Summary of our discussion:
We noted that the “R” (reproduction) rate for Covid had recently fallen from 1.7 down to 1.1 [how long ago does that month seem now!!]
The UK Agriculture Bill is going through Parliament at the moment (with a debate today). This has resulted from the UK leaving the EU, and therefore the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy, which gives subsidies to farmers on the basis of the amount of land they farm. It is important that support for agriculture and food production is continued- at present 65 percent of farmers earn less than £10,000 a year. The centralised purchasing power of a very few supermarkets controls the majority of the food and grocery sales in the UK. At the same time this system does not ensure the provision of good but reasonably cheap food to the poorest families. Highly mechanised farming is accused of being one pf the main causes of the present-day extinction of species, often called the “Sixth Great Extinction” (following other catastrophes that happened in pre-history). The Bill proposes changing the CAP system of subsidies to one which supports the production of adequate food, but within an environmentally sustainable agriculture.
Our reading was from Acts chapter 20, where Paul warns the elders of the Ephesian Church to watch out that “savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (verse 29). Although Paul was talking about the Church, this led us to reflect on the way an economy that should serve the needs of people can be “torn apart” by those who are able to use their positions of power for their own benefit. Although there is a great deal of talk these days about “corporate social responsibility”, savage wolves “have no ethics”. In the United States (reckoned as the most “advanced” economy in the Western world) there are some 100 million unemployed people (far more than the official statistics of 60 million who apply for unemployment benefit). Many governments world-wide can use this situation of economic inequality, and now combined with the Covid pandemic, to impose increasingly authoritarian government, though some (eg Bolsanaro’s Brazil) combine this with “compensation” welfare payments to those who have no work. Often military power (and supposed threats from “enemy” countries, or from terrorism) can be used to divert people’s attention from such economic failures.
Additional note (not from the discussion): In his book “The Predator State” (written in 2008) James Galbraith (son of the famous John K Galbraith) refers to a book written at the end of the nineteenth century by Thorstein Veblen: “Theory of the Leisure Class”. In that book Veblen argues that the “leisure class” is predatory by nature- but predators rely on their prey for their sustenance. So, contrary to Karl Marx’s predictions, the workers are not driven to the brink of subsistence, but are offered enough rewards to maintain their “loyalty” to the predators. Galbraith argues that we can see this happening today in the US, to a lesser extent in the UK (and perhaps in the EU?), where public institutions (such as health care, education etc) can be re-organised to give financial benefits to powerful and wealthy groups and individuals (eg through health insurance), while still maintaining a minimum of benefits for some of the population.