By Roberto Savio*
San Salvador, Bahamas, December 31, 2015 – At this time, we all wish “ a very good year”. While the wish is always a positive thing, we should also realize that we cannot expect too much from the new born year. He is loaded by so many handicaps, that we should have lot of sympathy for him…He is part of a negative circle that started with the financial crisis of 2008, and that will probably conclude in 2017, a cathartic year in which elections in several key countries and other crucial appointments could open a new cycle. Unless a republican victory in the American Elections will anticipate a global crisis of governance faster…
Here is a list of the major handicaps for 2016, which is of course a personal view: but supported by many data…
Handicap 1: Climate change.
After Paris conference on climate change, this year will be crucial to understand in which direction the wind of change is blowing. Of course, the process of saving our planet at its present level, is planned over a span going to 2050. Let us briefly recall that the engagements taken in Paris are insufficient to reach the goal of not surpassing 2 Centigrade above the level that prevailed before the Industrial Revolution( we have already used 1 centigrade). As now, the Paris Pact will at least reach 3.7 Centigrade, which means, among many things, 850 millions people displaced. In fact, there is a consensus that we should not go beyond 1.5 Centigrades, to be really safe.
Well, we will take just two examples, to show that the threat to the planet is a very concrete one, and that political subjection to the energy sector continues. The British Parliament has just approved legislation allowing use of the shale gas extraction technology , know has hydraulic fracking. This is also allowed beneath protected sites, including national parks.British government has announced that they will award new licenses for shale gas and oil exploration, including national parks.
The other is an interview from Gian Luca Galletti, Italian minister for environment, back from Paris.He defends his new program of oil extraction in land and sea, by declaring: “One of the key themes of Paris is the equitable exploration of natural resources. We live in a country that is still uses petrol and gas, and I do not see why we should use energies from others.”The Prime Minister Renzi has applauded the “green criteria” with which the new plan of drilling, for 2 billion euro. . Meanwhile in Gela, Sicily, one of the refining places, child cancer has gone to 159.2 percent, Hodgkin to 72.4, stomach tumor 47.5 percent, versus the national norma.
According to the International Energy Agency, direct and indirect subsidies to the fossil industries, coal and oil, amount to 5.3 trillion dollars dollars per year. The subsidy requested in Paris for introducing green technologies, world wide, is 100 billion dollars. This data is sufficient to illustrate the gap between good intentions and vested interests.
If this trend will continue in 2016, it is clear that the Paris climate agreement swill never reach its goals.
Handicap 2: ISIS and terrorism
While everybody keeps focusing on the war to the Caliphate in Siria, it is time to look more in long term.The war in Siria has become a proxy war by Saudi Arabia (which is directly responsible for the diffusion of the radical islam imposed by ISIS, wahabism), Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Russia, United States, France, Great Britain, and now with support from Germany and theoretically from the European Union. Now, all muslim countries worldwide are supposed to join Saudi Arabia.They are all ready to fight this war to the last syrian, but not to risk any man. As bombing has never been sufficient to win, this is a war that in 2016 will go nowhere. But what we have to start to reflect is that ISIS is a local project, and is becoming a global one. A Security Council report estimates that 25.000 people from 100 countries have joined Al Qaida and ISIS. The number of foreign fighters went up by 71% in just ten months. And the massacres of Paris and San Bernardino were perpetuated by local people, who were not part of the ISIS structure.
The main difference between Al Qaida and ISIS, according About Zeid, from the Carnegie Center in Beirut, is that Al Qaida has as its main goal to fight against Western domination. But ISIS is especially interested to a depuration of the muslim world, fighting other branches of Islam, from Shia to Sufi to YAZIDI , ismaeliti etc, to eliminate them and oblige Sunni to accept a strict wahabist practice, or suffer violence.
It is in that light that ISIS messages to muslim living in the West is insistent and clear :Take side, or with the West as apostates, or with us as real Muslim.
The problem is that mistrust of Muslims the West is increasing. Hate crimes have tripled in the last month in US, spurred by the irresponsible Republican presidential candidates. The growing rightwing xenophobic european parties, led by demagogues like Salvini in Italy, Geert Wilders in the Nederland, or Le Pen in France, are subjecting Muslim to harsh times. It obliges them to define more their allegiances, and this can push young and marginalized muslim into the ISIS camp.
Refugees from muslim countries, like Siria, are depicted as infiltrated by ISIS.If this trend of radicalization continues, it will become a phenomena which will survive ISIS. itself. Over 25.000 people from 100 countries have joined the ISIS: a 715 increase of foreign fighters in just ten months. According to the Pew Institute, Islam is now at 1.6 billion people, but in 2050 will be close to the christians ( 1.8 billions), in 2075 will have the same consistency, and in 2.100 will be the largest religion in the world. By the way, is the religion who has the largest number of under 15.
The long terms project of ISIS is a clash of civilization. A continues polarization, with the West as a clear enemy, is what ISIS legacy could be. It means to go global, from local.
The year 2016 will be crucial to see if this polarization will increase or not. Will the West be able to understand the trap in which he is walking? Anyhow, our daily life is already under attack. To travel has become an aggravation. US is now tightening its visa policy for Europeans. Cots of security are increasing by 83 percent in Europe, according to an Interpol estimate. Fear is seeping more and more in the collective subconscious. If in 2016 there will be more massacres like Paris and San Bernardino, fear and polarization will take a trend may be irreversible.
Handicap 3: Refugees:
With media covering just events, , the refugee crisis has now passed to a second plan. Nothing has changed: people die like before, countries have erected walls and continue to adopt stricter measures, but with winter less people are ready to risk their life.But let us take a long term view. Europe, Australia, United States and other rich countries are simply not culturally prepared to accept two inescapable facts. The first, that the homogenous, white, christian world that we know, is not sustainable. Is a law of physics that an empty space attract overflow. In this moment the crisis is due entirely to irresponsible military actions taken to depose an unsavory dictator, without any planning for the after. In a short time, Saddam Hussein and Gheddafi were successfully deposed, leaving their countries in chaos and misery. The last attempt, Assad, become a proxy war , with Russia and the Shia ( Iran , Hezbollah), keeping him in place, in spite of the efforts of Europe and United States. Only Siria has now four million refugees and just a fourth of them is trying to make a new life in Europe.
At the same time, Europe has a significant demographic decline. According to the UN, Europe needs at least 2 more millions of additional people to keep its pension system functioning, and the economy running, and will need at least 350.000 new immigrants every year, until the population will stabilize again, around 2080. Of course, there is no political campaign of education to this reality. The right wing parties present a dream: let us go back to the time that we were all white, with Christianity as our common bond, let us defend our identity and our history.
But if we go beyond our present crisis, let us realize that demographic transformations are staggering. According to the last UN projections, the world in 2100 will not be 9 billion as thought ( we are now at 7.5 billion), but 11.2 billions. Africa will be then 4.4 billion people, up from its present billion. Ethiopia, to make a case, is now 100 million people: it will l be 243 millions in 2100. Africa will be then 39% of the world population, almost as much as Asia, and four times the share of Europe and North America put together. Africa is largely muslim..…
Let us remind that now Europe and US are accepting ( US symbolically) refugees, or those who have left their home because of a conflict. That leaves outside people who are afraid of mortal discrimination, like gays in Africa, Nigerian girls where Boko Haram bring them in slavery, religious groups like Christians in the middle east, or rohinyás in Myanmar…and this excludes economic migrants, or people who have left their home because it does not feed them, and escape hunger, not war…and we will have to add the new category of climate refugees, which does not even exist in the present debate.
According to the United Nations High Commission for Refuges, in 50 years, according on how we implement the Paris Agreement on climate change, we could go with 3 degrees to 250 millions displaced people, and with 4.5 to 1.000 million people. According the International Organization for Migrations, “ in the last 30 years droughts and inundations have tripled” and climate changes have created more displaced people than wars. The security Council has released a report which depicts how more than one million Syrian farmers, ruined by the drought between 2007 and 2010, took refuge in unprepared and fragile towns, and their desperation plaid a key role in the Arab Spring insurrection against Assad.
So it is time to realize that the West is facing an historical change, with dramatic consequences in lifestyle, customs, and daily practices. This could be achieved by accepting gradually newcomers to the club, in harmony and coexistence of the Western values, or by showing them a fist, as Salvini and Trump do. The 2016 will be very crucial to see how this will go, especially after American Elections.
Handicap 4: Decline of democracy
It is time to realize that political disaffection is not only increasing xenophobic and right wing parties since the economic crisis of 2009, but also sapping the prestige of democracy as an undisputed modern value. We have now the Hungarian Prime Minister, who openly advocates an “illiberal democracy”, and look to Putin as a model. Poland is following the same direction, and all over Eastern Europe there is a clear shift to the right, marked by pressing request to Nato and United States to enhance military barriers to Russia. ( And Nato poking Putin paranoia, by offering Montenegro, with 2.000 soldiers, to join).All those countries have refused European agreements on receiving refugees, as well as any other burden from Brussels ( money of course is accepted and requested). Putin has set up an informal alliance with the right wing parties , as a leader in the defense of identity and religion. He has even given a 5 million euro loan to Le Pen.
In time of crisis, people are more interested in their security and work, than who is in power. Many classical voters for the left, like workers and unemployed, now vote for the right wing parties, and believe their promises of going back to the golden past. They are not interested any longer by ideologies or political visions. They think that right and left does not exist any more. They are disillusioned with the classical party system, and they are ready to try anything new and which is not part of the establishment. This is the reason of Le Pen success in France, of the disconcerting support for Trump in United States ( and even more puzzling the success of Bernie Sanders , a declared socialist, a term which is close to anathema in US).
Of course, right wing xenophobic parties are not very useful for international cooperation and dialogue with others. But the real problem is that we are in a crisis of political vision.When ideologies are discarded as relics, and the following step is to adopt pragmatism as a solution, in fact you are making of politics a number of ad hoc solutions, without any final view of the society. Each action is chosen as the most useful for that specific issue. That is not pragmatism, is utilitarism, which downgrade policy to administrative, and this does not attract people’s participation, especially young people. And the administrative level of politics, without any vision, is prone to corruption, which is clearly growing in the western democracies.
Fear is strengthening the right, not the left. Today fear is creeping into our daily lives, according to different polls. A survey from The World Value System, found out that today only one fifth of Americans consider democracy as a fundamental principle. The same is happening in Europe, according to the same survey. In other words, nazism and stalinism are faded memories. And the Chinese model, where decision can be taken in a short time, bolstering productivity and action., is becoming popular.
We are, of course, not yet in the Weimar climate. But we are getting in place many of the ingredients which brought an obscure demagogue to run the most advanced country of the time.
It will be important to see how in this year demagogy will continue its growth, or will abate. But what would be important is that we all start to put democracy under observation, not longer a value over the fray. It is under attack, not only from ISIS and terrorism, but from leaders elected by their citizens, be Orban or Putin, and whit a phenomenal approval rate. So it is time we take into account that a growing segment of the population in the West is finding refuge in the dreams of the past, with political en economic agendas which are out of reality. Democracy, sadly, is on the wane.
Handicap 5: The decline of Europe.
In 2016 probably Cameron will call a referendum on leaving the European Union or not. This is trap in which the British PM put himself, by promising to renegotiate Britain permanence in the EU, or having several benefits or quitting. It is clear now that with empty hands, he would loose the referendum ( he is supposed to want to remain). Negotiations with Europe will go ahed in the first months of the year. Germany considers a catastrophe if Britain leaves, so it will help Cameron. Whatever the EU will concede to Britain, will be immediately requested by all East European countries.This will mark the end of european integration. The 2016 could be the year when this will happen.
Handicap 6 : Nationalism in Asia.
It is a worrying reality that for the first time since the end of the last war, the major Asian countries, China, India and Japan, are run at the same time by nationalist leaders. While obviously different in their reality and style (nothing like the twins Putin-Erdogan), they are revamping the glorious past and the humiliations that they did suffer in the World War 2, to stir citizens to their support.
President Xi has launched “the Chinese dream”, which is rooted in bringing back the ancient glories of the Empire of the Middle, and revenge the humiliations of the european occupation, Japanese occupation, and the oppium war. Two years ago mobs destroyed Japanese shops and properties, without initially any police intervention.China has embarked in a plan of influences to counter United Sates, by financing several grandiose projects: the creation of a Bank alternative to the World Bank, under Washington control. On Xi invitation, 45 countries did join the bank, who will have a total of 200 billion dollars, in spite of Washington opposition.It is also planning to recreate the ancient “Silk Road”, by investing over 50 billion dollars. And it is planning to finance the “twin Ocean Railroad connection, a planned 5.000 km railway from the Peru coast to Brasil.
It has given to Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, loans for over 80 billion dollars, sending a message to the traditional “backyard” of United States: wane yourself from Washington, I have more resources ( China reserves are 3.8 trillion dollars). It has been intervening heavily in Africa, to the point that Zimbabwe is considering pegging its currency to the yuan. And it is expanding its maritime zone in the sea, by building bases on some small rocks, which were claimed by several asian countries. China will increased its military budget by 7% during the new five year plan.
Abe, the Japanese PM, has gone in the same direction. It has just increased the military budget by 7%, and more importantly he has made an interpretation of the constitution, that allows again the Japanese Defense Force to act abroad. He defends that change by saying that it is for limited cases. Yet, is like to give liquors filled chocolates to an ex alcoholic. Polls show a growing surge of the right and of the nostalgics, who feel the defeat in the second world war as an humiliation to erase. Abe has refused to apologize for the violence used against civilians by Japanese troops in China, and to recognize Japanese responsibilities in the forcible recruitment of over 60.000 Korean girls to be used as “sex help”, for the Japanese soldiers.
Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, is also recalling the glorious past, tacitly condoning right wing and nationalist acts, and speaking of “ a new indian glory” .In 2050, according the Un projections, India will overtake China as the largest population of the world. The difference is that India has 41% of his population under 18;China by that time will have only 23% of young people, in a sea of old people, because of its one child policy.
Modi has projected India at the forefront of the international scene, by using his leverage in the Paris Conference on climate change. He now speaks on behalf of the non industrialized country ( China attempt to do that in Paris went nowhere), and he is also increasing the military budget. He just bought armament from China for 12 b million dollars, an hefty amount for a country which needs dramatic injections in its social, educational and health system, beside of course infrastructures.
In other words, if there is a place where a new world war could coming, is Asia. And its scale would be really unprecedented. What is worrying is that ALL asian countries are increasing their defense budget, How much this will bring some significant events in 2016, is difficult to predict. But it would be important to loom at Asia as a place of concern for the world peace.
Handicap 7: Decline in Latin America.
While this is more of a regional problem, in an interconnected world everything has relevance for everybody. Latin America has been for the last decade an active international actor, contributing to the world development. The decline of Chinese imports of raw material, and the increase of interest rates from the Federal Reserve in Washington, ( which will shift investments from Latin America to the US market) are a two piece prong, that is affecting seriously the region.
Some economists are already talking of a new negative cycle, that could last for some years. The low prices of commodities is affecting all the region, from copper in Chile to oil in Venezuela, Ecuador, and agricultural commodities in Argentina. in Venezuela, Maduro is still ignoring the new reality, and the World Bank predicts a decline of 10% in 2016. He could remain in power only solving problems, for which he has no funds.
The same is happening in Ecuador. Argentina has already changed direction, and is going back to the neoliberal policies of the past.Brazil is in the middle of a crisis for corruption, which is hiding a very difficult economic situation. The Economic Commission for Latin America has published an alarmed report, in which it forecast a serious decline. In the report, it indicates that at the end of 2016 we will have a more clear picture, once is clear if the Chinese locomotor is in a temporary loss of speed, or in a more durable process.
Handicap 8: Armament increase.
According to the projections of the Swedish Institute for Peace, the 2016 will see increase in armament costs close to 3%. That increase is the equivalent of 600 billion dollars, an amount which could have solved the ambitious goals of the Millennium Development goals established by the UN,;the amount requested in Paris by the non industrialized countries to give them clean technology,( an unresolved problem yet ). But the debate on reduction of armaments ignores a stunning reality: the five Permanent Members of the Security Council of the UN ( in charge with securing peace), make 82% of the global arm’s sale. And with China entering massively into weapons manufacturing, that percentage is bound to grow.
United Nations started to authorize “humanitarian intervention”, in Somalia(December 5, 1992 – May 4, 1993). The scope of the american led invasion was to bring humanitarian aid in a rogue country, where conflicting militia were starving the population. The balance of that operation ( with a quick exit of US, after several of his soldiers were drawn as corpses in the main street of Mogadishu), was a total cost of the military operations of 900 million dollars.
The value of the food and other supplies distributed was 90 million dollars. That proportion has been kept in every case. Except that it is always much more easy to find resources for military operations, than for humanitarian ones. The massive wave of refugees for all the local wars in Africa and Middle East, is a consequence of that priority. Europe has accepted to give 3 billions dollars to Turkey, and eliminate visas, so to keep Syrian refugees there. It is now spending for refugees an amount which is not yet quantifiable, but that certainly goes in billion of dollars. If that money would have been spent for assisting populations in the conflict zone, certainly the number of refugees pounding on the doors would have been considerably smaller.
Unfortunately, 2016 is going in that direction. Armaments costs will increase, while development assistance is being curtailed everywhere. The budget for aid is now being used to finance the incoming refugees, and probably to finance the commitments of Paris. Therefore, the amount of aid reaching poor populations, is decreasing. The last Un Conference for pledging resources, held on Nov. 10th in NewYork, saw a “ dramatic decline” in donors contributions, from 560 million dollars in 2014, to 77 million dollars, ,largely covering 2015. Of course, this is going to increase economic migrants.
Handicap 9: increase of inequality
The Economist itself has been noting” that the rich are becoming richer and the richest are getting richer faster, is beyond doubt”. A research by the University of California found out that the share of American wealth held the 0.1 percent of the richest households rose from 7% in 1979, to 22% in 2012. And that of the richest 0.01 per cent ( about 16.000 household), jumped from 2% to 11%. Of course, they do not get money printed especially for them. They suck the money from the total monetary circulation, which means that some people are surrendering their wealth. An other study has documented that since 2008, the american middle class has shrunk by 10 million families.
This is a worldwide trend. In Spain, rich people have increased by 40% since 2008. In 2014, the number of millionaires did increase worldwide by 920.000 individual. There are now in the world , according the Bank of Canada 14.6 millions who owns more than million dollars in cash beside the primary house, cars and different goods. The gap between managers and employees and workers is growing yearly, with little protest. The CEO of the 500 Fortune Companies (the most successful) had a median income of 17.5 million dollars, with some of course over 200 millions.
A number of economists, among them from the World Bank and the IMF, have been warning that inequality has not only social and political implications, but also economic, as it reduces buying power from the poor, eliminates small shops and companies, and erodes the middle class, which is the basis for social stability. The famous book “Capital in the Twenty-First
Century”, by Thomas Piketty, makes this point central: as wealth concentrates, democratic societies lose faith in the fairness of governments, which are seen as allied to the big capital. Le Pen campaign against “plutocrats” is reminiscent of the language used by Mussolini and Hitler: all right wing parties denounce bankers as enemies, and that stirs with those who see their lifestyle decline, or their sons without a job, why a few are obscenely rich.
What is disconcerting in this unprecedented explosion of inequality ( according Oxfam in 2025 England will have the same level of the time of Queen Victoria), that the banner has been generally taken more by the right wing parties, than from those on the left. And inequality has not become a big political issue. If it were not for Sanders, it would be totally absent in the american elections.
And now, two researchers, the Russian economist Vladimir Gimpelson ad the American political scientist Daniel Treisman have come up with an illuminating study. They looked at a collection of survey from 40 countries, both rich and poor. The conclusion is that people’s guess about the distribution of incomes and where they are is as wrong as it could be. Those who were relatively poor people tended to depict them as middle class. In Italy, more than half of the needy though they were at the middle of the income scales. In France and Sweden, the proportion was more than one third. In contrast, those who are better off tend to think that they have not yet made it. In France, Italy and Britain, 40 percent or more of the people who owned second homes put themselves in the bottom half.
This, in Marxists terms, means that people have lost a sense of class, and therefore they do not resent inequality as it was done before. And this means that the political class does not feel inequality as a crucial issue.It is not by chance that the term “social justice” has disappeared from the political debate. But how long this will last?
The 2016 will see this trend to continue. It is difficult for people to realize how this concentration process is becoming extreme. Let us take two noble examples, to illustrate it. Mark Zuckeberg, the founder of Facebook, has announced that he will donate 99% of his shares, valued at 45 billion dollars, to philanthropy. It is an amount that competes with China project for its railroad spanning from Beijing to Europe, so is an extreme act of philanthropy. But let us keep in mind that the 1% left to him is 450 million dollars: 400 times the lifetime income of a collage graduate.
And that the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation,a very important institution, which is supported by 44 billions, has given away 5 billion in 2014: this was anyhow less than the 7.4 billion it accumulated thanks to new contributions, investment income and rising value assets.In other words, money brings so much money, when you have plenty of it, that it will be always there ( unless you waste it…but billionaires usually do not do..when Zuckeberg was in Rome in honeymoon, in the jewish quarter, he did not leave any tip to the astonished waiter)
Handicap 10: your personal commitment.
This list of handicaps is highly subjective, and leaves outside several issues which are very important, like gender, human rights, development assistance, finance control, migrants, etc. If you have reached this point of my paper, it means that you are committed to a better world, and you are an unusual reader. According to a study from Unesco, only 3% of the world population can read 5.000 words of abstract material, without giving up.It also means that you have some commitment probably to issues that I have left out. It would be the most positive result to this writing, if you could make an effort and think how they will fare in 2016: if the Newborn year looks positive for your commitments. The purpose of Othernews is to stimulate thinking and awareness. Let us this be the New Year wishes from the publisher to all of you!
*Italian-Argentine journalist. Co-founder and former Director General of Inter Press Service (IPS). In recent years he also founded Other News, a service that provides “information markets eliminate”. Other News. In Spanish: http://www.other-news.info/noticias/ In English: http://www.other-net.info/