Category: Research (page 2 of 4)

Zigzagging with the World Bank and its poverty statistics

Written by Francine Mestrum  

Created: 25 October 2015

In 2015, for the first time ever, global extreme poverty will fall below 10 %, according to the World Bank in a triumphant press release of three weeks ago. But the Bank remains cautious about its in 2013 defined objective : to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030, or to have it at around 3 %.

This is obviously good news. The United Nations just adopted its ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ as a follow up to the Millennium Development Goals and objective number one, the halving of extreme poverty between 1990 and 2015 has been met. The World Bank’s Global Monitoring Report 2014/15[1] estimated extreme poverty in 2011 at 14,5 %, expecting it to lower to 11,5 % in 2015.

Global poverty, then, is diminishing. Some may remember that at the start of this century a percentage of around 20 was mentioned for 2010. In the past year, many scholarly articles were published saying that new measurements would further diminish extreme poverty, others estimating it to remain stable and still others expecting it to rise.

It is sometimes difficult to believe and it can be useful to try and follow the thread, look at how debates are developing and put the poverty measures into their right context. It is useless to try and prove the figures are ‘false’, since that would imply other figures are ‘right’ and that thesis particularly has to be rejected.

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The Commons, Social Justice and Systemic Change

Written by Francine Mestrum  

Created: 09 February 2016(Conferencia ‘Con todos y para el bien de todos’, La Havana, 25-28 de enero 2016) 

We live in a paradoxical time. While, on the one hand, international organisations are promoting social protection in the South, on the other hand, existing welfare states are being dismantled in the North. However, there is in fact one single logic at work. What is being introduced in the North as well as in the South is a neoliberal social paradigm in which ‘social protection’ acquires a new meaning, different from what it was in the past. Hence, the North and the South are facing identical challenges and alternatives are urgently needed.

In this contribution, I want to first identify the major characteristics of neoliberal social policy. I then want to point to the difficult relationship the left has with social policies and welfare states. Third, while social policies certainly cannot be abandoned, the search for alternatives will have to take into account the needs of our times and of current generations. In the fourth section, I want to propose an alternative that uses the concept of the commons as an anti-systemic tool allowing to link up with the struggle for climate justice. Social commons, then, as I will explain, will be a transformative and emancipatory project promoting social and political agency, it will allow to defend the sustainability of life, of people, of society and of nature, while it can contribute to change the economic system.[1]

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Droits humains et communs sociaux: faux amis ou alliés indispensables?

Written by Francine Mestrum  Created: 09 February 2016

(Conférence internationale à l’occasion du 30ème anniversaire de l’Institut des Droits de l’Homme, Lyon, 5-6 février 2016)

 La protection sociale est aujourd’hui au centre de l‘attention politique. Il ne s’agit pas pourtant d’un renouveau de la pensée sociale, mais d’un projet politique néolibéral au service de l’économie. Il convient dès lors de la repenser et de redéfinir sa finalité. Dans un premier point, j’expliquerai que la protection sociale est un droit humain, au croisement de l’individuel et du collectif. Le deuxième point concerne une proposition pour redéfinir la protection sociale en termes de communs sociaux. En troisième lieu, il faudra se demander si ces communs, par définition collectifs, sont compatibles avec les droits humains. La réponse est positive, à condition de modifier le concept d’individu qui sous-tend les droits humains. Ainsi, quatrième point, il sera possible de faire de ces communs sociaux un projet d’avenir pour l’émancipation des individus et des sociétés.

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‘What about Monsanto?’ Reflections on the future of work, transformative social protection and systemic change

Written by Francine Mestrum  Created: 08 March 2016

The world of work is changing very rapidly. In the European Union, 11 million people are out of work, including 4.6 million young people.[1] World-wide, the ILO speaks of almost 200 million unemployed people and almost half of the total workforce, or 1.5 billion people are in vulnerable employment.[2] Governments are all in austerity mode and claim to have no other possibility than try and believe better skills and flexible labour markets will bring solutions.

Chances are minimal they will ever succeed.

Because in the meantime technological changes and neoliberal working methods are further eroding the labour markets. Robotisation is destroying jobs rapidly. On-demand labour is developing in such a way that stable jobs may soon become a rarity. More and more people are self-employed with little guarantees for their future. In the European Union 16 % of all the employed are self-employed, with more than two thirds of them solo self-employed.[3] It all means that, inevitably, social protection systems are being eroded, especially when trade unions are under attack and are weakening. Precarization seems to be all around.

What will the future bring?

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Production and Commons:on the political potential of a commons approach for production and protection and the shaping of a better world

Written by Francine Mestrum  Created: 22 March 2016

The world of work is changing. The European Union already has a very high unemployment rate, especially for its young people (respectively around 10 and 20 %). Moreover, the new technological revolution probably will destroy millions of jobs in the near future and consequently destabilize society. With the development of ‘on demand labour’ a general precarization is in the making.

The only answer so far given to these negative developments, is the emergence of new forms of production and work: cooperatives, collaborative and sharing economy, self-managed enterprises, P2P, etc. coupled with a demise of social protection and the introduction of a basic income for all. While it is far from clear that these new modes of production and protection can mean a real alternative to the existing world of work, progressive forces should carefully examine their potential for the construction of ‘another world’.

The political world is changing as well. The awareness of the climate crisis is finally gaining ground and a new common sense is in the making. The successes of leftwing candidates in different electoral campaigns show that there is a real and direct demand for progressive policies. Neoliberalism certainly still is, unconsciously, in the hearts and minds of many progressive people, but young generations certainly are ready for something different: nor more TINA (there is no alternative) but Tamara (there are many alternatives readily available).

While this new common sense is slowly emerging and young generations clearly do not want more of the same old policies, it is also sad to notice that very few leftwing political parties are getting the message. Social democracy has made itself incredible by supporting most of austerity policies and even push-back policies for refugees, the radical left is hopelessly divided and competes for ideological purity. Green parties still too often forget about social justice.

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(Un?) socializing the European Union: a history of some ups and many downs

Written by Francine Mestrum  Created: 06 October 2016

 ‘Social Europe’ has followed a very bumpy road since the inception of the European Community. This is not only a consequence of the lack of competences at the European level, or the lack of ‘political will’ at the level of Heads of State and Governments, but also and mainly of the ideological tendencies that have permeated all policies for the past six decades.

Since the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992, most social movements in Europe have been demanding a ‘social and democratic’ Europe. However, never has it been clarified what this could or should mean. Even today, there are no clear demands on what precisely the European Union should do or not do. This article is meant to shed some light on the past, the present and the possible future of ‘social Europe’.[1]

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Some reflections on capitalism, globalisation, the left and the need for concrete alternatives

Written by Francine Mestrum, 2017

Nos encontramos ante la muerte de una de las mayores

 estafas ideológicas de los siglos recientes

(Álvaro García Linera, La Jornada, 28 de diciembre 2016)

The emergence of rentier capitalism

To all those who think ‘capitalism’ is the major obstacle to the success of the left and progressive forces, it may come as a surprise: capitalism continues to change and transform itself, to develop into something different from what it was before. And each time the left decides to better analyse what exactly is happening, ‘the enemy’ is taking one step ahead and succeeds in stopping all reflection on alternatives and strategies in order to surpass it.

To-day, this is happening once again. Thirty-five years after the introduction of neoliberalism which defined new rules for the functioning of the world, nearly two years after the IMF (International Monetary Fund) used the concept for the very first time and stated it might have perverse effects, the system is undergoing a metamorphosis and gives rise to political changes to which we are not prepared.

Neoliberalism is an ideology whose theoretical basis was defined by the ‘Mont Pèlerin’ group and it consists mainly in having markets decide on almost everything. In practice it first took the form of the ‘Washington Consensus’ and focused on the liberalisation of markets and free movement of goods, services, capital and people. It implied the deregulation of markets, including labour markets. In put into place a new kind of State, with less binding rules but more protection of property rights, markets and consumer rights. It preaches openness to the world and individual liberties.

In this movement, the capitalist system appropriated almost everything that was possible: from national enterprises to public services, from nature to knowledge. It dismantled existing protection of workers and is now appropriating life itself, through the advances of biotechnology.  These changes went along together with a breakthrough of banks and a logic of financialisation. This latest development led to a ‘new’ capitalism that seeks less to produce and progress than to extract rents from everything it undertakes, while imposing austerity to populations all over the world.

Incomes from capital have risen enormously and to-day amount to more than 20 % of GDP in several countries. Have to be added to these incomes from all sorts of activities such as patents, brands, copyright, etc. This is rentier capitalism that put an end to free markets using institutional mechanisms. Multinational companies have captured the state apparatus in order to receive all the subsidies they want, new legislation for the protection of intellectual property, consumers and students have been encouraged to make debts. Later, almost all of the public sector passed into private hands, from health care to education, from social housing to prisons and even security forces, parks streets and squares, parts of the oceans and of the forests, all over the world. To-day, even ‘employers’ are disappearing, in the new ‘collaborative’ economy intermediating enterprises are limiting themselves to put demand in touch with offer.

At every step, capitalism is reaping the profits, without any risk.

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Social Justice for the Sustainability of Life: on the need for a global social pact

 Written by Francine Mestrum  Created: 20 February 2017

(VI Congreso Red Española de Políticas sociales, Sevilla 16-17 February 2017)

In the current period of uncertainty and anxiety for the future, it gives confidence to look back at the not so far away past, in order to see what was possible then and what has been real only fifty years ago: national social pacts within developing welfare states in the North and global agreements on the need for social progress in the South. It is also good to remember that it is not the recent crisis of 2008 that has put an end to these pacts and agreements. Indeed, the real turn came with the crisis of the 1970s and the ‘structural adjustment’ programmes in the South from the 1980s onward. More recently and everywhere, social protection acquired a new meaning, aimed at ‘human capital’, protecting the most vulnerable while promoting markets and growth. What is new today, is that we are also faced with fundamental changes in modes of production and consequently changes on the labour markets. While several innovative proposals for social protection are being made, the need for a new and global social pact in order to promote the sustainability of life, for humans and for nature, is particularly urgent.

In this contribution, I first give an overview of the discursive changes in thinking on social protection and poverty reduction. Secondly, I look at the concrete consequences of current policies at the level of poverty, inequality and labour markets. Thirdly, I look at the political backlash and the future perspectives for jobs and inequality. Finally, I discuss two of the major proposals for future social policies. If I consider a reflection on the past as being fruitful, it is not in order to go back to a Fordist history that will never repeat itself, but in order to create hope and show that better policies are possible, creating hope instead of despair.

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Private pension systems in Latin America

40 years … A sufficient period of time to be able to evaluate the great promises made when structural pensions reforms were introduced replacing public pay-as-you-go (PAYG) systems, many times in crisis. Evidence is not optimistic, at least not from the perspective of most of the private system “clients”. Clearly, the introduction of private systems has defined winners and losers.
Discontent is growing; therefore, several countries conducted re-reforms or
are discussing them, aimed at cushioning the effects of the logic of their operation in an environment of social segregation based on the labor market and on the concentration of income that translates directly into insufficient old-age pensions for the great majority of people.
In this monograph, Mesa Lago gathers evidence on the performance of private pension systems and—based on the promises of their defenders in the
nine Latin American countries that adopted these systems—he evaluates the
results of the re-reforms in four countries and the current reform proposals in
another two, as well as the situation of the largest PAYG system on the continent. Based on the conclusions of this analysis, he presents a series of recommendations with a flexible approach, and not from a single model approach,
for a reform that meets the criteria of social security and justice.

Read the report

WTO, Trips and Public Health

The use of TRIPS flexibilities by WTO members involves interpretation of the obligations under TRIPS which can be challenged under the WTO dispute settlement system. Mutually agreed solutions, panel or Appellate Body decisions adopted in such disputes can thus impact the scope of TRIPS flexibilities to address, among others, public health objectives. This paper explores how the WTO dispute settlement system applies to disputes under TRIPS, and reviews the outcomes of the disputes relating to the implementation of TRIPS obligations in the context of pharmaceutical products. The paper points to both systemic and substantive concerns arising from the application of the dispute settlement system to disputes under TRIPS. It finds that the dispute settlement system is not aligned to the unique nature of the TRIPS Agreement in the WTO as an agreement that creates positive obligations, and consequently how jurisprudence arising under disputes concerning other covered agreements having negative obligations, have led panels and Appellate Bodies to adopt narrow interpretations of the scope of TRIPS flexibilities in some of the few disputes arising under the TRIPS Agreement. Moreover, mutually agreed settlements adopted in the context of some of the disputes arising under TRIPS have also led to the adoption of TRIPS plus standards, limiting the scope of TRIPS flexibilities. However, in a recent decision, the WTO panel has also relied on the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health as a subsequent agreement to guide the interpretation of its provisions. In this context, the paper advances some suggestions to address the systemic and substantive issues arising from the application of the dispute settlement system to the TRIPS Agreement.

Read the paper from the South Center

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