Government, energy & environment

War by any other name

In our article, PR pays better than journalism (this issue), we explored the dominant role of PR in the media today. PR is crucial to the language of war and, if recent examples are anything to go by, even the word ‘war’ is banished. Euphemisms apply to every aspect of war and, thanks to ‘media globalisation’ and ‘weaponry globalisation’, whatever is said and done is heard and seen by the whole ‘international community’ (and your enemies too).

Not only the language has changed. We used to view wars as the conflict between nation states using armies of young men in uniform. Today’s wars don’t look the same and they are variously described as interventions, proxy engagements, counter-insurgencies, military action or peacekeeping missions. It’s harder to argue against peacekeeping than war-making. Interventions are popular today because they are based on the idea that saying nothing is not an option - we cannot morally support bad behaviour when we see it.

One wonderful euphemism is ‘boots on the ground’, where it seems humans are not involved at all – merely their boots. A more ridiculous term is ‘armed humanitarianism’, where presumably you kill them with kindness. The idea is to remove the idea of human bodies completely, with the term ‘degrade capacity’ or the term ‘strike’, which implies a bird of prey or lightning and therefore makes it seem part of nature. Israel’s operation in Gaza translated as ‘resolute cliff’.

This language seems all the more absurd when faced with the beheading by knife of a westerner by ISIS. Aside from their main purpose, they seem to be taunting our weak western rhetoric with the confronting fact of blood and guts.

Since our modern wars are no longer necessarily state against state, it’s the international community against ‘them’. If people do not side with the great ‘us’, then they are morally wrong. Yet you cannot declare war on a non-state actor, so the general moral rules of war don’t apply. You cannot take prisoners of war, as in Iraq, and so you subject them to ‘enhanced interrogation’.

Meanwhile, civilians are cast as ‘peaceful residents’ and ‘innocent citizens’, depending on who was doing the killing. The enemy perpetrates ‘atrocities’, but the good guys inflict ‘necessary collateral damage’. The good guys use the passive voice: tragedies ‘take place’, women and children ‘are killed’.

This kind of language obscures the truth. Yet we are so accustomed to spin and PR in the media, we may come to readily accept these terms without asking what they really mean for human life. As long as the language of war is watered down, we may continue to accept the need for war. That is the real tragedy.

Ref: Financial Times (UK), 10 October 2014, ‘Saying nothing is not an option’ by S Leith.
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Search words: defence, euphemisms, war, peacekeeping, ‘international community’, strike, suicide bombing, rhetoric, state, agency, language.
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The global effects of cheaper oil

Car drivers may have noticed they’ve been paying less for petrol lately, with more to spend on other things. But stop and think what this means for the world, particularly, the countries that produce oil, and those who depend on oil for their industries. The effect of course is mixed. As The Economist curtly states, “America and its friends benefit from falling oil prices; its most strident critics don’t”.

Overall, the world economy wins, because a 10% drop in oil price adds to GDP by 0.2%. This is because resources shift from producers to consumers and consumers are more likely to spend the extra. Demand for oil has also fallen because the world economy has been slowing and Europe and Japan haven’t yet recovered. Supply has increased too, thanks to America’s shale oil production. If the price of oil falls 25%, global GDP will be 0.5% higher.Net importers of oil will benefit from lower prices. For example, China is the world’s second largest net importer and saves $US2.1 billion for every $1 drop in price.

America is the world’s largest consumer, importer and producer of oil – all at once. When oil prices drop, America is less inclined to continue the expensive method of extracting oil from shale. While consumers will have more money in their pockets to spend on something else, imports are becoming less important and oil is losing its share of the economy. Cheaper oil will make a difference to monetary policy, if inflation falls below its 2% target.

The benefits in Europe are muted, because inflation there is dangerously low and because its energy policy is to reduce dependence on Russia and adopt more sustainable types of fuel.

Countries that depend on agriculture will notice the oil price drop the most because they need energy more than those that manufacture. A dollar of farm output uses four or five times more energy – fertilizers, electricity - than a dollar of manufactured goods. The global cost of subsidising energy consumption (for example, Egypt, Jordan, Indonesia, Morocco and Brazil) is $US500 billion a year, which means subsidies could reduce to $US400 billion – this could be an opportunity to reduce subsidies.

The world’s largest exporter, Saudi Arabia, will lose out although it has foreign reserves worth US737 billion to cushion the blow. If oil stays cheap, high-cost operators could leave the market, leaving a bigger share for the Saudis. Venezuela, Iran and Russia are all exporters of oil, although the impact will be smaller for Russia because it has reserves of $US454 billion.

Falling prices may be a taste of things to come. We are looking forward to the day when demand for oil is only a fraction of what it is today.

Ref: The Economist (UK), 25 October 2014, ‘Winners and losers’. Anon.
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Search words: oil prices, GDP, Russia, supply, China, subsidies, America, import, export, inflation, agriculture, India, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iran, barrels.
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Digital residency

Estonia is probably the most wired country in Europe and is the first to offer e-residency to foreigners. Already 10,000 people have applied from 140 countries and there could be up to 10 million e-residents by 2025 – compared to its actual population of 1.3 million. Estonia also provides a working example of digital identity, considered to be a crucial legal, commercial and political concept developing today.

E-residents will be issued with a digital ID card and PINS to access government and business services, such as banking, e-health, e-school, e-tax and e-voting. However, they can’t vote or take up residence in Estonia.

The offer is likely to appeal to tech companies or entrepreneurs, especially start-ups that can benefit from these services without having to set up their own first. This idea goes beyond the idea of the nation-state and begs the question whether a country even needs a physical location. People move around such a lot today and businesses routinely cross borders - it can be hard to define even one’s nationality in practice.

Currently, the services we are entitled to are simply a function of where we were born, not necessarily where (or how) we now live. How many other things are just an accident of location? Is this the beginning of world government where services are available to all, no matter where they are born?

Ref: ABC (Aus), 25 November 2014, ‘Estonia offers e-residency to allow non-citizens access to government services and business online’ by K Drysdale.
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Search words: Estonia, ID, e-residency, citizenship, banking, Paris, location, nation state, digital identities, e-commerce, e-documentation.
Trend tags: Virtualisation

China’s diaosi

If you are a single Chinese man 21-25 or woman 26-30, with very little money and prospects, you could be a diaosi. It’s a slang term for loser and literally means ‘male pubic hair’. While it sounds self-deprecating, in some cases it’s a proud term for someone not caught up with status or earnings. For others, it’s a sign of shame, and linked with playing video games, being poor or mental illness.

In fact, according to a survey by Peking University's Market and Media Research Center, many diaosi are not that poor – their salaries are above average, but not as high as they could be. Three quarters of diaosi lived far from their hometowns and over 70% of them sent part of their wages back home. Earning money to look after their parents is another tradition and not just a feature of diaosi.

They don’t usually own a car or a home and are often perpetually single, the idea being that they can’t get a partner because they have nothing to attract them. Young men are not helped by the fact 70% of women in one survey said money ranked above all else when choosing a husband and the editor of a Chinese wedding planning website claimed a man’s status and salary are a lot more important than love. This also says more about Chinese traditions than it does about the individuals concerned.

According to Analysys International, more than 90% of programmers and journalists and 80% of food and service industry workers identified as diaosi, compared to very few civil servants working for the government or Communist Party.

The People’s Daily is not happy about young people belittling themselves in this way and urges them to reject the label, diaosi. It just depends who you read – TeaLeafNation, a partner of ChinaFile, suggests diaosi may represent the future of mainstream consumption in China.

Ref: International Business Times (US), 4 December 2014, ‘China's 'diaosi': Growing 'loser' population sheds light on Chinese youth’ by M FlorCruz.
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Search words: diaosi, men, IT, social mobility, deprivation, journalists, civil servants, marriage.
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From one-child to many?

China is aging rapidly and its one-child policy, set up in the 1970s, no longer serves its economic or demographic interests. In 2012, there were 3.45 million fewer working-age Chinese, creating possible future labour shortages, wage rises and inflation. As a result, families with one child are allowed to have a second child – as long as one of the parents is an only child. It’s a huge change, but will people choose to have a second child just because they can?

It’s estimated that about 400 million births have been prevented by the policy. By the early 2030s, about 400 million people will be 60 or older, putting further pressure on the people who are working. Some 60% of eligible families say they will consider having another baby and it is estimated that 2 million extra babies will be born each year for the next 5 years, as a result of the change in policy.

A local hospital in Zhoushan, the first area to receive the new policy, says interested women are mostly over 30 and want to assess their health and risks first. They want to know if they can recover quickly enough to go back to work. One common view is families cannot afford a second baby because they have to financially support two sets of parents. But a demographer at Fudan University said the problem was not raising a second child but giving it a five star education and financial support for what is a highly competitive educational and work environment.

Urban Chinese women are more inclined to want careers than children and the number of young women who choose not to get married has increased. These women are the ones who can act to address the plunging birthrate most effectively: the average number of children in cities, where 50% of people live, is 0.7%, not even replacement value. It’s a trend being echoed to some extent all over the western world.

Ref: China Daily (Cn), 25 February 2014, ‘Another one on the way’ by J Catanzaro et al.
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Search words: Chinese, one-child policy, marriage, work, aging, birthrate, labour force, births, urban, Zhoushan, Fudan University.
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