Solutions For An Unfair World ~ The World In Which We Live Is Too Complex

It is beyond any doubt: for many citizens life in the second decade of the twenty-first century is difficult. Many are burdened with debt. In the United States and, for example, in Spain, residents can be evicted from their homes at any time. The chance that people will find a decently paid job is decreasing. Long-term unemployment is rather rule than exception. Industries are disappearing. Many suburbs need proper maintenance, but it’s not happening, and the police there will not always be seen as your best friend. Worst of all perhaps is that the social safety nets, which have helped people through difficult times in their lives, are becoming increasingly wide-meshed. You often are on your own, in an environment in which you suspect – or are convinced – that immigrants are driving you out of the housing and job market, and have easier access to social services. The neighbourhood in which you live has less social cohesion than before, and mutual trust is gone. Daily life has almost no certainties anymore.

Of course we do not know this precisely, but the shaming of the political elite that is the order of the day may have something to do with this. After all, is it not the responsibility of politics to provide citizens with a safe and secure existence?
When we think about this, some paradoxes stand out. First of all, there is hardly any anger directed at the business establishment. The leaders of big companies always claim to be the true leaders of the free world, but if something goes wrong in society – and that is really the case now – they are not held responsible. Secondly, by confronting the political elites angry citizens make it abundantly clear that they expect a lot of care from the government. Despite decades of neoliberalism – which advocated the perishing of the state – for many citizens the state still seems to be the entity that needs to keep society in order.

And the third paradox is that citizens have chosen time and again for political leaders who, according to the principles of neoliberalism, have denied the state the financial and organisational means of realising something for individual citizens and the society as a whole. At the same time the state should look after jobs and pensions, affordable health care, safety and everything that gives life perspective. In the absence of resources and competence, states, and thus politicians, can not provide all these things under neoliberal regimes. Nevertheless, the state is expected to deliver protection and social security to its citizens. After all, markets can only flourish if the state is strong enough to make life liveable for its citizens.

The relative impotence of the state to provide citizens with security in their lives is in stark contrast with the power that big companies have acquired over the course of several decades. These are companies that have grown into transnational corporations. Their structure is usually so complex that it is hardly understood what they do – anywhere in the world – and what the consequences might be. They can regard any form of regulation as being irrelevant to them and even prevent these rules from being implemented, including by lobbying at a large scale, wherever appropriate. Such transnational corporations act as collaborative entities that secure their interests on a worldwide scale. Read more

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Solutions For An Unfair World ~ We Have To Bring Trade Under Democratic Control

If we realise that the escalating economic, cultural and social globalisation has brought us too few blessings, the question is what we need to do, and especially what we can do nów. First of all we have to think about the abundance of trade treaties between individual countries – there are thousands of them – and between groups of countries in certain regions – think of NAFTA, CETA, the formerly intended TPP, TTIP, and indeed the European Union –, and about what is governing them at a global level, such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO). In principle, all those treaties have to be revised radically. However, before we come to this, we need to acknowledge that generally it is beneficial that such treaties are aimed at reducing (further) import and export taxes. But that should not be overdone: countries have the right to protect certain sectors of their economy, perhaps only for a certain period of time. It is also useful if such treaties contribute to the joint determination of industrial standards, even though small differences are not insurmountable. But after that, the problems come.

Let’s start with the bilateral and regional trade treaties. What is necessary now and in the future is that such trade agreements are being formulated in such a way that they put an end to matters such as tax dumping, environmental degradation, the enormous size and complexity of corporations, and social exploitation. So far, all those trade treaties are silent about the protection of what is of vital importance for citizens and their society – now and in the future. Therefore, those treaties must be renegotiated, reformulated and concluded again. Indeed, that is a hell of a job, which can only succeed if two conditions are met. Firstly, lawyers, economists and social scientists at universities – and scientists at technical and agricultural universities as well – need to set up major research programs to consider how the transition will unfold from the current trade treaties, which undermine democracy and hurt citizens, to trade treaties that serve the interests of these citizens, bringing democracy and market to a good balance.

Secondly, one can imagine that such radical changes can only take shape if substantial sections of the population are committed to this, persistently and well-considered. Perhaps what is being proposed here is not a far-off-their-bed show for the simplifying right. And why could reforming the trade relations between countries – which would bring back national priorities to citizens – not be the basis for alliances between what is called the populist right – what I have previously referred to as the simplifying right – and a from its neoliberal bent returning left? I’ll get back to that. Read more

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Solutions For An Unfair World ~ Curb Globalisation: A Dialogue Between The Veritable Left And The Simplifying Right

When we look at the present global ideological and economic battlefield, two roads are open. The first is continuing on the path of ongoing neoliberal globalisation, deregulation of markets, further privatisation of public services and facilities, and leaving the global economic playing field to transnational companies that regard themselves as global governments rather than as serving the public good.

The completely opposite option is breaking with this, recognizing that democracy can never get a grip on what is happening at the global level, and bringing back important decisions for the daily lives of people to the levels which are familiar to them: the national state and the local community in which they live. We have to acknowledge that, under the conditions of unrestrained globalisation, the countries of the European Union and other parts of the world can not provide the protection that people need. From the previous chapters it will be clear that I opt for this last possibility: it is better to consider neoliberalism as an aberration, and to bring corporations as quickly as possible back into society, instead of letting them think they are the masters of the universe.

In order to achieve this radical change, a broad coalition is needed among populations. Looking at the political landscape, for instance in Europe, it can be noted that the conservative and moderate liberal parties show undiminished faith in the economic globalisation and liberalisation that has been started a few decades ago. The painful thing is that important currents in social democracy are not opposed to it as well, be it with efforts to uphold humanitarian and social values, even if in vain.

The forces that want to curb globalisation are on the veritable left of the political spectrum and in the camp of what I call the simplifying right. It would be obvious to encourage these currents to form alliances, but there are too many obstacles on the road. For example, it does not seem likely that the veritable left can mobilize the vast majority of populations; and the right which is critical of globalisation and Europe sometimes errs on the side of xenophobia and exclusion. Even more important is that the simplifying right actually wants to bring political decision-making closer to home, i.e. to the nation-state, but it does not mention transnational companies, which make sure that we live in a world that we can not get to grips with anymore, and heap misery upon us. One can think of their environmental footprint, of the financial risks these companies take, of tax evasion, of the existence of a big gap between the poor and rich, and of various forms of criminal behaviour they are guilty of.

A first task would be to start a discussion with the supporters of the simplifying right about their dissatisfaction with the global and the European order. This is the kind of conversation I have argued for in the previous chapters. It has a strategic goal. First of all, it is not difficult to agree that we must leave the neoliberal globalisation agenda behind us and make the European Union moderate in its pretensions.

But – and here the conversation becomes more difficult – this will produce scant results if the transnational companies are not split up into negotiable segments and if the smaller companies which will emerge out of them will not be faced with a set of social requirements: what do we expect as citizens of companies that provide us with products and services? Such a conversation does not make any sense with entrenched neoliberals from the conservative camp and from the center-left. But such a conversation may be actually prove to be useful with people who don’t want anything from today’s globalisation. This may presuppose a bit of optimism, and some political and social courage, but why not give it a chance?

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Solutions For An Unfair World ~ Peace In Our Time?

In Europe we are at a loss: the US nuclear control button is in the hands of an impulsive president. Impulsivity is generally not conducive to the establishment of stable relationships in the world. If it concerns a weapon of mass destruction, there are reasons to be anxious. Just to reassure the reader: initially the president does not decide on his own; he has to go through some reviews, but in the end it is he who decides, and the whole process of decision-making barely takes a few minutes.

In order to make the complications even bigger: the relations with Israel are very cordial under a Trump-government. Israel has not yet abandoned the idea that the nuclear agreement with Iran is null and void, and should be undone. It seems that Trump endorses Israel in this, or at least wants to renegotiate the agreement. You don’t have to be a stranger in Jerusalem to realise that all the ingredients are in place for escalating tensions between the United States and Israel on the one hand and Iran on the other. In this scenario, an atomic bomb may also occur.

The problem is that the European Union as a whole and the European countries individually barely count on the world stage. The United Kingdom is withdrawing from the EU and will need some time to recapture a separate position, apart from the fact that the country has always tended to support the US, in an economic but also in a diplomatic sense. All of this does not make Britain the appropriate force to put the emotions at rest. France and Germany are also not powerful enough to influence the policies of the United States, Israel and Iran, either alone or together. This will have to come from a common Europe, and thus from the European Union.

Why do we need a strong Europe, at least in this respect? A possible military conflict between Israel and Iran will take place around the corner from us. We will certainly be aware of it, especially if the Middle East becomes a major war scene. Only a powerful Europe can exert a mitigating effect on parties where hot-heads are in power. It is of course strange that the negotiations with Iran were conducted mainly by the US, with the EU and some European countries in assistant roles. That really has to change. A top priority should be that the EU states publicly and diplomatically that the deployment of a nuclear weapon or any other military action will not be tolerated. For this purpose only a strong EU can join coalitions with other countries that are also opposed to war. It is clear that, given the weak diplomatic position and will of Europe, nothing will come to fruition unless there will be a strong peace movement in Europe again. Read more

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Solutions For An Unfair World ~ A President With Messy Moral Standards

We live in astonishing times. Donald Trump’s government exists of mostly elderly white men – we did not expect otherwise – who together have at least $35 billion, although I’m afraid I’ve lost count and it could even be more. It is astonishing that the people who voted for the new president of the United States see absolutely no problem in this accumulation of capital, even if most of them experience very little perspective in life themselves.

It is also astonishing that someone who has to bind together the population of a country and give the world confidence, is unable to feel compassion and to exert self-control, does not have a sense of balance, spits out hate, acts out of revenge, is surrounded by people with a limited look at the world, denies opponents the right to speak and excludes them, flirts with racism, xenophobia, sexism and narcissism, makes people anxious and demonises other people, calls journalists liars, is hardly able to distinguish his business interests from his public duties, does not wish to acknowledge the separation of powers that the Constitution dictates, calls elections fraudulent that do not seem to benefit him, gives religion a prominent place except Islam, dismantles social structures and undermines the power of the democratic system. America First is his motto… but what are the United States these days? I would say: an ordinary country, just like any other country with its problems and possibilities, only with the bygone illusion that it is the most powerful country in the world, and a nation chosen by God.

Make America Great Again. That’s not what Dwight D. Eisenhower meant in his farewell speech as president in 1961. ‘Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.

What has President Trump to offer his own people? Neoliberalism, usury-capitalism, the smoothing-over of tax evasion, the removal of rules for the banking sector; likely the planning of infrastructure projects that will result in the privatisation of the commons; and the creation of the illusion that there will be massive new employment – did he ever hear of robots?

[A little in-between: In the modern factory you only need two staff members: a man and a dog. The man must give food to the dog, and the dog must make sure the man does not touch the robots.]

What else has Trump to offer his compatriots? Abortion will become considerably more difficult. As ambassador to the United Nations he appointed Nikki R. Haley, who was the governor of South Carolina, where she supported abortion-hostile legislation. She and her boss the president will do their utmost to prevent the un from incorporating family planning into its aid programs for poor countries. In the Supreme Court Trump wants to appoint judges who want to undo existing abortion opportunities. An important achievement in recent years was the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which must protect citizens against the risks of financial products and services; that is also going to fall. The EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, has been downsized. In the Federal Trade Commission people have been appointed who defend the free and unhindered market without any restriction, assuming that the economy and business life flourish better if they are released from the federal government’s long arm. The Trump program does not indicate in any way that the commercialized prison system will be humanised: an excessive proportion of the black population will remain locked behind bars, in order to provide cheap labour and at the same time lose its voting rights. Read more

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Solutions For An Unfair World ~ Bitter Tears, Bon Courage

There is more on the horizon than only Trump, and it is all the more dangerous. Almost every morning we wake up with what he has said or tweeted the night before, and we go to bed with what he has said or tweeted during the day. Much of what he is doing creates a lot of uncertainty. It is no coincidence that since his arrival the word ‘war’ does not sound as something from a distant past anymore.

Still we should not let ourselves be blinded by his innermost feelings. The world is ravaged by phenomena which are at least as dangerous as Trump. In the first place we should mention Rupert Murdoch, the kingmaker. His media-empire, with television channel Fox at the front, is influencing the way people think and the choices many politicians make. The many hours that Trump spends watching Fox News has deep consequences for his political posturing.

In this context it is a big problem that competition law and the American anti-trust policy have been almost completely put to sleep by neoliberalism. In the second chapter I mentioned that these instruments should be used much more actively. It turns out that the domain of the media is where the (re-) activation of competition law and the anti-trust policy is most necessary.

It is a big threat for democracy if one media-conglomerate disproportionately influences the political, social, economic and cultural debate, as well as the whole of public opinion about essential issues. We have to give a high priority to the breaking up of dominant media-conglomerates in our own country and in Europe as a whole. But we should not hesitate to call the ambassador of the United States to account and tell him or her that we in Europe are bothered by the fact that there is just one media-conglomerate in the US that has all the political strings in its hands and puts our lives in danger. As ‘good’ allies we are entitled to say so, aren’t we? Isn’t Trump himself continuous ‘knocking sense’ into us? What keeps us from letting loose our accumulated wisdom upon him?

What is at least as dangerous as Trump is the inability of Europe to conduct its own policy on issues that touch upon peace and security. Isn’t it too ridiculous for words that our relations with Russia are being determined by Trump and Tillerson, and that we have to wait for the outcome of their beating around the bush, while we are heading for war? The same goes for Syria and for the relations with Iran. One day NATO is nonsense, and then suddenly the next day it is Trump’s mainstay. This keeps us from thinking for ourselves about the kind of defence policy we need and about organising disarmament-conferences. If the taxes on corporations are considerably lowered in the US, this will lead to a trade war which eventually will end in a race to the bottom. If bank regulation will be rendered a farce in the US, this will endanger financial stability in the whole world.

It is clear: a bigger danger than Trump himself is a Europe which will be waiting like a lapdog for the whims of its boss. Indeed, there is more on the horizon than only Trump, and it is all the more dangerous: it’s Europe’s lethargy.

Europe, oh Europe, what a nice part of the world have you become after the two terrible world wars of the 20th century. How can this soft power survive in a world in which hard power seems to be all that really counts? This Europe is stricken by a crisis. The only ones that can rescue us from this fate are we ourselves. If we don’t do this, Trump will dictate our policy, which is not a very beckoning perspective.

We have shed bitter tears, because the US have chosen a president who considers the world as one of his casinos. But the humanistic values we have cherished over the decades should keep us on track and give us bon courage.

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