Eurozone countries have already provided object lessons in just how severe such effects can be: the incidence of mental illness has shot up, long-vanquished infectious diseases are making a comeback, and people have been driven to extraordinary lengths to obtain even basic medical supplies from failing healthcare systems (New Scientist, 26 May 2012, p 6).
Even in the cautiously optimistic US, researchers from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington DC have warned that budget cuts mean up to 750,000 people living in poverty could lose access to a vital supplemental nutrition programme.
And as we report on “Cost of cuts: Austerity’s toxic genetic legacy”, the immediate consequences of austerity may give way to more enduring and insidious effects on health. It is plausible that protracted economic hardship will lead to increases in heart attacks, strokes and depression. Stress hormones are known to trigger or exacerbate these conditions, and it is hard to argue that those worrying about the security of their jobs, homes, families and finances are not experiencing high levels of stress. The hidden costs of austerity
“We need Orson Welles, is what you’re saying,” Rogoff cut in.
“There was a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode like this in which scientists fake an alien threat in order to achieve world peace,” Krugman said. “Well, this time, we don’t need it, we need it in order to get some fiscal stimulus. Paul Krugman: Fake Alien Invasion Would End Economic Slump (click through for video)
Then came the 2008 recession, and it was no longer possible to keep so many people on payroll. A lot of businesses were then forced to face the music: Bosses had to make tough calls about who could be let go and who was worth saving. (Note that unemployment is low for workers with a college degree, only 5 percent compared with 16 percent for less educated workers with no high school degree. This is consistent with the reality that less-productive individuals, who tend to have less education, have been laid off.)
In essence, we have seen the rise of a large class of “zero marginal product workers,” to coin a term. Their productivity may not be literally zero, but it is lower than the cost of training, employing, and insuring them. That is why labor is hurting but capital is doing fine; dumping these employees is tough for the workers themselves — and arguably bad for society at large — but it simply doesn’t damage profits much. It’s a cold, hard reality, and one that we will have to deal with, one way or another. 10 Percent Unemployment Forever?
Government reforms, greater political stability, improved macroeconomics, and a healthier business environment are now taking hold in a region long dismissed as hopeless. Inflation fell to an average of 8 percent in the 2000s after a decade during which it hovered at 22 percent. African countries have lowered trade barriers, cut taxes, privatized companies, and liberalized many sectors, including banking. Africa now boasts more than 100 domestic companies with revenue greater than $1 billion. And capital flows to the continent increased from just $15 billion in 2000 to $87 billion in 2007. With good reason: Africa offers the highest rate of return on investment of any region in the world. The African Miracle: How the world’s charity case became its best investment opportunity