power_to_the_people
Bloomberg recently posted an article on how the unemployment rate has held steady at 6.7 percent while U.S. payrolls have increased, despite more Americans entering the labor force. This means that Americans who had stopped trying to find work are now renewing their job hunt. The limitations of U.S. government have had little to do with this hopeful sign. Here’s why:

1. People Assume The President Has Too Much Power

When it comes to economic policy, aside from tariffs or taxes, the Federal Reserve has the more relevant hand in the interest rates banks charge for loans, savings accounts, capital accounts and stocks.

The Federal Reserve controls the money supply by tinkering with bank reserve ratios or how much currency a bank can hold. The President can affect inflation through drastic action, such as removing the gold standard (see Richard Nixon).

2. People Assume The President Has Too Little Power

The economy is not some ethereal being who lords over all controlling prices and jobs. The economy is the public. It is a market, in which people trade and consume, and income and prices fluctuate accordingly. The Federal Reserve simply reacts to the behavior of people, not the other way around.

It all hinges on something called aggregate demand, or how much the general population wants to consume and buy. The government does best when it does not interfere in markets at all. The Great Recession occurred because too many people put all their eggs in the housing bubble basket. The Great Depression occurred because people stopped consuming, lowering the money supply, and demanded money from banks with insufficient supply. Even now, as the unemployed population rejoins the workforce, they do so because of choice.

3. It all Runs in Cycles

Businesses and the markets they operate in run on cycles. There are booms, recessions and recoveries, and eventually this cycle repeats. It’s the ebb and flow of economics. If anticipated correctly, the cycles could pass through without any serious repercussions. However, the length between these cycles vary so widely, the public, the Federal Reserve, and the government often seem to forget about them. As a result, policies and behaviors are enacted that can prove detrimental once the cycle restarts.

This view of economics not only applies to the United States, but to the world as a whole. The power of the markets should lie with the people, and in a way, always has. Unless the government is linked directly to markets or totalitarianism, its economic power is somewhat limited. The government can guide and suggest movements for businesses, but at the end of the day, its not the government, the Federal Reserve, or the President that determines the one’s livelihood: it’s the individual.

– Matthew Price

Sources: Bloomberg, Daily Infographic
Photo: Housing Works

secrets_end_world_poverty
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a free trade agreement originally drafted in 2005 between Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. It has since included vested interest from the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru and Vietnam.

Much like previous trade agreements, the TPP’s main goal is to promote trade and investment among partner countries and eliminate tariffs on goods and services.

The TPP differs greatly from previous trade agreements as it includes a number of controversial clauses that could negatively impact millions of people around the globe. While trade agreements typically deal with lowering trade barriers, this agreement encompasses additional points of contention ranging from intellectual property rights (ex: extending copyright protections, making approval process harder for generic drug makers) to limiting public support for state-owned enterprises in order to foster competition.

The agreement has received extensive backlash from internet freedom activists, environmentalists, labor activists, advocacy groups and elected officials.

Although trade negotiations are typically conducted in private in order to protect the positions of the involved states, the TPP is disconcerting as it is significantly more comprehensive and encompasses many facets of society. Naturally, this has many concerned over its contents.

There have been a number of critiques that the multi-national trade agreement would exacerbate economic inequality on a global scale. Much like NAFTA and other “free” trade agreements, it has been argued that the TPP would place corporations ahead of the people, destroying job opportunities at home and increasing poverty for workers abroad. Further, the agreement will increase competition for low-skill, low-pay jobs that cannot be shipped off shore; the workers at home will be even more hard-pressed to find jobs, making them worse off than ever before.

U.S. foreign policy critic and professor at MIT, Noam Chomsky argues that the TPP is an “assault” on working people and intended to further corporate “domination.” “It’s designed to carry forward the neoliberal project to maximize profit and domination, and to set the working people in the world in competition with one-another so as to lower wages to increase insecurity,” Chomsky has said in an interview with HuffPost Live.

The TPP is likely to follow in the footsteps of NAFTA where U.S. corporations will contribute to the trade deficit by manufacturing in developing countries abroad, rather than reviving the economy at home. Negotiations for the TPP, also known as “NAFTA on steroids,” have been largely kept secret from the public and members of Congress. This has forced the public to rely on confidential documents released by WikiLeaks and Huffington Post. Despite these leaks, the public is largely kept in the dark.

Corporate interests are pushing for agreements – or, regulations – in order to standardize otherwise “inconsistent regulations.” Most of the current regulations “may not be perfect, but they are serving their purpose regardless: to protect workers, consumers, the economy and the environment,” says economist Joseph Stiglitz. The TPP would reform these already-placed regulations potentially producing dire consequences for the majority of impacted people in the United States and abroad. The proposed clauses could decrease regulations so that the corporate sector will further profit from lowering “non-tariff barriers.”

In 2012, the Obama administration has called for the renewal of the “fast track” authority so that negotiations for the TPP can be expedited and approved with minimal debate and no amendments. This secretive agreement has the potential to pull the working class in America and those in developing countries deeper into poverty.

– Rozali Telbis

Sources: Alternet, NY Times, Huffington Post, Common Dreams
Photo: BlairBlog

camel_mongolia
Up until about 1990, Mongolia never faced any fears of living in poverty. Rural land specifically, and the large volume of land has been Mongolia’s source of food security and livelihood for centuries.

Mongolia owns approximately 838,853.13 square miles of land in which much of it is desert, but the arable land is quickly becoming depleted, polluted, or turned to desert.

Currently, 33% of people in Mongolia are poor, and over half of the country’s population is living in rural areas. This quickly happened after Mongolia’s large farms became private and hundreds of herders became unemployed and without government benefits.

Most of the rural poor live nomadic lifestyles, moving from area to area with their families in order to feed cattle and find food. Some families live in soums, or villages consisting of multiple families, and some rural families, particularly the nomads, live in tents known as ger. The benefit of living in soums is the ability to obtain some form of education, health services, and essential necessities.

Those living in rural areas rely on their animals for food and making money.

With much of the fertile land being utilized for feeding cattle, there has been a severe increase in land degradation. Mongolia has yet to find strengthening mechanisms for sustainable land management or a method to control desertification. Without these forms of protection, Mongolia is at an increasing risk of losing what little remains of one of their most needed natural resources: fertile land.

Desertification brings with it many struggles; drought and causing land to become irreparable are among the worst-case scenarios. With more and more of the land being overgrazed, little land will be left for agriculture, herding, and living. Mongolia is already naturally a very dry climate with little rainfall and plant growth, which is only worsened by the constant migration, over-cultivated land, and now competition for natural resources.

– Rebecca Felcon

Sources: Rural Poverty Portal, Scoop World
Photo: Stephane L

French_Guiana_poverty
Having become part of France in the 17th century and nowadays administered as part of France just like Aquitaine or Brittany, French Guiana has one of the highest living standards in South America. Interestingly, as a consequent, it is also part of the European Union despite being located in the Americas. In spite of this, the overseas department is one of France’s poorest regions and has long been suffering from youth unemployment.

In the 1990s, street violence with its origin in youth unemployment broke out on the streets. Even nowadays, unemployment in general remains above 20%, while in the rest of France, that figure is, even with the Eurozone Crisis and recent recession, 10.4%, half the regular unemployment rates in French Guiana. The Guianese population has 25 percent of its citizens living below the poverty line, the highest among France’s overseas departments.

The economic situation of France’s overseas departments in the Western Hemisphere, which, aside from French Guiana, also include the picturesque Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, has been the cause of much discontent towards Paris. As living costs rise, the wages remain stagnant and the economies, relying heavily on La Métropole’s subsidization, the people of the overseas departments took to the streets to participate in that most French of activities: les grèves—strikes.

In France, this department also has the infamy of the AIDS epidemic. For every 100 pregnant women, one of them is HIV positive. The department also holds the record for the highest number of children per woman both in France and within the E.U.—four children per woman. Also, terrifyingly, the infant mortality rate of French Guiana is at 11.8 per 1,000 live births, whereas in the rest of France, the average is merely at three.

These are vexing numerical figures for what is supposed to be part of an industrialized and prosperous Western European country.

There is also quite a noticeable discrepancy between the department’s mines and natural wealth and its socio-economics. Despite being peppered with gold mines, rich with natural resources and also being home to the E.U.’s space agency, the aforementioned figures resemble those from certain corners of the underdeveloped world. Perhaps because of the central government’s long negligence due to the department’s distance and its tiny population of only a little bit less than 250,000 people—almost half of that of the much smaller island Guadeloupe—French Guiana has been allowed to languish in poverty and relative underdevelopment.

However, this state of poverty can also be attributed to the department’s own micro-economic character and the fact that its two main economies are the said space agency and gold mining. These two activities can hardly benefit the population at large. Lastly, being part of, though non-contiguous to, a very prosperous nation world-renown for its high quality of life, French Guiana’s abject poverty often gets looked over by the figurative radars of NGOs and aid organizations.

With the large gross domestic product per capita gap between French Guiana and Metropolitan France almost nearing $30,000 difference per annum, the issue of poverty in this overseas department, thus, should demand more attention in order find a solution.

– Peewara Sapsuwan

Sources: BBC, The Guardian, Minorites, Institut National de la Statistique et des Études Économiques, McGill Research Group Investigating Canadian Mining in Latin America, Pan American Health Organization, CNN, World Bank
Photo: Top 10 List

Pakistan

According to The Nation, women in Pakistan are forced to make bricks in order to pay off the debt their families have incurred.

“Living without running water, and often trapped by their employers for the rest of their lives, these women are forced to work in brick kilns, agricultural fields and other hard labour industries to clear debts which overshadow their families’ lives,” said the Pakistani news agency.

There is no reliable statistic regarding the number of Pakistanis who are currently enslaved as bonded laborers. However, according to the National Coalition Against Bonded Labour, these individuals exist throughout the country not only in the brick industry, but also the agriculture and carpet industries.

Moreover, the Associated Press estimates that “tens of thousands” of poor Pakistanis work within these industries.

“Bonded labor is the most widely used method of enslaving people around the world,” The Nation said. “The person is then tricked or trapped into working for very little or no pay, often for seven days a week.”

In many instances, the amount of work that debt slaves put throughout their lives far exceeds the amount of money they initially borrowed. But instead of quitting, the victims continue to work because they are constantly threatened with physical violence.

 

Facts on Modern Slavery

 

The Pakistani government, along with the world community, prohibits the practice of debt slavery. However, it is highly inefficient when it comes to enforcing the laws and punishing the people who profit from slavery.

Developed countries and humanitarian organizations are highly critical of modern day slavery. Human Rights Watch (HRW) argues that bonded labor is more common in the southern Punjab and Sindh regions of Pakistan.

“Bondage in agrarian regions involves the purchase and sale of peasants among landlords, the maintenance of private jails to discipline and punish peasants, the forcible transference of teachers who train peasants to maintain proper financial accounts and a patter of rape of peasant women by landlords and the police,” said the organization.

HRW also ties this issue into poverty by explaining that bonded laborers either work in the agricultural industry or the “informal economy.”

This is a vicious circle in which the landless poor “are denied access to institutional forms of credit and must therefore rely on landlords, moneylenders and employers.”

To end debt slavery in Pakistan, the government can work harder to enforce the laws already banning the practice. With debt slavery, individuals are fooled into working in horrible conditions for the rest of their lives.

– Juan Campos

Sources: AP, The Nation, Human Rights Watch

contraceptive_devices
Compared to other African nations, South Africa has one of the most progressive laws on women’s reproductive health. The South African Bill of Rights affirms the “right to reproductive health care and bodily integrity.” The 1994 Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act granted their women access to abortion services in state clinics within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Despite these laws that make abortion legal in South Africa, reproductive services face social stigma and are not widely accessible or available. These obstacles push underage girls into performing illegal abortions. These operations are not only risky to the fetus, but to the girl as well.

In South Africa, around 80,000 babies are born to girls under the age of 18. Underage girls giving birth have a higher risk of miscarriage and maternal mortality.

Starting in June, a new contraceptive device will be available free to women at all state clinics. The price of the device is normally 1,700 South African Rand (roughly $157) at a private doctor. South African Health Minister Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi launched this plan at the National Assembly, calling it the “biggest family planning program South Africa has ever seen.”

The contraceptive is a tiny sub-dermal implant that is placed below the skin of the arm. It releases hormones that prevent ovaries from releasing eggs and also thickens the cervical mucous.

It lasts for three years and is expected to reduce unwanted births, illegal abortions, teenage pregnancies and maternal mortality. It does not protect against HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Compared to contraceptive injections that could take up to a year for the effects to disappear, this implant can be removed at any moment and its effects would wear off in only a few weeks.

Contraception gives girls and women more freedom and control over their lives. It prevents early pregnancies until they choose to give birth. This allows girls to develop skills, to enter the workforce and contribute to their families and the economy.

Numerous research studies show that women’s empowerment and economic growth are closely connected. In countries where women’s empowerment is progressing, its economic growth is also improving as well. It may also be argued that economic development contributes to the advancement of women’s rights and empowerment.

Developing nations can look towards South Africa’s example of promoting women’s empowerment to decrease population growth and reduce maternal mortality, illegal abortions and unwanted births. Although contraceptives face stigma and are spurned by various societies, it can also provide the answer to a multitude of problems.

– Sarah Yan

Sources: Afrika, The New Age
Photo: Sunrise Ranch

akon_lighting_africa_project
Every day, 600 million Africans live in the dark with no access to electricity, which is making it difficult for students to read, clinics to properly store vaccines and businesses to operate outside of natural light hours.

The energy crisis in Africa, particularly in the Sub-Saharan countries, leaves many people in poverty. In a place where work stops when the sun goes down, it is hard to advance in the workplace, which is making employment opportunities scarce. And, when power is available, it is often unreliable and can cause power outages.

Senegalese pop-star Akon, in partnership with Give1 Project and Africa Development Solutions Global Corporation, aims to give electricity to one million households in nine West and Central African countries by the end of 2014.

The Akon Lighting Africa project involves installing solar equipment in rural households in Senegal, Mali, Guinea Conakry, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo and the Ivory Coast.

Originally from Senegal, Akon, whose real name is Aliaune Badera Thiam, is on tour of the beneficiary countries to meet with presidents and leaders.

“We wanted to focus the project on rural areas because we often forget that our parents in these remote areas need electricity,” Akon was quoted saying after meeting Burkinabe President Blaise Campore.

The project also aims to improve education quality and sustainable infrastructure. Improved electricity would lengthen hours of education, allowing students the opportunity to succeed.

Akon was born in St. Louis to two musician parents; he spent much of his childhood in Senegal. Despite living in the United States, Akon keeps his homeland in the forefront of his business ventures.

He started a charity in Africa that aims to empower youth by promoting health and education. The Konfidence Foundation concentrates its efforts in Senegal and West Africa, but Akon hopes the foundation will serve as an international platform to empower individuals, communities and nations.

Akon Lighting Africa is the pop star’s most recent project that aims to help Sub-Saharan African countries become self-sufficient. The sustainable energy project has a mission to help the infrastructure, education and economy of the beneficiary countries.

– Haley Sklut

Sources:  Africa Review, World Bank, Konfidence
Photo: Trace

young migrants
On February 14th, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) released the 2013 World Youth Report, aimed at addressing the significant impact of young migrants on both origin and destination countries. The report also highlights the specific concerns, challenges and successes faced by migrants across the globe.

Whether it be for work, study or family reasons, voluntary migration continues to increase every year. The UN estimates that there are 232 million international migrants worldwide, representing 3.2% of the world’s total population. More than 30% of these migrants are considered youth migrants under the age of 29 and approximately half of these are female.

Youth migration has a significant impact on not only individual lives, but also global economies. Many young migrants leave their country of origin in search of better job opportunities and often send remittances home to benefit their families. These individuals improve their financial situations while engaging in economic transactions that will benefit their destination country.

However, countries of origin often suffer the negative effects of “brain drain,” or human capital flight. This is the process by which professionals, often in the fields of health or education, leave developing countries in search of a higher salary and better living conditions.

The report also goes into detail about the specific struggles and opportunities that young migrants can face.

In the preparatory stage, migrants cited the difficulties they faced in obtaining accurate information about their intended destination, as well as in obtaining needed documents and making travel accommodations.

On arrival, migrants noted experiencing both culture shock and loneliness. Often communication barriers had to be overcome and in the long term, many faced both stereotyping and discrimination.

The report notes some recommendations made by migrants to ease the transition from origin to destination country. Among these is the development of tools to assess the readiness of a migrant and to help facilitate decision-making and planning. They recommended peer-to-peer initiatives, pre-departure orientation programs, and awareness-raising campaigns.

Despite these challenges, many young migrants have become exemplary examples of what can be achieved in the face of adversity.

As the report notes, “their capacity as agents of social change and development should not be underestimated.”

Mollie O’Brien

Sources: UN News Centre, United Nation Regional Information Centre for Western Europe
Photo: Caritas

repatriation companies
Migrant workers are a common sight among the busy streets of Singapore; they have been essential to the growth of the impressive buildings that paint the skyline. But like many countries that rely on migrant workers, abuse does rear its ugly head.

Many workers who make their way to Singapore seek money that simply is not available in their home country. Typically, they sign a contract, allowing them to reside in the country for a specific period of time.

Workers who do not wish to leave are put in the hands of companies that specialize in corralling migrant workers and forcibly removing them from the country. Many of these companies have been known to use intimidating and sometimes violent tactics.

Bapari Jarkir, a Bangladeshi migrant worker, encountered the employees of a repatriation company at the point of a knife. His employer wanted to expel him off his job as a welder, but he refused due to the high amount of debt he incurred while moving to Singapore.

He was escorted to the office of a repatriation company, where he was forcibly detained for several hours until he agreed to sign a document saying he was responsible for paying his $3,900 bond that each construction firm must give up to the government for each migrant worker. The bond money is usually returned to the company once the migrant worker leaves the country.

Should a migrant worker fail to leave the country once their contract is up, the construction firm is levied with a sizeable fine. The bonds the companies hand over to the government combined with the risk of facing fines has resulted in a profitable market for repatriation companies. Horror stories have also been reported detailing the expulsion of workers from Singapore should any health issues occur.

Construction companies are typically responsible for insuring their workers and paying medical expenses should they arise. A Bangladeshi worker named Shagar faced deportation following a work related injury.

After he hurt his leg while carrying heavy tile, he pursued compensation through his employer. After being summoned to the foreman’s office, he encountered two large men who escorted him to the headquarters of a repatriation company. The company informed him he was being placed on a flight back to Bangladesh. Luckily, he was able to remember a lawyer’s assistant’s number and was provided assistance.

The issue of Singapore’s repatriation companies has even garnered the attention of the United States government. In its 2013 Report on Human Trafficking, it confirms the experience of Bapari and Shagar at the hands of repatriation companies. It notes instances of workers being “seized and confined” against their will and threatened into leaving the country.

While Singapore is a very modern and stable nation, it needs desperate reform of its labor laws concerning migrant workers; specifically the bonds the government requires from every firm employing migrant workers, which has created a market for these repatriation companies to flourish. Singapore experienced its first riot in 40 years involving disgruntled migrant workers; a clear sign that change is needed.

– Zachary Lindberg

Sources: CNN, Bloomberg
Photo: UNHCR

Unconditional_Basic_Income_Initiative
Citizens of the European Union (EU) have successfully gathered groundbreaking support towards establishing unconditional basic income. A petition for the unconditional basic income initiative began in 2013 and it has spread widely. The petition has officially gained 285,041 signatures from EU citizens across 28 countries.

The movement fell short of their goal to reach the one million signatures needed for the European Commission to “win their consideration of unconditional basic income as a new form of ‘emancipatory welfare.” However, the initiative was brought to Switzerland, where it managed to get 100,000 signatures.

Unlike the United States—where most legislation has to pass through representatives to be implemented—popular initiatives in Switzerland are able to gain more ground. The proposal is also possible because the Swiss political system allows for a very direct form of democracy. Moreover, unconditional basic income is part of a larger movement across the globe to address the pressing issue of rampant economic inequality.

The people of Switzerland have been successful in introducing legislation that would limit the salary of CEOs to “12 times the salary of the lowest paid employee.”

Considering how unconventional the proposal is—in which the suggested amount of $2,800 a month would be unconditionally provided to the people of Switzerland—gathering the votes required is considered to be a long shot. But, the movement represents a rapidly growing public concern.

It aims to account for some of the 21st century problems that arise due to a capitalist mode of economy.

For instance, the unconditional basic income initiative would allow for jobs to be distributed more widely and equally. Currently, France has three million people who are jobless and five million people working more than necessary. This sort of unequal employment distribution in France is also evident across nations on an international scale.

There is an element of controversy to the movement though, where debates regarding human rights and entitlements circulate the issue. The initiative reflects a strong public opinion however, in which human nature is regarded as creative as opposed to lazy. It would allow for people to have the tools to realize their potential and have a dignified existence, rather than being left out of what society has to offer.

As stated by a leader behind the unconditional basic income initiative, “This would lead to a paradigm change.”

Jugal Patel

Sources: Business Week, Forbes, Basic Income, Business Insider
Photo: RT