Saturday, November 25, 2017

"Wealth inequality in Spain deepens as poorest get poorer and corporate profits soar..."

"An analysis of tax data in Spain shows how austerity and labour market counter-reforms have slashed the wage share of the country’s wealth to new lows while corporate profits have soared. 

The findings by economist Gabriel Flores published in online newspaper Nueva Tribuna are:

  • Labour income has declined as a proportion of GDP from 50% in 2008 to 46.9% in the first quarter of 2017

  • Corporate profits after taxes, interest and dividends, have more than doubled from 8% of GDP in 2008 to 17.5% today

  • Austerity policies have benefitted high earners but the lowest paid have seen a significant fall in income

  • The 650,000 odd Spaniards on incomes above 60,000 euros annually saw a 10% rise in income, the income of the 6 million on less than 12,000 euros dropped by 8% and the 10 million on 12,000-60,000 euros a year increased by about 6%

  • Despite high GDP growth rates in 2015-2017 (3%-plus), the trend towards greater inequality among the majority relying on wages for their income has been consolidated

  • None of the above data includes the black economy, where low and insecure wages dominate.
Says Flores:
“This strong growth in business profitability, based on the successive reforms of the labour market, has occurred at the expense of lower tax revenues of the state and lower labor income, multiplying social inequalities.
“All the inequality indicators show that, despite the high GDP growth rates between 2015 and 2017, the trend towards greater inequality has been consolidated among the majority that rely on wages.
“To reverse the inequality to pre-crisis levels it is not enough to increase the GDP growth rates; it is necessary to repeal the successive reforms of the labour market approved in recent years and to distance as much as possible the economic policy from the principles of austerity and wage devaluation that have guided government decisions.”
Flores calls for “an inclusive growth model in which the important thing is not the amount of growth but the redistribution and good management of growth to meet the needs of the majority, improve their welfare and secure an equitable distribution of income, restoring the principle of social, territorial and economic cohesion as a guide to economic policy.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

"Evolution's forgotten man" -- My latest article for Catalonia Today magazine

This story begins in the late 18th century with a small boy’s limitless curiosity, at first for staring at his marbles and stones, but soon this grows into a thirst for knowing what lies deep beneath the British countryside around him.

William Smith was unusual for many reasons. As a self-taught young man he traveled a great deal further than most parochial males from farms and this helped to fire his fascination with the natural world. 
Unlike almost all “well-learned” professionals of his day, he also had no distaste about repeatedly climbing down into dark, dangerous coal mines.
Here, he was one of the first to study and report on that black mineral where it actually lay. Of course, it was coal and it was coal miners who were largely responsible for the Industrial Revolution that was then raising Britain’s status to that of an empire-building superpower.
One of the major founding fathers of geology, Smith went on to cover about 10,000 miles a year on foot, on horse and by carriage, cataloguing the locations of all the rock and fossil formations that are to be found in the UK.
Over 14 long years, he also laboriously produced a giant hand-coloured map that showed exactly where the strata of rocks could be found under the earth. Nobody had done anything of the sort before in such a comprehensive and systematic way and two centuries later this sublime masterwork is still accurate and relevant.
World-changing map
In his book titled “The Map that Changed the World” Simon Winchester makes the valuable point that Smith’s “lonely and potentially soul-destroying project” was done, at this time in our history, “in a wholly unknown area of imaginative deduction; there were no teachers, no guidebooks.”
As well as these limitations, Smith could have looked around and noticed that even scientists were convinced, for example, that “mountains grew like trees, organically, upwards and outwards,” all apparently from god’s design.
Smith played a major part in the grinding process where religious and other superstitious beliefs were slowly being cast off (just as we today are [hopefully] living in an era where stupidity related to gender, race or sexual and national prejudices are finally starting to die.)
For most of his career Smith was also an expert in the crucial programme of canal building, but he was in fact snubbed by the main organisation or ‘society’ of his profession as a geologist.
His working-class family background meant that a couple of the ‘perfumed’ snobs who ran and financed what was in truth little more than a gentlemen’s club could steal his ideas and claim them as their own. Largely as a result of this, Smith was to spend time in a debtors prison in London. He was to write with understandable bitterness that “the theory of geology is in the possession of one class of men [and] the practise in another.”
William Smith clearly deserves a much greater and more prominent place in the collective memory of science’s leading men and women. His name merits being up there with the likes of Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein or Richard Dawkins.

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, November 2017.]

Saturday, November 11, 2017

“Catalonia is a European problem demanding a European solution” – Yanis Varoufakis


"On Wednesday, at a press conference in Barcelona, [DiEM25] co-founder Yanis Varoufakis presented his proposal for a European response to the current crisis in Catalonia, and for similar crises in the EU.

Here’s Yanis’ full statement:

The EU’s response to the crisis in Catalonia has been hypocritical (it has intervened in the ‘internal affairs’ of Greece, Ireland, Italy etc.) and logically incoherent (by hiding behind the claim that it is a union of states, it motivates Catalan statehood). 
Moreover, the EU has been responsible for stoking the discontent that led to the current crisis in Catalonia – through austerity and large bankers’ bailouts. The time has come to Europeanise the solution to a problem that is European in both its nature and causes."
See source for a link to download the proposal here.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Colau and Klein debate in Barcelona: "Facing the politics of change and fear"

This Thursday the 9th of November at 7pm the Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau and progressive international author/journalist Naomi Klein will be speaking together.

In a very timely moment for this part of the world in particular, the organisers say that "the starting point of this debate will be the imposition by antidemocratic powers of global policies that challenge our lives, our security and survival..."

The event is open to all the public but seating is limited to 700 people. It will also be broadcast live on their  Facebook Live and the YouTube channel of La Comuna, Escola del Comú. There will also be a simultaneous translation service and translation into sign language.


Auditori de Cotxeres de Sants
Carrer de Sants, 79
L1 Plaça de Sants; L5 Sants Estació

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

"Macron’s Gift to the Rich"

"Surprise, surprise: Emmanuel Macron's first budget slashes taxes on wealth and guts social spending...

Anyone with lingering doubts about whether the moniker “President of the Rich” fits France’s Emmanuel Macron could safely put them to rest this month, upon publication of his first budget since taking office.
Last week the National Assembly, dominated by Macron’s En Marche party, approved a reform package overwhelmingly weighted toward elite interests. Its €7 billion of tax cuts included reducing France’s wealth tax, long a bête noire for the country’s right wing, by 70 percent and subjecting capital gains tax to a new flat rate of 30 percent.
Tellingly, the Ministry for the Economy and Finance withheld its own research on the impact of the reforms before the vote in the Assembly. But, by Thursday, they had fallen into the possession of the Socialist chair of the Senate Finance Commission and were released. Under the capital gains reforms, France’s wealthiest 100 taxpayers will earn an additional €582,380 per year on average. The top 1,000 will each get a modest €172,220. The rest of the country, on the other hand, can expect little to nothing. Forty-four percent of the total benefits will flow to the top 1 percent.
While the ministry said it could not precisely calculate the financial effects of slashing the wealth tax, Senate Finance Commission estimates placed the gains for the country’s top 100 taxpayers at an average of €1 million. These are people with last names like Peugeot and Rothschild; heads of telecom giants, weapons manufacturers, and luxury brands.
But the tax cuts were only the opening salvo of a budget that forms part of Macron’s sweeping plans to liberalize the French economy and in his own words, “celebrate those who succeed.” After the passage of business-friendly labor reforms and the introduction of plans to rein in unemployment benefits this fall, next up for debate this week are roughly €11.6 billion worth of spending cuts aimed at trimming the country’s social safety net.
The double standard is glaring. Just as the government prepares to fork over millions from state coffers to the ultra-rich, it tells the general population it must tighten the strings on public spending. Its budget will include measures such as a €1.7 billion cut in housing aid as well as the elimination of 120,000 state-funded short-term job contracts. Votes on these measures are slated for the coming weeks, with the Assembly wrapping up its work in late November.
Parliamentarians will begin by tackling the Social Security budget. Here, too, the wealthiest will stand to gain. En Marche deputies have proposed lowering employers’ Social Security taxes from 30 percent to 20 percent on bonus shares offered to employees. That might seem like an arcane measure, but it has symbolic value. The reform previously passed in 2015, championed by then-minister Macron. Legislators repealed it the following year following a public outcry over booming CEO compensation tied to stock options. For Macron’s commanding parliamentary majority, concerns like these appear to be old news.
Opinion polls suggest otherwise. Macron’s popularity has already fallen below that of historically unpopular predecessor François Hollande during the same period of his presidency. An Odoxa poll released after the budget measures found that 88 percent of French people thought they would benefit the richest. Meanwhile, Macron’s approval rating with pollster Ifop continued to drop in October, sliding a further three points to 42 percent.
The president’s approval among investment bankers appears much higher and steadier. The evening after the National Assembly passed his tax cuts, Macron dined with executives from twenty-one of the world’s leading funds in the Elysée Palace’s winter garden. They came away pleased. “Yesterday’s session was beneficial to the investors present,” said a spokesperson for Blackrock, which manages around €5.5 trillion, “and reinforced the view that the opportunities in France are the strongest they’ve been in two decades.”
Meanwhile, meaningful political opposition remains alarmingly limited. En Marche is in firm control of the National Assembly. The right-wing Republican opposition may crib about minor details, but it largely supports the budgetary reforms. The far-right National Front and center-left Socialist Party, both reeling from internal turmoil, formally opposed the tax cuts — but made little impact. As is the case for most parliamentary issues, the most vocal and sustained criticism of the budget came from the left-wing France Insoumise grouping headed by Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
But the Left has not managed to raise mass popular opposition to Macron’s measures and the street remains quiet. Union-backed demonstrations against labor-law reform have drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters but failed to make much impact. And in spite of a one-day, public-sector strike and a well-attended France Insoumise march in Paris in late September, a more unified social movement has yet to emerge.
Still, left-wing opponents of the government may have reason for optimism. On November 16, unions are calling for another round of nationwide protests. Unlike the three previous days of demonstrations against labor-law reform, the upcoming protest counts the support of Force Ouvrière, France’s third-largest labor confederation, and aims to oppose Macron’s economic policy at large."
Read more from source (Jacobin) here.