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Sensemaker: Perfect storm

Sensemaker: Perfect storm

Tuesday 7 September 2021

What just happened

Long stories short

  • China’s state-owned pharmaceutical company Sinopharm said it’s developing a Covid vaccine with mRNA technology, the kind used to make Pfizer and Moderna’s shots and which some studies showed to be more effective.
  • Six Palestinian militants escaped from one of Israel’s highest security prisons after opening a hole from their cell toilet floor that gave them access to passages built during the jail’s construction.
  • 18-year-old Emma Raducanu, who withdrew from Wimbledon during the fourth round, reached the quarter-finals of the US Open.

Perfect storm

A “perfect storm” of pandemic restrictions and post-Brexit immigration rules created labour shortages in Britain’s economy. So says the CBI, a lobby group that represents 190,000 businesses with more than 7 million employees, in a report that sets out that:

  • A third of companies that answered the CBI’s latest manufacturing survey were concerned that skilled labour would limit output in the quarter ahead – the highest share since the mid-1970s.
  • Nearly half of consumer services firms were concerned that labour shortages would limit investment in the year ahead – the highest share on record.
  • While companies knew free movement of labour between the UK and EU would end with Brexit, the necessity of dealing with the pandemic dominated their capacity to prepare for the change. Just two months before the new immigration rules were published in October, only 8 per cent of firms said they understood and were prepared for the new immigration system.

Businesses have, since then, told the CBI that the pandemic both disrupted their ability to adapt to the new immigration rules and sent EU workers home to be closer to their families. Officials told firms to hire British workers instead, but the firms think it will take more than two years to train all the new workers they would need.

Tony Danker, the CBI’s boss, said that “standing firm and waiting for shortages to solve themselves is not the way to run an economy”. It is, in fact, the standard way to run an economy: supply, demand. If the price of labour – wages – rises enough, then workers will fill shortages. 

But the demand from businesses is for government intervention. It is an irony of Brexit, promoted and secured as an opportunity to slash red tape, make Britain global and buccaneering, that leaving the EU is pushing the British economy policy sharply to the left.

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Triple shock
As himself, Viktor Bykov has plenty of hair and no beard. As Boris Vishnevsky, he has the beard and a receding hairline, just like the real Boris Vishnevsky. It’s a similar deal with Alexei Shmelev – there’s the real Shmelev and the Boris Vishnevsky version, courtesy of Photoshop. Why? The real Vishnevsky is an opposition candidate from the liberal Yabloko party, running for a St Petersburg seat in the Duma in Russian parliamentary elections later this month. The other two are stooges for increasingly unpopular Kremlin-backed parties who’ve changed their names to Vishnevsky solely to confuse voters and split his vote. So the real Vishnevsky claims, and Ella Pamfilova, the head of Russia’s Central Election Commission, agrees. She says the situation makes a mockery of voters but that there’s little she can do. In fairness to Pamfilova she’s spoken out before about electoral fraud in St Petersburg – and left it at that. The fraud is so shameless that it’s a wonder the pro-Putin bloc engages with the democratic process at all. That it does offers, perhaps, a shred of hope for the future. Memo to Russia’s real Vishnevskys: hang tight.

New things technology, science, engineering

TikTok abort
TikTok hacktivists have set their sights on anti-abortion activists in Texas. After the Supreme Court declined to derail the state’s latest anti-abortion law last week, a group called Texas Right to Life set up a website designed to help enforce it, asking private citizens to fill out an online form and report anyone who they knew had got an abortion or performed one. The website was flooded with bogus tips. One TikTok coder said he developed a script that allowed anyone with an iPhone or iPad to make a false report using a randomly generated Texas zip code. This isn’t the first time hacktivists have turned to TikTok: during the 2020 US elections K-pop fans and TikTokers registered en masse to attend a Trump rally, and then didn’t. It feels like online vigilante justice. Genuine question: what does it achieve, long term?

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Forza boosters
Italy’s health minister said the country’s most vulnerable people will start receiving a third shot of Covid vaccine. The plan for booster jabs, which experts say mobilise the body’s immune system to provide further protection against variants of the virus, will start as early as this month. Similar plans are in discussion in other rich countries, like the US, which have secured a surplus of vaccine doses for their populations. But it is this unequal global distribution of vaccines that created the environment in which variants are more likely to emerge. The havoc-wreaking Delta, for example, was first identified in India when its vaccination rate was minimal and hundreds of thousands of people were dying from the virus. Italy and other rich countries will continue needing boosters as long as poor countries go without vaccines.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Scottish seagrass
Seagrass has few rivals as a carbon store. It covers 0.1 per cent of the sea floor but holds 11 per cent of organic carbon in the world’s oceans. It absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforest. It’s essential, threatened – and perfectly possible to restore. (As it happens, Chris Gorell Barnes from the Blue Marine Foundation told Tortoise about the importance of protecting seagrass at a ThinkIn back in 2019.) US scientists have shown how, reviving more than 2,000 hectares of seagrass denuded by disease and hurricanes in the 1930s in Virginia’s Eastern Shore on the southeastern edge of Chesapeake Bay. Now volunteers are doing similar work in remote western Scotland, the FT reports (£), and reintroducing once abundant oysters in the process. It’s labour intensive, requiring people with wetsuits, snorkels and time on their hands. A bit late for this year but sounds like the perfect summer job for next.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Bernie budget
Senator Bernie Sanders is on the road again, but this time not for the presidency. He’s campaigning in Republican strongholds like Indiana for public support for the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill. The bill is a Democrat-wide project, but it’s Sanders who will be primarily fine-tuning the text as chair of the Senate Budget Committee, and it’s Sanders who is championing a project which, if passed, would be the most significant and expansive piece of federal legislation since the 1960s. It would also give him a longstanding legacy outside the presidency. Perhaps this was his calling all along.

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.

Paul Caruana Galizia

Giles Whittell

Nimo Omer

Produced by Sophia Sun and edited by Xavier Greenwood.

Photographs by Getty Images