Why Marxism is on the rise again; UK soldiers face redundancy; India out of power; Slow economy and China’s ghost fleet; What downturn, wonder India super rich

1 Why Marxism is on the rise again (Stuart Jeffries in The Guardian) There’s a reason why Marxism has something to teach us as we struggle through economic depression, other than its analysis of class struggle. It is in its analysis of economic crisis. In his formidable new tome Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism, Slavoj Žižek tries to apply Marxist thought on economic crises to what we’re enduring right now. Žižek considers the fundamental class antagonism to be between “use value” and “exchange value”.

What’s the difference between the two? Each commodity has a use value, he explains, measured by its usefulness in satisfying needs and wants. The exchange value of a commodity, by contrast, is traditionally measured by the amount of labour that goes into making it. Under current capitalism, he argues, exchange value becomes autonomous. “It is transformed into a spectre of self-propelling capital which uses the productive capacities and needs of actual people only as its temporary disposable embodiment.

Marx derived his notion of economic crisis from this very gap: a crisis occurs when reality catches up with the illusory self-generating mirage of money begetting more money – this speculative madness cannot go on indefinitely, it has to explode in even more serious crises. The ultimate root of the crisis for Marx is the gap between use and exchange value: the logic of exchange-value follows its own path, its own made dance, irrespective of the real needs of real people.”

2 Three Gorges dam ready (The Guardian) The final turbine of China’s massive Three Gorges dam has been connected to the power grid, marking the completion of a controversial hydropower project that cost the country more than £38bn and displaced at least 1.3 million people. The installation of the project’s 32nd 700-megawatt unit brought total capacity up to 22.5 gigawatts (GW), accounting for 11% of the country’s total hydroelectric capacity. Britain’s largest power station, Drax, produces 4GW.

“The complete operation of all the generators makes the Three Gorges dam the world’s largest hydropower project, and the largest base for clean energy,” Zhang Cheng, general manager of the project’s operator, China Yangtze Power, told a ceremony. The construction of the world’s biggest hydropower plant began in 1994 and its first generating unit was connected to the grid in July 2003.

The official state news agency Xinhua said the dam had already generated a total of 564.8bn kilowatt-hours, saving nearly 200m tonnes of coal a year. But the project, located on the middle reaches of the Yangtze river, cost £26bn, four times the original estimate.

3 UK soldiers face redundancy (The Guardian) Thousands of soldiers could face compulsory redundancy over the next two years as the army pushes through radical reforms. With the army needing to axe 20,000 posts because of budget cuts, commanders are pushing to downsize as quickly as possible rather than prolong the process. This means the next two tranches of redundancy will be huge – and are likely to coincide with the draw-down from Afghanistan, leaving the army to start afresh in 2015.

4 India out of power (Mint) There is nothing unusual for many cities and a very large number of villages in India to be subjected to 8-12-hour power cuts these days. The situation is so dire that state governments are willing to purchase electricity at ruinous rates rather than risk a law and order situation. Haryana, for example, has been buying power at Rs 17 per unit. The situation won’t change unless there is a dramatic improvement in the supply of power or a drastic reduction in demand. India has opted for the latter option.

5 A sweat job amidst belt-tightening (The New York Times) Once stereotyped as the domain of bodybuilders and gym devotees, personal training is drawing the educated and uneducated; the young and old; men and women; the newly graduated, the recently laid-off and the long retired. From 2001 to 2011, the number of personal trainers grew by 44%, to 231,500, while the overall number of workers fell by 1%, according to the Labor Department. It is no wonder that so many Americans are trying to transform a passion for fitness into a new career.

Personal training requires many of the skills and qualities of the new typical middle-class American job: it is a personal service that cannot be automated or sent offshore, that caters to a wealthier client base and that is increasingly subsidized (in this case, by employers and insurance companies).

6 India street children bank on future (Dawn) Ram Singh, 17, earns just one dollar from the 100 cups of tea he makes every day outside Delhi railway station, but each evening, after packing up, he goes to the bank and deposits nearly half of it. Singh holds an account at a special bank, run for—and mostly by—Indian street children, that keeps what little money they have safe and seeks to instil the idea that savings, however meagre, are important. Just one among millions of street children who rely on menial jobs for survival, Singh is determined to make his work pay some sort of future dividend.

The Children’s Development Khazana (treasure chest) opened its first office in New Delhi 2001 and has since spread across the country and overseas with 300 affiliated branches in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Kyrgyzstan. Delhi counts 12 branches with around 1,000 child clients aged between nine and 17.“Children who make money by begging or selling drugs are not allowed to open an account. This bank is only for children who believe in hard work,” said Karan, a 14-year-old “manager”.

7 Slow economy and China’s ghost fleet (Straits Times) China’s huge fleet of coastal ships, usually confined to plying the Chinese seaboard, has sailed out of the shadows to seek international business in yet another sign that China’s economy is slowing. The fleet, previously unnoticed by the global market, is suffering from a slowdown in China’s coastal trade amid weaker domestic demand from utilities and steel mills and a growing glut in Chinese coal and iron ore stockpiles. The vessels are now being forced to seek new business such as in the Indonesian coal trade, dealing a further blow to the depressed global dry bulk shipping market.

8 What downturn, wonder India super rich (The Wall Street Journal) The ranks of India’s super-rich – defined by having a minimum average net worth of 250 million rupees ($5.6 million) over the past 10 years – are estimated to have grown by 30% to around 81,000 in 2011-12, according to a new study. In fact, many of them interviewed for the study gave the response that we used in the headline when asked how they were faring.

Not only are these fine folks barely feeling the effects of India’s economic slowdown, they want you to know that they are untouched, too. “One distinct facet” of such a person, the report says, “is his lifestyle and he goes to great lengths to maintain it. “Our respondents did not seem to feel that the circumstances warranted any cutbacks in spending. In fact, many of them even justified the increase in expenditure, in absolute terms, by pointing out that the number of non-discretionary items too was on the rise, to support that lifestyle.” They also want to make sure that they stay well separated, in branding terms, from the likes of you and me.

9 Malayala Manorama on hi-tech copying at the Mulakunnathukavu Medical College near Thrissur. The technique involves keeping a micro mini blue tooth speaker in the ear, and a tiny mike hidden in clothes or inside a finger ring. The mobile phone is kept outside the classroom. Once the question paper is distributed, questions can be murmured into the mike, and answers will flow in through the earpiece, from friends who refer books and pass them on. To signal for answer to the next question, a button inside the shoe can be used. The entire set costs only Rs 2,500, and senior students pass this on to juniors at seconds-sale prices. Authorities have got wind of it, and a mobile jammer has been put in place.

Columnist of the day:

MJ Akbar writing in Khaleej Times — Prime minister Manmohan Singh merely has to let time and a calendar he cannot change shape the agenda. Never forget that Dr Singh took a graduate course in politics from the Narasimha Rao University of Survival by Procrastination.


About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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