Two days ago, Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year old Pakistani schoolgirl, was shot in the head while she was waiting for the bus home after finishing her classes. Two other girls were injured in the incident. The Taliban claimed the authorship of the attack. In their view, Yousufzai had engaged in “obscene” activities. Back in 2008, the group had ordered to close all girls’ schools in the Pakistani district of Swat, close to the border with Afghanistan. Of course, the order was accompanied with violence, and over 100 schools in the area were destroyed. From anonymity, at the age of 11, Yousufzai began writing a blog published by the Urdu-language edition of the BBC website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-19899540). There she tells of the fear that permeated her, her family and her friends because of the Taliban presence in the area and her disappointment since because maybe she would not be able to go back to school. Later in 2009 she began to appear in Pakistani media advocating for female, more precisely for girl, education. In 2011 her government awarded her the National Peace Award, an acknowledgement for people under 18 years of age who made efforts to construct a harmonic society. She even considered eventually forming her own political party, of course dedicated to impulse education. All that exposure (very possibly the fact of the exposure and its substance) was what the Taliban labeled as “obscene” activities which, according to them, deserved the summary death penalty. As of Thursday noon, Yousufzai’s status is reported as critical.
And today it is the first celebration of the International Girls Day. Some information, perhaps not entirely new but striking to see it corroborated, has been shared on this occasion (my main source is the organization Girls not Brides: http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/). Problem number one of girls not being girls is that they are forced to become wives and mothers. Every year, an estimated 10 million girls are married before they turn 18. And every day more than 25,000 girls are robbed from their families. With “luck”, the family can be restituted with poultry or some money in exchange for their daughter. In developing countries, a married teenager is very unlikely to continue studying; very possibly she will have to stay home to nourish her children, to take care of the house or to dedicate her time to household agriculture, while the husband goes someplace else to work. So, it can be argued that a married girl is subtracted from the whole of the society.
But this can put her life at risk: childbirth is the leading cause of death for girls between 15 and 19 years old in the developing world, and babies from mothers under 18 are more likely to die in their first year of life. Moreover, there is a high risk that uneducated married girls become infected with HIV/AIDS or that they suffer domestic violence.
Not all is bleak: girls with secondary education are up to six times less likely to marry as children than uneducated girls. Thus, the link is apparently direct, as more education leads to less marriage, to less risk of losing life at an early age, and to a strengthening of the society. Having this in mind, the United Nations urges governments, civil society organizations, the private sectors, religious groups, and the international community to: enact legislation prohibiting girls to marry under 18 years of age, improve access to primary and secondary education, mobilize the society to change discriminatory gender norms, support married girls with opportunities to pursue their education and to access health and sexual information and services, and “address the root causes of child marriage, including violence against girls and women”.
However, as exemplified by the case of Yousufzai, in some regions the simple mention of wanting more education can prompt violence. A collaborator of the Pakistani paper The Dawn described the situation of Yousufzai as being left “at the mercy” of the Taliban, indirectly accusing the government for her fate. What is more, to “address the root causes of child marriage” goes far beyond enacting legislation, as there are deeper situations related to children marriage, like profound poverty, making some families appreciate some hens and pigs more than their daughter, or the limited scope of some states, which are unable to implement laws already existing. But that is what this celebration aims at: debating how to improve girls’ lives and to let them enjoy their childhood and adolescence.
From the self-immolation of Mohammed al-Bou’azizi in Tunisia in December 2010 to this week’s protests in Spain the common denominator has been jobs, or rather the lack of them. On the one hand, the university degree of Mr. al-Bou’azizi was not enough to find a job, he had to sell fruit to help his family, was denied the permit, the police harassed him, frustration grew in him and decided to set himself on fire. On the other hand, just across the Mediterranean, one of the most compelling traits of the current Spanish crisis is the large percentage of unemployed youth, which the press informs that last month reached a new peak of 53%.
In spite of the lack of jobs being a constant syndrome of the present problems, this economic crisis probably will not be solved by hiring every unemployed person in Europe, Northern Africa, the United States and elsewhere. Some questions arise. Who will hire them? Will the wages be suitable to cover daily expenses and to save? Will national competitiveness be saved at the expense of bad working conditions? Will the unemployed (mostly the educated unemployed) accept any job offered?
On Monday the World Bank published its 2013 edition of the Development Report: Jobs, where some of the above questions are addressed, other new ones are posed and some interesting information is presented. Due to its large extension and the variety of issues it covers, I just present some highlights. The website with the complete document is here: http://econ.worldbank.org/external/default/main?contentMDK=23044836&theSitePK=8258025&piPK=8258412&pagePK=8258258.
- Many countries tend to focus their labor policies in industrial and urban environments. In spite of their differences, agricultural and rural employments must be considered in labor-technology promotion, worker training, and insertion in global markets. Otherwise, divergences between urban and rural areas will deepen, slowing down development and leading to potential conflicts. This is even more alarming as data show that jobs are a key factor in the reduction of poverty, which is still high in rural areas.
- The private sector has the lead in job creation, even in China. This has allowed for more people to be employed now than ever before and a reduction in poverty. However, as the 2008 financial crisis showed, these jobs are not guarantied and they can disappear in the midst of short-term crisis, requiring many years to recover pre-crisis levels of employment.
- Many countries have promoted the creation of microenterprises and household business to promote employment. Data show that the poorer the country the more it relies on these kind of investments to produce jobs. However, the larger the firm the higher the wages and the associated benefits of employment. Governments must not only foster a regulatory environment that does not hinder microenterprises creation, but should also support their growth.
- Working centers are an essential point for socialization, and with a constructive environment for coexistence and conflict resolution they can have a positive influence on the strengthening of democracy.
- Not all jobs contribute to socioeconomic development similarly. Those for the poor, those that represent empowerment for previously marginalized groups, and those that do not serve as burden shifters to help to improve living standards of the society as a whole, mainly because a relatively small change in the condition of some groups represents many benefits for them. Jobs in cities, connected to global markets, and which are environmentally benign, increase productivity. Jobs that give a sense of fairness, that link into networks, and that shape social identity have a positive impact on social cohesion. Those three categories are not exclusive among themselves, and different social groups can have different appreciations of the best kind of job for them.
- World distribution of employment is relatively even: 1.6 billion people work for wage or salary, whereas 1.5 billion people work in farming, self-employment, or the informal sector.
- A three-layered policy approach is suggested: as the richer the country the more benefits from jobs, focus on macroeconomic stability, an enabling business environment, human capital accumulation and the rule of law permit; labor policies should facilitate job creation and enhance the development of payoffs from jobs; identify the jobs with the greatest development payoffs given a country’s context and remove obstacles for their creation.
Without being an expert of labor markets, a first impression is that even though some of the information included in this document is quite useful to understand a central aspect of the current economic crisis, none of its conclusions or observations are groundbreaking or unexpected. In any case, an implication of the insistence on not forgetting rural workers when designing labor policies is that the gap between the rural and the urban areas might be widening. Similarly, in poor nations the bulk of self-employed workers more often than not is loosely connected with large corporations or with broader markets. Paraphrasing Snowball, “all workers are equal, but some workers are more equal than others”. And we all know where that leads to.
Today Georgia holds parliamentary elections. Actually just two political parties are competing for the 150 seats in dispute. The United National Movement (UNM) is the party of the current President, Mikheil Saakachmilli. It controls the Parliament with 130 places in its favor and with David Bakradge, head of the party, as its President. The challenger is the coalition Georgian Dream, commanded by Bidzina Ivanichvili, a multimillionaire and philanthropist. This electoral contest is an example of a more or less recent trend in campaign making, where the strategy to defeat the opponent relies on accusations to demonstrate that he or she is just unsuitable to lead the country rather than the contrast of policy options or proposed government programs.
Indeed, the Georgian election and Ivanichvili’s profile in particular offer fertile ground for “personality attacks”. He has an estimated fortune of 6.4 billion dollars. He and his campaign advisors have tried to make his personal story a good point for him. He was born in the small village of Tchorvika, in an impoverished workers region. However, due to a constant dedication to studies and to the necessary job to pay for them, he obtained a degree in Engineering and Economics at the Tbilisi State University. Afterwards, he moved to Moscow to continue his graduate studies at the Moscow Science and Research Institute of Labor. In the meantime, still in Russia, he began to sell computers and telephones and later opened a bank, the Rossyiski Kredit, which became one of the most successful financial institutions in the country. In 2003, he returned to Georgia and, in the midst of the Revolution of Roses (a large set of protests in the aftermath of the perceived fraudulent parliamentary elections of 2003, ending in the resignation of the President), he boosted his philanthropic activities by building university buildings, theatres, financing artistic and scientific projects, and even, allegedly, some major reforms like those of the Georgian police forces and the Army. So far, a classic tale of the man with humble origins turning into the wealthiest person in his country just by the means of incessant effort.
For the UNM the main problem, if not actually the only one, resides in one element of the story: Russia. In an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde summoned by himself, Bakradge has pointed out Ivanichvili’s links with that country. Just before the whole electoral process began, Ivanichvili sold his entire business properties in Russia, noticeably the Rossyiski Kredit bank (352 million dollars), Unicor estate society (982 million dollars), and the pharmaceutical chain Doktor Stoletov (70 million dollars). Bakradge questions the unusual conditions which allowed for such a rapid and favorable set of transactions. Even more, he argues that Ivanichvili cannot be trusted as a Prime Minister (the position he would have if the Georgian Dream party wins the election) because during his time in Russia his links with public officers allowed him to build his fortune using public resources and later this same networked proved more profitable during the privatization phase of the perestroika. Out of this, Bakradge suggests Ivanichvili’s position on key issues with Russia is at best ambiguous given the potential conflict of interests. A sensitive item in the agenda is what to do (keep pressing or yield) with the Russian occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia after the 2008 war. Bakradge comments that having had a large set of his assets there, and that being the birthplace of his fortune, Ivanichvili wants to keep friendly and close ties with Russia, “a country he has never criticized”.
On the contrary, Bakradge shows the good points of continuity with the UNM, especially the adhesion to NATO and the strengthening of relations with the countries of the European Union, which could be fostered by the development Georgia enjoys now. Thus, everything unpleasant with the campaign (mainly the strong polarization noticed in practically all international news agencies), under Bakradge view is Ivanichvili’s fault.
However, there is a large fear of fraud in the elections (an echo of the 2008 contest, where the opposition even boycotted it) and stories of government intimidation of citizens after earlier in September revelations were made about the torture and rape of prison inmates. There are accusations against the government indicating that the money it has received from the United States as development assistance has been selectively used. Certainly Georgia is not on the brink of becoming a failed state anymore, with all kinds of criminals challenging the government’s authority, but the gap between cities, particularly Tbilisi, and the rural areas is widening.
Speaking of the US presidential election, a reporter from the New York Times mentioned that Mitt Romney had a double job: to convince the people of firing Barack Obama and hiring him instead, with the former point making some people think about the sense of their vote but the latter sounding not so attractive. The campaigns in Georgia seem to have focused just on the negative side: do not hire the Georgian Dream or fire the UNM. I am not sure if this kind of campaigning is adequate or useful for the society, where no programs to improve the public sphere are discussed and the debates rely on the candidates’ private biographies. Nonetheless, when being posed a direct question, Bakradge refused to call Ivanichvili the Troy Horse of Russia. And there is a large agreement amongst international observers that notwithstanding the fear of fraud, the elections will be clean. Without a question that can strengthen the democracy of the country. We will have to wait until tomorrow to see if it did.
Last Tuesday the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, equivalent in some measure to a parliament but allegedly without any real power, held a special second session this year, given that it usually meets only once annually. Of course, this led to suppositions that something relevant could be discussed. But apparently, the core of the deliberations was whether or not to approve the 12-year compulsory education (one year of schooling added to the present system) proposal which the government said since the beginning it would approve. Hence, the most relevant result of the meeting of the Assembly, as reported by the state press, was the passing of the 12-year compulsory education plan as well as a reshuffling in the Assembly’s standing committee. A special session just to discuss that? Not surprisingly, the Arab news company Al-Jazeera posed the question “Is real change underway in North Korea”?
Unfortunately, a lot of what is written about North Korea is based on speculation, sometimes much more informed than others. There is not clarity even on the age of Kim Jong-Un. The reasons for this is not that the North Korean government lies, but that, like Chinese authorities, the information they share with the public, national or international bodies, is quite limited, if not too vague. And, contrary to China, North Korea is not that open to foreign investment or even the presence of foreigners, so there are relatively few first-hand impressions with which to build an image of the country.
Take, for instance, photos of the current Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim Jong-Un, or his late father and antecessor, Kim Jong-Il. If for whatever reason someone wants to see photos of them, one of the worst sites to try is the official website of the country, http://www.korea-dpr.com/index.html, and a little better is the official Korean Central News Agency, http://www.kcna.kp/goHome.do?lang=eng, but browsing is not so clear when using the English-language version. On the contrary, and one of the best sites to look up is http://kimjongunlookingatthings.tumblr.com/, along with its antecessor http://kimjongillookingatthings.tumblr.com/. There is Kim Jong-Un looking at his notes, at Rungna People’s Playground, at Generals, at mini-golf, at Sailors, at a child’s track suit, at frozen foods, at a display case, at stenographers, at farmers, at a cave, at a boot, etc. This is not so different from his father’s archive: looking at fish, at crackers, at drill bits, at a cafeteria, at snacks, at a shop, at boots, at a watermelon, at dried squid (he is even touching these last three items), at bottles, at bottling equipment, at a little boy, etc. For one thing, we can suppose with some certainty that the Kims like to look at things.
As the commentators in the discussion organized by Al-Jazeera stated (http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestory/2012/09/20129268211945819.html), there are grounds to think some change might be occurring or be close to occurring in North Korea. Kim shifted the military figure in the country and he has made some references to the need for economic reform. Interpretations of these two elements are somewhat varied, but not necessarily mutually exclusive. Kim might be aware that he does not have the charismatic legitimacy than his father and grandfather enjoyed, so he is trying to cement his own network of power by placing close acquaintances in top positions and even by sharing some power with the military, the party and/or the cabinet, the three institutional pillars of the regime (sometimes not clearly differentiated). What is more, not only with references in speeches, but also by visiting factories in China and in North Korea, Kim is demonstrating a real interest in changing the national industrial policy and catching up with the reforms made ten years ago in the agricultural sector, which allowed peasants to keep for themselves a fixed percentage of their production. This is even deemed necessary as the industrial sector represented 43.1% of the country’s GDP, next to a 23.3% share of the agriculture and 33.6% of services (2009 figures).
In any case, it should be reminded that a change in economy does not entail a change in politics. A renewed industrial policy should not be immediately thought of as economic liberalization, what many theorists have noted as a prelude, expected or not by the regime leaders, to political competiveness. Furthermore, the military is a key actor in the system. Kim has been recently appointed Marshal of the Republic, the highest military position in North Korea. And the Army is in control of the nuclear weapons, which Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, and the United States in particular, but the whole international community in general, have a primordial interest in not seeing them in action. That is another thing about North Korea we know for sure: everyone, obviously, fear their bomb.
In the 10th year of the print edition of Democracy&Society, our journal will take a deeper look into the reconfiguration of political forces after the economic downturn, with particular attention to its effects on democracy, sovereignty and the clash between expansionism and austerity. Don’t miss the opportunity to participate!
Democracy & Society, Volume 10, Issue 1
We are seeking well-written, interesting submissions of 1500-2000 words on the themes below, including summaries and/or excerpts of recently completed research, new publications, and works in progress. Submissions for the issue are due Monday, October 22nd, 2012.
Politics of the Economic Crisis
The turbulence created by the economic crisis of 2008 went far beyond the financial sector. The political upheaval that ensued has reignited ideological debates among scholars, policymakers, and civil society over the proper role of government in the economy. The ideological arguments for austerity on the one hand, and expansionism on the other, have resulted in a clash that precipitated the fall of governments all over Europe and contributed to the dramatic polarization and political stalemate in the United States. The consequences of the economic downturn are still unfolding, but its political effects on policymaking, democratic institutions, and national sovereignty are already a reality. In order to better understand these developments, several questions can be addressed, including:
- The boundaries of sovereignty and the future of the Euro Zone – European governments continue to clash over policies of austerity and expansionism. The European Central Bank along with the largest European economies insist on imposing austerity measures on the weakest Euro Zone members, and the loss of decision-making power by national governments is creating new tensions between domestic political demands and international economic realities. What might the European Union look like in the future? Is further integration via fiscal unity a viable option at this point? Or will political dissatisfaction and financial constraints lead to a reconfiguration of the Euro Zone? What are the consequences for democracy in countries such as Greece, Portugal, and Spain, whose governments are under pressure from supranational bodies?
- The Hardening of Ideological Divides – U.S. policymakers responded to the financial crisis by injecting hundreds of billions of dollars into the economy. This approach provoked protests and intensified the ideological debate between left and right over government roles and responsibilities. Did the financial crisis fundamentally change the balance of political power? What does the inability of the United States to conduct meaningful financial sector reform say about dominant political forces in the country? And what does the current political gridlock, along with its ideological undercurrents, mean for the future of American democracy?
- State regulations and interventions – A good part of the discussion of how to prevent future crises has focused on the correct level of state regulation of the economy. Some argue, however, that the issue is not the quantity but rather the quality/content of the regulations and relationship between state and society. Is the paradigm shifting? What lessons are policymakers drawing about this particular relationship? Is the new “State Capitalism” – with governments at the center of stability and growth promotion – a useful model, and are we likely to see more countries adopting it moving forward?
- Reviewing the Washington Consensus – The responses to the crisis have been marked by massive infusions of cash in national markets and an exponential increase in the amount of debt that governments have accrued in an attempt to keep their economies afloat. Once considered nearly extinct, believers in “Keynesian” stimulation via large budget deficits are now mainstream. Is the new flexibility on fiscal discipline, manipulation of interest rates, deregulation, and even nationalization of industries signaling the demise of the Washington Consensus? Or are the expansionary policies of today merely a temporary bitter pill that will be discarded once the threat of recession fades?
- The rise of inequality and the future of the middle class – One of the signatures of the current economic downturn, primarily (but not only) in the U.S., is the rise of inequality in rich countries, with particular losses for the middle class. This trend is not new, but the expanding gap between rich and poor has accelerated recently. Some argue that inequality is right at the center of the financial crisis since it prompted policymakers to expand and ease credit for families. How does the weakening of the middle class impact the future of democratic politics? What does the current level of inequality say about the success of developed democracies, and should less-developed democracies re-think their approach to economic growth?
- Rebalancing world forces –The difference in the pace of growth for areas previously known as “center” and “periphery” since the beginning of the crisis has profoundly impacted the international balance of power. It has become commonplace to say that the G20 has replaced the G8, and institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank face pressure for reform to reflect the new influence of emerging economies. However, old structures resist this reconfiguration of geopolitical power. How did the economic crisis impact international coordination and decision-making? Is global power really shifting? Who are the winners and losers of this emerging scenario?
Please email submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org. For additional information, please visit www.democracyandsociety.com or contact Andrea Murta or Josh Linden at email@example.com.
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