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Archive for 'Empire'

People’s Tribunal to Assess Fracking and Human Rights

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
1st September 2015


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When the state no longer enforces its own legal standards on human rights or ecological protection, often in deference to corporate partners, the logical response is to establish a commons-based alternative – a people’s tribunal. That’s what is now planned in the case of fracking and its implications for human rights.

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) has scheduled a session in March 2017 to “consider whether sufficient evidence exists to indict certain named States on charges of failing adequately to respect the human rights of citizens as a result of permitting, and failing to adopt a precautionary approach to, hydraulic fracturing and other techniques of unconventional oil and gas extraction within their jurisdictions.”  The Tribunal is an internationally recognized public opinion tribunal functioning independently of state authorities and operating out of Rome. The Tribunal will hold a week of hearings in both the US and UK.

Governments take great pains to prevent their most sacrosanct policies from being questioned in courts of law.  Consider how the US Government short-circuited any significant court rulings about the NSA’s extensive secret surveillance of citizens, in violation of the Fifth Amendment.  It took Edward Snowden’s revelations to force judicial review.

We’ve been here before, of course. The lawless Vietnam War was a prime example. As a corrective to the state crimes committed in that instance, philosopher Bertrand Russell and Jean Paul Sartre organized the Vietnam War Crimes Tribunal in 1967 to hear evidence about violations of the citizen’s basic human rights. In that tradition, today’s PPT will assess the human rights implications of fracking.

The PPT obviously does not have the coercive powers of the state, nor any state-based legal authority. The world’s governments are free to ignore the judgments of the PPT, as they very well might. But as Russell said in opening up the War Crimes Tribunal, “We are not judges. We are witnesses.  Our task is to make mankind bear witness to these terrible crimes and to unite humanity on the side of justice in Vietnam.”  So the PPT convenes itself, independently of states, politics and vested interests, and invokes the broad, recognized standards of international human rights law.  In this case, it will gather evidence about the actual or likely human rights consequences of fracking in various countries.

The PPT explains its process in this way:

PPT Sessions are virtually identical to courtroom proceedings in which a complainant or class of complainants brings an action against a government or private party and asks that they be judged against legal standards. The Peoples’ Tribunal, comprised of eleven members, including five to seven jurists of high standing in international human rights law as well as expert in the field, along with internationally well known representative of civil society, hears testimony from victims, witnesses and experts in various fields, hears arguments from prosecuting and defense attorneys, deliberates and in time issues judgments and recommends remedies.

“The importance and strength of decisions by the PPT rest on the moral weight of the causes and arguments to which they give credibility, as well as the integrity and capability to judge of the Tribunal members.” The goal of PPT Sessions is “recovering the authority of the Peoples when the States and the International Bodies failed to protect the right of the Peoples.”

Complaints heard by the Tribunal are submitted by the victims or by groups or individuals representing them. The PPT calls together all parties concerned and offers defendants the opportunity to make their own arguments heard. The panel of judges is selected for each case by combining members who belong to a permanent list and individuals who are recognized for their competence and integrity.

Since 1979, the PPT has held about forty sessions on various topics, including the behavior of agrochemical companies and the Canadian mining industry in Latin America.  The outcomes of the PPT sessions allow for witnesses to be publicly heard and for a public record to be established.  The proceedings also have an obvious public education dimension.

This latest session of the PPT is being jointly organized by the Global Network for the Study of Human Rights and the Environment (UK), the Environment and Human Rights Advisory (USA) and the Human Rights Consortium (UK).  The Tribunal will consider a number of specific issues, such as the impacts of fracking on physical and mental health, on hydrology and seismic activity, and on social life.  It will also look at the effects of the entire fuels infrastructure on people’s human rights, and the climate impacts of fracking.

Like any commons, the PPT does not go of itself; it relies upon people’s active participation and help.  People are invited to submit witness statements, donate to help fund the proceedings (travel, lodging, office services); conduct mini-tribunals in their countries; and to endorse the Tribunal.

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Posted in Activism, Commons, Empire, Ethical Economy, Food and Agriculture, Open Government, Original Content, P2P Ecology, P2P Movements, P2P Public Policy | No Comments »

Approaching a Global Deflationary Crisis?

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
31st August 2015


By Brian Davey

Anyone with any sense for global economic trends ought to be worried. The signs are everywhere of a serious deflationary crisis. It is obvious that Chinese growth is falling. The prices for energy and the raw materials that feed the growth economy keep falling. The demand for Chinese exports is down too. Stock Markets in Asia are falling, despite attempts to prop them up. Countries are being tempted to export their problems abroad – for example by competitive devaluation. In Europe its obvious that a “solution” is being cobbled together for the Euro and Greek crisis even though no one at all believes that it will work. At the same time the policy response of “quantitative easing” which has kept interest rates down very low has reached the end of the road. With interest rates at or near to zero the scope for addressing the crisis through monetary policy (low interest rates) is exhausted. Many pundits believe that low interest rates have not encouraged productive investment but speculative bubbles – the creation of capacity in fields that in the long run will not pay, or fuelled a casino style speculation, a giant bubble of bets that could soon collapse, bringing the global economy down with it.

So what is going on? How do we explain the situation? In this paper I am going to argue that there are a number of ways of understanding and addressing what is developing into a global crisis. The desire to make the crisis understandable can convert into a temptation to make it seem simpler than it is. At its most banal we have the explanations that neo liberal German politicians are prone to – like the idea that the crisis is because of a lack of confidence and trust and that this can be resolved (in Europe) purely and simply by countries following the Eurozone rules. If the confidence and trust are restored then all will be well and the market will restore prosperity.

A more adequate story is needed than this – and it is one that needs to focus on global trends not just in Europe but in the USA, the so-called developing world and above all in China. This story has a number of different plots and sub plots, not one. We need to understand how the sub plots interweave. The story is one of debt, competitive imbalances and an energy crisis and all need to be told. To make the story even more complicated we need to keep in mind too that an even more important story, that of climate change, has to be held in our minds too. If and when humanity has any chance of resolving these crises it will have to resolve that one at the same time. Will this be possible? I don’t know – what I do know is that there is a theory, by archeologist Joseph Tainter, that humanities’ problem solving capacities are limited by complexity. A friend is currently trying to get me to use twitter. However I am daunted by reducing complex situations to short simple messages. Understanding the global economy is like entering a labyrinth. As I get older I notice that some people become famous because of the clarity in the way that they write. What may not be noticed is that the apparent clarity in a political economic message is often the result of simplification. The popularity of neo-liberal economcs is like that.
So lets look at the ways of describing the crisis. In summary this can be described as the interrelationship between 4 processes.

(1) Structural policy stupidity – policy governance cannot cope with the complexity of the crisis. Politicians cannot cope with communicating complex messages to their peoples nor find the mechanisms to cope with the complexity of the issues.

(2) Problems are also caused by uneven development between countries and sectors which cannot be sustained without methods for recycling purchasing power from the more competitive countries to the less competitive ones. These imbalances become most problematic when capital export from surplus to deficit countries slows which happens when growth slows in the deficit countries.

(3) The crisis is both cause and effect of a rising amount of debt – personal, corporate, state and financial sector – which has acted as a drag on growth. As growth falls all kinds of debt become more difficult to service so the monetary authorities have tried to push interest rates down. Nevertheless the finance sector has tended to become both more speculative and more predatory as there is a “hunt for yield”. Interest rates rise when risk premiums are imposed on distressed borrowers (including states), money making occurs through financing arrangements based on “passing the risk parcel” exploiting the naivety of lenders about complex financial arrangements and by the promotion of asset price bubbles. The bigger players are rescued during crises but the smaller players (including tax payers and those who lose their state benefits) are made to pay.

(4) The crisis is the result of reaching “the limits of economic growth” and, in particular, because of resource depletion in the energy sector. This is less obvious because of currently low and falling energy and commodity prices but we need to study the experience of the energy sector over last few years, not just the immediate situation. The immediate fall in commodity and energy prices is a result of the onset of the crisis – a crisis which very high and rising energy prices up until recently helped bring on. The high energy prices have been compatible with a high level of debt only because interest rates have been so low and because there has been a “hunt for yield”, something that would pay more than leaving money on deposit paying very little.

Depletion of resources in the energy and mining sector means that it is taking more energy than before to extract energy (and other mined resources) and this has pushed up the costs of extraction of energy and other minerals. High energy costs act as a drag on the growth of the economy as a whole – because energy costs, like interest rates, enter into the production of virtually everything else. This is particularly acute problem in the energy sector itself as the energy sector is such a huge user of energy. The energy companies need a high price for energy otherwise they cannot actually make a profit. However, if energy prices are high for too long the economy wilts.

The development of unconventional oil and gas has been possible because quantitative easing has made a large amount of money to Wall Street at a low interest rate and they have been “searching for yield” – looking for somewhere to put this money to earn a high rate of interest. This funded the voracious capital expenditure needs of the industry with its high drilling intensity. However it pre-supposed that prices would remain high enough for long enough to cover costs and this has not happened. The problem is set to get a lot worse as depletion speeds up.

So, to repeat, the best way to tell the story of this crisis needs to relate ALL of these elements together – policy failure, debt, imbalances, energy. Each element is causatively connected to the others but sometimes in a time lagged way which obscures the relationships. Together these elements are bringing about what some observers are calling “secular stagnation”.

“Stanley Fischer, vice-chairman of the US Federal Reserve, has laid out the predicament that forecasters face. Half way through each year, economists have had to explain why their global growth forecasts were too optimistic, he said, and this has happened “year after year”. While growth rates have been falling across the world, it’s not yet clear whether this is all a hangover from the 2008 crash or something more fundamental.”[1]

In my view it is “something more fundamental”. It is related to reaching the limits to growth – and this has to do with fossil fuel and materials depletion and the end of cheap energy. However, this does not exclude a partial truth in the other narratives that economists are using to explain low growth.

In the reminder of this article I run through each of these themes in more depth.

Read the Full Article – http://www.credoeconomics.com/?p=164

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Posted in Economy and Business, Empire, Politics | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Commons for Peace

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
27th August 2015


* Article: Commons for Peace. James Quilligan. Kosmos Journal, FALL | WINTER 2011

Summary:

“Although the term ‘human security’ has various meanings, two have predominated. Following the Cold War, several major studies—including the UN Secretary-General’s 1992 report, Agenda for Peace; the 1994 World Development Report of the UN Development Program; and the 2003 report, Human Security Now, by the UN Commission on Human Security—proposed peaceful alternatives to military security. This shifted the traditional meaning of security from national defense to social development and the rights of civilians. Meanwhile, a second branch of human security was examining reasons why the international community should intervene in a sovereign state, which jeopardizes the safety and security of its people through political violence or military aggression. The principle of responsibility to protect (R2P) was put forward by the 2001 report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty to bring peace and legal order to citizens whose lives are endangered by their own government.”

Excerpts:

1. How Commons’ Rights Differ from Human Rights

James Quilligan:

” Human security may call for community-based development, social well-being and popular selfdetermination, but the rights of local citizens preempt sovereign authority only during humanitarian crises—not when there is a military security threat. Since many analysts in the human security field view human rights and development as a legitimate part of the people’s social contract with their government, they challenge the issue of state sovereignty mainly in terms of the legitimacy of foreign intervention.

The commons field takes a different approach. It questions the effectiveness of the traditional model of human rights and development, stressing the importance of socially created value and the management of resources by local communities beyond the purview of government jurisdiction or market incentives. Rather than subjects of the state, civilians must be treated as people whose livelihoods are destroyed when they are separated from the social and natural wealth upon which they depend. Commoners want the state to provide greater security for the rights of citizens to produce and manage these resources and less support for their privatization. The commons thus provide a strong critique of the inequality and unrest that result from market forces. Destabilization of a commons may be caused by many factors, not the least of which are corporate-driven efforts to enclose and extract a valuable resource. This can result in the financing of social instability.

It’s true that poverty, disease and lack of capacity or development by local people may be an immediate cause—or result —of failed commons. Yet the underlying reasons for failed commons, resource conflict and security crises often involve the meddling of the domestic state, a foreign state, or domestic or foreign businesses in the management and production of a community’s natural and social capital. The field of human security does not address this dimension of resource security.

At the same time, human security, with its realism concerning the alternatives to armed security, can be helpful to commons practitioners who view the commons in a political vacuum, isolated from state and regional influences. Commoners believe that communities can generate genuine livelihood and well-being simply by negotiating, monitoring and policing their own rules for resource management. But this minimizes the fact that state or regional conflict over the ownership and production of local stocks and supplies can pose major security problems—of infrastructure, governance, lawlessness, hostility and fear. In many cases, sudden and catastrophic changes in political regimes lead to radical and violent changes, disrupting the peace, security and wellbeing of a community’s ability to manage its commons.

While human security supports the protection of civilian interests through human rights, material relief and the mobilization of peacebuilding and peacekeeping efforts, it places more emphasis on the personal safety of citizens than on specific means for the self-management of their commons. Commoners argue that wellintentioned proposals for human rights, social development and peacebuilding are often imposed on pre-existing commons and neglect the survival and subsistence needs of their resource communities, resulting in poverty, disrupted livelihoods and resource refugees. The uprooting and displacement of a population, crime, weapons and extremist ideologies are also cross-border problems, which is why a regional approach to human security may be necessary.

Commons advocates often point out that sovereign jurisdictions and their social institutions rarely match the territorial expanse of ecosystems, social and cultural groupings and religious diasporas. Yet most commoners have little experience in the management of resource crises which transcend state boundaries.”

2. Socially Chartered Agreements for Resource Security

“Both fields generally agree that sustainable security in particular areas should be established by the people who live there, since they are the ones most knowledgeable about potential solutions to their problems. Commoners assert that resource security cannot be guaranteed by people they don’t know or trust, and many human security proponents agree that outside forces are not always the best source of citizen safety. Some advocates of human security support a participatory framework for peacekeeping, civilian protection and self-determination in disputed areas and conflict zones, one aspect of which is the local governance of community holdings and provisions which may be endangered. Many resource communities have also developed social charters under peaceful conditions—declarations of their rights to produce and manage a commons—which involve a wide range of people who depend on these assets for their physical and material welfare. Socially chartered agreements allow citizens and local public officials to design effective policies and institutions specifically tailored to their circumstances. Social charters can also be created for regional commons by addressing the security of resources vital to all stakeholders in a transborder environment, such as water, food and energy. In strife-torn areas, social charters may include plans for peacekeepers to manage conflict and protect civilians. These peacekeeping measures could be financed through leases or taxes on the commons.” (http://www.kosmosjournal.org/wp-content/article-pdfs/commons-for-peace.pdf)

3. Commons for Peace as a Anti-Enclosure Movement

“The challenge now for those who recognize the importance of Commons for Peace (C4P) is to define security as non-closure: the rolling back of new or existing property enclosures which deny the rights of people to their means of livelihood and welfare.

Government and market enclosures remove people from their sources of living wealth and sustenance, leading to failed commons and the potential for resource conflict and armed intervention. Proponents of human security, unlike commons activists, have generally not opposed state enclosure laws or privatization. This is probably the sharpest difference now between human security and the commons. Yet there is much common ground: both fields agree on devolving power to local communities and the non-interference of outside forces. They converge on the creation of locally chartered agreements for the protection of civilians and their common goods, encouraging communities to flourish through legitimate local management. They also agree that peace itself is a social and cultural good, which must be locally managed and shared.

As a democratic movement, Commons for Peace would defend the social protests that emerge from the destruction of a commons—or from any form of external control that does not promote life, human dignity, security and peace. Socially chartered agreements for the local production and management of commons are won through hard-fought but peaceful negotiations to protect them from enclosure, overuse and deterioration. This means safeguarding a community’s sources of survival, sustenance and well-being by resisting abusive interference, whether domestic or foreign. C4P would speak for a third sector of popular will—the powerful force of people who are infuriated by losing not only the benefits of access, use, production and governance of their commons, but also the safety and security which only this natural and social capital can offer. The indignation of C4P must be focused through the determination of communities to reclaim their commons non-violently and redefine the boundaries of resource domains threatened by further enclosure and exploitation.

Neither human security nor the commons are concepts currently recognized in mainstream society. All the more reason that these fields should join forces. C4P would demonstrate that human rights, poverty, disease, food, health, education, political participation and the peaceful management of resource conflict can no longer be separated from the commons. Indeed, nothing is more vital to the peace and security of individuals and communities across the world today than the long-term preservation of their commons.”

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Posted in Commons, Empire, P2P Public Policy, P2P Warfare, Politics | No Comments »

On the emergence of a global working class

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
14th August 2015


Excerpted from Nick Dyer-Whiteford:

“The idea of a ‘global working class’, which a decade ago would have been dismissed as leftist phantasm, is attracting increasing attention (Baranov, 2003; Linden, 2008; Mason, 2007; Struna, 2009; Breathnach, 2010).

‘Global worker’ designates collective labour that is : i) internationalized by the world-scale expansion of capital, a process in whose long historical arc a turning point is the doubling of the available global labour-power occasioned by the 1989 fall of the socialist states; ii) variegated by an increasingly complex division of labour, conventionally termed ‘the growth of the service sector’ (Soubbotina, 2000), describable in Marxist terms as an expansion of employment in the spheres of circulation and social reproduction; iii) universalized by the inclusion of women–aka ‘the feminization of work’ (Morini, 2007), the growth of production centers outside the global north-west, and flows of migrant labour, all shattering the notion of a white, male working class; iv) connected, albeit to very differing degrees and with many stratifications, to digitalized communications systems – crude but telling indicators are the global count of two billion Internet users and five billion cell phones; v) precarious in its conditions, with a chronic insecurity underpinned by capital’s access to a transcontinental reserve army of the unemployed, a surplus population whose task it is to survive in a state of readiness for work; iv) planet-changing in the effects of its labours, effects that, while historically cumulative, are only now becoming visible in global bio-crisis.

The global worker is not just an aggregate, the sum of all labours directly and indirectly mobilized by capital, a reckoning that could have been made at any time in the last three hundred years. What gives this abstraction a contemporary concreteness is its organizational form: the ‘value chain’. Subject since the 1980s of a burgeoning managerial study, value chains (Porter, 1985) – also variously termed ‘supply chains’ (Tsing, 2009), ‘commodity chains’ (Gereffi & Korzeniewicz, 1994) and ‘global production networks’ (Henderson et al., 2002; Levy, 2008) – are institutionally and technologically linked sequences of labour-processes that ‘add value’ at every stage, from research and development to assembly and marketing, dispersed to locations around the planet calculated, in terms of production costs, resource availability, and proximity to markets, to maximize profits. Some sensitive analysts prefer to avoid the ‘linear connotations’ of ‘chains’ (Levy, 2008: 2), highlighting the ‘intricate links – horizontal, diagonal as well as vertical – forming multi-dimensional, multi-layered lattices of economic activity’ (Henderson et al., 2002: 442). The construction of value chains require organizational power and geographic reach of the sort generally only commanded by multinational corporations, often entails foreign direct investment (FDI), international trade agreements, and ‘complex forms of governance at multiple levels’ (Levy, 2008: 2). The value chain form is enabled by neoliberal globalization policies, and driven by the financialization of corporate practices in which ‘need to meet capital market expectations and appease mutual fund managers’ necessitates cutting costs and increasing efficiencies at every level (Levy, 2008: 35, citing Williams, 2000).

Digital technologies are a sine qua non for value chains, which depend on a telecommunications infrastructure to reduce the transaction costs of ‘coordinating dispersed operations’ and on software systems for ‘modular production processes that rely on standards and routinized interfaces with suppliers and customers’ (Levy, 2008:8). Equally important is the use of electronic communication to integrate transportation with systems of retail or business-to-business distribution: the icon of this ‘the elevated significance of logistics’ is the digitized Universal Product Code (Sealey, 2010: 28).

Conversely, however, value chains are necessary for digital technologies, which are produced in world-wide division of labour that links very different kinds of labour. The computer industry can be schematically divided into two main sectors: software and hardware. In the software sector, key areas such as business applications and digital games display a characteristic pattern where key creative design and engineering functions are located in high-end studio or campus ambiences in North America, Western European and Japan. Routinized programming is increasingly outsourced and off-shored to subcontracted enterprises, whether in Bangalore, Ho-Chi Minh City, Dublin or Budapest, where wages and working conditions are an order of magnitude lower. This value-adding logic also extends to the incorporation of ‘free labour’ (Terranova, 2000) through selective use of open-source programming initiatives or user-generated content, such as game mods. If one ignores the role of janitorial, cleaning and service staff, characteristically migrant, often female, who maintain the environments of programmers and designers working through the ‘death marches’ and ‘crunch times’ routinely demanded by the industry, much of this software work falls within the scope of ‘immaterial labour’ (Hardt & Negri, 2000: 290-294), even if with a very high degree of stratification.

Where the full scope of the labours necessary to a Microsoft, an Apple or Sony becomes apparent is, however, on the hardware side (Smith et al, 2006). Here again, the key design and prototyping for an Xbox, an iPad or iPod or a Playstation3 is likely to be done by high level engineers and architects. The semiconductors required, which a decade or so ago might have come from toxic chip fabrication lines, will today more likely be produced in highly automated Taiwanese plants. When one comes to the actually assembly of the devices, however, this will performed by in Central America, Eastern Europe, or – most probably – in Southern China, with its manufactories of silent, serried work, obligatory unofficial overtime and incessant industrial accidents: reports suggest as many as 40,000 fingers a year are lost in Pearl River factory lines, giving ‘digital labour’ a grim signification (Barboza, 2008). Beyond this, the role of manual labour in the making of computing devices plunges off into yet more abyssal directions–on one hand into the mining of columbine tantalite and other minerals indispensable to consumer electronics amidst the carnage of the Eastern Congo, and on the other to the toxic e-waste disposal sites of Asia and Africa where computers and game consoles go to die, in their expiration poisoning the workers who excavate their remains (Dyer-Witheford & de Peuter, 2009). The point here is not just that manual work continues to exist in a so-called digital age as some residual hold over; it is rather that the profitability of digital products depends on the incessant re-positing of cheap, degraded labour, so that new technoscience and human exhaustion accompany one another hand in hand.

Anna Tsing’s (2009: 48) apparently portentous claim that analysis of supply chain capitalism is ‘necessary to understand the dilemmas of the human condition today’ is thus correct. Global capital unites humanity, then divides it again. Class is defined by who appropriates surplus value from whom. In the planet factory, command flows down the value chain, but value flows upward in an inverse cascade, from the one billion absolutely immiserated people living at the edge of malnutrition (the involuntary regulators of the price of labour power for the system as a whole), stopping at a series of intermediate plateau or shallow pools–the old and new industrial proletariat class-bathes ‘immaterial labour’, and passes though a range of intermediate and contradictory positions (managers and technocrats) before ascending to condense in the bodies of a global ruling class. The process by which the rich live longer, in better health, with more beautiful bodies, sensory extensions and mobility now, in the age nanobots and immortality enzymes, promises to become a veritable plutocratic mutation.”

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Posted in Empire, P2P Labor | 1 Comment »

Small Loans, Big Problems: The False Promise of Microfinance

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
4th August 2015


mirco

We would argue that there are other winners in what Hickel calls “the microfinance game”. Corporate interests of all stripes have a vested interest in seeing millions of people drawn more deeply into the debt-based globalized money economy.

Reposted from Local Futures talks about the false promise of Micro-finance.


Ever since Bill Clinton and the World Bank enthusiastically embraced the microfinance concept in the 1990s, we at Local Futures have been skeptical of its benefits, seeing it as part of a whole package of “market solutions” to our social and environmental crises that, in the long run, make things much worse. We have pointed out that these loans often target rural populations who were not previously in debt: they represent the long arm of capitalism reaching into remote rural areas, encouraging a shift away from dependence on the land and the local community, towards competition in a resource-depleting global economy.

It has not been easy to oppose micro-credit: many well-intentioned grassroots activists have bought into the idea that giving ‘Third World’ women a loan would eradicate poverty and reduce population. This thinking was promoted with missionary zeal, and spread rapidly across the world. In trying to counter it, we have often felt like heretics. (One of the most difficult moments was when I was asked to debate Muhammad Yunus, the founder of the Grameen Bank, at the height of his popularity, on BBC radio.)

For this reason we’re very happy to see this article by Jason Hickel, a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics, in the UK Guardian: The microfinance delusion: who really wins? As Hickel says, “microfinance usually makes poverty worse”, because the vast majority of microfinance loans are used to fund the purchase of consumer goods that the borrowers simply can’t afford: “they end up taking out new loans to repay the old ones, wrapping themselves in layers of debt.” Even when used to finance a small business, the most likely outcome is that the new businesses fail, which leads to “vicious cycles of over-indebtedness that drive borrowers even further into poverty.” The only winners are the lenders, many of whom charge exorbitant interest rates. Hickel concludes that “microfinance has become a socially acceptable mechanism for extracting wealth and resources from poor people.”

We would argue that there are other winners in what Hickel calls “the microfinance game”. Corporate interests of all stripes have a vested interest in seeing millions of people drawn more deeply into the debt-based globalized money economy. Interestingly, at the bottom of the webpage where Hickel’s article appears there are links to articles sponsored by the credit card giant Visa, all of them urging more “financial inclusion” in the global South – in other words, bringing more people into the economic system that corporate interests like Visa dominate. “Helping the world’s one billion unbanked women” turns out to be about how “more than 200 million women lack access to a mobile phone, meaning they’re excluded from digital banking opportunities.” Another article argues that one of the greatest challenges facing policymakers involves “providing some 2.5 billion people with access to formal financial services.”

This is propaganda, pure and simple: it is part of a drumbeat coming from think-tanks and corporate-friendly pundits that have been very effective in convincing people – including well-meaning philanthropists and activists – that the solution to global poverty requires pulling ever more people into the global economic system. That system is failing the majority even in the “wealthy” countries, while spurring rampant consumerism and unsustainable resource use worldwide.

The solutions to our many crises – including poverty – will not come from a global marketplace rigged by de-regulatory trade treaties to favor the biggest multinational corporations. They depend on preventing further deregulation of global corporations, while shifting towards more localized economies in which people can have real control over their own lives.

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Cognitive Capitalism, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Empire | No Comments »

Video of the day: Dmytri Kleiner on Germany’s treason scandal

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Stacco Troncoso
3rd August 2015


Activist and software developer Dmytri Kleiner gives his perspective on Germany’s treason scandal to RT International.

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Posted in Activism, Anti-P2P, Collective Intelligence, Culture & Ideas, Empire, Featured Video, Videos | No Comments »

Why the killing of Greece is really the killing of Europe

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
17th July 2015


Economic individualism, the degenerate son of liberalism, now turns into nationalist egoism. The political leaders of this Europe have let us down because they are denying us our future: the cynical and indifferent face of the rich appears, as it turns away while Greece is abandoned just as the boatloads of desperate refugees are left to sink in the Mediterranean. These leaders look to us like those men of Weimar Germany in bowler hats and tailcoats portrayed by George Grosz’s satirical pen. The enemies of the European project have it easy against this caricatural, but partially lifelike, representation of the real European Union. And we Europhiles and federalists remain speechless because the national leaders and communitarian institutions do not lend us any support.

Excerpted from Piero Ignazi:

With hair-splitting obtuseness, the new EU engine with German drive has dictated that Greece must stick to agreements that entire legions of economists, practitioners and experts at international institutions, beginning with official studies by the IMF itself, consider detrimental to the recovery of a country’s economy and to its accounting liquidity.

Though this be madness, yet there is method in it, and it reminds us of the cupio dissolvi, or self-destructive impulse, of so many tragedies.

Marching toward destruction because it has been so decreed, as many tragic events in history remind us, is typical of a detrimental political culture that has ‘imposed infinite sorrows’ on the Europeans.

Mutatis mutandis, the logic applied to Greece in recent years reproduces the same self-destructive compulsion of the past. The fetish for rigour joined with the pleasure of punishment, as Foucault teaches us, overcomes all rationality.

It is no surprise if feelings of detachment, distrust and even disgust have increased exponentially in recent years in the face of this scowling and ‘wicked’ Europe.

Of course, while the economic benefits of a country’s membership of the Eurozone were widely distributed in a win-win situation, dissent was confined to the margins of the Kerneuropa, or ‘core’ Europe, among the perplexed Danes and the proud British.

And the generous impulse to open the Union up to the Eastern countries in order to guarantee peace, security and the wellbeing of the brothers who were lost for half a century added new lustre to European ideality.

The founders’ dream of building Europe to avoid the resurgence of nationalisms and war, went forward by sharing strategic economic resources with the aim of promoting mutual trust, found new lifeblood ten years ago. The warm welcome to the liberated people beyond the Wall breathed new life into the European project.

All of this has been squandered within a few years. The mismanagement of the crisis in Greece, the violent reawakening of national egoisms proclaimed by mediocre politicians and the persistent democratic deficit, notwithstanding a few new prerogatives conceded to the Strasburg parliament, advanced the Eurosceptic position.

Even in Poland, a country that has benefitted more and better than any other from entering the European Union, we now find a president who is a fierce enemy of Europe (balancing out Donald Tusk, the useless president of the EU: useless both on account of his inexperience, and because of the obscure functions of that role).

What is the point of proposing new measures for a stricter fiscal-economic integration (such as those outlined in the all in all commendable report of the ‘Five Presidents’), if a small and poor country is kicked out of the Eurogroup?

The European leaders did not understand that the Greek question had an infinitely greater value than the handful of billions spent saving from suffocation a country that had fallen thirty years behind in its standards of living, thanks to the bad treatments prescribed by the Troika.

The real issue at stake was the capacity or incapacity to face up to the hardships of ‘the last’. In the past, a more distinctively catholic approach of ‘understanding and forgiveness’ resolved many critical situations, avoiding deepening divisions.

Now a kind of egoism typical of – and actually belonging to – bankers has prevailed over the political leaders’ ability to mediate. The latter cannot just allow themselves to give way to financial algorithms.

They have a very different role: that of setting objectives and envisioning a future. But what future have the political leaders of the member countries put forward for us in the last years? A future of inflexibility and rigour without any higher end, without vision. Just to balance the books (to someone’s advantage, of course), and nothing more.

The ‘Europhile’ lifeblood is drying up as a direct consequence of the absence of real political leaders, of statesmen. When the Euro becomes the source of all evil in the eyes of the vast majority of public opinions across Europe this means that something is missing from the project.

In its early days, thanks to leaders of great experience and vivid memory, the single currency was endowed with the symbolic power of an element of cohesion and brotherhood. Not only and not so much a technical matter, but the materiality of sharing a common existence and a common destiny.

But when the first difficulties caused by opportunists during the changeover (outstanding was the economic advantage offered at the time by the right-wing Italian government to all self-employed workers) were followed by the additional, objective, macroeconomic problems of the greater crisis, then Europe became a fatherless child.

The Europhile front was not able to raise its voice above the harsh, often irrational, if not downright grotesque, criticism coming from so many populists; it was not able to answer in kind or to communicate the innovative, prospective import of the single currency.

They overlooked them, trusting that the economic recovery would eventually do away with these protesters. But now that the crisis is not waning, feelings of hostility are on the rise.

If then we add to the general unease the arrogance of the rich who are not capable of giving a shot in the arm to their poor relatives, then the gap of trust in the EU widens out of all proportion.

Let us be honest: if we take to the streets, what can we federalists and Europhiles say to confront the Eurosceptic, and by now purely Europhobic, populists?

Which non-technical arguments (but these too eventually wear out) can we use to claim that the European edifice is indeed a great thing, the future that entire generations dreamed of? Even the spectacle of the sea of corpses that the Mediterranean is gradually turning into cannot restore our pietas.

Even a radical secular thinker cannot refrain from regretting the benefits that the Catholic and, more generally, confessional culture brought to the early stages of the construction of Europe. Economic individualism, the degenerate son of liberalism, now turns into nationalist egoism.

The political leaders of this Europe have let us down because they are denying us our future: the cynical and indifferent face of the rich appears, as it turns away while Greece is abandoned just as the boatloads of desperate refugees are left to sink in the Mediterranean.

These leaders look to us like those men of Weimar Germany in bowler hats and tailcoats portrayed by George Grosz’s satirical pen.

The enemies of the European project have it easy against this caricatural, but partially lifelike, representation of the real European Union.

And we Europhiles and federalists remain speechless because the national leaders and communitarian institutions do not lend us any support (with some exceptions, of course: and I am not referring to Mario Draghi by accident).

From now on, with the failure of Greece, everything will be more difficult. Let us not be fooled into thinking that we can return to business as usual. The stigma of egoism and closure will be long lasting.”

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The neoliberal background to the Greek crisis

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
16th July 2015


The crushing of political choice is not a side-effect of this utopian belief system but a necessary component. Neoliberalism is inherently incompatible with democracy, as people will always rebel against the austerity and fiscal tyranny it prescribes. Something has to give, and it must be the people. This is the true road to serfdom: disinventing democracy on behalf of the elite.

Excerpted from George Monbiot:

“The IMF is controlled by the rich, and governs the poor on their behalf. It’s now doing to Greece what it has done to one poor nation after another, from Argentina to Zambia. Its structural adjustment programmes have forced scores of elected governments to dismantle public spending, destroying health, education and all the means by which the wretched of the earth might improve their lives.

The same programme is imposed regardless of circumstance: every country the IMF colonises must place the control of inflation ahead of other economic objectives; immediately remove barriers to trade and the flow of capital; liberalise its banking system; reduce government spending on everything bar debt repayments; and privatise assets that can be sold to foreign investors.

Using the threat of its self-fulfilling prophecy (it warns the financial markets that countries that don’t submit to its demands are doomed), it has forced governments to abandon progressive policies. Almost single-handedly, it engineered the 1997 Asian financial crisis: by forcing governments to remove capital controls, it opened currencies to attack by financial speculators. Only countries such as Malaysia and China, which refused to cave in, escaped.

Consider the European Central Bank. Like most other central banks, it enjoys “political independence”. This does not mean that it is free from politics, only that it is free from democracy. It is ruled instead by the financial sector, whose interests it is constitutionally obliged to champion through its inflation target of around 2%. Ever mindful of where power lies, it has exceeded this mandate, inflicting deflation and epic unemployment on poorer members of the eurozone.

The Maastricht treaty, establishing the European Union and the euro, was built on a lethal delusion: a belief that the ECB could provide the only common economic governance that monetary union required. It arose from an extreme version of market fundamentalism: if inflation were kept low, its authors imagined, the magic of the markets would resolve all other social and economic problems, making politics redundant. Those sober, suited, serious people, who now pronounce themselves the only adults in the room, turn out to be demented utopian fantasists, votaries of a fanatical economic cult.

Those sober, suited, serious people turn out to be demented utopian fantasists, votaries of a fanatical economic cult
All this is but a recent chapter in the long tradition of subordinating human welfare to financial power. The brutal austerity imposed on Greece is mild compared with earlier versions. Take the 19th century Irish and Indian famines, both exacerbated (in the second case caused) by the doctrine of laissez-faire, which we now know as market fundamentalism or neoliberalism.

In Ireland’s case, one eighth of the population was killed – one could almost say murdered– in the late 1840s, partly by the British refusal to distribute food, to prohibit the export of grain or provide effective poor relief. Such policies offended the holy doctrine of laissez-faire economics that nothing should stay the market’s invisible hand.

When drought struck India in 1877 and 1878, the British imperial government insisted on exporting record amounts of grain, precipitating a famine that killed millions. The Anti-Charitable Contributions Act of 1877 prohibited “at the pain of imprisonment private relief donations that potentially interfered with the market fixing of grain prices”. The only relief permitted was forced work in labour camps, in which less food was provided than to the inmates of Buchenwald. Monthly mortality in these camps in 1877 was equivalent to an annual rate of 94%.

As Karl Polanyi argued in The Great Transformation, the gold standard – the self-regulating system at the heart of laissez-faire economics – prevented governments in the 19th and early 20th centuries from raising public spending or stimulating employment. It obliged them to keep the majority poor while the rich enjoyed a gilded age. Few means of containing public discontent were available, other than sucking wealth from the colonies and promoting aggressive nationalism. This was one of the factors that contributed to the first world war. The resumption of the gold standard by many nations after the war exacerbated the Great Depression, preventing central banks from increasing the money supply and funding deficits. You might have hoped that European governments would remember the results.

Today equivalents to the gold standard – inflexible commitments to austerity – abound. In December 2011 the European Council agreed a new fiscal compact, imposing on all members of the eurozone a rule that “government budgets shall be balanced or in surplus”. This rule, which had to be transcribed into national law, would “contain an automatic correction mechanism that shall be triggered in the event of deviation.” This helps to explain the seigneurial horror with which the troika’s unelected technocrats have greeted the resurgence of democracy in Greece. Hadn’t they ensured that choice was illegal? Such diktats mean the only possible democratic outcome in Europe is now the collapse of the euro: like it or not, all else is slow-burning tyranny.

It is hard for those of us on the left to admit, but Margaret Thatcher saved the UK from this despotism. European monetary union, she predicted, would ensure that the poorer countries must not be bailed out, “which would devastate their inefficient economies.”

But only, it seems, for her party to supplant it with a homegrown tyranny. George Osborne’s proposed legal commitment to a budgetary surplus exceeds that of the eurozone rule. Labour’s promised budget responsibility lock, though milder, had a similar intent. In all cases governments deny themselves the possibility of change. In other words, they pledge to thwart democracy. So it has been for the past two centuries, with the exception of the 30-year Keynesian respite.

The crushing of political choice is not a side-effect of this utopian belief system but a necessary component. Neoliberalism is inherently incompatible with democracy, as people will always rebel against the austerity and fiscal tyranny it prescribes. Something has to give, and it must be the people. This is the true road to serfdom: disinventing democracy on behalf of the elite.

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The Real Question of the Referendum: The Enclosure of the Greek Commons

photo of Vasilis Kostakis

Vasilis Kostakis
4th July 2015


Hand

Being a typical academic, allow me to begin with a definition: the commons is a term used to describe shared resources (such as land, water, air, culture, science, infrastructures) in which each stakeholder has an equal interest.

The devastating enclosures of the English commons, between 16th and 19th centuries, has been labeled as the “revolution of the rich against the poor” by the eminent political economist Karl Polanyi. They forced peasants into the labor market and the factories of the industrial revolution and “marked the beginning of a worldwide process of commodifying the land, ocean, and atmosphere of the earth”.

So, what is the relevance of the loss of the English commons with the imminent Greek referendum?

Much discussion has been taking place around the meaning of a question posed in a relatively technical language. To put the matter bluntly, I would like to argue that the real question of the referendum is whether Greek citizens approve or disprove the enclosure of their commons. The proposed changes in the pension, taxing, labour and insurance systems are supposedly aimed at ensuring that Greece can service its foreign debt. However, these are not the biggest perils although they fill most of the pages of the notorious document the Greeks are called to approve or disprove.

In short, on page 17, the creditors suggest that Greece irreversibly privatizes its airports, harbors, railways, water supply and sewerage companies, energy infrastructures and public power corporations, motorways, post offices, thermal springs, cultural treasures and other properties (seaside land, marinas etc). These are assets which we have inherited or jointly created and, instead of delivering them intact or even enhanced to the next generations, we are called, under the pressure of an economic collapse, to sell them off to the rich. In addition, no hybrid forms of public-private partnership are explicitly mentioned (for instance, OTE, a profitable telecommunication public-private corporation, is to be entirely privatized).

Conditions in Greece today are not only reminiscent of those in Germany in 1933, as Prof. Sachs writes, but also of those in 16th-19th century England and Wales. Another revolution of the ultra-rich is taking place and the endgame playing out between Greece and its creditors might be only the beginning of a new global wave of enclosures.

Crisis


Vasilis Kostakis is Senior Research Fellow at the Ragnar Nurkse School of Innovation and Governance (TUT), longtime collaborator of the P2P Foundation, and member of the CommonsTransition Team.

Images: (Top) (Bottom) by OpenSource.com

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A New Commodity Is Born: Breast Milk

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
6th April 2015


It’s not everyday that we get to see great masses of people alter their attitudes as a cherished act of motherhood is converted into a lucrative market. That’s what is happening these days with breast milk, as recently reported by the New York Times. Biotech firms want to capitalize on the rich therapeutic potential of breast milk by turning it into high-tech medical products that can fight infections, improve blood clotting and deal with intestinal and infectious diseases.

This keen commercial interest in acquiring breast milk – an intimate part of the human body associated with maternal love and nourishment – raises all sorts of troubling new questions.  Who will have privileged access to breast milk in the future – biotech firms backed by the deep pockets of venture capitalists, or premature babies who need the milk, especially from their own mothers?  Will the emerging big business of breast milk lead to the closing of “milk banks” that provide donated breast milk to hospitals and nursing mothers at cost (i.e., the costs of donor-screening and pasteurization)?

The rise of a new market for breast milk brings to the fore the fundamental issue of inalienability – the idea that certain things are so valued that it is not ethically appropriate to exchange them for money in the marketplace. This is a topic that is near and dear to commoners, of course, who are constantly trying to prevent and reverse market enclosures that commodify everything from water and the atmosphere to the human genome and childhood.

Years ago, I learned a lot about inalienability from Margaret Jane Radin’s book Contested Commodities:  The Trouble with Trade in Sex, Children, Body Parts and Other Things (Harvard University Press, 1996).  She argues that liberal societies have a recurrent problem caused by a philosophical conundrum:  It values freedom and individual choice, but it also values the dignity of personhood.  So what happens when our “freedom of choice” in the marketplace runs over our integrity and dignity as human beings – such as having intimate aspects of our bodies converted into market commodities?

“Conceiving of all human exchange in terms of the market metaphor,” said Radin, “creates the risk that we will become incapable of transcending that rhetoric’s presuppositions about human nature, and thus unable to inspire deeper, more humane visions of the good.”

Commodification is a worldview that implies all sorts of attitudes, behaviors and relationships toward other human beings.  If money, efficiency and individual freedom trump all else, and if all values are to be reduced to a price, launching the fiction that everything is commensurable on that single scale of value, then we start down a path toward social disintegration.  A libertarian ethos trumps ethical and social norms, which “interfere” with our “market freedoms.”

If and when the market worldview comes to redefine the value of breast milk, we will enter a new regime in which companies will be entirely free to interpose themselves between nursing mothers and needy babies, much as Nestle’s once did with its milk formula. The Times reports that one company, Prolacta, has produced a “fortifier” compound for premature babies using breast milk.  It costs about $180 an ounce, or about $10,000 for several weeks of milk for one baby.

All of this will inarguably contribute to GDP, and it may provide medical benefits for the special-needs babies who need the fortified milk.  But can neonatal hospital units really afford such a product – and will commercial demand for breast milk dry up milk banks and convert desperate or poor nursing mothers into milk machines?

And what of the inevitable social inequalities that will arise?  Mothers who can afford not to sell their milk will become socially privileged, while desperate mothers who need the money will be induced into selling their breast milk — much as jobless people with a car often turn to Uber to try to scrape by.  Free-marketeers invariably dismiss the ethical issues by retorting, “It’s their choice!”

And some liberal feminists as well.  One of the most depressing responses to the Times’ story came from Jessica Valenti, a columnist for The Guardian. The headline of her recent column:  “For-profit breast milk?  It’s her body, and it must be her choice.”  Valenti conjectures that “business involvement [could] lead to some positive changes for families who do want to use breast milk but don’t have access to it” – noting that government regulation of breast milk could help weed out tainted, unsafe milk.

She concludes, “No matter what the future holds for breast milk, though, we can’t be surprised when a market is created for something we continue to tout as near-magical. And if we value women’s bodily autonomy we’re going to have to get comfortable with the choices she makes – whether it’s breastfeeding, formula feeding, or pumping for cash.”

Valenti perfectly expresses the standard liberal view that markets are more or less benign, that regulation will work as designed, and that any individual choice must be respected. The social inequities and changing norms that will result from the marketization of a once-inalienable resource don’t even get a mention from her. “Individual autonomy” (within a corporate-dictated context) is all that matters.

But there is no obvious reason why therapeutic innovations using breast milk must be market-driven. One could imagine a large-scale commons-based trust or regional co-operatives to collect and allocate milk without all the ethical problems raised by investor-driven enterprises. Of course, the shark-filled venture capital world is usually the first to arrive on the scene of new profit opportunities, dictating its own vision of proper relationships toward “resources” (i.e., private, monetized, tradeable, profitable).  Meanwhile, the opportunities for co-operative finance, nonprofit and government leadership on this issue – though feasible – are utterly missing.

And so the profit-minded biotech world is beginning to escort mother’s breast milk onto the auction block. A new commodity is being inducted into the market dream machine of progress and innovation. The real questions ought to be what this new market will do to us as human beings and to the culture of parenting – and why there has been so little attention paid to building more humane, commons-based alternatives.

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