Latest Developments, February 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Same as the old boss
Foreign Policy’s Michael Cohen writes that if US President Barack Obama has been no more a champion of civil liberties than his predecessor was, Americans are not complaining.
“The results of a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll provide compelling evidence of how little a price Obama has paid for these policies. According to the poll, 70 percent of respondents support the president’s decision to keep Guantanamo Bay open. Indeed, backing for Gitmo is actually higher today than it was in 2003. Among the president’s political base, 53 percent who self-identify as liberal Democrats — and 67 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats — are also supportive.
What about drone strikes? In total, 83 percent of Americans are on-board with the use of drones — a mere 4 percent are strongly opposed.”

Poison Apple
The Guardian reports the Fair Labor Association has begun an independent audit of some of Apple’s Chinese supplier factories in the wake of allegations of worker abuse, though the most notorious of these suppliers has links to many other industry giants as well.
“Foxconn, which makes equipment for a large number of American and Asian companies, including Apple, Amazon, Acer, Asus, Dell, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Microsoft, Motorola, Netgear, Nokia, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba, has generated huge amounts of attention following claims of poor working conditions in gigantic factories that function like self-contained towns.
In July 2009 a 25-year-old worker committed suicide, reportedly after losing an iPhone prototype, and in 2010 there was a spate of suicides – prompting Foxconn to install nets around the edges of some buildings to prevent people jumping off roofs.”

Living inside the doughnut
Oxfam’s Kate Raworth argues in a new discussion paper that humankind is currently failing to live within “planetary and social boundaries” but could theoretically meet the needs of the poor without further damaging the earth.
“The real source of stress is excessive resource use by roughly the richest 10 percent of people in the world – backed up by the aspirations of a rapidly growing global middle class seeking to emulate those unsustainable lifestyles. Thanks to the extraordinary scale of global inequality, widespread poverty coexists with dangerous planetary stress.

If respecting planetary and social boundaries is the objective, then – in wealthy economies at least – the onus falls on those promoting unlimited GDP growth to show that it can bring humanity within the doughnut. The G20, among others, stand for the vision of ‘inclusive and sustainable economic growth’, but no country has yet shown that it is possible. If unlimited GDP growth is to have a place in doughnut economics, it has a long way to go to prove itself.”

Taking back the banks
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues the current financial crisis presents an opportunity for poor countries to take control of their banks from foreign owners who too often do not operate according to local economic logic.
“…in Africa at least, banking services for rural households and the informal sector (by far the largest part of Africa’s private sector) have generally suffered, according to [the UN Conference on Trade and Development]. ‘These banks lend to larger borrowers such as the public sector, large enterprises and wealthy households. They do not have mechanisms well suited to catering to the needs of small, low-income, and mostly agricultural and rural-based economic agents, despite the fact that these agents constitute the backbone of African economies.’ ”

Peak people
The Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders considers some of the possible consequences of an aging world where there is “a shift from surplus to scarcity” of working-age people.
“Peak people will be an age when jobs compete for workers rather than vice versa. The cheapest labour will vanish. We’re already seeing this: Because China is aging very fast, its dwindling working-age population is turning down the lowest-paid jobs and pushing up the minimum wage sharply, as well as the once-minimal costs of social services: Stuff from China will stop being cheap, because the Chinese aren’t young.

Peak people will also be an age when countries will be competing for immigrants rather than trying to limit them. Immigration has spared Canada from the worst of aging, but immigrants adopt host-country family sizes very quickly, so they’re a temporary fix. And if their home countries are competing to keep them, then we’ll have a harder time finding young people who want to come.”

The state of nations
Harvard University’s Dani Rodrik argues in favour of strong nation-states as the only plausible source of solutions to current global problems, but he does not entirely rule out the possibility of an alternative future.
“As the philosopher Peter Singer has put it, the communications revolution has spawned a ‘global audience’ that creates the basis for a ‘global ethics.’ If we identify ourselves with the nation, our morality remains national. But, if we increasingly associate ourselves with the world at large, our loyalties will expand, too. Similarly, the Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen speaks of our ‘multiple identities’ – ethnic, religious, national, local, professional, and political – many of which cross national boundaries.

To be sure, the geography of attachments and identities is not fixed; indeed, it has changed over the course of history. That means that we should not entirely dismiss the likelihood that a true global consciousness will develop in the future, along with transnational political communities.”

Arms philosophies
The Instituto Sou da Paz’s Daniel Mack presents the debate over the future shape of the Arms Trade Treaty – which is being further pre-negotiated this week – as a battle between those who want “a little better than the status quo” and those who seek “to ensure the humanitarian imperative is realized in a major arms regulation agreement”
“It is no wonder that many proponents of an “ATT lite” have heavy arms exports; industry is not usually fond of any sort of regulation to its trade, which more often than not means smaller profit margins. As with alcohol and tobacco, less lethal but also legal, you won’t see industries begging for more restrictions on their international sales.”