"When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals.
We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues"

( JM Keynes, "Economic Possibilities for our Granchildren" 1930 )

Sunday, February 27, 2011

And Stress for All

Public institutions tend to emphasize the importance of financial stability. It is not just a matter of intentions but a regular use of huge public resources to guarantee the stability of the system. And since the “markets” are considered as the main reflection of the true state of financial business, the stabilization of the financial markets became a top priority of policy makers.

A few examples can show the magnitude of that policy: Ultra light interest policy rates, modified accounting rules to prevent a full disclosure of the real situation of the financial system, purchase of financial assets (“QE2”) above their market prices, design and financing of bailout deals etc. etc. We are told that the reason behind such deep intervention is that the financial markets are the blood stream of the economy as the main transfer mechanism of resources between individuals and companies. As such, they need stability in order to permit their normal functioning and to guarantee that investors willingness to take risks.

As a matter of fact, the stability is just anther good deal for the finance markets since in such mechanism they share the risk with the rest of the citizens but enjoying the benefits of profits.Well, if that privilege was conceded to any citizen I wouldn´t comment about it. However, the way the other production factor “labour”, is being treated in a 180 degrees opposed way to the above stability: Stress.. Stress and more Stress. You can hear about it all over the world: In Wisconsin (US) the administration is engaged in cutting social right and benefits, a measure applauded by “pundits” as the first step to install private sector norms in the public service( i.e. less union and less rights). Or the ECB Chairman ( and who handles Billions of Euros per moths to bankrupt banks) declaring that wage increase in Europe would be “madness”… or Spain´s labour reform aimed to reduce social rights,…. Or UK budget cuts and massive layoffs.

With just a few examples we´ve seen that there is a basic dichotomy in the way Capital and Labour are treated by the institutions, although there is no real apparent reason for that different treatment, at least not from Economic theory point of view. Moreover, a different treatment create distortions that tend to reinforce themselves up to a point that they are not sustainable anymore. What is the reason for the different treatment? Since the the basic foundation of any fair social system is equality, that very important question should be rendered to a second place. If the first step toward justice and equality is “Stress for all”… so be it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

How do you say “K.I.S.S.” in Arabic?

A few weeks ago the disclosure of hundred of thousands of Wikileaks files were seen as the herald of a new era in public life: We suddenly became familiar to obscure intrigues, secret deals, embarrassing profiles….etc. etc. The message was that from now on, any politician should be conscious that the expiration date of any “Top Secret” label is closer than ever. “History will judge” became suddenly a rather anachronistic slogan, Present and History became one.

That being said and despite a personal deep respect for freedom of speech and transparency in public life, I got somehow the feeling that Wikileaks became a sort of “Wiki Miss”. The overwhelming quantity of sophisticated information aimed to she light on bad weeds turned to a sort of “the trees that hide the forest” of reality. The on going events in the Middle East were the definitive confirmation for that feeling.

The “wood” as I call it is a synonymous for simple principles and ideas simple and deep at once: For example we all know that Honesty is a virtue, even if we don´t even know exactly why. The same goes with our innate distaste for oppression: The desire for freedom is stronger than any tyranny, brutal force or systematic brainwashing. It can take years, decades, and even centuries but in the end the desire for a better life is stronger than anything else. That simple understanding was the big miss of Wiki Leaks. Or is too trivial that we sometimes forget its validity….

The wood suddenly appeared in the Desert: First they took Tunisia, then they took Cairo, as I am writing these phrases Bahrain is under siege, Lybia is burning …. And who knows who´s next. These events took everyone by surprise: Politicians, Markets models, Dynasties, Swiss Bankers … and even Wikileaks was not able to tell us anything about it. Trees and more trees…. The wood remained obscure.

Who ever adopts the wood vision will not be surprised when millions “suddenly” say “Enough!” and get out to the streets, or even risk their life for something they never knew (most of the population in these countries never knew other regime than tyranny). I would even say that whoever applies that principle will find any “Leak” or confidential information just as a detail, a small tree surrounded by the wood of reality.

That way of thinking is known as the K.I.S.S. principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) . Watch out! That principle is not an encouragement for oversimplification or triviality, it´s just an attempt to but reminder that to too many questions and concerns can be summarized into few and simple principles. Although we are dealing with an English acronym , its seems that it got a good translation to Arabic. Better put , the principle does not need any translation as it is understood by any human being.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What are they afraid of ?

The refreshing news coming from Cairo are regarded by many Israelis commentators, as a “threat”: How can genuine (self proclaimed?) democrats regard the chance of a free future for more than 80 million people as a “threat”? I will try to ignore “geopolitical” analysis and try to scratch the surface in order to see what is really behind that ( false) sense of threat.

Well, for many the “Threat” is a possible breakdown of the “stability” the region “enjoyed” along the last 30 years. These “stable” years include the events such as the 1982 invasion to Lebanon, many Palestinian uprisings, massive attacks on Gaza, etc. So stability in that case is not a synonymous to “No more bloodshed “ but refers to the relative impunity the Israelis hard line government enjoyed thanks to a loyal Southern ally, Mr. Mubarak and his gang.. It is clear that from now on the disposition and/or capability of any Egyptian ruler to ignore the natural popular resentment following any Israeli military actions should not be taken for granted. Any future adventure will carry other consequences than the prevailing along the previous “golden era”. That is one big “threat”.

Second “Threat”: A more deep concern arising from the Tahrir Square is what I would call “ Back to the Middle East”. Many Israelis consider their country location as a geographical casualty: According to that perspective, the country is an isolated Western democracy surrounded by wild neighbours (like a good Old Western) and as such it is deemed to be under a constant threat ( Mr Barak used the image of a “mansion in a jungle”). The “logical” conclusion is that the country must isolate itself from its violent neighbourhood, physically (walls), culturally, emotionally, militarily…etc.

In other words, the dominant motto is “My heart is in West and I am at the end of the East” ( as a paraphrase to the medieval poem of Spaniard Iehuda Halevi) . That is a key element in the Israeli self-image and identity. Anyhow, why are Cairo events regarded as a “threat”?

The autocratic regimes around Israel are a fundamental piece of that twisted image of Israel , as they reinforce the image of the ever threatened Democracy ( for internal and external use as well). For quite a long time that system worked with impressive success: Although Tel Aviv is less than 100 Km from a bombarded Gaza its habitants feel as if Gaza´s misery is something remote as Bangladesh. However the fall of Cairo walls was well heard in the neighbourhood and it heralds the end of an illusion that the Yarkon is closer to the Thames than to the Nile.

Third “Threat”: The image of the “Arabs” turned around in less than 20 of street protests. A population fighting for its freedom cannot be regarded anymore as a faceless, ignorant and even ridiculed mob (an image that reinforces Israel´s prominent status). Cairo street protesters were revealed as normal (some of them quite brave) human beings that wish freedom, a descent job, a normal future for themselves and their kids, like most of us, the normal guys. So, if in the other side of the fence there are normal people, why to isolate from them? Are they really a threat? That question could become a serious blow to the cult of “Bitahon”, (security in Hebrew) based upon the fears and history, a cult that displaces a lot of social and identity deep questions that can threaten the actual social relations in the country.

However, threats can turn into opportunities: New constrain” to the political equations of violence might bring second thoughts when comes the time to pull the trigger and should, hopefully, pave the way to a genuine reconciliation process. The new image of the Arab world arising from Cairo should convince Israelis and others that in the other side of the wall there are human beings, not blood thirst fanatics.

The end of isolation and the fall of the real and imaginary Ghetto walls can do only good to Israel. After all the idea of really living in the Middle East, the traditional bridge between West and East can turn to be a not too bad idea. Israel society can become a more just and equal society as the military threat ceases to be an excuse to a polarized society.

As a final word, let us not forget: Despite decades of conflict between Israel and Arabs, any single European nation spilled much more Jewish blood than all its Middle East Neighbours taken together. Tahrir Square events are a good opportunity to remind that simple fact.