Tag Archives: recession

Hope for a Global Spring?

Perhaps it’s because of the economy is beginning – finally – to pick up in the US. Perhaps it is because I’m sick to death of bad election-year politics, so I’m looking at anything else that comes along of interest. Maybe it’s even because I wrote about creative destruction the last time I did a column here, and I’m ready for the transformation that follows that practice. But I’m feeling a bit more hopeful this month, and I’m seeing signs that I’m not the only one. Continue reading Hope for a Global Spring?

The global recession that isn’t

You can’t turn a page or click a tab here in the UK without reading about the ongoing woes of the global recession, and I rather suspect the situation is similar for Stateside readers.

Thing is, the global recession isn’t quite so global as it looks from our standpoint in the “developed” West; via Tobias Buckell, here’s a piece at Foreign Policy that paints the nations of Africa as a golden investment opportunity – a far cry from the war-scarred deserts and shanty-towns of popular perception.

Africa, in fact, is now one of the world’s fastest-growing economic regions. Between 2000 and 2008, the continent’s collective GDP grew at 4.9 percent per year — twice as fast as in the preceding two decades. By 2008, that put Africa’s economic output at $1.6 trillion, roughly on par with Russia and Brazil. Africa was one of only two regions — Asia being the other — where GDP rose during 2009’s global recession. And revenues from natural resources, the old foundation of Africa’s economy, directly accounted for just 24 percent of growth during the last decade; the rest came from other booming sectors, such as finance, retail, agriculture, and telecommunications. Not every country in Africa is resource rich, yet GDP growth accelerated almost everywhere.

Toby goes on to do some back-of-the-envelope maths:

The world population is estimated to be 6.7 Billion.

Asia and India, both currently in growth patterns, represent 60% of the world’s population. Africa represents 15%. So 75% of the world is actually right now currently growing.

However most of Western Europe, parts of North America, and parts of South America are not. So it’s a global lack of growth for 25% of the world’s population.

There’s no denying that things are looking pretty grim economically for us Euros and Yanks, and that our problems are having a knock-on effect elsewhere. But rather than a global recession, perhaps what we’re seeing is simply a globe that doesn’t spin around us as the pivot point any more. Cold comfort for the myopic, I suppose, but I’m kind of relieved; we’ve had our time in the sun, but the sun hasn’t stopped shining just yet.

The Privatisation of America

Key West conch republic bumper stickerJohn Robb has just re-posted USA Inc.“, a speculative future-history essay he wrote back in 2007, meant to be read as if “written from the perspective of a think tank that’s operating in support of the status quo economic elites in 2025.” He saw the recession coming, predicted an increasing entrenchment of US forces in unwinnable open-source guerrilla conflicts, and riffed on these themes to predict a future where massive government debt leads to the privatisation of… well, pretty much everything. [image by szlea]

Roads, waterworks, military bases, schools, parks, and much more were quickly sold at appropriate prices. Attempts by government’s to retain ownership and rent them as multi-year leases were initially successful, but as the crisis deepened the market cooled to these schemes. Within a year of the start of what is incorrectly but popularly termed “The Great Theft,” outright sales of assets to global investment funds, corporations and individuals were by far more common. The speed of this transfer in ownership has been unmatched by any example prior or since. By 2015, less than three years after the panic began, upwards of 60% of all public assets from the national to the local levels were formally in private hands.

Note that Robb says this is not a future he desires or advocates, but that it seems nonetheless more plausible as events develop; for extra chewiness, compare and contrast with Tim Maly’s “The Free Freeways” Futurismic essay about the seccession of the US highway system.

I think I can safely predict that a lot of you will say Robb’s USA Inc. could never happen, and those of you who are American citizens would be better qualified to make that judgemnet than I… but I’d be very interested to hear your reasoning. Is Robb’s style of doomsaying just a symptom of the inherently self-critical character of American politics, and hence an indication that the problems he’s flagging up are already being grappled with at a subliminal level?

Or is the feeling that it couldn’t happen merely a form of knee-jerk wishful thinking and denial – “too big to fail” scaled up to a whole nation?

White faces in the day labour queue

I clearly remember my first day travelling in Mexico, walking out from my hostel to check out the zocalo at the centre of El D.F. and catching sight of long rows of men stood by their open toolboxes, with little signs explaining what sort of work they’d do, and for how much money. I’d never seen people queuing for day labour before; I don’t know if it’s ever happened in the UK during my lifetime.

It’s a more common sight in the US, apparently, especially in cities with high densities of immigrants, legal or otherwise. And now in Las Vegas (and elsewhere) the immigrants are being joined by US-born citizens as the economy continues its slow grind through the low times [via GlobalGuerrillas]:

In the latest sign of the Las Vegas Valley’s economic free fall, U.S. citizens are starting to show up in the early mornings outside home improvement stores and plant nurseries across the Las Vegas Valley, jostling with illegal immigrants for a shot at a few hours of work.

Experts say the slow-starting but seemingly inexorable trend is occurring nationwide.

“It’s the equivalent of selling apples in the Great Depression,” said Harley Shaiken, chairman of the Center for Latin American studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

It’s grim news from an economic perspective… but there may be a positive outcome, depending on your attitude. While there’s every chance that competing with illegal immigrants for low-dollar work may exacerbate the resentment and racial tensions that certain talk-show hosts love to exploit, in some cases the reverse may occur – citizens brought low by the financial crisis coming to realise that immigrants are people just like them, in other words.

Bernabe said organizers came across one case where a local sheriff had been sending officers to answer complaints about day laborers and then found one day that the sheriff’s neighbor, a citizen, was among them. Police in that area have been less likely to harass laborers since then, he said. These events will occur more, changing people’s attitudes in the process, he said.

“For a long time, people have looked at day laborers and said, ‘The problem is the immigrants.’ Now the economy is changing. Now people may see it’s a problem of the labor market, of the rights of workers,” Bernabe said.

Buchanan, meanwhile, looks forward to a future that includes a steady job and an apartment. “I’m trying to dig my way out of this,” he said. When he does, however, he sees himself as a changed man.

“Before, I was part of the majority. Now I’m part of the minority … I’m not going to forget this. I’m not going to forget any of this.”

It’d be ironic if the recession helped people to realise that the divide that really matters isn’t the border lines drawn on a map, but the invisible one drawn between the poor and the rich – the one that cuts across nationality and ethnicity in every country on the planet. It’d be ironic, but it’d also be the best thing that the recession achieved. What social changes might we see in a country where the poor refuse to be divided and conquered by the rhetoric of the rich? Would the atmosphere of brotherhood last, or would the first signs of recovery herald a return to the status quo?

Upsides to the downturn – work less, die later

Chinese card playersPeriods of economic recession are bound to affect your health negatively, right? Well, not according to Christopher Ruhm, economics professor, whose research suggests that health actually improves in recessions:

In studies over the past 10 years, Ruhm has consistently found death rates decline during recessions and rise when the economy expands. If unemployment rises 1 percent, he estimates the death rate will fall by about half a percent.

“I tracked things like unemployment and mortality and found that they were almost a mirror image of each other,” Ruhm said.

Other researchers have found evidence of improved health during economic downturns in Cuba, Germany, Japan and Spain. Think of it as a silver lining — and perhaps a measure of how much our unhealthy lifestyles and workaholic tendencies can get the best of us during boom times.


Some experts remain skeptical, in part because of overwhelming evidence that people who lose jobs suffer poor health because of it. Depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, and anti-social behavior become significantly more likely after a person gets laid off.

As with so many articles of this type, there’s actually no conclusive proof either way. The causality of changes in the death rates is going to be affected by a multitude of interdependent factors, of which the state of the economy is just one (albeit a fairly significant and influential one). [via MetaFilter; image by SocTech]

That said, there’s a nugget of appealing logic at the core of Ruhm’s research. How much does the amount we work (and what we get paid for that work) really compensate us for the loss of what might be a somewhat spartan but more leisurely lifestyle? If the link was found to be explicit, what trappings of your current life would you be willing to sacrifice in exchange for a happier, healthier life? Or is this just another rehashing of Walden Pond for the modern age, a desperate grab for a silver lining in a cloudy sky?