Is The US Dollar On The Verge Of Being Dethroned As The World’s Currency?

Gerald Epstein is Professor of Economics and a founding Co-Director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Gerald Epstein looks at how the loss of the dollar’s reserve currency status could impact the U.S. and world economy.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, and especially after Washington imposed sweeping sanctions on Moscow, a number of countries across the world — including Brazil, China, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia and South Africa — have been pushing back against the hegemony of the U.S. dollar in the global economy. As this de-dollarization movement picks up steam we are forced to ask: Is the U.S. dollar’s dominance under threat? Would ending the U.S. dollar hegemony benefit the world?

Progressive economist Gerald Epstein sheds light on the de-dollarization debate in this exclusive interview for Truthout. He explains the role the dollar plays as an international currency in maintaining U.S. global hegemony, discusses how imperialism helps to boost the currency role of the dollar, and analyzes whether de-dollarization is really happening and how the loss of the dollar’s reserve currency status could affect both the U.S. and the world economy. Epstein is professor and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and author of a forthcoming book from the University of California Press titled, Busting the Bankers’ Club: Finance for the Rest of Us.

C.J. Polychroniou: The U.S. dollar has been the world’s principal reserve currency since the end of World War II thanks to an agreement reached by the U.S. and its allies at Bretton Woods in 1944 to create an international currency exchange regime in which the dollar was pegged to gold. The U.S. unilaterally severed the links between the dollar and gold in 1971, effectively ending the Bretton Woods system, but the dollar still remains the international reserve currency, though non-dollar reserve currencies have increased substantially over the past 10 to 15 years. What is the actual role of the dollar as the primary reserve currency for the global economy?

Gerald Epstein: The U.S. dollar is the dominant “international money” used in much of the world. It has held sway since at least the end of the Second World War and probably a bit before. First, I should explain the roles that “international money” plays.

Like “domestic money” — the good ‘ole U.S. dollar used in the U.S., for example — international money serves in several different roles. It serves as a “medium of exchange” in everyday transactions; that is, you use it when you buy a piece of pizza or a new car. A second role is as a “store of value” to keep some of your savings in. For example, if you have a piggy bank, you most likely have dollar bills or coins in it. Third, it is used as a “unit of account”; that is, the units in which prices are announced. For example, we are using the dollar as a unit of account when we say: “this banana costs 1 dollar and 75 cents,” or “this house costs 1 million and 750 thousand dollars,” or “I owe 25 thousand dollars in student loans that I still must pay because of the Supreme Court.” International money is also used as a “means of payment”; that is, it is used to service and repay debts.

nternational money also has some important additional roles that domestic money does not serve. The most important are: as an “intervention currency,” which is when it is used by central banks to buy and sell international currencies in order to affect their international exchange rate (for example, when the Mexican central bank buys Mexican pesos with U.S. dollars in order to prop up the value of the peso relative to the dollar); and as an “anchor currency,” which is when a country wants to tie the value of its currency to the value of another currency (for example, when Namibia wants to keep its currency value equal to the South African rand). Relatedly, most central banks hold “reserves” (foreign exchange reserves) consisting of foreign currencies, and in some cases gold, in order to intervene in the currency markets and to have foreign currencies to pay for imports and service foreign loans, when needed.

The U.S. dollar plays a dominant role in many of these uses as international money in many parts of the world. The degree to which it plays these roles vary by role, by geographical area and over time. But, overall, there is no other currency that plays as many roles in as many places as the U.S. dollar. Because of this dominance, the U.S. dollar is often referred to as the international “key currency.”

But the U.S. dollar is not the only currency that plays these roles. The most important among the latter include the euro, the British pound, the Japanese yen, the Swiss franc, and in some parts of the world, the Chinese renminbi.

Note how few currencies play these roles. Most countries’ currencies play almost no role as an international currency. For example, most countries cannot even borrow on international capital markets in their own currencies. When Ecuador borrows from foreign banks, the loans are denominated in dollars or euros, for example. When Ecuador has to repay its loan, it has to have enough dollars to do so. When the United States borrows from Saudi Arabia, it just has to pay back in dollars, a currency that the U.S. prints. Easy, peasy.

So, while much is made of the difference between the “key currency” (the U.S. dollar) and everyone else, perhaps a more important demarcation of inequality and hierarchy in the world is between so-called hard currencies (currencies that also serve as international money) and soft currencies (currencies that do not serve as international money). Soft currency countries are at a grave disadvantage because they must acquire hard currencies in order to survive in the global economy.

Now I can give some quantitative historical perspective on this.

In 1950, the U.S. produced 62 percent of world manufacturing output. In 1975, almost 80 percent of official foreign exchange reserves in the world were held in dollars, and the U.S. accounted for 43 percent of the world manufacturing output. By 2022, the U.S. accounted for less than 20 percent of world manufacturing output — about 22 percent of world GDP. But 60 percent of the world’s official international reserves were still being held in the U.S. dollar.

To what extent is the preeminent role of the U.S. dollar in the global economy linked to the size and strength of the U.S. economy?

As the numbers I presented just above suggest, at the time the U.S. overtook the British pound sterling around the time of the First World War, the size and economic strength of the U.S. was very important in determining the international role of the dollar. But by the turn of the 21st century, the relative size and strength of the U.S. economy had greatly fallen (indeed, the Chinese economy now is or soon will be the largest economy in the world), yet the overall role of the U.S. dollar in international money has remained dominant.

Is there a connection between the resiliency of the dollar’s role as global currency and the dynamics of financialization and/or the mechanisms of U.S. imperialist hegemony?

Yes, to both questions. While the U.S. has become much smaller in the world in terms of manufacturing output and even in the production of nonfinancial services, it has remained a huge global power financially. The U.S. dollar is used in 60 percent of the world’s bank loans and deposits; it accounts for almost 70 percent of the global debt issued in foreign currencies (e.g., Brazilian international borrowing in foreign currency); and the U.S. dollar is involved in almost 90 percent of all global foreign exchange transactions, most of which are for various kinds of financial trading and speculation.

In short, the U.S. has become one of the most “financialized” countries on the planet and this financial dominance props up the international role of the dollar. Importantly, causation runs the other way, too: having the dollar as the key international currency also enhances the role, profits and power of U.S. finance in the world.

Likewise, imperialism helps to prop up the key currency role of the U.S. dollar and this key currency role facilitates U.S. global political and military power — that is, the use of international power to extract resources from other countries for the benefit primarily of U.S. capitalists and the 1 percent.

There is a good deal of evidence, starting with the work of my former graduate student, Roohi Prem, which identifies the importance of military and diplomatic power as an underpinning of first the pound sterling and then the U.S. dollar’s key currency role. Countries that are dependent on the U.S. for military support and arms sales and that are part of U.S. diplomatic and military alliances are more likely to hold U.S. dollars as currency reserves. This was very obvious with West Germany during the 1960s, which was totally dependent on U.S. defense, but it shows up in the data today in more subtle ways. Again, causation runs in multiple directions. Countries use their dollar holdings as a signal that they are part of the U.S. “camp” and the United States sees the holding of dollars as a sign of support.

What does the U.S. get out of all this?

There is a debate among economists and political scientists about this. Some economists, such as Robert McCauley, formerly of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) and Paul Krugman of City College, say the answer is: not much. But if this were true, how can one explain the lengths to which the U.S. government goes to protect and further the role of the dollar. For example, the U.S. Federal Reserve and Treasury engage in massive financial rescue operations at crisis times such as the 2008 financial crisis and the 2020 COVID crisis, to offer dollar lifelines to foreign central banks so they can stabilize the dollar use of these countries’ banks and other financial institutions. They use diplomatic capital to make sure that the key global transactions signaling network (SWIFT) is dollar-friendly, etc. Some have argued that the U.S. has gone to great lengths to ensure that oil prices continue to be denominated in dollars.

The fact of the matter is that having the dollar as the world’s key currency gives the U.S. government significant power to call the shots financially in the global economy; it gives a leg up to U.S. financial institutions in the global economy because they have easy access to U.S. dollars from the Federal Reserve; and it makes it easier to finance the massive U.S. budget deficit and foreign borrowing.

The U.S. dollar has been facing challenges from the renminbi and the euro in recent years, to the point that there are growing calls from countries like Brazil and Southeast Asian nations for trade to be carried out in currencies besides the U.S. dollar. Indeed, Russia and China have developed their own payment gateway and more and more countries seek alternatives to the U.S. dollar. Would you say that de-dollarization is real? And is it a good thing?

As you say, there are attempts to reduce the world’s reliance on the U.S. dollar. There are areas, particularly in Asia, where the renminbi has become used more in the denomination of trade; in Europe too, trade has been invoiced more in euros and less in dollars. So, there is a push in some areas to de-dollarize. Nonetheless, as I have already indicated, the overall strength of the dollar has remained very high. Part of the reason is the financial and military/political strength of the U.S. And part of the reason is simply inertia. Once lots of people in the world speak English, English remains the international language; once lots of countries use the dollar, they continue to use the dollar.

Would de-dollarization be a good thing? It depends, to some extent, on what replaces it. If, as economist John Maynard Keynes envisaged, a global currency run by a global central bank that better reflected the interests and needs of the world’s population were to replace the dollar, yes: this would likely be a very good thing. If the renminbi replaced it? Or if there was a broader multicurrency sharing as is the most likely evolution? Yes. This would almost certainly be better. The dominance of U.S. finance and of U.S. global military adventurism that is aided by the dollar is unhealthy for the world. A more shared role for global defense would be, in my view, a much fairer and hopefully peaceful outcome.

Of course, the role of the dollar per se is not the source of all evil, nor taming it will be a solution for all evil. But it could help.

The most common argument one hears against de-dollarization is that there is, in reality, no credible alternative, while it is often said that if countries started trading with one another in their own currencies, there would be increased currency risk and potentially wild fluctuations in exchange rates. Aren’t these sound arguments against de-dollarization?

There is some truth to this, perhaps. But, on the other hand, the problem already persists for developing countries: short-term speculative capital flows in and even more quickly flows out. The key problem here is the uncontrolled speculative flows of international capital, not the existence of a multicurrency system.

What would happen if the U.S. dollar was dethroned as the world’s primary reserve currency? How would it affect the global economy, as well as the U.S. economy, and the laboring classes?

As I have suggested, it might reduce U.S. military adventurism. It might also reduce, however, the ability of the U.S. to run large budget deficits and current account deficits. The former would mean that the working class would need to build and utilize more political strength to demand government priorities serve the needs of people, rather than of the top 1 percent, banks, military contractors and fossil fuel companies. Current account deficits might also increase local production in the U.S. which, under the right circumstances, could be a boon to domestic employment.

As for the rest of the world, it might tilt some of the global financial and political power elsewhere. Whether the world’s workers or world’s capitalists outside of the U.S. capture that power is a big question, which I cannot answer here.

Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

C.J. Polychroniou is a political scientist/political economist, author, and journalist who has taught and worked in numerous universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. Currently, his main research interests are in U.S. politics and the political economy of the United States, European economic integration, globalization, climate change and environmental economics, and the deconstruction of neoliberalism’s politic

Gerald Epstein is Professor of Economics and a founding Co-Director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

o-economic project. He is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He has published scores of books and over 1,000 articles which have appeared in a variety of journals, magazines, newspapers and popular news websites. Many of his publications have been translated into a multitude of different languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Croatian, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Turkish. His latest books are Optimism Over DespairNoam Chomsky On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change (2017); Climate Crisis and the Global Green New DealThe Political Economy of Saving the Planet (with Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin as primary authors, 2020); The PrecipiceNeoliberalism, the Pandemic, and the Urgent Need for Radical Change (an anthology of interviews with Noam Chomsky, 2021); and Economics and the LeftInterviews with Progressive Economists (2021).

The Impact Of Plastic On Human Health

We know that plastic is choking the planet. But it could be killing us, too.

In 2019, the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks published a statement that identified 14 emerging health and environmental issues. Right near the top of that list was plastic waste. The committee emphasized the “urgent” need “for a better assessment of hazard and risk” associated with exposure to plastics of different shapes and forms.

The Facts About Plastic
During World War II, U.S. plastic production increased by 300 percent. Since then, plastic has become ever more ubiquitous, and by 2014, according to market research firm PlasticsEurope, had surpassed 300 million tons produced per year. There’s a good reason for that. The wondrous nature of plastic is that it’s lightweight, highly malleable, and resistant to biodegradation. It is widely understood that this last property is the root of what has emerged as one of the most intractable environmental problems as the plastic waste piles up around the globe. What is less understood are the exact reasons why.

Plastic is made up almost entirely of hydrocarbon chains, which are an incredibly stable type of molecular bond. In cases where hydrocarbon chains occur naturally, that stability is a necessary component of an organism’s function and generally forms part of a greater ecosystem. Plastics, however, are synthetic, which means they’re no good as a food source for microorganisms (with at least one rare exception) and, as we’ve so tragically come to learn, that is a major problem.

On one hand, there’s the obvious issue of what happens to all that accumulated plastic trash. We all know the answer to that one: It turns into giant islands of floating trash, it goes up into poor turtles’ nostrils, and is found in the stomachs of beached whales. According to a 2022 study published in the online journal Nature Communications, blue whales could be ingesting as much as 10 million pieces of microplastic every day. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature’s Living Earth 2018 report, 90 percent of the world’s seabirds have plastic in their stomachs, a figure that is expected to rise to 99 percent by 2050.

Marauding Microplastics
Over the course of several decades, as plastic is exposed to the elements, it begins to decompose into smaller particles. While this process, known as photooxidation, does not affect plastic on a molecular level, it does eventually break it down to its nanoparticles. If you’re finding that hard to imagine, picture a grocery bag that’s been zapped by a shrink ray: It’s the exact same piece of plastic, only now it’s microscopic.

On the surface, this result may appear to be a good thing. Out of sight, out of mind, right? If only it were that simple. Plastic may actually be at its most threatening once it has broken down to the point it’s invisible to the naked eye because at that point, those little particles can travel a lot faster and further, and into the bodies of animals, including us.

Research conducted by the State University of New York at Fredonia found a significant amount of microplastics in bottled water. To be precise, 10.4 microplastic particles per one liter of water were recorded in a sample of 259 bottles representing 11 major brands across nine countries, including Aquafina, Dasani, Evian, Nestlé Pure Life and San Pellegrino, reflecting twice the amount of plastic found in a previous study using tap water. Researchers suggested the plastic contamination could have partially come from the bottling process.

Avoiding bottled water and sticking to municipal water won’t necessarily solve the problem of ingesting microplastics from drinking water.

Substantial amounts of microplastics” were recently found in tap water and rivers throughout South Africa, according to a recent study conducted by scientists from North-West University. Zoologist Henk Bouwman, a member of the research team, explained that the findings were conclusive, but the implications remain unclear. “There is no consensus yet on any health impacts as the science is still in its infancy,” he told Johannesburg’s Daily Maverick. “It might be benign, and it might not be. There are a whole lot of things we don’t understand at this stage.”

This topic was further explored by National Geographic in a 2018 article. For the piece, Chelsea Rochman, an ecologist at the University of Toronto, shared her research that found that fish suffered liver damage from ingesting polythene plastic (the kind plastic bags are made of), while oysters exposed to polystyrene tended to produce fewer eggs and less mobile sperm. But this does not necessarily mean humans will suffer the same effects.

Plastics and Human Health
Given the ubiquitousness of microplastics, it’s no surprise that they have infiltrated our bodies too. A breakthrough study published in 2022, using blood donated by members of the general public, found the tiny particles in 80 percent of the samples. A 2023 UK study found that microplastics can pass through blood vessels to vascular tissue, potentially contributing to damage inside the vein. Other studies have shown that they are present in our feces, our lungs, our stomachs and, most worryingly, in placentas.

It is not yet clear what effect this infiltration has on human health.

As the National Geographic article’s author Elizabeth Royte points out, it’s difficult to study the impact of microplastics on human health for a number of reasons. First, there’s the simple fact that “people can’t be asked to eat plastics for experiments.” Extrapolating the findings from fish experiments doesn’t work either, as “plastics and their additives act differently depending on physical and chemical contexts,” as well as the fact that “their characteristics may change as creatures along the food chain consume, metabolize or excrete them.” As a result, notes Royte, “we know virtually nothing about how food processing or cooking affects the toxicity of plastics in aquatic organisms or what level of contamination might hurt us.”

For Rochman, there is no doubt that “there are effects from plastics on animals at nearly all levels of biological organization.” Studies show that in fish, microplastic pollution (MP) causes structural damage and affects metabolic balance, behavior and fertility. In laboratory mice and rats it causes similar biochemical and structure damage.

OK, so we may not have clear evidence on the direct health impacts of microplastics where human beings are concerned, but what about more immediate side effects?

For one, there’s the fact that microplastics are foreign particles entering our bodies. Inflammation, for instance, is a response triggered by the immune system to this sort of invasion, writes Rachel Adams, a senior lecturer in biomedical science at Cardiff Metropolitan University, in The Conversation. Another cause for concern is that these microparticles act as carriers for other toxins entering the body. Toxic metals like mercury and organic pollutants like pesticides are just two examples of hazardous materials that could enter the body attached to plastic particles. They can slowly accumulate over time in our fatty tissue.

Quantifying Harm
“We do not currently have clear evidence that plastic microparticles in drinking water have a negative effect on health,” writes Adams. “But given the effects other particles can have, we urgently need to find out more about plastic microparticles in the body.”

John Meeker, professor of environmental health sciences and global public health at the University of Michigan, concurs. “We first need to figure out how best to measure exposure then document whether people are being exposed, and, if so, how much,” wrote Meeker over email. In order to do this, he continued, scientists need to determine what environmental factors influence exposure levels and “what aspects of microplastics could be most relevant to toxicity—is it size, shape, chemical makeup or additives used in the plastics, or even toxins picked up by the plastic from its surrounding environment?” Once these factors have been established, we can begin to consider how the body processes these plastics, and what effects the various levels of exposure can have on humans over a period of time.

“Once we have found ways to measure exposure in humans, we will then need to conduct cohort studies in various types of populations to look for associations between exposure and various health endpoints,” said Meeker, advising that “these should be done in concert with experimental laboratory studies on toxicity to establish estimates about health risk.” Some efforts have begun in this direction. For example, in 2022 California became the first state in the USA to adopt a state-wide microplastics strategy. Among other actions, the state requires monitoring of microplastics in drinking water and investigate whether it should set a limit on the particles in this water to protect public health.

For the gamblers out there, this lack of scientific certainty at present might seem like an invitation to continue rolling the plastic dice. The potential hazards of microplastic, however, are far from the only cause for concern.

Bothersome BPA and Problematic Phthalates
Modern living has made it so that there’s no escaping contact with plastic—and the various extra chemicals it contains. Take Bisphenol A (BPA), which gives plastic its shape and structure, and the phthalates that make plastic soft and flexible. We end up ingesting a fair amount of these chemicals when plastic comes into contact with our food or even our skin. In turn, this affects our hormone levels, which is why, for the most part, chemicals such as BPA are heavily regulated. There is a growing body of research showing that exposure to industrial chemicals commonly found in plastics may help contribute to metabolic disorders like obesity and diabetes.

Added to this is the concerning fact that an increasing number of these chemicals are being detected in humans. A recent study conducted by the University of Exeter found traces of BPA in over 80 percent of teenagers. Reporting on the study, The Guardian explained how BPA mimics estrogen, and in so doing disrupts the endocrine system, which is responsible for regulating metabolism, growth, sexual function and sleep. But as is the case with microplastics, it is difficult to draw conclusive causal links between BPA and these health impacts due to ethical concerns around testing on humans.

Despite this lack of certainty, there’s enough cause for concern that governments have responded to this plastic plight. Legislation has been passed in Australia, Canada, the European Union and the United States restricting or prohibiting the use of phthalates in certain consumer products. According to a paper published by the Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, these moves respond to the “variety of adverse outcomes” caused by the chemical, “including increased adiposity and insulin resistance” as well as “decreased levels of sex hormones, and other consequences for the human reproductive system.”

While it’s important to understand the health impact of plastic, perhaps a more pressing question is what happens when we tell ourselves that plastic is safe—and continue to produce it in ever greater quantities. According to Statista, a market research firm, global plastic production has grown from 50 to 335 million metric tons over the past four decades. Chances are likely that the ultimate consequence of our plastic consumption will be something far greater, and perhaps direr, than our current scientific understanding is able to predict.

Author Bio:
Robin Scher is a contributor to the Observatory and freelance writer based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Follow him on Twitter: @RobScherHimself

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This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute, and originally published by Truthout.

In Chile, Having A Good Constitution Doesn’t Guarantee Social Change

A conversation with Bárbara Navarrete, secretary-general of the Communist Youth of Chile.

“We are a generation totally interested in taking power,” says Bárbara Navarrete, the new secretary-general of the Communist Youth of Chile. This generation came of age with examples such as Gabriel Boric, Chile’s president, who is only 37 years old, and Camila Vallejo, the president’s chief of staff, who is only 35. By constantly engaging in the political arena and reaching the highest levels of the government, people like Boric and Camila—as they are known—“push us to get involved, to take sides,” Navarrete says. Fifty years after the coup that devastated Chile, people like Navarrete oscillate between hope in a government led by former student leaders (such as Boric and Camila) and devastation at the defeat of a new constitution in 2022. They also have to contend with the rise of the right wing, which now holds offices in the legislature, including the presidency of the Senate.

Navarrete’s own story is an example of, in her words, “the crossroads of experiences that affect this new generation in their way of doing politics.” Her family directly experienced the consequences of the dictatorship in a peripheral part of Santiago. Born a few years after the end of the dictatorship, Navarrete learned about politics in the student mobilizations of 2011, while she studied at an important women’s school in the city. For nine months, the students took over the school in protest against Chile’s private education model. Two political tendencies dominated the school—anarchism and communism; Navarrete opted for the latter.

During her time in the student protests, Navarrete says she saw “clearly the institutional alienation” of her generation. They may have grown up after the dictatorship, but they were surrounded by its institutions (including the coup constitution of 1980). “We felt,” she says, “a detachment from laws and institutional culture,” and they were left with a feeling of “incomprehension” toward the institutions’ legitimacy. This resulted, she says, in “an overwhelming need to change everything, including the constitution.”

The Results Are Not Random
Enshrining a new constitution for Chile before the 50th anniversary of the 1973 coup would have been a major achievement. But the draft constitution—produced with immense democratic input—was defeated in the elections on September 4, 2022. In the aftermath of that election, the government set up a committee of experts to produce a new draft that would be approved by 51 members of a constitutional council (elected by direct vote on May 7, 2023). The right-wing Republican Party won 35.4 percent of the vote, which gave it 23 constitutional council members. The Communist Party of Chile headed a coalition that won the second-most votes, with 28.6 percent.

For Navarrete, the victory of the Republican Party “is neither a surprise nor an isolated event.” In the first round of the 2021 presidential elections, the Republican Party’s candidate José Antonio Kast took the lead. “The right has polarized the country,” she said, and it has defined the center-left government of Boric through “caricatures.” A substantial part of Chile, she says, “feels more represented by the positions of the reactionary right” as a result. “This is not a perfect situation,” Navarrete says, but “we can continue to dispute the issues by being present there.”

No Constitution Guarantees Change
“The democratic exercise that is being carried out with respect to the current constitution is, in itself, better than the way the current one was designed,” Navarrete told me, insisting that although constitutional change is important on the road to social change in Chile, it is not the only route. If the draft of the constitution had been approved in September 2022, the material and governmental situation would have altered, “but that, in itself, does not guarantee the transformation of the country,” says Navarrete.

From her point of view, the results of September reflect a profound disagreement or disconnection between the discussions in the constitutional convention—which wrote the rejected draft—and what the left parties had been proposing for the country. The “disconnection” is linked to the nature of the decade-long protest movement and the social agenda that it had tabled. “We ended up convincing ourselves,” Navarrete says, about the lack of this “disconnection,” which was “a mistake that cost us the [electoral approval]” of the new constitution. The gap between the political parties and the social movements has to be closed since it is these movements, she says, which are “the main engine of any transformation of the country.”

Against ‘Denialism’
The Communist Party of Chile is 111 years old. It is part of the government of Boric. This is the fourth time the party is in government; one of the previous times was during the Popular Unity government of President Salvador Allende (1970-73). As Chile goes into a period of commemoration for the 50th anniversary of the coup, Navarrete notes that this would be a good time to reflect on reparations, justice, and a commitment to never return to dictatorship.

The situation in Chile is “fragile,” she says, because there is a growth of “denialism,” the view that nothing really bad happened during the coup and the dictatorship. Laws against denialism have been rejected by the Chilean parliament. “We cannot allow [this discourse] to advance and consolidate,” says Navarrete. “As a government, we have a profound responsibility not to romanticize memory or democracy per se, but to value them as the best conditions for developing politics and making the changes that are needed for those most in need.”

On May 28, Luis Silva, an elected constitutional council member and a member of the Republican Party, declared during an interview with Icare TV that at this historic moment, “a slightly more considered reading” of Augusto Pinochet’s government should be made. “He was a man who knew how to lead the state.”

Regarding these statements, Navarrete alleges that “the right wing believes that based on freedom of expression, all opinions are equally valid.” In contrast, she says, “There is no justification for a genocide of which we were victims as a country and thousands of families. There are people who are still searching for their loved ones.”

Author Bio:

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Taroa Zúñiga Silva is a writing fellow and the Spanish media coordinator for Globetrotter. She is the co-editor with Giordana García Sojo of Venezuela, Vórtice de la Guerra del Siglo XXI (2020). She is a member of the coordinating committee of Argos: International Observatory on Migration and Human Rights and is a member of the Mecha Cooperativa, a project of the Ejército Comunicacional de Liberación.


Learning From History, If We Dare

Gary M. Feinman

The New Gilded Age, wars along the Russian border, a global pandemic, battles for women’s rights, even the Titanic: history does rhyme with the present. Yet as former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert once observed: “If history tells us anything, it’s that we never learn from history.”

That’s something we can realistically change. And if we do, we’ll have an easier time addressing the macro and multiple challenges humanity faces, and finding the pathways to necessary compromises and alliances with people across all borders.

But our blinders and misconceptions about the past constrain the knowledge that we have to plan for a better future. Societies don’t get much out of living memory because the longer-term ramifications from recent decisions generally remain unsettled, and most of the big problems we face are the cumulative products of decades or centuries of the wrong approach to humanity’s histories and transitions. To leverage and learn from humanity’s history regarding what fostered sustainability in the past, we need to know the outcomes.

The good news is that through concerted research in history and archaeology, we now know a great deal more about the different paths that people have taken and their outcomes than we did just fifty years back. Long-term perspectives on cities, states, and empires are now much fuller and more regionally diverse than was known decades ago. Synthetic, comparative analyses have been undertaken. We now know what worked and what did not.

To draw better inferences and learn from past human histories, it is necessary to challenge three pervasive myths, which fundamentally shape not just what we think about the past, but why so many see history as irrelevant when it comes to guiding the present and shaping the future. Each myth is pervasive and entrenched as the ideas and presumptions behind them were born and entangled with the roots of the Western tradition of social sciences, baked into the frameworks through which researchers traditionally study the past.

The first myth supposes that humans in their natural state are nasty, brutish, and self-absorbed, only tamed by the power and coercion of the state. Clearly, humans do have the capacity for great selfishness, but as a species, we also are better cooperators with non-kin than any other animal. This seeming paradox is explicable if we recognize that people are not by nature either uniformly cunning or cuddly, but rather humans, past and present, are capable of both cooperation and selfishness depending on context. Our nature is not one-dimensional. Cooperative behavior is situational; we engage when an individual’s wants dovetail with their larger social network. Lack of alignment short-circuits cooperation whether the network is large or small.

The first supposition or myth undergirds a broadly held second one—that large premodern societies were universally coercive or despotic in organization. Autocratic governance kept the ever-selfish in line, the argument goes. Ancient Athens and republican Rome generally have been categorically distinguished as the unexplained exception to this presumed premodern path, which came to an end just a few centuries ago when ideas from the Classical era were rediscovered, giving rise to The Enlightenment, when Europeans adopted reason, science, democracy, and more.

The latter scenario became the mid-twentieth-century justification for the third myth, the walling off of modernity from the deeper past. Only after the Enlightenment with rational thought could people organize themselves democratically, in forms of governance where voice, power, and resources were not monopolized by a few.

These three myths underlie the severing of deep history, especially non-Western pasts, from the present. Often in the absence of robust historical information, contemporary observations of non-Western peoples were categorically slotted into imagined pasts that led stage-by-stage to modernist Western presents and futures.

Progressive visions of human history spurred research in history, archaeology, and related disciplines. What we have learned over recent decades does not conform with those starting myths and expectations. Change was not linear, nor was it uniform from region to region. Likewise, premodern governance was not consistently despotic, especially in the Indigenous Americas. Yet in every global region, how people governed themselves shifted over time.

When it comes to the past, we also know the outcomes. And, in the region where I study, prehispanic Mesoamerica, cities that were governed more collectively with less concentrated power tended to persist as central places longer than those urban settlements that were ruled more autocratically. A similar pattern, albeit less definitive, was also found for a global sample of states and empires. More in-depth study is necessary, but these historical patterns seem worth investigating in other regions and probing further where they have been documented. The role and success of governance and institutions in facing and meeting the challenges of the past unlock a treasure trove of information that just may guide us toward better futures.

Author Bio:
Gary M. Feinman is an archaeologist and the MacArthur curator of Anthropology, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago


Independent Media Institute

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This article was produced by Human Bridges, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Nanoplastics Are Entering Our Bodies

Plastic is in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. How does it get there—and what does it mean for human health?

The air is plasticized, and we are no better protected from it outdoors than indoors. Minuscule plastic fibers, fragments, foam, and films are shed from plastic stuff and are perpetually floating into and free-falling down on us from the atmosphere. Rain flushes micro- and nanoplastics out of the sky back to Earth. Plastic-filled snow is accumulating in urban areas like Bremen, Germany, and remote regions like the Arctic and Swiss Alps.

Wind and storms carry particles shed from plastic items and debris through the air for dozens, even hundreds, of miles before depositing them back on Earth. Dongguan, Paris, London, and other metropolises around the world are enveloped in air that is perpetually permeated by tiny plastic particlessmall enough to lodge themselves in human lungs.

Toxic Tires
Urban regions are especially full of what scientists believe is one of the most hazardous particulate pollution varieties: synthetic tires’ debris. As a result of the normal friction caused by brake pads and asphalt roads, and of weathering and wear, these tires shed plastic fragments, metals, and other toxic materials. Like the plastic used to manufacture consumer items and packaging, synthetic tires contain a manufacturer’s proprietary blend of poisons meant to improve a plastic product’s appearance and performance.

Tire particles from the billions of cars, trucks, bikes, tractors, and other vehicles moving across the world escape into air, soil, and water bodies. Scientists are just beginning to understand the grave danger: In 2020, researchers in Washington State determined that the presence of 6PPD-quinone, a byproduct of rubber-stabilizing chemical 6PPD, was playing a major factor in a mysterious long-term die-off of coho salmon in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. When Washington’s fall rains heralded spawning salmon’s return from sea to stream, the precipitation also washed car tire fragments and other plastic particles into these freshwater ecosystems.

Up to 90 percent of all coho salmon returning to spawn in this region have died—much greater than is considered natural. As the study’s lead author, environmental chemist Zhenyu Tian, explained in a 2020 interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting, 6PPD-quinone appears to be a key culprit: “You put this chemical, this transformation product, into a fish tank, and coho die… really fast.”

Microplastic Inside Human Airways
While other researchers had previously searched for, and detected, microplastic dispersed in indoor and outdoor air, Alvise Vianello, an Italian scientist and associate professor at Aalborg University in Denmark, was the first to do so using a mannequin emulating human breathing via a mechanical lung system, publishing his study’s results in 2019. (Despite the evidence his research provides—that plastic is getting inside of human bodies and could be harming us—it was not until 2022 that modern health researchers first confirmed the presence of microplastics in human lungs. And as comprehensive health research has ramped up, we are just beginning to understand how having plastic particles around us and in us at all times might be affecting human health.)

Vianello and his colleague Jes Vollertsen, a professor of environmental studies at Aalborg University, explained that they’ve brought their findings to researchers at their university’s hospital for future collaborative research, perhaps searching for plastic inside human cadavers. “We now have enough evidence that we should start looking for microplastic inside human airways,” Vollertsen said. “Until then, it’s unclear whether or not we should be worried that we are breathing in plastic.”

When I met Vollertsen in 2019, he had speculated that some of the microplastic we breathe in could be expelled when we exhale. Yet even if that’s true, our lungs are indeed holding onto some of the plastic that enters, potentially resulting in damage.

Other researchers, like Joana Correia Prata, DVM, PhD, who studied microplastics at the University of Aveiro in Portugal, have highlighted the need for systematic research on the human health effects of breathing in microplastic. “[Microplastic] particles and fibers, depending on their density, size, and shape, can reach the deep lung causing chronic inflammation,” she said. Prata noted that people working in environments with high levels of airborne microplastics, such as those employed in the textile industry, often suffer respiratory problems. The perpetual presence of a comparatively lower amount of microplastics in our homes has not yet been linked to specific ailments.

While they’ve dissected the bodies of countless nonhuman animals since the 1970s, scientists only began exploring human tissues for signs of nano- and microplastic in earnest during the late 2010s and early 2020s. This, despite strong evidence suggesting plastic particles—and the toxins that adhere to them—permeate our environment and are widespread in our diets. From 2010 to 2020, scientists have detected microplastic in the bodies of fish and shellfish; in packaged meats, processed foods, beer, sea salt, soft drinks, tap water, and bottled water. There are tiny plastic particles embedded in conventionally grown fruits and vegetables sold in supermarkets and food stalls.

Petrochemical-Based Plastics, Fertilizers, and Pesticides
As the world rapidly ramped up its production of plastic in the 1950s and ’60s, two other booms occurred simultaneously: that of the world’s human population and the continued development of industrial agriculture. The latter would feed the former and was made possible thanks to the development of petrochemical-based plastics, fertilizers, and pesticides.

By the late 1950s, farmers struggling to keep up with feeding the world’s growing population welcomed new research papers and bulletins published by agricultural scientists extolling the benefits of using plastic, specifically dark-colored, low-density polyethylene sheets, to boost the yields of growing crops.

Scientists laid out step-by-step instructions on how the plastic sheets should be rolled out over crops to retain water, reducing the need for irrigation, and to control weeds and insects, which couldn’t as easily penetrate plastic-wrapped soil.

This “plasticulture” has become a standard farming practice, transforming the soils humans have long sown from something familiar to something unknown. Crops grown with plastic seem to offer higher yields in the short term, while in the long term, use of plastic in agriculture could create toxic soils that repel water instead of absorbing it, a potentially catastrophic problem. This presence of plastic particles in the soil causes increased erosion and dust—as well as the dissolution of ancient symbiotic relationships between soil microbes, insects, and fungi that help keep plants—and our planet—alive.

From the polluted soils we’ve created, plants pull in tiny nanoplastic particles through their roots along with the water they need to survive, with serious consequences: An accumulation of nanoplastic particles in a plant’s roots diminishes its ability to absorb water, impairing growth and development. Scientists have also found evidence that nanoplastic may alter a plant’s genetic makeup in a manner increasing its disease susceptibility.

Plastic: Part of the Human Diet
Based on the levels of micro- and nanoplastics detected in human diets, it’s estimated that most people unwittingly ingest anywhere from 39,000 to 52,000 bits of microplastic in their diets each year. That number increases by 90,000 microplastic particles for people who regularly consume bottled water, and by 4,000 particles for those who drink water from municipal taps.

In 2018, scientists in Austria detected microplastic in human stool samples collected from eight volunteers from eight different countries across Europe and Asia. By 2023, scientists had detected the presence of plastic particles in people’s lungs, bloodstreams, veins, placentas, feces, testes/semen, and breast milk. And while the long-term health impacts of plastic on the human body are still unknown, it is well understood that plastic has toxic effects on laboratory animals, marine wildlife, and human cell lines.

In a 2022 study, researchers showed that nanoplastics less than 100 nanometers wide can enter the blood and organs of animals and cause inflammation, toxicity, and changes in neurological function.

Clearly, micro- and nanoplastics are getting into us, with at least some escaping through our digestive tracts. We seem to be drinking, eating, and breathing it in.

And these tiny particles are just one component of plastic’s myriad forms of pollution. From the moment plastic’s fossil fuel ingredients are extracted, to its production, transportation, use, and eventual disposal in landfills, incinerators, and the environment, the plastics pipeline emits toxic chemicals that pollute Earth’s air, soils, waters, seas, animals, plants, and human bodies, and releases greenhouse gases that drive the climate crisis. Most often harmed are already underserved groups, including Black, Brown, Indigenous, rural, poor, and fenceline communities everywhere, driving severe injustice worldwide.

Author Bio:

Erica Cirino is a contributor to the Observatory and a science writer and artist who explores the intersection of the human and nonhuman worlds. She took on the role of communications manager of the nonprofit Plastic Pollution Coalition in 2022. Her photographic and written works have appeared in Scientific American, the Guardian, VICE, Hakai Magazine, YES! Magazine, the Atlantic, and other publications. She is a recipient of fellowships from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, a gold Nautilus Book Award, and several awards for visual art.

Independent Media Institute

This adapted excerpt is from Thicker Than Water: The Quest for Solutions to the Plastic Crisis, by Erica Cirino (Island Press, 2021). Reproduced with permission from Island Press. This adaptation was produced for the web by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

India Will Pay 70% Of Cost But Micron Will Own 100% Of The Plant—A Curious Business Model

Prabir Purkayastha

The deal with Micron during PM Modi’s visit to the United States has made headlines as a major technological breakthrough and a new dawn for India’s electronics chip-making industry. Implicit in this hurrah for the Micron deal is that India has completely missed the bus on the key technologies involved in electronic chip making. And for those who know technology would realize that the Micron deal is only for packaging of the chips, their assembly and testing, a relatively low end of the electronics industry. It does not touch the core technologies of designing and fabrication of chips, let alone the holy grail of chip-making technology: the lithographic machines that are central to chip fabrication.

The U.S.-India ties had hit a rocky patch, with India refusing to sanction Russia or aligning with the West and G-7 on a “rule-based international order.” Where the West makes all the rules. With Prime Minister Modi and President Biden both facing what could be difficult elections soon, they both urgently needed a reset in U.S.-India ties. For India, it is getting technology for critical sectors in India and declaring a new dawn. For Biden, India is part of its derisking and long-term plan to disengage its industries and market from China.

Late as it already is, the Modi dispensation is finally beginning to understand that technology is not something that, if you have money, you can buy from the global market. It is the closely-held knowledge of companies and countries. Today, it is electronics that drive everything: from the battlefield to artificial intelligence, from your lowly washing machines to the most expensive fighter planes. In the Ukraine war, a few dollars worth of chips are at the core of cheap drones to the most expensive aircraft and missiles. In war, tanks and artillery are also integrated with missiles and drones, shaping the modern battlefield, with radar and satellites providing real-time information to those running the battles. Modern electronic chips are the “brains” of all of this equipment, just as it is in almost any industry and device.

If India has to maintain its autonomy in global affairs, it has to start thinking about the future of its electronics industry. What sits at the heart of the electronics industry is the ability to make the latest generation of chips. If not today, then at least tomorrow. And we need to start today, as we missed the chip-making bus when we decided not to rebuild the chip fabrication plant—the SemiConductor Complex—we had built in Mohali. The plant, a critical component of our self-reliance in electronics, had mysteriously burnt down in 1989.

So what is the Micron deal? Micron is a major manufacturer of memory chips, and it is this realm of business that has made it one of the world’s leaders in the semiconductor industry. It would have the necessary credentials if it decided to set up a memory fabrication plant in India, unlike the Foxconn-Vedanta fabrication proposal greeted with a lot of fanfare, where Foxconn does not have any experience in chip-making. But that is not what Micron is offering. It has offered to set up a plant in Gujarat to only “assemble, package and test” chips that Micron has fabricated elsewhere. Micron has such chip fabrication plants in the United States and also in China, whose products, the chips will be packaged and tested in India. So if chip-making was India’s goal, it would not be delivered through the Micron deal. What we are getting is the lowest end of the chip-making technology, assembling and testing chips that have been made elsewhere. We are not competing with the United States, China, South Korea, and Japan on chip making but with countries like Malaysia. Malaysia is already streets ahead of us in this area, with about 13 percent of the world’s in OSAT outsourcing market. Locating such plants in Malaysia and now India would be a part of the de-risking strategy of the U.S. companies, where they shift the low end of the chip production to countries like Malaysia and India while encouraging new high-end chip fabrication to the United States, such as Micron’s $100 billion mega-fab in Clay, Washington.

Let us look at the investments involved in setting up the Micron plant and who is footing the bill. The total cost of setting up the plant is estimated to be $2.75 billion, with the central government providing a 50 percent subsidy and the Gujarat state government throwing in another 20 percent. Micron is investing only 30 percent of the total capital! In other words, Micron will hold 100 percent ownership in a plant costing $2.75 billion, in which they would have invested would have invested only 0.825 billion! Even industry reports—e.g., eeNews Europe—calls this an “extreme level of subsidy.” In other words, to burnish Modi’s image, tarnished by BJP’s loss in Karnataka and the continuing riots in Manipur, this is a part of the public relations exercise that his team is doing. If we look at this deal for getting low-level technology—assembly and testing—we are “subsiding” a leading U.S. manufacturer so that we can assemble and test the chips built in Micron’s high-end plants in the United States and China.

India is not the only country providing subsidies for technology and setting up plants. So are the United States and China. The United States has a $52 billion government kitty for subsiding chip manufacturing and other core activities. China has a National Fund and another popularly called the Big Fund (National Integrated Circuits Industry Development Investment Fund), both investing $73 billion in China’s chip-making industry. But both these countries are funding the high end of the electronics tech stack, advanced chip making, devices, CAD tools, lithographic machines, etc., virtually nothing (only about 5 percent) in the assembling and testing of chips. Even when they do invest, they do much lower amounts and also as a fraction of the total cost. According to the South China Morning Post, quoted by Yahoo Finance, China gave $1.75 billion in subsidies to 190 Chinese firms, with China’s leading chip fabricator SMIC, receiving roughly about 20 percent of that amount!

There is no question that India, having missed the chip-making bus, needs to ramp up its ambitions and bootstrap a chip-making industry. To do this successfully, it has to have a plan, where to invest and how much to invest, and when to invest. Yes, it has to return to old-fashioned planning, dismissed by BJP-RSS ideologues as “socialism.” And yes, every country plans its science and technology, including how to develop people, the key to technology development. Not one-off shots and driven by which companies come and what they offer. Instead, what is our path forward, and what do we need? And paying 70 percent of the cost while offering our land, cheap labor so that a U.S. company can get 100 percent of the ownership, in a segment where countries like Malaysia are streets ahead of us, is not investing in technology. It is simply a PR exercise.

Author Bio:
This article was produced in partnership by Newsclick and Globetrotter.

Prabir Purkayastha is the founding editor of, a digital media platform. He is an activist for science and the free software movement.

Source: Globetrotter