As a tribute to this wind of change, republish here a paper I wrote last year on my french blog, when the indignados movement emerged in Spain. This post went viral at that time and was then translated in english and spanish by a team of volunteers (thank you again!). I would certainly not write exactly the same today (at least not the same way), but I thought it would be interesting for Boiling Frogs‘ readers though.
The current protests in Spain, as well as Greece and Portugal are doomed to fail because they don’t suggest any real alternative society project. Not for lack of will though: the slogans show us that there is a desire for deep changes, to go back to certain principles such as more social justice. However, mislead by the media and the obsolete speeches of politicians, people have difficulty thinking differently through commonly accepted assumptions. This naturally results in a lack of imagination, ambition, and leads to a lack of solutions. The proposed reforms [fr], though desirable in some cases, merely try to reduce the harm instead of dealing with the initial causes.
Add to that the fact that France has not yes suffered as much from the crisis. Thanks to existing welfare protections (though failing), there are still many people who believe they have something to lose in an hypothetical revolution. For this reason we will not see a revolution here in the very near future. Common people are just not ready to go to the street except for protecting their personal interests. We are witnessing only a small revolt from those who are the most directly affected by the decline of the West. Plus some people who really understand the reasons why these people rise up.
In a nutshell, we are only at best experiencing a pre-revolutionary stage, in which indignation rises, but without a new ideology strong and consensual enough to propose.
Fixing problems at the source
To overcome this stage, we need to identify clearly the origins of the problems and propose ensuing measures. However, detecting the origin of society’s troubles imply thinking in a totally different way. It is necessary to avoid the usual terms of debate.
Let us begin by addressing a number of false debates currently soiling the perception of economic issues.
The fight against unemployment
For thirty years now, France (and mostly Southern Europe) is hurting from mass unemployment. The fight against unemployment imposed itself as essential to reduce income inequality, exclusion, and so on. The problem is that the « right to work », sometimes considered as a fundamental right, drift towards a duty : everybody must work or be condemned to exclusion. However, is full-time employment really an end in itself?
Not only is full-time employment today unachievable (as I already claimed here [fr]) , but being employed is no longer the ideal way for integration or self-development.
Why? Precisely because public policies aim at employment growth without considering real usefulness of those jobs created, since unemployed people are seen as burdens for society. People could be hired to dig holes, and refill them… nobody would care! Why bother, after all, as long as everybody is at work, and that it generates economic growth!
Isn’t the real concern to make it possible for everyone to exert a socially-useful activity ?
The « protection » of employees
As a direct consequence of the end of the full-time employment dogma the concept of employee protection no longer makes sense. Indeed, current reasons for workers protection are: perception of employment as a norm, and non-existence of an unemployed individual in society’s eyes. At best, one is seen as an « idle active », at worst as one needing assistance, a parasite, a 2nd-class citizen.
From that point of view, it is indeed meaningful to protect the contract of employment, since it is the Grail of every citizen. Today however, protecting workers is a costly nuisance.
To cope with international competition between workers companies currently choose to relocate or to increase productivity. In both cases, results are similar: under the pressure of mass unemployment, most of the workers can only be submissive to the conditions imposed by the companies: low wages, precarious contracts, and other undesirable working conditions.
Meanwhile, we are told that workers have to be protected against abusive or economically-unjustified lay-offs.
The truth is, employee protection only encourages companies to opt for more precariousness of their employees (for instance with short-term contracts). And when it is not possible to get rid of workers, as often reported in the news [fr], Machiavellian strategies are set up to push them to their limits, so that they quit the jobs themselves. Meanwhile, other people are irremediably excluded from the job market: the women for fear of the « happy event » (T.N. pregnancy (enjoy the irony)), the young people for their « lack of experience », the old people for their « lack of flexibility », etc… Eventually, worker protection induces only more social inequalities. We end up with a society of castes where some people receive – by chance – a contract that protects them, while others are excluded from the market, fallen into the sadly common phenomenon of the « welfare trap ».
The growth myth
Economic growth was an obvious factor of development during the 20th century. But what about the 21st? In many aspects, growth has become useless. Productivity gains and globalization enable capital owners to better exploit growth of global demand without necessarily creating more human labor. Disaster? At first sight, yes. However, with reflection, isn’t it normal that Humans could work less and less?Thus saving time for self-development?
I believe so. The problem is not that labor demand is decreasing, but in the fact that the distribution of productivity gains are unevenly distributed in society! Indeed, the tiny bit of remaining growth eventually enriches a small minority, in favor of cartels who carefully avoid competition, while locking up their markets.
In the best case, productivity gains allow a price drop, but, as mass-unemployment is structurally maintained, there is little chance for the middle-class and the poor to receive benefits from this economical growth. Minimum wages barely follow the general level of prices (which is calculated from debatable method). On the other hand, dividends are getting fatter and fatter. As a logical consequence, inequalities grow, and the lower-class standard of living keeps decreasing.
And they tell us that economic growth is positive? Growth is not the solution. I would say that it is rather more of a problem…
The illegitimate debt payback
Still, there is a reason that justifies the need for growth: debt reimbursement !
Without success in increasing production at the end of « The Glorious Thirthy », our states massively contracted debts in order to support demand, and thus keep providing work for companies. But this debt has to be reimbursed someday, as well as the corresponding interests! Very unfairly, our leaders are reducing public spending to pay the bill of the last century’s growth, by dipping into young generations’ future funding.
In addition, as States forbid themselves to resort to debt monetization, this debt benefits the same people (yes, once again): those who have capital to fructify. Contrary to what we are supposed to believe, debt reimbursement is illegitimate. Morally, first of all, there is no point in forcing future generations to pay back (to the rich) a debt that doesn’t benefit them. Moreover, it is economically intolerable, because there is no reason that a state cannot resort to debt monetization to finance public investments.
In fact, the argument of debt payback is based on disputable monetary doctrines: arguing that any monetary creation would be inflationary, the governments were forbidden to borrow from their central banks, leaving them at the mercy of the markets, as the Greek crisis perfectly illustrates. Not only is fighting inflation a false pretense that mainly maintains the annuities of a minority, but keeping the ECB’s rates high mechanically causes unemployment.
The biggest irony is that, when bankrupted banks have to be rescued, monetary orthodoxy is quickly forgotten. Does it make any sense that the European Central Bank is allowed to provide billions to save banks, but not a cent for public policies funding?
The wrong fight against speculation
Another cliché of politics is to regulate finance and fight speculation. Without neglecting the negative effects of finance on the real economy, we must not fight the wrong fight.
Life insurances, mortgages, mutual funds… The requirement of profitability for savers implies a speculative management which generates gains. Unless considering that profits from financial investments are unfair, fighting speculation frontally is vain. The taxation of financial transactions, for example, could slow exchanges a bit, but would mostly increase the costs of portfolio management, while the profits of banks would stay untouched.
Likewise, the idea of decreasing the bank’s leverage (as Basel III agreements will impose from 2013) is very ironic, because it will curb lendings, slowing down growth durability in developed countries. Without a re-foundation of the monetary system, these types of reforms will lead to failure.
Actually, the issue is that the banking sector is far too concentrated, and acts as an uncontrollable lobbying group because it has a tremendous power: that of creating money, to fund (or not) governments, businesses, and take hostage the citizens’ deposits. Can you see the paradox? Banks are private actors who manage a public good – the money – as a commodity.
We entrust private actors – who don’t answer to society – the task of ensuring that money – an emanation of a sovereign state – circulates well. But in practice, it mostly gives banks the power to bring down any economy of the world for their own benefit. No matter, they are « too big to fail » anyway.
Is the problem really about speculation? Or is it the fact that we deposit our money blindly into the pot of global finance? Thus allowing banks to use our deposits to counterfeit money? To harmfully speculate on the prices of raw materials? To finance businesses that we know nothing about? In short, don’t we have better things to do than put our money in bogus financial products? Isn’t the problem also in our behaviors? And in the difficulty of creating an alternative banking system?
The State serving inequalities
Facing all these economic disorders, many think that the State should take back its control over the economy.
Yet, the State is now totally collaborating with the system. Seeing its inability to lead the economy towards growth and to restore full employment and purchasing power, the big businesses are aware of the enormous negotiating power they have. Especially in a globalized economy in which cheap labor is in range of relocation, tax havens within reach of bank transfer.
That way, they obtain subsidies whenever possible in exchange for empty promises such as : « if you give me 100 million euros, I won’t relocate » or « if you don’t make laws against piracy, 50,000 jobs will disappear » or, more obviously in the banking case : « if you don’t save me, the whole economy will collapse ».
Governments treat the big industries sparingly to keep jobs, growth. But isn’t this at the expense of the rest of the economy?! Aren’t we supporting certain economic activities with the money of other taxpayers? Who will help SMEs and artisans while we cherish the big ones ?
The same phenomenon occurs at the level of citizens: there are categories of people whose rights are different. Particularly in france, the civil servants are statutorily protected while employees of the private sector are vulnerable ; we make « gifts » to the rich in the hope that they won’t relocate their money while we tax the middle class more to pay back the debt ; we want to force the unemployed to contribute to the economy while the annuitants effortlessly make their capital grow in the financial sphere.
Democracies are in complete denial of equality. We live in a society in which you have to be big in order to exist. Even better is to be too big to fail (or too big to jail). There is no room for the small ones.
Don’t let them impose their « solutions »
We can clearly see that the foundations of the political debate are biased by an obsolete analysis of the way the system really works. Whoever rises to power in 2012 [presidential elections are to be held in France next year], what difference will it make? They’ll keep telling us that we absolutely need growth and job creations while limiting public spendings to reduce the deficit! Meanwhile, the monetary scam will keep its vampirism duty on the economy for the benefit of a minority, the enslavement of the population will continue with the pretext that everyone must work.
The only advantage if a leftist rises to power is that he will be milder with some electorally important population classes. But for the others…
So, as the problems won’t be resolved, they’ll try to tell us that « there is no other alternative », that everybody must make efforts and restrict themselves. An era will start then that I previously designated as « The temptation of authoritarianism [fr] », i.e. a period when the only way for their obsolete recipes to work will be to apply them by force, sacrificing the remaining parts of our sick democracy.
In short, the disillusion is predictable, the danger is palpable. As long as those who govern don’t change their way of thinking, as long as they don’t do a minimum of self-criticizing, we are inevitably heading for an economic dictatorship. Will it take long ?
I fear so. And that’s exactly why we must not expect anything from them. The change will stem from ourselves, enlightened citizens. It is for us to say what we want, to require it, and to ensure we are heard. As so eloquently Gandhi once said :
Be the change you want to see in this world.
Manifesto for a 21st century
Still reading? Thanks ! So now that i made clear what i think of the situation, it is now time to talk practical, and to write a draft of vital claims to require first.
1. The Freedom of citizens
Above all, we reaffirm that freedom of the citizens, as long as it respects the freedom of others, is the foundation of democracy, and is more important than that of any legal entity. In other words, we strictly reject any initiative from a publicly-owned corporation, an association, or even the state, aimed at protecting its own interests by oppression, control or other restriction of citizens’ freedoms. We affirm our right to disobey any institution disrespectful of this freedom.
2. The State at citizen’s service
Because the State only exists by and for the citizens, any intervention of the former has to benefit everybody, or nobody. On behalf of the fundamental principle of equality, we reject any corporatist policy, that essentially consists in granting privileges to a part of the population, while the others are kept aside. Therefore, every cent of public budget has to be totally transparent, and may be disputed by the citizens. Logically, we demand repeal of all tax loopholes and other privileges.
3. For an unconditional guaranteed basic income
Because a citizen’s dignity does not vary with the level of public deficit or the note given by any rating agency, everyone has an inalienable right to a sufficient income to live modestly but with dignity. This is why we require the set-up of a universal guaranteed basic income, with no condition of income, gender, age, status or else, and combinable with any other income source. The funding, amount and accompanying policies will have to be democratically debated and defined.
4. Currency-based slavery : stop!
Arising from the same founding principle of equality, we state that nobody has the right to print money unless it benefits all the citizens directly. Currency is not a commodity, it comes from an agreement between the citizens and the State, and no one may break it with impunity by creating money for their own benefit (whether it is central bank money or money-debt).
Thus, we demand the abrogation of the 123th article of the Treaty of Lisbon to allow the state to issue money to finance investments democratically considered useful, or better, the distribution of a universal dividend [fr] (i.e. create money to finance the basic income previously discussed). This claim must be negotiated at the European level and implies the creation of a second currency or the abandonment of the euro if the talks were to fail. Pending the implementation of such reforms, we refuse to use their « money » as much as possible by creating ourselves a monetary system that respects the equality of citizens.
5. Respect of the commons
Likewise, we demand total respect for the rights of citizens with respect to the common goods that belong to them as co-owners of the nation’s wealth. No natural resources, no national heritage can be exploited economically or damaged without the consent of the people or financial compensation (the universal dividend).
We also claim that access to public infrastructures (like transportation) should be free of charge as soon as the cost (broadly defined) of marketing is greater than that of making it free.
6. For a real participatory democracy
Considering the failure of the representative democracy that we observe, we demand a more direct democracy, more participatory, and thus a new constitution. We claim the opening of the legislative process to direct contributions from civil society, transparency as complete as possible, and a decentralization of power.
Because of the lack of a real democracy right now, we claim the right not to endorse the « representatives for the people » by the recognition of the protest vote and the establishment of a legal quorum to validate or not any election. We will use that power to de-legitimize any ballot that would lead us in a direction clearly opposite to the one we offer.
To be discussed .