WE LIVE UNDER CAPITALISM. ITS POWER SEEMS INESCAPABLE. SO DID THE DIVINE RIGHT OF KINGS. BUT ANY HUMAN POWER CAN BE RESISTED AND CHANGED BY HUMAN BEINGS. (Ursula K. Le Guin)

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Food for a non-divine thought

 

Human Rights Reader 365

 

-Late capitalism has been brilliant at righting itself. Communism was poor at this. The problem is that capitalism usually only does so after mega crises or wars. (T. Lang)

-It was painstaking research into the life cycle of the HIV virus that revealed how it functioned and thus how it must be attacked; many lives have been saved as a result. Capitalism is a far more complex pathogen; it cannot be tamed without a commensurate effort. (M. Anderson)

 

  1. We are skilled at that combination of complacency and despair that assumes things cannot change and that we, the people, do not have the power to change them. Yet you have to be abysmally ignorant of history, as well as of current events, not to see that our world has always been changing; the world is actually in the midst of great and worrisome changes –not least in the human rights (HR) sphere. Occasionally, changes have been and are made through the power of the popular will with claim holders (although they may not know they are such) organized in social movements. It is hard to see how we will get to more of such bottom-up changes from here on, but more and more we see HR activists –together with citizens with higher political consciousness– claiming and exercising their rights and demanding changes from duty bearers. If we look at the prospects of this, the future seems tremendously exciting. Many people do not understand what HR activists are up against, because they do not grasp that it is the lack of credible counterbalances that keeps the still resilient, unfair capitalist system going. For most people, none of this is real or vivid or visceral or even visible. The question then is: Is everything coming together while everything is falling apart? (J. Henn)

 

  1. Of course, those wielding the power will not yield it without a fight –the very fight HR activists are already engaged-in on many fronts. If everyone who is passionate about HR –who gets it that we are living in a moment in which the fate of the planet and of humanity is actually being decided– found their place in organized social movements, amazing things could happen. What is happening now is already remarkable enough, just not yet commensurate with the magnitude of the current crises. The intransigence or inertia of bureaucracies is still a remarkable force to beat. The HR framework has become a more frequent public and hotly debated issue, as well as the subject of demonstrations in dozens of locations. The HR movement has proved to be bigger and more effective than it looks, because most people do not see it as a single movement. If they look hard, what they usually see is a wildly diverse mix of groups facing global issues on the one hand and a host of local ones on the other.

 

  1. “If these are the values of our society, then I want to be an outlaw in that society”, an activist recently said. The movement has grown in size, in power, and in sophistication, but it is still nowhere near where it needs to be. The coming year –with the launch of the not-really HR-based SDGs– will very likely be decisive. So this is the time to find your place in the growing HR movement –if you have not yet. This is the big picture, so there is a role for everyone, and it should be everyone’s most important work right now, even though so many other important matters press on all of us. Human rights are at the core of world and planetary issues.

 

  1. Many people believe that personal acts in their private life are what matters to eventually address these global crises. These acts may be good deeds, but not the key thing(s) to do. Such personal gestures can and do offer a false sense that you are not part of the problem. Joining organized groups to mobilize actions is what is called for. You are not just a consumer; you are a citizen, a claim holder, and your responsibility is not private, but public; not individual, but social. The race is on. The real pressure for global change comes more from within nations than from nations pressuring one another. We have a particular responsibility to push hard.

 

  1. Pressure works. How will we get to where we need to be, you may ask? I am not sure, but I do know that we must keep moving in the direction of making HR the linchpin of the Post 205 Development Agenda, of transforming the economy, of escaping from the tyranny of HR violators. This is the key vision of a world in which everything is connected. The story of the coming years is ours to write and it could be a story of the HR revolution when popular resistance changed the fundamentals –as much as the people of France changed their world (and ours) more than 200 years ago. “Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings,” Ursula K. Le Guin tells us. And she is right, even if it is the hardest challenge we have to embark on. Now, everything depends on it. (R. Solnit)

 

  1. About 150 years ago, Marx indicated that capitalism was the most efficient economic system humanity had ever invented to produce goods and services. But Marx also pointed out the price being paid by adherence to this system: The destructiveness of the very bases of its wealth-generating principles, the destruction of nature and the unrelenting exploitation of the labor force (HR did not exist as such then…). But today, we have no other reality of the development of the productive forces than the capitalist vision that claims short-term efficiency and lineal progress in a planet assumed to have non-exhaustible natural resources. Certainly, the ‘fight against poverty’ has been adopted by most governments in the world, as well as by the UN –be it using a humanitarian justification (social democratic regimes) or a market-expansion/trickle down justification (neoliberal regimes). (F. Houtart) The contrast of these justifications with what the HR framework is all about should, by now, be clear and stark for you the reader.

 

  1. As an aside, what Latin-Americans call ‘asitencialismo’ is the capitalist plan to give the masses restricted access to personal benefits (bonuses, subsidized credit, handouts, subsidized schooling, health care, other subsidies, etc.). So far, HR activists have been unable to counter this by launching massive HR Learning processes centered on HR with the subsequent political organization and mobilization.  Assistencialism mostly secures popular electoral support and is not linked to actions fostering a true alternate political project as an alternative to capitalism; in this approach, benefits are distributed widely without bringing about new expectations for structural change. As access to consumer goods is promoted, few activists are fostering masses of new social and political actors needed for that change. What is most worrisome is that all this happens without consciousness being raised that ‘consumerism’ values the consumer and not the citizen in us!

 

  1. The best symbol of this ‘post-neoliberal consumer frenzy’ is the cellphone. This gadget brings with it the false idea of a democratization process being under way by making people believe they are ascending or belong to the middle class. The cellphone makes people feel they are acting as active participants in the market. At the same time, credit cards that give access to benefits and credit are aggressively promoted –with people not realizing the usurary interests they are being charged and how their debts rise.

 

  1. Therefore, the challenge we face cannot be put on the laps of governments only. The challenge very much concerns social movements and progressive political parties that must urgently embark in politicizing the debate about the advances, penetration, contradictions and dangers of the raw market economy. They must all widen the scope of their actions to literally promote the liberation of the people trapped in the system, as well as to build a truly emancipatory post-capitalist model of society. (F. Betto)

 

The proponents of the neoliberal model try to convince us that changing our refrigerators, our television sets, our cars and our electrodomestic gear is the way of being patriotic.

 

Neoliberalism is very good at manipulating the meaning of words, e.g., in calling ‘poverty reduction’ what really should be ‘changing the socioeconomic paradigm’; in calling ‘social protection’ what really is a failed poverty reduction policy; in calling ‘participation in social innovation’ what really reflects the demise of the welfare state. We know it. It is nothing new. But we should act upon it. (F. Mestrum)

 

  1. Every political message that seeks hegemony –as neoliberalism does– also needs good promises such as poverty reduction, employment creation, social protection, a veneer of respect of HR (?)… so that it is accepted by people. But by the time people find out the promises are not met, it is too late: the hegemony has already taken stronghold. It is, therefore, important to carefully analyze the new discourses being proposed because, indeed, what is being put on the table is not necessarily about social protection, about the fulfillment of HR, about employment creation… but is rather an ‘improved’ version of poverty reduction –at the service of markets!* Discovering what the proposed discourse is ultimately about is what will help us to organize resistance –better late than never. We should not wait. We already know the risks, and we should react to them –now. (F. Mestrum)

*: Poverty reduction is totally compatible with neoliberal policies, which have nothing to do with a ‘correction’ of the overall negative consequences of such policies! A narrow preoccupation with poverty actually works against the broad and long-term efforts required to achieve what is really important, namely disparity reduction. The idea of social protection has been quickly buried with the emergence of the neoliberal poverty discourse. (Global Health Watch 4, People’s Health Movement)

 

  1. As has become patent in the last few years, austerity policies are part and parcel of the neoliberal program that has aimed, and succeeded, to reform the state and to introduce a social paradigm that has weakened trade unions and the welfare state, instead focusing efforts on poverty-reduction-at the-service-of-the-market. Neoliberalism, we should never forget, is not about directly weakening states, but rather about reforming the state and making it strong within a limited scope that suits neoliberalism’s intentions. And this is happening right now. So yes, the real macroeconomic goals of austerity may be being met (are they really?), but with HR as a victim. Add to this the growing influence of multinational corporations over the state, as well as their lobbying and aggressive promotion of international trade and investment agreements**, and we see the further emergence of ‘captive states’ whose goal is no longer to care for the HR and welfare of their people, but to help and promote their ‘corporate citizens partners’. (F. Mestrum) [Keep in mind that free trade does not imply a free-market and, more often than not, it means poor people go hungry while profits of rich landowners, of financiers and of corporations***, especially in the agro-industrial sector, increase. (V. Shiva)].

**: A pertinent question here is: Are trade agreements, in general and by definition, as well as in practice, to be considered crimes against humanity…? (E. Shaffer)

***: In all fairness, it also should be said that not all corporations (even some of the larger ones) are wedded to the current system. Many of the younger CEOs are fully aware of the challenges ahead and are trying to make their companies genuinely sustainable, moving from the old “take, make, waste” manufacturing paradigm to a circular one which minimizes or eliminates waste and mimics nature. (W.van Marle)

 

  1. For decades, capitalism and socialism were adversaries. Since 1945, they worked simultaneously in the Western world. But with ‘the threat of communism’ gone, financial capitalism, as part of the neoliberal ideology, stopped being compatible with the democratic values and hopes of the majority of people who are losing faith in democracy as relates to its capacity to improve their living conditions. (Albino Gomez)

 

  1. Most people do not condone the excesses of neoliberalism. True. But they remain in a state of constant ‘forgetfulness’. Ours seems to be a society of deliberate blindness about these matters. We live in a culture of the perpetual present, one that not only deliberately severs itself from the past that brought us where we are, but also from the future we are shaping with our actions or inactions. (N. Klein)

 

  1. Yes, neoliberalism is in crisis. It is actually in the intensive care unit; it does not generate growth for all, it only survives creating ever more debt as it makes inequality grow…HR are not in its horizon. (A. Gomez)

 

  1. Bottom line, we are sick of hearing about and technological triumphalism in a model that is actually characterized by ‘the three exs’, namely exploitation, exclusion and extinction …not forgetting HR violations!

 

Are Public-Private Partnerships financing development or developing finance?

Originally, public-private partnerships (PPPs) are the result of a contract between government and a private company under which:

  • A private company finances, builds, and operates some element of a public service; and
  • The private company gets paid over a number of years, either through charges paid by users, or by payments from the public authority, or a

combination of both.

But PPPs of another sort are now being promoted worldwide by global institutions and consultants. Development banks, national governments, the EU and donor agencies are providing subsidized public finance specifically for PPPs. Countries subject to IMF regimes, as well as other developing countries, are being subjected to political pressures and marketing campaigns to join. But experience over the last 15 years shows that PPPs are an expensive and inefficient way of financing projects and divert government spending away from other public services. They conceal public borrowing, while providing long-term state guarantees for profits to private companies.

 

  1. In this context, and as an aside, I have to say more about Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). In PPPs, the profit making motive is never really too much in the background. In them, the private sector literally captures the policy decision-making process.**** The defining feature of PPPs is that they establish legally binding contractual clauses to the public flow of funding. PPPs thus can be and have been transformed to become vehicles for coming-up with multiple novel means of extracting private profit –too often at the expense of HR. In PPPs, the public sector tends to carry all the financial risks by providing cash subsidies or guarantees while PPPs are not about building and/or providing support to public services; they are about building assets for the private partners, therefore eventually yielding them financial and/or other returns. In sum: PPPs are less about financing development than about developing finance. (Corner House)

****: In the policy making of PPPs, agreement is mostly reached on setting technocratic targets, (i.e. targets that are power-neutral, are measurable and mostly rely on capital transfers to developing countries) whereas targets that necessarily imply shifts in the power balance or challenge the influence of developed countries on global issues are quite systematically avoided. PPPs thus dodge the bullet of having to reconsider their social accountability. [Let us not forget: Targets get achieved by processes set in motion. The mistake of PPPs (and of UN agencies) focusing too much on targets has been proven in the MDGs. Given that processes advance at difference speeds, targets need to be set participatorily year by year from the launch-on and then throughout the evolving processes agreed upon after their participatory assessment; this, with the aim to amend them as needed. PPPs could not be further away from this concept].

 

  1. The myriad green lights being given these days to PPPs, private sector financing and partnerships ‘for sustainable development’, without any specific language on their needed evaluation, accountability, transparency and overall governance checks, is deeply worrying. It is imperative to re-consider the term PPP in its original meaning and not allow the term to be used for any not-thoroughly-assessed partnership with the private sector.*****

*****: Private sector investors do not necessarily need HR to operate profitably. They depend much more on property rights and mainly want to make sure that contracts and laws that favor them are enforced. (A. Konishi, ADB. D+C Vol 41 Dec.2014)

 

  1. ‘Multi-stakeholder’ partnerships –that go hand-in hand with PPPs– must also be reviewed using UN-led governance guidelines that incorporate absence of conflicts of interest and accountability checks, ex-ante assessment criteria (such as having demonstrated sustainable development results), transparent reporting, as well as independent monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. (International Council for Adult Education)

 

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

cschuftan@phmovement.org

 

Postscript/Marginalia

-Among academics, somebody said, we find a lot of ‘deep socialism buried in savage capitalism’. (R. Ampuero)

-The bourgeois class system of justice is like a fishing net that allows the hungry sharks to escape only catching the small sardines. (Rosa Luxemburg)

 

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