Posts Tagged ‘Facing the 2020s’

Meet, Talk (Part 2)… and Make Connections

May 09 2013

How best can the Men Beyond 50 Network speak up about our common needs and gifts? How can our voice reach a wider audience? One part of the answer is to focus on creating a face to face network and events that meets the specific interests and specific concerns of older men, including around lifeskills, relationships, health, care and development. Another part of the answer is for the MB50 Network to deepen and widen the connections between us, allowing conversations to develop finding our voice as mature men and sharing ourselves with the world.

Finding our voice as mature men: both as a distinct voice among older people in general, and as a voice that expresses the gifts and issues of our dependency and interdependency as older men.

Sharing ourselves with the world: there is a real need for maturing men to speak up and be heard, and to speak out to different groups of both younger and older people.

These are the main reasons why the Men Beyond 50 Network is beginning a series of evening discussions under the title Maturing Men: a Growing Conversation. The next in London will be on Tuesday  June 18th (7-9pm): contact max@www.menbeyond50.net if you would like to attend and take part (and for further information).

Exploring the dependency and interdependency gifts and issues facing maturing men in the UK: for a 6 minute introductory briefing on ageing with really useful facts and helpful visuals, try this YouTube summary On Ageing Population in UK and Europe 1985 – 2010 project to 1935  (NB -Don’t be put off by the speaker’s really annoying  voice!)

Digging into these interconnected challenges facing maturing men in greater depth: if you are interested and are looking for reports, statistics, and analysis, I particularly recommend the well researched and authoritative guides issued by the National Audit Commission on the UK ageing population. You can find their latest (January 2013) briefing by clicking here:

The summary also provides links to x 6 very useful guides the National Audit Office has published since 2004 (NB they are all available to read online): Older People – A Changing Approach. Together the x6 reports tell us an important story of the changing 21st Century realities for older people:
1. The main aim of the first report (Feb 2004)was to begin to change our mind-set about ageing from thinking about dependency and deficit to looking at well-being and independence.

2. The second 2004 report explored in greater detail the need to recognise diversity and difference among older people’s interests and life experiences, especially in terms of income, ethnicity, sexuality… and gender  (including older men!).

3. The third report was aimed at briefing the public sector on how to meet the interconnected challenges of dependency and interdependency… also written in 2004… when there was still the expectation that there would always be a well funded public sector to provide the services.
4. The 2006 report was called ‘Living Well in Later Life’ and looked in greater detail at the specific future needs of the UK ‘baby boomers’ across 6 interconnected areas:

Housing
Neighbourhoods
Income
Social networks (including activities and ‘keeping busy’)
Getting out and about (transport)
Information (including online and social media)
Health and healthy living.

5. The 2008 report was called ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ and looked at ways of implementing new approaches to meeting the complex challenges of dependency and interdependency facing older people.

6. The 2010 report was called ‘Under Pressure’ and began to own up to the gap between older people’s needs and what public services will be able to provide in future.

“How Can Local Authorities with Less Money Support Better Outcomes for Older People?”: this is the increasingly insoluble question being asked of the public sector by policy makers. Actually this question was also the title of a separate and recommended report from the UK Centre for Policy on Ageing (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Jan 2011, and also available to read online)- http://www.jrf.org.uk/publications/local-authorities-better-outcomes-older-people )

Meet, Talk… and Make Connections:
realize our potentials as older men
contribute to our communities as we support values, quality and growth
grow face-to-face social networks (supported by the virtual online medium)

YES, because we’re facing the 2020’s together and we can’t do it alone!

Greek debt crisis – questions – Guest Blog by Konstantinos Todoulos

Jun 01 2012

This guest blog, written by Konstantinos Todoulos, originally posted on the Jubilee Debt Campaign website, offers an impressively clear picture of the real story behind the Greek debt crisis.

With the Greek debt crisis still dominating the headlines, Konstantinos Todoulos answers 5 frequently asked questions.

“The Greek crisis is the result of trying to shield bankers and bondholders while asking workers, retirees and taxpayers to pay the bill” (Dani Rodrik, economist, Harvard University)

1) What is the current situation in Greece?

The Greek external debt (money owed to international lenders) is around €356 billion, the debt-to-Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio currently stands at 161.8%. It is projected to go up to 172% by the end of 2011 and 194% by 2012 – that is over €370 billion euros. By comparison, the UK’s debt-to-GDP ratio is 89%. The economy has suffered greatly, both in terms of industrial production and services, with the GDP reduced in the years 2010-2011 and with many enterprises and businesses closing down or drastically cutting down on activity and personnel. Official calculations reveal that the economy is currently contracting by 8.5% of GDP – down from 10.5% in 2010 – but short of the 7.6% target set by the EU and IMF in return for emergency loans. The threat of impending default on payments triggered capital flight, as a fifth of all bank deposits by big capital holders have been directed to ‘safer’ banks mainly to Switzerland and Germany. Taxation on big capital and financial institutions is fairly low, as big capital holders and enterprises have been largely ignored from the recent taxation spree. At the social level, the official unemployment rate is at 16.4%, with over one million people unemployed in a country of 11 million. The Greek labour market is scourged by informal, seasonal and flexible work, as job availability has been drastically reduced in the private sector and the government pledged to hire only one new employee for every 10 that retire in the public sector. The youth of Greece, who are generally skilled and highly educated, suffer a lot in these conditions: unemployment for the ages 18-24 is at a record 35%, house ownership is not an option for the majority and many are considering migration as a solution. This depression creates all sort of problems in daily life, from a rise in destitution and poverty to psychological problems and a rise in suicide rates.

2) What has been done so far?

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Union (EU) and the European Central Bank (ECB) jointly formed an unofficial body nicknamed the ‘Troika’, in order to resolve the Greek debt crisis. They offered to lend €110 billion last year in tranches (installments) at intervals of several months, with evaluation of the implementation of economic reforms demanded in response.

The Troika has already provided loans for the payments of the loan interests and support of the bank system of €65 billion in 5 tranches since May 2010. It agreed at the Eurozone summit on 21 July 2011 to give another €109 billion euros within the next few years. At the same time, they decided on a reduction or ‘haircut’ of the debt by 21% and institution of the EFSF (European Financial Stability Facility), a permanent fund for future guarantees provided for countries in the Eurozone. However, efforts to limit the deficit and restore development have proven futile, as the global financial crisis has made matters worse. The measures not only did not produce positive results but weakened Greece and made it a liability for the whole Eurozone. The scale of European banks’ exposure to Greek bonds is such that a collapse in the Greek banking system would endanger the whole European economic structure. That’s why on 27 October a new deal was reached, involving a ‘haircut’ of 50% on private debt, in return for the Greek government pushing the austerity policies even harder. However, this is still not enough to tackle the underlying problems with the debt burden, and may itself now face the uncertainty of a referendum.

3) Who and what are responsible?

The Greek debt crisis has been attributed by the mainstream European media to the bloated public sector of Greece and the ‘reckless’ spending of the people who allegedly worked less, had big holidays and consumed more than they could afford. The Greek public sector however, in terms of public sector workers to total work force is fairly low compared to other European countries (11.4%), being 14th in the list of 17 Eurozone countries. As for the ‘laziness’ claim, the truth is that the Greek people are at the top of Europe in terms of working hours. According to figures released last year by EUROFOUND, Greeks work on average 1,816 hours per year, way above the 1,659 hours of Germans and the European average of 1,708 hours per year. The debt boom started as soon as Greece joined the euro currency in 2001. Cheap credit flowed from the stronger economies within the Eurozone to the periphery (countries in the southern and eastern Europe), allowing rapid expansion of banks and direct investment in activity that benefited from the extremely favourable taxation policies and loopholes in legislation that facilitated tax evasion. The European Union has clauses that prevent lending to a country when its debt to GDP ratio is over 60%, but chose to overlook this commitment in the case of Greece. The European banks and states had no inhibitions in continuing loan provision to Greece, even though the debt soon exceeded 100% of the country’s GDP. Along with Greek capital holders and businesses, they are directly responsible for the debt crisis. Furthermore, a series of corruption scandals, and low taxation for big capital and enterprises played a crucial role in limiting public funds. The Greek public administration has been plagued by corruption and political interference – almost always in favor of the same entrepreneurial interests. A big percentage of the latest booming of public expenditure came from consistently high military spending. France and Germany have been arms trade partners with Greece and have sold military equipment worth billions of euros to Greece over the years. Lastly and most importantly, the bank bailout packages and guarantees were the final blow to public finances. In 2008 the Greek banks received €28 billion and last year another €30 billion, money covered by the Troika loans which were denied from vital functions of the state such as welfare, education and healthcare.

4) What are the austerity measures?

All efforts up to now to limit the deficit have been in vain, despite the draconian Structural Adjustment Programmes imposed on Greece as a condition of emergency loans that went by the names of ‘Memorandum’ and ‘Mid-term Stability Program’. These programmes have been revised at least four times, always with the addition of stricter measures. The current government, along with the supporters of the Troika intervention, have consistently faced the public with the dilemma ‘Memorandum or default’. This is a recurring theme in every twist and turn of the crisis and the ruling party has exhausted this rationale on the repeated attempts to limit debt with austerity and contracting consumption. They claim a possible default could decimate purchasing ability and may make the Greek state unable to pay pensions and wages. The IMF revealed that it aims to significantly lower the public reallocation expenditure to below 35%. It has called for lower wages, cutting public sector salaries by a fifth, slashing pensions by 20%, 30,000 redundancies in the public sector, privatization of state owned industries, a new severe tax on property and higher VAT among many others. Most of the welfare provisions in terms of pensions, healthcare, and education have been severely affected. A further source of income was supposed to come from the issuing of new licenses for professions such as pharmacists, lawyers and truck drivers, but was met with fierce resistance, especially from taxi drivers. As expected, these measures have not only failed to generate more revenue, but have also put the public treasury in constant threat of default and reliant on further loans and every public service in danger.

5) What are the alternatives?

The sustainability of a 50% cutback of the otherwise unpayable debt would still not constitute a permanent solution, as the austerity measures already in place ensure that the drag on the economy will be long and painful. High interest rates from the international market will make it very difficult or even impossible for the Greek economy to rebound and if the austerity measures persist, living conditions and purchasing power, which dropped significantly over the last 18 months, will drop even further. The real question is not when a re-scheduling of the debt will happen, but on whose terms and what that would mean for ordinary people. Since the beginning of the crisis, the Greek people have resisted the austerity measures that were imposed on them by the PASOK government. The resistance has spread to all parts of the society, with a total of 14 general strikes since the beginning of the Troika intervention, square occupation movements (the Aganaktismenoi or ‘Occupy’ movement) similar to Spain and Egypt, public buildings and university occupations, civil disobedience campaigns around the denial of paying the new taxes and broad initiatives for the cancellation of the country’s debt. Along with the strong opposition by movements and the reactions from trade unions and students, a serious attempt has been initiated to establish a Debt Audit Commission.
Concerns have been raised about the legitimacy of the loan deals and the terms imposed for those loans.

The effort is based on the democratic and constitutionally enforced right for the people to know about and have a say in the finance of the country. The main goal through their declaration would be to indicate “the odiousness of the debt and the political responsibilities for its creation, as a means of forming appropriate proposals for tackling the debt crisis”. This audit would benefit from the cooperation of economists, professors, lawyers, activists and debt experts. Based on the findings the Commission would give evidence and support to initiatives for ‘opening the books’ of public finance, the expulsion of the Troika and questioning of the nature of the external debt. The Greek crisis is still unfolding and the coming months will show which side will win the argument on how the country will get out of the crisis.

Featured on Jubilee Debt Campaign’s website: http://www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk/Top372053720questions3720about3720the3720Greek3720debt3720crisis+7289.twl

Capitalism at Risk: Joseph Bower. Even big business feels the need for change

May 25 2012

It takes four hours by bus and train from my home in Bridport to central London.  The first time I’ve gone to London just for an evening was to hear Joseph Bower speak about his book, and see the response.  It was worth it.

Professor Joseph Bower is a heavyweight at Harvard Business School, sits on big-Company boards and all the rest of it.  His new book, Capitalism at Risk, grows out of forum sessions with top business leaders, in the US and internationally: these were held in 2007-8, before the financial crash, which many of these leaders foresaw.

In his talk, Bower briefed us on the concerns of these top business leaders, and played us video clips.  Income inequalities, and a backlash, from populist movements and the middle classes, were a top concern.  As one leader put it, “Even in the slums, people have TV: everyone can see how each other lives.”

Bower showed some striking figures about the big increases in inequality in the past 20 – 30 years, especially in the US and UK.  At one point in discussion, he tried the old line that when the poor get a bit richer, their concerns disappear, but even he could not sustain this in the face of the inequality issue.  He had no convincing answer, but voiced hopes that big business would clean up its own act, perhaps under pressure from shareholders.  This is happening occasionally in the UK now, but apparently not in the US.

Other concerns for these business leaders included: failure of the rule of law, growth of radical movements, environmental degradation and global warming, failures of public services like health and education, and state capitalism.  As Bower said, China may now use a form of capitalism, but it plays by very different rules than Western capitalism, and he sees conflicts as likely.

A key part of Bower’s suggested response to many of these problems is concerted action by a widely-based coalition of businesses: thousands per country.  A model for this is CED, which involved over 10,000 UK businesses during World War II in plans to create employment when the armed forces came home.  He also cited Colombia, where business exerted leadership to pull the country out of drug-dominated anarchy.  Another part of Bower’s response was that many of these problems are a business opportunity if approached creatively.  The growth of mobile phone networks and their inventive uses in rural areas across the world is one example.

This talk was hosted by the Harvard Club of London, with plenty of Business School alumni.  The response from the audience was somewhat muted and bewildered: it felt like no one had answers to issues of this magnitude.  There was certainly no flicker of a coalition of business leaders about to emerge.

One ray of hope which I see is the recent pushbacks from shareholders on excessive pay at the top.  If charities, ethical funds, universities and other big institutional investors started to collaborate to use their influence and define some standards, it could be a powerful move. 

Your world is getting smaller

Mar 27 2012

Peak oil is more real and alarming than you want to think!

This 2009 book is by Jeff Rubin, who is apparently an independent authority on the oil industry.  He was Chief Economist at CIBC World Markets (a North American investment bank), who is consulted by oil producers, ie he’s not a greenie or militant.

Rubin is readable, clear and convincing.  He provides a lot of info I did not know before, to show why Peak Oil is here, and worse than most of us realise.  The biggest surprises for me were not about the lack of supply, but about the factors propelling continued growth in demand.

But let’s start with supply.  Rubin explains that oil producers, both sovereign states and organisations, have motives to overstate their reserves, as that boosts their prestige and bargaining power.  He broadly accepts the Hubbert Curve forecasts, and offers plenty of evidence to support them.  For example, he explains that in depleted oilfields, the output ratio of natural gas to oil rises, and this is now true in Saudi Arabia.  He is confident that global oil prices of well over $100 per barrel will be the norm.

Rubin says that over 90% of global oil consumption is for transport, and he is pessimistic about the scope for substitution.  As he points out, the conversion of corn into ethanol for motor fuel makes no ecomonic or energy sense once the subsidies are taken out.  He expects we will all be driving less, and using public transport.

He is horribly interesting when explaining what economists call the rebound effect.  This means that a big rise in oil prices typically leads to rises in efficiency of use, but these lower the real cost (of car or air travel, for example) which then actually stimulates consumption.

Whilst oil consumption per dollar of GDP in OECD countries has reduced impressively, Rubin gives some big and alarming reasons why the growth elsewhere in the world is growing rapidly:

  • Most oil producing countries are committed to providing unlimited cheap oil to their own population, meaning US$ 0.25 per gallon!
  • These low oil prices are also applied to electric power generation, desalination plants, petrochemicals and more, which further boosts demand growth in oil producers.
  • China and India, two huge and fast-growing economies, are heavily subsidising their domestic petrol prices at below world price levels to assist economic growth.

The disappointing part of Rubin’s book is about the consequences.  He’s convincing that rapid oil price rises are unavoidable, and he expects economies to become more localised as transport costs rise.  This suggests that many products where freight costs are significant are likely to be repatriated to developed economies from places like China.  Food costs will ratchet even higher than recently.  He comments that as global trade is squeezed, so too will immigration.  However, he makes no comment on the social and political implications of all this.

He spends about two pages on the impacts in the developing world: for example Kenya, where 14% of the population depend on income from air-freighted flower exports. As he says, this implies serious economic contraction for many developing countries which have depended on cheap oil.  He comments, ‘How all this will affect our culture is a topic for others to explore in depth’… Let’s hope those others speak out soon.