Friday, January 13, 2017
Global,Growth and Corporatism versus Local, Sustainable and Participation
Fictitious interviews with a Chief Executive Officer of a multinational corporation and Secretary General of a social action organisation.
By Jeffrey Harrod
These transcripts are fictitious and, as in any other work of fiction, what the characters say is not necessarily the view of the author. However, apart from the opinions of the characters all facts, names and positions can be supported by statistical data or real expert opinion based on extant sources and arguments. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Any writers, persons and organisations mentioned in the transcripts are all in the public domain and can be subjected to fair comment. ©Jeffrey Harrod 2016
1) “CEO Supports Anti-Capitalist Movements” … page 1
Interview with James Burnham, CEO of a cement corporation.
2) “International Activist Opposes Internationalism” … page 11
Interview with Jack Summers, Secretary General of a social action organisation.
CEO Supports Anti-Capitalist Movements
This is a fictitious transcript of an audio interview and, as in any other work of fiction, what the characters say is not necessarily the view of the author Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The writers, persons and organisations mentioned in the work are all in the public domain and can be subjected to fair comment. ©Jeffrey Harrod 2016
Today on Key Talks we have James Burnham who is the Chief Executive Officer of a major cement corporation and Chairman of the highly influential Commission 10 headquartered in New York. Recently the Secretary General of the United Nations said that Commission 10 was “the executive of the world” and that its studies and reports were used around the world as the “base for national policies”
Welcome Mr. Burnham.
Burnham: Good morning, thank you for having me.
Striker: Just to give the listeners some background before we start – you are a CEO of a major cement corporation and have degrees from the University of Geneva in Switzerland and a doctorate in history from Yale. You have been at the head of an oil corporation before your current position and you said, in one of your blogs, that it was the energy world which caused you to join the Commission 10 and then accept, more recently, to become its Chairperson.
Before we start - CEO of a cement corporation – presumably you could have gone to any sector – why cement?
Burnham: Cement is a basic need because we need cement for shelter as much as we need food – the future of the world will be one of destruction-reconstruction and so the products of the cement industry will always be in high demand.
Striker: That is the sort of vision we are looking for in Key Talks – and that is sort of vision which got you to be Chairman of the Commission10 whose reports and essays are used as a…. “base for national policies” all over the world. Can that be really true?
Burnham: There is some exaggeration there, of course, but it is true that our studies and reports are often adopted as policy documents for different countries.
Striker: If that is the case what is your secret then? Why do you get all this high level attention?
Burnham: I believe it is because Commission 10 - which is an independent, privately-funded small organisation - has a clarity of aims and vision. Briefly our vision is that the corporation is the successor institution to church and state and until it is accepted as a responsible and legitimate and perhaps dominant partner in government then the world will continue to move from crisis to crisis and gross misfortune. Those millions who work, for and consume the products of, corporations seem to believe that our voice has more to offer than public government organisations - that is why I believe our policies are adopted on a global basis.
Striker: While the Commission 10 may have “clarity of vision” as you say but from what you have said it seems to add up to just being a promotor of the corporations – what in the more general sense is the objective?
Burnham: I think it is wrapped up in, as you put it, “the promotion of the corporation” because we are talking here about governance – governance of the material world from which all else follows – without production there would be no life – so production rather than government should be at the highest point in contemporary life. The church and the state before the rise of the corporation were excessively concerned with the spirit and then with justice and the production of the very basic needs necessary to support the spirit and any sense of justice were ignored. We stand now on the threshold of the emergence of a corporate-capitalism which will have a focus on production and stabilize the world to a greater extent than ever before.
Striker: So you are work for, and hope for, the arrival of corporate-capitalism but what will, or is, preventing that – in short we know what you are for but what are you against?
Burnham: I am not sure that your binary, Manichean approach actually fits what the Commission 10 does but without confirming that approach I can outline what we think is the problem.
When we talk about seeking a corporate-capitalism this must mean there were other forms of capitalism and indeed they have been since recorded history – manorial capitalism, then industrial capitalism and so on. All of these can be seen as a normal progress of humankind – of a normal progress of human history each form smoothly moving into another.
But at the beginning of the 20th century there emerged a form of capitalism which was a discontinuity, a form which prevented the normal progress of history. This was the so-called welfare-capitalism which lasted from about late 1950s to the mid-1980s. It sometimes called socialism or social democracy but for us it was welfare-capitalism. Significantly, French left-wing intellectuals call this period “Les Trente Glorieuses”- the Thirty Glorious Years. For us it was the dismal or Thirty Lost Years in which the world struggled with a form of capitalism in which the corporations were made into rambling public enterprises, when entrepreneurs were taxed to the point of destitution supposedly to support the low-productivity workers, when income distribution was to those who could only spend and not invest. All this prevented the normal path of accumulation and innovation which healthy, as opposed to welfare, capitalism needs. It was also a massive confiscatory operation in which wealth and income were taken from the innovators in society – at one time redistribution was 60% against higher incomes. It was the worst and lowest form of capitalism history has ever experienced – capitalism was at its lowest ebb.
Striker: I hear you speaking as the historian you are – but there were many corporate businessmen and women who supported “welfare capitalism”….
Burnham: Indeed there were and, that was very strange. It began with Keynes. As a gay and a millionaire he should have had no sympathy for the state which made homosexuality a criminal offence and already had started a wealth tax – but nevertheless in 1929 he looked to the state to create his model of welfare-capitalism designed to end unemployment. The story after that becomes a Toynbee story of the rise and decline of empires. Britain was a declining empire – it was desperate, it had used all its mobilising forces for the first World War, it had a working population on a two-hundred year go-slow as the result of the lack of incentives – so in desperation it accepted Keynes idea that the state should provide work and the incentive for work. It was a characteristic of a declining empire to look to the state. But then by an extraordinary chance the rising empire – the USA - had a leader who was also enamoured of the Keynesian idea. So Roosevelt, although also an aristocratic millionaire, was converted to welfare-capitalism and just as Constantine, the Roman Emperor who converted himself and then the Roman Empire to Christianity, so Roosevelt had the USA Empire convert to welfare-capitalism and, as in all imperial ventures, so spread it around the world. Welfare-capitalism is the only form of capitalism antagonistic to corporate-capitalism. You asked what the Commission 10 is against well it is welfare-capitalism, socialism or social democracy which is often what it is usually called.
Striker: I am glad that you made that clear because it brings me to some of your recent statements which appear to many listeners – judging by their e-mails – as rather strange – you said you offer support to anti-capitalism movements – is this what you really said or has it been pumped up by the media.
Burnham: What prompted me to make these statements – and they were deliberate – was that the quiet and effective actions of the Commission 10 and my colleagues in providing support for those left and Marxist movements and parties, which we feel would not disturb what we have achieved, were being disrupted by loud and hysterical conservatives thinking they were also protecting the status quo.
Striker: But I am sure you realise when you say – speaking as one of the key decision- makers in – what could be called a global capitalist system – that you support the anti-capitalist movements it does not seem that you yourself are being quiet and effective.
Burnham: That may be so but what I was saying essentially was that our quiet support of an anti-capitalist movements had been so effective that it was never publicised. But let me explain that particular policy – we believe that the capitalist system in a variety of forms to be immutable – it is not a system created as Marx would have it in the 19 century but has been in existence ever since humans live in societies. There has always been barter and trade, and savings, accumulation, innovation and there have always been rich people and poor. The French historian Braudel noted that in every system there was always the rich and the poor. The degrees of wealth and poverty were different but the gap was still there. So to oppose capitalism is futile – you might just as well oppose human kind.
Striker: But that is still a long way from supporting anti-capitalist movements as a tactic in the here and now and which leads you to support all sorts of movements directly or indirectly through finance and publicity – such as of the Occupy Movement and other such organisations.
Burnham: Of course … we do this because even if those protests are expanded and continued there is absolutely no threat to what we have now and what we would like to expand. The leaders of these movements encourage their followers to seek the absolute elimination of capitalism and, as I have said before, we know this is impossible. In their opposition they reveal their weaknesses, their inability to think out of the paradigm which would be a precondition of any serious opposition to the emerging corporate-capitalism.
Striker: But there are some well-known figures in those movements - are they completely wrong?
Burnham: Yes, they are wrong usually because in one way or another they go back to Marx and was he completely wrong about capitalism. Marx was a German observing the behaviour of the British aristocracy of the 19th century – he thought they had constructed a rigid inflexible system – so rigid that the people would revolt because they were materially deprived. This did not happen and never did happen – even in Russia and Vietnam, for example, where it was thought a revolution had occurred – what battles were fought in the name of communism and anti-capitalism were really battles between religions and ethnicities or nations. The Vietnamese fought to rid themselves of foreign domination but in the name of communism and their subsequent history shows that they did not try to abolish capitalism. Communist Russia would not have survived unless the people could be mobilized to defeat, not capitalism but the invading Germans. Marx did not understand that people would not be mobilised against a system nor that rulers, and especially the British rulers he studied, were always capable of granting timely concessions to gain another hundred years just as Henry Ford did in providing his workers with $5 dollars a day. It has been shown again and again and is being shown now that people do not move – as they did in that unique aberration which was the French Revolution – to overthrow a system just because they are poor or even just underprivileged.
Striker: So all the current left-wing analysts are fundamentally in error?
Burnham: Well not all but all have one colossal and major error – they are anti-system they dissect, deconstruct – to use a postmodern term – and over-research a system to find its faults. They become powerful and sophisticated in analysing the ills but when it comes to prescriptions and tactics for opposition they demonstrate how bankrupt they are. In the past it was Polanyi who talked of a resistance to markets without ever judging the relative power of the market force and its potential resistance which would show that market forces were always the most superior. Now it is high profile Marxists or class analysts like David Harvey in the UK or Fraser in the USA who bitterly oppose corporate capitalism and analyse in critical detail how it is arriving but have no meaningful prescriptions to oppose it.
Striker: But what about the less extreme public intellectuals like Stiglitz, Kruger , Klein and so on………
Burnham: Oh, they are fine we support them as much as we can. You must remember that if they are “public intellectuals” then they have become public by virtue of the media – but the media are also corporations and no institution promotes those who would destroy it. So if you have heard of a particular analysis – Pikkerty on income distribution for example — then you have been allowed to hear of him by the corporations which control the media. Pikkerty, and the rest are no threat – they are essentially political liberals seeking minor adjustments to the system just as do the bulk of social democrats. No, not only are they not a threat but they make a positive contribution to what we seek to maintain. The minor re-adjustments in distribution are essentially in the centre of the political spectrum and are nothing as dramatic and threatening as the welfare state in those famous 30 years of redistribution where, for example, at one time in Sweden the whole of industry was in danger of being owned by trade unions.
Striker: Making a change from your emphasis on capitalism I would like to ask you about a recent paper that the Commission 10 published “Controlling Global Migration” in which it seems you argue on the one hand that migration is positive and on the other that too much is negative – just a level of degree, it seems?
Burnham: We begin as always with the global picture. In 2015 only 3.3 percent of the world population lived outside of their country of birth. Ninety-six point seven percent of the world population have not moved from their country of origin. In fact most of them did not move far from where they were born. Even if all of these were of working age it could only mean about 5 percent of the global labour force. So first we note that globally it is a minor issue and phenomena. This is also shown by country statistics the migrant stock of India, for example, as a percentage of the population is less than a half of one percent and China is almost the same. But on the other hand we note also the following: the so-called immigration states – that is with a level of first generation migrants over 6 percent are concentrated in Europe and North America with of course Australia and New Zeeland as outliners. We note also that these are precisely the countries which are most corporate friendly in the world. We also note in that document that migration also detracts from movements of solidarity based on class or ethnicity and that is also a useful block to the emergence of a new phase of welfare-capitalism. So we promote migration as a positive force for corporate-capitalism.
Striker: Now, a related issue – the Commission 10 has been in the forefront of supporting human rights and political liberty even in in authoritarian countries some of which might seem to support the ideas you have mentioned here
Burnham: That is true – to some extent that model was taken from our corporate-supporting colleague George Soros and his support for Amnesty International. We finance and support all organisations seeking to secure individual civil and political rights.
Striker: But does this not bring you into conflict with regimes that might otherwise support what you call “corporate capitalism”?
Burnham: Not really, because again securing these rights does not challenge existing regimes in their broader form and the promotion of individual rights prevents the rise of collective rights. Commission 10 is always for individual rights and against all form of collective rights.
Striker: … but isn’t a corporation a form of collectivism?
Burnham: Absolutely not because we do not rely on solidarity – loyalty maybe, but collective solidarity is not a way forward.
Striker: You seem to believe that individual civil rights will prevent welfare-capitalism – I am not sure of your the argument here.
Burnham: One way to explain this is to consider the beginning of welfare-capitalism in the 1960s. There has been two high profile declarations by the United Nations – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights both from 1966. The Civic and political rights were an expression of Enlightenment thinking of individual liberty and freedom in every sense. The Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was a manifesto for statist welfare-capitalism and socialism and declared an entitlement of material rights whether they were deserved or worked for and without regard to how they would be produced.. This document was a UN confirmation of welfare-capitalism and the beginning of the Thirty Lost Years.
We have always attempted to side-line this Economic and Social covenant – with some success – and promoted the civil and political rights – we, as most people, do not agree with torture nor unjust imprisonment so this promotion fell on fertile ground and we have continued this policy in our general support for political liberalism as well as economic liberalism. One of our partners has put it very succinctly when the Liberal International organisation described itself as the preeminent network for “promoting liberalism, individual freedom, human rights, the rule of law, tolerance, equality of opportunity, social justice, free trade and a market economy.” The seamless joining together of liberal human rights and free markets and so to corporate presence. We always promote democracy provided the governments which are elected are not redistributive or confiscatory as they were in welfare-capitalism. The democratic regimes and their governments which have emerged since 1980s have cooperated with corporations in governing and have almost accepted that they have a place where they belong in governing society and the world.
Striker: It seems to me then that you have no threats to your ideas and programme which you have not defeated – but surely there must be some threats in diplomacy – some powerful states which do not agree with you.
Burnham: Certainly there are some regimes which do not directly threaten our project but they have the potential to do so. What we see are two types of authoritarian regimes: the first are clearly authoritarian but they do not couple it with the ideology that power can be maintained by granting material benefits to the mass of people. Then there are countries which have declared to accept foreign investment and have easy if not free markets – India and China are in this category. But there are other authoritarian regimes who maintain their power by constraining markets distributing the resource income to the mass of population. The result is welfare-capitalism at its worst. When we began the 1990s there were many smaller countries in this category. For example the two largest armies outside of the USA and China were in Yugoslavian and Iraq — Milosevic and Saddam Hussain both called themselves socialist. Libya and Syria were not far behind under the influence of the Baath socialist party and both distributed oil money. We argued that they should be stopped — and they were.
Striker: You wanted then regime change towards “normal “capitalism as you would see it.
Burnham: Well that would have been best of course but we knew we could not get that immediately. I am always amazed when left and liberal intellectuals discuss the Iraq war and claim it was a disaster and based on ignorance of any possible post-conflict situation. Of course, we knew that Iraq was made up of three forces – Sunni, Shiite and Kurds – and of course we knew if you removed the authoritarian leader it would collapse into a tripartite civil war…...
Striker: …. but if you knew then you wanted that to happen?
Burnham: No , and please remember we are not a government and command no armies, we did not want it to happened but we knew that if it did it would not be a problem – destabilisation and chaos always favour those who are stable and organised. To look at it realistically there will be no threat of welfare-capitalism re-emerging from that region for as long as analysis permits and, in addition, if the world needed the oil it could have it, foreign bases have been secured and, nuclear and chemical threats diminished. I would argued that the Iraq invasion can be seen as an outstanding success.
But you must understand the question of regimes and countries will disappear when corporate capitalism is fully established. Already a citizen’s welfare is determined almost entirely by the corporation for whom she/he works – if you are a cleaner in a successful corporation you will get more money and benefits than if you were a cleaner in a less successful corporation. We look forward to the time when it will make sense for a citizen to choose a corporation and a different language will be seen merely as a barrier to effective trading between corporations.
Striker: You have presented a picture of what seems to be almost absolute invincibility – there must be some challenges, there must be some opposition which you are concerned about – in the last few minutes could you provide us with an honest visions of what the future challenges will be and how the Commission 10 will face them.
Burnham: That is indeed a challenge for me to complete in a few minutes and you did promise that we could talk “at length”. But despite that you think my remarks show that we are confident in fact we have the all angst of a project on the brink of fulfilment. Because corporate-capitalism is not yet fully established we are fearful always that, in this the last stage, there will be an unforeseen event or movement which at the very last minute will set us back another 50 years. In these “few minutes” then I would like to explain what these dangers are.
To begin with the basic corporate capitalism must be global because corporations have to be large enough to be partners in the governance of a sector and participate in a world governance of production. There is then only one basic requisite of global corporate capitalism which is that the corporation must have access to every unit, society or country that exists. Access is then key. It must have access to the resources, labour and consumers in every country or society of the world. Currently access is guaranteed by regional organisations such as the European Union, North American Free Trade Area, the Pacific Partnership and hopefully the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and many bi-lateral treaties and investment arrangements and we support the expansion and development of these. We proposed and supported the belief in globalization as the ideology of global corporate capitalism.
So any opposition to access is a danger for us. We are, of course, aware that the default mode in almost all countries and societies of the world is collectively based on religion, ethnicity, belongingness and locale. In the past these mobilizing forces – any of which can deny access — was subsumed under the idea and force of nationalism. Further the vast majority of the world populations live under and support ethnic or religious regimes We knew that this basis for collectivity and even solidarity would have to be destroyed in order to establish global corporate capitalism.
Ideologically we were on safe ground because since Hans Kohn had made the distinction between ethnic and civic nationalism and since the new empire of the USA furiously adhered to civic nationalism, ethnic or religious nationalism was eliminated from the discourse.
This was what the so-called cold war was about – it was not about the communism it was the elimination of nationalists who would deny access and prevent the global rise of corporations. Although communism was a threat it was not as great as the denial of access though nationalism many of the nationalists were then caught by the anti-communist rhetoric and actions. So for example, Patrice Lumumba when trying to deny corporations the access to the resources of Katanga in the Congo and a few hours before he was executed complained that because he had sought support from Moscow he was not a communist but a “simple nationalist”. The Russian Commitern and Marxists unwittingly supported the project here as they also declared themselves to be against “bourgeois nationalists”. It was not by accident that in the 1960s the wise strategist Edgar Hoover of the USA Federal Bureau of Investigation called the USA African-American protest party the Black Panthers the “Black Nationalists” although the activities and demands were entirely domestic. He knew that already that “nationalist” was a term of opprobrium and that to call any one or any movement nationalist was to establish popular support for their elimination. Of course, we also had some help from Mr. Hitler in giving nationalism a bad name. In Europe now any group arguing that foreign ownership of nationally located assets or that foreign management of local resources may not be advisable is described as “extreme right” and that certainly is a useful deterrent.
Why then do I think that it is a challenge? Partially it is because the USA Empire is waning and the leadership is relying more and more on military means – and as with multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies as the global hegemonic authority weakens the divisions and the default mode of societies is beginning to emerge again. Sometimes they call themselves “sovereigntists”, sometimes they just argue for local government intervention into the management of the economy, sometimes they show themselves as being anti-free trade, sometimes they are separatists, or demand self-determination, greater autonomy, sometimes they call for a religious solidarity, or for greater state control of the economy or even state ownership of key industries. But what all this means is they are anti-corporation and opposed to the establishment of corporate-capitalism and the power of corporations. So in these ideas and events there is always a potential to deny the corporations unimpeded possibilities that they need and that is the basis of any concerns we have.
Striker: Well that was not very brief but it certainly was thought-provoking and something that our listeners will be able to read in transcript and think about and make comments on our website. But most of what you have said is rather sombre and intense – what do you do to relax you do to relax – what will you do now for example?
Burnham: I adore having an exciting “table” that is a meal and evening with top-rank thinkers and artists and all the better if the table turns into a party. Otherwise I love watching ironic, or sarcastic TV shows the British “Dad’s Army”– a beautiful sketch of the tensions between different economic status– and the Dutch van Kooten and de Bie who go right to the point of routine life and the French duo comedies like “Les Visteurs” and the acting of Bernard Blier – all a bit dated now I know, but I keep up with TV series like “The Wire, “Follow the Money” and naturally the USA “House of Cards”. If I want quiet time I retreat to my model railway room where I have both current and antique collection of functioning engines.
Striker: So here we will leave you with your table and model trains and say thank you for the interview.
Burnham: It is me that should offer thanks for you being so patient and allowing me full time to explain our aims and strategies….thank you….
International Activist Opposes InternationalismInterview with Jack Summers, Secretary General of a social action organisation.
This is a fictitious transcript of an audio interview and, as in any other work of fiction, what the characters say is not necessarily the view of the author Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The writers, persons and organisations mentioned in the work are all in the public domain and can be subjected to fair comment. ©Jeffrey Harrod 2016
Striker: Welcome to Key Talks – this is the programme where we allow people who are key to the policies which make the world we live in to talk frankly and at length about what they believe. I am Jonathan Striker.
Today on Key Talks we have Jack Summers who is the Chairman of the highly influential Coalition 45 headquartered in New York. Recently the Secretary General of the United Nations said that Coalition 45 was “the watchdog of the world” and that its studies and reports were used around the world as the basis for ”democratic participations.”
Welcome Mr. Summers.
Summers: Good morning, thank you for having me.
Striker: Just to give the listeners some background before we start – you are the Secretary General of a major civil society organisation, have degrees from Tokyo University, have headed a major international trade union and have been an invited long-term lecturer at the University of Stockholm.
Before we start – you are often described as a secretary general of an “environmental action group.” Presumably you could have gone to any sector – why environment?
Summers: That is an inaccurate description of Coalition 45. Although environmental action and lobbying are a major part of our work we are a social action group and we cover many policies and issues. Maybe it is because any real attack on environmental degradation would mean also an attack on mal-distribution of income, on industrial agriculture, over-consumption and all the other factors which contribute to some of the world’s major problems. At the core of improving environmental conditions must be – as it has always been – solidarity and mobilisation for political and social action. So it a mistake to call Coalition 45 an “environmental action group” as you and most of your media colleagues do—we are a social action group and have to cover politics, economy, society and environment.
Striker: The mistakes of the media always get a bashing on Key Talks but we give as much as we take! To come back to the flattering remarks from the UN — “watchdog of the world and democratic participations” can that be really true?
Summers: There is some exaggeration there, of course, but it is true that our studies and reports are often adopted as policy documents for different countries.
Striker: If that is the case what is your secret then? Why do you get all this high level attention?
Summers: I believe it is because Coalition 45 – which is an independent, privately-funded organisation which unites 45 activist groups and networks – has a clarity of aims and vision. Briefly, we see a major source of our current problems the massive change in power structures which has resulted in the multinational corporation usurping, infiltrating and distorting the power of the state and governments and that unless power is restored to a public-oriented and participative state the world will continue to move from crisis to crisis and gross misfortune. People who follow us believe that a voice must be restored which speaks for the public and not corporate or special interest.
Striker:The Coalition 45 may have “clarity of vision” but from what you have just said it seems to add up to just being another “corporation-basher” — what, in the more general sense, is the objective of the coalition?
Summers: That, of course, is a crude description and what indeed the power-holders would want us to be – but we are more subtle than that. The reason I emphasised the corporation is that, in terms of power configuration, its role has been the source of the major change of the last 30 years. The pace of concentration – development of global monopolies – has been so fast that politicians and academics have not kept up with it and still blather on about “competition” and “markets “when in reality neither exist. So our focus it not so much on the corporation as on governance of which the corporation is the newest and most powerful part. We are concerned with changing the governance of the social and productive world and from that all else follows.
Striker: But there was governance before the increase in the power of the corporation – is it that you want to go back to? Somehow governance was better when it was exclusively kings, tribes, parliaments and so on…
Summers: Interesting that you should raise that issue because it was part of my thesis at Tokyo University – I looked at the trajectory of governance from the Middle Ages in Europe through to the current situation. I concluded the power trajectory that moved from the fiefdom to the church and then to the state was a form of mediation — all of them attempting to either increase the wealth of the ruling class or at least preserving the distributional status quo. So the church and the state were usually concerned with maintaining a balance of power between greedy groups of the rich and powerful and so the environment and social justice were ignored.
But somewhere in the late 19th century a strange event occurred— the state became captured by the thinking of the late Enlightenment and so ushered in a political liberal version of the state. Governance, to come back to your question, finally began to move in the direction of public interest and public service for the first time in the recorded history of the world. But that liberal thinking contained a fundamental flaw born of the Enlightenment and of European arrogance because the basis of governance was that it was of “man”, that is, it was supposed to be universal. This was subsequently supported by the rise of the USA Empire, one of the few and certainly the most powerful state-country whose nationalism or patriotism is said to be based not on language, religion or ethnic differences but on values such as free speech, democracy, tolerance of race and creed and which were claimed to be universal values and which should be applied universally. Please remember that I am talking here of thinking and not of action because the same people proposing these ideas ignored the mismatch between the ideas and reality – the reality of the greatest genocide in known history of the Native Indians of America by the Europeans and the reality of European-led African slavery – nine USA presidents after the publication of the “rights of man” were slave owners. Their actions rather than the theory helped convert what started as a reasonable political liberalism into an intolerant, universalistic, ultra-political liberalism. This move to liberal extremism destroyed any real chance of a governance for the people by the people in units which recognise their differences based on their religion, democracy, geography and even values and, above all, their collective right to belong and possess. Now that the state has lost power to the corporation the situation is worse because there is a reduced chance of reform or reconstruction as the corporation is devoid of public interest and devoted to the over-riding objectives of extraction and self-expansion.
So again, back to your question — there will indeed have to be a slight going-back – the nation state was the best solution for the prevention of up-close, dominant and constant, ethnic, religious and tribal conflict by consolidating security, territorial possession and at least the semblance of self-government – so there will have to be some restoration of that but within a different framework…
Striker: So you work for, and hope for, the arrival of governments which serve the public interest but that would seem to be entirely possible under current circumstances so what will, or is, preventing that….?.
Summers: What stands in the way of a more reasonable governance is what its promoters call corporate-capitalism or sometimes just corporatism which is a world system dominated by governments compliant to corporations. Under such a new system it is impossible to use the tactics and strategies that served in the short period of so-called social democracy in Europe. The promoters of corporate-capitalism use the idea of capitalism deliberately. The Coalition 45 does not use the concept of capitalism because it reifies a system – it gives automatic qualities to a vast system of exploitation and destruction — it allows some people to blame a system rather than its agents it is not capitalism which created the wars in the Middle East nor the viral hazards emerging from intensive animal farming – it is human beings organised in corporations, government agencies and supranational institutions intent on sustaining reckless material greed and lead by Chief Executives Officers, Ministers and Diplomats and supported by their cohorts in banking, finance and the media.
The corporations use and domination of what was originally called capitalism is in fact the death of capitalism. What is emerging now is a major and perhaps final departure from the capitalism of Marx and Adam Smith which they described as a system of capital and markets characterised by competing capitalists. Neither of them ever anticipated a modern corporation, not only a monopoly, not only global, not only dominant in a supply chain from earth to breakfast table but also a major force in the total government of all peoples. To call it capitalism is to disguise the corporation. The corporation has killed capitalism and all that is left now are the capitalists which is why we are so insistent that named individuals are held to account for their actions.
Striker: But if then, as you say, it is the end of capitalism as we know it—why now?
Summers: It is now because the strategists of the final push to end opposition and establish a new global corporatist regime believe that now is the time to consolidate and to create structures which would be difficult to dismantle. The time is now because of the weakening of the last of remnants of a highly successful opposition movement. This appeared in the period between 1950 and mid 1980s in which the landed and business elites were opposed with some success. Led by social democratic parties whose task it was to mediate between labour and employers – between wages and prices – it established what French intellectuals call “Les Trente Glorieuses” — the Thirty Glorious Years. This is perhaps an overstatement but what was clear was that the owners of the means of production, the privileged groups and the aristocracy were not only restrained but in some cases were subjected to massive confiscation of their wealth to the benefit of the lower social groups and incomes.
Since the mid-1980s all this was thrown in reverse it could be asked if there was anything left of “The Thirty Glorious Years”. We at the Coalition 45 argue that there was one permanent historical feature of the 20th century on which we must build. That is, it is no longer possible to ever establish a stable system of governance the purpose of which is to extract the maximum from the majority for the benefit of the minority as in 19th century capitalism. This is the feature which will eventually defeat the attempted consolidation of corporate power and corporatism. This may now be a permanent feature of global politics and upon which the Coalition 45 will have to build.
Striker: … sorry to interrupt but if this was so good for everyone and especially the poorer people why did it not continue? How is it that you seem now to be fighting for a new Thirty Glorious Years?
Summers: As I said before there are some aspects of the last century which need to be restored and revised but we are definitely not trying to go back – that would be strategically stupid. But we are interested — like you it seems —in why the positive gains were lost so quickly. In this respect we first note that every successful model breeds a potential anti-model …
Striker: …sorry to interrupt again but how did this happen?
Summers: … look, it is not possible for me to provide a treatise on this subject within a brief interview but if you let me I can give you some ideas as to why we think the post 1950 project was halted.
First, it has to be realised that from the very beginning —around 1948— the opponents of statist welfare had conducted a quiet but effective ideological and educational battle.
Then, the social architects of the Thirty Glorious Years were over-confident – they thought they had found the secret and that all the future meant was more of the same. In particular they got stuck on the “growth narrative” without realising that economic growth was just a way of postponing any distributional battle. They adopted Keynesian policies to get growth during recessions by public spending. But Keynes also argued that once capitalist fluctuations were dealt with the longer term would have to be a stable or limited-growth economy. They all conveniently forgot this argument and continued to seek economic growth at all costs to postpone and then to alter income and wealth distribution in favour of the rich.
This served well in the 30 Glorious Years – growth meant that all income groups went ahead, welfare and state regulation meant there was some redistribution. But it could never be – nothing can grow forever because to do so would deny every known scientific law of the universe. More down to earth the brake on growth was partly that the positive increase in production produced negative and more costly environmental and health problems. So at the end of the Thirty Glorious Years growth began to slow and the distributional issue once again became the core of politics.
But the pressures to maintain the material conditions of the previous years meant that government – or if you wish – the ruling rich and powerful elites clung with obsession to economic growth and when it was not sufficient to maintain or increase the higher incomes they sought ways out through inflation and then finance. At this the point the lead builders of the welfare state — social democrats and the socialists— took a fatal decision which has rendered them currently inert and superfluous – they decided they would join the move to finance continued levels of material consumption via a combination of debt and false prosperity from speculation. The tipping point came in the mid-1980s and when it tipped the already-captured international organisations like the IMF, World Bank and UN were ready to promote globalization and the neo-conservative ideology wrapped up in economic and social policy around the world.
Finally, the fear among the rich of something even more confiscatory than the welfare state — Soviet style revolution — was eliminated with the collapse of the USSR in 1989. The scene was set for the current situation and the attempt to install corporate-capitalism.
Striker: This is the problem I have with so many of your representatives of civil society organisations – you analyse how the economic policies failed but offer nothing in their place….
Summers: That is just not true! Surely from what I have just said you can see that Coalition 45 economic policy would be one of sustainability in which conventional growth is surrendered for increases in social justice and environmental conditions. The current movements of “no-growth” and “de-growth” are too abstract for our liking so we prefer a so-called sustainable economic policy which would include policies which would eliminate uneconomic and waste growth which is the most part of economic growth.
Striker: OK, OK, well let’s pass on — you are at the head of an international grouping and you spend your time talking with people from all over the world – how come recent press reports describe you as “anti-internationalist?”
Summers: Coalition 45 is anti-internationalism but pro international cooperation and they are not the same. Internationalism was the favourite of political liberals and social democrats and it enabled them to decry anyone questioning their policies as a nationalist, racist or religious bigot. The internationalism they promoted was either hands-across-the-seamanship “extreme political correctness” or “international solidarity” which took its cue from Marx who argued that there could be a global solidarity of the working class; these same people saw their internationalism being manifested in the multi-national organisations of the UN. In all this hype and holier-than-thou cosmopolitan chest-pounding the most important international organisation of all was ignored – the multinational corporation.
So for example, if we take the so-called international civil society organisations of the past —except in the area of environment where it is difficult to disentangle global climate and geographic features from the nation— they have been spectacular failures if we were to take seriously their stated goals. The international trade unions failed to prevent the global onslaught of conservative anti-labour neoliberals, failed to prevent the rise of multinational corporations, failed to achieve meaningful solidarity even when faced with a similar opponent. The reason is simple – people are disproportionately determined by their period of socialisation – namely where and when they were brought up—in addition 95 per cent of people stay around the place where they were brought up. Bring them together supposedly in solidarity and all they can do is to reflect about the place they came from. In the international trade union world we called this the “my country bit” that is, we ask for a discussion on, say, the possibility of a minimum wage and each delegate gets up and says “in my country …” after which they all depart with perhaps some exchange of knowledge but no action possible. Then the other civic organisations especially the “aid” organisations were quickly taken over by the state because international operations are expensive and complex – so they were not, and mainly still are not, “non-governmental organisations” but instruments often of soft imperialism in which values and practices are attempted to be put in place outside of the society of origin. So we cannot and will not support this type of failed and essentially phoney internationalism.
Striker: …but international operations are not so difficult and there are many thinkers who are involved and can give advice.
Summers: You are wrong there – I know who you are talking about – the public intellectuals who spout off about things they think are international. This is what happens – a possibly talented thinker or researcher works hard on a specialised but domestic-level field in science or social science. They become famous because his or her output is either not subversive or abrasive and so is adopted by the media. They become celebrities on the basis of their output. As a result they are then asked by the same media who created them to comment on international affairs. Being flattered, they believe they can say something important even though they have not read, researched or studied carefully the issues and certainly not as much as they did their original subject. Thus when they pronounce they just normally demonstrate their naivety or ignorance — think of Einstein’s pronouncements on peace, Anthony Giddens’ on multinational corporations, John Gray’s musings on globalization, Paul Kennedy on the future of the world economy, Thomas Picketty on his opinion of European immigration, and most recently Stephan Hawkins on inequality and its global meaning. Often the people who know or have at least studied the subject for years are not even asked because they do not provide the answers the media likes. Other public intellectuals who do have some understanding like Joseph Stigliz, and Naomi Klein have their own political axes to grind – only people like George Soros really understand the affairs of nations as is demonstrated by his success in making so much easy money from it.
Striker: Alright, alright… I get your message but you are an “international social action” group by your own words at the beginning of this interview …
Summers: Wrong! I did not say “international” I said we are a social action group. While we exchange information, offer external support to social action our focus is on the local, the national and the immediate. We operate at the global and international level by informing assisting and developing local groups who have to face international power. A multinational corporation, can buy land, create employment, write laws, extract surpluses, and destroy industries all at the local level and it is then at the local level that opposition to their actions must take place, at the local level and with national governments. There is no other challenge to global power than local resistance, local action and local and national governance – the opposition knows that all too well that is why it launched the globalization idea that all had to take place and be seen through the eyes of the global. Globalization is the ideology of imperialism.
This is the most important and misunderstood factor of our age. The core power of finance and industry in the USA discovered that they could achieve policies globally and insist on actions in different countries of the world better via international organisations and regional organisations than they could though threat, cooperation or diplomacy. The demands made by the IMF using the dominant power of the USA — and close allies like Saudi Arabia— in its structural adjustment programmes were just a conservative dream in the USA or France or Germany but surprise, surprise the programme could be put in place using the IMF and EU in Latin America and Asia and now on the fringes of Europe. The EU has been captured by imperial and industrial elites who have converted it in to the major source of conservative economic policies and compliant environmental standards. Take labour – each nation has different rules about what can be done in the workplace – this makes hiring and firing “sticky” yet neo-liberals want a labour market as “free” as possible in which each person is a uniform, unidentifiable unit of labour. They want to create an excess labour supply – as they call it– to reduce wages, change conditions of work and generally increase the power of employers. So they do so through the EU and the liberal-appearing free movement of labour where the workers are told they will receive equal treatment when in reality they never do as foreigners. Why do you think German conservatives , for example, are so insistence on this – because Germans have a love for migrants and want to see them prosper even though not in their own land? Of course not, it is to be able to depress wages and working conditions, reduce solidarity and above all enable greater control of labour to help Germany keep its dominant export position.
The coalition of 45 has written many documents with chapter and verse which show the mechanism of global and international action for extraction – unregulated trade is a transfer of wealth between peoples and has been opposed by many well- known leaders – Ghandi and Keynes for two. Trade regulated by multinationals – they control directly or indirectly 70 percent of world trade — is efficient at global extraction only for those owning or controlling them.
It is important for me to say this in this interview because it must be shown that there are people, evidence, and analysis which reveals the “international” to be the sham and exploitation that it is.
Striker: Your answers are getting longer and longer so could you briefly tell us who opposes a local orientation or rather why would it be difficult to achieve.
Summers: …because it eventually challenges the mind-set of political liberals which has been 60 years or more in the making – because the local leads to the national – and that is the “no-no “in the fundamentalist political liberal bible. We now have no two entirely separate worlds. On the one hand we have the globalised imperial and industrial elites intent on global extraction and promoting therefore their ideology of globalisation supported by fundamentalist political liberals and a motely group of very loud “globos” that is, the extreme minority of the world population which is displaced or otherwise intimately globally connected. On the other hand you have the rest of the world who have stayed close to where they were born and for whom belonging, religion and ethnicity are most important. Given a chance these latter people – as they have done recently – will vote and agitate against uncontrolled migration, international ventures of all types as the EU, NAFTA, and trade agreements of all sorts and vote national sovereignty.
Coalition 45 does not want this divide to be solved by the extremes of imperial wars and pathological nationalism and racism – so we support the locale nationalist movements as in Scotland, Catalan, Kurds, Palestinians but at the same time argue that sovereignty has to be used to reduce the imperial influences from trade and capital movements and to reject the attempts to integrate and dominate. Then and only then on a true basis of sovereign autonomy of collective national responsibility would it be possible to cooperate on those problems which are international by essence – pollution, environment, security and migration.
Striker: What do you say then, when the sovereigntists abuse human rights?
Summers: You and others define human rights almost exclusively in terms of individual political freedoms but there are other human rights – those expressed, for example, in the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which are never considered. So we join the protest concerning innocent people being thrown in jail with the equal concern for the religious oppression of women, excessive employer power, attacks on collectively and solidarity. Often human rights begin in the workplace for us.
Striker: What can you do then when all the others have failed – you at the civil society organisation Coalition 45— what is your secret? And incidentally how do you finance yourself?
Summers: Our secret is our firm policy the main lines of which I have given you. Remember that I excused environmental organisations from my general condemnation because certainly these seem to have been able to make a dent – even a small one — in the on-going phalanx of corporate and compliant governments. So we always move to action when we can and when we think it strategically useful. Second we are modest in our aims. Just as in the 19th century political movement could have been successful without literacy, now no movement can be successful without political education. This is a mammoth task given that the media, sorry about that, is devoted to restraining such education! For example the Coalition 45 has developed a Corporate Complaint Government Index – the CCG index studies governments and assesses them on a number of criteria to see how far they are compliant to corporate rather than public interest – it reveals governments in which there is an interchange of top personnel with finance and industry – as the recent case of the ex-President of the EU commission Barroso moving directly to the Goldman Sachs bank which was instrumental in the Greek Crisis; it shows those governments headed by CEOs – for example, the Mexican President Vincent Fox from Coca Cola, US President JW Bush from the oil industry and the current Ukraine President from his chocolate business and many others. Then we ask whether it can be shown that governments take policies directly from banks and corporations as they did in the so-called sub-prime mortgage scam. The Index and research can reveal the actions of governments in regional organisation as the EU which has frequently surrendered to corporate lobbies especially on environmental matters like diesel and pesticides. With this index citizens can see how far their government is in the hands of corporate elites. Our CCG Index is now in widespread use in education establishments and political parties.
How are we financed? First we started with a small endowment from rich environmentalists and rich old revolutionaries. Then one of the first programmes we had was our Critical Industry Bulletins. We established a team of professionals to examine critically industrial sectors – chemicals, steel, biotech and so on – and write a monthly CIB bulletins. Critical means to examine what the organisations in the sector – international organisations, corporations, ngos, governments and government agencies. — are doing in the realm of the social and environmental economy. There are no publications of this sort. After a while we appoint a person as a shadow CEO who has daily to task to take decisions for the sector as if he or she were a dominant player. This way we develop outsider-insider information and then with this information we invested with huge success. The Bulletins are now read also by our opponents in the sector – I have always said the closer the information to reality the more it can be used by the junta of repression as well as the army of liberation.
Striker: You sound more and more like a political party – have you ever thought of that?
Summers: Well…our policies can easily be adopted to create a political party which would be distinguished from all the major directions we now have except for some popular socialist movements in Latin America. A party which has a social economic policy which includes state-owned corporations and industrial policies directed at redistributing income and ensuring basic material and social needs but has its focus on local and nation, and therefore opposes both uncontrolled trade and migration, does not at the moment seem possible. The combination of populist from the right and extreme liberalism has successful prevented any semblance of a populism of the left which is roughly what such a party would be. However Coalition 45 does not go into this because the greater a party responds to the wishes of the majority the greater it will be particular to that country and that means that we cannot, at a distance talk, about a suitable name or strategy for a local party.
Striker: I am sorry but our time is up but just before we finish — you have answered me at great length and with occasionally some agitation – so what do you do to relax?
Summers: I don’t! but I am not sure I need it and if I did I would simply think about the positive achievements that popular movements have made in Western Europe — like the yet to be completed but fantastic empowerment of women, the beginnings of alternative energy production, and biological farming, the acceptance of direct democracy — all these give me great pleasure.
Striker: That is a good positive note to end with – of course our viewers can see your programme on your website and soon a transcript of this interview. So thank you Mr. Summers for your time.
Summers: No problem I and my colleagues welcomed the possibility to talk to your audience.
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