Europe – Quo Vadis?

Nearly there:

The European Social Model – Chimera or Core of the EU?

Nearly finished the contribution I had been asked to write for a book – it emerges from the work of the scientific council of Attac. And I guess I know now very well what to say when giving the presentation in Cork next month – a follow up from last year’s Poverty Summer School at UCC.

The really relevant part for me, i.e. my own thinking is that the article will help to clearly spell out the myth of the “old welfare state”, thus allowing to clarify the foundation for a fundamental “revolutionary” form that is established on the objective development rather than the hope for a voluntarist to approach towards a renaissance of overcome model. Still, though we truly will need a revolutionary approach we face even within the capitalist framework a rather radical overhaul of thinking when it comes to social policy.

The “welfare state” is as such a not only a multifaceted mechanism, but also historically differentiated, specifically responding to the different phases of the capitalist process of generating value – I approached this issue on the earlier occasion of a presentation in Mikkeli, Finland.

The challenge of any social policy discussion is surely to protect the baby while handling the bathing water. And so it is especially the left that is challenged to “protect” the achievements of what is called welfare state while the more or less general austerity policies are the driving force of the political mainstream. To be clear (i) there had been huge improvements of the living conditions in the widest sense if we look at the secular development; (ii) it has to be equally clear that at this stage we have to search for clear means to simply protect against “system(at)ic rollbacks”.

Nevertheless, we have to be analytically clear about both, the severity of changes and also the actual reason and causes of these changes. As well known from Marx’ studies, the individual capitalist represents the class interest rather than reflecting individual morality. In this light much of the critique – also from positions that claim to fundamentally reject the current structures – are an expression of good will, but also an expression of mal-information. On of the recent examples of such short-sighted approaches had been the official address given by the president of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, to the European Parliament. Sure we may easily agree at first glance with his statement:

They (i.e. “our citizens in Europe”) feel that in general terms the economic narrative of recent years has been driven by dry technical concerns; for example, by calculations that are abstract and not drawn from real problems, geared primarily by a consideration of the impact of such measures on speculative markets, rather than driven by sufficient compassion and empathy with the predicament of European citizens who are members of a union, and for whom all of the resources of Europe’s capacity, political, social, economic and intellectual might have been drawn on, driven by the binding moral spirit of a union.

But as nice as all this sounds, it fundamentally underestimates the “compassion and empathy” of those “technicians” who actually use the guise of technicity to establish a strict rule of something that may even be called a “capitalist tributary world system”.

Austerity is not a moral, ethical retardation of individuals or “groups of individuals” that has to be and can be countered by moral appeals. Strictly speaking, austerity policy is then not an exception but a consequent expression of one of the two souls that characterise capitalism gaining dominance: To the extent and as long as capitalism – made possible by the technical development of the productive forces and expressed by a specific mode of production – could perform reasonably well in terms of production of wealth and could make profit based on the realisation-side of the overall economic process (distribution and exchange, in short linked to an understanding of wages as purchase power), social policy could be grasped by concepts as “productive social policy”, allowing to ask for the Costs of Non-Social Policy, as Didier Fouarge did 2003 in his Report for the European Commission’s Employment and Social Affairs DG.

However, this had been linked to a very specific constellation. Historically such constellations had been given nationally, leading to different development of national welfare regimes – this had been outlined earlier with reference to the Mikkeli-presentation. Although it had been left out of consideration on the occasion of that presentation, each of these distinct national systems had not least been part of a process of international re-ordering.

The thesis is that we find some similar pattern of European social policy development: in short: from a non-social policy with some marginalised measures towards a productivist social policy considering the costs of not having social policy and finally arriving at a new stage: not least (though not only)

  1. under the pressure of changing international constellations (EUrope in the world) and
  2. the changing also technical development of the productive forces, reserves for generating profit from a favourable pattern of distribution had been eroded.

This means (a) now profit has to be generated from production rather than in the sphere of realisation; (b) competition is now increasingly a matter of crowding out, not of performance, as it had been earlier the case (s. e.g. Zinn, Karl Georg, 2006: Mit Keynes zu einer „anderen Wirtschaft“. Zur Langfristperspektive keynesianischer Ökonomie; Beitrag zum Workshop “Keynesianische Ökonomie als alternative Ökonomie?” der Rosa Luxemburg-Stiftung (Berlin, 24.-26.2.2006: 18); (c) political power – not least with its arbitariness – regains meaning and reminds fereqently of feudal structures (see e.g. Herrmann, Peter, 2012; in: NewPrincedoms …) and (d) though global centre-periphery structures remain meanigful, we find at the same time and increasingly processes of peripherialisation within the centres.

And it exactly this constellation that leads to austerity policies: we should be well aware of the obvious meaning of privatisation here: it is about “de-socialisation” which is a matter of shifting responsibility back to the “complete individual”, or as we titled it is about Pure Individualism (s. Claire Dorrity: Critique of Pure Individualism; in: Dorrity, Claire/Herrmann, Peter [eds.]: Social Professional Activity – The Search for a Minimum Common Denominator in Difference; New York: Nova Science, 2009). It’s critique needs to take the economic dimension into account that obliges us to recognise that the European Social Model actually only existed as an expression of voluntarism which had been celebrated and maintained as long as it had been profitable. As soon as profit can only be gained from production in the strict sense, or in other words: as soon as the profitability of realisation comes to an end, we find a shift in social policy terms, the trinity of

  • austerity,
  • harsh exploitation and
  • orientation on “social investment”.

But what can the latter mean under these conditions of pure individualism? It means that we come now definitely to the point of an ultimate Critique of Practical Reason: the individual “invests him/herself” – and ironically this is celebrated by the bourgeois press as success of creativity. And although all this is surely not the complete story, it is a major chapter in the book that opens in front of us: self-exploitation, precarity, neglect of long-term personal health in the hope of short-term survival.

Europe – Quo Vadis?

We all know the story, Peter asking Jesus Quo vadis? – The supposed answer had been Romam vado iterum crucifigi.

Europe is on the best way to crucify itself – but not by taking the route Beyond GDP serious. Instead, I crucifies itself by being too serious about the self-set strategic goal, spelled out in Lisbon:

to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world.

And Europe crucifies those who dare to oppose or at least do not submit themselves: academics, political activists and those who fall through the loops of the increasingly fragile net.

Much more could be said – and it will be said in the book contribution, on occasion of the Cork event and in a forthcoming article in Social Inclusion

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  1. […] Having lived for some time in Ireland, I want to refer to Michael Higgins, addressing the European Parliament – see on this also already an earlier post) […]



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