U.S. Climate Goals: A Reckoning

The editors of Triple Crisis blog received the following letter from regular contributor Sunita Narain and her co-author Chandra Bhushan about their recent report on U.S. government policy on climate change. “Captain America: U.S. Climate Goals—A Reckoning.” They raise tough criticisms of the weak and halting steps that the U.S. government has taken, and express apt concern about whether U.S. ways of production and consumption can long persist—let along be replicated around the world—without causing irreversible and catastrophic harm. Make sure to check out the links, to a summary of key findings and to the full report. —Eds.

We are sending you a link to our just released report, Capitan America in which we take a close and careful look at the U.S. government’s action plan on climate change.


There is also a link to our presentation on our key findings.


We write this report knowing that the threat of climate change is real and urgent. We know this because we in South Asia are already seeing horrific impacts of changing weather, hitting the most poorest and most vulnerable. We strongly believe the world needs an effective and ambitious climate change deal. In this context we ask if the U.S. climate action plan is ambitious, equitable or sufficient? We ask this because it is said that even if U.S. Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) is not ambitious, it signals a change in the country’s position. And that it will build momentum in the future. The question is if the U.S. is on track to make real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions?

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The Financial Sector is Too Big

Philip Arestis and Malcolm Sawyer

Has the financial sector become too large, absorbing too many resources, and enhancing instabilities? A look at the recent evidence on the relationship between the size of the financial sector and growth.

There has been a long history of the idea that a developing financial sector (emphasis on banks and stock markets) fosters economic growth. Going back to the work of authors such as Schumpeter, Robinson, and more recently, McKinnon, etc., there have been debates on financial liberalisation and the related issue of whether what was relevant to financial liberalisation, namely financial development, “caused” economic development, or whether economic development led to a greater demand for financial services and thereby financial development.

The general thrust of the empirical evidence collected over a number of decades suggested that there was indeed a positive relationship between the size and scale of the financial sector (often measured by the size of the banking system as reflected in ratio of bank deposits to GDP, and the size of the stock market capitalisation) and the pace of economic growth. Indeed, there have been discussion on whether the banking sector or the stock market capitalisation is a more influential factor on economic growth. The empirical evidence drew on time series, cross section, and panel econometric investigations. To even briefly summarise the empirical evidence on all these aspects is not possible here. In addition, the question of the direction of causation still remains an unresolved issue.

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The GM Food Labeling Law to End All Labeling Laws

Timothy A. Wise

This week the U.S. Senate is expected to begin consideration of a controversial bill that would, in the guise of “safe and accurate food labeling,” make the labeling of genetically modified foods nearly impossible. It would undercut state-level labeling initiatives, such as the one approved in Vermont. The Real News Network sat down with  Timothy A. Wise to discuss the ongoing battle over GM food, based on his recent article, “The GM Food Labeling Law to End All Labeling Laws.” Wise has followed the controversy as part of his research on A Rights-Based Approach to the Global Food Crisis, with articles on the scientific controversy (here and here) and a series on the industry push to get GM maize approved for planting in Mexico (articles 1, 2, 3). Wise was interviewed at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts, where he is a Senior Research Fellow.

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Puerto Rico’s Colonial Economy

Arthur MacEwan

Arthur MacEwan is a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Massachusetts-Boston and the author of Neo-liberalism or Democracy? Economic Strategy, Markets and Alternatives for the 21st Century (1999), Debt and Disorder: International Economic Instability and U.S. Imperial Decline (1992), and (with John Miller) Economic Collapse, Economic Change: Getting to the Roots of the Crisis (2011).

Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States. Colonial status, with some exceptions, is not a good basis for economic progress.

Recently, the details of the Puerto Rican economic mess, and especially the financial crisis, have become almost daily fodder for the U.S. press. Yet, the island’s colonial status and the economic impact of that status, which lie at the foundation of the current debacle, have been largely ignored.

Puerto Rico, like other colonies, has been administered in the interests of the “mother country.” For example, for many years, a provision of the U.S. tax code, Section 936, let U.S. firms operate on the island without incurring taxes on their Puerto Rican profits (as long as those profits were not moved back to the states). This program was portrayed as a job creator for Puerto Rico. Yet the principal beneficiaries were U.S. firms—especially pharmaceutical firms. When this tax provision was in full-force in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it cost the U.S. government on average more than $3.00 in lost tax revenue for each $1.00 in wages paid in Puerto Rico by the pharmaceuticals. (What’s more, the pharmaceuticals, while they did produce in Puerto Rico, also located many of their patents with their Puerto Rican subsidiaries, thus avoiding taxes on the profits from these patents.)

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What We’re Writing, What We’re Reading

What We’re Writing

Edward B. Barbier, Nature and Wealth: Overcoming Environmental Scarcity and Inequality

Regular Triple Crisis contributor Patrick Bond participated in a recent forum with Capital in the Twenty-First Century author Thomas Piketty at the University of the Witwatersrand. A short account of Bond’s reflections on Piketty is available at the link just below, and several other contributions to the discussion of Piketty’s analysis and its relevance to South Africa today are in the “What We’re Reading” section:

Patrick Bond, Can World’s Worst Case of Inequality Be Fixed with Pikettian Posturing?

What We’re Reading

Prabhat Patnaik, The Refugee Crisis

Piketty and South Africa (h/t Patrick Bond):

Raymond Parson, Piketty’s Fix for Inequality in Sync with Development Plan

Imraan Valodia, What South Africa Can Learn from Piketty about Addressing Inequality

Vishnu Padayachee, Piketty’s Contribution to Unpacking Inequality: Timely and Relevant

Vishnu Padayachee, Piketty’s ‘Capital’: Perspectives from the South

Triple Crisis welcomes your comments. Please share your thoughts below.

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Europe’s Refugee “Crisis”

Jayati Ghosh

If you read or watched or listened only to the mainstream media in the North, you could be
forgiven for believing that the current influx of refugees into countries of Europe is not just
an important concern, but actually even the single biggest crisis in that continent. You might
also think that the flow of desperate refugees escaping from terrible conditions is mainly
confined to that region, and that their numbers are so large that the societies will be simply
unable to cope, because of the hugely increased burden on basic infrastructure and facilities
in those countries.

Every day television screens show images of people pouring into towns and cities, crowding
up border crossings or landing at sea (if they are lucky) and filling up transport hubs in
certain European countries. International and national newspapers carry stories of some
compassion, along with greater instances of more xenophobic responses of local
populations. Government leaders (particularly in eastern and central Europe) are shown
declaring that their country cannot possibly take in so many people, many of whom may not
even be “real” refugees but simply economic migrants. Borders are being reinforced and
aggressively policed; walls and barbed wire fences are being put up; desperate groups of
travelers are even being shot at in the attempt to prevent further influx.

Yet this tragic phenomenon that is receiving so much global publicity is but a small trickle in
the huge flow of people displaced globally by wars and conflicts in the areas where they live.
According to the UNHCR, in 2014 alone, nearly 14 million people were forcibly displaced due
to civil war or other violence. Most of these moved within their own country – 11 million
people, who are internal refugees losing everything, and often retaining only the most
uncertain of citizenship rights precisely because of the internal conflicts.

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Trapped by Haze—How Much Longer?

Martin Khor

The agony of being trapped in the all-enveloping haze, which should be more accurately called smog, continues with no end in sight. It is no longer a transient irritation that can be “tolerated” because it will soon go away. “The number of forest fires and land fires could rise until end-November,” according to a spokesman of Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency on Sept 23.

Part of the reason is the El Nino which causes dry weather that causes peat lands to burn faster. The burning of peat lands and the forest fires caused by plantations and farmers in Sumatra and Kalimantan are the sources of the haze in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

It is incredible that after so many years of the annual haze affair, after so many promises of action, and after so many meetings and agreements in the context of the three countries and of Asean cooperation, there is still a severe and prolonged haze this year. Especially if the haze is to continue another two months, solving this problem should be the highest priority for the leaders of Asean – or at least of the three countries.

Asean leaders have given priority to forging trade and investment agreements, and launching an Asean Community by the end of this year. But the most visible and urgent issue – how to end the haze which is affecting the health of millions of citizens in the three countries – has yet to receive the full attention it deserves.

The health of the people and the environment we live in are surely more basic and important than expanding trade.

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Mexican Capitalism Today, Part 2

The Power of Mexico’s Capitalists

Dan La Botz, Guest Blogger

Dan La Botz is co-editor of New Politics and editor of Mexican Labor News and Analysis. This is the second part of a two-part series. The first part is available here.

Mexico’s capitalist class is wealthy, well organized, and politically powerful. Mexican businesspeople have for many decades been organized in the Employers Confederation of the Mexican Republic (COPARMEX) which brings together “more than 36,000 member companies across the country are responsible for 30% of GDP and 4.8 million formal jobs.” COPARMEX, and other business organizations, such as the National Chamber of the Manufacturing Industry (CANACINTRA), have worked for years, principally through the PAN but also with the PRI to develop policies, write legislation, and to lobby for their political agenda.

The Mexican capitalists brought neoliberal government to power in two stages: First, the victory within the PRI of the so-called “Technocrats” over the “Dinosaurs” (that is, the neoliberals over the economic nationalists) in the 1980s and 1990s. Second, the electoral victory of the PAN. The two PAN administrations—under Vicente Fox (2000-2006) and Felipe Calderón (2006-2012)—demonstrated that the party was incapable of governing Mexico. Fox’s administration failed to deliver on its promises to the business class, while Calderón initiated the disastrous war on drugs with the tens of thousands of dead and forcibly disappeared as well as widespread police and army human rights violations.

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When So Many Lives are at Stake

The recent decision of a U.S. pharmaceutical company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, to acquire the generic drug Daraprim (used to treat the potentially fatal parasitic infection toxoplasmosis) and hike its price from $13.50 to $750 per pill, set off worldwide controversy. The New York Times reported that this was “not an isolated example,” but part of a new “business strategy of buying old neglected drugs and turning them into high-priced ‘specialty drugs.'” The outrage at the 50-fold price hike eventually forced Turing to reverse the move. However, the controversy over drug pricing should not go away as this controversy recedes from memory. Here, Triple Crisis contributor weighs in on the prices of the drugs used to treat Hepatitis C, and why they are so much higher in Malaysia than in India. —Eds.

Martin Khor

A relatively new medicine that can cure a life-threatening disease is now caught up in a global and local drama – how to make it available to the millions of patients who are literally dying to have access to it.

The disease is Hepatitis C, which affects over 450,000 Malaysians. Worldwide, 150 million people have chronic Hepatitis C infection and 500,000 die yearly, according to the World Health Organisation. It damages the liver, is a major cause of liver cirrhosis and can also lead to liver cancer.

The medicine is sofosbuvir, produced by Gilead and approved by US health authorities in December 2013. Taken in combination with another drug, sofosbuvir has a cure rate of around 95%. It is far superior to the conventional treatment of interferon in conjunction with ribavirin, which has many side-effects and an inferior efficacy rate. Access to sofosbuvir would dramatically improve the cure chances of Hepatitis C patients, enhance their life quality and save lives.

The problem is the astronomical price normally charged by the original producer – for a 12-week course, it sells for US$84,000 (RM360,108) in the US and for £35,000 (RM231,461) in Britain.

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Giving Water Workers their Due

Jayati Ghosh

It is hardly necessary to state how essential water is for our survival and quality of existence, for economic activity, and so on. Indeed, this has now become a policy issue of some import. It is not just that drinking water and sanitation are recognized to be absolutely critical areas of public intervention. There is much talk about the importance of managing water systems and ensuring sustainable patterns of use. There are concerns about over-exploitation, pollution, degradation and even destruction of water sources.

There is also greater recognition of the growing importance of the distributive politics around water: cross-border tangles over the sharing of river water; the choices to be made on industrial versus agricultural versus personal use; within personal consumption, allocation between necessary and luxury consumption of water; related concerns around the ability of local elites and other powerful players to access more water in their own particular locations; and so on. These distributive conflicts have become so prominent that several analysts have argued that remaining decades of the 21st century will be characterized by “water wars” rather than the “energy wars” we have become more familiar with.

Yet in all this heightened awareness and public discussion about water issues, there is typically a deafening silence on one key aspect: the water workers who ensure the treatment, delivery and conservation of water across societies, and the conditions that they must work in. Indeed, it would not be wrong to say that this work is effectively invisible to public policy (and indeed to the public at large). This lack of recognition of the significance of water work has huge implications not only for the workers themselves, but much more significantly for the safety and ease of access to water for people as well as for economic uses, and indeed for the sustainable use of water in different areas.

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