Why the world has gotten worse

First it was the Arabs, then the Greeks, then the Spanish and Portuguese, and after them the Chileans and the Israelis. Last month, full of sound and fury, the English followed. The sequence recalled the explosion that shook the planet decades ago from California to Tokyo, running through Paris, Berlin, Madrid, and Prague, in 1967-68, transforming western societies. In an era of prosperity, youth stood up and demanded their own space.

But today is different. The world has gotten worse. Hope has vanished. For the first time in almost a century, the new generations in Europe will be worse off than their parents. The process of neoliberal globalisation is brutalising entire populations, humiliating citizens, destroying the future of the young. And the financial crisis together with the solutions implemented to end it —austerity forced on the middle class and the least well off—is making the problem worse. Democratic states are reneging on their own values. In circumstances like these, submission and compliance are absurd. What is natural, rather, are indignation and protests, and these will multiply. Meanwhile the level of violence is rising.

Patrimony of the poor

One particularly irritating feature of neoliberalism in Chile and Israel is the privatisation of public services, which amounts to an overt plundering of the patrimony of the poor. The poorest of society could at least count on public schools, public transportation, and public hospitals, free or very inexpensive because of government subsidies. When these are privatised, not only does this take a benefit away from society, which paid for it with its taxes; it confiscates the only patrimony of the poor.

One witness explained the rage of the protesters of Tottenham in this way: “The system continues to favour the rich and crush the poor. It cuts the budget for public services. People are dying in waiting rooms of hospitals after waiting hours and hours for a doctor...

In Chile, for almost three months tens of thousands of students, backed by a significant part of society, are calling for the deprivatisation of education, which was privatised under the neoliberal dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). They are demanding that the right to a free, quality public education be written into the constitution, arguing that at present education is not a tool for social mobility but the opposite, a system that reproduces social inequalities. The result is that without a change, the poor will stay poor for eternity.

In Tel Aviv last August 6, shouting ‘people want social justice,’ some 300,000 people rallied in support of the movement of ‘indignant youth’ demanding a change in the public policies of the neoliberal administration of Benjamin Netanyahu  “When working people do not even make enough to be able to feed themselves, the system doesn’t work,” one student declared. “It is not a problem with certain individuals, it is a problem with the government.”

Since the 1980s and the economic approach of Ronald Reagan, governments in these countries, and especially the European countries weakened by the debt crisis, have behaved the same way: drastic cuts in public spending, especially on social programmes. One of the results was the dramatic jump in youth unemployment, which stands at 21 per cent in the European Union and a staggering 42.8 per cent in Spain. It amounts to the suicide of a society.

Rather than taking any action to address the situation and terrified by recent drops on the stock exchanges, governments are bending over backwards to coddle the markets when what they should do is disarm them and make them submit to strict regulation. How long can we continue to allow financial speculation to set the terms for political representation? What is democracy for, after all? What is the use of voting when the markets dictate what the government should do?

Ironically realistic alternatives are to be found in the very centre of the capitalist model, backed by internationally- recognised economic experts. Two examples: first, the European Central Bank (ECB) should be transformed into a true central bank that can lend money (under specific conditions) to states in the Eurozone in order to finance their spending. At present the ECB is barred from doing so, which forces countries to turn to the markets which charge astronomical interest rates. This is the way the debt crisis began.

A second solution: to stop promising and finally move to impose a tax on financial transactions. A modest tax (0.1 per cent) on all stock and currency trades would bring the EU between 30 and 50 billion euros per year, which would be more than enough to finance public services, restore the welfare state, and offer a bright future for the new generations. In other words, there are viable solutions to the current problem. The question is, where is the political will to act?

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