Archive for November, 2011

The Era of American Dominance is Coming to a Close

by Andrew J. Bacevich

The “postwar world” brought into existence as a consequence of World War II is coming to an end. A major redistribution of global power is underway.

In every aspect of human existence, change is a constant.  Yet change that actually matters occurs only rarely.  Even then, except in retrospect, genuinely transformative change is difficult to identify.  By attributing cosmic significance to every novelty and declaring every unexpected event a revolution, self-assigned interpreters of the contemporary scene — politicians and pundits above all — exacerbate the problem of distinguishing between the trivial and the non-trivial.  

Did 9/11 “change everything”?  For a brief period after September 2001, the answer to that question seemed self-evident: of course it did, with massive and irrevocable implications.  A mere decade later, the verdict appears less clear.  Today, the vast majority of Americans live their lives as if the events of 9/11 had never occurred.  When it comes to leaving a mark on the American way of life, the likes of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have long since eclipsed Osama bin Laden.  (Whether the legacies of Jobs and Zuckerberg will prove other than transitory also remains to be seen.)  Anyone claiming to divine the existence of genuinely Big Change Happening Now should, therefore, do so with a sense of modesty and circumspection, recognizing the possibility that unfolding events may reveal a different story. 

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Decent Work 2.0

by Frank Hoffer

Last month, Juan Somavia, the long serving Director-General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) announced his departure in 2012.

As head of the ILO, he introduced the Decent Work Agenda in 1999 to re-focus the ILO and make it relevant for the 21st century. Twelve years later, the concept of ‘Decent Work’ is firmly established in the global debate and as an objective of national policy. It appears in many documents of the multilateral system, the G20 and national policy fora. It generates millions of Google hits. It is the subject of much academic research and debate. It is enshrined in several ILO Conventions and Declarations, and the international trade union movement introduced the annual Decent Work Day to campaign for workers’ rights. ‘Decent Work’ is so ubiquitous in ILO documents that some cynics say: “Decent Work is the answer, whatever the question!”

Will Decent Work survive the departure of the Director-General who coined the term and so successfully marketed it? Should it survive? The answer to the former question is one of the unknowns of “Realpolitik”. The answer to the latter depends on the assessment of what Decent Work means and how it should evolve.

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Going Green without the Moralism

by Heleen de Coninck

There is no question about it: social democrats need to embrace environmental sustainability. Protecting our natural surroundings, keeping our air clean, providing a healthy environment and access to nature for everyone should be at the core of social democratic policies, just like providing economic and social sustainability should be.

However, we have to admit that in the triangle environmental, social and economic sustainability, sometimes simplistically referred to as planet, people and profit, the balance is tilted. While we see that at the moment either type of sustainability is sacrificed to short-term gains, environmental sustainability often loses out even in more prosperous times. Why is that?

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The power split in social democracy

by Patrick Diamond

Ideological contestation over the nature of power in contemporary societies will dominate the post-crisis landscape. Social democrats have to bridge this central state vs. local empowerment divide.There are many different ways of characterising debates about the strategic purpose of contemporary social democracy. Of course, social democracy is a multifaceted and hybrid tradition with no eternal essence and a historical lineage stretching back several centuries. What has endured across time is faith in the capacity of democratically accountable institutions to ameliorate inequality, to promote social and economic justice, and to supplant markets with politics. However, this is not the end of the argument, merely the beginning of a vibrant debate about how social democrats best realise their values in complex and increasingly fragmented domestic and global conditions. It is unlikely that the question of exactly which doctrines best animate social democracy will ever be settled once and for all. Social democracy is an inherently plural and contested tradition.

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The Developing World, Leading on Climate Change?

by Vivek Dehejia

In what may turn out to be one of the abiding ironies of global geopolitics, leadership on climate change seems to have suddenly passed from the developed to the developing world, as has public anxiety about the damaging effects of a changing climate.

As recently as the Copenhagen summit in late 2009, the West blamed large developing countries such as China and India for scuppering the chances of a “grand agreement” to curb the emission of greenhouse gases. Poor developing countries argued they needed the right to pollute in order to catch up to the West in terms of economic development, while the rich nations clucked that the world could ill afford more carbon emissions.

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