Digest: 24 June 2014




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In The World Cup’s Sickening Message, Kent Buse and Sarah Hawkes (for Project Syndicate) discuss how World Cup sponsors externalize the large health costs that result from the products they push. The World Cup is one of the most watched sports events in the world and companies like Budweiser, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola pour millions of advertising dollars into it; but there is a cost to that sponsorship – the health crisis that alcohol, fast food and sugary drinks are creating in the developing world. Four conditions are linked to almost half of all deaths, they together cost the global economy $3.75 trillion in 2010. All four of those conditions can be caused by and are exacerbated by consumption of the very products advertised during the World Cup.  Developing countries don’t have the resources to deal with the health repercussions of the increased consumption of these products and health agencies don’t have the power to combat them. Instead, people must be better informed of what they are consuming, policymakers must focus on prevention if the costs are not to escalate further, and companies need to produce healthier products, but regulatory authorities must set the rules of the game.


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In People-Oriented Cities, Claudio Sarmiento (for World Resources Institute) discusses three key elements required for quality public transport. These elements are to bring communities closer through transport, to keep cities compact, and to design transport around people. He provides Mexico City as an example of what goes wrong when these elements are not satisfactorily met.

In What Piketty Forgot, Noel Ortega (for the Institute for Policy Studies) discusses what was left out of Thomas Piketty’s book, and out of the discussion of it – the gap between what we expect of economic growth and what the planet is able to sustain.  After discussing the main theses of Piketty’s book, Ortega asks the awkward question, “to what level should we bring people, considering our finite planet?” If we want to talk about increasing equality, we need to have a realistic sense of expectation – the world cannot sustain the entire human race with a western middle class consumerist lifestyle. The economy as we know it needs to change.

In US Sets Up Honey Bee Loss Task Force, BBC News discusses the problem of the decline of bee populations in the US and the recent steps by the Obama administration to stop it.  Major declines in bee populations have been taking place apparently as a result of pesticides, loss of habitat and genetic diversity, inadequate diets, mite infestations and diseases.  Bees produce $15 billion in value to US agriculture and there is much more that can be done, such as preventing the further use of certain pesticides until they have been deemed safe.

In Overcoming Inequality and Climate Change is Key to Ending Poverty and Suffering, Oxfam discusses the effect of climate change on the world’s poor, and how if action is not taken on climate change now, then years of poverty alleviation work will be lost. Oxfam has calculated that the world’s richest 67 people have as much wealth as the bottom half of all people combined. If this discrepancy is not corrected then economic and social problems will continue to ensue. Oxfam sets out the goals it proposes are necessary to the establishment of a sustainable system, but points out that tackling inequality will take bold steps.


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In Don’t Fight in Iraq and Ignore Syria, Anne-Marie Slaughter (for The New York Times) discusses potential US military involvement in Syria and Iraq, and how it does not make sense to send troops to Iraq and not to Syria.  Slaughter argues that if troops had been sent to Syria then the rise of ISIS might have been prevented from spreading over to destabilize Iraq. She points out the likely reasons the White House would have for sending troops to Iraq and not to Syria, but discounts them. Instead she says that President Obama should really be asking the same question in both places – what will be best for the Syrian and Iraqi people respectively.


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In A Hachette Job, Lina Kahn (for The Weekly Wonk) discusses the protracted negotiations between Amazon and the book publisher Hachette. Hachette is looking for better terms and is getting strong-armed by Amazon for a bigger cut. Kahn describes the various defenses of Amazon’s position, but describes how the result will not be good if they win. Amazon controls 40% of the US book market, and by cutting prices down to rock bottom they cut into the margins that allow publishers to take risks on books that are not necessarily expected to be blockbusters.

In Global Refugee Figures Highest Since WW2, UN Says, Imogen Foulkes (for BBC News) discusses how 50 million people around the world are currently living as refugees from war or persecution. Many of these are people seeking refuge abroad, but many others are internally displaced within their own country.  Large numbers of refugees if not handled carefully can be a strong destabilizing factor in their host country. One shift that has taken place over the last decade is that now developing countries are shouldering a greater share (86%) of the refugee burden even though they have the least capacity.  Foulkes ends by describing a conflict in the UN between its aid agencies who are tasked with dealing with the mess that its security council seems unable to stop.