The fourth edition of State of Power 2015 Report, coinciding with the international meeting in Switzerland of what Susan George calls “the Davos class”. This series seeks to examine different dimensions of power, unmask the key holders of power in our globalised world, and identify sources of transformative counter-power.
Chapters of State of Power 2015 Report:
a. The new global corporate law
The global economic crisis that unfolded in 2009 was significant not just for the questions it raised over the power of big finance, but also for the attention it drew to other crises facing our planet – notably food, ecology and care work. What has been given less attention is the national and international legal systems that underpin these crises and the way legislation has been skewed in favour of capital and transnational corporations.
b. Political capture by the financial industry
Since the 2007 outbreak of the financial crisis the visible political dominance of the financial industry has become an issue of major concern for civil society. This essay unpacks the precise sources and diverse mechanisms of financial political power within the contemporary global economy. It illustrates this power over the policy-making process with specific reference to the case of the European Financial Transaction Tax, a policy which has been pursued by European authorities since 2009. This initiative is currently poised for defeat by the financial industry however, because of extensive watering down of the original proposal. The failure of this policy initiative is not an isolated event but indicative of a broader trend of successive political victories for the industry since the crisis.
c. The true stakes of internet governance
Governance of the Internet is currently in turmoil, to some extent nationally, but to a greater extent in the international arena where the US and its allies work to prevent many of its crucial aspects from being meaningfully discussed in multilateral forums, notably at the UN. This situation has significant impacts on social justice and economic equity, which will only increase in the future.
d. Gambling on hunger and climate change
Due to far-reaching national and international efforts to deregulate and liberalise global financial markets since the 1960s, the global financial system today wields enormous power over national governments, local communities and families. Financial speculation influences prices in markets for basic goods such as food and energy. Debt undermines the well-being and autonomy of consumers, farmers, students and governments. A handful of big banks hold entire economies hostage to their needs and appetites, particularly during times of economic crisis.
e. Mexico: Challenging drug prohibition from below
The recent forced disappearance of 43 students in Iguala increased the international public recognition of uncertain, inscrutable and complex power relations in contemporary Mexico. On 26 September 2014, students of the Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa were stopped and attacked by local police forces. Six of them were killed during the confrontation and 43 more were arrested and handed over to a local organized crime cell by the police force under the instruction of the mayor. One of the missing has been proven dead and the remaining 42 are also feared dead but there is no scientific proof to confirm it.
f. Contesting big mining from Canada to Mozambique
During a visit to Mozambique in September 2014, I witnessed a protest against Brazilian mining giant, Vale. Villagers from Bagamoyo, adjacent to Vale’s coal mine, were fighting construction of a chain metal fence through their community. Vale claimed it was fencing off “unoccupied land” leased from the Mozambican government. If a “trespasser” had an accident, Vale would be liable!
g. Organising workers’ counter-power in Italy and Greece
Trade unions in Southern European’s austerity-ridden countries have been considerably weakened by the last six years of crisis. Labour’s loss of power in countries such as Greece and Italy is significant. First of all, the tri-partite systems of collective bargaining (state, employers, unions) that characterised the 1990s and early 2000s in both countries collapsed. Neither state nor employers have shown any concrete willingness to re-establish some sort of collective bargaining mechanisms. Governments in austerity-ridden countries do not seem to need unions anymore.
h. How economics bolstered power by obscuring it
Conventional economics has constructed a powerful ideological system that reinforces the power of capital by providing much of the intellectual firepower of neoliberalism, which has been successful in imposing destructive austerity around the world. Every reasonable demand made by grassroots social forces, such as calling for environmental protection or better working conditions, will be met by a regiment of dogmatic economists, standing ready to charge that such demands are evidence of ignorance of economics, because popular demands would undermine the presumed efficiency of markets. Naturally, the media and corporate funded think tanks will give the economists a powerful megaphone, typically capable of drowning out the messages of the social movements. This paper is written in the hope that historical and contemporary examples of economists’ unwarranted support of corporate power might contribute to diminishing the destructive influence of economics in curtailing the progress of social movements.