May 15, 2020

Pandemic in the food system

Michael Pollan on the sickness in our food supply:

A momentous question awaits us on the far side of the current crisis: Are we willing to address the many vulnerabilities that the novel coronavirus has so dramatically exposed? It’s not hard to imagine a coherent and powerful new politics organized around precisely that principle. It would address the mistreatment of essential workers and gaping holes in the social safety net, including access to health care and sick leave—which we now understand, if we didn’t before, would be a benefit to all of us. It would treat public health as a matter of national security, giving it the kind of resources that threats to national security warrant.

But to be comprehensive, this post-pandemic politics would also need to confront the glaring deficiencies of a food system that has grown so concentrated that it is exquisitely vulnerable to the risks and disruptions now facing us. In addition to protecting the men and women we depend on to feed us, it would also seek to reorganize our agricultural policies to promote health rather than mere production, by paying attention to the quality as well as the quantity of the calories it produces. For even when our food system is functioning “normally,” reliably supplying the supermarket shelves and drive-thrus with cheap and abundant calories, it is killing us—slowly in normal times, swiftly in times like these. The food system we have is not the result of the free market. (There hasn’t been a free market in food since at least the Great Depression.) No, our food system is the product of agricultural and antitrust policies—political choices—that, as has suddenly become plain, stand in urgent need of reform.

Read more here.

May 14, 2020

After the pandemic

James K. Galbraith muses on the shape of the future economy:

The contradiction between normality and public health is on people’s minds; the impossibility of returning to the previous abnormal-normal has not yet settled in. It will, in due course. At that point, the question of alternatives will have to be faced.

Read more here.

May 10, 2020

Burning while Rome fiddles

While fiddling about the pandemic, the Trump regime is deadly serious when it comes to trashing environmental protection:

In all, a New York Times analysis, based on research from Harvard Law School, Columbia Law School and other sources, counts more than 60 environmental rules and regulations officially reversed, revoked or otherwise rolled back under Mr. Trump. An additional 34 rollbacks are still in progress.

For the sorry details, read more here.

Apr 24, 2020

Common sense in uncommon times

The French have a good idea: corporations that duck tax obligations can’t get financial support from the state they fail to support:

French finance minister Bruno Le Maire has said companies registered in tax havens, or with subsidiaries in such places, cannot benefit from the billions of euros of support being provided by the government to limit the economic damage of the coronavirus pandemic.

France has abandoned its budget deficit and public debt targets since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, announcing €110bn in emergency funding in order to stave off business bankruptcies and prevent a surge in mass unemployment of the sort that has hit the US.

“It goes without saying that if a business has its tax base or subsidiaries in a tax haven — and I want to say this with a lot of force — it cannot benefit from the state’s financial help,” Mr Le Maire told Franceinfo radio on Thursday. He also confirmed that companies that received state aid could not pay dividends or buy back their own shares.

Read more here.

Apr 22, 2020

Building a resilient economy

Who said this: “With a sensible industrial policy, workers will take precedence over short-term corporate gain.” And this?

Why didn’t we have enough N95 masks or ventilators on hand for a pandemic? Because buffer stocks don’t maximize financial return, and there was no shareholder reward for protecting against risk. Even in government, we became infatuated with the “just in time” acquisition model, as opposed to “just in case” contingency acquisitions.

Today, we see the consequences of this short-term, hyperindividualistic ethos. Americans cannot leave their homes. Neighbors are unable to shake hands. Places of worship are closed. The labor market, especially for working-class Americans in those service industries, is in free-fall….

A sensible industrial policy will mean creating federal incentives for productive investment in workers and equipment through tax policy and robust federal guarantees, while discouraging unproductive corporate behavior like stock buybacks. Where foreign subsidies draw away investment outside our own borders, the federal government should introduce cooperatives to spur the creation of domestic supply chains.

Though rebuilding a more productive and pro-worker economy will take time, we can achieve it and ensure that America’s next economic chapter will owe its character to the same spirit of resiliency, solidarity and collective pursuit of the common good that our people are now displaying to the world.

Hint: A welcome sign of intelligent life on the other side of the political aisle. Read more (and find out whose words these are) here.

Apr 20, 2020

Bernie breaks it down

The pandemic lays bare a broken system, writes the Senator:

If there is any silver lining in the horrible pandemic and economic collapse we’re experiencing, it is that many in our country are now beginning to rethink the basic assumptions underlying the American value system.

Should we really continue along the path of greed and unfettered capitalism, in which three people own more wealth than the bottom half of the nation, and tens of millions live in economic desperation — struggling to put food on the table, pay for housing and education and put a few dollars aside for retirement? Or should we go forward in a very new direction?

Read more here.

Apr 19, 2020

Valuing work that’s truly valuable

From the political philosopher Michael Sandel:

The coronavirus pandemic has suddenly forced us to reconsider what social and economic roles matter most.

Many of the essential workers during this crisis are performing jobs that do not require college degrees; they are truckers, warehouse workers, delivery workers, police officers, firefighters, utility maintenance workers, sanitation workers, supermarket cashiers, stock clerks, nurse assistants, hospital orderlies and home care providers. They lack the luxury of working from the safety of their homes and holding meetings on Zoom. They, along with the doctors and nurses caring for the afflicted in overcrowded hospitals, are the ones who are putting their health at risk so the rest of us can seek refuge from contagion.

Beyond thanking them for their service, we should reconfigure our economy and society to accord such workers the compensation and recognition that reflects the true value of their contributions — not only in an emergency but in our everyday lives.

Read more here.

Apr 12, 2020

Coronomics

Fresh insights on the economy and economics in a time of pandemic:

  • • Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin on neoliberalism as a pre-existing condition: here.
  • • Sam Bowles and Wendy Carlin on rebooting the economic narrative: here.
  • • OXFAM on inequality under the magnifying lens: here.
  • • A rare glimpse of fossil fuel-free skies: here.
  • • Meanwhile, clowns run amok: here.
  • • Ezra Klein worries about coming fallout: here.
  • • Julio Vincent Gambuto on our opportunity for a new version of normal: here.

Stay safe and stay tuned.

Apr 10, 2020

The care theory of value

Economist Nancy Folbre explains why care workers – people who care for the ill, the disabled, children, the elderly – are chronically underpaid:

To bolster my care theory of value, I invoke the words of Warren Buffett, Sage of Omaha, referring to investment strategies. “Price is what you pay; value is what you get.”
He just doesn’t have the pronouns quite right for care workers on the front lines today:  Value is what you get, but price is what they pay.

Read more on her Care Talk blog, here.

Mar 23, 2020

Resilience and sustainability

As the coronavirus pandemic lays bare the fragility of global supply chains, the need for building more resilient and sustainable economies becomes ever more evident. It’s not just about medical supplies. In his new book, Feeding Britain, food policy expert Tim Lang dissects the nation’s perilous dependence on just-in-time supply chains in which eight mega-corporations control 90% of the retail market. From an interview in the Guardian:

What’s Lang’s solution? It’s detailed and includes the introduction of a food resilience and sustainability act, complete with legally binding targets. National nutritional guidelines should become the basis for food procurement contracts, both public and private. There should be an audit of food production in the UK and the budget for public health should be doubled from £2.5bn of the £130bn health budget to £5bn. It also proposes the creation of no fewer than nine bodies or institutions, including a royal commission to map a new set of “multi-criteria principles for the UK food system”, a food resilience and sustainability council and a network of urban and rural food and farming colleges.

Read more here.

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