Baltimore: Governing Two Cities in ‘Crisis’

GIF RGB 150 Pixels with BorderMadeleine Pill reports on findings from a second round of research in Baltimore  carried out as part of the collaborative governance under austerity project, sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of its Urban Transformations Network, and led by Prof. Jonathan Davies.

Baltimore exemplifies the US conception of ‘urban crisis’ – our focus on the crises of welfarism resonated with elites and citizen activists engaged in or seeking to change the city’s governance.  They cited the challenges the city faces in terms of its ‘fiscal squeeze’, compounded by population decline, poverty concentration and the resultant struggle to provide even basic services, aggravated by very high levels of public safety / police spending shrinking funding for other priorities such as education and job training.  But an underpinning narrative about Baltimore’s racial division and the resultant trauma was also clear – heightened by the ‘uprising’ in the city in April 2015.  This had disrupted the city’s governance, interrupting ‘business as usual’ – but did it herald change?   Looking at the spatial and institutional manifestations of the city’s divisions shows that whilst its governance has seen a degree of adjustment in style and tone, the goals and fixes largely remain the same.

Baltimore’s Spatial Governance

Evoking ‘a tale of two cities’ when talking about Baltimore is a cliché with good reason – it helps navigate the deep divisions so fundamental to understanding the city’s governance.  Lawrence Brown’s two Baltimores – the White L and the Black Butterfly – capture their most stark spatial expression.  Initial research found that the uprising after the death of a young black man following injuries sustained in police custody was perceived as a pivotal moment in seeking to overcome the city’s divisions.  The emphasis on social justice since the uprising was widely regarded as having increased but views differed on any meaningful changes in practice.  Many of the elites perceived the problem in terms of lack of resource and insufficient economic inclusion, with ‘workforce’ development measures regarded as a significant step.  But an advocacy organisation echoed the institutional racism cited by others, relating the uprising to:

‘[The] ton of unhappiness and dissatisfaction in the black community with the black leadership and the extent to which the black establishment has really been acting in the interest of black neighbourhoods, poor black residents’

 The two neighbourhoods talked about by nearly all those interviewed – Port Covington and Sandtown-Winchester – illustrate the persistence of ‘twin track’ Baltimore and demonstrate that in the ‘fiscally squeezed’ city, neighbourhoods only gain attention when they intersect with the priorities of city elites.

Port Covington is the city’s current waterfront megaproject.  The developer, Sagamore, is owned by Kevin Plank, CEO of “Under Armour” (a sportswear company) whose corporate headquarters will anchor the development.  It has received approvals for $660 million of tax increment financing, the biggest financing package in Baltimore’s history and subject to much city-wide debate, protest and advocacy.  Elites did acknowledge that the development raises ‘gentrification and race issues’.  It was also cited as an example of developers’ becoming more ‘socially conscious’ since the uprising.  Citizen activists and advocacy organisations in contrast were clear that the development was ‘tone deaf coming on the heels of the uprising’ and another example of where ‘we’re disinvesting from places that need it the most… and the benefits promised don’t materialise’.

The other space of the city most mentioned was Sandtown-Winchester in West Baltimore – Freddie Gray’s home neighbourhood and the epicentre of the uprising after his death.  It became the symbolic location for the launch of Project CORE, a State and City demolition initiative which counterpoints the Port Covington development by focusing at the other end of the spectrum – the city’s ‘stressed’ neighbourhoods with the highest levels of vacant and blighted properties. Elite and citizen activist perspectives on the initiative were unsurprisingly bifurcated.  A major non-profit saw it as an example of where there is now at least more ‘talking about listening to communities’ and other elites agreed it was not ‘business as usual’.  But community activists based in West Baltimore related it to practices of institutional racism, lack of community say, and saw it as a gentrification strategy clearing low income residents:

‘It’s insensitive of our community… not even considering the issues that gave us blocks and blocks of blighted properties… this is a low income neighbourhood so you’re proposing all this demolition to lure developers…. it’s a slow gentrification process’.

What about other neighbourhoods?  Some benefit from elite attention where they are able to gain leverage from the proximity of anchor institutions, notably Johns Hopkins university and medical system.  The Central Baltimore Partnership gains support and resource given its proximity to Johns Hopkins’ Homewood campus and its Community Partners Initiative.  This encourages other resource flows (such as from the State’s neighbourhood initiative and foundation and bank support for its new development fund).  A focus of the city’s major community organising coalition, BUILD, on the east-side Oliver neighbourhood levers on its proximity to Eager Park (an earlier city megaproject), anchored by Hopkins’ hospital.  Some see such prioritisation as ‘common sense’, the path to pursue when resources are limited.  Others made explicit that neighbourhoods that don’t offer opportunities are ‘written off’ with a West Baltimore anchor institution official describing it as being located in a ‘containment area’.

Civil Society? Citizen activism and the ‘non-profit industrial complex’

The bifurcation between elite and citizen activist views of spatial governance priorities underscores the city’s institutional divisions as well as its exclusion of the citizen from governance.  Citizen activists contrasted their embedded work in communities with Baltimore’s ‘non-profit industrial complex’.  A government official agreed, critiquing the ‘whole infrastructure here of non-profits and others’ that ‘co-opt community voice and say, this is what the community wants’.  In stressing the importance of relationships with ‘key community leaders and activists’, a major non-profit alluded to its instrumental need for consensus by getting ‘diverse neighbourhoods to think collectively’.  Overall, the research revealed the stark schism between the city’s mostly white-led non-profit sector and its activist community, particularly its younger African American members.  The racial (and spatial) disconnect between larger, grant-receiving organisations and target communities was emphasised, undermining ‘the development of independent black institution building that’s so necessary for communities to actually have the power needed to address a lot of these problems’.  The role played by the city’s non-profit (and foundation) sector is imbued with the contestability and mutability of ‘civil society’ as a Tocquevillian counterbalance to, or Gramscian integrated part of, the state, one activist pithily explaining that ‘one of the biggest issues that we have in Baltimore… is a condensation of non-profit and foundation forces that then are allowed to produce policies’.

Most found some reasons to be hopeful about the city’s future.  Some stressed the need for consensus, ‘ways of partnering in a positive manner’, others stressed the need for transformational, systemic change.  What was clear was the growing voice of black, young activists ‘trained outside of the local non-profit formula’.

The two city analogy remains popular, activists envisaging ‘two parallel tracks’ – one ‘like Port Covington, a neoliberal city’, contrasted with their ability to produce a ‘parallel structure, a parallel narrative… [a] vision of community empowerment from the grassroots up, as opposed to seeing black folks as appendages of a neoliberal wave’.  Others alluded back to the uprising in stressing the need for improved police-community relations to redress trauma as a prerequisite for other change in the city.  In so doing the city’s divided spatial governance was reiterated:

‘Actual police reform… without change in the structure, the policies, the way they actually work in Sandtown… is the very first steps to actual change… even with this huge Sagamore and the TIF [Port Covington]… it gets diminished as soon as something happens with the Police Department’. 

The research – which has involved 40 interviews with city government officials and members, citizen activists and those in the city’s foundations, universities and non-profit sector – points to the critical need to reconcile divisions within the city as part of any transformative change in its governance as a response to crisis.

Dr Madeleine Pill is Lecturer in Public Policy at the University of Sydney.

Posted in Austerity Governance | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Baltimore: Governing Two Cities in ‘Crisis’

Governing Urban Crises of Welfarism: Reflections from our Eight-Case International Study

GIF RGB 150 Pixels with BorderIn today’s blog Jonathan Davies introduces a series of eight further blog postings outlining the findings from our research in the cities of Athens, Baltimore, Barcelona, Dublin, Leicester, Melbourne, Montreal, Nantes and Sydney.  These will be posted one-by-one over the next few weeks.  The research is funded by the British Economic and Social Research Council (Ref: ES/L012898/1)as part of its Urban Transformations Network.  The official project title is Collaborative Governance under Austerity: An Eight-case Comparative Study.

The first phase of our research, reported in our first series of blog-posts last year, explored what we called the “collaborative moment”.   This term refers to the global wave of enthusiasm for network governance among intellectuals, policy makers and activists during the 1990s and 2000s: its capacity to join-up government, foster partnerships between state and non-state actors, and revive participatory democracy.  Given the relative proximity of citizens and governing institutions at the urban scale, cities were viewed as particularly fertile arenas for building network governance.  Our question was how far the zeitgeist of network governance – the spirit of the collaborative moment – survived the crash and austerity. We wanted to know, in other words, whether the “collaborative moment” was durable, or a transient phenomenon associated with long-gone “good times”.

The exploratory phase revealed that the terms “austerity” and “collaboration had very different meanings. The perceived economic and political significance of the crisis varied widely.  So did the politics of collaboration.  It is clear that while it has not disappeared entirely, the politics of the collaborative moment did not survive austerity, and had highly variable salience to start with.  Consequently, we decided to broaden the research to take in wider conceptual and temporal horizons and bring our case study cities into a better conversation with one another.  The research we are now reporting takes as its core problematic the urban governance of rolling crises of welfarism: the waves of dislocation and restructuring experienced in different ways and at different times in all our cities, since the heyday of the welfare state in the 1950s and 60s – including but not only the aftermath of the 2008 crash.  What configurations of social forces are mobilised, to what ends and with what impact on the course of our eight cities?

In the final phase of the study, we will begin exploring comparisons and contrasts between the cases, to be discussed on this blog later in 2017 and thereafter.

Jonathan Davies is Principal Investigator on the Austerity and Collaborative Governance Project, as well as Director of CURA and Professor of Critical Policy Studies at De Montfort University

Posted in Austerity Governance | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Labour-Centred Development in Latin America: Two cases of alternative development

The_hand_that_will_rule_the_worldIn todays post, Adam Fishwick offers an overview of the main arguments and highlight some of the key empirical findings of research published recently in Geoforum. Co-authored with Ben Selwyn, the article discusses alternative models of development that go beyond the neoliberal and statist paradigms that dominate debate, and is based on two cases– the cordones industriales in 1970s Chile and empresas recuperadas in Argentina today – of “labour-centred development”.

The rise of the ‘Pink Tide’ of progressive left and left-of-centre governments in Latin America briefly offered us a set of seemingly new alternative models – from buen vivir in Ecuador to ‘Socialism in the 21st Century’ in Venezuela to ‘growth with equity’ in Argentina.

Yet with the stagnation and apparent collapse of these models, critics on the Left have begun to highlight the many underlying contradictions that the Pink Tide failed to address.

Whilst the ‘neo-developmentalist’ strategies adopted throughout the region have seen a growing level of state intervention favouring increased growth in domestic industrial sectors and some social welfare improvements, they have embedded deepening relations of exploitation, blocked and co-opted social movements that brought these governments to power, and sustained a socio-economic order over-written by neoliberal macroeconomics.

Put simply, the statist strategies of the last decade have – despite limited gains in distribution, welfare, and industrial restructuring – made little progress in overcoming many of the regressive features of the neoliberal development strategies of the 1980s and 1990s.

From this starting point, then, we offer a critique of Elite Development Theory (EDT) as it informs the neoliberal and statist political economy paradigms in Latin America (see Selwyn 2015, 2016 for a wider critique of EDT in development studies). Second, we present two cases of what we term labour-centred development (LCD) in its nascent forms.

Regarding the first, elite development theory can be identified with two dominant trends that run parallel to and have to some extent informed the last three decades of Latin American development.

The emergence of the Washington Consensus formalised in the 1980s and 1990s much of the emerging practice of development across Latin America, bringing with it a firm commitment to reducing states’ welfare spending and the removal of ‘labour market inflexibilities’. The result was a sharp reduction in redistribution towards the labouring classes and the direct and indirect repression of their capabilities to mobilise collectively across Latin America.

The response of Statist Political Economists to this position offered a stark challenge to the Washington Consensus that, for many, offered a real alternative model for development.

But the progressive claims of these statist approaches are problematic. Alice Amsden (1990), for example, describes how South Korean state-led development relied on ‘the world’s longest working week’ and ‘cheap labour’, also noting how ‘labour repression is the basis of late industrialization everywhere’. And, in his comparison of Brazil, South Korea, India, and Nigeria, Atul Kohli (2004) notes the significance of strict workplace discipline.

Recent state-led development in Latin America can also be seen in this light. Although led by left and left-of-centre governments, it often remains reliant on the restriction of workers’ mobilisation in the service of a state-led national development strategy.

Alternatively, then, we propose a view on development that directly privileges the agency of labour in pursuing and constructing what we term labour-centred development:

‘the core concerns for LCD analysis are not those of capital (how to secure accumulation), but those of labouring classes. These include workers’ ability to reproduce their wage labour outside work (i.e. to earn enough wages and have enough time to secure the basic necessities of life and to engage in culturally-enhancing activities such as socialising and education), extending to more free time (shorter working days) and more decision-making ability within the workplace (to reduce the burden of work)’ (Fishwick & Selwyn 2016)

We distinguish our perspective from the two strands of EDT inasmuch as we perceive the interests of the labouring classes as the starting point for alternative strategies of development. We highlight the often invisible and obfuscated dynamics of labour’s collective action and its role in producing unique developmental dynamics from within what Michael Lebowitz (1992, 2001) has termed ‘the political economy of the working class’.

Second, the two cases of LCD we discuss are drawn from distinct contexts – the revolutionary moment of the Allende government from 1970 to 1973 in Chile and the deep crisis and recovery of the Argentinian economy from 2001 to present – but both are demonstrative of the capability of labouring classes to construct real alternatives from below.

In assessing these cases, we highlight four factors: (1) growth and productivity (2) employment data (3) workplace organisation (4) production priorities. In each of these we analyse the contributions made by workers themselves, as well as the limitations that derive not from the internal failings of these cases of LCD, but from capital mobilising against them.

The cordones industriales in Chile were a powerful example of LCD that emerged under the socialist government of Salvador Allende in the early 1970s. Comprised of a small occupied factories and large plants incorporated into the state-led nationalisation programme – the ‘Area of Social Property’ – they saw workers organise against a growing employer boycott to establish new forms of control over process of production and distribution.

Mobilising under the Communist Party-inspired ‘battle for production’ slogan, they revitalised output and productivity levels in a range of leading industrial sectors, transforming work, the workplace, and the priorities of production in the process.

Drawing on examples from the textile sector with data gathered from a range of trade union publications and political pamphlets from the time, we show how large and small plants saw increased levels of output under workers’ control, raised employment and wage levels, and even the establishment of facilities aimed to support workers and their families.

Strict Taylorist and paternalist management hierarchies were rapidly replaced by participatory forms of organisation, with workplace assemblies and councils building on the participation programmes promoted by Allende to produce genuine worker participation and control over decisions ranging from output to supply and credit to production priorities. Factories even transformed their produce in direct service of the poor communities and neighbourhoods from which their workers came and which surrounded these workplaces.

Nevertheless, despite these embryonic forms of LCD, pressures both from the socialist government of Allende and pressures from outside restricted the expansion of these strategies. And, on 11 September 1973, they were directly targeted as nascent ‘Soviets’ by the military as it violently reversed many of the gains that had been achieved in these years.

The empresas recuperadas in Argentina are a crucial contemporary example of LCD, in which several hundred workplaces have been transformed into legal and semi-legal cooperatives by workers pushed to the brink of unemployment. Often established following a long period of struggle with first the original owner and later the state, these enterprises first emerged en masse in the aftermath of the 2001 financial crisis in the country.

Typically involving workers with little or no political experience or affiliation, the transformations to work and the workplace have been profound – from the introduction of equitable pay to cooperative networks of financing and supply to the transformation of work.

Drawing on a range of sources and data gathered by the Open Faculty Programme in Buenos Aires, we show how, in recent years, there have been some significant improvements in productivity and output under workers’ control, how wages and employment have improved in most these workplaces, and how, most importantly, workplaces have been transformed.

There has been an increase in democratisation on the factory floor, whilst the introduction of job rotation and new divisions between labour processes and the organisation of the working day have ‘humanised’ these workplaces. Links established between the factories and the neighbourhoods, moreover, have had a tangible impact on the lives of the labouring classes across these communities, as well as contributing to the defence of factory occupations.

Nevertheless, despite these important gains, pressures on the initial formation of the empresas recuperadas, as well as the ongoing influence of their relationship with the wider capitalist marketplace points to the limitations of these examples of LCD. There have been attempts to overcome these through new networks and institutions, but they remain in their early stages.

To conclude, then, in our paper we show that the paradigmatic perspectives on development fail to capture these important dynamics that can – and, as we show, often do – provide fertile ground for genuine alternative development strategies favouring the labouring classes.

To identify these processes, and to correctly situate and overcome their limitations, we argue for the need to look beneath both the regressive logics of neoliberal development and the ostensibly progressive strategies pursued by states. By identifying the independent practices of workers in seeking to shape their own world around them, we can begin to identify how a real ‘political economy of the working class’ can emerge in theory and in practice.

Adam Fishwick is a Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies and Public Policy in the Department of Politics and Public Policy and a core member of CURA at De Montfort University.

This post was originally published on the ‘Progress in Political Economy’ Blog and has been re-published here with their permission.

Posted in Crises Resistance and Alternatives | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Labour-Centred Development in Latin America: Two cases of alternative development

Austerity and welfare cuts

6449741467_dc1a81af70_bIn today’s post, Ines Newman discusses the implications of current and future welfare reforms, including the cuts planned for April. She argues that this will lead to increasing inequality and poverty, rising household debt levels with higher levels of rent and council tax arrears and that we are witnessing increased levels of maladministration by the Department of Work and Pensions.

In the first budget of this Parliament, George Osborne put in place £12b welfare cuts which came on top of the cuts in the previous Parliament. But with his departure following the Brexit vote and the worrying policies of Donald Trump, the impact of these cuts on families in the UK has slipped out of the limelight. They are however substantial and the Resolution Foundation has recently argued that they will result in ‘falling living standards for almost the entire bottom half of the working-age income distribution between this year and 2020-21’.

In April 2016, working age benefits, tax credits and the Local Housing Allowance were all frozen for four years. For example, Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) for a single unemployed person over 25 stood at £73.10. In 2009, it was already being argued that JSA was not sufficient for the essentials of life, such as food, bills and travel, and was inconsistent with a minimum standard. The real value had not changed for at least 30 years while per capita household consumption had doubled over this period. In relative terms the value had therefore halved. Now, as post Brexit inflation gathers pace, the real value of working age benefits will fall sharply, generating acute poverty.

Those with disabilities have traditionally been slightly protected through the higher Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and through Disability Living Allowance (DLA). However in 2015, the DWP started to contact anyone getting DLA and asking them to make a new claim for a Personal Independence Payment (PIP). The Government estimates https://fullfact.org/economy/personal-independence-payment-who-are-winners-and-losers/    that out of 1.75 million DLA reassessments, 510,000 will have a reduced payment and 450,000 will have their payments removed altogether.

All those with disabilities have to go through an assessment process which is as inadequate as the Work Capability Assessment for ESA. The PIP assessment is run by ATOS who finally bowed out of the contract on the Work Capability Assessment after receiving massive bad publicity. Meanwhile as Ken Loach’s recent film I, Daniel Blakemade clear, the new contractors, Maximus, for the work capability assessment, are no better than ATOS. Finally, from April 2017, new claimants who have a recognised disability on the work related assessment but are deemed to be capable for work will see the removal of work related activity components for ESA. It will mean those receiving the benefit will see their weekly payments cut from £103 to £73 a week. Far from protecting ‘vulnerable’ households the Government is pushing more disabled households into poverty. Half of those people living in poverty are now either themselves disabled or are living with a disabled person in their household, when the higher costs they face are taken into account.

Because successive governments have failed to deal with the housing crisis, rising rents combined with the bedroom tax, council tax benefit reductions, the cap on the local housing allowance and the total benefit cap are forcing low income households into poverty and debt. Sometimes they are forced to move into poorer areas, disrupting their children’s schooling and losing the support of families and friends. In December, the New Policy Institute https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/monitoring-poverty-and-social-exclusion-2016   reported that the number of private renters in poverty has doubled over the last decade and homelessness and temporary housing has increased five years in a row. In the London Borough of Camden where I live, we know that the lower benefit cap of £23,000 is affecting 1,110 children in 383 families. While some of these are being protected by discretionary housing payments (DHP) it is unclear for how long they can be supported and we are expecting a cut in DHP in April. A household caring for a disabled child over 18 who are not able to work because of their caring responsibilities will almost inevitably be hit by the benefit cap, as will a lone parent with several small children.

Meanwhile Universal Credit (UC) is gradually being rolled out. Using the language of giving more responsibility to the claimant, UC includes housing benefit (rather than this benefit being paid direct to the landlord) and is paid monthly in arrears. The result has been a massive increase in council rent arrears (85% of those on UC in Camden), partly as a result of delays and miscalculations in the housing element and by an understaffed DWP. From 11 April 2016, the rules on UC work allowances were changed to make them far less generous in a number of cases. The work allowance is the amount an individual or family can earn before their maximum UC award starts to be reduced. The reductions to the UC work allowances announced in the Summer Budget will ultimately have a similar impact to the changes to tax credits which were fought off by various lobby groups at the time of Osborne’s budget. Other changes in UC are significant too. From April 2017, young people aged between 18 and 21 claiming universal credit will not be eligible for housing benefit and will be expected to take part in a Youth Obligation for the first six months and then apply for an apprenticeship or trainee-ship, gain work-based skills or go on mandatory work placement. This is coming in despite the Government having to scrap the previous Mandatory Work Activity programme in 2015 when many charities boycotted it and research showed it was ineffective and merely punitive. Households will not receive Universal Credit for any children born after April 2017, when they already have two children. A lone parent with no child under 3 will be expected to look for work to claim any benefit after April this year. How such parents can then provide the type of parental support that numerous studies have shown is invaluable seems not to be a consideration for this so-called ‘family orientated’ government.

The Resolution Foundation concludes:  ‘the result is that the parliament from 2015-16 to 2020-21 is on course to be the worst on record for income growth in the bottom half of the working age income distribution. At the same time, we project the biggest rise in inequality since the 1980s, with inequality after housing costs reaching record highs by 2020-21.  This will be the legacy of austerity.

Ines Newman is a visiting senior research fellow at CURA, a trustee of Paddington Development Trust and does social policy research on a voluntary basis for Citizens Advice Camden.

Posted in Crises Resistance and Alternatives | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Austerity and welfare cuts

Democracy vs Sovereignty? Reflections on the Brexit Debate

27323547984_9ef3a4456a_bIn today’s post Prof. Jonathan Davies argues that the left has no option but to support the triggering of article 50, because the arguments employed against doing so are not credible and cannot presently command any sort of democratic mandate.  The left should instead harness the ‘boomerang effect’ of anti-Trump sentiment in order to build an alternative politics fighting for substantive equality, defending the free movement of labour and opposing the Thatcherite economics of the “single market”.

As Theresa May’s March deadline for triggering Article 50 approaches (this is the EU clause setting Brexit in train), “Remain” forces have been arguing that MPs should vote against it.  They effectively want Parliament to stop the Brexit bandwagon in its tracks. And, when Article 50 is triggered they believe the UK must remain part of the EU “single market”.  I voted “Remain” in the June 2016 referendum. I did so not because I like the EU but because I feared the racist backlash, which followed.  Had I voted “Leave”, I would have had to take my share of the political responsibility for that. Moreover, I share the fears and anxieties among pro-EU friends and colleagues about the rise of racism and nationalism in the UK, the US and parts of Europe. Undoubtedly, these are frightening times. Nevertheless, I believe that Remain perspectives are reckless, if not downright dangerous.  And there are far better political options.

A colleague recently made a memorable comment that attacking institutions on entirely legitimate grounds may have dire consequences, if the assailants cannot control what happens next. Remainers used arguments like this before the Referendum. The one about letting the racist genie out of the bottle convinced me.  Yet those now arguing that Article 50 must not be triggered seem to have forgotten their own rules.

After the Referendum, the pro-EU camp disinterred the constitutional principle of Parliamentary Sovereignty.  This principle holds that no authority can countermand the will of Parliament. The Supreme Court judgment on 24th January 2017 upheld that principle in forcing the government, against its will, to hold a House of Commons vote on whether it should be permitted to trigger Article 50.  MPs in the main English parties are divided, but it appears that with Labour support the government will win the final trigger vote on 8th February.  Jeremy Corbyn’s “three line whip” ordering his MPs to vote for Article 50 has led to a renewed chorus of condemnation for the beleaguered leader, not least from the left remain camp, which wants Labour to follow the principle of Parliamentary Sovereignty and strike down the referendum to save Britain from self-inflicted economic and political catastrophe.  This position is justified by the assertion of expert privilege in combination with consequentialist logics. The rationale is that even if striking down the referendum is undemocratic (a moot point) it is justified because it will prevent disaster.  So obsessed with stopping Brexit are some left-leaning academics that they have abandoned Labour and joined the Liberal Democrats.

I believe there is a lot wrong with this thinking.  As a socialist, I have never been much of an enthusiast for either Parliamentary Sovereignty, or referenda – I would prefer to extend and deepen participatory forms of democracy in all walks of life.  The politics of the referendum campaign were dreadful.  The Remain side ran a dismally uninspiring pro-business campaign.  The Leave campaigns were much worse, replete with lies about NHS funding and naked racism. Yet, both Labour and the Tories committed to abide by the result long before the Referendum was held.  And, at present, there seems to be very little public appetite for reversing it. If anything, the contrary is true. Arguably, then, if Parliament refused to trigger Article 50, it would be striking down the referendum in the face not only of the result itself but widespread and enduring public opposition. In these circumstances, the justification for stopping Brexit would seemingly boil down to the claim that “we know better than you”.

There is nothing wrong with expertise.  We need it very badly if we are to flourish as a species.  The racist right has cynically exploited growing public skepticism about expertise, but skepticism itself is far from unreasonable.  For example, the field of economics not only failed to predict the 2008 crisis it refused to acknowledge even the possibility that such an event might happen. It colluded in making the crisis by aligning itself, conspicuously and unapologetically, with neoliberal ideology. Economics departments in leading universities have long since been cleansed of anti-neoliberal (heterodox) economists. Where real scientific expertise depends on openness, plurality, modesty and healthy skepticism, economics relied on institutional power, arrogance, dogma and intellectual closure.  Of course, not all economists are guilty of this kind of behavior – far from it.  Nevertheless, it is untenable to think that invoking economic expertise will work as a justification for striking down the referendum.

At the same time, the UK is going through a growing crisis of democratic representation, a condition Colin Crouch calls “post-democracy”.  The institutions of the state, repeatedly exposed as seedy and corrupt, are held in diminishing public esteem. If, in some ideal world, it could be argued that the British State works for the rights and freedoms of all, the majority might just be convinced to put our collective sovereignty in the hands of an institution like Parliament. But today, our decaying institutions could not possibly carry the people without naked political repression. Presently, there is no justification for demanding that MPs overturn Brexit. On the contrary: it would not be democratic and alternative appeals to sovereignty, backed by claims to expert knowledge, are not politically credible.

For these reasons, it is now the turn of Remain supporters to heed warnings about unleashing forces they cannot possibly control.  Striking down the referendum would be politically catastrophic, not least in triggering a further racist backlash. Three line whip or not, Jeremy Corbyn’s position on Article 50 is correct in my opinion. And, it provides some basis for opposing a reactionary Brexit thereafter.

The other Remain demand is that once Article 50 is triggered, the UK should try to stay within the EU “single market”.  This is generally what people mean by a “Soft Brexit”. The PM has ruled this out, because it would mean having to accept “free movement” of EU citizens.  Mrs May therefore proposes a nationalist and anti-immigration “Hard Brexit”.  I deplore that and seek to defend the principles of “free movement” for people and the right of refugees to sanctuary in the UK.  Is the “single market” really the way to do that?  Some time before the EU was founded, the right wing Mont Pèlerin Society envisioned a single market. These founding fathers of neoliberalism later influenced Margaret Thatcher, who celebrated Britain’s accession to the single market:

“It’s your job, the job of business, to gear yourselves up to take the opportunities which a single market of nearly 320 million people will offer. Just think for a moment what a prospect that is. A single market without barriers—visible or invisible—giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world’s wealthiest and most prosperous people …

As Mrs Thatcher recognized, the EU single market promotes free market capitalism, competition and corporate profitability. No-one on the left thought it was a good idea in 1988. It certainly isn’t now.  The single market and other pro-market institutions are antithetical to equality, solidarity and democracy. Even the IMF now concedes that “instead of delivering growth, some neoliberal policies have increased inequality, in turn jeopardizing durable expansion”.  Markets – single or otherwise – polarize. And they crash. To regain our credibility, the left must surely fight for more worthwhile and tangible goals. If so, the real challenge is to both defend free movement and fight for an entirely different economics rooted in socioeconomic equality and solidarity.

The inspirational global response to Donald Trump’s racist edicts shows that this combination of demands is entirely pragmatic. Protests against Trump’s impending visit to the UK could be among the biggest ever held in this country. The Stand up to Racism demonstration on 18th March will also be very big.  Defending migrants and refugees will be among the key demands.  Most importantly, it is possible even now to see how the wave of giant protests across the UK and US can incubate an entirely different politics of hope and solidarity. The boomerang effect of anti-Trump protests in the UK is already plain to see, as Mrs May’s humiliating encounter at the White House exposes the absurdity of racist claims about reclaiming UK sovereignty.  Barricading ourselves behind discredited political and economic institutions is wrong and it will not work.

Jonathan Davies is Professor of Critical Policy Studies and Director of the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity at De Montfort University.

Posted in Brexit | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Post-Brexit Devolution: What Should it Look Like?

brexitIn this post Paul O’Brien argues that after Brexit devolution should  empower local government to deliver a localised industrial strategy.

Councils could be forgiven for wondering if Government remains as committed to devolution and decentralisation of power, post Brexit, as it appeared to be before June’s vote.

What started well and seemed to have support at the highest level of Government, with George Osborne’s zealot like enthusiasm, doesn’t appear to have the same prominence with new cabinet figures, indeed some fear that the agenda could simply fizzle out.

It would be a major policy U-turn to cancel next year’s mayoral elections for the big three combined authority areas of Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region and the West Midlands, however it doesn’t appear that many other deals are close to completion with almost daily stories of negotiations collapsing.

Whilst some find the idea of having an elected mayor forced upon them objectionable, others have concerns over whether you are really going to get what you signed up for in terms of funding for projects or powers, given the economic uncertainty that exists post Brexit.

Given the financial crisis local services face, decentralisation is exactly what is needed. It’s clear the public feel that they are not getting their fair share of resources. APSE’s recent opinion poll, with Survation, found 77% of the public want more of their taxes spent locally, rather than elsewhere.

There now appears to be a consensus amongst Government that the UK needs a new industrial strategy with national infrastructure projects at the heart of it. However, what is really needed is for local government to be recognised as the key to driving a localised industrial strategy, and given the powers and funding to deliver it. One that can draw in investment and stimulate local growth, which will have an immediate impact now, rather than in fifteen years time.

Devolution to date has been about individual authorities combining and going to Government asking for funding to undertake initiatives that are ‘unique’ to their area but in reality when you examine many of the Combined Authority Orders there are common themes running throughout. So is it really necessary to painstakingly go through the process of putting these together and then spend months negotiating back and forth with civil servants on the detail? Is it not time for the sector to get together, as a whole, and ask Government for a devolution package around local industrial strategies, including borrowing powers for housing, transport and roads infrastructure, employability and skills development?

In the current climate of uncertainty we may just find a Government that is willing to listen to creative solutions to problems, which they are struggling to find answers for.

Paul O’Brien is Chief Executive of APSE (the Association for Public Service Excellence) and a member of the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity

Posted in Brexit | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Post-Brexit Devolution: What Should it Look Like?

International Seminar on Social Movements


In this post, Mercè Cortina-Oriol reports back the seminar on Social Movements organised by the University of Girona and Fundación Betiko.

The past 24tisrael_social_justice_protests_rabin_square_tel_aviv_29_october_2011h and 25th of November took place in Girona (Catalonia) the 1st International Seminar on Social Movements co-organized by the Area of Political Science of the University of Girona and the Betiko Foundation.

The aim of the seminar was to address the fields of social movements and collective action in the current political, social and economic context. More specifically, the framing question of the seminar was to what extent the economic and political changes of recent times, mainly -but not only- in Europe, are giving rise to new forms of collective action and social movements whose contents, identities, and resources differ from those the previous, conventional ones.

The seminar was an outstanding opportunity to congregate academics such as Bob Jessop, Jonathan Davies, Donatella Della Porta, Salvador Martí and Joan Subirats among others; political and institutional actors coming from the background of the social movements such as Miguel Urbán (Member of the European Parliament for Podemos), Xulio Ferreiro (City Mayor of A Coruña), Nacho Murgui (Deputy Mayor of Madrid City Council), Jordi Bonet (responsible for communication at Barcelona City Council), and Ricard Vilaregut (Chief Executive from Badalona City Council) among others; and activist from different European countries. The event was structured through four different sessions, each of them aiming to reflect on a particular topic: the challenges of social movements in a new era; mobilisation in the global world; from protest to institutions; and, the activist in power: has anything changed?

The seminar posited relevant questions and inspiring answers and examples around the new processes of mobilisation and the challenges for both the social movements and the new political organisations that emerged from them. Along two days, the debates brought up consistent questions with the research agenda of the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity (CURA) such as the processes of emergence of new expressions of resistance, the conditions for their emergence or for their absence, the forms that these new expressions adopt, the limits or capabilities of local governments to face the political and economic order and the imposed austerity policies, the possibilities for the development of alternatives to crisis and austerity from the local sphere, and the challenges for democracy in a context of crisis. The organisers we will soon compile and publish the interventions of the seminar. Nevertheless, and despite the relevance of all the debates, in this post I will summarise briefly those more connected with CURA’s research interests.

One of the central sessions in the seminar focused on the structural conditions for social movements and other forms of response and resistance in the new era. Professor Bob Jessop, from Lancaster University, opened the debate. In his intervention, he contemplated the threats to democracy that the current crisis brought along and contextualised the challenges of current social movements. Throughout his presentation, he stressed the need for a better understanding of the relation between the State and the capital, and the analytical opportunity that the comprehension of the State as a social relation opens for it.

In the discussion, Mercè Cortina-Oriol, from the University of the Basque Country and CURA fellow, stressed the need for examining the implication of the social in the processes of neoliberalisation and the risks of assuming the disruptive character of the social. After Cortina-Oriol, Professor Jonathan Davies, from the De Montfort University and Director of CURA, focused on the role and the capacities of both the local government and the social to respond to the challenges that austerity policies bring along. He underlined the disjuncture between normality and crisis, and the problem of assuming austerity as part of the normality. From a more theoretical approach, Carlos Prieto, from the MNCARS, defended the need for the emergence of a new political subject. Throughout his intervention, he questioned the class compromise as a transformative articulating element. For his part, Marco Aparicio, from the University of Girona, talked about the complexity of the power structures and the progressive hollowing out of the traditional spaces of decision-making. He also stressed the relevance of the discursive dimension in the processes of mobilisation, and the importance of defending social, political and economic rights.

A second debate focused on the new forms of resistance and their challenges. Donatella Della Porta, from the Scuola Normale Superiore of Firenze, opened the debate. The discussion revolved around the new processes of mobilisation since the economic crash in 2008. Della Porta presented the results of her recent research on the new cycle of mobilisation in the context of austerity, expressing the need for rethinking the social movements in times of crisis. In a context of diminished confidence in the institutions and an increased sense of grievances, she identifies new processes of identity formation and new forms of mobilisation. Comparing these with previous cycles, she observes forms of collective action that are more open and plural, where individual citizens have more space and chances to participate, and where consensus gains prominence over the logic of the delegation.

Some of the points highlighted in this regard were the tragedy that supposes the fact that critical networks often go behind those that defend the status quo, and the performative dimension of the responses to the austerity as a way of generating alternatives. This last question, addressed by Leandro Minuchin, from the University of Manchester, posit the potentialities of self-managed initiatives and solidarity networks in action for the provision of services in a context of austerity and social emergency from a communitarian basis.

Another point in this regard was the need for stressing the links among social movements, social initiatives, citizens and new alternative governments. This idea was closely related to a third central debate: the challenges for the new local governments for building alternatives to austerity. Joan Subirats framed this discussion focusing his analysis on the impact achieved by emerging parties, evaluating the case of the Barcelona City Council. He underlined the challenges of new formations such as Barcelona en Comú, a formation that, coming from a process of mobilisation, managed to win the municipal elections in 2015. Subirats highlighted the need to strengthen the sovereignties of proximity and the ability to promote popular construction from the commons, without falling into processes of systematic re-municipalisation. Instead, he advocated for searching different possible options that range from the traditional public service to the idea of co-production to ensure the universal delivery of quality services.

Adding to the third debate, the interventions by new institutional representatives bringing out the contradictions when passing from the street to the Mayor’s Office, the limitations of the institutional strategy, and the difficulties that entail the relationship with other levels of the State Administration. Other questions were related to the need to settle the political decision processes with what we could call a new type of civil servants and the need to train new officers while coexisting with the previous ones. For his part, Ricard Vilaregut brought up the limits that these new governments have at the time of breaking with the inherit clientelistic relationship that the previous governments had with some social organisations and private entities. Finally, Ismael Blanco, from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, insisted on the need for these new formations to carry out flagship policies in order to give direction and symbolic power to these new local governments.

The seminar provided an open space for actors from different background to share their experiences and perspectives, and proved the need for a common space of reflexion to move forward in the field of the alternative ways of governance under austerity.

Dr Mercè Cortina-Oriol is postdoctoral researcher of the Basque Government and CURA fellow. Form January 2017 she will be an Early Career Academic Fellow in the Department of Politics and Public Policy at the DMU.

Posted in Events | Tagged , | Comments Off on International Seminar on Social Movements

Austerity in time and space: the case of Germany

germany-96590_960_720In today’s post Felix Wiegand, Tino Petzold and Prof. Bernd Belina argue that while austerity policies have often been implemented as part of a short-term, often authoritarian political offensive (a “shock strategy” as Naomi Kline put it) in (West) Germany this was carried out “piecemeal” over a thirty- to forty-year-time frame, which also included the subsequent adaptive and normalising effects. The authors discuss several important historic markers and dynamics to illustrate this process while emphasising the multi-scalar and spatially unequal nature of implementing austerity.

The history of austerity in (West) Germany, following the Allied victory over Nazi Germany, began during the first half of the 1970s as the Fordist development model started to come apart not just politically, socially and culturally, but in particular economically. Two decades of relative stability of German society and the “brief dream of never-ending prosperity” were followed by a cycle of economic crises that had reached its temporary high point in 1974/75. During the first years, the (West) German state reacted to the effects of the crisis with counter-cyclical fiscal and economic policies based on Keynesian ideas. However, a turn to austerity policies was soon after carried out – at a time when power relations in German society shifted and a “national state characterized by market competition” was created.

This was started by the social democratic-liberal government coalition led by Helmut Schmidt, German Chancellor from 1974 to 1982. During his first government policy statement on May 17, 1974, Schmidt announced a change to how government debt will be managed. He said that “[t]he Federal Government will use all constitutional and political measures at its disposal to their fullest extent in order to commit federal, state and local authorities to cost-cutting budgetary policies starting in 1975.” The following year’s Budgetary Structure Law substantively implemented this announcement by putting the Federal government on a restrictive fiscal path.

The budget situation of states and municipalities worsened during the subsequent years of deindustrialisation processes as a consequence of the crisis and because of tax law changes such as the elimination of the payroll tax in 1979. As the local state experienced a fiscal crisis, local political projects were established that combined cost-cutting measures with early types of entrepreneurial urban policies – events that put in motion the long-term transformation of urban politics.

Also on the federal level, the focus shifted to austerity and neo-liberal supply-side politics towards the end of the social democratic-liberal coalition government (“Budget Operation 82”) and in particular during the conservative-liberal governments under the leadership of Chancellor Helmut Kohl (1982-1998). In his first government policy statement, Kohl put fiscal policy at the center of the attack on the Keynesian welfare state consensus by announcing his vision of a “well-managed country through well-managed budgets.” During the 1980s, the German government consolidated the federal budget and lowered public spending – similarly to developments in the UK under Thatcher’s leadership, albeit without the same intensity of conflict with organised labor.

The unification of the two German states in 1990 opened a window of opportunity for continuing the policies of the 1980s.  On the one hand, the policies of the German transitional privatisation agency supported an enormous privatisation project for making formerly publicly owned East German companies competitive for the global market. On the other hand, expectations for a speedy global market integration of these now privatised companies led to the (neoliberal) decision to forego tax hikes for financing German unification. Instead, the government opted for not interfering in the market in hopes of covering the cost of unification by an economic upswing.

After it became obvious early on that these hopes would not materialise, the German government responded with a classic “failing forward”, in Peck’s terms, of neoliberal policies. The growing public debt increased the pressure on the government for limiting new borrowing. As a result, municipal “budget consolidation plans” became popular during this time. The Maastricht Treaty (1992) and the Stability and Growth Pact (1997) implemented similar policies on the European Union scale. The federal Savings, Consolidation and Growth Program (1993) aimed at cutbacks of around 35 billion Deutsche mark by slashing unemployment and social welfare payments by 1996. This policy was, however, only the beginning of a comprehensive reduction of welfare state services under the banner of budget consolidation characterized by a roll-back of the welfare state, cuts of public sector jobs and reduction of public investments.

There are similar connections between attempts at shrinking the welfare state and the policies of Chancellors Gerhard Schröder (1998-2005) and Angela Merkel (since 2005). Massive tax cuts during the social democratic-green coalition governments under Schröder’s leadership, adopted with the intention of improving the competitiveness of German companies, exacerbated the structural underfunding of the state. Under Merkel’s leadership, public debt continued to increase during the peak of the 2008-2009 financial and economic crisis, as bailout packages for failing and troubled financial institutions worth billions of euros and further tax cuts were adopted. At the same time, Germany introduced several constitutional regulations and mechanisms such as the balanced-budget amendment (2009), the European Fiscal Compact (2012) and municipal “budget consolidation programs.” The constitutional changes institutionalised the neoliberal ideal of a balanced budget on various scales and further limited the financial scope of public expenditures. In recent years, this politics of constitutional austerity has been reflected, for example, in the German government’s 2010 austerity package, in public service staff reductions and inadequate compensation levels for state and municipal employees and – despite some concessions regarding social spending – in a new round of municipal cost-cutting measures.

The diverse nature of the individual measures enacted on the various scales of the state shows the significance of the spatial dimension in the process of implementing austerity in the Federal Republic of Germany. On the one hand, financial burdens that mainly arise from the delivery of welfare and public services, which have been funded through Germany’s federal system, have increasingly been shifted to lower levels of government – a classic scalar dumping. German states such as Bremen and the Saarland as well as many municipalities in the former industrial heartland have experienced the full brunt of de-industrialisation processes – in addition to the limited opportunities of income generation and the negative repercussions of tax cuts on government revenues. This has left many levels of government exposed to a form of structural underfunding and has established austerity as the norm even in the absence of cyclical crises. It becomes apparent that the spatial hierarchy within Germany’s government system has been used on a regular basis for imposing specific budgetary consolidation requirements and austerity policies onto subordinate levels of government – often against their will and beyond their capabilities. This practice has taken on a new quality with the institutionalised balanced-budget regulations that have been introduced at all levels of government since the 1990s and in particular after the 2008-2009 financial crisis. The scalar linking and reinforcing of the individual mechanisms and policies across various government levels has created a tightly laced corset of austerity in Germany.

In a sense, all levels of government are impacted by austerity. A geographic perspective, however, shows that austerity’s tangible effects and the remaining room for action are unequally distributed across Germany. The local scale suffers the most from austerity. Within the federal government structure, municipalities are the lowest level of the spatial hierarchy and possess, despite their constitutional right to home rule, particularly little room for action. Especially (larger) cities are the focal points where public service agencies and poorer as well as marginalised populations are spatially concentrated. Cost-cutting measures are directly experienced by urban residents on a day-to-day basis and, more often than not, lead to an extensive crisis of social reproduction. As a result, austerity is hurting municipalities and, in particular, cities the most – although the extent differs from city to city and from municipality to municipality. The politics of austerity has affected first and foremost economically disadvantaged municipalities during the last decades and has even further reduced the already few resources that are locally available for addressing economic and social needs. On the other hand, prosperous cities and municipalities have been in the position to further improve their locational qualities through low taxes or exciting social and cultural attractions. This is one of the main reasons for why spatial disparities as well as the level of socio-spatial inequality between (and also within) municipalities has further increased in Germany during the last decades.

The case of the Federal Republic of Germany illustrates that scholarly research on austerity must draw its attention to the big picture of multi-scalar and spatially unequal processes whenever possible. This insight should prompt not only researchers in academia, but also all those who envision and organise an emancipatory politics, to meet this challenge. The everyday politics of austerity  and the associated incremental implementation of normalisation and adjustment processes force us to develop emancipatory strategies based on everyday experiences. At the same time, however, the spatially unequal nature of austerity impedes the development of political projects that would be comprehensive and far-reaching enough for confronting the multi-scalar linkages of institutionalised austerity. But that’s another blog post.

Felix Wiegand is a researcher and lecturer at the Department of Human Geography (Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany) and works on (urban) austerity, crises and the transformation of statehood; Tino Petzold is a researcher and lecturer at the Department of Human Geography (Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany) and works on multiscalar austerity in Germany; and Bernd Belina is professor at the Department of Human Geography (Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany) and works on critical geography, austerity and criminology.

Posted in Policy & Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Austerity in time and space: the case of Germany

Austerity, security and conflict

policia-bogotaIn today’s post Alke Jenss reflects on the synergies between austerity, security and conflict in the Latin American context.

In the Americas austerity programmes are nothing new. Neither is the loss of sovereignty concerning economic and social policies. Think of Mexico’s debt crisis in 1982 which set off a range of structural adjustment plans focusing on spending cuts and privatization in the region, or think of Argentina in 2001, and the similarities to European crises and “crisis management” will jump to your eye. Or think of Chile, where the Pinochet dictatorship was representative of a liberalization laboratory deeply dependent on austerity measures and its repressive framing. Its imagery of necessities has carried on until today.

Now, there is talk of “intelligent austerity” supposedly needed to confront the structural reduction of growth in the region, based on the “end of the super cycle of raw commodities” (CEPAL). “Intelligent austerity” is supposed to avoid excessive cuts that would affect growth and thus taxes. The UN Economic Commission on Latin America (CEPAL) has warned that the cuts in (public) investment could lead to exactly that. So, austerity is once again on the table in Latin America.

One interesting example for renewed budgetary restraints on the national and the municipal level, considering the fall of commodity prices, is Colombia where one must ask what implications austerity politics has for the current peace process between the government and guerrillas. Three points can be made:

Firstly, the peace process hasn’t affected austerity measures even though original causes of the conflict have likely been exacerbated by cuts to public spending (extreme inequality, rural isolation, violent appropriation of land, missing life perspectives). Because of the fall of commodity prices of raw materials so central to Colombian the export structure, the cabinet has agreed to reduce the investment side of the national budget by 10 %. To combat the fiscal deficit is its central concern, especially since a fiscal balance-regulation was introduced in 2011; the Banco de la República’s high interest rates focus on inflation control. In 2016, the Santos government also tried to cut running costs by introducing an “Austerity Plan” for its own public administration personnel.

Secondly, austerity measures have not seriously undermined the exorbitant security budget. The armed conflict, interestingly enough, has never been presented as the costly undertaking it is, even though the expansion of the military budget between 2002 and 2015 in absolute terms is diametrically opposed to austerity – if you took the latter literally. The internal defence budget alone has revolved around 9 billion Euros since 2012 which are fed into the military fighting of guerrillas annually. Additionally one might consider costs of infrastructure damage. This makes it far more costly to maintain the war than to end it, even though the allegedly high payments to demobilized guerrillas were one point used by those opposing the peace deal subjected to referendum in October 2016. With this and other arguments focusing on the threats that FARC fighters represent to parts of society, the campaign for a ‘no’ vote succeeded . However the campaign leader, Álvaro Uribe, never mentioned that during his government term demobilized paramilitaries formerly involved in illegal economy were awarded ample support for setting up legal businesses.

Third, the politics of austerity deeply embedded in Colombian politics affect the chances for what we might call “sustainable” peace entwined with social justice. A transformative idea of peace which by definition encompasses social justice is hardly possible with an economic austerity policies, with so many people earning only minimum wage or being in long-term displacement with no realistic perspective to return to their villages. It is remarkable enough that the FARC guerrilla agreed to the peace process on the terms that the economic model as such would not be put under scrutiny. The agreements on agrarian reform might be far reaching but in a context favouring large-scale export focussed agrarian industries, where smaller producers under pressure and public investment is cut, reality will rather cement the extreme rural inequality co-produced by decades of forced displacement and violence directed at grassroots campesino movements.

The fourth point is relevant beyond the context of the Colombian conflict. It’s the punitive take on poverty that represents austerity policies’ flip side in Latin America. It will likely persist even if the peace deal is realized with some modifications due to the referendum: prison populations have grown excessively in the Americas (see the World Prison Brief), i.e. from 126/100.000 inhabitants in 2003 to 231 in 2014 in Colombia or from 156/100.000 inhabitants in 2003 to 214/100.000 inhabitants in 2014 in Mexico. Mexico is another fundamental example where the narratives of security and austerity feed into each other in simbiosis, yet affect only parts of the highly stratified society, while some, close enough to transnational capital flows and political, boast their cars and mansions on social media. It seems quite ironic that often, the latter have been union leaders on the one hand and sons and daughters of those entrepreneurs at least bordering on illegal economy with their negocios.

As UNDP reports for the region confirm, most inmates however, complemented meagre income with what is now called narcomenudeo (small scale selling of drugs) or committed crimes such as theft or robbery. They, as the clients consuming the by-products of the drug economy, seem to sit on the lowest steps of the social classification ladder. What role do these segments of population play for society in countries such as Colombia or Mexico? They fill in the large segment of low-skilled, informal and badly paid jobs whose access to social policies is worse than ever after historical structural adjustment has conflated already selective social security programs. The gruesome numbers of police killings and disappearances underline that these social sectors are denied the most basic rights based on class and racial classifications. Austerity and punitive measures are closely linked and reinforce each other. Arguments against a raise in minimum wage are usually based on austerity and the competitive advantages narrative. But as increases in minimum wage would mostly go into consumption this might even have positive effects on domestic demand. It would break the assumed linkage between reduced spending and more growth. As things stand, they provide a growing social base for illegal economy.

Security discourses in turn legitimize policies which leave out social questions or subsume them under a theme of threat. How this relation of austerity and the production of insecurity for parts of society plays out can be observed in contemporary Latin American.

Alke Jenss is a researcher and lecturer at Bielefeld University, Germany and has worked on insecurity and the state in Latin America.

Posted in Policy & Politics | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Austerity, security and conflict

Heathrow expansion: Six reasons why it should be seen as a failure of government

2000px-heathrow_airport_map_with_third_runway-svgIn today’s post Steven Griggs and David Howarth outline six reasons why the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow airport represents a failure of government, that will be hotly contested and continue to generate controversy well into the future.

In his statement announcing the UK government’s decision to support a third runway at Heathrow, the transport secretary Chris Grayling said that the decision was ‘good for Britain’ and that the new proposals were ‘best for our future, and best for the whole country and its regions.’ The ‘truly momentous’ decision to expand Heathrow, it is claimed, will improve the UK’s connections with the rest of the world, while increasing international trade and creating jobs.

Most business leaders and unions welcomed the long-anticipated decision, stressing its vital role in stimulating economic growth, especially in a post-Brexit world. Politicians across the divide, apart from the Greens and Liberal Democrats, rallied to support the government. Ominously though, Zac Goldsmith resigned his Richmond Park seat and collective cabinet responsibility has been loosened to accommodate dissenting voices, most notably Boris Johnson and Justine Greening. Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell remain firmly opposed to expansion, though once again they stand opposed to most of their parliamentary party.

There is no question that more airport capacity at Heathrow and Gatwick is demanded by powerful forces and vested interests. The airports are running at 98% of their capacity, and the demand for more flights shows little sign of waning. For many commentators, economic growth and global connectivity will no doubt be fuelled by the expansion of the UK’s only hub airport, though precise levels are disputed.

But once the dust has settled, and the flag-waving and trumpeting ended, what are we to make of the decision? Is this truly a triumph of strong leadership, an end to ‘dithering’ and the confident action of a government of ‘builders’ committed to ensuring Britain’s future? Perhaps a little less spin and a little more caution would not go amiss. In reality, the May government’s support for Heathrow expansion is the outcome of a series of government failures and policy reversals, which is likely to end in tears. Here are six reasons why.

First, the belated decision to expand Heathrow is a failure of political leadership. It represents the inability of the Coalition government to keep to the line agreed in May 2010, when it declared a moratorium on Heathrow expansion. But the Conservative government has chosen not to stick with David Cameron’s ‘No ifs, no buts’ promise that there would be no new runway at Heathrow. Instead, appearing to buckle against an intense pro-expansion campaign led by business, supporters of Heathrow and London First, the Coalition agreed in 2012 to set up the Airports Commission and thus to reopen the case for more expansion. Indeed, the terms of reference of the Commission directed Sir Howard Davies to examine where the new expansion should be – Gatwick, Heathrow or even “Boris Island” – and not whether there should be expansion in the South-East of England at all. Finally, the aviation industry’s demand for hub capacity made it difficult to advance any serious consideration of spreading expansion across all London airports; not just Heathrow, but Gatwick and Stansted, as well as regional airports.

But, secondly, the Davies Commission failed to deliver ‘an evidence-based consensus’, which it was hoped would take the politics out of this controversial decision. If anything, the conflicts between different airports, between airports and their surrounding communities, amongst politicians (within and across parties, and between tiers of government), and between many environmental groups and business representatives, has intensified and looks certain to continue.

And, thirdly, seen in a longer historical perspective, it is the failure to recognise that the wrong decision was made to build Heathrow in the 1940s. Because it’s in the wrong geographical location, causing untold misery and suffering of noise pollution for all those residents and households languishing under its flightpaths, further expansion can only exacerbate such detrimental effects. In fact, the decision might be seen as a failure of path dependency and institutional inertia, which goes to the heart of the British state and system of government.

Here one only has to think of the Roskill Commission inquiry into the third airport at London in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the delays surrounding the inquiry into Heathrow’s planned fifth terminal. Roskill’s findings were ignored by government in favour of a new airport at Maplin, only for government to abandon this plan, when the 1973 oil crisis hit the aviation industry and local MPs threatened to rebel. The upshot has been a reliance on the production and dissemination of a ‘fantasmatic’, have-your-cake-and-eat-it narrative – we can have airport expansion and environmental protection – in which the horrific threat of not acting, and thus falling behind our foreign competitors, is bolstered by the beatific prospect of adding billions to the British economy, if and when the new runway is actually built.

A fourth failure of the new scheme relates to the problem of air quality, which is the cause of major respiratory problems and premature deaths. The problem of meeting legally binding air quality targets in London (and surrounding areas) was not properly addressed by the Davies Commission and government plans to meet its 2030 air quality targets are highly contested, as the recent court case by legal campaigners, Client-Earth, goes to show. The idea that a reduction of car emissions in and around the airport, for example, will enable the expansion plans to meet the required air pollution targets looks wildly optimistic.

Fifthly, and crucially, the plans constitute a failure to tackle the problem of climate change. The anti-expansion coalition that successfully challenged New Labour’s 2003 Air Transport White Paper, which promised major airport expansion, put the problem of aircraft emissions and our international commitments to curb climate change at the centre of their campaign. Indeed, in setting out a broad consultation exercise about airport capacity in March 2011, the then Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond, dismissed the previous thinking as ‘out of date because it fails to give sufficient weight to the challenge of climate change’. The previous Labour government had ‘got the balance [between environmental protection and expansion] wrong.’ Yet once again environmental considerations have been shoved into the background, both by the Airports commission and the wider public debate that has ensued.

A final and equally telling problem is that in all likelihood the plans will end in another disappointing failure to deliver a mega infrastructure project on time and within costs. Legal challenges by councils and other affected parties, the precise financing of the airport proposals – who, for example, will pay for the required surface infrastructures needed to ensure its feasibility? – coupled, of course, with the inevitable political challenges will invariably delay the implementation of plans – if it happens at all.

Already local councils are preparing to review the decisions and planning procedures in the courts, while local resident groups and direct action campaigners such as Plane Stupid are sharpening their preferred tools of protest. Indeed, we can expect the third runway at Heathrow to become a symbolic battle for environmental campaigners. Heathrow could well up being the next Notre-Dame-des-Landes, the proposed new international airport outside Nantes which continues to attract widespread criticism and protest across the whole of France and Europe.

Steven Griggs is Professor of Public Policy at De Montfort University and a core member of CURA. David Howarth is Professor in Social and Political Theory at the University of Essex

 

Posted in Policy & Politics | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Heathrow expansion: Six reasons why it should be seen as a failure of government