Publications

From political slavery to social friendship

Gustavo Beliz

President of the Economic and Social Council of Argentina
Member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences

 

“Politics today often takes forms that hinder progress towards a different world… Recognizing that all people are our brothers and sisters, and seeking forms of social friendship that include everyone, is not merely utopian”.

Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti

 

Abstract

This article analyzes different forms of policy enslavement that hinder its impact and effectiveness, and asks how to unleash its transformative potential. It focuses on five specific problems linked to extreme polarization, financial oppression, corruption, environmental damage and technocracy in technological innovation. In turn, it proposes ways to advance in a political practice that corrects these deviations and leads to social friendship through the implementation of institutions that promote dialogue, solidarity finance, transparency, following the principles of an integral ecology, and supporting innovation for social inclusion. On this path, multilateralism, understood as an instance for encouraging the globalization of solidarity, has a fundamental role in crucial aspects such as a debt relief for the poorest countries, the fight against tax havens or the democratic distribution of Covid vaccines against throughout the planet. 

 

I. The Five New Forms of Political Slavery

Market freedom, reduced to freedom to produce and consume as proposed by neoliberalism, does not guarantee human freedom or social peace. Markets, like robots, do not understand ethics. They are programmed to optimize monetary benefits. It is up to us to create the appropriate code, the institutional platform for them to function on solid, transparent and equitable bases.

This construction is always political. However, when we do not work for a common project, it is reduced to fleeting marketing recipes aimed at the destruction of a competitor, considered an enemy.[1]

Without real, generous, inclusive and transformative political action, new forms of slavery and dehumanization gain ground: poverty, exclusion, lack of access to education and job opportunities.[2]

Just as economic relations can move from voluntary exchange to oppression, political practice is flawed by new forms of slavery that are expressed mainly in five aspects.

1. The slavery of polarization. Modern democracies are at risk due to the lack of dialogue and the absence of institutional mechanisms for the resolution of conflicts and controversies. Without these places to meet in our differences, confrontation is exacerbated and society becomes polarized, taking one side or the other as if there were nothing but emptiness in the middle. We become prisoners of a destructive dialectic, where our own ontological existence becomes meaningful only in opposition.

The media fame enhances polarization through the exaltation of frivolity or the pauperization of the debate. Information is manipulated to highlight discord with the sole purpose of gaining attention. Speeches cease to be a call for dialogue and become deafening noises of confrontation, full of irony, sarcasm and blame-sharing. Conversation becomes toxic, it is subsumed in cross shouting and the ears, the natural gateway for ideas, are closed.

Social networks can be a useful resource if they are used in moderation and contribute to bringing together what is distant. Their positive use, by multiplying connections, soothes the organic need for the other. However, they can be an enslaving and mediatic web woven with our own vanity. The weak links of extreme digitalization favor individualism and polarization, which tends to grow with poor ego management and “what ought to be a window on the world becomes a showcase for exhibiting personal narcissism”.[3]

2. The slavery of oppressive financial networks. Financial mechanisms typical of a technocracy prevent the economy from being enlightened by other values. The financialization of the global economy offers a fictitious growth, an ephemeral profitability for the great majorities based on the indebtedness of developing countries, on speculation, on short-term exploitation. When it takes the reins of national economic systems, it produces debt crises, of countries, companies and families, dynamiting confidence and investment in productive activities that generate genuine and sustainable employment.

When politics is in thrall to these financial networks, it loses its liberating purpose and becomes just another tool to discipline the social discontent that inevitably follows deceit and plunder. States are weakened in the balance of power with private groups whose stock market value is equivalent to the GDP of medium-sized countries or even exceeds it.

Extreme liberalism only spills poverty, while concentrating wealth in a smaller and smaller percentage of the population, inequality and violence grow, and the social, urban and productive fabric deteriorates. With the ecosystem of citizen protection in ruins, the law of the jungle reigns and the weakest always suffer.

3. The slavery of different forms of corruption. There are criminal practices that can be anchored in politics. In the public works sector alone, losses, including bribes, inefficiencies and overpricing, are estimated to reach 6% of the global GDP.[4]

No development is possible with corruption. There can be no equity when there is a submission of the public good to the interests of mafias and corporations that could break the mechanisms of competition and the normal functioning of the markets. Almost 13% of businessmen in Latin America consider that they are at a competitive disadvantage against similar firms that pay bribes to obtain government contracts.[5]

Organized crime, human trafficking, money laundering, the use of tax havens: all serious crimes are twice as serious when they coexist with politics, spreading the virus of hopelessness and resignation.

4. The slavery of regressive treatment of the environment. Humanity is facing the challenge of saving the planet from environmental degradation, from the throwaway culture that causes unjust and asymmetrical damage that falls most heavily on the poorest countries.

Latin America’s GDP per capita could fall by up to 30% by the end of the century if the average temperature rises by 3 degrees Celsius. Being highly dependent on its agricultural production, the region is one of the most damaged by climate change in terms of productivity.[6] Latin America is also the most affected in terms of fatalities from natural disasters, accounting for 52.8% of total cases between 2009 and 2018.[7]

Hunger and death are the inevitable results of an environmental policy that is predatory of natural resources. For this reason, people’s environmental awareness has grown, demanding sustainable policy designs from governments that reinforce pollution monitoring and control, in an economy based on the relationship with the environment and the neighbor.

5. The slavery of a technological model unaware of labor inclusion and social justice. Throughout history, the technological revolutions that drive globalization tend to outstrip the capacity of governments to manage their social and institutional consequences.[8] Technological unemployment is not new. What is new is the acceleration of change.

New technologies, such as artificial intelligence, can be a source of great improvements and well-being. But they can also be a source of social injustice if their use is not accompanied by a sense of ethics, of protecting human beings, always fragile, from the abusive powerful machines.

Passivity is not neutral. Inaction leaves us subordinated to a technological model of pure efficiency, an extreme pragmatism, where people are eclipsed by clouds of data, algorithms and economic results.

As if they were shackles, these five aspects enslave political practice and give us a monochromatic version of its true power for change reality.

In order not to fall into hopelessness or conformism, it is essential to rebel against banality. To find the keys, the ways out of each of these five enslaving aspects. 

 

II. The Path to Social Friendship

The transformation we need cannot be a calligraphic revolution consisting of adding and filing documents. It cannot be a revolution of words empty of commitment. It cannot be a revolution of desktops, armchairs and tea adjusted to a comfortable status quo.

We need to go beyond the diagnostic phase and move on to treatment, to glimpse the horizon of friendship behind the chains and move forward with concrete liberating actions against these five political captors.

1. Friendship as social dialogue. The enslaving polarization requires States to create meeting places, to organize agreements and to accompany decisions. This is what we are doing in Argentina with the Economic and Social Council, made up of workers, scientists, businessmen and representatives of civil society which, entrusted by the President of the Nation, I have the honor to preside. Through respectful dialogue, we seek to arrive at better syntheses, to reach the possible shores without drowning in conflicts of interest. We have selected 25 essential topics of the public agenda, in the areas of health, institutional quality, productivity with social cohesion, integral ecology, education and labor. The aim is not to obtain spurious validations, but to design State policies that have the strength of consensus and show an alternative path to polarization.

We need to reinforce self-esteem with popular knowledge, to be close to the humblest, to the social movements, to look for support in people and not in the great mass media or in anonymous followers of an impersonal cyberspace. The challenge is to become the voice of the voiceless, the discarded, the excluded. Viral hate cannot take primacy over edifying words. Instead of feeding it with “likes” in social networks, we must combat our narcissism with reconstructive and regenerative ideas.

2. Friendship expressed in solidarity finance. To escape financial oppression, we have a great opportunity in the G20 and in the new international governance bodies, where the consensus to act in solidarity in the face of external indebtedness, to create a new world financial architecture, is rising. During the Jubilee 2000, St. John Paul II highlighted the need for debt relief for the poorest countries to be complemented by investments in education and health.[9] Today there are also initiatives that we should support, such as the intention to link debt relief to greater commitments in the fight against climate change. Public debt and environmental deterioration compromise the degrees of freedom of future generations, to whom we owe special care and responsibility.

Thus, there is a need to work together to avoid financial practices aimed at emptying and evasion, to consider new instruments of inclusion, such as the universal citizen income, and to link it to the education of the population in the hard and soft skills required for the jobs of the future. Also rethink the teaching of young people in economics and finance so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past and train new generations of economists who prioritize ethical and social aspects in decision making.

3. Friendship as a sincere and transparent relationship. The remedy to the slavery expressed by corruption comes in large doses of transparency. New technologies, open platforms and big data can help illuminate ever-controversial aspects of political campaign finance, public procurement and state investment in infrastructure.

Politics, like finance, should not be a parasitic intermediation but a path of service to the common good. Its mission is none other than to bring more and better public services, infrastructure, security, justice, health and new generation of human rights closer to the people.

Corruption is like the tango, it takes two to dance it, politicians and businessmen. The first step to banish it should always be the transparent election of judges. Without credible and reliable justice, politics gets lost in labyrinths of obscure courts.

4. Friendship in an integral ecology. Proper care for the environment will only be possible through major global agreements, such as the Paris Agreement. We must recompose the role of government in the economy and society, and recover a sense of public purpose, be innovative, think collectively and collaboratively, guiding our actions in missions that are public-private partnerships, where risks are taken together and rewards are shared.[10] To advance in a transition towards clean energies, and to promote the creation of green jobs linked to recycling, reforestation and the implementation of a blue development agenda for the seas.

Our priority mission should be an integral ecology for the care of the environment and people. Nature is the relational good par excellence, it needs all our efforts to regenerate and share.[11] We must take precautions so that post-pandemic growth is green growth that represents a new intergenerational pact of respect and solidarity.

5. Friendship reflected in innovation for inclusion. A digital Bretton Woods can establish a global framework for the use of 4.0 technologies and focus their use on the common good, to turn data into valuable information to build social policies to promote education, women’s empowerment, and jobs of the future, to measure the impact and recalibrate in time if necessary, prioritizing digital literacy programs that provide knowledge for labor inclusion.

It is essential to pay special attention to antitrust, market competition and privacy protection mechanisms. We need governments that promote technological innovation with social impact from their procurement systems. Technology for the common good includes innovation for the fight against hunger, adding value to primary production and increasing the productivity of cooperatives and family farming. 

 

III. Conclusion: Building the Common Project

A regenerative, circular economy, restoring employment and integral development, needs a regenerative policy of values, fraternity, friendship and solidarity.

We must be aware of the enrichment that the sum of visions provokes in us, just as we are aware of the impoverishment that the idea of a single thought means for our minds.

Political slavery leads to poverty, inequity and exclusion. Political friendship, which is its opposite, leads to integral human development. It is not based on relations of power or submission, it is based on relations between equals, where respect and recognition prevail, where the only way to advance is together with others and not leaving them behind.

We have the obligation to promote the culture of encounter. No development strategy can be fruitful if there is no common project. Pluralism is the protective shield against ideological sectarianism. A complex and dynamic reality must be approached from cultural diversity, with an economy of civic and social values, with a redemptive political action.[12]

Multilateralism is key to start down the road to making real differences on three urgent levels. First, within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO), support the initiative promoted by India and South Africa to suspend intellectual property rights on any technology, drug or vaccine against Covid for the duration of the pandemic. This is a clear case where the right to property must be subordinated to the right to life.[13]

Second, to move quickly and decisively with the issuance of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) up to the maximum allowed by current legislation. This injection of liquidity will mean substantial relief for the countries hardest hit by the health crisis, in a necessary globalization of solidarity.[14]

Thirdly, the G20 should recommence the offensive launched in the 2008 crisis against the tax havens that hold nearly a third of global private wealth and generate harmful fiscal effects on public resources.

Francis reminds us that “there is a need for paths of peace to heal open wounds. There is also a need for peacemakers, men and women prepared to work boldly and creatively to initiate processes of healing and renewed encounter”.

Let us be bold in building bridges for dialogue. Let us be creative in imagining the potential of a politics free of its new ties to create a common project.

 

References

1.     Baker, D. (2021), “To Prevent the Resurgence of the Pandemic, Can We Talk About Open-Source Research?”, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), available in https://cepr.net/to-prevent-the-resurgence-of-the-pandemic-can-we-talk-about-open-source-research/

2.     Bruni, L. and Zamagni, S. (2017), Civil Economy, Agenda Publishing.

3.     CAF (2019), “Integrity in public policies: keys to prevent corruption”, Economy and Development Report (RED).

4.     Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) (2019), Natural Disasters 2019. Available at https://cred.be/sites/default/files/adsr_2019.pdf

5.     Donati, Pierpaolo (2020), Transcending Modernity with Relational Thinking. London: Routledge.

6.     Francis (2015), “Not Slaves, but Brothers”, Message of the Holy Father Francis for the celebration of the XLVIII World Day of Peace, January 1, 2015. Available at http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/messages/peace/documents/papa-francesco_20141208_messaggio-xlviii-giornata-mondiale-pace-2015.html

7.     Francis (2019), “We are members one of another. From communities in social networks to human community”. Message of the Holy Father Francis for the 53rd World Day of Social Communications.

8.     Francis (2020), “Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti of the Holy Father Francis on fraternity and social friendship”, Vatican.

9.     IDB (2017), Eco-Integration of Latin America. Idea inspired by Laudato Si’, IDB-INTAL and Ed. Planeta, Buenos Aires.

10.   John Paul II (1999), “Message of the Holy Father to the Group “Jubilee 2000 Debt Campaign", Vatican, available at http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/messages/pont_messages/1999/documents/hf_jp-ii_mes_19990923_jubilee-2000-debt-campaign.html

11.   Matthews, P. (2016). This is why construction is so corrupt, World Economic Forum (WEO). Available at https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/02/why-is-the-construction-industry-so-corrupt-and-what-can-we-do-about-it/

12.   Mazzucato, Mariana (2020), Mission Economy. A moonshot guide to changing capitalism, Allen Lane, UK.

13.   Sachs, Jeffrey (2020), The Ages of Globalization. Geography, Technology, and Institutions, Columbia University Press.

14.   World Bank (2019), Enterprise Surveys Indicators Data, World Bank Group.

15.   Yellen (2021), Secretary of the Treasury Statement, February 25, available in https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/Secretary_Yellen_G20_Letter.pdf

END NOTES

[1] Pope Francis (2020) also points out that “politics is something more noble than posturing, marketing and media spin. These sow nothing but division”.
[2] “Slavery is rooted in a notion of the human person which allows him or her to be treated as an object... They are treated as means to an end”. Pope Francis (2015).
[3] Pope Francis (2019), where he also warns that “the community as a network of solidarity requires mutual listening and dialogue, based on the responsible use of language”.
[4] Matthews (2016) also points out the necessary role that civil society should play in monitoring efficiency in public works investment.
[5] World Bank (2019). Similar data comes from a corruption report for the region by the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF, 2019).
[6] IDB (2017). The book brings together a series of technical studies inspired by Laudato Si’.
[7] The region also concentrated 45% of the economic costs derived from natural disasters such as floods, fires, etc. (CRED, 2019).
[8] Sachs (2020) distinguishes seven distinct waves of technological and institutional change. In them, geographical changes in space and time, with a new role for the horse, the opening of maritime routes or industrial transport, provide us with a guide to address the international governance of new digital technologies.
[9] “Debt relief is, of course, only one aspect of the vaster task of fighting poverty and of ensuring that the citizens of the poorest countries can have a fuller share at the banquet of life… The human person is the most precious resource of any nation or any economy”. Saint John Paul II (1999).
[10] Mazzucato (2020) takes as a model of public-private cooperation the mission to the moon and makes a call to imitate and expand this communion of efforts in socioeconomic objectives.
[11] On the importance of relational goods in modernity see Donati (2020).
[12] Where human values determine the functioning of markets, and not the other way around, in a civil economy with principles of reciprocity and responsibility (Bruni and Zamagni, 2017).
[13] Baker (2021) makes a strong and rational critique of patent monopolies for these extreme cases.
[14] Yellen (2021) recognizes the importance of an SDR issuance by the IMF to address the post-pandemic global recovery.

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