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Case for engineering our food?

I am a plant geneticist.

I study genes that make plants resistant to disease and tolerant of stress. In recent years, millions of people around the world have come to believe that there’s something sinister about genetic modification.

Today, I am going to provide a different perspective.

0:35 First, let me introduce my husband, Raoul. He’s an organic farmer. On his farm, he plants a variety of different crops.

This is one of the many ecological farming practices he uses to keep his farm healthy. Imagine some of the reactions we get: “Really? An organic farmer and a plant geneticist? Can you agree on anything?”

we can, and it’s not difficult, because we have the same goal. We want to help nourish the growing population without further destroying the environment. I believe this is the greatest challenge of our time.

genetic modification is not new; virtually everything we eat has been genetically modified in some manner.

Let me give you a few examples. On the left is an image of the ancient ancestor of modern corn. You see a single roll of grain that’s covered in a hard case. Unless you have a hammer, teosinte isn’t good for making tortillas.

Now, take a look at the ancient ancestor of banana. You can see the large seeds. And unappetizing brussel sprouts, and eggplant, so beautiful.

to create these varieties, breeders have used many different genetic techniques over the years. Some of them are quite creative, like mixing two different species together using a process called grafting to create this variety that’s half tomato and half potato.

Breeders have also used other types of genetic techniques, such as random mutagenesis, which induces uncharacterized mutations into the plants.

The rice in the cereal that many of us fed our babies was developed using this approach.

today, breeders have even more options to choose from. Some of them are extraordinarily precise.

I want to give you a couple examples from my own work.

I work on rice, which is a staple food for more than half the world’s people. Each year, 40% of the potential harvest is lost to pest and disease.

For this reason, farmers plant rice varieties that carry genes for resistance. This approach has been used for nearly 100 years. Yet, when I started graduate school, no one knew what these genes were.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that scientists finally uncovered the genetic basis of resistance. In my laboratory, we isolated a gene for immunity to a very serious bacterial disease in Asia and Africa. We found we could engineer the gene into a conventional rice variety that’s normally susceptible, and you can see the two leaves on the bottom here are highly resistant to infection.

the same month that my laboratory published our discovery on the rice immunity gene, my friend and colleague Dave Mackill stopped by my office. He said, “70 million rice farmers are having trouble growing rice.”

That’s because their fields are flooded, and these rice farmers are living on less than two dollars a day.

Although rice grows well in standing water, most rice varieties will die if they’re submerged for more than three days.

Flooding is expected to be increasingly problematic as the climate changes. He told me that his graduate student Kenong Xu and himself were studying an ancient variety of rice that had an amazing property. It could withstand two weeks of complete submergence. He asked if I would be willing to help them isolate this gene. I said yes — I was very excited, because I knew if we were successful, we could potentially help millions of farmers grow rice even when their fields were flooded.

Kenong spent 10 years looking for this gene. Then one day, he said, “Come look at this experiment. You’ve got to see it.” I went to the greenhouse and I saw that the conventional variety that was flooded for 18 days had died, but the rice variety that we had genetically engineered with a new gene we had discovered, called Sub1, was alive.

Kenong and I were amazed and excited that a single gene could have this dramatic effect. But this is just a greenhouse experiment. Would this work in the field?

I’m going to show you a four-month time lapse video taken at the International Rice Research Institute. Breeders there developed a rice variety carrying the Sub1 gene using another genetic technique called precision breeding.

On the left, you can see the Sub1 variety, and on the right is the conventional variety. Both varieties do very well at first, but then the field is flooded for 17 days. You can see the Sub1 variety does great. In fact, it produces three and a half times more grain than the conventional variety.

I love this video because it shows the power of plant genetics to help farmers. Last year, with the help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, three and a half million farmers grew Sub1 rice.

many people don’t mind genetic modification when it comes to moving rice genes around, rice genes in rice plants, or even when it comes to mixing species together through grafting or random mutagenesis.

But when it comes to taking genes from viruses and bacteria and putting them into plants, a lot of people say, “Yuck.” Why would you do that? The reason is that sometimes it’s the cheapest, safest, and most effective technology for enhancing food security and advancing sustainable agriculture. I’m going to give you three examples.

First, take a look at papaya. It’s delicious, right? But now, look at this papaya. This papaya is infected with papaya ringspot virus.

In the 1950s, this virus nearly wiped out the entire production of papaya on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Many people thought that the Hawaiian papaya was doomed, but then, a local Hawaiian, a plant pathologist named Dennis Gonsalves, decided to try to fight this disease using genetic engineering. He took a snippet of viral DNA and he inserted it into the papaya genome.

This is kind of like a human getting a vaccination. Now, take a look at his field trial. You can see the genetically engineered papaya in the center. It’s immune to infection. The conventional papaya around the outside is severely infected with the virus.

Dennis’ pioneering work is credited with rescuing the papaya industry. Today, 20 years later, there’s still no other method to control this disease. There’s no organic method. There’s no conventional method. 80% of Hawaiian papaya is genetically engineered.

some of you may still feel a little queasy about viral genes in your food, but consider this: The genetically engineered papaya carries just a trace amount of the virus. If you bite into an organic or conventional papaya that is infected with the virus, you will be chewing on tenfold more viral protein.

take a look at this pest feasting on an eggplant. The brown you see is frass, what comes out the back end of the insect. To control this serious pest, which can devastate the entire eggplant crop in Bangladesh, Bangladeshi farmers spray insecticides two to three times a week, sometimes twice a day, when pest pressure is high.

But we know that some insecticides are very harmful to human health, especially when farmers and their families cannot afford proper protection, like these children.

In less developed countries, it’s estimated that 300,000 people die every year because of insecticide misuse and exposure.

Cornell and Bangladeshi scientists decided to fight this disease using a genetic technique that builds on an organic farming approach. Organic farmers like my husband Raoul spray an insecticide called B.T., which is based on a bacteria.

This pesticide is very specific to caterpillar pests, and in fact, it’s nontoxic to humans, fish and birds. It’s less toxic than table salt. But this approach does not work well in Bangladesh. That’s because these insecticide sprays are difficult to find, they’re expensive, and they don’t prevent the insect from getting inside the plants.

In the genetic approach, scientists cut the gene out of the bacteria and insert it directly into the eggplant genome. Will this work to reduce insecticide sprays in Bangladesh? Definitely.

Last season, farmers reported they were able to reduce their insecticide use by a huge amount, almost down to zero. They’re able to harvest and replant for the next season.

I’ve given you a couple examples of how genetic engineering can be used to fight pests and disease and to reduce the amount of insecticides. My final example is an example where genetic engineering can be used to reduce malnutrition.

In less developed countries, 500,000 children go blind every year because of lack of Vitamin A. More than half will die. For this reason, scientists supported by the Rockefeller Foundation genetically engineered a golden rice to produce beta-carotene, which is the precursor of Vitamin A.

This is the same pigment that we find in carrots. Researchers estimate that just one cup of golden rice per day will save the lives of thousands of children.

But golden rice is virulently opposed by activists who are against genetic modification. Just last year, activists invaded and destroyed a field trial in the Philippines.

When I heard about the destruction, I wondered if they knew that they were destroying much more than a scientific research project, that they were destroying medicines that children desperately needed to save their sight and their lives.

Some of my friends and family still worry: How do you know genes in the food are safe to eat? I explained the genetic engineering, the process of moving genes between species, has been used for more than 40 years in wines, in medicine, in plants, in cheeses.

In all that time, there hasn’t been a single case of harm to human health or the environment. But I say, look, I’m not asking you to believe me. Science is not a belief system. (how people can easily discriminate science from pseudo science?)

My opinion doesn’t matter. Let’s look at the evidence.

After 20 years of careful study and rigorous peer review by thousands of independent scientists, every major scientific organization in the world has concluded that the crops currently on the market are safe to eat and that the process of genetic engineering is no more risky than older methods of genetic modification.

These are precisely the same organizations that most of us trust when it comes to other important scientific issues such as global climate change or the safety of vaccines.

Raoul and I believe that, instead of worrying about the genes in our food, we must focus on how we can help children grow up healthy.

We must ask if farmers in rural communities can thrive, and if everyone can afford the food.

We must try to minimize environmental degradation. What scares me most about the loud arguments and misinformation about plant genetics is that the poorest people who most need the technology may be denied access because of the vague fears and prejudices of those who have enough to eat.

We have a huge challenge in front of us. Let’s celebrate scientific innovation and use it. It’s our responsibility to do everything we can to help alleviate human suffering and safeguard the environment.  

14:19 Chris Anderson: Powerfully argued. The people who argue against GMOs, as I understand it, the core piece comes from two things.

One, complexity and unintended consequence. Nature is this incredibly complex machine. If we put out these brand new genes that we’ve created, that haven’t been challenged by years of evolution, and they started mixing up with the rest of what’s going on, couldn’t that trigger some kind of cataclysm or problem, especially when you add in the commercial incentive that some companies have to put them out there?

The fear is that those incentives mean that the decision is not made on purely scientific grounds, and even if it was, that there would be unintended consequences.

How do we know that there isn’t a big risk of some unintended consequence? Often our tinkerings with nature do lead to big, unintended consequences and chain reactions.

Pamela Ronald: Okay, so on the commercial aspects, one thing that’s really important to understand is that, in the developed world, farmers in the United States, almost all farmers, whether they’re organic or conventional, they buy seed produced by seed companies.

So there’s definitely a commercial interest to sell a lot of seed, but hopefully they’re selling seed that the farmers want to buy.

It’s different in the less developed world. Farmers there cannot afford the seed. These seeds are not being sold. These seeds are being distributed freely through traditional kinds of certification groups, so it is very important in less developed countries that the seed be freely available.

CA: Wouldn’t some activists say that this is actually part of the conspiracy? This is the heroin strategy. You seed the stuff, and people have no choice but to be hooked on these seeds forever?

PR: There are a lot of conspiracy theories for sure, but it doesn’t work that way. For example, the seed that’s being distributed, the flood-tolerant rice, this is distributed freely through Indian and Bangladeshi seed certification agencies, so there’s no commercial interest at all.

The golden rice was developed through support of the Rockefeller Foundation. Again, it’s being freely distributed. There are no commercial profits in this situation.

And now to address your other question about, well, mixing genes, aren’t there some unintended consequences? Absolutely — every time we do something different, there’s an unintended consequence, but one of the points I was trying to make is that we’ve been doing kind of crazy things to our plants, mutagenesis using radiation or chemical mutagenesis.

This induces thousands of uncharacterized mutations, and this is even a higher risk of unintended consequence than many of the modern methods.

And so it’s really important not to use the term GMO because it’s scientifically meaningless. I feel it’s very important to talk about a specific crop and a specific product, and think about the needs of the consumer.

CA: So part of what’s happening here is that there’s a mental model in a lot of people that nature is nature, and it’s pure and pristine, and to tinker with it is Frankensteinian.

It’s making something that’s pure dangerous in some way, and I think you’re saying that that whole model just misunderstands how nature is. Nature is a much more chaotic interplay of genetic changes that have been happening all the time anyway.

PR: That’s absolutely true, and there’s no such thing as pure food. I mean, you could not spray eggplant with insecticides or not genetically engineer it, but then you’d be stuck eating frass. So there’s no purity there.

Note: In Africa Burkina Fasso, Monsanto is monopolizing vast lands for genetically modified crops and Not distributing  any of its seed to local farmers

Patsy Z  shared this link

One of my favorite TED talks this year: Pamela Ronald makes a strong case for engineering food: http://b-gat.es/1zYWICq

Pamela Ronald studies the genes that make plants more resistant to disease and stress.
In an eye-opening talk, she describes her decade-long quest…
b-gat.es|By Pamela Ronald

The Revolutionary Practice of Endurance

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[Sunset in the Black Cloud, Cairo, 2014 (Photo: Ian Paul)] 
[Sunset in the Black Cloud, Cairo, 2014 (Photo: Ian Paul)]

Cairo, Winter 2015

The feelings of claustrophobia, exhaustion, and asphyxia are familiar to all of those who inhabit Cairo’s kinetic and crowded urban core.

Everyone living between Tahrir and the plateaus of Muqattam breathes the same polluted air that chokes much of the city, saturated with particulates from leaded car exhaust, factory emissions, scorched crop leftovers, and burning garbage dumps.

It is within these atmospheric conditions that people are born and live their lives, always-already arriving in the middle of and inheriting complex and overlapping global pasts with each breath.

Following Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s rise to power during the summer of 2013 in a highly dramatic military coup, a dark affect has also come to saturate the air of the Nile valley.

Many of the democratic and material gains of the Egyptian revolution seem to have dissolved with the return of military rule, and new emergency anti-protest laws have sent hundreds of revolutionaries to prison for years simply for attending demonstrations.

It is tempting at times to feel that everything that had become possible in Egypt during the eighteen revolutionary days of 2011 has now been completely curtailed by the security state, leaving little room to breathe anything other than the stale exhaust of smoldering dreams.

Blogger Sarah Carr has poignantly described these years as “that time we jumped off a cliff reaching for the moon” while asking

“whether it was worth it, whether those lives shattered and destroyed have laid the groundwork for something or are just gone.”

 


[Sunset in the Black Cloud, Cairo, 2014 (Photo: Ian Paul)]

And yet those living within the black cloud of Cairo overflow with collective forms of activity that seemingly shake off many of the harsh realities of the city, thoroughly entangled with one another in thousands of tiny gestures of solidarity that largely escape notice.

In downtown’s outdoor cafes where groups gather in the mornings and evenings to drink coffee and tea or smoke shisha, reading the daily newspapers or watching football matches, people relax together and sustain informal spaces of sociality.

In the vast networks of baking and delivering inexpensive bread, recycling every form of trash, and building cheap brick housing complexes in Cairo’s ashwa’iyyat, the city’s poor find a way of sheltering and sustaining one another’s lives, however precarious. And occasionally, in the streets surrounding Tahrir Square, in the chaotic accumulation of demonstrations, occupations, and riots of the past years, people have found ways of building fragile yet tangible imaginations and futures with one another.

Each of these tiny acts are part of much more prolonged and expansive forms of solidarity and care that people lend each other over spans of years or even entire lives, an aggregate that not only preserves life but also preserves the conditions that make life possible.

These gestures of solidarity are framed by the histories that they arise from, as well as by the futures they call into being.

Each act is figured by, as well as prefigurative of, complex economic relations, urban transformations, social controls, and transnational as well as local migrations and settlements, all unfolding in the context of Egyptian neoliberalism.

As Salwa Ismail notes in her book Political Life in Cairo’s New Quarters: “Part and parcel of the political economy transformations is a remapping of the city whereby new lines of division and fragmentation of the urban fabric have emerged.”

Therefore “we should direct our attention to the actual living conditions in the quarters, to the efforts undertaken by the residents to change these conditions and fashion modes of living in the face of grinding political and economic constraints.”

It is here, in the manifold practices that “fashion modes of living”, that we can glimpse how heterogeneous and unresolved economic, social, and political pasts are enmeshed with the plural futures of the city’s diverse inhabitants, each vibrantly modulating the conditions oh possibility and impossibility for various forms of life.

I now think that many of us have too often thought of revolution only as a kind of rupture, an intense and radical departure away from the old and towards the new.

Even the given name of the “Arab Spring” has framed the revolt in Egypt as a passing season, already historically contained. From this perspective every revolution is an already-failed revolution, always stopping short of completely undoing past injustice.

Instead, I wonder what it would mean to think of revolution in terms of its continuity rather than its potential to break away, pushing our attention towards the importance of duration and patience with the same gravity that has otherwise been given to dramatic street battles and demonstrations.

How can we come to think of revolt as an exercise of perseverance and stamina, a collective technique of producing futures through durational practices in the present? What could we say constitutes the revolutionary practice of endurance?

Endurance of Different Kinds

Ever since the military formally returned to power in July 2013, Egyptian police, soldiers, and state-organized thugs have attacked demonstrations incessantly.

Those who are lucky have managed to slip away from these attacks with only the sharp burning of tear gas in their lungs, either escaping into an open restaurant, quickly catching one of Cairo’s many taxis, or disappearing into the bustle of a nearby metro station, all while evading the plethora of plainclothes police that roam the area before, during, and after demonstrations.

Others are beaten in the streets or in the back of police trucks, detained and sentenced to years in jail, tortured at police stations, or killed. The protests that have repeatedly filled the streets in this context have done so under threat of extinction, as the military regime has not only consistently dispersed protests when they appear but has also attempted to strangle the very conditions and relations from within which resistance is possible.

One of the means the military regime has used to forcefully establish its power in Egypt is the assault on communities that have practiced informal forms of refuge and care.

The state’s systematic attacks on homosexuals, political dissidents, students, artists, and women are each meant to suffocate instances of being-together that have the potential to reorganize the forms and practices of endurance that do not rely upon the state.

In place of these precarious refuges, the regime has implemented spaces of security that are solely meant to be defended by the military against a diversity of persistent existential threats, either described as “terrorism,” “foreign influence,” or “indecency.”

This has led to policies such as the de facto ban of nongovernmental organizations that receive any kind of funding from outside the country, the proliferation of security checkpoints in universities and on roads, as well as the destruction of entire neighborhoods in the Gaza border region. The military regime organizes to ensure that the possibility of everyone’s survival wholly relies upon a military-imposed security, and in turn extinguishes the conditions of possibility for varied forms of survival and endurance that differentially manifest.


[Youth Burning Garbage, Cairo, 2014 (Photo: Ian Paul)]

This “differential endurance,” the survival and duration of a different kind of life in Egypt, is something that has persisted despite the deep intensities of state repression.

Organizing to produce different environments and relationships within which to endure has manifested as a form of resistance against a military that means to totalize its control over the practice of survival itself.

Endurance is revolutionary in this context not only in the ways that individuals come to survive the violence of the state, but importantly in the encounters, exchanges and proximities that necessarily arise from the practices of endurance that produce new conditions of possibility for living, surviving, and revolting.

This configuration of endurance-as-resistance both precedes the power of the state and exceeds the state’s organization, moving us to consider not only the way new practices of living become possible within the fleeting revolutionary periods of turbulent riots and street battles, but also within the prolonged revolutionary forms of survival that erode the logic of security.

Asef Bayat has described these practices of endurance as “the quiet encroachment of the ordinary”, illustrating how vast informal economies and decentralized forms of autonomous organization among the poor manifest as potent political and historical forces in relation to more widely recognized forms of power.

What this description does not emphasize, however, is the way in which all of politics hinge on various forms of duration; just as the informal communities in Cairo’s slums struggle to endure, so too does the state engage in “quiet” and “ordinary” practices that produce its duration.

The important distinction is in locating how these encroachments aggregate and disaggregate sets of relations that allow for or disallow assorted practices, differentially supporting the duration of some bodies, things, and environments over others.

The repeated military closure of Tahrir Square has perhaps been the most obvious manifestation of the military regime’s attempt to impose totalizing spaces of security in Egypt in the interest of its own survival. In the past weeks, any sign of possible unrest has led to widespread military mobilizations that have included the complete closure of Tahrir on all sides, attempting to dissolve any potential for a revival of the intensity of the eighteen days of revolt in 2011.

The closures of Tahrir take place in a downtown that has also been shaped by a pervasive military presence, with armored personnel carriers regularly stationed around government buildings, accompanied by young conscripts with automatic rifles that are often too big for their small frames.

These military strategies have, over time and through their repetition, taken on their own “ordinariness” and have set into motion the duration of a militarized Cairo.


[The Ashwa’iyyat (the “randoms”), Cairo, 2014 (Photo: Ian Paul)]

Following the Muslim Brotherhood’s weeks-long occupation of Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in defiance of al-Sisi’s coup, and its end in a massacre of more than one thousand protesters in August of 2013, many groups have refused to share the streets of Cairo together in any meaningful way. Mutual perceptions of betrayals and failures persist, despite a shared opposition to the military’s seizure of state power.

However, recent protests against Hosni Mubarak’s acquittal on charges related to the killing of protesters have been composed of more diverse aggregates of groups that have gone against these sectarian trends. In the largest of the demonstrations against Mubarak’s acquittal, the chants from the revolution found new voice in the crowds, and a mixture of students, ultras, revolutionaries, journalists, and Islamists appeared together in the streets for the first time in many months.

The appearance and accumulation of crowds such as these is felt as a threat to the military order. It suggests the possibility that strangers might find one another across fields of political and social difference, united by a shared precarity and vulnerability to violence.

The Transversality of Alliance

The act of appearing in alliance together in the streets threatens to make porous the boundaries that both separate and tie together, reorganizing the limits of the social and potentially engendering new practices and relations of survival and endurance.

As much as the political divides in Egypt seem to foreclose the potential for new coalitions and alliances, what must be stressed is that one’s positionality is never entirely resolved nor fixed, but rather is incessantly reproduced in the encounters that occur when people appear together and to one another in shared spaces.

As Judith Butler has argued: “The body is constituted through perspectives it cannot inhabit; someone else sees our face in a way that none of us can. We are in this way, even as located, always elsewhere, constituted in a sociality that exceeds us.”

To congregate in this way is to be with, think with, act with, appear with, and endure with people that are ineradicably different from one another, and to engage in collective forms of transformation and endurance that cannot be fully anticipated in advance.

When people protest together, as they have against Mubarak’s acquittal, or when they mourn together, as they recently have on the third anniversary of the Maspero massacre, they enter into situations that have unpredictable outcomes by virtue of the diverse individuals involved, introducing noise into an otherwise calm present and creating turbulence where unpredicted futures filled with novel relations can take hold; this noise is what makes resistance possible.

The scattered and transversal movements that occur in the noisy aggregation and disaggregation of alliances produce plural futures that dislocate otherwise regulated social and political arrangements.

A necessary component of any revolutionary project is a radical re-evaluation not only of the order and hierarchy of individual parts of a society, but also of what fundamental ethical responsibilities exist or could exist between those parts.

To understand endurance as a practice of resistance is to grasp how survival is always framed by an uncompromising fragility, vulnerability, and interdependency that shapes all of life in disproportionate ways.

These fragilities, vulnerabilities and interdependencies become the foundation for ethical and political projects only when it is acknowledged that people come to survive differently, and that established formations of power differentially privilege the survival of some over others.

The diversity of revolts and occupations that have taken place in Egypt since 2011 manifest as the resistance of the endurant precisely when they are translated and persist beyond the moments of intensity themselves into more prolonged, nuanced, and complex forms of caring relation that threaten to reorganize these formations of power.

[Summer’s Shade, Cairo, 2014 (Photo: Ian Paul)]

The practice of endurance is revolutionary in this sense not only in the care for oneself or for those who are already proximate under the duress of state violence, but also in the production and preservation of conditions within which new forms of proximity and care can take shape, and within which the survival of lives of variously distant and different others can be sustained more generally.

Along these lines, the protests that have taken place across Egypt since the revolution are situated in much more diffuse currents of collective activities, everyday practices, and infinitely subtle forms of support.

These act against the contingency not only of the participants but of the larger contexts within which all of life is lived. In the process of appearing and circulating together, a transversal play between proximity and distance takes place that provides new opportunities for alliance and care that do not conform to the present formations of power.

After several hours, only a few hundred meters away from a blocked-off Tahrir Square, the diverse groups that had congregated in Abdel Moneim Riad Square in response to Mubarak’s acquittal were rapidly attacked and dispersed by the military and police.

People fled onto various side streets in the hopes of escaping arrest; only some of them were successful. Police vehicles chased running protesters around downtown for hours, ambushes were set up and people were dragged out of cars with guns pointed at their heads.

Plainclothes police hunted for those trying to escape unnoticed, desperately concealing any appearance of injury or trauma that they had just experienced that would link them to the gathering. In the end, two protesters were killed, nine were injured, and eighty-four were arrested.

While not forgetting the violent reality of the state’s repression, it is also important to insist here that even though the military was able to disperse the gathering, the relations that drew people together and that people carried away with them are not so easily suffocated. These relations suggest a continuity of the revolution that will continue to transform Egypt in the various forms they adopt, producing new conditions and situations that the military cannot wholly smother.

One of the most striking and visible changes following Mohamed Morsi’s ouster and al-Sisi’s ascent was a repainting of many of downtown Cairo’s facades, as well as the planting of a manicured lawn and installation of a military memorial in Tahrir Square.

Large sections of Mohamed Mahmoud Street, the site of some of the largest clashes between police and demonstrators in 2011, and famous for its elaborate murals memorializing the revolution’s martyrs, have been repeatedly painted over as well.

In the end, such cosmetic projects do little to bury pasts that are not yet passed, but still thickly infuse the air of the city; activist artists have consistently covered Mohamed Mahmoud Street with new murals every time it has been painted over, and the military has just recently removed its own memorial from Tahrir in anticipation of the protests that will accompany the fourth anniversary of the revolution.

After the street battles, in the brief pauses between the gasps of air from those who have just escaped the police’s clubs, tear gas, and bullets, dynamic forms of care allow for new durations to emerge that remake the world itself.

These diverse forms of endurance are ultimately incongruent with the military’s secure present and suggest the potential for differential practices of living to emerge. The revolution persists on the streets of Egypt in the lives of the endurant who, with each breath, carry the unfinished relations of the revolution forward.

Postscript

On 24 January, the eve of the fourth anniversary of the revolution, the socialist activist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh was shot and killed by police in downtown Cairo. She was part of a small demonstration that was headed to Tahrir Square to lay a wreath of flowers in honor of the martyrs of the revolution when security forces fired the birdshot that took her life.

This short reflection was meant to help us think about the endurant, but I hope that it also speaks more broadly to the struggle to cultivate the fragile and shared conditions within which we all are born and will eventually die.

Those that have collapsed in the fight for not only the possibility of survival, but also for qualitatively better lives, do not so simply disintegrate and vanish when their breath stops. Rather, their actions and gestures will continue reverberate through the futures that they helped call into being.

This text is dedicated to her life, and to all of the ways her life will continue to find expression in futures and lives that are still in the process of becoming.

How to double return on your investment? Have you considered Employment through Social Enterprise?

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 5, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ —

Today REDF announced the findings of the Mathematica Jobs Study (MJS), showing social enterprise businesses provide a cost-effective way to both improve the lives of people who face barriers to work and generate savings for communities and taxpayers.

Beyond an average 268% monthly wage increase for those employed by these businesses, the report also revealed that the social enterprises generate a significant return on investment for society.

Commissioned by REDF, a grantee of the Social Innovation Fund, this first-of-its-kind study was conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, an internationally-known research and evaluation firm.

Jobs report from REDF and Mathematica Policy Research evaluates the impact of jobs for people facing barriers to employment

“Hundreds of thousands of people in this country want what we all want, the opportunity to work and contribute to their families and communities, but don’t currently have the chance,” said Carla Javits, REDF President & CEO.

“As a results-driven organization, we can now make the powerful case that social enterprises that put people to work not only generate the obvious benefits of greater hope and a paycheck, but also produce a clear win for taxpayers.”

REDF provides funding, business connections, and operational expertise to social enterprises, which are mission-driven businesses focused on hiring and assisting people who are willing and able to work, but have the hardest time getting a job, like people who’ve been in prison or homeless, young people who’ve dropped out of school, and those who live with mental health disabilities.

Some of the barriers to employment that people faced included:

  • 25 percent had never had a job;
  • 85 percent did not have stable housing in the year before starting the job; and
  • Only 23 percent of their monthly income came from work, with 71 percent coming from government benefits.

Social enterprises provide employees with real on-the-job skills development and comprehensive benefits including job placement services, counseling, and life-stability supports.

With the goal of helping employees secure long-term employment, these transitional jobs enable people to realize their full potential and establish a career path.

The Mathematica Jobs Study contains four integrated study components, finding that about one year after the social enterprise job began, workers were more likely to be employed, had greater economic self-sufficiency, and more stable housing.

Other successes include:

  • 67 percent of social enterprise employees were still working 6 months later.
  • These workers were more likely to be employed than those that were not hired: Social enterprise employment led to a 19 percentage point increase in employment one year later, compared to those that were not hired by the social enterprise and only received job readiness and search services.
  • Income from government benefits went down from 71 percent to 24 percent.
  • Housing stability tripled with employees living in a home or apartment throughout the year. (15 percent to 53 percent).
  • 90 percent received training to build soft, vocational or technical skills, and nearly 80 percent received material work support such as clothing, transportation or housing assistance, making this a comprehensive and holistic approach to employment preparedness.

In addition to the benefits for the individual, there is a significant return on investment for society:

  • For each dollar spent by social enterprise, taxpayers save $1.31. When you add in the social enterprise’s revenue, and worker’s income, the return on investment rises to $2.23. This means a $100,000 investment would have a return of $223,000 for society.

This report is based upon work supported by the Social Innovation Fund (SIF), a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).

The Social Innovation Fund combines public and private resources to grow the impact of innovative, community-based solutions that have compelling evidence of improving the lives of people in low-income communities throughout the United States.

As an awardee of the inaugural year of SIF grants in 2011, REDF is one of the first organizations funded by this initiative to deliver on that promise – new, compelling evidence of the power of an innovative approach to solve one of America’s most vexing problems.

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“With this promise, we are proud to support REDF’s Mathematica Jobs Study, which serves as a catalyst for other social enterprises and organizations in finding innovative, cost-effective ways to impact the lives of economically disadvantaged individuals.”

For more information on the Mathematica Jobs Study, click here: www.redf.org/finalmjsreportbrief.

About REDF

REDF creates jobs and employment opportunities for people facing the greatest barriers to work – like people who’ve been homeless or in prison, young people disconnected from work or school, and people with mental health disabilities.

Founded in 1997 by George R. Roberts (KKR), REDF provides funding and expertise to organizations in California to launch and grow social enterprises, which are mission-driven businesses focused on hiring and assisting people who face barriers to work.

As a result REDF has helped thousands of people in California get jobs and find hope.  Now REDF is taking best practices learned from nearly two decades of experience to grow their impact nationally and put hundreds of thousands of people to work. For more information, follow REDF on Twitter at @REDF_CA or visit http://redf.org/.

Photo – http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20150204/173631-INFO
Logo – http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20150204/173632LOGO

How Marx observed Capitalists at work: Read former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis

Before he entered politics, Yanis Varoufakis, the iconoclastic Greek finance minister at the centre of the latest Eurozone standoff, wrote this searing account of European capitalism and and how the left can learn from Marx’s mistakes

Wednesday 18 February 2015

In 2008, capitalism had its second global spasm. The financial crisis set off a chain reaction that pushed Europe into a downward spiral that continues to this day.

Europe’s present situation is not merely a threat for workers, for the dispossessed, for the bankers, for social classes or, indeed, nations.

No, Europe’s current posture poses a threat to civilisation as we know it.

If my prognosis is correct, and we are not facing just another cyclical slump soon to be overcome, the question that arises for radicals is this: should we welcome this crisis of European capitalism as an opportunity to replace it with a better system?

Or should we be so worried about it as to embark upon a campaign for stabilising European capitalism?

To me, the answer is clear.

Europe’s crisis is far less likely to give birth to a better alternative to capitalism than it is to unleash dangerously regressive forces that have the capacity to cause a humanitarian bloodbath, while extinguishing the hope for any progressive moves for generations to come.

For this view I have been accused, by well-meaning radical voices, of being “defeatist” and of trying to save an indefensible European socioeconomic system.

This criticism, I confess, hurts. And it hurts because it contains more than a kernel of truth.

I share the view that this European Union is typified by a large democratic deficit that, in combination with the denial of the faulty architecture of its monetary union, has put Europe’s peoples on a path to permanent recession.

And I also bow to the criticism that I have campaigned on an agenda founded on the assumption that the left was, and remains, squarely defeated.

I confess I would much rather be promoting a radical agenda, the raison d’être of which is to replace European capitalism with a different system.

Yet my aim here is to offer a window into my view of a repugnant European capitalism whose implosion, despite its many ills, should be avoided at all costs.

It is a confession intended to convince radicals that we have a contradictory mission: to arrest the freefall of European capitalism in order to buy the time we need to formulate its alternative.

Why a Marxist?

When I chose the subject of my doctoral thesis, back in 1982, I deliberately focused on a highly mathematical topic within which Marx’s thought was irrelevant.

When, later on, I embarked on an academic career, as a lecturer in mainstream economics departments, the implicit contract between myself and the departments that offered me lectureships was that I would be teaching the type of economic theory that left no room for Marx.

In the late 1980s, I was hired by the University of Sydney’s school of economics in order to keep out a leftwing candidate (although I did not know this at the time).

Yanis Varoufakis: ‘Karl Marx was responsible for framing my perspective of the world we live in, from my childhood to this day.’ Facebook Twitter Pinterest

After I returned to Greece in 2000, I threw my lot in with the future prime minister George Papandreou, hoping to help stem the return to power of a resurgent right wing that wanted to push Greece towards xenophobia both domestically and in its foreign policy.

As the whole world now knows, Papandreou’s party not only failed to stem xenophobia but, in the end, presided over the most virulent neoliberal macroeconomic policies that spearheaded the eurozone’s so-called bailouts thus, unwittingly, causing the return of Nazis to the streets of Athens.

Even though I resigned as Papandreou’s adviser early in 2006, and turned into his government’s staunchest critic during his mishandling of the post-2009 Greek implosion, my public interventions in the debate on Greece and Europe have carried no whiff of Marxism.

Given all this, you may be puzzled to hear me call myself a Marxist.

But, in truth, Karl Marx was responsible for framing my perspective of the world we live in, from my childhood to this day. This is not something that I often volunteer to talk about in “polite society” because the very mention of the M-word switches audiences off.

But I never deny it either. After a few years of addressing audiences with whom I do not share an ideology, a need has crept up on me to talk about Marx’s imprint on my thinking.

To explain why, while an unapologetic Marxist, I think it is important to resist him passionately in a variety of ways. To be, in other words, erratic in one’s Marxism.

If my whole academic career largely ignored Marx, and my current policy recommendations are impossible to describe as Marxist, why bring up my Marxism now?

The answer is simple: Even my non-Marxist economics was guided by a mindset influenced by Marx.

A radical social theorist can challenge the economic mainstream in two different ways, I always thought.

One way is by means of immanent criticism. To accept the mainstream’s axioms and then expose its internal contradictions. To say: “I shall not contest your assumptions but here is why your own conclusions do not logically flow on from them.” This was, indeed, Marx’s method of undermining British political economics.

He accepted every axiom by Adam Smith and David Ricardo in order to demonstrate that, in the context of their assumptions, capitalism was a contradictory system.

The second avenue that a radical theorist can pursue is, of course, the construction of alternative theories to those of the establishment, hoping that they will be taken seriously.

My view on this dilemma has always been that the powers that be are never perturbed by theories that embark from assumptions different to their own. The only thing that can destabilise and genuinely challenge mainstream, neoclassical economists is the demonstration of the internal inconsistency of their own models.

It was for this reason that, from the very beginning, I chose to delve into the guts of neoclassical theory and to spend next to no energy trying to develop alternative, Marxist models of capitalism. My reasons, I submit, were quite Marxist.

When called upon to comment on the world we live in, I had no alternative but to fall back on the Marxist tradition which had shaped my thinking ever since my metallurgist father impressed upon me, when I was still a child, the effect of technological innovation on the historical process.

How, for instance, the passage from the bronze age to the iron age sped up history;

how the discovery of steel greatly accelerated historical time; and

how silicon-based IT technologies are fast-tracking socioeconomic and historical discontinuities.

My first encounter with Marx’s writings came very early in life, as a result of the strange times I grew up in, with Greece exiting the nightmare of the neofascist dictatorship of 1967-74.

What caught my eye was Marx’s mesmerising gift for writing a dramatic script for human history, indeed for human damnation, that was also laced with the possibility of salvation and authentic spirituality.

Marx created a narrative populated by workers, capitalists, officials and scientists who were history’s dramatis personae. They struggled to harness reason and science in the context of empowering humanity while, contrary to their intentions, unleashing demonic forces that usurped and subverted their own freedom and humanity.

This dialectical perspective, where everything is pregnant with its opposite, and the eager eye with which Marx discerned the potential for change in what seemed to be the most unchanging of social structures, helped me to grasp the great contradictions of the capitalist era.

It dissolved the paradox of an age that generated the most remarkable wealth and, in the same breath, the most conspicuous poverty.

Today, turning to the European crisis, the crisis in the United States and the long-term stagnation of Japanese capitalism, most commentators fail to appreciate the dialectical process under their nose.

They recognise the mountain of debts and banking losses but neglect the opposite side of the same coin: the mountain of idle savings that are “frozen” by fear and thus fail to convert into productive investments.

A Marxist alertness to binary oppositions might have opened their eyes.

A major reason why established opinion fails to come to terms with contemporary reality is that it never understood the dialectically tense “joint production” of debts and surpluses, of growth and unemployment, of wealth and poverty, indeed of good and evil.

Marx’s script alerted us these binary oppositions as the sources of history’s cunning.

From my first steps of thinking like an economist, to this very day, it occurred to me that Marx had made a discovery that must remain at the heart of any useful analysis of capitalism.

It was the discovery of another binary opposition deep within human labour.

Between labour’s two quite different natures:

i) labour as a value-creating activity that can never be quantified in advance (and is therefore impossible to commodify), and

ii) labour as a quantity (eg, numbers of hours worked) that is for sale and comes at a price.

That is what distinguishes labour from other productive inputs such as electricity: its twin, contradictory, nature. A differentiation-cum-contradiction that political economics neglected to make before Marx came along and that mainstream economics is steadfastly refusing to acknowledge today.

Both electricity and labour can be thought of as commodities. Indeed, both employers and workers struggle to commodify labour.

Employers use all their ingenuity, and that of their HR management minions, to quantify, measure and homogenise labour. Meanwhile, prospective employees go through the wringer in an anxious attempt to commodify their labour power, to write and rewrite their CVs in order to portray themselves as purveyors of quantifiable labour units.

And there’s the rub. If workers and employers ever succeed in commodifying labour fully, capitalism will perish.

This is an insight without which capitalism’s tendency to generate crises can never be fully grasped and, also, an insight that no one has access to without some exposure to Marx’s thought.

Science fiction becomes documentary
In the classic 1953 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the alien force does not attack us head on, unlike in, say, HG Wells’s The War of the Worlds.

Instead, people are taken over from within, until nothing is left of their human spirit and emotions. Their bodies are shells that used to contain a free will and which now labour, go through the motions of everyday “life”, and function as human simulacra “liberated” from the unquantifiable essence of human nature.

This is something like what would have transpired if human labour had become perfectly reducible to human capital and thus fit for insertion into the vulgar economists’ models.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Facebook Twitter Pinterest
Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Photograph: SNAP/REX
Every non-Marxist economic theory that treats human and non-human productive inputs as interchangeable assumes that the dehumanisation of human labour is complete.

But if it could ever be completed, the result would be the end of capitalism as a system capable of creating and distributing value.

For a start, a society of dehumanised automata would resemble a mechanical watch full of cogs and springs, each with its own unique function, together producing a “good”: timekeeping.

Yet if that society contained nothing but other automata, timekeeping would not be a “good”. It would certainly be an “output” but why a “good”? Without real humans to experience the clock’s function, there can be no such thing as “good” or “bad”.

If capital ever succeeds in quantifying, and subsequently fully commodifying, labour, as it is constantly trying to, it will also squeeze that indeterminate, recalcitrant human freedom from within labour that allows for the generation of value.

Marx’s brilliant insight into the essence of capitalist crises was precisely this: the greater capitalism’s success in turning labour into a commodity the less the value of each unit of output it generates, the lower the profit rate and, ultimately, the nearer the next recession of the economy as a system.

The portrayal of human freedom as an economic category is unique in Marx, making possible a distinctively dramatic and analytically astute interpretation of capitalism’s propensity to snatch recession, even depression, from the jaws of growth.

When Marx was writing that labour is the living, form-giving fire; the transitoriness of things; their temporality; he was making the greatest contribution any economist has ever made to our understanding of the acute contradiction buried inside capitalism’s DNA.

When he portrayed capital as a “… force we must submit to … it develops a cosmopolitan, universal energy which breaks through every limit and every bond and posts itself as the only policy, the only universality the only limit and the only bond”, he was highlighting the reality that labour can be purchased by liquid capital (ie money), in its commodity form, but that it will always carry with it a will hostile to the capitalist buyer.

But Marx was not just making a psychological, philosophical or political statement. He was, rather, supplying a remarkable analysis of why the moment that labour (as an unquantifiable activity) sheds this hostility, it becomes sterile, incapable of producing value.

At a time when neoliberals have ensnared the majority in their theoretical tentacles, incessantly regurgitating the ideology of enhancing labour productivity in an effort to enhance competitiveness with a view to creating growth etc, Marx’s analysis offers a powerful antidote.

Capital can never win in its struggle to turn labour into an infinitely elastic, mechanised input, without destroying itself.

That is what neither the neoliberals nor the Keynesians will ever grasp. “If the whole class of the wage-labourer were to be annihilated by machinery”, wrote Marx “how terrible that would be for capital, which, without wage-labour, ceases to be capital!”

What has Marx done for us?

Almost all schools of thought, including those of some progressive economists, like to pretend that, though Marx was a powerful figure, very little of his contribution remains relevant today. I beg to differ.

Besides having captured the basic drama of capitalist dynamics, Marx has given me the tools with which to become immune to the toxic propaganda of neoliberalism.

For example, the idea that wealth is privately produced and then appropriated by a quasi-illegitimate state, through taxation, is easy to succumb to if one has not been exposed first to Marx’s poignant argument that precisely the opposite applies: wealth is collectively produced and then privately appropriated through social relations of production and property rights that rely, for their reproduction, almost exclusively on false consciousness.

In his recent book Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, the historian of economic thought, Philip Mirowski, has highlighted the neoliberals’ success in convincing a large array of people that markets are not just a useful means to an end but also an end in themselves.

According to this view, while collective action and public institutions are never able to “get it right”, the unfettered operations of decentralised private interest are guaranteed to produce not only the right outcomes but also the right desires, character, ethos even.

The best example of this form of neoliberal crassness is, of course, the debate on how to deal with climate change.

Neoliberals have rushed in to argue that, if anything is to be done, it must take the form of creating a quasi-market for “bads” (eg an emissions trading scheme), since only markets “know” how to price goods and bads appropriately.

To understand why such a quasi-market solution is bound to fail and, more importantly, where the motivation comes from for such “solutions”, one can do much worse than to become acquainted with the logic of capital accumulation that Marx outlined and the Polish economist Michal Kalecki adapted to a world ruled by networked oligopolies.
In the 20th century, the two political movements that sought their roots in Marx’s thought were the communist and social democratic parties. Both of them, in addition to their other errors (and, indeed, crimes) failed, to their detriment, to follow Marx’s lead in a crucial regard: instead of embracing liberty and rationality as their rallying cries and organising concepts, they opted for equality and justice, bequeathing the concept of freedom to the neoliberals.

Marx was adamant: The problem with capitalism is not that it is unfair but that it is irrational, as it habitually condemns whole generations to deprivation and unemployment and even turns capitalists into angst-ridden automata, living in permanent fear that unless they commodify their fellow humans fully so as to serve capital accumulation more efficiently, they will cease to be capitalists.

So, if capitalism appears unjust this is because it enslaves everyone; it wastes human and natural resources; the same production line that pumps out remarkable gizmos and untold wealth, also produces deep unhappiness and crises.

Having failed to couch a critique of capitalism in terms of freedom and rationality, as Marx thought essential, social democracy and the left in general allowed the neoliberals to usurp the mantle of freedom and to win a spectacular triumph in the contest of ideologies.

Perhaps the most significant dimension of the neoliberal triumph is what has come to be known as the “democratic deficit”. Rivers of crocodile tears have flowed over the decline of our great democracies during the past three decades of financialisation and globalisation.

Marx would have laughed long and hard at those who seem surprised, or upset, by the “democratic deficit”. What was the great objective behind 19th-century liberalism?

It was, as Marx never tired of pointing out, to separate the economic sphere from the political sphere and to confine politics to the latter while leaving the economic sphere to capital. It is liberalism’s splendid success in achieving this long-held goal that we are now observing.

Take a look at South Africa today, more than two decades after Nelson Mandela was freed and the political sphere, at long last, embraced the whole population.

The ANC’s predicament was that, in order to be allowed to dominate the political sphere, it had to give up power over the economic one. And if you think otherwise, I suggest that you talk to the dozens of miners gunned down by armed guards paid by their employers after they dared demand a wage rise.

Why erratic?
Having explained why I owe whatever understanding of our social world I may possess largely to Karl Marx, I now want to explain why I remain terribly angry with him.

I shall outline why I am by choice an erratic, inconsistent Marxist.

Marx committed two spectacular mistakes, one of them an error of omission, the other one of commission.

Even today, these mistakes still hamper the left’s effectiveness, especially in Europe.

Marx’s first error – the error of omission was that he failed to give sufficient thought to the impact of his own theorising on the world that he was theorising about.

His theory is discursively exceptionally powerful, and Marx had a sense of its power. So how come he showed no concern that his disciples, people with a better grasp of these powerful ideas than the average worker, might use the power bestowed upon them, via Marx’s own ideas, in order to abuse other comrades, to build their own power base, to gain positions of influence?

Marx’s second error, the one I ascribe to commission, was worse. It was his assumption that truth about capitalism could be discovered in the mathematics of his models.

This was the worst disservice he could have delivered to his own theoretical system.

The man who equipped us with human freedom as a first-order economic concept; the scholar who elevated radical indeterminacy to its rightful place within political economics; he was the same person who ended up toying around with simplistic algebraic models, in which labour units were, naturally, fully quantified, hoping against hope to evince from these equations some additional insights about capitalism.

After his death, Marxist economists wasted long careers indulging a similar type of scholastic mechanism.

Fully immersed in irrelevant debates on “the transformation problem” and what to do about it, they eventually became an almost extinct species, as the neoliberal juggernaut crushed all dissent in its path.

How could Marx be so deluded?

Why did he not recognise that no truth about capitalism can ever spring out of any mathematical model, however brilliant the modeller may be?

Did he not have the intellectual tools to realise that capitalist dynamics spring from the unquantifiable part of human labour; ie from a variable that can never be well-defined mathematically?

Of course he did, since he forged these tools!

No, the reason for his error is a little more sinister: just like the vulgar economists that he so brilliantly admonished (and who continue to dominate the departments of economics today), he coveted the power that mathematical “proof” afforded him.

Why did Marx not recognise that no truth about capitalism can ever spring out of any mathematical model?
If I am right, Marx knew what he was doing. He understood, or had the capacity to know, that a comprehensive theory of value cannot be accommodated within a mathematical model of a dynamic capitalist economy.

He was, I have no doubt, aware that a proper economic theory must respect the idea that the rules of the undetermined are themselves undetermined.

In economic terms this meant a recognition that the market power, and thus the profitability, of capitalists was not necessarily reducible to their capacity to extract labour from employees; that some capitalists can extract more from a given pool of labour or from a given community of consumers for reasons that are external to Marx’s own theory.

Alas, that recognition would be tantamount to accepting that his “laws” were not immutable. He would have to concede to competing voices in the trades union movement that his theory was indeterminate and, therefore, that his pronouncements could not be uniquely and unambiguously correct.

That they were permanently provisional. This determination to have the complete, closed story, or model, the final word, is something I cannot forgive Marx for.

It proved, after all, responsible for a great deal of error and, more significantly, authoritarianism. Errors and authoritarianism that are largely responsible for the left’s current impotence as a force of good and as a check on the abuses of reason and liberty that the neoliberal crew are overseeing today.

Mrs Thatcher’s lesson

I moved to England to attend university in September 1978, six months or so before Margaret Thatcher’s victory changed Britain forever.

Watching the Labour government disintegrate, under the weight of its degenerate social democratic programme, led me to a serious error: to the thought that Thatcher’s victory could be a good thing, delivering to Britain’s working and middle classes the short, sharp shock necessary to reinvigorate progressive politics; to give the left a chance to create a fresh, radical agenda for a new type of effective, progressive politics.

Even as unemployment doubled and then trebled, under Thatcher’s radical neoliberal interventions, I continued to harbour hope that Lenin was right: “Things have to get worse before they get better.”

As life became nastier, more brutish and, for many, shorter, it occurred to me that I was tragically in error: things could get worse in perpetuity, without ever getting better.

The hope that the deterioration of public goods, the diminution of the lives of the majority, the spread of deprivation to every corner of the land would, automatically, lead to a renaissance of the left was just that: hope.

The reality was, however, painfully different. With every turn of the recession’s screw, the left became more introverted, less capable of producing a convincing progressive agenda and, meanwhile, the working class was being divided between those who dropped out of society and those co-opted into the neoliberal mindset.

My hope that Thatcher would inadvertently bring about a new political revolution was well and truly bogus. All that sprang out of Thatcherism were extreme financialisation, the triumph of the shopping mall over the corner store, the fetishisation of housing and Tony Blair.

Instead of radicalising British society, the recession that Thatcher’s government so carefully engineered, as part of its class war against organised labour and against the public institutions of social security and redistribution that had been established after the war, permanently destroyed the very possibility of radical, progressive politics in Britain.

Indeed, it rendered impossible the very notion of values that transcended what the market determined as the “right” price.

The lesson Thatcher taught me about the capacity of a long‑lasting recession to undermine progressive politics, is one that I carry with me into today’s European crisis.

It is, indeed, the most important determinant of my stance in relation to the crisis. It is the reason I am happy to confess to the sin I am accused of by some of my critics on the left: the sin of choosing not to propose radical political programs that seek to exploit the crisis as an opportunity to overthrow European capitalism, to dismantle the awful eurozone, and to undermine the European Union of the cartels and the bankrupt bankers.

Yes, I would love to put forward such a radical agenda. But, no, I am not prepared to commit the same error twice. What good did we achieve in Britain in the early 1980s by promoting an agenda of socialist change that British society scorned while falling headlong into Thatcher’s neoliberal trap? Precisely none.

What good will it do today to call for a dismantling of the eurozone, of the European Union itself, when European capitalism is doing its utmost to undermine the eurozone, the European Union, indeed itself?

A Greek or a Portuguese or an Italian exit from the eurozone would soon lead to a fragmentation of European capitalism, yielding a seriously recessionary surplus region east of the Rhine and north of the Alps, while the rest of Europe is would be in the grip of vicious stagflation.

Who do you think would benefit from this development? A progressive left, that will rise Phoenix-like from the ashes of Europe’s public institutions?

Or the Golden Dawn Nazis, the assorted neofascists, the xenophobes and the spivs? I have absolutely no doubt as to which of the two will do best from a disintegration of the eurozone.

I, for one, am not prepared to blow fresh wind into the sails of this postmodern version of the 1930s.

If this means that it is we, the suitably erratic Marxists, who must try to save European capitalism from itself, so be it. Not out of love for European capitalism, for the eurozone, for Brussels, or for the European Central Bank, but just because we want to minimise the unnecessary human toll from this crisis.

What should Marxists do?

Europe’s elites are behaving today as if they understand neither the nature of the crisis that they are presiding over, nor its implications for the future of European civilisation.

Atavistically, they are choosing to plunder the diminishing stocks of the weak and the dispossessed in order to plug the gaping holes of the financial sector, refusing to come to terms with the unsustainability of the task.

Yet with Europe’s elites deep in denial and disarray, the left must admit that we are just not ready to plug the chasm that a collapse of European capitalism would open up with a functioning socialist system.

Our task should then be twofold.

First, to put forward an analysis of the current state of play that non-Marxist, well meaning Europeans who have been lured by the sirens of neoliberalism, find insightful.

Second, to follow this sound analysis up with proposals for stabilising Europe – for ending the downward spiral that, in the end, reinforces only the bigots.

Let me now conclude with two confessions.

First, while I am happy to defend as genuinely radical the pursuit of a modest agenda for stabilising a system that I criticise, I shall not pretend to be enthusiastic about it. This may be what we must do, under the present circumstances, but I am sad that I shall probably not be around to see a more radical agenda being adopted.

My final confession is of a highly personal nature: I know that I run the risk of, surreptitiously, lessening the sadness from ditching any hope of replacing capitalism in my lifetime by indulging a feeling of having become agreeable to the circles of polite society.

The sense of self-satisfaction from being feted by the high and mighty did begin, on occasion, to creep up on me. And what a non-radical, ugly, corruptive and corrosive sense it was.

My personal nadir came at an airport.

Some moneyed outfit had invited me to give a keynote speech on the European crisis and had forked out the ludicrous sum necessary to buy me a first-class ticket.

On my way back home, tired and with several flights under my belt, I was making my way past the long queue of economy passengers, to get to my gate. Suddenly I noticed, with horror, how easy it was for my mind to be infected with the sense that I was entitled to bypass the hoi polloi.

I realised how readily I could forget that which my leftwing mind had always known: that nothing succeeds in reproducing itself better than a false sense of entitlement.

Forging alliances with reactionary forces, as I think we should do to stabilise Europe today, brings us up against the risk of becoming co-opted, of shedding our radicalism through the warm glow of having “arrived” in the corridors of power.

Radical confessions, like the one I have attempted here, are perhaps the only programmatic antidote to ideological slippage that threatens to turn us into cogs of the machine.

If we are to forge alliances with our political adversaries we must avoid becoming like the socialists who failed to change the world but succeeded in improving their private circumstances.

The trick is to avoid the revolutionary maximalism that, in the end, helps the neoliberals bypass all opposition to their self-defeating policies and to retain in our sights capitalism’s inherent failures while trying to save it, for strategic purposes, from itself.

This article is adapted from a lecture originally delivered at the 6th Subversive Festival in Zagreb in 2013

Follow the Long Read on Twitter: @gdnlongread

The Bad B’s of Leadership

The letter B

Bad leadership feels safe like baggy jeans and broken-in sneakers.

Bad leadership has a baffling capacity to walk comfortable paths while the world changes.

Bold leadership, on the other hand, feels dangerous like learning to walk.

Bold leadership feels like almost falling.

The difference between safe and dangerous, bad and bold is:

  1. Declaring hopes. Unshared dreams don’t happen. If you want to get somewhere, tell someone where you’re going.
  2. Forgiving.
  3. Stepping out so someone can step in.
  4. Expecting more from yourself and others.
  5. Trying something untried.
  6. Developing untested skills.
  7. Admitting failure publicly.
  8. Trusting someone new.
  9. Accepting new challenges.
  10. Asking when in doubt.

No wonder there are so many bad leaders. Bad is benign.

Bold leaders step out with UNcertainty.

Bold leaders step toward the edge. Brash leaders mock the edge. Bad leaders are so far from the edge they can’t see it.

From bad to be bold:

  1. Let reluctance show you who you are. What’s in you that blocks your future.
  2. Reject notions of feeling competent. They’re overrated. You aren’t reaching high enough if you make it the first time.
  3. Make growth personal. Tie new skills and challenges to character. How does facing fear, for example, help you become who you want to be? What new character-muscles create your future.
  4. Imagine the new you before she emerges. Describe who you are on the other side of uncertainty.
  5. Rely on trusted advisers, mentors, and coaches.
  6. Continue moving forward – don’t fix failures – leave them behind. Think next time all the time.
  7. Role play in safe environments. Test your wings before leaving the nest.

What can you do that feels like you’re almost falling?

More bad “B” words for leaders:

  1. Belittle.
  2. Beguile.
  3. Baby.
  4. Biased.
  5. Baggage.
  6. Boring. (By the way, anyone interested in me isn’t boring!)
  7. Backstabbing.
  8. Bragging.
  9. Brownnoser.
  10. Bottleneck.

For a longer list of important “B’s” for leaders visit the Leadership Freak Facebook page (7/2/2013).

What good or bad B’s for leaders can you suggest?

Add important leadership words that begin with “C” onFacebook for tomorrow’s post.

Cost reduce or value increase?

Organizations that want to increase their metrics either invest in:

Creating more value for their customers, or

Doing just enough to keep going, but for less effort and money.

During their first decade, the core group at Amazon regularly amazed customers by investing in work that created more value. When you do that, people talk, the word spreads, growth happens.

Inevitably, particularly for public companies, it becomes easier to focus on keeping what you’ve got going, but cheaper.

You may have noticed, for example, that their once legendary customer service hardly seems the same, with 6 or 7 interactions required to get an accurate and useful response.

This happens to organizations regardless of size or stature. It’s a form of entropy.

Unless you’re vigilant, the apparently easy path of cost reduction will distract you from the important work of value creation.

The key question to ask in the meeting is: Are we increasing value or lowering costs?

Race to the top or race to the bottom, it’s a choice.

Welfare budget is spent on in the UK?
Joanna Choukeir Hojeily shared Jon Leighton‘s photo.
Ok, I can't keep my gob shut any longer. I'm sick to death of seeing posts on Facebook about benefit scroungers. Do you know the figures? Because if you did you might see it in another light.</p> <p>Did you know that only 3% of the benefits budget goes to people seeking work? 53% is pensions and other related old age benefits, 18% is Housing Benefit (which currently goes directly to landlords) 18% is working tax credits, and the rest disabled benefits and other bits and bobs. (And by the way, the Government figures say the fraud rate for disabled benefits is 0.3%)</p> <p>In fact, the majority of folks claiming housing and council tax benefit ARE IN WORK. </p> <p>I could write a bloody essay on this because I deal with it everyday. Our benefits budget is not out of control. According to the OECD Britain's benefit bill per head is nowhere near as generous as half the countries in Europe. (And unemployment benefit is particularly stingy compared to most)</p> <p>The vast majority of folks just want to get on but minimum wage jobs are not paying enough. (This might explain why at work we're seeing working people going to bloody foodbanks every week.)</p> <p>This shitty government is turning people against each other. And it's totally unwarranted. Yes, welfare needs reforming but you don't do that by kicking people out of their homes, stigmatising them so that they get spat at in the street and driving them to suicide. - these have all happened so far.</p> <p>In the last two years 80% of people applying for housing benefit were all working. We can reform welfare by bringing in a living wage so that people don't have to claim benefits to get by. At the moment the welfare budget is subsidising low pay and private landlords on a grand scale. </p> <p>When you see a post that puts the boot into benefit claimants, think twice before you like it because let me tell you, we are ALL only three mortgage payments away from disaster.</p> <p>(If anyone wants the sources of the figures I have quoted, I will only be too happy to provide them)</p> <p>I've attached a pie chart from 2011 to give you an idea. Figures will have changed a bit.
I can’t keep my gob shut any longer. I’m sick to death of seeing posts on Facebook about benefit scroungers.

Do you know the figures? Because if you did, you might see it in another light.

Did you know that only 3% of the benefits budget goes to people seeking work?

53% is pensions and other related old age benefits,

18% is Housing Benefit (which currently goes directly to landlords)

18% is working tax credits, and

The rest is spent on disabled benefits and other bits and bobs.

(And by the way, the Government figures say the fraud rate for disabled benefits is 0.3%)

In fact, the majority of folks claiming housing and council tax benefit ARE IN WORK.

I could write a bloody essay on this because I deal with it everyday.

Our benefits budget is Not out of control.

According to the OECD Britain’s benefit bill per head is nowhere near as generous as half the countries in Europe. (And unemployment benefit is particularly stingy compared to most)

The vast majority of folks just want to get on, but minimum wage jobs are not paying enough. (This might explain why at work we’re seeing working people going to bloody “food banks” every week.)

This government is turning people against each other. And it’s totally unwarranted.

Welfare needs reforming but you don’t do that by kicking people out of their homes, stigmatizing them so that they get spat at in the street and driving them to suicide. – these have all happened so far.

In the last two years, 80% of people applying for housing benefit were all working.

We can reform welfare by bringing in a living wage so that people don’t have to claim benefits to get by. At the moment the welfare budget is subsidising low pay and private landlords on a grand scale. (Sort of allowing the rich businesses to get richer from government pocket?)

When you see a post that puts the boot into benefit claimants, think twice before you like it because let me tell you, we are ALL only three mortgage payments away from disaster.

(If anyone wants the sources of the figures I have quoted, I will only be too happy to provide them)

I’ve attached a pie chart from 2011 to give you an idea. Figures will have changed a bit.

Most Important Bankruptcy In U.S. History?

Not Detroit, but General Motor?

Many people, including President Obama, have trumpeted their role in the success of the government-backed turnaround plan that saved General Motors, the most important industrial company in the history of the United States.

But on the fifth anniversary of the crisis, Forbes presents an exclusive, unprecedented look at what really happened during GM’s darkest days, how a tiny band of corporate outsiders and turnaround experts convened in Detroit and hatched a radical plan that ultimately set the foundation for the salvation of the company.

Dan Bigman, Forbes Staff, published on Nov. 18, 2012:

How General Motors Was Really Saved: The Untold True Story Of The Most Important Bankruptcy In U.S. History

Author Jay Alix, one of the most respected experts on corporate bankruptcy in America, was the architect of that plan, and now, for the first time, he reveals How General Motors Was Really Saved.

By Jay Alix

For months the news was horrific, a pounding beat of warm-up obituaries for what once had been America’s greatest and most influential corporation: General Motors.

At death’s door or already in the graveyard were Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, AIG and Citibank. The mood was apocalyptic.

With car sales in a free fall from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, GM was losing billions and running out of cash. By the time the company closed its books on 2008, it would be in the red by a staggering $30.9 billion.

Chief executive Rick Wagoner led the auto delegation in Washington to seek government funding in order o save the industry and keep GM out of bankruptcy.

Five years later, after an unprecedented government equity investment, GM is thriving and the Treasury plans to sell its remaining stake in the coming months. With countless articles and books now written about the GM restructuring and turnaround–not to mention three years of trumpeting by the Obama Administration taking full credit for the turnaround’s success–the most startling aspect of the prevailing narrative is that the core of how the restructuring really happened, inside GM, is yet to be fully told.

In the popular version of the company’s turnaround story, as GM teetered toward liquidation in 2009, an Obama-appointed SWAT team, led by financier Steven Rattner, swept in and hatched a radical plan: Through a novel use of the bankruptcy code they would save the company by segregating and spinning out its valuable assets, while Washington furnished billions in taxpayer funds to make sure the company was viable.

The real GM turnaround story, significant in saving the auto industry and the economy, is contrary to the one that has been published. In fact, the plan that was developed, implemented and then funded by the government was devised inside GM well before President Obama took office.

In what follows, the inside story of this historic chapter in American business unfolds, laying bare the key facts.

GM’s extraordinary turnaround began long before Wagoner went to Washington in search of a massive loan to keep GM alive. My involvement in that story began in GM’s darkest days, five years ago on Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008, when I visited Wagoner at his home that morning, presenting a novel plan to save General Motors.

As a consultant with expertise in restructurings and turnarounds, I had completed a half-dozen assignments at GM over the years. I had worked with Wagoner in 1992 when he became chief financial officer. I was asked to come in for a two-year stint as CEO of GM’s National Car Rental, the first time GM had recruited an outsider to lead a turnaround in one of its subsidiaries.

By 2008 I had over 20 years of experience with the auto industry and almost 30 years of working on turnarounds.

But for the past eight years I had backed away from business and my firm, AlixPartners, to care for my daughters after the death of my wife. I was essentially “retired.” But GM’s enveloping crisis and my friendship with Wagoner would bring me out.

Early on that November Sunday I called Wagoner at his home in a Detroit suburb. I asked to see him right away, explaining that I had a new idea that could help save the company.

Three hours later I walked through his front door and into his family room. I knew Wagoner believed GM could not survive a bankruptcy. Studies showed consumer confidence would crash. No one would buy a car from a company that was bankrupt. However, what I knew about the economic crisis and GM’s rapidly deteriorating liquidity position told me the company had no choice but to prepare for a bankruptcy.

Yet I agreed with Wagoner. For a global company as big and complex as GM, a “normal” bankruptcy would tie up the company’s affairs for years, driving away customers, resulting in a tumultuous liquidation. It had happened to other companies a fraction of GM’s size. It would mean the end of GM.

“I don’t think the company will survive a bankruptcy,” he told me. “And no one has shown me a plan that would allow it to survive a bankruptcy.”

War room: Wagoner and Alix saved GM with one of corporate America’s greatest Hail Marys, but neither stayed with the company.

“Filing bankruptcy may be inevitable, Rick. But it doesn’t have to be a company-killing bankruptcy,” I said. “I think we can create a unique strategy that allows GM to survive bankruptcy.”

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