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Exemplary governance: Which countries should high-COVID nations follow?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/12/2020 - 3:04am in

Connecting illness, death and governance in a COVID world

By Ian Inkster

As much of America, Europe and many anglophone nations face the welter of possible choices of action available to them as they enter what is understood to be a “second wave” of COVID-19, their media repeatedly mention a small group of nations that might best be copied—examples of good COVID governance.

Two points at the outset. For some time now it has been unclear whether this new wave was a direct function of mutation among the many DNA of the virus itself, or mainly a man-made cycle following the ups and downs of civil societies’ adherence to the regulations. Are the spikes resulting from civil laxity? The second point follows from this civil laxity argument—it may well be claimed that a nation’s ability to dampen COVID incidence and mortality is a sign of its existing power of governance. Good COVID management then becomes a measure of strength and scope of policies, of a government’s firmness in convincing its citizens to adhere to regulations, and of its own power to adapt to externally induced changing circumstances. From this, it may be argued that good COVID results act as an indicator of how well a government will lead its nation into post-COVID economic recovery. So, there can be quite a lot at stake here.

Thus, choosing the best example may well reflect an underlying belief among large numbers of people that a particular country has high status among the comity of nations. That is, successful COVID results may be seen by many people throughout the globe as exemplifying both successful governance and a firm moral economy. Contrariwise, failure over COVID in the “second wave” may now be considered a sign of a failing state. We have witnessed the ousting of Donald Trump.

Clearly enough, notable exemplars cannot be so small as to be clearly outliers, else such varied places as the Falklands or Greenland would take the lead. This puts to the side nations that have, indeed, been applauded, such as Hong Kong and Singapore. This applies also to isolated islands and vast territories with very low population densities such as Iceland, Madagascar, Finland, or even Norway. On more direct reasoning, those seeking exemplars should surely omit nations that do not report tests per million, such as Burkina Faso with a population of over 24 million and impressive Cm (cases per million) of 122 and exceptionally low Dm (deaths per million) of only 3, but which does not report test numbers. Of course, there will be nations that have actually had so few hospitalised cases or deaths that they have not instituted tests at all, but they are difficult to clearly separate from ones where cases would be high if thorough testing had been instituted.

Measuring COVID experience and selecting models

Table 1 below lists details for 10 nations, 5 of which are quite commonly exemplified across the world, and 5 others that are not, but whose records are worth serious consideration. World data is included in the last row. Coronavirus Worldometer

Table 1 offers a great many cautionary tales. Cm measures total COVID cases per million, Dm total deaths per million, D/C is deaths as a proportion of total registered cases, which we take as a good indicator of the effective mortality rate; Tests/m is the number of tests for COVID per million of the population. Figures are derived from totals for the period from January 13, 2020, the day of the first confirmed case in Japan, to November 11, 2020.

The five common exemplars are in bold, and they in fact offer very varying COVID experiences according to their own official registered data across the whole period. It seems clear that Germany and Sweden are exemplars, especially in Western nations because they have good records in fighting COVID-19 in comparison to other major European nations (e.g., the UK or Belgium with Dm figures of 719 and 1,112, respectively) and the USA (a Dm of 734). They also have highish results for tests per million, especially Sweden. But the latter’s principal drawback as an exemplar is its much smaller size of population, and the unusual characteristics for Europe of its relative spatial isolation when compared to high-COVID nations such as Italy. In addition, Sweden’s D/C or mortality rate at 3.6 per cent is actually the highest of the 10 nations in this table, despite a high testing rate. This could suggest either a fault in the procedures for effective hospitalisation after tests prove positive, resulting in greater mortality, or it could be a result of its relatively high proportion of older citizens—at 20.3 per cent of its population over 65, compared to say around 16 per cent for Australia and the USA. However, this case is severely weakened when we note that Germany has a ratio of 22.2 per cent of its population in this older grouping, and Japan an even greater proportion of 28.2 per cent. Both have D/Cs of 1.7 per cent. Given the small population of Sweden, this would throw some doubt on it as an obvious exemplar in terms of actual COVID results to date.

Within Europe, this leaves Germany as probably the better case, especially as, unlike Sweden, it is bordered by high-COVID nations such as Belgium, France, and the Netherlands (Dm measures of 1,185,  651, and 484, respectively).

Outside of Europe—problems

But at first glance, neither of the European contenders can match the non-European Australia, Japan and Taiwan, each with exceptionally low Dms (Taiwan with its unmatched 0.3 per cent) and much lower Cms. The seeming weakness of the Japanese and Taiwanese cases is their low levels of tests per million. Other things being equal, this means that lower numbers tested leads to lower “cases registered” if a nation is relying on test results as its principal COVID source, rather than official collections of data from hospitals and general practitioners of patients diagnosed as having the virus. This is not a resounding rejection by any means. It is very possible, certainly understandable, that a nation with actual low covidity would not feel the same need for mass testing as nations with obviously severe problems. It is notable that both the USA and the UK have the highest proportional testing ratios of any large nations—at around 50 per cent of their respective populations tested. Given that numbers of tests say little of the quality of the testing procedures there seems some good reason for holding Taiwan and Japan in high regard as exemplars.

Australia has no such problem, its rates of testing being amongst the highest in the world and notably above those of Germany. Its Dm is exceptionally low. The only problem area here is the unusual character of its demography (a huge proportion of the population live on the massive coastlines), its absence of land borders, its overall relative isolation from all high-COVID hot-spots, and its ability to close itself off despite high numbers of tourists and business connections. These features cannot simply be emulated, yet they may be more determinate of its success as a dampener of the virus than any single element of policy or of any special sequence of official interventions.

There is more to be said about why some nations appear as exemplary and others not, despite their directly COVID-related data. This is broached in three rows of Table 1. Pol-FrR provides an indicator of political freedom within nations, as measured over the years since 1973 by Freedom House, Washington, DC. The figures are an Index with 100 (Sweden) at the top among all major nations. Our Table 1 also indicates—with an * by the names of the 10 nations—all those that are labelled by Freedom House as “electoral democracies,” and it can be seen that all 5 of the major exemplary nations are in this category, and each is highly ranked on the Pol-FrR index, ranging between 93 and 100.The exemplary 5 are a free democratic group, sharing a series of status markers, attributes of a political culture, with many of the nations that regard them as exemplary.

Even though Taiwan with its amazing COVID history is not officially recognised as an independent nation by the other 4 within this select group, its characteristics fit perfectly with those of that group, as a whole. The PPP column shows that these nations are among the richest, most established industrial nations in the world, and estimates of their exemplary character by the major media outlets of the world must surely reflect something of a cultural club. The PPP column is a World Bank measure of purchasing power parity per capita, which adjust simple per capita income comparisons to account for cost-of-living differences by replacing normal exchange rates with those designed to equalise the prices of a standard “basket of goods” and services.

The index is based on the USA as 100. It seems clear enough that the chosen exemplars are seen as ones appropriate to emulate—democratic and free—and this is what is fastened on by the media that create the mantras of “lessons to be learnt,” or “following the science,” and so on. This is confirmed in column Econ-Fr, which provides an index of political freedom for 2020 calculated by the Heritage Foundation, Washington, DC,  in its huge and freely available 2020 Index of Economic Freedom, where Singapore tops the world at 89.4, Australia appearing 4th with 82.6, Sweden appearing at rank 22 with 74.9, and so on. That is, this group is considered exemplary, despite the great differences in COVID performance within it, on grounds of a global culture in which, through an international media, market-based liberalism at high incomes is awarded the highest status among the nations of our world. With status comes notions of veracity, probity and high trust, the secondary rewards of high income.

It may thus be argued that the notion of what might be an exemplary nation in a COVID world, is not principally founded on the COVID record but on some evidence of COVID achievement plus much evidence of high national status among the other nations of our world. So, despite all the caveats and drawbacks noted in this paper, it would appear that the seemingly very different nations of the group will persist as exemplary.

Beyond the pale: Another perspective on best COVID performances

Our other 5 nations are a different cup of tea altogether. Although Poland and India are both parliamentary democracies, they share with this second group much lower income per capita, with Ethiopia being one of the most impoverished nations on earth. They all have lesser degrees of economic and political freedom, but they all also have very good COVID performances as measured in columns Dm and D/C, and generally reasonable numbers for tests per million (the worst being Angola which actually exceeds the figure for Taiwan!). These are not small countries demographically, and to that extent deserve some attention as possible exemplary cases.

With its large Cm measure, Poland looks at first an unlikely candidate, but note that its figure is equal to that of Sweden, and much lower than those of Spain (29,692), or France (26,769), or the huge Belgian figure of 42,547. Its tests per million exceed those of Japan. Its D/C ratio is very low, much below those for the UK, Italy, France, and even Germany. It borders 7 nations of high or uncertain covidity, such as the Czech Republic. And, of course, it is European. We might suggest that it has never been seen as exemplary in the West because of its cultural distinction of having low per capita income, equal to that of Malaysia, and its lower degrees of economic and political freedom than those found among the accepted exemplary group. And, of course, the same must be said of Ethiopia and Angola. The most likely causes of their low COVID measures is a lack of the infrastructure for effective testing and the low number of the elderly in their populations, primarily a result of low incomes. As noted already, this alone would tend to bring down the mortality rates. India and Malaysia are by far the more likely examples for others to follow. India’s massive population and extreme poverty, both noted in Table 1, has not inhibited low Cm and especially low mortality measures. As a well-established parliamentary democracy, India has a relatively high level of political freedom, although its determination to continue to plan high economic growth (an annual growth rate of GDP of over 7 per cent from 2012) means that government does not let market forces rule the production and distribution of goods and services. Aided by its age distribution but remembering the enormity of its population, India might well be seen as among an exemplary group of low-COVID nations.

Malaysia as best practice?

As an exemplary case in many senses, Malaysia has been the most neglected by international mass media commentators. Yet with highish levels of economic freedom, it has achieved remarkable COVID statistics based on a reasonable level of testing. In this, it has been aided by being bordered by nations of low covidity, such as Indonesia (Dm of 55) or Thailand (Dm of 0.9 and total cases of only 3,861!). Its Dm and D/C levels are remarkable. Moreover, its history of COVID defence shows a great deal more alacrity and intelligence than most nations in the West. Screening was adopted at all airports after the first case in Thailand was made public on January 13, and Malaysia only reported its own first case on January 25–well after Japan, South Korea, the USA and Taiwan. Thermal scanners were adopted early. Under the Movement Control Order of March 18, the government, with good cooperation from the media, actively spread the “#stayhome” instructions, NGOs and prison inmates fabricated PPE for those on the frontline, and initial financial stimulus to prevent full economic downturn had been initiated in February. Very early on, Malaysia accepted that China had proved that by isolating the infected group of individuals and practising social distancing, the pandemic could be contained. In order to fund new hospitals and create stocks of medicines, the Ministry of Health and Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) established an “action coalition” to obtain financial aid from corporate companies, government-linked companies (GLCs), and other organizations in Malaysia, a form of private-public sector funding that the West has yet to truly exploit. Government dampened any division between private and public sectors, enlisting help directly from the social media, and NGOs (not private companies) were used early on to provide protective masks, disinfection chambers, and to educate citizens on COVID-19. By April 11, Malaysia had reported a total of 4,346 cases and a total of 1,830 recovered, a proportion of 42 per cent. Today the numbers are 32,969 and 45,095, a proportion of 73 per cent.

Far quicker than countries such as the UK, the Malaysian authorities recognised the key problem of the elderly in care homes. As early as March 27, the Malaysian government introduced the Prihatin Rakyat Economic Stimulus Package (PRIHATIN) with RM 25 million allocated to provide assistance for aged care homes, including cash disbursement, food supply and healthcare items, as well as an RM 250 one-off payment for government pensioners. Malaysia was directing a much higher proportion of its very limited resources to helping the elderly than did most of the Western nations and at a much earlier date, and this was evidently rewarded through its very low Dm and D/C statistics.

Beyond casual statements—selecting with mindfulness

The Malaysian example details the variety of positive responses that have been made in nations not hitherto considered exemplary yet showing very superior COVID results over far more wealthy nations. In itself, this sort of evidence cannot pick an exemplar for all. Picking an exemplar by looking at single cases is unlikely to help very much. But what seems clear is that global exemplars do not have to look the same in terms of political structures, incomes, or economic ideology. Better that any nation looks at its own circumstances and selects elements considered appropriate. The best option might be to consider the more global picture but allow especially for differences in income and age distributions, the character of borders, densities and levels of urbanism, and degrees of air pollution. Such elements may guide selection towards countries or a country of similar circumstance, and the best COVID performer amongst them may well be your best exemplar. But just do not jump too soon!

Elements such as age structure or borders may be reasonably recognisable and objective measures. Political systems and policies are quite the opposite, these alter with regimes (we can look forward to developments in the US). The only way out of the seeming conundrum is to first admit that COVID incidence and mortality is only very partially related to any one nation’s official management policies. In fact, to date, only the dimmest light has been shed on what is the relationship between illness, death and governance in a COVID world. For this reason alone, a great COVID exemplar may not be a great example of political and civil life, especially as defined by decision-makers in parliamentary democracies. Perhaps choosing between Australia and Japan, between India or Malaysia, ought not be so normative. Perhaps it should carefully weigh up seeming COVID performance in the context of all the elements, admitting that the policies of governance may not be foremost amongst them.

Professor Ian Inkster is a global historian and political economist at SOAS University of London, who has taught and researched at universities in Britain, Australia, Taiwan and Japan. He is the author of 13 books on Asian and global dynamics with a particular focus on industrial and technological development, and the editor of History of Technology since 2000. Forthcoming books are Distraction Capitalism: The World Since 1971, and Invasive Technology and Indigenous Frontiers. Case Studies of Accelerated Change in History, with David Pretel. Follow him on Twitter at @inksterian

Solomon Islands bans Facebook for ‘harmful content’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 21/11/2020 - 4:16pm in

An official claims Facebook is merely being ‘suspended’ for an indefinite time

Students studying at a computer lab in University of South Pacific Solomon Islands Campus. Photo from Flickr account of the Asian Development Bank, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Cabinet of Solomon Islands has issued a temporary ban on Facebook for what it considers ‘harmful content’ disseminated on the social media platform. It is unclear when the ban will begin and how long will this last.

The ban was proposed by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and Communication and Civil Aviation Minister Peter Shanel Agovaka.

Agovaka told Solomon Times why the Cabinet came up with this decision:

Abusive languages against Ministers, Prime Minister, character assassination, defamation of character, all these are issues of concerns.

The use of the internet now in Solomon Islands needs to be properly regulated to safeguard our young people from harmful content. At the moment there is no legislation to govern the use of the internet and even young kids can be able to download harmful stuff from the internet.

Agovaka said the government has not yet finalized the details with internet service providers about how the ban will be enforced. He added that press freedom will not be affected since citizens can still publish or air their sentiments on other media platforms.

There are 120,000 Facebook users in Solomon Islands.

The announcement garnered widespread criticism which prompted Permanent Secretary of Communication and Aviation Moses Virivolomo to clarify that Facebook is merely being suspended. But the official gave no timeline about the suspension.

The Facebook ban or suspension is seen by critics and the opposition as an attempt to silence citizens who are exposing irregularities in government.

Opposition Member of Parliament Peter Kenilorea Jnr reminded the Cabinet about the importance of upholding freedom of expression in a democracy:

As leaders, we will face resentment from factions of a demanding and at times dissatisfied public. Much of the dissatisfaction and mistrust, whether real or perceived, will be aired. Sometimes these need to be aired. After all, we, leaders, need to be held accountable by the electorate that place us in positions of power. We need to face the music from time to time. This is democracy.

But as leaders, let us not attack one of the main pillars of democracy upon which our nation rests – the freedom of expression. Let us not mute the voices, however angry, of those that we have sworn to serve.

Malaita Provincial Premier Daniel Suidani, a local official, also disagreed with the decision to ban Facebook:

Do not go into public life and make laws and decisions for your own good or for your own protection as is seen with the banning of Facebook.

Doing this will only lead to further frustrations. You can be guaranteed that going against your people only leads to failures.

The business sector is not supportive of the ban. Jay Bartlett, the board chairperson of the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI), said the Cabinet should be focusing on other more important matters:

It is the Government’s prerogative to make such a decision, but as a Chamber we believe that there are other pressing issues that requires our collective focus.

Ms Gloria Hong, a member of SICCI representing small businesses, argued that Facebook is an essential platform to interact with consumers.

Using social media helps us to build brand awareness, increase our customer base, and connect with customers.

In my view, banning Facebook is a threat to businesses, especially the small businesses who cannot afford to run advertisements on radio, newspapers and on TV.

Tourism Solomons CEO Josefa ‘Jo’ Tuamoto warned about the repercussions for the tourism industry:

It goes without saying the platform has become vital in our efforts to keep the Solomon Islands top of mind and competitive on the world tourism stage for the time when things return to normal.

No other social media platform comes even close to what we have been achieving with Facebook.

And not just for our tourism sector, but for all Solomon Islands businesses and the wider community in general which uses Facebook as a key means of communication across our 992-island archipelago.

In a letter sent to the Solomon Times, Floyd Manata from Port Moresby said banning Facebook is not the solution:

We need to be very careful about dealing with certain things regarding this time where the world technology is changing every 6 months. Today it's Facebook next year probably TikTok. But hey think again is this the best solution to the problem?

Before you ban Facebook you should establish or come up with policies that will facilitate the issue of cyber crime and cyber security. Do we have one in place at the moment?

Facebook told ABC Australia that it is ready to discuss the issues raised by the Solomon Islands government:

We’re reaching out to the Solomon Islands government to discuss today’s decision.

This move will impact thousands of people in the Solomon Islands who use our services to connect and engage in important discussions across the Pacific.

Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher Kate Schuetze said the ban will deprive users of vital information that can save lives during a pandemic.

Given how important it is for people to quickly access information in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government may not just place political discourse and participation at risk, but even lives. Total bans on websites or internet information providers will almost never be justifiable under international human rights law.

Dan McGarry, an independent journalist living in Vanuatu, has a proposal for Pacific governments which are unhappy over the social impact of Facebook and has considered plans to censor or ban the popular social media website:

Pacific governments need to start a dialogue, not just with social media giants, but with other national regulators too. They need to learn from others’ mistakes, and leverage others’ successes.

New article: Digital CCS in Brazil

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/11/2020 - 3:59pm in

Mumbuca e-dinheiro and the challenges of requirements, codes and data digital community currency governance Luiz Arthur S. Faria*, Fernando G. Severo**, Henrique L. Cukierman***, Eduardo H. Diniz**** *Fundação Getúlio Vargas and Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, ** Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, *** Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, […]

PERC Podcast with Michelle Meagher – Competition is Killing Us

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/11/2020 - 10:58pm in

Will Davies spoke to Michelle Meagher, Senior Policy Fellow at the UCL Centre for Law, Economics and Society, about her book, Competition is Killing Us: How Big business is harming our society and planet – and what to do about it Their conversation covers the history of anti-trust, the pernicious influence of Chicago School ideas, and her vision of an alternative regulatory paradigm focused on reducing corporate power.

PERC Goldsmiths · PERC Podcast with Michelle Meagher – Competition is Killing Us

The post PERC Podcast with Michelle Meagher – Competition is Killing Us appeared first on Political Economy Research Centre.

Higher Ed Needs an Actual Recovery Plan, Not Wishful Thinking

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 10/10/2020 - 3:58am in


Budget, governance

Neither major party has one, for higher ed or for anything else. Higher ed boards and presidents don't either. (Pictured at left: UC Regents Gareth Elliott, John Pérez, and Sherry Lansing.)  Rebuilding this system is pretty much up to us.

I say this because however universities' operations people struggle to hold fall term together, the larger policy response has lost its grip on the unfolding disaster.  The most vulnerable students are disproportionately dropping out, academic programs are being closed, doctoral programs are being suspended, early-career women faculty's academic futures are put in jeopardy, student enrollments have been further destabilized, and testing and tracing regimes are too uneven to assure general reopening in spring.

There's also higher ed employment. At the Chronicle of Higher Education, Dan Bauman pulled together data on the worst higher ed employment collapse since modern statistics began. Since March 2020, the sector has lost seven percent of its workforce.  Here's the gruesome chart.

The rising employment trend you see largely tracked student enrollment growing by about 25 percent in this period. When Covid hit, most universities hadn't fully recovered from the Great Recession.  Employment during that downturn merely went sideways, rather than going off a cliff.   Now it is going off a cliff.

The minds of policymakers and governing boards have been dulled by promises of a V-shaped recession. Everything is supposed to bounce back when dorms and classrooms re-open.  You can see a small bounce above.

A bounceback in employment requires both political will and money. The two are linked.  In Bauman's other chart, note where the bouncing is not happening.

In spite of all the rhetoric about access and inclusion, politicians are not allocating money to the institutions--largely public--that offer those.  Everyone is concerned about the diversity of the academic pipeline.  Collapsing higher ed employment, much in various kinds of student services, squeezes the pipeline at its most diverse point.   (Private colleges both wealthy and reputable are also suffering: Ithaca College has announced a plan to cut 25 percent of its faculty.)

Lying behind this is the negative role now adopted by state governments. They applied austerity and helped deepen the Great Recession. They are playing the same destructive role againRepublican state governments are cutting higher ed. But Democratic state governments do the same, with New York and California in the forefront.  In spite of what you hear around UC, the Democratic legislature gave UC's general fund a 12.2 percent cut (details here).

Legislators and governors blame a Covid crash in tax receipts. States are having a terrible tax revenue year:  some expect to lose a fifth or even a third of their budgets (CBPP's State Budget Watch has an appalling chart of estimates state by state.)  But this problem is partially self-inflected. States can raise revenues by raising taxes on people and business that have wealth and income. Covid has been bad for labor and good for capital; bad for lower incomes and okay for higher.  Legislators could pass a solidarity income tax surcharge on high earners. They could pass a Facebook tax, a Google tax, an Apple tax, a Microsoft tax, and especially an Oracle tax; in New York they could pass a Goldman Sachs tax, etc. These would be taxes on the very wealthy and currently prosperous individuals and sectors these companies represent.  But today's Democrats are no more likely to pass even temporary taxes than are Republicans.

What about governing boards?  They are fiduciary authorities, and their job is to maintain the revenues that allow for the full functioning of their institutions.  In California, that means money to pay for non-commodity learning and (always) money-losing research while minimizing the debt of students emerging from a population with Deep South levels of economic inequality and the nation's number one poverty rate (corrected for cost of living), while dealing with Covid losses and added expenses. Instead of taking a $500 million cut, the regents should be pounding the table for a $1-2 billion raise.

(The same goes for senior people in public health, fire fighting, forest and other environmental remediation, disaster relief, housing and community rebuilding--all leading to using the full rainy day fund, raising taxes now to meet actual urgent needs, hiring unemployed people to do all the work of reconstruction, which would massively stimulate economic activity, tax receipts, etc.  Keynes did live and write his books, and he and his heirs are still correct. )

Given the need and the possibility, what happened at the UC Regents meeting? After the budgetary vaguenesses of their July meeting, board chair John Pérez demanded real data in September.  In September, there were if anything fewer data than in July.  UCOP presented a lesson on the 2009 furloughs.  The one bright spot was that it was interpreted to mean that furloughs aren't a magic bullet. The discussion gave the regents the chance to favor steep progressivity in the furloughs that they said they didn't want to impose, and also to oppose layoffs of frontline staff.

Fine, but there was no plan, and also very little data. For example:

There are no numbers attached to any of these very significant problems.  How bad is the total problem?  No one really asked, and UCOP folks didn't really say.  UCOP works to demobilize the regents, and vice versa, and anyone who wants to rally for the cause of proper Covid funding is cast outside the pale.

The low moment in the charade of deep uncertainty was the refusal to admit that the federal bailout is not going to happen, and getting proactive about the fact that the Democratic cut of 12.2% will start in the current year.  I noted in my last budget post that this is really at 20% cut from the regents' fairly modest request of November 2019.  But not a word about the problems this will present to campuses, faculty, staff, and students.

Rather than saying the feds won't save us, pushing the regents to demand a new deal from the state, UCOP continued to suggest the money will come. Dan Mitchell reports that in an October 6th meeting, a regental committee was told that even if they miss the October 15th deadline (a dead certainty), the state may get money later from a Biden administration and pass some on mid-year to UC.  This isn't planning but wishful thinking, and a commercial investor would dump the stock.

In one case, the slide title belied the data.

In fact, August losses increased again. Given the state's erratic Covid suppression, medical center losses may continue to increase.  The regents' asked no questions about this.  The routine is pretty well established: every regents meeting features UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood mechanically intoning that UCSF isn't really losing money after all--it has a "positive EBITA." Nobody asks him, given $850 million in med center revenue losses, what the hell he's talking about.  But the effect is to create enough uncertainty to dull the sense of urgency. 

Discussion of borrowing capacity has the same effect. UCOP's Nathan Brostrom noted new bond revenues of $1.5 billion over the summer, plus $10 B in available liquidity in STIP, and, in passing, identified another $5-6 billion in further borrowing capacity.  So UCOP makes the regents feel that cash flow is in very good shape.  Regent Lark Park observed at some length that the legislature has too many problems to give UC more money.  Regent Pérez said that the goal is smoothing losses so that they are spread out over several years.  Between the regents's desire to protect the legislative Democrats from the University, and their desire to avoid responsibility for layoffs, they will support further borrowing and campus cuts spread out over 2-5 years.  UCOP and the Board are locking in years of campus cuts where there is already nothing left to cut, but without ever actually saying so.

Earlier, new president Drake gave a short introductory talk that mentioned good things like rising awareness of systemic racism while never mentioning the budget.  His lack of affect and vague formulations said "caretaker president." I hope I misheard, since pressure tactics are required.

New Senate chair Mary Gauvin committed the Senate to supporting the Green New Deal project developed by UCSD faculty, and said good things about the need for greater mutual support during the pandemic.  She also said nothing about the budget-- or about the shared governance crisis.  All these good projects require money. But nobody would talk about the money.

The effect is a denial of the size of the budget problem.  In August, I detailed the possibility of a 16.6% reduction in 2020-21 revenues from January projections. What data in the September meeting refuted this? There is some good news, like resident student enrollments holding up. But UCOP offered no specific data that could dismantle a middle scenario like mine, much as I would like that to happen. 

Groups like UCOP and the Board of Regents can't fend off the worst because they won't openly plan for it, or even mention it. They can't negotiate a no-cuts budget with the legislature because they don't explain why it's necessary. Much of the damage to public universities after 2008 was self-inflicted.  We are watching the same exact internal leadership failure happening again.  Its first victims will be the lower-income employees and most vulnerable students that Democratic governing boards want to protect. 

The current board--presidential system hasn't worked well for a while. In my next post, I'll suggest a distributed governing system that would do better.

New Governance Code

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/09/2020 - 9:27pm in

The Committee of University Chairs has published an updated Governance Code.

I’ve worked extensively with union branches over the last year and I think one points is worth citing from the Code, since it warns against behaviour seen at some universities.

There is only one category of governor / trustee, regardless of how they are appointed to the governing body.

§1.4 All members of the governing body (including students and staff members) share the same legal responsibilities and obligations as other members, so no one can be routinely excluded from discussions. All members have a duty to record and declare any conflicts of interest.

I would add to my emphasis above by suggesting that this also means that members who are elected by staff or nominated by trade unions should not be prevented from seeing papers that have gone to committees.

§3.2 Members of governing bodies need to act, and be perceived to act, impartially, and not be influenced by social or business relationships. Institutions must maintain, check and publish a register of the interests of members and senior executives.

A member who has a professional, pecuniary, family or other personal interest in any matter under discussion which may be seen to conflict with the best interests of the institution must also disclose the interest in advance of any discussion on the topic.

A member does not have a pecuniary interest merely because they are a member of staff or a student.

(Again my emphasis.)

Supervisory governance, capture and non-performing loans

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 11/09/2020 - 6:00pm in

Nicolò Fraccaroli Recent reforms that followed the Great Financial Crisis, as the establishment of the Single Supervisory Mechanism in Europe and the Prudential Regulatory Authority in the UK, reflect the belief that the governance of banking supervision affects financial stability. However, while existing research identifies the pros and cons of having either a central bank … Continue reading Supervisory governance, capture and non-performing loans →

Regents Greet First Black UC President by Cutting His Power

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 19/08/2020 - 8:16am in



August 17th was new UC President Michael V. Drake's first day of work (red gown at left, at CSU Dominguez Hills).  He picked a hard time to start the job. But the Board of Regents has made it harder by pushing the president and the faculty out of the search for the campus chancellors.  The Board did this to the University's first Black president in the name of diversity.
Lack of diversity was the lead reason the Board of Regents (BoR) gave for rushing through changes in the selection process.  Both staff and faculty (especially tenure-track faculty) do need to be more diverse at UC.  But the Regent-commissioned report didn't  analyze applicant pools and hires to show racial disparity or anything else.  They would have had to offer evidence of systemic bias, since, in terms of outcomes, President Janet Napolitano (2013-2020) has a reasonably good diversity record with her 6 chancellor hires.  She brought on board two white men, Sam Hawgood (San Francisco, 2014) and Howard Gillman (Irvine, 2014), both promoted from within the campus, an African American man, Gary S. May (Davis, 2017), two white women, Carol Christ (Berkeley, 2017, from the campus) and Cynthia K. Larive (Santa Cruz, 2019), and a Latino man, Juan Sánchez Muñoz (Merced, 2020).  The 3 external hires were a Black man, a white woman, and a Latino.  First glance suggests that the easiest way to cut the white majority is not to hire from within.  

The Regents proposed a much more dramatic solution: a set of new search rules that overshadowed all other issues at their July meeting, including Covid infections and costs and the possible 12-16% revenue losses in 2020-21 that I discussed last time.  A review of the case suggests that a lack of chancellor diversity was not the main motivation.

In November 2019, Board Chair John Pérez convened a Regents Working Group on Chancellor Search and Selection. It produced the report, which does note the opportunity to "underscore how UC can better integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion practices into its chancellor search and selection process." But first came this:

While over the years, the Regents have delegated authority for many of the operations of the University to the President, appointing chancellors remains one of the most important responsibilities, which the Board has reserved unto itself.1 This reservation of authority requires particular attention and dedication by Regents with respect to the appointment of chancellors— the specific process which is set forth in Regents Policy 7102. (1)

Footnote 1 cites Bylaws 22.2 and 31.  Bylaw 22.2 sets out specific reservations of regental authority, and is a series of unilateral approval rights.  Bylaw 31 states that chancellors "are appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the Board," with the president advising and consulting on appointments without appointment power.  It also defines the chancellor as a direct subordinate of the Board as well as the president--as someone who can be line-managed by the Board. 

The Board's main motivation for the review appears to have been to increase its direct power over appointing chancellors.  The two discussions of the items were fraught, with both the Senate and the current UC President objecting to the changes and asking for further discussion. In the end the changes sailed through. 

First, the changes. The Board's Governance Committee Agenda for July 29th had three items on this matter, in which the acceptance of the Working Group Report would lead to immediate changes in the search policy, Regents' Policy 7102.  You can see the modifications here.   The new and approved clean copy is here.   The key changes are: 

  1. Though the Board of Regents always appointed chancellors, candidates were identified and a finalist proposed to the Board by a "Committee." Now, this body is a "search advisory committee," with its powers identified as advisory only.
  2. The president was the lead on running the search.  Now, "the Board and the President each has a role"--they are co-managers of the search process.
  3. The five faculty members of the Committee were appointed by the Academic Senate.  Other groups selected and sent their representatives. Now, the chair(s) of the search advisory committee will select members from a slate of three for each position.
  4. The Committee membership was constituted by the process of submitting names, not subject to further adjudication (I assume).  Now, the president meets only with the regental members prior to retaining a search firm or any committee meeting to insure a "strong balance" on the committee.
  5. The five faculty members of the Committee were responsible for reviewing candidates and submitting names to the full committee, "working with the president."  Now, this reviewing is done by an outside search firm.
  6. The Committee deliberated the virtues of the long and short lists submitted by the faculty reviewers.  Now, the lists prepared by the outside search firm are discussed by the president and the regental members of the committee.
  7. The Committee came to a conclusion about the final candidate(s) together, through some (unspecified )process; the president would then communicate the nomination to the Board of Regents for approval. Now, only the regental members of the search advisory committee will vote amongst themselves on the name to be forwarded to the full Board of Regents.

In short, the chancellor search will be run by an outside search firm hired by the Regents and the Regent members of the search advisory committee. Only Regents will vote on the committee, and the result will be handed from the Regent members to the full Board. The president has been removed as lead authority in the search, and the faculty have been removed from the review process.  Faculty can submit nominations to the committee, just like anyone else.

Ironically, the actual search issue this year was not faculty having too much influence over administrative hires but having no influence at all.  During the search for the new president that led to Michael Drake-- the Regents completely excluded the faculty advisory body from contact with the applications or any of the candidates. The Senate Chair has in the past functioned as a member of the Special Committee; after an initial meeting, she was never allowed back. The Academic Assembly formally protested in a February Resolution, when the problem could have been fixed.  The Academic Council also protested in a July letter dated the day before the discussion of the chancellor search items. It objected to the refusal of the Regents even to acknowledge receipt of formal requests to be consulted. The new chancellor's search process will make them more like presidential searches, which in the current case meant the near-total bypassing of the faculty. 

The Senate response to the Working Group's search changes was strongly negative.  Before the letter I just mentioned, on July 23rd, the Academic Council wrote to the president to say that the "lack of inclusion" of faculty from the Report's interviews had skewed the results, and that it offered no justification for marginalizing faculty expertise about and personal commitment to their campus. It also stated that research university faculty members have special knowledge of what it takes to run a research university and asked that the new rules be delayed for further consultation, including consultation with President Drake.

The next Senate response was the bombshell, a letter signed by 20 former chairs of the Academic Senate, including virtually every head of the Senate for the past quarter century.  Though I've often wished for it, especially for demanding the Regents improve their generally poor job of maintaining UC revenues, I've never seen this kind of united Senate front before. The chairs' letter rejected the implication that "the UC faculty have been an impediment to the diversification of the University," pointedly contrasting the Senate's longstanding defense of affirmative action with the BoR's overturning of it in 1995, from which Underrepresented Minority (URM) student representation has never fully recovered. The letter defined the process of the recommendations as "not in keeping with the best practices of our University" in having excluded faculty from the Working Group and the Senate from meaningful prior review.  In addition, the former Senate chairs criticized the demotion of the president in the chancellor's search.

[T]he proposed Section 6 of the policy . . . would require the President to meet privately with only the regental members of the search committee, and then seek their approval of the President's choice prior to submission for approval by the full board.  The effect of this change is to fundamentally undercut the authority of the President in selecting Chancellors.

This critique of the Regents on both process and substance was the basis of a Los Angeles Times article by Teresa Watanabe. Many Regents, including the Board chair, first read about the 20 Chairs' retort in the newspaper, and they were riled before the discussion began.

There were two discussions of the search process changes during the meetings , first on July 29th (here) and then July 30th (starting at 2'09" here). The Working Group report was defended by Regent Lark Park, the WG chair, and by several of its other members.  I watched both discussions on line, and didn't hear anyone identify a clear operational problem to which the changes were a solution.  Park said the point was to be "more efficient, accountable, and inclusive" (2'04").  No one objected to this goal,  but there were questions about how these changes accomplish that? A few Regents expressed frustration with getting only one finalist  at the end of the search on which they were asked to do an up-or-down vote. But there were other, simpler ways to address this understandable concern. For example, the Committee could meet with the BoR while the process is ongoing, or the President could write reports to the Board chair every 2 weeks, or the Committee could submit a short list of 3 final candidates to the full Board instead of just one (as will now be done for Committee selection). None of these would require pushing the faculty or the President out of the process, as these changes do.  

The outgoing President didn't support the changes. Janet Napolitano noted there's "the question of what the problem is that we're trying to fix here" (2'41").  She said the Working Group could try to reduce their differences with the faculty and also said that "it would be useful to consult with President Drake." She noted that while most of the changes are "not necessarily objectionable," that one is a change to the president's power and the other is change to the faculty power. She said to the Board that her preference was that they "receive the report" at that meeting and engage in "greater consultation" with the faculty. They should "then consult with President Drake. I think that would be very respectful of him "(2'43"). 

Here the President offered the Regents accurate definitions of both respect -- consultation and discussion prior to a decision--and of shared governance, in which the process treats the views of all parties subject to equal treatment.  The sharing of governance requires what we can call epistemic parity, in which one set of views cannot simply negate the other, but must seek some kind of mutual understanding if not reconciliation.  In the previous process for selecting a UC campus chancellor, the sharing took place during the review and consultation process, after which the BoR hd full decision rights.

The expression of regental views went on for quite a while. A handful of Regents, including immediate past chair George Kieffer, acknowledged the deep dissastisfaction of the faculty and the clear non-support of the president, and said these were reasons enough to delay the vote until further consultation had amended views (3'08").  They were in effect speaking for shared governance's underlying principle of treating the epistemic positions of each party as valid, requiring further efforts at accommodation.

A bit later Board Chair Pérez asked Regent Park a narrower question-- whether she had in fact not shown the document to the Senate leadership in time for the Senate to deliberate and opine. She said there had been a meeting with the chair and vice-chair, and they had noted they needed to consult with the Council, which then produced the negative letter linked above.  Park then responded to the general concerns (starting 3'23").

I will just go back to this Chancellor appointment being the purview, responsibility, and duty of the Board members and the Board members alone in ultimate approval, and that is why Regent search committee members are treated differently in the proposed amendments to Policy 7102.  With regard to . . . the letter signed by many academic chairs. I was at some level astonished to receive that letter. I felt that the letter was not respectful, or did not acknowledge the purview of the Board, and the many Bylaws and Standing Orders that currently exist that show exactly who reports to whom, what has been delegated to whom, and what responsibility lies where.  22.1, 22.2, 30, 31 of the Bylaws all speak to this. Standing Orders 100.1, 100.4 clearly lay out the responsibility. . .  This idea that the Board does not have this prerogative is frankly surprising in terms of coming from past members of academic leadership in that acknowledgement, and seemed to suggest that the Chancellors function more as political appointees of the President, and again that if they're not picked by a president they cannot be loyal.  I find that not credible, and contrary to all the policies and bylaws that I have seen. Not to mention that upon that logic, none of these chancellors today could be loyal or follow the direction of our new President because he did not have a hand in picking them. So that to me is a fear that can be quickly dispelled by taking a more vigorous look at the existing Bylaws and Standing Orders. 

I really welcome the wisdom of our new president in a great many things. But I will take today as a case in point for not delaying further action. 

Park said that we've had a lot of discussions already and that to say "we should spend a great deal more time on these recommendations " would suggest that the Board cannot do  time and process management, and "then as a Board we cannot govern if we literally tie ourselves up in endless discussion." She was totally opposed to further consultation. She added, 

This is not an attack on shared governance. Truly it is not.  Faculty are the lifeblood of the university. That will not change with these recommendations. . . . And I would really love to see 24 [sic] academic senate leaders come together to opine on things that are deeply concerning and weighty to the institution--rather than whether shared governance has been quite respected enough in these modest recommendations.

There are several issues here. First, Regent Park missed the point of the Past Chairs letter.  It did not challenge the Board of Regents' appointment authority, but disputed the plan to end the shared procedures that had traditionally led up to the exercise of that authority.  

Second, Park read disagreement as an attack on regental authority. 

Third, her response to that perceived attack was to reassert that regental authority-- as unilateral. 

Fourth, she told President Drake that approving her recommendations was more important than getting his "wisdom."

Fifth, she denied Academic Senate's clam that this was an attack on shared governance by asserting that it wasn't. 

The full Board did indeed respond to Park's call to power.  Few explicitly echoed Park's claim that the point of the changes was to give the Regents full unilateral control.  Many instead told the faculty that they didn't want what they said they wanted, or that not having it didn't matter like they thought.  Regent Leib specialized in this Orwellian discourse, telling faculty that the Report was a "gift" to them because it meant they wouldn't have to do so much work. The discussion was often patronizing and dismissive, and oblivious to common sense basics of sharing and collaboration.  Regents like Lansing and Leib didn't want the faculty to feel bad, or think they were part of doing a bad thing to them. But they and nearly all of the rest of the BoR voted not to wait to give either the faculty or President Drake reason not to feel bad.  

Obviously nobody is going to die from all this, but the Regents' report, discussion, and vote were a textbook case of epistemic injustice, resting on the five features above.  This happens when the more powerful side tells the other that their concerns are wrong, that they need not be considered further, and that they comprise an attack on legitimate authority. 

Let me finish by widening the picture a bit.  Faculty, staff, and most campus administrators have no power over major University decisions of top management appointments, budget policy, layoffs and furloughs, system health and safety regulations, and the like.  But they do have clear jobs to do on their campuses. The function of governing boards is not so clear. What, today, is their value-added to the overall institution?  

University governing boards were justified in earlier centuries as a kind of natural aristocracy: the better people had a monopoly on wisdom, and board membership were drawn exclusively from them.  Few now espouse this kind of social Darwinist view of concentrated intelligence.  In addition, today's universities are enormously complex. The needed intelligence is widely distributed.  Experiences and needs are quite diverse. Front-line contact is more valuable than ever. The intelligence that solves problems must be integrated from a range of quarters. In this context, boards of trustees or regents are archaic forms.  The unilateral authority affirmed by Regent Park is this form at its most archaic point. 

Board members almost always lack university expertise, so that members of the campus community cannot be heard to say to each other, "How can we keep UCPath from ruining our lives? Regent N might be able to help us."  Or, "How do we reduce houselessness among formerly incarcerated students? Let's call Regent Q: she knows a ton about this, and would be glad to listen."  I have never heard a comment like this. Campuses and their many units feel entirely on their own;  the BoR is treated as a ruler, distant and adversarial, to be managed and dodged but not consulted for special insight.  The stereotype is that they are most concerned with (1) implementing the views of external powers in business and politics; and (2) exercising their own rights and powers.  

Unfortunately, Regent Park fulfilled this stereotype.  The Board, faced with a choice between power and consultation, sided with power.  Personally, I would love to bring to bear the achievements and capabilities of Regents in their own domains. I would love to see them exercise their sophistication and influence to protect the university from political interference and financial damage. Such Regents would be outward facing. Their internal gaze would focus mostly on managerial competence--on helping the senior managers serve the increasingly beset employees of the institution.  In the three domains of politics, management, and finance, such Regents would be especially focused on the third. They would insure financial vitality--they would protect and increase core revenues as necessary. 

Good trustees--like good professors, physicians, presidents, landscapers, cooks, civil engineers, parents-- don't push their authority beyond the limits of their competence. Power beyond knowledge is the great American temptation: U.S. organizations are top-down and prone to chains of command. University governing boards are generally granted quasi-monarchial sovereignty, as is UC's. The structure is inherently and deliberately anti-democratic. It is not justifiable on grounds of standard political theory. Elizabeth Anderson's book Private Government is a good analysis of the anomaly of governing authorities that have "arbitrary and unaccountable power over workers" in a putatively democratic society. Still, though lacking in political justification, unilateral power might have operational claims: Power can be earned by operational effectiveness.  But, as we have been forced to note repeatedly on this blog, the operational achievements of the UC Regents are rather modest.  Instead of addressing this problem by, for example, spending all of one day on the buried budget crisis, the Regents made themselves less accountable to faculty and to the president--the clear purpose of Regent Park's Working Group.  

As the Regents succeed at greater power and distance, epistemological bubbles will form around them, and consultants--who report to them and are unlikely to challenge them--will replace people in touch with real conditions on the ground. UC's split between Oakland's Office of the President and the campuses will continue to make this worse with a structural gulf that can be crossed only with consistent and accurate communication, and that has been undermined here by the regents own action. To be accurate, this communication must be between parties with relatively equal standing.  Exchange between superior and inferior is distorted by the inferior's need for self-protection, and the superior's entitlement and self-overestimation. I can't go into this here.  To summarize in a formula, epistemic inequality insures error.  When the Board turned a collaborative committee into a two-tier set up with superdelegate privileges for its Regents, they insured the intellectual distortions that no one actually wants.

One final note: governing boards all over the country, like UCs, have gradually come to regard the faculty as a problem for university success.  There are many sources and causes for this, but the result is default prejudice against faculty as people who just defend their privileges rather than the interests of education or university.  I must call this managerial bigotry against professionals. It is categorical, uninformed, and wrong.  UC will never move forward until its Board, including its Jerry Brown Bloc, and its allies can work through their anti-faculty prejudice and make use of their deep expertise, always freely given.  For example, each of UC's 10 campuses has some of the world's most respected scholars of race and ethnicity, who would bend over backwards to help increase educational justice and diversity.  

The saddest moments in the regental discussion on July 30th were when outgoing president Napolitano asked the Board, at least twice, not to decide the new president's role in chancellor searches before President Drake arrived. It would have meant waiting 3 weeks.  The Regents couldn't wait, and so the outcome of her last meeting as president was the triumphant affirmation of Bylaws 22.1, 22.2, 30, 31, and Standing Orders 100.1 and 100.4.

I wish President Drake the very best in his new role. I'm very sorry the Regents cut his power over  chancellor's searches.

Photo Credit: Los Angeles Sentinel (Michael Drake at the investiture of  CSU Dominguez Hills President Thomas A Parham)

Rift over Solomon Islands’ new ‘One China’ policy makes chaos of COVID-19 response

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 30/06/2020 - 8:33pm in

A Taiwanese aid shipment destined for Malaita province got snaffled by police

Malaita residents welcome the humanitarian aid from Taiwan. Photos from the Facebook page of Malaita Province Premier Daniel Suidani

A confiscated aid shipment, a provincial leader playing by his own playbook, and an angry Chinese embassy.

These are all ingredients in the complicated COVID-19 response of the Solomon Islands, one of the few countries in the world yet to register a coronavirus case, but one that is still hurting economically from pandemic-related disruptions.

At the heart of the confusion is a very recent diplomatic shift.

After 36 years of diplomatic relations with Taiwan, Solomon Islands recognized China and adopted a ‘One China’ policy in September 2019.

But the Solomon Islands is an archipelago nation and not all the parts of its whole agreed with the decision.

Pro-Taiwan Daniel Suidani, premier of Malaita province — the most populous province in the Solomon Islands — has consistently refused aid from the Chinese government.

And so the province has remained an outpost of Taiwanese influence, a fact that has taken on greater importance as an emboldened Tapei employs COVID-19 diplomacy to boost its international profile.

Suidani has made little effort to play things down.

In fact, on June 8, he dialled up the controversy by issuing a statement hailing Taiwan after it sent rice, face masks, and medical equipment to Malaita:

Fellow Malaitans, we are in a unique and privileged position to have been assisted by a country that has stood against the might of the Wuhan virus.

He also disparaged the national government’s ‘One China’ policy:

What we are doing today to reach out for the protection of our survival is nothing new. It looks new only because of the newly introduced frameworks and institutional set ups. However, the limitations under these frameworks must not be used to limit our ability as a people to find appropriate support in times like this.

‘It is noted with deep concern…’

These comments were never going to go unnoticed. Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele swiftly released a press statement criticizing Suidani's “divisive” and “inflammatory” remarks:

Such a divisive statement from a Provincial Premier threatens the unity of the country at a time when we need to work together in keeping COVID-19 from entering our borders and not politicize the virus.

Minister Manele calls for respect for government’s foreign policy and urges those who continue to make provocative and inflammatory statements to stop and work towards building a strong united country.

The Chinese embassy fumed, describing Suidani’s statement as “irresponsible”:

It is noted with deep concern that leaders of the Malaita provincial government have recently made irresponsible remarks and actions against the ‘One China’ policy adopted by the Solomon Islands national government.

The claims and actions by the Malaita provincial leaders are illegitimate, inappropriate, and entirely wrong. It breaches the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China and hurts the national feelings of the Chinese people.

‘Malaita lives matter’

But Malaita's local leader found support in the country's parliament. Peter Kenilorea Jr, the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee demanded to know why the government had failed to express official gratitude for the humanitarian aid provided by Taiwan. Based on the statement published by the SB herald, the lawmaker noted:

There was not even a simple ‘thank you’ from the national government for this humanitarian assistance to one of its largest provinces. The silence on this humanitarian aid by a former diplomatic friend, who is now supposedly an integral part of our new partner, was deafening.

More scandal was still to come.

On June 11, the Malaita provincial government reported that the national police had confiscated a shipment from Taiwan containing medical supplies that were intended for Malaita.

The police said it had confiscated the shipment because it looked suspicious. It claimed that the sender’s address was not proper and that the consignment had not been addressed to the Malaita Provincial Government.

But the media later reported that the office of the country’s attorney general had sent a letter notifying the police that “the medical supplies reportedly being sent by Taiwan to Malaita Province is an Act of defiance of the decisions of the government”.

It further warned that the shipment may “include materials that may be in breach of the Sedition Act.”

On June 24 opposition leader Matthew Wale condemned the actions of the police and the national government:

This is inexcusable, and it only makes a mockery of our efforts to prepare our people against Covid-19 and the State of Emergency.

I, therefore, call on the government to stop dancing to Beijing’s tune and prioritise our people’s health and safety.

An online campaign themed ‘Malaita Lives Matter, Release COVID-19 Equipment’ has since been launched to press for the release of the confiscated medical supplies.

The Malaita provincial government said it is preparing legal action to immediately retrieve the shipment from Taiwan.

Social Justice in the Steady State

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 18/06/2020 - 3:07am in

By Brian Snyder

It is a luxury to be able to worry about future generations, biodiversity loss, or climate change, and it is only available to me because of a great deal of privilege. I don’t have to worry about affording food for my family, or finding a safe place to live, and I’m confident that my kids will inherit much of the same bourgeois life that I did. My privilege frees me to think, worry, and write about the environment, energy, and economic growth. However, in all this self-important thinking about the Anthropocene, it can be easy to forget that the USA, and the rest of the world, is already in severe political and environmental danger. It is easy to forget that the hellscape I worry about future generations inheriting is not dissimilar from the daily experience of billions of people currently living on Earth.

Sustainability Venn diagram

It’s time to rethink the sustainability Venn diagram. How do we ensure that social justice is not viewed as a third wheel? (Image: CC BY-SA 3.0, Credit: Sustainability Hub)

This critique about environmental concern—that it ignores the suffering of the present to replicate a prosperous life for the wealthy—is not new. However, the protests convulsing American cities should be a wakeup call for folks like me who tend to be more concerned about long-term sustainability than short-term justice. There are morally compelling issues of injustice happening right now, and any solution we propose to address long-term ecological crises must explicitly address these immediate issues as well.

Just as this critique of environmentalism isn’t new, neither is the observation that “sustainable” solutions must be socially just. Indeed, this linkage is often expressed as a Venn diagram of overlapping “social,” “environmental,” and “economic” circles. In my experience, those of us concerned about sustainability tend to focus on the economic and the environmental and minimize the importance of the social. The social circle is often seen as sort of a third wheel, something we should be mindful of, a side effect of a well-designed policy perhaps, but not the goal of sustainability. It feels tacked on.

No Sustainability Without Social Justice

However, building a socially just society is every bit as critical to sustainability as maintaining natural capital or ending overconsumption. A sustainable system requires social justice, but not just because it is in the Venn diagram. Without a socially just system of government and equitable treatment across race, gender, and class, we will not have a stable, sustainable socioeconomic system.

Black Lives Matter demonstrations are subtly congruent with advancing the steady state economy. (Image: CC BY 2.0, Credit: Fibonacci Blue)

Imagine a steady state economy, but one in which some people are born into generational poverty or otherwise unable to provide meaningful, healthy lives for themselves. In such a world, this hereditary underclass will oppose the sociopolitical system and the policies that limit economic growth. From their perspective, the planet may be sustainable, but they remain impoverished and marginalized. Such an economic system will fail due to internal strife.

Thus, we should see the current protests for criminal justice and police reform as a core component of the movement toward a steady state economy because social justice is a prerequisite of sustainability. A common protest sign reads, “No Justice, No Peace.” We could modify that to read, “No Justice, No Sustainability,” and it would remain true. If we cannot figure out how to end racial discrimination, and particularly racial economic inequality, we will not build a sustainable environment.

In other words, the Venn diagram concept of sustainability is short-sighted. There are not three separate but overlapping circles of social, economic, and environmental solutions, but a single circle in which social justice, economic efficiency, and environmental sustainability must be simultaneously solved.

Or perhaps sustainability is more like a Rubik’s cube. In a Rubik’s cube, if one side is wrong, the problem is not solved. Sustainability is likewise; if one systemic issue is not solved, nothing is solved. A steady state economy in a racist society is as useless as a half-solved Rubik’s cube.

Rubik's cube

The steady state economy as a Rubik’s cube. All sides must be solved to achieve equality and sustainability. (Image: CC0 1.0, Source)

This is both good and bad news. It is bad news because those of us who are concerned about environmental sustainability must consider another universe of problems when one universe is already overwhelming. But it is also good news because it highlights the systemic, ethical nature of the problem. Perhaps getting the ethics right will solve problems in each universe.

We often get the impression from media and academics that we are just an innovation away from solving our environmental problems. Sometimes, we are told that if we increase renewable energy use our struggles will fade away; other times, carbon dioxide removal or geoengineering is the solution. While I do not intend to denigrate those ideas, they will not fix systemic environmental problems caused by economic activity and human greed. A new invention will not change the 2nd law of thermodynamics, but a new ethical framework might change our avarice.

Our allies protesting for social and racial justice have a similarly daunting ethical problem. It appears that our ethnocentrism and xenophobia is as hard-wired as our greed. While criminal justice reform is needed, public policy will not solve millennia of racism and xenophobia. Only a cultural and ethical change can move society toward a post-racist future. As in our environmental crises, there is no easy fix.


Sustainability, Social Justice, and the Golden Rule

Yet, because our environmental and social problems are fundamentally ethical and cultural, the good news is that fixing one will likely fix the other. Any coherent ethical philosophy that favors social and racial justice will also favor sustainability and vice versa. This occurs because social justice and sustainability are applications of the Golden Rule, the precept in every major world religion that one should treat others as they would like to be treated. Social justice is based on the idea that societies and governments are responsible for following the Golden Rule, and sustainability is simply the application of the Golden Rule to future generations. Thus, a socially just society is one that treats its current citizens by the Golden Rule, and a sustainable society is one that treats its current and future inhabitants by the Golden Rule. As a result, if we move toward a more socially just society that implements the Golden Rule across its contemporary population, we are likely to pursue a more sustainable society that expresses the same ethic to its future population.

Perhaps we should see the protests for social and racial justice as the start of a movement that may be more significant than ending police brutality. The extraordinary progress toward sustainability made in the 1960s and early 1970s did not begin with the publication of Silent Spring or the Cuyahoga River fires. Instead, it emerged from the unrest and uprising of the civil rights and anti-war movements. Without those larger social movements to galvanize and educate people, elect new leaders, and, most importantly, change the ethics of American society, we may never have passed the Clean Air or Clean Water Acts. We might imagine that something similar could happen half-a-century later, and as we solve one side of our Rubik’s cube, the other sides will fall into place too.

Brian F. Snyder is an assistant professor of environmental science at Louisiana State University and CASSE’s LSU Chapter director.

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