June was dominated by two news events: the homophobic murder of 49 in an Orlando nightclub, and the UK’s referendum on EU membership. Coverage of the referendum and the ensuing public school psychodrama has been relentless. We even joined in, asking people across the continent what it means to be European, if it still means anything at all. A quick primer for anyone who somehow managed to avoid the whole thing: Britain voted to leave the EU, the Prime Minister resigned, the Labour and Conservative Parties imploded, the economy began to tank.
Despite all the excitement on this small archipelago in northwestern Europe, the world kept on turning. This month we’ve seen hunger riots, mammalian extinctions, failed revolutions and a proposal that could mean the end of work as we know it.
Switzerland Rejects Universal Basic Income
Anyone exhausted by the onslaught of democracy during the EU referendum should spare a thought for the people of Switzerland, who are regularly polled on issues ranging from new road tunnels to the legality of minarets.
This June, the Swiss electorate decisively rejected a radical proposal for a basic income of 2,500 Swiss francs (£1,755) to be paid every month to each adult. The idea is an ambitious one; a basic income wouldn’t just guarantee a decent standard of living for all citizens, but would free everyone from the obligation to work altogether. This doesn’t mean the Swiss would now spend their time watching the poker channel and eating expensive German biscuits, but would be free to do the things they really love: be it inventing, researching or trainspotting.
Some in Silicon Valley like the notion because, with such a powerful safety net, people may begin to innovate and experiment like never before. On the left, Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams argue that it will push the costs of labour up and force private businesses to invest in automating some of the more unpleasant jobs.
The idea has been tried before, albeit on a limited scale, and its detractors are numerous. Even if it replaced all other benefits, it would still require a massive, costly redistribution of wealth. Plus, there is no guarantee that the joy of labour is capable of trumping the lure of Jeremy Kyle.
The Hungry Rise Up in Venezuela
Food riots in Venezuela intensified last month, with mass unrest breaking out in the coastal city of Cumaná. The government under Nicolas Maduro sent in armed troops, who imposed a curfew and arrested over 400.
All of this has occurred against the backdrop of a collapsing economy. Venezuela should be incredibly rich: the country has the largest oil reserves in the world. With oil products constituting 96% of its exports, the economy has been hit extremely hard by the fall in crude prices over the past two years.
This means that Venezuelans are facing soaring unemployment rates and inflation of almost 500%. To try and contain rising food prices, Maduro’s socialist government imposed price controls on foodstuffs. What seemed like a good idea in principle has led to massive shortages. Because producers aren’t able to make a profit on food, they simply cut back production, meaning that many supermarkets are now more than three-quarters empty. As the crisis worsens, raids by hungry, middle-class mobs on supermarkets and delivery vans are becoming increasingly common.
The Revolution Falters
Podemos were one of the European left’s great hopes. Only founded in 2014, born out of street movements and popular protests, the party surged from nowhere to come third in Spain’s 2015 general election. This month, there was a real possibility that its ponytailed leader, Pablo Iglesias, could emerge as Prime Minister at the head of a broad-left coalition.
Many across the centre-left Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), feared that traditional left-wing parties across the continent could go the way of Pasok, their Greek counterparts.
For now, it seems like this existential threat may have abated. Uniting with a rag-tag left-wing coalition to form Unidos Podemos, the party failed to make gains in last month’s election, losing 1.1 million votes in the process. In the end, the centre-right People’s Party (PP) came first, increasing its share of the vote. For now, the revolution will have to wait.
Islamic State Deny Istanbul Attacks
In late June, three gunmen opened fire at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport, before detonating their suicide vests, killing 45 people. The attack seemed to bear all the hallmarks of Islamic State, and the Turkish Government under President Erdogan was quick to point the finger at the group. However, Islamic State has not claimed responsibility for the attacks, and their media and propaganda outlets were largely silent on the killings. This is unusual, as the group was quick to claim that it had been behind the massacres in Dhaka, San Bernardino and Orlando, despite there almost certainly being no organisational link between Islamic State and the attackers.
One likely explanation is that the group does not want to alienate its Turkish sympathisers, upon whom it depends to raise funds and smuggle arms across the border with Syria.
The attack came just three weeks after Kurdish militants carried out a bombing in central Istanbul, killing 12. Some have speculated that, in carrying out attacks against Turkish civilians and not claiming responsibility, Islamic State hope that the government will blame Kurdish separatists and escalate its war against the PKK in the east of the country.
Vast Medieval City Discovered in Cambodia
A sprawling 12th Century city has been discovered in Cambodia, hidden beneath layers of dense vegetation. Using lasers to scan an area near Angkor Wat, archaeologists discovered patterns in the landscape that pointed to the existence of a huge urban centre that may have had a population of as many as 1.5 million; more than the current population of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. For context, the population of London at the time was a paltry 15,000, and this Khmer city may have been the biggest in the world.
The existence of some sort of significant settlement, known as Mahendraparvata, had been known since 2012, when the first laser scans of the area were made. However, this latest survey revealed a city of a magnitude and technological complexity far greater than expected, with sophisticated sewage and water management systems.
Weapons of Reason issue #3: The New Old, is available to order now.