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Internet equality in question again: perspectives on Net Neutrality

5 hours 8 min ago

As the US regulator seeks to erase Net Neutrality, we ask a number of commentators to share their views on this momentous decision.

Net Neutrality is the principle that Internet Service Providers should not decide what content web users get when they connect to the internet – if I pay for internet bandwidth then decide to visit YouTube or a personal blog or openDemocracy, then I get to see whichever of those sites I request, so long as I haven’t run out of my agreed bandwidth allowance.

Its proponents say that it is what allows web users to see all web sites at the same speed – no site gets to pay an ISP to load preferentially on the web, which would be a major advantage. It’s what makes any site, big or small, rich or poor, accessible to all – it’s what lets good sites and good ideas rise up no matter who runs them, they say.

The US regulator in charge of enforcing Net Neutrality regulations is pushing to dismantle legal protections for it with a vote this Thursday 14th of December. Civil society organisations are fiercely opposing it

If the US makes this change, a serious precedent will be set to reverse Net Neutrality globally and the open web could change for good. We sought a few perspectives, for and against, on this critical issue.

“Net Neutrality is once again under attack. Ajit Pai, Chairman of the FCC, has announced his plan to “restore internet freedom” which is, as it turns out is not your freedom as a consumer to use the bandwidth you have purchased as you see fit, but rather the freedom of your ISP to charge you for whatever it wants to.

“So if you don’t want to wind up with the Portugal situation from above, go ahead and call Congress. Thankfully the website Battle for the Net makes this super easy. Do it!”

Albert Wenger, Technology writer and investor

This infographic shows how commercial providers might break down internet packages without Net Neutrality protections to stop them.

“Net neutrality echoes engineering arguments about network design that took place in the 1980s. Most engineers came to realize that modern networks need flexibility to support diverse applications, so the losing side turned to the legal/policy community to force its preferences on ISPs.

“The public, largely oblivious to the technical costs neutrality imposes on innovation, incorrectly sees Title II as a protector of free speech. Our experience of the Internet shows that its major problems come from advertising-supported platforms such as Twitter and Facebook that censor speech and reward trolls. Net neutrality doesn’t solve any real problems.”

Richard Bennett, Engineer and publisher, High Tech Forum

Supporters of net neutrality protest outside a Federal Building in Los Angeles, California on November 28, 2017. The activists gathered in protest of the Federal Communications Commission Chairman, Ajit Pai’s, plan to repeal the Obama era net neutrality regulations. Ronen Tivony/PA Images. All rights reserved.

“There’s roughly 6,000 internet and telecommunications providers in Ukraine. But national legislation does not in any way directly regulate net neutrality, and domestic providers of internet services operate as they see fit. Several of them directly violate the principle of net neutrality: for instance, for several years in a row Ukrainian mobile operators have offered tariff plans whereby users do not have to pay for social network traffic or streaming services (or if they do, then at a reduced rate).

This gives the advantage to the big services — Facebook, Twitter, Youtube. One important detail: until recently, Russian internet companies were also part of this group, but in May 2017 the authorities blocked the Russian social networks VKontakte, Odnoklassniki, the Yandex search engine and email service Mail.ru. Access to these online resources is now blocked at the provider level. So now we can say that Facebook has strengthened its monopoly, having become the main social media provider for Ukrainian internet providers.”

Vitaly Atanasov, Ukrainian journalist and administrator of a Telegram channel on digital capitalism.

“The Internet was born neutral and therefore open, non-discriminatory, diverse and free. Net neutrality is essential to guarantee that everyone has the freedom to choose what information seeks, receives and imparts on the Internet and that everyone has access to the same opportunities. The neutral digital ecosystem, where everyone is able to innovate without asking for permission, has grown to become what it is today thanks to that fundamental principle. Every lose of that basic openness to the interest of a few Internet service providers will always cause essential harms to our freedoms, democracy and society.”

XNet, Internet and democracy activist’s network

Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

Could the end of Britain’s tabloid-driven migration policy be in sight?

7 hours 5 min ago

Right now, there’s a political window for a more sensible, positive approach to migration that could boost regional economies, strengthen productivity and help achieve trade deals, a new report finds.

Image: Just a few of the Daily Express's anti-migrant front pages

Veterans of the migration debate know better than to predict the future. But following years of continued growth, it seems like immigration to the UK may have finally peaked. This slowdown, alongside the outcome of the EU referendum, has influenced the tone of the debate. According to the polling, migration has fallen down the public’s list of concerns. And politicians seem to have taken note.

The Government has been taking tentative steps towards a more rational approach towards international students, highly skilled migrants and EU workers. Today, for example, immigration minister Brandon Lewis announced that the government would streamline the application process for EU migrants to achieve 'settled status', from a controversial 85-page form to a short online process - something the IPPR called for back in March. And in general, rather than deferring to the whims of the right-wing press, the approach now seems to be to let the Migration Advisory Committee, a panel of independent experts, arbitrate. 

We should take full advantage of this possibly brief period of calm. Following years of tabloid-driven crisis management, here is an opportunity to take stock and set out what the country aims to achieve through its immigration policy.

So what should be the aims? As underlined by IPPR’s Commission on Economic Justice, the UK economy faces big challenges – from stagnant wage and productivity growth, to widening regional inequality and trade imbalances. Our call is for migration policy to be designed not in isolation but with the explicit aim of taking on these problems. In our report, we set out how to do this.

Take widening regional inequality. At present, migration flows reflect the disparities which divide the UK – skilled migrants concentrate disproportionately in the parts of the country where there are the most jobs and opportunities. Our analysis shows that new migration is effectively zero in many parts of the UK today.

Rather than address this challenge, current policy decisions are exacerbating these inequalities. The wage thresholds used to determine whether migrants qualify for skilled visas reflect London salaries. So parts of the country where wages are lower find it harder to compete. Reversing this would be relatively simple: thresholds for areas outside the capital and the South East could be set at a lower level creating an incentive for international talent to flow in that direction. This more level playing field is essential for parts of the UK which are increasing held back by population decline and skills shortages, such as Scotland and the North East.

Smarter immigration policies could also be part of the solution to the UK’s productivity puzzle. On the one hand, the current system of work permits could be actively used to incentivise employers to invest in improving the skills and working conditions of UK workers. Employers who can demonstrate that they offer good terms and invest in training could earn the status of Trusted Sponsors. In return they would benefit from a series of perks, such as more flexibility, less bureaucracy and smaller fees. And the immigration system could work much harder to ensure that the UK remains a destination of choice for international talent – from engineers and programmers to world class architects and designers. In the wake of Brexit, attracting these people is going to take more work than before. The UK should launch a Global Talent Visa to ensure it can still compete.

Until now, the UK has failed to translate growing migration flows into stronger trading links. At present Germany has a better trade balance with India than the UK, despite the fact that its sub-continental diaspora is comparatively tiny. This is despite the evidence that migrants are a powerful asset when it comes to opening new markets, particularly in services. Their skills and networks help lower the social, linguistic and cultural barriers which can act as a stronger inhibitor than tariffs and customs. Pilots suggest that programmes which actively engage migrants currently in the UK could boost trade with key emerging countries.

For too long the migration debate has taken place at fever pitch. Bad policy decisions have ensued. It’s time for a fresh start. 

Sideboxes Related stories:  Another lonely Skype Christmas, thanks to the ‘minimum income requirement’? Post-facts, post-gains: the economics of labour migration after Brexit Free Movement Plus: a third way on the Brexit/migration debate Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

Principled pragmatism: defending normative Europe

7 hours 17 min ago

European security and defence policy, once propelled by Franco-British cooperation, has been held back of late by Nato enthusiasts. Without the UK, can the Commission advance a new Defence Action Plan? Book review.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini are at the EU foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on December 11, 2017. EU/Press Association. All rights reserved.During the referendum on British membership of the European Union, one of the many charges against the European Union put forward by the leave campaign was fear of a European army. There has also been talk of an emerging European ‘security-industrial complex’ as a range of surveillance systems are introduced as part of EU counter-terror measures and as defence research and defence co-operation are stepped up (see Chris Jones, oD, 31 August 2017).

But the situation is much more complex and contradictory than these negative depictions suggest. It is important that those of us who still believe in ‘normative Europe’ – the idea of the European Union as a peace and human rights project – understand these contradictions and the possibilities they open up for a more transformational agenda.

Nathalie Tocci’s book is a useful corrective to the more pessimistic portrayals of current developments within the European Union. Tocci is Director of the Italian Institute for International Affairs and advisor to Federica Mogherini, the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission. She was tasked with drafting two documents – an initial statement of the strategic context facing the EU, presented to the European Council in June 2015, entitled The European Union in a Changing Global Environment: A More Connected, Contested and Complex World, which paved the way for a European strategy document, presented to the European Council the day after the Brexit vote, entitled Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe. A Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy’ (EUGS).

The book, ‘Framing the EU Global Strategy’, offers a fascinating insight into how these collective documents are produced, even though both documents are unusual in that they both involved greater public consultation than normally happens, while at the same time – probably owing to the deft steerage of both Mogherini and Tocci – they both manage to be coherent and readable. It provides a guide to reading the global strategy and an explanation of some of the concepts developed in the strategy document, and also gives some indication of what has happened since in terms of implementation.

The book starts by way of a contrast to the European Security Strategy (ESS) produced when Javier Solana was High Representative, entitled ‘A Secure Europe in a Better World’ and approved by the European Council in December 2003. First of all, the EUGS is a global strategy not a security strategy even though, of course, it includes security. It is global not only in the sense of encompassing EU relations with the whole world but also in the sense of bringing together a whole range of instruments. Mogherini, like Cathy Ashton before her, is double hatted. She represents both the European Council, composed of member states where the main instruments are defence and diplomacy, and the European Commission, where the instruments are much broader including aid, development policy, conditionality, dialogue, humanitarian assistance, support for civil society, research and education, transport and so on – that is, all the necessary twenty-first century components of a global strategy.  

Secondly, the ESS is a strategic vision rather than an actionable policy document. The policy options were much easier for Solana in the early 2000s so he was keen to get agreement on the overall direction of ESDP rather than specific policies, which might have diluted and complicated the document. The global strategy as can be seen from its website has become a policy framework for Mogherini and her team.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the international context has utterly changed. The ESS was drafted in a mood of optimism about the international liberal order despite the US invasion of Iraq earlier that year. Indeed it was a European response to the invasion – an attempt to overcome the cleavage created by the support of some countries for the invasion (most notably the UK and Spain). It represented a contrast to the US National Security Strategy published that year, which made the case for pre-emptive defence (the illegal grounds on which the invasion was justified) and counter-proliferation as a new militaristic approach to the spread of nuclear weapons; the ESS counterposed ‘preventive engagement’. The most successful example of that was the negotiations with Iran initiated by Solana but completed under Cathy Ashton.

The situation facing the EU in 2015 as Mogherini assumed her dual EU role, was very different and about to get worse. There were internal cleavages over the euro, over refugees and migrants and over the aggressive role of Russia; and far from moving towards a liberal international order, the EU faces worsening violence and disorder in its southern neighbourhood, especially Syria, Libya, Mali, Somalia, DRC, S. Sudan, Yemen and more; growing reversals of democratic achievements especially in Turkey and Egypt; not to mention, growing geopolitical rivalries as well as poverty and deprivation, climate change, and transnational crime.

The aim of the EUGS was to preserve the transformational agenda of the ESS while being realistic about the context. The second part of Tocci’s title, ‘A Stronger Europe in a Fragile World’ is a deliberate play on the title of the ESS – ‘ A More Secure Europe in a Better World’– and a statement of ambition. Tocci explains this in terms of a ‘pragmatic philosophy’ that ‘looks at the world as it is and not as it [the EU] would like to see it… that entails a rejection of universal truths, an emphasis on the practical consequences of acts and a focus on local practices and dynamics… In doing so, however, the Union should not fall into the trap of cultural relativism. EU pragmatism should be principled. While different pathways, recipes and models are to be embraced, international law and its underlying norms should be the benchmark of what is acceptable to the EU and what is not.’ Loc. 1314

In terms of content, the EUGS is divided into four sections: interests, principles, priorities and ‘from vision to action’. Some argued that it ought to begin with values rather than interests. But as Tocci points out, any constructivist understands that interests and values are much the same. ‘Our interests and our values go hand in hand. We have an interest in promoting our values in the world. At the same time our fundamental values are embedded in our interests.’ Interests, as laid out in the EUGS, include security, prosperity, democracy, and a rules-based global order. As Tocci points out, the fourth is necessary for the first three:‘When walls and fences are built to keep away refugees in search of protection in the EU, the moral blow to our internal democratic system is incalculable.’

Principles include engagement, responsibility, unity and partnership. Priorities include security; the resilience of states and societies in the East and South; an integrated approach to conflicts and crises; cooperative regional orders; and global governance for the twenty-first century. The last part of the EUGS contains concrete proposals for a more, credible, responsive and joined-up union.

In terms of implementation, it is the defence and security part and the conflict and crises part that has, in the jargon, been actioned. In the case of defence and security, this is where  the critics get nervous. The reason for the prioritisation of security is partly public opinion. Eurobarometer figures show that public support for European security is greater than any other area even in the UK. But another reason is Brexit.

Although the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) was originally propelled forward by Franco-British cooperation in the Blair years, Conservative governments have acted as a brake on European security co-operation, since they favour NATO. Now without the UK, the Commission has been able to produce a European Defence Action Plan and is providing financial incentives for developing joint defence capabilities (funding would be exempt from the Stability and Growth pact, e.g. austerity constraints) and is supporting defence research projects.

External crisis response

But what is proposed for European defence is very different from classic national and Nato defence and this has to be understood. National and Nato defence are about defending borders from geo-political threats; they are about planning for the next war. European defence, EUGS argues, is about external crisis response – peace-keeping for example, building the security and defence capabilities of partners, and about the protection of the Union and its citizens. This last is about citizens rather than territory. It is about the cross-over between internal and external security, and about new issues like cyber security, or terrorism or the protection of critical infrastructure. It is more about policing and intelligence than tanks and aircraft.

In other words European defence and security policy does not consist of a European army. It involves a different combination of capabilities designed for situations other than classic inter-state war. It is an expression of the EU as a new kind of polity, not a super-state in the making but a regional organisation aimed at preserving the advantages of trans-European society by extending those advantages outwards. Of course there are some inconsistent elements in the EUGS, and Tocci duly explains how difficult it was to escape from certain facets of geographical reasoning.

And of course, Mogherini faces huge obstacles. Many member states are moving in opposite directions, building walls and fences and dismantling the machinery of rights. The traditional defence industries are keen to get in on the act and may impose their own trajectories on defence co-operation. Meanwhile, the whole European response to migrants has constructed a self-reproducing border industry, with counter-terror imperatives leading to terrifying degrees of surveillance. However, it must be pointed out that EU cyber security policy emphasises human rights and privacy in contrast to national policies ( see Genevieve Schmeder and Emmanuel Darmois, oD). But a reading of Tocci’s book demonstrates the earnest commitment of the collective effort involved in the EUGS to lay out a new kind of twenty-first century approach to peace and security.

One final comment. The EUGS was steered through by two powerful women. I am left with the question of what role gender played, not only in the personal resistance they must have faced, but in the elaboration of a more inclusive, less muscular, and, as Mogherini points out in her forward, more ‘incisive’, conception of security.

Sideboxes Related stories:  The ongoing march of the EU’s security-industrial complex Cybersecurity: the case for a European approach EU-Russia relations: towards a pro-active agenda Country or region:  EU Topics:  Conflict Democracy and government Ideas International politics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

Debt and poverty: the thriving business of high-risk moneylenders in Russia

8 hours 27 min ago

In Russia, loansharks and payday lenders masquerade as “microfinance” organisations to attract clients. But for many people, short-term loans are a way of life.

“We hand out money” reads an advert for easy credit in Moscow, October 2017. Photo (c): Maxim Blinov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.

“Avoid multiple loans. With several loans you are at greater risk of over-indebtedness,” warns the Warsaw-based Microfinance Center in a recent education campaign directed at users of microcredits in Eastern Europe, South Caucasus and Central Asia.

Russia is rarely referred to when discussing modern microfinance, but here the business of old-school moneylenders has thrived for several years. The warning not to take multiple loans could be addressed precisely to clients of Russian payday lenders and loansharks. Companies usually offer loans from 1,000 to 5,000 roubles (£12-£62), and charge 732% per annum. Some of them have loans of tens of thousands of roubles available. With such enormous interest rates, clients of moneylenders often have difficulties repaying these apparently harmless sums. Taking one loan to pay back another or even incurring several loans from different organisations is a common strategy to deal with this. A typical borrower is likely to fall into a debt trap and become insolvent.  

The issue of high-risk payday lenders and loansharks emerged in Russia following the 2010 law on microfinance organisations. The law legalised this kind of borrowing, but did restrain interest rate companies are allowed to charge. Many companies could now register as “microfinance organisations”, confusing the public. The law obscured the difference between responsible representatives of the microfinance industry and dubious moneylenders, of which the latter took advantage.

In the wake of Russia’s 2014-2015 economic crisis, Russians are increasingly inclined to take microloans to cover large expenses, or simply to survive until payday

Moneylenders fill a niche in the Russian financial system by lending to clients considered unbankable by standard commercial banks. Many clients of microfinance organisations turn to them after commercial banks refuse to lend. Unbankable individuals are equally the target group of responsible, socially-oriented microfinance organisations. Yet the latter are not only in the minority: they are much less well-known to the public, which means they can’t address the huge demand for microloans in the Russian economy.

Furthermore, organisations prefer to lend to owners of small businesses, including in agriculture — the main target of development-oriented microfinance. In the face of inflation and the fall in real incomes in the wake of Russia’s 2014-2015 economic crisis, however, Russians are increasingly inclined to take microloans to cover large expenses, such as visiting a doctor or paying for surgery, but also mortgage instalments that could not be covered from other sources or expenses for consumer goods. Many clients of microfinance organisations simply need to survive until payday.

Fake and real microfinance

Internationally, the microfinance industry has a remarkably positive reputation as an effective instrument to fight poverty. In Russia, however, this reputation has become abused by dubious business.

For example, the World-Bank-related microfinance organisation Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) reported the case of a company called Aktiv Den'gi (Active Money) that pretended to represent the “good” microfinance industry, referring in its advertisements to microfinance inventor Muhammad Yunus. This company offered small consumer credits at supermarkets in provincial Russian towns that were mostly used to finance purchases of consumer goods such as televisions or mobile phones. Some customers used them to cover their everyday expenses, for which their salary was not sufficient. Yet, by doing this, Aktiv Den’gi did not really contribute to development, contrary to what it implied by pointing to Yunus. Moreover, this company charged much higher interest rates (732%) than any reputable microfinance organisation would do. The latter charge 20-30% at most, as far as Russia is concerned.

High-interest loans are particularly strongly promoted among people living on low incomes who are considered unbankable by other organisations

The economist and social entrepreneur Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh, whose ideas Aktiv Den'gi pretended to represent, pursues in fact a different business model from that of Russian payday lenders and loansharks. In his 2011 New York times article, Yunus criticised microfinance organisations that behave like loansharks, pointing out that microfinance industry emerged to replace the latter. His Grameen Bank was established in the early 1980s to serve the rural poor in Bangladesh. Its goal was to enable the poor to set up micro businesses and to get out of extreme poverty by their own efforts. Initially, the Grameen Bank lent to groups of rural women to make sure that social pressure makes them pay the loan back.

In the early 2000s, following a near insolvency, the bank refocused its activities. From now on, the Grameen Bank lent to individuals, it addressed moderately poor rather than extremely poor, but set up in addition a special lending program for “struggling members”. Those measures improved financial performance of the bank, making it more sustainable and therefore theoretically of greater benefit to the poor. At the same time, in other developing countries microfinance institutions still lend predominantly to groups of rural women and address the extremely poor. Furthermore, an approach called social performance management emerged within the industry to navigate microfinance institutions in their socially oriented lending activities.

Thus, the microfinance business did not yet renounce on its mission to alleviate poverty, instead of just gaining money at the cost of the poor.  

Poverty à la russe

Russia differs from other countries where the microfinance industry is established. Particularly in the first 15 years of Russia’s transition to capitalism, the new poor were constituted by representatives of the former Soviet middle class who suddenly were forced to become petty entrepreneurs to make a living. And indeed, microfinance institutions supported by international donors emerged in the 1990s in Russia to serve this very group of the Russian poor. In spite of radical impoverishment those people experienced after the fall of the Soviet Union, their chances of getting out of poverty were still better than those of poor people in developing countries. Besides, they were much more financially literate and better educated so that many of them could become the middle class anew when the Russian economy stabilised.

These microfinance organisations are not only incapable of fighting poverty in Russia, they frequently deteriorate living conditions for people living in poverty

Not all Russian citizens became members of the new middle class, however. Many were left behind. Roughly 22 million people, or 15% of the population, live below the official poverty line. Dubious moneylenders address precisely this vulnerable group in Russian society. High-interest loans are particularly strongly promoted among people living on low incomes who are considered unbankable by other organisations. Most of the clients of those moneylenders live in small towns and use loans to cover unexpected expenditures. Access to those loans is easy: no collateral, guarantee or income proof is needed, which makes borrowers likely to disregard high interest rates payments that they will be exposed to when indebted. Currently about 5-7% of the Russian population is in possession of such infamous microcredits.

Residents of a panel building in suburban Moscow, 2007. Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0: Yury Kozyrev / World Bank / Flickr. Some rights reserved.

These microfinance organisations are not only incapable of fighting poverty in Russia, they frequently deteriorate living conditions for people living in poverty. One of the reasons for this is their use of debt collection companies to recover outstanding debts. In their practices, debt collectors resemble mafia structures of the 1990s. They like to symbolically refer to this legacy by using fake Muslim-sounding names that play upon a stereotype of men from former Central Asian republics or Caucasus being particularly brutal when contacting insolvent borrowers and trying to intimidate them.

Their methods range from persistent phone calls and threats to physical assaults. In April 2016, for example, the New York Times reported the case of Natalya Gorbunova who was sexually abused by debt collectors in Siberia. Gorbunova had borrowed initially as little as $75, but her debt grew to around $3,600. These appalling stories demonstrate a clear need for better regulation of the sector and for protection of borrowers' rights.

Unfulfilled demand for loans

Could responsible microfinance institutions replace dubious moneylenders in Russia? Russia is certainly an interesting market for providers of microfinance, since traditional banks are unwilling to lend to a great part of the Russian population. Not only the poor are excluded from access to finance, but so are owners of small businesses. Russian banks consider lending to these people too costly.

Responsible microfinance institutions united in the Russian Microfinance Center (there’s 400 of them for the time being) serve this group of clients, but their efforts are insufficient to cover the needs. Credit consumer cooperatives and agricultural credit consumer cooperatives are numerous (almost 2,500 Russia-wide), but not very well known. Modern providers of microfinance, such as Hamburg-based company Kreditech that uses data from social media to determine whether its clients are credit-worthy (which raises other issues), are opening up the Russian market as well, but there aren’t that many of them.

In the face of a huge unfulfilled demand for loans in Russia, moneylenders will persist — and their clients will continue to borrow unwisely.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Russia’s in the red Foreign currency protests in Russia - a chance for the opposition? Four Russias: the new political reality Russia, Inc. Behind the Russian mirror Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

33 Theses for an Economics Reformation

8 hours 32 min ago

To mark 500 years since the Catholic Reformation, students and top economists publish the '33 Theses for an Economics Reformation' to bring down the ‘religion’ of economics.

This article was published by Rethinking Economics during the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on the Tuesday 12 December, and ‘nailed’ to the doors of the London School of Economics.On 12 December 2017, Rethinking Economics and the New Weather Institute published '33 Theses for an Economics Reformation' to mark 500 years since the Catholic Reformation. The Theses, which were endorsed by students and economists and nailed to the doors of the London School of Economics, are reproduced below. The world faces poverty, inequality, ecological crisis and financial instability. We are concerned that economics is doing much less than it could to provide insights that would help solve these problems. This is for three reasons:

  • First, within economics, an unhealthy intellectual monopoly has developed. The neoclassical perspective overwhelmingly dominates teaching, research, advice to policy, and public debate. Many other perspectives that could provide valuable insights are marginalised and excluded. This is not about one theory being better than another, but the notion that scientific advance only moves ahead with a debate. Within economics, this debate has died.
  • Second, while neoclassical economics made a contribution historically and is still useful, there is ample opportunity for improvement, debate and learning from other disciplines and perspectives.
  • Third, mainstream economics appears to have become incapable of self-correction, developing more as a faith than as a science. Too often, when theories and evidence have come into conflict, it is the theories that have been upheld and the evidence that has been discarded.

We propose these Theses as a challenge to the unhealthy intellectual monopoly of mainstream economics. These are examples – of the flaws in mainstream theories, of the insights that alternative perspectives have to offer, and of the ways in which a more pluralist approach can help economics to become both more effective and more democratic. This is an assertion that a better economics is possible, and an invitation to debate.

THE PURPOSE OF THE ECONOMY 1. The purpose of the economy is for society to decide. No economic goal can be separated from politics. Indicators of success represent political choices. 2. The distribution of wealth and income are fundamental to economic reality and should be so in economic theory. 3. Economics is not value-free and economists should be transparent about the value judgments they make. This applies especially to those value judgments that may not be visible to the untrained eye. 4. Policy does not ‘level’ the playing field, but tilts it in a direction. We need a more explicit discussion of what sort of economy we want, and how to get there. THE NATURAL WORLD 5. The nature of the economy is that it is a subset of nature, and of the societies it emerges within. It does not exist as an independent entity. Social institutions and ecological systems are therefore central, not external, to its functioning. 6. The economy cannot survive or thrive without inputs from the natural world, or without the many lifesupporting systems that the natural world provides. It depends upon a continual through-flow of energy and matter, and operates within a delicately balanced biosphere. An economic theory that treats the natural world as external to its model cannot fully understand how the degradation of the natural world may damage its own prospects. 7. Economics must recognise that the availability of non-renewable energy and resources is not infinite, and the use of these stocks to access the energy they contain alters the planet’s aggregate energy balances, creating consequences such as climatic upheaval. 8. Feedbacks between the economy and the ecology cannot be ignored. Ignoring them to date has led to a global economy that already operates well outside the viable thresholds of the ecology that houses it, yet requires further growth to function. But economics must be grounded in the objective constraints of the ecology of the planet. INSTITUTIONS AND MARKETS 9. All markets are created and shaped by laws, customs and culture, and are influenced by what governments do and by what they do not do. 10. Markets are outcomes of the interactions between different types of public and private organisations (as well as those in the voluntary sector and civil society). More study should be done on how these organisations are actually organised, and how the inter-relationships between them do work and could work. 11. Markets are also more complex and less predictable than may be implied by simple relationships of supply and demand. Economics needs a deeper understanding of how markets behave, and could learn from the science of complex systems, as used in physics, biology, and computing. 12. Institutions shape markets, and influence the behaviour of all economic actors. Economics must therefore consider institutions as a central part of its model. 13. Since different economies have different institutions, a policy that works well in one economy may work badly in another. For this reason among many others, it is unlikely to be helpful to propose a universally applicable set of economic policies based solely on abstract economic theory. LABOUR AND CAPITAL 14. Wages, profits, and returns on assets can be shown to depend on a wide range of factors, including the relative power of workers, firms, and owners of assets – not merely on their relative contributions to production. Economics needs a broader understanding of these factors so as to better inform choices that affect the share of income received by different groups in society. THE NATURE OF DECISION-MAKING 15. Error, bias, pattern-recognition, learning, social interaction, and context are all important influences on behaviour that are not recognised in economic theory. Mainstream economics therefore needs a broader understanding of human behaviour, and can learn from sociology, psychology, philosophy, and other schools of thought. 16. People are not perfect, and ‘perfectly rational’ economic decision-making is not possible. Any economic decisions that have something to do with the future involve a degree of unquantifiable uncertainty, and therefore require judgement. Mainstream economic theory and practice must recognise the role of uncertainty. INEQUALITY 17. In a market economy, people with the same abilities, preferences and endowments do not tend to end up with the same level of wealth, subject only to some random variation. The effects of small differences in luck or circumstances can drive vastly different outcomes for similar people. 18. Markets often show a tendency towards increasing inequality. In turn, unequal societies fare worse across a range of social welfare indicators. Mainstream economic theory could do much better in understanding how and why this happens, and how it may be avoided. 19. The proposition that as a country gets richer, inequality must inevitably rise before it falls, has been shown to be false. Any combination of GDP growth and inequality is possible. GDP GROWTH, INNOVATION & DEBT 20. Growth is a political, as much as an economic choice. If we choose to pursue ‘growth’, then the questions – ‘growth of what, why, for whom, for how long, and how much is enough?’ – must all be answered either explicitly or implicitly. 21. Innovation is not external to the economy; it is an inherent part of economic activity. Our understanding of GDP growth may be improved if we see innovation as occurring within a constantly-evolving, disequilibrium ecosystem, shaped by the design of markets and by the interactions between all actors within them. 22. Innovation has both a rate and a direction. A discussion of the ‘direction’ of innovation requires an understanding of ‘purpose’ in policy-making. 23. Private debt also profoundly influences the rate at which the economy grows. and yet is excluded from economic theory. The creation of debt adds credit-financed demand, and affects both goods and asset markets. Finance and economics cannot be separated. MONEY, BANKS AND CRISES 24. The majority of new money circulating in the economy is created by commercial banks, every time they make a new loan. 25. The way in which money is created affects the distribution of wealth within society. Consequently, the method of money creation should be understood to be a political issue, not merely a technical one. 26. Since banks create money and debt, they are important actors in the economy, and should be included within macroeconomic models. Economic models that do not include banks will not be able to predict banking crises. 27. Economics needs a better understanding of how instability and crises can be created internally within markets, rather than treating them as ‘shocks’ that affect markets from the outside. 28. Financialisation has two dimensions: short-termist and speculative finance, and a financialised real economy. The two problems must be studied together. THE TEACHING OF ECONOMICS 29. A good economics education must offer a plurality of theoretical approaches to its students. This should include not only the history and philosophy of economic thought, but also a wide range of current perspectives – such as institutional, Austrian, Marxian, post-Keynesian, feminist, ecological, and complexity. 30. Economics itself should not be a monopoly. Interdisciplinary courses are key to understanding the economic realities of financial crises, poverty, and climate change. Politics, sociology, psychology, and environmental sciences must thus be integrated into the curriculum, without being treated as inferior additions to existing economic theory. 31. Economics should not be taught as a value-neutral study of models and individuals. Economists need to be well versed in ethics and politics, as well as being able to meaningfully engage with the public. 32. An overwhelming focus on statistics and quantitative models can leave economists blinded to other ways of thinking. Students should be supported in exploring other methodological approaches, including qualitative research, interviewing, fieldwork, and theoretical argumentation. 33. Above all, economics must do more to encourage critical thinking, and not simply reward memorisation of theories and implementation of models. Students must be encouraged to compare, contrast, and combine theories, and critically apply them to in-depth case studies of the real world.

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Migration in the time of empire

8 hours 35 min ago

Millions migrated to work the plantations following the abolition of slavery in the British and French empires. Like today they needed help to do so, and like today that help wanted its cut. 

Tom Rolfe/flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The problems associated with today's mass migrations are nothing new. They have always arisen from the incompetent or misguided policies of governments, usually the same governments creating the conditions from which migrants are trying to escape.

In the current European refugee crisis, an attempt is commonly made to distinguish between ‘deserving’ refugees, to whom asylum should be granted, and ‘economic migrants’, who should be excluded. However the distinction is not clear cut. So-called ‘economic migrants’ are often the victims of misrule by totalitarian regimes, persecuted with political and economic discrimination as well as the loss of civil liberties. Their poverty is often brought about or compounded by the actions of politicians, and even when those actions do not lead to war, the famine or economic distress that so often results from misrule can be just as deadly as guns and bombs.

Perhaps the most extreme form of political repression arises when a country is occupied by a foreign power. This describes the condition of many countries in Africa and Asia during the era of European colonialism. Political rights and civil liberties were minimal, and territories were administered primarily in the interests of the occupying power, and not those of the indigenous population. The question arises, therefore, of whether labour migrants of the colonial era were maximising their economic opportunities, or were simply refugees.  The answer, as today, is often both. Migrants made choices, but only amongst a very limited range of options. One might question the freedom of choice when it comes to most economies, but in these circumstances the range of options was often peculiarly constrained.

Migration in the age of colonialism

Global migration has a longer history than most people imagine. Apart from the millions of Europeans who migrated to America and other countries in the hope of a better life, some 20 million Chinese migrated overseas between 1840 and 1940. Mostly they went to Malaysia, where they worked in the tin mining industry, or to the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), Siam, French Indo-China, and South Africa to mine gold.

Were labour migrants of the colonial era maximising their economic opportunities, or were they simply refugees?

Indians migrated overseas in equally large numbers from the 1830s onwards. Many of these migrants came from regions with traditionally high levels of out-migration, such as Bihar in northern India and Tamil Nadu in the south, but eventually every part of the Indian subcontinent became involved. Some replaced African slave labour following the abolition of slavery in the British and French empires in the mid-1800s, working the sugar plantations in the Caribbean, the southern Indian Ocean, South Africa, Fiji, Reunion, Guadeloupe, and Martinique. Even larger numbers found work in the rice, coffee, tea and rubber plantations of Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Malaysia. They also served as construction workers, much as they do in the Middle East in the present day.

Notoriously one-sided labour contracts obliged Indian labourers to work continuously for three, four, or five years for a single employer in order to pay for their passage. They had no passports to be confiscated, only an emigration certificate and a contract of employment. If they did not complete their contract they would lose the right to a free passage home.

Criticism from the anti-slavery society in London, which dubbed the first wave of indentured migration ‘a new system of slavery’, led to the suspension of indentured migration in 1838. It was resumed five years later under close supervision. Within India, opponents of Indian overseas migration were reassured by promises that only the poorest and most unskilled Indian workers would be recruited. However, statistical evidence suggests that by the late 1850s, migrants were being recruited from amongst the landless and impoverished within all sections of society.

The great Indian Uprising of 1857 gave a boost to the trade, as the economy of rural north India was devastated by war with successive famines following in 1861 and 1865. Tens of thousands of high caste Indians from disbanded regiments of the Bengal army, in particular, found themselves out of work at this time and many migrated overseas. It is true that the wages of indentured labourers were often better than those available locally. However, alternative employment opportunities were severely limited.

Indentured life

The indenture contract was similar to that in use in most modern armies. It was less onerous in one respect, as if they saved enough the workers could buy themselves out of the contract at any time. The work was hard, however, and although hospitals were provided and protectors and inspectors were appointed (to whom they could and did complain), the rights of workers were always constrained by the pervasive racism of their employers and colonial governments.

Emigration as an indentured labourer helped some to escape caste, gender, or religious persecution.

If workers fled from the plantation they could be arrested and imprisoned for vagrancy (a law borrowed from Britain), and workers who were absent from work without permission were, in some colonies, penalised with a two-day deduction of wages for every day they were away (the notorious ‘double cut’). Although banned by labour ordinances towards the end of the century, overseers in some estates often did not hesitate to use violence and abuse to keep their workers in line.

Like most long-distance migrants, the Indian recruits (referred to as ‘coolies’ – a title that later assumed a derogatory meaning) had only a limited knowledge of where they were going. There were sugar plantations in India, and some were already familiar with the type of work involved. But most had no relevant previous experience. What attracted them was the possibility of saving money and returning home with it.

For others returning home was not part of the plan. Emigration as an indentured labourer helped some to escape caste, gender, or religious persecution. For others, indenture offered a route to acquiring land – something they could never have achieved in India – and so they stayed on in the sugar colonies. In the British colony of Trinidad, the earliest migrants were offered a free grant of land if they agreed to stay rather than claim the free passage home to which they were entitled. In time, many gave up working on the plantations and became farmers or shopkeepers.

A perilous path to improvement

Between 1.5 and 2 million Indians were contracted as indentured workers in the decades following the abolition of slavery. Large, settled communities of Indian workers began to emerge in the sugar colonies, making indentured labour, by the early twentieth century, redundant. This was not, however, the only way the inter-Asian labour trade found its workers. Other forms of recruitment included the so-called ‘free migration’ of workers, which saw Indian kanganies and maistries advancing wages and lending money to workers to pay their passage. Most went to the coffee and tea plantations of Assam and Sri Lanka, and later on the rubber plantations of Malaysia. Unlike the migration of indentured labourers to work in the sugar trade, this form of migration was not closely supervised by colonial governments. We will therefore never know the true numbers, but many millions were involved.

In all these migrations there was an opportunity for betterment, but at huge risk and often at great cost. Prior to the introduction of steamships, disease might break out on ships during the long sea passage, leading to extraordinary levels of mortality. Some were also lost in drownings at sea and shipwrecks. Once they arrived, especially in the early years, the treatment meted out to workers by former slave owners was often harsh.

Gradually though, over time, conditions were improved with the introduction of increased rations and more rigorous inspections. The complaints and protests of the workers, who struggled against colonial discrimination, played an important role in ameliorating the trade: so much so that the Internal Labour Organisation in the 1920s looked to the indentured labour ordinances for examples on how to define the rights of workers. Much as in the present day, the least fortunate migrants were those who found themselves working in entirely unregulated industries, such as agriculture or domestic work.

Kanganis and sirdars: the ‘traffickers’ of their time

It is often assumed that planters and factory owners were themselves responsible for recruiting the workers. However, intermediaries of various sorts played a crucial role in all Indian overseas labour migration. The most important of these intermediaries was the kangani or sirdar: who was commonly a returnee migrant worker or overseer, who could provide knowledge and information about the passage, guarantee safe arrival, and confirm onward employment.

In the 1920s the ILO looked to the indentured labour ordinances for examples on how to define the rights of workers.

Much like modern people smugglers – often referred to as ‘traffickers’ – they were pilloried at the time. They provided a service to the planters by sourcing employees, usually from the Indian rural locality where they originated, that the planters could not otherwise secure. They had to be paid for this, and often demanded extortionate fees. At the same time, they organised and supported the workers: navigating their way to the depot, providing them food and clothing during the passage, lending money (at high rates of interest), and securing the best possible wages for them if they chose to re-indenture on the sugar estate (in which they also claimed a share). They were indispensable to all concerned, but their loyalties were always in question.

Numerous colonial governments attempted to do away with the kanganis, sirdars, and other intermediaries with the hope of encouraging an entirely ‘free’ market in labour migrants. This proved to be impossible, even after the abandonment of the indentured labour contract in the 1920s under pressure from Indian nationalists. Much like people smugglers today, they provided a service which no one else could. Migrants depended upon the networks and knowledge of intermediaries to survive their long journeys and to find employment on the other side, as while independent labour migration was not illegal, contracts could not be secured without the involvement of intermediaries.

Hindering movement, creating movement: European policy then and now

The trend of expanding free trade while tightening border controls began in the 1880s, with immigration restrictions introduced by the United States, Canada and Australia to halt the inward flow of Chinese labourers (and, at least in the US, ‘immoral’ women). Travel restrictions became more widespread in the 1930s, as migrants were scapegoated for the strikes and riots brought about by the Great Depression. Border controls then became endemic after World War II, as newly independent social democratic states struggled to define and control their citizens, to raise taxes, and to determine the legal rights of their populations. It is these restrictions that have made intermediaries of various sorts even more important than they were in the past for those seeking and needing to cross the globe in search of sanctuary and employment.

Europe generally does not allow refugees to apply for asylum before they reach European soil, and at the same time European air, sea and road transport regulations forbid any migrant to board a plane without a visa. These policies are a boon for the smuggling industry to Europe – indeed, they largely create it. Many politicians have furthermore pointed out how the foreign policies of the European powers – particularly the arming of rebels in the aftermath of the ‘Arab Spring’ and the bombing of Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen – contribute to migration.

Nineteenth century colonialism limited the opportunities of Indian subjects so that they had little choice but to become indentured migrants, for which they were recruited by Indian sirdars. So too have European governments compounded a state of war alongside an exclusionary legal regime, forcing would-be migrants into the hands of smugglers if they are to have any chance of making the crossing.

In 1875 a royal commission investigating indentured migration to Mauritius received conflicting reports regarding the sirdars: sometimes they seemed to serve the interests only of themselves, but at other times they clearly defended their gangs of workers. Neither the workers or planters could survive without them. The royal commission concluded they were an “evil” – hypocritically blamed on “the persistence of native practices” – that must be endured.

Just as there were ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sirdars in colonial times, the same can be said of intermediaries in the present: at the one end there are legitimate and responsible foreign labour recruiters and at the other end are those who use intimidation to coerce migrants into exploitative employment in industries lacking regulation. People smugglers operate along a similar spectrum. Their actions are illegal under law but their services are in great demand, and that creates the potential for exploitation but does not guarantee it.

European governments have much to answer for as well. Because of their illegality, smugglers are forced to abandon lorries or boats before reaching their destinations, off-loading sea passengers onto dinghies that either sink or are confiscated upon arrival. Intermediaries in colonial times travelled with migrants for the whole journey, acted as overseers on the plantations, and often spent their entire lives with the persons they recruited and accompanied overseas. In some ways that made migration less hazardous in colonial times than it is now.  The culpability of European governments for the poor conditions migrants have to suffer is in many ways similar, but the results are even more devastating today.

Sideboxes Related stories:  The antiblackness of 'modern-day slavery' abolitionism Bitter grapes? Slavery, labour, and memory in the Cape winelands The use and abuse of history: slavery and its contemporary legacies The legacies of slavery in southern Senegal Reparations are too confronting: let’s talk about 'modern-day slavery' instead Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

Bitter grapes? Slavery, labour, and memory in the Cape winelands

8 hours 36 min ago

South Africa’s vineyards have been accused of practicing ‘modern-day slavery’, but few ask why exploitative practices from the past continue. A few new museums in the area seek to start this conversation.

Once a former wine cellar, the Museum van de Caab at Solms Delta explores the slave past of the vineyard. Photo by author. All rights reserved.

October 2016 saw the release of a documentary titled Bitter Grapes – Slavery in the Vineyards, directed by a Danish journalist named Tom Heinemann. The documentary, which initially aired on Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian television, alleged that by paying low wages – at times below minimum wage requirements – providing unsanitary living conditions, and depriving workers of human rights in other ways, farmers in South Africa’s wine and fruit producing Western Cape were guilty of upholding conditions amounting to slavery.

Such claims are not necessarily novel and have appeared in the media before. Most notably, a 2011 report from Human Rights Watch provided comprehensive evidence of human rights degradations, issues around pay and living conditions, the active obstruction of unionisation, and even the illegal eviction of staff. Both Bitter Grapes and the HRW report posited these contemporary phenomena as the latest manifestation of a historical continuum of exploitation originating in the time of slavery. Slave labour, which became illegal in 1834, was the backbone of early Cape wine farming, and the suggestion is that the economic interests of the former slave owning class continued to be served by unequal labour relations. To fully understand the issues discussed by Bitter Grapes and HRW, we must therefore look into the past.

These links with the past are crucial for understanding how exploitation in the South African wine industry perpetuates itself, yet they are often difficult to see in a country frequently reticent to include the legacies of slavery within the national discussion. Perceptions of shame, a history of rule by a white minority, and state-led efforts to promote anti-apartheid history as the national narrative have until recently combined to prevent slavery from receiving much attention outside the South African academy.

The paternalistic legacies of slavery, which continue to define labour practices on numerous Western Cape wine and fruit farms, have consequently passed almost without comment. That is starting to change, and a handful of new museum exhibitions in the Western Cape Province have started to open up that history and to explore what it means for today’s workers. Arguably, it is only by discussing the intergenerational trauma embedded within this perpetual exploitation that it can be challenged, and new, more equitable labour policies can begin to emerge.

The legacies of slavery in the South African wine industry

Around 60,000 enslaved people lived at the Cape – which was one of four territories unified by the British to form South Africa in 1910 and includes the modern area defined as the Western Cape – between 1658 and 1834. They came from East Asia, Madagascar, and Mozambique, and many bore children into slavery after their arrival. At various times their number marginally outnumbered that of the colonists. Wine farming, then as now, was a staple of the Cape economy under both the Dutch (1652-1808) and the British (1808 onwards), and slave labour underpinned that industry.

Following the abolition of slavery in 1834, the asymmetrical balance of power at the Cape in favour of the former master class was preserved through the 1841 Masters and Servants Ordinance and 1856 Masters and Servants Act. These measures essentially gave increased rights to white settlers by criminalising workplace desertion, strikes, and behaviour deemed drunken, negligent, or insolent. Although these measures in theory covered everyone, in practice the authorities only applied them to unskilled workers – mainly the formerly enslaved and their descendants. This legislation was not repealed until 1974, over 20 years after apartheid was first implemented.

A memorial wall at Solms Delta. Photo by author. All rights reserved.

The relationship between slavery and later racial segregation in South Africa is complicated. Slavery itself was not strictly bi-racial, although there are no records of a white person being enslaved. Race in fact became a greater signifier of social and economic identity post-slavery. Certainly, slavery cemented a mindset among white elites in certain areas – the wine industry being a prominent example – who came to expect a cheap supply of black labour. As revisionist historians writing during the 1970s first claimed, subsequent racial segregation was increasingly focussed on maintaining this supply to maintain white economic hegemony.

Beyond labour organisation, there are more visible legacies of slavery which continue to influence the professional and social lives of farm workers. As both Bitter Grapes and HRW claimed, the illegal dop system of payment in alcohol continues to be practiced in places. The substitution of money with wine has its origins in the time of slavery, and has been posited as central to problems of alcoholism and foetal alcohol syndrome which bedevil poor rural communities and increase their dependency on farmers.

Elsewhere, these paternalistic legacies of slavery are being eroded by new economic models. Eviction from on-farm housing represents a departure from a way of farm organisation rooted in the era of slavery, in which the manor house-dwelling farmer functions as a figurehead with dependent workers living in more modest accommodation. Post-eviction, workers – many of whom may have lived on farms for generations – are replaced by migrant labourers who are billeted in hostels to reduce costs. Whilst the semantics evolve, the end goal of access to a cheap labour supply remains prominent.

Exhibiting the past

The wine and fruit producing regions of the Western Cape are now a fundamental part of South African tourism. A number of farms have expanded far beyond wine production to offer visitor facilities ranging from restaurants and wine-tasting rooms to luxury guest accommodation and conferencing venues. These additional commercial activities, together with returns derived from land speculation, are now of greater importance financially than the basic act of producing wine.

Both contemporary and historical forms of exploitation go largely unnoticed by tourists to the Western Cape. They are also almost entirely ignored by the tourism industry. There is little discussion of a traumatic past as a means of understanding contemporary labour practices. Histories of exploitation are an uncomfortable truth for the wine industry, particularly in cases where it continues to benefit from easy access to cheap labour. History, when it makes an appearance, is usually used to bolster the wine’s vintage, as it suggests techniques were honed over years to create the perfect bottle. My research carried out both on the websites of wine farms and by conducting site visits suggested that only six out of over 200 surveyed include any form of historical interpretation.

One of these six focused almost entirely on the elite history of past owners. A couple, such as Vergelegen and the state-managed site of Groot Constantia, reflect on their histories of enslavement through traditional museum displays, which pay similar levels of attention to historical owners. Others step up the critique with approaches that show an awareness of history’s pertinence in the present. At Spier near Stellenbosch, an audio tour of the historic farm is narrated by the character of the ghost of a fictional enslaved woman named Sannie de Goede. Whilst walking the estate as part of the audio tour, attention is drawn to how Spier is attempting to improve the lot of its workers by investing in educational and training programmes, as well as providing new housing.

Solms Delta, near Franschhoek, takes this progressive approach much farther. There are two museums on site, one of which gives a history of the estate and surrounding area while the other offers a detailed exploration of music at the Cape. The history museum culminates with a series of oral history interviews conducted with present day workers who reflect on experiences of apartheid, and what the modern estate means to them. This is suggestive of a wider project at Solms Delta that has seen workers receive shares of the estate’s land and profits, their accommodation upgraded, and the creation of cultural activities for workers such as a newly-formed estate band.

The use of a history museum to explore contemporary labour relations at Solms Delta reminds us that to understand the present we need to consider what came before. In Bitter Grapes, Henriette Abrahams from the union Sikhula Sonke comments on “atrocious bosses or employers … treating their people still as slaves”. But why? Part of the answer lies in the continuing influence of colonial-era methods and mentalities on current labour practices. These connections, which for many years remained unexplored, are now fitfully being exposed as part of efforts to defend the human rights of contemporary workers. At sites including, most prominently, District Six Museum in Cape Town, cathartic memory work has powerfully been used to discuss painful memories. Work of this kind has aided people to come to terms with the past, and the project under way at Solms Delta suggests that such enquiry into history may prove a means of advancing worker interests in the Winelands.

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Turkophilia and the common life: a pledge, a bond, and a very special appeal

9 hours 2 min ago

Exactly one hundred years to the day – the story of a British Scots-Irish family who learnt to love Turkey, of two rosaries and of a silver Koran. 

An Anzac soldier gives water to a wounded Turk. Photograph taken circa 1916. Wikicommons Gallipoli file. Some rights reserved.December 7 – 9,1917, exactly 100 years ago, were portentous days for my family. My maternal grandfather Sidney was seriously wounded and badly gassed at the battle of Cambrai. According to my grandmother, it was the “last day of the battle", so it would have been December 8. Not surprisingly, some days later he had a heart attack. The incident is missing from the military archives, but it is recorded at the military hospital in Eastbourne where he arrived on December 28,1917.

This was not the first time he had been wounded. He had been shot in the right-leg thigh during the battle of the Somme, some time between September 26 – 30,1916, and had also suffered a gunshot wound (GSW) in late August or early September 1915 at Gallipoli. He was shot by a Turkish sniper. The soldier was either a very good marksman or a very bad one, because he shot my grandfather in the wrist. It was not life-threatening, but he would not be able to hold a gun for some time, and was evacuated to hospital in Malta, arriving there aboard HS Guildford Castle on September 12,1915. The Turkish sniper probably saved his life – the endgame at Gallipoli was of course horrendous.

My maternal grandfather was a loyal soldier, but with his Irish, working-class, leftwards-leaning background, he was no lackey of the British Establishment. According to my uncle, he thought the Gallipoli campaign was a “preposterous arrogance”. His view was that the Turks could easily have overrun the British Empire and French forces. But chose to avoid a massacre. According to my grandfather’s interpretation of events, they decided to “contain” the British in the hope they would see sense. He thought the Turks were “honourable people” and “real gentlemen”. He was particularly impressed that Turkish soldiers had thrown food and cigarettes across the lines for the beleaguered British troops. In spite of his wound, he became the first of my family’s Turkophiles, and remained so for the rest of his life. Particularly impressed that Turkish soldiers had thrown food and cigarettes across the lines for the beleaguered British troops… he became the first of my family’s Turkophiles, and remained so for the rest of his life.

On December 9,1917, at the moment my maternal grandfather was lying on a stretcher somewhere in Cambrai, his brother, my great uncle Dick, was entering Jerusalem with Allenby’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force.

It was also foul weather – cold and raining hard – as if a gloomy grey cloud hung over what was left of five hundred years’ rich and colourful history. In the text of his surrender Izzat, Mutasarrif of Jerusalem wrote: “Due to the severity of the siege of the city and the suffering that this peaceful country has endured from your heavy guns; and for fear that these deadly bombs will hit the holy places, we are forced to hand over to you the city through Hussein al-Husayni, the mayor of Jerusalem, hoping that you will protect Jerusalem the way we have protected it for more than five hundred years.”

With all due respect to rights of the children born on the land since then, Jerusalem was never again as peaceful or as harmonious a place as it had been under Hussein al-Husayni, the man who paved the streets, created the city’s modern infrastructure and founded the Red Crescent Society to foster Arab-Jewish understanding in the twilight years of the Ottoman Empire. “Hoping that you will protect Jerusalem the way we have protected it for more than five hundred years”…

The Ottoman Empire had its low points, some very low indeed. But looking in from the outside, as empires go, it had a certain wisdom, tolerance and humanity. Above all, the Turks respected the “common life”; in Ottoman lands there were many mixed communities, largely accepting of religious differences: from Bosnia to Mesopotamia and the Sahel, church domes and steeples and synagogue clocks frequently stood side by side with minarets. The millet system allowed for a religious autonomy without sectarian division. In many places this cohesive social atmosphere remained long after the empire had crumbled. Only in 1990s was the Bosnian common life broken (I hope and expect not for long); and now, for the time being, the Syrian common life is being broken as I write these words.

The more my great uncle Dick experienced the campaign in Palestine, the more he learnt to respect the culture of his “enemies” and he too joined the ranks of my family’s Turkophiles.

At the same moment, one hundred years ago, when Dick was drinking arak in Jerusalem, and my maternal grandfather was lying in the mud of Cambrai, a Scottish soldier was tending to a wounded Turkish soldier lying in the desert somewhere near Tikrit. My paternal grandfather, James, had travelled from Bangalore through Bombay in April 1917 and arrived in Basra on May 1.

He was first of all posted to Baghdad, then sent for several months to patrol the desert, where he got to know his Turkish “enemy” at close quarters. There were numerous skirmishes, and far from centres of military command, there were informal exchanges of prisoners, and even fraternising.

In November he fought in the battle of Tikrit, the last major battle of the war in Mesopotamia. Once Commander Ismail Hakki Bey had withdrawn his troops, the British were not particularly interested in occupying the town, so my grandfather James was once again assigned to desert patrols, shadowing the retreating Ottoman army. It was during this time that he found the wounded soldier; in fact he assisted several Turkish soldiers – it was his way – but this one was special. After my grandfather had helped him find a more comfortable position, dressed his wounds as best he could, and had given him the water left in his bottle to drink, the Turkish soldier, with maybe his last burst of strength, tore a silver Koran on a delicate chain from around his neck and gave it to my grandfather. It was a moment that was to have an impact on three generations of my family, and still impacts on me personally, to these very days in December 2017.

James Osborne Mesopotamia 1917 Of course I do not know the exact moment this happened, but my grandfather, who liked to tell this story, always said it was “a few weeks after the battle of Tikrit”. The battle of Tikrit was over on or around November 5,1917, so a “few weeks” would take us into early December 1917. According to my grandfather’s military record, he was back in Basra before the end of December, ready to be transferred to the Royal Engineers in preparation for the construction of the Basra-Baghdad railway, so he cannot have been in the area of Tikrit much later than mid-December. Somewhere around or between December 7 – 9 would be the most plausible and of course the most “romantic” supposition.

My paternal grandfather was the biggest, most ardent Turkophile in my family. He had admired the Turks in battle – their toughness and their courage, and appreciated their personal qualities in peace: their dignity in relative poverty, and their passion and generosity. He would lecture me when I was a small boy, telling me the Turks were “the most noble people walking the earth”. Of course this had a huge impact on my young mind. Eventually, when he saw what kind of person I was going to be, he gave me the Koran. He would lecture me when I was a small boy, telling me the Turks were “the most noble people walking the earth”… Eventually, when he saw what kind of person I was going to be, he gave me the Koran.

I visited Turkey as soon as I could. I arrived in beautiful, exciting Istanbul as a hitch-hiker when I was 17 years old, and carried on to explore the Middle East. On the way home, I stumbled on an unexpected resonance of Turkish culture in former Yugoslavia – in Bosnia. I fell in love with the music of Sevda, and have sung it ever since. Sevda is the music of the Bosnian common life, with influences from the music of the Adriatic, the Slavs, the Magyars, the Roma, the Ladino Jews, Italian opera and Viennese Romanticism. But the core is Ottoman: the Turkish makams and a moving poetic language of words derived from Turkish, or Arabic by way of Turkish – words like akšam (akşam - evening), bulbul (bülbül - nightingale), dilber (dilber - a beautiful person, in Sevda, “lover”), kara-krzli (kara-kirmizi - black-red), šadrvan {şadırvan - marble fountain) or zeman (zaman - time). In 2007 I wrote what is probably the first Sevda opera; I was given permission to do so by the leading Bosnian Sevda musicians – they said they were too close to the tradition to do it – it would need someone both close and far away. In 2007 I wrote what is probably the first Sevda opera; I was given permission to do so by the leading Bosnian Sevda musicians… it would need someone both close and far away.

The silver Koran became a talisman in my life and the life of my family. And what it represents has become almost a pledge or a bond. As a family we see ourselves, in our small and very humble way, as friends of Islam. This commitment has been tested over the last 30 years or so, as Islamic communities, and the “common lives” associated with them, have suffered horrendous violence and injustice. I believe I was responding to the call of the silver Koran when I supported the Bosnian Government during the genocide. I had the privilege of working as a volunteer directly for leading politicians (for example Haris Silajdžić, Foreign Minister and Zlatko Lagumdžija, acting Prime Minister) and even of helping write speeches for President Alija Izetbegović.

In Sarajevo during the siege, I saw the horror inflicted on children – so working with Bosnian artist friends I helped to develop a music and creative arts therapeutic programme for children and young people that was well received and appeared to be successful; it has since become a standard intervention. It is the work with which I have attempted to keep the pledge and the bond, working in Kosova, Chechnya, the Palestine Authority, and most recently in Lebanon and Syria. In Lebanon I work with a wonderful NGO called SAWA for Development and Aid. They are all young people and they were the first to help Syrian refugees arriving in the Bekaa Valley in 2011. SAWA is entirely inclusive. Our CEO, Rouba Mhaissen, describes herself, as “Sushi” (she is of mixed Sunni and Shia heritage). We also have Druze, Christians, Sufi, Buddhists and atheists. But the driving force is a beautifully creative and dynamic Islam. It is the most loving and effective organisation I have ever worked for. Great things get done and impossible tasks are achieved on the wings of good spirit and good faith. SAWA get by on far too little ad hoc funding, but make a major impact on the lives of refugees in the Bekaa Valley. I shall be travelling back to SAWA and the Bekaa when I leave Istanbul on December 9. SAWA is entirely inclusive. Our CEO, Rouba Mhaissen, describes herself, as “Sushi” (she is of mixed Sunni and Shia heritage).

I have a great team of Syrians working with the children. Mahmoud is from Ma’loula and speaks Arabic and Syriac as well as the closely related Aramaic, the language of Christ. I remember asking Mahmoud why he carries two rosaries in his pocket. He showed them to me: one was a normal string of beads – a misbaha, the other had a small cross attached to it. I asked him why he carried both a Muslim and Christian rosary in his pocket. He replied, “I come from Ma’loula. I love my town. For centuries Muslims and Christian have lived together in peace. This is my way of expressing my love for my town.”

The common life of Syria thrived under the Ottomans. It is now under massive threat. The dynamics of the cruel war in Syria have been directed, both intentionally and unintentionally, towards dividing communities. The great powers that have meddled in this conflict have had little idea of the consequences for Syria and the world. We have allowed the tacit campaign against the common life, and a related campaign-by-default to go on much too long and far too far. The common life is not a sentimental delusion. It is in reality as hard as nails. It is the only way people can live. Those who have tried to live differently – from Nazi atrocities to the Russian pogroms – have perished, and perished violently. We cannot deprive our children of the clear air and healthy human eco-system of the common life. The common life is not a sentimental delusion. It is in reality as hard as nails. It is the only way people can live.

I have come to Istanbul because I am my grandfather’s grandson. Exactly a hundred years ago, my grandfather James tended to a Turkish soldier lying wounded in the desert. I have come a hundred years later to try to help another Turkish soldier in distress. He is not a soldier of war; he is a soldier of peace. His name is Osman Kavala – Osman Bey. If I think of my two grandfathers’ descriptions of the Turks as “honourable people”, “real gentlemen” and “the most noble people walking the earth” then Osman Bey fits the description in every detail. He is a man of the highest principle. He is scrupulously honest, rigorously truth-seeking, brilliantly effective in everything he does, devotedly caring and magnificently generous. Osman Bey is a wonderful ambassador for Turkish culture and for the values of empathy, passion, justice, tolerance and human dignity that characterise the Turkish way of life.

He is now in prison, apparently accused of in some way undermining the state. His friends know that this is impossible. He may well have been active using culture and the arts to improve relations between Turkey and its neighbours, but his friends are witnesses to the fact that this has been done in a spirit of pure patriotism and full loyalty to the Government and legislature of Turkey.

I have brought two things with me to Istanbul. The first is a petition from ten leading international activists in the world of culture and peace-making. We believe that the arrest of Osman Bey is simply a mistake. We appeal to President Erdogan, Prime Minister Yildirim and the Grand National Assembly to review this case as a matter of urgency; if the indictment, whatever it is, can be filed quickly, it will at least give Osman Bey the chance to defend himself.

The second thing I have brought to Istanbul is the silver Koran. One family means nothing in relation to the might of Turkey, but we have kept faith with you for three generations and a hundred years. Please keep faith with us and make sure Osman Bey is dealt with justly. In the name of an old Ottoman soldier’s silver Koran, please either release him, or at least file the indictment.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Osman Kavala, Turkish democracy on the anvil WW1 and the battle of the national myth Topics:  Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government International politics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

Trading away our Privacy; the WTO Ministerial in Buenos Aires

9 hours 50 min ago

If countries from the Global South want to prepare for data wars, they should start thinking about how to reduce the overwhelming control of Big Tech. Español

Image: UNCTAD.ORG, Some rights reserved.The reality check for Argentina

This week (10-13 December 2017), trade ministers from 164 countries gather together in Buenos Aires for the 11th World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference (MC11). President Donald Trump in November issued fresh accusations of unfair treatment toward the US by WTO members, making it virtually impossible for trade ministers to leave the table with any agreement in substantial areas.

To avoid a ‘failure ministerial,” some countries see the solution as pushing governments to open a mandate to start conversations that might lead to a negotiation on binding rules for e-commerce and a declaration of the gathering as the “digital ministerial. Argentina’s MC11 chair, Susana Malcorra, is actively pushing for member states to embrace e-commerce at the WTO, claiming that it is necessary to “bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots”.

It is not very clear what kind of gaps Malcorra is trying to bridge. It surely isn’t the “connectivity gap” or “digital divide” that is growing between developed and developing countries, seriously impeding digital learning and knowledge in developing countries. In fact, half of humanity is not even connected to the internet, let alone positioned to develop competitive markets or bargain at a multilateral level. Negotiating binding e-commerce rules at the WTO would only widen that gap.

Dangerously, the “South Vision” of digital trade in the global trade arena is being shaped by a recent alliance of governments and well-known tech-sector lobbyists, in a group called Friends of E-Commerce for Development (FED), including Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Uruguay, and, most recently, China. FED claims that e-commerce is a tool to drive growth, narrow the digital divide, and generate digital solutions for developing and least developed countries. However, none of the countries in the group (apart from China) is leading or even remotely ready to be in a position to negotiate and push for binding rules on digital trade that will be favorable to them, as their economies are still far away from the technology revolution. For instance, it is perplexing that one of the most fervent defenders of FED’s position is Costa Rica. The country’s economy is based on the export of bananas, coffee, tropical fruits, and low-tech medical instruments, and almost half of its population is offline. Most of the countries in FED are far from being powerful enough to shift negotiations in favor of small players.

U.S.-based tech giants and Chinese Alibaba – so-called GAFA-A dominate by far the future of the digital playing field, including issues such as identification and digital payments, connectivity, and the next generation of logistics solutions. In fact, there is a no-holds-barred ongoing race among these tech giants to consolidate their market share in developing economies, from the race to grow the advertising market to the race to increase online payments.  

An e-commerce agenda that claims unprecedented development for the Global South is a Trojan horse move. Beginning negotiations on such topics at this stage – before governments are prepared to understand what is at stake – could lead to devastating results, accelerating liberalization and the consolidation of the power of tech giants to the detriment of local industries, consumers, and citizens. Aware of the increased disparities between North and South, and the data dominance of a tiny group of GAFA-A companies, a group of African nations issued a statement opposing the digital ambitions of the host for MC11. But the political landscape is more complex, with China, the EU, and Russia now supporting the idea of a “digital” mandate.

Lessons from the past and repeating the same mistakes

The relationships of most countries with tech companies are as imbalanced as their relationships with Big Pharma, and there are many parallels to note. Not so long ago, the countries of the Global South faced Big Pharma power in pharmaceutical markets in a similar way. Some developing countries had the same enthusiasm when they negotiated intellectual property rules for the protection of innovation and research and development costs. In reality, those countries were nothing more than users and consumers of that innovation, not the owners or creators. The lessons of negotiating trade issues that lie at the core of public interest issues—in that case, access to medicines—were costly. Human lives and fundamental rights of those who use online services should not be forgotten when addressing the increasingly worrying and unequal relationships with tech power.

The threat before our eyes is similarly complex and equally harmful to the way our societies will be shaped in the coming years. In the past, the Big Pharma race was for patent exclusivity, to eliminate local generic production and keep drug prices high. Today, the Big Tech race is for data extractivism from those who have yet to be connected in the world, and tech companies will use all the power they hold to achieve a global regime in which small nations cannot regulate either data extraction or data localization.

Big Tech is one of the most concentrated and resourceful industries of all time. The bargaining power of developing countries is minimal. Developing countries will basically be granting the right to cultivate small parcels of a land controlled by data lords—under their rules, their mandate, and their will—with practically no public oversight. The stakes are high. At the core of it is the race to conquer the markets of digital payments and the battle to become the platform where data flows, splitting the territory as old empires did in the past. As the Economist claimed on May 6, 2017: “Conflicts over control of oil have scarred the world for decades. No one yet worries that wars will be fought over data. But the data economy has the same potential for confrontation.”

If countries from the Global South want to prepare for data wars, they should start thinking about how to reduce the control of Big Tech over—how we communicate, shop, and learn the news—, again, over our societies. The solution lies not in making rules for data liberalization, but in devising ways to use the law to reduce Big Tech’s power and protect consumers and citizens. Finding the balance would take some time and we are going to take that time to find the right balance, we are not ready to lock the future yet.

 

 

 

Topics:  Democracy and government Economics International politics Internet Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

The building of the Indian as a violent character

Mon, 2017-12-11 09:52

There is no repression without demonization. In Argentina, demonizing is being used to place native communities outside the rule of law, so that “counter-terrorist war” can be waged against them. Español

Photo courtesy of Cosecha Roja. All rights reserved. This article is being published as part of the partnership between Cosecha Roja and democraciaAbierta. You can read the original article here.

The Mapuche have long been the object of political extortion in Argentina. They are asked to either deny their history and conform to the national identity corset, or be considered internal enemies. The price of the Argentine legal hospitality is oblivion and historical renunciation. For those who look at it through the civil code, the Mapuche conflict is a real estate problem. For those who look at it through the criminal code, it is a criminal issue. Both perspectives – this is an old trick – aim at turning social conflicts into legal disputes, at emptying politics out of politics, so as to keep on de-historizing social unrest.

The Mapuche are to be considered Argentine citizens as long as they do not question the legal system that makes them invisible. Otherwise, they risk finding themselves outside the law and being labeled as activists or, worse still, identified as terrorists.

To the State, there are no historical reparations to be made (for the plundering) and no cultural diversity to recognize - only business to be promoted and (private) property to be expanded and protected.

Beneath these conflicts lies a permanent historical dispute that liberal democracy wants to do away with

Revitalizing the conflicts, claiming their millenary lands and the ancestral forests, occupying territories and using self-defense tactics put the Mapuche in a different framework than that of the hyper-real Indian image created by early 20th century classic comic books and, later, by Discovery Chanel.

The current prominence of the Mapuche communities is due not only to an attempt at updating history through a revision of a political past/present that the Argentine State has insisted on negating, but also at highlighting present/future policies as evidenced in neo-extractivism, tourism megaprojects, investors’ speculation and the concentration of land in the hands of a global few. They are not a lost patrol, nor are they disoriented. Beneath these conflicts lies a permanent historical dispute that liberal democracy wants to do away with.

So, given this context, the State equips itself with a new framework to maintain their invisibility by building the character of the violent, terrorist Indian.

There is no repression, or judicialization, without demonization

There is no repression, or judicialization, without demonization. Demonization is built on the basis of long-standing racial prejudices running through Argentine History - founding prejudices, as old as the formation of the national State, which have sedimented and settled in the social imaginary and have now become part of the good citizen’s moral reserve. Suffice it to read the readers’ comments to the news published in the Argentine media to confirm the racism that illustrious citizens hide beneath good manners and world trips. Suffice it to watch TV entertainment programs to realize that social as well as class conflicts continue to be - above all – racial conflicts.

Current demonizing activates punitive passions, class vindictiveness and racist neocolonialism and is being contributed to by both the State and society.

Demonizing aims at denying the Mapuche nation’s existence as a legal subject and at placing the native communities outside the rule of law so as to have an excuse for establishing emergency rule and persecuting them with antiterrorist laws. For the time being, the penal code suffices, but by reading recent press releases of the Ministry of Security and checking statements by senior officials, it is obvious that they are creating the conditions to reproduce the anti-subversive struggle - the war against terrorism. A war waged outside the bounds of legality, through special procedures off international human rights standards. A war waged with a different kind of verbal and lethal pyrotechnics.

Through demonizing, the aim is to turn otherness from a relative quality to an absolute one, to make the Mapuche look and sound so foreign as to render them unintelligible. For, as we know, if they speak a strange language, you cannot talk to them - all you can do is call in the police.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Disappeared, dead, injured and detained: why does the Argentine state repress the Mapuche people? Santiago Maldonado: the truth about what happened in the morgue Mapuche vs Benetton: un-settling the land Topics:  Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Economics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

How Mario Centeno could change Europe

Mon, 2017-12-11 09:18

Mário Centeno, the new President of the Eurogroup, is going to Brussels to defend an alternative to austerity. But reshaping the European Union will require a lot more than electing a Southern European as President of the Eurogroup.

Mario Centeno and Jeroen Dijsselbloem during a ECOFIN meeting in February 2017. PES Communications/Flick. Some rights reserved.

“Above all, the thrall in which an ideology holds a people is best measured by their collective inability to imagine alternatives.”

- Tony Judt, The Memory Chalet

Two years ago Mario Centeno was yet another finance minister of the Eurozone trying to convince his European counterparts that austerity was not working. Portugal was emerging from a severe economic crisis and an equally challenging bailout. Pensions were slashed, education suffered a 23 per cent cut and unemployment reached 17.5 per cent in 2013. The former centre-right government zealously followed the treatment recommended by the IMF and the European Union. But the results were far from satisfactory. Deep cuts were not after all the answer to improve our economy and the life of our citizens. However, things changed dramatically when Antonio Costa´s government assumed office in 2015. After finding an unorthodox formula to govern, the socialists showed Europe that there is an alternative: the solution lies, politically, in reaching broader consensus. Economically, in boosting demand, not suppressing it.

Mr. Centeno is now going to Brussels to defend the Portuguese model. He will preside over the Eurogroup, influencing the direction of the eurozone economic and monetary policies in a key moment for the future of the European project. He overcame the finance ministers of Latvia, Luxembourg and Slovakia, and become the first holder of the post coming from a Southern European country.

The solution lies, politically, in reaching broader consensus. Economically, in boosting demand, not suppressing it.

Mr. Centeno’s metamorphosis from outsider to European leader started when Portugal left the EU´s excessive deficit procedure in May. The decision gave Portugal margin to ease austerity and to push away the threat of future sanctions. The decisive moment for Mr. Centeno, however, came the day after. Mr. Schäuble, then Germany´s finance minister, called him the “Ronaldo of Ecofin” and praised him in public. Many understood Mr. Schäuble words as an endorsement. However, few believed Portugal´s finance minister could be on his away to replace Jeroen Dijsselbloem.

Still, it was during this time that the perception about Portugal´s finance minister changed. People started to focus less on his failures, and to pay closer attention to his merits. As Portugal´s economic situation improved, so did Mr. Centeno popularity. But despite Mr. Schäuble words and Portugal´s economic recovery, Mr. Centeno wouldn’t have been elected if several other factors hadn’t come into play.

Public domain.

Every leadership position in Europe is chaired by the European People´s Party. The exception is the Eurogroup. And there was a gentlemen agreement between conservatives and socialists ensuring that the Eurogroup should be presided by the latter. There was also consensus around the idea that the President of the Eurogroup should come from a smaller country. Another decisive factor was the electoral calendar in Italy – elections will take place during the Spring – and the political instability in Spain. Nonetheless, Portugal´s role as Europe´s success case was a key factor. Whether we like it or not, economic results determine the perception of politicians and governments. And financial stability in a country used to the contrary is a sign of competence. And a synonym of political success, even if the results in other areas are not favourable at all.  

Presiding over the Eurogroup will be a good opportunity for Mr. Centeno to display his negotiation and consensus building skills that have become a trademark of his government. 

Mr. Centeno´s government came to power under suspicion. Ending austerity was a promise made before in Greece, and everyone remembered how that had ended. But it´s a fact that, with or without the help of tourism and exports, Mr. Centeno economic plan recovered the country´s economy while respecting eurozone rules. Unemployment has fallen below the eurozone average, a 2.6 percent growth is expected this year and the deficit is forecasted at 1.4 percent: the lowest since 1974. Portugal´s case shows that it´s possible to align fiscal stability with growth.

Whether we like it or not, economic results determine the perception of politicians and governments. And financial stability in a country used to the contrary is a sign of competence.

Exporting this success to the Eurogroup won’t be easy. And the challenges ahead are not insignificant. Greece approaches the end of its eighty-six billion bailout programs next summer, and it´ll be up to Mr. Centeno to oversee its conclusion. He´ll also have to guide the development of a common strategy capable of strengthening the economic and monetary union. This will be extremely difficult, as it´ll potentially entail reforming the EU´s bailout arm, creating a new budget for the single currency bloc and paving the way for a EU minister for economy and finance, a role combining the powers of the President of the Eurogroup and the Commission´s Vice-President for the economy.

Presiding over the Eurogroup will be a good opportunity for Mr. Centeno to display his negotiation and consensus building skills that have become a trademark of his government. Portugal´s economic success shows that there are alternatives to austerity. However, exporting this model abroad will be difficult because “there are no prêt-à-porter reforms” – they must be tailored to the specific needs of each country – and in Europe neoliberalism is still the dominant game in town. It will require a lot more than electing a Southern European as President of the Eurogroup to change that. Still, imagining alternatives it´s the only way to challenge ideas that have made our citizens lives worse.

It´s possible after all to present a credible action program and remain true to your values. Mr. Centeno has a small chance to change Europe from within. Hopefully we will remember what he imagined for Portugal. And start imagining something better for Europe. 

Sideboxes Related stories:  Europe in crisis: which ‘new foundation’? A Tale of Two Faltering Unions (UK and EU); and what DiEM25 proposes in response The lobbies of glyphosate: a danger to the health of Europeans and of their democracy ‘The contraption’ and the future of social democracy: the government experiment in Portugal Germany’s dystopian plans for Europe: from fantasy to reality? Country or region:  Portugal Topics:  Civil society Democracy and government Ideas International politics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

Why you should care about Aberdeen university's war on democracy

Mon, 2017-12-11 08:40

Aberdeen university annulling its rector election is part of an ongoing attack on education democracy.

Maggie Chapman being installed as rector three years ago. Image, Aberdeen University, fair use.

I have to confess that I laughed. Reading through the reasons Aberdeen university has given for annulling the votes of thousands of its students, you can only marvel at the ways that bureaucrats will try to stifle democracy.

Once I’d got over the mirth, though, I was left with a deep sense of concern about the way that modern universities are being transformed from democratic communities into autocratic businesses.

But first, a bit of context.

Aberdeen, like Scotland's other medieval universities, elects its rector – the chair of the board of governors (known as the ‘court’). Rectorships are important roles, bringing democratic oversight and leadership to some of Scotland’s most powerful institutions and providing unique platforms in Scottish public debate.

They are elected every three years, and Aberdeen has just been through its own vote, where the candidates included the incumbent, Scottish Green Party co-convener Maggie Chapman (who, full disclosure, is a friend), singer and TV presenter Fiona Kennedy who sits on the university’s fundraising committee, Tory MP Andrew Bowie, and a Christian student named Angus Hepburn, most famous on campus for being recorded saying that “I stand against evil known as LGBT”.

Just as polls closed, the university announced that it wouldn’t be revealing the result. There were, apparently, irregularities. The vote was going to be annulled.

Team Chapman – universally assumed to have won a stonking re-election after dominating the campaign – appealed to the elections committee. And the committee declared last week that it has upheld the decision to annul. I’ve seen the minutes of their meeting. For anyone with experience of elections, they are laughable.

They gave two reasons for disregarding the votes of thousands of students, namely: “it was very concerned about the [hostile] conduct of the hustings” and “a significant number of campaign posters had been deliberately removed or covered up”. 


Let’s take each of these in turn.

You can watch the full hustings here.

Now, I’ve been to a few such debates at Scottish universities – and been on the stage in a bunch. They are normally raucous, high-energy affairs, where campaign teams cheer on their candidate and throw calculated questions at the opposition. The booing and hissing of political pantomime is not uncommon. By comparison, this one was, if anything, a little more polite. Each of the candidates was given a rigorous grilling, but it was well chaired by the student president, all of the questions were based on honestly held concerns, and candidates were all given a fair chance to respond to the various criticisms thrown at them. It was considerably less hostile than, for example, the House of Commons.

I asked the university to specify what incident caused the election to be annulled. They said “the unacceptable conduct at the hustings concerned campaigners in the audience, and therefore is not visible on the video”, but wouldn’t say what that conduct was. I pointed out that the audience is entirely audible throughout the event, and asked if they could describe the incident. They wouldn’t do so, encouraging me instead to contact the campaign teams.

The Andrew Bowie and the Chapman team both got back. Neither could tell me what incident the university was talking about (Bowie wasn’t at the hustings, and told me he is “in the dark” about all of this). Fiona Kennedy and Angus Hepburn haven’t got back to my requests for information.

I also asked the university whether the election committee had bothered to watch the video of the hustings, or just taken the word of the probably-losing candidates and their teams that it had been unacceptable. The university wouldn’t answer that question. I asked the students’ association if they could tell me what the incident was. They were as baffled as me. I tracked down a couple of students who were there. They, too, were confused as to what the alleged incident might have been.

Then there is the second complaint: posters.

Here is a photo of one of the posters which was supposedly ‘ripped down’.

The Chapman campaign team stuck their posters to cardboard. The picture indicates that the Kennedy team – perhaps as a result of less campaign experience – didn’t take this precaution. Instead, I am told, they sellotaped bits of paper outside, in Aberdeen, in winter. When they discovered the next morning that their posters had disappeared, while team Chapman’s hadn’t, they blamed it not on their own insufficient weather-proofing, but on team Chapman.

The university’s statement presents no actual evidence that team Chapman was guilty of this supposed poster-ripping. I asked them if they had looked at any CCTV footage to confirm that this had happened. They wouldn’t say. I asked if they had spoken to any of the campus cleaners about the fate of these posters. They wouldn’t confirm that they had. Their evidence points to no witness on a busy campus who saw them supposedly pull down any of the hundreds of disappearing posters.

They have, however, determined that, on the balance of probability, the posters were taken down intentionally. Despite the lack of any evidence, without producing a single witness, and despite the obvious explanation that Aberdeen in winter is kinda windy and wet, they have taken it upon themselves to smear a group of their own students in the national media.

Why then was the election annulled? They tell me that “the sheer volume of complaints meant that the conduct of the election fell well short of the standards expected”.

I asked how many there were. The university wouldn’t tell me, but instead referred me to the campaign teams, from whom I managed to get a list. The answer is thirteen. Almost all seem to have come from the various campaign teams, and include such silliness as an objection to a non-student tweeting a link to one of the candidates' website.

I also asked if the returning officer had any experience of running elections, or any training in doing so. The university wouldn’t answer that question.

Before we get to the significance of all of this, there is one more detail. The university has refused to release the result of the annulled election.

Speaking to openDemocray, Lawson Ogubie, student president at Aberdeen, said: "At AUSA we believe students have a right to transparency and clear communication from the University at all times. For this reason we have asked Aberdeen University in an open letter to release the results of the annulled rector election and have stated that withholding this information is fundamentally undemocratic. It is vital that the student body is informed and that future student engagement is not harmed by the events of the election.”

To understand what’s probably going on here, it’s important to look at the broader context. When I sat on Edinburgh’s university court a decade ago, the university was very happy to allow the rector to chair the meetings. For us student representatives, that was key. It meant that the institution could never gloss over things we thought were important. It meant that the governing body of the university was less likely to be captured or hoodwinked by the people it was meant to be managing.

In recent years, Aberdeen’s management has resisted this democratic oversight. Unlike Scotland's other ancient universities, it has tried to stop the elected rector from chairing the meeting they are elected to chair. In this document, from 2016, the university made clear that it objected to the fact that Chapman insisted on her right to preside over meetings – a right which was afforded unquestioningly to the two Edinburgh rectors I sat on court with there.

For a number of the students I've spoken to at Aberdeen, it's hard to shake the feeling that the anullment of the election may well have more to do with the fact that, in her three years as rector, Chapman has taken the students' side on issues from rent rises to fossil fuel divestment to mental health provision than anything to do with weather-beaten posters or silent happenings at hustings.

The role of rector might seem like a minor matter. But it sits at the front line of one of the key struggles of the modern era. I always think that neoliberalism is best understood as the process of abolishing democracy from more and more aspects of our lives.

Radical free market dogma dictates that, instead, all of our institutions should be run like corporations: controlled from the centre by highly paid and infinitely wise ‘management’, and disciplined by the market. The future lies in democratic institutions: not just elected government, but an expansion of democracy to all of the key bodies which make decisions about our lives. Rectorships are one of Scotland’s – Britain’s – few remaining reminders that we are capable of organising ourselves as democratic communities. As the Scottish rector’s group put it a decade ago:

“The ancient universities were conceived as communities, in which the students were the main interest group.

“The best way to ensure that their interests were always at the forefront of the minds of those actually running the university was to allow the students to elect the chairman (sic) of the Court.”

Universities are some of Scotland’s most powerful institutions. They help to shape economic strategy, driving innovation as well as education. Our major cities are dominated by them. Per capita, we have more in the world’s top 200 rankings than any other country but Luxemburg. They are the main reason people move here from abroad and they are perhaps our pre-eminent representatives to the world.

It should therefore matter to all of us how our institutions are run. And we should be deeply concerned about the shenanigans of the university administration at Aberdeen.

Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

Film review: The Spider’s Web - Britain’s Second Empire

Mon, 2017-12-11 07:59

The definitive account of how Britain's Empire was transformed into a new financial empire of offshore tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions.

On 1 December I attended SOAS University for a screening of the film ‘The Spider’s Web: Britain's Second Empire’, co-produced by film maker Michael Oswald and John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network, and hosted by the SOAS Open Economics Forum and Dr.On 1 December I attended SOAS University for a screening of the film ‘The Spider’s Web: Britain's Second Empire’, co-produced by film maker Michael Oswald and John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network, and hosted by the SOAS Open Economics Forum and Dr. Ourania Dimakou. The Spider’s Web offers unique insight into the British Empire, both past and present, and its colonies and far flung outposts. This is a story which, if known at all, is often understood through a rose tinted view of what that British Empire actually represented. The Spider’s Web details how the former Empire was transformed after World War 2 into a new financial empire of offshore tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions. Nicholas Shaxson, author of 'Treasure Islands', notes that the historians Cain and Hopkins called the City of London the “Governor of the Imperial engine”, so it is perhaps no surprise to learn that ‘the City’ still controls the reigns of Britain’s second-run financial services empire, with as much as 25%  of the global offshore market controlled by Britain and its satellites. As City University’s Ronan Palan observes:

“The City of London is a truly unique and interesting phenomenon, which should have attracted the attention of political scientists and economists, but I don’t know of anyone, who has systematically studied the Corporation of London and its impacts on policy and economic policy.”

The City of London and the Bank of England, experiencing a crisis of legitimacy marked by Britain’s declining global influence following World War 2 and the Suez crisis, facilitated the transformation of former British territories and dependencies such as the Cayman Islands and British Virgin Islands into tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions, taking a relaxed view of increasing corruption risk provided that the monetary flows benefited the UK. As the Bank of England noted:

“There is no objection to their providing boltholes for non-residents, but we do need to be quite sure that in doing so, opportunities are not created for the transfer of UK capital to the non-Sterling area outside UK rules.”

The growth of the so-called “Eurodollar” market -- an unregulated form of lending, based in London but conducted in US Dollars via a separate set of books and thus considered “offshore” (elsewhere for regulatory purposes) -- helped enable the bypass of cross-border capital controls put in place under the post-war Bretton Woods agreement. Alex Cobham, Director of the Tax Justice Network, explains how the Eurodollar market was ultimately about taking economic activity conducted in one country, and pretending it occurs elsewhere:

“It’s about creating a legal space where you pretend activity is taking place. You’re taking activity from a place where it is regulated and taxed, and pretending its happening elsewhere. Now where, doesn’t really matter. It’s just elsewhere.”

The Eurodollar market expanded rapidly, reaching $500 billion by 1980 and by 1988 $4.8 trillion. By 1998, nearly 90% of all international loans were made via the unregulated offshore markets. This diagram via Haberly & Wojcik illustrates the geography of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and the relative dominance of Britain and the territories of its former Empire. The City of London, Bank of England and Eurodollar markets deliberately allowed banks, corporations and wealthy elites to bypass the rules of the capitalist game -- shifting wealth offshore and thus undermining the social contract and the post-war welfare state now visibly in collapse around us. Clement Atlee, the post-war Labour Prime Minister remarked:

“Over and over again, we have seen that there is a power in this Country, other than that which has its seat at Westminster. The City of London, a convenient term for a collection of financial interests is able to assert itself against the Government of the Country. Those who control money, are able to pursue a policy, at home, and abroad, contrary to that which is decided by the people.”

One of the criminal banks which grew out of the deregulated City of London was BCCI - which quickly became the bank of choice for drug runners, mafia bosses and intelligence agencies, much like the role HSBC performs today. BCCI, which collapsed in 1991 following US enforcement action related to money laundering, was at the time the 7th largest bank in the world. A young Fred Goodwin who would go on to run RBS (at the time working for Deloitte Touche) ‘led’ the complex insolvency of BCCI bank. Much of what we know about Britain’s Second Empire can be attributed to the tireless work of the Tax Justice Network, including Nicholas Shaxson, John Christensen (a former Deloitte Touche economist and advisor to the Government of Jersey) and leading academics including Prem Sikka and Ronan Palan who feature prominently throughout the film. The film provides viewers with both a technical and a moral analysis of what tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions do -- creating opportunities for tax, legal and political arbitrage -- and lays the blame at the door of the real perpetrators, the Big 4 accountancy firms (EY, Deloitte, KPMG, PwC). The cancerous effects of the 'Revolving Door' are documented in the film through the lens of highly effective direct actions by UK Uncut who targeted former HMRC boss Dave Hartnett and his tax “sweetheart deals” with Vodafone, BT and Goldman Sachs. A highlight is the disruption of a private tax planning dinner hosted by Harnett, who is presented with a “golden handshake award” by the intruders for services to tax avoidance in front of a group of suited, booted and visibly confused paying guests. The Spider’s Web gives an excellent overview of the scale of the global tax dodging problem and its corrosive effects on democracy. As John Christensen observes:

People think the National Rifle Association (NRA) is a powerful lobby, but to be honest they’re amateurs next to the City of London. The City UK uses its power in so many discreet ways, they don’t need to be that upfront about it, they’ve got MPs and Ministers in their pockets going in and out via the revolving door.”

The City UK was created by Chancellor Alastair Darling after the 2008 financial crisis, precisely to establish a stronger financial lobby in Westminster and Brussels. It is from the unelected, unaccountable City of London that, we should really be having the conversation about “taking back control.” Discussion on solutions is left to five concrete proposals in the final scenes, which was followed by a lively Q&A session which spilled over into discussion over wine & nibbles. SOAS host Dr Dimakou reflected on the fact there were not more critical UK academics interviewed on tax justice issues in the film. Perhaps this is because, as John Christensen observed, leading economics journals tend to avoid featuring critical academic work on tax justice issues. Lack of widespread academic engagement with tax avoidance could also be due to other factors, such as a lack of academic grant funding for research on tax dodging, the increasing reliance of the UK third sector and NGOs on grant funding from tax avoiding donors. Or the the fact critical academics such as Prem Sikka often find themselves isolated within professional accounting bodies such as the ICAEW. It turns out that critical voices being ignored is not restricted to the academic and accounting professions. During the Q&A, Director Michael Oswald said that The Spider’s Web had been entered into over 50 film festivals, receiving warm feedback, but curiously not being selected to feature. The response from the Atlanta Docufest selection panel is typical:

“We just wanted you to know that you made it to the final round of judging, but since we only have three days of screenings, we had to cut so many great films. Although we can not include your project this year, please keep in mind, you scored the second highest scores from our panel.”

The subtext of The Spider’s Web is that Britain is yet to face its own history. In a desperate attempt to cling to empire, The City of London threw open its arms to criminal dark money from all over the globe. This is why mafia expert and author Roberto Saviano labels London “the heart of global corruption”. Until Britain is forced to confront the realities of its Empires, both colonial and financial, there is little prospect of real change. It’s no coincidence state broadcaster the BBC refuses to air the film. Thankfully, with a fracture in the neoliberal order sparked by the election of Jeremy Corbyn there is now a growing thirst for radical political change and transformational economic ideas. It is now incumbent upon all of us who desire change to work together to tame the power of the City of London and its offshore satellites, and to free democracy from the shackles of neoliberalism. As Tax Justice Network Director Alex Cobham observes:

“We have country after country around the world where the lack of financial transparency, about taxation, about ownership, about corruption, has undermined the extent to which governments deliver representative policy making for their citizens.

Why not get involved and help put an end to corporate capture, censorship, and corruption by hosting a screening of The Spider’s Web in your local community. Discuss what action can be taken locally to help transform our broken economic model which sees wealth plundered from the four corners of the globe, laundered and stashed in London’s dysfunctional property market. To host a screening: contact info@queuepolitely.com Twitter: @spiderswebfilm Facebook: www.facebook.com/Spiderswebfilm Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/spiderswebfilm Disclaimer: Joel Benjamin was interviewed for the film on issues of PFI and tax avoidance. 

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"21st century leaderships are those which embody movements coming from the cities"

Mon, 2017-12-11 06:20

Caren Tepp: "if we are not capable of offering a vision of the future and of drawing a path to that future, no one will believe us". Español

Caren Tepp at Fearless Cities in Barcelona, June 9-11, 2017. Photo: Marc Lozano/Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Within the framework of this year's "Fearless Cities" summit, Fundación Avina and DemocraciaAbierta established a special collaboration to explore some of the most exciting poltical experiences arising from Latin America. 

Bringing together relevant actors in the field that are directly involved in political innovation at the local level, in Latin America, we have sought answers to four major issues shared by all the projects: a) Vision of innovation; b) National political context and limitations of local power; c) Influence of the international political context, and d) The question of leadership.

Caren Tepp is an Argentine political scientist, candidate for National Deputy for Ciudad Futura, and 2nd Vice President of the Municipal Council of Rosario.

VISION OF INNOVATION

 A few years ago, we coined a sentence from Simón Rodríguez that says: "Either we invent, or we make a mistake". We, the militants, tried many times in the past to adjust reality to our theory and not the other way around – that is, building the theory from practice, understanding and incorporating what the territory itself was demanding. So, I think that the most distinctive feature of Ciudad Futura is a new conception about the role of the State and society and, above all, of the future and the present. How do we build today the society that we want for tomorrow? What can we do so as to not merely keep on complaining and to challenge what is wrong by offering pointers to citizens – “pieces of Ciudad Futura” which show what the society we want is like and how it can be achieved?

The parties of the Left are very good when it comes to denouncing capitalism, neo-liberalism and international imperialism. But if we are not capable of offering a vision of the future and of drawing a path to that future, no one will believe us, no one will get excited about our proposals. This is the reason why we set up what we call Prefigurative Projects which exist here and now, in the territories, especially in the periphery of the city of Rosario.

These are projects which do not merely say "Education and work are important", but they show it. For example, we have two social management schools where young people and adults from the districts of Rosario are able to finish their middle-level education. They are mostly young people from the periphery who perhaps did not have the possibility of a future; that they had perhaps gone through public or private education but, somehow, ended up leaving. And, today, they do have a chance. For the last seven years now, these young people can, not only finish their studies, but build a space of collective identity and build a project for the future.

Here, in Argentina, that model is now a response to the issue of reforming the education system. When we began to study what could be the keys to reforming the system, we noticed that they were the same as in the city of Rosario. The problem for kids who finish their school education is the way in which contents are addressed - social phenomena, political issues. This is why we changed the way in which we used to do our courses, and switched to a horizontal construction of education.

When students enter our social management school, they find that power, somehow, is distributed horizontally. There is a collective appropriation. Power is no longer power over, but power with. It is a power which enables teachers and students to build not only the ways in which to address the educational content, but also the management of the school: cleaning, schedules... Now, this also works for the kindergarten in the morning, in that same space, for children up to 4 years. The appropriation of the project is key to the setting up of a political project which currently guarantees, in two city neighbourhoods, that more than 100 young people each year finish their secondary education and can begin to imagine a different life project for themselves, without any input from the State – that, for us, is political innovation.

NATIONAL POLITICAL CONTEXT AND LIMITATIONS OF THE LOCAL POWER

The situation in Argentina since the elections of 2015 affects us who ran then for the first time. Being organically part of Kirchnerism, we understood that a victory of Cambiemos would represent a setback, not for a particular government, but for Argentine society as a whole, and particularly for transformative political projects - for the triumph of Cambiemos is not an isolated fact which occurs in a given regional and international context.

In that sense, our aim is to strengthen local processes in the city of Rosario and try to win and govern our city in 2019, and we also assume the challenge of running for the first time at the national level. We believe that to address this regression and fight neoliberal policies, we need to move away from polarization - the "crack", as we say in Argentina -, and diversify the forms of resistance.

We have the duty not only to be challenging the measures and policies of Mauricio Macri’s government, but to offer alternative options. Because of the threat of closures, we are considering the possibility of recovering factories and companies, as happened in Argentina after 2001. But it is not only a matter of resisting, but of moving forward in workers’ self-management of those means of production. Our city and our province have witnessed many cases of successful self-managed cooperative enterprises, like La Cabaña or Mil Hojas – companies which have found, precisely in times of crisis, the possibility of going forward, and even improving their performance. That is, I think, a different perspective we can offer today – with examples for anyone to see in our province.

In our campaign at the national level, we also want to put on the agenda the issue of local and city government. We carry proposals defending local governments as key actors for proximity politics, for distributing power, for building power from the bottom up. We are convinced that one of the main lessons in recent years in Latin America, and from the different progressive governments with their different leanings, lies in fact that what it is built from the top down tends to crumble. We have thus to think about a new horizon for inclusion in the coming years, and think about a new political practice for another way of achieving power - from the bottom up. It is here, during our campaign tour of the province, that the idea of the City of the Future appears, and that of its possible expansion throughout the territory. We want to change the way in which political building is done, so that each territory is empowered, and starts to organize autonomously, and so that, perhaps, this is the provincial- turned-national tool we need against neo-liberalism: the confluence of different experiences of change with territorial roots.

We very much like a sentence that says that the question is not changing one power for another, but building a different kind of power. In this sense, it is important that each territory governs itself, that each rules its territory, so that we all take our decisions. This is something which is absent from the national agenda. Despite the fact that it has now become evident that territories have their own problems and challenges to face, we are still missing the hierarchy-changing paradigm shift according to which real politics, real transformative power lies progressively closer to the territory. In that, local governments and municipalities have much more to contribute than the great national tools.

INTERNATIONAL POLITICAL CONTEXT

Both national and international contexts have an impact, and make our task more difficult because the wind is blowing against us. In this, I think, there is also a break with that old tradition of the Left, that old theory which says that the worse the conditions are, the better it is for carrying out the revolution. If we there is something we have learnt from many years ago is that this is an absolutely horrible theory, because it implies that a high percentage of society must go through a really bad time, as if it were not going through a really tough and rough time already.

This is why we must strive to improve conditions here and now, together. It is no good being isolated. I think that the experience of Cities without Fear in Barcelona is generating very interesting proposals which have to do with collaborative action: horizontal proposals on the basis of initiatives and links between cities of change which are absolutely genuine. This is an experience that allows you to see the possibility of something different, which is not an agreement reached around a small table to set up some particular strategy, but something that has to do with the concept of the feminization of politics, which is a completely new way of political construction.

We have an enormous challenge ahead of us, so that, when the wind will blow again in our favour, it will be up to us who have been building from the bottom up this idea of local power, of shared power, to take, in some way, a leading role. In City of the Future we always say that the actual content of our policy proposals and the flags we fly are as important as the way in which we implement our political construction.

Thus the need to see that our political strength lies in horizontal, democratic and above all transparent collective action, which allows us to expand the horizon of what is possible. I think that transparency is a key issue that all the municipalities of change, all of us who have been working on this idea, share. It has to do with the idea of how we, ordinary people, take charge of affairs that concern us all. To this end, local proximity politics are precisely the right tool for undertaking the transformations that can be carried forward.

THE QUESTION OF LEADERSHIP

All of us who are today involved in City of the Future carrying out some public service task fully understand that we do are not following any personal career, but are proudly expressing a collective political project and only temporarily managing the things we are responsible for.

It is also important that decisions are taken within the organization which cement this attitude and make it sustainable over time. Those of us who are today City of the Future councilors, are donating, from the very first minute, 70% of our salary to the organization, we live on the same salaries we had before becoming councilors, and get paid the same as the advisers who are part of the team at the Council. We try not to create privileges, not to be part of the political corporate class, not to lie to ourselves. We make sure that what we are donating goes to strengthen the organization, the projects we run at the margins of the State, and make it very clear that our way of life - militancy is a way of life – is diametrically opposed to certain privileges.

I believe that 21st century leaderships are those which embody movements coming from the cities. To me, Ada Colau expresses this perfectly. Behind her, you can see the Indignados movement, the fight against evictions, the Barcelona in Common teammates, and you can see a brave woman, steadfast in her ideas, empathetic and passionate about everything she does. This, I think, is a crucial way to access the State institutions, which are governed by logics that are patriarchal, where aggressiveness and the idea of power as domination are essential values, at the core of what we have to transform. 

Check out our webpage for this special project: https://opendemocracy.net/info/avina-interactive-roundtable-english

Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

Death by disdain: the fate of drug users in Russian-occupied territories

Mon, 2017-12-11 01:28

With replacement therapy now illegal, drug users in Russian-occupied Crimea and the self-proclaimed republics of the Donbas are finding it hard to survive. RU

Yevgeny Selin. Source: Facebook.In 2014, Donetsk native Yevgeny Selin had his own business, a car and an apartment he bought with his own money. Besides work, Selin was involved in civil society, fighting for the rights of addicts, and was in contact with representatives of Ukraine’s Ministry of Health.

As Yevgeny recalls, his life had been very different just a few years prior. “There were good times and bad times, but mostly it was bad times. I was totally addicted to heroin — I started using when I was around 13 or 14. When we were boys we used to look for or steal poppies in other people’s gardens, this was in the Oryol region, where I used to live, poppies grow everywhere. It was harder in the winter, you had to steal more. Then I moved to Ukraine and started taking crystal meth. When you’re using, you’re always either looking for money or drugs. Or you’re doing the drugs — you do them and go to sleep. And that’s your life.”

In 2008, Yevgeny’s life began to change. A programme from drug replacement therapy was launched in Ukraine, sponsored by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Ukraine’s parliament had stated that therapy standards “are in line with Ukrainian legislation” back in 2004, which was when the first pilot programs for the therapy were launched in Kherson and Kyiv.

Methadone replacement therapy, to be more precise, is practiced in all EU countries, as well as in the USA, India, Cambodia and China. There are 1.3m patients enrolled in treatment today. However, the therapy is banned in Russia. Russia’s top narcologist, Yevgeny Bryun, told oDR that “methadone therapy is just a business,” and that Russia will never have such programmes.

For addicts from Crimea and eastern Ukraine, Russian jurisdiction spelt disaster.

Goodbye to withdrawal symptoms

HIV rates in Ukraine remain high: 0.5% of the population lives with HIV, and 60% of those people are drug users who use needles. It is believed that replacement therapy will curb the HIV infection rate, because instead of injecting street drugs, addicts will take medicine such as Metadol (active ingredient: methadone) or Ednok (active ingredient: buprenorphine).

Drug replacement therapy does not result in withdrawal symptoms or euphoria. Typically, the patient comes to a distribution site, gets a glass with the medicine in liquid form, drinks it, and leaves. The addicts no longer have to look for drugs, they stop having problems with the law, and they start having free time — time they used to spend on searching for drugs or money.

Drug replacement therapy does not result in withdrawal symptoms or euphoria

People who have regularly taken opioid drugs (such as heroin) for over three years can participate in the program. Pregnancy or a serious chronic disease — for example, if the patient is living with HIV — are other factors that determine one’s inclusion in the programme. When an addict decides to start replacement therapy they submit an application, sign an agreement to not sell the medicine, go through medical tests, and visit a narcologist (i.e. an addiction specialist).

The final decision for inclusion in the program is made by a multidisciplinary committee: two doctors, a social worker and a local project leader. When therapy begins, the doses are gradually increased so that the medicine completely replaces street drugs.

Clients of the Alliance’s programme. Photo: Natalya Kravchuk, Sergey Krylatov. All rights reserved.The first effects from therapy become evident within three months: most patients report that their physical and mental health is better and that they’re starting to be part of society again.

After a while, if the patient is completely clean and ready to stop the therapy, the dose of the medicine is gradually decreased until the patient is no longer on it. This usually happens over several years. Today, there are 176 active therapy centres in Ukraine, with a total of 9,806 patients.

Yevgeny sent an application to participate in the program right away, back in 2008. “Slowly, life began to change. I stopped shooting up immediately,” he recalls. “My old relationships began to repair themselves, friends saw that I was a different person, I won back their trust. I launched my own construction business; we worked on small projects, including street stalls and small shopping centres. We sold them to local businessmen — it was very profitable, and my salary was good by Donetsk standards. I bought a car and an apartment.” 

“Did you want to spend your whole life high?”

As soon as Crimea was annexed by Russia in 2014, the government immediately moved against drug replacement therapy — doses were sharply reduced and then therapy was halted altogether. Leftover medicine was burnt.

Anastasia (a pseudonym), who asked me not to reveal her city of residence in Crimea, left prison in 2007, when she was 29. In 2012, she started taking methadone and was able to find work as an English teacher. She took care of herself, her young daughter, and her mother.

For people like Anastasia, the therapy ban was catastrophic. Like other patients who spoke to oDR, she did not want to go back to street drugs, to lose her job and her family, but she was afraid of withdrawal syndrome. All this came after the Russian government insisted that no patient would be left behind and all would be given aid.

“For the five years that we took methadone, we got our lives back. We stopped being street addicts”

Natalia, a native of Sevastopol, was an opioid addict for 25 years. Her medical file was marked with the number 1 — she was the first patient to get replacement therapy in Crimea.

“For the five years that we took methadone, we got our lives back. We stopped being street addicts. The cancellation of the therapy programme in 2014 was cruel, painful, and terrifying. I signed myself into a psychiatric facility, spent ten days there, and was simply horrified by the medicine they gave us — it put you in a fog but did nothing against withdrawal symptoms, nothing for the pain and fear. I seriously hurt the right side of my body while going through withdrawal symptoms in a bed with sharp netting, and when I asked the nurse for help, she snapped, ‘Did you want to spend your whole life high? Now you’re paying for it’.”

“They sat outside doctors’ offices, crying and knocking on doors”

Natalia refused to be hospitalised, left the facility and started taking street drugs. Eventually, local doctors suggested she go for treatment in Moscow — in 2014, former therapy patients were given Russian passports very quickly, so many could depart for the mainland. Natalia says she’s one of the few who was given real help. Today, she’s clean.

Alexander, a patient who lives in Sevastopol, told a representative of the Andrei Rylkov Fund for Health and Social Justice about how the programme was cancelled in Crimea. Doses were drastically reduced, while clinics didn’t even have the most basic medical supplies. For those who could afford to pay about 5,000 hryvnia (which amounted to around 15,000 rubles or £430 in June of 2014), everything could immediately be found, even Ednok (buprenorphine), which was technically already illegal.

When therapy was cancelled, former patients were given minimal amounts of painkillers and sleeping pills

“Other people, who paid [only] 1,500 hryvnia didn’t get that kind of [help],” Alexander said. “They sat outside doctors’ offices, crying and knocking on doors.”

When therapy was cancelled, former patients were given minimal amounts of painkillers and sleeping pills. Trying to find help, they went to Simferopol, but there were no beds available for them.

Besides lack of adequate medical help, Crimean addicts were faced with pressure from the authorities. According to Anastasia, friends of hers had their privacy invaded: “People came to distribution centres and stood in line by the office, where they gave out medicine. And they were told, ‘If you don’t give us your personal information, you don’t get access’.”

Anastasia’s words are confirmed by the conclusions drawn by France’s Pompidou group. Their report, published in 2014, says that after the annexation of Crimea, addicts began getting visits from the police — there were registered cases of the confidentiality of their medical records being violated. There is at least one known case of a man who was fired when his boss found out that his employee was a drug replacement therapy patient.

A hundred dead — or more?

Anastasia did not want to go back to street drugs and had no hope of getting aid in Crimea, which is why she immediately left for Dnipro (formerly known as Dnipropetrovsk) — to continue therapy. According to the OSCE, around 100 people made similar choices.

Among Crimean residents there are also those who, like Natalia, went for treatment in Russia. According to data provided by Tatyana Klimenko, assistant to the Russian Minister of Health, 113 out of 806 Crimean patients in replacement therapy made the trip.

Meeting of the Presidium of the State Council on the implementation of state anti-drug policy. Source: kremlin.ruYet not all got the help they needed in Russia. A former therapy patient (who asked to remain anonymous) told oDR that he personally knew Anton, a Crimean native who agreed to be treated in St Petersburg. The alternative treatment method did not work. Anton died of an overdose.

According Michel Kazatchkine, the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in eastern Europe and central Asia, the cancellation of the drug replacement therapy programme has led to the deaths of at least 100 people in Crimea.

Pavel Skala, the policy and partnership director at the Alliance for Public Health Fund (“Alliance”), believes that the real number of deaths in Crimea is higher: “According to our estimate, by 2014, up to 120 had died. We stopped tracking the deaths as to not endanger people in Crimea, because the Russian government was actively opposing information-gathering efforts. But we know that former therapy patients in Crimea are still dying. Three years later, the number of the dead is much greater than 120.”

Russia’s chief narcologist, Yevgeny Bryun, disputes these numbers and believes they are inflated. Yet four former therapy patients from different parts of Crimea have confirmed to oDR that most of their friends are dead, and those who are not dead are using street drugs again.

Want therapy? How about a war instead?

In 2014, Skala’s organisation launched a special programme for displaced people from Crimea. This allowed Anastasia, who came to Dnipro, to receive 260 hryvnia per day (this included a housing allowance). A few months later, the programme had to expand, so that patients leaving the Luhansk and Donetsk regions could get help. Since the conflict broke out in eastern Ukraine, drug replacement therapy has stopped there too.

Yevgeny Selin also became a client of the Alliance’s programme after he fled Donetsk for Kyiv, not wanting to go back on street drugs. When Yevgeny made it to the Ukrainian capital, he discovered that the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) had put out a search warrant for him, labelling him a pro-Ukrainian activist.

Yevgeny was able to leave quickly, but Andrei, another therapy patient in Donetsk, was in town when the war started. Andrei told Alliance that people with automatic weapons came to their distribution centre and forced patients to dig trenches.

In spite of help being offered, most did not dare leave. Addicts have a hard enough time looking for work and building relationships in their own cities, let alone starting over anew. Before the war, there were 759 patients registered in the Donetsk region, of which 327 have now left. In the Luhansk region, 639 were registered, and 289 have left. According to data from 1 February, 2016, Alliance had 207 clients who made the move from the two regions.

According to the available witness reports, most of the patients who remained in territories no longer controlled by Ukraine are dead, or else using street drugs. Precise data are not available.

Yevgeny lives in Kyiv and has no plans to return to Donetsk. In Kyiv, he has a girlfriend, and on the day of our interview, they went shopping together and then took a stroll through the city streets. In Donetsk, without drug replacement therapy, his life would be very, very different.

Translated by Natalia Antonova. 


Sideboxes Related stories:  Down and out in Crimea Kicking habits, kicking back Cold turkey in Russia Scaling back on healthcare may start with Russia’s migrants. But it won’t end there Outrage and outsourcing in Russian healthcare We’ll be living with this for a long time Crimea needs a cure Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

The virtues of a many-sided life

Sun, 2017-12-10 19:25

A rounded human being has got to be better than a square one for the tasks that lie ahead.

Credit: Wikimedia/USMC. Public Domain.

A couple of weeks ago, covered in lake slime and pieces of European water chestnut weed, I climbed into the bathtub and turned on my favorite podcast from the BBC called Coast and Country. The subject of the podcast was Dartington Hall in Devon, a seedbed for radical ideas and creativity since it was founded in 1925.

The core of Dartington’s philosophy is a “many-sided life:” the idea that we should draw on all of our faculties in our efforts to transform the world, and by doing so, become transformed ourselves—“head, hands and heart.” A life with many sides instead of one is bound to be more productive and fulfilling, both for individuals and for the societies they create.

Without knowing exactly what I was doing or why it might be important, I’ve been following the same philosophy since leaving my last full-time desk job in 2008. Helping to clear the rampantly-invasive chestnut weed from our local lake is the latest installment of my efforts to build in more manual labor to my life.

I call it ‘manual labor,’ though of course it’s more a hobby than a livelihood—there’s little dignity in a sweatshop, and I don’t pretend to be ‘a worker’ as in ‘working class.’ I’m comfortably off, with enough security to choose how to spend my time. So increasingly, I’m choosing to use my hands and not just my head by getting stuck into the hard, physical, collective work of the community.

As often happens, the more I thought about Dartington and its ideas, the more I started to come across examples of the same philosophy in action. An article in the Guardian reported that ex-President Jimmy Carter was treated for dehydration after he collapsed while building a house with Habitat for Humanity in Canada. A piece in the New York Times explored the life of political scientist James C Scott, who divides his time between studying peasant resistance and working on a farm in Connecticut.

Then there was a visit to John Ruskin’s home at Brantwood in the English Lake District, where reputedly he was just as happy when building guesthouses, garden walls and harbors with his friends and neighbors as he was when spinning out radical new ideas on politics and economics. Those ideas included a minimum wage, social security, free universal education and public ownership of land, and they set the stage for future developments like the welfare state and the National Trust.

I also commissioned a series of articles for Transformation on ‘intentional communities’—places like Findhorn in Scotland, Tamera in Portugal and Schumacher College in Devon (another outgrowth of Dartington Hall), which aim to ‘be the change they want to see’ in the world. Incorporating manual labor into learning is a central tenet of the experience they offer, whether that’s through shared domestic tasks like cooking and washing-up, or digging in the garden, or learning how to paint or make pots and other crafts.

At Dartington’s School for “multi-dimensional” education, “Students were as likely to learn how to fix a car engine as to read Chekhov” as Andrea Kuhn puts it. That probably came in useful for graduates like Michael Young, who spent the rest of his life inventing new institutions like the Open University. The virtues of a many-sided life are a common theme in radical experiments like these, and I’m definitely happier and more fulfilled as a result of diversifying myself, but why? I can think of at least three reasons.

First of all, while it does little to dissolve material class boundaries, shared physical labor begins to erode some of the artificial barriers that have been erected over time between ‘more’ and ‘less valuable’ forms of work. Manual labor becomes something that belongs to everyone, rather than being relegated to a secondary status for a separate group of people who are permanently under-rewarded.

There’s more than a touch of voyeurism in what I’m doing since it is always voluntary rather than enforced. But getting stuck into collective work is surely a better way of dealing with this problem than simply observing or studying the lives of others. As the late Ben Pimlott once wrote about George Orwell, “the author uses his account of proletarian life as a peg on which to hang what really interested him: not just the lives of working-class people as such, but his own inner dialogue about how middle-class people like himself did and should relate to them.” Shared work takes this dialogue one step further.

Second, and without wanting to sound like your Grandad, manual labor is good for you—and it’s also good for your role in the struggle for social change. In an age when so much social interaction, communication and activism are virtual, getting stuck into physical work, especially in a group, provides a much more direct experience of engagement with other people and a different set of challenges to navigate.

The pace of work is usually much slower than what’s possible on social media and the internet, and the level of commitment required is correspondingly higher (we reckon it will take at least ten years of continuous activity to get rid of the chestnut weed in the lake). In contrast to the current fashion for ‘frictionless’ solutions, face-to-face negotiations, trade-offs and conflicts are inevitable because of the sheer scale of the problem or its lack of malleability, or the vagaries of the weather and the environment, or delays caused by ill-health or a thousand other things. Translated into social action, these experiences can build stability and sticking power into movements.

Third and most important, a fully-integrated life is the best grounding for democratic politics, new forms of economics, and social problem-solving. We need activists who are also scholars, nurses and teachers who are also politicians, carpenters who sit on town councils, entrepreneurs who are also artists, and politicians who are anything except professional politicians. Mixing things up in this way is far more likely to generate collective energy, creativity, ideas and perhaps even consensus than keeping people trapped in boxes that are permanently marked as one thing or the other.

It also helps in cross-fertilization, as when thoughts and ideas are born during physical work, or when physical work provides a testing ground to put them into practice. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that someone like Scott frames his academic work in terms of real world problems instead of theoretical abstractions, a philosophy that has seen him produce a string of hugely-influential books like Weapons of the Weak and Seeing like a State. “I’m as proud of knowing how to shear a sheep as I am of anything, and I’ve been a better scholar partly because I’ve had this other activity,” he told the New York Times.

Of course, here’s no necessary link between manual labor and the adoption of progressive politics; both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush delighted in hosting brush-clearing parties down on the ranch during their respective US presidencies. But at least in an integrated life, each set of faculties—head, hands and heart—can help to counterbalance the others, guarding against too much reason, emotion or brute force in judgment and decision making.

As Terry Eagleton once pointed out, atrocities like The Holocaust are rooted in the pursuit of reason unmediated by ethics or emotion, but one can also argue that a surfeit of ‘heart over head’ or ‘hands over both’ can be just as damaging. Not only is a many-sided life more personally fulfilling, it also has social and political effects when scaled-up.

But is such a life a luxury reserved for those who can afford it? That’s certainly the case today, when so many people have been boxed into narrow categories and assigned a role and value according to the dictates of contemporary capitalism—so that speculators and managers are hugely over-rewarded, while nurses, care workers, labourers and others are penalized through salary structures, taxation and the unequal allocation of financial risks. The erosion of institutions that used to challenge some of these categories and reward systems (like workers’ education and cross-class civil society groups) has been immensely damaging.

Therefore, re-valuing manual labor and/or instituting some form of basic income is vital if everyone is to have the opportunity to do different things with their time—“there is no wealth but life” as Ruskin famously put it. After all, a rounded human being has got to be better than a square one that’s designed to fit neatly into all those boxes of bureaucracy, hierarchy and convention that force people to live a life that is both limited and divided.

Satish Kumar, one of the founders of Schumacher College, calls this a “path to wisdom” instead of just cleverness or shallow success, a preparation for the essential work of transformation that lies ahead for all of us. So get out your gloves and your boots and your tools and your brushes and get stuck in. You won’t regret it.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Who wants to live in a frictionless world? The mysticism of wide open eyes Welcome to another year of transformation Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

The virtues of a many-sided life

Sun, 2017-12-10 19:25

A rounded human being has got to be better than a square one for the tasks that lie ahead.

Credit: Wikimedia/USMC. Public Domain.

A couple of weeks ago, covered in lake slime and pieces of European water chestnut weed, I climbed into the bathtub and turned on my favorite podcast from the BBC called Coast and Country. The subject of the podcast was Dartington Hall in Devon, a seedbed for radical ideas and creativity since it was founded in 1925.

The core of Dartington’s philosophy is a “many-sided life:” the idea that we should draw on all of our faculties in our efforts to transform the world, and by doing so, become transformed ourselves—“head, hands and heart.” A life with many sides instead of one is bound to be more productive and fulfilling, both for individuals and for the societies they create.

Without knowing exactly what I was doing or why it might be important, I’ve been following the same philosophy since leaving my last full-time desk job in 2008. Helping to clear the rampantly-invasive chestnut weed from our local lake is the latest installment of my efforts to build in more manual labor to my life.

I call it ‘manual labor,’ though of course it’s more a hobby than a livelihood—there’s little dignity in a sweatshop, and I don’t pretend to be ‘a worker’ as in ‘working class.’ I’m comfortably off, with enough security to choose how to spend my time. So increasingly, I’m choosing to use my hands and not just my head by getting stuck into the hard, physical, collective work of the community.

As often happens, the more I thought about Dartington and its ideas, the more I started to come across examples of the same philosophy in action. An article in the Guardian reported that ex-President Jimmy Carter was treated for dehydration after he collapsed while building a house with Habitat for Humanity in Canada. A piece in the New York Times explored the life of political scientist James C Scott, who divides his time between studying peasant resistance and working on a farm in Connecticut.

Then there was a visit to John Ruskin’s home at Brantwood in the English Lake District, where reputedly he was just as happy when building guesthouses, garden walls and harbors with his friends and neighbors as he was when spinning out radical new ideas on politics and economics. Those ideas included a minimum wage, social security, free universal education and public ownership of land, and they set the stage for future developments like the welfare state and the National Trust.

I also commissioned a series of articles for Transformation on ‘intentional communities’—places like Findhorn in Scotland, Tamera in Portugal and Schumacher College in Devon (another outgrowth of Dartington Hall), which aim to ‘be the change they want to see’ in the world. Incorporating manual labor into learning is a central tenet of the experience they offer, whether that’s through shared domestic tasks like cooking and washing-up, or digging in the garden, or learning how to paint or make pots and other crafts.

At Dartington’s School for “multi-dimensional” education, “Students were as likely to learn how to fix a car engine as to read Chekhov” as Andrea Kuhn puts it. That probably came in useful for graduates like Michael Young, who spent the rest of his life inventing new institutions like the Open University. The virtues of a many-sided life are a common theme in radical experiments like these, and I’m definitely happier and more fulfilled as a result of diversifying myself, but why? I can think of at least three reasons.

First of all, while it does little to dissolve material class boundaries, shared physical labor begins to erode some of the artificial barriers that have been erected over time between ‘more’ and ‘less valuable’ forms of work. Manual labor becomes something that belongs to everyone, rather than being relegated to a secondary status for a separate group of people who are permanently under-rewarded.

There’s more than a touch of voyeurism in what I’m doing since it is always voluntary rather than enforced. But getting stuck into collective work is surely a better way of dealing with this problem than simply observing or studying the lives of others. As the late Ben Pimlott once wrote about George Orwell, “the author uses his account of proletarian life as a peg on which to hang what really interested him: not just the lives of working-class people as such, but his own inner dialogue about how middle-class people like himself did and should relate to them.” Shared work takes this dialogue one step further.

Second, and without wanting to sound like your Grandad, manual labor is good for you—and it’s also good for your role in the struggle for social change. In an age when so much social interaction, communication and activism are virtual, getting stuck into physical work, especially in a group, provides a much more direct experience of engagement with other people and a different set of challenges to navigate.

The pace of work is usually much slower than what’s possible on social media and the internet, and the level of commitment required is correspondingly higher (we reckon it will take at least ten years of continuous activity to get rid of the chestnut weed in the lake). In contrast to the current fashion for ‘frictionless’ solutions, face-to-face negotiations, trade-offs and conflicts are inevitable because of the sheer scale of the problem or its lack of malleability, or the vagaries of the weather and the environment, or delays caused by ill-health or a thousand other things. Translated into social action, these experiences can build stability and sticking power into movements.

Third and most important, a fully-integrated life is the best grounding for democratic politics, new forms of economics, and social problem-solving. We need activists who are also scholars, nurses and teachers who are also politicians, carpenters who sit on town councils, entrepreneurs who are also artists, and politicians who are anything except professional politicians. Mixing things up in this way is far more likely to generate collective energy, creativity, ideas and perhaps even consensus than keeping people trapped in boxes that are permanently marked as one thing or the other.

It also helps in cross-fertilization, as when thoughts and ideas are born during physical work, or when physical work provides a testing ground to put them into practice. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that someone like Scott frames his academic work in terms of real world problems instead of theoretical abstractions, a philosophy that has seen him produce a string of hugely-influential books like Weapons of the Weak and Seeing like a State. “I’m as proud of knowing how to shear a sheep as I am of anything, and I’ve been a better scholar partly because I’ve had this other activity,” he told the New York Times.

Of course, here’s no necessary link between manual labor and the adoption of progressive politics; both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush delighted in hosting brush-clearing parties down on the ranch during their respective US presidencies. But at least in an integrated life, each set of faculties—head, hands and heart—can help to counterbalance the others, guarding against too much reason, emotion or brute force in judgment and decision making.

As Terry Eagleton once pointed out, atrocities like The Holocaust are rooted in the pursuit of reason unmediated by ethics or emotion, but one can also argue that a surfeit of ‘heart over head’ or ‘hands over both’ can be just as damaging. Not only is a many-sided life more personally fulfilling, it also has social and political effects when scaled-up.

But is such a life a luxury reserved for those who can afford it? That’s certainly the case today, when so many people have been boxed into narrow categories and assigned a role and value according to the dictates of contemporary capitalism—so that speculators and managers are hugely over-rewarded, while nurses, care workers, labourers and others are penalized through salary structures, taxation and the unequal allocation of financial risks. The erosion of institutions that used to challenge some of these categories and reward systems (like workers’ education and cross-class civil society groups) has been immensely damaging.

Therefore, re-valuing manual labor and/or instituting some form of basic income is vital if everyone is to have the opportunity to do different things with their time—“there is no wealth but life” as Ruskin famously put it. After all, a rounded human being has got to be better than a square one that’s designed to fit neatly into all those boxes of bureaucracy, hierarchy and convention that force people to live a life that is both limited and divided.

Satish Kumar, one of the founders of Schumacher College, calls this a “path to wisdom” instead of just cleverness or shallow success, a preparation for the essential work of transformation that lies ahead for all of us. So get out your gloves and your boots and your tools and your brushes and get stuck in. You won’t regret it.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Who wants to live in a frictionless world? The mysticism of wide open eyes Welcome to another year of transformation Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

The WTO matters more than ever - here's what you need to know about its summit

Sat, 2017-12-09 05:00

Is a neoliberal dream being reborn in Latin America? It’s not got off to the best of starts…

‘Latin America returns to the global economy’. That’s the message that Argentina’s right-wing President Macri wants world leaders to take away from the World Trade Organisation’s 11th Ministerial Summit in Buenos Aires, which starts tomorrow (Sunday).

Macri dreams of becoming the neoliberal star of Liberal America. Along with interim President Temer of Brazil, who came to power in a legislative coup, Macri wants to erase the work of the ‘Pink Tide’ governments who undertook strongly redistributive policies to control corporations, increase welfare and reduce poverty. Hosting both the WTO and the G20 next year, Macri hopes to get international publicity and make friends among the leaders of the rich world.

He’s not got off to the best start. For the last week Argentina’s press – as well as the Financial Times, Reuters and more around the world – has been filled with stories about Macri’s draconian action to deny dozens of civil society campaigners and trade experts access to the country for the WTO. I am among those blacklisted on the ludicrous basis that we want to spread violence and chaos. Civil society campaigners are already being sent back home from the airport, and we expect heavy policing over the next few days. The sort of extreme free market policies Macri is pursuing have always been accompanied by a crackdown on civil liberties, somewhat at odds with the ‘freedom’ such policies supposedly promote.

Inside the summit, meanwhile, tense discussions, arm-twisting and outright bullying will prevail as delegates try to hammer out that most elusive of endpoints: a WTO deal.  

The WTO has been written off as a ‘dead man walking’ for the last 10 years. But it’s still an incredibly powerful body which polices global trade rules for nearly every country on earth. Too often these rules have been written in the interests of the most powerful corporations, based in the richest countries in the world. So the WTO matters, more so in the wake of the collapse of the gigantic trade deals that were supposed to eclipse its importance: TTIP, TPP, CETA and TISA.

What’s on the agenda?

Will the WTO reach a deal? Here are the top 5 issues that delegates need to agree on:

1. Food – This is a WTO perennial because global rules on agriculture are pretty much the definition of double standards. In one corner is India, whose 2013 National Food Security Act guarantees cheap rice and wheat to two-thirds of its population by buying from farmers at a guaranteed price. While the scheme has its problems, studies suggest  tens of millions of people have been brought out of poverty by the law. In the other corner, the US and EU believe the scheme is ‘trade distorting’ and must be scrapped.

It’s bad enough to demand the end of a life-saving food policy, but it’s even worse when you bear in mind that the US and EU protect their own agricultural sectors to the tune of billions of dollars a year. This protection doesn’t count as ‘trade distorting’ however because… well, because those countries wrote the rules which say it isn’t. India will be portrayed as the villain at the WTO. Don’t believe a word of it.

2. E-commerce – the latest thing in trade talks is rules to protect the power of the giant tech companies like Amazon and Google. These companies profit from data, the ‘new oil’ of the global economy, and they want rules to ensure they can use and abuse this data as they wish. The corporations argue that they should be allowed to move your data around the world to benefit from lower regulations elsewhere. Corporations should not be required to have a presence in the countries they operate in (making it hard to tax and regulate them), nor should they have to benefit those countries by recruiting local people, using local products or helping skill up the local economies. So the e-commerce agenda is bad for us as citizens and bad for developing counties who want to build up a competitive tech sector. Developing countries will put up a powerful fight against this agenda.

3. Fisheries – Overfishing is a massive, global problem, and the WTO is promising to solve the problem by reducing subsidies and introducing new rules on fishing. The problem is that this is likely to reduce support for small, artisanal fisherfolk, who are not the problem at all, while continuing to allow industrial scale scouring of the ocean floors. Just as with food subsidies, it could result in one rule for the rich, and another for the poor.

4. Development – Agreement at the WTO broke down over 15 years ago because rich countries and their big business friends passed everything they wanted and ignored the demands and needs of developing countries. Many developing countries are still waiting for rules which would help them, often rules which allow them to protect parts of their economy in the same way as all rich countries used to when they were poorer. Expect a fight over whether the phrase ‘development round’ is still mentioned in the final deal. Developing countries broadly want to keep the agenda open. Rich countries want to end it and get on with new issues.

5. New issues – Instead of the development agenda, rich countries have been trying for years to put a whole host of new issues on the WTO agenda. These issues, like investment and competition rules, and restrictions on how countries can use regulation, are all attempts to broaden what is meant by ‘trade’. Trade policy, through the WTO, is very enforceable – it has ‘teeth’ – because countries can be punished for not following the rules if another country complains. So if you want enforceable rules, try to claim it’s all about trade. That’s how trade rules today increasingly affect ‘non-trade’ things like public services, food standards, and government procurement. There’s not necessarily a problem with international cooperation on these issues, but when that ‘cooperation’ is based on rules set by the richest and most powerful in the world at the expense of everyone else, you end up with a global economy which fuels inequality, climate change and corporate rule. Often, these ‘trade rules’ simply give big businesses more power to do whatever they want in order to make profits.  

The joker in the pack

The big unknown at this WTO Summit is Donald Trump. While the US has traditionally led the rich country bloc in its push for rules demanding liberalisation and deregulation, Trump is different. He is a bully and doesn’t like multilateral rules at all, believing the US could get its own way more often by ripping them up, and signing more bilateral deals where US power is truly invincible.

That’s why Trump is currently blocking a new arbitrator to the WTO’s disputes panel, rendering the whole dispute system increasingly inoperable. That threatens the WTO’s enforcement power in a big way.

The question is whether the uncertainty which Trump creates might force other countries to begin thinking about a fairer system of global rules which, rather than benefitting big business, places the right to protect citizens and the environment at the heart of the global economy.

Such a fundamental reform of global rules is vital and the stakes couldn’t be higher. If we want a more peaceful, climate-friendly and fair world for everyone, we have to find a different way forward than either Trump’s ultra-nationalist bullying, or the hard core corporate power agenda of the WTO which gave rise to him.

Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

The WTO matters more than ever - here's what you need to know about its summit

Sat, 2017-12-09 05:00

Is a neoliberal dream being reborn in Latin America? It’s not got off to the best of starts…

‘Latin America returns to the global economy’. That’s the message that Argentina’s right-wing President Macri wants world leaders to take away from the World Trade Organisation’s 11th Ministerial Summit in Buenos Aires, which starts tomorrow (Sunday).

Macri dreams of becoming the neoliberal star of Liberal America. Along with interim President Temer of Brazil, who came to power in a legislative coup, Macri wants to erase the work of the ‘Pink Tide’ governments who undertook strongly redistributive policies to control corporations, increase welfare and reduce poverty. Hosting both the WTO and the G20 next year, Macri hopes to get international publicity and make friends among the leaders of the rich world.

He’s not got off to the best start. For the last week Argentina’s press – as well as the Financial Times, Reuters and more around the world – has been filled with stories about Macri’s draconian action to deny dozens of civil society campaigners and trade experts access to the country for the WTO. I am among those blacklisted on the ludicrous basis that we want to spread violence and chaos. Civil society campaigners are already being sent back home from the airport, and we expect heavy policing over the next few days. The sort of extreme free market policies Macri is pursuing have always been accompanied by a crackdown on civil liberties, somewhat at odds with the ‘freedom’ such policies supposedly promote.

Inside the summit, meanwhile, tense discussions, arm-twisting and outright bullying will prevail as delegates try to hammer out that most elusive of endpoints: a WTO deal.  

The WTO has been written off as a ‘dead man walking’ for the last 10 years. But it’s still an incredibly powerful body which polices global trade rules for nearly every country on earth. Too often these rules have been written in the interests of the most powerful corporations, based in the richest countries in the world. So the WTO matters, more so in the wake of the collapse of the gigantic trade deals that were supposed to eclipse its importance: TTIP, TPP, CETA and TISA.

What’s on the agenda?

Will the WTO reach a deal? Here are the top 5 issues that delegates need to agree on:

1. Food – This is a WTO perennial because global rules on agriculture are pretty much the definition of double standards. In one corner is India, whose 2013 National Food Security Act guarantees cheap rice and wheat to two-thirds of its population by buying from farmers at a guaranteed price. While the scheme has its problems, studies suggest  tens of millions of people have been brought out of poverty by the law. In the other corner, the US and EU believe the scheme is ‘trade distorting’ and must be scrapped.

It’s bad enough to demand the end of a life-saving food policy, but it’s even worse when you bear in mind that the US and EU protect their own agricultural sectors to the tune of billions of dollars a year. This protection doesn’t count as ‘trade distorting’ however because… well, because those countries wrote the rules which say it isn’t. India will be portrayed as the villain at the WTO. Don’t believe a word of it.

2. E-commerce – the latest thing in trade talks is rules to protect the power of the giant tech companies like Amazon and Google. These companies profit from data, the ‘new oil’ of the global economy, and they want rules to ensure they can use and abuse this data as they wish. The corporations argue that they should be allowed to move your data around the world to benefit from lower regulations elsewhere. Corporations should not be required to have a presence in the countries they operate in (making it hard to tax and regulate them), nor should they have to benefit those countries by recruiting local people, using local products or helping skill up the local economies. So the e-commerce agenda is bad for us as citizens and bad for developing counties who want to build up a competitive tech sector. Developing countries will put up a powerful fight against this agenda.

3. Fisheries – Overfishing is a massive, global problem, and the WTO is promising to solve the problem by reducing subsidies and introducing new rules on fishing. The problem is that this is likely to reduce support for small, artisanal fisherfolk, who are not the problem at all, while continuing to allow industrial scale scouring of the ocean floors. Just as with food subsidies, it could result in one rule for the rich, and another for the poor.

4. Development – Agreement at the WTO broke down over 15 years ago because rich countries and their big business friends passed everything they wanted and ignored the demands and needs of developing countries. Many developing countries are still waiting for rules which would help them, often rules which allow them to protect parts of their economy in the same way as all rich countries used to when they were poorer. Expect a fight over whether the phrase ‘development round’ is still mentioned in the final deal. Developing countries broadly want to keep the agenda open. Rich countries want to end it and get on with new issues.

5. New issues – Instead of the development agenda, rich countries have been trying for years to put a whole host of new issues on the WTO agenda. These issues, like investment and competition rules, and restrictions on how countries can use regulation, are all attempts to broaden what is meant by ‘trade’. Trade policy, through the WTO, is very enforceable – it has ‘teeth’ – because countries can be punished for not following the rules if another country complains. So if you want enforceable rules, try to claim it’s all about trade. That’s how trade rules today increasingly affect ‘non-trade’ things like public services, food standards, and government procurement. There’s not necessarily a problem with international cooperation on these issues, but when that ‘cooperation’ is based on rules set by the richest and most powerful in the world at the expense of everyone else, you end up with a global economy which fuels inequality, climate change and corporate rule. Often, these ‘trade rules’ simply give big businesses more power to do whatever they want in order to make profits.  

The joker in the pack

The big unknown at this WTO Summit is Donald Trump. While the US has traditionally led the rich country bloc in its push for rules demanding liberalisation and deregulation, Trump is different. He is a bully and doesn’t like multilateral rules at all, believing the US could get its own way more often by ripping them up, and signing more bilateral deals where US power is truly invincible.

That’s why Trump is currently blocking a new arbitrator to the WTO’s disputes panel, rendering the whole dispute system increasingly inoperable. That threatens the WTO’s enforcement power in a big way.

The question is whether the uncertainty which Trump creates might force other countries to begin thinking about a fairer system of global rules which, rather than benefitting big business, places the right to protect citizens and the environment at the heart of the global economy.

Such a fundamental reform of global rules is vital and the stakes couldn’t be higher. If we want a more peaceful, climate-friendly and fair world for everyone, we have to find a different way forward than either Trump’s ultra-nationalist bullying, or the hard core corporate power agenda of the WTO which gave rise to him.

Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

Free trade is bad for women. A WTO declaration won’t change that.

Sat, 2017-12-09 04:00

Gendered exploitation is at the heart of the free trade agenda -- a few tweaks to the edges won’t make it feminist.

Container Ships, San Francisco bay. Wikimedia Commons.

Don’t be fooled by the news of a trade and gender declaration at next week’s World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Buenos Aires, or by stories of Canada’s new ‘feminist’ approach to trade. Gendered exploitation is at the heart of the free trade agenda - a few tweaks to the edges won’t make it feminist. In fact, it won’t do anything much at all. If we really want an international trade system that works for women, tokenism won’t cut it. We need to overhaul our approach to trade. 

Trade policy has traditionally been presented as gender neutral, with women described as beneficiaries of an international trade system which, as this story goes, increases their employment opportunities and expands their financial independence. But after two decades of free trade fundamentalism, inequality is on the rise and the world’s richest 8 men now have as much wealth as the poorest 50% of the population. In 2017, women still make up majority of the world’s poor.

The notion that trade is gender neutral, and free trade good for women, simply doesn’t stand up to the evidence. Hence the push for gender aware trade policy. The problem is that non-binding measures like WTO declarations and the inclusion of gender chapters in trade agreements might make for nice news stories, but they won’t address the myriad ways our free trade system exploits women, particularly women of colour. 

This exploitation has been well documented in the ever expanding manufacturing sectors, where women represent nothing more than a cheap form of labour for global corporations looking to expand their profits. Female workers make up most of those employed in the notoriously exploitative export sectors, particularly in garment and textile manufacturing. Most of these women lack basic employment security and experience widespread labour rights violations, working up to 16 hours a day, seven days and week while not even earning a living wage.

measures like WTO declarations and the inclusion of gender chapters in trade agreements might make for nice news stories, but they won’t address the myriad ways our free trade system exploits women, particularly women of colour. 

But it doesn’t stop there. Female farmers and agricultural workers have been devastated by free trade policies that open up agricultural markets to foreign investment. Trade liberalisation has systematically undermined subsistence and small-scale farming, opening up countries to corporate land-grabs that strip women of their land and food production capacity. Local agricultural industries that are unable to compete with global corporations have also been decimated, forcing farmers into exploitative cash-crop export sectors that largely exclude women. The outcome is widespread food insecurity that destroys communities and deepens women’s poverty.

Modern trade deals, like the CETA and the prospective TISA deal, are more focused on establishing a regulatory framework that lock-in liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation than regulating trade at all. Provisions that open up public services to privatisation and increase the price of medicine are bad for everyone, but they hit women the hardest. It’s women and girls that go without medical treatment when it becomes too expensive. And it’s women that fill the gaps where public services are no longer affordable, which adds to their domestic labour and care responsibilities while reducing their access to education and healthcare. And as inequality increases, as we know it will, it’s women that will be plunged further into poverty.

A non-binding gender declaration won’t reverse the tide of privatisation and it won’t signal a move away from the liberalisation and deregulation agenda that forms the core of our free trade system. If governments are serious about developing trade policy that works for women, we need a new approach to trade. An approach that’s not underpinned by a corporate agenda built on the exploitation of women. An approach that actually works to address poverty and inequality.

This means paring back trade agreements to the regulation of trade in goods and granting human rights, labour rights and environmental standards supremacy over trade rules. It means protecting governments’ right to regulate – so they can make public policy that tackles gender inequality. It means enabling countries in the Global South to use tariffs and subsidies to protect their economies as they develop, so they can build industrial strategies that are compatible with their development agendas. In short, it means trade policy based on evidence not ideology.

WTO members can sign as many gender and trade declarations as they like, but it won’t make a difference for women. Free trade is antithetical to gender justice. To make trade policy work for women the global trade system needs a total overhaul. 

Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

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