China’s Waning Rare Earths Advantage

Beijing won’t be able to threaten to cut off adversaries from critical supplies of the commodities for much longer. 

By: Phillip Orchard


In 1992, during a visit to Inner Mongolia, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping quipped: “The Middle East has oil, China has rare earths,” referring to 17 elements on the southern end of the periodic table that are essential to the manufacturing of everything from light bulbs to smartphones to fighter jets. 

China indeed has rare earth metals, oxides and permanent magnets in spades, as well as a preponderance of the world's rare earth refining operations. As recently as 2010, an estimated 97 percent of rare earths came from China. 

And Deng, who made rare earths a central part of his plans to turn China into a high-tech powerhouse beginning in the mid-1980s, saw this as “of extremely important strategic significance," calling explicitly for China to fully exploit this advantage.

Subsequent Chinese governments in Beijing have never seemed quite sure of how to do so. 

But last week, the Financial Times reported that Chinese officials were investigating whether a ban on exports of certain rare earths could cripple U.S. production of F-35s and other weapons systems. 

A few days later, Bloomberg reported that Beijing was considering a ban on rare-earth refining technology. China's hawkish state-owned Global Times then said something to the effect of, “We're not threatening export controls, except maybe we are.” 

Curiously, on Friday, China announced a 27 percent increase in rare earths production quotas.

China has periodically threatened to weaponize its dominance over the rare earths industry by banning exports in such a manner. 

It’s rarely followed through, though, and its export controls have often backfired. 

But Beijing may be facing a “use it or lose it” moment since, one way or another, China's stranglehold on the industry is coming to an end.

China’s Dominance

The first thing to understand about rare earth elements is that they're not particularly rare They can be found in vast quantities throughout the world, including in the countries most worried about Chinese dominance over the industry. 

The United States and Australia have more than enough untapped reserves to be self-sufficient. In a single deepwater discovery in 2013, Japan found enough rare earths to meet its needs for centuries (provided it can find a cost-effective way to extract them, anyway).


However, mining operations are exceedingly rare outside of China. 

Australia is the world's second-largest producer, and it didn't have an active mine until a decade ago. 

There’s only one operational mine in the U.S., and it’s been mothballed more often than not since the end of the Cold War.

 


Rarer still are rare earths processing operations. Refining rare earths is expensive, complicated and environmentally (and thus politically) problematic. 

The only major processing plant outside of China is a facility in Malaysia run by Australian rare-earth developer Lynas, and production there has routinely been bogged down by regulatory and political issues. 

When immense state support began to pay off in the form of Chinese vertical consolidation over the industry in the early 2000s, no one put up much of a fuss, in part, because no one wanted to deal with the headaches of trying to process rare earths themselves.

But rare earths play a role in nearly every aspect of geopolitical competition among modern-day powers. 

They’re used in hard drives, in telecoms infrastructure, in oil refining, in nuclear rods and wind turbines, and in missile guidance systems. A single F-35 requires some 920 pounds of rare earths elements, according to the Pentagon. 

An Ohio-class submarine is built with 9,200 pounds of them. China’s dominance over the REE supply chain was always going to generate alarm eventually.

And this is precisely what happened in 2010, starting with, of all things, a ramming of a Japanese coast guard vessel by a Chinese fishing boat (one of its infamous “maritime militia”) around the hotly disputed Senkaku Islands. 

Amid the bilateral turmoil that followed, China abruptly slashed its rare earths export quotas by around 37 percent. 

Japan, China’s largest rare earths customer, naturally saw the worst of the supply chain disruption. Whether or not Beijing was actually retaliating – there’s some reason to think China's imposition of export quotas was already planned and driven by domestic need and other routine commercial factors – what matters is the move was widely perceived as a retaliatory embargo. 

It brought global attention to the issue and drove prices up, sparking a rush among major consumers to stockpile reserves and diversify sources.

In 2014, the World Trade Organization ruled against China’s export quotas, and China removed them a year later. 

Ironically, this arguably served Beijing’s interests, as the surge of Chinese exports flooded the global market, gutting prices and wiping out a number of Western firms that had sprouted up after prices spiked in 2010. 

But if the goal was truly retaliatory, it's hard to characterize China’s restriction of exports as beneficial. 

It didn’t do much damage to Japanese industry, which found ways to get what it needed through re-exports of rare earths from third countries. 

And global concern about dependence on Chinese weaponization never fully dissipated. Some new diversification efforts survived, particularly between Australia and Japan, so China never fully recovered its near-monopoly on rare earths production. (Today, the share of global output produced by Chinese mines has dropped to around 63 percent, while China's share of processed rare earths has dropped to around 80 percent.)

Use It or Lose It?

Over the past few years, Beijing has continued to probe for opportunities to leverage its rare earths dominance. 

For example, following a highly symbolic visit by President Xi Jinping to a rare earth facility at the height of the trade war in 2019, the People's Daily explicitly threatened to cut off rare earth exports to the U.S. They were included in 25 percent retaliatory tariffs imposed by Beijing days later.

If Beijing is ever going to make good on its threats of a full embargo, it may be better off doing so sooner rather than later. 

Supply chain diversification efforts by outside powers have been picking up steam, putting Chinese leverage on a long-term downward trend. 

There are a half dozen or so processing projects in the works in the U.S. alone, including a Pentagon-backed heavy rare earths separation facility in Texas involving Lynas that received final approval in January. 

There's also been a flood of money into recycling and stockpiling projects, as well as into research on more environmentally friendly refining processes. Japan has already proved that such efforts can be successful; its cooperation with Australia has reduced its dependence on China by more than a third. 

Whereas in the past China has often been able to shut down these kinds of diversification efforts by flooding the market, soaring global demand for rare earths and rising strategic impetus to subsidize non-Chinese supply chains are likely to make operations outside China more financially viable going forward.

Ultimately, Chinese domestic needs are likely to be the main driver behind Beijing's rare earth export policies. In some ways, this portends continued restraint from Beijing, which is leery of doing anything that could end up roiling its own economy. 

The bulk of Chinese rare earths exports return to China at some point as components for electronics and advanced machinery that China needs to keep its other export sectors humming and to continue its climb up the manufacturing value chain. 

The potential impact of an embargo directly on the Chinese rare earths sector and all the many sectors that depend on rare earths could leave tens of millions of people out of work.

Over the longer term, it also portends a decline in Chinese exports that has nothing to do with Beijing weaponizing its industry dominance. Chinese domestic demand for rare earths is already exploding. 

If Beijing is going to deliver on any of its many technological moonshots – such as making the vast majority of its vehicle fleet electric by 2035, reaching 1,000 gigawatts of wind power generation by 2050, and building out the missile, submarine and air power capabilities needed to reach military parity with the U.S. – it will need to hoard most of its rare earths for itself. 

Chinese exports have already declined as a result, including a 24 percent drop in 2020 from the previous year. Indeed, Chinese demand has outpaced Chinese mining production for the past five years, forcing China to import increasing amounts of raw material from Myanmar, Vietnam and even the U.S. This, more than any desire to ease global concern about a potential embargo, is the main reason behind Friday’s expansion of production quotas.

Deng Xiaoping may have been correct that rare earths, like data and semiconductors, are the “new oil.” 

The thing about oil is that the strategic value of having a lot of it has often been overstated, especially once it became cheap and easy to move around the globe. 

Supply disruptions from major producers, of course, can still cause enough short-term pain to make importers leery of doing anything that might provoke them. And, if backed into a corner, China may very well think it has little to lose by rocking the global rare earths market with an export ban. 

But any benefits of such a move would be short-lived and expensive, and it would quickly bring about a future where production of the elements outside of China is anything but rare.

THE DEATH OF LOGIC

By Matthew Piepenburg


Just over four years ago, as Bitcoin was making its first big moves in both price and public perception, John Hussman of Hussman Investment Trust penned a lengthy as well as seminal report entitled, “Three Delusions: Paper Wealth, a Booming Economy, and Bitcoin.”

The core themes set forth in his report (as in any well-reasoned, blunt analysis) are refreshingly evergreen in their ongoing applicability.

Rather than re-invent an already functioning wheel, I’ve opted to revisit some of Hussman’s key arguments which have not only stood the test of time, but remain even more pertinent in today’s perception-challenged markets.

The Follies of Our Predecessors

Hussman’s report opens with a quote from Charles Mackay’s work, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds:

“Let us not, in the pride of our superior knowledge, turn with contempt from the follies of our predecessors. The Study of the errors into which great minds have fallen in the pursuit of truth can never be uninstructive.”

As for the “follies of our predecessors” and “the study of [their] errors,” the list is long and distinguished, as we’ve chronicled in greater detail elsewhere, advising investors to question rather than follow the “experts”while simultaneously keeping a cautious eye onthe madness of crowds.

As Hussman and others remind, delusion is a complicated thing.

Most logical minds, for example, tend to feel immune from delusion, but the irony lies in the fact that delusional ideas, including delusional markets, policies and pricing, are in fact marked not by deficiencies in logic, but rather by an over-abundance of it.

Crowd Thinking—Crowd “Logic”?

Throughout the cyclical history of delusional market bubbles and their subsequent implosions, otherwise “logical” and/or intelligent market participants always find themselves in the comforting presence of crowds.

In Japan, for example, just before the Nikkei died in 1989, the popular expression in Tokyo was: “How can we get hurt if we’re all crossing the street at the same time?”

Crowds, of course, love comforting consensus, feedback loops and opportunism, often at the expense of historical lessons, ignored data or even common sense.

Instead, crowds focus on current signals, lofty credentials and the loud logic of price momentum at the expense of risk’s more unpleasant whispers.

In other words, logical minds will often overlook unpleasant information and cling exclusively to the data which confirms their hopes and biases, creating a mass perception that is often misperception.

As Hussman observed: “The reason that delusions are so hard to fight with logic is that delusions themselves are established through the exercise of logic.”

The overwhelming and objective evidence, for example, of dangerous and grossly distorted risk asset pricing can be easily re-described (and thus re-perceived and re-framed) in the echo chambers of bubble-blind investors or debt-cornered policy makers as logical “stimulus,” “support,” or “accommodation.”

The logic that Modern Monetary Theory, for example, with its academic aura and blissful projections of deficits without tears (and money creation sans inflation) has slowly left the fringe of economics and entered its forefront as a sound, indeed “logical” new path forward.

Equally, “logical” are the titles given to such popular policies as “Yield Curve Control” or “Quantitative Easing,” which, as many of us already understand, are just clever, even logically titled concepts masking the far more pernicious reality of extreme debt expansion supported by extreme money creation which leads logically to extreme currency debasement.

Indeed, these crowd-sanctioned ideas have acquired popular/global acceptance not because they are logical or rational, but simply because they have become crowd-acceptable, common and, at least for now, profitable and even “effective.”

History’s Patterns

For Hussman, as well as other students of market history, speculative bubbles or even mass psychology, such delusions of popularity, logic, profit and even efficiency are not only dangerous, but historically quite common.

His lengthy report traces the anatomy of prior bubbles and crowd-ignored delusions with painful candor and historical confirmation rather than just self-selecting logic.

His insights are highly, highly recommended.

The conclusions which Hussman and others (from J.K. Galbraith to Benjamin Graham) derived come down to this:

Deluded investors forever seek to justify extreme price valuations in ever-increasing and novel ways, which in the end, are nothing “but excuses for continued speculation” rather than honest confessions of desperate top creations and equally delusional top chasing.

Hussman takes particular care to point out that such delusions are not simply held by retail investors riding a speculative wave which will eventually drown them.

The “Experts”—A Smaller Yet Equally Mad Crowd

In fact, the so-called experts, like Janet Yellen in Hussman’s study, are equally, if not more, guilty of such self-delusion.

Of course, this is no surprise to many of us.

Hundreds of pages could be written which detail the myriad occasions in which Yellen, both before and after she took the Chair at the Federal Reserve, completely understated, exacerbated and then ignored real market risk, from the Pre-08 era to today.

For simplicity and brevity, let me just proffer the following example:

“You will never see another financial crisis in your lifetime.”

-Janet Yellen, spring 2018

“I do worry that we could have another financial crisis. ″

-Janet Yellen, fall 2018

Valuation Still Matters

What Hussman and countless other logical minds consistently warn boils down to a simple truth proven throughout history, from the Romans of old to the Elons of today, namely: Valuation still matters.

First published in December of 2017, Hussman’s report warned that the expert as well as investor-fed speculative bubble in full gear then would inevitably devolve “into a roughly -65% loss in the S&P over the completion of the current market cycle.”

Of course, logical detractors would laugh at such logic, reminding Hussman and others that such warnings, made over four years prior, have been disproved by an S&P that never seems to halt its climb north, despite a few hiccups along the way, easily “recovered” by more logical  Fed “support.”

Such “logic” however, misses the historical point that boom-to-bust cycles don’t have clearly defined expiration dates, especially when those natural cycles are un-naturally extended via equally un-natural and illogical “stimulus” from global central banks.

Preparing Rather than Timing the Death of Paper “Wealth”

Thus, rather than mire one’s self in the “logical” debate of timing a crisis (a fool’s errand), more informed, and hence logical minds, should be otherwise engaged in preparing for one.

Hussman’s lengthy report then turns to the ultimate delusion, namely the delusion of paper wealth.

He began this theme with a quote by Galbraith as to the “extreme brevity of the financial memory.”

At the time of its 2017 publication, Hussman’s report referenced the St. Louis Fed’s December 16th declaration that negative interest rates “may seem ludicrous, but not if they succeed in pushing people to invest in something more stimulating to the economy than government bonds.”

Hussman was prescient in not only proving that “expert logic” can be openly delusional, but also in how predictively the mad crowds would follow such expert delusion toward even greater speculation, greater bubbles, and alas, greater pain when they pop.

As for the so-called logic of the St. Louis Fed in its stance as to negative rates “succeeding” in pushing crowds to invest in something “more stimulating” to our economy, history and Hussman prove, yet again, how dangerous experts can become in their own illogical crowd.

As for those ludicrous yet real negative rates, well, we sure as Hell got em post 2017…


Fast forward just over four years since the Fed made this so-called “logical” suggestion and look at what those low rates and retail “people” have invested in since.

Take Tesla.

It’s a bubble asset for the ages, and whatever logical defense Tesla bulls might have for its “growth potential,” the screaming disconnect between its cash flow and share price once again proves Hussman’s warning that valuation still matters.


Once assets climb too far from the plow of real valuation, the end is not only brutal, but inevitable.

Similar  and “logical” (?) speculation suggested by the St. Louis Fed has taken place since 2017, but as the graph below of profitless IPO’s currently peddled by the “logical crowd” at Goldman Sachs confirm, none of that speculation was as economically logical or “successful” as our Fed “experts” had so arrogantly suggested in late 2017:


When stocks rise illogically on the backs of speculative (QE/debt-driven) policies which in fact have no logic despite the credentialed “logic” of their policy makers, the paper wealth which follows and grows in their wake acquire the delusion of permanence, even stability.

But as Hussman warned then, and which is even more true today, investors quickly and collectively fall under the collective delusion that the trillions of dollars in their portfolios today represent durable purchasing power tomorrow.

In other words, “logical” investors always ignore the historically confirmed fact that most of that wealth will eventually evaporate in a delusional economy measured by rising stock prices rather than tanking productivity.

Today, for example, the global value of financial assets (stocks, bonds and real estate) is $520 trillion, which is 6.2X the $84 trillion in global GDP.

Re-read that last line. Seem delusional to you?

And Then There’s Bitcoin…

Speaking of delusion, no conversation then (in 2017) or today, would be complete without addressing the current, yet logically-defended sacred cow otherwise known as Bitcoin.

This is not the time or word-count space to effectively unpack the myriad pros and cons, as well as logic and delusion, which mark the Bitcoin phenomenon.

But as Mackay was quoted then, and worth repeating here, such speculative cycles are not only common, but loaded with historical danger:

“We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught in some new folly more captivating than the first.”

Sound eerily familiar?

From 17th century tulips to 19th century railroads or 20th century tech stocks, market historians know this fantasy pattern all too well.

Of course, Bitcoin is more than a tulip, and as Hussman himself confirmed, “the blockchain algorithm itself is brilliant.”

I too fully support Bitcoin’s underlying thesis that fiat currencies and the central bank policies behind them are staggeringly weak and in need of an alternative approach.

But the irony, as well as delusion, of the BTC era boils down to this: No asset bubble like Bitcoin, despite the logic of its thesis or the headline-generated confirmation of its supporters (as well as mysterious creators) can become a source of stability for something as critical as a national or global currency.

Bitcoin will not go away, but its valuations will go both north and south in astounding ways which, by itself, disqualifies this asset as a rational (or even “logical”) solution to an admittedly irrational and openly bogus global currency market.

Our antidote to the dying paper wealth of all global paper currencies, of course is physical gold. This is no secret, and to some, perhaps even an illogical, and even outdated bias.

Yes, physical gold is far less sexy that the current BTC delusion gaining popularity, as well as speculative momentum, by the day.

Ironically, however, therein lies gold’s open and logical advantage, for physical gold, unlike electronic Bitcoin, has both an inherent as well as historical logic to both its role (and pricing) when measured against fiat paper as well as equally fiat digital “coins,” which logically speaking, aren’t even coins at all…

Like dollars, Bitcoins are backed by faith, not a physical asset. In short: fiat.

Detractors, of course will claim that the Hussman logic used to debunk BTC’s speculative illogic (i.e. delusion) can be equally used against the logic to defend physical gold.

This is both fair and to be expected.

In the end, however, to describe a physical asset derived from the periodic table (rather than a software genius) and which has historically served to save dying currencies and delusional debt policies century, after century, and currency crash after currency crash, as a “delusion” is a bit of a stretch, no?

Bitcoin cheerleaders will naturally, in their own crowd-supported logic, argue that physical gold is the “Blockbuster video” of an old world, whereas BTC is the streaming and wise currency direction of the new world.

That’s a comforting defense indeed, as are the rapidly rising valuations of BTC.

But like Hussman, I’ll favor valuation, sanity, history and valuation logic over the mad crowds falling madly in love with the speculative “logic” of BTC.

In the end, history favors one form of logic over the other.

US concerned at Chinese law allowing coast guard use of arms

State department says move allowing patrols to fire on vessels in disputed waters could be used to intimidate

Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington, Kathrin Hille in Taipei and Robin Harding in Tokyo

China has continuously increased aggressive enforcement of its expansive maritime claims over the past decade © Renato Etac/AP


The US has expressed concern about a new law that authorises the Chinese coastguard to fire on foreign ships operating in disputed waters claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea and East China Sea.

The state department said it was “specifically concerned” that the law ties the use of force to Beijing’s enforcement of its maritime claims, including in the East China Sea where its coastguard conducts frequent patrols around the Senkaku Islands, which are controlled by Tokyo but claimed by China.

“The US joins the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan and other countries in expressing concern with China’s recently enacted coastguard law,” Ned Price, state department spokesperson, said on Friday.

“Allowing the coastguard to destroy other countries’ economic structures and to use force in defending China’s maritime claims in disputed areas, strongly implies this law could be used to intimidate the PRC’s maritime neighbours,” Price added.

The criticism underscores how US-China tensions have shown no sign of abating since Joe Biden succeeded Donald Trump as president. The US last month warned Beijing to stop intimidating Taiwan after Chinese warplanes flew into the island’s air defence zone and simulated attacks on a nearby US aircraft carrier.

Biden also recently reassured Tokyo that the US-Japan mutual defence treaty applied to the Senkaku, which China claims and calls the Diaoyu.

Global Times, a Chinese state-run ultranationalist tabloid, said the new law would help China “safeguard sovereignty” related to the Diaoyu.

Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan’s foreign minister, said Tokyo was “seriously concerned” about the law because Chinese coastguard ships make daily incursions into waters around the Senkaku.

Highlighting the danger, Commandant Takahiro Okushima, head of Japan’s coastguard, said he could not rule out of the use of weapons under his policing powers: “With a feeling of tension, we’ll prepare the best we can.”

Greg Poling, a South China Sea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the law was not “wildly out of step” with international standards, but said it was worrying because the Chinese coastguard was “already aggressive”.

Allowing the fleet to use force to remove structures on Chinese islands or defend Chinese claims “increases the likelihood of violence in any given stand-offs”, he said, making China’s neighbours very anxious.

Elbridge Colby, a former Pentagon official, said the Chinese coastguard was a “formidable” force that has grown in size in recent years. “I could see this as a way to try to drive a wedge between Washington and Tokyo to see whether the US was willing to pay the piper,” he said.

Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s representative in Washington, said the law could cause miscalculation and conflict around the Senkaku, which are also claimed by Taipei.

China’s neighbours view the law as another assertive and destabilising move from a country that has continuously increased aggressive enforcement of its expansive maritime claims over the past decade.

“I’m very concerned about this law because it might cause miscalculations and accidents,” Delfin Lorenzana, defence secretary of the Philippines, told CNN.

The law is the final piece of a multiyear reform that combined four different Chinese maritime law enforcement agencies — tasked with issues from fisheries to smuggling — into what is now the Chinese coastguard.

The new rules permit the Chinese coastguard to fire handheld weapons when foreign ships conduct “illegal” operations in Chinese waters and resist law enforcement. 

Larger weapons, such as shipborne cannons, can be used in counter-terrorist operations, or in any violent incident.

Chinese analysts counter that the law prevents destabilisation because it clearly stipulates certain kinds of behaviour in specific situations.

Zhang Nianhong of the East China University of Political Science and Law argued that previous coastguard practices — such as ramming foreign fishing vessels as a way of enforcing domestic laws — “did not correspond with international practice and were not even in line with domestic laws”.

Covid’s health legacy demands radical revamp of welfare systems

Advanced economies must do more to help those with long-term conditions keep jobs

Kate Allen

A discarded face mask in Berlin, Germany. The pandemic leaves governments and employers with heightened responsibility for workers who develop prolonged Covid-related illnesses © Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz/Bloomberg


The coronavirus pandemic will leave millions of people suffering from long-term sickness — threatening to place a lasting burden on advanced economies’ healthcare and social welfare systems, unless they radically revamp public policy.

Between 10 and 20 per cent of Covid-19 sufferers still exhibit symptoms after three months, some estimates suggest — a phenomenon dubbed “Long Covid”. In addition, health practitioners have warned of a “secondary epidemic of trauma”.

Even before the pandemic, welfare systems were failing to keep up with changes in the world of work, as technology drives a shift to flexible but insecure jobs. Meanwhile, the nature of illness is changing, as mental health problems become a far more prevalent cause of sickness leave.

Many people with long-term health conditions are unable to work — but for others, inflexible employers and benefits systems have left them economically inactive despite wanting a job. 

Many economists argue that it should be far easier for people to move in and out of work, and to increase or decrease their hours, in response to their health conditions, without having to undergo complicated and time-consuming medical checks and approval processes.

This would carry a cost — for the state and for employers. But the increase in economic output over the longer term would more than compensate for it. A working paper by OECD economists published in December argued that “greater efforts need to be made to transform disability benefits into an employment-support instrument”.

In many developed nations, the welfare system and employers are particularly ill-suited to cope with long-lasting, intermittent health conditions, in which a sufferer’s ability to work varies over time in often unpredictable ways. 

These are precisely the type of illnesses the pandemic will leave in its wake.

“The financing need that these conditions require is not really addressed well by either sick pay, unemployment benefits or the pensions system,” said Dr Hanna Kleider, a lecturer in public policy at King’s College London. “Long-term sickness is a problem in most OECD countries.”

Workers already report frustration with HR departments and managers who do not understand Long Covid, and sick pay provisions that were not designed with long-lasting, intermittent debilities in mind. 

Finding ways to help these people stay in work to the fullest extent possible will be a pressing challenge for public policy in the coming years.

Anke Hassel, professor of public policy at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, said systems of social support were ripe for an overhaul.

“For some people the welfare system is difficult to negotiate, particularly the disabled, carers and those with long-term illnesses — it is very bureaucratic and has to become more flexible . . . and respond to different needs better,” she added.

The pandemic also leaves governments and employers with heightened responsibility for workers who develop long-term Covid-related illnesses in the course of their jobs, Hassel added. 

“If you do get infected at work, is that a work-related injury? 

We have long had occupational pensions for industrial injuries, for example in manufacturing, but now the health-related implications of Covid are affecting very different industries.”

The International Labour Organization warned in a report published last week that the acceleration of changes to labour markets brought about by the pandemic risked leaving disabled people behind.

Short-term contracts, insecure employment, flexible working and multiple career changes are all common in a high-tech economy — and the pandemic has sped up the introduction of technology in many jobs. 

But digital economies often offer “fewer or no work-related rights or benefits such as unemployment benefit, work injury benefit, maternity and retirement, engaging in collective bargaining or benefiting from minimum wage regulations”, the ILO report stated. 

“The flexibility provided by these new forms of work comes at a cost.”

Manuela Tomei, director of the ILO’s conditions of work and equality department, said societies must ensure that “the talents and skills of persons with disabilities can contribute to the success of workplaces and societies worldwide”.

Otherwise, nations that fail to address the healthcare legacy of the pandemic will lose out economically — as will the millions of people across the world who face long-term health struggles in the years to come.