31 de maio de 2008

Sobre Paul Krugman

Sobre a importância de Paul Krugman como colunista do NYT e bloguista:

"ONCE upon a time, there was an economist named Paul Krugman. He was highly respected in his field for the work he had done in New Trade theory and the New Economic Geography, as well as for his insights on rapid Asian economic growth in the 1990s. He was a John Bates Clark award winner, for whom an eventual Nobel was not out of the question. He was widely known among undergraduate economists, whose professors found his lucid and entertaining prose in Slate columns and books perfect for instructional purposes. And apparently he was bored.

So Mr Krugman went and got himself a New York Times column and promptly became one of the most inflammatory and influential left-wing political writers in the nation. Ben Naparstek describes the transformation:...."
- ver em The first blogger Free exchange Economist.com.

Acidificação dos oceanos

"...Ocean acidity is rising much faster than even the gloomiest predictions by scientists. ... That's many decades before expected. The culprit? A record rise in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater. It forms carbonic acid. As the oceans are forced to soak up more and more CO2, the ph drops and acidity soars. ...

Their shocking research, called "
Evidence for Upwelling of Corrosive ‘Acidified’ Water onto the Continental Shelf," (sub req'd) was published in the journal Science last week.
Here's the reason for the urgency: After examining data from 13 survey lines along Pacific routes in Canada to Northern Mexico in spring 2007, the researchers found corrosive water less than 20 miles off the West coast -- for the first time ever. It was also the first time that acidic ocean water was found in large quantities along the continental shelf in western North America, the shallow waters where most of the sea creatures live. It's part of a startling trend.
Since the Industrial Revolution, ocean acidity in the world has increased 30 percent. Some scientists say ocean acidification is happening at a rate that has not been experienced for at least 400,000 years. Others claim for at last 20 million. And still others were caught off guard by the latest news. ... We're so there that entire marine ecosystems could be wiped out if CO2 levels continue to soar, unabated. "

- ver em Bad Acid Trip: How CO2 Could Kill the Oceans SolveClimate.com

30 de maio de 2008

Mais sobre o aumento dos preços dos combustíveis

Manuela Ferreira Leite esteve bem ao negar a defesa da diminuição do imposto sobre os produtos petrólíferos.

A argumentação expendida no último Prós e Contras por Nogueira Leite sobre o comportamento da receita cobrada por via desse imposto deve ser qualificada (questionada) - o valor cobrado por conta daquele imposto diminuiu mas a subida do IVA cobrado nas transacções de combustíveis mais que compensou essa descida; a descida da receita do imposto resulta da concorrência da oferta espanhola de combustíveis, mas deve-se também ao efeito da contracção da procura de combustíveis - com a população e a actividade económica a concentrarem-se no litoral, penso que o efeito que predomina será o da contracção da procura (e, logo, o aumento do recurso aos transportes públicos). A concorrência espanhola é um problema, mas até prova em contrário, não justifica a descida do imposto - haveria perda de receita fiscal e o efeito de alívio relativo para o consumo das famílias seria destruído pela subida continuada do preço do petróleo.

As ligações que apresento abordam aspectos diferentes desta problemática (no que respeita à ênfase, porque acabam por falar dos outros aspectos): o da liderança política neste processo (ou falta dela); a argumentação económica contra a descida dos impostos sobre os combustíveis; a situação do mercado do petróleo. As últimas notas sobre esta questão neste blogue: ver aqui, aqui, aqui, e ainda há mais sob a etiqueta energia.

  1. Liderança política:
    Letters: Lack of action on climate change is criminal Environment The Guardian

    "The hardship and disruption being caused by rising oil prices demonstrates just how much simpler a transition to a zero-carbon economy would be if we planned for it with foresight and determination, rather than having it thrust upon us (Producers say $200 oil is possible, May 23).

    How much easier would it be for the government to resist calls to abandon fuel tax rises, for example, had it used a windfall tax on oil companies to invest in a massive expansion of affordable public transport measures? When the government's own figures show that we could save 30% of the energy we currently use through cost-efficient energy-saving measures alone, it is approaching criminal negligence for ministers not to have invested in such measures as a priority.

    Peak oil experts warn us that global demand for oil is outstripping its supply, and rising oil prices are here to stay. Climate scientists warn that unless we urgently reduce global carbon emissions to well below their current levels, climate chaos will be unavoidable. The wake up calls could hardly be louder. Gordon Brown has promised he's in listening mode, yet his failure to demonstrate any political leadership on this issue risks compounding an environmental disaster with a social justice disaster." (continua)

    Why, Hillary, why? Gristmill: The environmental news blog Grist Climate Progress » Blog Archive » Gas Tax Holiday, Part 4: Report from the Field:

    "National leaders need to help citizens understand, accept and adapt to the new realities of this new century. Rising oil prices is one of them. What we don’t need is pandering to voters and more schemes to keep oil company profits up, at the expense of America’s long-term prosperity and security."

  2. Argumentação económica contra a descida dos impostos:

    Economist's View: "The Invisible Hand Is Shaking"

  3. Situação do mercado do petróleo (mas não só):

    FT.com / Comment & analysis / Comment - Oil has reached a turning point

    "Oil prices at this level take us into a new world – “Break Point” – where the question is not only “how high can the price go?”, but also “what will be the response?” Is this the point at which oil begins to lose its almost total domination in transport? Yes, the current high oil price may be a demand shock triggered by what had been several years of excellent global economic growth, and thus more benign than supply shocks caused by 1970s-style disruptions.

    It is amplified by a dollar shock caused by the fall in the dollar and by the embrace by financial investors of oil (and other commodities) as an asset class. What is now unfolding is an oil shock. The fact that the world could take $80 in its stride in the context of strong economic growth does not mean that a price that is 60 per cent higher at a time of a credit crunch will be so easily assimilated. The economic toll is mounting. Airlines are certainly in shock as they start charging for checked luggage to find a way to pass on their biggest cost. Carmakers are reeling. Retailers are tracking the shrinking wallets of their customers.

    The rising prices for food reflect, in part, the impact of higher energy costs. Oil supply, one might think, should be responding. Yet there are three obstacles. The first is time. These high prices have not been around all that long and development of new supplies takes many years. The second is access to new resources. And the third factor is what is happening to costs. The public focuses on the price at the pump, but the oil industry is preoccupied, and indeed somewhat stymied, by how rapidly their own costs are rising – far exceeding the rate of general inflation. The latest IHS/Cambridge Energy Research Associates (Cera) Upstream Capital Cost Index – the consumer price index for the oilfield – shows that costs for developing a new oil or natural gas field have more than doubled in four years. Some costs have risen even more: a deep-water drill ship might have cost $125,000 per day to rent four years ago. Today it goes for more than $600,000 per day – if you can find one.

    Everything is in short supply – people, equipment, engineering skills. Be­cause of the contractions that came with the price collapses of 1986 and 1998, there is a missing generation in the oil industry. More than half the petro-professionals are less than 10 years away from retirement. A petroleum engineer graduating this year is likely to receive a higher starting salary than an Ivy League graduate going to Wall Street. This competition for people and equipment has driven up costs dramatically. These costs and shortages are now causing delays to new projects. Demand is already responding to the new prices except in those parts of the world where retail fuel prices are controlled or subsidised.

    What can be done to improve the supply picture? The International Energy Agency’s work on future supply is getting attention. But the IEA’s message is not that the resources are not there. Rather it is the likely risk that the required investment will be “deferred” – will not take place in a timely way – because of these rising costs and because governments restrict access or postpone decisions. This underscores the basic need during an oil shock – to encourage the timely investment that will relieve the pressures. That means encouraging efficient decision-making by resource-holding countries and facilitating complex projects that bring on new supplies. An example of the difference engagement can make is the support the US administration gave to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Without that new 1m barrels a day capacity pipeline we would not have that additional oil flowing to the Mediterranean.

    The impact of rising oilfield costs and the importance of encouraging investment need to be taken into account when considering a “windfall profits” tax or other new taxes. However attractive politically, the effect would be to constrain investment and to lead to lower production levels than would otherwise be the case. Two years ago, Cera created its Break Point scenario, to explore how supply disruptions and delayed development would lead to $120-$150 oil. What was not fully anticipated was the impact of rapidly rising costs. Not anticipated at all was a falling dollar and how it has stimulated a rush by investors into oil. The real question in the scenario was what would be the response to such high prices. Could oil lose its traction?

    That answer is already unfolding – in terms of public policy, technology, consumer response and corporate strategies. At the end of 2007, as oil was heading towards $100 for the first time, the US Congress passed the first bill requiring an increase in automobile fuel efficiency in 32 years. Consumers now want to buy fuel efficiency not sport utility vehicles. Hybrids are going from fringe to mainstream and a concerted assault has been launched on the problems of battery technology. While the backlash against biofuels has gained in intensity with rising food prices, biology is now engaged with the energy business as never before; and biofuels will be a growing part of the motor fuel pool. If “Ethanol” was a country, it would have been ranked number five last year among countries in terms of production growth. The break point is already here.

    Oil is in the process of losing its almost total domination in ground transport. It is not going to fade away soon – such is the scale of its use and convenience, it will retain a dominant position for many years. But it will share the transport market with other sources as never before, reinforced by a new drive for fuel efficiency.

    Econbrowser: Oil price fundamentals Grasping Reality with Both Hands: The Semi-Daily Journal Economist Brad DeLong:

    "Martin Wolf on how the high price of oil is Mr. Market's way of giving us tough love: FT.com / Columnists / Martin Wolf - The market sets high oil prices to tell us what to do: [O]il... is a finite resource; it drives the global transport system; and if emerging economies consumed oil as Europeans do, world consumption would jump by 150 per cent. What is happening today is an early warning of this stark reality. It is tempting to blame the prices on speculators and big bad oil companies.

    The reality is different. Demand for oil grows steadily, as the vehicle fleets of the world expand. Today, the US has 250m vehicles and China just 37m. It takes no imagination to see where the Chinese fleet is headed. Other emerging countries will follow China’s example.... It looks increasingly hard to expand supply by the annual amount of about 1.4m barrels a day needed to meet demand. This means an extra Saudi Arabia every seven years.... [I]f speculation were raising prices above the warranted level, one would expect to see inventories piling up rapidly, as supply exceeds the rate at which oil is burned. Yet there is no evidence of such a spike...."

    The hot-air harvest Comment is free:

    "Far more convincing is the second view: that fundamental shifts are taking place which mean our basic commodities - food, oil, metals - will probably be expensive for a long time to come. That era of cheap resources, which lasted from the 80s all the way up until the early part of this decade, is over.

    Just look at the Agricultural Outlook released today by the rich nations' club, the OECD. Commodity prices, it says, 'will average substantially higher above the levels that prevailed in the past 10 years'. Over the next decade, wheat and maize will be 40% to 60% more expensive than they were from 1998 to 2007; butter will be 60% dearer, and vegetable oil prices over 80% higher. Not only that, but they will also be far more volatile.

    As that Economist cover proves, forecasters often make the mistake of believing present conditions will carry on as far as the eye can see. After all, the last time we saw a food and oil shock was in the 70s - and while it was nasty, it was followed by decades of low prices. Won't something similar happen this time? It's unlikely.

    The commodity crunch of the 1970s was a supply shock; this is a demand shock. As the Chinese and Indians and others from formerly poor countries eat more meat and drive more cars, so the price of food and oil rises. These people are not consuming as much per head as British or Americans, but the trajectory is fairly clear. As the OECD agricultural outlook predicts, 'By 2017, developing countries are expected to dominate production and consumption of most commodities'."

"It's global warming, stupid!" (III) - o caso da Exxon

Aquilo que se passa na Exxon, no respeitante à contestação dos accionistas (e que accionistas) ao modo como a companhia tem actuado em resposta à problemática do aquecimento global, é significativa e instrutiva. Este assunto tem de ser cruzado com este aqui.
  • Climate Feedback: Oil heirs mutiny at Exxon.

    "With much of the corporate world competing to be ahead of the decarbonization curve, it's not uncommon to see investors actually begging governments for more regulations, as a prominent group in the US did this week. More remarkable is witnessing oil goliath Exxon Mobil torn by a climate-driven shareholder revolt and its backlash. On fossil fuels and climate change, Exxon in the past has not so much failed to read the writing on the wall as actively attempted to efface it. That's changed, but not enough, say the heirs of John D. 'Standard Oil' Rockefeller, whose ancestral ex-monopoly forms Exxon's core. The Rockefellers are sponsoring four shareholder resolutions that will come to a vote at the company's annual shareholder meeting May 28.

    According to
    The Independent, they say Exxon needs to research how climate change will affect the developing world, fund alternative fuels, reduce its carbon footprint, and spur more managerial debate by splitting up the roles of chariman and CEO - both posts are currently held by Rex Tillerson. At last year's meeting, says The Guardian, a call to split up Tillerson's jobs got 40% yays, and addressing climate change got 30%. With a vast green tide and 19 institutional investors backing up the Rockefellers (who own only 0.006% of Exxon's stock, the company says), this year could see even greater support.

    But the Wall Street Journal - ever the champion of the little guy - noted in an
    editorial yesterday (subscription required) that blue-collar investors have struck back. According to the Journal, US police union leader Chuck Canterbury wrote to Tillerson that the resolutions would impose "rigid, ideologically-based conditions on the company's future," would nullify "the judgment of a highly successful management team," and would "undercut every project and business operation." This would "hamstring ExxonMobil's profitability and growth, thus directly harming the police officers, firefighters, teachers and public employees whose retirement savings are invested in the company."

    The WSJ goes on to sneer at Denise Nappier, the "ambitious" Connecticut treasurer in charge of state pensions who favors changes at Exxon: "It's more likely that the future candidate for Governor is merely angling for some easy green publicity as she and the state's pensioners continue to benefit from their investment in Exxon's substantial oil profits." Now, the Wall Street Journal may think that US$11-bilion quarterly profits should moot shareholders' ethical qualms, but that doesn't make the qualms hypocritical.
    The Rockefellers, and representatives of the good people of Connecticut too, have every reason to want Exxon to go greener, including a financial rationale: as economist Neva Rockefeller Goodwin
    pointed out in a press conference, today's record profits stem "from investments and decisions made many years ago, focusing on a narrow path that ignores the rapidly shifting energy landscape around the world, including developing nations".

    And in the event that Goodwin and the other worried Exxon investors are wrong about that rapidly shifting landscape, police pensions are hardly shackled to Exxon.
    Slate aptly observes that "no family in American history has possessed more wealth, or been more conflicted about the obligations and benefits it bestows, than the Rockefellers." But the stakes here go well beyond inherited oil guilt. Here's to teachers, firefighters and police officers retiring with both more wealth and a more sustainable energy economy."

  • FT.com / Comment & analysis / Comment - ExxonMobil needs an independent chair By Peter O’Neill and Neva Rockefeller.

    " It is our hope – and the hope of 92 per cent of all living adult direct descendants of John D. Rockefeller Jr – that
    ExxonMobil shareholders will vote this month in favour of proxy item 5, which calls for an independent chairman. The vote will come on the heels of the impressive 40 per cent support received last year by the same proxy resolution.

    Why do so many
    favour splitting the positions of chairman and chief executive at a time of near-record profits for the company? It is because we believe this is essential to protect the long-term value of our shares. The case is compelling. To provide sound corporate oversight and direction. The role of the board is to provide independent oversight of the chief executive and management team. Under the leadership of an independent chairman, a board should provide strategic direction and represent the best interests of the shareholders. This is why the Council of Institutional Investors and The Conference Board’s Commission on Public Trust and Private Enterprise favour the model of chief executive and independent chairman as a general proposition. It is also why the independent chairman proxy item for ExxonMobil is supported by the influential proxy advisory services, RiskMetrics Group (formerly known as ISS), Glass Lewis and Proxy Governance, as well as by Calpers, the US’s largest pension fund.

    To make it possible for Rex Tillerson to be an even better chief executive. This proposal should not be construed as a rebuke to Mr Tillerson, the current chief. In fact, a majority of our family agree that he is an outstanding chief executive. At a time when game-changing pressures are bearing down on all big energy companies, separating the positions will enable Mr Tillerson, who has been at the company for 30 years, to focus on day-to-day operations and business planning.

    At the same time, this proposal will empower the chairman and the board to analyse objectively the long-term challenges and opportunities and look deeply into the company’s strategic direction. ExxonMobil is already under the gun on several critical fronts.

    For all of its world-class project management skills, investment discipline and operational efficiency, the company has not articulated a complete, long-term corporate response to the challenges of a rapidly changing energy environment. These include: the need for energy security on the part of consumers and national governments; global policies aimed at curbing carbon dioxide emissions and diversifying energy supplies; the severe shortage of skilled labour in the energy sector (the industry’s largest strategic risk, according to a recent Ernst & Young study); the backlash from consumers and politicians regarding “big oil”; and the difficulty of adjusting to challenges to the company’s core business, as political and environmental constraints and risks make it ever harder to replace declining reserves.

    Having an independent chairman is the surest way to help address these challenges, to enable the company to promote a deeper, broader review of ExxonMobil’s core strengths and weaknesses, and identify opportunities for increasing long-term shareowner value. It was not an easy decision for us to make public our concerns. We did so only after nearly five years of patient and ultimately unsuccessful efforts, working behind the scenes to have an open, two-way dialogue with the company. Our goal was, and is, to contribute a concerned but sympathetic outsider’s perspective. Other main shareholders who share this goal have been similarly frustrated.

    More candour benefits everyone. Greater openness results when a board can express its unvarnished views on management to an independent chairman. Using the board’s input, as well as his or her own insights, the chairman can then provide the chief executive with guidance as necessary and appropriate. Some have suggested concerned or unhappy investors should simply do “the Wall Street walk” and dump Exxon­Mobil shares. That is not an op­tion for all shareholders. It is estimated that up to 15 per cent of ExxonMobil’s shares are held in index funds. Investors in such funds are in effect wedded to the company.

    In addition, many US pension funds, which hold the key to the future for millions of Americans, have ExxonMobil as their number one or number two holding. Are they being asked to do the walk as well? In fact, they do not really have this option. For our part, when it comes to Exxon-Mobil, Rockefellers are owners, not traders. Well over a century after Stan­dard Oil’s founding, our family remains committed to ExxonMobil’s continued prosperity. We want to see it continue as a strong leader in a healthy global economy. This is why we and 70 other Rockefeller family members are urging ExxonMobil shareowners to join us this month in voting for this proxy item.

    Peter O’Neill is the great-great-grandson and Neva Rockefeller Goodwin is the great-granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Exxon and Mobil

Mais sobre o futuro do clima e sobre quem o nega ...

Algumas ligações a notas e artigos sobre o aquecimento global: - eles falam por si: alguns trazem esperança; outros são sinistros (dos sinistros, uns são mais do que os outros).

  • Green skies are the new black Gristmill: The environmental news blog Grist:
    "Feel like you're just not depressed enough today? Read the last bit of this Dot Earth post: During a break, I asked [Nobel prize-winning atmospheric chemist Dr. F. Sherwood] Rowland two quick questions. The first: Given the nature of the climate and energy challenges, what is his best guess for the peak concentration of carbon dioxide? ... His answer? '1,000 parts per million,' he said. My second question was, what will that look like? 'I have no idea,' Dr. Rowland said. He was not smiling." [a parte negra - de terror - vem a seguir...]

  • The future is now Comment is free:
    "A new report from the US government gives a surprisingly blunt assessment of how climate change is harming the environment."

  • Christians Launch Campaign against Global Warming Hype Christianpost.com:

    "While it may seem like everyone believes in global warming and the impending catastrophe it will bring, a group of conservative Christians countered that message Thursday by launching a national campaign to gather one million signatures for a statement that says Christians must not believe in all the hype about global warming."

    “How can you create policies on uncertain science?” asked Dr. Barrett Duke, vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “How can you say what it is that needs to be done when you don’t really know and you don’t really have real consensus on the state of the problem or what is causing the problem?”

    Duke called it an “unbiblical” response to make policies based on unsettled data that would push the poor further into starvation and poverty. “If humans are not causing the problem then it doesn’t matter how much we reduce CO2 emissions. It won’t make any difference,” he said. Fellow signer Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, founder and national spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, also talked about the harmful effects of popular climate change policies that call for a cap on carbon emission. “The number of premature deaths, number of diseases, and the harm to the human economy that can be predicted from the policies used to fight the warming” is more destructive than even if all the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)-predicted global warming-caused disasters came true, Beisner said emotionally to The Christian Post. “You try to cap emissions and you kill more people than die if you don’t cap emissions,” Beisner said, referring to those who would die from lack of access to energy, higher food prices, and the halt in their country’s economic development. “We will have killed people,” he added solemnly. “We care about this issue the same way why we care about abortion. It kills people.”

    Several of the speakers at Thursday’s press event accused the green movement – that blames humans for the impending global warming disasters – of being driven by emotions and “fear-mongering.” “We believe this is being driven by emotions, emotions that will lead to decisions that will lead to negative consequences that will create tremendous harm not only to American families but impoverished families all around the globe,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and former vice chairman of the Environmental committee in Louisiana.

    Signers of the declaration said while they do acknowledge, in varying degrees, that global warming is real and humans are partly to blame for the earth’s warming, they believe that for the most part the heating of the earth is due to the natural warming and cooling cycle of the planet.

    The “We Get It!” view starkly contrasts that of the IPCC and some prominent green evangelicals who believe that scientific evidence strongly supports that global warming is a serious crisis and man-induced. The IPCC report last year – which is said to be the clearest and most comprehensive statement to date on the impact of global warming mainly caused by man-induced carbon dioxide pollution – warns that 30 percent of the Earth’s species are at risk of extinction, up to 250 million people are likely to experience water shortage, and stronger and more frequent natural disasters are expected in the near future."

  • Merlot from Yorkshire, Hampshire too hot to make wine: expert's prediction for 2080 Science The Guardian

    "Parts of southern Britain will become too hot for wine production within the next 75 years if summer temperatures continue to rise as rapidly as climate scientists predict. Stretches of the Thames Valley, Hampshire and the Severn Valley are expected to warm by as much as 5C by 2080, making them too hot to grow grapes. Instead, the areas will be more suited to currants, raisins and sultanas, which at present are cultivated in the hot climates of the Middle East and north Africa. Hotter summers are also likely to wreak havoc in more traditional wine producing countries such as France, Italy and Spain. But the shifting climate could open up vast areas of northern England to wine production, with Yorkshire and Lancashire able to produce grapes such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot, which are traditionally grown in southern France and Chile."
  • Scientists Discover Network of Cracks on Arctic Ice Cap:
    "Need more evidence that the Arctic ice cap is slowly going the way of the once lush savannas of the Sahara? BBC Environment Correspondent David Shukman traveling with a team of scientists and Canadian troops during a recent expedition on Ward Hunt, bore witness to the discovery of several major new fractures stretching for more than 10 miles (16 km)."

29 de maio de 2008

A China proibe os sacos de plástico (os mais finos) e penaliza os mais grossos

Pois é - a China: alguns dos exemplos que de lá vêm são mesmo bons. Não me apetece fazer grandes comentários (façam mais um estudo para saber o que têm de fazer, irra).

  • China Bags Plastic Habit SolveClimate.com

    "It's official: China has risen above the rabble of plastic manufacturers and has boldly banned the plastic bag. The law will kick in June 1, and will apply to bags thinner than .025 millimeters thick. According to a survey by the China Plastics Processing Industry Association, the Chinese use up to one billion of the super thin sacks each day -- and 37 million barrels of oil a year to manufacture them. Experts predict that once the ban goes into effect, plastic bag consumption could drop by two thirds...
    What about the bags remaining? They'll be fitted with bar codes, and come Sunday, storekeepers will be forced to charge for them -- between 0.2 and 2 yuan (three and 30 cents)..."

A pobreza em Portugal

Bem, para variar, alguém (Pedro Adão e Silva) que sabe do que fala, que estuda e ilustra estatisticamente (de modo adequado) o que diz. A questão da boa educação, da boa condução da política económica, das boas reformas, da boa eficiência, são tudo condições necessárias do sucesso do combate eficaz à pobreza. A crónica tem uma recta final magnífica.

  • “São as desigualdades, estúpido” - DiarioEconomico.com
    "Sazonalmente, a pobreza regressa à agenda mediática e, como sempre, os dados são apresentados de forma estática, sem que seja identificada qualquer dinâmica nas desigualdades em Portugal. O modo como foi divulgado o relatório sobre a situação social na Europa no final da semana passada não foi excepção. Se olharmos para os indicadores, uma coisa resulta clara: ao contrário do que é frequentemente referido, o principal problema político português é um padrão de desigualdades que não encontra paralelo nas democracias ocidentais.
    O combate ao desemprego e a promoção do emprego, bem como a disciplina das contas públicas deveriam ser vistas apenas como variáveis instrumentais para Portugal se tornar um país menos desigual. Parafraseando uma frase de Bill Clinton, o problema português “são as desigualdades, estúpido”. A diferença é que aqui o estúpido não é o Governo de cada momento, mas sim a manifesta incapacidade de se promover uma coligação social que traga este tema de modo consequente para o topo da agenda política.Desse ponto de vista, os alertas mediáticos podem ser boas ajudas se servirem para enfatizar o problema que colectivamente enfrentamos, mas serão certamente péssimos auxílios se, como tende a acontecer, se limitarem a apresentar os dados como se nada tivesse mudado e como se nada, do ponto de vista das políticas públicas, tivesse sido feito nas últimas décadas.
    É que de cada vez que se apresentam os dados sobre a pobreza, desvalorizando o conjunto de políticas que Portugal tem desenvolvido, está-se a dar um importante contributo para subestimar o papel da intervenção pública na diminuição das desigualdades.
    E a verdade é que, como revelam as comparações internacionais, o que faz variar as desigualdades não é apenas a variação no PIB, são, também, as opções de cada país em termos de políticas públicas.Portugal tem uma taxa de pobreza muito elevada no contexto europeu – em 2006 era de 18%, quando por exemplo na Suécia era de 12%. Acontece que, considerando as taxas de pobreza antes das transferências sociais, a nossa posição não é muito diferente da dos nossos parceiros europeus. Enquanto em Portugal, o risco é de 29%, no caso sueco é de 25%. Este dado serve para demonstrar que a percentagem do produto destinada a despesa social (25% em Portugal e 32% na Suécia) é decisiva para explicar a ‘performance’ de cada país.
    Mas um olhar mais fino sobre os dados revela que Portugal tem tido maior capacidade no combate às formas mais severas de pobreza do que face ao conjunto das desigualdades. Desde 1995 até 2006, Portugal fez baixar a intensidade da pobreza total, mas isso tem acontecido muito por força da melhoria da situação dos idosos (de 26% para 17%). Onde Portugal continua a ter maior rigidez é entre os pobres em idade activa (apenas de 31% para 25%).Esta dinâmica não é independente de, ao contrário do que acontecia antes de 1995, estarmos hoje mais próximos da prática europeia no que toca às políticas vocacionadas para responder à pobreza daqueles que estão fora do mercado de trabalho – de que são exemplos o rendimento mínimo, as prestações familiares com discriminação positiva, os aumentos diferenciais nas pensões baixas e os complementos de pensões com condição de recursos.
    Mas o sucesso, sempre relativo, no combate à severidade da pobreza, não só não foi independente dos ciclos políticos, como não pode servir de desculpa para continuarmos a ter níveis de desigualdade intoleráveis. Até porque, convém não esquecer, é essa a medida sintética do sucesso de uma governação à esquerda.
    Acontece que, se já se tem provado difícil desenvolver políticas de combate à pobreza extrema – basta recordar os ataques pornográficos de que foi alvo o rendimento mínimo –, não é difícil de antecipar o que aconteceria se o combate às desigualdades passasse a ser a prioridade política nacional. Afinal, os instrumentos mais eficazes para combater as desigualdades de rendimentos são conhecidos: aumentar a cobertura da contratação colectiva e tornar os impostos mais progressivos. Ou seja, dar uma nova centralidade aos sindicatos e à negociação e fazer com que as políticas fiscais contrariem a dispersão salarial, redistribuindo a favor dos primeiros vintis de rendimento e disponibilizando recursos para a dinamização de serviços sociais às famílias. Querem apostar que a indignação social que existe em torno da pobreza desapareceria rapidamente?

Fim do estado social europeu?

O caso sueco importa ser analisado: possibilita reflectir, nomeadamente, sobre questões como: estamos face ao fim do estado social europeu? Para reflectir de modo produtivo e eficaz, importa conhecer bem a realidade - mesmo quando ela contraria os nossos "a priori"s (veja-se, como exemplo negativo, a reacção de Medina Carreira - até respeito a frontalidade e o saber do senhor - aos números apresentados pelo Basílio Horta, no último Prós e Contras).
A nota do blogue Consider the Evidence sobre a Suécia, Sweden: Image and Reality, é, a esse respeito exemplar: pela sua exaustividade e ângulo de análise - não é verdade que alguém (Vladimir Ilitch Ulianov) falava da necessidade de fazer a análise concreta da situação concreta? Esta nota fá-lo.
Apresentação da nota: "Sweden is often viewed as either social democratic paradise or lefty hell, depending on one’s political and economic orientation."

Polémicas sobre socialismo

Já há algum tempo João Cardoso Rosas escreveu uma crónica no Diário Económico intitulada Adeus socialismo; Vital Moreira fez-lhe um comentário crítico e houve do primeiro a resposta noutra crónica, no mesmo sítio, Socialismo ou liberalismo social?. Interessante, polémico e merecendo reflexão e referência futura. Outra crónica do Diário Económico, Ministério da Liberdade , fala da mesma questão, embora, agora, de uma perspectiva de direita.
Não me situo bem naquilo que é dito - é indiscutível que os problemas que enformaram o socialismo democrático originariamente têm tido até agora uma resposta necessaria e tendencialmente (para simplificar o discurso) "liberal", mas na altura em que o (para simplificar o discurso) "o sistema capitalista" enfrenta problemas muito graves, é imperioso face aos novos problemas (são, efectivamente, novos problemas) dar novas respostas e isso cria oportunidades à refundação do socialismo democrático.

A última "ligação" prendem-se com a discussão da situação actual do Partido Trabalhista mas tem extensões para outras realidades.

  1. Discussão sobre o sociallismo
    Adeus socialismo - DiarioEconomico.com
    "Mais cedo ou mais tarde, os socialistas terão de reconhecer, em nome da honestidade intelectual, que o projecto de uma sociedade socialista caducou. No tempo que passa, o ataque às liberdades económicas e ao mercado e a defesa da socialização dos meios de produção – e o que é o socialismo, senão isso? – apenas conduziriam ao isolamento, ao empobrecimento e à entropia social. Por isso seria bastante melhor para todos, incluindo para os próprios, que os socialistas permitissem que a sua matriz ideológica se confrontasse com a realidade, sem terceiras vias nem outros subterfúgios. Essa confrontação deixaria claro que, ao contrário do que dizem alguns dos seus adversários, não é verdade que os socialistas tenham traído a sua causa. A causa é que acabou. Ou seja, ela deixou de fazer sentido face à evolução do mundo."
    Causa Nossa
    Socialismo ou liberalismo social? - DiarioEconomico.com
    "Na sua crónica de anteontem no “Público”, Vital Moreira critica, com a probidade e o rigor intelectual que são seu timbre, o artigo que aqui escrevi na semana passada “Adeus socialismo”. Nesse artigo, eu defendia que o projecto histórico do socialismo, nas suas diferentes formas, está hoje esgotado. Vital Moreira contrapõe que esse esgotamento afectou o socialismo comunista, mas não o socialismo democrático. Retomando os termos do próprio Vital Moreira, parece-me que a sua tese, não sendo embora inédita, não é convincente. ... Mas é precisamente devido a este processo secular de distanciamento em relação à matriz marxista que convém inquirir sobre o que distingue, afinal de contas, o socialismo democrático do liberalismo. Julgo que a única distinção possível reside na desconfiança do socialismo face às liberdades económicas e ao funcionamento do mercado livre (o que pode conduzir à socialização de alguns meios de produção, ou à resistência à sua privatização). ... Os socialistas, por seu turno, consideram que a liberdade económica e o mercado escondem a pura lógica dos interesses que nenhuma “mão invisível” consegue compatibilizar. Os socialistas podem aceitar a liberdade económica e o mercado por razões de eficiência, mas fazem-no com uma relutância baseada em princípios. ...

    Por isso, muitos partidos ditos socialistas adaptaram-se – e ainda bem – ao novo contexto. Como reconhece Vital Moreira, eles passaram a ser genuinamente liberais na política e na economia; mas associaram o seu liberalismo de base à defesa dos direitos sociais, da justiça social, etc. Ora, o grande equívoco de Vital Moreira consiste em pensar que a defesa deste conjunto de valores configura ainda uma forma de socialismo.O programa político que Vital Moreira considera socialista é, na verdade, o programa do liberalismo social tal como foi pensado desde Stuart Mill e, muito especialmente, pelo chamado “novo liberalismo”, associado a autores como John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, Bruce Ackerman, Amartya Sen, etc.
    Ministério da Liberdade - DiarioEconomico.com

    "O filósofo britânico Anthony Giddens não se mostra especialmente optimista. Como o leitor deve saber, Giddens foi o “guru” de Tony Blair quando da criação da Terceira Via, que serviu de antecâmara intelectual para a chegada ao poder do Trabalhismo britânico e para, depois, justificar uma política que se limitou a manter e a imitar o extraordinário legado de Margaret Thatcher. Sim, eu sei. A Terceira Via nunca gozou da mesma popularidade que o partido socialista espanhol (PSOE). O actual presidente do Conselho, José Bono, disse então que Blair era “completo imbecil” e daqui podemos inferir que Zapatero seja algo ainda pior. Mas a verdade é que os britânicos estão mais habituados a pensar do que os espanhóis, inclusive os de esquerda e inclusive Giddens, que vive disso. E que pensa este cavalheiro? Pensa o mesmo que pensa grande parte da esquerda que, infelizmente, continua a defender que a sua principal tarefa é manter rédea curta sobre as forças da globalização, resistir ao influxo político e cultural dos EUA e conservar os actuais sistemas sociais tal como estão ao invés de reformá-los. Giddens defende ainda que o socialismo enquanto tal é um projecto morto, uma vez que assenta na ideia de que os mecanismos de mercado podem ser substituídos por uma economia regulada e de que é preciso suplantar o capitalismo em prol da criação de uma sociedade distinta. Eis o que pensa Giddens, mas estou certo de que Zapatero vai seguir um caminho diferente."

  2. The kindest cut Comment is free: (dois excertos)
    "...The patient step-by-step reformism of the Fabians combined with constant political education has been sadly missing in recent Labour politics in government where short-term gimmicks and even shorter-term manipulation of headlines have been preferred..."

    "Labour has a wider duty to reinvent a new form of government. Across Europe the democratic left has been expelled from government (pdf). Only three of the 27 EU member states are now exclusively controlled by the left - Britain, Spain and Portugal. Labour must now break free of the Compass-Blairite axis and shape new policies. In the present conjuncture, a good place to start is to have a little less state and a little more individual spending power."

28 de maio de 2008

"It's global warming, stupid!" (II)

"The oil giant ExxonMobil has admitted that its support for lobby groups that question the science of climate change may have hindered action to tackle global warming. In its corporate citizenship report, released last week, ExxonMobil says it intends to cut funds to several groups that 'divert attention' from the need to find new sources of clean energy."

- ver em Exxon to cut funding to climate change denial groups Environment guardian.co.uk.

EUA: eleições e não só

Fui coleccionando alguns artigos, com interesse, sobre os EUA e sobre as eleições norte-americanas. Esta nota é para arrumá-los no blogue.
Quanto às eleições as linhas de força são claras: Obama é considerado por todos como aquele que será indigitado; todos questionam os motivos e a estratégica que levam Hillary a prosseguir; a questão do género vem de novo ao cima; argumenta-se sobre os erros da campanha de Hillary; fala-se do comportamento da comunicação social e como contrariá-lo.
A primeira e a última referência são críticas a livros que falam do sistema politico-económico norte-americano.

  • Economist's View: "The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too" [ver a este propósito a última referencia desta nota]:

    "The general theses can be simply stated. First, while conservatives toyed with laissez-faire, they quickly abandoned it in all important areas of policy-making. For them, it now serves as nothing more than an enabling myth, used to hide the true nature of our world. Ironically, only the progressive still takes the call for “market solutions” seriously, and this is the major barrier to formulating sensible policy.

    Second, the “industrial state” has been replaced by a predator state, a coalition of relentless opponents of the very idea of a “public interest”, whose purpose is to master the state structure in order to empower a high plutocracy with nothing more than vile and rapacious goals.

    Finally, the “corporate republic” created by the likes of Dick Cheney is highly unstable, a formula for national failure. Progressives must wrest control from the reactionaries before it is too late for restoration of America as the world’s financial anchor, technological leader, and promoter of collective security." ...

    As Jamie argues, his father [John Kenneth Galbraith] admired Veblen but was most influenced by the New Deal, the mobilization during WWII, and the rise of the modern corporation that cooperated with government and labor to create the planned economy of the postwar period. Hence, Veblen’s opposition of the business enterprise versus the public interest was replaced by countervailing powers that compromised a largely acceptable truce.

    Jamie insists that his father’s analysis was correct, however, it was already becoming outdated by the early 1970s as the Bretton Woods system fell apart. The free market reactionaries promised that some combination of monetarism, supply side economics, balanced budgets, and free trade was the solution to America’s woes. The mantra “free markets” provided an easy antidote to “planning” that was said to constrain recovery and growth. As each conservative policy was tried, however, it resulted in obvious and even spectacular failure. In truth, all economies are always and everywhere planned—for the simple reason that planning is the use of today’s resources to meet tomorrow’s needs, something that all societies must do if they are going to survive—so the only question is who is going to do the planning, and to whom are the benefits going to flow?

    There are still a few true believers (principled conservatives that Jamie compares to noble savages in the political wilderness), but most conservatives realized that there is no conflict between “big government” and “the market” as they abandoned the myth but usurped the “free market” label. All we are left with is the liberal who embraces the myth out of fear of being exposed as a heretic, a socialist, or a fool. Thus, the liberal pines to “make the market work better”, never challenging the view (abandoned by all but the most foolish conservatives) that government is the problem.

    Economic freedom is reduced to the freedom to shop, including the freedom to buy elections, and anything that interferes is a threat. “Market” means nothing more than “nonstate”, a negation of use of policy in the public interest. Jamie provides a careful analysis of the frontline battles on many of the most important issues--Social Security, health care, inequality, immigration, security after 9-11, trade and outsourcing, and global warming—showing how “market solutions” are designed to enrich a favored oligarchy through a spoils system administered through the state’s structure.

    The policy “mistakes” in Iraq or New Orleans or at Bear-Stearns do not result from incompetence—indeed they only appear to be failures because we apply inappropriate measures of success. There is no common good, no public purpose, no shareholder’s interest; we are the prey and governments as well as corporations are run by and for predators. The “failures” enrich the proper beneficiaries even as they “prove” government is no solution. There is a way out, but it is not easy.

    Historically, regulation and standards have required acceptance by progressive business—those firms that recognized they would lose in races to the bottom. Today, corporate and public policy alike are run by the most reactionary elements, well-paid rogues that suck capacity. Wherever one finds a sector that still operates reasonably well, one finds remnants of New Deal institutions that support, guarantee, regulate, and leverage private activities, in spheres as diverse as higher education, housing, pensions, healthcare, the military-industrial complex (and the prison-industrial complex). Naturally, even these sectors are endangered as they represent potential riches (witness subprimes, a privatization mess that Wall Street would love to repeat with Social Security). Still, Jamie is hopeful. The ideology of free markets is bankrupt, but the US is not. The path is clear: re-regulation, planning, standards (including wage controls), and coming to grips with the nation’s global responsibilities.

  • Op-Ed Columnnist - Divided They Stand - Op-Ed - NYTimes.com (Paul Krugman):

    "It is, in a way, almost appropriate that the final days of the struggle for the Democratic nomination have been marked by yet another fake Clinton scandal — the latest in a long line that goes all the way back to Whitewater."

  • Hillary: Why I continue to run

    "I am running because I still believe I can win on the merits. Because, with our economy in crisis, our nation at war, the stakes have never been higher - and the need for real leadership has never been greater - and I believe I can provide that leadership. I am not unaware of the challenges or the odds of my securing the nomination - but this race remains extraordinarily close, and hundreds of thousands of people in upcoming primaries are still waiting to vote. As I have said so many times over the course of this primary, if Sen. Obama wins the nomination, I will support him and work my heart out for him against John McCain. But that has not happened yet."

  • She's in it to spin it Salon News:

    "But what if -- for the sake of argument -- Clinton is merely doing what she always said that she intended to do, which is to scrap for every last delegate through the final primaries? What if she is actually moved by the you-go-girl enthusiasm she encounters hand-shaking her way along all the rope lines? What if she looks at the electoral map and broods about Obama's potential difficulties in November in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida (all states that Clinton carried in the primaries)?"

  • Richard Cohen - Why She Fights On - washingtonpost.com:

    "But in the end, when Obama is crowned king of the Democrats, Clinton will throw her arms around him and the music will swell and the crowds will cheer -- and everything will be forgotten. And when that happens, Hillary Clinton -- who will be only 65 in 2012 and four years after that still will be younger than McCain is now -- will be positioned to run for president, not as someone's wife, but as a gritty fighter who just would not quit."

  • Grasping Reality with Both Hands: The Semi-Daily Journal Economist Brad DeLong

    "Makes sense to me: Ezra Klein: A campaign without the 'gotchas': Gore was seen, in 2000, as a condescending, exaggeration-prone prig. But in the ensuing years, he stepped out of campaign journalism. He began sending his speeches out directly over MoveOn.org's e-mail list, made a movie that asked people to sit down and listen to him for the better part of two hours, and did his rounds on interview shows on which he could have fairly lengthy conversations with hosts. The result? A massive rehabilitation of his reputation, including in the eyes of the very political pundits who once spurned him.... Ask those pundits about the new Gore, of course, and they will sigh and search the heavens and moan that, oh, if he had only been this way when he was in politics, how different it all could have been.

    But he was.... He was a substantive global-warming obsessive with a penchant for long disquisitions on meaty topics.... [H]is pipeline to the public was a gaffe-hungry media looking for ways to humiliate him, that didn't turn out so well. When he was able to speak directly to the public, those traits were considerably more attractive....

    The problems for the media are structural.... [T]he shows are really run as a type of soap opera. Campaigns become ongoing stories with a cast of characters and a history that can be referred back to. That requires the daily construction of a story line. Characters need definition and catchphrases and frailties... clips that can be easily and endlessly replayed to remind viewers of what they're watching and what happened in past episodes... the media hunger for out-of-character gaffes and missteps -- those moments are crucial to the business model.

    But politicians increasingly have alternatives.... And now the campaigns of Obama and McCain are broaching the idea of Lincoln-Douglas-style debates -- a series of unmoderated debates that would leverage the public interest in the campaign to force the media to cover debates without imposing their own narrative or needs on the structure. It's campaigning as politicians, rather than the media, would have it. Weird as it sounds, that might be better for the process. And, for the candidates, it certainly sounds like more fun. "

  • Marie Cocco - Misogyny I Won't Miss - washingtonpost.com:

    "There are many reasons Clinton is losing the nomination contest, some having to do with her strategic mistakes, others with the groundswell for 'change.' But for all Clinton's political blemishes, the darker stain that has been exposed is the hatred of women that is accepted as a part of our culture."

  • Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted): Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill)
    "America was built on the premise that hard work would be financially rewarded, but unfortunately, more than 37 million people are part of the growing ranks of the "working poor": people who work two or three jobs yet are unable to pay their living expenses. What's wrong with all these people that makes them unable to achieve even a modest amount of comfort in this Land of Opportunity where the streets are paved with gold?
    In my experience, it doesn't take a genius to realize that the working poor are a by-product of America's increasingly stratified socioeconomic structure that punishes the middle class and the working poor by unfairly elevating the wealth of the rich to rarified heights. But I'm not the only one who has noticed this as you'll discover when you read David Cay Johnston's new book".

  • Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill)
    "Johnston opens his book by discussing how the pursuit of one's own self-interests can benefit all of a nation's citizens so long as these activities are limited by an invisible hand, as espoused by philosopher and father of capitalism, Adam Smith. The author points out that even though Smith was a capitalist, he frequently cautioned people about "the damage done when the government interferes in the market by guaranteeing profits or handing out gifts."
    The author then goes on to reveal how the American government is selling out its birthright by providing financial gifts to corporations and individuals who are rich enough to qualify for them. Unfortunately, everyone is forced to finance these gifts through their taxes. In this book, Johnston explores some of the more egregious examples of who and how these injustices have been perpetrated on the American public and how they are rending the social fabric of this nation. All social relationships and interactions rely on a set of rules, and one of the functions of government is to write and enforce rules that regulate the economy so those the "have-nots" are not unfairly victimized by the "haves and have-mores". This is done primarily through taxation.
    But unfortunately, during the past thirty years, America tax laws have been subtly rewritten by lawyers and lobbyists so that it is legal to either give away or sell public assets at bargain basement prices, and further, the government itself is increasingly abusing its constitutional power of eminent domain to seize private property so it can give it to someone else. Predictably, those "someone elses" are either rich individuals, such as George W. Bush (chapter 7), Barron Hilton, Paris Hilton's grandfather (chapter 16) and the owners of professional sports teams (chapter 6), or rich corporations, such as Enron (chapter 18), Wal-Mart (chapter 9) and that predatory health insurance company, Maxicare (chapter 22). The author explores the details of how those who seek to improve their situation with a college education are victimized by government-guaranteed loans that mysteriously charge inflated interest rates (chapter 14), how homeowner's title insurance has been corrupted into a costly and useless waste of money (chapter 13), and how home burglar alarm companies openly steal from the public to provide their services at the expense of public safety (chapter 12).
    Since I have been sued repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) these past two years for unpaid medical bills, I was particularly interested to read the author's explanations of how American medical care was transformed from a basic human right into an expensive profit-driven business that is just not available to everyone -- like me -- and how this limited access harms the public health by increasing disease and even leads to needless, preventable deaths (chapters 21 & 22).
    But this is not all; the author explains how, even though government spending is unchanged, funneling public monies into unfair subsidies destroys a free market economy and contributes to lower wages, unemployment, higher taxes, bankruptcy, crime. In this eye-opening book, Johnston inspires outrage by explaining how GW Bush's "have more" pals manipulate and intimidate the government into providing them with a free lunch of millions and millions of dollars at tax-payer expense while denying help to the poorest and most vulnerable among us. Mercifully, after getting everyone's panties into a twist, the author concludes with a chapter that suggests several interesting remedies for this situation. In 28 sections (introduction and conclusion and 26 chapters), Johnston explains the ephemeral American tax code in an accessible way without causing your eyes to glaze over. In doing so, he also provides a worrying glimpse into the inner machinations of our government. I recommend that every American citizen reads this informative book and that every library in this country has at least one copy available to the public."

Crise alimentar: ainda mais ...

A discussão sobre tudo o que se está a passar continua: - sobre as causas; sobre as possibilidades dessa crise se repetir; sobre aquilo que se impõe fazer; sobre a futura escassez dos inputs da produção agrícola; sobre o impacto ambiental da utilização desses inputs. Os artigos estão arrumados dos mais recentes para os mais antigos.

Uma nota de caução: a escolha que faço das ligações não é só na base do que concordo ou não concordo, mas de outros factores: informação que careiam; originalidade do que dizem; capacidade de retratarem dadas posições; disponibilidade futura para comentário ou referência.

Isto vem a propósito, nomeadamente, da última nota aqui referenciada: a de Paul Collier - não tenho dúvidas de que o sistema de produção alimentar a nível mundial deve incorporar níveis elevados de produtividade, de inovação, de aplicação científica, no contexto de comércio internacional liberalizado (com salvaguardas), como forma de se poder alimentar uma população cada vez maior. Assim, deve continuar a incorporar traços importantes da agro-indústria mais "desenvolvida" - no entanto, não pode continuar a ser mais do mesmo: intensivo na utilização da energia fóssil; intensivo na utilização de adubos não renováveis (e com consequências ambientais preocupantes); extensivo na utilização da terra. Naturalmente, outras alterções têm de ocorrer na envolvente da produção alimentar: uma, muito importante: o paradigma alimentar tem de mudar.

O problema é saber como conciliar todas esses objectivos e restrições.

  • "On lit partout que la hausse violente des prix agricoles tient à deux facteurs qui jouent sur la demande : une population mieux nourrie dans les pays émergents, et consommant davantage de viande, produit qui exige davantage de surface à nutrition identique ; et plus récemment la compétition des biocarburants pour occuper, à coup de subventions, leur lot de terres arables. On mentionne moins un troisième facteur, du côté de l’offre, qui joue de façon plus rampante et peut-être plus pernicieuse : l’urbanisation galopante, notamment dans les pays émergents, qui dévore inexorablement les terres arables."

  • "During the debt crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank forced dozens of poor food-importing countries to dismantle these state systems. Poor farmers were told to fend for themselves, to let "market forces" provide for inputs. This was a profound mistake: there were no such market forces. "

  • "It's a big issue, not least because there is a major question mark about future reserves of phosphate. Concentrations of phosphorus that are rich enough to be worth mining are fairly rare and appear to be declining rapidly. It's impossible to make firm predictions, but bodies as diverse as the UN and the International Fertilizer Industry Association have warned that the world's reserves might not survive the century."

  • "The rise in food prices and the costs it generates have been aggravated, some say, by policies of import liberalization and subsidy removal which the World Bank and economists advocated around the developing world in the 1980s and later. If developing country policies supporting food crops had not been dismantled, this argument goes, poor people in these countries would not have been left in the throes of volatile world market forces and they would not have suffered as much recently."

    Industrial agriculture currently stands as humanity's big plan for "feeding the world" as global population moves toward 10 billion and the earth warms. Increasingly, as oil supplies tighten and prices rise, we're looking to industrial ag to fill our gas tanks, too. Unhappily, this relatively new form of farming relies utterly on three elements, two mined (potassium and phosphorus) and one synthesized from natural gas (nitrogen). In other words, unless we quickly move toward other agriculture models, we're likely to see increased geopolitical competition for these resources, outsized power for the entities that control them -- and diminishing efforts to control the ecological effects of extracting them.

  • "Several questions arise here. Is it really sustainable to "feed the world" -- much less move its cars -- using technologies that require ravenous doses of finite resources?"

  • Nitrogen bomb Gristmill: The environmental news blog Grist:
    "According to Galloway, 'We are accumulating reactive nitrogen in the environment at alarming rates, and this may prove to be as serious as putting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.'"

  • "La hausse des prix alimentaires pose des problèmes aux plus pauvres, mais elle peut bénéficier aux petits producteurs agricoles. En même temps, la volatilité des cours n’est bonne pour personne. Les plus pauvres ont besoin d’une assurance contre la variation des prix. "

  • The cage match! In this corner, Megan McArdle and Parson Malthus:

    Megan McArdle: Economics of Contempt: Call me crazy, but I think a permanent doubling of food and energy prices would slow our rate of economic growth pretty significantly. How long it would take incomes to recover "at current rates of economic growth" is irrelevant when the doubling of food and energy prices would lower the rate of economic growth. Given that we and all our machines run on either food or energy, it's a pretty safe bet to say that doubling their prices would have a sizeable impact on growth.

    In this corner, Greg Clark: China, India and Malthus - Los Angeles Times: Thomas Malthus warned in 1798 that population pressures would forever keep food and energy scarce and incomes low. In the 200 years since, world population has grown sevenfold, to 6.7 billion. Yet food and energy have become cheaper and more abundant. Malthus's dystopia, it seemed, belonged in history's junkyard. But, suddenly, rapid growth in China and India and the consequent scramble for increasingly scarce resources has revived the Malthusian specter.

    By 2050, 9 billion people in a world where all have U.S. consumption standards would need eight times as much oil and five times as much food than the planet current uses. Is the future a world of $10-a-gallon gas and $20 Big Macs? Two things allowed growth to occur from 1750 to 2000 with declining commodity prices. First, only a small fraction of the world grew rapidly.... The West was alone in its voracious appetite for raw materials and energy. Second, fossil fuels cheaply substituted for land in agriculture by increasing crop yields.... What will happen depends on the race between technological improvement and growing demand.... [N]o one can predict which force will win. A "full world"... may also be one of cheap and abundant commodities. But suppose the worse. Suppose [commodity] abundance is over. Must we fear that? The answer is no. First, the share of modern U.S. consumption devoted to raw food and energy purchases is small: 1.4% for food raw materials, 7% for energy. The U.S. economy can withstand enormous increases in food and energy costs with little damage because food and energy are even now so extravagantly cheap that most of both are squandered in uses of little value.

    In my town -- Davis, Calif. -- there is a traffic jam outside the main high school each morning as healthy teenagers are ferried by car or drive themselves a few miles to school. They are ferried from houses that are heated, air-conditioned and lighted, most of which rarely gets used by people. Currently in the U.S., we consume the energy equivalent of six gallons of gas per person per day.... Danes, for example -- whose public policy mandates expensive energy -- use the equivalent of only three gallons.... The Danes are not suffering.... Given that we can easily reduce consumption when costs go up, a permanent doubling of the prices of food and energy would reduce income by less than 6%. At current rates of economic growth, incomes would recover from such a shock in less than three years. After that, onward on our march to ever greater prosperity.

    I call this one for Greg Clark. I am a utopian neoliberal optimist.

  • Common Wealth - Jeffrey D. Sachs - Book Review - New York Times

    The timing for Jeffrey D. Sachs’s new book on how to avert global economic catastrophe couldn’t be better, with food riots in Haiti, oil topping $120 a barrel and a gnawing sense that there’s just less of everything — rice, fossil fuels, credit — to go around. Of course, we’ve been here before. In the 19th century, Thomas Malthus teased out the implications of humans reproducing more rapidly than the supply of food could grow. In 1972, the Club of Rome published, to much hoopla, a book entitled “Limits to Growth.” The thesis: There are too many people and too few natural resources to go around. In 1978, Mr. Smith, my sixth-grade science teacher, proclaimed that there was sufficient petroleum to last 25 to 30 years. Well, as Yogi Berra once may have said, “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.”

    And yet. Even congenital optimists have good reason to suspect that this time the prophets of economic doom may be on point, with the advent of seemingly unstoppable developments like climate change and the explosive growth of China and India. Which is why Sachs’s book — lucid, quietly urgent and relentlessly logical — resonates. Things are different today, he writes, because of four trends: human pressure on the earth, a dangerous rise in population, extreme poverty and a political climate characterized by “cynicism, defeatism and outdated institutions.” These pressures will increase as the developing world inexorably catches up to the developed world.

    By 2050, he writes, the world’s population may rise to 9.2 billion from 6.6 billion today — an increase of 2.6 billion people, which is “too many people to absorb safely.” The combination of climate change and a rapidly growing population clustering in coastal urban zones will set the stage for many Katrinas, not to mention “a global epidemic of obesity, cardiovascular disease and adult-onset diabetes.”

  • Watch out, they spit Free exchange Economist.com:

    "FREE EXCHANGE has been keeping an eye on the many unexpected consequences associated with rising food and energy prices. It is remarkable to see the interconnectedness of the economy in vivid relief. Today's story, from the Financial Times and courtesy of Greg Mankiw, involves the cross price elasticity of demand between oil and...well, just read for yourself [camelos]:..."

  • FT.com The Economists’ Forum Food crisis is a chance to reform global agriculture#comment-11083 de Paul Collier (ver em May 2nd, 2008 at 10:03 am Report this comment How not to address the food crisis Free exchange Economist.com uma informação sobre esta nota).

    "The sharp increase in the world price of staple foods is an inconvenience for consumers in the rich world, but for consumers in the poorest countries, especially in Africa, it is a catastrophe. Despite the predominance of peasant agriculture, most African countries are net food importers and food accounts for over half of the budget of low-income households. This is the result of decades of agricultural stagnation combined with growing populations. Although many of the net purchasers are rural, evidently the problem is at its most intense in the urban slums. These slums are political powder kegs and so rising food prices have already triggered riots. Indeed, they sow the seeds of an ugly and destructive populist politics. Why have food prices rocketed? Paradoxically, this squeeze on the poorest has come about as a result of the success of globalization in reducing world poverty.

    As China develops, helped by its massive exports to our markets, millions of Chinese households have started to eat better. Better means not just more food but more meat, the new luxury. But to produce a kilo of meat takes six kilos of grain. Livestock reared for meat to be consumed in Asia are now eating the grain that would previously have been eaten by the African poor. So what is the remedy? The best solution to a problem is often not closely related to its cause (a proposition that that might be recognized in the climate change debate).

    China’s long march to prosperity is something to celebrate. The remedy to high food prices is to increase food supply, something that is entirely feasible. The most realistic way to raise global supply is to replicate the Brazilian model of large, technologically sophisticated agro-companies supplying for the world market. To give one remarkable example, the time between harvesting one crop and planting the next, in effect the downtime for land, has been reduced an astounding thirty minutes. There are still many areas of the world that have good land which could be used far more productively if it was properly managed by large companies. For example, almost 90% of Mozambique’s land, an enormous area, is idle.

    Unfortunately, large-scale commercial agriculture is unromantic. We laud the production style of the peasant: environmentally sustainable and human in scale. In respect of manufacturing and services we grew out of this fantasy years ago, but in agriculture it continues to contaminate our policies. In Europe and Japan huge public resources have been devoted to propping up small farms. The best that can be said for these policies is that we can afford them. In Africa, which cannot afford them, development agencies have oriented their entire efforts on agricultural development to peasant style production. As a result, Africa has less large-scale commercial agriculture than it had fifty years ago.

    Unfortunately, peasant farming is generally not well-suited to innovation and investment: the result has been that African agriculture has fallen further and further behind the advancing productivity frontier of the globalized commercial model. Indeed, during the present phase of high prices the FAO is worried that African peasants are likely to reduce their production because they cannot finance the increased cost of fertilizer inputs. While there are partial solutions to this problem through subsidies and credit schemes, large scale commercial agriculture simply does not face this problem: if output prices rise by more than input prices, production will be expanded because credit lines are well-established.

    Our longstanding agricultural romanticism has been compounded by our new-found environmental romanticism. In the United States fears of climate change have been manipulated by shrewd interests to produce grotesquely inefficient subsidies for bio-fuel. Around a third of American grain production has rapidly been diverted into energy production. This switch demonstrates both the superb responsiveness of the market to price signals, and the shameful power of subsidy-hunting lobby groups. Given the depth of anti-Americanism in Europe it is, of course, fashionable to criticize the American folly with bio-fuels. But Europe has its equivalent follies.

    First, the European Commission is now imitating the American bio-fuels policy. At present the programme is small enough to be unimportant, but we need to pull it back before it does real damage. We have surely learnt enough about European agriculture to realize how important it is to kill this incipient scam before we are engulfed by it. But the true European equivalent of America’s folly with bio-fuels is the ban on GM. Europe’s distinctive and deep-seated fears of science have been manipulated by the agricultural lobby into yet another form of protectionism. The ban on both the production and import of genetically modified crops has obviously retarded productivity growth in European agriculture: again, the best that can be said of it is that we are rich enough to afford such folly. But Europe is a major agricultural producer, so the cumulative consequence of this reduction in the growth of productivity has most surely rebounded onto world food markets.

    Further, and most cruelly, as an unintended side-effect the ban has terrified African governments into themselves banning genetic modification in case by growing modified crops they would permanently be shut out of selling to European markets. Africa definitely cannot afford this self-denial. It needs all the help it can possibly get from genetic modification. Not only is Africa currently being hit by rising food prices, over the longer term it will face climatic deterioration in the context of a rapidly growing population. While the policies needed for the long term have been befuddled by romanticism, the short term global response has been pure beggar-thy-neighbour. It is easier for urban slum dwellers to riot than for farmers: riots need streets, not fields. And so, in the internal tussles between the interests of poor consumers and poor producers, the interests of consumers have prevailed.

    Governments in grain-exporting countries have swung price favour of their consumers and against their farmers by banning exports. These responses further politicize and fragment an already confused global food market. They increase the risks of investing in commercial-scale food production and drive up prices further in the food-importing countries. Unfortunately, trade in agriculture has been the main economic activity to have resisted being subject to global rules. We need stronger and fairer globalization, not less of it."