Coronavirus Politics Daily: Informal workers in danger, Wisconsin’s omen, Brazil-China spats

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Informal workers in danger, Wisconsin’s omen, Brazil-China spats

The danger to informal workers grows: Coronavirus lockdowns have created a world of uncertainty for businesses and workers around the world. But one group of people that could be hit particularly hard are those working in the so-called "informal economy," where workers lack formal contracts, labor protections, or social safety nets. Nowhere is this challenge more widespread than in Africa, where a whopping 85 percent of the work force toils in the informal sector. These workers, which include street vendors, drivers, and the self-employed, don't have the luxury of working from home, which makes social distancing unviable. As a result, many continue to go to work, risking exposure to the virus, because not turning up is often the difference between putting food on the table and starving. What's more, even where governments are trying to provide support, many people lack bank accounts, complicating efforts to get them aid. In Nigeria, for example, some 60 percent of people do not even have a bank account, according to the World Bank.


COVID stirs fresh Brazil-China tensions: The coronavirus pandemic is stoking tensions between Brazil and its largest trading partner, China. Last month Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's son accused China's "dictatorship" of botching the initial outbreak response, drawing a sharp rebuke from Beijing. More recently, the beef has centered on medical equipment procurement. Last week, Brazil's Health Minister said China, the world's largest supplier, had cancelled several agreed-upon orders. Then Brazil's Education Minister (and close confidant of President Bolsonaro) accused China of using the pandemic to "dominate the world" and profiteer, in a tweet that also mocked Chinese pronunciation in Portuguese. He later deleted the post, but China's embassy in Brasilia promptly decried Brasilia's "racist" and "despicable" representation. For his part, President Bolsonaro has repeatedly dismissed the coronavirus threat, and evidently came close to firing his health minister (a trained doctor) over the issue. Now, as Brazil battles a surging number of COVID-19 cases, there's no hiding that his country of 212 million people needs medical supplies, and fast. Spats with China won't help.

As goes Wisconsin, so goes the nation? The US election will return to the news for about 10 minutes today as Wisconsin holds presidential primaries. Attention will be limited because former Vice President Joe Biden's near-insurmountable lead in national delegates has all but ended the race for the Democratic Party nomination — and because officials will not report any results until April 13. That will allow extra time for voters to file absentee ballots. But today's vote in Wisconsin offers a preview of the coming bitter national fight over the act of voting itself. Turnout today will be impacted by fears of COVID-19. Democrats and Republicans have fought over voting rules, and courts have intervened more than once. Results will be delayed and possibly contested. In all these ways, Wisconsin today may foreshadow the entire United States in November.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

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