Government’s levelling up agenda will be fundamentally “undermined through a lack of funding”.

This intellectual sinkhole opened up further in the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday, during which the Government announced its short-term plans for levelling up. This included announcing a Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, focused on local planning and the devolution of powers.

The Government’s proposals are thin on the ground. In fact, wafer thin. The bill includes five ‘main elements’, one of which is to give “residents more of a say over changing street names and ensuring everyone can continue to benefit from al fresco dining”. Instead of providing lifeboats, the Government is encouraging Brits to dine on the decks of a rapidly submerging ship.

As in the case of the white paper, the Government’s only bold, progressive proposal is to devolve more power to local and regional authorities – under the promise that “every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal with powers at or approaching the highest level of devolution and a simplified long-term funding settlement.” In the short-term, the Government plans to negotiate 10 new devolution deals in England, and has promised extra powers to Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester and to Andy Street in the West Midlands.

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Levelling Down

The problem is: these facts are confined to think tank reports and the columns of broadsheet newspapers. When Boris Johnson said that he was going to level up the country, this slogan was splashed by every tabloid newspaper and news channel. The unravelling of his plan, however, is only carried in whispers.

Yet, the reality is stark: levelling up is failing. It took the Government more than two years to produce its white paper, despite the prominence of levelling up in the 2019 Conservative Manifesto.

During this time, the circumstances of the poorest in Britain have deteriorated. The most deprived and diverse communities were disproportionately saddled with the health and economic impacts of the pandemic. Among 20 peer countries, the UK suffered the second largest fall in life expectancy from 2019 to 2021, concentrated in poorer areas.

Researchers at the University of Manchester calculated that, between March and December 2020, 1,645 years of life were lost per 100,000 people in the most deprived areas of England and Wales, compared to 916 years of life per 100,000 in the most affluent. In other words, almost twice as many years of life were lost in the poorest areas of the country compared with the wealthiest.

The UK’s structural inequalities encompass every aspect of public policy. So, while the Conservatives may now be attempting to frame ‘levelling up’ purely in the realms of planning reform and devolution – hoping the media will buy this narrative – attention is diverted away from the burgeoning inequalities suffered by the most disadvantaged.

This process is only set to intensify through the cost of living crisis, that will torpedo the Government’s regional rebalancing rallying cry, in the absence of administrative action.

A further 250,000 households will be in extreme poverty next year, taking the overall figure to 1.2 million, according to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.

The Trussell Trust delivered 2.1 million food parcels (including more than 830,000 parcels provided for children) to people facing financial hardship across the country, from April 2021 to March 2022. This represented an increase of 14% compared to 2019/2020 and double the number provided in 2014/15.

Just today, Bloomberg has released an analysis showing that, in nine out of 12 metrics, the performance of most constituencies relative to London and the south-east of England is now worse or unchanged compared to 2019.

Meanwhile, as the economy overheats – causing an inflationary spike – London has turned into a furness. Already the most expensive place to live in the country – since 2010, average private rental prices in London have grown at five times the rate of average earnings – the capital has placed even more financial pressure on its inhabitants in recent months. According to Rightmove, average rents in London reached £2,193 a month in March, a 14.3% rise from £1,919 last year and the largest annual increase in any region since records began.

Some 30% of people are in the private rental market in London – a higher proportion than any other nation or region – whereas only 10% of Londoners were private renters in the 1980s.

House prices propel poverty rates in the capital. While London has comfortably the highest wages in the country, it also has the highest rates of poverty, by virtue of its obscene property costs. If all the people in poverty in London formed a new city, it would be the second largest conurbation in the UK – and twice the size of Birmingham.

Yet, while the Housing Minister Stuart Andrew yesterday said that London needs 100,000 new homes a year to keep up with demand, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove simultaneously seemed to drop the Government’s target to build 300,000 homes across the country every year.

In this desert of ideas, the poorest parts of the country – in the north, the south, and in the devolved nations – continue to become sicker and poorer.

Johnson’s Government has run out of ideas, instead ruling through the division of its contrived culture war conflicts – hoping that journalists continue to play along, failing to expose the empty slogans that encase his betrayed promises.

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Homelessness 101

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/05/2022 - 10:40pm in

I recently taught an eight-module Homelessness 101 workshop, and have since made all material available free of charge here: https://nickfalvo.ca/courses/

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