Archive for the ‘Culture & Society’ Category

30
Jul

Life in a Jobless World

Written on July 30, 2013 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Culture & Society, Globalization & International Trade, Political Economy

Pleasure before Business

We shouldn’t worry about automation taking away our jobs – we should welcome it. If labor vanishes, we get to do the important things in life: self-chosen work and more real leisure!

By Guy Standing

Slow And Sure

Jobs are not disappearing. More people are in jobs than at any time in history. But the nature of jobs is changing – and many types of job are moving away from rich countries towards poorer ones. More of the available jobs are paying less. More are insecure, leading nowhere for those doing them.

Europe is not facing a jobs crisis due to automation. While technological advance, including automation, displaces some jobs, it creates others. Rather, the crisis is the result of a global transformation.

When neo-liberals wrested control of economic and social policymaking in the 1980s, liberalization policies opened up a global market system. Almost overnight, global labor supply trebled and more than a billion workers in China, India, and elsewhere started to be used in competition with workers in Europe and other rich countries.

As Europe made its labor markets more flexible – and more insecure for the new mass class, the precariat – there was downward pressure on wages, enterprise benefits and labor-based state benefits. Governments knew that liberalization would create greater inequalities and economic insecurity for millions relying on labor. Two courses were open.

They could have decided that those receiving income from profits and stock markets – the principal beneficiaries of liberalization – should share the gains with the rest of society. That would have prevented the emergence of a plutocracy of billionaires. Instead, governments made a Faustian bargain with their citizens. To disguise falling incomes, they financed an orgy of consumption with cheap credit, labor subsidies and tax credits. But in 2008 it ended, as every Faustian bargain must. Read more…

Guy Standing is Professor of Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

As published by The European on July 28, 2013.

23
Jul

Until Snowden we lived in the illusion that the social networks gave us unlimited capacity for action

By José Ignacio Torreblanca, Associate Professor at IE School of International Relations

Torreblanca

Is the internet a tool of liberation or oppression? Until Edward Snowden came along we seem to have lived in the happy illusion that the internet and the social networks gave us an unlimited capacity for organization and action. The social networks, we were told, not only empowered us socially but also provided us with a potent political tool. Twitter and Facebook, together with Google’s capacity for disseminating an incredible volume of information in real time, had become a new weapon for citizen supervision of the government, and of resistance to tyranny. Like the press, radio and television before it, the internet now offered the citizen a way out from authoritarian monopolies on information. This is what we might call the horizontal or libertarian view of technology. And though sometimes exaggerated, as in the supposed revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt (which were far from such), this vision did foster a reasonable hope that technology and democracy might be solid allies.

But since Snowden we have had to concede greater weight to the other vision, that we might call authoritarian or vertical. Because, however much we suspected it — remember the Echelon revelations — we now know that while millions of citizens blithely use the internet and social networks, a number of states have the capacity for vertical control of the net and its content.

The US authorities’ line of defense is centered on, first, the claim that their listening capacity is confined to so-called metadata — that is, there is no scrutiny of content but only of flows; two, that there is only exceptional access, under strict judicial control, to the complete content, as is traditional in telephone taps; and three (not applicable to the rest of us), that the objects of such surveillance have never been US citizens within the United States.

But this sugar-coated version seems to have little truth to it. Snowden’s revelations to the magazine Cryptome note that intelligence service access to undersea cables carrying internet data allows it complete access to all the content traveling along them, the only problem being storage and processing capacity, which is now around 72 hours, after which they are erased. Keeping in mind the speed at which these things progress, it stands to reason that the 72-hour limit will soon stretch further. So that, if you know what you are looking for, access will be complete. Which covers everything to do with the individual in question: medical reports, the works. Read more…

As published in www.elpais.com on July 22, 2013.

22
Jul

Cuba After Communism

Written on July 22, 2013 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Americas, Culture & Society, Democracy & Human Rights, Foreign Policy, Political Economy

The Economic Reforms That Are Transforming the Island

Julia E. Sweig and Michael J. Bustamante

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At first glance, Cuba’s basic political and economic structures appear as durable as the midcentury American cars still roaming its streets. The Communist Party remains in power, the state dominates the economy, and murals depicting the face of the long-dead revolutionary Che Guevara still appear on city walls. Predictions that the island would undergo a rapid transformation in the manner of China or Vietnam, let alone the former Soviet bloc, have routinely proved to be bunk. But Cuba does look much different today than it did ten or 20 years ago, or even as recently as 2006, when severe illness compelled Fidel Castro, the country’s longtime president, to step aside. Far from treading water, Cuba has entered a new era, the features of which defy easy classification or comparison to transitions elsewhere.

Three years ago, Castro caused a media firestorm by quipping to an American journalist that “the Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.” Tacitly embracing this assessment, Fidel’s brother Raúl Castro, the current president, is leading a gradual but, for Cuba, ultimately radical overhaul of the relationship between the state, the individual, and society, all without cutting the socialist umbilical cord. So far, this unsettled state of affairs lacks complete definition or a convincing label. “Actualization of the Cuban social and economic model,” the Communist Party’s preferred euphemism, oversells the degree of ideological cohesion while smoothing over the implications for society and politics. For now, the emerging Cuba might best be characterized as a public-private hybrid in which multiple forms of production, property ownership, and investment, in addition to a slimmer welfare state and greater personal freedom, will coexist with military-run state companies in strategic sectors of the economy and continued one-party rule.

A new migration law, taking effect this year, provides a telling example of Cuba’s ongoing reforms. Until recently, the Cuban government required its citizens to request official permission before traveling abroad, and doctors, scientists, athletes, and other professionals faced additional obstacles. The state still regulates the exit and entry of professional athletes and security officials and reserves the right to deny anyone a passport for reasons of national security. But the new migration law eliminates the need for “white cards,” as the expensive and unpopular exit permits were known; gives those who left the country illegally, such as defectors and rafters, permission to visit or possibly repatriate; and expands from 11 months to two years the period of time Cubans can legally reside abroad without the risk of losing their bank accounts, homes, and businesses on the island. Read more…

As published by Foreign Affairs (July/August 2013 Edition).

19
Jul

By Fareed Zakaria

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Does authoritarian capitalism work? For the past few decades, the Chinese economy’s meteoric rise, faster than any large economy in human history, has dazzled the world. It has made many wonder if China’s model of a pro-growth dictatorship is the best path for developing countries. Some have questioned whether Western democracies — with their dysfunctions and paralysis — can compete with China’s long-range planning. Now, as its growth slows to almost half its pace in 2007, the Chinese system faces its most significant test. The outcome will have huge economic consequences for the world and huge political consequences for China and its ruling Communist Party.

Over three decades, China’s growth has averaged 10 percent a year. Beijing managed that because it systematically opened up its economy to trade and investment while investing massively in infrastructure to facilitate manufacturing and exports. Crucially, China had the ability not to pander to its people to gain votes or approval. Unlike most developing nations, China spends little subsidizing current consumption (fuel and food, for example). It spends its money on export-free zones, highways, rail systems and airports. It is investing in education and soon will turn to health care. No developing democracy has been able to ignore short-term political pressures and execute a disciplined growth strategy with such success.

But the model is no longer working that well. Partly, this is the product of success. China has become the world’s second-largest economy; its per capita income is that of a middle-income country. It cannot grow at the pace it did when it was much poorer.

But growth has dropped faster and deeper than many had predicted. This month, the International Monetary Fund forecast China’s annual growth around 7.75 percent for the next two years. But it could slow further because, the truth is, China’s authoritarian system has made significant mistakes in recent years. Read more…

As published in www.washingtonpost.com on July 18, 2013.

12
Jul

Despite the chaos, the blood and the democratic setbacks, this is a long process. Do not give up hope.

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Roughly two-and-a-half years after the revolutions in the Arab world, not a single country is yet plainly on course to become a stable, peaceful democracy. The countries that were more hopeful—Tunisia, Libya and Yemen—have been struggling. A chaotic experiment with democracy in Egypt, the most populous of them, has landed an elected president behind bars. Syria is awash with the blood of civil war.

No wonder some have come to think the Arab spring is doomed. The Middle East, they argue, is not ready to change. One reason is that it does not have democratic institutions, so people power will decay into anarchy or provoke the reimposition of dictatorship. The other is that the region’s one cohesive force is Islam, which—it is argued—cannot accommodate democracy. The Middle East, they conclude, would be better off if the Arab spring had never happened at all.

That view is at best premature, at worst wrong. Democratic transitions are often violent and lengthy. The worst consequences of the Arab spring—in Libya initially, in Syria now—are dreadful. Yet as our special report argues, most Arabs do not want to turn the clock back.

Putting the cart before the camel

Those who say that the Arab spring has failed ignore the long winter before, and its impact on people’s lives. In 1960 Egypt and South Korea shared similar life-expectancy and GDP per head. Today they inhabit different worlds. Although many more Egyptians now live in cities and three-quarters of the population is literate, GDP per head is only a fifth of South Korea’s. Poverty and stunting from malnutrition are far too common. The Muslim Brotherhood’s brief and incompetent government did nothing to reverse this, but Egypt’s deeper problems were aggravated by the strongmen who preceded them. And many other Arab countries fared no better.

This matters, because, given the Arab spring’s uneven progress, many say the answer is authoritarian modernisation: an Augusto Pinochet, Lee Kuan Yew or Deng Xiaoping to keep order and make the economy grow. Unlike South-East Asians, the Arabs can boast no philosopher-king who has willingly nurtured democracy as his economy has flourished. Instead, the dictator’s brothers and the first lady’s cousins get all the best businesses. And the despots—always wary of stirring up the masses—have tended to duck the big challenges of reform, such as gradually removing the energy subsidies that in Egypt alone swallow 8% of GDP. Even now the oil-rich monarchies are trying to buy peace; but as an educated and disenfranchised youth sniffs freedom, the old way of doing things looks ever more impossible, unless, as in Syria, the ruler is prepared to shed vast amounts of blood to stay in charge. Some of the more go-ahead Arab monarchies, for example in Morocco, Jordan and Kuwait, are groping towards constitutional systems that give their subjects a bigger say. Read more…

As published in www.economist.com on July 13, 2013 (from the print edition).

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