Economics cached version 22/06/2018 13:05:51 en Fifty years later, we still have a 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="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Ohio Poor People's Campaign 5/29/18, Columbus Ohio. Credit: <a href="">Flickr/Becker1999</a>. <a href="">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="">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="" 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="">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="" 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="" 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="" 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="" 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 Economics Activism Fri, 22 Jun 2018 11:56:39 +0000 Rosa Pavanelli 118539 at Confronting the 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="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="">Flickr/Liz West</a>. <a href="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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="//">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="">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="">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="">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 The 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="//" 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="">Flickr/Joe Piette</a>. <a href="">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="">ongoing teachers’ strikes in the US</a> and an unprecedented <a href="">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="">British Trades Union Congress</a> and the <a href="">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="">Knights of Labor</a>, the <a href="">Industrial Workers of the World</a> and the mass production unions of the <a href="">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="">Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Labourers Union</a> and the <a href="">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="">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="">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="">won badly-needed improvements</a> for domestic workers at a state level in California and elsewhere, working with an employers’ organization called <a href="">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="">prioritised legislative solutions over the organising of domestic workers themselves</a>, and some organizations affiliated with the Alliance, such as <a href="">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="">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="">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="">IWGB</a>) and the United Voices of the World (<a href="">UVW</a>) draw on the legacy of the ‘Wobblies,’ the Industrial Workers of the World. Working with food delivery workers at <a href="">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="">Hoffa</a>, son of the infamous Jimmy Hoffa—a &nbsp;name associated with the corrupt unionism of <em><a href="">The Godfather</a></em> and <em><a href="">On the Waterfront</a></em>—was nearly unseated as President in late 2016 by a grassroots coalition called <a href="">Teamsters for a Democratic Union</a>. A 14-day strike in February and March 2018 has transformed my own union, the <a href="">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 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="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Steven Pinker giving a lecture to Humanists UK, February 22 2018. Credit: <a href="">Bhaawest via Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="">CC BY-SA 4.0</a>.</p><p>In <em><a href="">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="">the <em>New Statesman</em></a>, calls it “embarrassing” and “feeble”; David Bell, writing <a href="">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="">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=""><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="">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="">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="//" 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="">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="">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="">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="">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="//" 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="">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="">what is known as</a> the school-to-prison pipeline.</p> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Figure 3: Historical incarceration rates of African-Americans. Source: <a href="">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="">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="">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="">Pinker’s good friend</a>, Bill Gates) now own <a href="">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=",-Silicon-Valley-CA">earning $200,000/year</a> with one of the <a href="">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="//" 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="">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="//" 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="">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="">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="">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="//" 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="">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="//" 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="//" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><span class="image-caption">Figure 8. Source: Steven Pinker, <em><a href="">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="">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="">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="">Black Lives Matter</a> and <a href="">#MeToo</a>, and who <a href="">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 Welcome to the ‘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="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="">Flickr/</a>. <a href="">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="">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="">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="">New Aesthetic</a>” in 2011, now an art meme centred around a <a href="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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 Are we losing our love of life? ‘It must be the 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="//" 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=""></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="">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="">Thousand Currents</a>.&nbsp;They trusted us because we have a <a href="">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="">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="">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=""><em>Buen Vivir</em> Fund</a>. What we thought could be resolved in a week took many thousands of hours—<a href="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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 The 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="//" 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="">Flickr/TMT photos</a>. <a href="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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="">rising of 1934</a>, when striking workers laid the groundwork for the <a href="">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="">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="">Teamsters for a Democratic Union</a> (a rank-and-file movement), and the victories of <a href="">Fight for $15</a> in the last two years. But I would go <a href="">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="">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="">Jay Gould</a> substitutes for the <a href="">Koch Brothers</a> and <a href="">Andrew Carnegie</a> stands in for <a href="">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="">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="">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="">129,521 strikers recorded in 1881.</a> </p> <p>Membership in the Knights of Labor <a href="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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="">Spain</a>, for example, could spread to the <a href="">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="">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 Do we have the right to financial rebellion? A 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="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Enric Duran Giralt, anti-capitalist activist. Credit: <a href="">CC0</a> via <a href="">Wikimedia Commons</a>.</p> <p class="Default">It’s not easy to get in touch with <a href="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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 The 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="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="">Pixabay/Geralt</a>. <a href="">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="">Governments</a> monitor our levels of happiness, <a href="">universities</a> fund whole departments to research it, and the world’s largest companies including <a href="">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="">#choosehappiness</a>,” and spend over <a href=";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="">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="">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="">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="">Michael Plant</a>, the reason is something called ‘<a href="">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="">lottery winners</a> and those who have experienced <a href=";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="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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 Will Cuba become a test case for a 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="//" 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=",_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="">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="">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="">Timotheus Vermeulen and Robbin van den Akker</a>, believe they have found it in a growing &nbsp;trend that they call <a href="">‘metamodernism’</a>—a concept that has struck a chord with a wide audience since their landmark paper <a href=";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="">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="">‘new sincerity’</a> of writers like <a href="">David Foster Wallace</a>, <a href="">Zadie Smith</a> and <a href="">Dave Eggers</a>; the band <a href="">Arcade Fire</a>; <a href=";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="">“Parks and Recreation.”</a> These artists directly <a href="">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="">Herzog and de Meuron</a> and a return to <a href="">figurative and narrative painting</a>. Vermeulen and van den Akker’s analysis is echoed in the US by <a href="">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="">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 Foreign aid is a 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="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Anti-corruption sign in Uganda. Credit: <a href="">Flickr/FutureAtlas</a>. <a href="">CC-BY-2.0</a>.</p> <p>The ongoing outcry about sexual misconduct in charities and international organisations is <a href="">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="">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="">‘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="">repaid the misappropriated funds</a>, and by 2014 <a href="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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="">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="">‘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="">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="">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="">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="">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 The Great Society versus the Poor People’s Campaign <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>What can we learn from contrasting efforts to combat poverty and injustice in 1960s America?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">President&nbsp;Lyndon B. Johnson&nbsp;meets with&nbsp;Martin Luther King, Jr.&nbsp;in the White House Cabinet Room, 18 March 1966. Credit: Yoichi Okamoto (Public Domain), via <a href="">Wikimedia Commons</a>.</p> <p>A dramatic scene is unfolding this month in Washington, D.C. Angry activists march and chant outside the White House demanding an end to the violence that’s killing America’s youth. Politicians squabble and point fingers, assigning blame and deepening divisions. A chasm has opened within the Democratic Party, exposing the disconnect between wealthy, white party elites and the hardships faced by poor people in small-town America.</p> <p>This story is not, however, about high schoolers pressuring for gun reform or Congressional deadlock on passing the national budget. It’s the story of <em><a href="">The Great Society</a></em>, a theatrical performance which premiered at The Arena Stage in Washington in February 2018. The play tells of President Lyndon Johnson’s vision of <a href="">poverty reduction</a> through massive government programs aimed at improving access to basic needs like education and health care, and the interplay between Johnson’s efforts and the struggles of civil rights leaders for racial and economic equality.</p> <p>Written by <a href="">Robert Schenkkan</a> and directed by <a href="">Kyle Donnelly</a>, the play explores how, as the Vietnam War escalated, Johnson felt forced to divert funding from anti-poverty programs to the war effort, as protesters demonstrated outside the White House in outrage at the killing of young Americans for a seemingly-endless conflict.</p> <p>While Johnson’s vision of “The Great Society” was initially <a href="">supported by Martin Luther King Jr</a>. and other civil rights leaders, it was later denounced as top-down and out of touch with the realities that faced the American poor. This eventually led King to declare a different approach to addressing economic inequality by announcing a <a href="">“Poor People’s Campaign”</a> led by the poor themselves. He was assassinated shortly thereafter, and the Campaign is often regarded as a major unfinished part of King’s work.</p> <p>The play could not have opened at a more opportune moment. Indeed, much of the drama on the Arena Stage can be seen unfolding in US politics today. The show depicts the growing sense of anger and urgency that was felt among youth activists and organizers as the corruption and in-fighting surrounding the Great Society prevented funds from reaching people in need.</p> <p>This is mirrored today in the explosion of grassroots organizing around injustice and inequality that’s taking place across the country, including the <a href="">youth-led mobilization</a> around gun violence that captured national attention during February 2018. It also coincides with the <a href="">re-launch of King’s Poor People’s Campaign</a>, led by Reverends <a href="">William J. Barber</a> and <a href="">Liz Theoharis</a>, which re-traces King’s steps through communities across the country and is gearing up for 40 days of mass civil disobedience in May.</p> <p>Examining the reasons behind the failure of Johnson’s Great Society and how King’s Poor People’s Campaign embodied a different vision provides important historical context that is often omitted from the narrative surrounding the Civil Rights Movement. It also puts the contemporary Poor People’s Campaign into perspective, illuminating the ways in which today’s grassroots organizing both follows in the footsteps of the past and tries to overcome some of the challenges that social movements have faced.</p> <p><strong>Understanding the split between Johnson and King’s approaches to inequality.</strong></p> <p>When President Johnson originally proposed the idea of the Great Society, King welcomed it—he was excited about the idea of uplifting the poor, and saw poverty as a crucial issue underlying racial inequality in the United States. In pursuit of this vision, Johnson sought to wage a “War on Poverty” by passing the <a href="">Elementary and Secondary Education Act,</a> <a href="">Medicare and Medicaid</a>, and the <a href="">Voting Rights Act</a> of 1965.</p> <p>Yet in February of that year Johnson initiated <a href="">airstrikes on Vietnam</a>, enlarging America’s military presence in the country and diverting billions of dollars away from anti-poverty programs. Even before this diversion, King saw that the Great Society espoused an inherent contradiction—reliant as it was on powerful, predominantly white lawmakers devising solutions. Eradicating economic inequality would threaten the power of wealthy elites, but those elites were the same people charged with devising the programs. King became more critical of the broader economic system itself, and how capitalism creates and upholds the structures of inequality.</p> <p>One example of the Great Society’s flawed programs is embodied in its approach to education through the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, whose resources were largely diverted to wealthy, white suburbs and not the inner cities that were in greatest need. Chicago’s <a href="">Mayor Richard Daley</a>, a prominent figure in the Democratic Party at the time, received substantial funding from the Johnson administration for poverty reduction but focused the money on white government workers in the city who were Daley’s political supporters, with no real benefits reaching the urban poor. Chicago Superintendent Benjamin Willis was <a href="">accused of earmarking</a> some of the $32 million for non-poor white children rather than the children of the poor.</p> <p>Senator <a href="">Robert Kennedy</a> was critical of the local implementation of poverty reduction through the Great Society program, and he was not alone. Riots and demonstrations erupted around the country as people demanded economic opportunities for survival. In the summer of 1965, a riot broke out in <a href="">Watts, California</a>. King spoke at the rally before it turned hostile. A man in the audience <a href="">shouted at him</a>, “All we want is jobs! We get jobs, we don’t bother nobody. We don’t get no jobs, we’ll tear up Los Angeles, period.”</p> <p>Similar feelings spread across urban America. While Johnson denounced the riots and supported the imposition of ‘law and order’ by police, King was confronted with the reality of economic hardship that was pushing people to the brink. He began to criticize Johnson’s approach to poverty reduction and the war in Vietnam, and started to develop an understanding which united the <a href="">“Triple Evils”</a> of poverty, racism and militarism—a trio he articulated in his speech at the <a href="">Riverside Church</a> in Manhattan on April 4 1967.&nbsp;</p> <p>“I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube,” King said in his speech, “So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”</p> <p><strong>Inspiring the contemporary Poor People’s Campaign.</strong></p> <p>Much of King’s vision for a movement that was led by the poor, for the poor is embodied in the contemporary revival of the Poor People’s Campaign. The problems that emerged in the split between Johnson and King—including political corruption, the draining of domestic resources for social services by militarism, and divisions within the Democratic Party’s leadership—are just as relevant today.</p> <p>The current Campaign focuses on four central issues: racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation, three of which King focused on during the original movement. But it’s not only ideological similarities that tie the two Campaigns together. Reverend Barber is retracing the same route that King took through impoverished communities, holding <a href="">“barnstorming” events</a> along the way to hear people’s personal stories and spread the word about joining the movement.</p> <p>In a single day in March 1968, King barnstormed the state of Mississippi, traveling from small impoverished towns to Hattiesburg. Rev. Barber’s barnstorming drew even larger numbers than King did. King spoke to a crowd of 600 people in Chapel Hill, but only two signed up for the journey to Washington. In October 2017, hundreds of people volunteered to risk arrest after Barber’s barnstorm event in Binghamton, New York.</p> <p>On February 12, 2018, leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign marched with fast food workers in the $15Now movement in Memphis, Tennessee. Marchers walked the same route taken by workers in the <a href="">1968 sanitation worker strike</a>, when 1,300 people walked off their jobs demanding the right to join a union, higher safety standards and a living wage. For the 50th anniversary of the strike, a crowd of low-income, non-unionized workers led clergy, union workers and allies, while sanitation workers who had been part of the 1968 strike spoke to the crowd alongside fast food workers demanding changes in the racism and poverty that plague Memphis to this day.</p> <p>In several ways, the Poor People’s Campaign of today is poised to overcome some of the challenges that stifled the movement fifty years ago. One key difference is the dispersal of power to state and local chapters. When King organized the campaign in 1968, staff at the <a href="">Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)</a> were tasked with organizing most of the logistical details, including the planning of caravans to travel simultaneously across the country to Washington. Today’s movement incorporates more decentralized local branches of organizers, and embodies a more horizontal leadership structure behind the scenes.</p> <p>Of course, the contemporary campaign has the advantage of being a product of a longer history, one in which King’s personal transformation in how best to combat poverty eventually led to the grassroots mobilization which is mirrored around the United States today. King’s journey to launch the original Poor People’s Campaign—illustrated through the arc of his relationship with President Johnson and the Great Society—tells an important story about the power of local organizing in comparison to a top-down policy approach to social change. It also shows how grassroots movements respond to shifting circumstances like escalating tensions, public outrage and political deadlock by shifting leaders away from an ineffective establishment.</p> <p>During 2018, the Poor People’s Campaign holds the potential to pick up where King’s left off by addressing many of the same problems he faced in the 1960s—while elevating the voices of the poor across the country through mass mobilization for systemic 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/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 even"> <a href="/transformation/sarah-freeman-woolpert/why-reconciliation-and-redemption-are-central-to-countering-wh">Why reconciliation and redemption are central to countering white supremacy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/sarah-freeman-woolpert/why-are-nazis-so-afraid-of-clowns">Why are Nazis so afraid of clowns?</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 Kyle Moore Sarah Freeman-Woolpert Transformative nonviolence Activism Economics Tue, 13 Mar 2018 20:32:28 +0000 Sarah Freeman-Woolpert and Kyle Moore 116491 at Horizontalising international NGOs: can it be done? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Alternative structures are available—if we have the courage to adopt them.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">OXFAM-GB Offices in Cowley, UK. Credit: <a href="">Flickr/</a>.&nbsp; <a href="">CC BY-NC-SA 2.0</a></p> <p>For over 20 years I was employed in the London office of one of Britain’s larger, Charity Commission-registered aid organisations that funded ‘development’ across Africa, Asia and Latin America. It was always more geared toward long-term assistance but developed a short-term emergency section.</p> <p>Each country programme had a mandate to respond to emergencies within their own country, but the agency as a whole never had the huge warehousing capacity of Oxfam or Save the Children. Rather, it found niches that others missed, such as nurse training for patients’ mental trauma, which were as valued by their recipients as the tents, food, medicine and water systems that were delivered by the big guys.&nbsp;</p> <p>This meant that we didn’t take part in the piranha-like feeding frenzies that were seen in Haiti, Rwanda and other emergencies when aid organisations flooded in. Some of them were opportunists who had the financial backing and arrogance to go with it. Others had dubious ulterior motives such as those with an evangelical religious zeal. How any country could govern or control them all was beyond me, especially when its population had recently suffered huge trauma on the back of a longer history of imposed boundaries, colonialism and the destruction of indigenous institutions.&nbsp;</p> <p>For many years my employer, like most similar organisations, lacked trust in any but their own. They appointed only Europeans to senior positions like country directors, accountants and specialists in education and agriculture. The appointment of the first non-European as a country director in The Gambia caused much in-house consternation and comment from peers, including over his remuneration.</p> <p>The job had been advertised with full expatriate salary along with free housing and other perks. As the person selected as most-qualified he should have received all these things, but because he was a national of the country it was decided that he should be on local wages. A negotiated settlement was reached. A European continued as his senior accountant for several more years.&nbsp;</p> <p>By the time I left the agency much had changed, but an orthodox understanding of how such organisations should operate continued. That orthodox model required an organisational and corporate in-country presence, which meant having a large office in the capital city complete with communications and office equipment far superior to anything in government.</p> <p>This infrastructure included stand-by generators, a fleet of vehicles (each with the organisation’s logo and/or that of the funding agency for projects), and a large staff to service and support the whole behemoth. Housing markets were affected by the inflated prices foreigners were able to pay. Despite the rhetoric of ‘participation’ and ‘bottom up’ development, this model was based on a hierarchical management structure wedded to ‘<a href="">Logframe Analysis</a>,’ which came out of military strategising.</p> <p>When I (as the London based liaison person) joined the team in Somaliland, a country recovering from the trauma of civil war, there were three foreign staff and about 15 locals. Some sensible adjustments to the orthodox model had already been made including a taxi rental system using local owners instead of importing new vehicles, and stronger links with long-established local and national institutions for managing common resources and conflict resolution. We broadened our terms of reference to focus on assisting partner organizations in social survey techniques, improved soil and water resource infrastructure, governance, accounting and reporting skills.</p> <p>Within our partner organisations were former civil servants, teachers and accountants from institutions that had collapsed in the civil war, and I’d like to think we helped them to strengthen their ability to set objectives, develop practical strategies approved by their members, and convert plans into project proposals to submit for financial assistance.</p> <p>Our head office defined a spending ratio that required at least 80 per cent of each budget to be spent in the beneficiary community, and the remaining 20 per cent on administration, research and other in-country activities, but there was always scope for some ‘creative accounting’ to disguise how much was really spent at the center. When our finance manager questioned this it started a year-long discussion about the costs and benefits of orthodox approaches and we decided to replace the existing system with a minimal, horizontal structure.</p> <p>All the support staff like drivers, guards and office personnel agreed to take alternative livelihoods (like 100 sheep and goats) instead of cash-based redundancy. The notion of ‘being made redundant’ had no linguistic translation in the society we were living in because no one is ever truly ‘redundant.’ One dispute was taken to arbitration and settled by community elders. Foreign staff contracts were not renewed. The director reduced his contract to half-time and mine fell to one-third.</p> <p>After this reorganisation our team was comprised of three national staff who lived in their own houses, were paid mileage when they used their own vehicles for work (as is common in the UK and US), and were supplied with high-quality laptops for work. It was cheaper for the director to live at home in Bangalore, India, with his family and make quarterly visits to the Horn of Africa to review and approve budgets than to draw on expatriate housing and other benefits.</p> <p>He conducted discussions and seminars with staff and partners as a ‘director of ideas’ instead of the ‘director of people and things,’ and built a network of academic contacts known for their expertise on managing the commons (such as <a href="">Elinor Ostrom</a>, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics), systems thinking, participation, and <a href="">Soft Systems Methodology</a>.</p> <p>Partners and staff became increasingly skilled at researching the needs and wants of their communities and translating them into funding proposals.&nbsp;In the process, the orthodox, hierarchical &nbsp;model of a large external presence with all of its many implications in terms of power and money was replaced by a smaller horizontal model that, I believe, got far closer to translating the rhetoric of ‘participation’ and ‘sustainability’ into practical action. By developing new relationships and strengthening the independent capacities of other organisations, the core team of three was able to expand its geographic reach and impact.</p> <p>On their visits to our head office in London, country directors would ask me about the unorthodox model we were crafting in Somaliland. I described it as best I could, but usually to glazed expressions of incomprehension on their faces. ‘How can you operate without offices, vehicles, drivers and so forth,’ they asked?</p> <p>Each of them had the authority to travel to join our ‘director of ideas’ during one of his quarterly visits, but none did so, though some were only a one-hour flight away. Nor did the International Director of Organisational Development show any interest. Multiply this obtuse, unquestioning attitude across other organisations and it’s clear where some of the weaknesses come from that are being shown up in the current furor around NGOs like Oxfam and Save the Children, glued as they are to outdated approaches to their work.</p> <p>The model our team had initiated was eventually wrecked by our in-house superiors. All but one of us was replaced, and a big house was chosen for a new office complete with a big new notice board to indicate our presence. Shiny white, new vehicles appeared in the driveway. It was ‘back to square one.’ However, the model we’d crafted made its way to Rwanda, where our director of ideas was asked to assist in translating the rhetoric of the <a href="">World Bank’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers</a> into practice.</p> <p>The result became known as “<em><a href="">Ubudehe</a>,</em>” a term that describes the long-standing Rwandan practice of collective action and mutual support to solve problems within a community. Its core team was deliberately small, and was designed to be held accountable to several actors at once who all needed to collaborate if there was to be success. The experiment was recognized with the <a href=";pg=PA8&amp;lpg=PA8&amp;dq=Ubudehe+UN+prize+for+innovation&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=mWqA3Unh5x&amp;sig=kGpp1IHtqcnxj0jYxLD46uolsi0&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwi5uICp2c3ZAhUynOAKHSBgAV8Q6AEIWjAG#v=onepage&amp;q=Ubudehe%20UN%20prize%20for%20inno">United Nations Public Service Award in 2008</a>.</p> <p>Unfortunately, ten years on this approach remains little known and little practiced in the development industry, which continues to eschew the kind of horizontal, participatory, ‘bottom-up’ philosophy that we developed. This is not because such approaches are impossible or ineffective—that has been proven to be false by our experience and the experiences of others. It’s because international NGOs don’t want to reduce their size and status as deliverers of foreign aid.</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/michael-edwards/what-s-to-be-done-with-oxfam-part-2">What’s to be done with Oxfam, part 2?</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">What’s to be done with Oxfam?</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 Robin le Mare The role of money Activism Economics Tue, 06 Mar 2018 21:07:37 +0000 Robin le Mare 116473 at Priceless moments: how capitalism eats our time <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Economic rationality leaves no room for free time unless it produces or consumes commercial wealth.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="">Flickr/Jeremy Hunsinger</a>. <a href="">CC-BY-2.0</a>.</p> <p>One of the most famous advertising campaigns of my generation is <a href=";list=PL7DF5EB5148CC31FE&amp;index=5">MasterCard’s&nbsp;<em>Priceless</em></a>. Launched in 1997, this twenty-year-long award-winning international campaign has been watched in 112 countries and 53 languages. The adverts show characters undertaking activities and using products that are ‘price-tagged’ by voiceovers and captions. </p> <p>One advert shows a father and son attending a baseball game (“tickets: $46”) and another depicts a baby receiving toys (“most popular toy for toddler: $500”). This ‘price-tagging’ leads to the final ‘un-priced’ activity which is declared “priceless.” A father is rewarded with “real conversation with 11 year old son,” and parents watch their baby “play with a cardboard box instead.”The famous (and widely parodied) tagline follows:&nbsp;“There are some things that money can't buy, but for everything else, there's MasterCard.”</p> <p>These adverts appeal to our deep, instinctive desire for meaningful&nbsp;interaction, as when&nbsp;a young child plays with a cardboard box, blissfully unaware of the superior ‘value’ of her toys. In this way MasterCard achieves the very opposite of what it claims: by taking these supposedly “priceless” moments that exist outside of the world of economic rationality and using them to advertise itself, the US multinational credit card giant gives them a price—simply sign up for a MasterCard, spend more money, and you too can experience these “priceless” moments. </p> <p>In order to watch a baby innocently playing with an empty cardboard box, the $500 toy that came inside it first had to be purchased, so we can easily be forgiven for believing that spending (plus the debt that usually goes with it) equals more time for true happiness. These adverts sell the ‘necessity’ of credit cards to create the most meaningful moments in time, thereby marketing the world as one of total consumerism.</p> <p>The irony of MasterCard quantifying the unquantifiable is reinforced by the company’s questionable track record. The European Union has repeatedly criticised them for their monopolistic trade practices, and, following a two-year investigation, <a href="">filed formal charges against MasterCard in 2015</a> for charging its customers “an artificially high minimum price” for card payments in violation of European antitrust laws. </p> <p>The company has also faced plagiarism lawsuits in Paraguay and Chile as a result of allegedly appropriating Argentinian-born Edgardo Apestguia’s advertising campaign for Bancard's credit card, which was launched in Paraguay in 1994 with the almost identical slogan:&nbsp;“<em>Hay cosas que el dinero no puede comprar. Pero, todo lo demás, se compra con Bancard</em>.”&nbsp;</p> <p>MasterCard’s&nbsp;<em>Priceless&nbsp;</em>campaign reveals the ways in which time is being colonised by capitalism, as Nichole Marie Shippen demonstrates in her book&nbsp;<a href="">“Decolonizing Time: Work, Leisure, and Freedom.”</a>&nbsp; Shippen argues that the erosion of free time is due to the ever-expanding economic rationalisation of all aspects of time. Capitalism necessarily demands the gradual deployment of economic rationality to all aspects of daily life, so catchphrases like ‘time is money’ become entrenched into our collective psyche.</p> <p>Shippen&nbsp;differentiates between ‘meaningful leisure’ and the ‘free time’ of today, which really implies ‘unfree time’—just &nbsp;as MasterCard’s ‘priceless’ reward is presented in relation to moments that are ‘priced.’ In order to live a good life as opposed to simply live, one must first reduce the time spent on necessities. However, in the current system where arduous, repetitive, un-stimulating and/or excessive work is&nbsp;created&nbsp;and placed at the centre of society, the idea of ‘free time’ has been rendered virtually meaningless. </p> <p>Today, much more time is spent in relation to work: traveling to work, recovering from work, attempting to disconnect from work, searching for work or engaging in unpaid domestic work. This increase in work-related time pressures is connected to the rise of zero-hours contracts and the erosion of employment rights, developments that have especially damaging repercussions for people on lower-wages. <a href="">Research by the Social Mobility Commission</a> reveals that the UK’s low pay culture traps people in poorly-paid jobs. </p> <p>Inequalities in these restrictions on time are themselves racialised and gendered. Graduates from black and ethnic minority backgrounds face significant employment and pay penalties in the workforce, and unemployment is <a href="">ten percent higher among ethnic minorities than the national average</a>. The base of all industrial work is the unpaid time women frequently spend on housework and childcare, and low pay is endemic for women in their early 20s who juggle work with childcare responsibilities.</p> <p>Although there is a clear need to generate more discretionary time for people under so much pressure, this challenge has been individualised and depoliticised under neoliberalism, which attempts to ‘solve’ it through the purchase of time management and time saving devices such as business apps which in turn reinforce the capitalist agenda by ‘winning back’ time for their users in order to increase productivity and maximise their working potential.</p> <p>That’s why collective problems need collective solutions, found in the likes of <a href="">Universal Basic Income</a>, The <a href="">Living Wage</a>, and extensions to holiday pay and parental leave. All of these solutions provide much needed financial support so that people are not forced to give up all of their time to generate income, rather than engaging in activities such as social activism or spending time with their family and friends, reading fiction or enjoying art and music.</p> <p>A 2014 study commissioned by MasterCard found that only half of all Americans have been on, or are planning to take, a vacation. In response to this seeming irrationality, the company launched its <a href="">#OneMoreDay 2014 campaign</a> with an advert that featured children advocating for Americans to take their vacation days. The campaign implored viewers to “pledge to take one more day of vacation, and make the most of it with MasterCard.” The company’s motivation to come out in support of taking holidays seems clear: more free time equals more time for consumption—a perfect illustration of the fact that taking ‘free time’ is not enough to free ourselves from capitalist culture. </p> <p>The current system rests on workers using their limited free time for consumption in order to sustain the economy, to the extent that it can seem impossible to achieve quality time away from work without excessive or unsustainable spending, let alone envision meaningful alternatives.&nbsp; Economic rationality leaves no room for authentic free time that neither produces nor consumes commercial wealth.</p> <p>Consumer culture has led to shopping malls replacing town squares, and a watered down, formulaic movie industry which dominates over more innovative or challenging forms of entertainment. However, in a world permeated by economic rationality we can still find cracks. Shippen gives examples of meaningful leisure found in community gardens, mindfulness and the slow food movement, advocating solutions based on improving the qualitative aspects of life, not only for individuals but for all of society. While these activities are limited in their ability to reclaim time from capitalism, community-centred actions strengthen our ability to self-organise and conceptualise non-capitalistic ways of doing things.</p> <p>Ultimately, to improve the quality of our leisure time we must become conscious of the structures that depoliticise and rationalise our time in economic terms, and the related inequalities that come with this process. Only when we see these structures clearly can we begin to actively resist them and build alternatives. Increased awareness empowers us to protect and strengthen the intrinsic riches of our communities; embrace authentic, meaningful moments as they arise; and take action to reclaim time from capitalism by radically transforming the world in which we live.</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/joel-millward-hopkins/neoliberal-psychology">Neoliberal psychology</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/john-f-schumaker/demoralized-mind">The demoralized mind</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/colin-leys-barbara-harriss-white/commodification-essence-of-our-time">Commodification: the essence of our time</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 Maria Askew The role of money Culture Economics Tue, 27 Feb 2018 22:33:49 +0000 Maria Askew 116130 at It’s time to take our charities to the cleaners <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Everyone needs a deep clean from time to time. Best to do it before your teeth get infected.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="">Flickr/William Warby</a>. <a href="">CC-BY-2.0</a>.</p> <p>There was always going to be reckoning. Over the last 30 years charities have become <a href="">bigger and bolder, richer and more competitive,</a> outside of any honest and open conversation about their role in society, the values they represent, and the standards to which they should be held accountable. The current reckoning just happened to arrive in a certain place and time, focused on Oxfam and Save the Children around issues of sexual harassment and abuse—bad news for them of course but a welcome opportunity to re-examine what the whole sector is about. </p> <p>A consistent theme in the crisis that’s unfolding is that there’s something not quite right about charities today, though exactly what’s wrong is expressed in many different ways. For some the crisis questions <a href="">the whole culture of modern charity</a> and the <a href="">legitimacy of foreign aid</a>: the sector has become bloated, they say, too big for its boots, and incapable of regulating itself. What happened at Oxfam and SCF was just the tip of the iceberg, so we should stop giving to these charities until they can earn our trust.</p> <p>Others believe that the crisis has been <a href="">dramatically exaggerated for political effect</a> as part of a <a href="">right-wing plot</a> to undermine certain groups and causes that conservatives oppose. The revelations of sexual harassment and abuse are confined to a small number of cases, they say, though they still need to be urgently addressed. However, these cases raise no broader matters of concern about the charities involved or the sector as a whole. To protect their work and give them the resources they need to strengthen their management and accountability going forward&nbsp;<a href="">we should actually <em>increase </em>our giving</a>.</p> <p>To me the most interesting reactions lie somewhere between these two positions, avoiding both under- and over-reaction and drawing out the wider implications of what we’re learning. It’s those lessons that are crucial if we want to use this crisis as an opportunity to strengthen the sector in the future. Take <a href="">this piece</a> in the Washington Post by Jovenel Moïse, for example, the President of Haiti. Moïse says this:</p> <blockquote><p>“Let’s take this ‘Oxfam moment,’ this ugly moment of reckoning, to reflect on the bigger picture. The general paradigm of aid and power…is not a balanced one…Something clearly needs to our country becomes meaningfully developed and our economy becomes strengthened, more of our communities will be lifted&nbsp;from poverty—which means fewer individuals at risk,&nbsp;such as the women who were preyed upon by the Oxfam staff. While we pursue accountability for what occurred in 2011 we must simultaneously pursue long-term, clear-eyed solutions to the root causes. It’s not enough to punish one or two individuals, or to shame an organization. We have an entire cycle to break in order for the vulnerable to become the empowered.”</p></blockquote> <p>Alongside <a href="">other writers</a> in this middle ground, Moïse is saying that harassment, abuse and exploitation don’t happen in a vacuum; they arise in situations of <a href="">power inequality and weak accountability</a>—conditions which characterize relationships between rich and poor countries in the foreign aid system, or those between powerful agencies like Oxfam and the communities they serve (wherever they’re located), or between senior male and junior female staff in the case of <a href="">Save the Children</a>. A failure to confront these inequalities will leave the door open to abuse and exploitation somewhere else or in some other form.</p> <p>So tighter monitoring of charity personnel won’t be enough; a cultural and structural transformation is essential. Since the scandals broke, it’s this recognition that has flowed through calls to combat the “<a href="">white savior complex</a>,” recover charity’s “<a href="">moral core</a>,” make <a href="">the actions of charities consistent with their words</a>, and uphold the highest ethical standards as the signature of the sector. </p> <p>But even in this middle ground there’s no agreement on what it would really mean to do these things. Should charities <a href="">abandon politics and advocacy in order to concentrate on providing services</a> to those in need, or should they become <a href="">more explicitly political actors</a> because poverty and injustice are always political issues? Should they be larger or smaller, follow business practices or avoid them, pay higher salaries to ‘attract the best’ or lower ones to attract the most committed? There’s no agreement among the public on the answers to these questions. There never has been, because they reflect much deeper differences in politics and culture around the meaning and proper role of charity. </p> <p>That means it’s impossible to develop a code of conduct or a system of accountability around the goals and core activities of charities—they’re just too diverse, but that actually returns the question of ethics to center stage. If we can’t legislate that all charities should do this and not that in terms of their programmatic focus and styles of working, can’t we all agree that whatever they do should be carried out according to a universal set of ethics? </p> <p>I’m not thinking rocket science here: honesty, transparency, accountability, humility, service, equality, independence, respect for people and their dignity, consistency between words and actions, and the empowerment of others so that they are always ‘in the driving seat’ as the Haitian President demands (<a href="">instead of&nbsp; prioritizing your own organizational self-interest</a>). These are things that cross the political and cultural spectrum. They’re also the things that are supposed to mark out charities from other institutions, but they seem to have been compromised in the rush for growth and influence. </p> <p>Though not easy, it’s possible to monitor adherence to these standards across the board, regardless of where a charity operates or the issues on which it works. Filling out the definitions of these things with measurable criteria and case studies would be a useful task for the Charity Commission in the UK and similar bodies elsewhere—things like a maximum ratio between the highest and lowest paid staff members, or a ban on <a href="">‘charity porn’</a> advertising, or fines for non-disclosure of information in the kinds of sexual abuse and harassment cases that are front and center now. No doubt the wisdom and practicality of these ideas will be disputed, but they could provide a concrete framework for <a href="">a public conversation about charities that’s much-needed</a>, and which would help to restore public trust. </p> <p>In other sectors like business, government and entertainment you could say that ethics are always going to be negotiated in pursuit of money, sex and power, but there’s no reason why that <em>modus operandi</em> should be replicated in a charity. In fact if charities are <em>not</em> leaders in ethical behavior then what are they for? If I want to bully people and twist the truth I can go into politics; if I want to chase the money and act like a multinational corporation I can go into business. But there’s no point importing these cultures into charities so that they become another vehicle for disguised self-interest or cover-ups and power plays or male violence. </p> <p>It seems to me that as a condition of their existence, and as something for which they should be held legally accountable, charities must live their ethics in everything they do—from the way they treat employees to the images they use in fundraising to the programmatic choices they make. However big they are, that’s the only way that charities will become a force for change at any scale, a force for moral revolution that percolates throughout society from left to right and back.</p> <p>Reading the outpouring of letters and statements that have been published from charity workers since the scandals broke gives me cause for optimism in this sense, even if Oxfam and Save the Children have been hesitant and unconvincing in their responses: in the most elemental of ways, many people in the charity sector are doing precisely what charities <em>should</em> do, despite the attendant risks of intimidation and retaliation: speak up, protect the equal dignity of every person, hold yourself and your organization fully accountable, stand up to bullies, and tell the truth. </p> <p>After all, where does the charitable impulse come from, or civic energy or community-mindedness if you don’t like the other ‘C’ word? Not from wholesale agreement or the hegemony of one set of voices or ideas or approaches. It comes from a much deeper commitment to do the right things in the right ways and see where that leads us. </p> <p>I live in horror of the dentist, but I volunteer to go twice a year for a deep cleaning of my teeth. Of course it hurts for a while, but afterwards I feel refreshed, and free of the accretions of all the things I shouldn’t have been eating, born out of my own lack of discipline in attending to my health and welfare. &nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps the same could be said of charities: they would also benefit from a thorough moral and ethical cleansing to get them back on track. Everyone needs a deep clean from time to time. Best to do it before your teeth get infected.</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/what-s-to-be-done-with-oxfam-part-2">What’s to be done with Oxfam, part 2?</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/leslie-francis/courage-of-difficult-women">The courage of difficult women</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/democraciaabierta/rafael-vilasanju-n/sex-and-charity">Sex and Charity</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/what-s-to-be-done-with-oxfam">What’s to be done with Oxfam?</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 Oxfam Save the Children Fund aid Charities Michael Edwards The role of money Activism Economics Mon, 26 Feb 2018 21:06:07 +0000 Michael Edwards 116317 at The courage of difficult women <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>What happened at Save the Children is a symptom of a wider problem in our society which urgently needs to be addressed. The women who have spoken up are the real heroes, not the men who have had the ‘courage’ to admit their mistakes.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="// Francis.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Justin Forsyth, ex-CEO of Save the Children UK. Credit: By DFID - UK Department for International Development, <a href="">CC BY-SA 2.0</a> via <a href="">Wikimedia Commons</a>.</p> <p class="gmail-xmsonormal"><a href="">It is now acknowledged</a> that in relation to allegations of sexual harassment involving staff at Save the Children-UK’s Headquarters in London, the agency’s own “Human Resource processes had not been followed in every aspect” at the time the complaints were made. <a href="">Justin Forsyth</a>, the former CEO, and&nbsp;<a href="">Brendan Cox</a>, his former number two, have both admitted that they made mistakes.&nbsp;But this stems from a crisis that culminated in 2015. Why is it only being acknowledged now? Why didn’t anyone speak up?</p> <p class="gmail-xmsonormal">Well, that’s the thing. Some did speak up but their voices didn’t reach far enough. What happened at Save the Children UK wasn’t a just a ‘mistake:’ achieving change for children, went the argument, needed Save the Children to be firmly led by powerful charismatic leaders who ruffled feathers and who should be followed obediently by staff.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p class="gmail-xmsonormal">When staff started complaining about the alleged bullying culture that was brought in by former Number 10 special advisors Forsyth and Cox, they were derided as moaners. Everyone learned that it was ‘their way or the highway.’ So when several women alleged that they suffered repeated mistreatment, this was dealt with by leadership as part of the price of being an ‘effective organization’—and staff felt that it was dangerous to complain&nbsp;<a href="">as a number of them later told the BBC</a>.</p> <p class="gmail-xmsonormal">Many kept their mouths shut, or at least complained to their peers through informal channels because they had no faith in the formal ones. The alleged bullying and mistreatment was the worst kept secret in the development community. A great many NGO people knew about the behavior of Cox, and Save the Children-UK,&nbsp;<a href="">as is now becoming known</a>, “failed in its obligations to adequately deal with issues raised in respect of inappropriate behaviour through its disciplinary procedures.” People were reluctant to come forward. Nevertheless, some did. </p> <p class="gmail-xmsonormal">Some of the women affected allegedly felt that the Chair of SCF-UK’s Trustees at the time,&nbsp;<a href="">Sir Alan Parker</a>, discouraged them from speaking out (Parker contests this), and that this had contributed to their trauma. Both Cox and Forsyth left SCF-UK quietly—Forsyth to become number two at UNICEF in New York until his resignation on February 22.</p> <p class="gmail-xmsonormal">The victims of Cox and Forsyth didn’t stop at telling peers, senior management and trustees about what was happening. They also went to the media. You might be wondering &nbsp;why all these stories of harassment and abuse are being broken by the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph—it was the Mail that&nbsp;<a href="">originally covered Cox’s departure from the charity back in 2015</a>. Why didn’t the complainants go to somewhere like the Guardian? They did.</p> <p class="gmail-xmsonormal">These victims are not typical Mail and Telegraph readers and they understood that a story about an alleged lack of accountability in an aid organization will likely be followed in those newspapers by calls for less foreign aid. None of the victims support that goal. What they want is aid plus accountability. &nbsp;</p> <p class="gmail-xmsonormal">Almost all of the complainants went to the Guardian first. Different Guardian journalists were contacted, but all went quiet. One told me: “I just wanted to say I haven't forgotten about this. Unfortunately the decision to work on the story or not is above my station, so I'm just waiting for a decision either way…” Later, when I asked if they had heard back the same journalist said: “I haven’t unfortunately. It was passed onto powers that be. At the moment it’s looking like it’s not going to run... I presume after some weighing of pros and cons.”</p> <p class="gmail-xmsonormal">Not only did the Guardian not run a piece about Cox and Forsyth, they actually&nbsp;<a href="">ran a piece&nbsp;<em>by</em>&nbsp;Cox</a>. This was three months ago. Still I and others kept pressing them. To those affected it looks like some senior media people protect those who are also their personal friends—both the BBC’s&nbsp;<a href="">Andrew Marr</a>&nbsp;and Sky’s&nbsp;<a href="">Adam Boulton</a>&nbsp;have publically spoken up for the two men. Perhaps they also think that they are protecting Save the Children, but you don’t protect charities by covering up the behavior of allegedly predatory men, only by helping them free themselves from them, and if you leave it to outlets like the Daily Mail then the story gets turned into another reason to cut support for charities.</p> <p>So this has been a massive disservice, and also a shocking approach to the news, as though women allegedly being harassed by powerful men should not be reported on if those men are ‘one of us.’ When the Guardian sat on the story a subsection of the whistleblowers went to the Mail and the Telegraph, who ran it with many fewer sources. The Mail&nbsp;<a href="">ran a new story about Cox’s behavior on February 17 2018</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="">the Telegraph followed suit the next day</a>. Neither mentioned Forsyth.&nbsp; But on February 20 the fuller story of the SCF-UK scandal was broken by&nbsp;<a href="">Radio 4’s PM programme</a>&nbsp;by a dedicated journalist who cited three complaints by female SCF-UK staff members about threatening text messages and other behaviour. <a href="">SCF-UK&nbsp;has admitted</a> that “there were significant omissions and failures in HR response to historic informal complaints around behavior.”</p> <p class="gmail-xmsonormal">Just a few hours before the PM programme, Kevin Watkins, the current CEO of Save the Children-UK and a former trustee who was one of the people supposed to be ‘governing’ Forsyth,&nbsp;<a href="">appeared before MPs on the International Development Committee</a>&nbsp;as a leader on transparency and accountability. He wasn’t asked a single question about Cox or Forsyth, or the role of Parker, or his own previous role on SCF-UK’s Board.</p> <p class="gmail-xmsonormal">What made Cox so dangerous was his power, but politicians, journalists, staff who kept quiet either out of fear of their careers or fear of hurting Save the Children, and ‘feminist leaders’ including Labour MPs like&nbsp;<a href="">Lucy Powell</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="">Jess Phillips</a>&nbsp;who publically praised Cox after his confession could have spoken out.&nbsp;</p> <p class="gmail-xmsonormal">But now it looks like all these silencers will be defeated by the persistence and courage of a few difficult women. One of them is&nbsp;<a href="">Brie O’Keefe</a>, who served under Cox and whose experience at Save the Children left her feeling broken.&nbsp;<a href="">She spoke yesterday on the record and said this</a>: “If you look at where I am right now I am in a town called Yellowknife in Northern Canada and I am so far away from it, and I am still afraid to speak out. But I am going to do it anyways.”&nbsp;</p> <p class="gmail-xmsonormal">When Save the Children does reform and return to its values and becomes a safer place for women, let’s not rewrite it as a story of how Cox and Forsyth ‘took responsibility’ and how Save the Children’s new leadership brought in a new approach. They were failing to disclose key aspects of that story even yesterday—and still haven’t released the key documents prepared for the hearing that never happened because Cox resigned, nor those that look back and examine the whole crisis (SCF-UK has promised to release these documents later in 2018).</p> <p class="gmail-xmsonormal">Remember instead the real heroes, the whistleblowers. Justin Forsyth remained the deputy director of UNICEF until February 22 2018. Sir Alan Parker remained the chair of Save the Children International until April 19 2018. Kevin Watkins, a trustee at the time of the scandal, succeeded Forsyth as CEO of SCF-UK and now insists that he has zero-tolerance of sexual harassment. Brie, meanwhile, lives in fear in a small town in Northern Canada. She and others like her are the real leaders of Save the Children.&nbsp;</p> <p><em>This story has been updated to reflect the resignation of Justin Forsyth from his position at UNICEF on February 22 2018 and Sir Alan Parker as Chair of SCF-International on April 19 2018, and amended on 28th February 2018 after openDemocracy received letters via Save the Children’s lawyers.&nbsp;It was further amended on May 25 2018.</em></p> <p><span>Statement from openDemocracy</span>.</p> <p>In relation to the handling of allegations of sexual harassment at Save the Children UK, Save the Children-UK’s lawyers have asked us to point out that their client did not act to cover up or ‘silence’ complaints against Justin Forsyth and/or Brendan Cox; has policies in place to protect its workforce; and did not seek to discourage people from speaking out. Furthermore, that when the Justin Forsyth matters were raised with the Chair, he instructed HR to manage the process overseen by a Trustee. The complaints made in relation to Mr Forsyth were resolved at the time on a confidential and informal basis, with the approval of the complainants; and that when management became aware of an alleged incident involving Mr Cox at a Summer party in 2015 SCF-UK took immediate action to investigate the matter, and as part of the investigation Mr Cox was suspended and not allowed back into the client’s office.</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/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 even"> <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 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> </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 50.50 uk Transformation Save the Children Fund Leslie Francis The role of money Economics Wed, 21 Feb 2018 17:05:05 +0000 Leslie Francis 116263 at What’s it all about, Oxfam? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We should seize this opportunity to re-examine the future of foreign aid.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Haiti: Oxfam latrines and sanitation facilities. Credit: Flickr/ Kateryna Perus/Oxfam. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.</p> <p>The public heat generated by Oxfam’s <a href="">scandal</a> is focused on three issues. First, the absolute importance of protecting vulnerable people—project beneficiaries and collaborators, staff and volunteers; second, accusations of hubris, arrogance and self-serving behaviour by aid agencies; and third, the bigger questions of whether and how aid makes a difference. How are these issues connected?</p> <p>The mechanisms required to protect vulnerable people from being preyed on by staff who abuse their positions of power (in any sector) are well-known: more care and better vetting in recruitment, including a mandatory phone call to previous employers; more open whistle-blowing policies; better induction and training of staff; an emphasis on clearly articulated and modelled ethics; and a commitment by managers to act swiftly and decisively, and steer away from impunity.</p> <p>Although the aid sector can and should work collectively on an informal basis to strengthen these mechanisms and attributes, I think it’s a mistake to establish global regulations or a mandatory database of international development workers, because the sector isn’t really a single entity in the way that (perhaps) medicine is, and because of the messy, unpredictable, international nature of aid. How, for example, is a young woman in the Philippines supposed to register as an aid worker before the disaster which leads to her recruitment even happens? I also fear that external regulations can be the enemy of the proper internalisation and ownership of ethics.</p> <p>On the second issue of self-serving corporate behaviour and hubris, there is clearly a problem, but it isn’t quite as simple as portrayed in the media. Aid agencies have long backed themselves into a corner by claiming in their marketing and fundraising that they have ‘the solution’ to poverty, and the public, despite being far too intelligent to think that poverty can be so easily ‘solved,’ have willingly gone along with this narrative.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>When a willing buyer (the donor) and a willing seller (the charity) are both intentionally vague about the product they’re trading, they create a problem of accountability. So a flawed accountability loop has developed: you give me your money and I’ll take care of the problem while you continue to live your privileged lives. The seller is thus encouraged to create and sustain a narrative in which those who give money are making a difference through the charity’s actions—and to go to enormous lengths to protect this narrative when the real world threatens to undermine it.</p> <p>Hence, a narrative has emerged of western charities ‘saving’ and even ‘transforming’ non-western lives. The narrative is an integral part of the model, so it can only be changed by disrupting that model. The interest generated by the current Oxfam story gives us an opportunity to do so, but that means looking at the third question: whether and how aid makes a difference.</p> <p>Let’s divide aid into two categories for the sake of simple analysis: emergency aid and development aid. If providing help in natural or man-made emergencies is by no means easy, the task is relatively simple to define. There is a need to mobilise quickly, save and stabilise lives, and provide basic services to sustain and restore those who have been affected so that they can rebuild their lives.</p> <p>This should, of course, be carried out with all due care and attention so as to avoid the kinds of unintended negative consequences illustrated by the Oxfam scandal and described by Matthew Green in an excellent article in the <a href="">Financial Times</a>. It is also increasingly understood that conceptualising and preparing for post-disaster reconstruction should start as soon as possible, with the idea of “<a href="">building back better</a>” to create a new, more resilient baseline in terms of disaster-prevention and -preparedness, human rights fulfilment, fairness, empowerment and governance. This takes us into the realm of development aid.</p> <p>Here, we have a real problem. To explore it we first need to separate development from development aid. The word ‘development’ is thrown around as if we all know and agree on what it means; all too often it is used as shorthand for aid. Orwell <a href="">was right</a> that jargon inhibits clear-eyed analysis, so let’s replace ‘development’ with ‘progress.’</p> <p>As soon as we do this, the problem becomes clearer. Perhaps with the exception of ‘religion’, ‘progress’ is the most disputed concept in the world. It’s what politics seldom agrees on, whether ideologically (left and right) or on an issue by issue basis, as in how best to provide health care, for example, or whether to subsidise farming, or if it’s worth destroying hundreds of acres of forest to mine potash, iron or gold; or perhaps even whether to leave the European Union. So questions of development are political questions.</p> <p>Should a country like Uganda use its limited fiscal resources to provide a mediocre quality of primary schooling to all children free of charge, or should it focus on shepherding a smaller number of brighter children through a better education system so they can play a leading role in politics, business and public service, and thus build a platform for further progress? How should a poor rural community allocate its farming land—only to those of the dominant language group or also to those who have migrated there from other districts? Should daughters as well as sons inherit land? Is stability more likely to improve children’s prospects, or should communities opt for a more risky process of transformative change?</p> <p>These are not primarily questions about aid. They are typical, political questions about progress. And like most political questions they don’t have simple, normative answers. Nevertheless, they are important questions that do need answers, and which the political system in a country like Uganda may choose to answer in ways that people in other countries might disagree with, absent as they are from Ugandan politics and social dynamics.</p> <p>The challenge for outsiders therefore—whether the UN, western governments or foreign NGOs —is how to play a legitimate political role without overstepping the boundaries of interference. This is probably hardest for western governments, who at one time, for example, were funding <a href="">half the Ugandan Government’s budget.</a></p> <p>Legitimacy is perhaps a little simpler for foreign NGOs, at least in principle, because they operate on a much smaller scale and with less power to abuse. Nevertheless, it’s a critical challenge they must contend with. It’s hard to see how most Haitians would view Oxfam—and &nbsp;by extension other foreign NGOs—as having much legitimacy after what has come out in the past two weeks.</p> <p>But legitimacy is a subtle and complex notion; it’s not just about interpersonal behaviour and respect. What’s welcomed from foreign NGOs by local activists might be condemned as interference by their government—as <a href="">current debates in Russia demonstrate</a>. I once asked a Ugandan activist if the international organisation I represented could legitimately engage in political advocacy there. His answer was simple: pick the right issues and be effective, and you’ll be legitimate. So, for him at least, relevance and effectiveness confer legitimacy.</p> <p>The more foreign NGOs see themselves as activist agents of specific, contextually relevant change (and not just as service deliverers), the more they’ll need to recruit leaders—preferably &nbsp;citizens of the country concerned—who see themselves as activists too, within the fabric of indigenous civil society and politics. But they should go further. Challenging the status quo implies an element of risk, so to increase their legitimacy foreign NGOs also need to be ready to take risks, including the risk they will be closed down by the authorities even if this disrupts their organisational interests.</p> <p>Historians dispute the process of development or progress just as much as planners and politicians. So even from a vantage point in the future, it will be hard to know how and why change happened in a country like Uganda, and even harder to know how change <em>will</em> happen —and therefore how best foreign NGOs might contribute. So the Oxfams of the world must take an active part in, and support local groups to take part in, debates about these matters within civil society, holding up their own ideas and plans to scrutiny, and sharing lessons learned to further enrich the conversation. This can have the added benefit of helping to expand the scope of public debate and politics from questions of representation to questions of participation—to the policies governments should follow and the visions of the future around which societies might cohere.</p> <p>One way donors can help in this process is by moving away from models of funding which assume that cause and effect can be predetermined with confidence, and that consultation and political engagement can be carried out on the cheap. The same applies to Oxfam and its public narratives: by creating and sustaining the pretence that it knows what is needed, how to provide it, and how its interventions will work without unintended consequences, the aid sector risks denying itself the posture and resources—and perhaps even the legitimacy—to contribute to progress where it can.</p> <p>Thus, <a href="">Michael Edwards is right</a> that it isn’t gratuitous to link the Oxfam story to wider questions about aid. Indeed, surely we should seize this opportunity to do so.</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/what-s-to-be-done-with-oxfam-part-2">What’s to be done with Oxfam, part 2?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/what-s-to-be-done-with-oxfam">What’s to be done with Oxfam?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/phil-vernon/peace-writ-large-peacebuilding-works-but-we-may-need-to-shout-about-it-more">Peace writ large: peacebuilding works, but we may need to shout about it more </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 Oxfam Phil Vernon The role of money Economics Tue, 20 Feb 2018 21:11:07 +0000 Phil Vernon 116231 at Five ways to transform our economies <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We need a new economics for the 21st century. Here are five potential pillars.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Default"><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="">Alpha Stock Images</a>/<a href="">Nick Youngson</a>.<a href="">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>.</p> <p class="Default">We live in a world that’s facing many destructive and entwined crises including <a href="">growing inequality</a>, climate change, poverty, pollution and human rights violations. Our current economic system is perpetuating and exacerbating these crises.</p> <p class="Default">Over the last thirty years, neoliberal fundamentalism has put corporate and financial interests ahead of social and environmental standards through policies like privatisation, trade liberalisation and deregulation. If economics is about the allocation and distribution of scarce resources as many first year university text books claim, then 30 years of these policies have failed. We have created more wealth than ever before but have been unable to share it equitably, and in doing so we are destroying our common home.</p> <p>We need a new economics for the 21st century. To protect our fragile planet, we need to listen to communities and social movements across the world who are already creating just and sustainable economic solutions to social and environmental challenges. Here are five of them.</p> <p><strong>1. Public services for all through tax justice.</strong></p> <p class="TextBody">From health clinics in South Africa to <a href="">clean water in Uruguay </a>&nbsp;and <a href="">public transport in Vienna </a><strong>,</strong> public services provide necessities to hundreds of millions of people around the world. They also drive economic activity and so can play a leading role in the shift towards a more sustainable economy. </p> <p class="TextBody">To do so, they must ensure the meaningful participation of communities through systems like <a href="">participatory </a><a href="">budgeting</a>, greater transparency, stricter e<a href="">nvironmental standards in relation to functioning and procurement</a>, and mandatory universal access.</p> <p class="TextBody">Fair and redistributive tax policies are required to pay for these services. Rather than more tax cuts we need more taxation of multinational corporations, financial transactions, capital gains and wealthy individuals. </p> <p class="TextBody">Tax havens are costing governments hundreds of billions of dollars. Saving our planet from global warming is possible, but it requires tax justice to finance the necessary energy alternatives. For example, <a href="">Friends of the Earth International calculates</a> that revenue lost between 2015 and 2030 to tax havens could power half the world with 100 per cent socially controlled renewable energy. </p> <p class="TextBody"><strong>2. Scale up social ownership and cooperativism.</strong></p> <p class="TextBody">Across the world <a href="">more than one</a><a href=""> billion people</a> are already members of cooperatives, a key part of the ‘social and solidarity economy’ which the I<a href="">nternational Labour Organisation</a> defines as a concept that encompasses organisations that produce goods, services and knowledge while pursuing social and economic objectives. The solidarity economy is fundamentally about reasserting people’s control over the economy. Its principles are based on collective power, democratic decision-making, women’s autonomy, transparency, sustainability, self-management and the egalitarian distribution of economic returns. </p> <p class="TextBody">Cooperatives produce and distribute millions of goods and services every day, from the food we eat to the hotels in which we stay, the factories we work in and the credit unions in which can choose to invest our savings. In Quebec, Canada, ten per cent of all economic activity comes from this solidarity economy, and in Brazil it has <a href="">lifted millions of people out of poverty</a>.&nbsp; </p> <p class="TextBody">Without sufficient support these initiatives can struggle to grow from small projects to transformative solutions with a broader social and economic impact. We must ensure that they have proper access to financing and supportive regulatory frameworks, learning from emerging ‘sharing cities’ like Seoul and Amsterdam.</p> <p class="TextBody"><strong>3. Support local markets and fair trade.</strong></p> <p class="TextBody">Local and regional economies that are linked together through equitable trade relations are the backbone of a sustainable society. Yet trade liberalisation has rigged the game, writing the rules in favour of multinational companies. This has led to a ‘race to the bottom’ on social and environmental standards.</p> <p class="TextBody">We need a trade system based on cooperation not competition. Policies must enable governments to r<a href="">educe trade in environmentally and socially harmful products </a>and introduce ‘supremacy clauses’ that bind states to follow international law and ensure that human rights are legally superior to trade deals.</p> <p class="TextBody">Communities and local businesses recycle a much larger share of their revenue back into the local economy than multinationals. A study by the University of California found that twice as much money stayed in the community when people bought the produce they needed at local farmers’ markets instead of supermarkets. The promotion of local and agro-ecological production also eliminates unnecessary carbon-intensive transportation.</p> <p class="TextBody">Many governments already recognise the importance of local economies: ‘farm to school’ programmes in Brazil, the <a href="">US</a> and <a href="">France</a> prioritise sustainable locally grown foods in school canteens, while Indonesia is <a href="">supporting village economies</a> with a fund that’s targeted at improving local public amenities and enterprises.</p> <p class="TextBody"><strong>4. Create economies of purpose by valuing the wellbeing of people and planet.</strong></p> <p class="TextBody">Under neoliberalism, growth and <a href="">competitiveness</a> are treated as goals in themselves rather than means to a wider end. This exacerbates inequality and outstrips the rate at which the environment can regenerate or absorb pollutants.</p> <p class="TextBody">The central aim of economic organisation should be to fulfill the needs of communities in harmony with the planet. GDP should be given much less priority and replaced with new indicators of progress. As <a href="">economist Kate Raworth argues</a>, “today’s economies are divisive and degenerative by default, and must become distributive and regenerative by design.”</p> <p class="TextBody">In such ‘economies of purpose,’ democratically-accountable governments agree to prioritise activities like healthcare, education and renewable energy through subsidies and other measures while shrinking or stopping harmful activities like coal mining and weapons production </p> <p class="TextBody">This is already happening in some regions of the world. Government policy in parts of Latin America is being driven by concepts of <a href="">‘</a><a href="">b</a><a href="">uen </a><a href="">v</a><a href="">ivir’</a> or ‘well living.’ There are related transition initiatives taking place in India under the rubric of ‘<a href="">ecological <em>swaraj</em></a><em>,</em>’ and in Europe through the <a href="">transition towns movement</a>.</p> <p class="TextBody"><strong>5. Binding rules to dismantle the power of big business.</strong></p> <p class="TextBody">Human rights abuses by the biggest companies are rife, be they communities in Indonesia <a href="">losing their homes</a> to palm oil plantations, rivers in Colombia so heavily polluted by coal mines that local residents <a href="">can’t fish</a> there any more, or communities in Nigeria that have been devastated by natural gas flares from refineries and pipelines, despite this being illegal.</p> <p class="TextBody">Voluntary corporate responsibility or ‘self regulation’ is not enough. We need legally binding international rules to regulate and hold transnational businesses to account. The <a href="">United Nations Inter-Governmental Working Group (IGWG)</a> is already working towards creating such a binding instrument and a <a href="">French ‘duty of care law</a>’ was passed in 2017 to hold French companies responsible for human and environmental violations committed anywhere in the world. </p> <p>Governments must also intervene to break-up national, regional and global monopolies and oligopolies, in order to create a more level playing field for small enterprises, cooperatives and public services.</p> <p>In all these areas, the solutions to poverty, inequality and environmental degradation already exist. The challenge is to scale them up and transform the economy in ways that serve both people and the planet. </p> <p class="TextBody"><strong><em>&nbsp;</em></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/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 even"> <a href="/transformation/david-beer/four-futures-life-after-capitalism">Four futures: life after capitalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/julie-nelson/really-radical-economics">Really radical economics</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 Sam Cossar-Gilbert The role of money Economics Mon, 12 Feb 2018 21:57:54 +0000 Sam Cossar-Gilbert 116001 at How giving makes you happier <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>For a joyful economy, spread the wealth. This infographic shows why.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: YES! Magazine/Ben White/Unsplash.</p><p><img src="// wealth.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p><em>This infographic was first published in YES! Magazine.</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/ruth-kinna/anarchist-guide-to-christmas">An anarchist guide to Christmas</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/julia-koskella/five-ways-to-make-your-christmas-truly-meaningful">Five ways to make your Christmas truly meaningful</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 NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Tracy Matsue Loeffelholz and Clo Copass The role of money Economics Culture Thu, 28 Dec 2017 22:19:37 +0000 Tracy Matsue Loeffelholz and Clo Copass 115263 at Let’s demonstrate the true meaning of Christmas: sharing <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>There’s no point spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need in order to make impressions that don’t really matter.</p> </div> </div> </div> <h2><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></h2><h2 class="image-caption"><span class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="">Flickr/Adam Wells</a>. <a href="">CC BY-NC-SA 2.0</a>.</span></h2> <p>At this time of year, the over-consuming lifestyles of the affluent world are impossible to ignore. Brightly-lit shops are bursting with festive foods and expensive indulgences, while seasonal songs play in the background of shopping malls to keep us spending<a href=""> money we don’t have on things we don’t need, in order to make impressions that don’t matter</a>. </p> <p>The frenetic commercialism of Christmas continues to escalate despite all the <a href="">warnings from climate scientists</a> that Western lifestyles are destroying the planet. We still buy enough Christmas trees in the UK alone to reach from London to New York and back, and the card packaging that’s thrown away could <a href="">cover Big Ben almost 260,000 times</a>—not to mention the 4,500 tonnes of tin foil, two million turkeys, 74 million mince pies and five million mounds of charred raisins from rejected Christmas puddings that are discarded in the UK come January. The mountain of e-waste from discarded electronic items—many of them bought as unwanted gifts—is projected to reach <a href="">ten million tonnes by 2020</a>. </p> <p>Just pause for a moment and picture the scale of that waste, along with the ecological destruction it represents. Christmas is merely an exaggerated illustration of the gross materialism that defines our lives in a consumerist society. &nbsp;</p> <p>What is more difficult to recognise is that our profligate consumption habits also exacerbate levels of inequality worldwide. The so-called ‘developed world’—roughly <a href="">20 per cent of the global population</a>—consumes a hugely disproportionate share of the earth’s resources, and is responsible for <a href="">at least half of all greenhouse gas emissions</a>. Behind such statistics lies a depressing reality: the artificial standards of living of the global North are dependent on the dire working conditions and impoverishment of millions of people throughout the global South. </p> <p>In spite of the spurious claims of trickledown economics, the number of people living on less than $5-a-day has increased by <a href="">more than 1.1 billion</a> since the 1980s. The vast majority of people who live in ‘developing’ countries survive on <a href="">less than $10-a-day</a>; none of them can afford the wasteful, conspicuous consumption that we consider ‘normal.’ </p> <p>Our personal complicity in this unsustainable global order is complex, because we are all caught up in a socioeconomic and cultural system that depends on ever-expanding consumerism for its survival. Everywhere, we are besieged by messages that encourage us to ‘buy more stuff,’ as profit-driven businesses increasingly seek to meet our needs (real or constructed) through the marketplace. Our consumption patterns are often tied to our sense of identity, our desire for belonging, and our need for comfort and self-esteem. </p> <p>We are all victims of an excessively commercialised culture, not just via environmental harm and global warming but also through the psychological and emotional damage that afflicts everyone in one form or another. We experience that harm through <a href=";mc_eid=153d75603a#consumerism-and-its-discontents">the time-poverty of affluence</a>; through the pressures of living in an individualistic and market-dominated society; and through everything we’ve lost on the competitive <a href=";app=desktop">work/consume treadmill</a> – our freedom for leisure, our mental space and our community cohesion. </p> <p>There is also an inarticulable form of spiritual harm that arises from being part of an exploitative world order, in which our over-consuming lifestyles in the West are connected to the immiseration of people in poorer countries who we do not know, or care to know. Simply put, it is impossible to reconcile the twin challenges of ending poverty and achieving environmental sustainability unless we also confront the huge imbalances in consumption patterns across the world, and fundamentally re-imagine the economy in ways that escape from the growth compulsion. </p> <p>Hence the resurgent focus on <a href="">post-growth economics in a world of limits</a> which recognises the importance of reducing the use of natural resources in high-income countries, so that poorer nations can grow their economies sustainably and meet the basic needs of their populations. Nowhere is the case for sharing the world’s resources more obvious or urgent than in the need to achieve <a href=" shares in a world of limited resources">equity-based sustainable development</a> or ‘one planet lifestyles’ for all. Yet our societies remain far distant from embarking on this great transition. </p> <p>What better example than the spectacle of French President Emmanuel Macron convening the ‘<a href="">One Planet Summit</a>’ at the end of 2017 to demonstrate international solidarity in addressing climate change, while at the same time governments were attending the resurrected World Trade Organisation talks in their continued attempts to turn the world into <a href="">a corporate playground with minimal protections for the poor</a>. </p> <p>Questions of global injustice and ecological imbalance may seem far removed from our daily lives, but everyone who participates in modern consumerist society is conjointly responsible for perpetuating destruction on an international scale. Our frenzied spending around Thanksgiving and Christmas is a case in point, further preventing us from embracing the radical transformations required in the transition to a post-growth world. What, then, should we do? </p> <p>In fact there are already lots of ways to de-commercialise Christmas, like the ‘<a href="">buy nothing’ movement</a> that advocates we ignore the conditioned compulsion to purchase luxury goods. We can all practise ethical giving and support the work of related <a href="">activist groups</a> and <a href="">charitable organisations</a>. For example, Christian Aid have released a <a href=";">witty video</a> that entreats UK citizens to be aware of festive food waste in the context of global hunger, and donate £10 from Christmas food shopping—enough for a family in South Sudan to eat for a week. </p> <p>Actions like these constitute small steps towards celebrating Christmas with more awareness of the critical world situation, and the need for Western populations to live more lightly on the earth. When extended beyond the holiday season, that awareness could be translated into a mass movement that rejects the consumerist ethos and <a href="">voluntarily downshifts</a> to lifestyles that meet our needs in ways that bypass the mainstream economy.</p> <p>As proponents of the <a href="">gift economy</a>, the <a href="">commons</a> and <a href="">collaborative consumption</a> all attest, this is the long-term antidote to mass consumption. We must become co-creators of alternative economic systems in which we reinvest in our communities, shift our values towards quality of life and wellbeing, and embrace a new ethic of sufficiency. We must resist the competitive economic pressures towards materialism and privatised modes of living, thereby releasing time and energy for cooperative activities that promote communal production, co-owning and civic engagement. In short, we need an expanded understanding of what it means to be human in a world of shared resources.&nbsp; </p> <p>Christmas provides us with a unique opportunity to do this. In his essay on “<a href="">Christmas, the System and I</a>,” Mohammed Mesbahi exhorts us to imagine what could be done if all the money we needlessly spend on festivities and unwanted gifts was pooled together and redistributed to those who urgently need it. If Jesus were walking among us today, writes Mesbahi, surely that is what he would call us to do. Perhaps that would be an expression of the true meaning of Christmas in the twenty first century.&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/ruth-kinna/anarchist-guide-to-christmas">An anarchist guide to Christmas</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/melissa-pearce/10-ways-to-survive-your-family-christmas">10 top ways to survive your family Christmas</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <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> </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 Adam Parsons Economics Culture Tue, 26 Dec 2017 22:09:00 +0000 Adam Parsons 115457 at How whales and dolphins can teach us to be less stupid <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Learning from the other inhabitants of our ‘blue planet.’</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Default"><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Upside down dolphins and killer whale or orca. Credit: <a href="">Flickr/Rumpleteaser</a>. <a href="">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p class="Default">For those tens of millions of us who have been watching the extraordinary ‘<a href="">Blue Planet II</a>’, the final programme in the series (which looked at the human-caused threats facing the seas) may have come as both a wake-up call and a disappointment. Disappointment, at what we’ve done to this beautiful planet. And perhaps also, disappointment that the BBC didn’t look deeply enough into why these harms have happened.</p> <p class="Default">What emerges when we reflect more profoundly in this way?</p> <p class="Default">The background to what we’re doing to the oceans includes, crucially, this: that the world is possessed by the ideology of possessive individualism, which comes in different varieties: liberal, neoliberal and libertarian. This possession is utterly disastrous, at a moment when we need to think and act collectively, politically, and <em>as a civilisation</em>, not just as an aggregate of individuals.</p> <p class="Default">What would it mean to really take seriously our identity as a ‘we’, our belonging to each other and to our homes—<em>our</em> common home? To be <em>us</em>, rather than just a lot of ‘me’s?</p> <p class="Default">Central to such a transformation is the need to overcome the prejudice—the very idea—of the ‘individual.’ It is not persons who are the fundamental units of social existence, it’s embedded communities.</p> <p class="Default">We are born into community, and in this respect our political starting point should never be the fantasy of the ‘social contract.’ That fantasy, of the individual-as-person allegedly prior to society, dangerously gets in the way of the ultra-long time-scale of community. Individuals die. The community lives—unless it stupidly commits itself to death.</p> <p class="Default">We humans seem very far from understanding this at present. The situation is pretty desperate. Might we be able to learn from other animals who seem, in the ways they live, to have a better grasp of this crucial point? Could other animals possibly have anything to <em>teach</em> us? And even if they did, how could we understand it?</p> <p class="Default">Perhaps in the way indicated by cetologist <a href="">Volker Deecke</a>. “To appreciate other people’s cultures”, <a href="">he once wrote</a>, “you have to shed your prejudices—strip yourself down to where you are just human and then build up your understanding. With [orcas]…you must strip all the way down to just being a mammal, then start from scratch trying to imagine how whales perceive and interpret the world. Imagine ‘clicking’ [focusing a sonar beam] on another member of your society.”</p> <p class="Default">Or consider Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell’s well-regarded book, <em><a href="">The cultural lives of whales and dolphins</a>,</em> with its audacious title about the <em>cultures</em> of these beings—really? Are they genuinely cultural? Roughly speaking, a culture exists if there are substantial specific traditions that are inherited by way of teaching, learning and emulation, rather than by way of genes.</p> <p class="Default">Whitehead and Rendell show that there’s little possibility of debate over this question when it comes to cetaceans like whales and dolphins, which are social species with their own cultures. Take a famous example: <a href="">Humpback Whales singing</a>. It’s now been shown that different groups of Humpbacks alter their songs in patterns that look much the same as human fashions. We are still somewhat far from understanding what these songs mean, but we already know enough to see that they’re far more clearly cultural than most bird songs.</p> <p class="Default">Or take this example, which was a clincher for me: the way that some groups of <a href="">killer whales or orcas</a> ‘go on holiday.’ They travel hundreds of miles to interesting, warm parts of the ocean, and hang out and play. They don’t eat or engage in sexual activity there. When they have had a good rest, they return, as it were, ‘to work.’</p> <p class="Default">We can probably understand all of these phenomena to some degree by rough analogy to ourselves. And it’s truly extraordinary that cetaceans have managed to maintain and develop their cultures when one considers the quite fantastic butchery that they’ve been subject to at human hands over the past few centuries. Imagine humanity, from a far lower initial base of numbers, being then taken down murderously to about a thousandth of its size, and what <em>that</em> would do to <em>our</em> cultures. This is what we have done to cetaceans. It is incredible in its barbarity, cruelty and stupidity. It is soul-rending. And yet, they manage to go on.</p> <p class="Default">Whitehead and Rendell suggest that another mark of culture, which we should look for in cetaceans to confirm that the adjective “cultural” is appropriately applied, is social stupidity—it is possible for cultural beings to be stupid or sub-optimal in ways that are not open to uncultural beings.</p> <p class="Default">This too we can understand at a suitably high level of abstraction by reference to ourselves—we are all too familiar with human stupidity at scale—but the point about such irrational or incoherent behaviour is that in its specificity it resists such understanding. Thus we’ll typically say of people who we describe as doing something stupid, “But that’s <em>stupid,</em> why are they doing it?”</p> <p class="Default">Stupid social behaviour like this is very unusual in the animal world, though more often than not, we’ll assume that animals lack the cognitive capacity to be capable either of relevant intelligence <em>or</em> stupidity. However, Whitehead and Rendell offer a powerful example of cetacean behaviour that could be considered stupid in this way: mass strandings.</p> <p class="Default">Some mass strandings can be explained by reference to pollution that makes the cetaceans in question ill; or by reference to the sonar with which our navies are filling our seas, indiscriminately and highly-destructively. But there are plenty of cases which don’t fit this kind of model, cases where one or some of the pod are beached ill or wounded while others are fit and healthy.</p> <p class="Default">It certainly appears stupid that the latter are unwilling to save themselves even when their conspecifics are doomed, <em>unless</em> we change the frame and, instead of asking repeatedly, ‘Why won’t this dolphin save itself, or even allow itself to be saved?’, we step back to think about whether the notion of ‘self’ in play here may be prejudicial. Perhaps the cetacean sense of self transcends what for us are divisions between individuals.</p> <p class="Default">To understand cetacean society, we have to let go of philosophical and ideological assumptions about the separateness of living beings from one another, assumptions which seem natural to us re human beings—though perhaps only because we are so deeply captive to an ideology of individualism: we don’t see it, for it’s the sea <em>we</em> swim in. Instead, we may have to contemplate the lived reality of what <em>we</em> would call ‘larger-than-self’ individual as indivisible identities.</p> <p class="Default">I’d argue that, if cetaceans were able to speak to us, and were part of a pod undergoing a mass stranding who we were seeking to lead back out to sea, they might say something like this: “You ask me to save <em>myself</em>. But you haven’t understood that it would be part of <em>myself</em> that I would be leaving on the beach if I did as you asked.” If we could understand <em>that</em>, then we might have a much better chance of survival on this planet ourselves. <em>That</em> would be ‘being <em>us</em>.’</p> <p class="Default">Then we might be better placed to think as a civilisation and to survive, for we would feel directly the reality of all the others who we are committing to suffering or death through our actions—and maybe then, we wouldn’t be able to go on doing these things.</p> <p class="Default">Cetaceans expand our sense of what is humanly possible<em> vis-a-vis</em> relationships and community. Or perhaps they exceed it. They indicate a spectrum along which we are far from reptiles (who have no interest in their own young, and will eat them if they come across them), but perhaps not quite as advanced as cetaceans.</p> <p class="Default">What kinds of beings do we need to become in order to survive the coming ecological devastation, and in order to avoid accelerating it beyond the range of civilisational survival? I would say: communitarian animals, <em>not</em> libertarians, liberals or neoliberals. I think cetaceans present us with an enormous clue as to what that could mean, if we are willing to hear them.</p> <p class="Default">Maybe reflecting deeply on how cetaceans <em>do</em> sometimes walk willingly into mass strandings might help <em>us</em> to figure out how not to walk into our own global suicide, because, in a way so wonderfully, they’re unable or unwilling to imagine leaving each other, as we see played out in the incredibly-moving way they actively resist being saved.</p> <p class="Default">But perhaps we’re only doing so because, unlike them, we find it too easy to imagine leaving each other, and in particular, leaving our children to their fates. Maybe we can learn to be more like cetaceans—who simply will not do this.</p> <p class="image-caption">Thanks to Silvia Panizza and Sam Earle for really helpful comments on earlier drafts of this piece.</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-eisenstein/oceans-are-not-worth-24-trillion">The oceans are not worth $24 trillion</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/sam-earle/how-should-we-feel-about-feelings-of-animals-we-eat">How should we feel about the feelings of the animals we eat?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/margi-prideaux/when-tiger-has-no-value">When a tiger has no value</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 Vegan politics and animal rights Rupert Read Care Culture Economics Environment Tue, 19 Dec 2017 21:56:01 +0000 Rupert Read 115351 at How should we feel about the feelings of the animals we eat? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Acknowledging the sentience of other species requires us to be vegan.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit:&nbsp;<a href=""></a>/<a href="">Ledmark</a>. All rights reserved.</p> <p>In the second half of November 2017 there was a considerable amount of emotion and confusion surrounding the UK’s ‘<a href="">animal sentience’ bill</a>, which sought to include the notion that animals have feelings in post-Brexit animal welfare legislation. These reactions have been fuelled by the viral sharing of posts on social media claiming that Members of Parliament have rejected the idea that animals feel pain.</p> <p>In fact, MPs did not vote against this proposition. Rather, they rejected a motion that explicitly recognised animal sentience, <a href="">purportedly</a> so that the Brexit legislation can be passed with as few amendments as possible. In the ensuing public outrage, the Conservative Government issued a statement claiming that the UK will lead the way in animal protection policies.&nbsp;</p> <p>One could argue that UK legislation on animal welfare such as the&nbsp;<a href="">Animal Welfare Act of 2006&nbsp;</a>and the&nbsp;<a href="">Welfare of Farmed Animals Act of 2007</a> already recognises that animals are ‘<a href="">sentient</a>’—that they are subjectively aware, and have interests that are manifested as preferences, desires or wants. Anti-cruelty stipulations, of which a considerable number are enshrined in <a href="">UK legislation</a>, are also premised on the assumption that animals are aware of their feelings and emotions. </p> <p>Critics <a href="">claim</a> that this body of legislation falls short because it doesn’t include fish, wild animals or laboratory animals; nor does it explicitly mention sentience. But the logic that underpins these laws clearly points in this direction. </p> <p>Not surprisingly perhaps, many people have been quick to assume that a government that seems to relish the gratuitous punishment of foxes and the poor would be inclined to reject the notion of animal sentience. But there is something deeper going on here, and it isn’t restricted to ‘virtue signaling’ as LSE journalism professor Charlie Becket has <a href="">suggested</a>—in other words, claiming to act ethically without&nbsp;<a href="">actually doing anything virtuous.</a> </p> <p>“People want to demonstrate their values,” he is quoted as saying in <a href="">Buzzfeed</a>, and “What can you be more angry about than sentient animals?” Such anger is real, but the more important issue is that accepting the reality of animal sentience (even implicitly) directs us to a set of political positions and personal behaviours that reject eating meat: the belief that it is wrong to cause unnecessary harm to sentient beings requires us to be vegan.</p> <p>What does it mean to say that animals are sentient? A sentient being is one that can experience pain and distress. We cannot be cruel to rocks and trees and other non-sentient beings; we can only be cruel to those beings that are aware of their feelings and emotions.</p> <p>As the late Harvard biologist <a href="">Donald Griffin</a> once noted, such feelings necessitate a form of self-consciousness in their subject. Sentience also has an evolutionary function, since pain makes us aware of what is bad for us, while love allows the formation of strong social bonds that are necessary for wellbeing—or&nbsp; just plain survival. “Sentience is not an end in itself” as the animal ethicist <a href="">Gary Francione</a> puts it, “it is a means to the end of staying alive.” </p> <p>If most of the animals we use in food production systems and other aspects of our lives are sentient, and if we care deeply about this as a moral matter, then two key questions must be answered.</p> <p>Firstly, even if animal welfare laws recognise that animals are sentient, can those laws ever protect the interests that sentient animals have? </p> <p>As Francione noted, because animals are seen and used as human property, animal welfare laws—even the arguably more progressive ones we have in the UK—don’t do much more than prohibit the kinds of gratuitous harm that are in any case economically inefficient. All such legislation comes up against this fundamental contradiction: while it may aim to protect the interests of sentient beings, it cannot do so in any meaningful way while those same beings are the property of another.</p> <p>Secondly, if we care morally about animal suffering, and we really do object to the infliction of ‘unnecessary’ harm, then we should ask ourselves what forms of harm count as ‘necessary.’ </p> <p>In terms of sheer numbers and scale, the most significant use of animals is for food. <a href="">It is estimated that&nbsp;over one billion animals are killed for food every year in the UK alone,</a> yet no one—nutritionists and medical experts included—maintains that this is ‘necessary.’ In fact, there is evidence that&nbsp;<a href="">vegans live longer lives than non-vegans</a>. Eating animals isn’t essential for good health or wellbeing; we do it because it is customary, and because we like the taste of their flesh. </p> <p>But are those good reasons to inflict suffering and death on a sentient being who, by definition, seeks to avoid pain and to continue to live?&nbsp;The fact of the matter is that there is only one way to respect the sentience of living beings, and that is by being vegan. </p> <p>Being vegan means refusing to treat animals as property, refusing to participate in their exploitation, and avoiding as far as is possible the degradation of the conditions required for their well-being. Veganism is sometimes painted as an extreme—even aggressive—life-style choice. The contrary is true. It’s actually a matter of respecting sentience and rejecting violence—values that so many people claim to share. </p> <p>Indeed, for those of us who profess to care about animal sentience, veganism is a moral imperative. If we are to avoid the charge of virtue-signaling, then respecting animal sentience requires us to be vegan.</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/man-s-weisskircher/rise-of-veganism-in-politics">The rise of veganism in politics</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/sophie-barnes/veganism-and-compassion">Veganism and compassion </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/samantha-earle/symbolic-summit">A symbolic summit</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 Vegan politics and animal rights Sam Earle Activism Care Economics Environment Tue, 12 Dec 2017 22:14:16 +0000 Sam Earle 115076 at Capitalism is not the only choice <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Every day we have opportunities to build economies that lift each other up and spread joy.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-caption"><img src="// Loh.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Old Window Workshop&nbsp;production manager&nbsp;Nannette Bowie and director Pam&nbsp;Howland with Leishla Lugo and&nbsp;Shaniqua Dobbins at a&nbsp;worksite in Springfield,&nbsp;Massachusetts. Dobbins&nbsp;and Lugo are in their&nbsp;first year of training&nbsp;with the women-owned&nbsp;cooperative. Credit: YES! Magazine/Chris Marion. All rights reserved.&nbsp;</p><p>Since the breakup of the Soviet bloc and China’s turn toward free markets, many economists have pronounced an “end of history,” where capitalism reigns supreme as the ultimate form of economy. Perhaps “there is no alternative” to a globalized neoliberal economy, as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher often said. Indeed, free markets in which individuals compete to get what they can while they can are glorified in popular culture through reality shows such as Shark Tank.</p> <p>But many of us in the 99 percent are not feeling so happy or secure about this economy’s results. Many are working harder and longer just to maintain housing and keep food on the table. Even the college-educated are mired in student debt, keeping the American Dream beyond their grasp. And then there are those who have never been served well by this economy. African Americans were liberated from enslavement only to be largely shut out of “free” market opportunities. Immigrants continue to work in the shadows. Women still earn only about three-quarters of what men make for the same work.</p> <p>So, are we trapped in capitalism? While many of us may want a new economy where people and planet are prioritized over profit, we remain skeptical that another world is really possible. We make some progress locally but then feel powerless to affect national and global forces. Too often “the economy” is equated with markets where corporations compete to make profits for the wealthiest one percent and the rest work for a wage or salary (or don’t make money at all). </p> <p>Work itself is seen as legitimate only if it legally generates income. Value is measured only in money terms, based on what people are willing to pay in the market. The capitalist mindset also separates economy from society and nature, as if it exists apart from people, communities, government, and our planet. Economy is its own machine, fueled by profit and competition.</p> <p>When everything that we label “economic” is assumed to be capitalist—transactional and market-driven—then it is no wonder that we run short on imagination.</p> <p><strong>Redefining economy beyond capitalism.</strong></p> <p>To escape this “capitalocentrism,” we need to broaden the definition of economy beyond capitalism. What if, instead, economy is all the ways that we meet our material needs and care for each other? And what if it’s not a singular thing? Then we would see that beneath the official capitalist economy are all sorts of thriving non-capitalist economies, where there may not be a profit motive or market exchange. They include tasks that we do every day. We care for our children and elderly; we cook and clean for ourselves and each other; we grow food; we provide emotional support to friends. These are all ways of meeting our material needs and caring for each other.</p> <p>For many, these economies, which foster solidarity and are rooted in values of democracy and justice rather than maximizing profit, are invisible or not recognized as “economic”; they are merely how we go about our lives. Capitalist thinking blinds us to these economic activities, some of which make survival possible and life meaningful. These non-capitalist ways also add up to a significant portion of all economic activity. Economist Nancy Folbre from University of Massachusetts Amherst estimates that unpaid domestic work (historically considered “women’s work”) was equal to 26 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product in 2010.</p> <p>Broadening the definition of economy also puts people back into the system and empowers us. Economy is not just something that happens to us, a sea in which we swim or sink. Rather we are all part of multiple economies, some in which we are the main actors—such as our household economies—and others in which we are the extras—such as venture capital markets.</p> <p>Recognizing these diverse economies and lifting the veil of capitalocentrism allows us to see that there are choices to be made, ethics and values to be considered. For example, I might pay more for lettuce from a local farmer who grows sustainably rather than from a distant supplier that exploits farm workers and uses pesticides. These choices are not only made as consumers, but also as workers, producers, and neighbors, and through policies that set the rules necessary for any economy to function. </p> <p>Do I work for a for-profit owned by shareholders or for a worker-owned cooperative, nonprofit, or B corporation? Should public land be used for luxury condos or for affordable housing? These questions open space for all of us to participate in shaping our world and the economic futures of the 99 percent.</p> <p><strong>Solidarity is rising.</strong></p> <p>Across the U.S., from Jackson, Mississippi, to Oakland, California; in rural Kentucky and on Navajo-Hopi lands; and throughout Massachusetts’ biggest cities, it is often poor communities and communities of color that are building solidarity economies around these questions. This is not new. In fact, this is where solidarity economics—collective strategies for survival—have been innovated out of necessity. Think mutual aid, community organizing, self-help, and cooperatives of all kinds. These practices have been embedded in Black liberation movements, the early labor movement, and many other progressive movements in the U.S.</p> <p>The desire for deep, transformational change—for the multitude of solidarity economies to add up to something—comes not just from those who are dissatisfied, but even more so from communities that are simply struggling to survive. Dreams of a decent life and a fair shake come from those making Black Lives Matter, from immigrant workers making poverty wages, from ex-prisoners locked out of the mainstream economy, from tenants barely able to make rent, and from communities being displaced to make way for the 1 percent.</p> <p>Springfield is Massachusetts’ third-largest city, and here the Wellspring initiative is building a network of worker-owned cooperatives to create local jobs and build wealth for low-income and unemployed residents. Inspired by the Cleveland Evergreen Cooperatives, which has built a network of worker-owned businesses to provide goods and services to the region’s anchor institutions, Wellspring was founded in 2011 to try to capture some of the $1.5 billion spent by its own anchor institutions, such as Baystate Health and University of Massachusetts Amherst. One study showed anchors procure less than 10 percent from local businesses.</p> <p>Its first cooperative, Wellspring Upholstery, was launched in 2013 and now has seven workers. Wellspring Upholstery was the first business to be developed, in part because a successful 25-year-old upholstery training program run by the county prison could provide trained workers. Wellspring’s second cooperative is Old Windows Workshop, a women-owned window restoration business. A main goal of this business, according to production manager Nannette Bowie, is to allow “the flexibility of a working mom to take care of your family responsibilities and keep a full-time job.”</p> <p>Wellspring raised almost $1 million to start its third business, a commercial greenhouse, which will produce lettuce, greens, and herbs for the local schools and anchor institutions. Construction began during the summer. With several businesses underway, Wellspring is demonstrating viable models they hope will inspire others and grow the job base and wealth-building opportunities for low-income and unemployed residents.</p> <p>Wellspring is just one example of solidarity economies that are emerging in Massachusetts. In Worcester, the state’s second-largest city, the Solidarity and Green Economy Alliance is cultivating their own ecology of more than a dozen cooperatives. Some are matching resident skills to meet community needs, such as landscaping, soil remediation, honey production, and urban agriculture. Others are providing services to movement organizations, such as translation, video production, and bookkeeping. </p> <p>In Boston’s Roxbury and Dorchester neighborhoods, a food solidarity economy is emerging, which includes a community land trust, urban farms and a greenhouse, a kitchen incubator, a consumer food co-op, and a worker-owned organics recycling company. And Latinx residents of East Boston have formed the Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity. Concerned about rapid gentrification, the group began exploring how economic alternatives could help them stay in East Boston. They are supporting startup cooperatives in child care, sewing, and cleaning. The Boston Ujima Project was just officially launched in September to build a community capital fund where a participatory budgeting process is used to make investments in local businesses.</p> <p><strong>Consciousness, power, and economy.</strong></p> <p>Yet solidarity economics is more than just cooperatives. It is a social justice movement. It is shifting our consciousness not only to uncover root causes, but also to expand our vision of what is possible, and to inspire dreams of the world as it could be. It is building power, not just to resist and reform the injustices and unsustainabilities produced by current systems, but ultimately to control democratically and govern political and economic resources to sustain people and the planet. And it is creating economic alternatives and prototypes for producing, exchanging, consuming, and investing in ways that are more just, sustainable, and democratic.</p> <p>If we want to transform and go beyond capitalism, then we must confront it in all three of these dimensions: consciousness, power, and economy.</p> <p>We do not have the luxury of creating solidarity economies in a vacuum. That means that we have to put them into practice now at home and in our own communities, no matter how small the scale. At the same time, we can work with others to build larger solidarity alternatives and do the hard work of reforming the political, economic, and ideological systems that are making life so difficult for so many.</p> <p>Everyone can put solidarity values into practice—to live in solidarity—starting in whatever ways we can. And that is the transformative power of solidarity economics: it doesn’t have to scale up only by building larger and larger organizations and systems. It can scale up by many people in many places pursuing economics of social justice. It will require taking back government to dismantle the systems that privilege capitalism and to redirect public resources toward solidarity economies. We can all begin by spreading the word, sharing our radical imagination of the world that we want to live in.</p> <p class="image-caption">This article was first published in <a href="">YES! Magazine</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/george-lakey/why-are-danes-so-happy-because-their-economy-makes-sense">Why are the Danes so happy? Because their economy makes sense</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/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 NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Penn Loh The role of money Economics Thu, 30 Nov 2017 17:00:00 +0000 Penn Loh 114803 at Why aren’t we thriving at work? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>With mental health problems forcing thousands of people out of their jobs, we need to fundamentally re-imagine the role that work plays in our lives. &nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-caption"><img src="//" alt="" width="460" height="500" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: Constance Laisne. All rights reserved.</p><p class="normal">This month the UK government-commissioned ‘<a href="">Thriving at Work</a>’ report was released, stating that 300,000 people with long term mental health problems are losing their jobs each year, and that poor mental health is costing the UK economy up to £99 billion.</p> <p class="normal">For those who graduated from university into a post-crisis economy, this is no surprise. In 2016 The Mental Health foundation <a href="">reported</a> that young people in the UK have some of the poorest mental wellbeing in the world: could this have something to do with the ever-greater precarity of work, the rise of zero hours contracts, and the constant pressure we face to fight for a shrinking number of well-paid jobs?&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">For my generation the recommendations made in the report— like developing greater mental health awareness in workplaces and encouraging a healthier work-life balance—feel like moving chairs around on a sinking ship. They don’t go nearly far enough to deal with the interlinked crisis of work and mental health that we face today.</p> <p class="normal">In order to solve this crisis we need something much, much bigger: we need to fundamentally re-imagine the role that work plays in our lives.</p> <p class="normal">The causes of mental health problems are complex, but it’s well known that they are<a href=""> related to deprivation, poverty and inequality</a>. Against the background of these wider factors, both the <a href="">Royal College of Psychiatrists</a> and <a href="">The World Health Organisation</a> (WHO) cite the workplace as one of the key determinants of mental well-being, so why is the workplace so important?</p> <p class="normal">The <a href="">WHO</a> suggests that employment provides five categories of psychological experience that promote mental well-being: time structure, social contact, collective effort and purpose, social identity and regular activity. But with an increase in unemployment, zero-hours contracts and freelance work, many of those positive aspects of work have been eroded. The isolation of freelancers and an associated increase in depression have been <a href="">well-documented</a>. The instability of zero-hours contracts—and moving continuously in and out of work—fail to provide regular routines, strong social identities and time structure. And<a href=""> anxieties linked to financial survival as a consequence of irregular work</a> and the increasing cost of living have never been higher.</p> <p class="normal">Lobbying big employers to improve working conditions for those suffering from mental health problems at work is all well and good, but for the rest of us that don’t even know what holiday and sick pay look like, things will likely remain the same. Furthermore, this strategy fails to get to the root of the problem: why are so many of us feeling depressed and anxious at work?</p> <p class="normal">In a <a href="">2015 survey</a> more than a third of British workers said that their job “was making no meaningful contribution to the world,” a phenomenon that anthropologist David Graeber has called the rise of “<a href="">bullshit jobs</a>.” We’re either overworked or unemployed, so let’s face it: the current reality of work isn’t working.</p> <p class="normal">So what’s the solution? What would a different world of work entail—one that is beneficial for people, the planet and society?</p> <p class="normal">First, let’s liberate ourselves from the idea that work is how we should be spending most of our time.</p> <p class="normal">This may sound utopian, but the idea of a three-day working week has gained traction in recent years. <a href="">Research</a> shows that a shorter working week would not only decrease our carbon footprint, increase gender equality, improve our health and strengthen democracy, but it would also boost worker productivity. Those who work less tend to be more productive hour for hour, and they are less prone to sickness and absenteeism. All of us working less would overcome the interlinked problems of overwork and unemployment and mean that we all could lead more healthy and balanced lives—<a href="">without there being any significant damage to the economy</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Second, we should separate income from work, and provide all citizens with an income or a ‘social dividend’ that is enough to cover their basic needs. This income would be a set amount of money provided by the state, regardless of income or employment status, and is most commonly known as <a href="">Universal Basic </a><a href="">Income</a>. UBI is currently being trialled in countries such as Canada, Finland, Holland and Namibia.</p> <p class="normal">Contrary to popular belief, these trials—like the one that took place in <a href="">Canada in the 1970s</a>—have found that people who receive a basic income don’t spend all their time watching TV. Instead, they use the income in different ways to support their families out of poverty. Not only could UBI play an equalising role in society, it could also empower us to have greater agency over when we want to work and for what causes, and it could enable a wider range of people to engage in entrepreneurial, creative and innovative thinking.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">A basic income <a href="">could be financed</a> by raising income tax rates or through new taxes on wealth, land value or pollution. Renationalising public assets, or scrapping <a href="">schemes such as Trident</a> and lowering our spending on the military and defence, could also generate the required resources.</p> <p class="normal">Third, we need structures that support people to find, develop and share their gifts and skills for the positive benefit of themselves and society. The rise of automation is set to transform work, and with the right political policies and support this could liberate us from menial, manual jobs, enabling us to focus on doing work that expresses our true human capabilities: the ‘three C’s’ of <a href="">care, creativity and craft</a>.</p> <p class="normal">Taken together, re-imagining work around these three pillars could have huge positive impacts for the wellbeing of society at large, <em>and</em> it could provide one of the keys to solving the mental health crisis of my generation. It could liberate us from unpaid internships, freelance contracts and bullshit jobs, and the anxiety and depression that so often come with them.</p> <p class="normal">In this new future of work the economy could be something we engage with from a place of security and safety. Work could be something we choose to do as a way to share our ingenuity, our creativity, our skills and our passions to enrich the lives of ourselves and others. It could fulfill all those psychological needs identified by the WHO like social contact and collective purpose, <em>without</em> being the most important thing in our lives.</p> <p class="normal">It’s time to create a new vision for the world of work: to make work something that supports and nourishes our mental health and the world around us.&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/rhiannon-colvin/reimagining-future-of-work">Re-imagining the future of work</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/louisa-harvey/we-need-to-talk-about-stigma-within-mental-health-system">We need to talk about stigma within the mental health system</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/rhiannon-colvin/love-anger-and-social-transformation">Love, anger and social transformation</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 Rhiannon Colvin The politics of mental health Care Economics Sun, 26 Nov 2017 19:33:33 +0000 Rhiannon Colvin 114778 at Techno-brilliance or techno-stupidity? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We pay a high price when we confuse addictive pseudo-significance with real meaning.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="">Pixabay/Geralt</a>. CC0 Creative Commons.</p> <p>Several years back the physicist <a href="">Stephen Hawking</a> proposed that the full development of Artificial Intelligence could spell the end of the human race by out-thinking our species and perhaps even out-competing it—through programs that not only self-replicate but generate novelty and select for advantage.</p> <p>Without question, technological innovation will dramatically transform major aspects of our lives, but in what direction? All inventions have costs, benefits, and unintended consequences. In order to use technology wisely we must accept the reality of limits, recognize that every question is ultimately a moral question—a question of value and not just technological efficiency—and learn to combine all the different facets of our intelligence in new ways.</p> <p>To do this we’ll need much more <a href="">cultural maturity, </a>&nbsp;a fundamental ‘growing up’ as a species. A distinctive feature of human beings is their capacity as tool-makers, but too often we treat our tools—especially our new digital tools—as truths, if not gods. This can’t work going forward. The future will require a greater ability to step back and consider the consequences of what we humans create—if for no other reason than we are now capable of so much that would cause great harm as well as great good.</p> <p>Take, for example, our growing addiction to electronic devices, whose dangers easily sneak up on us. These devices do many things that we find useful—and are fun. But their dangers far outweigh those of other addictions around food or drugs.</p> <p>The dynamics of addiction are most obvious with video games where shootings and explosions create readily repeatable jolts of excitement. Addiction works by promoting artificial substitutes for real fulfillment, as when real relationships are replaced by the stimulation we get from our electronic devices, a phenomenon we see with growing frequency in relation to social media.</p> <p>It’s even easier to use Virtual Reality to confuse or deceive. ‘Fake news’ lies and distorts; ‘fake realities’ have even more potential to be used for demagoguery and manipulation. Artificial stimulation in the name of meaning—as in Virtual Reality or video games—readily translates into ever-more sophisticated digital ‘designer drugs’ which are immensely profitable.</p> <p>Such dynamics are also present in the ways we relate to our cell phones. That’s partly because cell phones have become such an aspect of almost everyone’s life, and partly because of the immense commercial rewards that come with the ability of cell phone companies to control our attention.</p> <p>It’s important to recognize that what we see is not simply a product of the usefulness of these devices. There are specific chemical reasons why people feel they have to check their cell phones every few minutes. A dirty little secret of the tech world is that programmers consciously design their software to be addictive. They build in rewards that make visiting a favorite site just like playing a slot machine. And they intend us to feel anxiety if we are away from our devices for any period of time. The fact that most of the content on our cell phones is advertising-driven means that such addictive methodologies will only become more sophisticated in the future.</p> <p>These concerns are amplified by what I call a ‘<a href="">crisis of purpose</a>.’ As traditional cultural beliefs stop providing essential guidance, we can be left feeling adrift and alone, and this can make us particularly vulnerable to addiction. But we pay a high price (both personally and as a species) when we confuse addictive pseudo-significance with real meaning, because this diminishes who we are and undermines future possibilities. The antidote lies in asking what matters most to us with new depth and courage. Being distracted and addicted undermines our capacity to take on this essential task.</p> <p>The internet promised a new democratization of information and has often provided just that. But if we do not pay attention, rather than freeing us and making communication more democratic, the information revolution could end up by undermining the democratic experiment—and even put the larger human experiment at risk. In his dystopian novel <em><a href="">1984, George Orwell</a></em> warned of <em>Big Brother</em> taking control of our minds. The real danger in the future is not government manipulation, but artificial stimulation masquerading as substance so that information is used in ways that ultimately disconnect us from matters of real importance.</p> <p>In fact the term “Artificial Intelligence” is a misnomer, since compared to the human variety it is so much more limited. Some computers may have already passed the famous <a href="">Turing Test</a> that says that Artificial Intelligence has been achieved if a computer responds to your questions and you can’t tell that it’s a computer. But the Turing test is bad science. Think about it. Imagine a bright red toy sports car made out of candy that someone pulls along with an invisible string. From a distance, you can’t tell that it isn’t real. Such a toy might be fun and useful for many things, even amazing things. But that doesn’t make it a car, just as a computer isn’t human because it can mimic the way we process information.</p> <p>Managing Artificial Intelligence wisely depends on drawing on precisely what makes living intelligence, and in particular human intelligence, so different. Human intelligence—when all its complexity is included—is not just creative in ways we are only just beginning to grasp, but <a href="">also inherently moral</a>. Different moral codes follow from how human intelligence works, including our capacity for rational processing. But this dynamic <a href="">breaks down</a> if intelligence becomes ever-more machine-like and hence vulnerable to exploitation.</p> <p>The only way to keep Artificial Intelligence from becoming our undoing is to manage it with greater cultural maturity, so that we become better able both to draw consciously on the whole of our cognitive complexity, and to step back and appreciate our tools as simply tools. That will also help us to discover new skills and capacities that can help us utilize our tools in the most life-enhancing ways.</p> <p>By contrast, levels of technological enthusiasm today are sometimes extrapolated to the point that they become literally religious. I’m thinking in particular of the techno-utopian assertions of people <a href="">like futurist Ray Kurzweil</a>, who proposes that we are rapidly approaching a point in history—what he calls the “singularity”—when artificial intelligence will surpass the human variety. He proposes that a whole new form of existence will result, one that will transcend not just our biology but also our mortality. Kurzweil describes digitally downloading our neurological contents and thereby attaining eternal life—which he hopes to be able to do in his own lifetime.</p> <p>There’s no doubt that the technologies of the future will affect how we think about ourselves in important ways. But it is important to appreciate that—while modern day techno-utopian thinking is put forward as radical in its newness—it is not new in any fundamental sense. Rather, it reflects an ultimate expression of the Modern Age’s heroic, onward-and-upward story.</p> <p>We can also tie techno-utopian thinking to even older impulses: the desire, for example, to eliminate polarities between the body and the mind, the unconscious in favor of an all-knowing consciousness (even if devoid of real human knowing), and the reality of death in favor of a <a href="">now triumphant digital immortality</a>. But far from being new to our times, these efforts to eliminate the body, the unconscious, and death have been common to utopian beliefs for thousands of years.&nbsp;</p> <p>Instead of succumbing to such techno-utopian fantasies, our future depends on appreciating both the possibilities and the limitations that come with invention, and taking responsibility for thinking and acting about these costs and benefits in more mature ways. That will be the key to making good choices about issues such as climate change, avoiding nuclear catastrophe, guaranteeing clean air and water and adequate food for the world’s people, slowing the ever-increasing rate of species extinction, and addressing inequality.</p> <p>None of these questions have a convenient technological fix. The fact of new invention is exciting, and the inventions yet to come are important for us to contemplate. But much more important are the need for new ways of thinking about ourselves and finding the right relationships to the technologies we create.</p> <p>With these things in place, our relationship to invention changes fundamentally, as we begin to see more clearly that electronic devices must serve what human beings are at their best, and what machines are not: moral, creative and loving, capable of being not just intelligent but also wise. There lies the critical fork in the road. Our tools can free us or replace us, depending on how we understand them—and how we understand ourselves.&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/kaliya-identity-woman/humanizing-technology">Humanizing technology</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/ziyaad-bhorat/do-we-still-need-human-judges-in-age-of-artificial-intelligence">Do we still need human judges in the age of Artificial Intelligence?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/stephen-hopgood/why-social-media-won%E2%80%99t-transform-our-politics">Why social media won’t transform our politics</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 Re-humanizing technology Charles M. Johnston Social media and social transformation Culture Economics Sun, 05 Nov 2017 22:37:44 +0000 Charles M. Johnston 114370 at Austerity, inequality and the arts <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The arts are at risk of becoming the preserve of those from affluent, middle class backgrounds. That matters.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="xmsonormal"><img src="// Massie Blomfeld2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">A production shot from <em><a href="" target="_blank">Anyone’s Guess How We Got Here</a>&nbsp;</em>(Camden People’s Theatre)<em>. </em>Credit: Joe Twigg, all rights reserved.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">A woman goes on a road trip to her abandoned childhood home in an attempt to release herself from the debts that haunt her, and reclaim something that she left buried beneath the floorboards. When she gets there, she finds herself—quite literally—entangled with ghosts from her past. This is the plot of Barrel Organ’s&nbsp;<em><a href="" target="_blank">Anyone’s Guess How We Got Here</a>,</em>&nbsp;an unsettling new play with an aesthetic somewhere between a David Lynch movie and a gothic horror story which explores the long-term repercussions of financial insecurity.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">It’s the perfect fare for Halloween. After all, what could be more terrifying than the spectre of debt that is haunting austerity Britain?&nbsp;The average UK household debt is already over £57,000 <a href="">(£57,349 to be exact)</a>, and 13 properties are repossessed every day. Like the most terrifying of ghosts, debt can seem impossible to escape, haunting our lives for years. And ultimately, debt is a way of taking ownership of someone’s time; your time is never truly your own until your debt is repaid. </p> <p class="xmsonormal">The situation for young people seems particularly bleak. Unable to save due to student loans, credit card debt and overdrafts, <a href="">one third of the so-called millennial generation</a> has less than a month’s worth of savings in hand to cover their living expenses.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">The subject of financial insecurity has been raising its head in theatre a lot lately. In<em><a href="" target="_blank">&nbsp;Everything I Bought And How It Made Me Feel</a></em>, Harry Giles catalogued everything they bought over the course of a year. As the name suggests, the show was an emotive account of the experience of spending money.&nbsp;Other recent examples are Beats &amp; Elements’&nbsp;<em><a href="" target="_blank">No Milk For The Foxes</a></em>, a beatbox theatre show about zero hours contracts, and The Paper Birds’&nbsp;<em><a href="" target="_blank">Broke</a></em>, which<em>&nbsp;</em>drew on verbatim accounts of living with debt to explore our problematic relationships with money.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">The reason why debt makes such a rich departure point for creative exploration is that it isn’t an abstract idea for many artists—it’s the reality they are living with every day. Barrel Organ—whose members are all in their twenties—calculated that the company involved in making the show owe around £300,000 between them. </p> <p class="xmsonormal">In a&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">recent blog</a>, theatre maker Daniel Bye—a well-established name in contemporary theatre circles—wrote about a series of conversations he’d had with ‘ostensibly successful’ artists, who confessed to being in four-figure debts to payday loan companies or unable to escape their overdrafts, as well as sharing frankly his own struggles to escape ‘thousands of pounds’ of credit card debt. &nbsp;</p> <p class="xmsonormal">That artists are struggling to escape debt and sustain a decent living may seem like a small issue in the context of the wider and oppressive debt crisis that is facing the country at large. But it matters, because the arts are at serious risk of becoming the preserve of only those from affluent, middle class backgrounds. In fact, it already is. </p> <p class="xmsonormal">The 2013 <a href="">Great British Class Survey</a> demonstrated that only ten per cent of actors came from a working-class background; the <a href="">2015 Panic! Survey</a>—which &nbsp;explored the career pathways of arts professionals—showed &nbsp;that at least 76 per cent of arts workers have at least one parent in a middle-class job, and that nearly 90 per cent have worked for free at some point in their career.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">Dave O’Brien, the lead researcher on the Panic! Survey, highlighted why the lack of socioeconomic diversity is a particular problem for the creative sectors in&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">a&nbsp;<em>Guardian</em>&nbsp;feature</a>&nbsp;in which he concluded: </p> <blockquote><p class="xmsonormal">“People from working-class origins have issues making it into medicine, but medicine is not telling us stories about who we are. Medicine is not the thing we turn to to ask, ‘What’s my identity?’” </p></blockquote> <p class="xmsonormal">Culture not only reflects the world, but projects the world as it might be. If the voices that tell us stories or produce images within the arts establishment are solely those who are already advantaged by their social circumstances, then the implication is that they are the only perspectives that have value. What we privilege in our galleries and on our stages has the potential to reinforce the status quo or to change it.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">It matters too because participation in the arts is empowering: you learn how to express yourself creatively, take ownership of your own story and gain the confidence to make yourself heard. These are all vital tools in the battle against systematic and endemic oppression, but right now they’re concentrated in a small number of hands. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p class="xmsonormal">Clearly, there’s a huge amount the theatre sector can do to improve the financial lot of artists, such as offering better paid commissions and employment opportunities. It’s also reductive to pretend that the barriers to diversity are purely financial. A major rethink is required in terms of what&nbsp;<em>kind</em>&nbsp;of artwork is platformed—we can surely afford to lose a few Chekhov revivals.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">Instead of moulding artists from underrepresented backgrounds to operate within established systems, the sector should be seeking ways to support them to work on their own terms and in their own contexts.<em>&nbsp;</em>This challenge is compounded by the Conservative government’s apparent determination to stigmatise arts subjects in education—as seen, for example, in ex-Secretary of State <a href="">Nicky Morgan’s claim that school pupils have been ‘held back’ by studying arts subjects</a> at school. &nbsp;</p> <p class="xmsonormal">However, the fear of debt is certainly one of the biggest stumbling blocks to entering a career in the arts. If going to drama school costs more than £27,000 in fees alone—leaving &nbsp;you with a debt it will take decades to repay in an industry where you might well struggle to make even the minimum wage from your artistic output—why &nbsp;would you take the risk unless you had a financial safety net underneath you?</p> <p class="xmsonormal">We need wholesale social change that empowers people to make choices about their own futures, enabling them to pursue a creative education without encumbering themselves with debt that may be unsustainable. Finding ways to live affordably in the ways that we choose doesn’t just matter for the sake of improving access to the arts, it’s also vital for building a healthy and well-functioning society right across the board.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">Artists are a tenacious, canny bunch, thank God, and they will continue to fight for this kind of society in spite of all the odds. In a socioeconomic system that can often seem as frightening and inescapable as a haunted house, their creativity and ingenuity are a beacon.</p> <p class="xmsonormal"><em><strong>Anyone’s Guess How We Got Here runs at Camden People’s Theatre from 10-28 October, 2017 at 7.15pm (not Mondays or Sundays). Find out more at&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank"></a>.</strong></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/karen-malpede/drama-of-thinking-heart">The drama of the thinking heart</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/siddhartha-bose/no-dogs-no-indians">No Dogs, No Indians</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/charlotte-du-cann/under-volcano">Under the volcano</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 Amber Massie-Blomfield Culture Economics Thu, 12 Oct 2017 05:30:00 +0000 Amber Massie-Blomfield 113959 at Your money or your morals: capitalism and fossil fuel divestment <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The divestment movement highlights a set of challenges to the future of capitalism that extend far beyond its unsustainable environmental externalities.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">New York Fossil Fuel Divestment Rally, Manhattan, 27 March 2014. ©Adam Welz for /0235.jpg. <a href="">Flickr/</a>. <a href="">CC BY-NC-SA 2.0</a>.</p> <p>The fossil fuel divestment campaign has become one of the most&nbsp;<a href="">rapidly growing</a>&nbsp;divestment movements in history and has unified an impressive diversity of supporters—from liberal&nbsp;<a href="">Californian universities</a>&nbsp;to the&nbsp;<a href="">Rockefeller’s</a>&nbsp;family trust. But the contradictions between divestment and the logic of&nbsp;<a href="">neoliberalism</a>&nbsp;are enduring, and arguments between campaigners and their opponents are typically framed by questions relating to efficiency, feasibility, and the ethics of using fossil fuels. </p> <p>Such questions are <a href="">certainly important</a> to ask, but we should also look beyond them, because by doing so we can uncover the deeper ethical contradictions inherent to capitalism which shed important light on strategies for change.</p> <p>Economists and philosophers have long disputed whether capitalism's theoretical potential to harness human self-interest for the greater good of society is a&nbsp;<a href="">virtue or a vice</a>. Many argue that capitalism doesn’t just harness a&nbsp;<em>natural</em>&nbsp;human inclination towards self-interest, but rather&nbsp;<a href="">systematically cultivates</a>&nbsp;it. Others point to the vast increases in material wealth experienced around the world over the past centuries as all the proof we need of&nbsp;<a href="">capitalism’s superiority</a>; in this view, debates about the morality of self-interest as the driving force of change become irrelevant.</p> <p>But two particular arguments against divestment demonstrate that capitalism not only cultivates negative moral values, but actively suffocates positive ones as well.</p> <p>The first argument claims that divestment is hypocritical while we continue to depend on fossil fuels for our&nbsp;<a href="">day-to-day activities</a>. In short, we are urged not to abandon the companies we rely on.</p> <p>This argument is easily refuted. It is effectively a preference to act&nbsp;<em><a href="">consistently unethically rather than inconsistently ethically</a></em>; a difficult position to defend in any context. It also fails to recognise the significant differences that exist between the agency of consumers and investors. Is a smoking addict who is determined to quit obliged to invest their pension in Phillip Morris? Of course not—they are only obliged to pay for their cigarettes. In the same way, our only obligation to fossil fuel companies is that we pay for the fuel we consume.</p> <p>As consumers, our&nbsp;<a href="">actions are constrained</a>&nbsp;by factors such as current energy and transport infrastructures, and pressures to conform to environmentally-destructive social norms. But as investors—of personal savings or&nbsp;<a href="">institutional money</a>—our agency, the choices available to us, and, therefore, our moral responsibility, are radically different. </p> <p>Moreover, the choice of where&nbsp;<a href="">capital is invested in the present</a>&nbsp;strongly influences our future capacity for low-carbon living. But by arguing that investments should be guided only by our current, highly-constrained consumption patterns—rather than by moral values that relate to the future well-being of humans and the world around us—opponents of divestment are effectively advocating a position that would lead to a perpetual suffocation of those values. </p> <p>Even more revealing is the fact that those who oppose divestment on the grounds of hypocrisy would make no such accusation were it to be motivated by economic self-interest. Imagine a university that holds shares in ExxonMobil and is also connected to a fossil-fuel dependent national electricity grid (as many are). If the university’s investment manager noticed that returns on the Exxon shares are falling, it’s inconceivable that they would hold onto them—in the face of more lucrative share options—just in case the decision appeared to contradict the university’s electricity supply. Rather, they would simply reinvest in better-performing companies, as they are paid to do. &nbsp;</p> <p>Hence, divestment is considered perfectly legitimate if it is made for reasons related to profit but not to morals. &nbsp;According to the logic of opposition to divestment, the profit-motive is permitted to do things that moral imperatives are not. Not only is profit-seeking rewarded, but morally-motivated actions are ridiculed and opposed.<strong></strong></p> <p>A second revealing argument against divestment is that it leaves more opportunities for&nbsp;less<a href=""> scrupulous investors</a>&nbsp;because those with more of an environmental conscience abandon the marketplace. A more effective approach, according to the critics, is for activists to become ethical shareholders by using their investments to pressure fossil fuel companies to become&nbsp;<a href="">part of the solution</a> to climate change.</p> <p>The typical response of pro-divestment campaigners to this argument is that the kind of <a href="">shareholder activism</a>&nbsp;it recommends isn’t appropriate in this case. Fossil fuel companies aren't like those who produce clothes or food or electronics: the impacts of fossil fuels don’t just arise from the ways in which the supply chain currently happens to operate; rather, they are inseparable from the products themselves. </p> <p>Lobbying a company to improve wages and working conditions is one thing; lobbying them to stop selling their primary product is another.&nbsp;<a href="">Past experience</a>&nbsp;suggests that it is&nbsp;therefore <a href="">very unlikely</a>&nbsp;that shareholder engagement could be successful in the case of fossil fuels (although a more aggressive ‘<a href="">forceful stewardship</a>’ approach might have greater chance of success).</p> <p>Either way, when such debates become stalled on a choice between strategies it is easy to overlook the way in which moral values are suffocated. From the perspective of those who oppose divestment, market logic determines that it is better for investors to work within the norms of the system, even to achieve moral goals. One divestment skeptic puts it particularly bluntly, arguing that “<a href="">moral outrage is not as effective as capitalism</a>.”</p> <p>Are such arguments merely pragmatic—a &nbsp;call to take a rational, consequential moral stance rather than an emotional, categorical one?</p> <p>In considering this question, it’s worth recognising that this argument sounds uncomfortably like those made in the <a href="">early days of capitalism</a>, when profits depended upon&nbsp;<span><a href="">slavery rather than fossil fuels</a></span>. Owning slaves was often justified via the argument that, if released, they could be in an&nbsp;<a href="">even worse situation</a>, left at the mercy of the new exploitative industrialist class. Therefore, it was better to keep hold of slaves and treat them slightly better; a position which, at the time, may have been considered rational in moral terms by some. However, a transformation in values since the abolition of slavery has shown it to be indefensible.</p> <p>Capitalism has always strongly resisted any challenge to the energy source that lies at the heart of its profits, whether that was from human-energy in the form of slaves or fossil fuel-energy today. While benign changes around the periphery of production are tolerated reluctantly, actions that threaten to achieve more fundamental changes are deemed to have dangerous, unintended consequences, or are dismissed as having no consequences at all. The divestment campaign highlights how the logic of capitalism achieves this goal, in part, by declaring moral inclinations to be obsolete whenever they threaten to be transformational. Those campaigning for divestment must therefore prepare to be ridiculed with accusations of <a href="">hypocrisy</a>, <a href="">naivety</a> and a misguided sense of <span><a href="">moral superiority</a></span>.</p> <p>Such accusations are especially harsh given that most serious campaigners don’t believe that divestment is an <a href="">effective tactic on its own</a>. The general consensus is that it is <a href="">primarily a moral and political strategy</a>, not an economic one. But it is also crucial to recognise that not all opponents of divestment are CEOs, industry lobbyists and Wall Street bankers who are set to profit directly from fossil fuel companies going forward. They may also include people who, if asked openly, wish for the same future as the average environmental campaigner, but have had their own moral inclinations suffocated by <a href="">capitalist realism</a> and the cynical view of human motivation that is the foundation of <a href="">neoliberal psychology</a>.</p> <p>The divestment movement highlights a set of challenges to the future of capitalism that extend far beyond its unsustainable environmental externalities. With considerable clarity, it shows the ways in which market logic not only cultivates action that is led by calculated self-interest, but also actively suffocates <a href="">intrinsic human drivers</a> towards questions of <a href="">fairness and equality</a>. </p> <p>Fortunately, these values have evolved over <a href="">tens of thousands of years</a> and, despite these latest attempts at suffocation, they will not die easily. The challenge—of particular importance for the divestment movement—is to move towards a society in which our morals are worth at least as much as our money, and ideally much, much more.</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/arianne-shaffer-fatima-van-hattum/if-macarthur-foundation-wants-low-carbon-economy-wh">If the MacArthur Foundation wants a low carbon economy, why is it investing in fossil fuels and ignoring grassroots action?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/joel-millward-hopkins/neoliberal-psychology">Neoliberal psychology</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/james-k-rowe/puzzle-of-low-oil-prices-has-race-to-beat-carbon-bubble-already-started">The puzzle of low oil prices—has the race to beat the carbon bubble already started?</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 divestment Jonathan Busch Joel Millward-Hopkins The role of money Activism Economics Sun, 08 Oct 2017 22:31:43 +0000 Joel Millward-Hopkins and Jonathan Busch 113745 at When you get a front door, remember to leave it open <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A Manchester-South Africa exchange reveals striking similarities in the dynamics of urban inequality.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="// King.JPG" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Members of Mums Mart, Lower Broughton Life and the South African Alliance in South Africa, July 2017. Copyright: Sophie King. All rights reserved.</p> <p>“It’s all about trust” said Marie Hampshire, two days into a week-long community exchange with members of the <a href="">South African Alliance</a> in July 2017, a grassroots movement of women-led savings schemes affiliated to <a href="">Slum/Shack Dwellers International</a> or SDI. Marie is a member of <a href="">Mums Mart</a>, a women’s group from Benchill in the British city of Manchester that brings low-income families together around food, monthly markets and, most recently, a new kind of savings scheme. </p> <p>Each member saves small amounts with the support of their local group, and in the process of coming together the group learns about their needs and challenges and tries to respond collectively. Mums Mart was introduced to savings-based organising after meeting members of the Alliance in Manchester <a href="">a year earlier</a>. Now, other groups in the city are starting to explore how women’s savings federations could rebuild trust and solidarity in their neighbourhoods.</p> <p>Joanne Inglis is the Chair of a new association called <a href="">Lower Broughton Life</a>, one of these groups that is based in another part of Greater Manchester called Salford. After accompanying members of the South African <a href="">Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor</a> (FEDUP) on door-to-door visits and listening to plans for a new housing development in Cape Town by the <a href="">Informal Settlement Network</a> (another partner in the Alliance), she urged her hosts: “when you get a front door remember to leave it open.” </p> <p>Joanne was reflecting on how segregated life has become on estates like hers, where people look after their own affairs and many of the old spaces for communal life have closed down. She was struck that—while the signs of poverty and inequality in South Africa are only too visible in the townships and settlements she visited—poverty in the UK is often hidden from view: “our houses can look the same on the outside,” she said, “but it’s what’s on the inside that’s different.” </p> <p>However, in other ways there are striking similarities between the dynamics of inequality and deprivation in both countries’ cities.&nbsp; All are dealing with sharply rising property prices which push those on lower incomes further away from the city centre, and the concentration of deprivation in particular neighbourhoods which can manifest in gang-related crime and the absence of opportunities for young people. Unequal access to decisions on how public services are delivered perpetuates the disadvantages that low-income people have to deal with on a day to day basis. </p><iframe width="460" height="360" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><p>Just as importantly, the different groups were also bound together by their experiences of strength and struggle as women and mothers regardless of where they live.<em> </em>During their visit to the UK, the South Africans were shocked to discover homeless people living in tents in the centre of one of the richest cities in the world, which gave rise to questions about the wisdom of looking to the global North for pathways to collective well-being. </p> <p>For their part, members of Mums Mart and Lower Broughton Life reflected repeatedly on people’s pride and self-organisation despite living in highly challenging circumstances in South Africa. Both gained a fresh perspective on the possibilities of organising collectively in response to poverty.</p> <p>As a member of FEDUP attested (echoing Marie), “the only thing that makes a person active is when you have trust and belief.” The members of the groups also gained confidence in one another as joint travellers on a journey of discovery—watching each other learn, adapt and embrace the experience (including some fantastic ululations!). People saw that some of the South African ideas might just work in Greater Manchester, and that they might be the ones to make this happen. </p> <p>The trust they gained in South Africa by staying in people’s homes, accompanying them in their work and being part of their lives (even for a short time) meant that they were comfortable enough to share their doubts and fears—and to be open to the doubts and fears of their hosts in return. As Rose Molokoane from SDI shared:</p> <blockquote><p>“We are still doubting ourselves saying how can we keep driving this forward…it’s too big for us…especially because we are informal but the outside world wants to see us being formal. Most of our members are not educated; you have to create enough time and enough space to educate people about what you are.”</p></blockquote> <p>Rose also explained the significance for the older black South African activists of sharing their homes and their organising tools with white British women after living through apartheid, and as women continuing to struggle for justice in a highly segregated society. </p> <p>The exchanges seem to have come at a critical time for the British participants. Combined with rising living costs, public service cuts and welfare sanctions, low-paid work, under-employment and unemployment are fostering severe precarity in post-industrial inner-city neighbourhoods. <a href="">Thirty per cent of British children (and one quarter of children in Salford) are now classified as living below the poverty line</a>, with two thirds living in families with working parents. </p> <p>Manchester looks set to become the next beacon of social cleansing after London, with luxury high rise flats and the privatisation of the city centre making it increasingly difficult for individuals and families on low-incomes to find affordable accommodation. People in low-income areas around the edges of the central business district live in constant fear of relocation as they watch rents skyrocket in the plush developments that now surround their estates.</p> <p>In many of the city’s low-income neighbourhoods, social and economic changes and cuts in public sector funding mean that people don’t come together in the ways they used to through <a href="">faith</a>-, <a href="">place-</a> or <a href="">work-</a>based forms of voluntary association. Libraries, pubs and community centres have closed down, making it almost impossible in some areas for groups to find somewhere to congregate together regularly. Rising living costs and cuts in benefits are pushing people towards pay-day loans and credit-based living, leaving them drowning under the burden of debts they struggle to repay. </p> <p>The surge in support for the British Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership (which is particularly visible in urban centres) suggests that increasing numbers of city-dwellers believe it is indeed, ‘<a href="">time for a change</a>.’ But how will low-income communities organize themselves and enter into movements ‘<a href="">for the many and not the few</a>’ in the years to come? That’s where networks like SDI can play an important role by inspiring new forms of mobilisation, and by linking local action into international networks for learning, advocacy and mutual support. </p> <p>The savings groups they nurture are encouraged to federate, enabling them to have more influence over city and national governments in ways that are grounded in real experience. Members survey, map and profile their neighbourhoods, turning invisible challenges into concrete evidence and <a href="">locally-proposed solutions</a>. The South African Alliance, for example, has successfully advocated for a more progressive housing policy that has led to over 15,000 permanent new, affordable homes being constructed. </p> <p>The SDI network used to have members in 37 countries. Thanks to a group of mums from Manchester, it may soon be 38.</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/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 even"> <a href="/transformation/hanna-brooks-olsen/if-you-ve-never-lived-in-poverty-stop-telling-poor-people-what-the">If you’ve never lived in poverty, stop telling poor people what they should do</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/what-s-to-be-done-with-oxfam">What’s to be done with Oxfam?</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 World Forum for Democracy 2017 Sophie King Activism Economics Environment Tue, 26 Sep 2017 22:18:07 +0000 Sophie King 113577 at Humanizing technology <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>It’s easier to turn technology in the direction of democracy and social justice when it’s developed with social and emotional intelligence.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="BodyA"><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p><span>Credit: <a href="">Pixabay/Geralt</a>. CC0 Creative Commons.</span></p> <p class="BodyA">Can we use the internet to enhance deep human connection and support the emergence of thriving communities in which everyone’s needs are met and people’s lives are filled with joy and meaning?</p> <p class="BodyA">That’s a very challenging question, and the answer isn’t just about technology, at least not in the conventional sense of that word. It’s not about any of the emerging trends that are already impacting our societies like <a href="">bitcoin</a>,<a href=""> drones</a>, <a href="">Virtual Reality</a>, <a href="">Augmented Reality</a>, <a href="">hyperloops</a> or any of the things that the <a href="">Singularity University</a> thinks will converge.</p> <p class="BodyA">It’s not just a matter of finding new technologies either, even if they are more user-centric or built on self-sovereign digital identities in place of corporate ownership and control—the field that forms my own techno-specialty. And the solutions can’t be driven by a government need to find a military advantage—which is the case for a vast range of everyday innovations today—as <a href="">Manuel DeLanda </a>outlines in his book, <a href="">War in the Age of Intelligent Machines</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA">Our work on ‘<em>technical</em>’ technologies won’t generate broad <em>human</em> gains unless we invest an equal amount of time, energy and resources in the development of <em>social and emotional</em> technologies that drive how our whole society is organized and how we work together. I think we are actually on the cusp of having the tools, understanding and infrastructure to make that happen, without all our ideas and organizing being intermediated by giant corporations. But what does that mean in practice? </p><p class="BodyA">I think two things are absolutely vital.</p> <p class="BodyA">First of all, how do we connect all the people and all the groups that want to align their goals in pursuit of social justice, deep democracy, and the development of new economies that share wealth and protect the environment? How are people supported to protect their own autonomy while also working with multiple other groups in processes of joint work and collective action?</p> <p class="BodyA">One key element of the answer to that question is to generate a digital identity that is not under the control of a corporation, an organization or a government.</p> <p class="BodyA">I have been co-leading the community surrounding the <a href="">Internet Identity Workshop</a> for the last 12 years. After many explorations of the techno-possibility landscape we have finally made some breakthroughs that will lay the foundations of a real internet-scale infrastructure to support what are called ‘user-centric’ or ‘<a href="">self-sovereign</a>’ identities.</p> <p class="BodyA">This infrastructure consists of a network with two different types of nodes—people and organizations—with each individual being able to join lots of different groups. But regardless of how many groups they join, people will need a digital identity that is not owned by Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Google or Facebook. That’s the only way they will be able to control their own autonomous interactions on the internet. If open standards are not created for this critical piece of infrastructure then we will end up in a future where giant corporations control all of our identities. In many ways we are in this future now.</p> <p class="BodyA">This is where something called ‘<a href="">Shared Ledger Technology</a>’ or SLT comes in—more commonly known as ‘<a href="">blockchain</a>’ or ‘distributed ledger technology.’ &nbsp;SLT represents a huge innovation in terms of databases that can be read by anyone and which are highly resistant to tampering—meaning that data cannot be erased or changed once entered. At the moment there’s a lot of work going on to design the encryption key management that’s necessary to support the creation and operation of these unique private channels of connection and communication between individuals and organizations. The <a href="">Sovrin Foundation</a> has built an SLT specifically for digital identity key management, and has donated the code required to the <a href="">HyperLedger Foundation</a> under ‘<a href="">project Indy</a>.’</p> <p class="BodyA">While this critical infrastructure is being birthed we need to think about how to leverage it for the world that we want to create—a world of interconnected humanness in place of centralized social networks controlled by profit-driven and publically-traded companies whose mission is to manipulate us into buying more stuff. These networks are selling access to us and limiting our ability to connect and organize independently. They have deals with companies like <a href="">Cambridge Analytica</a> and <a href="">Palantir</a> to suck up the digital exhaust of our lives, spy on us, and collectively manipulate us for their own ends.</p> <p class="BodyA">As the basis of this next generation of user-centric or self-sovereign identities, Shared Ledger Technology is crucial if corporate control of the internet and our lives is to be reversed, but this &nbsp;won’t be enough to humanize&nbsp; technology, and that’s my second key point: social and emotional ‘technologies’ are also vital.</p> <p class="BodyA">Social technologies are the tools we use to interact with each other in groups of any size, from the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) and other neighborhood organizations to national governments and international bodies. They are increasingly important in the shift that is taking place from an exclusive reliance on representative political processes and institutions to an expanded range of deeper and more deliberative forms of democracy. The social technology of voting for representatives was a breakthrough 300 years ago, but these systems are breaking down and are not serving us well enough today.</p> <p class="BodyA">Emotional technologies are the tools we use to interact with ourselves internally and in our relationships with other people. They are more critical than ever because the mental health of everyone is now a key concern—since one lone individual can inflict enormous harm through high-tech weapons or by hacking into our core infrastructures. Such technologies are well known and include mediation and meditation practices of different kinds, <a href="">yoga</a> and <a href="">mindfulness</a>, <a href="">Nonviolent Communication</a>, <a href="">Co-Counseling</a>, and <a href="">12 Step processes</a> like Alcoholics Anonymous.</p> <p class="BodyA">Social technologies work a lot better if people have a range of these emotional tools and practices to draw on, because they are better able to manage themselves and interact with others. We want security and have been putting billions of dollars into the security-surveillance-industrial complex post 9/11, but what about the deeper issue of how we connect to each other and solve problems together? What are we doing to address everyone’s mental and emotional wellbeing to reduce alienation and disconnection?</p> <p class="BodyA">How do you get people on vastly different sides of controversial issues to collaborate to solve what seem to be intractable problems? How do you structure inclusive deliberations that involve whole communities and build up social capital and connection? Individuals like <a href="">Miki Kashtan</a>, <a href="">Tom Atlee</a> and <a href="">Sharif Abdulah</a> and groups like the<a href=""> National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation</a> have been working on these questions for many years but deserve much more investment and support. Without further <a href="">innovations</a> in these social and emotional technologies, no ‘technical’ technologies will save us.</p> <p class="BodyA">To take a concrete example, my ‘sweet spot’ is in designing and facilitating interactive meetings for professional, scientific and technical communities in what are called ‘<a href="">unconferences</a>.’ I’ve been co-leading one of these unconferences—the <a href="">Internet Identity Workshop</a>—twice a year for over a decade, during which we’ve developed many innovations built on nurturing the emotional capacities &nbsp;of the people involved and the social processes we’ve been using at our meetings.</p> <p class="BodyA">They are organized primarily through <a href="">Open Space Technology</a> where the agenda is co-created live on the day of the event with all the participants. We throw in an hour of demonstrations on the second day after lunch and we eat dinner together every night. The patterns described in the <a href="">Group Works Deck</a> have been particularly useful—things like ‘<a href="">Embracing Dissonance and Difference</a>’ (meaning that anyone is welcome in the conversation); and <a href="">opening</a> and <a href="">closing</a> every day in a circle while diverging into as many as 15 different sessions every hour during the rest of the time we spend together—what in Open Space terms is called the rhythm of ‘<a href="">Convergence and Divergence</a>.’ Taken together these processes have been very successful in building a stronger <a href="">Group Culture</a>.</p> <p class="BodyA">I got excited by the possibilities of user-centric identity technologies over 15 years ago while part of the <a href="">Planetwork Community</a>, which came together to look at global ecology and information technology and think through how planetary challenges could be addressed more effectively. But through the process of co-leading efforts to build that infrastructure it became clear that we must also invest in the social and emotional technologies that make it possible to collaborate and work together at all scales.&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA">All three forms of technology are essential to the transformation of our relationships to each other and our bigger social/societal systems. Technical technologies provide the tools that can empower individuals to connect and work together for their own wellbeing and that of their communities. Social technologies enable these tools to be used effectively and inclusively in processes of collective action. And emotional technologies support everyone’s mental health as a precondition for engaging in these processes with more chance of success.</p> <p class="BodyA">To put it simply, technical technologies are easier to turn in the direction of democracy and social justice if they are developed and applied with social and emotional intelligence. Combining all three together is the key to using technology for liberating ends.</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/kaliya-%E2%80%9Cidentity-woman%E2%80%9D/open-protocols-and-open-people-preserving-transformational-po">Open protocols and open people: preserving the transformational potential of social media</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/ziyaad-bhorat/do-we-still-need-human-judges-in-age-of-artificial-intelligence">Do we still need human judges in the age of Artificial Intelligence?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/stephen-hopgood/why-social-media-won%E2%80%99t-transform-our-politics">Why social media won’t transform our politics</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 World Forum for Democracy 2017 Humanising technology Kaliya Identity Woman Social media and social transformation Activism Culture Economics Tue, 19 Sep 2017 22:50:49 +0000 Kaliya Identity Woman 113460 at Why are the Danes so happy? Because their economy makes sense <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Nordic economic model is the most successful yet invented for the common good. How did they do it?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em>This article was first published in <a href="">Waging Nonviolence</a>.</em></p><p><img src="// Lakey5.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p><span class="image-caption">Waterfront district in Copenhagen. Credit: <a href="">By GuoJunjun - Own work</a>, <a href="">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>.</span>&nbsp;</p> <p>The World Happiness Report puts Danes consistently in the top tier. Twice in the past four years Denmark came in first. Danes also report more satisfaction with their health care than anyone else in Europe, which makes sense, since happiness is related to a sense of security and others being there for you. A fine health care system makes that real.</p> <p>The Danish approach is especially interesting to Americans because of the U.S. suspicion of centralization. Danes prefer to administer their health care locally. On the other hand, they’ve found that the fairest and most efficient way of paying for their system is through income tax, most of which is routed through Copenhagen.</p> <p>The system delivers quality healthcare to all and costs Denmark only two-thirds what the United States spends. I’d like to hear Democratic U.S. senators, who mostly reject single-payer health care (except for themselves), try to sell Obamacare to the Danes.</p> <p>“What?” I imagine the Danes exclaiming. “You want us to spend one-third more of our national wealth on health care, and still leave many Danes without coverage? And end up with inferior health outcomes?”</p> <p>The continuing attempt by most Democratic leaders to sell health care as a market-based commodity would strike Danes as both unethical (more people die from preventable causes) and a waste of money. What sense would that make?</p> <p><strong>How did the Danes force their own economy to make sense?</strong></p> <p>Denmark wasn’t always like this. A century ago its economic system was deeply irrational and poverty was endemic. Despite having a parliament and free elections, a growing number of Danes came to realize that they had a sham democracy. The major decisions were actually made by their economic elite. Many Danes were so discouraged that they left for North America, hoping for something better.</p> <p>People left behind in Denmark decided to turn their country around, which meant organizing movements to override the will of their contented 1 percent. The people pulled off what might be called a nonviolent revolution.</p> <p>In the 19th century, their struggle focused on the first two stages that I describe in “<a href="">Toward a Living Revolution</a>:” cultural preparation and organization-building. A lot of leadership came from N.F.S. Grundtvig, a writer and bishop. He invented the Danish folk schools, which taught adults whose agricultural rhythm gave them some free time during the winter. At folk schools they learned some of the basics of literacy and participatory democracy.</p> <p>Grundtvig used his religious influence to restore people’s confidence in themselves—he saw spirituality as empowerment rather than “the opium of the people.” He also supported the growth of coops, a form of socialism that rebelled against the merchant class’ deification of the private market. The agricultural coops provided a way to retain the wealth that farmers and agricultural workers sweated for.</p> <p>Other creative Danes found ways to show that, even in a small Northern European country with few natural resources and frequent gloom-inducing weather, the people could find abundant meaning by developing their collective life, their Danishness.</p> <p>The intensity of this cultural preparation paid off later in the&nbsp;<a href="">Danish resistance to Nazi German occupation</a>, when by collective effort the Resistance saved nearly all the Danish Jews from the Holocaust. Rallying around Danishness, however, can have its down side, showing up recently as reluctance to integrate immigrants to Denmark, who now total over 8 percent of the population.</p> <p>As Danes industrialized, they continued their cultural preparation and organization-building through worker study groups and unions. The industrial workers tested their strength through a wave of strikes in 1899 that forced the employers association to bargain with them on a national level.</p> <p>The workers movement organized itself into three parts: unions to deal with wages and workplace issues, consumer coops to retain wealth that otherwise would go to the capitalists, and a political party to represent them in parliament—the Social Democrats. Unlike the U.S. unions’ choice largely to support the Democratic Party, the Danish unions decided to create a party that would be would be strictly accountable to the movement. Their choice paid off.</p> <p><strong>The class struggle intensifies.</strong></p> <p>After World War I Danish workers grew more radical and escalated. Syndicalists sometimes led the strikes. The Danish economic elite’s worries were compounded by looking across the border and seeing radicalized German workers mounting large-scale revolutionary insurgencies.</p> <p>The combination of disruption inside Denmark and radicalism outside the country eroded the elite’s opposition to change, much as the United States experienced in the 1960s and ‘70s. During the civil rights and other movements, the United States took to nonviolent direct action internally while the empire was experiencing uproar in Southeast Asia and Latin America. The American 1 percent felt compelled to make concessions as a result.</p> <p>For Danish workers, farmworkers and middle-class allies, the post-World War I struggle won two major victories. Industrial workers gained a nationwide guarantee that wages would increase along with inflation. This is huge, as contemporary U.S. workers who have lost so much ground in the past few decades can tell us.</p> <p>The second victory favored the other large group of poor and near-poor people, the farmworkers in Denmark’s large agricultural sector. Major landowners were forced to give up a substantial part of their land, which were then re-distributed to the farmworkers. The landowners were also forced to pay a substantial new tax on their remaining land. This win took away the last remaining privilege of Denmark’s old landed aristocracy.</p> <p>The movement’s nonviolent struggle won over the Danish majority, enabling the Social Democrats to begin in 1924 a stretch of governing that ran almost continuously through the 20th century. Because direct action had reduced the elite’s power, the Danes could take leadership in co-creating what economists would later call “the Nordic model.”</p> <p><strong>Sweden and Norway work to catch up.</strong></p> <p>The Viking cousins in Sweden and Norway imported folk high schools. They developed their own coops and vision-developing study groups. Their goal was to push the 1 percent out of dominance. In my new book “Viking Economics,” I tell the dramatic story of&nbsp;<a href="">mounting nonviolent confrontations with their economic elites</a>.</p> <p>In 1931, in Sweden, the struggle came to a head. The elite called out the army to suppress the workers. Troops killed unarmed strikers. Retaliating, the movement&nbsp;<a href="">staged a widespread general strike</a>. The government fell.</p> <p>In the years following that victory, the Norwegians escalated the number of their strikes and were joined in nonviolent militancy by the farmers and the movement’s student allies. Norwegians&nbsp;<a href="">succeeded in making their country ungovernable</a>&nbsp;by the economic elite. The 1 percent was forced to the bargaining table in 1936, where they gave up their dominance of the country’s direction.</p> <p>While the revolutionary struggles in Sweden and Norway each came to a single breakthrough point in the 1930s, the Danish movement did a two-step. The first breakthrough moment came early, in the years following 1918. The second came in the 1930s.</p> <p><strong>Disaster hits in the 1930s, and vision saves Denmark.</strong></p> <p>The real measure of a movement is how much it is able to turn crisis into opportunity. Author&nbsp;<a href="">Naomi Klein</a>&nbsp;writes about this dynamic in a different way, showing how private contractors profit from the global climate change crisis. But when movements seize opportunities, we all flourish—rather than just the power elites. Will movement people today focus on using the opportunity, as the Danes did in the 1930s?</p> <p>As the Depression deepened existing inequality, Danes polarized. Fascism grew, inspired by Hitler in next door Germany. The attractiveness of communism also increased. The majority, however, was hungry for a solution that would heighten democracy and individual freedom and be in alignment with “Danishness.”</p> <p>The Danish economic elite were eager to regain their firm hegemonic rule that was shaken by the post-war class struggle. They were tired of being pushed around by the Social Democrats who had been governing since 1924. To stage a comeback, however, the 1 percent needed a solution to the Depression, a breakdown of capitalism. With Denmark’s largely agricultural economy unable to sell its produce to foreign markets, half the population was left with no purchasing power at all.</p> <p>The 1 percent decided to hold out for market-based solutions: reliance on the private insurance approach to ill-health, for example. They proposed governmental austerity, which under the circumstances was laughable.</p> <p>Successful movements generate a positive vision of what they want, rather than simply relying on protests about what’s wrong.</p> <p>The Social Democrats came up with a vision adopting Keynesian stimulation for the macro-economy. The vision flatly rejected austerity. It also rejected insurance and philanthropy as the solutions to misfortune and poverty. The Social Democrats turned decisively toward universal services financed by the government through progressive taxation.</p> <p>Using the crisis as an opportunity, the Social Democrats secured the foundation of the Nordic model, the most successful economic national model yet invented for the common good. The Danish majority loved it, and the unions and family farmers retained political control of the country for the rest of the century. The model became so hegemonic that all the parties were forced to embrace it to remain relevant at all, even the new “right-wing” party that hates immigration while still promoting a robust version of the Nordic model.</p> <p>What shall we call that model? Describing Denmark as a “welfare state” is, I think, seriously misleading. The Nordic design isn’t welfare for the needy—that’s the old approach that has not worked for any nation in the world, ever. Instead, the Nordic model provides universal services given to all, whatever their income, as a matter or right, supported by progressive taxation that re-distributes income and wealth.</p> <p>If you like poverty, continue to think “welfare,” because welfare is mainly about poverty. If you like equality, think “universal services,” because the universal approach has been shown by the Nordics to promote the abolition of poverty.</p> <p>For the Danes, fully implementing the promise of the Nordic model took a while. The country’s economy improved in the 1930s, but the Nazi occupation set them back. By the late 1950s, the Social Democrats were moving rapidly toward the shared abundance that shows up in their happiness ratings.</p> <p><strong>Shall we call the change process a nonviolent revolution?</strong></p> <p>The Danish people did not produce utopia, nor are they first in every measure. Norway has more social ownership of the means of production than Denmark does, and Sweden generates more innovation as measured by patents. The Danes did not end the push-back from the economic elite. Class struggle remains a reality in Denmark, as it does everywhere.</p> <p>The Danes did, however, end centuries of domination by their 1 percent and empowered the democratic majority to make decisions about the future direction of the economy. They designed a different economy, one that centers labor instead of capital, correctly understanding this shift to be the pre-condition for the abolition of poverty. They also&nbsp;<a href="">turn to nonviolent direct action</a>&nbsp;to do the heavy lifting when they see it is needed, rather than putting all their eggs in the parliamentary basket.</p> <p>However we debate definitions, the Danish story of struggle offers valuable lessons for the rest of us—especially those of us who want to be happy.</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/george-lakey/what-role-were-you-born-to-play-in-social-change">What role were you born to play in social change?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/george-lakey/to-succeed-movements-must-overcome-tension-between-rationality-and-emoti">To succeed, movements must overcome the tension between rationality and emotion</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/christine-berry/wellbeing-is-more-than-sideshow-to-neoliberal-economics">Well-being is more than a side-show to neoliberal economics</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 George Lakey Economics Thu, 31 Aug 2017 21:59:18 +0000 George Lakey 112562 at Gentrifier heal thyself? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>There are limits to living our political convictions. How can we navigate them?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Cheshire St, London. Credit: <a href="">Flickr/Ms Sara Kelly</a>, <a href="">CC BY 2.0</a>. </p> <p><em>&nbsp;</em>When Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was pushed to define ‘obscenity’ in 1964, he famously responded: <a href="">“I know it when I see it.”</a> The much-contested and slippery term ‘gentrification’ is often understood in the same instinctive way.</p> <p>When the sociologist Ruth Glass coined the term, <a href="">she described it</a> as a process of—among&nbsp; other things—“working class quarters” being “invaded by the middle classes,” and the conversion of “shabby, modest mews and cottages” into “elegant, expensive residences.” Today, this process is symbolised by everything from over-priced craft beer and scruffy beards to skinny jeans, organic food and artisan bakeries. </p> <p>Whatever gentrification actually <em>is</em>, we seem to know, on some level, that it’s bad—associated &nbsp;with words like ‘displacement’, ‘removal’, and even ‘social cleansing.’ If you live in a big city like London or New York, it’s not uncommon for someone to recommend a neighbourhood because ‘it’s not too gentrified’—meaning &nbsp;you can still (maybe) buy a drink for less than your hourly wage—or to hear someone bemoan the fact that an area has ‘lost its character,’ been taken over by ‘yuppies,’ or ruined by ugly new luxury apartments. </p> <p>Curiously, many of the people who make these comments about gentrification are gentrifiers themselves, railing against the displacement of the working class at their house-warming parties on up-and-coming blocks where working class people used to live. </p> <p>I’ve been through this routine numerous times myself: marching to ‘save social housing’ in London by day before returning to my ex-council flat at night; opposing more luxury apartments in the inner-west of Sydney while living in a far from shabby building in the exact same area; and now, criticising the insanity of New York’s housing market from my newly renovated apartment in Harlem, a neighbourhood once described by Bobby Womack as <a href="">“the capital of every ghetto town”</a>. &nbsp;</p> <p>Faced by gentrification in places like these, we can blame shifty landlords, stingy city governments and predatory property developers, but at least to some extent, we are left lamenting something that our own life choices are reinforcing. For those who try hard to live their political convictions—from buying fair trade bananas and carbon offsets to boycotting union-busting corporations—this creates some serious personal discomfort. ‘If we’re so worried about gentrification,’ we should ask ourselves, ‘why do we keep buying into it?’ </p> <p>That’s a difficult question to answer, because it speaks to a common gap between what progressives say and what they do. Such concerns aren’t new of course. George Orwell <a href="">suggested</a> that the genius of the “jingo imperialist” poet <a href="">Rudyard Kipling</a> lay in his understanding of the fact that “a humanitarian is always a hypocrite.” Orwell, with some exaggeration, wrote that “all left-wing parties in the highly-industrialised countries are at bottom a sham, because they make it their business to fight against something which they do not really wish to destroy.” </p> <p>Despite having “internationalist aims” he continued, they “struggle to keep up a standard of life with which those aims are incompatible. We all live by robbing Asiatic coolies, and those of us who are ‘enlightened’ all maintain that those coolies ought to be set free; but our standard of living, and hence our ‘enlightenment’, demands that the robbery shall continue.” </p> <p>Maybe the left-wing case against gentrification is the same—a worthy concern, but one for which we would personally sacrifice very little. That may sound harsh, but we can’t ignore such critiques. Not only do many of us participate in gentrification—we actually <em>enjoy</em> it: earnestly deploring the Trump Presidency in Che Guevara-themed cafés; celebrating the diversity of city life in a live music bar with a $10 cover charge; or buying produce at farmers’ markets instead of greasy delis. </p> <p>The <em>Saturday Night Live</em> sketch <a href="">“The Bubble”</a>, mocks this secret love of gentrification perfectly, depicting “a planned community of like-minded free-thinkers” where “life continues for progressive Americans as if the election never happened,” complete with “hybrid cars,” “second-hand bookstores,” and Bernie Sanders’s face on every Dollar Bill. </p> <p>On a personal level, many of us are living these contradictions by reaping the benefits of something we’re not supposed to like. There’s no harm in admitting this, but what should we do about it? </p> <p>Such contradictions don’t justify political silence or passivity—quite the opposite: they should form the basis of a wider and deeper discussion which explores how everyone can be properly housed, without making &nbsp;young people, fresh out of university and desperate to pay down their snowballing debts, compete with the urban poor for the scraps of somewhere to live. Why is there so much profit in the business of displacing people from their communities? Why is it so hard to make daily choices that reflect or realise our moral goals? And are there forms of ‘gentrification’ that could support those moral goals?</p> <p>Far from feeling muzzled when we are complicit in gentrification, we should be asking serious questions about its causes, consequences and many faces. This includes trying to understand the complex and diverse reactions that it provokes: sometimes anger at rising living costs and the commodification of local culture, and sometimes cautious acceptance of the benefits it can bring.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>The idea of <a href="">gentrifiers as a pioneering “creative class”</a> of tech start-ups and quirky businesses has been <a href="">largely discredited</a>, but in my experience the residents of poorer neighbourhoods don’t always see the arrival of people with additional energy and resources as inherently bad. They might bemoan the destruction of public housing in favour of ‘shared workspaces’ and roof-top bars, without opposing the basic idea of outside investment. </p> <p>Beyond these perceptions, another change is developing: the prospect of life in an all-white suburb—complete with SUVs, 30-year mortgages and star-spangled banners on the front lawn—is <a href="">losing its &nbsp;post-war appeal</a>. Baby-boomer parents are confused&nbsp; by their children’s insistence on moving to inner-city streets that they actively avoided in the 1970s and 1980s. Although the cities of the United States remain heavily segregated economically and racially, the growing attraction of urban life is leading to a degree of social mixing unseen in previous generations.</p> <p>In this context, there is a real opportunity to build a new vision for our cities. The temptation for incoming college-educated urbanites like me is to assume leadership by promoting the equitable housing policies they learned about at university and using the political and organisational skills we refined in the Students’ Union. Yet this temptation must be resisted: urban communities are held together by social bonds and shared histories that no newcomer can fully grasp. </p> <p>Powerful political leadership has always emerged from these neighbourhoods. A prominent example is <a href="">New York’s Al Smith</a>, a second-generation Irish immigrant born above a barber shop in the slums under the Brooklyn Bridge, who left school at the age of twelve to work in the Fulton Fish Market and reportedly read just one book in his entire life. Smith went on to be elected governor of New York State four times in the 1920s, overseeing the radical social reforms that eventually <a href="">inspired the New Deal:</a> maximum working-hours legislation, public works projects, minimum housing standards, and revolutionary workplace safety laws. </p> <p>More recent figures include <a href="">Jesse Gray</a>, who worked as a tailor before leading Harlem’s rent strikes in the 1960s; and California Congresswoman Barbara Lee from Oakland, who has repeatedly fought for affordable housing as a human right in the House of Representatives. There is no shortage of talent, spirit and determination in communities under threat from economic and political exploitation. </p> <p>Nonetheless, in the fight for more just and inclusive cities, gentrifiers can lend valuable support. Though not to the same extent, they can see and feel the damage done by profit-centred housing markets. They can sense the unwillingness of politicians to respond, and they can help imagine and develop solutions to the crisis. When people have some shared experience—even if it’s scraping together enough money for a broker’s fee, or dealing with a negligent landlord, or complaining about inexplicable power cuts in their building, they begin to see more common interests with their neighbours—and to recognize the need to fight alongside them for improvements. </p> <p>Of course, the underlying tensions are still there: <em>your</em> presence as an incomer is a physical symbol of an often-damaging social transformation. But if we acknowledge their strength and try to understand the remarkable history of the communities that have sometimes begrudgingly welcomed us, we can play a part in the collective struggle for a better city.&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/harry-blain/why-left-needs-to-re-embrace-first-amendment">Why the left needs to re-embrace the First Amendment</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/harry-blain/can-there-be-progressive-patriotism">Can there be a progressive patriotism? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/harry-blain/why-britain-needs-homes-fitness-for-human-habitation-bill">Why Britain needs the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill</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 Harry Blain Activism Economics Tue, 29 Aug 2017 22:52:38 +0000 Harry Blain 113011 at If you’ve never lived in poverty, stop telling poor people what they should do <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The key question is how to change the economy to fit the needs of everyone, not how to change everyone to fit the needs of the economy.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="// Olsen.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Rich and Poor. Credit: <a href="">Flickr/Sandra Cohen Rose and Colin Rose</a>. <a href="">Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).</a></p> <p><em>Originally published on&nbsp;</em><em><a href=""><em>Everyday Feminism</em></a></em>.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">The brownstone I lived in for eight months in 2009 and 2010 had few amenities – the building often smelled like leaking pipes, the carpets were threadbare in many places, and the steam heater in the corner was completely out of my control, resulting in quite a few freezing mornings and sweltering nights. It did, however, have a gas stove and&nbsp;oven which, the landlord had told me, was pretty new and “worked great.”</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Unfortunately, everything else in the unit was electric, which meant that I’d need to set up&nbsp;separate&nbsp;utility&nbsp;accounts and pay for the gas every month just to run the stove and range.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">“It’s like $10 to turn it on and then another $20-$30 per month depending on how much you use it,” she explained.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0"><em>Yeah, I’m just not going to do that, then,</em>&nbsp;I&nbsp;thought, doing the math in my head.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">At that point, $30 was just a little bit less than my take-home after a day of making lattes, which is what I was doing every day that I wasn’t at my public radio internship. The rent on the apartment – which was the least&nbsp;expensive&nbsp;I could find in Seattle – was already going to cost well more than half of my monthly income. With student loan payments to top it off, I barely had living expenses to speak of, and the extra money I’d spend on the gas just didn’t seem worth it.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0"><a href="" target="_blank">This wasn’t my first go-round with poverty</a>: We grew up without much money, and I supported myself through college. But after graduation – when the student loan envelopes started showing up and I had to move out of my inexpensive college town to a city that actually had jobs – the situation was dire. But I knew how to handle it.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Every month, I’d scrutinize my budget, looking for things to trim or ways to increase my earnings.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">I moonlit as a cocktail waitress.&nbsp;I considered selling plasma (again), but the bus ride to the clinic was too long to fit into my days. I didn’t have a car&nbsp;or&nbsp;health care (or a stove). I picked up odd jobs on Craigslist, receiving cash under the table for nights of cocktailing or working as a cater waiter. I visited food banks.&nbsp;I never bought clothing. I stopped shaving to save money on razors.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Eventually, I was able to get a slightly more lucrative job, began piling on freelance work, and basically never looked back.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">I am very, very confident that I did everything in my power to provide myself the best life possible as a young adult, and that the choices I made were the correct choices. My life now would indicate that that’s the case. And still, without fail, when I tell someone or write about that time in my life, I’m met with a cascade of advice.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Well-meaning people who have never been poor are convinced that they know what I should have done. That subtle tweaks to my budget could somehow stretch my $9.50 per hour. I should have gotten a roommate. I should have lived somewhere cheaper. I should have found a better job.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Anyone who’s ever lived in poverty has probably had this experience.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">In the US, we have become so accepting of the fact that poverty is not a symptom of a grossly unequal economy, or the result of numerous systemic failures, or the product of years of trickle-down economics, but instead, that the only thing standing between&nbsp;a poor person and the life of their dreams&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">is their own decisions</a>, their own choices, and their own failures.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">This is why I would advise any person whose&nbsp;immediate reaction upon hearing about a friend, relative, or stranger on the Internet who is living in poverty is to offer unsolicited advice to hold their tongue (or fingers), at least long enough to consider what other forces contribute to poverty and how their “help” may actually be insulting, incorrect, and downright damaging.</p><p class="qowt-stl-normal0"><strong>The most common advice doesn't add up.</strong></p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">The over-simplification of poverty is often apparent in the advice that gets disseminated by people who have money and companies who make money off of other people’s financial predicaments.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Earlier this year,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">an&nbsp;infographic</a>&nbsp;circled around which underscored this fact. Created by a company called&nbsp;InvestmentZen, the&nbsp;infographic&nbsp;showed how to “build wealth on the&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">minimum wage</a>.”</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Aside from the fact that it contained numerous logistical issues – it used the federal minimum wage, which isn’t accurate in most states, either because their wage is higher or lower due to tip-crediting – the graphic also seemed to be concerned about moralizing the decisions of poor people and less about actually helping anyone.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Advice from the graphic included “learning skills on YouTube,” only eating in-season produce, and remembering that “the best things in life are free.”</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">“You can make excuses, or you can do something about it,” the graphic chided. “It’s your choice to make.”</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0"><a href="" target="_blank">Twitter instantly took it to task</a>; the response was so heated that it eventually led one of the men responsible for circulating to issue a retraction, calling many of the criticisms “fair.”</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">I suspect that the graphic was so easily mocked because the advice it selected was familiar.&nbsp;Despite the myriad systemic reasons that many people live in poverty, there are a handful of “tips” that well-meaning (most of the time) folks recycle with alarming regularity.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0"><em>Move somewhere cheaper. Buy in bulk. Get rid of your car. Get a roommate. Eat out less.</em></p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">These changes seem simple –<em>&nbsp;if you just spent less money on groceries, you’d have more money! If you didn’t have a car, you could save hundreds on car insurance!</em>&nbsp;–&nbsp;but&nbsp;they fail to take into account one crucial element of humanity and&nbsp;existence:&nbsp;The dollar amount of a thing doesn’t fully capture the value of it.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Most people who live in poverty are working jobs where their income is determined by how many&nbsp;hours they can spend on the job, which often don’t fall within typical commuting&nbsp;hours, and often run well over forty hours per week.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">When you’re poor, your time – especially your free time – is extremely precious. And many of the prescribed tips for saving money cut into that free time, make it less enjoyable, or might even actively&nbsp;cost more money in the short term.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">I’ve&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">written before about the actual cost of moving</a>&nbsp;– renting a truck, putting down a deposit, the financial hit of taking time off work to move – but recommending that someone relocate their entire life to save on rent also neglects to account for the real value of living in a place with a support system.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Whether it’s a family by birth or by choice, living near people you know offers a sense of responsibility and place – not to mention a couch to crash on if you get evicted and the potential for free childcare or other assistance.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">To illustrate this point, let’s use another common tip: giving up a car.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Access to transit&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">is one of the single biggest investments</a>&nbsp;that communities can make to help people get out of poverty. But overwhelmingly,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">transit systems are failing poor people</a>. And for seniors or disabled people, taking the bus may be even more difficult if&nbsp;cities and transit authorities don’t&nbsp;accommodate&nbsp;for various mobility, vision, or hearing impairments.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Which means that the cost (both figurative and literal) of giving up a car might be steeper than keeping it.&nbsp;Which means that even if a person makes the choice to save money by riding the bus, the bus may not be there for them.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">There’s also the issue of time and convenience, particularly if you live&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">in a smaller city, which tend to have much spottier bus service</a>.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">We can look at it like this: Estimated cost of owning a car over a year:&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">about $725 per month, according to AAA</a>. That’s a lot, but compared to riding the bus (because let’s assume a person doesn’t have the upfront cash for a bike, a lock, and the gear they might need to commute in all weather), it’s not really.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Where I live, it costs about $5 per day to commute via bus, assuming I’m traveling inside the city and just going to work and back&nbsp;using a single method of transit. Multiply that by five days per week (though most people working minimum wage work more than that), and it’s about $100 per month. That’s still less than $725 – until you account for:</p> <p class="qowt-li-00">Two hours of commuting compared to thirty minutes of commuting (at $13/hour): $19.50/day in lost income, or $390 per month.</p> <p class="qowt-li-00">Cost of an extra hour of childcare to account for the commute time (<a href="" target="_blank">at $13</a>/hour, as well): $260 per month</p> <p class="qowt-li-00">The cost of using the bus for weekly grocery trips (which&nbsp;limit the choices a person has and&nbsp;reduces the ability to buy in bulk, another favorite piece of advice for people with means to give to poor people) and the occasional other appointment: about $50 per month.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Which equals $800 – and doesn’t take into account the fact that grocery shopping by bus is not ideal for someone with kids in tow.&nbsp;Additionally, taking the bus to get groceries&nbsp;makes it less likely that a person can comparison shop, visit multiple stores for ultimate savings, and purchase products that are less easy to carry, like fresh produce or bulk items.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0"><strong>You can also see from this example how interconnected so many of these pieces of advice are.</strong></p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">“Get rid of your car” is a fine piece of advice in a vacuum, but when it’s coupled with “drive for&nbsp;Uber&nbsp;to make extra money,” you’ve now prescribed something that’s literally impossible. “Spend less on groceries” is fine on its own, but if you’re also recommending that someone switch to commuting by bike or bus and move to a less dense place with fewer food choices, you’ve now quadrupled the daily difficulty of their life.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">And that has a real cost, even if it’s not tangible or numeric.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">This, I think, is truly at the heart of the advice we tend to offer poor people: It implicitly says that we believe that they should be willing and able to exchange their own time on earth, comfort, happiness, and even physical health and safety just to scrape by.</p><p class="qowt-stl-normal0"><strong>Being poor is really expensive.</strong></p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">The assumption that “simple advice” can dramatically change a person’s economic outlook assumes that a person’s poverty is solely the result of personal failings, rather than very real and costly systems of oppression, including legacy&nbsp;poverty, systemic racism, mass incarceration, punitive immigration policies, medical debt, and more.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Regardless of the personal choices a family might make to save money, there are some unavoidable costs that are baked into our financial and social systems.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-heading2">Overdraft fees, late fees on missed bills, high-interest credit card fees, and payday lenders are just a few ways that poverty begets higher expenses. The average payday loan borrower – who is usually short just a few hundred dollars between paychecks –&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">ends up paying more than 300% interest</a>&nbsp;on their initial amount.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-heading2">These companies make billions each year by offering people a necessary service that costs them an outrageously inflated price.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Banks also find ways to capitalize on people without money.&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Many checking accounts</a>&nbsp;require that a person carry a minimum balance – and fine customers for every month that they don’t meet the&nbsp;requirement. And that’s assuming a person even uses a bank!&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">An estimated 8% of Americans</a>&nbsp;don’t use a bank, largely due to their low monthly income. As a result, they pay more money in fees at check cashing businesses or by using prepaid debit cards.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">In addition to these fees and fines, a lack of funds in-hand can also mean paying more for services and products. Whether it’s putting charges on a credit card and paying interest or buying in smaller denominations (and thus paying more per unit), there are&nbsp;hundreds of small ways that being cash-poor can make it harder to save.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0"><a href="" target="_blank">The Washington Post</a>&nbsp;reported on a study on this subject: When [researchers] compared households with similar consumption rates shopping at comparable stores – and controlling for two-ply TP – they found that the poor were less likely than wealthier households to buy bigger packages, or to time their purchases to take advantage of sales. By failing to do so, they paid about 5.9% more per sheet of toilet paper – a little less than what they saved by buying cheaper brands in the first place (8.8%).</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Poor folks don’t buy single-use items because they never thought about buying in bulk – it’s often because they literally don’t have the money to do so, or don’t have a way to get bulk items home.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Our broken immigration system is also responsible for trapping new&nbsp;Americans (and their children) in low-income jobs, substandard housing, and legitimately dangerous transportation and work situations – all of which have a compounding effect on poverty.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Each year, immigrants pay billions into our tax coffers, only to get the short end of the economic stick.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">New Americans are&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">less likely to report wage theft</a>, may&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">experience housing discrimination</a>, and of course, often have to pay massive sums of money to travel, bring relatives to the county, and send money back to their nation&nbsp;of origin.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">And if you want to begin the process of obtaining citizenship?&nbsp;Expect to cough it up. Just becoming a US citizen&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">can cost up to $900</a>.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Mass incarceration also has a stark economic impact, specifically on the Black community – a population that already sees lower lifetime earnings and increased rates and instances of poverty.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0"><a href="" target="_blank">One in four Black children&nbsp;</a>born in the era of mass incarceration&nbsp;will have a parent who is incarcerated, which will limit that parent’s earning by an average of 40% over their lifetime. The cycle of&nbsp;incarceration is expensive at every single step – from the cost of arrests, legal fees, and fines, parole, and lost jobs and hours on the clock, evictions, and so much more –&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">and effectively traps people in a feedback loop</a>&nbsp;of poverty that’s nearly impossible to break.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Even those who aren’t&nbsp;themselves&nbsp;incarcerated pay for incarceration, though. The cost of visiting a&nbsp;spouse in prison (both in lost time and expenses), inflated commissary bills,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">prohibitively expensive phone bills</a>, the&nbsp;cost of lost time due to traveling, court dates, and meetings,&nbsp;and legal fees make it impossible for some families to dig out.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Having poor parents also puts in motion a cycle of disadvantage (and&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">not because poor people are just worse</a>&nbsp;at raising their children).&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">The vast majority of people who grow up poor stay poor</a>for a variety of complex reasons – which means no amount of coupon-cutting or Costco shopping can dig some families out of poverty, and to&nbsp;suggest otherwise is just disrespectful.</p><p class="qowt-stl-normal0"><strong>Personal choices don't fix a broken system.</strong></p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">The&nbsp;InvestmentZen&nbsp;infographic&nbsp;was roundly mocked because it was a symptom of a larger problem, which is that people with means love to give advice to poor people. This serves two distinct purposes:</p> <ol><li>It makes people with means feel better about their means&nbsp;because they feel like they have wealth as a direct result of their own effort – and not systems and structures that helped them along the way; and</li><li>It makes people with means feel better about those systems, rather than being forced to confront them or work to dismantle them.</li></ol> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">When the&nbsp;infographic&nbsp;said that a person “can’t earn minimum wage and live in an expensive city and be wealthy,” they weren’t telling a lie – but they were accepting implicitly that it’s okay for people who work full-time to live in poverty if they live in large cities.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Imagine if everyone took that advice – if every person working minimum wage up and fled all of the major cities to go live and work in smaller markets with less expensive rent. Cities literally could not function.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">Despite the commonly held belief that only teens should or do work for the minimum wage, the fact of the matter is&nbsp;that<a href="" target="_blank">&nbsp;millions of Americans</a>&nbsp;of all ages, a/genders, and educational levelssupport their families on hourly low-wage jobs. That includes seniors, disabled people, and women of color.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">The answer, then, is not that poor people live differently, but instead, that we create a society and an economy where people who work full time can live in the community where they work.&nbsp;</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">No amount of cutting back on luxury spending or driving extra hours for&nbsp;Uber&nbsp;can change the fact that there is&nbsp;literally<a href="" target="_blank">&nbsp;nowhere in the country</a>&nbsp;where a minimum wage job can support a family, that good union jobs have been in decline for decades, or that housing costs have priced people out of their homes. Cutting coupons, commuting by bike,&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">enjoying outdoor activities</a>&nbsp;can’t really fix that.</p> <p class="qowt-stl-normal0">So, instead of telling poor people what they should do to work around a system that’s leaving more and more people behind every year, we need to consider how the system can bend and change to better fit the needs of all people.</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/carmen-rios/seven-everyday-things-poor-people-worry-about-that-rich-people-never-do">Seven everyday things poor people worry about that rich people never do</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/darrin-drda/five-reasons-why-you-never-want-to-be-rich">Five reasons why you never want to be rich</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 Hanna Brooks Olsen The role of money Economics Thu, 24 Aug 2017 22:50:00 +0000 Hanna Brooks Olsen 112678 at Life’s a pitch <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Welcome to the new economy, where everyone is free&nbsp;to submit to another round of degrading competition.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="// Walsh.jpg" alt="" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="">Flickr/Umbro Umbro</a>. <a href="">CC-BY-NC-2.0</a>.</p> <p>Today’s economy has reduced life to a never-ending pitch. We parade before bosses and clients for work. We position ourselves on social media for friendship, love, sex—or just attention. We work longer hours for less pay, and due to technology and globalization, fewer jobs mean workers can demand less and bosses more. As the hotelier Conrad Hilton says to Don Draper in&nbsp;the TV series <em><a href="">Mad Men</a></em>, “When I say I want the moon, I expect the moon.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet the colonization of life by the ‘pitch’ is a symptom: unionised jobs with social benefits have disappeared, and without the fixed ropes enjoyed by a previous generation the marketing of ourselves and our souls has become required rather than chosen. “The painful truth is that, at work, we’re on trial all the time” as <a href="">Roger Mavity and Stephen Bayley</a> write.</p> <p>Now, pitching has expanded way beyond the world of work and into social media, dating apps, and reality television. Life is experienced through the prism, or prison, of pitching. How did this happen, and what can be done?</p> <p>The word&nbsp;<em>pitch&nbsp;</em>commonly means ‘to throw,’ as in pitching an idea or a product. Sales pitches are crafted to be persuasive and logically impenetrable—designed to bring the customer to the point where they care enough to buy, or just want the stream-of-consciousness selling to end. In&nbsp;<em><a href="">Glengarry Glen Ross</a></em>, Blake—the character played by Alec Baldwin—embodies mercenary salesmanship at its purest: “only one thing counts in this life,” he says, “get them to sign on the line which is dotted...A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing.” And always be pitching. </p> <p>We have to be connected, to be visible, ‘<a href="">gramming</a>’ or ‘<a href="">tinding</a>’—two forms of contemporary ‘pitch-work’ performed in the electronic sweatshop. Part of this pitch-work involves forming networks, because someone has to be there to ‘catch’ your ideas—to catch&nbsp;<em>you</em>. Networks become our new safety nets—the stronger the network, the safer you are. Time is taken up making and cultivating links, turning weak links into strong links. </p> <p>“We pitch all the time, because when it's increasingly less about a piece of paper from a university, the way YOU appeal to others becomes more important...even in private life,” says Christoph Sollich, a Berlin-based&nbsp;<a href="">pitch doctor</a>. “The tool to stand out is how you pitch yourself, like on <a href="">Tinder</a>.”</p> <p>We even have ‘pitch TV.’ Anna Richardson, the presenter of UK’s&nbsp;<a href=""><em>Naked Attraction</em></a>, calls the show ‘Tinder television.’ Contestants choose a dating partner based on their naked bodies alone, standing inside semi-transparent Day-Glo boxes and slowly revealed from the bottom up—first the legs and the groin, then the torso, and finally the head. </p> <p>The show&nbsp;claims to “demystify the rules of sexual attraction for the Tinder generation” by giving young people a true picture of each other’s bodies—truer than the photo-shopped versions available on social media. Yet this naked nightmare simply glorifies choice by body-parts—‘You've got six vaginas staring you in the face and you say you like feet’—ensuring that the show explodes on social media and harvests even more advertising revenue.</p> <p>An alien watching from another planet might think that this show—and other naked reality televisions shows like <em><a href="">Love Island</a></em> and <em><a href="">Stripped</a></em>—show a people comfortable with their bodies and desires, and suggests a society at ease with itself, with few obstacles to freedom and self-expression; a heroic society in which the best can pitch their virtues to be admired and emulated.</p> <p>But all this shows is the ‘pornography of the pitch’—the fact there’s no longer any distance between our desires and those who might fulfill them. You can pitch your apartment on <a href="">Airbnb</a> or your body on&nbsp;<em>Naked Attraction</em>, and if <a href="">Obamacare</a> is scrapped you can join the other people who’ll be&nbsp;<a href="">pitching</a>&nbsp;to cover their healthcare costs. </p> <p>This isn’t a gig economy, it’s a pitch economy, and the pitch is&nbsp;where the rivers of neo-liberalism meet and the crocodiles feed. Everyone is ‘free,’ yet only&nbsp;to submit to another round of degrading competition. There’s always a winner&nbsp;yet the prize is elusive. Pitch platforms are democratic but all they democratise is need. Pitching has become a secular prayer for meaning in a culture of generalized meaninglessness. Like a <a href="">mycelium</a> growing underfoot it destroys social belonging and drags us into a sinkhole of sameness and despair.</p> <p>How does ‘life as a never-ending pitch’ work?&nbsp;A system cannot operate without a culture to give it shape, and pitch culture invokes&nbsp;<em>compulsory non-stop positivity</em>, the blue-sky thinking of the Facebook ‘Like’ button. Drawing on positive psychology and the cod-philosophy of&nbsp;<a href="">fast capitalist</a>&nbsp;literature found at airport bookshops, systemic inequality is propped up by a sea of untested beliefs and fortune-cookie sound-bites that distil the ‘changing times’ into something we can understand, delivered in the deracinated vernacular of the pitch.</p> <p>Researchers at Stanford&nbsp;University <a href="">analysed</a>&nbsp;this vernacular by looking at 26,000 <a href="">Kickstarter</a> pitches. The successful ones generated emotional responses; they were tentative and framed the pitch collectively by using ‘we.’ The unsuccessful ones generated affective responses; they were more certain and were framed using ‘I.’ Sadness and anger also indicated failed pitches. The research team found that successful ones were “more emotive, thoughtful and colloquial,” yet this is a particular kind of thoughtfulness devoid of negativity and empathy. For Korean-German philosopher <a href="">Byung-Chul Han</a>, such a culture of non-stop positivity (and blocked negativity) turns us into “exhausted slaves” in a “burnout society.” Does this sound familiar?</p> <p>What’s the answer to these problems? In a world dominated by the apostles of capitalism’s Good News—the hierarchy-hopping, soy-latte-sipping, sexually-voracious-yet-emotionally-hollow millennials or&nbsp;<a href="">Meh!-lennials</a>—the future is not just being cancelled but reduced to an elevator pitch. </p> <p>Or is it? Perhaps millennials, living with colossal levels of debt and subject to the ‘<a href="">churn and burn</a>’ workplaces of the gig economy, form part of the solution.</p> <p>“Millennials are numerically far bigger than our generation, the sons and daughters of baby boomers—and they’re going to have a massive impact on politics,” Dmytri Kleiner told me when I interviewed him in Berlin. Kleiner is the founder of the&nbsp;<a href="">Telekommunisten Collective</a>,&nbsp;a group that explores the political impact of communications technology. “Actually they’re already having an impact,” he continued, “just look at Corbyn and Sanders. Politics is opening up—there’s a Left and a Right again. Unfortunately the Right is Trump, and we can’t stop talking about him.”</p> <p>Kleiner believes&nbsp;that the Left has “lost the skills of organizing. Our generation had no political representatives to vote for, we could only vote for Left or Right variants of neoliberalism, and so we invented a politics that reflected this: a politics of horizontalism.” His idea of&nbsp;<a href="">Venture Communism</a>&nbsp;moves beyond horizontal politics by turning the weapons of capital back onto the capitalists while fighting to preserve workers’ historic gains.<br /> <br /> “First we need to find new ways of organising our economy, creating worker-controlled organisations and businesses that add value to the commons; and second, we need a vigorous counter-politics that holds the state to account in providing health, education and social services. That’s Venture Communism.”</p> <p>Kleiner’s work centres on the digital world like the&nbsp;<em>Telekommunisten</em>, who came out of Berlin’s hacker community to create hosting services and tools that give users more control over their data. But what about the physical world? What about organising real bodies in real places in real time?</p> <p>In her book&nbsp;<a href=""><em>Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest</em></a><em>,&nbsp;</em>Zeynep Tufekci emphasizes the crucial importance of capacity within social movements, and reminds us of the importance of <em>place</em>. Artists and free-thinkers fleeing the First World War had Zurich’s&nbsp;<em><a href="">Cabaret Voltaire</a></em>&nbsp;(perhaps including a young Lenin); the New Left in England had the&nbsp;<a href=""><em>Partisan Coffee House</em></a>; the American Civil Rights Movement had a network of churches and homes for activists to stay in. </p> <p>But where are the places of the precariat? Where can people go to share stories, empathise and organise? Outside of online there are few places to gather. Pitch culture drowns out solidarity; online organising builds more barriers than bridges; and by pitching our problems into corporate servers we’re merely providing the fuel for our own destruction. Our pitches lift capitalism higher and higher.</p> <p>So here’s <em>my</em> pitch. Today’s workers need places to organise offline, so let’s combine the ideas of the hacker community with the needs of the precariat to establish them. For want of a better word I’ll call them ‘Precär-Spaces:’ <em>Prekär</em>&nbsp;is German for precarious,&nbsp;and <em>Precär</em>&nbsp;is my English-German compromise. Let’s put a Precär-Space in every town and city, spaces where precarious workers can gather together, share stories, build empathy and organise for better working conditions and better lives. </p> <p>Pitch culture works on anonymity, while the platforms of the gig economy keep workers isolated and unaware of each other’s struggles. A Precär-Space would be a place, a project and a disruptive technology&nbsp;to bring new collective ideas to light, and to help people break free of naked exploitation. In the words of&nbsp;<em><a href="">Cabaret Voltaire’s&nbsp;</a></em>Hugo Ball, <a href="">we demand a space not only for those who enjoy their independence, but for those who wish to proclaim it</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/joel-millward-hopkins/neoliberal-psychology">Neoliberal psychology</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/amy-v-rubin/erotic-economy-it-s-not-what-you-think">The erotic economy: it’s not what you think</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/angela-mcrobbie/is-passionate-work-neoliberal-delusion">Is passionate work a neoliberal delusion?</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 Paul Walsh The role of money Culture Economics Tue, 22 Aug 2017 23:06:28 +0000 Paul Walsh 112818 at Fire in neo-liberal London <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The burnt-out shell of Grenfell Tower is a visible reminder that public responsibilities should never be watered down.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Grenfell Tower, London. Credit: Wikimedia/Natalie Oxford, <a title="Creative Commons" href="">Creative Commons</a>&nbsp;<a href="">Attribution 4.0 International</a>.</p> <p>Imagine you are a Nigerian man in his early 50s. You’ve been living in London for well over 20 years. You drive a cab for an upmarket taxi firm ferrying people to airports and train stations. You work night shifts driving people to Heathrow, often in the early hours of the morning. </p> <p>You have three kids, one who’s training to be a primary school teacher; the others are teenagers at school. Your wife works as a private nanny for a wealthy couple who live just 15 minutes walk away from your home in a high rise.&nbsp;Actually you’ve been encouraging her to become a health worker for the NHS: the employment contract is better and the hours are more fixed, less subject to sudden changes and the requirement to work through the night, often at short notice. </p> <p>You feel you were lucky to get a council flat in tower block in West London when your first child was born. It’s only a short distance away from the cab company HQ. It’s nice to live centrally, partly because it allows you to work the hours you do and still see something of your kids when they get back from school. Any savings go towards a five-yearly trip back to Lagos. </p> <p>You love London. You belong to the local Catholic Church and your kids are doing fine. Maybe they will end up with better jobs; the younger one aims to do a degree. She wants to be a documentary film-maker. </p> <p>And then your tower block goes up in flames, along with your home, your family and your future, the sub-standard cladding of the building melting all around you, with no sprinkler system, no escape plan, and no way of exiting safely from the smoke and fire that suck the oxygen from your lungs. </p> <p>This story is fiction, but it’s one that’s been told to me a hundred times in different iterations in my own cab journeys through London over the last few years. It could so easily apply to some of the residents of <a href="">Grenfell Tower that was destroyed last week</a> with so much loss of life.</p> <p>In her well-known book <em><a href="">The Global City</a></em>, the sociologist Saskia Sassen emphasises the important presence of a service class of workers in metropolitan centres like London. They need to live near to where they work in order to get to their jobs in time. The city needs this army of workers, since it is they who allow the urban middle and upper classes to function. They are cab-drivers, private nannies, nursery assistants, office and street cleaners; they work in retail, or in restaurants and bars. </p> <p>If they are young and good-looking they may get the more prestigious jobs as personal trainers in gym chains, teaching aqua classes or being a barista in a coffee house. If they are older, they’ll be doing care work or cleaning up in hospitals. They need the city as much as it needs them. Move out of London? No thanks. Their work would dry up. Who needs black-suited cab drivers in polished cars in places where better housing and more green space may be available? Who needs private day-nannies in Middlesbrough, where the best job on offer may be a call centre? </p> <p>Sassen does not ponder in detail the question of housing provision for this sizeable sector of the new multi-cultural urban working class, but activists, and other sociologists like <a href="">Loic Wacquant and Pierre Bourdieu</a>, have drawn attention to the poor living conditions that low-paid city workers have come to expect, with little hope of improvement. They have become a fact of life, but until events like the fire in Grenfell Tower this has been an almost-invisible issue, save for those involved in tenants’ action groups or battling the local council to get a move to a bigger place.</p> <p>Instead, in London at least, the question that has taken up so many column inches has been the plight of young people, especially key service sector workers such as nurses and teachers who cannot get a foot on the housing ladder and who can barely afford the obscenely high rents in a city with no rent controls and a stock of social housing that’s shrinking by the day. Attention has been focused on those who would like to buy their own home, not on those for whom this option is beyond any horizon of expectation, living as they do on minimum wages, or pushed into benefit dependency because of ill-health. </p> <p>The fact that this population is so often over-looked says much about everyday life in neoliberal London. The city’s wealthier citizens may rely on people on low wages or in jobs that are insecure, but they come to public attention only when a horrific accident like this takes place. Otherwise they are left to the mercy of semi-privatised council services.</p> <p>It is not surprising that local council leaders in London’s wealthiest borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where Grenfell Tower is located, have seemingly gone into hiding, along with most Conservative politicians. &nbsp;Those in power have emerged only to utter offensive platitudes, like <a href="">the Council leader who said that tenants did not want sprinkler systems</a> installed, or the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, who floundered around trying to express sadness while saying she would <a href="">commit five million Pounds to re-house those now without a roof over their heads.</a> </p> <p>She talked about giving them some money to buy the basics they need, while ignoring the billions of pounds required to bring Britain’s remaining publicly-owned housing stock up to standard. May and her colleagues must know that they have lost all credibility, having loudly and on camera congratulated themselves over the years on <a href="">getting rid of health and safety provisions</a>, <a href="">ignoring fire safety rules</a> and <a href="">cutting back the fire service</a>, out-sourcing housing departments to not-for-profit agencies that retain the ring of being socially worthy while ensuring <a href=";set=a.90834904152.73496.501449152&amp;type=3&amp;theater">their directors get private sector salaries</a>, and abandoning the obligation to keep large numbers of people in safe, well-maintained &nbsp;urban environments. </p> <p>This is how the ‘New Public Management’ ethos has worked in practice. As <a href="">John Clarke and Janet Newman have written</a>, the aim is to reduce the role of the state and of local councils in areas like building control and safety by devolving these functions to private and non-profit agencies who will do the job more cheaply. This large-scale semi-privatisation also permits contractors to avoid adhering to the fine print of building regulations, not because they no longer exist but because—with so much devolution—no-one at the receiving end has a clear sense of who is responsible for what. </p> <p>In Grenfell Tower and other blocks like it, each and every one of the policies designed to eviscerate the whole idea of social welfare and public housing has been playing out for years. When tenants have complained, they have received letters <a href="">threatening legal action against them</a>. Who would not be frightened off by this response? </p> <p>People living there have simply not been listened to. Who, for example, thought that housing elderly people and people with disabilities on the upper levels of tower blocks was a good idea? Who are the private landlords who bought flats on a buy-to-let basis when mortgages companies refused to finance them, so that with some cosmetic tarting-up they could then be rented to young professionals <a href="">for £500 a week with ‘panoramic views’ of London</a>? </p> <p>Victims of the Grenfell Tower fire and their relatives, as well as local community leaders, <a href="">are reporting that no-one is taking charge</a> of the scene of the disaster and its aftermath. ‘Where is the council,’ they ask? Perhaps the council barely exists any more, now that its responsibilities have been devolved down to hundreds of out-sourced agencies. </p> <p>Where are social services? The same answer applies. In every instance, the New Public Management removes the idea of social responsibility from the vocabulary of public action. It rejects the idea that all citizens are entitled to safe and decent housing. Most of all, it abandons a commitment to equality. </p> <p>Instead, there is the never-ending mantra of excellence, leadership, and ‘payment by results.’ We can now see those results all around us. They look like the burnt-out shell of Grenfell Tower. </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="/uk/adam-ramsay/fire-in-worlds-laudromat">A fire in the world&#039;s laundromat</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/christine-berry/after-grenfell-ending-murderous-war-on-our-protections">After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/angela-mcrobbie/neoliberal-economics-of-family-life">The neoliberal economics of family life</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 uk Transformation Grenfell Grenfell Tower Fire Angela McRobbie The role of money Care Economics Mon, 19 Jun 2017 00:00:00 +0000 Angela McRobbie 111743 at Getting to the heart of Universal Basic Income <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The benefits of financial security are obvious, so why doesn’t the idea of UBI enjoy more popular support?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="">Flickr/Russell Shaw Higgs</a>. Some rights reserved.</p><p> If we took <a href="" target="_blank">all of the income</a> the United States makes in a year and divided it by the <a href="" target="_blank">total number of Americans</a>, then every woman, man, and child would be making over $50,000. That’s over $200,000 for a family of four.</p> <p>If we wiped the slate clean and took <a href="" target="_blank">all of the personal net wealth</a> of the United States and divvied it up among every American with a heartbeat, each person would receive over $250,000 as a nest egg.</p> <p>Let’s take a second to think about those numbers. Even though <a href="" target="_blank">nearly 40</a> per cent of the country doesn’t work in paid employment and <a href="" target="_blank">46 per cent</a> couldn’t come up with $400 if their life depended on it, the ‘average’ American apparently pulls in $55,000 a year and has a cool quarter-of-a-million Dollars in assets. The <a href="" target="_blank">national poverty line</a> is defined as just below <em>$12,000</em> per year for an individual.</p> <p>Does it surprise you to learn how much wealth there is in this country, or how rich the top one percent really are?&nbsp;</p> <p>These facts should make it clear that we already have the resources to eradicate poverty if we want to. It wouldn’t require a revolution. It would only require an adjustment of our priorities in favor of a <a href="" target="_blank">Universal Basic Income</a> or UBI.</p><p> UBI is a serious solution that simply and elegantly delivers an economic floor of security to every person in society. As these figures show, we can easily afford it, so it should be a no-brainer on the basis of both logic and human decency.</p> <p>Right now the UBI movement is exploding. It’s founded on the idea that everyone in a civilized society has an inalienable right to the basic necessities of life such as food and shelter and healthcare, and that the most effective way to guarantee those rights is through a regular cash stipend to each individual. In the US a good starting point for a full UBI would be around $12,000 a year for every adult, with a smaller amount provided for each child.</p><p> Beyond human decency, there are myriad other arguments to be made in favor of UBI: economic stimulus and sustainability, improved health outcomes, reduced crime, more community action, higher creativity, more self-fulfillment, more participation in politics, and more flexibility to spend time with and care for our children and loved ones when they need us.</p> <p>Even Silicon Valley is pushing hard for it as a way to help people through the coming times of job displacement due to automation, since <a href="" target="_blank">recent estimates</a> forecast that we will lose up to half of our jobs to machines in the next 20 years. <a href="" target="_blank">Basic income pilots</a> are popping up all around the world, doing important research to test these claims and measure the efficacy of direct cash giving under a host of different scenarios.</p> <p>But here’s the thing: the US has just witnessed a presidential election in which large numbers of voters rebelled against the technocrats and political elites on both sides of the aisle who have ruled America for decades. These voters felt ignored and decided to push back. What’s to say that UBI won’t be seen as another technocratic solution handed down by the same political class from Washington DC? If so, it would probably be doomed.</p><p> The UBI movement must avoid the establishment’s tendency to overestimate its own influence and take everyone else for granted, of valuing the support of billionaires and corporations above all else. Basic income is a policy of, by, and for the people, and to succeed it’s going to have to have the support of the great mass of those people, both Democrats and Republicans.</p> <p>I care less about convincing another tech whiz kid CEO, veteran venture capitalist, or Nobel laureate economist to join the movement, and much more about bringing on board farmers in Missouri, displaced coal miners in West Virginia, and schoolteachers in Wisconsin. This is necessarily politics after all, not just economics and philosophy. To win a Universal Basic Income we must eventually pass legislation, and in order to do so people will have to stand up and demand it across the political divide.</p><p> So how do we handle the politics of UBI? My partner and I are <a href="" target="_blank">filmmakers</a>. Politics runs on storytelling, and we see film and visual media as the most powerful storytelling tool available today. So we’ve decided to make a film about UBI, a documentary film, but what kind of documentary?</p><p> It can’t just be for and about the experts and the reams of historical evidence; great research doesn’t rivet an audience. Statistics alone don’t capture hearts and minds or make an emotional connection that’s powerful enough to overcome the opposition. I’ll wager that every single one of the films you remember most vividly in your life, those that have had the most impact on you, have revolved around human stories, not talking heads and facts.</p> <p>What’s more, they were likely not simple snapshots of people in interesting situations. They were rich character studies, following unexpected plot lines, and ultimately culminating in some kind of growth or change. An effective documentary about UBI must do the same.</p><p> And it also needs to honestly address the elephant in the room: some people’s fears about subsidizing laziness in others. While I expect a world with a Universal Basic Income would be freer and more productive—populated by more effective and intrinsically-motivated human beings—others might forecast a world of entitled do-nothings living off the work ethic of a noble few. If we want to prove them wrong we had better provide some evidence to back our claims.</p><p> This is the point of the trials that have already happened, or are underway or are coming soon around the world. But how much can a study of UBI in a rural Kenyan village or an already generous Scandinavian social support system offer to Americans? Even successful results in the trial that’s currently taking place in <a href="" target="_blank">Oakland, California</a> might not hold much water in making the case to a Montana rancher or a manufacturing worker from the Rust Belt.</p><p> So instead, what we’ve decided to do is to create a new basic income pilot program specifically for our film, crafted for the sole purpose of telling diverse American stories from all walks of life: a farmer, a student, an athlete, a new family, a manufacturing worker, a police officer, an artist, a teacher, a veteran and a retiree.</p> <p>We want to know and show what all of them do with a floor of security to stand on. Each participant will receive a basic income of $1,000 per month for two years, and we’ll check in with them regularly, recording their achievements, failures, choices, and growth in their daily lives.</p><iframe src="" width="460" height="360" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe><p class="image-caption">Watch the trailer for Bootstraps.</p><p>However, we aren’t billionaires or celebrities, and this film will boast no A-list stars. We’re artists and journalists, and so we need your help. While the big political movers and shakers would consider our $600,000 pilot budget miniscule,&nbsp;it’s an unachievable fortune for everyday Americans. So if you are invested in the idea of a brighter future through UBI please give a few dollars to the <a href="" target="_blank">campaign to fund our pilot</a>, and share this article widely.</p><p>As a former engineer, one of UBI’s greatest appeals for me has to do with human optimization. When people are operating through anxiety, <a href="" target="_blank">they lose 10-15 IQ points</a>. When they are worried about survival, they aren't dreaming about what they can offer to the world. We are currently turning people into diminished versions of themselves through the systems that we’ve built, but it needn’t be that way.</p><p>We can invest in them and support them to bring their best selves to the challenges they face. If we expect people to pull themselves up by their <a href="" target="_blank">bootstraps</a>, the least we can do is provide the boots and a solid floor to stand on. When everyone around us has that same fair footing, we’ll all stand taller together.</p><p><em>You can make a contribution to the Bootstraps campaign <a href="" target="_blank">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/max-harris/will-universal-basic-income-make-us-lonely">Will the Universal Basic Income make us lonely?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/rhiannon-colvin/reimagining-future-of-work">Re-imagining the future of work</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/karl-widerquist/alaska-model-citizens-income-in-practice">The Alaska Model: a citizen&#039;s income in practice</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 Conrad Shaw The role of money Economics Wed, 07 Jun 2017 05:00:00 +0000 Conrad Shaw 111132 at