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In the aftermath of the GFC, Andrew Forrest almost lost his iron ore company FMG. It was saved by Chinese state-owned enterprises and he has been repaying the favour ever since.

On 12 February his company put out this media statement:

[Kung Flu] is a global challenge however, and we must take these necessary precautions with compassion and humanity.

While the worst news may still be ahead of us, China will recover and has demonstrated its commitment to protect its people and the citizens of the world. This is despite the hard, short-term impact these measures will have on its economy. We must appreciate the country’s sacrifices and stand ready to support China however we can, for the benefit of both our peoples.

We are living in a globally connected world where our health and the health of our economy are closely linked to other nations. Australia’s relationship with China is multi-layered and complex, however as good friends, neighbours and trading partners, it is pretty simple – the Chinese people deserve our support.

On 28 March he accused Australians of being racist:

Billionaire miner Andrew Forrest has waded into the racism debate, slamming some politicians for exploiting ignorance in Australia about Chinese families who just wanted to work hard and have “a fair go”.

“There’s been short term exploitation by politicians of the lack of understanding of China by most Australians, and of the Chinese heart by most Australians,” Mr Forrest said in an interview on the sidelines of the Boao Forum economic summit.

Andrew Forrest says Australia should not demonise China.

Mr Forrest said the “Chinese heart” was no different from that of many Australians.

“They love their family, they love their country. They are happy to work hard and have a fair go.”

Yesterday he stepped up again, first by hijacking a press conference with Greg Hunt, and then arguing against the Australian Government’s push to investigate the origins of Kung Flu, which is likely China:

Days after China’s top diplomat in Australia warned that Chinese consumers could boycott Australian beef and wine, Mr Forrest said Australia should take a more conciliatory approach to China and suggested the government’s proposed inquiry would help Mr Trump’s campaign for re-election.

“I don’t see what the rush is all about. If this is held after the US presidential election, then let’s just say there’s not going to be a political dog in this fight,” Mr Forrest told the ABC. “There’s a bloke in the White House who really wants to stay there and he’s pushing blame as fast as he possibly can from anywhere else but himself.

“I don’t think this should be politically orientated.”

Grow a pair, Fanta pants.

Jeff Sparrow actually believes this bullshit

The Guardian has published some almighty crap over the years.

There is its proud boast (still on its website) to deny a voice to anyone hasn’t drunk the climate change Kool-Aid.

They proudly declared that they’d changed their style guide:

1.) “climate emergency” or “climate crisis” to be used instead of “climate change”

Climate change is no longer considered to accurately reflect the seriousness of the overall situation; use climate emergency or climate crisis instead to describe the broader impact of climate change. However, use climate breakdown or climate change or global heating when describing it specifically in a scientific or geophysical sense eg “Scientists say climate breakdown has led to an increase in the intensity of hurricanes”.

At least they have declared their bias which is more than the ABC has been capable of.

Then there are the lunatic rantings of Brigid Delaney and this superb effort, blaming Donald Trump for being unable to open jars, possibly the greatest column of all time. If oyu haven’t read it, you must (we can wait). Not only does she beclown herself but she gets multiple facts wrong, sometimes in the same sentence (“I didn’t want Trump to win – he’d grabbed women by the pussy and mocked a reporter’s disability”).

But then there are columns like this from Jeff Sparrow which are meant to be taken seriously. Some will, which is a concern.

According to the always accurate Wikipedia:

Jeff Sparrow is an Australian left-wing writer, editor and former socialist activist based in Melbourne, Victoria. He is the co-author of Radical Melbourne: A Secret History and Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within. He is also the author of Communism: A Love Story and Killing: Misadventures in Violence.

It misses one point and this is the first time this phrase has been used at The Breakdown: he is also a colossal fuckwit.

In case it is ever taken down, let it be known that his column wasn’t invented by The Breakdown.

First, the headline. Which is wrong.

Capitalism has not “stopped working”, you dill. It was been stopped. Big difference. It still works. And the (likely although by no means guaranteed) recession will devastate millions of lives in Australia ut according to Sparrow, there are health benefits. Which are presumably greater than the effects of having your job taken away, possibly your business and maybe your house.

Remarkably, Sparrow points this out in the first par:

major economic downturn, like the one we now face, devastates the lives of ordinary people. We lose our jobs, our homes and our futures. [He was doing so well – until the he wrote this] Yet, statistically, the recessions that shatter our dreams also improve health and increase longevity.

It sounds crazy but it’s true.

No, it’s complete bulldust. But do go on:

In the 1920s, economists William F Ogburn and Dorothy S Thomas first noted mortality rates decreased during recessions. In subsequent research, Thomas confirmed their initial findings, writing that “in both England and the USA, a high death rate is associated with periods of prosperity and a low death rate with periods of [economic] depression”.

This counterintuitive trend has been noted by researchers ever since.

It’s known as the Thomas Effect and is indeed counterintuitive.

And as you can see, Sparrow links to a paper debating this issue. It’s a freaking long paper and very complicated but if you read what seems like around 50,000 words you come to this:

Research has abundantly demonstrated that in the long run economic growth is linked to declines in mortality. However, all evidence suggests that this link has been weakened with the passage of time. Thus cross-country data from recent decades ‘show almost no relation between changes in life expectancy and economic growth over 10, 20, or 40-year time periods between 1960 and 2000. Many countries have shown remarkable improvements in health with little or no economic growth’; 73but the controversial Thomas effect is quite different: it is a regularity in the relation between mortality and economic growth in the short run.

The whole 50,000 words are worth reading although it is clear that extra weight is given by the author to studies which support Thomas’s conclusions, even that which notes that there is likely a lag effect from depressions to the deaths actually occur a few years after the event (when the economy is in a growth stage).

Sparrow goes on:

This counterintuitive trend has been noted by researchers ever since.

In 1977, for instance, Joseph Eyer published a paper strikingly titled Prosperity as a Cause of Death.

“The general death rate rises during business booms,” he said flatly, “and falls during depressions.”

So let’s go to the study:

The general death rate rises during business booms and falls during depressions. The causes of death involved in this variation range from infectious diseases through accidents to heart disease, cancer, and cirrhosis of the liver, and include the great majority of all causes of death. Less than 2 percent of the death rate-that for suicide and homicide-varies directly with unemployment.

Cancer is a ‘boom’ disease? Heart disease? Because you can eat more meat? Cirrhosis of the liver? From alcohol, cirrhosis can take 30 years to develop.

Can you start to see some problems with the case Sparrow is presenting?

He goes on:

More recently, Veronica Toffolutti and Marc Suhrcke analysed data from 23 countries and concluded that “an increase in the unemployment rate during the Great Recession [or GFC] has had a beneficial health effect on average across EU countries”.

And this is the abstract … see if you can find the outlier:

There are great concerns and some initial country-specific, descriptive evidence about potential adverse health consequences of the recent Great Recession.

Using data for 23 European Union countries we examine the short-term impact of macroeconomic decline during the Great Recession on a range of health and health behaviour indicators. We also examine whether the effect differed between countries according to the level of social protection provided.

Overall, during the recent recession, an increase of 1 percentage point in the standardized unemployment rate has been associated with a statistically significant decrease in the following mortality rates: all-cause-mortality (3.4%), cardiovascular diseases (3.7%), cirrhosis- and chronic liver disease-related mortality (9.2%), motor vehicle accident-related mortality (11.5%), parasitic infection-related mortality (4.1%), but an increase in the suicide rate (34.1%).

In general, the effects were more marked in countries with lower levels of social protection, compared to those with higher levels. An increase in the unemployment rate during the Great Recession has had a beneficial health effect on average across EU countries, except for suicide mortality. Social protection expenditures appear to help countries “smooth” the health response to a recession, limiting health damage but also forgoing potential health gains that could otherwise result.

So did people stop dying of cirrhosis, which is a long-run disease, or – think about this for those countries with lower social safety nets – people didn’t go to the hospital so they died at home without treatment and, therefore, without a diagnosis?

Which is more likely?

And suicide – which can be directly linked to an economic jolt – went through the roof, rising 34.1 per cent.

But you gotta love the next par:

In an interview for the Brooklyn Rail, economist José Tapia explains that recessions change how we live. With overtime – and working hours as a whole – cut back, people can sleep more and take more exercise. They smoke and drink less; they relax more; they spend less time with dangerous industrial equipment.


Read that last line again:

They smoke and drink less; they relax more; they spend less time with dangerous industrial equipment.

If they drink or smoke less it’s because they can’t afford it – but recent US experience would indicate that they also hit the opioids pretty hard.

He goes on (of course he does):

The reduced numbers of people driving (either to work or for work) lowers the road toll and disperses carcinogenic fumes. Other researchers have argued that recessions might bring people together to support each other – creating strong social networks that foster better health.

Actually the report notes that this might be the case but there is no evidence to support it. The report notes that “Between 1921 and 1926, a period of economic growth, life expectancy declined 8.1 years among nonwhite males and 7.4 years among nonwhite females. During the Great Depression, on the other hand, life expectancy among nonwhites increased by 8 years.”

What a shame this wasn’t explored further.

But then, being a socialist he saves his big finale for a slap against capitalism. Presumably, because people in the Soviet Union had such beautiful lives without fear of recession … and definitely not overeating.

He sells the virtues of Indigenous Australians who didn’t want to work for settlers, but then he has a crack ar industrialist called Thomas Arkwright – he invented machines which mass-produced yarn. Pretty handy for making clothes.

Industrialisation like that has a few benefits – one being that the cost of yarn falls making it cheaper for people to buy.

Sparrow hates this:

Thomas Arkwright bemoaned the difficulty in training staff “to renounce their desultory habits of work and identify themselves with the unvarying regularity of the complex automaton”.

If Arkwright was indifferent to the human desires of his staff, he also didn’t care about those who bought his products – except insofar as they paid him. Where feudalism rests on rights and obligations, a capitalist factory relates to the world through money.

That’s the beauty of capitalism. Capitalists tend not to see colour – except of the money. Religion? Couldn’t care less.

Furthermore, that money – or, at least, most of it – must get ploughed back into the business, since competition means companies that don’t reinvest fall behind their rivals.

With every business driven to expand or die, growth becomes the paramount imperative. It’s only under capitalism that indefinite economic increase becomes both conceivable (since money can always grow) and necessary (since without expansion the system begins to fall apart).

What Sparrow is bemoaning is innovation. The profit motive is the incentive and drives greatness. Which will never be a problem for Sparrow:

Experts say the recession associated with Covid-19 might mean the biggest drop in demand for fossil fuels on record, with lockdown conditions drastically slashing air and passenger transport.

Yet this significant decline in greenhouse gases does not constitute good environmental news, since the crisis will almost certainly derail what was, until recently, a burgeoning momentum for climate action.

Well, yes. People have discovered there are more important things than listening to Swedish muppets.

Governments previously under pressure to respond to global warming will instead devote themselves single-mindedly to restarting their economies – and, once the wheels of industry begin spinning, emission levels will recommence their inexorable climb.

Restarting their economies and improving the lives of their citizens because the reality is that many people find fulfillment in their jobs. But if they don’t they may find it in the free time and the goods that can buy which will expand their leisure opportunities. Such as driving. Or even flying.

The degradation of labour and the degradation of the planet emerge from a similar source: an economic system that strips any control of production from ordinary people and instead operates according to a logic of relentless and destructive accumulation.

Actually, no. Production isn’t stripped from ordinary people. There has never been an easier time in human history for the individual to make their mark and change the world.

Without constant growth, capitalism descends into crisis. Yet the carcinogenic expansion on which our prosperity depends places more and more strain on our world – and, indeed, on us.

  • Jeff Sparrow is a Guardian Australia columnist

A Guardian columnist? You don’t say.

Why is this important?

Because what we are going through at the moment will have long-term consequences.

At The Breakdown, we have made the case that Australia’s response to COVID-19 will be an economic catastrophe for a generation.

But there are also health consequences that at the moment do not appear to be considered by the Australian Government.

For example:

Lifeline received almost 90,000 calls in March – the most in its 57-year-history – prompting the crisis support service to launch its first national emergency appeal.

Lifeline has seen a 25 per cent jump in calls from the same time last year. COVID-19 now accounts for every second call.

And while Sparrow might think unemployment frees us from the tyranny of the spinning wheel, here’s the reality:

The mental health of the unemployed deteriorates the longer they are out of work and this is a barrier to securing future employment, research has found. While different ways to reach this group are being trialled, no solution is firmly in sight.

The connection between unemployment and mental illness was most visible during the global financial crisis when Australia’s economic growth slowed and unemployment and underemployment increased. Suicide rates among the unemployed rose 22% during the crisis compared to their rates prior to the crisis.

And then, as if by magic, Sparrow’s case was completely pooh-poohed, debunked and smashed to kingdom come by Jessica Irvine writing in the Fiarfax papers.

Read the whole thing. but here’s the main takeaway:

According to Deloitte Access Economics economist Chris Richardson, if a person is made redundant during a recession and is not rehired within two years, it is likely they will never work again.

It’s that serious.

FEATURE IMAGE: Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash.