Israel-Palestine: Is a reasonable debate possible?

Originally posted on Notes On Liberty:

The question in the title is to be taken very seriously and not just as a prelude to a comforting ‘of course there is’ answer and a few helpful hints to how to engage in respectful debate. This is a debate which stretches at the  limits of debate, at all attempts at civility and respect for other points of view in debate. I am trying to find a way to discuss the issues in a way that is equally considerate of the rights and interests of all parties to the debate, while also finding that debates about Arab Palestinian and Jewish Israeli positions may at some point just not be open to rational debate, and can only be settled by pragmatic compromise at best, and violent imposition  in the less happy scenarios.

This started with a social media post on my part condemning George Galloway, a very left socialist British…

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The gated community motto: Come and live in a lie while ignoring life!

The papers, books and studies related to the urban development of gated communities in the Global South have provided lots of information by problematizing the history and politics behind the imaginary of these projects. Urban developers all over Latin America, Africa and Asia are building hundreds of communities and apartment buildings that imitate European and Western Styles of construction, lifestyle, norms and regulations. This morning I got my hands in one more of these advertisements for a housing project located in a recently developed dormitory city near Guatemala City, Guatemala.

The community is called “Residenciales Pasaje Español” and the development aims at replicating the lifestyle of a Spaniard ideal of a community  (while, of course, ignoring reality about Spain’s complexities).  The advertisements are all directed at the appeals of the growing middle-class market in Guatemala which is backed by a search for: affordable housing, accesible parks, gated walls around the housing project, 24/7 private police service, white houses that offer access to parking spaces for family-sized cars.  All of this providing a “theme-park” feeling that enables you to transport yourself from the violent and insecure life outside of the gates.

plano del proyecto

Guatemala City and the dormitory cities around it are inhabited by aprox. 3.5 million people with more than 1 million cars and the figures are quickly rising. Many of the gated communities are 1 or 1.5 hours away from most of the office and industrial areas and traffic jam is a constant worry for this people. Alienated from crime and lack of rule of law, these gated-communities offer an escape from public worries to taxpayers and an excuse to ignore the country’s multiple problems.

torres de luz

But as any other theme-park there are many flaws and dangers in the aim to replicate the “ideal society”.  The complex is located straight next to a line of huge power towers that represent a health menace to the people that will live in the houses. Also, the gated-community is surrounded by hundreds of new houses and dozens of new gated-communities that once completed and sold will represent an increase in the traffic jam outside of the “housing dream”.

Perhaps it is still time to Rethink the future of our cities. We still have time to further problematize our development model and think about the contradictions behind these city-building dystopias. And bring to light more information regarding how these gated-communities further weaken collaboration, cooperation and citizenship in our societies…

Piketty’s “Capital,” and the Rest of the World

Video: Thomas Piketty Discusses, “Capital In The 21st Century” with Ryan Grim and Alexis Goldstein

The book by the French economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has already become part of everyday discussions and is being referenced among academics. The research by Piketty has come in the perfect time and there are plenty of reasons why. Piketty’s book discussion brings some light to the study of income quintiles and deciles into a new debate of the “the skyrocketing incomes of the 1% — and the mind-boggling gains of the 0.1% and 0.01%  — by gathering and publishing income tax data that nobody had bothered with before. Piketty was behind similar projects in France, Britain, Japan, and other countries.” (via Justin Fox at the Harvard Business Review)

I finished reading the book this weekend and it was eye-opening. The book presents great challenges to the study of capital and inequalities in the developed economies as well as in the rest of the world. The book also opens the doors for a wider discussion on the effects European Capital has had in the global economy. Further, the book invites globalists to challenge our understanding of European-centric terms that over longer periods of time become, perhaps, insufficient to comprehend global economic processes over the passing of centuries and how these processes have changed and transformed themselves by a complex evolution and redefinition.

It can’t be denied that capital during all of the 19th Century and in the beginning of the 20th Century was centered in the main European metropolises and extracted most of the goods from the periphery. Few Capital remained in colonies and protectorates. Wealth belonged to the Empires and Poverty remained in colonial territories. Even the poorest of the European was considered Rich by comparison to the inhabitants of Colonies.

Today, European Empires are gone for a while, U.S. Capital increased and gained from the fall of the European Empires and new economies started developing in former Colonies. Giant Economies like China and Russia woke up after decades of isolation from global trade and today reconfigured our understanding of Capital. Piketty’s book somehow fails to explore this Global political changes and its economic effects.

Piketty’s central argument has a gigantic weakness since it is tied to nation-states and cannot be compared or understood in reference to Global Capital flows in today’s multinational economy. Very few references are made to the role played by Multinational Companies and foreign national investments and savings by State Companies in the world.  And less is mentioned of global inequalities and the North-South divide that has been increased by the investments done by Developed and Developing Economies in the rest of the world.  Piketty argues that Capital has tended over time to grow faster than the overall economy (he focuses on European and US economies); and that income from capital is invariably much less evenly distributed than labor income (again he focuses on European and US economies). Thus failing to acknowledge how Labor income stopped been localized during the 20th Century and it involved multiple polities far away from the metropolis.  Piketty argues that together (Capital growth and its uneven distribution) amount to a powerful force for increasing inequality.

Piketty doesn’t take things as far as Marx and this is a pitty. Marx’s methodology involved the State but it also referenced to its effects both and from the peripheries through the pass of longer periods of time. This is one of the most important contributions of Marx: his global understand of the economy.

Piketty shows how over the two-plus centuries for which good records exist, the only major decline in capital’s economic share and in economic inequality was the result of World Wars I and II, which destroyed lots of capital and brought much higher taxes in the U.S. and Europe. However, he again fails to acknowledge how Capital grew in the Global South after these wars as a result of increased inequalities in the Colonies and Agriculture-centered States in South America and Asia. During the wars Capital destruction was followed by a spectacular run of economic growth that involved the entire globe and not only Europe and the U.S.  The Cold War is a good reference for finding how Capital flows went from Europe to Asia, America and Africa.  As well, the run of economic growth started involving non-State actors in which Capital continue increasing at a higher and faster rate than the one he references and studies. Failing to study this shows in Piketty’s book that after decades of peace, slowing growth, and declining tax rates, capital and inequality are on the rise all over the developed world only, and it’s not clear what if anything will alter that trajectory in the decades to come.  However, the declining tax rates, capital and inequality are on the rise at a faster pace in the developing economies and in the “puppet states” (Nigeria, Chile, the Middle East countries) which have emerged around them as sources of petrol, minerals and rare earths.

Piketty’s main worry as points out Justin Fox is that “growing wealth in Europe will bring a return to 19th century circumstances in which most affluent people get that way through inheritance.” Plus, “U.S. median income will continue lossing ground relative to other nations in the following years”. But this are not the only worries that we should identify.  The BRICS countries are probably a good source of comparison to see how the growing wealth of the 20th Century remains on the hands of the few rich and is currently been passed through inheritance. Further, developing economies in South America and Africa are an extreme case of the last.

Piketty’s solution to Europe’s and U.S. problems is that a progressive global wealth tax be established. But this tax will fail to be the best response to the current dynamics of inequality if Capital continues flowing outside of Europe into multinational capital investments overseas and into State companies overseas. 

I enjoyed this political economy analysis and will continue learning a lot from it. Piketty’s solution is a challenge for the study of global political economy and the reconfiguration of the global economy in the 21st Century. Perhaps if a new book is published studying the shareholders who own the most stock in almost every Fortune 500 company and the Capital of any major global company instead of only the economies of France, Germany or the United States more accurate insights will be found.

 

The never-ending cycle of revolutions

“A revolution is the climax of a long philosophical development and expresses a nation’s profound discontent; a Putsch is a minority’s seizure of power. The goal of a revolution is to overthrow tyranny; the goal of a Putsch is to establish it.” Ayn Rand

The day after Revolution the streets were in silence. Anarchy was the rule and a no man’s land emerged. The protests against the ruling party had started several weeks before. However, as my grandmother recalled, the problems that had ignited the most recent uprising had always existed: ” these were the very old unfulfilled promises long inherited from Colonial times.”  Indeed, these promises were the idea that Government was here to rule over Us, to give Us and to provide Us for our needs and to care for our frailties.  The Global South has known dozens of revolutionary movements, dozens of attempts of revolutions and a handful of sanguinary coup d’états. Unfortunately, not much if anything has changed after the uprisings.

Around the world today conflict  continues in many areas that were once colonized or controlled by Western European or Soviet powers. The source of many of these protracted conflicts, in large part, lies in past colonial  policies, and especially those “regarding territorial boundaries, the treatment of indigenous populations, the privileging of some groups over others, the uneven distribution of wealth, local governmental infrastructures, and the formation of non-democratic or non-participatory governmental systems.”

It is therefore essential, if one wants to understand current revolutionary movements, intractable conflict and its causes, to examine not only the issues and problems of the moment, but also influential historical factors and actors – most notably, past colonial policies and today’s ruling power of these metropolis over former colonies – and their lingering effects.

The idea that the government should provide for our needs is more accepted in post-colonial governments that inherited institutions of dependency and granted privileges by the metropolis.  Imagine yourself traveling 200 years back in time to the period in which colonies were ruled by Western Capital. Interestingly, you will find yourself observing almost the same institutions and the same old problems that societies in the Global South still face today in Africa, the Middle East, South America, Eastern Europe and South Asia. The problems in these societies are the result of a long list of misguided decisions all centered in one fatal conceit: the conceit of revolution by force, not in defense, but in violation, of individual rights.

The colonial institutional heritage of the Global South is built around the abuse and violation of individual rights. Not a single revolutionary movement in the Global South has really aimed at restoring individual rights but to the granting of privileges for a minority.  The minority groups have taken many forms, received many names and have taken many slogans. They have been revolutions organized by and in contraposition of one minority group versus a majority: of the poor versus the rich, of the middle classes versus oligarch classes, of national interests of capital versus foreign interests, of enlightened groups versus conservative groups, of different ethnic groups against each other, of indigenous groups tired of being exploited, and many many more.

In order for a revolution that aims at restoring individual rights to take place it would be  necessary for all citizens to first redefine their code of values upon principles that allow them to pursue happiness without violating the rights of others.  This means that for a “revolution and not a putsch” to take place in the Global South we need first to understand that today’s revolutions have no moral justification and are all gang warfare.  As such, in order to change our immoral systems of government we require to first our own immoral code of values.  This means that we need to learn our history and fix all those immoral decisions taken in the past by our former enslavers.

I believe that the ideal way for starting to learn which is the code of values that provides for a consistent philosophy of life that protects individual rights and allows for humans to pursue happiness is the philosophy of Objectivism and the Objectivist Ethics.

If successful, most probably, the ongoing revolutionary movements in the Middle East, Ukraine and Venezuela will reflect to be nothing but immoral putsches of the very same old privileged groups that they were supposed to fight.  Corruption will take a new name, the citizens will be again defrauded by their leaders, immorality will again reign.  the power currently upheld by immoral leaders is not a simple system of domination of one specific group but it completely traverses the entire social body.  When social relations are not based upon a consistent and ethical code of values its result is “the immanence of force” that Foucault widely studied.    In this game of power, the incessant struggle and confrontation will be reinforced, transformed and reshaped without any meaningful outcome.  This never-ending cycle of revolutions will encrust and institutionalize itself if it hasn’t already. I truly believe that a Peaceful Philosophical revolution is Possible.  It is up to you reader, to chose wether to start it or not.

The left and an anti-rentier agenda

Originally posted on The Henry George Society of Devon:

In a series of articles appearing on Salon last year Michael Lind argued that left and right alike are confused by a failure to distinguish productive businesses that sell innovative goods and services from “rentier” interests — landlords, lenders, copyright holders and others — which use their natural or artificial monopoly power to extract Dog in the mangerexcessive tolls, fees and other recurrent payments from the rest of society, including productive businesses. Lind made the case that the fees or rents extracted by these interests constitute a kind of “private taxation” and that this is the greatest threat facing the productive economy.

This line of thinking is essentially a Georgist one and it doesn’t sit easily on the tired old left-right spectrum that dominates mainstream political discourse today. Many who identify with the left, worried that growing wealth inequality is leading to complete domination of society by big moneyed interests, denounce “capitalism” and…

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