Informal Workers in the Time of Coronavirus

By C. P. Chandrasekhar and Jayati Ghosh

Republished from Network IDEAs; originally published in the Business Line on March 24 2020.

The global devastation caused by Covid-19 is only just beginning, with the severe threat to public health worsened by the evident inability to cope of most health systems across developing and developed countries. Many states across the world appear to have realised the serious potential of this pandemic and have declared lockdowns, closures, partial curfews and curtailment of all but essential activities in efforts to contain the contagion.

The economic impacts of such lockdown are also just beginning to be felt, and will escalate in the coming months. The discussion on the economics of this pandemic has tended to focus on supply disruptions and the likely financial losses of companies, especially those in travel, transport and other services and manufacturing activities. Precisely because companies have more lobbying power and more political voice in general, they have already started clamouring for (and being offered) incentives, bailouts and other relief measures to allow them to cope with this crisis.

But in fact, the worst material impacts are already being felt by informal workers, who face a dismal spectrum of probabilities of loss of livelihood, from declining earnings among the self-employed to job losses among paid workers. These are likely to get much worse in the coming months. Even so, barring in just a handful of countries, very few governments have declared strong measures to cope with these effects—and therefore they are letting loose forces that could be even more devastating for poor people across the world. In the worst-case scenario, this could even mean that more people could die from hunger and the inability to treat other problems than will do so because of the virus.

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Economic Crisis Was Foreshadowed Before the Coronavirus

By Alejandro Nadal

Republished from La Jornada, March 11, 2020, with permission.

It is with great sadness that we announce that Alejandro Nadal, an economist, lawyer, professor at the Centro de Estudios Económicos (CEE) of the Colegio de México, and a longtime contributor to Triple Crisis blog, passed away on March 17 after a short time with fast-moving cancer. As former D&S co-editor and former Triple Crisis administrator Timothy A. Wise put it, “A great loss for us all, far too young and otherwise healthy and vibrant. Like Frank Ackerman. Tough times, just when we need those clear, critical minds most.”  This article was his last for the Mexico City daily newspaper La Jornada, where he was a columnist. It was submitted on March 10 and published on March 11, just six days before he died. Even though he wrote it almost two weeks ago and the news is moving so quickly, it still seems to capture powerfully the current moment and the economic context of the pandemic. The journal Sin Permiso, on whose editorial board Nadal served, has posted an obituary and tribute here, and has made available a pdf compiling some of his articles —Eds. 

Cycles and crises in capitalism can happen in an irregular way. This is part of the anomalous movement of an economy that is inherently unstable. The great crisis of 2008 was the result of such processes. And to bring an economy that has fallen into imbalance back to life, you need to inject it with liquidity in good quantities. For example, the monetary easing policy measures implemented by the Federal Reserve were felt before the crisis and their speculative effects began to spread throughout the economy from 2009–2010. Astronomical amounts went into the pension funds and treasury departments of large corporations, where they served to fuel global speculation. But what they did not do was promote investment and employment.

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Bob Sutcliffe–In Memoriam

By Arthur MacEwan

Bob Sutcliffe, who died at age 80 on December 23, was an influential socialist economist over several decades. The publication that probably gained him the most attention was British Capitalism, Workers and the Profits Squeeze (1972), which Bob co-authored with Andrew Glyn, his close friend and frequent collaborator. The book became a classic among the growing movement of socialist economists in that decade, and, indeed, moved beyond radical circles to have a major impact on public debate.

Yet, Bob’s life had a breadth and charm that went far beyond his professional accomplishments.

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Assessing the UK Electoral Avalanche of December 2019

By John Weeks

On 12 December the UK Conservative party scored a stunning victory as it buried the opposition in an electoral avalanche.  As I venture some thoughts on that outcome and its implications for US politics, transparency requires that I make it clear that I supported the Labour Party and publicly endorsed its policies and disparaged its critics.  My disappointment will surprise no one.  How should I interpret this disastrous electoral loss by a party advocating a range of policies that I consider appropriate and essential for our country?

As is the case with many complex events, I find it useful to begin with simple, even simplistic, explanations, when inspect those simple narratives for their flaws.  I seek to avoid seizing on explanations that conveniently support my predilections.  Defeats (as well as victories) call for humility and introspection rather than definitive convictions.

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The Green New Deal as an Anti-Neoliberal Program

By Robert Pollin (guest post)

Second in a series of posts on neoliberalism and what might come next, organized to celebrate the 45th anniversary of Dollars & Sense, which publishes Triple Crisis. 

In 2007, Nicholas Stern, the prominent mainstream British economist and former chief economist at the World Bank, wrote that “Climate change is a result of the greatest market failure the world has seen.” Stern’s assessment was extreme, but not hyperbolic. This is for the simple reason that, if we take climate science at all seriously, we cannot avoid the conclusion that we are courting ecological disaster by not stabilizing the climate.

Neoliberalism is a driving force causing the climate crisis. This is because neoliberalism is a variant of classical liberalism, and classical liberalism builds from the idea that everyone should be granted maximum freedom to pursue their self-interest within capitalist market settings. But neoliberalism also diverges substantially from classical liberalism: What really occurs in practice under neoliberalism is that governments allow giant corporations to freely pursue profit opportunities to the maximum extent, and governments even intervene on corporations’ behalf when their profits might be threatened. How the oil companies reacted to clear evidence of climate change represents a dramatic case study of neoliberalism in practice. In 1982, researchers working at the then Exxon Corporation (now Exxon Mobil) estimated that by about 2060, burning oil, coal, and natural gas to produce energy would elevate the planet’s average temperatures by about 2° Celsius. This, in turn, would generate exactly the types of massive climate disruptions that we have increasingly experienced since the 1980s—i.e., heat extremes, heavy precipitation, droughts, rising sea levels, and biodiversity losses, with corresponding impacts on health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, and human security. In 1988, researchers at the Shell Corporation reached similar conclusions. We now know what Exxon and Shell did with this information: They buried it. They did so for the obvious reason that, if the information were then known, it might have threatened their prospects for receiving massive profits from producing and selling oil.

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Buy Prints of the Comic Strips of Neoliberalism

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To celebrate the 45th anniversary of Dollars & Sense, the organization that maintains Triple Crisis blog, former D&S art director Nick Thorkelson has made full-color prints of his amazing “Comic Strip of Neoliberalism” series published in the magazine in the early 2000s.  The series was a collaboration with former D&S co-editor Alejandro Reuss.  (For more info on the series, click here.)

There are three paired sets of 13” x 17” prints: “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “Neoliberalism vs. History,” and “Megadreams of Hyperdevelopment.” (Scroll down to see all three sets. Click to enlarge.)

We are offering signed prints for $45 per set or $100 for all three sets. (Prices include shipping within the United States.)  To place orders, visit this page.

You can also support Dollars & Sense and Triple Crisis with a donation.  Contact us by email (dollars at dollarsandsense.org) about how to contribute to our 45th-Anniversary Sustainability Fund.

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Neoliberalism and Climate Change

By Juliet Schor (guest post)

This is the text of a speech that Juliet Schor, professor of sociology at Boston College, gave at the 45th anniversary celebration for Dollars & Sense, which maintains Triple Crisis blog, on November 14 at the Nonprofit Center in Boston, Mass. Schor was a D&S collective member in its early years.  This is the first in a series of posts on neoliberalism that we’ll be posting at Triple Crisis. 

We are in the midst of a terrifying climate emergency. Whether it’s the record-challenging cold of this week, devastating wildfires, Category 5 hurricanes, flooding on Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester, Mass., when it’s not raining, the permanent disappearance of glaciers, intensifying drought and climate migration, or the relentless upward march of average temperatures, signs of climate disruption are all around us. This is partly due to the power of neoliberal economics.  Naomi Klein has made an interesting observation about the relation between the two, which is that it was bad luck that neoliberalism surged just as we figured out the need to do something about greenhouse gas emissions. I’m not convinced that the fossil fuel industry wouldn’t have done just what it did and been as successful even if we were still, in the famous words of Richard Nixon, “all Keynesians now” but that’s something we’ll never know. In any case, evidence of the ability of a now discredited economic approach (neoliberalism) to hang on long past its sell-by date is all around us.

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Rome Summit Takes Bold Step Toward Agroecology

By Timothy A. Wise

This was originally published at Common Dreams.

The Climate Action Summit at the UN last month was widely considered a disappointment, failing to garner the kinds of government actions needed to address the climate crisis. Sadly, the same can be said for actions on agriculture and climate change, despite a well-publicized commitment of $790 million to “to enhance resilience of over 300 million small-scale food producers in the face of mounting climate impacts.”

That is not because the investment isn’t needed. It is, desperately. Small-scale farmers in developing countries are already bearing the brunt of climate change yet they have received little of the promised funding to help them adapt to drought, flooding, heat, and other climate changes.

These new initiatives won’t bridge that gap. Just as government actions to date are proving far too weak to address the climate emergency, these agriculture programs support familiar measures that have thus far failed to help small-scale farmers. Some measures have left them even more vulnerable to climate change.

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Official Reforms and India’s Real Economy, Pt. 3

By Sunanda Sen, guest blogger

Part three of a three-part series, a version of which was published in Economic and Political Weekly on September 21, 2019.  Find Part 1 here and Part 2 here

Part 3: Pattern of stagnation in India’s real economy

As already emphasised in the preceding sections of this commentary, a country’s GDP growth alone hardly indicates the country’s level of development, which include employment, social security and absence of poverty. Recognising above is important in the context of the ailing Indian economy that is currently subject to concerns more pressing than the plunging financial sector.

Mention can be made here of the structural changes in the Indian economy, with changing relative contributions of its three major sectors.Those include the share for services moving up to 50% and above since the early 1990s and the respective industry and agriculture shares stalling around 25% and 19% or less since then.

The employment situation as currently prevail in the Indian economy include 90% or more people struggling to eke out a survival in the informal sector while the organised formal sectors within industry and services offer 10% or less of jobs, thus pushing the majority of the working population to the dark terrains of the unorganised and informal jobs.

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Official Reforms and India’s Real Economy, Pt. 2

By Sunanda Sen, guest blooger

Part two of a three-part series, a version of which was published in Economic and Political Weekly on September 21, 2019.  Find Pt. 1 here.

Pt. 2: How effective to revive the economy?

Sops as above as tax relief—to portfolio as well as corporate investors within and outside the country—while effective in temporarily stimulating the secondary stock market, may not work to reverse the tendencies for the stagnation, even in the financial sector and let alone in the real economy. Contrary to what was expected, the initial response of the stock market continued to be rather non-committal over nearly a month between August 23 and September 20 when the big tax bonanza package was announced. It is possibly too early (and nearly impossible) to project the stock market movements in future. Still more doubtful is an expected positive impact of all above policy moves on capacity creation via the market for initial primary offers (IPOs)—short of which there can be no expansion in the real economy of output, investment and employment.