Category Archives: Finland

Inequality Social Dysfunction and Misery

Year on year the economic divisions and sub-divisions in the world deepen, and the associated social ills increase: The rich, comfortable, and the very extremely rich keep getting richer, and the rest, well, whilst some may be raised up out of crippling poverty into relative poverty, the majority of people continue to live under a blanket of economic insecurity and largely remain where they are.

Straddling the global ladder of economic and social division sit the Multi-Billionaires (there are now 2,208 billionaires), 42 of whom (down from 61 in 2016), according to a recent report by Oxfam, own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of humanity combined. Together with their lesser cohorts this coterie of Trillionaires sucked up “eighty-two percent of the wealth generated [in the world] last year…while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world saw no increase in their wealth.”

The defining challenge of our time

Income and wealth inequality is not simply a monetary issue, it is a complex social crisis that supports and strengthens notions of superiority and inferiority, and was described by President Barak Obama in 2013 as “the defining challenge of our time.”

Today’s obscene levels of inequality are the result of the Neo-Liberal economic system. This extreme form of capitalism took hold first in America and Britain in the early 1980s when Reagan and Thatcher ruled, workers’ rights were trampled on, ‘society’ was a dirty word and community responsibility was abandoned to selfishness and greed. With the aid of the World Bank and the IMF, Neoliberalism swiftly spread throughout the world, polluting life in every city, town and village with its divisive, cruel ideology. Commercialization and competition are key principles and have infiltrated every area of contemporary life; everything and everyone is seen as a commodity, and the size of ones bank account determines the level of health care, education and housing available, as well as one’s access to culture and freedom to travel.

Social injustice is inherent in the system, as is inequality, which is itself a major form of injustice. Inequality strengthens deep-seated social imbalances based on class and social standing, and in a world where everything is classified, commercialized and priced; i.e., attributed value, external wealth and position have become the common criteria for determining the internal worth of a human being. Comparison and imitation follow, individuality is perverted and fear fostered; fear of inadequacy, fear of failure, fear of not being loved, because not ‘deserving’ love, not being able to ‘afford’ love. Resentment, anger and self-loathing are fed, leading to a range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and drug and alcohol addiction.

Happiness and inequality

The impact of financial inequality on the health and well being of society has been extensively studied by Richard Wilkinson; British co-author of Spirit Level, Professor Emeritus of Social Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham. In order to establish national levels of inequality Wilkinson and his team used a benchmark based on how much richer the top 20% is to the bottom 20%: Japan and Scandinavia (Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark) came out most equal, and now, Slovenia and the Czech Republic have moved towards this group. Israel, New Zealand, Australia, Britain, Portugal and USA were found to have the greatest levels of inequality, and by some margin. Recent data suggests that Russia, South Africa and Turkey should now be added to the most unequal pile. Germany, Spain and Switzerland sit somewhere in the middle.

Data relating to a range of social issues was examined: The most unequal countries were found to have lower life expectancy than more equal societies, higher infant mortality, many more homicides, larger prison populations (by 10-15 times), applied longer sentences; had higher teenage pregnancies, lower mathematic/literacy levels, more obesity, less social mobility, and, according to The World Value Survey, a great deal less trust. In more equal countries, like Sweden and Norway, around 65% of people trust others, whereas in unequal societies like America a mere 15% admitted to trusting their fellow citizens.

In all areas, countries with high levels of inequality did worse, in many cases much worse, than more equal nations. Mental health, for example, (figures from the World Health Organization): In Japan around 8% of the population suffers from some form of mental health issue, compared to 30% in America. Children are considerably healthier in more equal countries – based on UNICEF’s Index of Child Well-Being – and feel a good deal happier. Wilkinson concludes, “What we’re looking at is general social dysfunction related to inequality. It’s not just one or two things that go wrong, it’s most things.”

Look to Scandinavia

If one of the primary purposes of any socio-economic system is to create environments in which human beings can grow and live happily together, then the nations suffering under the shadow of inequality need to learn from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, which are not just the least unequal, they are also the happiest countries in the world. Throughout Scandinavia public services – education (which is probably the best in the world), health care and housing, are valued, and taxes levied in order to fund them properly; there are greater levels of social justice, this allows for trust to develop, and where there is trust relationships flower. The extremes of staggering wealth and stifling poverty don’t exist as they do in the more unequal parts of the world; social mobility is greater and the dream of betterment more realistic, as Richard Wilkinson says, “if Americans want to live the ‘American dream’ they should go and live in Denmark.”

The first duty of government is to protect the people; this involves not only dealing with terrorism and the like, but requires the development of socio-economic policies that contribute to the creation of a healthy harmonious environment. By supporting extreme inequality (which has been shown to fuel a range of social issues) governments in the more unequal countries are totally failing in this fundamental duty. Politicians, who in many cases rely on big business and wealthy benefactors for their funding, are either blind to, or negligent of, the inherent faults of the current system, and the unhealthy, negative way of life it supports.

The case for fundamental change in the economic order, and a shift away from the destructive values it promotes is becoming irrefutable; however, change occurs only gradually and resistance is great. In the meantime, governments (particularly in the most unequal states) need to acknowledge the connection between the dysfunction and disease within society and their socio-economic methodology, which is literally making people ill, as well and poisoning the natural world. They need to invest properly in public services, address wage differences, ban bonuses, introduce progressive tax reform, and, unlike America and France which are taking retrograde steps by designing tax codes which will fuel inequality, look to the Scandinavian countries and learn from their example.

For too long socio-economic systems have been designed and maintained to cater to the desires and interests of a privileged few, while the majority live inhibited lives under the shadow of financial uncertainty. For harmonious societies to evolve this long-standing injustice needs to be addressed and a degree of balance found. This requires that those whose table is full to overflowing share some of their bounty, so that all may have enough, not excess, enough.

As a wise man has said, “The rich must give up what they want, so that the poor can have what they need.” What the rich and comfortable must give up is greed (another car, another house, more designer clothes, etc.), what the rest need is freedom from economic insecurity and the fear of destitution, freedom from exploitation and dependency; secure, comfortable, and well-designed accommodation, and access to good education, health care and culture. Such essential needs are the rights of all; when made manifest they go a long way towards establishing social justice, and where there is social justice, functional, compassionate communities do evolve, conflict is reduced and collective harmony is cultivated.

On Direct Democracy and Demarchy

The following is an interview by Jana Turk (from Moniheli) to Pedro Aibéo, on Direct Democracy, Demarchy, political activism and Architectural Democracy.

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Jana Turk: in your opinion, what are the best ways of participating and influencing?

Pedro Aibéo: The good and bad thing concerning your question is that there is no magic formula. There are many unpredictable ways of having a voice in the decision-making processes. It can be associated with the originality of it, the quality of one’s argument or simply due to perseverance. In my view, the voice one holds within society reflects the process on how one has achieved it. Meaning, if I am advocating violence, I will excel by BEING violent – let’s say, for example – by killing people right here at the World Village Festival! But if my message is one of wisdom, rationality, education, discussion, diversity, etc. it must therefore be delivered in the in the same way as I expect the outcome to be. These qualities are products of an enduring process of self-improvement.

JT: Self-identifying as an anarcho-syndicalist, how did you end up running for elections in the first place?

PA: The short answer is that somebody has to be the last professional politician!…

I think it is important to briefly explain what anarcho-syndicalism means. Anarchism is the absence of archy, meaning, the absence of power. Combining this word with syndicalism, which is, a system of economic organization where industries are owned and managed by workers, then we would have anarcho-syndicalism, which would roughly mean, a lateral, or horizontal process of decision-making among the workers. In other words, the cleaning lady and the engineer have both a direct voice in their workplace. They are both heard.

Owning the means of production goes back to the famous central Marxist ideas. So an anarcho-syndicalist would not believe in the misuse of power. But let us not go to extremes here, power over somebody can be sometimes fundamental, but it must be clearly justified. A good example is the use of authority of parents to children. If my kids – I have two – want to cross the street without looking right and left, I will use force to prevent a possible mishap. This is justified use of power.

Why then would a self-proclaimed anarcho-syndicalist run for office, which is a clear power structure inflicted to a majority? We will not improve the way we live together through more revolutions. Revolutions are much fun, but not in the morning after. After the revolution is done, the same problems arise. So we need to improve and learn from history. In using the current structure to bend it step by step, to gradually eliminate the need for power structures.

My campaign was all about Direct Democracy – and if elected – my voice would be as valuable as any other citizen’s, despite holding office. Direct Democracy goes hand in hand with anarcho-syndicalist principles. Now, I didn’t run for the city council out of my own initiative, I was invited early this year by two political parties. They did so due to my previous and very successful campaign against the Guggenheim franchise in Helsinki – which some people call, wrongly, a museum. I thought long about the invitation and went for it on my own terms, which from there the Left Alliance party came to agree with.

JT: One of your aims was to gradually introduce direct democracy, either through technology (e-voting) or by gradually modifying our representative system into one where local citizens are randomly and temporarily elected for office (Demarchy). Can you tell us more about demarchy?

PA: My terms for the political campaign were dually dealt. The short term issue concerned Direct Democracy and the long term goal was to end political careerism. My campaign was the only one in Finland ever to be done in English only. This was fundamental, to alert the fact that fifteen percent of the citizens of Helsinki, who vote and pay taxes, neither understand Finnish or Swedish. How can it be a democracy if participation is undermined in such a high level? It can’t. To address this, I proposed Direct Democracy, not as a solver of all problems, but as a trial for innovation in our political structures. Remember, the political participation currently is at an all-time low since the 1920s. So, by posting online all City Council decisions in English and by letting citizens vote in these outcomes, case by case, it would keep them alert to issues and best of all informed! So my vote in the City Council would be the result of the e-voting, not of my own opinion.

If taken further steps down the road, this would show that the process of electing representatives is not needed at all. Our current method of election, of Representative Democracy, dates back to the twelfth century, a totally outdated system invented by a seventeen year old king! We can do better than this in the age of ubiquitous technology, one which could introduce demarchy (also called lottocracy, allotment, aleatory representative democracy or sortation). Basically, my proposal is that political representatives are selected randomly from citizens from our communities, to serve in a limited amount of time in office. This diminishes corruption from political careerism and increases political participation of citizens and a more reality-attached sense of the problems of which to tackle.

JT: Can you tell us some examples where demarchy has been implemented?

PA: Ancient Greeks practiced the system, as did the Venetian Republic to some extent. It’s still operational today, most notable in jury processes. We all have seen Hollywood movies where the lay jury decides the fate of a person’s life based on expert’s accounts. These juries are randomly selected people, to avoid anyone planted or biased influencing the outcome. But there are more examples: the same process has been carried out to write laws, for instance in Canada at the British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly, or regarding the “Convention on the Constitution”, in Ireland. Another most recent example which gives ever more legitimacy to demarchy is [Emmanuel] Macron’s [En Marche!] party elections [in France], where an array of new politicians [many] with no political experience won the majority of the parliament.

JT: Often Switzerland is given as an example for direct democracy. Do you think the Swiss system is something we should strive for, also in Finland?

PA: Perhaps, yes. I lived in Zürich in 2012-2013. The Swiss government is not really a government. Its system is complicated and slow, but at large, it works, as it maintains the unity of the country with its diversity. Switzerland has – after Australia – the highest levels of immigration worldwide. The Swiss confederal model (not the same as federative model, which is a notable difference) should be applied all the way up to the EU. What lacks in Europe is a direct ability of democratic manifestation for the citizens. Most people vote directly on important issues, such as it happens in Switzerland. This does not even mean one will reach the best solutions. No matter the outcome discerned, it is most important that people stand behind their choices. The people have the right to be wrong. Finland and Europe must be built on the base of provinces, on geography and on cultures. Autonomous regions should become more independent and stronger. We need federal councils, not a government.

On this basis, we are working on an app to enhance Direct Democracy at a local level, via public pressure and involvement throughout Helsinki.

JT: Your doctoral research titled “Architectural Democracy” has grown into a larger working group – could you elaborate on architectural democracy and how it relates to your two main aims in the municipal election?

PA: I hold two Masters – one in Civil Engineering and another in Architecture – and at an early age, I headed many design teams for very large architectural projects. I witnessed wonderful technological and organizational processes but also terrifying schemes of corruption and personal greed. I backed out of the industry and started “Architectural Democracy”. If we are asked to make decisions about our cities (politics), we must understand how our cities work and are designed, especially who owns the city, or, who owns what in the city! If citizens get a better, decentralized, spatially tagged source of information – even by editing it – we can maybe make clearer, more assertive judgements, thus improving the quality of our democracies whilst also improving our architecture. This all started as a doctoral study and it is growing into the development of technologies based on photogrammetry and GPU processing at large.

We are not going to escape the increasing complexity of the world, so we will always need to find new ways to improve society and how we live with each other. We must consistently question the status quo. My candidacy was all about showing how the system can be improved simply by adding diversity into it and responsibility to its users, us the citizens. My life has always been about spinning many plates at the same time. I teach drawing, write comic novels, play music, run a music school, build musical instruments, etc. So as I said in the beginning about activism, I can only preach diversity if I practice it!

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This interview is based on the public interview at the World Village Festival, Moninainen SUOMII tent, 28 May 2017, in Helsinki, Finland. It is not a word to word transcription of it; this text has been rewritten after the interview by Pedro Aibéo.

The Revolution in Work calls for an Evolution in Living

Poverty blights the lives of billions of people throughout the world: in developing countries, where it is acute, and industrialised nations, where it’s hidden but growing. It rises out of social injustice, makes exploitation and abuse inevitable, brings death and disease, robs people of opportunity and dignity, feeds anger and resentment.

Much like the rubbish that litters the streets of our cities, the poor, destitute and hungry are swept out of sight. Their existence is an embarrassment to politicians and sits uncomfortably within the shiny materialistic image promoted by cities and countries eager to attract ‘inward investment’.

As more jobs become obsolete due to new technology and the closure of traditional industries, unemployment is set to rise, incomes disappear, and, unless there is a radical reappraisal of the economic environment, poverty levels will rise, perhaps exponentially. In fact, with wages stagnant many of those now living in poverty are actually in work – the ‘working poor’ – trying to survive on a pittance, many of whom cannot feed themselves without the support of food banks.

The Poverty Line

The World Bank claims that in 2013 almost 767 million people (11% of the global population) were living in extreme poverty – defined as income of $1.90 a day. However, a study by the UK’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI) found that more than 2.5 billion people are living “on less than $2 per day.” That’s $2 a day for all living costs; it’s not ‘spending money’. Raise the ‘poverty’ bar to a more realistic $5 a day (the cost of two cups of coffee in a developed country), and over four billion people (two thirds of humanity) slide into the net.

Poverty equals illness and hunger, lack of self-worth and abuse. It is the single greatest cause of death and condemns people to live hopeless lives of relentless hardship. At the same time those born into wealthy families are blessed with opportunities, security and comfort: Simple gifts – rights, in fact – that should be the inheritance of every child no matter where or to whom they are born.

Countries may be rich or poor, but the world is bountiful. People starve because they’re poor not because of a shortage of food: there is an abundance of food. The continuing existence of poverty in a world of plenty, a world connected and interdependent as never before, is a crime against our collective humanity. Poverty, together with extreme inequality, should be ended completely and consigned to the past.

Re-designing how we live

The coming Age of the Machine is part of a new time, and offers unprecedented possibilities to re-design the way we live.

Technological innovation will, we are told, destroy more jobs than it creates; a development that within the existing economic system engenders fear, but it should be welcomed. Human beings will be liberated from lives of drudgery, allowing time and space to explore life, to examine what it means to be human, to be creative and to collectively redefine what civilization can be. But, as Yanis Varoufakis, Professor of Economic Theory at the University of Athens (former finance minister of Greece) makes clear, in order for everyone to benefit from these opportunities, “every citizen must be granted property rights over part of the wealth that the machines produce.” This requires a completely new approach to how we think about the economy and the way it operates.

The present model – whilst it can boast of successes – is ill equipped to respond to the challenges and opportunities of the time and must go. Materialistic values are built into the system; selfishness, desire and excess promoted, and (speaking generally throughout) whilst philanthropy is part of some corporate strategies, presented with the choice of saving lives but losing money, administrators side with the money. Such is the inherent cynicism and inhumanity that exists within and is promoted by the pervasive paradigm.

Fundamental change has been needed for some time; the Advance of Automation adds one more imperative to the process. A new, sustainable, humane economic model is required worthy of the 21st Century and beyond. A new system charged with meeting human need and safeguarding the environment, and as Yanis Varoufakis says that “conceives of investment in people’s communities; we also need to establish the right to a Universal Basic Income.”

A basic right to life’s requirements  

The Revolution in Work requires an Evolution in Living: a new approach, in which the acknowledgment that humanity is one is primary. We are Brothers and Sisters of One Humanity, and the systems that govern our lives should be based on and encourage the realization of this fact. Sharing as a principle that animates human affairs naturally follows such an understanding and when pragmatically applied will allow everyone to live dignified lives free from the fear of poverty. Everyone is entitled to the means required to meet their needs, irrespective of whether they have a job and income or are unable to secure either; quality homes, good health care and inspiring education.

Within the existing paradigm the Imminent Revolution presents us with what Varoufakis describes as a “major dilemma”. Either a world in which the concentration of ownership over the new means of production becomes even more intense, leading  “to a stagnating capitalism with [more] extreme inequality and huge incomes for a shrinking percentage of the population, that live behind electrified barriers in privately policed communities, whilst the rest exist in a cesspool of volatility, uncertainty and social misery.”

Or we can move in another direction, “post democracy – post social democracy”, – post ideology, per-se. A society in which the means of living – presently money – is freely, unconditionally available to everyone, machines are the servants of humanity and all reap the rewards of their labour.

For the good to be made manifest, a new model is required that redistributes – shares – the “ownership of the means of production”, or at least [ensures] the means of production is redistributed in such a way as to effectively guarantee freedom…this requires a basic income, which is essential.” A Universal Basic Income (UBI) made up either of regular payments or some form of Inheritance Trust – currently only available in wealthy families – set up to cover the needs of everyone from birth.

The recognition that everyone has a Right to the basic requirements for living goes back to the 18th century. And towards the end of the First World War Bertrand Russell outlined a plan which contained the embryonic idea of UBI and included the suggestion that the amount be varied depending on work “which the community recognizes as useful…when education is finished, no one should be compelled to work, and those who choose not to work should receive a bare livelihood and be left completely free.”

The link with community work is important and should be incorporated into any new system. However, ‘payments’, whether monetary or a sophisticated credit scheme, should not be conditional on such activities. Social engagement will naturally grow from a just economic system that recognizes humanity’s underlying unity.

In the decades since Russell’s proposals, UBI in some form has been attracting increasing interest. Currently various countries are considering UBI: Finland has initiated a two-year trial to pay 2,000 randomly chosen unemployed citizens a basic monthly income, irrespective of whether they find work or not; Scotland is about to pilot a “radical” UBI scheme in two of its local authorities: Glasgow (where it’s estimated a third of children live in poverty) and Fife, because, Councilors say, “it is the best way to tackle poverty”. And perhaps surprisingly, India, where over a third of the poorest people on Earth live, is looking at UBI. Payments would be made to every child and adult, and would guarantee “all citizens enough income to cover their basic needs [and] would promote social justice.”

Changing values

In its current form UBI is not the answer, but it could form an important part of a new progressive economic-social model, and the fact that it is being widely discussed is positive.

Whether ‘payments’ are made in monetary terms or through a new ‘social market,’ as Varoufakis calls it, in which throughout life, everyone is “endowed with capital from society,” UBI would liberate the poor from “vicious welfare-state means testing and the trap of inter-generational poverty”; it would offer “the economic stability that most people are losing” and create a “platform on which they could stand before reaching out for something better.”

In addition to establishing financial security, endowing everyone with the means to meet their needs would have a range of additional benefits. It would demonstrate that the collective society is a compassionate and just one and show that all people are valued equally. Inequality would fade, as would the consequential social ills. Competition would lose its hold, replaced by cooperation, which would become the norm, as would tolerance and trust.

Fear of destitution, exploitation and hunger would be driven from the Earth and the value system under which we live would radically change.

This is not an unattainable utopian vision. It is the realistic picture of a world in which humanity responds creatively and pragmatically to the changes that technology presents us with. It is a positive image, predicated on the recognition of humanity’s essential unity. This realization is crucial if we are to bring about lasting change, and create the conditions for peace; as Yanis Varoufakis states, the question is “do we consider our community to be an extended family of humanity not?”