January 2022, Volume 28, Number 1
Belarus. Thousands of migrants from Middle Eastern countries were camped on the Belarus-Poland border in November 2021, drawing protests from Polish and EU leaders who accused Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko of inviting migrants to fly to Minsk, guiding them to the Polish border and providing them with wire cutters to cut fencing on the Belarus-Polish border and enter the 27-nation EU.
The EU imposed sanctions on Lukashenko after he won re-election in a disputed election in 2020; the EU charged that Lukashenko “weaponized” migrants in retaliation for these sanctions. Frustrated migrants who expected to be welcomed into the EU threw stones at Polish border guards, who used water cannons to drive them away from the border.
Belarus issues tourist visas to Iraqis, Afghans and others who buy one-way tickets to Minsk. Poland closed its 250-mile border with Belarus, barred journalists from border areas, and rejected offers of EU asylum officers to screen migrants for fear of creating a magnet that would draw more migrants to Belarus.
Poland and the EU imposed sanctions on airlines that fly migrants on one-way tickets to Minsk and offered financial assistance to Poland and other front-line states to build border barriers to reduce the migrant influx. Many of the migrants who paid $3,000 for packages that included airfare and visas were from Iraqi Kurdistan, the most stable and secure region of the country. Iraqis in Belarus began to return to Iraq in mid-November.
After a million migrants entered the EU from Turkey to Greece in 2015, the EU provided E3 billion to Turkey to improve conditions for migrants there and to block their departure from Turkey’s west coast. The EU trained Libya’s coast guard to prevent the exit of migrants in small boats for Italy, aiming to increase the dangers and costs of unauthorized migration and thus deter migrants.
Britain. Gas lines and empty supermarket shelves in fall 2021 highlighted the importance of migrant workers from EU countries in the UK. Britain left the EU January 31, 2020, and the combination of Brexit and the pandemic prompted many Eastern European migrants to go home. British employers found it hard to navigate immigration laws and rehire migrants when the demand for workers rebounded in 2021.
PM Boris Johnson said that labor shortages were needed to increase wages in low-wage jobs enough to attract British workers. Critics fear that trade and migration impediments will instead lead to slow economic and productivity growth in the UK and contribute to higher inflation.
Covid. EU nations reopened even as covid cases surged in Fall 2021 and Winter 2022. Most countries require people using public transport or entering restaurants to provide proof of vaccination or recovery from covid. Politicians and doctors urged more people to receive vaccinations in order to reach herd immunity, which most experts put at 80 percent or more of residents.
In November 2021, European nations with less than 10 percent of the world’s people accounted for over half of the world’s covid cases and deaths. Two-thirds of EU residents were fully vaccinated in November 2021, compared with 58 percent of Americans.
The omicron variant, more transmissible than delta and other variants, was detected in Botswana in November 2021 and prompted bans on flights from southern African countries. Some African countries complained that richer countries were slow to share vaccines with them, and then penalized countries that could not vaccinate their populations with flight bans. A tenth of Africans, including a third of South Africans, had at least one dose of vaccine in fall 2021.
The Italian government in October 2021 mandated that all employees be vaccinated or test negative in order to work; employees must show green passes to access workplaces. With two-thirds of adults vaccinated, Austria in November 2021 ordered residents 12 and older who were not vaccinated to remain at home except for essential outside activities.
France resisted pressures to tighten restrictions on public gatherings even as the case count surpassed 200,000 a day at the end of December 2021 despite 90 percent of residents 12 and older being vaccinated. A health pass introduced in August 2021 restricts entrance to many restaurants and other public places to those who have a health pass indicating that they are vaccinated.
Germany tightened restrictions on unvaccinated adults in December 2021, restricting their access to non-essential public venues such as shopping centers and sports stadiums. With over 70 percent of adults fully vaccinated, the new SPD-Green-FDP government may introduce a vaccine mandate for all residents.
The British government lifted most covid restrictions in July 2021, and by November 2021 was experiencing about 40,000 covid cases and 150 covid deaths a day. With omicron, daily cases topped 100,000 a day. The question was whether the UK had reached herd immunity, meaning that so many people recovered from covid or were vaccinated that the disease could no longer spread.
France. Many migrants in France would like to apply for asylum in the UK. After a migrant camp in Calais was dismantled in 2016, more migrants began to cross the 22-mile wide English Channel in inflatable boats. Some 47,000 attempted migrant crossings were detected in the first 11 months of 2021, and 7,800 migrants who were saved from ship wrecks; 27 died when their boat capsized in November 2021.
France says that Britain’s flexible labor market draws migrants from the continent. Britain counters that, if France agreed to accept the return of migrants who reach the UK by boat, most would not try to cross the channel. Many migrants say that the use of English and the settled relatives draws them to the UK.
The UK received over 29,000 first asylum applications in 2020, compared with 82,000 in France, 102,000 in Germany, and 86,000 in Spain. EU countries grant asylum to about 40 percent of applicants, compared with a 55 percent approval rate in the UK. Almost all rejections in the UK are appealed, and a third of these appeals succeed, so that 70 percent of asylum seekers remain in the UK.
French voters go to the polls in April 2022 to decide whether to give President Emanuel Macron a second term. During the last presidential elections in 2017, Macron’s main opponent was Marine Le Pen; in 2022, Trump-style candidate Éric Zemmour and his Reconquête (Reconquest) party will join Le Pen and the National Front as rightist candidates and parties. Zemmour opposes Muslim immigration, arguing that French elites want to replace Christian French people with Muslims. Zemmour attracts more support than Le Pen from educated young people.
At least 10 percent of the 60 million French residents are Muslim. Zemmour and Le Pen are expected to receive at least a third of the vote combined by asserting that “immigration equals Islam equals insecurity.”
Germany. A new SPD-Green-FDP coalition led by the SPD’s Olaf Scholz replaced the CDU-SPD government led by the CDU’s Angela Merkel in December 2021, launching a post-Merkel era focused on reducing inequality and slowing climate change. Merkel guided the EU through 16 years of multiple crises. However, her decision to allow the entry of a million foreigners seeking asylum in 2015 fueled the rise of the AfD, an anti-migrant party.
Scholz is continuing many of Merkel’s policies, albeit with more attention to the needs of working class voters, imitating President Biden’s strategy in the US. Scholz argued that the meritocracies that allow educated elites to justify their social and economic status and to blame those left behind for not trying hard enough generates working class resentment and a populist backlash. The SPD-Green-FDP coalition promised to raise the minimum wage by 25 percent, from €9.60 to E12 ($13.50) per hour, directly affecting 10 million workers.
The new German parliament has its first Black member, an Eritrean-born Green MP from Kassel. Cem Özdemir, a Green MP born in Germany to Turkish guest worker parents, is the agriculture minister in the new government.
Germany has the world’s largest current account surplus, over seven percent of GDP, while the US has the largest deficit of almost four percent of GDP. China, Germany, and Japan export goods that are worth more than the goods they import; the US urges these countries to increase consumption at home to reduce their trade surpluses. Germany’s savings are growing relative to the rest of the world, while the US is accumulating debt to the rest of the world.
The $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline would bring natural gas from Russia directly to Germany under the Baltic, bypassing Ukraine. With natural gas prices rising, there is pressure in Germany to start gas flowing. Critics worry that Ukraine will lose the transit fees it now collects on Russian gas that transits west via its land pipelines while Russia gains leverage over Germany. Businesses in southern Germany, where wind energy is scarce, want Nord Stream 2 to go online soon to provide insurance of sufficient energy.
Greece. Pope Francis called attention to asylum seekers on the Greek island of Lesbos in December 2021. Most of the migrants on Lesbos used small boats to travel from Turkey’s west coast to Lesbos in order to enter the EU, which offers more support and opportunities to begin anew.
Hungary. The European Court of Justice is expected to decide in 2022 whether the EU can make funds for member states contingent on their adherence to core EU values. Some EU member states want to reduce or block EU assistance to Hungary, which PM Viktor Orban calls an “illiberal state.”
The European Commission has normally stayed out of the internal affairs of member states because the European Council of national leaders avoids interference in the internal affairs of member states. Orban took a hard line against the migrants who transited Greece en route to Germany and Sweden in 2016, and enacted a raft of laws that limit individual and press freedom in Hungary.
The Commission and Parliament moved against Hungary and Poland in 2017 and 2018, but Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, which can suspend a country’s voting rights, must receive unanimous support, which has been lacking.
OECD. In its annual report on migration, the OECD noted that governments in Australia and Canada are planning to accept record numbers of immigrants in 2022 to compensate for fewer admissions during covid in 2020 and 2021. Other OECD countries are making it easier for skilled foreigners to enter and work, reducing bureaucracy for employers and migrants, and allowing more temporary workers to earn an immigrant status.
Russia. Tensions between NATO and Russia increased in 2021 as Russian troops massed on the Russian border with Ukraine, where Ukrainian separatists aligned with Russia control the region of Donbas in eastern Ukraine. Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March 2014 despite NATO warnings.
If Russia invades Donbas, many leaders want Germany to block the opening of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, which brings gas from Russia to Germany. Some analysts believe that a failure to confront Russia over Ukraine would encourage China to invade Taiwan.
Spain. A canal completed in 1979 brings water from the 626-mile long Tagus river to the southeastern province of Murcia, which has become a center of fresh vegetable production; the Tagus empties into the Atlantic at Lisbon. Nitrate runoff from farm fields generates algae blooms in the Mar Menor lagoon that kill fish and disrupt tourism, setting up a dispute between the agriculture and tourism sectors.
Sweden. Swedish rap star Einar was killed in October 2021 in a rich part of Stockholm, raising questions about gun violence, immigration and gang warfare that previously focused on outer suburbs such as Rinkeby that are dominated by migrants. PM Magdalena Andersson in November 2021 assailed the growing influence of gangs.
Analyses find that 85 percent of those arrested for gun crimes since 2017 were born abroad or had a parent who was born abroad, and 70 percent were from families with low incomes. Some of Sweden’s gun crime is linked to turf wars between two prominent gangs, Shottaz and Death Patrol.
Turkey. The lira fell sharply as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted on low interest rates even as the inflation topped 50 percent and the trade deficit widened. Turkish banks have limited foreign currency assets and, with 80 percent of Turkish bank deposits in foreign currencies, some banks could fail if depositors insist on withdrawing dollars or euros.
The lira, which was six to $1 in 2020, depreciated to 15 to $1 in December 2021, increasing the cost of imports, slowing investment and raising unemployment and inflation.
Turkey has been on a debt-fueled growth binge for most of the time since 2003 that Erdogan has been in power. Poverty fell as the government and private investors built infrastructure and factories. However, a drop in tourism due to covid and Erdogan’s failure to raise interest rates as inflation rose prompted Turks and others to sell lira, which aggravated inflation and the devaluation of the lira. Erdogan cites Islamic rulings against interest to justify low interest rates.
Afghanistan. The UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that Afghanistan’s 224,000 hectares of poppies produced over 80 percent of the world’s opium in 2021; opium latex is used to make heroin. Farmers are replacing pomegranates and other crops with opium poppies due to drought and frequent border closures that prevent them from selling their crops. Opium requires less water and retains its value until buyers appear.
China. Some 600,000 Chinese workers were employed abroad in August 2021, including many who were employed on the Belt and Road infrastructure projects being built by Chinese companies. Some of the migrants say they were misled by Chinese recruiters who promised them over $2,000 a month abroad. Some wound up earning far less and having their passports confiscated so that they could not return home.
India. The total fertility rate, the average number of children women have in their lifetime, fell to 2.0 in 2019-20 in India, below the replacement level of 2.1. TFRs are lower in urban than in rural areas, and in the richer southern states of the country. Despite the falling TFR, India’s population is expected to increase from 1.4 billion to 1.6 billion before stabilizing.
New Delhi choked on noxious haze in November and December 2021, an annual event due to weather patterns that trap factory and farm smoke over the Indo-Gangetic plain of northern India between the Thar Desert and the Himalayas. India has 15 of the 20 cities with the worst air, prompting warnings that poor air adversely affects health.
Sustained farmer protests forced the government of PM Narendra Modi in November 2021 to repeal three laws enacted in September 2020 that aimed to free up markets for farm commodities. Mostly Sikh farmers launched protests in October 2019 against laws that ended the role of government-monopoly buyers of their wheat and rice,
The farmers feared that competition between buyers would push down prices of these crops, which are in excess supply. There is general agreement that the current system is broken, but disagreement on how to reform it so that farmers are better off.
Over 60 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people depend on agriculture for most of their income, but agriculture generates only 15 percent of GDP, meaning low farm incomes. Suicides of indebted farmers are common.
In 2015, the Modi government abandoned plans to overhaul agricultural land sales in the face of protests, but in 2016 scrapped the old paper currency without notice, bringing chaos. In 2019, the Modi government resisted changes to a new law that allows long-time Indian residents of all major religions except Islam to obtain Indian citizenship. In March 2020, the Modi government imposed a lockdown that brought the economy to a halt, but failed to anticipate a second wave of covid.
Several prominent Indian female journalists were targeted with false offers to teach at Harvard, prompting some to quit their Indian jobs in order to prepare for non-existent US jobs. Scammers targeted journalists with false offers to attend Harvard-organized conferences and to be visiting lecturers. Most of those who were targeted wrote critically about Indian government policies, and some who realized that the job offers were scams contacted Harvard.
Japan. Voters gave PM Fumio Kishida a victory in October 31, 2021 elections after he promised a new capitalism that would reduce income inequality. The Kishida government will raise wages, which average $2,800 a month or $34,000 a year, by three percent in 2022; Kishida wants private employers to raise wages by four percent to jumpstart consumer spending. Wage increases are decided in negotiations each spring, and increased in 1997 by three percent, a record jump that would be surpassed if wages rose four percent in 2022.
Kishida went to elementary school in New York City and has since 1993 represented Hiroshima in Parliament. He is known as a quiet achiever who may restart Japan’s nuclear power plants.
Japan has the world’s third largest economy after the US and China, and has been mired in slow growth since the bubble economy of the 1980s deflated. The Kishida government hopes that the country’s high vaccination rate will allow the resumption of normal life in 2022 and bolster economic growth despite an aging and shrinking population.
Productivity growth has slowed as more firms retain workers who cannot be fired due to lifetime employment policies. In order to maintain flexibility, many employers hire non-regular employees, 70 percent of whom are women, giving them contracts that do not have to be renewed.
Japan has long been closed to most outsiders. However, the shrinking population and labor force is prying open border gates. Up to 345,000 foreign blue-collar workers may be hired in 14 labor-short sectors with five-year work permits, and some more skilled workers may be able to stay in Japan indefinitely with their families.
Malaysia. There were about three million migrant workers in Malaysia in early 2020 when the government closed its borders and sent several hundred thousand migrants home. In Fall 2021, employers complained that they needed an additional 500,000 migrants. The government’s “Malaysianization” program encourages employers to raise wages and automate to reduce their dependence on migrant workers. Palm oil plantations say they are trying to automate, but want to hire 75,000 more migrants to take advantage of high palm oil prices.
Vietnam. China is the world’s factory, but Vietnam is the world’s second-largest supplier of apparel and footwear after China, drawing young people from farms to factory jobs in industrial parks around Ho Chi Minh City and Binh Duong Province. Lockdowns to prevent the spread of covid prompted some factory employees to return to their villages, and many were slow to return to factories in fall 2021 despite higher wages.
ANZ. Australia reopened to skilled foreign workers and international students in December 2021, 20 months after closing its borders to prevent the spread of covid.
Despite an eight percent or 11,000 drop from the 137,500 strong horticultural work force of 2019-20, including family and hired workers, fruit and vegetable output in 2020-21 was stable as the smaller workforce worked more hours, changed production methods, and employed more Australians.
Australia’s Fair Work Commission is expected to require all piece rate workers to earn at least A$29.22 ($21.15) per hour in 2022, changing a previous policy that allowed piece rate workers to earn less if the crew earned an average A$29.22. The new policy may screen out slower workers.
New Zealand farmers exported NZ$3 billion in fresh fruit in 2021, including NZ$2 billion for 1.5 million tons of kiwi fruit. New Zealand exported 400,000 tons of fresh apples.