Archive for March 28th, 2011

Publics and other matters

Let me continue with my adventures in stating what appears to me as bleeding obvious. The co-ordinated assault on working conditions and living standards of workers in European countries, especially those countries said to be on the periphery, such as Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Greece, is more easily conducted than would be the case if those countries spoke a common language and its workers formed part of a common public and experienced the measures as part of this public.

There is no reason for European elites of whatever member state to engage in the creation of a European public, and it’s wrong to imagine that greater integration across member states at the level of economic policy will of itself produce greater solidarity among people living in Europe. On the contrary, the ‘spatial fix’ likely to accompany institutionalised austerity will be a set of member states competing among one another to ratchet down labour costs, i.e. wages and living standards, pursuing policies characterised by the increasing tendency within each member state to privilege one category of worker (the citizen) above another (the ‘non-national’), and to identify the condition of the local working class with the health of the corporate state – cf Enda Kenny’s heroic trip to Brussels in a bid to maintain Ireland’s corporation tax rates.

Therefore it is wrong to wait for European elites to do the job of creating a European public: for it to happen, ordinary people are going to have to build it in spite of them. Precisely how this might be achieved is well beyond the scope of my mental processes, which hardly makes it any less necessary. It is worth pointing out, however, that this sort of thing, while it appears remote, is hardly entirely alien: people across Europe identified with the revolution in France as a universal event, not as this great thing that the French (who at that time didn’t even exist as ‘the French’ anyway) were getting up to.

Moving on, I meant to post this what appears below but never got round to it.

This is a video of Julio Anguita, former secretary general of Izquierda Unida (United Left) in Spain, speaking last year on a TV programme about the current crisis. The format of the programme, if I recall correctly, is a debate in which each participant has one minute to speak uninterrupted.

What this video shows is the compilation of each of Anguita’s interventions. I have translated the most relevant parts of these below:

In the 90s, Hans Tietmeyer, who was president of the Bundesbank, told European leaders the following, face to face: “you politicians, ladies and gentlemen, need to get used to obeying the diktats of the markets”. This has happened. Those who have started to take these measures have said “because the markets tell us to do so”. Do you realise that this damages the principle of democracy? Who elects the markets? We elect political leaders. Who elects the banks, the ratings agencies, investment funds? Before talking about taxes and if this or that one ought to be raised, it would be useful to sit down and clarify things: the democratic system is at risk. Those who do not appear in elections tell us what has to be done – against us. They tell the governments. And the governments obey.

Why have they (the PSOE government) attacked public servants, and pensioners, and why have they cut public investments that generate employment? This was not planned. There has been tremendous pressure in the street, and even within the PSOE itself. And now they agree that they have to increase direct taxation. What about SICAVs, wealth tax – why haven’t they started there? They’ve started with the easiest of all. And on top of that, they’ve received the approval of the European Union, who’ve said “great”. Why? I go back to my first intervention: the markets are who says what has to be done. And until we get tough with the markets and we tell them that democratic power will rule -not promises, but that it is done in fact- we will always have this. The banks, agencies, investors will be in charge – there is no European power, because there is no real European Union, no co-ordinated economic policy to take these decisions.

I ask again: what Europe? They have congratulated us because we’re going to tax public servants more, we’re going to stop pension increases: they’ve said “great”. However, that Europe that obeys the markets -who, yes, they’re the ones who lend, but they’re also the ones who pull the stunts, tricks so that debt drives up interest rates, those who win with these questions- when have the markets ever been denounced by all the heads of government, starting with Sarkozy, Frau Merkel, or Rodríguez Zapatero himself? We are back carrying out the policies that the markets demand, according to them.

What a shame to only have 59 seconds. Lorenzo Bernaldo de Quirós [whom I assume was another participant in the programme, profile here – HG] has presented the problem thus: that economics is above politics. No. Economics is politics too, and he has political ideas, and here there are two economists with different politico-economic ideas. So, one must get stuck in, and not present economics as though it were a law above the decisions of human beings.

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March 2011