Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

Demolition of the welfare state: what comes after?

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Crisis in Europe, crisis in the world. Cartoon by Carlos Latuff,  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial/Share-Alike License

Crisis in Europe, crisis in the world. Cartoon by Carlos Latuff, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial/Share-Alike License

The crisis in Europe is starting to cause the demolition of the so-called “Welfare State” in many countries while others are struggling to hold it together. At the same time, third world or “developing countries” are trying their best to reach a “European level” while no one knows if Europe is still a valid role model for anyone. The European development model came at the price of slavery, exploitation of nations and resources and a huge amount of blood, pain and suffering.

Brazil, in that sense, has been following the same path, although without any significant social changes. At the same time, with all the environmental and social problems caused by the failed development attempt, it has  only concentrated on artificially increasing wages annd social benefits for the poor without worrying about what the future might bring.

In other words, Brazilian development is based on exploitation of the work force and on serious damage to the environment, and results in the usual riches for a happy few and scanty benefits for everyone else. For President Dilma Rousseff, human rights, education and health are less important than consumerism, brand new cars and  evangelical religious fundamentalism.

In that sense, Brazilian development has some similarities with the European model, the problem is that the Brazilian development model leads to a dead end. The country has so far succeeded only in imitating the worst part of the European model with little or no regard for the real benefits of a more egalitarian society.

Europe and Brazil have also another similarity: Both ignore the general needs of the population in order to benefit a happy few. In both Brazil and EU the banks are benefiting from economic growth and the attempts to save the economy. The middle class is losing its power and social status and, at least in Brazil, there’s a new rising middle class that bears no ressemblance to the older one. They’re mostly illiterate, and live in “favelas”, without even sanitation. But they can buy brand new cars, flat screen televisions and pay for their kids to go to university – even though university is probably useless due to the deplorably bad quality of education it offers.

Once again, the Brazilian government is just throwing crumbs to the population to gain its trust and its votes. Propaganda is everything. It doesn’t matter if the university has no quality (at least people  feel good about it) or if you don’t know if you’ll be evicted from your home next week because of some political skulduggery. What’s important is that you now have a flat screen TV and can forget your harsh reality for a time.

The European Union is fighting to get back on its feet, but its leaders are wrong in thinking that abandoning the people is the way out of the crisis. Yet Brazil is VERY wrong if the government thinks that it can reach a “European level” by simply repeating all the mistakes of the developed world.

Development with no concern for the welfare of the general population is not proper development. Nothing is gained if the human rights and basic needs of the people are not assured. Or maybe all that is gained is just a little propaganda to show the world.

Having said this, we must keep in mind that things will have to change. And are, indeed, changing. The question is whether things will change to our benefit or whether we’ll simply sit back and wait for the social contract to be changed by our so-called “leader”.

On the one hand we have millions of people struggling to keep their welfare state status, and on the other, millions trying to get there, to have the same status. But what we need to understand is that the current model is not sustainable. It’s impossible, for instance, for all the world to reach the current level of the USA and still have enough natural resources to survive.

So we must meet at some point between. And that’s tricky.

We must find ways to improve conditions of life at the bottom without impacting much on the top by negotiating with the top. We could possibly end up with a totally new social model, one that would fit the whole world, but there is still too much to be done, especially considering the huge gaps between different cultures.

Development based on consumption is NOT the answer, but at the same time there’s no development without some degree of consumption.

So where do we meet? Are US citizens up to the task of changing their habits? Or can others also change theirs?

And I’m not even touching on issues such as cultural and religious differences, otherwise we would have a much longer equation. But that’s also something policymakers have to take into consideration.

States must listen to their populations and the recent examples of Cyprus and Greece show that they are not listening. The welfare state is under attack and the popular response might be just too strong for some governments. As the demonstrations in the EU show, people are not willing to give up their social advantages and quality of life, and this is something states must learn to deal with.

It’s impossible to know what will come up, but probably a new way of social organisation will emerge that states must understand and deal with. The economy won’t be the same but neither will the world be.

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Raphael Tsavkko Garcia Twitter: @tsavkkoRaphael

PhD candidate in Human Rights (Universidad de Deusto), MA in Communications (Cásper Líbero), Bachelor in Intl. Relations (PUCSP), blogger, journalist and author/translator at Global Voices Online.