Friday, 22 April 2016

The New Enlightenment?

(Photo: Stephen Melkisethian/flickr/cc)
 
What remains endlessly hinted at about the 2016 presidential race, but not fully articulated, is that something enormous - bigger than politics, bigger than America itself, perhaps - is trembling and kicking just below the surface, struggling to emerge.
 
I have a name to suggest for this hypothetical phenomenon: the New Enlightenment. Nothing less than that seems adequate. There are millions of midwives at the ready - angry, despairing citizens - desperately hoping to assist in the birthing process . . . by being part of the Bernie Sanders campaign. 
 
I say this with full cognizance of the flawed, compromised nature of politics in general and the Democratic Party in particular. The political process is a stew of money and competing interests, power, compromise, cynicism and secret deals. But that’s not all it is.
 
It’s also the opening to our collective future. A failure to acknowledge this leaves the process in the hands of those who think they own it.
 
The New Enlightenment?
 
The old Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, which began sweeping across the consciousness of Western Civilization in the 17th and 18th centuries, implanted science, democracy and capitalism at our social foundations and fomented the industrial revolution. But the shortcomings of this enlightenment are many.
 
Slavery, for instance, flourished through much of the Age of Reason. So did war. So did genocide. The worst of who we are maintained its grip on power. We have yet to begin implementing our deepest values in the social and political realm.
 
The political mindset that sees Hillary Clinton as the pragmatic candidate in the Democratic race is unable to see beyond the parameters of a stunted political system. What she has accomplished in her political career is essentially defined by that stunted system, which not only serves (often in secrecy) the interests of those already in power, but fails to envision the implementation of power except in domination over some enemy or other.
 
This is illustrated with agonizing clarity by the recent controversy over the tough-on-crime and “welfare reform” policies of the Bill Clinton presidency in the 1990s, which, of course, Hillary supported and promoted, and which have begun coming back to haunt her. 
 
While the “war on crime,” the backlash against social spending and the implementation - via imprisonment - of what Michelle Alexander has labeled the new Jim Crow, got seriously underway in the Reagan era, Clinton continued and promoted rather than tried to undo these policies.
 
"The political mindset that sees Hillary Clinton as the pragmatic candidate in the Democratic race is unable to see beyond the parameters of a stunted political system."
 
As Alexander wrote recently in The Nation: “Despite claims that radical changes in crime and welfare policy were driven by a desire to end big government and save taxpayer dollars, the reality is that the Clinton administration didn’t reduce the amount of money devoted to the management of the urban poor; it changed what the funds would be used for. Billions of dollars were slashed from public-housing and child-welfare budgets and transferred to the mass-incarceration machine” (emphasis added).
 
She added that: “By 1996, the penal budget was twice the amount that had been allocated to food stamps” and “funding for public housing was slashed by $17 billion . . . while funding for corrections was boosted by $19 billion.”
 
The result of all this, as Alexander and others have noted - and that Black Lives Matter activists recently brought to the forefront of the 2016 presidential campaign, confronting Bill Clinton as he campaigned for his wife - is that African-American incarceration rates went through the roof and families and communities were shattered. This phenomenon has resulted in recent, stunning apologies from former supporters of Clinton-era tough-on-crime policies.
 
For instance, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush of Chicago, a one-time Black Panther, tore his heart out in an MSNBC interview this month over his support of that bill. “I am ashamed of my role. I sincerely apologize to my God, I apologize to my community, to my family,” he said, lamenting that, in his urgent desire to deal with the devastating impact of crime and crack in the black community, he became ensnared in single-focus thinking: “locking them up, keeping them in jail.”
 
Despite the anguished sincerity of Rush’s apology, I remain pierced by the question: Why? Why did sheer, vindictive punishment loom in that moment as the solution to crime? Why was Reagan, still the de-facto president, with the head of his chosen scapegoat still on the altar of American politics? 
 
Bill Clinton’s Democrats surrendered to Reaganism: to the pursuit of black “super-predators” and the defunding of “welfare queens.” They surrendered to racism, as American as apple pie. The New Deal was dead and the Old Deal had reclaimed control over American politics and American thought. And it’s still in control today, settled and unquestioned at the level of the political status quo.
 
"Of course ‘sorry’ isn’t enough, given the magnitude of the harm that has been done,” Alexander wrote, referring to Rush’s apology. “A brand new system of racial and social control has been born again in the United States, one that has functioned as a literal war on poor communities of color.”
 
The focus, she says, must be on rebuilding these communities that have been so devastated over recent decades. Yes, yes . . . but I would push it further. Social spending must be utterly redirected away from prisons and punishment, away from militarism and war, and toward the construction of real peace. The original New Deal was conceived in coexistence with war, but war eventually consumed it.
 
The cry of the New Enlightenment must be heard: Do not dehumanize! The only true enemy is the darkness we all share, lodged deeply in the collective human heart. When we try to kill it in “the enemy,” we kill ourselves.
 
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is now available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Capitalism or Socialism? There’s an Even Better Option

(Illustration by Valeriy Kachaev / iStock)
by David Korten, Common Dreams: http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/04/12/capitalism-or-socialism-theres-even-better-option

Politics and polling data reveal a remarkable shift in American attitudes toward socialism.

More Democrats now view socialism favorably (42%) than unfavorably (34%). Among young adults, socialism does even better with a 43% favorable view vs. only 26% unfavorable.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic Socialist, has surprised the establishment with the strength of his campaign. He is especially popular among Millennials, the generation positioned to define America’s future. So is the United States turning to socialism?

Proponents of capitalism assure us we have only two choices: capitalism (big business) or socialism (big government). As we see the self-proclaimed capitalist regime’s incapacity to address growing economic desperation and accelerating social breakdown and environmental collapse, socialism, for all its own evident faults, becomes the only option.

I grew up in a prosperous small town in Washington state. Our main street was populated by thriving, mostly local, businesses. My dad owned and managed a successful retail music and appliance store located in the heart of the business district in the heart of a vibrant community. He loved making money but often said, “If you are not in business to serve your customers and community, you have no business being in business.”

I assumed that my life growing up was the result of the happy confluence of capitalism, democracy, and a market economy. Given that socialism was represented as the antithesis of these things, I accepted the view that socialism is anti-American and a threat to freedom and democracy.

Of course, my early hometown experience bears little relationship to the capitalism we know today. Over time, I realized that it’s not so simple.

Debating the relative merits of two failed and ill-defined ideologies is a diversion from the real issues. In the United States, we face the inherent disabilities of both big government and big business. And the unholy alliance between the two that renders democracy - the voice of the people - mute.

Assuming that capitalism is about the economy and democracy is about governance, we fail to recognize an essential truth: There is no political democracy without economic democracy.

In any economic system, power resides with the owners of the means by which people make their living. The power of kings resided in their ownership of the lands and waters from which their subjects harvested their food and quenched their thirst. Under socialism, government owns these assets in the name, but not necessarily the interest, of the people.

Under contemporary capitalism, the rights and powers of ownership reside with global corporations that control jobs, resources, and markets. They own land, water, intellectual property, mining concessions, manufacturing, banks, schools, prisons, healthcare facilities, media - and politicians. They lavishly reward their board members and top executives for maximizing short-term profit without regard to social and environmental consequences - and replace them if they don’t.

Capitalism cultivates an illusion of freedom while consigning all but the few at the top to lives of wage and debt slavery. It is a far cry from either democracy or Adam Smith’s vision of local markets governed by a shared moral code and populated by local farmers, artisans, and merchants who own their own land and tools, care about their neighbors, and come to the market to exchange goods and services. Thomas Jefferson recognized Smith’s economic vision as an essential foundation of democracy.

Democracy is a governance system in which power resides in the people. That power cannot be limited to voting for political representatives every few years. It must be rooted in economic structures that distribute power equitably and link it to the interests of communities of place. Such structures can come in many forms: Individual and family enterprises, community-owned enterprises, cooperatives–large and small - and even governmental and quasi-governmental bodies.

Democracy is the life-serving alternative we seek to the life-destroying capitalist tyranny under which we now live. Democracy, not the false dichotomy of capitalism or socialism, should be the election’s framing issue.

This article was written for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Dr. David Korten (livingeconomiesforum.org) is the author of Agenda for a New Economy, The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, and the international best seller When Corporations Rule the World.

He is board chair of YES! Magazine, co-chair of the New Economy Working Group, a founding board member of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, president of the Living Economies Forum, and a member of the Club of Rome. He holds MBA and PhD degrees from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and served on the faculty of the Harvard Business School.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Everyone Talks About Community Resilience, But What Do They Mean?

Mixed group of Banyamulenge and Bafuliru repai...
Mixed group repairing a road, South Kivu (Wikipedia)
by Hartmut Fünfgeld, Martin Mulligan, Wendy Steele, and Lauren Rickards, Transre: http://transre.org/en/blog/everyone-talks-about-community-resilience-what-do-they-mean/

Across policy domains, calls are echoing for ‘building community resilience’ or ‘making communities more resilient’ in the face of climate change and global environmental and economic crises.

Communities need to ‘get up’ to become stronger and more able to withstand external shocks - or at least that seems to be the tenor underpinning much of the political spin around community resilience.

Across the world, people working in government agencies and community-based organizations are being asked to ensure that local communities become more resilient to shocks and stresses, ranging from natural disasters and violent extremism to loss of employment, mounting debts, and largely hidden forms of social isolation.

However, this is more than just reassuring policy rhetoric. When you combine two ambiguous concepts such as ‘community’ and ‘resilience’, you get a linguistic construct that can mean almost anything to anyone. And that malleability is problematic when considering that community resilience really is the word of the day for many governments around the world, including the Australian Government, who are currently investing in developing community resilience as part of various strategies and programs, including the National Disaster Resilience Grant Scheme.

In a recently published paper, we highlight the complexities of both ‘community’ and ‘resilience’ and ponder what happens when both terms are combined in unreflected ways that have the ability to hide and, at the same time, blur political agendas. The term community conjures up connotations of social harmony, where people interact in a given place, join forces towards a public good, and are generally supportive of each other.

This interpretation is, of course, hopelessly exaggerated but still resonates strongly with many of us when we do things like organize ‘community festivals’; when we read about ‘strong community spirit’ in the aftermath of natural disasters; or when we move to a new suburb because we believe there is a good sense of community there.

As a key word in the English language, community is a term that ‘never seems to be used unfavorably’. Sociologists, however, have agonized over the multiple and often conflicting meanings of ‘community’ for decades, pointing out that communities are always made up of a diversity of people, with much more diverging interests than the ideal suggests.

Moreover, these days, the meaning of community has been extended and stretched by the major processes of social transformation - industrialisation, globalisation, and the global knowledge economy. Communities used to be largely local in nature. In the 21st century, communities exist as virtually connected networks of people, such as professional networks linked by professional standards, conferences and e-mail exchanges, or ‘linked-in’ virtual social communities where members are purely engaging with each other via their smart phone or laptop hooked up to the internet. Communities are no longer identifiable with our eyes; they are increasingly ‘imagined’ - and people are members of multiple communities at the same time.

Most commonly it is still used to signify communities recovering quickly (‘bouncing back’) in the aftermath of an external disturbance, such as a natural disaster or economic shock. The widespread rhetoric here is that, first of all, it is good if communities can recover quickly, and secondly, it is even better if they can recover back to their previously held status and functions.

Both of these goals of resilience are commonly found in resilience policy documents, yet they are, of course, hotly contested. They, along with other assumptions such as communities needing to ‘take their future into their own hands’, can be challenged as value-based goals that may well be in the interest of some community members but not of others, and most certainly not in the interest of all stakeholders (as often suggested) involved in such community resilience efforts.

In recent years, there has been a lot of critique of the resilience concept, mainly originating from academics, while resilience continues to rise in popularity among policymakers. Community resilience seems to ride right at the top of that popularity wave, and that is no surprise. Community resilience conveys a positive message that resonates strongly and directly with a ‘Yes, we can’ attitude.

Among many other messages, community resilience says that people can and should take their future into their own hands, that they can and should be responsible citizens, and that we all need to do our bit to make our city, region or nation stronger, more able to compete within a global market, and ready to deal with ever more environmental disasters triggered by climate change and other forms of global environmental change.

While such a call to arms may indeed be required to tackle global crises, it begs the question who should in fact shoulder the majority of such strengthening work. A community resilience framing suggests that it is groups of people, organized in communities. Yet embracing that view also means being aware of the many different views, values, and voices that exist in any community, which need to be articulated, discussed, and negotiated to find some common ground for building resilience. Not an easy feat at all, but one that all resilience practitioners know is critical if the goal is to make communities stronger and more rather than less equitable. 

This blog post was based on the article Keywords in planning: what do we mean by “community resilience”?, which was co-authored by Hartmut Fünfgeld, Martin Mulligan, Wendy Steele, and Lauren Rickards at the Centre for Urban Research, School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Only a Circular Economy Will Lead to Prosperity For All

Circular dichroism
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by , Circulate: http://circulatenews.org/2016/04/only-a-circular-economy-will-lead-to-prosperity-for-all/

The majestic swell of the Southern ocean provides an endless spectacle. This seemingly simple succession of crests and troughs is perhaps one of the most striking memories I keep of my life at sea.

Over the years, in my mind, it ended up symbolising the subtle combination of constant change and continuity that characterises most living systems.

Just as Heraclitus famously said that “One cannot step into the same stream twice”, one cannot witness two identical waves building up and receding. Each one is unique, so similar yet so different, a perpetually evolving landscape, a perfect illustration of feedback-induced unpredictability.

The first age of machines, brought about by the Industrial Revolution, rationalised many informal processes and created a new worldview underpinned by the idea of control: we could predict what would come out of the man-made system, provided we guaranteed consistency of feedstock. 

Put in simple terms, if you pressed the same button you would always get the same result - the big machine’s levers did away with uncertainty, and paved the way for mass standardisation. It worked very well, and the unprecedented level of economic development experienced by western countries since the middle of the 19th century is a testament to that efficiency.

In order to refine the system, to make it better and faster, specialisation was a key tool and experts soon became the emblematic figures of progress…yet one could argue that along the way was lost a sense of interconnectedness: the notion of being part of the ‘bigger picture’ somewhat faded away. 

A rather strange thing, considering that the industrial “take, make, dispose” linear model is based on the ability to extract finite resources in order to produce the goods that get sold to consumers, thus powering the growth engine. A system very much relying on the environment within which it operates, but which somehow has to make a conscious effort to take a step back and consider its dependencies and level of resilience.



There are many voices currently calling out for a more transverse, less silo-like worldview, and to a large extent information technologies enabling global knowledge sharing contribute to advancing that agenda. What the Earth Timelapse tool allows us to see is the change happening to our system as a whole, and to understand the cascade of transformation that unfolds: it provides a pattern to think big picture, to use a “macroscope” as Joel de Rosnay would put it

Why would it matter? Because on the way towards a circular restorative and regenerative economic model, making sense of stocks and flows is essential in order to foster effective use of resources, identify areas of brittleness, and rebuild capital where necessary.

Furthermore, living systems’ metabolisms are anything but linear and only a bird’s eye view - with the right timescale - can reveal that characteristic in a plain manner. A quarter of a century might seem a lot at the level of an individual, yet it is but a blip on the scale of time, a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ type of moment. Isn’t it then staggering to think, looking at these animations, that so much can happen in so little time? Shouldn’t we be inspired to believe that large scale change is possible within our lifetime, when we look at the Earth Timelapse?

As Janine Benyus’s biomimicry taught us, living systems work by building things (that includes organisms) up and breaking them down, never creating any component or substance that does not have a place or a use in the bigger system … now that we have a better view of it, we should adapt our economic models so they too actually fit that system, in order to achieve long-term prosperity and resilience. 

This post first appeared on the WEF Agenda blog on 23rd January 2016.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Humans an Invasive Species Heading for a 'Crash,' Study Says: "The Question is: Have we Overshot Earth's Carrying Capacity Today?"

Earth's resources not limitless (M Candelori/flickr/cc)
 
Human population growth has followed the trajectory of a typical invasive species, says a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, and that suggests there may be a looming global population "crash."

"The question is: Have we overshot Earth’s carrying capacity today?" said Elizabeth Hadly, a professor in environmental biology at Stanford University and senior author of the paper, in a press statement.

"Because humans respond as any other invasive species," Hadly continued, "the implication is that we are headed for a crash before we stabilize our global population size."

The study examined 1,147 archaeological sites via radiocarbon dating to understand the patterns of human population growth in South America. As a successfully invasive species, upon arrival "humans spread rapidly throughout the continent," the study authors note.

Once humans reached the continent's carrying capacity - meaning its resources couldn't support further population growth - "consistent with over-exploitation of their resources," the study found that humans' population growth halted and the species "remained at low population sizes for 8,000 years. This coincided with the last pulses of an extinction of big animals," the study discovered.

However, about 5,000 years ago humans in South America did something unprecedented: they became sedentary, meaning that humans began creating villages, towns, and cities, rather than living in nomadic family groups. As a result, the invasive species' population boomed a second time.

"Practices such as intensive agriculture and inter-regional trade led to sedentism, which allowed for faster and more sustained population growth. Profound environmental impacts followed," the study found. This is what makes humans perhaps the most successful invasive species yet: unlike animals whose population growth is limited by their natural environment, humans are capable of exponentially growing their population several times over, through the invention of new resource-exploiting technologies and cultural shifts such as the establishment of trade.

"Thinking about the relationship between humans and our environment, unchecked growth is not a universal hallmark of our history, but a very recent development," stated co-lead author Amy Goldberg, a biology graduate student at Stanford. "In South America, it was settled societies, not just the stable food sources of agriculture, that profoundly changed how humans interact with and adapt their environment," Golberg said.

The pattern can be seen in modern society. As technologies have progressed, in recent centuries humans have been able to "reset" the carrying capacity of their living areas such that today the global population has exploded to 7.4 billion.

"Technological advances, whether they are made of stone or computers, have been critical in helping to shape the world around us up until this point," said co-lead author Alexis Mychajliw, a graduate student in biology. "That said," Mychajliw warned, "it's unclear if we can invent a way out of planetary carrying capacities."

Such warnings support previous research that shows humans pollute and over-exploit the planet more and more each year, threatening the survival and resilience of future generations.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

How Austerity Has Crippled the European Economy – In Numbers

Thomas Fazi
Thomas Fazi
by , Social Europe: https://www.socialeurope.eu/2016/03/austerity-crippled-european-economy-numbers/

Europe’s post-crisis response - consisting of a combination of fiscal austerity, neoliberal structural reforms and expansionary monetary policies - has unambiguously failed.

In early 2016 - eight years after the outbreak of the financial crisis - the eurozone’s overall real GDP was still below the pre-crisis peak (March 2008).

The Greek economy was 27.6% smaller. Spain’s was 4.5% smaller. Portugal’s was 6.5% smaller. Even those countries with above-average eurozone growth were not performing very well: Germany, for example, was only 5.5% larger than it was in March 2008, while France was only 2.7% larger. Meanwhile, most of the world has returned to, or surpassed, pre-crisis GDP levels.

Overall, the euro area has experienced a stagnant - below 2% - annualised growth rate since the beginning of 2012 (following a brief post-crisis recovery), averaging 1.6% in early 2016. A very slight acceleration is expected in 2017. Over the same period (2012-16), various countries - such as Greece, Italy and Portugal - have experienced near-zero or even negative growth rates.

The ECB’s policies - quantitative easing, negative interest rates, etc. - have not provided much of a stimulus, and cannot be expected to do so in the future. What this means is that the ‘euro crisis’, in purely macroeconomic terms, has been far worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s, when it took European countries on average four to five years to return to pre-crisis GDP levels.

In early 2016, industrial production in the euro area was down more than 10% compared to pre-crisis levels (the EU28 fared only slightly better). Further, investment (gross fixed capital formation) remained below 2007 levels in 21 of 28 countries. The Commission argues for a ‘coordinated boost to investment’, but the proposed investment plan remains a weak and unconvincing response to the depth of the problem.

‘Deflation’ and deflation

From the beginning of 2013, the euro area’s inflation rate has been well below the ECB’s 2% inflation target - and in February 2016 turned negative again (for the first time since 2009). In other words, the eurozone has experienced continuous ‘deflation’ - understood as performance below the policy level set by the ECB - for at least three years (and arguably for longer, depending on the methodology used). Over the same period, most periphery countries have experienced outright deflation (i.e., negative inflation rates).

The ECB’s asset-buying program - totalling more than 700 billion euros throughout 2015 and early 2016 (equal to roughly 7% of the eurozone’s GDP) - has failed to avert these deflationary tendencies (this is not surprising, considering that the European economy seems to have fallen into a so-called ‘liquidity trap’).

Various studies, mostly based on the latest research into the so-called ‘fiscal multiplier’, have attributed the euro area’s below-average post-crisis economic performance (compared to the rest of the world) to the policies of fiscal consolidation of recent years.

One such study concluded that fiscal consolidation in the eurozone over the 2011-13 period reduced GDP by 7.7%. Another study concluded that, had the peripheral economies of the EMU implemented fiscal austerity only half as severe over the 2010-13 period, Greek GDP would be nearly 14% higher, Spain’s GDP would be nearly 10% higher, whilst Portugal’s and Ireland’s economies would have shrunk by 5.5% and 3.5% less respectively. The study also concludes that across the five PIIGS, the number of unemployed would be 1.2m lower if fiscal austerity had been less severe.

The European Commission’s rhetoric and the accompanying policy measures suggest no awareness of either the depth of the problems or the extent of policy change required to tackle them. There has been a verbal recognition that past policies have failed and that a big change is needed if GDP and employment growth are to be restored and maintained, but this has led only to half-hearted and uncoordinated responses.

Fiscal fumbling

The key obstacle remains continued adherence to the eurozone’s fiscal rules. The overall fiscal stance has moved from restrictive to neutral, meaning that while state budgets are no longer used to depress economic activity across the EU as a whole, they are not employed to stimulate expansion either. Moreover, the slight relaxation comes with warnings of the need for accelerated structural reforms - vaguely defined but including measures that have cut wages and hence consumer demand - and ‘growth-friendly fiscal consolidation’. In practice that means continuing a degree of austerity.

In early 2016, the euro area’s unemployment rate stood at 10.5% (17m people), while the youth unemployment rate was 21.5% (3m) - up from 7 and 15% respectively in 2008. The figures for the EU28 were respectively 10.6% (22m) and 20% (4.5m). Among the member states, the highest unemployment and youth unemployment rates were recorded in Greece (24.6 and 49.5%) and Spain (21.4 and 47.5%).

This has been accompanied by a rise in the rates of long-term unemployment, implying that a large number of unemployed face increasing difficulty in finding a job, while the danger of their sliding into poverty and material deprivation correspondingly increases. This is complemented by a lack of public sector opportunities. On the contrary: cuts in public spending are accelerating this trend.

Moreover, poverty (including in-work poverty) and at-risk-of-poverty rates have increased significantly in all European countries since 2008, reflecting an overall decline in terms of social justice. In early 2016, nearly one-quarter of EU citizens (24.6%) are regarded as being at-risk-of-poverty or social exclusion - an extremely high and worrisome value. Measured against today’s total EU population, this corresponds to approximately 122m.

The gap between northern European and southern European countries remains enormous. In Greece, 36% of the total population is at-risk-of-poverty or social exclusion. In Spain, this figure was above 29%. For children and youths, these shares were even higher. In Portugal, the poverty rate within the total population is 27.5%. By contrast, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands stand at the top of the overall index.

Various studies have concluded that the increase in poverty, at-risk-of-poverty and social exclusion rates is a direct result of the policies of fiscal austerity and internal devaluation pursued in recent years. Research has also shown that austerity has increased inequality by fattening the tail of the income distribution, implying a redistribution from workers to asset owners (i.e., from the bottom majority of the distribution to the top minority).

Debt still rising …

Austerity fails most spectacularly, even on its own narrow terms, when the effect on debt is considered. In early 2016, the euro area’s debt-to-GDP level stood at a record-high 93%, compared with a pre-austerity level of 79.3% at the end of 2009. As a result, interest payments tend to absorb a high and sometimes increasing share of GDP despite the extremely low-level of interest rates. In the event of future interest rate increases this will mean a further futile austerity drive.

Private debt is still very high in several member states as well, partly because the ongoing crisis has hampered the private sector’s ‘deleveraging’ process. This is has resulted in the growth of non-performing loans (NPLs) across the continent. NPLs are particularly elevated in some southern countries, such as Italy, Greece, Portugal and Cyprus. And they are generally concentrated in the corporate sector, most notably among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This is reflected in the fact that, despite the cost of borrowing falling quite substantially since 2008, total loans to households and non-financial institutions remain stagnant.

This has worrying implications not only for the financial stability of the euro area but also for the prospects of economic recovery, given that ‘higher NPLs tend to reduce the credit-to-GDP ratio and GDP growth, while increasing unemployment’, a study has found. This is also attributable to the austerity policies, which have exacerbated the recession in a number of countries, further deteriorating the balance sheets of families and corporates and, in turn, those of banks. These developments further underline the fact that, under the current circumstances, monetary policy alone is unlikely to bring about recovery and that what is needed instead is a coordinated fiscal expansion in the EU, with an emphasis on public investment.

As for intra-EMU current account imbalances, arguably one of the leading causes of the crisis, the rebalancing has been significant but the adjustment has been shouldered entirely by deficit countries (through decreased imports, not increased exports). That is, deficit countries have sharply reduced their current account deficits, but surplus countries have not reduced their current account surpluses, with Europe’s overall adjustment essentially premised on demand emanating from outside Europe.

The result has been that the EMU as a whole, which had an overall balanced external position in 2007, in early 2016 registered a record-high - and growing - current account surplus of 3.7% of GDP. The net result has been a deflationary bias for the euro area (and particularly for periphery countries), as well as for the world economy. As global demand experiences a dramatic slowdown, an export-led solution to the crisis appears more unlikely than ever.

About Thomas Fazi 

Thomas Fazi is a writer, activist and award-winning filmmaker. He has also translated into Italian the works of authors such as Christopher Hitchens, George Soros and Robert Reich. His book, The Battle for Europe: How an Elite Hijacked a Continent - and How We Can Take It Back is published by Pluto Press. His website is www.battleforeurope.net

Political Process Theory: An Overview of the Core Theory of Social Movements

Protestors associated with Occupy Wall Street call for political and economic reforms, evoking the components of political process theory. - JB Consulting Assoc. LLC/Getty Imagesby Ashley Crossman, Sociology Expert, About Sociology: http://sociology.about.com/od/P_Index/g/Political-Process-Theory.htm

Also known as "political opportunity theory," political process theory offers an explanation of the conditions, mindset, and actions that make a social movement successful in achieving its goals.

According to this theory, political opportunities for change must first be present before a movement can achieve its objectives. Following that, the movement ultimately attempts to make change through the existing political structure and processes. 

Overview

Political process theory (PPT) is considered the core theory of social movements and how they mobilize (work to create change). It was developed by sociologists in the U.S. during the 1970s and 80s, in response to the Civil Rights, anti-war, and student movements of the 1960s. Sociologist Douglas McAdam, now a professor at Stanford University, is credited with first developing this theory via his study of the Black Civil Rights movement (see his book Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970, published in 1982).

Prior to the development of this theory, social scientists viewed members of social movements as irrational and crazed, and framed them as deviants rather than political actors. Developed through careful research, political process theory disrupted that view, and exposed its troubling elitist, racist, and patriarchal roots. Resource mobilization theory similarly offers an alternative view to this classical one.

Since McAdam published his book outlining the theory, revisions to it have been made by him and other sociologists, so today it differs from McAdam's original articulation. As sociologist Neal Caren describes in his entry on the theory in the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology, political process theory outlines five key components that determine the success or failure of a social movement: political opportunities, mobilizing structures, framing processes, protest cycles, and contentious repertoires.
  1. Political opportunities are the most important aspect of PPT, because according to the theory, without them, success for a social movement is impossible. Political opportunities - or opportunities for intervention and change within the existing political system - exist when the system experiences vulnerabilities. Vulnerabilities in the system can arise for a variety of reasons, but hinge on a crisis of legitimacy wherein the populace no longer supports the social and economic conditions fostered or maintained by the system. Opportunities might be driven by the broadening of political enfranchisement to those previously excluded (like women and people of color, historically speaking), divisions among leaders, increasing diversity within political bodies and the electorate, and a loosening of repressive structures that previously kept people from demanding change.
  2. Mobilizing structures refer to the already existing organizations (political or otherwise) that are present among the community that wants change. These organizations serve as mobilizing structures for a social movement by providing membership, leadership, and communication and social networks to the budding movement. Examples include churches, community and nonprofit organizations, and student groups and schools, to name a few.
  3. Framing processes are carried out by leaders of an organization in order to allow the group or movement to clearly and persuasively describe the existing problems, articulate why change is necessary, what changes are desired, and how one can go about achieving them. Framing processes foster the ideological buy-in among movement members, members of the political establishment, and the public at large that is necessary for a social movement to seize political opportunities and make change. McAdam and colleagues describe framing as "conscious strategic efforts by groups of people to fashion shared understandings of the world and of themselves that legitimate and motivate collective action" (see Comparative Perspectives on Social Movements: Political Opportunities, Mobilizing Structures, and Cultural Framing (1996)). 
  4. Protest cycles are another important aspect of social movement success according to PPT. A protest cycle is a prolonged period of time when opposition to the political system and acts of protest are in a heightened state. Within this theoretical perspective, protests are important expressions of the views and demands of the mobilizing structures connected to the movement, and are vehicles to express the ideological frames connected to the framing process. As such, protests serve to strengthen solidarity within the movement, to raise awareness among the general public about the issues targeted by the movement, and also serve to help recruit new members.
  5. The fifth and final aspect of PPT is contentious repertoires, which refers to the set of means through which the movement makes its claims. These typically include strikes, demonstrations (protests), and petitions.
According to PPT, when all of these elements are present, it is possible that a social movement will be able to make changes within the existing political system that will reflect the desired outcome. 

Key Figures

There are many sociologists who study social movements, but key figures who helped create and refine PPT include Charles Tilly, Peter Eisinger, Sidney Tarrow, David Snow, David Meyer, and Douglas McAdam. 

Recommended Reading

To learn more about PPT see the following resources:
  • From Mobilization to Revolution (1978), by Charles Tilly.
  • "Political Process Theory," Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology, by Neal Caren (2007).
  • Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, (1982) by Douglas McAdam.
  • Comparative Perspectives on Social Movements: Political Opportunities, Mobilizing Structures, and Cultural Framing (1996), by Douglas McAdam and colleagues.