10 February 2019   Leave a comment

A new study published in the journal, Biological Conservation, has indicated that global insect populations are declining at a precipitous rate, signalling a likely serious agricultural crisis in the future. The Guardian summarizes the new study:

“More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.

“The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are ‘essential’ for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.”

The abstract to the study outlines the causes of the decline in insect populations:

“The main drivers of species declines appear to be in order of importance: i) habitat loss and conversion to intensive agriculture and urbanisation; ii) pollution, mainly that by synthetic pesticides and fertilisers; iii) biological factors, including pathogens and introduced species; and iv) climate change. The latter factor is particularly important in tropical regions, but only affects a minority of species in colder climes and mountain settings of temperate zones. A rethinking of current agricultural practices, in particular a serious reduction in pesticide usage and its substitution with more sustainable, ecologically-based practices, is urgently needed to slow or reverse current trends, allow the recovery of declining insect populations and safeguard the vital ecosystem services they provide. 

The conclusions of the study are consistent with earlier studies that have demonstrated the population declines.

The economist, Gabriel Zucman, of the University of California, Berkeley, has done pioneering work measuring wealth inequality in the United States. Wealth is notoriously difficult to measure since there are no official statistics measuring wealth (unlike income which is officially measured by the Internal Revenue Service in the US) and also because much wealth is hidden in offshore banking centers (perhaps as much as 8% of all wealth resides in those centers). Zucman has just published a new study on wealth inequality in the US. Zucman found that

“U.S. wealth concentration has followed a marked U-shaped evolution of the last century. It was high in the 1910s and 1920s, with a particularly fast increase in the second half of the 1920s. The top 0.1% wealth share peaked at close to 25% in 1929. It then fell abruptly in the early 1930s (in the context of the Great Depression) and continued to fall gradually from the late 1930s to the late 1940s (in the context of the New Deal and the war economy). After a period of remarkable stability in the 1950s and 1960s, the top 0.1% wealth share reached its low-water mark in the 1970s, and since the early 1980s it has been gradually rising to close to 20% in recent years. U.S. wealth concentration seems to have returned to levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties.”

The Washington Post published the graph below which illustrates the trend in wealth inequality.

The market does not correct this trend except in one circumstance: if the wealth available to the lower groups drops below a level that can sustain consumption, then market demand will collapse leading to a depression. That is precisely what happened in 1929 and we are at similar levels now.

Posted February 11, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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