Politics of Power or People’s Concerns and Issues?

Writing in Social Europe Journal of 10 June 2014 Shayn McCallum an Australian-born resident of Istanbul and an instructor at the Bogazici University there, also currently working on his doctoral thesis on the subject of ‘European Social Democracy’, concludes his article titled ‘Inequality, Freedom And The Politics Of Power’ with the following comment:

‘If those with money and property can purchase political outcomes through lobbying, ensure that their voices are heard more loudly than others through corporate media ownership, and use their economic power to bully and blackmail others through capital flight and tantrums over attempts to introduce measures to protect the interests of workers or boost wages while, conversely, other citizens are forced into precarious jobs with no social protection and no sense of control over any of the factors that determine their lives or the future of their children, then such a society can, in fact, be neither free nor equal and democracy will ultimately be a mere slogan rather than a living reality.’

The starting point of his article is French economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century which, launched a few weeks ago, has become a bestseller and may already have crossed 600 000 copies sold, and rising. Qualified by McCallum as ‘a huge gift’ that has been handed to ‘those of us interested in a better, more socially-just political economy’ he goes on to add that ‘Piketty is telling us nothing we didn’t already know intuitively but he has given us a wealth of data that better enables us to present our case for a better, fairer society in a more convincing way.’

Piketty’s thrust that over the past century or so, developed societies have become more unequal because the rate of rise of income through wealth accumulation by the wealthy has exceeded the rise of income by other citizens, especially those belonging to the lower socio-economic classes, has evoked impassioned responses by fellow economists and social scientists both in support of and against his main thesis, ‘a target for the pedantic counter-arguments of conservatives and a source of defensive counter-counter arguments for progressives.’ These ‘Left-Right data pie-fights,’ have, however, ‘become a mere sideshow for the mass of people who actually have real problems in the societies they live in and limited patience with ideological pugilism.’

Evidence validates that fact that while inequality between countries has been declining, within countries, however, the gap between the have’s and the have not’s has been widening. The rising tide, in other words, does not lift all the boats equally: some of them get to float, but they will obviously never reach the level of the yatchs which can surf to destinations known and unknown, and mostly unreachable. Those who know better talk of the flight of capital…

Across the developed world, there is the phenomenon of the super rich 1% who own almost as much as a majority of their countrymen. Regularly, Forbes Fortune magazine, lists the numbers of rising billionaires – it’s no longer millionaires – in developed (America, England, France, Russia, etc.,) and now developing countries too (China and India among others). This is at a time when increasing millions join the workforce in all countries every year, and despite university level education are unable to find jobs commensurate with their qualifications, and have to settle for less or in jobs outside their field of study. The situation, as is to be expected, is particularly acute among the youth, whose rising unemployment and unemployability is a major concern.

In this context, we have to be concerned here with the boost to university education that is the credo of the authorities. While it is the legitimate and commendable aspiration of every Mauritian citizen to achieve the highest possible level of education, it is equally the responsibility of those who are encouraging this trend to look ahead and prepare the enabling environment and the opportunities for those who come out of the system to find suitable employment. Everybody will want a job where the education and training gained will be put to use – but because this is not likely to happen in all cases, the mindset will have to be conditioned accordingly to cope with a variable period of transition while waiting for the best fit employment.

While encouraging, therefore, the drive to higher education, the authorities must, before granting licences to tertiary institutions to operate, ensure that they have a mechanism to gauge the demands of the market and offer courses accordingly. Otherwise the country will produce hordes of graduates who will simply swell the ranks of the unemployed. If this is the fate awaiting the comparatively smaller number of students who go on to pursue higher studies, one can well imagine the plight of those who are left behind, and here there is an even greater pressure to address their need for gainful employment. Failure to do so will inevitably contribute to the widening of the gap in inequality.

While our ageing leaders are quibbling about political reforms meant to salvage themselves in the first instance, matters of genuine concern to the populace seem to be far away from their minds. If only it could be ideological pugilism that was animating them, debating which model would be best to pitch our social and economic development to a higher level, it would have been more acceptable. Instead, we are being subjected to a fight for individual survival that is being couched in the language of democracy and bla-bla which is nothing but ridiculing the people. The suspension of Parliament – ‘prorogation’ – says more than anything else about any pretense to the democracy that is being peddled, taking us further and further away from the real problems that the country needs to tackle for the sake of its upcoming generation. That ought to be the real focus of attention and not the tamasha that the people are fed up with…


* Published in print edition on 13 June 2014

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