The Great Debate UK
from The Great Debate:
When I was a graduate student at the University of Kansas, the pesticide DDT was very much on my mind. My assistantship in 1953 involved research on the evolution of DDT-resistance in fruit flies. It quickly became clear to all of us in this research group that the broadcast use of pesticides was a losing and dangerous game. When I attempted to raise butterflies in New Jersey in the 1940s, bringing food plants in from nature usually resulted in the caterpillars dying. In those days, widespread spraying of DDT to control mosquitoes coated much of the countryside with poison. In the lab it was easy to use selection to make flies impervious to DDT in some 10 generations, or, in contrast, so susceptible that they would drop dead at a whisper of that “miracle” chemical’s name. Evolution of resistance tended to make continuous use of any pesticide inefficient. The usual response of the chemical industry was to recommend increasing the dose or to substitute more toxic compounds, making pest control even more expensive and dangerous.
That was well understood by evolutionists early on, but it took a marine biologist and talented writer, Rachel Carson, to bring the pesticide problem to public attention and, incidentally, to launch the modern environmental movement. Silent Spring, published in September, 1962, was a brilliant book, but also one that appeared when the time clearly was ripe. The public seemingly had been primed by publicity about radioactive fallout, fears of pesticide residues on cranberries and the thalidomide scandal, the latter enhanced by pictures of infants born with distorted limbs. Carson suffered from the drawbacks of being a female scientist before science’s gender gap began to dissolve, and from lacking a PhD and a professorial position. Despite those “handicaps,” she had the science about as right as it could be at the time.
Carson was subject to a storm of vicious attacks by the combined public-relations machines of the chemical industry and agribusiness, and even from scientists in the industry and entomology departments of some universities. Typical was the much quoted statement of Professor Robert H. White-Stevens, a poultry scientist of Rutgers University: “If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth.” The assault began even before Silent Spring was published. A public-relations campaign against Carson and trumpeting the safety of pesticides was bankrolled by the National Agricultural Chemical Association (NACA). Virtually all of the attacks were without merit. Carson withstood them all, even though she was struggling with metastatic cancer. I met her once only briefly, and then she was gone.
Rachel Carson's legacy looms huge today. Many people have the impression that climate disruption is the worst environmental problem humanity faces, and indeed, its consequences may be catastrophic. But the spread of toxic chemicals from pole to pole may be the dark horse in the race. Carson may have started environmentalism by illuminating exactly the right issue. This is especially the case as recent research has shown that many synthetic chemicals, called endocrine-disrupting compounds, may do nasty things to you at high doses but can have different harmful effects at very low doses. These low-dose effects can increase the probabilities of altered sex determination, behavioral changes, developing cancers and more.
from The Great Debate:
Two years ago, frustrated by the powerlessness citizens expressed to me about the political process, moved by their transpartisan worries about the state of U.S. democracy, I began an experiment on Facebook: I sought to train “ordinary” people from all walks of life as reporters and opinion writers.
The community grew fast, to a reach of over 10 million and between 100,000 and 250,000 users a week. People joined from 23 countries. There was clearly an appetite for this kind of training and the material it produced.
The bulk of reporting and analysis on the current state of the euro zone sovereign debt crisis has focused on the structural changes that Europe needs to make to survive. Closer fiscal ties, euro bonds, pooled tax revenues and a centralised spending authority have been bandied about.
A lot of people think that these changes are the only way to bring down credit risk and pull Spain and Italy back from the cliff edge they currently find themselves on.
from The Great Debate:
The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio was marked by optimism and hope, but much of the buzz about the upcoming Rio+20 meeting is skeptical and cynical. Critics say the Rio process has been unduly bureaucratic and hasn’t lived up to its goals. They are branding Rio+20 as a failure before it has even begun. President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron are sitting it out. Some even say that in the radically decentralized Internet Age, the days when government leaders or U.N. bodies can set global agendas by fiat are long gone.
True, the Rio process itself has sensibly evolved away from government decree and turned toward the private sector to build a green economy that can implement sustainability on a global scale. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t important things governments can do to make Rio’s goals a reality.
Listening to the interminable Leveson Inquiry hearings, it is impossible not to feel revulsion at some of the antics of the hacks. How could anyone be heartless enough to hack into the phone of a murder victim, let alone to tamper with the voice messages she left behind? How could they invent stories to try to incriminate parents who have been through the nightmare that the McCanns have faced since their toddler disappeared? And, having behaved with such heartlessness, how could they present the stories they invented in such a self-righteous tone? There is nothing the tabloids like more than posing as crusaders for decency in a wicked world, yet their own behaviour was beneath contempt.
At the same time, however, you also have to ask why the press feel the urge to sink so low in the first place. Why are they willing to go to such lengths as to hack into the phone conversations of the Dowlers or the McCanns, or indeed of genuine celebs?
The West’s claim to be a capitalist society has been eroded throughout the European sovereign debt crisis. If we were truly capitalist then the markets wouldn’t expect Germany to step in to solve the euro zone’s problems or to eradicate the excess debts of Europe’s periphery. The prospect of this safety cushion provided by Berlin has kept the euro propped up even though Spanish bond yields are hovering around 7%, even after it received the go-ahead to get a bailout for its banks.
The same is true the other side of the pond. Since the financial crisis, the central bank in the U.S. has stepped in to prop up stock markets and other asset classes with quantitative easing when volatility has spiked. Some people in the markets now just expect officials to step in and save investors when the going gets tough.
from The Great Debate:
The European crisis is no longer a European crisis. It is now everyone's. Unless Monday’s G20 summit in Mexico coordinates a concerted global action plan right now, we face a global slowdown that will also have a deep impact on the U.S. presidential election and even on China’s transition to a new leadership. This is the last chance.
The standard, but often empty, language of summit communiqués will simply not do when the euro area is finally approaching its own day of reckoning. Whichever way the Greeks vote in Sunday's election, a chaotic exit from the euro is becoming more likely: Its tax revenues are collapsing, not rising as promised. Unable to regain access to markets, Portugal and Ireland will soon have to ask for their second IMF programs. Sadly Italy – and potentially even France – may soon follow Spain in needing finance as the European recession deepens. Even German banks, which are some of the most highly leveraged, are not immune from needing more capital.
from The Great Debate:
Every marriage goes through its bumpy patches. Just ask British Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and his Liberal Democratic coalition partner, Nick Clegg. They have just gone through the most serious spat since they cobbled together their civil union two years ago, when British voters removed Gordon Brown’s Labour government but didn’t give the Tories a clear mandate. The coalition is a marriage of convenience, a dynastic coupling where neither side is under any illusion that love or affection is involved.
The pretext for the current very public disagreement was a Labour motion in the House of Commons demanding an investigation into whether the minister responsible for deciding whether Rupert Murdoch could buy the 58 percent of broadcaster Sky he does not already own broke the government’s own strict code of conduct. Jeremy Hunt, the man at the center of the fight, has been shown to have made up his mind in favor before being given the job of impartially adjudicating and to have been ultra-cozy with the Murdochs, sending Rupert’s son James a high-five text suggesting that the deal was a fait-accompli. The Murdochs admit bombarding Hunt with no fewer than 788 exculpatory emails. Despite this, Cameron saw no problem with Hunt’s lack of objectivity, and Hunt has defied endless Labour calls to resign.
–Michala Marcussen is global head of economics at Société Générale Corporate and Investment Bank. The opinions expressed are her own.–
The reflex induced by three decades of success is to look to central banks to steer the economy back to a path of sustainable growth, but five years on from the outbreak of the crisis, it is becoming increasingly evident that, despite the introduction of multiple unorthodox policy tools and huge balance sheet expansion, central banks can only help buy time, they cannot fix the underlying issues of huge debt mountains and weak trend potential growth. For this, government action is required, and as each new round of monetary policy easing seemingly comes with diminishing returns – both in terms of the absolute impact and its duration – there is a growing sense of urgency for governments to act.
Having been bullied into swallowing European monetary union in 1998, the Germans are today being pressured on all sides into agreeing to one or more of a range of reforms – burden-sharing, Eurobonds, fiscal union, debt mutualisation, a banking union, joint deposit insurance – all of which amount to the same underlying reality: Germany foots the bill.
But beyond the economics of these different proposals, there are more important concerns. If a political explosion is to be avoided, Germany must extricate itself from the mess as quickly and cheaply as possible, recapitalising the country’s own banking system and selling euro zone exit to its voters as a loss-cutting exercise: sunk-costs, a salutary lesson.