Conferencia ‘Con todos y para el bien de todos’ - La Havana, 25-28 de enero 2016
We live in a paradoxical time. While, on the one hand, international organisations are promoting social protection in the South, on the other hand, existing welfare states are being dismantled in the North. However, there is in fact one single logic at work. What is being introduced in the North as well as in the South is a neoliberal social paradigm in which ‘social protection’ acquires a new meaning, different from what it was in the past. Hence, the North and the South are facing identical challenges and alternatives are urgently needed.
In this contribution, I want to first identify the major characteristics of neoliberal social policy. I then want to point to the difficult relationship the left has with social policies and welfare states. Third, while social policies certainly cannot be abandoned, the search for alternatives will have to take into account the needs of our times and of current generations. In the fourth section, I want to propose an alternative that uses the concept of the commons as an anti-systemic tool allowing to link up with the struggle for climate justice. Social commons, then, as I will explain, will be a transformative and emancipatory project promoting social and political agency, it will allow to defend the sustainability of life, of people, of society and of nature, while it can contribute to change the economic system.
In adopting the Sustainable Development Goals this past September, UN member states realized two extraordinary achievements. First, the document itself—with 17 goals, 169 targets and 200+ (yet to be finalized) indicators—is a testament to global ambition, a 15-year roadmap toward what is hoped will be unprecedented progress in poverty alleviation. Second, the global community agreed to “substantially reduce illicit financial flows,” which reached $1.1 trillion two years earlier according to a recent GFI study. It is nothing short of remarkable that 193 nations agreed to address an issue that five years earlier was just becoming known within the international community. Today, the need to reduce IFFs (as they are known) is part of development policy orthodoxy. What many still do not recognize however, is that the SDGs and IFFs are inextricably linked—we cannot hope to achieve the former without addressing the latter.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved a new reform of its exceptional access framework. The key step made on 29 January 2016 is to remove the systemic exemption clause. This is the clause that has made IMF participation in the mega bailout of private creditors in Greece possible. It created the situation that Greece is now indebted mainly to official creditors, while banks and other creditors have recovered most of their money. However, the reform is no guarantee that publicly funded bailouts will no longer happen. It just transfers the task from the IMF to other official creditors, in Europe to the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).
One of a series of Guardian Members’ events, hosted by Guardian Sustainable Business in partnership with Nordea Responsible Investments, the focus of this discussion, facilitated by a Guardian environmental journalist Karl Mathieson, was nominally on the “plethora of pledges from major businesses… in the lead-up to the UN talks”.
In fact, the panel discussion, whilst demonstrating a healthy degree of scepticism, centred mostly on how business can be encouraged to lead in opposing climate change. It was salutary, though, that the longest round of applause came early on from the somewhat pessimistic voice of Professor Kevin Anderson, of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research, who berated all and sundry for twenty-five years of knowing what needed to be done and not doing it, making it clear that all of us have a responsibility for letting that happen. He also expressed his preference for obligations, rather than targets or goals that can be missed without repercussions.
The hotel door was the dividing line: inside, a first world fantasy of starched uniforms, low voices, and crisp cool air; outside, color and heat, vendors selling knickers, groundnuts and sunglasses along cracked sidewalks. I sat atop my father’s shoulders, holding his ears, taking in this snapshot of Lusaka in the late 1980s. Zambia was a country in the throes of hunger riots caused by massive reduction in the public budget, a chain reaction that engulfed most of Africa during a period known as the “lost decade.” One country toppled after another like a game of dominos playing to the rules of the Washington Consensus. My father was on the board of a Gulf development bank, assisting–or so they were under the impression–efforts to alleviate poverty in various African countries. The doors between the inside and outside of the Lusaka hotel where we stayed were as much symbolic as they were tangible; made of money, race and social class. But the inside and outside had something in common: Coca-Cola, whether dragged by vendors on small carts or poured with a flourish in swanky restaurants.
How privilege and power in the economy drive extreme inequality and how this can be stopped : read the new report
“Just 50 companies including Samsung, McDonalds and Nestle have a combined revenue of $3.4 trillion and the power to reduce inequality. Instead they have built a business model on a massive hidden workforce of 116 million people,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General SecretaryITUC:
The ITUC report, Scandal: Inside the global supply chains of 50 top companies released on the eve of the World Economic Forum in Davos exposes an unsustainable business model, with a global footprint that covers almost every country in the world and profiles 25 companies with headquarters in Asia, Europe, and the United States.
It’s time to rethink what “development” and “progress” mean. It’s becoming increasingly clear that development cannot be a one-size-fits all process. Too often, a blueprint is forced upon people even if it is not one that they themselves want. Development must be about more than economic growth, encompassing a full spectrum of human rights. Above all, it must be about freedom and choice.
The extent to which the world has become Orwellian is reflected in the widespread use of the term `human capital`, as if it were a humanizing concept, whereas it´s really a contradiction in terms. What is human about capital in the 21st century? Any attentive reader of Picketty, Sadler or Stiglitz gets my point.
Post-apartheid South Africa provides ample evidence of the debilitating trajectory of the microcredit movement. The expansion of microcredit and the informal microenterprise sector was one of the policy responses of the first democratically elected government.
This was how it was going to deal with the legacy of poverty and high unemployment in the black community. But evidence shows that microcredit didn’t create large numbers of sustainable jobs. Nor did it raise incomes in the poorest communities. Instead, the deployment of microcredit precipitated a major disaster.
South Africa saw a dramatic fall in average incomes in the informal economy - around 11% per year in real terms - from 1997-2003. This was brought about by two things:
a modest rise in the number of micro enterprises in townships and rural areas driven by greater availability of micro credit, along with
little additional demand due to the austerity policies of the government.
The good news is that international aid reached a record high, in real terms, in 2014. The bad news is that aid to the very poorest countries fell sharply in 2014, both in cash terms and as a share of total aid, reversing the welcome trend over the last decade of allocating more aid to the poorest countries. The proportion of global aid going to least developed countries has fallen from about 33 percent in 2013 to 30 percent in 2014.