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Imagining a world without capitalism – Financial News

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Anti-capitalists had a miserable year. But so did capitalism.

While the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party in the UK this month threatened the radical left’s momentum, particularly in the US, where the presidential primaries loom, capitalism found itself under fire from some unexpected quarters.

Billionaires, CEOs, and even the financial press have joined intellectuals and community leaders in a symphony of laments about rentier capitalism’s brutality, crassness, and unsustainability. “Business cannot continue as usual,” seems to be a widespread sentiment even in the boardrooms of the most powerful corporations.

Increasingly stressed and justifiably guilt-ridden, the ultra-rich – or those with any sense, at any rate – feel threatened by the crushing precariousness into which the majority are sinking. As Marx foretold, they form a supremely powerful minority that is proving unfit to preside over polarised societies that cannot guarantee non-asset owners a decent existence.

Barricaded in their gated communities, the smarter among the uber-rich advocate a new “stakeholder capitalism,” even calling for higher taxes on their class. They recognise the best possible insurance policy in democracy and the redistributive state. Alas, at the same time, they fear that, as a class, it is in their nature to skimp on the insurance premium.

Proposed remedies range from languid to ludicrous. The call for boards of directors to look beyond shareholder value would be wonderful if it were not for the inconvenient fact that only shareholders decide directors’ pay and tenure. Similarly, appeals to limit exorbitant power of finance would be splendid were it not for the fact that most corporations answer to the financial institutions that hold the bulk of their shares.

Confronting rentier capitalism and fashioning firms for which social responsibility is more than a marketing ploy requires nothing less than re-writing corporate law. To recognise the scale of the undertaking, it helps to return to the moment in history when tradable shares weaponised capitalism, and to ask ourselves: Are we ready to correct that “error”?

The moment occurred on September 24, 1599. In a timbered building off Moorgate Fields, not far from where Shakespeare was struggling to complete Hamlet, a new type of company was founded. Its ownership of the new firm, called the East India Company, was sliced into tiny pieces to be bought and sold freely.

Tradable shares allowed private corporations to become larger and more powerful than states. Liberalism’s fatal hypocrisy was to celebrate the virtuous neighborhood butchers, bakers, and brewers in order to defend the worst enemies of free markets: the East India Companies that know no community, respect no moral sentiments, fix prices, gobble up competitors, corrupt governments and make a mockery of freedom.

Then, toward the end of the 19th century, as the first networked mega-companies – including Edison, General Electric, and Bell – were formed, the genie released by marketable shares went a step further. Because neither banks nor investors had enough money to plough into the networked mega-firms, the mega-bank emerged in the form of a global cartel of banks and shadowy funds, each with its own shareholders.

Unprecedented new debt was thus created to transfer value to the present, in the hope of profiting sufficiently to repay the future. Mega-finance, mega-equity, mega-pension funds, and mega-financial crises were the logical outcome. The crashes of 1929 and 2008, the unstoppable rise of Big Tech, and all the other ingredients of today’s discontent with capitalism, became inescapable.

In this system, calls for a gentler capitalism are mere fads – especially in the post-2008 reality, which confirmed the total control over society by mega-firms and mega-banks. Unless we are willing to ban tradable shares, first introduced in 1599, we will make no appreciable difference to the distribution of wealth and power today. To imagine what transcending capitalism might mean in practice requires rethinking the ownership of corporations.

Imagine that shares resemble electoral votes, which can be neither bought nor sold. Like students who receive a library card upon registration, new staff receive a single share granting a single vote to be cast in all-shareholder ballots deciding every matter of the corporation – from management and planning issues to the distribution of net revenues and bonuses.

Suddenly, the profit-wage distinction makes no sense and corporations are cut down to size, boosting market competition. When a baby is born, the central bank automatically grants her or him a trust fund (or personal capital account) that is periodically topped up with a universal basic dividend. When the child becomes a teenager, the central bank throws in a free checking account.

Workers move freely from company to company, carrying with them their trust-fund capital, which they may lend to the company they work in or to others. Because there are no equities to turbocharge with massive fictitious capital, finance becomes delightfully boring — and stable. States drop all personal and sales taxes, instead taxing only corporate revenues, land, and activities detrimental to the commons.

But enough reverie for now. The point is to suggest, just before the New Year, the wondrous possibilities of a truly liberal, post-capitalist, technologically advanced society. Those who refuse to imagine it are bound to fall prey to the absurdity pointed out by my friend Slavoj Žižek: a greater readiness to fathom the end of the world than to imagine life after capitalism.

Yanis Varoufakis, a former finance minister of Greece, is leader of the MeRA25 party and Professor of Economics at the University of Athens

Original site here. CopyrightProject Syndicate, 2019

Should liberal capitalism be saved? Martin Wolf & Yanis Varoufakis debating live

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Is capitalism past its due date? Can we even imagine a world without it? On 14th November 2019 Martin Wolf and Yanis Varoufakis debated the question ‘Should liberal capitalism be saved?’. Hosted on November 14, 2019 by the Financial Times to celebrate the Wincott Foundation’s 50th Anniversary, this special live event took the place of the usual annual Harold Wincott Memorial Lecture.

You can listen to a recording of the debate here. A transcript of Martin’s and Yanis’ remarks also follow below. As does a more recent newspaper article by Yanis Varoufakis entitled “Imagining a World Without Capitalism” – as published in the Financial News on 31st December 2019. Additionally, you may watch the Munk Debates on the same topic here.

MARTIN WOLF’S REMARKS

WHY LIBERAL CAPITALISM SHOULD BE SAVED

Martin Wolf

The bourgeoisie has
through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to
production and consumption in every country. . . In place of the old local and
national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every
direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also
in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations
become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become
more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures,
there arises a world literature.”

The celebrated authors of this passage
understood what was remarkable about capitalism: it was global; and it was
revolutionary. Over the past four decades we have re-lived this experience in one
of the greatest transformation of world history: the triumphant expansion of
the economies of developing Asia, home to over half of humanity, and of China, above
all.

“Globalisation”, which is just a name for an
emerging global market economy, has brought about a staggering reduction in
global poverty. Between 1981 and 2013, according to the World Bank, the share
of the world’s population in “absolute poverty” (gross domestic product per
head of $1.90 a day, at 2011 purchasing power parity) fell from 42 per cent of
the world’s population in 1981 to 10 per cent in 2015.  Since 1980, Chinese GDP per head at
purchasing power parity has risen from 3 per cent to 30 per cent of US levels.
Nothing comparable in scale and speed has ever happened before. India, too,
enjoyed a noteworthy acceleration of development after its pro-market reforms
of the early 1990s.

Make no mistake: private enterprise was the
fundamental driver of this extraordinary progress. The decisive decision was
that of Deng Xiaopeng to take the Chinese government out of the way in vital
sectors, above all, manufacturing. The share of state-owned enterprises in
industrial output collapsed, from 80 per cent in 1978 to 20 per cent in 2016.
Return on assets of private industrial enterprises has also massively
outstripped that of state owned enterprises.[i]
Private enterprise has also driven China’s “tech” revolution: Alibaba, Tencent,
Baidu and so on and so forth are all private businesses. So, though its
structure is unusual, is Huawei.

When we consider the complaints about
globalisation in the West, we need to understand one overriding fact: the
problem is not that it failed, but that it succeeded. Nor was this a surprise.
We have had something close to controlled experiments on the relative efficacy
of private enterprise and socialism since World War II in South versus North
Korea, West versus East Germany or, say, Austria versus Czechoslovakia. North
Korea is one of the world’s poorest prison states, while South Korea, once
poorer than the North, is a high-income country. East Germany collapsed when
its people were given a chance to vote with their feet. By 1989, Czechoslovakia’s
real GDP per head, was 65 per cent of Austria’s level down from 90 per cent
half a century earlier.

As important, the market-oriented countries in
these pairings were (or became) democracies. Nor was that an accident. An
entrenched market economy should protect democracy from irresponsible demagogy,
just as a lively democracy should protect the market economy from a predatory
plutocracy. No fully-socialised economy has been a democracy. How could it be?
If an economy is socialised, the concentration of power is too great to remain contestable.

There are also more granular aspects to the
shift towards the market economy that began to take hold in the early 1980s,
especially in the US, under Ronald Reagan, and the UK, under Margaret Thatcher.
Important components were privatisation and de-regulation of labour markets.

History surely shows us that the privatisation
of businesses that operate in competitive markets was a success: How many now
suppose that the state needs to run airlines, steel mills, coal mines,
telecoms, or electricity generators? More controversial, inevitably and
properly, are the natural monopolies or quasi-monopolies: water; the electricity
grid; the rail tracks. Experience has re-taught us that these are difficult
industries, whether run as state-owned monopolies or regulated private
monopolies. I prefer the relative clarity of the latter. But the risks of
regulatory ineffectiveness or capture are real and permanent.

Again, there are important arguments to be had
on labour markets. But we can say with some confidence that the combination of
substantial de-regulation with a carefully-implemented minimum wage (introduced
under Labour) and tax credits for those in work was a success. Today, partly as
a result, the UK enjoys its highest employment rate ever.

If the era of global capitalism has worked well in
crucial respects, why is it now condemned?

The answer is threefold: first, there has been a
lengthy period of rising income and wealth inequality in some high-income
countries, especially the US; second, there has also been a long period of real
income stagnation for large proportions of the workforce, again, especially in
the US, but also elsewhere since the crisis, as well as a slowdown in
productivity growth in high-income countries; finally, a huge credit boom ended
with an enormous financial crisis, which inflicted a huge recession in the
high-income economies and a brutal and brutally-mishandled crisis in the
eurozone.

So, how far is global capitalism to blame for
these unhappy developments? The answer is: not as much as many suppose.

First, the globalisation of the real economy was
not a dominant cause of the ills listed above. In the US, the sentiment is
widespread that trade and migration inflicted large losses on what Americans
call “middle class”. Arguably, that is why Donald Trump is now president. But
the evidence against this view is unambiguous. Rising imports have had an
impact, especially in localities where a single plant or industry was the
dominant employer. But it has not been a significant cause of rising inequality
and stagnant real incomes in the US. The very fact that the US experience in
both regards has been much worse than in many other high-income countries, all
similarly buffeted by globalisation, demonstrates that trade cannot be the
dominant cause of America’s ills (or, for that matter, those of the UK).

So what have been the true failures? There is
increasing evidence, especially for the US, of a noteworthy increase in
concentration and, with it, declining competition. As Thomas Philippon of New
York University points out in a compelling recent book, The Great Reversal,
margins have risen and investment has declined. The combination suggests rising
monopoly and monopsony. Behind this, in turn, lie over-generous protection of
intellectual property, abandonment of restrictions on mergers and acquisitions,
notably in the case of “big tech”, short-sighted and exploitative corporate
governance, including via the “bonus culture”, as Andrew Smithers argues.
Behind the latter in turn is excessive “financialisation” of corporate
governance. Contrary to impressions, “natural” monopoly in big tech may be more
an excuse than a reality, except perhaps in the case of search (and so Google)
and, to a lesser degree, social media (and so Facebook). Such powerful natural
monopolies do need to be regulated.

The financial crisis of 2007-09 and the
subsequent crisis of the eurozone was also partly the product of grossly irresponsible
behaviour by a poorly regulated and undercapitalised financial system. We can
argue that a good part of this failure was due not to capitalism per se, but to
implicit and explicit guarantees, not offset by adequate oversight. To that
extent, it was as much a failure of policy, as of finance. Nevertheless, we
have been reminded of the tendency of the capitalist economy towards
instability. In the case of the eurozone, this instability was greatly
exacerbated by a huge policy error: the decision to create a currency union
without the necessary institutions of risk-sharing and adjustment needed if it
was to work successfully. This was not a failure of capitalism, but of
over-enthusiastic politics.

So where does this leave us today? Let me return
to that quotation at the beginning of my speech. It was of course from The
Communist Manifesto
. Its authors prophesied the end of capitalism and its
replacement by socialism. It did not happen. Where it was tried, the socialism
proved a disastrous failure. Instead, capitalism, politics and policy were all
reformed in the western world. We need such a reformation again: an active and
dynamic anti-trust policy, to overthrow monopoly; tighter control over finance;
radical reforms of taxation, to reduce tax avoidance and evasion; more active
attention to the roots of “secular stagnation”; and a greater commitment to the
supply of essential public goods, including that most important of global
public goods, the management of our shared environment; and a more active
redistribution of income.

We will need to act both locally and globally.
But we must never forget the role that will have to be played by that dynamic
engine of prosperity and freedom – a market economy that exploits and
encourages the initiative of countless individuals. This has been the great
engine of economic advance. That remains as true today as it has been in the
past. Capitalism cannot be allowed to operate outside politics or above it. That
is the naïve ideology of libertarians. But the market economy has to be an
essential part of any worthwhile political settlement, in our era, as it has
been in our past.  

[i] Nicholas Lardy, “Private sector Development”, inRoss Garnaut, Ligang Song, and Cai Fang, eds. China’s 40 Years of Reform and Development: 1978–2018. Acton ACT, Australia: ANU Press, 2018. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv5cgbnk.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS’ REMARKS

WHY CAPITALISM MUST BE TRANSCENDED

Yanis Varoufakis

It is only fitting that any re-assessment of capitalism
ought to begin with its great students. And since Martin Wolf chose to oblige
this erratic Marxist by kicking off with a quotation from the Communist
Manifesto, I feel compelled to return the favour with a quotation from Adam
Smith’s Wealth of Nations – one which, to boot, should have gladdened Harold
Wincott’s heart.

Referring to the merchant, Smith wrote that:

“By pursuing his own interest he
frequently promotes that of the society more effectually when he really intends
to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade
for the public good… The rich divide with the poor the produce of all their
improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution
of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been
divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants…”

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations,
1776

So, it was Adam Smith, not Milton Friedman, who first
advocated the paradoxical hypothesis that the common good is best served when
no one is trying to serve it and everyone, instead, seeks to maximise their
private gains. As long as firms were small and family owned, Smith had good
cause to believe that shared prosperity might result from unfettered private
greed.[1]

Karl Marx, who studied Smith meticulously, also celebrated capitalism for its capacity to unleash immense productive powers while, also, tearing down superstitions and poisonous nationalisms. But he also noted the seed of crisis and discontent within capitalism. Taking Smith’s own analysis further, so that it accounts not only for the price of things but also for the price of labour, Marx concluded that: “Society as a whole “is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other.”” A society split between non-working shareholders and non-owner wage-workers, with physical and fictitious capital accumulation its main driver, is a society that bifurcates, its middle class – the dinosaur in the room – set for extinction.

When I received the invitation to today’s debate, the
Wincott Foundation’s chosen question “Should liberal capitalism be saved?”
brought to mind something a Marxist friend once said: “A sure sign that capitalism
is in deep trouble is when the powers-that-be begin to utter its name again, ending
their insistence to speak only of the market system, the price mechanism, the mixed
market economy etc.” If he was right, and I believe he was, capitalism today seems
to be in the deepest of troubles!

The strongest evidence that capitalism comes in the form of the musings of the ultra-rich. They seem increasingly stressed, guilt-ridden even, as they watch the majority around the globe descend into a crushing precariousness – the price of ending abject poverty in the developing countries. As Marx foretold, a supremely powerful minority is proving ‘“unfit to rule’” over polarised societies, unable to guarantee non-asset owners a reliable existence.  Barricaded in gated communities, the smarter amongst the uber-rich, recognise in democracy, and in a redistributive state, the best possible insurance policy. They call for higher taxes on themselves. They even advocate a new Stakeholder Capitalism. Alas, at the same time, they fear that, as a class, it is in their nature to skimp on the insurance premium). [i]

When asked by journalists who or what the greatest threat to capitalism today, I defy their expectations by answering: Capital! Take the chasm between the vision of Smith and the corporate practices supported by economists like Friedman. It is best explained, in my view, by Marx’s analysis of capital accumulation – in particular the remarkable energy unleashed by the decoupling of the market value of labour power from the market value labour instils into commodities; the ever-expanding gulf between those who produce without owning and those who own without working in the firm they own.

This disconnect has always been
around. But, while in Adam Smith’s time firms were small and power dispersed,
it seemed not to matter much. Competition between privateers produced greater
quantities of better commodities at lower prices – exactly what society needed
was provided, as Smith had said, by those who did not “trade for the public
good”. However then came electromagnetism and the 2nd Industrial
Revolution. Since the late
1890s, the rise of networked mega-corporations, of the Edisons and of the
Fords, created big business cartels investing heavily into how to usurp states
and replace markets.

In their wake, megabanks were fashioned to finance the
megafirms and, in the process, filled the world with fictitious money resting
upon mountain ranges of impossible debt. Together, captains of industry and
masters of finance accumulated war chests of billions with which to pad
campaigns, capture regulators, ration quantities, destroy competitors and, in
this manner, control prices. The first time the inevitable crisis hit that audacious
superstructure was, of course, in 1929.

John Kenneth Galbraith was once asked how he went about,
as FDR’s ‘Price Czar’, fixing countless prices during the War Economy. He
answered: “It was pretty easy, considering that they were already fixed!” Through
interminable mergers and acquisitions, corporations had replaced markets by a
global Technostructure (Galbraith’s term) oozing with the power to shape the
future for themselves and in their image.

For too long we lived under the illusion of world
capitalism as a small-town, front-porch community rather than the weaponised
Soviet-like (or maybe Google-like) planning system that it is. The larger the
Technostructure grew the larger the financial sector necessary to conjure up the
fictitious capital needed to fund its largesse. Bretton Woods was a remarkable
attempt to reclaim political power on behalf of our societies and to stabilise the
Technostructure.

When Bretton Woods died, officially on 15th
August 1971, and financialisation became a necessity for financing the
increasing deficits of the American Hegemon keeping global capitalism
quasi-balanced (the Global Minotaur, as I called it), capitalism’s global
imbalances were turbocharged. Before we knew it, General Motors turned into a
huge hedge fund that also produced some cars on the side while, across the
West, the tug-of-war between profits and wages was supplemented by the workers’
struggle for credit.

By the middle of the naughties, out of the one hundred
wealthiest entities on Earth sixty-five were financialised corporations, not
states. How could anyone expect them to operate in synch with society’s values
and priorities – whatever those might be. Even the prospect of environmental
catastrophe cannot convert such a highly concentrated, obscenely powerful power
grid into the agent of our collective will.

Then came 2008. It proved that, even when the overheated Technostructure-on-financial-steroids
melts down, its stranglehold over society grows proportionately to the black
holes in their accounting books. In a fascinating inversion of Darwinism, the
larger their failure and the steeper their financial losses the greater their
capacity to appropriate society’s surplus via gargantuan bail-outs that their
political agents push through neutered parliaments.

Capitalism, thy name has become Bankruptocracy: Rule by
the most bankrupt of bankers. Democracy, in this context, resonated like a
cross between a fond memory and a cruel joke.

So, setting aside the normative question “Should liberal
capitalism be saved?”, let’s ask the more practical question: “Can it be
saved?” Those who passionately believe that it should be saved tend to
argue that it can be saved – confusing a normative and a practical
question. They, correctly, identify three causes of liberal capitalism’s
malaise:

  • Excessive Financialisation
  • Inordinate Concentration (i.e.
    monopoly/monopsony power, usually due to network externalities)
  • Massive Malfeasance (i.e. fraud, corruption,
    capture and tax evasion).

Their understandable conclusion is that we need
institutional interventions that put the financial genie back into its
proverbial bottle, break up monopolies, and limit corrupt practices (tax
evasion in particular). Additionally, the more democratically inclined propose
a fourth task: Reversing the process of shifting important decisions from
parliaments to unelected pseudo-technocrats.

These are fine aspirations with a good pedigree, in the
form of the original Bretton Woods system. I too advocate a New Bretton Woods
that restricts financial flows, legislates global curbs on tax havens and, last
but not least, denominates cross-border trade and finance in a digital
IMF-issued transnational accounting unit (implementing, at last, Keynes’
International Clearing Union) which can then be deployed to finance the
International Green New Deal we so desperately need.

However, there are two obstacles in the path of this
internationalist program for humanising, and stabilising, liberal capitalism:
First, there is no latter-day FDR or any sign of the global political agency to
implement it. Secondly, even if it were to be implemented, its therapeutic
effects would, again, not last long – resembling antibiotics that lose their
potency with use or, for that matter, Quantitative Easing.

As the fate of the original Bretton Woods system showed,
private capital accumulation and financial asset creation – the two sides of
really-existing capitalism’s coin – capture regulators and yield inexorable
forces that tear through all institutional obstacles put in their way. It is,
in short, in the nature of the beast to be untameable and, ultimately,
illiberal.

The hypothesis I want to put to you today is that we are
at a historic crossroads. Our dilemma is no longer between a road leading to
authoritarian state-run socialisation and another road leading to a reformed
liberal capitalism. That used to be our dilemma. No longer. Today, we face a
harder and, at once, a more exciting choice made possible by advances in AI, 3D
printing etc:

One road, the one we are treading, continues along the path
of what Larry Summers refers to as secular stagnation, coupled with unbearable
inequality, in a system where rent trumps both profit and wages every time and
liberal democracy is consistently bunk.

The alternative road is one that we can, and I think we
must, create from scratch once we have reigned in the Technostructure through a
transformation of our institutions (e.g. an International Green New Deal that
is pursued via a New Bretton Woods)

Let’s fleetingly imagine what this alternative road might
be like. To build it, we must, first, revisit property rights over the means of
production (Who owns the robots, AI and the right to claim their products and
income?). Then we must redefine money (pulling the rug from under the financiers’
feet). Finally, we must dare to imagine an advanced, liberal, decentralised
society in which capital is not only increasingly socially produced but also
increasingly socially owned – the gist here being the crucial distinction
between social and state ownership.

What would a post-capitalist liberal, technologically
advanced social economy look like? Let’s do some more imagining, shall we?
Imagine for a moment:

  • Corporations whose shares resemble electoral
    votes (in that they neither be bought or sold), with each new hire receiving a single share granting a
    single vote to be cast in the all-member ballots deciding every matter of the
    corporation – from management and planning issues to the distribution of its
    net revenues
  • Corporations, thus, in
    which the profit-wage distinction makes no sense
  • States that collect no
    personal income tax, or VAT, just land and corporate taxes
  • A trust fund for every
    baby, to be used to finance future ventures that set up new companies owned
    equally by its founders and newcomers
  • Perfect freedom to move across firms and
    jurisdictions, together with one’s accumulated personal capital
  • A universal basic dividend that allows one to
    live in dignity, but not in wealth, outside the paid labour process
  • Central Banks providing
    each a twin bank account, one account for one’s personal capital fund, the
    other a current account

This is enough imagining for now. I
just wanted us to share a glimpse of a truly liberal post-capitalist technologically
advanced society to inspire us to admit that which Marx wrote in Das Capital,
Vol. 1, in 1867 – a truth we have known since the inception in 1599 of the
first joint stock company, the East India Company. That when the means of
production belong to faceless shareholders, and worked by harassed employees,

The increase in value of the world of things
is directly proportional to the decrease in value of the human world.”

I can fully understand that it is hard to imagine an
advanced, liberal society featuring all sorts of markets but free of stock
exchanges and an almighty financial sector. But, then again, we used to take
slavery and the divine right of Kings as permanent givens!

****

To conclude, Marx did, indeed, provide the most epic,
pertinent celebration of capitalism – as Martin helpfully reminded us. But he
also celebrated, or at least highlighted, another facet of capitalism: The seed
of crisis and unsustainability within capitalism.

  • Capitalism manufactures previously
    inconceivable wealth on the same production line that generates unimagined
    deprivation.
  • Capitalism trades on the virtues of
    competition to procure a Technostructure that necessarily destroys competition
  • Capitalism is at once the greatest propagator
    and the worst enemy of authentic liberty, which can only prosper in the
    presence of shared prosperity.

Economists, taking their cue from Adam Smith, believe that
at the root of all conflict there is scarcity. But, under the Technostructure which
long-ago usurped Adam Smith’s world, the direction of causality is reversed: It
is not dearth that necessitates exploitation today. It is exploitation, of
humans and nature, that causes dearth.

This reversed causality is why the prevailing price of
labour leaves millions underemployed, the destruction of the planet is ‘free’
and the price people pay for money is the loss of their soul. This is why environmental
catastrophe, depravity and dispossession grow in the humid shadows cast by an
enormous superflux, like a dismal moss that the superflux feeds on.

So, what should we do? Yes, we must use really-existing
capitalism’s own institutions to limit financialisation, concentration and
malfeasance. However, we shall not be able to do this if we fail to overcome the
greatest modern absurdity pointed out by my great friend Slavoj Zizek: A
greater readiness to fathom the end of the world than to imagine the end of
capitalism.

APPENDIX: The unsung defeat of personal
liberty in (il)liberal capitalism’s hands

Liberals demand a strong fence protecting our private
sphere from a busybody external world eager to interfere with our hopes and
dreams. They say that our desires that are no one’s business but our own. They
believe we should all live within safe haven where we can be sovereign and free
to develop as individuals before relating with others, before leasing ourselves
to an employer on mutually agreed terms and always on the understanding that
the property rights over a person are non-tradeable. In short, inalienable
self-ownership.

The first breach of the liberals’ essential fence appeared
when industrial products became passé. Richard Branson had captured that moment
with a statement that made William Morris spin in his grave: Who produces stuff
and how does not matter one bit. Only brands matter now, proclaimed Sir
Richard. Before long, branding took a radical new turn, imparting personality
to objects, boosting consumer loyalty and, of course, the Technostructure’s
profits.

Before they knew it, people felt compelled to re-imagine
themselves as brands. The Internet allowed colleagues, employers, clients,
detractors, and ‘friends’ constantly to survey one’s life, putting pressure on
each to evolve into a profile of activities, images, and dispositions that
amount to an attractive, sellable brand. Our sovereign personal space is now almost
gone. The right to a time during the day when we are not for sale has vanished.
Our liberty’s wetlands have been drained, its habitat destroyed.

Young women and men lacking a trust fund thus end up in
one of two dead-ends. Condemned to working under zero-hour contracts and for
wages so low that they must work all hours to make ends meet, rendering
ridiculous any talk of personal time, space, or freedom. Or they must invest in
their own brand every waking hour of every day, as if in a Panopticon where
they cannot hide from the attention of those who might give them a break.

In job interviews enlightened employers tell them: “Be
true to yourself, follow your passions.” Angst-ridden, they redouble their
efforts to discover passions that future employers may appreciate, and to
manufacture a true self that the job market will want to pay for. They struggle
breathlessly to work out what average opinion among opinion-makers believes
that average-opinion thinks is the most attractive of their potential true
selves. Never slow to miss an opportunity, the Technostructure creates entire
industries to guide them on their quest made up of counsellors, coaches and
varied ecosystems of substances and self-help.

The Technostructure that emerged in the 1920s is developing new capabilities daily. It can now manufacture not just prices, money and consent but also desires and our self-image. Emasculated prices guarantee its profit. Hyper-complicated debt allows it fully to usurp the state’s monopoly over money. And turning over the private realm into a digital Panopticon destroys resistance to its authority. Liberalism, not just democracy, has thus become incompatible with contemporary capitalism. 

[1] The
difference between the two economists is that, while in Smith’s estimation for
the market to procure its miracle firms had to be small and family owned, for
Friedman it did not matter whether the market featured giant conglomerates or
merely Smith’s fabled baker, butcher and brewer.

Reflections on 2019 – my foreword in THE GUARDIAN BEDSIDE 2019

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/12/2019 - 7:22pm in

Every year for nearly 70 years, the Guardian has collected the best of its journalism into a book – the BEDSIDE GUARDIAN. This year,  Bedside Guardian 2019 is edited by Aditya Chakrabortty with Paul Johnson, deputy editor, alongside  Jonathan FreedlandZoe Williams Emma Graham-Harrison. The editors were kind enough to ask me to write the Foreword. As it reflects my take on 2019, I thought posting it here might be an apt sendoff for 2019 – a year that will be remembered but not for all the right reasons…

Foreword

‘The government has failed – it’s time to go back to the people.’ The rousing title of the Guardian’s editorial at the beginning of the year was aimed, of course, at Theresa May’s dog’s Brexit. Alas, its wording carried a universal truth, suiting, as it does, the current situation not only in Britain but also the United States and the European Union, not to mention Brazil, Argentina, India etc. etc.

If one conclusion emerges
from revisiting the past twelve months, it is that governments have failed
almost everywhere. As a result, there is an urgent need to go back to the people
if we’re to stand any chance of finding answers to our existentialist crises – be
they climate catastrophe, social misery, geopolitical threats to peace,
involuntary migration, or other assorted forms of depravity.

The past twelve months were
not the worst of times. And they certainly were not the best of times. Rather,
the past year has proved depressingly predictable to anyone who has observed,
since 2008, our steady global slide into a postmodern 1930s. The failure of our
governments, as highlighted by the Guardian’s editorial, felt almost inevitable.
With its roots in France’s National Front, Italy’s Lega, Hungary’s and Poland’s
governments, a paradoxical Nationalist International emerged on the strength of
Brexit and Trump. The rise of Vox, Spain’s neofascists, proved that
recalcitrant nativism is not confined to Europe’s northeast. Bolsonaro’s
triumph in Brazil and Modi’s domination in India show that the North Atlantic
is a part of a larger disaster, rather than a special case.

Stiffen your upper lip, you are not alone – a
message to British friends

When I speak to my
despairing British friends, I feel a need to lift their spirits. Not out of
solidarity, but because they have no reason, I believe, to feel more
downhearted than the rest of us. While their anguish is understandable, I tell
them they have good cause to stiffen their upper lip and, despite Boris, Nigel,
Labour’s divisions and the overall sorry state of the House of Commons, to
remain relatively upbeat about British democracy. I remind them that one of
nationalism’s hidden
symptoms [SL1] is a creeping feeling of inverse exceptionalism – a
false sense that our country, our democracy, our parliament is in a worse state
than our neighbours’.

Inverse exceptionalism is a
great gift to xenophobic populists as they can weaponise it with the promise to
make our democracy great again, to make us proud again. Thus, my unexpected
message to British friends: you are not in greater trouble than we are. We all
live downstream. The toxic algae engulfing you in Brexit’s wake is a general
condition that we all suffer from. If anything, having immersed yourselves in
it since June 2016, your democracy is perhaps better suited now to be tough not
just on Brexit but also on the causes of Brexit, which can be pinpointed both
within and without the British Isles. In short, stop feeling sorry for
yourselves, desist self-absorption, and let’s join forces to help the people
take back control. In Britain. In Europe. Everywhere.

I know that, during the
past twelve months, it was hard to resist the spectre of national humiliation.
Theresa May’s strategic error of agreeing to Brussels’ two-phase negotiation
(first, London gives the EU everything and only then will the EU discuss
London’s demands), coupled with red lines that boxed her into an impossibility,
guaranteed the former Prime Minister’s abject defeat. However, the UK media did
you a disservice by setting the British Prime Minister’s foolishness, and the
House of Commons’ divisions, against a fictional EU that is rules-based,
democratic, united and, above all else, competent – a European Union, in other
words, that could not be further from reality.

Back in 2015, three days
into my tenure as finance minister, the President of the Eurogroup, comprising
the finance ministers of EU countries sharing the euro, threatened me with
Grexit if I dared insist on challenging the self-defeating, inhuman austerity
programme our people had just rejected in a democratic election. Shortly
afterwards, at my first Eurogroup meeting, Wolfgang Schäuble, my German
counterpart, declared that elections cannot be allowed to change previously
agreed economic policies, to which I responded that his words were music to the
ears of Chinese Communist Party apparatchiks who think along similar
lines. 

In short, the enemies of
democracy and common decency are in power on both sides of the British Channel.
So, my message to British friends is: stop wallowing in self-pity and, instead,
join us in a common, transnational movement to build a democratic Europe. 

A universal condition

Our condition, we must realise, is truly universal. Yes, as Patrick Kielty says in his article on p.000, an EU official said the UK needed to be taken care of ‘like a patient’. But so too should almost every country I know of, including those firmly within the EU. With the possible exception of China, the planet’s major economic zones seem to be governed either by regimes trying their best to resemble the Weimar Republic’s last days or by politicians, Donald Trump and Matteo Salvini for instance, who seem worryingly inspired by the organised misanthropy that followed Weimar’s collapse.

The aftermath of the
European Parliament election of May 2019 was quite telling about this state of
affairs. The day after the election, the European Union’s ‘liberal’
establishment were breathing a sigh of relief that the extreme right did not
fully dominate the European Parliament. Readers of Europe’s mainstream press would
be forgiving for missing what would have, a few years before, been declared a
shameful result and, indeed, a global emergency: the extreme right had actually
won the elections in France, in Italy and in the UK. Only sorrow should
flow from our establishment’s readiness to celebrate the smallest of pickings,
namely that the fascists did not win everywhere.

Meanwhile, as described in
Ed Pilkington’s piece, every day on the other side of the Atlantic, Presidents
Trump and Bolsonaro deploy a lethal blend of machismo, fear and loathing with a
dexterity not seen since the early days of Mussolini. Worse still, their
Nationalist International has a clear plan for the world, in sharp contrast to
progressives who are more disorganised than ever: a transactional world
comprising reactionary countries divided by lethal borders – as described in
Patrick Timmons’s vivid article – but connected by bilateral deals that bypass
all democratic mechanisms for limiting the power of multinationals with
gigantic investments in fossil fuels, in wrecking national health systems, and
with a transparent agenda to level all forms of worker solidarity in their
path.

How did we end up like this?

Capitalism changed in the
1970s. The United States turned from a creditor nation to the largest consumer
of other people’s net exports. Germany, Japan and, later, China grew on the
back of America’s trade and budget deficits. In turn, German, Japanese and
Chinese profits flowed back to Wall Street, in search of higher returns. This
recycling system broke down because Wall Street and its UK sidekick, the City
of London, took advantage of its central position to build colossal pyramids
of private money on the back of the net profits flowing from
the rest of the world into the United States.

This process of private
money minting by Wall Street and the City of London banks, also known as financialisation,
added much energy to this global recycling scheme. Under the cover of its very
own ideology, neoliberalism, and with political support provided first by
Maggie Thatcher and soon after by Ronald Reagan, financialised capitalism
generated huge, ever-accelerating levels of demand within the United States, in
Europe (whose banks soon jumped onto the private money-minting bandwagon) and
Asia. Alas, once the bubbles burst, it also brought about its demise in the
Fall of 2008 – our generation’s 1929.

The only significant
difference between 1929 and 2008 was the speed and determination with which
central banks came to the aid of the financiers. While the majority, in the UK,
in the US, in Greece, in Germany too, were treated to the cruelty of austerity
and associated ignominies such as universal credit and means-testing (as
Francis Ryan describes on p.000), the central banks printed mountain ranges of
public money to re-float the failed banks, especially in the UK and in the US.
Expansionary monetary policy succeeded in creating a semblance of recovery
while, underneath the surface, austerity was destroying our communities –
Patrick Butler discusses this on p.000, as well as Helen Pidd and Jessica
Murray on p.000. 

The European troika,
Greece’s Golden Dawn, Brexit, Trump, Salvini, Germany’s AfD, the shrill demands
for electrified border fences and so much more were the fruits of this topsy-turvy
policy of socialism for bankers and austerity for the many.

Going back to the people – everywhere!

The Guardian
editorial was right: It is time to ‘go back to the
people’. But Guardian readers who interpreted this as a simple call for
a second referendum were wrong. Our democracies are too damaged for a quick
fix. In Britain’s case, in particular, the demos cannot be put back into a
broken democracy simply via a second vote. Something more is needed.

In the run-up to the June
2016 referendum, I addressed several anti-Brexit meetings. The one that sticks in
my mind took place in Leeds, where I shared a platform with John McDonnell to
campaign for the DiEM25 (Democracy in Europe Movement 2025) line of ‘In the EU.
Against this EU!’ Afterwards, a lovely old lady
approached me to tell me why she could not agree: ‘My dear boy’ she said
tenderly, ‘if I vote to remain, it won’t be you or Jeremy in 10 Downing Street
to fight to transform this EU. It will be Cameron, who will treat the result as
a vote of confidence in himself and a licence to hobnob with the Brussels
people who crushed you and your democracy.’

Every time I encounter
demands for a second referendum by people keen simply to annul the first, I
think of that lovely old lady. However much I wish Brexit had lost, telling her
to vote again, until she gets it right, is not something I would ever do. It
would confirm in her mind that a vote is allowed to count only when it does not
change anything. It will remind her of the power that she, her children, her
neighbours and her community have been denied ever since trade unions and local
authorities were neutered. So, if we are going to go ‘back to the people’ let’s
do it properly. 

Bankers and neoliberals
never let a good crisis go to waste. Nor should we. The Brexit crisis is our opportunity
to rethink democracy in the UK and to do whatever it takes to ‘go back to the
people’. Similarly ,across the EU, in the United States, in Africa, in Asia. Of
course, this is easier said than done. ‘None of us are free’ if ‘one of us
is chained’, as the old rhythm-and-blues song proclaimed. The British
people will never be given full power to decide their future if the Germans,
the Greeks, the Brazilians or the Nigerians are denied it. Anti-Semitism will
never die if Islamophobia is not snuffed out too. As Edward Said once said, the
Palestinians will never be liberated if the Americans and the Israelis are not
emancipated also. 

In the past twelve months,
in the midst of all the soul-searching and despair caused by the Nationalist
International’s triumphs, the idea of democracy proved its resilience. We saw
the idea of Citizens’ Assemblies gaining ground, especially after its
successful deployment in Ireland. We noticed that Aristotle’s definition of
democracy (as a system in which the poor, being in the majority, govern) is
making a comeback. We admired children across Europe who decided that it was
time to act like adults because the ‘adults in the room’ were behaving like
spoilt brats (see Jonathan Watts’ remarkable profile of Greta Thunberg on
p.000). We saw young women win office in Trump’s America, ready to confront
patriarchy, exploitation and climate change. 

On a personal note, the
past year has been a rough diamond. In the May European elections, DiEM25, our
Democracy in Europe Movement, did something crazy: we ran in seven countries
simultaneously. We wanted to demonstrate that transnational progressive
politics is possible. I stood as a candidate in … Germany, while a German
comrade stood in Greece. For our manifesto, the Green New Deal for Europe,
we consulted thousands of Europeans over the course of three years. And our
list of candidates in each country, from Portugal to Denmark and from France to
Greece, was selected by an all-member vote, where the Germans also had a say on
the candidates in Greece and vice versa. In the end, we attracted one and a
half million votes but won no seats in Parliament. On election night, however,
the Greek Prime Minister called a snap general election for six weeks later and
MeRA25, our DiEM25 party in Greece, won nine seats. 

Campaigning across Europe nearly broke me. But it also convinced me of the deep well of progressive energy waiting to be tapped in a Europe that to the naked eye looks beholden to the fake clash between an austerian establishment and the xenophobic ultra-right. Discovering some of the most progressive people I have ever known in the midst of conservative Bavaria, meeting poor brave pensioners putting up a fight against fracking in North Western Greece, supporting Sicilian comrades in their struggle to shield migrants from Salvini’s attacks – those were the precious moments that over the past twelve months helped me counter Bertrand Russell’s tendency to despair at ‘the unwillingness of the human race to acquiesce in its own survival’.

Paul Laverty’s & Ken Loach’s haunting & elegiac film: Why Labour must win this Thursday

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/12/2019 - 9:47pm in

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There is a fork in the road. A mighty choice is coming. We can have a plan. An imperfect plan maybe. But one for the planet, not the corporations. For the many, not the few. A plan for the ‘we’, not the ‘I’.

DiEM25 2.0 – Prague Address

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/12/2019 - 7:57pm in

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On the next phase of Europe’s transnational progressive movement

PRAGUE ADDRESS, 22nd
November 2019

We come from all over Europe. From across borders, party lines and with different views of the good society. We are united by these differences. Europe will be democratised. Or it will disintegrate. This is not a scare tactic. It is a fact! The EU’s disintegration is happening. New divisions, new walls, are springing up. Along borders. Inside our societies. In people’s minds.

Friends, comrades, fellow-travellers.
These are not new words. They were the words with which DiEM25 was born on 9th
February 2016 at the Volksbuhne Theatre in Berlin. It was a passionate night at
the end of which thousands of Europeans joined our fledgling Democracy in
Europe Movement. It was a good night!

Our collective task? To create the first
transnational progressive movement, not merely a confederacy of national
parties or associations. A movement that would unite progressives behind a
solid, common anti-austerity, green, feminist, radical humanist program to end
Europe’s surrender to the twin authoritarianisms of, on the one hand, the
establishment’s troikas and, on the other hand, assorted neo-fascisms. 

That night we were swept away by the
passion in the room. I am glad to see many here today who shared that moment.
And I am glad to see that passion now, here, in Prague – a city that we shall
always associate in our hearts and minds with the coming of Spring, with the
importance of rebelling against authoritarianism independently of the
outcome. 

Alas, this is not the time for self-congratulation.
Passion has returned to politics, but not in the manner we had hoped for. As DiEM25
had predicted, capitalism’s major spasm, that began in 2008, continued after
2016 to push austerity for the many and socialism for the few. As DiEM25 had
predicted, the result was a toxic passion that fuelled misanthropy, not
humanism.

Instead of energising progressives, it was
the ultra- Right that grew more passionate, vibrating with an
anti-Establishment fervour that led to the rise of a powerful Nationalist
International.

Today, almost four years since DiEM25 was born, the Establishment that
caused Europe’s worst crisis since the 1940s remains fully in control of the
levers of power while the Nationalist International reinforces the status quo
by being the only recipient of the people’s wrath.

Friends, comrades,
fellow-travellers, a sure measure of a regime’s fragility is the distance
between its reality and its propaganda. And a sure measure of democracy’s
health is the extent to which the demos, the people, can challenge the regime
when this distance between reality and propaganda becomes unbearable. On both
these measures, Europe has never been more fragile and less democratic than
today.

WE
WERE RIGHT!

Unfortunately, yes, we were
right. Brexit did not happen because people like us opposed the EU.

It happened because good
people in Britain, not racists or anti-Europeans, could not stomach Brussels’
and Frankfurt’s arrogance and authoritarianism. While campaigning in Britain
against Brexit, on behalf of DiEM25, wonderful comrades would say to me: “We
like you and your movement. But, mate, there is no way I will vote to remain
after what they did to your people”. The sheer contempt for democracy, which I
experienced in the Eurogroup first hand, had become evident to many, many
anti-racist progressives. It was their vote that tipped the balance in favour
of Brexit. As was the awful sight of all the establishment figures, from
Lagarde and Obama to Schäuble and Cameron, warning them that if they vote for
Brexit they would be severely punished – a sure way to turn courageous people
off the EU.

Of course, DiEM25 was right
to oppose Brexit. The EU’s disintegration will, undoubtedly, only reinforce
deflationary forces that are the Nationalist International’s greatest friend.
We saw this in Britain, we saw it in France, we saw it in Italy, Poland,
Hungary, everywhere: Euroscepticism will always feed the xenophobic beast and,
at the same time, strengthen the establishment as the majority recoils in
horror. At that moment, progressive movements like DiEM25 get squeezed badly
between the two sides of the same coin: The authoritarianism of the
Establishment and the authoritarianism of the Nationalist International. That
was our experience as we campaigned against Brexit on a Radical Remain line
with our comrades Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell of the Labour Party.

We were also right to
predict the demise of existing left-of-centre forces:

  • The social democrats, we
    said, would never recover after their capitulation to financialisation and
    austerity.
  • The European Left Party had
    chosen oblivion by choosing to turn a blind eye to SYRIZA’s capitulation to the
    troika, while still embracing eurosceptic parties.
  • Podemos would fizzle out as
    a result of their refusal to work with us to put together a coherent
    Progressive Agenda for Europe.
  • The Greens could never be
    transformational, given their adoption of austerian ordo-liberalism.

We were also right, on the
one hand to support Macron versus Le Pen in the second round, of the French Presidential
election but also to oppose him, accurately predicting that his Eurozone reform
agenda was dead-on-arrival given his determination not to confront the
establishment – leaving him no option other than neoliberalism at home and
euro-jingoism abroad.

Finally, our main idea was
also right: The idea of Program-led Transnational Politics; of creating a movement
that seeks to unite all progressives behind a Green New Deal for Europe.

Unity through coherence,
instead of Opportunistic Confederacies or Confluences.

Lest we forget, the
bankers, the troikas, the neofascists do share a tight, coherent, common
agenda.

It was about time
progressives developed one too!

DiEM25 was right to invite everyone interested in such an agenda to join us in forging it.

BUT WE WERE ALSO WRONG!

We underestimated the
establishment’s capacity to put a lid on the economic crisis – not to resolve
it, but to turn disintegration into permanent, corrosive stagnation.

At the expense of spreading
discontent and Euroscepticism even into traditional Social and Christian
democratic circles, they stabilised the Eurozone by

  • concealing the bankruptcies
  • zombifying unsustainable
    banks, states and corporations
  • and making the majority fear
    that, while the future is bleak, it will be bleaker if they oppose the ordo-liberal
    establishment – leaving the irrepressibly outraged to invest their anger in the
    xenophobic Nationalist International; a timely reminder of how fascism always
    served the system by offering its victims an opportunity to vent their anger
    without threatening the established order.

We were also wrong to hope
that major progressive parties (like Die Linke, Podemos) might be attracted to,
and want to adopt, the solid, convincing Green New Deal for Europe program that
DiEM25 developed painstakingly between 2016 and 2017. They were not
interested, proving that they were never truly cared for progressive policies,
preferring the old style of politics that turn people off.

We were right, of course,
to persevere with our Cohesive Progressive Program-led Transnationalism. We
soldiered on, making huge concessions to partners who joined us. We even agreed
to change our name to EUROPEAN SPRING for their sake. In the end, we failed to
elect a single MEP even though we did attract one and a half million votes. Put
bluntly, our Program-led Transnationalism failed to take off, a failure that
was particularly painful in the one country we banked on: Germany, where we
gathered 125 thousand votes instead of the 300 thousand we had targeted.

Of course, that failure
reflected another misprediction: Back in 2016 we imagined that some enlightened
centrists would wish to contribute financially to our electoral campaign,
recognising in DiEM25 an important pro-European voice. In reality, we received
not one euro of support from anyone other than DiEMers. This was, at the same
time, a blessing-in-disguise but also a contributor to our electoral failure in
the European Parliament elections.

WHAT WE DID WELL, WHAT WE DID BADLY

  • We succeeded in building
    the first transnational paneuropean movement. If anything, events since 2016
    proved that only such a movement holds hope for real change.
  • But we failed to ignite
    DiEM25, spending too much precious energy naval-gazing, with our membership
    stuck at the size we achieved soon after our formation.
  • We succeeded in combining
    horizontality with verticality within our movement in order to avoid the fate
    of both the World Social Forum and of top-down authoritarian parties; combining
    direct democracy in the form of spontaneous collectives and sortition (as in
    our Validating Council) with top-down organisation afforded by the Coordinating
    and National Collectives.
  • But we failed to bring
    these two dimensions together sufficiently to inspire amongst all DiEMers a
    sense that they are in control of the movement
  • We succeeded in putting
    together the only Green New Deal policy agenda that is worthy of its name; an
    agenda that we should be very proud of; an agenda that can uniquely appeal
    simultaneously to Extinction Rebellion activists and financiers whose jaw drops
    when they encounter our sophisticated proposals.
  • But we failed to make it
    prominent. Following our Green New Deal, everyone adopted the title but not the
    substance and, regrettably, very few Europeans know about DiEM25’s Green New
    Deal
  • We succeeded in creating
    electoral wings, one of which is now in Greece’s Parliament, and in bringing
    together the European Spring to contest the European Parliament elections.
  • But we failed to make a
    difference in Italy, a frontline state in the struggle for Europe, and we
    failed to elect any MEPs where we did stand.
  • We succeeded in initiating
    the Progressive International, together with the Sanders Institute a year ago
    in Vermont – and to forge a crucial alliance with Jeremy Corbyn and John
    McDonnell of the Labour Party.
  • But we failed to take the
    Progressive International further while, in the UK, DiEM25 UK has not taken
    advantage of our privileged relation with the Labour Party’s leadership or even
    our own potential across the land.

DiEM25 2.0 – WHAT MUST WE NOW DO

  • We must deepen our internal
    DiEM25 democracy further, putting our money where our mouth is; establishing
    for instance DiEM25 Assemblies selected by sortition to shape our PROGRESSIVE
    AGENDA FOR EUROPE – e.g. on transparency, migration, the Green New Deal for
    Europe, the European Constitution etc.
  • We must revisit our policy
    on alliances while focusing on building up our Electoral Wings and DiEM25, eschewing
    opportunistic confederacies/confluences but, at the same time, avoiding the path
    of Lonely, Puritan Solitude.
  • We must develop fully the
    GREEN NEW DEAL FOR EUROPE, the PROGRESSIVE INTERNATIONAL, and our privileged
    relationship with Corbyn and McDonnell’s LABOUR PARTY
  • We must throw a bridge over
    to eurosceptic progressives (e.g. Lexiteers), convincing them of our sincerity
    in pushing for a transformation – not reform – of the EU. DiEM25 must convince
    them that we, too, believe that the EU is un-reformable. That
    no amount of smart arguments can convince the EU cartel to change its spots.
    That without a clash with the institutions of late,
    financialised capitalism there will be no transition to sustainably shared
    prosperity. That our agenda will automatically trigger a Brussels backlash,
    including a threat of expelling any country that dares to adopt it. That our
    radical Europeanism can expose the establishment’s rejection of a proper Union
    and its readiness to sacrifice Europe in order to turn Europe into an Austerity
    Iron Cage.
  • We must move beyond calls
    for more democracy. DiEM 2.0 must plan for POST-CAPITALISM. We have been
    criticised, justly I think, of appearing to tinker at the edges of an
    unreformable, catastrophic, rentier-based, financialised capitalism. DiEM 2.0
    must develop our program for overcoming capitalism. Our Green New
    Deal must be recognised as the first stepping stone to a better future. We must
    now inspire people with a vision of what follows capitalism and our Green New
    Deal: a proper democracy where no one can buy shares in a company in which they
    do not labour; where there are no private banks but, instead, the central bank
    provides free digital accounts to every citizen; a society that grants a trust
    fund to every baby born. Of course, this is not the time or the place to
    articulate DiEM’s POST-CAPITALISM pillar fully. Its seeds are already in our
    program and manifesto. DiEM 2.0 must water these seeds so that soon we can
    harvest a post-capitalist agenda around which young and old from across Europe,
    indeed for beyond Europe, can organise.

TIME FOR ACTION – TIME TO ENERGISE THE UNCOOL CROWD

Friends, comrades, fellow-travellers, progressive
forces are in retreat at a time of capitalism’s deepest crisis. Who is to
blame? The media? The oligarchy? Facebook? Putin? No. We are!

  • Social democrats unleashed the bankers and invented austerity, with
    Steinbruck and Timmermans calling for it before Schäuble and Merkel
  • The Greens succumbed also to ordo-liberalism, even daring to argue
    against DiEM’s Green New Deal claiming that 500 billion euros per annum is too
    much money to spend on the Green Transition because of “capacity constraints in
    the private sector”. Who needs Schäuble when the Greens adopt such nonsense?
  • SYRIZA surrendered to the troika, eventually celebrating the MoU as the
    program that got Greece out of the crisis – the result being its electoral
    defeat last July and the splendid opportunity that the new authoritarian Greek
    government now has to build a new misanthropic, parasitic oligarchy upon
    SYRIZA’s own, troika-dictated economic program
  • The European Left Party has chosen oblivion by becoming a bureaucratic armada
    for sinking vessels
  • Lexiteers are fading everywhere, after having inadvertently reinforced right-wing
    Euroscepticism
  • Having failed to distance itself both from SYRIZA and from Lexiteers,
    Podemos has become a shadow of itself, a sidekick of a PSOE government lacking
    any interest in clashing with the establishment or articulating a progressive
    European agenda.

In the midst of this gloom,
our own defeats included, DiEM25 has managed to do one thing we promised in
2016: To stop cursing the darkness and, instead, to light up a small candle.

MeRA25, DiEM’s own
electoral wing in Greece, was that candle. Despite the demonization, and the
absurd lack of funding, DiEMers from all over Europe came to Greece and made it
possible for our new party to enter Parliament.

Why did we succeed? For
three reasons I believe:

First, while others, SYRIZA
for instance, told voters “if you don’t vote for us things will get worse”, or
the Communist Party’s narrative that before socialism comes nothing good can
happen, we showed them how things could get better immediately.

Secondly, because we
combined the transnational and the patriotic; the Green New Deal for Europe and
the prospect of a Progressive Internationalism with programs tailor-made for
Greece’s regions and Greece’s crisis-stricken people.

And, thirdly, because we went
beyond the ‘cool crowd’ of students, academics, artists, cosmopolitans that
DiEM25 can readily appeal to and we managed to speak to the heart of taxi
drivers, blue collar workers, pensioners, school kids.

Friends, comrades, fellow-travellers,

  • embracing the uncool crowd
  • combining transnational
    humanism with non-nativist patriotism
  • deepening democracy within
    our movement
  • building our movement while
    extending our alliances, the Progressive International in particular
  • supplementing our Green New
    Deal with a Post-capitalism pillar,…

…that’s what DiEM 2.0 is
about!

Yes, we need a radically
different new DiEM25. But we also need to preserve continuity with our courageous
first three-and-a-half years. I can think of no better way of pushing us along
this path of renewal with continuity than by quoting the last words with which
I concluded at the Volksbuhne on that cold February night in 2016:

The real danger is not
that we shall aim too high and miss. The real danger is that we train our eyes
on the floor and end up there.

So, let us celebrate today. But from tomorrow
morning let’s shake Europe.

Gently. Compassionately. But firmly!

Carpe DiEM!

EVERYTHING’S ON THE UP WITH THE TORIES – Brian Eno’s new song for this Thursday’s general election

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/12/2019 - 1:07am in

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Everything’s on the UP with the Tories the gap between the richies and the poories the porky pies and fabricated storiesYes – everything’s on the up with the Tories

Everything’s up the creek with the Blue Boys

They’re selling off the NHS to cowboys

They’re cutting back on nurses  (but investing it in hearses) the nitwits and the we-don’t-have-a-clue boys     

Everything’s on the UP with the Tories

With unemployed across all categories Johnson, Gove, Patel – it’s a government from Hell!And a few more years of Brexit purgatory

Everything’s on the up with the Righties

Who worship at the feet of Trump Almighty

There’s people in the street without a bloody crust to eat

But everything’s on the up for the Tories

If you’re Eton, Winchester or Harrow

The road to the future, though narrow leads – like a well aimed arrow -right to the bottom of the barrel     

We’re scraping the bottom of the barrel!!

Everything’s on the UP with the Tories their red-tops farting out more made-up stories, they’re proudly on the wrong side of history

But everything’s on the UP, everything’s on the UP, everything’s on the UP, with the Tories

Labour’s Manifesto is fit for purpose. So, why are the middle classes so hostile to it? THE NEW STATESMAN

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 08/12/2019 - 10:56pm in

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What are we to make of a political class that proclaims its ethical commitments but that cannot bring itself to endorse the only concrete actions that would honour them?

This general election is unique in ways that transcend Brexit. Over the decades that I have been observing British politics, never before have I witnessed a consensus so widespread and powerful regarding the country’s urgent needs and priorities. And never before has the Labour Party presented a manifesto, buttressed by the leadership’s will to implement it, that promises real change in accordance with that consensus. And yet, despite this rare alignment, never before have the influencers that speak on behalf of Britain’s educated middle classes turned so viciously against a Labour Party that has done so much to address their own agenda.

Britain’s educated middle classes have, indeed, reached an impressive consensus. They worry about the climate emergency and accept the need for the state to act decisively in a world whose sustainability is jeopardised by Trump-like politicians and corporate-driven inertia. They concede that inequality has become obscene and is now hollowing out the social contract on which civilisation depends. They accept that the City of London remains a clear and present danger to the real economy, draining resources and perpetuating instability. They acknowledge that austerity is nothing more than a self-defeating fiscal policy masking a toxic class-war against the weaker citizens. They disdain Boris Johnson’s playful treatment of the facts and run scared of what a Tory Brexit will mean for their children’s access to European institutions, for the NHS, and for the UK’s capacity to resist the suffocating embrace of Trump’s US.

Meanwhile, the Labour manifesto will be remembered, irrespective of the electoral outcome, as a most worthy blueprint for tackling these concerns. From an economic perspective, it is a measured, bold, well-targeted and moderate financial response to the UK’s urgent needs and abundant capacities. For instance, the plan to establish a National Investment Bank, which can soak up excess liquidity from the financial system and create sustainable growth and high-quality, green jobs. Or the idea of ending the private oligopoly over broadband and transforming it into a public good that boosts the productivity of hitherto deprived citizens and small businesses. Or the proposal to finance the investment drive by asking those who benefited inordinately for decades to contribute more tax, effectively the social contract insurance premium they have been skimping on for so long.

From a social perspective, the Labour manifesto directly addresses that which the chattering classes have long demanded: providing better social care and more council houses, ending the heavy burden of debt for young people who dare enter university, and abolishing the zero-hour contracts that are a source of guilt even for the affluent.

From an environmental perspective, Labour’s manifesto includes the greenest, most radical plan offered by a major party anywhere in the world. Besides setting ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions, it provides a means of financing the new institutions necessary for the green transition.

And then there is Brexit. What has been the chief demand of England’s political centre in recent years? To rule out a hard Brexit and to hold a second referendum that features Remain as an option. Once Johnson turned hard Brexit into an imminent reality – one still looming after the end of the mooted transition in December 2020 – Jeremy Corbyn did as he promised. He began campaigning for a second referendum that offers the good people of the UK two non-lethal options: a soft Brexit (with the UK remaining in the customs union and, mostly, the single market) or full EU membership.

And there’s the rub. While Labour’s manifesto is uniquely tailored to the concerns of Britain’s so-called middle ground, never before has that territory been more hostile to Labour. This is a phenomenon that will be remembered in decades to come as the great 2019 British paradox. Unpacking it holds the key to grasping Britain’s current predicament.

If you ask the commentariat for an explanation of this paradox, you will get an earful of chatter about Corbyn’s Marxism, alleged anti-Europeanism and lack of character. However, the truth is simpler and uglier than any of this. From day one, after he won Labour’s leadership in 2015, the game was afoot. Soon after Corbyn became leader, I warned that a huge campaign of character assassination was inevitable. It was not difficult to see it coming.

Social democratic parties, like Labour, were tolerated to the extent that they tinkered around the edges of a socio-economic order. But after the financial crash of 2008, Corbyn emerged and turned Labour into a threat to the privileged classes. While the liberal bourgeoisie are happy to romanticise the plight of the poor, and disparage social injustice, they are keener to write off as passé, or even dangerous, any sensible programme for ending inequality at an industrial scale.

In so doing, they erode liberalism’s claim, on which effective governance depends, to represent all citizens, as opposed to merely a few. But such is life in the conflicting mindset of a ruling class that has lost the capacity to reproduce sustainably its own regime.

What are we to make of a political class that proclaims its ethical commitments but that cannot bring itself to endorse the only concrete actions that would honour them? As John von Neumann, the great mathematician turned Cold War warrior, once said of J Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, “some people profess the guilt to claim credit for the sin”. It is the duty of progressives uninterested in the reproduction of the current reality to give Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party the electoral victory it richly deserves. 

For the NEW STASTEMAN’s site click here

Is capitalism past its expiry date? Munk Debate (K, Vanden Heuvel & Y. Varoufakis vs A. Brooks & D. Brooks)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 08/12/2019 - 10:39pm in

The capitalist system is broken. It’s time to try something different.

For my 3 minute conclusion of this debate, jump to 1 hour 59 minutes

There is a growing belief in western societies that the current capitalist system no longer works for average people. Economic inequality is rampant. Life expectancy is falling. The environment is being destroyed for profits. Political power is wielded by wealthy elites and big business, not the people. For capitalism’s critics, the answer is a top to bottom reform of the “free market” along more socialist and democratic lines. For proponents of capitalism, it is the engine of economic and social progress, full stop. Not only has capitalism made all of us materially better off, its ideals are responsible for everything from women’s rights to a cleaner environment to greater political freedoms. The answer to society’s current ills is more capitalism, more economic freedom, and more free markets.

THE DEBATERS

Katrina vanden Heuvel is the editorial director and publisher of The Nation, a leading American source of progressive politics and culture, and served as the magazine’s editor from 1995 to 2019. She is a frequent TV news commentator on U.S. and international politics, and she writes a weekly column for The Washington Post.

Yours truly

Arthur Brooks is a Harvard professor, bestselling author and a Washington Post columnist. He left college age 19 to work professionally as a classical musician. In his late 20s, he earned a bachelor of arts in economics, mathematics and modern languages by correspondence. He got a master’s degree in economics at Florida Atlantic University and a PhD in public policy at the RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica.

David Brooks is an American cultural and political commentator who was born in Canada when his father was earning his PhD at the University of Toronto. He is a bi-weekly columnist for The New York Times’ op-ed pages and a regular analyst on PBS NewsHour and NPR’s All Things Considered

For the site of the Munk Debates click here

https://munkdebates.com/debates/capitalism

Melanesian journalists decry growing threats against media freedom

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/11/2019 - 2:22pm in


Delegates of the first Melanesian Media Freedom Forum. Source: Pacific Islands News Association, photo by Georgina Kekea

Journalists from Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and West Papua gathered in Brisbane, Australia for the inaugural launch of the Melanesian Media Freedom Forum which was organized in response to ‘increasing media repression’ in the region.

The outcome statement of the event highlighted the main threats against media freedom in Melanesia:

The range of threats to media freedom is increasing. These include restrictive legislation, intimidation, political threats, legal threats and prosecutions, assaults and police and military brutality, illegal detention, online abuse, racism between ethnic groups and the ever-present threats facing particularly younger and female reporters who may face violence both on the job and within their own homes.

Participants asked Melanesian governments to ‘respect the media and its necessary place in national conversations’ and ‘assure the safety of journalists as they pursue their professional activities.’


Melanesia. Source: Wikipedia, Oceania_ISO_3166-1.svg: User:Tintazul, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Various issues were tackled during the forum such as surveillance, workplace conditions, climate change, and the impact of social media. Philip Cass, acting-editor of the Pacific Media Centre’s Pacific Journalism Review, also documented a session about some of the challenges faced by women journalists:

A special session on the experiences of women journalists took place later in the morning, with women journalists, editors and freelancers speaking about common problems.

These included demands that they show “respect” for men they are interviewing, a background of violence against women in many places and traditional notions of gender roles.

An unexpected moment in the forum was the unfurling of West Papua’s independence flag. West Papua is a province of Indonesia where foreign journalists are barred from entering. Tension has intensified in recent years as some ethnic groups continue to assert their right to self-determination.

The Melanesian Media Freedom Forum also issued specific demands addressed to national governments. For Papua New Guinea, the government was urged to ‘respect the independence of media institutions and journalists’ and ‘strengthen anti-corruption and whistle-blower protection legislation to include journalists and media practitioners.’ For Fiji, the government was asked to repeal the media decree which has ‘draconian penalties and the vagueness of offenses it establishes are having a stifling effect on free media.’ For Vanuatu, the government was shown an appeal of the participants to reverse the work permit rejection given to Daily Post media director Dan McGarry.

MacGarry said his visa was denied because of his criticism against China’s growing influence in Vanuatu. His situation got worse because he was barred from entering Vanuatu after attending the Melanesian Media Freedom Forum.

Scott Waide, a journalist from Papua New Guinea, wrote an appeal on behalf of other participants:

As a member of the Melanesian Media Freedom Forum, I am joining my colleagues in calling on the Vanuatu government to allow Dan McGarry the dignity and respect he deserves.

It is important that media freedom in Melanesian is protected by our ELECTED governments. Any attack on members of the media is an attack on the freedom of expression of the people.

Melanesian governments cannot pay lip service to international conventions and commitments to democratic freedoms and in the same breath issue orders to clamp down on journalists right to expression.

The outcome statement of the Melanesian Media Freedom Forum concluded with a commitment to ‘establish a network to assist participants to respond promptly and effectively to threats to journalist safety or to media freedom.’

Chinese defector's spying allegations rock Australian politics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/11/2019 - 12:21pm in

‘Spy’ alleges Chinese interference in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia

Australian 2019 elections - Chisholm electorate

Australian 2019 elections – Chisholm electorate: Screenshot 60 Minutes program

Allegations by a defector have brought strong reactions from many Australians. Wang Liqiang, a self-professed Chinese government spy, has apparently been in hiding down under since May 2019.

A 60 Minutes Australia interview with Wang, as part of a Nine Media investigation, contained a series of explosive claims. Wang stated that:

  • He was involved in sabotaging the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement by infiltration, violence and intimidation. Alleged infiltration included university campuses and local media.
  • The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had intended to plant him undercover in Taiwan as part of a plan to meddle in the upcoming presidential election and that he had led a cyber army that interfered in last year’s local elections there. Wang claimed the Hong Kong-listed company China Innovation was the front for the espionage, implicating its CEO Xiang Xin.
  • Chinese spies are operating in Australia with impunity.

In response to the program, the Chinese government has denied Wang is a spy, claiming that he is a convicted criminal. Meanwhile the Taiwanese security have detained Xiang Xin and a colleague as they were trying to leave the country.

The #ChinaSpy and related hashtags were busy after the program. Hayden was not the only one on social media to call on the major political parties to take strong action:

60 Minutes went on to reveal allegations that Chinese intelligence had been cultivating an Australian citizen to stand as a Liberal Party candidate in the Federal electorate of Chisholm at the last election. Luxury car dealer, Bo ‘Nick’ Zhao, was apparently approached but instead reported the approach to the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). He subsequently died in a hotel room but the cause of his death has yet to be explained. ASIO has made a public statement confirming his involvement and that it is investigating the matter.

The successful Liberal candidate for Chisholm at the May 2019 election, Gladys Liu, has been accused of CCP (Chinese Communist Party)connections that she has denied. It is not surprising that her name has been thrown around on social media following this latest revelation:

Fellow backbench Liberal Member of the House of Representatives, Andrew Hastie, appeared on the program. He described Wang's allegation as a state-sponsored attempt to infiltrate the parliament and run an agent there.

Hastie chairs the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Security and Intelligence . He was recently denied a visa to visit China on a study tour, along with Liberal Senator James Paterson.

There have been suspicions aired on Twitter about Wang’s truthfulness and motivation:

The role of ASIO has also been questioned:

The South China Morning Post’s John F Power also questioned the veracity of the story:

China is Australia’s largest trading partner. The Australia/China relationship has been a hot topic in recent years. Some of the contentious issues include:

  • Human rights, especially the treatment of the Muslim minority Uighurs.
  • Growing Chinese expansion and influence in the Pacific region.
  • Interference in Australian politics, which prompted a ban on foreign donations to political parties and the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme to curb lobbying.
  • Increasing collaboration between Chinese denfense companies and universities
  • Hacking of parliamentary and other government websites.
  • So-called ‘hostage diplomacy’ with the detention of Australian citizens such as Yang Hengjun.
  • Tighter restrictions on foreign investment following the controversial 99 year lease of Darwin Port by Chinese interests.
  • The banning of technology giant Huawei from the development of the 5G mobile network over national security concerns.

Australia has a population of over 1.2 million residents who identify as having Chinese ancestry in a total population approaching 24.6 million. Many feel that tensions with China have resulted in increased racism and xenophobia. They also object to having to justify themselves to fellow Aussies:

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