STAND News Explains: Cahersiveen Controversy

STAND News Explains: Cahersiveen Controversy

VIDEO

STAND News Explains: Cahersiveen Controversy

Cedric Fuchs

28 May 2020

STAND News Explains takes a look into the situation in Cahersiveen, Co Kerry in a direct provision centre where the coronavirus has spread massively. Locals and refugees in the centre are very concerned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Coronavirus Reveals about the Economic Stories We Tell

What Coronavirus Reveals about the Economic Stories We Tell

OPINION

What Coronavirus Reveals about the Economic Stories We Tell

Keire Murphy

27 May 2020

 

The economy. A big, bad word that uses graphs and terms like GDP, growth, supply and demand that deaden eyes and make the majority of people want to change the subject to literally anything else. It gets worse when conversations about the economy are linked with ones about the financial sector: interest rates, quantitative easing, bonds. It’s all made to bore you and to want to just leave it to the guys in suits who seem like they know what they’re doing. However, the narrative that says that these guys do not, in fact, know what they’re doing is increasingly common among academics and those who advocate for a fairer economic system.

 

The coronavirus pandemic has, obviously, been bad for economies. People are inside not doing much, and not buying a whole lot. In America, 22 million people have lost their jobs. Headlines wail about the worst recession in (fill in really long time). Newspapers talk about growth that we thought we would have is in fact reversing, and economies are contracting. But what does all of this mean? The coronavirus, I argue, is revealing holes in our economic system and the economic narrative that many have talked about for a long time but are only now becoming mainstream. If we don’t learn these lessons now, what will it take to learn them?

 

  1.       Growth

When newspapers talk about the economy contracting, they’re talking about GDP and how much it’s growing or decreasing. But what is growth? What is GDP? Super simply, GDP is how much stuff an economy makes. The calculation is made by counting how many products were made, how many services were provided and how much it was all worth and adding it all up to get the Gross Domestic Product. When the economy grows, it means that it made more stuff than last year. So far, so simple. But the thing is: why on earth does that matter?

 

Asking why it matters makes us ask what the point of an economy is. Why do we care about the economy? The idea is, when the economy grows, it’s good for everyone: there are more jobs, higher wages, and generally more human dignity. But that’s not always the case. Growth is often used as a proxy for human dignity and good things, but it’s increasingly a bad proxy.

 

“Growth doesn’t take into account a lot of things that are really important for how much the economy actually benefits humans”

Think about the economy as a pie. Growth means that the pie is getting bigger. But looking only at this is an over-simplification. It assumes that the pie is sliced fairly between everybody in society, so everybody profits when the pie is bigger. But we all know that this is not the case. Usually, some people get a bigger piece of the pie than others. Growth, then, is only good, if the benefits of it go to the majority of the people, instead of to the people who already have a lot of pie. But this is not necessarily the case. The reason that we look at growth is because we have all been told that the market will naturally ensure that the pie is fairly divided and that profits will naturally trickle down from the richest to the poorest (e.g. through purchasing services, hiring employees, reinvesting in business, etc.).

 

Growth doesn’t take into account a lot of things that are really important for how much the economy actually benefits humans. These include inequality (which is bad for a bunch of stuff, like health, crime, and happiness), poverty, access to services (like healthcare and education), and social mobility. Any of these things are arguably better measures of how well a society is doing than growth, but growth is still the thing that we obsess over.

 

The other negative about growth is that it’s pretty bad for the planet, actually. Focusing on growth basically implies that no matter how rich a country is, it always needs to get richer, and it also assumes that there is an infinite amount of resources to make the stuff with. As it turns out, there isn’t. Focusing on growth also doesn’t look at the harm that making more stuff every year does: the use of resources, carbon emissions, pollution, deforestation. We all see that now that growth has plummeted, people in some countries have seen the sky for the first time in years, and wildlife is returning to places where we thought it never would again. Many economists, like Kate Raworth, are now looking at alternative models of economies, like de-growth, arguing that you can have a happy, stable society without any growth at all. This has been seen for a long time as quacky stuff, but actually Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, believed that this would eventually happen to economies. This idea is becoming increasingly mainstream, and the coronavirus pandemic, which gives us the opportunity to really think about what is important, may be just the right time for governments to start taking it seriously.

 

  1.       Trickle-Down Economics

Trickle-down economics basically refers to the idea that what is good for business is good for the rest of society, because benefits to business trickle down to the rest of society. It’s a theory that basically advocates for tax cuts to businesses and the wealthy, because it incentivises them to do more business and therefore benefit society more. This fantasy has played out over the last 40 years, after Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher convinced everybody that this idea was based on actual evidence (hint: it wasn’t). Prior to reforms in the 1980s, the UK and the US both had very high marginal tax rates for the richest people in their society. The marginal tax rate refers to the amount of tax somebody will pay if they earn an extra dollar. Most societies require people to pay different rates of tax depending on how much they earn. As hard as it is to believe, the US used to have a marginal tax rate of 91% (until 1963, after which it was 70%), meaning that if you were in the top tax bracket (which you had to be pretty wealthy to be in) and you earned an extra dollar, 91 cents would go to tax. This rate is now 37%. These low marginal tax rates incentivise things like incredibly high pay for CEOs. The argument of the neoliberal story is that CEOs are really productive and add a lot of value. This, they say, is why CEOs pay has grown 940% since 1978, although the pay for the average worker has only grown by 12% in the same period. I will leave it up to you to decide how convincing that argument is.

 

The amount of income tax applied to the highest incomes in the United States dropped from 70 percent in 1980 to 28 percent in 1988.

Image source: Thomas Piketty

 

  1.   Redistribution

The economies of European countries and of the US are both contracting. But in the US, a fifth of children are now going hungry, and people are queuing for hours to access food in food banks. In Europe, things aren’t great for many people, but the social safety nets and redistributive mechanisms that we have put in place mean that the state looks after almost everyone in danger of falling under that line. The US, whose policymakers have long stuck by the idea that people get what they deserve and that the markets will distribute money fairly, is finally seeing what that really looks like. This has been building up for years, while the middle class has been squeezed out of existence. The minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation or productivity, the cost of education has soared (as has the penalty for lack of education), union membership has decreased, and the rich have gotten much richer. This has festered quietly while people were able to scrape enough money together through working several jobs (often insecure jobs at an incredibly low minimum wage), but now that the pandemic has shut down the industries that employed many of these workers, the US now needs to face the music. The reality is, a significant slice of the American population was living hand to mouth in one of the richest countries in the world, and they now don’t have the financial resilience to get through the pandemic which has left them without the ability to pay basic expenses. The US government has responded with ‘stimulus checks’ to the value of $1,200. The national average of monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the US is $1,196. 

 

“CEOs pay has grown 940% since 1978, although the pay for the average worker has only grown by 12%”

All of these narratives are neoliberal narratives. It is easy to see neoliberalism as an American or UK problem, as they have taken neoliberalism to its extreme. We often look across the pond in wonder at the price of healthcare and health insurance, at the quality of public schools (and the price of private ones), at the high cost of living and the low minimum wage, at the lack of a welfare system that provides a safety net. But neoliberalism has also gradually become Europe’s economic narrative. Ireland is a good example. Ireland is essentially a tax haven for tech firms, who are paying almost zero tax on their enormous profits. We are told that the benefits of these firms for Irish society will trickle down, that it is not necessary for the government to redistribute them because the economic growth they bring will benefit everybody. But the average resident of Dublin has not felt the benefits of Google. The average resident who has benefited most from Google’s location in Dublin are probably those who work for Google. But Google hires its low-skilled workers on a low-wage contract with a firm that ensures that it doesn’t have to provide its security guards, caterers, and cleaners with the kind of benefits it provides to its high-skilled employees (like job security). Maybe not so beneficial after all. For the other residents, these tech firms bring only higher housing prices and a worsening housing crisis, as their employees who boast inflated salaries both add to the demand for housing but can also outbid most other workers. The money that the government could earn from taxes could have been used to solve the housing crisis, and to create infrastructure and accommodation for Google’s employees. Instead, these are paid by the average Irish taxpayer. But, we are told, the economy grew last year and that’s what really matters. Worse, when the economic crisis hit in 2008, instead of increasing corporate tax rates or taxes on the very wealthy, the government cut funds to essential services.

 

The coronavirus is showing us that when times are good, profits go into the pockets of multinational corporations (who actually don’t use them to invest in business, but mostly spend on stock buybacks that have no advantage to society, giving a short-term windfall to their shareholders) and into huge executive salaries. But when times are bad, like when there is a global pandemic, the government is called upon to pay employees’ salaries. This, again, is clearly seen in America, where airlines that have spent 96% of their profits on stock buybacks (which, again, do nothing for anybody but shareholders and could be used for long-term investments, a backup fund in case of crisis, or to raise employee salaries) over the last 10 years are now asking for government aid to get them through the crisis. Big restaurant chains that boast enormous profits are doing the same. Yet again, though, America is not alone. European countries are also talking about providing aid to firms that have poorly planned for crisis. Booking.com, which spent $8 billion on stock buybacks last year is threatening huge layoffs (essentially putting the burden of its poor choices on the governments that pay unemployment benefits) and asking European governments for aid. If this does not make us realise that our economic narrative, which tells us that what is good for business is good for society, is wrong, then I’m not sure what it’s going to take.

 

 

Featured photo by Ehud Neuhaus

 

 

Ireland’s Homeless: A Continued Crisis during COVID-19

Ireland’s Homeless: A Continued Crisis during COVID-19

HUMANITARIAN

Ireland’s Homeless: A Continued Crisis during COVID-19

Aoife Burke

25 May 2020

 

According to international human rights law, all people have a right to an adequate standard of housing. However, as of January 2020, an estimated 150 million people globally are homeless, equating to about 2% of the world’s population. Even in wealthy countries with high availability of resources, homelessness is framed as an inevitable aspect of society. Despite the influence of market forces and political decisions on homelessness, this issue is often interpreted as the outcome of individual failings or poor life choices. This characterisation is used to dismiss the responsibility of society to homeless people and sanitises the continued violation of human rights. The marginalisation of homeless people in society enables political inaction in this area. In Ireland, despite recurrent political promises at election time, there has been little substantial government intervention in response to the drastic rise in homelessness over the last decade.

 

For people living in homelessness, the coronavirus pandemic represents a crisis within a crisis. In a letter to The Irish Times in late March, a group of homeless individuals in Dublin shared the challenges and risks they faced as a result of the public health crisis. The letter highlights how overcrowding in homeless shelters makes self-isolation virtually impossible, leading to a high risk of Covid-19 clusters. Matters are not any better for those living on the street, who, forced to remain outdoors, have little means of protecting themselves from exposure to the virus. Furthermore, due to the closure of businesses, homeless people have lost access to toilet and sanitation facilities that would otherwise have been depended upon. As is also evident in Direct Provision centres, the dangers of substandard living conditions have been exemplified by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Wayne Stanley, spokesperson for Simon Community, the pandemic has made the essentiality of secure housing for health and wellbeing “devastatingly clear “.

 

The vulnerability of homeless individuals to Covid-19 represents a clear public health concern. Being deprived of housing not only prevents people from protecting themselves from infection but also makes it more likely for those with the virus to pass it on to others in their broader community. Members of the homeless community have spoken out about how they are unable to take steps to flatten the curve, despite having the will to contribute to this effort. In this sense, homeless people are forcefully excluded from not only the rights but also the responsibilities of citizenship. While this injustice has always been present, the construction of homeless people as somehow separate from society has never been so blatantly invalid and widely harmful as it is today. Coronavirus does not recognise social divisions and homeless people play just as important a role in determining public health as anyone else. The protection of homeless communities is not only key to the actualisation of individual human rights, but is essential for society as a whole.

 

“The construction of homeless people as somehow separate from society has never been so blatantly invalid and widely harmful as it is today”

As many states have recognised homelessness as a public health concern in light of the current crisis, there has been an increase in the accessibility of accommodation for homeless people. Empty hotel rooms, hostels and Airbnb’s are being opened up for homeless people to minimise rough sleeping during the pandemic. Many governments such as the UK, France and the Netherlands have also pledged money to local councils for the implementation of emergency housing measures. These measures, alongside the cancellation of evictions in many countries, have led to a decrease in the number of homeless people sleeping rough. In Ireland 600 new accommodation units have been secured since the start of the crisis, and the number of people living in emergency accommodation dropped by 2.3% between February and March. Overall, government intervention during the pandemic demonstrates that homelessness is not an inevitable crisis and can be tackled when made a political priority.

 

However, while the increased availability of housing has been life-changing for those who have been able to secure a permanent residence, many of the measures introduced to reduce homelessness are temporary. Though essential, emergency funding does little to address the persistence of homelessness in the long-term. Furthermore, while the collapse of the holiday rental market has led to an increase in vacancies, this situation will not continue indefinitely after the pandemic. Homeless services are likely to lose access to units in hotels and hostels as economies begin to reopen.  These issues are particularly concerning given the possibility of an increase in housing insecurity following the end of the emergency period. When rent restrictions and the ban on evictions are lifted, many may not be able to recover from rent arrears, particularly in the context of an economic recession. Thus, in cases where the government has not set out a sustainable response to homelessness, the end of the Covid-19 pandemic may see increased pressure on homeless services.

 

Ultimately the right to adequate accommodation is universal and must be protected in the name of human dignity regardless of its implications for public health. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted that the needs of homeless people are the concern and responsibility of society at large. The dangers of ignoring human rights violations and marginalising vulnerable groups of people have rarely been more striking. However, will this be remembered as the economy reopens or will housing continue to be viewed as a commodity rather than a right?

 

 

 

Featured photo by William Murphy

 

 

COVID-19: How to Escape!

COVID-19: How to Escape!

OPINION

COVID-19: How to Escape!

Meredith Salois

25 May 2020

Many people across the world at home during the Covid-19 pandemic are becoming agitated or just flat out bored. You can only scroll through Instagram so many times seeing the ‘You’re All Caught Up’ alert before you need to set your phone down and walk away. As people, many for the first time in their life, become tired of staring at a phone screen they begin to look for other ways of entertaining themselves. This is where escapism comes in.

Although escapism is destructive to our needs in an age of information where everyone wants to be up to date on all the latest news, during Covid-19, it is almost essential for our health. During the pandemic, people are finding it difficult to stay informed about the thousands of people dying every day. As an American, it is hard to stay positive about life when every day the same amount of people who died during the September 11th attacks die because of this pandemic, around 3,000 people every day in just one country.

 

For many people keeping busy is the only way their anxiety, depression, and general mental health is allowing them to keep going

 

Escapism is allowing people to focus on watching their favourite YouTubers, learn new hobbies, check out some books or movies, and importantly, take part in the countless amount of baking everyone is doing – banana bread has never looked so good in all of those quarantine vlogs! For many people keeping busy is the only way their anxiety, depression, and general mental health is allowing them to keep going. This is why I want to suggest some activities to help you get through this lockdown.

 

1. Build something. For inspiration, how about an arcade skee ball machine out of cardboard. I promise you it is easier than it sounds and it can make your kids (or younger siblings) stop bothering you. You can always adjust the measurements and make it as big as you want with whatever you have.

2. Read a book. Some of my current suggestions:

  • If Only by Melanie Murphy
  • Ship of Fools by Fintan O’Toole
  • Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe
  • The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

3. Start a new hobby

  • Learn to bake that banana bread I mentioned earlier or add vanilla protein powder to any pancake batter. Heaven!
  • Meditate or workout
  • Play some old video games or check out some new ones – I hear Animal Crossing New Horizon is very good.
  • Learn to sew, crochet, knit, or loom weaving. There are some great inexpensive kits on Etsy.

4. Revisit something you did not have time for before the pandemic

  • Write that book, play, or screenplay
  • Paint that artwork you keep envisioning
  • Make that start-up business a reality
  • Maybe this is the time to finally commit to adopting that pet you’ve always wanted

 

Whatever you need to do to keep sane during this difficult time, do it. As long as you are not hurting yourself or others I say do what you need to do. People are getting laid off every day, some companies will not be reopening in Ireland after the pandemic, and the world will never be the same after this.

Although many countries have started to open up again it is unclear how the world will look after Covid-19. I believe things will never be the same, and that’s ok. Working from home might become more normalized, social distancing in big groups might seem more natural, and learning how to communicate digitally might become the best skill an employee could have. The only thing the public can do right now is follow guidelines, take care of their mental health, and be kind to one another because everyone is going through their own pandemic related issues. 

 

 

Featured photo by Konstantin Dyadyun

 

 

Betty Nyagoha from Nairobi, Kenya talks about the Gatoto school and COVID-19

Betty Nyagoha from Nairobi, Kenya talks about the Gatoto school and COVID-19

VIDEO
Betty Nyagoha from Nairobi, Kenya talks about the Gatoto school and COVID-19
Cedric Fuchs
25 May 2020
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Gatoto.org