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Newsletter 4-16-2021

Colin Powers
Colin Powers

Hi everyone. Thanks for subscribing. If you have the means, please consider becoming a paying member. If you have the inclination, please pass this newsletter around to others who might enjoy the read. Now onto this week's edition of No Craic, Mad Craic, and Great Craic.

No Craic

(1) The Cambridge Sustainability Commission on Scaling Behaviour Change has just published a report detailing, amongst other things, the consumption-side drivers of the climate crisis. Their findings are unsurprising if devastating all the same. Between 1990 and 2015, the planet's wealthiest 5% managed to generate 37% of total carbon emissions. To keep warming from exceeding the 1.5C threshold set in Paris back in December of 2015, rich folk will now need to reduce their emissions by a factor of "at least 30" within the next ten years. In this context, it is especially exciting to see Mayor Pete pushing for the cruise industry to get back to business!  

The report referenced above should be read in conjunction with a recent publication of the United Nations Environment Programme, which established that the top 1% of global income earners produce more than double the carbon emissions of the bottom 50%.

Catastrophe, of course, will not be averted by hoping on cultural shifts and aggregate changes in individual behavior. The only chance we have is to address things upstream, by unwinding the industries/inputs/technologies responsible for emissions at the macro level.

(2) Daniel Munevar of Eurodad has just penned a harrowing policy brief on the sovereign debt pandemic threatening to compound the devastation already wrought by Covid-19 in the Global South. (To see the broader study from which the brief derives, go here).

The need to service creditors--foreign ones most especially--lest one lose access to capital markets has represented one of the primary variables powering the de-development of peripheral economies for a long time now. The massive amounts of resources thereby annually transferred to financiers in New York and London is directly implicated in the health system failures that have afflicted so much of the South since the arrival of the coronavirus, too. To understand why, one need only understand that 62 national governments spent more on debt service than they did on healthcare in the decade leading up to the coronavirus outbreak. The depreciation of facilities and equipment that resulted from such an allocation of resources left many countries ill-equipped to deal with a surge of folks needing care and monitoring.  

Despite efforts nominally aimed at (temporarily) easing debt burdens for the poorest of the poor this past year--such as the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative--the servicing of external creditors continued to exact a massive toll on hundreds of struggling governments over the last year. Looking forward, the honoring of debts now looks poised to bring about yet another "lost decade" in terms of economic growth for low and middle income countries. Indeed, with so many states forced to take on big loans to make up for revenue losses/emergency expenditures in 2020, for the foreseeable future, a great many are currently budgeting to spend more annually on debt service than they did on the one-time stimulus packages that were mobilized in hopes of mitigating the social and economic fall-out from Covid-19, a world historic public health crisis. The feedback effects of all that money flowing out-of-country are going to be profoundly deflationary and sufficient to drive hundreds of millions into extreme poverty.

(3) Muhammed bin Rashid al-Makhtoum, the Emir of Dubai and a man who has now imprisoned two of his own daughters, is one of the largest landowners in the United Kingdom. Reporting from The Guardian suggest his properties exceed 100,000 acres in total, and include primo urban and pastoral holdings.

In our report over at Noria Research, we discussed how critical UAE money is to the sustaining of real estate bubbles in the United States. Clearly, things are little different in the case of the UK. This inflating of non-tradable asset classes--and the windfall it generates for elite society--goes a long way toward explaining the Emirate's corrosive influence on the west's foreign policy.

(4) According to Aidan Regan and Samuel Brazys, two of the very best working on the Irish political economy, old Eire may lose upward of 6 billion Euro in revenues should Janet Yellen's plans for a global minimum corporate tax rate go through.

It serves Ireland right, of course, as their schemes for sheltering the likes of Apple have had major impacts on the world around them for some time. Distal though the causal relationships may be, the tax avoidance/evasion the wee country has facilitated is implicated in the inequality-capital hegemony-rightwing populism nexus that despoils so much of our planet today, and it very much needs to be stomped out.

Prospective revenue losses for Ireland (courtesy of Regan and Brazys)

(5) Most folks are aware of the enormity of America's defense spending, and how it dwarfs the combined expenditures of its closest peers. (Lest one think the Pentagon might go hungry under Biden, you'll be pleased to learn he has proposed to boost their budget by $11 billion.)

What about the sums the United States doles out on policing, though?

Well, per Stephen Semler, the aggregate spend on America's boys in blue, nearly $119 billion in 2018, ranks larger than the military budgets of every country in the world apart from China.

Chart provided by Stephen Semler

Hanging out below all the spectacle, performance, and messaging, budgets and balance sheets reveal the truths of a place--what it values and prioritizes; how power operates; how class is structured and reproduced, etc. Always take a look at these documents when you can.

(6) For deets on Brett McGurk--currently running the Middle East desk at the National Security Council for Joe Biden--and his involvement with the eternally sketchy artificial intelligence industry, check out Jonathan Guyer's work over at The American Prospect.

The firm McGurk is involved with and from whom he has received $100,000 in advisory fees, Primer, has received non-insignificant investment capital from Mubadala, one of Abu Dhabi's largest sovereign wealth funds.

(7) In view of the royal bickering and plotting going down over in the Hashemite Kingdom, it is important not to forget the social desperation so many are forced to navigate in Jordan today. Nowhere is this desperation more baldly evinced than in the recent rise of debt imprisonment. (Jordan is one of the only countries in the world that still jails people for failing to pay their creditors.)

Per Human Rights Watch, in 2019, approximately 16% of Jordan's prison population (more than 2600 people) were incarcerated due to either a check bouncing or nonpayment on a loan. One ought also note that microfinance initiatives promoted by the World Bank have resulted in a fair few women becoming vulnerable to this fate. Turns out loading up poor ladies in the countryside with high-interest loans under the assumption that they would turn their basket weaving operation into viable businesses with dependable cashflow wasn't the greatest of ideas.

Mad Craic

(8) As part of a blind auction back in 2017, thinking he was bidding against a representative of his (then) rival Qatar, Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman wound up driving up the price on a painting called the "Salvator Mundi" to $450 million, well beyond any reasonable valuation.

This was already very funny as it was subsequently revealed that MbS was in fact not bidding against a Qatari party, but instead, against one of his allies from the UAE, who himself was operating under the same misguided assumption as regarded Qatari participation in the auction.

And yet, there's more.

It turns out the painting in question, which, to reiterate, cost MbS nearly half a billion dollars, is likely a fake da Vinci.

Sometimes, we all need to take the small W's in life.

Great Craic

(9) Though the topic is fairly dark--Bill Gates personal involvement in designing the vaccine apartheid that has gripped our world--Alexander Zaitchik's research and analysis is a triumph, and ought be read in full. Check it out over at The New Republic.

Should've been wise to the guy's tricks from back when he was stealing IP from Xerox...

(10) Here's a video of a cat sanctuary in Idlib. Pretty cool stuff.

Have a great weekend.


Colin Powers

Colin received his PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in 2020. He is a two-time Fulbright Fellow.