What this is about – systems and structures

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“Thank you for sending me a copy of your book – I shall waste no time reading it.”

Moses Hades (1900-1966)

I am not a professional social scientist, I am a physicist interested in systems and structures. A very long time ago I stumbled upon a book that looked interesting, a colection of essays called The Political Economy of Development and Underdevelopment edited by Charles K. Wilber and Kenneth P. Jameson in 1992. It was indeed interesting, but for some time my interest stopped there. A few years later, when I was a researcher in the Ion Beam Centre of the Surrey University in England, the opportunity came to enrol as a student in the MA in European Studies course offered by the next door department. I took the course with pleasure while I kept my day job.

I was lucky to have one professor, Noel Parker, who was also interested in systems and structures, and the bibliography of one of his courses included treasures such as Giovanni Arrighi’s The Long Twentieth Century and Jean-Marie Guéhenno’s The End of the Nation-State, which together form the founding stone of what became my dissertation, finished in 1999.

This web site is the result of what I learned then, and while the blog contains scattered thoughts, the main pages are the dissertation as a whole. Not the version presented, which was limited to 30000 words, but the original long version which has around 50000 words:

The Beginning of ‘the Long Twenty-First Century’ in Europe

by Nuno Barradas, submitted to the University of Surrey, Department of Linguistic and International Studies, in part-fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of MA in European Studies, September 1999, © Nuno Barradas

I doubt that very many people will read this, but I hope that those interested in large scale systems and structures will find that is was no waste of time reading it.

 

Pictures by Ana Mandillo

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Moved

This web site was previously located at empirewithoutemperor.sitedeautor.com. There it had a grand tradition of being very little read, and I suspect that most readers were university political science and sociology students who used its content to produce world-class essays. James Dale Davidson did cite it in his book “The Breaking Point: Profit from the Coming Money Cataclysm”, which I find odd. My “Empire without Emperor” thesis is purely academic, taking an analytic outsider’s view, never judging the world forces described, pointing a path for action to change the world, or considering whether such path is desirable or even possible. In one sense that can be seen as profoundly pessimistic, but in best Portuguese fashion, I set out to analyse the world’s workings, not to solve its problems.

Another grand tradition that will be kept here is to have very few or none blog posts (this one an exception). The thesis stands for itself, 18 years after being written, its argument still stands. Arrighi’s competing argument, of an hegemonic transition towards Asia and in particular China, still seems weaker than my idea of a developing new hegemonless hegemony.

Ana Mandillo

Repressive exclusion

In 1999 we argued that the third world is imported back to the old core (Europe, US, Japan) in the new world system, in what we called the internalisation of the core-periphery benefits. More and more europeans and american citizens will belong to the new excluded of “know-nots“. We argued that the way to deal with this would be a mix of repressive exclusion and underfunded inclusion.

For years, social control through mass imprisonment has been a reality in the US, with several % of the population are in jail, on parole, or on probation. Criminalisation of poverty is also well established in the US, with all the consequences of being poor or homeless having been declared to be a crime – sleeping on the street, going through bins, mendicity, even walking in public places without specific aim.

This has now arrived to Europe, foremost in Hungary with the same set of measures (or harsher) as in the US, but also in countries such as Belgium and now Norway, where banning begging has become a reality, with jail sentences to the offenders.

This goes together with privatisation of public space; for instance there are entire neighbourhoods of London and other British cities that are privately run, and access can be legally denied to anyone without further justification.

This is a trend that is only starting, and it is not a trend, it is a change in the way the world works.

Rendimento Básico Incondicional

O Rendimento Básico Incondicional é “uma prestação paga pelo Estado a cada membro da sociedade, independentemente da sua situação financeira, familiar ou profissional, e suficiente para permitir uma vida com dignidade”. Um dos argumentos para o propôr é a automatização crescente, que retira trabalho a milhões de pessoas.

A automatização é uma falsa questão, que já foi colocada no fim do século 19 com a revolução industrial, e não levou a desemprego em massa mas sim a uma reestruturação do emprego.

No entanto, a reestruturação do emprego também se tornou uma falsa questão, porque com o fim das guerras inter-europeias e a construção de uma união na Europa, não há necessidade de manter o emprego dentro de fronteiras nacionais. E a criação de riqueza já não é necessariamente acompanhada da criação de emprego.

A questão é que, para as empresas, não há necessidade de pagar a todos os Europeus os salários que os Europeus esperam, e que precisam para viver na Europa. Muitas tarefas podem ser feitas noutros lados a preço mais baixo – por ex. muitas companhia britânicas deslocalizaram a contabilidade para a Índia. E não há problema nenhum, nos grandes projetos de arquitectura que empregam centenas de arquitectos a fazer cada um uma parte pequena do total, estarem essas “formiguinhas” na China.

Por enquanto sobram, para a Europa (e US), os trabalhos de topo – os coordenadores das equipas; os trabalhos financeiros; os trabalhos de regularização do sistema (advogados, juristas); os trabalhos de desenvolvimento e investigação; os trabalhos de construção e manutenção (engenheiros); os trabalhos de defesa interna e externa (militar, polícia).

E sobram ainda os trabalhos mais ou menos indiferenciados que têm que ser feitos aqui – basicamente, serviços de todo o tipo. Estes últimos sempre foram mal pagos mas estão a piorar, para uma situação de semi-escravatura, porque na Europa há dezenas de milhões de pessoas a concorrer por eles.

A aposta na formação serve para alimentar os tais trabalhos de alto nível que existem, que serão talvez 1/3 a 2/3 da população, dependendo do país (mais por ex. na Holanda, menos por ex. em Portugal). Mas garantidamente há pessoas que não podem nem querem ser arquitectos, juízes, advogados ou financeiros. A formação não vai resolver problemas individuais, nem estruturais, vai apenas permitir aos países mais bem colocados (por ex a Holanda) competirem melhor contra outros países europeus pior colocados (por ex Portugal).

Com a mudança estrutural que já ocorreu no mundo, não há trabalho que chegue na Europa (e US) para todos os Europeus (e americanos). O desemprego e sub-emprego não vai diminuir, vai sim aumentar, aproximando-se do 1/3 a nível europeu.

 

Como se responde a este problema? Uma via é de afirmar que, uma vez que o emprego para todos é doravante uma ilusão, se tem que desligar o rendimento do emprego. As pessoas têm que poder viver mesmo sem estarem empregadas. Daí a ideia de garantir aos cidadãos um rendimento mínimo que lhes permita viver. Pode ser o Rendimento Social de Inserção em Portugal, ou na forma mais extrema o Rendimento Básico Incondicional. Esta é a via mais comum na Europa.

Outra via, mais comum nos US, é a de criminalizar a pobreza – não a pobreza em si, mas todas as consequências que dela advêm, como não ter casa (viver na rua é crime em cada vez mais cidades americanas), pedir, ou até tirar moedas das fontes.

A via europeia será seguida em Portugal de forma suave, à portuguesa – não há dinheiro para o fazer à alemã, em que beneficiários individuais do RSI (Hartz 4) têm direito a uma casa com pelo menos 45 m2 com tudo pago (luz, gás, aquecimento, água) e ainda €364. Se forem duas pessoas a casa já terá que ter pelo menos 60 m2, que é maior do que as casas onde muitas famílias portuguesas vivem. Também não há vontade para o fazer à alemã, com muitas vozes na sociedade a levantarem-se contra dar benefícios a quem aparentemente nada faz para os merecer. ignorando que, para além dos casos individuais, está uma mudança do sistema mundial que dita que não há nem nunca mais poderá haver pleno emprego na Europa.

 

Soluções – não há, este é um processo que já está implementado, mas que terá tendência a continuar. Para além das questões da defesa de marca, não há razão para a investigação e desenvolvimento ser feita na Europa – a China e a Índia estão a formar mais engenheiros e mais cientistas que o resto do mundo junto. Um país pode decidir investir em investigação, precisamente para manter centros de poder, e é o que a Holanda ou a Finlândia fazem. Países com menor poder económico, e onde as elites se apercebem que não têm talento para competir nesses domínios, e como tal ganham mais com um povo ignorante e submisso, não seguirão esse caminho.

Para Portugal como país, não há solução. Ignorantes e submissos seremos. Para quem não o é, já foi dado o aviso, que considero ter sido amigável, de quem apesar de tudo se preocupa genuinamente com os portugueses: quem tiver apenas talento para vender, sem ligações aos poderes, que emigre.

Inheritance of coreness

A study just published by UK’s Institute for Fiscal Studies states that

Those born in the ’60s and ’70s likely to be no better off in retirement than their predecessors – unless they inherit

Inherited wealth looks like the only major factor that could act to make individuals born in the 1960s and 1970s better off in retirement than their predecessors, on average. When compared with those born a decade earlier at the same age, these cohorts: have no higher take-home income; have saved no more of their previous take-home income; are less likely to own a home; probably have lower private pension wealth; and will tend to find that their state pensions replace a smaller proportion of previous earnings.

Central and Northern European citizens are looking at peripheral Europe and thinking austerity was long due, and that the “internal devaluation”, i.e. impoverishment of the population, is well deserved.

Impoverishment, however, is a general consequence of the Empire without Emperor systemic cycle of accumulation that started a few decades ago and is now in full swing. Many German citizens, particularly the young, have relatively low paid jobs – much worse paid than their parents did, and these jobs are temporary or uncertain – contrarily to the permanent positions, effectively for life, that their parents enjoyed. The non geographic periphery is permeating the old core, and we are only seeing the beginning of this process. Nations retain a central role, and stronger nations will afford their citizens a higher degree of protection. But decline is always relative, and the process is generalised.

I dare say that those who will be better off than their predecessors through inherited wealth are also in two categories: the ones that, through their own resources will remain part of the non-geographic core, and the ones who will not have the skills or connections in the network to allow them a core position. The second group will possibly be better off than their predecessors, but the inherited wealth will be spent, and their own children will be worse off than they will. The internalisation of the core-periphery structure is a very fast process for some (for instance the recently unemployed who will never again have a similar job), but it can last more than one generation in some cases.

 

Glossary

Geographic core-periphery structure: in short, developed vs. under-developed world.

Non-geographic core-periphery structure: in short, activities and people in the developed world that do not enjoy, or enjoy in a very limited way, the benefits of coreness.

Empire without Emperor: the new form of organisation of the capitalistic world system.

 

Is the Empire without Emperor good or bad?

A few intelligent people asked this – assuming that something akin to the EwE described in this work is really what is developing in the world, then, is that good or bad? There are a lot of seemingly pessimistic predictions and assessments throughout the dissertation written in 1999 and published in this website. Particularly for “the people”, who “are no longer needed as producers or soldiers, but as consumers. (…) This means that the growing inequality in the core countries can be tolerated, and in fact used, because it leads to a breaking up of labour solidarity. The result is that the core-periphery world-wide division of labour is now ‘permeating’ the world system, that is, its benefits for accumulation of capital are being internalised back in the core.”

The new core-periphery structure entails an impoverishment of fairly large parts of the population of countries that we are used to called “developed” or even “rich”. This follows different paths in different places. In a semi-peripheral country like Portugal, the failure of the colonial project in the 1960s led, after a crisis, to the elites betting on joining Europe. The project was to join the first European division of wealth.  Even with a constant share of country revenue, the elites would improve their lot, together with the general population. This project has now failed, for several reasons that we may discuss later, but that are discussed already by many people in many places. The Portuguese had thought they had joined the first league, but that was on cheap credit, and now an abrupt return to the second European division is inevitable, with a global national impoverishment. The elite recognized this several years ago, and for years the project has become, first in stealth and now openly, to maintain its status by increasing its share of a decreasing cake. The population at large will have to live with a smaller slice of a smaller cake.

Something similar is happening in the first European league, let’s say, Germany. The new generations no longer easily get for-life well-paid jobs. Job security is gone, and the extraordinary salaries for proletarians in big industrial firms are mostly gone for new workers. Young people are making do with a lot less than their parents, and uncertainty is also the rule. Of course, on the whole, the standard of living is very high, and the decline is relative. It is, after all, the top of the first league. But it reminds us that even there things are changing. Since we postulate that the EwE is only the first half of a double cycle, there is much room for further deepening of the non-geographic core-periphery structure in the centre of Europe.

So, “bad” it is: the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and there is nowhere to go to since it’s a global phenomenon.

Or is it? Let’s take a look at the other side – the old geographic periphery, the third world, or that part of the third world that is being able to absorb a bit of the core: Brazil, India, China, even Russia. If what we showed in Table III is even approximately true, the increase of people from those countries belonging to the core may be small in percentage, but it is an enormous amount of people who are being able to improve their situation. For each unemployed worker in Europe, there are 5 “good jobs” appearing in India. A “good job” there would not be “good” in Europe, it may be very long hours for what we would consider very little money, but it means people can buy a Tata, afford a better place to live, and generally improve their standard of living or even escape poverty. 100 million relatively impoverished Europeans means 500 or more million wealthier formerly third world inhabitants.

It used to be, 20 or 30 years ago, that even a stupid, lazy, and incompetent German would have a well-paid job. At the same time, an intelligent, diligent, hard-working Chinese would have little chance of escaping their little village in rural China. This has now changed. The hard-working person can have the privilege to work 16 hours a day 7 days a week, and thus have his diligence rewarded, while the lazy and mean European will have great trouble in escaping poverty. This is clearly good – for the Chinese guy at least, as well as for his bosses who can now exploit their fellow human beings and become bona fide millionaire capitalists.

The world has become, somehow, more democratic. More people around the world can sell their talent to improve their lives. And laziness will be punished in places where it was hitherto rewarded.

Nevertheless, for the old geographic core, this is bad news, since when 1/3 of the population join the non-geographic periphery, the rest of the non-elite population also necessarily suffers a decline in standards.

So, the world has become a more democratic place, we are on the losing side, and this is neither good nor bad, it is as it is.

Empire without Emperor e-book

E book

Title: The Beginning of ‘the Long Twenty-First Century’ in Europe
Author:
Nuno Pessoa Barradas
Copyright:
Nuno Pessoa Barradas, 1999
Creative Commons Licence:
Creative Commons Licence
E-book Production:
Monóculo, 2012
Download e-book: Kindle | Epub

 

 

 

The Beginning of ‘the Long Twenty-First Century’ in Europe – now available as an ebook! Kindle or epub, you can choose your preferred format. This comes in a Creative Commons license, so you are free to share: copy, distribute and transmit the work, as long as you respect the license terms.

Minimum guaranteed income

If the current path leads to a Europe where 2/3 of the population belong to the non-geographic core, that is, people who manage to retain a privileged position in the network, then 1/3 of Europeans will be weak cells, part of the increasing periphery inside the traditional core countries. Inhomogeneity is here to stay.

One question is, what to do with the unfortunate 1/3. One possibility is, quite simply, state repression of the excluded underclass. This can become acceptable and be accepted by the majority as an alternative method of social control. ‘Civilised’ zones can coexist with ‘wild’ ones (banlieus, inner cities), where the standards of application of law are different: in the ‘civilised zones”, the state applies the democratic law, while in the ‘wild zones’ it acts in a repressive, predatorial fashion.

This is what we can call “repressive exclusion”, and it is already a reality in many places, particularly in the US with the “zero tolerance” policing that in fact criminalises poverty.

One other alternative stems from a piece of seemingly twisted logic: if jobs for everyone are a thing of the past, and if without a job you don’t have an income once the unemployment benefits have ended, then let’s cut off the link between work and money. So far, to have an income depended on having a job. If jobs are structuraly gone for ever, and people still have to live, then let’s give them money even if they don’t do anything.

This is the main idea behind minimum guaranteed income schemes. It is a revolutionary concept, and the very few countries that did adopt them, like Portugal, were at the forefront of recognising the new world system, and adapting to it.

The pros are clear: minimise the social problems due to the new core-periphery structure, keep social violence and crime within bounds, allow the new excluded to lead a dignified life.

The criticisms all relate to moral hazard, and the worst opposition has come from the people who are on the borderline between inclusion and exclusion: poor enough to struggle, too rich to qualify for benefits. Unfortunately, these schemes have drawn enough public hate, that it is likely that they will remain underfunded.