[…] there is an alternative system, and unfortunately there is nothing to restrict yourself, that limit something that is endemic to a system that is based on the competition: greed, greed, pretending to rise above it, defeat the other, and the low sensitivity towards the fate of the unfortunate, the victims caused by your own activity.
Interview conducted by Alfonso Armada, published in abc.is the 25/02/2014
Lucid, warm, direct and agile. At 89 years, the sociologist of Polish Zygmunt Bauman entered the crowded Fundación Rafael del Pinocomo if a rock star intellectual would have landed in Madrid. The public is not lost gravel of this thinker, the father of liquid modernity, bent on thinking this time without corsets ideological. Professor emeritus of sociology at Warsaw, he left his native country in 1971 because of a surge of anti-semitism. Professor in Leeds, Tel Aviv and the London School of Economics, its separation from the communism has done to embrace uncritically the market, on the contrary.
Prince of Asturias award for Communication and Humanities, his last work, does The richness of few benefit us all?, published by Paidós, as almost all his work, collects a multitude of data to show that the system current economic power and perpetuates inequality: “it Is among us to stay,” and that is pauperizando the middle class: “The distance between rich and poor is widening at an unprecedented pace”.
—What is “does The richness of few benefit us all?” an attempt to demonstrate that the invisible hand does not work, that the market is not as wise as presumed?
—It is interesting what raises about the role of the invisible hand, but keep in mind that Adam Smith wrote it in a very different context. What has happened recently, in the last forty years, since the seventies of the last century, is that the mutual dependency between employers and employees has been broken unilaterally. Until then, the employees, the workers, depended on their heads in order to live. But at the same time the heads were also dependent on their employees. It was a mutual dependency. And in the cities where they were hauling in the big factories a large part of the population it was a kind of reserve army of workers. Speaking of this “army” of reserve, ready to return to service, fill the jobs when needed, the “general” in charge of this army of reserve was concerned about the state of the circumstances in which they lived those unemployed. True that were not in service at the moment, but might need them. Hence, there is a social service, a series of entertainment, education, accommodation… especially after the Great Depression, with mass unemployment, and especially after the Second World War, created the welfare state.
That changed as a result of the economic policies that began to be put into practice in the seventies, such as deregulation, privatisation, subcontracting obligations of the State in the market (such as providing pensions, education, health services and benefits for the style). How and why this happened? Because the bosses, the owners of capital, owners of companies, they saw that no longer was within their needs and interests to deal with neighbors, the local, of the inhabitants of their country. Felt free to go where you would like to find labor, in places far from Madrid or Barcelona, for example, where you do not have to worry about pensions or the social security of the workers, and where there would be strikes to defend wages and the vested rights of the employees. They realized also that it was easy to do business, because all the data they had on their laptop, on their smart phones, and took the work to another party. In such a way that I think unilateral dependence. The indigenous people who lived in the old countries, still depend on the owners of capital to get a job, but the chiefs are no longer dependent on those workers. In such a way that the invisible hand of the market began to function in another way.
—What is to say, that in the end my parents were right when they told me that there will always be rich and poor?
—But at the same time the Spanish Government and the European Union continue to insist that it is necessary to reform the labour market and increasing deregulation because they say it is the only way of getting more work…
—What is a chimera?
—Never happened. The major part of the economy today is purely monetary. The money brings in more money. All transactions that occur on the exchange, in the stock market, and that affect the lives of people like you, do not have the slightest interest in the economy, in the conditions of life that affect people like you, who are not capitalists, they do not play in the bag. There is a growing gulf of separation between those who play at the bag, between the world of high finance, and the people who make things, the employees that serve the greater part of the population. The nature of the game has completely changed, and that is not something that occurred suddenly and from what we’ve noticed from the night to the morning. Inequality has been with us since the beginning of the human species. But that is not the problem, the problem is the different character that is adopted, and the worst thing is that there is today way to control it, to keep it at bay.
—And what happens then with the politicians? What are the service workers, the general population, or are employees of big finance?
—Maybe what is happening to many governments is that they just wake up and realize that they have much less power than they thought, that they used to have?
—That is the question. They have to maneuver constantly.
—How accurate or inaccurate were the analysis of Marx? Do you are still useful to you?
Now, with the collapse of the soviet bloc, there is no alternative, capitalism has been left alone on the field of battle, with no enemies in sight, to the point that many governments are seeking eagerly for new enemies to maintain vigilance and unity of the population. But what is certain is that there is an alternative system, and unfortunately there is nothing to restrict yourself, that limit something that is endemic to a system that is based on the competition: greed, greed, pretending to rise above it, defeat the other, and the low sensitivity towards the fate of the unfortunate, the victims caused by your own activity. It is a new situation, which emerged after the fall of the Berlin Wall. For the first time in one hundred and fifty years, the predictions of Marx could become a reality, not only in regard to the proletariat, but to the middle class, which has seen how it has been deteriorating, pauperizando, their level of life, losing both their income level as their perception of the security, the bankruptcy of their feeling of belonging, of being part of a community, of institutions that worry about them when they suffer a catastrophe, individual, the fear that it will reduce or direct the deletion of the unemployment benefits, work more years to enjoy pensions more…
Suddenly, the ground has begun to tremble under our feet. Hence, for this concern, there have been movements such as the indignados in Spain, looking so feverish new ways of participating in politics, because they have completely lost faith in the established political institutions. What is certain is that the system has ceased to fulfill its promises, fulfill its obligations.
—So, what to do?
By a part you have powers free from any control, on the other hand you have the policies and politicians that completely lack power. Hence, the old question about what it is that we need to do, I think that the question is not so much that. More or less we know what needs to be done, that should be re-marrying power and politics. The policy should recreate its control of power, and the power should be subject to the control of the policy. But the real big question, for which I don’t have the answer, is who is going to do it. That is the problem. Because nation-States were created by our grandparents and great-grandparents to serve to the independence of sovereign States, but we now find ourselves in a new situation of interdependence. And while it proved useful for decades as independent States, what is certain is that are no longer useful in the age of global society, to control the global interdependence of societies. Is the great question of the moment. Before this there are all kinds of proposals. None of them is entirely convincing. Some show their enthusiasm for the new educated classes with the arrival of the computer and the internet, in which everyone can communicate with everyone, but the problem is that it is not so, that all interface.
Other options on the table are movements such as the indignados, who sought to resist in the streets until their demands were met, trying to restore the direct democracy, which Aristotle defined with beautiful words. But so far there is no evidence that turn out to be effective. It also happened to the Arab Spring, but we are still waiting, and what we have in great measure is a new winter arab. Wall Street was busy, but not really taken note of it, and continued to operate as before. That is to say, we have no proof that they are effective. Yes I would like to bring up an idea proposed by Benjamin Barber, a scholar of political science, that posits what would happen if the mayors will rule the world…
—Do as the new mayor of New York?
—Also have a mayor in Madrid, for sure.
—Saskia Sassen has written about it.
—Yes, there are a lot of people working and thinking on the role of cities as an aggregate human with the right size and the right number of people to respond effectively to the problems that have been created. There are many proposals on the table, and not all are equally convicentes. But this shows us that people are truly concerned about trying to find solutions to these issues are basic and essential, which I’m sure will be the art, the task of the TWENTY-first century: How to put back together power and politics. The ability to do things and to decide how they should be.
—To finish, a question very shortly, who is Zygmunt Bauman?
—Who am I? A person’s very greatest, who has lived in different periods of history. When I look back I realize that I have experienced great moments of hope, of ideas, promises. And that is who I am, what I’ve tried to do: give meaning to everything that I have experienced.