Temperatures – or The surprised girl from the ‘developing world’

Kevin had been really nice – already when arrived on the aircraft: so to say the usual nice yarn amongst the locals; and of course, first thing we Irish talk about is the weather. Later I got my free tea and everything – ah, getting spoilt when one knows crew on the plane.

Then The little story. I had been sitting next to a nice girl from one of these developing countries. After placing her order, she leaned towards me, asking with surprise:

Do you always have to pay, using this airline?

I nodded:

Yes, and it’s more and more European standard now.

A little bit later she opened the plastic of the micro-waved sandwich, …, opened her handbag to get a tissue in order to clean her hands before eating.

At the end, I enjoyed her genuine friendliness and the crisps she kindly offered me, with a smile, but without asking for money.

Remains one thing: she does definitely not have the right dress for Hibernian conditions – well “cold” is just a matter of temperatures, or am I wrong?


Pure incidence? Less than one week, four small pieces, fitting so well …

* Monday I gave a presentation in Cork, questioning the obsession by calculability and the mathematisation of social science, and putting this into a wider context:

A fundamental problem has to be seen in the very limitation of our thinking as it had been outlined under the major headings: quantification/mathematisation, equivalence principle and claim of exchangeability, individualisation and finally evidence.

* Thursday, just before leaving Budapest,  I received a mail by Marica Frangakis – we are planning now to elaborate a little piece on “A left growth policy agenda for Europe”. Any perspective for today’s economies, and this means in the cases of our presentation for Greece from where Marica is and for Ireland, where I lived for some time now, cannot be about returning to the path which actually brought us into this deep crisis.

* Then, yesterday I had been in the Burgtheater – Robinson Crusoe (will soon have to do some more writing on this and some related reflections on this blog).
It had been an exciting reading of Defoe’s masterpiece Robinson Crusoe in the Burgtheater, highly critical about the permanent striving for growth, the obsession by movement and search of the unknown.

* And today, earlier I had been reading Goethe’s Faust.
It is highly critical about the calculation of and with time. An understanding of time as if it would be linear and “calculable”, a utility like any other utility – and as any other utility today a commodity. Re-reading Goethe shows the highly critical undertone of a growth which is only caught by the idea of movement, a permanent circle that does not allow any reasoning, that forbids exit, for which any standstill is like suicide.

Stuerzen wir uns in das Rauschen der Zeit,
Ins Rollen der Begebenheit!
Da mag dann Schmerz und Genuss,
Gelingen und Verdruss
Miteinander Wechseln, wie es kann;
Nur rastlos bestaetigt sich der Mann.
(Goethe: Faust)

And on another occasion in the piece, Goethe describes how this is capturing the entire life, getting hold of all pores – and all people, not stopping even when it comes to the life of children and the aged.

And all this may well remind us of the famous words we find in The Capital, Karl Max quoting T.J. Dunning

Capital is said by a Quarterly Reviewer to fly turbulence and strife, and to be timid, which is very true; but this is very incompletely stating the question. Capital eschews no profit, or very small profit, just as Nature was formerly said to abhor a vacuum. With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 per cent. will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 per cent. certain will produce eagerness; 50 per cent., positive audacity; 100 per cent., will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 per cent., and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, nor a risk it will not run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged. If turbulence and strife will bring a profit, it will freely encourage both. Smuggling and the slave-trade have amply proved all that is here stated.” (T. J. Dunning, l. c.,[Trades’ Uion and Strikes,] pp. 35-36).
(Marx, Karl, 1867: Capital, Vol. I;  in Karl Marx. Frederick Engels. Collected Works. Volume 35; London: Lawrence&Wishart, 1996: 748)

Or we may see a very subtle army in front of us – living in a society that is

so fully instructed in the art of [commodity] warfare, so perfectly knowing and following their colours, so ready to hear and obey their captains, so nimble to run, so strong at their charging, so prudent in their adventures, and every day so well disciplined, that they seemed rather to be a concert of organ-pipes, or mutual concord of the wheels of a clock, …

of course, the [commodity] added by me to the quote from Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel.

‘Global Nationalism’: Economics – Social Quality – Measurement


Traps of mathematisation, equivalence principle with the claim of exchangeability, individualisation and finally evidence.

The following are some general thoughts, employing my thinking while preparing the presentation for the Poverty Summer School at UCC -more than can be said, less than could be said but a minimum that should be considered, not onky when thinking about thinking about poverty.

This is a preliminary text, an elaborated version will be published elswhere.


General Introduction

Moving between the worlds – it means not least that one has to deal with different and multiple facets of a complex picture – and considerations on different aspects of analytical thinking are surely merging with some biographical moments.

All this is surely not least about different perspectives, different impressions and expressions alike. Things may look very clear if looked at in detail – but taking another perspective, a more distant view, they may emerge as something entirely different, something that is miraculously beautiful, magic.

Unfortunately such change is only optional – the changed perspective may also show something that is frightening, odious though it may also be that more distant views opens occasionally a door of some kind of social-romanticism.

The reality, its close investigation shows immediately another picture: niceties turn into a rather harsh reality for those who have to face it as matter of their everyday’s life, as condition under which they live … – I will return later to the point of conditions, just keep in mind that I mentioned the term already.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in his piece on Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship may give us some guidance, saying:

The fabric of our life is formed of necessity and chance; the reason of man takes its station between them, and may rule them both: it treats the necessary as the groundwork of its being; the accidental it can direct and guide and employ for its own purposes; and only while this principle of reason stands firm and inexpugnable, does man deserve to be named the god of this lower world.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1795/96), Lehrjahre I,17

EUrope and Social Policy

Now, moving – what did this include?

One aspect has to do with moving from at the time the rich EUropean centre to the poor EUropean periphery. At the apparently clear borders.

However, actually the lack of clarity brought me to Ireland – a project that started from looking at begging, and the initial topic emerging to defining street level economic activity: my students still have to suffer a little bit from this today.

But over time, this moving between worlds had also been a move between different disciplines, subject areas of social science, spanning between sociology, law and economics – mind, I do not speak of social policy.

It had been a long way – and although I maintained the commitment to combating poverty, my orientation shifted in several respects. For instance my commitment shifted from working within Ireland towards activities outside of Ireland, first ‘in Europe’.

You may allow one remark – a little personal memory of which I am a little bit fond of. It is concerned with a speech I gave in the European parliament – and I am not sure if I knew at the time exactly what I had been doing. But that is always my problem when I use slide shows. The special meeting in the building that should be the palace of EUropean democracy had been employed by quality and accessibility of services of general interest. It had been as if I had been quasi ridden by a demon – starting the presentation with a slide showing a reasonably young lady.

I would love to talk more about it, the young lady Europe, abducted by Zeus – abducted and apparently over all the years having forgotten her oppression, being tamed, domesticated by the divine bull, and now carrying herself the ring, not aiming on taming the beast but using it as device for self-discipline.

The Positive about and EUrope

Leaving Europe later, I mean: working in the vicinity of the EU-institutions, with and against them, had not been an immediate consequence – actually after a first little shock reaction part of what I said had been well recognised, my scepticism shared. Anyway I changed the field and orientation of activities, probably because at the end I had been hurt by the successors of Zeus and Europa, the daughter of Agenor.

To be honest, with turning away from Europe I am probably more European than I had been before, namely by valuing the European social model (I will name some of the ambiguity going hand in hand with this appreciation throughout the following). This valuation is not so much based on its supposed European values. It is not any celebration of an illusionist renaissance of the eudemian ethics as it is usually considered as Greek tradition (don’t get me wrong – I am full supporter of today’s fight for the Greek values of solidarity and fraternity amongst those who need and deserve it); my general appreciation is more about another root of European values:

I am talking about the Roman tradition, the Leges Duodecim Tabularum – the twelve tables as foundation of Roman law and as such the origin of the modern legal system of the Western democracies.

But of course, this poses immediately some very radical question: Positive law against negative developments, answering something that is considered to be fundamentally negative? Fighting poverty?

As much as there is immediately a question mark showing up on this admittedly attempted playful formulation of a very serious and complex issue, there must be another question mark showing up when it comes to ‘indicators’.

As much as Plato is known – and misunderstood – for his rather special reflections on love he should be also known for his view on figures. In his opinion figures had been real: for instance in a row of four figures, starting with 1, the figure 3 had been as real as the third wheel of a four-wheel drive even if you do not full see it.

And such platonic love of figures is frequently also applied to indicators: though being at first technically nothing else than a row of figures, they are suggested as reflection of a row of life situations, a consideration of complex pictures of life.

Social Policy as Part of the Critique of Political Economy

Understanding is only possible if we really look at such complex picture of life – and we should not be afraid to understand this as a fundamentally economic issue. As Frederick Engels put it in his work on the Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State:

According to the materialistic conception, the determining factor in history is, in the final instance, the production and reproduction of the immediate essentials of life. This, again, is of a twofold character. On the one side, the production of the means of existence, of articles of food and clothing, dwellings, and of the tools necessary for that production; on the other side, the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species. The social organization under which the people of a particular historical epoch and a particular country live is determined by both kinds of production: by the stage of development of labor on the one hand and of the family on the other.

This means production. But what does this mean when we talk about production everyday’s life? Life and it’s production occurs under certain conditions: the mode of production. Last week or so I talked to a friend in Budapest – obsessed by her engagement fighting unemployment. We met after she attended a little workshop on this topic. And she mentioned a little bit derogative – pointing at me – ‘the colleagues from your university’, meaning the Corvinus University in Budapest. The derogative undertone had been due to the fact that Corvinus is a kind of élite cadre school for economists.

Indeed, there is a major problem – to cut a long story short, the current relationship between economics and social (policy) science is comparable with the marriage of god and the devil.

First a loving couple, inseparable, they are now still welded together but, like fire and water, hating each other: odi et amo.

Maintaining the Pyramid – Stabilising the Foundation

Usually we see this hate-love-relation as one of the availability of resources – and especially in times like ours there is a sadly-good reason for this.

  • Recently looking at the queues in Cork, people looking for jobs abroad, ready to emigrate – if you like positive thinking you can say something like ‘Well, about four years ago there had been similar queues in front of the dole.’
  • In Budapest people sleeping rough … – actually many not sleeping rough anymore because the Hungarian government criminalised homelessness, begging, being cygan and you know what;
  • Teachers in Greece, feeding pupils because they are collapsing at schools – and we are speaking of privileged kids as many don’t even make the way to the lessons – actually I heard last weekend the same being now true as well for Germany;
  • And of course finally we have to point on those rough pictures showing us blunt murder in the middle of the global village.

These are just four examples – arbitrary as they are linked to recent personal experiences. But systematically capturing four main legs on which our global society is resting:

  • internationalisation by way of migration – and although the EU proclaims freedom of movement as central, the freedom of movement of persons is still the most difficult to realize;
  • criminalisation of the poor …, or we may say those who a not swimming with the stream
  • the failure of statutory systems, depending on self-help and charity (don’t speak here simply of solidarity though this surely plays a role)
  • and finally global trade as global mistreatment – German language allows for the play with words: the German word for trade is Handel, the word for mistreatment is Mißhandlung.

Acknowledging that this happens under the auspices of the welfare state, we should feel encouraged to defend the achievements but nevertheless enter a fundamentally critical debate of this system at the very same time.

There is surely a simple answer to this: redistribution – and I would be the last contesting the need for immediate steps – they have to be immediate and also massive.

This is importantly a different approach than frequent calls for the caring welfare state. The welfare state is undeniably one of the most important achievements of the last 150 years, incidentally the German Reich celebrates this year the 150th anniversary. – Social insurance had been favoured by the then German minister of trade, Graf von Itzenplitz. Bismarck took only the merit with himself through the history books though in the book of his life we find a chapter in which he is initially a strong opponent of what he characterised later by saying

Das ist Staatssozialismus, das ist praktisches Christentum in gesetzlicher Betätigung.

This is state socialism, it is practiced Christendom in legalised action.

But acknowledging the importance of this system, we should not forget to approach this system in a more systematic way. At least the following core moments should be highlighted:

First, the welfare state is not simply a matter of Three Worlds of Capitalism; rather, we are concerned with one answer on the changing capitalist mode of production.

Second, this system is fundamentally misunderstood if we see it as being centrally characterised by values like solidarity. On the contrary, the central point of this system has to be seen in its un-solidaristic character – it is from here, from the Calvinist negativity that the need and space for positive law emerges – and this is without doubt the most important and constructive factor which characterises the German social state, the Nordic welfare societies of the early 20th century and the welfare state that developed as Keynes-Beveridigian pattern after WW II, hatched by the German big capital and it’s fascist clerks.

Third, all this is also a matter of re-distribution: to some extent from the rich to the poor, to a larger extent between the phases of personal life cycles; and for a relative small remainder a matter of redistribution between generations. – And, we should not forget this important aspect: as such it opens a contradiction within the legal system. This legal system is first and foremost a matter of securing the individual right for exploitation – and a kind of ‘social intervention’ that actually contradicts in one way or another the principle gist of positive law, thus positioning positive law against its own spirit.

Fourth, we can detect a kind of sheet anchor: any ‘social intervention’ maintained a fundamental pattern which actually closely linking positive law, the feudal system and modern capitalism: I am talking about the principle of individualisation: in feudal societies it is the distinction between deserving and non-deserving poor, in capitalist societies it is the monetarisation of benefits – if you delve a little bit into economics and the analysis of money as general form of money you will easily see the connection.[1]

Fifth, all this is also behind the major issue that characterises the welfare systems, namely bureaucratisation – here only mentioned as catchword, without issuing the complex connotations and consequences.

We may see in this light the capitalist welfare system as – admittedly laudable – instrument that allows people to perform in their jobs; an instrument that does not allow to discuss what people’s job actually is.

Outrage – Out of Range

But leaving the general moments aside, we should not only and not primarily look at people – at least not at individuals. This is actually a fundamental problem with what is called social policy. It allowed and even enforced – as academic discipline and as area of policy-making – very much an individualising and normalising approach. And it did so by claiming independence of economics and the economy.

Only two points will be made in the following.

(i) Colin Crouch emphasised in a recent interview:

Essentially economic knowledge is today in such a way recognised which I cannot comprehend. Especially as economics is dealing with matters on an intellectual level which is distant from real, social life. Economists are abstract in their thinking; they are more akin to mathematicians. But nevertheless the results of their research and their abstract theories are widely perceived in the political sphere. And they are also idolised by the decision makers in the financial sector. This divide between their theory and life is very strange, simply an absurdity of the recent decades.

Colin Crouch: Tatsächlich wird ökonomisches Wissen heute in einer Weise gewürdigt, die mir völlig unverständlich ist. Gerade weil sich Wirtschaftswissenschaften auf einer intellektuellen Ebene mit den Dingen befassen, die weit vom realen, vom sozialen Leben entfernt ist. Ökonomen sind sehr abstrakte Menschen; sie gleichen eher Mathematikern. Und dennoch finden ihre Forschungsergebnisse und ihre abstrakte Theorie großen Nachhall in der Politik. Und sie werden auch von den Entscheidern im Finanzsektor verehrt. Diese Kluft zwischen ihrer Theorie und dem Leben ist sehr merkwürdig, schlicht eine Absurdität der letzten Jahrzehnte.

But investigating this in a wider perspective, the following remains. By separation from economics, social policy paradoxically enforced what it continues to criticise: an economistic model which departed from moral philosophy, arrived at a solely growth oriented model that culminates in two perversions. The first perversion is the take-over by micro-economics which nowadays dominates in large parts the entire discipline. Even much of macro-economics is strongly influenced by a fundamentally individualist approach, actually applying micro-economic considerations on the level of a national economy (and on the global economic development also). The second perversion is both, foundation and consequence of this: an empiricist pragmatism which emerges already very early and finds its roots in Cartesian thinking. Franz Borkenau brings this on the point, saying that

[a]bsolute empiricism conforms to pure practicism, which completely denies the problematique of norms

This seems to be a never-ending story – as quick-motion captured by pointing on

* Descartes’statement

Ac proinde hæc cognitio, ego cogito, ergo sum, est omnium prima & certissima, quæ cuilibet ordine philosophanti occurrat.

i.e. the

proposition, I think, therefore I am, is the first and the most certain which presents itself to whoever conducts his thoughts in order

* being translated by Locke into the legal form as an ‘individualised social right’, namely the emphasis of private property as fundamental and all decisive

so that it cannot justly be denied him, when his pressing wants call for it: and therefore no man could ever have a just power over the life of another by right of property in land or possessions

* followed by Smith’ Invisible Hand

by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain; and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention

* being translated into a general rule of social science where

particular acts of individual persons, since these alone can be treated as agents in a course of subjectively understandable action

* and finding its latest expression in

  • the privatisation of an up to hitherto public sector
  • closely interrelated with a tightened individualised mindset – talking about the latter I do not think primarily about not helping granny across the street; or perhaps I think exactly about this. Provocatively – and everybody has to know that I actually am reasonably supportive where I can – the question can be posed this way: why do I have to help everybody across the street while society actually ceases to exist, exactly as doing what the Iron Lady stated with a normative notion.

I am well aware of the provocation, I am also well aware of the danger of conservative abuse. The problem is however a rather simple one: we live in societies that are hugely, fundamentally and on different levels characterised by contradictions.

One of these contradictions is captured by elitism on the one hand – estimation easily expressed in words and rarely in deeds, measured in awards, publications, income but not in ‘being’ – and performance orientation on the other hand, not least the requirements that have to be fulfilled by the deserving poor – sure, workfare is killing softly, not applying the swift stroke of warfare.

(ii) Now it seems to be easy to develop the counter argument: if societal figurations that are based on and thinking in figures lost their norms we just have to return to norms, i.e. from the vicious cycle of greed to the virtuous cycle of good deeds. Even one of the key-figures of number-juggling-economics supposedly stated the comfortingly that

[t]he day is not far off when the economic problem will take the back seat where it belongs, and the arena of the heart and the head will be occupied or reoccupied, by our real problems – the problems of life and of human relations, of creation and behavior and religion.

And again we face one of the many paradoxes: the critiques of the figures provide numerous studies with myriads of figures, permanently updated and permanently more shocking and … – I may quote a student from last year, who said: But we all know this, all this had been said so often but nothing seems to change. And I may quote a younger colleague who said the other day: I am 52 now and looking back, having worked in many different jobs and sometimes I am wondering if I achieved anything. The first time I met him though without knowing of even really encountering each other had been on the occasion of the first so-called National Poverty Conference in Austria. I had been on the panel with somebody from the EUC, and – cutting a ling story short – after her official presentation, and after I talked about the EUC’s program policy it had been her turn again: I am so grateful that you made these fundamentally critical remarks – I would have said the same but we as officials are not allowed to say things like that.

So we find a play with numbers against injustice and – I am convinced an honest indignation and good will to do better. And this is something we find on the right and on the left, and in the middle of the political spectrum and anyway going hand in hand with the spectre of the good doers. On The Spirit Level we are reminded Why Social Justice Matters. And as much I help granny across the street, I find such figures revealing, shocking and of course, Stéphane Hessel is right. It is

Time for Outrage!

But this social injustice is much more than revealing and shocking – earlier I said I pointed on global trade, saying that the ‘German language allows for the play with words: the German word for trade is Handel, the word for mistreatment is Mißhandlung.’

The Anti-Globalist Moment of Global Capitalism

Rather than maintaining the division between economic and social dimension we have to emphasise that there is no such thing as the economic or the social as separate sphere. The entire work of Karl Marx can be seen a critique of political economy, and that means as critique of the entire system of how people produce the social conditions under which they live. And this means that we have to look at the determination of the value of labour power as the core poverty question today. Although I will not be able to do this in its entirety, it is less complicated than it seems to be – many of my colleagues probably make it looking complicated in order to increase their own income and/or to disguise the power question, the interest of the one percent as it is frequently called today. Mentioned will be some core points – presented by some catchwords – and selected with some focus on those that highlight facts that are of crucial importance in the present context.

* We are living – so new, of course – in the era of global capitalism. Yes, and the only reason for mentioning it is the need to qualify it

  • the system is still to a large extent dominated by national interests – as easily seen by the current Euro-debates, showing that even a regional identity falls easily victim of nationalist interest (no, the recent referendum doesn’t show the opposite!)
  • the system is largely dominated by a relatively small number of enterprises: exactly (yes, numbers … ):

147 companies formed a ‘super entity’ within this, controlling 40 per cent of its  wealth. All own part or all of one another. Most are banks – the top 20 includes Barclays and Goldman Sachs. But the close connections mean that the network could be vulnerable to collapse.

The 1,318 transnational corporations that form the core of the globalised economy connections show partial ownership of one another, and the size of the circles corresponds to revenue. The companies ‘own’ through shares the majority of the ‘real’ economy

  • This means that this capitalism is at least in three respects not simply global capitalism.
    First, it is finance capitalism – this is a fundamentally different system than that capitalism that stands at the beginning of this epoch. A brief remark may be useful, referring to a presentation Joerg Huffschmidt gave in Vienna,

dealing with some basic economic problems, pointing on especially five issues. These are outlined in the following:

the divergence between finance capital and social product since 1980 – whereas the first multiplied by 16, the latter only by 5.5;

the international character of the financial assets, i.e. their origin in another country than that of its current location which is a trend that can be found in developed and developing countries alike;

the permanent redistribution of income from the bottom to the top from which a lack of purchasing power is the unavoidable consequence;

the tendency to privatise the pension funds with the consequence of huge amounts of capital being held in private finance schemes rather than money being paid to the pensioners in PAYG-schemes;

the liberalisation of capital movement which means that investment can be undertaken in any place which had been limited under the Bretton Woods system.

(see also Herrmann: The End of Social Services; Economisation and Managerialism; Bremen/Oxford: EHV: 34)

  • Second, it is controlled by a minority of capitalists and then again, a minority of this minority being ‘productive capitalists’.
    In his rather populist book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, Ha-Joon Chang highlighted recently what had been frequently highlighted by serious economists: That the ‘developed capitalism’ actually lost its innovative power and on the other side many of those who are blamed for not having entrepreneurial skills would actually have the skills but would lack the conditions to implement them.
    Third – and this is the crucial aspect, we may say the Holy Spirit of the system – it is a capitalist system that in the course of the development of the previously named factors undermines the fundamental law of its own existence: generating value through production and with this the standard for determining the value of the labour force. We may refer to Marx famous statement that

At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or — what is but a legal expression for the same thing — with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.

  • At least two important analytical problems remain for political economy, namely to determine if and to which extent the current changes are changes of the productive forces or changes of reproductive and distributive forces. It may be possible to solve this by taking Marx’ understanding of production very serious; however, it may also be necessary to overcome the understanding of the solely productivist underpinning of the mode of production and to open with this consideration a path to ‘social production’ – we may find here something going into the direction envisaged in the paragraph of the German Ideology

In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.

  • Giovanni Arrighi allows us to understand more of the current processes that systematically drives us into poverty – and the us means here: the supposed rich nations. The excess of money took various forms – being originally closely attached to productive processes, taking then the form of ‘pure financial speculation’. The latter process moves at some stage beyond it own limits and combines itself with the speculation against states. However, in the meantime financial assets reached such dimensions that speculation is now taking the form of speculation that brings states themselves to the frontline – now as objects of speculation. Arrighi, taking a long-term historical perspective, shows the rise and fall of major states and empires. The basic pattern follows the sequence accumulation, over-accumulation, investment of excess capital in other countries and there the unfolding of a capitalist-civilisation, with a subsequent new over-accumulation, searching for new investment opportunities abroad. Concrete Arrighi analyses the development from the Florentine to the Venetian, then the Genoese, followed by the Dutch and the English and finally reaching the peaking American capitalism. And in the more recent analysis on Adam Smith in Beijing he outlines the possible future development.
    Of course, this is not simply a matter of straightforward replacement but involves a complex structural change of the national/regional economies and the world economy.

* We find a feature that seems to be rather remarkable if looked at against the backdrop of the mainstream publicised arguments, namely the increasing relative share of wages going hand in hand with the decreasing statutory debt while social spending increased.

* This links to another important moment: We are not talking about the lack of money but about the search for new profitable investment opportunities. We can follow a rise of capital since a long time and equally remarkable is the growth of financial assets. In particular the latter means that over the years we see actually an increase on excess money.
The volume of finance transactions is currently about 70 times the amount of the entire world’s social product, about 20 years ago this amounted to about 15 %. The following table may give you an impression.
Part of this is the already mentioned speculation against states.
I currently hope to be able to elaborate together with Marica Frangakis from the Nicos Poulantzas Institute in Athens a brief analysis, of which the gist can be presented as follows from a first outline I wrote:

Talking about re-distribution, there is something that is in my opinion one area which is largely lacking consideration. We find obviously on a large scale a price-reduction of the commodity of labour power. I think it is hugely important to understand this as complex issue.

Probably one can tentatively look at eh following outline of the problem:

  • production is in general highly socialised
  • by outsourcing part of it (small and family business, precarious positions, the ‘voluntary work for google’) is re-privatised
  • part of it is then also redefined as public cost:
  • + direct transfer from the corporations
  • + as “social spending”
  • which translates into a pool for private investment/financialisation.

* With this we come to a major point in the economic analysis – and it will soon be clear that ‘economic’ development really means socio- and also political-economic development. A quick look at this graph may give way to some insight – a simplification within the limits of the allowed.

Usually, what Kondratiev called bol’shie tsiklys, which has to be translated with ‘major cycles’, is known as Kondratiev waves, long waves or long economic cycle. It is a rather simple and in many respects actually questionable economic model. But leaving the problems with the model aside, it can help us to get an understanding of the battlefield when we are looking at poverty. I leave providing empirical evidence aside – and indeed it is not about numbers. We can highlight the following major issues of the development:

  • We are speaking about economic growth but now it has to be qualified as matter of growth of the ‘productivist sectors’, going qualitatively beyond simple numeric growth of an abstract national product.
  • This is on the one hand carried by entrepreneurial individuals and groups
  • on the other hand it offers investment opportunities for excess money (namely over-accumulated capital) – in some way we may speak of a repeated original or better, with David Harvey: accumulation by dispossession – or even better (with me) as accumulation by appropriation.
  • Speaking of economic growth we have to observe that this does not translate smoothly into any kind of wealth. On the contrary, in some kind we find the opposite: finance capital being taken out of the sphere of circulation and speculation, risky investment ending in several cases with ‘bankruptcy-start-ups’, … but not least: the risk in many cases ‘outsourced’: from the investor to the workforce. In short and simplified it means that take-off phases are very much characterised by a specific pattern of pauperisation, taking n particular two forms: precarisation and pressure on wages, both reinforcing each other;
  • this is accompanied – and made possible – by a reduction of the cost of the labour force – a complex issue, ranging from direct pressure on wages, direct subsidies received by investors from the state, taxation, state investment in infrastructure including bureaucracy and security, redistribution within and between the capitalist classes/groups, including the thrift shops/discounters and charitabilisation.
  • This is in its own respect a factor which at least temporarily opens new fields of investment
  • as consequence we see increasingly that poverty has many manifestations.
  • Change of life styles is another major point in question. Looking at the row of path-breaking technological developments as they are highlighted as characterising the major cycles, can easily show this. All those inventions: steam engine, railway steel, electrical engineering/chemistry, petrochemicals/automobiles, information technology did have a major impact on the way of life – and this is true for all levels and walks of life. We could not even imagine a life without several items that are based on these inventions – and the attentive reader of Karl Marx first volume of Capital will easily recall the mocking, and in Part III of Frederick Engels’ Anti-Duehring, the author cynically asks Where did he get the sword? giving himself the answer: Even on the imaginary islands of the Robinson Crusoe epic, swords have not, up to now, been known to grow on trees, … – In short: there is no such thing as life without and outside of society.
    But having stated this, we are facing a paradox: as much as socialisation is increasing: the dependence on society, this means at the same time that this socialisation itself allows increasing independence. We are dealing with a complex relationality, exceptionally well captured by Norbert Elias. He allows us to understand why Friedrich von Schiller states (after he looked with disappointment at the French Revolution)

Man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays.

One fact is of special interest – actually justifying some of the traditional social policy orientation: the suggestion that social policy is distinct from the economy. Today the determination of the value of labour is to some extent again taken outside of the economic framework. Managers and enterprises respectively play outside of the pitch, nevertheless being in many cases allowed to claim the merit. Stories like those of the Ex-Aldi-manager Andreas Straub are not rare, corporate charitability (for instance part of the soup-kitchens) is another aspect and not least the fact of wages under the level needed to secure subsistence. And it is striking that this is a picture that applies not least to those nations that are usually considered to be the leading industrial powers, the richest nations.

What can and should be said is: the patterns of poverty today are not least different in the structural pattern. We may lament, looking at the increasing number of people living in poverty, we may commiserate the poor – and of course we are looking and we have to look for ways to help the people living in poverty – and we have to remember: all this is not least a matter of bringing together the social and the individual and also the subjective and the objective. Is there anything on this world that can better visualise this truly complex relationality than money?

Social Quality – A Proposal for a New Orientation

So, obviously guidance is needed

We are asked to look forward and also to look to the sides. And furthermore we are asked to maintain Albert Einstein’s insight, namely that

[t]he pure form of insanity is to maintain things as they are and nevertheless to hope that something changes.

Actually, what the wise man said is not less known amongst ordinary people and even by ordinary walls are telling us

All said: This doesn’t work.

Then somebody arrived

who didn’t know this –

and simply did it.


Getting serious now, a first fundamental point I want to make – and of course it is a little bit a provocation to say this on this occasion – is that we should not primarily look at poverty. It had been done for many times and there is obviously no light at the end of the tunnel. Some flickering here and there in a surrounding that remains caught within the limitations of a tube. Actually we may get the impression that things are getting worse, that problem zones shifted to previously unknown areas – but major changes are not is sight. Tony Atkinson, on the occasion of a presentation he gave at UCC, presented an interesting development. We find on the global level some improvement of the material living conditions in the so-called developing countries, i.e. the living standard improving in countries as especially the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) but also in Bolivia or Venezuela; however, this development is complemented by a relative decrease of living standards in the so-called developed world. In other words, we find a U-turn which can be summarised by an increasing divergence in an international perspective: Rather than rich countries standing against poor countries, we find increasingly the world’s rich against the world’s poor. – Caution is required as this is only part of the picture and the reality is still showing a mind-blowing division between rich and poor nations. And importantly we find that poverty – without being overcome – is reasonably well under control in those countries where policies are not targeted but where targeting is part of a social policy for all and links into the firm establishment of ‘general social responsibility’ taken up by the state.

Second, at the centre stage stands the definition of the social, understood as

outcome of the interaction between people (constituted as actors) and their constructed and natural environment. Its subject matter refers to people’s interrelated productive and reproductive relationships. In other words, the constitutive interdependency between processes of self-realisation and processes governing the formation of collective identities is a condition for the social and its progress or decline.

This will be taken up again at a later stage. Here is only important to become aware of a broad understanding to emphasise that we should refrain from referring to a general normative concept, based on claimed general values, abstract evidence and assumed commonalities. The social is something that has to be clearly analysed, of which the different facets have to be determined not as part of a primarily normative system but as part of a complex system. We are dealing with the social as noun, thus allowing us to understand the substance rather than assuming it. Also important is the constitutive aspect that is eleentary part of the entire setting. Neglecting this important difference is also a key issue behind the permanent confusion in social policy. We hear of anti-social behaviour, we learn about claims for a new social contract, we are confronted with enterprises claiming corporate social responsibility and …, and we hear our students saying But we all know this, all this had been said so often but nothing seems to change.

Indeed, in some respect it is difficult to decide where the following sentence comes from:

Ut solis naturalibus (cupiditatibus) necessariisque adhaerentes, eas, quae nec naturales sunt, net necessariae, negligamus.

Is it from some more recent moral philosophy as promoted by Martha Nussbaum or the personally highly esteemed Amartya Sen; is it a translated sentence from the report on the on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress; is it from an alternative, green-economy claim or is it simply what the original language in which had been originally written suggests: a claim put forward a long time ago by an idealist searching for and preaching a good life. – Indeed, the latter applies: it is taken from the works of Pierre Gassendi, an idealist French philosopher, living between 1592 and 1655. At the core, Gassendi pleads for modesty, for a life being guided by ‘natural needs’.

Third, a major problem is the obsession with quantification. This goes much beyond the celebration of everything that can be expressed in figures. The major problem goes far deeper – and it is useful to look at least briefly at the historical background. Quantification emerges as major issue in science – and this means in today’s terms: natural and social science – at a specific point in time. With Franz Borkenau we can point on three principles:

  1. The rules of production in the period of manufacturing are very much based on the quantification and the quantitative comparison which is used in the form of equivalents. – This is not only a matter of market exchange but also a matter of the process of production itself, i.e. the technical side of manufacturing.
  2. Especially emerging in connection with the completion of individualisation, the principle of equivalence is applied in general, going far beyond the array of production and exchange.
  3. With this a final aim is an ‘all-rational system’, a general rationality that aims on justifying the capitalist rationality by suggesting the categories of formal law and exchange of equivalents as general rules of the world order.

Otfried Höffe elaborates on this in the work on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, highlighting that

[t]he basic content of the first principle, taken with that of the second, presents mathematisation as a transcendental law of nature, or, more briefly put, as transcendental mathematisation.

Höffe continues by highlighting that mathematisation is in Kant’s view also a matter that has to be applied on intuitions, namely

[a]ll intuitions, as matter of specific spatio-temporal extension, necessarily possess a quantitative character as extensive magnitudes.


[h]e grounds the process of mathematisation in the essence of the object: insofar as nature consists in intuitively given, and thus in spatio-temporally extended, data, then objectivity is necessarily bound to quantity, and quantity in turn is bound to extensive magnitudes. Every objective intuition is therefore a case of ‘applied’ mathematics.

This seems to be far-fetched – but we can easily draw from here a line to later developments in social science: the positivism as proclaimed by August Comte but also to some extent the Marxist claim that society could finally be broken down to mathematical formulas.

Fourth, evidence is a main issue in today’s debates in social science – for instance the European Commission highlighted this in the Communication The European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion: A European framework for social and territorial cohesion. There is surely good reason to request informed reasoning behind any decisions, and of course the planning of decisions. It seems to be taken without question that the strongest evidence is given by numbers, especially numbers understood in a Platonic way as something real. But the flipside of looking for evidence should not be underestimated. Evidence, in simple translation, suggests a fact that cannot be challenged.

One of the major problems with can be seen in the underlying reference to a set of norms that are not questioned and also usually not questionable – going back to the Latin root of ex – videntem this is getting especially obvious: taking visibility as proof is logically limited to affirmation.

Fifth, taking the first definition of evidence as provided in the Merriam-Webster dictionary: evidence as outward sign, i.e. indicator, we face a problem with this definition. The Latin root of the term indictor is in this case actually not directing us to evidence but to something entirely different, we may even say that we arrive at the opposite. In – dicare is about valuing something, speaking about something and a proclamation. (a) That a proclamation has to be made means first and foremost that the proclaimed matter is not self-evident – otherwise it would not be necessary to speak about it. (b) It is reasonable to see such indication as something that is not fixed, finally determined and self-contained – rather it is an indication by way of opening a field for detailed exploration, and also lines which have to explored for finding the way across the field. As stated in a forthcoming article, indicators

are not measurement instruments sui generis. Rather they are instruments for developing an understanding of complex issues and their trends.  As such they need to be guided by a sound conceptual reflection of what they are looking for. For instance, we need work on securing the basic means for existence for human society by  indicator studies, and to make actions on both aspects of reserving natural resources and self-restriction on our consumptional behaviours.

Sixth, what had been said with respect to indicators is of course also part of a political debate which takes place in various realms. To explore this further I start with a quote from a document we are elaborating from the EFSQ for the Rio+20 Earth Summit

Generating values is not seen as matter of what people are doing, as core of the productive process itself and as such linked to use values. On the contrary, such argument proposes that generating values is equal to generating money. A fundamental consequence of their proposal of pragmatic ‘synthetic indicators’ is that they are not based in processes which determine the impossibility or possibility of sustainable urban development. Sustainable urban development as a condition of development toward sustainability is not the subject of their analysis. And this is the case with nearly all recent studies about sustainability. They remain two worlds apart. Their pragmatic based indicators cannot function as mediators between both worlds, because they are neither theoretically nor methodologically related to both worlds. For relevant politics and policies to address the most important challenge of human mankind this point is highly crucial and should be addressed for making progress.

The point I want to make with this reflection is not linked to sustainability and urban development – although these are important issues too. At this stage, the important point is the processuality – and with this relationality. Though on a seemingly rather abstract level, we are now dealing with some more technical issues of the Social Quality Approach. Of course, this is in very general terms widely recognised – we find in poverty analysis since at least about 20 years the acknowledgement of time series analysis, looking at how poverty develops during the life course of people. This is surely an important development, not least allowing to see that people living in poverty may move temporarily above a suggested threshold, but obviously remaining unable to settle properly in positions that allow a permanent change of the situation. And of course, it is one of the truisms at least for Sunday-sermons that the homo sapiens is a zoon politicon – actually it is an interesting exercise to look at the fundamentally individualist notion of pure Aristotelian thinking.

Simplifying tentatively processuality and relationality we can refer to the

constitutive interdependency is created by the outcomes of the inter- play between two basic tensions.

This is then explained in the following:

The horizontal axis mirrors the tension between systems, institutions and organisations on the one side, and the lifeworld of communities, families, networks and groups on the other. The vertical axis mirrors the tension between biographical life courses and societal developments of collective identities (the open ones and the closed ones).

Important is that this is only a framework within which the assessment moves – and talking about the assessment means to look into two directions: the one is the analytical perspective and the other is about the development of political strategies. And as much as technical issues have to be considered, we are at the end dealing with political issues, i.e. not least: issues that are based in interests and lead to conflicts. Second, it is important to acknowledge that this requires searching for the qualitative moments, i.e. the qualitative aspects that are actually filling this space. However, saying ‘filling this space’ does not mean that we are dealing with a closed space. Being defined by two tensions, the framework is itself characterised by shifting borders.

Seventh, right at the beginning I said that ‘the reality, its close investigation shows immediately another picture: niceties turn into a rather harsh reality for those who have to face it as matter of their everyday’s life, as condition under which they live … – as promised I am returning to this point, namely the question of conditions. We arrive subsequently at the core set of factors that are of immediate relevance for policy making, namely at what we call conditional factors. These are

  • Socio-economic security: the ownership of the necessary material and other resources;
  • Social cohesion: the existence of the necessary collective accepted values and norms;
  • Social inclusion: the accessibility of the institutional and structural context; and
  • Social empowerment: the extent to which social structures enhance the capability to interact in daily life.

Eighth, though not entirely limited to it, conditions are only one side of the outlined perspective. Conditions as such are only marking potentials – not less but not more. This is has been frequently addressed. Of course, an interesting debate is opening from here on the entire range of different thoughts on freedom. Leaving this aside, we may look for instance at August Comte. In his case, the subject deserves special attention as it is the rejection of an autonomous subject that is employing his thinking. But nevertheless he elaborates the development as reflexive process, society creating itself by reference to its own conditions and developing these further. Taking another position, many will of course remember immediately Karl Marx’ analysis of the class relationships and the famous point he made in the work on Poverty of Philosophy with respect of the development of the class-struggle. There he wrote:

Economic conditions had first transformed the mass of the people of the country into workers. The combination of capital has created for this mass a common situation, common interests. This mass is thus already a class as against capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle, of which we have noted only a few phases, this mass becomes united, and constitutes itself as a class for itself. The interests it defends become class interests. But the struggle of class against class is a political struggle.

And another interesting reference can be made to Ernst Bloch who discusses the perspective on potentiality in his work on The Principle of Hope. He points on four dimensions, namely (i) the formally possible – what is possible according to its logical structure; (ii) the objectively possible – possible being based on assumptions on the ground of epistemologically based knowledge; (iii) the objectively possible – possible as it follows from the options inherently given by the object; (iv) and the objectively real possible – possible by following the latency and tendency which is inherent in its elementary form.

So we have to look at the driving forces, which are in the Social Quality Approach mainly presented as constitutional factors, outlined in the following.

  • personal (human) security: the existence of rights and acceptable rules;
  • social recognition: the experience of respect by others;
  • social responsiveness: the openness of groups, communities and systems; and
  • personal (human) capacity: the possibilities to relate to other people.

Ninth, if we summarise the before mentioned as structure and process, we may look at a third dimension which can be seen as matter of guidance, the orientations given as normative factors. Mind, in the social quality perspective these are not the point of departure. Rather, it is a set that emerges from the interaction itself. One may say, in any historically given point in time they are evident – and as such they are also contested. This contest is not least a matter of the oscillation between the different horizons of possibilities/opportunities as they had been mentioned before with reference to Ernst Bloch. The normative factors are as follows:

  • Social justice as a specific characteristic of social relations based on the existing nature of socio-economic security as an outcome of interventions by social actors reflecting their personal (human) security.
  • Solidarity as a specific characteristic of social relations based on the existing nature of social cohesion as an outcome of interventions by social actors, reflecting social recognition.
  • Equal value as a specific characteristic of social relations based on the existing nature of social inclusion as an outcome of interventions by social actors underpinned by social responsiveness.
  • Human dignity as a specific characteristic of social relations based on the existing nature of social empowerment as an outcome of interventions by social actors with personal (human) capacity.

Tenth, we come to most important point – and for fully acknowledging this we have to remember briefly what had been said earlier, namely under III and IV of this section. The orientation on evidence had been rejected for two reasons: quantification is not simply about number-juggling – more important is a specific ideology or mindset: calculability (i) being reduced on quantifiable schemes and (ii) caught in the cage of affirmation by searching for evidence. This is not a rejection of indicator research; and it is definitely not suggesting to take an approach of any subjective assessment. But as said, indicators

are not measurement instruments sui generis. Rather they are instruments for developing an understanding of complex issues and their trends.

This means that the data we re looking at are very much those that are commonly used. It may be worth in a side-remark that there had been actually no major changes when we look back over the last decades: (i) the topics and even more so the indicators did by and large not change, (ii) the methods of calculations are increasingly complicated, (iii) the dissatisfaction is equally growing and (iv) recourse is made to subjective, normative approaches which raise more questions than offering answers. Taking the social serious, we need to look at the complex relationship not only of people but of people as actors and also the complex interactions. So far we have four elements for the social quality approach:

  • the to basic tensions
  • the conditional factors
  • the constitutional factors
  • the normative factors.

The major challenge is to bring these together. Looking at the actual meaning of the tree sets:

  • conditional factors being a matter of opportunities and contingencies – and their limitations
  • constitutional factors as processes and
  • normative factors as orientation

We have some debate now also in the EFSQ, not least in the collaboration with Asian colleagues, if these factors are actually fundamentally different, if compared with the traditional approaches. So we may try to articulate the more or less fundamental differences. Niklas Luhmann talked about background noise, that is not directly interfering, determining societal development but nevertheless being decisive as a factor, supporting or even evoking certain developments or hindering, possibly blocking other developments. May be that the Social Quality Approach is something like this: a background noise, a challenge that we have to keep permanently in mind, not least as a standard which we may never reach but which we are striving for and which as such influences our research, politics and policies.

Leaving aside what it actually means to bring the three sets of factors together, it is more important to point on the four perspectives for which the approach is important:

  1. it is an academic tool,
  2. it is about politics
  3. it is about policy
  4. it is about a polity

Eleventh, finally a few concrete issues shall conclude the contribution – examples rather than an attempt to offer a comprehensive picture.


Social Policy – Economic Policy – Rights – Care. These four terms are opening a field going much beyond the four topics in the strict sense. Stretching this to an ultimate border we can say that the historical perspective on the rise and fall of empires is closely related to the their integration and dissolution.

Development seems to be intrinsically linked to – or even depending on – a process of dissolution – we find it discussed under major catchwords as division of labour, social divisions, specialisation, individualisation and the like. We could leave it there, trusting in the self-referential survival of the new units – it is important to see that such dissolution actually means establishment of new, distinct units. But as we are still dealing with human beings as social beings and as we are still living in societies, we have to think about the framing. Indeed, we find frequent new inventions, aiming at integration and integrity. Social security, social insurance, Folkhemmet, welfare state, social protection. And of course, we should not forget the brute fascist Volksgemeinschaft, the gated communities, Etzioni’s Responsive Communitarian movement … and a recent idea of these ‘good societies’ we find the term ‘social investment systems’ – a friend in Brussels told me yesterday that this is now increasingly replacing the term ‘social protection systems’. It would be easy to reject this new yarn. And on some level I am willing to contest such notion. It is the fundamental problem of a society that is caught in a linear concept of hierarchical thinking where people are celebrated on occasions if it suits, and where they are victim so of mobbing if it suits better – unfortunately we find this pattern on all ways of life, and we find it without that this would be a matter of degrading intentions.

However, aren’t we in fact all standing helplessly in front of a wall of evidences – thus overlooking the evidence of the wall? In any case, without having a solution at hand, there is for social policy at least one thing more than obvious: If we reduce the economic dimension of social policy on the dimension of ‘resources’ and the ‘productivity of workforce’, we will fall short and we will be left helpless: at best a ‘caring society’ without rights.

Sure, only few will refuse to provide charitable help, care where care is needed, protect weak people who are left unprotected – and we may ask if it is at the end a bad thing that only few people thinking in the individual about the unintended sight effect: social policy establishing a cage that protects the weak and the culprits alike – and if donations are Bono – ops, I mean buono, i.e. high enough. As much as I believe in the honesty behind a lot of the good-doing, talk about re-distribution, we have to be sincere in what we mean. Here we have to be determined to mean production. Otherwise we are facing a structural problem – and this is again linked to equivalence principle and the claim of exchangeability. In short, I am ready to enter a serious dispute with Lieve Fransen – and serious would not mean to contest his good will but to show in detail where his evidence is evidently a political-economic trap.

We may speak of a monopolisation paradox – the limitation of rationality on evidences which make it factually impossible to ‘be wrong’.


Without going too much into detail at least the following is remarkable when we take a reasonably wide perspective we can say (there is good reason for taking an even wider perspective, and also to go more into details): the EU is since a long time monitoring the development, setting up new programs and frameworks and is by and large hiding with a kind of hyper-activity a standstill. We still find difficulties when it comes to a truly democratic EUropean policy making – and I claim to say this as somebody who worked up to recently for a little bit more than 20 years in more or less close proximity of the European institutions. Don’t get me wrong: I do not think that there simple solutions. And saying this means that I do not believe in a replication of patterns that may have worked on national levels on the European level. Nor do I believe in governance as it had been initially proposed by Jerome Vignon, at the time developing the proposal in his position within the Forward Study Unit. I am personally grateful for Vignon’s contribution – and I mean personally also in terms of the readiness to consult, to respect other positions and positions of others and not least his readiness to stand upright with his opinion against others. However, looking at governance, a major flaw has to be seen in the following: the way forward had been too closely caught in early if not pre-capitalist notions. Voluntarism, social responsibility, general interest and the acceptance of equality as generally accepted value cannot be taken as given.

On the contrary, latest since the late 19th century we see that capitalist growth is leading to inequality and conflicts. Though Lenin is probably the one who is best known for pointing on the conflictual constellation of imperialism – and thus many while the argument out – a critical discussion has a much broader background.

Already Adam Smith is very critical about it, stating

A great empire has been established for the sole purpose of raising up a nation of customers who should be obliged to buy from the shops of our different producers all the goods with which these could supply them. For the sake of that little enhancement of price which this monopoly might afford our producers, the home-consumers have been burdened with the whole expence of maintaining and defending that empire. For this purpose, and for this purpose only … a new debt of more than a hundred and seventy millions has been contracted over and above all that had been expended for the same purpose in former wars. The interest of this debt alone is not only greater than the whole extraordinary profit which it ever could be pretended was made by the monopoly of the colony trade, but than the whole value of that trade …

Leaving the more theoretical debate aside, we can also look at the recent developments – and here in particular the Irish case which delivers the pattern which had been repeated in many other countries like for instance my current country of residence, striving for a tiger model: economic growth meant at the very same time increasing economic inequality. But the especially important issues on the political level cannot be expressed in any figures – at least the figures are only expressing a small part. The real political dangers are

  • the loss of the public,
  • the loss of the general interest
  • by its translation into quantifiable indivdualist relations, based on the principles of exchange and equivalence
  • and finally the fostering of administratisation or managerialsation of the now calculable space.

To make this clear: the red-tape is not cause but consequence of a social mind-set that lost its substance to an invisible hand.

Of course, this is not a recent issue – and a differentiated analysis is required. However, the strict orientation on growth policies is highly problematic.

We can look against this background at the Commission’s Annual Growth Survey, issues in November 2011. There we read that

[f]or 2012, the Commission considers that efforts at national and EU level should concentrate on the following five priorities:

  • pursuing differentiated, growth-friendly fiscal consolidation;
  • restoring normal lending to the economy;
  • promoting growth and competitiveness;
  • tackling unemployment and the social consequences of the crisis;
  • modernising public administration

As we see in the Flash Eurobarometer 338, issued in April 2012 the meaning of these policies, i.e. social impact of the crisis: public perceptions in the European Union the results are sobering.

It is important to see the connection – to be exact: the disconnection. A growth strategy is at the centre stage of a European Union with a population of about 502,000,000 people – it is a strategy that is seen as evident condition for overcoming poverty, it is a strategy that aims on increasing both: private production and private consumption and that is factually serving a minority, contributes to further personal and regional concentration of wealth, that drives entire countries into disastrous situations, that allows presidents with faked PhDs and psychotic prime-ministers to govern and finally creates regional despotism and nurtures neo-fascism – the perspective of a harsh reality you may easily overlook when travelling as touristy, sipping your Tokajer, eat a delicious platter of French cheeses, smell the Greek coffee or enjoy a beer, brewed according to strict German purity law.

Both, arguments brought forward on grounds of supposedly evident values and also proposals for simple institutionalist changes are likely to fail. The problem is the tension of equality as political and economic category – and the challenge is to seriously discuss again political economy rather than limiting the debate on economics and political-social technology.

One of the fundamental problems is that democracy is now itself increasingly seen as technical issue: bound to the principle of national sovereignty, i.e. also: the sovereignty of the nation state; and bound to the arithmetic formula of equivalence exchange.

We may speak of an equality paradox.


A fundamental problem has to be seen in the very limitation of our thinking as it had been outlined under the major headings: quantification/mathematisation, equivalence principle and claim of exchangeability, individualisation and finally evidence.

I am not entirely sure if it is possible to determine any original sin, any prelapsarian state. Fact is that a mind-set, caught by these dimensions has extremely limited capacities to deal with multiple contradictions. I did not change mind – perhaps even on the contrary. But that society is marked by an antagonistic class contradiction is only side. The other is to recognise the development of the productive forces as drive behind development. And this means to recognise also the contradictions, tensions and fractures. I want to highlight only four.

1) There are lost securities on one side – the ‘social security system’ on the one side, surely progress but not less sure a mechanism that had been intrinsically bound to the emergence of the capitalist system. To mechanically maintain social security systems means to maintain capitalism.

2) Retirement – and over the years a reduced pension eligibility age – are surely a huge relief. But where is the simple answer to the subsequent loss of social identity in a society that is strictly and in nearly all respects – even when it comes to defining old age pension – based in the idea of own ‘gainful employment’ in form of quantifiable and equivalent exchange?

3) Big society is again a big thing – and commenting on a recent publication by Armine Ishkanian an Simon Szreter, titled The Big Society Debate, Bill Jordan says that

There is nothing new about the notion of a Big Society.

I dare to disagree to some extent. I follow Bill to the point to which ‘civil society’ – in various forms and under different headings had been interpreted in highly problematic ways. However, I would like to problematise the statement in two regards. First, I think it overestimates the strategic diabolic intelligence – I see in the rulers more naïvety combined with obsession for power. Second, the understanding of civil society that is underlying David Cameron’s thinking is in multiple respects inconsiderate: Civil society today is not the same as it had been when it had been when it had been for instance table by Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel or by Alexis de Tocqueville. And this has to be considered when we use – and also when we criticise – terms and concepts before we throw the baby out with the bath water.

Looking at this example, looking at others as for instance the recently published World Happiness Report or the Inclusive Wealth Report 2012 which will be launched in Rio we have to acknowledge good will (which actually is rather useless thing) and importantly the departmentalisation in our heads: the traps of quantification/mathematisation, equivalence principle and claim of exchangeability, individualisation and finally evidence.

4) A fundamental contradiction that is frequently overlooked is that human beings are social,[2] economic and historical beings and they are this as individuals in their own, very specific space-time. With this perspective we gain at least an understanding of the limitations – not least the limitations of thinking alternatives while taking the risk of transcending quantification/mathematisation, equivalence principle and claim of exchangeability, individualisation and finally evidence.

We may speak of a perpetuation paradox.

And the question will always be: But do we really have to start from here? And with this we arrive at a very fundamental challenge which this (hopefully anti-)poverty school has to take up: fighting against poverty and exclusion can only succeed if it is a fight for another society.

End as Beginning

Three quotes may stand at the end – beginning with Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso:

Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again. And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. …. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel?

You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children.


The second statement if taken from letters written by Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller – it had been already quoted earlier:

Man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays.



It is not sufficient to know, one has to apply;

it is not sufficient to wish, one has to do!


[1] A special section could be written on ambiguity of the question of women and the individualization of rights.

[2] If we refer to Aristotle we have to be careful as this there is a likely confusion between (understanding the) social and political.

looking back – time to say good bye?

It feels a bit strange – sitting at the gate at Budapest airport, heading to Cork. I am invited speaker and Monday I will address the Poverty Summer School. It is a strange feeling to speak at the “own university” as representative of an organisation that has othing to do with it, speaking as advisor of European Foundation on Social Quality and member of the EuroMemo Group, European Economists for an Alternative Economic Policy in Europe. It reminds me of having addressed many years ago a Congress of Private and Public Welfare in Germany – then I had been talking on “Being a Stranger in the Own Country”.

And in one way or another this will also be at least background of the presentation on Cork. Being increasingly stranger in the area of social policy, being increasingly talking from the standpoint of somebody who is fully aware of a EU-development that took at some stage a wrong turn – in many respects. A strange feeling of having been part of policy-making and having left already some time ago. When I left I wrote on EU-social policy

It had been a success story since the early 1970s, when amongst others Ireland joined the institutionalised Europe. A success story topped now by Padraig’s flagship: a civil dialogue, going hand in hand with the social dialogue. A flagship going hand in hand with the beginning of another event, ostensibly a step back when the European Court of Justice rejected a fourth program to combat poverty, however a boost for getting social competencies in the later Treaties (the Employment chapter, the article 113 and even the debates of the 11th working group when it came to elaborating the “Constitution” which never came through). Success stories and at the same time critical points of ventures: separating economy and society. It had been a strange course which frequently popped up without being really and fundamentally considered. What would all this be about? An economic interest and a social interest? A general interest which lost its economy? Or an economy that claims to be in the general interest?

This is just a small paragraph of a longer story that makes me feel like somebody who is getting old and grumpy, and who is full of confidence, ready to take up the ext steps, not reinterpreting the world but aiming on changing it – as Karl told us in the 11th thesis on Feuerbach to do. Indeed, it is not the time to say good-bye.

Systems of Law and Social Quality

It took a long time – but finally it is published: an  article I wrote together with Yitzhak Berman, titled

Systems of Law and Social Quality

You can find it in Volume 6, Number 1 (2012) of Social & Public Policy Review (I will have to claim the second r now …)

Though the delay of the actual publication is of course nothing to be welcomed, there may be a reason for seeing it in a positive light. Looking around, and seeing that in different ways and instances rights are increasingly seen by ruling instances (from enterprises and universities over social welfare offices to cenbtral governments …) as matter of discretion, thus actually undermining the fundamental principles of rights, it may be of special iportance to look at relevabt questions in a more fundamental way.

Two Mails – One Trap – Three Issues

…., or actually it may well be one issue only

I had been made aware of two mails circulating at UCC.

One raising a serious issue: Inequality within UCC, namely concerning the staff at one of the elite units actually in more precarious, undervalued situations than staff in UCC in general. The details are not of importance. Of special interest is, however, that Mr. Murphy, president of UCC and already mentioned earlier on these pages again used the opportunity to drop a brick. To quote the mail:

His response to the situation was to state that rather than the future being one of Tyndall becoming more like UCC – UCC will become more like Tyndall.

If he wanted to make an analytical point with this, he is probably right: the tendency towards precarisation is frightening (and I will discuss this in due time on the occasion of a gathering of some colleagues in Berlin, also launching the book
Precarity – More Than a Challenge of Social Security Or: Cynicism of EU’s Concept of Economic Freedom (edited by Herrmann/Kalaycioglu and available in the book series I am editing.

Now, if Mr Murphy really meant it as analytical statement he should have pointed out explicit steps he is going to take against this.

Another mail is sent ‘On Behalf Of Staff Development and Enhancement Committee’ – again to all staff.
It announces the extension of the deadline for the
[ah, yes, you still can nominate me until the 22nd of June ;-)]

Looking at the winners of the previous years it is noticeable that the overwhelming number of awards goes to people from those arrays that are usually underrepresented – so to say the rank and file, the lower grades at the margins of the ‘fortress of higher education’.
Now, here also quoting from the mail – it is the statement made by a ‘successful nominee from one of the past awards programmes’. Here what had been said:

The evening was really well organised and there was a wonderful atmosphere with string quartet – a real feel good factor. It was a lovely opportunity for family members (who were very chuffed!) to meet UCC colleagues. The presentation of a beautiful, personalised painting specifically related to each recipient’s work is something I will cherish forever.

Sure, I believe this – and I do not want to take the individual satisfaction out of it, and I actually love personalised paintings (though I may be a bit picky there after the recent course). But I have to admit that equal pay, good working conditions and honest recognition of the daily performance of all staff would be more valuable than a scheme of lip-service to some and the factual tendency to dispraise the work of the majority; and nowadays even disguised under the veil of a ‘common agreement’, made against the wage earners under the title of the Croke Park Agreement.
It is following the same lines of sheepishness as mentioned on another occasion.

Coming to the third point then, and with this back to the first mail. I appreciate the concern which is brought forward in the mail: the complain about the increasing inequality, the increasing precarisation, the increasing ‘projectisation’, i.e. work being undertaken within the limits of projects … – and with this not least the emerging mobbing and the fact of a wedge being driven between staff. I find it hugely questionable to argue against inequality by permanently highlighting the ‘outstanding performance’, the many awards received from others …
So what? Why do we need equality – high performance works apparently without it – just by throwing an annual ‘personalised painting’ to some of the folks.
Cherry picking and cherishing, rights can remain outside of the equality calculation. This is at least the message that comes through – nolens volens as we said at the time in the ‘good old time’, enjoying panem et circences.
Just back from the International conference on Antonio Gramsci, it makes much sense: if you want, the reality feeding into writing another set of prison notebooks. And many of us could write them and publish them and read them aloud – as long as we are not in actual fact ending in prisons.

And of course, all this is not least an issue which I looked at a long time ago, in a contribution together with Deirdre Ryan, titled Education – Just Another Commodity. Exposing The Rhetoric Of «Human Capital» In The Light Of Social Quality, published in the book Utopia Between Corrupted Public Responsibility and Contested Modernisation: Globalisation and Social Responsibility which I edited in 2005