Tag: government (page 1 of 5)

On the economic pressures of Covid

This is data from the USA, but the picture I should imagine might be true on a smaller scale in the UK. The difference, I guess, not being an economist, is that we still have a larger state over here and some vestiges of union action.

So how this plays out in terms of the pressure it puts on the workforce, and especially those employed directly or indirectly by the government, is different. It’s why we’re having lots of strikes right now.

It strikes me as extremely disingenuous of the UK government to be spinning the current crisis as being about them trying to avoid ’embedding 10% inflation’ in the economy. It’s not like we’re going to see a reduction in prices if inflation levels decrease. People will still have had a real-terms pay cut.

As an historian by training, I can’t help but think about the parallels with the Black Death and the collapse of feudalism due to the lack of workers…

Chart showing labour force shortfall in US

Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell struck a particularly somber note at his press conference earlier this week when he mentioned that one reason the labor market is so tight right now is that many workers died from COVID-19.

The big picture: Economists have theorized for a while about the impact of COVID deaths on the labor market. Now, research has started to emerge and key public figures like Powell are starting to talk about it explicitly.

Source: Fed chair Powell on the U.S. labor shortage: COVID, retirements, missing immigrants | Axios

Facial recognition and the morality police

As this article points out, before 1979 removal of the traditional hijab was encouraged as part of Iran’s modernisation agenda. Once a theocracy came to power, however, the ‘morality police’ started using any means at their disposal to repress women.

Things have come to a head recently with high-profile women, for example athletes, removing the hijab. It would seem that the Iranian state is responding to this not with discussion, debate, or compassion, but rather with more repression -this time in the form of facial recognition and increasingly levels of surveillance.

We should be extremely concerned about this, as once there is no semblance of anonymity anywhere, then repression by bad actors (of which governments are some of the worst) will increase exponentially.

After Iranian lawmakers suggested last year that face recognition should be used to police hijab law, the head of an Iranian government agency that enforces morality law said in a September interview that the technology would be used “to identify inappropriate and unusual movements,” including “failure to observe hijab laws.” Individuals could be identified by checking faces against a national identity database to levy fines and make arrests, he said.

Two weeks later, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman named Jina Mahsa Amini died after being taken into custody by Iran’s morality police for not wearing a hijab tightly enough. Her death sparked historic protests against women’s dress rules, resulting in an estimated 19,000 arrests and more than 500 deaths. Shajarizadeh and others monitoring the ongoing outcry have noticed that some people involved in the protests are confronted by police days after an alleged incident—including women cited for not wearing a hijab. “Many people haven’t been arrested in the streets,” she says. “They were arrested at their homes one or two days later.”

Although there are other ways women could have been identified, Shajarizadeh and others fear that the pattern indicates face recognition is already in use—perhaps the first known instance of a government using face recognition to impose dress law on women based on religious belief.

Source: Iran to use facial recognition to identify women without hijabs | Ars Technica

What is ransom capitalism?

Gareth Fearn argues, and I absolutely agree, that governments are so captured by neoliberal thinking that some types of companies or sectors are seen as “too big to fail”. This leads to them being bailed out, which is a capitulation to a kind of ‘ransom capitalism’.

Bailouts are an ideal intervention for a decaying neoliberal politics: they maintain capital flows, rising asset prices and the upwards redistribution of wealth, while supporting the minimum needs of enough of the population to prevent total social breakdown.

British politicians’ responses to soaring energy prices conform to the bailout consensus. Boris Johnson is promising ‘extra cash’, though leaving it up to his successor to work out the details (Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have so far mostly offered tax cuts). Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, recently proposed an ‘energy furlough scheme’: the government would absorb the cost of rising energy prices and get some of the money back with a windfall tax. Labour soon followed suit, offering a similar cap to energy prices funded through some slightly more creative accounting.

In both cases, energy companies would receive large amounts of public money (at least £29 billion) to enable them to continue charging their customers sums that many cannot afford. With these proposals following so closely behind the pandemic bailouts, which had the backing of all UK parties, we can see there is broad support for such extraordinary interventions with very little thought being given to the causes of the crisis – beyond criticism of the outgoing prime minister’s personality.


There is an underlying assumption that at some point there will be a return to the ‘normality’ of self-regulating markets of private actors. But bailouts without structural change keep us on the path of ever-increasing losses for the public just to sustain the basics of life, while maintaining a failed market system which is not only generating crises but limiting responses to them – as many nations in the Global South have experienced for decades.

High inflation is not unique to the UK, but the capitulation to the energy companies’ ransom demands seems especially acute here, as is the actual rate of rising costs. France is able to lower prices through its state energy company, Spain and Germany have intervened to reduce the cost of public transport, and many of the proposed measures across Europe involve taking equity in energy companies or stricter regulation. But the UK is too far down the neoliberal rabbit-hole even to countenance such mild social democratic policies.

Source: Ransom Capitalism | London Review of Books