The War on Genetically-Modified-Food Critics

Et tu, National Geographic?

Timothy A. Wise

Since when is the safety of genetically modified food considered “settled science” on a par with the reality of evolution? That was the question that jumped to mind when I saw the cover of the March 2015 National Geographic and the lead article, “Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?”

The cover title: “The War on Science.” The image: a movie set of a fake moon landing. Superimposed: a list of irrational battles being waged by “science doubters” against an implied scientific consensus:

“Climate change does not exist.”

“Evolution never happened.”

“The moon landing was faked.”

“Vaccinations can lead to autism.”

“Genetically modified food is evil.” WHAT?

Genetically modified food is evil? First of all, what business does “evil” have in an article about scientific consensus? Sure, some people think GMOs are evil. But isn’t the controversy about whether genetically modified food is safe?

More important, what was such an item doing on a list of issues on which the vast majority of scientists would indeed have consensus? How in the world does author Joel Achenbach define “scientific consensus?” How about 95 percent of the peer-reviewed literature, as in the case of climate change? Near 100 percent, as in the case of the lack of any link between autism and vaccines, or on evolution, or the reality of the moon landing?

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Will Quantitative Easing Solve the European Economic Crisis?

Gerald Epstein

Regular Triple Crisis contributor Gerald Epstein, of the University of Massachusetts and the Political Economy Research Institute, speaks with The Real News Network’s Sarmini Peries about the recent turn toward quantitative easing on the part of the European Central Bank—and why it is unlikely to be effective unless Europe changes course from policies that have undermined recovery in Greece and elsewhere.

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Myopic Vision of Food Security in India

A Critique of the Shanta Kumar Committee Report

Deepankar Basu and Debarshi Das, Guest Bloggers

Deepankar Basu is assistant professor in the Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst, U.S., and Debarshi Das is associate professor in the Department of Humanities & Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati. A shorter version of this article was carried in The Hindu on Tuesday, February 17, 2015.

Within months of assuming office, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government set up a High Level Committee (HLC) in August 2014 to restructure, re-orient and reform the Food Corporation of India (FCI). The eight-member HLC was chaired by senior BJP leader, Shanta Kumar, and included prominent economist Ashok Gulati. On January 22, 2015, the HLC submitted its report to the government and made its recommendations public.

In the short run, the committee recommends that the National Food Security Act (NFSA) 2013 be curtailed. The NFSA entails providing subsidized food to about 67%  of the population; the committee recommends that the coverage be brought down to 40%. In the medium run, the committee recommends that the current public distribution system (PDS) be replaced by a cash transfer system. This will mean that the State will no longer have to be responsible for distributing food to vulnerable sections of the population. Hence, the State will no longer need to procure food from farmers, and store it. Since the current system of procurement, storage and transportation is primarily managed by the FCI, the medium-term vision of the HLC implies that the FCI can, in due course, be folded up.

While there are other important details whose implications need to be studied seriously (e.g., encouragement of contract labour), it seems safe to suggest that the overall thrust of the HLC’s recommendations, if implemented, would whittle down operation of the FCI in the short run and completely dismantle it in the medium run. The HLC has advanced two broad set of arguments as justifications for its recommendations. Critical scrutiny shows that both these sets of arguments are fallacious.

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The Reregulation of Cross-Border Finance

Kevin Gallagher

Regular Triple Crisis contributor Kevin Gallagher, of Boston University and the Global Economic Governance Initiative (GEGI) summarizes the key arguments in his new book Ruling Capital: Emerging Markets and the Reregulation of Cross-Border Finance. He focuses on the re-emergence of capital controls since the 2008 financial crisis—with developing-country governments reining in cross-border capital flows from “flying into their country, flying out”—and how the “policy space” emerged for such measures.

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Solving the Greek Debt: An Attractive Compromise

Stephany Griffith-Jones and Inge Kaul

There is an urgent need to reach a solution of the Greek debt problem that is effective and beneficial for Greece, its Eurozone creditors, as well as for the whole European and global economy.

Fortunately, such a solution exists and is gaining support. It is the proposal that suggests transforming the debt that Greece owes to Eurozone governments into GDP-linked bonds. Such bonds would link servicing of interest payments to the growth of the Greek economy.

They would not reduce the total value of the debt for the creditors and, thus, satisfy the creditors’ key demand: no debt reduction for Greece. But what GDP-indexed bonds would do is reduce debt servicing in the short term for Greece, whilst its economy is on a recovery path and not yet growing sufficiently. Granting Greece such a breathing space would be good for its economy and for its creditors. Giving growth a chance to pick up again would strengthen Greece’s capacity to meet its debt obligations in the future and lower, if not altogether remove the risk that taxpayers in the Eurozone countries may ultimately have to pay for Greece’s debt burden.

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Another Game-Changing Election in India

Jayati Ghosh

Even in the hectic and constantly changing political life of India, there are some watershed moments. The elections of May 2013 clearly generated such a moment, when the “Modi wave” and first past the post electoral system enabled the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). despite getting only 31% of the total votes, to win a majority of seats in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of the Indian Parliament), transforming the national scene. The elections just concluded for the assembly in the city of Delhi, which is not even a full-fledged state, may seem unimportant by contrast, but they too have transformative potential.

Since the national election victory, the BJP—led by Narendra Modi and his henchman Amit Shah (now President of that party)—has seemed unstoppable, winning several state assembly elections and aggressively establishing dominance over its allies, as Modi and Shah have established dominance within the party. The honeymoon period has been extended because the media too generally fell in line, lauding every pronouncement of the Prime Minister and celebrating every declaration of supposedly “new” policies as heralding dramatic transformation.

There were some rumblings of discontent. Some tried to point out that there was a lot of talk without too much content. Thus, policies announced in a blaze of publicity (such as the Swacch Bharat or “Clean India Mission,” or the “Make in India” campaign) were just rehashed versions of policies of the previous government, with slicker media-savvy presentation but less public money. Some noted that the Prime Minister seemed to be more focused on self-promotion and grandiose foreign policy gestures, trying to highlight his supposed “personal chemistry” with various foreign leaders, ranging from U.S. President Barack Obama to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Still others observed that many of the promised policy changes of the Modi government had yet to occur, and that too many blatantly pro-big business measures were taken opaquely—including changing clearance rules to allow more environmentally undesirable investment and passing an ordinance that would reduce effective compensation to those who lost their land because of new projects. Instead of the promised “development and good governance,” the so-called “fringe elements” of the ruling coalition that create communal disharmony and attacks on non-Hindu religious communities were given free reign, with discreet silence on the part of the top leadership. Within the BJP, many senior leaders felt marginalized, alienated from and even humiliated by the new axes of national power.

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Fast Track to Financial Instability

Kevin P. Gallagher

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama said he would submit a bill to Congress that would grant him the fast track authority to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a trade pact with Pacific Rim countries such as Japan, Malaysia, Peru, and Chile.  While free trade has brought benefits in the past, tariffs in the world economy are at an all time low and new deals like the TPP offer few new gains in terms of growth and jobs for the American people.

Moreover, deals like the TPP now come with very high risks.  Given that tariffs on goods are so low, these sorts of agreements have rebranded bona fide economic regulations as “barriers to trade,” blurring the distinction between protectionism and measures to protect the well-being of the middle class.

According to the most optimistic economic models, the TPP would only boost U.S. GDP between one and three tenths of one percent by 2025.  This essentially amounts to a rounding error of just over one hundredth of a percent per year over the next ten years.  Even these tiny gains are likely overestimates, given that they assume full employment for the U.S. and all trading partners.

Alongside these small gains, the TPP comes with high costs.  The negotiations are conducted in a highly secretive manner, but leaked text on foreign investment and financial services reveals that the TPP rebrands regulations to protect workers and the general public from financial crisis as unfair barriers to trade.  When signing on to “market access” provisions—a cornerstone of the TPP–nations must “liberalize” regulations that are seen as lessening the profits of Wall Street.

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Crisis or Opportunity for Greece?

Martin Khor

Last week a political earthquake took place in Greece when the new party Syriza won the national election on an anti-austerity platform.

The new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, appointed prominent critics of the creditor-imposed austerity policies to the Cabinet and indicated the new government intends to re-negotiate the bailout loan conditions and also seek debt relief.

The new government looks ready to take on its troika of main creditors (the European Commission, Interna­tional Monetary Fund and European Central Bank). Some European lea­ders have called on the government to stick to the obligations linked to the bailout loans. The big fights ahead have great significance not only for Greece but the whole of Europe.

It is a climax of the clash of ideas and policies that has taken place since the start of the global financial crisis in 2008 on how countries fa­cing debt and recession should get out of their dire situation.

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Is All Growth Good? The Case of China

Sara Hsu

Since the seventies, with the assertion by Gunnar Myrdal that economic development should prioritize equality, economists have increasingly come to believe that not all types of growth are wholly “good.” Growth that ignores human well-being and equality are viewed as problematic.  Certainly growth that results in severe environmental destruction, as in the case of China over the past twenty years, cannot be classified as good, either, despite the country’s much-lauded successes during this period.

Real-world views of growth depicted in the mainstream media do not fall in line, however, with the economic development literature. The focus on China’s growth in the news has distracted from a more balanced view of the looming inequality problems or polluting production methods in the world’s most populous nation.  As China’s growth has slowed, headlines have read, “China’s Economic Growth at Stake,” “China’s Economic Growth Slows,” and “China’s Second Quarter Growth Slows.”

Even when inequality and pollution problems are described, they are considered separate from the growth process—as “side effects” of growth rather than issues that detract from the extent of growth itself. Headlines read, “China Blocks Access to Air Pollution Data,” “China Declares War on Pollution,” or “China’s Wealth Disparity Erupts in Protest.” It could, however, be argued that such destructive types of growth both take away from “good” growth and dampen positive growth in the long-run, so we should read about growth and its associated externalities within the same context. This is clearest in the case of pollution, where natural resources are destroyed and rendered unusable to future generations.

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The World Bank: In the Vanguard of an Infrastructure Boom

Nancy Alexander, Guest Blogger

The world is experiencing the “biggest investment boom in human history”, with some $6-9 trillion annually (8 per cent of global GDP) devoted to mega, giga and tera (million, billion, and trillion) dollar projects.

World leaders, specifically the Group of 20 (G20), are staking their reputation on achieving a growth target – namely raising global GDP by 2.1 per cent over current trajectories by 2018. The G20 sees massive infrastructure investment as one of the ‘silver bullets’ that can achieve its target and, by boosting trade and integration, add $2 trillion to the global economy and create millions of jobs.

The private sector, a major driver of the boom, suggests that about $60-70 trillion of additional infrastructure capacity will be needed by 2030 (see Business 20 recommendations). Under current conditions, public and private investments could provide about $30-35 trillion and $10-15 trillion, respectively, leaving a gap of $15-20 trillion. Policy-makers see long-term institutional investors, such as pension funds and sovereign wealth funds, as the key to bridging the gap. These investors control about $85 trillion and seek higher returns on their money, such as infrastructure can provide.

Another major driver of the boom is competition between the ‘West and the rest.’ As described below, the US-led World Bank is one of the institutions in the vanguard of this competition.  When Jim Yong Kim assumed the World Bank presidency in 2012, staffers reported that he was presented with “Big Development” and “Small Development” approaches.  Kim leans toward “Big Development” – or “transformational” projects.

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