Saturday, January 05, 2013

Clouds on the Neoliberal Horizon

Havana. December 20, 2012

Clouds on the neoliberal horizon

Frei Betto

I spent a pleasant weekend in the company of Buenaventura de Sousa Santos and other friends. In a fruitful reflection, the Portuguese social scientist noted the heavy clouds over the current global panorama.

There is a flagrant deconstruction of democracy. European history has been stained with blood since the 16th century, due to the incidence of wars. In the last 50 years, however, it believed it had attained a stable peace due to democracy founded on economic and social rights.

It is a fact that these attainments functioned as an antidote to the threat represented by socialism, which extended over half of the east of the European continent. With the fall of the Berlin Wall capitalism destroyed the fantasy and showed its diabolical face (etymologically, disintegrating).

Social rights were eliminated and countries previously administered by democratically elected politicians came to be governed as they are now by the IMF-ECB (European Central Bank)-U.S. risk agencies.

No director of these institutions was democratically elected. And what credibility can the risk agencies have if, just before the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008, those agencies gave it the highest Triple-A rating?

Today, the only remaining uncontrolled space is the street, but even there a growing criminalization of popular demonstrations is taking place. Every day, television channels broadcast footage of protesting crowds being violently repressed by the police.

People on both sides of the Atlantic are protesting. But mobilizations have a limited effect. Indignation does not end in proposals. Cries are not transformed into projects. Wall Street is occupied but not brought down, as happened with the Berlin Wall. "Other possible worlds" are not to be seen on the horizon.

The well-being they are trying to assure today is that of the financial markets. The state ceased being solely financed by taxes paid by enterprises and citizens. Before, the richest people paid the most taxes (in the Nordic countries they still cover 75% of earnings) in a way that meant wealth was distributed via services offered by the state to the population.

From the moment that the elite began to demand a minimal state and the payment of less and less taxes (as we saw proposed in the U.S. presidential election campaign), states began to experience increased debt and turned to the banks which, fed up with liquidity, lent themselves to reduced interest rates. In this way, many countries became hostages of the banks.

A typical case is Germany’s relationship to its counterparts in the European Union. German banks lent money to Spain, so that the latter country could acquire German products. Now Germany is the creditor of half of Europe.

This is propagating a new wave of anti-German sentiment on the European continent. In the 20th century, Germany attempted to dominate Europe on two occasions, an attempt that ended in two great wars, in which it was defeated. Now, however, it is threatening to attain domination by means of economic warfare. And once again, the thorn in its side is the France of Hollande which, contrary to all expectations, this year escaped the recessive tide devastating Europe.

The countries of Latin America and Africa are resisting the crisis through the exploitation and export of natural resources-mining, agricultural products, fossil fuels etc. However, the prices of these are set by the United States, China and Europe. These countries are paying steadily less for larger volumes of merchandise. The futures market has already fixed the market price of harvests for the year 2016! In recent years, this speculation increased the total of people suffering chronic hunger from 800 million to 1.2 billion!

The market price of nature’s two principal resources: land and water, is increasing in a threatening manner. Transnationals are investing enormous sums in buying land and potable water springs in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Our countries are being de-nationalized by the divestment of our territories. It is unbridled stockpiling. The curious part is that these lands are acquired along with their inhabitants, as if they were part of the landscape.

There is progressive replacement of work. Human activity is giving way to robotization. In sectors where there is no robotization, outsourcing and slave labor abound, like the Bolivian and Asian workers used in Brazilian assembly plants.

There is no longer any distinction between paid and unpaid work. Who pays for the work that you do through electronic equipment, having left the physical place in which you are employed?

Before there were struggles for overtime pay and the time spent traveling between the workplace and home. Now, via computers, work is invading the home and stifling family space. The relationship of persons with machines tends to eliminate contact with co-workers. The real is ceding place to the virtual. The boundary between home and work is being suppressed.

Knowledge has become merchandise. What is important in universities is research capable of producing patents of commercial value. Knowledge is valued in terms of its market value, as is the case in the fields of biology and genetic engineering. The professor enclosed in his laboratory is not concerned about the advance of science but about his bank account, which must be swelled by the enterprise paying for his research.

This mercantilism of knowledge is reducing university departments considered non-productive, like those of human sciences. In this way the end of critical thought is being decreed. And coming to an end is inventive scientific knowledge, that born of a curiosity to unveil the mysteries of nature, and not lucrative manipulation, as is the case of transgenics.

Hope lies in the streets, in the organized mobilization of all those who, with their eyes in the clouds, are capable of avoiding the storm in order to transform hope into viable projects. (Taken from Adital)

No comments: