The Way for Mankind
Book 1, Philosophical Intimations on Social and Economic Issues
ISBN : 978-2-9537218-1-2
In the times we live in, most of us must seriously be wondering about the way the human race is going. We are faced with a mound of major problems for which we seem to have no solution, and there seems to be no articulated or agreed idea for defining our way forward, as though we were steadily and resolutely moving towards our goal, without having any goal whatsoever.
The following pages express the bewilderment and the reflections of the common man; not an expert, and not someone who is ever consulted. Nevertheless, the ordinary man thinks, gathers information and listens to many different points of view because he would very much like to understand, and shape his own destiny accordingly. Let us enter his thoughts, follow them and develop them, for they are your thoughts – our thoughts – and we may be surprised at how similar our ideas turn out to be. The thoughts expressed here come from all kinds of different horizons and are addressed to every person living on this Earth. But we will have to be brave to go all the way, for the road ahead is arduous.
Let’s take a look at where we stand now, tracing the thoughts of those who have been observing the world’s problems.
First of all, in this volume, let’s examine the situation in economic and social terms.
What do we see?
EXCERPT from chapter 1
1. A Quick Glance at the Planet
Let’s look at Mumbai. Here are a few details from an article in Le Monde Diplomatique : “India’s City of Gold.” (1)
“Many slum dwellers have built two or three lofts atop their hovels and rented them out. On average 10 people live in a single hut of about nine square meters. No one can estimate how many people live on Reay Road, but every single day the headcount increases and with it the chaos. To be honest, no one can even confirm how many people live in the city overall. Official surveys show that there are 12 million (more than Greece) and that half of them are homeless. But because of the endless stream of immigrants, the slum population, the hundreds of unregistered children born every day, it may be closer to 16 million […]
Many have come from far to settle in the City of Hope, convinced they would find jobs […] So they survive here, on the road, day after day, despite the pollution, heat, malnutrition, dirt, trucks and cars whizzing by, accidents, diseases, huge rats and crows, stinking gutters, the disgust of better-off passers-by and the monsoon floods […]
It takes a while to realize why it continues to attract so many outsiders who hope to make their fortunes here. It is overwhelmingly huge, hot, cramped, polluted, suffocating, crowded, traffic-choked, with appalling sights and smells of poverty and sickness. If you are poor, you live in inhuman conditions; if you are rich, the mafia bothers you. If you are middle-class, just leaving your house every morning is a struggle – fighting with traffic, negotiating potholes, trying to ignore tiny begging hands scratching your car windows.”
This account could equally well describe hundreds of cities around the world. It is evidence of the sorry state of our planet.
We are regularly kept abreast of the general state of the world. Here are a few examples from websites keeping an eye on the world’s problems – there are many sources of information at our disposal. Most of the figures quoted in this chapter come from the Global Issues website (2), which offers a very thorough analysis of the social, economic and political problems affecting our planet. Here is a brief rundown of the overall situation, a reality far easier to contemplate when it’s reduced to statistics:
Two billion people suffer from malnutrition, and 18 million starve to death every year.
Millions of people die each year from curable or preventable diseases.
1.3 billion people have no access to drinking water; 3 billion have no sanitation and 2 billion do not have electricity.
Poverty, hunger, malnutrition, disease, appalling sanitation and illiteracy haunt a large proportion of the world’s population. We could flesh out the description of this world of ours by mentioning child labor (25 million children are exploited in unacceptable working conditions), the terrible conditions for many women and the lack of respect for basic human rights.
It would be interesting to try and understand how we have managed to make such a mess of our existence and our dignity.
We human beings are real idiots.
The genesis of this global tragedy is largely……….
EXCERPT from chapter 2
2. Neoliberalism, the Principle of the Global Economic Order
The fundamental economic rules governing our planet are well known, and are laid down by the most powerful nations who thus ensure they can obtain the best for their national self-interest. Over time, economic principles have evolved to some extent, while naturally remaining basically the same.
The neoliberal theory is based upon the idea of the greatest possible economic freedom within a system of triumphant capitalism.
The fundamental principle of free trade sees in a totally free market a magic wand capable of providing all the benefits one could possibly hope for; freed from state intervention, excessive regulation, price controls and the weight of the unions, free trade spurs on the economy. The free movement of goods, services and capital requires sustained growth.
The privatization of public companies ensures that they are efficient and profitable.
Free trade develops global commerce and enables every country to develop in turn. It guarantees the most just and most efficient distribution of resources.
Competition gives the system magical energy – healthy competition between countries, companies and individuals within companies encourages the success of the best and stimulates innovation, lowers prices and gets the best results. This sacrosanct competition is at the very core of every personal preoccupation – it is an expression of the survival principle, the ancestral expression of human activity.
What could be better than that? ………..
We could even go so far as to say that Neoliberalism is a factor in causing social disintegration. If it is taken for granted that economic dynamism should reward company shareholders and that other benefits for the workers or the rest of society are of secondary importance, then this economic dynamism can only occur at the expense of the social structure. It amounts to aggression with regard to social values, swindling the social organization. This is clearly shown in the measures imposed by capitalism. Just as during the Industrial Revolution, when farmers and small, independent craftsmen had to give up their independent means of subsistence and become working-class masses dependent on capital, today we can see the same damage being inflicted upon the social structure by the measures dictated by Neoliberalism – reduction of the role of the state, deregulation, the greatest possible freedom for businesses, the privatization of public sectors, reduction of the power of the unions, labor flexibility, precarity which puts employees at the mercy of their employers, cuts in social protection – all these elements demonstrate the economic masters’ aggression towards the social strucyure for their own gain.
The most obvious aspect of this way of doing things is that the decisions which affect society as a whole are taken by a very small number of people, all with ulterior motives.
It is also obvious that this same mechanism has now spread over the entire planet.
In the same way as it generates workplace relationships based on heedless exploitation and competition, Neoliberalism puts a strain on the environment and the world’s resources, causing further degradation. The “free-for-all” principle, a primitive, “dog-eat-dog” battle is placed at the very heart of the social contract, and cynicism becomes the moral foundation of our world. It establishes a moral deficit in our world which earlier societies did not experience to such a serious extent, and endorses the degradation of conditions for humankind on a planetary scale.
EXCERPT from chapter 3
3. A Quick Glance at Developed Countries
There are hundreds of reports and studies highlighting the persistence and even the rise in significant levels of poverty in developed countries. We can get an idea of the situation by quoting just a few of them….
The most noticeable differences between rich and poor are observed in the richest of these countries. In the United States, the top 1% of the population amasses more money that the 40% of people at the bottom end of the scale, and this inequality has been increasing constantly for 70 years.
In the United Kingdom, the 50% of people at the bottom of the scale possess only 1% of the nation’s wealth. In 1976, that figure was 12%. Poverty can be said to affect half Great Britain’s population if welfare benefits are not taken into account – a sorry result for a country which for centuries has endeavored to be a standard-bearer for civilization.
Could this be called progress? Is this fair distribution of wealth? Is this economic efficiency? ……
However, the sudden appearance of homeless people became noticeable at the beginning of the 1980s. “By the mid-1980s, seemingly out of nowhere, for the first time since the Great Depression, large numbers of individuals and families were living in the streets. “The homeless” is a social phenomenon usually associated with countries like Bangladesh, but has now survived as a visible urban fixture in this richest of countries.” (4)
Inequalities in the distribution of wealth:
At the very top, 5% of Americans possess 57% of personal wealth while the 50% of the population at the bottom of the scale possess only 2.8%. What’s more, the gap has been widening constantly over recent decades. (5)
Movements for social justice are active, but America is being described as the richest of the Third World countries, and it is said to be drifting towards a society of economic apartheid. Poverty continues to grow, and inequality is reaching new heights. (6)
“Real wages are declining; in fact, the share of the GDP that goes to wages and salaries has reached a 59-year low, while the share going to corporate profits is at a 40-year high.” (7)
The current reality is that the wealth is ending up in fewer and fewer hands. For the majority of U.S. households, the real story of the 1990s was not an expanding stock portfolio, but the plummeting of personal savings, stagnating wages, longer work hours, and the escalation of consumer debt. […]
EXCERPT from chapter 4
4. A United World for Better or for Worse
It is clear that our economic order is not keeping its promises, and is proving incapable of establishing a fair and prosperous society in developed countries, where such a society should already have existed for a long time. On the contrary – we have just seen how poverty is becoming more widespread and we are still a long way from a harmonious state of affairs.
Mila Kahlon’s article describing Mumbai (Bombay,) which was quoted in the opening chapter, continues as follows:
“[It is] without doubt the wealthiest [city] in India. More than half of India’s income tax is paid here. It is also India’s most corrupt city: more than half of the black money in circulation is generated here. It has more millionaires than the other metropolitan cities put together. It hosts 90% of India’s merchant banking transactions and has two stock exchange towers; 80% of India’s mutual funds are registered here, where the capital markets are located […]
Real estate means money – property is more expensive than in New York and Tokyo (a posh apartment could cost up to $2m). This city indulges in speculations, lotteries, horse races and cricket. Advertising hotshots are better paid than doctors, as Mumbaikars shame the consumer society of the United States. The city attracts the best skill pool in India, multinational giants, investors, artists and intellectuals. […]
In this city you can buy French champagne for only three times the average middle-class salary, but millions cannot get a drink of clean water. Dharavi is the biggest slum in Asia, where 600,000 people are squeezed into less than two square kilometres, its air thick and sticky with the smell of human waste. […]” (3)
This illustration reveals much about the general state of the world as a whole – a situation in which the same universal pattern appears, to a more or less extreme degree, which globalization has established everywhere, with an extremely wealthy minority possessing all the rights and all the advantages, then the middle classes, who strive to maintain the modest prosperity that the labor of their forefathers has left them with, in circumstances of great effort, uncertainty and stress, which does not make for an ideal existence – and finally, in every country in the world, the laboring classes struggling to survive in difficult conditions which are, at times, getting even worse, and which are never going to disappear.
EXCERPT from chapter 5
5. The Law of the Market
The law of the market is the sacrosanct principle governing the world.
This principle has met with universal success, to the extent where it is being compared with a religion – a stunningly successful system of values (1). It might even be compared with the most extreme aspects of blind faith, and can be seen as some kind of fundamentalism. (2)
…..The market is not a fundamentally just mechanism – it relies on a relationship based on power and is often far from fair. The following observations by John Ikerd, professor at the University of Missouri, highlight the system’s basic flaws.
“Economics assumes that trade always takes place between two people or groups that are equally competent and capable of pursuing their own self-interest. Sometimes this is a valid assumption, but often it is not. Economics ignores the fact that the world is filled with people (and countries) who are inherently unequal in competence and capabilities. It ignores the fact that giant corporations are capable of totally dominating conditions of trade with smaller businesses or individuals. […]
Any trade that is legal is generally accepted as free trade by economists. Economics ignores the fact that the strong may pressure the weak into trading by simply threatening or withholding benefits, or protection from harm, upon which the weak has become dependent. Since the strong are not legally required to provide these benefits, no law is broken.
When trade occurs between the strong and the weak, particularly when motivated by profit as economists assume, the weak are invariably exploited by the strong. As long as the outcomes for strong and weak added together end up in a larger dollar and cent total, economics concludes that there have been gains from trade — no matter that the weak are now even relatively weaker and more vulnerable and the strong are now even stronger and more dominant. To the economist, justice and equity are just empty words because they have no means to address them.” (4)
The Market is neither a law nor a principle – it is an event that occurs….
When all is said and done, it is the very mechanism of the Market that generates inequality, with wealth on the one side and scarcity on the other; by keeping as much as possible for oneself and giving as little as possible in exchange; by paying the lowest wages possible and keeping as much of the profit as one can. All the inequality that exists in our world stems from the dictates of the Market. The Market is a mechanism which breeds inequality whenever it can. That is not its goal, but it is a consequence that lies hidden in our basic lack of awareness, and whose long-term effects unbalance human society.
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