Our editors give us a breakdown of this week’s current affairs
United Kingdom: Harry Street
Rishi Sunak remains in the headlines this week, as he announced major plans for the UK economy during his speech in parliament on Wednesday. This year, the budget emphasised a similar rhetoric we have heard from the UK government for over a year: levelling up the economy. With the Chancellor highlighting that average inflation is likely to reach 4.0% next year, he promised to give the country a pay rise by increasing the national living wage to £9.50 from April 2022 and improvements to public sector pay. Additionally, the national minimum wage will increase for those aged 21-22 to £9.18 and apprentice pay will also increase to £4.81. Additionally, the universal credit taper will be cut to 55% from 1st December, which he claims will help millions of working families to be better off by £1,000 on average. Nevertheless, the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ current research shows that millions may be worse off following the government’s changes in fiscal policy. Further studies by other research groups and think-tanks support this view, highlighting that disposable income for households could fall substantially in the coming years. This will mainly be driven by the expected increases in the cost of living, whilst pay increases may fully represent these price increases.
The last remaining countries on England’s travel “red list” have been removed, in line with the relaxation of pandemic restrictions that are being seen across the globe. This means that those travelling back from these countries will no longer have to self-isolate in a designated hotel, which will significantly lower the cost of travel to the given countries. Despite this, the UK government is hesitant to scrap the traffic light system entirely, in case it is needed again in the future.
Europe: Cameron Fulton
The Portuguese government has been thrown into crisis this week, as its minority Socialist party (PS) government has failed to agree a new budget with the far left. Crucial backing from anti-capitalist Left Bloc (BE) and old-guard Communist Party (PCP) has been withdrawn as concessions were not met by Antonió Costa, Portuguese Prime Minister. The BE and PCP are looking to improve labour reforms, alongside a greater rise in minimum wage than the €40 increase per month being offered, and more than €700m being promised to its national health service. Additional improvements to public sector wages and pension payments have not been given in their fullest by what has already been described as the most left-leaning budget in the country’s history. Costa fears that such increases could clash with EU interests, leading to conflict with the rest of the conflict over labour rights and excessive spending. The bill is proposed to improve on Portugal’s 8.3% GDP slump last year, expecting 5.5% recovery for 2022. A snap election is expected, 2 years before expected, with the PS likely by initial polling to win only by minority once more – causing further uncertainty in attempting to agree a new government.
The French and British conflict came to a head this week, with Boris Johnson noting its ‘souring’ of relations. Clashes over fishing rights and Northern Ireland have worsened in recent weeks; with warnings over retaliation about cross-channel freighting and border checks and required clarity over cross-border checks between EU member Ireland and its Northern counterpart. A British trawler was seized this week with French authorities by not having the correct licences, whilst another two boats have been fined. The ONS this week have already reinforced the implications of Brexit to British productivity, stating a long-term slump of 4% due to continuous disputes and loss of EU membership.
Asia Pacific: Sophie Evans
Lao police have intercepted a truck transporting 55 million methamphetamine tablets and over 1.5 tonnes of crystal meth. This record bust comes following a previous seizure of 16 million amphetamine tables in two separate operations in the same area over a one week period. The truck was discovered after being stopped by police in Bokeo, an area bordering Thailand and Myanmar. This area is a historically drug producing hot-spot, known as the Golden Triangle. There has been a notable increase in drug supply in the Golden Triangle, following the unrest in Myanmar’s Shan state. The strict Covid measures on China’s Yunnan border with Myanmar are also to blame for the increased trafficking of drugs into Laos as well as Thailand. The massive haul of drugs was packed into Lao Brewery beer crates – though the company has stated it had no involvement in the case.
The Pacific island nation confirmed its first case on Friday. Tongans have been rushing to get vaccinated following the announcement. The infection was found in a fully vaccinated individual who arrived back to Tonga on a repatriation flight from New Zealand. The island of over 100,000 people was one of the last countries to not have reported any coronavirus infections. The infected individual arrived along with 215 other people on a repatriation flight from Christchurch, New Zealand. Other passengers included the Tongan Olympic team who had been stranded in Christchurch since the Tokyo Olympics. The individual had tested negative before leaving New Zealand. A third of Tonga’s population are fully vaccinated, but health officials have stated that thousands have been turning up to vaccine centres to receive the jab.
Fans of the hit Korean Netflix show Squid Game can now play an online version of Squid Game where competitors compete for their lives in childhood games. In order to play, a new Squid Game cryptocurrency has been created. On Tuesday a so-called “squid” was worth 1 cent, but by Friday it had skyrocketed to a value of US$4.39. Squid is “play-to-earn” cryptocurrency, where gamers buy tokens to play games where they can then earn more tokens. These then can be exchanged for other cryptocurrencies or fiat money. However, prospective buyers have been warned that many users have been unable to resell their tokens on cryptocurrency exchanges. One trader has stated to the BBC they have $7,500 tied up in the currency which they hope will be released in 48 hours. It is unknown why this is happening, but Cornell economist Eswar Prasad has stated that the cryptocurrency is another in a long list of digital tokens that piggyback on cultural phenomena, catch investors’ fancy rapidly and lead to wildly inflated valuations. Those who get caught up in this frenzy could face the risk of substantial losses.
Africa: Laura da Silva
Israel has been granted official observer status at the African Union this week, despite protests from many African states. Observer status grants a country the ability to participate in the organization’s activities, but these countries don’t have the ability to vote or propose resolutions. The controversial move by the African Union (AU) has caused an outcry among several African countries who say that the AU member states were not consulted regarding the decision, and that the decision stands in direct opposition to the body’s support for the Palestinian cause. The South African government has said that the AU’s inclusion of Israel, “is even more shocking in a year in which the oppressed people of Palestine were hounded by destructive bombardments and continued illegal settlements of the land”. South Africa has long been pro-Palestine as the Israeli occupation of Palestine is often compared to South Africa’s struggle against the Apartheid regime less than 30 years ago. The South African foreign ministry added that “South Africa firmly believes that as long as Israel is not willing to negotiate a peace plan without preconditions it should not have observer status”. The African Union’s decision this week comes just as Israeli municipal authorities resumed the destruction of one of the oldest Muslim graveyards in occupied Jerusalem. The leveling of the Al-Yusufiye Cemetery to create space for a ‘biblical garden’, has been met with protests by Palestinian residents who have relatives buried in the cemetery. Despite this, Israeli diplomats have criticised the backlash against the AU’s decision and pointed out that Palestine has long held observer status at the AU, emphasising that Israel will use their new position to increase collaboration on peace efforts throughout the African continent.
Sudanese soldiers have seized Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in a coup that has deposed Sudan’s transitional government. Monday’s military coup comes just more than two years into a fragile power-sharing arrangement between military and civilians, after longtime President Omar al-Bashir was removed from power by the military in April 2019 after mass civilian protests against his rule. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan imposed a nationwide state of emergency across the country and dissolved Hamdok’s transitional government. This move prompted a protest by tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators who poured into the streets of the capital, Khartoum, and its twin city Omdurman. Despite the demonstrators being met with gunfire by security forces, which killed seven and left dozens wounded, widespread protests have continued throughout Sudan this week. The pro-democracy protesters blocked roads in Sudan’s capital with makeshift barricades and burning tires on Tuesday, and organisers were hoping to stage a “million-strong” march against the military’s power grab on Saturday. Monday’s coup has also been met with much disapproval from many international bodies. The African Union has suspended Sudan from all of its activities and has said that the ban will remain in place until “the effective restoration” of the transitional authority, which was steering the country towards democratic elections in 2023. On Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden announced that his administration has suspended the $700m in emergency assistance to Sudan, and the World Bank followed this move by suspending all aid to Sudan. Moreover, UN chief Antonio Guterres decried “an epidemic of coup d’etats”, as Sudan is the latest in a series of military takeovers in Myanmar, Mali, and Guinea, as well as attempted coups in several other countries.
North America: Amelia Brown
President Biden has been in a tough spot this week, as tax reforms proposed to fund his Build Back Better plan have continuously been shot down by his own party. The Build Back Better plan includes increased government funding into infrastructure, childcare, climate change, and other programs, and would cost $2 trillion. To fund this, Democrats want to increase taxation on the ultra-rich. However, centrist democrats such as Joe Munchin and Kyrsten Sinema have disagreed with various reforms, effectively killing them since there is a 50-50 party split in the Senate. The goal is to increase/introduce tax on multi-millionaires, billionaires and large companies, but how exactly was this week’s debate. The proposals have gotten less and less ambitious as various Senators have spoken out against them and lobbyists have made themselves heard. However, Biden is looking to pass the 5% surtax on over $10 million, with a further 3% on over $25 million in earned and investments income. Plus, hopes that additional funding for the IRS will allow them to better enforce existing tax laws on the wealthiest people and businesses. It is still to be seen if these are passed or not.
Striking continues to have impacts across North America. This week, eyes turned to New Brunswick as the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) branch there saw 22,000 members walk off work Thursday. The shortage of workers is impacting the vaccination effort, as healthcare workers are among those on the picket line. Covid and flu vaccination clinics have been closed due to the healthcare workers’ absence. Premier Blaine Higgs has said that he will decide over the weekend if he will use the Emergency Measures Act to force the strikers back to work, citing the public health and safety impact of the residents if the clinics all do not start back up. The CUPE workers want a 12% pay increase over the next 4 years, which the government has countered with an 8.5% increase over 5 years. No deal had been reached yet as the strike entered day 2 on Saturday.
Business: Aoife Doyle
During the G20 summit in Rome, the leaders of the world’s 20 major economies have agreed to tax multinational large companies at least 15%. The tax deal, originally proposed by the United States is to be officially adopted on Sunday and will be enforced by 2023. The deal is to combat concerns that companies are re-routing their profits through low tax jurisdictions avoiding high taxation in their operating countries. The agreement has come at a critical moment for the global economy and leaders hope that the tax deal will benefit smaller businesses and workers.
Ahead of the UN COP26 climate summit, the teenage Swedish climate activist echoed her support for a series of protest occurring at major financial hubs around the world. Campaigners are calling on banks to stop lending money to companies and financing projects that use fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas. The protest on Friday aimed at the banking industry’s financial support of companies who mine fossil fuels was the first chance for different global movements to meet face-to-face – having only communicated online previously due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Culture: Armaan Gheewala
With COP26 happening on the 1st of November, climate activists are calling for representatives to ensure that more rigorous strategies will be implemented to ensure that climate change is being tackled appropriately. Many countries are not on track to achieve their climate goals set by the Paris Accord in 2016 therefore adding to the skeptics surrounding these conferences. Another issue is that smaller societies such as islands are already having to deal with the impacts of global warming – e.g. citizens of the Carteret Islands in Papua New Guinea have already begun to flee their homes due to rising sea levels. This begs the question as to why many of these islands do not have representatives attending COP26 as they are bearing much of the current burden of climate change when it’s the most developed, largest economies contributing to climate change the most. Some activists are engaging in protests like the one in Rome on the 30th of October with their main message being ‘We are holding this protest for environmental and social issues and against the G20, which continues undaunted on a path that has almost led us to social and ecological failure’ highlighting some of the ineffectiveness of their policies.
Israel is set to hold their annual LGBTQ film festival, TLVFest which advertises itself to ‘work to showcase the stories of LGBTQ people globally and create a brighter future for LGBTQ people both inside Israel and around the world’. However, pro-Palestine activists are accusing the festival of pinkwashing to project a progressive image whilst hiding Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies that are occupying Palestine. They have voiced support to boycott this festival in favour of a competing LGBTQ festival occurring at the same time which will be focuses on promoting Palestinian rights. However the director of TLVFest has ensured that the festival ‘was, and always will be for Palestinian human rights, women’s rights, LGBTQI+ rights and freedom of speech. The festival will never serve as a diversion from the human rights violations being committed by the state of Israel’ – the festival has also received a letter of support from several celebrities in Hollywood supporting it.
Theory: Cassi Ainsworth-Grace
Earlier this month, the Nobel Prize for Economic was jointly awarded to empirical research experts David Card, Joshua Angrist and Guido Imbens. Card received half the prize money, and is renowned for his seminal paper on whether an increase in the US state of New Jersey’s minimum wage in 1992 affected employment in the fast-food industry. Contrary to mainstream arguments, Card concluded after minimum wage was increased, employment in fact increased. The winners of this year used ‘natural experiments’ such as this to explore the effect of certain policies on the economy, and have contributed to the folding in of empirically based work in a discipline once dominated by theory-forward papers by developing new statistical methods.
Image Source: Sky News