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FairPhone June 11, 2013

Posted by Tomboktu in Community, Economics, Employment Rights, Environment, Ethics, Human Rights, Technology.
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[WorldByStorm suggested today that I move this up from a comment to a full post. I've uodated it because the time reference in the original is now out of date.]

Last year, I mentioned (in passing) that when I when I first bought a mobile phone, I made a point of buying from a telecoms company that recognises their workers’ union. I did not mention then that I had also done some research to see if I could buy a model that reflected my concerns — where the minerals are from, or union recognition for the people who make the actual phone.

So, I was pleased to see fairphone.com opened their new phone to pre-purchase.

On June 5 they hit their target of 5000 orders in order to go into production, and there are two days left to order one of the first batch.

And at the weekend just gone, they were working on aspects of the design their second phone.

The ethos is summed up in the invitation to the group of designers who participated in that workshop:

FairPhone was created because most people have no idea where the component parts of their mobile phone come from, how they are manufactured, and by whom. Bas: “Mobile phones are part and parcel of a complex economic and political system. We want to make this system visible to everyone. We do that by manufacturing the FairPhone, which unravels that system step by step.”

They recongise that their product is far from perfect — the rights of the workers is not secured through union recognition — but it’s better than any other phone I know of. Worth a look, I would suggest.

Take action in the legislative process of EU-Seed regulation! May 2, 2013

Posted by Tomboktu in Economics, Environment, Ethics, European Politics, Seed diversity.

This was sent to us at CLR earlier today

Take action in the legislative process of EU-Seed regulation!

There is urgent action needed to avoid damage by the upcoming new EU regulation of seed marketing. The new regulation will de facto ban old and rare varieties and farmers varieties and threaten the exchange and selling of seeds of diversity. DG SANCO (the General Direction of the EU for Sanitary and Consumer affairs) has been working on a proposal for a new regulation since years.

On Monday, the 6th of May they will present their proposal to the conference of commissioners. They could not get a consensus of the two other affected DGs, DG AGRI (agricultural affairs) and DG ENVI (environmental affairs). Both opposed the last draft of the proposal, and DG SANCO is not looking for a consensus.

The new regulation has mainly been drafted by Isabelle Clement-Nissou, an employee of GNIS, the French lobby of the Seed Industry. Madame Clement-Nissou was sent as a national expert to Brussels by the French government and is supposed to ” support ” DG SANCO. The drafts for the proposal became worse from the first to the second draft; and it is expected that the final proposal is going into the same direction. Since there is no consensus between the three DGs, the commissioners have to vote on the proposal.

If a majority of commissioners votes against the proposal, it should be stopped. If they vote in favour, it will be given to the EU Parliament and to the Council. The seed industry is pushing the legislation, because they’ve spent a lot of money to influence the seed legislation. Furthermore, they don’t want it to be postponed after the election of a new parliament in May 2014. They take the risk that the commissioners vote against it − and we think: the commissioners should do so! There is only a little chance to get a majority of commissioners to vote against the current proposal, but we still should try.

Each country of the EU has one commissioner in Brussels, so we need 14 votes against the proposal. The commissioners of DG AGRI and DG ENVI should vote against, so we need 12 more.

Please write to the commissioner of your country and convince him/her to vote ” NO ” on the proposal of DG SANCO on 6th of May.

Try to make a link from his/her department to the seed issue, and try to make clear to him/her that the proposal for a new EU seed legislation will affect the cultural and biodiversity heritage of your country and the freedom of farmers to use the seeds and the varieties they want to.

NO PROHIBITION OF SEEDS OF DIVERSITY! By the obligation to register varieties before marketing, the new regulation will be a de facto prohibition of old and rare varieties and of farmer varieties. Please write to your commissioner in Brussels no later than the 28th.

He/she has to make a statement on the proposal from 24th of April on, the sooner, the better. On the 6th of May, we must obtain at least 14 objections, otherwise this proposal will become the official proposal.


Dear Ms Geoghegan-Quinn, I have recently been made aware of the upcoming proposed changes to EU seed marketing law. This proposed new regulation will de facto ban old and rare varieties and farmers varieties and stop the exchange and selling of traditional seeds.

The apparent background to this is that DG SANCO (the Directorate General of the EU for Sanitary and Consumer affairs) has been working on a proposal for a new regulation driven by lobbying of the big agricultural seed companies. Apparently, however, two other EU directorates, DG AGRI (agricultural affairs) and DG ENVI (environmental affairs) both opposed the last draft of the proposal because it was so bad for agriculture and biodiversity. DG SANCO is now pushing ahead with the new law by putting it directly to the Commission this week.

I would urge you to vote against the current proposal, as it impacts everyone who cares about our seeds and our freedom to save, use, and exchange them.

Given our Irish heritage and background in agriculture and indeed the many rare and beautiful varieties unique to our country, it is vital that you understand how the proposal for a new EU seed legislation will affect the cultural and biodiversity heritage of Ireland, and the freedom of farmers and growers to use the seeds and the varieties they want to. By forcing registration of all varieties of every crop species that exists, the new law will prohibit old, rare and traditional public− domain farm varieties. This will guarantee huge profits for the seed industry but will be a terrible loss to the people of Europe as our agricultural heritage is outlawed overnight!


Yours faithfully,

More info at: www.seed-sovereignty.org

“Income Inequality: Evidence and Policy Implications” March 25, 2013

Posted by Tomboktu in Economics, Inequality, Taxation Policy, Uncategorized.

Emmanuel Saez does not propose replacing capitalism, but within its terms, this is a useful lecture that could do with an airing here.

Sink or swim? February 18, 2013

Posted by doctorfive in Economics.
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Spotted down the Claddagh this morning.

Economic systems December 28, 2012

Posted by Tomboktu in Capitalism, Communism, Economics.

If you liked Red Plenty, then you may find an essay in the latest Jacobin Magazine of interest.

Around the time of the Soviet collapse, the economist Peter Murrell published an article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives reviewing empirical studies of efficiency in the socialist planned economies. These studies consistently failed to support the neoclassical analysis: virtually all of them found that by standard neoclassical measures of efficiency, the planned economies performed as well or better than market economies.
First he reviewed eighteen studies of technical efficiency: the degree to which a firm produces at its own maximum technological level. Matching studies of centrally planned firms with studies that examined capitalist firms using the same methodologies, he compared the results. One paper, for example, found a 90% level of technical efficiency in capitalist firms; another using the same method found a 93% level in Soviet firms. The results continued in the same way: 84% versus 86%, 87% versus 95%, and so on.

In 1989, the dissident Polish reform economists Włodzimierz Brus and Kazimierz Łaski — both convinced socialists and disciples of the distinguished Marxist-Keynesian Michał Kalecki — published a book examining the prospects for East European reform. Both had been influential proponents of democratic reforms and socialist market mechanisms since the 1950s.

Their conclusion now was that in order to have a rational market socialism, publicly-owned firms would have to be made autonomous — and this would require a socialized capital market. The authors made it clear that this would entail a fundamental reordering of the political economy of East European systems – and indeed of traditional notions of socialism. Writing on the eve of the upheavals that would bring down Communism, they set out their vision: “the role of the owner-state should be separated from the state as an authority in charge of administration….[E]nterprises…have to become separated not only from the state in its wider role but also from each other.”

Parties of the working class, acutely vulnerable to pressure from below, were in government more than 40% of the time in the postwar decades – compared to about 10% in the interwar years, and almost never before that – and “contagion from the Left” forced parties of the right into defensive acquiescence. Schooling, medical treatment, housing, retirement, leisure, child care, subsistence itself, but most importantly, wage-labor: these were to be gradually removed from the sphere of market pressure, transformed from goods requiring money, or articles bought and sold on the basis of supply and demand, into social rights and objects of democratic decision.

This, at least, was the maximal social-democratic program — and in certain times and places in the postwar era its achievements were dramatic.

But the social democratic solution is unstable — and this is where the Marxist conception comes in, with its stress on pursuit of profit as the motor of the capitalist system.

Inequality up, but no efforts to address it December 6, 2011

Posted by Tomboktu in Economics, Inequality, Ireland.

On Wednesday of last week, 30 November, official Ireland presented two faces of its approach to equality.

The Central Statistics Office reported the latest findings of levels of poverty and inequality (PDF here):

There was an increase in income inequality in 2010 as shown by the income quintile share ratio and the Gini coefficient. The quintile share ratio indicated that the average income of those in the highest income quintile was 5.5 times that of those in the lowest income quintile. This ratio was 4.3 one year earlier thus signifying greater inequality in the income distribution in 2010. The Gini coefficient showed a similar pattern increasing from 29.3% in 2009 to 33.9% in 2010. A Gini coefficient of 0% corresponds to perfect equality while higher Gini coefficients indicate a more unequal distribution. The Gini coefficient and the quintile share ratio indicate that the income distribution has become more unequal between 2009 and 2010 and reverses the downward trend evident since 2005.

In fact, the statistics show more than an increase from the previous year. They show that it is the highest since the SILC study (conducted under EU law) was first produced in 2004.

Michael Taft (here) and Sinéad Pentony (here) have separately written about what the CSO’s report tells us. Indeed, a comment on Taft’s post asks a very interesting question about the validity of the modeling used by the ESRI to assess the changes in the level of inequality. The ESRI’s model says there is none. Paper referred to in the comment here – 286-page PDF)

You would think that the CSO data showing increasing inequality (“INEQUALITY UP — OFFICIAL!“, as a red-top might put it), might lead those designing the bidget to think about what they are proposing. But by coincidence, Wednesday also saw the Department of Finance, through its mouth-piece Michael Noonan, confirm that inequality is not an issue that concerns them. They were prompted by Labour TD John Lyons, who was, in turn reacting to two reports from TASC on equality lessons for the budget (PDFs here [56 pages] and here [59 pages]). Lyons asked

Deputy John Lyons asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider, in the course of his consideration of budgetary measures, the request by a group (details supplied) that all such measures be subject to an equality audit; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The answer was awful (emphasis added by me).

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Where budgetary matters are concerned the Government’s primary focus at present is on reducing the deficit further and returning sustainability to the public finances in the coming years. The focus of Government in this regard will be on taking decisions in a way that spreads the burden of the adjustment in as fair and equitable a manner as possible, while at the same time, seeking to minimise the negative impact on economic growth, which as we have seen is returning.

There are currently no plans to equality audit the measures in Budget 2012. However, I would point out that the Programme for Government does contain a commitment to require all public bodies to take due note of equality and human rights in carrying out their functions. I would also remind the Deputy that the State and its bodies take the provisions of equality legislation into account in the development and delivery of its policies and services.

Furthermore, the Cabinet handbook requires that Government memoranda indicate clearly, as appropriate, the impact of the proposal for, amongst other things, gender equality, persons experiencing or at risk of poverty or social exclusion and people with disabilities.

I hope John Lyons follows that up.

Steve Keen in Dublin Tue 15 & Wed 16 Nov November 4, 2011

Posted by Tomboktu in Books, Economics.

Steve Keen, author of Debunking Economics: The Naked Emperor Dethroned is coming to Dublin

I’ve just been sent further details of my itinerary while in Dublin:
15:00-16:30 Book signing (Location TBA)
16:30-18:00 TASC Seminar
19:00 – 20:30 Feasta
23:00 – 23:40 Tonight with Vincent Browne (To Be Confirmed)
07:00-09:00 RTE Radio 1 Morning Ireland (To Be Confirmed: 5-10 minute interview)
10:00 – 10:30 RTE Radio 1 Pat Kenny (To Be Confirmed: 10-20 minute interview)
11:00 – 12:00 IIEA
12:00 – 14:00 Book signing
I’ll post more details as they come to hand.

Could we learn from the liberal agenda? October 10, 2011

Posted by Tomboktu in Economics, Feminism, Social Democracy, Social Policy, The Left, Unions, Workers Rights.

The liberal agenda has been very successful in Ireland over the last forty or fifty years. Headline issues include securing the availability of contraception, access to abortion, the right to divorce, decriminalising homosexuality, and lifting the ban on same-sex marriage. Other items on the agenda would include equal pay for men and women, the criminalisation of rape within marriage, abolishing illegitimacy, Garda practices concerning rape victims, the right of a married woman to have her own legal domicile, Garda procedures in cases of domestic violence, sex education in schools, and (more recently) gender recognition for trans people.

Not all of those goals have been achieved, but given the progress that has been achieved, it is worth asking if the Left in Ireland today could use the same strategies.

The first thing to notice is that the list is a list: a set of individual items. A source of motivation might have been the overarching concepts of “women’s lib” or “gay rights”, but progress was not made by simply demanding that women be liberated or gay people be given rights. Instead, the overarching goal was broken down into distinct objectives.

What would be on a similar list for the Left in Ireland? A first draft of such a list in three areas might include the following.

Wages and incomes

  • the minimum wage tied to the average executive salary
  • replacing (most) social welfare benefits with a universal basic income

Corporate governance

  • worker directors in all firms with more than 25 employees (as is the case in Sweden)
  • half the board of large firms to be worker directors (as is the case in Germany)
  • executive pay subject to annual approval by the employees
  • tax incentives for co-ops over other firms (as is the case in Italy, although it is abused through firms registering as a co-op but not operating internally as one)

Housing and accommodation

  • rent increases in all accommodation tied to inflation, not “market” prices (as was — and may still be — the case in Denmark)
  • 12 months’ notice required to end all private tenancies that were not originally established (and proven to be) bona fide short-term rents (in the case, for example, of students) (also from Denmark)
  • obligatory requirement on landlords to prove eviction is for serious breach or for them to move back into the property as their primary residence and to prove that rent will not be increased in the case of a new tenancy (also from Denmark)
  • requiring all mortgages to for primary residences be at fixed rates of interest (I don’t know if it is the law, but it I believe it is standard practice in Germany)

To be clear, this is not a definitive statement of the Left’s agenda. There are key items missing from it, and some on the Left would probably object to the inclusion of some items. However, a lot could be gained by identifying a set of key concrete changes and making each of those the focus of a campaign.

That does not mean achieving change would be easy. The experience of the liberal agendas was that the arguments on the issues were explained, criticised, defended, argued, and then explained all over again, on TV, in policy reports, on radio, to the Supreme Court, before the European Court of Justice, at the European Court of Human Rights, to TDs, in submissions to the Law Reform Commission, on street protests, at photo-opportunities — and once even with a famous train journey to Belfast — and back again through many of those activities, over months that turned into years, that turned into decades.

Of course, the idea that the Left could use this approach isn’t novel: I recall taking my now 20-something nephew when he was about eight or nine on a protest calling for the introduction of a legal minimum wage, organised by the Dublin Council of Trade Unions and held outside low-pay fast-food outlets in Dublin’s O’Connell Street. (I wasn’t a particularly good political educator: when the protest finished, he asked if we could go into one of the outlets to get a burger.)

If a core set of specific and concrete objectives is identified, how would the work of achieving those items be organised? A second characteristic of the liberal agenda was that separate organisations were formed to work on most of the key issues: the Divorce Action Group, the Irish Family Planning Association, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, the Rape Crisis Centres, Woman’s Aid, Marriage Equality, Transgender Equality Network Ireland.

That approach might not be adapted as easily for the Left’s agenda. There already exist organisations that are (or are supposed to be) working to achieve the objectives that would be in the list — the unions and the parties of the Left. Further, the prospect of a range of new single-issue organisations raises many questions: would it take activists and workers away from the existing organisations. Rivalries between parties and organisations mean that efforts to set up stand-alone campaigns would — in fact, already have — been viewed with suspicion: is that really a campaign about topic x or a front to recruit support for a party or a candidate at the next local elections? On the other hand, disagreements on strategy, ideology — and even rivalries based purely on personality and working styles — existed (and still exist) between activists in the liberal agenda, so that is not a reason to eschew the use of separate organisations for individual goals.

Adopting an approach that looks to non-party and non-union organisations to lead different campaigns for issues of concern to the Left could simultaneously be both a risk and a benefit. The core of that dilemma is that it could create the impression for some people that at their core these are not political issues. One the one hand, de-linking them from the identity of the Left could make them more attractive to people who are uncomfortable with that label. It might create the possibility of sufficient support for many of the issues, but do that by drawing different sets of people who have differing views or levels of comfort with different issues: not all supporters of linking minimum wages to executive salaries, for example, might be happy with an automatic right to worker directors in all firms, just as not all supporters of lifting the ban on divorce were necessarily comfortable with decriminalising homosexuality. However, that ‘depoliticisation’ is deeply unattractive precisely because it is false. And, to boot, it is the strategy that the Right has used to pursue the changes that is has lobbied for, not just domestically and at the level of the EU, but globally through GATT and the WTO. Just now in the USA, Spain and Greece — but less so here, I think — there has been a change, with growing popular acceptance that the ‘free’ market approach is not ‘natural’, is political.

It would stick in my craw to adopt IBEC’s strategy, but if that is what it takes to make progress in Ireland, then maybe it’s what has to be done.

“Goldman Sachs rules the World” September 27, 2011

Posted by Tomboktu in Economics.

Alessio Rastani:

“I’ve been dreaming about this for three years.”

“I dream of another recession.”

“The governments don’t rule the World, Goldman Sachs rules the World.”

A financial trader who appeared on the BBC was not a hoaxer, the broadcaster has said after doubt was cast on his credentials.

It issued a statement after Twitter users suggested that Alessio Rastani was not a trader.

Sins of the Father Belfast Launch Thursday 15th September at 7pm September 14, 2011

Posted by Garibaldy in Books, Economics.

Poster shamelessly stolen from Dublin Opinion. Great to see this getting launched in the north.


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