Economics https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/12874/all cached version 17/01/2019 11:31:22 en Are we prepared to pay the price for farmworker justice? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/olivia-heffernan/are-we-prepared-to-pay-price-for-farmworker-justice <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>“We need an awakening of consciousness for everyone to understand how important we are as workers of the land.”</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/OliviaHeffernan.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Migrant workers picking cabbages in Ohio, 2010. Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/bobjagendorf/5123728839">Flickr/Bob Jagendorf</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">CC BY-NC 2.0</a>.</p> <p>Wearing a flannel shirt, <em>Wrangler</em> jeans and worn-in beige boots, Juan Antonio Zuniga has the look of a farmer but not the entitlements that come with owning an actual farm. Fleeing violence in El Salvador, Zuniga came to the US in 1991 and has been a farmworker in New York ever since. Today, he lives and works on a farm in Mattituck, Long Island, where he picks grains and grows vegetables. According to the <a href="http://nfwm.org/resources/low-wages/">National Farmworker Ministry</a>, the annual average income of crop workers is between $10,000 and $12,499 for individuals and $15,000 to $17,499 for a family, an offensively noticeable difference from the $5 billion-plus that<a href="https://www.nyfb.org/about/about-ny-ag"> New York’s agricultural industry brought in last year.</a></p> <p>“We are seen as an industry that does not need services,” Zuniga told attendees of a conference on Food Justice and Labor in the Hudson Valley in November 2018, “People think fieldwork provides for itself. Without us, there would be no vegetables, fruit, grains or wine. Farmworkers are the foundation of production. But we are hidden. We don’t exist. Farmworkers do not have a voice or a vote.”</p> <p>Like Zuniga, Librada Paz also began life in the US as a farmworker, but now works as a farm labor advocate for <a href="http://ruralmigrantministry.org/">The Rural Migrant &amp; Ministry</a>, a New York nonprofit that seeks to create a just and equitable environment for rural and migrant workers in the state. Originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, Paz and her family came to the US when she was 15. When I met her in Midtown Manhattan, she cried as she remembered her first years as an apple picker in upstate New York.</p> <p>“When you come here, your only option is farm working because it is the job no one else wants to do. There’s nothing here to protect you. It doesn’t matter who you are, your immigration status or the color of your skin. If you are a farmworker, you do not have basic rights,” Paz told me. While picking apples on a small farm in Orleans County, New York, Paz lived in a one-room home with eight other men and women. “Each night we would switch who got to sleep on the mattress. Living in those crowded places really affected me. Everywhere I went men were molesting me, but I couldn’t complain because I feared they would not believe me. Even if I screamed no one would hear me.”&nbsp;</p> <p>A recipient of the 2012 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award for her farmworker activism, Paz leads ‘know your rights’ trainings for farmworkers across New York State, and over her 30 years as a farmworker and activist in the US she has witnessed everything from farm owners who routinely fired their workers after each season, to farmworkers who lost their jobs because they asked for a sick day or got injured on the job. A few years after migrating to the US her own father fell from an old, unsteady ladder while picking apples. Paz remembers him with a broken arm but afraid to seek medical help or stop working. Eventually he was fired and forced to work at an egg factory in Maine. He never received injury or workers’ compensation.</p> <p>Legislation to address these problems is essential, but on its own it won’t be enough to protect and enhance farmworker justice. What’s also needed is a reconceptualization among consumers and activists of what it takes to create and sustain ‘good farms’ – whether corporate or local. Improved wages and working conditions, lowering pollution from chemical fertilizers, increasing seed diversity, and protecting animal welfare all translate into a willingness to pay higher prices that can help to secure a more robust set of labor protections and rights. Agricultural workers make an indispensable contribution to the US economy, and they should be treated with dignity and respect. As Zuniga told the Hudson Valley conference, “We need an awakening of consciousness for everyone to understand how important we are as workers of the land.”</p> <p>Paz says that a key problem are the loopholes in US labor laws that exempt farmworkers from the same labor protections that every other worker is afforded. “We’re only asking for basic rights, to protect us from abuse, from violence, from sickness and so much more. We’re not asking for much,” she told me.</p> <p>This January, the New York State Senate has the opportunity to address this problem when the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act (FFLPA), a 20-year old piece of legislation, will be reintroduced to the State Senate Floor. The legislation proposes amendments to New York Labor and Public Health Laws that would grant farmworkers the rights to bargain collectively, and to receive overtime pay, a day of rest, access to unemployment and disability benefits, and insurance if they are injured during the course of employment. It would also prohibit employers from paying certain farmworkers less than the minimum wage, and expand labor sanitary codes to all farm and food processing camps.</p> <p>While it has been proposed in each new Senate session since 2010, the FFLPA has yet to receive the required votes from New York Senators for it to pass. However, with a newly Democratic-controlled Senate for the first time since 2009, there is renewed hope for the 100,000 farmworkers of New York.</p> <p>Among many other things, the FFPLA attempts to resolve a contradiction between the Constitution of New York, which states that<a href="https://www.dos.ny.gov/info/constitution/article_1_bill_of_rights.html"> all employees have the right to organize and bargain collectively</a>, and the New York’s Labor Relations Act, which exempts farmworkers from this specific provision of the Constitution. To date, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/sep/14/california-overtime-farm-workers-union">California</a> is the only state in the US that has granted agricultural workers the right to overtime pay. As Renan Salgado, Senior Human Trafficking Expert for the New York Worker Justice Center, told me in an interview:</p> <blockquote><p>“Agriculture and slavery have always gone hand in hand in the US. It began with indentured servitude and since 1942 the flavor has been Mexican. The blue print is simple: you bring foreigners, whether through force, coercion, enticement or manipulation and once they are here, you criminalize their status and put them in agriculture to sustain our most profitable industry.”</p></blockquote> <p>Even with political support to pass legislation and policy changes to address these structural issues, we still need to build much greater personal awareness of the realities of farm work in order to create a long-term constituency for change. Through ten years and hundreds of interviews, Margaret Gray, the author of <em><a href="https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520276697/labor-and-the-locavore">Labor and the Locavore,</a></em> found that most depictions of local farms obfuscate the reality of agricultural labor. Activism for farmworker justice has been focused on large corporate farms as exploitative industries, while small local producers have been seen as archetypes of the ‘salt of the earth,’ featured and admired by progressive writers like <a href="https://michaelpollan.com/books/">Michael Pollan</a> and in publications such as <em>Edible</em>, <em>Kinfolk</em> or <em>Hudson Valley Magazine</em>.</p> <p>In these glossy magazine spreads, instead of photos of workers’ living in dilapidated trailers or working with duct-taped hands, New Yorkers see images of rugged farm owners proudly dangling their unwashed carrots from the roots to the tips. Such images are romantic and aesthetically pleasing, but they condition consumers at farmers’ markets and organic restaurants in New York City into believing that small local farms upstate are unquestionably humane, hardworking and just.</p> <p>“We need to consider what’s local about an international undocumented workforce,” Gray told me, “There’s an inherent contradiction in us allocating praise and wholesomeness to land and farmers. I think consumers are identifying benefits of local that are not being passed on to workers just in the basic sense of recognizing them, their humanity, and need for improved rights and working conditions.”</p> <p>By dichotomizing corporate and local farms and assuming that ‘local’ means ‘moral,’ food justice activists can miss the fact that whether organic fresh kale is shipped to a supermarket warehouse or an upscale ‘farm to table’ restaurant in the West Village is irrelevant to the treatment of farmworkers—they are still exempt from the protections that all other hourly workers are granted.</p> <p>“I think we should rethink that dichotomy,” Gray added, “and imagine how a farm system premised on improving labor rights and labor conditions might benefit everyone in New York…as opposed to just buy local, buy organic, and buy sustainable, buy <em>labor friendly</em> should be added to a roster of marketing efforts.”&nbsp; </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/nur-lalji/how-florida-farmworkers-won-fairer-pay-from-america%27s-biggest-food-companie">How Florida farm-workers won fairer pay from America&#039;s biggest food companies</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/democraciaabierta/danica-jorden/red-sky-at-morning-no-recourse-for-migrant-farmworkers-during-and-af">Red sky at morning: no recourse for migrant farmworkers during and after hurricane florence</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/pacita-rudder/building-different-form-of-power-young-people-s-voices-from-california-">Building a different form of power: young people’s voices from California’s Central Valley</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Olivia Heffernan Activism Culture Economics Tue, 08 Jan 2019 20:23:25 +0000 Olivia Heffernan 121234 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The unacknowledged fictions of Yuval Harari https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jeremy-lent/unacknowledged-fictions-of-yuval-harari <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Replacing one set of myths with another is no basis for confronting the earth’s existential problems.<em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/democraciaabierta/jeremy-lent/sapiens-homo-deus-12-lecciones-y-las-ficciones-inconfesadas-de-yuval-h"> Español</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/JeremyLentnew3.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Yuval Noah Harari in Davos, January 24, 2018. Copyright by <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/worldeconomicforum/39165596054">World Economic Forum/Ciaran McCrickard</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">CC BY-SA-NC 2.0</a>.</p> <p>When Yuval Noah Harari speaks, the world listens. Or at least, much of the world’s reading public. His first two blockbusters, <em><a href="https://www.ynharari.com/book/sapiens/">Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind</a></em>, and <em><a href="https://www.ynharari.com/book/homo-deus/">Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow</a></em>, <a href="https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/books/sapiens-author-on-rewriting-the-rule-book-after-a-cult-bestseller-a3860256.html">have sold</a> 12 million copies globally, and his new book, <em><a href="https://www.ynharari.com/book/21-lessons/">21 Lessons for the 21st Century</a></em>, is on bestseller lists everywhere. His fans include Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg, he’s admired by opinion shapers as diverse as Sam Harris and Russell Brand, and he’s fêted at the IMF and World Economic Forum.</p> <p>A galvanizing theme of Harari’s writing is that humans are driven by shared, frequently unacknowledged fictions. Many of these fictions, he rightly points out, underlie the concepts that organize society, such as the value of the US dollar or the authority of nation states. In critiquing the current vogue topic of “fake news,” Harari observes that this is nothing new, but has been around for millennia in the form of organized religion.</p> <p>However, though apparently unwittingly, Harari himself perpetuates a set of unacknowledged fictions that he relies on as foundations for his own version of reality. Given his enormous sway as a public intellectual, this risks causing considerable harm. Like the traditional religious dogmas that he mocks, his own implicit stories wield great influence over the global power elite as long as they remain unacknowledged.</p><p><strong>Fiction #1: nature is a machine.</strong></p> <p>One of Harari’s most striking prophecies is that artificial intelligence will come to replace even the most creative human endeavors, and ultimately be capable of controlling every aspect of human cognition. The underlying rationale for his prediction is that human consciousness -including emotions, intuitions, and feelings - is nothing more than a series of algorithms, which could all theoretically be deciphered and predicted by a computer program. Our feelings, <a href="https://www.ynharari.com/book/21-lessons/">he tells us</a>, are merely “biochemical mechanisms” resulting from “billions of neurons calculating” based on algorithms honed by evolution.</p> <p>The idea that humans - and indeed all of nature - can be understood as very complicated machines is in fact a <a href="https://www.jeremylent.com/is-nature-a-machine.html">uniquely European cultural myth</a> that arose in the 17th century and has since taken hold of the popular imagination. In the heady days of the Scientific Revolution, Descartes declared he saw no difference “between the machines made by craftsmen and the various bodies that nature alone composes.” The preferred machine metaphor is now the computer, with <a href="https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Richard_Dawkins">Richard Dawkins</a> (apparently influencing Harari) writing that “life is just bytes and bytes and bytes of digital information,” but the idea remains the same - everything in nature can ultimately be reduced to its component parts and understood accordingly.</p> <p>This myth, however attractive it might be to our technology-driven age, is as fictional as the theory that God created the universe in six days. Biologists point out principles intrinsic to life that categorically differentiate it from even the most complicated machine. Living organisms cannot be split, like a computer, between hardware and software. A neuron’s biophysical makeup is intrinsically linked to its behavior: the information it transmits doesn’t exist separately from its material construction. As prominent neuroscientist Antonio Damasio states in <em><a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/feb/02/strange-order-of-things-antonio-damasio-review">The Strange Order of Things</a></em>, Harari’s assumptions are “not scientifically sound” and his conclusions are “certainly wrong.”</p> <p>The dangers of this fiction arise when others base their actions on this flawed foundation. Believing that nature is a machine inspires a hubristic arrogance that technology can solve all humanity’s problems. Molecular biologists promote genetic engineering to enhance food production, while others advocate geo-engineering as a solution to climate breakdown - strategies fraught with the risk of massive unintended consequences. Recognizing that natural processes, from the human mind to the entire global ecosystem, are complex, nonlinear, and inherently unpredictable, is a necessary first step in crafting truly systemic solutions to the existential crises facing our civilization.</p><p><strong>Fiction #2: “there is no alternative.”</strong></p> <p>When Margaret Thatcher teamed up with Ronald Reagan in the 1980s to impose the free-market, corporate-driven doctrine of neoliberalism on the world, she famously used the slogan “There Is No Alternative” to argue that the other two great ideologies of the twentieth century - fascism and communism - had failed, leaving her brand of unrestrained market capitalism as the only meaningful choice. </p> <p>Astonishingly, three decades later, Harari echoes her caricatured version of history, declaring how, after the collapse of communism, only “the liberal story remained.” The current crisis, as Harari sees it, is that “liberalism has no obvious answers to the biggest problems we face.” We now need to “craft a completely new story,” he avers, to respond to the turmoil of modern times.</p> <p>Sadly, Harari seems to have missed the abundant, effervescent broth of inspiring visions for a flourishing future developed over decades by progressive thinkers across the globe. He appears to be entirely ignorant of the new foundations for economics proffered by pioneering thinkers such as <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/kate-raworth/seven-ways-to-think-like-21st-century-economist">Kate Raworth</a>; the exciting new principles for a life-affirming future within the framework of an <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2018/10/10/we-need-an-ecological-civilization-before-its-too-late/">Ecological Civilization</a>; the stirring moral foundation established by <a href="http://earthcharter.org/discover/what-is-the-earth-charter/">the Earth Charter</a> and endorsed by over 6,000 organizations worldwide; in addition to countless other variations of the “new story” that Harari laments is missing. It’s a story of hope that celebrates our shared humanity and emphasizes our deep connection with a living earth.</p> <p>The problem is not, as Harari argues, that we are “left without any story.” It is, rather, that <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/12/19/what-will-it-really-take-to-avoid-collapse/">the world’s mass media is dominated</a> by the same overpowering transnational corporations that maintain a stranglehold over virtually all other aspects of global activity, and choose not to give a platform to the stories that undermine the Thatcherian myth that neoliberalism is still the only game in town.</p> <p>Harari is well positioned to apprise mainstream thinkers of the hopeful possibilities on offer. In doing so, he would have the opportunity to influence the future that—as he rightly points out—holds terrifying prospects without a change in direction. Is he ready for this challenge? Perhaps, but first he would need to investigate the assumptions underlying Fiction #3.</p><p><strong>Fiction #3: Life Is meaningless - It’s best to do nothing.</strong></p> <p>Yuval Harari is a dedicated meditator, sitting for two hours a day to practice <em><a href="https://tricycle.org/magazine/vipassana-meditation/">vipassana</a></em> (insight) meditation, which he learned from the celebrated teacher <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S._N._Goenka">Goenka</a>. Based on Goenka’s tutelage, Harari offers his own version of the Buddha’s original teaching: “Life,” he writes, “has no meaning, and people don’t need to create any meaning.” In answer to the question as to what people should do, Harari summarizes his view of the Buddha’s answer: “Do nothing. Absolutely nothing.”</p> <p>As a fellow meditator and admirer of Buddhist principles, I share Harari’s conviction that Buddhist insight can help reduce suffering on many levels. However, I am concerned that, in distilling the Buddha’s teaching to these sound bites, Harari gives a philosophical justification to those who choose to do nothing to avert the imminent humanitarian and ecological catastrophes threatening our future.</p> <p>The statement that “life has no meaning” seems to arise more from the modern reductionist ontology of physicist <a href="https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Steven_Weinberg">Steven Weinberg</a> than the mouth of the Buddha. To suggest that “people don’t need to create any meaning” contradicts an evolved instinct of the human species. As I describe in <a href="https://www.jeremylent.com/the-patterning-instinct.html">my own book</a>, <em>The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning</em>, human cognition drives us to impose meaning into the universe, a process that’s substantially shaped by the culture a person is born into. However, by recognizing the underlying structures of meaning instilled in us by our own culture, we can become mindful of our own patterns of thought, thus enabling us to reshape them for more beneficial outcomes - a process I call “cultural mindfulness.”</p> <p>There are, in fact, other interpretations of the Buddha’s core teachings that lead to very different distillations - ones that cry out “Do Something!” - inspiring meaningful engagement in worldly activities. The principle of ‘dependent origination,’ for example, emphasizes the intrinsic interdependence of all aspects of existence, and forms the basis for the <a href="https://www.mindfulnessbell.org/archive/2015/02/dharma-talk-history-of-engaged-buddhism-2">politically engaged Buddhism</a> of prominent monk and peace activist, Thích Nhất Hạnh. Another essential Buddhist practice is <em><a href="https://tricycle.org/magazine/metta-practice/">metta</a></em>, or compassion meditation, which focuses on identifying with the suffering of others, and resolving to devote one’s own life energies to reducing that suffering. These are sources of meaning in life that are fundamentally consistent with Buddhist principles.</p><p><strong>Fiction #4: Humanity’s future Is a spectator sport.</strong></p> <p>A distinguishing characteristic of Harari’s writing, and one that may account for much of his prodigious success, is his ability to transcend the preconceptions of everyday life and offer a panoramic view of human history - as though he’s orbiting the earth from ten thousand miles and transmitting what he sees. &nbsp;Through his meditation practice, Harari confides, he has been able to “actually observe reality as it is,” which gave him the focus and clear-sightedness to write <em>Sapiens</em> and <em>Homo Deus</em>. He differentiates his recent <em>21 Lessons for the 21st Century</em> from his first two books by declaring that, in contrast to their ten thousand-mile Earth orbit, he will now “zoom in on the here and now.”</p> <p>While the content of his new book is definitely the messy present, Harari continues to view the world as if through a scientist’s objective lens. However, Harari’s understanding of science appears to be limited to the confines of Fiction #1 - “Nature Is a Machine” - which requires complete detachment from whatever is being studied. Acknowledging that his forecast for humanity “seems patently unjust,” <a href="https://www.ynharari.com/book/homo-deus/">he justifies his own moral detachment, retorting that</a> “this is a historical prediction, not a political manifesto.”</p> <p>In recent decades, however, systems thinkers in multiple scientific disciplines have transformed this notion of pristine scientific objectivity. Recognizing nature as a dynamic, self-organized fractal complex of nonlinear systems, which can only be truly understood in terms of how each part relates to each other and the whole, they have shown how these principles apply, not just to the natural world, but also our own human social systems. A crucial implication is that the observer is part of what is being observed, with the result that the observer’s conclusions and ensuing actions feed back into the system being investigated.</p> <p>This insight holds important ethical implications for approaching the great problems facing humanity. Once you recognize that you are part of the system you’re analyzing, this raises a moral imperative to act on your findings, and to raise awareness of others regarding their own intrinsic responsibilities. The future is not a spectator sport - in fact, every one of us is on the team and can make a difference in the outcome. We can no longer afford any fictions - the stakes have become too high. </p> <p><em>For anyone interested in exploring the issues raised in this article, I offer<a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/the-patterning-instinct/a-reading-list-for-yuval-noah-harari/"> sources here</a> for further inquiry. </em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jeremy-lent/steven-pinker-s-ideas-are-fatally-flawed-these-eight-graphs-show-why">Steven Pinker’s ideas are fatally flawed. These eight graphs show why.</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/jeremy-lent/culture-shift-redirecting-humanity-s-path-to-flourishing-future">Culture shift: redirecting humanity’s path to a flourishing future</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jeremy-lent/we-need-ecological-civilization-before-it-s-too-late">We need an ecological civilization before it’s too late</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Jeremy Lent Economics Culture Sun, 06 Jan 2019 19:52:52 +0000 Jeremy Lent 121096 at https://www.opendemocracy.net An anarchist guide to Christmas https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/ruth-kinna/anarchist-guide-to-christmas <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>On the night before Christmas, we’ll all be about.&nbsp;While the people are sleeping, we’ll realise our clout.&nbsp;We’ll expropriate goods from the stores, ‘cos that’s fair.&nbsp;And distribute them widely, to those who need care.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/541222/RuthKinna Christmas.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Can we reclaim Christmas for the masses? Credit: Grace Wilson/STRIKE! magazine."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/541222/RuthKinna Christmas.jpg" alt="Can we reclaim Christmas for the masses? Credit: Grace Wilson/STRIKE! magazine." title="Can we reclaim Christmas for the masses? Credit: Grace Wilson/STRIKE! magazine." width="460" height="398" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Can we reclaim Christmas for the masses? Credit: Grace Wilson/STRIKE! magazine.</span></span></span></p><p>It’s no surprise to discover that anarchist theorist Pyotr Kropotkin was interested in Christmas. In Russian culture, St. Nicholas (Николай Чудотворец) was revered as a defender of the oppressed, the weak and the disadvantaged. Kropotkin shared the sentiments. </p><p>But there was also a family link. As everyone knows, Kropotkin could trace his ancestry to the ancient Rurik dynasty that ruled Russia before the upstart Romanovs and which, from the first century CE, controlled the trade routes between Moscow and the Byzantine Empire. Nicholas’s branch of the family had been sent out to patrol the Black Sea. But Nicholas was a spiritual man and sought an escape from the piracy and brigandage for which his Russian Viking family was famed. So he settled under a new name in the southern lands of the Empire, now Greece, and decided to use the wealth that he had amassed from his life of crime to alleviate the sufferings of the poor.</p><p>Unpublished archival sources recently discovered in Moscow reveal that Kropotkin was fascinated by this family tie and the striking physical similarity between himself and the figure of Father Christmas, popularised by the publication of ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ (better known as ‘The Night Before Christmas’) in 1823. </p><p>Kropotkin was not quite so portly as Klaus, but with a cushion stuffed up his tunic, he felt he could pass. His friend Elisée Reclus advised him to drop the fur trim on the outfit. That was a good idea as it would also allow him to wear a bit more black with the red. He’d decided to follow Elisée’s advice on the reindeer, too, and to use a hand driven sleigh. Kropotkin wasn’t normally given to dressing up. But exploiting the resemblance to spread the anarchist message was excellent propaganda by the deed. </p><p>Anticipating ‘V’, Kropotkin thought that we could all pose as Santa Claus. On the edge of one page Kropotkin writes: "Infiltrate the stores, give away the toys!"</p><p>Faint remnants on the back of a postcard read:</p><p class="blockquote-new">On the night before Christmas, we’ll all be about<br />While the people are sleeping, we’ll realise our clout<br />We’ll expropriate goods from the stores, ‘cos that’s fair<br />And distribute them widely, to those who need care.</p><p>His project notes also reveal some valuable insights into his ideas about the anarchistic features of Christmas and his thinking about the ways in which Victorian Christmas rituals might be adapted.</p><p>"We all know", he wrote, "that the big stores – John Lewis, Harrods and Selfridges – are beginning to exploit the sales potential of Christmas, establishing magic caves, grottos and fantastic fairylands to lure our children and pressurise us to buy gifts that we do not want and cannot afford". </p><p>"If you are one of us", he continued, "you will realise that the magic of Christmas depends on Father Christmas’s system of production, not the stores’ attempts to seduce you to consume useless luxuries". Kropotkin described the sprawling workshops at the North Pole, where elves worked all year, happily because they knew that they were producing for other peoples’ pleasure. Noting that these workshops were strictly not-for profit, craft-based and run on communal lines, Kropotkin treated them as prototypes for the factories of the future (outlined in Fields, Factories and Workshops). </p><p>Some people, he felt, thought that Father Christmas’s dream to see that everyone received gifts on Christmas day, was quixotic. But it could be realised. Indeed, the extension of the workshops – which were quite expensive to run in the Arctic – would facilitate generalised production for need and the transformation of occasional gift-giving into regular sharing. "We need to tell the people", Kropotkin wrote, "that community workshops can be set up anywhere and that we can pool our resources to make sure that everybody has their needs met"!</p><p>One of the issues that most bothered Kropotkin about Christmas was the way in which the inspirational role that Nicholas’s had played in conjuring Christmas myths had confused the ethics of Christmas. Nicholas was wrongly represented as a charitable, benevolent man: saintly because he was beneficent. Absorbed in the figure of Father Christmas, Nicholas’s motivations for giving had become further skewed by the Victorian’s fixation with children. </p><p>Kropotkin didn’t really understand the links, but felt that it reflected an attempt to moralise childhood through a concept of purity that was symbolised in the birth of Jesus. Naturally he couldn’t imagine the creation of the Big Brother Santa Claus who knows when children are asleep and awake and comes to town apparently knowing which have dared to cry or pout. </p><p>But sooner or later, he warned, this idea of purity would be used to distinguish naughty from nice children and only those in the latter group would be rewarded with presents.</p><p>Whatever the case, it was important both to recover the principle of Nicholas’ compassion from this confusing mumbo-jumbo and the folkloric origins of Santa Claus. Nicholas gave because he was pained by his awareness of other peoples’ hardship. Though he wasn’t an assassin (as far as Kropotkin knew), he shared the same ethics as Sofia Petrovskaya. And while it was obviously important to worry about the well-being of children, the anarchist principle was to take account of everyone’s suffering. </p><p>Similarly, the practice of giving was mistakenly thought to require the implementation of a centrally-directed plan, overseen by an omniscient administrator. This was quite wrong: Father Christmas came from the imagination of the people (just consider the range of local names that Nicholas had accrued – Sinterklaas, Tomte, de Kerstman). And the spreading of good cheer – through festivity – was organised from the bottom up. </p><p>Buried in Christmas, Kropotkin argued, was the solidaristic principle of mutual aid.</p><p>Kropotkin appreciated the significance of the ritual and the real value that individuals and communities attached to carnivals, acts of remembrance and commemoration. He no more wanted to abolish Christmas than he wished to see it republicanised through some wrong-headed bureaucratic re-ordering of the calendar. </p><p>It was important, nonetheless, to detach the ethic that Christmas supported from the singularity of its celebration. Having a party was just that: extending the principle of mutual aid and compassion into everyday life was something else. In capitalist society, Christmas provided a space for special good behaviours. While it might be possible to be a Christian once a year, anarchism was for life.</p><p>Kropotkin realised his propaganda would have the best chance of success if he could show how the anarchist message was also embedded in mainstream culture. His notes reveal that he looked particularly to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to find a vehicle for his ideas. The book was widely credited with cementing ideas of love, merriment and goodwill in Christmas. Kropotkin found the genius of the book in its structure. What else was the story of Scrooge’s encounter with the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future than a prefigurative account of change? </p><p>By seeing his present through his past, Scrooge was given the chance to alter his miserly ways and re-shape both his future and the future of the Cratchit family. Even if it was only remembered once a year, Kropotkin thought, Dickens’s book lent anarchists a perfect vehicle to teach this lesson: by altering what we do today, by modelling our behaviours on Nicholas, we can help construct a future which is Christmas!</p><p class="image-caption"><strong>This article was originally published by <a href="http://strikemag.org/anarchist-guide-christmas/" target="_blank">STRIKE! magazine</a>&nbsp;in 2014.</strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/andrea-abi-karam-taylor-miles/berlin%E2%80%99s-system-error-free-shop">Berlin’s ‘system error’ free shop</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/shannan-stoll/seven-practical-ideas-for-compassionate-communities">Seven practical ideas for compassionate communities</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/sarah-byrnes/how-to-win-friends-and-influence-new-economy">How to win friends and influence the new economy </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> Transformation Transformation Anarchism Christmas Mutual Aid Ruth Kinna Activism Economics Thu, 20 Dec 2018 13:10:13 +0000 Ruth Kinna 88989 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why Gandhi’s ideas continue to thrive, even in the post-truth era https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/tom-shillam/why-gandhi-s-ideas-continue-to-thrive-even-in-post-truth-era <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="wp-caption-text">Faced by a global dearth of alternative ideas, it’s no wonder we are turning again to the Mahatma for inspiration.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="wp-caption-text"><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/gandhi-is-still-relevant-and-can-inspire-a-new-form-of-politics-today-106565"><em>This article was first published by</em>&nbsp;The Conversation</a>.</em></p><p class="wp-caption-text"><em><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/TomShillam.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></em></p><p class="image-caption">Gandhi spinning in the 1920s. Credit: Wikimedia. Public Domain.</p> <p>Seventy years after Gandhi’s assassination on the streets of New Delhi, Ramachandra Guha’s new book, “Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World, 1914-48,”&nbsp;<a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/196463/gandhi-the-years-that-changed-the-world-1914-1948-by-ramachandra-guha/9780385532310/">reopens a familiar debate</a>&nbsp;around his legacy. What was Gandhi’s message? What were his politics? What can we learn from him today? And is he still relevant?</p> <p>Guha, presenting the second half of a biography that began with his 2013 book,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/09/gandhi-before-india-ramachandra-guha-review">Gandhi Before India</a>, offers a straightforward but detailed narrative in which “the Mahatma” negotiates a principled path between the warring political trends of the age. Historian of empire,&nbsp;<a href="https://literaryreview.co.uk/the-making-of-mahatma">Bernard Porter</a>, welcomed Guha’s work and its subtle defence of a “gentler, more tolerant and consensual forms of politics” that is now, in the age of Donald Trump, Brexit and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, on the decline in the West and elsewhere.</p> <p>Others are more biting. Fellow Gandhi scholar&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/oct/04/gandhi-1914-1948-ramachandra-guha-review">Faisal Devji</a>&nbsp;charges Guha with neutralizing the Mahatma’s radicalism. Meanwhile, author&nbsp;<a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/10/22/gandhi-for-the-post-truth-age">Pankaj Mishra</a>, reexamining Gandhi’s writings in a “post-truth age” of “furious revisionism,” uncovers a “relentlessly counter-intuitive thought” left untapped by Guha’s tales of a “bland do-gooder.”</p> <p><strong>Resurrection.</strong></p> <p>All these accounts, however, seek to resurrect Gandhi&nbsp;<a href="https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/arguing-for-india-what-gandhis-ideas-mean-today">as a political mentor for today</a>. Modern politics – and its new formula of Twitter hashtags, populist sloganeering and strongman dictators – may seem an unlikely place for the teachings of Gandhi to offer fresh inspiration. But just such a thing also happened during the Cold War, when politics faced some very similar problems.</p> <p>Gandhi is sometimes imagined sitting beside a spinning wheel pouring scorn on science and modernity. Indeed, when asked by a reporter what he thought of “Western civilisation”, he famously replied:&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2004/01/21/opinion/meanwhile-gandhi-for-one-would-have-found-it-funny.html">“I think it would be a good idea.”</a></p> <p>But his politics were more complex than this. Gandhi read the works of Western political thinkers including John Ruskin and Leo Tolstoy. India was being sucked into a global economy based on the exploitation and automation of labour. Industrial capitalism – and its partner, imperialism – only cemented uneven power relations and alienated one Indian from the next. He believed what was needed, instead, was a social and economic life based around local production for local needs, something that would also foster greater cultural enjoyment.</p> <p>But is the current post-truth age still able to make use of this simple, authentic message?</p> <p>A look into early 1950s Indian history provides some clues. When India achieved independence in August 1947 – with Jawaharlal Nehru as its first prime minister – Gandhi, it is supposed, remained as a spiritual and moral, rather than political, guide. His vision of a “village India” died in 1948 with his&nbsp;<a href="https://www.businesstoday.in/current/economy-politics/mahatma-gandhi-economic-beliefs-that-are-still-relevant/story/283518.html">assassin Nathuram Godse’s bullet</a>. And as Cold War ideological competition ramped up between communism and capitalism, rapid and&nbsp;<a href="https://newrepublic.com/article/144998/cold-war-world-new-history-redefines-conflict-true-extent-enduring-costs">centralized economic growth seemed inevitable</a>.</p> <p>Some intellectuals, however, returned to the Mahatma’s ideas in this new and hostile climate. In 1950, the CIA covertly funded the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theawl.com/2015/08/literary-magazines-for-socialists-funded-by-the-cia-ranked/">formation of the Congress for Cultural Freedom</a>&nbsp;(CCF), an organization which brought together liberal and leftist intellectuals from around the world to discuss the threat posed by Soviet collectivism to free cultural expression.</p> <p>In sponsoring conferences and magazines in which these intellectuals could articulate their views, the CIA hoped it could channel their anti-authoritarianism to a useful Cold War end. But this did not work out. CCF branches often acted as&nbsp;<a href="https://newrepublic.com/article/136622/congress-cultural-freedoms-ultimate-failure">repositories for radical aspirations</a>&nbsp;which could find no other home.</p> <p>The Indian Committee for Cultural Freedom (ICCF), formed in 1951, was a&nbsp;<a href="https://thewire.in/history/cia-sponsored-indian-magazines-engaged-indias-best-writers">striking example</a>. Freedom First, its maiden publication, eschewed cultural criticism for discussions of domestic politics. The CCF’s push for the formation of a new journal, Quest, which reversed this was in vain, with one writer taking the opportunity to rail against a Westernized Indian “ruling class” whose interest in state-led development was bound to create “a situation reminiscent of the looking-glass world” – in other words,&nbsp;<a href="http://freedomfirst.in/quest/quest-archives.aspx">to impose Western ideologies onto India</a>.</p> <p><strong>A stateless society.</strong></p> <p>These writers – often former freedom fighters who had gone to prison for their travails – wanted a new egalitarian politics they sometimes termed “direct democracy.” Views on how this should be approached varied, and as the decade wore on, some took to advocating for a pro-capitalist, if also welfare state-friendly, program.</p> <p>Others, though, found in Gandhi a source of optimism. In 1951,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.dailyexcelsior.com/remembering-vinoba-bhave/">Vinoba Bhave</a>&nbsp;and other social reformers committed to Gandhi’s “sarvodaya” – progress of all – concept, founded the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.thequint.com/videos/news-videos/remembering-vinoba-bhave-father-of-bhoodan">“Bhoodan Movement.”</a>&nbsp;This was aimed at encouraging landowners to redistribute land without violence and rapidly reduce inequality in agrarian India.</p> <p>This fascinated the ICCF. Marathi trade unionist and columnist, Prabhakar Padhye, named Bhoodan one of several reform movements capable of constituting “a new social force in the life of the country.” The ICCF’s annual conference welcomed the movement, with speakers calling for a “Gandhian” politics which made&nbsp;<a href="http://freedomfirst.in/archives/archives.aspx">“cooperation, rather than competition, the rule of life.”</a></p> <p>Soon, key ICCF writer, Minoo Masani,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.unz.com/print/Encounter-1954dec-00008/">reported</a>&nbsp;on a tour undertaken around the Indian state of Bihar with fellow member Jayaprakash Narayan. Speaking with crowds of peasants and rural poor, Narayan bracketed together totalitarianism and the welfare state as inherently coercive. What the pair supported was “Gandhism” – or a more spontaneous and participatory politics which “like anarchism or communism, visualizes ultimately a stateless society”.</p> <p>The point is that these intellectuals were drawing on Gandhi in defiance of an oppressive global political climate and its relentless classification of different ideas and visions as good or bad, communist or anti-communist, modernist or traditional.</p> <p>In its vacuous rhetoric and sleazy sloganeering, the early Cold War era was like today. And then, as now, Gandhi’s ideas were of renewed interest. As we now face a global dearth of alternative political ideas, perhaps it’s no wonder we are turning again to the Mahatma for inspiration.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/chris-moore-backman/what-we-can-really-learn-from-gandhi">What we can really learn from Gandhi?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/mark-engler-paul-engler/how-did-gandhi-win">How did Gandhi win?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Tom Shillam Transformative nonviolence Economics Activism Tue, 18 Dec 2018 19:35:44 +0000 Tom Shillam 120990 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Meet the activist who brought Monopoly Man to life https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/sarah-freeman-woolpert/meet-activist-who-brought-monopoly-man-to-life <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Behind the fake mustache and provocative message is a dedicated activist for economic justice.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em>This article was first published on <a href="https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/meet-the-activist-who-brought-the-monopoly-man-meme-to-life/">Waging Nonviolence</a>.</em></p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Sarah Freeeman-Woolpert.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Monopoly Man lurking just above the shoulder of Google CEO Sundar Pichai at the House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington DC on December 11 2018. Credit: Twitter/Ian Madrigal.</p> <p>On Tuesday morning, when Google CEO Sundar Pichai testified before the House Judiciary Committee about his company’s data collection practices, there was a familiar mustachioed face in the crowd. To most people, this person — also wearing a monocle and toting a bag of cash — is none other than the famous board game character most commonly known as Monopoly Man. But behind the fake mustache and provocative message about capitalist greed is a dedicated activist for economic justice.</p> <p>Ian Madrigal, who uses they/them pronouns, gained internet fame when they first dressed up as Monopoly Man during an&nbsp;<a href="http://time.com/money/4969855/monopoly-man-equifax-hearing/">October 2017 Senate Banking Committee hearing</a>&nbsp;with the CEO of credit reporting agency Equifax, following its massive data breach. Their creative stunts — which have taken on powerful figures from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen — are effective, in part, because they understand how to strategically draw the worlds of politics, art and activism together. With a background in music and improv — plus a law degree from UCLA — Madrigal’s Monopoly Man has inspired activists around the country, as well as people on both sides of the aisle.</p> <p><strong>Why was the hearing with Google’s CEO an important place for Monopoly Man to make an appearance?</strong></p> <p>My appearance as Monopoly Man aims to highlight the need for regulation and antitrust action to rein in Google’s monopoly in many areas of tech. I’m also hoping to call attention to the controversy raging over Google’s development of&nbsp;<a href="https://theintercept.com/2018/11/29/google-china-censored-search/">Project Dragonfly</a>, a censored search engine that would endanger dissidents and human rights defenders in China, as well as internal battles over sexual harassment, racial discrimination and pay inequity. All of these various controversies show that Google and other tech giants cannot be allowed to self-regulate. We need comprehensive legislation and agency oversight that we have in many areas of business outside of tech.</p> <p><strong>You have done a number of creative stunts during Congressional hearings, from playing the audio of children crying in detention centers to dressing up as a Russian troll. How do you prepare for these actions and what makes them so successful?</strong></p> <p>I usually just come up with a random idea and bounce ideas off of friends to get their reactions. I order something to use as a costume on Amazon Prime, which I think of as using one billionaire to fight other billionaires. And when I go to the hearings, I have to ask a friend to hold a spot in line for me because waiting there in a costume for five hours would give them way too much lead time to figure out what to do with me.</p> <p>For me, one of the singular successes of the first Monopoly Man action was not just the attention it got, but the fact that every single article — from the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/10/04/monopoly-man-trolls-former-equifax-ceo-richard-smith-at-senate-hearing/"><em>Washington Post</em></a>&nbsp;to the most clickbaitey news site — talked about the reason I was there, which was to oppose Equifax’s use of forced arbitration and specifically to oppose a bill that was pending in the Senate. Everyone who was writing and tweeting about it mentioned the bill. So you have to be really conscious when you’re using these antics. You don’t just want to be funny — you want to make your message clear.</p> <p><strong>You have been doing creative activism for a long time. How did you first get started?</strong></p> <p>I’ve basically been raising hell since I was a child. I’ve naturally been a troublemaker challenging authority. When I first got active in politics, one of the first things I learned about was corporations and sweatshops and slave labor happening abroad. When I was 14, I went to the Disney Store at the mall and printed little slips of paper that said, “This clothing item was made in a sweatshop.” I slipped it into the pockets of the clothes and staged a protest outside. Within about five minutes I got kicked out of the mall. So those were my roots.</p> <p><strong>How did your family and community react to your activism early on?</strong></p> <p>Honestly, I don’t even think anyone knew about it. I did a lot of things at that age without my parents knowing. My parents are actually Republicans. So they would not have been particularly supportive of that. They’re where a lot of my insight comes from. There are a lot of hand-wringing articles about how progressives don’t understand Trump voters and I’m like, “No, I grew up with them. I know them very well.”</p> <p>I grew up in a very odd place in southern California between Los Angeles County and Orange County. Our town slogan is: “Towns change, values don’t.” But the weird contradiction is that this buttoned-up suburb is next to one of most diverse places in the country. There were no [openly gay] kids at my school of 3,000 people — even though we were close to Long Beach, which is a hub of the gay community. So I had no idea how I fit in.</p> <p><strong>You eventually ended up going to law school. How has that fit in your work as an activist?</strong></p> <p>I always worked for some kind of cause. As I was organizing with people, anytime we would achieve a victory it would be overturned in the court system or there would be a law passed that undid it. So it became clearer to me that if I wanted to make long-lasting change, I needed to understand how these systems work and be able to infiltrate them to some extent. So I actually went to law school with the intention of just suing all these corporations. I thought if part of the problem is people trying to sue them and just running out of money, I could avoid that problem by becoming the lawyer. Now I see that was a very naïve way of thinking about litigation. I just wanted to be a pain in the ass for corporate America for the rest of my life. It turns out I took a slightly different tack. Instead of suing them, I’m just harassing them in Congress.</p> <p>But my legal training has been really helpful. It’s good to understand how laws actually work once you pass them, but I think what people in the Washington, D.C. policy realm are missing is the artistic and cultural push of knowing how those ideas resonate with people. You have to know your audience, and the audience is the American people who are very removed from life here in D.C. I’m a musician and I’ve also worked in film, so I have those different perspectives I can fuse together for theatrics and art and creativity. It’s always been my natural approach to be a jack of all trades.</p> <p><strong>What role has social media played in shaping your activism and amplifying the message of your actions?</strong></p> <p>Using Twitter allows me to not only go viral, but to also control the narrative when it does go viral. The toughest thing about viral internet culture is that it’s hard to control how people will interpret what you do. You can use these tools to help interpret it. When the cameras are on me during a hearing, I’m hamming it up. But when they aren’t, I am on Twitter frantically tweeting at anyone about the bill I am opposing, so that every single person gets my message.</p> <p>The whole Monopoly Man concept essentially brings a meme to life. There is a novelty in this type of humor that has evolved within internet culture in the last decade or so, and this approach takes it into the real world. Monopoly Man is over-the-top internet culture — it’s cartoonish, it’s baseline humor everyone can get that draws on imagery people can relate to from a lot of different perspectives.</p> <p><strong>What role does your specific brand of creative activism play in engaging people at this political moment when people feel so much rage at the Trump administration, but also somewhat powerless to do anything about it?</strong></p> <p>The Trump presidency has really been an important moment for creative and innovative action, specifically those targeted to get media attention. Obviously, one of the central challenges of the Trump era is that he’s always sucking up all the air time, so even if you do something huge at a policy level or organizing level it gets ignored. The actions I have seen become so successful are the ones where people get in front of cameras and make themselves impossible to ignore. The reason Monopoly Man worked was because I was in every single photo. They couldn’t talk about the hearing without talking about who the person was twirling their mustache in the back. It’s important to be entertaining, which is something progressives have shied away from in an effort to seem serious, angry, dignified — you name it. If you add something inspiring, instead of this nihilistic approach, you can actually use that to advance your goals.</p> <p>Even though we’re in a really divisive time right now, there is a pretty large set of issues that I think Americans agree on. We have these large issues of white supremacy and patriarchy to battle, but at the end of the day there is also a central struggle between the rich and powerful, and everyone else. Monopoly Man was successful because it cut across the aisle in many ways. I even got an interview request from&nbsp;<a href="https://video.foxbusiness.com/v/5604198062001/?#sp=show-clips">Fox News</a>. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at the time, or if they were going to try to trap me. I had just come out publicly as trans a couple of days before, so I was wondering if they were going to ridicule me. But, surprisingly, they didn’t go on the attack. The host asked me a couple of leading questions to make me say something silly, but I stuck to my talking points. The interview actually went really well and reached a really wide audience.</p> <p><strong>Are there times you have found humor to not be the right approach?</strong></p> <p>I’ve been trying to tailor my creative protest to the moment. One of my more recent protests that went pretty viral was of Kirstjen Nielsen. It was the week after the child separation policy was announced and two days after audio of the child crying in the detention center had been released. I got a text from a friend who saw her eating at a Mexican restaurant, and they said I should get folks down there. So I put out the call on Twitter and Facebook and texted all my friends. We got a group from the Metro DC Democratic Socialist Alliance — we had about&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/20/us/kirstjen-nielsen-protesters-restaurant.html">15 people there protesting her</a>. And with that action, it wasn’t the right moment to use humor. That would have hurt a lot of folks at such a vulnerable time. When you’re talking about children being imprisoned, anger is the right approach and sadness is the right approach. A lot of things this administration does are ripe for satire and mockery, but you have to read the room and make sure you’re hitting the right chord.</p> <p><strong>Shaming and ridicule can also alienate people from supporting your cause. How have you struck a balance in your work with calling people out and calling them in?</strong></p> <p>For me, it’s been very important to use ridicule against people who have a lot of power, whether that’s elected officials or the extremely wealthy who hold a lot of power in society. I do think there’s a difference in making fun of people in power and making fun of everyday people. You can punch up or punch down, and I only advocate punching up. A lot of oppression that exists in our society is born out of the shame oppressors impose, so I don’t want to increase that. But it’s different to ridicule ideas. When you give hatred a platform, you legitimize it. You never want to delegitimize people themselves, but if you delegitimize their leaders and the ideas that cause suffering in the world, I think people move away from those leaders and ideas.</p> <p><strong>What will creative activism look like in a post-Trump era?</strong></p> <p>I’m inspired by how people have dug in and started organizing together since Trump was elected, but I’m nervous that it could disappear. In American culture, especially white American culture, we have a tendency to ignore issues if we ourselves are comfortable, and to engage with oppression only when it’s in front of our faces. The moment it isn’t right there, we stop thinking about it. I’m very aware that the moment Trump is gone, folks on the left could become complacent again. I do have hope that it won’t happen because we’ve seen that organizing really works. There have been a lot of victories in the past couple of years. If we have stopped as much of it as we have with zero institutional power, imagine what we could do when we have power. I just hope we’ll see it as a moment to build stronger institutions instead of going back to the ones we had before.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-nagler-karen-ridd/humor-but-not-humiliation-finding-sweet-spot-in-nonviolent-">Humor but not humiliation: finding the sweet spot in nonviolent conflict resolution</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Sarah Freeman-Woolpert Transformative nonviolence Economics Activism Fri, 14 Dec 2018 09:13:12 +0000 Sarah Freeman-Woolpert 120989 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why co-ops and community farms can’t close the racial wealth gap https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/zenobia-jeffries-warfield/why-co-ops-and-community-farms-can-t-close-racial-wealth-ga <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Circulating local dollars or pounds can’t create more wealth when there isn’t enough to begin with.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/ZenobiaJeffrieswarfield.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Malik Yakini, executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. Credit: Brian Rozman/YES! Magazine.</p> <p>Residents of one Detroit historic neighborhood have been looking forward to next year’s opening of a food co-op. It will help bring to market produce from a community farm and is part of a larger community development project that will include a health food cafe, an incubator kitchen for food entrepreneurs, and space for events. The project expects to employ 20 people from the mostly low- to moderate-income area.</p> <p>Twenty jobs may not seem like a lot when&nbsp;<a href="https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000" target="_blank">unemployment</a>&nbsp;in the approximately 80 percent Black city is 8.7 percent, twice that of state and national rates. But this is what economic progress generally looks like in many Black communities: cooperative ventures such as grocery stores and community farms. More than 150 years ago, Black people emerging from slavery formed cooperatives to grow, sell, and distribute food together because their very survival depended on it.</p> <p>&nbsp;“Black people have a&nbsp;<a href="http://scua.library.umass.edu/digital/dubois/dubois12.pdf" target="_blank">long history</a>&nbsp;of using co-ops as a way of navigating through an economic system that has been intentionally aimed to disinvest in our communities and prevent any kind of parity,” says Malik Yakini, executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, which is spearheading the project. “So, this is us latching onto a historical strategy that Black people have used in this country to try to build collective wealth.”</p> <p>Yakini believes in the cooperative strategy, and has made it his life’s work of 40-plus years. When he was a college student at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, he and a group of colleagues started the Ujamaa Co-op Buying Club. “We would come to Detroit on Saturdays, buy in bulk, and bring it back to campus,” Yakini says. “Members—students and faculty—would [then] pick up their baskets.”</p> <p>He also understands what cooperatives don’t fix.</p> <p><a href="https://www.strongertogether.coop/food-coops/co-op-faqs-and-facts" target="_self">Cooperatives are a $500 billion industry</a>, so clearly they have capacity to build wealth. But little of that reaches Black and other marginalized communities. Of the approximately&nbsp;<a href="https://www.strongertogether.coop/food-coops/co-op-faqs-and-facts" target="_blank">30,000 co-ops holding 350 million memberships</a>&nbsp;in the United States, only a fraction are Black-owned.</p> <p>Other efforts aimed at amassing Black dollars have fallen short. The&nbsp;<a href="https://www.ebony.com/career-finance/black-banks-pt-1" target="_self">number of Black-owned banks and credit unions</a>&nbsp;continues to dwindle. A decade ago there were more than 50; that number is now&nbsp;<a href="https://www.fdic.gov/regulations/resources/minority/mdi.html" target="_blank">down to 2</a><a href="https://www.fdic.gov/regulations/resources/minority/mdi.html" target="_blank">3</a>. And Black-owned businesses in general&nbsp;<a href="https://washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/marchaprilmay-2017/the-decline-of-black-business/" target="_blank">struggle financially</a>.</p> <p>As much pride and empowerment as there is in community ownership of food-producing gardens and financial services such as credit unions to support local businesses, research shows those sorts of grassroots efforts cannot close the&nbsp;<a href="https://ips-dc.org/report-ever-growing-gap/" target="_blank">ever-growing wealth gap</a>&nbsp;that has been historically and systematically created along racial lines. Controlling wealth by buying and banking Black is one piece of self-determination, but undoing economic segregation may be a problem too complicated for cooperative ownership alone to solve.</p> <p>That problem needs a “set of solutions,” Yakini says.</p> <p><strong>Banking fail.</strong></p> <p>Mehrsa Baradaran’s&nbsp;<em>The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap</em>&nbsp;details the history of Black banking and the laws that have created and continue to sustain separate economies for Black and White Americans.</p> <p>Baradaran tells the story of the Freedman’s Bank. After the emancipation of enslaved Africans, the bank was established with about $200,000 in unclaimed funds of Black soldiers who had died in the Civil War. Chartered by Congress and operated by White managers, Freedman’s was based on a popular new philanthropic banking model of savings banks for the poor. The purpose of savings banks was to hold money instead of growing it, unlike commercial banks, used by White people, that made loans and investments.</p> <p>Within a decade, more than&nbsp;<a href="http://freedmansbank.org/" target="_blank">70,000 Freedmen depositors made more than $57 million in deposits</a>.&nbsp;Most of the money was being saved to buy land, tools, and agricultural supplies, as the freed men believed that turning wages into landownership was the way to climb the economic ladder.</p> <p>But the bank closed in 1874 with more than half of the accumulated Black wealth having disappeared through mismanagement and fraud by managers.</p> <p>The loss of all that capital was something Black populations never recovered from, says Baradaran, who is also a banking law professor at the University of Georgia Law School.</p> <p>The promise of banking Black is that doing so will keep dollars in Black communities. While that might be theoretically true, Baradaran says, Black banks cannot thrive outside of the mainstream—mostly White—banking system; by default capital filters into it. And because Black banks often serve communities with high rates of poverty, their assets are smaller. The typical Black bank is one-third the size of an average commercial bank, as measured by assets, and one-quarter to one-third as profitable.</p> <p>Capital can’t concentrate in areas where capital doesn’t exist.</p> <p>“These banks have been used by policymakers … presidents, and their administrations as cheap alternatives to land and reparations,” Baradaran says.</p> <p><strong>Moving the money.</strong></p> <p>“The racial wealth gap is a byproduct of years, even centuries of economic policy choices and decisions that benefited the economic status and wealth-building potential of White households that has been compounded over time,” says Emanuel Nieves, senior policy manager at Prosperity&nbsp;Now, an organization with a mission of financial stability for all.</p> <p>“It’s absolutely going to take more than the grassroots efforts [to close it].”</p> <p>The only “logical” path is through policy intervention, says Nieves, one of the authors of the 2017 report, “The Road to Zero Wealth: How the Racial Wealth Divide Is Hollowing Out America’s Middle Class.” It lays out the magnitude of racial wealth disparity and suggests policy interventions to address the growing crisis.</p> <p>According to the report,&nbsp;<a href="https://ips-dc.org/report-the-road-to-zero-wealth/" target="_self">if the racial wealth divide is left unaddressed</a>, median Black household wealth will hit zero by 2053, a decade or so after households of color reach a majority in this country. Latino household wealth is projected to hit zero in 2073. In contrast, median White household wealth is projected to climb to $137,000 by 2053.</p> <p>Nieves says the reason policy is important is because the gap is too large to be closed by the private sector alone.</p> <p>Baradaran explains it like this: Banks make money from loans and investments, not deposits. Even if affluent White—or Black—people decided to open accounts in a Black bank in a less affluent Black community, the money still would not get to the people who need it most.</p> <p>&nbsp;“People don’t understand the difference between deposits and loans,” Baradaran says. “Loans are what create wealth, not deposits. So you can give a bank deposits, but the bank isn’t lending into wealth-creating houses. And they can’t because they don’t have the dollars. What banks need is capital … good loan potential.”</p> <p>Then the loans have to be paid back.</p> <p>But the bank customers in marginalized communities don’t have the money to pay back the money, let alone the interest. And so the very problem that the banks exist to help makes them vulnerable.</p> <p><strong>Policy can intervene.</strong></p> <p>One solution may exist within the Federal Housing Administration, which offers down-payment assistance to low-income people and can provide the kind of guarantees on low-interest loans to Black borrowers that enable banks to lend more freely.</p> <p>“It’s not impossible,” Baradaran says. “We did it for White Americans. Before the New Deal, we had a ton of poor White Americans who, because of the FHA loans, it became cheaper for them to buy a home and have a mortgage than to rent an apartment. And so those people all moved into the suburbs and started paying very little mortgage, and that’s what built White American wealth.”</p> <p>Baradaran points out that before the mortgage program made them wealthy, or at least middle class, many—maybe most—Whites suffered the same fate as Black people. But where they were elevated, “Black people were cut off” through the FHA policy of redlining—the practice of denying loans in predominantly Black neighborhoods.&nbsp;</p> <p>There are opportunities now to correct that, Nieves says. And no shortage of ideas for reparative policies that could shift capital into Black communities.</p> <p>In the “Road to Zero Wealth” report, Nieves and the others suggest,<a href="https://ips-dc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/The-Road-to-Zero-Wealth_FINAL.pdf" target="_blank">among other things</a>, changes to the tax code to “stop subsidizing the already-wealthy.” They believe that reforming the mortgage interest deduction and other tax expenditures would strengthen and grow the federal estate tax and create a net-worth tax on multimillion dollar fortunes—freeing up funds for investment in opportunities that allow low-wealth families to build wealth.</p> <p>Other suggestions have included issuing Baby Bonds—government trust accounts given to babies, based on a family’s household wealth. Economist Darrick Hamilton has presented the concept to members of Congress. While not race-specific, Baby Bonds would give an advantage to Black and Brown children and would be used for a “clearly defined asset-enhancing activity,” such as financing a debt-free education, buying a home, or purchasing a business.</p> <p>Nieves, Baradaran, and Hamilton posit that without policies like these that redistribute capital into Black and Brown communities, people will at best merely continue to circulate&nbsp;the same meager dollars for generations to come—no matter how many local cooperatives and credit unions they have.</p> <p><strong>Dealing with reality.</strong></p> <p>And while policymakers argue the politics of wealth redistribution and the details of implementation, lack of capital continues to present challenges for local-economy organizers such as Yakini and the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.dbcfsn.org/detroit-people-s-food-co-op" target="_blank">Detroit Black Community Food Security Network</a>.</p> <p>Obtaining capital is always a challenge, he said, particularly large amounts of capital that can make a big difference in people’s lives.</p> <p>In recent years, he says, smaller pots in the amounts of $5,000 to maybe $50,000 from philanthropic foundations have opened up. But these are often framed within a competition for one project over others.</p> <p>&nbsp;“You have to compete against other people [in the same financial position]. It pits people against each other,” Yakini says. “But the larger amounts that are really needed to really do large-scale development, to compete on any level with the development we see happening in the city of Detroit, requires multimillions of dollars.”</p> <p>And for those large grants, grantors want to give money to the group that has the “best capacity” to manage the funds. And that’s when the racial divide kicks in once again.</p> <p>“Because of historical inequity, and historical underdevelopment which has occurred in Black communities and Brown communities, often we don’t have the mechanisms in place to handle large grants, like a large White nonprofit that’s been around for 20 years might have,” Yakini says. “And so, if the grantor is looking at who has the most capacity, then invariably more established White nonprofits have that capacity over smaller emerging groups.”</p> <p>And while this may not be intended to function in such a way, certainly the impact is that it concentrates wealth in the hands of Whites, the very problem that these grassroots efforts are trying to solve.</p> <p>“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve moved away from straight-line thinking,” Yakini says. “The world is very complicated, and trying to create justice in a system where you have hundreds of years of injustice happening on multiple levels in multiple ways, there’s not any one thing that’s going to solve that.”</p> <p>The smaller projects—planting gardens, building wells—he believes, get people to think about how they act on their own behalf, how they create smaller economies. “When an economy is smaller and more local, people by definition in that locale have more say-so over it, presumably.”</p> <p>Ultimately, he says, it can give people glimpses into the future to ignite within their consciousness what’s possible.</p> <p>And so, Yakini says, he’s receptive to all solutions that work—from grassroots to government.</p> <p>“We have to fight on all these fronts,” he says. “The question is how we build the vehicles that are sophisticated enough to function on all of these levels.”</p> <p><em>This article was first published in <a href="https://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/good-money/why-co-ops-and-community-farms-cant-close-the-racial-wealth-gap-20181109?utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=YTW_20181109&amp;utm_content=YTW_20181109+CID_55e0b59519f5b782d58bb5a52eae1215&amp;utm_source=CM&amp;utm_term=Why%20Co-">YES! Magazine</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/dan-edelstyn-and-hilary-powell/the-DIY-Central-Bank">The DIY Central Bank</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/emily-kawano/seven-ways-to-build-solidarity-economy">Seven ways to build the solidarity economy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/esteban-kelly/why-transforming-economy-begins-and-ends-with-cooperation">Why transforming the economy begins and ends with cooperation</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Zenobia Jeffries Warfield The role of money Economics Thu, 29 Nov 2018 14:11:01 +0000 Zenobia Jeffries Warfield 120545 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Finding purpose in the future of work https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/dan-silver/finding-purpose-in-future-of-work <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="BodyA">Supporting disadvantaged young people to find meaningful careers benefits both them and the rest of society.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="BodyA"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/DanSilver11.jpeg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">The former Littlewoods Building in Liverpool, England. Credit: Joe Entwistle. All rights reserved.</p> <p class="BodyA">We live in a world of work that is going to change dramatically over the next 15 years. During the first industrial revolution, work was shaped by the adoption of machinery, where production was more important than human life. Improved working conditions were hard fought for. The next revolution in work, which is happening now, will be more diverse, profuse and fragmented.</p> <p class="BodyA">We might need to abandon the very notion of a career in an increasingly non-linear and precarious labour market – thinking instead in terms of how we can use transferrable skills to jump from job to job. So should we abandon the potential for work to provide us with purpose and meaning in life? Should we be aiming for a post-work future in which automation and a universal basic income mean we don’t have to find or keep a job at all?</p> <p class="BodyA">If we could, most of us would probably choose to work less. In the UK <a href="https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/work/trends/uk-working-lives">nearly two-thirds of workers </a>are keen to reduce their hours, and as a recent report from the Trades Union Congress confirms people would choose <a href="https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/FutureofWorkReport1.pdf">a four day working week</a> as the ideal. We can certainly aim to work less, but at the same time we need to make sure that we also improve working life both now and in the future. Researcher <a href="https://futuresofwork.co.uk/2018/09/05/post-work-fallacies-and-the-social-reproduction-of-capitalism/">Alex Wood</a> says that decent employment can help our well-being; it can provide us with structure, social connection and collective purpose. But how?</p> <p class="BodyA">The <a href="https://www.mya.org.uk/">Merseyside Youth Association</a> (MYA) provides one useful example. They work with young people across the Liverpool City Region to support the development of meaningful careers that provide a sense of purpose, while making sure that genuine opportunities are more evenly distributed throughout the population. Through the Talent Match programme, MYA works with some of the most marginalised young people across Merseyside who aren’t in any form of training, education or employment. Many face multiple barriers to finding decent work: the vast majority don’t have any decent qualifications from school; 50 per cent haven’t worked for at least two years; nearly one in five has been homeless; and many have physical or mental health problems.</p> <p class="BodyA">Through the UK government’s ‘welfare to work’ approach, young people who experience disadvantage can find themselves pushed into ill-fitting jobs or facing a punitive sanctions regime. Even when they are in work, jobs are often as insecure as they are unrewarding. As Phil, who is 26 and from north Liverpool explained to me:</p> <blockquote><p class="BodyA">“It may sound rather dystopian, but basically what society would prefer is a bunch of people who just go into a job, do it, and shut up. In most jobs that are available you are just there to be used and abused. If you complain, they kick you out and get other desperate people in.”</p></blockquote> <p class="BodyA">MYA has much higher hopes. Joe, who’s a youth worker at the agency, explained how they support young people to think about their futures - and then put things in place to help them move closer to their ambitions, step by step. “Recognising that each young person is different,” he told me, “means that the young people will get a career that they really want, rather than setting them up to fail.”</p> <p class="BodyA">Having a meaningful career is important to young people in the group. One of them, Stacey Prescott-Howard, shared how “young people get told all the time just to get off benefits and get any job that is coming. It makes you feel that you are not worth having a career.”</p> <p class="BodyA">MYA enabled Stacey to overcome some of the barriers she faced by helping her to become a support worker for children and young people with disabilities. For nearly two years now, she’s been working with children and young people who have complex needs in a range of settings including mainstream youth centres, nurseries, schools and behavioural units - where children excluded from school are sent.</p><p class="BodyA"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555454/DanSilver10.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555454/DanSilver10.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="688" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Stacey Prescott-Howard. Credit: Joe Entwistle. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Stacey feels as though her “dreams came back. I have got a career now. Having a career has taught me that I am worthy of having a future, I am confident enough to having a future, I am strong enough to have a future.”</p> <p class="BodyA">Enabling young people to develop their ambitions takes time, so MYA works with them over the medium term to build on their interests, capabilities and experiences. They explore what young people really want to do with their lives, and then put incremental steps in place to help them make progress.</p> <p class="BodyA">Sometimes, these steps need to begin with the basic foundation of survival. MYA has set up a foodbank just for 16-25 year-olds after they were told that many young people were going hungry but remained reluctant to use foodbanks due to stigma, anxiety, or from a feeling of not wanting to take food from families with children. The foodbank is a safe space for young people that they can call their own.</p> <p class="BodyA">Every week, they can come to get bags of food, but they can also speak with MYA volunteers and staff about additional support that might be needed - whether it’s counselling, mentoring or personal development. </p><p class="BodyA">Stacey Bridge, another member of the group, described her situation before she first came to use the foodbank:</p> <blockquote><p class="BodyA">“My dad was killed. Then I lost my flat. I had a choice of paying for my dad’s funeral or keeping up to date with the rent. I ended up homeless. I went to a hostel with half a loaf of bread and a bottle of juice. The hostel gave me a leaflet for the foodbank at MYA.”</p></blockquote> <p class="BodyA">After going to the foodbank, Stacey’s life has changed through her hard work and through a plan of support that she came up with in collaboration with MYA.</p> <blockquote><p class="BodyA">“They could see I was stressed. At the time, I didn’t know whether it was Christmas or Tuesday. I thought there was no coming back from what happened. But here I am, volunteering at the place that helped me and training to be a youth worker. I’ve found something I love doing. Knowing that I’ve done something to help people feels good.”</p></blockquote><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555454/DanSilver12_0.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555454/DanSilver12_0.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="688" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Stacey Bridge. Credit: Joe Entwistle. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>By taking small steps, Stacey has developed a stronger sense of purpose and is a real asset to her community. That’s how MYA operates; they see the strengths in young people not just the weaknesses, and help them to overcome the things that are getting in their way.</p> <p class="BodyA">Social anxiety creates barriers for many young people in ways, for example, that stop them from going to college or attending job interviews. Such anxieties are not things that can be wished away, but through personal support young people can develop their confidence. Sometimes this begins with feeling comfortable on the bus, or being around groups of people. Bobbie is in college to do her Maths and English qualifications, and hopes to work in childcare. She explained how MYA supported her to deal with her anxieties:</p> <blockquote><p class="BodyA">“When I have to go somewhere, I can text Joe from MYA and he will come with me. He came to college with me and sat with me when I did the exams. Instead of being scared, you feel more confident with someone there with you. They support you step by step.”</p></blockquote> <p class="BodyA">MYA shows how incremental changes to people’s lives can add up to something more transformative by providing personal support to secure the emotional and material foundations that young people need; recognizing and building on their existing strengths and experiences; and enabling young people to demand better futures.</p> <p class="BodyA">But there is more. Through the Talent Match Programme, MYA are highlighting the need for new thinking about the ways in which we “skill-up” ourselves, and how we include young people who have experienced disadvantage. Their approach points to an alternative world of work and skills in which we think beyond the dominant frames of the market and move towards what sociologist <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1468-4446.12072">Bev Skeggs</a> identifies as values of social support, care and cooperation.</p> <p class="BodyA">We should aim to develop relationships and institutions that can create a future that enables purposeful careers in which all young people can achieve what they want to achieve. By encouraging our democratic imaginations to become more hopeful and energetic we might yet be able to find purpose in the future world of work.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/dan-silver-steph-niciu/we-deserve-right-to-exist-on-our-own-terms">“We deserve the right to exist on our own terms”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/dan-silver/politicians-don-t-live-our-lives-diy-social-action">Politicians don’t live our lives: DIY social action</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/dan-silver/taking-pictures-that-mean-something-everyday-life-in-salford">Taking pictures that mean something: everyday life in Salford</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Dan Silver Economics Care Activism Tue, 27 Nov 2018 19:36:56 +0000 Dan Silver 120659 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Are you really on our side? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/peroline-ainsworth-and-kiran-nihalani/are-you-really-on-our-side <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We are all interdependent, but a person’s economic situation determines whether dependency is seen as acceptable or not.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/peroandkirannew.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/29976014@N02/4049804470">Flickr/lambs.frances</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p>‘That’s what happens when they don’t pay their rent,’ says one of the people caught on video at<a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/11/05/home-secretary-condemns-sick-video-people-burning-effigy-grenfell/"> a Bonfire Night party joking as they burn an effigy of London’s Grenfell tower</a>. The video is shocking and has sparked outrage on social media, but are the attitudes behind it so surprising? Is that ‘joke’ so different from ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne &nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/jan/08/strivers-shirkers-language-welfare">stirring anger at those “sleeping off a life on benefits?</a>” “People say things like that all the time,” says Hazel, a member of the women’s cooperative skills network we work with in south London who lives at the sharp end of this rhetoric, “it’s in the air.”</p> <p>The Bonfire Night video has been <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/grenfell-tower-fire-bonfire-night-effigy-video-immigration-asylum-seekers-a8619946.html">linked to immigrant bashing</a>, but more widely it reveals a <a href="https://leftfootforward.org/2018/11/why-wouldnt-some-idiots-burn-an-effigy-of-grenfell-the-government-has-treated-survivors-with-just-as-much-contempt/">disregard for the lives of social housing tenants in general</a>. The journalist <a href="http://newsvideo.su/video/9647456">Owen Jones argues that this is the product of the systematic dehumanisation of poor people in this country</a>. It’s good that people are feeling outrage about such disregard and the cruelty of UK welfare policies, recently condemned<a href="https://ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?LangID=E&amp;NewsID=23881"> as ‘punitive’ and ‘callous’</a> by UN Envoy Philip Alston.&nbsp;</p> <p>But is outrage at a few ‘hateful’ video-makers and politicians enough? In rightly condemning the callousness of the Bonfire video we take comfort in the idea that we’d never do anything like that ourselves, or that we’d never introduce something as cruel as Universal Credit. We’re not so sure. Should we let ourselves off the hook so easily?</p> <p>After all, callous narratives have become routine in debates about UK welfare policy. Remember ‘strivers versus scroungers,’ or those who ‘do the right thing’ versus those who ‘cheat the system’?&nbsp; Such language hasn’t just been used by conservatives.&nbsp; In the run-up to the 2015 general election Liam Byrne, the-then Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, argued that Labour had lost the previous election because it was seen as the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPzCsg1Huf4">party for ‘shirkers’ not&nbsp; workers</a>.&nbsp; <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/sep/16/labour-vows-to-abandon-language-of-strivers-and-scroungers">Only since Jeremy Corbyn became leader has Labour refused to shore up this narrative. </a>&nbsp;</p> <p>Such language has devastating effects on people. “When they talk about scroungers” says Sonia, one of the members of the network, “they mean me. They assume because I need financial support I’m lazy. They don’t know me or my situation.” Hazel told us how her autistic son has picked up on such derogatory language: “He feels stressed, anxious, inadequate. Like a failure because he has to do things slowly and says ‘mum, will people think I’m lazy?’” “I get it,” says Sonia, “I’m nobody.” “You feel worthless, pointless” adds Jo, another member. </p> <p>Binaries like ‘shirker and worker’ would be unacceptable if they were used in terms of race, gender or sexuality, but in the context of poverty they are rarely challenged. How many of us speak out against the skiver/striver language to show politicians we won’t stand for it, or the policies it justifies?</p> <p>‘Hardworking families’ is another favourite phrase that’s been used repeatedly by ex-Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, for example, and by Ian Duncan Smith, the former Work and Pensions Secretary.&nbsp; In October 2018 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, announced a budget that delivered for ‘hardworking families - the ‘grafters’ and ‘strivers.’ </p> <p>“What’s a ‘hardworking’ family?” asks Sonia, “even when I didn’t work for a salary I was hard at work at home, raising three children.”&nbsp; “They mean people that aren’t on benefits,” Jo responded, “(if) you’re not rich, independent, you can’t possibly be hardworking.”</p> <p>As with many seemingly innocuous phrases which are loaded with prejudice, ‘hardworking families’ passes easily unnoticed. But <a href="http://www.academia.edu/18862184/Realizing_the_troubled_family_crafting_the_neoliberal_state">sociologist Stephen Crossley argues</a> that this term sets up an insidious binary against so-called ‘problem’ or ‘troubled’ families that are repeatedly presented as a burden on taxpayers. This framing has allowed the government more room to push through a punitive ‘<a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-34447916">culture change</a>’ in the UK welfare system. </p><p>The ‘hardworking families’ rhetoric is linked to other narratives that have served to justify the callous welfare reforms that have been implemented in the UK over the past ten years. Sanctions (stopping benefits payments as a punishment) and closely monitoring the behaviour of benefit recipients have been portrayed as necessary in order to help people become ‘responsible citizens’ who make ‘good choices’ and are not ‘dependent on the state.’ If people are not wholly independent, so the logic goes, it’s because they’ve made the ‘wrong’ choices and must therefore be forced into ‘taking responsibility.’</p> <p>But many women in our network question the idea that their circumstances are the result of choice. “Bad choices?” says Jo, “Maybe. I mean I made&nbsp;<em>a&nbsp;</em>choice. Whether it was bad or not I don’t know. It was hard for me to work when my eldest was younger and ill, I wouldn’t have been able to when I was attending [hospital] every 2 weeks….But I was responsible for him. I suppose I made that choice not to work, but what were my options?”</p> <p>That question - ‘what were my options?’ comes up repeatedly in our discussions. Members of the network feel that they have few meaningful choices in terms of balancing care responsibilities with paid work, and to survive, they’ve often had to make choices which were less than ideal. “You have to look at the circumstances people are in,” says Hazel, “people make the best choices they can...(but) this talk makes us a scapegoat. It’s a way of blaming the poor and having reasons for their policies.” </p> <p>Different standards are applied to people who are financially comfortable (like the two of us) and those who aren’t. We’ve both made plenty of choices that didn’t work out, but we had a safety net and influential friends which protected us from any terrible impacts. Our ‘bad choices’ are seen as positive learning experiences, not things that should be criticised because they show that we’re dependent on other people.</p> <p>In reality we are all interdependent, but a person’s economic situation determines whether dependency is seen as acceptable or not. Our jobs pay enough to choose childminders we’re happy with, but lots of people’s don’t. They can’t pick a place where their kids will be as well cared for as with them, so they take on less paid work. Does that make them less responsible? According to current welfare policy it does. </p> <p>People who weren’t born into financial stability may need state support more than people whose parents gave them a deposit for a flat, or who have the advantage of well-placed social networks. Does that make them irresponsible? According to current welfare policy it does. </p> <p>A woman with young kids who is financially independent, or who has a high-earning partner, can choose to be a stay-at-home mother or devote some of her time to creative pursuits that don’t earn much money - without any rebuke or criticism. But a woman who wants to do this with support from the state is deemed ‘irresponsible.’ </p> <p>Why don’t we question this language? It’s difficult to say. The campaigner Simon Duffy suggests that the hardworking families rhetoric appeals to the <a href="https://www.centreforwelfarereform.org/library/by-az/the-great-troubled-families-fraud.html">“fears and anxieties of the middle-classes by identifying weak groups who can be easily blamed for society’s&nbsp;problems</a>.” But perhaps it’s simpler than that. Perhaps we all tend to buy into what makes us feel okay about ourselves and justifies our privilege. </p> <p>We may care about social justice and consider ourselves as activists, but sometimes life is stressful - finding childcare, paying the mortgage and so forth - and it’s easy to ‘play the martyr,’ to believe that we’ve actually earned the advantages we have because we’ve worked hard, made good choices and been responsible - &nbsp;and others haven’t. At some level we know this isn’t true, but it's easy to slip into these ways of thinking, </p> <p>Is the widespread outrage provoked by the bonfire video a sign that people are waking up to the devastating undercurrent of prejudice that exists against people on benefits and low incomes?&nbsp;Maybe, but many in our group remain wary: “People say they care” says Sonia, “but (it’s) what’s hot at the moment. When something else comes that grabs your emotion, it’s forgotten. Caring is fickle, it’s fleeting.”</p> <p>The&nbsp;anger and compassion unleashed by Grenfell and by Philip Alston's report on UK poverty will only be transformative if&nbsp;people use it to examine themselves and their decisions: why have we failed to challenge the language and policies that drive the UK welfare system?&nbsp;Why has it taken such extreme events to wake us up? Why have these dehumanising narratives been allowed to persist for so many years? And what are the blindspots that lead people who care about social justice&nbsp;to unwittingly collude with oppression?&nbsp;</p> <p>“Unless you feel connected to it,” Sonia warns, “you stop caring, you don’t have that drive.”&nbsp;&nbsp;Only by challenging ourselves in this way can we reach a deeper sense of connection and shared humanity, the things that are needed to build lasting solidarity and change.&nbsp;</p> <p>“These awful things will keep happening,” says Hazel, “unless people with more power, more weight, more money, more education, more anything come together with us who have been made to feel we’re at the bottom of the pile, and support us.” Jo’s plea is more urgent: “What are you going to do about it? Are you really on our side?”</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/elena-blackmore/strivers-and-skivers-we%E2%80%99re-all-in-this-together">Strivers and skivers? We’re all in this together</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/peroline-ainsworth-kiran-nihalani/five-ways-to-build-solidarity-across-our-difference">Five ways to build solidarity across our differences</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/peroline-ainsworth-kiran-nihalani-hannah-rollins/three-more-ways-to-build-solidarity-">Three more ways to build solidarity across our differences</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Grenfell Tower fire Kiran Nihalani and Peroline Ainsworth The role of money Care Economics Sun, 25 Nov 2018 20:09:33 +0000 Kiran Nihalani and Peroline Ainsworth 120688 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Degrowth as a concrete utopia https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/riccardo-mastini/degrowth-as-concrete-utopia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Economic growth can’t reduce inequalities; it merely postpones confronting exploitation. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/democraciaabierta/riccardo-mastini/el-decrecimiento-como-utop-concreta">Español</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/RiccardoMastini2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">“My Visit to the Mountain Homestead.” <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/elisfanclub/1460608564/in/photolist-3e513h-5UiX11-3edzXs-3e4hVc-3eczN9-vZgF2-5UezmX-5UeBhP-3e8PeH-3e3utW-3e1Uvk-5UevHR-3e7Ug8-5UiYhQ-5Uezp6-3dZqCk-5UeBja-3e6Lra-UzAq2Y-3e5Am4-3e81GY-3eeJ9C-5UeAP2-3dZvWK-5UiYHW-3e8Lra-2x6mGN-TAkGMe-UzGGyz-UwL2dm-UeTnnJ-2b1MfDg-3e2Byt-2x6mJ1-7kxRwv-rAJ77n-yQPMV-9ee1PT-5oZtiT-5oZHPH-yQPC2-8PY5jb-UwL1Wu-3e5tmP-iHBhck-8LzZFU-ixVd4N-5p4ZQ7-UzAHwN-iE4PpA">Credit: Flickr/Eli Duke</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p>The emergence of interest in degrowth can be traced back to the 1st International Degrowth Conference organized in Paris in 2008. At this conference, degrowth was defined as a “voluntary transition towards a just, participatory, and ecologically sustainable society,” so challenging the dogma of economic growth. Another five international conferences were organized between 2010 and 2018, with the latest <a href="https://www.degrowth.info/en/2018/08/looking-back-on-the-6th-international-degrowth-conference-for-ecological-sustainability-and-social-equity/">in Malmo </a>in August. </p> <p>This year also saw the publication of Giorgos Kallis’ landmark book&nbsp;<em><a href="https://www.agendapub.com/books/32/degrowth">Degrowth</a></em><a href="https://cup.columbia.edu/book/degrowth/9781911116806">,</a> which&nbsp;opens with three bold statements. First, the&nbsp;global economy should slow down to avert the destruction of Earth’s life support systems, because a higher rate of production and consumption will run parallel to higher rates of damage to the environment.&nbsp;Hence,&nbsp;we should extract, produce and consume&nbsp;<em>less</em>, and we should do it all&nbsp;<em>differently</em>. Since growth-based economies collapse without growth we have to establish a radically different economic system and way of living in order to prosper in the future.</p> <p>Second, economic growth is no longer desirable. An increasing share of GDP growth is devoted to&nbsp;‘defensive expenditure,’ meaning the costs people face as a result of environmental externalities such as pollution. Hence, growth (at least in rich countries)&nbsp;has become “un-economic:” its benefits no longer exceed its costs.</p> <p>Third, growth is always based on exploitation, because it is driven by investment that, in turn, depends on surplus. If capitalists or governments paid for the real value of work then they would have no surplus and there would be no growth. Hence, growth cannot reduce inequalities; it merely postpones confronting exploitation.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>The growth paradigm.</strong></p> <p>Economic growth implies the acceleration of the production of goods and services.&nbsp; But it is not only GDP that has grown exponentially in the twentieth century: all indicators of work, environmental impact and ‘<a href="http://www.ejolt.org/2012/11/social-metabolism-and-accounting-tools/">social metabolism</a>’ have also accelerated (the processes of energy and material transformation in a society that are necessary for its continued existence), because GDP growth involves an increase in work and investment, the extraction of resources, and the disposal of waste.</p> <p>However growth isn’t only a material process; it’s also cultural, political and social. After first appearing in colonial and industrial centres in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it entrenched itself as a global ideology in the 1950s. Kallis calls this ideology “the growth paradigm:” the idea that perpetual economic growth is natural, necessary and desirable. This paradigm became the central concept of the geopolitical world order at a confluence of historical forces: the Cold War and the arms race, the end of colonialism and its indirect continuation under the guise of ‘development,’ and the failure of socialist projects for equality. </p> <p>Even though growth is the child of capitalism, the pursuit of growth survived the abolition of capitalist relations in socialist countries. It is now easier to imagine the end of capitalism than the end of growth. Kallis argues that “every crisis leaves the idea of growth strengthened: the time when growth falters and seems to be coming to an end, when the costs of growth come to the forefront, is also when it becomes most necessary and is most ardently pursued, since without growth the system collapses.” The problem, however, is that economic growth is both&nbsp;<a href="http://larrysummers.com/2016/02/17/the-age-of-secular-stagnation/">increasingly harder to come by</a>&nbsp;and is causing a&nbsp;<a href="https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/09/12/why-growth-cant-be-green/">planetary&nbsp;ecological breakdown</a>.</p> <p><strong>Exiting the economy.</strong></p> <p>Degrowth evolved as much as a critique of the limits and costs of growth as a critique of economic reasoning. The problem isn’t only that economic growth is socially undesirable and environmentally unsustainable; it’s that the way economists frame reality is wrong. Kallis calls for “exiting the economy,” meaning de-centering the economy as a unit of analysis and a focus of political action. To do this it is necessary to mobilize different forms of knowledge and representations of reality.</p> <p>Drawing from the work of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Transformation_(book)">Karl Polanyi</a>, Kallis develops a critique of “economism:” the expansion under capitalism of the logic of commodity and market exchange to realms of life from which they were previously excluded. Indeed, what we today understand as ‘economic’ activities were once embedded in social institutions in pre-capitalist societies like rituals, kinship networks, and state or religious mechanisms of redistribution. Market activities were subordinate to politics and values.</p> <p>Therefore the economy “is the instituted process of interactions between humans and their environments, involving the use of material means for the satisfaction of human values.” Societies develop institutions within which economic activities are embedded, so these institutions aren’t neutral; rather they order conflicting values and interests and are themselves a domain of power and struggle.</p> <p>The economy is also part of the ‘social imaginary’ - how we organize our world based on certain foundational ideas that express what we think it should look like. Imaginaries rest on a system of symbols, “significations” and institutions like GDP and central banks. Kallis explains that “an imaginary provides a culture with the meaning that drives its actions. The imaginary of a market economy is imprinted in the institutions of a market economy, which in turn produce subjects who behave like the rational maximizers of market economics. Market economics is then validated by a world that it has helped create.”</p> <p>But when a tension between these imaginaries and actual experience emerges, change becomes more likely through a process that is rife with conflicts, since the pursuit of new imaginaries is never shared by the whole of society. Those who hold power have an interest in things staying as they are, while the rest strive to unleash the social potential that can change the world.</p> <p>In the case of degrowth the new imaginaries that we need revolve around the idea that there will never be enough until we share what there is; sharing and enjoying a limited planet is what degrowth is all about.</p> <p><strong>A concrete utopia.</strong></p> <p>Degrowth refers to a path where throughput, and in all likelihood output, shrinks while living conditions improve. Kallis frames this as a hypothesis: “subject to a radical and egalitarian social transformation, it is possible to sustain well-being and improve living and ecological conditions in an economy that unavoidably will contract. Seen as a research programme, the agenda is to find how, or under what conditions, this may become possible.”</p> <p>Such a transformation is meant to re-embed the economy within society. And securing conditions that enable everyone to have enough will ensure that nobody faces scarcity - even if society produces less than today - by providing all the basic goods essential for human wellbeing free from payment.</p> <p>Revisioning productivity is also important: taking resources and time out of the production circuit and devoting them instead to politics and leisure, or to spending time with family and friends. Unlike today, productivity would not be the final objective of public policies. Even if we are less productive, relational ‘goods’ increase and compensate for the loss of material goods. Furthermore, in degrowth, unpaid care work would be valued, and cooperatives or not-for-profits would become the dominant producers, employing most of the working population. As a consequence, the realm of production for profit would be radically reduced, and opportunities for accumulation – that is, investment for expansion and further profit – would be curtailed.</p> <p>Even though the contraction of the economy is not the goal, in the long run this is inevitable. And it will happen either as a broader political project of social transformation (i.e. degrowth) or catastrophically through a series of crises. Kallis calls this project a “concrete utopia,” since there are concrete steps that can to help bring it closer. </p> <p>To this end he discusses policy proposals including the replacement of GDP; a reduction in working hours to create employment in the absence of growth; a universal income or a guaranteed bundle of public services to ensure that everyone has enough to get by without depending on money; redistributive taxation to increase equality and the establishment of a maximum income to arrest competition for positional consumption; a redirection of public investments from the private sector to the public, and from infrastructure and activities that increase productivity to expenditures that green the economy and reclaim the commons; and the adoption of environmental caps. </p> <p>It is worth noting that some of these policy proposals were included in a recent&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/sep/16/the-eu-needs-a-stability-and-wellbeing-pact-not-more-growth">open letter</a>&nbsp;signed by 238 scientists who called on the European Union to plan for a post-growth future in which human and ecological well-being is prioritised. Kallis concludes his book by arguing that, even though such policies may appear reformist compared with the utopian vision of degrowth, they are extremely radical when compared to where things currently stand. Borrowing the term ‘non-reformist reforms’ from <a href="https://ordinary-times.com/shawngude/2013/02/non-reformist-reforms-defined/">André Gorz</a>, he explains that if such reforms were to be implemented they “would require the very contours of the system to change radically to accommodate them. And simple and commonsensical as they are, they expose the irrationality of a system that makes them seem impossible and yet deems possible what in all likelihood will end in catastrophe.”</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/andr%C3%A9-reichel/why-green-growth-won%E2%80%99t-transform-economy">Why green growth won’t transform the economy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/emily-kawano/seven-ways-to-build-solidarity-economy">Seven ways to build the solidarity economy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/eli-feghali/where-next-for-new-economy-movement">Where next for the New Economy movement?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Riccardo Mastini The role of money Economics Wed, 07 Nov 2018 06:30:00 +0000 Riccardo Mastini 120356 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The oppressiveness of creativity https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/david-beer/oppressiveness-of-creativity <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Has capitalism co-opted our creative juices? A review of Oli Mould’s new book ‘Against Creativity.’</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Davidbeer4.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://pixabay.com/en/be-creative-creative-creativity-2859349/">Pixabay/Ramdlon</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en">CCO 1.0</a>.</p> <p>Given that I’m writing about creativity it’s tempting to come up with a dazzling opening line - something unexpected that will sell this article to you. I need not have worried.</p> <p>Oli Mould’s blistering critique&nbsp;<a href="https://www.versobooks.com/books/2852-against-creativity" target="_blank"><em>Against Creativity</em></a> suggests that we are all under constant pressure to be ever more creative and original; such demands are an inescapable part of the capitalist structures we occupy. The result is that creativity has mutated in the pressure cooker of advanced capitalism. Filtering down from the wider political economy, his thesis is that constant calls for us to be more creative are the product of a more general and engrained push toward entrepreneurialism and productivity. </p> <p>Yet the co-option of creativity into capitalism is nothing new in itself, and we can of course resist this kind of appropriation. So why try to find a problem with something that, in general, we probably all wish we had more of?&nbsp;Mould acknowledges early on in his book that creativity is a ‘slippery’ and ‘nebulous’ concept, and as it turns out, he isn’t actually against creativity as such. Rather he is against certain types of creative processes in which monetization is central. So the book is not so much against creativity but the wrong type of creative impulse and its negative effects. Rather than banishing creativity, Mould wants to reset our approach to how we see and use it.</p> <p>“Being creative today,’ he writes, “means seeing the world around you as a resource to fuel your inner entrepreneur. Creativity is a distinctly neoliberal trait because it feeds the notion that the world and everything in it can be monetised. The language of creativity has been subsumed by capitalism.”</p> <p>This seems a fair point. Capitalism and creativity have clearly become entwined in the creative economy and in the wider honing of the entrepreneurial self. The language of creativity readily gets folded into capitalist structures and drives the pressure to demonstrate greater ingenuity in everyday contexts. </p> <p>Inspired by, amongst others, the critical theorists <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodor_W._Adorno">Theodor Adorno</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Horkheimer">Max Horkheimer</a> and their famous arguments in the 1940s concerning the rise of ‘the culture industry’ and the imprinting of the profit motive onto cultural production, &nbsp;Mould &nbsp;focuses on the confines or limits in which creativity now works. He finds that the possibilities have come to be highly circumscribed by the aims and visions of neoliberal capitalism: “creativity under capitalism is not creative at all because it only produces more of the same form of society; it merely replicates existing capitalist registers into ever-deeper recesses of socioeconomic life…capitalism co-opts creativity for its own growth.” </p> <p>It is this process of co-option that his book explores by focusing in turn on work, people, politics, technology and the city. It is hard not to be drawn into agreeing with the picture of the toil of creativity he paints. The chapter on work is particularly powerful and builds an image of the constant drive for creative angles under increasingly precarious conditions.</p> <p>The uneven distribution of costs and benefits that flow from this reductive vision of creativity forms a strong theme throughout the book. As Mould puts it, “the politics of creativity is crucial,” since creativity in this narrow sense works out well for certain people whilst having a crushing or exclusionary effect on others. </p> <p>Occasionally, the concept of neoliberalism takes on a little too much of the explanatory burden in trying to get to grip with this politics of creativity. It is used, at times, as an answer rather than being unpacked to explore the real forces at work. Neoliberalism is a haunting spectre in the book, a malevolent presence that exerts a powerful influence without ever quite becoming flesh. Yet Mould has produced a pointed polemic that makes frequent and telling connections between creativity and social inequalities. </p> <p>The impact of austerity is one way he gets into these connections. The heightened precarity of austerity has brought a new and inescapable demand for creative expression, with increasing uncertainty and anxiety adding to the harm. This is just one way that Mould develops his core argument. Elsewhere his book looks at how norms act as obstacles to creative thought, hemming us in with expectations about how to think and act. He couples this with an exploration of how the ‘horizontalization’ and decentralisation of media structures limits rather than enhances spaces for thinking. </p> <p>For those who might imagine that artificial intelligence will overcome human shortcomings, Mould provides a discussion of how algorithms and machine learning change the terms of human creative thought rather than improve its prospects. And then we come to the rise of the social media entrepreneur seeking to use their creative nouse simply to get noticed (which he also links to the rise of a win-at-all-costs TV talent-show type culture). Across these themes Mould unsettles our understandings of creativity and questions the part it might play in achieving more progressive outcomes.</p> <p>From all of this, he concludes that:</p> <blockquote><p>“if creativity is about power to create something from nothing, then believing in impossible things is its most critical component. We need to believe that impossible worlds can be reached, if these impossibilities can ever be realized and become lived experiences.”</p></blockquote> <p>There is an energising boundlessness to this suggestion about removing limits to what is possible in order for creativity to take on less damaging forms and really thrive. But is this the case? Some time ago, back in the mid 2000s, I was working on a small project exploring the impact of digital technologies on music. As part of that project I was speaking to a recording engineer about their practices. </p> <p>We reflected on the changing technologies of music production, the impact of the infinite number of tracks in recording studios, and the unlimited possibilities of post-production. We discussed whether creativity might actually be hampered by these endless options, since at least in part it is about overcoming limits, and is not always, as Mould suggests, about creating something from&nbsp;<em>nothing</em>. In a much larger <a href="https://discoversociety.org/2014/07/01/the-invisibility-of-the-recording-engineer-2/">follow up project</a> a few years later, we found that the recording engineer actually sees it as their role to find ways to realise the sonic vision of the recording artist even as it clashes against the material constraints of the studio. Here, the constraints are an active part of the way that such artistic creations are made real.</p> <p>When we think of the fear that is induced in the writer by the blank page, perhaps it is not so much a completely open space for the imagination that we need but a more energetic engagement with the boundaries that constrain creative thinking, organizing and action. As the recording engineer suggested to me, we might use the boundaries we face to inspire creative action and help us to imagine alternatives. Creativity has a complex set of relations with such boundaries, and despite the careful arguments in Mould’s book these relations are left a little unresolved. Mould seeks to remove the barriers of possibility, but we might wonder whether this will leave us with nothing to bounce off, to solve or circumvent.&nbsp;</p> <p>The other key question that Mould’s book leaves unanswered is how to tell pathological forms of creativity from their more progressive or transformational counterparts. The political quagmires of today undoubtedly call for more imaginative thinking in which the politics of creativity are central. Breaking out of the constraints of politics or economics-as-usual calls for genuinely novel ideas and institutions. </p> <p>Against this pressing need, Mould’s warning - and it is a useful one - is that if we seek change then we need to be careful that we don’t cling to a type of creativity that is anchored in neoliberal economic interests. If we do fall into this trap then we may simply perpetuate the values and limits that established modes of governance and production bring with them. </p> <p>Creativity itself is not the problem, as Mould’s book makes clear; rather it is the limits that are placed on the future by engrained notions of what is possible and worthwhile.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/oli-mould/does-being-creative-just-mean-maintaining-status-quo">Does “being creative” just mean maintaining the status quo?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/david-beer/living-with-smartness">Living with smartness</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/david-beer/four-futures-life-after-capitalism">Four futures: life after capitalism</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation David Beer The role of money Culture Economics Tue, 30 Oct 2018 18:42:26 +0000 David Beer 120108 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Art after money https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/max-haiven/art-after-money <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Banksy’s prank on the art market rhymes with our common struggle against financialization’s shredding of society.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Max Haiven.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p><span class="image-caption">28th installment from Banksy's "Better Out Than In" October 2013 New York City residency. Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Banksy_28_October_installment_from_%22Better_Out_Than_In%22_New_York_City_residency.jpg">Flickr/Scott Lynch via Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en">CC BY-SA 2.0</a></span></p> <p>Banksy’s&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/oct/06/banksy-sothebys-auction-prank-leaves-art-world-in-shreds-girl-with-balloon">latest art prank</a>, in which one of his iconic works <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/video/2018/oct/07/banksy-publishes-video-detailing-auction-prank-plan-video">shredded itself</a> after being won at auction, has enthused many of us who have been following the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.lundhumphries.com/products/83146">depravities of the art world</a>&nbsp;for some time. The artist’s antagonism towards the elites who buy and sell contemporary art is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/mar/04/exit-through-the-gift-shop-review">well known</a>, and this stunt comes almost a year after the world record was set for the auction sale of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/aug/06/leonardo-da-vinci-scholar-challenges-attribution-salvator-mundi-bernardino-luini">Salvador Mundi</a>, allegedly by Leonardo Da Vinci, for a jaw-dropping $450,312,500 - sold by a&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/sep/25/russian-billionaire-picassos-art-dealer-feud">notorious Russian oligarch</a>&nbsp;to a member of the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/sep/03/louvre-abu-dhabi-postpones-display-of-worlds-most-expensive-painting-leonardo-da-vinci">Saudi Royal Family</a>.</p> <p>At a time when &nbsp;spoiled billionaires seem to get anything they want, Banksy’s act of vengeance can appear deeply satisfying, but there is more going on here than a simple loathing of the rich and powerful. In my recent book&nbsp;<em><a href="https://www.plutobooks.com/9780745338248/art-after-money-money-after-art">Art After Money, Money After Art: Creative Strategies Against Financialization</a></em>&nbsp;I argue that the fate of art is a bellwether for broader trends in society, trends that affect not only artists but practically everyone else.</p> <p>The primary trend is&nbsp;<a href="https://truthout.org/articles/financial-totalitarianism-the-economic-political-social-and-cultural-rule-of-speculative-capital/">financialization</a>. Usually this term is taken to refer to the increased power and influence of the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/oct/05/the-finance-curse-how-the-outsized-power-of-the-city-of-london-makes-britain-poorer">financial sector</a>: big banks, hedge funds and other firms in The City or on Wall Street. Even before these institutions started using&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/aug/29/coding-algorithms-frankenalgos-program-danger">algorithms and AI</a>&nbsp;to automate the trading of assets (which include things like the world’s&nbsp;<a href="http://www.zero-books.net/books/hungry-capital">food supply</a>) this industry had already created havoc in the global economy by transforming it into a kind of casino.</p> <p>But the notion of financialization also speaks to the way&nbsp;in which <a href="http://tupress.temple.edu/book/3182">nearly everything in our society</a> is being transformed into a means for someone to make profit, or reformatted as if they were corporate products. Even public services like education, health-care and anti-poverty initiatives are managed and&nbsp;<a href="https://www.palgrave.com/us/book/9781137355966">spoken of</a>&nbsp;as if they are ‘investments.’ Young people are increasingly taught to see themselves not as the next generation of citizens but as private speculators improving their human capital to compete on the job market. Housing has increasingly come to be seen as a private means of securing wealth for tomorrow and hedging against future economic uncertainty in a world where few forms of collective insurance (such as state-backed programs for social welfare) remain.</p> <p>In the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/oct/17/artists-fighting-power-of-market-internet-hito-steyerl">financialization of art</a>, then, we see a grim reflection of wider trends. It’s not simply that art has become the plaything of a financially-engorged global elite. After all, even in the Italian renaissance, the Dutch Golden Age or 19th century Paris, rich patrons and benefactors have always shaped art markets. Today, however, the influence of fast money on art (and everything else) is more&nbsp;<a href="https://www.plutobooks.com/9780745338248/art-after-money-money-after-art">profound and penetrating</a>. </p> <p>Over the past 20 years, a whole array of intermediaries have emerged to help transform art into a&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/dec/04/art-set-to-become-best-performing-luxury-investment-asset-of-2017">purely financial asset</a>. These include&nbsp;<a href="https://press.princeton.edu/titles/10361.html">art investment funds</a>&nbsp;that allow wealthy people to buy art for speculative future returns; the mushrooming of secretive and hyper-secured &nbsp;<a href="https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-freeports-operate-margins-global-art-market">Freeport facilities</a>&nbsp;in Switzerland, Singapore and elsewhere where investors can stash their masterpieces in climate-controlled vaults, the better to buy and sell their rights to ownership or hide these assets from taxation; and a wide range of institutions (like the world’s leading insurance brokers) and startups who jockey to provide&nbsp;<a href="https://arttactic.com/podcasts/">services</a>&nbsp;to those who leverage art as a&nbsp;<a href="https://www2.deloitte.com/lu/en/pages/art-finance/articles/art-finance-report.html">special asset class</a> as part of a carefully counterbalanced portfolio of mega-wealth.</p> <p>The accelerating speculation on the financial value of art has led to a rise in demand for new saleable works, since many of the old classics have already been snatched up. This has led to all manner of aesthetic pathologies and the rise of whole new genres of art like the notorious “<a href="http://www.vulture.com/2014/06/why-new-abstract-paintings-look-the-same.html">zombie formalism</a>” of 2014 - a term introduced by art critic&nbsp;<a href="https://www.artspace.com/magazine/contributors/see_here/the_rise_of_zombie_formalism-52184">Walter Robinson</a>&nbsp;to describe the inoffensive but technically proficient work of a set of very young American artists (all graduates of extremely expensive art schools) who rocketed to market success as speculative bonbons of the plutocrats.</p> <p>As a staunch anti-capitalist and someone who is generally&nbsp;<a href="https://www.zedbooks.net/shop/book/crises-of-imagination-crises-of-power/">more interested</a>&nbsp;in protest banners than artistic canvases, I couldn’t care less about <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/oct/08/why-shredder-is-banksy-greatest-work">the fate of ‘great art’</a> under financialization. What’s more important are two things that this process is teaching us about the societies in which we live.</p> <p>First, art offers us an excellent example of the ways in which almost any social institution can be financialized, even something as obscure, diverse and just plain weird as art. Historically art markets have been&nbsp;<a href="https://guardianbookshop.com/12-million-stuffed-shark.html">notoriously opaque</a>&nbsp;and cliqueish, and the trends and currents of artistic fashion and innovation are, by their very nature, delightfully unpredictable, fickle and arcane. A century after artists like <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fountain_(Duchamp)">Duchamp’s&nbsp;Fountain</a> - where a everyday urinal was transmuted into ‘art’ by the magic of the artist’s signature - art is everywhere and nowhere, taking the form not only of paintings and sculpture but performance, text, concept and even participatory activities. That our financialized economic system can so thoroughly conscript and subsume art into its operations should give us pause for thought.</p> <p>In this context everything of potential future value is transformed into an asset to be leveraged, and one in which we are each, no matter how humble our means, tasked with becoming a miniature financier. We have learned to see our education, housing, skills and even personal relationships as investments to be put into play, to see all aspects of our life as a terrain of lonely competition. Take, for example, the rhetoric that surrounds visual art classes for children: these are typically presented as an ‘investment’ in the skills, capacities and cognitive development of the child as a future worker or economic agent. </p> <p>Financialization has remade society in its image, and in this moment, financialized art (regardless of what is or is not on the canvas) presents us with a kind of collective self-portrait. No wonder we delight in its being shredded. As the radical philosopher&nbsp;<a href="https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm">Walter Benjamin</a>&nbsp;warned almost a century ago in his prophetic work on art’s relationship to capitalism and fascism, “self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.”</p> <p>Secondly, almost 20 years ago the noted British cultural theorist Angela McRobbie observed that, in post-industrial societies, artists were increasingly being held up as the “<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/node/652">pioneers of the new economy</a>” - new model workers for a neoliberal age of freelance, temporary, part-time, episodic careerism in which people must compete for gigs by leveraging their own passions, connections, determination and &nbsp;personal portfolios. In the intervening years Richard Florida’s notion of the “<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/oct/26/gentrification-richard-florida-interview-creative-class-new-urban-crisis">creative class</a>” has dramatically influenced policy-makers and urban planners around the world who imagined that attracting and retaining artists, designers and other ‘creative’ workers would raise the fortunes of struggling economies and communities. </p> <p>‘Creative destruction’ and ‘disruptive innovation’ became keywords for the rapaciousness of financialization as it tore apart whole industries in search of short-term profit. While in 1968 the slogan “<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/apr/28/beach-beneath-street-mckenzie-wark-review">all power to the imagination</a>” was a radical threat to capitalism, by the mid-2000s it was a corporate rallying-cry, with tech firms leading the way in redesigning managerialism around the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/sep/26/against-creativity-oli-mould-review">excitement and elicitation</a>&nbsp;of their employees’ creativity.</p> <p>Ultimately, financialization names a moment when our imaginations have been turned against us. We are increasingly exhorted to orient our creative powers towards the tasks of economic survival - juggling debt, precarity and anxiety while trying to leverage anything we can to stay afloat or get ahead. What is missing is the broader,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.zedbooks.net/shop/book/the-radical-imagination/">radical imagination</a>: the possibility of questioning and reformulating our societies and economies altogether. While individualized, quarantined, competitive creativity is valorized everywhere, collective or social creativity - the creativity that would allow us to&nbsp;<a href="https://roarmag.org/essays/max-haiven-crises-of-imagination/">transform our lived reality together</a> - is increasingly foreclosed.</p> <p>Banksy’s self-annihilating work reflects this condition. Accusations that it was self-serving because it potentially increased the future sale price of the work seem to me to be in bad faith: first, Banksy is already rich and has had many opportunities to get richer if he wants to. Second, the piece had already been sold for the hammer price: even if Banksy were the seller (which is unclear) he would (except in certain jurisdictions) not see any profits from the future resale of the work. But that doesn’t change the deeper fact that the hyper-financialized art market has refined its methods for generating speculative value out of anything, even acts of defiance. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>To my mind, we can read this intervention in several ways. On the one hand, it can be seen as emblematic of a certain kind of nihilistic self-loathing: the artist destroying their own work as a pyrrhic but ultimately harmless gesture of cynical defiance. There but for the grace of god go any of us. On the other, it can be seen as an invitation to ask much deeper and more profound questions: if the financialized economy that is so sickeningly reflected in the art market depends on putting our creativity to work, then what if we were to withdraw those services? How can we <a href="https://www.versobooks.com/books/2471-strike-art">strike</a>, and strike back, against a financialized order where even our defiance can become an object of speculation? To what other ends could our <a href="https://www.rowmaninternational.com/book/the_composition_of_movements_to_come/3-156-835f1858-46d6-4b7a-ae49-2c8db75abce4">imagination</a>, individually and collectively, be put?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/alex-khasnabish-max-haiven/why-social-movements-need-radical-imagination">Why social movements need the radical imagination</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/maria-askew/priceless-moments-how-capitalism-eats-our-time">Priceless moments: how capitalism eats our time</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/joel-millward-hopkins/neoliberal-psychology">Neoliberal psychology</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Max Haiven Economics Culture Wed, 10 Oct 2018 18:59:32 +0000 Max Haiven 120031 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The DIY Central Bank https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/dan-edelstyn-and-hilary-powell/the-DIY-Central-Bank <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Asserting the moral right to repudiate debt may be the only way of rebuilding democracy.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/DanielEdelstyn.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Members of Bank Job in Walthamstow, London. Credit: Peter Searle. All rights reserved.</p> <blockquote><p><em>“</em>Our future is mortgaged, calculated, and owned far in advance, and our democratic right to change it for the better is effectively minimized.” Andrew Ross, <a href="https://www.orbooks.com/catalog/creditocracy/">Creditocracy</a>.</p></blockquote> <p>At the peak of the 2008 banking crisis the UK government had <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/banksandfinance/8262037/Bank-bail-out-adds-1.5-trillion-to-debt.html">liabilities worth £1.5 trillion</a>.&nbsp;In the emergency bailouts that were agreed at the time by the then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the British taxpayer bought <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/aug/03/rbs-sale-fred-goodwin-bailout-years-of-losses">£45 billion of shares</a> in the Royal Bank of Scotland and <a href="http://uk.businessinsider.com/uk-government-lloyds-sale-2017-4">almost £20 billion</a> in Lloyds. It was, as commentators said, a nationalization project that would have put Lenin to shame.</p> <p>However, while the public owned the lion’s share of these banks the ensuing stimulus packages and sell offs have not been carried out with the wellbeing of the population in mind nor the transformation of the banking system. Ten years of austerity - allegedly to balance the national books - have left the poorest even worse off than before.</p> <p>Declining government spending in Britain has seen private debts balloon to <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/sep/18/uk-debt-crisis-credit-cards-car-loans">over £1.6 trillion in 2018</a>, most of which are mortgages. Between 2012 and 2017 unsecured credit <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/sep/18/uk-debt-crisis-credit-cards-car-loans">increased by 19 per cent, student debt doubled to £100 billion, and Council Tax Arrears increased by 12 per cent</a>. These data are symptoms of a creditor class gone wild.</p> <p>But what if the crash had been used as an opportunity to reshape the financial system with fresh purpose, and to create space to re-imagine an economy that works for all of us and promotes economic justice? While it’s impossible to correct the debt crisis through local action alone, grassroots experiments can provide both inspiration and concrete assistance to those who are caught at the sharp end of the problem and who are often forced into traditional structures of shame which leave them feeling crushed and even suicidal.</p> <p>This leap of imagination lies at the heart of ‘<a href="https://bankjob.pictures/">Bank Job</a>,’ a team of artists and activists who took over the former Co-Op Bank on Hoe Street in Walthamstow, London, in early 2018, and replaced it with ‘HSCB’ – the ‘Hoe Street Central Bank.’ We were united by a desire to do something about the status quo and to rally against a system we felt had let us down. Our rebel bank is a place to come together and discover the collective power of art, sharing and community action to defy the alienating power that financial capital has in our lives.</p> <p>In concrete terms we’ve opened our own bank and we’re printing our own art-based banknotes. In place of the Queen and other famous figures from British history, each denomination of our banknotes features the face of a local cause: the ‘Gary’ (after Gary Nash, the founder of local foodbank ‘Eat or Heat’); the ‘Saira’ (after Saira Mir who, together with her family, set up a kitchen for the homeless called “Pl84U-Al Suffa”); the ‘Steve’ (featuring Stephen Barnabis who set up ‘The Soul Project’ for young people after his nephew was fatally stabbed); and the ‘Tracey’ (the headmistress of local Barn Croft Primary School).</p> <p>Our banknotes are printed on-site and sold at face value for Pounds Sterling, and we’ve raised just shy of £40,000 so far. The proceeds are split into two, with half going to buy up £1million worth of local payday debt (you can buy up people’s debts for as little as two pence in the pound), and half going to the four causes depicted on the notes. People who buy them are supporting those causes and purchasing artwork we produce. The notes are not exchangeable for other goods or services.</p> <p>The team that’s gathered around the bank has their own stories of how debt has touched their lives. Alison, for example, had worked as a teacher in one of our local primary schools but was laid off due to the school’s debt from the UK Government’s ‘Private Finance Initiative’ or PFI - a way of creating ‘public private partnerships’ in which private firms are contracted to complete and manage public projects using loans &nbsp;from bond markets or private investors. The firms then charge high rates of interest to the public trust that’s responsible for the assets the project creates.</p> <p>“I’ve been a primary school teacher for 33 years” <a href="https://vimeo.com/271975525">she told us</a>, and “Last summer I was made redundant, quite a shock and surprise. The school I was at is a PFI school so it means that every year quite a large proportion of their budget has to go to the PFI company, and so five teachers like myself who were non-class based were made redundant.” Such debts have proved incredibly controversial because the interest rates are widely seen as immoral.</p> <p>In Walthamstow our health trust, Barts, is the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ournhs/john-lister/bart%E2%80%99s-flagship-hits-rocks-of-pfi">most indebted in the country in terms of PFI</a>. To pay these debts the hospitals have to cut staff and are therefore overcrowded and dangerously under-resourced. An excellent <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41778609">report from the BBC</a> shows that five of the biggest PFI companies are based in tax havens, despite earning more than £2 billion in profit.</p> <p>Isabell is another member of Bank Job - a banknote printer who is also a recent graduate. “I’ve spent seven years of my life in education,” <a href="https://vimeo.com/271975975">she says</a>, and “Coming out of uni today, young people are just saddled with this huge debt burden. I’ve got credit cards, personal loans, overdrafts, I’ve got student loans.”</p> <p>To run our bank we borrowed pieces of equipment and drew on the talent of our community in setting up what we needed to design and print the new currency. It became a sort of ‘DIY uprising’ in which the bank became a space of work and play, with economics talks laid on in the evenings for anyone who wanted to come and learn.&nbsp; When <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/23/hoe-street-central-bank-walthamstow-london-debt">an article about the bank came out in The Guardian</a> and went viral people travelled from all over Britain and queued around the block to buy banknotes and talk about the impact of the debt crisis and what we can do to address it.</p> <p>In October 2018 the bank is moving into a new phase - printing gilt-edged paper bonds as part of what we’re referring to as a ‘collectively owned and distributed explosion’ of the £1 million payday debt that we’ve bought so far through bank note sales. The bonds are being sold to finance the literal, cathartic explosion of this debt at the end of 2018 in order to push the message of the project into greater public view. Each bond grants the holder the bond itself as an artwork and a share in the explosion – called ‘Big Bang 2’ - in which a transit van filled with debt will be detonated. What remains will be transformed into commemorative coins to be distributed to bond holders.</p> <p>In all these ways we feel we’ve made some useful progress, though there’s a long way to go. But how has the project changed people who have come into contact with it?</p> <p>At one level the answer is clear: having even part of your debts written off through a simple act of citizen intervention feels good. But this isn’t a hack that can be used to fix the entire system; rather, it’s a stunt that draws people into the story of debt and teaches them about the secondary market, perhaps empowering them in the future to have a different conversation with creditors who chase them for debts that are in some sense imaginary.</p> <p>At a deeper level, the project has given us hope that communities can be resilient and will fight together – that we owe it to one another to shape the sort of world which our children can inherit with confidence and pride. The feeling that we are not alone – or as the <a href="http://strikedebt.org/">Strike Debt</a> campaign puts it “not a loan;” that we can get together and create value that transcends the traditional debtor/creditor relationships that are ripping our communities apart; and that we oughtn’t to feel so ashamed of our debts because they reflect negatively on our characters – have all taken root.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The project has also allowed us to imagine that the world we want is not just a vague or distant dream, but something that can be achieved in the here and now by getting together to take control of our immediate surroundings and rewrite the rules. If you can get hold of the money supply, you have infinite power. That is what this is really all about - taking back the power to choose the sorts of lives we feel are useful. As Andrew Ross argues in his excellent book <a href="https://www.orbooks.com/catalog/creditocracy/">Creditocracy</a><em>:</em></p> <blockquote><p>“Loading debt onto the citizenry creates grievous harm to our democracies - when a government cannot or will not respond on behalf of a citizenry then taking relief for ourselves may be the most indispensible act of civil disobedience. Asserting the moral right to repudiate debt may be the only way of rebuilding democracy.”</p></blockquote><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/emily-kawano/seven-ways-to-build-solidarity-economy">Seven ways to build the solidarity economy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/laurie-macfarlane/transforming-financial-system-from-within-interview-with-finance-innovation-lab">Transforming the financial system from within: an interview with the Finance Innovation Lab</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/esteban-kelly/why-transforming-economy-begins-and-ends-with-cooperation">Why transforming the economy begins and ends with cooperation</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Dan Edelstyn and Hilary Powell The role of money Activism Economics Tue, 09 Oct 2018 18:07:53 +0000 Dan Edelstyn and Hilary Powell 119947 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Healing solidarity: re-imagining international development https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/mary-ann-clements/healing-solidarity-re-imagining-international-development <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>NGOs and other aid agencies need to lead in the <em>practice</em> of re-distributing wealth and power—not just the theory.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/MaryAnnClements2.png" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://www.maxpixel.net/">https://www.maxpixel.net</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/">CC0 Public Domain</a>.</p> <p>What are the first two words that come to mind when you think about foreign aid? Probably not ‘healing’ and ‘solidarity,’ especially in the context of recent scandals at Oxfam, Save the Children and Amnesty International and the emergence of the #Aidtoo movement. Yet an online conference last week was buzzing with over 1,500 people who are actively re-imagining the values and practices of the international development sector around these radically different principles.</p> <p>Fundamental to this process is the recognition that there will be no change in the ways in which wealth and power are so unequally distributed in the world unless we do things differently at both the individual and the collective levels—unless we acknowledge that we are all part of the problem as well as the solution, however well-intentioned our efforts. And that means transforming ourselves and the institutions we’ve created if we are serious about transforming the broader structures that dispossess and discriminate against certain groups of people, wherever in the world they live.</p> <p>International NGOs (INGOs) and other aid agencies are late in waking up to this fact, but why is that, and what can be done to put it right?</p> <p>The first issue raised by many of the conference speakers was that colonial and racist structures still permeate much of the work of the international development sector, and are both pervasive and strongly rooted. These attitudes show themselves in the concrete details of decision-making, governance, spending patterns, staff selection and remuneration beyond and beneath the rhetoric of NGOs, UN agencies and governments.</p> <p>Researcher <a href="http://gemmahouldey.com/">Gemma Houldey</a> puts this down in part to the idea of the ‘perfect humanitarian:’</p> <blockquote><p>“This idea that to be a really good humanitarian you have to be a certain person. And that certain person is the one that's put out in all the awareness raising materials of NGOs and charities, often a white, western aid worker who’s flying from one emergency to another, who’s so committed [and] doesn't have any family ties because they're just there throwing themselves into their work.”</p></blockquote> <p>This archetype continues to pervade the structures through which many INGOs operate, structures in which the power over decisions and resources still sits with people in offices in places like London, New York, Oxford and Geneva rather than those whose lives are directly affected by poverty and marginalisation.</p> <p>It’s also reflected in the differentials that often exist between staff with similar levels of training and expertise but who are treated differently as a result of where they come from and work. As Wanja Muguongo, Founding Executive Director of <a href="http://www.uhai-eashri.org/">UHAI</a> (The East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative) asked the audience:</p> <blockquote><p>“Is the Yale graduate that will be employed by a funder in the Global North different from the Yale graduates that I employ in Kenya? Because they have the same kind of education...the same kind of thinking about what their brain is worth but somehow there is an assumption that African labour is cheaper.&nbsp; Maybe we want to go back to the historical truism that African labour should be free.”</p></blockquote> <p>The second challenge raised by many speakers was the need to reconceptualise the work of the international development sector from a frame of benevolence (with all the hierarchies it implies between ‘givers’ and receivers’) to one of solidarity that’s marked out by equality and <em>horizontal</em> relationships. One way to do this would be to re-frame foreign aid as reparations for the horrors of slavery and colonialism. In this frame the right to decide on what happens to money would stand squarely with those whose lives have been shaped by those horrors, whether in the past or the present.</p> <p>There are other ways to operationalise the principle of solidarity beyond reparations, but the general point is this: so long as we keep imagining ourselves and our work through a framework of benevolence towards distant others we will miss the need for transformation in ourselves, in the ways in which we live and the histories and realties we take for granted. International aid as it is right now exists because we created a deeply unfair and unjust world. Working for change in that world therefore means identifying and addressing injustice within us as much as without.&nbsp;</p> <p>That was the third theme of the conference: a constant tendency in the sector to externalise problems and solutions while failing to provide enough opportunities for self-critique and the self-care that must go with it to avoid burnout and alienation. <a href="https://www.devex.com/news/authors/angela-b-1378362">Angela Bruce Raeburn</a>, who previously worked for Oxfam in Haiti, put it like this:</p> <blockquote><p>“We don't lead with our authentic selves. We don't lead with the conversations about truth, about race.”</p></blockquote> <p>And as Lisa VeneKlasen Executive Director of <a href="https://justassociates.org/">JASS</a> added, nothing will change:</p> <blockquote><p>“unless you really change the culture and how we see ourselves. And that means changing who we are and being comfortable to be able to step into something that maybe we didn't know...[otherwise] we're not going to be able to contribute to major, major shifts. So it is really about changing who we are but from a place of much deeper politics.”</p></blockquote> <p>One of the reasons why deeper work of this kind is so rarely prioritised is the drive towards ‘value for money’ in the sector, a drive which emanates from the headquarters of aid agencies and funders rather than from the communities and people affected. “It’s as if you shouldn't be paying salaries—you should just be doing work” as Muguongo pointed out, an attitude that actually <em>devalues</em> people.</p> <p>It is hard to see how such inequitable frameworks consolidated by corporatised INGO and other aid agency structures can be fit for the purpose of transforming inequity in the world, but what should replace them? A plethora of ideas emerged from the conference, all of which seek to re-distribute power and centralise wellbeing and an ethic of care throughout our work.</p> <p>Speakers included representatives of two other funds which, like UHAI, have found ways to develop decision making processes in which those whose lives are affected by the resources they allocate can be involved in making decisions about how those resources are utilised. At <a href="https://youngfeministfund.org/">FRIDA (the Young Feminist Fund</a>) and the <a href="http://www.starsfoundation.org.uk/">Stars Foundation</a>, participatory grant making processes are accompanied by a focus on, and a willingness to fund, wellbeing and self-care for the activists and organisations they support: when people are involved in making decisions they are also being valued in and of themselves.</p> <p>Secondly, whilst <a href="https://www.devex.com/news/opinion-can-aid-organizations-really-be-part-of-social-movements-92738">INGOs are not social movements</a> and are by nature institutions that are not representative of the communities they serve, we should be willing to take more of our inspiration from their flexibility, responsiveness and commitment to challenging power rather than following in the footsteps of corporate brands and the planning processes, communications strategies and funder demands they impose. Muguongo put it like this;</p> <blockquote><p>“If philanthropy structured itself as a partner and came to the table from a place of humility, of ‘Hey, this is what I bring in the room, what do you bring in the room and how can we work together?’ I actually think that would resolve a whole load of problems.”</p></blockquote> <p>In short we need to lead in the <em>practice</em> of re-distributing power and wealth and not just the theory.&nbsp;Jennifer Lentfer, Director of Communications at <a href="https://www.how-matters.org/">Thousand Currents</a> and Founder of the <a href="https://www.how-matters.org/">How Matters Blog</a>, called on those of us working in the sector to acknowledge the lived histories of colonialism and patriarchy in our own lives and those of our ancestors:</p> <blockquote><p>“Working in Africa eventually necessitated...understanding the place where my people are from, and the genocide and removal and erasure of native Americans that created the ‘manifest destiny’ so that my great great great grandfather could own that land.”&nbsp;</p></blockquote> <p>An awareness of our own stories and histories seems an essential first step in reforming our actions and seeking to be in solidarity with others in ways that actively re-distribute power and resources. “I don't know that in our lifetimes we can right that wrong,” Lentfer added, but “I do know that we can acknowledge that wrong.”</p> <p>True solidarity of this nature may not be able to operate within the large INGO structures which—as researcher and consultant <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/tina-wallace-9021939/">Tina Wallace</a> reminded us during the conference—only took on their current corporatised nature in the 1990s and 2000s.&nbsp;But none of these reforms require us to expend ourselves in service to some imagined other—only that we accept the concrete practice of solidarity rather than paternalism in everything we do. The message of the conference is that we can start to re-imagine our sector by paying due care and attention to ourselves and each other, and by developing a commitment to honest reflection about our own roles and histories.</p> <p>That requires that we put people and relationships first, and in doing so acknowledge that they have legitimate needs for rest, fun and happiness. Jessica Horn, <a href="http://www.stillsherises.com/">writer</a> and Director of Programmes at the <a href="http://awdf.org/">African Women’s Development Fund</a> spoke pointedly to the fact that in 17 years working in the sector she had seldom heard anyone speak about “African women's happiness;” instead we expect only ‘resilience’ and continual hard work, as well as placing the risks and responsibilities for fighting injustice on their shoulders. We have to do better.</p> <p>If we can be much more open about things we have struggled to talk about for so long, then we can begin to shift our practice towards one that prioritises actual justice rather than colonial benevolence, takes its lead from activists and communities rather than the corporate bodies that cause so much of the harm we are fighting, and places humility and self-development at the heart of all the work we do.</p> <p><em>Find out more about the conference and access recordings from it at <a href="http://healingsolidarity.org/" target="_blank">healingsolidarity.org</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/could-ngos-flourish-in-future-without-foreign-aid">Could NGOs flourish in a future without foreign aid?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/pablo-yanguas/foreign-aid-is-waste-of-money-unless-it-s-used-for-transformation">Foreign aid is a waste of money—unless it’s used for transformation</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/david-sogge/inconvenient-truth-about-foreign-aid">The inconvenient truth about foreign aid</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation foreign aid NGOs Mary Ann Clements The role of money Activism Economics Tue, 25 Sep 2018 16:18:24 +0000 Mary Ann Clements 119791 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why positive thinking won’t get you out of poverty https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/farwa-sial-and-carolina-alves/why-positive-thinking-won-t-get-you-out-of-poverty <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>To say that poor people don’t have enough hope, tenacity and aspiration is to deny their agency as well as the size of the structural odds they face.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/FarwalSial.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/martazappia/8705332490">Flickr/MartaZ</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p>In a recent <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/13/business/think-positive-climb-out-of-poverty-it-just-might-work.html">article in the New York Times</a>, the development economist Seema Jayachandran discusses three studies that used&nbsp;Randomised Controlled Trials (or RCTs) to understand&nbsp;the benefits of enhancing the self-worth of poor people. Despite wide differences in context, all the cases explore the viability of ‘modest interventions’ to ‘instill hope’ in marginalised communities, concluding that ‘remarkable improvements’ in the quest for poverty reduction are possible. </p> <p><a href="http://www.csae.ox.ac.uk/materials/papers/csae-wps-2017-13.pdf">One of the studies</a> from Uganda, for example, argues that “a role model can have significant effects on students’ educational attainment,” so the suggestion for policy-makers might be “to place more emphasis on motivation and inspiration through example.”<em> </em>Another <a href="http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/65931/">case study of sex workers in Kolkata Brothels</a> argues that “psychological barriers impede such disadvantaged groups from breaking the vicious circle and achieving better outcomes in life,” so small but effective changes that address these psychological constraints can alleviate the effects of poverty and social exclusion. </p> <p>The underlying theme of these studies is that individuals can surmount the structural challenges of poverty through their own efforts using tools like ‘effective role models,’ the generation of ‘more hope,’ and the ‘improvement of their mental health.’ Positive psychology of this kind and an emphasis on behavior change to meet the goals of individuals have been around at least since the 1950s, first in the popular literature of self-help books and now in academia, where they form part of an increasingly fashionable trend to ‘do poverty reduction differently.’ </p> <p>The push for&nbsp;<a href="http://africanarguments.org/2018/06/12/tedx-comes-kakuma-refugee-camp-aka-think-your-way-oppression/">rebranding refugees as ‘entrepreneurs</a>’&nbsp;follows the same logic. In the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and TEDx hosted an event to showcase the personal narratives of refugees. The resulting talk was designed to highlight the role of positive thinking in overcoming adversity, with the harsh realities of being a refugee and resorting to extreme survival skills portrayed through the lens of individual motivation. The implicit assumption was that positive attitudes could determine better opportunities in life. </p> <p>This trend relies on RCTs as the key methodological tool to prove its case, a technique born out of an increasing focus in economics on the behaviour of individuals and the use of computing power to process enormous amounts of data in econometric analyses. RCTs are supposed to provide “<a href="http://www.ideasforindia.in/topics/miscellany/evidence-policy-and-politics.html">evidence-based</a>” answers that form a scientific basis for policy-making. In reality however, they have some serious limitations. </p> <p>An&nbsp;RCT is an evaluation technique that draws from experimental design in order to measure the impact of a development project. As the name suggests, the process is based on a selection of a ‘random’ or unspecified distribution of people or communities who are subjected to a trial or an experiment. The proponents of this method suggest that it is possible to measure the impact of an intervention and attribute a causal relationship between the intervention and its outcomes when compared to a ‘control group’ who are not included—a worrying feature in and of itself because people in that group may be denied the essentials of a decent life if they are only provided to those who participate in the trials.</p> <p>According to <a href="https://olc.worldbank.org/content/state-economics-influence-randomized-controlled-trials-development-economics-research-and">Esther Duflo</a>, the top five journals in economics published 21 articles on development in 2000, none of which represented this methodology; by 2015 there were 32 such articles, of which 10 were RCTs.&nbsp;Researchers <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00130095.2017.1392235">Sophie Webber and Carolyn Prouse</a> go so far as to say that RCTs have become the new ‘gold standard’ in&nbsp; development economics, so it comes as no surprise that poverty has started to be studied in the context of this new&nbsp;framework. </p> <p>Poverty alleviation, however, is a hugely complex subject that touches on the strengthening of institutions, the health of governance,&nbsp;the structure and dynamics of markets, the workings of social classes, macroeconomic policies, distribution, international integration and many other issues, none of which can be replicated from one context to another. That means that analyses of poverty have to be based on a critical examination of processes and actors that cannot be ‘controlled’ against—thus violating the principle of RCTs.</p> <p>Recent developments in economics have failed to account for these fundamental determinants of poverty.&nbsp;Instead, the success of RCTs can be narrowed down to essentially&nbsp;statistical arguments that seek to identify ‘what works’ and ‘which interventions’ should therefore be employed to improve&nbsp;the lives of the poor. In such processes, the focus tends towards the individual or the household and (initially at least) to the design of small changes that are supposed to enable them to exit poverty, although eventually the ‘scaling up’ of interventions might also occur. Akin to the ‘nudge’ approach that has been popularised by <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nudge_(book)">Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler</a>, the idea is that people’s choices can be shaped to allow them to escape from poverty and dispossession.</p> <p>As a consequence, this approach&nbsp;individualises the&nbsp;‘problem’ of poverty whilst failing to acknowledge, contextualize, highlight or analyse the structures, institutions and actors that actually make and keep some people poor. For example, the idea that&nbsp;role models can be effective in changing people’s behaviour, emotions and self-concepts isn’t new; what’s new is the belief that&nbsp;these aspirations can lift people out of poverty without broader changes in politics, social structures and institutions. Returning to the brothels of Kolkata, advocating for the removal of psychological barriers may not be effective if the working conditions of sex workers and the structures on which their material deprivation stands continue to go unchallenged.</p> <p>To be fair, The York Times piece introduces some important caveats to such strategies:</p> <blockquote><p>“Hope isn’t a cure-all and in none of these examples can we be certain that it actually explains the gains in people’s income or education…instilling hope without skills or financial resources is unlikely to be enough to lift people out of poverty.”</p></blockquote> <p>Nevertheless, if the caveats are so strong as to question the validity of the experiments then they are not caveats at all, but fundamental inputs on which any successful methodology must be based. Economics distracts itself by reforming symptoms and ignoring the conditions which cause the malaise in the first place. As the development economist <a href="http://www.ras.org.in/randomise_this_on_poor_economics">Sanjay G. Reddy</a> has written:</p> <blockquote><p>“The larger questions once asked within the discipline regarding the effect of alternative economic institutions and policies (such as those concerning property arrangements, trade, agricultural, industrial and fiscal policy, and the role of social protection mechanisms), for instance, and the impact of political dynamics and processes of social change, have been pushed to the background in favour of such questions as whether bed-nets dipped in insecticide should be distributed free of charge or not, or whether two schoolteachers in the classroom are much better than one.”</p></blockquote> <p>Hence, in a <a href="https://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/06/08/2018/open-letter-fifteen-leading-development-economists">recent open</a>&nbsp;letter published in the Guardian, fifteen leading economists argued that relying on RCTs to guide aid spending will lead to short-term, superficial and misplaced policies. Asking relevant questions is the first step towards understanding problems. And understanding why widespread hunger&nbsp;and poverty persist in an era of unprecedented opulence, rapid technological transformation and democratic governance is the most important problem of the day.&nbsp;Inequality is not born in a vacuum; it is a fundamental aspect of the distribution of income and wealth. Unless we understand how extreme wealth accumulation is connected to extreme inequality the question of poverty will go unaddressed. </p> <p>More than&nbsp;<a href="http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/poverty.shtml">800 million</a>&nbsp;people live in extreme poverty today. To say that they do not have sufficient hope, aspiration and tenacity to fight for their rights is to deny their agency. The structural odds against them inhibit their ability to leave the vicious cycles of poverty. Without additional resources and much more concerted action on the underlying causes, no amount of positive thinking will enable the great mass of individuals to climb out of poverty. We cannot afford to rely on methods that suggest that poor people are simply failing to make the ‘right choices.’</p> <p>This doesn’t mean that we should disregard RCTs or any other ways of empowering communities, but it does mean that we should build on an understanding of poverty alleviation which is concerned with attacking the malaise of unequal distribution as opposed to remediating its symptoms. That means confronting structures and actors that have not only failed to address poverty but may also have reinforced the nature of uneven development across the globe.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/lisa-herzog/can-effective-altruism-really-change-world">Can ‘effective altruism’ really change the world?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/dionne-lew/why-i-choose-samuel-beckett-over-positive-thinking-any-day">Why I choose Samuel Beckett over positive thinking, any day</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/sonja-avlijas/why-positive-thinking-isn-t-neoliberal">Why positive thinking isn’t neoliberal</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation positive thinking Farwa Sial and Carolina Alves Culture Economics Tue, 11 Sep 2018 17:34:28 +0000 Farwa Sial and Carolina Alves 119501 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Seven ways to build the solidarity economy https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/emily-kawano/seven-ways-to-build-solidarity-economy <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We can transform capitalism by encouraging the ‘better angels of our nature.’</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/JemBendell5.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Life_is_Sharing_(8188824613).jpg">Flickr/Cogdogblog</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p>The solidarity economy is a global movement to build a post-capitalist world that puts people and planet front and center, rather than the pursuit of blind growth and profit maximization. It isn’t a blueprint but a framework that includes a broad range of economic practices that align with its values: solidarity, participatory democracy, equity in every dimension including race, class and gender, sustainability and pluralism, which means that it can’t be a one-size-fits all approach. Nevertheless, the notion of <em>buen vivir,</em> or living well and in harmony with nature and each other permeates everything the movement does.</p> <p>Some of these practices are old and some are new; some are mainstream and others are ‘alternative.’ Solidarity economy practices exist in every sector of the economy: production, distribution and exchange, consumption, finance and governance/state. People often think about cooperatives and credit unions which are collectively owned and managed by their members, but they are just one example. Others include community land trusts, participatory budgeting, social currencies, time banks, peer lending, barter systems, gift exchange, community gardens, ideas around ‘the commons,’ some kinds of fair trade and the sharing economy, and non-monetized care work.</p> <p>The idea of the solidarity economy is to build on and knit together all of these practices in order to transform capitalism by lifting up and encouraging the ‘better angels of our nature.’ Rather than making a virtue out of the pursuit of calculated self-interest, profit maximization, and competition—the things that underpin capitalism—this economy nurtures our capacity for solidarity, cooperation, reciprocity, mutual aid, altruism, caring, sharing, compassion and love. Increasingly, research across many disciplines has shown that we are hard wired to cooperate—that in fact, the survival of the human species has depended on our ability to work together.</p> <p>If this sounds like something you want to support, here are seven ways to help build the solidarity economy.</p><p><strong>1.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </strong><strong>Increase self-provisioning and community production.</strong></p> <p>Throughout history communities have grown and foraged for food; built roads, irrigation systems and housing; developed medicines and made clothing, furniture and art in order to sustain themselves. But under capitalism we are incentivized to buy all this stuff and so need jobs to earn money in order to pay for it. Since the 2008 global economic meltdown there have been increasing fears about the instability and fragility of this kind of economy. Add to this the projection that 40 per cent of jobs in the US could be replaced by Artificial Intelligence and automation and it becomes even more urgent to think about how communities can provide more for themselves in order to survive impending economic collapse or massive job destruction.</p> <p>Community production includes low-tech ways of meeting needs like growing food and raising chickens in community gardens and ‘edible’ urban landscapes, as well as swap-meets, mutual aid networks and skill-shares. But it also extends to democratizing cutting-edge technologies. In Detroit, for example, (where some communities have been living with massive joblessness for decades), the <a href="http://boggscenter.org/">James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership</a> and <a href="https://www.incite-focus.org/">Incite/Focus</a>, a ‘fablab’ that puts cutting-edge fabrication technology into community hands, support a whole spectrum of community production experiments from permaculture, swapmeets and skillshares to 3D printed buildings and digital fabrication using Computer Aided Design (CAD).</p><p><strong>2.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </strong><strong>Move your money.</strong></p> <p>If you have an account at a big bank, consider moving your money to a local credit union. Credit unions are financial cooperatives that are owned by and run for the benefit of their members—the account holders. Better yet, find a <em>community development</em> credit union which is committed to serving low and moderate income communities. Credit unions are just like a bank in that you can open up a savings or checking account, get an ATM/Debit card, and take out a loan, but (on the whole) they have not engaged in the kinds of predatory lending and other financial shenanigans that crashed the economy in 2008.</p><p><strong>3.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </strong><strong>Invest in or gift to new economic institutions.</strong></p> <p>There are a many ways to support the solidarity economy financially. For example, ‘Direct Public Offerings’ (DPOs) have become a popular and successful way to raise capital for co-ops. DPOs reach out to the community to find investors who are willing to accept relatively low rates of interest because they believe in the mission of the enterprise. Lending circles, an age-old practice that has become increasingly popular, bring together a group of people who contribute a set amount each month, and each member gets a turn to receive the whole pot of money at zero interest. There’s also the option of participating in crowdfunding campaigns or gifting money and other forms of support to solidarity economy organizations and networks.</p><p><strong>4.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </strong><strong>Prioritize housing for use not speculation.</strong></p> <p>Our current real estate system leads to crazy outcomes. At a conservative estimate, for example, over half-a-million people in the US sleep on the streets each night even though there are 5.8 million vacant units (excluding seasonal and for-sale housing). One reason for this mismatch is that housing has increasingly become a <em>speculative commodity</em>—an asset to gamble with for huge potential gain—rather than to meet human needs. Not only does speculation add to the housing shortage by keeping units off the market and driving up prices, it can also implode, as it did spectacularly in 2008, leading to a global economic meltdown.</p> <p>If you are looking at housing options, consider ‘limited equity’ housing like community land trusts and some housing co-ops and co-housing developments that take housing out of the speculative market. In these approaches re-sale prices are capped in order to maintain affordability. Concerns have been raised about preventing low and moderate income people from building wealth through real estate appreciation in this way, but it is the limited equity model that makes prices affordable in the first place.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p><strong>5.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </strong><strong>Be your own boss—look for a job in a worker co-op or start your own.</strong></p> <p>Worker co-ops are owned and managed by their workers, who decide how to run their business and what to do with the profits—share them, reinvest them in the enterprise, and/or allocate some of them to community projects. This is in contrast to a capitalist business where the owners capture all the profits generated through the labor of the workers—a process of exploitation as well as class struggle.</p> <p>Some cities like New York and Madison, Wisconsin, are investing millions of dollars to incubate and finance worker co-ops as part of an inclusive economic development strategy to create jobs and wealth building opportunities in low-income communities and communities of color. If you’re interested in this form of economic democracy you can look for a job in an existing co-op or start your own. That’s challenging but there’s <a href="https://usworker.coop/service-provider-directory/">a growing support system</a> that provides <a href="https://institute.coop/projects">co-op training programs and other forms of support</a> to help you navigate your way.</p><p><strong>6.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </strong><strong>Connect with and talk to others in the emerging economic system.</strong></p> <p>If you’re interested, learn more about what’s happening and consider joining the <a href="http://www.ussen.org/">U.S. Solidarity Economy Network</a> or <a href="http://www.ripess.org/?lang=en">RIPESS</a> (the Intercontinental Social Solidarity Economy Network) for other parts of the world. If you’re a writer then write about it; if you’re a student, study it; if you’re a teacher, teach about it; if you’re an activist, nudge your organization to adopt a solidarity economy framework. If you’re a politician, then promote policies that support it; if you’re already involved in an institution like a co-op, find ways to connect with others to build supply chains that work on solidarity principles. There are a million ways to help make the solidarity economy stronger and more visible. Even just talking about it is valuable.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p><strong>7.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </strong><strong>Live the principles.</strong></p> <p>Capitalism nurtures competitive, calculating, and self-interested values and behavior, but Elinor Ostrom (who won a Nobel prize for her work on the commons) and others have documented how community-managed resources like forests, fisheries, pasturelands and water can be managed more efficiently, sustainably and equitably than those in private hands, <em>provided</em> that there are rules and enforcement mechanisms to prevent anyone from taking unfair advantage.</p> <p>We need to build an economy that is premised on the whole of our beings and that leans towards solidarity in this way. We are all engaged in the valuable social and economic work of providing care for our children, elders, neighbors, and communities—not for money, but from our innate capacity for love, friendship, reciprocity, caring and compassion. So recognize that the solidarity economy is all around you and that you already live it. Nurture your better angels and live it well.</p> <p><em>To learn more about the Solidarity Economy and the global movement to realize it, visit <a href="http://www.ussen.org/">http://www.ussen.org</a>.</em></p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/esteban-kelly/why-transforming-economy-begins-and-ends-with-cooperation">Why transforming the economy begins and ends with cooperation</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/jem-bendell/future-of-sharing-its-still-about-freedom">The future of sharing: it&#039;s still about freedom</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/eli-feghali/where-next-for-new-economy-movement">Where next for the New Economy movement?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Emily Kawano The role of money Economics Tue, 04 Sep 2018 18:34:51 +0000 Emily Kawano 119360 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Love and hunger in breadline Britain https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/chris-shannahan/love-and-hunger-in-breadline-britain <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We need a moral and spiritual revolution to replace the culture of shame with a politics of love and solidarity.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/ChrisShanahan3.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2015/03/13/students-view-healthier-school-brighter-future">United States Department of Agriculture/Bob Nichols</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/share-your-work/public-domain/">CC0 Public Domain</a>.</p> <p>When I was at school I used to count down the days to the long summer holidays, but in breadline Britain huge numbers of parents approach the school break knowing that ‘holiday hunger’ awaits their children. In the sixth wealthiest country on earth, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/25/holiday-hunger-shame-government-childrens-clubs?CMP=share_btn_tw">why do four million children go hungry during their holidays</a>, and how can we respond more effectively to this scandal? We can’t rely on policies alone: two concepts drawn from the New Testament—<em>agape</em> (selfless love) and <em>koinonia</em> (fellowship or solidarity)—provide deeper guidance and inspiration for the struggles that lie ahead.</p> <p>During the 2017-2018 school year <a href="http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN06700/SN06700.pdf">approximately two million children in England received ‘Pupil Premium</a>,’ a payment allocated to schools which provides young people with a free hot meal at lunch-time. Approximately <a href="https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/603946/Evaluation_of_Breakfast_Clubs_-_Final_Report.pdf">40 per cent of the children who attend breakfast clubs run by schools also receive free school meals</a>.</p> <p>Such provision appears to reflect a commitment to supporting children living in poverty, but in April 2018 the UK Government introduced means testing for the Pupil Premium and linked it to the receipt of Universal Credit.<a href="https://www.tes.com/news/government-sets-ps7400-annual-income-threshold-free-school-meals"> Families now have to earn less than £7,400 a year to qualify,</a> a decision that—according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies—will mean that <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/free-school-meals-children-miss-out-government-threshold-universal-credit-ifs-institute-fiscal-a8288976.html">100,000 children who are currently receiving free school meals will therefore miss out</a>. Even before this decision, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/may/07/million-more-uk-children-in-poverty-than-in-2010">a third of British children living in poverty</a> didn’t receive the Pupil Premium anyway.</p> <p>Holiday hunger illustrates the deeper poverty that has reared its head in Britain since the 2010 General Election, leaving one million more children living in poverty after a fall of 800,000 during the previous decade, and giving rise to a dramatic rise in the use of foodbanks. Research by the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/may/29/report-reveals-scale-of-food-bank-use-in-the-uk-ifan">Independent Food Aid Network identified 2,024 foodbanks and distribution centres in 2017</a>, more than half of them run in collaboration with the Christian NGO the <a href="https://www.trusselltrust.org/what-we-do/how-foodbanks-work/">Trussell Trust</a> which fed more than 1.3 million people in that year. The<a href="https://www.trusselltrust.org/news-and-blog/latest-stats/end-year-stats/"> Trust’s foodbanks also gave food parcels to over 484,000 children, 13 per cent more than in 2016</a>.</p> <p>Foodbanks meet people’s immediate needs and their importance cannot be overstated, but they don’t tackle systemic social exclusion. Increasingly therefore, organizations like the <a href="https://www.feedingbritain.org/on-a-mission-to-eliminate-hunger-by-2020">Feeding Britain</a> network (established in 2015) and local Trussell Trust affiliates provide debt counselling and benefits, housing and legal advice, and <a href="https://www.feedingbritain.org/fuel-banks-project">energy vouchers to counter fuel poverty</a> to those who visit food banks in an effort to tackle these deeper issues. A related approach to tackling food poverty is the emergence of <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/real-junk-food-project-food-waste-shop-supermarketadam-smith-pay-what-you-feel-a8443496.html">‘junk food’ shops</a>, <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/the-real-junk-food-project-founder-adam-smith-on-how-to-make-restaurant-quality-meals-out-of-food-a7316231.html">cafés</a> and <a href="https://www.feedingbritain.org/citizens-supermarkets">‘citizens’ supermarkets’</a> which recycle food that supermarkets have discarded. Such shops charge low prices or ask shoppers to offer a donation in exchange for the food they receive.</p> <p>The growth of these initiatives exemplifies the commitment of faith-based and other voluntary sector groups to stand alongside people living in poverty. However, such initiatives have become increasingly stretched since the launch of the Conservative Government’s <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jan/25/universal-credit-benefits-scheme-iain-duncan-smith">Universal Credit</a> programme in 2017. Trailed as a streamlining of the benefits system that would enable people to move into paid work, Universal Credit has been widely accused of deepening the poverty Ministers claim it will alleviate.</p> <p>In 2017 for example, former government adviser <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-41433019.%20Accessed%2027">Dame Louise Casey urged Prime Minister Theresa May to halt the roll-out of Universal Credit</a>, and in 2018 the columnist <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/15/universal-credit-colossal-catastrophe-national-audit-office">Polly Toynbee described it as a ‘catastrophe’ that has increased foodbank usage by 30 per cent</a>. Potentially aware of the political damage done by this bleak picture, a July 2018 <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/foodbanks-records-jobcentre-dwp_uk_5b61c1bde4b0b15aba9ebcc9?utm_hp_ref=uk-homepage&amp;ncid=fcbklnkukhpmg00000001&amp;guccounter=1&amp;guce_referrer_us=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZmFjZWJvb2suY29tLw&amp;guce_referrer_cs=qrFww9gVSZnqIuQ5w45-hQ">Department of Work and Pensions directive instructed Job Centre staff to stop keeping records of the number of people they refer to foodbanks</a>. But what else can be done?</p> <p>Holiday hunger highlights the fracture in the fabric of society that’s caused by the ‘age of austerity. It is an example of what the peace studies scholar <a href="http://www2.kobe-u.ac.jp/~alexroni/IPD%202015%20readings/IPD%202015_7/Galtung_Violence,%20Peace,%20and%20Peace%20Research.pdf">Johann Galtung called ‘structural violence’</a> and the pioneer of Latin American liberation theology <a href="https://liberationtheology.org/people-organizations/gustavo-gutierrez/">Gustavo Gutiérrez</a> ‘systemic sin.’ Foodbanks, breakfast clubs, junk food shops and other small-scale initiatives will help to heal this fracture but they won’t be enough to turn the tide. Instead we need a moral and spiritual revolution that comprehensively rejects the culture of shame which blames people living in poverty for their own social exclusion and replaces it with a politics of love and solidarity.</p> <p>Mentioning ‘love’ in political discourse can lead to accusations of naïve romanticism, but this misunderstands love’s potential as a source of liberative social change. When I see the person whose child has to go to school hungry as a reflection of myself it’s easier to move beyond a blame-game culture in which people living in poverty are seen as the helpless victims of amoral neo-liberal economics or as inadequate individuals. When we recognize that we are, in fact, our sister and brother’s keepers we see that the damage done by Universal Credit, rationing free school meals, the insecurity of <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/apr/23/number-of-zero-hours-contracts-in-uk-rose-by-100000-in-2017-ons">zero hours contract</a> work and low pay harms us all, not just those relying on the local foodbank.</p> <p>This commitment to mutuality is a reflection of the New Testament term <em>koinonia</em>, which is better understood as a basis for liberative solidarity rather than apolitical fellowship. In his parable about the Day of Judgement in Matthew 25 Jesus illustrates the potential of this radical ethic: ‘When you feed the hungry, clothe the naked or welcome the stranger you feed, clothe and welcome me.’ The ‘age of austerity’ in the UK and the early years of the Trump Presidency in the USA have been characterized by social policies that seem intended to make life more comfortable for wealthy people at the expense of those who are living in poverty. These policies undermine the empowering solidarity exemplified by <em>koinonia</em>.</p> <p>In the face of endemic injustice a commitment to friendship and mutuality is important, but on its own is unlikely to defeat post-crash poverty. A further, less comfortable, step is needed into the realm of self-sacrificial love or <em>agape</em>. <a href="https://stanford.app.box.com/s/5qzd0p500bd99rqbmb6y9127j2wrzdn8">As early as his 1962 ‘Levels of Love’ sermon</a>, Dr Martin Luther King Jr argued that only unconditional and selfless love of this kind could challenge ingrained systemic injustice—what he called the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0uEVTh0ios">‘love that does justice</a>.’ Such selfless love, which King suggested is <a href="http://www.thekingcenter.org/archive/document/power-nonviolence">‘overflowing…and seeks nothing in return’</a>, shaped the US Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and animates similar efforts today such as the <a href="https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/">Poor People’s Campaign</a> led by <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/05/14/william-barber-takes-on-poverty-and-race-in-the-age-of-trump">Rev. William Barber</a> and <a href="http://liztheoharis.org/about/">Rev. Liz Theoharis</a>.</p> <p>The embrace of self-sacrificial love is, in a Christian context, a response to a God who ‘becomes flesh and lives among us’ (John 1:14). Such unbounded love moves us beyond a symbolic solidarity with people living in poverty into the realm of costly struggle, just as it led <a href="http://www.thekinglegacy.org/books/where-do-we-go-here-chaos-or-community">Martin Luther King</a>, towards the end of his life, to move beyond a compartmentalized advocacy for racial justice to issue a deeper and broader challenge to global economic injustice and US imperialism in Vietnam. King’s original <a href="https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/history/">Poor People’s Campaign</a> (the precursor to Barber and Theoharis’ movement today) implicitly embodied the vision of God’s ‘preferential option for the poor’ first articulated by Latin American liberation theologians like Gutiérrez.</p> <p>Could a similar movement be built in Britain to attack the scandal of holiday hunger and its underlying ideology of austerity? We see the first-stirrings of such a movement in the holistic activism of networks like <a href="http://endhungeruk.org/">End Hunger</a>, but these still need to be translated into concrete political action. The ending of Universal Credit, the further engagement of foodbanks in advocacy and campaigning, the provision of free school meals for all British children, the introduction of a <a href="https://www.livingwage.org.uk/">genuine living wage</a> and the guarantee of a <a href="https://www.basicincome.org.uk/what_is_basic_income">‘basic income’</a> for all citizens would represent a good start.</p> <p>But without a deeper cultural shift—a commitment to loving each other in political as well as personal terms—the effects of such a movement will be transient, and that’s where faith and spirit can be vital.&nbsp; Of course, faith-based organizations are not alone in their ability to mount this kind of challenge to poverty and austerity, and only a movement that brings together people of faith with their humanist counterparts will have any chance of success. However, armed with a political philosophy premised on selfless love, faith-based and other activists can build a movement that integrates pastoral responses to holiday hunger such as foodbanks with political action for structural change.</p> <p>2018’s bout of holiday hunger may be drawing to a close as schools re-open their doors in September, but the injustice it highlights will not disappear. It is vital that practitioners, preachers and politicians hold government accountable for a decade of austerity in which the landscape of breadline Britain has become increasingly marked by rough-sleepers, foodbanks and children’s breakfast clubs. A commitment to a radical and liberative love which turns society the right-way up again can arm us for the struggles that lie ahead. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/chris-shannahan/desmond-tutu-was-right">Desmond Tutu was right</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/chris-shannahan/president-trump-and-christian-right">President Trump and the Christian right</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/gregory-leffel/is-christianity-finished-as-source-of-inspiration-for-progressive-soci">Is Christianity finished as a source of inspiration for progressive social change?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Chris Shannahan Care Economics Love and Spirituality Sun, 02 Sep 2018 17:20:49 +0000 Chris Shannahan 119413 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why transforming the economy begins and ends with cooperation https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/esteban-kelly/why-transforming-economy-begins-and-ends-with-cooperation <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Co-ops might not transform people, but the act of cooperation often does.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="normal"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/EstebanKelly2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Worker-owners of the CERO co-op with one of their zero-waste transport vehicles. Credit: Copyright 2016 <a href="http://www.cero.coop/">CERO</a>. All rights reserved.</p> <p class="normal">“When I heard about the green economy for the first time, a light bulb went off in my head. We can create businesses and jobs for ourselves.” That’s how co-op worker-owner Tim Hall explains his <a href="http://www.cero.coop/about.html">initial spark of inspiration</a>. Eventually he joined together with other unemployed Boston residents to found <a href="http://www.cero.coop/">CERO</a> (Cooperative Energy, Recycling, and Organics), an award-winning food waste pickup and diversion service. The name is fitting, since “CERO”—which means “zero” in Spanish—seamlessly blends their zero-waste mission with a green jobs strategy of workforce development among low-skilled workers, especially immigrants and people of color.</p> <p class="normal">Cooperatives provide a sustainable and accountable way of providing goods and services—and they can help to transform our economies before it is too late. They promise a tantalizing future of sustainable social enterprise, community control, worker self-management and workplace democracy that places economic decision-making back into the hands of workers and consumers. Could co-ops dislodge capitalism and loosen its chokehold on what feels like every facet of our lives, or will they themselves become co-opted?</p> <p class="normal">At some point in the last 50 years capitalism corralled the power to define everything about how we think about economics. That’s one of the benefits baked into being the dominant organizing force of the economy. But the bigger truth is that ‘the economy’ includes more than the profit-maximizing ethos of capitalism, just as ‘democracy’ isn’t the property of Congress or parliament. In democratic societies (at least in theory) we have elected and accountable representatives for everything from parent-teacher associations and children’s sports leagues to the general assemblies where members deliberate with each other in neighborhood associations and union halls.</p> <p class="normal">The same is true for economics, where undemocratic, shareholder-controlled, profit-obsessed enterprises have come to be equated with the concept of business itself—and especially with commerce, money, mission and productivity. Cooperatives are for-profit businesses which operate in virtually every industry. They undergird global commerce, particularly in agriculture, energy, and local banking via credit unions, but instead of maximizing profits for their investors they are driven primarily by the interests of their members–– who may be producers on a farm, the residents of an apartment complex, the consumers of utilities and retail goods, or the workers in a factory. In co-ops the goal is to get a better price for farmers, more affordable housing for residents, higher-quality goods for consumers, and meaningful, healthy, fair-paying jobs for workers.</p> <p class="normal">Is this inherently anti-capitalist? In a way, yes, because co-ops use capital to put people over profit, which inverts the profit-over-people logic of the current global economy. Worker cooperatives may be the most coherent alternative to capitalism as we know it because they put capital at the service of labor rather than the other way around. Some fall short of this ideal of course, and co-ops don’t guarantee social justice by themselves (which is why we still need social movements), but the co-op model inherently prioritizes the good of the many over the benefit of the few.</p> <p class="normal">Generally speaking, the cooperative economy is better described as ‘a-capitalist’ rather than ‘anti-capitalist,’ because it can prosper in both market economies and socialist economies like Cuba, which currently has <a href="https://www.ncba.coop/images/Cuba-Photo-Gallery/Cuba-Report-2017-FINAL.pdf">about the same number of worker co-ops</a> as the United States. But in its desperation to legitimize and stabilize itself, capitalism is eager to co-opt at least the superficial characteristics of the cooperative economy, much as it has co-opted sustainable business through <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/greenwashing-green-energy-hoffman/">greenwashing</a> campaigns over the last 20 years. Throughout the 20th century we have witnessed capitalism absorb cooperative elements into its structures in an attempt to reconstitute itself during its many crises.</p> <p class="normal">At the same time, it’s disappointing but necessary to point out that some of the world’s largest cooperatives have managed to compete and survive against conventional businesses by mimicking the corporate cultures of late-capitalist firms. Who knew that American household brands like <a href="http://www.landolakes.com/">Land O’Lakes</a> and <a href="http://www.oceanspray.com/">Ocean Spray</a> were both cooperatives? And when was the last time you were invited to vote in a general membership meeting of your credit union?</p> <p class="normal">What’s more important than being ‘pro- ‘or ‘anti-capitalist’ is the recognition that cooperatives must figure heavily in any democratic, post-capitalist economy. This matters a great deal now, because while the contradictions and unsustainable nature of capitalism have become glaringly clear, many people struggle to articulate what will replace it. The exception is a rising consensus that cooperatives (along with small independent and family businesses) will replace the capitalist firm as the core non-governmental form of enterprise in the future. Cooperatives are an essential instrument of economic democracy.</p> <p class="normal">But to succeed in this way, co-ops must stay true to the mission and guiding values. Employee-owned cooperatives force us to confront our own desire to do what it takes to live justly, sustainably, and in a participatory, people-centered way. They remove the excuse that the problem is the demands of the shareholder or the red-tape of government bureaucracy or the bullish will of a boss. When we have worker owned and controlled businesses, we must take responsibility for how well we pay ourselves, how connected our businesses are to the community and its needs, and how healthy our own workloads and quality of life truly are.</p> <p class="normal">For as long as cooperatives fight to persist in a ravenous capitalist economy, these challenges will be greater, because a co-op’s products and services must rival the quality and price point of deceitful capitalist enterprises which cut corners on safety and the environment, and steal wages from workers in order to maximize benefits for their shareholders. Cooperatives are put on trial time and again because people want to imbue them with some magical or mechanical power to resolve societal problems. In the current context (or perhaps any context) this is impossible, but they do have the potential to be healthy and restorative as in the case of CERO.</p> <p class="normal">The lowest income people in Boston may be on the frontlines of environmental disaster in their city, but Hall and his colleagues have found a way for their communities to become protagonists in creating solutions. Cooperatives put folks like them at the center of the economy, which means that ordinary people can use the power of business to address their needs and guide how change happens, thus helping to fulfill the promise of a democratic economy—not just voting once or twice a year but coming together to solve problems every day. The real question is this: can we as people put our full weight behind a new economic paradigm that is inclusive, inter-dependent, anti-sexist, multi-racial, anti-imperialist and liberatory?</p> <p class="normal">I’ve spent 20 years as an active member of many different types of cooperative in the US, including the intimate living spaces of over a dozen shared housing co-ops and handling the day-to-day business of two different worker-run cooperatives. What I can tell you is this: by themselves such co-ops aren’t going to save us, nor are they going to transform society. But co-ops are an especially effective tool for change. They leverage innovations from the capitalist era of enterprise and turn them into a positive force within the broader spheres of human relationships, responsible resource consumption, and transparent governance and accountability— typically while staying rooted locally and showing concern for the community.</p> <p class="normal">Deep transformation happens at the level of human beings, who then bring their reorientation to the structures in which they participate. Cooperatives are a vehicle to catalyze that change, but they only yoke together the people in the pilot’s seat. What ultimately matters is the disposition of the pilots themselves. We are the ones that have to change.</p> <p class="normal">However, what I’ve also seen during my decades in cooperative communities is that while co-ops might not transform people, the act of cooperation often does. Not overnight, and not evenly for everyone. But the more my co-workers and housemates participated in cooperative processes like facilities maintenance, financial planning, passing a health inspection or some other shared work or act of problem-solving, the more humility, trust, empathy, stewardship and solidarity we each expressed. The habits of hierarchical, capitalist behaviors receded like the tide as we practiced interdependence and cooperation.</p> <p class="normal">What we need are more opportunities to practice, screw up and improve in this way. And with more practice, we can all develop the qualities required to work through conflict and manage operations sensibly and democratically. Cooperation is the key to a new economy.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/eli-feghali/where-next-for-new-economy-movement">Where next for the New Economy movement?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/jem-bendell/future-of-sharing-its-still-about-freedom">The future of sharing: it&#039;s still about freedom</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jeremy-lent/five-ways-to-curb-power-of-corporations">Five ways to curb the power of corporations</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation cooperatives Esteban Kelly The role of money Economics Sun, 26 Aug 2018 18:17:54 +0000 Esteban Kelly 119356 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “The price on everything is love:” how a Detroit community overcomes a lack of city services https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/kevon-paynter/price-on-everything-is-love-how-detroit-community-overcomes-lack-of-cit <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A range of neighbor-to-neighbor efforts address basic needs that aren’t met by local government.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/KevonPaynter2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Jessica Ramirez in front of the storefront that houses&nbsp;<a href="http://detroitershelpingeachother.weebly.com/">Detroiters Helping Each Other (DHEO)</a>. Credit: Kevon Paynter for YES! Magazine. All rights reserved.</p> <p>A multitude of voicemails and text messages from desperate neighbors flooded Jessica Ramirez’s cell phone on a brisk morning in October 2013. Winter was coming.</p> <p>Using social media to reach potential donors as well as those seeking help, Ramirez created a makeshift donation center on the sidewalk outside her Southwest Detroit home. There, the community organizer and her neighbors handed out warm clothing to children and recycled beds, dressers and microwaves to new mothers who needed furniture.</p> <p>When school began the next year, she was at it again, donating reams of school supplies she had collected from businesses and individuals. “Everything was being done out of my home when I started,” Ramirez says.</p> <p>Recognizing her efforts, the property manager of an abandoned local storefront gave her use of the facility. That’s when her charitable acts became a community shop—<a href="http://detroitershelpingeachother.weebly.com/">Detroiters Helping Each Other (DHEO)</a>—where kindness and generosity, not money, is the currency of exchange. Their motto: Teamwork makes the dream work.</p> <p>“I would love to see us not need this anymore,” she says.</p> <p>“In the meantime it’s showing people the community still cares.”</p> <p>Decades of economic and population decline, a depleted tax base, and critically underfunded city services have forced Southwest Detroiters to self-organize, establishing a local network of goods and services to fill in for missing city services. The result is a range of neighbor-to-neighbor efforts, like DHEO, that seek to address broader needs that are going unmet by local government agencies.</p> <p>The&nbsp;<a href="http://cocswdetroit.com/2018/04/" target="_self">Congress of Communities</a>, for example, is a charitable programming organization that, among other things, offers anti-domestic violence trainings to Southwest Detroit residents in 2010. The trainings aimed to improve public safety at a time when it took police nearly an hour to arrive at a crime scene.&nbsp;</p> <p>A coordinated effort called<em>&nbsp;</em><a href="https://www.facebook.com/MowerGang">Detroit Mowers Gang&nbsp;</a>organized volunteers with gloves and protective eye gear to mow overgrown grass in the city’s abandoned lots and public playgrounds. The so-called weed vigilantes get together every other Wednesday to do what the city doesn’t, calling itself a “crafty crew” that refuses to let budgets and bureaucracy stand in the way of unruly grass on a playground getting cut.</p> <p>And the&nbsp;<a href="http://detroitblackfoodsecurity.org/">Detroit Black Community Food Security Network</a>, organized educational programs for youth and adults, and operated a food co-op to ensure Detroiters had access to affordable, nutritious and culturally appropriate food. Its ongoing work includes a food council that promotes a sustainable food system and advocates for food justice and food sovereignty in the city.</p> <p>“The price on everything is love, man,” says Rico Razo, a native Southwest Detroiter and a former mayor-appointed district manager tasked with ensuring city services respond to residents’ needs.</p> <p>“It’s spreading love through giving with the hopes that the people they’re helping out—if they catch someone else who’s on hard times—that they pay it forward. That’s the model that [DHEO] rolls with. I think it’s been successful.”</p> <p>Three years ago, the city of Detroit named DHEO “Organization of the Year” for its role helping families recover from a fire that burned seven homes to the ground, just blocks from Ramirez’s home. Her generosity has extended beyond helping people in need. She collected a U-Haul truck of dog food to feed 369 of her neighbors’ dogs and donated straw to keep their kennels warm during Detroit’s cold months.&nbsp;</p> <p>She shares stories about DHEO’s work on social media, so that donors can see who they’re helping.</p> <p>She vets people who say they are in need to make sure no one is taking undue advantage of the community’s generosity. “We do our homework,” she says.</p> <p>She has asked for a police report in the case of a family replacing items they say were taken in a home burglary or documentation when a family asked for a donated bed to keep their children out of Child Protective Services.</p> <p>But Ramirez says a family’s inability to produce any of those things won’t be a hindrance to receiving help. And ultimately, the organization relies on trust between neighbors in the community and the social networks that underlie it.</p> <p>“Yeah, they get stuff for free,” Ramirez says. “But we can call recipients up and say ‘come volunteer.’ If they’re able-bodied, we tell them ‘hey go cut the elderlies’ grass’ or ‘show up to a community feeding event.’ And they show up,” she says.</p> <p>Razo said that for the longest time when the city cut back on services, including trash pickup, streetlights, and lawn maintenance, he saw self-organized community initiatives and nonprofits offer food and healthcare to people in need. After-school programs and summer jobs for high school students emerged as well as job training and job readiness efforts.</p> <p>City and state government services are rebounding but the hope is they won’t threaten what neighbors have already built to save their communities.</p> <p>Rather, Razo said he believes the city should look to them and partner with them to remove some of the burden and empower them to continue. He’s said he running for state representative to the Michigan Legislature on a platform that seeks to bolster Detroit’s community-based sharing economies, especially by integrating them into city services.</p> <p>“They don’t do it for us,” Ramirez says of business and city government. “The community takes care of itself without the suit and ties.”</p> <p><em>This article was funded in part by a grant from the Surdna Foundation and was first published in <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/the-price-on-everything-is-love-how-a-detroit-community-overcomes-a-lack-of-city-services-20180719">YES! Magazine</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/kevon-paynter/with-marijuana-now-legal-los-angeles-goes-further-to-make-amends-for-wa">With marijuana now legal, Los Angeles goes further to make amends for the war on drugs</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/kevon-paynter/before-nfl-took-knee-four-lesser-known-moments-of-resistance-in-sports-">Before the NFL took a knee: four lesser-known moments of resistance in sports history</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/caitlin-endyke-sean-thomas-breitfeld/breakfast-in-detroit">Breakfast in Detroit </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Kevon Paynter Economics Care Activism Thu, 16 Aug 2018 19:29:34 +0000 Kevon Paynter 118981 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The enemy between us: how inequality erodes our mental health https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/kate-pickett-richard-wilkinson/enemy-between-us-how-inequality-erodes-our-mental-heal <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Inequality creates the social and political divisions that isolate us from each other.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/KatePickett.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/27305863@N07/6023390537">Flickr/mSeattle</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p>When people are asked what matters most for their happiness and wellbeing, they tend to talk about the importance of their relationships with family, friends and colleagues. It is their intimate world, their personal networks that mean the most to them, rather than material goods, income or wealth.&nbsp; </p> <p>Most people probably don’t think that broader, structural issues to do with politics and the economy have anything to do with their emotional health and wellbeing, but they do. We’ve known for a long time that inequality causes a wide range of health and social problems, including everything from reduced life expectancy and higher infant mortality to poor educational attainment, lower social mobility and increased levels of violence. Differences in these areas between more and less equal societies are large, and everyone is affected by them.</p> <p>In our 2009 book <em><a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Spirit-Level-Equality-Better-Everyone/dp/0241954290/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1533714435&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=wilkinson+spirit">The Spirit Level</a></em>, we hypothesised that this happens because inequality increases the grip of class and social status on us, making social comparisons more insidious and increasing the social and psychological distances between people.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>In our new book,&nbsp;<em><a href="https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/188607/the-inner-level/">The Inner Level,</a></em> we bring together a robust body of evidence that shows we were on the right track: inequality eats into the heart of our immediate, personal world, and the vast majority of the population are affected by the ways in which inequality becomes the enemy between us. What gets between us and other people are all the things that make us feel ill at ease with one another, worried about how others see us, and shy and awkward in company—in short, all our social anxieties. </p> <p>For some people, these anxieties become so severe that social contact becomes an ordeal and they withdraw from social life. Others continue to participate in social life but are beset by the constant worry that they have no small talk or come across as boring, stupid or unattractive. Sadly, we all tend to feel that these anxieties are our own personal psychological weaknesses and that we need to hide them from others or seek therapy or treatment to try to overcome them by ourselves.</p> <p>But a recent <a href="https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/news/stressed-nation-74-uk-overwhelmed-or-unable-cope-some-point-past-year">Mental Health Foundation Survey</a> found that 74 percent of adults in the UK were so stressed at times in the past year that they felt overwhelmed and unable to cope. One-third had suicidal thoughts and 16 percent had self-harmed sometime in their lives. The figures were much higher for young people. In the USA, mortality rates are rising, particularly for white middle-aged men and women, due to ‘despair’, meaning deaths due to drug and alcohol addictions, suicide, and vehicle accidents.&nbsp; An epidemic of distress seems to be gripping some of the richest nations in the world.</p> <p>Socioeconomic inequality matters because it strengthens the belief that some people are worth much more than others. Those at the top seem hugely important and those at the bottom are seen as almost worthless. In more unequal societies we come to judge each other more by status and worry more about how others judge us. <a href="https://academic.oup.com/esr/article/30/4/525/2763459">Research on 28 European countries</a> shows that inequality increases status anxiety in all income groups, from the poorest ten percent to the richest tenth. The poor are affected most but even the richest ten percent of the population are more worried about status in unequal societies. </p> <p><a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-social-policy/article/poverty-in-global-perspective-is-shame-a-common-denominator/DED0C9DC02D8ABCAA8F177BA3CC477AB">Another study</a> of how people experience low social status in both rich and poor countries found that, despite huge differences in their material living standards, across the world people living in relative poverty had a strong sense of shame and self-loathing and felt that they were failures: being at the bottom of the social ladder feels the same whether you live in the UK, Norway, Uganda or Pakistan. Therefore, simply raising material living standards is not enough to produce genuine wellbeing or quality of life in the face of inequality.</p> <p>Although it appears that the vast majority of the population are affected by inequality, we respond in different ways to the worries it creates about how others see and judge us. As we show in <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Inner-Level-Societies-Everyones-Wellbeing/dp/1846147417/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8">The Inner Level</a>, one way is to feel burdened and oppressed by lack of confidence, feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem, and that leads to high levels of depression and anxiety in more unequal societies. </p> <p>A second is to try to flaunt your own worth and achievements, to ‘self enhance’ and become narcissistic.<strong> </strong>Psychotic symptoms such as delusions of grandeur are more common in more unequal countries, as is schizophrenia. As the graph below shows, narcissism increases as income inequality rises, as measured by ‘<a href="https://www.ipearlab.org/media/publications/JoP2008a.pdf">Narcissistic Personality Inventory’ (NPI)</a> scores from successive samples of the US population. </p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Katepickett.png" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Sources: <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Inner-Level-Societies-Everyones-Wellbeing/dp/1846147417/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8">The Inner Level</a> and <a href="https://www.ipearlab.org/media/publications/JoP2008a.pdf">Twenge et al 2008</a>.</p> <p>A third response is to find other ways to overcome what psychologists call the ‘social evaluative threat’ through drugs, alcohol or gambling, through comfort eating, or through status consumption and conspicuous consumerism. Those who live in more unequal places are more likely to spend money on expensive cars and shop for status goods; and they are more likely to have high levels of personal debt because they try to show that they are not ‘second-class people’ by owning ‘first-class things.’ </p> <p>In <em>The Inner Level, </em>the evidence we show of the impact of inequality on mental wellbeing is only part of the new picture. We also discuss two of the key myths that some commentators use to justify the perpetuation and tolerance of inequality. </p> <p>First, by examining our evolutionary past and our history as egalitarian, cooperative, sharing hunter-gatherers, we dispel the false idea that humans are, in their very nature, competitive, aggressive and individualistic. Inequality is not inevitable and we humans have all the psychological and social aptitudes to live differently.&nbsp; </p> <p>Second, we also tackle the idea that current levels of inequality reflect a justifiable ‘meritocracy’ where those of natural ability move up and the incapable languish at the bottom. In fact the reverse is true: inequalities of outcome limit equality of opportunity; differences in achievement and attainment are driven by inequality, rather than being a consequence of it.</p> <p>Finally, we argue that inequality is a major roadblock to creating sustainable economies that serve to optimise the health and wellbeing of both people and planet. &nbsp;Because consumerism is about self-enhancement and status competition, it is intensified by inequality. And as inequality leads to a societal breakdown in trust, solidarity and social cohesion, it reduces people’s willingness to act for the common good. This is shown in everything from the tendency for more unequal societies to do less recycling to surveys which show that business leaders in more unequal societies are less supportive of international environmental protection agreements. &nbsp;By acting as an enemy between us, inequality prevents us from acting together to create the world that we want.</p> <p>So what can we do? The first step is to recognise the problem and spread the word.&nbsp; Empowering people to see the roots of their distress and unease not in their personal weaknesses but in the divisiveness of inequality and its emphasis on superiority and inferiority is a necessary step in releasing our collective capacity to fight for change.&nbsp; </p> <p>The UK charity we founded, The Equality Trust, has <a href="https://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/take-action">resources for activists</a> and a network of local groups. In the USA, check out <a href="http://inequality.org/">inequality.org. </a>Worldwide, the <a href="https://www.fightinequality.org/en/about/">Fight Inequality Alliance</a> works with more than 100 partners to work for a more equal world. And look out for the new global <a href="http://wellbeingeconomy.org/">Wellbeing Economy Alliance</a> this autumn.</p> <p>Our own focus for change is to work for the increase of all kinds of economic democracy—everything from more cooperatives and employee-owned companies to stronger trade unions, more workers on company boards and the publication of pay-ratios. We believe that extending democratic rights to workers embeds greater equality more firmly into any culture.&nbsp; </p> <p>Of course, we would also like to see more progressive taxation and action on tax evasion and tax havens. We’d like to see more citizens paid a Living Wage, and action taken on universal provision of high-quality lifelong education, universal health and social services. There are lots of ways to tackle inequality at the international, national and local levels, so we all need to work in ways that suit our capabilities and values. </p> <p>Inequality creates the social and political divisions that isolate us from each other, so it’s time for us all to reach out, connect, communicate and act collectively. We really are all in this together.&nbsp;</p> <p><em>Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson’s new book is<strong> </strong><a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Inner-Level-Societies-Everyones-Wellbeing/dp/1846147417">The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone’s Wellbeing</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/ray-filar/mental-health-why-were-all-sick-under-neoliberalism">Mental health: why we&#039;re all sick under neoliberalism </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/kira-m-newman/why-does-happiness-inequality-matter">Why does happiness inequality matter?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/sue-gerhardt/hard-times-human-face-of-neoliberalism">Hard times: the human face of neo-liberalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/joel-millward-hopkins/neoliberal-psychology">Neoliberal psychology</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Inequality Richard Wilkinson Kate Pickett The politics of mental health Care Economics Sun, 12 Aug 2018 18:08:05 +0000 Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson 119209 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Sexual exploitation and abuse: why pick on charities? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/mike-aaronson/sexual-exploitation-and-abuse-why-pick-on-charities <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>There is always a line to be drawn between protecting reputation and doing the right thing. Charity trustees should be judged on whether they draw it in the right place.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Mike Aaronson.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption"><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/dfataustralianaid/21614837788/">Members of the Solomon Islands Young Women’s Christian Association march in support of female rights during International Women’s Day in Honiara</a>, 2011. Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Members_of_the_Solomon_Islands_Young_Women%E2%80%99s_Christian_Association_(YWCA)_march_in_support_of_female_rights_during_International_Women%E2%80%99s_Day_in_Honiara_(21614837788).jpg">Flickr/DFAT/Jeremy Miller via Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p>In February 2018 The Times newspaper claimed that Oxfam GB workers in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake had paid young women for sex and that Oxfam had covered this up. This provoked a frenzy of criticism of Oxfam in <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43112200">the media</a> and in <a href="https://dfidnews.blog.gov.uk/2018/02/20/international-development-secretarys-statement-to-parliament-on-oxfam-and-safeguarding-in-the-aid-sector/">Parliament</a>. It was followed by further assertions that the aid sector had failed to deal adequately with sexual exploitation and abuse, including alleged poor governance and process around the handling of sexual harassment claims at Save the Children UK. Oxfam in particular has been forced onto the back foot and has struggled to defend itself. Both charities have suffered serious <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-44496430?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/cz3nmk0k7k3t/oxfam&amp;link_location=live-reporting-story">falls</a> in <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/09/save-the-children-uk-expects-income-to-fall-by-67m">income</a>. </p> <p>The Charity Commission has launched two statutory inquiries and the House of Commons International Development Select Committee (the IDSC) has undertaken an investigation into sexual exploitation and abuse in the wider aid sector. The Charity Commission is yet to pronounce, but the IDSC’s <a href="https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmintdev/840/840.pdf">report</a> was published on 31 July. It is an impressive piece of work, a welcome attempt to provide a holistic and balanced view of a complex and difficult issue.</p> <p>Yet having worked in the sector in a leadership role and grappled with these problems I find some of the report’s conclusions harsh, particularly with regard to Oxfam. Aid organisations carry a lot of risk, operating in chaotic and stressful environments where in trying to do good they can end up doing harm. Recent revelations of sexual exploitation and abuse have pointed the finger at aid charities, but actually they are the ones who have done most to address this issue. The problem is complex and there are no easy answers; sensationalising the debate doesn’t help.</p> <p>We should definitely take the IDSC’s recommendations seriously: the aid community’s duty to protect vulnerable people demands that it does better than it has done so far. Even if some of the proposals turn out to be unworkable, doing nothing is not acceptable. Improved systems and processes will make a difference, but ultimately it is the integrity and quality of leadership that counts most.</p> <p>Nevertheless it is important to stress that the report is not about aid charities but the “aid sector” as a whole (including United Nations and other multilateral bodies, UN peacekeepers, bilateral donors including the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), and international and local NGOs. Yet you would struggle to understand this from some of the media coverage of the report’s launch.</p> <p>For example the headline on the BBC <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/cme28xx5grnt/charities-sexual-misconduct-scandal">website’s coverage</a> was “Charities' sexual misconduct scandal,” while the more <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-45013078?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/cme28xx5grnt/charities-sexual-misconduct-scandal&amp;link_location=live-reporting-story">detailed report</a> that followed quotes the IDSC’s reference to a "collective failure of leadership" and then lazily links this to “the charities” rather than to the wider aid sector. Indeed, much of the criticism directed against charities since February has been disproportionate. Why have they been the target when the problem goes much wider?</p> <p>One answer is that they are in the spotlight because they take the issue of safeguarding seriously. The report’s starting point is the 2002 <a href="https://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/international-development/2002-Report-of-sexual-exploitation-and-abuse-Save%20the%20Children.pdf">enquiry</a> carried out for Save the Children and UNHCR into sexual exploitation and abuse of refugee children by aid workers and peacekeepers in West Africa. It draws extensively both on this and on a further 2008 Save the Children <a href="https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/sites/default/files/documents/no_one_to_turn_to_1.pdf">study</a> covering Haiti, Cote d’Ivoire and South Sudan. </p> <p>Following the 2002 enquiry the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR), which comprises the chief executives of the leading international relief agency networks including Oxfam and Save the Children, instituted a process of peer review and chose the issue of safeguarding as its first topic. </p> <p>In other words, these are responsible agencies who attempt to do the right thing even if they don’t always succeed—though I distinguish here between Save the Children’s approach to safeguarding in its operational work and the way it appears to have handled <a href="http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/international-development-committee/sexual-exploitation-and-abuse-in-the-aid-sector/oral/83412.pdf">allegations concerning its senior executives</a>&nbsp;in 2012 and 2015, which I make no attempt to defend. Bad behaviour at the top of an organisation certainly weakens efforts to tackle it lower down. </p> <p>In terms of its operational work, however, the only reason the unacceptable conduct of Oxfam staff in Haiti came to light was because Oxfam had policies and procedures in place that allowed them to discover the problem and to deal with it—including putting the information in the <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-14514905">public domain</a> (although not all of it - see below). As the report makes clear, of more concern is what goes on in those agencies that don’t have the same standards, who don’t take safeguarding seriously enough, and where there is a “culture of denial” that sexual exploitation and abuse actually takes place.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>Unacceptable behaviour by expatriate relief workers has dominated the media coverage of the Oxfam/Haiti saga. However the IDSC was told that local people make up the highest proportion of abusers (simply because they are more numerous), and that it is impossible to deal with sexual exploitation and abuse by staff in any culture in isolation from how women—especially—are treated in those cultures; in other words the problem goes beyond the aid sector. </p> <p>This highlights the limitations of one of the flagship recommendations of the report, the introduction of “a global register of aid workers.” I would support this measure because it sends a clear message, but it will almost certainly not catch the majority of potential offenders. We must not let a focus by the media on a few individuals blind us to the wider dimensions of the problem. </p> <p>At various points the report accuses the aid sector of being more concerned with protecting its own reputation than with tackling the root problem of sexual exploitation and abuse. It argues that Oxfam should have given DFID more details of what happened in Haiti and that aid agencies should always be “fully transparent.” While I accept the importance of transparency it seems to me that this fails to take into account the genuine challenges faced by the trustees of charities, who have a fiduciary duty to protect the reputation of the organisation. That is because, if the charity suffers, so do its beneficiaries. So, up to a point, it is perfectly reasonable for charitable trustees to seek to act in a way that protects the charity’s reputation.</p> <p>Charities are independent organisations, not arms length bodies of government. Clearly they must keep their donors and regulators informed of serious failings. But this sits alongside other obligations, and difficult decisions have to be made. What do trustees do when legal advice and values clash? For example, the legal advice Oxfam received made clear that if it had shared externally the names of those staff members it had disciplined or the reasons for their dismissal it would have exposed itself to legal risk in terms of potential privacy/human rights claims. Any costs arising from such claims would have had to be met from charitable funds that could otherwise have been used to support beneficiaries. It is easy to see why Oxfam were cautious. </p> <p>Clearly, this duty to protect the reputation of the charity has limits; it cannot legitimise neglecting the interests of beneficiaries or promoting the self-interests of the organization over the values to which it subscribes. There is a balance to be struck and a line to be drawn; trustees should be judged by whether they draw that line in the right place. In the Haiti case, Oxfam at the time judged that they had; the IDSC disagrees. The Charity Commission’s conclusions on this matter will be interesting. </p> <p>These considerations aside, the central argument in the report is that the aid sector must demonstrate zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse. The Committee is absolutely right about this. Fundamentally this is about just two things: values and leadership. All organisations—but particularly those claiming to be values-based—need to be clear on what they stand for, spell out the behaviours they expect to see and those they will not accept, and demonstrate that they mean what they say through courageous and consistent leadership.</p> <p>Not for the first time, I am reminded of the wise dictum of philosopher Onora O’Neill: “<a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01p457t">trustworthiness before trust</a>”—in other words, if you want people to trust you, you have to show you are worthy of their trust. Even if all the recommendations in the IDSC report proved to be workable and were adopted, they could not on their own achieve that end. Systems and processes have an important role to play, but ultimately the only way to sustain trust in the aid sector—among its beneficiaries as much as its donors—is for all aid organisations to behave in a trustworthy way. And if they can’t achieve that they shouldn’t be operating at all.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/stephen-twigg/international-aid-groups-must-reform-in-face-of-sexual-abuse-scandals">International Aid groups must reform in the face of sexual abuse scandals</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/jonathan-glennie/at-what-cost-reflection-on-crisis-at-save-children-uk">At what cost? A reflection on the crisis at Save the Children UK</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/what-s-to-be-done-with-oxfam-part-2">What’s to be done with Oxfam, part 2?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Mike Aaronson The role of money Care Economics Tue, 07 Aug 2018 06:45:19 +0000 Mike Aaronson 119155 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The future of sharing: it's still about freedom https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jem-bendell/future-of-sharing-its-still-about-freedom <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The original vision of the sharing economy hasn’t died—it just needs more support and protection.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Jembendell6.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Australian network lead Annette Loudon (end right) with Swop day participants in Sydney. Credit: Russ Grayson. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0.</a></p> <p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Jenkin">Tim Jenkin</a> is a real-life superhero. A white South African, he took up campaigning for the African National Congress (ANC) and against Apartheid and was jailed for “terrorism.” After two years he <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WyeAaYjlxE">ghosted his way out of jail</a> using keys he forged himself. In the 1980s he built an encrypted communication network which helped the ANC become an effective political force. Then in the late 1990s he began writing software to help people swap goods and services without money. When I <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oc0OKMWWJSc">met him</a> last year, I discovered how his approach could resuscitate a vision I thought was dying.</p> <p>That vision was of a sharing economy to help humanity. In a 2013 <a href="http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_YGL_CircularEconomyInnovation_PositionPaper_2013.pdf">report</a> I helped to write for the World Economic Forum we were quite gung-ho about the economic and environmental potential of the sharing sector. Alongside the large corporate platforms like <a href="http://www.uber.com/">Uber</a> and <a href="http://www.airbnb.com/">Airbnb</a>, we also mentioned locally-owned and locally-focused systems, believing all these approaches would reduce the environmental resources required to deliver a better quality of life by unlocking underused assets like power tools and empty bedrooms.</p> <p>But five years on, it turns out we were wrong. These corporate platforms have received a barrage of criticism. The most recent research indicates that the environmental impacts of Uber are not positive. One <a href="https://pqdtopen.proquest.com/doc/1899208739.html?FMT=AI">study</a> estimates that Uber and its competitor <a href="https://www.lyft.com/drive-with-lyft?v=city-bkn-2&amp;ref=1000R350D60&amp;adname=Tips-Ease_V2_TXT_NA_SO&amp;utm_source=google&amp;utm_campaign=PAID_DAX_SRCH_US_BKN_WEB_DESK_BRND_LYFT_EXACT&amp;adgroup=lyft_NA_NA&amp;utm_term=lyft&amp;device=c&amp;matchtype=e&amp;targetid=kwd-158399963&amp;loc_ph">Lyft</a> could be increasing total vehicle travel miles per year in the US by as much as 5.5 billion. It turns out that ‘sharing’ isn’t quite the right word for connecting independent taxi drivers with their clients. The idea that Airbnb would reduce the environmental impact of where people stay is not backed up by research. The authors of a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2210422417300825?via%3Dihub">recent review</a> of the sharing sector concluded that “the early claims of the inherent sustainability of the sharing economy are ill-founded.”</p> <p>In fact, there were some earlier signs that the large corporate platforms were not as interested in the sustainability potential of sharing as we observers were. At the 2013 summer Davos summit in China the co-founder of Airbnb, Nate Blecharczyk, sought to moderate my enthusiasm by saying he thought that his company had little philosophical commitment to a sharing economy and was simply focused on growing the business. It was early days. The company was only worth $2.5 billion then, not the $31 billion it is today. In the intervening years, the problem of focusing on private profit instead of public purpose has become much more apparent as corporate platforms have experienced a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2210422417300825?via%3Dihub">backlash</a> from regulators and stakeholders.</p> <p>By talking to Tim, however, I realised that the social and environmental promise of the sharing economy has not disappeared. Away from the media attention given to the billion-dollar firms, Tim’s network and two others compatible with it have grown to embrace 20,000 people in 16 countries. Together these three networks have created the <a href="http://www.creditcommons.net/">Credit Commons Collective</a> to further coordinate their work. Last year their members exchanged almost a million hours-worth of value, and all for free. That's small in comparison to corporates like Airbnb, but the human and environmental upsides are real.</p> <p>Take this story from Dawn Pilatowicz in Cape Town, for example: “I am physically challenged so everything I do from shopping, to going to the doctor, to an evening’s entertainment I need help with” she told me. “It got to the stage where I felt I had worn out my friends, constantly asking for help, but Tim's exchange system changed all that.” Dawn can buy food and get treatments from the network (called a community exchange), and pay someone in their local units of currency called “talents” to go do her shopping.</p> <p>“Instead of my few loyal friends I have over 1,000 people out there I can call on to help me” she said beaming. “When my geyser burst, I completely redecorated the house. I had the walls painted, murals painted, curtains made, a patio made, tiling done—all on the exchange. In return, I’ve rented out accommodation, done BodyTalk treatments, taught Taijiquan, sold old clothes and furniture, and designed and printed business cards. My ability to participate actively in my community has been transformed.” The Collective lists more such case studies on their new <a href="http://www.localpay.tech/">fundraising website</a>.</p> <p>Annette Loudon is the representative of the Collective in <a href="https://www.cesaustralia.org/">Australia</a>. When I spoke to her about these human and environmental upsides, she told me that: “We estimate over a third of all exchanges between our members have a direct pro-environmental impact.” In that category she includes the reuse and repair of household goods, tool exchanges and car sharing—the real kind where people share rides to work as opposed to Uber’s model.</p> <p>In addition, Annette found that local food production comprised another third of transactions within the network in Australia. Although some lifecycle analyses question the environmental benefit of local food production, neighbourhood collaboration in this area is likely to strengthen community resilience to <a href="http://iflas.blogspot.com/2018/07/new-paper-on-deep-adaptation-to-climate.html">climate-disruption</a>. Annette told me the participants in the <a href="https://www.cesaustralia.org/">network</a> often do so as part of their environmental interests and so they share ideas on how to make their local food systems greener.</p> <p>The third head of the Collective, Matthew Slater, is responsible for the <a href="http://www.communityforge.net/">software</a> that supports the network across Europe. He has also been leading&nbsp;<a href="http://www.geo.coop/content/thwarting-uber-future-complementary-currencies">their research</a>. He explained that they “would like more detailed analysis on the possible pro-environmental impacts both in Australia and across the other 15 countries where we support local groups, but we are all volunteers and maxed out on the day to day support.”</p> <p>When I congratulated Tim on his environmental achievements he didn’t seem flattered. “The environmental benefits are just the side effects of people supporting each other and saving money,” he told me, “For me the sharing economy is a political project. Ordinary people need more control over their lives, whether it’s to respond to climate change or any other threat.”</p> <p>Tim’s way of supporting local control like that starts with his software, which any community can <a href="https://www.community-exchange.org/home/">use for free</a>. It lets people list what they need and can offer each other. Each community group has its own unit of account for measuring how much members are sharing with others. The Collective doesn’t advertise or sell data to advertisers. All Tim asks for is a small promise of goods or services from each group&nbsp;as payment in kind. It could be candles, garden honey, an old washing machine or a lift in a neighbor’s car. The only money he has received for 15 years of building a free software platform was a three-year grant from the <a href="http://www.ashoka.org/%E2%80%8E">Ashoka Foundation</a>.</p> <p>Now a <a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5797184/">Hollywood film</a> is being made about Tim's early life, but even superheroes retire, and now well into his 70s he’s increasingly kept from his computer by his failing eyesight. His software started as a hobby, but in 2018 it takes a skilled team to design, build and maintain it, and one person can’t keep up with the venture capital-funded projects that may entice his users away.</p> <p>As private investments surge into social media technology, Tim worries that the doors of a much larger, fully automated ‘jail’ are closing behind him, just as they did to stop him protesting in South Africa all those years ago. This new jail is one in which the titans of Silicon Valley can see everything we do, filter everything we read, price everything we buy, and even make educated guesses about what we are thinking in order to direct our attention elsewhere.</p> <p>The Collective has therefore teamed up with <a href="https://friendsoftheearth.uk/">Friends of the Earth</a> to attract the <a href="http://www.localpay.tech/">necessary funds</a> to grow Tim’s sharing economy. "We escaped from prison as a team of three", he told me, "but we’ll need more than that to keep our digital freedoms."</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/adam-parsons/sharing-economy-short-introduction-to-its-political-evolution">The sharing economy: a short introduction to its political evolution</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/adam-parsons/it%E2%80%99s-time-to-put-power-of-sharing-back-into-sharing-economy">It’s time to put the power of sharing back into the sharing economy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jem-bendell/what-happens-to-democracy-in-cashless-society">What happens to democracy in a cashless society?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Sharing Economy Jem Bendell The role of money Economics Sun, 05 Aug 2018 18:12:47 +0000 Jem Bendell 119109 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Five ways to curb the power of corporations https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jeremy-lent/five-ways-to-curb-power-of-corporations <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Of the world’s 100 largest economies, 69 are transnational businesses. How can we control—and ultimately transform them?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/jeremylent9.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Corporation by&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nyphotographic.com/">Nick Youngson</a>.&nbsp;<a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>&nbsp;<a href="http://alphastockimages.com/">Alpha Stock Images</a>.</p> <p>Transnational corporations have become the dominant force directing our world. Humanity is accelerating toward a precipice of overconsumption, and the large transnationals are the primary agents driving us there. We’re rapidly losing the earth’s <a href="http://www.rain-tree.com/facts.htm#.Wz6H5thKjUI">forests</a>, <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/living-planet-report-2016">animals</a>, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/20/insectageddon-farming-catastrophe-climate-breakdown-insect-populations">insects</a>, <a href="http://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2015-09-16/half-marine-life-lost-in-40-years/6779912">fish</a>, even the <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/only-60-years-of-farming-left-if-soil-degradation-continues/">topsoil</a> we require to grow our crops. The earth is becoming denuded of its bounty as every living system ­is ransacked for resources—not to mention the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/planet-oz/2016/mar/18/welcome-to-the-climate-emergency-youre-about-20-years-late">looming emergency</a> of climate breakdown. As a result, twenty thousand scientists have <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/12/19/what-will-it-really-take-to-avoid-collapse/">recently issued</a> a public warning to humanity, while prominent academics consider the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2012.2845">collapse of civilization</a> this century to be a serious threat.</p> <p>Changes in our personal consumption patterns are important, but are ultimately inconsequential compared with the impact of the transnationals that have come to dominate our global economic and political system. Of the world’s hundred largest economies, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/10/corporations-not-countries-dominate-the-list-of-the-world-s-biggest-economic-entities/">sixty-nine are now corporations</a>. Political parties in many of our so-called democracies are <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jul/05/american-elections-battle-billionaires-civic-inequality">funded in large part</a> by billionaires, while government cabinet positions are <a href="https://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2017/06/21/nearly-70-percent-trumps-picks-top-administration-jobs-have-corporate-ties">staffed by corporate executives</a>. International bodies setting global policy are <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/01/fossil-fuel-companies-undermining-paris-agreement-negotiations-report">infiltrated by corporate agents</a> so successful at entrenching corporate power that even those governments that still prioritize their people’s needs can no longer make autonomous decisions without <a href="https://www.buzzfeed.com/badge/globalsupercourt">risking crippling lawsuits</a> from the transnationals whose interests they threaten. Meanwhile, countries and cities compete with each other to beg their corporate overlords for investment dollars, even it means <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/cities/series/big-tech-desperate-cities">undermining public services</a> and legal protections for their own populations. </p> <p>Environmental groups, recognizing where ultimate power resides, try to pressure corporations to improve practices through the threat of public shaming, with <a href="https://www.ran.org/campaigns">some appreciable results</a>. However, these attempts are necessarily constrained by the very structure of big corporations, which exist to <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/maximizing-shareholder-value-the-goal-that-changed-corporate-america/2013/08/26/26e9ca8e-ed74-11e2-9008-61e94a7ea20d_story.html?utm_term=.bee6f69c0bd1">enrich their shareholders</a> regardless of the consequences. The common goal of corporations around the world is to monetize human activity and what’s left of nature’s abundance as rapidly and efficiently as possible. The overriding purpose of the world’s powerful institutional force is thus directly at odds with a flourishing earth or a viable future for humanity.</p> <p>Having spent the first part of my career in the heart of the capitalist system, consulting to major international banks and corporations, I developed a sense of the underlying forces that direct the centers of financial power. These ideas are my distillation of what I believe could be effective levers for humanity to take back some control from the increasing hegemony of corporations and billionaires. </p> <p>If we are to avoid disaster, our global economic system with its gaping inequities and deranged consumption will eventually need to dismantled and replaced by one <a href="http://davidkorten.org/home/ecological-civilization/">based on life-affirming principles</a> rather than wealth maximization. These suggestions, even in aggregate, wouldn’t do that. They represent mere tweaks in a system that ultimately needs to be completely transformed. But like a modest trim tab that helps <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/val-jon-farris/the-power-of-trimtabs-wha_b_5863520.html?utm_hp_ref=impact&amp;ir=Impact">redirect an ocean liner</a>, perhaps they could begin to curb the destructive force of transnationals and redirect their enormous power toward a more sustainable path. </p> <h2>1. Triple bottom line required for corporate charters.</h2> <p>A fundamental reason for the rapacious behavior of transnational corporations is their drive to maximize shareholder value above anything else. While there is <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/04/16/what-are-corporations-obligations-to-shareholders/corporations-dont-have-to-maximize-profits">no explicit requirement</a> for this in the standard corporate charter, <a href="http://www.professorbainbridge.com/professorbainbridgecom/2012/05/case-law-on-the-fiduciary-duty-of-directors-to-maximize-the-wealth-of-corporate-shareholders.html">a century of case law</a> has entrenched this principle into the behavior of large corporations to the point that is has become the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/04/16/what-are-corporations-obligations-to-shareholders/a-duty-to-shareholder-value"><em>de facto</em> standard of operation</a>. As a result, if corporations were people, <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/11/30/ai-has-already-taken-over-its-called-the-corporation/">they would be considered psychopaths</a>, utterly devoid of any caring for the harm they cause in the pursuit of their goals. </p> <p>It is easier, however, to change a corporation’s values than those of a human psychopath. All you need to do is change the legal basis of their charter. Instead of pursuing shareholder interests alone, they could be re-chartered with the explicit purpose of achieving a triple bottom line of social and environmental outcomes as well as financial—sometimes known as the “triple Ps” of people, planet, and profit.</p> <p>This alternative corporate value system is already available through chartering as a <a href="http://benefitcorp.net/">benefit corporation</a> or <a href="https://www.bcorporation.net/what-are-b-corps">certifying as a B-Corp</a>, and has been adopted by over 2,000 corporations in over fifty countries around the world—including <a href="http://www.bcorporation.net/become-a-b-corp/how-to-become-a-b-corp/multinationals-and-public-companies">several multibillion-dollar transnationals</a>.&nbsp; My proposal is that, instead of being a voluntary step taken by a select few, this would be a requirement for all corporations above a certain size.</p> <p>Overnight, the intrinsic character of the corporation would be transformed. Currently, CEOs and corporate boards are faced with continual pressure to grow their earnings at all cost. If they chose to make a humane decision, such as not to exploit a copper mine because of the consequent pollution, they could expect to be sued by shareholders, and possibly acquired by a more ruthless competitor. However, if they were legally required to achieve a triple bottom line, they would weigh up decisions in a more balanced way, as a rational person might. With the board responsible for all three bottom lines, they would have to consider the risk of being sued if they caused excessive pollution, or if they were callous to the needs of the communities where their plants were located. </p> <p>Currently, large corporations boast of their <a href="https://hbr.org/2015/01/the-truth-about-csr">corporate social responsibility</a> departments that are supposed to care about issues such as employment practices of their suppliers, sustainability of their raw materials, environmental impact of their packaging, gender balance and ethnic diversity in the workplace, and investments in local communities. Suddenly, they would have to stop paying mere lip service to these issues and take them as seriously as marketing costs, revenue growth and distribution channels—the things that CEOs actually worry about when they go home at night.</p> <h2>2. Charter renewal required every five years.</h2> <p>Changing the corporate charter requirement might not, however, be enough by itself to halt the relentless pursuit of profits by large transnationals. After all, executive pay packages consist of dollars rather than goodwill, and those dollars are linked directly to the share price, which is driven by shareholders’ expectation of financial returns. If they could get away with it, they might continue their rapacious practices, while trying harder to look like they’re meeting the other two bottom lines.</p> <p>That’s the reason for my second proposal, which is to require that corporations, which currently enjoy what’s known legally as a “<a href="https://smallbusiness.findlaw.com/incorporation-and-legal-structures/what-does-it-mean-that-corporations-have-perpetual-existence.html">perpetual existence</a>,” get their charters renewed every five years. If they failed to meet pre-established criteria on their two non-financial bottom lines, they would not be permitted to continue in business. Currently, if a company can’t meet its financial obligations, it’s forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings and the value of its stock generally tanks to zero. Under my proposal, executives would also have to consider the risk of declaring “social bankruptcy” or “environmental bankruptcy” as they made their business decisions.</p> <p>As in currently regulated industries such as banking, the final step of losing their charter would not have to be immediate. If a corporation failed to meet its basic parameters, it could be given a warning, with a time period set to fix things. However, the mere threat of this happening would lead corporate executives to make sure they were well above the criteria required to keep their charter.</p> <p>Corporations are, of course, highly adept at using their financial resources to influence regulatory bodies through bribes and other mechanisms. To avoid this, panel members responsible to renew the charter would be representatives of the communities and ecosystems covered in the company’s scope of operations. Their task would be to weigh up the findings of experienced independent auditors on the company’s performance. To minimize corruption, the panel could be chosen by a process of random selection called <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sortition">sortition</a>, just a like a trial jury is chosen in our legal system. </p> <h2>3. Tax stock trades based on the length of the holding period.</h2> <p>Powerful as they are, even corporations have their masters: their shareholders. But don’t think of the typical shareholder as a Warren Buffet type, sitting back in his leather armchair perusing his holdings. Instead, corporate stocks are subject to the frenetic activity of financial markets, where split-second computer algorithms govern much of the trading. Investment firms spend hundreds of millions of dollars enhancing their computing networks to shave <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/04/everything-you-need-to-know-about-high-frequency-trading/360411/">as little as three milliseconds</a> off the timing of their trades. The hyper liquidity of global markets means that investors are obsessed with short-term market trends, which leads corporate CEOs, forever anxious about their stock price, to focus their time horizon on the next quarterly earnings report. Financial valuations apply discount rates to future earnings, which means that an investment paying off thirty years in the future can be worth as little as five percent of its future payoff in the present. Under these conditions, why would any CEO care about the state of the planet—or even their company—thirty years from now? </p> <p>During the 2016 US election campaign, Bernie Sanders proposed a <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/dean-baker/bernie-sanders-takes-it-t_b_7438808.html">Financial Transaction Tax</a> to pay for free college tuition, setting the rate at 0.1% of the transaction. In Europe, <a href="https://www.bna.com/eu-restart-financial-n57982091709/">discussions are under way</a> to apply a similar EU-wide tax. My proposal increases the tax rate by orders of magnitude, and differentiates based on the length of the stock holding. For example, the tax rate might look like this:</p> <p>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 10% if the stock is held less than a day</p> <p>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 5% if less than a year</p> <p>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 3% if less than 10 years</p> <p>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 1% if less than 20 years</p> <p>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Zero if more than 20 years</p> <p>The effects of this single step would be enormous. The financial services industry would be transformed overnight. High frequency stock trading and same-day traders would disappear. The short-term orientation of the stock market would be replaced by carefully considered long-term investment decisions. A typical mutual fund, which in the US currently turns over its portfolio at <a href="https://www.investopedia.com/articles/mutualfund/09/mutual-fund-turnover-rate.asp">the rate of 130% a year</a>, could no longer afford to do so, and would have to change its investment decision-making based on sustainable returns. The tax could be waived for individuals experiencing a life-changing event or for simple hedging techniques where, for example, farmers need to lock in the price of their produce at a future time.</p> <p>The result would be a massive shift away from destructive extractive industries and toward sustainable businesses. For example, the fossil fuel industry is recognized to be vastly overvalued as a result of its “<a href="https://www.carbontracker.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Unburnable-Carbon-Full-rev2-1.pdf">unburnable carbon</a>”: the amount of fossil fuels in the ground that can never be burned if the world is to keep climate change below the 2° rise agreed at COP21 in Paris. A recent study estimates the overvaluation <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0182-1">as high as $4 trillion</a>. Investors, however, play a game of musical chairs, hoping they won’t be the ones left holding the stranded assets. This proposed transaction fee would incent them to dump fossil fuel investments immediately for opportunities in renewable energy with longer-term payoffs.</p> <h2>4. Cap on billionaire’s assets over $5 billion.</h2> <p>As corporations have taken increasing control of the global system, they have catapulted founding shareholders and their heirs to previously unimaginable pinnacles of wealth.&nbsp; The combined wealth of the world’s 2,754 billionaires is now $9.2 trillion, an amount that has <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billionaire">doubled in the past six years</a>, and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_World%27s_Billionaires">increased tenfold</a> since the beginning of this century. The magnitude of this wealth is difficult to conceive. The top six billionaires <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/richest-men-in-the-world-2274065153.html">own as much</a> as the lower half of the entire world’s population. Taken together, the world’s billionaires would represent the third largest economy in the world, behind only China and the United States, with wealth equivalent to the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)">GDP of Germany and Japan</a> combined.</p> <p>There is no legitimate rationale for this outrageous concentration of such wealth in a few individuals. The argument that the founders of Microsoft, Amazon, or Facebook deserve such excessive wealth is no more valid than the belief of the ancient Egyptians in the divinity of their Pharaoh, or the Medieval notion of the divine right of kings. Mark Zuckerberg, aged 33, currently owns over $70 billion. If someone had singlehandedly miniaturized the transistor, developed the logic for computer code, invented the PC, and come up with the internet, then maybe they’d deserve having close to that amount as a reward for the value they created. But all Zuckerberg did was figure out a way to connect people up in a network that became a bit more popular than other networks, and because of the internet’s scale effects, he was the lucky one who hit the jackpot. Zuckerberg merely took advantage of all the other infrastructure work that led to the internet, painstakingly pieced together by millions of people over decades, which has been the real value creator for the world. </p> <p>In response to this excess, my proposal is to cap billionaires’ wealth at, say, $5 billion. It’s an arbitrary amount, still obscenely high and presumably more than enough for those who argue that people should receive ample financial rewards for success. Beyond a certain level of wealth, however, what drives these people is power and prestige. This could be tapped by requiring them to donate their excess wealth to a trust over which they could retain some influence. </p> <p>Such a trust, however, would need to have some strict criteria. While the billionaire could influence the trust’s priorities, he would not have control over its activities. The current Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, while a step in the right direction, is <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_%26_Melinda_Gates_Foundation">under the total control</a> of the Gateses and Warren Buffet. The foundation set up with much fanfare by Mark Zuckerberg is viewed by experts as little more than <a href="http://fortune.com/2015/12/02/zuckerberg-charity/">a fancy tax dodge</a>. </p> <p>Each trust would need to avoid interference in a country’s political system and be dedicated to life-affirming activities, the scope of which could be based, for example, on the <a href="http://earthcharter.org/discover/the-earth-charter/">principles of the Earth Charter</a>, a framework for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society endorsed by over 6,000 organizations.</p> <p>The positive impact that these trillions of dollars could have on human and natural welfare would be prodigious. Imagine a country the size of Germany and Japan combined dedicated entirely to serving human and natural flourishing. It would have the resources to <a href="https://www.visionofearth.org/economics/ending-poverty/how-much-would-it-cost-to-end-extreme-poverty-in-the-world/">end extreme poverty</a>, increase regenerative agriculture to <a href="https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/food/regenerative-agriculture">over a billion acres</a> worldwide, educate <a href="https://www.globalpartnership.org/funding/education-costs-per-child">hundreds of millions of girls</a> through the Global South, disseminate <a href="https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/food/clean-cookstoves">up to a billion clean cookstoves</a>, and much, much more.</p> <p>The billionaires of the world, meanwhile, would continue to enjoy enormous wealth, and when they <a href="https://www.verdict.co.uk/wef-2018-davos-year-super-rich-dwarf-worlds-elite/">jet to Davos</a> to hobnob with other luminaries for the annual World Economic Forum, they could finally have something worthwhile to boast about.</p> <h2>5. Declare a crime of ecocide at the International Criminal Court.</h2> <p>Even with all these constraints, the powers of transnational corporations would remain enormous, and there would still be times when, through willful negligence or intentional bad faith, corporate action causes massive environmental damage. A UN study, which <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/feb/18/worlds-top-firms-environmental-damage">remained unpublished</a>, found that the world’s largest companies had caused over $2 trillion of environmental damage, which would cost a third of their overall profits if they were forced to pay for it. Because of their extensive political influence, even their most damaging activities go unpunished. This leads to my final proposal: to declare a crime of ecocide at the <a href="http://www.coalitionfortheicc.org/explore/international-criminal-court">International Criminal Court</a> (ICC).</p> <p>The ICC is an independent judicial body set up by international treaty, the Rome Statute, in 2002 to prosecute war crimes, genocides, and crimes against humanity. While it continues to <a href="https://www.opencanada.org/features/despite-recent-achievements-many-challenges-ahead-international-criminal-court/">face serious challenges</a> to its enforcement powers, it has had the effect of putting tyrants everywhere on notice that they can no longer act with impunity. If ecocide—the loss, destruction, or severe damage of an ecosystem—were declared a crime by the ICC, this could have a similarly daunting effect on those corporate tyrants who currently know they can get away with devastating the world’s “sacrifice zones” where they are pillaging the earth’s resources for profit.</p> <p>There is a campaign, <a href="http://eradicatingecocide.com/">Eradicating Ecocide</a>, already under way to make this happen. A <a href="http://eradicatingecocide.com/the-law/the-model-law/">model law</a> has been drafted, and an <a href="https://www.missionlifeforce.org/">Earth Protectors Trust Fund</a> has been set up to permit common people everywhere to become legal Earth protectors. If a two-thirds majority of the Rome Statute signatories were to approve this as an amendment, it would become enforceable globally. Suddenly, corporate boards and CEOs everywhere would realize they are no longer above the law.</p> <p>There is a strange paradox to consider about these proposals.&nbsp; One the one hand, notice how limited they are in scope. Even if they were all implemented overnight, the global system would not be overturned. People would still go to work and get paid, food would still be on the shelves of the grocery store, the same governments would still be in power, and the internet would still work. The gaping structural inequities of our current world order would continue unabated, and we’d still be consuming far more than our planet can sustain. Ultimately, we need a complete transformation of our global system if our civilization is to survive intact through this century.</p> <p>On the other hand, it doesn’t take a political genius to realize that these ideas are so far from mainstream thinking that they have virtually no chance to be adopted any time soon. They would be considered too radical for even the most progressive mainstream politician to endorse. What does this tell us about our current political dialogue? To me, it suggests that our conversations are too severely constrained by what we’re “allowed” to think in terms of how our system works. We need to cast our gaze outside the norms that our billionaire-controlled mainstream media permits us to consider.</p> <p>Imagine a world where these ideas (or others like them) began to be seriously entertained. How would they even be enforced? The only way corporations could be brought to heel, or billionaires compelled to give up their excess billions, would be a concerted effort led by the United States in conjunction with the European Union, and joined by the preponderance of other countries. </p> <p>This, of course, could only happen if grassroots demand for these ideas spread so powerfully that politicians had to take notice. This is not such an unrealistic scenario, given the worldwide disavowal of the dominant capitalist model: most Europeans have a <a href="https://yougov.co.uk/news/2016/02/23/british-people-view-socialism-more-favourably-capi/">higher opinion of socialism</a> than capitalism, and even in the US, the overwhelming majority see <a href="http://fortune.com/2015/11/03/majority-of-americans-dont-like-capitalism-yougov-poll/">big business as unethical and unfair</a>. </p> <p>Then, there is the potential <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/val-jon-farris/the-power-of-trimtabs-wha_b_5863520.html?utm_hp_ref=impact&amp;ir=Impact">“trim tab” effect</a> of adopting these ideas. Even though these proposals alone wouldn’t fundamentally transform our system in the way that’s needed, they might set changes in motion that could eventually take us there. There may be other ideas more effective than these, and of course each proposal contains within it complications that would need to be worked out carefully. However, my hope is that these ideas invite a new mode of political dialogue, along with a recognition that even in the darkest times, realistic pathways exist toward a thriving future for humanity and the natural world. </p> <p>When the Occupy movement failed to achieve its initial promise, many people pointed to its lack of specific demands as a reason for its demise. If and when the next radical grassroots movement emerges, which <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jul/11/america-left-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-new-york-primary">may be sooner than you expect</a>, let’s make sure they have an array of ideas such as these in their quiver to focus public opinion on actual political deliverables. </p> <p>There are very few people who really want to see our civilization collapse. If these proposals eventually did get implemented, perhaps even the executives of the transnational corporations might sleep better at night, knowing that they can become part of the solution rather than a force of destruction.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jeremy-lent/steven-pinker-s-ideas-are-fatally-flawed-these-eight-graphs-show-why">Steven Pinker’s ideas are fatally flawed. These eight graphs show why.</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/jeremy-lent/culture-shift-redirecting-humanity-s-path-to-flourishing-future">Culture shift: redirecting humanity’s path to a flourishing future</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/david-sogge/corporate-wax-nose">The corporate wax nose</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Jeremy Lent The role of money Economics Sun, 22 Jul 2018 20:53:05 +0000 Jeremy Lent 118859 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Where next for the New Economy movement? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/eli-feghali/where-next-for-new-economy-movement <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="normal">It’s not enough to create niche alternatives; we have to transform the architecture of the economic system.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="normal"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/EliFeghali2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Ash-Lee Henderson, M Adams and Makani Themba speaking during the opening plenary of the CommonBound summit in St. Louis on June 22 2018. Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/neweconomy/28331550017/in/album-72157698221471784/">Flickr/New Economy Coalition</a>. All rights reserved.</p> <p class="normal">In late May of 2018, the Buffalo city council agreed to a strategic plan that gives residents on Buffalo’s East Side a meaningful voice in how their neighborhood will be developed. The council transferred up to 20 vacant lots to the <a href="https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/buffalo-common-council-paves-way-for-community-driven-development">Fruit Belt Community Land Trust</a>, a nonprofit that will manage the property and keep housing prices affordable for those who need it most. They also agreed to give nearby homeowners the option to buy other vacant parcels.</p> <p class="normal">This victory was the result of years of community organizing by local residents who were determined to take action in the face of the gentrification of their neighborhood. The long-term goal is “development without displacement,” attracting new jobs and building new housing but not at the expense of the existing residents who call the Fruit Belt home.</p> <p class="normal">The Fruit Belt Community Land Trust is just one of thousands of stories of people who are organizing to build what many call “economic alternatives.” But lots of people working on these “alternatives” in <a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/new-economy-movement/">the US “new economy movement</a>” reject that framing because they aren’t interested in staying in the margins. Instead, their goal is to transform the system, not create a niche alternative for a small number of people. The new economy wants to be <em>the</em> economy, but how?</p> <p class="normal">Modern capitalism is resilient, and it has proven effective at incorporating revolutionary efforts into its logic. For example, the fair trade movement started with grand aspirations to radically transform the nature of global trade. Despite fair trade’s decades of tremendous growth and meaningful impact for several hundred thousand farmers and tens of thousands of artisans, global trade remains uneven and unfair. Nations with the most economic and military might set the rules of engagement, while producers and farmers in poorer nations have little leverage to fight back.</p> <p class="normal">Meanwhile you can find fair trade products in just about every grocery store in America. Modern capitalism absorbs these trends by passing on the cost to consumers as more expensive options in a sea of products. Chocolate bars with cacao organically farmed by cooperative worker-owner farmers earning a living wage? They cost five dollars at Whole Foods (which is to say, Amazon who own the chain). Chocolate bars produced using child labor, with palm oil harvested through the destruction of rainforest habitat? They can be bought for a dollar fifty by a gas station attendant working three minimum wage jobs to support her family.</p> <p class="normal">The fair trade story demonstrates that going mainstream is not enough. We have to build enough power to change the fundamental architecture of the economic system. Folks in the new economy movement use this principle of system change as a lens to evaluate potential strategies and policies. Take universal basic income (UBI)—a policy in which every person receives a monthly check from their government large enough to cover their basic needs. Although it’s an idea that can be traced back to the 16th century, UBI has gained traction in the past few years as societies consider the impact of advanced automation, a.k.a. robots taking our jobs.</p> <p class="normal">Supporters argue that UBI is needed to ensure that the masses have enough money to afford a middle-class lifestyle and businesses have enough customers to buy their products. In a future where it's cheaper to automate most jobs than hire a human being, the UBI is held up as a solution. It’s fascinating that this position is being debated on the left, right, and in-between.</p> <p class="normal">Conservative economist Milton Friedman argued for a version of UBI through a negative income tax as a replacement for state welfare. Mark Zuckerberg included it in his commencement speech at Harvard. Andrew Yang, a democratic candidate for president in 2020, has placed UBI at the center of his platform. “I’m a capitalist,” he <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/10/technology/his-2020-campaign-message-the-robots-are-coming.html?smid=tw-nytimesbusiness&amp;smtyp=cur">told the New York Times</a>, “and I believe that universal basic income is necessary for capitalism to continue.”</p> <p class="normal">However, the point is not to save capitalism but to usher in a new system that values the dignity of all human beings, no matter their income. Yes, automation is replacing many human jobs. It’s actually been happening for quite some time. The stakes just seem higher now because the social safety net has been decimated by years of disinvestment and the scarcity of good union jobs.</p> <p class="normal">The problem isn’t actually automation, it’s about who owns and controls technology. As many of UBI’s supporters on the left ask, what if the gains from technology weren’t captured by a small number of capitalists but the workers themselves? Without changing the ownership and governance of the economy we risk not changing much at all, even if UBI becomes a reality.</p> <p class="normal">The good news is that more and more people are thinking about exactly these questions. Six hundred of them met up in St. Louis in June 2018 for the New Economy Coalition’s <a href="https://commonbound.org/">CommonBound conference</a>. This summit, which happens every two years, brought together leaders within the new economy movement (more often called the solidarity economy or the social economy outside the US) including those working on cooperatives, community land trusts, non-extractive finance, energy democracy and participatory budgeting.</p> <p class="normal">The question we explored was simple: “how do we get to a new economy?” How exactly do we move forward with sophistication and seriousness to build the power necessary to take on the existing system? As Makani Themba, one of the conference’s plenary speakers put it, “It’s not just about how we build a new, parallel economy—it’s also about how we starve the beast which is the current one.”</p> <p class="normal">The conservative movement provides a kind of blueprint. While it may seem like the right wing takeover of the economy happened overnight, it’s actually been a multi-decade movement involving a complex ecosystem of groups and strategies. For example, the conservative overhaul of the Supreme Court (continuing just this week with Trump’s nomination of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh) is something that organized groups have been plotting <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/09/us/politics/supreme-court-conservatives-trump.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;clickSource=story-heading&amp;module=span-ab-lede-package-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news">since the 1980s</a>. What will it take to advance a justice and liberation agenda with the same vigor and long-term planning?</p> <p class="normal">Many activists and community organizations are considering that question through networks like the <a href="https://neweconomy.net/">New Economy Coalition</a>, a network of more than 200 organizations in the US. At national and cross-sectoral conferences and within and across communities, groups are developing shared strategies because they know that no one organization is capable of ushering in a new economic system. It will require a much greater scale of coordination than we’ve previously achieved, taking new and bigger risks and contesting power in arenas we’ve tended to shy away from.</p> <p class="normal">Take policy for example. What would a new economy policy platform look like? We’ve already started work on this challenge, informed in part by recent efforts like <a href="https://policy.m4bl.org/platform/">the Movement for Black Lives platform</a> released in 2016. At the municipal-level, we’ve seen a number of significant developments in recent years including the rapid growth of participatory budgeting experiments across the US, and cities like New York which are investing millions of public dollars into the expansion of community land trusts.</p> <p class="normal">Nationally, there has been some positive momentum despite the adverse political conditions. In June 2018 a bill supporting worker ownership passed in the US Senate. This legislation will provide financial vehicles and significant incentives to help small businesses transition to employee-owned companies or cooperatives. A companion bill <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-small-business/wp/2018/05/09/the-house-passes-a-bill-aimed-at-helping-employees-buy-out-their-employers/?noredirect=on&amp;utm_term=.82f07832cba9">passed the US House</a> in May and is expected to be signed into law soon.</p> <p class="normal">These policy victories could be a sign of the mass appeal of new economy values and ideas. That certainly seems to be the case in parts of UK politics, where the Labour party has adopted policies and narratives about democratizing the economy in their national party platform. This development was inspired in part by the success of the “<a href="https://thenextsystem.org/learn/stories/infographic-preston-model">Preston model</a>”—an economic development framework which gives priority to building an <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnXsteyfiUg&amp;feature=youtu.be">ecosystem of institutions that work together to build and circulate wealth within the community</a>. This model (named after the city of Preston where it’s been tested since around 2013) was itself inspired by a US experiment, the <a href="http://www.evgoh.com/">Evergreen Cooperatives</a> in Cleveland, Ohio, a network of worker cooperatives financed and supported by anchor institutions like hospitals and schools in the community.</p> <p class="normal">It remains to be seen whether the Preston model and its introduction in the Labour party platform will transform the UK’s economy at the scale many activists hope. Perhaps the same can be said about what’s happening in Buffalo and many other places in the USA. At CommonBound, Preston and Buffalo came together in a workshop about building bottom-up power to change the economic system. Hearing these and so many other stories, it’s hard to deny that momentum is building around the ideas and values of a new economy. Backed by grassroots organizing, this constitutes a legitimate cause for hope. <strong></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/eli-feghali/fixing-broken-economy">Fixing a broken economy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/sam-cossar-gilbert/five-ways-to-transform-our-economies">Five ways to transform our economies </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/kate-raworth/seven-ways-to-think-like-21st-century-economist">Seven ways to think like a 21st century economist</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Eli Feghali The role of money Economics Tue, 17 Jul 2018 19:51:05 +0000 Eli Feghali 118858 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Could NGOs flourish in a future without foreign aid? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/michael-edwards/could-ngos-flourish-in-future-without-foreign-aid <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Only when myths are revealed as myths can there be a clear-eyed conversation about the best ways forward.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/themythologyofforeignaid.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">“Self-reliance.” Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/taiwanicdf/6479907743">Flickr/Taiwan ICDF.</a> <a href="blank">CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.</a></p> <p>The last few months have been a season of myth-busting around NGOs like Oxfam and Save the Children—myths like ‘bad things don’t happen in organizations with good intentions,’ and ‘charities have better management than other types of organization because their staff are so committed.’ </p> <p>Myth-busting is inherently painful, particularly if you believe that your own myths are true. The chair of Save the Children International has resigned and the agency is currently the subject of a formal inquiry by the Charity Commission. At Oxfam GB over <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/oxfam-charity-lay-off-100-people-haiti-sex-scandal-funding-cut-a8357476.html">100 jobs have been lost, donations are down</a> and <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/15/oxfam-warns-staff-urgent-savings-16m-haiti-scandal">program cuts are inevitable</a> according to a leaked internal document, while the Haitian government has <a href="https://www.oxfam.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases/2018/06/oxfam-reaction-to-haitian-government-decision-to-withdraw-oxfam-gb-permission-to-work-in-haiti">withdrawn Oxfam-GB’s “right to operate”</a> “<a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-oxfam-haiti/haiti-withdraws-oxfam-great-britains-right-to-operate-after-misconduct-scandal-idUSKBN1J92R4">for serious violation of the principle of the dignity of human beings</a>”—the very principle on which Oxfam was founded 75 years ago.</p> <p>It’s difficult to imagine a deeper wound than this, but myth-busting can also be liberating if it creates more opportunities for reflection and transformation: only when myths are revealed as myths can there be a clear-eyed conversation about the best ways forward.</p> <p>That’s what I hope will happen with international charities. In fact it’s already happening as these agencies rush to improve their protection systems and educate their staff about bullying, sexual harassment and the need to nurture a culture of honesty and respect both inside the organization and outside. The question is, could it also happen with other, larger myths that I think are holding the sector back?</p> <p>I see these other myths as a set of inter-locking ‘Russian dolls’ each emerging from the next. The first contains a set of once-popular assumptions about the supposed strength of NGO management systems, governance, accountability and communications, all of which have been tested and (to some extent) found wanting in the current crisis over the handling of alleged sexual harassment and abuse. </p> <p>Oxfam GB’s communications about events in Haiti initially struggled to keep up with a fast-paced story, culminating in a sleep-deprived <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/16/oxfam-boss-mark-goldring-anything-we-say-is-being-manipulated-weve-been-savaged">interview with the Guardian</a> in which chief executive Mark Goldring appeared to minimize the seriousness of what had happened—“what did we do?” he said, “We murdered babies in their cots?” <a href="https://www.prweek.com/article/1457796/flop-month-oxfam-guide-crisis-mismanagement">PR Week</a>, the flagship publication of the public relations industry, called this response “a paragon of PR cack-handedness” and featured the charity as it’s “flop of the month—the Oxfam guide to crisis <em>mismanagement</em>.” To be fair, however, Oxfam has since responded pretty well, and Goldring (who was not in charge when events in Haiti unfolded) <span><a href="https://www.oxfam.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases/2018/05/oxfam-chief-executive-to-step-down">has announced his intention to step down</a></span> from his position at the end of 2018.</p> <p>In Save the Children’s case, information about the handling of sexual harassment allegations has emerged in dribs and drabs rather than being released in total and up front. It was only after the BBC revealed the details of a leaked internal report on the handling of these allegations that SCF-UK shared it with the public, “ to ensure there is a full picture of the situation at the time and the actions taken since” as <a href="https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/news/media-centre/press-releases/save-the-children-statement-">a press statement issued by the charity on March 7 2018</a> put it. </p> <p>After Save the Children International’s chairman, Sir Alan Parker, <a href="https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/80453782-7232-427d-be6e-64633734bf7e">gave oral evidence to the Parliamentary Committee on International Development’s Inquiry</a> on Sexual Harassment and Abuse in the Aid Sector on May 22, he still wrote <a href="https://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/international-development/Letter-from-Sir-Alan-Parker.pdf">a supplementary letter</a> to MPs to provide more details on exactly what had happened in answer to their questions. That’s the problem with this kind of drip-feed information strategy: even when you’re innocent it can make you look guilty.</p> <p>Lurking in the background is another, deeper myth that could be seen to act as a rationale for missteps like these: that the ‘ends justify the means.’ </p> <p>In the case of both Oxfam GB and SCF-UK, some information in the agencies’ own internal reports was not made public at the time of the investigations in order to protect the reputation of the organizations, their funding, and their ability to carry out their work—a justifiable decision but one that was to backfire badly. Oxfam only released its 2011 report on Haiti on <a href="https://www.oxfam.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases/2018/02/oxfam-releases-report-into-allegations-of-sexual-misconduct-in-haiti">February 19 2018</a>, eight years after the events in question and ten days after the Times published an expose of these events. </p> <p>As an <a href="https://www.oxfam.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases/2018/02/oxfam-releases-report-into-allegations-of-sexual-misconduct-in-haiti">Oxfam press release put it</a> at the time, “We are making this exceptional publication because we want to be as transparent as possible about the decisions we made during this particular investigation and in recognition of the breach of trust that has been caused,” a sentiment echoed by Goldring in his <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/16/oxfam-boss-mark-goldring-anything-we-say-is-being-manipulated-weve-been-savaged">interview with the Guardian</a>: “I believe it was done in good faith to try to balance being transparent and protecting Oxfam’s work,” he said. But the fact that Oxfam had not told the full truth about what had happened stoked up the negative press coverage and produced a furor that created exactly the damage that Oxfam wanted to avoid. </p> <p>At Save the Children-UK, a confidential, internal report from 2015 into the handling of allegations of sexual harassment against two senior staff members concluded that “There existed a management culture that did not sufficiently adhere to established and published policies and procedures” as <a href="https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/news/media-centre/press-releases/save-the-children-statement-">an SCF-UK press statement from March 2018 put it</a>. Exactly why the agency fell short in this respect is a matter of conjecture, but a number of insiders including Jonathan Glennie (who was SCF-UK’s Policy Director at the time the allegations were made) have speculated that the agency had developed a culture of “macho behavior,” <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jonathan-glennie/at-what-cost-reflection-on-crisis-at-save-children-uk">as Glennie describes it</a>, that successfully drove the agency’s growth and influence but may unwittingly have eroded its commitment to care for some of its staff. For its part SCF-UK insists that it “has always sought to protect all employees from inappropriate comments and behavior,” as <a href="https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/news/media-centre/press-releases/new-save-the-children-statement">a press release put it</a> on February 20.</p> <p>One of the men involved in these allegations—Brendan Cox—“was suspended and a disciplinary process commenced. The panel included independent trustees and a QC, and the process was administered by a London law firm. Mr Cox resigned before it could be completed” <a href="https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/news/media-centre/press-releases/save-the-children-statement">as another SCF-UK press release put it on February 18</a>. Cox signed off with an email to colleagues that was later shared with the humanitarian website <a href="https://www.irinnews.org/feature/2018/02/22/former-save-children-staffers-speak-out-abusive-culture-under-justin-forsyth">IRIN News</a>: “apologies to all of you for any times I’ve been unreasonable, overbearing or relentless,” it read, “it was always with the best of intentions.” </p> <p>‘We may have messed things up or got things wrong,’ seems to be the message, ‘but if we did it was only to protect the organization and advance its work.’ Again, Cox seemed to be deploying an ‘end justifies the means’ argument. Yet Save the Children’s founder Eglantyne Jebb reached the opposite conclusion as far back as the 1920s: “so long as we are piling up injustices with our left hand,” she wrote, “we cannot establish justice with our right.” </p> <p>In cases like these the means-end myth may be rooted in noble intentions, but it is risky, and can eventually lead to a full-blown scandal. As <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jonathan-glennie/at-what-cost-second-reflection-on-crisis-at-save-children-uk">Glennie put it</a> in one of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jonathan-glennie/at-what-cost-reflection-on-crisis-at-save-children-uk">two articles for <em>Transformation</em></a>, “the <em>how</em> matters just as much as the <em>what</em>”<em> </em>in determining any charity’s actions and activities. And the only way to avoid the kind of damage suffered by both SCF-UK and Oxfam GB is to do the right things in the right ways in the first place—to be ethical in both ends <em>and </em>means with no exceptions. </p> <p>What is it that gets in the way of implementing this level of ethical integration? I’d suggest the third of my ‘Russian dolls’—the myth of indispensability that can turn international NGOs into hamsters on a wheel of endless growth and competition, constantly tempting them to prioritize their own organizational self-interests. </p> <p>Without us, says this myth, millions of people will die, or never go to school or be able to grow their own food, so please give us your money since that’s what will make the difference. It’s not surprising that this myth lies at the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/phil-vernon/what-s-it-all-about-oxfam">heart of charity fundraising</a>, but it’s also the ultimate insulation against pressures to reform, since none of us wants to be responsible for the unnecessary death or suffering of another human being. The problem is, in most cases it isn’t true. </p> <p>In contrast to the images of passivity and dependence that are retailed by much charity advertising, most people don’t need an industry of outside intermediaries to ‘help’ them realize their dreams—they just need to be to be trusted, listened to and supported to take charge of their own destinies in ways that place <em>their </em>agency at the center of the action, surrounded by the contacts and resources they need to make things happen both individually and collectively. </p> <p>Of course, everyone needs some help to do this properly. In emergencies they might need more than usual and in war zones even more—when people are starving they need food and water, not political correctness—and there are circumstances in which <em>non</em>-local groups can be especially effective because they can offer more connections and protection. </p> <p>But as a general principle it’s hard to argue that bureaucracies funded and governed from thousands of miles away are better-placed to provide support than local institutions embedded in their own communities and subject to indigenous pressures to improve over time. And if Oxfam and Save the Children haven’t been supporting those institutions to grow and develop over the last 75 years then what have they been doing? This is different from launching local franchises of global brands which is already common practice.</p> <p>As I’ve said <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/michael-edwards/what-s-to-be-done-with-oxfam">many times before</a>, there are lots of valuable roles to play for international NGOs in this scenario which are actually healthier and more effective in promoting their long term goals. The problem is that they won’t bring in the money required to maintain these agencies in their current size and shape. That’s the nettle that eventually has to be grasped, but once it is there will be less pressure to surrender to the means/ends myth, the ethical confusion it can create, and the management failings that may result. </p> <p>In other areas of life like our families, communities and social movements this wouldn’t be a problem, since the imperative to step aside is obvious: at some point, those who are older, or who have more power and opportunity, must move into the background so that others can develop independently and flourish, with all the risks and excitements this entails. “The golden rule is to help those we love to escape from us” as the Austrian theologian <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_von_H%C3%BCgel">Friedrich von Hügel</a> <a href="https://archive.org/stream/MN5160ucmf_0/MN5160ucmf_0_djvu.txt">once wrote to his niece</a>.</p> <p>But at the moment, asking organisations like Oxfam and Save the Children to envisage a world outside the foreign aid industry is like asking a fish to imagine a world without the water in which it swims: to 95 per cent of charity CEOs and board members it’s simply inconceivable. Nevertheless, planning for such a future is the first step towards the transformations required for NGOs to flourish in world without the asymmetries and contradictions that bedevil the current system—and which lie buried deep in the heart of that nest of Russian dolls. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/it-s-time-to-take-our-charities-to-cleaners">It’s time to take our charities to the cleaners</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/jonathan-glennie/at-what-cost-reflection-on-crisis-at-save-children-uk">At what cost? A reflection on the crisis at Save the Children UK</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/what-s-to-be-done-with-oxfam-part-2">What’s to be done with Oxfam, part 2?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation International Aid Save the Children Fund Oxfam NGOs Michael Edwards The role of money Activism Economics Sun, 24 Jun 2018 17:19:23 +0000 Michael Edwards 118565 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Fifty years later, we still have a dream https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/rosa-pavanelli/fifty-years-later-we-still-have-dream <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As the Poor People’s Campaign arrives in Washington DC it’s time to celebrate Public Service Day.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/RosaPavanelli.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Ohio Poor People's Campaign 5/29/18, Columbus Ohio. Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/becker271/28570189458/in/album-72157696830366554/">Flickr/Becker1999</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p>They gather every Monday. Hundreds of low-wage workers, faith leaders, civil rights organizers, trade union members and liberal activists from all over the US have been taking to the streets each week since May 13th2018 to protest&nbsp;inequality, racism, ecological devastation, militarism and all kinds of discrimination.</p> <p class="m-2456473295912727091paragraphscxw101230683">They call themselves the “<a href="https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/">Poor People’s Campaign</a>”, a direct reference to the movement launched by Martin Luther King Jr. a few months before his assassination on 4 April 1968.&nbsp;</p> <p class="m-2456473295912727091paragraphscxw101230683">The heart of King’s campaign was a mule-drawn procession from Marks, Mississippi, at that time the poorest town in the poorest state of the United States, eventually arriving in Washington DC. Today’s Poor People’s Campaign will also&nbsp;culminate in a national action&nbsp;at the US Capitol on 23 June,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.un.org/en/events/publicserviceday/" target="_blank">UN Public Service Day.</a></p> <p class="m-2456473295912727091paragraphscxw101230683">This is not a coincidence. Only real access for all to quality public services like education, health care, childcare services, decent retirement, public transport, efficient justice systems and quality infrastructure will allow the fight for social justice and the reduction of inequalities to progress.</p> <p class="m-2456473295912727091paragraphscxw101230683">Martin Luther King knew this. On the day of his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee he was supporting 1,300 sanitation workers who were on strike, convinced that a coalition of activists from trade unions, faith and social justice organizations was the best way to lift millions of Americans out of poverty.</p> <p>Fifty years later, this agenda is more relevant than ever in the US and the rest of the world. Public capital—as opposed to private—has <a href="http://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a0c602bf43b5594845abb81/t/5a3850658165f5e58acc60c2/1513640041168/wir2018-summary-english.pdf">shrunk to nearly zero everywhere since 1970</a>. It is less than zero in the US and Britain due to austerity programs and regressive tax systems, along with a political framing that considers public companies as obsolete and public servants as a class of privileged workers who are expensive and inefficient. Not to mention trade unionists, who are seen as dangerous dinosaurs who should be mocked at best, and at worst imprisoned or killed.</p> <p>The consequences are devastating. Income inequality has increased in every region of the world in recent decades as the global top one per cent of earners has captured twice as much of GDP growth as the poorest fifty per cent, as shown by the&nbsp;<a href="http://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a0c602bf43b5594845abb81/t/5a3850658165f5e58acc60c2/1513640041168/wir2018-summary-english.pdf" target="_blank">World Inequality report 2018</a>.</p> <p>This phenomenon is especially acute in the United States, where the top one per cent’s share of national wealth rose from 22 per cent in 1980 to 39 per cent in 2014. Most of that increase in inequality was due to the rise of the top 0.1 per cent of wealth owners.</p> <p>The battle to reverse these trends is tough and dangerous, as public sector workers are constantly under attack all over the world. The number of countries which tolerate the arbitrary arrest and detention of workers increased from 44 to 59 in 2017 according to the International Trade Union Confederation's&nbsp;<a href="https://www.ituc-csi.org/ituc-global-rights-index-2018?lang=en" target="_blank">Global Rights Index</a>. About 2.5 billion people in the informal economy, among migrants and those in precarious jobs are excluded from any protection under labor laws.</p> <p>But this is not inevitable. At&nbsp;<a href="http://www.world-psi.org/en" target="_blank">Public Services International</a>&nbsp;(PSI), a Global Union Federation dedicated to promoting quality public services, we are convinced that now, more&nbsp;than ever, working people need strong unions to fight back and secure good jobs with fair salaries and benefits.</p> <p>Just like Martin Luther King 50 years ago we have a dream: that one day&nbsp;workers of all races and backgrounds will have&nbsp;a decent life. "<em>One Day" </em>is also the title of a PSI&nbsp;<a href="http://oneday.world-psi.org/#/" target="_blank">series of films</a>&nbsp;on the world of&nbsp;labor&nbsp;which highlights the extraordinary lives of ordinary public sector workers around the globe.</p> <p>On this Public Service Day, we want to celebrate these workers. But celebration and struggle are not about one day or one moment. They are about building a movement that&nbsp;will&nbsp;last.&nbsp;This will be a long journey, but when social movements and trade unions come together they can win.</p> <p>It is time to shift the narrative. The struggle for universal rights such as a living wage, good working conditions and access to quality public services will never be outdated.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/sarah-freeman-woolpert-kyle-moore/great-society-versus-poor-people-s-campaign">The Great Society versus the Poor People’s Campaign</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/sarah-freeman-woolpert/renewed-poor-people-s-campaign-revives-king-s-dream-of-challen">A renewed Poor People’s Campaign revives King’s dream of challenging class divides</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/steven-parfitt/future-of-trade-unions">The future of trade unions</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Trade unions Rosa Pavanelli Activism Economics Fri, 22 Jun 2018 11:56:39 +0000 Rosa Pavanelli 118539 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Confronting the money-power elite https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/thomas-h-greco-jr/confronting-money-power-elite <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Those who control the creation and allocation of money are able to control every other aspect of society. Shouldn’t that be us?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/TomGreco.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/2207307656/">Flickr/Liz West</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p>The world today is controlled by a small elite group that has been increasingly concentrating power and wealth in their own hands. There are many observable facets to this power structure, including the military security complex that President Eisenhower warned against, the fossil fuel interests, and the neoconservatives and others that are promoting US&nbsp;&nbsp;hegemony around the world, but the most powerful and overarching force is the ‘money power’ that controls money, banking, and finance worldwide. It is clear that those who control the creation and allocation of money through the banking system are able to control virtually every other aspect of society.</p> <p>What can be done to turn the tide? How can we empower ourselves to assert our desires for a more fair, humane and peaceful world order? I believe that the greatest possibility of bringing about the desired changes lies in economic and political innovation and restructuring.</p> <p><strong>The monopolization of credit.</strong></p> <p>I came to realize many years ago that the primary mechanism by which people are controlled is the system of money, banking, and finance. The power elite have long known this and have used it to enrich themselves and consolidate their grip. Though we take it for granted, money has become an utter necessity for surviving in the modern world. But unlike water, air, food, and energy, money is not a natural substance—it is a human contrivance, and it has been contrived in such a way as to centralize power and concentrate wealth.</p> <p>Money today is essentially credit, and the control of our collective credit has been monopolized in the hands of a cartel comprised of huge private banks with the complicity of politicians who control central governments. This collusive arrangement between bankers and politicians disempowers people, businesses, and communities and enables the super-class to use centralized control mechanisms to their own advantage and purpose. It misallocates credit, making it both scarce and expensive for the productive private sector while enabling central governments to circumvent, by deficit spending, the natural limits imposed by its revenue streams of taxes and fees. Thus, there is <a href="https://reinventingmoney.com/new-approach-to-freedom/">virtually no limit</a> to the amounts that are lavished on the machinery of war and domination. </p> <p>In today’s world, banks get to lend our collective credit back to us and charge interest for it, while central governments get to spend more than they earn in overt tax revenues by relying on the banking system to monetize government debts as needed. These two parasitic drains on the economy—interest &nbsp;and the inflationary monetization of government debts—create &nbsp;<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/thomas-h-greco-jr/money-debt-and-end-of-growth-imperative">a growth imperative</a> that is destroying the environment, shredding the social fabric, and creating ever greater disparities of income and wealth. </p> <p><strong>How can money power be confronted?</strong></p> <p>Fortunately,&nbsp;<em>we the people</em>&nbsp;have in our hands the means of our own liberation: the power to allocate our credit directly without the use of banks or political money. How to assert that power is the theme of my most recent book,&nbsp;<em><a href="https://beyondmoney.net/the-end-of-money-and-the-future-of-civilization/">The End of Money and the Future of Civilization</a></em>.</p> <p>Over the years there has been a long parade of reformers who wish to take the power to create money away from banks. This is an admirable objective that I wholeheartedly endorse. But the alternatives they propose have been to revert to commodity money like gold (which has proven to be inadequate), or transfer the power to issue money to central government—what I call the “greenback solution,” which harks back to Abraham Lincoln’s scheme for financing the Civil War. That proposal calls for the federal government to bypass the Federal Reserve and the banks by issuing a national currency directly into circulation from the Treasury. At first glance this may seem like a good idea, but it has many shortcomings. </p> <p>First of all, the greenback solution does not propose to end the money monopoly but merely to put it under new management: it’s a gross delusion to think that the Treasury is, or might become, independent of the interests that now control the Federal Reserve and the major banks. Consider the fact that most recent Treasury Secretaries have been former executives of Goldman Sachs, the most powerful financial establishment in the country. It is naïve to expect that they will serve the common good rather than the money power that has spawned them.</p> <p>Second, central planning of complex economic factors has been shown to be unworkable. That is especially true with regard to money. Neither the Fed nor the Treasury is qualified to decide what kind of money—and how much—is necessary for the economy to function smoothly. The issuance and control of credit should be decentralized into the hands of the producers of needed goods and services so that the supply of money automatically rises and falls in accordance with the quantity of goods and services that are available to be bought and sold. If private currencies and credit clearing exchanges are allowed to grow without interference from vested interests, their superiority will quickly become apparent.</p> <p>Third, the greenback solution does nothing to eliminate deficit spending and inflation, which are enabled by legal tender laws. As long as political currencies are legally forced to circulate at face value, the abusive issuance of money, the debasement of the national currency, and the centralization of power will continue. All government programs, including social programs and the military budget, ought to be funded by legitimate government revenues, not by the underhanded means of monetary debasement. </p> <p>Centralized control of credit money and the imposition of legal tender laws enable the hidden tax that is called&nbsp;<em>inflation.&nbsp;</em>Salmon P. Chase, who as Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary presided over the issuance of greenbacks, argued later as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court that the issuance of greenback currency was unconstitutional and exceeded the powers of the federal government. &nbsp;“The legal tender quality is only valuable for the purposes of dishonesty” as he put it. Finally, the political process has been so thoroughly corrupted and taken over by the power elite that political approaches to solving the money problem have virtually no chance of success.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p><strong>Towards more effective means of empowerment.</strong></p> <p>Business people, farmers, professionals, and others who are engaged in productive enterprise are clamoring to gain access to credit, but they fail to recognize that it’s already in their collective hands. Under present arrangements we give our credit to the banks, and then beg them to lend some of it back to us and pay them interest for the ‘privilege.’ But there is no good reason for credit to be monopolized in this way. Businesses routinely offer credit to one another when they deliver goods and services and allow some period of time for payment to be made. This practice can be extended and organized on a multilateral basis.</p> <p>The real solution to the problem lies in creating new structures for allocating credit that are based on the legitimate needs and the resources of businesses, workers, and state and local governments. C<strong>ompetition in currency</strong>&nbsp;can transcend the dysfunctions inherent in the present centralized system and ensure that there will be sufficient amounts of different media of exchange to enable all desirable trades. Competing currencies will also ensure that political currencies like the dollar cannot be abused without losing patronage in the market. We need to promote the&nbsp;<strong>separation of money from the state&nbsp;</strong>by&nbsp;deploying exchange mechanisms that&nbsp;<strong>decentralize and democratize the control of credit</strong>.</p> <p>Money is first and foremost a medium for facilitating the exchange of goods and services and other forms of real value, but the&nbsp;exchange function&nbsp;can be <a href="https://youtu.be/uO7uwCpcau8">effectively and efficiently provided outside the banking system</a> and without the use of conventional political money. This is already being done through credit clearing exchanges and through the issuance of private currencies or vouchers by businesses that produce valuable goods and services. Both approaches have the capacity to provide exchange media that can also be used by the general public to mediate all manner of transactions.</p> <p>Is there any practical possibility of organizing producers on a sufficiently large scale to achieve this? Yes, because this approach is far more practical and empowering than any other currently on offer. Improvements in the human condition have always stemmed from the creativity, industriousness, and goodwill of people. A cooperative and compassionate, society <a href="//youtu.be/ty7APADAa8g">can emerge</a> from the&nbsp;creation of exchange alternatives that are based on voluntary, free-market, and community-based initiatives that enable people to transcend the money monopoly&nbsp;and the war machine. </p> <p>This process begins at the local level by utilizing the credit of local producers to mediate the exchange of goods and services that are locally produced or sold. There are many examples of successful private currencies that have been circulated in various times and places. Whatever they are called—<em>vouchers</em>,&nbsp;<em>scrip</em>,&nbsp;<em>credits</em>,&nbsp;<em>certificates</em>&nbsp;or&nbsp;<em>coupons</em>—sound private and community currencies can be&nbsp;spent&nbsp; into circulation by any trusted producer or reseller who is ready, willing, and able to reciprocate by redeeming the equivalent amount as payment for real value,&nbsp;<em>i.e.</em> the goods or services that are their normal stock in trade and are in regular demand. There is <a href="https://beyondmoney.net/2016/08/26/solar-dollars-a-private-currency-with-multiple-benefits/">nothing mysterious or complicated</a> about this process. </p> <p>The exchange of goods and services is also enabled on a moneyless basis by using a process of direct ‘credit clearing’ among buyers and sellers. This is already being done by scores of commercial trade exchanges (sometimes called ‘barter’ exchanges) that have been operating successfully around the world for more than 40 years. These commercial credit circles, comprised of thousands of businesses of all kinds, presently mediate an estimated 20 to 30 billion dollars’ worth of trades annually, and these numbers continue to grow. </p> <p>As operational improvements are made and credit management procedures become standardized, these exchanges <a href="https://beyondmoney.net/excerpts/limiting-factors-in-the-operation-of-commercial-trade-exchanges/">could be networked together</a> to realize the vast potential of moneyless credit clearing arrangements.&nbsp;In this emerging&nbsp;worldwide web of exchange,<strong>&nbsp;</strong>members of each local circle or node are known and allocate credit to one another based on their reputation and ability to provide valuable goods and services. Thus we can eventually have an independent system of non-monetary payment in which&nbsp;credit is locally controlled but globally useful.</p> <p>It is essential and entirely feasible that we reduce our dependence on the banking system and conventional political monies. Through the deployment of innovative mechanisms of exchange like private currencies and credit clearing networks, individuals, businesses and communities can empower themselves economically and politically to build a society that is free, fair, prosperous and peaceful.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><em>A longer version of this article is available <a href="https://beyondmoney.net/confronting-the-power-elite/">here</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/thomas-h-greco-jr/money-debt-and-end-of-growth-imperative">Money, debt and the end of the growth imperative</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/sam-cossar-gilbert/five-ways-to-transform-our-economies">Five ways to transform our economies </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/rajiv-khanna/are-we-losing-our-love-of-life-it-must-be-money">Are we losing our love of life? ‘It must be the money’</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Thomas H. Greco Jr. The role of money Economics Sun, 17 Jun 2018 20:07:55 +0000 Thomas H. Greco Jr. 118421 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The future of trade unions https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/steven-parfitt/future-of-trade-unions <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Unless democracy is reinstated as the movement’s guiding principle, organized labor will fail in any form.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/StevenParfitt2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Fight for 15 PA, SEIU 32BJ, and other unions representing fast food workers, home care workers, airport and retail workers rallied and marched around a South Philly McDonald's on Labor Day, 2017. Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/109799466@N06/36216998973">Flickr/Joe Piette</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.</a></p> <p>British and American unions live in contradictory times. Scarred by 40 years of demoralisation and decline and with a tumbling membership, stringent legal restrictions on their work and fading political influence, they may also now stand on the cusp of a revival. </p> <p>A wave of recent battles on both sides of the Atlantic, notably the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/steven-parfitt/us-teachers-strike-in-historical-perspective">ongoing teachers’ strikes in the US</a> and an unprecedented <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/02/britain-university-strike-pensions">14-day strike by British university staff,</a> might anticipate a coming upsurge in trade union action. Smug corporate types like to dismiss unions as industrial dinosaurs, killing time as they wait for the comet to land and finally bring about their extinction. We might yet get to see the smirks wiped from their faces.</p> <p>The sharpest edge of this contradiction involves workers at the bottom of the occupational pyramid: the least-skilled, lowest-paid, largely female, migrant and non-white precarious layer of the workforce who British and American unions have historically struggled to organize. In the past several decades they have seldom tried.</p> <p>The failure of unions to organize precarious workers has gone hand in hand with a failure of internal democracy. Falling membership in the past 40 years stems in part from union leaders not doing enough to draw on the talents and abilities of their members. An active membership, with real space to debate and change what their union does, is essential if unions are to organise precarious workers and bring about their own revival.</p> <p>Different traditions within the British and American unions have addressed these questions in their own distinct ways. Each has their own take on what unions should and shouldn’t do, and each has their own approach to organizing precarious workers and fostering democracy within the labor movement. As unions teeter between revival and further decline, it’s worth thinking about what these traditions are, where they come from, and which we should support in the years ahead. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The first of these traditions is craft unionism. It was strongest in the unions of the <a href="https://www.tuc.org.uk/our-history">British Trades Union Congress</a> and the <a href="https://aflcio.org/about/history">American Federation of Labor</a> during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and represented the most skilled, privileged and powerful minority of the labour force. More interested in making improvements within existing social arrangements than in transforming them, their bargaining power rested not on numbers but on the fact that the members of craft unions were, thanks to their long apprenticeships and training, not easily replaceable. </p> <p>They were often contemptuous—and sometimes even fearful—of the great mass of workers below them, whom they saw as prone to outbreaks of self-defeating militancy which would jeopardise the gains that ‘respectable’ unions made through negotiation. In general, the craft unions ignored such workers whenever possible. </p> <p>The second, more inclusive tradition is industrial unionism, which found adherents on both sides of the Atlantic in the rise of the mass production industries during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Industrial unionists saw a greater role for unions in the fight for social change. This meant conceiving unions not as a minority of skilled workers but as mass organisations that could mobilise workers in each industry from top to bottom. </p> <p>In the US the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knights_of_Labor">Knights of Labor</a>, the <a href="https://iww.org.uk/about/history/">Industrial Workers of the World</a> and the mass production unions of the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congress_of_Industrial_Organizations">Congress of Industrial Organizations</a> all succeeded to some extent in building a mass movement. The ‘new’ and general unions in the United Kingdom such as the <a href="http://www.unitetheunion.org/uploaded/documents/The%20Great%20Dock%20Strike%20of%201889%20-%20web%20booklet11-23272.pdf">Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Labourers Union</a> and the <a href="http://www.gmb.org.uk/about/history/birth-of-a-union">National Union of Gasworkers and General Labourers</a> did likewise. Not coincidentally, they organised precarious workers (especially women and non-white workers) in far greater numbers than craft unions ever did. </p> <p>The third tradition falls somewhere between unionism and charity. What might be called ‘philanthropic’ unions do not rest, as craft and industrial unions do, on the bargaining power, numbers and militancy of their members. They depend instead on middle- or upper-class support to promote organisation among this or that group of highly exploited workers who, such supporters feel, don’t have the time or the strength to organise on their own. </p> <p>Some of the first major steps in the promotion of women workers’ unions took this form. In 1874, for example, Emma Paterson and a number of other female workers set up the <a href="http://dangerouswomenproject.org/2016/06/20/womens-trade-unionism/">Women’s Provident and Protective League</a>, an organization designed to encourage the creation of womens’ unions. The League survived for several decades on subscriptions from prominent ladies with aristocratic titles. As a result, it was more likely to call for collaboration with sympathetic employers than struggle against those who were unsympathetic.</p> <p>These three traditions all still exist today, and their future development will determine the destiny of British and American unions in the years to come. </p> <p>The craft unions of the nineteenth century may be long gone, but the spirit of craft unionism remains. The horizons of many union leaders have narrowed during the past forty years of retreat even as their strategy to retain existing members—the so-called “service model” based on the provision of fringe benefits more than on demands at the workplace—has failed. Their record in organizing precarious workers, especially in rapidly-growing service industries, has been even worse. Money that could have been spent organising has flowed instead to the Democratic and Labour Parties in the hope that a legislative fix could halt these unions’ long-term decline. They still await political deliverance.</p> <p>In other cases, the philanthropic idea holds sway. In the US for example, the <a href="http://idwfed.org/en/affiliates/north-america/national-domestic-workers-alliance-ndwa">Domestic Workers Alliance</a> works with and on behalf of one such group: the people who work in other people’s homes, often the homes of the rich. The Alliance has <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/maureen-purtill/labor-of-love">won badly-needed improvements</a> for domestic workers at a state level in California and elsewhere, working with an employers’ organization called <a href="http://domesticemployers.org/about-us/">Hand in Hand</a> to promote good practice across the industry. </p> <p>Yet the funds that make the Alliance possible depend on the goodwill of well-meaning liberal donors, who might not prove so generous if domestic workers choose more militant forms of protest. There are also signs that the Alliance has <a href="https://www.dissentmagazine.org/blog/domestic-workers-at-a-crossroads">prioritised legislative solutions over the organising of domestic workers themselves</a>, and some organizations affiliated with the Alliance, such as <a href="http://www.domesticworkersunited.org/index.php/en/">Domestic Workers United</a>, have called for a different, more worker-led model of organization. </p> <p>The same philanthropic model guides living wage campaigns at UK universities today. Academics, students and union officials have pressured university managers to boost pay for low-wage workers on campus, using tactics from media campaigns to artistic interventions that have often proved effective. As with the Domestic Workers Alliance, however, they tend to work over the heads of the workers who stand to benefit from the campaign, and who must defend those gains from future attacks by university management. Unless that changes so that member-led democracy replaces charity as the guiding principle of the movement, these campaigns and alliances will fail in the longer term.</p> <p>If craft unionism is a dead end and philanthropic unions suffer from a deficit of democracy, then what of industrial unionism? The broad, radical thrust of that tradition has not energised the mainstream of the unions for some time, but its spirit still lives on. </p> <p>To take one example, the <a href="https://fightfor15.org/">Fight for $15 campaign</a> has brought thousands of fast-food workers, service and domestic workers traditionally considered beyond the reach of the American labor movement into the union fold. Its legislative victories in city after city from New York to Seattle prove to previously passive workers that strikes and mobilisations can <em>work</em>. If Fight for $15 can join with other radical movements with a strong working-class flavour such as Black Lives Matter, undocumented migrants’ campaigns, the new fighting feminism and ongoing struggles for LGBTQ rights, it could go from strength to strength. </p> <p>The same spirit animates a growing number of trade unionists in Britain. The <a href="https://www.bfawu.org/mcstrike">Bakers’ Union</a>, for example, has followed the American lead and organized the first strikes at British branches of McDonald’s in 2017 and 2018. Best of all, new unions have taken up the task of organizing precarious workers where the existing ones have failed. </p> <p>The Independent Workers of Great Britain (<a href="https://iwgb.org.uk/">IWGB</a>) and the United Voices of the World (<a href="https://www.uvwunion.org.uk/">UVW</a>) draw on the legacy of the ‘Wobblies,’ the Industrial Workers of the World. Working with food delivery workers at <a href="https://deliveroo.co.uk/">Deliveroo</a> and migrant cleaners and service workers at several London universities, they rely on direct action by an active and engaged membership to force concessions from employers. To promote unity between Spanish-speaking and English-speaking members they began English-Spanish language exchanges. And they have strengthened the skills, capacities and militancy of their members on the picket lines and in the wider community.</p> <p>At institutions from the School of Oriental and African Studies to the London School of Economics, they have waged successful strikes to secure better sick pay and holiday pay, and to end the outsourcing of their jobs. In April 2018 their struggle against outsourcing moved to cleaners, security guards and other workers employed by agencies for the central administration of the University of London. Their struggles have set an example for other trade unionists to follow. </p> <p>That doesn’t necessarily mean that we should abandon established unions and create whole new ones. It <em>does</em> involve a fight for the real control of those unions by their members—a struggle as old as the labour movement itself.</p> <p>These fights go on. The President of the Teamsters, James P. <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/12/teamsters-hoffa-tdu-zuckerman-pope-reform-ups">Hoffa</a>, son of the infamous Jimmy Hoffa—a &nbsp;name associated with the corrupt unionism of <em><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Godfather">The Godfather</a></em> and <em><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Waterfront">On the Waterfront</a></em>—was nearly unseated as President in late 2016 by a grassroots coalition called <a href="http://www.tdu.org/">Teamsters for a Democratic Union</a>. A 14-day strike in February and March 2018 has transformed my own union, the <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/03/ucu-university-staff-strike-deal-pensions-union">University and College Union (UCU),</a> whose national leadership faced harsh criticism for its apparent willingness to end the strike on any conceivable terms. UCU leaders can now no longer rely on a rubber stamp from an inert membership, and the possibilities for a campaign by and for casual academic workers have never been greater. </p> <p>The exact form that unions take as organizations is less important than the spirit that guides them. Craft unionism means further decline and irrelevance. Philanthropic unionism means eternal dependence on fickle liberals. Inclusive, industrial unionism remains the only tradition with real democratic potential. It alone has the wide vision needed to organise the millions of precarious workers alongside those with greater leverage and bargaining power. </p> <p>Whether or not that tradition is expressed through new unions or old, the example set by the IWGB, the Fight for $15 and other grassroots movements is the one we should follow if we want to restore dignity to the most exploited and fight most effectively for real social change. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/steven-parfitt/us-teachers-strike-in-historical-perspective">The US teachers strike in historical perspective</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/beyondslavery/tom-hunt/building-up-bundle-of-sticks-new-ideas-for-union-organising">Building up the bundle of sticks: new ideas for union organising</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/beyondslavery/jenny-andrew/embracing-data-is-key-to-future-of-unions">Embracing data is key to the future of unions</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Trade unions Steven Parfitt Activism Economics Sun, 10 Jun 2018 20:00:00 +0000 Steven Parfitt 118065 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Steven Pinker’s ideas are fatally flawed. These eight graphs show why. https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jeremy-lent/steven-pinker-s-ideas-are-fatally-flawed-these-eight-graphs-show-why <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>It’s time to reclaim the mantle of “Progress” for progressives<em>.</em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Steven_Pinker.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Steven Pinker giving a lecture to Humanists UK, February 22 2018. Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Steven_Pinker.jpg">Bhaawest via Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en">CC BY-SA 4.0</a>.</p><p>In <em><a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/317051/enlightenment-now-by-steven-pinker/9780525427575/">Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress</a></em>, published earlier this year, Steven Pinker argues that the human race has never had it so good as a result of values he attributes to the European Enlightenment of the 18th century. He berates those who focus on what is wrong with the world’s current condition as pessimists who only help to incite regressive reactionaries. Instead, he glorifies the dominant neoliberal, technocratic approach to solving the world’s problems as the only one that has worked in the past and will continue to lead humanity on its current triumphant path.</p> <p>His book has incited strong reactions, both positive and negative. On one hand, Bill Gates has, for example, effervesced that “It’s my new favorite book of all time.” On the other hand, Pinker has been fiercely excoriated by a wide range of leading thinkers for writing a simplistic, incoherent paean to the dominant world order. John Gray, in <a href="https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/books/2018/02/unenlightened-thinking-steven-pinker-s-embarrassing-new-book-feeble-sermon">the <em>New Statesman</em></a>, calls it “embarrassing” and “feeble”; David Bell, writing <a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/waiting-for-steven-pinkers-enlightenment/">in <em>The Nation</em></a>, sees it as “a dogmatic book that offers an oversimplified, excessively optimistic vision of human history”; and George Monbiot, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/07/environmental-calamity-facts-steven-pinker">in <em>The Guardian</em></a>, laments the “poor scholarship” and “motivated reasoning” that “insults the Enlightenment principles he claims to defend.” (Full disclosure: Monbiot recommends my book, <a href="https://www.jeremylent.com/the-patterning-instinct.html"><em>The Patterning Instinct</em></a>, instead.)</p> <p>In light of all this, you might ask, what is left to add? Having read his book carefully, I believe it’s crucially important to take Pinker to task for some dangerously erroneous arguments he makes. Pinker is, after all, an intellectual darling of the most powerful echelons of global society. He <a href="http://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/steven-pinker-excessive-political-correctness-feeds-dangerous-ideas">spoke to the world’s elite</a> this year at the World’s Economic Forum in Davos on the perils of what he calls “political correctness,” and has been named one of <em>Time</em> magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World Today.” Since his work offers an intellectual rationale for many in the elite to continue practices that imperil humanity, it needs to be met with a detailed and rigorous response.</p> <p>Besides, I agree with much of what Pinker has to say. His book is stocked with seventy-five charts and graphs that provide incontrovertible evidence for centuries of progress on many fronts that should matter to all of us: an inexorable decline in violence of all sorts along with equally impressive increases in health, longevity, education, and human rights. It’s precisely because of the validity of much of Pinker’s narrative that the flaws in his argument are so dangerous. They’re concealed under such a smooth layer of data and eloquence that they need to be carefully unraveled. That’s why my response to Pinker is to meet him on his own turf: in each section, like him, I rest my case on hard data exemplified in a graph.&nbsp; </p> <p>This discussion is particularly needed because progress is, in my view, one of the most important concepts of our time. I see myself, in common parlance, as a progressive. Progress is what I, and others I’m close to, care about passionately. Rather than ceding this idea to the coterie of neoliberal technocrats who constitute Pinker’s primary audience, I believe we should hold it in our steady gaze, celebrate it where it exists, understand its true causes, and most importantly, ensure that it continues in a form that future generations on this earth can enjoy. I hope this piece helps to do just that.</p> <h2>Graph 1: Overshoot</h2> <p>In November 2017, around the time when Pinker was likely putting the final touches on his manuscript, over fifteen thousand scientists from 184 countries <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/12/19/what-will-it-really-take-to-avoid-collapse/">issued a dire warning</a> to humanity. Because of our overconsumption of the world’s resources, they declared, we are facing “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss.” They warned that time is running out: “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.” </p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/JeremyLent1.png" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Figure 1: Three graphs from World Scientists' Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice.</p> <p>They included nine sobering charts and a carefully worded, extensively researched analysis showing that, on a multitude of fronts, the human impact on the earth’s biological systems is increasing at an unsustainable rate. Three of those alarming graphs are shown here: the rise in CO2 emissions; the decline in available freshwater; and the increase in the number of ocean dead zones from artificial fertilizer runoff.</p> <p>This was not the first such notice. Twenty-five years earlier, in 1992, 1,700 scientists (including the majority of living Nobel laureates) sent a similarly worded warning to governmental leaders around the world, calling for a recognition of the earth’s fragility and a new ethic arising from the realization that “we all have but one lifeboat.” The current graphs starkly demonstrate how little the world has paid attention to this warning since 1992.</p> <p>Taken together, these graphs illustrate ecological overshoot: the fact that, in the pursuit of material progress, our civilization is consuming the earth’s resources faster than they can be replenished. Overshoot is particularly dangerous because of its relatively slow feedback loops: if your checking account balance approaches zero, you know that if you keep writing checks they will bounce. In overshoot, however, it’s as though our civilization keeps taking out bigger and bigger overdrafts to replenish the account, and then we pretend these funds are income and celebrate our continuing “progress.” In the end, of course, the money runs dry and it’s game over.</p> <p>Pinker claims to respect science, yet he blithely ignores fifteen thousand scientists’ desperate warning to humanity. Instead, he uses the blatant rhetorical technique of ridicule to paint those concerned about overshoot as part of a “quasi-religious ideology… laced with misanthropy, including an indifference to starvation, an indulgence in ghoulish fantasies of a depopulated planet, and Nazi-like comparisons of human beings to vermin, pathogens, and cancer.” He then uses a couple of the most extreme examples he can find to create a straw-man to buttress his caricature. There are issues worthy of debate on the topic of civilization and sustainability, but to approach a subject of such seriousness with emotion-laden rhetoric is morally inexcusable and striking evidence of Monbiot’s claim that Pinker “insults the Enlightenment principles he claims to defend.”</p> <p>When Pinker does get serious on the topic, he promotes Ecomodernism as the solution: a neoliberal, technocratic belief that a combination of market-based solutions and technological fixes will magically resolve all ecological problems. This approach fails, however, to take into account the structural drivers of overshoot: a growth-based global economy reliant on ever-increasing monetization of natural resources and human activity. Without changing this structure, overshoot is inevitable. Transnational corporations, which currently constitute sixty-nine of the world’s hundred largest economies, <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/11/30/ai-has-already-taken-over-its-called-the-corporation/">are driven only by increasing</a> short-term financial value for their shareholders, regardless of the long-term impact on humanity. As freshwater resources decline, for example, their incentive is to buy up what remains and sell it in plastic throwaway bottles or <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/13/health/colombia-soda-tax-obesity.html?_r=0">process it into sugary drinks</a>, propelling billions in developing countries toward obesity through sophisticated marketing. In fact, until an imminent collapse of civilization itself, increasing ecological catastrophes are <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/10/31/the-cruel-topsy-turvy-economics-of-collapse/">likely to enhance</a> the GDP of developed countries even while those in less developed regions suffer dire consequences.</p> <p><span><strong>Graphs 2 and 3: progress for whom?</strong></span></p> <p>Which brings us to another fundamental issue in Pinker’s narrative of progress: who actually gets to enjoy it? Much of his book is devoted to graphs showing worldwide progress in quality in life for humanity as a whole. However, some of his omissions and misstatements on this topic are very telling.</p> <p>At one point, Pinker explains that, “Despite the word’s root, humanism doesn’t exclude the flourishing of animals, but this book focuses on the welfare of humankind.” That’s convenient, because any non-human animal might not agree that the past sixty years has been a period of flourishing. In fact, while the world’s GDP has increased 22-fold since 1970, there has been <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/living-planet-report-2016">a vast die-off</a> of the creatures with whom we share the earth. As shown in Figure 2, human progress in material consumption has come at the cost of a 58% decline in vertebrates, including a shocking 81% reduction of animal populations in freshwater systems. For every five birds or fish that inhabited a river or lake in 1970, there is now just one.</p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Jeremylent2.png" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Figure 2: Reduction in abundance in global species since 1970. Source: WWF Living Plant Report, 2016.</p> <p>But we don’t need to look outside the human race for Pinker’s selective view of progress. He is pleased to tell us that “racist violence against African Americans… plummeted in the 20th century, and has fallen further since.” What he declines to report is the drastic increase in incarceration rates for African Americans during that same period (Figure 3). An African American man is now six times more likely to be arrested than a white man, resulting in <a href="https://sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Trends-in-US-Corrections.pdf">the dismal statistic</a> that one in every three African American men can currently expect to be imprisoned in their lifetime. The grim takeaway from this is that racist violence against African Americans has not declined at all, as Pinker suggests. Instead, it has become institutionalized into U.S. national policy in <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/10/how-the-school-to-prison-pipeline-is-created/433230/">what is known as</a> the school-to-prison pipeline.</p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Jeremylent3.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Figure 3: Historical incarceration rates of African-Americans. Source: <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/04/30/the-meteoric-costly-and-unprecedented-rise-of-incarceration-in-america/?utm_term=.f54d5554031d">The Washington Post</a>.</p> <p><span><strong>Graph 4: A rising tide lifts all boats?</strong></span></p> <p>This brings us to one of the crucial errors in Pinker’s overall analysis. By failing to analyze his top-level numbers with discernment, he unquestioningly propagates one of the great neoliberal myths of the past several decades: that “a rising tide lifts all the boats”—a phrase he unashamedly appropriates for himself as he extols the benefits of inequality. This was <a href="https://www.nationalreview.com/2006/07/rising-tide-more-ways-one-thomas-e-nugent/">the argument used</a> by the original instigators of neoliberal laissez-faire economics, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, to cut taxes, privatize industries, and slash public services with the goal of increasing economic growth.</p> <p>Pinker makes two key points here. First, he argues that “income inequality is not a fundamental component of well-being,” pointing to recent research that people are comfortable with differential rewards for others depending on their effort and skill. However, as Pinker himself acknowledges, humans do have a powerful predisposition toward fairness. They want to feel that, if they work diligently, they can be as successful as someone else based on what they do, not on what family they’re born into or what their skin color happens to be. More equal societies are <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/want-the-good-life-your-neighbors-need-it-too">also healthier</a>, which is a condition conspicuously missing from the current economic model, where the divide between rich and poor has become so gaping that the six wealthiest men in the world (including <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/27/business/mind-meld-bill-gates-steven-pinker.html">Pinker’s good friend</a>, Bill Gates) now own <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/richest-men-in-the-world-2274065153.html">as much wealth</a> as the entire bottom half of the world’s population.</p> <p>Pinker’s fallback might, then, be his second point: the rising tide argument, which he extends to the global economy. Here, he cheerfully recounts the story of how Branko Milanović, a leading ex-World Bank economist, analyzed income gains by percentile across the world over the twenty-year period 1988–2008, and discovered something that became widely known as the “Elephant Graph,” because its shape resembled the profile of an elephant with a raised trunk. Contrary to popular belief about rising global inequality, it seemed to show that, while the top 1% did in fact gain more than their fair share of income, lower percentiles of the global population had done just as well. It seemed to be only the middle classes in wealthy countries that had missed out. </p> <p>This graph, however, is virtually meaningless because it calculates growth rates as a percent of widely divergent income levels. Compare a Silicon Valley executive <a href="https://www.indeed.com/salaries/Director-Salaries,-Silicon-Valley-CA">earning $200,000/year</a> with one of the <a href="https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-global-poverty">three billion people</a> currently living on $2.50 per day or less. If the executive gets a 10% pay hike, she can use the $20,000 to buy a new compact car for her teenage daughter. Meanwhile, that same 10% increase would add, at most, a measly 25 cents per day to each of those three billion. In Graph 4, Oxfam economist Mujeed Jamaldeen shows the original “Elephant Graph” (blue line) contrasted with changes in absolute income levels (green line). The difference is stark.</p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/jeremylent4.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Figure 4: “Elephant Graph” versus absolute income growth levels. Source: “From Poverty to Power,” Muheed Jamaldeen.</p> <p>The “Elephant Graph” elegantly conceals the fact that the wealthiest 1% experienced nearly 65 times the absolute income growth as the poorest half of the world’s population. Inequality isn’t, in fact, decreasing at all, but going extremely rapidly the other way. Jamaldeen <a href="http://oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/whats-happening-on-global-inequality-putting-the-elephant-graph-to-sleep-with-a-hockey-stick/">has calculated</a> that, at the current rate, it would take over 250 years for the income of the poorest 10% to merely reach the global average income of $11/day. By that time, at the current rate of consumption by wealthy nations, it’s safe to say there would be nothing left for them to spend their lucrative earnings on. In fact, the “rising tide” for some barely equates to a drop in the bucket for billions of others.</p> <h2>Graph 5: Measuring genuine progress.</h2> <p>One of the cornerstones of Pinker’s book is the explosive rise in income and wealth that the world has experienced in the past couple of centuries. Referring to the work of economist Angus Deaton, he calls it the “Great Escape” from the historic burdens of human suffering, and shows a chart (Figure 5, left) depicting the rise in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, which seems to say it all. How could anyone in their right mind refute that evidence of progress? </p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/jeremylent5.png" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Figure 5: GDP per capita compared with GPI. Source: Kubiszewski et al. "Beyond GDP: Measuring and achieving global genuine progress.” Ecological Economics, 2013.</p> <p>There is no doubt that the world has experienced a transformation in material wellbeing in the past two hundred years, and Pinker documents this in detail, from the increased availability of clothing, food, and transportation, to the seemingly mundane yet enormously important decrease in the cost of artificial light. However, there is a point where the rise in economic activity begins to decouple from wellbeing. In fact, GDP merely measures the rate at which a society is transforming nature and human activities into the monetary economy, regardless of the ensuing quality of life. Anything that causes economic activity of any kind, whether good or bad, adds to GDP. An oil spill, for example, increases GDP because of the cost of cleaning it up: the bigger the spill, the better it is for GDP.</p> <p>This divergence is played out, tragically, across the world every day, and is cruelly hidden in global statistics of rising GDP when powerful corporate and political interests destroy the lives of the vulnerable in the name of economic “progress.” In just one of countless examples, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/feb/06/urban-poor-tragedy-altamira-belo-monte-brazil">a recent report</a> in <em>The Guardian</em> describes how indigenous people living on the Xingu River in the Amazon rainforest were forced off their land to make way for the Belo Monte hydroelectric complex in Altamira, Brazil. One of them, Raimundo Brago Gomes, tells how “I didn’t need money to live happy. My whole house was nature… I had my patch of land where I planted a bit of everything, all sorts of fruit trees. I’d catch my fish, make manioc flour… I raised my three daughters, proud of what I was. I was rich.” Now, he and his family live among drug dealers behind barred windows in Brazil’s most violent city, receiving a state pension which, after covering rent and electricity, leaves him about 50 cents a day to feed himself, his wife, daughter, and grandson. Meanwhile, as a result of his family’s forced entry into the monetary economy, Brazil’s GDP has risen.</p> <p>Pinker is aware of the crudeness of GDP as a measure, but uses it repeatedly throughout his book because, he claims, “it correlates with every indicator of human flourishing.” This is not, however, what has been discovered when economists have adjusted GDP to incorporate other major factors that affect human flourishing. One prominent alternative measure, the <a href="https://liologydotnet.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/kubiszewsky-beyond-gdp.pdf">Genuine Progress Indicator</a> (GPI), reduces GDP for negative environmental factors such as the cost of pollution, loss of primary forest and soil quality, and social factors such as the cost of crime and commuting. It increases the measure for positive factors missing from GDP such as housework, volunteer work, and higher education. Sixty years of historical GPI for many countries around the world have been measured, and the results resoundingly refute Pinker’s claim of GDP’s correlation with wellbeing. In fact, as shown by the purple line in Figure 5 (right), it turns out that the world’s Genuine Progress peaked in 1978 and has been steadily falling ever since.</p> <h2>Graph 6: What has improved global health?</h2> <p>One of Pinker’s most important themes is the undisputed improvement in overall health and longevity that the world has enjoyed in the past century. It’s a powerful and heart-warming story. Life expectancy around the world has more than doubled in the past century. Infant mortality everywhere is a tiny fraction of what it once was. Improvements in medical knowledge and hygiene have saved literally billions of lives. Pinker appropriately quotes economist Steven Radelet that these improvements “rank among the greatest achievements in human history.”</p> <p>So, what has been the underlying cause of this great achievement? Pinker melds together what he sees as the twin engines of progress: GDP growth and increase in knowledge. Economic growth, for him, is a direct result of global capitalism. “Though intellectuals are apt to do a spit take when they read a defense of capitalism,” he declares with his usual exaggerated rhetoric, “its economic benefits are so obvious that they don’t need to be shown with numbers.” He refers to a figure called the Preston curve, from a paper by Samuel Preston published in 1975 showing a correlation between GDP and life expectancy that become foundational to the field of developmental economics. “Most obviously,” Pinker declares, “GDP per capita correlates with longevity, health, and nutrition.” While he pays lip service to the scientific principle that “correlation is not causation,” he then clearly asserts causation, claiming that “economic development does seem to be a major mover of human welfare.” He closes his chapter with a joke about a university dean offered by a genie the choice between money, fame, or wisdom. The dean chooses wisdom but then regrets it, muttering “I should have taken the money.”</p> <p>Pinker would have done better to have pondered more deeply on the relation between correlation and causation in this profoundly important topic. In fact, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/padr.12141">a recent paper</a> by Wolfgang Lutz and Endale Kebede entitled “Education and Health: Redrawing the Preston Curve” does just that. The original Preston curve came with an anomaly: the relationship between GDP and life expectancy doesn’t stay constant. Instead, each period it’s measured, it shifts higher, showing greater life expectancy for any given GDP (Figure 6, left). Preston—and his followers, including Pinker—explained this away by suggesting that advances in medicine and healthcare must have improved things across the board. </p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/jeremylent6.png" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Figure 6: GDP vs. Life expectancy compared with Education vs. Life expectancy. Source: W. Lutz and E. Kebede. "Education and Health: Redrawing the Preston Curve." Population and Development Review, 2018.</p> <p>Lutz and Kebede, however, used sophisticated multi-level regression models to analyze how closely education correlated with life expectancy compared with GDP. They found that a country’s average level of educational attainment explained rising life expectancy much better than GDP, and eliminated the anomaly in Preston’s Curve (Figure 6, right). The correlation with GDP was spurious. In fact, their model suggests that both GDP and health are ultimately driven by the amount of schooling children receive. This finding has enormous implications for development priorities in national and global policy. For decades, the neoliberal mantra, based on Preston’s Curve, has dominated mainstream thinking—raise a country’s GDP and health benefits will follow. Lutz and Kebede show that a more effective policy would be to invest in schooling for children, with all the ensuing benefits in quality of life that will bring.</p> <p>Pinker’s joke has come full circle. In reality, for the past few decades, the dean chose the money. Now, he can look at the data and mutter: “I should have taken the wisdom.”</p> <h2>Graph 7: False equivalencies, false dichotomies.</h2> <p>As we can increasingly see, many of Pinker’s missteps arise from the fact that he conflates two different dynamics of the past few centuries: improvements in many aspects of the human experience, and the rise of neoliberal, laissez-faire capitalism. Whether this is because of faulty reasoning on his part, or a conscious strategy to obfuscate, the result is the same. Most readers will walk away from his book with the indelible impression that free market capitalism is an underlying driver of human progress.</p> <p>Pinker himself states the importance of avoiding this kind of conflation. “Progress,” he declares, “consists not in accepting every change as part of an indivisible package… Progress consists of unbundling the features of a social process as much as we can to maximize the human benefits while minimizing the harms.” If only he took his own admonition more seriously!</p> <p>Instead, he laces his book with an unending stream of false equivalencies and false dichotomies that lead a reader inexorably to the conclusion that progress and capitalism are part of the same package. One of his favorite tropes is to create a false equivalency between right-wing extremism and the progressive movement on the left. He tells us that the regressive factions that undergirded Donald Trump’s presidency were “abetted by a narrative shared by many of their fiercest opponents, in which the institutions of modernity have failed and every aspect of life is in deepening crisis—the two sides in macabre agreement that wrecking those institutions will make the world a better place.” He even goes so far as to implicate Bernie Sanders in the 2016 election debacle: “The left and right ends of the political spectrum,” he opines, “incensed by economic inequality for their different reasons, curled around to meet each other, and their shared cynicism about the modern economy helped elect the most radical American president in recent times.”</p> <p>Implicit in Pinker’s political model is the belief that progress can only arise from the brand of centrist politics espoused by many in the mainstream Democratic Party. He perpetuates a false dichotomy of “right versus left” based on a twentieth-century version of politics that has been irrelevant for more than a generation. “The left,” he writes, “has missed the boat in its contempt for the market and its romance with Marxism.” He contrasts “industrial capitalism,” on the one hand, which has rescued humanity from universal poverty, with communism, which has “brought the world terror-famines, purges, gulags, genocides, Chernobyl, megadeath revolutionary wars, and North Korea–style poverty before collapsing everywhere else of its own internal contradictions.”</p> <p>By painting this black and white, Manichean landscape of capitalist good versus communist evil, Pinker obliterates from view the complex, sophisticated models of a hopeful future that have been diligently constructed over decades by a wide range of progressive thinkers. These fresh perspectives eschew the Pinker-style false dichotomy of traditional left versus right. Instead, they explore the possibilities of replacing a destructive global economic system with one that offers potential for greater fairness, sustainability, and human flourishing. In short, a model for continued progress for the twenty-first century.</p> <p>While the thought leaders of the progressive movement are too numerous to mention here, an illustration of this kind of thinking is seen in Graph 7. It shows an integrated model of the economy, aptly called “Doughnut Economics,” <a href="https://www.kateraworth.com/doughnut/">that has been developed</a> by pioneering economist Kate Raworth. The inner ring, called Social Foundation, represents the minimum level of life’s essentials, such as food, water, and housing, required for the possibility of a healthy and wholesome life. The outer ring, called Ecological Ceiling, represents the boundaries of Earth’s life-giving systems, such as a stable climate and healthy oceans, within which we must remain to achieve sustained wellbeing for this and future generations. The red areas within the ring show the current shortfall in the availability of bare necessities to the world’s population; the red zones outside the ring illustrate the extent to which we have already overshot the safe boundaries in several essential earth systems. Humanity’s goal, within this model, is to develop policies that bring us within the safe and just space of the “doughnut” between the two rings.</p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/jeremylent7.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Figure 7: Kate Raworth's Doughnut Economic Model. Source: Kate Raworth; Christian Guthier/The Lancet Planetary Health.</p> <p>Raworth, along with many others who care passionately about humanity’s future progress, focus their efforts, not on the kind of zero-sum, false dichotomies propagated by Pinker, but on developing fresh approaches to building a future that works for all on a sustainable and flourishing earth.</p> <h2>Graph 8: Progress Is Caused By… Progressives!</h2> <p>This brings us to the final graph, which is actually one of Pinker’s own. It shows the decline in recent years of web searches for sexist, racist, and homophobic jokes. Along with other statistics, he uses this as evidence in his argument that, contrary to what we read in the daily headlines, retrograde prejudices based on gender, race, and sexual orientation are actually on the decline. He attributes this in large part to “the benign taboos on racism, sexism, and homophobia that have become second nature to the mainstream.”</p><p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/jeremylent8.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><span class="image-caption">Figure 8. Source: Steven Pinker, <em><a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/317051/enlightenment-now-by-steven-pinker/9780525427575/">Enlightenment Now</a>.</em></span></span></p><p>How, we might ask, did this happen? As Pinker himself expresses, we can’t assume that this kind of moral progress just happened on its own. “If you see that a pile of laundry has gone down,” he avers, “it does not mean the clothes washed themselves; it means someone washed the clothes. If a type of violence has gone down, then some change in the social, cultural, or material milieu has caused it to go down… That makes it important to find out what the causes are, so we can try to intensify them and apply them more widely.”</p> <p>Looking back into history, Pinker recognizes that changes in moral norms came about because progressive minds broke out of their society’s normative frames and applied new ethics based on a higher level of morality, dragging the mainstream reluctantly in their wake, until the next generation grew up adopting a new moral baseline. “Global shaming campaigns,” he explains, “even when they start out as purely aspirational, have in the past led to dramatic reductions in slavery, dueling, whaling, foot-binding, piracy, privateering, chemical warfare, apartheid, and atmospheric nuclear testing.”</p> <p>It is hard to comprehend how the same person who wrote these words can then turn around and hurl invectives against what he decries as “political correctness police, and social justice warriors” caught up in “identity politics,” not to mention his loathing for an environmental movement that “subordinates human interests to a transcendent entity, the ecosystem.” Pinker seems to view all ethical development from prehistory to the present day as “progress,” but any pressure to shift society further along its moral arc as anathema. </p> <p>This is the great irony of Pinker’s book. In writing a paean to historical progress, he then takes a staunchly conservative stance to those who want to continue it. It’s as though he sees himself at the mountain’s peak, holding up a placard saying “All progress stops here, unless it’s on my terms.”</p> <p>In reality, many of the great steps made in securing the moral progress Pinker applauds came from brave individuals who had to resist the opprobrium of the Steven Pinkers of their time while they devoted their lives to reducing the suffering of others. When Thomas Paine affirmed the “Rights of Man” back in 1792, <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2015/12/09/creating-new-norms-the-rights-of-nature-tribunal/">he was tried and convicted&nbsp;</a><em>in absentia</em>&nbsp;by the British for seditious libel. It would be another 150 years before his visionary idea was universally recognized in the United Nations. Emily Pankhurst was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmeline_Pankhurst">arrested seven times</a> in her struggle to obtain women’s suffrage and was constantly berated by “moderates” of the time for her radical approach in striving for something that has now become the unquestioned norm. When Rachel Carson published <em>Silent Spring</em> in 1962, with the first public exposé of the indiscriminate use of pesticides, her solitary stance was denounced as hysterical and unscientific. Just eight years later, twenty million Americans marched to protect the environment in the first Earth Day.</p> <p>These great strides in moral progress continue to this day. It’s hard to see them in the swirl of daily events, but they’re all around us: in the legalization of same sex marriage, in the spread of the Black Lives Matter movement, and most recently in the way the #MeToo movement is beginning to shift norms in the workplace. Not surprisingly, the current steps in social progress are vehemently opposed by Steven Pinker, who has approvingly retweeted articles attacking both <a href="https://twitter.com/sapinker/status/698171580707442689?lang=en">Black Lives Matter</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/sapinker/status/942821860689006593?lang=en">#MeToo</a>, and who <a href="http://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/steven-pinker-excessive-political-correctness-feeds-dangerous-ideas">rails at the World Economic Forum</a> against what he terms “political correctness.”</p> <p>It’s time to reclaim the mantle of “Progress” for progressives. By slyly tethering the concept of progress to free market economics and centrist values, Steven Pinker has tried to appropriate a great idea for which he has no rightful claim. Progress in the quality of life, for humans and nonhumans alike, is something that anyone with a heart should celebrate. It did not come about through capitalism, and in many cases, it has been achieved despite the “free market” that Pinker espouses. Personally, I’m proud to be a progressive, and along with many others, to devote my energy to achieve progress for this and future generations. And if and when we do so, it won’t be thanks to Steven Pinker and his specious arguments.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jeremy-lent/culture-shift-redirecting-humanity-s-path-to-flourishing-future">Culture shift: redirecting humanity’s path to a flourishing future</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/kate-raworth/seven-ways-to-think-like-21st-century-economist">Seven ways to think like a 21st century economist</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/harry-hendrick/new-vision-for-left">A new vision for the left</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Jeremy Lent Environment Economics Culture Mon, 21 May 2018 21:11:11 +0000 Jeremy Lent 117963 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Welcome to the ‘New Dark Age.’ https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/niki-seth-smith/welcome-to-new-dark-age <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="Default">A terrifying new book by James Bridle calls on us to embrace uncertainty.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Default"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Nikisethsmith4.png" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/5161697674">Flickr/opensource.com</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>.</p> <p class="Default">Data is making us dumber. This seeming paradox has been gaining currency, at least in the tech-saturated Global North. We’re increasingly bombarded with advice on how to manage data overload. The English comedian Dave Gorman summed it up in the tongue-in-cheek title of his <a href="http://www.apple.com/">recent book</a>: “Too much information: Or: Can Everyone Just Shut Up for a Moment, Some of Us Are Trying to Think.” We like to laugh about this stuff. It helps us to cope with the deep human fear that the world has moved beyond our understanding and control.</p> <p class="Default">If indeed we’re in a state of hysterical denial, James Bridle wants to give us all a slap in his forthcoming book “<a href="https://www.versobooks.com/books/2698-new-dark-age">New Dark Age: Technology, Knowledge and the End of the Future</a>.” Bridle invites us to engage in a direct confrontation with our decreasing comprehension of the world. Through a wide investigation of diverse fields from aviation to social media, the pharmaceutical industry and climate science, he sets out to show how our data-driven culture is threatening our existence as a species.</p> <p class="Default">While we might expect to be offered a route back to knowledge and security, Bridle’s book breaks new ground by proposing that we embrace uncertainty instead. “We have been conditioned to think of the darkness as a place of danger, even of death” he writes, “But the darkness can also be a place of freedom and possibility, even of equality. Uncertainty can be productive, even sublime.”</p> <p class="Default">It’s an intriguing and unsettling proposal. As a journalist, technologist, and visual artist, Bridle has employed a multiplicity of strategies for thinking differently about technology. He’s still probably best known for developing what he called the “<a href="http://jamesbridle.com/works/the-new-aesthetic">New Aesthetic</a>” in 2011, now an art meme centred around a <a href="http://new-aesthetic.tumblr.com/page/2">tumblr account</a> that captures the physical objects and signs of the digital world like data centres or surveillance drones.</p> <p class="Default">While the New Aesthetic makes the invisible visible, ‘New Dark Age’ appears to ask us to think the unthinkable. If you don’t like paradoxes, buckle up and hold on tight. The book is not an easy read. In fact, Bridle admits it was a struggle to write. “There is a kind of shame in speaking about the exigencies of the present, and a deep vulnerability, but it must not stop us thinking. We cannot fail each other now” as he puts it.</p> <p class="Default">This shame and vulnerability spring from an inconvenient truth: our faith in data is failing us. More information is supposed to lead to better decisions, a cultural logic that has dominated the Western world at least since the Enlightenment. The warning that this relationship is breaking down, or perhaps is already broken, is being flagged across multiple disciplines. What Bridle attempts to do is to bring them all together.</p> <p class="Default">The picture he paints is a daunting one. We learn that experts are drowning in data. There’s been an increase in data-dredging, where researchers cherry-pick the results they need, even if unwittingly. The pharmaceutical industry is experiencing a discovery crisis, returning exponentially fewer breakthroughs in new drugs. The intelligence services tell the same story. In 2016, NSA whistle-blower <a href="https://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/01/06/nsa-whistleblower-tells-uk-parliament-snoopers-charter-deadly">William Binney said</a> that the bulk collection of communications data was “99 per cent useless,” one of many such statements in recent years.</p> <p class="Default">It’s not only that data can swamp and mislead us; it also provides such a compelling picture that we often reject our common sense. Bridle provides a string of nightmarish examples of what is known as “automation bias,” including tragic airline accidents and a group of Japanese tourists who—following their SatNav in Australia—drove their car straight into the sea. &nbsp;Most of us have made absurd mistakes because of trusting machines more than ourselves.</p> <p class="Default">Most harrowing of all is his chapter on climate. “The climate crisis is also a crisis of knowledge and understanding,” Bridle writes, “What we perceive as weather in the moment shadows the globe as climate: tiny moments of turbulent activity through which we can barely grasp an unseen, unknowable totality.” Our forecasting systems are already failing in the face of unpredictable climate events. If data aren’t helping us, we’d better get used to extreme levels of uncertainty as the norm.</p> <p class="Default">Thus climate becomes the grand metaphor for our overwhelming loss of knowledge and control. But instead of running for the hills (and hoping they haven’t sunk into the sea), Bridle suggests that we embrace the “cloudy thinking” that springs from this loss of certainty.</p> <p class="Default">It’s a theoretically interesting aim, but how would it work in practice? For Bridle, the first move is to reject anything that smacks of “computational thinking.” “Computational thinking insists on the easy answer,” he writes. “That which is gathered as data is modelled as the way things are, and then projected forward—with an implicit assumption that things will not radically change or diverge from previous experiences.”</p> <p class="Default">The problem is, we’re addicted to this way of thinking. Bridle compares our “thirst for data” to our “thirst for oil”—insatiable and ultimately destructive. It’s a shaky metaphor, as he seems to acknowledge later on. Information, unlike oil, has the potential to be a free, infinite resource. However, today it’s anything but. Current data consumption habits carry a high environmental cost. As Bridle points out, “As digital culture becomes faster, higher bandwidth, and more image based, it also become more costly and destructive."</p> <p class="Default">However hard it may be to change this culture, it seems at least possible to slow ourselves down. Books like the <a href="https://thebookroomatbyron.com/p/brain-neuroscience-the-organised-mind-thinking-straight-in-the-age-of-information-overload?barcode=9780670923113">recent best-seller</a> “The Organised Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload” by the neuroscientist Daniel Levitin are popular because they offer individuals practical advice on how to do just this. They also propose strategies for how to navigate our data-rich world more effectively.</p> <p class="Default">“New Dark Age” also deals with this challenge. Parallels have often been drawn between the internet and ‘The Library of Babel,’ an infinite library imagined in an iconic short story by the Argentininian writer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Library_of_Babel">Jorge Luis Borges</a>. Bridle engages this metaphor to call for new and radically different “categories, summaries and authorities” that can help us utilise the sum of our interlocking information systems. He uses the term “literacy” to mark the difference between full comprehension (which is impossible) and learning how to speak the language of the network.</p> <p class="Default">But who decides on this navigation system—who are the new librarians? The latest backlash against Big Tech, sparked in part by the <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/21/facebook-cambridge-analytica-scandal-everything-you-need-to-know.html">Cambridge Analytica scandal</a>, may die down, but nothing fundamental is likely to have changed. Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon will still remain hugely powerful and largely unregulated gatekeepers of the ‘infinite library.’ They have shown, time and again, that they don’t deserve &nbsp;our trust.</p> <p class="Default">This brings us back to the theme of uncertainty. Humans are afraid of the darkness for a reason. We’re especially afraid if we’re blind-folded and others around us are able to see.</p> <p class="Default">This is where Bridle’s thinking hits a familiar brick wall. Elsewhere in the book he acknowledges that technology is “a key driver of inequality across many sectors” and that one of the main reasons is “the opacity of technological systems themselves.” We all know that knowledge is power. Historically, those that lack it are always exploited by those who possess it.</p> <p class="Default">In the opening chapter of his book, Bridle quotes from the godfather of supernatural horror, <a href="https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/H._P._Lovecraft">H.P. Lovecraft</a>, who appears to anticipate the perils of the present: “….someday the piecing together of disassociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightening position therein, that we will either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”</p> <p class="Default">It’s an intoxicating quote, but what are we to make of such ‘peace and safety’? Surely Lovecraft knew that, when human beings are faced with darkness, they fill it with irrational belief? In the history of Europe, the early medieval period is often called the “<a href="https://www.britannica.com/event/Dark-Ages">dark ages:</a>” centuries marked by religious war, civil conflict and civilisational decline.</p> <p class="Default">The more apocalyptically-inclined might see parallels with our own post-truth age, since our societies appear to be polarizing and re-affirming the old certitudes of tribe, race and nation. The Brexit vote in the UK and the election of US President Donald Trump are only the latest symptoms of a trend that feeds off our chronic sense of unease. Bridle explores this political moment, but he doesn’t offer a convincing reason why people would choose his ‘productive uncertainty’ over the darkness that is manipulated by profit-hungry corporations, extremist groups and troll farms.</p> <p class="Default">Here’s <a href="https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/H._P._Lovecraft">another Lovecraft quote</a>: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” In asking us to overcome this fear, Bridle seems to be courting the impossible.</p> <p class="Default">Yet “New Dark Age” does hit a nerve. If indeed we’ve passed ‘peak knowledge,’ it’s time to look despair in the eyes. Bridle makes a brave attempt to break through this existential impasse. Whether or not he succeeds, his book provides a fascinating and a much-needed spur to action.</p> <p class="image-caption">“New Dark Age” by James Bridle <a href="https://www.versobooks.com/books/2698-new-dark-age">is published by Verso Books</a>.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/charles-m-johnston/techno-brilliance-or-techno-stupidity">Techno-brilliance or techno-stupidity?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/kaliya-identity-woman/humanizing-technology">Humanizing technology</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/niki-sethsmith/what-i-learned-from-going-cold-turkey-on-technology">What I learned from going cold turkey on technology</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Niki Seth-Smith Social media and social transformation Culture Economics Sun, 20 May 2018 20:21:56 +0000 Niki Seth-Smith 117834 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Are we losing our love of life? ‘It must be the money’ https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/rajiv-khanna/are-we-losing-our-love-of-life-it-must-be-money <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Healing our relationship to finance is a pre-condition for building a grassroots-led investment fund that’s focused on wellbeing.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Rajivkhanna.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Pia Infante of The Whitman Institute, Adriana Welsh Herrera of Ñepi Behña, Elvira Sanchez Toscano of ISMUGUA, Milvian Aspuac Con of AFEDES, and Gloria Marina Figueroa Aguilar of DESMI at the <em>Buen Vivir</em> Fund founders circle meeting at Casa Xitla in Mexico City in October 2016. Credit: <a href="http://www.whattookyousolong.org/">http://www.whattookyousolong.org</a>. All rights reserved.</p> <blockquote><p>“Our <em>buen vivir</em> was taken 500 years ago when the Spanish colonized our lands and people.” Milvian Aspuac Con, AFEDES, Guatemala.</p></blockquote> <p>I knew right then I was going to be schooled.Thirty-eight of us, representing 24 organizations from six countries, had gathered in rainy Mexico City to design an investment fund that would re-imagine our economy—and &nbsp;our investment practices—with the concept of <em>buen vivir </em>at the center.</p> <p><em><a href="http://www.whattookyousolong.org/">Buen vivir</a></em> comes from Indigenous movements in Latin America and implies “right living” or life in balance with communities, natural systems and future generations. Our grassroots partners, financial investors, and adviser allies—all &nbsp;leaders in alternative economic practices—had joined the gathering because of relationships built up over time with my organization, <a href="https://thousandcurrents.org/">Thousand Currents</a>.&nbsp;They trusted us because we have a <a href="https://thousandcurrents.org/what-we-do/">30-plus-year track record</a> of establishing respectful and productive partnerships with grassroots leaders around the world, <em>and </em>with those who have deeper pockets in wealthy countries.</p> <p>But that doesn’t mean we knew how to build an economy that’s centered on love and equality.<em> </em>That was the challenge that emerged from the grassroots, and specifically, how to develop an investment fund that’s run on these same principles and values—in stark contrast to the mainstream of philanthropy, foreign aid, social enterprise and investing.</p> <p>Most impact investment initiatives are centered on persuading investors from the Global North to lend money and ‘expertise.’ The accumulation of privatized wealth is then reflected in the centralization of power and control  in philanthropy and social investing. That’s why we came together to design a fund that would not only provide capital to grassroots groups who had never had access to investment before, but also support donors in the US who are floundering in a broken, fear-ridden financial system.</p> <p>In order to re-imagine finance in this way we asked: What if that economic power could be shifted to communities in the Global South? What if capital could flow in the service of well-being? That’s why I needed to be ‘schooled’ by Milvian Aspuac Con, the leader of an <a href="https://thousandcurrents.org/?s=afedes">Indigenous-women led group called AFEDES</a>, a long-term Thousand Currents partner in Guatemala. She went on to share what it means to “recover the deep love for life” after a long history of Spanish colonization.</p> <p>In generations past, she said, her family lived well. Her grandparents produced food so they had enough to eat. Her grandmothers knew how to weave so they had enough clothes to wear, and what they needed for the house. They produced, sold, or exchanged the rest. They had little stress. They had a chance for recreation, to do other things besides work.</p> <p>But in 1980, after the approval of neoliberal and “<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Revolution">Green Revolution</a>” policies in Guatemala, many multinational agribusinesses arrived to convince farmers that it wasn’t profitable to produce their own food, and that their land could produce extra crops and extra money instead. This, they said, was the ultimate goal. These companies got rid of trees and other forms of biodiversity in order to focus on cash crops like green beans.</p> <p>As a result, Milvian’s community lost their traditional crops. Industrial agriculture meant that they had to buy seeds and apply for credit from these companies, trapping them in cycles of debt. Her family lost their way of life. In the end, Milvian’s father suffered bankruptcy.</p> <p>“It must be the money,” she said. “My father lost the love of life and went after money. We are recovering from this…slowly.”</p> <p>That feeling of loss—of substituting love for money—is common in contemporary societies, and it also characterizes the ways in which we usually approach the question of mobilizing finance for social change. We wanted to escape from these constrictions and develop a model that brought love and money back into a healthier relationship with one another, but this process proved to be much more challenging than we imagined.</p> <p>Conventional attitudes toward money run deep—who has it, who controls it, and how many strings are attached to how it’s spent. Working through these questions became a year-and-a-half long process of co-designing a radically-different investment vehicle which would come to be called the <a href="https://thousandcurrents.org/buen-vivir-fund/"><em>Buen Vivir</em> Fund</a>. What we thought could be resolved in a week took many thousands of hours—<a href="https://thousandcurrents.org/2934-hours-buen-vivir-fund/">2,934 to be exact</a>.</p> <p>That’s because we had to acknowledge that our own relationship to money was grounded in scarcity. Until we transformed that relationship—until we truly acknowledged our fears about money and inequality—we couldn’t build an investment fund that would run on different principles and result in wellbeing instead of profit or top-down control.</p> <p>We also had to re-imagine our relationship with time. Maybe our initial plan and timeline needed more than a week to kick off, we thought, but with the outstanding leadership, initiative, and ideas of the people we had gathered together we could surely complete the co-design process of the Fund within a few months.</p> <p>We assumed that many elements of the Fund’s design could be identified in virtual conversations prior to the gathering, and planned to complete the details of its operations face to face. However, it was only when we came together in person and built more trust and authenticity among us that the most important questions, ideas, and challenges arose.&nbsp;</p> <p>Prior to the gathering we had essentially been assuming a mainstream investment model as a starting point, and then a process of proposing changes to that design. But when the conversation started our grassroots partners pushed us to depart completely from these mainstream models. Instead, they wanted to start with designs that already placed collective wellbeing at the center, like community-led savings and lending circles in their regions.</p> <p>In order to learn the basics of each other’s approach to investment, savings, and enterprise, we realized that we had to deepen the sharing among grassroots partners and financial investors. We also extended the co-design process to more than a year to ensure that adequate time and care could be given to this vital opportunity for a completely different way of thinking about money and social change, one that was firmly centered in <em>buen vivir</em> but also financially feasible and sustainable.</p> <p>Those living in higher-income countries have been conditioned to the commodification of time and the short-termism that’s created by mainstream financial investment practices. I too was frustrated, and our mindsets meant that many of us felt the pressure of time in the design process. Yet as Don Jorge Santiago reminded us, one of the advisers of the Fund who’s based in Chiapas and is a decades-long practitioner of the <a href="https://thousandcurrents.org/?s=solidarity+economy">Solidarity Economy</a>: “Are you committed, as this is what it takes when you are creating something entirely new?”</p> <p>Ari Sahagún, another participant, shared how important it was to <a href="https://thousandcurrents.org/what-it-means-to-trust-the-process-and-why-we-do-it/">trust the process</a>: “Bringing underrepresented voices into a previously-constructed process that was never designed by or for them simply does not work,” she told us. Hence, we needed to create a new and rigorous process that would uplift the determination, agency and leadership of grassroots communities. We learned that we had to prioritize this new process over expediency or efficiency.</p> <p>Time did pass, and <a href="https://medium.com/@1000Currents/can-we-remove-the-fear-from-our-global-economy-973debb95969">money from the Fund is now flowing</a>. We started with one million dollars in investment capital and US$200,000 in grant capital, distributed between <a href="https://thousandcurrents.org/buen-vivir-fund/#BVFprojects">eight visionary projects in five countries</a>—from a Members Assembly that puts ‘on the ground’ expertise on an equal par with those who put up the money, to loans where the investors shoulder the risk (because they can), to borrowers making a solidarity contribution of their choosing back into the fund after their project ends rather than being required to pay any interest.</p> <p>In these and other ways the <em>Buen Vivir</em> Fund is designed for any growth (or more properly, abundance) to be passed forward to the next set of groups. But this isn’t just a matter of technics or operations. As I reflect back on my participation in the design process I can see how my own family’s relationship to money is also changing. My wife is currently in a two-year training program that has resulted in a significant decline in our household income. There has been the usual stress and anxiety in our conversations about wants and needs. And yet, at the point last year when our household income was at its lowest, our annual giving to causes we care about was at its highest.</p> <p>We are continually reconsidering what wellbeing and a ‘good life’ means to us, and we are appreciating the abundance of wealth in our lives in the form of health, love and joy; relationships, community and family; and food and the stunningly beautiful Bay Area that we call home.</p> <p>As it turns out, Milvian was right, and not only about her own experience or the design of the Fund: ‘It’s <em>not</em> just about the money.’ Confronting our fears about scarcity—whether within our own families or the global economy—means focusing not on wealth accumulation for the few but on the <a href="https://thousandcurrents.org/buen-vivir-fund/">good life for all</a>. The next challenge is to extend this realization to the mainstream of philanthropy, social investing, and foreign aid that currently runs on the opposite set of principles.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/fatima-van-hattum-arianne-shaffer/transforming-philanthropy-it%E2%80%99s-time-to-get-serious">Transforming philanthropy: it’s time to get serious</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/angela-eikenberry/could-giving-circles-rebuild-philanthropy-from-bottom-up">Could giving circles rebuild philanthropy from the bottom up?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/money-in-terms-of-social-change-it%E2%80%99s-both-%E2%80%98beauty-and-beast%E2%80%99">Money: in terms of social change, it’s both ‘beauty and the beast’</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Rajiv Khanna The role of money Activism Economics Love and Spirituality Tue, 08 May 2018 20:21:08 +0000 Rajiv Khanna 117728 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The US teachers strike in historical perspective https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/steven-parfitt/us-teachers-strike-in-historical-perspective <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Previous waves of unrest offer clues to the possible regeneration of the American labor movement.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/StevenParfitt.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Teachers with the Chicago Teachers Union picket outside of the Walt Disney Magnet School in Chicago, Illinois, on Monday, September 10, 2012. Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/50864803@N03/16503056070/">Flickr/TMT photos</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>. </p> <p>In the US, a teachers’ strike is spreading from one red state to another. It began in West Virginia when 34,000 teachers walked out on February 22 2018. They stayed out until March 7, against the advice of their own union leaders, until they received a deal that they could live with from the state government. They were soon joined by tens of thousands of teachers in Oklahoma, who struck from April 2 to April 12, and then their colleagues in Arizona followed them on <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/04/arizona-teachers-strike-unions-charter-schools">April 26</a>. </p> <p>Now there are rumbles of teachers’ strikes in the blue and purple states of Illinois and New Jersey, and in states elsewhere. NBC News reports a “<a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/red-state-teacher-rebellion-hits-oklahoma-grows-arizona-n861851">Red-state Teacher Rebellion</a>.” There is no telling whether the rebellion will spread to more states and occupations. </p> <p>The teachers’ strikes come at a difficult time for American unions. Their total membership has <a href="https://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm">fallen</a> from 17.7 million people in 1983 to 14.8 million in 2017, and the proportion of union members in the workforce has fallen even more dramatically, from 20.1 percent in 1983 to 10.7 percent in 2017. Unions continue to fund the Democratic Party, but their investment has seen few legislative gains. This is a story of failure, softened only by the occasional victory. </p> <p>Yet the teachers’ strikes may offer American unions a road back to health. Historians have long known that unions seldom grow at a slow, steady pace. They tend instead to push forward in a series of leaps, in a kind of chain reaction where a strike in one industry inspires strikes in others. The growth of unions in one part of the country leads to the growth of unions in other parts, and to use the British historian <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/oct/01/eric-hobsbawm">Eric Hobsbawm’s</a> term, the labor movement recruits “in lumps” as striking workers join unions <em>en masse</em>. The American labor activist Kim Moody, in his recent book <em><a href="https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/1106-on-new-terrain">On New Terrain,</a></em> describes this process as a “labor upsurge.” Could the strike by teachers in West Virginia be the spark for just such an upsurge in 2018?</p> <p>To answer this question it’s useful to look back to previous waves of strikes in the US like the <a href="http://isj.org.uk/1934-year-of-the-fightback/">rising of 1934</a>, when striking workers laid the groundwork for the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congress_of_Industrial_Organizations">Congress of Industrial Organizations,</a> or the mass strikes in coal, steel, the railroads and other industries during or immediately after the First World War, or the militancy of auto and other workers in the 1970s. </p> <p>We could also look to more recent <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2012/12/one-two-many-chicago-teachers-strikes-2">strikes in 2012</a> by the Chicago Teachers’ Union, the near-ousting in 2016 of President James P. Hoffa of the powerful Teamsters Union by the <a href="http://www.tdu.org/">Teamsters for a Democratic Union</a> (a rank-and-file movement), and the victories of <a href="https://fightfor15.org/">Fight for $15</a> in the last two years. But I would go <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/02/trump-fascism-gilded-age-knights-of-labor">even further back</a> to understand what an upsurge could mean for today’s American labor movement, to the ‘Great Upheaval’ of 1885/87. What happened then?</p> <p>American workers in the 1880s lived, as we do today, in the aftermath of a global financial crisis: in their case, the ‘<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panic_of_1873">Panic</a>’ of 1873. The ensuing depression wiped out many American unions. As today, the survivors faced a highly unequal society and a political system beholden to big money. In this historical picture, the infamous financier <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jay_Gould">Jay Gould</a> substitutes for the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koch_family">Koch Brothers</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Carnegie">Andrew Carnegie</a> stands in for <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Gates">Bill Gates</a>.</p> <p>Wages stagnated in nominal terms, at least for the rest of the 1870s and into the 1880s. Immigrants faced widespread discrimination, and Chinese immigrants were even excluded from the United States altogether from 1882 onwards. Black Americans endured the end of Reconstruction and the imposition of Jim Crow. American women faced exclusion from much public space and, when they worked for a wage, they faced a gender pay gap larger than that of today. Grievance piled on grievance.</p> <p>However, union organizing started to expand again at the start of the 1880s, when economic conditions improved. A working-class movement, the Knights of Labor, <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00236568408584743?journalCode=clah20">rose from 10,000 to 70,000 members between 1878 and 1884</a>. Telegraph operators, glass workers and railroad workers waged bitter strikes, sometimes successfully, and the final spark was lit in 1885 by workers on the Wabash railroad and the Southwestern rail system. Both railroads were owned by Gould. </p> <p>In strikes during March and August, railroad workers twice forced him to reinstate strikers, grant overtime pay, reverse wage reductions, and tolerate their representatives, the Knights of Labor. Few strikes had ever succeeded against such a powerful adversary, and their victory over Gould gave workers in other places and industries the confidence necessary to down tools themselves. The Great Upheaval had begun.</p> <p>This is the stage that some commentators think we’ve also reached today: on the cusp of a strike wave, this time sparked by the teachers of West Virginia. In the 1880s version of a labor upsurge, the strikes on Gould’s railroads opened the floodgates to industrial action. In 1886, <a href="http://libcom.org/history/strike-jeremy-brecher">499,489 American workers engaged in 1,411 recorded strikes at 9,891 establishments</a>. This was more than double the number of strikers in 1885 and far higher than the <a href="http://libcom.org/history/strike-jeremy-brecher">129,521 strikers recorded in 1881.</a> </p> <p>Membership in the Knights of Labor <a href="https://www.britannica.com/topic/Knights-of-Labor">rose to nearly a million in 1886</a>, including tens of thousands of black and women workers. In the same year, the movement for the eight-hour working day pushed forward the cycle of strikes, boycotts, and protests. It reached its height in May 1886, when tens of thousands of workers across the country struck simultaneously for eight hours.</p> <p>Workers pressed their case at the ballot box as well as in the workplace. Local labor parties sprang up to contest elections at local, state and federal levels. The radical economist <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_George">Henry George</a> ran for the mayoralty of New York on the United Labor Party ticket in 1886. He came a respectable second to the Democrat, Abram Hewitt, and beat the Republican candidate into third place—one <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/roosevelt_theodore.shtml">Theodore Roosevelt</a>.</p> <p>Across the United States, workers elected labor mayors, state legislators and even congressmen in Washington DC. The two-party system briefly faced challenges that have seldom been seen since. In this strange time, Eleanor Marx, the daughter of Karl Marx, and her husband Edward Aveling <a href="https://www.marxists.org/archive/eleanor-marx/works/wcia.htm">could argue</a> that “the example of the American working men will be followed before long on the European side of the Atlantic. An English or, if you will, a British Labour Party will be formed, foe alike to Liberal and Conservative.”</p> <p>We are certainly not at&nbsp;<em>that</em>&nbsp;stage yet. The <a href="https://go.berniesanders.com/page/content/join-us/">campaign of Bernie Sanders</a> in 2016, which saw a self-proclaimed socialist come agonizingly close to the Democratic Party presidential nomination, may have given new strength to the American left. A widely-cited Harvard University poll in 2016 may have found that most younger Americans now <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/get-rid-of-capitalism-millennials-are-ready-to-talk-about-it">prefer socialism</a>—whatever they think it means—to capitalism. But an electorally successful labor party is not likely to emerge in the next few years. If it does, it will take more time and require enormous energy on the part of the left, forces within the unions, and a wide cross-section of American workers.</p> <p>Yet we should not discount the possibility of a labor upsurge in the meantime. The grievances that are leading teachers to strike in state after state are shared by millions of public and private workers across the country. Like teachers, these workers have less and less to lose by industrial action, and falling unemployment means that finding replacements for them becomes more difficult. International events might further fan the flames that the teachers have set alight. Strikes by Amazon workers in <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-amazon-com-spain/spains-amazon-workers-call-two-day-strike-over-wages-rights-idUSKCN1GP13L">Spain</a>, for example, could spread to the <a href="https://theconversation.com/modern-capitalism-has-opened-a-major-new-front-for-strike-action-logistics-89616">great logistics clusters</a> of the United States and set off a chain reaction across the American heartland—much as the railroad workers did in 1885.</p> <p>There is, of course, a cautionary side to this tale. The Great Upheaval of 1885-87 ended in defeat for the unions and for the new labor parties. When railroad workers struck again in 1886, after Gould reneged on his promises, they lost. In May 1886, anarchists at Chicago’s Haymarket Square were accused of throwing a bomb at police. The events that followed set off America’s first ‘<a href="http://www.chicagohistoryresources.org/hadc/intro.html">Red Scare,</a>’ and the labor movement became one of its main victims. The Knights of Labor shed hundreds of thousands of members. The labor parties soon disappeared or were absorbed into the Democrats and Republicans. The labor upsurge of 1885/86 became the headlong retreat of 1886/87. Historians now see the Great Upheaval of 1885-7 as a great step forward, followed by an even greater step back.</p> <p>There are things we can all do to ensure that the rebellion of 2018 does not end in the same way. You can join the strike wave. You can show your face and your solidarity at the nearest picket line, or the nearest pro-strike protest. You can donate to strike funds, tweet support, sign petitions, and get involved in any movement that supports the strikers and tries to unite the different strikes under the same banner of political change. Each time you do these things, it becomes more likely that future historians will refer to the Great Rebellion of 2018 as a landmark in the renewal of American unions, and not as another episode in their long-term decline.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/ernest-anemone/badass-teachers-and-future-of-american-democracy">Badass teachers and the future of American democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/george-lakey/how-to-build-progressive-movement-in-divided-country">How to build a progressive movement in a divided country</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/alex-nicoll/intimidation-new-normal">Intimidation: the new normal</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Trade unions Steven Parfitt Transformative nonviolence Activism Economics Tue, 01 May 2018 19:12:48 +0000 Steven Parfitt 117556 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Do we have the right to financial rebellion? A conversation with Enric Duran https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/niki-seth-smith/do-we-have-right-to-financial-rebellion-conversation-with-enric-duran <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We need to practice economic disobedience so that radical alternatives can flourish.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Default"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/nikisethsmith.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Enric Duran Giralt, anti-capitalist activist. Credit: <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en">CC0</a> via <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33043672">Wikimedia Commons</a>.</p> <p class="Default">It’s not easy to get in touch with <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enric_Duran">Enric Duran</a>. Dubbed the ‘Robin Hood of the Banks’ by the mainstream media, the Catalan activist defrauded the Spanish banking system of nearly half a million euros in the period 2006 to 2008. He used the money to fund a range of local and global initiatives aimed at building alternative structures outside the state.</p> <p class="Default">In 2013 he skipped bail and has since been on the run within the EU, living what he calls a “nomadic” existence. For many, Duran is a living symbol of the power of civil disobedience. For others, including the Spanish government, he’s a naive criminal. Either way, his ideas around the right to resist state power and the importance of building autonomous financial systems have gained fresh relevance today, both through the upheavals in Catalonia and the rapid growth of the cryptocurrency sector.</p> <p class="Default">I’ve been chatting to him for some time on the secure messaging service Telegram and we eventually set up a connection through the open source conferencing programme Jitsi. With his black beard and heavy-set eyebrows and a gap between his front teeth, Duran looks like a typical 41-year old Mediterranean man. Behind him is a framed print of a tulip, reminiscent of a hotel room. I smile as I ask him where he is, and he smiles as he responds that he can’t tell me. “It doesn’t need to be known in any public intervention,” he explains. This is a typical response from a man who seems to view all of his personal actions within the frame of achieving social change and what he calls “integral revolution.”</p> <p class="Default">“Integral revolution means comprehensive transformation from below of all aspects of life like culture, economic, social, personal, ecological,” he says. “We achieve this by empowering communities from below to build a new society, new systems that are not based on the state or capitalism.” It’s the familiar goal of prefigurative politics: building a new world in the shell of the old.</p> <p class="Default">In order to achieve this goal, Duran helped set up the Catalan Integral Cooperative, a loose network of cooperative ventures. He has never revealed how much of the loan money was funnelled into projects related to the CIC, preferring to say his “action with the banks” had a “direct consequence” on its foundation. <a href="http://commonstransition.org/the-catalan-integral-cooperative-an-organizational-study-of-a-post-capitalist-cooperative/">Today</a> the cooperative facilitates everything from barter markets to housing projects and stores, with over two and a half thousand members taking part in its local exchange groups.</p> <p class="Default">“It’s clear that you can't build this kind of alternative if you don't break the laws of the state,” Duran says. “We need to practice economic disobedience in a way that supports these alternatives.” Duran has many inspirations, including the Zapatista movement, the revolutionary political and militant rebels who have established a network of autonomous communities in southern Mexico.</p> <p class="Default">I ask him if he ever had any doubts during the three years where he took out 68 different loans from banks across Spain, from car loans to credit cards, with no intention of paying them back. He shrugs. “No, I had no doubts. I feel I did the right thing, it was powerful and I had to do it…I had been a full-time activist since I was 20, I was quite detached from my family life since I was very young. So in my case perhaps it was more easy.”</p> <p class="Default">He understands that personal courage is needed to commit acts of civil disobedience and has consistently used his own story to encourage others to follow suit. In 2012, after a public prosecutor along with 16 banking institutions called for him to serve an eight-year sentence, Duran posted a <a href="https://vimeo.com/37035293">video</a> called “a mass invitation to civil disobedience.” In it he justifies his position, drawing on the right to rebellion where governments fail to meet their citizens’ human rights, as well as pointing to the corruption of the legal system. He cites “the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/business/2011/aug/26/spain-constitutional-cap-deficit">September 2011 Spanish constitutional reform</a> to benefit the banks…without citizen consultation” and “the lack of legal action upon the speculative ‘disappearance’ of millions of Euros in the financial world,” emphasising the human cost of reckless misconduct in the banking system and consequent austerity policies.</p> <p class="Default">According to <a href="https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2125186">a study</a> on the world’s constitutions, roughly a fifth of countries have some kind of legally enshrined right to resist. In his video, Duran quotes the American revolutionary Marquis of Lafayette: “When the government violates the rights of the people, insurrection is the most sacred of rights and the most essential of our duties.” Spain has no such legal provision, which is pertinent to the current constitutional disputes around the Catalonian independence movement. On October 1 last year, 43 per cent of the electorate turned out to participate in an illegal independence referendum, with 90 per cent of votes backing secession from Spain.</p> <p class="Default">The operation intended to stop the vote quickly <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/catalan-referendum-police-clashes-violence-900-injured-government-independence-vote-banned-latest-a7978166.html">descended into violence</a>, with police firing rubber bullets and beating voters with batons, injuring hundreds. Carles Puigdemont, the leader of Together for Catalonia, fled the country along with several other separatist leaders, many of whom face decades in prison for their involvement. Puigdemont was arrested in Germany and was recently <a href="https://www.politico.eu/article/former-catalan-leader-carles-puigdemont-calls-for-dialogue-with-madrid-after-german-court-decision/">released on bail.</a></p> <p class="Default">“What’s going on in Catalonia is very interesting,” says Duran. “There’s a big population that are trusting less [sic] the laws and the state as it is right now. Most of them want to create a Catalonian state that is within the establishment, but they [the Spanish government] won't let them do it. And that brings the need to build transversal sovereignty in daily life.” While the Catalan Integral Cooperative has no official link with the independence cause, Duran believes that the existence of a strong network of autonomous community projects in the region has a more general influence. “I think the future will show that this experience has been important for the Catalan independence movement,” he says. “There is a role for integral revolution in this process. For sure I would like to be there…but now my experience of exile is extending to more and more people.”</p> <p class="Default">Duran admits he has no hard proof for this claim. It’s easy to dismiss his thinking as utopian. Yet dreaming big and focusing on financial rebellion have led him to achieve a substantial amount over the last decade. After leaving Catalonia, he founded the global cooperative FairCoop. Like the CIC, it allows small and independent producers to trade outside of banking systems, but this time on an international level through the use of cryptocurrency.</p> <p class="Default">In 2014, Duran bought 10 million FairCoins, roughly twenty per cent of the entire supply, in order to set up the FairCoop. He chose the coin because he liked the name and judged it to be the most suitable for building an ethical currency system. “The FairCoop ecosystem is not just a currency network,” Duran explains, “it is creating an alternative society where the currency is a tool for this.”&nbsp; Today there are hubs, or ‘local nodes’ as they’re called, in dozens of countries around the world, with most activity in Spain and Greece.</p> <p class="Default">Yet the law is catching up to the crypto world. Having long been surrounded by legal muddy water, the industry’s astronomical expansion in 2017 has led to regulatory frameworks being established across the world. In March, FairCoin was <a href="https://fair-coin.org/en/bittrex-de-lists-faircoin-centralized-power-structures-cannot-control-decentralized-currency-backed">delisted from Bittrex</a>, a major US-based trading platform, for refusing to answer questions apparently intended to gather information and check the coin’s legality. “FairCoop doesn't have a legal form,” says Duran. “We said we're not centralised, there’s no company behind us, so we couldn't answer what they were asking. It was a political statement.”</p> <p class="Default">After the delisting, the market price of FairCoin plummeted. When I ask him about this, Duran reminds me with a twinkle in his eye that the FairCoop community agree its own price democratically, unrelated to the capitalist system. “It’s very important to understand that the crypto currency world just shows the market price, but this is not our world. Our world is building an alternative economy and alternative society. We want a technology that works according to our values, so people don't get more power over others.” But not everybody will be happy with the price drop. Holders of the coin can still buy FairCoop products at a good rate, but trading with euros or any other currencies&nbsp;outside of the coop<strong>&nbsp;</strong>now looks like a very bad idea.</p> <p class="Default">The Bittrex decision highlights the challenge of building a new world in the shell of old. Sometimes the two just don’t match up. Still, Duran is used to taking risks. In fact, his latest venture is the <a href="https://bankofthecommons.coop/">Bank of the Commons</a>, a platform for investing in cooperative initiatives, using financial tools to strengthen the eco-system of like-minded projects around the world.</p> <p class="Default">I ask Duran if he misses anything about his old life before the bank action. “Sometimes I feel I'm travelling so much it can be a bit tiring. It’s a way of living that’s very intense, so you need to be in very good health to do it.”&nbsp; He tells me about his mother, who is the one member of his family who supported his actions and was politicised by them. It was his mother who collected the <a href="https://cloud.fair.coop/en/enric-duran-wins-human-price-award">Human Rights Award</a> he received in 2016 from the Barcelona Film and Human Rights Festival, previously given to Julian Assange. The festival called for his return to Catalonia, referring to the longstanding ReturnWithFreedom campaign.</p> <p class="Default">Duran’s return to Catalonia doesn’t seem likely, at least in the foreseeable future. In any case, he has insisted many times that energy around the campaign for justice be directed instead to encouraging more acts of civil disobedience, emphasising the importance of financial rebellion. “We might have problems, but to be really free we need to act on what we believe in,” he says, “Be brave, do it, but try to share it with people in your area or globally.” </p> <p class="Default">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/niki-sethsmith/could-republican-ideas-provide-framework-for-new-economy">Could republican ideas provide the framework for a new economy?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/maria-askew/priceless-moments-how-capitalism-eats-our-time">Priceless moments: how capitalism eats our time</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/sam-cossar-gilbert/five-ways-to-transform-our-economies">Five ways to transform our economies </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Niki Seth-Smith The role of money Activism Economics Sun, 15 Apr 2018 16:00:00 +0000 Niki Seth-Smith 117277 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The necessary transience of happiness https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/george-gillett/necessary-transience-of-happiness <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The happiness industry is booming, yet few of us are happier. Why not?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/GeorgeGillett.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://pixabay.com/en/happiness-positive-emotions-ball-2411727/">Pixabay/Geralt</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en">CC0 Public Domain</a>.</p> <p>When sociologists look back on my generation they might well view happiness as the defining cultural issue of the times. <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11833241">Governments</a> monitor our levels of happiness, <a href="http://cep.lse.ac.uk/_new/research/wellbeing/">universities</a> fund whole departments to research it, and the world’s largest companies including <a href="https://qz.com/818998/googles-former-happiness-guru-developed-a-three-second-brain-exercise-for-finding-joy/">Google</a> employ ‘happiness gurus’ to proselytise to their employees. We trade smiling emojis with each other on social networks, walk past billboards encouraging us to “<a href="http://www.coca-cola.co.uk/choose-happiness">#choosehappiness</a>,” and spend over <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/27/opinion/sunday/happiness-is-other-people.html?mtrref=undefined&amp;assetType=opinion">one billion dollars</a> a year on self-help books. Put simply, we’re obsessed: get happy or die trying.</p> <p>As the historian <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/happiness-self-help_n_4979780">Darrin McMahon</a> writes, happiness “is the last great organizing principle of life. We no longer live our lives according to beauty or honor or virtue, we want to live in order to be happy”—with happiness invariably described as an individualistic endeavour to be achieved through <em>self</em>-help, <em>self</em>-care or materialistic <em>self</em>ishness.</p> <p>But this obsession with happiness clearly isn’t working. Sixty years of human progress and huge increases in GDP have barely touched the life satisfaction scores of most people in higher-income countries. For example, the United States’ <a href="http://www.norc.org/PDFs/GSS%20Reports/GSS_PsyWellBeing15_final_formatted.pdf">General Social Survey</a> shows almost no change in levels of general happiness since records began in 1972.</p> <p>On an individual level happiness is also remarkably inflexible. Births, marriages, deaths, promotions and demotions do have transient effects on self-reported happiness scores, but they typically return to previous levels after six months or so. While <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29034098">chronic deprivation</a> affects life satisfaction significantly, happiness has a marked resilience to most other life events. Why is this?</p> <p>According to Oxford University researcher <a href="http://www.ox.ac.uk/research/research-in-conversation/how-live-happy-life/michael-plant">Michael Plant</a>, the reason is something called ‘<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22361725">hedonic adaptation</a>’—the tendency to return to stable levels of happiness after most life events. “We are extraordinarily good at getting used to things” he says, “such that very few events in life have a long-term impact on our happiness. If you don’t believe me, think how annoyed you get when the WiFi doesn’t work, then consider that humanity existed quite happily without it for hundreds of thousands of years.”</p> <p>Hedonic adaptation is a well-known psychological phenomenon that has been proven by studies analysing the experiences of <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/690806">lottery winners</a> and those who have experienced <a href="http://psycnet.apa.org/?&amp;fa=main.doiLanding&amp;doi=10.1037/0022-3514.48.5.1162">disabling accidents</a>. Yet this evidence remains counter-intuitive for most of us. No matter how many studies are cited, we continue to seek gratification through individual wealth, ambition and good health, in fierce denial of the futility of our actions.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/catherine-rottenberg/radical-happiness-moments-of-collective-joy">happiness industry</a> suggests that—if only we could adapt our environment, perhaps by finding a new job or entering a new relationship—we could achieve more happiness. Yet the evidence shows that we can’t, and <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1061736196900351">evolutionary psychology</a> reveals why. Rather than an individualistic commodity that can be achieved or accumulated like home ownership or a job promotion, happiness is evolution’s chief motivator. Designed to promote a range of behaviours associated with increased survival, the motivational purpose of happiness is revealed by its tendency to dissipate soon after the achievements it inspires. That’s why the ideal of constant euphoria marketed by the happiness industry is impossible: it flies in the face of the physiological basis of happiness itself.</p> <p>Why else would we put such thought, effort and care into our own futures if not for the promise of happiness? Just like an addict longing for another dose of drugs, hedonic adaptation leaves us forever chasing greater happiness—and crafting a future that searches for but never finds it. The transience of happiness is completely unremarkable in this sense; evolution cares only for our survival, not our experience of surviving.</p> <p>What is most surprising about the evolutionary mechanism of hedonic adaptation is how skilfully it has been co-opted by the powerful in society. Our economies depend on that elusive promise of happiness, which also provides companies with industrious employees. Governments promote home ownership, ensuring that people take out mortgages and other debts, which helps to guarantee an obedient workforce who must pay them off. Even social traditions like marriage have their roots in the illusion of utopian happiness, despite being criticised for upholding <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201708/feminist-critique-marriage">patriarchal attitudes</a>. In a social Darwinist world, it is the most ruthless who take advantage of these evolutionary myths. What then, can we do?</p> <p>Before making a diagnosis, a good psychiatrist always asks for a patient’s own thoughts and perspectives of their symptoms. When diagnosing a patient with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, for example, particular attention is paid to the level of distress a patient attributes to their obsessive thoughts. It’s an introspective and reflective approach common in the management of mental health conditions, derived from the principle that the guiding factor for intervention should be a patient’s own experience of their condition.</p> <p>The approach of the happiness industry couldn’t be more different. Rather than asking whether individuals are comfortable with their own melancholy, we are bombarded with indiscriminate campaigns which tell us that such feelings are unhealthy, unnecessary and undesirable. Last year a group of psychologists at the University of Melbourne in Australia set out to investigate whether such an approach was <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/da.22653/abstract">helpful</a>. What if campaigns encouraging us to perfect our experiences were actually making our lives less pleasurable?&nbsp;</p> <p>The researchers encouraged over 100 participants to document how they felt in a daily diary for a month, as well as how much social pressure they experienced urging them not to feel too ‘down.’ Interestingly, the researchers identified a measurable relationship between the two; more social pressure not to feel depressed reliably predicted increased symptoms of depression the following day.</p> <p>Having identified this correlation, the team investigated <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28714701">further</a>. What if the social environment which pressures a person to be happy could be recreated in order to monitor its effects? To test this hypothesis the researchers separated participants into two groups; one to undertake a series of tasks in a “happy room” decorated with motivational posters and positive imagery; and the other to perform a series of tasks in a room that was plain. It turned out that the “happy room” group were <a href="https://theconversation.com/so-many-in-the-west-are-depressed-because-theyre-expected-not-to-be-79672">three times</a> more likely to ruminate over the tasks they failed to accomplish, and that was associated with a higher rate of depressive symptoms.</p> <p>This research is far from conclusive, but it should serve as a warning: our cultural obsession with happiness risks transforming society into a place intolerable to melancholy, where we are made to feel as though our lives are failing if we aren’t happy all the time—a scaled-up version of that “happy room.” Meanwhile, the happiness industry continues to sell us the biological lie that a constant state of happiness is actually achievable, which achieves nothing but addiction to the happiness industry itself and its products.</p> <p>We often think of our lives as <em>going somewhere</em>. The structures we’re taught from an early age—in which we graduate from one class to the next and then on to high school and university—provide us with a framework through which we approach other areas of life. Hence we progress from renting to home ownership, dating to marriage and work to retirement. Yet with each of these supposed achievements, hedonic adaptation returns us to the beginning, and we are left yearning once more for that illusory utopia of constant happiness.</p> <p>That is, until we realise that life has passed us by. Nearing the end of his own life, the philosopher <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBpaUICxEhk">Alan Watts</a> described this flawed way of thinking:</p> <blockquote><p>“We thought of life by analogy with a journey, a pilgrimage which had a serious purpose at the end. Success, or maybe heaven after you’re dead.&nbsp;But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing and we were supposed to sing or dance while the music was being played.”</p></blockquote> <p>Contemporary analyses of happiness are consistent with Watt’s decades-old lesson. “If you look at what people actually do to be happier, it seems nearly everyone tries to change the external facts,” <a href="http://www.ox.ac.uk/research/research-in-conversation/how-live-happy-life/michael-plant">says</a> Michael Plant. “We try to become richer, thinner, more successful, to find a better house. A few of us think about trying to spend less time working. Almost no one thinks about actively retraining the way they think.”</p> <p>Plant recommends mindfulness-based stress reduction, a technique which “helps people accept, rather than fight, negative emotions and so reduce the suffering they cause.” The principle isn’t to fetishize happiness but almost to ignore it completely, encouraging people to enjoy the present regardless of whether it can be classified as ‘truly happy.’ Strategies include meditation, muscle relaxation and non-judgemental awareness of daily life.</p> <p>Such techniques <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/catherine-rottenberg/radical-happiness-moments-of-collective-joy">have been criticised</a> for seemingly ignoring injustice and encouraging people to ‘think their way out of’ oppression. These are important concerns, but we should be equally wary of the ways in which capitalist societies use the concept of happiness for their own ends. By selling a myth about the nature of happiness, capitalism creates atomistically-ambitious but socially-obedient individuals who can be distracted from collective values and aspirations.</p> <p>The risk is not only that social ties are weakened but that individuals are permanently dissatisfied. If we are encouraged to pursue a vision of constant, utopian happiness, we may begin to approach moments of transient happiness with entitlement rather than gratitude, regardless of our relative fortunes. Our joyful experiences may then come to be viewed as glimpses of what should be achieved permanently rather than precious moments to cherish for their own merit.</p> <p>To return to Alan Watts, the solution might be to move away from the analogy of life as a pilgrimage towards something very different: life is best understood as a piece of music, and a beautiful one at that. Why would we want to wish it away in the hope of one spectacular note at the end? </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/catherine-rottenberg/radical-happiness-moments-of-collective-joy">Radical happiness: moments of collective joy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/william-davies/corruption-of-happiness">The corruption of happiness</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/sonja-avlijas/why-positive-thinking-isn-t-neoliberal">Why positive thinking isn’t neoliberal</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation happiness George Gillett Culture Economics Tue, 27 Mar 2018 20:09:57 +0000 George Gillett 116803 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Will Cuba become a test case for a post-postmodern future? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/gregory-leffel/will-cuba-become-test-case-for-post-postmodern-future <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Metamodern mindfulness offers a new way of thinking about the ideological conflicts of the past. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/GregLeffel5.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Umberto Boccioni, 1913,&nbsp;<em>Dynamism of a Cyclist</em>, Gianni Mattioli Collection, on long-term loan to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Umberto_Boccioni,_1913,_Dynamism_of_a_Cyclist_(Dinamismo_di_un_ciclista),_oil_on_canvas,_70_x_95_cm,_Gianni_Mattioli_Collection,_on_long-term_loan_to_the_Peggy_Guggenheim_Collection,_Venice.jpg">Public Domain via Wikimedia</a>.</p> <p>Last month I was invited to speak with students and faculty at a theological colloquium in the Cuban coastal city of Matanzas. This is a new moment for Cuba, and I imagine that the next time I travel there I won’t find the same country I visited this time around.</p> <p>In April, Cuba’s National Assembly will <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-election/cuba-holds-one-party-vote-as-post-castro-era-looms-idUSKCN1GN05H">elect a new president</a>, who, likely for the first time since the 1959 Revolution, will not be a Castro (though Raul Castro will <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/26/opinion/cuba-castro-election-democracy.html">retain party and military leadership</a> for now). As the revolutionary generation passes away, other post-Castro changes are in the air too, including the eventual relaxation (post-Trump) of US sanctions on direct investment and travel, and with it the gradual incorporation of the world’s last functioning socialist nation into the global financial system.</p> <p>Little may change in the short-run, but ultimately Cuba will face serious questions about how to protect the gains of its revolution. Will the country follow China’s mixed socialist-capitalist one-party path toward economic integration? Will it evolve into a multi-party liberal democracy? How will Cuba defend an educated, egalitarian society—one that proudly ‘puts people at the center’—from rising inequality? The colloquium left me wondering how the next generation of civil society leaders will navigate Cuba’s opening to the wider neoliberal world.</p> <p>Of course, this challenge isn’t unique to Cuba. Progressive leaders everywhere are struggling to create a coherent vision for a world of freedom, equality and human flourishing. Specifically, they are frustrated with postmodernism’s inability to articulate a positive political challenge to the false promises of neoliberal development, and are looking beyond it for <em>post</em>-postmodern alternatives that aren’t locked into conventional left/right, socialist/capitalist dichotomies.</p> <p>What might such a post-postmodern consciousness look like? Two young Dutch cultural scholars, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WPYFvB2DIc">Timotheus Vermeulen and Robbin van den Akker</a>, believe they have found it in a growing &nbsp;trend that they call <a href="https://www.rowmaninternational.com/book/metamodernism/3-156-2ecae72f-85e3-46f0-9128-185c40366816">‘metamodernism’</a>—a concept that has struck a chord with a wide audience since their landmark paper <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3402/jac.v2i0.5677?scroll=top&amp;needAccess=true">“Notes on Metamodernism”</a> was published in 2010. But what does it mean?</p> <p>Vermeulen and van den Akker argue that the way the world <em>feels</em> to us—our sensibility about the world order—changed profoundly in the first decade of the new millennium. They describe this feeling as a shift in ‘affect’ (our emotional reactions), and a change in the cultural logic we use to sort the world out. Think of this as a shift in our collective ‘structure of feeling,’ or as <a href="https://www.dukeupress.edu/modern-social-imaginaries">Charles Taylor</a> calls it, our ‘social imaginary.’</p> <p>This mood shift is partly circumstantial: 9/11, the Great Recession, the Iraq war, accelerating climate change, mass-migration, structural racism, inequality, and worker precarity have greatly undermined our confidence in social, economic and political institutions. For a generation raised on the glitter of globalization in the booming 1990s, the inept, even corrupt, performance of virtually every public and private institution since then has crushed their hopes. They sense that all that is solid melted into the air a long time ago; that uncertainty, complexity and chaos are the new normal; and that our cultural and social reflexes tell us that something ominous is happening to the world.</p> <p>Vermeulen and van den Akker discern this shifting affect in the aesthetics of a rising generation of artists who are looking for a way beyond postmodernism. They find it, first, in the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Sincerity">‘new sincerity’</a> of writers like <a href="http://www.davidfosterwallacebooks.com/about.html">David Foster Wallace</a>, <a href="http://www.zadiesmith.com/about-zadie/">Zadie Smith</a> and <a href="https://www.mcsweeneys.net/pages/about-dave-eggers">Dave Eggers</a>; the band <a href="http://arcadefiretube.com/arcade-fire/">Arcade Fire</a>; <a href="https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1CHWL_enUS713US713&amp;q=wes+anderson+movies&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwj535yr9oDaAhVJzlMKHZuICvUQ1QIIuwEoAA&amp;biw=1440&amp;bih=809">Wes Anderson’s</a> ‘quirky’ film style; and even the American hit TV series <a href="https://www.nbc.com/parks-and-recreation">“Parks and Recreation.”</a> These artists directly <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/11/sincerity-not-irony-is-our-ages-ethos/265466/">confront postmodern irony</a>, cynicism and social disengagement with a fresh commitment to authentic feeling and relationships.</p> <p>They also find it in a return to romanticism that is rooted in human reconciliation with the earth and with a return to more hopeful, utopian visions—for example, in the architecture of Swiss design firm <a href="https://www.herzogdemeuron.com/index/projects/complete-works/226-250/230-elbphilharmonie-hamburg/image.html">Herzog and de Meuron</a> and a return to <a href="http://www.adammillerart.com/fullscreen/video/">figurative and narrative painting</a>. Vermeulen and van den Akker’s analysis is echoed in the US by <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/what-is-metamodernism_us_586e7075e4b0a5e600a788cd">Seth Abramson</a> who blogs about the metamodern condition at the <em>Huffington Post</em>.</p> <p>Along with a near universal disillusionment with the current order, these artists, writers and activists perceive a deepening realism and seriousness about the condition of society among long-comfortable westerners who once took their ease for granted, but who now realize that even they can be crushed by unaccountable global power structures (as self-centered as this may seem to the rest of the world). Their great fear is nihilism; their greatest desire is to find a source of hope and a new political narrative to guide them into a better future.</p> <p>Such efforts express a popular longing to escape postmodernism’s cultural logic and its council of despair that surrendered the world to neoliberalism—its ‘end-of-everything’ cynicism, sarcasm and irony; its bottomless critique, crippling political passivity and infatuation with cultural ‘power’.</p> <p>Instead, they see the re-appearance of values that the postmoderns disrespected as merely ‘modern’—things like sincerity in place of irony, commitment instead of detachment, and a depth (versus surface) sense of reality; a return of historical consciousness (the belief that the future can be better than the past); a willingness to create big-picture theories of the world or new ‘metanarratives;’ and a renewed belief in ‘progress’ and transcendent visions—something, that is, to believe in and fight for.</p> <p>Underlying this new structure of feeling is a deeper philosophical turn and a richer historical sensibility. Metamodernism abandons notions of history as an orderly, evolutionary sequence of cultural ‘beads-on-a-string’ that cancel each other out as each period passes by. Instead, it argues that past forms of consciousness are really not past at all.</p> <p>In the west, for example, elements of the medieval, theological consciousness still sit alongside those from modern (theoretical) and postmodern (critical) consciousness, remaining simultaneously present and mutually influential. When combined rather than pitted against each other, the most productive elements of each form of consciousness can be re-assembled to create a rich array of resources to direct our emerging social, political and economic development.</p> <p>In metamodernism, the prefix ‘meta’ is not used to mean ‘after’ or ‘above’, though it does carry a soft meaning as somehow ‘transcendent’ or ‘beyond.’ But drawing from the Greek philosophical term <em><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metaxy">metaxy</a>,</em> ‘meta’s’ hard meaning is to be ‘in-between’, a mediation between two poles. To be metamodern is to practice a form of mindfulness that refuses the zero-sum game that pits one form of consciousness against another.</p> <p>Instead, one moves back and forth between different poles in order to look for integration rather than contradiction. To think metaxologically means to stand among the ‘isms’—socialism, capitalism, collectivism, individualism, theism and atheism—and allow them to interact and interpret each other, rather than standing with one ‘ism’ against the others.</p> <p>In this way, metamodern mindfulness interrogates, and seeks to resolve, opposites that subdivide our individual consciousness and alienate us from each other: identity/universality, local/global, nihilism/meaning, cynicism/trust, detachment/commitment, materialism/spirituality, nature/culture, hierarchy/anarchy, markets/politics, and so on down the list. The point is not that we can resolve these opposites into neat new packages, but that by constantly interrogating one in terms of the others we can generate new meanings and richer possibilities.</p> <p>How is all this relevant to Cuba? At the colloquium I attended, a University of Havana psychologist put Cuba’s social ferment like this: “Given our high levels of education, Cubans have a first-world sensibility but live in third-world poverty.” The young are left frustrated. Instead of the revolution they dream of Miami, and unless something changes many of them will move there.&nbsp;</p> <p>If, or when, Cuba cautiously opens to outside investment and global integration, will its civil and political leaders take advantage of this new metamodern mood to reframe their country’s expectations and paths to the future? There will be many ‘opposites’ to resolve that &nbsp;other countries are struggling with—property rights versus personal rights for dignity, subsistence and security, for example, or reconciling socialist collectivism and capitalist individualism, two very different structures of feeling.&nbsp;</p> <p>Metamodern mindfulness offers a new way of thinking about the ideological conflicts of the past—a new frame through which to assess class conflict, egalitarianism, liberal freedoms and religious values—and the possibility of new syntheses within and between these things. For Cuba to perfect its revolution rather than abandon it or see it consumed from the outside, a re-definition of the kind of utopia it desires is necessary, along with a new mood of sincerity and commitment to build and sustain it.</p> <p>Cuba once captured the left’s imagination. It can do so again for a new generation of leaders if it succeeds in lifting its people out of poverty while preserving the human gains of its revolution, but this time it will be different. Latin America, locked in its seemingly eternal cycles of left/right conflict, can certainly use new models that work in practice. And maybe Cuba’s giant neighbor to the north will learn something too.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/gregory-leffel/is-catastrophe-only-cure-for-weakness-of-radical-politics">Is catastrophe the only cure for the weakness of radical politics? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/gregory-leffel/left-s-problem-isn-t-politics-it-s-metaphysics">The left’s problem isn’t politics—it’s metaphysics </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/gregory-leffel/is-christianity-finished-as-source-of-inspiration-for-progressive-soci">Is Christianity finished as a source of inspiration for progressive social change?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Political polarization Cuba Gregory Leffel Liberation Activism Culture Economics Sun, 25 Mar 2018 20:31:31 +0000 Gregory Leffel 116839 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Foreign aid is a waste of money—unless it’s used for transformation https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/pablo-yanguas/foreign-aid-is-waste-of-money-unless-it-s-used-for-transformation <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Simplistic stories of saving children trap aid agencies inside a self-defeating logic</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/PabloYanguas.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Anti-corruption sign in Uganda. Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/87913776@N00/4363265760">Flickr/FutureAtlas</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC-BY-2.0</a>.</p> <p>The ongoing outcry about sexual misconduct in charities and international organisations is <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/michael-edwards/it-s-time-to-take-our-charities-to-cleaners">breathing much needed fresh air into the global aid community</a>. However, there’s little indication that this particular scandal will have a meaningful impact on how foreign aid supports development and social change. </p> <p>After all, there have been plenty of aid scandals in the past, but instead of helping donor publics to develop a better grasp of the challenges involved they’ve reinforced a survival logic that focuses on quick wins instead of longer-term institutional, economic and social transformation.</p> <p>Take the case of Ireland in 2012, for example, when Irish Aid suspended its entire assistance programme in Uganda after <a href="https://www.dfa.ie/news-and-media/press-releases/press-release-archive/2012/november/report-into-misappropriated-aid-funds-uganda/">it was revealed</a> that four million Euros that were destined to help rebuild the country’s war-torn northern region had been siphoned off to a personal account by the Office of the Prime Minister. </p> <p>The <em>Tánaiste—</em>Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs in charge of Irish Aid—was reportedly <a href="http://www.thejournal.ie/uganda/">‘absolutely disgusted’</a> by the revelation, which was followed by a sudden burst of op-eds and public debates not unlike those surrounding the current #Aidtoo moment. Then, in January of 2013, the Ugandan government <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-20935149">repaid the misappropriated funds</a>, and by 2014 <a href="https://www.irishaid.ie/news-publications/publications/publicationsarchive/2016/november/uganda-country-strategy-paper/">Irish aid was once again flowing</a> into the country. As public attention moved on, aid professionals got on with business more or less as usual.</p> <p>The disconnect between the public outcry in Dublin and the pragmatism on display in Kampala might seem jarring. But when one takes a critical look at public conversations about foreign aid it quickly becomes evident that they hardly ever concern development at all: most of the time they revolve around money, and sometimes around partisan competition that itself breeds disinformation. </p> <p>In the United States in 2013, for example, <a href="http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/03/13/wide-partisan-gap-exists-over-u-s-aid-to-worlds-needy/">the Pew Research Center</a> asked &nbsp;which federal government programmes the public would increase, decrease, or maintain at the same level. Of the nineteen categories surveyed, foreign aid had the biggest partisan gap, with 45 per cent more Republicans than Democrats supporting a decrease; the gap was wider than for high-profile, controversial issues such as unemployment benefits and public healthcare. </p> <p>This hyper-partisanship probably explains the widespread misperception among American voters about the size of the US aid budget, which they estimated as 26 per cent of the total federal budget in <a href="https://www.kff.org/global-health-policy/poll-finding/data-note-americans-views-on-the-u-s-role-in-global-health/">a 2015 survey</a>. The actual figure is ten times smaller.</p> <p>Such misperceptions are possible because most people know remarkably little about what foreign aid actually does. Processes of development in Africa or Asia are as contentious as in Europe or the USA. Change takes time and needs activist reformers, people willing to challenge the status quo in order to build something different. </p> <p>Take Valentine Collier, for example, an old-school civil servant in Sierra Leone who shook up the country’s post-war politics when he became anticorruption commissioner in 2000 and, against all the odds, <a href="https://www.africa-confidential.com/article-preview/id/1534/A_matter_of_graft">decided to take the job seriously</a>—to the point of investigating sitting ministers and embracing an open confrontation between his office and that of the president who appointed him. Collier was ultimately let go, but not before raising the political profile of corruption as an issue and thereby ensuring that the next government <a href="https://www.economist.com/node/14920076">strengthened the anti-corruption regime</a>. </p> <p>Across the border in Liberia, a young man called John Morlu turned the General Auditing Commission into <a href="https://www.voanews.com/a/a-13-2007-06-13-voa5/348280.html">a political threat to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female president</a>, between 2007 and 2010. This was at a time when, as one foreign diplomat said to me, the country could have “a capable government, or a clean one, but not both.” </p> <p>In cases like these, reformers were able to wage dangerous political battles in part because they had support from external partners and resources from foreign aid. Morlu was recruited and his office supported by the European Union, granting him financial autonomy and a modicum of political cover that were rare in a politicized public sector, but essential for the job of Auditor General. Collier was supported by a British deputy, and his Anti-Corruption Commission supported financially by the United Kingdom. It was the UK, in fact, that mediated between Collier and the Sierra Leonean president when their confrontation escalated, keeping him active until the political pressure became unbearable.</p> <p>Taxpayers in donor countries are unlikely to read such stories in the media, or even in reports produced by NGOs and other donor agencies themselves. Instead, they are treated to simplistic stories of how their Pounds and Dollars are saving children, or shallow polemics supporting one end of the political spectrum or the other, though they are particularly common in certain corners of the conservative movement. </p> <p>For example, in 2016 Britain’s &nbsp;Secretary of State for International Development at the time (Priti Patel) declared &nbsp;that <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3788162/My-fury-wasted-foreign-aid-International-development-secretary-Priti-Patel-pledges-major-overhaul-12billion-budget.html">‘British aid is being wasted and stolen’</a> in the pages of the Daily Mail. Despite the lack of evidence to substantiate such claims, strident rhetoric and simplistic success stories encourage aid agencies to choose quick, technical fixes over support for long-term transformation. </p> <p>Controversial programmes usually close all too quickly, their lessons ignored or silenced <a href="https://www.odi.org/publications/10902-politics-results-agenda-dfid-1997-2017">in favour of expenditure reports and spreadsheets full of arcane indicators</a> and metrics. Aid is trapped in a process of chasing quick wins which reinforce the message that development is easy, ignoring “a central principle of development theory that those development programmes that are most precisely and easily measured are the least transformational, and those programmes that are the most transformational are the least measured,” <a href="https://www.cgdev.org/publication/clash-counter-bureaucracy-and-development">in the words of former USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios</a>. </p> <p>The examples of Collier in Sierra Leone and Morlu in Liberia could easily feed conventional anti-aid crit­iques: after all, neither project worked as intended and money was wasted, end of story. But this is a myopic reading of the evidence. What aid achieved in both countries may not have looked like much of an achievement according to reductive, quantitative indicators, but <a href="https://www.zedbooks.net/shop/book/why-we-lie-about-aid/">it helped to launch</a> and sustain episodes of institutional reform, social mobilisation and political accountability that prompted a re-examination of political norms and development objectives. </p> <p>In the process aid helped to empower local actors by providing funds and skills that encouraged them to continue fighting (even after the donors left) as part of a broader process that de-legitimised corrupt incumbents and, in some instances, helped to <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/6998687.stm">topple presidents</a> who preyed on their own countries. External support gave reformers more hope and more capacity to turn it into concrete action. </p> <p>The &nbsp;problem with current aid debates is that they ignore or demean the work of Collier, Morlu and thousands of other people who risk their careers, reputations, and in some cases even their livelihoods to achieve the kinds of transformations that could make their states more effective, their politics more democratic, and their economies more vibrant. They challenge power and get beaten down for it. It is not their fault that their struggles don’t fit the technocratic, short-term, results-oriented frameworks of the aid industry or the superficial rhetoric of partisan politics. </p> <p>Reformers will continue to do the messier jobs of devel­opment long after donors lose patience or shift their atten­tion to the next crisis of the day. It is bad enough that aid usually offers them such lukewarm support in their battles; but even worse when their work is sacrificed at the altar of quantifiable evidence or supplanted by white saviour stories sold by NGOs to the public.</p> <p>Foreign aid is not a good investment: the risks are generally high and the dividends far too uncertain. No wonder many people in donor countries think it’s a waste of money. At the same time, aid is exactly the right kind of investment to make when it is patient, hands-off and sensitively applied. It can play a crucial role in development by supporting reformers who choose to pursue the greater good against sometimes insurmountable odds. </p> <p>This is a role that’s consistent with the experience of social, economic and political transformation in donor countries, and which is compatible with basic human values beyond partisan divides. However, it is also a role that requires a fundamental revision of how we think, speak, and debate about aid at home and internationally, moving beyond the idea of a transaction—‘one pound in exchange for one educated child’—in order to acknowledge the messy and conflicted realities of social transformation.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/david-sogge/inconvenient-truth-about-foreign-aid">The inconvenient truth about foreign aid</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/phil-vernon/what-s-it-all-about-oxfam">What’s it all about, Oxfam?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/what-s-to-be-done-with-oxfam-part-2">What’s to be done with Oxfam, part 2?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation foreign aid NGOs Pablo Yanguas The role of money Economics Sun, 18 Mar 2018 21:06:33 +0000 Pablo Yanguas 116702 at https://www.opendemocracy.net