Stratospheric economics can be a crude and blunt instrument. In particular, crude:
PIGS (also PIIGS) is an acronym used by international bond analysts, academics, and the economic press that refers to the economies of Portugal, Ireland and/or Italy, Greece, and Spain – often in regard to matters relating to sovereign debt markets. Some news and economic organisations have limited or banned its use due to criticism regarding perceived offensive connotations.
More background thus:
With the onset of the financial crisis of 2007–2008 several variations appeared. When rendered as “PIIGS” some commentators added the additional “i” for comparative purposes to include Ireland from the 2008–2013 Irish financial crisis, with alternatively the “I” which originally referred to Italy occasionally becoming an interchangeable reference to Ireland by some during this period.
Additional permutations gained prominence during the 2009 United Kingdom bank rescue package period and into the European sovereign-debt crisis as some commentators used numerous variations such as PIIGGS which includes the United Kingdom (as Great Britain).
Such acronyms – and their casual usage – clearly indicate a degree of casually unhappy prejudice. And the current difficulties surrounding the economies of Greece, Italy, Spain and most recently Cyprus indicate that it’s going to be easy for careless voices to continue justifying their unwholesome belief systems for quite a while yet.
Under such an umbrella of attitudes, we might consider the idea that Europe is slowly being “Latin-Americanised” as utterly negative and critical. But Teivo Teivainen (more here) sees the situation – and the implications of the language used – in a quite different way. In his short paper, “Desde la crisis hacia transformaciones democráticas”, published this month in Spanish (you can find the .pdf itself here – the paper from page 20 onwards), he describes a series of fairly recent quasi-colonial attitudes which have underpinned Europe’s attitude to South America, and defined the direction in which learning and teaching should take place. Essentially: the world has everything to learn from Europe, Europe little to learn from the world.
This is a felicitous definition and understanding of where much of economic Europe sees itself – in particular because he provides the evidence to show it is not true. Whilst we currently see the Europe of German financial power apparently looking to kick Cyprus into orbit, and into the embrace of the waiting Russian bear, we realise just how commonplace these prejudices are: even within Europe, the North now sees the South as irresponsible wastrels, and whilst this may be true about the leaders and their often corrupting behaviours (see Spain, their banks, their mortgage laws and so on), the blame can hardly be placed at the feet of the people themselves.
What’s clear, then, is that the European experience of engagement with economic matters is extremely rarefied. There are experts who make and shake and there are ordinary citizens who are made and shaken. And in the ever-increasing circles of crisis which begin to assail us all, there seems little we can do to rescue ourselves from the consequences of acts which the rich and wealthy are in the process of benefiting from, even as the European economies begin to stumble and stutter for everyone else.
So what lessons does Teivainen offer us? As he points out in his introduction:
[...] Hoy estamos viendo en Europa que nos pasa algo que los latinoamericanos pueden conocer mejor que nosotros. Ello nos abre a la posibilidad de aprender del Sur de una nueva manera.
[...] Today, in the Europe which is happening to us, we are living something which Latin-Americans may know better than ourselves. This opens up the opportunity to learn from the South in a different way.
And as he goes on to indicate of the pedagogical process which many South American movements and institutions have engaged in:
Un aspecto fundamental en este proceso pedagógico es que los movimientos y algunos gobiernos latinoamericanos están llamando nuestra atención sobre aspectos políticos de lo económico. Al buscar soluciones que enfatizan la participación popular en temas tradicionalmente concebidos como económicos, están haciendo un gran servicio al imaginario de proyectos democráticos en otras partes del mundo.1
A fundamental aspect of this pedagogical process is that movements and some Latin-American governments are drawing our attention to the political implications of economic matters. As they look for solutions which underline popular participation in subjects traditionally understood to be economic, they are providing a grand service to the collective imagination of democratic projects in other parts of the world.
In essence, the learning process has come full circle. The skills for dealing with the consequences of an economic deficit – which quite fairly can be argued is as a result of a weighty democratic deficit in both the North and South of Europe (after all, it doesn’t seem to make much difference if you speak English, French or German – on the watch of everyone, the bankers have ultimately got away with financial murder, and have created in the people real hardship) – are no longer ours to proudly give away to the rest of the world. Europe, and here I include the United Kingdom, is no longer the place where the technical, never mind the moral, high ground can be found.
Yes. It is true. We prevented centuries of internecine conflict with the cushion of comfort which the European Union became – but at what cost now as Russia’s Gazprom and Merkel’s Germany appear to both want the carving up of supposedly small sovereign states?
There must, of course, be better ways – and it is Teivainen’s thesis that they already may exist in other parts of the world. As I suggested a few posts ago, we may yet be able to save the NHS’s principles by looking to the experience of health service provision in the Third World. So why not understand a more participatory way of agreeing on and defining the economic experience and infrastructures? What not apply the same ideas to the fundamentals of our societies?
It would be a delicious irony indeed if from colonial times and places past we found the First World’s future salvation.
I’ve already made some slow and uncertain steps in this direction. With my first Revolution ’13 post not long ago, I suggested we recover the idea of disruptive revolution by asserting it could be both efficient and bloodless at the same time (perhaps, in fact, the former would even require the latter). And only yesterday, this project came to my attention:
MANIFESTO FOR DEMOCRACY AND SUSTAINABILITY
We cherish sustainability: meeting the needs of people now without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. But today, human activities have exceeded the earth’s natural limits. As a species we have created great inequalities and torn resources away from those yet to be born.
We cherish democracy: the rule of the people, by the people, and for the people. But democracy is undermined by decision-making that is democratic in name only. It is threatened by conflict, apathy, inequality, manipulation and corruption. It is failing to deliver sustainability.
Together, if we take immediate action, we have the power to transform democracy so that it is an engine for sustainability. This Manifesto for Democracy and Sustainability has been developed to guide a global movement for change. As its signatories, we confirm that we want to be part of this movement. What we create together will be part of our bequest to future generations.
- Sustainability needs flourishing democracy
- Take the long view
- Sustainability must be a central goal of governments everywhere
- Education must link citizenship and sustainability
- Knowledge must be inclusive
- Nothing about us without us
So good things are happening out there. People, ordinary citizens, are finally beginning to see for themselves – in the light of the destruction by ineffective elites of social and economic support networks various – that democratic deficits are not only undemocratic but economically and socially inefficient.
And so we come back to Peter Levine’s two-fold definition of “good democracy”:
- Inclusive, yes.
- But efficient, too.
So why not let the Latin-American learning paths lead their way? For by so doing, we may also one day understand – from those best placed, wherever they find themselves – how to turn grave crisis into the serious opportunities we surely all agree we will need.