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Greece checkmates the European Union

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Syriza has said Greece will continue to make payments on the country's massive debt, but will also negotiate relief. Most important, the Syriza programme is unmistakably left wing and will lead to a head-on collision with the EU institutions and big business. Image: Cartoon Movement / Gatis Sluka (Latvia, Riga)

Syriza has said Greece will continue to make payments on the country’s massive debt, but will also negotiate relief. Most important, the Syriza programme is unmistakably left wing and will lead to a head-on collision with the EU institutions and big business. Image: Cartoon Movement / Gatis Sluka (Latvia, Riga)

The victory of Syriza in the 25 January 2015 general election in Greece has triggered off genuine hope in Europe that changes for the better are possible. There was, for the world to witness through television cameras and to read via social media channels, an outpouring of joy on the streets of Athens when the Coalition of the Radical Left (which is what the acronym ‘syriza’ stands for) won 37.5% of the votes polled and 146 seats in the parliament.

The Syriza that has now formed the new government brings together a group of 13 radical and left-wing political groups and factions ranging from democratic socialist and green-oriented to communist, trotskyist and maoist leftists and even some anti-European groups. Regardless of their often divergent political trajectories, their joint solidarity is a remarkable achievement, not only for Greece but for Europe.

Greece_syrizaAlready, the new Greek government is stamping upon Euro-politics a new voice. Syriza has spoken out against the EU partners over the statement that blames Russia for the recent attack on the Ukrainian city of Mariupol (Hungary, Slovakia, and Austria had voiced similar objections earlier). The new government, headed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, said bluntly that “… it is underlined that Greece does not consent to this statement”. The decisive ‘no’ from Syriza could inspire other countries to follow suit and oppose Brussels’ policies towards Russia on the Ukrainian crisis. Before the remarkable result in Greece, it was considered difficult in the EU to break ranks but now it is not unlikely that Hungary, Slovakia and Cyprus will find the courage to also say ‘no’ to the diktat from Brussels.

And that is one reason why Europe’s parties — conservative or socialist or some muddled admixture thereof – have become anxious at the electoral success of a genuine leftist party in one of the countries of the European Union. They see the success of Syriza as encouraging and emboldening growing leftist movements in larger countries, including Italy, Spain, France, Portugal and elsewhere, all countries whose citizens have been hurt by the iron heel of selective ‘austerity’ imposed by the European Parliament (in collaboration with the International Monetary Fund and Europe’s central banks). As does Syriza, these new movements in Europe reject the jaded and morally compromised parties that have been taking turns running European countries as adjuncts to the dictates of trans-national capital and the networks of global financiers.

The resounding victory in Greece has halted in its tracks the prevailing neo-liberal consensus in Europe that the way to ‘reform’ economies is to impose ‘austerity’, slash social programmes, hammer down wages, boost unemployment, and privatise functions that have long been public like transit, education, roads and and health care. This is after all a coalition whose manifesto stated, “The national debt is first and foremost a product of class relations, and is inhumane in its very essence. It is produced by the tax evasion of the wealthy, the looting of public funds, and the exorbitant procurement of military weapons and equipment.” Greece has spoken and all of Europe is changed.

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Written by makanaka

January 29, 2015 at 20:28

Retiring the American dollar

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Off into history's sunset, like the cowboy. This image (modified) is called 'Dollar Green' by the artist mancaalberto (http://mancaalberto.deviantart.com/)

Off into history’s sunset, like the cowboy. This image (modified) is called ‘Dollar Green’ by the artist mancaalberto (http://mancaalberto.deviantart.com/)

Seventy years ago, to the very month, a man named Henry Morganthau celebrated the creation of a “dynamic world community in which the peoples of every nation will be able to realise their potentialities in peace”. It was the founding of what came to be called the Bretton Woods institutions (named after the venue for the meeting, in the USA) and these were the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development – better known as the World Bank – and the International Monetary Fund.

None of the lofty aims that seemed so apposite in the shattering aftermath of the Second World War have been achieved, although what has been written are libraries of counter-factual history that claim such achievements (and more besides) commissioned by both these institutions and their web of supporting establishments, financial, academic, political and otherwise. Instead, for the last two generations of victims of ‘structural adjustment’, and of ‘reform and austerity’ all that has become worthwhile in the poorer societies of the world has been achieved despite the Bretton Woods institutions, not because of them.

Now, seventy years after Morganthau (the then Treasury Secretary of the USA) and British economist John Maynard Keynes unveiled with a grey flourish a multi-lateral framework for international economic order, the Bretton Woods institutions are faced with a challenge, and the view from East and South Asia, from Latin America and from southern Africa is that this is a challenge that has been overdue for too long.

Let's get the de-dollarisation of the world started.

Let’s get the de-dollarisation of the world started.

It has come in the form of the agreement between the leaders of five countries to form a development bank. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, China’s President Xi Jinping, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma made formal their intention during the sixth summit of their countries – together called ‘BRICS’, after the first letters of their countries’ names – held this month in Brazil.

What has been set in motion is the BRICS Development Bank and the BRICS Contingency Reserves Arrangement. Both the new institution and the new mechanism will counter the influence of Western-based lending institutions and the American dollar, which is the principal reserve currency used internationally and which is the currency that the IMF and the World Bank conduct their ruthless business in (and which formulate their policies around, policies that are too often designed to impoverish the working class and to cripple labour).

At one time or another, and not always at inter-governmental fora, the BRICS have objected to the American dollar continuing to be the world’s principal reserve currency, a position which amplifies the impact of policy decisions by the US Federal Reserve – the American central bank – on all countries that trade using dollars, and which seek capital denominated in dollars. These impacts are, not surprisingly, ignored by the Federal Reserve which looks after the interests of the American government of the day and US business (particularly Wall Street).

In the last two years particularly, non-dollar bilateral agreements have become more common as countries have looked for ways to free themselves from the crushing Bretton Woods yoke. Only this June, Russia’s finance minister said the central banks of Russia and China would discuss currency swaps for export payments in their respective national currencies, a direction that followed Putin’s visit to China the previous month to finalise the gigantic US$400 billion deal between Gazprom and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). It is still early, and the BRICS will favour caution over hyperbole, but when their bank opens for business, the sun will begin to set on the US dollar.

Poverty is a new market for management firms

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The Rs 1,336 proposed by McKinsey will neither help run this household nor provide any 'empowerment'.

The Rs 1,336 proposed by McKinsey will neither help run this household in rural Karnataka nor provide any ’empowerment’. The family’s entrepreneurship, running a cooked food stall in a part of the house, keeps it comfortably above the poverty line.

There is a new contributor to an old subject in India. The subject is poverty, and the newcomer is a management consulting company. This sort of company has no experience with such a subject, however the McKinsey Global Institute – which works as “the research arm of consulting company McKinsey” – has not been short of advisers on the matter.

What does this consulting company say and why should we keep an eye on their activity in this subject? This institute has issued a report called ‘From poverty to empowerment: India’s imperative for jobs, growth and effective basic services’. The proposal, unabashedly touted as new thinking, is that India should focus not on a poverty line but on a “more comprehensive measure of what it would take to satisfy a person’s basic needs for food, energy, housing, drinking water, sanitation, healthcare, schooling and social security”.

This new thinking – presented as a startling innovation in the same way that a new brand of running shoes or some such frippery is launched – is called an “empowerment line”. This ‘line’ has been placed at Rs 1,336 rupees a month – which McKinsey points out is about 50% higher than the national official poverty line.

McKinsey_India_poverty_coverWhat is sought to be fixed at the bidding of the current government of India and at what cost? This new report by the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that Rs 330,000 crore should be spent over the next 10 years to “empower 680 million Indians who are only marginally better than those under the poverty line”. And moreover that this spending be increased to reach 1.08 million crore by 2022 because “the government’s spending on various development schemes” does not “effectively reach much of the public”. At current rates of exchange, that is US$ 173 billion and what handsome percentage of that will be marked (or unmarked) as consultants’ fees?

Likewise, we must also examine those who have provided, as McKinsey has said, “insights and guidance” for this work. Among those listed are Subir Gokarn, director of research of Brookings India and former deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India; Vijay Kelkar, chairman of the India Development Foundation, former chairman of India’s Finance Commission, and former finance secretary, Government of India; Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission of India; Arun Maira and B K Chaturvedi, members of the Planning Commission of India; Rakesh Mohan, India’s executive director at the International Monetary Fund; Nandan Nilekani, chairman, Unique Identification Authority of India; S Ramadorai, adviser to the Prime Minister, National Council on Skill Development; and Soli Sorabjee, former attorney-general of India.

Disconnected entirely from the dynamics of district livelihoods and factors that influence income and well-being, consulting companies such as McKinsey must not continue to be engaged by central and state governments in any capacity.

Disconnected entirely from the dynamics of district livelihoods and factors that influence income and well-being, consulting companies such as McKinsey must not continue to be engaged by central and state governments in any capacity.

These people are votaries of the thesis that GDP growth is good, and that all policy must conform to such a doctrine. Hence it becomes easier to see the connection between the direction that the UPA 1 and UPA 2 governments have taken till here, and the firm grip finance and industry have on the country’s journey into ‘development’, aided by the outpourings of management consulting companies such as McKinsey. This ‘empowerment index’ is nothing but a repetition of the desire that over the period 2010-20, urban India must create 70% of all new jobs in India and these urban jobs will be twice as productive as equivalent jobs in the rural sector, as stated in ‘India’s Urban Awakening: Building Inclusive Cities, Sustaining Economic Growth’, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute issued in early 2010.

The expectation is that as India’s cities expand, India’s economic profile will also change. In 1995, India’s GDP was divided almost evenly between its urban and rural economies. In 2008, urban GDP accounted for 58% of overall GDP. By 2030, according to the McKinsey report’s calculations, urban India will generate nearly 70% of India’s GDP. Such a transformation, if it comes to pass, is expected to deliver a steep increase in India’s per capita income between now and 2030 wherein the number of middle class households (earning between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 10 lakh a year) will increase from 32 million to 147 million. And it is against the drawing of that alarming line of minimum urbanisation drawn four years earlier, that this new line must be viewed, together with the injunction that “India can bring more than 90 percent of its people above the Empowerment Line in just a decade by implementing inclusive reforms”.

Appraising World Food Day 2013

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FAO-world_food_day_2013It must be difficult to be a senior official in the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN these days, especially if the official is above 40 years old and has spent the last two decades working “in the field” (which usually means away from some capital city somewhere, in discomfort that is amusingly relative to most of us proletarian toilers). For, I do think that there is still a majority of folk in the FAO who care about their work and the aims of the organisation, muddled though these get when 190-odd member states each bring their own version of reality (and ambition) into the proceedings.

More difficult it is nowadays in an FAO that is being shepherded more closely into the embrace of the OECD, the World Bank-International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organisation embrace, with its murmuring old boys’ clubs all shadowy in their suits, adept at facilitating the trade of political positions for corporate board seats. And more difficult it is nowadays in an FAO that is scrutinised every day by NGOs and civil society groups that have successfully ensured that negotiations called ‘multi-lateral’ must be open before public gaze and can no longer hide behind empty principles when hunger – FAO’s single problem – stalks the planet.

Perhaps that is one reason why the FAO has called this year’s World Food Day ‘Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition’ – and notice the addition of ‘nutirion’, there’s no getting away from the N-word these days, so loaded has it become. The theme, to borrow from the typically bland FAO pronouncement, “gives focus to World Food Day observances and helps increase understanding of problems and solutions in the drive to end hunger”. Well said, for the umpteenth time.

Via_Campesina_food_sovereigntyBut there have been departures from the corporate script lately which are surprising. On 2013 October 04 the Director General of FAO, José Graziano da Silva, formalised a tie with La Via Campesina, recognising it as the most important voice of small food producers worldwide. This is seen by Campesina as “yet another welcome step in a series of ongoing reforms of the FAO, which have created a unique and unprecedented space to collaborate with civil society and democratize the arena of global food policy”. Easier wished for than done, as Campesina well knows, because the financiers and bankers, agri-commodity trading oligopolies and mafioso, the crooked politicians in the European Union and their willing partners in the ‘developing’ world are not going to quietly let this happen.

These reforms are aimed at giving the FAO not just more political legitimacy by becoming more inclusive, but also at reviving it as the cornerstone for international cooperation in the area of food security, starting to take such policy decisions out of the hands of the World Bank (WB) or the World Trade Organization (WTO.) While these developments are welcome, the global peasants’ movement remains realistic about the amount of energy that should be put into the UN, maintaining its greatest strength on the ground mobilizing farmers and building alternatives.

The IFPRI Global Hunger Index 2013 world map, blatantly patronising in its North-South exclusion. The white areas are not even in the map legend. They correspond to the OECD/'industrialised' world, and the IFPRI/CGIAR view is that the chronic mis-nutrition of western societies has no place in a report on global hunger. Nor does this map consider the growing effects of working class poverty in the OECD countries.

The IFPRI Global Hunger Index 2013 world map, blatantly patronising in its North-South exclusion. The white areas are not even in the map legend. They correspond to the OECD/’industrialised’ world, and the IFPRI/CGIAR view is that the chronic mis-nutrition of western societies has no place in a report on global hunger. Nor does this map consider the growing effects of working class poverty in the OECD countries.

In 2012, at the 39th session of FAO’s Committee on Food Security (CFS), the G20 approached the CFS and asked the Committee to agree with what it said on price volatility in agricultural commodities, which since 2007 has dragged tens of millions of households in South and North into hunger and debt. When that happened, and when a compromised CFS agreed, the civil society delegation to the session walked out. The NGOs, social movements, representatives of peasants’ federations and associations who were present had, on the contrary, demanded strong regulation of the commodity futures markets that fuel price volatility and the food insecurity of the poorest. But the G20 (and that means the investors in a global agribusiness industry) won that round.

With the help of the CGIAR, what for the sake of convenience we call the G20 will want to win every time. The CGIAR is the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research which runs 15 centres around the world that are described as “independent, non-profit research organizations, innovating on behalf of poor people in developing countries” and as being “home to almost 10,000 scientists, researchers, technicians, and staff working to create a better future for the world’s poor”. The descriptions about ‘independent’, ‘non-profit’ and ‘for the poor’ are lies, as they have been for every single one of the 40 years of this plague called the CGIAR. But the CGIAR system is large, powerful, almost invisible and little understood except by those in agricultural research systems (such as those in the Indian Council of Agricultural Research) in ‘developing’ countries.

And that is why the release, a few days ago, of the ‘Global Hunger Index’ 2013 needs to be interpreted for what it is, because it is the product of one of the CGIAR centres, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). The annual index offers a ranking of hunger, or food insecurity/security for many countries but not all (see the image of the map and its caption). The IFPRI functions worldwide as a motivated think-tank that commissions carefully scripted research to fulfil pre-determined outputs that serve the interests of those who profit from the industrial agricultural system and retail food system.

That such an obvious fifth column finds residence and a willing ear in India ought to be a matter of shame to us. Here is a small example why. The IFPRI, in the 2013 Global Hunger Index, has distributed its ‘recommendations’ which are from the typical neo-liberal charter of subjugation of the working classes and the denial of choice, all camouflagued by whichever development jargon is found to be currently in vogue.

The cover of the Global Hunger Index 2013 report. Read the recommendations to grasp why this has been released, ignore the data.

The cover of the Global Hunger Index 2013 report. Read the recommendations to grasp why this has been released, ignore the data.

Hence “broader policy coherence for development is also a key requirement for efforts to strengthen resilience. Policies that undermine resilience must be revised. To foster resilience to undernutrition, policies should be designed with the intention of improving nutrition outcomes and realising the right to adequate food” in fact means – do away with policies that still see a role for the state and the public sector, hide this behind trendy concepts like ‘resilience’ and ‘right to food’, but include nutrition (which I mentioned earlier) because that is the route the MNCs have successfully used.

Hence “encourage and facilitate a multisectoral approach to resilience (as the Scaling Up Nutrition movement encourages a multisectoral approach to nutrition, for example), coordinating plans and programs across line ministries” in fact means – phase out your thinking and replace it with ours, which comes with a United Nations endorsement and which places private business at the centre of policy and its implementation.

Hence “adjust policies and strategies that undermine the resilience of poor and vulnerable groups, such as the low import tariffs or the structural neglect of smallholder agriculture in Haiti” in fact means – remove barriers to food imports, stop subsidies and subventions that the poor, marginalised and vulnerable have a right to in your country (consider the ruckus the World Trade Organisation has been making about India’s new National Food Security Act) and spout righteous claptrap about ‘neglect’.

Hence “ensure that policies and programs draw on a wide range of expertise such as collaborative, multiagency, and multisectoral problem analysis. National governments should support the emergence of multistakeholder platforms and make active use of such forums” in fact means – the expertise will be foreign and provided by the CGIAR and its numerous allies in all garbs, these ‘multi’ platforms will be public showcases to conceal an agenda already set.

[The full IFPRI Global Hunger Index 2013 report is here. The ‘issue brief is here’ for those who want a condensed dose of dangerous neo-liberal vitamins. And the obligatory data set used to support the well-set arguments is here.]

There is no comparison between the IFPRI propaganda and the annual report of the Right to Food and Nutrition Watch 2013, the sixth edition of which was released in 2014 October. The Watch identifies a number of policies that generate hunger and malnutrition instead of reducing them. The Watch insists on the need for meaningful participation – at every level – of people and communities in the development of those public policies which affect their lives.

You will find here national case studies and analysis that show (1) policies that foster violence and discrimination against women with regard to equal access to natural resources, inheritances, equal wages and political decision-making, (2) policies that systematically limit and exclude large groups, including peasants, agricultural workers, fisherfolks, pastoralists and indigenous peoples from participating in those decisions that affect their very livelihoods and (3) policies on a global level that facilitate land grabbing, concentrated ownership of natural resources and the commodification of public goods that deprive smallholders and other people of their food resources.

Finally some good news from the IMF

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The Dalai Lama at the IMF? Not at all, but we think he would like the IMF's new de-growth manifesto and would be delighted if all macro-economists turned vegetarian. Photo: Courtesy the official website of His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet

The Dalai Lama at the IMF? Not at all, but we think he would like the IMF’s new de-growth manifesto and would be delighted if all macro-economists turned vegetarian. Photo: Courtesy the official website of His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet <http://www.dalailama.com/&gt;

The first signs of the long-awaited change in thinking at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) can now be seen in the World Economic Outlook report. This routine blatherfest, which is issued by the IMF’s slick-but-barmy public relations department, is unremarkable on every occasion and the only reason you’d want to punish yourself by plodding through the 500-odd pages of this ode to deforestation is to admire the very latest chic for presenting boring graphs and charts. But this time, it’s as if a Buddhist rinpoche has edited the manuscript.

What’s changed and why? For the year 2013 the IMF has said that ‘global output’ (output of what, you may well ask, but do hold your horses) to expand 2.9% instead of the 3.1% it had, in an unsporting manner, forecast this July. Between that monsoon month and this one some heads must’ve rolled at the IMF (many more to follow suit I hope) because now the IMF has taken a firm long stride towards its manifest destiny: bringing about the no-growth economy.

However, some die-hard lumpens are still doing their best to rally growth insurrectionists to their tattered flag. They are still making announcements like “our analysis attributes the slowdown in part to cyclical forces, including softer external demand and in part to structural bottlenecks” and are wondering why “this has happened in spite of supportive domestic macroeconomic policies, (still) favorable terms of trade, and easy financing conditions, which only began to tighten recently” but confess to being bemused by “a non-trivial portion of the slowdown remains unexplained, suggesting that other factors common to emerging markets are at play”.

Not to worry, these radical elements will soon be overwhelmed, rounded up, their iPads and Nasdaq terminals will be confiscated and they will be issued the standard entry level rations of organically grown tulsi tea, second-hand kolhapuri sandals (‘chappals‘ to the initiated) and Indian khadi kurtas.

All you ever wanted to know about excel charts but were afraid to ask. I have suggested to our IMF comrades that they rename the 'current slowdown' bubble 'the fish'n'chips crisis'.

All you ever wanted to know about excel charts but were afraid to ask. I have suggested to our IMF comrades that they rename the ‘current slowdown’ bubble ‘the fish’n’chips crisis’.

Nonetheless, I will be the first to admit that their ideologues present quite a different challenge. You can see for yourself how difficult it is going to be to dislodge some of the rebel ideologues from an IMF that has already, in rank and file, enthusiastically redefined odious growth to in fact mean none at all. This soporific video will help you judge. I couldn’t get beyond 00:07 of the footage before falling over with acute narcosis, but perhaps you are made of sterner stuff.

Likewise, one of the leading rebel subcomandantes is broadcasting a steady tattoo of counter-revolutionary propaganda. She has been recorded as saying “changing global growth constellations have exacerbated risks in emerging market economies” and that “monetary policy accommodation combined with domestic vulnerabilities in emerging market economies may lead to further market adjustment globally” and even threatening “risks of asset price overshooting or even balance of payments disruptions”.

It is only a matter of time before this resistance is overcome. Meanwhile, I would be remiss in my duties as a degrowth advocate along the inspiring lines now redrawn by IMF if I did not remind these recalcitrants that Chairman Mao had said “A revolution is not a dinner partyy” or that Muammar Gaddafi had written (the Green Book, naturally) that “Mandatory education is a coercive education that suppresses freedom. To impose specific teaching materials is a dictatorial act” and that General Vo Nguyen Giap had when confronting the enemy firmly said “Their morale is lower than the grass”.

Finally, intelligence reports just in have confirmed that the conclusion of the IMF’s revolutionary new no-growth tract, which reads “a new round of structural reforms is a must for many emerging market economies, including investment in infrastructure, to reignite potential growth” is in fact a printer’s devil.

If global food indices are descending, why are local food prices rising?

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The trends of ten international food commodity indices from 2006 onwards.

The trends of ten international food commodity indices from 2006 onwards.

The main chart plots the course of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Food Price Index and nine other international food price indices. These are FAO’s cereals index, the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) food index, the International Grains Council (IGC) wheat index, the IGC’s rice index, the UN Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) two wheat indices, Unctad’s rice index, the World Bank’s (WB) food index and WB’s grains index.

Consumer price index trends 2006 to 2013 for five South Asian countries

Consumer price index trends 2006 to 2013 for five South Asian countries

The familiar FAO blue pair for 2013 August

The familiar FAO blue pair for 2013 August

On the main chart, after 2008 December four stages are marked. The first stage is 2008 December to 2010 July, when the indices describe a plateau but which is very much higher than where they were through 2006. The second stage is 2010 July to 2011 April, which corresponds to the second global food price rise and when all these indices rose in concert. The third stage is 2011 April to 2012 September when they all declined to another plateau which nonetheless is higher overall than the last one (stage one), but which rose steeply for a short while towards the end of the stage. The fourth stage is still current, from 2012 June, which is seeing a gradual decline in all the indices to the point they were in 2011 August-September.

I have appended to the main chart the counterpoint of the consumer price indexes from South Asian countries – Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. The question that follows, when reading the main chart with ten indices and the CPI chart for South Asia, is why the CPI trends do not follow the international grains trends. One of the major factors (which charting this data cannot reveal, as the FAO Food Price Index does not) is the extent to which the industrialisation of prmary crops sets the retail price in the markets of Colombo or Chittagong or Karachi or Mumbai or Kathmandu. Primary crop – that is, cereals, pulses, fruit and vegetable, milk and dairy – is being moved internally, processed, packaged, moved again, retailed in modern convenience stores to a much greater degree than was the case a decade ago. Those costs lie outside what the FAO-IGC-IMF-Unctad-WB indices can describe. But we need to urgently – within these countries and as a group – share methods to gauge and monitor these costs and document their impacts on households.

An inequality chasm is fracturing Europe, warns the OECD

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April in Berlin, Germany. A homeless man sat begging for euros or food in the entrance of an S-Bahn station.

April in Berlin, Germany. A homeless man sat begging for euros or food in the entrance of an S-Bahn station.

Deepening inequalities in income between the richer and poorer families, greater relative income poverty in recent years compared with earlier, a greater burden borne by children and young people than before because of their being relatively poor – these are some of the stark conclusions contained in the OECD briefing, ‘New Results from the OECD Income Distribution Database’.

This is the picture of Europe today (and of the non-European members of the OECD). “Looking at the 17 OECD countries for which data are available over a long time period, market income inequality increased by more over the last three years than what was observed in the previous 12 years,” observed the new briefing, which is sub-titled ‘Crisis squeezes income and puts pressure on inequality and poverty’.

Annual percentage changes in household market income between 2007 and 2010, by income component. Chart: OECD

Annual percentage changes in household market income between 2007 and 2010, by income component. Chart: OECD

The figures and data show that many of the countries recording the most dramatic increases in inequality are European countries which have been subjected to punitive austerity measures by the European Union and International Monetary Fund. The OECD report singles out Spain and Italy, where the income of “the poorest 10 percent was much lower in 2010 than in 2007”.

Five percent falls in income (per year) amongst the poorest 10 percent were also recorded in Greece, Ireland, Estonia, and Iceland. The only non-European nation with a comparable level of income decline was Mexico. The report also stated that over the same period, poor families in the United States, Italy, France, Austria and Sweden all recorded income losses in excess of the OECD average.

Indeed the ‘New Results’ briefing has showed that across OECD countries, real household disposable income stagnated. Likewise, the average income of the top 10% in 2010 was similar to that in 2007. Meanwhile, the income of the bottom 10% in 2010 was lower than that in 2007 by 2% per year. Out of the 33 countries where data are available, the top 10% has done better than the poorest 10% in 21 countries.

This is the OECD picture till 2010. Since then, recession has been the companion of inequality. With an average growth of -0.2 per cent in the first quarter (against -0.1 per cent in the EU as a whole) and hardly better prospects for the whole rest of the year (-0.7 per cent), according to Eurostat, the dreaded “double dip” has become a reality. The press attributes the result largely to the austerity policies.

Gini coefficient of household disposable income and gap between richest and poorest 10%, 2010: Chart: OECD

Gini coefficient of household disposable income and gap between richest and poorest 10%, 2010: Chart: OECD

“Eurozone sets bleak record of longest term in recession,” reported the Financial Times. The daily noted that “this latest dismal record came after unemployment hit 12.1 per cent in the bloc, its highest level,” and that this data “is likely to add to pressure on the European Central Bank to take further action after cutting interest rates this month, and to revise down its economic forecast predicting a recovery later in the year.”

Moreover, relative income poverty – the share of people having less income than half the national median income – affects around 11% of the population on average across OECD countries. Poverty rates range between 6% of the population in Denmark and the Czech Republic to between 18% and 21% in Chile, Turkey, Mexico and Israel. Over the two decades up to 2007, relative income poverty increased in most OECD countries, particularly in countries that had low levels of income poverty in the mid-1990s.

In Sweden, Finland, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic, the income poverty rate increased by 2 percentage points or more. In Sweden, the poverty rate in 2010 (9%) was more than twice what it was in 1995 (4%). Relative poverty also increased in some countries, such as Australia, Japan, Turkey and Israel, with middle and high levels of poverty.

The OECD briefing has stated bluntly: “Households with children were hit hard during the crisis. Since 2007, child poverty increased in 16 OECD countries, with increases exceeding 2 points in Turkey, Spain, Belgium, Slovenia and Hungary.” The ‘New Results’ briefing added: “Since 2007, youth poverty increased considerably in 19 OECD countries. In Estonia, Spain and Turkey, an additional 5% of young adults fell into poverty between 2007 and 2010. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the increase was 4%, and in the Netherlands 3%.”

Annual percentage changes in household disposable income between 2007 and 2010, by income group. Chart: OECD

Annual percentage changes in household disposable income between 2007 and 2010, by income group. Chart: OECD

Between 2007 and 2010, average relative income poverty in the OECD countries rose from 12.8 to 13.4% among children and from 12.2 to 13.8% among youth. Meanwhile, relative income poverty fell from 15.1 to 12.5% among the elderly. This pattern confirms the trends described in previous OECD studies, with youth and children replacing the elderly as the group at greater risk of income poverty across the OECD countries.

These results only tell the beginning of the story about the consequences of austerity, growing unemployment, the burden on children and youth, and burden on immigrant wage labour. The OECD data describes the evolution of income inequality and relative poverty up to 2010. But “the economic recovery has been anaemic in a number of OECD countries and some have recently moved back into recession”, said the briefing.

Worse, since 2010, many people exhausted their rights to unemployment benefits. In such a situation, the briefing has warned, “the ability of the tax-benefit system to alleviate the high (and potentially increasing) levels of inequality and poverty of income from work and capital might be challenged”. These are unusually blunt words from the OECD and their use reflects the depth and persistence of the crisis of modern, reckless, destructive capitalism in Europe.

A food policy pedlar’s annual derby

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IFPRI_GFPR_2012Evidence, investment, research, commitments and growth. You will find these reprised in the second Global Food Policy Report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI, which, as I must never tire of mentioning, is the propaganda department of the CGIAR, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, which, ditto, is the very elaborate scientific cover for control over the cultivation and food choices made especially by the populations of the South). And now, with the dramatis personae properly introduced, let me quickly review the plot.

The GFPR (to give this slick production an aptly ugly acronym) for 2012 follows the first such report and furthers its  claim to provide “an in-depth look at major food policy developments and events”. It comes equipped with tables, charts, cases, apparently authoritative commentary (many from outside IFPRI), and is attended by the usual complement of models and scenarios (can’t peruse a report nowadays without being assaulted by these).

In an early chapter, the GFPR 2012 has said:
“Evidence points to a number of steps that would advance food and nutrition security. Investments designed to raise agricultural productivity — especially investments in research and innovation — would address one important factor in food security.”
“Research is also needed to investigate the emerging nexus among agriculture, nutrition, and health on the one hand, and food, water, and energy on the other.”
“In addition, by optimizing the use of resources, innovation can contribute to the push for a sustainable ‘green economy’. Boosting agricultural growth and turning farming into a modern and forward-looking occupation can help give a future to large young rural populations in developing countries.”

The G20 in session

The G20 in session

Consider them one by one. Whose evidence? That of the IFPRI, the CGIAR and its many like-minded partners the world over (they tend to have the same group of funding donors, this institutional ecosystem). A round-up of food policy by any outfit would have ordinarily included at least some evidence from the thousands of studies and surveys, large and small, humble and local, that discuss policy pertaining to food and cultivation. But, you see, that is not the CGIAR method. What we have then is the IFPRI view which, shorn of its crop science fig leaf, is similar to that of the Asian Development Bank’s view, the World Bank’s view, the International Finance Corporation’s view or the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s view (raise your fist in solidarity with the working class of Cyprus for a moment). And that is why the GFPR 2012 ties ‘investment’ to ‘evidence’, and hence ‘research’ to ‘food security’.

What research? Well, into “the emerging nexus among agriculture, nutrition, and health” naturally. This extends the CGIAR campaign that binds together cultivation choices for food staples, the bio-technology mittelstand which is working hard to convince governments about the magic bullet of biofortification (especially where cash transfers and food coupon schemes are already running), and the global pharmaceutical industry. It is really quite the nexus. As to food, water and energy, that is hardly an original CGIAR discovery is it, the balance having being well known since cultivation began (such as in the fertile crescent of the Tigris and Euphrates, about seven millennia ago, now trampled into sterility by ten years of an invasion, or as was well recognised by the peons of central America, an equal span of time ago, and whose small fields are being reconquered by the GM cowboy duo of Bill Gates and Carlos Slim).

What kind of ‘green economy’? Among the many shortcomings of IFPRI (in common with the other CGIAR components) is its studied refusal to incorporate evidence from a great mass of fieldwork that supports a different view. ‘Growth’, ‘modern’ and ‘forward looking’ are the tropes more suited to a public relations handout than an annual review of policy concerning agriculture and therefore also concerning the livelihoods and cultural choices made by millions of households. IFPRI’s slapdash use of ‘green economy’ reflects also its use by those in the circuit of the G20 and by the Davos mafia – they are the hegemons of politics and industry who force through decisions (they use sham consensus and gunpoint agreement) that have scant regard for climate change, biodiversity loss or dwindling resources. Hence the IFPRI language of “optimizing the use of resources”. The idea of unfettered growth as the way to end poverty and escape economic and financial crisis remains largely undisputed within the CGIAR and its sponsors and currently reflects the concept as found in ‘green economy’.

Food (trade and commodity) security.

Food (trade and commodity) security.

[The GFPR 2012 report and associated materials can be found here. There is an overview provided here. There are press releases: in Englishen Français and in Chinese.]

“Building poor people’s resilience to shocks and stressors would help ensure food security in a changing world”, the IFPRI GFPR 2012 has helpfully offered, and added, “In any case, poor and hungry people must be at the center of the post-2015 development agenda”. Ah yes, of course they must be, in word and never mind deed. “International dialogues, such as the World Economic Forum, the G8, and the G20, must be used as platforms to develop this concept, propose policy options, and formulate concrete commitments and actions to reduce poor people’s vulnerability to food and nutrition insecurity and enhance their capacity for long-term growth”.

To call the World Economic Forum, the G20 and the G8 ‘platforms’ and ‘dialogues’ is laughable, for there are no Southern farmers’ associations present, nor independent trade unions, nor members of civil society and community-based organisations that actually pursue, rupee by scarce rupee, the agro-ecological restoration of rural habitats in the face of migration, rural to urban, that occurs through dispossession, nor are there any of the myriad representatives of socialist and humanist groups whose small work has a restorative power greater than that of the CGIAR and its sponsors.

Never part of the CGIAR-IFPRI sonata that is played at these ‘dialogues’, there is ample evidence (since that is the theme) of locally articulated and politically wrested food sovereignty that can be held up as examples with which to reduce poor people’s vulnerability. In the past ten years, countries particularly in South America (we salute you, Hugo Chavez) have incorporated food sovereignty into their constitutions and national legislations.

In 1999 Venezuela approved by referendum the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela whose Articles 305, 306 and 307 concern the food sovereignty framework. In 2001 Venezuela’s Law of the Land concerns agrarian reform. In 2004 Senegal’s National Assembly included food sovereignty principles into law. In 2006 Mali’s National Assembly approved the Law on Agricultural Orientation which is the basis for implementation of food sovereignty in Mali. In 2007 Nepal approved the interim constitution which recognised food sovereignty as a right of the Nepalese people. In 2008 Venezuela enacted legislation to further support food sovereignty: the Law of Food Security and Food Sovereignty; the Law for Integrated Agricultural Health; the Law for the Development of the Popular Economy; the Law for the Promotion and Development of Small and Medium Industry and Units of Social Production. In 2008 Ecuador approved a new constitution recognising food sovereignty. In 2009 Bolivia’s constitution recognised the rights of indigenous peoples as well as rights to food sovereignty. In 2009 Ecuador’s Food Sovereignty Regime approved the Organic Law on Food Sovereignty. In 2009 Nicaragua’s National Assembly adopted Law 693 on Food and Nutrition Security and Sovereignty.

This is what true resilience looks and sounds like. For those unfortunate populations that continue to struggle under a food price inflation whose steady rise is aided and abetted by the CGIAR and its sponsors, the alternatives become clearer with every half percent rise in the price of a staple cereal, and with the loss of yet another agro-ecological farming niche to the world’s land grabbers.

A tale of five food indices

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Food and agricultural commodities indices behaviour from 2009 January to 2012 November. There are five series - FAO's food index, FAO's cereals index, Unctad's food sub-index, the IMF's food price index, the IGC's grains and oilseeds index.

Food and agricultural commodities indices behaviour from 2009 January to 2012 November. There are five series – FAO’s food index, FAO’s cereals index, Unctad’s food sub-index, the IMF’s food price index, the IGC’s grains and oilseeds index.

Agricultural commodity and food price indices have ended 2012, as a group, at their highest levels in the last four years.

This chart uses index data from five series – two are from FAO (its food index and its cereals index), there is the Unctad food sub-index (of its long-running commodities index), there is the IMF food price index (which includes cereals, vegetable oils and sugar), and there is the IGC grains and oilseeds index.

I have set them all to ‘1’ in 2009 January and observed their behaviour over 46 months (until 2012 November).
For about a year between 2009 July and 2010 August, there was fairly wide divergence between this group of indices, the FAO cereals index and the IGC index maintaining a lower track, the IMF cereals index not rising above 10% of its starting value, the Unctad food index being volatile and the FAO food index at the top.

From 2010 July to 2011 March all the indices rose steeply and in concert. Thereafter till around 2012 July there was a slow general decline (from about 40% above starting point to about 25% above starting point) for all the indices (with the FAO food index about 15% above the rest).

From 2012 July there has been another steep, albeit shorter, jump for all, and at 2012 November the series at the top is the IGC index, with all five at about 35% to 45% above their starting values.

Written by makanaka

January 4, 2013 at 09:55

The IGC raises two bright red flags about world grain

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The European Commission’s directorate general of agriculture in its ‘Commodity Price Data’ 2012 August edition contains this chart on ‘cereals/bread and cereals-based products’ that their EU agricultural market and consumer price developments (this shows 2000 January to 2012 August data with the starting month representing the 100 of the index). This chart shows barley (the blue line) is at or near the 2007 peak and maize (the green line) is above the 2007 peak.

The Grain Market Report for 2012 October released a few days ago by the International Grains Council (IGC) makes two extremely important prognoses.

IGC’s 2012 October total grains chart

These two forecasts will have an immediate effect on grains prices as they are traded in the agricultural commodities markets through the winter season of 2012-13, and I expect we will see the effects in the major indices that describe the movements of food and of food prices – the FAO food price index, the World Bank ‘pink sheet’, the IMF commodity prices index, Unctad’s long-running series on agricultural commodities, and of course the various exchanges-based indices (DJ, CBOT, NYSE LIFFE and so on).

The IGC has cut a further 6 million tons (mt) from the 2012-13 forecast for total global grains production, which is now expected to be 5% lower year on year, at 1,761 mt. The decline includes 39 mt of wheat, 46 mt of maize, and 4 mt of barley. “Reduced availabilities and higher prices are expected to ration demand, resulting in the first year on year fall in grains consumption since 1998-99,” said the IGC in this month’s report.

IGC’s 2012 October wheat and rice charts

It is worth making the connection that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in its recent ‘Wheat Outlook’, released on 2012 October 15 by the Economic Research Service, had said that global wheat production in 2012-13 is projected to reach 653.0 million tons, down 5.7 million tons this month (that is, 2012 October). The USDA’s 2012 October Wheat Outlook had said the “largest change this month is a 3.0-million-ton cut in projected wheat production in Australia to 23.0 million” and had added that “projected wheat production in Russia continues its decline as the wheat harvest gets closer to its end and projections for abandoned wheat area get higher, reaching 12% of planted area”. About the European Union (EU-27) wheat production for 2012-13 the USDA Wheat Outlook had reduced it 0.8 million tons to 131.6 mt, mostly because of a significant reduction for the United Kingdom (UK) (down 0.8 million tons to 14.0 million).

The IGC forecasts show a further tightening in the balance this month, with 2012-13 end-season total grains  stocks revised down by 4 mt to 328 mt (it was 372 mt the previous year), the lowest since 2007-08 – and we all remember well the global food price increases that set in during the 2007-08 season, and how the spikes of that period were quickly replaced from mid-2010 onwards by the sustained high plateau of food prices.

“Inventories for the major exporters will be even tighter and the smallest for 17 years,” the IGC has said in its 2012 October Report. The global year on year decline is forecast to come from a 24 mt reduction in wheat, an 18 mt decline in maize, and a 1 mt drop in other coarse grains, notably barley. Global grains trade is expected to fall by 19 mt from last year’s high, to 249 mt, with a particularly steep decline for wheat – down by 13 mt year on year, largely due to a forecast reduction in EU feed wheat imports against the backdrop of tight Black Sea supplies. (Also please see the European Commission’s directorate general of agriculture’s ‘Commodity Price Data’ 2012 August edition.)

Written by makanaka

October 28, 2012 at 20:44