The current global crisis is a manifestation of a fundamental problem in the process of the accumulation of capital. The problem is the lack of surplus value production. This contradiction has been concealed by decades of accumulating debt. Burgeoning financialisation involving bull runs since the 1980s have helped disguise the long-term weakening of the advanced capitalist economies. Economic performance in the United States, Western Europe and Japan has deteriorated since about 1973. The years since the start of the current cycle, which originated in 2001, have been worst of all.
The declining economic dynamism of the advanced capitalist world is rooted in a major sustained fall in profitability, caused primarily by the secular over-accumulation of capital. This problem goes back to the early 1970s. By 2000 in the United States, Japan and Germany, the rate of profit of private industrial capital had yet to make a comeback, rising no higher than that of the 1970s. With reduced profitability, capitalists had smaller surplus value to add to their labour processes. The perpetuation of reduced profitability since the 1970s has led to a steady falloff in accelerated capital accumulation across the advanced capitalist economies. The economic interventionism of the capitalist state have obstructed the realisation of the conditions for the necessary radical devalorisation of capital. Consequently economic downturn has not been precipitous enough to bring about a full recovery involving a restoration of profitability. The outcome is sustained stagnation.
To counter this persistent stagnation states, led by the United States, have been forced to underwrite ever greater volumes of debt through ever more varied and exotic financial forms. Initially, during the 1970s and 1980s, states were obliged to incur ever larger public deficits to sustain growth. But while provisionally keeping the economy relatively stable these deficits also rendered it increasingly stagnant. They thereby promoted the continued stagnation of capital by preventing capital proceeding through its “natural” cycle involving sharp downturns. This interventionism obstructed the return of accelerated capital accumulation. The state is now securing progressively less growth for any given increase in borrowing.
States, in the early 1990s, sought to overcome the problem by a budget balancing policy. Deficit reductions brought about by budget balancing resulted in a significant fall in aggregate demand. Consequently during the first half of the 1990s both Europe and Japan experienced devastating recessions that turned out to be the worst of the post-war period. The U.S. economy, itself, experienced the so-called jobless recovery.
Since the middle 1990s, the United States has been obliged to resort to more powerful and risky forms of stimulus to counter the tendency to stagnation. This is why public deficits were replaced with private deficits and asset inflation. In the great stock market run-up of the 1990s wealth on paper, fictitious capital, massively expanded. This development entailed a record-breaking borrowing increases. Consequently a powerful expansion of financial capital and consumption was sustained.
Government financial policy together with the general neo-liberal agenda of the bourgeoisie led to the historic equity price bubble of the years 1995-2000. Equity prices rose as a response to the law of the tendency of the general rate of profit to fall. New investment, free from significant technical composition of capital increases, exacerbated the prevailing over-accumulation of industrial capital. This was followed by the stock market crash and recession of 2000-2001.This development depressed profitability in the non-financial sector to its lowest level since 1980.
Greenspan countered the new cyclical downturn with another round in the inflation of asset prices. By reducing real short-term interest rates to zero for three years, he facilitated an historically unprecedented explosion of household borrowing. This contributed to and fed on rocketing house prices and household wealth. The world housing bubble between 2000 and 2005 was one of the biggest of all time. It made possible a steady rise in consumer spending and residential investment which together drove the expansion. Bush’s budget deficits together with record household deficits succeeded in obscuring the weakness of the underlying economic recovery by creating the appearance of sustained economic prosperity. The rise in debt-fuelled consumer demand as well as super-cheap credit superficially and provisionally revived the American economy. It also led to a new surge in imports and the increase of the balance of payments deficit to record levels.
Simultaneously, instead of increasing investment, productiveness and employment to increase surplus value, individual capitals sought to exploit the hyper-low cost of borrowing to improve their own and their shareholders’ position by way of financial manipulation — paying off their debts, paying out dividends, and buying their own stocks to drive up their value. This financialisation created a fictitious prosperity The same sort of things had been happening throughout the world economy — in Europe and Japan. In the United States and across the advanced capitalist world since 2000, the contradiction has been as follows: The slowest growth in the “real economy” since the 1970s and the greatest expansion of the fictitious economy in U.S. history.
Just as the stock market bubble of the 1990s eventually burst, the housing bubble eventually deflated. As a consequence, the house-driven expansion during the cyclical upturn moved into reverse. Just as the positive wealth effect of the housing bubble drove the economy forward, the negative effect of the housing crash drove it backward. With the value of their household residences declining and household borrowing collapsing households were forced to consume less. The sub-prime crisis arose as a direct extension of the housing bubble. Because of the ensuing enormity of the banks’ losses credit froze up at the very moment of the slide into recession.
It is clear from the above argument that it does not necessarily follow, as held by much of the Irish Left, that stimulus provided by the capitalist state to the domestic economy is not a prescription for providing a way out of recession. Indeed the argument above teaches the lesson that “artificial stimulus” can constitute a factor that sustains or encourages recession. Most of the Irish Left, including the less passive trade union UNITE, focus its efforts on campaigning for a solution within the framework of capitalism through the medium of the capitalist state which they misidentify as an eternal nanny state. They thereby sustain the illusion that capitalism is potentially a system that can serve the interests of the working class. If this utopianism of the Left were true then there would be no need for communist society.
The Euro crisis is a general a product of the conditions that contributed to the Great Recession. After the crash of 2008 the contradictions of the Euro grew increasingly visible. Consequently the market increasingly discovered its shortcomings. This manifested itself in the growing economic and financial problems of the so called peripheral states within the Euro zone. States such as Greece, Portugal and Ireland. These economies were running growing budget deficits. This meant that they were compelled to increasingly borrow on the financial markets. But because of the worsening economic conditions under which they were forced to do this, together with other factors, the interest rates at which borrowing was possible for them became increasingly usurious. No longer were they really in a position to borrow on the bond market. This meant they were left with merely two options: a bailout from the EU or default. In this way the economic crisis for these states became a growing problem for the EU itself culminating in a collapse of the Euro and its banking system.
One thing needs to be made clear. The Irish economy did not collapse because of irresponsibility regulation, banking and unscrupulous bankers. Pinning the blame on the aforementioned is a form of populism that distracts the attention of the working class from the real problem –the contradictory limits of capitalism. It is because the generation of surplus value within the reproduction process was the central problem facing the Irish economy that the bubble was created involving vast amounts of debt. To compensate for the absence of economic growth based on profitable industrial production bubble conditions were created that inevitable burst.
The banks of the core Euro zone were bloated and sitting on mountains of toxic debt collected from its periphery and elsewhere (the United States included). Consequently the core was vulnerable to collapse too. Because the core members were not prepared to let their banks collapse they imposed draconian conditions on the states that received financial help from them. This forms part of an attempt to protect its banks by rescuing funds from the periphery that was owed to the core of the European banking system. But the real aim of the markets was not merely to force the peripheral states into default. The underlying aim was to collapse of the Euro itself thereby bringing about the reconfiguration of the European capitalist system.
Ultimately the source of the Euro crisis is not, as some argue, its flawed architecture, rampant financialisation nor the Great Recession itself. Nor was the Euro crisis itself due to reckless spending by both the public and private sectors of Greece, Portugal and Ireland.
These latter factors and the Euro crisis are the result of the failure of the valorisation process to produce surplus value on a scale sufficient to provide accelerated accumulation of capital. Because of this failure capitalism has been compelled to conduct itself in a way that has led to massive financialisation involving copious credit culminating in financial crisis, crash and economic recession. Debt is not indefinitely sustainable when there obtains abject failure by the system to produce surplus value (profit) on a sufficiently large scale. As I have indicated before, the failure of capitalism to bring about an adequate restoration of profit during the 1974/75 crisis marked a turning point that resulted in the sustained stagnation of capital. The 74/75 dip was not sufficiently deep to overcome the crisis of capitalism. Consequently even if the ECB was to currently dish out mountains of Euro the problem would only partially sort itself out in the short term. In the long term it would lead to a much more acute problem.
Public nor private debt is not the problem. Public/private debt is a product of the problem of profitability. Because of the lack of profitability debt has ballooned thereby reinforcing the problem. For capitalism to economically recover a very deep depression involving massive reductions in the value of wages and social welfare spending is a necessity. The only other (authentic) option is communist revolution.
ON August 6, 1945, America dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, instantly killing 70,000–80,000 people and injuring another 70,000. The atomic bomb changed the world. President Truman promised a ‘rain of ruin’ would fall on America’s enemies if they didn’t surrender.
The chief architect of the atomic bomb project was a physicist, Robert Oppenheimer. Mr Oppenheimer had mixed feelings about his project. Initially, he was delighted that it worked at all.
Looking back, this relief is understandable. This was a world war in which millions had already died. The US leaders were sure Germany, Japan and Russia were also working on a nuclear bomb, so there was intense pressure to get the job done.
But after the bombings, Mr Oppenheimer expressed regret that the bomb had been used, citing a passage from Hindu holy book the ‘Bhagavad Gita’: “Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.”
Others involved in the making of the atomic bomb saw it as a problem to solve, a part of the war effort.
While they were saddened by the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, the scientists were justified in trying to find the answer to the question put to them by the politicians and generals. Their research was, to some extent at least, independent of what the research was used for.
It’s not atomic physics, but economic theories have the potential to alter the lives of millions of people.
The wrong theory, implemented as policy, can reduce the living standards of millions of people over time, and harm the development of generations of workers and their families. Take Zimbabwe, for example, where a hyperinflation has destroyed the nation’s wealth.
Or go back in time to the Meiji Restoration in Japan in 1868 when Japan modernised, opened up to trade, and eventually militarised itself by 1905.
The openness policy championed by the Meiji dynasty led to a huge increase in living standards for the Japanese people, and, not incidentally, led to the militarisation that would one day help push the Japanese into confrontations with other world powers.
Economic theories are powerful things, to be used and misused. Those who write economic theory and do economic policy need to be aware of the consequences of what they are doing.
Read last year’s budget documents. You’ll find Appendix F on the web. Appendix F is a thoughtful, careful analysis of the distributional consequences of austerity policies on the Irish people, showing exactly who has been hit by these policies, and by how much.
But at least those in power in Ireland are aware of the consequences of their actions.
Not so for other proponents of austerity, where their research is of the ‘fire and forget’ type, divorced from the potential impact of their research.
Economists who help satisfy the consensus view are often feted, whether they are right or wrong, and when they are wrong, they walk away unscathed. There is nothing wrong with being wrong: things change, and no one is perfect.
But when you’re wrong – or worse, when your work is being misused – I believe there’s an imperative to shout stop.
Another example: economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff wrote a celebrated paper showing increasing government deficits harms growth: a country was likely to stagnate once its government debt-to-national output ratio exceeded 90pc.
Their finding implied deficit spending was bad, and because this fed a conservative need to reduce government spending through austerity, Mr Rogoff and Ms Reinhart’s paper was instantly adopted as gospel by the serious people in dark suits for this reason.
The paper was recently torn apart under serious scrutiny, but from 2010 to 2013, Mr Rogoff and Ms Reinhart made no attempt to modify their analysis or to chasten those who tried to use it for different means. Compare the Rogoff and Reinhart debacle with a recent example from Sweden, where one researcher, Jonas Himmelstrand, argued early childhood programmes increased the chances of mental health problems later on.
He cited a series of studies in his work. The author of one of the main studies was very quick to point out there was no substance whatsoever behind Mr Himmelstrand’s statement that a decline of mental health in young people in Sweden was related to daycare.
Eventually, those promulgating the notion of austerity as the only answer are going to be asked the same questions asked of the scientists on the project that birthed the atomic bomb: are you okay with how people have used your research?
Austerity is forcing millions to suffer needlessly. As unemployment rises and political realities force this to become a serious constraint on policy, austerity policies will be ditched. What will we have then?
Dr Stephen Kinsella is a senior lecturer in economics at the University of Limerick
If atheism is the absence of belief in gods, then many Buddhists are, indeed, atheists.
Buddhism is not about either believing or not believing in God or gods. Rather, the historical Buddha taught that believing in gods was not useful for those seeking to realize enlightenment. In other words, God is unnecessary in Buddhism. For this reason, Buddhism is more accurately called nontheistic than atheistic.
The Buddha also plainly said that he was not a god, but “awakened.” Yet throughout Asia it is common to find people praying to the Buddha or to the many clearly mythical figures that populate Buddhist iconography. Pilgrims flock to stupas that are said to hold relics of the Buddha. Some schools of Buddhism are deeply devotional. Even in the nondevotional schools, such as Theravada or Zen, there are rituals that involve bowing and offering food, flowers and incense to a Buddha figure on an altar.
Philosophy or Religion?
Some in the West dismiss these devotional and worshipful aspects of Buddhism as corruptions of the original teachings of the Buddha. For example, Sam Harris, a self-identified atheist who has expressed admiration for Buddhism, has said Buddhism should be taken away from Buddhists. Buddhism would be so much better, Harris wrote, if it could be cleansed of the “naive, petitionary, and superstitious” trappings of religion altogether.
I have addressed the question of whether Buddhism is a philosophy or a religion elsewhere. I argue that it is both philosophy and religion, and the whole “philosophy versus religion” argument amounts to shoving Buddhism into ill-fitting conceptual packaging. But what about the “naïve, petitionary, and superstitious” trappings? Are these corruptions of the Buddha’s teachings? Sometimes, perhaps, they are, but sometimes they aren’t. Understanding the difference requires looking deeply beneath the surface of Buddhist teaching and practice.
Not Believing in Beliefs
It’s not just belief in gods that are irrelevant to Buddhism. Beliefs play a different role in Buddhism than in many other religions.
Buddhism is a path to “waking up,” or being enlightened, to a reality that is not consciously perceived by most of us. In most schools of Buddhism it is understood that enlightenment and nirvana cannot be conceptualized or explained with words. They must be intimately experienced to be understood. Merely “believing in” enlightenment and nirvana is pointless.
In Buddhism, all doctrines are provisional and are judged by their skillfulness. The Sanskrit word for this is upaya, or “skillful means.” Any doctrine or practice that enables realization is a upaya. Whether the doctrine is factual or not is not the point.
The Role of Devotion
No gods, no beliefs, yet Buddhism encourages devotion. How can that be?
The Buddha taught that the biggest barrier to realization is the notion that “I” am a permanent, integral, autonomous entity. It is by seeing through the delusion of ego that realization blooms. Devotion is a upaya for breaking the bonds of ego.
For this reason, the Buddha taught his disciples to cultivate devotional and reverential habits of mind. Thus, devotion is not a “corruption” of Buddhism, but an expression of it.
Of course, devotion requires an object. To what is the Buddhist devoted? This is a question that may be clarified and re-clarified and answered in different ways at different times as one’s understanding of the teachings deepens.
If Buddha was not a god, why bow to Buddha-figures? One might bow just to show gratitude for the Buddha’s life and practice. But the Buddha figure also represents enlightenment itself and the unconditioned nature of all things.
In the Zen monastery where I first learned about Buddhism, the monks liked to point to the Buddha on the altar and say, “That’s you up there. When you bow, you are bowing to yourself.” What did they mean? How do you understand it? Who are you? Where do you find the self? Working with those questions is not a corruption of Buddhism; it is Buddhism.
See also the essay “Devotion in Buddhism” by Nyanaponika Thera.
All Mythological Creatures, Great and Small
The many mythological creatures and beings that populate Mahayana Buddhism art and literature are often called “gods” or “deities.” But, again, just believing in them is not the point.
Most of the time, it’s more accurate in western terms to think of the iconographic devas and bodhisattvas as archetypes rather than as supernatural beings. For example, a Buddhist might evoke the Bodhisattva of compassion in order to become more compassionate.
Do Buddhists believe these creatures exist? Certainly, in practice Buddhism has many of the same “literal versus allegorical” issues one finds in other religions. But the nature of existence is something Buddhism looks at deeply and in a different way from the way people ordinarily understand “existence.”
To Be, or Not To Be?
Usually, when we ask if something exists we are asking if it is “real,” as opposed to being a fantasy. But Buddhism begins with the premise that the way we understand the phenomenal world is delusional. The quest is to realize, or perceive, delusions as delusions.
So what’s “real”? What’s “fantasy”? What “exists”?
Libraries have been filled with the answers to those questions.
Mahayana Buddhism, which is the dominant form of Buddhism in China, Tibet, Japan and Korea, all phenomena are empty of intrinsic existence. One school of Buddhist philosophy, Madhyamika, says that phenomena exist only in relation to other phenomena. Another, called Yogachara, teaches that things exist only as processes of knowing and have no intrinsic reality.
One might say that in Buddhism, the big question is not whether gods exist, but what is the nature of existence? And what is the self?
Some medieval Christian mystics argued that it is incorrect to say that God exists, because existence amounts to taking a particular form within a space of time. God has no particular form and is outside of time. Therefore, God does not exist. However, God is. That’s an argument that many of us atheistic Buddhists can appreciate.
Buddhism: Philosophy or Religion?
What Buddhists Believe
Four Noble Truths
Secular Buddhism – Have Your Say About Secular Buddhism
The Four Dharma Seals — The Four Dharma Seals Define Buddhism
Stephen Batchelor’s Confession
Buddhism and Science – How Buddhism agrees with Science
Mount Meru – Mount Meru and the Buddhist Universe
Religion or Philosophy? – Buddhism
Buddha Versus Buddhism – Buddhism
Buddhism Basics — Start Here to Learn About Buddhism
Investigating Dharma — Working With Buddhism and Buddhist Doctrines
Are Beliefs like Buddhism Religion or Philosophies? Polls on Religion
“Even though the pictures were taken whilst that side of the earth was in darkness, Japan is seen to be glowing bright green. It proves our worst fears are probably true about the extent of radiation emanating from the unfortunate country.”
The Japanese people are very resilient and have lived through incredible hardship over the centuries, and they will surely shrug off this rather radioactive episode as they have done many times before.
“The high levels of radiation that are leaking from Fukushima right now have their advantages. For example if I lose my sushi in a darkened room, I can see it clear as day, even in a closed fridge,” Satsumi Kendo, a physics student from Tokyo told Japanese state radio today.
Japan Doctor: So enraged by response of gov’t — Fukushima children’s rashes, nosebleeds, diarrhea, fatigue blamed on radiation-phobia mothers
Wanting to protect their children from radiation, they pleaded with the prefectural and city governments and local doctors, but none would take their side.
They just said things like, “It’s safe. You don’t have to take any special action. There are lots of radiation-phobia mothers, and we can’t deal with them all.”
[…] I was at a loss for words because of these mothers’ situation, and I could not sleep at night because I was so enraged at the government’s heartless response. […]
Yet the children were exhibiting a range of symptoms including sore throats, nosebleeds, diarrhea, fatigue, headaches and rashes. The most dangerous thing is to write off causes of illness as psychosocial factors with statements like, “Your child’s stress comes from not being able to go outdoors” and that a “mother worrying will make her child sick.” […]
No. These days, many speak of Europe as if it has already faded into irrelevance. In the words of American pundit Fareed Zakaria, “it may well turn out that the most consequential trend of the next decade will be the economic decline of Europe.” According to Singaporean scholar Kishore Mahbubani, Europe “does not get how irrelevant it is becoming to the rest of the world.” Not a day went by on the 2012 U.S. campaign trail, it seemed, without Republican challenger Mitt Romney warning that President Barack Obama was — gasp — turning the United States into a “European social welfare state.”
With its anemic growth, ongoing eurocrisis, and the complexity of its decision-making, Europe is admittedly a fat target right now. And the stunning rise of countries like Brazil and China in recent years has led many to believe that the Old World is destined for the proverbial ash heap. But the declinists would do well to remember a few stubborn facts. Not only does the European Union remain the largest single economy in the world, but it also has the world’s second-highest defense budget after the United States, with more than 66,000 troops deployed around the world and some 57,000 diplomats (India has roughly 600). The EU’s GDP per capita in purchasing-power terms is still nearly four times that of China, three times Brazil’s, and nearly nine times India’s. If this is decline, it sure beats living in a rising power.
Power, of course, depends not just on these resources but on the ability to convert them to produce outcomes. Here too Europe delivers: Indeed, no other power apart from the United States has had such an impact on the world in the last 20 years. Since the end of the Cold War, the EU has peacefully expanded to include 15 new member states and has transformed much of its neighborhood by reducing ethnic conflicts, exporting the rule of law, and developing economies from the Baltic to the Balkans. Compare that with China, whose rise is creating fear and provoking resistance across Asia. At a global level, many of the rules and institutions that keep markets open and regulate world trade, limit carbon emissions, and prosecute human rights abusers were created by the European Union. Who was behind the World Trade Organization and the International Criminal Court? Not the United States or China. It’s Europe that has led the way toward a future run by committees and statesmen, not soldiers and strongmen.
Yes, the EU now faces an existential crisis. Even as it struggles, however, it is still contributing more than other powers to solving both regional conflicts and global problems. When the Arab revolutions erupted in 2011, the supposedly bankrupt EU pledged more money to support democracy in Egypt and Tunisia than the United States did. When Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi was about to carry out a massacre in Benghazi in March 2011, it was France and Britain that led from the front. This year, France acted to prevent a takeover of southern Mali by jihadists and drug smugglers. Europeans may not have done enough to stop the conflict in Syria, but they have done as much as anyone else in this tragic story.
In one sense, it is true that Europe is in inexorable decline. For four centuries, Europe was the dominant force in international relations. It was home to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. It industrialized first and colonized much of the world. As a result, until the 20th century, all the world’s great powers were European. It was inevitable — and desirable — that other players would gradually narrow the gap in wealth and power over time. Since World War II, that catch-up process has accelerated. But Europeans benefit from this: Through their economic interdependence with rising powers, including those in Asia, Europeans have continued to increase their GDP and improve their quality of life. In other words, like the United States — and unlike, for example, Russia on the continent’s eastern frontier — Europe is in relative though not absolute decline.
The EU is an entirely unprecedented phenomenon in world affairs: a project of political, economic, and above all legal integration among 27 countries with a long history of fighting each other. What has emerged is neither an intergovernmental organization nor a superstate, but a new model that pools resources and sovereignty with a continent-sized market and common legislation and budgets to address transnational threats from organized crime to climate change. Most importantly, the EU has revolutionized the way its members think about security, replacing the old traditions of balance-of-power politics and noninterference in internal affairs with a new model under which security for all is guaranteed by working together. This experiment is now at a pivotal moment, and it faces serious, complex challenges — some related to its unique character and some that other major powers, particularly Japan and the United States, also face. But the EU’s problems are not quite the stuff of doomsday scenarios.
“The Eurozone Is an Economic Basket Case.”
Only part of it. Many describe the eurozone, the 17 countries that share the euro as a common currency, as an economic disaster. As a whole, however, it has lower debt and a more competitive economy than many other parts of the world. For example, the International Monetary Fund projects that the eurozone’s combined 2013 government deficit as a share of GDP will be 2.6 percent — roughly a third of that of the United States. Gross government debt as a percentage of GDP is around the same as in the United States and much lower than that in Japan.
Nor is Europe as a whole uncompetitive. In fact, according to the latest edition of the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index, three eurozone countries (Finland, the Netherlands, and Germany) and another two EU member states (Britain and Sweden) are among the world’s 10 most competitive economies. China ranks 29th. The eurozone accounts for 15.6 percent of the world’s exports, well above 8.3 percent for the United States and 4.6 percent for Japan. And unlike the United States, its current trade account is roughly in balance with the rest of the world.
These figures show that, in spite of the tragically counterproductive policies imposed on Europe’s debtor countries and despite whatever happens to the euro, the European economy is fundamentally sound. European companies are among the most successful exporters anywhere. Airbus competes with Boeing; Volkswagen is the world’s third largest automaker and is forecast to extend its lead in sales over Toyota and General Motors in the next five years; and European luxury brands (many from crisis-wracked Italy) are coveted all over the world. Europe has a highly skilled workforce, with universities second only to America’s, well-developed systems of vocational training, empowered women in the workforce, and excellent infrastructure. Europe’s economic model is not unsustainable simply because its GDP growth has slowed of late.
The real difference between the eurozone and the United States or Japan is that it has internal imbalances but is not a country, and that it has a common currency but no common treasury. Financial markets therefore look at the worst data for individual countries — say, Greece or Italy — rather than aggregate figures. Due to uncertainty about whether the eurozone’s creditor countries will stand by its debtors, spreads — that is, the difference in bond yields between countries with different credit ratings — have increased since the crisis began. Creditor countries such as Germany have the resources to bail out the debtors, but by insisting on austerity measures, they are trapping debtor countries like Spain in a debt-deflation spiral. Nobody knows whether the eurozone will be able to overcome these challenges, but the pundits who confidently predicted a “Grexit” or a complete breakup of the single currency have been proved wrong thus far. Above all, the eurocrisis is a political problem rather than an economic one.
“Europeans Are from Venus.”
Hardly. In 2002, American author Robert Kagan famously wrote, “Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus.” More recently, Robert Gates, then U.S. defense secretary, warned in 2010 of the “demilitarization” of Europe. But not only are European militaries among the world’s strongest — these assessments also overlook one of the great achievements of human civilization: A continent that gave us the most destructive conflicts in history has now basically agreed to give up war on its own turf. Besides, within Europe there are huge differences in attitudes toward the uses and abuses of hard power. Hawkish countries such as Poland and Britain are closer to the United States than they are to dovish Germany, and many continue to foresee a world where a strong military is an indispensable component of security. And unlike rising powers such as China that proclaim the principle of noninterference, Europeans are still prepared to use force to intervene abroad. Ask the people of the Malian city of Gao, which had been occupied for nearly a year by hard-line Islamists until French troops ejected them, whether they see Europeans as timid pacifists.
At the same time, Americans have changed much in the decade since Kagan said they are from Mars. As the United States draws down from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and focuses on “nation-building at home,” it looks increasingly Venusian. In fact, attitudes toward military intervention are converging on both sides of the Atlantic. According to the most recent edition of Transatlantic Trends, a regular survey by the German Marshall Fund, only 49 percent of Americans think that the intervention in Libya was the right thing to do, compared with 48 percent of Europeans. Almost as many Americans (68 percent) as Europeans (75 percent) now want to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
Many American critics of Europe point to the continent’s low levels of military spending. But it only looks low next to the United States — by far the world’s biggest spender. In fact, Europeans collectively accounted for about 20 percent of the world’s military spending in 2011, compared with 8 percent for China, 4 percent for Russia, and less than 3 percent for India, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. It is true that, against the background of the crisis, many EU member states are now making dramatic cuts in military spending, including, most worryingly, France. Britain and Germany, however, have so far made only modest cuts, and Poland and Sweden are actually increasing military spending. Moreover, the crisis is accelerating much-needed pooling and sharing of capabilities, such as air policing and satellite navigation. As for those Martians in Washington, the U.S. Congress is cutting military spending by $487 billion over the next 10 years and by $43 billion this year alone — and the supposedly warlike American people seem content with butter’s triumph over guns.
“Europe Has a Democratic Deficit.”
No, but it has a legitimacy problem. Skeptics have claimed for years that Europe has a “democratic deficit” because the European Commission, which runs the EU, is unelected or because the European Parliament, which approves and amends legislation, has insufficient powers. But European Commission members are appointed by directly elected national governments, and European Parliament members are elected directly by voters. In general, EU-level decisions are made jointly by democratically elected national governments and the European Parliament. Compared with other states or even an ideal democracy, the EU has more checks and balances and requires bigger majorities to pass legislation. If Obama thinks it’s tough assembling 60 votes to get a bill through the Senate, he should try putting together a two-thirds majority of Europe’s governments and then getting it ratified by the European Parliament. The European Union is plenty democratic.
The eurozone does, however, have a more fundamental legitimacy problem due to the way it was constructed. Although decisions are made by democratically elected leaders, the EU is a fundamentally technocratic project based on the “Monnet method,” named for French diplomat Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of an integrated Europe. Monnet rejected grand plans and instead sought to “build Europe” step by step through “concrete achievements.” This incremental strategy — first a coal and steel community, then a single market, and finally a single currency — took ever more areas out of the political sphere. But the more successful this project became, the more it restricted the powers of national governments and the more it fueled a populist backlash.
To solve the current crisis, member states and EU institutions are now taking new areas of economic policymaking out of the political sphere. Led by Germany, eurozone countries have signed up to a “fiscal compact” that commits them to austerity indefinitely. There is a real danger that this approach will lead to democracy without real choices: Citizens will be able to change governments but not policies. In protest, voters in Italy and Greece are turning to radical parties such as Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza party in Greece and Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in Italy. These parties, however, could become part of the solution by forcing member states to revisit the strict austerity programs and go further in mutualizing debt across Europe — which they must ultimately do. So yes, European politics have a legitimacy problem; the solution is more likely to come from policy change rather than, say, giving yet more power to the European Parliament. Never mind what the skeptics say — it already has plenty.
“Europe Is About to Fall off a Demographic Cliff.”
So is nearly everybody else. The EU does have a serious demographic problem. Unlike the United States — whose population is projected to increase to 400 million by 2050 — the EU’s population is projected to increase from 504 million now to 525 million in 2035, but thereafter to decline gradually to 517 million in 2060, according to Europe’s official statistical office. The problem is particularly acute in Germany, today the EU’s largest member state, which has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Under current projections, its population could fall from 82 million to 65 million by 2060.
Europe’s population is also aging. This year, the EU’s working-age population will start falling from 308 million and is projected to drop to 265 million in 2060. That’s expected to increase the old-age dependency ratio (the number of over-65s as a proportion of the total working-age population) from 28 percent in 2010 to 58 percent in 2060. Such figures can lead to absurd predictions of civilizational extinction. As one Guardian pundit put it, “With each generation reproducing only half its number, this looks like the start of a continent-wide collapse in numbers. Some predict wipeout by 2100.”
Demographic woes are not, however, something unique to Europe. In fact, nearly all the world’s major powers are aging — and some more dramatically than Europe. China is projected to go from a population with a median age of 35 to 43 by 2030, and Japan will go from 45 to 52. Germany will go from 44 to 49. But Britain will go from 40 to just 42 — a rate of aging comparable to that of the United States, one of the powers with the best demographic prospects.
So sure, demography will be a major headache for Europe. But the continent’s most imperiled countries have much that’s hopeful to learn from elsewhere in Europe. France and Sweden, for example, have reversed their falling birth rates by promoting maternity (and paternity) rights and child-care facilities. In the short term, the politics may be complicated, but immigration offers the possibility of mitigating both the aging and shrinking of Europe’s population — so-called decline aside, there is no shortage of young people who want to come to Europe. In the medium term, member states could also increase the retirement age — another heavy political lift but one that many are now facing. In the long term, smart family-friendly policies such as child payments, tax credits, and state-supported day care could encourage Europeans to have more children. But arguably, Europe is already ahead of the rest of the world in developing solutions to the problem of an aging society. The graying Chinese should take note.
“Europe Is Irrelevant in Asia.”
No. It is often said — most often and loudly by Singapore’s Mahbubani — that though the EU may remain relevant in its neighborhood, it is irrelevant in Asia, the region that will matter most in the 21st century. Last November, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed that the U.S. “pivot” to Asia was “not a pivot away from Europe” and said the United States wants Europe to “engage more in Asia along with us.”
But Europe is already there. It is China’s biggest trading partner, India’s second-biggest, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)’s second-biggest, Japan’s third-biggest, and Indonesia’s fourth-biggest. It has negotiated free trade areas with Singapore and South Korea and has begun separate talks with ASEAN, India, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. These economic relationships are already forming the basis for close political relationships in Asia. Germany even holds a regular government-to-government consultation — in effect a joint cabinet meeting — with China. If the United States can claim to be a Pacific power, Europe is already a Pacific economy and is starting to flex its political muscles there too.
Europe played a key role in imposing sanctions against Burma — and in lifting them after the military junta began to reform. Europe helped resolve conflicts in Aceh, Indonesia, and is mediating in Mindanao in the Philippines. While Europe may not have a 7th Fleet in Japan, some member states already play a role in security in Asia: The British have military facilities in Brunei, Nepal, and Diego Garcia, and the French have a naval base in Tahiti. And those kinds of ties are growing. For example, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is trying to diversify Japan’s security relationships, has said he wants to join the Five Power Defense Arrangements, a security treaty that includes Britain. European Union member states also supply advanced weaponry such as fighter jets and frigates to democratic countries like India and Indonesia. That’s hardly irrelevance.
“Europe Will Fall Apart.”
Too soon to say. The danger of European disintegration is real. The most benign scenario is the emergence of a three-tier Europe consisting of a eurozone core, “pre-ins” such as Poland that are committed to joining the euro, and “opt-outs” such as Britain that have no intention of joining the single currency. In a more malign scenario, some eurozone countries such as Cyprus or Greece will be forced to leave the single currency, and some EU member states such as Britain may leave the EU completely — with huge implications for the EU’s resources and its image in the world. It would be a tragedy if an attempt to save the eurozone led to a breakup of the European Union.
But Europeans are aware of this danger, and there is political will to prevent it. Germany does not want Greece to leave the single currency, not least due to a fear of contagion. A British withdrawal is possible but unlikely and in any case some way off: Prime Minister David Cameron would have to win an overall majority in the next election, and British citizens would have to vote to leave in a referendum. In short, it’s premature to predict an EU breakup.
This is not to say it will never happen. The ending of the long story of Europe remains very much unwritten. It is not a simple choice between greater integration and disintegration. The key will be whether Europe can save the euro without splitting the European Union. Simply by its creation, the EU is already an unprecedented phenomenon in the history of international relations — and a much more perfect union than the declinists will admit. If its member states can pool their resources, they will find their rightful place alongside Washington and Beijing in shaping the world in the 21st century. As columnist Charles Krauthammer famously said in relation to America, “Decline is a choice.” It is for Europe too.
Japan Has Won The Race To Extract Gas From Offshore Methane Ice
This is the first successful production of natural gas from off-shore supplies of methane hydrate, a huge untapped energy resource.
Japanese officials report they’ve produced natural gas from underwater methane hydrate, a frozen mix of water and methane known as “burning ice.” Previous experiments have successfully extracted gas from on-shore deposits, but this is the first time we’ve been able to do it with deep sea reserves.
Methane hydrates are made of gas molecules of methane that are trapped in a lattice of water ice. When the ice melts, because of change in temperature or pressure, the gas is released and can ignite to create that fiery ice effect.
The U.S., South Korea and China have also been working to harness the substance as fuel for years. It’s one of the world’s greatest untapped energy resources, found within the permafrost near the Earth’s poles and under much of the sea floor.
Finding alternative fuel sources is especially vital for Japan, a country has to import huge amounts of energy, especially after the Fukushima disaster curtailed the Japanese nuclear program.
A team of Japanese drillers started extracting gas from methane hydrate deposits about 1,000 feet below the seabed off the central coast of Japan on Tuesday, according to The New York Times. They separated the ice and the methane by lowering the pressure in the reserve.
(If you can read Japanese, you can see the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s statement here.)
Trial extraction will continue for about two weeks to determine how much gas can be produced. The drilling technology will hopefully be commercially available in five years.
If you’re having a hard time keeping track of the multitude of threats issued by North Korea in the last few weeks, you’re not alone: Kim Jong Un‘s young regime is on a seemingly endless tear of warnings and provocations. From threats of a nuclear holocaust to artillery strikes near disputed borders, here are the latest shots across the bow from the Hermit Kingdom, beginning with those that followed international sanctions over Pyongyang‘s third nuclear test in February:
1. We now have “lighter and smaller” nukes, and we’re not afraid to use them against the United States.
2. Are you ready for the silent treatment? We just cut our military hotline with South Korea.
3. We also just tore up all previous non-aggression pacts with South Korea.
4. In response to these UN sanctions, we’re going to “exercise the right to a pre-emptive nuclear attack.”
5. We’re ready for “all-out war.”
6. We just invalidated the 1953 amristice, so anything’s fair game.
7. Seriously, that armistice agreement has been invalidated.
8. Now we’re sharply increasing the number of training flights for our fighter-jets.
9. Not impressed? How about we turn South Korea’s Baengyeong Island into a “sea of fire”?
10. Now we’re conducting live-fire drills near a disputed maritime border.
11. Just FYI, our military personnel are standing by to “annihilate the U.S. imperialist aggressors.”
12. At this very moment, all of our citizens are singing a song about wiping out the “U.S. imperialists.”
13. We’re so serious about going to war that we conducted a practice drone strike.
14. That’s it: We’re conducting air-raid drills.
15. We will order “strong military counter-action” if the U.S. conducts more B-52 bomber sorties.
Dr. Helen Caldicott: Very, very, very high.
It’s not if, but when.
And San Onofre, if they start that up again, I tell you you’re sitting on a time bomb.
Watch the video here
(The scene opens in a Goldman Sachs washroom. Mr. B., a top company executive, has entered and rushes into his private Stall #8. A few moments later washroom attendant Selig Cartwright hears pathetic sobbing coming from the stall. He stands outside its door and asks:)
Are you O.K, Mr. B? Is the video player in there on the blink again? Did I forget to put the latest issue of Maxim on the shelf?)
No, Selig. I’m not O.K. I’m (blubber, blubber) a failure. I’m (blubber, blubber) a failure as an investment banker and as a man.
Those people, Selig? Don’t be silly. They only do that just before elections. Even then, when Jamie Dimon went before a Senate committee, most of whose members are on his campaign contribution pad, they looked ready to press his pants if sitting too long caused wrinkles. And after President Obama said he opposed the carried interest tax break for hedge fund managers, he went to dinner with his biggest hedge fund manager supporter.
If that’s not what’s got you so miserable, sir, is it the state of the world economy? The endless recession in Japan? The Eurozone recession with unemployment at 12 percent, the anti-austerity results of the Italian election? Or our own weak economy and last week’s sequester fiasco? Is that what’s causing your investment banker pain?
Be serious, Selig. (Blubber, blubber) Why would any of that bother someone on Wall Street or in other financial centers? An endless recession in Japan? That country’s main Nikkei index is up 34 percent since November 2012. Europe’s recession, huge unemployment and voter revolt? That region’s own main stock index is up 23 percent since June of last year. Our own weak economy and that sequester business last week? The Dow went up anyway.
None of this bothers a Wall Street banker?
Of course not, Selig. The banking economy is no longer linked to the little person economy where people like you live out your petty little person existences. We thrive as long as Bernanke’s Fed and the central banks of Japan and the EU keep giving us money, and we repay the favor by keeping it all for ourselves rather than letting people like you have some, which would cause inflation. The only inflation it causes is in certain asset categories like stock prices.
And this special inflation benefits Wall Streeters?.
Yes, Selig, But only marginally. Average bonuses on The Street went up only a piddling 37 percent this year, just a tad above $125,000, on top of our regular salaries. Chump change, as even you can well imagine.
I might be able to imagine it better, sir, if the national minimum wage were raised to $9 an hour.
Am I supposed to care about that sort of thing, Selig? Don’t I have enough on my mind? Aren’t I hurting enough? (Slobber, slobber)
Sorry, Mr. B. So why are you so sad now, sir?
Why am I sad, Selig? (Blubber, blubber) Why am I sad? (Whine, slobber). It’s all in that latest Goldman filing with the S.E.C. that just became public. Haven’t you read it?
No. But maybe it’s in today’s mail at home. What did it say, sir? What was in that company filing that has brought you such pain?
If you read that filing the answer would be obvious. You know we make more than half our money on stock trading. And in 2012, Selig, we lost money in 16 trading days. Sixteen trading days! (Slobber)
Out of how many trading days in all, sir?
With nine holidays off, Selig, 251 trading days in all. (Slobber). But there were 16 days, 16 whole days out of those 251, when in spite of our ability to manipulate gains and losses on trades, we still lost money.
A tragic tale, Mr. B. Though perhaps not as tragic for you as for the people on the other sides of those trades — people who lack Goldman’s special abilities to almost always profit on these supposedly equal opportunity transactions. But did you at least make a lot of money on the trading days when you did make money?
A lot of money? I guess some people would say so. We made more than $100 million on 41 of these days last year. (Slobber, sob, whine)
i don’t understand, Mr B. What does this make you sad? Make you feel like a failure? That’s not chump change, even in Wall Street terms.
Because, Selig, because (whine), because (blubber), because (slobber), because we made more than $100 million a day for 54 days in 2011. (Sob), thirteen days more than we made last year. So I’m a failure, Selig. As an investment banker and as a man.
Mr. B. May I speak honestly, sir?
Of course, Selig. Provided what you say makes me feel better and is not critical in any way.
Given my total financial dependence on your goodwill, sir, that’s a given.
Then proceed to be honest with me, Selig.
Your acceptance of money from the central bank generates a kind of economic growth, which though it all ends up with people like you and doesn’t trickle down to little people like me, it makes politicians look like they know what they’re doing and economists look like they know what they’re talking about.
You’re saying, Selig, that Wall Streeters like me are critical to maintaining the present political and economic order, and the illusions on which it is based? That I’m useful. Useful?
Indeed you are, sir. And the service economy that Wall Streeters like you have done so much to bring into being means there are more low paid people like me employed to service the needs of very wealthy folks like you, which makes you…
A job creator! I’m a job creator, Selig.
You are, sir. Which is why my wife includes you in her prayers nightly.
Thank your good woman, for me, Selig. Now be a good fellow and find that new issue of Maxim and pass it under the door of the stall. Our conversation has given me much to think about and I shall need time to cogitate.
Friday marks 71 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor—certainly not an exceptional anniversary—but for those whose futures were altered by Japan’s attack on the U.S. naval base, details from Dec. 7, 1941, stick fresh no matter how many years have passed.
Ted Sherman in his U.S. Navy uniform in 1942. (Photo courtesy of Ted Sherman)
Ted Sherman, then 16, learned of the attack while seeing “Sergeant York,” a film about a World War I hero, at a local Philadelphia movie theater. He remembers the screen going dark, the manager coming on stage to deliver the news, and boys crowding outside the theater to talk about quitting school to enlist in the military. The next day, Sherman watched his 19-year-old brother sign up at an Army recruiting office. Then, a week later, came the sobering images during a senior-class trip to Washington, D.C.: soldiers with machine guns and rifles guarding rooftops and entrances of the Capitol building.
“Most of us had never heard of Pearl Harbor, and as the implications of the attack became clear, we were fired with the growing anger that was just beginning to sweep across the country,” Sherman writes in a first-person account for Yahoo News.
Eager to enlist, but still too young, Sherman had to wait what he calls “an anxious year” before joining the Navy. He writes:
“After boot camp in 1943, I was assigned as a crewman on a troop transport. While carrying Marines to the Pacific battles, we sailed through Pearl Harbor. It was two years after the attack, and much of the damage had been repaired.
“However, as we passed by the site, we could still see the grim image of the destroyed battleship USS Arizona just below the surface. There were bubbles of escaping oil still breaking the surface. It was as if the ghosts of the 1,177 sailors below were urging us to remember Pearl Harbor.”
Sherman’s anecdotes are several that Yahoo News collected this week from Americans who either distinctly recall Dec. 7, 1941, and the years that followed, or felt the attack deeply affect their families. Here are some of their stories.
Pearl Harbor remembered through a grandfather’s diary
Lt. Col. William A. Darden is awarded the Bronze Cross in World War II. (Photo courtesy of Kathryn E. Darden)
America’s fortunes—and much of those of Kathryn E. Darden’s family—are traced in brisk, to-the-point diary entries her grandfather recorded during the war. Some excerpts:
Dec. 7, 1941: “Japs made surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, 2117 men killed, 960 missing, 876 wounded.”
Dec. 8: “U.S. Declared War on Japan”
Dec. 11: “US declares war on Germany and Italy.”
Nov. 18, 1942: “William Allen Darden Jr. now a 1st Lieut. US Engineers.”
The latter entry is about Kathryn’s father, who served in the Army as a lieutenant colonel with the Corps of Engineers. She learned about her father’s military life—which began in 1931 after he joined college ROTC—through her late grandfather’s diary.
“My father wanted to talk about his war days when I was a teen, but with the callowness of youth, I didn’t want to listen then. By the time I was ready to hear his war stories, my father was gone,” she writes. “While it was my father who served in World War II, it’s from my grandfather’s diary that I have learned the most about how Pearl Harbor impacted my family.”
William Allen Darden Sr., Kathyrn’s grandfather, added to the diary daily between 1938 and 1944, also detailing brief observations about the war effort back home. A Nov. 18, 1942, entry is especially brief: “Registered for gasoline rationing. 4 gallons per week.”
“The rationing, coupled with her worrying about her new husband and her two brothers, is what my mother remembered most when I once asked her about Pearl Harbor,” Kathryn writes about her parents. “She married Dad in 1939 and he was off to war just three years later. My grandfather, from whom I learned so much, died in 1955.”
Fears of Japanese bombardment in Utah
SFC John T. Jones, left, and SFC Ted Olean in Korea in 1951. (Photo courtesy of John T. Jones)
John T. Jones, a month shy of his 10th birthday, remembers scanning the skies near his Utah home with his cousin Billy, worried his family would fall victim to Japanese bombers.
“We were at war and war meant that no place was safe,” he recalls, also noting fears about bomb-bearing balloons that the Japanese sent across the Pacific during the war.
In Jones’ hometown, it was the sudden appearance of colored stars in neighbor’s windows that exemplified the war hitting home.
“[The stars] started out blue for a serviceman,” writes Jones, “but we watched them change in the neighborhood: from blue to bronze (missing), silver (wounded) to gold (killed).” His family placed a star in their home’s window for his brother, Aaron, who joined the U.S. Navy.
Too young for WWII, Jones later served in the Army as a forward observer and later a platoon sergeant in the 17th Infantry Regimental Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division, during the Korean War.
Memories of a family of Japanese descent
Farmer Elijah Abe receives the Bronze Star. (Photo courtesy of Susan Abe)
Seventy-one years ago, just outside Roanoke in southwestern Virginia, Susan Abe’s father, Charles Hugh, was 12 and the youngest in his half-Japanese, half-American family. Prior to the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Abe says the rural community looked past her father’s shiny black hair, olive complexion and almond-shaped eyes.
“At least nobody said anything aloud to their faces, not then. Not before Pearl Harbor,” she writes.
But by the evening of the attacks, the community looked on the family with suspicion. Abe asks: “What treasonous acts exactly was a young boy capable of? One who just vaguely remembered his Japanese father and spoke only country-twinged American twang?”
Her Uncle Farmer, just 16 in 1941, ran away from home, lied about his age and enlisted in the Army. Susan’s father followed two years later—only 14 at the time—but the FBI caught him (twice) and sent him back home. He was allowed to transfer to the Army Air Corps, which accepted younger recruits.
“The formal historical record tells us about Japanese internment camps,” Abe says. “Family “Family scuttlebutt indicated that our family’s ‘half-breed’ nature as well as their father’s U.S. Navy service record kept them from such consideration.”
Farmer served almost 15 years in the Army and received the Bronze Star. Abe’s father was a senior master sergeant in the United States Air Force for almost 30 years.
Pearl Harbor reverberates decades ahead
John Levkulich receives the Purple Heart medal. (Photo courtesy of MaryAnn Myers)
For MaryAnn Myers, a self-described war bride, it wasn’t World War II that exemplified Pearl Harbor. It was Vietnam.
Her father, John Levkulich, served four years in World War II overseas and in harsh battles. He was wounded three times, carrying horrific scars and a damaged lung. He was tough as nails, Myers says.
“He didn’t talk much about the war,” she writes. “But it was because of the bombing of Pearl Harbor that he enlisted. He left on a cold Jan. 30, 1942, a young man who’d worked in the coal mines from the age of 12. He came home a lifelong veteran.”
Years later, Myers married at 19, and her husband soon joined the Air Force during Vietnam. During shore leave eight months later, the newlyweds honeymooned in Hawaii and visited the USS Arizona Memorial.
“It was a sobering experience to this naïve 19-year-old new bride,” Meyer says. “The USS Arizona was never raised; the bodies were never recovered. Looking over the railing, you could see the turrets, the ship’s structure. You could sense the horror of that day, death all around.”
Myers notes the statistics: 2,335 American servicemen and 68 civilians were killed that day. 1,178 were wounded. Of the casualties, 1,104 men aboard the Battleship USS Arizona perished. She writes:
“I thought about the dead, I thought about the wounded. I thought about my father lying in a hospital not once but three times in some war-torn country. I thought about how proud he was to have fought for our freedom. I thought about how he loved little puppies and yet had lived through hell “I thought about how my grandmother waited four long years for his return. ‘Johnisko,’ she called him. I thought about war, then and now. And as I watched the water wash over the battleship, people all around us, my soldier husband at my side, I cried.”
The vote tears apart traditional alliances at the United Nations. The United States, Japan, China, Iran, India, North Korea, Syria and Zimbabwe were among 39 countries to oppose the non-binding resolution in the assembly’s rights committee. Thirty-six countries abstained.
Israel voted against its strong US-ally to join European Union nations, Australia, Brazil and South Africa among major countries backing the motion.
Norway, which played a leading role campaigning for the resolution, said on its Twitter account that the increased support was a “great result”.
At the last vote in 2010, 107 countries backed the resolution.
France’s new Socialist government has launched a campaign with other abolitionist states to get the full General Assembly to pass a resolution in December calling for a death penalty moratorium. Though such a resolution would be non-binding, diplomats say it would increase moral pressure.
A world congress against the death penalty is to be held in Madrid in June.
According to the United Nations, about 150 countries have either abolished capital punishment or have instituted a moratorium.
Amnesty International says that China executed “thousands” of prisoners in 2011 though exact figures are hard to determine. It says that other countries put to death at least 680 people with Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia major users of capital punishment.
Amnesty says that progress is slowly being made however. Even in the United States, Illinois last year became the 16th US state to abolish the death penalty.