sexta-feira, 10 de abril de 2009

Against "shared sacrifice"

Against "shared sacrifice"

If anyone was living "beyond their means" during the 2000s, it was Corporate America and the rich.

(Top) Former GM CEO Rick Wagoner, (Bottom) auto workers leaving a GM plant(Top) Former GM CEO Rick Wagoner, (Bottom) auto workers leaving a GM plant

"THERE IS no magic that can transform our situation into something other than what it is: A time for shared sacrifice, dedicated to a vision of a brighter future for this city."

That's what Philadelphia Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter said as he delivered his new budget proposal to the City Council in March--a "people's budget," he called it, even though it requires deep cuts to city services and givebacks from city workers on health care, pensions and work rules.

"This is the time," Nutter said, "for all of us to either stand up and be counted, or sit down and be quiet."

Nutter, of course, isn't the only one talking "shared sacrifice." Similar calls can be heard at all levels of government, from the Obama administration on down, and throughout Corporate America. But wherever you hear the phrase, you can be sure that the intention is to make sure that workers are the ones to "share" the sacrifice.

The Obama administration's late March announcement that it was rejecting more federal funds for the Detroit Three auto companies is a case in point.

White House officials insisted that workers at General Motors and Chrysler would have to make further sacrifices--coming on top of years of concessions already--for the carmakers to receive more federal assistance. Meanwhile, GM CEO Rick Wagoner was forced by the administration to resign his top post--but he won't have to sacrifice any of the $63.3 million he's raked in during his career at GM.

Of course, the auto giants aren't the only companies demanding cuts in hours, wages and benefits--and using the rapidly rising unemployment rate, now at its highest point since 1983, to threaten workers with shutdowns and layoffs if they don't get their way.

A Watson Wyatt survey released in March found that 56 percent of the 245 corporations surveyed had a hiring freeze in effect, 42 percent had salary freezes, 12 percent had reduced 401(k) matching contributions, and 13 percent had instituted a shortened workweek.

State and local governments are following the same strategies. The New York Times gave the example of Vallejo, Calif., where city officials just filed for Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy, allowing the city to tear up its existing contracts with firefighters and other city workers.

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THE ARGUMENT in all cases is that the only way we'll make it through the crisis is for everyone to tighten their belts. The thing is, some people have already been cutting back for a very long time--and others haven't.

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Frank Levy, median family income in the U.S. has stayed flat for the last 25 years. During the Bush years, it actually fell. But for the top 1 percent of U.S. households, their median income rose by about $250,000 between 1986 and 2005.

Corporate America called them the "boom years" for good reason--CEO pay and benefits took off. In 1980, the average CEO made 42 times the average worker's salary--a fairly outrageous difference. But by 2007, CEOs were getting 364 times what an average worker makes.

If many workers are seeing their wages and working hours disappear, their mountains of debt aren't. The conventional wisdom in the media and among politicians is that the American people were living "beyond their means"--using credit to buy things they couldn't afford. But for many Americans, credit filled the gap between what they earned and what it costs to live.

If anyone was living "beyond their means" during the 2000s, it was Corporate America and the rich. As Financial Times columnist Michael Skapinker wrote:

Special treatment that passes unnoticed when times are good provokes rage when they are not, as the fury over bonuses paid at AIG shows. Warren Buffett said: "You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out." You also find out who has been wearing diamond-studded flippers.

People are taking notice, though--and taking action. Like the people who protested the bailout of Citigroup and AIG, or the students and teachers protesting educations cuts in California and elsewhere. In France, Caterpillar workers facing layoffs took their managers hostage at the end of March--the fourth "boss-napping" in less than a month.

While the Obama administration tries to portray its economic policies as benefiting working America, they fall far short of what's needed to fundamentally improve ordinary people's lives. On the contrary, they leave the burden where it's always been, on workers and the poor.

Countering conservative accusations that Obama's bailout of the banks amounts to "nationalization," economist Joseph Stiglitz, in a column for the New York Times, called the administration's policy "ersatz capitalism, the privatizing of gains and the socializing of losses. It is a 'partnership' in which one partner robs the other."

It's no surprise that Corporate America isn't being asked for much sacrifice by the Obama administration--since many of them are old friends of big business. Obama's top economic advisor Larry Summers, for instance, collected $5 million last year from the hedge fund D.E. Shaw and $2.7 million in speaking fees from Wall Street firms, including many of the companies now expecting bailout money.

How can Summers--the person that advised Wall Street in the first place--be expected to mete out "shared sacrifice"?

The crimes of Corporate America and their allies in Washington have been exposed for everyone to see. We should tell them it's their turn to sacrifice.

Introduction to the Global Economy

Introduction to the Global Economy

In 1999, Global Exchange was one of a democratic, consensus-based core of organizations that inspired tens of thousands of nonviolent protesters to converge in Seattle to challenge the WTO.

WHY?

To uphold democracy and our right to participate in decisions about our lives and environment...
  • Because WTO rules are written by and for corporations, putting profits above people and the planet.
To protect the human dignity of every single one of us...
  • Because WTO rules trample labor and human rights.
To protect the environment...
  • Because WTO rules render environmental protections illegal.
To save lives...
  • Because WTO rules stand between dying people and the medicine that will save their lives.


Learn more about how the Global Economy functions and how we can continue the fight for a more just world.

Economic Literacy

Corporate Globalization / Neoliberalism

WTO / Economic Democracy

Labor

Corporate Accountability

Links

  • United for a Fair Economy -- Resources for teaching popular economics, creative actions, and workshops on the global economy.
  • International Labor Resource and Information Group -- ILRIG is a non-profit labor service organization based at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. They provide research, education, training and publication service to progressive organizations in Southern Africa. ILRIG's work focuses on international issues, particularly globalization.
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights available in over 270 languages, courtesy of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), its field offices and its Internet team.

quinta-feira, 9 de abril de 2009

A G20 Meeting for Naught

April 2, 2009

Still Clinging to the Dead Logic of Neoliberalism

A G20 Meeting for Naught

By ERIC TOUSSAINT and DAMIEN MILLET

The G20 summit meeting in London from April 1st onward was loudly announced and publicized. Those 20 industrialized and emergent countries (G20) are meeting to find solutions to the crisis. But long before the end of the summit, it is clear that they will not rise to the challenge.

The G20 was not created in order to provide genuine solutions; it was hastily summoned a first time in November 2008 to salvage the powers that be and try and to plug the breaches in capitalism. It is therefore impossible for this body to opt for measures that are sufficiently radical to save the day.

Public opinion will be told to look in the two directions that are expected to focus aggravation: tax havens and the CEOs’ incomes.

Tax havens have to be abolished, that goes without saying. To achieve this it should be easy enough to make it illegal for companies and residents to have any assets in, or relationships with partners located in, tax havens. The EU countries that function like tax havens (Austria, Belgium, the UK, Luxembourg…) as well as Switzerland must do away with bank secrecy and put an end to their outrageous practices. Yet such is not at all the orientation chosen by the G20: a couple of emblematic cases will be cracked down on, minimal measures will be required from those countries, and a black list of non-cooperative territories eventually made public will have been carefully vetted (the City, Luxembourg or Austria have already been promised they will not be on it).

On the other hand CEOs’ incomes, including golden parachutes and other bonuses, are indeed outrageous. In time of growth the employers claimed that those who brought in such benefits to their companies had to be rewarded to prevent them from moving to another. Now that we live in a time of crisis and those companies have to admit to increasing losses, the same executives still claim similar rewards. The G20 will try to regulate their incomes for a limited duration. The logic of the system is not questioned.

Apart from tax havens and CEOs’ superbonuses, which will not be hit by any specific penalties anyway, the G20 countries will further bail out their banks. Though globally discredited and de-legitimized, the IMF will be put back at the hub of the political and economic game thanks to a new provision of funds which will have been made available by 2010.

The G20 strategy is to put a fresh coat of paint on a world which is collapsing. Only a strong popular mobilization will make it possible to lay solid foundations to build another world in which finance is at the service of people, and not the other way round. The 28 and 30 March demos were big ones: 40,000 people in London, thousands and thousands in Vienna, Berlin, Stuttgart, Madrid, Brasilia, Rome, etc. with the common motto “Let the rich pay the crisis!” The week of global action called for by the social movements from all over the world at the WSF at Belém last January thus had a gigantic echo. Those who had announced the end of the movement for another globalization were wrong. It has proved that it is able to bring large crowds together, and this is only the beginning. The success of the mobilizations in France on 29 January and 19 March (three million demonstrators were in the streets) is evidence that the workers, the unemployed and young people all want other solutions to the crisis than those which consist in bailing out bankers and imposing restrictions on the lower classes.

As a counterpoint to the G20 summit, the president of the UN General Assembly, Miguel d'Escoto, has called a general meeting of Heads of States and Governments in June and asked the economist Joseph Stiglitz to chair a commission that will draft proposals to meet the global crisis. The suggested solutions are inadequate because too timid, but they will at least be discussed at the the UN general Assembly.

A new debt crisis is looming in the South, it is a consequence of the real estate private debt bubble bursting in the North. The recession that now affects the real economy of all countries in the North has led to prices of raw material plummeting, which considerably has reduced the strong currency revenues with which governments of countries of the South repay their external public debts. Moreover the current credit crunch has induced a rise in borrowing rates for countries of the South. The combination of these two factors has already resulted in suspensions in debt repayment by those governments that are most exposed to the crisis (starting with Ecuador). Others will follow suit within one or two years.

The situation is absurd: countries of the South are net creditors to the North, starting with the US whose external debt is over US$ 6,000 billion (twice the total external debt of all the countries of the South). Central banks in countries of the South buy US Treasury bonds instead of setting up a democratic bank of the South to finance human development projects. They should leave the World Bank and the IMF, which are tools of domination, and develop South-South relations of solidarity such as those which exist between countries that are members of ALBA (Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Dominica). They ought to audit the debts they are asked to repay and put an end to the payment of illegitimate debts.

The G20 will see to it that the core of neoliberal logic is left untouched. Its principles are asserted again and again, even though they have blatantly failed: the G20 maintains its attachment to a global economy based on an open market. Its support to the god of free market is non-negotiable. Everything else is hocus-pocus.

Eric Toussaint, president of the Committee for the Cancellation of Third World Debt – Belgium www.cadtm.org , author of The World Bank: A Critical Primer, Pluto, London, 2008.

Damien Millet is spokeperson for CADTM France (Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt,). Joint authors of 60 Questions 60 Answers on the Debt, the IMF and the World Bank, English version to be published in 2009.

No to NATO!

We Women Reject – NATO, its Wars, its Militarism
We Women Further – Understanding, Peace, Non-Violence
We Transcend Borders – Women Make Progress


Throughout Europe women are active against US bases. We fight against NATO training grounds: what is taught here turns into bloody reality in other parts of the world. We stand up against atomic bombs, missile defence and space control installations. We support the implementation of UN resolution 1325, which states that women must play an important, autonomous role in preventing wars, peacefully solving conflicts and building a peace order.

Following the end of the Cold War, women once again overcome dividing lines between ethnic groups and countries, boundaries of hate. Everywhere they build bridges of understanding, i.e. in divided Ireland, between Bosnia, Serbia and the other former Yugoslav states, between Chechnya, Afghanistan and Russia, Israel and Palestine, Kurdistan and Turkey. These are our experiences. Therefore we know: a peaceful, peace promoting Europe is possible.

NATO is a significant barrier to our aims. It is based on images of hostility, which are renewed according to its fashion. NATO members go to war, defend their interests in the world with military threats, start a new arms race.

We say: 60 years of NATO are enough! We want to overcome power politics, in mutual respect, understanding and peaceful conflict resolution. Instead of the rich dominating the poor countries we want to overcome hunger and poverty together. Only with us women this political change will happen.

In classical antiquity, Lysistrata, in order to prevent the war, called upon the women of Athens and Sparta to rebut their menfolk. She was successful. We deny the myths presented by warmongers. They say: wars are fought for women's rights, we must fight terrorism with military means, atomic weapons protect us. What a bunch of lies!

As daughters of Lysistrata we refuse to share responsibility for warring, in that we fight for


- a nuclear-free Europe,
- closing down of US bases,
- an end to Star Wars programmes,
- abolishing images of hostility,
- the acknowledgement of women's role in preventing wars and founding peaceful settlements.


Initial Signatories:
Lidia Menapace, Italy, ex-Senator, Pacifist, Feminist; Arielle Denis, France, Mouvement de la Paix; Maria Hagberg, Sweden, Network against Honour Crimes, Women for Peace, IFE-EFI; Fee Striefler, Germany, Ramstein Appeal; Lita Malmberg, Denmark; Ellen Diederich, Germany, Womens’ Peace Archive Fasia Jansen; Josette Rome Chastanet, France, IFE-EFI; Christiane Reymann, Germany, el-fem, LISA; Gudrun Tiberg, Sweden, Women for Peace; Ingrid Ternert, Sweden, Peace-Coalition Gothenburg; Rebecca Hybbinette, Sweden, Network against Honour Crimes; Imma Barbarossa, el-fem, Forum Donne (Rifondazione); Bärbel Blumenthal, Germany; Christel Buchinger, Germany, el-fem, LISA; Kirsten Tackmann, Member of Parliament DIE LINKE.

Please mail the signatories with name / region, country / group, function to: Christiane Reymann at reymann(at)t-online.de or Rykestr. 39, 10405 Berlin (Germany)

For more information about the international NO to NATO campaign visit http://www.no-to-nato.org/

quarta-feira, 8 de abril de 2009

Anti-Capitalism in Five Minutes

April 30, 2007

An Unsustainable System

Anti-Capitalism in Five Minutes

By ROBERT JENSEN

We know that capitalism is not just the most sensible way to organize an economy but is now the only possible way to organize an economy. We know that dissenters to this conventional wisdom can, and should, be ignored. There's no longer even any need to persecute such heretics; they are obviously irrelevant.

How do we know all this? Because we are told so, relentlessly -- typically by those who have the most to gain from such a claim, most notably those in the business world and their functionaries and apologists in the schools, universities, mass media, and mainstream politics. Capitalism is not a choice, but rather simply is, like a state of nature. Maybe not like a state of nature, but the state of nature. To contest capitalism these days is like arguing against the air that we breathe. Arguing against capitalism, we're told, is simply crazy.

We are told, over and over, that capitalism is not just the system we have, but the only system we can ever have. Yet for many, something nags at us about such a claim. Could this really be the only option? We're told we shouldn't even think about such things. But we can't help thinking -- is this really the "end of history," in the sense that big thinkers have used that phrase to signal the final victory of global capitalism? If this is the end of history in that sense, we wonder, can the actual end of the planet far behind?

We wonder, we fret, and these thoughts nag at us -- for good reason. Capitalism -- or, more accurately, the predatory corporate capitalism that defines and dominates our lives -- will be our death if we don't escape it. Crucial to progressive politics is finding the language to articulate that reality, not in outdated dogma that alienates but in plain language that resonates with people. We should be searching for ways to explain to co-workers in water-cooler conversations -- radical politics in five minutes or less -- why we must abandon predatory corporate capitalism. If we don't, we may well be facing the end times, and such an end will bring rupture not rapture.

Here's my shot at the language for this argument.

Capitalism is admittedly an incredibly productive system that has created a flood of goods unlike anything the world has ever seen. It also is a system that is fundamentally (1) inhuman, (2) anti-democratic, and (3) unsustainable. Capitalism has given those of us in the First World lots of stuff (most of it of marginal or questionable value) in exchange for our souls, our hope for progressive politics, and the possibility of a decent future for children.

In short, either we change or we die -- spiritually, politically, literally.


1. Capitalism is inhuman

There is a theory behind contemporary capitalism. We're told that because we are greedy, self-interested animals, an economic system must reward greedy, self-interested behavior if we are to thrive economically.

Are we greedy and self-interested? Of course. At least I am, sometimes. But we also just as obviously are capable of compassion and selflessness. We certainly can act competitively and aggressively, but we also have the capacity for solidarity and cooperation. In short, human nature is wide-ranging. Our actions are certainly rooted in our nature, but all we really know about that nature is that it is widely variable. In situations where compassion and solidarity are the norm, we tend to act that way. In situations where competitiveness and aggression are rewarded, most people tend toward such behavior.

Why is it that we must choose an economic system that undermines the most decent aspects of our nature and strengthens the most inhuman? Because, we're told, that's just the way people are. What evidence is there of that? Look around, we're told, at how people behave. Everywhere we look, we see greed and the pursuit of self-interest. So, the proof that these greedy, self-interested aspects of our nature are dominant is that, when forced into a system that rewards greed and self-interested behavior, people often act that way. Doesn't that seem just a bit circular?


2. Capitalism is anti-democratic

This one is easy. Capitalism is a wealth-concentrating system. If you concentrate wealth in a society, you concentrate power. Is there any historical example to the contrary?

For all the trappings of formal democracy in the contemporary United States, everyone understands that the wealthy dictates the basic outlines of the public policies that are acceptable to the vast majority of elected officials. People can and do resist, and an occasional politician joins the fight, but such resistance takes extraordinary effort. Those who resist win victories, some of them inspiring, but to date concentrated wealth continues to dominate. Is this any way to run a democracy?

If we understand democracy as a system that gives ordinary people a meaningful way to participate in the formation of public policy, rather than just a role in ratifying decisions made by the powerful, then it's clear that capitalism and democracy are mutually exclusive.

Let's make this concrete. In our system, we believe that regular elections with the one-person/one-vote rule, along with protections for freedom of speech and association, guarantee political equality. When I go to the polls, I have one vote. When Bill Gates goes the polls, he has one vote. Bill and I both can speak freely and associate with others for political purposes. Therefore, as equal citizens in our fine democracy, Bill and I have equal opportunities for political power. Right?


3. Capitalism is unsustainable

This one is even easier. Capitalism is a system based on the idea of unlimited growth. The last time I checked, this is a finite planet. There are only two ways out of this one. Perhaps we will be hopping to a new planet soon. Or perhaps, because we need to figure out ways to cope with these physical limits, we will invent ever-more complex technologies to transcend those limits.

Both those positions are equally delusional. Delusions may bring temporary comfort, but they don't solve problems. They tend, in fact, to cause more problems. Those problems seem to be piling up.

Capitalism is not, of course, the only unsustainable system that humans have devised, but it is the most obviously unsustainable system, and it's the one in which we are stuck. It's the one that we are told is inevitable and natural, like the air.


A tale of two acronyms: TGIF and TINA

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's famous response to a question about challenges to capitalism was TINA -- There Is No Alternative. If there is no alternative, anyone who questions capitalism is crazy.

Here's another, more common, acronym about life under a predatory corporate capitalism: TGIF -- Thank God It's Friday. It's a phrase that communicates a sad reality for many working in this economy -- the jobs we do are not rewarding, not enjoyable, and fundamentally not worth doing. We do them to survive. Then on Friday we go out and get drunk to forget about that reality, hoping we can find something during the weekend that makes it possible on Monday to, in the words of one songwriter, "get up and do it again."

Remember, an economic system doesn't just produce goods. It produces people as well. Our experience of work shapes us. Our experience of consuming those goods shapes us. Increasingly, we are a nation of unhappy people consuming miles of aisles of cheap consumer goods, hoping to dull the pain of unfulfilling work. Is this who we want to be?

We're told TINA in a TGIF world. Doesn't that seem a bit strange? Is there really no alternative to such a world? Of course there is. Anything that is the product of human choices can be chosen differently. We don't need to spell out a new system in all its specifics to realize there always are alternatives. We can encourage the existing institutions that provide a site of resistance (such as labor unions) while we experiment with new forms (such as local cooperatives). But the first step is calling out the system for what it is, without guarantees of what's to come.


Home and abroad

In the First World, we struggle with this alienation and fear. We often don't like the values of the world around us; we often don't like the people we've become; we often are afraid of what's to come of us. But in the First World, most of us eat regularly. That's not the case everywhere. Let's focus not only on the conditions we face within a predatory corporate capitalist system, living in the most affluent country in the history of the world, but also put this in a global context.

Half the world's population lives on less than $2 a day. That's more than 3 billion people. Just over half of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lives on less than $1 a day. That's more than 300 million people.

How about one more statistic: About 500 children in Africa die from poverty-related diseases, and the majority of those deaths could be averted with simple medicines or insecticide-treated nets. That's 500 children -- not every year, or every month or every week. That's not 500 children every day. Poverty-related diseases claim the lives of 500 children an hour in Africa.

When we try to hold onto our humanity, statistics like that can make us crazy. But don't get any crazy ideas about changing this system. Remember TINA: There is no alternative to predatory corporate capitalism.


TGILS: Thank God It's Last Sunday

We have been gathering on Last Sunday precisely to be crazy together. We've come together to give voice to things that we know and feel, even when the dominant culture tells us that to believe and feel such things is crazy. Maybe everyone here is a little crazy. So, let's make sure we're being realistic. It's important to be realistic.

One of the common responses I hear when I critique capitalism is, "Well, that may all be true, but we have to be realistic and do what's possible." By that logic, to be realistic is to accept a system that is inhuman, anti-democratic, and unsustainable. To be realistic we are told we must capitulate to a system that steals our souls, enslaves us to concentrated power, and will someday destroy the planet.

But rejecting and resisting a predatory corporate capitalism is not crazy. It is an eminently sane position. Holding onto our humanity is not crazy. Defending democracy is not crazy. And struggling for a sustainable future is not crazy.

What is truly crazy is falling for the con that an inhuman, anti-democratic, and unsustainable system -- one that leaves half the world's people in abject poverty -- is all that there is, all that there ever can be, all that there ever will be.

If that were true, then soon there will be nothing left, for anyone.

I do not believe it is realistic to accept such a fate. If that's being realistic, I'll take crazy any day of the week, every Sunday of the month.

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a member of the board of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center. He is the author of The Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege and Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity. He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.