Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
There is a lot to agree with here – the attack on militarism, the scepticism about the nation state, the insistence that, despite appalling problems, all is not lost and that wild accumulation could be tamed. My main reservation is that the new global civil society that Nigel Harris celebrates remains without a transformative perspective.
Harris exaggerates when he writes of a new global civil society, ‘vast, inchoate, constantly changing and creative’. The organisations he mentioned are mostly admirable but, far from being vast, they are – in global terms – tiny, fragmented and often without any real purchase on the accumulation process. While there are a handful of such humanitarian ‘multinationals’ and monitors there are around 40,000 multinational corporations with many millions of employees, billions of semi-captive customers and command of the lion’s share of the world’s resources.
I heartily agree on the need for innovation and for thinking outside the space of the state. The confusion of ‘nationalisation’ with public ownership and the insistent portrayal of the welfare state as a vehicle of national impulses must change.
But the national phase did embody some achievements – the NHS, the US social security programme, pensions in a number of countries. These must be defended from the marketisers and privatisers – as well as being supplemented by new global programmes.
A significant omission from Nigel Harris’s manifesto is any mention of the need to build a new global system of social protection, to finance this by obliging the multinational corporations and banks to contribute as they once contributed to national welfare states and to begin to socialise and democratise the accumulation process.
The improvements in longevity Harris mentions will lead to a steadily ageing population over coming decades. At present there are 560 million older people in the world (over 60 in poor countries or over 65 in richer countries) and the over-80s are the world’s most rapidly expanding age cohort. By 2050 there will be two billion older people and, if nothing is done, the great majority will be immersed in great poverty. At present four fifths of the planet’s adults have no pension coverage at all and little prospect of ever receiving any.
In February 2007, Global Action on Aging organised a briefing session at the UN building in New York for the Economic and Social Commission, at which the idea was floated of a global pension of a dollar a day. In July the commission published a report showing that even at such a modest level a global pension would have a major impact in reducing world poverty. South Africa, since the downfall of apartheid, has shown the way, becoming one of the few developing states with a universal pension scheme. Indeed the pension has played a vital role in a country where – because of the ravages of Aids – grandparents have often had to step into the parenting role.
While many might agree that a global pension of a dollar a day would be desirable, how could it be financed? The first pensions in advanced countries were set at at a time when those they catered for comprised only 5 per cent or less of the population. Today they are nearly ten 10 per cent and they are on course to become 20 or 25 per cent. The governments in today’s poor countries have many calls on their resources and few sources of income.
I have suggested that a very mild tax on global corporations – set at a level of no more than 2 per cent of global profits or 0.5 per cent of global share transfers – could come up with the $205 billion needed to finance the global pension. In a previous issue of Red Pepper (‘Sharing the burden’, March 2007). I discussed potential new taxes. The most suitable would be a requirement on corporations to issue new shares equivalent to 2 per cent of their profits each year. But an acceptable substitute would be a 0.5 per cent tax on the buying and selling of shares.
It might be thought that any idea of global taxes is hopelessly utopian. But 120 years ago national tax regimes were very modest and no country had a state pension. Today taxes take 40 per cent or more of GDP and there are a multitude of social programmes that would have been seen as utopian by the Victorians. Is one dollar a day for the elderly really such an outrageous demand?
Notwithstanding tax havens, governments still raise serious sums from corporate taxation. They know that they could raise more by tackling the havens and the OECD has cautiously begun to tighten regulation. But it is not easy to agree on who should benefit. A global profits tax paid to a global fund network for a universal old age pension would surely be a deserving candidate as beneficiary. The money or securities could be distributed to roughly a thousand regional funds throughout the world. The pensions would be paid directly in cash to those who qualified. It would not be appropriate to explain this further here but I go into further details in ‘A global pension plan’ (New Left Review, Sept/Oct 2007).
The global pension could be paid directly to many of the world’s poorest by a network of regional funds. These would assist poorer communities to manage funds efficiently with a mixture of expert and local recruitment. South Africa has pioneered some of the necessary apparatus with mobile ATM machines activated by a finger print device.
The regional fund network would have its own staff and be accountable to local communities. The regional fund would not be able to vary the size of the pension, but would receive needed resources commensurate with their demographic profile and would have some scope for investing revenue from their holdings of securities. They would also be able to vote the shares they held at company AGMs. The role of the local funds could be compared to Fairtrade schemes, which often use the extra revenue from a premium price to build locally-controlled social funds.
Of course this is just an example designed to show how global civil society might be empowered to really take on the corporations that run the world. The strategies we need should propose specific measures for redistributing and socialising capital or they will flounder and fail.
Robin Blackburn is author of Age Shock: How Finance is Failing Us, (Verso, £19.99). He has set out ‘A global pension plan‘ in New Left Review (No 47, Sept/Oct 2007)
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook