Hervé Juvin: A quest for survival; about the fourth world, or the comeback of politics
International Conference: «Financial Capitalism and its Alternatives for the 21th Century: Contributions on the 4th Economical Theory» the capital city of Moldova, Chișinău, on 15th-16th December.
What is the world we are coming in? What is the world we are committed to live in?
The organizers of this meeting are right when they set up our subject; the fourth economy. I’m not so sure they are right if they want us to limit our scope to the current economic problems only.
My answer will be; the world driven by the economy is the old world. We are not only watching the miserable failure of the Bretton Woods institutions and the liberal order from the West. Not only the collapse of globalized finance and interconnected markets, the collapse of the American led system. We are the witnesses of the end of the economy as we knew it. You say; economy? Say politics, stupid!
To put it frankly; the fourth economy is not about the economy, it’s mostly about politics, about “we, the people”, against “ego, me, myself inc.”, and also about spirituality. The encyclical letter from Pope Francis, “Laudato si”, is may be the most important political text of the decade. It’s mainly about what we call: ”human ecology”. And it’s also about the economy. Because it is about survival.
We left the agrarian economy sometimes in the last century, at a moment when the industrial age was at its apex. Then, we softly switch to the financial and information economy we are more or less embedded in. Let me take an example of this. I began my professional activity at a time where an aviation company compared the number of the flights it flew and the number of customers it have had in a year; where two carmakers compared the size of their factories, the number of their employees and the cars they produced. Nowadays, they just compare Ebitda and ROE; their jobs are no more about customers or products, just about money. Just make money, at any costs. Do they even know what they employees produce?
What is the next big thing? Don’t dream about biotechs, nanotechs, Artificial Intelligence, etc. All this stuff is good for the Davos guys, and for those who developed such a faith in technology that they believe technology can cure all the problems technology has created and still creates on a wide scale.
And there is a lot to come! Just expect as a nightmare the impact of growing inequalities; not only poverty, but the expulsion from nature of growing number of people, spending the greatest share of their time in front of a screen, obsessed with the Internet, and with no access to nature at any price – sand dunes, forests, rivers, and the song of birds becoming the privilege of the very rich, the only ones to keep a direct and unlimited access to nature.
1 - What is the next big thing?
Our current condition is shaped by two powerful trends; a mass extinction of diversity, both natural and cultural; and the coming of the economy as the true nature of human beings – the totalitarianism of the ego.
We are close to the massive understanding that both constitute the biggest threat ever against the human survival, and both call for the consecutive run for life. The fact is that this threat comes directly from what we are told to celebrate the most: development, growth, technology, free trade, … We cherish deeply the very cause of our demise, we love what brings us to the verge of extinction…
Let me have few words about each issue.
You read a lot of things about the mass extinction of insects, of big mammals, etc. In fact, there are more than one hundred different species of chicken in the wild; 97 % of the industrialized farms raise only three species of chicken. More than ten thousand different species of vegetables were consumed a century ago, according to the FAO; the agro-industry has reduced this diversity to less than 60, for 90 % of its commercial products. And the area occupied by the agro-industry is three times what it was twenty years ago, but one-third of the fertile soil are overexploited and close to desertification, according to a report from the FAO recently released in Ordos, China. But there is more on the human side. Forty years ago, more than 8000 different languages still have a community of speakers in the world; nowadays, 7000 have no more than one or two speakers, and will soon disappear with them. The number of human languages was divided near ten times in half a century, and every language lost is a burning reading room! From housing to agroindustry, from social patterns to indigenous cultures, from local gastronomy to processed food, the living treasure of human diversity is on the verge to collapse; we must know that diversity between species as well as between human communities is the key factor for survival. And this crucial asset is at stake.
The powerful trend behind the collapse of natural and human diversity is the coming of the economy as the true human nature, and as a religious faith as well. What we call the economy is the explosive association between an extractive economy, and an economy of greed on behalf of individual human rights. It relies near entirely on two assumptions.
First, the natural resources are in unlimited supply. And they are for free; the price for natural resources is only the price for their extraction, transport and packaging. Marketing also counts; just to put in the dreams of billions of people brands and products they have never dreamed of and they definitely don’t need. These assumptions aimed to give man the power of God; an unlimited, unrivalled and unparalleled power on any creature, and on the planet as well. For human being unchained, there is no constraints from nature or from God; he is his own creator, and when and where there are limits, there are just problems to solve.
For the sovereign individual, as the human rights’ new religion has it, the religious faith itself is no more than a problem to solve. But this assumption is false, and we know it. We already pay for resources nobody never dreamed to pay for; what is the market of carbon emission, if not the market of clean air ? We already fear the sickness in the water, in the earth, in too many forms of life. And some king of fear factor is playing behind the scene, fear for climate change, fear for diseases, fear for shorter life expectancy, and, what is more, fear for life itself – fear from the outside world, the Rest, this world the West understands no more, and considers just as another problem to solve. If you don’t want to be an American as everybody wants to be, you have a problem. A big problem, yes.
The second assumption is that any human society all around the world is looking for development. That also is a lie. In fact, most of the indigenous communities and religious faiths are organized against development; they have no place for such a thing in their community. Near my place, in western coast of Madagascar, they actually burn the house of anybody going to be rich, to keep him inside the community. They understand very well the way money is the great divide between human beings, and the market economy, the end of the commons. The fact is not that they are unable to develop themselves; the truth is that, as a community, they refuse the individualism linked with economic development, they prefer their community to the limitless right for anybody to break with it and with nature itself. The sentence they prefer is: “ better a touch of fihavanana (the collective well-being) than a ton of gold”.
For the sake of growth, what we call development is the breaking up of these communities against their will, and the end of their collective wellbeing for the false promises of individual accomplishment. Under the false flag of freedom, for the sake of trade and money, Westerners did that many times, from Commodore Peary’s break up of Japan, to the miserable Opium Wars against China, to the criminal war against Philippines or South America’s nationalist governments, to the criminal operations of the Gates’ Foundation introducing GMO’s in poor African countries and reducing peasant to slavery, or the great project for electrification of Africa, opening the door to the new colonization of land, crops, forests, and of the bounty of biodiversity, for the big business.
And what matters more is the destruction of the symbols of the Rest, their sacred things, and ultimately their faith – the factory of moral destitution; making them ashamed of who they are. From Africa to South America or from South East Asia to Russia, indigenous people know very well that everything is not for sale; you can’t exchange some acres of rain forest for some acres of tundra, you can’t exchange the last white rhino for shares in conservation parks. And they fear that limitless greed provokes wars for resources; what is the invasion of Irak, except a war for oil, the civil war in Syria, except a war for water, what is the killing of Saddam Hussein, of Muammar Kadhafi, the bombing of a factory of pharmaceutical products in Sudan, and so many similar terror attacks, except a desperate attempt to control natural resources, life itself, and maintain the ability of the US to never meet the bill of their unsustainable debt?
We have a lot to learn from indigenous communities. We, the people of European Nations, are also indigenous people, on our land, in our countries, with our traditions, our faith, our common goods we fought for so many times, and we are still able to fight for. And we don’t have a lot of time to do so.
2 - The political collapse of the individualism
The current situation is of great consequences on the economy itself but it concerns mainly what we call politics. We have to reinvent the very meaning of it; the collective freedom of human societies to shape their destiny. And we have to reinvent the way politics are reigning in the economy; the way the economy is a tool of our societies, not the other way. Karl Polanyi wrote some definitive things about it.
The post democratic system of the big business in charge of our dreams, jobs and lives relies mainly on the free pursuit of unlimited greed by ego - the sovereign individual. The basic idea is that man is just an unlimited freedom which he creates for himself, and that he has a due right to an unlimited use of the world. Don’t make a mistake! This system is not weak, despite any appearances. This system is very powerful, but under two conditions: as far as the vast majority of citizens believe they are true insiders, they are global winners from the system, and also, as far as natural resources allows it to promise unlimited growth to anyone. This is the government of homo oeconomicus by its unlimited desires; the government for the big business under the smiling face of democracy.
This system has colonized our minds, our dreams, our imaginations; its main achievement is to have cut us from the outside world. We are actually blinded to alterity, the West ignores the Rest, and you know the first symptom of an addiction to the Internet? The inability to recognize human faces between friends and family’s members!
Saying that, we are close to the big hidden secret behind the scene; we are facing the end of the liberal systems as we knew them.
These liberal systems don’t rely so much on collective faith in the Constitution, the Nation or even the ruling party. They rely only on the free greed and unlimited cupidity allowed to each individual. Not only allowed; prescribed. All the religious, social and political systems before us put a great deal of attention to limit, to refrain the desire for pleasure, for wealth, for goods, or to substitute spiritual goods to them; we are living in the first political and social system based on absolute and complete liberation of greed and cupidity. Have a look at our commercial schools and MBA; we have made a model of them as schools for cynicism and moral blindness! And don’t make a mistake, this system is incredibly powerful! The system of individual greed won against totalitarianism, it won against great religions, traditions and even nationalisms.
The invisible link created between individuals on nothing more than the promise of unlimited quest for money, goods and pleasure, is far stronger than the links coming from outside, superior authorities, God, the Emperor, the King or the political revolution; they came from above, the individual revolution came from inside. Greed inside, that’s the powerful engine of individual liberalism! In fact, the revolution of the individual is the main political drive of the last century. And is the winner against fascism, Nazism, and ultimately the Soviet Union itself.
The secret to share between us is that the game is over. The very and only conditions to the viability of the system of greed was the unlimited supply of natural resources, and the renewal of the living systems, on one side; and the sharing of is benefits between all citizens on the other side. The carbon economy has actually shaped democracy. The unlimited supply of natural resources has shaped human rights as the sovereign individual’s rights. Unlimited rights call for unlimited supply.
We know they are close to collapse.
The collapse will come not only from the extent of poverty, but by the fact the vast majority of western citizens will be more and more to be excluded from any form of benefits of the system, since the end of the great fear of communism and the end of the Soviet Union – the end of sharing capitalism. Capitalism relies no more on good wages regularly increasing; it more and more relies on prisons and police. And the collapse will come not only from the climate change, but from the awful consequences of chemicals, pesticides and pharmacy on soil, meat, and ultimately on human wealth. Not only from the poisoning of fresh water, of processed food and urban atmosphere, but also from extreme events threatening all these towns on the sea side, and also from amounts of refugees never seen before – by the dozens of millions to come from Asia and Africa.
The fear factor follows closely the deception think. And both are politically arms of mass destruction for the West.
This defines the political moment we live now in Western countries. The shift from individuals unified by their desire of wealth, to communities united by the fight for survival is a moment both for great expectations and great risks. It is the hidden dimension behind Brexit, behind the Donald Trump’s victory, not so surprising after all, and behind so many political booms and bursts to come! And it could be the best of times, as well as the worst of times. Who knows, at a moment where China announces that the coming of the ecological civilization should take place at the heart of the Chinese dream?
The economy of course will reflect the big picture. In fact, it is already in facts and figures. The logistic moment we live is the dramatic increase in transportation costs, and the new localism it calls for. The entrepreneurial moment we live is the collapse of the globalized firm, and the unlimited search for energy it asked for; the SME’s are the only one to create jobs and to participate truly into the community by local procurement, local hiring, cultural integration and local commitment. And the industrial moment we live is the shift from human labor to robotic production, what means that everywhere in the world, production’s costs are about to be equal; what means that cheap labor or slavery will lose their pricing power. By the way, the global firm will lose its competitive advantage. Localism and SME’s are the new big things in countries where robots will pay taxes! But the moment we live is also mainly the moment where earth comes to be not so friendly to human beings. After two centuries of industrial and chemical aggressions, nature is awake. Nobody will survive the coming collapse alone. And don’t dream; you can’t put money in the tank of your car, no more eat your gold.
This is why we are at the end of the sovereign individual, and the market society. This is the end for ego, me, myself, my only friend. We are already at the beginning of a new political era, the era of survival.
The second issue at stake is the return of the commons. The second part of the great Chapter of Freedom, coming from the 14th century’s England, the Chapter of the Forests, is entirely dedicated to ensure the safety of the commons, as a fundamental right of communities. The commons help the poor to meet their basic needs, far better than any public assistance or private charity. The commons give any member of the community which protect them, free access to their use for personal needs, but no access for commercial or industrial use. It’s a path for dignity and commitment.
Common goods, or the commons, don’t fit well with free trade, free flows of capital, mass privatizations, and the basic assumption that everything is for sale; land, fresh water, the air, and human beings as well. In fact, free trade and global markets are the worst enemies of the commons. The great opening of the last communities living on their self is a sentence to death. Welcome to the reinvention of slavery by those apostles of mass migrations and open borders! I have no doubt about that; a great deal of what we call “development” and “international aid” will be considered soon as a crime against humanity – the collapse of common goods for the sake of the globalized companies and private interests. And the “no borders” movement as well will be looked at as the subtle way to use forced labor and hire slaves with double benefit; first, doing good for the feeling of being of a superior moral quality, second, doing good for the ROE.
The global society based on the economy as our human nature destroys the commons at an incredible pace. Not only because it destroys borders that protected them; because it sets free trade above communities, religions and sacred things. And the global market’s model where everything is for sale actually substitutes the expulsion of the commons to the poverty, for a growing part of the world’s population. Free access to nature will be soon denied to a majority of people; from the vegetables or the meat they eat to the game they play or the leisure they share, from the seeds they rely on to the children they want, all is processed, all is under the law of the best return for the capital – and at the end of the day, human life itself is to be a product of the industry.
Indigenous communities, from tribes in South America to environmental associations in France or Germany as well are the only ones who tries to protect their commons, and sometimes fight heavily to save them against industrial projects or massive investments. They will have to fight these so-called ”commercial agreements” whose the only purpose is to protect, not the investment itself, but the expected return of benefits ! Any deep analysis of the conflict between the Ecuador and Canadian gold mining companies, or Guatemala and Bolivia against US industrial companies, reveals this confusing situation; the current explosion of capital, best known as “quantitative easing”, is creating a growing pressure on natural resources. The monetary system is emitting blank checks in unlimited supply, and it is up to nature to meet the bill! This is why the next step is the final mobilization of nature for the sake of the system of the debt; not a piece of land, or a sip of water, not a fish in deep ocean or a tree in the tropical forest will escape the industry – their destruction for money.
The return of the commons is one of the main and only conditions of our survival.
What does it mean? Most of us in Europe are somewhere indigenous people. We know where we came from, and we know what we belong to. What we care the most is to say “we”, with trust, with faith, with friendship. The commons are the place where everybody says “we”. It is the place where there is no place for “me”. And the basics are strong for the near future. Resources not for sale. Resources shared by the community, not for trade or industry at any price. Resources out of the reach of traders or bankers. No free trade, no marketplace, no pricing power on the commons. The seeds, the soil, the fresh water, the air, the human birth and the human lives as well are not for sale, they are not the way to maximize the return on capital! Nature itself will take care of our common goods, and will give us far more than any investment fund, just if we respect it, just if we let it play, just if we let it its ground. This is the greatest lesson from ecology, the agroforestry and the biotech agriculture. Just have to belong; just have to share an identity; just have to accept limits. Here is the coming of identity politics. Here is the demise of the economy as we know it. All these issues are deeply political, and they call for a return to power of any political community on itself – not the demise of the community for the sake of me, the sovereign individual!
3 – What’s next?
We are at the end of the liberal economics as we know them, and by the time, we are at the end of the individual greed as a powerful tool of political order. What is to come? And what must we do?
After the collapse of the economy as a faith, and the collapse of global market as witchery, the first need is spiritual. I don’t say religious. But we need to recognize the sacred dimension of life, of every forms of life, we need to share symbols of our common destiny and collective will, and we need a revival of the community as far more than the sum of individuals – the magic of “We, the people” is yet to be reinvented. This could be the more useful gift from the European union to the outside world; you can’t build a political community on the market, money, growth, or individual rights. You need more. Something different. Something close to faith, symbols, and brotherhood. Something like this sacred thing we lose, and they got.
The very condition for the reassessment of commons goods is the wide recognition that everything is not for sale, because there are things for sale, there are things to transmit, and there are things to be given or shared – and these are sacred things where a community puts its trust and by what it expresses its difference. Of course, these things are sacred. Of course, these things have no substitute in money, they are not negotiable nor commensurable. This is the very definition of sacrality, and we share an urgent need to redefine what in nature, what in our countries, societies and at home, is not for sale, because it is the main part of our human being.
It’s not time to develop proposals about our issues. I will just emphasize three main things to be done, and done now.
We must elaborate a new accounting system. The current system counts as an added value the destruction of species and scarce resources is a threat against our survival. The only sustainable system will take into account the corporate compliance to the law, the fiscal and social constraints and the respect of local cultures and way of life by private companies and foreign bodies as well.
We must take into account the end of the carbon economy, the return of geography and the need of localism and self-oriented activities. Not a minor issue; it could be the end of democracy as we know it, based on unlimited supply of energy for trade and communications. The near zero cost of transportation is the biggest lie of the current economic system, the effective call for globalization. Distance will matter, geography will matter, and at a cost yet to be integrated.
Far more important, we have to work around the right to diversity, the most important condition of our survival. This is may be the greatest learning from ecology and biology; diversity is collective, and this diversity is the key for survival.
We won’t survive the alignment of the planet by the unlimited greed for resources. Nobody calls for the global democracy, the uniformization of the world by the so-called liberal economy. Nobody no more knows who are Milton Friedman or Friedrich von Hayek – they are just figures for museums. But nobody no more think the issue will be about socialism, or state-controlled economy, or something between them. The true recognition of human freedom as collective freedom, and of cultural and political diversity as the treasure of humanity, a gift of nature, and the very condition for our survival, a fundamental right above any other political economical or individual right, is the key of a future of peace, mutual understanding, and respectful coexistence.
In Chisinau, this 17th of December, 2017, I call for a collective appeal to renew the agreement reached at the Conference of La Havane, in 1948 – 1949, when the United Nations planned to subordinate free trade and free markets to the well-being, social progress and environmental safety of the populations.
I call for a collective commitment to rebuild a forum of non-aligned countries, the same that took place in Bandung, in 1955, a forum of those people who don’t want to be settled, to be deported or to be deprived of their identity by foreign interests, a forum of people who deeply share the feeling that the most important treasure of humanity is beyond any price, the treasure of cultural diversity and natural bounty.
And I call to renew the Declaration of Coyococ, in 1974, about collective rights of indigenous people, against settlers and invaders, the rights of collective social, cultural and environmental security. They are the true foundations of human rights; individual rights are for nothing if there is no organized society to take them for granted.
Many centuries ago, the Chapter of the Forests gave an accurate and effective meaning to human rights; the rights to live according to nature, and to make a living from the bounty of natural resources and living ecosystems. The failure of a legal approach of human rights is out of contest; the more they are, the less they found any effective content. Lots of words, and so little reality!
The way was open a long time ago. It is time now to complete and ensure human rights by a declaration of collective rights – id est, the rights of human societies not to be destroyed by the outside, the right to their moral, religious, political and environmental safety, the right of all indigenous people to protect themselves or to be protected from settlers and invaders at any cost and by any means. This is the true condition for our survival. We won’t survive across this century without the bounty of nature, the beauty of cultures, and the natural freedom of the human spirit.
Hervé Juvin, France,
writer, essayist, economist
Président, NATPOL DRS*
8 - 12 - 2017
NATPOL DRS* - as Diversity, Resilience, and Security