BY DR. JEAN-PAUL GAGNON | MARCH 01, 2012
Jean-Paul Gagnon: What do you see as Hong Kong's democracy future?
Professor Sonny Lo: HK's democratic future depends on two main factors: China's internal democratic changes and Hong Kong's push for democratization. At the moment, the push for internal democratization in Hong Kong has pitted the pan-democratic forces against the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC). On the other hand, Beijing as the central government is reluctant to see a Western-style democratic Hong Kong which will be vulnerable to Western influences and become a means through which foreign powers like the United States seek to democratize the mainland. As such, democratization in Hong Kong is now touching upon the bottom line of the central government in Beijing, which remains a largely paternalistic regime although it has become more politically liberalized and pluralistic than ever before. It is very likely that Hong Kong's democratic changes will proceed gradually and at a snail pace, if we use the yardstick of measurement from the viewpoint of Western-style democracies where there are rotations of parties in power and competitive struggle among political leaders for people's votes. Yet, Hong Kong remains the most politically pluralistic society in the PRC as many of its citizens are not only pro-democracy in terms of supporting the direct elections of both the Chief Executive and the entire Legislative Council, but also assertive in making their demands known and criticisms heard. Hong Kong also enjoys a relatively high degree of civil liberties, the rule of law and by and large clean government under the supervision of a respectable anti-corruption agency. Hence, Hong Kong is having a large degree of horizontal accountability, although not vertical accountability in terms of competitive struggle among political leaders for people's votes, not to mention the possibility of rotation of party in power. However, it must be said that democratization in Hong Kong, and the corresponding resistance from Beijing, illustrate a clash of two political cultures and civilizations, the more Western civilization held by many Hong Kong people and the more Chinese civilization in the psyche of the PRC leaders. As long as the PRC is ruled by a Leninist-style Chinese Communist Party, democratic changes in Hong Kong are bound to be seen as politically dangerous, socially unstable, economically detrimental to the interests of the coopted pro-Beijing business class, and territorially entailing cross-border impacts on mainland China.
JPG: Is organized crime a significant obstacle to realizing these democratic goals in HK?
SL: Organized crime does not constitute any obstacle to the realization of democratic goals in Hong Kong. Arguably, some elements of the organized crime even participated in the rescue operations of the student democrats in mainland China shortly after the Tiananmen incident on June 4, 1989. Hence. organized crime in Hong Kong has been displaying multiple political orientations. On the one hand, it has remained a patriotic force rescuing mainland student democrats from a humanitarian perspective. On the other hand, it has remained an economic interest group trying to enrich its own profits by both legal and illegal means. The leaders of organized crime groups in Hong Kong are also the targets of suppression and cooptation by the PRC authorities. Politically, organized crime has not yet evolved into a political interest group keen to topple any regime in power, in both the mainland and Hong Kong, unlike the triads in the Qing dynasty as they were upholding the banner of overthrowing the Qing dynasty and restoring the Ming dynasty. The PRC government sees organized crime as harmful to its national security interests, and therefore its elements have to be controlled and suppressed. Any attempt by organized crime groups to turn into political interest groups is disallowed, albeit in practice they are economic interest groups thriving in the midst of a whole range of legitimate and illegitimate businesses.
* Dr. Jean-Paul Gagnon is a social and political the-orist with a Ph.D. in political science. He completed his doctorate at the Queensland University of Tech-nology under the aegis of Australia’s prestigious En-deavour Award.
** Professor Sonny Lo is the Associate Dean (Research & Postgraduate Studies) of Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Head and Professor at the Depart-ment of Social Sciences at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. Before joining HKIEd, he had worked at the University of Waterloo in Canada, The University of Hong Kong, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Murdoch University, Lingnan Col-lege (now Lingnan University), and the University of East Asia (Macau).
Professor Streeck is Director of the Max Planck Institue for the Study of Societies (MPIfG), based in Cologne, Germany. The author of many books and articles on comparative political economy, he recently published ‘The Crises of Democratic Capitalism‘ in the New Left Review.
BY THE CURRENT MOMENT | DECEMBER 04, 2012
What are the stories right now that you think people either aren’t paying enough attention to, or about which we have the wrong view?
Generally the historical and political-economic continuities between the global inflation crisis of the 1970s, the widespread public debt crisis of the 1980s, the internationally agreed consolidation and financial deregulation policies of the 1990s, and the worldwide private debt crisis of the 2000s, with its commutation into another public debt crisis.
Turning to the Eurozone debt problem, a dominant view is that Greeks and Italians are corrupt, inefficient and lazy, and that is why they find themselves in this mess. What is your view of what is going on?
The Mediterranean version of the debt problem reflects a specific relationship between modern states and societies on the periphery of Europe that have become stuck, partly or wholly, in pre-modern social structures and lifeways. In Italy and Spain in particular, this relationship is furthermore complicated by deep divisions between advanced regions such as Lombardy and Catalonia, and backward regions like the Mezzogiorno and the Spanish South. In quasi-feudal areas, or in an entire country such as Greece, huge concentrations of old wealth coexist with widespread rural poverty and stagnation. Vacationers from the North romanticize this as an easy-going way of life and tend to be envious about it. They also notice that there is corruption, and clearly a lot more than, say, in Sweden or Finland. What they don’t see is that there is also a lot of oppression by local elites with more or less close connections to the legal and illegal markets offered by modern capitalism, not to mention the political parties of the modern state. To be able to catch up with capitalist modernity, these societies would in the past have needed social revolutions to expropriate the old money and clear the way for the new money of middle-class industrial entrepreneurs. But this happened in Italy only in parts of the country, and in the post-fascist democracies of Portugal, Spain and Greece in the 1970s a revolutionary response to backwardness was prevented not least by the containment policies of Northern Europe and the United States. One of the tools of that policy was admission of Greece, Portugal and Spain, first into the European Union, and then into Monetary Union.
The standard recipe for the recovery from the Eurozone crisis is austerity and structural reforms in the peripheries, plus some recapitalization of banks. Do you think this is the right way to go?
I really don’t know what the solution is. Perhaps austerity is politically sustainable for the two decades that are claimed to be required for fiscal “consolidation” in debtor countries, perhaps not. In any case it will have to be accompanied by some form of, very likely hidden, transfer payments from the North, which also may or may not be politically sustainable, in this case with Northern electorates. “Structural reforms”, in the language of ruling economists, are not much more than union-breaking and the creation of tax-free economic development zones. But nobody tells us what the sectors are where growth is to take place, in countries squeezed between high-technology competition like Germany and low-wage competition like Thailand. Structural development policies that go beyond supply-siderism are not only expensive but are likely not to work when imposed from above or from the outside on a traditional social structure; see Southern Italy where fifty years of Cassa di Mezzogiorno were by and large an unqualified disaster. There is no reason to believe that Brussels or Berlin will in a decade be more successful in Greece than Rome was in Sicily for half a century.
What do you think would address the trade and debt imbalances between Northern and Southern Europe? Do you think it can be done within the European monetary union or does it require a fundamental change or dismantling of that union?
The problem is: there will be no such dismantling. The middle classes in the Mediterranean consider EMU as the lesser evil compared to a return to national currencies, because their savings are denominated in Euros and full membership in the European Union harbors vague promises of individual mobility and collective support, however meager. In the North, the common currency ensures export industries against competitive devaluation and guarantees a favorable external exchange rate. This is why German industry, including industrial trade unions, are strongly in favor of “European solidarity,” meaning that Mediterranean countries must by all means be prevented from getting out of the monetary trap in which they have moved themselves when joining the common currency. Some sort of competitiveness tax to be paid out of public budgets or in the form of some sort of “Eurobonds” is accepted as the price for unlimited access to Southern markets, especially if it is paid by taxpayers at large and not by industry itself. Here I see an unholy alliance between Southern middle classes and state elites on the one hand, and Northern export industries on the other. It will, however, be an unhappy alliance as Southern countries will inevitably be disappointed by the benefits they will receive from the North, while Northern electorates will resent such benefits regardless how small they may be, at a time when they themselves have to accept spending cuts of all sorts. Like in Italy, the South will hate the North and vice versa. Northern clichés of lazy Southerners will be complemented by Southern clichés of Northern, in particular German, imperialism. Europe will grow together at the price of rising nationalist resentment.
The hegemony of the demand for austerity is striking. It is offered as the solution to the Eurozone crisis, as well as to the American situation – the US Congress even created a supercommittee to find savings. It seems odd to have such agreement around austerity in the midst of a potential double dip recession. Why is there such agreement on this point and what do you think of the demand for austerity?
There seems to be no way to close the gap between public expenditures and public revenue by higher taxes, in no country. This being so, what remains to reassure creditors are spending cuts. Financial liberalization has made it easy for owners of significant wealth to move abroad; right now the London real estate market, in places like Chelsea, Kensington, Hampstead and Belgravia, is booming from rich Greek families putting their money in new homes. Tax increases are resented even by the middle classes who would more than the rich benefit from a functioning welfare state; one reason seems to be that for a long time higher public revenues will have to pay for goods already consumed. Those who would have to pay increased taxes because they cannot move their money or themselves out of their country may even prefer continuing public deficits to fiscal consolidation as long as austerity is firmly institutionalized and creditors can as a result be sure to get their money back. This is because, rather than having their savings confiscated, they could keep them and lend them to the state, drawing interest on them and eventually passing them on to their children. As I said, this presupposes a “credible commitment” of public policy to giving priority to servicing the public debt over keeping the political promises inherent in social citizenship. In practice this means a suspension of democracy to the extent that it is linked to social citizenship.
How optimistic/pessimistic are you about the ability of national democratic procedures to provide solutions to the current economic crises in Europe and in the US? What do you think of the recent proliferation of technocratic governments in Greece and Italy? Does the current crisis expose some basic tensions between capitalism and democracy? If so, how exactly?
I have written about these tensions, caused by ultimately incompatible demands for “market justice” and “social justice” having to be balanced against each other. Democracy is more than democratic procedures; it also expresses itself through social movements and general strikes. Even so, in present circumstances it lacks power and the capacity for collective action on the relevant battlefield, which has become the international monetary system. Today, states and their governments are facing two sovereigns at the same time: their peoples, organized nationally, and “the markets,” organized on a global scale. The latter clearly prevail over the former: see the replacement “from above” of the elected political leaders of Greece and Italy by representatives of the “economic reason” vested in the international money industry, shifting the political economy from social to market justice as the latter is deprived of its democratic empowerment.
What has perhaps not been said clearly enough is how the postwar settlement between the two kinds of justice came to be revised after the end of the “Golden Age.” When postwar growth ended in the late 1960s, the functional needs of capital accumulation began gradually to push aside the social needs whose institutionalized recognition had been the condition for workers being prepared to live with capitalism. More and more “capital controls,” in a broad sense, were removed while one promise after the other that had been made to buy labor in after 1945 was withdrawn. Such promises included a steady increase in living standards, progressive de-commodification of labor through an expanding welfare state, politically guaranteed full employment, “industrial democracy,” an encompassing regime of collective bargaining and trade union rights, a broad public sector providing citizens with social services as well as with stable employment, equal access to education and social advancement, a moderate and certainly not growing level of social and economic inequality, and the like. All of these disappeared or were “reformed,” often beyond recognition. The almost four decades since the end of postwar prosperity were a long series of defeats for labor, and of successful attempts on the part of capital gradually to re-establish its hegemony, with market justice pushing social justice to the sidelines of the political economy. It was not the logic of democratic claim-making or social citizenship or even democratic political opportunism that undercut the postwar social compact, but the historical reassertion of the logic of capital accumulation that had for a limited period been contained and overruled by democratic politics – just as the fiscal crisis of today was not caused by ordinary people demanding more than they were entitled to, but by the winners of the market first refusing to pay for their social license to enrich themselves, and later blackmailing governments to save them from the fallout of their own recklessness.
Right now it is democracy itself that is about to be rescinded – at the national level, which is where it came to be located under democratic capitalism, without replacement at the supranational level, where it should today move but nobody knows how. Increasingly democracy is turning into an empty shell, a formal ritual, not just in the United States but also in Europe. In the camp of the Indignados at the Puerta del Sol in July 2011, I saw a hand-painted sign saying: Como se puede hablar de democracia si no se puede cambiar el sistema económico en las urnas? (How can one speak of democracy if one cannot change the economic system at the ballot box?)
What are your views of the nascent protests (Occupy Wall Street, Indignados) developing in response to the introduction of austerity packages in Europe and the US? Are these movements a continuation of or a break with the anti-globalization movements of the past? Are they likely to fundamentally change public perceptions and government policy or will they have only a small lasting impact?
I know too little about such movements. I am looking for signs of an impending cultural break with possessive individualism, competitive greed, hedonistic consumerism. This is a tall order indeed, but I feel nothing less would do. Beyond “protest” or calls for “reform,” what would be interesting to see are actual changes in people’s ways of life, some kind of separatism and recapturing of local autonomy, with people cutting themselves loose from the capitalist mainstream and becoming less dependent on it, materially and mentally: a way of life where time matters more than money, ideal goods more than material ones, and social bonds more than individual property. That may not be available without a measure of neo-romanticism or even insurrectionism. What one might hope for is a sort of cultural change that, unlike 1968 and its aftermath, would not lend itself to being transformed into a “new spirit of capitalism,” as described by Chiapello and Boltanski. At the intellectual level, I find the growing literature on low-growth, no-growth and de-growth capitalism (or perhaps post-capitalism?) intriguing and I wish one could find good reasons for believing that working for this politically would not necessarily be futile.
What, finally, do you think the appropriate political response is to both these crises and their aftermath?
What is “appropriate,” and in what sense? What I see coming in Europe seems far from “appropriate” to me but it will probably come anyway. Clearly, the United States and the UK will continue to depend economically on an overblown international financial system that happens to reside mainly on their territories, and that they regulate in their national interest rather than the interest of all. The question is: is there anything on the horizon that could break the trend of the past three decades toward an ever more unstable, unpredictable, uncontrollable – in other words, ever more capitalist – global capitalism, with an ever more unequal distribution in the historically rich countries of wealth and risks and opportunities and life chances? I see nothing.
This interview first published at The Current Moment. CESRAN would like to thank them for their collaboration.
Dr. Jean-Paul Gagnon is a social and political philosopher specializing in democratic theory. In the light of recent developments around the world, I interviewed with Dr. Gagnon because of his expertise in democratic theory.
BY HÜSREV TABAK | DECEMBER 11, 2011
Tabak: How is it that democratic theorists can contribute to political analysis?
Gagnon: To answer this question we must first address what the political is. What are politics? In general, and for the sake of this discussion, I will term it as a process by which individuals participate in the governance and government of a specific geographically-bounded territory. The nature of politics changes with the nature of government, governance, civil society and a number of other complex factors. In most ‘democratic’ systems, we see the opportunity for non-elites and all legal minorities to participate in elections and to assemble freely for example (although, in practice, things are not quite as simple as these promises). In a totalitarian system, the obverse is most likely to be ‘true’.
I argue that democratic theorists contribute to political analysis because of the ‘sunglasses’ (as it were) that we offer for analysing politics. We are constantly looking for the means to infer how political activity in any given system impacts equality, communication, law, the selection of officials, the shape of a citizenry, and ultimately the citizenry’s sovereignty. And this is very much related to questions of rights, liberties, freedoms, justice, contemporary political society, republicanism and autonomy. This differs to other means of analysis. For example, in very simple terms, the economics theorist might be wearing sunglasses to determine how a political move is going to shape economic regulation. The international relations theorist has her sunglasses on to see how a political change might come to impact relations with a specific far-away country. The feminist may have his sunglasses on to see how a political decision will come to affect a number of women’s rights. All of these processes have ways of changing politics. We seek the democratic change. Of course, thinkers often borrow sunglasses from other camps for interdisciplinary studies that often yield unique and remarkable outcomes in political analysis – so matters are not as simple as I have portrayed them in the examples above.
Tabak: Would you argue that democracy affects politics in any meaningful way?
Gagnon: Because of our ‘sunglasses’, or variety of means to analyse the highly contested ‘variables’ of democracy, I argue that yes, democratic theory acts to democratise politics. We do this best by delegitimizing political actors that could be argued to have or be machinating against whatever institutions, citizenries, or ideas that are self-labelled or exogenously described as being democratic. John Keane is a very good case if we consider his latest monograph The Life and Death of Democracy. Therein he called to account Silvio Berlusconi, John Howard and Thaksin Shinawatra for manipulating existing democratic systems to suit their own power-retaining (or power-increasing) ends. With this attention, and the arguments of several others, we then move forward in politics: those citizens aware of this information realize, for example, that what wily ‘ol Berlusconi was up to in the media was undemocratic (this is perhaps one reason why there was dancing in certain Roman streets upon his resignation). Politicians may also come to realize that this behaviour is now illegitimate and could then shore up stronger opposition to otherwise manipulative and un-democratic executive bodies.
We should also consider the way critically developed ideas, both realist and utopian, can impact the way politics come under reform. Thinkers like John Langmore, Larry Diamond, Steven Muhlberger, Bernard Manin, Geoffrey Stokes, and Benjamin Isakhan evaluate the way we understand democracy, the way others understand democracy, the way democracy is practiced, and the possibilities for a better understood democracy or democracies that will operate in some qualitatively better format. Democratic theorists often look to the benefits various systems of democracy (ideas and practices) can bring to politics in the effort to make a given situation better. One example, from Albert Weale and Elinor Ostrom, is the way that democracy was impacted by the ‘Green Movement’ (not Iran’s important women’s liberation, but rather the global upsurge in concern over environmental protection) and the way it has contributed to the growth of environmental politics. Sixty years ago environmental protection was nowhere near as potent a political issue as it is today in a wide swathe of countries. Some argue that the severity of the issue (environmental damage) grew democracy (inter-personal dialogue, consensus formation, decision formation) and in turn democracy then grew the issue and altered the political landscape.
Without democratic theorists (those most vested in trying to figure out that nebulous affair of democracy and protect its hard-won rights through both spatial and temporal battles) who else would look to the democratisation of politics? As argued above, John Keane, David Held, Wolfgang Merkel, Roland Axtmann, Klaus von Beyme, Joseph Camilleri, Francis Fukuyama, Simon Tormey and others are the football stars capable of scoring the most goals against tyrants.
Tabak: Do you think the Arab Spring in the Middle East can be considered as a new wave of democracy?
Gagnon: Like many of the thinkers I’ve drawn upon thus far in this interview, I’m rather sceptical about understanding the growth of potential democratic systems through one singular pair of sunglasses. (That is, to try and get to the potential bottom of something we should wear as many sunglasses as possible which may be argued to be a cosmopolitan methodology. That is, wear one pair, then take it off, wear another, and so forth. Whether we can wear two or more pairs at the same time is a difficult question and deals with potentially the realm of experimental social sciences).
But to try to answer this question, I would rather argue that the individual and cross-fertilizing experiments in democracy from Morocco to Afghanistan are more like super-novae. That, like a wave, is a body of complexity. But Huntington’s waves are heavily based in a rhetoric to which I do not wholly ascribe. This process of democracy in North Africa (the Tamazgha in Berber) and the Middle East is not as simple as a wave coming in and one that may go back out. The metaphor begs for greater complexity to reflect the reality of the situation. That is, what effect has the wave made in terms of physical change like erosion (in other words, what lasting impressions has it left before it went back to its non-descript sea)?
Super-novae, then, to me as a metaphor sees a very long standing process of physical mutations wherein one period of history could be argued more ‘democratic’ than others (and at various tiers of government) because of complex chemical interactions affected by thousands of variables but which could be retaken by autocracy and then battled forwards to democracy once more because of a whole other set of complex interactions. (It should be noted that I consider democracy to be the political norm in this process, especially at local levels of governance and government. Autocratic rule is then the exception). There’s also a functional utopian hope that this ‘dying star’ is the coming end of democracy losing ground to autocracy – that is, with every mutation we retain ‘democratic’ systems as core values which prevent tyrants from slashing our (‘the peoples’) sovereign throat. When this star eventually explodes, will this be a zenith for democratic politics in a given bounded space?
It’s the function of ‘pure’ theory, a higher (possibly even potential) goal that we can try to achieve, that makes the supernova different. Waves will always come and go, but when a star mutates and nears its utopian explosion, when revolutions rock the institutional foundations of a society, will things then really change? I would say, hesitantly, a little – and hopefully, as much as possible. (The Arab Spring is probably a mutation like the French Revolution and not the ‘star exploding this tension between democracy and autocracy’ that will bring humanity into some fabled land where verticalized unaccountable power is no more).
Husrev Tabak is a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Manchester.
Friday, 28 October 2011 11:11
World-renowned polymath Professor Noam Chomsky speaks to PublicServiceEurope.com in the first of two interviews on international affairs, geopolitics, the Arab spring and the economic crisis plaguing Europe and America
You have been a leading critic of United States foreign policy in the past – what view do you take on Barack Obama's performance as President in this area since he took office, I know you were critical of the mission to kill Osama bin Laden?
"There used to be a principle in Anglo-American law called presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law. When a suspect is apprehended and can easily be brought to trial, to assassinate him is simply a crime. Incidentally, the invasion of Pakistan was also a violation of international law.
So is there any possible moral justification for the CIA's drone strikes in countries like Yemen and Pakistan, which have allegedly occurred under Obama's leadership of the White House?
"There is no justification for targeted assassination. There were things going on before, under the last president, but the Obama administration has extended earlier procedures to a global assassination campaign directed at people suspected of encouraging others to carry out what the US calls terrorist acts. What are called 'terrorist acts' also raises rather serious questions and that's an understatement. Take, for example, the Guantanamo Bay case of a 15-year-old boy – who was accused of having picked up a rifle to defend his village, in Afghanistan, when it was being attacked by American soldiers. He was accused of terrorism and then sent to Guantanamo for a total of eight years. After eight years of imprisonment, where what happens is no secret, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to another eight years in prison. This is terrorism, a 15-year-old boy defending his village from terrorism?"
So you think that, potentially, Obama's foreign policy approach has been worse than that of George W. Bush – in certain areas?
"In terms of state terror and that's what I would call this, I have to say yes – and that has already been pointed out by military analysts. The Bush administration policy was to kidnap suspects, send them to secret prisons where they were not treated very nicely as we know. But the Obama administration has escalated that policy to you don't kidnap them, but you kill them. Now remember, these are suspects – even, in the case of Osama bin Laden. It is plausible that he did plan and organise the 9/11 attacks, but plausible and proven are two different things. It is worth remembering that eight months after the attacks, in April 2002, the head of the FBI – in his most detailed statement to the press was only able to say that they believed that the plot was hatched in Afghanistan by bin Laden but implemented in the United Arab Emirates, Germany and the US, No firm evidence has been presented, at least publicly, since that time. The government-created 9/11 commission had a lot of material that was circumstantial evidence that was reasonably plausible, but it's doubtful that any of it would have held up in an independent court. The evidence they had was provided to them by the government on the basis of interrogation of suspects under very cruel conditions, as we know. It is highly unlikely that an independent tribunal could have considered such evidence seriously."
How do you see the Libya conflict – were western forces, particularly Europe, right to intervene?
"The three traditional imperial powers of Britain, France and the US participated in a civil war on the side of the rebels that had nothing to do with the United National Security Council resolution. Was the imperial triumvirate acting appropriately, I think that is a question that has to be discussed and debated. It certainly was not a popular move internationally. I mean it's called the international community, but most of the world opposed it. Libya is an African country and the African Union was calling for negotiations and diplomacy, and they were disregarded. Brazil, Russian, India and China – the BRIC countries – had a conference in China at the time, and they also issued a declaration calling for diplomacy and negotiations. Even Turkey, at the beginning, was tepid and Egypt didn't support it, and there was practically no support in the Arab world.
"The real question is - could the mandate to protect civilians have been carried out through diplomacy? Libya is a highly tribal society and there is a lot of conflict among the tribes, who knows what is going to come out of all this. The transitional government has already stressed that there will be strict adherence to Sharia law and denying the rights of women and so on and so forth. Very few people in the west understand much about all this. On the other hand, there was tremendous popular support for getting rid of Gaddafi - who was a terrible thug."
And do you see a widening and deepening of the Arab spring as time goes by and rebels in states like Syria and Iran gain heart from the achievements of the once oppressed citizens in Libya?
"Iran is a different case – it has a harsh regime, but quite different circumstances. Syria is an extremely ugly situation that is descending into violent civil war. Nobody has proposed a sensible policy to deal with it. In large parts of the Arab world, the pro-democracy uprisings have been very quickly crushed. In Saudi Arabia, the most extreme radical Islamist state and closest ally of the US and Britain, there were mild efforts at protest and they were crushed pretty quickly – so much so that people were afraid to come out on the streets again. The same is true of Kuwait and that whole region – the oil region. In Bahrain, protests were initially tolerated before being violently crushed with the assistance of a Saudi-led invasion force in very ugly ways, like invading a hospital and attacking patients and doctors.
"In Egypt and Tunisia, there has been significant progress – but it is limited. In Egypt, the military has shown no intention of relaxing its control of society – although, the country now has a free press and a labour movement has been able to organise and act independently. Tunisia also has a history of labour activism. And so, the progress towards democracy and freedom is pretty closely correlated with the rise of long-term militant activism. That shouldn't surprise westerners because that is exactly what happened in the west."
How do you see geopolitics playing out over the coming decades with the rise of the BRICs, the lack of stability in the Middle East and the decline of the west?
"The US and Europe have somewhat different problems. Europe is facing quite severe financial problems, that is no secret, that are in part traceable to the relatively human approach towards integrating the poorer countries together with the richer nations. Before the European Union was established and the poorer southern countries like Greece, Portugal and Spain were brought in, there were efforts to made to reduce the sharp differences between the rich advanced countries and poorer ones – so that northern European workers wouldn't have to face competition from an impoverished and exploited working class in the south. There was compensatory funding and other measures, which – of course – didn't eliminate the gap but removed it sufficiently so that the poorer countries could be brought in without a very harsh effect on the rich northern ones.
"Europe is now paying the price of its relatively humane approach and its failure to deal with some very serious problems such as the extraordinary independence of the European Central Bank and its religious dedication to anti-inflation policies – which are not the ones that should be followed at a time of decline and recession. Europe should be doing the opposite like the US where the policies are somewhat more realistic."
What role do you think Europe and the US will play in this new world order – potentially, reflecting multi-polarity rather than western hegemony?
"Europe and the US are still a huge part of the global economy; there is no doubt about that. If Europe can get its house in order, and I think it will have to change its economic policies, it has options. What Europe needs now is not an austerity programme, but a stimulus package to restore growth so that down the road you can take care of the debt problem. The same is true in the US. There is plenty of money for a stimulus programme in both regions. It might increase debt, but that is a much longer-term problem. There is plenty of wealth in our societies; the question is how it is going to be used.
"The common theme all over the international affairs literature is what's called western decline and the corollary conclusion that global power is once again shifting to the rising powers of China and India. That argument is implausible, economic growth in China has been quite spectacular in many ways – but these are very poor countries. Per capita income is well below that in the west and they have enormous internal problems. China, considered to be the main economic engine, is still today largely an assembly plant. If you calculate the US trade deficit with China accurately in terms of value added, you find that the figure declines by about 25 per cent and increases with Japan, Taiwan and Korea by approximately the same. The reason is that parts, components and high technology are flowing into China from the peripheral, more industrialised, societies as well as the US and Europe – and China is assembling them. If you buy an iPad or something that says 'exported from China', very little of the value added is in China.
"Certainly, later on, China will climb up the technology ladder – but it's a hard climb and the country has very serious internal problems including a demographic problem. The country's growth period has been associated with a big bulge in young workers in their twenties and thirties, but that is changing – partly, because of the 'one child' policy. What is coming is a decline in the working-age population and an increase in the elderly population. The Chinese will doubtless grow and be important, but India is even more impoverished with hundreds of millions of people living in misery. The world is becoming more diverse and a more diverse century is coming. With the rise of the BRICs, there is a diffusion of power coming. As far as American decline is concerned, it began in the 1940s. The US reached the peak of its powers in 1945, when it literally had half the world's wealth and production with incredible security – there was nothing like it in history. That began to decline very quickly and the so-called 'loss of China' occurred in 1949. It was taken for granted that we possessed the world, that we owned it. Pretty soon, there was the 'loss of South East Asia'. That's what the inter-China wars were about and the coup in Indonesia.
"In the last decade, we have seen what is called the 'loss of South America'. South America has started to move towards independence and integration and the US has been expelled from every military base there. And there are unions being created in Latin America, South America, Africa, and the Middle East. The west and its allies are trying hard to control this, but its continuing. And, in China, there is the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation - which includes the central Asian states, with Russia, India and Pakistan being observers. The US has been excluded and so far it is an energy-based, economic-based international organisation. Yet, it is another part of this diversification of power in the world.
"American decline is to a significant extent self-inflicted. Since the 1970s, western economies took a sharp turn. Throughout history, the tendency has been towards growth and hopefulness. That changed in the 1970s, when there was a shift in the economy towards financialisation and offshoring of production because of the declining rate of profit in manufacturing. What has happened is very high concentration of wealth – mostly, in a tiny part of the financial sector – and stagnation and decline for the larger part of the population. You have slogans today like the "99 per cent and the 1 per cent". The numbers aren't entirely correct, but the general picture is. It is very serious as it has led to spectacular wealth in very few pockets – although, it is very harmful to the countries involved. The protests we are seeing around the world at the moment are another symptom of that."
Noam Chomsky is professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the US. He has authored more than one hundred books including Current Issues in Linguistic Theory
First Published at PublicServiceEurope.com
First of all, I think it is essential to stress the multiple character of the current crisis. We live in a globalized economy now more than ever, and it is a truism that the effects of, for example, a credit crisis in the US could very much influence economic policies in the Eurozone and beyond. In contrast with other countries around the world, Greece has been particularly hit by the so-called Great Recession of the late-2000s, for a variety of reasons. Greece’s current predicament could be summed up in the herculean task of dealing with its sovereign debt crisis. This colossal public debt was mainly caused by spendthrift state policies during the previous three decades. Successive governments of Greece, whose economy is among the 30 largest in the world, and was one of the fastest growing in the Eurozone during the 2000s, based the country’s entire social model on running large public deficits, predominantly in order to finance public sector jobs (thus creating a gigantic and unsustainable civil service), with an eye to gaining advantage over their political rivals. The somewhat nefarious ways of the credit rating agencies, in conjunction with the lack of a stentorian European answer to Greece’s financial woes, has added poisonous elements to the already toxic mix. As far as the dichotomy mentioned in the question is concerned, I would like to make two observations. It is true that a large part of the Greek civil service is slow, well-paid and overstretched (I would also add inefficient and corrupt), and that the private sector is encumbered with all the negative consequences of a big state. However, I believe that it is the type and the function of the Greek economy (with the public sector accounting for about 40 percent of GDP), often characterized as ‘semi-soviet’ due to the state’s role and the predominance of vested interests (see, for instance, the existence of closed professions), that are the main culprits. One should not neglect the fact that a very large part of private sector activity (like construction, for example) is intertwined with the state, as it is mainly financed by it.
For the last two months, a new social movement (Desperates) continuously protests against the austerity measures. How does the political system see this movement/phenomenon?
The movement of Aganaktismenoi (Indignants) of Greece was modelled on that of the Indignados of Spain (its creation was actually sparked by protesters in Madrid). It now seems to have lost its, arguably significant, momentum. The originality of this social movement was owed to the fact that it was distinctively non-violent, and that it attracted people from across the political spectrum. Press and politicians alike initially discredited the movement thinking or hoping it would go away quickly. The perseverance of the demonsrators, however, forced the political system to pay increased attention to the movement. Unfortunately, though, this multifarious and far from monolithic phenomenon was once again exploited by politicians who wished to create the false impression that they were in touch with the people on the street. The protesters, on their part, did not manage to agree on anything more than their opposition to the austerity measures and the condemnation of MPs and the political system as a whole.
What are the benefits of staying in the Eurozone and the benefits of going back to the drachma?
I strongly believe that Greece cannot afford to leave the Eurozone. The benefits of going back to national currency (the rise of exports, for instance) would evaporate in a short amount of time and any real recovery would not be sustainable. Greece has a long tradition of strong ties with the EEC/EU, which is extremely important to it for historical, political and economic reasons. Despite the fact that Athens has repeatedly failed to cultivate sincere relations with other Eurozone members, and despite some jingoistic talk about dropping the Euro for nationalistic reasons, most Greeks realise that their country could only flourish in close economic cooperation with its traditional European partners. Of course, there are some disadvantages as far as Greece’s membership of the Eurozone is concerned; some analysts have long noted the inefficiencies of the economic system of the EU, as well as the inequalities it creates. These are issues, however, that need to be addressed on a European level, and certainly solutions that take into account not only major exporting countries like Germany and France, but also the countries of the South and the periphery, in general, should be reached. This is tied to the quintessential issue of political integration in the EU lagging behind economic integration.
In Greece, the labour unions have close connections with the political parties and for many they are historically controlled by PASOK. Do you think that this crisis can change this political relationship?
The way the socio-political system was created in Greece the last 30 years, has influenced all strata of society and all interest groups. Labour unions gained considerable power with the rise of PASOK, and the two seemed interconnected to a large degree. The symbiotic relationship between the unions and the socialist party has been on the wane since the death of Andreas Papandreou, and, more importantly (and somewhat ironically), since the premiership of his son, George.
* Published in Political Reflection Magazine (PR) Vol. 2 | No. 3
** Dr Alexandros Nafpliotis has a PhD and an MA from the LSE in International History and a BA from the University of Athens. He has recently presented his research at conferences and seminars at King's College London, Oxford University, NYU, Yale University, and the Centre for Contemporary British History, and he has won a dissertation prize from the London Hellenic Society. His most recent publication is "The 1971 Reestablishment of Diplomatic Relations between Greece and Albania: Cooperation and Strategic Partnership within Cold War Bipolarity?", in Anastasakis, Bechev, Vrousalis, eds., Greece in the Balkans: Memory, Conflict and Exchange, Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009. His research interests lie in the field of international history of the Balkans and the Mediterranean during the Cold War. His doctoral dissertation (to be published by I.B. Tauris) focused on British policy towards the Greek military dictatorship, 1967-1974, and analysed diplomatic, economic, cultural and defence relations between the two traditional allies, by using archival sources from both countries for the first time. He has taught on various aspects of twentieth century international history at the LSE for a number of years.
*** Kaan Renda is a Doctoral Researcher at King's College London.
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