Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Men, Power and Politics

Men, Power, and Politics
By John Bunzl

With so many global problems now threatening usfrom financial market meltdown to global warmingcalls for a global “paradigm shift” away from the present culture of reckless risk-taking to a more responsible, sustainable path have become commonplace. But what roles do sex and gender issues play in all this? And how should they change? For if there’s to be a paradigm shift in our political and economic systems, our perceptions of sex and gender can hardly be irrelevant or left out.
The feminist movement of recent decades has certainly brought major changes for women; more equality in the workplace, more sexual freedom and control, and a more equal social standing alongside men. But one can’t help noticing that women who achieve high positions of power, whether in business or politics, often seem to end up behaving much as men do.  That is, they tend to adopt a masculine, power-oriented, competitive, logic-based approach which seems to leave little space for feminine intuition, compassion and feeling. This brings into question whether much has changed at all. For if women’s liberation has resulted in women arriving in business and politics only to behave in much the same competitive fashion as men, we can hardly claim to be on the cusp of a new paradigm!

So what’s going on?
Maybe there are larger, systemic forces at work which subtly set the narrow behavioural parameters that business-people and politicians—whether male or female—have little choice but to conform to. Rather like fish that cannot see the water they swim in, we all seem to be swimming in a culture that honours and accepts only one half of who we really are; that is, the macho-masculine, competitive, risk-taking, go-getting half. As psychotherapist, John A. Sanford, notes: “Masculine achievement, power, control, success, and logic are rewarded in our society by prestige, good grades in school, and generous paychecks. The feminine principle, which tends to unite and synthesize is undervalued culturally both in men and in women.”[i]

Women newly arrived in the world of business or politics are perhaps still too in thrall to their newfound independence to realise that the system largely excludes the very feminine qualities they were perhaps hoping to inject. Only with time will they discover, as a few men have, that the worlds of business and politics are not quite all they’re cracked up to be.
For most men, this is a realisation that, having for millennia been inured to the competitive world of warfare, work and politics, we’re yet to fully wake up to. Some of us—perhaps you, since you’re reading this article—are one of the few who sense a deeper malaise: that the worlds of business and politics are failing to offer either men or women what we both really need; that is, the opportunity for wholeness: for expressing all—and not just half (the masculine half)—of who we really are.

It’s the system, stupid!
How, then, is the system tilted towards the masculine principle of competition? Well, here is where we veer into a bit of simple political-economy. For the dominance of masculine competition over feminine cooperation, I’m suggesting, trickles down from the global level; from the fact that, today, we have a global economy, but we’re trying to manage it with only national governance. That might sound weird. But when capital and corporations move freely across national borders from one national economy to another, governments must do whatever is necessary to make their economies more attractive than other countries to ensure capital and jobs come to (or don’t leave) their countrythat is, they have to keep their economies internationally competitive.

As a result, government policies tend to favour the interests of corporations and markets while consequently disfavouring the interests of society or the environment. So it really doesn’t much matter which party is in power, because longer working hours, downward pressure on wages, less care for the environment, more pressure to perform at work to keep your job, more pressure to perform at school to get a job, more pressure to pass exams to get into a good school, and more pressure on worried parents to frantically push their toddlers to learn the three Rs before they’re really ready for it, are the inevitable outcomes! Such is the top-down pressure of international competition, it’s hardly surprising that in almost any walk of life, only our competitive, masculine sides end up being honoured. The culture of competition that permeates almost every aspect of our daily lives starts, then, right at the top; at the global level.
But it would be wrong to think this pressure was created by corporations or investors bent on lining their pockets. There are, of course, some greedy business people out there. But this doesn’t alter the general truth that, rather like nations, investors and corporations in today’s global market cannot afford to lose out to their competitors. As the investment manager, George Soros, aptly pointed out: “As an anonymous participant in financial markets, I never had to weigh the social consequences of my actions. I was aware that in some circumstances the consequences might be harmful but I felt justified in ignoring them on the grounds that I was playing by the rules. The game was very competitive and if I imposed additional constraints on myself I would end up a loser. Moreover, I realised that my moral scruples would make no difference to the real world, given the conditions of effective or near-perfect competition that prevail in financial markets; if I abstained somebody else would take my place.”[ii]  So it’s important to understand that the masculine, competitive principle is enforced all the way from the global level down to our everyday existence. Logically, it’s to the global level we must look if the feminine, cooperative principle is to have any chance of a look in.

A global perspective
The really silly thing, here, is that if we look at this from a higher, global perspective, we see that all nations, and all corporations, are stuck in a vicious circle from which they can’t escape; that this whole problem isn’t really down to any individual nation or corporation, but to the overall system itself.  Since any nation (or corporation) that moves first to do the right thing will be punished by capital, investment and jobs simply moving elsewhere, it’s easy to see how politicians in whatever country don’t act on so many pressing global issues such as climate change, top people’s excessive pay, and financial market regulation. It’s little wonder, then, that “feminine” policies that foster greater equity and social inclusion, as well as environmental sustainability are largely excluded or too often watered down to the point of insignificance.

But here’s the point: the vicious circle all nations find themselves in, and the one-sided, damaging competitive pressure it exerts can only worsen until governancethe feminine principle that “holds” masculine economic competition and keeps it within healthy boundscatches up and operates on the same global scale.  Yes, you heard right: we need to balance our “masculine” global economy with “feminine” global governance. For until we do, the vicious circle that honours only our masculine sides can only continueand it’ll worsen. Until we have global governance, feminine qualities in both men and women cannot have any real chance of widespread enculturation.
Unacknowledged pain

Meantime, the psychic pain caused by this imbalance is hard to overestimate and yet it’s too often overlooked. You may have noticed that George Soros, in the above quote, justifies his behaviour by noting that “if I abstained somebody else would take my place”. In other words, the psychic pain of having to do the wrong thing by society and the environment is justified (that is, repressed and split off) by assuring himself that doing the right thing would have meant losing out or being replaced by someone else.

We can see, then, how the system too often forces us to do what we know may be wrong or harmful and to act against our deepest values and convictions, and that this pain manifests and accumulates both internally within each of us as a growing sense of guilt and repression, and externally in the form of worsening global problems. This, then, is the heavy pain we all carry; the pains of the world – or Weltschmerz - as the Germans call it.

Being repressed and split-off, this pain is barely acknowledged in society. Instead, we consign it to our subconscious. But like all repressed pain, it only sits there increasingly nagging at us, weighing us down with guilt, frustration and doubt. As global problems worsen all around us, this pain can only come back to haunt us. If we don’t deal with itif we don’t face up to the task of establishing some form of global governancewe’ll surely all end up paying the price; perhaps even the ultimate price of the widespread wipe-out of humanity itself.

You probably never imagined gender issues play a role in global politics or vice versa. But perhaps you now see why, if our feminine, cooperative sides are to be properly and equally honoured, the world will have to adopt an appropriate form of global cooperation and governance. For only then could feminine feeling, compassion and cooperation be brought into balance with the male principle of economic competition. Only then could both men and women have full and equal access to the whole of who they are.
But how do we achieve global governance?

Seeing no easy way to have an influence on global problems, gives us another reason to ignore them. And after all, shouldn’t our politicians be the ones to take this on? Trouble is, so preoccupied are they with having to keep their economies internationally competitive, they can’t even envisage how nations could cooperate. So like it or not, the heavy task of achieving this necessarily falls to civil society – to us. Remote though the prospect may seem, you may be surprised to know that a practical start has already been made in the form of a global campaign called the Simultaneous Policy – or Simpol, for short. (http://www.simpol.org)

The thing about Simpol is that it actually offers us a way we can use our votes in our national elections, but in a completely new and powerful way that drives the politicians of all parties to support and implement the policies needed to solve our most pressing global problems. With supporters in over 70 countries, the campaign is gradually driving politicians across the world towards a position where policies can be implemented simultaneously by all or sufficient nations. With simultaneous action, we all win and the vicious circle of destructive competition that presently causes so much pain can at last be broken. A form of cooperative global governance capable of matching and balancing our present already-global economy could thus be put in place.
“Pipe dream!”, I hear you shout. But at the last UK general election in 2010, and despite only a handful of citizens being actively involved in Simpol, no less than 200 candidates from all political parties signed up to the campaign and, of those, 24 are now Members of Parliament. MPs in some other national parliaments have also signed on and the campaign is going from strength to strength. There’s no doubting the enormity of the task, of course. But acknowledging the power of the human spirit to overcome even the mightiest of obstacles, Noam Chomsky, the veteran U.S. political commentator, summed up the spirit of Simpol by saying, “It’s ambitious and provocative. Can it work? Certainly worth a serious try.”

Men, power and politics in the 21st Century

With current UN and other efforts at international agreements routinely ending in failure and with global problems mounting all around us, Simpol at least offers usmen and womena way of giving our cooperative, feminine halves a practical, political expression, even though the aim of the campaignglobal governanceremains to be achieved. Because if, in the wake of feminism, men now need to rediscover what masculinity means in the 21st Century, perhaps supporting Simpol and so showing ourselves ready and able to cooperate, rather than remaining defined solely by our ability to compete, offers us a more balanced, mature and complete form of masculinity. For even though we each inevitably remain caught in the vicious circle of competition in our everyday lives, supporting Simpol allows us to release the psychic pain we’ve collectively built up over past centuries and to discharge it through a positive, cooperative, and productive form of global political action; action designed to rebalance our masculine global economy with feminine global governance. For what greater gift could we, men, give to our women and to ourselves than delivering this historic integration? And what greater gift could women give to us and to themselves than joining us in the effort to achieve it? And then, let us also not forget the children.

The paradox of this and all previous major evolutionary transitions is, that if left to reach a critical stage, the male principle of competition ultimately ceases to be a strategy for individual survival but instead becomes a strategy for collective suicide. At that point—a point we’re fast approaching—the feminine principle of co-operation becomes in everyone’s self-interest. But for a regression into chaos to be avoided and for cooperation at a new higher level to emerge, not only is global and simultaneous action required to overcome the barriers to international cooperation, an appropriate catalysing political process is also needed. That, indeed, is what the Simpol campaign perhaps offers us: a transformative political practice enabling us to responsibly and consciously co-create an appropriate and healthy form of people-centred global governance; a world-centric governance born of a higher consciousness that integrates male and female principles, transcends and includes political parties and nation-states, and “through which runs the blood of a common humanity and beats the single heart of a very small planet struggling for its own survival, and yearning for its own release into a deeper and a truer tomorrow”.[iii]

John Bunzl. August, 2012.

[i] The Invisible Partners – How the Male and Female in each of us affects our relationships, Paulist Press, 1980, p48.
[ii] The Crisis of Global Capitalism – Open Society Endangered, George Soros, Little, Brown and Co. 1998.
[iii] Sex, Ecology, Spirituality – The Spirit of Evolution, Ken Wilber, Shambhala, 2000.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Disappointment at the Rio+20 outcome: Why am I not surprised?

Here we go again: As The Guardian reports, (23rd June, 2012), "civil society groups and scientists were scathing about the outcome. Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo called the summit a failure of epic proportions. 'We didn't get the Future We Want in Rio, because we do not have the leaders we need. The leaders of the most powerful countries supported business as usual, shamefully putting private profit before people and the planet.'"

But is it our leaders who are really at fault? Or is it the thinking of NGOs that remains blind to the economic constraints our politicians are bound by; constraints that prevent them from acting as we would wish? Becuase it surely can't have escaped NGOs that, today, we live in a global economy in which governments no longer have the power to act as NGOs, the public, (and probably politicans themselves) would like. Indeed, NGOs are disappointed - and will continue to be so - until they understand, accept, and deeply 'get', that our so-called leaders are no longer in real control.

The inability of governments to deliver on the Rio+20 goals, the Millennium Development Goals, (or any other worthy goals for that matter) arises because the very things each nation needs for its economy to thrive - jobs and investment - are allocated by forces - global market forces - that move freely across national borders. And that means the only policies governments can implement are those that attract jobs and investment; policies, in other words, that maintain or enhance the nation's international competitiveness and its attractiveness to international investors. In practice that means that any policy likely to upset the markets or to cost business more - such as precisely the policies NGOs are calling for to save the planet - are necessarily excluded from the political scene. It's little wonder, then, that although our leaders hail Rio+20 as "a pathway for a sustainable century" (for what else should they say?!), the document itself lacks detail and ambition. Indeed it lacks detail, ambition and clarity precisely because our political leaders know very well (but can never openly admit) that thier need to keep their national economies internationally competitive stands in direct conflict with the policies needed to deliver on the Rio+20 goals! Our leaders know - even if the global justice movement doesn't - that it is not within their power to deliver.

Adolescent dependency or Adult autonomy?

One does have to wonder, then, why NGOs continue to blame governments when it's pretty clear our governments aren't in control; that in a globalised world, they don't have the power to deliver on our demands. Indeed, it shouldn't be hard for anyone to realise that a global economy can never become just or sustainable if governance and regulation remains only national. Because anything able to move freely across national borders - such as global markets, multi-national corporations and investment - will always have the whip hand over anything that is nationally rooted, such as national governments and ordinary people. Little wonder, then, that even the mighty EU is reeling under the unrelenting power of global bond markets and that the Eurozone economies are being picked off and eaten alive, one-by-one, as we speak; nor that ordinary people - you and I - will ultimately end up paying the price.

Indeed, the collective orientation of NGOs - the 'global justice movement' - is to place itself in a position of adolescent dependency; in the position of childishly 'asking' leaders to act, and then blaming them for not delivering what they manifestly cannot deliver. The movement, if it is ever to find its power, must move instead to a position of adult autonomy; a position from which it is able to take control and call the shots. This doesn't mean we can change the world without our political leaders. But instead of assuming (wrongly) that our leaders are sitting in the cock-pit and can lead us out of our present global crisis, we will have to move to a more adult position where we realise that "when the people lead, the leaders will follow"; where we realise that we have to get into the cock-pit ourselves. Perhaps, then, it's not so much that we don't have the leaders we need, but that we don't have the NGOs that we need; that is, NGOs capable of harnessing the people in a way that's capable of leading the leaders.

But moving to this adult position will not be easy. Because as George Bernard Shaw astutely observed, "Freedom means taking responsibility. That is why most men dread it." NGOs dread it, of course, because it's so much easier to stay stuck in the blame-game; to keep blaming our politicians even though it's clear they've long-since lost the power to deliver. Because all the while we keep blaming "them", we don't have to take responsibility ourselves. So when, one wonders, will our movement finally have the courage to take proper responsibility and move to an adult, autonomous position in which we take control; in which we take responsiblity? Easier said than done, you might say. But to move to such a position, we would need three things:

1. A campaign organised on the basis that its demands would be implemented by all or sufficient nations simultanoeusly. For only simultaneous action by virtually all governments can possibly provide the necessary global coverage to reign in global capital. Moreover, only simultaneous action can avoid each government's fear of moving first.

2. A policy framework designed, not by politicians, but by civil society itself. This range of policies would, moreover, incorporate multiple policies and so allow nations that might lose on one policy to gain on another. For example, if alongside a CO2 reductions agreement, a currency transactions (Tobin) tax were also included, the vast sums raised from the tax could be used to compensate the big losers on the CO2 agreement. This would give high-emitting nations such as the USA or China an incentive to cooperate.

3. A way for citizens to use their votes in a new but extremely powerful, transnational way to drive the politicians of all parties and nations to actually implement the necessary policies.

Sound utopian? Well, unbeknown to many people, an organisation already exists which allows citizens around the world to do exactly that - and it's meeting with increasing success and recognition. It's called the International Simulanteous Policy Organisation http://www.simpol.org; an association of citizens around the world who use their national right to vote in an entirely new way that drives politicians and governments to implement the global policies our world so desperately needs. So, you can stay in the blame-game if you want. But if you're tired of being a victim and find yourself ready to take proper responsibility, you might like to check it out.

John Bunzl, June 2012.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Party Politics: Meaninglessness in a globalised world

With politicians of all parties bemoaning the public's deepening disinterest in party politics and trying to devise ever more elaborate wheezes to entice them back to the ballot box, almost no one seems to have noticed that globalisation itself is quietly setting the narrow parameters within which national political discourse has become confined.

Today, financial markets represent a largely borderless world with trillions of dollars able to move from one end of the global to another in a matter of seconds. Likewise, it's relatively easy for major corporations to switch or outsource their production to wherever in the world offers the lowest costs and the highest profits.

The ability of capital to move freely and globally by and large has the effect of forcing all governments to enact only those policies designed to enhance (or defend) their nation’s ability to attract capital, investment and jobs. For without them, their economy will go into decline. It follows, then, that whichever party we elect has no choice but to follow substantially the same market- and business-friendly policy agenda; that is, what might be called the "national competitiveness" agenda – the modern-day version of pursuing the national interest.

That’s why, in whatever country we may live, we find left-of-center parties adopting policies traditionally espoused by right-of-center parties. It’s why New Labour’s Tony Blair was often said to be the best Conservative leader since Margaret Thatcher. Or, as the former Conservative prime minister, John Major, himself once put it, “I went swimming leaving my clothes on the bank and when I came back Tony Blair was wearing them” (The Week, 29 October, 1999).

Hence globalisation, for all its good and bad points, has also resulted in all political factions, once they come to power, having no choice but to pursue substantially the same policies. Party politics, consequently, has become substantially devoid of meaning. It shouldn't surprise us, then, that lower voter turnouts, and the general pervading cynicism about politics, are the inevitable outcome. These effects are the ingredients of what the famous philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, calls a “legitimation crisis”; a breakdown in the adequacy of the existing worldview and its governance systems to command allegiance amongst the population as a whole.

Globalisation, in other words, has rendered much of what citizenship means meaningless. And so, for anyone to try to address politics only at a national level is, in this day and age, to miss the “bleeding rhino head in the room”; that thinking about politics and governance now needs to move decisively up to the global level. Our thinking about politics needs to move, in other words, from nation-centric to world-centric.

The ossification and emptiness of today's political discourse is one symptom, in effect, of the present global crisis brought on by globalisation; a crisis which, in a broader view of things, is telling us that the present most senior organs of governance in the world – nation-sates – are now no longer capable of governing adequately; that they are reaching the end of their evolutionary lives and now need to be "transcended and included" by a still-higher level of governance. As philosopher, Ken Wilber, concurs, “The modern nation-state, founded upon initial rationality, has run into its own internal contradictions or limitations, and can only be released by a vision-logic/planetary transformation” (Sex Ecology Spirituality, p. 192).

And as to how citizens may discover a completely new way to engage with politics which is truly transnational (i.e. world-centric) and which transcends the old party-political divides, there is now a solution available; a solution called the Simultaneous Policy (Simpol) http://www.simpol.org. As Wilber points out, "The central idea of Simpol is very powerful; that is, the notion of how to link votes in one country with votes in another - how to link political action in one country with action in another. International competition is built-in to the nation-state system at its current level of development, and so the issue is not environmental concerns, but how to get humans to agree on environmental concerns. This is really fascinating and very hopeful. In my opinion this is the crucial issue for the 21st century".

Monday, 12 December 2011

Durban Climate Fudge - The Futility of Single-Issue Treaty-making

As the climate talks in Durban conclude with yet another fudged, delayed and grossly inadequate outcome, climate negotiations are beginning to look less like a failure of political will and more like simple stupidity. In what other area of governance on this planet, after all, are decisions ever made on the basis of just one issue? Where in an individual nation, for example, does the government ever keep its population satisfied by legislating on one issue alone, without bringing in or taking into account other issues that allow those who may be unduly disadvantaged to be compensated in some way? Indeed, without being able to mix and match different issues so that what some may lose on one issue, they can gain on another, national-level governance—our present nations and representative democracy itself—would hardly have come into being at all!
The point is that globalisation has reached a depth of economic and environmental international integration that old-style, single-issue treaty-making simply doesn’t work anymore. Just take almost any global issue and you’ll always find there are some nations that would lose out badly from any meaningful agreement, whether it’s the largest emitters that would lose out in a climate agreement, nations with strong financial centres that would lose from a financial transactions (Tobin) tax, or developed nations whose farms and countryside would go to rack and ruin if tariffs on agricultural products were globally abolished.
But on we go, madly trying to tackle global problems one issue at a time; in this case trying to get the big losers in any binding climate agreement—the U.S., China and India—to agree to deep and binding emissions cuts which, because there is no mechanism to compensate them, plainly aren't in their interests. So is it any surprise the talks effectively go nowhere or the agreement is wholly inadequate? Little more than “kicking the can further down the road”?

But if some other global issue were included alongside the climate negotiations—a global financial transactions (Tobin) tax, for example—the billions of dollars this tax would raise could be used to compensate the big losers on the climate part of the agreement, as well as to assist developing countries to adopt clean technologies (and it might help calm financial markets to boot!). Moreover, making the Tobin Tax the subject of global negotiations, rather than the European Union trying in vain to force it on the UK, would neatly meet the UK’s condition that Tobin must be implemented globally if it’s to gain Britain’s support. By mixing more than one issue in a single global negotiation, in other words, opportunities for compensations and trade-offs are created and the chances of making it in everyone’s interests to co-operate become vastly greater.
Some may object that rich countries should "listen to the people" and, in the name of global justice, simply suffer their disadvantage without any compensation or complaint. But isn’t it time we accepted that co-operation rarely results from exhortations to justice, but rather from a well-designed deal that’s sophisticated enough to be in everyone’s interests?
It would be nice, then, if before we completely ruin our chances of civilised survival on this planet, we recalled the lesson that global co-operation requires not just simultaneous action by all nations, but a multi-issue policy framework; a framework which provides the absolutely vital opportunities for trade-offs and compensations between nations without which meaningful co-operation becomes impossible. This is a lesson we learned centuries ago at the national level, but how much longer are we going to keep ignoring it at the global level? How much longer can we afford to keep ignoring it?
John Bunzl. Trustee, International Simultaneous Policy Organisation

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Occupy Wall Street. Occupy your mind

As deepening economic woes finally bring people onto the streets in
Western capitals, protesters on Wall Street, in the City of London and elsewhere are keen to remind Western leaders that calling on Arab governments to allow freedom and democracy is a call they could well heed at home. For too long, citizens in the West have felt alienated from the political process. But with unemployment and prices now rising steeply while the rich, the bankers, and the corporations continue to get away with outrageously high pay-offs, the people, finally, are starting to fight back. The people, finally, are saying “enough is enough!”

Reports suggest that Occupy is a very diverse initiative with no clear demands, so it remains to be seen whether a more coherent movement will emerge. As Sasha Sethi, a former investment banker put it when interviewed by Sky News, "I think it is fantastic to see a non-apathetic youth here. It's too fragmented though. There are too many voices. They need to focus on some firm intellectual ideas." This, I recall, was the same criticism levelled more than a decade ago against protesters in Seattle in 1999 who successfully brought the World Trade Organisation’s summit to an abrupt halt and promptly claimed “victory” over globalisation. But having succeeded in their aim of halting the WTO, they had no practical plan to follow it up with; no deeper idea of what they wanted and how it could be achieved. Will it be the same for Occupy?

Interestingly, Mr Sethi, our investment banker, told Sky News that many of his former colleagues would sympathise with the worldwide protests. "Bankers are a mixed bunch," he said. "I think a lot of them in their hearts will agree with it." That’s interesting because it elucidates the difficulty the protesters have in branding bankers, or indeed anyone, as “the enemy”. Because, the complexity of our globalised world makes it hard to identify who, if anyone, is really at fault and who has the power to do anything about it. Because identifying the winners in today’s global economy is one thing; identifying who’s actually capable of changing the system that makes them winners is quite another.

We live in interesting times; I would almost say evolutionary times;
times when people’s understanding of the world they live in is struggling to catch up with a reality that has largely left them behind. For the reality today is that power substantially resides beyond the nation-state; the reality is that individual governments simply aren’t in a position to unilaterally influence global events, be it global energy markets, bond, or currency markets. In other words, events now occur in the ungoverned global space, as it were. And yet people’s understanding still operates largely in the national space. It’s little wonder, then, that they still cling to the out-dated belief that the government still has the ability to act effectively. As the governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, acknowledged in a recent interview, the underlying problems in the global economy which caused the current sovereign debt and global economic crises, “cannot be dealt with by any nation alone. … They won’t be tackled,” he says, “unless countries, as a group, come together to ensure that the world economy can keep growing.”

The same, of course, applies if nations want to stop themselves being eaten alive by the markets or to reign in poor corporate behaviour. Rather than competing with one another to remain relatively more attractive to global markets and corporations, and so necessarily favouring banks, global investors and the rich in the process, nations need to cooperate to implement robust global rules and taxes to ensure global markets and corporations operate for the common good rather than just for the benefit of the globally mobile few. Until nations learn to cooperate, then, the markets will continue to pick nations off one by one; until they cooperate, the market tail will continue to wag the government dog.

Perhaps Occupy and countless other protest groups around the world need above all, then, to develop a more acute and genuinely global awareness; an awareness that protest itself is questionable when even governments aren’t in control; an awareness that action must be global and not merely local or even national. Indeed, the Euro crisis is showing that meaningful action can’t even suffice on a European level. Only global action—all or virtually all nations implementing an agreement with global reach and effect—can now possibly hope to do the job. Moreover, since governments are stuck in the vicious circle of having to compete with one another, we’d be foolish to expect them to lead the way to international cooperative action.

It’ll be interesting to see, then, whether Occupy evolves into
something greater than the sum of its parts and whether other protest movements, NGOs and concerned citizens around the world can come together in a coordinated way to drive their politicians and governments towards a cooperative global agreement broad enough and robust enough to bring global markets, transnational corporations, bankers, and the mobile rich back under proper democratic control and accountability. The challenge, it seems, is to find a basis for international cooperation which avoids any nation losing out unduly to any other and so makes it in the interests of all to cooperate. The challenge, too, is to find a more effective means than protest for driving politicians and governments towards that objective. These, perhaps, are some of the “firm intellectual ideas” citizens and protesters alike will have to grapple with and find answers for.

Like Mr. Sethi, many of us who still live relatively comfortable lives are beginning to get seriously worried and will sympathise with the protesters who, unlike us, are willing to rough it in make-shift camps in the world’s financial centres. So maybe now is the time for all of us—bankers and street cleaners, rich and poor, protesters and wider public—to start talking; maybe it’s time for all of us to stop blaming one another and start working together to find a way through.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Deficit Reduction vs. Growth Stimulation: a false dichotomy in a globalised world.

The government says deficit reduction, the opposition says go for growth.

Doing the former, Chancellor Osborne tells us, will keep interest rates low and so, in time he hopes, help the economy to grow. But given future growth is heavily dependent on the growth of other national economies around the world, the only thing to be said for deficit reduction is that it will prevent us from being eaten alive by the markets, at least for now. But doing the latter—going straight for growth, as Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls would have us do—would give deficit reduction a lower priority and so likely incur the wrath of global bond markets, push up interest rates, and so make growth much more difficult or impossible anyway! So whichever way we go, there’s no solution in sight. I’m not an economist, but when each argument is as self-defeating as the other, one does have to wonder if our economists and politicians are really looking in the right place for solutions. A genuine solution, in other words, probably lies on an entirely different plane altogether.

Indeed, both arguments depend for their success on what happens in the wider global economy; on the health of the economies of other nations. If other nations don’t grow, there won’t be sufficient demand for our exports. If they don’t grow, then, we can’t grow—regardless whether the deficit is reduced or not. And even stringent deficit reduction won't necessarily prevent us from being eaten by the markets. For it’s important to understand that any nation’s standing with the markets is an entirely relative affair. That is, there’s no absolute state of affairs that guarantees market approval. Rather, it’s whichever nation is most vulnerable that will get eaten; whichever nation that, regardless of its absolute economic health, fails to keep ahead of its competitors that will be sucked under, dismembered, and consumed. So whether it’s keeping the markets happy or keeping GDP up, both approaches are predicated on events and forces no nation can control.

It's here, then, that we see the fallacy upon which both approaches are based. National political parties, we see, are in the business of getting us to believe that national governments can actually deliver solutions; that they still have relevance in a globalised world. But the truth is that the factors determining success lie well beyond any individual government’s control. The blunt truth, then, is that while we may like to believe our governments are in the economic cockpit, they’re just sitting in First Class along with the transnational corporations and hedge-fund managers, buffeted and shaken by global market forces no one is in control of. But the disastrous effects are felt most in Economy Class, of course; by the poor in both rich and poor nations alike. Politicians may pretend to be in control, and we may want to believe them, but the fact is that in our globalised world it's the overwhelming impersonal forces of global markets that determine what happens; forces that are running out of any democratic control or accountability.

Solutions, we must realise then, no longer lie within the gift of individual national governments, but can only be achieved through widespread international cooperation; cooperation strong and broad enough to reign the markets in. As the governor of the Bank of England, Mervy King, also acknowledged in a recent interview, the underlying problems in the global economy which caused the current sovereign debt crisis, “cannot be dealt with by any nation alone. … They won’t be tackled,” he says, “unless countries, as a group, come together to ensure that the world economy can keep growing.” One might also add, that nations won’t stop themselves from being eaten alive by the markets until they come together to agree robust global rules and taxes to ensure global markets start to operate in the common good rather than just for the benefit of the globally mobile few.

So there are solutions, but we won’t find them by listening to governments or economists. Only when we take on board the truly global nature of our problems will we realise, both that solutions can only be achieved in the realm of global international cooperation, and that we, citizens, are the ones who will have to drive our respective governments towards it.

A tall order, you might think, and rightly so. But there are some people who’ve taken up this monumental challenge. Over two general elections, in 2001 and 2005, a small group of UK citizens campaigning for global cooperation succeeded in getting 27 Members of the UK parliament and countless candidates from all the main political parties to pledge to implement the campaign’s global policy package simultaneously alongside other governments. In some UK electoral areas, more than one candidate signed the pledge, meaning the campaign gained support in parliament regardless which of those candidates won the seat. This showed the campaign was capable of transcending party-political divides and was global in scope.

But how could a very small number of citizens achieve such big results in so short a time? The answer, it seems, lies in their discovery of a new, powerful way to use their votes. They do this by writing to all parliamentary candidates in their electoral area, informing them that they’ll be voting in future national elections for ANY politician or party—within reason—that pledges to implement the campaign’s policy package simultaneously alongside other governments. Or, if they have a party preference, they encourage their preferred politician or party to sign that pledge. In that way, campaign supporters still retain the ultimate right to vote as they please, but they also make it clear to all politicians that they’ll be giving strong preference to candidates that have signed the Pledge, to the exclusion of those who haven’t. So, politicians who sign the Pledge stood to attract those votes and yet they risked nothing because the policy package is only to be implemented if and when sufficient governments around the world have signed up too. But if politicians failed to sign the Pledge they risked losing votes to their political competitors who had, and so risked losing their seats.

With many parliamentary seats and even entire elections around the world often hanging on a relatively small number of votes, it’s not difficult to see how, with this novel way of voting, only relatively few campaign supporters could make it in the vital interests of all politicians to sign up for global cooperation. And therein lies the power that citizens who join this campaign already have to ensure their governments cooperate. As increasing numbers of citizens in all democratic count learn to use their votes in this way, one can imagine how more and more governments could be driven towards global cooperation. As more signed up, others would come under pressure to follow.

Whether democratic or not, and whatever their level of development, the worsening world predicament is in any case making it in the interests of all nations to solve problems cooperatively, as Mervyn King suggests. But what this campaign uniquely seems to provide is an appropriate framework for that to occur, and a way for enlightened citizens to take the lead. Moreover, the campaign is spreading: some Members of the European, Australian and other parliaments have signed up alongside their UK colleagues. The campaign presently has supporters in over 70 countries and endorsements from some leading statesmen, economists and ecologists. So maybe global cooperation is simply a matter of time; and of how quickly world citizens realise that voting in this new way may well be the most potent way forward. The campaign’s name? The Simultaneous Policy (Simpol) http://www.simpol.org.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Riots in Financial Markets

As Londoner’s reflect on the recent rioting in their streets, they might spare a thought for the riots occurring simultaneously in the world’s financial markets. While none would condone the appalling lawlessness and destruction of life and property that erupted in cities across Britain, we should recall the lawlessness – that is, the lack of laws and social accountability – that today pervades the world’s financial markets. While rioters on the streets out-manoeuvred the police using mobile phones and social networking, today’s global financial markets out-manoeuvre governments simply by moving, or merely threatening to move, billions of dollars to some other economy offering “an environment more conducive to higher profitability” or “a higher rate of interest”; and all at the click of a mouse. This, too, is a riot because, like on the streets, it’s a dynamic that runs beyond any democratic control or accountability and, like on the streets, it causes mayhem and destruction.

These two riots are not unconnected. Whether you’re a hard-line conservative who believes we need more police on the streets and that rioters should be locked up, or a soft-hearted liberal who believes we need more resources pumped into deprived areas, the fact is that both approaches will require massive extra funding; funding which governments, because of the sovereign debt crisis that pervades financial markets, simply do not have. Local rioting, if you think about it then, is actually a global problem.

And it’s global in more ways than one. For, without a global framework of laws and regulations which ensure rich non-doms, international banks and mobile transnational corporations pay their fair share of taxes, they can always move, or merely threaten to move, elsewhere. With governments living in fear, the rich and mobile are left to run rings around them, playing one off against another, so causing governments to engage in a riotous, competitive, international down-levelling of taxes and regulations which leaves the rich richer and the poor inevitably poorer and ever less revenue to fund public services. Hence, whether it’s Britain or just about any other country, the riot of lawless financial markets ensures an upward flow of wealth to a privileged few, while leaving a deprived and swelling underclass ripe for their own brand of riot. This dynamic is no one’s fault, as such, it’s just the way the system works; the way it is left to work.

Centuries ago, the first kings and queens weren’t so dumb as to allow themselves to become the pawns of the financial markets of their day. They minted all their own money. But although most of us believe governments do this today, they don’t. Instead they borrow billions on financial markets at ruinous rates of interest. Little wonder, then, that they and we end up in debt and in a position where our governments can’t fund either decent public services or regenerate deprived areas, or put more police on the streets. The so-called “discipline” global bond markets exert over national governments and their citizens is actually a euphemism for lawless rioting of quite another kind; a global-level riot which, because it runs outside of any democratic control or accountability, should not be tolerated any more than the looting, murder and mayhem we’ve seen on Britain’s streets.

Like the cure at street level, the cure for the riot in the world’s financial markets will be greater “policing”; that is, governments around the world will need to co-operate far more closely than they ever have in the past to implement binding globally-applied laws and taxes on financial markets, so bringing them back under collective international social control and accountability.