Wednesday, December 9, 2015

'South Africa near economic cliff'; Inequality killing middle America; Saudi women contest polls for first time

1 ‘South Africa near economic cliff’ (Editorial, Johannesburg Times) He might no longer be the Reserve Bank governor, but his voice cannot be ignored or dismissed. Tito Mboweni has said that the country's economy would hit junk status if the government did not commit to spending ceilings announced in the Budget. Fitch and Standard & Poor's have rated South Africa just one level above junk.

Junk status will make it considerably more difficult to attract investment into the country and also reduce deficit growth. The Chinese deal we recently sealed will not be enough to save us from economic decline if junk status becomes a reality.

In his address Mboweni advised that President Jacob Zuma and his team start with the basics: Reinforce the Central Bank's independence; Respect the independence of the judiciary and Chapter Nine institutions; and Honour Budget targets.

But the government is going to have a great deal of difficulty in reviving the economy and encouraging direct foreign investment, if our political turmoil persists.

Zuma seems confused about his presidential duties when he states that his party comes before the country. The billions lost to graft do not inspire confidence in an investor. Particularly worrying is how many of the officials in charge of public institutions believe they can do as they please.

China alone cannot solve our problems. It is time we stopped pontificating and admitted that all is not well in the Republic. Let us act now and protect our future.

2 Inequality killing middle America (Joseph Stiglitz in The Guardian) This week, Angus Deaton will receive the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics “for his analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare.” Soon after the award was announced in October, Deaton published some startling work with Ann Case in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Analysing a vast amount of data about health and deaths among Americans, Case and Deaton showed declining life expectancy and health for middle-aged white Americans, especially those with a high school education or less. Among the causes were suicide, drugs, and alcoholism.

America prides itself on being one of the world’s most prosperous countries, and can boast that in every recent year except one (2009) per capita GDP has increased. And a sign of prosperity is supposed to be good health and longevity. But, while the US spends more money per capita on medical care than almost any other country (and more as a percentage of GDP), it is far from topping the world in life expectancy.

Some white Americans have attempted to shift the blame for dying younger to African Americans themselves, citing their “lifestyles”. But habits themselves are a consequence of economic conditions, not to mention the stresses of racism.

The Case-Deaton results show that such theories will no longer do. America is becoming a more divided society – divided not only between whites and African Americans, but also between the 1% and the rest, and between the highly educated and the less educated, regardless of race. And the gap can now be measured not just in wages, but also in early deaths. White Americans, too, are dying earlier as their incomes decline.

This evidence is hardly a shock to those of us studying inequality in America. The median income of a full-time male employee is lower than it was 40 years ago. Wages of male high school graduates have plummeted by some 19% in the period studied by Case and Deaton.

3 Saudi women contest polls for first time (San Francisco Chronicle) Outside of the Saudi capital, in one of the country's most conservative provinces, Jowhara al-Wably is making history. She's running in this weekend's elections. Saturday's vote for local council seats marks two milestones for Saudi women: Not only can they run in a government election for the first time, it is the first time they are permitted to vote at all.

The municipal councils are the only government body in which Saudi citizens can elect representatives, so the vote is widely seen as a small but significant opening for women to play a more equal role in Saudi society.

Still, women face challenges on the campaign trail: Because of Saudi Arabia's strict policy of segregation of the sexes, they cannot address male voters directly and have to speak from behind a partition — or have male relatives speak for them.

In an effort to create a more level playing field, the General Election Committee banned both male and female candidates from showing their faces in promotional flyers, billboards or in social media. They're also not allowed to appear on television.

While the councils do not have legislative powers, they do oversee a range of community issues, such as budgets for maintaining and improving public facilities like parks, roads and utilities. All major decision-making powers rest solely in the hands of King Salman and the all-male Cabinet of ministers.

Though men and women work alongside each other in places such as banks and hospitals, unmarried men and women are prohibited from socially mixing — in both public and private. Women are barred from driving and are governed by guardianship laws that require them to have the permission of male relatives in order to marry, obtain a passport, travel abroad or access higher education. Many private hospitals require such permission for women to undergo medical procedures.

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