Collapse of cod fishing around Newfoundland (Canada): a metaphor for our unsustainable and over-confident societies?

(Picture: Total capture of North Atlantic cod, from 1950 to 2000, in thousands of tonnes. Graphic by Epipelagic — Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19281989)

For over 500 years, fishermen from Canada, but also from Europe (Spain, Portugal, France, Germany) had been fishing the abundant banks of North Atlantic cod around Newfoundland in Canada. Pierre Loti, in his novel “an Iceland fisherman” published in 1886, describes the “myriads upon myriads of fish, all alike, gliding slowly in the same direction”, which could be seen immediately below the surface of the sea, “plainly distinguished through the transparency”, and illustrates the fantastic plenty of these cod banks, where fishermen just needed to drop their lines, see the cod biting the hooks, haul the lines, take the cod off the hooks, and throw the lines over and over again. A fisherman’s dream, explaining why boats travelled from Europe, thousands of kilometres across the Ocean, to participate in this bounty.

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State of Union speech: time for trans-national democracy, at last?

In his “State of the Union” speech of 13 September 2017, President of the Commission Jean-Claude Juncker expressed his “sympathy” for the idea of trans-national lists in the elections to the European Parliament. This is a courageous move, knowing the reluctance – to say the least – of many nationally-elected politicians towards a proposal that would make them obsolete overnight.

I consider Jean-Claude Juncker to be fundamentally right. The only alternative to populism is trans-national democracy, not the global ploutocracy that we currently are heading towards.

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Equality – and social security – is better for everyone, and for a sustainable future

The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone was published in 2009. Written by [British epidemiologists and economists] Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, the book highlights the “pernicious effects that inequality has on societies: eroding trust, increasing anxiety and illness, (and) encouraging excessive consumption“. It shows that for each of eleven different health and social problems: physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment, obesity, social mobility, trust and community life, violence, teenage pregnancies, and child well-being, outcomes are significantly worse in more unequal rich countries [than in equal rich countries]. (Excerpt from the Equality Trust website launched by the authors, with links to further details on each of the “health and social problems” listed).

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Why we need more regulation, not less

Everybody complains about regulation. Regulation is criticised as a restriction of one’s freedom, of one’s capacity to innovate and exploit new opportunities. This discourse is frequent among ordinary citizens. It is a leitmotiv of businesses of all sizes. The last avatar of this regulation-bashing trend is the REFIT programme of the European Union, based on the work of the “High Level Group on Administrative Burdens” chaired by former conservative (CSU) Bavarian Minister-President Edmund Stoiber (final report “Cutting red tape in Europe”, July 2014, available here).

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A cause of “populism”: the mismatch between the scale of political action and that of underlying phenomena

Let’s take “populists” seriously. Let’s listen to them. They want to “take control back”. They feel that democratic institutions at national scale have lost the capacity to act on the collective future of the population.  My argument is: they are right in this statement – but wrong in their solutions.

What are the important political decisions? Those addressing large-scale, long-term issues, such as global warming, international trade, or the taxation of multi-national corporations. Where are they taken? In the secrecy and unaccountability of inter-governmental negotiations, in the United Nations, bi-lateral negotiations of free trade agreements, in the G20 or in the Council of the European Union.

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