france

In France’s Longest Protests Since 1968, Striking Workers Continue the Fight Against Neoliberalism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 18/01/2020 - 7:52am in

Nationwide protests against the government of Emanuel Macron entered their seventh continuous week today in France, as between 187,000 (a government estimate) and 250,000 people (the unions’ count) took to the streets to oppose Macron’s plans to radically alter the country’s pension plan, seen by many as the crown jewel in France’s substantial welfare state.

Led by transport unions, mass protests occurred yesterday across the country, including in Paris, Lyon, Grenoble, Nantes, Dijon and Angers. Meanwhile, in Nice, there was a party atmosphere as activists organized a torchlight evening demonstration. Despite the light-hearted tone some of the protests took, they now constitute the longest and most intense actions against the government since the famous May 1968 “revolution,” an event that continues to define French society.

https://twitter.com/BLIXOW38/status/1217887602088517632

For weeks, transport unions have blocked the capital’s arteries, with the large majority of Paris’ famous metro lines closed or virtually unusable, an action that government-owned train operator SNCF estimates has cost them around €700 million (~775 million U.S. Dollars). Likewise, suburban and national services have been canceled, with many people’s Christmas and New Year plans affected.

Transport unions are the most organized and committed resistance to Macron’s agenda and have shut down many of France’s port cities, including Calais, Dunkirk, Le Havre, La Rochelle and Marseille, calling for “dead ports” over the weekend. Yet as the strike continues into its seventh week, its intensity has waned, with many strikers forced to go back to work after their funds ran dry. Another reason some have returned to work is Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s announcement that he would “temporarily” suspend the controversial “pivot age” that would see the de facto retirement age rise from 62 to 67. Nevertheless, Philippe has also said that the transport chaos “has gone on for too long,” as the government attempts to divide and conquer the workers.

President Macron is attempting to unify 42 separate state-funded pension programs into one amalgamated system that he argues would be more fair and transparent. However, this would mean many unions would have to give up hard-earned benefits for their members to accept a national standard, including a higher retirement age, as the president attempts to mold France into a new, neoliberal image.

However, just as the enthusiasm from transport workers has waned, they have found allies in strange places. French lawyers, whose union has managed to build up an impressive €2 billion surplus in pension funds, have struck in opposition to the plan that they fear would see it liquidated. Across the country, legal workers have theatrically thrown their gowns down in a symbolic challenge to the government. Yesterday also saw mass walkouts from schoolteachers. 

Other groups have found particularly creative ways to fight Macron’s vision. Striking ballet dancers performed a free show on the steps of the famous Palais Garnier opera house in Paris, while a week later, the Paris Opera orchestra staged their own al fresco concert. Meanwhile, employees of the Louvre Museum shut the building down today, blocking the entrance at the famous glass pyramid, telling visitors that “the Mona Lisa is on strike” and arguing that Macron’s plan would “lower everyone’s pensions.”

https://twitter.com/_ericblanc/status/1209515749120724992

President Macron came to power in 2017, winning in the final round of the election against fascist challenger Marine Le Pen. A strong believer in neoliberalism and an admirer of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, he has insisted that France must not merely be reformed, but transformed, as he attempts to radically alter the shape of French society, away from a social democratic model to one more resembling the United States. December opinion polls put his approval rate at around 30 percent and found that two-thirds of the French public disapproves of him.

The protests are the longest and among the most intense since those of May 1968, a generation-defining movement of wildcat strikes and sit ins that led to a government, fearful of a socialist revolution, hastily decreeing sweeping worker and citizen rights programs that characterize French society today. The French worker’s confidence and disdain for the authority of bosses emanates from the spirit of that movement. For decades, even conservative presidents feared the power of organized labor. However, Macron has been clear in his intentions to end the welfare state. Time will tell if his plans will succeed. But from the looks of things, there are a considerable number of people who oppose them.

Feature photo | Protestors carry a poster depicting French President Emmanuel Macron during a demonstration, Jan. 16, 2020 in Lille, northern France. Michel Spingler | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post In France’s Longest Protests Since 1968, Striking Workers Continue the Fight Against Neoliberalism appeared first on MintPress News.

Trotsky on the Failure of Capitalism

I found this quote from Trotsky on how capitalism has now outlived its usefulness as a beneficial economic system in Isaac Deutscher and George Novack, The Age of Permanent Revolution: A Trotsky Anthology (New York: Dell 1964):

Capitalism has outlived itself as a world system. It has ceased to fulfill its essential function, the raising of the level of human power and human wealth. Humanity cannot remain stagnant at the level which it has reached. Only a powerful increase in productive force and a sound, planned, that is, socialist organisation of production and distribution can assure humanity – all humanity – of a decent standard of life and at the same time give it the precious feeling of freedom with respect to its own economy. (p. 363).

I’m not a fan of Trotsky. Despite the protestations to the contrary from the movement he founded, I think he was during his time as one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution and civil war ruthless and authoritarian. The Soviet Union under his leadership may not have been as massively murderous as Stalin’s regime, but it seems to me that it would still have been responsible for mass deaths and imprisonment on a huge scale.

He was also very wrong in his expectation of the collapse of capitalism and the outbreak of revolution in the Developed World. As an orthodox Marxist, he wanted to export the Communist revolution to the rest of Europe, and believed that it would be in the most developed countries of the capitalist West, England, France, and Germany, that revolution would also break out. He also confidently expected throughout his career the imminent collapse of capitalism. This didn’t happen, partly because of the reforms and welfare states established by reformist socialist parties like Labour in Britain and the SPD in Germany, which improved workers’ lives and opportunities, which thus allowed them to stimulate the capitalist economy as consumers and gave them a stake in preserving the system.

It also seems to me that capitalism is still actively creating wealth – the rich are still becoming massively richer – and it is benefiting those countries in the Developing World, which have adopted it, like China and the east Asian ‘tiger’ economies like South Korea.

But in the west neoliberalism, unregulated capitalism, certainly has failed. It hasn’t brought public services, like electricity, railways, and water supply the investment they need, and has been repeatedly shown to be far more inefficient in the provision of healthcare. And it is pushing more and more people into grinding poverty, so denying them the ability to play a role as active citizens about to make wide choices about the jobs they can take, what leisure activities they can choose, and the goods they can buy. At the moment the Tories are able to hide its colossal failure by hiding the mounting evidence and having their hacks in the press pump out favourable propaganda. But if the situation carries on as it is, sooner or later the mass poverty they’ve created will not be so easily hidden or blithely explained away or blamed on others – immigrants, the poor themselves, or the EU. You don’t have to be a Trotskyite to believe the following:

Unfettered capitalism is destroying Britain – get rid of it, and the Tories.

A Threat to the Quality of Academic Research in France (guest post by Philippe Huneman)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/01/2020 - 3:15am in

The following is a guest post* by Philippe Huneman, Professor and Director of Research at Institut d’Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences (CNRS / Paris I Sorbonne).


[Evariste Richer, “Le mètre vierge”]

A Threat to the Quality of Academic Research in France
by Philippe Huneman

French academics have been shaken in recent months by the declarations of Antoine Petit, director of the major national research organization, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). His vision of the future of the CNRS poses a threat to the quality of academic research in France, as it would drastically diminish the amount of permanent positions and intensify project-based competition for diminishing resources.

Founded in 1939 to encompass all disciplines, to support worldwide collaboration, and to sponsor major scientific projects, the CNRS is a preeminent European research organization, employing 25,000 people including 11,500 permanent researchers.

Most CNRS researchers consider that given their funding levels—2.4 billion dollars, compared for example to the University of California’s budget of 3.2 billion dollars—they are scoring quite well in international competitions and rankings. The CNRS is the number-one recipient of grants from the European Research Commission, for instance, and stands at first or second place in all rankings of research institutions, as well as in the number of publications in Nature. It also counts a substantial number of Nobel Prize laureates as members, as well as almost half of awarded Fields medals, and so on.

Yet in an editorial in Les Echos celebrating 80 years of this institution, Petit called for “an ambitious, unequal law—yes, unequal—, a virtuous and Darwinian law, which supports the most productive scientists, teams, laboratories and institutions on an international scale.”  Among other changes, funds would be even more unevenly split than they are at present between researchers, and in order to appear more “attractive” the CNRS would reserve the best “research environments” and salaries for the “best” members, even though in the French system all researchers are hired at the same salary, since they are all civil servants. All others would have to make do in positions that have been precaritized to greater or lesser degrees. The new “pluriannual law” governing French research policy is expected to be drafted and voted on next Spring on the basis of this new vision.

Such an overt appeal to inegalitarianism has caused significant anger among researchers. At the CNRS, and in general in all French universities, recruiting efforts are, as elsewhere, attracting hundreds of applicants from all over the world for a single position. But the French national funding body, the Agence Nationale de Recherche, now has a selection rate lower than almost all research agencies (less than 10% in some sections). Thus, many French academics consider that research is perhaps already the most competitive area of society, so that intensifying competition is not at all what is needed, but, on the contrary, that more permanent positions should be opened.

In practice, echoing the Social Darwinist views of its president, just after Petit’s speech, on December 4, the CNRS opened 239 positions to application, whereas there were 400 of them as recently as 2010.

A few days after this statement, the French President Emmanuel Macron stated at a prestigious event that bad researchers should “assume the consequences” of their evaluations.

In the wake of both of these claims, the newspaper Le Monde published two open editorials by researchers. The first one, by physicist Fred Restagno, was entitled “So I’m Not a Good Researcher”. If the new research policy abolishes the status of civil servant for researchers, Restagno wrote, which allows them to spend the required time on difficult and non-immediately rewarding problems, and instead transforms labs into something more like start-up incubators, then French scholars in general are no longer “good researchers”.

The second text, written by sixteen philosophers, sociologists and evolutionary biologists, asserted that no “Darwinian selection” can be set up by a law, and that recent research policies are pushing the cooperation/competition continuum that exists in academic research (as elsewhere) towards its competitive extreme. Moreover, they argued, indicators of competition (indices, IF etc) are not measuring something substantial in science, and mostly entail misconduct, fraud, reproducibility issues (as documented by Chevassus-au-Louis 2019). They highlighted that when scientists apply genuine Darwinian models to scientific research, they show that  the policies favored by Petit lead to a “natural selection of bad science” (Smaldino and McElreath 2016).

While Macron suggested that novel sorts of short-term contracts, tailored to funded projects, should be introduced, in addition to permanent positions and short-term postdocs or PhD positions, the authors of the op-ed decried the evaporation of positions with a fixed status (Maître de conférence (Assistant professor) or Chargé de recherche (Junior research scientist), and so on) as well as the proliferation of precarious research positions, imperilling long-term perspectives in fundamental research. What will result from the new law governing research, accordingly, is that the “Maître de conférence” status will be suppressed.

The achievements of the CNRS in fundamental science were made in part, one might easily suppose, as a result of the existence of permanent positions that preserve researchers from the recurring need to ensure their team’s survival. Petit’s assertions reveal the degree to which this security is under attack now.

Subsequently, an open letter initiated by a group of evolutionists and ecologists was published on December 9. Its authors recalled some of the substantial research already devoted to showing the harms of competition-oriented research and of unsound productivity indices. They pointed out the absurdity of a law that would foster individual competition in scientific research, since biologists know of “countless examples of ‘evolutionary dead-ends’ or even ‘evolutionary suicides’, in which the short-term benefits for individuals eventually lead to the extinction of an entire population.” They thus rejected Petit’s initial assumption that “scientific advances are achieved by a few geniuses or in a few ‘centers of excellence’, and that financial resources are ‘better used’ when they are redirected to a few individuals or research centres.”

This letter attracted almost 14,000 signatures from academics in less than two weeks, supplemented by the support of 35 academic societies. In turn, the scientific council of the CNRS, as well as the administrative committee of the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle (a major research structure for biology , ecology and anthropology in France) also expressed opposition to Petit’s statement.

Antoine Petit, in a subsequent op-ed in Le Monde, answered those critiques, condescendingly dismissing the researcher’s concerns as the overly sophisticated fretting of “learnèd types”  (“esprits savants“). Unsurprisingly, this did not bring any tranquillity to the academic community. The upshot of Mr. Petit’s answer is that increased competition between researchers and teams is needed to fuel our international competition with, especially, China. Even though one may believe Mr. Petit when he says that he is no genuine social Darwinist, the intention that guides him and his peers is still, explicitly, the institution of a Spencerian state, in which rarefied resources select the best competitors.

This answer evinced a harsh reply from François-Xavier Fauvelle in the same venue, showing why the parallels with the US academic system —which is the inspiration for those reforms—is ill conceived; and by Michel Veuille, a population geneticist, who in the newspaper Libération points out that Darwin himself would never have been allowed to do his research in the academic world dreamt of by Mr Petit.[1]

In general, French universities and research institutes suffer from a low administration-to-faculty ratio, low funding, high rates of precarious employment, a steady decrease in the amount of new positions, and a research finance policy that massively supports R&D in the private sector under the form of tax exemption (“Crédit d’impôt recherche“), which is contested by many academics. Pressure to meet the dubious “Shanghai ranking”, has pushed university administrators to consider giving exceptional salaries to foreign “stars” (as the director of the CNRS often says) so that France will fare better. They may even hire people, as the University of Strasbourg did last year, with Nobel Prizes who are very senior and hence unlikely to do substantial work, simply in view of the bonuses this provides in the rankings. This seems all the more absurd when we consider that the rapid development of research in China is necessarily diminishing the share of countries like France, UK or the US in global scientific production, and hence decreases their scores in any rankings such as the Times Higher Education or Nature Index rankings, not to mention the Shanghai Ranking.

The current leaders in France seem intent to implement policies that have proven to be flawed in the UK and the US, and that academics themselves largely reject in those countries. They violate everything we know about how science works. And these are only some of the reasons motivating French academics to stand against, not only their chief officer’s statements, but more generally the new orientation of research policy. Strikes, collective resignations, and other actions are now being discussed among them. The fight is just starting.

 * * *

References

Chevassus-au-Louis, N. (2019) Fraud in the Lab: The High Stakes of Scientific Research. Harvard University Press.

Smaldino, P. E., McElreath, R. (2016) “The Natural Selection of Bad Science,” Royal Society Open Science, 3. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.160384

[1] Most of these texts, and others on the same topic, are collected here: https://medium.com/@ransu.massol/des-r%C3%A9ponses-et-de-la-suite-dans-les-id%C3%A9es-18309569c9dc

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Tories Pushing Children into Poverty and Stripping Them of Their Rights

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 05/01/2020 - 1:03am in

Yesterday Mike commented on a piece in the Independent, which reported that, thanks to the Tories, Britain had been declared ‘inadequate’ in its protection of children’s right. Britain has now fallen from 11th to 156th place in the global rankings for children’s rights. It’s now in the bottom lowest ten performers after getting the lowest possible score in all six indicators in the Children’s Rights Environment, according to KidsRights Index 2017.

There are serious concerns about structural discrimination in the UK, particularly against Muslims following recent anti-terrorism measure, and against Gypsy and immigrant children.

I’ve already put up some stats on how the Tories’ vile austerity policy has pushed more families and children into ‘food poverty’ – meaning hunger, potential malnutrition and starvation. But the book also worries about the social impact hunger has on people. Families can no longer afford to families and friends around to share a meal, and this is raising concerns that this will also increase the social isolation of the families affected.

Rebecca O’Connell and Laura Hamilton write in their chapter on food poverty in Vickie Cooper’s and David Whyte’s The Violence of Austerity

However, evidence from the PSE UK suggests that 11 per cent of households could not afford to have friends or family around for a meal or drink at least once a month in 2012 compared to 6 per cent in 1999. Furthermore, the proportion who could not afford to have a friend’s child around for tea or snack once a fortnight doubled between 1999 and 2012, from 4 per cent to 8 per cent, representing 1,000,000 children. ~Given that social relationships between children and their peers are an integral aspect of their development and well-being, the consequences are likely to be highly damaging and include increasing social exclusion and societal fragmentation. (p.97)

If ethnic minority families are particularly affected, then this will increase their exclusion and alienation from mainstream society, and could lead to some becoming dangerously radicalised. And their could be a similar effect among poor Whites, who may believe that Black and Asian families are being far better treated because of their colour through positive discrimination policies. Increasing poverty and the removal of anti-discrimination legislation and safeguards is a recipe for increasing racial tension.

Joanna Mack in her chapter on maltreatment and child mortality in the above book also gives the stats on how Britain compares with some of the other European countries: it’s abysmal. She writes

The consequences of such reductions in income is that the UK, which has long had a poor record on child poverty compared to many other nations with similar levels of economic development, has slipped further behind. Eurostat, which gathers comprehensive data from across Europe, reports that in 2014 over 22 per cent of children in the UK lived in deprived households, taken as being unable to afford three or more of a range of household items, compared to 14 per cent in France, around 12 per cent in Germany and a mere 4 per cent in Norway and Sweden. In 2007, before the austerity years, the UK’s rate was 15 per cent well below the EU average – now it is above. (p.87).

She also reports that the increase in child poverty in the UK was of such concern to the UN that it called for the reintroduction of the targets for the reduction of child poverty, which the government had repealed in 2016, and for ‘the provision ‘for clear and accountable mechanisms for the eradication of child poverty’ and the revision of recent benefit reforms.’ (p. 85).

Mike was so angry about this catastrophic reduction in Britain’s status for respecting children’s rights that he urged his readers to tell people who voted Tory about it, and that thanks to their vote, Britain will continue to fail future generations. He also urged them to ask the following questions

And tell them that discrimination against children on racial or religious grounds has been incorporated into the structure of UK society under the Conservatives.

Ask them whether they consider themselves to be racists and, if not, why they support a racist administration.

And if they say they don’t, remind them that prime minister Boris Johnson is a known racist.

Point them to the anti-Semitism in his novel if they want proof beyond his Islamophobic comments and other recent outbursts.

UK plummets from 11th to 156th in global children’s rights rankings. The Tories are responsible

Britain is becoming more racist, and its children poorer, thanks to the Tories. And it’s all so that the 1 per cent, including Bozo, Rees-Mogg and the rest of them, can get richer.

The Beeb’s Biased Reporting of NHS Privatisation

The Corporation’s General Right-wing Bias

The BBC is infamous for its flagrant right-wing bias. Writers and experts like Barry and Savile Kushner in their Who Needs the Cuts, academics at the media research centres of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Cardiff Universities, and ordinary left-wing bloggers like Mike and Zelo Street have pointed out time and again that the corporation massively prefers to have as commenters and guests on its show Conservative MPs and spokespeople for the financial sector on its news and political comment programmes, rather than Labour MPs and activists and trade unionists. The Corporation relentless pushed the anti-Semitism smears against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. But it has also promoted the privatisation of the NHS too through its biased reporting.

Biased Towards NHS Privatisation

Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis’ book on the privatisation of the NHS, NHS – SOS, has a chapter by Oliver Huitson, ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’, discussing the biased reporting of the NHS’s privatisation by the media in general. Here, however, I will just confine myself to describing the Corporation’s role. The Beeb was frequently silent and did not report vital pieces of information about successive privatisations, such as the involvement of private healthcare companies in demanding them and conflicts of interest. On occasion, this bias was actually worse than right-wing rags like the Daily Mail. Although these ardently supported the NHS’ privatisation, they frequently reported these cases while the Beeb did not. When the moves towards privatisation were reported, they were often given a positive spin. For example, the establishment of the Community Care Groups, groups of doctors who are supposed to commission medical services from the private sector as well as from within the NHS, and which are legally allowed to raise money from the private sector, were positively described by the Corporation as ‘giving doctors more control’.

Lack of Coverage of Private Healthcare Companies Role in Privatisation

David Cameron and Andrew Lansley did not include Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill in the Tories’ 2010 manifesto, because they didn’t believe they’d win the election if they did. But in all the two years of debate about the bill, the Beeb only twice reported doubts about the bill’s democratic mandate. (p.152). In October 2010, Mark Britnell was invited to join Cameron’s ‘kitchen cabinet’. Britnell had worked with the Labour government and was a former head of commissioning for the NHS. But he was also former head of health for the accountancy firm, KPMG, which profits greatly from government privatisation and outsourcing. He declared that the NHS would be shown ‘no mercy’ and would become a ‘state insurance provider, not a state deliverer’. But the BBC decided not to report all this until four days after others had broken the story. And when they did, it was only to explain a comment by Nick Clegg about how people are confused when they hear politicians stating how much they love the NHS while at the same time demanding its privatisation. (pp.153-4).

On 21 November 2011 Channel 4 News reported that they had obtained a document which showed clearly that GP commissioning was intended to create a market for private corporations to come in and take over NHS services. But This was only reported by the Groaniad and the Torygraph. The rest of the media, including the Beeb, ignored it. (pp. 156-7).

Lansley was also revealed to have received donations from Andrew Nash, chairman of Care UK, another private healthcare firm hoping to profit from NHS privatisation. But this also was not reported by the Corporation. (pp. 157-8).

In January 2011 the Mirror reported that the Tories had been given over £750,000 from donors with major connections to private healthcare  interests since David Cameron had become their chief in 2005. But this was also not mentioned by the Beeb. (pp. 158).

The Mirror also found that 40 members of the House of Lords had interests in NHS privatisation, while the Social Investigations blog suggested that it might be as high as 142. The BBC, along with several papers, did not mention this. (pp. 158-9).

Sonia Poulton, a writer for the Heil, stated on her blog that 31 Lords and 18 MPs have very lucrative interests in the health industry. But this was also ignored by the Beeb, along with the rest of the media with the exception of the Guardian. (p. 159).

The Tory MP, Nick de Bois, was a fervent support of the Tories’ NHS privatisation. He is a majority shareholder in Rapier Design Group, which purchased Hampton Medical Conferences, a number of whose clients were ‘partners’ in the National Association of Primary Care, another group lobbying the Tories for NHS privatisation. This was also not reported by the Beeb. (pp. 159-60).

The Beeb also chose not to report how Lord Carter of Coles, the chair of the Co-operation and Competition Panel charged with ensuring fair access to the NHS for private healthcare companies, was also receiving £799,000 per year as chairman of McKesson Information Solutions, part of the massive American McKesson healthcare company. (p. 160).

There were other links between politicos, think tanks, lobby groups and private healthcare companies. The health regulator, Monitor, is dominated by staff from McKinsey and KPMG. But this also isn’t mentioned by the press. (pp. 160-1).

Beeb Falsely Presents Pro-Privatisation Think Tanks as ‘Independent‘

The BBC, along with much of the rest of the media, have also been responsible for misrepresenting spokespeople for pro-privatisation lobby groups as disinterested experts, and the organisations for which they speak as just independent think tanks. This was how the Beeb described 2020health.org, whose chief executive, Julia Manning, was twice invited onto the air to discuss the NHS, and an entire article was given over to one of her wretched organisation’s reports. However, SpinWatch reported that its chairman, former Tory minister Tom Sackville, was also CEO of the International Federation of Health Plans, representing of 100 private health insurance companies. Its advisory council includes representatives of AstraZeneca, NM Rothschild, the National Pharmaceutical Association, Nuffield private hospital group, and the Independent Healthcare Advisory Services. (p. 162).

Another lobby group whose deputy director, Nick Seddon, and other employees were invited onto the Beeb to discuss the proposals was Reform. Seddon was head of communications at Circle, the first private healthcare company to take over an NHS hospital. Seddon’s replacement at Circle was Christina Lineen, a former aide to Andrew Lansley. None of this was reported by the Beeb. Their corporate partners included companies like Citigroup, KPMG, GlaxoSmithKline and Serco. Huitson states ‘Through Seddon’s and other Reform Staffs’ appearances, the BBC may have facilitated private sector lobbying on a publicly funded platform without making relevant interests known’. (163).

Beeb Did Not Cover Protests and Opposition to Bill

Pages 164-5 also discusses the Beeb’s refusal, with few exceptions, to interview critics of Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill, the rightwing bias of panels discussing it and how the Beeb did not cover protests against it or its discussion in parliament. Huitson writes

At the BBC opportunities were frequently missed to provide expert opposition to the bill on a consistent basis. the RCGP’s Clare Gerada was largely the exception to this rule. Many of the most well-known and authoritative critics of the bill – the likes of professors Allyson Pollock or Colin Leys, doctors Jacky Davis and Wendy Savage from Keep Our NHS Public – never appeared on the BBC to discuss the plans. Davis recalls being invited to appear on the BBC a number of times but the item was cancelled on every occasion. ‘Balance’ is supposedly one of the BBC’s primary objectives yet appearing on the Today programme of 1 February 2012 to discuss the bill, for instance, were Shirley Williams (who voted in favour of the bill, however reluctantly), Nick Seddon of ‘independent’ Reform (pro-Bill), Steve Field (pro-Bill) and Chris Ham (pro-Bill). It’s difficult to see how that is not a breach of BBC guidelines and a disservice to the public. One of the fundamental duties of an open media is to ensure that coverage is not skewed towards those with the deepest pockets. And on that issue the media often performed poorly.

Further criticism of the BBC stems from its curious lack of NHS coverage during the climactic final month before the bill was passed in the House of Lords on 19 March. One such complaint came from blogger and Oxford Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology Dorothy Bishop, who wrote to the BBC to ask why it had failed to cover a number of NHS stories in March, including an anti-bill petition that had been brought to the House by Lord Owen, carrying 486,000 signatures of support. In reply, the BBC confirmed that the bill had been mentioned on the Today programme in March prior to the bill’s passing, though just once. Bishop replied:’So, if I have understood this right, during March, the Today programme covered the story once, in an early two-minute slot, before the bill was passed. Other items that morning included four minutes on a French theme park based on Napoleon, six minutes on international bagpipe day and eight minutes on Jubilee celebrations.’

Other BBC omissions include Andrew Lansley being heckled by angry medical staff at a hospital in Hampstead, as reported by both the Mail and Sky News. On 17 March a peaceful anti-bill march took place in central London. Those out protesting for their national health service found themselves kettled by riot police despite being one of the most harmless-looking crowds you’re ever likely to see. The protest and the shameful police response were completely ignored by the media, except for a brief mention on a Guardian blog. On social media numerous examples have been reported of protests and actions opposing the bill that were entirely absent from national coverage.

Then, on 19 March, the day of the final vote on the bill, the BBC ran not a single article on the event, despite this being one of the most bitterly opposed pieces of legislation in recent history – it was as if the vote was not taking place. The next day, with the bill passed, they ran a full seven articles on the story. Three days after the bill passed, Radio 4 broadcast The Report: ‘Simon Cox asks: why is NHS reform mired in controversy?’ Why this was not broadcast before the Lords’ vote is a mystery. 

When the Bill was passed, the bill scrolling across the BBC News’ screen ran ‘Bill which gives power to GPs passes’. (166). Huitson remarks that when the Beeb and the other news networks reported that the Bill gave power to GPs and allowed a greater role for the private sector, it was little more than regurgitating government press releases. (p. 168).

Beeb Bias Problem Due to Corporation’s Importance and Domination of Broadcast News

Huitson also comments on the specific failure of the Beeb to provide adequate coverage of NHS privatisation in its role as one of the great British public institutions, the dominant role it has in British news reporting. On pages 169-70 he writes

Campaigners may not expect more from the Sun but they certainly do from the BBC, given its status as an impartial public service broadcaster whose news gathering is supported directly by licence fee payers. The BBC accounts for 70 per cent of news consumption on television. Further, the BBC accounts for 40 per cent of online news read by the public, three times that of its closes competitor, the Mail. Quite simply, the BBC dominates UK news. The weight given to the BBC here is not purely down to its dominance, however, but also because, along with the NHS, the BBC remains one of our great public institutions, an entity that is supposedly above commercial pressures. Many of the stories ignored by the BBC were covered by the for-profit, right-wing press, as well as the Guardian and Channel 4, so the concern is not that the organisation failed to ‘campaign’ for the NHS, but that it failed to report facts that other outlets found newsworthy.

The BBC’#s archive of TV and radio coverage is neither available for the public to research nor technically practical to research, but there are a number of reasons for confidence that their online content is highly indicative of their broader output. First, BBC online is a fully integrated part of the main newsroom rather than a separate operation. Consequently, TV and radio coverage that can be examined is largely indistinguishable from the related online content, as demonstrated in the examples given above. During the debate of Lansley’s bill, the BBC TV and radio were both subject to multiple complaints, the figures for which the BBC has declined to release.

Beeb’s Reporting of NHS Privatisation as Biased as Coverage of Miners’ Strike

He also compares the Beeb’s coverage of the bill, along with that of the rest of the media, to its similarly biased reporting of the miners’ strike.

The overall media coverage of the health bill brings to mind a quote from BBC radio correspondent Nicholas Jones, on the BBC’s coverage of the miners’ strike: ‘stories that gave prominence to the position of the National Union of Miners could simply be omitted, shortened or submerged into another report.’ (pp. 172-3).

Conclusion

The Beeb does produce some excellent programmes. I really enjoyed last night’s Dr. Who, for example. But the right-wing bias of its news reporting is now so extreme that in many cases it is fair to say that it is now a propaganda outlet for the Tory party and big business. It’s utterly indefensible, and in my view it will only be reformed if and when the newsroom and its managers are sacked in its entirety. In the meantime, Boris and the rest of the Tories are clamouring for its privatisation. Godfrey Bloom, one of the more prominent Kippers, has also put up a post or two in the past couple of days demanding precisely that.

If the Beeb was genuinely impartial, it would have defenders on the Left. But it is rapidly losing them thanks to its bias. And to the Tories, that’s also going to be a plus.

Thanks to the Beeb’s own Tory bias, it’s going to find it very hard to combat their privatisation.

And in the meantime they will have helped destroy the most valued of British institutions, the NHS, and free, universal healthcare to Britain’s citizens.

The History Book on the TUC from Its Beginnings to 1968

The History of the T.U.C. 1868-1968: A Pictorial Survey of a Social Revolution – Illustrated with Contemporary Prints and Documents (London: General Council of the Trades Union Congress 1968).

This is another book on working class history. It’s a profusely illustrated history of the Trades Union Congress from its origins in 1868 to 1968, and was undoubtedly published to celebrate its centenary.

Among the book’s first pages is this photograph show the TUC’s medal, below, which reads: Workingmen of Every Country Unite to Defend Your Rights.

There’s also these two illustrations on facing pages intended to show the TUC as it was then and now.

After the foreword by the-then head of the TUC, George Woodcock, and the list of General Council in 1967-8, the book is divided into four sections on the following periods

1868-1900, on the first Trades Union Congress and the men who brought it to birth.

1900-1928, in which the TUC was consulted by Ministers and began to take part in public administration.

1928-1940, which are described as the TUC’s formative years and the fight for the right to be heard.

and 1928-1940, in which wartime consultation set the pattern for peacetime planning.

These are followed by lists of trade unions affiliated to the TUC circa 1968 and the members of the parliamentary committee from 1868 and the General Council from 1921.

The text includes articles and illustrations on the Royal Commission of Inquiry into trade unions, including a photograph of Queen Victoria’s letter; from the beehive of 1867 to the TUC of 1967; the early leaders of the TUC and the political causes at home and abroad, for which they rallied trade union support; some of the events that led to the TUC’s foundation and the Royal Commission on Trade Unions; the TUC and the Criminal Law Amendment Act; working men voting during the dinner hour; working hours and conditions which the TUC wanted to reform, particularly of women and children; Punch cartoon of the sweated workers exploited for the products displayed at the Great Exhibition; Alexander McDonald, the man behind the miners’ unions; campaigns for compensation for industrial injury and safeguards for sailors; farm labourers’ unions, the public and the church; the advent of state education and the birth of white collar unions; mass unemployment and demonstrations in the Great Depression of the 1880; the trade union leaders of the unemployed and their political allies; squalor and misery in London; forging the first link with American unions; the TUC on the brink of the 20th century; the ‘new unionism’ and the matchgirls’ strike; the dockers’ strike of 1889; the birth of the Labour Party in 1906; passage into law of the TUC’s own trade union charter; the trade unions and the beginnings of the foundation of the welfare state by the Liberals; Women trade unionists, the Osborne Judgement; the introduction into Britain of French and American syndicalism; the great dock strike of 1911, and the great transport strike of 1912; the Daily Herald; Will Dyson’s cartoons; the TUC on the eve of World War I; the War; the wartime revolution in trade unions; the TUC’s contribution to the war effort; rise of shop stewards; the impact of the Russian Revolution on the British Labour movement; peace time defeat; the appearance of Ernest Bevin; the replacement of the Parliamentary Committee by the General Council in the TUC in 1921; the first proposal for the nationalisation of the coal mines; 1924, when Labour was in office but the trade unions were left out in the cold; the gold standard and the General Strike; the Strike’s defeat and punitive Tory legislation; the TUC’s examination of union structure after the Strike; TUC ballots the miners to defeat company unionism; Transport House in 1928; the Mond-Turner talks and consultations between workers’ and employers’ organisations; Walter Citrine and the IFTU; the 1929 Labour government; opposition to McDonald-Snowden economies; McDonald’s 1931 election victory; propaganda posters for the National Government; the 1930s; the state of industry and TUC plans for its control; union growth in the young industries; young workers fighting for a fair chance; the TUC and the British Commonwealth; the Nazi attack on the German unions; the TUC and the international general strike against the outbreak of war; the waning of pacifism inside the TUC; the Labour Movement and the Spanish Civil War; Neville Chamberlain and ‘Peace in our Time’; summer, 1939, and the outbreak of World War II; Churchill’s enlistment of the TUC and Labour Party in government; the coalition government and the unions; TUC organises aid to Russia after the Nazi invasion; plans for post-War reconstruction; the TUC, godfather to the Welfare State; the Cold War; the bleak beginning of public industries in 1947; David Low’s cartoons of the TUC; the drive for productivity; the Tories and the Korean War; TUC aid to Hungary and condemnation of Suez; the official opening of Congress House; TUC intervention in industrial disputes; trade union structure; from pay pause to planning; trade unionists given a role in industry; government pressure for a prices and incomes policy; TUC overseas contacts; and recent changes to the TUC.

The book’s an important popular document of the rise of the TUC from a time when unions were much more powerful than they were. They were given a role in government and industrial movement. Unfortunately, the continuing industrial discontent of the post-War years have been played on by nearly every government since Thatcher’s victory in 1979. The result is stagnant and falling wages, increasingly poor and exploitative conditions and mass poverty and misery. All justified through Zombie laissez-faire economics. Corbyn offered to reverse this completely, and give working people back prosperity and dignity. But 14 million people were gulled and frightened by the Tories and the mass media into rejecting this.

Strong trade unions are working people’s best method for expressing their economic and political demands along with a strong Labour party, one that works for working people, rather than solely in the interest of the employers and the financial sector. Which is why the Tories want to destroy them and are keen that books like these should be forgotten.

Let’s fight against them, and make sure that books like this continue to inspire and inform working class people in the future.

 

Merry Christmas from OffG

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/12/2019 - 3:00pm in

The nights are long and dark at this time of year. It is cold, and damp, and bleak. 2019 was not a great year for the world. Evo Morales, the last untouched remnant of the Bolivarians who swept across Latin America in the late 1990s, finally drew the ire of the United States and toppled. …

The Labour, Pro-Working Class Arguments for Brexit

The decisive factor which swung 14 million people to vote Tory in the general election two weeks was Brexit. Labour’s programme of reforms was popular, despite the predictable Tory attacks on it as impractical, costly, too radical, Marxist and so on. 60 to 70 per cent of the public in polls supported the manifesto, and the party received a slight boost in popularity in the polls after its public. The areas in Labour’s heartlands in the midlands and north that turned Tory were those which voted ‘Leave’. Craig Gent in his article for Novara Media on the lessons Labour must learn from this defeat lamented this. By backing Remain, Labour had ceded Brexit to the Conservatives, allowing them to shape the terms of the debate and the assumptions underlying it. But Gent also argued that it could easily have gone the other way.

Indeed it could. Labour’s policy, before the right-wing put pressure on Corbyn to back a second referendum, was that Labour would respect the Leave vote, and try for a deal with the EU that would serve Britain the best. Only if that failed would Labour consider a general election or second referendum. This is eminently sensible. The referendum was purely on whether Britain would leave the European Union. It was not on the terms under which Britain would leave. Despite Johnson’s promise to ‘get Brexit done’, he will have no more success than his predecessor, Tweezer. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has stated that the negotiations are going to take far long than the eleven months Johnson claimed. The people who voted for him are going to be sorely disappointed.

The right-wing campaign for leaving the EU heavily exploited racism and xenophobia. Not only had Britain lost her sovereignty to Brussels, but it was because of the EU that Britain was being flooded with immigrants taking jobs and placing a burden on the social and economic infrastructure. In fact, the Black and Asian immigrants entering Britain were permitted, as Mike showed on his blog, through UN agreements covering asylum seekers. Moreover immigrants and foreign workers were a net benefit to Britain. They contributed more in taxes and took less in benefits. But with this was drowned out, along with other, vital Remain arguments in the Tory rhetoric of hate.

But there was always a part of the Labour movement that also distrusted the European Union for democratic, socialist reasons. The late Tony Benn devoted an entire chapter to it in his 1979 book, Arguments for Socialism. One of his primary objections to it, as he outlined in a 1963 article for Encounter magazine, was

that the Treaty of Rome which entrenches laissez-faire as its philosophy and chooses its bureaucracy as its administrative method will stultify effective national economic planning without creating the necessary supranational planning mechanisms for growth and social justice.

Like right-wing Eurosceptics, Benn also objected to Britain joining the EU because of loss of national sovereignty and democracy through inclusion into a European superstate. He was also worried about the threat from Brussels to British industry. The European Union hated Britain’s nationalised industries, and Benn said that he was told by Brussels bureaucrats that investment, mergers and prices in the former British steel industry would have to be controlled by them. Every issue of state aid to British manufacturing industry would have to be subject to the European commission. He was very much afraid that British manufacturing would be unable to compete against the better financed and equipped European firms, and so close. And he also argued that membership in the European Union would create higher unemployment through the EU’s economic policy, which was exactly the same as that tried by Conservative premier Ted Heath’s first government. He believed that EU membership would leave British workers with a choice of either being unemployed at home, or moving to Europe to seek work. Only the directors and shareholders in European companies would profit. He then gives the statistics showing how much Britain was paying to the EU for policies like the Common Agricultural Policy, that penalised Britain’s highly efficient farming system in favour of that of the continent, and the disastrous effect EU membership had had on British industry and jobs. The devastation caused to some sectors of British industry and agriculture also formed part of Conservative attacks on the EU. The former Mail, now Times journo, Quentin Letts, bitterly criticises the EU in his book, Bog Standard Britain, for the way the common fisheries policy drastically cut back our fishing fleet to a fraction of its former size.

It also seems that Ted Heath also used some very underhand, dirty tricks to rig the initial referendum to give the result he wanted: that the British people agreed with him and wanted to join Europe. This was the subject of an article in the parapolitical/ conspiracy magazine, Lobster some years ago.

I’m a Remainer. I was as shocked by the Tories’ victory as everyone else on the Left. I expected that they would win because of the vast propaganda and media resources they had poured in to attacking Labour and Corbyn personally. But I was astonished by how large the victory was. I believed that the continuing failure to secure a deal with Europe would have made Brexit less popular, not more. The result of the original referendum was so narrow that I believed a second would reverse the decision. How wrong I was.

Some of the Eurosceptic arguments against Europe are overstated or simply wrong. The EU was a threat to our nationalised industries, but it seemed nothing prevented the French, Germans and Dutch from retaining theirs and buying up ours, as the Dutch firm, Abellio, was awarded the contract for some of our rail services. Britain’s entry into the EU did not result in us losing our sovereignty. We retained it, and all law passed in Brussels had to become British law as well. And I believe very strongly that leaving Europe, especially under a no-deal Brexit, will badly damage our trade and economy.

But understanding Brexit and the arguments against EU membership from the Left from people like Tony Benn, may also provide a way of winning back some at least of the support Labour lost at the election. Labour can show that it understands the fear some people in those communities have about the loss of sovereignty, and the effect EU membership has had on trade, manufacturing and employment. But we can also point out that the Tories are using the same set of economic principles as the EU, and that this won’t change so long as Boris is Prime Minister. And any trade agreement he makes with the Orange Generalissimo will be worse than staying in the EU. It won’t secure British jobs or support British industry, manufacturing or otherwise. Indeed, it will cause further damage by placing them at a disadvantage against the Americans.

A proper Brexit, that respected British workers and created a fairer, better society, could only be brought in by Labour. But the Thursday before last, 14 million people were duped into rejecting that. But Labour is learning its lesson, and people are getting ready to fight back.

Labour can and will win again, on this and other issues. Brexit may have got Johnson in, but it may also be the issue that flings him out. 

Macron and the imaginary of a “start-up nation”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/12/2019 - 5:51pm in
With Emmanuel Macron’s administration encountering a new wave of resistance to its neoliberal reforms, Carla Ibled, PERC doctoral student, explores Macron’s vision of a “start-up nation” via the rhetoric of his speeches.

Thursday 5th December saw France brought to a standstill by a long-awaited interprofessional strike, marking an important step in the struggle between Emmanuel Macron’s presidency and the unions. Many, the French government included, expect the strike to be long and sustained. It has brought together workers from the public and private sectors, including transport (from Paris’ RATP to the air controllers), health, education, broadcast services, the energy and telecommunication sectors, lawyers and magistrates, student unions, refuse collectors and haulage contractors, firefighters and even the police. The strike is supported by the gilets jaunes movement, which recently celebrated its first anniversary. Unsurprisingly, comparisons have been drawn to the 1995 general strike that seriously weakened Jacques Chirac’s first presidency.

As in 1995, the 2019 strike is specifically targeting the French government’s ambition to reform France’s retirement system – this time by harmonising it across the public and private sectors, and by introducing some level of capitalisation. But it is also symptomatic of a deeper rejection of Macron’s policies, which have been repeatedly accused of favouring the richest at the expense of the poorest. This rejection is combined with a genuine irritation with the personality of a president who often appears disdainful and arrogant, shocking the public with his thoughtless and scornful comments (from calling the female workers of a slaughterhouse “illiterate” to contrasting the “Gauls who are resistant to change” with the (industrious) “Lutheran people”).

This piece, then, takes the occasion to go back to some of Macron’s most emblematic speeches and interviews to discuss how they reflect and construct his worldview as what Forbes hailed as a “leader of the free world” and how his rhetoric is impregnated with some of the central tropes of the Chicago School. From this perspective, Macron symbolises a new inflection of the French implementation of neoliberalism, through which neoliberalism comes to be understood not solely as a socio-economic programme to be enforced but, more radically, as a culture, “as a way of being and thinking”.[1]

I focus on four speeches: the June 2017 speech given at the Vivatech show; the July 2018 address to the French Parliament; the September 2018 announcement of the national strategy to prevent poverty; and the February 2019 speech at the international show of agriculture. What is striking is the consistency of the message conveyed in these speeches spread across Macron’s two-and-half-years presidency: France needs to adapt to the new world and thus needs to give up on its outdated regulative framework. It needs to become what Macron has famously called a “start-up nation”.

 

“Brutal changes”

Macron’s steadfastness manifests itself in the recurrent (not to say obsessional) use of certain keywords like “transformation”, “innovation”, “rights and duties” or “protection”. For instance, the word “transformation” and its verbal derivatives are repeated no less than twenty-six times in the thirsty-three minutes ‘start-up nation’ speech at the Vivatech 2017 entrepreneurial show – along with twelve occurrences of “change” and nine of “revolution”. What Macron tirelessly hammers out is that France has entered a pivotal moment of “brutal changes”, of “ruptures” and “disruptions” – the unsettling effects of the innovations brought about by the tech revolution.

On one hand is the world of “yesterday”, with its particular “jobs” and “language”, which he explicitly identifies with the welfare state of the 20th century. This world is now gone. It cannot be adapted to the new reality. Those who, in denial, attempt to hold it back and to freeze it, are resisting the inexorability of change; they “refuse the world as it is transforming”. Macron castigates stasis and immobility. For instance, the ‘national strategy against poverty’ speech blames France’s social crisis on the rigid “statutes” that, Macron believes, still stratify French society.

Yet, the target of this implicit appeal to France’s revolutionary past is not the 21st-century-republican nobility but the protected (or ‘special’) work regimes from which some nationalised sectors (like the railways and energy sector) benefit, as well the unions. Similarly, the ‘Vivatech’ speech denounces the popular resentment in France for those who succeed – a “jealousy” that materialises in the “fetters” and “tax burden” that restrain the creative power of start-ups. Generally, all four speeches deplore the nefarious “rigidity” of French regulations.

On the other hand is the fabulous world of “hyper-innovation” – a world of perpetual activity, but also a world characterised by its transience and fragility, so great is the threat to miss the opportunity of reaching it. Earning this world means France must whole-heartedly “embrace the change”, must be “open to disruption and [the] new models”. There is a strong sense of urgency, as Macron fully understands that entrepreneurs “cannot wait”. The President calls for an “acceleration in the economy”. As he repeats throughout the Vivatech hyperbolic speech, one needs to go “faster, stronger”. One needs to go beyond our present limits to “win the new frontiers of the 21st century”.

In order to do so, France will give the “liberty to do” (or, in the speech to the Parliament, will “liberate investment” from its fetters) so as to attract “the pioneers, the innovators, the entrepreneurs of the whole world”. It will become the messianic country of “hyper-innovation” where “a new future”, as well as a “new mobility, new energy will be invented”. Earning this world also requires transforming society “in its entirety”. In an uncanny echo of Margaret Thatcher’s famous statement that the “object is to change the soul”, Macron proclaims that “what we have to construct together is an in-depth revolution of our models: our models of thought, our economic and social organisation, our way of behaving”.

 

The platform state

The first step of this “in-depth” change is the remodelling of the state to make it “espouse” digital technology’s “methods, facilities and efficiencies”. As announced – in English – to the foreign ‘pioneers’, Macron wants “France to be a ‘start-up nation’, meaning both a nation that works with and for the start-ups, but also a nation that thinks and moves like a start-up”. Or in “one word” (and still in English): “Entrepreneur is the new France”. The ‘start-up’ entrepreneurial state is a variation on Foucault’s liberal self-limiting state trying to find the economical balance in the art of governing, between the too-little and the too-much.[2] It is agile and effectively targets and calibrates its intervention. It is not the physically omnipresent mammoth state, with its luxurious trail of intricate regulations, that France has known until now.

As Macron keeps repeating across the four speeches, the state is here to “facilitate” and “accompany” initiatives. It must be understood “as a platform not as a constraint”. Facilitating means simplifying the otherwise too complex and bureaucratic French regulative framework. It means nurturing enterprise via tax-breaks, and generally through reducing “the cost of failure”. But it also means having, as Macron claims to have, a “direct understanding” of “risk-takers” and their needs.

The productive tension between immobility and activity is applied to all areas of state action and particularly to the “national strategy of preventing and fighting poverty”. Interestingly, a year after the Vivatech speech and amidst increasing social discontent, this speech places a renewed emphasis on the notion of “protection” and on Macron’s putative ambition to create the “welfare state of the 21st century”. The target is what he calls “social fatality” – that is, another type of stillness caused by the structural obstacles that keep people in the social conditions in which they were born. The policies he advocates must thus contribute to liberating the young talented “Mozarts” who currently cannot structurally emerge, by helping them to transcend their circumstances through education and professional training.

There are however some important caveats. First, as the Vivatech speech had already announced, Macron’s policies are about protecting the individuals themselves through “training and retraining”, and not protecting “the jobs of yesterday”. Mirroring Friedrich Hayek’s analyses,[3] this indicates that it is not about protecting (or shielding) individuals from adverse economic conjunctures, but just ensuring life-long adaptation to disruption.

Secondly, Macron suggests that education and training are sufficient mechanisms to re-equilibrate structural inequalities so that all social actors are considered equal players in the economic game. If such a logic is carried to its conclusion, subsequent social success and failure become the result of personal talent or failure. Responsibility comes to fall on the individual and not on unequal social structures.

Thirdly, mobility and industry implicitly come to constitute the measure of what Macron means by “dignity”. People thus need to be nudged toward activity.[4] In another words, absolute poverty should be tackled but people should never be made too comfortable (or enabled to live “better” within their current circumstances) so that they continue to strive to ameliorate their living conditions. This is very explicitly the aim of Macron’s “revenu universel d’activité” (universal activity income), which, like the British ‘universal credit’, is supposed to merge all social allowance, but retains ‘activity’ as a sine-qua-non requirement. What Macron’s policies are supposed to implant in the long term is abhorrence of any ‘dependence’ on the state’s largesse. The “start-up nation” will be a nation of self-made men.

 

Mobilising the nation

The Macronian imaginary that transpires in these speeches emerges as a combination of revolutionary and conservative claims: the Silicon Valley-inspired advocacy of “hyper-innovation” and “start-ups” cohabits with a defence of “right and duties” and “values”. The social model called for is bizarrely reminiscent of the paternalistic capitalism of the 19th century. Despite the incredulity that now surrounds the mythical ‘trickle-down effect’, Macron still seems to believe in the natural redistribution of wealth that derives from the benevolence of enlightened and responsible employers and entrepreneurs. He particularly likes his metaphor of the “premiers de cordées” (literally ‘the first in the rope line’) who pull the rest of society up with them toward new heights, and who should therefore be trusted, not be impeded.

Moreover, the “start-up nation” is entirely compatible with “the republican order” – an order that can violently exclude those who do not comply. The tone of Macron’s speeches is strikingly martial: everything is turned into a “fight” or a “battle”, and the ideas of the mobilisation of the nation and the necessity of being a “leader” are omnipresent. This rhetoric is a stark reminder that the force of the state remains behind the implementation of the Macronian project (as the seriousness of the injuries caused by state repression of the gilets jaunes amply testifies to).

The warlike tone is coupled with a strong messianism, a sense that France can become a leading light in the “civilizational, cultural challenge” of today. France has the potential to become the “incarnation” of change and “the country of the revolution of entrepreneurship, of innovation and of the democratic revolution that accompanies it”. It can bring back hope to those who “didn’t believe any longer”.

I would suggest that this messianic dimension should not be underestimated, as it points towards the appeal of Macron’s imaginary – especially through its emphases on independence, on the liberation of talents against stiff social structures, and on the power of creation and imagination. What needs to be understood is how these chimeric gestures come to justify the government’s drastic, ongoing attack on the French welfare state, as well as the violence of the state’s reaction to social unrest in France.

For Macron, this is a civilizational war between the jealous, backward forces of yesterday and the “progressive”, enlightened forces of tomorrow. The result, as the president hopes, will be the profound transformation of France, a supposedly unreformable country, into the vanguard of capitalism. This attempt to bring about a revolution of thought and behaviour and to implant the entrepreneurial spirit at all levels marks a new inflection of neoliberalism à la française and a rapprochement with the philosophy of life advocated by its American cousins in the Chicago School. Beyond the immediate context of the general strike, these are the stakes of the current crisis of the social order in France.

 

Carla Ibled is a doctoral student in the Department of Politics & International Relations, Goldsmiths, and a member of the PERC graduate network.

 

Bibliography

Foucault, Michel, La Naissance du Biopolitique – Cours au Collège de France. 1978-1979, Hautes Etudes, Paris, Seuil, 2004.

———, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France, 1978-1979, trans. M. Senellart, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Hayek, Friedrich A. (von), The Road to Serfdom, London, Routledge, 2011.

 

 

[1] M. Foucault, La Naissance du Biopolitique – Cours au Collège de France. 1978-1979, Paris, Seuil, 2004, p. 224. Foucault here contrasts American neoliberalism with its European counterparts.

[2] M. Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France, 1978-1979, trans. M. Senellart, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, p. 19.

[3] F. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, London, Routledge, 2011, pp. 126–28.

[4] Macron’s policies are here compatible with the policies put in place by President Valéry Giscard-d’Estaing, at the end of the 1970s. This is what Foucault described as the French tradition of neoliberalism, which, like Ordoliberalism, is an “economic choice”, and not, like American neoliberalism, a philosophy of life. See La Naissance du Biopolitique – Cours au Collège de France. 1978-1979, Paris, Seuil, 2004, p. 210 and p. 224.

The post Macron and the imaginary of a “start-up nation” appeared first on Political Economy Research Centre.

Econofides: CORE in French high schools

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 16/12/2019 - 7:40pm in

In France many economists have been asking for a long time how we can make the economy exciting for high school students. But, then again, so have the teenagers who toil to learn about it, and the teachers who want to teach it. And France isn’t unusual.

The magic fortress of economic concepts often seems too abstract for the people aged between 15 and 18, who are discovering the economy for the first time. Understanding the economic structure of the world we live in will be essential for the next generation of citizens and policymakers. What if we could adapt CORE’s resources to high school and develop radically new ways of teaching it. This is the challenge that the Econofides project, launched at the beginning of the school year to 260,000 high school students in France, took up.

The genesis of Econofides

France is an ideal setting for anyone who wants to experiment with new ways of teaching economics in high school. All second students follow the same curriculum: 90 minutes a week of introduction for everyone in Seconde (Year 11), then 4 hours in Première (Year 12) and 6 hours in Terminale (Year 13), for those who decide to specialise in economics.

The program is directive too. Seconde students must learn how economists reason. Those in Première focus on markets, how they function and their imperfections. The Terminale program is much broader and embraces major issues in the contemporary world. It takes in sources of economic growth and instability, globalisation, sustainable development, labour markets and unemployment.

But this framework does not always fit the CORE paradigm on how to teach economics. An example: unlike CORE, students have to learn the perfect competition framework before they learn that in reality markets are mostly imperfect, and then study externalities, monopolies and public policies. But we felt that the diversity of the themes, and the possibility of making them alive and exciting, made it worth adapting the resources of CORE, and developing new resources especially for high school.

Hence, we created Econofides for trust (‘fides’) in the economy.

Who are we? A team of talented students and project managers from Sciences Po, led by me, who are working with the Académie de Versailles and a team of high school teachers. We are also partnering with Artips, a company committed to the democratisation of culture that specialises in micro-learning with short stories. The project is supported by the Ile-de-France Region, the Axa Fund for research and the Banque de France.

The Econofides platforms

This collaboration is creating several digital resources that are adapted to the new programs.

There are open access ebooks for the Première and Terminale students, which adapt the content of CORE and its teaching resources, such as the interactive diagrams, videos, and quizzes, such as our “Introduction to Markets and Prices” for Première students:

For the Seconde students we will create a micro-learning platform, plus a platform for all high school students wishing to discover the economy:

The platforms are full of accessible ideas, situations and anecdotes. The idea is to propose a concrete economy in which students recognise themselves. For example, the first chapter is devoted to the question “How do economists think?”. An important point is to explain the difference between correlation and causality, but these concepts are very difficult to digest for 14- and 15-year-olds. But they become much easier to digest when explained to them using the history of the strange relationship between the students’ spelling and the size of their feet!

Using this anecdote, we can explain the difference between correlation and causality and apply it to a contemporary economic situation, such as the relationship between growth and global warming. They make sense of causality and understand the role of omitted variables (in this case of course, their age explains both feet size and number of spelling errors, as in the image on the right).

Immediately they are given a quiz on the correlation between the level of chocolate consumption in countries and the number of Nobel prize winners. We finish off with anecdotes that explain the concepts of natural experiments and randomised trials, and one of the stories is about to reducing class size and academic achievement (in tribute to Esther Duflo, our French Nobel Prize winner).

Through the content of the courses, students project themselves into—and interact with—the economic principles that govern their lives, often without them knowing it.

After months of work, our Econofides project is finally launched. The courses contribute to the democratisation of the economy, but also offer new educational opportunities: reverse pedagogy, teamwork on case studies, individualisation of student follow-up, while respecting the teaching freedom of teachers. And French high school students who now have a much better introduction to the complex world of economics.

Yann Algan (yann.algan@sciencespo.fr) is dean of the School of Public Affairs at Sciences Po, Paris.

The post Econofides: CORE in French high schools appeared first on CORE.

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