Neo-liberal intolerance and Eu ropean Social Democracy
by S. T. Hettige, Prof. of Sociology, University of Colombo
(Continued from last Wednesday)
And, finally, two other indicators deserve special attention, namely, the ratio of prisoners to 100,000 population and the voter turnout. While Sweden has 71 prisoners per 100,000 persons, the US has a staggering figure of 546. Most European countries have rates lower than 100 per 100,000 population, the lowest recorded from Japan with 35 per 100,000 population. Among other things, it indicates the level of criminality in the country that no doubt is related to social and economic conditions in general. Data from other sources indicates that crimes of all categories continue to be a serious public order issues in the United States.5 High level of economic crimes such as robbery, burglary and theft may very well be related to poverty that continues to be a social problem affecting a sizable segment of the population.
Voter turnout in the USA is less than 50% of the voting population. Assuming that the elected leader receives about 50% of the votes polled, he or she has a mandate coming from about 25% of the eligible voters. This cannot bode well for representative democracy. On the other hand, in Sweden, 83% of the voters turn up at the polling booths, indicating a very high level of public participation in the democratic process and, in turn in the management of public affairs. Such data can be interpreted in different ways but one can wonder whether low voter turnout is also a reflection of the level of public cynicism in a country.
Domestic policies and the international posture
So far in the present article, an attempt has been made to examine how two broadly distinct policy regimes produce divergent social and economic outcomes across the Atlantic. These are outcomes evident within different national settings. On the other hand, the impact of policy regimes extends very much beyond their national borders as they also shape international development policies of respective governments.
In view of the fact that the gap between the rich and poor countries has been widening over the last several decades, wealthy countries are expected to increase their contribution to development assistance that is often critical for alleviating serious human problems arising out of increasing global inequities. In this regard, it is highly significant that Japan, European welfare states and Canada stand out as the most generous contributors to international development assistance. As Table shows, the United States come last in a list of 22 countries belonging to DAC in terms of the proportion of GNP given as development assistance. Its contribution is only 18% of the total whereas Japan that has been under considerable economic pressure over the last several years contributes nearly 25% of a total global budget of 54 million US dollars. Sweden comes first in the list in terms of the contribution as a per cent of the GNP. Germany, UK and France also make significant contributions in both relative and absolute terms.
Table 4: ODA of DAC Countries, 2000
The pattern of participation of different countries in the development assistance field is very much a reflection of the overall policy orientation of the dominant ruling groups in the respective countries. The broad distinction I have made between free market oriented and social democratic regimes becomes further significant when we look at how they behave in the international development arena. In other words, social democratic regimes that implement equity and social justice oriented policies at home appear to be committed to addressing similar issues in other parts of the world. On the other hand, the United States coming last in the list in terms of the share of its GNP allocated to international development while committing several hundred billion dollars for international military purposes appears to point to a different set of priorities at home and abroad. The picture becomes even more gloomy when takes into account the fact that much of the US government funds allocated for international development flows back into the United States as most of the contracts are given to US firms that provide employment to American citizens and procure American goods, etc.
It is true that development assistance cannot be expected to eradicate global poverty, narrow the scandalously widening gap between the rich and poor countries and address other global social and environmental issues. On the other hand, if the developed countries do not come forward to meet the minimum global obligations, the situation can get only worse, contributing to an aggravation of the above problems. The choice that many European countries and Japan made some years back to put in place a comprehensive welfare state produced remarkable results. Among these, the most important one was the avoidance of social polarisation, allowing political and other elites to walk around in the open freely without worrying about personal security. In the process, they could cut down military expenditure and divert more resources for public welfare. Today, in the name of globalisation and free markets, some of these countries are forced to coil back some of their welfare legislation such as minimum wages, progressive taxation, livelihood security, etc., in order to be competitive with countries that never had such standards. Moreover, globally dominant, neo-liberal business and political elites from these countries want all the countries in the world to renounce such standards, arguing that the market controlled by patriotic and all rustic business leaders will fix everything for the people. The democratic state that emerged as the main arbiter between social classes and other competing groups and promoted a high degree of social solidarity and justice is now supposed to facilitate the above process. It is too frightening to speculate on the possible consequences, both nationally and globally.
In this article, I have made an attempt to compare the free market model of development that finds strong support in the USA and the European social democratic or welfare state model that still finds wide currency in the Western Europe. Countries that get closer to one or the other produce social and political outcomes that are quite different. Faced with increasing market pressures emanating from a rapidly globalizing world economy, some countries have adopted policies that have effectively undone some of the positive achievements of the welfare state such as greater social equality, higher quality of life and social peace. Others have not deviated much from the principles of the welfare state model in spite of increasing market pressures do so. The latter countries have pursued sound public policies and safeguarded much of the positive gains made over several decades of welfare policy. Such countries continue to display remarkably positive social, economic and political conditions in terms of widely used measures. This shows very clearly that the European social democratic model remains, at least for the foreseeable future, the most appropriate option for developing countries like Sri Lanka if our objective is to create a more humane, peaceful and just society. If something good has come out of the diplomatic wrangling over Iraq between the US and the so-called ‘old Europe’, it is the reinforcement of at least my conviction that a peaceful, just and prosperous future will be assured not by an unregulated market that privileges individual freedom and choice at the expense of equity and social justice but by socially responsive governments and institutions that allow the markets to operate within limits set by society.
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