Inequality isn’t just bad for the economy — it’s toxic for the environment

By Sue Holmberg

[This is a crosspost from Grist, where staff economist and Roosevelt Institute Research Director Sue Holmberg also writes.] 

The pope’s encyclical on climate change was received with both enormous enthusiasm and criticism, reactions that will only intensify as he continues to lead efforts to solve our climate crisis and generate momentum for the U.N. Climate Conference later this year. His latest move? Inviting Naomi Klein, author most recently of This Changes Everything, to help lead last week’s Vatican conference on climate change.

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Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis: Where’s Puerto Rico’s Syriza?

By Ricardo R Fuentes-Ramírez

Puerto Rico’s governor recently has said the island cannot pay its $72b debt and is close to defaulting, despite yesterday’s eleventh hour payment of $645.2m to pay its general obligation.  The government has been lobbying US Congress to allow it to file for bankruptcy but it remains unclear if this will actually help. Because of its colonial status, Puerto Rico is operating under a legal, political, and economic straightjacket.  Media outlets within and outside Puerto Rico have been covering the island’s recession since it began in 2006, and the current fiscal crisis since Puerto Rican bond ratings began spiraling down to junk status in 2014. However, most media coverage has discussed the Puerto Rican crisis as the result of a big government that spent too much money. Therefore, the conclusion is that Puerto Rico should follow austerity measures, laying-off public employees, and privatizing as much as possible of the island’s assets. The actual origins of the crisis suggest policy should be moving in the opposite direction.

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Smart Cities Must Serve People, Not Profits

By Sai Madhurika Mamunuru

Last week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the Smart Cities Mission, wherein the Indian government promises to select, invest in, and build a hundred smart cities across the country over a period of five years. Though various definitions of a “smart city” can be rather nebulous, the concept essentially involves the efficient use of information and communication technology (ICT) and big data to provide improved services to people living in urban areas.

It is important to understand, however, the structure that underlies this initiative. Who pays for the Smart Cities Mission? Who benefits? Are the benefits felt by everyone? Does the plan reduce urban inequality? How does it redefine the urban experience and urbanization?

Illustration: Prathap Ravishankar

Illustration by Prathap Ravishankar for The Hindu

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Don’t Privatize India’s Banks. Democratize Them.

By Devika Dutt

The competition for unimaginative ideas (that just so happen to privilege the power of private capital) has a new winner: the business press in India, and their calls for privatizing India’s public sector banks. Last month, Raghuram Rajan, the Governor of the India’s Central Bank the Reserve Bank of India expressed concern about a rise in the proportion of Non-performing assets in the Indian banking system. Non-performing assets (NPAs) are loans that have gone bad, are not being paid back, or are in need of restructuring. In real talk, these loans are in default. A large proportion of these NPAs are held by banks in which the majority shareholder is the government. Predictably, this has spurred a slew of articles in the business press, and many of these articles prescribe the obvious answer to all our prayers, Douglas Adam’s 42 to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything:  privatization.

RBI to withdraw all pre-2005 currency notes from March 31

Picture from the Press Trust of India

This kind of editorializing pulls from distorted narratives about the inefficiencies of the public sector, but more fundamentally, it misunderstands the point of state involvement in the financial sector. Read more

Political Neutrality and the Cooperative Movement: An Interview with Carl Ratner

By Jonathan Jenner

Carl Ratner is an adjunct social psychologist at the Autonomous University of Morelos in Morelos, Mexico, the director of the Institute for Cultural Research and Education, and the author of several books, including The Politics of Cooperation and Co-ops, and Cooperation, Community, and Co-Ops in a Global Era. He’s been both an active and critical member of cooperatives, and the cooperative movement, for many years.  CPE staff economist Jonathan Jenner interviewed Carl recently about the political position of the cooperative movement today, and what we can do about it.

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Jonathan Donald Jenner: A central claim in your new book is that cooperatives have bought into the idea of political neutrality, which has made cooperatives fairly conservative with respect to taking on the big problems of capitalism. Where did this position come from, and how did it develop? Read more

Water Exposes Our Absurd Economic Logic & Priorities

By Jonathan Jenner

Today in America, there’s not water for everyone who needs it. At a rally last year in Detroit, two children held up signs connecting the city’s water shutoffs to convention medical wisdom: “kids need water to be healthy,” and “kids without water don’t brush their teeth.” Meanwhile Steve Yuhas, of El Rancho California, is also suffering and fuming:  “[people] should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns, golf on brown courses or apologize for wanting their gardens to be beautiful” and continues: “We pay significant property taxes based on where we live…and we’re not all equal when it comes to water.”

The context: most of California is in a long state of either ‘extreme’ or ‘exceptional’ drought.  And while a small sliver of Michigan, from the thumb to the wrist of the mitten, is in a short period of being ‘abnormally dry,’ Detroit is fine. But in both places authorities cutting back on water usage.  Across California, a series of measures has tried to cut back water usage by 25%, starting from advisories to more recent enforceable acts, including banning (home) car washing, eliminating surface water extraction rights from farmers, and advising that water only be served in restaurants “if people ask for it.”  In Detroit, utility companies and police show up to cut off water to residents and arrest thirsty people (businesses, who are also overdue on their water bills, have not been cut off), and up to 40% of the population has either had (or threatened to have) their water shut off.  Water Man Photomanipulation by Zenk01

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Design Can Be Wonderful, But it Won’t Save Us from Ourselves

By Jonathan Jenner

Design, when it’s not packaged in insufferable smugness, is really cool. Houses have always been fun for me, and I can easily get lost thinking about my plans for Earthships, Dymaxion houses, Bag End, Ecocapsules, and all kinds of other domiciles. And I still get pretty excited when I hear about some new design that will accomplish x: Tesla’s Powerwall™ could change the game,   THINX panties could change societies squeamishness around menstruation and disrupt the $15 Billion feminine hygiene market,   graphene could do everything, and these magnificent shoes could help me win friends and influence people.

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But all too often, we fetishize design.  We tell ourselves that design can solve our problems. We make grand sweeping statements – like the 2006 documentary Future by Design or in every other TED talk – and we soak it in in our daily lives, from the corner Prius evangelists to our barroom conversations.  And while design may effectively solve some problems, our seemingly growing faith in its ability to deliver us from all of our problems is misplaced at best, and dangerous at worst. Read more

Q&A: TPP and Climate Change

By Luke Pretz
What is the Trans Pacific Partnership?

The Trans Pacific Partnership, often referred to as TPP, is a multilateral free trade agreement in the style of the the multilateral trade agreements that emerged in the 90’s like NAFTA and CAFTA. TPP was not always the trade agreement it is now. It started in 2005 as a regional trade agreement between Singapore, Brunei, Chile, and New Zealand, but quickly ballooned into a large-scale 12 plus country agreement that now includes the original four plus Australia, Malaysia, Mexico, Canada, Peru, Vietnam, Japan and possibly South Korea and Taiwan.

TPP Protest Read more

Climate Change: What is it? What causes it? What can we do about it?

 

By Alejandro Reuss

Bangladesh_Fishing_2006

We expect the weather to change from day to day. One day it’s sunny; the next, rainy. The temperature one summer day might be 80°F; the next day, 95°. We also expect weather to change with the change in seasons. The average temperature in July in the northern hemisphere, for example, is much higher than the average temperature in January.

Climate change is different. Changes in day-to-day weather conditions, so long as these still vary around the same averages for that particular place at that time of year, year after year, do not indicate climate change. Nor do particular weather conditions in a particular place—like unseasonable cold or unusual snowfall—tell us much about climate change, one way or another. Rather, climate change is the long-run shift in underlying weather patterns (including temperature, precipitation, etc.).

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Class-politicizing the Climate

By An Li

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“Nice seeing you guys!” was Florida Governor Rick Scott’s (non)response last year to a citizen-activist’s question “Do you believe in the man-made influence on climate change?” And in March of 2015, Florida become even more evasive on the problem of climate change by banning the use of terms such as “global warming”, “climate change” and “sea-level rise” in official communications. Governor Scott defended his conservatism on climate change with the well-worn rejoinders: “I am not a scientist” and “I have not been convinced”. He always forgets to mention that he is, indeed, a politician, and that the issue of climate change is not a pure matter of science anymore: it is also a matter of politics and social policy.

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