1 China manufacturing stays weak (BBC) Official data from the Chinese government showed that manufacturing expanded slightly in March. A final reading of the official purchasing managers’ index (PMI) was 50.3 in March, up from an eight-month low of 50.2 in February. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion. However, a separate survey by HSBC and Markit saw a contraction in Chinese manufacturing activity, with a reading of 48.0 – the lowest since July. The figures underscore a growing concern among investors, analysts and government officials that the Chinese economy is slowing.
Last week, China’s premier Li Keqiang acknowledged that there were “difficulties and risks”, as rising debt and ongoing pollution problems cloud China’s economic outlook. Separately, a long-awaited tax increase took effect in Japan on Tuesday. It is the country’s first tax increase since 1997.The move, which will see sales tax rise from 5% to 8%, is intended to combat the country’s rising debt as its population ages. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said the move is necessary, even though many analysts have warned it could lead to a slowdown in the world’s third-largest economy.
2 Why Europe’s young aren’t rioting any more (Costas Lapavitsas & Alex Politaki in The Guardian) In 2008, young people were at the forefront of protests in Greece, a country with a long tradition of youth participation in social and political movements. Several commentators at the time spoke of a “youth rebellion”. In late 2009 it became clear that Greece had been living through a period of false prosperity and was in effect bankrupt. The country fell into the tender embrace of the troika – the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank.
Then there was nothing. As economic and social disaster unfolded in 2012 and 2013, the youth of Greece became invisible in social and economic life. The young have been largely absent from politics, social movements and even from the spontaneous social networks that have dealt with the worst of the catastrophe. On the fifth anniversary of the events of 2008, barely a few hundred young people demonstrated in Greek urban centres. There was no tension, no passion, no spirit, just tired processions repeating well-known slogans. Where were the 17-year-olds from five years ago?
Similar patterns can be observed in several other European countries, though perhaps not as extreme. Where are the youths of Portugal, France and Britain? The answer seems to be that the European youth has been battered by a “double whammy” of problematic access to education and rising unemployment, forcing young people to rely on family support and curtailing their independence. Uncertain about the future, worried about jobs and housing, the youth of Europe shows no confidence and trust in established political parties. The left, traditionally a home for the radical strivings of young people, has lost its appeal.
The double whammy appears to have sapped the rebellious energy of the young, forcing them to seek greater financial help from parents for housing and daily life. This trend lies at the root of the current paradox of youth in Europe. There is little extreme poverty, and the young are relatively protected and well-trained, but their labour is not valued, their dreams of education are denied and their independence is restricted. Frustration is mounting among both young people and their parents. But if those who make policy refuse to acknowledge the problem, major change could be delayed for a long time. The result would be a massive accumulation of sullen anger across Europe, with unpredictable outcomes. Those who care for social development had better take notice.
3 In three years, 150,000 dead in Syria (Johannesburg Times) More than 150,000 people have been killed and more than a half million wounded in Syria’s three-year conflict, which has also displaced millions of people and devastated the economy. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on April 1 that at least 150,344 people had been killed since March 2011 on both sides of the conflict. The toll from the Britain-based group, which relies on a network of contacts inside Syria, includes 51,212 civilians, among them 7,985 children.
At least half a million more people have been wounded, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Observatory says 17,000 people are missing and “tens of thousands” are held in regime prisons. The United Nations now identifies Syrians as the world’s largest refugee population, with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees saying 2.6 million Syrians have registered as refugees in neighbouring countries in the Middle East. More than 992,000 of them are in Lebanon. Another 6.5 million have been displaced within Syria itself.
According to the United Nations the situation is “critical,” with 40 percent of hospitals destroyed and 20 percent of the others not functioning properly. Syria’s economic output has fallen by around 45 percent, while the local currency has lost 80 percent of its value. Oil minister Suleiman al-Abbas said in mid-February oil production has plunged by 96 percent since the start of the uprising.
4 How India’s Left has fallen off the radar (Jawed Naqvi in Dawn) Where is India’s left today? The last we heard, the communists were seeking a tie-up with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha. The former movie star is expecting to sweep the polls in her state. Not only did Jayalalitha dissolve the short-lived bonding with the left in Tamil Nadu, she heaped humiliation on them by dialling up their bête noire in West Bengal, the state’s Chief Minister Mamata Bannerji.
Someone asked Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal whether he would try to forge an alliance with Jayalalitha. “Were there no corruption charges against her?” he asked, in the process subtly underscoring his own watchword of probity. That’s how the left used to speak of bourgeois politics; not any more though. They have generally had a very good assessment of the pervasive opportunism their regional allies from previous experiments have gone on to embrace.
Perhaps that’s why the Communist Party of India-Marxist, the principal vanguard of the Left Front, is chary of holding forth about a third alternative this time around. Yet they have the closest of ties with the Samajwadi Party, which had replaced the left in the UPA II after supporting a civilian nuclear deal with the US. The Samajwadis stirred the communal pot in Muzaffarnagar.
Two or three things matter to India’s mainstream left without generating enthusiasm among its supporters. They include issues on which it is seen as coming close to the right-wing state. The left is perceived as according primacy to the decimation of the Maoists in Chhattisgarh even ahead of their fight against the BJP’s communal fascism. Maoism is an existential issue for the left and there can be arguments on both sides about how to move forward. The other issue is the left’s perceived alienation from the Muslim masses. Apparently this is being corrected by seeking out Saifuddin Chodhury, a former comrade who has credit with secular Muslims of West Bengal. That still doesn’t explain why the left has fallen off the radar, nor why it let the AAP step into its enormous if faded shoes.