This podcast first appeared and was originally published at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w172ydpb2k5rfjd on April 27, 2022.
Russian company Gazprom says it will halt gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria from Wednesday morning. Poland currently depends on Russian imports for around half of its gas. The country’s deputy foreign minister Marcin Pzydacz tells us his government was already been prepared for this move. Plus, the World Bank’s latest commodities report makes sobering reading, suggesting that high food and fuel prices could blight the global economy for years to come. We hear from its author, World Bank Senior Economist Peter Nagle. With Elon Musk poised to take over at Twitter, the European Union’s Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton tells us that the firm will be welcome to operate in the EU under new management, providing it adheres to the bloc’s rules. As Delta Air Lines reveals that cabin crew will be paid for boarding as well as flight time in a landmark announcement, the president of the Association of Flight Attendant Sara Nelson says unionization efforts by airline staff forced the company’s hand. And the BBC’s Ivana Davidovic investigates urban mining, the process of reclaiming raw materials from spent products, buildings, and waste. Throughout the program we’re joined live by Zyma Islam, a journalist with The Daily Star newspaper in Bangladesh, and by Tony Nash, chief economist at AI firm Complete Intelligence, based in Houston, Texas.
EB: Joining me today to help discuss all of this to guests from opposite sides of the world, Tony Nash, chief economist at the AI firm Complete Intelligence in Texas. Hi, Tony.
TN: Hi, Good Evening.
EB: Good to have you with us. Tony Nash in Texas, what do you think is interesting, isn’t it, because this could I don’t know, it could go two ways, just politically. It’s an interesting move from Moscow to, if you like, preempt European sanctions against Moscow by cutting off the supply to Europe.
TN: Yeah. I think the further this goes along, the more I like people buying oil and gas from Texas, since that’s where I live. So we’ll take that. But for Poland, less than I think, about 10% of their electricity mixes from gas. So it wasn’t a majority gas driven market anyway. So they were very smart to put resources in place, alternatives in place. And, of course, it hasn’t been cost free. It’s taken a lot of resource to get that in place, but it’s good for them. And being on the border with Russia, they have to be prepared for anything.
EB: Yeah. I mean, gas is obviously very important during the winter months and we’re entering spring. So maybe European countries are feeling the crunch a little bit less strongly. Nonetheless, the question does remain, is Germany especially willing to cut off the oil? The oil is by far the bigger element, isn’t it, in terms of Russian revenue from its energy exports? And that’s the thing that Europe is resisting so far. Do you think we are pushing in that direction?
TN: I think if the fighting continues, they’ll have to. The problem is they don’t really have alternatives right now. And so that’s their dilemma is Europe did not diversify when they should have, and now they’ll pay much, much higher prices. So that will eat into European economic growth and it will really hurt consumers. So I think Europe is in a very difficult position. That’s obvious. But a lot of it is on some level, I wouldn’t say completely their own making, but they had opportunities to diversify, which they didn’t take.
EB: Yeah. I mean, Tony, everyone wants to get their LNG from Qatar and they all from the United States. There are going to be some pretty wealthy Qatari and American exporters of LNG, even if they can meet the demand next year.
TN: All of my neighbors in Houston are benefiting. I’m not in the oil and gas sector, but they are certainly benefiting from this.
EB: Let me bring in Tony there. I mean, we saw a story this week, Indonesia, for instance, banning the export of some palm oil food protectionism could be a thing. We’re not really talking about that yet. But those countries I mean, Bangladesh neighbor, India, will it start cutting off its exports when it starts to see global prices rising and perhaps being more pressure on its domestic supply?
TN: Yeah, it’s possible. And we also have a situation where the US dollar is strengthening and emerging market currencies are weakening. So these ad commodities are becoming more expensive in US dollar terms for sure. But it’s an accelerated inflation rate in emerging market currencies. So one would hope that, say countries like China, who are suffering with this, who devalued their currencies in a big way over the last week, would start to put pressure on Russia to resolve the conflict so that both Russia and Ukraine can start exporting food commodities again.
EB: Tony Nash, what do you think? I’m forgetting the unicorn thing. Could officials come down that hard on Twitter, a new, less regulated Twitter platform under Elon Musk?
TN: Well, let’s assume that he obviously doesn’t understand the technology is regulating 100 million Europeans could turn on their VPNs tomorrow and access Twitter from a pop outside of Europe in 5 seconds. It would be no problem at all. So Twitter could unilaterally shut down in Europe and they’d still have 100 million customers on the European mainland. So he has a fundamental misunderstanding of the technology that he’s supposedly regulating. But what I don’t think he also understands is Twitter has people like Rouhani from Iran and Vladimir Putin and Chinese people who deny that they have a million Muslims in prison and all this other stuff. So why is he not cracking down on Twitter for allowing those guys to have a voice when he’s worried about Elon Musk, who is a loud guy, but he’s a pretty middle of the road guy, seemingly. So I just don’t understand why there’s so much hyperventilating about Elon Musk. I don’t get it.
EB: So you’re along with, I guess certainly a large number of Republicans in Congress right now who are saying bring it on. We’re delighted that this takeover is happening because we imagine we’re going to see a much less regulated platform.
TN: Let’s take another view. Let’s take Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post. Right. It’s a media platform, and it’s had some really questionable practices over the past few years. So why aren’t media regulators in Europe looking at The Washington Post? They’re just not. And so I think if Musk is really going to have Twitter be in the center and not moderate except for things that are illegal, then more power to them. It’s in the spirit of the US law from the 1990s that said that internet content publishers can’t be sued because they’re not Editors. They’re only publishers. So I think it’s more in the spirit of the 1990s Internet regulation than anything that’s out there today.
EB: Tony Delta in Atlanta, that’s not a million miles from where you live, is it? Do you have sympathy for the flight attendants here?
TN: Yeah. It’s insane. I never knew about this. So no wonder the flight attendants are less than cheerful when we arrive on board.
EB: Especially for the check in bid, right?
TN: Exactly. It’s just insane. They’re in uniform, they’re working. Why they’re not paid. I just think that’s insane.
EB: The unionization drive does seem to be gathering a bit of pace in America, doesn’t it, right now. And we mentioned we’ve referenced all those other companies. It’s the mood of the moment. Yeah.
TN: Well, labor has the strong hand right now, and wages are rising. And when labor has the strong hand, you see more unionization. So it’s just a natural course.
EB: But it has been decades during which Union participation in the state certainly has gone down, isn’t it? I mean, since I’m in the 70s wasn’t right.
TN: But if we look at the rate of baby Boomer retirement, we have a lot of people going out of the workforce right now. And so we do have tight labor markets because of it. And that’s really part of what’s pushing the strength on the side of labor. And so this stuff is demographic.
EB: And it’s typical when it comes to technology. I mean, I have a personal take on this. I went to Acra in Garner in 2015 to the famous Agbog blushy central dump there, which is an extraordinary place. It’s one of the largest of its kind in the world. Miles of waste, all kinds of things. They’re burning cables just to extract the copper from the tubing and the wiring. But the air, I mean, it took me 24 hours just to feel my lungs clear from that place. It’s an extraordinary thing, isn’t it, Tony Nash, don’t you think it’s strange that the market around the world, the free market, hasn’t found a system whereby the value of old units is recycled efficiently?
TN: Yes. So if I want to recycle electronics here in my local town, I take it to a center and I have to pay them to take it. So they’re taking gold and platinum and other great stuff out of there, but I have to pay them to take my recyclable electronics.
EB: Is that why? I mean, do you understand the economics of that? Because you’d think that supply and demand would suggest that if there were a competitive value in the goods that they’re extracting, there would be competition and therefore there would be people offering lower prices or perhaps even paying you for your old stuff?
TN: Yeah, I understand the competition of it, but I think I just want to get rid of the stuff. And I think that’s what they realize is they can charge people just to get rid of old computers or phones or whatever, and then they get money on both sides.
EB: The big corporations, Tony, have a bigger responsibility here. I mean, they’re the ones producing the stuff. They’re the ones, I guess, I don’t know, paying for the extraction of some of these rare Earth metals and everything else. Some of the toxic stuff coming from places like Russia, Latin America, the DRC, and those are the things that are then being spat out and causing all kinds of pollution.
TN: Sure. I would think, for example, the phone manufacturers and the mobile carriers would have an incentive to collect the old phones from people.
EB: Yeah, but do you think regulators should be doing more here?
TN: I don’t really know. I think regulation tends to kind of contort things like this, And I think for something like this would potentially create an unintended economic opportunity. So we heard about the person in Bangladesh who collects used items in Singapore. I lived there for 15 years. We had somebody called a Karen Gunn person who would collect used electronics and other things and buy our house. So whether it’s that local person or whether it’s an Assembly Or a disassembly location, say, near my house, Those are people who are focused, who are specialized on what they’re doing. I do think, though, that the people who create this actually should have some sort of incentive, not from government, but from their customers to collect this stuff Once they’re finished with it, because it’s costing me money to get rid of it, but I’m paying them for it.
EB: Okay. A couple of minutes left in the show. I’m going to ask you both now for a quick thought about the things that have caught your eye most in the area, the news stories that have caught your attention. Tony, tell us in Texas what’s catching you up there?
TN: It’s really hard to follow that. So in Texas, one of the things that’s happening and this is not new, but it’s becoming more and more common is if you take your car out somewhere, Even in just a normal neighborhood, to, say, a shopping Center, It’s pretty common for someone to come even in the middle of the day and steal the catalytic converter off of your car. You go into a restaurant or a shop and you come out and someone has taken the catalytic converter off your car, which is a key part to muffling sound, and they do it for the precious metals in that piece. So that’s becoming very common here again. It’s happened for years, but it’s becoming much more intense Because of the prices of precious metals.
EB: Yeah, unauthorized recycling. We can full circle Tony Nash and Zimmer Islam in Texas and Bangladesh, respectively. Thanks to you both and thanks to you all for listening. This has been business matters as my name’s Ed Butler. Take care. Bye.