However tight the crisis seems for us, its effect on the world’s poorest is proving devastating. New research from the Institute of Development Studies (with whom I’m currently doing some work) released ahead of the G20 summit suggests that it’s not just making the poorest poorer. It is also accelerating the cycle of poverty. There only bright spot is that the falling oil price has eased some of the economic pressure on oil importing countries.
Last week’s speech warning of the triple crisis looming by aout 2030 by the British Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir John Beddington, represents a moment where an issue has moved from the edge into the mainstream. In a speech at SDUK 09, Beddington described a confluence of population growth, water, food shortages and energy shortages – exacerbated by climate change – where there are huge uncertainties which could further worsen food and water issues. Some columnists discounted the speech because Beddington mentioned the 18th cventury economist Thomas Malthus, whose pessimistic population predictions turned out, famously, to be wrong. Don’t speak too soon.
The news that Jack Welch, the sometime CEO of GE, has said that he doesn’t think that “shareholder value” was a good idea is quite an important moment, for two reasons. One, he was influential in creating the idea, in a speech shortly after he became top dog at GE. Two, because he made millions from it. The drive for (or obsession with) shareholder value was critical in sucking businesses into the financial sector – all but making businesses offshoots of the markets – but it was reinforced by narrow interpretations of the law and by over-whelming self-interest, handily supported by a dollop of management theory. New business frameworks will need to be strong to escape such a powerful legacy.
The news on climate change from the emergency science summit in Copenhagen is unremittingly gloomy. Worst-case climate change scenarios appear increasingly likely; the body of opinion seems to be that we’re already failed to restrict warming to the ‘manageable’ level of a two degree increase, and the cost of addressing climate change has increased since Nicholas Stern’s Review. The summit was attended by 2,500 experts from 80 countries. Stern, meanwhile, is perplexed, or perhaps dismayed, by the lack of response by politicians, and the failure of imagination it represents. At least some of the climate change economists are now a bit more cheerful.
For all of the media noise about Twitter, at least in the affluent world, the big global communications story is about the mobile phone (the blue line in the charts above – click on them to make them a little larger). About eighteen months ago, global mobile penetration went past the 50% mark. Now, the International Telecommunications Union reckons that it has – as at the end of 2008 – climbed above 60%. This is the figure for paid subscriptions, so in terms of usage it’s inflated in the affluent world – where some people have two – and under-estimated in the poorer world, where some people share. The fastest rate of growth is in Africa, and that’s also where many of the most interesting applications are to be found.
I blogged a couple of weeks ago on the gap between the way in which the UK classifies drugs for legal purposes – and the available evidence on the harm they cause. The post followed a recommendation that ecstasy should be downgraded (from the scientists appointed by the government to give such advice) which was rejected out of hand by the government – and a chorus of other politicians.
I don’t normally return to posts this soon, but the March issue of Prospect magazine has an interesting take on the story. Elizabeth Pisani argues that users effectively internalise an assessment of the harm of drugs in their behaviour – and the police follow. There are a couple of extracts from her article below the fold.