IPR Blog

Expert analysis, debates and comments on topical policy-relevant issues

Topic: US politics

Connecting with Nature: social and economic opportunities for sustainability

📥  Energy and environmental policy, European politics, US politics

Professor Ricardo García Mira is Professor of Social and Environmental Psychology at the University of A Coruña in Spain, and Visiting Professor at the IPR.

The UN established World Environment Day in 1972 and it was first celebrated in the city of Spokane in 1974, in the State of Washington, with the theme “Only One Earth”. A few days ago we celebrated it again, and the central theme this year has been "Connecting people to Nature - In the cities and on land, from the poles to the equator", which invites us to go outside and appreciate Nature's beauty and grandeur, while advocating for sustainable urban strategies to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change, improve health and well-being, foster social cohesion, and engage in the conservation of places we inhabit and share.



This is precisely the theme that brought me to Dublin last week, to participate in the kick-off of the Connecting Nature project, an innovative European action that seeks to shape the design and implementation of nature-based solutions in cities by engaging city councils, civil society organisations, businesses and academics in co-producing strategies to meet the challenges of sustainability. The understanding of the fact that we are part of Nature and that we depend on it stands at the heart of these efforts, and is something that seems to elude President Donald Trump, who announced the US' withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change - signed by close to 200 countries - just three days before World Earth Day 2017. We all know the signing of the Paris Agreement in December 2015, and its launching at the Marrakesh Summit during COP22, was preceded by many tensions and a lack of commitment from different countries, making it a significant breakthrough that involved intense efforts and high costs. The implications of this downturn are beginning to be announced. The head of the United Nations Environment Agency said last week that if the United States continued to decline its commitment for a transition to a green economy, it would end up losing the best jobs in the renewable energy sector to Europe and China, as the latter has become increasingly competitive. Many of China's advances, he stated, had come from joint efforts carried out with the United States in recent years, which had also generated a healthy competitive dynamic to assume leadership in the sector of clean energy and the fight against climate change.

Dr García Mira (centre) and colleagues at the Connecting Nature Kick Off Meeting

Professor García Mira (centre) and colleagues at the Connecting Nature Kick Off Meeting

No government can stop progress, nor is it possible today to halt the development of a market that is inevitably assuming the culture of decarbonisation. And if Europe remains united in its transformation towards renewable energy sources, the market - and consequently employment - will move towards clean and low-carbon industry. Reducing dependence on carbon is already a goal towards which more and more regions and cities of Europe are moving, as they launch their roadmaps towards green employment and urban regeneration through nature-based solutions. New global cooperation platforms and networks are being created to experiment with sustainable options and to establish a new reference framework for sustainable social and economic development. Anyone choosing to remain an outsider will only stand to lose significant economic opportunities, as the world moves towards a new paradigm, in sync with Nature.


Trump’s First 100 Days Have Triggered Political Activism in Corporate America

📥  Business and the labour market, Energy and environmental policy, US politics

Professor Andrew Crane is Professor of Business and Society and Director of the Centre for Business, Organisations and Society at the University of Bath.

President Trump’s first 100 days have not been good for the planet. While the question of whether he will fulfil his campaign promise of rolling back the US’s commitment on the Paris climate deal is still to be settled, he has stuffed his cabinet with climate change sceptics. Most notably, the appointment of Scott Pruitt to head up the US Environmental Protection Agency met with a storm of criticism. This was hardly surprising given his ties with the energy industry, his denial of man-made climate change, and a long history of fighting the very agency he has been appointed to lead.

corporate protest


Trump and his cabinet have not been slow in rolling back environmental regulation introduced during the Obama presidency. As part of an effort to revive the coal industry, an executive order last month started unravelling Obama’s clean power plan (CPP). As The New York Times reported, the order effectively ceded the US’s leadership in addressing climate change and turned “denials of climate change into national policy”.

While such developments were hardly unexpected, what has been interesting has been the corporate response. Last November, nearly 400 US companies including Nike, Levi Strauss and Starbucks demanded that he leave in place low-emissions policies. In the wake of the CPP announcements in March many companies again took a public stand against the policy reversal. For example, Mars Inc. expressed disappointment at the policy change while tech companies including Apple, Amazon and Microsoft signed a joint statement supporting the CPP.

It is rare to hear companies, and US companies in particular, arguing to keep regulation. They are also usually unwilling to take explicit political stands in the public eye, preferring to use lobbying and more covert forms of political influence to sway governments to act in their interests. But the corporate response to the climate rollback seems to be part of a broader change of heart among senior executives to take public positions against what they see as undesirable policy shifts.

This change was first noticeable following Trump’s immigration ban back in January that saw wholesale restrictions banning refugees and others from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US. As Business Insider reports, “Before the day was over, Facebook's CEO had published a post denouncing the order. By the end of the weekend, Starbucks' CEO had outlined plans to hire 10,000 refugees. And, within a week, Uber's CEO had quit Trump's economic team as thousands deleted their accounts with the ride-hailing app.”

The response by corporate America to the immigration ban was significant and widespread. Rather than the usual caution about taking a political stand on a hot button issue, companies as diverse as Coca Cola, Google, and Ford came out against the policy. The tech industry’s response gained a lot of attention, not only because high-profile companies and their leaders, such as Sergey Brin at Google, actively spoke out against the executive order, but also because regular tech industry employees staged walkouts and protests rarely seen before in the industry. For many in tech, The Atlantic reported, this was the first time they had taken part in political activism in their lives.

bi-graphicshow companies reacted to trump


So what does all this mean? There are a number of ways of looking at this, but the big change for me is that US companies are starting to acknowledge a meaningful role for themselves as explicit political actors. In the past, few company executives would ever admit that their actions were in any way political. “We don’t do politics” was the mantra, despite the billions of dollars spent on lobbying and trying to buy influence in Washington. However, as companies have more openly started addressing issues traditionally thought of as government responsibilities – protecting human rights, providing public goods, enforcing social and environmental standards, and the like – the cloak has gradually slipped.

Scholars of corporate responsibility such as myself have been analysing these developments over the past couple of decades, labelling these new corporate behaviours variously as “corporate citizenship”, “political CSR”, or “private governance”. So the response by corporate America to Trump’s first 100 days is not so much a sudden change in their core corporate responsibility behaviours, more a newfound willingness to start acknowledging what has been increasingly apparent all along: corporations do indeed play an explicitly political role.

Acknowledging something is the first step to dealing with it. And the role of business in politics is something that we certainly do need to address as a matter of urgency. Most business leaders may not be completely comfortable yet with admitting their political role, but many do want to start thinking more seriously about their impact on the world, as Mark Zuckerberg’s recent 6,000 word manifesto exemplifies. Further radical announcements from the Trump administration are likely to incite yet more corporate political activism. So while we may not be able to thank President Trump for his impact on the planet, he may yet be responsible for a breakthrough moment in companies’ understandings of their changing role in society.

This post first appeared on the Bath Business and Society blog.


Sea-Changes in World Power

📥  Political history, Political ideologies, US politics

In 1907, Theodore Roosevelt sent the US Navy battle fleet – the “Great White Fleet” of 16 battleships – on a symbolic tour of the Pacific. It was an awesome demonstration of the USA’s new naval power and an announcement to the world of its claims to dominion over the Pacific. The fleet was feted everywhere it went, but particularly so in Australia and New Zealand, where it was welcomed as the “kith and kin of the Anglo-Saxon race” bringing “a grateful sense of security to the white man in his antipodean isolation.” Japan was a rising military power. It had annihilated the Russian fleet in 1905. Racist attitudes towards Japanese migrant workers were running high in the USA and Australasia. “Stars and Stripes, if you please/Protect us from the Japanese”, wrote a New Zealand correspondent.



Roosevelt saw the fleet’s tour in similar terms. He was resolved to treat the Japanese government with courtesy and respect. But he wanted to assert the importance of keeping the world’s “races” apart, particularly when it came to migration into California, and he inflected his Social Darwinist arguments with a class populism: “we have got to protect our working men”, he was reported to have argued. “We have got to build up our western country with our white civilization, and…we must retain the power to say who shall and who shall not come to our country. Now it may be that Japan will adopt a different attitude, will demand that her people be permitted to go where they think fit, so I thought it wise to send that fleet around to the Pacific to be ready to maintain our rights”[1].

Roosevelt was heavily influenced by the naval strategist Admiral Alfred Mahan, whose books on the importance of sea power and naval strength were key military texts in the late 19th and early 20th century, read and absorbed not just by US foreign and defence policymakers, but by their counterparts in the capitals of all the leading world powers – including Great Britain, whose naval prowess he much admired. He was also highly influential on Roosevelt’s fifth cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who devoured Mahan’s books as a young man and was a lifelong navy enthusiast, serving as Assistant Secretary for the Navy in Wilson’s administration. As President, FDR would massively expand the US Navy. Spending on the navy – a sort of naval Keynesianism – gave renewed impetus to the New Deal in the late 1930s.

Donald Trump’s speech at the Newport News shipyard, which builds ships for the US Navy, and his pledge to expand the fleet to 350 ships, therefore stands in a clearly defined lineage. It heralds a renewed commitment to assert the naval primacy of the USA and significantly boost military spending. On its own, that might be lifted straight out of the recent Republican playbook – particularly in concert with tax cuts for the wealthy. But Trump’s economic nationalism and his anti-Muslim, anti-immigration rhetoric also trace a line back to fin-de-siècle Anglo-Saxonist political discourse. His rhetoric symbolically connects the projection of economic and military power to the fortunes of the American working class, particularly the white working class – Teddy Roosevelt shorn of the progressivism and diplomatic tact.

This time, of course, the main antagonist is China, not Japan. China’s navy has been expanding rapidly under Xi Jinping’s leadership. It has commissioned new missile carriers, frigates, conventional and nuclear submarines, and amphibious assault ships. A close ally of Xi’s, Shen Jinlong, has recently been appointed its commander. It has moved from defensive coastal operations to long-range engagements around the world. It will serve to underpin China’s assertion of supremacy in the South China Sea and the projection of its power further afield – towards the Indian Ocean, the Gulf and the Maritime Silk Road routes.

The respective strength and reach of national navies can mark out wider shifts in geo-political power. It was at the Washington Conference in 1921 that the USA finally brought the Royal Navy to heel, insisting on parity in capital ships, and setting the seal on the end of the British Empire’s global maritime supremacy. “Never before had an empire of Britain’s stature so explicitly and consciously conceded superiority in such a crucial dimension of global power,” wrote Adam Tooze of this capitulation. It would take until the late 1960s, when Britain finally abandoned its bases East of Suez, for the process of imperial contraction to be complete (a decision that the current Foreign Secretary laments and risibly promises to reverse).

With tension rising in the South China Sea, war and rival power conflict in the Middle East and the Gulf region, and the prospect of a scramble for power over the sea lanes of the melting ice caps of the North West Passage, this new era of naval superpower rivalry echoes the Edwardian world. Steve Bannon, President Trump’s self-declared economic nationalist adviser, believes it will end the same way: in war. It is up to the rest of the world to prove him wrong.



[1] For this quotation and other source material, see Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds, Drawing the Global Colour Line, Cambridge: CUP (2008), Chapter 8 pp 190 - 209


Trumpism 101: The Outsider, Ignored For Years. No longer

📥  Political ideologies, US politics

Janine R. Wedel, a social anthropologist in the Schar School of Government and Policy at George Mason University and Global Policy Chair at the University of Bath, is the author of Unaccountable: How the Establishment Corrupted Our Finances, Freedom, and Politics and Created an Outsider Class (Pegasus, 2014), now out in paperback.

A version of this article was published in the Huffington Post (“Trumpism 101: The Outsider, Ignored For Years. No longer,” Oct. 27, 2016)

Hundreds, if not thousands, of pundits the world over have written about the various them­es that have come to life in the most extraordinary and alarming election year in modern history. But I daresay only a handful of thinkers can rightfully claim they examined these themes and warned about a coming revolt years ago. I am one of the few, a social anthropologist studying power and influence, first in Central and Eastern Europe before and after communism and, more recently, in the United States. I began addressing anti-establishment rage with Shadow Elite in 2009 and then further in 2014’s Unaccountable: How the Establishment Corrupted Our Freedom, Finances, and Politics and Created an Outsider Class, now out in paperback.



The rhetoric this year has been disturbing to me, not just as a person who values civility in discourse, but also as a scholar. Complex topics I have studied for decades—elite power and influence, corruption, political rigging—have now been hijacked by a demagogue. There is thus a big risk of burying a sober and much-needed discussion of these important, complicated issues. I hope to address them here.

Let’s begin with the defining feature of the 2016 revolt: outsiderism. Increasingly, people identify themselves as outsiders, and look to leaders who claim to do the same. Digital technology, of course, enables these outsiders to mass together in ways never before possible. Wholesale alienation was in evidence long before 2016.

Two years ago, I wrote this in Unaccountable:

How is it that ordinary people have an instinctual grasp of the real nature of corruption and the inequality that often results, while many experts are still wedded to the idea that corruption happens somewhere out there? Witness the Occupy protests that began on Wall Street in 2011 and the Tea Party movement that helped grind the U.S. government to a halt in the fall of 2013. They may otherwise have little in common, but they share a resounding refrain: that the system is gamed by the powerful.

When I wrote those words, President-elect Donald Trump was just a middling, blustering reality television star and self-aggrandising real estate mogul. Senator Bernie Sanders was a distant third on the list of famous Vermonters, well behind Ben and Jerry, of ice cream fortune. More than two years later, I’ve heard these revolutionary figures and a parade of their supporters agree wholeheartedly that the system is rigged.

Since 2014, I have watched with distress, though not much surprise, as the arguments I made sprang to full flower in massive anti-establishment movements in the United States and Europe. My lack of surprise is because I come at this issue from a perspective and history few others have. I am an American who began her career as a young scholar overseas in the waning years of communism. On both sides of the Atlantic I have since been studying elites who wield power and influence, how they operate in new and insidious ways, and the seismic changes that spawned them. The result is that ordinary people now have little meaningful voice in making and shaping the policies that affect their lives and livelihoods. I have sought to redefine corruption as actions that violate the public trust, even if they are not technically illegal. Most, if not all, of this “new corruption,” as I call it, is fully legal, even if most of us would consider it unethical.

Over the past two years, the populist, anti-elite movements erupting around the world showed that regular people were starting to grasp at a primal level the contours of the new corruption, because indeed they were living with it. Now this is a stone-cold reality. The public knows full well that this new corruption is flourishing, though the culprits that are usually mentioned—money in politics, greedy banks, or the simple revolving door—tell a story that’s dangerously incomplete. Many elites, by contrast, have been blind-sided. The media, too, have been caught off guard by insurgencies from both right and left. So have most pundits and scholars.

That is because, to quote from Unaccountable:

…..more and more we feel like we’re excluded from a system we used to know how to negotiate but no longer quite do. Figuring things out is not as straightforward as in the past. We‘re subject to new ways of influencing and organizing influence that are not as obvious as they were just twenty-five—or even five—years ago... [W]e sense a division between outsiders and insiders and that the insiders are working on their own behalf, even as they purport to have us, the public, in mind. The rest of us are left on the outside, knocking to get in.

This rigged system does exist. The sense that something huge is amiss has driven millions of Americans to seek leaders they perceive as outside of the system—the most successful being Trump, Bernie Sanders, and a motley collection of third party candidates. In fact, as I argue, the new corruption of Hillary Clinton and many, many elite players of all stripes has paved the way for the likes of Trump and Sanders. Clinton’s byzantine family foundation is not merely a right-wing talking point. Serious concerns about the conflicts of interest embedded there should give pause to citizens of any political persuasion. And her use of a private email system while secretary of State exemplifies a classic characteristic of this Unaccountable era—boundary-pushing elites subverting the standard bureaucracy in self-interested ways that make transparency difficult, if not impossible. It is unfortunate that Trump has so sullied the discourse that these very real issues cannot be discussed dispassionately; rather, people, even family members, are coming to blows on social media. Sometimes this election season, we’re talking about actual blows. And now the President-elect seems to be blithely disinterested or uninformed about the very corruption he decried in speech after speech. Aside from blatantly violating norms and dismissing questions about his own vast conflicts-of-interest, he is surrounding himself with some of the very people who practice the more subtle but very insidious form of new corruption, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

Trump, it is important to note, is not one of the elites I study who shape policy. He is actually useful in making the distinction about who I am talking about. Trump is a wealthy celebrity who until Election Day was not involved himself in any major way in Washington-style policy manipulation. (That in no way absolves him from his many other alleged abuses: of the tax code, of sound and fair business practices, of standards of civility, and of women.)

Trump is what happens when elites in the establishment game the system to their advantage, widening income inequalities, and crippling trust in civic institutions. These developments have left regular people disillusioned and looking for a savior in a demagogue like him.

Sanders, of course, never exhibited the alarming authoritarianism that Trump does, but his followers are equally anti-establishment and anti-elite. To Sanders’s supporters, Clinton represents the unholy alliance between Democrats and Wall Street, and the corruption of a political system awash in mystery money from corporations and even foreign governments. These followers have solid points to make, if not always pragmatic plans for fixing the enormous challenges they lay out.

Americans are not the only people experiencing an epidemic of outsiderism. Such disaffection from the establishment and resulting populist movements are by no means limited to the United States. I have witnessed them first-hand in Europe, where I spent the year from September 2015 through August 2016 conducting research and teaching in several cities across the continent, in part as a Fulbright scholar (my analysis here is entirely my own, not that of the Fulbright program.) In Germany, I saw the continued rise of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD), founded only in 2013. The AfD scored strongly, earning votes in the double digits in three German states during elections in spring 2016 and, in September 2016, even beating the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel in her home state. I watched German news coverage of France, where terror attacks have been feeding xenophobic support for Marine Le Pen and her far right-wing National Front party. In June, from Ukraine, I watched coverage of how voters in the United Kingdom shocked elites there and around the world by voting to Brexit the European Union. The far right (some would say fascist) did suffer a defeat in December in Austria’s presidential elections, where, for the first time since World War II, neither establishment party (Social Democrats and Austrian People’s) saw their candidate appear in the top spot.

Whether from the right or the left, these candidates and movements have one hugely salient attribute in common: They are profoundly and aggressively anti-elite, anti-establishment, and anti-system. They seek to abolish the system without any real or viable plan for replacing it.

The result is President-elect Trump, whose actions thus far to “drain the swamp” suggests only one thing: that he had no idea who the swamp-dwellers were in the first place.







Trump, COP22 and the Tipping Point for Climate Change Mitigation

📥  Energy and environmental policy, US politics

Professor Ricardo García Mira is Professor of Social and Environmental Psychology at the University of A Coruña in Spain, and Visiting Professor at the IPR.

Last October the requirement that enabled the Paris Agreement (adopted in December 2015 by 195 countries) to come into force was met; 55 countries who together account for a minimum of 55% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions formally accepted the Agreement, which came into force a month later. By the close of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP22) held in Marrakech last month, 111 countries had already ratified the Agreement, accounting between them for over three-quarters of global emissions. The Agreement has been one of the quickest to come into force as an international treaty for a global agreement.

The uncertainty generated when delegates became aware, partway through COP22, that Donald Trump had won the US election and would be the next President of the United States did not stop over 200 different countries from signing the Marrakech Action Proclamation with the highest level of political commitment to combatting climate change and reducing its impact. The Proclamation will not be immediately binding on the parties, but will serve as a guide for designing political action towards the drawing up of a regulatory text that will enable the practical application of the Paris Agreement.

A moment of transition

Despite the uncertainties hovering over Marrakech due to Trump’s election victory and his previous criticisms of climate change, the assembled heads of state fixed a deadline of 2018 for the application of the rules in the Agreement. COP22 also led to a better understanding of the numerous questions involved in designing a framework within which the commitments of the Paris Agreement could be fulfilled, defining the areas of convergence and divergence between countries, and adopting a work plan (The Paris Rulebook). The Rulebook covers a wide range of topics, including mitigation, adaptation, finance and transparency, together with a delineation of tools including a new ‘global inventory’ process, market mechanisms and guidelines for the application and fulfilment of commitments based on which definitive decisions will be taken in 2018, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN’s group of experts, will advance its new report on the effects of climate change and increasing temperatures.

The Prime Minister of Morocco declared that it was an extraordinary occasion, and that there is now no going back on this moment of transition towards an earnest and unified struggle against climate change. Other cities, states and NGOs in Africa, China, Europe and Latin America, among others, declared their concurrence with these sentiments through their heads of government and ministers – including US Secretary of State John Kerry.

The plans in the Paris Agreement include aid for developing states from developed countries to promote the implementation of policies for adapting to climate change and the assignation of specific mitigation funds to eradicate sources of greenhouse gas.

Professor García Mira at COP22

Professor García Mira at COP22

COP22, which brought together over 500 politicians, business people, NGOs and civilians in Marrakech, urged Trump to act for the benefit of the planet, and called for his collaboration. Trump’s leadership, however, is not so critical if we take into account the fact that the struggle against climate change is already being configured as a matter of social responsibility all over the planet, and has already started to generate elements of social identity and socio-political involvement around it. Added to this is the commitment and organisation of municipalities, cities and regions of the world into forums and associations which reinforce this social identification on a local level. Furthermore, China and the European Union are already fighting for the leading position in the struggle against climate change, just in case the United States resigns from this mission. China, for example, has not budged from its commitment to the Paris Agreement, and will keep on fighting against global warming. Political commitment to this cause is real.

Matters still to resolve

Adaptation to and mitigation of the impacts of climate change will require additional funds, especially for developing countries. Hence, despite a high level of consensus between countries, there are certain matters which will need resolving over the next two years; we must reach an agreement to define the climate change adaptation fund, for example, which has been suspended again and will require further negotiations. Another outstanding issue is the Green Climate Fund, which will require more financing.

Climate change exists and is very serious, and people are the main cause. This is stated in the 5th IPCC Report. It is therefore urgent to drastically reduce CO2 emission so that we do not exceed the 2 degrees centigrade threshold, which would be a serious threat to the planet’s stability. The central challenge lies in establishing a real commitment to a green economy, and assessing the positive and negative aspects of applying techniques like geoengineering and bioengineering, which could help establish one.

Finally, scientists as a whole must bear responsibility for the way in which we deal with and supply knowledge to decision-makers in the struggle against climate change. Like the mass media, we also must resist the pressure of powerful lobbying by both large companies and governments that use the results from our reports to pursue their own interests. Furthermore, we can all see – and should greet with concern – the ready flow of money to deniers and sceptics of climate change that facilitates them in discrediting the results of painstaking scientific work.

Commitments underway

Some initiatives towards addressing these challenges are already underway, including Cross-border Cooperation in the Mediterranean (a 5+5 Water Initiative), and others related to energy. The International Civil Aviation Organization is creating a device to reduce CO2 emissions from planes. 48 countries in the Climate Vulnerable Forum undertook to maintain their systems in such a way that global temperature increase will be no more than 1.5 degrees centigrade, and to promote measures to achieve a 100% renewable electricity supply, in the short or medium term. Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada, among others, have announced their target of reducing CO2 by 80% in 2050. The European Union has made a similar statement, although some countries have not evidenced a clear strategy in other aspects, such as phasing out coal.

Trump’s electoral victory did not, therefore, prevent some of the most vulnerable countries from undertaking serious commitments to reduce emissions, transform their traditional energy systems into renewable energy production, and move towards eco-friendly systems in energy management.

Over the next two years, the technical agreements reached in Marrakech will lead to policies, protocols and financial and transparency procedures which, in turn, will provide the framework for moving from commitment to implementation between now and 2050. Signatories will be committed to drawing up the necessary regulatory architecture to implement political action; complying with the ordinances laid out in the Agreement all over the planet; and driving efficient adaptation to climate change, promoting more sustainable lifestyles which depend less on carbon. In their national industries, they will be expected to establish an eco-friendly framework in energy management, including the residential sector; to promote a sustainable mobility and transport policy; and to fix specific reduction targets for each of the main sectors in greenhouse gas emission, in the short, medium and long term (2020, 2030 and 2050). Their commitments to finance and transparency will include promoting and implementing national policies tending towards the reduction of CO2 emission in all sectors of the economy, and the tools for complying with them; guaranteeing an information management system that is free and which can be publicly accessed; and undertaking appropriate financing to be able to reach these targets.

Marrakech as a tipping point

Implementing these policies effectively will also require combining them in such a way that they are more efficient in terms of mitigation, given the transversal nature of the way the struggle against climate change should be deployed. Far from being dulled by Trump’s victory, Marrakech can be seen as a “tipping point”, a marker of the moment when the idea of the struggle against climate change became an irreversible social trend, spreading out over the whole planet as if it were a forest fire.


A world collapsing

📥  Political ideologies, US politics

The measure of Donald Trump’s victory is given by those who have been first to welcome it: Marine Le Pen, Pauline Hanson, and David Duke, the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Trump gave voice to deep wellsprings of racism in American society, and now stands as a global figurehead for nativist, far right movements. “Their world is collapsing. Ours is being built”, said the Front National’s Vice President, Florian Philippot. It is hard to disagree.



Trump’s insurgency will test James Madison’s institutional firewalls to destruction; the Republicans now control Congress and the Presidency, and will add the Supreme Court to the ledger in short order. The Republican mainstream will not be in charge, however. Trump was elected largely without its support, and he drew political energy from its most vociferous right wing critics. Worse, he campaigned against the institutions of American democracy itself: its systems, norms and laws. These institutions will need all the resilience they have possessed throughout the history of the United States of America to withstand him. As the political scientist David Runciman has remarked, “What if the shock that is capable of reforming the system is also capable of destroying it?" Glib talk of “post-liberalism” will not do now. Liberalism will need all the defenders it can get.

Once again, mainstream progressive politics has been found wanting. Obama delivered a stronger economy and healthy pay rises in the last year, but it wasn’t enough. Clinton couldn’t find the voice to animate progressive America; the curse of a bloodless, calculating and hollowed out politics on the mainstream centre-left has taken another victim. There can be no Third Way when you are up against the likes of Donald Trump. There is no triangulating Trumpism.

The European Union will now face massive challenges: defending its Eastern borders against an emboldened Putin; defending an embattled global economic order against rampant protectionism; and defending itself against resurgent fascism and the break-up of its historical project. It will likely find an ally in China, which will resist protectionism and global disorder, turning the axis of world politics in a new direction. But Eurozone leaders must also now urgently ask themselves why working class voters have turned so decisively against the economic order that has prevailed in the West since the 1980s – and change path before it is too late.

#I’m with her, and for him?

📥  US politics, Welfare and social security

An important factor in Hilary Clinton’s victory in the Democrats’ Presidential nomination race was the support she attracted from middle-aged and older women. As is well known, millennials broke for Bernie Sanders, but Clinton won the support of women in their thirties and upwards.

There are plenty of reasons for this, but one has to do with Clinton’s consistent advocacy of stronger parental leave and family-friendly employment rights, and her commitment to expand early-years education. US women who have children are hit by one of the least-supportive welfare states and employment policy frameworks for parents in the developed world. It's no better for men who become parents either.

As the figure below shows, the USA is at the very bottom of the table of OECD countries in the provision of paid parental leave available to mothers and fathers. There are no nationwide rights to paid maternity, paternity or parental leave.

Partly as a consequence of its failure to institute paid parental leave, flexible working and decent childcare policies, the USA has seen a decline in the female employment rate in recent years. Here’s how the US and Japan have fared over the last few decades:

Clinton’s main policy commitment is to pay 12 weeks at two-thirds of wage replacement for family or sick leave (for the care of newborn or sick children, the care of spouses and relatives, or recovery from serious illness). This will be paid for by taxes on the wealthy, rather than a system of national insurance or payroll taxation. This policy has already been introduced in New York state (some other states, like California, also pay leave, but only for six weeks). If OECD evidence is anything to go by, the policy should start to lift the female employment rate by making it easier for women to combine work and motherhood or family care (although there are, of course, other determinants of the decline in female employment in the USA).

The policy simply brings the USA up to the starting gate, however. Most other OECD countries have much more extensive forms of leave. As ever, the Nordic countries stand out as having the best provision for parents and children in their early years, combining generous paid parental leave with universal childcare and family-friendly employment. This ensures high female employment rates, and extensive enrolment in early learning for toddlers – a dual carer-worker model that ensures child poverty is very low, and egalitarian outcomes for children are high.

The leading-edge Nordic countries – chiefly Iceland, Norway and Sweden – also reserve a portion of paid leave for fathers (so-called “Daddy Leave”). This ensures greater gender equality in leave take-up, which in turn has knock-on consequences for equality in caring and household labour tasks.  Look at the clustering of the Nordic countries at the right hand end of this graph, again from the OECD:

Interestingly, a number of other countries have followed the Nordic lead. On average, men’s use of parental leave is rising – in Finland the male share doubled between 2006 and 2013, and in Belgium grew by ten percentage points over roughly the same period. Germany brought in extensive reforms in 2007 that improved pay for leave periods and gave bonus leave to families where fathers took leave. Elsewhere in Europe, policy has changed but practice has not: French and Austrian men haven’t increased their leave rates. The UK has become slightly more generous to fathers, allowing women to transfer some of their maternity leave to men – but take-up, unsurprisingly, is low. The gender pay gap, lack of reserved “Daddy Leave” and low flat rates of statutory pay all militate against it.

Interestingly, some of the most extensive leave provision for fathers is now found in South East Asia, where countries like Korea and Japan have sought to boost female employment rates – to cope with demographic pressures and the loss of productive talent – by expanding leave entitlements for both men and women. In the first decade of the 21st Century, Korea took a “social investment state” turn and gave parents extensive new leave rights, alongside improved childcare: fathers are entitled to 53 weeks of paid paternity and parental leave that can only be taken by them. But socially conservative attitudes, particularly amongst employers, have held men back from taking up their rights; public policy has not yet fostered widespread cultural and structural change, as it has in the Nordic countries.

Yet overall, austerity in the EU and fiscal constraints elsewhere do not appear to have impeded the advance of public investment in childcare and parental leave entitlements. Spending cuts have been made in the UK and elsewhere, but the trajectory is still broadly upwards along the continuum towards the Nordic model in advanced capitalist economies. The pre-crash social investment state paradigm appears – in this area of policy, if not in others – to have retained its traction. But to really achieve its gender equality goals, it has to provide for men and women, mothers and fathers – asking employers, as well as the state, to play their part. To be with her, you need to be for him.


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When the sun rises on workers' wages, and what to do when it sets

📥  Business and the labour market, UK politics, US politics

Californian workers have enjoyed a week of sunshine.  The Governor of California, Jerry Brown, has reached a deal with labour unions and state political leaders to raise the Californian minimum wage to $15 an hour (£10.45 at current exchange rates). The proposal now goes to the state Assembly for approval; if it is passed, six million Californian workers will get a big pay rise.

British workers are also feeling the benefit of a minimum wage increase. From 1 April, the so-called National Living Wage kicks in for employees over the age of 25. It will start at £7.20 an hour and rise to £9 by 2020. In practice, this is a higher minimum wage, not a Living Wage, but it is still a pay rise for millions of workers. The Resolution Foundation estimates that 4.5 million workers will see their pay rise as a result of this policy in 2016 – for those on the national minimum wage, it will mean a 10% pay rise.

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These are big wins for working people on both sides of the pond. But they have been achieved by political action, not industrial muscle. The vast majority of workers who will benefit are not unionised. Their gains have come from political mobilisation instead. In the US innovative, energetic campaigns to raise the wages of employees in fast food chains have been targeted at city and state legislators who have the authority to set local minimum wages. As the power and reach of big unions has waned, alternative organising campaigns have sprung up, and they are chalking up some impressive victories, like that in California.

In the UK, the Living Wage campaign has proved the most effective cross-party, civil society organiation to organise for low-income workers’ interests in recent decades. It has gone from strength to strength, even in the months that have followed the government’s announcement of an official National “Living” Wage. It is highly unlikely that the government would have acted to raise minimum wages without the trailblasing efforts of the Living Wage campaign.

None of this is much consolation to the steelworkers facing unemployment at Port Talbot and other plants. Despite the talk of assistance to retrain and find new jobs, the likelihood of their gaining employment at the skill and pay levels they can secure in the productive steel industry are remote, particularly with the public sector shrinking. Many will end up on the National Living Wage instead.

There are plenty of global factors at work in the steel crisis, chief amongst them the export of huge volumes of Chinese steel onto world markets, and the stagnation of demand for steel, both in China itself, and in the investment starved West. But one thing unites both steel and the service sectors where the majority of minimum wage workers are employed, and that is the need for long-term, coordinated industrial strategies to raise R & D, investment, skills and productivity.  EU state aid rules may be too prescriptive – the continent needs to advance its global interests through public investment and EU-wide industrial strategies, and not just to enforce single market rules – but plenty of this is possible within the existing policy framework. If the minimum wage gains offer one lesson, it is for the primacy of politics: shaping markets in the public interest, not just compensating the losers.