It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.” Thus begins A Tale of Two Cities. Perhaps we are now living in such times, when the vision of a new social system beyond capitalism can finally be entertained if not realized. The inevitable question arises: what exactly needs to be done?
The philosopher Alfred N. Whitehead’s stated once that theory without praxis is sterile and praxis without theory is blind, but even such an insightful statement remains pitifully inadequate to the challenge of that simple question. Let’s analyze briefly the current situation and then hazard some suggestions on what ordinary citizens can do hic and nunc without waiting for a Charismatic Politician (Nietzsche’s Uberman) to appear walking on water, for to expect miracles in political life is to be eventually sorely disappointed!
Few people doubt nowadays that the entire capitalist system is in crisis. The media and the politicians try to focus our attention on how to repair the system with some tinkering here and there, but a growing number of common citizens are having second thoughts on the idea of fixing a broken system. Some things are better left broken and need to get worse before they get better. They are beginning to entertain the more radical idea that we should instead be using this moment of crisis to fundamentally transform the realities that have historically shaped our lives, especially those of us who live in the democratic West.
This is indeed the silver lining of the whole crisis. The current moment allows us to move from being an object in someone else’s system, with the market as a sort of demiurge to be slavishly worshipped, to becoming the active subject of our own history and destiny. Suddenly we have new choices and we can envision and create realities that just a few years ago would have been ridiculed and caricaturized as naïve and utopian.
The crucial question at this point in time is this: can we get out of this crisis before it is too late and the whole elaborate capitalist scheme comes crashing down causing tremendous suffering to most ordinary people? Is our jubilation at having survived another global regression, which almost became a depression, in any way justified?
Not easy to answer such a question, but one thing remains clear: to embrace the possibilities of the moment means to stand outside the political frame developed by the media and the politicians. This puts progressives, those who are convinced that things always get better and better and there is no sliding back, in a rather difficult position. The present historical moment calls for something far more imaginative and radical than what administration on both sides of the Atlantic have managed to muster so far. And it is not a mere lack of civility and mutual respect, a failure at compromise and tolerance or worse, a matter of “political correctness” or ideological purity.
There is, however another take on this issue: that the ideology of anti-ideology is simply another face of global capitalism. The neoliberal policies that are now crumbling before our eyes were brilliant attempts to extend the basic underlying philosophy of capitalism-that the common good is best served when everyone pursues his or her own economic interests, the famous “laisse faire” economic model whose fruits are dubious at best: what we have seen over several decades is that the rich have gotten richer and tripled and quadrupled their wealth, with the rationale that their wealth would trickle down to the rest of society. What has happened indeed is that while the rich have gotten richer, the poor have gotten the crumbs and have become poorer. The divergence continues to expand. Those are mere market forces, we are told, not to be tampered by ideology.
Indeed, to be non-ideological in a world in which one out of every three people is living on less than $2 a day is to be a champion of inequality, even when one sheds crocodile tears over children starving as we speak, and throws a few miserable billion dollars toward “foreign aid.”
If the truth be told, however, we need to begin to acknowledge that the economic crisis of the West is symptomatic of another deeper malaise: spiritual impoverishment. So spiritual progressives must move beyond the struggles of the moment and provide a different paradigm. People have to be reminded that when the economic system was going full force not long ago, it was also on an immediate collision course with the environment, as Al Gore found out, to his surprise, only after he was out of office and could do nothing on a purely political level. Fortunately, he went into the field of education, environmental education, and we are all better off for it.
People indeed remain to be educated to the hard to swallow empirical evidence that the extremes of selfishness that has led so many of the “big wheels” in the economy to loot their own firms for the sake of personal advantage were not a product of individual pathology (many of those people still consider themselves virtuous and decent) but rather an inevitable working out of the essence of the capitalist ethos and its primary appeal: that if you focus on your own needs and maximize your own interests, without any regard to the well-being of others, you can “make it” and have a very comfortable life. Indeed, when the concept of the common good has all but disappeared, a society will inevitably find itself in a spiritual crisis.
In short, the system that our political leaders are presently trying to revive is already morally bankrupt and environmentally dangerous, but if they know it, they are not telling anybody, yet; often they deny such a reality. But plans to rev up the system so that it can return to those good old days are fundamentally irrational. Which is to say we need a new global economic system; a system under which institutions, corporations, public policies, laws, and even individual behaviors are perceived as “rational,” “productive,” or “efficient” not only to the extent that they produce power or money or new technologies for someone, but also to the extent that they enhance our capacities and our desire to be loving and caring, kind and generous, and ethically and ecologically sensitive.
We are in desperate need of an economy that transcends the narrow utilitarian or instrumental approach of classical liberalism; a novel system which allows us to develop our capacities for awe, wonder, and radical amazement at the grandeur of the universe and the dignity of other human beings. That is something that the ancient Stoics (who were no Christians) seemed to be fully conscious of, but we moderns seem to have all but forgotten, while we pay lip service to spiritual realities.
But to return to the question of what exactly needs to be done, we need a grassroots movement of people meeting together in their communities in “After-Capitalism” groups, discussing their own original ideas on how to create a better global economy. Spiritual progressives should play a central role in stimulating these discussions, not only in every church, synagogue, mosque, and ashram, but also on college campuses, in union halls, in professional organizations, and at town meetings, that is to say the “agora” from which the voice of religion should not be focibly suppressed.
Which is to say, that the activist Left perhaps needs to get out of the way and stop its bad habit of criticizing rather than to propose new options, especially when it comes to the spiritual sphere of human existence. The failure of communist and socialist ideals in the twentieth century has unfortunately led progressives to mere cynical criticism rather than envisioning a new social system. They seem too comfortable in merely criticizing what is or was rather than proposing and leading struggles for what might be. From being idealist they have become realists steeped in “real-politik” Machiavellian thinking. They don’t trust the politicians but they trust even less the idealism originating from a religious paradigm. Deprived of the moral compass of the socialist ideology provided in former times, they now seem at a loss. Some have moved from the Left to the Right. We have the incredible spectacle of a Vladimir Putin financing right wing political movements all over the EU in cynical attempt to divide and conquer.
What in fact needs to be overcome is a cynical pessimism in the West about the possibility of ever creating a society in which people routinely act in altruistic and generous ways toward others. We seem to be constitutionally unable nowadays to imagine ourselves into unselfish cooperative roles. The attempt on the part of conservatives of every stripe to diminish the huge levels of cooperation that made possible the New Deal and that characterized many of the movements of the 1960s and 1970s have been successful in part because of their control over the media, the educational system, and the government. The last twenty years have been especially devastating.
We should frankly acknowledge that the economy itself on both sides of the Atlantic fosters an ethos of selfishness wherein others are treated as instruments for one’s own satisfaction and needs. There is something missing and as hinted above it is the absence of a spiritual dimension to progressive politics without which it is hard to sustain commitment for any kind of long-term struggle. It has not escaped notice that organizations created on the Left by radical activists may champion the ideal of caring for the victims of capitalism but rarely provide active caring for the activists themselves. And without that kind of attention, people quickly burn out and leave their activism behind. They eventually settle for winning the lottery and escape the common misery. It is the blind praxis devoid of theory of which Whitehead spoke about.
Ultimately the real question facing us today is whether the seriousness of the contemporary crisis can lead people to transcend these negative dynamics enough to form a coherent movement that could address the need for a vision for after capitalism. In short, we need to replace selfishness and materialism with charity and magniminity. How would the world look like after capitalism? There is no lack of literature in this respect.
More pragmatically, the New Deal employed artists to paint, poets and writers to write, and took some tentative steps to build a culture of caring. A dramatically expanded program for the unemployed should and in fact could address the cultural and spiritual dimension of human needs aside from mere utilitarian pragmatic considerations. People have to be taught that “we” is more important that “me” and it simply means to take care of each other and that each of us is responsible for his/her own brother or sister’s welfare. Admittedly, this is an “outside the box” vision; one born within the worst of times in which to operate, but also within the best of times. A paradox, perhaps; or an opportunity to be seized. Any takers?
Azerbaijan: Just-in-time support for the economy
Over the last two decades, oil has been the defining factor for Azerbaijan; not only for its economic growth but also for its development. During the first ten years of the millennium, Azerbaijan experienced an explosion in wealth. As oil GDP, comprising half of the sectoral share of the economy, grew by an average of 21 percent per year, fueled by global upsurge of oil prices and increased production. Total GDP grew more than tenfold: from US$6 bn to US$66 bn. This was accompanied by rapid decline in poverty, from 49.6% to 7.6%, increase in real wages, and middle-class growth.
However, after the decline in global oil prices in 2014, nearly by half, the reduction of oil revenue caused a domino effect in the economy. The double devaluation of the Azerbaijani manat in 2015 erased half of the manat’s value against US dollar. and subsequent fiscal adjustment together with ongoing banking sector distress led to a 3.8% contraction in GDP (2016). This was accompanied with the rising of traditionally low levels of government debt (from 8.5% in 2014 to 22% in early 2018) primarily due to devaluation of manat.
On December sixth, 2016, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has signed a decree approving the “Strategic roadmaps for the national economy and main economic sectors.” The decree for reforms spanned across 11 sectors, from tourism to agriculture, and aimed to decrease the over-reliance to the oil and gas sector.
Azerbaijan – World Bank Partnership
Under very tight deadlines, Azerbaijani ministry of finance started working on a roadmap, that would reform the economy which had been impaired by a number of negative shocks such as lower oil prices, weak regional growth, currency devaluations in Azerbaijan’s main trading partners, and a contraction in hydrocarbon production. As a long-term partner of the World Bank Group (WBG), they reached out for support in developing a public finance strategy for the medium term at the beginning of 2016. To be able to broach such a broad project, different teams within WBG worked together closely to provide just-in-time support and to cover various facets of the macro-fiscal framework. Government Debt and Risk Management (GDRM) Program, a World Bank Treasury initiative targeting middle income countries funded by countries funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) worked on the debt management portion of the issue. The Macroeconomics, Trade and Investment Global Practice advised on macroeconomic and fiscal framework and debt sustainability analysis.
Providing a macro-fiscal outlook, analyzing debt sustainability and proposing debt management reforms
The ministry of finance and WBG joint teams had a thorough review of the macro-fiscal and borrowing conditions and honed in three interlinked issues:
- The need for sustainable financing: While the level of direct debt was expected to remain modest, the sharp increase in the issuance of public guarantees would lead the public and publicly-guaranteed (PPG) debt trajectory to be higher in the next five years.
- Fiscal Rules: Azerbaijan was exploring fiscal rules involving the use of the country’s oil assets, based on recommendations from the IMF.
- The country was facing high exchange-rate and interest-rate risks, due to 98% of the central government debt being in foreign currency and two thirds in variable interest rates.
With that in mind, the teams tested different borrowing strategies to cover the 2017-2021 period under baseline and different shock scenarios, analyzing debt sustainability, and the composition of the public debt portfolio weighing it against the national risk tolerance. They also recommended several measures to better enable the debt management operations: revising and submitting the Debt Management Law to parliament; improving the reporting system; improving the coordination between the ministry of finance; the central bank and the Sovereign Oil Fund; developing a credit risk assessment capacity in the ministry and improving the IT system, and eventually looking at developing a domestic debt market.
Azerbaijan develops the public finance strategy
In December 2017 Azerbaijan ministry of finance shared the debt management strategy, with the President’s office. The proposed strategy comprised a macroeconomic policy framework, a borrowing plan, and associated institutional and legal reforms. In August 2018, President Aliyev enacted and published the “Medium to long term debt management strategy for Azerbaijan Republic’s public debt”. The strategy outlines the main directions of the government borrowing during 2018-2025 based on sound analysis. It puts a limit of 30% of GDP for the public debt in the medium term, with a moderation to 20% of GDP by 2025. The authorities also envisage gradual rise in domestic debt, to develop the local currency government bond market. To reflect the changing macroeconomic outlook and financial conditions, the strategy document will be updated every two years.
“As World Bank, our mission is ending extreme poverty and building shared prosperity,” said Elena Bondarenko, the Macroeconomics and Fiscal Management team member. “It is our privilege to provide just-in-time support to our member countries when they most need it. Especially if we can help build resilience to the economy before further shocks cause major damage.”. “The work doesn’t stop here,” said GDRM Program Task Team Leader Cigdem Aslan. “The GDRM Program will continue its support through the implementation phase of the recommendation and help build capacity for the development of the domestic market for government securities.”
Knowledge economy and Human Capital: What is the impact of social investment paradigm on employment?
Social policy advocates claim the development of the European welfare state model on three phases as follows: traditional welfare state until 1970s; neo-liberal welfare state until the mid-1990s and finally social investment state model afterwards of the mid-1990s. At the first time, on the European Union level, to bring the social investment policy to the political agendas after the 1990s economic hardship, the European Council adopted the Lisbon Strategy in 2000. In fact, the Lisbon Strategy was successful with respect to the employment. In the latter, the social investment state paradigm has fostered once more in the Europe with the “Social Investment Package: Towards Social Investment for Growth and Cohesion” in 2013 by the European Commission that targeted to “prepare” individuals, families and societies for the competitive knowledge economy by investing in human capital from an early childhood together with increase female participation in the workforce.
Generally, social investment idea emerged as a link between social insurance and activation in employment policies and upgrading human capital. Hemerijck (2014) defined the concept of the social investment state to facilitate the “flow” of labour market transitions, raising the quality of human capital “stock” and upkeeping strong minimum income guarantee as social protection and economic stabilization “buffers”. The underlying idea of the social investment strategy has been argued to modernize the traditional welfare states and guarantee their sustainability in line with the response to the “new social risks” such as skill erosion, flexible market, insufficient social insurance and job insecurity.
Economic aim of social investment paradigm is divided into two types by Ahn& Kim (2014),in the following way:The social democratic approach based on the example of the Nordic countries and the liberal approach of the Anglo-American countries. To make the distinguish more clear, the social democratic approach aims to increase the employment for all working classes and strength human capital. On the other hand, liberal approach applies selective strategy which is more workfare policy oriented and covers vulnerable class. In this regard, cross country analyses show that the Scandinavian countries have been the forerunners of social investment and perform the childcare and vulnerable group targeted policies at their best.
Studies have viewed the social investment state approach as a new form of the welfare state and reshaped social policy objectives that addressed to promote labour market participation for a sustainable employment rather than simply to fight against unemployment. Since the beginning, the social investment strategy directs to protect individuals from social and economic threats by investing in human capital through labour market trainings, female (family – career) and child care policies, provision of universal access to education from the childhood. On doing so, the social investment as a long term strategy aims to reduce the risk of future neediness in contrast to the traditional benefit oriented welfare state that focuses on short term mitigation of risks. Or to put it differently, the social investment “prepares” children and families against to economic and social challenges rather than “repair” their positions in such problems later. In short, social investment policies are characterized as a predictor rather than a recoverer. Mainstream social investment argument is that redesigned welfare state model more focuses on work and care reconciliation policy as strengthening parental employment in the labour market is an important factor to exit poverty and support families especially mothers. On the other hand, human capital measures such as education and trainings improve life course employability, particularly for market outsiders as well as human investment guarantees better job security in today`s more flexible job market.
In reality, an economic development and employment is friendly to each other. Thus, income comes from the market through employment as a paid employment is foundation of household welfare. Likewise, a welfare is purchased in the markets. Arguably, unemployment leads to the poverty and social exclusion in the societies. Hereby, work based policy regarded as a sustainable anti-poverty strategy. The welfare states in order to guarantee households` net income and well-being in the post industrialized labour market have turned to invest in preventive measures such as human capital. The human capital (cognitive development and educational attainments) is a must for the dynamic and competitive knowledge economy. Educational expenditures yield on a dividend because they may/make citizens more productive but we need to push the logic much further (Andersen, 2002). In fact, social investment state by being more female and child care policy oriented predicts an importance of the education for a well-being of society and more developed economy in the future. Thus, employment policies need to link with family policies to be more effective in response to the unemployment, poverty and social exclusion. Social investment state as a new shape of the active employment policies invests in education particularly of women and children to prevent unemployment and poverty from the beginning. One hand, addresses to the ageing problem of European societies social investment strategies aim to mobilize motherhood with an employment. On the other hand, by promoting family polices, social investment strategy directs to reduce child poverty and safeguard child welfare in the line with better social and economic conditions of childhood.
What is certain that, social investment state implies human capital strategy. To increase an employment and long term productivity of individuals, social investment policies interchanged with the provision of social insurance. In other words, the social service policies took over the place of the cash benefit oriented policies. It is probably fair to say, the human capital strategies link social investment policies to employment outcomes. Simply, to see the correlation between the social investment paradigm and employment, human capital policy measures (education and trainings) are needed to be checked as a direct labour market value. Since they are the most effective activation measures in skill investment to respond to the knowledge economy, more educated and skilled manpower boosts the labour supply in turn results income equality which is a traditional goal of the social democracy. In this context, social investment state is addressed to reach high quality employment by its human investment orientation. As Andersen, (2002) argues, “We no longer live in a world in which low-skilled workers can support the entire family. The basic requisite for a good life is increasingly strong cognitive skills and professional qualifications”.
The Trade Deal and Canada: What Do the People Think and How is Business Affected?
The failure of NAFTA was a major campaign feature of Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump heading into the 2016 elections. Trump pushed the narrative that NAFTA was a bad trade deal for the United States, and one which only benefited Canada and Mexico. He abruptly went to work with government officials to renegotiate the terms of trade with both Canada and Mexico, allowing the US an opportunity to rebalance its unequitable terms of trade.
By September 2018, representatives from Canada, Mexico, and the United States hammered out a deal which effectively renegotiated the terms of NAFTA to be more favorable to the US, with agreements being reached with all parties. The North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations were part and parcel of Trump’s campaign promises.
A big part of the reason why Trump pushed for a deal before the midterms in November was to give his base red meat to feast on and to re-energize Republicans ahead of crucial races. Before the new trade agreement can be ratified as law, congressional approval is needed. The terms of the trading agreement will be signed by the end of November 2018, by Mexican, Canadian, and US trade representatives.
The Mexican delegation would like to have the deal done and dusted before the incumbent president is replaced by his successor on December 1, 2018. Important terms of trade have been incorporated in the newly formed legislation, notably information regarding automobile tariffs, limitations on online shopping activity that is tax-free, conflict resolution between Mexico, the US, and Canada, and dairy imports.
Heading into October, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau intimated that the deal was good for Canada. Back in the US however it remains unknown whether Congress will fall into line and support the re-negotiated deal. Lawmakers routinely spar with the president on all aspects of foreign policy, trade, immigration, law and order, et cetera, and the current trade agreements with Mexico and the US are likely to evoke serious opposition from Democrats.
It is expected that Congress will vote on the trade deal in 2019, but nothing will happen until the substance of the trade deal has closely been scrutinized. Democrats will be carefully eyeing the new trade deals vis-a-vis environmental protection and preservation initiatives, labor legislation, and equitable terms of trade. Back in the US, there is tremendous anxiety about the impact that the new trade deal will have on the automobile industry, and whether the renegotiated deal will make things easier or more difficult for US companies.
Congressional Approval Needed to Ratify Trade Deal into Law
The US dairy market expects to benefit from a higher level than the current 3.25% market share which was negotiated through the Obama administration under the TPP. Now, the Canadian dairy market will be allowing greater US exports in, benefiting US farmers, and potentially putting Canadian dairy farmers on the defensive. The Canadians gained from the deal, by way of dispute settlement language, which allows international panel of judges to evaluate the impact of duties on the terms of trade.
Trump has been eager to limit the harm done to US automobile manufacturers and farmers through high tariffs and customs imposed on US exports to Canada and Mexico. The Canadians now have an accommodation in the terms of trade whereby Canada may agree to put limits on its automobile exports at levels higher than the current quota south of the border.
These negotiations were being conducted throughout 2017 and 2018, with Mexicans, Canadians, and Americans quibbling over details. Ultimately, all three countries worked feverishly to conclude trade deals with the United States. It is unlikely that the current trade deal with Canada will pass if the house cedes over to the other side. Dems are vociferously against most every policy proposal made by Trump, and it remains to be seen whether any negotiated deal will pass into law in 2019.
Small and Medium Businesses Already Taking Note
Despite the need for Congressional approval, SMEs across the US and Canada are already positioning themselves for the effects of this type of trade deal. Clearly the dairy industry and automobile industry are going to be affected the most, but multiple other peripheral industries will feel the consequences. NAFTA gives way to the USMCA – an acronym for United States Mexico Canada Agreement.
It’s not only Congress that needs to approve the deal – it’s the Mexican and Canadian legislatures too. North America – the US and Canada will benefit immensely from the deal if it goes into effect, given that truck parts and vehicles will qualify for 0% tariffs if three quarters of the components are made in Canada, the US, or Mexico. This is a 12.5% higher threshold than the current 62.5%.
The minimum wage required for vehicle and truck manufacturers is $16 per hour, which is approximately triple the wage earned by Mexican automobile workers. By 2020, 30% of all work on vehicles must be conducted by workers earning that wage. By 2023, 40% of all work on vehicles must be completed by workers earning that wage.
Of course, not everybody is happy about these wage requirements, particularly the parts and service industries which may be forced out of business if they’re required to make such high wage payments for these types of services. This may result in the US and Canada having to import their vehicles from elsewhere at a lower cost to keep things affordable.
How Will Monetary Inflows Be Impacted in Canada?
The fundamentals of economics state that when the cost of goods and services increases, demand for those goods and services tends to decrease, ceteris paribus. In this newly negotiated agreement – USMCA– it is likely that the impact of the trade deal will be felt by all parties. The Canadian market will have to yield to a greater number of US products and services, notably dairy and automobile exports, which will cut into the existing market share held by Canadian companies.
In terms of monetary inflows, it may well occur that lower demand for CAD may result. This will place a burden on the Canadian economy, notably the manufacturing sector and its attendant small and medium enterprises. By mandating Canada to allow a greater percentage of US products and services into their country, Canadian enterprises invariably are required to yield their own production capacity.
This may result in layoffs, lower wages, and smaller market share. Canada’s money inflow will ultimately be affected by any new trade deal, given that it substantially alters the status quo of receipts and payments. There may be a rush for USD in the run up to any potential congressional vote, with Canadian SMEs fearing that a weakening of the CAD may lead to even higher prices for goods and services in Canada.
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