Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Old-age tension :Is Increasing the retirement age is inevitable and better than the alternatives ?

FRENCH workers have begun another round of strikes in protest against President Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposals to extend the minimum retirement age to 62. The protesters probably haven’t stopped to examine how demographic trends are set to devastate government finances in the developed world.

The bad news was spelt out in “Global Ageing 2010: An Irreversible Truth”, a report released by Standard & Poor’s, a ratings agency, on October 7th. As the baby-boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) retire over the next two decades, the burden on the state will rise sharply.

This demographic problem has been coming for some time. But the boomers have not provided enough for their old age. And the credit crunch has made the sums look even worse.

It is not just pensions. Spending on health care and long-term care (ie, nursing homes) will have to rise too. If policies do not change, six European countries— Belgium, France, Greece, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Ukraine—will be devoting more than 30% of GDP to age-related spending by 2050. The median advanced country will be spending 27% of GDP on age-related items by then; state spending will absorb around 70% of some countries’ GDP.

As a result, at least in part, of this age-related spending, the median advanced economy will be running a deficit of 24.5% of GDP by 2050; 12 countries, including both America and Britain, will have deficits of more than 30%. Debt-to-GDP ratios in the G7 will have ballooned to more than 400%.

Merely to state these numbers is to grasp why policies will have to change. Countries cannot deal with this problem by raising taxes, since any tax increase on that scale will crush economic growth. Nor is it likely that governments could slash other forms of spending by enough to counteract the effects of ageing.

It would seem that countries will have to choose between two forms of default. They can break their promises to their creditors or they can break their promises to future pensioners. Some countries will do the former, either by an outright failure to repay their debts or via the more subtle approach of inflation and currency depreciation. But most will attempt to do the latter, despite the protests and the electoral power of the elderly.

Raising the retirement age is the most obvious reform. It is a fair adjustment given the increased longevity of the population: European life expectancy has increased by almost ten years since 1950. A later retirement age also increases the size of the potential workforce, and thus the number of taxpayers. Some argue that it is unfair on manual labourers, whose life expectancy tends to be shorter, but this bias has always existed.

And manual workers would surely suffer more if governments went off in the other obvious direction—cutting benefits. Britain has quite a stingy basic state pension because of a Thatcher-era decision (reversed by the new coalition) to link payments to prices rather than earnings. Fiddling with inflation-linking is a stealthy way of cutting benefits but would hit the poorest hardest, since they have no alternative source of income.

Is there a deus ex machina, a device that will rescue the rich world from its plight? One option might be to generate a second “baby boom” so that by the time 2050 rolls around, there are more workers to support the pensioners. This is by no means impossible. In France the fertility rate is already around two children per female, not far short of the “replacement rate” which keeps population numbers steady. But it is unlikely. In Europe as a whole the birth rate fell from 2.65 in 1950-55 to 1.42 in 1995-2000. Although the birth rate has edged up since then to 1.5, it would take a huge social change to push it as high as is needed.

Another option is immigration. Opening the borders would increase the labour force, creating more taxpayers and more potential carers (in hospitals and nursing homes) to look after the elderly. Immigrants also tend to have more children, one reason why the British birth rate has rebounded over the past decade.

However, for this solution to work at the European level immigration would have to come from outside the continent, probably from Africa. European far-right parties have already surged in electoral popularity. Imagine what would happen to their support if countries tried to increase the flow of immigrant workers.

Raising the retirement age may not be popular, but it will be more popular than the alternatives. Get used to it: we are heading towards a pension age of 70.

Source: http://www.economist.com/node/17254452

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

NGOs and the legislative process

All stakeholders, including citizens, NGOs, etc. have an important role in the law making process. But for many stakeholders, the process is not obvious or easily explained.

In PRS, we often receive a number of requests from NGOs about how it is that they can get Parliament to make changes in legislation and what would be productive ways in which citizens can make a difference in the law making process. To address this, PRS has developed a short Primer on “Engaging with Policy Makers: Ideas on Contributing to the Law Making Process”, in which we have tried to explain the process of how a Bill becomes an Act and some of the opportunities for citizen groups to become part of the process.

Sometimes, large parts of a Bill that is introduced in Parliament may not be agreeable to some groups. In such cases there is a tendency among NGOs to sometimes decide to redraft the Bill.

To the extent that NGOs think of redrafting a Bill as a tactical negotiating position, they may have a point in trying to redraft legislation. To the extent that NGOs think of such redrafting as a way to keep the discourse alive on the most important issues in any legislation, such efforts are welcome and useful. But if there is a belief that the Bill introduced in Parliiament will be withdrawn to introduce another Bill on the same subject as drafted by NGOs, then history suggests that the probability of that happening is close to zero. This is not a comment on the quality of the Bill that may be drafted by the group of NGOs, but rather a result of a complex set of issues about lawmaking in India.

Despite the odds, there are some recent examples in which NGOs were able to bring about significant changes to Bills in Parliament. The Right to Information Act stands out as one of the best examples in recent times. On the recently passed Right to Education Bill, NGOs were able to exert sufficient pressure to bring about changes in the Bill, and also get the government to bring in an amendment Bill to make further changes. In the Seeds Bill which was introduced in 2004, the Government appears to have agreed to bring about important changes thanks to the efforts of a number of farmer groups approaching the government directly, and through their local MPs and political parties.

It would be useful if we can get more examples/ comments/ suggestions about how some NGOs were able to bring about these changes in Bills. This will help more people understand how their voices can be heard in the corridors of power.

Source: http://prsindia.org/theprsblog/2010/09/23/ngos-and-the-legislative-process/

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"A Petition to the President of India to SAVE Prehistoric Monolith Gilbert hill in Mumbai ,India"

I am a creative director and documentary maker, wildlife photographer and by nature a social activist. I am currently working on a documentary and Article with trustee(s) of Gilbert Hill to save this prehistoric Monolith. I started an online campaign to save our geological wonder. I thank you all for their incredible support. I shall not remind Government and bureaucrats. It is their sweet will. I only know that I am also a part of greedy system. I see the beauty and also the problem, over population, man's need for dwelling, poverty and greed for money. The one thing of many that is wrong in India is that very few people hold a lot of power. Gilbert Hill is certainly the best place in suburban Mumbai. It is the only hill of its kind in India and had been reportedly declared a National Park by the Central Government in 1952. The 200-foot-high vertical columns of the Gilbert hill are similar to the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, USA. It was notified as a heritage Grade II structure in September 2007. Mumbai’s 65-million-year-old Gilbert Hill is threatened by a rash of urban constructions around the pre-historical monolith.

Gilbert hill should be preserved for future generation to enjoy and to appreciate. "Gilbert Hill is an eye sore. Let it be removed and replaced with a man made cesspool or a parking lot” .How do you like this approach? Common men think, there is nothing more, we can do. I am an ordinary Indian citizen. The change required is at smallest of effort done by ''me''.............it will change: every system does and we all have a power to do so; starting with me'. However there are more pressing problems that concern the health of the masses. But it is my Nobel Responsibility to save our natural heritage site. Some western people would shell out millions to visit such monument, but when it’s free for locals & matter of spending some Thousands for Rest of India.......no One's bothered. SHAME!!! I am awfully sorry if I seemed harsh it was in reaction to what I felt that we did ruin to our heritage. It will be great to have your support for campaign to save Gilbert Hill. I would also like to ask you a favour to ask people to sign a petition .Attached herewith are a copy of the article on Gilbert Hill along with picture. Kindly acknowledge.

A petition is hosted on the web ("Kindly ask the Indian president to save Mumbai’s 65 million year old Gilbert Hill”) at http://www.PetitionOnline.com/savehill
Kindly find Links of the media articles attached with this note. The article was published in The Times of India on Gilbert Hill on 13 September, 2010.



We need to get more voices to impress upon her the urgency of this issue. We will run the petition till Oct 10, 2010 and thereafter will submit the hard copy to the President.

Best Regards,
Shail Rane (Creative Director and Activist)

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

In Kenya, Farmers Grow Their Own Way

Thousands of grassroots, African-led efforts are building locally rooted alternatives to the chemical agriculture promoted by the Gates Foundation and Monsanto.

We had just been visiting farmers cultivating land in the lush, steep hills north of the town of Thika in central Kenya. Samuel Nderitu, our guide and host, had one more project he wanted us to see: the Tumaini Women’s Group. They were meeting to found their community's first seed bank.

We were now in an area that has suffered from six years of drought and has a high concentration of people living with HIV/AIDS, both compounding the area’s struggles with hunger.

Samuel left the highway and drove down a flat, dusty road. In the distance we could see a cluster of trees. As we got closer we could hear music, and then more than twenty elderly, colorfully dressed women emerged from the shade, singing and dancing to a song they had composed just for our visit. They led us to a tree where they asked us to sit while they told us their story.

Like most of the farmers in this area, the Tumaini women explained, they had followed the advice of outsiders (mostly large-scale foreign NGOs) who told them that yields would increase if they purchased special seeds rather than saving their own and applied chemicals to their crops. But the women soon learned the long-term consequences of these methods. When the rains stopped, crops didn't produce well and debts mounted. Stripped from years of chemical use, the soil couldn’t retain what little moisture was left, nor was there enough water to dissolve the chemicals. Yields declined and farmers could no longer afford the inputs—chemical fertilizers, genetically engineered seeds, pesticides—that they believed were necessary to cultivate their land. Farmers became poorer and hungrier.

Now, with the help of Samuel and his wife, Peris, the women of the Tumaini group are rejecting the methods they had been taught and learning both new and traditional ways of farming—replacing methods that depend on chemicals or expensive seeds with practices rooted in ecological management and local knowledge. In doing so, they are also rejecting the latest scheme by the Global North to cure Africa of hunger and poverty, the so-called “New Green Revolution in Africa."

Read more: In Kenya, Farmers Grow Their Own Way

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.