A Grapevine service announcement Pay attention: Eruption Pollution Likely To Hit Whole Country

WHY EDUCATION IS IMPORTANT:

Published January 14, 2005

The road to hell
The Great Depression wiped out the demand for coffee, Brazil’s major export. In 1930, Getulio Vargas seized power in a military coup, and democracy was only restored in 1954. In 1961, Brazil’s President Goulart tried to raise the minimum wage of labourers. This led to another coup in 1964 by the military. As a result of this, Brazil seemed like a poster boy for market capitalism as the World Bank offered loans, the US increased aid and foreign investment and GNP improved rapidly. The “Brazilian miracle” aimed to get rid of poverty by increasing the national pie. However, the pie was unevenly distributed. Within three years, real wages had been reduced by 25 percent.

In the peak growth year of 1975, expenditures by the Ministry of Health were lower than in 1965 and the World Bank reported that 68% of the population had less than the minimum calorie intake necessary. At most, 5% of the population had benefited immensely from the Brazilian Miracle. 4 out of 5 people had been left outside it all together. By 1990, when the generals withdrew, Brazil had the third worst education system in the world, clocking in after Guinea-Bissau and Bangladesh. The unequal income distribution remains a major problem. As for the country, which is the world’s 5th most populous, and has the world’s 8th largest economy, becoming one of the leading powers of the world, we’re still waiting.

The road less travelled
Compare this to Finland. It achieved independence in 1917, and three decades of Civil War, massacres of communists, culture clashes between Finnish and Swedish speakers, depression and finally a devastating war with the Soviet Union followed. At the end of the war it had to cede territory and pay reparations to the Soviet Union. It also had to be very mindful of Soviet interests in its foreign policy, but was largely left to conduct its internal affairs on its own. It chose the path of social democracy, with regulated financial markets and an all inclusive welfare system.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, one of Finland’s largest trading partners with huge unpaid debts, Finland went through one of the worst recessions of any Western country. Half a million jobs disappeared, and the government cut its spending by 20%. Two sectors, however, were spared; education, and research and development. By the late 90s, unemployment had been halved, Nokia was the 2nd largest manufacturer of mobile phones, and Finland was rated 5th in the world in terms of quality of life by a UN survey. Around 83% of the workforce belongs to unions which have been strong ever since World War II, whereas the labour movement in Brazil was crushed in the mid 1960s. Finland’s GDP is more than three times as high as Brazil’s, and more evenly distributed.

Although we may take it for granted today that Finland is a richer country than Brazil, it might not have been quite as evident that things would turn out that way in 1929.



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News In Brief: Early September

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Remember last issue when we complained that the Bárðarbunga volcano was a huge disappointment for not having the decency to erupt? Well, apparently the volcano gods read the Grapevine, because a huge fissure opened up in Holuhraun and began spewing forth some very photogenic magma. Icelanders were quick to ask the most important question: What are we going to name the new lava field when all is said and done? The jury’s still out on that one, but for now, this is proving to be the ideal volcanic situation: pretty lava, no airplane-choking ash clouds and no one hurt or

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Why You Can’t Go See The Eruption

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In the middle of the night on Saturday, August 16, an intense swarm of seismic activity began in the area of Bárðarbunga—one of many central volcanoes nobody can pronounce—under Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. Since that day, my co-workers and I at the Icelandic Meteorological Office (aka the IMO) have been working day and night to monitor the activity, holding daily meetings with the Civil Protection services, and trying to figure out the possible outcomes of these events, which might just be the start of something a lot bigger. When the activity began, it was incredible how we could follow the

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A Volcano Bigger Than Timberlake

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The most prominent, truly devastating volcanic eruption in Icelanders’ public memory is arguably the late-18th century eruption in the volcanic ridge Lakí, followed by the Móðuharðindi, two years of all-over brutal hardships. The sky went dark, and the sun faded, while ashes destroyed pastures, and temperatures sank, leading to the death of an estimated 75% of the country’s livestock and a fifth of its human population. Then there was the late-19th century eruption, after which a fifth of the island’s populace moved to Canada. The ashes from the sudden 1973 eruption in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago destroyed 400 homes. One person

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“What A Hard Life Is That Of The Poor Icelanders!”

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One day in August 1888, the British steamer ‘Camoens’ docked in the town of Akureyri in Northern Iceland. The ‘Camoens’-for some reason named for Portugal’s national poet, Luís de Camões- sailed regularly between Scotland and Iceland with passengers and cargo. Debarking the ‘Camoens’ that day was a group of British friends, three young men and two women, on their annual autumn holiday, fresh from a busy summer of high society parties and picnics. They came to Iceland looking for adventure and experiences, and—not the least—to be different from their friends and acquaintances, who mostly chose the more fashionable Switzerland and

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Iceland On The Brain: 1200 Years Of Tourism

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Everyone knows that Ingólfur Arnarson (that chap with the spear thing on the hill overlooking the city centre) was Iceland’s first settler. But, he was not the first person to set foot upon it. A few years before the settlement, which is assumed to have started in 874, a Swede named Garðar arrived, naming the place Garðarshólmur before abruptly leaving again (thankfully, modern-day Swedish tourists no longer feel entitled to go around naming the country after themselves). Not long after, a Norwegian named Hrafna-Flóki (“Raven-Flóki”) arrived to spend an entire winter on the island and, not much impressed, subsequently re-named

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Workers Unite!

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Earlier this month, a news story broke in the Icelandic media that a young Icelandic woman working at Lebowski Bar was fired after she asked to be paid minimum wage—effectively a pay rise over what she was getting. The story sparked shock and outrage amongst many. To others, it was merely par for the course. Restaurants, bars and clubs in Iceland are notorious for the use of what is known as jafnaðarkaup (“median pay”)—a form of wage offsetting. By most collective bargaining agreements in the service industry, a worker is supposed to receive a base hourly wage, plus an extra

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