Solidarity during the austere age

Aditya Chakrabortty, writing for the Guardian, considered Sweden’s recent and surprising troubles:

More than 20 cars torched in one night. School classrooms gutted by fire. Fifty far-right extremists chasing immigrants around a suburb.

You probably haven’t seen much about it in the papers, but for the past week Sweden has been racked by rioting. The violence began in a suburb of Stockholm, Husby, and spread around the capital’s edge before other cities went up in flames. Police have been pelted with stones; neighbourhoods have turned into no-go areas, even for ambulances. Such prolonged unrest is remarkable for Stockholm, as those few reporters sent to cover it have observed. Naturally enough, each article has wound up asking: why here?

It’s a good question. Don’t surveys repeatedly show Sweden as one of the happiest countries (certainly a damn sight cheerier than Britain)? Isn’t it famous for its equality, its warm welcome to immigrants? Whatever happened to Stockholm, capital of progressivism, the Mecca towards which Guardianistas face for their daily five minutes of mindfulness?

We all know the cliches, but the reality is they no longer fit the country so well. Whether it’s on the wealth gap, or welfare, or public services, Sweden is less “Swedish” than it has ever been. As in other continental capitals, the Stockholm version of the “European social model” is an increasingly tattered thing, albeit still appealed to by the political elites and still resonant in the popular culture. But the country seized by turbulence last week is becoming polarised, and is surrendering more of its public services over to private businesses (sometimes with disastrous effects). Those riot-scene correspondents ought not to be asking: why here? A better question, surely, is: if such instability can happen here, what might unfold elsewhere — including Britain?

Rioting has occurred in other OECD countries. Most notably, they took place in Austria, Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Spain and Turkey since the onset of the Great Recession. The United States also produced the peaceful Occupy Movement, which the various governmental bodies suppressed with rioting police forces. The causes of unrest are the same across Europe and in the United States: Growing inequality, social polarization, austerity and, in some instances, economic stagnation. Sweden is a special case, as Chakrabortty avers. Its welfare state was notable for its commitment to collective security and to economic growth. The Swedish economy continues to grow. But the Swedes are slowly jettisoning their commitment to collective security, to solidarity. This is when the authorities need the police to keep order. This is when the democratic class struggle becomes class warfare.

Quote of the day

United Nations

Robert Wade recently pointed to the unwillingness of the United Nations to take on the leader’s role in the formulation of a global response to the Great Recession of 2008. Wade stated that:

Among those who care about the fate of the United Nations it is widely assumed — and regretted — that the UN stood on the sidelines at the start of the global financial crisis, and let the G20, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank take the lead in an international response. Jean-Pierre Bugada, chief of communication for France and Monaco at the UN Regional Information Centre, said the UN had “missed the boat” (1). The accusation is only partly true. More accurately, western states, with the UK and US in the lead, tried hard to ensure that the UN did not become a forum for discussion on the crisis, and the UN Secretary-General supported them.

Briefly put, the states and institutions which generated the crisis took the lead in producing the global response to the crisis, doing while UN leaders supported this effort.

Quote of the day

Philippe Marliere wrote:

Days before the first round of the French presidential election, Nicolas Sarkozy was addressing his supporters at a mass rally in Paris. His final words sounded desperate: “French people, help me!” The conservative candidate looked tense and the public mood was grim. A record attendance of 150,000 was hastily announced. Journalists on the ground showed that no more than 30,000 had gathered on Place de la Concorde.

This ever more likely defeat has been a long time coming. While he was campaigning in 2007, Sarkozy’s economic advisers concocted a fiscal plan that gravely offended the French sense of egalitarianism. The Tepa law — or “fiscal shield” — ensured that the richest people would not pay more than 50% of their annual income in tax. Thanks to the perverse tax cap, Liliane Bettencourt — France’s richest person — received a €30m repayment. Sarkozy’s reputation as a friend of the rich who benefits from their largesse has never rescinded since then.

….

Sarkozysm may be seen as an avatar of Berlusconism. “Sarkoberlusconism” attempts to run the state as a firm. Under Sarkozy, justice, culture or education have become economic goods which should be subjected to the rationality and assessment of market rules. In this respect, Sarkozysm is an Americanism; the closest France has got so far to US-style neo-conservatism.

Oops

Global Post reports that:

Mohammed Merah, the gunman who killed seven people including three Jewish children, may have been a protected asset of French Intelligence, Il Foglio, an Italian newspaper reported today, raising further questions about whether authorities may have had a chance to prevent the attacks.

The 23-year-old, who was a French citizen of Algerian origin, also killed three Muslim soldiers, before being killed at the end of a 32-hour standoff in an apartment in Toulouse.

Benard Squarcini, the head of the Central Directorate of Internal Intelligence (DCRI), claimed Merah was not in the employ of his agency.

Dominique Straus Kahn can’t keep it in his pants

Having escaped from New York with his person intact, although a civil trial remains a real possibility, our hero returned to France only to soon find himself implicated in and briefly imprisoned because of the Carlton Affair:

Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer said it was wrong for his client to be prosecuted for “simple libertine activity” after he was charged with helping to run a prostitution ring last night.

The former head of the International Monetary Fund – who quit his post last year over charges, later dropped, alleging he sexually assaulted a hotel maid in New York – denies a charge of “aggravated procurement in an organised gang”.

Mr Strauss-Kahn was released on a €100,000 (£83,000) bail last night. He is understood to have admitted that he attended orgies in what has been dubbed the “Carlton Affair”, named after the hotel in which the sex parties took place. But Mr Strauss-Kahn maintains that he was unaware prostitutes were involved.

The case also revolves around suspicions that some of his business associates were among those running the ring and were misusing corporate funds while doing so.

A (fictional) Sex Slave

The politics of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s criminal career

Might we consider Dominique Strauss-Kahn‘s recent troubles to be little more than a sex scandal? If we did, Strauss-Kahn would just be a cad and schmuck, like Anthony Weiner. Has he not been made ridiculous by his own hand? Are his troubles just another instance in which a powerful man is found to be undeserving of the highest honors and, perhaps, even brute sympathy? Is this scandal his alone? Or, is there more to the scandal than one man’s perverse desires and the stigma he must now wear?

I would say that Strauss-Kahn’s predicament amounts to something more than a sex scandal. Marie Bénilde, writing for Le Monde Diplomatique, succinctly gives the reasons for considering them to be so:

A positive aspect to the furore [sic] after the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn on charges including attempted rape was the revelation of the workings of the French media. These include the extreme personalization of politics (leader writers deplore this while pursuing their own causes); the continuity between communications advisers and journalists when a “client” fits mainstream media ideology; and the close ties, always condemned but never severed, between the press and government. The DSK affair also revealed the class reflexes that move editorial writers, on the top rungs of the social ladder, when the powerful fall. The misfortunes of the weak are too banal to be news.

Some men are petty tyrants. Their crimes are matters to be handled by the police and the courts. Other men are grand tyrants. Their crimes often become political matters because their power and influence shields their actions from critical scrutiny and legal accountability. Strauss-Kahn’s troubles belong to the second category. He was a member of the French elite, a leader of the International Monetary Fund and, it seems, an abuser of women for much of his life. His sexual misadventures were not the private affairs of two or more consenting adults. They were instances in which he abused his power. And the members of his class, political party and others closely related to his milieu indirectly sponsored his criminal by providing political and social coverage for him.

Revolutions were made over lesser slights.

In praise of Strauss-Kahn

Joseph Stiglitz wrote:

Strauss-Kahn is proving himself a sagacious leader of the IMF. We can only hope that governments and financial markets heed his words.

Stiglitz defends this conclusion by pointing out that:

The annual spring meeting of the International Monetary Fund was notable in marking the Fund’s effort to distance itself from its own long-standing tenets on capital controls and labor-market flexibility. It appears that a new IMF has gradually, and cautiously, emerged under the leadership of Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Briefly put, according to Stiglitz, a Strauss-Kahn-led International Monetary Fund was beginning to abandon the neoliberal nostrums it promoted over the last decades.

Yet, Strauss-Kahn’s IMF generated a problem, according to Mike Whitney:

Strauss-Kahn had set out on a “kinder and gentler” path, one that would not force foreign leaders to privatize their state-owned industries or crush their labor unions. Naturally, his actions were not warmly received by the bankers and corporatists who look to the IMF to provide legitimacy to their ongoing plunder of the rest of the world. These are the people who think that the current policies are “just fine” because they produce the results they’re looking for, which is bigger profits for themselves and deeper poverty for everyone else.

Whitney continued by stating that:

There’s not going to be any revolution at the IMF. That’s baloney. The institution was created with the clear intention of ripping poor nations off and it’s done an impressive job in that regard.  There’s not going to be any change of policy either. Why would there be? Have the bankers and corporate bilge-rats suddenly grown a conscience and decided to lend a helping hand to long-suffering humanity? Get real.

Threaten the powerful…. There may be something to the conspiracy explanation of Strauss-Kahn’s current predicament.