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Greta Thunberg’s Speach at COP24

Greta Thunberg is a a 16 year old Swede who has inspired a wave of student strikes in the name of Climate Justice. She has been hailed as the voice of a generation. She came to popular attention following her speech at COP24 below (it’s only three minutes long and well worth a listen

 

In this brief speech (which sounds like it’s been written for her) she condemns world leaders for not taking climate change seriously and putting economic growth before protecting the biosphere. She suggests that the majority of people and the planet suffer while a tiny minority profit – essentially the planet and the next generation’s future is being sacrificed so a few people can get very wealthy.

She also suggests that the system might need to change if solutions cannot be found within it, before issuing and warning that the world’s leaders have run out of excuses and that change is coming, in the form of the youth presumably.

Relevance to A-level sociology

I thought this was an interesting example of how there is no global consensus on climate change, and yet maybe a good example of an ‘anticipation of the morality of the future‘, as Durkheim would argue.

It’s also an example of what I’m going to call ‘inverse age patriarch’ – Greta accuses the oldies of not being mature enough to deal with the problem of climate change, rather leaving it to the youth!

 

NB according to The Week (9 March 2019) – Greta Thunberg also has an interesting backstory – she began learning about climate change at the age of eight. At aged 11 she fell into a deep depression about the issue and stopped eating, talking and going to school. What turned her life around was the realisation that she could change people’s actions on climate change – her parents stopped eating meat and flying for example. She’s a selective mute and has Asperger’s – she says the later gives her a clearer perspective than other people.

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Amazon’s 0.05% U.K. Tax Rate

Amazon is in the news this morning, for paying only £67 million in tax on £7 billion revenue over 20 years. That £67 million is less than Marks and Spencer paid in tax last year alone, besides a much lower revenue

If you look at Amazon’s effective UK tax rate last year, it works out at 0.05%. It does this by basically basing its main sales operations in countries with a low tax rate… it basically ‘sells’ products to it’s UK subsidiary for next to (or probably 0) profit which then ‘sells these on’ for no profit to actual UK customers, hence very low tax.

Amazon is basically scamming the global tax system.

All of the big four global tech companies are notorious for avoiding tax, but Amazon is by far the worst…In terms of tax paid as a proportion of sales and profits,  Amazon is the worst offender of the ‘big four’ tech companies.

In fact, Google is the only company whose paid taxes you can actually see with the naked eye, when shown to scale against the sales of the three companies! (Link to Tableau doc here):

Amazon tax.png

Amazon paid even less tax than Facebook last year £4.5m on annual UK sales of £8.7bn and pre-tax profits of £72 million.

Google has the best tax record – it paid £49.3m in UK taxes last year, on UK sales of £5.7bn, on pre-tax profits £ 202.4 million.

I’m not going to comment on Apple here, because I think its figures might be distorted by its paying historical taxes in the last tax year which it failed to pay in recent years, following a recent HMRC investigation.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This example goes to prove the power of Transnational Corporations compared to Nation States. Where money is concerned, large global companies can easily avoid national taxes. This form of economic globalisation seems to suggest the decline of the nation . state!

Combatting this would take global co-operation, but it would require the vast majority of companies to agree… all it takes is .a handful of ‘rouge tax havens’ and any co-operation falls apart! It’s one of the many challenges in a global age!

Sources

The Guardian – Facebook’s UK tax bill rises to £15.8m – but it is still just 1% of sales

The Guardian – Amazon halved corporation tax bill despite UK profits tripling

BBC – Google’s tax bill rises to £50m

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Would would falling back on WTO rules mean for Britain?

If the UK leaves the EU with ‘no deal’, it will fall back on World Trade Organisation Rules, but what does this mean?

The WTO and Free Trade 

The WTO was founded in 1995 and sets the rule book by which global trade takes place.

One of the main things it has done over the past two decades is to reduce tariffs (basically taxes) levied by governments on imports and exports, and to promote a free-trade agenda.

In 1947, the average external tariff charged by GATT (the predecessor of the WTO) signatories was 22%, which was a massive disincentive to trade, by 1999 it was down to 5%, and today the weighted average tariff charged by the US and EU is 1.6%.

Over the same period, there has been a massive increase in world trade: In the 1950s international trade accounted for 8% of the world economy, today it accounts for 30% of a much bigger global economy.

The Limitations of the WTO

Recently, the WTO’s trade liberalisation has stalled, and most of the progress countries have made in reducing barriers to trade have been through regional and bilateral trade agreements. The European Union is a principle example of this: UK companies pay no tariffs on exports to Europe or imports from Europe, which makes trade easy.

If we were to fall back on WTO trade rules, there are some economic areas which still have very high tariffs – cars and car parts would face a 10% tariff every time they crossed a boarder (making BMWs a LOT more expensive! given international supply chains) and agricultural tariffs stand at 35%.

The latest Treasury forecast predicts that the UK economy would be 9.3% smaller in 15 years if we exited the EU under WTO rules.

Isn’t this just all part of ‘project fear’?

Of course Brexiteers argue that we could forge new bilateral and multilateral trade agreements once we leave the EU, but most estimates suggest that a no deal WTO fall-back Brexit would be detrimental to the UK economy.

However, what all of the above suggests is maybe that ‘globalisation’ isn’t so good for world trade anymore…. maybe it’s too difficult to sort out genuinely mutually beneficial trade agreements between all 160 odd member states of the WTO.

Instead it seems that regional agreements are much more important for economic growth – it makes sense that it’s easier to get a deal between a dozen local countries rather than ten times that number after all.

To my mind it seems unlikely that we’re going to be able to negotiate dozens of little deals with specific countries that outweigh the benefits of being part of a massive trading block like the EU!

Sources:

The Week, 26 January.

 

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Global Warming: Last Chance to Save Planet Earth?

The Intergovernmental Panel’s Report on Climate Change (IPCC), published earlier this week, doesn’t make for pretty reading…

Human activities are estimated to have caused 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.

With this level of warming, the report estimates that about 4% of the earth’s surface will undergo significant ecosystems change (in layman’s terms that means some areas becoming deserts, and lots of dead polar bears in the arctic), more extreme weather conditions, and some small island communities disappearing due to sea level rise.

And those in less developed countries will generally bear the brunt of the negative consequences of climate change.

The report also points out that warming could be more severe, and that to limit warming to 1.5C, will involve “annual average investment needs in the energy system of around $2.4 trillion” between 2016 and 2035.

Relevance to A-level Sociology: 

Unfortunately this important update is only of direct relevance to the minority of students who study the Global Development topic. For those that do, this report puts everything in perspective: this is the ‘global challenge of the day’.

However, for all students of sociology it’s possibly a good reminder of the limits of optimist globaliszation. Globalization has gone so far that we’ve effectively got a global consensus that climate change is taking place and that it’s man made. HOWEVER, we’ve actually known this for decades, but still nothing significant is being done about it, because those who occupy the seats of global power don’t see it as being in their current interests to actually take the necessary large-scale action (i.e. make the massive investments now) to reduce the risks of global warming.

Of course, if you’re a hard line neo-liberal risk society theorist, you might just see all of this IPCC stuff as scare mongering, nothing to worry about, and remain confident in the fact that the planet can handle the shock, and that techno-solutions will be found at some point in the not too distant future.

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Russia’s ‘Managed’ Democracy

Pre-script… I wrote this before the Russian elections, time-released it and then put it back so it ended up being published after the elections…which was maybe an effort on my part! Anyway, it is what it is, sort of a testament to postmodernity, sort of… Putin won of course!

Russian elections are coming up in March, and given that Russia is one of the BRIC nations, and thus relevant to the A-level sociology module on global development, I thought it worth doing a quick post…..

Technically Russia is a democracy, and has been since 1993, because presidential elections are held every 6 years, and there’s an elected parliament and an ‘independent’ judiciary.

However, in reality it’s more of a ‘managed democracy’: those in power rely heavily on the Oligarchs who control Russian business and the media to pre-determine election results. This happened initially with the first elected President, Boris Yeltsin, and even more so with his chosen successor, Vladimir Putin, who has been in power since the year 2000. If he wins this year’s presidential election, he’ll remain there until 2024.

Putin has been very successful in managing democracy – through media manipulation he remains very popular, with policies which are strong on cutting down on ‘gangsta capitalism’ and an aggressive foreign policy – however, he also uses ‘blatant corruption’ tactics to stay in power, as when he bused supporters to different polling stations to stuff ballot boxes in the 2011-12 elections, which led to protests, to which he responded by banning protests, unless you get a permit, which are often refused.

Is there any chance Putin will lose the next election in March?

His main opposition is from a guy called Alexi Navanly – a nationalist with an anti-immigration stance, his main problem being that less than half of Russians seem to know who he is due to Putin’s control of the mainstream media.

However, there is a possibility that Putin’s inability to allow any genuine alternatives in opposition could be his downfall as more and more young people turn to the online sources for their information about politics in Russia.

Sources:

The Week, 2nd Sept 2017

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Mexican government still struggling to control drugs cartels

There were 29,168 recorded murders in Mexico in 2017, or 20 murders for every 100, 000 of the population, more than at the height of the country’s drug war in 2011. (Source: The Guardian).

This dismal new record is being blamed on intense drug-related violence and turf wars – owing in particular to the rise and spread of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

Jalisco Cartel

Analysts also believe the spike could be related to a number of autonomous groups emerging in the vacuum created by the capture of several major cartel bosses.

This is of obvious relevance to the Crime and Deviance aspect of A-level sociology – it demonstrates the continued power of organised (or dis-organised?) crime in countries through which drugs travel and the relative powerlessness of nation states to get this problem under control!

To put Mexico’s homicide rate in context, it’s more than 20* higher than the UKs, and yet smaller than Brazil’s and Colombia’s (27/ 100, 000) and El Salvador’s, which stands at 60.8 per hundred thousand.

Further sources used: 

The Week, 27 January 2017.

 

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Evidence of Increasing Globalisation

Just a quick round up of some of the evidence/ news items I’ve stumbled across which suggest that globalisation is happening. It’s up to you to decide how valid, reliable and representative this evidence is. 

NB – this is also my first experiment with a long-term time-release system for posting ‘shorter’ news-items – I’m going to schedule this just ahead of the time I teach globalisation in the college year) 

According to The Week (July 2017) 7/10 British children have their first experience of foreign travel before the age of five, and by the age of eight, 1/10 of them own their own smart phone (which will connect them to global media flows).

By contrast, just 12% of over-50s had been abroad by the time they were five: on average, they were 14 when they first went abroad.

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The Global Peace Index – What is it and How Useful Is It?

The Global Peace Index uses 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators to measure the state of peace using three thematic domains:

  • the level of Societal Safety and Security;
  • the extent of Ongoing Domestic and International Conflict;
  • the degree of Militarisation.

Global Peace Index 2017.png

The data is collated by the Institute for Economics and Peace – a think tank which develops metrics to analyse peace and to quantify its economic value. It does this by developing global and national indices of ‘peacefulness’, analysing country level risk, and calculating the economic cost of violence, and the positive benefits of peace.

Some of the findings from the most recent 2017 report include an analysis of the most significant ‘positive peace’ factors which result in increasing peacefulness, and the finding that decreasing peacefulness is correlated with increasing populism in Europe.

The Institute for Economics and Peace says its aim is to ‘create a paradigm shift in the way the world thinks about peace. We use data driven research to show that peace is a positive, tangible and achievable measure of human well-being and development.’

You can explore the Global Peace Index and download the full 2017 report for free on the Institute for Economics and Peace’s dedicated website – Vision of Humanity

Selected Key Findings of the 2017 Global Peace Index

Trends in peacefulness since 2016

  • the global level of peace has slightly improved this year by 0.28 per cent, with 93
    countries improving, while 68 countries deteriorated.

world peace 2017

  • Iceland remains the most peaceful country in the world, a position it has held since 2008. It is joined at the top of the index by New Zealand, Portugal, Austria, and Denmark.

global peace index top 30

  • Syria remains the least peaceful country in the world, preceded by Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, and Yemen.

global peace index bottom 30

The Ten Year Trend in Peacefulness 

  • global peacefulness has deteriorated by 2.14 per cent since 2008, with 52 per cent of GPI countries recording a deterioration, while 48 per cent improved.

decline world peace

  • the domain that deteriorated the most over the ten-year period was Safety and Security, with 61 per cent of countries recording a deterioration.
  • the domain with the largest improvement was Militarisation where 60 per cent of countries became less militarised over the past decade.
  • Most of the detiororation in peacefulness is because of increasing terrorism and decreasing political stability in the MENA region; if this region were excluded from global peace indicators, the world would in fact be more peaceful!
  • The heightened media attention on conflict in the Middle East, refugee flows and terrorism in Europe has meant several positive trends have not been as widely covered. Two of the more positive trends from the last decade are decreases in the homicide rate and improvements in the Political Terror Scale which measures state sponsored violence and torture, where 2/3rds of countries improved.
declining militarisation
Reasons to be hopeful? The worldwide decline in militarization.

The economic costs of violence 

  • The economic impact of violence on the global economy in 2016 was $14.3 trillion in purchasing power parity (PPP),
  • This is equivalent to 12.6 per cent of the world’s economic activity (gross world product), or $1,953 for every person.
  • The economic impact of war was $1.04 trillion. Peacebuilding expenditure is estimated to be approximately $10 billion, or less than one per cent of the cost of war.
  • The impact of violence for the ten least peaceful countries was equivalent to 37 per cent of their GDP. This compares to only three per cent in the ten most peaceful.

NB – What’s above is just an overview – I strongly recommend you explore the data further at Vision of Humanity!

How Useful is the Global Peace Index in helping us to understand development?

Strengths

On the plus side, the data seems to be non-partisan, in the sense that there doesn’t seem to be undue influence in the data selection process from developed countries – there is a heavy peace-score penalty which some of the most developed countries pay for high levels of military expenditure – most notably the United States.

Also, if we can trust the data and the number-crunching, then there is a clear correlation between sustained peacefulness in a country and that country’s level of development, and so monitoring levels of peacefulness and violence seems to be one of the most important goals in global development.

The Global Peace Index covers a lot of indicators – and the reports break them down to look at individual indicators, so you get a certain level of insight into the levels of peacefulness and violence.

I do like the focus on ‘positive peace’ and the fact that the report recognizes high levels of military expenditure as retarding investment in more positive aspects of development.

Limitations 

On the downside, I’m not convinced that all of the data is 100% valid – there has to be a lot of differences in the way data is recorded from country to country, especially in war-zones, so lots of missing conflict-deaths no doubt. This means making comparisons is difficult.

Also, I’m not sure they’ve included a broad enough range of indicators – the fact that Qatar creeps in at number 30 makes me suspicious, also – is violence against women included?

Also, I’m not clear about how the data is weighted – there’s lots of talk in the report about ‘multiplying factors’, and I don’t know enough about the maths behind the indices to evaluate how valid these calculations are.

 

 

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Globalisation and Global Development: Good Resources

Some useful links to good teaching resources for Globalisation and Global Development.

Good resources providing an overview of global trends and global inequalities:

Firstly, this 2016 video imagines the world as 100 people, and so illustrates what percentage of people live on less than $2 a day and so on (once you get through the ‘basic’ stuff on ethnicity/ religion etc…

A few stand-out facts are:

  • 1% of the population own 50% of the world’s wealth
  • 15% don’t have access to clean water
  • less than 50% have access to the internet

Secondly, Worldometers provides real time world statistics on population, the environment, food, health and media and society.

Global Statistics

A few stand-out facts are…..

  • The total number of malnourished people in the world is decreasing!
  • The total number of people with no access to clean drinking water is also decreasing!
  • HOWEVER, we’re losing approximately 20 HA a minute to desertification and 10 HA a minute to deforestation, which could undermine both of the above in the future.

Good resources for researching individual countries

  • The United Nation’s Country Profiles are probably the most accessible place to start – each country’s page gives you basic development indicators which you can then click on to expand.
  • The World Bank’s Open Data is also useful – follow the link and you can either search or browse by country.
  • The CIA World Fact Book is a useful source for more qualitative information on a country by country by country basis, organised into various categories such as geography, population, economics, politics and so on…

Good Resources for tracking ‘Indicators of Development’

Good Resources for other aspects of global development

More to follow shortly!

 

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Responses to Globalization

Seabrook (1) argues there are three principle responses to globalization:

Fatalism

A fatalistic response, which states that the world is simply powerless to resist globalization. Seabrook argues that most leaders of the developed world take the position that globalization is inevitable and irreversible. He suggests these leaders are experiencing an ‘impotence of convenience’ – their confessed powerlessness disguises the fact that the forces of globalization economically advantage their countries and their economic elites.

Reasserting Local Identity

Some cultures may attempt to resist globalization by reasserting local identity. This may involve deliberately highlighting and celebrating local folklore and languages. For example the French government have banned words such as ‘email’, ‘takeaway’ and now ‘hashtag’ and imposed a ‘culture tax’ on cinemas showing non-French films. Another aspect of this trend is ‘commodification’ in which local populations package and sell aspects of their local traditional cultures – for example members of the Masai tribe in Kenya perform for tourists, after carefully removing their trainers and watches to make the whole thing more authentic.

Violent Resistance 

A final response is the emergence of violent resistance, mostly in the developing world, as some peoples interpret globalization as an assault on their identity. Seabrook argues that this is how we should understand terrorism – not as a response to poverty, but as a response to the ‘supposed miracle working, wealth-creating propensities of globalism’ as some religious and ethnic groups resist globalization because their interpret the West as having declared an ideological war on local cultures.

Sources used to write this post

(1) Chapman et al (2016)