slow death – of individuals and societies

 

a long way … from the priests on the Acropolis [ἄκρον (akron, “highest point”) and πόλις (polis)] to the gardens which had been the roaming place of the philosophers to the reality of today’s Europe …- back at the desk after returning from Athens, where we organised at the Harokopio University in Athens, with support of the Nicos Poulantzas Institute the Euromemo-conference under the title

Can the EU still be saved? The implications of a multi-speed Europe

 

I remember the recent reading of Juergen Roth’s Radetzkymarsch from 1932. It seems to be clear that we can speak of a kind of congeniality when it comes to death of individuals, stubbornly caught by their ideas and societies going through some agony before the final step:

He lived long enough to know how silly it is to say the truth. He allowe people making this mistake and he believed less than the jesters who talked about him in the wide realm of anecdotes, that his world would persist. [1]

**********

He was old, and tired, and death already expected him, still life did not release him. Like a gruesome host it kept him at the table because he did not go through all the suffering that life had prepared for him.[2]

I leave it to the reader to find out why it returns right now to my mind ….: after having returned to Greece after the elections in Germany, after Macron launching his ‘Initiative for Europe. A sovereign, united, democratic Europe’ and while going on with the personal attempt to figure out how old and how European one has to be to understand the challenges and options that are showing up ahead; and how old and how European one has to be to misunderstand them. And how much it personally helps me not to know exactly how old I am, how EUropean …call it uprooting, or call it a bit of transcending the ‘conventional wisdom’ J.K. Galbraith wrote about in this book on the ‘Affluent Society’.

***************

[1]            Own translation; an English version of the book is available …, somewhere
Original: Er hatte lange genug gelebt, um zu wissen, daß es töricht ist, die Wahrheit zu sagen. Er gönnte den Leuten den Irrtum, und er glaubte weniger als die Witzbolde, die in seinem weiten Reich Anekdoten über ihn erzählten, an den Bestand seiner Welt.

[2]            Own translation; an English version of the book is available …, somewhere
Original: Alt war er und müde, und der Tod wartete schon auf ihn, aber das Leben ließ ihn noch nicht frei. Wie ein grausamer Gastgeber hielt es ihn am Tische fest, weil er noch nicht alles Bittere gekostet hatte, das für ihn bereitet war.

 

Annunci

More to be done

Please find a reminder – there is still a possibility to prepare your participation by announcing your input – and the is in any case the opportunity to join our debates, more important then ever.

22nd Conference on Alternative Economic Policy in Europe

from 15-17 September 2016, organised by the EuroMemo Group and jointly hosted with the Faculty of Economics at the University of Coimbra in Portugal

The European Union: the Threat of Disintegration 

The EuroMemo Group conference 2016 will be jointly hosted with the Faculty of Economics at the University of Coimbra, from 15-17 September 2016 (Thursday-Saturday). We would like to invite you to attend the conference and to submit paper proposals. Please find the call for papers here.

All papers that present an alternative economic perspective on the conference theme ‘The European Union: the Threat of Disintegration’ are welcome. In particular, we encourage submissions specific to one of the workshops outlined in the programme below.

The programme will be as follows:

Thursday afternoon: The state of the Union

  • Hans-Jürgen Bieling (University of Tübingen): Political State of the Union
  • Catherine Mathieu (OFCE/Science Po): Economic State of the Union
    • Ricardo Cabral (University of Madeira): The politico-economic situation of Portugal

 

Friday morning: The second day will be dedicated to key themes of EU policy within six different workshops.

 

Friday afternoon: Plenary on policy proposals from workshops and special plenary ‘Disintegration or Refoundation of the European Union?’

  • Cédric Durand (Paris 13 University)
  • Fabio De Masi (MEP GUE/NGL)
    • Angela Wigger (Radboud Univ. Nijmegen) (tbc)

 

Saturday morning: Planning meeting: EuroMemorandum 2017 and other activities

Proposals for papers together with a short abstract (maximum 250 words) should be submitted by 10 July. If possible, please indicate the workshop which the proposal is intended for. If accepted, completed papers should be submitted by 25 August so that they can be read before the conference.

We strongly encourage participants to submit short papers (10-12 pages) and to explicitly address policy implications.

If you would like to participate in the conference and/ or submit a paper proposal, please copy the registration form below into an email and reply by the 10 July 2016 to info@euromemo.eu.

Stop Austerity

One of the many answers needed on BREXIT – “it is not about Britain and the Brits”, anyway.

Stop Austerity!

The outbreak of the crisis in 2007 led to many states having to take out emergency loans in order to save banks. Money was tight and interests were increasing. Therefore, some EU countries had to face serious economic problems up to illiquidity. The usual response of relevant institutions and many economists is that this undesirable development can only be corrected by wage reductions and by cutting welfare expenditures. Based on this idea, their solution strategy consisted of strict austerity policy and put high pressure on labour markets and welfare systems which impacted the living conditions of people in a massively negative way.

For this reason, many institutions demand to cut public spending, be it pensions, wages and salaries or unemployment benefits. This policy of savings leads to a permanent repetition of cuttings of public and private expenses and therefore to reduced social security. It is not, however, a solution for the actual problems of rising inequality, unregulated financial markets and recession, but reinforces the negative social impacts of the economic and financial crisis.

We demand solutions which do not consider the economy as an end in itself but serve us, the people.

 *******

For a way out of the crisis we demand:

  • Coordinating economic policy: A common, socially compatible economic policy for the Eurozone is needed. The implementation of a democratic and European economic fund is needed. Its aims are to coordinate monetary and fiscal policies in the interests of humans instead of corporations and banks, to remove imbalances and ensure a fairer distribution in Europe. Therefore, more people will benefit from prosperity.
  • Rebuilding the banking system: Banks must be brought into service of the people again. For this reason, commercial and investment sectors have to be separated. This enables banks to fulfil their main task again – collecting deposits and granting credits. If banks work badly, they have to be able to go bankrupt in an organized way so a bailout paid for by the public will not become necessary.
  • Introducing Eurobonds: Introducing Eurobonds means that Eurozone countries issue joint bonds for government financing and are also jointly liable. As a result, interest rates on government bonds will decrease and government financing as well as financing public projects will be facilitated. Joint liability strengthens the position vis-à-vis financial markets and takes the rating agencies’ influence away.
  • Regulating financial markets: Clear regulations for financial markets are needed in order to reduce the enormous complexity. Thus, financial products and business models which endanger the stability of the financial system have to be controlled or forbidden. The financial system has to be brought into service of the real economy again.
  • Introducing a financial transaction tax: A financial transaction tax adds a percentage surcharge to every purchase and sale on the financial market. Short-term and speculative trading on financial markets therefore becomes unattractive. This leads to more investments in the real economy and therefore to higher employment and additional revenues for the states.
  • Enforcing fair distribution: Fair distribution means to redirect capital from the financial capitalism to the real economy. This ensures the financing of public goods from education to health care. The people therefore can share in the surplus value they, ultimately, produce themselves.

We demand to break with the neoliberal policies of austerity and speculation. We demand a Europe of social equalization and perspectives. We demand to #StopAusterity!

… and frequently overlooked

After saying yesterday Easily Condemned, it may be time to think about what is easily overlooked, especially while sliding apparently elegantly on the surface.

The title in the Huffington Post says

Deutsche Bank è maggior fonte di rischi sistemici al mondo

and A FT-briefing tells us

Deutsche Bank hit by IMF hazard warning A report has branded the German lender as the riskiest globally significant bank on the back of its failure to pass another US Federal Reserve stress test.

Sure, there are good reasons to distrust these rankings and stress tests. But on the other hand, what comes to mind is the obvious failure of German (misled EU-) policy of externalisation. The exsanguination especially of Greece (though we should not forget Ireland, Portugal,  Spain) is not a limited strategy against one (or a few countries), but it is part of a systematic bloc-building: strengthening the centre in order to  establish and tighten a fortress that finally culminates in a complex network of systematically fostered “unequal development” (in line with TISA etc.). Andre Gunder Frank’s thesis of the “Development of Underdevelopment” finds a new confirmation, now on the changed global scale.

What Britain actually did is not so different from the EU- and German strategy: a strategy of externalisation, aiming on limiting the cost (which had been very small when considering the increasing strangulation of arms of social EUrope), while redistributing the resources as it already started, considering (so the FT-briefing) that

companies with overseas earnings or in haven sectors have benefited most, while others have announced job cuts and profit warnings

and the chancellor announcing a new easing, while Cameron now pleads for “looking beyond”, aiming on big business for big business: China, India, US and Commonwealth as fields for new harvest.

– And it still is the old story: never tidy up your own places as long as there are fields that can be devastated, i.e. fields that allow you to dump your waste. Will it work? Well, coming back to the article in the Huffington Post it is remarkable to see that

Secondo l’istituto di Washington, inoltre, il sistema bancario tedesco pone il maggior grado di rischi di contagio esterni in proporzione ai rischi interni (seguono Francia, Regno Unito e Usa).

In other words, the supposedly strong economies are not only the culprits in terms of being a danger to solidarity, but they are also the real hazard when it comes to global economic disintegration. An interesting measure that is different, seemingly of national scope only, can be found in India:

India’s 10m civil servants The government has approved a 23 per cent rise in salaries, allowances and pensions for current and former civil servants. The once-in-a-decade increase will cost about $15bn and is aimed at boosting private consumption.

Such step is likely to be globally more responsible than the European and British and American fortress building.

Security in insecure times

A short presentation, addressing the conference Edukacja Dla Bezpieczeństwa (Education for Security), April 6th, 2016, in Gdansk

Abstract:

Looking at the economic development of the recent years, the first that comes to mind is of course the crisis and its far-reaching impact on the living conditions and perspectives of many people – social security systems are threatened by austerity, and they often appear as at most shunting yard, without offering real and sustainable perspectives. This is obvious, and the need for immediate changes, securing basic human rights – for individuals and societies – is high on the agenda.

However, it is obvious that the crisis is more fundamental, reaching much beyond this and presenting itself as human crisis, crisis of humanity, crisis of agency and the like.

We best may refer to the antroponomic system crisis as outlined by Paul Boccara.

In other words, when we look at the current economic crisis we have to understand that we are confronted with the potentiality of a fundamental change of the entire mode of production. So, the old security of the Keynesian Welfare National State are failing and seem to be irretrievable, the transitory Schumpeterian Workfare Post-National Regime.

Can economics, and possibly social science in general, only bemoan the developments, leaving the search for security to religion and the violent reestablishment of the traditional systems of security? The question is not only one of social security, but even more so one of thoroughly analysing the burning global demand – and potential – for a new antroponomic balance.

 

See here for the recording.

War, Modesty and Good Life

Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem—in my opinion—to characterize our age.
(from Einstein, Albert: “The Common Language of Science”, a broadcast for Science, Conference, London, 28 September 1941. Published in Advancement of Science, London, Vol. 2, No. 5. Reprinted in Ideas and Opinions [1954])

As in discussions on Greece the metaphor “from tanks to banks” had been used frequently, it may be of some interest then to look back at another war, where tanks, bombs and furious invasion attacks played a role, an attack on at least two countries: Vietnam and the United States of Northern America itself, undermining any kind of legitimacy, but also and with it its own integrity.

There is one passage in the

Remarks at the University of Kansas made by Robert F. Kennedy on March 18, 1968 

And this is one of the great tasks of leadership for us, as individuals and citizens this year. But even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction – purpose and dignity – that afflicts us all. Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.
If this is true here at home, so it is true elsewhere in world. From the beginning our proudest boast has been the promise of Jefferson, that we, here in this country would be the best hope of mankind. And now, as we look at the war in Vietnam, we wonder if we still hold a decent respect for the opinions of mankind and whether the opinion maintained a descent respect for us or whether like Athens of old, we will forfeit sympathy and support, and ultimately our very security, in the single-minded pursuit of our own goals and our own objectives. I do not want, and I do believe that most Americans do not want, to sell out America’s interest to simply withdraw – to raise the white flag of surrender in Vietnam – that would be unacceptable to us as a people, and unacceptable to us as a country. But I am concerned about the course of action that we are presently following in South Vietnam. I am concerned, I am concerned about the fact that this has been made America’s War. It was said, a number of years ago that this is “their war” “this is the war of the South Vietnamese” that “we can help them, but we can’t win it for them” but over the period of the last three years we have made the war and the struggle in South Vietnam our war, and I think that’s unacceptable.  I don’t accept the idea that this is just a military action, that this is just a military effort, and every time we have had difficulties in South Vietnam and Southeast Asia we have had only one response, we have had only one way to deal with it – month after month – year after year we have dealt with it in only on way and that’s to send more military men and increase our military power and I don’t think that’s what the kind of a struggle that it is in Southeast Asia.

He quotes William Allen White – and White’s remark should be guideline for all, still and especially today when countries of the capitalist core force for the sake of their pure power ambition others to maintain an economic strategy that is unsustainable, unreasonable and serves only one interest: further establishing and maintaining central power — the power of the one percent. We clearly saw another time that all these negotiations had not been about reason and appeals. In the Greek case,

The only weapons they could bring to the negotiating table were reason, logic and European solidarity. But apparently we will live in a Europe were none of those things mean anything.

So what did White say then? Here you are:

“If our colleges and universities do not breed men who riot, who rebel, who attack life with all their youthful vim and vigor, then there is something wrong with our colleges. The more riots that come on college campuses, the better world for tomorrow.”

This may be about riots, literally. But in any case, it definitely means to look for more radical answers to the current challenges – going beyond what we know for decades.
Kennedy’s reference to

mere accumulation of material things

can and to often is read as notion of changing values, asking all of us to change behaviour and move towards the appreciation of non-material values. In this context it is too often referred to modesty, suggested as means against supposed greed. The question, however, is that we have to look at some more fundamental issues which is suggested as five giant tensions:

  • the overproduction of goods and the turn of goods into ‘bads’
  • societal abundance versus inequality of access
  • abundance of knowledge and its misdirection towards skills
  • the individualisation of problems and their emergence as societal threat
  • the complexity of government and the limited scope of governance.

It may be another, hopefully not too modest proposal, not referring to overcoming the crises and their immediate devastating consequences today; but to think today about politics that help to avoid that we just move further from one crisis to another. There is no point to strive for growth where we produce already too much; there is no point in creating material wealth if there is enough that can be distributed; there is no point in creating faster computers and new IT-bases technologies that undermine developing wisdom to properly use it and making use of the results; there is no point in saving individuals to strangulate them afterwards; and their is no point in setting up more and more committees, consultations dcc as long as we do not find a way to legitimate them democratically and do not allow “stakeholders” to act based the money and power they have in form of private resources.
All this is not about greed, it is about combatting the objective laws of an economy that is embedded in a wrong society: a modernity that is plagued by the

Eclipse of Reason 

as Max Horkheimner titled his book from 1947
I presented this outline recently on the Conference of the Annual Conference of the Chinese Social Policy Association (the presentation will soon be online on youtube) and in various papers of which the publication will be announced here. In one or another way it is surely also reflected already in several contributors that are accessible on the researchgate-site.

If we bring things together, we can easily see another interesting point in the remarks by Kennedy, and linked to the devastating war:

we have made the war and the struggle … our war

And this is cum grano salis happening today: the bank-war is not about the interest of the rational functioning of an economy that serves people but it is about an economic system that serves itself, not disembedded, but embedded in a global society that serves the minority living in their gated communities … — an economy of financial markets where money is self-serving instead of being a means that keeps the economy spinning, a society where finally everybody establishes his/her own gated community: asking others to be good, without seeing that this individualist strive is exactly the spade that digs the grave in which we all will end.

Unfortunately those who are ending sooner in the grave are those who still maintain not just the ideas of

reason, logic and … solidarity

but who try to live it in there daily life instead of pompous declarations.