Lectionis et Seminario – De sociali et politica in Europea

European Integration – a failed political and social union?

2017 S. BA-Course at the University of Vienna, Department of Political Science.

A series of fifteen sessions delivered at the University of Vienna, Department of Political Science. The series is looking at the process of European integration – a wide topic looked at under the guiding question if EUrope failed to deliver the ambitious perspective of establishing a political and social union. The answer is by the present author given in somewhat negative terms: we cannot really say that the EU-institutions failed to reach the target of a political and social union … – it is worse: such targets never existed. So, we have to be clear in our critique. This means not least that we are challenged – and may gain sufficient insight – to develop the EU to something meaningful – meaningful not for the people but a reflection by the people – men make their own history, but it is not only the nightmare of the past, it is also a matter of the conditions of the still present hegemons who employ gatekeepers of different kind – even if the princes today wear the clothes of normal people, it is very much about behind the veils of the most expensive princely garments.

The various sessions, of which the recordings [German language] are available, present the historical development, some key issues and relevant theories in a more or less narrative way.

Annunci

The Devil, the Detail and the Devil’s Home

It is often said that the devil can be found in the detail – and this is not contest here as general rule. However, we should never forget to think about the place where the devil can be found, namely the devil’s home.

The Council of the Economic Advisors is looking in an issue brief from April 2016 at the

While we talk in the meantime extensively about inequality of wealth and the unbelievable affluence of the super-rich, and while we look with disgust at the Panama-papers, there is indeed something in the report that is more appalling  and actually the showing the real issue that is covered by all those scandals, clearly apparent from the report: the real inequality is still the inequality in the control of means of production though, though those means changed over the years they appearance – it may be true that

we are about to make the transition from a society in which energy was the engine of progress, innovation and productivity to one where data and the information technologies that underpin it will be the engine of progress.’

(Degryse, Christophe, 2016: Digitalisation of the Economy and its impact on labour markets; Working Paper 2016.02; Brussels: ETUI: 9 f.; with reference to Babinet, Gilles, 2015: Big Data, penser l’homme et le monde autrement; Paris: Le Passeur)

The inequality not in terms of money but in terms of capital is the decisive factor, so the analysis should really look at The Capital of the 21st Century, and not just at the distribution of money – students are at least sometimes told that there is a difference between money and capital.

This means as well that we have to be careful, resisting the attractive models that are easily offered – resisting in the dialectical way of overcoming the shortcomings while maintaining the potentials. Joe Stiglitz looked recently at the

Monopoly’s New Era

surely raising important issues. However, this makes us easily forget the systematic character, the law if you want, that stands behind the development. It is not the Sshumpetarian entrepreneur who develops with inventiveness and courage the empires, be they empires of steel barons or information gurus. As long as we believe in such magic powers, we easily find ourselves in the trap of distributing income, forgetting to consider the need to question power. Brecht’s words

The womb is fertile still from which that crept

are also valid in this context, not least making us alert of the dangers, posed by capital looking for spheres for investment and war. Indeed, taking it from my forthcoming publication “Security in insecure times” (which is linked to the presentation I made in Gdansk)

… we find as well the mention if the immediate security threat: Paul Krugman, in a conversation with Tony Atkinson on Inequality and Economic Growth at the Graduate Centre of City University of New York speaks of ‘a large public work stimulus programme known as the second world war’ (15/05/16; minute 1:18:13 ff.).[1] And in his opinion page/blog in The New York Times, Krugman contends that ‘World War II is the great natural experiment in the effects of large increases in government spending, and as such has always served as an important positive example for those of us who favor an activist approach to a depressed economy.’

And indeed, we have sufficient evidence of the aggressiveness, be it in international relations, regionally in Latin America or in the name of national democracy.

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[1] Btw, going hand in hand with a rejection of trade unionism.

 

 

 

Hidden Slavery

Chrystia Freeland, in her book
mentions something interesting, a bit sublime perhaps, and subtle, but surely more shocking than all the calculations by beancounters as Piketty – though their work may also be of some importance – at least for those who prefer the wooden hammer info of numbers instead of approaching harsh reality shows of life. So, the reality, the real meaning is grasped in the book I just mentioned, talking about Eric Emerson Schmidt, whom wikipedia sees simply as “Software engineer and businessman” and his “interesting views”.

If you traveled to Mountain View to visit Eric Schmidt when he was CEO of Google, you would have found him in a narrow office barely big enough to hold three people. The equations on the whiteboard may well have been scribbled by one of the engineers who works next door and is welcome to use the chief’s office whenever he’s not in. And while it is okay to have a private jet in the Valley, employing a chauffeur is frowned upon. “Whereas in other cultures, you can drive your Rolls-Royce around and just sort of look rich and have a really good time, in technology it’s not socially okay to have a driver who drives you to work every day,” Schmidt told me. “I don’t know why, but you’ll notice nobody does it.”

This egalitarian style can clash with the Valley’s reality of extreme income polarization. “Many tech companies solved this problem by having the lowest-paid workers not actually be employees. They’re contracted out,” Schmidt explained. “We can treat them differently, because we don’t really hire them. The person who’s cleaning the bathroom is not exactly the same sort of person. Which I find sort of offensive, but it is the way it’s done.”

This is also mentioned in a presentation that is available on the web.
Doesn’t this remind a bit of the treatment of slaves – we are frequently shocked when thinking about the blunt ignorance of ancient times, or the slave trade in modern times. And we may be shocked (only “may be” as not all are) when we hear about migration and the fortress Europe. But the day-to-day trafficking within this system is easily ignored, not even recognised by so many.
I remember, taking part in a conference organised several years ago by the European Commission, taking place in Birmingham. The event’s concern: labour market and using the ESF as means for the integration of the weakest. During the conference dinner a friend of mine asked the waitress a few questions – about income, working conditions … We learned that the lady had been underpaid, and “on call”. Whenever she heard (short notice) that she would be “allowed” to work few hours she had to do it: “you can say “no” once, but surely not more. She had to look then for somebody taking care of her little boy.
All this surely appalling – but it came worse: We went to somebody from the Commission – the organiser. “We cannot do anything. This service had been advertised. We looked for the best bid – and we can only check the technical correctness ….”
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Switching scene, back to Eric Schmidt. Wikipdia also lets us know:

Schmidt was a campaign advisor and major donor to Barack Obama and served on Google’s government relations team. Obama considered him for Commerce Secretary. Schmidt was an informal advisor to the Obama presidential campaign and began campaigning the week of October 19, 2008, on behalf of the candidate. He was mentioned as a possible candidate for the Chief Technology Officer position, which Obama created in his administration. After Obama won in 2008, Schmidt became a member of President Obama’s transition advisory board. He proposed that the easiest way to solve all of the problems of the United States at once, at least in domestic policies, is by a stimulus program that rewards renewable energy and, over time, attempts to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.

He has since become a new member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology PCAST.

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Switching scene, back to Europe again: there is something in all this, that reminds me of an article I read recently, talking about refugees and consumerism. The main argument: The crisis is not least a warning that we have to move away from consumerist attitudes – a bit of solidarity as sharing attitude. Yes, may be there is some truth also in that. But to be honest, the baseline of it is in my view not much more than a left good-doer attitude, not looking FIRST AND FOREMOST at the untouched relations and mode of production. The comments on the article are actually quote telling, and though I agree on many issues with the author, I see (and disagree) as well with the “quasi-religious attitude” behind it, pleading nolens volens for all of us tightening the belt …. Eating less meat and vegetarianism does not make a revolution.
And thus it easily leaves the old patterns intact – the following little episode could well be one that we find referred to in the works of Milton Friedman – I had been revisiting his work recently more or less extensively. There is no free lunch – but the “free market” surely guarantees that inequality remains:
In the journal distributed in Italian trains I saw this ad for luxurious transport bytrain:
Later then, in the same travel journal, the editorial or a dedication presented the move to make train stations public, offering space for those most in need – yes, and it is even free of charge:
And next to it again a fancy ad – but we know such clash from earlier. So to say, the free lunch, falling from the table of the super-rich ….
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Switching scene, back to the world.
Currently we can follow the UN-debates on the New Sustainability Goals.
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa made some valid and crucially important points in his speech, highlighting the necessity to change the foundations of the current system – not by changing the determinants of exchange (more just etc.), but by changing the foundations of the current system. And these foundations are not about changes of norms, of consumerism etc.: they are about the change of the mode of production. And though we are talking (rightly) about globalisation, and even if we criticise war-mongering, we forget that nationalism is still one of the fundamental features of the current system. It causes the externalisation of cost; and it causes the ongoing debate on migration as matter of “accommodating people from other countries” instead of acknowledging the need for a more fundamental re-thinking, looking for
human mobility laws based on human rights
In his speech, Correa  also criticises “social minimum approaches”, vehemently arguing for the need of moving to social maxima.
Indeed, religion, also in a modernised form, will not get us anywhere. Dealing with distribution, has to be about production.