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February 21 2014

February 11 2014

[ Episode #73B // Regarding Revolutions ]

Extraenvironmentalist #73 is a two part episode. This is the post for SIDE B on Egypt’s revolution and education with David Blacker. The link for SIDE A featuring our interview on a contractionary revolution with Frank Rotering is here.

The mainstream environmental movement has been unable to stop the ongoing ecological crisis. Are environmentalists willing to acknowledge the deep contradictions between the logic of capitalism and environmental health? Will revolutions like those in Egypt lead to a true alternative or merely perpetuate the failed dynamics of the past?

In Extraenvironmentalist #73 we talk about the prospect for a series of revolutions that establish a post-capitalist world with Frank Rotering. We discuss Frank’s newest book Contractionary Revolution and cover the reformist solutions put forward by an environmental movement unwilling to face practical notions of society’s power relationships which block effective attempts at a sustainable civilization. Then, we hear from David Blacker on his recent experience in post-revolutionary Egypt and the ideas in his new book The Falling Rate of Learning.

//Segments on Soundcloud

// Books

Contractionary Revolution by Frank Rotering
The Falling Rate of Learning by David Blacker

// Links and News Items

#1 - Do What You Love – Bad For Work? via our listener Jason on the XE Facebook page

#2 - Why the Rich Are Freaking Out

#3 – Financial World Deaths

// Extended Clips (in order of appearance)

[Part A Break] – 44m

Paxman Interviews Brand on Revolution
Max Keiser on Revolution
American Revolution Has Begun

[Part B Break] – 34m

Clinton on Education
Bush on Education
Obama on Education
Clips from Waiting for Superman

Terence McKenna on Revolution

// Music (in Order of Appearance)

Tracy Chapman – Talkin Bout a Revolution (Kiddcat Edit)
Cut Copy – Blink and You’ll Miss the Revolution (remakereverb electro remix)
Beatles – Revolution (Cover)
Bangles – Walk Like an Egyptian (Seeley Sketch Remix)
Lovelife – Dying to Start Again via Lower Frequencies
Bombay Bicycle Club – Home By Now via Consequence of Sound
Tobtok – Savannah via Tracasseur

// Production Credits

Our correspondent and editor Kevin via Sustainable Guidance Youtube Channel

Episode #73 was supported by donations from the following generous listeners:

Clive in Georgia
Jeff in Colorado
Matt in British Columbia

// Send us a BTC tip for #73

Even .0001 BTC goes a long way!

Donate Bitcoins

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[ Episode #73A // Regarding Revolutions ]

Extraenvironmentalist #73 is a two part episode. This is the post for SIDE A – featuring our interview on a contractionary revolution with Frank Rotering. The link for SIDE B on Egypt’s revolution and education with David Blacker is here.

The mainstream environmental movement has been unable to stop the ongoing ecological crisis. Are environmentalists willing to acknowledge the deep contradictions between the logic of capitalism and environmental health? Will revolutions like those in Egypt lead to a true alternative or merely perpetuate the failed dynamics of the past?

In Extraenvironmentalist #73 we talk about the prospect for a series of revolutions that establish a post-capitalist world with Frank Rotering. We discuss Frank’s newest book Contractionary Revolution and cover the reformist solutions put forward by an environmental movement unwilling to face practical notions of society’s power relationships which block effective attempts at a sustainable civilization. Then, we hear from David Blacker on his recent experience in post-revolutionary Egypt and the ideas in his new book The Falling Rate of Learning.

//Segments on Soundcloud

// Books

Contractionary Revolution by Frank Rotering
The Falling Rate of Learning by David Blacker

// Links and News Items

#1 - Do What You Love – Bad For Work? via our listener Jason on the XE Facebook page

#2 - Why the Rich Are Freaking Out

#3 – Financial World Deaths

// Extended Clips (in order of appearance)

[Part A Break] – 44m

Paxman Interviews Brand on Revolution
Max Keiser on Revolution
American Revolution Has Begun

[Part B Break] – 34m

Clinton on Education
Bush on Education
Obama on Education
Clips from Waiting for Superman

Terence McKenna on Revolution

// Music (in Order of Appearance)

Tracy Chapman – Talkin Bout a Revolution (Kiddcat Edit)
Cut Copy – Blink and You’ll Miss the Revolution (remakereverb electro remix)
Beatles – Revolution (Cover)
Bangles – Walk Like an Egyptian (Seeley Sketch Remix)
Lovelife – Dying to Start Again via Lower Frequencies
Bombay Bicycle Club – Home By Now via Consequence of Sound
Tobtok – Savannah via Tracasseur

// Production Credits

Our correspondent and editor Kevin via Sustainable Guidance Youtube Channel

Episode #73 was supported by donations from the following generous listeners:

Clive in Georgia
Jeff in Colorado
Matt in British Columbia

// Send us a BTC tip for #73

Even .0001 BTC goes a long way!

Donate Bitcoins

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February 06 2014

"Why Widening Inequality Is Hobbling Equal Opportunity" by Robert Reich

Robert Reich, inequality

Robert Reich

Is it to be inequality or equal opportunity?

Under a headline “Obama Moves to the Right in a Partisan War of Words,” The New York Times’ Jackie Calmes notes Democratic operatives have been hitting back hard against the President or any other Democratic politician talking about income inequality, preferring that the Democrats talk about equality of opportunity instead.

“However salient reducing inequality may be,” writes Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, “it is demonstrably less important to voters than any other number of priorities, incudlng reducing poverty.”

The President may be listening. Wags noticed that in his State of the Union, Obama spoke ten times of increasing “opportunity” and only twice of income inequality, while in a December speech he spoke of income inequality two dozen times.

But the President and other Democrats — and even Republicans, for that matter — should focus on the facts, not the polls, and not try to dress up what’s been happening with more soothing words and phrases.

In fact, America’s savage inequality is the main reason equal opportunity is fading and poverty is growing. Since the “recovery” began, 95% of the gains have gone to the top 1 percent, and median incomes have dropped. This is a continuation of the trend we’ve seen for decades. As a result:

(1) The sinking middle class no longer has enough purchasing power to keep the economy growing and creating sufficient jobs. The share of working-age Americans still in the labor force is the lowest in more than thirty years.

(2) The shrinking middle isn’t generating enough tax revenue for adequate education, training, safety nets, and family services. And when they’re barely holding on, they can’t afford to — and don’t want to — pay more.

(3) Meanwhile, America’s rich are accumulating not just more of the country’s total income and wealth, but also the political power that accompanies money. And they’re using that power to reduce their own taxes, and get corporate welfare (subsidies, bailouts, tax cuts) for their businesses.

All this means less equality of opportunity in America.

Obama was correct in December when he called widening inequality “the defining challenge of our time.” He mustn’t back down now even if Democratic pollsters tell him to. If we’re ever to reverse this noxious trend, Americans have to hear the truth.

This blogpost was first published on Robert Reich’s Blog

January 28 2014

"Jews And Their Friends Mustn’t Let Hitler Win" by Armin Langer

Armin Langer, jews

Armin Langer

The other day I went to a prestigious German small town where I attended the opening ceremony of an exhibition entitled ‘Jews in Wittenberg.’ But the whole thing wasn’t about Jews, it was about Anti-Semites. The pictures showed some local Nazis transporting Jews to Auschwitz. For centuries there was an active Jewish community in the city. After I talked to the organizers, I understood that they wouldn’t even think about showing aspects of Jewish life. Judaism means for most Germans our non-existence in the Holocaust, and today’s Anti-Semitism.

The same goes for Hungary. I can’t forget the awkward feeling when I saw in Budapest for the first time the participants of the March of the Living, remembering the victims of the Shoah: I asked myself, where are these 100,000 people, many non-Jews, when it’s about the positive side of Judaism? But not only the non-Jewish Hungarians fall into this trap: the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Congregations still does not understand that their official website shouldn’t have eight times as many uses of the term ‘Holocaust’ as of the word ‘Torah’ and why they should not operate fundraising campaigns with Holocaust survivors’ images. Why does the Hungarian government only support Holocaust themed museums and does not support Jewish NGO’s? Thanks to these people, who should have worked for the cultural and religious renaissance of the local Jewry, there is a very large group of Jews who is able to list all the death camps by name, but are no longer sure whether Egypt was hit by seven or ten plagues.

The philosopher Martin Buber never discussed the Shoah in his works. In his words, the Holocaust is not a problem of the Jews but of Anti-Semites. Buber understood that the Holocaust is neither the beginning nor the end. Of the thousands of years of Jewish history, the Holocaust covers only five. Don’t get me wrong, we must thoroughly research and understand it, this black spot in the history which can hardly be compared to other genocides. We have to remember and remind ourselves, and we can have exhibitions entitled ‘Jews of our town in the 3rd Reich’. But we should not push people to associate the word ‘Jew’ with the word ‘victim’!

In fact, psychologically it’s much easier to bind us to the Holocaust than to the positive side of Judaism – but this obsession with the Holocaust makes us abandon our Jewish identity. The preoccupation with the Shoah, paradoxically, lets Hitler win. I see the same problem in the Anti-Semitism appearing again and again in studies and surveys, like the present one by the New York Times: after many articles published on the situation of the Hungarian Jewry, one of the most influential newspapers in the United States started an open survey to ask Hungarian Jews about their experiences with Anti-Semitism.

Fear of the privileged

A few weeks ago an online survey about Jewish communities financed by the European Union was conducted in eight of its member states. The conclusion: Europe’s Jews are afraid. They are afraid of Muslim immigrants. They are afraid of the far right. At the same time, the rabbi in charge of interfaith relations in Berlin explains why Jews should avoid people of color, calling out no-go-areas for us. I live in one such no-go-area and I talked with Osama, my hairdresser, and with my Israeli neighbors about this statement. We were a little bit amused, then ashamed, and finally anxious.

The mentioned online survey was also conducted in Hungary. The results were devastating: many Jews reported an increasing level of Anti-Semitism. At the same time, scientific research by the well-known Hungarian sociologist András Kovács made clear that there were no increasing Anti-Semitic feelings among non-Jewish Hungarians in the past decades. They have just became more visible in recent years since the far-right party Jobbik got into parliament and thus anti-Semitic discourse became semi-legal.

But are honest Anti-Semites less dangerous? Being aware that the whole twentieth century was defined by three Jews (Marx, Freud and Einstein) and that the Jewish state possesses nuclear weapons (and its main ally holds the world’s largest weapon arsenal), and that the mainstream media adores the Jewish community, one can no longer say that ‘the Jew’ is weak. It is no longer ‘the Jew’, who you can kick without getting punished. These are middle and upper class people living in good financial circumstances who are not at all discriminated against and are barely exposed to violence – unlike people of color, the poor and the homeless.

In 2007, the (Jewish) Anti-Defamation League reported 1,500 Anti-Semitic incidents in the US: according to the Israeli movie Hashmatzah the most serious of these cases was that some Jewish employees had to work on Jewish holidays. Meanwhile, in the same country a black person is killed every week with a gun bought at the local supermarket because ‘from his hood you couldn’t see his face, and, well it’s better to be safe, isn’t it?’ The same goes for Hungary: sure, many of us, including me, experienced Anti-Semitic verbal incidents, but there have hardly been any reports on Anti-Semitic violence in the past decades – at the same time entire Roma families are killed in the countryside by white-supremacists.

Some idiotic Hungarian compatriots may paint a swastika on the wall of a synagogue, erect a bust of Miklós Horthy, the Nazi-allied leader of Hungary, or call me in the middle of the street a “JEW!”, however that will not put the Hungarian Jewry in such a bad situation as the main discourse might suggest. Furthermore, we have to note that after each of these actions, the governing conservative Fidesz party representing the vast majority of Hungarian citizens immediately stands up for the Jews. At the same time the law forbids homeless people to live on the streets, local administrations leave Roma in extreme poverty, the country has a 13% unemployment rate and LGBTQ rights are not even a topic for discussion. I wonder when the New York Times will also ask these vulnerable people about their thoughts.

Leave me alone!

At the age of 16 my father brought me to a Holocaust memorial event in the city of Kaposvár, in South-Hungary, where my parents are originally from. I realized that day that I’m Jewish. This didn’t mean anything to me besides the Holocaust and fear until I moved to Budapest. There I found balance, the alternative that showed the positive side of Judaism for instance in the educational events at Limmud and the Sim Shalom Progressive Jewish Congregation. My story is very typical for the area I come from and fortunately there are many more people who try to do something about this situation: in Hungary, the Bálint Jewish Community Center and its circle, and the progressive Jewish religious communities show a way out for many of the Holocaust-traumatized Jewish people of all ages. On an international level, the positive identity building programs of the Moishe House network attract a lot of youngsters, and the Limmud can get tens of thousands of participants each year to think and talk about Jewish tradition and the future. Yes, there is an alternative to the concept ‘Jews equal Holocaust and fear’.

Where Jewish education is neglected, the whole content of Judaism can reduce to merely an awareness of Anti-Semitism. Judaism then ceases to be a civilization, and becomes a complex.’ – said Mordechai Kaplan, philosopher-rabbi. We, Jews who are open to the world, have to fight against this phenomenon, the arts and industry of fear, through helping those who are indeed in danger and through the introduction of our Jewish and non-Jewish fellows to the thousands of years of a wonderful and rich world, called Judaism.

January 27 2014

[ Episode #72 // Green Wizardry ]

The members of the middle class in the United States are finding increasing difficulty achieving and maintaining their expectations for jobs, housing and other basic aspects of life. With the limits to growth putting basic lifestyle assumptions under increasing assault, can people use intermediate technologies to reduce their ecological and financial footprint? If we start imagining new ways of procuring energy, food and shelter can we also reconfigure our culture in the process?

In Extraenvironmentalist #72 we discuss appropriate technology with John Michael Greer as he describes the ideas in his new book Green Wizardry: Conservation, Solar Power, Organic Gardening, and Other Hands-On Skills From the Appropriate Tech Toolkit. JMG describes how a downwardly mobile middle class can begin mastering the skills necessary to change their lives and their culture. Then, we talk to Jessica Kellner of Mother Earth Living about her book Housing Reclaimed: Sustainable Homes for Next to Nothing and the people across the United States who are building their homes out of salvaged materials for hardly any money.

Note: In the RSS feed version of this episode we have a 15 minute version of our interview with Jessica Kellner, on our Soundcloud page you’ll find the full 36 minute interview.

//Segments on Soundcloud

// Books

The Integral Urban House
Green Wizardry by John Michael Greer
Housing Reclaimed by Jessica Kellner

// Links and News Items

#1 - via our listener Robin

#2 -

// Extended Clips (in order of appearance)

[First Break] – 34m

Jacob Brownowski – The Ascent of Man
Thomas Friedman – Why Green is the new Red, White and Blue
Obama – The True Engine of Economic Growth
Ray Kurzweil – The Coming Singularity
Carlin: When the Electric Grid Goes Down
James Burke – Connections – The Trigger Effect
EF Shumacher on Appropriate Technology

Small Is Beautiful: Impressions of Fritz Schumacher

// Music (in Order of Appearance)

Afrobeta – Love is Magic
Emilijo A.C. – That’s All I Do
Stefan Biniak – The Read All About It Bootleg via Soundcloud
Rhianna – Stay (Call Me Señor Cover) via IndieShuffle
Androme – Gunjule

// Production Credits

Our correspondent and editor Kevin via Sustainable Guidance Youtube Channel

Episode #72 was supported by donations from the following generous listeners:

Vincenzo in PA
Patrick in OR
Dean in CO
Kevin in CT
Paul in CA

// Send us a BTC tip for #72

Even .0001 BTC goes a long way!

Donate Bitcoins

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"Why There’s No Outcry Despite A Declining Middle Class" by Robert Reich

Robert Reich, class

Robert Reich

People ask me all the time why we don’t have a revolution in America, or at least a major wave of reform similar to that of the Progressive Era or the New Deal or the Great Society.

Middle incomes are sinking, the ranks of the poor are swelling, almost all the economic gains are going to the top, and big money is corrupting our democracy. So why isn’t there more of a ruckus?

The answer is complex, but three reasons stand out.

First, the working class is paralyzed with fear it will lose the jobs and wages it already has. In earlier decades, the working class fomented reform. The labor movement led the charge for a minimum wage, 40-hour workweek, unemployment insurance, and Social Security.

No longer. Working people don’t dare. The share of working-age Americans holding jobs is now lower than at any time in the last three decades and 76 percent of them are living paycheck to pay check. No one has any job security. The last thing they want to do is make a fuss and risk losing the little they have.

Besides, their major means of organizing and protecting themselves — labor unions — have been decimated. Four decades ago more than a third of private-sector workers were unionized. Now, fewer than 7 percent belong to a union.

Second, students don’t dare rock the boat. In prior decades students were a major force for social change. They played an active role in the Civil Rights movement, the Free Speech movement, and against the Vietnam War.

But today’s students don’t want to make a ruckus. They’re laden with debt. Since 1999, student debt has increased more than 500 percent, yet the average starting salary for graduates has dropped 10 percent, adjusted for inflation. Student debts can’t be cancelled in bankruptcy. A default brings penalties and ruins a credit rating.

To make matters worse, the job market for new graduates remains lousy. Which is why record numbers are still living at home. Reformers and revolutionaries don’t look forward to living with mom and dad or worrying about credit ratings and job recommendations.

Third and finally, the American public has become so cynical about government that many no longer think reform is possible. When asked if they believe government will do the right thing most of the time, fewer than 20 percent of Americans agree. Fifty years ago, when that question was first asked on standard surveys, more than 75 percent agreed.

It’s hard to get people worked up to change society or even to change a few laws when they don’t believe government can possibly work. You’d have to posit a giant conspiracy in order to believe all this was the doing of the forces in America most resistant to positive social change.

It’s possible. of course, that rightwing Republicans, corporate executives, and Wall Street moguls intentionally cut jobs and wages in order to cow average workers, buried students under so much debt they’d never take to the streets, and made most Americans so cynical about government they wouldn’t even try for change. But it’s more likely they merely allowed all this to unfold, like a giant wet blanket over the outrage and indignation most Americans feel but don’t express.

Change is coming anyway. We cannot abide an ever-greater share of the nation’s income and wealth going to the top while median household incomes continue too drop, one out of five of our children living in dire poverty, and big money taking over our democracy.

At some point, working people, students, and the broad public will have had enough. They will reclaim our economy and our democracy. This has been the central lesson of American history.

Reform is less risky than revolution, but the longer we wait the more likely it will be the latter.

This blogpost was first published on Robert Reich’s Blog

"Money As A Social Construct And Public Good" by Ann Pettifor

Ann Pettifor, money

Ann Pettifor

In a new bookAnn Pettifor explores money and monetary systems, subjects which have been neglected for far too long by the academic profession. As long as we remain ignorant of how monetary systems operate, for so long will the public good that is money be captured to serve only the interests of the tiny, greedy minority in possession of private wealth.

Everyone, except an economist, knows what ‘money’ means, and even an economist can describe it in the course of a chapter or so… – A.H. Quiggin

Right now many of us are transfixed by a new kind of digital money that seems to escape the control of central bankers: Bitcoin and its new market challenger, Litecoin. There are two striking things about the ‘money’ that is Bitcoin. First, its creators (computer programmers) have apparently ensured that there can never be no more than 21m coins in existence. Bitcoin therefore is like gold: its value lies in its scarcity. This potential shortage has added to the currency’s speculative allure, leading to a rise in its value. However, these rises and falls in value made it unreliable as a means of exchange.

Second, Bitcoin is not buttressed by any of the institutions that maintain advanced monetary systems. These include the rule of law, accountancy and criminal justice systems and central banks. It is these institutions that (try to) keep us honest. By contrast Bitcoin’s great attraction is precisely that it bypasses the state and all regulation. Indeed Bitcoin appears to be based on distrust. “Bitcoin was conceived as a currency that did not require any trust between its users” Jonathan Levin wrote recently.

Equally its scarcity means that unlike the endless and myriad social and economic relationships and transactions facilitated by credit, Bitcoin’s capacity to generate economic activity (trade, investment, employment) is limited – to 21 million coins. Like the architects of the gold standard, Bitcoin’s designers intend to deliberately limit economic activity to 21 million coins in order, ostensibly, “to prevent inflation”. In reality the purpose is to ratchet up the scarcity value of Bitcoin most of which are owned by originators of the scheme.

As this article is published, speculators have inflated to delirious heights the value of Bitcoin. The winners will be those who sell – just before the bubble bursts. In the absence of institutions that reinforce and uphold trust, the losers will be robbed.

Money is both a many-splendoured but also a many-layered thing. We all know what it is. We deal with it – in tangible or intangible form – every day. Most of us think it important. Not so economists. The dominant economic orthodoxy – taught at every university to the exclusion of other schools of thought – declines to take money, banks or debt seriously, as Professor Steve Keen argues. One prominent economist – whose anonymity we shall protect – once discouraged a PhD student from majoring in the subject, arguing that the study of money or credit is “a matter of third order importance.”

As a result of that neglect, those who control our money system escape close scrutiny. As a result too, there is widespread public ignorance of how the system for both creating and pricing money is effectively controlled not by central banks, but by the commercial banking system and by private, global capital markets. Despite all the hype around central bank decision-making, the public authorities have little impact on the management of the global financial system.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects of academic neglect of money and monetary systems is the public’s failure to appreciate that the monetary systems of advanced economies evolved as a result of great struggles between private wealth and wider, democratic society. The success of these historic struggles meant that monetary systems in advanced economies evolved to become a great public goodserving wider interests. However, periodically monetary systems are recaptured by the “robber barons” of private wealth, and then controlled and manipulated to serve their own rapacious greed.

To shine more light on the subject of money, and to broaden the discussion to a wider public, I published a short e-book aimed mainly at students – especially women students and green campaigners. Its title is Just Money: how society can break the despotic power of finance.

While we all know what money is and means, there is still a great deal of confusion. In the book I try to draw out the key differences between economists that rely on the classical or neo-classical tradition of monetary theory; and those who take a radically different perspective on credit and money. These include great economists like the Scot, John Law, John Maynard Keynes, Joseph Schumpeter, JK Galbraith, contemporary economists like Prof. Victoria Chick, Dr. Geoff Tily, Prof. Randall Wray, Prof. Steve Keen, Standard and Poor’s Chief Global Economist, Paul Sheard; anthropologists like David Graeber; and sociologists like Geoffrey Ingham.

They all understand that the thing we call money has its original basis in a promise, a social relationship: credit. The word credit after all, is based on the Latin word credo: I believe. “I believe you will pay, or repay me for my goods and services, now or at some point in the future.”

To understand this, think of your credit card. There is no money in most credit card accounts before a user begins to spend. All that exists is a social contract with a banker; a promise made to the banker to repay the debt incurred as a result of spending on your card, at a certain time in the future, and at an agreed rate of interest. And when we spend ‘money’ on our credit card, we do not exchange our card for the products we purchase. This is because money is not like barter. No, the card stays in our purse. Instead the credit card, and the trust on which it is based, gives us the power to purchase a product. It is the means by which we purchase the good.

Your spending on a card is expenditure created ‘out of thin air.’ The intangible ‘credit’ – nothing more than the bank’s and the retailer’s belief that you will honour an agreement to repay – gives you purchasing power.

That is why money and credit is a great public good. As a result of monetary systems it is wrong to ever suggest that “there is no money” – for childcare, education, the arts or for the transformation of the economy away from fossil fuels. The bigger question is this: is our money system just? And as a public, not private good, does it serve the needs of wider society?

As long as we remain ignorant of how monetary systems operate, for so long will the public good that is money be captured to serve only the interests of the tiny, greedy minority in possession of private wealth.

This article originally appeared at British Politics and Policy at LSE

January 24 2014

"Reducing Inequality: An Essential Step For Development And Wellbeing" by Kate Pickett

Kate Pickett, inequality

Kate Pickett

This column was first published in the Journal For A Progressive Economy.

Inequality is emerging as a central issue for the post-2015 development agenda and the establishment of the sustainable development goals. Inequalities in income and wealth cause economic instability, a range of health and social problems, and create a roadblock to the adoption of pro-environment strategies and behaviour. Social and economic inequalities tear the social fabric, undermine social cohesion and prevent nations, communities and individuals from flourishing.

The Impact of Inequality

Social and economic inequality increases the power and importance of social hierarchy, status and class.As a result, a long list of problems more common further down the social ladder – in poorer neighbourhoods for instance – are much more common in societies with larger income differences between rich and poor.2-4

Figure 1, inequality

Figure 1

Although the impact of inequality tends to be most severe lower down the social ladder, outcomes are worse even among the better off, because inequality damages the whole social fabric of a society – increasing social divisions, status insecurity and status competition.2  Indeed, it is because a large majority of the population – not just the poor – are affected by inequality that the differences in the performance of more and less equal societies are so large.  The scale of the differences varies from one health or social problem to another, but they are all between twice as common and ten times as common in more unequal societies compared to more equal ones.

Although in the rich, developed countries, income inequality is related to indicators of health and social wellbeing, levels of average income (GDP per capita) are not.  Reducing inequality is the most important step these countries can take to increase population well-being.  In the developing and emerging economies, both greater equality and improvements in standards of living are needed for populations to flourish.

A large and well-established body of evidence shows that very large income differences within countries are damaging.  Analyses include both cross-sectional research and studies of changes in income distribution over time.  There is a particularly large body of evidence linking greater inequality to worse population health; hundreds of studies show us that life expectancy is longer, and mortality lower, in more equal societies 3 5-9, rates of infant mortality, mental illness and obesity are two to four times higher 4 10-13 and, in both developing and developed countries, HIV infection prevalence rises with inequality 14 15.

There is also substantial evidence linking greater equality to better social relationships within societies –levels of social cohesion, including trust and social capital, are higher in more equal countries 16-20. Indicators of women’s status and equality are generally better 1 21 and rates of both property, crime and violence, especially homicides, increase as income differences widen 17 22-27.

Inequality wastes human capital and human potential.  The UNICEF Index of Child Wellbeing is significantly higher in more equal societies 28, educational attainment is higher, fewer young people drop out of education, employment and training, and fewer teenage girls become mothers 4 28 29.  Notably, social mobility is restricted in very unequal societies – equality of opportunity is shaped by equality of outcomes 4 30.

In addition to its impact on health and social outcomes, greater equality is also linked to economic progress and stability.  Poverty reduction, and hence development, is compromised by income inequality 31 32. In rich and poor countries, inequality is strongly correlated with shorter spells of economic expansion and less growth over time 33 34 and with more frequent and more severe boom-and-bust cycles that make economies more volatile and vulnerable to crisis 34.  As an International Monetary Fund report put it – reducing inequality and bolstering longer-term economic growth may be ‘two sides of the same coin’ 33.

Greater equality has an important role to play in the necessary worldwide transition to sustainable economies.  Inequality drives status competition, which drives personal debt and consumerism 1 35-38 and, of course, consumerism is a major threat to sustainability.  Stronger community life in more equal societies also means that people are more willing to act for the common good – they recycle more, spend more on foreign aid, score higher on the Global Peace Index 1, and business leaders in more equal countries rate international environmental agreements more highly 39.

Reducing Inequality

Income differences can be reduced via redistribution through taxes and benefits, or by reducing differences in pre-tax incomes.  The international evidence suggests that greater equality confers the same benefits on a society whether it is achieved through one of these approaches or the other.1

In general, top tax rates, which in many countries – including the USA – were over 80% in the 1970s, have been reduced dramatically and there is room for more progressive tax to be restored.  Dealing with tax havens and other methods used by rich individuals and large companies to avoid tax is crucial; the amount of money lost by developing countries to tax havens exceeds all international development aid.40 41 This not only increases global inequality but also means that a higher proportion of public expenditure has to be funded by tax payers in lower income groups.  In many countries taxation has ceased to be significantly redistributive.

Forms of economic democracy, such as employee ownership, employee representation on boards, employee share ownership, mutuals and cooperatives tend to reduce the scale of income inequality and help equality to become more embedded in a society – these are more long-lasting cultural changes than can be achieved through tweaks to the tax code. These forms of business institutions also provide a more stable basis for community life and perform well in ethical terms.

Marking Progress

Given all that we now know about the effects of inequality, it seems clear that we should both monitor inequality and commit to realistic but courageous targets to reduce it. A core objective of the post-2015 development framework and the sustainable development goals should be to reduce inequality within countries. 42 The frameworks should include a top-level goal to reduce inequalities, including income inequalities in particular. This should be in addition to disaggregated indicators and targets in every other goal to ensure equitable progress across different social groups towards agreed development objectives.

An inequality target could be based on Palma’s ratio of the income share of the top 10% of a population to the bottom 40%. In more equal societies this ratio will be one or below, meaning that the top 10% does not receive a larger share of national income than the bottom 40%. In very unequal societies, the ratio may be as high as seven. 43 A potential target could be to halve national Palma ratios by 2030, compared to 2010, and dramatically reduce the global Palma ratio, which is currently 32.

Prioritising the need to tackle inequality in this way will ensure that economic and development strategies are truly inclusive and can drive human progress towards sustainability and wellbeing.

Sources for Further Information

Alliance for Sustainability and Prosperity (ASAP)

The Equality Trust



1. Wilkinson RG, Pickett K. The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone. London: Penguin, 2010.

2. Wilkinson RG, Pickett KE. Income inequality and social dysfunction. Annu Rev Sociol 2009;35:493-512.

3. Wilkinson RG, Pickett KE. Income inequality and population health: A review and explanation of the evidence. Soc Sci Med 2006;62(7):1768-84.

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January 21 2014

"Free Trade And Costly Love" by Robert Skidelsky

Robert Skidelsky, free trade

Robert Skidelsky

The World Trade Organization’s ministerial conference in Bali in December produced a modest package of encouragements to global trade. More broadly, the WTO’s multilateral approach has shown its worth by preventing a massive increase in trade barriers, unlike in 1929-1930, when protectionism helped deepen and broaden the Great Depression. But the main question – whether globalization is a good thing, and for whom – remains unanswered.

The essence of globalization – free trade – rests on the theory of comparative advantage, which views international trade as profitable even for a country that can produce every commodity more cheaply (in terms of labor or all resources) than any other country.

The textbook example given by the Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson is that of a town’s best lawyer who is also its best typist. Provided that he is better at law than at typing, he should specialize in law and leave his secretary to do the typing. That way, both of their earnings will be higher.

The same logic applies to countries. Each country should specialize in producing those things that it produces most efficiently, rather than producing a bit of everything, because that way its income will be higher.

Economists regard understanding the theory of comparative advantage as a test of professional competence. But are the incompetents – say, the average person who believes that buying cheap imports from China destroys Western jobs – always wrong?

Samuelson, who called the theory of comparative advantage the most beautiful thing in economics, changed his tune a bit at the end of his life. Free trade, he said, works fine with unchanging technology. But if countries like China can combine Western technology with low wages, then trade with China will lower Western wages. True, the West will be able to get its goods more cheaply; but, as Samuelson put it, “being able to purchase groceries 20% cheaper at Wal-Mart does not necessarily make up for the wage losses.”

Nor, he might have added, would being able to buy goods more cheaply compensate for many other good things in life that are sacrificed to efficiency. The argument for free trade is an argument for welfare, but welfare defined exclusively in terms of money. Time is money: the more money you can squeeze out of an hour’s work, the better off you are. But what about all of the things that you enjoy doing, or that you think of as valuable, that do not maximize your earnings?

The economist responds that the more efficient you are at your work, the more time you will have for those other things. The trouble is that the more you start to think of your welfare in terms of money, the more likely you are to regard spending time with your friends or making love as an “opportunity cost” – the loss of money you would have made by working instead – rather than a benefit.

The goal of squeezing as much money as possible out of time makes a great deal of sense in poor countries, where inefficient use of time can lead to starvation. The whole point of economic development is, surely, to reduce the cost of inefficiency. Yet economists, not noticing that their logic is less applicable to rich countries, continue trying to extend it to more and more areas of life.

A newly luxuriant research area is “life outsourcing.” Paying someone else to fold your socks is a way to maximize your own earnings and those of the sock folder. Even as penniless graduate students, the economists Jon Steinsson and Emi Nakamura borrowed money to pay people to do their household chores, calculating that “spending an extra hour working on a paper was better for their lifetime expected earnings than spending that same hour vacuuming.”

Likewise, the economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, pioneers of “lovenomics,” cite the tax code as a reason for not marrying. They also conducted a cost/benefit analysis before having a child. As Wolfers explains,

“The principle of comparative advantage tells us that gains from trade are largest when your trading partner has skills and endowments that are quite different from yours. I’m an impractical bookish Harvard-trained empirical labor economist, while Betsey is an impractical and bookish Harvard-trained empirical labor economist. When your skills are so similar, the gains from trade aren’t so large. Except when it comes to bringing up our baby. There, Betsey has a pair of, um, endowments that mean that she’s better at inputs. And that means that I’m left to deal with outputs.”

As Stevenson helpfully clarifies, “it turns out that fathers can be pretty good at dealing with diapers.”

At this point, those untutored in economics are likely to start gnashing their teeth. “I enjoy doing lots of things that do not maximize my earning power,” they might protest. But as soon as we accept the premise that to be rational is to seek to maximize one’s utility – defined in terms of consumption, with money the way to maximize it – the economist’s logic wins.

At that point, we must admit that it is irrational to spend time on long conversations with friends if it is time stolen from inventing, say, new software (unless the conversation helps the invention). For Wolfers, it is a coincidence that what earns him the most money, economics, is also what he most enjoys doing.

Such reasoning crystallizes opposing views of the world, one in which time is a cost, and the other in which it is a benefit. The first sees time spent on enjoyment as a missed opportunity; the second as part of the good life. We should be clear about what is at stake in the choice between the two.

© Project Syndicate

January 09 2014

"The Changing Nature Of Work And Agency In Times Of Interregnum" by Zygmunt Bauman

Zygmunt Bauman, Interregnum

Zygmunt Bauman

Henning Meyer has asked my opinion on the big societal challenges likely to characterize the year we’ve just entered. There are, no doubt, many – perhaps uncountable – unresolved issues that will demand close watching during the coming year and press us for bold decisions and fateful steps. They are too numerous and most of them are too grave for my attempt to provide their full inventory to be anything but to say the least presumptuous and to smack of irresponsibility. I confine myself therefore to only two, though as I believe deserving quite a honorable place among our preoccupations.

Jerzy Kociatkiewicz, my colleague teaching at the University of Sheffield, shared with me a few days ago the following observation:

Last year, various beef and pork products sold in UK supermarkets were found to contain horsemeat. The continuing investigation was remarkable not because of uncovered dishonesty and profiteering (we have come to expect these in any story of corporate misconduct), but because it laid bare just how little managerial oversight there is in the global economy of subcontractors.

By coincidence, a couple of days ago BBC4 broadcast a “Hidden Killers” documentary, revealing among other things half-forgotten worries of the past, like exploding toilets or spontaneously combusting clothes, that between 1831 and 1854 (that is, before health and safety legislation was imposed and a workable control system was started in earnest)  had been found in Britain in 2.500 products “from aluminum compounds in bread to lead chromate in mustard”.

Almost two centuries later, the plague of food adulteration allegedly put paid to once and for all by efficacious management and ostensibly long buried worries, is rising from beneath the (mock, apparently) gravestones. The question is, how did it happen? Not a marginal question, judging by the massiveness of its resurrection; also in view of the “managed society” having qualities of a hologram or a stem cell: every part reflects the totality and from each one every other fragment can be extrapolated and restored.

The Changing Nature Of Managerial Strategies And Work

During most of the modern era, managerial strategies as recorded and articulated in Max Weber’s ideal type of bureaucracy were focused on rendering behaviour of their subordinates utterly predetermined and therefore predictable through eliminating or suppressing all and any factors of influence other than the commands issued by the superiors; those strategies involved as their major tenet the repression or at any rate suspension by the subordinates of their personal idiosyncrasies (beliefs, predilections, affectations, mannerisms and eccentricities – as well as loyalties, commitments and obligations) for the duration of performing the tasks set by their superiors – collated with the reduction of the criteria by which their performance was measured and judged down to the single yardstick of “the job having been done as commanded”.

The side effect of such strategies – not necessarily deliberately chosen and time and again experienced as uncomfortably and vexingly cumbersome – used to be the assumption by the managers of an undivided responsibility for the consequences of the command on the objects of commanded action. Released thereby from their responsibility for the results, their subordinates were in exchange burdened with the undivided responsibility to their superiors issuing the command.

The liquid phase of modernity brought in its wake a sui generis “return of the depressed”. In the preceding “solid” or “hard” phase the managers used to record individual idiosyncrasies of the managed on the side of liabilities. With a huge investment of mental and physical energy, money expenditure and sheer ingenuity, managers tried (with but a mixed success, to be sure) to repress those liabilities and better still to extirpate them altogether, as factors throwing out of balance routine and uniformity, the two pillars of an instrumentally-rational performance and so also of a smooth and unswerving goal-pursuit.

The same individual idiosyncrasies, resenting routine and resisting uniformity singularities and peculiarities of the managed, are now transferred onto the assets pages of accountancy books. Rather than to be suffered and reluctantly endured as no less inescapable than undesirable facts of life taxing and sapping the potential profitability of the enterprise, they are now welcome as ushering into as yet unexplored expanses of opportunity and so an augury and possibly a warrant of unprecedented gains. The side effect of that new managerial strategy is the shifting of responsibility for the results onto the shoulders of the managed, simultaneously reducing the responsibilities of the managers to the selection of the managed according to the promise of profitability they hold for the enterprise – and to the evaluation of quality (measured first and foremost in financial terms) of what they deliver.

Knowing of such seminal departures in the practical meaning of management and in the distribution of responsibilities, one shouldn’t be astonished, let alone surprised, when learning “how little managerial oversight there is in the global economy of subcontractors”.

That seminal shift in the practice of management could not be accomplished nor would have been conceivably designed were it not for the thorough deregulation of the labour market and conditions of employment and a retreat from the practice of collective bargaining and collectively negotiated salaries, wages and terms of employment: in other words, the thorough and well-nigh comprehensive individualization of the employer-employee relations. At least three of the side effects of that underlying shift have been hugely consequential for the ensuing managers’ position, role and strategy.

First, the management of situational uncertainty is now to a fast growing extent turning into a task of the managed instead of the managers.

Second, the managed have been cast in a setting that favours mutual competition and rivalry instead of solidarity.

Third, being increasingly reduced to hire-and-fire acts and progressively stripped off continuous top-down surveillance and supervision, the bonds between the managers and the managed have been substantially weakened: a departure that allows to disguise a massive growth of exploitation (instead of purchasing specific skills and specified time of the managed, managers now can – and try hard to, with considerable effect – claim use of the totality of time and all the explicit or hidden, known or yet to be found and/or elicited abilities and potentials of their employees) as “growing autonomy” of the managed and “flexibility” of their working times.

The suspicion of a massively contrived trompe d’oeil has however found a recent confirmation in the research report of Professor Cary Cooper of Lancaster University. It follows from his study that

around 40% of people are accessing emails on holiday – that’s work … (S)taff want to show that they are committed to try and keep their job in the next wave of redundancies.

Cooper coined the term “presenteeism”, as well as another term “electronic face time” for its email variety, to denote that fast spreading tendency for the “flexibility of office time” to generate huge volumes of free – unpaid and unrecorded – overtime. That tendency has already become enough of a public secret to be given – openly, explicitly, without beating about the bush – an official stamp by Marissa Mayer, the new boss of Yahoo, in a message addressed to her employees: working from home is “not what’s right for Yahoo right now … Come into the office where we can see you, and look busy”…

So where we are now, at the threshold of 2014? On the eve of another U-turn in the history of modern management? A signal of retreat from a bridge too far, back to the old trusty because familiar ways and means of having things done through forcing other people to do them? Or, rather, what we seem to be facing is stripping the new managerial philosophy and practice of the no longer needed disguise – a disguise apparently successful enough to work itself by now out of its job? In disguise of emancipation and new freedoms we have been successfully re-drilled to be 24-7 at beck and call of our employers and forget about the once gallantly defended boundary separating the private from the office time. The bluff of the scam can now be safely called.

Who Is Going To Do It? The Big Question Of Our Time Of Interregnum

Another participant of our threesome on-going electronic conversation about the present and foreseeable future of management, Professor Monika Kostera of the University of Warsaw, raised an issue seemingly different yet in fact closely related to the one above: we presently are, she suggested, in a phase of an “interregnum”,

a phase in-between systems, in between working organizational and institutional orders, able to offer political, economic and cultural frames for human culture to function and develop, and also to cultivate a sustainable relationship with the broader ecosystem. It is a liminal period, of unknown durability, characterized by fundamental uncertainty and many compelling questions, in place of what up till now has been regarded as axiomatic truth, ceteris paribus of modern economic faith. New working ideas of power and political settings, of markets – financial and human, and of planetary consequences of ecological and social mismanagement are being urgently called for and the areas of problems caused by the lack of viable solutions are growing to ever more alarming proportions. The current system is perfectly unable if perhaps not completely unwilling to solve them.

Interregnum – the condition in which the old ways and means of getting things done have stopped already working properly yet the new, more effective ways and means are still at the designing stage or at best in the stage of experimentation – has its temporal, to wit “diachronic”, but also its spatial, that is – “synchronic” dimension. Calling our present condition an “Interregnum” we refer to a time-span of yet unknown length, stretching between a social setting which has run its course and another, as yet under-defined and most certainly under-determined, which we expect or suspect to replace it.

But we also refer to processes under way in the morphology of human togetherness, the structure of human cohabitation: old structures, so to speak, are falling apart, its fragments enter new and untested arrangements, emergent settings are spattered with blank spots and ill-fitting fragments in an advanced stage of disrepair, as well as with other zombie-like fragments, still mobile though out of joint and lacking obvious uses and applications: the condition typical of “failing systems”.

Incapacitated by the logic of “more of the same”, extant systems are, as Monika Kostera rightly concludes, “perfectly unable” to face up to the challenge of de- and particularly re-composition. The structures that once interlocked into something reminiscent of a “system” are now, clearly, in disarray. But structures’ function is to serve as catapults as well as a guiding/steering frames for action. In the state of disarray they are, indeed, “perfectly unable if perhaps not completely unwilling” to assure that such function is performed. Hence the big, perhaps the biggest question of the time of interregnum, fully and truly the “meta-question” – one that needs be answered in order for all the rest of the questions to be properly articulated and the search for answers to them be started: “Supposing that we know what needs to be done, who is going (i.e., able and willing at the same time) – to do it?”

Seeking an optimally convincing answer, Kostera focuses on what she names the “meso level” of social integration. She wonders

how we can make a difference on the meso level by practices of self-management and self-organization, not waiting for the politicians or corporations for initiative but by taking the initiative into our own hands. In the world of complete colonization of almost all human domains by management, in a world where virtually everyone has been educated in management in some form, at some point in our lives; we have all learned the basics of how to manage. I propose that it is time to use that knowledge to create meso structures – organizations – able to support themselves economically, that have other overarching aims than the current mainstream corporations and political institutions.

Choosing to pinpoint an agency capable of meeting the required standard halfway between the state and the realm of individually run life politics, Kostera is on the right track. She is right in disqualifying the uppermost level – the level of territorially sovereign nation states – and the lowest level, that of the individual- or family-centered life politics, as serious, dedicated and reliable candidates for the job. I fully agree with her verdict.

Territorial sovereignty – the relic of the 1648 Westphalian settlement signed in Münster and Osnabrück yet for the duration of the nation-building and imperial colonialism eras presumed to remain the universal precept on the world order and practiced as such – has by now, in the era of global interdependency, turned into an illusion. As to the postulated/assumed sovereignty of the individual, it had been an illusion from its birth – a figment of imagination of governments keen to shoulder off the protective obligations of the state. Though for different reasons, the actors operating at levels above and below the medium level of social integration are equally unfit for the job.

The “medium level” stretching betwixt and between those extremes is of course a fairly vast territory, densely populated and encompassing variegated multitude of formations. Not all of them are promising enough to deserve investing in them hopes for the resurrection of effective agency. At the moment, I am inclined to follow however the trail blazed by Benjamin Barber in his as provocative as it sounds convincing study/manifesto published last year by the Yale University Press under the title If Mayors Ruled the World; Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities .

Today, states Barber,

after a long history of regional success, the nation-state is failing us on the global scale. It was the perfect political recipe for the liberty and independence of autonomous peoples and nations. It is utterly unsuited to interdependence. The city, always the human habitat of first resort, has in today’s globalizing world once again become democracy’s best hope.

Why nation states are singularly unfit to tackle the challenges arising from the fact of our planet-wide interdependence? Because “too inclined by their nature to rivalry and mutual exclusion”, they appear “quintessentially indisposed to cooperation and incapable of establishing global common goods”. Why the cities, especially the big cities, are immensely more adapted to take the lead? Because of

the unique urban potential for cooperation and egalitarianism unhindered by those obdurate forces of sovereignty and nationality, of ideology and inequality, that have historically hobbled and isolated nation-states inside fortresses celebrated as being ‘independent’ and ‘autonomous’. Nor need the mayors tie their aspirations to cooperation to the siren song of a putative United Nations that will never be united because it is composed of rival nations whose essence lies in their sovereignty and independence.

In fact, as Barber emphatically points out, far from being a utopian fantasy, all this is already happening – unplanned, unsupervised, unmonitored; it happens spontaneously, as a natural phase in the development of cities as locations where “creativity is unleashed, community solidified, and citizenship realized”. Daily confronted by globally generated problems and the urge to resolve them, cities are already proving their ability to address “multiplying problems of an interdependent world” incomparably quicker and better than the offices of nation-states capitals. To cut a long story short:

Cities have little choice: to survive and flourish they must remain hospitable to pragmatism and problem solving, to cooperation and networking, to creativity and innovation.

More than any other “totalities” on the present-day planet cities are capable to meet that challenge point blank. Whether they like it or not, cities and particularly the largest among them serve as dustbins into which the globally produced problems are disposed and where they ultimately land. And whether they like it or not, they function as laboratories in which effective tools to tackle and methods to resolve those problems are daily designed and put to test.

Cities are also of the right size and density of habitation to efface or at least seriously mitigate the difference between imagined and experienced totalities, between administration and human interaction, and eventually between physical and moral density. Peaceful mutually beneficial and gratifying coexistence between different traditions, cultural choices or creeds is happening when subject to the logic of urban life less a utopia and more a matter of daily work and achievement than in any other social setting. Cities indeed seem the best bet to all of us wishing for an agency able and willing to rise to the challenges of a globalized, multicultural and multi-centered planet.

Well, another societal challenge of enormous consequence. Facing up to the full grandiosity of a challenge, let alone finding an adequate response, is likely to take much longer time than one year. Finding out whether the response was indeed adequate would take immensely more time yet. But here we are, homini sapienti, squeezed between an increasingly irrelevant past and stubbornly recondite future and known for being wise after the fact more often than before.

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"Why Thomas Hitzlsperger’s Coming Out As Gay Is So Brave" by Henning Meyer

Thomas Hitzlsperger

Thomas Hitzlsperger

Yesterday, I was really impressed by Thomas Hitzlsperger, who in an Interview with DIE ZEIT came out as gay. He stated that by taking this step he would like to kick-start a discussion about homosexuality in professional sports. He is right. This is long overdue!

Professional sports seems to be one of the last areas where the topic of homosexuality is taboo or where homophobic attitudes at least seem very hard to stamp out. This needs to change.

Football in particular has come quite a long way in racism and it is time that a similar journey is started for the issue of homosexuality. In the interview, Thomas Hitzlsperger talked about group pressure in professional football teams and how homophobic language is casually used without any reflection (the example of ‘gay pass’ for a weak pass on the pitch was mentioned in particular). ‘As long as it doesn’t get too bad you keep quiet’ is pretty much what Hitzlsperger said about these situations.

Because of this group pressure, that I am sure you are not completely immune to after you have finished your career, and because of the fact that he is the first former high profile player to come out – in his last international game for Germany he even captained the team – I think this was a very brave step that deserves our support.

I tried to get permission to translate the full interview into English and publish it here on SEJ. At midnight, however, Thomas Hitzlsperger’s new website went online. It includes a short video in English in which he explains his reasons for coming out at this time. Even better! So if you are interested in the reasoning of Hitzlsperger – and I think you should as he has a reputation as a very reflective man – watch the video below.

Thomas Hitzlsperger Explains His Reasons For Coming Out

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January 08 2014

"Why The Concept Of Class Is An Invention Of The Modern Spirit" by Carlo Bordoni

Carlo Bordoni, Concept Of Class

Carlo Bordoni

The representation of modernity would not be complete unless we go back to the theory of the social classes and to Marx’s interpretation of history as a class struggle to seize power. The classes as the social construction of modernity are necessary to its adaptation and functional to its design, based entirely on conflict and inequality.

Modernity and the middle-class go hand in hand. It was only with the rising middle class that the concept of class was born. It is only natural that classes, given that they are the creation of the same bourgeois culture, are bound to follow the evolution of modernity and decline with it.

This social division based on social status and ownership of the means of production, is dealt with by Zygmunt Bauman in a now historic text, Memories of Class, the basis of which is still valid thirty years later.

His theory, though not carried to the extreme, is that the concept of class and class struggle were actually born in the modern era, and not before, following the systematic implementation of waged labour in the factories. Based on the study of Thompson and other thinkers of the twentieth century, Bauman sets out a series of considerations that, in the light of the changes that took place, appear stringent.

First of all, he refutes the Marxist theory that history is characterised by a continuous struggle of one social class for the prevalence over the other, which is one of the cornerstones of Marxist theory. If so, class struggle is no longer a universal mode of social behaviour, but a contingent fact, caused by a particular economic and social condition (industrialisation) and therefore bound to evolve because of that change in the social-economic condition. As a thinker who was very much bound to the period in which he lived, Marx quite rightly tried to scientifically explain and interpret the reality of the time and its analysis (including the solutions he put forward). Marx has value only within that context. His ideas cannot be exported or adopted as universal laws of the historical process.

The Concept Of Class Is A Consequence Of The Division Of Labour

Class society, which was a product of modernity, is an invention of the modern spirit. It is therefore not a natural condition of the human being, but a consequence of the division of labour. The very idea of class is a modern concept, free from a rigid hereditary transmission, but based on the function practiced within the social context. It depends more on where and when you were born, rather than from whom. Before the advent of modernity, the son of an artisan or a serf was destined to have the same fate as his father with no chance of improvement. The environment in which he grew up, his circle of friends and level of education then contributed to amplify the initial difference and make the gap unbridgeable. On the other hand, the son of a gentleman or a nobleman remained such in spite of all kinds of adversity, misfortune or economic ruin.

Society advanced by imprinting and, for this reason, it can be said to have been a rigid society. Modern principles, on the other hand, have opened up this concern, making it possible to have a place on the social ladder on the basis of aptitude, individual abilities, the quality of spirit, the nature of the work carried out, whilst abolishing the privileges of birth that had hitherto contained the right to belong to the aristocracy within narrow confines.

In this way, it is work, not birth that determines class. Tell me what you do and I’ll tell you who you are: a phrase that can only be applied to modern times because it is only from this moment that the work ethic, the sense of social and personal identity derived from it (modern man identifies himself with his profession more than any other at all times) become crucial. The division of labour, a necessity in every social context (which is what Durkheim’s sociology studied during the nineteenth century) takes on a further function in modernity because of the guarantees it gives to the state.

If the duty of every citizen is to contribute to the advancement of the state through his own work and through sacrifice, the daily grind is no longer a private matter of survival, necessary to feed himself and his family, but it becomes a collective act, a recognised social function to be proud of.

This revolutionary bourgeois ethic, matured over the course of the previous centuries and welcomed as a release from a past that was obscurantist, oppressive, illiberal and unworthy of a civilised community because it requires the contribution of all according to what each can give, ultimately proves to be classist at the very moment in which it separates those who have to do the “dirty” work from those who are exempt from it; with the understanding that it is not because of a privilege “a priori”, but because they are assigned to carrying out a different social function that requires particular qualities, specific training or accessibility to money.

It is money, along with the other key element, private property, that characterises modernity. Let us not forget that the spirit of the Protestant Reformation – a modernist reform, adjusting religion to the spirit of the new times, not coincidentally studied by Max Weber, the most representative sociologist of modernity – assigns a spiritual attribute to economic success, as if success in business was a demonstration of divine favour.

It is money that makes the social ladder possible and of course the transition from one class to another. The ownership of the means of production does the rest, and distinguishes those who have to make do with a tiring and servile job (the working class) from those who do their duty to the state and the community by investing, trading, setting up new industrial enterprises and creating jobs (the middle class).

That liberation from a fate determined by birth and impossible to change, which modernity had decided to achieve in the new society, is thwarted by the new economic “cage” that forces men to remain confined within a lower class because of limited economic means.

Work is not enough to overcome the differences, despite ethics, dignity and professional pride, because it does not allow the accumulation of enough money to access a higher status. The first and the most distant promise of modernity is at once betrayed by the onset of new social differences as strict as those of the past, which, however, have a content of ambiguity and deception, since they allow us to catch sight of an opportunity for social and economic advancement open to all, but in reality non-existent and almost impracticable in everyday life. An extremely rigid separation in the heyday of modernity, but destined to fade and dissolve in the process of massification that becomes established at the end of the twentieth century, during which the separation between the different classes will no longer make sense and will be replaced by opposition between the mass and the leader. A prelude to authoritarianism and totalitarianism: betrayal of the libertarian principles of modernity or their extreme consequence?

The Concept Of Class Consciousness

What is it that gives rise to the formation of class? It is undeniable that it is class consciousness, that is, the awareness of being part of a particular social condition shared by many. A special feature (completely new for the times, the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century) determined by the contiguity, the uniformity and commodification of labour.

For the first time the factories force a growing number of people to work side by side, sharing the time and the concrete object of their own labour. The phenomenon of forced urbanisation then urges people to leave the countryside and live in the slums, the dilapidated houses that sprung up overnight in the suburbs.

Factory work, repetitive and arduous, is a source of uniformity among workers: all are equal in face of the owners, the differences and peculiarities are erased. The hours of work and the wages are the same and the individual is reduced to being a number that can easily be replaced. No one is indispensable, there is no room for the individual to stand out or to make a career for himself.

Commodification is the determining factor: even in retrospect, the underhand transformation of the worker into a commodity is clear. Bought and sold on the market. Exploited as much as possible and then replaced by a better one. The first to speak of work as economic component of the business system was the economist Ricardo, a forerunner of Marx. However, what appears to be significant in the transition from the pre-industrial to the industrialised economy, in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, is the unusual relationship that is established between the worker and the employer. It is no longer an equal relationship between the one who requests a service and the one who is able to provide it in exchange for an agreed sum.

Hiring in the factory, as every submission to dependent employment, is the downright selling of one’s body and soul. Forgoing freedom in exchange for a hardly sufficient salary soon reveals the condition of servitude and causes alienation. Not only is the employer the absolute owner of the plants, the machines and tools necessary to do the work, but also of the finished product that leaves the factory. The worker, emptied of his status of homo faber and as a passive instrument, experiences the unease of the non-availability of what he produced with his hands.

Now the time of the social classes and class struggle can be confined to the period that goes from the first Industrial Revolution (late seventeenth and early eighteenth century) to the second half of the last century. Almost three centuries: with their Manifesto of 1848, Marx and Engels are located right at the centre of this crucial phase.

However, these are just conventions, while the substance lies in the realization that modernity is in crisis with post-Fordism and the dematerialisation of work. The assumptions of an industrialised economy, born of the Industrial Revolution, have failed. It coincides with the decline of the middle class, the class in power until the advent of modernity, which is under attack from a proletariat which should succeed them (according to Marxist theory) in the management of power. The bourgeoisie as the ruling class (the crisis of the middle class resulting from demassification should also be considered) was dissolved but not without problems, without being replaced by a proletariat. For the simple reason that there was no proletarian class ready to succeed it.

How Classes Can Dissolve

The rigid class distinction is blurred; contemporary society has become more widespread, complex and differentiated. Above all, class consciousness, which was the foundation of that theory, has been lost. Ideology has also been lost along the way, at a time when ideologies and their false certainties were challenged. This is demonstrated by the fact that in the West there are more political parties (except for modest fringes) that invoke the class struggle and make it the core of their programme. The new formations appeal to federalism, to localism, to anti-politics, collaboration, social equality, democracy, liberalism.

If class is a contingent and temporary factor, determined by a particular condition of status, then it seems logical to be able to speak of the dissolution of classes when those conditions change. The sign of change is obvious when the contiguity of work is being lost, through diversification, relocation, job insecurity. What has changed is precisely the sense of social solidarity and contiguity in the workplace, which has challenged an ethic that had long been considered a question of fact.

Frequent job changing – in The Corrosion of Character (1998) Richard Sennett speaks of a change on average every ten years – makes you lose solidarity with other workers and privileges individual interest, which is to be safeguarded at all costs before collective interests and even going against them.

Another powerful tool of dissolution of the classes is the progressive dematerialisation of labour which, on the one hand, frees man from the fatigue of work, while on the other it undermines one of the strongest powers in the hands of the entrepreneur: the ownership of the instruments of work. This is because immaterial work is essentially intellectual work, based on personal qualities and on communication, which needs low-cost equipment and therefore reduced capital investment.

Contiguity, that was once practiced in the factories, in political party branches, in union meetings, street demonstrations, but also in the social housing of urban peripheries, is now reborn in the non-place of the internet. Because interpersonal communication has changed. It is impersonal and therefore looks for distant contacts which are weak and easy to break. While in the past intensive urbanisation forced people to share limited spaces, apartments are now a symbol of social separation, exacerbated by the massive use of social networks. A separation to which people are often subjected, but which is even more frequently sought, as in the case of gated communities, closed communities in which people are locked up in order to defend themselves and send out the signal of their unwillingness to mingle with each other.

These are weak ties, which lie outside the physicality but experience moments of collective exaltation in improvised gatherings, where people get together to protest or to celebrate, without really knowing each other, often with different motivations, and then disperse and return to their own lives. This is an effect of demassification. The new contiguity is no longer experienced in the factory, but in the town squares.

However, this type of contiguity is not enough to produce lasting effects. It is not solid enough to forge ties between people, to give birth to that spirit of solidarity which induces them to intervene when the other is in need, to make sacrifices, to share what they have with others. On your own computer, you simply have to press a button to delete a friendship that you have grown tired of or to forget people met by chance. The network is able to bring people together easily, but can also drive them apart quickly.

The Crisis Of Modernity

According to Michel Maffesoli the crisis of modernity is characterised by a return to archaic forms of socialisation, fostered by the technological development and, in particular, by network communication. Among these archaic forms there is the community, the need to forge strong ties based on common interests, empathy, willingness to believe in the same values, which are no longer ideological values, but emotional values, personal needs, self-statements, areas of the imaginary. Values rediscovered or constructed artificially in a narrow field and lived by as self-imposed rules, which make you think – just as in a definition dear to Maffesoli – tribal rituals (Le Temps des tribus, 1988).

The building up of a culture and common values to be used within a privileged group, with its own language and symbols, in which they can identify themselves. The need for identification, which was lost with the work ethic, is temporarily recuperated in the community of the imaginary or immaterial. Their function is just temporary and is a replacement. It temporarily compensates for the absence of universally recognised ethical values, and for this reason is characterised, in conformity with the liquidity of the current world, by extreme fragility.

Emotional or imaginary communities are formed and wiped out with ease: you just have to avoid responding, change your nickname and with one click you can delete a world, a friendship you thought would last, the confidence in a group in which you finally seem to be at home. No regrets, guilt-free and, above all, without having to explain yourself. Network communities also have this advantage: of being able to quickly get out of a relationship that you have grown tired of, which is becoming too cramped or unsatisfactory, and to create another. These are the disposable communities in the liquid world, our prêt-à-porter identity that can be worn and replaced as required.

They may even be multiple when interacting with more community networks at the same time, assuming different identities depending on the state of mind of the moment or the want to satisfy different needs. This multicommunity of use well provides for the desire to recover a lost identity and experience different conditions as a result of the sense of anguish and loneliness that we cannot shake off.

The ties created in the network are weak ones and their lack of physicality prevents the formation of class consciousness, the awareness of sharing the same destiny. That physicality, the close daily contact that Marx could not find in the world of the peasant farmers and found that it was, on the other hand, very much present in the urban proletariat.

According to Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt:

the most important communication the proletarians have and that the peasants lack, is enacted in the physical, corporeal being together in the factory. The class and the bases of political action are formed not primarily through the circulation of information or even ideas but rather through the construction of political affects, which requires a physical proximity. And so Facebook, Twitter and the Internet and other kinds of communications mechanisms are useful, but nothing can replace the being together of bodies and the corporeal communication that is the basis of collective political intelligence and action. In all the occupations (…) the participants experienced the power of creating new political affects through being together.

The young people who took to Tahrir Square, who gave rise to the Arab Spring or the Occupy Wall Street movement, felt the need to be physically close, as well as virtually close through the usual social networks. But this, too, like any instrument that can be used on the internet, is not enough to create class consciousness. However, it has been observed that, once the demonstration has broken up, the enthusiasm for the sit-in is over, everyone returns to his own home and carries on with his life. In order to build up class consciousness, neither the network nor the occasional physical contact at events is sufficient. What is needed is that particular painful constraint and the sharing of an identical fate that used to characterise social class and that now no longer exist.

December 30 2013

[ Episode #71 // Supply Shock ]

When the profession of economics began to think that land and capital were equivalent and interchangeable, the roots of real estate speculation and environmental crisis were established. Because the origins of neoclassical economics became deeply influenced by the interests of early 20th century land barons, a new economic paradigm will have to challenge the assumptions of powerful landowners.  Will a world in search of economic growth embrace a steady state that properly analyzes the role of land in economic life? Can the rampant real estate speculation across the planet be tamed with an overhaul of our tax system?

In Extraenvironmentalist #71 we discuss implications of the steady-state economy with Brian Czech along with his new book Supply Shock: Economic Growth at the Crossroads and the Steady State Solution. Brian explains how the economics profession was corrupted in the early 20th century by the interests of land barons and how this distorts analysis of ecological issues. Then, Karl Fitzgerald of the Renegade Economists joins us to talk about Henry George, land bubbles and real estate speculation. We ask Karl about rental backed securities and the outrageous housing prices of Australia. At the end of the show, we recap 2013 with a short clip collage and thank our listeners for an incredible year.

//Segments on Soundcloud

// Books

Supply Shock: Economic Growth at the Crossroads and the Steady State Solution by Brian Czech
The Corruption of Economics by Mason Gaffney and Fred Harrison

// Extended Clips (in order of appearance)

[First Break] – 25m

Jeffrey Sachs on Economic Growth
Has the US Economy Entered a Permanent Slump?
Krugman’s Idea to Spur Economic Growth
Bernanke: Hoping Economic Growth Will Continue
Obama Weekly Address: Working With Both Parties to Keep the Economy Moving Forward
Founder of Adbusters on CNN

[Second Break] – 1h40m

Real Estate 4 Ransom
Jimmy Macmillan on The Extraenvironmentalist


Charles Eisenstein – A Pattern to the Maze

// Music (in Order of Appearance)

Kaligraph E – Milkyears
Bart & Baker Feat Philou – Baby Dont You Cry (Skeewiff Remix)
Ayer – Circle Down (Keljet Remix) via Indieshuffle
Lincoln Jesser – Tops via The Burning Ear
Snowmine – Columbus via Lower Frequencies

// Production Credits

Our correspondent and editor Kevin via Sustainable Guidance Youtube Channel

This show was supported by donations from our generous listeners:

Anders in Sweden
Wayne in Washington
Christian in Germany
Bill in NY

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December 11 2013

Podcast of the day: The Extraenviromentalist: Changing Reactions.

From our friends at The Extraenviromentalist Podcast.

From the episode notes:

The catastrophe at Fukushima presents the opportunity to re-evaluate basic assumptions about energy and technology but the temptation to double down on business as usual becomes incredibly strong. Will our species obtain a paradigm shift in the face of an energy emergency? Could we create new models for business that regenerate ecological functions rather than destroy the planet?

In Extraenvironmentalist #66 we speak with Michael Stone and Ian MacKenzie about their new film Reactor which covers their recent trip to Japan. Is the social fallout from Fukushima a template for social change elsewhere? Then we speak with Willem Ferwerda of the Ecosystem Return Foundation about scaling up the ecosystem restoration techniques we discussed on XE #65 with John Liu. We talk about the potential for regenerating ecological functions through new models for business and investing. Can we develop a process for launching permaculture businesses around the world?

December 10 2013

[ Episode #70 // Downloading Responsibility ]

An ongoing economic crash that feels like the onset of a deep freeze is far more exhausting than a rapid implosion. As bubbles are reflated and debts accumulate yet again, the system lurches towards its next financial accident. While the global operating system fails, can the exchange of critical goods and services detach from failing currencies? Does the international financial system retain any value if people no longer need it?

In Extraenvironmentalist #70 we catch up with Nicole Foss and Laurence Boomert on their tour across North America as they speak with communities about preparing for hard times. Nicole and Laurence highlight community initiatives that can help people meet basic needs, even as monetary institutions pursue desperation measures. Then, John Michael Greer joins us [88m] to answer a few listener questions and to highlight the lack of whole systems thinking in internet visionaries after Seth and Justin discuss the money illusion.

//Segments on Soundcloud

// Books

Local Dollars, Local Sense by Michael Shuman
Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money by Woody Tasch
The Money Illusion by Irving Fisher

// News and Other Items Discussed

Freicoin – the demurrage based cryptocurrency

// Extended Clips (in order of appearance)

[Break] – 35m

Consum-oholic zombies fed big debt transfusion
Living Debt: Rising costs in UK force millions to borrow
Bartering to survive in Spain
I’m broke, let’s barter – Greece’s new alternative economy


Alan Watts

// Music (in Order of Appearance)

Dorothy Morrison – Rain (Bobby Busnach Make it Rain Remix)

Skeewiff – Man of Constant Sorrow
Ed Sheeran – I See Fire (Kygo Remix) via Earmilk
ZZ Ward – 365 Days (Jerry Folk Remix) via Jaqui
Fredico Aubele – Somewhere Else

// Production Credits

Our correspondent and editor Kevin via Sustainable Guidance Youtube Channel

Kevin in CA for the Filter Bubble Wrap at the end

Episode art: Wall Street in 1929, one week before the Black Friday crash. People gather due to high volume of trading.

This show was supported by donations from our generous listeners:

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Patrick in Oregon
Eric in DC

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December 05 2013

Podcast of the day: The Extraenviromentalist: Carbon Democracy

From our friends at The Extraenviromentalist Podcast, whom we’ll be featuring regularly on the P2P blog.

From the episode notes:

“The ideas we have about our government systems have been dramatically shaped by the energy sources that power them. If the physical characteristics of coal and oil have developed the expectations of our 20th century politics, how they also invent ‘the economy’? Will it be possible to sabotage a system that has an entirely different energy profile than the one that gave birth to organized labor?

In Extraenvironmentalist #69 we speak with Timothy Mitchell about our political systems and his book Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil. We discuss the ways coal and oil have transformed collective labor demands, revolutionized our money systems and contributed to our global conflicts. Then, Richard Heinberg updates us on the shale oil bubble and the implications of peak oil as we discuss Snake Oil: How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future. Richard reflects on the timing of peak oil predictions and what the may indicate for the upcoming decade.”






November 26 2013

[ Episode #69 // Carbon Democracy ]

The ideas we have about our government systems have been dramatically shaped by the energy sources that power them. If the physical characteristics of coal and oil have developed the expectations of our 20th century politics, how they also invent ‘the economy’? Will it be possible to sabotage a system that has an entirely different energy profile than the one that gave birth to organized labor?

In Extraenvironmentalist #69 we speak with Timothy Mitchell about our political systems and his book Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil. We discuss the ways coal and oil have transformed collective labor demands, revolutionized our money systems and contributed to our global conflicts. Then, Richard Heinberg updates us on the shale oil bubble and the implications of peak oil as we discuss Snake Oil: How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future. Richard reflects on the timing of peak oil predictions and what they may indicate for the upcoming decade.

//Segments on Soundcloud

// Books

Carbon Democracy by Timothy Mitchell
Snake Oil by Richard Heinberg

// News and Other Items Discussed

Krugman Goes Splat sent in by Josh
US Median Wage Stagnation
CNN Money: What I Saw at the Doomsday Prepper Convention
USA Today: Could the Fracking Boom Peter Out Sooner than the DOE Expects?

// Extended Clips (in order of appearance)

[Break] – 29m

Robert Newman – A Short History of Oil
Who Killed the Electric Streetcar


Democracy Now – Scientists: We Have to Consume Less sent in by James

// Music (in Order of Appearance)

Hobo Jack Adkins – Thirty Inch Coal
Michael Jackson – Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ (Louis La Roche Remix) via Earmilk
Phantogram – Celebrating Nothing via The Music Ninja
Smokey Joe & The Kid – Put the Blame on Pete via Speakeasy Electroswing
Will Lamb – This Old Rig
Smallpools – Mason Jar (Monsieur Adi Remix) via Dancing Astronaut
Classix – All You’re Waiting For via Gorilla vs Bear

// Production Credits

Our correspondent and editor Kevin via Sustainable Guidance Youtube Channel

This show was supported by donations from our generous listeners:

Aaron in Queensland
Martine in Maryland
Kevin in California
Zach in Illinois
Nancy in Colorado

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November 05 2013

"Why Washington Is Cutting Safety Nets" by Robert Reich

Robert Reich

Robert Reich

… when most Americans are still in the Great Recession? So how to explain this paradox?

As of November 1 more than 47 million Americans have lost some or all of their food stamp benefits. House Republicans are pushing for further cuts. If the sequester isn’t stopped everything else poor and working-class Americans depend on will be further squeezed.

We’re not talking about a small sliver of America here. Half of all children get food stamps at some point during their childhood. Half of all adults get them sometime between ages 18 and 65. Many employers – including the nation’s largest, Walmart – now pay so little that food stamps are necessary in order to keep food on the family table, and other forms of assistance are required to keep a roof overhead.

The larger reality is that most Americans are still living in the Great Recession. Median household income continues to drop. In last week’s Washington Post-ABC poll, 75 percent rated the state of the economy as “negative” or “poor.”

So why is Washington whacking safety nets and services that a large portion of Americans need, when we still very much need them?

It’s easy to blame Republicans and the rightwing billionaires that bankroll them, and their unceasing demonization of “big government” as well as deficits. But Democrats in Washington bear some of the responsibility. In last year’s fiscal cliff debate neither party pushed to extend the payroll tax holiday or find other ways to help the working middle class and poor.

Here’s a clue: A new survey of families in the top 10 percent of net worth (done by the American Affluence Research Center) shows they’re feeling better than they’ve felt since 2007, before the Great Recession.

It’s not just that the top 10 percent have jobs and their wages are rising. The top 10 percent also owns 80 percent of the stock market. And the stock market is up a whopping 24 percent this year.

The stock market is up even though most Americans are down for two big reasons.

First, businesses are busily handing their cash back to their shareholders – buying back their stock and thereby boosting share prices – rather than using the cash to expand and hire. It makes no sense to expand and hire when most Americans don’t have the money to buy.

The S&P 500 “Buyback Index,” which measures the 100 stocks with the highest buyback ratios, has surged 40 percent this year, compared with a 24% rally for the S&P 500.

IBM has just approved another $15 billion for share buybacks on top of about $5.6 billion it set aside previously, thereby boosting its share prices even though business is sluggish. In April, Apple announced a $50 billion increase in buybacks plus a 15% rise in dividends, but even this wasn’t enough for multi-billionaire Carl Icahn, who’s now demanding that Apple use more of its $170 billion cash stash to buy back its stock and make Ichan even richer.

Big corporations can also borrow at rock-bottom rates these days in order to buy back even more of their stock — courtesy of the Fed’s $85 billion a month bond-buying program. (Ichan also wants Apple to borrow $150 billion at 3 percent interest, in order to buy back more stock and further enrich himself.)

The second big reason why shares are up while most Americans are down is corporations continue to find new ways to boost profits and share prices by cutting their labor costs – substituting software for people, cutting wages and benefits, and piling more responsibilities on each of the employees that remain.

Neither of these two strategies – buying back stock and paring payrolls – can be sustained over the long run (so you have every right to worry about another Wall Street bubble). They don’t improve a company’s products or customer service.

But in an era of sluggish sales – when the vast American middle class lacks the purchasing power to keep the economy going – these two strategies at least keep shareholders happy. And that means they keep the top 10 percent happy.

Congress, meanwhile, doesn’t know much about the bottom 90 percent. The top 10 percent provide almost all campaign contributions and funding of “independent” ads.

Moreover, just about all members of Congress are drawn from the same top 10 percent – as are almost all their friends and associates, and even the media who report on them.

Get it? The bottom 90 percent of Americans  — most of whom are still suffering from the Great Recession, most of whom have been on a downward escalator for decades — have disappeared from official Washington.

This post was first published on Robert Reich’s Blog

"Should Extremist Parties Be Banned?" by Jan-Werner Müller

Jan-Werner Müller

Jan-Werner Müller

The Greek government’s crackdown on the country’s far-right Golden Dawn party has revived a vexing question that seemed to have disappeared with the Cold War’s end: Is there a place within liberal democracies for apparently anti-democratic parties?

To be sure, liberal democracies have felt threatened since communism collapsed in 1989 – but mostly by foreign terrorists, who tend not to form political parties and sit in these countries’ parliaments. So, should extremist parties that seek to compete within the democratic framework be outlawed, or would such a restriction on freedom of speech and association itself undermine this framework?

Above all, it is crucial that such decisions be entrusted to non-partisan institutions such as constitutional courts, not other political parties, whose leaders will always be tempted to ban their competitors. Unfortunately, the moves against Golden Dawn are mostly identified with the government’s interests, rather than being perceived as the result of careful, independent judgment.

On the face of it, democratic self-defense seems a legitimate goal. As US Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson (who was also the chief US prosecutor at Nuremburg) put it, the constitution is not “a suicide pact” – a sentiment echoed by the Israeli jurist Aharon Barak, who emphasized that “civil rights are not an altar for national destruction.”

But too much democratic self-defense can ultimately leave no democracy to defend. If the people really want to be done with democracy, who is to stop them? As another US Supreme Court justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, put it, “if my fellow citizens want to go to Hell, I will help them. It’s my job.”

So it seems that democracies are damned if they ban and damned if they do not ban. Or, in the more elevated language of the twentieth century’s most influential liberal philosopher, John Rawls, this appears to be a “practical dilemma which philosophy alone cannot resolve.”

History offers no clear lessons, though many people like to think otherwise. In retrospect, it appears obvious that the Weimar Republic might have been saved had the Nazi Party been banned in time. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, famously gloated after the Nazis’ legal Machtergreifung (seizure of power): “It will always remain one of the best jokes of democracy that it provided its mortal enemies with the means through which it was annihilated.”

But a ban might not have halted the German people’s general disenchantment with liberal democracy, and an authoritarian regime still might have followed. Indeed, whereas West Germany banned a neo-Nazi party and the Communist Party in the 1950’s, some countries –particularly in Southern and Eastern Europe, where dictatorship came to be associated with the suppression of pluralism – have drawn precisely the opposite lesson about preventing authoritarianism. That is one reason why Greece, for example, has no legal provisions for banning parties.

The fact that Greece nonetheless is effectively trying to destroy Golden Dawn – the parliament just voted to freeze the party’s state funding – suggests that, in the end, most democracies will want to draw the line somewhere. But just where, exactly, should it be drawn?

For starters, it is important to recognize that the line needs to be clearly visible before extremist parties even arise. If the rule of law is to be upheld, democratic self-defense must not appear ad hocor arbitrary. Thus the criteria for bans should be spelled out in advance.

One criterion that seems universally accepted is a party’s use, encouragement, or at least condoning of violence – as was evidently the case with Golden Dawn’s role in attacks on immigrants in Athens. There is less consensus about parties that incite hatred and are committed to destroying core democratic principles – especially because many extremist parties in Europe go out of their way to emphasize that they are not against democracy; on the contrary, they are fighting for “the people.”

But parties that seek to exclude or subordinate a part of “the people” – for example, legal immigrants and their descendants – are violating core democratic principles. Even if Golden Dawn – a neo-Nazi party in appearance and content – had not engaged in violence, its extreme anti-immigrant stance and its incitement of hatred at a moment of great social and economic turmoil would have made it a plausible candidate for a ban.

Critics warn of a slippery slope. Any disagreement with a government’s immigration policy, for example, might eventually be deemed “racist,” resulting in curtailment of freedom of speech. Something like the classic American standard – the speech in question must pose a “clear and present danger” of violence – is therefore essential. Marginal parties that are not connected to political violence and do not incite hatred should probably be left in peace – distasteful as their rhetoric may be.

But parties that are closer to assuming power are a different matter, even if banning them might automatically appear undemocratic (after all, they will already have deputies in parliaments). In onefamous case, the European Court of Human Rights agreed with the banning of Turkey’s Welfare Party while it was the senior member of a governing coalition.

It is a myth that bans turn leaders of extremist parties into martyrs. Very few people can remember who led the postwar German neo-Nazis and Communists. Nor is it always the case that mainstream parties can cut off support for extremists by selectively coopting their complaints and demands. Sometimes this approach works, and sometimes it does not; but it always amounts to playing with fire.

Banning parties does not have to mean silencing citizens who are tempted to vote for extremists. Their concerns should be heard and debated; and sometimes banning is best combined with renewed efforts at civic education, emphasizing, for example, that immigrants did not cause Greece’s woes. True, such measures might come across as patronizing – but such forms of public engagement are the only way to avoid making anti-extremism look like extremism itself.

© Project Syndicate

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