People Power Will Bring Change — Not Davos

Activists and communities gathered in Manila, Philippines to build people’s power in the fight against inequality. Credit: Jilson Tiu / Greenpeace

By Jenny Ricks
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Jan 31 2019 (IPS)

They said they cared about climate change but they flew in on private jets in record numbers. They said they cared about inequality but laughed off the idea of higher taxes for the rich. They spoke about democracy and human rights but they dined with a far-right populist. If there was ever any doubt about Davos representing the epitome of duplicity, then 2019 has firmly laid that to rest.

The billionaires and politicians that clinked champagne glasses at the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) charade in Davos tried, as usual, to project concern about the world and those outside of their bubble.

The WEF public relations machinery ensured that the event was slick and that there were panels on climate change and inequality. But the hypocrisy of elites was clear for all to see.

Not only that, this year even some of their usual supporters in the mainstream media said that the global elite is currently out of enthusiasm and ideas.

Opening the conference, David Attenborough urged world leaders to take serious action on climate change, but the attendees broke the record for the number of private jet flights that ferried them in to the luxurious Swiss ski resort.

This, despite WEF’s own report on global risks for 2019 showing that environmental threats are seen as the biggest danger to the world. The disconnect is quite staggering, and further proof that Davos generates nothing more than empty rhetoric and bloated media coverage.

Another disconnect moment, now rightly gaining infamy on social media, saw our Fight Inequality ally Winnie Byanyima of Oxfam, alongside historian Rutger Bregman, tell some badly needed home truths to billionaires – that they need to be taxed more, and about the reality of work without dignity that so many people endure around the world. A reality check that Davos Man was unwilling and unable to face up to.

Whilst Davos played itself out for another year, the leadership required to face up to multiple, urgent challenges that we desperately have to address was coming from elsewhere, including from a sixteen-year-old climate activist.

Greta Thunberg provided a direct challenge to the elites at Davos that put profit before people and planet: “Some people, some companies, some decision-makers in particular, have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.”

Thunberg is part of a growing global movement of students demanding urgent change from their governments. Their protests are exciting and vital.

In India, residents of Delhi put forward their demands to end inequality. Credit: Oxfam India

In the face of urgent social problems not being addressed, other grassroots movements too have emerged during the last few years. From students demanding ‘fees must fall‘ in South Africa, to the global me too movement demanding an end to sexual assault and violence against women.

These are examples and reminders of an important historical lesson: that all social progress, from the fight against apartheid to securing women’s right to vote, came about by the power of the people challenging the people in power.

And so it is with inequality, ironically also identified by the Davos elite for several years as one of the greatest risks facing the world, and a subject that remains on the WEF agenda. Unsurprisingly, nothing has been done about it by Davos. The policy prescriptions and solutions are thoroughly researched and well-known but rejected by the plutocrats and politicians in order to maintain the status quo and the economic system that benefits them.

As leading inequality economist Branko Milanovic says about the elites: “Not surprisingly, nothing has been done since the Global Financial Crisis to address inequality. Rather, the opposite has happened.”

Of course, the idea of elites ‘solving’ inequality is absurd – given that the problem is of their making and its perpetuation in their interests. The statistics on inequality bear testament to this.

Wealth is becoming increasingly concentrated – last year 26 people owned the same wealth as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity.

Currently the wealth of the world’s 2208 dollar billionaires is now five times the GDP of the whole of Africa. In the UK, the average FTSE 100 CEO takes home 133 times the salary of the average worker.

We are dealing with a worldwide inequality crisis that is reaching new extremes and undermining global efforts to end poverty and marginalisation, advance women’s rights, defend the environment, protect human rights and democracy, prevent conflict, and promote fair and dignified employment.

Even Davos Man knows this. But what the elites at Davos again made clear, through their rhetoric and inaction, is that only a grassroots movement will fix this.

A growing global movement called the Fight Inequality Alliance – comprised of trade unions, social movements and leading international and national non-profit organisations – is busy organising while those at Davos eat canapés and mouth platitudes.

While the 1% gathered in the Swiss Alps, activists and campaigners held a week of action calling on governments to curb the murky influence of the super-rich who they blame for the Age of Greed, where billionaires are buying not just yachts but laws.

Community groups’ ideas, which elites don’t mention, include minimum living wages, an end to corporate tax breaks, higher taxes on wealth, capital and profits of the richest companies and individuals to enable quality public services for all, and a limit to how many times more a boss can earn than a worker.

From Nairobi to Manila to Guadalajara, to Delhi to London and many countries beyond, tens of thousands gathered in slums and towns across the world in contrast to the opulence of Davos, putting forward their solutions to inequality and celebrating their resilience through music, theatre and cultural expression.

Ultimately, the solutions to inequality will come from those who are at the frontlines of it, not the 1% that caused it and continues to benefit from it. And as anger about shocking levels of inequality continues to grow, so will the movement to fight inequality.

Deflated by its own duplicity and by the movements mobilising people power outside of it, Davos is a gathering in search of a purpose. The real power for the radical and systemic change we need is with ordinary people coming together and organising to demand it. It’s what has worked in the past and it’s the only thing that will work now.

Follow the alliance on Twitter at https://twitter.com/FightInequalit1

A better life for women

Photo: REUTERS

By Amitava Kar
Jan 31 2019 (IPS-Partners)

(The Daily Star, Bangladesh) – The book “Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism” (2018)—as provocative as it sounds— has nothing to do with women’s carnal pleasures. In it, Professor Kristen Ghodsee of the University of Pennsylvania argues that implementing socialist concepts would make women’s lives more independent and fulfilling. That such an idea is put forth by an Ivy League academic from the United States of America, and not by a bleeding-heart leftist from Cuba, is striking. But not surprising.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the word “socialism” may have landed in the wastebasket of history but is still available for recycling. Socialism is becoming increasingly appealing to young people around the world who value universal health care, strong unions, affordable college, banking regulation and living wages. Some make the case that it would benefit women especially.

Professor Ghodsee insists that the free market is failing most women in many ways. Women are paid less. They are financially dependent on better compensated men. They are seen as less valuable or less productive employees because they are consistently having to take time off in order to work around the house. Most of the housework including child care and elder care and care for the infirm generally falls on the shoulders of women, a job that does not pay.

On the other hand, states that notoriously coerced political conformity and a planned economy also enforced policies to emancipate women. Socialist regimes that we usually vilify, like the former East Germany, supported gender equality in all aspects of life. In the socialist countries of the twentieth-century Eastern Europe, they were fully integrating women into the workforce, which allowed them to achieve economic freedom. Government-funded kindergartens and paid maternity leave were introduced to reduce the economic burden on women.

Life behind the Iron Curtain was not without problems. Many people died under planned economies that led to famines, purges and labour camps. But Professor Ghodsee asks, why not learn from the mistakes and try socialist policies that actually work, like empowering women, a la Scandinavia? Why not try to build a society where profits would be invested back into social services, and human relationships would be ultimately more genuine and satisfying, because people will not look at each other in a transactional way?

Ghodsee opines that the problem with capitalism is that it commodifies everything, including romance. She cites the example of seeking.com, a website that matches young women with wealthy older men, the so-called sugar daddies. The site boasts more than 10 million active users in more than 139 countries. One of the pages on this site suggests being somebody’s sugar baby can reduce your debt, send you to shopping sprees, expensive dinners and exotic vacations. You can get paid for your “time.”

And the free market has not lifted everyone, as promised. We see wage stagnation; we see growing inequality. The contemporary market that we are in has created a lot of risks for young people. Social safety nets have all but disappeared. The top 1 percent now own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Which may help explain why about 51 percent Americans between 18 and 29 hold a positive view of socialism.

People are showing interest in an alternative political system that would lead to a more egalitarian and sustainable future. The imbalances of the existing order have fuelled the rise of leftist politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the US, Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, Jean-Luc Melenchon in France, Yanis Varoufakis in Greece and Sahra Wagenknecht in Germany. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the New York Congresswoman who ran on an ultra-progressive platform which includes Medicare for all, guaranteed family leave, abolishing US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, free public college and a 70 percent marginal tax rate for incomes higher than USD 10 million.

In sum, Professor Ghodsee is saying that we can learn from the experiences of Eastern Europe and that we can actually see them functioning in countries like Denmark and Sweden. And so, why not have a conversation about how socialist policies not only impact our economies but also our personal lives? It may come as a surprise to the younger reader that one of the founding principles of Bangladesh was socialism meaning economic and social justice.

Amitava Kar is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Ethics for artificial intelligence

By Rosli Omar and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Jan 29 2019 (IPS)

Owing to our varied circumstances and experiences, there are contradictory tendencies to either exaggerate or underestimate the power and importance [...] Read more »