Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Interview with Susan George

Political and social activist

Published in El Punt Avui newspaper in April 28, 2016



Susan George (Akron, Ohio, 1934) is an American/French political and social scientist and activist. She has written several books on global social justice, third world poverty, underdevelopment and debt, including the acclaimed "Lugano Report:On Preserving Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century"  (1999,) in which she explains her vision of the way the winners in the globalisation game profit from poverty.

Susan George was in Barcelona last week participating in the 4th edition of the "International seminar on sharing the planet: building a biocivilization".

Full version

"The TTIP is a huge threat against the entire democratic structure that we have built up and particularly the freedoms that we have gained since the war"

"Austerity policies in Europe do exactly what they were set up to do, which is to transfer money from the people to the 1%: they work very well!"

"Our economy fails because people don't have a dime, they don't have an euro to spend on anything but the rent, the groceries and shoes for the children, the basic necessities. But again, this is policy, that's why we have to get control of the State, it's the only way to change"

"Bernie Sanders is a real social democrat. He has a perfectly sound programme: he wants health insurance for everybody, which Obamacare did not accomplish, and free tuition at the public universities. He has a perfectly feasable programme and who pays for it"

A.B. - Last week US President Barack Obama and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel called jointly for a TTIP deal (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) to be concluded this year. However, since TTIP negotiations began, the process has been secretive and undemocratic. Social organizations denounce that the TTIP means an assault on European and US societies by transnational corporations. What's your view about this treaty? Do you think that it will be finally approved and implemented?

S.G. - There is a large movement in Europe which will do everything possible, everything we can do as a civil society, to prevent it from being approved and to give the leadership the idea that they will be dead if they pass this thing. Since Germany is the strongest of the societies against the TTIP and since Germany is also the largest and most powerful European state, I think we've got a chance. The movement is also growing in the United States although for the moment they are concentrating on the TTP (Pacific treaty) which has got most of the same features as the TTIP.

So, I certainly hope we can defeat it. I know the background of it. In my book "Los Usurpadores", I explore the origins of the TTIP and it was entirely planned by transnational corporations. They've been planning it since the early 1990s. Because we defeated the MAI (Multilateral Agreement on Investment), they have been trying to get something like that ever since that was defeated. So they got together within the transatlantic business dialogue and then that has morphed into a much larger and powerful structure called the Transatlantic Economic Council, which is political. They say on their website: 'We are a political organization and our goal is to harmonize (which means merge) the economies of the United States and Europe'.

And I don't know any European who ever voted to merge the economy with the United States, which means being dominated by the United States because we are very split-up, we don't have a federal government, so we would be totally dominated and that is what the TTIP is going for now. I think it is a huge threat to democracy. They are going to threaten the judiciary. I'm sure about tribunals of private lawyers who will decide, with no appeal, that a state has committed a crime because it's costly, you have to pay if they pass a law which some companies can show has been a threat to their present or future profits.

So, threatening the judiciary, threatening the legislative branch, because they want to take over regulatory collaboration and that sounds good, but what it means is that it would be the corporations together that would be regulating and since for them every extra test, every extra safeguard for the public or for the environement means it costs them a little more, so they want the lowest common denominator on regulation.

I'll give you an example: The Europeans have banned 1,200 chemicals under the REACH directive. The Americans, in the same period of time, have banned 5 or 6. So there are lots of dangerous chemicals in the environment and in products and things you don't even know that are there in the United States because they don't require labelling.

It's also a blow against the executive because if a country, especially a smaller country like Slovakia or a weaker country less rich than France or Germany or even Spain, is threateaned with a whole lot of lawsuits they would say 'Well, I would like to do something about the environment, I would like to pass a law..." This happened in Spain. Spaniards have given up on subsidies for solar plants. They were threatened with lawsuits, and the Spanish really I think went too far, but instead of having a climate-friendly law, we have more fossil fuels. And that is what they will insist on and they have so much money that they can do it.

Chevron won a case like that for drilling in Ecuador. Chevron is a very large oil company and they said their trial was about drilling in a protected area for oil and the Ecuadorian government said 'No' and they said 'Yes' because when we came here we had the reasonable expectation that we could drill anywhere in the country. So they won. And they won an award of 1,8 billion dollars. So Ecuador is not exactly a rich country.

So it's a threat against the entire democratic structure that we have built up and particularly the freedoms that we have gained since the war and, for a country like Spain, which only began to do this after the death of Franco, I think it could be devastating.

Explain this to the Spaniards and the Catalans so that they can react against it because, unless we get the people, the corporations and our governments are for it, altough France and Germany have both said that if it contains the private tribunals system they will stop it. But who knows, we never know if they are lying or not. I don't believe what they say.

A.B. - Since the last global financial crisis began, Europeans have been living under the austerity policies dictated by Germany and the European Comission. But the economy is not growing and the national debts (and the social inequalities) are increasing. What should happen to realise that these policies don't work?

S.G. - They do exactly what they were set up to do, which is to transfer money from the people to the 1%: they work very well!. That's why they privatize everything, that was the whole point of the same policies in Latin America. Every year the World Bank publishes pages and pages of companies that have been privatised. There are always 1,400-1,500 of them.

Look at Greece. Greece got a memorandum saying "you have to privatize this, this, this and that", whether it was profitable or not. They privatized the lottery because the lottery was bringing in half a billion euros every year, which is quite a nice return, and nobody cared, they have to sell it at whatever was offered and what was offered was quite a small sum and they had to sell it anyway.

They sold all the regional airports to a German company and there were many more things on that list. So it works very well. The people suffer but it looks very well for the policies that work, that are dictated. So, of course it's terrible and, as Yannis Varoufakis says, they were going after Greece because it was the easiest target, but now it's going to be Spain's turn and they are ultimately looking at France because France is pretty heavily indebted. And already France is close to a 100% of GDP of indebtedness and that's the danger point.

And François Hollande has just signed up for this terrible labour law which is exactly what Medef (the enterprise directors) wants. They wanted this law and they have been going for it for many years. So he signed up for it and he calls that checking a box but now, fortunately, people are reacting, they are in the streets, in the Place de la République in the Nuit Debout and we don't know what is going to happen, but for the first time since I've lived in France which is nearly 60 years, the students and the trade unions have come together in a common programme and it wasn't even like that in 1968.

So, that is an example of how the governments check the box that's on the European list, that it's almost identical to what the European Comission was asking for. So this is going to continue so long as we don't elect governments which can just say "No". We need civilian disobedience on the part of governments. So here it's Podemos, obviously

A.B. - Let's look at the current situation in Europe: economic crisis, rising unemployment, the threat of djihadist terrorism, the fears before the flow of migrants and refugees, the rise of far-right parties...What future do you foresee for Europe?

S.G. - I think that depends on the way our governments and Europe go. If they continue to govern only in favour of transnational corporations and the very richest people and do everything they can to increase that wealth and everything they can to deprive people, of course we try PSOE, we try PP and nothing happens and so le'ts try the far-right.

We are in deep danger. Shortly, Marine Le Pen is going to be one of the two run-off candidates in the presidential elections next year and you have got elections in June. I don't know who is going to win those but I'm certainly hoping that Podemos wins because I think that that's the only way, because is the only party that would challenge Europe and they have to have the political strength to do that. I think it's the only way to avoid all your point in your question

A.B. - The so-called Panama papers are the latest big scandal concerning capitalism. There is the feeling that corruption is part of the system and that rich people will always manage to keep their money safe and to get richer and richer...
S.G. - That depends on the law and the law depends on the State. "The Guardian" announced that on the 9th of May they are going to publish a huge lot of the Panama papers which have not yet been published and in which they will identify individuals, they will identify corporations and we are going to have some fun there, that will be very interesting.

Yesterday the trial of a young man called Antoine Deltour began in Luxemburg. He was the whistleblower, he was the man who exposed the Luxleaks and Jean-Claude Juncker, our beloved president, was prime minister during that whole period that they were making these agreements with transnational corporations. So he organised it, you can't say that he wasn't aware...So should he be on trial or should Antoine Deltour be on trial?

He didn't make any money of it, he didn't ask for money, he just wanted this to become public because he thought it was very bad for democracy, which is true, and he gave the papers to a French journalist of the France-2, which is a public television channel, and he denounced for anything and now he is threatened with 5 years in prison and a fine of over a milion euros. You couldn't even make that in salaries in 15, 20, 30 years...

A.B. It's clear, then, that there is something that doesn't work...

S.G. - Again, it works! It depends who is in charge and what they want. For the last 30 years we had been in the neoliberal period, which was set up by the United States and then travelled everywhere in the world. And now, all the governments are neoliberal either because they had to become that because of the IMF or other pressures, or because they really believe it, like the Germans. The Germans are perfectly ok: they are exporting and they have large surpluses and they never stop to consider that if one has surpluses, somebody else has to have deficits

Neoliberalism is their doctrine: the market should be unfettered, regulations should be kept to absolute minimum, reduce taxes on the rich because then they will invest, which they do, but they invest in the financial markets. Why bother to sit around to invest in a factory? I can make much more money in the financial markets and much faster. So, yes, they do invest because they are the ones who have got the cash.

Our economy fails because people don't have a dime, they don't have an euro to spend on anything but the rent, the groceries and shoes for the children, the basic necessities. But again, this is policy, that's why we have to get control of the State, it's the only way to change. We can protest all we like and that helps, and that's good, and the movement is coming together on that. It's very important that social movements come together politically.

A.B. - Even though he probably won't be the next Democratic candidate to the White House, how do you explain the success of Bernie Sanders because, in a way, he has succeeded, hasn't he?

S.G. - Oh yes, because when he started, nobody outside Vermont, New Hampshire and a few other political junkies, people like me, knew who he was. He appeals to young people because he's a social democrat if you like. He says he's a democratic socialist but he is really a social democrat with a real social democratic programme of hospitals, schools.

He has a perfectly sound programme, he wants health insurance for everybody, which Obamacare did not accomplish; he wants free tuition at the public universities and still be private universities, there will still be private hospitals, but he has a perfectly feasable programme and who pays for it, by going back to a United States like in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Nobody remembers that Eisenhower, a Republican president, was taxing the top income slice of the income tax law. The top slice was at 90%. I don't see the point of having 62 people in the world who have the same amount of assets as one half of the world population.

Sanders is talking simple common sense and the Americans have been very slow. They haven't travelled, so they don't know that in Europe it's perfectly normal to have a free university and so when the kids knew this they loved it. It's partly the all left resurgence, because there wasn't anybody to vote for before. People voted for Obama, they had high hopes and he disappointed most of those hopes.

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