Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The Global Crisis: Seeing It Whole

By Paul Rogers                          Pub. by Open  Democracy                May 1, 2014
There have been many books published about the failures of the global economic system, but two in particular compel attention. The first is Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett's The Spirit Level  (2009), which analysed in great depth the many ways in which inequality harms society and people's life-chances. The second is Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014), a magisterial historical overview of the entire system of capital whose copious research examines its inconsistencies and shows how its very structure consolidates extremes of wealth and poverty, and prevents it from delivering equity.

A common reaction to The Spirit Level among hostile commentators was that it merely repeated what everyone knew, that inequality is bad. The book (subtitled "why more equal societies almost always do better") survived the sneers, and continues to be a major influence on social and economic thinking about a better system.

Capital in the Twenty-First Century is already being greeted by the same charge of stating the obvious. Yet its grounded analysis of how the economic system is failing to deliver socio-economic justice - and indeed going into reverse - presents a huge challenge to the apostles of open-market capitalism.

The four dynamics
This strand of argument concentrates on four global trends - including how they interact and can best be addressed:
* The inability of the global system to deliver equity and emancipation, leading to the relative marginalisation of the majority of the world’s people
* The increasing impact of environmental limitations on human activity, especially in relation to climate disruption
* The worldwide improvement in education, literacy and communications over the past half century, transforming societal potential in so many countries
* The persistence of the control paradigm as the appropriate security response - maintaining the status quo, if need be by the use of military force.
The first two trends are hugely serious on their own account, and taken together demand a vigorous  response.

The third is greatly to be welcomed; but it carries a real sting, because it means that far more people are becoming knowledgable of their own exclusion. This trend underlies many of the anti-capital outbursts of recent years.
The fourth trend is typified by the military invasion and occupation of states, as with Iraq or Afghanistan.

And yet change is in the air - and it involves more than the questioning of capitalism's open-market stage. Bit by bit, climate disruption is being recognised as a threat to the whole world that requires radical action.
There is, in short, significant movement in two areas: critical questioning of the open-market model, and wider acceptance of climate disruption. Wilkinson and Pickett's book, and now Piketty's, are vital contributions on the economic and social dimensions of the current crisis; so should be the global arguments on environment and security. These signs of progress are a start, no more. But if they are followed by serious exploration of radical responses, they could bring nearer the transformations of attitude and approach that current global trends demand.

Paul Rogers is professor in the department of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England.

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