Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

By Caroline Criado Perez

Vintage Books (2019)

Book Review

Although women make up over 50% of the global population, under patriarchy there’s a perverse tendency for political and social institutions to regard “male” as the default sex and “female” as an aberration. The result, according to author Caroline Criado Perez, is major suffering for women in three main primary areas 1) society’s failure to accommodate major ways women’s bodies are different from men’s, 2) society’s failure to acknowledge the vast amount of unpaid work women perform, and 3) society’s failure to address the ubiquitous threat of male violence against women.

The most serious threat to women’s lives occurs in the medical and military/security area, owing to the failure of doctors and military planners to appreciate distinct features of women’s anatomy and physiology. Perez cites research revealing that doctors (of both sexes) continually misdiagnosis life threatening illness in women as “hysterical” or “in their head.” They still fail to recognize that many common illnesses (for example heart attacks*) present differently in women.

Women’s health (and lives) are also seriously jeopardized by military and police regulations that fail to account for women’s physical differences. Among the most striking examples are the frequent pelvic fractures female recruits suffer. According to Perez, this stems from requirements they match the stride length set by men and carry rucksacks (designed for men), with ill-fitting straps that lack padded hip belts. Their masks and boots (women’s feet are narrower and have higher arches than men’s) don’t fit, either. Nor do their rubber gloves, which frequently get caught in machinery.

There is also a deplorable lack of funding for start-ups and research related to women-specific medical conditions.**

The issue of women’s invisible unpaid labor has (mainly child care and elder care) been a bugbear of the feminist movement for nearly 40 years. However I was previously unaware that the world’s elite economic institutions (eg World Bank, IMF) made the deliberate decision to exclude unpaid work from GDP.

They claimed it was “too difficult to measure.” However Perez asserts unpaid labor is very easy to measure with “time-use” surveys. Thanks to the growing popularity of major all-volunteer projects like Wikipedia and Open Source software, economists are finally acknowledging the importance of unpaid work, as well as employing “time-use” surveys to measure it.

The result, according to Perez, was the discovery that significant GDP growth starting in the late 70s largely resulted from more women getting paid for previously unpaid work (eg child and elder care). Likewise, the decline in GDP growth stemming from post-2008 global austerity cuts reflected women’s women’s withdrawal from the labor market to perform child and elder care. They had no choice when most industrialized countries drastically downsized publicly funded care programs.

In discussing her third major area of concern (the ubiquitous threat of male violence), Perez addresses many of the same issues as Leslie Kern highlights in Feminist City, mainly related to fear and risk of violence women experience when they use public transport or enter certain city spaces on their own.


*With heart attacks, women are more likely to present with stomach pain and nausea (in contrast to the chest pain in men). Additionally, women’s ECGs tend to be inconclusive and their angiograms tend to be negative because their heart attacks are less likely to be caused by occlusion (closed-off coronary arteries). Because doctors are slow to diagnose heart attacks in women, they make up only 25% of patients receiving life-saving percutaneous coronary interventions (eg stents).

**Perez gives the example of a female inventor who couldn’t get startup funding (despite studies showing women-run startups generate twice the revenue of male startups) for a better fitting, quieter, more efficient breast pump and female researchers who couldn’t get funding to research the most effective treatment available for menstrual cramps (Viagra!), pelvic floor training (37% of women have pelvic floor dysfunction after childbirth), or sodium bicarbonate infusion for weak birth contractions (number one cause of maternal death in childbirth).

 

Young Carers: Shameful Symptom of Austerity and Social Decay

Young Carers: Looking After Mum

Real Stories (2017)

Film Review

This documentary profiles three British young carers. According to the Carers Trust, a young carer is someone under 18 who looks after family members who are ill, disabled or misuse drugs or alcohol. When large numbers of children grow up looking after parents, you know something is terribly wrong with the social safety net. Although the problem is comparable, if not worse, in the US, it’s a totally taboo topic in the mainstream media.

The first two young carers are girls, age 12 and 9, who look after their four younger brothers because their parents are legally blind. The two girls are responsible for feeding, diapering, and dressing their two youngest brothers, as well as shopping (the 12-year-old uses her bike for transportation), meal preparation, laundry, and first aid. On school days, the two youngest remain in dirty nappies until their sisters return from school.

Although the 12-year-old has a very stoic demeanor, she’s very definite about not wanting children of her own. The 9-year-old, who is openly tearful and depressed, made a suicide attempt a year ago.

The parents’ total lack of insight into their daughters’ distress is heart breaking. The only opportunity the girls have to play with other kids is Saturday afternoon outings organized by the Carers Trust.

The third young carer is a 14-year-old boy whose mother suffers from depression and fibromyalgia. Because she’s bedridden much of the time, he prepares most of the meals and does the cleaning, laundry, and ironing.

According to the Carers Trust, there are 175,000 child carers in the UK.

 

 

Free Market Capitalism: The Greatest Lie Every Told

The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs Private Sector Myths

By Mariana Mazzucato

Anthem Press (2013)

Book Review

This book totally shatters the lie that the free market makes the US the world’s greatest economic power. Mazzucato leaves the reader with absolutely no doubt the exact opposite is true: the US became an economic powerhouse after World War II as a direct result of massive government intervention – more so than any country in history except for China.

As Mazzucato’s research ably demonstrates, capitalism doesn’t work without massive state investment in research and development because no private investor (ie neither banks nor venture capitalists) will risk investing in new technologies that require 15-20 years to produce returns.

Without massive state intervention, there is no economic growth – anywhere. This is why austerity budgets adopted by most of the industrialized world have been so damaging. According to Mazzucato, austerity itself is directly responsible for current global stagnation (with a decade of near zero growth). Moreover industrialized countries with the lowest level of state-subsidized research and development (Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal) are the ones struggling the most economically.

The book mainly focuses on US programs that have financed technological research and development – via grants to universities and researchers, loans, loan guarantees, and subsidies. Not only does this funding support basic research (which venture capitalists almost never fund), but it also assists private corporations in commercializing these new technologies. She emphasizes that without strong support by alleged free market champion Ronald Reagan for massive state intervention (during the 1980s), there would have been no personal computer and Internet revolution the following decade.

The main federal agencies responsible for funding technological research and development (R&D) are National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)*, National Institutes of Health (funds research for nearly all new pharmaceuticals before handing them over to pharmaceutical companies), Small Business Administration, National Science Foundation (developed Google’s search algorithm), ARPA-E, and Department of Energy (helps private industry bring clean energy technologies to market).

Among other technological innovations made possible by federal R&D funding:

  • nanotechnology
  • biotechnology
  • Tesla electric vehicle
  • Apple computer, ipod, ipad, iphone, and SIRI (Apple bought SIRI from Stanford Research Institute aka SRI)
  • the jet engine
  • aerospace (space) technology
  • semiconductors, hard drives, microprocessors, hard drive, and RAM technology making personal computers possible
  • GPS
  • lithium batteries
  • fracking technology
  • nuclear technology (still massively subsidized by the state in all countries that employ it)

*NASA and DARPA were not only responsible for creating the Internet but for helping private industry to commercialize it.

 

 

Greeks Fight Back Against Austerity and Fascism

Love and Revolution

Directed by Yannis Youlountis (2018)

Film Review

Love and Revolution is about the growing anarchist movement fighting Greece’s deepening austerity cuts (which have cut salaries and pensions in half and ended health care access for a million patients). The film consists mainly of interviews with anarchists over the specific projects they are organizing. The documentary emphatically challenges the recent announcement by the IMF and the European Central Bank that Greek austerity has ended. After years of brutal austerity resulting in thousands of deaths, the Greek government is further than ever from repaying its debt to European bankers.

Among the projects that most impressed me are

  • a social kitchen that regular provides free meals on the street.
  • an anti-eviction movement that has been by occupying and shutting down eviction hearings at the District Court.
  • an ongoing squat that has provided accommodation to more than 6,000 refugees in the last five years.
  • an antifascist campaign that has shut down Golden Dawn* offices in Athens and established Exarcheia, a fascist-free zone that also effectively excludes Greek police.
  • a campaign to block the construction of a new airport in a pristine rural/agricultural area.
  • a YouTube channel dedicated to Greek news from the viewpoint of anti-austerity activists, rather than police and banks.

*See Greek Austerity and the Rise of Fascism

Greek Austerity and the Rise of Fascism

Golden Dawn

Konstantinos Georgousis (2013)

Review

Golden Dawn is a remarkable documentary tracing the rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece. Despite their role in several high profile murders, Golden Dawn has held 18 seats in the Greek parliament since 2012.

Their rapid rise to power relates in large part to dire austerity measures the European Union has imposed on Greece. With 28% unemployment (55% youth unemployment) and drastic pension cuts, many starving Greek citizens join Golden Dawn because of their free food distribution programs.

However as Georgousis makes clear, the strong support Golden Dawn enjoys from police (who openly admit to being members), the media, the Greek Orthodox Church and Greek security services is even more instrumental. In all respects the parallels with Nazi Germany are chilling.

Golden Dawn is notorious for openly beating up and murdering both illegal and legal immigrants – with the police looking on and, in many cases arresting legal immigrants instead of perpetrators.

Only anarchist groups have tried to protect immigrants from these attacks. When they do so, the police step in and arrest, beat and torture them.

In 2012, following the murder of a high profile Greek national, the Greek government finally arrested four Golden Dawn leaders on a charge of criminal gang activity. However instead of stripping them of their parliamentary seats, they then directed Greek jail staff to transport them between jail and Parliament.

What I found most remarkable about the documentary is its excellent footage of actual Golden Dawn meetings and its in-depth interviews with some of its members.

The Rise and Fall of Britain’s Working Class

the-people

The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class 1910-2010

By Selina Todd

John Murray Publishers (2015)

Book Review

The People is about the rise of the British working class during World War I and its systematic erosion during the seventies as the Thatcher government systematically dismantled Britain’s manufacturing base.

British workers first began to see themselves as a cohesive force during 1914-18 as hundreds of thousands left domestic service (where most were employed) for the war industry. Working class consciousness reached its zenith during World War II, in part due to discriminatory treatment by the Churchill government. Working class women were often forced to leave well-paying jobs to be conscripted into the munitions industry. In contrast, middle and upper class women were exempted from conscription because they did “voluntary” work. Middle and upper class families also found it easier to be exempted from the mandatory evacuation scheme. The latter required rural families were required to accept child evacuees from urban centers without compensation.

The Churchill government provided virtually no funding for the mandatory evacuation scheme (which was organized mainly by schools and charitable groups), nor for benefits for families who lost housing, jobs and breadwinners due to German bombing, nor for proper air raid shelters. Government provided shelters were so wet and filthy, Londoners spontaneously seized and occupied the subway system, and there was nothing the government could do to stop them.

According to Todd, the austerity cuts that have turned Britain into a low wage economy actually started in 1976 (three years before Thatcher was elected prime minister) with public spending cuts imposed on the UK as a condition of an IMF loan. For the most part, this “free market” attitude continued under Blair and New Labour.

In her Afterward, Todd sees evidence of a growing popular discontent over inequality in the rise of UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party) and the Scottish independence referendum. The latter, she maintains, was actually more about inequality. More recently, this discontent has manifested in the election of left wing Jeremy Corbyn to run the Labour Party and the successful Brexit referendum.

Austerity: A Wealth Transfer from Poor to Rich

We’re Not Broke: The Corporate Tax Cheats of America

Directed by Karin Hayes and Victoria Bruce (2012)

Film Review

We’re Not Broke exposes so-called “austerity” for what it really is: a massive wealth transfer from poor people to rich people. This wealth transfer occurs in two ways – by shifting the tax burden (through tax evasion) from rich people to poor and middle class people and by cutting the public services (schools, libraries, clinics, public transport and infrastructure such as roads, bridges and water service) that create the real economic wealth in society.

This documentary mainly focuses on tax evasion by American corporations who profit off US government infrastructure (especially the court system) but avoid US income taxes by registering their companies in tax havens, such as Ireland, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands. Among the major US companies that pay no US income tax are Exxon, Chevron, City Group, Pfizer (the drug company that manufactures Viagra), GE, Bank of America and Wells Fargo. Google pays US income tax amounting to 2% of its net profits in US income tax.

I was particularly astonished to learn that US defense contractors (Cisco, Lockheed, Caterpillar, GM and Verizon) – whose primary client is the US government – also participate in these tax avoidance schemes.

The film also focuses on the work of US Uncut, a grassroots organization formed in early 2011. It was modeled after the group UK Uncut. The purpose of both groups was to educate the public about the extent of corporate tax evasion. Sadly the US group seems to have been subsumed by Occupy Wall Street in late 2011. Their website has morphed into a general Internet news site – earlier this year, they endorsed Bernie sanders for president.

In contrast, UK Uncut member groups continue to mobilize grassroots actions protest and civil disobedience around Britain. Their efforts (in conjunction with the Panama Papers scandal) have resulted in new legislation cracking down on British overseas territories (Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and Jersey) that serve as tax havens. See UK Tightens Tax Laws

Refugees and Anarchists – Greece’s Burgeoning Popular Resistance

Resistance in Athens

Medialien (2016)

Film Review

Resistance in Athens is a short documentary about the ongoing dismemberment of Greece by the Syriza government to satisfy harsh bailout conditions imposed by the IMF and European banks. As brutal austerity measures continue to shrink the Greek economy, unemployment (now at 25%) and hunger continue to increase and more than 200,000 young people have left Greece for other European countries.

Meanwhile a continuing influx of Syrian, Afghan and African refugees across the Mediterranean continues to fuel the resistance movement. Owing to government budget shortfalls and refusal by other EU countries to accept non-European migrants, Greek anarchists and socialists have played a major role in welcoming refugees and meeting their needs for shelter, food and other survival needs.

The documentary focuses on Exarcheia, a growing self-governing anarchist community spanning four decades.

For me, the highlight of the film was the personal interviews –  with Exarcheia members about their work with traumatized refugee children and with refugees who have turned against capitalism due to their brutal treatment by European authorities.

Click on the cc icon in the lower right hand corner for English subtitles.

How Capitalism Causes Mental Illness

Capitalism and Mental Health: How the Market Makes Us Sick

Libertarian Socialist Rants (2016)

Film Review

This 22 minute documentary makes an excellent case that capitalism is the primary cause of most mental illness.

The film begins by demonstrating that capitalist bosses have no incentive whatsoever to keep their workers healthy. Ideally they want their workers to be just healthy enough to do their work. From an employer’s perspective, any excess of health is wasteful and dangerous. Workers who are too healthy generally get restive when they’re forced to work for an abusive and exploitative boss.

In general, the most docile workers are those who are moderately depressed and apathetic. If people stop being depressed, they want to either 1) quit their jobs or 2) rebel.

The film also identifies housing difficulties (homelessness and insecure or poorly maintained housing) as a major cause of anxiety disorders and alcohol and drug addiction. Margaret Thatcher’s austerity policies led to a rampant heroin epidemic, as million of Brits lost jobs and/or secure housing.

The film goes on to cite a wealth of studies linking work and accommodation stress to anxiety and addiction disorders.

Fed Chairman Yellen Breaks 50 Year Taboo on “Helicopter Money”

yellen

At a June 15 press conference, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen made the surprise announcement that the Fed “might legitimately consider” using “helicopter money” in an “all-out” effort to rescue the U.S. economy from a severe downturn.

“Helicopter money,” a term coined in 1969 by late economist Milton Friedman, is money government creates by spending it into the economy.

As economist Richard Murphy describes in The Joy of Tax, government has always played a role in creating money whenever private banks generate insufficient money (by issuing loans from money they create out of thin air) to maintain the smooth running of the economy. Following the 2008 recession, the Obama administration pursued a policy called “quantitative easing,” in which the US Treasury created $500 billion (out of thin air). Unlike “helicopter” money, quantitative easing provided these funds directly to private banks, hoping they would use them to generate more loans. This, in turn, was meant to stimulate business investment and job creation.

Although it probably prevented the US economy from collapsing, Obama’s quantitative easing did little to promote business investment and job creation. This was because the banks used most of these funds for purposes other than making new loans – ie buying back their stock (to increase stock prices) and paying obscene CEO bonuses.

In contrast, “helicopter money”, a policy that has been virtually taboo for fifty years, calls for a central bank to print money and spend it into the economy for social services, infrastructure development, or even a citizen’s dividend. The idea is to put the money directly into people’s hands – rather than using banks as an intermediary – as they are more likely to stimulate the economy by spending it.

As Murphy details in The Joy of Tax, libertarian corporatists obsessed with balanced budgets, government debt and austerity are largely responsible for the taboo against public money (aka sovereign money) that the government creates and spends into the economy. Their position is that only private banks should be allowed to create money – in most cases due to immense financial benefits (from interest payments) they derive from this type of money creation.

Ironically former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke also raised the possibility of the US using “helicopter money” as a tool to stimulate a flagging economy in an April blog post.

And in a similar move , 18 Members of the European Parliament have written to European Central Bank (ECB) president Mario Draghi requesting that the ECB should revisit its opposition to using “helicopter money” to boost the EU’s deteriorating economy.