Ideas to Come Out of the Crisis

Politics today no longer produces ideas, vision, strategy, and it has become self referential without a relationship with citizens and therefore lacks legitimacy.


by Roberto Savio


I believe that we need a new paradigm to face problems organically. These global problems are experienced in different ways in different regions of the world.

The paradigm: there is no peace without security (especially in this era)

But we are not talking about military security, which amounts to 1.6 trillions of dollars a year. We are talking about human security, to which only 50 billions are destined. If 10 percent of military expenses went to human expenses we would have 160 million dollars. According to the Pentagon, an American soldier costs about a million dollars a year. According to the UN, 2740 people live on this amount a year. A world where 51 people have the same wealth of 1.2 billion citizens is not sustainable.

Today the world is experiencing a growing sense of insecurity. But conflicts and terrorism are less and less important to the collective imagination. The quotidian is more and more discouraging. Here are the most pressing problems.

The world is now experiencing a profound crisis of governance

he economic decline of the northern countries (while in the South a new set of global actors is emerging) is creating a crisis, with parties and movements that look to the past. The Tea Party, which has captured the republican party in the States, and the xenophobic parties in model countries such as Holland, Norway, Sweden, Finland but also Hungary and Lithuania are the result of this crisis. We have moved from the end of ideologies to pragmatism as a mature form of politics. But without an analytical framework we have moved from pragmatism to utilitarianism, that is to manage only what is useful.

  • Politics today no longer produces ideas, vision, strategy, and it becomes self referential without a relationship with citizens, therefore it lacks legitimacy. So the crisis of politics is a priority. We also need to open a debate on the limits of representative democracy. It is necessary to give more voice to citizens than just through the electoral system. We need a participatory democracy, where citizens decide on common goods, not just water or nuclear power.
  • A central element of this crisis is the role of finance, which is more and more detached from the real economy
  • While trade has decreased by 15 percent globally, financial transactions are growing and growing, reaching 40 trillions a day. Finance has no tool of international control. Trade has the WTO, labour has the ILO, and so on. The pressure from the stock exchanges makes the fiscal deficit more important than the social one. According to the majority of the economists, we are in a crisis that will last beyond this decade. Finance is destroying political Europe and the number of poor people has increased dramatically. Proposals for control are minimal, and all the plans of economy recovery have been geared to save the banking system. Meanwhile the crisis has produced, according to the UN, 100 millions of new poor.
  • So the real priority is to deal with the social deficit. If banks are destined to suffer and with them the stock exchanges it should be confined to finance and not burdened on citizens. The split between investment banks and deposit banks abolished in 2001 should be reestablished. The deposit banks should be forbidden to speculate with clients' money, thus reducing the speculative bubble.
  • These two crises have put international cooperation on its knees
  • The issue of international social justice, of solidarity has become marginal. But in a globalized world we cannot leave profit and market as the only driving forces. We need to maintain ethics as a central element of international relations. On this note, it is necessary to talk about the idea of taxation on financial speculation. These are so big that it would suffice to introduce a levy of 0.01 percent which would generate 400 million euros a day. This money should then be made available to the victims of the crisis, the young, the unemployed, to the social deficit. We do not need to create a bureaucracy. We have existing structures, although with their limits. And this would be very important in linking crisis and solution.
  • An issue that concerns all of humanity and one that is proof of the crisis of politics, is the environment
  • Everybody can see the data on global warming but the American government is prey to a congress which denies the problem. Therefore no international deal is possible. In the meantime a new category of refugees is being born: the environmental ones. According to the UN they could become 400 millions in the next 30 years. And the poorest countries are the hardest hit by the crisis, especially the African ones. But Europe as well will be hit hard. Wine producers are already buying land in England because the South of Europe will register a significant increase in temperature for agriculture. And the increase in the price of food is increasing the number of poor people and will produce riots and desperation. Therefore we ask parliaments to put into practice the international deals on the reduction of carbon fossils and on green energy. And we ask citizens to acknowledge that, this model of development , based on consumerism, is no longer sustainable and requires a change in our lifestyles.
  • An issue that we can't forget is that of human rights
  • According to the ILO, every year 12.3 million people are captured by criminal organizations and forced to live under inhuman conditions. OCSE in June held a meeting dedicated to coercion, be it sexual or work related. According to the conference, in Europe there are hundreds of thousands of people living in virtual slavery. The ILO details an area south of Naples with 1,200 agricultural workers, illiterate and with no home, who work 12 hours a day for a pittance, living in tents guarded by private guards. There is a lot of talk about the Moroccan minor who had Berlusconi as 'final utiliser': but who talks about the tens of thousands of women attracted under false working promises and then forced into exploitation? Without an immigration policy based on the dignity of immigrants, the growth of Europe is impossible. Angela Merkel has asked a group of five wise men to make a report on the competitiveness of Germany in the next twenty years. A recommendation has been that of increasing the number of immigrants. Today it is fashionable and a vote winner to say the opposite. Ignoring climate change is also fashionable. We advocate a debate on the issue of immigration to create a policy of European migration, that runs contrary to current political thinking.
  • A final priority is that of giving dignity to work
  • Today trade unions represent only 12 percent of the global workforce. 80 percent of global workers do not have a social contribution. Youth unemployment varies between 30 up to 70 percent more than the general level. According to the ILO, the average pension for those who are between 20 and 30 will be about 470 euros a month. What kind of society will we have? And that of their children who will not be able to count on their parents for financial support?
  • But this huge social mutation finds no answer in politics. So we need to launch the theme of intergenerational solidarity. There is a need to review the fiscal and economic system to reduce the gap between citizens who are in and those who are out. It is a highly controversial theme and therefore out of the debate. But we must remember that if it is not confronted we are heading towards a world of misery and suffering. And those who will look at us in the future will judge us as blind or selfish or both.
  • The time of sacrifice, of communal and personal effort has come. We miss a Churchill who promising tears and blood, managed to save his country from Nazism. And we are also missing a manifesto....but we have more than enough data to document reality. Blaming politicians will not be enough. We are equally responsible.



Roberto Savio is founder and President Emeritus of IPS-Inter Press Service and former Secretary General of SID. This article first appeared in Translation from Italian to English by Laura Fano Morrissey (SID).


Cover photo: montsess/flickr